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says M. Demogeot, is of a slow and steady gait; his wit is of the heavyarmed sort ; if he smiles, it is with effort ; if he is jocose, it is without gaiety. His bons mots are never impromptus ; they have all a premeditated look. His sentences are elaborately rounded, his periods all studied for effect. His every phrase "advances with quite Castilian dignity, affords a reader its little reflection, more or less ingenious, then makes room for another which affects exactly the same movement and the same turn. His periods are produced by system, not by inspiration, and seem all cast in the same mould: we perceive in every one of them the labour of a detached and independent composition. They follow one another like so many cadenced sonnets, harmonised and crowned by a pensée brillante.” The critic likens this style to the solemn monotony of the waves, that come in regular succession to break upon the beach, each bringing its tribute, one of glittering sea-shells, another of sterile sea-weed. The style gives assurance of a man who writes for the sake of writing : it is not the thought which urges the pen, it is the pen which goes hunting for a thought, and which does without one when nothing turns up. Accordingly there is no pervading plan, no ensemble; the writer's style lives by what it picks up on the road.* Balzac does not march straight to a point, he promenades about ; for him the essential matter is the route with the question of arrival at his journey's end he is very slightly concerned. As he passes along, he gathers contrasts, comparisons, antitheses, parallelisms. He takes as much pains in finishing off his works as the ancient sculptors to make gods.† What is lacking in this imposing framework is an informing soul-some grand .idea, some serious interest. When by chance he gets hold of some such theme, then his eloquence becomes “veritable.” In his “Socrate chrétien” (or, as M. Sainte-Beuve spirituellement calls it, “ l'Isocrate chrétien ”) are to be found impressive pages, on the spread of the Gospel, for instance, and the Hand of God concealed behind the events of history. The writer's misfortune
was, his not having to deal with serious affairs. His eloquence is generally hollow and empty. Thrown back upon itself, its barrenness is the penalty of egotism. A haughty recluse in his country château, Balzac has scarcely any real intercourse with his fellows. He is, to borrow his own descriptions, in the Lettres Diverses and Le Prince, “at the antipodes, where there is nothing but air, land, and a river. To find a man, you must make ten day's-journeys and more:"_his “only communication is with the dead :" .“ seeing none but dumb creatures, and passing his life among dead and inanimate objects,” he “ travels without guide and without companion :"—he “looks upon all that is going on in France or among neighbouring countries as the history of Japan, or the affairs of another age. All this devotion to cabinet work and French polish will cost him something, if it is thus to cut him off from the sympathies and social instincts of his human nature. The coldness of the cosmopolite grows upon him, and settles about his heart.
Balzac is commended, however, by Mr. Hallam, as a moralist with a pure heart, and a love of truth and virtue (somewhat alloyed by the spirit of flattery towards particular persons, declaim as he may about courts and
* Demogeot: Hist. de la Litt. Fr., 355 sq.
courtiers in general), a competent erudition, and a good deal of observation of the world. Upon his style Mr. Hallam remarks, that he wanted the fine taste to regulate it according to the subject: hence he is pompous and inflated upon ordinary topics; and the result is, that in a country so quick to seize the ridiculous, not all his nobleness, purity, and vigour of style, nor the passages of eloquence which we often find, have been sufficient to redeem him from the sarcasms of those who have had more power to amuse.
“He passed all his life,” says Vigneul-Marville, " in writing letters, without ever catching the right characteristics of that style. This demands a peculiar ease and naturalness of expression, for want of which they seem no genuine exponents of friendship or gallantry, and hardly of polite manners. His wit was not free from pedantry, and did not come from him spontaneously. Hence he was little fitted to address ladies, even the Rambouillets; and indeed he had acquired so laboured and artificial a way of writing letters, that even those to his sister, though affectionate, smell too much of the lamp. His advocates admit that they are to be judged rather by the rules of oratorical than epistolary composition.*
Saint-Evremond ridicules the taste of an age. (his own) in which “the affectation of Balzac, that destroyed the natural beauty of thought, passed for a noble, majestic style."1 "Balzac, says St. Marc Girardin, “writes with noblesse, but intoxicates himself with his expressions, and often disguises the poverty of his thoughts under the pomp of words." Michelet characteristically describes the France of the seventeenth century as the product of two caducités, "of empty Spanish bombast, and of Italian rottenness. Accordingly, in the matter of literature, the vigorous moment of that century, its middle period, is marked with the wrinkles of decadence. A ridiculous preoccupation about form, disfigures not only the Balzacs and other rhetoricians, but the most serious writers.”'S Sainte-Beuve laughs at Charles Nodier for incidental mention of le sage et vertueux Balzac, and says he must have forgotten that this estimable writer was not the least in the world a philosopher or a sage, but just a useful pedant with an ear for harmony, under whom Freneh prose was taught excellent rhetorie: voilà tout. Elsewhere the same critic styles Balzac a "bel-esprit vain et fastueux, savant rhéteur occupé des mots." In the Causeries du Lundi he is more respectfully treated : “ Balzac applied himself to letter-writing and made it his peculiar domain ; he was, during the whole of his life, the great épistolier of France. Any subject for a letter answered his purpose as affording material for esprit if not for eloquence: 'a nosegay, a pair of gloves, a piece of work about a crown-piece ; praying the mayor of a town to get a bad roadway repaired, commending a law-case to a magistrate,'-all this sort of thing, thanks to his pen, became a text for beautiful thoughts and language, and furnished him as amply with the means to please as all the glory
* Hallam's Literature of Europe, vol. iü. part ii. ch. vii. Ş 17.
