Saintsbury Introduction, Volume XIII – Part II

Father Goriot (Le Père Goriot)
The Unconscious Humorists (Les Comédiens sans le savoir)
Parisians in the Country: Gaudissart the Great (Les Parisiens en province: L’illustre Gaudissart)

 

Le Père Goriot perhaps deserves to be ranked as that one of Balzac’s novels which has united the greatest number of suffrages, and which exhibits his peculiar merits, not indeed without any of his faults, but with the merits in eminent, and the faults not in glaring, degree. It was written (the preface is dated 1834) at the time when his genius was at its very height, when it had completely burst the strange shell which had so long enveloped and cramped it Continue reading

Saintsbury Introduction, Volume XIII – Part I

The Thirteen (Histoire des Treize):
     Author’s Preface
     Ferragus
     The Duchesse de Langeais (La Duchesse de Langeais)
     The Girl with the Golden Eyes (La fille aux Yeux d’Or)

The Histoire des Treize consists – or rather is built up – of three stories: Ferragus or the Rue Soly, La Duchesse de Langeais or Ne touchez-pas à la hache, and La Fille aux Yeux d’Or.

To tell the truth, there is more power than taste throughout the Histoire des Treize, and perhaps not very much less unreality than power. Continue reading

Saintsbury Introduction, Volume XII – Part II

Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life: Vautrin’s Last Avatar (Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes: Le dernière Incarnation de Vautrin)
The Government Clerks (Les Employés)

As has been noted in the Introduction to the first volume of the Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes, La dernière Incarnation de Vautrin, though forming, according to the author’s conception, an integral part of that work, stands in more ways than one aloof from it. It was much later written than the earlier parts, except Ou ménent les mauvais chemins, and it was later written even than that. Moreover, it marks in two different ways a much maturer stage of the author’s ideas as to heroic convicts – a stage in which, I think, it is not fanciful to detect a considerable reduction of the gigantesque element and a substitution of something else for it.

We may note this in two ways. In the earlier conception of the matter, as exemplified chiefly in Ferragus and Le Père Goriot, the heroic element considerably dominates the practical. In the one Balzac had shown an ex-convict defying society and executing a sort of private justice or injustice, just as he pleased. In the other he had adopted (and had maintained still later in an apologetic epistle to a newspaper editor, which will be found in his works) a notion of the criminal as of a sort of puissance du mal pervading and dominating society itself. In the present book, or section of a book, which, it must never be forgotten, was one of his very latest, things are adjusted to a much more actual level. The thieves’-latin which it contains is only an indirect symptom of this. Ainsworth in England and others in France had anticipated him notably in this. But indirectly it shows us that he had come down many stages from his earlier heights. Bourignard and the early Vautrin worked in clouds, afar and apart; they had little to do with actual life: in La dernière Incarnation de Vautrin we find ourselves face to face with the actual, or only slightly “disrealized” realities of convict life. Some of these details may be disgusting, but most of them, as we know from unromantic authorities, are tolerably true; and where truth is, there, with an artist like Balzac, art never fails. It is the drawback of the youthful poet or novelist that he is insufficiently provided with veracity, of the aging novelist or poet that inspiration and the faculty of turning fact into great fiction fail him. But there was no danger of this latter with the author, at nearly twenty years’ interval, of Le dernier Chouan and La Cousine Bette. He could only gain by the dispelling of illusion, and he could not lose by the practice of his craft.

Another and still more interesting mark of resipiscence is conveyed in the practical defeat of Vautrin and in his desertion to the side of society itself, which, we are given to understand, he never afterwards left, nor less perhaps in the virtual rebuff which Corentin (another héros du mal of the older time) receives at the end. The old betrayer of Mlle. de Verneuil is told in so many words that he can be dispensed with; the old enemy of society has to take its wages; the funds of la haute pègre are squandered on Lucien de Rubempré, just as any foolish heir might squander them, and the whole scheme of a conspiracy against order breaks down. True, Madame de Maufrigneuse and Madame de Sèrizy get their letters; but that is neither here nor there.

The most interesting scene in the book, I suppose, is that in which the scheme of the prison authorities for trapping Vautrin fails by dint of his adroitness, and the command of a strong mind over a weak one, as between him and the other convicts, to whom he had been a fraudulent trustee. It is not free from unsavory details, but the mastery of it quite exceeds its repulsiveness. It is worth noting, too, that Balzac shows how thoroughly he has mastered the principles of his art by intermixing this very success with evidences of Vautrin’s humanity after all. And of minor details there is not, I think, one more interesting in the book, while there are few more interesting in all Balzac, than the fact that in the opening interview between Camusot and his wife the author borrows from Guy Mannering the incident of Pleydell’s discovering the importance of Dirk Hatteraick’s pocketbook by the play of his countenance as his examiner passes from that to other things, and vice versâ. The fact is that Balzac was to the very last an ardent devotee of Sir Walter, and that – like all great novelists, I think, without exception, but not like M. Zola and some other persons both abroad and at home – he was perfectly alive to the fact that Scott’s workmanship, his analysis, his knowledge of human nature, and his use of it, are about as far from superficiality as the equator is from the pole. In construction and in style Scott was careless, and as it happens, Balzac was in neither respect impeccable. But in other ways the pupil had, and knew that he had, little advantage over the master except in a certain parade of motives and details, as well as (though not to a very great extent) in a greater comprehension of passion, and, of course, to a much greater extent in liberty of exhibiting that compassion. Let us read Balzac and admire Balzac as much as possible; but when any one talks of Scott as shallow in comparison with Balzac, let us leave the answer to Balzac himself.

(For bibliography, see Introduction to Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes.)

________________________

The long piece entitled Les Employés, which fills nearly two-thirds of the volume, has rather dubious claims to be called a novel or a story at all. Balzac, either from the fact of his father having been employed in the civil department of the army, or because he had been destined himself by kind family friends to the rond-de-cuir (the office-stool), or because he was a typical Frenchman – for while half the French nation sits on these stools, the other half divides its time between laughing at them and envying them – was always exceedingly intent on the ways and manners of government offices. One of the least immature scenes of his Œuvres de Jeunesse, the opening passage of Argow le Pirate, concerns the subject. The collection of his Œuvres Diverses, only of late years opened to the explorer who has less than libraries at his command, contains repeated returns to it, of which the Physiologie de L’Employé was the best known and most popular; and the novels proper are full of dealings with it. In this particular piece, indeed, Balzac has actually incorporated something from his earlier Physiologie, and has thus made it even less of a story than it was when it first appeared under the title of La Femme Supérieure. In that condition it was divided into three parts – Entre deux Femmes, Les Bureaux, and A qui la place. The later shape, with the additions just referred to, tended to overweight the middle part still more at the expense of the two ends; and as it stands, it is little more than a criticism, partly in argument, partly in dialogue, of administration and administrative methods, with a certain slight personal interest at both ends.

