In the autumn appeared Valentine. This second novel not only confirmed the triumph won by the first, but was a surer proof of the writer's calibre, as showing what she could do with simpler materials. Here, encouraged by success, she had ventured to take her stand entirely on her own ground—dispensing even with an incidental trip to the tropics, which, in Indiana, strikes as a misplaced concession to the prevalent craze for Oriental coloring—and to lay the scene in her own obscure province of Berry, her first descriptions of which show her rare comprehension of the poetry of landscape. Like Indiana, Valentine is a story of the affections; like Indiana, it is a domestic tragedy, of which the girl-heroine is the victim of a pernicious system that makes of marriage, in the first instance, a mere commercial speculation. Indeed, the extreme painfulness of the story would render the whole too repulsive but for the charm of the setting, which relieves it not a little, and a good deal of humor in the treatment of the minor characters, notably the eighteenth century marquise, and the Lhery family of peasant-parvenus. The personages are drawn with more finish than those in Indiana; the tone is more natural in its pitch. It is the work of one who finds in every-day observation, as well as in such personal emotions as come but once in a lifetime, the inspiration that smaller talents can derive from the latter alone.
In both her consummate art, or rather natural gift of the art of narrative, is the mainstay of the fabric her imagination has reared. That incomparable style of hers is like some magic fairy-ring, that bears the wearer, safe and victorious, through manifold perils—perils these of prolixity, exaggeration, and disdain of careful construction. Both Indiana and Valentine, moreover, contain scenes and passages offensive to English taste, but it is impossible fairly to criticise the fiction of a land where freer expression in speech and in print than with us is habitually recognized and practiced, from our own standpoint of literary decorum. It was not for this feature that French criticism had already begun to charge her books with dangerous tendencies (thus contributing largely to noise her fame abroad), as breathing rebellion against the laws of present society; charges which, so far as Indiana and Valentine are concerned, had, as is now generally admitted, but little foundation. Each is the story of an unhappy marriage, but there is no attempt whatever to throw contempt on existing institutions, or to propound any theory, unless it be the idea—no heresy or novelty in England at least—that marriage, concluded without love on either side, is fraught with special dangers to the wife, whose happiness is bound up with her affections. It was the bold and uncompromising manner in which this plain fact was brought forward, the energy of the protest against a real social abuse, which moved some critics to sound a war-cry for which, as yet, no just warrant had been given.
Besides these two novels, containing full proof of her genius, if not of its highest employment, there appeared, late in 1832, that remarkable novelette, La Marquise, revealing fresh qualities of subtle penetration and clear analysis. The flexibility of her imagination, the variety in her modes of its application, form an essential characteristic of her work. Not by any single novel, nor, indeed by half-a-dozen taken at random, can she be adequately represented.
When in the winter of 1832 Madame Sand returned with her little girl to Paris after spending the autumn, as usual, at Nohant, it was to rather more comfortable quarters, on the Quai Malplaquet. The rapid sale of her books was placing her in comparatively easy circumstances, and giving fresh spur to her activity. But her situation was transforming itself fast; the freedom of obscurity was lost to her for ever from the day when the unknown personage, George Sand, became the object of general curiosity—of curiosity redoubled in Paris by the rumors current there of her exceptional position, eccentric habits, and interesting personality.
The celebrated portrait of her by Eugene Delacroix was painted in the year 1833. It is a three-quarter view, and represents her wearing her quasi masculine redingote, with broad revers and loosely knotted silk neck-tie. Of somewhat later date is a highly interesting drawing by Calamatta, well-known by engravings; but of George Sand in her first youth no likeness unfortunately has been left to the world. She has been most diversely described by her different contemporaries. But that at this time she possessed real beauty is perfectly evident; for all that she denies it herself, and that, unlike most women, and nearly all French women, she scorned to enhance it by an elaborated toilette. Heine, though he never professed himself one of her personal adorers, compares the beauty of her head to that of the Venus of Milo, saying, "It bears the stamp of ideality, and recalls the noblest remaining examples of Greek art." Her figure was somewhat too short, but her hands and feet were very small and beautifully shaped. His acquaintance with her dates from the early years of her literary triumphs, and his description is in harmony with Calamatta's presentation. She had dark curling hair, a beauty in itself, falling in profusion to her shoulders, well-formed features, pale olive-tinted complexion, the countenance expressive, the eyes dark and very fine, not sparkling, but mild and full of feeling. The face reminds us of the character of "Still Waters," attributed to the Aurore Dupin of fifteen by the Lady Superior of the English convent. Her voice was soft and muffled, and the simplicity of her manner has been remarked on by those who sought her acquaintance, as a particular charm. Yet, like all reserved natures, she often failed to attract strangers at a first meeting. In general conversation she disappointed people, by not shining. Men and women, immeasurably her inferiors, surpassed her in ready wit and brilliant repartee. Her taciturnity in society has been somewhat ungenerously laid to a parti pris. She was one, it is said, who took all and gave nothing. That she was intentionally chary of her passing thoughts and impressions to those around her, is, however, sufficiently disproved by her letters. Here she shows herself lavish of her mind to her correspondents. Conversation and composition necessitate a very different brain action, and her marvellous facility in writing seems really to have been accompanied with no corresponding readiness of speech and reply. Probably it was only, as she herself states, when she had a pen in her hand that her lethargic ideas would arise and flow in order as they should. And the need of self-expression felt by all those who have not the gift of communicating themselves fully and easily in speech or manner, a strong need in her case, from her having so much to express, was the spur that drove her to seek and find the mode of so doing in art.
Her silence in company certainly did not detract from her fascination upon a closer acquaintance. Of those who fell under the spell, the more fortunate came at once to terms of friendship with her, which remained undisturbed through life. Thus, of one among this numerous brotherhood, Francois Rollinat, with whom she would congratulate herself on having realized the perfection of such an alliance of minds, she could write when recording their friendship, then already a quarter of a century old, that it was still young as compared with some that she counted, and that dated from her childhood.
Others fell in love with her, and found her unresponsive. With some of these, jealousies and misunderstandings arose, and led to estrangements, for the most part but temporary. Yet the winner of her heart was scarcely to be envied. She was apt—she has herself thus expressed it—to see people through a prism of enthusiasm, and afterwards to recover her lucidity of judgment. Great, no doubt, was her power of self-illusion; it betrayed her into errors that have been unsparingly judged. For her power of calm and complete disillusion she was perhaps unique among women, and it is no wonder if mankind have found it hard to forgive.
It was less than two years since she had come up to the capital, to seek her fortunes there in literature. Aurore Dudevant, hereafter to be spoken of as George Sand (for she made her adopted name more her own than that she had borne hitherto, and became George Sand for her private friends as well as for the public,) found herself raised to eminence among the eminent. And it was at an exceptionally brilliant epoch in French imaginative literature that the distinction had been won. Such a burst of talent as that which signalized the opening years of Louis Philippe's reign is unexampled in French literary history. With Hugo, Dumas, De Musset, Balzac, not to mention lesser stars, the author of Indiana and Valentine, although a woman, was acknowledged as worthy to rank. The artist in her, a disturbing element in her inner life which had driven her out of the spiritual bondage and destitution of a petty provincial environment to secure for herself freedom and expansion, had justified the audacity of the move by a triumphant artistic success. From this time onward her artistic faculty dominated her life, often, probably, unknown to herself an invincible force of instinct she obeyed, whilst assigning, in all good faith, other motives for her course of action, and for real or apparent inconsequences, that have been constantly misrepresented and misunderstood.
So sudden and abrupt a change would have turned all heads but the strongest. Publishers competed with one another to secure her next work. Buloz, proprietor of the Revue des Deux Mondes, engaged her to write regularly for his periodical, to which, for the next ten years, she never ceased to be a regular and extensive contributor. Although the scale of remuneration was not then very high she was clearly secure, so long as she allowed nothing to interfere with her literary work, of earning a sufficient income for her own needs. She had learnt the importance of pecuniary independence, and never pretended to despise the reward of her industry. To luxury she was indifferent, but the necessity of strict economy was a burden she was impatient of; she liked to have plenty to give away, and was always excessively liberal to the poor. Her little dwelling on the Quai Malplaquet was no longer the hermitage of an anonymous writer of no account. The great in art and letters, leading critics, such as Sainte-Beuve and Gustave Planche, came eager to seek her acquaintance, and delighting to honor the obscure student of a year ago.
Writing to M. Boucoiran after her return to Paris in December, 1832, she describes her altered position:—
All day long I am beset with visitors, who are not all entertaining. It is a calamity of my profession, which I am partly obliged to bear. But in the evening I shut myself up with my pens and ink, Solange, my piano, and a fire. With all these I pass some right pleasant hours. No noise but the sounds of a harp, coming I know not whence, and of the playing of a fountain under my window. This is highly poetical—pray don't make game of me!
There was another side to her success. Fame brought trials and annoyances that fell with double severity on her as a woman. Her door was besieged by a troop of professional beggars, impostors, impertinent idlers, and inquisitive newsmongers. Jealousy and ill-will, inevitably attendant on sudden good fortune such as hers, busied themselves with direct calumny and insidious misrepresentation. No statement so unfounded, so wildly improbable about her, but it obtained circulation and credit. Till the end of her life she remained the centre of a cloud of myths, many, to the present day, accepted as gospel. People insisted on identifying her with the heroines of her novels. Incidents, personal descriptions, nay, whole letters extracted from these novels will be found literally transcribed into alleged biographies of herself and her friends, as her own statement of matters of fact. Now, though the spirit of her life is strongly and faithfully represented by her fiction taken as a whole, those who would read in any special novel the literal record of any of the special events of her existence cannot be too much on their guard. Whatever the material under treatment, George Sand must retouch, embellish, transform, artist-fashion, as her genius shall dictate, till often little resemblance is left between the original and the production it has done no more than suggest. Romance and reality are so fused together in these apparent outpourings of spirit that her nearest friends were at a loss how to separate them. As an actress into many a favorite part, so could she throw herself into her favorite characters; but seldom if ever will much warrant be found in actual fact for identifying these creations with their creatress.
