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Honore de Balzac

At Les Jardies
It was in 1835 that Balzac conceived the idea of acquiring some land, situated between
Sevres and Ville-d'Avray, for the purpose of building a house. He wished in this way to
give a guarantee to his mother, evade compulsory service in the National Guard, and
become a landed proprietor. He had explored all the suburbs of Paris before deciding
upon a hillside with a steep slope, as ill adapted to building as to cultivation. But, having
definitely made his choice, he acquired sections from the adjacent holdings of three
peasants, thus obtaining a lot forty square rods in extent, to which he naturally hoped to
add later on. He calculated that he would not have to spend more than twenty-five
thousand francs, which he could borrow,--in point of fact, the total cost came to more
than ninety thousand,--and that the interest to be paid would not come to more than the
rent he was then paying for his apartment. The first step was to surround his property
with walls, and Balzac then christened it with the name of Les Jardies. He laughed with
sheer contentment, foreseeing himself in his mind's eye already installed in his own
abode, far from Paris, and yet near to it, and beyond the reach of importunate visitors and
the curiosity of cheap journalism. Nevertheless Les Jardies cost him as much sarcasm and
ridicule as his monstrous walking-stick set with turquoises. He had given his own plans
to his architects, and he himself attentively superintended his contractors and masons. He
experienced all the annoyances incident to construction, delays in the work, disputes with
the workmen, the worry of raising money and meeting payments, and the impossibility of
obtaining exactly what he wished. He was impatient to take possession of his own home,
but the completion of it was delayed from month to month; it was to have been ready for
occupancy by November 30, 1837, yet on his return from Sardinia in June 1838, it was
not yet finished. But he was so eager to move in that in defiance of his physician's orders
he installed himself in August, in the midst of all the confusion and with the workmen
still all around him. It was a dreadful condition of things, the upturned ground, the empty
chambers, the chill of new plaster, and an irritating sense of things not finished and
pushed along in haste; but he was exultant, and distracted his own attention by admiring
the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
How delightful it was to live at Les Jardies! It required not more than ten minutes to
reach the heart of Paris, the Madeleine, and it cost but ten sous. The Rue des Batailles and
the Rue Cassini were at the other end of the world, and you must needs spend a couple of
francs for the shortest drive which wasted an hour,--such was the fashion in which Balzac
dreamed! And he would gaze at his acre of ground, bare, ploughed-up clay, without a tree
or a blade of grass, and he found no trouble in transforming it mentally into an eden of
"plants, fragrance and shrubbery." He planned to fill it with twenty-year magnolias,
sixteen-year lindens, twelve-year poplars, birches and grape vines which would yield him
fine white grapes the very next year. And then he would earn thirty thousand francs and
buy two more acres of land, which he would turn into an orchard and kitchen-garden.
The house which was the object of so many witticisms was a small three-storied
structure, containing on the ground floor a dining-room and parlour, on the next a bed-
chamber and dressing-room, and on the upper floor Balzac's working room. A balcony