Honore de Balzac
The "Foreign Lady".
After his return to Paris, Balzac threw himself into a frightful orgy of work. It would
seem as though his one desire was to forget the coquette who had so cruelly punished him
for loving her, and as though he felt the need of atoning to himself for the hours that she
had taken him from his work. His physician, Dr. Nacquart, feared that he would break
down, and prescribed a month's rest, during which time he was neither to read nor write,
but lead a purely vegetative life. Yet, in spite of this injunction, he found himself unable
to stop working, for he was urged on by his genius, and hounded by the terrible necessity
of meeting maturing notes, as well as by his own luxurious tastes which must be satisfied
at any cost. He had the most extravagant hopes of big returns from The Country Doctor;
and in this belief his friends encouraged him. Emile de Girardin and Auguste Borget
estimated that the book would sell to the extent of four hundred thousand copies. It was
proposed to bring out a one-franc edition which was expected to circulate broadcast, like
prayer-books. Balzac made his own calculations,--for he was eternally making
calculations,--and, relying confidently upon their accuracy, allowed himself to purchase
carpets, bric-a-brac, a Limoges dinner set, a silver service and jewellery, all for the
adornment of the small den in the Rue Cassini. He ordered chandeliers; he stopped short
of nothing save a silver chafing-dish. He piled debts upon debts: but what difference did
it make, for success was before him, within reach of his hand, and he would have no
trouble at all to pay!
Alas, none of the actualities of life would ever break down his robust confidence nor his
golden dreams! Even before The Country Doctor was published he found himself
involved in a law suit with his publisher, and after its appearance the public press
criticised it sharply. "Everyone has his knife out for me," he wrote to Mme. Hanska, "a
situation which saddened and angered Lord Byron only makes me laugh. I mean to
govern the intellectual world of Europe, and with two more years of patience and toil I
shall trample on the heads of all those who now wish to tie my hands and retard my
flight! Persecution and injustice have given me a brazen courage."
After each of his disillusions he had arisen again stronger than before; and at this juncture
a new element had entered into his life which gave him an augmented energy and
courage. This element was the one secret romance of his life, which gave rise to a host of
anecdotes and legends. In the month of February, 1832, his publisher, Gosselin,
forwarded a letter to him, signed L'Etrangere, "A Foreign Lady," which caught his
attention by the nobility of the thoughts expressed in it. This first letter was followed by
several others, and in one of them, dated November 7th, the "Foreign Lady" requested
him to let her know of its safe arrival: "A line from you, published in La Quotidienne,
will assure me that you have received my letter, and that I may write to you without fear.
Sign it, A L'E. H. de B. ('To the Foreign Lady from H. de B.')." The line requested
appeared in La Quotidienne, in its issue of December 9th, and thus began a long and
almost daily correspondence which was destined to last for seventeen years.