Women in the Life of Balzac/Chapter V/Part III
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Chapter V/Part III: Madame Hanska, la Comtesse Mniszech, Mademoiselle Borel, Mesdemoiselles Wylezynska, la Comtesse Rosalie Rzewuska, Mademoiselle Caliste Rzewuska, Madame Cherkowitsch, Madame Riznitsch, la Comtesse Marie Potocka
"And they talk of the first love! I know nothing as terrible as the
last, it is strangling."
The longest and by far the most important of Balzac's friendships began by correspondence was the one with Madame Eveline Hanska, whose first letter arrived February 28, 1832. The friendship soon developed into a more sentimental relationship culminating March 14, 1850, when Madame Hanska became Madame Honore de Balzac. This "grand and beautiful soul-drama" is one of the noblest in the world, and in the history of literature the longest.
So long was Balzac in pursuit of this apparent chimera, and so ardent was his passion for his "polar star" that the above words of Quinola may well be applied to his experience. So fervent was his adoration, so pathetic his sufferings and so persistent his pursuit during the seventeen long years of waiting that Miss Betham-Edwards has appropriately said of his letters to Madame Hanska:
"Opening with a pianissimo, we soon reach a con molto
expressione, a crescendo, a molto furore quickly following.
Every musical term, adjectival, substantival, occurs to us as we
read the thousand and odd pages of the two volumes. . . . Nothing
in his fiction or any other, records a love greatening as the
tedious years wore on, a love sovereignly overcoming doubt,
despair and disillusion, such a love as the great Balzac's for
Their relationship from the beginning of their correspondence to the tragic end which came so soon after Balzac had arrived "at the summit of happiness," has been shrouded in mystery. This mystery has been heightened by the vivid imagination of some of Balzac's biographers, where fancy replace facts.
Miss Katherine P. Wormeley denies the authenticity of some of the letters published in the Lettres a l'Etrangere, saying:
"No explanation is given of how these letters were obtained, and no
proof or assurance is offered of their authenticity. A foot-note
appended to the first letter merely states as follows: 'M. le
vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, in whose hands are the
originals of these letters, has related the history of this
correspondence in detail, under the title of Un Roman d'Amour
(Calmann Levy, publisher). Madame Hanska, born Evelina (Eve)
Rzewuska, who was then twenty-six or twenty-eight years old,
resided at the chateau of Wierzchownia, in Volhynia. An
enthusiastic reader of the Scenes de la Vie privee, uneasy at
the different turns which the mind of the author was taking in
La Peau de Chagrin, she addressed to Balzac—then thirty-three
years old, in the care of the publisher Gosselin, a letter signed
l'Etrangere, which was delivered to him February 18, 1832. Other
letters followed; that of November 7 ended thus: 'A word from you
in the Quotidienne will give me the assurance that you have
received my letter, and that I can write to you without fear. Sign
it; to l'E—— H. de B.' This acknowledgment of reception
appeared in the Quotidienne of December 9. Thus was inaugurated
the system of petite correspondence now practised in divers
newspapers, and at the same time, this correspondence with her who
was seventeen years later, in 1850, to become his wife."
Regarding the two letters published in Un Roman d'Amour, pp. 33-49, dated November 7, 1832, and January 8, 1833, and signed l'Etrangere, Miss Wormeley says it is not necessary to notice them, since the author himself states that they are not in Madame Hanska's handwriting.
She is quite correct in this, for Spoelberch de Lovenjoul writes: "How many letters did Balzac receive thus? No one knows. But we possess two, neither of which is in Madame Hanska's handwriting." In speaking of the first letter that arrived, he says:
"This first record of interest which was soon to change its nature,
has unfortunately not been found yet. Perhaps this page perished
in the autodafe which, as the result of a dramatic adventure,
Balzac made of all the letters he had received from Madame Hanska;
perhaps also, by dint of rereading it, he had worn it out and
involuntarily destroyed it himself. We do not know. In any case,
we have not found it in the part of his papers which have fallen
into our hands. We regret it very much, for this letter must be
remarkable to have produced so great an impression on the future
author of the Comedie humaine."
The question arises: If Balzac burned in 1847 "all the letters he had received from Madame Hanska," how could de Lovenjoul publish in 1896 two letters that he alleged to be from her, dated in 1832 and 1833?
The Princess Radziwill who is the niece of Madame Honore de Balzac and was reared by her in the house of Balzac in the rue Fortunee, has been both gracious and generous to the present writer in giving her much valuable information that could not have been obtained elsewhere. In answer to the above question, she states:
"Balzac said that he burned my aunt's letters in order to reassure
her one day when she had reasons to fear they would fall into
other hands than those to whom they belonged. After his death, my
aunt found them all, and I am sorry to say that it was she who
burned them, and that I was present at this autodafe, and
remember to this day my horror and indignation. But my aunt as
well as my father had a horror of leaving letters after them, and
strange to say, they were right in fearing to leave them because
in both cases, papers had a fate they would not have liked them to
The sketch of the family of Madame Honore de Balzac as given in Un Roman d'Amour, is so inaccurate that the Princess Radziwill has very kindly made the following corrections of it for the present writer:
"(1) Madame Hanska was really born on December 24th, not 25th,
1801. You will find the date on her grave which is under the same
monument as that of Balzac, in Pere Lachaise in Paris. I am
absolutely sure of the day, because my father was also born on
Christmas Eve, and there were always great family rejoicings on
that occasion. You know that the Roman Catholic church celebrates
on the 24th of December the fete of Adam and Eve, and it is
because they were born on that day that my father and his sister
were called Adam and Eve. I am also quite sure that the year of my
aunt's birth was 1801, and my father's 1803, and should be very
much surprised if my memory served me false in that respect. But I
repeat it, the exact dates are inscribed on my aunt's grave. . . .
I looked up since I saw you a prayer book which I possess in which
the dates of birth are consigned, and thus found 1801, and I think
it is the correct one, but at all events I repeat it once more,
the exact date is engraved on her monument.
"(2) Caroline Rzewuska, my aunt's eldest sister, and the eldest of
the whole family, is the Madame Cherkowitsch of Balzac's letters,
and not Shikoff, as the family sketch says. It is equally
ridiculous to say that some people aver she was married four
times, and had General Witte for a husband; but Witte was a great
admirer of hers at the time she was Mme. Sobanska. There is also a
detail connected with her which is very little known, and that is
that she nearly married Sainte-Beauve, and that the marriage was
broken off a few days before the one fixed for it to take place.
That was before she married Jules Lacroix, and wicked people say
that it was partly disappointment at having been unable to become
the wife of the great critic, which made her accept the former.
"(3) My aunt Pauline was married to a Serbian banker settled in
Odessa, a very rich man called Jean Riznitsch, but he was neither
a General nor a Baron. Her second daughter, Alexandrine, married
Mr. Ciechanowiecki who also never could boast of a title, and
whose father had never been Minister de l'Interieur en Pologne.
"(4) My aunt Eve was neither married in 1818 nor in 1822 to Mr.
Hanski, but in 1820. It was not because of revers de fortune
that she was married to him, but it was the custom in Polish noble
families to try to settle girls as richly as possible. Later on,
my grandfather lost a great deal of money, but this circumstance,
which occurred after my aunt's marriage, had nothing to do with
it. My grandfather,—this by the way,—was a very remarkable man,
a personal friend of Voltaire. You will find interesting details
about him in an amusing book published by Ernest Daudet, called
La Correspondence du Comte Valentin Esterhazy, in the first
volume, where among other things is described the birth of my aunt
Helene, whose personality interests you so much, a birth which
nearly killed her mother. Besides Helene, my grandparents had
still another daughter who also died unmarried, at seventeen years
of age, and who, judging by her picture, must have been a wonder
of beauty; also a son Stanislas, who was killed accidentally by a
fall from his horse in 1826.
"(5) My uncle Ernest was not the second son of his parents, but the
youngest in the whole family."
It is interesting to note that Balzac wished to have his works advertised in newspapers circulating in foreign countries and wrote his publisher to advertise in the Gazette and the Quotidienne, as they were the only papers admitted into Russia, Italy, etc. He repeated this request some months later, by which time he not only knew that l'Etrangere read the Quotidienne, but he had become interested in her.
As has been mentioned, it is a strange coincidence that this first letter from l'Etrangere arrived on the very day that the novelist wrote accepting the invitation of the Duchesse de Castries. Balzac doubtless little dreamed that this was the beginning of a correspondence which was destined to change the whole current of his life.
Many versions have been given as to what this letter contained, some saying that Madame Hanska had been reading the Peau de Chagrin, others, the Physiologie du Mariage, and others, the Maison du Chat-qui-pelote, but if the letter no longer exists how is one to prove what it contained? Yet it must have impressed Balzac, for he wanted to dedicate to her the fourth volume of the Scenes de la Vie privee in placing her seal and "Diis ignotis 28 fevrier 1832" at the head of l'Expiation, the last chapter of La Femme de trente Ans, which he was writing when her letter arrived, but Madame de Berny objected, so he saved the only copy of that dedication and wished Madame Hanska to keep it as a souvenir, and as an expression of his thanks.
According to Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, Balzac showed one of Madame Hanska's letters to Madame Carraud, and she answered it for him; but with his usual skill in answering severe cross-examinations, he replies:
"You have asked me with distrust to give an explanation of my two
handwritings; but I have as many handwritings as there are days in
the year, without being on that account the least in the world
versatile. This mobility comes from an imagination which can
conceive all and remain vague, like glass which is soiled by none
of its reflections. The glass is in my brain."
In this same letter, which is the second given, Balzac writes: ". . . I am galloping towards Poland, and rereading all your letters,—I have but three of them, . . ." If this last statement be true, the answer to Spoelberch de Lovenjoul's question, "How many letters did Balzac receive thus?" is not difficult.
Miss Wormeley seems to be correct in saying that this second letter is inconsistent with the preceding one dated also in January, 1833, showing an arbitrary system of dating. There are others which are inconsistent, if not impossible, but if Spoelberch de Lovenjoul after the death of Madame Honore de Balzac found these letters scattered about in various places, as he states, it is quite possible that contents as well as dates are confused.
The husband of Madame Hanska, M. Wenceslas de Hanski, who was never a count, but a very rich man, was many years her senior, and suffered from "blue devils" and paresis a long time before his death. Though he was very generous with his wife in allowing her to travel, she often suffered from ennui in her beautifully furnished chateau of Wierzchownia, which Balzac described as being "as large as the Louvre." This was a great exaggeration, for it was comparatively small, having only about thirty rooms. With her husband, her little daughter Anna, her daughter's governess, Mademoiselle Henriette Borel, and two Polish relatives, Mesdemoiselles Severine and Denise Wylezynska, she led a lonely life and spent much of her time in reading, or writing letters. The household comprised the only people of education for miles around.
Having lost six of her seven children, and being an intensely maternal woman, the deepest feelings of her heart were devoted to her daughter Anna, who also was destined to occupy much of the time and thought of the author of the Comedie humaine.
If the letters printed in Un Roman d'Amour are genuine, in the one dated January 8, 1833, she speaks of having received with delight the copy of the Quotidienne in which his notice is inserted. She tells him that M. de Hanski with his family are coming nearer France, and she wishes to arrange some way for him to answer her letters, but he must never try to ascertain who the person is who will transmit his letters to her, and the greatest secrecy must be preserved.
It is not known how she arranged to have him send his letters, but he wrote her about once a month from January to September, and after that more frequently, as he was arranging to visit her. M. de Hanski with his numerous family had come to Neufchatel in July, having stopped in Vienna on the way. Here Balzac was to meet l'Etrangere for the first time. He left Paris September 22, stopping to make a business visit to his friend, Charles Bernard, at Besancon, and arriving at Neufchatel September 25. (Although this letter to M. Bernard is dated August, 1833, Balzac evidently meant September, for there is no Sunday, August 22, in 1833. He did not leave Paris until Sunday, September 22, 1833.) On the morning after his arrival, he writes her:
"I shall go to the Promenade of the faubourg from one o'clock till
four. I shall remain during that time looking at the lake, which I
have never seen."
Just what happened when they met, no one knows. The Princess Radziwill says that her aunt told her that Balzac called at her hotel to meet her and that there was nothing romantic in their introduction. Nevertheless, the most varied and amusing stories have been told of their first meeting.
Balzac remained in Neufchatel until October 1, having made a visit of five days. He took a secret box to Madame Hanska in which to keep his letters, having provided himself with a similar one in which to keep hers. If we are to credit the disputed letter of Saturday, October 12, we may learn something of what took place. Even before meeting Madame Hanska, he had inserted her name in one of his books, calling the young girl loved by M. Benassis "Evelina" (Le Medecin de Campagne).