Les Employés was originally dated July 1836. It appeared in the Presse just a year after its composition, but was then called La Femme Supérieure, which name it kept on its publication by Werdet as a book in 1838. It was here enlarged, and had La Torpille (the first title of Esther or Comment aiment les Filles) and La Maison Nucingen for companions. At its first appearance in the Comédie, the actual title and La Femme Supérieure were given as alternatives, but later Les Employés displaced the other.

George Saintsbury

From The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Avil Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1901, University Edition.

Saintsbury Introduction, Volume XII – Part I

Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life (Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes):
     Esther Happy (Esther Heureuse)
     The End of Evil Ways (Ou mènent les mauvais Chemins)
     What Love Costs an Old Man (A Combien l’Amour revient ux Viellards)

Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes has the interest (which it shares with only one or two others of Balzac’s works), if not exactly of touching the two extremities of his prosperous career, at any rate of stretching over a great part of it. It also exemplifies the very uncertain and fortuitous scheme of the Comédie and its component scenes. At first nothing of it appeared but the first part, and only half of that, under the title of La Torpille (Esther Gobseck’s nickname), which was published, together with La Femme Supérieure, the first form of Les Employés, and La Maison Nucingen, in 1838. Five years later it appeared in a newspaper as Esther, ou Les Amours d’un vieux Banquier, the first part now completed, and the second added. It was not till 1846 that Ou ménent les mauvais Chemins appeared, and this book itself had different titles. Finally, in Balzac’s very last period of writing at the end of 1846, or the beginning of 1847 – for he and his bibliographer are at issue on that point, – La dernière Incarnation de Vautrin was added as a fourth part, making the book, already one of the longest, now by far the longest of all. But the four were not published together till the édition definitive, many years after Balzac’s death.

It would in any case have been necessary to devote two of these volumes to so great a mass of matter, and I have taken the liberty of separating Vautrin from the rest for the purposes of introduction. The truth is that the book ends much more artistically with Ou ménent les mauvais Chemins; and if Balzac really intended to make La dernière Incarnation de Vautrin a continuation, this, as well as the great length of the book, would lead me to imagine that he had in mind rather a sort of sub-division of the Scènes de la Vie Parisienne than a single work.

For it must be at once evident that with the deaths of Esther and of Lucien, art, sense, and truth require that the curtain should fall. It may have been very desirable to finish off Vautrin; and, as I shall have occasion to point out, he is a very interesting person. But his mauvais chemin is quite a different one from that of Esther; and he is only indirectly concerned with the particular splendeurs et misères.

On the other hand, the history of “La Torpille” and of Lucien de Rubempré is by itself another and more complete. It affords Balzac, no doubt, opportunities of indulging a very large number of his extensive assortment of fancies, not to say fads, and of bringing in a great number of the personages of his stock company. Vautrin, the terrible and mysterious, in his new avatar, is only one of these. Corentin reappears from the far distance of Les Chouans; but playing no very dissimilar part, though his machinations are directed against less innocent persons. We receive abundant information as to the way in which Baron Nucingen got rid of the money which he obtained by means already detailed with equal care elsewhere. Madame de Maufrigneuse and Madame de Sérizy play important parts; and many others come and go.

But still Esther van Gobseck and Lucien Chardon de Rubempré are as much the hero and heroine of the story, and make the first three parts as much a story to themselves, as Le Père Goriot and Eugénie Grandet are the hero and heroine of the books to which they very justly give their names.

I forget whether Lucien de Rubempré, in the numerous and rather idle Balzac “keys” which MM. Cerfberr and Christophe have not deigned to include in their Répertoire, is identified with any actual personage. It has been, and will be observed, that Balzac was too great an artist either to need, or, indeed, often to attempt, this commonplace and catchpenny means of interest. But in the world of fiction in general, and of the Comédie in particular, Lucien is half-complement, half-counterpart of Eugène de Rastignac. He is the adventurer, not entirely without good blood in his veins, who ventures into the intersecting or overlapping worlds of fashion, of journalism, of speculation, and of politics, but who has not, like Rastignac, either strength or coolness of head to swim through the whirlpool and reach the shore. It may be interesting to the reader to form his own opinion how far Lucien’s ruin – brought  about, be it remembered, by charges of which he is actually innocent – is due to the evil, though not in his case intentionally hostile, influence of Vautrin, how far it is due to his own weakness. Balzac was too much of an artist to decide very definitely either way; but despite his rather mistaken admiration of Vautrin, I think he had the sense to give most weight to the internal causes. The moral – for there is always a moral in Balzac – is, of course, the old one of a thousand fables and a thousand forms, the best of which perhaps is the Spenserian apposition of “Be bold, be bold, and everywhere be bold,” with “Be not too bold” – the moral that on the “Brigg of Dread” of ambition and covetousness there is nothing but absolute perdition for him who cannot keep his feet and his head. There is not perhaps so much irony as there would be in some writers about the presentation of Lucien, who is really a poor creature enough, as the very darling of all the great ladies of Paris as well as of persons at the other end of the scale; but it is there.

With Esther it is even plainer sailing. Her history is simply that of a courtesan, embodying “lights and shadows” on a more fantastic and gorgeous scale, with the final fortune thrown in (this applies to Lucien as well as to her) for a climax of Nemesis. Perhaps there is another moral here – that when any one has once embarked on this particular mauvais chemin it is not merely idle, but ruinous, to indulge in sincere affection for anybody – that you must “play the game,” here as elsewhere, and that you cannot be permitted to play the fair game and the foul at once.

On the whole, I should put this book a little below Balzac’s very best, but in the forefront of his average work. Some I know have rated it very highly; but such a slightly glorified “Alphonse” as Rubempré is too disgusting a hero to be tolerated without even greater power than Balzac has here put forth, even though Esther to no small extent redeems him.

