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Some evenings he would not go out, because ideas were surging in his brain; but if the rebellious rhymes refused to come he would descend to the second floor and play some harmless games with certain "persons," or it might be a hand at boston, for small stakes, at which he sometimes won as much as three francs. His resounding laughter could be heard, echoing down the staircase as he remounted to his garret, exulting over his extensive winnings. Nothing, however, could turn him aside from his project of writing Cromwell, and he set himself a date on which he should present his tragedy to the members of his family gathered together for the purpose of hearing him read it. After idling away long days at the Jardin des Plantes or in Pere-Lachaise, he shut himself in, and wrote with that feverish zeal which later on he himself christened "Balzacian"; revising, erasing, condensing, expanding, alternating between despair and enthusiasm, believing himself a genius, and yet within the same hour, in the face of a phrase that refused to come right, lamenting that he was utterly destitute of talent; yet throughout this ardent and painful effort of creation, over which he groaned, his strength of purpose never abandoned him, and in spite of everything he inflexibly pursued his ungoverned course towards the goal which he had set himself. At last he triumphed, the tragedy was finished, and, his heart swelling with hope, Honore de Balzac presented to his family the Cromwell on which he relied to assure his liberty.
The members of the family were gathered together in the parlour at Villeparisis, for the purpose of judging the masterpiece and deciding whether the rebel who had refused to be a notary had not squandered the time accorded him in which to give proof of his future prospects as an author. The father and mother were there, both anxious, the one slightly sceptical, yet hoping that his son would reveal himself as a man of talent; the other as mistrustful as ever, but at the same time much distressed to see her son so thin and sallow, for during those fifteen months of exile he had lost his high colour and his eyes were feverish and his lips trembling, in spite of his fine air of assurance. Laurence was there, young, lively and self-willed; and Laure also, sharing the secret of the tragedy and sighing and trembling on behalf of Honore, her favourite brother. It was a difficult audience to conquer, for they had also invited for that evening such friends as knew of the test imposed upon the oldest son; and these same friends, while perhaps regarding it as a piece of parental weakness, nevertheless now played the role of judges.
"At the end of April, 1820," relates Mme Surville, "he arrived at my father's home with his finished tragedy. He was much elated, for he counted upon scoring a triumph. Accordingly, he desired that a few friends should be present at the reading. And he did not forget the one who had so strangely underestimated him. (A friend, who judged him solely on the strength of his excellent handwriting, declared, when the question arose of choosing a position for him, that he would never make anything better than a good shipping clerk.)
"The friends arrived, and the solemn test began. But the reader's enthusiasm rapidly died out as he discovered how little impression he was making and noted the coldness or the consternation on the faces before him. I was one of those who shared in the consternation. What I suffered during that reading was a foretaste of the terrors I was destined to experience at the opening performances of Vautrin and Quinola.
"With Cromwell he had not yet avenged himself upon M. -- (the friend of whom mention has just been made); for, blunt as ever, the latter pronounced his opinion of the tragedy in the most uncompromising terms. Honore protested, and declined to accept his judgment; but his other auditors, though in milder terms, all agreed that the work was extremely faulty.
"My father voiced the consensus of opinion when he proposed that they should have Cromwell read by some competent and impartial authority. M. Surville, engineer of the Ourcq Canal, who was later to become Honore's brother-in-law, suggested a former professor of his at the Polytechnic School. (Mlle. Laure de Balzac was married in May, 1820, one month after the reading of Cromwell, to M. Midy de Greneraye Surville, engineer of Bridges and Highways.)
"My father accepted this dean of literature as decisive judge.
"After a conscientious reading, the good old man declared that the author of Cromwell had better follow any other career in the world than that of literature."
Such was the judgment passed upon this masterpiece which had been intended to be "the breviary of peoples and of kings!" Yet these successive condemnations in no way shook Balzac's confidence in his own genius. He wished to be a great man, and in spite of all predictions to the contrary he was going to be a great man. No doubt he re-read his tragedy in cold blood and laughed at it, realising all its emphatic and bombastic mediocrity. But it was a dead issue, and now with a new tensity of purpose he looked forward to the works which he previsioned in the nebulous and ardent future; no setback could turn him aside from the path which he had traced for himself.
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Honoré de Balzac -by- Albert Keim and Louis Lumet