Early in October M. de Hanski took his family to Geneva to spend the winter. After Balzac's departure from Neufchatel the tone of his letters to Madame Hanska changed; he used the tutoiement, and his adoration increased. For a while he wrote her a daily account of his life and dispatched the journal to her weekly.
Madame Hanska came into Balzac's life at a psychological moment. From his youth, his longing was "to be famous and to be loved." Having found the emptiness of a life of fame alone, having apparently grown weary of the poor Duchesse d'Abrantes, about to cease his intimacy with Madame de Berny, having been rejected by Mademoiselle de Trumilly, and having suffered bitterly at the hands of the Duchesse de Castries, he embraced this friendship with a new hope, and became Madame Hanska's slave.
If Balzac was charmed with the stories of the daughter of the femme de chambre of Marie Antoinette, was infatuated with a woman who had known Napoleon, and flattered by being invited to the home of one of the beautiful society ladies of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, what must have been his joy in learning that his new Chatelaine belonged to one of the most aristocratic families of Poland, the grandniece of Queen Marie Leczinska, the daughter of the wise Comte de Rzewuska, and the wife of one of the richest men in Russia!
But Madame Hanska was a very different woman from the kind, self-sacrificing, romantic Madame de Berny; the witty, splendor-loving, indulgent, poverty-stricken Duchesse d'Abrantes; or the frail, dazzling, blond coquette, the Duchesse de Castries. With more strength physically and mentally than her rivals, she possessed a marked authoritativeness that was not found in Madame de Berny, a breadth of vision impossible to Madame Junot, and freedom from the frivolity and coquetry of Madame de Castries.
The Princess Radziwill feels that the Polish woman who has come down to posterity merely as the object of Balzac's adoration, should be known as the being to whom he was indebted for the development of his marvelous genius, and as his collaborator in many of his works. According to the Princess, Modeste Mignon is almost entirely the work of Madame Hanska's pen. She gives this description of her aunt, which corresponds to Balzac's continual reference to her "analytical forehead":
"Madame de Balzac was perhaps not so brilliant in conversation as
were her brothers and sisters. Her mind had something pedantic in
it, and she was rather a good listener than a good talker, but
whatever she said was to the point, and she was eloquent with her
pen. She had that large glance only given to superior minds which
allows them, according to the words of Catherine of Russia, 'to
read the future in the history of the past.' She observed
everything, was indulgent to every one. . . . Her family, who
stood in more or less awe of her, treated her with great respect
and consideration. . . . We all of us had a great opinion of the
soundness of her judgments, and liked to consult her in any
difficulty or embarrassment in our existence."
No sooner had Balzac returned from his visit to Neufchatel intoxicated with joy, than he began to plan his visit to Geneva. He would work day and night to be able to get away for a fortnight; he decided later to spend a month there, but he did not arrive until Christmas day. In the meantime, he referred to their promise (to marry) which was as holy and sacred to him as their mutual life, and he truly described his love as the most ardent, the most persistent of loves. Adoremus in aeternum had become their device, and Madame Hanska, not having as yet become accustomed to his continual financial embarrassment, wished to provide him with money, an offer which is reproduced in Eugenie Grandet.
Upon his arrival at Geneva the novelist found a ring awaiting him; he considered it as a talisman, wore it working, and it inspired Seraphita. He became her moujik and signed his name Honoreski. She became his "love," his "life," his "rose of the Occident," his "star of the North," his "fairy of the tiyeuilles," his "only thought," his "celestial angel," the end of all for him. "You shall be the young dilecta,—already I name you the predilecta."
His adoration became such that he writes her: "My loved angel, I am almost mad for you . . . I cannot put two ideas together that you do not come between them. I can think of nothing but you. In spite of myself my imagination brings me back to you. . . ." It was during his stay in Geneva that Madame Hanska presented her chain to him, which he used later on his cane.
Balzac left Geneva February 8, 1834, having spent forty-four days with his Predilecta, but his work was not entirely neglected. While there, he wrote almost all of La Duchesse de Langeais, and a large part of Seraphita. This work, which she inspired, was dedicated:
"To Madame Eveline de Hanska, nee Countess Rzewuska.
"Madame:—here is the work you desired of me; in dedicating it to
you I am happy to offer you some token of the respectful affection
you allow me to feel for you. If I should be accused of incapacity
after trying to extract from the depths of mysticism this book,
which demanded the glowing poetry of the East under the
transparency of our beautiful language, the blame be yours! Did
you not compel me to the effort—such an effort as Jacob's—by
telling me that even the most imperfect outline of the figure
dreamed of by you, as it has been by me from my infancy, would
still be something in your eyes? Here, then, is that something.
Why cannot this book be set apart exclusively for those lofty
spirits who, like you, are preserved from worldly pettiness by
solitude? They might impress on it the melodious rhythm which it
lacks, and which, in the hands of one of our poets, might have
made it the glorious epic for which France still waits. Still,
they will accept it from me as one of those balustrades, carved by
some artist full of faith, on which the pilgrims lean to moderate
on the end of man, while gazing at the choir of a beautiful
church. I remain, madame, with respect, your faithful servant,
In the spring of 1834, M. de Hanski and his family left Geneva for Florence, traveled for a few months, and arrived in Vienna during the summer, where they remained for about a year. But Balzac continued his correspondence with Madame Hanska. She was interested in collecting the autographs of famous people, and Balzac not only had an album made for her, but helped her collect the signatures.
More infatuated, if possible, than ever with her, he wanted her to secure her husband's consent for him to visit them at Rome. Then he felt that he must go to Vienna, see the Danube, explore the battlefields of Wagram and Essling, and have pictures made representing the uniforms of the German army.
In La Recherche de l'Absolu, he gave the name of Adam de Wierzchownia to a Polish gentleman, Wierzchownia being the name of Madame Hanska's home in the Ukraine. "I have amused myself like a boy in naming a Pole, M. de Wierzchownia, and bringing him on the scene in La Recherche de l'Absolu. That was a longing I could not resist, and I beg your pardon and that of M. de Hanski for the great liberty. You could not believe how that printed page fascinates me!" He writes her of another character, La Fosseuse, (Le Medecin de Campagne): "Ah! if I had known your features, I would have pleased myself in having them engraved as La Fosseuse. But though I have memory enough for myself, I should not have enough for a painter."
Either Balzac's adoration became too ardent, or displeasure was caused in some other way, for no letters to Madame Hanska appear from August 26 to October 9, 1834. In the meantime, a long letter was written to M. de Hanski apologizing for two letters written to his wife. He explained that one evening she jestingly remarked to him, beside the lake of Geneva, that she would like to know what a love-letter was like, so he promised to write her one. Being reminded of this promise, he sent her one, and received a cold letter of reproof from her after another letter was on the way to her. Receiving a second rebuke, he was desperate over the pleasantry, and wished to atone for this by presenting to her, with M. de Hanski's permission, some manuscripts already sent. He wished to send her the manuscript of Seraphita also, and to dedicate this book to her, if they could forgive him this error, for which he alone was to be censured.
Balzac was evidently pardoned, for he not only dedicated Seraphita to her, as has been shown, but arrived in Vienna on May 16, 1835, to visit her, bringing with him this manuscript. His stay was rather short, lasting only to June 4. While there, he was quite busy, working on Le Lys dans la Vallee, and declined many invitations. To get his twelve hours of work, he had to retire at nine o'clock in order to rise at three; this monastic rule dominated everything. He yielded something of his stern observance to Madame Hanska by giving himself three hours more freedom than in Paris, where he retired at six.
Soon after his return from Vienna, the novelist was informed that a package from Vienna was held for him with thirty-six francs due. Having, of course, no money, he sent his servant in a cab for the package, telling him where he could secure the money and, dead or alive, to bring the package. After spending four hours in an agony of anticipation, wondering what Madame Hanska could be sending him, his messenger arrived with a copy of Pere Goriot which he had given her in Vienna with the request that she give it to some one to whom it might afford pleasure.
It will be remembered that while in Vienna, Balzac's financial strain became such that his sister Laure pawned his silver. He afterwards admitted that the journey to Vienna was the greatest folly of his life; it cost him five thousand francs and upset all his affairs. He had other financial troubles also, but found time and means to consult a somnambulist frequently as to his Predilecta, and regretted that he did not have one or two soothsayers, so that he might know daily about her. His superstition is seen early in their correspondence where he considered it a good omen that Madame Hanska had sent him the Imitation de Jesus-Christ while he was working on Le Medecin de Campagne. Again and again he insisted that she tell him when any of her family were ill, feeling that he could cure at a distance those whom he loved; or that she should send him a piece of cloth worn next to her person, that he might present this to a clairvoyant.
After delving deeply into mysticism, and writing some books dealing with it, the novelist writes his "Polar Star":
"I am sorry to see that you are reading the mystics: believe me,
this sort of reading is fatal to minds like yours; it is a poison;
it is an intoxicating narcotic. These books have a bad influence.
There are follies of virtue as there are follies of dissipation
and vice. If you were not a wife, a mother, a friend, a relation,
I would not seek to dissuade you, for then you might go and shut
yourself up in a convent at your pleasure without hurting anybody,
although you would soon die there. In your situation, and in your
isolation in the midst of those deserts, this kind of reading,
believe me, is pernicious. The rights of friendship are too feeble
to make my voice heard; but let me at least make an earnest and
humble request on this subject. Do not, I beg of you, ever read
anything more of this kind. I have myself gone through all this,
and I speak from experience."
As has been stated, Madame Hanska was of assistance to Balzac in his literary work. He used her ideas frequently, and was gracious in expressing his appreciation of them to her:
"I must tell you that yesterday . . . I copied out your portrait of
Mademoiselle Celeste, and I said to two uncompromising judges:
'Here is a sketch I have flung on paper. I wanted to paint a woman
under given circumstances, and launch her into life through such
and such an event.' What do you think they said?—'Read that
portrait again.' After which they said:—'That is your
masterpiece. You have never before had that laisser-aller of a
writer which shows the hidden strength.' 'Ha, ha!' I answered,
striking my head; 'that comes from the forehead of an analyst.'
I kneel at your feet for this violation; but I left out all that
was personal. . . . I thank you for your glimpses of Viennese
society. What I have learned about Germans in their relations
elsewhere confirms what you say of them. Your story of General
H—— comes up periodically. There has been something like it in
all countries, but I thank you for having told it to me. The
circumstances give it novelty."
Though Balzac's letters to Madame Hanska became less effervescent as time went on, each year seemed to add to his admiration and "dog-like fidelity." She, on the other hand, complained of his dissipation, the society he kept, and his short letters.
While Balzac was in Vienna, he was working on Le Lys dans la Vallee. Although he said that Madame de Mortsauf was Madame de Berny, M. Adam Rzewuski, a brother of Madame Hanska, always felt that this character represented his sister, and called attention to the same intense maternal feeling of the two women, and the same sickly, morose husband. The Princess Radziwill also believes that this is a portrait of her aunt, which hypothesis is further strengthened by comments of Emile Faguet, who says that to one who has read Balzac's letters in 1834-1835 closely, it is clear that Madame de Mortsauf is Madame Hanska, and that the marvelous M. de Mortsauf is M. de Hanski.
Mr. F. Lawton also thinks that Balzac has shown his relations to Madame Hanska in making Felix de Vandenesse console himself with Lady Dudley while swearing high allegiance to his Henriette, just as Balzac was "inditing oaths of fidelity to his 'earth-angel' in far-away Russia while worshipping at shrines more accessible. Lady Dudley may well have been, for all his denial, the Countess Visconti, of whom Madame Hanska was jealous and on good grounds, or else the Duchesse de Castries, to whom he said that while writing the book he had caught himself shedding tears." Balzac says of this book:
"I have received five formal complaints from persons about me,
who say that I have unveiled their private lives. I have very
curious letters on this subject. It appears that there are as many
Messieurs de Mortsauf as there are angels at Clochegourde, and
angels rain down upon me, but they are not white."
In the early autumn of 1835, M. de Hanski and his family, having spent several weeks at Ischl, returned to their home at Wierzchownia after an absence of more than two years. It was during this long stay at Vienna that Madame Hanska had Daffinger make the miniature which occupies so much space in Balzac's letters in later years.
