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The Lily of the Valley   By: (1799-1850)

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley


To Monsieur J. B. Nacquart, Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine.

Dear Doctor Here is one of the most carefully hewn stones in the second course of the foundation of a literary edifice which I have slowly and laboriously constructed. I wish to inscribe your name upon it, as much to thank the man whose science once saved me as to honor the friend of my daily life.

De Balzac.



Felix de Vandenesse to Madame la Comtesse Natalie de Manerville:

I yield to your wishes. It is the privilege of the women whom we love more than they love us to make the men who love them ignore the ordinary rules of common sense. To smooth the frown upon their brow, to soften the pout upon their lips, what obstacles we miraculously overcome! We shed our blood, we risk our future!

You exact the history of my past life; here it is. But remember this, Natalie; in obeying you I crush under foot a reluctance hitherto unconquerable. Why are you jealous of the sudden reveries which overtake me in the midst of our happiness? Why show the pretty anger of a petted woman when silence grasps me? Could you not play upon the contradictions of my character without inquiring into the causes of them? Are there secrets in your heart which seek absolution through a knowledge of mine? Ah! Natalie, you have guessed mine; and it is better you should know the whole truth. Yes, my life is shadowed by a phantom; a word evokes it; it hovers vaguely above me and about me; within my soul are solemn memories, buried in its depths like those marine productions seen in calmest weather and which the storms of ocean cast in fragments on the shore.

The mental labor which the expression of ideas necessitates has revived the old, old feelings which give me so much pain when they come suddenly; and if in this confession of my past they break forth in a way that wounds you, remember that you threatened to punish me if I did not obey your wishes, and do not, therefore, punish my obedience. I would that this, my confidence, might increase your love.

Until we meet,



To what genius fed on tears shall we some day owe that most touching of all elegies, the tale of tortures borne silently by souls whose tender roots find stony ground in the domestic soil, whose earliest buds are torn apart by rancorous hands, whose flowers are touched by frost at the moment of their blossoming? What poet will sing the sorrows of the child whose lips must suck a bitter breast, whose smiles are checked by the cruel fire of a stern eye? The tale that tells of such poor hearts, oppressed by beings placed about them to promote the development of their natures, would contain the true history of my childhood.

What vanity could I have wounded, I a child new born? What moral or physical infirmity caused by mother's coldness? Was I the child of duty, whose birth is a mere chance, or was I one whose very life was a reproach? Put to nurse in the country and forgotten by my family for over three years, I was treated with such indifference on my return to the parental roof that even the servants pitied me. I do not know to what feeling or happy accident I owed my rescue from this first neglect; as a child I was ignorant of it, as a man I have not discovered it. Far from easing my lot, my brother and my two sisters found amusement in making me suffer. The compact in virtue of which children hide each other's peccadilloes, and which early teaches them the principles of honor, was null and void in my case; more than that, I was often punished for my brother's faults, without being allowed to prove the injustice. The fawning spirit which seems instinctive in children taught my brother and sisters to join in the persecutions to which I was subjected, and thus keep in the good graces of a mother whom they feared as much as I... Continue reading book >>

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