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Cobwebs of Thought
by Arachne
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But George Sand herself felt the delight of existence. She says of Joy "It is the great uplifter of men, the great upholder. For life to be fruitful, life must be felt as a blessing." In all she wrote we feel the rare charm of perfect ease and naturalness, combined with the cadences of beauty. We never feel that she is "posing." And yet the author of the bitter attack "Lui et elle," accused her of continual "posing." Edonard de Musset wrote with an envenomed pen, (but we must remember he was defending a brother), in that strange literary duel between him and George Sand. Alfred de Musset had accused her of assuming the maternal "pose" towards poets and musicians who adored her, whilst she absorbed their loves and lives and then deserted them. It is certainly very striking how her strong vitality seemed to sway and overpower some of those with whom she came in contact. She was the oak, and the others were the ivy. When they were torn apart, the oak was scarred but not irreparably injured, it was the ivy that was destroyed. In, "Elle et Lui," George Sand claims that hers was a protecting love for the wayward, gifted child of art, the poet whose ingratitude she bore with, whose nerves she soothed, and whom she cared for and nursed in illness. Kindly time throws a softening veil over the acutest differences, and the clash of temperaments, even where they remain inexplicable. But the answer to Alfred de Musset's reproaches must be looked for not in one book, but in the whole tenor of her life. Does this show that her maternal attitude was a "pose." It is often said that women are born wives or born mothers. George Sand was undeniably a born mother. Mrs. Oliphant resembled her in this respect. They both show the deep passion of maternity in books and autobiographies and letters. Both were devoted to their children, there was no company they cared for in comparison, and they spared neither trouble or time in their interests. But George Sand cared much, not only for her children but for the peasants—for the poor and oppressed. Yes, and for the poets, the painters—the singers and the musicians, with their temperaments of genius, their loves, jealousies, and their shattered nerves. For upwards of six years she treated Chopin with a mother's care; she had the passion of maternity in her towards them all, with whatever feelings it may have been complicated in her life of manifold experiences and with her artist temperament. She may have leant heavily on it at times, it may have served as a weapon of defence when she was attacked, and used thus it may well have suggested a "pose." But however used, whatever the purpose—that the maternal instinct was strong in her there is no denying. To explain definitely her social and personal moral standards requires a biography that has not yet been written. Socially she had a hatred of feudalism, of religious and military despotism. She sympathised with and helped the aspirations towards a wider, a more humane view of a social system, and fraternal equality and social liberty were to her holy doctrines. Perhaps fully to understand George Sand from within may require the genius of a French mind and one of her own generation; for the French of the present day neither study her, or appear to care much for her books. Her letters should aid in giving a discriminating record of her intense and intricate life as viewed from within, and the ideas on which that life was lived. What then were the leading principles, and what was the force in George Sand, which while conquering life and harmonising it enabled her to realise herself? If heredity influences moral standards the mystery certainly is whence George Eliot derived not her morality, but her "fire of insurgency." It is not difficult to account for it in George Sand when we remember her mother's life and temperament, and her own early years. Her father was a good soldier, but had also many literary gifts. George Sand herself said: "Character is hereditary, if my readers wish to know me, they must know my father." George Eliot's creed and pervading view of life was the supreme responsibility of it, and the inevitableness of the struggles of the spirit warring against the senses. Her ideal is attainment through great trial. George Sand, the born hater of conventions, developed life into a harmony. We feel ultimately in her, a sense of peculiar serenity and peace, of self realisation, more akin perhaps to Plato's ideal of a character in harmony with itself, whose various impulses are so attuned that they form practically a single desire and this desire satisfies all the forces of the nature. What was this desire that was involved in the whole aim or system of George Sand's life? The ethical poet who affirmed emphatically that "conduct was three-fourths of life," expressed the highest admiration of George Sand's aims and ethics, and according to Matthew Arnold, her ruling idea was, that this ordinary human life of love and suffering was destined to be raised, into an ideal life, and that ideal life is our real life. Matthew Arnold has written one of his most beautiful and eloquent and touching essays in this record of his impressions and estimate of George Sand. Well does he say that "her passions and her errors have been abundantly talked of." She left them behind her, and men's memory of them will leave them behind also.

There will remain the sense of benefit and stimulus from that large and frank nature, that large and pure utterance. Matthew Arnold gives three principal elements in her strain. Instead of the hopeless echo of unrealised ideas we hear from her the evolution of character: "1, Through agony, and revolt; 2, Through consolation from nature and beauty; 3, Through sense of the Divine ('Je fus toujours tourmente des choses divines') and social renewal, she passes into the great life motif of her existence;" that the sentiment of the ideal life is none other than man's normal life as we shall one day know it. Matthew Arnold saw George Sand in his enthusiastic youth when she was in the serenity and dignity of middle age at Nohant.

Browning came across her in her journalistic career in Paris, and he was not touched with the same admiration.

Mr. Chesterton suggests in his biography of the poet that Browning was conventional by nature—and through the greatness of his brain he developed. He certainly developed on many sides, but his development did not include admiration for George Sand and her circle. It was social tone, his biographer believes, more than opinions, which created this strong aversion in the author of "The Statue and the Bust."

But Mrs. Browning, though her life had been mainly one long seclusion on her sofa, was unhampered by these conventional barriers. What she felt was the attraction of the massive and fascinating brain and heart of the great French woman, what she heard was "that eloquent voice," what she saw was "that noble, that speaking head." She had warm, quick sympathies and intuitional appreciations of genius. In regard to so wide and so complicated a character as George Sand's, we cannot be astonished at finding very different judgments and impressions; indeed we are prepared to feel in all of them some note of inadequacy and of incompleteness. But in our relation to her as a Great Writer, of this, as readers, we are assured, we know that it is no common matter to have come into contact with so gifted and great a nature, with a genius that possessed "a current of true and living ideas," and which produced "amid the inspiration of them."



NOTES:



[1: 1886. "Mind" Vol. 11. "The need of a Society for experimental Psychology."]

[2: 1888. "Mind" Vol. 13. "The Psychological Laboratory at Leipsic."]

[3: Essays. On the genius and tendency of the writings of Thomas Carlyle. "The Camelot Series."]

[4: See supplementary notice of "Hamlet" in Charles Knight's Pictorial Edition of Shakespeare.]

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