Honore Balzac

Honore BalzacIn existographies, Honore Balzac (1799-1850) (IQ:175|#306) (Cattell 1000:448) [RGM:293|1,500+] (CR:37) was a French novelist and playwright noted, in literature chemistry, for his usage of chemistry or chemical theory in literature, the dominate example of which seems to be found in his 1834 Search for Absolute Truth. [1]

The Magic Skin
In 1831, Balzac, in his novel The Magic Skin, deplores chemistry considering its views to be a totally materialist non-divine view of life, a doctrine according to which chemists, in his view, hold that life sprang from matter via its own accord. [4] His famous quote on this topic is:

“The universe for a mechanician is a machine that requires an operator; for chemistry—that fiendish employment of decomposing all things—the world is a gas endowed with the power of movement.”

according to which the mechanician refers to the mechanistic conception of life extolled by French philosopher Rene Descartes, which requires a divine operator. The "gas endowed with the power of movement" point-of-view of life (see: defunct theory of life), supposedly, refers to Swedish polymath Emanuel Swedenborg's 1734 nebular hypothesis.

Balzac (affinities, 1834)
The key section from Balzac's The Quest of the Absolute, wherein his two husband and wife characters, Balthazar and Josephine, debate the nature of "feelings" from the respective views, a chemist and a romanticist, respectively. [5]
Quest of the Absolute
See main: Balzac feelings and affinity dialogue
In 1834, Balzac, in his The Quest of the Absolute (La Recherche de l’Absolu), has the character Balthazar Claes debate with the character Josephine, his wife, the underlying moral that romantic belief that preoccupation with science atrophies the normal emotions that sustain personal relations and social responsibilities.

Balzac (affinity and feelings)

When his wife pleads, in respect with his obsession with chemistry, that “science has eaten away at your heart” he respond with: [5]

“Unluckily, such affinities as these are too rare, and the indications are too slight to be submitted to analysis and observation.”

A fuller section of Balzac's affinities and feelings dialogue is shown adjacent.

Atheist’s Mass
On 18 Jan 1836, Balzac, whose religious beliefs seem to be characterized as a scientific Napoleon-like skeptical agnostic, but also pretty definitely “on the side of the angels” (Saintsbury, 1896), penned “The Atheist’s Mass”, a short story, which was "conceived, written, and printed in a single night", wherein he tells the story of Bianchon, a French physician, noted for his theoretical physiology, who was intellectually mentored by Desplein, a surgeon, described as a transient meteor-like scientific genius, who had a “universal command of knowledge”, whose power of deduction was like that of Georges Cuvier; the following is the first noted quote: [9]

“But did he epitomize all science in his own person as Hippocrates did and Galen and Aristotle? Did he guide a whole school towards new worlds? No. Though it is impossible to deny that this persistent observer of human chemistry possessed the antique science of the Mages, that is to say, knowledge of the elements in fusion, the causes of life, life antecedent to life, and what it must be in its incubation or ever it is, it must be confessed that, unfortunately, everything in him was purely personal. Isolated during his life by his egoism, that egoism is now suicidal of his glory. On his tomb there is no proclaiming statue to repeat to posterity the mysteries which genius seeks out at its own cost.”

Then Balzac digs into the following:

“But perhaps Desplein's genius was answerable for his beliefs, and for that reason mortal. To him the terrestrial atmosphere was a generative envelope; he saw the earth as an egg within its shell; and not being able to determine whether the egg or the hen first was, he would not recognize either the **** or the egg. He believed neither in the antecedent animal nor the surviving spirit of man. Desplein had no doubts; he was positive. His bold and unqualified atheism was like that of many scientific men, the best men in the world, but invincible atheists—atheists such as religious people declare to be impossible. This opinion could scarcely exist otherwise in a man who was accustomed from his youth to dissect the creature above all others—before, during, and after life; to hunt through all his organs without ever finding the individual soul, which is indispensable to religious theory. When he detected a cerebral center, a nervous center, and a center for aerating the blood—the two first so perfectly complementary that in the latter years of his life he came to a conviction that the sense of hearing is not absolutely necessary for hearing, nor the sense of sight for seeing, and that the solar plexus could supply their place without any possibility of doubt—Desplein, thus finding two souls in man, confirmed his atheism by this fact, though it is no evidence against god.”

Here, we respect to “without ever finding the individual soul”, we reason that possibly Balzac may have read the c.1817 dialogue of Napoleon Bonaparte (see also: Napoleon Laplace anecdote) with his personal physician Francois Antommarchi as to the whereabouts of the soul: [10]

Napoleon: ‘You do not believe it, you doctors are above such weakness. Tell me, you who know so well the human body, who have probed into all its ramifications, have you ever come across the soul under your scalpel? Where is it? In which organ?’
Antommarchi: 'I hesitated to respond,'

Napoleon: 'Come now, frankly, there is not a doctor who believes in god, is not that so?'
Antommarchi: 'No, Sire, they are ensnared by the demonstration, they accept the dictum of the mathematicians.'

Napoleon: 'Eh, but the latter are generally religious.’

