Honore de Balzac, His Life and Writings/Chapter XII
- 1840 - 1843
- "Vautrin"—La Revue Parisienne—Societe des Gens-de-Lettres—Balzac leaves Les Jardies, and goes to the Rue Basse, Passy—Death of M. de Hanski—"Les Ressources de Quinola"—"La Comedie Humaine"—Balzac goes to St. Petersburg to meet Madame Hanska—Her reasons for deferring the marriage.
The sad fate of "L'Ecole des Menages" did not long discourage Balzac. At the beginning of 1840 he made an engagement to provide Harel, the speculative manager of the Theatre Porte-St-Martin, with a drama. The play was accepted before it was written; and in order to be near the theatre Balzac established himself in the fifth floor of the house of Buisson, his tailor, at the corner of the Rue Richelieu. His proceedings were, as usual, eccentric. One day Gautier, who tells the story, was summoned in a great hurry, and found his friend clad in his monk's habit, walking up and down his elegant attic, and shivering with impatience.
"'Here is Theo at last,' he cried, when he saw me. 'You idler! dawdle! sloth! gee up, do make haste! You ought to have been here an hour ago! To-morrow I am going to read to Harel a grand drama in five acts.'
"'And you want my advice,' I answered, settling myself comfortably in an armchair, ready to submit to a long reading.
"From my attitude Balzac guessed my thought, and said simply, 'The drama is not written.'
"'Good heavens!' said I: 'well, then you must put off the reading for six weeks.'
"'No, we must hurry on the drama to get the money. In a short time I have a large sum of money to pay.'
"'To-morrow is impossible; there is no time to copy it.'
"'This is the way I have arranged things. You will write one act, Ourliac another, Laurent-Jan the third, De Belloy the fourth, I the fifth, and I shall read it at twelve o'clock as arranged. One act of a drama is only four or five hundred lines; one can do five hundred lines of dialogue in a day and the night following.'
"'Relate the subject to me, explain the plot, sketch out the characters in a few words, and I will set to work,' I said, rather frightened.
"'Ah,' he cried, with superb impatience and magnificent disdain, 'if I have to relate the subject to you, we shall never have finished!'"
After a great deal of trouble, Gautier managed to persuade Balzac to give him a slight idea of the plot, and began a scene, of which only a few words remain in the finished work. Of all Balzac's expected collaborators, Laurent-Jan, to whom "Vautrin" is dedicated, was the only person who worked seriously.
In two months and a half of rehearsals Balzac became almost unrecognisable from worry and overwork. His perplexities became public property, and people used to wait at the door of the theatre to see him rush out, dressed in a huge blue coat, a white waistcoat, brown trousers, and enormous shoes with the leather tongues outside, instead of inside, his trousers. Everything he wore was many sizes too big for him, and covered with mud from the Boulevards; and it was an amusement to the frivolous Parisians to see him stride along in these peculiar garments, his face bearing the impress of the trouble and overstrain he was enduring. He was at the mercy of every one. The manager hurried and harried him, because the only hope of saving the theatre from bankruptcy was the immediate production of a successful play. The actors, knowing the piece was not finished, each clamoured for a part to suit his or her peculiar idiosyncrasies, and Balzac was so overburdened, that occasionally in despair he was tempted to abandon his play altogether.
There was tremendous excitement in Paris about the approaching first representation of "Vautrin"; and foreign politics, banquets, and even the burning question of reform, paled in interest before the great event. All the seats were sold beforehand; and as there was a rush for the tickets, Balzac and Harel chose their audience, and thought that they had managed to secure one friendly to Balzac. Unfortunately, however, the seats were sold so early that many of them were parted with at a profit by the first buyers, and in the end a large proportion of the spectators were avowedly hostile to Balzac. March 14th, 1840, was the important date, and Balzac wrote to Madame Hanska: "I have gone through many miseries, and if I have a success they will be completely over. Imagine what my anxiety will be during the evening when 'Vautrin' is being acted. In five hours' time it will be decided whether I pay or do not pay my debts."
He was very nervous beforehand, and told Leon Gozlan that he was afraid there would be a terrible disaster.