It must have been a relief to poor Balzac when his Chatelaine returned to her home, for while traveling she was negligent about giving him her address, so that he was never sure whether she received all his letters, and she did not number hers, as he had asked her to do, so that he was not certain that he received all that she wrote him; neither would she—though leading a life of leisure—write as often as he wished. But if he scolded her for this, she had other matters to worry her. She was ever anxious about the safety of her letters, asked for many explanations of his conduct, for interpretations of various things in his works, and who certain friends were, so much so that his letters are filled with vindications of himself. Even before they had ever met, he wrote her that he could not take a step that was not misinterpreted. She seemed continually to be hearing of something derogatory to his character, and trying to investigate his actions. The reader has had glimpses enough of Balzac's life to understand what a task was hers. Yet she doubtless sometimes accused him unnecessarily, and he in turn became impatient:
"This letter contains two reproaches which have keenly affected me;
and I think I have already told you that a few chance expressions
would suffice to make me go to Wierzchownia, which would be a
misfortune in my present perilous situation; but I would rather
lose everything than lose a true friendship. . . . In short, you
distrust me at a distance, just as you distrusted me near by,
without any reason. I read quite despairingly the paragraph of
your letter in which you do the honors of my heart to my mind, and
sacrifice my whole personality to my brain. . . . In your last
letters, you know, you have believed things that are
irreconcilable with what you know of me. I cannot explain to
myself your tendency to believe absurd calumnies. I still remember
your credulity in Geneva, when they said I was married."
Even her own family added to her suspicions:
". . . Your letter has crushed me more than all the heavy nonsense
that jealousy and calumny, lawsuit and money matters have cast
upon me. My sensibility is a proof of friendship; there are none
but those we love who can make us suffer. I am not angry with your
aunt, but I am angry that a person as distinguished as you say she
is should be accessible to such base and absurd calumny. But you
yourself, at Geneva, when I told you I was as free as air, you
believed me to be married, on the word of one of those fools whose
trade it is to sell money. I began to laugh. Here, I no longer
laugh, because I have the horrible privilege of being horribly
calumniated. A few more controversies like the last, and I shall
retire to the remotest part of Touraine, isolating myself from
everything, renouncing all, . . . Think always that what I do has
a reason and an object, that my actions are necessary. There is,
for two souls that are a little above others, something mortifying
in repeating to you for the tenth time not to believe in calumny.
When you said to me three letters ago, that I gambled, it was just
as true as my marriage at Geneva. . . . You attribute to me little
defects which I do not have to give yourself the pleasure of
scolding me. No one is less extravagant than I; no one is willing
to live with more economy. But reflect that I work too much to
busy myself with certain details, and, in short, that I had rather
spend five to six thousand francs a year than marry to have order
in my household; for a man who undertakes what I have undertaken
either marries to have a quiet existence, or accepts the
wretchedness of La Fontaine and Rousseau. For pity's sake, do not
talk to me of my want of order; it is the consequence of the
independence in which I live, and which I desire to keep."
In spite of these reproaches, Balzac's affection for her continued, and he decided to have his portrait made for her. Boulanger was the artist chosen, and since he wished payment at once, Madame Hanska sent the novelist a sum for this purpose. For a Christmas greeting, 1836, she sent him a copy of the Daffinger miniature made at Vienna the preceding year. Again—this time in Illusions perdues—he gave her name, Eve, to a young girl whom he regarded as the most charming creature he had created (Eve Chardon, who became Madame David Sechard).
In the spring of 1837 Balzac went to Italy to spend a few weeks. Seeing at Florence a bust of his Predilecta, made by Bartolini, he asked M. de Hanski's permission to have a copy of it, half size, made for himself, to place on his writing desk. This journey aroused Madame Hanska's suspicions again, but he assured her he was not dissipating, but was traveling to rejuvenate his broken-down brain, since, working night and day as he did, a man might easily die of overstrain.
He continued to save his manuscripts for her, awaiting an opportunity to send or take them to her. Her letters became less frequent and full of stings, but he begged her to disbelieve everything she heard of him except from himself, as she had almost a complete journal of his life. He explained that the tour he purposed making to the Mediterranean was neither for marriage nor for anything adventurous or silly, but he was pledged to secrecy, and, whether it turned out well or ill, he risked nothing but a journey. As to her reproaches how he, knowing all, penetrating and observing all, could be so duped and deceived, he wondered if she could love him if he were always so prudent that no misfortune ever happened to him.
In the spring of 1838 he took his Mediterranean trip, going to Corsica, Sardinia, and Italy in quest of his Eldorado, but, as usual, he was doomed to meet with disappointment. On his return he went to Les Jardies to reside, which was later to be the cause of another financial disaster. Replying to her criticism of his journey to Sardinia, he begged her never to censure those who feel themselves sunk in deep waters and are struggling to the surface, for the rich can never comprehend the trials of the unfortunate. One must be without friends, without resources, without food, without money, to know to its depths what misfortune is.
In spite of her reproaches he continued to protest his devotion to her. Though her letters were cold, he begged her to gaze on the portrait of her moujik and feel that he was the most constant, least volatile, most steadfast of men. He was willing to obey her in all things except in his affections, and she was complete mistress of those. Seized with a burning desire to see her, he planned a visit to Wierzchownia as soon as his financial circumstances would permit.
During a period of three months, Balzac received no letter from his "Polar Star," but he expressed his usual fidelity to her. Miserable or fortunate, he was always the same to her; it was because of his unchangeableness of heart that he was so painfully wounded by her neglect. Carried away, as he often was, by his torrential existence, he might miss writing to her, but he could not understand how she could deprive him of the sacred bread which restored his courage and gave him new life.
His long struggle with his debts and his various financial and domestic troubles seemed at times to deprive him of his usual hope and patience. In a depressed vein, he replies to one of her letters:
"Ah! I think you excessively small; and it shows me that you are of
this world! Ah! you write to me no longer because my letters are
rare! Well, they were rare because I did not have the money to
post them, but I would not tell you that. Yes, my distress had
reached that point and beyond it. It is horrible and sad, but it
is true, as true as the Ukraine where you are. Yes, there have
been days when I proudly ate a roll of bread on the boulevard. I
have had the greatest sufferings: self-love, pride, hope,
prospects, all have been attacked. But I shall, I hope, surmount
everything. I had not a penny, but I earned for those atrocious
Lecou and Delloye seventy thousand francs in a year. The Peytel
affair cost me ten thousand francs, and people said I was paid
fifty thousand! That affair and my fall, which kept me as you
know, forty days in bed, retarded my business by more than thirty
thousand francs. Oh! I do not like your want of confidence! You
think that I have a great mind, but you will not admit that I have
a great heart! After nearly eight years, you do not know me! My
God, forgive her, for she knows not what she does!"
The novelist wrote his Predilecta of his ideas of marriage, and how he longed to marry, but he became despondent about this as well as about his debts; he felt that he was growing old, and would not live long. His comfort while working was a picture of Wierzchownia which she had sent him, but in addition to all of his other troubles he was annoyed because some of her relatives who were in Paris carried false information to her concerning him.
Not having heard from her for six months, he resorted to his frequent method of allaying his anxiety by consulting a clairvoyant to learn if she were ill. He was told that within six weeks he would receive a letter that would change his entire life. Almost four more months passed, however, without his hearing from her and he feared that she was not receiving his letters, or that hers had gone astray, as he no longer had a home.
For once, the sorcerer had predicted somewhat correctly! Not within six weeks, to be sure, but within six months, the letter came that was to change Balzac's entire life. On January 5, 1842, a letter arrived from Madame Hanska, telling of the death of M. de Hanski which had occurred on November 10, 1841.
His reply is one of the most beautiful of his letters to her:
"I have this instant received, dear angel, your letter sealed with
black, and, after having read it, I could not perhaps have wished
to receive any other from you, in spite of the sad things you tell
me about yourself and your health. As for me, dear, adored one,
although this event enables me to attain to that which I have
ardently desired for nearly ten years, I can, before you and God,
do myself this justice, that I have never had in my heart anything
but complete submission, and that I have not, in my most cruel
moments, stained my soul with evil wishes. No one can prevent
involuntary transports. Often I have said to myself, 'How light my
life would be with her!' No one can keep his faith, his heart,
his inner being without hope. . . . But I understand the regrets
which you express to me; they seem to me natural and true,
especially after the protection which has never failed you since
that letter at Vienna. I am, however, joyful to know that I can
write to you with open heart to tell you all those things on which
I have kept silence, and disperse the melancholy complaints you
have founded on misconceptions, so difficult to explain at a
distance. I know you too well, or I think I know you too well, to
doubt you for one moment; and I have often suffered, very cruelly
suffered, that you have doubted me, because, since Neufchatel, you
are my life. Let me say this to you plainly, after having so often
proved it to you. The miseries of my struggle and of my terrible
work would have tired out the greatest and strongest men; and
often my sister has desired to put an end to them, God knows how;
I always thought the remedy worse than the disease! It is you
alone who have supported me till now, . . . You said to me, 'Be
patient, you are loved as much as you love. Do not change, for
others change not.' We have both been courageous; why, therefore,
should you not be happy to-day? Do you think it was for myself
that I have been so persistent in magnifying my name? Oh! I am
perhaps very unjust, but this injustice comes from the violence of
my heart! I would have liked two words for myself in your letter,
but I sought them in vain; two words for him who, since the
landscape in which you live has been before his eyes, has not
passed, while working, ten minutes without looking at it; I have
there sought all, ever since it came to me, that we have asked in
the silence of our spirits."
He was concerned about her health and wished to depart at once, but feared to go without her permission. She was anxious about her letters, but he assured her that they were safe, and begged her to inform him when he could visit her; for six years he had been longing to see her. "Adieu, my dear and beautiful life that I love so well, and to whom I can now say it. Sempre medisimo."
The role played by M. de Hanski in this friendship was a peculiar one. The correspondence, as has been seen, began in secrecy, but Balzac met him when he went to Neufchatel to see Madame Hanska. Their relations were apparently cordial, for on his return to Paris, the novelist wrote him a friendly note, enclosing an autograph of Rossini whom M. de Hanski admired. The Polish gentleman (he was never a count) must have been willing to have Balzac visit his wife again, at Geneva, when their friendship seemed to grow warmer. Balzac called him l'honorable Marechal de l'Ukraine or the Grand Marechal, and extended to him his thanks or regards in sending little notes to Madame Hanska, and thus he was early cognizant of their correspondence. The future author of the Comedie humaine seems to have been taken into the family circle and to have become somewhat a favorite of M. de Hanski, who was suffering with his "blue devils" at that time.
Since Balzac was not only an excellent story-teller but naturally very jovial, and M. de Hanski suffered from ennui and wished to be amused, they became friends. On his return to Paris, they exchanged a few letters, and Balzac introduced stories to amuse him in his letters to Madame Hanska. He wrote most graciously to the Marechal, apologizing for the two love letters he had written his wife, and this letter was answered. The novelist was invited by him to visit them in Wierzchownia—an invitation he planned to accept, but did not.
In the spring of 1836, M. de Hanski sent Balzac a very handsome malachite inkstand, also a cordial letter telling him the family news, how much he enjoyed his works, and that he hoped with his family to visit him in Paris within two years. He mentioned that his wife was preparing for Balzac a long letter of several pages, and assured him of his sincere friendship. Balzac was most appreciative of the gift of the beautiful inkstand, but felt that it was too magnificent for a poor man to use, so would place it in his collection and prize it as one of his most precious souvenirs.
Besides discussing business with the Polish gentleman, Balzac apologized often for not answering his letters, offering lack of time as his excuse, but he planned to visit Wierzchownia, where he and M. de Hanski would enjoy hearty laughs while Madame Hanska could work at his comedies. In spite of this friendly correspondence, the Marechal probably hinted to his wife that her admiration for the author was too warm, for Balzac asked her to reassure her husband that he was not only invulnerable, but immune from attack. Balzac spoke of dedicating one of his books in the Comedie humaine to M. de Hanski, but no dedication to him is found in this work. His death, which occurred some months after this suggestion, doubtless prevented the realization of it.
Balzac evidently received a negative reply to his letter to Madame Hanska asking to be permitted to visit her immediately after her husband's death. It would have been a breach of the convenances had he gone to visit her so early in her widowhood. Soon after learning of M. de Hanski's death, he saw an announcement of the death of a Countess Kicka of Volhynia, and since his "Polar Star" had spoken of being ill, he was seized with fear lest this be a misprint for Hanska, and was confined to his bed for two days with a nervous fever.
What must have been Balzac's disappointment, when almost ready to leave at any moment, to receive a letter which, as he expressed it, killed the youth in him, and rent his heart! She felt that she owed everything to her daughter, who had consoled her, and nothing to him; yet she knew that she was everything to him.
