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299
BALZAC

of his loves and friendships and that of his actual work. The first has some small resemblance to Scott's similar experiences, though in Balzac's case there was no great crash but a lifelong pressure; on the other hand, his debts were brought upon him by a long course not so much of extravagance in actual expenditure (though there was something of this) as of financial irregularities of almost every description,—anticipations of earnings, costly methods of production (he practically wrote his novels on a succession of printed revises), speculations, travel, and lastly the collection of curiosities. As regards the second, although his fashion of life made him by turns a hermit and a vagrant, he was on good terms with most of the famous men of letters of his day from Hugo downwards, and seems never to have quarrelled with any man, except with some of his editors and publishers, by his own fault. Balzac was indeed, in no belittling sense of the word, one of the most good-natured of men of genius. But his friendships with the other sex are of much more importance, and not in the least matters of mere gossip. His sister Laure, as has been said, and a school-friend of hers, Mme Zulma Carraud, played important and not questionable parts as his correspondents. But at least three ladies, all of a rank higher than his own, figure as his "Egerias" to such an extent that it is hardly extravagant to say that Balzac would not have been Balzac without them. These are Madame de Berny, a lady connected with the court of the ancien régime, much older than himself and the mother of nine children, to whom he was introduced in 1821, who became to him La dilecta, who was the original of Mme de Mortsauf in Le Lys dans la vallée, and who seems to have exercised an excellent influence on him in matters of taste till her death in 1836; the marquise de Castries, who took him up for a time and dropped him, and who has been supposed to have been his model for his less impeccable ladies of fashion; and lastly, the Polish-Russian countess Evelina Hanska, who after addressing, as l'Étrangère, a letter to him as early as 1832, became his idol, rarely seen but constantly corresponded with, for the last eighteen years, and his wife for the last few months of his life. Some of his letters to her have long been known, but the bulk of them constituted the greatest recent addition to our knowledge of him as given in the two volumes of Lettres à l'étrangère. Of hers we have practically none and it is exceedingly hard to form any clear idea of her, but his devotion is absolutely beyond question.

Business, friendship and love, however, much more other things, were in Balzac's case always connected with and on the whole quite secondary to work. He would even sometimes resist the commands by which at long intervals Mme Hanska would summon him to see her, and abstract the greater part of his actual visits to her in order to serve this still more absorbing mistress. He had, as we have seen, worked pretty hard, even before 1829, and his work had partly taken forms not yet mentioned—political pamphlets and miscellaneous articles which are now accessible in the Édition définitive of his works, and hardly one of which is irrelevant to a just conception of him. Nor did he by any means abandon these by-works after 1829; indeed, he at one time started and almost entirely wrote, a periodical called the Revue parisienne. He wrote some dramas and planned many more, though the few which reached the stage left it again promptly. Balzac's dramas, as they appear in his works, consist of Vautrin, Les Ressources de Quinola, Paméla Giraud (arranged for the stage by others), La Marâtre and Mercadet le faiseur, the last of which has, since his death, been not unsuccessful. But on the whole he did devote himself to his true vocation, with a furious energy beside which even Scott's, except in his sadder and later days, becomes leisurely. Balzac generally wrote (dining early and lightly, and sleeping for some hours immediately after dinner) from midnight till any hour in the following day—stretches of sixteen hours being not unknown, and the process being often continued for days and weeks. Besides his habit of correcting a small printed original into a long novel on the proofs, he was always altering and re-shaping his work, even before, in 1842, he carried out the idea of building it all into one huge structure—the Comédie humaine with its subdivisions of Scènes de la vie parisienne, Études philosophiques, &c. Much pains have been spent upon this title and Balzac's intentions in selecting it. But the "Human Comedy," as a description for mere studies of life as his, will explain itself at once or else can never be explained.

Of its constituents, however, some account must be given, and this can be best done through an exact and complete list of the whole work by years, with such abbreviated notes on the chief constituents as may lead up to a general critical summary. Of the two capital works of 1829, we have spoken. 1830, the epoch year, saw part (it was not fully published till the next) of La Peau de chagrin, one of the crudest, but according to some estimates, one of the greatest of the works, full of romantic extravagance and surplusage, but with an engrossing central idea—the Nemesis of accomplished desire—powerfully worked out; La Maison du chat qui pelote, a triumph of observation and nature, together with a crowd of things less in bulk but sometimes of the first excellence—El Verdugo, Étude de femme, La Paix du ménage, Le Bal de sceaux, La Vendetta, Gobseck, Une Double Famille, Les Deux Rêves, Adieu, L'Élixir de longue vie, Sarrazine, Une Passion dans le désert and Un Épisode sous la Terreur. In 1831, La Peau de chagrin appeared complete, accompanied by Le Réquisitionnaire, Les Proscrits, Le Chef-d'œuvre inconnu (a masterpiece fortunately not unrecognized), Jésus Christ en Flandre and Maître Cornélius. 1832 gave Madame Firmiani, Le Message, Le Colonel Chabert and Le Curé de Tours (two stories of contrasted but extraordinary excellence), La Bourse, La Femme abandonnée, Louis Lambert (autobiographical and philosophic), La Grenadière and Les Marana (a great favourite with the author). In 1833 appeared Ferragus, chef des dévorants, the first part of L'Histoire des treize (a collection in the more extravagant romantic manner, very popular at the time, and since a favourite with some, but few, good judges), Le Médecin de campagne (another pet of the author's, and a kind of intended document of his ability to support the cause of virtue, but, despite certain great things, especially a wonderful popular "legend of Napoleon," a little heavy as a whole), the universally admitted masterpiece of Eugénie Grandet, and L'Illustre Gaudissart (very amusing). 1833 also saw the beginning of a remarkable and never finished work-out of his usual scope but exceedingly powerful in parts—the Contes drolatiques, a series of tales of Old France in Old (or at least Rabelaisian) French, which were to have been a hundred in number but never got beyond the third batch of ten. They often borrow the licence of their 15th and 16th century models; but in La Succube and others there is undoubted genius and not a little art. 1834 continued the Treize with La Duchesse de Langeais and added La Recherche de l'absolu (one of Balzac's great studies of monomania, and thought by some to be the greatest, though others prefer Le Chef-d'œuvre inconnu), La Femme de trente ans (the chief example of the author's caprice for re-handling, and very differently judged as a whole), with yet another of the acknowledged triumphs, Le Père Goriot. On the whole, this year's work, though not the author's largest, is perhaps his most unique. Next year (1835) followed Melmoth réconcilié (a tribute to the great influence which Maturin exercised, not over Balzac only, at this time in France), Un Drame au bord de la mer, the brilliant, if questionable, conclusion of Les Treize, La Fille aux yeux d'or, Le Contrat de mariage and Séraphita. This last, a Swedenborgian rhapsody of great beauty in parts, has divided critics almost more than anything else of its writer's, some seeing in it (with excuse) nothing but the short description given above in three words, the others (with justice) reckoning it his greatest triumph of style and his nearest attempt to reach poetry through prose. 1836 furnished La Messe de l'athée, Interdiction, Facino Cane, Le Lys dans la vallée (already referred to and of a somewhat sickly sweetness), L'Enfant maudit, La Vieille Fille and Le Secret des Ruggieri (connected with the earlier Les deux Rêves under the general title, Sur Cathérine de Médicis, and said to have been turned out by Balzac in a single night, which is hardly possible). In 1837 were published Les Deux Poètes, destined to form part of Illusions perdues, Les Employés, Gambara and another capital work, Histoire de la grandeur et de la décadence