« 上一頁繼續 »
tricate demands, and the fabulous lists of legal expenses incurred by protested bills, and the tables of the yet more fabulous profits resulting from operations that have been successful, and the thousand financial inspirations that, in the perusal of any work of Balzac's, make the reader sure beforehand of finding at least as many pages devoted to figures as to love-making. Watch with what delight he regulates the expenditure of a family, be it that of a poor employé in the provinces, or of a grand seigneur in Paris ; with what intense vitality he plunges into his pecuniary poetics ! And, when la cousine Bette has gone to live with Madame Marneffe, how he enjoys going to market with her and Mathurine, robbing Peter to pay Paul in fish, flesh, and fowl, and exulting over the thousand francs a month that he thus regularly saves for Mathurine, Madame Marneffe, and la cousine Bette. And when for the second time that very disreputable old gentleman, Lieutenant-General Hulot, has pledged his whole salary for three years in order to obtain half the sum in ready-money, how eagerly he watches till the time is expired, and counts up the several sources of revenue of the family.
Wholly unlike all other writers of fiction, who contrive to end their narratives leaving their heroes and heroines with the bloom of the ideal still upon them, Balzac goes on quite regardless of the romantic element, and only leaves off when his hero's or heroine's affairs are settled. Years pass unnoticed, and Henriette Hulot is becoming a fine motherly kind of woman, and even le beau IVenceslas de Steinbock” must be a mature gentleman by this time (consequently not fulfilling the conditions which would ordinarily be required, were they purely artistic creations) ; but this troubles not Balzac, their affairs are settled -voilà l'important. With 100,000 francs recovered,- the Lord knows how,—and placed out at such interest! (and safely too), and with 3000 francs a-year from their uncle the marshal who is dead, and 1200 from la cousine Bette, and heaven knows how many more infinitesimally small resources, the Hulots make up 20 or 21,000 francs a-year, and Balzac is happy. His own personal affair of the dairy and the kitchen-garden and the Malaga wine has not precisely succeeded, but that is of no consequence; his friend Celestine Crével has, entirely through his means, and after no end of tribulations, made a " capital business” of that house of hers on the Boulevard des Italiens; and that quite satisfies him. The reader, from his very different point of view, objects, perhaps, that his interest is exhausted in all these people,—that he was touched by the misfortunes of young and fair women, and of ardent courageous men, but cannot consent to remain attached to a hero or heroine who has subsided into the plump unpoetical comforts of a "well-regulated” middle age; but Balzac rubs his hands, and rejoices over the clever way in which they are brought out of their embarrassments. If the author of Un Grand Homme de Province à Paris had himself conceived the love-passage still alive in all our memories between Miss Ashton and the Master of Ravenswood, he would not have ended the recital without giving us the minutest information as to the division of the Ashton property; and Edgar himself he would have brought over to France, there to accumulate an unlimited fortune by the importation of whisky, or seal-skins, or Cairn Gorms.
