In spite of the Vienna episode, however. Balzac, on his return to Paris, continued to carry on a voluminous correspondence with Evelina. To these letters he devoted several hours a day, and they form perhaps the most monumental series of love letters which ever have been written, and, in addition, if only one could feel sure as to their absolute sincerity, the most delightful.
The letters are marred, however, by the wail of complaint which pervades them always, and it was this spirit of discontent which finally stamped out the last embers of Evelina's love. His life was not dull and lonely. Indeed, she was disgusted by the
Love amazing reports of his gaiety and dissipation which reached her ears from other sources. Again, Balzac was not a pauper; he was making at least £3.000 a year, probably much more, and if his debts were a burden to him and worried him, why, she wanted to know, did he make no effort to pay them?
In 1842, however, seven years since first he had met her, Balzac received from the countess a letter in a black-edged envelope. The long anticipated event had taken place; Count Hanska was dead, and at last Balzac saw the solution to all his troubles and unhappiness. So long ago as the time of his first visit to Vienna, he had arranged to marry the countess after her husband's death, and even then it seemed impossible for that event to be postponed for long, since the count was many years older than his wife and very decrepid.
Sir William Hamilton, blinded by Nelson's dazzling greatness, died in happy ignorance of the wrong which the great admiral had done to him. Perhaps love had cast a similar spell over Count Hanska, for, with the exception of occasional fits of jealousy, he regarded his wife's attachment to the novelist with placid approval. The story of Nelson and the story of Balzac, however, end very differently. In the one, the finale was an immortal, splendid triumph; in the other, it was filled with all the pathos of unrequited love, the tragedy of broken, unattainable ideals.
In his inmost heart, Balzac must have realised even at this time that he had lost Evelina's love. But he would not admit it even to himself; he would not acknowledge defeat; he was determined to woo and win her yet. But he must have known that it was impossible, for, eloquent though they were, deaf ears would not listen to his appeals. Excuses for delay Evelina always had at hand. Anna, her daughter, was still quite young, still in need of a mother's care; it would be unfair to marry and leave the child motherless. An aunt disapproved of her friendship with Balzac; he must not come to see her; he must not even write.
But still he persevered, and in 1843 it seemed likely that his patience would be rewarded. Anna fell in love, and her suitor, Count Georges Mniszech, was highly eligible. Balzac's health and spirits both returned. It was the happiest year of his life; in the spring he visited Evelina at Dresden, and in the summer she herself came to France and stayed with him at his house at Passy. Balzac was in an ecstasy of joy; his treasures and the delights of Paris he laid at the feet of his beloved, and his cup of happiness overflowed when, in the autumn, he was allowed to accompany her and the newly betrothed pair on a tour through Germany and Italy.
From the pinnacle of happiness, however, he was cast into the depths of woe. After his return to Paris, Evelina's letters once again became hard and cold. Balzac's disappointment was intense. His health broke down; he became the victim of chronic colds and was tortured by neuralgia. But his constancy never wavered; if other women influenced and enchanted him, these were fleeting fancies. Evelina Hanska was his guiding star; she was the predominating influence in his life. When she smiled, life smiled on him; when she frowned, life frowned darkly also.
The year 1846 again found him happy. Anna was about to be married. Balzac was allowed to visit Evelina at Rome, and here he was given permission to prepare a home in Paris. Hopeful and enraptured, he hastened straightway to Paris, found the house - a delightful place in the Rue Fortunee (now the Rue Balzac) - and furnished it in lavish, splendid taste. In 1847 the future mistress came herself to direct the alterations; everything appeared to be settled, and Balzac thought that his troubles now were ended; at last his dream was about to be realised.
Later in the year he set out for Wierz-chowna to receive his prize; he travelled for a week without cessation, and arrived at his destination, utterly exhausted, before the letter which he had written from Paris announcing his departure. To his astonishment, however, again the lady temporised. Again, therefore, Balzac fell ill; his heart was weak, and in the biting cold of a Russian winter he suffered terribly. Four months later he returned to Paris a wreck, a shadow of his former self. Still undaunted, however, he returned to Wierzchowna in September, 1849, but not yet would the countess give a definite answer to his prayers. Once even she threatened to break off the engagement. To break it off after all these years! The shock laid Balzac prostrate. Winter, moreover, was approaching; the cold was intense, and he grew weaker day by day. At last, therefore, perhaps out of pity, Evelina yielded; the man had proved his great devotion, and on March 14, 1850, she married him at Kief. Immediately he forgot all his troubles, all his disappointments. He was " nearly mad with happiness" (the words are his own); and there is something truly pathetic in the picture of this great man who, although he was dying of heart disease, perhaps of a broken heart, found only sweetness in life now that, after sixteen weary years of waiting, he was being allowed to marry a woman who did not even pretend to love him.
Balzac's married life lasted for five months only. The joys of his Paris home he barely tasted; the charm of married life he knew not. Those five months achieved what sixteen years of faithful devotion had failed to accomplish; the scales fell from his eyes, and he saw and realised to the full the utter emptiness of loveless wedlock. He had made his own nest, made it slowly and laboriously; now it was necessary for him to lie in it. A kindly fate, however, took compassion on him, and, on August 17, 1850, death released him from the bondage of disappointment.