His Knowledge of French Novelists
…Dickens admired Balzac in an uneasy and almost frightened way.’ He found fault with him for the unchecked inflation of his ego. ‘Moreover,’ he added, ‘this is the sickness of your writers. There are so many people in your country who earn their living by expressing contempt for the famous that famous men feel a constant need to wage personal attacks in retaliation. It’s wrong. In Rome, conquering heroes never looked back from their chariots, to take to task the slaves who were paid to follow them hurling mud and abuse.’ He continued: ‘Balzac and a good few others are marked by criticism, as if it were smallpox. You see them getting over-sensitive, like horses that have been ill-treated. They start as egoists, and then the mosquito-bites of journalism make them neurotic and vicious. I have been spoiled the opposite way; I’m much better liked than I deserve.’ He was wrong there, but he was not lying. He had nothing false in him, not even false modesty….
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