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Honore de Balzac

The First Success
Misfortune, far from discouraging Balzac, strengthened all his powers of resistance and
exalted his will and his energy. He had a healthy and strongly optimistic nature, upon
which chagrins, reverses and sorrows acted like so many stimulants; he was never so
resolute as after a defeat. M. Sedillot had barely begun the liquidation of his business
affairs, the printing house and foundry, when he gave himself up passionately and
exclusively to his literary work, apparently having forgotten all his troubles, save the
necessity of paying his debts. He had a habit of prompt decisions and quick action. Eager
to break at once all the remaining fetters that bound him to his assignee, he wrote to the
General Baron de Pommereul, at Fougeres:
"For the past month I have been busy over some historical researches of great interest,
and I hope that in the absence of talent, which in my case is altogether problematic, our
national manners and customs may perhaps bring me good luck. I have realised that, no
matter how industrious I am, my efforts will not bring me in anything like a living wage
before the first of next January; and meanwhile the purest chance has brought to my
attention a historic incident of 1798 relating to the war of the Chouans and the Vendeans,
which gives me a subject that is very easy to handle. It requires no research, except in
regard to the localities.
"My first thought was of you, and I decided to ask you to grant me an asylum for a matter
of twenty days. My muse, her trumpet, a quire of paper and myself will surely not be
greatly in your way." (Balzac in Brittany, published letter by R. du Pontavice de Heussy.)
The general's father had been a friend of Francois Balzac, who had rendered him some
financial service; accordingly the son hastened to reply to Honore that his house was
open to him. No sooner was the letter received than the latter set forth, such was his haste
to leave Paris, collect the material for his story, and find the necessary tranquillity for
writing it. He left Paris without change of linen and with his toilet all in disorder,
intoxicated with his sense of liberty, "to such an extent," writes M. de Pontavice, "that he
presented himself to his provincial friends wearing such a piteous hat that they found it
necessary to conduct him forthwith to the only hatter in Fougeres. That honourable
tradesman went to infinite pains before he succeeded in discovering any headwear large
enough to shelter the bony casket which contained the Human Comedy."
Honore de Balzac was exuberant with joy. He took his hosts by storm through his wit and
good humour. He questioned M. de Pommereul as to the main facts about the Chouans;
he jotted down in his notebook, which he afterwards came to call his larder, a host of
original anecdotes preserved by oral tradition; and he roamed the whole countryside,
fixing in his mind the landscapes and the gestures, attitudes and physiognomies of the
peasants, and saturating himself with the atmosphere of the region in which he was to
place the chief scenes of his drama.
 
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