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beauty, are materialized at our magician's touch. He works with a reversed wand, bringing down Heaven out of its sphere and clothing the Seraphim in Parisian drapery. His religious system is little better than a delusion of Cagliostro; and the affection of one human being for another in these stories is a mania bred of philtres and intoxicating potions. With him the spirit is but a more finely-woven flesh. The whole world is artificial like its expression, money; or it is monstrous, unhealthy, chaotic.
We said, in discussing Victor Hugo, that, in common with all the French Romanticists, he aimed at the infinite by representing the abnormal. It is a point of the first importance to Temark that this, too, is Balzac's modus operandi — above all when he is dealing with passion. We shall observe the same principle in Flaubert and in Zola. The abnormal, not the ideal ;-for truly to conceive and to show forth the human type would have committed these men to a belief and a discipline against which they rebelled. The Sophoclean standard, man as he ought to be,' did not please them at all. In reading the modern French, we cannot but feel that they explain human nature as the late Mr. Darwin has done in certain chapters of his • Descent of Man,' by resolving its highest faculties into appetites derived from the brute. Balzac delights in painting beast-natures that have got into man's skin, especially those of the baser sort—the hyena, jackal, fox, vulture, ape, and cobra. Even his women characters are strangely animal-like. It is the 'natural history of man' from which the heavenly fire has been damped out; an archangel fallen to the beast, and no longer mindful of his origin. And here we come upon the explanation of what M. Taine has admirably noticed, that Balzac's stories abound in monomania. He dresses up each of the instincts as a man or a woman; nay more, he degrades the most lovely and exquisite of human qualities to an instinct. Nor does he shrink from driving his monomaniacs into the simply unnatural. There can be little in M. Zola which exceeds the horror of what he has permitted himself to deal with, on occasion. It is a hard saying, but cannot well be denied, that for the so-called Realist 'nothing is sacred, from the womb to the grave.' The high Northern virtue of reticence, which has given strength and delicacy to our literature, finds scant honour among those, and they are the majority of French writers, who prefer the sel gaulois to Attic salt.
The 'prudish Albion' is a word of reproach not spared us by grave critics; while our `hypocrisy (though to ourselves it seems mere decent reserve) is accounted the most intolerable of the bourgeois vices incident to a nation
of shopkeepers. As for Balzac, he, with an amusing malàpropos, charged even the easy-going George Sand with this English defect when she found the taste of his “Contes Drôlatiques' somewhat too revolting. But the coarseness of Balzac is not his worst fault. He indulges a curiosity, not so much scientific as prurient, which, when it has torn away the rags of shivering humanity and exposed its sores, foolishly imagines that it knows all which can be known. As though the veil of Isis, which neither prophet nor seer has lifted, might be rudely swept aside by the surgeon or the criminal magistrate! It is not so steep a descent as some of his critics would have us believe, from the unashamed depravity of · La Cousine Bette,' or the strange suggestions of other stories which cannot be quoted here, to • Nana,' and its compeers. The principle which Zola has deliberately recognized in Le Roman Expérimental,' governs every production of Balzac ; this, namely, that artistic or comely concealment, the clothing with more abundant honour of that which is less honourable, instead of being a means to manifest the nobler qualities is a lie against Nature.
As therefore Hugo exalts the mad maternal instinct in Notre Dame de Paris,' so Balzac has created the monomaniac father, a strangely unpleasant figure without grace or reverence, in • Le Père Goriot.' La Recherche de l’Absolu' chronicles the revolutions of money in the hands of Balthazar Cläes, the monomaniac chemist. Valerie Marneffe, in Les Parents Pauvres,' is the married courtesan who realizes some type of perfection in the lowest abyss. Philippe Brideau, the soldier-scoundrel ; Grandet, the miser; Gobseck, the usurer; Louis Lambert, the imbecile metaphysician; Hulot, the slave of his senses ; and above all, Vautrin, the Mephistopheles who is at the centre of the Comédie Humaine,'—all these are as blindly powerful, and as little capable of resisting their destiny as the forces of Nature itself. İnstincts may be noble or the reverse ; but in every case Balzac's characters yield to a wild excess of virtue (as in Madame Hulot and Madame Cläes) or to a native selfishness, of which the gaze is so completely turned inward that the whole world becomes its pasture, like the sea entering a blind shell and feeding the creature coiled up within. From this point of view, Brideau, Cläes, and General Hulot, are among the most astonishing births of fiction. In their kind they are perfect ; nothing can be added, nothing taken away from the monsters; but monsters they remain. We do not imply that the like of these ghastly beings has never walked the world. Experience, conversant with prisons, asylums, and reformatories,
would have strange stories to tell, confirming some part of their witness. But the pathological — as in these days we should never weary of repeating-is not the human. And if we will not hear Moses and the prophets, we may at all events believe Darwin, whose teaching from first to last implies that to be governed by instinct is to fall back in the scale of evolution, is atavism in the strongest sense of the term, or, more simply, is degradation.
