Honoré de Balzac.

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With Introductions by





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All Rights Reserved






(Le Lys dans la Vallte)


(Z^ Maiscn Xucingen)
(Translator, James Waring)




{Le M'fdecin de Campagne)


11. A DOCTOR'S ROUND - - - - 1~


VOL. 9 1




V. EI.EGIES - - - - - - 233


{La Vendetta)

COLONEL CHABERT - ■ - - - 339

{Colonel Chaberf)
(rranslators, Ellen Marriage and Clara Bell;



"let us go out on the river" (p. 169) - Frontispiece












Le Lys dans la Vallce has considerable importance in the
history of Balzac's books, and not a little in that of his life,
independently of its intrinsic merit. It brought on a lawsuit
between him and the Revue de Paris, in which the greater
part of it was published, and in which he refused to complete
it. As the actual suit was decided in his favor, his legal justi-
fication is not matter of dispute, and his adversaries put them-
selves hopelessly in the wTong by reviewing the termination
of the book, when it appeared elsewhere, in a strain of virulent
but clumsy ridicule. As to where the right or wrong lay, in-
dependent of questions of piire law on one side and poor taste
on the 'other, it is not so easy to come to any conclusion.
Balzac published an elaborate justification of his own conduct,
wdiich does not now appear with the book, but may be found,
by any one who is curious, among the rejected prefaces which
fill a large part of the twenty-second volume (the third of
the (Euvres Diverses) of his IFor/.-s. It is exceedingly long,
not by any means temperate, and so confused that it is diffi-
cult to make head or tail of it. What is clear is that the
parties went on the dangerous and unsatisfactory plan of
neither complete performance of tlie work before payment
nor complete payment beforehand, but of a per contra ac-
count, the author drawing money as he wanted it, and sending

in copy as he could or chose. Balzac seems to allow that he



got into arrears, contending that it he paid those arrears the
rest of the work was his own property. But there were com-
plicating disagreements in reference to a simultaneous pub-
lication at St. Petersburg; and, on the whole, we may fairly
conclude in the not very original terms of '' faults on both
sides." The affair, however, evidently gave him much an-
noyance, and seems to have brought him into some discredit.

The other point of personal interest is that Madame de
Mortsauf is very generally said to represent Madame de Bemy,
his early friend, and his first instructress in aristocratic waj's.
Although there are strong expressions of affection in his
letters with regard to this lady, who died early in his career,
they do not definitely indicate what is commonly called love.
But the whole scenery and atmosphere of Le Lys Dans la
Vallee are those of his own early haunts. Frapesle, which is
so often mentioned, was the home of another pi atonic friend,
Madame Zulma Carraud, and there is much in the early ex-
periences of Felix de Vandenesse which has nearly as per-
sonal a touch as that of Louis Lamhert itself.

Dismissing this, we may come to the book itself. Balzac
took so much interest in it — indeed, the personal throb may
be felt throughout — that he departed (according to his o\\ti
account, for the second time only) from his rule of not an-
SAvering criticism. This was in regard to a very remarkable
article of M. Hippolyte Castilles (to be found in M. de Loven-
joul's invaluable bibliography, as is the answering letter in the
CEuvres Diverses) , reflecting upon the rather pagan and ma-
terialist " resurrection of the flesh " in Madame de Mortsauf
on her deathbed. His plea that it was the disease not the per-
son, though possessing a good deal of physiological force, is
psychologically rather weak, and might have been made much


stronger. Indeed this scene, though shocking and discon-
certing to weak brethren, is not merely the strongest in the
novel, but one of the strongest in Balzac's works. There is
farther to be noted in the book a quaint delineation, in the
personage of M. de Mortsauf, of a kind of conjugal torment
which, as a rule, is rather borne by husbands at the hands of
wives than vice versa. The behavior of the " lily's " husband,
sudden rages and all, is exactly that of a shrewish and vale-
tudinarian woman.