A good deal of the rather complicated bibliography of Splendeurs et Misères has necessarily been given above. Some additional details here may complete the information, in regard to the whole of it, as Balzac finally arranged it, that is to say, with the Dernière Incarnation included. La Torpille (vide supra) came out as a book without any previous newspaper publication, but with La Femme Supérieure (now called Les Employés) and La Maison Nucingen in 1838, published in two volumes by Werdet. It was divided into three chapters with a view to feuilleton publication in the Presse. But this did not appear. The rest of the present Comment aiment les Filles, with most of A Combien l’amour revient aux Vieillards, did appear in this form in Le Parisien during the month of June 1843 and a few days in May and July. The first part was included as well in this publication. Le Parisien was not successful, and the end of A Combien l’amour never came out, but is included in a three-volume book publication of the thing next year by de Potter. Then the whole, which had in Le Parisien been called Esther, ou Les Amours d’un vieux Banquier, received its present general heading with the addition “Esther.” The book was next entered in the Comédie, the first part being called Esther Heureuse. Ou mènent les mauvais Chemins appeared in the newspaper L’Epoque during July 1846, and was then called Une Instruction criminelle; but it was forthwith included in the Comédie under its actual title, and a year later published separately by Souverain. But Splendeurs et Misères had a bad habit of killing journals under it; and L’Epoque too, having died, La dernière Incarnation appeared in the Presse (strangely enough, seeing that this was the journal which ought to have published the first part ten years earlier) in April and May 1847. Chlendowski published it as a book the same year. The date “December 1847” appears to have been a mistake or a whim of Balzac’s.

George Saintsbury

From The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Avil Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1901, University Edition.

Saintsbury Introduction, Volume XI – Part II

Pour Relations: Cousin Pons (Les Parents pauvres: Le Cousin Pons)

One of the last and largest of Balzac’s great works – the very last of them, if we except La Cousine Bette, to which is pendant and contrast – Le Cousin Pons has always united suffrages from very different classes of admirers. In the first place, it is not “disagreeable,” as the common euphemism has it, and as La Cousine Bette certainly is. In the second, it cannot be accused of being a berquinade, as those who like Balzac best when he is doing moral rag-picking are apt to describe books like Le Médecin de Campagne and Le Lys dans la Vallée, if not even like Eugénie Grandet. It has a considerable variety of interest; its central figure is curiously pathetic and attractive, even though the curse of something like folly, which so often attends Balzac’s good characters, may a little weigh on him. It would be a book of exceptional charm even if it were anonymous, or if we knew no more about the author than know about Shakespeare.

As it happens, however, Le Cousin Pons has other attractions than this. In the first place, Balzac is always great – perhaps he is at his greatest – in depicting a mania, a passion, whether the subject bepleasure or gold-hunger or parental affection. Pons has two manias, and the one does not interfere with, but rather helps, the other. But this would be nothing if it were not that his chief mania, his ruling passion, is one of Balzac’s own. For, as we have often had occasion to notice, Balzac is not by any means one of the great impersonal artists. He can do many things; but he is never at his best in doing any unless his own personal interests, his likings and hatreds, his sufferings and enjoyments, are concerned. He was a kind of actor-manager in his Comédie Humaine; and perhaps, like other actor-managers, he took rather disproportionate care of the parts which he played himself.

Now, he was even more desperate as a collector and fancier of bibelots than he was as a speculator; and while the one mania was nearly as responsible for his pecuniary troubles and his need to overwork himself as the other, it certainly gave him more constant and more comparatively harmless satisfactions. His connoisseurship has, of course, been questioned – one connoisseur would be nothing if he did not question the competence of another, if not of all others. It seems certain that Balzac frequently bought things for what they were not; and probable that his own acquisitions went, in his own eyes, through that succession of stages which Charles Lamb (a sort of Cousin Pons in his way too) described inimitably. His pictures, like John Lamb’s, were apt to begin as Raphaels, and end as Carlo Marattis. Balzac, too, like Pons, was even more addicted to bric-a-brac than to art proper; and after many vicissitudes, he and Madame Hanska seem to have succeeded in getting together a very considerable, if also a very miscellaneous and unequal collection in the house in the Rue du Paradis, the contents of which were dispersed in part (though, I believe, the Rochschild who bought it, bought most of them too) not many years ago. Pons, indeed, was too poor, and probably too queer, to indulge in one fancy which Balzac had, and which, I think, all collectors of the nobler and more poetic class have, though this number may not be large. Balzac liked to have new beautiful things as well as old – to have beautiful things made for him. He was an unwearied customer, though not an uncomplaining one, of the great jeweler Froment Meurice, whose tardiness in carrying out his behests he pathetically upbraids in more than one extant letter.

Therefore, Balzac “did more than sympathize, he felt” – as it has been well put – with Pons in the bric-a-brac matter; and would appear that he did so likewise in that of music, though we have rather less direct evidence. This other sympathy has resulted in the addition to Pons himself of the figure of Schmucke, a minor and more parochial figure, but good in itself, and very much appreciated, I believe, by fellow mélomanes.

It is with even more than his usual art that Balzac has surrounded these two originals – these “humorists,” as our own ancestors would have called them – with figures much, very much, more of the ordinary world than themselves. The grasping worldliness of the parvenue family of Camusot in one degree and the greed of the portress, Madame Cibot, in the other, are admirably represented; the latter, in particular, must always hold a very high place among Balzac’s greatest successes. She is, indeed a sort of companion sketch to Cousine Bette herself in a still lower rank of life representing the diabolical in woman; and perhaps we should not wrong the author’s intentions if we suspected that Diane de Maufrigneuse has some claims to make up the trio in a sphere even more above Lisbeth’s than Lisbeth’s is above Madame Cibot’s own.

Different opinions have been held of the actual “bric-a-bracery” of this piece – that is to say, not of Balzac’s competence in the matter but of the artistic value of his introduction of it. Perhaps his enthusiasm does a little run away with him; perhaps he gives us a little too much of it, and avails himself too freely of the license, at least of the temptation, to digress which the introduction of such persons as Élie Magus affords. And it is also open to any one to say that the climax, or what is in effect the climax, is introduced somewhat too soon; that the struggle, first over the body and then over the property of Patroclus-Pons, is inordinately spun out, and that, even granting the author’s mania, he might have utilized it better by giving us more of the harmless and ill-treated cousin’s happy hunts, and less of the disputes over his accumulated quarry. This, however, means simply the old, and generally rather impertinent, suggestion to the artist that he shall do with his art something different from that which he has himself chosen to do. It is, or should be, sufficient that Le Cousin Pons is a very agreeable book, more pathetic if less “grimy,” than its companion, full of its author’s idiosyncracy, and characteristic of his genius. It may not be uninteresting to add that Le Cousin Pons was originally called Le Deux Musiciens, or Le Parasite, and that the change, which is a great improvement, was due to the instances of Madame Hanska.

(For bibliography, see the Preface to La Cousine Bette.)

George Saintsbury

From The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Avil Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1901, University Edition.

