1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Balzac, Jean Louis Guez de

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BALZAC, JEAN LOUIS GUEZ DE (1594-1654), French author, was born at Angoulême in 1594. At the age of eighteen he travelled in Holland with Théophile de Viaud, with whom he later exchanged bitter recriminations. He was early befriended by the duc d'Épernon and his son Louis, Cardinal de la Valette, who took him to Rome. His letters written to his acquaintances and to many who held a high position at the French court gained for him a great reputation. Compliments were showered upon him, he became an habitué of the Hôtel de Rambouillet, and his head appears to have been turned a little by his success. Richelieu was lavish of praise and promises, but never offered Balzac the preferment he expected. In 1624 a collection of his Lettres was published, and was received with great favour. From the château of Balzac, whither he had retired, he continued to correspond with Jean Chapelain, Valentin Conrart and others. In 1634 he was elected to the Academy. He died at Angoulême on the 18th of February 1654. His fame rests chiefly upon the Lettres, a second collection of which appeared in 1636. Recueil de nouvelles lettres was printed in the next year. His letters, though empty and affected in matter, show a real mastery of style, introducing a new clearness and precision into French prose and encouraging the development of the language on national lines by emphasizing its most idiomatic elements. Balzac has thus the credit of executing in French prose a reform parallel to Malherbe's in verse. In 1631 he published an eulogy of Louis XIII. entitled Le Prince; in 1652 the Socrate chrétien, the best of his longer works; Aristippe ou de la Cour in 1658; and several dissertations on style.

His Œuvres were collected (2 vols.) in 1665 by Valentine Conrart. There are numerous English translations from Balzac, dating from the 17th century.