There is no poetry in Balzac-to this his greatest admirers must make up their minds; and it is from this particular point of view that M. Gozlan's little volume is so full of interest and information. But now let it be noted that by this remark we do not mean to convey that Balzac never creates a poetical situation or character : this would not be correct; he does so sometimes, though not frequently ; and when he does so, it is always by the exact reverse of the means employed by those in whom the poetic sense is naturally and strongly developed. The latter arrive at reality through the poetry inherent in themselves, they divine what really is; and (if we may be permitted a pedantic expression) they reverse the Platonic theory, and prove the finite by the infinite. Not so Balzac ; whatever poetry is visible here and there in his works (as, for instance, in the Recherche de l'Absolu, or the Lys dans la Vallée-we purposely do not mention Eugénie Grandet, because that chef-d'æuvre is purely pathetic, not poetical, and derives all its pathos from the intensity of its prosaic reality),—whatever poetry, we say, is visible here and there in Balzac's works, results from the reality, from the absolute palpability of the situations and the personages, but not from the inspiration of their author. Poetry with Balzac is an effect, not a cause; he himself neither likes, nor even is able to appreciate it; and they, perhaps, among his most intimate friends, are right who assert that, could Balzac have been placed at the head of some colossal counting-house, where the fortunes of all Paris were to be regulated and administered by him, he would never have dreamt of writing a book in all his life, because the instinct within him would have found its satisfaction, and production have corresponded to conception in an immediate and natural way. “Nothing in Balzac's whole organisation,” says Léon Gozlan, “tended in the least degree towards poesy. He would pretend every now and then to admire the Orientales of Victor Hugo, or Lamartine's Méditations ; but his pretended admiration hit this and that passage by chance, as a raw sportsman fires at random into the midst of a whole covey of birds, knocking over to right and to left such game as his aimless shots may happen to strike.” One evening Gozlan, who, in his small way, has a certain poetical tendency, puts his friend Balzac to the test by carrying him off to the Théâtre-Français to see the Burgraves of Hugo, one of the last pieces which set the Philisters and the enthusiasts by the ears (neither being wholly wrong or right, inasmuch as—though quite absurd as a tragedy-the
— Burgraves contains fine touches of poetry). The Philisters grinned and giggled ; and Gozlan, turning round to Balzac, who was behind him, caught him, in the midst of one of the really fine passages, in the act of grinning like the veriest bourgeois of them all. “How do you like it?" asked he of Gozlan. .
“I?" repeated the latter, exaggerating his admiration, “I hold it to be sublime; since Dante nothing equal to it has been written.” “That is precisely my opinion,” rejoined Balzac, converted to sudden gravity, and to a creed which was ever after his, and which consisted in the declaration that “since Dante nothing so fine as the Burgraves had been produced.”
With this strange absence of the poetic sense, it is consistent enough that there was also in Balzac's intellectual organisation no proper ideality at all. “He no better understood very splendid prose than he did verse," says Léon Gozlan; “all art
, with him was of one peculiar kind. Hle preferred to the grand style of the masters of the French language that minute and laboured prose in which he himself excelled; true also, undoubtedly, in its way, as is cach microscopic particle of diamond-dust, but not true with the luminous and all-powerful oneness of the diamond itself. He was prepared in public to carry to any height his expressions of admiration for the glories of the Florentine or Venetian school; would rave about Leonardo, or Raphael, or Titian, with any one or every one; but be well convinced that, had he bech able to compose a cabinet of pictures for his own private delight, he would have purchased Mieris, Teniers, and Ostades, and those alone.”
And this brings us immediately to the question of art in Balzac's own works. We have seen what was with him the chief cause of creation; we must now examine what was its mode. We find here as strong a dose of realism as in all the rest. We know why his so thickly-peopled world exists; it remains now to see how it cxists, what is the manner in which he compels that which he produces to impress the reader? His method is almost exclusively a descriptive, rarely an active one. For this reason he must see and know, since he invariably copies, and does not imagine. His conceptions all spring from his external experiences; they depend in no way upon what surpasses sensible evidence. He can never, in his own opinion, describe them too minutely, never sufficiently prove to himself how acute are his faculties of observation. One day, after launching forth in praise of some new novel of Cooper's, where the American author had treated of Lake Ontario (Balzac being for the moment persuaded of the superiority of exact landscape-painting over every other branch of the descriptive art): “Well