He thought that she loved Anna too much, protested his fidelity to her when she accused him, and reverted to his favorite theme of comparing her to the devoted Madame de Berny. He complained of her coldness, wanted to visit her in August at St. Petersburg, and desired her to promise that they would be married within two years.
Princess Radziwill wrote: "When Madame Hanska's husband died, it was supposed that her union with Balzac would occur at once, but obstacles were interposed by others. Her own family looked down upon the great French author as a mere story-teller; and by her late husband's people sordid motives were imputed to him, to account for his devotion to the heiress. The latter objection was removed, a few years later, by the widow's giving up to her daughter the fortune left to her by Monsieur Hanski."
It is at this period that Balzac furnishes us with the key to one of his works, Albert Savarus, in writing to Madame Hanska:
"Albert Savarus has had much success. You will read it in the
first volume of the Comedie humaine, almost after the fausse
Maitresse, where with childish joy I have made the name
Rzewuski shine in the midst of those of the most illustrious
families of the North. Why have I not placed Francesca Colonna at
Diodati? Alas, I was afraid that it would be too transparent.
Diodati makes my heart beat! Those four syllables, it is the cry
of the Montjoie Saint-Denis! of my heart."
Francesca Colonna, the Princess Gandolphini, is the heroine of l'Ambitieux par Amour, a novel supposed to have been published by Albert Savarus and described in the book which bears his name. Using her name, the hero is represented as having written the story of the Duchesse d'Argaiolo and himself, he taking the name of Rodolphe. Here are given, in disguise again, the details of Balzac's early relations to Madame Hanska. Albert Savarus, while traveling in Switzerland, sees a lady's face at the window of an upper room, admires it and seeks the lady's acquaintance. She proves to be the Duchesse d'Argaiolo, an Italian in exile. She had been married very young to the Duke d'Argaiolo, who was rich and much older than she. The young man falls in love with this beautiful lady, and she promises to be his as soon as she becomes free.
Gabriel Ferry states that Balzac first saw Madame Hanska's face at a window, and the Princess Radziwill says that Balzac went to the hotel to meet her aunt. It is to be noted that the year 1834 is that in which Balzac and Madame Hanska were in Geneva together.
The Villa Diodati, noted for having been inhabited by Lord Byron, is situated on Lake Geneva, at Cologny, not far from Pre Leveque, where M. de Hanski and his family resided in the maison Mirabaud-Amat.
There are numerous allusions to Diodati in Balzac's correspondence, from which one would judge that he had some very unhappy associations with Madame de Castries, and some very happy ones with Madame Hanska in connection with Diodati:
"When I want to give myself a magnificent fete, I close my eyes,
lie down on one of my sofas, . . . and recall that good day at
Diodati which effaced a thousand pangs I had felt there a year
before. You have made me know the difference between a true
affection and a simulated one, and for a heart as childlike as
mine, there is cause there for an eternal gratitude. . . . When
some thought saddens me, then I have recourse to you; . . . I see
again Diodati, I stretch myself on the good sofa of the Maison
Mirabaud. . . . Diodati, that image of a happy life, reappears
like a star for a moment clouded, and I began to laugh, as you
know I can laugh. I say to myself that so much work will have its
recompense, and that I shall have, like Lord Byron, my Diodati. I
sing in my bad voice: 'Diodati, Diodati!'"
Another excerpt shows that Balzac had in mind his own life in connection with Madame Hanska's in writing Albert Savarus:
". . . It is six o'clock in the morning, I have interrupted myself
to think of you, reminded of you by Switzerland where I have
placed the scene of Albert Savarus.—Lovers in Switzerland,—for
me, it is the image of happiness. I do not wish to place the
Princess Gandolphini in the maison Mirabaud, for there are
people in the world who would make a crime of it for us. This
Princess is a foreigner, an Italian, loved by Savarus."
Many of Balzac's traits are seen in Albert Savarus. Like Balzac, Albert Savarus was defeated in politics, but hoped for election; was a lawyer, expected to rise to fame, and was about three years older than the woman he loved. Like Madame Hanska, the Duchesse d'Argaiolo, known as the Princess Gandolphini, was beautiful, noble, a foreigner, and married to a man very rich and much older than she, who was not companionable. It was on December 26 that Albert Savarus arrived at the Villa on Lake Geneva to visit his princes, while Balzac arrived December 25 to visit Madame Hanska at her Villa there. The two lovers spent the winter together, and in the spring, the Duc d'Argaiolo (Prince Gandolphini) and his wife went to Naples, and Albert Savarus (Rodolphe) returned to Paris, just as M. de Hanski took his family to Italy in the spring, while Balzac returned to Paris.
Albert Savarus was falsely accused of being married, just as Madame Hanska had accused Balzac. The letters to the Duchess from Savarus are quite similar to some Balzac wrote to Madame Hanska. Like Balzac, Savarus saw few people, worked at night, was poor, ever hopeful, communed with the portrait of his adored one, had trouble in regard to the delivery of her letters, and was worried when they did not come; yet he was patient and willing to wait until the Duke should die. Like Madame Hanska, the Duchess feared her lover was unfaithful to her, and in both cases a woman sowed discord, though the results were different.
Madame Hanska did not care for this book, but Balzac told her she was not familiar enough with French society to appreciate it.
Miss Mary Hanford Ford thinks that Madame Hanska inspired another of Balzac's works: "It is probable that in Madame de la Chanterie we are given Balzac's impassioned and vivid idealization of the woman who became his wife at last. . . . Balzac's affection for Madame Hanska was to a large degree tinged with the reverence which the Brotherhood shared for Madame de la Chanterie. . . ." While the Freres de la Consolation adored Madame de la Chanterie in a beautiful manner, neither her life nor her character was at all like Madame Hanska's. This work is dated December, 1847, Wierzchownia, and was doubtless finished there, but he had been working on it for several years.
In the autumn of 1842, Madame Hanska went to St. Petersburg. She complained of a sadness and melancholy which Balzac's most ardent devotion could not overcome. He became her patito, and she the queen of his life, but he too suffered from depression, and even consented to wait three years for her if she would only permit him to visit her. He insisted that his affection was steadfast and eternal, but in addition to showing him coldness, she unjustly rebuked him, having heard that he was gambling. She had a prolonged lawsuit, and he wished her to turn the matter over to him, feeling sure that he could win the case for her.
Thus passed the year 1842. She eventually consented to let him come in May to celebrate his birthday. But alas! A great remora stood in the way. Poor Balzac did not have the money to make the trip. Then also he had literary obligations to meet, but he felt very much fatigued from excessive work and wanted to leave Paris for a rest. Her letters were so unsatisfactory that he implored her to engrave in her dear mind, if she would not write it in her heart, that he wished her to use some of her leisure time in writing a few lines to him daily. As was his custom when in distress, he sought a fortune-teller for comfort, and as usual, was delighted with his prophecy. The notorious Balthazar described to him perfectly the woman he loved, told him that his love was returned, that there would never be a cloud in their sky, in spite of the intensity of their characters, and that he would be going to see her within six months. The soothsayer was correct in this last statement, at least, for Balzac arrived at St. Petersburg soon after this interview.
Madame Hanska felt that she was growing old, but Balzac assured her that he should love her even were she ugly, and he relieved her mind of this fear by writing in her Journal intime that although he had not seen her since they were in Vienna, he thought her as beautiful and young as then—after an interval of seven years.
Balzac arrived in St. Petersburg on July 17-29, and left there late in September, 1843, stopping to visit in Berlin and Dresden. Becoming very ill, he cut short his visit to Mayence and Cologne and arrived in Paris November 3, in order to consult his faithful Dr. Nacquart. Excess of work, the sorrow of leaving Madame Hanska, disappointment, and deferred hopes were too much for his nervous system. His letters to Madame Hanska were, if possible, filled with greater detail than ever concerning his debts, his household and family matters, his works and society gossip. The tu frequently replaces the vous, and having apparently exhausted all the endearing names in the French language, he resorted to the Hebrew, and finds that Lididda means so many beautiful things that he employs this word. He calls her Liline or Line; she becomes his Louloup, his "lighthouse," his "happy star," and the sicura richezza, senza brama.
Madame Hanska and Balzac seem to have had many idiosyncrasies in common, among which was their penchant for jewelry, as well as perfumes. Since their meeting at Geneva, the two exchanged gifts of jewelry frequently, and the discussion, engraving, measuring, and exchanging of various rings occupied much of Balzac's precious time.
His fondness for antiques was another extravagance, and he invested not a little in certain pieces of furniture which had belonged to Marie de Medicis and Henri IV; this purchase he regretted later, and talked of selling, but, instead, added continually to his collection. He was constantly sending, or wanting to send some present to Madame Hanska or to her daughter Anna, but nothing could be compared with the priceless gift he received from her. The Daffinger miniature arrived February 2, 1844.
As a New Year's greeting for 1844, Balzac dedicated to Madame Hanska Les Bourgeois de Paris, later called Les petits Bourgeois, saying that the first work written after his brief visit with her should be inscribed to her. This dedication is somewhat different from the one published in his OEuvres:
"Here, madame and friend is one of those works which fall, we know
not whence, into an author's mind and afford him pleasure before
he can estimate how they will be received by the public, that
great judge of our time. But, almost sure of your good-will, I
dedicate it to you. It belongs to you, as formerly the tithe
belonged to the church, in memory of God from whom all things
come, who makes all ripen, all mature! Some lumps of clay left by
Moliere at the base of his statue of Tartufe have been molded by a
hand more audacious than skilful. But, at whatever distance I may
be below the greatest of humorists, I shall be satisfied to have
utilized these little pieces of the stage-box of his work to show
the modern hypocrite at work. That which most encouraged me in
this difficult undertaking is to see it separated from every
religious question, which was so injurious to the comedy of
Tartufe, and which ought to be removed to-day. May the double
significance of your name be a prophecy for the author, and may
you be pleased to find here the expression of his respectful
"January 1, 1844."
During the winter of 1844, Madame Hanska wrote a story and then threw it into the fire. In doing this she carried out a suggestion given her by Balzac several years before, when he wrote her that he liked to have a woman write and study, but she should have the courage to burn her productions. She told the novelist what she had done, and he requested her to rewrite her study and send it to him, and he would correct it and publish it under his name. In this way she could enjoy all the pleasure of authorship in reading what he would preserve of her beautiful and charming prose. In the first place, she must paint a provincial family, and place the romantic, enthusiastic young girl in the midst of the vulgarities of such an existence; and then, by correspondence, make a transit to the description of a poet in Paris. A friend of the poet, who is to continue the correspondence, must be a man of decided talent, and the denouement must be in his favor against the great poet. Also the manias and the asperities of a great soul which alarm and rebuff inferior souls should be shown; in doing this she would aid him in earning a few thousand francs.
Her story, in the hands of this great wizard, grew like a mushroom, without pain or effort, and soon developed into the romantic novel, Modeste Mignon. She had thrown her story into the fire, but the fire had returned it to him and given him power, as did the coal of fire on the lips of the great prophet, and he wished to give all the glory to his adored collaborator.
When reading this book, Madame Hanska objected to Balzac's having made the father of the heroine scold her for beginning a secret correspondence with an author, feeling that Balzac was disapproving of her conduct in writing to him first, but Balzac assured her that such was not his intention, and that he considered this demarche of hers as royale and reginale. Another trait, which she probably did not recognize, was that just as the great poet Canalis was at first indifferent to the letters of the heroine, and allowed Ernest de la Briere to answer them, so was Balzac rather indifferent to hers, and Madame Carraud—as already stated—is supposed to have replied to one of them.
There is no doubt that Balzac had his Louloup in mind while writing this story, for in response to the criticism that Modest was too clever, he wrote Madame Hanska that she and her cousin Caliste who had served him as models for his heroine were superior to her. He first dedicated this work to her under the name of un Etrangere, but seeing the mistake the public made in ascribing this dedication to the Princesse Belgiojoso, he at a later date specified the nationality, and inscribed the book:
"To a Polish Lady:
"Daughter of an enslaved land, an angel in love, a demon in
imagination, a child in faith, an old man in experience, a man in
brain, a woman in heart, a giant in hope, a mother in suffering
and a poet in your dreams,—this work, in which your love and your
fancy, your faith, your experience, your suffering, your hopes and
your dreams are like chains by which hangs a web less lovely than
the poetry cherished in your soul—the poetry whose expression
when it lights up your countenance is, to those who admire you,
what the characters of a lost language are to the learned—this
work is yours.
