Tribute to Balzac / Balzac Mania

Found – this handsomely printed card (in its original envelope) with a poem addressed to Balzac’s American bibliographer William H. Royce by a minor American poet Alfred Antoine Furman. Furman is unknown to Wikipedia but produced a small body of poetry including, in 1918, some American poems on World War 1. Royce worked for the well known New York book dealer Gabriel Wells in the 1920s. Wells was a major player in rare books and manuscripts at the time at the time.  Wells and Royce shared a deep interest in Balzac (it was Wells who saved Balzac’s house at Passy from destruction), and during this time the firm became the centre of the sale of Balzaciana. Royce himself assembled a major collection of Balzac material. His Balzac library was sold and his papers were donated by his daughters  to Syracuse University.  Balzac collecting was at its height at the time and lavish editions of his work (in English) were produced. Furman’s poem has Balzac as the greatest author ever ‘…the figure of a genius so supreme/ The ages show no equal.’ It is hard to imagine an American rare book dealer paying for the preservation of a European writer’s house in our time..although a few could afford it. The poem reads:

 

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Balzac is still held in high esteem as a writer, although he has been surpassed in renown by Proust and possibly Hugo. Few people now plough through all 90 volumes of his Comédie Humaine. One great fan was the playwright (and artist ) August Strindberg, himself a writer of world class – he described reading La Comédie Humaine as like living a second life, the highest praise. He credited Balzac with giving him ‘..a kind of religion – which I would like to call non dogmatic Christianity.’

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