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BALZAC



Translated, with Notes, by
WILFRID THORLEY



LISP
OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS




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BALZAC



BY



EMILE FAGUET



OF THE ACADEMIE FRANJAISE




BOSTON AND NEW YORK

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

1914



S45B2I
DFi3Et



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I

PAGE

HIS LIFE 1



CHAPTER II
HIS GENERAL IDEAS .... . 33

CHAPTER III
HIS GENERAL VIEW OF MANKIND . . .49

CHAPTER IV
HIS ART AND ITS MAKE-UP .... 74

CHAPTER V
HIS CHARACTERS 92

CHAPTER VI
HIS TASTE 164

CHAPTER VII
HIS STYLE 195

CHAPTER VIII
BALZAC AFTER HIS DEATH . . . .219
INDEX 259



f



2979



BALZAC

I

HIS LIFE

HonorfI Balzac, who subsequently assumed
the name of Honore de Balzac, was born at
Tours on the 16th of May (Saint Honore's Day)
1799. His father, Francois Balssa, had very
early changed his name to Balzac ; he was
born at Nougai'rie, in the departement of the
Tarn, in 1746. Honore's grandfather went by
the name of Balssa, and farmed land in the
parish of Nougairie ; his mother's name was
Laure Sallambier, and she was born at Paris
in 1778. This duality of strain in Balzac's
progenitors frees the biographer from any need
to go into the question of ethnology. Balzac
was not the product of Touraine, nor of Lan-
guedoc, nor of Paris ; he was merely of the
French breed.

His father was vigorous, full-blooded, a great
talker and reader, a man of startling projects

A



2 BALZAC

and ideas (traits of character which are again
to be met with in his son) ; in later life hardly
caring for anything save how to prolong his
days so that he might at least rival Fontenelle. 1
Honore de Balzac has bestowed many of his
father's characteristics on Doctor Benassi, in
the Medecin de Campagne.

M. Balzac, the elder, had been, under the
former regime, a lawyer of the humbler sort
and very obscure. The Revolution doubtlessly
brought him the shoulder-tap to higher dignity,
for we find him, in 1793, figuring in the Alman-
ack National as municipal official and member
of the general council of the Commune. He
was then sent to the frontier of the Nord as
director of supplies. In 1797 he married
Laure Sallambier, whose father belonged to
the same governmental board. From 1804 to
1811 he was master of the workhouse at
Tours. From 1798 onward he had been
occupied in the direction of the almshouses
at Tours, and in this town Honore was born,
and the mot du temps culled by Taine — c It 's a
fine hospital mushroom ' — was probably, while

1 Fontenelle was a nephew of Corneille. He wrote popular
scientific works of great worth, and died a centenarian in 1757.
— Tb.



HIS LIFE 3

being at the same time an attempt at defining
his literary temperament, an allusion to his
place of origin. Balzac's father was, over and
above his administrative duties, second deputy
to the mayor of the township of Tours. In
1814 he re-entered at Paris the department of
supplies which had first occupied him as direc-
tor, and stayed there until his retirement in
1819, when he went to live at Villeparisis, and
later on at Versailles. He was to live on until
1829, when he passed away at the age of eighty-
three years at Versailles.

Honore's mother, thirty-two years younger
than her husband and twenty-one years older
than her son, was a highly intelligent woman,
very witty, very pretty, with beautiful eyes, a
long thin nose, a thin and rather tight lipped
mouth ; dry, masterful, and overbearing, her
hobby being occult science and the daringly
metaphysical authors, a bent which she handed
on at one time to her son. She was to outlive
Honore by some years ; she died, in 1853, at
seventy-five years of age. It is generally
believed that Balzac put his mother's least
pleasing traits into his portrait of la Cousine
Bette.

Honore, the eldest of the children, had two



4 BALZAC

sisters and a brother. The elder of his sisters,
Laure, two years younger than Honore, was
the best friend that he ever had on this earth,
his confidante and good counsellor ; and she
has left behind for us some infinitely interesting
memoirs. She became the wife of M. Surville.
The second, Laurence, married M. de Montzaigle
and died quite young in 1826. His brother,
after a scapegrace boyhood and youth, emi-
grated to America, where he led a life of hard-
ship and died while still comparatively young.
Honore's first school was the lycee of Tours
which he attended for some time as a day
scholar, and a page dealing with this experience
is to be found in his Lys dans la Vallee ; then —
though for what reason I have been unable to
discover — he was sent to the College of Ven-
dome in 1807, he being then nine years old.
The College of Vendome, very famous for other
reasons at this time, was under the direction
of the Oratorians. 1 They were severe.
Honore did not take at all kindly to study
properly so called ; but he read enormously
everything on which he could lay his hands,
and everything that he could smuggle out of
the library. He was looked upon as a deplor-

