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Honore De Balzac - Lost Illusions (1837)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



(Illusions Perdues)

This novel is included in the Scenes de la Vie de Province. The first part, Les deux Poetes, appeared in 1837; the second, Un grand Homme de Province a Paris, in 1839; and the third, David Sechard, ou Les Souffrances d'un Inventeur, in L'Etat and Le Parisien-l'Etat in 1843. In 1843 the third part was published as Eve et David. Chapters were suppressed and other changes made, and finally the work was issued as Illusions Perdues, consisting of two parts: The Two Poets and Eve and David. The second part was published as a separate story, A Distinguished Provincial at Paris, although it logically occupies a place between The Two Poets and Eve and David, as it deals with Lucien's life in Paris, when his illusions are lost one by one, as Eve's and David's are in Angou-leme. Some of the characters appear in other books. Eve, David, and Madame Chardon occur in Splendeurs et Miseres, as do also Lucien de Rubempre and Carlos Herrera, who is none other than Jacques Collin alias Vautrin, the con-summate villain who plays an important part in Pere Goriot. Balzac particularly admired Eve. He wrote to Madame Hanska: "In Illusions Perdues there is a young girl named Eve who is to my eyes the most ravishing creation that I have made." Illusions Perdues was dedicated to Victor Hugo.

AT the time this story opens, the Stanhope press and the inking-roller were not in general use in provincial printing establishments. At Angouleme, which was closely connected through its paper-mills with the art of typography in Paris, the only machinery in use was the primitive wooden press. Leather ink-balls were still used; the pressman dabbed the ink on the type by hand; and the bed of the press, being made of marble, deserved its name of "impression stone."

Jerome-Nicholas Sechard, who had been a journeyman pressman, being fifty years old in 1793, escaped the conscription which swept so many French workmen into the army. Sechard was the only employe left in the printing-office; and when the master died Sechard, through luck, got a master-printer's license, although he could neither read nor write. He bought the business, amassed a fortune, and grew more avaricious day by day. He was soon left a widower with one son, David, whom he treated harshly, made him work at the case on holidays, and finally sent him to Paris to learn the higher branches of typography at Didot's.

David was summoned home in 1819 to take charge of his father's business. The old man was worried because the firm of Cointet Brothers, paper manufacturers of Angouleme, had applied for a printer's license. "I should have gone to the wall," he thought, "but a young fellow from Didot's will pull through." Sechard had a passion for drink, which revealed itself in his huge nose and bloated purple cheeks. His little gray eyes were agleam with the cunning of avarice that extinguished everything else in the man, down to the very instinct of fatherhood. He drove a sharp bargain with David, although the latter was fully aware of the obsolete character of the presses and old-fashioned vignettes, borders and ornamental letters that were the fashion in Angouleme for wedding-cards, calendars, etc. David agreed to a contract of partnership between Sechard senior and son. The good father was to let his house and premises to the new firm for twelve hundred francs a year, reserving one of the two rooms in the attic for himself. So long as David's purchase-money was not paid in full, the profits were to be divided equally.

David now found himself possessor of three bare rooms and a printing-house, without a sou to pay the workmen's wages. His father, even as partner, refused to bear any share in the working expenses. David then questioned his father about the little fortune that his mother left, which was his by right; but the old man gave him no satisfaction. He called David's attention to another treasure that went with the printing-house—Marion, a big country girl who did the cooking, washing, and marketing, dampened and cut the paper, unloaded the paper-carts, collected accounts, and cleaned the ink-balls.