The plot of the play is extraordinary and impossible. Vautrin, the Napoleon among convicts, who appears in several of Balzac's novels, is the hero; he had declared war against society, and the scene of the drama, with Vautrin as the principal figure, passes in the aristocratic precincts of the Faubourg St. Germain. The theatre was crowded for the performance, and the first three acts, though received coldly, went off without interruption. At the fourth act, however, the storm burst, as Frederick Lemaitre, who evidently felt qualms about the success of his part, had determined to make it comic, and appeared in the strange costume of a Mexican general, with a hat trimmed with white feathers, surmounted by a bird of paradise. Worse still, when he took off this hat he showed a wig in the form of a pyramid, a coiffure which was the special prerogative of Louis Philippe! The play was doomed. The Duke of Orleans, who was in one of the boxes, left the theatre hurriedly; and it was difficult to finish the performance, so loud were the shouts, hisses, and even threats. The next day the following official announcement appeared in the Moniteur: "The Minister of the Interior has interdicted the appearance of the drama performed yesterday at the Theatre of the Porte St. Martin under the title of 'Vautrin.'" Balzac's hated foes, the journalists, of course rejoiced in his downfall, and accentuated the situation by declaring the piece to be not only disloyal, but revoltingly immoral. On the other hand, Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Mme. de Girardin, stood firmly by him, and Frederick Lemaitre, to whom Balzac evidently bore no malice for his large share in the disaster, was, he said, "sublime."
Leon Gozlan went to see Balzac the day after the performance, and found him outwardly calm, but his face was flushed, his hands burning, and his lips swollen, as though he had passed through a night of fever. He did not mention the scene of the night before, but talked eagerly of a plan to start a large dairy at Les Jardies, and to provide Paris and Versailles with rich milk. He had several other equally brilliant schemes on hand: he intended to grow vines, cultivate vegetables, sell manure; and by these varied means to assure himself of an income of eighteen thousand francs.
The Director of the Beaux-Arts was sent to offer Balzac money to make up for his loss; he says, however: "They came to offer me an indemnity, and began by proposing five thousand francs. I blushed to my hair, and answered that I did not accept charity, that I had put myself two hundred thousand francs in debt by writing twelve or fifteen masterpieces, which would count for something in the glory of France in the nineteenth century; that for three months I had done nothing but rehearse 'Vautrin,' and that during those three months I should otherwise have gained twenty-five thousand francs; that a pack of creditors were after me, but that from the moment that I could not satisfy all, it was quite indifferent to me whether I were tracked by fifty or by a hundred, as the amount of courage required for resistance was the same. The Director of the Beaux-Arts, Cave, went out, they tell me, full of esteem and admiration. 'This,' said he, 'is the first time that I have been refused.' 'So much the worse,' I answered."
Balzac became very ill with fever and brain neuralgia the day after the performance of "Vautrin," and Madame Surville took him to her house and nursed him. When he left his bed it was, of course to find his affairs in a worse condition than ever, and he was, as he described himself, "a stag at bay." His friendship with Madame Visconti was a consolation to him in his troubles; he described her to Madame Hanska, who did not quite appreciate these raptures, as "one of the most amiable of women, of infinite and exquisite goodness. Of delicate, elegant beauty, she helps me to support life." Nevertheless, no friendships made up for the want of a wife, and home, the two things for which he yearned; and he writes sadly: "I have much need now of having my wounds tended and cured, and of being able to live without cares at Les Jardies, and to pass my days quietly between work and a wife. But it seems as if the story of every man will only be a novel to me."
His despondency did not abate his powers of work, as from April to December he published "Z. Marcas," "Un Prince de la Boheme," and "Pierre Grassou"; while in 1841, among other masterpieces, appeared "La Fausse Maitresse," "Une Tenebreuse Affaire," "Un Menage de Garcon," "Ursule Mirouet," and "Les Memoires de deux Jeunes Mariees." He was almost at the end of his courage however, and talked seriously in the case of failure in his new enterprise—the Revue Parisienne—of going to Brazil on some mad errand which he would undertake because it was mad; and of either coming back rich or disappearing altogether.