1 A religious order formerly much occupied in teaching. — Tr,



HIS LIFE 5

able pupil and passed much of his time in
detention. He wrote also, as the whim
prompted him, all manner of things, on sub-
jects generally far beyond a boy of his years.
Later on in life he gave some account of his
college days in Louis Lambert. The outcome
of all this was a kind of brain fever which
caused much alarm. His mother was sum-
moned. She found him pale, thin, unsettled,
and to all appearance in a stupor. His grand-
mother cried out, ' That 's how the college
gives them back to us.' He was taken away.
This was on the 22nd of August 1813, he being
then fifteen.

His health mended rapidly and he entered,
as day scholar, the third class of the lycee of
Tours. In 1814, his father having been ap-
pointed, as before mentioned, director of the
first division for town supplies at Paris, Honore
was sent to the institution Lepitre (for which
see also le Lys dans la Vallee) in the Marais.
M. Lepitre picked out the young Honore, be-
friended him, and acquired rather a strong
influence over the lad. M. Lepitre, who had
risked his life for the royal family during the
Terror, was a strong Catholic and monarchist.
It is quite possible that his ideas may have



6 BALZAC

roused an answering echo in the young man's
mind.

His studies, never in fact other than badly
done, having come to an end, Honore entered
a lawyer's office, that of M. Guyonnet-Merville.
From seventeen to twenty, very active, he
was taken up with legal procedure, studied law,
and regularly attended the classes at the
Faculty of Letters. He was a very needy
student, the very type of the poor scholar, for
his father made him no allowance whatever.
Balzac has set that down very carefully in la
Peau de Chagrin.

At twenty or twenty-one his father made
him a dazzling offer, a lawyer to whom M.
Francois Balzac had once done a good turn
offering to make Honore his confidential clerk
right away, and then, after a short term of
probation, his successor, on the very easiest of
terms. But Honore fought shy of the lawyer ;
ever since his college days, and especially after
the classes at the Sorbonne, he had nursed
literary ambitions which he could no longer
hold in check. Terrible domestic upheavals
followed on his refusal. Honore was obstinate,
and his mother inflexible. His father was less
so. He decided to put the young man to the



HIS LIFE 7

test. For two years Honore lived alone, with
an allowance just sufficient to meet his bare
needs, and tried his luck at literature. For a
writer two years of probation is a ridiculously
short period, but such was the paternal decision.
During this time and thereafter, M. Francois
Balzac having just been pensioned off, the
family was living at Villeparisis.

Honore, in an attic in the Rue Lesdiguieres,
near the Arsenal, worked furiously for two
years. He has described with hardly a word
of hyperbole what a terrible life he then led
in the Peau de Chagrin and in Albert Savarus.
His determination was unflinching. He wrote
to his sister Laure, ' With an assured income of
1500 francs, I might work for fame ; but time
is needed for such an undertaking, and first of
all I must settle how to make a living. All the
same I shall not become a lawyer. Look on
me as dead if ever I am snuffed out under a
lawyer's wig. I would rather be a dray-horse
that goes its thirty or forty rounds in an hour,
drinks, eats, and sleeps at set times. And this
mechanical rotation is called life, thi^lricessant
round ! Laure, Laure, vtff oniy^two wishes
and how immense~t he y ar e ! — to be famous, dn$l
-to be loved, will they ever be fulfilled ? '



8 BALZAC

He brought forth a tragedy which he read to
a committee of friends, among whom was that
M. Surville who was to become his sister's hus-
band. Disapproval was unanimous. Choice
of a new umpire, the elder M. Surville, a
former professor, according to some, or the
poet Andrieux as others say, resulted in a like
disapproval of even greater severity. What
did Honore conclude ? That he ' had no gift
for tragedy,' and set to work again.