How, indeed, could so many-sided a nature as hers be truly represented in a single novel? Her rare physical and mental energies enabled her to combine a life of masculine intellectual activity with the more highly emotional life of a woman, and with vigilance in her maternal cares. Maurice was placed in the spring of 1833 at the College Henri IV., at Paris; thus she had now both son and daughter near her, and watched indefatigably over them, their childish illnesses and childish amusements, their moral and intellectual training absorbing a large share of her time and attention. Heine, a friendly visitor at her house, says:—
I have often been present for hours whilst she gave her children a lesson in French, and it is a pity that the whole of the French Academy could not have been present too, as it is quite certain that they might have derived great profit from it.
Not all the distractions of fame and work, of passionate pleasure or passionate sorrow, ever relaxed her active solicitude for the present and future welfare of her two young children. "They give me the only real joys of my life," she repeats again and again.
Lelia, begun immediately after Valentine was published in the spring of 1833, and created an immense sensation. Hailed by her admirers as a sign of an accession of power, of power exerted in quite a new direction, it brought down on the writer's head a storm of hostile criticism, as a declared enemy of religion and domestic morality—enhancing her celebrity not a little.
Lelia, a lyrical novel—an outburst of poetical philosophy in prose, stands alone among the numerous productions of George Sand. Here she takes every sort of poetical license, in a work without the restrictions of poetic form, which are the true conditions of so much latitude. "Manfred" and "Alastor" are fables not further removed from real life than is Lelia. The personages are like allegorical figures, emblematic of spiritual qualities on a grand scale, the scenes like the paradisiacal gardens that visited the fancy of Aurore Dupin when a child. There is no action. The interest is not in the characters and what they do, but in what they say. The declamatory style, then so popular, is one the taste for which has so completely waned that Lelia will find comparatively few readers in the present day, fewer who will not find its perusal wearisome, none perhaps whose morality, however weak, will be seriously shaken by utterances ever and anon hovering on the perilous confines of the sublime and the ludicrous.
Lelia, a female Faust or Manfred, a mysterious muse-like heroine, who one night sleeps on the heathery mountain-side, the next displays the splendor of a queen in palaces and fairy-like villas; her sorely tried and hapless lover, Stenio, the poet, who pours forth odes to his own accompaniment on the harp, and lingers the night long among Alpine precipices brooding over the abyss; Trenmor, the returned gentleman convict and Apostle of the Carbonari, whose soul has been refreshed, made young and regenerated at the galleys; and the mad Irish priest, Magnus, are impossible personages, inviting to easy ridicule, and neither wisdom nor folly from their lips is likely to beguile the ears of the present generation.
It is no novel, but a poetical essay, fantastically conceived and executed with the sans gene of an improvisatore. For those who admire the genius of George Sand its interest as a psychological revelation remains unabated. Into Lelia, she owns, she put more of her real self than into any other of her books—of herself, that is, and her state of mind at the dawn of a period of moral disturbance and revolt. All must continue to recognize there an extraordinary exhibition of poetical power and musical style. As a work of art George Sand has herself pronounced it absurd, yet she always cherished for it a special predilection, and, as will be seen, took the trouble to rewrite it some years later, when in a happier and healthier frame of mind than that which inspired this unique and most characteristic composition.
The note of despair struck in Lelia, the depth of bitter feeling, the capacity for mental and moral speculation and suffering it seemed to disclose, astounded many of her familiar acquaintance. "Lelia is a fancy-type," so writes to the author her friend and neighbor in Berry, Jules Neraud, an ardent naturalist, whose botanical and entomological pursuits she had often shared: "it is not like you—you who are merry, dance the bourree, appreciate lepidoptera, do not despise puns, who are not a bad needlewoman, and make very good preserves. Is it possible you should have thought so much, felt so much, without anyone having any idea of it?"
Lelia was certainly the expression of a new phase in her mind's history, a moral crisis she could not escape, which was all the more severe for her having, as she remarks, reached her thirtieth year without having opened her eyes to the realities of life. Till the time of her coming to Paris, for very dearth of outward impressions, she had lived chiefly in dreams, the life of all others most favorable to the prolongation of ignorance and credulity. The liberty and activity she had enjoyed for the last two years were fatal to Utopian theories.
It was not only the bitterness that springs from disenchantment in individuals, the sense of the miserable insufficiency of human love to satisfy her spiritual aspirations producing "that widely concluding unbelief which," as her sister in greatness has said, "we call knowledge of the world, but which is really disappointment in you and in me." George Sand was one to whom scepticism was intolerable. Pessimistic doctrines were fatal to her mind's equilibrium, and private experience and outward intellectual influences were driving her to distrust all objects of her previous worship, human and divine. The moment was one when the most fundamental social and religious principles were being called in question.
"Nothing in my old beliefs," she writes, "was sufficiently formulated in me, from a social point of view, to help me to struggle against this cataclysm; and in the religious and socialistic theories of the moment I did not find light enough to contend with the darkness." The poet's creed, with which her mind had hitherto rested satisfied, was shaken, and appeared to prove a false one. She was staggered by the infinity of evil, misery, and injustice, which dwellers in great cities are not allowed to forget, the problem of humanity, the eternal mystery of suffering and wrong predominant in a world on the beneficence of whose Supreme Power all her faiths were founded.
Her mental revolt and suffering found vent in Lelia, which it was an immense relief to her to write. Characteristic as an exhibition of feeling and of mastery of language, it is not in the least typical of her fiction. Yet, but for Lelia, and its successor Jacques, it is impossible to point to a work of hers that would ever have lastingly stamped her, in the public mind, as an expounder of dangerous theories. In Lelia, however, which is strongly imbued with Byronic coloring, she had chosen to pose somewhat as the proud angel in rebellion; and the immediate effect of hostile criticism was to confirm her in the position taken up. Neither Lelia nor Jacques combined the elements of lasting popularity with those of instant success; but they roused a stir and strife which created an impression of her as a writer systematically inimical to religion and marriage—an impression almost ludicrously at variance with facts, taking her fiction as a whole, but which has only recently begun to give way, in this country, to a juster estimate of its tendencies.
The morality of Lelia, which it is rather difficult to discuss seriously in the present day, both the personages and their environment being too preternatural for any direct application to be drawn from them, as reflecting modern society, found indiscreet champions as determined as its aggressors. Violently denounced by M. Capo de Feuillide, of the Europe litteraire, it was warmly defended by M. Gustave Planche, in the Revue des Deux Mondes. The war of words grew so hot between them that a challenge and encounter were the result—surely unique in the annals of duelling. The swords of the critics fortunately proved more harmless than their words.
From the morbid depression that had tormented her mind and imagination, and has its literary memorial in Lelia, she was to find a timely, though but a temporary rescue, in the charm of a new acquaintance—the delighting society of a poetic mind of an order not inferior to her own.
It was in August, 1833, at a dinner given by Buloz to the staff of the Revue des Deux Mondes, that George Sand first made the personal acquaintance of Alfred de Musset, then in his twenty-third year, and already famous through his just published poem, Rolla, and his earlier dramas, Andrea del Sarto and Les Caprices de Marianne. He rapidly became enamored of the author of Lelia, who for her part felt powerfully the attraction of his many admirable qualities, mutual enchantment leading them so far as to believe they could be the hero and heroine of a happy love tale. In a letter of September 21, addressed to her friend and correspondent Sainte-Beuve, whom she had made the confidant of her previous depression and strange moods of gloom, she writes of herself as lifted out of such dangers by a happiness beyond any she had imagined, restoring youth to her heart—the happiness accorded her by the poet's society and his preference for her own. De Musset, at this time, would have given the world to have been able to make her his wife.
The story of their short-lived infatuation and of the swift-following mutual disenchantment,—a story which, says Sainte-Beuve, has become part of the romance of the nineteenth century,—is perhaps of less consequence here than in the life of De Musset,[A] in whom the over-sensitiveness of genius was not allied with the extraordinary healthy vitality which enabled George Sand to come out of the most terrible mental experiences unembittered, with the balance of her mind unshaken, and her powers unimpaired. Yet that he acquired an empire over her no other ever acquired there is much to indicate. It took her from France for a while, from her children, her friends—and the breaking of the spell set her at war, not only with him, but for a while with herself, with life, and her fellow creatures.
In the last days of 1833, she and the author of Rolla started on a journey to Italy, where George Sand spent six months, and where she has laid the scene of a number of her novels: the first and best part of Consuelo, La Derniere Aldini, Leone, Leoni, La Daniella, and others. The spirit of that land she has caught and reproduced perhaps more successfully than any other of the many novelists who have chosen it for a frame—of Italy as the artist's native country, that is—not the Italy of political history, nor of the Medici, but the Italy that is the second home of painters, poets, and musicians. Can anything be more enjoyable, and at the same time more vividly true, than George Sand's delineations of Venice; and, in the first of the Lettres d'un Voyageur, the pictures given of her wanderings on the shores of the Brenta, of Bassano, the Brenta valley, Oliero, Possagno, Asolo, a delicious land, till quite recently as little tourist-trodden as in 1834? What a contrast to the purely imaginary descriptions in Lelia, written before those beauties had appeared to her except in dreams!