How remarkable it is that Balzac looks upon good people as dupes, who are fooled by their fancy of a moral law not anywhere realized! They are cheated in the bargain of life,' he says. They sadly obey their conscience ; but they envy or perhaps admire the audacity of the libertines, being uncertain, like Balzac himself and M. Renan since, whether vice is not on the side of the nature of things. “Je vois d'ici,' says Vautrin in a famous speech, “la grimace de ces braves gens si Dieu nous faisait la mauvaise plaisanterie de s'absenter au jugement dernier.' We may be sure that Balzac enjoyed writing such words, as he found a congenial employment, not in showing how lovely virtue is,' but in the precise contrary, in making it ugly, foolish, lame, stupid, and ridiculous. He knew little about it. His young girls, Eugénie Grandet, La Fosseuse, Pauline, Marguerite, are all spotted like second-hand silks or worn muslin. They have not the gracious innocence of their youth, the delicate imagination to which it is an opening flower full of perfume and tender hues of the morning. There is no dew upon their foreheads, or maidenly reserve in their nature; it is only in their society manners, at the best. What can we say of his repentant women, Madame Graslin, Madame de Beauséant? Their change is not a conversion, it is the result of a catastrophe; and while we pity we do not feel with them. Sympathy is a rare quality in Balzac. He harrows and rends the heart, but the eyes will never drop medicinal tears over
scenes which evoke more wonder than kindliness, and are often too painful for gentler emotions to be stirred by them. It is essentially a man's world in which he moves, for the green-room and the footlights, if they introduce beings of feminine appearance, are not the true woman's sphere. And the great ladies, the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, the Marquise d'Espard, and all their brilliant troupe, differ nothing in nature, but only in wearing real diamonds instead of paste, from the Florines and Coralies, or the incredibly corrupt Aquilinas with whom they dispute over a common prey.
You see, reader, how impossible it is to speak of Balzac without running against the bad company which he keeps. Vol. 171.–No. 341.
With him it is a necessity of temperament to paint in staring colours and violent tones, to fill the air with the cries of vulgar passion, brute struggling against brute, and the heavenly ideal far withdrawn behind a sky like brass. He has been called a seer,-un voyant. But he sees the infinitely little. He searches the human face divine' with microscopes ; he makes of the fair Greek gods monsters like the men of Brobdignag. Once more, in his strange resemblance to Carlyle, he has eyes for the outside of things, paints graphically, though without beauty of line, and is convinced that these minute personal touches reveal the character. It is the mistake of phrenologists. The utmost we shall attain by such interpretation is the mode of the character, not the man himself. The taking smile may be inherited, and may signify in the Lucien de Rubempré who stands before us nothing but his superficial good nature. The frowning forehead and near-sighted eyes may conceal from the casual observer that there is a wide vision in the soul. His outer mask,' said Alcibiades in the Symposium,' speaking of Socrates, “is the carved head of the Silenus; but when he is opened, what temperance there is residing within !! What would Carlyle have made of such a mask? Here again the appearance is not the personality, and the fact that a man has had ancestors cannot destroy his freedom.
We must limit the seership, then, of Honoré de Balzac somewhat in this way. He saw, as Lucifer sees in bis
peregrinations about the earth, those tendencies and actions that run down towards the deep out of which, by endless heroic effort and the grace of God, man has raised himself to better things. The Devil notes weakness, the matter of temptation, where the Heavenly Powers look upon struggling goodness and stoop to its aid. "It is the failure which invariably engages Balzac's attention where virtue is in question. Vice he intends to be triumphant, nay magnanimous by reason of its great victory. It overcomes the world, in another than the Scriptural
To be on the side of the moral law is to court defeat. See the conclusion of Le Pere Goriot.' Rastignac has been taught wisdom by experience; and to what does it amount? That he must perform a surgical operation on his heart; must have done with pity, remorse, and principle. The modern Lear has been the dupe of paternity. Let not his friend Eugène be the dupe of any natural feeling which would keep him from trampling down the weak on his way to fortune.
Or study, again, the long and feverish story of one whom we like in spite of his maudlin weakness and poet's vanity, Lucien de Rubempre, sonneteer and suicide. His illusions' were not of the noblest;
he thought to win place and renown by his verses, not to obey the divine inspiration, as our English Milton did,-Milton, who stands too far removed from the Comédie Humaine' to be so much as dreamt of in its philosophy. But Lucien bore on his brow the star of genius. And he is dragged through the filth of Paris, made acquainted with things vile and mean, and intoxicated with a success which was not wine but wormwood, drying up the brain and the blood, until he comes to a shameful end. The illusion which he had lost was, we suppose, that it is possible for a man who has light within him to defy the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is a strange lesson to teach young men entering upon life. Not that Balzac's indictment of the ways of journalism is wanting in truth or appositeness. The evil which he depicts is more rampant in our day of limitless news-vending and news-making than it could have been in the Paris of 1843. On that subject, who, with eyes in his head, can cherish illusions? But how does a character like Lucien's represent the cause of goodness, or his ignominious suicide prove that the supreme Powers are against it? Is not this the moral whispered by the story-teller? If not, where is the struggle between light and dark which the title suggests?
The truth is that Balzac was a materialist; that he worshipped force, and did not believe in God. His religion is sentiment, his Church a department of State ; his respect for authority and the ancien régime is founded on the deepest unbelief in human
To him the ordinary man is an evil beast, in need at every moment of chains and scourges. The measure of he would assert, is the lowest to which he can fall, not the height he has attained. And so he does not purify his pity and terror by the thought of eternal justice. He had no vision of the world to come.
Dante's Hell is less inhuman than Balzac's present age.
He does not paint the civilization of his time, but the evils which threatened it; nor the science of the Ampères and the Fraunhofers, but the mad alchemy of an ignorant man, who strives to reproduce in his laboratory the solar activities extinct on earth from geological periods. His metaphysics were but a making visible of that which cannot fall under the senses; therefore his God was an attenuated gas, and the soul an electric-machine. He was an obstinate visionary, not capable of rising into the light of reason like the masters of those who know, but abounding in the refractions, so to call them, of a strong and tyrannous personality. Some odd resemblance which he bore to Napoleon outwardly may be extended to the world of creations over which he ruled with despotic power. The brute force, the huge fever-dream fulfilled