Saintsbury Introduction, Volume XI – Part I

Poor Relations: Cousin Betty (Les Parents pauvres: La Cousine Bette)

La Cousine Bette was perhaps the last really great thing that Balzac did – for Le Cousin Pons, which now follows it, was actually written before – and it is beyond all question one of the very greatest of his works. It was written at the highest possible pressure and (contrary to the author’s more usual system) in parts, without even seeing a proof, for the Constitutionnel in the autumn, winter, and early spring of 1846-47, before his departure from Vierzschovnia, the object being to secure a certain sum of ready money to clear off indebtedness. And it has been sometimes asserted that this labor, coming on the top of many years of scarcely less hard work, was almost the last straw which broke down Balzac’s gigantic strength. Of these things it is never possible to be certain; as to the greatness of La Cousine Bette, there is no uncertainty.

In the first place, it is a very long book for Balzac; it is, I think, putting aside books like Les Illusions Perdues, and Les Célibataires, and Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes, which are really groups of work written at different times, the longest of all his novels, if we except the still later and rather doubtful Petits Bourgeois. In the second place, this length is not obtained – as length with him is too often obtained – by digressions, by long retrospective narrations, or even by the insertion of such “padding” as the collection business in Le Cousin Pons. The whole stuff and substance of La Cousine Bette is honestly woven novel-stuff, of one piece and one tenor and texture, with for constant subject the subterranean malignity of the heroine, the erotomania of Hulot and Crevel, the sufferings of Adeline, and the pieuvre operations of Marneffe and his wife, – all of which fit in and work together with each other as exactly as the cogs and gear of a harmonious piece of machinery do. Even such much simpler and shorter books as Le Père Goriot by no means possess this seamless unity of construction, this even march, shoulder to shoulder, of all the personages of the story.

In the second place, this story itself strikes hold on the reader with a force not less irresistible than that of the older and simpler stories just referred to. As compared even with its companion, this force of grasp is remarkable. It is not absolutely criminal or contemptible to feel that Le Cousin Pons sometimes languishes and loses itself; this can never be said of the history of the evil destiny, partly personified in Elizabeth Fischer, which hovers over the house of Hulot.

Some, I believe, have felt inclined to question the propriety of the title of the book, and to assign the true heroineship to Valérie Marneffe, whom also the same and other persons are fond of comparing with her contemporary Becky Sharp, not to the advantage of the latter. This is no place for a detailed examination of the comparison, as to which I shall only say that I do not think Thackeray has anything to fear from it. Valérie herself is, beyond all doubt, a powerful study of the “strange woman,” enforcing the Biblical view of that personage with singular force and effectiveness. But her methods are coarser and more commonplace than Becky’s; she never could have long sustained such an ordeal as the tenure of the house in Curzon Street without losing even an equivocal position in decent English society; and it must always be remembered that she was under the orders, so to speak, of Lisbeth, and inspired by her.

Lisbeth herself, on the other hand is not one of a class; she stands alone as much as Becky herself does. It is, no doubt, an arduous and, some milky-veined critics would say, a doubtfully healthy or praiseworthy task to depict almost pure wickedness; it is excessively hard to render it human; and if the difficulty is not increased, it is certainly not much lessened by the artist’s determination to represent the malefactress as undiscovered and even unsuspected throughout. Balzac, however, has surmounted these difficulties with almost complete success. The only advantage – it is no doubt a considerable one – which he has taken over Shakespeare, when Shakespeare devised Iago, is that of making Mademoiselle Fischer a person of low birth, narrow education, and intellectual faculties narrower still, for all their keenness and intensity. The largeness of brain with which Shakespeare endows his human devil, and the largeness of heart of which he does not seem to wish us to imagine him as in certain circumstances incapable, contrast sharply enough with the peasant meanness of Lisbeth. Indeed, Balzac, whose seldom erring instinct in fixing on the viler parts of human nature may have been somewhat too much dwelt on, but is undeniable, has here and elsewhere hit the fault of the lower class generally very well. It does not appear that the Hulots, though they treated her without much ceremony, gave Bette any real cause of complaint, or that there was anything in their conduct corresponding to that of the Camusots to the luckless Pons. That her cousin Adeline had been prettier than herself in childhood, and was richer and more highly placed in middle life, was enough for Lisbeth – the incarnation of the Radical hatred of superiority of any kind. And so she set to work to ruin and degrade the unhappy family, to set it at variance, and make it miserable, as best she could.

The way of her doing this is wonderfully told, and the various characters, minor as well as major, muster in wonderful strength. I do not know that Balzac has made quite the most of Hector Hulot’s vice – in fact, here, as elsewhere, I think the novelist not happy in treating this particular deadly sin. The man is a rather disgusting and wholly idiotic old fribble rather than a tragic victim of Libitina. So also his wife is too angelic. But Crevel, the very pattern and model of the vicious bourgeois who has made his fortune; and Wenceslas Steinbock, pattern again and model of the foibles of Polen aus der Polackei; and Hortense, with the better energy of the Hulots in her; and the loathsome reptile Marneffe, and Victoria, and Célestine, and the Brazilian (though he, to be sure, is rather a transpontine rastaqouère), and all the rest are capital, and do their work capitally. But they would not be half so fine as they are if, behind them, there were not the savage Pagan naturalism of Lisbeth Fischer, the “angel of the family” – and a black angel indeed.

The bibliography of the two divisions of Les Parents Pauvres is so closely connected, that it is difficult to extricate the separate histories, and they will be given together here. Originally the author had intended to begin with Le Cousin Pons (which then bore the title of Les Deux Musiciens), and to make it the more important of the two; but La Cousine Bette grew under his hands, and became, in more than one sense, the leader. Both appeared in the Constitutionnel; the first between October 8th and December 3rd, 1846, the second between March 18th and May of next year. In the winter of 1847-48 the two were published as a book in twelve volumes by Chlendowski and Petion. In the newspaper (where Balzac received – a rarely exact detail – 12,836 francs for the Cousine, and 9,238 for the Cousin) the first-named had thirty-eight headed chapter-divisions, which in book form became a hundred and thirty-two. Le Cousin Pons had two parts in feuilleton, and thirty-one chapters, which in book form became no parts and seventy-eight chapters. All divisions were swept away when, at the end of 1848, the books were added together to the Comédie.

George Saintsbury

From The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Avil Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1901, University Edition.

Saintsbury Introduction, Volume X – Part II

The Peasantry (Les Paysans)

Few, I suppose, of the readers of Les Paysans in more recent years have read it without a more or less distinct mental comparison with the corresponding book in the Rougon-Macquart series. And I should hope that this comparative process has had, in the best minds, only one result. Les Paysans (which, by the way, is a very late book, partly posthumous, and is said, though not on positive authority, to have enjoyed the collaboration of Madame de Balzac) is not one of Balzac’s best; but it is as far above La Terre from every conceivable point of view, except that of Holywell Street, as a play of Shakespeare is above one of Monk Lewis.