From Genoa the travellers journeyed to Pisa, Florence, and thence to Venice, where first George Sand felt herself really at home in Italy. The architecture, the simplicity of Venetian life and manners, the theatres—from the opera-houses, where Pasta and Donzelli were singing, down to the national drama of Pulchinello—the pictures, the sea, the climate, combined to make of it a place of residence so perfectly to her mind, that again and again in her letters she expresses her wish that she could bring over her children and there fix her abode.
"It is the only town I can love for its own sake," she says of it. "Other cities are like prisons, which you put up with for the sake of your fellow-prisoners." This Italian journey marks a fresh stage in her artistic development, quite apart from the attendant romantic circumstances, the alleged disastrous consequences to a child of genius less wise and fortunate than herself, which has given an otherwise disproportionate notoriety to this brief episode.
George Sand was no doubt fatally in error when she persuaded herself, and even succeeded in persuading the poet's anxious mother, that she had it in her to be his guardian angel, and reform him miraculously in a short space of time; and that because he had fallen in love with her she would know how to make him alter a way of life he had no abiding desire to abandon. Such a task demands a readiness not merely for self-sacrifice, but for self-suppression; and her individuality was far too pronounced to merge itself for long in ministering to another's. She never seems to have possessed the slightest moral ascendancy over him, beyond the power of wounding him very deeply by the change in her sentiments, however much he might feel himself to blame for it.
The history of the separation of the lovers—of De Musset's illness, jealousy, and departure from Venice alone—is a thrice-told tale. Like the subject of "The Ring and the Book," it has been set forth, by various persons, variously interested, with correspondingly various coloring. The story, as told by George Sand in her later novel, Elle et Lui, is substantially the same as one related by De Musset in his Confession d'un Enfant du Siecle, published two years after these events, and in which, if it is to be regarded as reflecting personal idiosyncrasies in the slightest degree, the poet certainly makes himself out as the most insupportable of human companions. None the less did the publication of Elle et Lui, a quarter of a century later, provoke a savage retort from the deceased poet's brother, in Lui et Elle. Finally, in Lui, a third novelist, Madame Colet, presented the world with a separate version of the affair from one who imagined she could have made up to the poet for what he had lost.
But it needs no deep study of human nature, or yet of these novels, to understand the impracticability of two such minds long remaining together in unity. Genius, in private life, is apt to be a torment—its foibles demanding infinite patience, forbearance, nay, affectionate blindness, in those who would minister to its happiness, and mitigate the worst results of those foibles themselves. Certainly George Sand, for a genius, was a wonderfully equable character; her "satanic" moods showed themselves chiefly in pen and ink; her nerves were very strong, the balance of her physical and mental organization was splendidly even, as one imagines Shakespeare's to have been. But the very vigor of her character, its force of self-assertion, unfitted her to be the complement to any but a very yielding nature. The direct influence a passive, merely receptive spirit would have accepted, and gratefully, was soon felt as an intolerable burden by a mind in many ways different from her own, but with the same imperious instinct of freedom, and as little capable of playing anvil to another mind for long. He rebelled against her ascendancy, but suffered from the spell. She was no Countess Guiccioli, content to adore and be adored, and exercise an indirect power for good on a capricious lover. Her logical mind, energetic and independent, grew impatient of the seeming inconsistencies of her gifted companion; and when at last she began to perceive in them the fatal conditions of those gifts themselves, only compassion survived in her, as she thought, and compassion was cold.
How could De Musset, with such an excellent example of prudence, regular hours, good sense, calm self-possession, and ceaseless literary industry as hers before his eyes, not be stirred up to emulate such admirable qualities? But her reason made him unreasonable; the indefatigability of her pen irritated his nerves, and made him idle out of contradiction; her homilies provoked only fresh imprudences—as though he wanted to make proof of his independence whilst secretly feeling her dominion—a phenomenon with which highly nervous people will sympathize not a little, but which was perfectly inexplicable to George Sand.
His genius was of a more delicate essence than hers; he has struck, at times, a deeper note. But his nature was frailer, his muse not so easily within call, his character as intolerant of restraint as her own, but less self-sufficing; and the morbid taint of thought then prevalent, and which her natural optimism and better balanced faculties enabled her to throw off very shortly, had entered into him ineffaceably. Whether or not she brought a fresh blight on his mind, she certaintly failed to cure it.
The spring had hardly begun when De Musset was struck down by fever. George Sand, who had previously been very ill herself, nursed him through his attack with great devotion; and in six weeks' time he was restored to health, if not to happiness. Theirs was at an end, as they recognized, and agreed to part—"for a time, perhaps, or perhaps for ever," she wrote,—with their attachment broken but not destroyed.
It was early in April that De Musset started on his homeward journey. George Sand saw him on his way as far as Vicenza, and ere returning to Venice, made a little excursion in the Alps, along the course of the Brenta. "I have walked as much as four-and-twenty miles a day," she writes to M. Boucoiran, "and found out that this sort of exercise is very good for me, both morally and physically. Tell Buloz I will write some letters for the Revue, upon my pedestrian tours. I came back into Venice with only seven centimes in my pocket, otherwise I should have gone as far as the Tyrol; but the want of baggage and money obliged me to return. In a few days I shall start again, and cross over the Alps by the gorges of the Piave."
And the spring's delights on the Alpine borders of Lombardy are described by her con amore, in the promised letters:—
The country was not yet in its full splendor; the fields were of a faint green, verging on yellow, and the leaves only coming into bud on the trees. But here and there the almonds and peaches in flower mixed their garlands of pink and white with the dark clumps of cypress. Through the midst of this far-spreading garden the Brenta flowed swiftly and silently over her sandy bed, between two large banks of pebbles, and the rocky debris which she tears out of the heart of the Alps, and with which she furrows the plains in her days of anger. A semi-circle of fertile hills, overspread with those long festoons of twisting vine that suspend themselves from all the trees in Venetia, made a near frame to the picture; and the snowy mountain-heights, sparkling in the first rays of sunshine, formed an immense second border, standing, as if cut out in silver, against the solid blue of the sky.
None of these excursions, however, were ever carried very far. For the next three months she remained almost entirely stationary at Venice, her head-quarters. She had taken apartments for herself in the interior of the city, in a little low-built house, along the narrow, green, and yet limpid canal, close to the Ponte dei Barcaroli. "There," she tells us, "alone all the afternoon, never going out except in the evening for a breath of air, working at night as well, to the song of the tame nightingales that people all Venetian balconies, I wrote Andre, Jacques, Mattea, and the first Lettres d'un Voyageur."
None can read the latter and suppose that the suffering of the recent parting was all on one side. The poet continued to correspond with her, and the consciousness of the pain she had inflicted she was clearly not sufficiently indifferent herself to support. But neither De Musset nor any other in whom, through the "prism of enthusiasm," she may have seen awhile a hero of romance, was ever a primary influence on her life. These were two. Firstly, her children, who although at a distance were seldom absent from her thoughts. Of their well-being at school and at home respectively, she was careful to keep herself informed, down to the minutest particulars, by correspondents in Paris and at Nohant, whence no opposition whatever was raised by its occupier to her prolonged absence abroad. Secondly, her art-vocation. She wrote incessantly; and independently of the pecuniary obligations to do so which she put forward, it is obvious that she had become wedded to this habit of work. "The habit has become a faculty—the faculty a need. I have thus come to working for thirteen hours at a time without making myself ill; seven or eight a day on an average, be the task done better or worse," she writes to M. Chatiron, from Venice, in March. Sometimes, as with Leone Leoni, she would complete a novel in a week; a few weeks later it was in the Revue des Deux Mondes. Such haste she afterward deprecated, and, like all other workers, she aspired to a year's holiday in which to devote herself to the study of the masterpieces of modern literature; but the convenient season for such suspension of her own productive activity never came. And whilst at Venice she found herself literally in want of money to leave it. Buloz had arranged with her that she should contribute thirty-two pages every six weeks to his periodical for a yearly stipend of L160. She had anticipated her salary for the expenses of her Italian journey, and must acquit herself of the arrears due before she could take wing.
Jacques, the longest of the novels written at Venice, afforded fresh grounds to those who taxed her works with hostility to social institutions. Without entering into the vexed question of the right of the artist in search of variety to exercise his power on any theme that may invite to its display, and of the precise bearing of ethical rules on works of imagination, it is permissible to doubt that Jacques, however bitter the sentiments of the author at that time regarding the marriage tie, ever seriously disturbed the felicity of any domestic household in the past or present day. It is too lengthy and too melancholy to attract modern readers, who care little to revel in the luxuries of woe, so relished by those of a former age. We cannot do better than quote the judgment pronounced by Madame Sand herself, thirty years later, on this work of pure sentimentalism—generated by an epoch thrown into commotion by the passionate views of romanticism—the epoch of Rene, Lara, Childe Harold, Werther, types of desperate men; life weary, but by no means weary of talking. "Jacques," she observes, "belonged to this large family of disillusioned thinkers; they had their raison d'etre, historical and social. He comes on the scene in the novel, already worn by deceptions; he thought to revive through his love, and he does not revive. Marriage was for him only the drop of bitterness that made the cup overflow. He killed himself to bequeath to others the happiness for which he cared not, and in which he believed not."
Jacques, taken as a plaidoyer against domestic institutions, singularly misses its aim. As critics have remarked, some of the most eloquent pages are those that treat of married bliss. Our sympathies are entirely with the wronged husband against his silly little wife. It is a kindred work to Lelia, and its faults are the same; but whilst dealing ostensibly with real life and possible human beings it cannot, like Lelia, be placed apart, and retain interest as a literary curiosity.