In La fausse Maitresse, Balzac represented Madame Hanska in the role of the Countess Clementine Laginska, who was silently loved by Thaddee Paz, a Polish refugee. This Thaddee Paz was no other than Thaddee Wylezynski, a cousin who adored her, and who died in 1844. Balzac learned of the warm attachment existing between Madame Hanska and her cousin soon after meeting her, and compared his faithful friend Borget to her Thaddee. On hearing of the death of Thaddee, he writes her: "The death of Thaddee, which you announce to me, grieves me. You have told me so much of him, that I loved one who loved you so well, although! You have doubtless guessed why I called Paz, Thaddee. Poor dear one, I shall love you for all those whose love you lose!"
Balzac longed to be free from his debts, and have undisturbed possession of Les Jardies, where they could live en pigeons heureux. Ever inclined to give advice, he suggested to her that she should have her interests entirely separate form Anna's, quoting the axiom, N'ayez aucune collision d'interet avec vos enfants, and that she was wrong in refusing a bequest from her deceased husband. She should give up all luxuries, dismiss all necessary employees and not spend so much of her income but invest it. He felt that she and her daughter were lacking in business ability; this proved to be too true, but Balzac was indeed a very poor person to advise her on this subject; however, her lack of accuracy in failing to date her letters was, to be sure, a great annoyance to him.
On the other hand, she suspected her Nore, had again heard that he was married, and that he was given to indulging in intoxicating liquors; she advised him not to associate so much with women.
Having eventually won her lawsuit, she returned to Wierzchownia in the spring of 1844, after a residence of almost two years in St. Petersburg. Her daughter Anna had made her debut in St. Petersburg society, and had met the young Comte George de Mniszech, who was destined to become her husband. Balzac was not pleased with this choice, and felt that the protege of the aged Comte Potocki would make a better husband, for moral qualities were to be considered rather than fortune.
After spending the summer and autumn at her home, Madame Hanska went to Dresden for the winter. As early as August, Balzac sought permission to visit her there, making his request in time to arrange his work in advance and secure the money for the journey, in case she consented. While in St. Petersburg, she had given him money to buy some gift for Anna, so he planned to take both of them many beautiful things, and une cave de parfums as a gift de nez a nez. If she would not consent to his coming to Dresden, he would come to Berlin, Leipsic, Frankfort, Aix-la-Chapelle, or anywhere else. He became impatient to know his fate, and her letters were so irregular that he exclaimed: "In heaven's name, write me regularly three times a month!"
Poor Balzac's dream was to be on the way to Dresden, but this was not to be realized. It will be remembered, that Madame Hanska's family did not approve of Balzac nor did they appreciate his literary worth, they felt that the marriage would be a decided mesalliance, and exerted their influence against him. Discouraged by them and her friends, she forbade his coming. While her family called him a scribe exotique, Balzac indirectly told her of the appreciation of other women, saying that Madame de Girardin considered him to be one of the most charming conversationalists of the day.
This uncertainty as to his going to visit his "Polar Star" affected him to such a degree that he could not concentrate his mind on his work, and he became impatient to the point of scolding her:
"But, dear Countess, you have made me lose all the month of January
and the first fifteen days of February by saying to me: 'I start
—to-morrow—next week,' and by making me wait for letters; in
short, by throwing me into rages which I alone know! This has
brought a frightful disorder into my affairs, for instead of
getting my liberty February 15, I have before me a month of
herculean labor, and on my brain I must inscribe this which will
be contradicted by my heart: 'Think no longer of your star, nor of
Dresden, nor of travel; stay at your chain and work miserably!
. . . Dear Countess, I decidedly advise you to leave Dresden at
once. There are princesses in that town who infect and poison your
heart, and were it not for Les Paysans, I should have started at
once to prove to that venerable invalid of Cythera how men of my
stamp love; men who have not received, like her prince, a Russian
pumpkin in place of a French heart from the hands of hyperborean
nature. . . . Tell your dear Princess that I have known you since
1833, and that in 1845 I am ready to go from Paris to Dresden to
see you for a day; and it is not impossible for me to make this
trip; . . ."
In the meantime she had not only forbidden his coming to visit her, but had even asked him not to write to her again at Dresden, to which he replies:
"May I write without imprudence, before receiving a counter-order?
Your last letter counseled me not to write again to Dresden.
However, I take up my pen on the invitation contained in your
letter of the 8th. Since you, as well as your child, are
absolutely determined to see your Lirette again, there is but one
way for it, viz., to come to Paris."
He planned how she could secure a passport for Frankfort and the Rhine and meet him at Mayence, where he would have a passport for his sister and his niece so that they could come to Paris to remain from March 15 until May 15. Once in Paris, in a small suite of rooms furnished by him, they could visit Lirette at the convent, take drives, frequent the theatres, shop at a great advantage, and keep everything in the greatest secrecy. He continues:
"Dear Countess, the uncertainty of your arrival at Frankfort has
weighed heavily on me, for how can I begin to work, whilst
awaiting a letter, which may cause me to set out immediately? I
have not written a line of the Paysans. From a material point of
view, all this has been fatal to me. Not even your penetrating
intelligence can comprehend this, as you know nothing of Parisian
economy nor the difficulties in the life of a man who is trying to
live on six thousand francs a year."
Thus was his time wasted; and when he dared express gently and lovingly the feelings which were overpowering him, his beautiful Chatelaine was offended, and rebuked him for his impatience. Desperate and almost frantic, he writes her:
"Dresden and you dizzy me; I do not know what is to be done. There
is nothing more fatal than the indecision in which you have kept
me for three months. If I had departed the first of January to
return February 28, I should be more advanced (in work) and I
would have had two good months at St. Petersburg. Dear sovereign
star, how do you expect me to be able to conceive two ideas, to
write two sentences, with my heart and head agitated as they have
been since last November; it is enough to drive a man mad! I have
drenched myself with coffee to no avail, I have only increased the
nervous trouble of my eyes; . . . I am between two despairs, that
of not seeing you, of not having seen you, and the financial and
literary chagrin, the chagrin of self-respect. Oh! Charles II was
right in saying: 'But She? . . .' in all matters which his
ministers submitted to him."
On receipt of a letter from her April 18, 1845, saying, "I desire much to see you," he rushed off at once to Dresden, forgetful of all else. In July, Madame Hanska and her daughter accompanied him home, traveling incognito as Balzac's sister and his niece, just as he had planned. Anna is said to have taken the name of Eugenie, perhaps in remembrance of Balzac's heroine, Eugenie Grandet. After stopping at various places on the way, they spent a few weeks at Paris. Balzac had prepared a little house in Passy near him for his friends, and he took much pleasure in showing them his treasures and Paris. Their identity was not discovered, and in August he accompanied them as far as Brussels on their return to Dresden. There they met Count George Mniszech, the fiance of Anna, who had been with them most of the time.
Balzac could scarcely control his grief at parting, but he was not separated from his Predilecta long. The following month he spent several days with her at Baden-Baden, saying of his visit:
"Baden has been for me a bouquet of sweet flowers without a thorn.
We lived there so peacefully, so delightfully, and so completely
heart to heart. I have never been so happy before in my life. I
seemed to catch a glimpse of that future which I desire and dream
of in the midst of my overwhelming labors. . . ."
The happiness of Madame Hanska did not seem to be so great, for, ever uncertain, she consulted a fortune-teller about him. To this he replies: "Tell your fortune-teller that her cards have lied, and that I am not preoccupied with any blonde, except Dame Fortune." As to whether she was justified in being suspicious, one can judge from the preceding pages. Balzac always denied or explained to her these accusations; however true were some of his vindications of himself, he certainly exaggerated in assuring her that he always told her the exact truth and never hid from her the smallest trifle whether good or bad.
In October, 1845, the novelist left Paris again, met his "Polar Star," her daughter and M. de Mniszech at Chalons, and accompanied them on their Italian tour by way of Marseilles as far as Naples. On his return to Marseilles on November 12, he invested in wonderful bargains in bric-a-brac, a favorite pursuit which eventually cost him a great deal in worry and time as well as much money. Madame Hanska had supplied his purse from time to time.
Although he was being pressed by debts and for unfinished work, having wasted almost the entire year and having had much extra expense in traveling, Balzac could not rise to the situation, and implored his Chatelaine to resign herself to keeping him near her, for he had done nothing since he left Dresden. In this frame of mind, he writes:
"Nothing amuses me, nothing distracts me, nothing enlivens me; it
is the death of the soul, the death of the will, the collapse of
the entire being; I feel that I cannot take up my work until I see
my life decided, fixed, settled. . . . I am quite exhausted; I
have waited too long, I have hoped too much, I have been too happy
this year; and I no longer wish anything else. After so many years
of toil and misfortune, to have been free as a bird of the air, a
thoughtless traveler, super-humanly happy, and then to come back
to a dungeon! . . . is that possible? . . . I dream, I dream by
day, by night; and my heart's thought, folding upon itself,
prevents all action of the thought of the brain—it is fearful!"
Balzac was ever seeing objects worthy to be placed in his art collection, going quietly through Paris on foot, and having his friend Mery continue to secure bargains at Marseilles. A most important event at this period is the noticeable decline in the novelist's health. Though these attacks of neuralgia and numerous colds were regarded as rather casual, had he not been so imbued with optimism—an inheritance from his father—he might have foreseen the days of terrible suffering and disappointment that were to come to him in Russia. Nature was beginning to revolt; the excessive use of coffee, the strain of long hours of work with little sleep, the abnormal life in general which he had led for so many years, and this suspense about the ultimate decision of the woman he so adored, were weakening him physically.
In January, 1846, Madame Hanska was in Dresden again, and as was always the case when in that city, she wrote accusing him. This time the charge was that of indulging in ignoble gossip, and the reproach was so unjust that, without finishing the reading of the letter, he exposed himself for hours in the streets of Paris to snow, to cold and to fatigue, utterly crushed by this accusation of which he was so innocent. In his delicate physical condition, such shocks were conducive to cardiac trouble, especially since his heart had long been affected. After perusing the letter to the end, he reflected that these grievous words came not from her, but from strangers, so he poured forth his burning adoration, his longing for a home, where he could drink long draughts of a life in common, the life of two.
In the following March the passionate lover was drawn by his Predilecta to the Eternal City, and a few months later they were in Strasbourg, where a definite engagement took place. In October he joined her again, this time at Wiesbaden, to attend the marriage of Anna to the Comte George de Mniszech. This brief visit had a delightful effect: "From Frankfort to Forbach, I existed only in remembrance of you, going over my four days like a cat who has finished her milk and then sits licking her lips."
Madame Hanska had constantly refused to be separated from her daughter, but now Balzac hoped that he could hasten matters, so he applied to his boyhood friend, M. Germeau, prefect of Metz, to see if he, in his official capacity, could not waive the formality of the law and accelerate his marriage; but since all Frenchmen are equal before the etat-civil, this could not be accomplished.
It was during their extensive travels in 1846 that Balzac began calling the party "Bilboquet's troup of mountebanks": Madame Hanska became Atala; Anna, Zephirine; George, Gringalet; and Balzac, Bilboquet. Although Madame Hanska cautioned him about his extravagance in gathering works of art, he persisted in buying them while traveling, so it became necessary to find a home in which to place his collection. It is an interesting fact that while making this collection, he was writing Le Cousin Pons, in which the hero has a passion for accumulating rare paintings and curios with which he fills his museum and impoverishes himself. Balzac had purposed calling this book Le Parasite, but Madame Hanska objected to this name, which smacked so strongly of the eighteenth century, and he changed it. As he was also writing La Cousine Bette at this time, we can see not only that his power of application had returned to him, but that he was producing some of his strongest work.
For some time Balzac had been looking for a home worthy of his fiancee and had finally decided on the Villa Beaujon, in the rue Fortunee. Since this home was created "for her and by her," it was necessary for her to be consulted in the reconstruction and decoration of it, so he brought her secretly to Paris, and her daughter and son-in-law returned to Wierzchownia. This was not only a long separation for so devoted a mother and daughter, but there was some danger lest her incognito be discovered; Balzac, accordingly, took every precaution. It is easy to picture the extreme happiness of the novelist in conducting his Louloup over Paris, in having her near him while he was writing some of his greatest masterpieces, and, naturally, hoping that the everlasting debts would soon be defrayed and the marriage ceremony performed, but fortunately, he was not permitted to know beforehand of the long wait and the many obstacles that stood in his way.
