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Taine pronounced to be, with Shakespeare and Saint-Simon, the greatest storehouse of documents we possess concerning human nature.
The following chapters are an attempt to put this information into sequence and shape, and to insert such notice of the novels as their relative importance requires. The author wishes here to thank certain French publishers who have facilitated his task by placing books for reference at his disposal, Messrs. Calmann-Levy, Armand Colin, and Hetzel, in particular, and also the Curator of the /Musee Balzac/, Monsieur de Royaumont who has rendered him service on several occasions.
The condition of French society in the early half of the nineteenth century--the period covered by Balzac's novels--may be compared to that of a people endeavouring to recover themselves after an earthquake. Everything had been overthrown, or at least loosened from its base--religion, laws, customs, traditions, castes