Andre is a very different piece of work and a little masterpiece of its kind. The author, in her preface, tells us how, whilst mechanically listening to the incessant chatter of the Venetian sempstresses in the next room to her own, she was struck by the resemblance between the mode of life and thought their talk betrayed, and that of the same class of girls at La Chatre; and how in the midst of Venice, to the sound of the rippling waters stirred by the gondolier's oar, of guitar and serenade, and within sight of the marble palaces, her thoughts flew back to the dark and dirty streets, the dilapidated houses, the wretched moss-grown roofs, the shrill concerts of the cocks, cats, and children of the little French provincial town. She dreamt also of the lovely meadows, the scented hay, the little running streams, and the floral researches she had been fond of. This tenacity of her instincts was a safeguard she may have sometimes rebelled against as a chain; it was with her an essential feature, and, despite all vagaries, gave a great unity to her life.
"Venice," she writes to M. Chatiron in June, "with her marble staircases and her wonderful climate, does not make me forget anything that has been dear to me. Be sure that nothing in me dies. My life has its agitations; destiny pushes me different ways, but my heart does not repudiate the past. Old memories have a power none can ignore, and myself less than another. I love on the contrary to recall them, and we shall soon find ourselves together again in the old nest at Nohant." Andre she considered the outcome of this feeling of nostalgia. In it she has put together the vulgar elements of inferior society in a common-place country town, and produced a poem, though one of the saddest. If the florist heroine, Genevieve, is a slightly idealized figure, the story and general character-treatment are realistic to a painful degree. There is more power of simple pathos shown here than is common in the works of George Sand. Andre is a refreshing contrast, in its simplicity and brevity, to the inflation of Lelia and Jacques. It was an initial essay, and a model one, in a style with better claims to enduring popularity.
As the summer advanced, George Sand found herself free to depart, and started on her way back to France, famishing, as she tells us, for the sight of her children. Her grand anxiety was to reach her destination in time for the breaking-up day and distribution of prizes at the College Henri IV. "I shall be at Paris before then," she writes from Milan, to her son, "if I die on the way, and really the heat is such that one might die of it." From Milan she journeyed over the Simplon to the Rhone valley, Martigny, Chamounix, and Geneva, performing great part of the way on foot. She reached Paris in the middle of August, and a few days later started with her boy for Nohant, where Solange had spent the time during her mother's absence, and where they remained together for the holidays. Here too she was in the midst of a numerous circle of friends of both sexes, in whose staunch friendliness she found a solace of which she stood in real need.
The period immediately following George Sand's return from Italy in August 1834, was a time of transition, both in her outer and inner life. If undistinguished by the production of any novel calculated to create a fresh sensation, it shows no abatement of literary activity. This, as we have seen, had become to her a necessity of nature. Neither vicissitudes without nor commotions within, though they might direct or stimulate, seem to have acted as a check on the flow of her pen.
During the first twelvemonth she continued to reside alternately at Nohant, whither she came with her son and daughter for their holidays—Solange being now placed in a children's school kept by some English ladies at Paris,—and her "poet's garret," as she styled her third floor appartement on the Quai Malplaquet.
This winter saw the ending for herself and De Musset of their hapless romance. An approach to complete reconciliation—for the existing partial estrangement had been discovered to be more unbearable than all besides—led to stormy scenes and violent discord, and resulted before very long in mutual avoidance, which was to be final. It is said that forgiveness is the property of the injured, and it should be remembered that whenever De Musset's name is mentioned by George Sand it is with the admiring respect of one to whom his genius made that name sacred, and who refused to the end of his life to use the easy weapon offered her by his notorious frailties for vindicating herself at his expense. And, however pernicious the much talked of effect on De Musset's mind, it is but fair to the poet to recollect that it is no less true of him than of George Sand that his best work, that with which his fame has come chiefly to associate itself, was accomplished after this painful experience.
Into her own mental state—possibly at this time the least enviable of the two—we get some glimpses in the Lettres d'un Voyageur of the autumn 1834, and winter 1834-35. Here, again, we should be content with gathering a general impression, and not ingenuously read literal facts in all the self-accusations and recorded experiences of the "voyageur"—a semi-fictitious personage whose improvisations were, after all, only a fresh exercise which George Sand had invented for her imagination taking herself and reality for a starting-point merely, a suggestive theme.
But the despair and disgust of life, to which both these and her private letters give such uncompromising and eloquent expression, indubitably reflect her feelings at this moral crisis—the feelings of one who having openly braved the laws of society, to become henceforward a law unto herself, recognizes that she has only found her way to fresh sources of misery. Never yet had she had such grave and deep causes of individual mental torment to blacken her views of existence, and incline her to abhor it as a curse. "Your instinct will save you, bring you back to your children," wrote a friend who knew her well. But her maternal love and solicitude themselves were becoming a source of added distress and apprehension.
The extraordinary arrangement she and M. Dudevant had entered into four years before with regard to each other, was clearly one impossible to last. It will be recollected that she at that time had relinquished her patrimony to those who had thought it no dishonor to continue to enjoy it; and the terms of that agreement had since been nominally undisturbed. But besides that, the control of the children remained a constant subject of dissension. M. Dudevant was beginning to get into pecuniary difficulties in the management of his wife's estate. Sometimes he contemplated resigning it to her, and retiring to Gascony, to live with his widowed stepmother on the property which at her death would revert to him. But unfortunately he could not make up his mind to this course. No sooner had he drawn up an agreement consenting to a division of property, than he seemed to regret the sacrifice; upon which she ceased to press it.
Meantime Madame Dudevant, whose position at Nohant was that of a visitor merely, and becoming untenable, felt her hold on her cherished home and her children becoming more precarious day by day.
Some of her friends had strongly advised her to travel for a length of time, both as offering a mortal remedy, and as a temporary escape from the practical perplexities of the moment. Her rescue, however, was to be otherwise effected, and a number of new intellectual interests that sprang up for her at this time all tended to retain her in her own country.
It was in the course of this spring that she made the acquaintance of M. de Lamennais, introduced to her by their common friend, the composer, Franz Liszt. The famous author of the Paroles d'un Croyant had virtually severed himself from the Church of Rome by his recent publication of this little volume, pronounced by the Pope, "small in size, immense in perversity!" The eloquence of the poet-priest, and the doctrines of the anti-Catholic and humanitarian Christianity of which he came forward as the expounder, could not fail powerfully to impress her intelligence. Here seemed the harbor of refuge her half-wrecked faiths were seeking, and what the abbe's antagonists denounced as the "diabolical gospel of social science," came to her as the teachings of an angel of light. Christianity as preached by him was a sort of realization of the ideal religion of Aurore Dupin—faith divorced from superstition and the doctrine of Romish infallibility. Complete identity of sentiments between herself and the abbe was out of the question. But his was the right mind coming to her mind at the right moment, and exercised a healing influence over her troubled spirits. For Le Monde, a journal founded by him shortly after this time, she wrote the Lettres a Marcie, an unfinished series, treating of moral and spiritual problems and trials. Finally, the position M. de Lamennais had taken up as the apostle of the people further enlisted her sympathies in his cause, which made religious one with social reform, and amalgamated the protest against moral enslavement with the liberation-schemes then fermenting in young and generous minds all over Europe.
The belief in the possibility of their speedy realization was then wide-spread—a conviction that, as Heine puts it, some grand recipe for freedom and equality, invented, well drawn up, and inserted in the Moniteur, was all that was needed to secure those benefits for the world at large. If George Sand, led afterwards into searching for this empirical remedy for the wrongs and sufferings of the masses, believed the elixir to have been found in the establishment of popular sovereignty by universal suffrage, it was through the persuasive arguments of the leaders of the movement, with whom at this period she was first brought into personal relations. Her own unbiassed judgment, to which she reverted long years after, when she had seen these illusions perish sadly, was less sanguine in its prognostications for the immediate future, as appears in her own reflections in a letter of this time:—
What I see in the midst of the divergencies of all these reforming sects is a waste of generous sentiments and of noble thoughts, a tendency towards social amelioration, but an impossibility for the time to bring forth through the want of a head to that great body with a hundred hands, that tears itself to pieces, for not knowing what to attack. So far the struggles make only dust and noise. We have not yet come to the era that will construct new societies, and people them with perfected men.
She had recently been introduced to a political and legal celebrity of his day, the famous advocate Michel, of Bourges. He was then at the height of his reputation, which, won by his eloquent and successful defense of political prisoners on various occasions, was considerable. Madame Sand had been advised to consult him professionally about her business affairs, and for this purpose went over one day with some of her Berrichon friends to see him at Bourges. But the man of law had, it appears, been reading Lelia, and instead of talking of business with his distinguished client, dashed at once into politics, philosophy, and social science, overpowering his listeners with the strength of his oratory. His sentiments were those of extreme radicalism, and he carried on a little private propaganda in the country around. The force of his character seems to have spent itself in oratorical effort. He could preach revolution, but not suggest reform; denounce existing abuses, but do nothing towards the remodelling of social institutions; and in after years he failed, as so many leading men in his profession have failed, to make any impression as a speaker in Parliament. The author of Lelia was overwhelmed, if not all at once converted, by the tremendous rhetorical power of this singular man. She was a proselyte worth the trouble of making, and Michel was bent on drawing her more closely into active politics, with which hitherto she had occupied herself very little. He began a correspondence, writing her long epistles, the sum of which, she says, may thus be resumed:—"Your scepticism springs from personal unhappiness. Love is selfish. Extend this solicitude for a single individual to the whole human race." He certainly succeeded in inspiring her with a strong desire to share his passion for politics, his faith, his revivifying hopes of a speedy social renovation, his ambition to be one of its apostles. To Michel, under the sobriquet of "Everard," are addressed several of the Lettres d'un Voyageur of the spring and summer of 1835, letters which she defines as "a rapid analysis of a rapid conversion."