Old Sechard retired to his vineyard at Marsac, four leagues from Angouleme; but often climbed the rocky steps into the city and walked into the office to see how his son was getting on. The old miser scented misfortune in the wind; the name of Cointet Brothers haunted him like a nightmare; for he saw Sechard and Son dropping into the second place. He was right: disaster was hovering over the house of Sechard. At this period, in order to secure custom, provincial men of business had to profess political opinions; they had to choose between the patronage of the Liberals and that of the Royalists. David was, unfortunately, neutral and indifferent regarding the burning questions of the day. The Cointets set themselves deliberately to assimilate all shades of monarchical opinion, published books of devotion and accused David of Liberalism, Atheism, and what not. David's business began to fall off, while that of the Cointets increased. Finally they bought from David the Charente Chronicle, David pledging himself to print no newspaper thenceforward; and this left Sechard and Son only job-printing orders—the death-blow to David's business. The old man took the cash and still charged his son the same rent for the premises. The old foreman, too, went over to the rival establishment. David now ran across an old schoolfellow in direst poverty, Lucien Chardon, the son of a surgeon-major, who had retired from the Republican army and opened a druggist's business in Angouleme. On his death, his wife, a beautiful woman of noble family, sold the shop, and she and her daughter were forced to work for a living. Madame Chardon called herself "Madame Charlotte" and went out as a monthly nurse; and her daughter worked for a laundry. Every cent they could scrape together was bestowed on Lucien, who was their hope and pride. David offered Lucien forty francs a month if he would learn the art of the proofreader, and the two friends now worked together.

David soon caught a glimpse of Lucien's sister, Eve, and loved her. Lucien came to be David's chosen brother; and David outdid the mother and sister in their belief in Lucien's genius. He spoiled Lucien as a mother spoils her child. Lucien thought of a plan that his father had had for employing vegetable fiber in the making of paper, something after the Chinese fashion, and effecting an enormous saving in the cost of raw material.

In May, 1821, David and Lucien were sitting in the yard under the vines behind the dilapidated office. David's physique was the kind that Nature gives to the fighter. He had strong shoulders, a broad chest, thick, black hair, a swarthy face, and a steady light in his eyes. Lucien was beautiful: he had a Greek profile, golden curls, a white forehead, shapely hands, and a slender, graceful figure. David considered him-self the ox and Lucien the eagle. They read, talked, and thought together. David discovered Lucien's passion for Madame de Bargeton, a queen of society in Angouleme, whose salon attracted all the local celebrities. Her name was Marie-Louise-Anais de Negrepelisse, the daughter of a noble long relegated to obscurity. She was now thirty-six, and was burdened with a husband of fifty-eight, who was colorless and uninteresting to the last degree. Among the satellites of her drawing-room was an old Parisian beau, the Baron Sixte du Chatelet, an adept in many graces and accomplishments and something of a diplomat, with ambitions for political advancement. Lucien had attracted Madame de Bargeton's attention and was invited to read some of his poems at one of her evenings. He had fallen in love with this goddess and she flattered and patronized the young poet of twenty. Lucien, at this time, was living with his mother and sister in a few cheap little rooms let to them by Monsieur Postel, who had succeeded to the business of Lucien's father. It required much courage for Madame de Bargeton to introduce the young poet. All the celebrities of Angouleme were present, including the Baron du Chatelet; and Lucien's recitations failed to make the desired impression. He was also ill at ease and unequal to the society into which he was suddenly plunged. Notwithstanding the fact that he was introduced under his mother's noble name, De Rubempre, people soon discovered that he was only the son of a druggist and his mother was a nurse. Tongues wagged freely in the drawing-room, and Lucien was not a success. Madame de Bargeton, however, was more in love with her protege than ever, especially after he had recited his impassioned stanzas entitled To Her.

While Lucien was causing this gossip at Madame de Bargeton's, David and Eve took a walk on the banks of the Charente; and, while the soft hues of sunset were glorifying the river and the sweet scent of flowers was perfuming the air, David told his love, which found response in Eve's tender heart. Their love was the blossom of " two rare natures springing up out of a rich and fruitful soil on foundations of rock." They talked not only of their future life, but of Lucien and his future, his genius, and his connection with Madame de Barge-ton. When Eve promised to marry David, he told her, too, of his secret hope of making a fortune out of pulp to supplant rags in the making of paper. He went into the history and details of the manufacture of paper and took his promised bride into his confidence. Old Sechard gave his consent, but nothing more, when David announced his approaching marriage. David pre-pared the simple rooms for his bride and also a room for Lucien; and, meantime, Angouleme gossiped about Madame de Bargeton and Lucien, and the lady paid the penalty of her sovereignty. Lucien, however, became known as Monsieur de Rubempre, and ceased to be a printer's foreman. He had grown great in his own eyes and looked forward to the day when his historical romance, An Archer of Charles IX, and his volume of verses, entitled Marguerites, should spread fame throughout the world of literature and bring in enough money to repay his mother, sister, and David for all they had done.