A monthly magazine, of which one man was to be director, manager, editor, besides being sole contributor, was a heroic attempt at making a fortune; and this was what Balzac contemplated, and accomplished for a short time in the Revue Parisienne. His mode of working was not calculated to lessen the strain to which he subjected himself, as, never able to start anything till pressed for time, he left the work till near the end of the month, when the printers were clamouring for copy. Then there was no pause or slumber for him; his attention was concentrated on his varied and difficult subjects till the moment when he rushed with disordered garments to the printer's office. There, seated anywhere—on the corner of a table, at a compositor's frame, or before a foreman's bureau—he became completely absorbed in the colossal labour of reading and correcting his proofs. The first number of the Revue Parisienne appeared on July 25th, 1840; but it was only continued for three months, as Balzac decided that the task was too much for him. During its short life however, it furnished a magnificent and striking example of his extraordinary powers and mental attainments; as each of the numbers was the size of a small volume, and he provided novels, biography, philosophy, analysis, and criticism, and treated brilliantly each subject he attacked.
A question in which Balzac took the greatest interest was that of the rights of authors and publishers, under which Louis Philippe did not meet with much respect. Not only did the Belgians reproduce French works at a cheap rate by calmly dispensing with the duty of paying their authors; but publishers in the provinces often followed this pernicious practice, and it was difficult to prosecute them. A striking instance of this injustice was to be found in the case of "Paroles d'un Croyant," by M. de Lamennais, of which ten thousand pirated copies were sold in Toulouse, where only five hundred of the authorised edition had been sent by the publisher. No redress could be obtained because, though the fact was certain, legal proofs were apparently lacking; but in consequence of this glaring infraction of the rights of both author and publisher, on December 28th, 1838, Balzac became a member of the Societe des Gens-de-Lettres. This Society, which was insignificant when he first joined it, owed everything to his reputation, and to the energy with which he worked for its interests. On October 22, 1839, he spoke at Rouen in its behalf, in the first action brought by it against literacy piracy. Later in the same year he was elected President, and in May, 1840, he drew up the masterly "Code Litteraire de la Societe des Gens-de-Lettres" to which reference has already been made. On September 5th, 1841, however, in consequence of a dispute concerning the drawing up by the Gens-de-Lettres of a manifesto to be presented to the deputies composing the Law Commission on Literary Property, Balzac withdrew from the Society. The ostensible reason for his resignation was, that at a committee meeting to discuss the Manifesto, doubts were thrown on his impartiality; but it seems probable from his letter that some unwritten ground for complaint really caused his withdrawal. After Balzac's death, the Society des Gens-de-Lettres acknowledged with gratitude the debt owed him as one of the founders of the Society, and the help received from his intelligence and activity.
In 1840, before he ceased to belong to the Societe des Gens-de-Lettres, he had left Les Jardies; and had hidden himself under the name of Madame de Brugnolle, his housekeeper, in a mysterious little house at No. 19, Rue Basse, Passy; to which no one was admitted without many precautions, even after he had given the password. Behind this was a tiny garden where Balzac would sit in fine weather, and talk over the fence to M. Grandmain, his landlord. In his new abode he established many of his treasures: his bust by David d'Angers, some of the beautiful furniture he was collecting in preparation for the home he longed for, and many of his pictures, those treasures by Giorgione, Greuze, and Palma, which were the delight of his heart. With great difficulty, by publishing books and articles in quick succession, he had prevented the sale of Les Jardies by his creditors. As he had no money to pay cab fares this entailed rushing from Passy to Paris on foot, often in pouring rain; with the result that he became seriously ill, and found it necessary to recruit in Touraine and Brittany.
On June 15th, 1841, a fictitious sale for 15,500 francs was made of Les Jardies, which had cost Balzac 100,000 francs; but he did not really part with the villa till later, when he had decided that it would not be suitable ultimately as a residence. To add to his troubles, he found it necessary to take his mother to live with him, an arrangement which gave rise to many little storms, and made writing a difficult matter. Madame Visconti's society gave him no consolation at this time,—he was disappointed in her; and decided that his abuse of Englishwomen in the "Lys dans la Vallee," was perfectly justified.