But Michel's work was a work of demolition only; and when his earnest disciple wanted new theories in place of the old forms so ruthlessly destroyed, he had none to offer. There were others, however, who could. She was soon to be put into communication with a number of the active workers for the republican cause throughout the country. They counted many of the best hearts and not the worst heads in France, and were naturally eager to enlist her energies on their side.
Foremost, by right of the influence exercised over her awhile by his writings, was the philosopher Pierre Leroux, with whom her acquaintance dates from this same year. In spite of the wide divergence between her pre-eminently artistic spirit and a mind of the rougher stamp of this born iconoclast, he was to indoctrinate her with many new opinions. His disinterested character won her admiration; he was a practical philanthropist as well as a critical thinker, one whose life and fighting power were devoted to promoting the good of the working classes to whom he belonged, having been brought up as a printer. He was regarded as the apostle of communism, as then understood, or rather not understood—for the form under which it suggested itself to the social reformers of the period in question was entirely indefinite.
Meantime the novelist's pen was far from idle. One or two pleasant glimpses she has given us into her manner of working belong to this year. In the summer the heat in her "poet's garret" becoming intolerable, she took refuge in a congenial solitude offered by the ground-floor apartments of the house, then in course of reconstruction, dismantled and untenanted. The works had been temporarily suspended, and Madame Sand took possession of the field abandoned by the builders and carpenters. The windows and doors opening into the garden had been taken away, and the place thus turned into an airy, cool retreat. Out of the apparatus of the workmen, left behind, she constructed her writing-establishment, and here, secure from interruption, denying herself to all visitors, never going out except to visit her children at their respective schools, she completed her novel with no companions but the spiders crawling over the planks, the mice running in and out of the corners, and the blackbirds hopping in from the garden; the deep sense of solitude enhanced by the roar of the city in the very heart of which she had thus voluntarily isolated herself.
As an artistic experience she found it refreshing, and repeated it more than once. Soon after, a friend offered her the loan of an empty house at Bourges, a town that had been suggested to her as a desirable place of residence, should the circumstances at Nohant ever force her to abandon it entirely. As a home she saw and disapproved of Bourges, but she thoroughly enjoyed a brief retreat spent there in an absolutely deserted, vine-covered dwelling, standing in a garden enclosed by stone walls. Her meals were handed in through a wicket. A few friends came to see her in the evenings. The days, and often the nights, she passed in study and meditation, shut up in the library reading Lavater, expatiating on her impressions of his theories in a letter addressed to Franz Liszt (inserted among the Lettres d'un Voyageur), or strolling in the flower garden—"forgotten," she tells us, "by the whole world, and plunged into oblivion of the actualities of my own existence."
Of her numerous letters of advice to her boy at school, we quote one written during this summer of 1835, when their future relations to each other were in painful uncertainty:—
Work, be strong and proud; despise the little troubles supposed to belong to your age. Reserve your strength of resistance for deeds and facts that are worth the effort. If I am here no longer, think of me who worked and suffered cheerfully. We are like each other in mind and in countenance. I know already from this day what your intellectual life will be. I fear for you many and deep sorrows. I hope for you the purest of joys. Guard within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness. Know how to replace in your heart, by the happiness of those you love, the happiness that may be wanting to yourself. Keep the hope of another life. It is there that mothers meet their sons again. Love all God's creatures. Forgive those who are ill-conditioned, resist those who are unjust, and devote yourself to those who are great through their virtue. Love me. I will teach you many, many things if we live together. If that blessing (the greatest that can befall me, the only one that makes me wish for a long life) is not to be, you must pray for me, and from the grave itself, if anything remains of me in the universe, the spirit of your mother will watch over you.
In the autumn, 1835, Madame Dudevant, under legal advice, and supported by the approval of friends of both parties, determined to apply to the courts for a judicial separation from her husband, on the plea of ill-treatment. She had sufficient grounds to allege for her claim, and had then every reason to hope that her demand would not even be contested by M. Dudevant, who, on former occasions, had voluntarily signed but afterwards revoked the agreement she hereby only desired to make valid and permanent, and which, ensuring to him a certain proportion of her income, gave her Nohant for a place of habitation, and established the children under her care.
Pending the issue of this suit, which, unexpectedly protracted, dragged on until the summer of the next year, she availed herself of the hospitality of a family at La Chatre, friends of old standing, and from under whose roof she awaited, as from a neutral ground, the decision of her judges. During this year she saw little of Paris, and less of Nohant, except for a brief visit which, profiting by a moment when its walls were absolutely deserted by every other human being, she paid to her house—not knowing then whether she would ever, so to speak, inhabit it again in her own right.
On the result of the legal proceedings depended her future home and the best part of her happiness. Sooner than be parted from her children, she contemplated the idea, in case of the decision going against her, of escaping with them to America! Yet, in the midst of all this suspense, we find her industrious as ever, joining in the daytime in the family life of the household with which she was domesticated, helping to amuse the children among them, retiring to her room at ten at night, to work on at her desk till seven in the morning, according to her wont. A more cheerful tone begins to pervade her effusions. The clouds were slowly breaking on all sides at once, and a variety of circumstances combining to restore to her mind its natural tone—faith, hope, and charity to her heart, and harmony to her existence. She began to perceive what she was enabled afterwards more fully to acknowledge as follows:—
As to my religion, the ground of it has never varied. The forms of the past have vanished, for me as for my century, before the light of study and reflection. But the eternal doctrine of believers, of God and His goodness, the immortal soul and the hopes of another life, this is what, in myself, has been proof against all examination, all discussion, and even intervals of despairing doubt.
It is significant that during these months, spent for the most part at La Chatre, we find her rewriting Lelia, trying, as she expressed her intention, "to transform this work of anger into a work of gentleness." Engelwald, a novel of some length on which she was engaged, was destined never to see the light.
To the Comtesse d'Agoult, better known by her nom de plume of Daniel Stern, whose acquaintance she had recently made in Paris, she writes in May, 1836:—
I am still at La Chatre, staying with my friends, who spoil me like a child of five years old. I inhabit a suburb, built in terraces against the rock. At my feet lies a wonderfully pretty valley. A garden thirty feet square and full of roses, and a terrace extensive enough for you to walk along it in ten steps, are my drawing-room, my study, and gallery. My bed-room is rather large—it is decorated with a red cotton curtained bed—a real peasant's bed, hard and flat, two straw chairs, and a white wooden table. My window is situated six feet above the terrace. By the trellised trees on the wall I can get out and in, and stroll at night among my thirty feet of flowers without having to open a door or wake anyone.
Sometimes I go out riding alone, at dusk. I come in towards midnight. My cloak, my rough hat, and the melancholy trot of my nag, make me pass in the darkness for a commercial traveller, or a farm-boy.
One of my grand amusements is to watch the transition from night to day; it effects itself in a thousand different manners. This revolution, apparently so uniform, has every day a character of its own.
The summer that had set in was unusually hot and sultry. Writing to Madame d'Agoult, July 10, 1836, she thus describes her enjoyment of a season that allowed of some of the pleasures of primitive existence:—
I start on foot at three in the morning, fully intending to be back by eight o'clock; but I lose myself in the lanes; I forget myself on the banks of the river; I run after butterflies; and I get home at midday in a state of torrefaction impossible to describe.
Another time the sight of the cooling stream is more than she can resist, and she walks into the Indre fully dressed; but a few minutes more and the sun has dried her garments, and she proceeds on her walk of ten or twelve miles—"Never a cockchafer passes but I run after it."
You have no idea of all the dreams I dream during my walks in the sun. I fancy myself in the golden days of Greece. In this happy country where I live you may often go for six miles without meeting a human creature. The flocks are left by themselves in pastures well enclosed by fine hedges; so the illusion can last for some time. One of my chief amusements when I have got out to some distance, where I don't know the paths, is to fancy I am wandering over some other country with which I discover some resemblance. I recollect having strolled in the Alps, and fancied myself for hours in America. Now I picture to myself an Arcadia in Berry. Not a meadow, not a cluster of trees which, under so fine a sun, does not appear to me quite Arcadian.
We give these passages because they seem to us very forcibly to portray one side, and that the strongest and most permanent, of the character of George Sand: the admixture of a child's simplicity of tastes, a poet's fondness for reverie, and that instinctive independence of habits—an instinct stronger than the restraints of custom—which her individuality seemed to demand.
In the letter last quoted to Madame d'Agoult, the new ideal which was arising out of these contemplations is thus resumed:—
To throw yourself into the lap of mother nature: to take her really for mother and sister; stoically and religiously to cut off from your life what is mere gratified vanity; obstinately to resist the proud and the wicked; to make yourself humble with the unfortunate, to weep with the misery of the poor; nor desire another consolation than the putting down of the rich; to acknowledge no other God than Him who ordains justice and equality upon men; to venerate what is good, to judge severely what is only strong, to live on very little, to give away nearly all, in order to re-establish primitive equality and bring back to life again the Divine institution: that is the religion I shall proclaim in a little corner of my own, and that I aspire to preach to my twelve apostles under the lime-trees in my garden.
The judgment of the court, first pronounced in February, 1836, and given in her favor by default, no opposition having been raised to her claims to the proposed partition of property by the defendant, placed her in legal possession of her house and her children. Appeal was made, however, prolonging and complicating the case, but without affecting its termination. In the war of mutual accusations thus stirred up, M. Dudevant's role as accuser, yet objecting in the same breath to the separation, had an appearance of insincerity that could not fail to withdraw sympathy from his side, irrespective of any judgment that might be held on the conduct of the wife, whose absence and complete independence he had authorized or acquiesced in. Before the actual conclusion of the law-suit his appeal was withdrawn. As a result, the previous judgment in favor of Madame Dudevant was virtually confirmed, and the details were settled by private agreement.