The comparison, indeed, exhibits something more than the difference of genius in Balzac and in M. Zola. It illustrates the difference of their methods. We know how not merely the Rougon-Macquart series in general, but La Terre in particular, was composed. M. Zola, who is a conscientious man, went down to a village (somewhere in Beauce, if I recollect rightly), stayed some time, made his notes, and came back to Paris.

There is nothing like the same great gulf fixed between the Londoner and the countryman in England as that which exists between the Parisian and the Provincial in France. But imagine an Englishman, not even English by race, from his youth up an inhabitant of great towns, attempting to delineate the English peasantry after a few weeks’ stay in a Wiltshire village!

Balzac, on the other hand, a Frenchman of Frenchmen, was born in a French country town, was brought up in the country, and, what is more, was in the constant habit of retiring to out-of-the-way country inns and similar places to work. He had the key, to begin with; and he never let it get rusty. To some tastes and judgments his country sketches, if less lively, are more veracious even than his Parisian ones; they have less convention about them; they are less obviously under the dominion of prepossessions and crotchets, less elaborately calculated to form backgrounds and scenery for the evolutions of Rastignacs and Rubemprés.

The result is, in Les Paysans, a book of extraordinary interest and value. In one respect, indeed, it falls short of the highest kind of novel. There is no character in whose fortunes or in whose development we take the keenest interest. Blondet is little more than an intelligent chorus or reporter, though he does not tell the story; Montcornet is a good-natured “old silly;” the Countess is – a Countess. Not one of the minor characters, not even Rigou, is very much more than a sketch. But then there is such a multitude of these sketches, and they are all instinct with such life and vigor! Although Balzac has used no illegitimate attractions – think only of the kind of stuff with which M. Zola, like a child smearing color on a book-engraving, would have daubed the grisly outlines of the Tonsard family! – he has not shrunk from what even our modern realists, I suppose, would allow to be “candor;” and his book is as masterly as it is crushing in its indictment against the peasant.

Is the indictment as true as it is severe and well urged? I am rather afraid that we have not much farther to look than at certain parts of more than one of the Three Kingdoms to see that we need not even limit ourselves to the French peasant in admitting that it is. There are passages in the book which read as if they might be extracts mutatis mutandis from a novel on the Irish Land League or the Welsh Anti-Tithe Agitation. To a certain extent, no doubt, the English peasant, at least when he is not Celtic, is rather less bitten with actual “land-hunger” than the Frenchman; and even when he is a Celt, it does not seem to be so much land-hunger proper as a dislike to adopting any other occupation which drives him to crime. Moreover, Free Trade and other things have made land in the United Kingdom very much less an object of positive greed than it was in France eighty years ago, or, indeed, than it is there still. Yet the main and special ingredients of a land agitation – the ruthless disregard of life, the indifference to all considerations of gratitude or justice, the secret- society alliance against the upper classes, – all these things are delineated here with an almost terrifying veracity.

For individual and separate sketches of scenes and characters (with the limitation above expressed) the book may vie almost with the best. The partly real, partly fictitious, otter-hunting of the old scoundrel Fourchon is quite first-rate; and it is of a kind rarely found in French writers till a time much more modern than Balzac’s. The machinations of Gaubertin, Sibilet, and Rigou are a little less vivid; but the latter is a masterly character of the second class, and perhaps the best type in fiction of the intelligent sensualist of the lower rank – of the man hard-headed, harder-hearted, and entirely destitute of any merit but shrewdness. The character of Bonnebault is a little, a very little, theatrical; the troupier francais debauched, but not ungenerous, appears a little too much in his cartoon manner. “La Péchina” wants fuller working out; but she affords one of the most interesting touches of the comparison above suggested in the scene between her, Nicolas, and Catherine. One turns a little squeamish at the mere thought of what M. Zola would have made of it in the effort to make clear to the lowest apprehension what Balzac, almost without offence, has made clear to all but the very lowest. Michaud is good and not overdone; and of his enemies the Tonsards – enough has been said. They could not be better in their effectiveness; and, I am afraid, they could not be much better in their truth. Here, at least, if the moral picture is grimy enough, Balzac cannot, I think, be charged with having exaggerated it, while he cannot be denied the credit of having presented it in extraordinarily forcible and brilliant colors and outlines.

Les Paysans, owing to the lateness of its appearance, was less pulled about than almost any other of its author’s books. It, or rather, the first part of it, appeared under the title Qui Terre a Guerre a in the Presse for December 1844. Nothing more appeared during the author’s life; but in 1855 the Revue de Paris reprinted the previous portion, and finished the book, and the whole was published in four volumes by de Potter in the same year.

George Saintsbury

From The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Avil Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1901, University Edition.

Saintsbury Introduction, Volume X – Part I

The Country Parson (Le Curé de Village)
Albert Savarus (Albert Savarus)

Perhaps in no instance of Balzac’s work is his singular fancy for pulling that work about more remarkably instanced and illustrated than in the case of Le Curé de Village. The double date, 1837-1845, which the author attached to it, in his usual conscientious manner, to indicate these revisions, has a greater signification than almost anywhere else. When the book, or rather its constituent parts, first appeared in the Presse for 1839, having been written the winter before, not only was it very different in detail, but the order of the parts was altogether dissimilar. Balzac here carried out his favorite plan – a plan followed by many other authors no doubt, but always, as it seems to me, of questionable wisdom – that of beginning in the middle and then “throwing back” with a long retrospective and explanatory digression.

In this version of the story of Tascheron’s crime and its punishment came first; and it was not till after the execution that the early history of Véronique (who gave her name to this part as to a Suite du Curé de Village) was introduced. This history ceased at the crisis of her life; and when it was taken up in a third part, called Véronique au Tombeau, only the present conclusion of the book, with her confession, was given. The long account of her sojourn at Montégnac, of her labors there, of the episode of Farrabesche, and so forth, did not appear till 1841, when the whole book, with the inversions and insertions just indicated, appeared in such a changed form, that even the indefatigable M. de Lovenjoul dismisses as “impossible” the idea of exhibiting a complete picture of the various changes made. Nor was the author even yet contented; for in 1845, before establishing it in its place in the Comédie, he not only, as was his wont, took out the chapter-headings, leaving five divisions only, but introduced other alterations, resulting in the present condition of the book.

It is not necessary to dwell very much on the advantages or disadvantages of these changes. There is no doubt that, as has been said above, the trick of beginning the story in the middle, and then doubling back on the start, has many drawbacks. But, on the other hand, that of an introduction which has apparently very little to do with anything, and which has nothing whatever to do with the title of the book, has others; and I do not know that in the final reconstitution Balzac has made Véronique’s part in the matter, even in her confession, as clear as it should be. It is indeed almost unavoidable that twisting and turning the shape of a story about, as he was wont to do, should bring the penalty of destroying, or at least damaging, its unity.