(add)

Other
In 1889, German natural science popularize Wilhelm Bolsche (1861-1939), in his essay “Goethe’s Elective Affinities in Light of Modern Science”, argued that the Goethe's Elective Affinities novel is realistic due to its portrayal of natural forces and psychology, but that it should be seen as a predecessor to such realistic works such as George Eliot and Balzac, and is a pioneering work of literary realism. [2]

The personal library of Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andric (1892-1975) notably has a special place in it occupied by Goethe’s collected writings (in German) and the collected works of Honoré de Balzac (in French); a factoid that may imply that there exists some type of thematic relation to Balzac's literary chemical ideas and Goethe's chemical philosophy. [3]

Influences
Balzac was a student of Francois Rabelais (FA:42). [7]

Quotes | On

The following are quotes on or about Balzac:

“The idea of Balzac’s Comedie Humaine was suggested by the biology of the early nineteenth century, just as the naturalism of Zola was suggested by the works of Claude Bernard.”
Lawrence Henderson (1927), “The Process of Scientific Discovery” [6]

“These two stories, The Ban (L'Interdiction) and The Atheist’s Mass (La Messe de l' Athee), would, if they existed entirely by themselves, and if we knew nothing else of their author's, and nothing else about him, suffice to show any intelligent critic that genius of no ordinary kind had passed by there.”
— George Saintsbury (1896), “Preface” to The Atheist’s Mass and Other Short Stories [7]

Quotes | By
The following are quotes by Balzac:

“But did he epitomize all science in his own person as Hippocrates did and Galen and Aristotle? Did he guide a whole school towards new worlds? No. Though it is impossible to deny that this persistent observer of human chemistry possessed that antique science of the Mages, that is to say, knowledge of the elements in fusion, the causes of life, life antecedent to life, and what it must be in its incubation or ever it _is_, it must be confessed that, unfortunately, everything in him was purely personal. Isolated during his life by his egoism, that egoism is now suicidal of his glory. On his tomb there is no proclaiming statue to repeat to posterity the mysteries which genius seeks out at its own cost.”
— Honore Balzac (1836), “The Atheist’s Mass” (Ѻ), in La Human Comedy

“A society of atheists would immediately invent a religion.”
— Honore Balzac (c.1841), The Social Catechism [8]

References
1. (a) Blank, Eugene W. (1942). "Alchemy and Chemistry in Literature" (abs), School Science and Mathematics, 42(6): 550-58.
(b) Weininger, Stephen J. (2002). “Chemistry”, in: Encyclopedia of Literature and Science (pg. 77-79), ed. Pamela Gossin, Greenwood Publishing Group.
(c) Gossin, Pamela. (2002). Encyclopedia of Literature and Science (chemistry, 40+ pgs; §Chemistry, pg. 77-79). Greenwood Publishing Group.
(d) Pratt-Smith, Stella. (2011). “Call for papers: Literature and Chemistry: Elective Affinities”, The British Society for Literature and Science, Interdisciplinary conference organized by the research group Literature and Science, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, The University of Bergen 27-28 October 2011.
2. (a) Bolsche, Wilhelm. (1889). “Goethe’s Elective Affinities in Light of Modern Science” (“Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften im Lichte moderner Naturwissenschaft”), Publisher.
(b) Tantillo, Astrida O. (2001). Goethe's Elective Affinities and the Critics (pg. 80). Camden House.
3. (a) Authentic Interior of Ivo Andric’s Study – Belgrade City Museum.
(b) Ivo Andric – Wikipedia.
4. (a) Ball, Philip. (2011). Unnatural: the Heretical Idea of Making People (pgs. 30-32). Vintage Books.
(b) La Paeu de chagrin – Wikipedia.
5. (a) Balzac, Honore. (1834). The Quest of the Absolute (La Recherche de l’Absolu) (pg. 85). Publisher.
(b) Haynes, Roslynn. (2007). “The Alchemist in Fiction: the Master Narrative” (Ѻ), in: The Public Image of Chemistry (editors: Joachim Schummer, Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, and Brigitte van Tiggelen) (§1:7-37). World Scientific.
6. (a) Henderson, Lawrence. (1927). “The Process of Scientific Discovery”, in: An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (translator: H.C. Greene) (introduction, pgs. v-xii). Henry Schuman, 1949.
(b) Barber, Bernard. (1970). L.J. Henderson on the Social System (§2:149-58; quote, pg. 157). University of Chicago Press.
7. Balzac, Honore. (1836). The Atheist’s Mass: and Other Short Stories (La Messe de l’Athee) (translator: Clara Bell; preface: George Saintsbury) (Rabelais, pg. xii; human chemistry, pg. 2). J.M. Dent and Co, 1896.
8. Balzac, Honore. (c.1841). The Social Catechism (Le Catechisme Social) (pg. 133) (Ѻ). La Renaissance du Livre, 1933.
9. Balzac, Honore. (1836). The Atheist’s Mass: and Other Short Stories (La Messe de l’Athee) (translator: Clara Bell; preface: George Saintsbury) (Rabelais, pg. xii; human chemistry, pg. 2). J.M. Dent and Co, 1896.
10. Young, Norwood, Broadley, Alexander M. (1915). Napoleon in Exile: St. Helena (1815-1821) (pg. 187-88). Publisher.

External links
Honore de Balzac – Wikipedia.
● The Mass of the Atheist (French → English) – Wikipedia.

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