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Honore de Balzac

His Apprenticeship
The precious hours of liberty, in the mansarde garret, had taken flight. After fifteen
months of independence, study and work, Honore returned to the family circle,
summoned home by his mother. She desired, no doubt, to care for him and restore his
former robust health which had been undermined by a starvation diet, but she also wished
to keep him under strict surveillance, since privation had failed to bend his will and the
disaster of his tragedy had not turned him aside from his purpose. Honore, unconquered
by defeat, had asked that they should assure him an annual allowance of fifteen hundred
francs, in order that he might redeem his failure at an early date. This request was
refused, and nothing was guaranteed him beyond food and lodging, absolutely nothing,
unless he submitted to their wishes.
What years of struggle those were! Honore de Balzac refused to despair of his destiny,
and he valiantly entered upon the hardest of all his battles, without support and without
encouragement, in the midst of hostile surroundings. He used to go from Villeparisis to
Paris, seeking literary gatherings, knocking at the doors of publishers, exhausting himself
in the search for some opening. And how could he work under the paternal roof?
Nowhere in the house could he find the necessary quiet, and he was practically looked
upon as an incapable, an outcast who would be a disgrace to his family. He himself felt
the precariousness of his present situation, and in consequence became taciturn, since he
could not communicate to the others his own unwavering faith in the future, and he was
forced to admit that, at the age of twenty-two, he had not yet given them any earnest of
future success.
In order to demonstrate that it is not impossible to live by literature, and more especially
for the sake of establishing his material independence, he was ready to accept any sort of
a task whatever. And all the more so, since his mother had not given up hope of making
him accept one of those fine careers in which an industrious young fellow may win
esteem and fortune. The "spectre of the daily grind" stared him in the face, and although
he had escaped a notary's career, through the death of the man to whose practice he was
to have succeeded, they gave him to understand that the sombre portals of a government
position might open to him.
"Count me among the dead," he wrote to his sister Laure, who, since her marriage, had
resided at Bayeux, "if they clap that extinguisher over me. I should turn into a trick horse,
who does his thirty or forty rounds per hour, and eats, drinks and sleeps at the appointed
moment. And they call that living!--that mechanical rotation, that perpetual recurrence of
the same thing!"
In spite of a few short trips, and occasional brief sojourns in Paris, in the one foothold
which his father had retained there, he was constrained by necessity to remain beneath
the family roof-tree. They gave him his food and his clothing, but no money. He suffered
from this, and groaned and grumbled as if he were in a state of slavery. Nevertheless, his
 
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