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Balzac set himself to the task of writing his “ Comedy.” His carefully-worked-out plan embraced six general divisions of French life-private, provincial, Parisian, military, political, and country life. The first three classesso Balzac himself tells us—represent three stages of life; the first, youth-the child on the very threshold of manhood, buoyant, warm-hearted, expectant; the second, manhood itself-calculation displacing enthusiasm, and passions dispelling childhood's dreams and illusions-life has become serious, and policy, instead of spontaneity, rules; the third, old age, where cares and interests accumulate and overshadow all.
So vast a philosophical study as the “Comédie Humaine" is necessarily incomplete and imperfect. Not seldom Balzac's philosophy is too romantic, and quite as often his romance is too philosophical. Other faults he certainly has, the stiffness of his characters' conversations, the endless descriptions of houses and country villages-sometimes almost pardonable for the beauty of the wording-and his unpoetic style—for the only poetry he knew was the poetry of suffering and sorrow. Little or no music has Balzac for those to whom music means only melody, but to him who recognizes the harmony of discord, Balzac opens his heart. He was more at home in the darkness of the charnel-house than in the bright sunshine. To him the tolling of the prison death-bell sounded sweeter than the marriage chimes. It is not strange, then, that few novels in the entire “Comedy ” end happily, nor that Balzac's best work is in those terrible stories where a sort of weird fatalism plunges everything into a bottomless abyss of despair-of lost opportunities, destroyed ideals, wrecked ambitions. Here the pathos is terribly real. Balzac's tears are not April drops, sun-dried as soon as shed. His is not the débonnaire carelessness of a gay Lothario, nor has he the rollicking humor of a Falstaff. The note he touches is deeper than any ever struck by old-time troubadour, or modern love-born Béranger. The “
The “plaisant pays de France” still has its romance and its chevaliers, its mirth and its song, but Balzac deals with sterner realities.
Balzac is a historian, however, not a moralist. He took society as he found it, and left it as it was. He did not attempt to debase it; he cared not to improve it. Envy, deceit, lust, aroused his interest, not his anger. He never sentimentalized, he never idealized. He sought for vice as well as virtue-and found them both. He entered into no tirades against humanity because it too often pardons the vice that respects conventions--yet he depicted the gilded mud of the aristocracy as faithfully as the coarser dirt of the bourgeois. Conflict, passion, character, were what he demanded; good or badit mattered little to him. “Passion," he declares, " is the
“ sum-total of humanity. Without it, religion, history, romance, art, would be sterile."
The only morality Balzac recognized was truthfulness to art. He is unmoral, as Shakespeare is, as the highest artist must ever be. Much as we delight in Thackeray's genial moralizing-pleasant as it is to go onward hand in hand with the author and listen to his own comments on law and justice, on open vice and hidden virtue-it is not the highest art that obtrudes the author's personality into every chapter. Balzac lacks Thackeray's ready humor, his characters may not always appeal to us so strongly as Colonel Newcome and his friends—but the great majority of literary critics have rightly ranked him above Thackeray forever.
Balzac is realistic—so terribly so, that prudish critics, in hot haste to brand with pious hands all that is evil in a wicked world, have confounded his realism with Zola's indecency. Alas for those that expurgate Shakespeare and banish Balzac from their shelves! Balzac is undoubtedly frank in his exposition of vice. He has brought down many a storm of indignation because he has treated the nude in literature as fearlessly as the artist treats the nude in art. With no flimsy clothing of conventionality does he attempt to disguise the evil facts of life, presenting vice in all its hideousness, not masking it so that it becomes attractive. To him ignorance and innocence are not synonyms, nor does he believe that knowledge of disease prompts the surgeon to love it. The nude does not seem to him so dangerous as that which the gauze of suggestiveness covers. Balzac shrinks from no conclusions that force themselves upon him. Though the steps lead ever downward, from cowardice and sin to infamy and lowest degradation, he follows, undaunted, unswerving. Through all the shameless course of sin—through the terrible fatalism of events-Phillipe Bridau, thief, murderer, parricide, goes on to his certain doom- a matchless picture of vice, too repulsive to be alluring.
Balzac is not, however, so false to human experience as to have virtue always triumphant and vice downtrodden. We find courage rewarded
with success regardless of the morality of the struggling aspirant. Not all Balzac's worldly-fortunate women wear orangeblossoms and white, not all his heroes are Sir Galahads. Greed often flourishes; virtue not seldom is its own reward--pretty much as in every-day life.
Balzac romanced for himself, as well as for others. To him all his characters were living, and strangely did he gossip about them to his friends. “Let us talk of realities," said he one day to Jules Sandeau, “Let us talk about Eugénie Grandet.” And again—“Do you know that Félix de Vandenesse is going to be married? And to one of the Grandvilles, too! It's an excellent match." The very reality of his characters to himself made him successful, for he only is the true novelist whose characters are in life long before they are in ink, and whose own lise-blood is tingling in their veins. Sublime egotist, also, was the man who could say, “ Only three men know French-Hugo, Gautier, and myself.” But spite of eccentricity and egotism, spite of the fact that he had not fully carried out his aim--for it was French nature, not human nature, that he had painted-spite of the fragmentary character and imperfections of the “ Comédie Humaine," Balzac is perhaps the greatest name in all French literature.
George Henry Nettleton.
Child of the grand old Autumn,
October floateth by,
And light in her beaming eye;
To the dull and fading grass,
As her springing footsteps pass.
And stainings of crimson light,
Will fall on the leaves to-night ;
When the first faint sunbeams play,
She will leave on the trees to-day.
And a carpet all fresh and sweet,
Will fall at her fairy feet;
By the light of her magic smile, Sometimes she calls at the past King's halls,
And bids him reign awhile.
Then when the hills are woven
With many a tinted strand,
Is wrapped over sea and land,
Like the sun at the close of day
Philip C. Peck. A WINTER'S NIGHT.
HERE are my mittens? I can't find my muffler,
and where—where is my hat?” This from a young girl, who was looking excitedly around the sitting room of an old country farm house. A group of boys stood by, laughing at her discomfiture and making occasional tormenting suggestions. “Guess you'll find 'em on the ceiling, Mab, if you only look," called out some one from the crowd, who was immediately withered by a look of profound contempt. “Well we can't wait all night, any how," was the remark in a brotherly tone from another. “The moon will melt the snow before you're ready or Billy Gray will get impatient and go to sleep in his harness." But at last everything was found, the hat where it had been carelessly thrown a short time before, the mittens and muffler in the attic, safely packed away from last summer's moths. “Good-bye, Grandma,' whispered Mabel to her grave old grand parent, knitting by the fire. “Baby will be all right in the other room and won't wake up 'till I get back. You don't mind being left alone, do you,” she asked entreatingly. “It is only for a short time, and then, you know—my first sleigh-ride."
The old grandmother listened sadly to the pleasant chorus of the sleigh-bells and the merry laughter of the young people as the party drove away. Her knitting dropped idly by her side and in the flames before her she sought company for her thoughts. There she saw pictures of the past, when sleighs had wooden runners and men went armed with rifles for fear of the Indians lurking near by. What started out a pleasure party would in those days sometimes return a body of mourn
But many years had passed since then, so many that she could hardly count them. Things which once had given pleasure or pain had been repeated until now their charms or sting were no longer the same. Life was all alike. The old clock in the corner ticked on just as it