It would be interesting to pursue this subject, and there are other points which it would be interesting to touch upon; there must be a good deal for criticism in a book which has been dreamed and re-dreamed for ten years. But, again, of what avail? The book I now offer to the public will not be read till I am dead. I have written for posterity if I have written for anybody except myself. The reflection is not altogether a pleasant one. But there it is; we follow our instinct for good or evil, but we follow it; and while the instinct of one man is to regard the most casual thing that comes from his hand as “good enough,” the instinct of another man compels him to accept all risks, seeking perfection always, although his work may be lost in the pursuit.
My readers, who are all Balzacians, are already thinking of Porbus and Poussin standing before le chef d’oeuvre Inconnu in the studio of Mabuse’s famous pupil—Frenhofer. Nobody has seen this picture for ten years; Frenhofer has been working on it in some distant studio, and it is now all but finished. But the old man thinks that some Eastern woman might furnish him with some further hint, and is about to start on his quest when his pupil Porbus persuades him that the model he is seeking is Poussin’s mistress. Frenhofer agrees to reveal his mistress (i.e., his picture) on condition that Poussin persuades his mistress to sit to him for an hour, for he would compare her loveliness with his art. These conditions having been complied with, he draws aside the curtain; but the two painters see only confused colour and incoherent form, and in one corner “a delicious foot, a living foot escaped by a miracle from a slow and progressive destruction.”
In the first edition of “Evelyn Innes” (I think the passage has been dropped out of the second) Ulick Dean says that one should be careful what one writes, for what one writes will happen. Well, perhaps what Balzac wrote has happened, and I may have done no more than to realise one of his most famous characters.
As soon as Mother Philippa came into the parlour Evelyn guessed there must be serious trouble in the convent.