This, however, and some minor matters, may be left to the
reader to find out and appreciate. The most interesting point,
and the most debatable, is the character of the heroine with,
in a lesser degree, that of the hero. Of M. Felix de Vande-
nesse it is not necessary to say very much, because that cajjital
letter from J\Iadame de Manerville (one of the very best
things that Balzac ever wrote, and exhibiting a sharpness and
precision of mere writing which he too frequently lacked)
does fair, though not complete justice on the young man.
The lady, who was not a model of excellence herself, perhaps
did not perceive — for it does not seem to have been in her
nature to conceal it through kindness — that he was not only,
as she tells him, wanting in tact, but also wanting, and that
execrably, in taste. M. de Vandenesse, T think, ranks in Bal-
zac's list of good heroes ; at any rate he saves him later
from a fate which he rather richly deserved, and introduces
him honorably in other places. But he was not a nice young
man. His " pawing " and timid advances on Madame de
Mortsauf, and his effusive "kissing and telling" in reference
to Lady Dudley, both smack of the worst sides of Rousseau :
they deserve not so much moral reprehension as physical kick-
ing. It is no wonder that Madeleine de Mortsauf turned a


cold shoulder on him; and it is an addition to his demerits
that he seem? to have thoncfh.t her unjust in doincf so .

As for the " lily " we come once more to one of those in-
eradicable differences between I'rench and Euglisii taslc —
one of those moral fosses not to be filled which answer to the
physical Channel. 1 have said that I do not think the last
scene unnatural, qr even repulsive : it is pretty true, and
rather terrible, and where truth and terror are there is seldom
disgust. But, elsewhere, for all her technical purity, her
shudderings, and the rest of it, I cannot help thinking that,
without insular narrowness or prudery, one may find jMadame
de Mortsauf a little rancid, a little like stale cold cream of
roses. And if it is insular narrowness and prudery so to find
her, let us tliank God for a narrowness which yet leaves room
for Cleopatra, for Beatrix Esmond, and for Becky Sharp.
I should myself have thought Madame de Mortsauf a person
of bad taste in caring at all for such a creature as Felix.
But if she did care, I should have thought better of her for
pitching her cap over the very highest mill in her care for
him, tlian for this fulsome hankering, this " I would, but
dare not " platonism. Still, others may think differently, and
that the book is a very powerful book they cannot hold more
distinctly than I do.

A personal interest also attaches to La Maison Nucingen,
w^hich it is convenient to include here. The story of Madame
Surville, and the notary, and his testimony to Balzac's com-
petence in bankruptcy matters, have been referred to in the
General Introduction. La Maison Nucingen is scarcely less
an example of this than Cesar BiroUeau. It is also a curious
study of Parisian business generally, showing the intense
and extraordinary interest which Balzac took in an-\'thing


Speculative. Evil tongues at tlie time identified Nucingen
with the first Rothschild of the Paris branch, but the re-
semblances are of the most general and distant kind. Indeed,
it may be said that Balzac, to his infinite honor both in char-
acter and genius, seldom indulged in the clumsy lugging in
of real persons by head and shoulders, which has come into
fashion since his time, especially in France. Even where
there are certain resemblances, as in Henri de Marsay to
Charles de Eemusot, in Eestignac to Thiers, in Lousteau to
Jules Janin, and elsewhere, the borrowed traits are so blended
and disguised with others, and the whole so melted down and
reformed by art, that not merely could no legitimate anger
be aroused by them, but the artist could not be accused of
having in any way exceeded his rights as an artist and his
duty as a gentleman. If he has ever stepped out of those wise
and decent limits, the transgression is very rare, and cer-
tainly Nucingen is not an example of it. For the rest, the
story itself is perhaps more clever and curious than exactly

La Maison Nucingen (which the author also thought of
calling La Haute Banque) originally appeared with La
Femme Superieure (Les Employes) and that part of Splen-
deurs et Miseres entitled La TorpiJJe, in October 18:18, jnib-
lished by Werdet in two volumes. Six years later it took rank
as a Scene de al Vie Parisienne in the fir.st edition of the

Some bibliographical details about Le Lys have been an-
ticipated above. It need only be added that the appearances
in the Revue de Paris were in the numbers for November
and December 1835, and that the book was published by
Werdet in June of next year. The date of the Envoi (after-


wards removed), August 8, 1837, may have some biographical
interest. Charpentier republished the book in a slightly dif-
ferent form in 1839, and, five years later, it vi^as installed in
the Comedie.