It is almost impossible to overrate the importance to George Sand of a conclusion that gave her back her old home of Nohant, and secured to her the permanent companionship of her children. The present pecuniary arrangement left M. Dudevant some hold over Maurice and his education, concerning which his parents had long disagreed, and which for another year remained a source of contention.
The affair thus concluded, Madame Sand entered formally into possession of Nohant; and early in September she started with her two children for Switzerland, where they spent the autumn holidays in a long-contemplated visit to her friend the Comtesse d'Agoult, then at Geneva. This tour is fancifully sketched in a closing number of the Lettres d'un Voyageur, a volume which stands as a sort of literary memorial of two years of unsettled, precarious existence, material and spiritual—a time of trial now happily at an end.
Simon, a tale dedicated to Madame d'Agoult, and published in the Revue des Deux Mondes, 1836—a graceful story, of no high pretentions—is noticeable as marking the commencement of a decided and agreeable change in the tone of George Sand's fiction. Hitherto the predominant note struck had been most often one of melancholy, if not despair—the more hopelessly painful the subject, the more fervent, apparently, the inspiration to the writer. In Indiana she had portrayed the double victim of tyranny and treachery; in Valentine, a helpless girl sacrificed to family ambition and social prejudice; in Lelia and Jacques, the incurable Weltschmerz, heroism unvalued and wasted; in Leone Leoni, the infatuation of a weak-minded woman for a phenomenal scoundrel; in Andre, the wretchedness which a timid, selfish character, however amiable, may bring down on itself and on all connected with it. Henceforward she prefers themes of a pleasanter nature. In Simon she paints the triumph of true and patient love over social prejudice and strong opposition. In Mauprat,[B] written in 1837, at Nohant, she exerts all the force of her imagination and language to bring before us vividly the gradual redemption of a noble but degraded nature, through the influence of an exclusive, passionate and indestructible affection. The natural optimism of her temperament, not her incidental misfortunes, began and continued to color her compositions.
From Switzerland she returned for part of the winter to Paris. She had given up her "poet's garret," and occupied for a while a suite of rooms in the Hotel de France, where resided also Madame d'Agoult. The salon of the latter was a favorite rendezvous of cosmopolitan artistic celebrities, whose general rendezvous just then was Paris. A very Pantheon must have been an intimate circle that included, among others, George Sand, Daniel Stern, Heine, the Polish poet Mickiewicz, Eugene Delacroix, Meyerbeer, Liszt, Hiller, and Frederic Chopin.
The delicate health of her son forced Madame Sand to leave with him shortly for Berry, where he soon became convalescent. Later in the season, some of the same party of friends that had met in Paris met again at Nohant. It was during this summer that George Sand wrote for her child the well-known little tale, Les Maitres Mosaistes, in which the adventures of the Venetian mosaic-workers are woven into so charming a picture. "I do not know why, but it is seldom that I have written anything with so much pleasure," she tells us. "It was in the country, in summer weather, as hot as the Italian climate I had lately left. I have never seen so many birds and flowers in my garden. Liszt was playing the piano on the ground floor, and the nightingales, intoxicated with music and sunshine, were singing madly in the lilac-trees around."
The party was abruptly dispersed upon the intelligence that reached Madame Sand of her mother's sudden, and, as it proved, fatal illness. She hurried to Paris, and remained with Madame Maurice Dupin during her last days. The old fond affection between them, though fitful in its manifestations on the part of the mother, had never been impaired, and the breaking of this old link with the past was very deeply felt by Madame Sand.
Before returning to Nohant, she spent a few weeks at Fontainebleau with her son, from whom she never liked to separate. They passed their days in exploring the forest, then larger and wilder than now, botanizing and butterfly-hunting. At night she sat up writing, when all was quiet in the inn. Just as, whilst at Venice, her fancy flew back to the scenes and characters of French provincial life, and Andre was the result, so here, amid the forest landscapes of her own land, her imagination rushed off to Venice and the shores of the Brenta, and produced La Derniere Aldini.
This constant industry, which had now become her habit of life, was more of a practical necessity than ever. Nohant, as already mentioned, barely repaid the owner the expenses of keeping it up. Madame Sand, who desired to be liberal besides, to travel occasionally, to gratify little artistic fancies as they arose, must look to her literary work to furnish the means.
"Sometimes," she writes from Nohant, in October, 1837, to Madame d'Agoult, then in Italy, "I am tempted to realize my capital, and come and join you; but out there I should do no work, and the galley-slave is chained up. If Buloz lets him go for a walk it is on parole, and parole is the cannon-ball the convict drags on his foot."
Nor was it for herself only that she worked in future, but for her children, the whole responsibility of providing for both of whose education she was now about definitely to take on her own shoulders. The power of interference left to M. Dudevant by the recent legal decision had been exercised in a manner leading to fresh vexatious contention, and continual alarm on Madame Sand's part lest the boy should be taken by force from her side. These skirmishes included the actual abduction of Solange from Nohant by M. Dudevant during her mother's absence at Fontainebleau; a foolish and purposeless trick, by which nothing was to be gained, except annoyance and trouble to Madame Sand, whose right to the control of her daughter had never been contested. A final settlement entered into between the parties, in 1838, placed these matters henceforward on a footing of peace, fortunately permanent. By this agreement Madame Sand received back from M. Dudevant—who had lately succeeded to his father's estate—some house property that formed part of her patrimony, and paid down to him the sum of L2,000; he ceding to her the remnant of his paternal rights; she freeing him from all charges for Maurice's education, her authority over which, in future, was recognized as complete.
SOLITUDE, SOCIETY AND SOCIALISM.
The charge of both children now resting entirely in her hands, Madame Sand was enabled to fulfill her desire of permanently removing her boy, now fourteen years of age, from the college Henri IV. Not only was she opposed to the general regime and educational system pursued in French public schools of this type, she felt persuaded of its special unsuitability to her son, whose tastes and temperament were artistic, like her own, and whose classical studies had been repeatedly interrupted by illness. His delicate health determined her to spend the winter of 1838-9 abroad with her family. Having heard the climate and scenery of Majorca highly praised, she selected the island for their resort; tempted herself by the prospect of a few months absolute quiet, where, with neither letters to answer, nor newspapers to read, she would enjoy some rare leisure, which she proposed to spend in studying history and teaching French to her children.
Just at this time her friend and ardent admirer, Frederic Chopin, was recovering from a chest attack, the first presage of the illness that caused his early death. The eminent pianist and composer had also been recommended to winter in the South, and greatly needed repose and change of air to recruit him from the fatigues of the Parisian season. It was arranged that the convalescent should make one of the expedition to Majorca. He joined Madame Sand and her children at Perpignan, and they embarked for Barcelona, whence the sea-voyage to the island was safely accomplished, the party reaching Palma, the capital, in magnificent November weather, and never suspecting how soon they would have cause to repent their choice of a retreat.
But their practical information about the island proved lamentably insufficient. With the scenery, indeed, they were enraptured. "We found," says Madame Sand in her little volume, Un Hiver a Majorque, published the following year, "a green Switzerland under a Calabrian sky, with all the solemnity and stillness of the East." But though a painter's Elysium, Majorca was wanting in the commonest comforts of civilized life. Inns were non-existent, foreigners viewed and treated with suspicion. The party thought themselves fortunate in securing a villa some miles from Palma, furnished, though scantily. "The country, nature, trees, sky, sea, and mountains surpass all my dreams," she writes in the first days, "it is the promised land; and as we have succeeded in housing ourselves pretty well, we are delighted."
The delight was of brief duration. That Madame Sand's manuscripts took a month to reach the editor of the Revue des Deux Mondes; that the piano ordered from Paris for Chopin took two months to get to Majorca, were the least among their troubles. A rainy season of exceptional severity set in, and the villa quickly became uninhabitable. It was not weatherproof. Chopin fell alarmingly ill. Good food and medical attendance were hardly to be procured for him; and finally, the villa proprietor, having heard that his tenant was suffering from consumption—an illness believed to be infectious by the Majorcans—gave the whole party notice to quit. The invalid improving somewhat, though still too weak to attempt the return journey to France, Madame Sand transported her ambulance, as she styled it, to some tolerable quarters she had already discovered in the deserted Carthusian monastery of Valdemosa—"a poetical name and a poetical abode," she writes; "an admirable landscape, grand and wild, with the sea at both ends of the horizon, formidable peaks around us, eagles pursuing their prey even down to the orange-trees in our garden, a cypress walk winding from the top of our mountain to the bottom of the gorge, torrents over-grown with myrtles, palm-trees below our feet, nothing could be more magnificent than this spot."
Parts of the old monastic buildings were dilapidated; the rest were in good order, being frequented as a summer retreat by the inhabitants of Palma. Now, in December, the Chartreuse was entirely abandoned, except by a housekeeper, a sacristan and a lone monk, the last offshoot of the community—a kind of apothecary, whose stock-in-trade was limited to guimauve and dog-grass.
The rooms into which the travellers moved had just been vacated by a Spanish family of political refugees departing for France. These lodgings were at least provided with doors, window-panes, and decent furniture; but the luxury of chimneys was unknown, and a stove, which had to be manufactured at an enormous price on purpose for the party, is described as "a sort of iron cauldron, that made our heads ache and dried up our throats." Continuous stormy weather having suspended steam traffic with the mainland, the visitors had no choice but to remain prisoners some two months more, during which the deluge went on with little intermission.
