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manner in which the filiation must be established has more interest for the student of French life and character than the verdict of the Court as to the fact itself. For, granting that Balzac has had the widest influence on later schools, it remains. true that he did not so much invent as apply a method which was destined to prevail in literature as soon as it had become dominant in science-the method, we mean, of dissection and of vivisection. M. Zola has every claim to be heard when he describes his own volumes as physiological romance. That repulsive term-fit title of a Chamber of Horrors which has doors leading into the shambles, the surgeon's hall of demonstration,' the house of shame, the prison, the pawnshop, and the reeking tavern-will, it must be allowed, not seem wholly out of place as we turn over the pages of the Comédie Humaine and scan its two thousand figures. Whatever else may be found in Balzac, this element and atmosphere are not wanting. M. Zola has perhaps taken from the immense quarry only what suited his purpose ; and that purpose may make all the difference. But to think of Balzac is to be reminded of physiology as of much else that is akin to it. Nor can we make an easier descent into our subject than on this side.
First, however, let us distinctly state what that subject is. We have not proposed, either in this or in the preceding article, to guide our readers through the miles on miles of picture gallery which are filled with the masterpieces, the failures, and the mediocrities, of French fiction, as though every well-known author deserved at least a moment's attention from us. That would be impossible in the space at our disposal ; and it is. not unlikely that the reader, as in that Italian legend, would prefer the galleys to Guicciardini or a dissertation on Egyptian Chronology to so bewildering a survey. But wherever laws or tendencies assert themselves, it is enlightening to follow them. The "great divide' in modern French literature is between Romanticism and Realism. When, however, we compare that literature with English, German, or Greek, it seems to us clear that one name may not inaptly be applied to the whole of it. Call it the Romantic tendency in Victor Hugo and his. imitators, the Naturalistic in Balzac and Flaubert and Zola, the Pessimist in Daudet, Bourget, Pierre Loti, and others of the latest time, it is, after all, an identical instinct which these men obey. They reject the spiritual philosophy, whether of the House of Socrates' or of the Christian teaching, and they follow materialist and physiological methods. Not, as will be apparent from the names we have thrown together, that sub-varieties including large mental distinctions can be over
looked ; looked ; we should be the last to imagine it. But there is far more to unite them in a common definition than to put them asunder. And when we have ascertained what that is, we shall have done something towards fixing their place in European literature. How do the French story-tellers, prosepoets, or scientific novelists, appear when confronted with Sophocles, with Shakspeare, with Goethe, and the sad-browed Florentine? It is a trial which they cannot escape, although neither the French nor the English newspapers have room for it. Aristophanes, if he could pass the three-headed dog, and write a new •Frogs,' would be the fittest of arbitrators in a dispute like that between Realism and Romanticism, which bears unexpected and laughable affinities to the controversy in which Æschylus is pitted against Euripides at the close of that magnificent burlesque. As quoting Greek has gone out of fashion, let Horace illustrate for us the undoubted reseinblance between old-world quarrels and the wrangling of to-day, with his
“Ne quicunque Deus, quicunque adhibebitur heros,
Or, to translate with the help of a modern instance,' the question is, whether Victor Hugo's preterhuman characters. should degenerate into boon companions of Coppeau and Mes. Bottes in L'Assommoir. But now it is time to hear the evidence, concerning these rags of Telephus, and who first canonized them in the novels of the century. Balzac, surely, will be the answer.
If Romanticism means selective art, the revelation of the ideal in Nature as living whole, it is manifest that the author of • Le Père Goriot' and Illusions Perdues' was no Romanticist. For to him Nature was a mere bundle of forces which might be pulled out and examined like so many nervous filaments. In * Louis Lambert,' which contains Balzac's philosophy, substance is only matter, the human will a voltaic pile, and God Himself a luminous fluid. Everywhere, from La Peau de Chagrin' to that most desolate and unethical of tragedies, Le Cousin Pons,' we see the individual, however strongly drawn, at the mercy of his surroundings and of his nature. Hence the environment is described in microscopic detail, stone fitted into stone as in a mosaic, and the joints visible. The man's mind was a collection of bric-à-brac. In the graphic outward presentment of things inanimate, of houses, doors, staircases, chairs and curtains, old lumber-chests, pictures, furniture in general, and every kind of decay,-he has no rival
but Dickens. On all these objects he bestows a phantom existence, and they stand bewitched and diabolic in the deep Rembrandt shadows which he affects. He took for his province the anatomy of social phenomena,—the study, so he calls it in •Les Employés,' of human insect-life. And he found indispensable for his purpose the technique of trade and manufacture, terms borrowed from the kitchen, the stable, the shop, the counting-house. Long before George Eliot, he invented scientific metaphor. The only style he does not practise, even in • Les Paysans,' is the rustic, not permissible in academic ears. But M. Taine has sketched, with great humour, the consternation of the French scholar and gentleman moulded on academic traditions, who should attempt, for the first time, to read the Babylonish jargon which Balzac has substituted for the clear analytic language of the eighteenth century. If he has certain of the qualities of Dickens, and is grotesque, prolific, and in secret alliance with the powers of night; if his affection for villains male and female is akin to Thackeray's paternal devotion to Becky Sharp and Barry Lyndon; if his want of reticence rises almost to Swistean grandeur,--there is also something of Thomas Carlyle in the splashes of significant paint which he hurls at his canvas, and in the spasmodic dialect that seems natural to him. Each had genius without the corresponding talents, and we assent when biographers tell us that both these singular • Impressionists' stumbled into literature rather than found it their vocation. The born artist is known by his creative instinct. Balzac and Carlyle do not so much create as literally compose.' With never-ending struggles they add sentence to sentence, tearing them (if one may employ a harsh illustration) out of their
And when the work is done, the author lies half dead. He has little joy in his gifts, for the inductive method, wholly intent on the succession of particulars, affords no outlook to the soul; neither does it ascend to the Pisgah heights where the Promised Land with its glad rivers and golden harvests reaches from the mountains to the mighty sea, in distant yet clear perspective.
