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Honore De Balzac




Reading Books

I have resumed my life of toil. I go to bed at six, directly after dinner. The animal digests and sleeps till midnight. Auguste makes me a cup of coffee, with which the mind goes at one flash (tout d'une traite) till midday. I rush to the printing-office to carry my copy and get my proofs, which gives exercise to the animal, who dreams as he goes.

One can put a good deal of black on white in twelve hours, little sister, and after a month of such life there's no small work accomplished. Poor pen! it must be made of diamond not to be worn out by such toil! To lift its master to reputation, according to the prophecy of the Germans, to pay his debts to all, and then to give him, some day, rest upon a mountain that is its task!

But if you knew me personally, if my solitary life, my days of study, privation, and toil were told to you, you would lay aside some of your accusations and perceive more than one antithesis between the man and his writings. Certainly there are some works in which I like to be myself; but you can guess them; they are those in which the heart speaks out. My fate is to paint the happiness that others feel; to desire it in perfection, but never to meet it. None but those who suffer can paint joy, because we express better that which we conceive than that we have experienced.

I work eighteen hours a day. I have perceived the faults of style which disfigure La Peau de Chagrin. I corrected them to make it irreproachable; but after two months' labor, the volume being reprinted, I discover another hundred faults. Such are the sorrows of a poet.

But I need time for all these conceptions, and especially for their execution; above all when (as for Seraphita) I work often a year or two in thought before taking a pen. Adoremus in aeternum means for me, `Toil ever.'

It is true that I go out little and sit at my work for twenty hours.

My letters are becoming short, you say, and you no longer know whom I see. I see no one; I work so continually that I have not a moment for writing. But I do have moments of lassitude for thinking. Some day you will be astonished at what I have been able to do, and yet write to a friend at all.

Listen: to settle this point, reflect on this: Walter Scott wrote two novels a year, and was thought to have luck in his labour; he astonished England. This year I shall have produced: (1) Le Pere Goriot; (2) Le Lys dans la Vallee; (3) Les Memoires d'une jeune Mariee; (4) Cesar Birotteau. I have done three parts of the Etudes de Moeurs for Madame Bechet; and three parts of the Etudes Philosophiques for Werdet. And finally, I shall have finished the third dizain, and Seraphita. But then, shall I be living, or in my sound mind in 1836? I doubt it. Sometimes I think that my brain is inflaming. I shall die on the breach of intellect.

You understand that in a literary campaign like mine society is impossible. Therefore I have openly renounced it. I go nowhere, I answer no letter and no invitation. I only allow myself the Italian opera once a fortnight.

Like the fisherman in Walter Scott's Antiquary, I must saw my plank without risking the blunder of an inch; I must write. Oh! cara, write! when one's soul is mourning, and when the sister-soul is mourning also, and something is lost to us of our faith in losing the soul that inspired it! Let us bury that secret in our hearts. .

If you only knew how, after this solitary life, I long to grasp Nature by a rapid rush across Europe, how my soul thirsts for the immense, the infinite; for Nature seen in the mass, not in detail, judged on its grand lines, sometimes damp with rain, sometimes rich with sun, as we bound across space, seeing lands instead of villages. If you knew this you would not tell me to come, for that redoubles my torture, it fans the furnace on which I sleep.

As you say, one must try to penetrate the meaning of Seraphita in order to criticise the work; but I never counted on a success after Louis Lambert was so despised. These are books that I make for myself and a few others. When I have to write a book for all the world I know very well what ideas to appeal to, and what I must express. Seraphita has nothing of earth; if she loved, if she doubted, if she suffered, if she were influenceable by anything terrestrial, she would not be the angel.

When a book is done, I like to forget it; I do forget it; and I never return to it except to purge it of its faults a year or two later.



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