There seems to have been no reason why it should not have succeeded, and there has been claimed for it first, that it provided Balzac with a great amount of actual detail which he utilized directly in the novels, and secondly, that it gave him at whatever cost a still more valuable experience of practical life - the experience which has so often been wanting to men of letters. Anyhow, from 1825 to 1828, the future author of the Comédie humaine was a publisher, printer and type-founder; and in the last year he had to abscond, or something like it, under pressure of debts which were never fully settled till 1838, and then by a further obligation of ninety thousand francs, chiefly furnished by his mother and never repaid to her.
It was Balzac's habit throughout his life to relieve the double pressure of debt and of work by frequent excursions into the country and abroad. On this occasion he fled to Brittany with an introduction to a M. and Mme. de Pommereul, who received him hospitably in their château near Fougères. Here he obtained some of the direct material, and most of the scenery and atmosphere, for what he himself recognized as his first serious attempt in novel-writing, Les Chouans, or, as it was at first called, Le Dernier Chouan. This book (obviously written in direct following of Scott, of whom Balzac was a lifelong admirer) has been very variously judged - those who lay most stress on his realism thinking little of it, while those who maintain that he was always a romantic "with a difference" place it higher. It has at any rate brilliant colouring, some very vivid scenes, and almost more passion as well as "curtain" at its ending than any other of his books. Though not without a touch of melodrama it differs utterly from the confused and tedious imitations of Mrs Radcliffe, M. G. Lewis and C. R. Maturin which fill most of the oeuvres de jeunesse.
At the same time Balzac was engaged on a very different work, the analytic-satirical sketches which compose the Physiologie du mariage, and which illustrate his other and non-romantic side, again with some crudity, but again also with a vast advance on his earlier productions. Both were published in the year 1829, from which his real literary career unquestionably starts. It had exactly twenty-one years to run.
The history of these twenty-one years, though (in consequence mainly of the diligence and luck as a collector of the above-named M. de Lovenjoul) the materials for it are large and constantly accumulating, has never been arranged in a really standard biography, and there seems to be an increasing habit of concentrating the attention on parts of it. It divides itself under three heads mainly, the history of Balzac's business affairs, that of his loves and friendships and that of his actual work. The first has some small resemblance to Scott's similar experiences, though in Balzac's case there was no great crash but a lifelong pressure; on the other hand, his debts were brought upon him by a long course not so much of extravagance in actual expenditure (though there was something of this) as of financial irregularities of almost every description, - anticipations of earnings, costly methods of production (he practically wrote his novels on a succession of printed revises), speculations, travel, and lastly the collection of curiosities.
As regards the second, although his fashion of life made him by turns a hermit and a vagrant, he was on good terms with most of the famous men of letters of his day from Hugo downwards, and seems never to have quarrelled with any man, except with some of his editors and publishers, by his own fault. Balzac was indeed, in no belittling sense of the word, one of the most good-natured of men of genius. But his friendships with the other sex are of much more importance, and not in the least matters of mere gossip. His sister Laure, as has been said, and a school-friend of hers, Mme Zulma Carraud, played important and not questionable parts as his correspondents. But at least three ladies, all of a rank higher than his own, figure as his "Egerias" to such an extent that it is hardly extravagant to say that Balzac would not have been Balzac without them. These are Madame de Berny, a lady connected with the court of the ancien régime, much older than himself and the mother of nine children, to whom he was introduced in 1821, who became to him La dilecta, who was the original of Mme de Mortsauf in Le Lys dans la vallée, and who seems to have exercised an excellent influence on him in matters of taste till her death in 1836; the marquise de Castries, who took him up for a time and dropped him, and who has been supposed to have been his model for his less impeccable ladies of fashion; and lastly, the Polish-Russian countess Evelina Hanska, who after addressing, as l'étrangère, a letter to him as early as 1832, became his idol, rarely seen but constantly corresponded with, for the last eighteen years, and his wife for the last few months of his life.
Some of his letters to her have long been known, but the bulk of them constituted the greatest recent addition to our knowledge of him as given in the two volumes of Lettres à l'étrangère. Of hers we have practically none and it is exceedingly hard to form any clear idea of her, but his devotion is absolutely beyond question.
Business, friendship and love, however, much more other things, were in Balzac's case always connected with and on the whole quite secondary to work. He would even sometimes resist the commands by which at long intervals Mme. Hanska would summon him to see her, and abstract the greater part of his actual visits to her in order to serve this still more absorbing mistress. He had, as we have seen, worked pretty hard, even before 1829, and his work had partly taken forms not yet mentioned - political pamphlets and miscellaneous articles which are now accessible in the édition définitive of his works, and hardly one of which is irrelevant to a just conception of him. Nor did he by any means abandon these by-works after 1829; indeed, he at one time started and almost entirely wrote, a periodical called the Revue parisienne. He wrote some dramas and planned many more, though the few which reached the stage left it again promptly. Balzac's dramas, as they appear in his works, consist of Vautrin, Les Ressources de Quinola, Paméla Giraud (arranged for the stage by others), La Marâtre and Mercadet le faiseur, the last of which has, since his death, been not unsuccessful.