But the method was adapted to the age ; and perhaps no other, in France at any rate, would have succeeded in the delineation of what was to be recorded for posterity. In this sense, Balzac may be named with Tacitus. It has been pertinently remarked that his world is made up of passions and interests; that principle has hardly a place in it, and that his characters are always intrinsically vicious. To blunt the edge of this criticism would be difficult. Granting that man
is a bundle of forces, they will appear in a civilization like the Parisian, either as passions thwarted by interests, or as interests receiving a double momentum from passion. And should higher aspirations be found there by happy accident, a writer who worships brute strength will show us virtue defeated, aspirations fooled, and innocence put up for sale. It is the moral again and again implied in the story of Rastignac, of Lucien de Rubempré, of Madame Hulot, of Pons and Schmucke, of the poor imbecile Curé de Tours. It is Vautrin's philosophy, which, to no small extent, was Balzac's own. defects which repel and dishearten us in this bourgeois genius were in a wonderful degree potent to create the impression he aimed at. We must not look to him for a picture of the movements in Germany, England, or Italy. Though he knew a little of foreign countries, it was only as we know the planets Mars and Venus, or the cloud-bands in Jupiter. The dolorous valley of the Seine' was wide enough for him. As Dr. Johnson could not live away from Fleet Street, so Balzac was ever returning to the beloved mud and dust, the rain and flickering lights, the crowd on the Boulevards, and the loneliness of those dismal cut-throat streets which he has shown as in a stereoscope at the beginning of the Histoire des Treize.' "O Paris !' he exclaims with enthusiasm, he that has not admired thy sombre landscapes, thy broken jets of light, thy deep and silent alleys without issue ; he that has not listened to thy murmurs between midnight and two hours after, knows nothing of the true poetry which is in thee, or of thy large and curious contrasts.' And he proceeds to sketch the Rue Soly in colours at once ignoble and overpowering. Ignoble! It is the proper word for Balzac's subject-matter, though unjust if applied to the man. He displays too vast an energy, too extensive a knowledge of human nature, to be thrust outside the Temple of Fame on the score of his ill
But the sculptor is more than the anatomist; and the question of Realism must be decided by contrasting the Venus of Milo with Balzac's supreme creation, the Venus of the Père la Chaise. For it is in consummating the type of the ignoble, or even of the cadaverous, that he excels.
The Comédie Humaine’ is, then, chiefly a chronicle of Paris from 1815 to 1850, with a thousand illustrations in colour, by one who was modern and Parisian to the core, It is the world of the noblesse and the money market; of journalism, art, and fashion ; of political religion and religious politics; of pleasure, intrigue, crime, adultery, and universal dissipation. It shows us the military hardness of the Empire ;
the belated Voltairianism of the Bourbons who had never got beyond '89; the commencements of a gilded bourgeoisie, rejoicing in its money-bags; and some remnants of a Christianity to which, as the Abbé de la Mennais was crying in 1825 at the top of his voice, all classes had become indifferent. And the ruling deity, the God who appears in the dénoûment of its tragedies and entanglements, is Money. It is the goal of ambition and the standard of success.
There surely never was poet or historian who had more faith in money than Balzac. Compared with him Adam Smith is Adam unfallen in Paradise, and McCulloch an innocent. In his pages, Money is the great personage round whom the drama centres; a fortune, as in La Maison Nucingen • César Birotteau,' becomes, it has been well said, the heroine whose adventures we follow with bated breath. It is an amusement to open his volumes at random and count how many times out of a given number the words 'francs,'écus,' livres de rente,' leap at once into view. Bills of exchange, and quotations for corn and wine, hoops and staves, old iron and upholstery, fill the stage and elbow one another like farmers on a market-day. The calculations of prices made by prince and poet, duchess and courtesan, by journalist, employé, and social reformer, would do credit to the twelve tribes of Israel. Not one of Balzac's feminine characters but can keep books like a Rothschild. The most idyllic scenes end in happy lovers picking up gold and silver, as on a Tom Tiddler's ground. Marriage is a financial question with this most particular of notaries public; but so is the breaking of the marriage vow. Baron Nucingen contrives, we are told, to shift the burden of his wife's luxuries to the shoulders of her follower, Eugène de Rastignac. Satan himself cannot buy a man's soul but it must be done on stamped paper and amid the roar of the Bourse.* And Balzac's Utopias, of which he has planned several with the patience of a land surveyor—one in · Le Curé de Village,' and a second more interesting in “Le Médecin de Campagne'-lie about the same latitudes. They are of the earth, earthy: prosperous villages and thriving agriculture occupy the foreground; and if there is any vision in the clouds, it is materialist, Swedenborgian, an ecstasy of scentless tulips, instruments, brazen and luminous ether, with certain mixed faculties of the soul developed on the lines of mesmerism. No description will convey the feeling of mountainous oppression under which the spirit labours as one by one the powers of reason, love, and
* Melmoth Réconcilié.'