Cousin Betty

Author: Honore de Balzac


To Don Michele Angelo Cajetani, Prince of Teano.

It is neither to the Roman Prince, nor to the representative of
the illustrious house of Cajetani, which has given more than one
Pope to the Christian Church, that I dedicate this short portion
of a long history; it is to the learned commentator of Dante.

It was you who led me to understand the marvelous framework of
ideas on which the great Italian poet built his poem, the only
work which the moderns can place by that of Homer. Till I heard
you, the Divine Comedy was to me a vast enigma to which none had
found the clue—the commentators least of all. Thus, to understand
Dante is to be as great as he; but every form of greatness is
familiar to you.

A French savant could make a reputation, earn a professor’s chair,
and a dozen decorations, by publishing in a dogmatic volume the
improvised lecture by which you lent enchantment to one of those
evenings which are rest after seeing Rome. You do not know,
perhaps, that most of our professors live on Germany, on England,
on the East, or on the North, as an insect lives on a tree; and,
like the insect, become an integral part of it, borrowing their
merit from that of what they feed on. Now, Italy hitherto has not
yet been worked out in public lectures. No one will ever give me
credit for my literary honesty. Merely by plundering you I might
have been as learned as three Schlegels in one, whereas I mean to
remain a humble Doctor of the Faculty of Social Medicine, a
veterinary surgeon for incurable maladies. Were it only to lay a
token of gratitude at the feet of my cicerone, I would fain add
your illustrious name to those of Porcia, of San-Severino, of
Pareto, of di Negro, and of Belgiojoso, who will represent in this
"Human Comedy" the close and constant alliance between Italy and
France, to which Bandello did honor in the same way in the
sixteenth century—Bandello, the bishop and author of some strange
tales indeed, who left us the splendid collection of romances
whence Shakespeare derived many of his plots and even complete
characters, word for word.

The two sketches I dedicate to you are the two eternal aspects of
one and the same fact. Homo duplex, said the great Buffon: why not
add Res duplex? Everything has two sides, even virtue. Hence
Moliere always shows us both sides of every human problem; and
Diderot, imitating him, once wrote, "This is not a mere tale"—in
what is perhaps Diderot’s masterpiece, where he shows us the
beautiful picture of Mademoiselle de Lachaux sacrificed by
Gardanne, side by side with that of a perfect lover dying for his

In the same way, these two romances form a pair, like twins of
opposite sexes. This is a literary vagary to which a writer may
for once give way, especially as part of a work in which I am
endeavoring to depict every form that can serve as a garb to mind.

Most human quarrels arise from the fact that both wise men and
dunces exist who are so constituted as to be incapable of seeing
more than one side of any fact or idea, while each asserts that
the side he sees is the only true and right one. Thus it is
written in the Holy Book, "God will deliver the world over to
divisions." I must confess that this passage of Scripture alone
should persuade the Papal See to give you the control of the two
Chambers to carry out the text which found its commentary in 1814,
in the decree of Louis XVIII.

May your wit and the poetry that is in you extend a protecting
hand over these two histories of "The Poor Relations"

Of your affectionate humble servant,

DE BALZAC. PARIS, August-September, 1846.


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Honoré de Balzac

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Chicago: Honore de Balzac, "Dedication," Cousin Betty, trans. Marriage, Ellen in Cousin Betty Original Sources, accessed June 18, 2024,

MLA: de Balzac, Honore. "Dedication." Cousin Betty, translted by Marriage, Ellen, in Cousin Betty, Original Sources. 18 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: de Balzac, H, 'Dedication' in Cousin Betty, trans. . cited in , Cousin Betty. Original Sources, retrieved 18 June 2024, from