HONORE DE BALZAC
"Have you observed mademoiselle that the painters and
sculptors of the Middle Ages when they placed two figures in
adoration one on each side of a fair Saint never failed to
give them a family likeness? When you here see your name among
those that are dear to me and under whose auspices I place my
works remember that touching harmony and you will see in
this not so much an act of homage as an expression of the
brotherly affection of your devoted servant
For souls to whom effusiveness is easy there is a delicious hour
that falls when it is not yet night but is no longer day; the
twilight gleam throws softened lights or tricksy reflections on
every object and favors a dreamy mood which vaguely weds itself
to the play of light and shade. The silence which generally
prevails at that time makes it particularly dear to artists who
grow contemplative stand a few paces back from the pictures on
which they can no longer work and pass judgement on them rapt
by the subject whose most recondite meaning then flashes on the
inner eye of genius. He who has never stood pensive by a friend's
side in such an hour of poetic dreaming can hardly understand its
inexpressible soothingness. Favored by the clear-obscure the
material skill employed by art to produce illusion entirely
disappears. If the work is a picture the figures represented
seem to speak and walk; the shade is shadow the light is day;
the flesh lives eyes move blood flows in their veins and
stuffs have a changing sheen. Imagination helps the realism of
every detail and only sees the beauties of the work. At that
hour illusion reigns despotically; perhaps it wakes at nightfall!
Is not illusion a sort of night to the mind which we people with
dreams? Illusion then unfolds its wings it bears the soul aloft
to the world of fancies a world full of voluptuous imaginings
where the artist forgets the real world yesterday and the
morrow the future--everything down to its miseries the good and
the evil alike.
At this magic hour a young painter a man of talent who saw in
art nothing but Art itself was perched on a step-ladder which
helped him to work at a large high painting now nearly finished.
Criticising himself honestly admiring himself floating on the
current of his thoughts he then lost himself in one of those
meditative moods which ravish and elevate the soul soothe it
and comfort it. His reverie had no doubt lasted a long time.
Night fell. Whether he meant to come down from his perch or
whether he made some ill-judged movement believing himself to be
on the floor--the event did not allow of his remembering exactly
the cause of his accident--he fell his head struck a footstool
he lost consciousness and lay motionless during a space of time
of which he knew not the length.
A sweet voice roused him from the stunned condition into which he
had sunk. When he opened his eyes the flash of a bright light
made him close them again immediately; but through the mist that
veiled his senses he heard the whispering of two women and felt
two young two timid hands on which his head was resting. He soon
recovered consciousness and by the light of an old-fashioned
Argand lamp he could make out the most charming girl's face he
had ever seen one of those heads which are often supposed to be
a freak of the brush but which to him suddenly realized the
theories of the ideal beauty which every artist creates for
himself and whence his art proceeds. The features of the unknown
belonged so to say to the refined and delicate type of
Prudhon's school but had also the poetic sentiment which Girodet
gave to the inventions of his phantasy. The freshness of the
temples the regular arch of the eyebrows the purity of outline
the virginal innocence so plainly stamped on every feature of her
countenance made the girl a perfect creature. Her figure was
slight and graceful and frail in form. Her dress though simple
and neat revealed neither wealth nor penury.
As he recovered his senses the painter gave expression to his
admiration by a look of surprise and stammered some confused
thanks. He found a handkerchief pressed to his forehead and
above the smell peculiar to a studio he recognized the strong
odor of ether applied no doubt to revive him from his fainting
fit. Finally he saw an old woman looking like a marquise of the
old school who held the lamp and was advising the young girl.
"Monsieur" said the younger woman in reply to one of the
questions put by the painter during the few minutes when he was
still under the influence of the vagueness that the shock had
produced in his ideas "my mother and I heard the noise of your
fall on the floor and we fancied we heard a groan. The silence
following on the crash alarmed us and we hurried up. Finding the
key in the latch we happily took the liberty of entering and we
found you lying motionless on the ground. My mother went to fetch
what was needed to bathe your head and revive you. You have cut
your forehead--there. Do you feel it?"
"Yes I do now" he replied.
"Oh it will be nothing" said the old mother. "Happily your head
rested against this lay-figure."
"I feel infinitely better" replied the painter. "I need nothing
further but a hackney cab to take me home. The porter's wife will
go for one."
He tried to repeat his thanks to the two strangers; but at each
sentence the elder lady interrupted him saying "Tomorrow
monsieur pray be careful to put on leeches or to be bled and
drink a few cups of something healing. A fall may be dangerous."