G. S.

Note— It may be barely necessary for me to protect myself and the translator from
a possible charge of mistaking Lilium candidum for ConvaUaria majalh. The French
for our " lily-of-the-valley " is, of course, muguei. But " Lily in the Valley " wouJf?
inevitably sound in England like a worse mistake, or a tasteless variation on a con-
secrated phrase. And " Lily of the Valley " meets the real sense weU.


To Monsieur J. B. Nacquart
Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine

Jear Doctor,— Here is oue of the most highly wrought stones of
the second story of a literary edifice that is being slowly and
laboriously constructed; I wish to set your name here, as much
to thank the physician who once saved my life as to do honor
to the friend of every day. De Balzac.

To Madame la Comtesse Natalie de Manerville

"I YIELD to your wish. It is the privilege of the woman
whom we love more than she loves us that she can at any mo-
ment make us forget the laws of good sense. To spare our-
selves the sight of a wrinkle on your brow, to dissipate a pout
on your lips — which so small a contradiction saddens — we
work miracles to annihilate distance, we give our blood, we
mortgage the future.

"You, to-day, want my past: here it is. But understand
this, Natalie; to obey you I have had to trample under foot
a repugnance I never before have conquered. Why must you
bo suspicious of the long and sudden reveries which come
over me when I am happiest ? Why show the pretty tempers
of a woman beloved because I fall silent ? Could you not play
with the contrasts of my nature without knowing theii
causes? Have you in your heart secrets which must have
mine to gain absolution ?

"Well, you have guessed rightly, Natalie, and it is better
perhaps that you should know everything: yes, my life is


overshadowed by a phantom; it asserts itself vaguely at the
least word that evokes it; it often hovers over mo unbidden.
I have, buried within my soul, astounding memories, like
those marine growths which may be seen in calm waters, and
which the surges of the storm fling in fragments on the shore.

"Though the travail needed for the utterance of ideas has
(Controlled the old emotions which hurt me so much when they
are suddenly aroused, if there should be in this confession
any outbreaks that oifend you, remember that you threatened
me, in ease of disobedience, and do not punish me for having
obliged you.

"I only wish my confidence might increase your tenderness

"Till this evening. Felix."

To what genius fed on tears may we some day owe the
most touching elegy — the picture of the tortures suffered in
silence by souls whose roots, while still tender, find nothing
but hard pebbles in the soil of home, whose earliest blossoms
are rent by the hands of hate, whose flowers are frost-bitten
as soon as they open? What poet will tell of the sorrows of
the child whose lips suck the milk of bitterness, whose smiles
are checked by the scorching fire of a stern eye ? The fiction
that should depict these poor crushed hearts, downtrodden
by those who are placed about them to encourage the develop-
ment of their feelings, would be the true story of my child-

What vanities could I, a new-born babe, have fretted?
What moral or physical deformity earned me my mother's
coldness ? Was I the offspring of duty, a child whose birth is
fortuitous, or one whose existence is a standing reproach?

Sent to be nursed in the country and forgotten by my
parents for three years, when I returned to my father's house
I counted for so little that I had to endure the pity of the
servants. I know not to what feeling nor to what happy
chance I owed it that I was able to rally after this first dis-
aster; as a child I did not understand, and as a man I do not