As the book stands it may be said to consist of three parts united rather by identity of the personages who act in them than by exact dramatic connection. There is, to take the title-part first (though it is by no means the most really important or pervading) the picture of the “Curé de Village,” which is almost an exact, and beyond doubt a designed, pendant to that of the “Médecin de Champagne.” The Abbé Bonnet indeed is not able to carry out economic ameliorations, as Dr. Benassis is, personally, but by inducing Véronique to do so he brings about the same result, and on an even larger scale. His personal action (with the necessary changes for his profession) is also tolerably identical and on the whole the two portraits may fairly be hung together as Balzac’s ideal representations of the good man in soul-curing and body-curing respectively. Both are largely conditioned  by his eighteenth-century fancy for “playing Providence,” and by his delight in extensive financial-commercial schemes. I believe that in both books these schemes have been stumbling-blocks, if not to all readers, yet to a good many. But the beauty of the portraiture of the “Curé” is nearly, if not quite equal, to that of the doctor, though the institution of celibacy has prevented Balzac from giving a key to the conduct of Bonnet quite as sufficient as that which he furnished for the conduct of Benassis.

The second part of the book is the crime – episodic as regards the criminal, cardinal as regards other points – of Tascheron. Balzac was very fond of “his crimes;” and it is quite worth while in connection with his handling of the murder here to study the curious story of his actual interference in the famous Peytel case, which also interested Thackeray so much in his Paris days. The Tascheron case itself (which from a note appears to have been partly suggested by some actual affair) no doubt has interests for those who like such things, and the picture of the criminal in prison is very striking. But we see and know so very little of Tascheron himself, and even to the very last (which is long afterwards) we are left so much in the dark as to his love for Veronique, that the thing has an extraneous air. It is like a short story foisted in.

This objection connects itself at once with a similar one to the delineation of Véronique. There is nothing in her conduct intrinsically impossible, or even improbable. A girl of her temperament, at once, as often happens, strongly sensual and strongly devotional, deprived of her good looks by illness, thrown into the arms of a husband physically repulsive, and after a short time not troubling himself to be amiable in any other way, might very well take refuge in the substantial, if not ennobling, consolations offered by a good-looking and amiable young fellow of the lower class. Her conduct at the time of the crime (her exact complicity in which is, as we have said, rather imperfectly indicated) is also fairly probable, and to her repentance and amendment of life no exception can be taken. But only in this last stage do we really see anything of the inside of Véronique’s nature; and even then we do not see it completely. The author’s silence on the details of the actual liaison with Tascheron has its advantages, but it also has its defects.

Still, the book is one of great attraction and interest, and takes, if I may judge by my own experience, a high rank for enchaining power among that class of Balzac’s books which cannot be put exactly highest. If the changes made in it by its author have to some extent dislocated it as a whole, they have resulted in very high excellence for almost all the parts.

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Albert Savarus, with its enshrined story of “L’Ambitieux par Amour” (something of an oddity for Balzac, who often puts a story within a story, but less formally than this), contains various appeals, and shows not a few of its author’s well-known interests in politics, in affairs, in newspapers, not to mention the enumerations of dots and fortunes which he never could refuse himself. The affection of Savarus for the Duchesse d’Argaiolo may interest different persons differently. It seems to me a little fade. But the character of Rosalie de Watteville is in a very different rank. Here only, except, perhaps, in the case of Mademoiselle de Verneuil, whose unlucky experiences had emancipated her, has Balzac depicted a girl full of character, individuality, and life. It was apparently necessary that Rosalie should be made not wholly amiable in order to obtain this accession of wits and force, and to be freed from the fatal gift of candeur, the curse of the French ingénue. Her creator has also thought proper to punish her further, and cruelly, at the end of the book. Nevertheless, though her story may be less interesting than either of theirs, it is impossible not to put her in a much higher rank as a heroine than either Eugénie or Ursule, and not to wish that Balzac had included the conception of her in a more important structure of fiction.

Albert Savarus appeared in sixty headed chapters in the Siècle for May and June 1842, and then assumed its place in the Comédie. But though left there, it also formed part of a two-volume issue by Souverain in 1844, in company with La Muse du département. “Rosalie” was at first named “Philomene.”

As something has necessarily been said already about the book-history of the Curé de Village, little remains but to give exact dates and places of appearance. The Presse published the (original) first part in December-January 1838-39, the original second (Véronique) six months later, and the third (Véronique au Tombeau) in August. All had chapters and chapter- titles. As a book it was in its first complete form published by Souverain in 1841, and was again altered when it took rank in the Comédie six years later.

George Saintsbury

From The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Avil Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1901, University Edition.

Saintsbury Introduction, Volume IX – Part II

The Country Doctor (Le Médecin de Campagne)
The Vendetta (La Vendetta)
Colonel Chabert (Le Colonel Chabert)

In hardly any of his books, with the possible exception of Eugenie Grandet, does Balzac seem to have taken a greater interest than in Le Medecin de Campagne; and the fact of this interest, together with the merit and intensity of the book in each case, is, let it be repeated, a valid argument against those who would have it that there was something essentially sinister both in his genius and in his character.

The Médecin de Campagne was an early book; it was published in 1833, a date of which there is an interesting mark in the selection of the name “Evelina,” the name of Madame Hanska, whom Balzac had just met, for the lost Jansenist love of Benassis; and it had been on the stocks for a considerable time. It is also noteworthy, as lying almost entirely outside the general scheme of the Comédie Humaine as far as personages go. Its chief characters in the remarkable, if not absolutely impeccable, répertoire of MM. Cerfberr and Christophe (they have, a rare thing with them, missed Agathe the forsaken mistress) have no references appended to their articles, except to the book itself; and I cannot remember that any of the more generally pervading é of the Comedy makes even an incidental appearance here. The book is as isolated as its scene and subject – I might have added, as its beauty, which is singular and unique, nor wholly easy to give a critical account of. The transformation of the crétin-haunted desert into a happy valley is in itself a commonplace of the preceding century; it may be found several times over in Marmontel’s Contes Moraux, as well as in other places. The extreme minuteness of detail, effective as it is in the picture of the house and elsewhere, becomes a little tedious to the exact number of cartwrights and harness-makers, and so forth; while the modern reader pure and simple, though schooled to endure detail, is schooled to endure it only of the ugly. The minor characters and episodes, with the exception of the wonderful story or legend of Napoleon by Private Goguelat, and the private himself, are neither of the first interest, nor always carefully worked out: La Fosseuse, for instance, is a very tantalizingly unfinished study, of which it is nearly certain that Balzac must at some time or other have meant to make much more than he has made; Genestas, excellent as far as he goes, is not much more than a type; and there is nobody else in the foreground at all except the Doctor himself.