Stanilas de Chandour, husband of the rival queen of Angouleme, calling one day at the Bargetons, found Lucien on his knees in an equivocal position, and he gossiped. Chatelet fanned the flame; and, at length, Madame de Bargeton made her husband behave "like a gentleman of spirit." He had to fight a duel with Monsieur de Chandour! The latter was wounded, and Madame de Bargeton's father, Monsieur de Negrepelisse, who acted as his son-in-law's second, took him home with him after the duel. Louise de Bargeton sent for Lucien, and announced that she was going to take advantage of the excitement to go to Paris and seek the influence of her cousin, Madame d'Espard, to advance Bargeton. She wanted Lucien to ac-company her: he would shine in Paris, his true place: the publishers would welcome such genius as his, and society open its doors. He would meet his Louise near Mansle and they should proceed to Paris, where they would live together. In the midst of his joy, Lucien remembered that his sister was to be married within two days! However, he promised to accompany Madame de Bargeton, and announced the news to David, Eve, and his mother, who burst into tears. Lucien then had to find money for his Paris trip. His devoted mother raised a loan of a thousand francs from Postel for six months, which was indorsed by David; and David added another thousand francs, which he could ill afford. Lucien went away with his limited wardrobe and small package of manuscript. David accompanied the poet as far as Mansle, where he waited for Madame de Bargeton; and, as he saw Lucien drive away in the shabby cabriolet, David had terrible presentiments of the fate awaiting him in Paris. In spite of Madame de Bargeton's precautions, Chatelet discovered that she was leaving Angouleme and sent his man to Ruffec to watch every carriage that changed horses at that stage. "If she is taking her poet with her," he said, "I have her now!"

Lucien went to Paris, and "was drawn into the great machinery of journalism, where he was like to have his honor and his intelligence torn to shreds." David began experiments to discover a cheap method of making paper. The expenses of his marriage and Lucien's journey plunged him into poverty at the outset of married life. He could not bear to tell his wife of his troubles. Soon Postel's bill fell due, and there was no money to meet it. Eve gave up her bridal trinkets and silver, and immediately assumed charge of the printing-office. Cerizet, an apprentice of Didot's, brought by David to Angouleme, was the foreman; Kolb, an Alsatian, also a former porter at Didot's, and now a fairly trained "bear," and the faithful maid of all work, Marion, with whom Kolb was in love, were her aids. While David worked over his invention, Eve printed a Shepherd's Calendar, with symbols and pictures in colored inks, and some old legends and broadsides, which made a little money. The treacherous Cerizet got friendly with the Cointet Brothers, who had adopted all David's improvements, and they kept a sharp eye on the clever Madame Sechard. Cerizet, who was now reading proof for the Cointets, saw that Eve distrusted him, and he vowed revenge. When Madame Sechard tried to sell the printing-office, the Cointets saw the advertisement; and, fearing a more dangerous rival, approached the Sechards. They had to accept the terms offered by the Cointets, and when matters were settled they informed Eve that they meant to make Cerizet lessee of the premises.

A draft of five hundred francs came from Lucien; but they had barely received this before a cruel letter from Lucien told David that he had forged three bills on him, to fall due in three months. Monsieur de Rastignac on a visit to his home set Angouleme gossiping about Lucien. Eve went to him to learn the truth; and young Rastignac told her of Lucien's connection with the actress Coralie, his duel with Michel Chrestien, his treacherous behavior to David d'Arthez, and how he lost his chance to get the patent conferring the right to bear the name and arms of Rubempre, which had actually been made out: "If your brother, Madame," he said, "had been well advised, he would have been on the way to honors, and Madame de Bargeton's husband by this time; but what can you expect? He deserted her and insulted her. She is now Madame la Comtesse Sixte du Chatelet, to her own regret, for she loved Lucien." Eve came away in sorrow. Her tears fell on the child at her breast; and, remembering D'Arthez's address, which Lucien once sent, she wrote to him. D'Arthez's reply gave a full account of Lucien's life in Paris and explained the weakness of Lucien's character and his love of luxury, pleasure, and admiration.