know. My brother and my two sisters, fax from mitigating
my fate, amused themselves by tormenting me. The mutual
compact, in virtue of which children hide each other's pecca-
dilloes and learn an infant code of honor, was null and void
as regarded me; nay, more, I often found myself in disgrace
for my brother's misdeeds, with no power of appeal against
the injustice; was it that insidious self-interest, of which a
germ exists even in children, prompted them to add to the
persecution that weighed on me, so as to win the good graces
of the mother whom they feared no less? Was it the result
of their imitative instinct? Was it a desire to tr\^ their
power, or a lack of fellow-feeling ? All these causes combined
perhaps to deprive me of the comfort of brotherly kindness.
Cut off already from all affection, I could love nothing, and
Nature had made me loving ! Is there an angel who collects
the sighs of such ever-repressed feeling? If misprized senti-
ments turn to hatred in some souls, in mine they became con-
centrated, and wore a channel from whence at a later date
they gushed into my life. In some characters the habit of
shrinking relaxes every fibre, and gives rise to fear; and fear
reduces us to perpetual subjection. Hence proceeds a weak-
ness which debases a man and gives him an indescribable
taint of servility.

But this constant torment gave me the habit of exerting
a force which increased with exercise, . and predisposed my
soul to moral fortitude. Always on the lookout for some new
misery, as martyrs expect a fresh blow, my whole being must
have expressed a gloomy dejection which stifled all the graces
and impulses of childhood, a condition which was regarded
as a symptom of idiocy, justifying my mother's ominous prog-
nostics. A sense of this injustice gave rise in my spirit to a
premature feeling of pride, the outcome of reason, which, no
doubt, was a check on the evil disposition fostered by such a
manner of education.

Though completely neglected by my mother, I was occa-
sionally the cause of some scruples in her mind ; she sometimes
talked of my learning something, and expressed a purpose


of teaching me; then I shuddered miserably at the thought
of the anguish of daily contact with her. I blessed my de-
serted loneliness, and was happy in being left in the garden
to play with pebbles, watch the insects, and gaze at the blue

Though isolation made me dreamy, my love of meditation
had its rise in an incident which will give you an idea of my
first woes. I was so entirely overlooked that the governess
often forgot to put me to bed. One evening, 'peacefully sitting
under a fig-tree, I was looking at a star with the passionate
curiosity known to children, to which, in me, precocious mel-
ancholy gave a sort of sentimental intuition. My sisters were
playing and shouting; I head the remote clatter like an ac-
companiment of my thoughts. The noise presently ceased;
night fell. By chance my mother noticed my absence. To
avert a scolding, our governess, a certain terrible Made-
moiselle Caroline, justified my mother's affected fears by de-
claring that I had a horror of home; that if she had not
watched me narrowly, I should have run away before then ;
that I was not weak of intellect, but sly; that of all the chil-
dren she had ever had care of, she had never kno^Ti one whose
disposition was so vile as mine.

She then pretended to search for me, and called me; I
replied ; she came to the fig-tree where she knew that I was.

"What have you been doing here?" she asked.

"I was looking at a star."

'TTou were not looking at a star," cried my mother, who
was listening from her balcony, "as if a child of your age
could know anything of astronomy !"

"Oh, madame," cried Mademoiselle Caroline, 'Tie turned
on the tap of the cistern, the garden is flooded !"

There was a great commotion. My sisters had amused
themselves with turning the tap to see the water flow; but,
startled by a spurt sideways that had wetted them all over,
they lost their head, and fled without turning the water off
again. Accused and convicted of having devised this piece
of mischief, and of lying when I asserted my innocence, T ^rx


?everely punished. But, worst of all, I was mocked at for my
love of star-gazing, and my mother forbade my staying in
the garden in the evening.

Tyrannical prohibitions give zest to a passion, even more
in children than in men; children have the advantage of
thinking of nothing else but the forbidden thing, which then
becomes irresistibly fascinating. So I was often caned for
my star. Unable to confide my woes to any human being,
I told my griefs to the star in that exquisite internal warbling
by which a child lisps its first ideas as he has already lisped
his first words. At the age of twelve, a boy at school, I still
contemplated it with a sense of unspeakable rapture, so deep
are the marks set on the heart by the impressions received in
the dawn of life.

