Every one knows how utterly and absolutely Balzac devoted to this one woman all his genius, his aspiration, the thought of his every moment; how every day, after he had labored like a slave for eighteen hours, he would take his pen and pour out to her the most intimate details of his daily life; how at her call he would leave everything and rush across the continent to Poland or to Italy, being radiantly happy if he could but see her face and be for a few days by her side. The very thought of meeting her thrilled him to the very depths of his nature, and made him, for weeks and even months beforehand, restless, uneasy, and agitated, with an almost painful happiness.
It is the most startling proof of his immense vitality, both physical and mental, that so tremendous an emotional strain could be endured by him for years without exhausting his fecundity or blighting his creativeness.
With Balzac, however, it was the period of his most brilliant work; and this was true in spite of the anguish of long separations, and the complaints excited by what appears to be caprice or boldness or a faint indifference. Even in Balzac one notices toward the last a certain sense of strain underlying what he wrote, a certain lack of elasticity and facility, if of nothing more; yet on the whole it is likely that without this friendship Balzac would have been less great than he actually became, as it is certain that had it been broken off he would have ceased to write or to care for anything whatever in the world.
And yet, when they were free to marry, Mme. Hanska shrank away. Not until 1846, four years after her husband’s death, did she finally give her promise to the eager Balzac. Then, in the overflow of his happiness, his creative genius blazed up into a most wonderful flame; but he soon discovered that the promise was not to be at once fulfilled. The shock impaired that marvelous vitality which had carried him through debt, and want, and endless labor.
It was at this moment, by the irony of fate, that his country hailed him as one of the greatest of its men of genius. A golden stream poured into his lap. His debts were not all extinguished, but his income was so large that they burdened him no longer.
But his one long dream was the only thing for which he cared; and though in an exoteric sense this dream came true, its truth was but a mockery. Evelina Hanska summoned him to Poland, and Balzac went to her at once. There was another long delay, and for more than a year he lived as a guest in the countess’s mansion at Wierzchownia; but finally, in March, 1850, the two were married. A few weeks later they came back to France together, and occupied the little country house, Les Jardies, in which, some decades later, occurred Gambetta’s mysterious death.
What is the secret of this strange love, which in the woman seems to be not precisely love, but something else? Balzac was always eager for her presence. She, on the other hand, seems to have been mentally more at ease when he was absent. Perhaps the explanation, if we may venture upon one, is based upon a well-known physiological fact.