It was now imperative to renew the lease with the Cointets. David, encouraged by his wife, never gave up experimenting with pulp; but the rival firm was determined to probe his secret. Boniface, "the tall Cointet," discovered a young attorney, Pierre Petit-Claud, who knew David. He was a sharp and snappish little fellow, the son of a tailor, and, of course, looked down upon by the society of Angouleme. Cointet dazzled the weedy little lawyer with a proposition of what seemed to him a brilliant marriage, if he would do Cointet's hests. He must go and offer his legal services to David. "The poor devil," said Cointet, "has three thousand francs' worth of bills to meet; he cannot meet them; you will stave off legal proceedings in such a way as to increase the expenses enormously. . . . A word to the wise is sufficient. Now, young man?" An eloquent pause followed, and the two men looked at each other. "We have never seen each other," Cointet resumed, "I have not said a syllable to you; you know nothing about Monsieur du Hautoy, nor about Madame de Senonches, nor Mademoiselle de la Haye; only, when the time comes, two months hence, you will propose for the young lady. If we should want to see each other, you will come here after dark. Let us have nothing in writing." "Then you mean to ruin Sechard?" asked Petit-Claud. "Not exactly; but he must be in jail for some time." "And what is the object?" "If you have wit enough to find out, you will have sense enough to hold your tongue," was the reply.

The Cointets made use of the complicated machinery of banking to ruin David. The bills that he could not meet traveled to Paris. Lucien became involved, Coralie's establishment was placarded, and a formidable document was sent to the notary at Angouleme, instructing him to prosecute David Sechard with the utmost rigor of the law, for four thou-sand and eighteen francs and eighty-five centimes. The Sechards sent for Petit-Claud. David walked into his toils and told him that he was on the eve of discovering a sheet of paper without a thread of cotton in it, at a cost of fifty per cent. less than cotton pulp. "There is a fortune in that!" said Petit-Claud; and he now knew what the tall Cointet meant. A sudden spark of generosity flashed through his rancorous soul; he tried to reconcile Sechard's interests with Cointet's schemes, and he tried to give David hints. Eve, in their troubles, went to old Sechard; but she could get no help. Her illusions regarding Lucien had gone. She loved her husband more every day.

Kolb and Marion came forward with their savings; but procedure had begun. David and his wife, by this time, owed ten thousand francs ! A letter arrived on September 2d, from Lucien to Eve, announcing the death of Coralie, the beautiful actress with whom he had been living. Old Sechard, who, led on by Petit-Claud, now serving Cointet's interest for his own advancement, refused all aid, even to keep David from imprisonment for debts. The faithful Kolb discovered Cerizet's treachery, as well as the machinations of the other scoundrels, and David's real position became faintly clear. "It is the Cointets' doing!" cried poor Eve, aghast; "they are proceeding against you! That accounts for Metisier's hardness. They are paper-makers. David ! they want your secret!"

Kolb advised hiding David, and Eve placed him in a little room with her friend, Basine Clerget, where he could continue his experiments. Once more did David, accompanied by Kolb, try to gain his father's aid, but to no purpose. David now sent Eve some samples of paper. Eve showed them to old Sechard, and he hurried with them to the Cointets. If they had been Jews examining diamonds, their eyes could not have glistened more eagerly over these samples. The Cointets would now pay David's debts, provided he would take them into partnership. "If I pay David's debts," thought old Sechard, "he need not share with me ! He knows I cheated him on the first partnership and will not try a second. It is my interest to keep him locked up!" Everybody involved thought his own little afterthought. "Experiments must be made before the discovery can take a practical shape, and David Sechard at liberty will slip through our fingers," was the Cointets'; "As soon as I am married, I will slip my neck out of the Cointets' yoke; but till then I must hold on," was Petit-Claud's. Cointet now introduced Petit-Claud to Madame de Senonches, who, on Monsieur de Bargeton's death, had removed to the Hotel Bargeton, where she was reigning as queen of Angouleme society. Petit-Claud sued for the hand of her daughter, Mademoiselle de la Haye, and was greatly disappointed at the Tatter's plain appearance. He agreed to the terms, however, and promised to deliver the two Sechards into Cointet's hands.

