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A History of French Literature by Edward Dowden

She has tales for her grandchildren


In

the novels of her latest years she moved from Berri to other regions of France, and interpreted aristocratic together with peasant life. Old, experienced, infinitely good and attaching, she has tales for her grandchildren, and romances--_Jean de la Roche_, _Le Marquis de Villemer_, and the rest--for her other grandchildren the public. The soul of the peasant, of the artist, of the man who must lean upon a stronger woman's arm, of the girl--neither child nor fully adult--she entered into with deepest and truest sympathy. The simple, austere, stoical, heroic man she admired as one above her. Her style at its best, flowing without impetuosity, full and pure without commotion, harmonious without complex involutions, can mirror beauty as faithfully and as magically as an inland river. "Calme, toujours plus calme," was a frequent utterance of her declining years. "Ne detruisez pas la verdure" were her latest words. In 1876 George Sand died. Her memoirs and her correspondence make us intimate with a spirit, amid all its errors, sweet, generous, and gaining through experience a wisdom for the season of old age.

IV

George Sand may be described as an "idealist," if we add the words "with a remarkable gift for observation." Her great contemporary HONORE DE BALZAC is named a realist, but he was a realist haunted or attacked by phantasms and nightmares of romance. Born in 1799 at Tours, son of an advocate turned military

commissariat-agent, Honore de Balzac, after some training in the law, resolved to write, and, if possible, not to starve. With his robust frame, his resolute will, manifest in a face coarsely powerful, his large good-nature, his large egoism, his audacity of brain, it seemed as if he might shoulder his way through the crowd to fortune and to fame. But fortune and fame were hard to come at. His tragedy _Cromwell_ was condemned by all who saw the manuscript; his novels were published, and lie deep in their refuge under the waters of oblivion. He tried the trades of publisher, printer, type-founder, and succeeded in encumbering himself with debt. At length in 1829 _Le Dernier Chouan_, a half-historical tale of Brittany in 1800, not uninfluenced by Scott, was received with a measure of favour.

Next year Balzac found his truer self, overlaid with journalism, pamphleteering, and miscellaneous writing, in a Dutch painting of bourgeois life, _Le Maison du Chatqui-pelote_, which relates the sorrows of the draper's daughter, Augustine, drawn from her native sphere by an artist's love. From the day that Balzac began to wield his pen with power to the day, in 1850, when he died, exhausted by the passion of his brain, his own life was concentrated in that of the creatures of his imagination. He had friends, and married one of the oldest of them, Madame Hanska, shortly before his death. Sometimes for a little while he wandered away from his desk. More than once he made wild attempts to secure wealth by commercial enterprise or speculation. These were adventures or incidents of his existence. That existence itself is summed up in the volumes of his _Human Comedy_. He wrote with desperate resolve and a violence of imagination; he attacked the printer's proof as if it were crude material on which to work. At six in the evening he retired to sleep; he rose at the noon of night, urged on his brain with cups of coffee, and covered page after page of manuscript, until the noon of day released him. So it went on for nearly twenty years, until the intemperance of toil had worn the strong man out.


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