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ART. VIII.--Oeuvres complètes de M. DE BALZAC. Vols. I.-IX.
Paris. 1859. 2. Novels, of M. HONORÉ DE BALZAC.
The Greatness and Decline of César Birroticau. Translated from the French by O. W. WIGHT and F. B. GOODRICH. New York: Rudd &
Carleton. 1860. 3. Oeuvres complètes de GEORGE SAND ; accompanées de morceaux inédits. Vol. I. XIII. Paris. 1859.
The most virtuous nations have vices enough of their own without importing those of others. There is sufficient that is vicious and demoralizing in the light literature of America at the present day, without going to France or any other country to seek something worse. Until lately a better time seemed to be dawning upon us ; nay, the time seemed to have arrived. The people in all payts of the country had set their faces against the "sensation" novels, which only two or three years ago used to be sent in such ennormous cargoes to all parts of the country ; each novel passing through a fabulous number of editions in one week ; the numbers said to have been sold, even before they were from the binders, baffling computation. The injury done by this rubbish has been universally felt; nor has the vitiated public mind recovered from it yet. Convalescence had set in undoubtedly. If "blood and murder” stories are still read, it is only in weekly papers, where the most they cost is four cents; and even in this ephemeral form they are only read by a certain class. Be it remembered also, that little calculated as they are to refine the mind or improve the taste, but the reverse, they are, upon the whole, less demoralizing than the sort of books which the crisis of 1857, if it did nothing else that was good, has the credit of having reduced to the condition of unsaleable drugs.
Every one who travels has a lively recollection of at least some of the various expedients had recourse to, from time to time, by the
enterprising" gentlemen who made a specialty of getting up such books. First, they would send advance copies to the village papers throughout the country, accompanied with “criticisms," got up to order in the home market. According as these were printed, they were carefully collected. Often we have seen pub
. lishers, who now put on great airs, going about from one hotel and reading room to another, stealthily cutting out, or tearing, those "first-rate notices," and stowing them away in their pocketbooks, as too valuable to run chance of not getting them in the usual way, through the mail. When a decent number were thus collected,
a. they were duly printed in the form of circulars as "opinions of the press," and whenever they seemed susceptible of improvement, no scruple was made of adding a word or sentence, which might show that nothing so excellent, or admirable, had ever issued from the press before. No one could enter a boat, railway car, or hotel, without being presented with one of these documents ; and from five to ten minutes having been allowed for its perusal, then came the "great work" in whose praise it was got up. If all this, duly performed, was not sufficient, there still remained such advertisements as the following: "Says the Westchester Daily Illuminator," &c., “says the Sheepsville Aurora," &c., "says the Fishkill Evening Star," &c. After sufficient variety was given in this way, the world was informed, in capital letters, that the thirtieth edition was now in press, and would be exhausted by all the orders already received!
The public, as we have said, soon grew disgusted with the daily repetition of such arrant charlatanism. Accordingly, one " thrilling” novel after another failed to attract the most gullible. The publishers would daily proclaim, in vain, that it was selling in countless thousands. Then they would try the experiment of rechristening it—altering the title page, and announcing it, after the approved fashion, as an entirely new book—one of startling interest, wonderful freshness and originality ; in short, one attributed, before it was two days published, to the greatest living writers!* And woe to the person depending for a livelihood on his.
* A certain house then in Nassau street, but now elsewhere, became so famous, or rather so notorious, for this sort of thing, that, like its illustrious prototype of Tegg & Co., on the other side of the Atlantic, it received the title of " New Hospital for Sick Literati,” whose advertisement, when translated into plain English, ran somewhat as follows :
" With all humility we beg
pen who dared as much as to hint at all this ! No course calculated to injure him was too treacherous or dastardly. If those who gave him employment could be bribed, directly or indirectly, to dispense with his services as those of a malicious and dangerous person, it was a righteous thing to make any necessary sacrifice
, either of truth or hard cash, in so just a cause. But fortunately, whatever may be the faults of American editors, there are few, if
, any of them, who occupy any respectable rank, who would not treat such conduct with the scorn and contempt which it deserves. And it is equally true, that there are but few American publishers who are capable of it ; or of the charlatanism which leads to it. For in speaking of sensation books and the dishonest tricks had recouree to in order to palm them off on the public, as the counterfeiter tries to utter the base for the precious metal, we do not allude to any of those old established houses, whether of New York, Boston, or Philadelphia, whose names are honorably associated at home and abroad with the growth and progress of our literature. Of about fifty American publishers, there are scarcely more than three or four who trample on every principle of honor, honesty, and manliness, in the manner indicated ; nor shall we
; say one word, on the present occasion, calculated to show any one, not already in the secret, who these three or four are, or whether they came from the east or from the west, from large cities, or small villages, with empty pockets, or with heavy purses. But we shall always claim the privilege of expressing our opinions freely of any book, or series of books, which seem to contain sufficient good or evil to render it worth while to examine them.