However, as he broke down from overwork,
his relenting parents withdrew him to Ville-
parisis. He worked on there, although less
at ease and deprived of the solitude which his
work required, and there he made the acquaint-
ance of Mme. de Berny. Mme. de Berny, the
daughter of a German musician and instru-
mentalist to Marie Antoinette by one of her
chambermaids, was born at Versailles in 1777.
She was thus forty-five years old in 1822, and
Honore's senior by twenty-one years. She
had been married at fifteen to Gabriel de
Berny, who became an advisory judge at the
Royal Court at Paris, and had borne him
eight children; but she did not love her
husband, who was morose and peevish.
She became first Honore's friend and then



HIS LIFE 9

his mistress, her friendship for him outlasting
her life.

She fostered in him those Catholic and
monarchical feelings which it seems quite likely
that he had already conceived; she kept alive
his interest in the bygone court ; she gave
him that liking for aristocratic elegance which
he always retained in spite of his temperament
driving him in quite other directions ; she urged
him on to write; she urged him on still more
perhaps to try his hand in business, and it
seems to me that there is a good deal of likeness
between Mme. de Berny and Mme. de Warens.
In any case, Balzac loved her whole-heartedly.
He has said somewhere, obviously thinking of
her, ' A man's first love should be a woman's
last ' ; and his works often show us quite young
men falling in love with women already well
on in life : Rubempre and Mme. de Bargeton,
Gaston de Nueil and Mme. de Beauseant, etc.
/This kind of love in a man points to a certairi\
Unnate indelicacy which it develops. /

Balzac took to novel- writing, and particu-
larly (like Rubempre) to novel-writing of the
Scott kind. He sought a publisher, and found
him, young, intelligent, and enterprising, in the
person of Le Poitivin, whom he had probably



10 BALZAC

known in Paris during his period of literary
prenticeship. Le Poitivin published him and
paid him. Balzac brought out in rapid suc-
cession seven novels very hastily put together,
which, even on his own showing, were quite
worthless ; but he felt the oncoming of ideas ;
he felt himself ripening, and wrote to his sister,
4 A little longer, and between the me of to-day
and the me of to-morrow there will be the
difference that exists between the youth of
twenty and the man of thirty years. I reflect ;
my ideas gather strength ; I see that nature
has not been niggardly with me in the matter
of heart and head.' Every one has told him-
self as much ; but here there was no mistake
about it.

However he believed that, dallying in this
way, he was spending himself without earning
enough to live on, and he begot either from his
own unfortunate whim or that of Mme. de
Berny the notion of launching out into busi-
ness, so that, having made his pile quickly, he
might thereafter settle down to a life of artistry
wholly tranquil and secure. He quickly turned
publisher with the small capital that he was
able to get together, and especially with what
was forthcoming from Mme. de Berny. He



HIS LIFE 11

failed completely in this first attempt and got
into debt. In order to run down his money he
set out on another undertaking with a new
partner and came out of it with as little success.
In order to extricate himself, he set up, along
with a certain Laurent and Mme. de Berny, a
foundry for casting printer's type. The out-
come was equally disastrous. In order to save
her son from bankruptcy, Mme. Balzac sacri-
ficed her whole fortune ; but he was still
burdened with a heavy debt, for what amount
has not, I believe, ever been known, and this
he dragged after him until the end of his days.

He once more set to work as a writer with the
fury of despair. This was in 1829, the year
of his father's death. Not for the sake of rest,
but in order that he might live in purer air,
and in a house of ampler room and among
new surroundings, Balzac accepted at Fougeres
the hospitality of M. de Pomereul, who had
formerly been under great obligation to his
guest's father, and there he studied Brittany
and the Bretons. Hence his first book worthy,
and truly worthy, of attention, Us Chouans,
the result of long pondering, and written care-
fully and slowly.

He then went back to the home which was



12 BALZAC

now at Versailles, and thus, hard by Paris, he
tried to get on to good terms with those in the
best society and in the literary world. Mme.
de Berny helped him in this. She had kept
on good terms with Sophie Gay, 1 whose ac-
quaintance he made, as well as that of her
daughter Delphine, already famous, and later
to become still more so under the name of Mme.
de Girardin. He witnessed, too, the opening
of Mme. de Bagration's salon-door to welcome
him. In spite of his bulkiness, which was
becoming marked, his ill manners, the com-
plete ignorance of how to dress well which
always marked him, and his lack of wit, he
was liked on account of his good nature, his
gaiety, his frankness, and — why not say so,
since it is a weakness of which salons stand in
need ? — his volubility.