Fortunately, he was now feeling tolerably cheerful about money matters; as he had paid off the hundred thousand francs he owed from his treaty in 1836, and hoped in fifteen months to have made arrangements for discharging all his debts; while three publishers, Dubochet, Furme, and Hetzel & Paulin, had undertaken to publish a complete edition of his works with engravings. This was to be the first appearance of the long-dreamt-of "Comedie Humaine," the great work of Balzac's life.
However, for a time even this took secondary place, as on January 5th, 1842, a letter with a black seal arrived from Madame Hanska; and gave the important news of the death of M. de Hanski, which had taken place on November 10th, 1841. Balzac's letter in answer to this is pathetic to any one cognisant of his subsequent history. He begins with confidence: "As to me, my dear adored one, although this event enables me to reach what I have desired so ardently for nearly ten years, I can, before you and God, say in justice, that I have never had anything in my heart but complete submission, and that in my most terrible moments I have not soiled my soul with evil wishes." Further on, he tells her that nothing in him is changed; and suddenly seized with a terrible doubt from the ambiguous tone of her letter, he cries, in allusion to a picture of Wierzchownia which always hung in his study: "Oh! I am perhaps very unjust, but this injustice comes from the passion of my heart. I should have liked two words for myself in your letter. I have hunted for them in vain—two words for the man who, since the landscape in which you live has been before his eyes, has never continued working for ten minutes without looking at it."
He longs to start at once to see her, but from the tone of her letter he gathers that he had better wait until she writes to him again, when he begs for the assurance that her existence will henceforward belong to him, and that no cloud will ever come between them. He is alarmed about her anxiety on the subject of her letters. They are quite safe, he says, kept in a box like the one in which she keeps his. "But why this uneasiness now? Why? This is what I ask myself in terrible anxiety!" He finishes with "Adieu, my dear and beautiful life whom I love so much, and to whom I can now say 'Sempre medesimo.'"
Madame Hanska, in reply to this letter, objected strongly to the breach of "les convenances" which would be committed if Balzac came to see her early in her widowhood; and it was not till July 17th, 1843, that he was at last permitted to meet her in St. Petersburg, and then he had not seen her since his visit to Vienna, eight years before.
However, he was now full of happy anticipations, and it was with the greatest enthusiasm that he looked forward to the appearance of "Les Ressources de Quinola," which had been accepted by the Odeon, and on which he founded the most extravagant hopes. The long night of trouble was nearly over, and a late happiness would dawn upon him, heralded by a brilliant success at the theatre, which would not only free him from debt, but would also enable him to offer riches to the woman he loved.
At the first hearing of this play in the green-room of the Odeon, the company had been rather disenchanted as we know, because, after reading four acts admirably, Balzac was forced to improvise the unwritten fifth, and this he did so badly that Madame Dorval, the principal actress, refused to act. However, on the same day Lireux, the director of the Odeon, came to the Restaurant Risbeck, where Balzac was dining with Leon Gozlan, and said that he would accept the play. Balzac at once insisted that for the first three representations he must have command of the whole of the theatre, but he promised that Lireux should share the receipts with him, and these he said would be enormous. He also stipulated that for his three special performances no journalists should be admitted, there being war to the knife between him and them. As the place of Balzac's abode was being kept strictly secret for fear of his creditors, the time of the rehearsal each day was to be communicated to him by a messenger from the theatre, who was told to walk in the Champs Elysees, towards the Arc de l'Etoile. At the twentieth tree on the left, past the Circle, he would find a man who would appear to be looking for a bird in the branches. The messenger was to say to him, "I have it," and the man would answer, "As you have it, what are you waiting for?" On receiving this reply the emissary from the Odeon would hand over the paper, and depart without looking behind him. The only comment that Lireux, who appears to have been a practical man, made on these curious arrangements was, that if the twentieth tree had been struck by lightning during the night, he supposed that the servant must stop at the twenty-first, and Balzac assented gravely to this proposition.
