Lettres à M. Conrart

Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, Paris, 1659 (Google Books)

These letters from the prose stylist Balzac to Conrart Valentin (1603-75), the secretary of the Académie française, were written from 1648 until 1654. The letters were re-edited and published five years after Balzac’s death.

As Thomas Carr and Nicolas Schapira indicated, their letters were presented as the expression of pure feeling that united two men of letters, and they served as a testimony of a friendship based on shared merits, the merits of the honnête homme or the ‘honest man’.  In the age of absolutism, the honnête homme was a respectable and honourable representative of the middle classes or gentry who, apart from the aristocracy, cultivated gentlemanly behaviour.

As Thomas Carr noted,

with the advent of royal absolutism, political oratory had no future in France; likewise, given the increasing importance of the honnête homme, both in salons and in court circles, his audience could not be one of learned specialists.  In the letter, he [Balzac] discovered a medium in which to realize the Horatian injunction to please and instruct with decorum, all the while maintaining an air of studied informality suitable for his new public. 1

  1. Thomas Carr, Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric: Varieties of Cartesian Rhetorical Theory (Southern Illinois University Press, 1990), 8; See also Nicolas Schapira, ‘Socialibité, amitié et espace littéraire’, Hypothèses 1 (1997), 141-147. 
http://www.cairn.info/revue-hypotheses-1997-1-page-141.htm. (Accessed 3 August 2012).

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