Just what happened during the spring and summer of 1847 is uncertain, as few letters of this period exist in print. Miss Sandars (Balzac), states that about the middle of April Balzac conducted Madame Hanska to Forbach on her return to Wierzchownia, and when he returned to Paris he found that some of her letters to him had been stolen, 30,000 francs being demanded for them at once, otherwise the letters to be turned over to the Czar. Miss Sandars states also that this trouble hastened the progress of his heart disease, and that when the letters were eventually secured (without the payment) Balzac burned them, lest such a catastrophe should occur again. The Princess Radziwill says that the story of the letters was invented by Balzac and is ridiculous; also, that it angered her aunt because Balzac revealed his ignorance of Russian matters, by saying such things. Lawton (Balzac) intimates that Balzac and Madame Hanska quarreled, she being jealous and suspicious of his fidelity, and that he burned her letters. De Lovenjoul (Un Roman d'Amour) makes the same statement and adds that this trouble increased his heart disease. But he says also (La Genese d'un Roman de Balzac) that Madame Hanska spent two months secretly in Paris in April and May; yet, a letter written by Balzac, dated February 27, 1847, shows that she was in Paris at that time.
Balzac went to Wierzchownia in September, 1847, and traveled so expeditiously that he arrived there several days before his letter which told of his departure. When one remembers how he had planned with M. de Hanski more than ten years before to be his guest in this chateau, one can imagine his great delight now in journeying thither with the hope of accomplishing the great desire of his life. He was royally entertained at the chateau and was given a beautiful little suite of rooms composed of a salon, a sitting-room, and a bed-room.
Regarding the vital question of his marriage, he writes his sister:
"My greatest wish and hope is still far from its accomplishment.
Madame Hanska is indispensable to her children; she is their
guide; she disentangles for them the intricacies of the vast and
difficult administration of this property. She has given up
everything to her daughter. I have known of her intentions ever
since I was at St. Petersburg. I am delighted, because the
happiness of my life will thus be freed from all self-interest. It
makes me all the more earnest to guard what is confided to me.
. . . It was necessary for me to come here to make me understand
the difficulties of all kinds which stand in the way of the
fulfilment of my desires."
During this visit, Balzac complained of the cold of Russia in January, but his friends were careful to provide him with suitable wraps. Business matters compelled him to return to Paris in February. In leaving this happy home, he must have felt the contrast in arriving in Paris during the Revolution, and having to be annoyed again with his old debts. This time, he went to his new home in the rue Fortunee, the home that had cost the couple so much money and was to cause him so much worry if not regret.
About the last of September, 1848, Balzac left Paris again for Russia, and his family did not hear from him for more than a month after his arrival. His mother was left with two servants to care for his home in the rue Fortunee, as he expected to return within a few months. It is worthy of note that in this first letter to her, he spoke of being in very good health, for immediately afterwards, he was seized with acute bronchitis, and was ill much of the time during his prolonged stay of eighteen months.
Madame Hanska planned to have him pay the debts on their future home as soon as the harvest was gathered, but concerning the most important question he writes:
"The Countess will make up her mind to nothing until her children
are entirely free from anxieties regarding their fortune.
Moreover, your brother's debts, whether his own, or those he has
in common with the family, trouble her enormously. Nevertheless, I
hope to return toward the end of August; but in no circumstance
will I ever again separate myself from the person I love. Like the
Spartan, I intend to return with my shield or upon it."
Things were very discouraging at Wierzchownia; Madame Hanska had failed to receive much money which she was to inherit from an uncle, and, in less than six weeks, four fires had consumed several farm houses and a large quantity of grain on the estate. Although they both were anxious to see the rue Fortunee, their departure was uncertain.
But the most distressing complication was the condition of Balzac's health, which was growing worse. He complained of the frightful Asiatic climate, with its excessive heat and cold; he had a perpetual headache, and his heart trouble had increased until he could not mount the stairs. But he had implicit faith in his physician, and with his usual hopefulness felt that he would soon be cured, congratulating himself on having two such excellent physicians as Dr. Knothe and his son. His surroundings were ideal, and each of the household had for him an attachment tender, filial and sincere. It was necessary to his welfare that his life should be without vexation, and he asked his sister to entreat their mother to avoid anything which might cause him pain.
On his part, he tried to spare his mother also from unpleasant news, and desired his sister to assist him in concealing from her the real facts. He had had another terrible crisis in which he had been ill for more than a month with cephalalgic fever, and he had grown very thin.
Though several of Balzac's biographers have criticized Madame Hanska most bitterly for holding Balzac in Russia, and some have even gone so far as to censure her for his early death, it will be remembered that his health had long begun to fail, and that no constitution could long endure the severe strain he had given his. No climate could help his worn-out body to a sufficient degree. Balzac himself praised the conduct of the entire Hanski family. The following is only one of his numerous testimonies to their devotion.
"Alas! I have no good news to send. In all that regards the
affection, the tenderness of all, the desire to root out the evil
weeds which encumber the path of my life, mother and children are
sublime; but the chief thing of all is still subject to
entanglements and delays, which make me doubt whether it is God's
will that your brother should ever be happy, at least in that way;
but as regards sincere mutual love, delicacy and goodness, it
would be impossible to find another family like this. We live
together as if there were only one heart amongst the four; this is
repetition, but it cannot be helped, it is the only definition of
the life I lead here."
The situation of the author of the Comedie humaine was at this time most pitiable. Broken in health and living in a climate to which his constitution refused to be acclimated, weighed down by a load of debt which he was unable to liquidate in his state of health (his work having amounted to very little during his stay in Russia), consumed with a burning passion for the woman who had become the overpowering figure in the latter half of his literary career, possessing a pride that was making him sacrifice his very life rather than give up his long-sought treasure, the diamond of Poland, his very soul became so imbued with this devouring passion that the pour moujik was scarcely master of himself.
His family were suffering various misfortunes, and these, together with his deplorable condition, caused Madame Hanska to contemplate giving up an alliance with a man whose family was so unfortunate and whose social standing was so far beneath hers. She preferred to remain in Russia where she was rich, and moved in a high aristocratic circle, rather than to give up her property and assume the life of anxiety and trials which awaited her as Madame Honore de Balzac.
At times he became most despondent; the long waiting was affecting him seriously, and he hesitated urging a life so shattered as was his upon the friend who, like a benignant star, had shone upon his path during the past sixteen years.
"If I lose all I have hoped to gain here, I should no longer live;
a garret in the rue Lesdiguieres and a hundred francs a month
would suffice for all I want. My heart, my soul, my ambition, all
that is within me, desires nothing, except the one object I have
had in view for sixteen years. If this immense happiness escapes
me, I shall need nothing. I will have nothing. I care nothing for
la rue Fortunee for its own sake; la rue Fortunee has only been
created for her and by her."
The novelist was cautious in his letters lest there should be gossip about his secret engagement, and his possible approaching marriage. Apropos of his marriage, he would say that it was postponed for reasons which he could not give his family; Madame Hanska had met with financial losses again through fires and crop failures. With his continued illness, he had many things to trouble him.
But with all his trials, Balzac remained in many ways a child. After the terrible Moldavian fever which had endangered his life, in the fall of 1849 he took great pleasure in a dressing-gown of termolana cloth. He had wanted one of these gowns since he first saw this cloth at Geneva in 1834. Again he was ill, for twenty days, and his only amusement was in seeing Anna depart for dances in costumes of royal magnificence. The Russian toilettes were wonderful, and while the women ruined their husbands with their extravagance, the men ruined the toilettes of the ladies by their roughness. In a mazurka where the men contended for ladies' handkerchiefs, the young Countess had one worth about five hundred francs torn in pieces, but her mother repaired the loss by giving her another twice as costly.
The year 1850, which was to prove so fatal to Balzac, opened with a bad omen, had he realized it. His health, which he had never considered as he should have done, was seriously affected, and early in January another illness followed which kept him in bed for several days. He thought that he had finally become acclimated, but after another attack a few weeks later he concluded that the climate was impossible for nervous temperaments.
Such was, in brief, the story of his stay in Russia, but his optimism and devotion continued, and he writes:
"It is sanguine to think I could set off on March 15, and in that
case I should arrive early in April. But if my long cherished
hopes are realized, there would be a delay of some days, as I
should have to go to Kieff, to have my passport regulated. These
hopes have become possibilities; these four or five successive
illnesses—the sufferings of a period of acclimatization—which my
affection has enabled me to take joyfully, have touched this sweet
soul more than the few little debts which remain unpaid have
frightened her as a prudent woman, and I foresee that all will go
well. In the face of this happy probability, the journey to Kieff
is not to be regretted, for the Countess has nursed me heroically
without once leaving the house, so you ought not to afflict
yourself for the little delay which will thus be caused. Even in
that case, my, or our, arrival would be in the first fortnight of
Until the very last, Balzac was very careful that his family should not announce his expected wedding. Finally, all obstacles overcome, the long desired marriage occurred March 14, 1850.
What must have been the novelist's feeling of triumph, after almost seventeen years of waiting, suffering and struggle, to write:
"Thus, for the last twenty-four hours there has been a Madame Eve
de Balzac, nee Countess Rzewuska, or a Madame Honore de Balzac, or
a Madame de Balzac the elder. This is no longer a secret, as you
see I tell it to you without delay. The witnesses were the
Countess Mniszech, the son-in-law of my wife, the Count Gustave
Olizar, brother-in-law of the Abbe Czarouski, the envoy of the
Bishop; and the cure of the parish of Berditcheff. The Countess
Anna accompanied her mother, both exceedingly happy . . ."
With great joy and childish pride, Balzac informed his old friend and physician, Dr. Nacquart, who knew so well of his adoration for his "Polar Star" and his seventeen long years of untiring pursuit, that he had become the husband of the grandniece of Marie Leczinska and the brother-in-law of an aide-de-camp general of His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, the Count Adam Rzewuski, step-father of Count Orloff; the nephew of the Countess Rosalia Rzewuska, first lady of honor to Her Majesty the Empress; the brother-in-law of Count Henri Rzewuski, the Walter Scott of Poland as Mizkiewicz is the Polish Lord Byron; the father-in-law of Count Mniszech, of one of the most illustrious houses of the North, etc., etc.!
Though this was by far and away Balzac's greatest and most passionate love, the present writer cannot agree with the late Professor Harry Thurston Peck in the following dictum: "It was his first real love, and it was her last; and, therefore, their association realized the very characteristic aphorism which Balzac wrote in a letter to her after he had known her but a few short weeks: 'It is only the last love of a woman that can satisfy the first love of a man.'"
After their marriage, the homeward journey was delayed several weeks. The baggage, which was to be conveyed by wagon, only left April 2, and it required about two weeks for it to reach Radziwiloff, owing to the general thaw just set in. Then Balzac had a severe relapse due to lung trouble, and it was twelve days before he recovered sufficiently to travel. He had an attack of ophthalmia at Kieff, and could scarcely see; the Countess Anna fell ill with the measles, and her mother would not leave until the Countess recovered. They started late in April for what proved to be a terrible journey, he suffering from heart trouble, and she from rheumatism. On the way they stopped for a few days at Dresden, where Balzac became very ill again. His eyes were in such a condition that he could no longer see the letters he wrote. The following was written from Dresden, gives a glimpse of their troubles:
"We have taken a whole month to go a distance usually done in six
days. Not once, but a hundred times a day, our lives have been in
danger. We have often been obliged to have fifteen or sixteen men,
with levers, to get us out of the bottomless mudholes into which
we have sunk up to the carriage-doors. . . . At last, we are here,
alive, but ill and tired. Such a journey ages one ten years, for
you can imagine what it is to fear killing each other, or to be
killed the one by the other, loving each other as we do. My wife
feels grateful for all you say about her, but her hands do not
permit her to write. . . ."
Madame de Balzac has been most severely criticized for her lack of affection for Balzac, and their married life has generally been conceded to have been very unhappy. This supposition seems to have been based largely on hearsay. Miss Sandars quotes from a letter written to her daughter on May 16 from Frankfort, in which, speaking of Balzac as "poor dear friend," she seems to be quite ignorant of his condition, and to show more interest in her necklace than in her husband. The present writer has not seen this unpublished letter; but a published letter dated a few days before the other, in which she not only refers to Balzac as her husband but shows both her affection for him and her interest in his condition, runs as follows:
"Hotel de Russie (Dresden). My husband has just returned; he has
attended to all his affairs with a remarkable activity, and we are
leaving to-day. I did not realize what an adorable being he is; I
have known him for seventeen years, and every day, I perceive that
there is a new quality in him which I did not know. If he could
only enjoy health! Speak to M. Knothe about it, I beg you. You
have no idea how he suffered last night! I hope his natal air will
help him, but if this hope fails me, I shall be much to be pitied,
I assure you. It is such happiness to be loved and protected thus.