The great writer worked with his usual energy at the rehearsals, continually rewriting parts of the play, and besides this occupation spending hours in the theatre bureau, as he had determined to sell all the tickets himself. For the first night of "Les Ressources de Quinola" the audience was to be brilliantly representative of the aristocracy, beauty, and talent of France. The proscenium would, Balzac hoped, be occupied by ambassadors and ministers, the pit by the Chevaliers de St. Louis, and the orchestra stalls by peers; while deputies and state functionaries were to be placed in the second gallery, financiers in the third, and rich bourgeoisie in the fourth. Beautiful women were to be accommodated with particularly prominent places; the price of the seats was to be doubled or trebled; and to avoid the continual interruptions to which "Vautrin" was subjected, tickets were only to be sold to Balzac's assured friends. Therefore many persons who offered fabulous sums of money were refused admittance, and told that every seat was taken. By these means Balzac ultimately overreached himself, as people believed that all the seats were really sold, and that it was no use to apply for tickets. When, therefore, March 19th, 1842, the night of Balzac's anticipated triumph arrived, instead of a brilliant assemblage crowding the Odeon, it was three parts empty; and the small audience, who had paid enormously for their seats, and naturally expected a brilliant throng in the theatre, were in a critical and captious mood.
The scene of the play was laid in Spain in the time of Phillip II., and much of the dialogue was witty and spirited; but Balzac had mixed up serious situations and burlesque in a manner irritating to the audience, and there were many interruptions. Balzac was fortunately unaware of his want of success; he had completely disappeared, and it was not till half-past twelve, long after the finish of the performance, that he was discovered fast asleep at the back of a box. The fourth representation of "Les Ressources de Quinola" was specially tumultuous. Lireux, being now master of the theatre, invited all the journalistic world to be present, and they, furious at their exclusion during the first three nights, encouraged the general clamour. Some of the hooters were turned out, and the audience then amused themselves by ejaculating "Splendid!" "Admirable!" "Superb!" and "Sublime!" at every sentence, and by singing comic couplets, such as:
- C'est M. Balzac,
- Qu'a fait tout ce mic-mac!
During the intervals.
However, after two scenes had been entirely cut out, and several others suppressed, "Quinola" ran for nineteen nights. Many years afterwards, in 1863, it was acted at the Vaudeville, and was a great success. During his lifetime Balzac's plays received little applause—in fact, were generally greeted with obloquy; but when it was too late for praise or blame to matter, his apotheosis as a dramatist took place; and on this occasion his bust was brought to the stage, and crowned amid general enthusiasm.
The year 1842 is important in the annals of Balzac's life, as on April 23rd his novels were for the first time collected together to form the "Comedie Humaine," his great title to fame. The preface to this ranks among the celebrated prefaces of the world, and it was written at the suggestion of his friend Hetzel, who objected strongly to the prefaces signed Felix David, which had been placed in 1835 at the beginning of the "Etudes de Moeurs au XIXieme Siecle," and of the "Etudes Philosophiques." In an amusing letter Hetzel tells Balzac that a preface should be simple, natural, rather modest, and always good-humoured. "Sum up—sum up as modestly as possible. There is the true pride, when any one has done what you have. Relate what you want to say quite calmly. Imagine yourself old, disengaged from everything even from yourself. Speak like one of your own heroes, and you will make something useful, indispensable.
"Set to work, my fat father; allow a thin publisher to speak thus to Your Fatness. You know that it is with good intentions."
We may be grateful to Hetzel for this advice, which Balzac evidently followed; as the preface is written in a quiet and modest tone unusual with him, and he follows Hetzel's counsel, and gives a concise summary of his intention in writing the "Comedie Humaine."
He explains that he has attempted in his great work to classify man, as Buffon has classified animals, and to show that his varieties of character, like the differences of form in the lower creation, come from environment. The three great divisions of the Comedie Humaine are "Etudes de Moeurs," "Etudes Philosophiques," and "Etudes Analytiques"; and the "Etudes de Moeurs" comprise many subdivisions, each of which, in Balzac's mind, is connected with some special period of life.