Still, to young and romantic imaginations the island and life in the ex-monastery offered considerable charm. Madame Sand and her children were delighted with the unfamiliar vegetation, the palms, aloes, olives, almond and orange trees, the Arab architecture, and picturesque costumes. Valdemosa itself was splendidly situated among the mountains, in a stone-walled garden surrounded with cypress trees and planted with palms and olives. In the morning, Madame Sand gave lessons to the children; in the afternoon, they ran wild out of doors whilst she wrote—when the invalid musician was well enough to be left. In the evenings she and the young people went wandering by moonlight through the cloisters, exploring the monkish cells and chapels. Maurice had fortunately recovered his health completely, but poor Chopin's state, aggravated by the damp weather and privations—for the difficulties in obtaining a regular supply of provisions were immense—remained throughout their stay a constant and terrible cause of anxiety and responsibility to Madame Sand. From the islanders no sort of help or even sympathy was forthcoming, and thievish servants and extortionate traders were not the least of the annoyances with which the strangers had to contend. In a letter to Francois Rollinat she gives a graphic account of their misfortunes:—
It has rightly been laid down as a principle that where nature is beautiful and generous, men are bad and avaricious. We had all the trouble in the world to procure the commonest articles of food, such as the island produces in abundance; thanks to the signal dishonesty, the plundering spirit of the peasants, who made us pay for everything three times what it was worth, so that we were at their mercy under the penalty of dying of hunger. We could get no one to serve us, because we were not Christians [the travellers passed for being "sold to the Devil" because they did not go to Mass], and, besides, nobody would attend on a consumptive invalid. However, for better for worse, we were established.... The place was incomparably poetical; we did not see a living soul, nothing disturbed our work; after waiting two months, and paying three hundred francs extra, Chopin had at last received his piano, and delighted the vaults of his cell with his melodies. Health and strength were visibly returning to Maurice; as for me, I worked as tutor seven hours a day: I sat up working on my own account half the night; Chopin composed masterpieces, and we hoped to put up with the remainder of our discomforts by the aid of these compensations.
It was in the cells of Valdemosa that Madame Sand completed her novel of Monastic life, Spiridion, then publishing in the Revue des Deux Mondes. "For heaven's sake not so much mysticism!" prayed the editor of her, now and then; and assuredly those readers for whom George Sand was simply a purveyor of passionate romances, those critics who set her down in their minds as exclusively a glorifier of mutinous emotion and the apologist of lawless love, must have been taken aback by these pages, in which she had devoted her most fervent energies to tracing the spiritual history, peu recreatif, as she dryly observes, of a monk who, in the days of the decadence of the monastic orders, retained earnestness and sincerity; whose mind, revolted by the hypocrisy and worldliness around him, passes through the successive stages of heresy and philosophic doubt, and to whom is finally revealed an eternal gospel, which lies at the core of his old religion, but which later growths have stifled, and which outlasts all shocks and changes, and is to generate the religion of the future.
The compositions of Chopin above alluded to, include the finest of his well-known Preludes, which may easily be conceived of as suggested by the strange mingling of contrasting impressions in the Chartreuse. "Several of these Preludes," writes Madame Sand, "represent the visions that haunted him of deceased monks, the sounds of funeral chants; others are soft and melancholy; these came to him in his hours of sunshine and health, at the sound of the children's laughter beneath the window, the distant thrum of guitars and the songs of the birds under the damp foliage; at the sight of the pale little roses in bloom among the snow."
The loneliness and melancholy beauty of the spot, however congenial to the romance writer or inspiring to the composer, were not the right tonics for the nerves of the over-sensitive, imaginative invalid. The care and nursing of Madame Sand made amends for much, and by her good sense she saved him from being doctored to death by local practitioners. But his fortitude, which bore up heroically against his personal danger, was not proof against the dreary influences of Valdemosa in bad weather, the fogs, the sound of the hurricane sweeping through the valley, and bringing down portions of the dilapidated building, the noise of the torrents, the cries of the scared sea-birds and the roar of the sea.
The elevation of the Chartreuse made the climate peculiarly disagreeable at this season. She writes on:—
We lived in the midst of clouds, and for fifty days were unable to get down into the plains; the roads were changed to torrents, and we saw nothing more of the sun. I should have thought it all beautiful if poor Chopin could only have got on. Maurice was none the worse. The wind and the sea sung sublimely as they beat against the rocks. The vast and empty cloisters cracked over our heads. If I had been there when I wrote the portion of Lelia that takes place in the convent, I should have made it finer and truer. But my poor friend's chest got worse and worse. The fine weather did not return.... A maid I had brought over from France, and who so far had resigned herself, on condition of enormous wages, to cook and do the housework, began to refuse attendance, as too hard. The moment was coming when after having wielded the broom and managed the pot au feu, I was ready to drop with fatigue—for besides my work as tutor, besides my literary labor, besides the continual attention necessitated by the condition of my invalid, I had rheumatism in every limb.
The return of spring was hailed as offering a tardy release from their island. The steamers were running again, and the party determined to leave at all risks; for though Chopin's state was more precarious than ever, nothing could be worse for him than to remain. They departed, feeling, she admits, as though they were escaping from the tender mercies of Polynesian savages, and once safely on board a French vessel at Barcelona, they thankfully welcomed the day that restored them to comfort and civilization, and saw the end of an expedition that had turned out in most respects so disastrous a fiasco.
They remained throughout April at Marseilles, where Chopin, in the hands of a good doctor, became convalescent. From Marseilles they made a short tour in Italy, visiting Genoa and the neighborhood, and returning to France in May, Chopin apparently on the high road to complete recovery. It was in the following year that his illness returned in a graver form, and unmistakable symptoms of consumption showed themselves. The life of a fashionable pianist in Paris, the constant excitement, late hours, and heavy strain of nervous exertion, were fatal to his future chances of preserving his health; but it was a life to which he had now become wedded, and which he never willingly left, except for his long annual visits to Nohant.
Madame Sand repeatedly contemplated settling herself entirely in the country. She had no love for Paris. "Parisian life strains our nerves and kills us in the long run," she writes from Nohant to one of her correspondents. "Ah, how I hate it, that centre of light! I would never set foot in it again, if the people I like would make the same resolution." And again, speaking of her "Black Valley, so good and so stupid," she adds, "Here I am always more myself than at Paris, where I am always ill, in body and in spirit."
Paris, however, afforded greater facilities for her children's education. She had a strong desire to see her son an artist, and he was already studying painting in Delacroix's studio. Also her income at this moment did not suffice to enable her to live continuously at Nohant where, she frankly confessed, she had not yet found out how to live economically, expected as she was to keep open house, regarded as grudging and unneighborly if she did not maintain her establishment on a scale to which her resources as yet were unequal. Her expenses in the country she calculated as double those in Paris, where, as she writes to M. Chatiron,—
Everyone's independence is admirable. You invite whom you like, and when you don't wish to receive anyone you let the porter know you are not at home. Yet I hate Paris in all other respects. There I grow stout, and my mind grows thin. You know how quiet and retired my life there is, and I do not understand why you tell me, as they say in the provinces, that glory keeps me there. I have no glory, I have never sought for it, and I don't care a cigarette for it. I want to breath fresh air and live in peace. I am succeeding, but you see and you know on what conditions.
Her Paris residence, a few seasons later, she fixed in the Cour d'Orleans Rue St. Lazare, in a block of buildings one-third of which was occupied by herself and her family; another belonged to her friend, Madame Marliani, wife of the Spanish Consul, the third to Frederic Chopin.
With respect to Chopin's long and deep attachment to Madame Sand, and its requital, concerning which so much has been written, there can surely be no greater misstatement than to speak of her as having blighted his life. This last part of his life was indeed blighted, but by ill-health and consequent nervous irritability and suffering; but such mitigation as was possible he found for eight years in the womanly devotion and genial society of Madame Sand—real benefits to one whose strange and delicate individuality it was not easy to befriend—and which the breach that took place between them shortly before his death should not allow us to forget.
"Chopin," observes Eugene Delacroix, "belongs to the small number of those whom one can both esteem and love." Madame Sand joined a sympathetic appreciation of the refinement of his nature, and an enthusiastic admiration of his genius—feelings she shared with his numberless female worshippers—to a strength of character that lent the support no other could perhaps so fully have given, or that he would accept from no other, to the fragile, nervous, suffering tone-poet. Her sentiments towards him seem to resolve themselves into a great tenderness rather than a passionate fervor—a placid affection for himself, and an adoration for his music.
All the time their existences, so far from having been united, flowed in different, nay divergent channels. Chopin, the idol of Paris society, moved constantly in the aristocratic and fashionable world, from which Madame Sand lived aloof. She for her part had heavy domestic cares and anxieties that did not touch him, and with the political party which was absorbing more and more of her energies he had no sympathy whatever. Whether the cause were the false start she had made at the outset by her marriage, forbidding her the realization of a woman's ideal, the non-separation of the gift of her heart from that of her whole life, or whether that her masculine strength of intellect created for her serious public interests and occupations, beside which personal pleasures and pains are apt to become of secondary moment, certain it appears that with George Sand, as with many an eminent artist of the opposite sex, such affaires de coeur were but ripples on the sea of a large and active existence.
