Balzac, John Lewis Guez Dr

, a French writer, Lorn in 1594 at Angouleme. When about seventeen years of age he went to Holland, where he composed a discourse on the state of the United Provinces. He accompanied also the duke d’Epernon to several places. In 1621 he was taken into the service of the cardinal de la Valette, with whom he spent eighteen months at Rome. Upon his return he retired to his estate at Balzac, where he remained for several years, till he was drawn thence by the hopes he had conceived of raising his fortune under cardinal llichelieu, who had formerly courted his friendship but being in a few years tired of the dependent state of a court- life, he went again to his country retirement all he obtained from the court was a pension of two thousand livres, with the addition of the titles of counsellor of state and historiographer of France, which he used to call magnificent trifles, He was much esteemed as a writer, especially for his letters, which went through several editions, but there were in his own time some critics who started up against him the chief of these was a young Feuillant, named Andre de St. Denis, who wrote a piece entitled, “The conformity of M. de Balzac’s eloquence, with that of the greatest men in the past and present times.” Although this piece was not printed, yet it was circulated very extensively, which made Balzac wish to have it publicly refuted, which was accordingly done by prior Ogier in 1627, with the assistance of Balzac himself. Father Goulu, general of the Feuillants, undertook the cause of brother Andre, and, under the title of Phyllarchus, wrote two volumes of letters against Balzac. Several other pieces were also written against him, but he did not think proper then to answer his adversaries he did, indeed, write an apology for himself, but this was never made public till it appeared witli some other pieces of his in 1645. The death of his chief adversary father Goulu having happened in 1629, put an end to all his disputes, and restored him to a state of tranquillity for father Andre de St. Denis, who had been the first aggressor, became heartily reconciled, and went to pay him a visit at Balzac.

Balzac had a very infirm constitution, insomuch that, when he was only 30 years of age, he used to say he was older than his father and that he was as much decayed as a ship after her third voyage to the Indies yet -he lived till he was 60, when he died Feb. 18, 1654, and was interred in the hospital of Notre Dame des Anges. He | bequeathed twelve thousand livres to this hospital, and left uu estate of an hundred franks per annum, to be employed eveiy two years for a prize to him who, in the judgment of the French academy, should compose the best discourse ou some moral subject. The prize is a golden medal, representing on one side St. Lewis, and on the other a crown of laurel, with this motto, A P Immortality which is the device of the academy.

His works are, 1. “Letters,1624, 8vo. 2. “Le Prince,1631, 4to. 3. “Discours sur une tragedie, Herodes Infanticitla,1636. 4. “Discours politique sur l’etat des Provinces Unies,” Leyde, 1638. 5. “Oeuvres diverses,1644, 4to. 6. “Le Barbon,” 164S, 8vo. 7. “Cavminum libri iii. ejusdem epistolae selectse,Paris, 1650. 8. “Socrate Chretienne, et autres oeuvres,1652. 9. “Lettres familiaires a M. Chapelain,1656. 10. “Entretiens,1657. 11. “Aristippe,1658, 4to. All the above works were collected, and printed at Paris in 1665, with a preface by abbe de Cassagnes.

Of all these, his Letters, of which there is an English translation, and which passed through many editions in French, contributed most to his reputation. During his time he was not only deemed the most eloquent, but the only eloquent writer, and Maynard, a contemporary poet, pronounced him not mortal who could speak like Balzac. It was not only by such praises that he was encouraged. It became a fashion to write to Balzac, in hopes of an answer, which was a treasure worth boasting of. “1 am,” says he, “the butt of all the aukward compliments in Christendom, not to speak of the genteel ones, which give me still more trouble. I am harassed I am teazed to death with encomiums from the four quarters of the globe yesterday, there lay upon the table tir’ty letters requiring answers and oh unconscionable! well turned, eloquent answers answers it to be shewn, copied, and printed. At this instant, I see before me not less than a hundred letters, which must all have their answers; I am in arrears to crowned heads.” As he seems, therefore, to have suspected the use that would be made of his letters, we cannot be surprised at the artificial and inflated style which frequently occurs, Voltaire, however, allows that he contributed to the harmony of French prose. But the magic which gave them for many years an unprecedented popu<­larity was dispelled probably in Boileau’s time, who asserts | that what Balzac employed himself most upon, viz. writing letters, was what he least understood in them all, he adds, we meet with the two faults that are the most inconsistent with the epistolary style affectation, and bombast. Boileau, also, in his two letters to the marechal de Vivonne, very successfully imitates the style of Balzac and Voiture but Dr. Warton considers Balzac as much superior to Voiture, and adds, that although he was affectedly turgid, pompous, and bloated on all subjects and on all occasions alike, yet he was the first that gave form and harmony to the French prose. 1


Gen. Dict. —Moreri, Perrault Lts Homines Ulustres.r-Wartoin’s Essay, vol, II. p. 3.91.