It is, however, beyond all doubt in the very subordination of these other characters to Benassis, and in the skilful grouping of the whole as background and adjunct to him, that the appeal of the book as art consists. From that point of view there are grounds for regarding it as the finest of the author’s work in the simple style, the least indebted to super-added ornament or to mere variety. The dangerous expedient of a récit, of which the eighteenth-century novelists were so fond, has never been employed with more successful effect than in the confession of Benassis, at once the climax and the centre of the story. And one thing which strikes us immediately about this confession is the universality of its humanity and its strange freedom from merely national limitations. To very few French novelists – to few even of those who are generally credited with a much softer mould and a much purer morality than Balzac is popularly supposed to have been able to boast – would inconstancy to a mistress have seemed a fault which could be reasonably punished, which could be even reasonably represented as having been punished in fact, by the refusal of an honest girl’s love in the first place. Nor would many have conceived as possible, or have been able to represent in lifelike colors, the lifelong penance which Benassis imposes on himself. The tragic end, indeed, is more in their general way, but they would seldom have known how to lead up to it.

In almost all ways Balzac has saved himself from the dangers incident to his plan in this book after a rather miraculous fashion. The Goguelat myth may seem disconnected, and he did as a matter of fact once publish it separately; yet it sets off (in the same sort of felicitous manner of which Shakespeare’s clown-scenes and others are the capital examples in literature) both the slightly matter-of-fact details of the beatification of the valley and the various minute sketches of places and folk, and the almost superhuman goodness of Benassis, and his intensely and piteously human suffering and remorse. It is like the red cloak in a group; it lights, warms, inspirits the whole picture.

And perhaps the most remarkable thing of all is the way in which Balzac in this story, so full of goodness of feeling, of true religion (for if Benassis is not an ostensible practiser of religious rites, he avows his orthodoxy in theory, and more than justifies it in practice), has almost entirely escaped the sentimentality plus unorthodoxy of similar work in the eighteenth century, and the sentimentality plus orthodoxy of similar work in the nineteenth. Benassis no doubt plays Providence in a manner and with a success which it is rarely given to mortal man to achieve; but we do not feel either the approach to sham, or the more than approach to gush, with which similar handling on the part of Dickens too often affects some of us. The sin and the punishment of the Doctor, the thoroughly human figures of Genestas and the rest, save the situation from this and other drawbacks. We are not in the Cockaigne of perfectibility, where Marmontel and Godwin disport themselves; we are in a very practical place, where time-bargains in barley are made, and you pay the respectable, if not lavish, board of ten francs per day for entertainment to man and beast.

And yet, explain as we will, there will always remain something inexplicable in the appeal of such a book as the Médecin de Campagne. This helps, and that, and the other; we can see what change might have damaged the effect, and what have endangered it altogether. We must, of course, acknowledge that as it is there are longueurs, intrusion of Saint Simonian jargon, passages of galimatias and of preaching. But of what in strictness produces the good effect we can only say one thing, and that is, it was the genius of Balzac working as it listed and as it knew how to work.

The book was originally published by Mme. Delaunay in September 1833 in two volumes and thirty-six chapters with headings. Next year it was republished in four volumes by Werdet, and the last fifteen chapters were thrown together into four. In 1836 it reappeared with dedication and date, but with the divisions further reduced to seven; being those which here appear, with the addition of two, “La Fosseuse” and “Propos de Braves Gens” between “A Travers Champs” and “Le Napoleon du Peuple.” These two were removed in 1839, when it was published in a single volume by Charpentier. In all these issues the book was independent. It became a “Scène de la Vie de Campagne” in 1846, and was then admitted into the Comédie. The separate issues of Goguelat’s story referred to above made their appearance first in L’Europe Littéraire for June 19, 1833 (before the book form), and then with the imprint of a sort of syndicate of publishers in 1842.

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La Vendetta, which, with Le Colonel Chabert, it has been found expedient to include in this volume, while having the advantage of a forcible plot, might have been written on so well-known a donnée by many persons besides Balzac. It happens, moreover, to contrast most unfortunately with the terrible and exquisite perfection of Mérimée’s “Mateo Falcone.” It ranked from the first edition of Scènes de la Vie Privée with the “Cat and Racket” group; but unlike those previously mentioned, it had obtained an earlier separate publication in part. For it is one of those stories which Balzac originally divided into chapters, and afterwards printed without them. The first of these, which appeared in the Silhouette of April 1830, was entitled L’Atelier, and the others were “La Désobéissance,” “Le Mariage,” and “Le Chatiment.”

Le Colonel Chabert, which would well have deserved a place in the Scènes de la Vie Militaire, so scantily represented in the Comédie, has attractions of its own. It reminds us of Balzac’s sojourn in the tents of Themis, and of the knowledge that he brought therefrom; it gives an example of his affection for the idée fixe, for the man with a mania; and it is also no inconsiderable example of his pathos.

Like La Vendetta, but to a better degree, Le Colonel Chabert is a capital example of Balzac’s mania for “pulling about” his stories. It is as old as the spring of 1832, when it appeared in the Artiste, with the title of La Transaction, and in four parts. Before the year was out, it formed part of a collection of tales called Le Salmigondis, but was now called Le Comte Chabert. In 1835 it became a Scène de la Vie Parisienne (the Comédie was not yet) as La Comtesse à deux Maris, and in three parts. It was shifted to the Vie Privée afterwards, with its present title and no divisions; and Balzac, for some reason, altered the date from 1832 to 1840 in the text.

George Saintsbury

From The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Avil Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1901, University Edition.

Saintsbury Introduction, Volume IX – Part I

The Lily of the Valley (Le Lys dans la Vallée)
The Firm of Nucingen (La Maison Nucingen)

Le Lys dans la Vallée has considerable importance in the history of Balzac’s books, and not a little in that of his life, independently of its intrinsic merit. It brought on a lawsuit between him and the Revue de Paris, in which the greater part of it was published, and in which he refused to complete it. As the actual suit was decided in his favor, his legal justification is not matter of dispute, and his adversaries put themselves hopelessly in the wrong by reviewing the termination of the book, when it appeared elsewhere, in a strain of virulent but clumsy ridicule. As to where the right or wrong lay, independent of questions of pure law on one side and poor taste on the other, it is not so easy to come to any conclusion. Balzac published an elaborate justification of is own conduct, which does not now appear with the book, but may be found, by any one who is curious, among the rejected prefaces which fill a large part of the twenty-second volume (the third of the Œuvres Diverses) of his Works. It is exceedingly long, not by any means temperate, and so confused that it is difficult to make head or tail of it. What is clear is that the parties went on the dangerous and unsatisfactory plan of neither complete performance of the work before payment nor complete payment beforehand, but of a per contra account, the author drawing money as he wanted it, and sending in copy as he could or chose. Balzac seems to allow that he got into arrears, contending that if he paid those arrears the rest of the work was his own property. But there were complicating disagreements in reference to a simultaneous publication at St. Petersburg; and, on the whole, we may fairly conclude in the not very original terms of “faults on both sides.” The affair, however, evidently gave him much annoyance, and seems to have brought him into some discredit.