His eyes are also very bad; I do not know what all that means, and
at times, I am very sad. I hope to give you better news to-morrow,
when I shall write you."
Comments have been made on the fact that Balzac wrote his sister his wife's hands were too badly swollen from rheumatism to write and yet she wrote to her daughter, but there is a difference between a mother's letter to her only child, and one to a mother-in-law as hostile as she knew hers to be. She probably did not care to write, and Balzac, to smooth matters for her, gave this excuse.
The long awaited but tragic arrival took place late in the night of May 20, 1850. The home in the rue Fortunee was brilliantly lighted, and through the windows could be seen the many beautiful flowers arranged in accordance with his oft repeated request to his poor old mother. But alas! to their numerous tugs at the door-bell no response came, so a locksmith had to be sent for to open the doors. The minutest details of Balzac's orders for their reception had been obeyed, but the unfortunate, faithful Francois Munch, under the excitement and strain of the preparations, had suddenly gone insane.
Was this a sinister omen, or was it an exemplification of the old Turkish proverb, "The house completed, death enters"? Our hero's marriage proved to be the last of his illusions perdues, for only three months more were to be granted him. MM. Hanotaux et Vicaire have pertinently remarked that five years before his death, Balzac closed Les petites Miseres de la Vie conjugal with these prophetic words: "Who has not heard an Italian opera of some kind in his life? . . . You must have noticed, then, the musical abuse of the word felichitta lavished by the librettist and the chorus at the time every one is rushing from his box or leaving his stall. Ghastly image of life. One leaves it the moment the felichitta is heard." After so many years of waiting and struggle, he attained the summit of happiness, but was to obey the summons of death and leave this world just as the chorus was singing "Felichitta."
Some of Balzac's biographers have criticized Madame Honore de Balzac not only for having been heartless and indifferent towards him, but for having neglected him in his last days on earth. Her nephew, M. Stanislas Rzewuski, defended her, he said, not because she was his aunt but because of the injustice done to the memory of this poor etrangere, whose faithful tenderness, admiration and devotion had comforted the earthly exile of a man of genius. Balzac, realizing his hopeless condition, was despondent; his hopes were blighted, and his physical sufferings doubtless made him irritable. On the other hand, Madame de Balzac, however, seductive and charming, however worthy of being adored and being his "star," had a high temper. This was the natural temper of an aristocratic woman. It never passed the limits of decorum, but it was violent and easily provoked. Then too, she had been accustomed to luxury and had never known poverty. She was ill also and probably disappointed in life.
M. Rzewuski has resented, and doubtless justly so, the oft-quoted death scene by Victor Hugo. He says that at such a time the great poet was perhaps a most unwelcome guest and she had left the room to avoid him; that she probably returned before Balzac's last moments came; that Hugo was only there a short while; that if she did not return she could not have known that this was to be Balzac's last night on earth, and that, worn out with watching and waiting, she was justified in retiring to seek a much needed rest.
The story is told that when Dr. Nacquart informed Balzac that he must die, the novelist exclaimed: "Go call Bianchon! Bianchon will save me! Bianchon!" The Princess Radziwill states, however, that she has heard her aunt say often that this story is not true. But were it true, Balzac's condition was such that no physician could have saved him, even though possessing all the ability portrayed by the novelist in the notable and omnipresent Dr. Horace Bianchon, who had saved so many characters of the Comedie humaine, who had comforted in their dying hours all ranks from the poverty-stricken Pere Goriot to the wealthy Madame Graslin, from the corrupt Madame Marneffe to the angelic Pierette Lorrain, whose incomparable fame had spread over a large part of Europe.
Madame Hanska has been reproached also for the medical treatment given Balzac in Russia. It is doubtless true that lemon juice is not considered the proper treatment for heart disease in this enlightened age, but seventy years ago, in the wilds of Russia, there was probably no better medical aid to be secured; and even if Dr. Knothe and his son were "charlatans," it will be remembered that Balzac not only had a penchant for such, but that he was very fond of these two physicians and thought their treatment superior to that which was given at Paris.
M. de Fiennes complained that grass was allowed to grow on Balzac's grave. To this M. Eugene de Mirecourt replied that what M. de Fiennes had taken for grass was laurel, thyme, buckthorn and white jasmine; the grave of Balzac was constantly and religiously kept in good order by his widow. One could ask any of the gardeners of Pere-Lachaise thereupon.
Whatever the attitude of Balzac's wife towards him during his life, she acted most nobly indeed in the matter of his debts. Instead of accepting the inheritance left her in her husband's will and selling her rights in all his works, the beautiful etrangere accepted courageously the terrible burden left to her, and paid the novelist's mother an annuity of three thousand francs until her death, which occurred March, 1854. She succeeded in accomplishing this liquidation, which was of exceptional difficulty, and long before her death every one of Balzac's creditors had been paid in full.
There seems to be no authoritative proof that Balzac's married life was either happy or unhappy. The Princess Radziwill always understood from her aunt that they were as happy as one could expect, considering that Balzac's days were numbered. The present writer is fain to say, with Mr. Edward King: "He died happy, for he died in the full realization of a pure love which had upheld him through some of the bitterest trials that ever fall to the lot of man."
"Say to your dear child the most tenderly endearing things in the
name of one of the most sincere and faithful friends she will ever
have, not excepting her husband, for I love her as her father
Balzac was probably never more sincere than when he wrote this message, for perhaps no father ever loved his own child more devotedly than he loved Anna, the only child living of M. and Mme. de Hanski.
Most of Balzac's biographers who state that he met Madame Hanska on the promenade, say that her little daughter was with her. Wherever he first met her, she won his heart completely. Some pebbles she gathered during his first visit to her mother at Neufchatel, Balzac had made into a little cross, on the back of which was engraved: adoremus in aeternum. She was at this time about seven or eight years of age. When he visited them again at Geneva, their friendship increased, and in writing to her mother he sent the child kisses from son pauvre cheval. He loved her little playthings, some of which he kept on his desk; was always wanting to send her gifts, anxious for her health and happiness, took great interest in her musical talent, and was ever delighted to hear of her progress or pleasures. One of his rather typical messages to her in her earlier years was: "Place a kiss on Anna's brow from the most tranquil steed she will ever have in her stables."
As she grew older, the novelist thought of dedicating one of his works to her, and wrote to her mother that the first young girl story he should compose he would like to dedicate to Anna, if agreeable to both of them. The mother's consent was granted, and he assured her that the story Pierrette (written, by the way, in ten days) was suitable for Anna to read. "Pierrette is one of those tender flowers of melancholy which in advance are certain of success. As the book is for Anna, I do not wish to tell you anything about it, but leave you the pleasure of surprise."
"To Mademoiselle Anna de Hanska:
"Dear Child, you, the joy of an entire home, you whose white or
rose-colored scarf flutters in the summer through the groves of
Wierzchownia, like a will-o'-the-wisp, followed by the tender eyes
of your father and mother—how can I dedicate to you a story full
of melancholy? But is it not well to tell you of sorrow such as a
young girl so fondly loved as you are will never know? For some
day your fair hands may comfort the unfortunate. It is so
difficult, Anna, to find in the history of our manners any
incident worthy of meeting your eye, that an author has no choice;
but perhaps you may discern how happy you are from reading this
story, sent by
"Your old friend,
Balzac was very proud of the success of Pierrette, and wished Madame Hanska to have Anna read it, assuring her that there was nothing "improper" in it.
"Pierrette has appeared in the Siecle. The manuscript is bound
for Anna. L'envoi has appeared; I enclose it to you. Friends and
enemies proclaim this little book a masterpiece; I shall be glad
if they are not mistaken. You will read it soon, as it is being
printed in book form. People have placed it beside the Recherche
de l'Absolu. I am willing. I myself would like to place it beside
After the death of Anna's father, Balzac advised her mother in many ways. His interest in Anna's musical ability, which was very rare, increased and he had Liszt call on Madame Hanska and play for them when he went to St. Petersburg. He expressed his gratitude to Liszt for this favor by dedicating to him La Duchesse de Langeais. He regretted this later, after the musician fell into such discredit.
Balzac was anxious that Madame Hanska should manage the estate wisely, and that she should be very careful in selecting a husband for Anna. The young girl had many suitors at St. Petersburg, and he expressed his opinion freely about them. He wanted her to be happily married, and wrote her mother regarding the essential qualities of a husband. He loved Anna for her mother's sake as well as for her own, and when the fond mother wrote him about certain traits of her daughter he encouraged her to be proud of Anna, for she was far superior to the best-bred young people of Paris.
He did not approve, at first, of the young Count de Mniszech and championed another suitor; later he and the Count became warm friends, and in 1846, he dedicated to him Maitre Cornelius, written in 1831. Besides having a very handsome cane made for him, he sent him many gifts.
Balzac expressed his admiration of Anna not only to her mother, but to others. He wrote the Count, who was soon to become her husband, that she was the most charming young girl he had ever seen in the most refined circles of society. He found her far more attractive than his niece, who had the bloom of a beautiful Norman, and he thought that possibly some of his admiration for her was due to his great affection for her mother.
One is surprised to see what foresight Balzac had—so many things he said proved to be true. He thought, for instance, that Anna had the physique to live a hundred years, that she had no sense of the practical, that her mother—as he took care to warn her—would do well to keep her estate separate from her daughter's, or otherwise she might some day have cause for regret. Whether Madame Honore de Balzac was too busy with literary and business duties after her husband's death, or whether her extreme affection prevented her from refusing her only child anything she wished, the results were disastrous. It was fortunate for Balzac that he did not live to see the fate of this paragon, for this would have grieved him deeply, while he probably would not have been able to remedy matters.
While a part of Balzac's affection for Anna was doubtless owing to his adoration for her mother, she must have had in her own person some very charming traits, for after he had lived in their home for more than a year, where he must have studied her most carefully, he says of her: "It is true that the Countess Anna and Count George are two ideal perfections; I did not believe two such beings could exist. There is a nobleness of life and sentiment, a gentleness of manners, an evenness of temper, which cannot be believed unless you have lived with them. With all this, there is a playfulness, a spontaneous gaiety, which dispels weariness or monotony. Never have I been so thoroughly in my right place as here."
Balzac certainly was not tactful in continually praising the young Countess to his sister and his nieces, but he was doubtless sincere, and no record has been found of his ever having changed his opinion of this young Russian whom he loved so tenderly.
A woman who played an important role in Balzac's association with Madame Hanska was Mademoiselle Henriette Borel, called Lirette. She had been governess in the home of Madame Hanska since 1824. Sympathetic and devoted to the children, she grieved when death took them. She helped save Anna's life, for which the entire family loved her. It was doubtless due to her influence that M. de Hanski and his family chose Neufchatel, her home city, as a place to sojourn. They arrived there in the summer of 1833, and left early in October of the same year. While at Neufchatel they were very gracious to Lirette's relatives and Madame Hanska invited them to visit her at Geneva.
Whether Lirette wrote with her own hand the first letter sent by Madame Hanska to Balzac—letters which de Lovenjoul says were not in the handwriting of the Predilecta—we shall probably never know, but that she knew of the secret correspondence and aided in it is seen from the following:
"My celestial love, find an impenetrable place for my letters. Oh!
I entreat you, let no harm come to you. Let Henriette be their
faithful guardian, and make her take all the precautions that the
genius of woman dictates in such a case. . . . Do not deceive
yourself, my dear Eve; one does not return to Mademoiselle
Henriette Borel a letter so carefully folded and sealed without
looking at it. There are clever dissimulations. Now I entreat you,
take a carriage that you may never get wet in going to the post.
. . . Go every Wednesday, because the letters posted here on
Sunday arrive on Wednesday. I will never, whatever may be the
urgency, post letters for you on any day except Sunday. Burn the
envelopes. Let Henriette scold the man at the post-office for
having delivered a letter which was marked poste restante, but
scold him laughing, . . ."
Balzac courteously sent greetings to Lirette in his letters to Madame Hanska, and evidently liked her. Her religious tendencies probably impressed him many years before she took the veil, for he writes of her praying for him.
While Balzac naturally met Lirette in his visits to Madame Hanska, it was while he was at St. Petersburg in the summer of 1843 that he became more intimate with her, for she had decided to become a nun, and consulted him on many points. Since she was to enter a convent at Paris, he visited a priest there for her, secured the necessary documents, and advised her about many matters, especially her property and the convent she should enter. Though he aided her in every way he could, he did not approve of this step, but when she arrived in Paris, he entertained her in his home, giving up his room for her. At various times he went with her to the convent and his housekeeper, Madame de Brugnolle, also was very kind to her.
