Honoré de BALZAC
Scènes de la vie privée
Mame et Delaunay-Vallée & Levavasseur, Paris 1830, 13x21,5cm, 2 volumes reliés.
BALZAC Honoré de Scènes de la vie privée
[Scenes from Private Life] Mame et Delaunay-Vallée & Levavasseur, Paris 1830, 130 x 215 mm (5 1/8 x 8 7/16 ”), 2 volumes, 19th-century half sheep
The rare and sought-after first edition.
Contemporary Romantic half light-brown sheep over marbled paper boards, spine with gilt arabesques and blindstamped typographic motifs, title and volume labels in navy blue sheep renewed, gilt garlands to head and foot, marbled endpapers and pastedowns, a remboitage.
Occasional light spotting.Handsome autograph inscription signed by Honoré de Balzac: “à Monsieur Leroy comme un témoignage de la reconnaissance de l'auteur. Avril 1831. De Balzac [to Monsieur Leroy as proof of the author's thanks. April 1831]”.
An outstanding political, inscription to Henry Leroy, the dedicatee of the last Letter on Paris,
published in Le Voleur
and witness, in the days after the July Revolution, to Balzac's electoral hopes, which would prove a profound influence on his writing.
Beyond the political gesture, the gift of this Scenes from Private Life
to help satisfy his political ambitions underlines, right from the start of his political engagement, the pre-eminence of the literary project over political action for the author of The Human Comedy
Though he considered the July Monarchy a betrayal, it gave Balzac the opportunity to make good on a long-held ambition, that of political participation. As far back as 1819, he had written to his sister: “If I am mighty
...I could have other things beside literary fame; it is good to be a great man and a great citizen, to boot.” The change in the eligibility conditions offered the author the opportunity of being a part of writing History, with a capital H. Balzac, “following in the footsteps of his model Chateaubriand, wanted to be both a thinker and a politician” (cf. P. Baudouin in Balzac et le Politique
The realization of this ambition came about through the publication of the Letters on Paris
, 19 articles published in Le Voleur
between September 1830 and March 1831, which concluded with the famous An Inquiry into the policy of two Ministers.
Never signed, these articles represent the most significant of Balzac's political works and have therefore been the subjects of a great many studies and commentaries. Each of the Letters
is symbolically addressed to a correspondent, giving only their initials and home town. Though they were long considered fictitious, most have today been identified, and are drawn mostly from those close to the author and powerful political figures.
Thus, it was following Letter XVI
on the 26 February 1831 that Samuel Henry Berthoud, the addressee, suggested that Balzac stand as a candidate in his district. Keen on the idea, Balzac officially announced his candidature in his Letter
of the 15 March and then, still acting on Berthoud's advice, addressed his Letter XIX
of the 29 March to M. L*** à Cambrai. The name behind the asterisks is that of the lawyer Henry Leroy, whose key support in Cambrai Balzac hoped to secure.
Balzac's main political hopes were centered on Cambrai, whose elites he wanted to win over, while Berthoud, the editor in chief of the Cambrai Gazette,
would take care of promoting his popularity among the ordinary folk. “M. de Balzac is not only a famous writer, he is perhaps moreover a talented commentator. One hardly needs to mention to back up that statement the famous Letters on Paris
, published in Le Voleur
, in which one can see at work a sure judgement and a lucid precision...What's more, M. de Balzac is also engaged with a popular political publication which should help significantly to spread, among the poorer classes, both education, and even more importantly: healthy ideas.”
Having written this, he then contacted his friend and champion: “Come to Cambrai as soon as you can. We will bang the big drum for you, the Société d'émulation
serving as the instrument itself.”
It was therefore natural that Balzac should next employ his powers of persuasion on Henry Leroy, the President of this influential Société d'émulation
. Consulting with Berthoud about the “type of political work [that] could help [his] candidature in Cambrai,” Balzac ended up choosing – strangely enough – this edition of Scenes from Private Life
, a work that is not very “political” at all, to give Henry Leroy via the good offices of his friend. This is borne out by the thank you letter the lawyer sent him on 7 May 1831: “M. Berthoud gave me, on your behalf, two volumes of Scenes from Private Life
...I am happy...to have received them from their author, whom all the world places among the very best writers.” On 19 March, Berthoud announced in his Gazette
the gift of two works by Balzac to the Société d'émulation
, the Scenes from Private Life
and The Physiology of Marriage
. Leroy's letter seems to differ on this point, since he thanks the author only for the Scenes
Balzac, the “eligible elector” as he liked to call himself throughout his campaign, did not get a seat and less than two months after publicly declaring his ambitions, withdrew from the race. Despite a few laudatory supporters in the press from some committed partisans of the great man, such as Le Voleur
and the Revue encyclopédique
who predicted a great political future for the author, or La Mode
which did not hesitate to cast him in the role of a successor to Chateaubriand, “worthy of bearing the twin honors of writer and statesman” (30 April 1831), Balzac's short-lived political career ended in a painful defeat.
Castigating in equal measure the legitimist elite, of which he nonetheless claimed to be a part, and the Republican masses – whom he otherwise praised in asserting his awareness of the efforts of “that solid part of the nation, the part that toils, that works,” Balzac turned out to be a poor politician. However, he never gave up his hopes and would face further defeats in 1832 and 1848 since, as Stefan Zweig notes in his biography, the writer always found himself “in active politics – as in business – on the wrong side”.
Nonetheless, beyond the defeat itself, this first political episode is important in that it reveals the complexity of Balzac's relationship to politics, which is characterized by the subordination of the political to the literary. In Balzac et le politique
Boris Lyon-Caen highlights the obvious “literary polyphony” of the Letters on Paris,
while Pierre Laforgue suspects a very early elaboration (contemporary with this first electoral adventure) of Scenes from Political Life
, which did not appear until 1842, but which was present in the writer's work since 1830.
Finally, Pierre Barbéris underlines the key significance of the disappointment of 1831 on Balzac's work. Whatever his later declarations of allegiance, Balzac, from 1831, could no longer be a political actor. In effect, the exhaustive Human Comedy
he develops feeds off man's disappointments, and would include all its author's political engagements and partisan efforts. Hence an article in 1832 entitled On Modern Government
, which would metamorphose into one of his masterpieces: The Country Doctor.
But in his choice of the Scenes from Private Life
as a “political work” to help promote his candidacy with Leroy, Balzac shows, from the very beginning of his engagement, the predominance of his literary work over his personal ambitions. There is no doubt that the recipient could find nothing political in this work, which aimed at totality, since, as Balzac himself would soon write in Louis Lambert
: “Politics is a science without fixed principles, and without the possibility of fixed principles; it is the spirit of the moment, the constant application of strength, as the needs of the moment dictate.”
To discover in these Scenes
any sign of a political engagement beyond Balzac's ambitions, this lawyer from Cambrai would have had to have the perspicacity of Victor Hugo who, at Balzac's funeral, declared: “Unwittingly, whether he wanted it or not, whether he consented to it or not, the author of this immense and strange oeuvre is derived from that strong breed of Revolutionary authors.”
A remarkable copy with a handsome autograph inscription in an elegant contemporary binding.
30 000 €
Réf : 54224