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Honore de Balzac

In Retirement
Upon leaving Les Jardies, Balzac took refuge in the village of Passy, at No. 19, Rue
Basse, and there buried himself. (Thanks to M. de Royaumont, this building has become
the Balzac Museum, similar to that of Victor Hugo at Paris, and of Goethe at Frankfort.)
It was there that he meant to make his last effort and either perish or conquer destiny.
Under the name of M. de Brugnol he had hired a small one-storey pavilion, situated in a
garden and hidden from sight by the houses facing on the street. His address was known
only to trusted friends, and it was now more difficult than ever to discover him. And his
life as literary galley-slave was now burdened, in this solitude, with new and
overwhelming tasks.
In the midst of the stormy tumult of money troubles and creative labour there was only
one single gleam of calm and tender light. In November, 1840, he formed the project of
going to Russia, and promised himself the pleasure of joining the Comtesse de Hanska at
St. Petersburg for two long months. This hope, which he clung to with all the strength of
his ardent nature, was not to be realised until 1843, for his departure was delayed from
day to day through his financial embarrassment and unfulfilled contracts with publishers.
Shutting himself into his writing den, a small narrow room with a low ceiling, he
proceeded to finish The Village Cure and The Diaries of Two Young Brides; he began A
Dark Affair for a journal called Le Commerce, The Two Brothers, later A Bachelor's
Establishment, for La Presse; Les Lecamus, for Le Siecle; The Trials and Tribulations of
an English Cat, for one of Hetzel's publications, Scenes from the Private and Public Life
of Animals; he worked upon The Peasants and wrote Ursule Mirouet,--altogether more
than thirty thousand lines in the newspaper columns, in less than one year!
Meanwhile his business affairs, so entangled that he himself hardly knew where he stood,
in spite of a portfolio bound in black in which he kept his promissory notes and every
other variety of commercial paper,--and which he called his Compte Melancoliques (his
Melancholy Accounts), adding that they were not to be regarded as a companion volume
to his Contes Drolatiques (his Droll Tales),--began to assume some sort of order, thanks
to the efforts of his lawyer, M. Gavault, who had undertaken to wind them up. Balzac
remained as poor as ever, for he had to turn over to M. Gavault all the money he took in,
aside from what he needed for the strict necessities of life. He admitted proudly that at
this period there were times when he contented himself with eating a single small roll on
the Boulevard, and that he had gone for days together with one franc as his sole cash on
But a new edition was soon destined to put him on his feet, enable him to liquidate a
portion of his floating debt and to pay back some of his biggest loans. An agreement had
been formed between Furne, Dubochet, Hetzel and Paulin to bring out an edition of his
complete works under the glorious and definitive title of The Human Comedy. But it
meant a vast amount of work, all his older volumes to revise and new ones to write,--a
task that he estimated would require not less than seven years to finish. If he had