Essais de Littérature et de Morale, t. ii.
Portraits Littéraires, t. i. ("C. Nodier.")
and all the greatness of the Romans.'"* L'emphase, Henri Beyle affirms, is opposed to the genius of the French language,-hence he could “see in Balzac the future lot of Messieurs de Chateaubriand, Marchangy, d’Arlincourt,”+ and others of the school of emphasis, phraseworship, and wordy pomp. Philarète Chasles calls Balzac (in conjunction with Voiture) the “last echo of the detestable school” of Aretino, with its accumulation of epithets, repetition of words, and overlaying on of colours.t Again : “ Balzac, a tedious and heavy prose-writer, imposes Castilian etiquette on his phrases."S The same critic's researches in Spanish literature abound with similar allusions : “Balzac is Spanish. His lay sermons present a second volume of Balthazar Gracian's verbose and solemn amplifications."|| Of his connexion and misunderstanding with Théophile, f the following version is adopted by this sharp-pointed penman : Théophile was still young when the death of his patron, Henri IV.., spoilt
, or seemed to spoil, his prospects at court. At this juncture he became intimate with a young man of eighteen, very vain, tolerably well instructed, fond of literature, luxury, leisure, and pleasure. This was Balzac. The conformity of their tastes detaching them, no doubt, from the confusion and anarchy that were beginning to reign in France, they arranged to travel together. So these two voluptuaries make their way to Holland, that country of free ideas and austere morals. Théophile, a Áuguenot gentleman, is delighted at finding himself among the hardy burghers who have just humiliated Spain. Balzac abuses the too facile pleasures offered by the taverns of Amsterdam, and meets with a cudgelling, which Théophile undertakes to pay back with his sword. On their return they quarrel, and their mutual accusations inform us of their favourite pranks. Their great intimacy changed into burning animosity; and from their recriminations, “ reduced to their true value," says M. Chasles, it seems proved (il paraît avéré) that Théophile showed himself to be a man of courage and given to strong drink, Balzac a debauchee and an ingrate, and that the Dutch doctors retained an unfavourable remembrance of the latter. They preferred the Huguenot, who left no heel-taps, and who exulted in their newly-gained freedom, "cette liberté qui ne peut mourir,” and in whose odes they hailed the declared foe of Popery and the Spaniard. Balzac found fault with the harshness of these verses, and could not enter into their “ generous hardihood ;” whereupon Théophile accused him of cowardice : the one, unquestionably, was imprudent; the other, timid. Balzac foresaw the reform of literary style, and gave his hand to severe old Malherbe ;
* Causeries du Lundi, t. viii. (“Guy Patin,” $ 2.)
Chasles sur l'Arétin, 471-2.
By the way, neither Théophile nor Balzac is the real surname of either of these authors. Old Mr. Disraeli comments on the fact, in his essay on the “Influence of a Name:"-"Guez (a beggar) is a French writer of great pomp of style; but he felt such extreme delicacy at so low a name, that to give some authority to the splendour of his diction, he assumed the name of his estate, and is well known as Balzac. A French poet of the name of Théophile Viaut, finding that his surname, pronounced like veau (calf ), exposed him to the infinite jests of the minor wits, silently dropped it, by retaining the more poetical appellation of Théophile."-Curiosities of Literature, First Series.
also being sorry.
Théophile preferred nobleness and boldness of thought to purity of diction. In later years, by the time that Balzac had come to be regarded as a man not only of surpassing genius, but of immaculate respectability, Théophile was scouted as an obscene song-writer, a roaring reprobate, and reckless blasphemer. Balzac was not backward, we are told, in spreading these ugly reports about his sometime crony, and lending them the "authority of his pompous and perfidious language." It is set down as one of the lâchetés of his life, that he exaggerated the misdoings of the poet, and represented him as “ a new Mahomet, troubling the peace of men's consciences, overturning weak minds, and menacing the Church.” This was as good as giving him a shove towards the stake. C'était le pousser au bûcher. To escape which consummation, Théophile betook himself to various hiding-places, none too soon, and after all got cast into prison, whence he sent forth spirited and satirical answers to the charges brought against him, not forgetting in particular to “ brand the baseness of Balzac" as he thought it deserved. He tells him that he had fully merited and fully reckoned on his, Balzac's, friendship. Then bitter irony sets off indignant complaint : “In the vanity you have of excelling in humane literature, you have committed inhumanities which have something about them of fever heat; but I can see that in speaking ill of me, you have suffered greatly, yourself
. Your defamatory missives are composed with so much labour that you chastised yourself, in illdoing; and your punishment is so connected with your crime, that you rouse both anger and pity, and one cannot be wroth with you
without for you.