The other point of personal interest is that Madame de Mortsauf is very generally said to represent Madame de Berny, his early friend, and his first instructress in aristocratic ways. Although there are strong expressions of affection in his letters with regard to this lady, who died early in his career, they do not definitely indicate what is commonly called love. But the whole scenery and atmosphere of Le Lys Dans la Vallée are those of his own early haunts. Frapesle, which is so often mentioned, was the home of another platonic friend, Madame Zulma Carraud, and there is much in the early experiences of Félix de Vandenesse which has nearly as personal a touch as that of Louis Lambert itself.

Dismissing this we may come to the book itself. Balzac took so much interest in it – indeed, the personal throb may be felt throughout – that he departed (according to his own account, for the second time only) from his rule of not answering criticism. This was in regard to a very remarkable article of M. Hippolyte Castillès (to be found in M. de Lovenjoul’s invaluable bibliography, as is the answering letter in the Œeuvres Diverses), reflecting upon the rather pagan and materialist “resurrection of the flesh” in Madame de Mortsauf on her deathbed. His plea that it was the disease not the person, though possessing a good deal of physiological force, is psychologically rather weak, and might have been made much stronger. Indeed this scene, though shocking and disconcerting to weak brethren, is not merely the strongest in the novel, but one of the strongest in Balzac’s works. There is farther to be noted in the book a quaint delineation, in the personage of M. de Mortsauf, of a kind of conjugal torment which, as a rule, is rather borne by husbands at the hands of wives than vice versa. The behavior of the “lily’s” husband, sudden rages and all, is exactly that of a shrewish and valetudinarian woman.

This, however, and some minor matters, may be left to the reader to find out and appreciate. The most interesting point, and the most debatable, is the character of the heroine with, in a lesser degree, that of the hero. Of M. Félix de Vandenesse it is not necessary to say very much, because that capital letter from Madame de Manerville (one of the very best things that Balzac ever wrote, and exhibiting a sharpness and precision of mere writing which he too frequently lacked) does fair, though not complete justice on the young man. The lady, who was not a model of excellence herself, perhaps did not perceive – for it does not seem to have been in her nature to conceal it through kindness – that he was not only, as she tells him, wanting in tact, but also wanting, and that execrably, in taste. M. de Vandenesse, I think, ranks in Balzac’s list of good heroes; at any rate he saves him later from a fate which he rather richly deserved, and introduces him honorably in other places. But he was not a nice young man. His “pawing” and timid advances on Madame de Mortsauf, and his effusive “kissing and telling” in reference to Lady Dudley, both smack of the worst sides of Rousseau: they deserve not so much moral reprehension as physical kicking. It is no wonder that Madeleine de Mortsauf turned a cold shoulder on him; and it is an addition to his demerits that he seems to have thought her unjust in doing so.

As for the “lily” we come once more to one of those ineradicable differences between French and English taste – one of those moral fosses not to be filled which answer to the physical Channel. I have said that I do not think the last scene unnatural, or even repulsive: it is pretty true, and rather terrible, and where truth and terror are there is seldom disgust. But, elsewhere, for all her technical purity, her shudderings, and the rest of it, I cannot help thinking that, without insular narrowness or prudery, one may find Madame de Mortsauf a little rancid, a little like stale cold cream of roses. And if it is insular narrowness and prudery so to find her, let us thank God for a narrowness which yet leaves room for Cleopatra, for Beatrix Esmond, and for Becky Sharp. I should myself have thought Madame de Mortsauf a person of bad taste in caring at all for such a creature as Félix. But if she did care, I should have thought better of her for pitching her cap over the very highest mill in her care for him, than for this fulsome hankering, this “I would, but dare not” platonism. Still, others may think differently, and that the book is a very powerful book they cannot hold more distinctly than I do.

A personal interest also attaches to La Maison Nucingen, which it is convenient to include here. The story of Madame Surville, and the notary, and his testimony to Balzac’s competence in bankruptcy matters, have been referred to in the General Introduction. La Maison Nucingen is scarcely less an example of this than César Birotteau. It is also a curious study of Parisian business generally, showing the intense and extraordinary interest which Balzac took in anything speculative. Evil tongues at the time identified Nucingen with the first Rothschild of the Paris branch, but the resemblances are of the most general and distant kind. Indeed, it may be said that Balzac, to his infinite honor both in character and genius, seldom indulged in the clumsy lugging in of real persons by head and shoulders, which has come into fashion since his time, especially in France. Even where there are certain resemblances, as in Henri de Marsay to Charles de Rémusot, in Rastignac to Thiers, in Lousteau to Jules Janin, and elsewhere, the borrowed traits are so blended and disguised with others, and the whole so melted down and reformed by art, that not merely could no legitimate anger be aroused by them, but the artist could not be accused of having in any way exceeded his rights as an artist and his duty as a gentleman. If he has ever stepped out of these wise and decent limits, the transgression is very rare, and certainly Nucingen is not an example of it. For the rest, the story itself is perhaps more clever and curious than exactly interesting.

La Maison Nucingen (which the author also thought of calling La Haute Banque) originally appeared with La Femme Supérieure (Les Employés) and that part of Splendeurs et Misères entitled La Torpille, in October 1838, published by Werdet in two volumes. Six years later it took rank as a Scène de la Vie Parisienne in the first edition of the Comédie.

Some bibliographical details about Le Lys have been anticipated above. It need only be added that the appearances in the Revue de Paris were in the numbers for November and December 1835, and that the book was published by Werdet in June of next year. The date of the Envoi (afterwards removed), August 8, 1827, may have some biographical interest. Charpentier republished the book in a slightly different form in 1839, and, five years later, it was installed in the Comédie.

Note.–It may be barely necessary for me to protect myself and the translator from a possible charge of mistaking Lilium candidum for Convallaria majalis. The French for our “lily-of-the-valley” is, of course, muguet. But “Lily in the Valley” would inevitably sound in England like a worse mistake, or a tasteless variation on a consecrated phrase. And “Lily of the Valley” meets the real sense well.

George Saintsbury

From The Works of Honoré de Balzac, Avil Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1901, University Edition.