The "Scenes de la Vie Privee," of which the best-known novels are "Le Pere Goriot" (1834), "La Messe de l'Athee" (1836), "La Grenadiere" (1832), "Albert Savarus" (1842), "Etude de Femme" (1830), "Beatrix" (1838), and "Modeste Mignon" (1844), Balzac connects with childhood and youth. The "Scenes de la Vie de Province," to which belong among others "Eugenie Grandet" (1833), "Le Lys dans la Vallee" (1835), "L'Illustre Gaudissart" (1833), "Pierrette" (1839), and "Le Cure de Tours" (1832), typify a period of combat; while "Scenes de la Vie Parisienne," which contain "La Duchesse de Langeais" (1834), "Cesar Birotteau" (1837), "La Cousine Bette" (1846), "Le Cousin Pons" (1847), "Facino Cane" (1836), "La Maison de Nucingen" (1837), and several less-known novels, show the effect of Parisian life in forming or modifying character.
Next Balzac turns to more exceptional existences, those which guard the interests of others, and gives us "Scenes de la Vie Militaire," comprising "Une Passion dans la Desert" (1830), and "Les Chouans" (1827); and "Scenes de la Vie Politique," which contain "Un Episode sous la Terreur" (1831), "Une Tenebreuse Affaire" (1841), "Z. Marcas" (1840), and "L'Envers de l'Histoire Contemporaine" (1847). He finishes the "Etudes de Moeurs" with "Scenes de la Vie de Campagne," consisting of "Le Medecin de Campagne" (1832), "Le Cure de Village" (1837 to 1841), and "Les Paysans" (1844); and these are to be, Balzac says, "the evening of this long day. Here are my purest characters, my application of the principles of order, politics, morality."
There are no subdivisions to the "Etudes Philosophiques," among which we find "La Peau de Chagrin," written in 1830, and considered by Balzac a link between the "Etudes de Moeurs" and the "Etudes Philosophiques"; "Jesus-Christ en Flandre" (1831), "Massimilla Doni" (1839), "La Recherche de l'Absolu" (1834), "Louis Lambert" (1832), and "Seraphita" (1835). To the division entitled "Etudes Analytiques" belong only two books, "La Physiologie du Mariage" (1829), and "Petites Miseres de la Vie Conjugale" (1830 to 1845).
"The Comedie Humaine" was never finished, but, incomplete as it is, it remains a noble memorial of Balzac's genius, as well as an astonishing testimony of his extraordinary power of work. The last edition of it which was published in Balzac's lifetime appeared in 1846, and formed sixteen octavo volumes. It consists of eighty-eight novels and tales, and by far the greater number of these appeared in the first edition of 1842. A strong connection is kept up between the different stories by the fact that the same characters appear over and over again, and the reader finds himself in a world peopled by beings who, as in real life, at one time take the foremost place, and anon are relegated to a subordinate position; but who preserve their identity vividly throughout.
Balzac found it impossible to manage without a pied-a-terre in Paris, and for some reason he could no longer lodge with Bouisson, his tailor, so in 1842 he took a lodging in the same house with his sister, Madame Surville, at 28, Rue du Faubourg Poissonniere. Life was brightening for him; he was beginning by his strenuous efforts to diminish perceptibly his load of debt, and the star of hope shone brightly on his path.
After many doubts on the part of Madame Hanska, who was most particular in observing the proprieties, he was allowed in 1843 to meet her in St. Petersburg, and arrived on July 17th, after a rough passage from Dunkerque, during which his discomforts were nothing to him, so joyous was he at the thought of soon seeing his beloved one. Madame Hanska was established at the Hotel Koutaizoff, in the Rue Grande Millione, and Balzac took a lodging near, and thought St. Petersburg with its deserted streets a dreary place. All minor feelings were, however, merged in the happiness of being near Madame Hanska, of hearing her voice, and of giving expression to that passionate love which had possessed him for more than ten years. In his sight she was as young and beautiful as ever, and his fascinated eyes watched her with rapture, as she leant back thoughtfully in the little arm-chair in the blue drawing-room, her head resting against a cushion trimmed with black lace. He could recall every detail afterwards of that room, could count the points of the lace, and see the bronze ornaments filled with flowers, in which he used to catch his knees in his rapid pacings up and down; and his eyes would fill with tears, and the creations of his imagination fade and become unreal, beside the haunting pictures of his memory. He loved Madame Hanska with a love which had grown steadily since their first meeting, and which now was threatening to overmaster him, so that even work would become impossible. Nevertheless, though she was most charming and affectionate, and he stayed in St. Petersburg until September, nothing definite was settled.