The young girl stole a look at the painter and at the pictures in
the studio. Her expression and her glances revealed perfect
propriety; her curiosity seemed rather absence of mind and her
eyes seemed to speak the interest which women feel with the most
engaging spontaneity in everything which causes us suffering.
The two strangers seemed to forget the painter's works in the
painter's mishap. When he had reassured them as to his condition
they left looking at him with an anxiety that was equally free
from insistence and from familiarity without asking any
indiscreet questions or trying to incite him to any wish to
visit them. Their proceedings all bore the hall-mark of natural
refinement and good taste. Their noble and simple manners at
first made no great impression on the painter but subsequently
as he recalled all the details of the incident he was greatly
struck by them.
When they reached the floor beneath that occupied by the
painter's studio the old lady gently observed "Adelaide you
left the door open."
"That was to come to my assistance" said the painter with a
"You came down just now mother" replied the young girl with a
"Would you like us to accompany you all the way downstairs?"
asked the mother. "The stairs are dark."
"No thank you indeed madame; I am much better."
"Hold tightly by the rail."
The two women remained on the landing to light the young man
listening to the sound of his steps.
In order to set forth clearly all the exciting and unexpected
interest this scene might have for the young painter it must be
told that he had only a few days since established his studio in
the attics of this house situated in the darkest and therefore
the most muddy part of the Rue de Suresnes almost opposite the
Church of the Madeleine and quite close to his rooms in the Rue
des Champs-Elysees. The fame his talent had won him having made
him one of the artists most dear to his country he was beginning
to feel free from want and to use his own expression was
enjoying his last privations. Instead of going to his work in one
of the studios near the city gates where the moderate rents had
hitherto been in proportion to his humble earnings he had
gratified a wish that was new every morning by sparing himself a
long walk and the loss of much time now more valuable than
No man in the world would have inspired feelings of greater
interest than Hippolyte Schinner if he would ever have consented
to make acquaintance; but he did not lightly entrust to others
the secrets of his life. He was the idol of a necessitous mother
who had brought him up at the cost of the severest privations.
Mademoiselle Schinner the daughter of an Alsatian farmer had
never been married. Her tender soul had been cruelly crushed
long ago by a rich man who did not pride himself on any great
delicacy in his love affairs. The day when as a young girl in
all the radiance of her beauty and all the triumph of her life
she suffered at the cost of her heart and her sweet illusions
the disenchantment which falls on us so slowly and yet so
quickly--for we try to postpone as long as possible our belief in
evil and it seems to come too soon--that day was a whole age of
reflection and it was also a day of religious thought and
resignation. She refused the alms of the man who had betrayed
her renounced the world and made a glory of her shame. She gave
herself up entirely to her motherly love seeking in it all her
joys in exchange for the social pleasures to which she bid
farewell. She lived by work saving up a treasure for her son.
And in after years a day an hour repaid her amply for the long
and weary sacrifices of her indigence.
At the last exhibition her son had received the Cross of the
Legion of Honor. The newspapers unanimous in hailing an unknown
genius still rang with sincere praises. Artists themselves
acknowledged Schinner as a master and dealers covered his
canvases with gold pieces. At five-and-twenty Hippolyte Schinner
to whom his mother had transmitted her woman's soul understood
more clearly than ever his position in the world. Anxious to
restore to his mother the pleasures of which society had so long
robbed her he lived for her hoping by the aid of fame and
fortune to see her one day happy rich respected and surrounded
by men of mark. Schinner had therefore chosen his friends among
the most honorable and distinguished men. Fastidious in the
selection of his intimates he desired to raise still further a
position which his talent had placed high. The work to which he
had devoted himself from boyhood by compelling him to dwell in
solitude--the mother of great thoughts--had left him the
beautiful beliefs which grace the early days of life. His
adolescent soul was not closed to any of the thousand bashful
emotions by which a young man is a being apart whose heart
abounds in joys in poetry in virginal hopes puerile in the
eyes of men of the world but deep because they are single-
He was endowed with the gentle and polite manners which speak to
the soul and fascinate even those who do not understand them. He
was well made. His voice coming from his heart stirred that of
others to noble sentiments and bore witness to his true modesty
by a certain ingenuousness of tone. Those who saw him felt drawn
to him by that attraction of the moral nature which men of
science are happily unable to analyze; they would detect in it
some phenomenon of galvanism or the current of I know not what
fluid and express our sentiments in a formula of ratios of
oxygen and electricity.
These details will perhaps explain to strong-minded persons and