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BALZAC, Honoré de

Le Livre mystique. Les proscrits. Histoire intellectuelle de Louis Lambert

Paris, Werdet, 1836



Second edition. Volume I alone containing Les Proscrits and L'Histoire intellectuelle of Louis Lambert, of this edition including volume II "containing Seraphita was sold with a new title and as such, constitutes the first edition separated from this novel" (Clouzot). Catalogue of new publications by Werdet at the end (7 ff.)

8vo (210 x 129mm)

AS ISSUED. Publisher's daffodil cover, untrimmed. Dust jacket, slipcase. Copy restored in its original wrappers


Offert à mon cher Maître Rossini
comme un des plus profonds
et des plus vrais hommages
apportés au pieds de la Musique.
Paris, janvier 1836.
De Balzac

[Offered to my dear Master Rossini
as one of the deepest
and truest tributes
made to the foot of Music.
Paris, January 1836.
From Balzac]

Rossini's presence in Balzac's work is impressive : explicit inside the novels to describe a situation, a feeling qualified as "Rossinian", or implicit within the composition itself of these novels, where Balzac draws from certain processes of the Italian composer, particularly his use of crescendo. Balzac was in the room in Paris during the creation of Rossini's Otello in 1821. Eight years later, Balzac was so taken by Rossini's lyricism that he had Julie de Listomère in La Femme de trente ans (1829) sing a passage. Balzac constantly cites Rossini in La Peau de chagrin (1831), his name coming up the most often. To write the novel he went as far as asking Rossini's mistress, the actress Olympe Pélissier, to perform for him in his room a strange scene that he would use again in the intrigue between Raphael and Fedora. Two "musical" novels in the form of studies are entirely devoted to Rossini : Massimila Doni (1839) in which Balzac analyzes Mose. He asked Jacques Strunz, an old musician, to play some opera tunes for him on his piano while he wrote the text, and Gambara (1839), a novel that gave Balzac the opportunity of a majestic analysis of Rossini's process of composing coupled with an unrestrained praise of the master.

Like Stendhal, Balzac was a fervent Rossinian, but unlike Stendhal, he was also a friend of the Italian composer. With the success of La Peau de chagrin in 1831, salons opened up to him, and on January 9, 1832, Eugene Sue introduced him to Rossini at 23 rue de La Rochefoucauld, the home of the famous dancer Olympe Pélissier. Rossini was forty years old at the time and as far as he was concerned his work was done : forty operas performed over and over throughout Europe - his work was the most applauded in Paris for six years. A true friendship that began from their first meeting was never disputed. Balzac would go to the opera as often as he could as well as to the parties given by the master. Balzac gave a big dinner party in Rossini's honor in November 1834 : "My dinner was all the rage ! Rossini declared that he had never seen, eaten or drunk better even at a sovereign's home. The dinner was sparkling with wit and the beautiful Olympe had been gracious, clever and perfect" (letter to Madame Hanska, November 26, 1834). Olympe Pélissier at whose house Balzac and Rossini had first met, had been a model for Horace Vernet's famous painting of Judith. She was Sue's, Vernet's and Balzac's mistress successively, before becoming Rossini's whom she then married in 1847.

Rossini's name appears twenty-eight times in the correspondence with Madame Hanska from 1832 to 1844. In a letter dated November 18, 1833, Rossini proclaimed to Balzac :

"you who are marking the century with your master pieces ! You are, my friend, too big a giant for me to take on ; and for that matter, you would win the vote with a strange naiveté ! I will thus contain myself to telling you that I love you tenderly and that you, in turn, should never despise having bewitched the Pesariote".

While listening to Rossini's music nourished Balzac's imagination and perfected the construction of his stories, it was equally the composer's friendship that helped him through difficult moments. In a letter to Madame Hanska dated October 22, 1836, while complaining of the various misfortunes that were overwhelming him, particularly his publisher Werdet's bankruptcy into which he was inveigled, Balzac hatched a plan to pay off his debts : "I would need to work day and night for six months and after that, at least ten hours a day for two years. Rossini said to me yesterday : "when I did that, I was dead after two weeks and I needed two more to get better". Rossini's early success and determination in his work were a model for Balzac. One time, he hoped to bring Rossini back to composing and wrote him a libretto about which he confided to Madame Hanska : "In the midst of all this trouble, I wrote the lyrics of a romance for Rossini. If he gives me his composition, I will save it for you" (letter dated November 20,1833). The music was never composed, as Rossini did not like songs in French.

Rose Fortassier, in her study Balzac and the Opera, emphasizes Balzac's musical sense : "We must not believe that opera revealed the charm of the human voice or its expressive power to Balzac. But it gave him a clear and distinctive knowledge of it. It is a fact that Balzac constantly refers to the opera." (p. 35). Rossini was certainly the musician who had the strongest influence on the young writer Balzac and the man of maturity. La Fleur de pois (the future Contrat de mariage) was published in late 1835. Rossini had in his way dealt with the theme of the marriage contract in his first opéra bouffe, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, created in 1810. When he republished his text in 1842, Balzac changed its title to that of Rossini's, and made him the dedicatee of his novel.

REFERENCES : Clouzot, Guide du bibliophile français, p. 22 -- Lascoux Liliane, "Balzac et Rossini : histoire d'une amitié", in L'Année balzacienne 1/ 2005 (n° 6), p. 363-382 -- Rose Fortassier, “Balzac et l’Opéra”, in Cahiers de l’AIEF, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1965