, then,” said Gozlan to him, smiling, “if it is so fine, why don't you at once place the scene of a novel on the borders of a lake?' _“And where the d-1 am I to find the lake?” was the immediate reply; “ do you suppose that wash-hand basin, the lake of Enghien, will do?” “You know so many men who have travelled all over the world ; get them to tell you what they know.”—“Pshaw !" was Balzac's answer; “they know nothing,—nobody knows any thing; I can give you terrible proof of that." And hereupon follows a speech which we cannot refrain from extracting entire, because it sets forth all Balzac's method, and delivers to us the secret of his art:
“When I was about commencing the Lys dans la Vallée, my idea was to give up a vast portion to the landscape. I plunged forthwith into Pantheism like a Pagan. I turned myself into trees, rivers, stars, fountains, effects of sunlight, dc.! But I wanted to know the names of every thing, and the nature of the smallest plants, with the description of which I intended to adorn my tale. I first applied to my gardener, to find out all about the various kinds of grass that grow every where ; on road-sides, and in common fields, and solitary streets, and every where in short. Nothing easier,' cries he ; "here is clover and vetch, and... ‘Nay, nay,' said I ; that is not what I want ; I want the technical names of all these thousands of low, short, small, green blades that we are eternally walking upon.' And, snatching up a handful from the turf, “There,' said I, 'that, what is all that ?' 10, that,' was the answer, with somewhat of disdain ; that is only grass.' Well,' I persisted; "but the names of all these so differently shaped blades-long, or short, or straight, or curved, or soft, or rough, or hard, or dry, or damp, or downy, some dank and dark, others of a tender pale hue, what are the names of these ? But it was all no use. He would go on saying they were grass, and nothing else for the life of me could I ever get out of him. The next day a friend came to see me,-precisely one of your travelled men, who had been all over the world ! I applied to him as I had done to my gardener. He did not hesitate ; he knew all about every thing ; so when I put my handful of grass into his hands, I felt certain I was going to be enlightened. No such thing. This personage was only conversant with the Flora and Fauna of Malabar. "If we were but in the Indian hemisphere ! exclaimed he; and I was as wise as before. Next day I rushed off to the Jardin des Plantes, and simply addressed myself to one of the most celebrated professors there. O, my dear M. de Balzac,' was his remark, we study here countless interesting plants; but our life would not be long enough if we were to condescend to all those miserable little blades of grass ; but,' he added, "without joking, where is your new novel
placed ?' 'In Touraine.'-'Well, then, the first peasant in the province itself will tell you more than any professor here can do.' Upon which, if you please, I started for Touraine; where I found the peasants as ignorant as my traveller, as ignorant as my gardener, but not a whit more ignorant than the professors of the Jardin des Plantes. So that, after all, when I came to write the Lys dans la Vallée, I found it impossible to describe with any thing like accuracy those plots of verdure that it would have been my delight to paint blade by blade, with the patience and rich colouring of the Dutch. And after that, here you come advising me to rely upon other people for the materials wherewith to paint lakes like Cooper's-lakes that he has seen and that he knows !"
Here is all Balzac's theory of art, here is his method; and we were right in saying that the man, whole and entire (and therefore the author), is revealed to us by two passages in M. Gozlan's book,--in the one we have just quoted, and the one with which we commenced this article.
Balzac, as we have remarked, is distinguished amongst nearly all modern French writers of fiction by his total want of scepticism, -scepticism, we mean, as we explained before, in a moral and intellectual point of view. Scepticism applied to religion is merely one particular form of doubt, or rather one of its particular and individual applications. The sort of scepticism for which the men of la jeune France (and Balzac belongs essentially to these) are remarkable, is a disbelief less even in religious dogmas than in moral, social, and political doctrines. Some of them may (nay do) believe in God; none of them believe in man. The want of conviction shows itself especially, we should say, in practical undertakings. These men neither believe in what they do, nor even in what they are.
No one acts
up to himself,'' or indeed takes the trouble of establishing in his own mind a “self” to act up to. Nothing is treated seriously, because nothing is in fact believed to be; and the opinion entertained by so many French thinkers, that Robert Macaire is the truest emblem of the state of society in la jeune France, is in reality but too well founded. In the way of art (unless in some few exceptional cases, with which it is not our present purpose to deal), disbelief is absolute; and no creator (or none of those who go by the name) believes for an instant in what he has created. "You have entirely misrepresented A. B. in the first chapter of your book," said a really learned and earnest-minded man to one of the most illustrious writers in France, who had just published a work upon the Revolution of ’89. “Maybe.” was the answer; “ but twenty pages
further you will find I have just reversed the judgment of which you complain; one or the other statement must be true, but I am not sure which ! !" This sentence fully depicts Young France.