Madame Hanska was a prudent person; her dearly-loved daughter Anna was growing up, and it was quite necessary to settle her in life before taking any decided step. Besides, though she hardly allowed this to herself, there is no doubt that she was rather alarmed at the prospect of becoming Madame Honore de Balzac. The marriage would be decidedly a mesalliance for a Rzewuska, and her family constantly and steadily exerted their influence to prevent her from wrecking her future. What, they asked her, would be her life with a husband as eccentric, extravagant, and impecunious, as they believed Balzac to be? They collected gossip about him in Paris, and told Madame Hanska endless stories, occasionally true, often false, and sometimes merely exaggerated, about his oddities, his love affairs, and his general unsuitability for alliance with an aristocratic family. It was no doubt pleasant to have a man of genius and of worldwide fame as a lover; but what would be her position if she took the fatal step, and bound herself to him for life? Madame Hanska listened and paused: she well understood her advantages as a great and moneyed lady; and she was under no illusions as to the harassed and chequered existence which she would lead with Balzac. She had often lent him money, his letters kept her well informed about the state of his affairs; and the idea of becoming wife to a man who was often forced to fly from his creditors, must have been extremely distasteful to a woman used to luxury and consideration. Maternal affection, love of her country, prudence, social and worldly considerations—besides the fear of the Czar's displeasure—were all inducements to delay; and even if she had felt towards Balzac the passionate love for the lack of which posterity has reproached her, it surely would have been the duty of an affectionate mother to think of her child's welfare before her own happiness. Later on, when Anna was married, and Balzac, broken in health and tortured by his longings, was kept a slave to Madame Hanska's caprices, the hard thing may be said of her, that she was in part the cause of the death of the man she pretended to love. In 1843, however, whatever motives incited her, her action in delaying matters appears under the circumstances to have been right; and Balzac seems to have felt that he had no just cause for complaint.
He wrote to Madame Hanska, at each of the stopping-places during his tiring overland journey back to France, and describes vividly the miserable, jolting journey through Livonia, where the carriage road was marked out by boughs thrown down in the midst of a sandy plain, and all around was depressing poverty and desolation. Berlin, peopled with Germans of "brutal heaviness," he detested, and he loathed the society dinner parties, with no conversation—nothing but tittle-tattle and Court gossip; and complained of the trains, which travelled he said no quicker than a French diligence. Nevertheless, in contrast to Russia, the great voyant was struck with the air of "liberte de moeurs" which prevailed throughout Germany. He liked Dresden, and enjoyed his visit to its picture gallery, where he especially admired a Madeleine and two Virgins by Correggio, as well as two by Raphael, one of them presumably the San Sisto Madonna. The gem of the whole collection, however, in his opinion, was Holbein's Madonna; and he longed to have Madame Hanska's hand in his while he gazed at it. As he was away from her, he was very restless, and soon tired of all he saw. He longed to be back in Paris, and to find distraction in his work. "Think of my trouble, my sadness, and my sorrow, and you will be full of pity and of indulgence for the poor exile," he writes.
- "Portraits Contemporains—Honore de Balzac," by Theophile Gautier.
- "Lettres a l'Etrangere."
- "Lettres a l'Etrangere."
- "Lettres a l'Etrangere."
- This may be found in the Edition Definitive of Balzac's works, or in "Balzac Chez Lui," by Leon Gozlan.
- "Correspondance," vol. ii. p. 20.
- "Lettres a l'Etrangere."
- "Trois Lettres," in "Autour de Honore de Balzac," by the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.
- "Lettres a l'Etrangere."