BALZAC, Honoré de (1799-1850). French novelist.
Autograph Letter Signed ('de Balzac') to Victor Hugo, 1 page large 8vo with integral blank, [Passy], 20 February 1845.
Asking him for two tickets for Sainte-Beuve's admission to the Académie Française: Balzac laments the fact that, despite making the long trek ('aux antipodes de mon domicile') to Hugo's house at a time when he would usually be at home, he was out, and arranges to call again the following day at 5.30, asking that if Hugo should be out then, he will leave the tickets with his wife.
[Translation:] 'I ventured from my house to the antipodes this morning to call on you, and was disappointed not to find you at home despite choosing your sacred and well-known dinner hour. I have a couple of things to tell you, so I will make the trek across Paris again tomorrow at 5.30. I would like 2 tickets for the admission ceremony you are doing, and I am giving you ammunition against me by giving you time to count the tickets in your gift. If you are not going to be in tomorrow, you might leave them for me with Madame Hugo, to whom I offer my best respects in advance.'Published in Balzac's Correspondance, ed. R. Pierrot, IV, no 2322. As Pierrot remarks in a footnote, it was a very long way from Passy to Hugo's house in the Marais, especially on foot. Balzac's second trip to Hugo's house was equally fruitless; in a subsequent letter (no. 2323 in Pierrot's edition) he asks Hugo either to leave the tickets with the concierge or post them to him.
The relationship between Victor Hugo and the critic and poet Sainte-Beuve has been described by Graham Robb as 'the most productive and mutually destructive friendship in literary history'. As director of the Académie Française, it fell to Victor Hugo to admit Sainte-Beuve to Casimir Delavigne's fauteuil on 27 February 1845, although it is said that Hugo had vetoed his candidacy no fewer than eleven times. Certainly Hugo in his speech omitted the customary laudatory passages about the new 'Immortal'. The annals of the Académie state delicately that this was for 'des raisons d'ordre intime.que nous préférons passer sous silence'; Sainte-Beuve had had a long-standing affair with Hugo's wife Adèle.
It is not known whether, in the event, Balzac attended the ceremony. He and Sainte-Beuve had clashed swords in 1834 over the latter's review of La Recherche de l'absolu, and thereafter the two never missed an opportunity to snipe at one another. Sainte-Beuve saw Balzac's Le Lys dans la vallée as a critique of his own novel Volupté.