Among literary people he knew Henri
Monnier, La Touche, and George Sand (the
last-named, deeply interested by les Chouans
and la Physiologie du Mariage, first paying him
a visit without any preliminary formality), the

1 She wrote interesting novels now chiefly noteworthy as side-
lights on the Directoire and the Empire, and died in 1852. three
years before her daughter Delphine. The latter became the wife
of a well-known pamphleteer, and wrote light verses and comedies
of worth. — Tn.



HIS LIFE 13

Duchess d'Abrantes (Mme. Junot), who, under
the Empire, had been one of the most beauti-
ful, most brilliant, and most royally prodigal
of Parisian women, and who, in 1830, was
living wretchedly on the slender earnings of a
feeble but indefatigable pen. We can fancy
how, next to her father himself, who had seen
at such close range the military world of the
Empire, Mme. d'Abrantes was of use to him
in bringing back to life before his gaze the
various personages, with their might and their
meanness, their greatness and their weakness,
as they lived during the heroic period of the
first Napoleon.

In 1831 he got to know Mme. la Duchesse de
Castries in circumstances which were with
Balzac of rather frequent occurrence, as they
are, it should be added, with most men of
letters. The Duchess wrote to him anony-
mously (as she did to Sainte-Beuve after the
publication of Volupte) ; he replied ; a corre-
spondence was set going, and the Duchess ended
by lifting her mask and begging the writer to
come and see her. The Duchess de Castries
seems to have been venturesome, of highly
extravagant whims, coquettish, and, in short,
disposed to love no one ardently except her



14 BALZAC

own self. Balzac was greatly taken with her.
For her sake he became quite a society man
during the years 1831 and 1832 ; for her sake
he gave more and more parade to those Catholic
and legitimist sentiments which had indeed
always been his ; for her sake his debts swelled
rather than shrank; perhaps it was for her
sake also that he offered himself as a candidate
to the electoral committee of several wards,
and failed in all of them. In obedience to a
summons from Mme. de Castries he joined her
at Aix-les-Bains, where he remained for some
weeks, and a plan having been arranged for
travelling in Italy, he set out with the lady,
her husband, and the Duke of Fitz-James, but
only accompanied them as far as Geneva, where
some kind of a quarrel put an end both to the
trip and to his relations with the Duchess, and
brought about his return to Paris. When the
Duchess herself returned to town, nothing
further was required of Balzac, for the sake of
due seemliness, than to put in a few polite
appearances at the de Castries' drawing-room.
We may be sure that the Duchesse de Langeois
of Balzac's work derives from the Duchess de
Castries.

1832 saw the beginning — epistolary at start-



HIS LIFE 15

ing, but later on of a more material kind — of
Balzac's connection with Mme. Hanska, since
his first known letter to this lady dates from
the first month of the following year. Mme.
Hanska, nee Rezvuszka, was a young Polish
woman of the bluest blood and very wealthy,
a great lover of French literature, and much
taken with Balzac's novels. Like Mme. de
Castries and several others, she wrote to Balzac,
and first of all a friendly correspondence, and
then an amorous friendship sprang up between
them.

From 1833 to 1837 (and later, but especially
during these four years) Balzac made many
prolonged stays in the provinces, in Angoumois,
Touraine, Berri (Issoudan), Brittany(Guerande),
Limousin, Auvergne, Savoy, Dauphiny, and
Provence. He was fond of provincial France
as a country where types and characters re-
mained whole without being blunted or worn
thin by continual friction, as is the case in the
larger towns. The outcome of these journeys
and long stays in small towns was the famous
series of novels classed together under the
general title of Scenes de la Vie de Province.

Towards 1833 his mother, being more than
ever taken up with occult science, lured him



16 BALZAC

after her along the same track, and hence he
came to deal with man's communication with
the beyond, and with the power of magnetism
as shown in UrsuU Mirouet and Seraphita.
It should be added that no period was more
crazy after occultism and all its kindred than
that of Louis Philippe : the subject may be
fruitfully studied in the Hierophantes of M.
Fabre des Essarts.

In the spring of the same year Balzac first
met Mme. Hanska, who had come with her
husband to Neuchatel, where Balzac joined her.
He saw her seldom and always in company,
but these short glimpses inspired him with a
deep passion which continued growing almost
up to the day of his death. At the end of
December he went back to Switzerland, M. and
Mme. Hanska having settled down at Geneva
for some time, and there he stayed for six
weeks, enjoying her hospitality, or at least
seeing her a good deal. He returned to Paris
at the beginning of February 1834.