My brother Charles, five years my senior, was not less hand-
some as a child than he is as a man ; he was my father's favor-
ite, my mother's darling, the hope of the family, and conse-
quently the king of the household. Well made and strong,
he had a tutor. I, frail and sickly, was sent, at the age of five,
to a day-school in the town, whither I was taken in the morn-
ing by my father's valet, who fetched me home in the after-
noon. I took my midday meal in a basket but scantily filled,
while my comrades brought ample supplies. Tliis contrast
of my necessity with their abundance was the source of much
suffering. The famous rillettes and rillons of Tours (a kind
of sausage meat) formed the larger part of our midday
luncheon, between breakfast in the morning and late dinner
at the hour of our return home. This preparation, highly
prized by some epicures, is rarely seen at Tours on any genteel
table; though I may have heard of it before going to school,
I had never been so happy as to see the brown confection*
spread on a slice of bread for my own eating; but even if it
had not been a fashionable dainty at school, my longing for
it would have been no less eager, for it had become a fixed
idea in my brain, just as the stews concocted by her porter's
wife inspired a longing in one of the most elegant of Paris
duchesses, who, being a woman, gratified her fancy.


Children can read such a longing in each other's eyes just
as you can read love ; thenceforth I was a standing laughing-
stock. My school-fellows, almost all of the shopkeeper class,
would come to display their excellent rillettes, and ask me
if I knew how they were made, where they were sold, and
why I had none. They would smack their lips as they praised
their rillons, fragments of pork fried in their own fat and
looking like boiled truSies ; they took stock of my basket, and
finding only Olivet cheeses or dried fruit, struck me dumb
by saying, "Why, you have nothing at all !" in a way that
taught me to estimate the difference made between my brother
and myself.

This comparison of my own misery with the good fortune
of others dashed the roses of my childhood and blighted my
blossoming youth. The first time that I, taken in by a sem-
blance of generosity, put out my hand to take the longed-for
treat from a hypocrite who offered it, the boy snatched it
away, raising a shout of laughter among the others who were
aware of the practical joke.

If the loftiest minds are accessible to vanity, we may surely
pardon a child for crying when he finds himself despised and
made game of. ■ Treated thus, most children would become
greedy, sneaking, and mean. To avoid persecution. I fought
my foes; the courage of despair made me formidable, but I
was detested, and remained without defence against treach-
ery. One evening, as I left school, a handkerchief, tightly
rolled and full of stones, struck me on the back. When the
valet, who avenged me amply, told my mother about it, she
only said:

"That dreadful child will never be anvthing but a trouble
to us !"

I then suffered the most miserable distrust of myself, dis-
cerning at school the same repulsion as was felt for me b}'' my
family. I was thrown in on myself at school and at home.
A second fall of snow checked the blossoming of the germs
sown in my soul, Those who were loved were, I saw, sturdy
rascals; with this I comforted my pride, and I dwelt alone.


Thus there was no end to the impossibility of pouring out
the feelings which swelled my poor little heart. Seeing me
always alone, hated and dejected, the master confirmed my
parents' unjust notions as to my evil nature.

As soon as I could read and write, my mother had me exiled
to Pont-le-Voy, a school managed by Oratorians, who received
children of my age into a class designated as that of the
Pas latins (Latin steps), which also included scholars whose
defective intelligence had precluded the rudiments. There
I remained for eight years, seeing no one, and leading the
life of a Pariah. And this was why. I had but three francs
a month for pocket-money, a sum which barely sufficed for
the pens, knives, rulers, ink and paper, with which we had to
provide ourselves. And so, being unable to buy stilts, or
ropes, or any of the things needed for school-boy amusements,
I was banished from every game; to gain admittance I must
either have toadied the rich or have flattered the strong boys
in my division. Now the least idea of such meanness, which
children so often drift into, raised my gorge.

I used to sit under a tree reading the books given out to
"US once a month by the librarian. How much anguish lay
hidden in the depths of this unnatura] isolation, what misery
this desertion caused me ! Imagine what my tender soul
must have felt when, at the first distribution of prizes, I was
awarded the- two most anxiously looked for — that for compo-
sition and that for translation ! When I went up to the plat-
form to receive them, in the midst of applause and cheers,
I had neither father nor mother to rejoice with me, while

Online LibraryHonoré de Balzac[Works] (Volume 9) → online text (page 1 of 66)