Balzac. I. Honore de, a French novelist, born at Tours. May 16,1799, died in Paris, Aug. 20, 1850. On leaving school he was placed in a notary's office. He soon became discontented with this position, and left it against the will of his father, to devote himself to literature. He had no facility in the art of composition, and his style was unformed. Before the age of 23, however, he had published half a dozen novels and romances. These and many more in the next seven years, including attempts in almost all varieties of prose fiction, appeared under different assumed names, as Horace de St. Aubin, Lord R'hoone (anagram of Honore), and Veillergre (pseudonyme of his collaborator Lepoiterin Saint-Alme). Abounding in defects of plot, incident, and style, they only give here and there a rare gleam of the excellent qualities that shine in his later writings. Some of them were writtten under the pressure of poverty, and merely to sell. Of their inferiority Balzac was always as conscious as his critics; nor would he consent that they should bear his name. The larger part of them have been reprinted since his death under the title of CEuvres de jeunesse.
In 1826 he associated with, himself a printer of the name of Barbier, for the purpose of carrying on an enterprise in which printing, publishing, and writing were combined, and paper-making was to have been added. It soon proved a lamentable failure, after having been long enough in operation to involve Balzac in debts that harassed him for years afterward, and from which in the end he relieved himself by the products of his pen. The first volume to which he signed his name was Le dernier Ghouan, published in 1829, a historical novel, written in La Vendee, amid the scenes so faithfully described in its pages. His next work, Physiologie du mariage, drew public attention to the originality and subtlety of the author's genius; La peau de chagrin, in 1831 (included in his Contes philosophiques), increased the general admiration. From this time to the close of his life he continued to produce in rapid succession that remarkable series of romances, novels, and tales to which he gave the general title of Gomedie humaine, including his celebrated Scenes de la vie privee, Scenes de la vie de province, Scenes de la vie parisienne, etc.; Etudes philosophiques, and Etudes analytiques. He proposed to himself nothing less than the complete delineation of every phase of modern French society.
This great work, with all its natural limitations and manifold defects of execution, yet remains a marvellous monument of genius and industry. Portions of it considered as independent works, such as Eugenie Grandet, Gesar Birotteau, Le pjere Goriot, and Les illusions perduss, are masterpieces in themselves. Among his other works are: La fille aux yeux d'or; Memoires de deux, jeunes mariees; Les parents pauvres; Le contrat de mariage; Vautrin; and Contes drolatiques. According to his sister, between: 1827 and 1848 he wrote 07 works, containing: nearly 11,000 pages, and thrice as large as ordinary octavo volumes. Most of his works have been translated into the principal foreign languages. Among the many biographies of him, the most interesting are those by his sister Laure and Theophile Gautier (Paris, 1859). His best works are distinguished for depth, acute-ness, and boldness of observation, but his minute accuracy of external description and fulness of detail often become wearisome, clog the movement of the story, and detract from the interest that should centre round the main figures. He is sometimes gross even to cynicism, which he mingles with traits of exquisite purity and delicacy; but both the grossness and delicacy generally reside in his subjects.
He rarely projects his own personality. It has been regretted that he had no high ideal; but that did not enter into his system of art. He aimed only to present the realities of life. Ho advances no theory, pretends to no moral teaching. Treating largely of female emotions, he found among women his warmest admirers. On occasion of the publication of his Medecin de campagne in 1835, he received a complimentary letter from the countess Evelina Han-ska, a Polish lady, which was the commencement of a long and intimate correspondence. After her husband's death, Balzac went to Poland and married her (1848). His health was already seriously impaired by excessive work and by drinking coffee in large quantities as an habitual stimulus. A few months after his return from Poland, and after having fitted up his house in the rue Fortunee (Champs Elysees) with exquisite works of art for a permanent residence, he died of hypertrophy of the heart, and was buried at Pere Lachaise, amid an immense concourse of people, Victor Hugo pronouncing the funeral oration. II. Laure de, sister and biographer of the preceding, born in 1800. She married M. Allain, sur-named Surville, an engineer. She wrote fairy tales and other stories for her children, which have acquired great popularity.
Her brother's novel, Un debut dans la vie (1842), was founded upon one of her tales entitled Le voyage en Goucou. She published in 1858 Balzac, sa vie et ses ceuvres, containing his correspondence and many interesting details of his life.