In 1835 Mme. de Berny got a judicial separa-
tion from her husband, our only cause for sur-
prise being that she had not done so sooner,
without casting any special blame, we may add,
on Balzac, with whom she had now very few



HIS LIFE 17

dealings. In 1836 she died at la Boulonniere,
near Nemours, at the age of fifty-eight years.
In spite of his new passions, her death was a
heavy blow for Balzac. He often said that she
was the only woman that he had ever loved.
It seems to me that it would be fairer to say
that she was the only woman who had truly
loved him.

In the midst of the romances which he was
writing and the romances of real life which he
was beginning or just leaving behind him, the
business dealings at which he was once more
trying his hand, Balzac turned his thoughts
toward the drama and journalism. In 1839 he
submitted UEcole des Menages to the management
of the Renaissance, by whom it was refused.
In 1840 he started the Revue Parisienne, in
which he was very hard on Sainte-Beuve,
La Touche, Eugene Sue, Thiers, and even Victor
Hugo. The Revue Parisienne, lacking the
sinews of war, survived only three months.
In 1840 he brought out Vautrin at the Porte-
Saint-Martin theatre, and this again, since it
was bad, was coldly received, and suppressed
after the first performance owing to Frederic
Lemaitre having made himself up as Louis
Philippe. Balzac attributed his disaster to the



18 BALZAC

forelock of Frederic Lemaitre, * a disaster which
a barber's tongs might have set right, 5 and the
animosity of the newspaper men. ' Does the
author put it down to journalism ? If so he
can only congratulate it for having thus justi-
fied by its conduct all that he said of it else-
where.' This is an allusion to his portraits of
journalists and his pictures of the press world
in the Illusions per dices.

In 1841, at the Odeon, he produced les
Ressources de Quinola, not at all a bad piece,
which fell completely flat.

During the same year M. Hanska died, and
Balzac thought he might now achieve the happy
consummation of his sentimental life. But
nothing came of it. For reasons which remain
hidden from us, in spite of the fact that we may
now read the letters of Balzac to Mme. Hanska,
the projected marriage was indefinitely post-
poned.

In 1843 Balzac presented at the Gaiety a
gloomy drama entitled Pamela Giraud, which
once more was a complete failure. The same
year Mme. Hanska took up her residence at St.
Petersburg, in order to bring out her daughter
in Russian society. Balzac went there to see
her, stayed as her guest for three months, was



HIS LIFE 19

charmed again by the lady and by his first impact
with things Russian, and returned to Paris to
take up once more his frightful burden of work.

In 1845 Mme. Hanska, having betrothed her
daughter to the Count Mniszech, set out for
Dresden with them, and was there joined by
Balzac, who, ardently enamoured of all three,
accompanied them to Marseilles, Geneva, Rome,
Naples, and came back to Paris in despair at
having to leave them.

In the following March he returned to Italy
to see his friends and stayed there some weeks,
then coming back to Paris, which he again left
in August for Wiesbaden, where Mme. Hanska
was then staying, and whence, after a fort-
night's visit, he once more returned to the
capital.

Towards the close of 1846 Mme. Hanska
visited Paris in order to consult the doctors
about her health, which was much shaken,
and there she remained for several weeks.

In 1847 Balzac went as far afield as Vierz-
chownia in Ukraine, in order to visit Mme.
Hanska on her estate there. He was once more
perfectly happy, made a tour in Southern
Russia, admired Kiev, studied the customs of
the country, was much interested in the roonu-



20 BALZAC

merits, and once more greatly enjoyed his role
of tourist and observer. He was back again
in Paris at the beginning of 1848.

He brought out there, at last with success,
la Maratre, which was played at the Theatre
Historique, and offered to the Theatre Francais
and elsewhere his best piece, Mercadet le
Faiseur, which was only to see the footlights,
accompanied by hearty applause, after its
author had passed away.

In the month of September he went back to
Russia. He was very ill there, his chest be-
coming diseased, as his heart had already been
for a long time. He dragged along for eighteen
months, devotedly cared for but unable to get
better. Slightly improved in 1850, he doubt-
lessly begged Mme. Hanska to bestow herself
in marriage. She consented ; but for marriage
with a foreigner the Emperor's permission was
necessary, and this was granted only on con-
dition that Mme. Hanska gave up all her
belongings to her children. She agreed to do


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