The heroine once transported from the lagunes of Venice to the frontier of Bohemia and the castle of Rudolstadt, the character of the story becomes less naturalistic; the storyteller loses herself somewhat in subterranean passages and the mazes of adventure generally. She wrote on, she acknowledges, at hap-hazard, tempted and led away by the new horizons which the artistic and historical researches her work required kept opening to her view. But the powerful contrast between the two pictures,—of bright, sunshiny, free, sensuous, careless Venetian folk-life, and of the stern gloom of the mediaeval castle, where the more spiritual consolations of existence come into prominence—is singularly effective and original. So also is the charming way in which an incident in the boyhood of young Joseph Haydn is treated by her fancy, in the episode of Consuelo's flight from the castle, when he becomes her fellow-traveller, and their adventures across country are told with such zest and entrain, in pages where life-sketches of character, such as the good-natured, self-indulgent canon, the violent, abandoned Corilla, make us forget the wildest improbabilities of the fiction itself. The concluding portion of the book, again entirely different in frame, with its delineation of art-life in a fashionable capital, Vienna, is as true as it is brilliant. It teems with suggestive ideas on the subject of musical and dramatic art, and with excellently drawn types. The relations of professional and amateur, the contradictions and contentions to which, in a woman's nature, the rival forces of love and of an artistic vocation may give rise, have never been better portrayed in any novel. The heroine, Consuelo, is of course an ideal character: her achievements partake of the marvellous; and there are digressions in the book which are diffuse in the extreme; but nowhere is the author's imagination more attractively displayed and her style more engaging. The tone throughout is noble and pure. To look on Consuelo as an agreeable story merely is to overlook the elevation of the moral standard of the book, in which much of its power resides. It marks more strongly than Mauprat the change that had come over the spirit of George Sand's compositions.
In the continuation, La Comtesse de Rodolstadt, which followed immediately in the Revue Independante, 1843, the novelist strays further and further from reality—the terra firma on which her fancy improvises such charming dances. Here she only touches the ground now and then, and between whiles her imagination asks ours to accompany it on the most extraordinary flights. As a novel of adventure, it is written with unflagging spirit; and in the rites and doctrines of the Illuminati, an idealization of the feature of the secret sects of the last century, she found a new medium of expression for her sentiments regarding the present abuses of society and the need of thorough renovation. Secret societies, at that time, were extremely numerous and active among the Republican workers in France. Madame Sand seems thoroughly to have appreciated their dangers, and has expressly stated that she was no advocate of such sects; that though under a tyranny, such as that which oppressed Germany in the times of which she wrote, they may be a necessity, elsewhere they are an abuse if not a crime. "The custom indeed I have never regarded as applicable for good in our time and our country; I have never believed that it can bring forth anything in future but a dictatorship, and the dictatorial principle is one I have never accepted." (Histoire de ma Vie.)
But the romance of the subject was irresistibly tempting to her inventive faculty. "Tell Leroux to send me some more books on freemasonry, if he can find any," she writes to a correspondent at Paris whilst working at the Comtesse de Rudolstadt at Nohant; "I am plunged into it over head and ears. Tell him also that he has there thrown me into an abyss of follies and absurdities, but that I am dabbling about courageously though prepared to extract nothing but nonsense."
For the musical miracles which it is given to Madame Sand's heroes and heroines to perform at a trifling cost, she may well at this time have come to regard them as almost in the natural order. She had received her second, and her best musical education through the contemplation of original musical genius, of the rarest quality, among her most intimate friends, her constant guests at Paris and Nohant. The vocal and instrumental feats of Consuelo and Count Albert themselves are not more astonishing than the actual recorded achievements of Liszt, pronounced a perfect virtuoso at twelve years old—and no wonder! The boy had so carried away his accompanyists, the band of the Italian opera at Paris, by his performance of the solo in an orchestral piece, that when the moment came for them to strike in, one and all forgot to do so, but remained silent, petrified with amazement. And Liszt when in the full development of his genius, had, as we have seen, been the art-comrade of George Sand; he had spent the whole of the summer season of 1837 at Nohant, transcribing Beethoven's symphonies for the piano-forte whilst she wrote her romances; she was familiar with his marvellous improvisations. In her "Trip to Chamounix" (Lettres d'un Voyageur, No. VI.) she has drawn a vivid picture of their extraordinary effect, describing his unrehearsed organ recital in the Cathedral of Freibourg to his little party of travelling companions. Nor was the charm of Chopin's gift less magical. The well-known anecdotes related on this subject are like so many glimpses into a musical paradise. Madame Sand has given us an amusing one herself. It is evening in her salon at Paris. At the piano is Chopin; and she, her son, Eugene Delacroix, and the Polish poet Mickiewicz sit listening whilst the composer, in an inspired mood, is extemporizing in the sublimest manner to the little circle. All are in silent raptures; when the servant breaks in with the alarm—the house is on fire. They rush to the room where the flames are, and succeed after a time in extinguishing them. Then they perceive that the poet Mickiewicz is missing. On returning to the salon they find him as they left him, rapt, entranced, unconscious of the stir around him, of the scare that had driven all the rest from the room. "He did not even know we had gone and left him alone. He was listening to Chopin, he had continued to hear him." Nor could the bewitched poet be brought down from the clouds that evening. He remained deaf to their banter, to Madame Sand's laughing admonition, "Next time I am with you when the house takes fire, I must begin by putting you into a safe place, for I see you would get burnt like a mere faggot, before you knew what was going on."