Lirette impressed the novelist as being very stupid, and he wondered how his "Polar Star" could have ever made a friend of her. She was as blind a Catholic as she had been a blind Protestant. She seemed willing now to have him marry Madame Hanska, after many years of aversion to him. He tried to impress upon her that a rich nun was much better treated than a poor one, but she would not listen to him, and insisted on making what he considered a premature donation of everything she possessed to her convent. She annoyed him very much while he was trying to save her property, yet he was pleased to do this for the sake of his Predilecta and Anna. He looked after her with the same solicitude that a father would have for his child, and after doing everything possible for her, he conducted her to the Convent de la Visitation without a word of thanks from her, though he had made sacrifices for her, and though his housekeeper had slept on a mattress on the floor, giving up her room in order that Lirette should have suitable quarters. But although hurt by her ingratitude he had enjoyed talking with her, for she brought him news from his friends in Russia.
Lirette evidently did not realize what she was doing in the matter of the convent, and was displeased with many things after entering it. Balzac was vexed at what she wrote to Madame Hanska, but felt that she was not altogether responsible for her actions, believing that it was a very personal sentiment which caused her to enter the convent. He could not understand her indifference to her friends, she did penance by keeping a letter from Anna eighteen days before opening it. He found her stupidity unequaled, but he sent his housekeeper to see her, and visited her himself when he had time.
In addition to all this, the poor novelist had one more trial to undergo; this was to see her take the vows (December 2, 1845). He was misinformed as to the time of the ceremony, so went too soon and wasted much precious time, but he remained through the long service in order to see her afterwards. But in all this Lirette was to accomplish one thing for him. As she had helped in his correspondence, she was soon to be the means of bringing him and his Chatelaine together again; the devotion of Madame Hanska and Anna to the former governess being such that they came to Paris to see her.
In the home of the de Hanskis in the Russian waste were two other women, Mesdemoiselles Severine and Denise Wylezynska, who were to play a small part in Balzac's life. Both of these relatives probably came with M. de Hanski and his family to Switzerland in 1833; their names are mentioned frequently in his letters to Madame Hanska, and soon after his visit at Neufchatel the novelist asks that Mademoiselle Severine preserve her gracious indifference. These ladies were cousins of M. de Hanski, and probably were sisters of M. Thaddee Wylezynski, mentioned in connection with Madame Hanska. After her husband's death, Madame Hanska must have invited these two ladies to live with her, for Balzac inquires about the two young people she had with her.
Mademoiselle Denise has been suspected of having written the first letter for Madame Hanska, and the dedication of La Grenadiere has been replaced by the initials "A. D. W.," supposed to mean "a Denise Wylezynska"; the actual dedication is an unpublished correction of Balzac himself.
The relative that caused Balzac the most discomfort was the Countess Rosalie Rzewuska, nee Princess Lubomirska, wife of Count Wenceslas Rzewuski, Madame Hanska's uncle. She seems to have been continually hearing either that he was married, or something that was detrimental, and kept him busy denying these reports:
"I have here your last letter in which you speak to me of Madame
Rosalie and of Seraphita. Relative to your aunt, I confess that
I am ignorant by what law it is that persons so well bred can
believe such calumnies. I, a gambler! Can your aunt neither
reason, calculate nor combine anything except whist? I, who work,
even here, sixteen hours a day, how should I go to a
gambling-house that takes whole nights? It is as absurd as it is
crazy. . . . Your letter was sad; I felt it was written under the
influence of your aunt. . . . Let your aunt judge in her way of my
works, of which she knows neither the whole design nor the
bearing; it is her right. I submit to all judgements. . . . Your
aunt makes me think of a poor Christian who, entering the Sistine
chapel just as Michael-Angelo has drawn a nude figure, asks why
the popes allow such horrors in Saint Peter's. She judges a work
from at least the same range in literature without putting herself
at a distance and awaiting its end. She judges the artist without
knowing him, and by the sayings of ninnies. All that give me
little pain for myself, but much for her, if you love her. But
that you should let yourself be influenced by such errors, that
does grieve me and makes me very uneasy, for I live by my
In spite of this, Balzac wished to obtain the good will of "Madame Rosalie," and sympathized with her when she lost her son. But she had a great dislike for Paris, and after the death of M. de Hanski, she objected to her niece's going there. The novelist felt that she was his sworn enemy, and that she went too far in her hatred of everything implied in the word Paris; yet he pardoned her for the sake of her niece.
It was Caliste Rzewuska, the daughter of this aunt, whom Balzac had in mind when he sketched Modeste Mignon. She was married to M. Michele-Angelo Cajetani, Prince de Teano and Duc de Sermoneta, to whom Les Parents pauvres is dedicated.
Balzac seems to have had something of the same antipathy for Madame Hanska's sister Caroline that he had for her aunt Rosalie, but since he wrote to his Predilecta many unfavorable things of a private nature about his family, she may have done the same concerning hers, so that he may not have had a fair opportunity of judging her. He was friendly towards her at times, and she is the Madame Cherkowitch of his letters.
It was probably Madame Hanska's sister Pauline, Madame Jean Riznitch, whose servants were to receive a reward from a rich moujik in case they could arrange to have him see Balzac. This moujik was a great admirer of the novelist, had read all his books, burnt a candle to Saint Nicholas for him every week, and was anxious to meet him. Since Madame Riznitch lived not far from Madame Hanska, he hoped to see Balzac when he visited Wierzschownia.
The relative whose association with Balzac seems to have caused Madame Hanska the most discomfort was her cousin, the Countess Marie Potocka. He met her when he visited his Chatelaine in Geneva, where the Countess Potocka entertained him, and after his return to Paris, he called on Madame Appony, wife of the Austrian ambassador, to deliver a letter for her. Before going to Geneva he had heard of her, and had confused her identity with that of the belle Grecque who had died several years before.
During his visit to Geneva the novelist deemed it wise to explain his attentions to Madame P——: "It would have seemed ridiculous (to the others) for me to have occupied myself with you only. I was bound to respect you, and in order to talk to you so much, it was necessary for me to talk to Madame P——. What I wrote you this morning is of a nature to show you how false are your fears. I never ceased to look at you while talking to Madame P——."
After his return to Paris he wrote a letter to Madame P——, and was careful to explain this also:
"Do not be jealous of Madame P——'s letter; that woman must be
for us. I have flattered her, and I want her to think that you
are disdained. . . . My enemies are spreading a rumor of my
liaison with a Russian princess; they name Madame P—— . . .
Oh! my love, I swear to you I wrote to Madame P—— only to
prevent the road to Russia being closed to me."
He received a letter from her which he did not answer, for he wished to end this correspondence. It is within the bounds of possibility that Balzac cared more for the Countess Potocka than he admitted to his "Polar Star," but several years later, when she had become avaricious, he formed an aversion to her and warned Madame Hanska to beware of her cousin.
- Miss M. F. Sandars states that a copy of the Quotidienne containing this acknowledgment was in the possession of the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, and that she saw it. At the time of writing this preface, Miss Wormeley did not believe the correspondence began until February, 1833. In undertaking to prove this, she cited a letter from Balzac written to Madame Hanska, dated January 4, 1846, in which he says that the thirteen years will soon be completed since he received her first letter. She corrects this statement, however, in writing her Memoir of Balzac three years later. The mistake in this letter here mentioned is only an example of the inaccuracy of Balzac, found not only in his letters, but throughout the Comedie humaine. But Miss Wormeley's argument might have been refuted by quoting another letter from Balzac to Madame Hanska dated February, 1840: "After eight years you do not know me!"
- One can see at once the injustice of the criticism of M. Henry Bordeaux, la Grande Revue, November, 1899, in censuring Madame Hanska for publishing her letters from Balzac.
- Balzac was imitating Madame Hanska's pronunciation of tilleuls in having Madame Vauquer (Pere Goriot) pronounce it tieuilles.
- This is only one of the numerous allusions Balzac made to the analytical forehead of Madame Hanska.
- The present writer is following the predominant custom of using the de in connection with M. de Hanski's name, and omitting it in speaking of his wife.
- Balzac preserved a remembrance of the happy days he had spent with Madame Hanska at Pre-Leveque, Lake Geneva, by dating La Duchesse de Langeais, January 26, 1834, Pre-Leveque.
- Miss K. P. Wormeley does not think that Albert Savarus was inspired by Balzac's relations with Madame Hanska. For her arguments, see Memoir of Balzac.
- Emile Faguet, Balzac, says that it was in 1843 that Madame Hanska went to St. Petersburg. He has made several such slight mistakes throughout this work.
- Balzac should have said an interval of eight years instead of seven, for he visited her in Vienna in May and June, 1835, and he wrote this in September 1843. This is only one of the novelist's numerous mistakes in figuring, seen throughout his entire works.
- Unless the editor of Lettres a l'Etrangere is confusing the French and Russian dates, he has made a mistake in dating certain of Balzac's letters from St. Petersburg. He had two dated October 1843, St. Petersburg, and on his way home from there Balzac writes from Taurogen dating his letter September 27-October 10, 1843. Hence the exact date of his departure from St. Petersburg is obscure.
- Constance was either one of Madame Hanska's real names, or one given her by Balzac, for he writes to her, in speaking of Mademoiselle Borel's entering the convent: "My most sincere regards to Soeur Constance, for I imagine that Saint Borel will take one of your names." Although Balzac hoped at one time to have Les petits Bourgeois completed by July 1844, it was left unfinished at his death, and was completed and published in 1855.
- This house, where all the mementos of Balzac, including his portrait, were preserved intact by the family, has been utterly destroyed by the Bolsheviks.
- The above shows that Balzac's ardent passion for his Predilecta was for herself alone, and that he was not actuated by his greed for gold, as has been stated by various writers.
- Concerning the climate of Kieff, the Princess Radziwill says: "The story that the climate of Kieff was harmful to Balzac is also a legend. In that part of Russia, the climate is almost as mild as is the Isle of Wight, and Balzac, when he was staying with Madame Hanska, was nursed as he would never have been anywhere else, because not only did she love him with her whole heart, but her daughter and the latter's husband were also devoted to him."
- Though Balzac speaks of having to obtain the Czar's permission to marry, the Princess Radziwill states that no permission was required, asked or granted. Balzac always gave March 14, 1850, as the date of his marriage while de Lovenjoul and M. Stanislas Rzewuski give the date as April 15, 1850. The Princess Radziwill writes: "Concerning the date of Balzac's marriage, it was solemnized as he wrote it to his family on March 2141850, at Berditcheff in Poland. Balzac, however, was a French subject, and as such had to be married according to the French civil law, by a French consul. There did not exist one in Berditcheff, so they had perforce to repair to Kieff for this ceremony. The latter took place on April 3-15 of the same year, and this explains the discrepancy of dates you mention which refer to two different ceremonies."
- The Princess Radziwill states that there are several inaccuracies in this article by her half-brother. He was very young when their aunt died, and he was influenced by his mother, who never liked Madame de Balzac. She points out that her aunt's temper was most even, that she never heard her raise her voice, and only once saw her angry.
- As to Octave Mirbeau's calumnious story, denied by both the Countess Mniszech and Gigoux's nephew and heir, the Princess Radziwill states that when Balzac died, her aunt did not know Gigoux and had never seen him. He was introduced to her only in 1860 by her daughter, who asked him to paint her mother's portrait; and they became good friends.
- The Countess Mniszech died in September, 1914, at the age of eighty-nine, so must have been born about 1825 or 1826. She spent the twenty-five years preceding her demise in a convent in the rue de Vaugirard in Paris and retained her right mind until the day of her death. It will always be one of the greatest regrets of the present writer that she did not know of this before the Countess's death, for the Countess could doubtless have given her much information not to be obtained elsewhere.
- The dedication was placed at the end, en envoi.
- It has been stated that Mademoiselle Borel was so impressed by the chants, lights and ceremony at the funeral of M. de Hanski in November 1841, that it caused her to give up her protestant faith and enter the convent. Miss Sandars (Balzac) has well remarked: "We may wonder, however, whether tardy remorse for her deceit towards the dead man, who had treated her with kindness, had not its influence in causing this sudden religious enthusiasm, and whether the Sister in the Convent of the Visitation in Paris gave herself extra penance for her sins of connivance." Mademoiselle died in this convent, rue d'Enfer, in 1857.
- The reason why Madame Rosalie had such a horror of Paris was that her mother was guillotined there,—the same day as Madame Elizabeth. Madame Rosalie was only a child at that time, and was discovered in the home of a washerwoman.