Sons of the Soil

Author: Honore de Balzac


To Monsieur P. S. B. Gavault.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote these words at the beginning of his
Nouvelle Heloise: "I have seen the morals of my time and I publish
these letters." May I not say to you, in imitation of that great
writer, "I have studied the march of my epoch and I publish this

The object of this particular study—startling in its truth so
long as society makes philanthropy a principle instead of
regarding it as an accident—is to bring to sight the leading
characters of a class too long unheeded by the pens of writers who
seek novelty as their chief object. Perhaps this forgetfulness is
only prudence in these days when the people are heirs of all the
sycophants of royalty. We make criminals poetic, we commiserate
the hangman, we have all but deified the proletary. Sects have
risen, and cried by every pen, "Arise, working-men!" just as
formerly they cried, "Arise!" to the "tiers etat." None of these
Erostrates, however, have dared to face the country solitudes and
study the unceasing conspiracy of those whom we term weak against
those others who fancy themselves strong,—that of the peasant
against the proprietor. It is necessary to enlighten not only the
legislator of to-day but him of to-morrow. In the midst of the
present democratic ferment, into which so many of our writers
blindly rush, it becomes an urgent duty to exhibit the peasant who
renders Law inapplicable, and who has made the ownership of land
to be a thing that is, and that is not.

You are now to behold that indefatigable mole, that rodent which
undermines and disintegrates the soil, parcels it out and divides
an acre into a hundred fragments,—ever spurred on to his banquet
by the lower middle classes who make him at once their auxiliary
and their prey. This essentially unsocial element, created by the
Revolution, will some day absorb the middle classes, just as the
middle classes have destroyed the nobility. Lifted above the law
by its own insignificance, this Robespierre, with one head and
twenty million arms, is at work perpetually; crouching in country
districts, intrenched in municipal councils, under arms in the
national guard of every canton in France,—one result of the year
1830, which failed to remember that Napoleon preferred the chances
of defeat to the danger of arming the masses.

If during the last eight years I have again and again given up the
writing of this book (the most important of those I have
undertaken to write), and as often returned to it, it was, as you
and other friends can well imagine, because my courage shrank from
the many difficulties, the many essential details of a drama so
doubly dreadful and so cruelly bloody. Among the reasons which
render me now almost, it may be thought, foolhardy, I count the
desire to finish a work long designed to be to you a proof of my
deep and lasting gratitude for a friendship that has ever been
among my greatest consolations in misfortune.

De Balzac.


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Honoré de Balzac

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Chicago: Honore de Balzac, "Dedication," Sons of the Soil, trans. Wormeley, Katharine Prescott, 1830-1908 in Sons of the Soil Original Sources, accessed June 18, 2024,

MLA: de Balzac, Honore. "Dedication." Sons of the Soil, translted by Wormeley, Katharine Prescott, 1830-1908, in Sons of the Soil, Original Sources. 18 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: de Balzac, H, 'Dedication' in Sons of the Soil, trans. . cited in , Sons of the Soil. Original Sources, retrieved 18 June 2024, from