You call this exercise in calumnies, the divertisement of an invalid. True it is that were you in sound health, your work would be of quite another sort. Be more moderate in this labour of yours ; it feeds your indisposition; and if you go on writing, you not live long. I am aware that your mind is not fertile, and this piques you, unjustly, against me. If nature has treated you badly, that is no fault of mine ; she sells dearly to you what she gives to others. You have a knowledge of French grammar, and, by the people, at least, you are supposed to have written a book; the learned say that you steal from the Spaniards what you give to the public, and that you only write what you have read. . . Your style has slavish flatteries for some high people, and buffoonish invectives against others. ... When you get hold of some thought out of Seneca or Cæsar, you fancy yourself a Censor or Emperor of Rome.” And so he goes on, using hard words, but not without a modicum of home-truths in them, as regards the literary character of Balzac, let alone the impeachment on his moral worth. On that question, suffice it here to remark, that at any rate, except with the Theophilites at one end of the scale, and the frantic Feuillants at the other, Balzac both lived and died in the odour of sanctity. “I repeat it,” emphatically writes the Abbé d'Olivet, “not only his faith, but his morals were truly Christian, and his death was of the most edifying
kind. Who can read without emotion the narrative we have of it? What sentiments of humility, of resignation, of confidence in God! His weak health had long since warned him to prepare for his last hour. With this view he had built for himself two rooms in the Capucins' monastery at Angoulême, whither he retired frequently in the course of the year. His desire was to be interred among the poor of the Hospital.
“But of all the proofs,” the Abbé d'Olivet continues, that an author
can give of his religion, I am not sure but one of the least to be mistrusted is the reconciling himself with persons who, mal à propos
and from levity of heart, have laboured to disgrace him. For M. de Balzac, then, nothing can be more glorious, nothing more exemplary than his reconciliation with the Feuillants. All was conducted, on one side and the other, by the rules of charity. Dom André de Saint-Denis, who had been the aggressor, went expressly to see Balzac, who not only received him with open arms, but swore a tender friendship to him, of which, in fact, his last works are quite full. He even wished to leave to the church of this monk a monument of his piety; and as his ideas were not limited to anything of a vulgar kind, his present was a cassolette de vermeil, with an endowment for the purchase of perfumes." Said we not well that such a testator died in the very odour of sanctity ?
The Academical Abbé's éloge of Balzac, as a man of letters, takes its stand on the averment, that he found the secret of giving to the French language a structure and harmony which it had not heretofore possessed. That is the specialty, the differential merit, assigned to the great prosateur. And to bring out the facts of the case, D'Olivet indulges in a retrospective glance at the history of his country's literature. Up to the time of Francis I., he observes, the language was sadly neglected (or may not the truth be that D’Olivet, like Boileau, was very imperfectly acquainted with pre-Franciscan authors ?). “It emerged from chaos, so to speak, together with the arts and sciences, of which this prince was more the father than the restorer. And in truth it made astonishing progress
within a brief
space of time, as we see by the writings of Amyot, in prose, and, in verse, by those of Marot; but, intent on their more pressing wants, the writers of this period thought less of polishing our language than of enriching it.” (M. Livet remarks on this phrase, that D'Olivet was forgetful, when he wrote it, that the language has not enriched but impoverished its nomenclature, when polishing itself off, en se perfectionnant.) Well, at last Malherbe came, and introduced just cadence into verse, and taught his countrymen by example the meaning of harmonious numbers. But Malherbe was only for applying cette cadence to poetry; as for prose, he laughed at any who said that it too admitted of harmony: if you write harmonious periods, said he, you make verses in prose. So overladen with barbarisms, solecisms, and provincialisms, are Malherbe's own letters,* that his notion of the matter seems quite intelligible. “ Apparently the ear of Malherbe was made only for poetry.” And yet he is saidt to have recognised the merit and future glory of Balzac ; for being one day upbraided with his habit of praising nobody and approving nothing, the old poet answered, “I approve of what is good, and to show that I do approve of something, I have to inform you that the young man who wrote these letters will be the restorer of the French language.” And on another occasion (also related by Segrais): "Malherbe, who had succeeded in poetry, was conscious that his prose was good for nothing
- Shall I tell you,' said he, who it is that writes well, or rather who will write well? 'Tis this young man they call Balzac.””
To M. de Balzac, then, on the Abbé d'Olivet's showing, was reserved the glory of proving that the French language was susceptible of har