Our object, in the present article, is simply to inquire into the character of the class of books which are being introduced as substitutes for those no longer tolerated, of which we have been speaking. Are the works of Balzac anything better than the defunct sensation novels ? This would be an absurd question if all that we are told in the translator's preface to the American edition of César Birrotleau could be relied upon as true ; since we are there assured on the word of somebody, real or imaginary, writing in an English journal, that “Balzac's writings can have no other result than to increase the love of virtue and the dread of vice." We shall see presently how this is done, though we have now neither space nor time to do anything like justice to the subject. In the first place let us YOL, II.-NO. III.
remark, in passing, that no one who has made the necessary examination, and is capable of judging honestly and disinterestedly, will deny that, of all modern French romances, those of this same M. Honoré de Balzac, are undoubtedly the most vicious and demoralizing in their tendency. Those of Paul de Kock and Madame Dudevant are, indeed, sufficiently licentious ; but it is not too much to say that they are pure and chaste, compared to those of Balzac. This may seem a bold assertion ; but it is not the less
. true. And far from the assertion we have quoted, as that of an English critic, being a fair representation of the general opinion entertained in England, by the cultivated classes, of Balzac's novels, it is quite the reverse. This, indeed, need hardly be stated; for if Balzac were such a wonderful delineator of character, and at the same time so excellent and instructive a moralist, his works would not have remained untranslated into English until the task was undertaken under the auspices of the Messrs. Rudd & Carleton, who conclude their announcement de more with the modest assurance that, “the series will be unusually attrac
The truth is, that no respectable, intelligent English publisher would attempt to have them translated ; and they might have remained unrendered long enough in a similar manner in America, at least as long again as they have, before any of our leading publishers could be induced to set their imprint upon them. Madame Dudevant is by no means a moral writer. There is nothing so indelicate that she would shrink from describing it in full. In several of her novels she exhibits to vulgar eyes the very act of adultery ; but always as a crime which is to be deprecated. Many of her heroines are the chastest and most virtuous of women. This is true of her Fiamma, Edmée, Quintilia, Yseult, Consuello, etc. That she has erred herself is not to be denied ; it is equally undeniable, that she has often given expression to odious sentiments. But of Balzac alone can it be said, that there is not a single story in all his numerous novels, where love is made to play any considerable part, in which he does not make woman an adultress. With him female infidelity is the rule ; with George Sand it is but the exception. The former regards it as a matter of course something that does no one any harm, save the husband, and even he, if well bred, should expect nothing different; nor should he feel annoyed. Even the sacred name of mother has no respect
from him. Thus, his ideal of a woman is the “Lily of the Valley," who has an intrigue with a mere boy; and his ideal of a lady and mother advises her son to make love to a married, rather than to a single woman, because the family has a "good match" in view for him, with which his having a young girl as a mistress, would be likely to interfere. In another place, he compares his ideal of a virtuous mother--that is, a woman without passion—to a courtezan, in her bearing towards her own son. He receives a letter
. which she wishes to see, and accordingly she approaches him
with an air at once bold and timid." “La mère,” he says, “eût en ce moment la grace d'une courtisane que veut obtenir une concession.” Such is the respect for woman, of one who is pronounced superior to any English writer of the present day, both as a delineator of character and as a moralist; and be it remembered, that all we have just referred to, occurs in one of his least exceptionable novels.
It makes little difference which of his love stories we turn to, we find them pervaded by the same odious sentiments. If a woman is really virtuous, she only deserves to be mocked, according to M. De Balzac. Instance the heiress in La Femme Vertueuse, who used to displease, nay, disgust her husband so much, because she was not easy in her manners, like other fashionable ladies of her time. Wearied with advising her, in vain, on this point, the good Parisian magistrate, for such her husband was, enters the miserable lodgings of a poor widow, under a false name, and buys her hungry daughter, Caroline Crochard, fits up a luxurious residence for her, and lives with her, until, true to the instinct of her sex, according to Monsieur Balzac, she proves faithless to him, after having several children by him, and elopes with another. Soon after, he meets a poor scavenger, whom he addresses as follows : “Friend, here is a bank note of £50 ; I give it to you-go spend it-get drunk, beat your wife, fight with your friends-do what you will with it ;” and then, turning to the physician, who had aided his former mistress, he says: "Doctor, I have shown you that I do
, not care for fifty pounds ; but as for Caroline Crochard, I should see her dying of hunger, of thirst, aggravated by the cries of an expiring child, and I would not give a single farthing to save them one jot of their suffering ; and you, even you, doctor, because you have assisted her-I will never see you again.”