The Deputy of Arcis

Author: Honore de Balzac

I the Comte De L’estorade to Monsieur Marie-Gaston [See "the Memoirs of Two Young Married Women."]

Dear Monsieur,—In accordance with your desire I have seen the prefect of police, in order to ascertain if the pious intention of which you wrote me in your letter, dated from Carrara, would meet with opposition from the authorities.

The prefect informed me that the imperial decree of the 23rd Prairial, year XII., by which the whole system of burials is still regulated, establishes, in the most unequivocal manner, the right of all persons to be interred on their own property. You have only to obtain a permit from the prefecture of the Seine-et-Oise, and then, without further formality, you can remove the remains of Madame Marie-Gaston to the mausoleum you propose to erect in your park at Ville d’Avray.

But I shall venture myself to offer an objection. Are you quite sure that you will not expose yourself to certain difficulties made by the Chaulieus, with whom you are not on the best of terms?

Will they not, to a certain extent, be justified in complaining that the removal from a public cemetery to private grounds of the body of one who is dear to them as well as to you, would make their visits to her grave entirely dependent on your good will and pleasure? For of course, and this is evident, you will always have the right to forbid their entrance to your property.

I know that, legally, the body of the wife, living or dead, belongs to the husband, to the exclusion of her relations, even the nearest; but, under the influence of the ill-will of which they have already given you proof, the relations of Madame Marie-Gaston might have the distressing idea of carrying the matter into court, and if so, how painful to you! You would gain the suit, no doubt, for the Duc de Chaulieu’s influence is not what it was under the Restoration; but have you reflected on the venom which the speech of a lawyer might shed upon such a question? and remember that he will speak as the echo of honorable affections—those of a father, mother, and two brothers asking not to be deprived of the sad happiness of praying at the grave of their lost one.

If you will let me express my thought, it is not without keen regret that I see you engaged in creating fresh nourishment for your grief, already so long inconsolable. We had hoped that, after passing two years in Italy, you would return to us more resigned, and able to take up an active life which might distract your mind. Evidently, this species of temple which you propose, in the fervor of your recollections, to erect in a spot where they are, alas! already too numerous, can only serve to perpetuate their bitterness; and I cannot approve the revival you are proposing to make of them.

Nevertheless, as we should always serve a friend according to his wishes, not our own, I have done your commission relating to Monsieur Dorlange, the sculptor, but I must tell you frankly that he showed no eagerness to enter into your wishes. His first remark, when I announced myself as coming from you, was that he did not know you; and this reply, singular as it may seem to you, was made so naturally that at first I thought there must be some mistake, the result, possibly, of confusion of name. However, before long your oblivious friend was willing to agree that he studied with you at the college of Tours and also that hew as the same Monsieur Dorlange who, in 1831 and under quite exceptional circumstances, carried off the grand prize for sculpture. No doubt remained in my mind as to his identity. I attributed his want of memory to the long interruption (of which you yourself told me) in your intercourse. I think that that interruption wounded him more than you are aware, and when he seemed to have forgotten your very name, it was simply a revenge he could not help taking when the occasion offered.

But that was not the real obstacle. Remembering the fraternal intimacy that once existed between Monsieur Dorlange and yourself, I could not suppose his wounded feelings inexorable. So, after explaining to him the nature of the work you wanted him to do, I was about to say a few words as to the grievance he might have against you, when I suddenly found myself face to face with an obstacle of a most unexpected nature.

"Monsieur," he said to me, "the importance of the order you wish to give me, the assurance that no expense should be spared for the grandeur and perfection of the work, the invitation you convey to me to go to Carrara and choose the marble and see it excavated, all that is truly a great piece of good fortune for an artist, and at any other time I should gladly have accepted it. But at the present moment, without having actually decided to abandon the career of Art, I am on the point of entering that of politics. My friends urge me to present myself at the coming elections, and you will easily see that, if elected, my parliamentary duties and my initiation into an absolutely new life would, for a long time at least, preclude my entering with sufficient absorption of mind into the work you propose to me." And then, after a pause, he added; "I should have to satisfy a great grief which seeks consolation from this projected mausoleum. Such grief would, naturally, be impatient; whereas I should be slow, preoccupied in mind, and probably hindered. It is therefore better that the proposal should be made elsewhere; but this will not prevent me from feeling, as I ought, both gratified and honored by the confidence shown in me."

I thought for a moment of asking him whether, in case his election failed, I could then renew the proposal, but on the whole I contented myself with expressing regret and saying that I would inform you of the result of my mission. It is useless to add that I shall know in a few days the upshot of this sudden parliamentary ambition which has, so inopportunely, started up in your way.

I think myself that this candidacy may be only a blind. Had you not better write yourself to Monsieur Dorlange? for his whole manner, though perfectly polite and proper, seemed to show a keen remembrance of the wrong you did him in renouncing his friendship, with that of your other friends, at the time of your marriage. I know it may cost you some pain to explain the really exceptional circumstances of your marriage; but after what I have seen in the mind of your old friend, I think, if you really wish for the assistance of his great talent, you should personally take some steps to obtain it.

But if you feel that any such action is more than you have strength for, I suggest another means. In all matters in which my wife has taken part I have found her a most able negotiator; and in this particular case I should feel the utmost confidence in her intervention. She herself suffered from the exclusiveness of Madame Marie-Gaston’s love for you. No one can explain to him better than she the absorbing conjugal life which drew its folds so closely around you. And it seems to me that the magnanimity and comprehension which she always showed to her "dear lost treasure," as she calls her, might be conveyed by her to your friend.

You have plenty of time to think over this suggestion, for Madame de l’Estorade is, just now, still suffering from a serious illness, brought on by maternal terror. A week ago our little Nais came near being crushed to death before her eyes; and without the courageous assistance of a stranger who sprang to the horses’ heads and stopped them short, God knows what dreadful misfortune would have overtaken us. This cruel emotion produced in Madame de l’Estorade a nervous condition which seriously alarmed us for a time. Though she is now much better, it will be several days before she could see Monsieur Dorlange in case her feminine mediation may seem to you desirable.

But once more, in closing, my dear Monsieur Gaston, would it not be better to abandon your idea? A vast expense, a painful quarrel with the Chaulieus, and, for you, a renewal of your bitter sorrow—this is what I fear. Nevertheless, I am, at all times and for all things, entirely at your orders, as indeed my sentiments of esteem and gratitude command.


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Chicago: Honore de Balzac, "I the Comte De L’estorade to Monsieur Marie-Gaston [See the Memoirs of Two Young Married Women.]," The Deputy of Arcis, trans. Marriage, Ellen in The Deputy of Arcis Original Sources, accessed June 17, 2024,

MLA: de Balzac, Honore. "I the Comte De L’estorade to Monsieur Marie-Gaston [See "the Memoirs of Two Young Married Women."]." The Deputy of Arcis, translted by Marriage, Ellen, in The Deputy of Arcis, Original Sources. 17 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: de Balzac, H, 'I the Comte De L’estorade to Monsieur Marie-Gaston [See "the Memoirs of Two Young Married Women."]' in The Deputy of Arcis, trans. . cited in , The Deputy of Arcis. Original Sources, retrieved 17 June 2024, from