Lucien, after writing to Eve, decided to return to Angouleme. A market van conveyed him to Longjumeau, and from there he had to tramp. In five days he reached Poitiers, worn and weary. Seeing a traveling-carriage climbing up the hill at night, unnoticed he slipped in among the trunks. The carriage stopped in the morning at Mansle, where eighteen months before he had waited for Madame de Bargeton. As Lucien jumped down, the two travelers alighted. They were the new Prefect of the Charente, Sixte du Chatelet, and his wife, Louise de Negrepelisse, formerly Madame de Bargeton ! Lucien refused their greetings and hurried on, with a distant bow. In a state of exhaustion, he reached the Courtois' mill, between Mansle and Angouleme. The miller fetched the doctor and the cure for the supposed dying man; but Lucien revived and begged for news of his family. When Lucien heard the truth his remorse was terrible. The cure carried the news of Lucien to his sister. Early next morning Lucien set out for Angouleme. Eve greeted him with tears and his grieved mother with reproaches and forgiveness; yet neither mother nor sister could put confidence in him—once their pride and hero. Angouleme grew excited at the poet's return. A notice appeared in the paper, and Lucien was invited to dine with the Chatelets. Angouleme also serenaded him. At a reception at the old Bargeton house, Lucien met Louise, now returned a Parisienne in dress and manner. Lucien now wrote to Lousteau in Paris for some clothes, which Lousteau sent; and Lucien cut a dash in Angouleme society. Finding out David's hiding-place, he wrote to him, and David persisted in meeting him at any risk.

The generous and noble inventor met the selfish poet, who had helped ruin him, with affection. Lucien managed to get Madame du Chatelet's influence to have David pardoned but it was too late; for Cerizet, who saw David and watched his movements the night he met Lucien, intercepted a letter from Lucien to David and forged a few lines appointing a meeting. David fell into the trap, was seized and carried to prison. Lucien, the unwilling cause of David's arrest, then sneaked away from home, leaving a repentant farewell letter IOR Eve. On the way to Marsac he turned out of the road to avoid the coach to Paris, and there came across a stranger in clerical dress. His politeness was extreme and he spoke with a Spanish accent. "He looked at Lucien with something of the expression of a hunter that has found his quarry after long and fruitless search." He invited Lucien to take a seat in his private carriage; but first they had a long conversation during which Lucien related his life-history to the Spanish priest, who offered him a place as secretary. He told him he was the Abbe Carlos Herrera, Canon of Toledo, secret envoy from His Majesty Ferdinand VII to His Majesty the King of France. Lucien agreed to be his very creature, if he would give him money enough to save David. The Abbe, drawing forth his purse, brought out the gold.

Eve was in distress, with Lucien gone and David imprisoned. Petit-Claud escorted her to her husband's cell, and the lawyer discovered Cerizet's forgery, when David showed him the letter that had caused his arrest. Petit-Claud turned this to his advantage; and got control of Cerizet. The Cointets had an interview with David, and a deed of partnership was drawn up by Petit-Claud. David had to purchase his release heavily; but the terms were agreed upon, and, as soon as the deed was signed, Eve, to her surprise, received fifteen thousand francs from Lucien, with a letter, saying that he had sold his life to a Spanish diplomatist. Cerizet bought the old business, and Eve and David purchased a little farm near Marsac, where David pursued his experiments with ardor and succeeded. The Cointets were amassing a fortune out of David's paper, but did not wish him to share in the profits. They raised trouble about some clause in the agreement; and Petit-Claud persuaded them to sell out. Old Sechard died in 1829, leaving valuable property and money besides. David and Eve, with their two sons and a daughter, led a happy life in their country-home. David bade farewell to glory and dabbled in entomology. His discovery was assimilated by the French manufacturing world and revolutionized the paper industry. The Cointets made a fortune and the elder brother became a peer. Petit-Claud attained great success as a lawyer, and "Brave Cerizet," as he was nicknamed by the Liberals, got into political trouble and went to Paris.



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