The year after her return from Majorca was marked by her first appearance before the public as a dramatic author. Although it was a line in which she afterwards obtained successes, as will be seen in a future chapter, the result of this initial effort, Cosima, a five-act drama, was not encouraging. It was acted at the Theatre Francais in the spring of 1840, and proved a failure. It betrays no insufficient sense of dramatic effect, nor lack of the means for producing it, but decided clumsiness in the adaptation of these means to that end. The plot and personages recall those of Indiana, with the important differences that the beau role of the piece falls to the husband, and that the scene is transported back to Florence in the Middle Ages—an undoubted error, as giving to a play essentially modern and French in its complexities of sentiment and motive a strong local coloring of a past time and another people, making the whole seem unreal. It has a psychological subject which Emile Augier or Dumas fils would know how to handle dramatically; but as treated by George Sand, we are perpetually being led to anticipate too much in the way of action, to have our expectations dissipated the next moment. A wet blanket of disappointment on this head dampens any other satisfaction that the merits of the play might otherwise afford.
Hitherto she had continued to write regularly for the Revue des Deux Mondes. As her revolutionary opinions became more pronounced, they began to find utterance in her romances. Her conversion by Michel had not only been complete, but the disciple had outstripped the master. The study of the communistic theories of Pierre Leroux had familiarized her with the speculations in social science of those who at this time were devoting their attention to criticising the existing social organization, and seeking, and sometimes imagining they had found, the secret of creating a better. George Sand's strong admiration for the writings of Leroux, always praised by her in the highest terms, strikes us now as extravagant, but was shared to some extent by not a few leading men of the time, such as Sainte-Beuve and Lamartine. Her intellect had eagerly followed this bold and earnest pioneer in new-discovered worlds of thought; "I do not say it is the last word of humanity, but, so far, it is its most advanced expression," she states of his philosophy. The study of it had brought a clearness into her own views, due, probably, much more to the action of her own mind upon the novel ideas suggested than to the lucidity of a system of social science as yet undetermined in some of its main points.
She writes, when looking back on this period from a long distance of time,—
After the despairs of my youth, I was governed by too many illusions. Morbid scepticism was succeeded in me by too much kindliness and ingenuousness. A thousand times over I was duped by dreams of an archangelic fusion of the opposing forces in the great strife of ideas.
Her novel Horace, written for the Revue des Deux Mondes, was rejected—as subversive of law and order—by the editor, except on condition of alterations which she declined to make.
After this temporary rupture with Buloz, Madame Sand's services were largely appropriated by the Revue Independante, a new journal founded in 1840 by her friends Pierre Leroux and Louis Viardot, in conjunction with whose names hers appears on the title page as leading contributor. For this periodical no theories could be too advanced, no fictitious illustrations too audacious, and to its pages accordingly was Horace transferred. Among the secondary characters in this novel figure a young couple, immaculate otherwise in principle and in conduct, but who as converts to St. Simonism have dispensed with the ordinary legal sanction to their union. Perhaps a more solid objection to its insertion in the Revue des Deux Mondes was the picture introduced of the emcute of June 1832, painted in heroic colors. Both these features, however, are purely incidental. The main interest and the real strength of the book lie in a remarkable study of character-development—that of the chief personage, Horace. It is a cleverly painted portrait of a type that reappears, with slight modifications, in all ages; a moral charlatan, who half imposes on himself, and entirely for a while on other people. A would-be hero, genius, and chivalrous lover, he has none of the genuine qualities needed for sustaining the parts. Nonchalant and inert of temperament, he is capable of nothing beyond a short course of successful affectation. The imposition breaking down at last, he sinks helplessly into the unheroic mediocrity of position and pretension for which alone he is fit.
A veritable attempt at a Socialist novel is the Compagnon du Tour de France written in the course of 1840, which must surely be ranked as one of the weakest of George Sand's productions. Exactly the converse of Horace may be said of this book. In the former, those most repelled by the revolutionary doctrines flashing out here and there, will yet be struck and interested by the masterly piece of character-painting that makes of the novel a success. The utmost fanaticism for the ideas ventilated in the Compagnon du Tour de France can reconcile no reader to the dullness and unreality of the story which make of it a failure. For her socialism itself, as set forth in her writings, dispassionate examination of what she actually inculcated, leaves but little warrant, in the state of progress now reached, for echoing the mighty outcry raised against it at the time. No doubt she thought that a complete reorganization of society on a new basis was eminently to be desired. But what she definitely advocated was, first, free education for the poor, and secondly, some fairer adjustment of the relations to each other of capital and labor. As to the first, authority has already sanctioned her opinion; the second question, if unsettled, has become a first preoccupation with statesmen and philosophers of all denominations in the present day.
With regard to the complete solution of the problem, she leaves her socialist heroes, as she herself felt, in doubt and perplexity. There was something in the schemes and doctrines she conscientiously approved, irreconcilable with her artist-nature—a materialistic tendency which clashed with her poetical instincts. When the stern demagogue Michel denounced the whole tribe of artists as a corrupting influence, enervating to the courage and will of a nation, she rose up energetically in defense of the confraternity to which she was born:—
Will you tell me, pray, what you mean, with your declamations against artists? Cry out against them as much as you please, but respect art. Oh, you Vandal! I like that stern sectarian who wants to dress Taglioni in a stuff-gown and sabots, and set Liszt's hands to turn the machinery of a wine-press, and who yet, as he lies on the grass, finds the tears come into his eyes at the least linnet's song, and who makes a disturbance in the theatre to stop Othello from murdering Malibran! The austere citizen would suppress artists as social excrescences that absorb too much of the sap; but this gentleman is fond of vocal music, and so will spare the singers. Let us hope that painters will find one among your strong heads who appreciates painting, and won't wall up all studio windows. And as for the poets, they are your cousins; and you don't despise their forms of language and their rhythmical mechanism when you want to make an impression on the idle crowd. You will go to them to take lessons in metaphor, and how to make use of it.
Unfortunately for the cause of the superiority of antiquity, whenever you go to hear Berlioz's Funeral March, the least that can happen to you will be to confess that this music is rather better than what they used to give us in Sparta, when we served under Lycurgus; you will think that Apollo, displeased to see us sacrificing to Pallas exclusively, has played us a trick in giving lessons to that Babylonian, so that by the exercise of a magnetic and disastrous power over us, he may lead our spirits astray.
And she would prove to the demagogue, out of his own mouth, that everything cannot be reduced to "bread and shoes all round," as the grand desideratum. Give these to men, it will not suffice. The eloquent orator instinctively seeks besides to impart "hallowed emotions and mystic enthusiasm to those who toil and sweat—he teaches them to hope, to dream of God, to take courage and lift themselves above the sickening miseries of human conditions by the thought of a future, chimerical it may be, but strengthening and sublime."
For a period, however, she was too fascinated by the new ideas to judge them, and she straightway sought in her art a means of popularizing them. "These ideas," she writes in a later preface to her socialist novel, Le Peche de M. Antoine, "at which, as yet but a small number of conservative spirits had taken alarm, had, as yet, only really begun to sprout in a small number of attentive, laborious minds. The government, so long as no actual form of political application was assumed, was not to be disquieted by theories, and let every man make his own, put forth his dream, and innocently construct his city of the future, by his own fire-side, in the garden of his imagination."
She was aware that her readers thought her novels getting more and more tedious, in proportion as she communicated to her fictitious heroes and heroines the pre-occupations of her brain, and that she was thus stepping out of the domain of art. But she affirmed she could never help writing of whatever was absorbing her thoughts and feelings at the moment, and must take her chance of boring the public. Fortunately for Le Peche de M. Antoine, nature and human nature are here allowed to claim the larger share of our attention, and philosophy is a secondary feature. The scene is laid in the picturesque Marche country on the confines of Berry, a day's journey from Nohant, and we are glad to linger with her along the rocky banks of the Creuse, or among the ruined castles of Crozant and Chateaubrun. The novel contains much that is original and admirable in the drawing of characters of the most opposite classes.
Finally, in Le Meunier d'Angibault,[C] written as was the last-mentioned work some four or five years later (1844-45), but which may be named here, as making up with Le Compagnon du Tour de France the trio of "socialist" novels, the Tendenz does not interfere to the detriment of the artistic plan of the book. In it the romantic elements of the remote country nook she inhabited are cleverly brought together, without departing too widely from probability. The dilapidated castle, the picturesque mill, the traditions of brigandage two generations ago, all these were realities familiar to her notice. The painting of the country and country people is masterly; and there is not a passage in the book to offend the taste of the most scrupulous reader. Nor can it be justly impugned on the ground of inculcating disturbing political principles. The personages, in their preference of poverty and obscurity to rank and wealth, may, in the judgment of some, think and conduct themselves like chimerical dreamers, but their actions, however quixotic, concern themselves alone.
But, previous to either of the two novels last named, she had presented the world with a more ambitious work, whose merit was to compel universal acknowledgment—the most important, in fact, she had produced for eight years.
CONSUELO—HOME LIFE AT NOHANT.
CONSUELO first appeared in the Revue Independante, 1842-43. This noble book might not be inaptly described as,
—a whole which, irregular in parts, Yet left a grand impression on the mind.
Its reckless proportions naturally "shocked the connoisseurs" among literary critics, especially in her own land; but nevertheless it became, and deservedly, one of her most popular productions, and did more than any other single novel she ever wrote to spread her popularity abroad. If Indiana, Valentine, and Lelia had never been written to create the fame of George Sand, Consuelo would have done so, and may be said to have established it over again, on a better and more lasting basis. Upon so well-known a work lengthened comment here would be superfluous. Originally intended for a novelette,—the opening chapters appear in the Revue under the modest heading, Consuelo, conte,—the beginning was so successful that the author was urged to extend her plan beyond its first proposed limits. The novel is an ephemeral form of art, no doubt, but it is difficult to conceive of a stage of social and intellectual progress when the first part of Consuelo will cease to be read with interest and delight.