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The Lesser Bourgeoisie   By: (1799-1850)

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley


To Constance Victoire.

Here, madame, is one of those books which come into the mind, whence no one knows, giving pleasure to the author before he can foresee what reception the public, our great present judge, will accord to it. Feeling almost certain of your sympathy in my pleasure, I dedicate the book to you. Ought it not to belong to you as the tithe formerly belonged to the Church in memory of God, who makes all things bud and fruit in the fields and in the intellect?

A few lumps of clay, left by Moliere at the feet of his colossal statue of Tartuffe, have here been kneaded by a hand more daring than able; but, at whatever distance I may be from the greatest of comic writers, I shall still be glad to have used these crumbs in showing the modern Hypocrite in action. The chief encouragement that I have had in this difficult undertaking was in finding it apart from all religious questions, questions which ought to be kept out of it for the sake of one so pious as yourself; and also because of what a great writer has lately called our present "indifference in matters of religion."

May the double signification of your names be for my book a prophecy! Deign to find here the respectful gratitude of him who ventures to call himself the most devoted of your servants.

De Balzac.


(The Middle Classes)



The tourniquet Saint Jean, the narrow passage entered through a turnstile, a description of which was said to be so wearisome in the study entitled "A Double Life" (Scenes from Private Life), that naive relic of old Paris, has at the present moment no existence except in our said typography. The building of the Hotel de Ville, such as we now see it, swept away a whole section of the city.

In 1830, passers along the street could still see the turnstile painted on the sign of a wine merchant, but even that house, its last asylum, has been demolished. Alas! old Paris is disappearing with frightful rapidity. Here and there, in the course of this history of Parisian life, will be found preserved, sometimes the type of the dwellings of the middle ages, like that described in "Fame and Sorrow" (Scenes from Private Life), one or two specimens of which exist to the present day; sometimes a house like that of Judge Popinot, rue du Fouarre, a specimen of the former bourgeoisie; here, the remains of Fulbert's house; there, the old dock of the Seine as it was under Charles IX. Why should not the historian of French society, a new Old Mortality, endeavor to save these curious expressions of the past, as Walter Scott's old man rubbed up the tombstones? Certainly, for the last ten years the outcries of literature in this direction have not been superfluous; art is beginning to disguise beneath its floriated ornaments those ignoble facades of what are called in Paris "houses of product," which one of our poets has jocosely compared to chests of drawers.

Let us remark here, that the creation of the municipal commission "del ornamento" which superintends at Milan the architecture of street facades, and to which every house owner is compelled to subject his plan, dates from the seventeenth century. Consequently, we see in that charming capital the effects of this public spirit on the part of nobles and burghers, while we admire their buildings so full of character and originality. Hideous, unrestrained speculation which, year after year, changes the uniform level of storeys, compresses a whole apartment into the space of what used to be a salon, and wages war upon gardens, will infallibly react on Parisian manners and morals. We shall soon be forced to live more without than within... Continue reading book >>

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