Eugene Delacroix, one of Madame Sand's earliest and most valued friends in the artist-world, and one of the many with whom she enjoyed along and unclouded friendship, gives in his letters some agreeable pictures of life at Nohant, during his visits there in the successive summers of 1845 and 1846:—
When not assembled together with the rest for dinner, breakfast, a game of billiards, or a walk, you are in your room reading, or lounging on your sofa. Every moment there come in through the window open on the garden, "puffs of music" from Chopin, working away on one side, which mingle with the song of nightingales and the scent of the roses.
He describes a quiet, monastic-like existence, simple and studious: "We have not even the distraction of neighbors and friends around. In this country everybody stays at home, to look after his oxen and his land. One would become a fossil in a very short time."
The greatest event for the visitor was a village-festival—a wedding or a Saint's day—when the rustic dances went on under the tall elms to the roaring of the bagpipes. Peasant youths and peasant maids joined hands in the bourree, the characteristic dance of the country; now, we fear, surviving in tradition only, but then still popular. The great artist was fired to paint a "Ste. Anne," patron-saint of Nohant, in honor of the place, but his work progressed but slowly. He writes in August, 1846:—"I am frightfully lazy, I can do nothing, I hardly read; and yet the days pass too quickly, for I must soon renounce this vie de chanoine, and return into the furnace of stirring ideas, good and bad. In Berry they have very few ideas, but they do just as well without." Then he adds, "Chopin has been playing Beethoven to me divinely well. That is worth all aestheticism."
Little theatrical entertainments of an original kind, presided over by Madame Sand, and carried out by herself, her children, and their young friends, became in time a prominent feature of life at Nohant. She thus describes their nature and commencements:—
During the long evenings I took it into my head to devise for my family theatricals on the old Italian pattern—commedia dell'arte—plays in which the dialogue, itself extemporized, yet follows the outlines of a written plan, placarded behind the scenes. It is something like the charades acted in society, the development of which depends on the talent contributed by the actors. It was with these that we began, but little by little the word of the charade disappeared. We acted wild saynetes, afterwards comedies of plot and intrigue, finally dramas of event and emotion.
All began with pantomime; and this was Chopin's invention. He sat at the piano and extemporized, whilst the young people acted scenes in dumb show and danced comic ballets. These charming improvisations turned the children's heads and made their legs nimble. He led them just as he chose, making them pass, according to his fancy, from the amusing to the severe, from burlesque to solemnity—now graceful, now impassioned. We invented all kinds of costumes, so as to play different characters in succession. No sooner did the artist see them appear than he adapted his theme and rhythm to the parts wonderfully. This would be repeated for two or three evenings; after which the maestro, departing for Paris, would leave us quite excited, exalted, determined not to let the spark be lost with which he had electrified us.
Chopin was possessed of much dramatic talent himself, and was an admirable mimic. When a boy it had been said of him that he was born to be a great actor. His capacity for facial expressions was something extraordinary; he often amused his friends by imitations of fellow-musicians, reproducing their manner and gestures to the life; so well as actually on more than one occasion to take in the spectator.
Madame Sand thus gives account of the even tenor of her way, in a letter of September, 1845:—
I have been in Paris till June, and since then am at Nohant until the winter, as usual; for henceforward my life is ruled as regularly as music paper. I have written two or three novels, one of which is just going to appear.
My son is still thin and delicate, but otherwise well. He is the best being, the gentlest, most equable, industrious, simple-minded, and straightforward ever seen. Our characters, like our hearts, agree so well that we can hardly live a day apart. He is entering his twenty-third year, Solange her eighteenth. We have our ways of merriment, not noisy, but sustained, which bring our ages nearer together, and when we have been working hard all the week we allow ourselves, by way of a grand holiday, to go and eat our cake out of doors some way off, in a wood or an old ruin, with my brother, who is like a sturdy peasant, full of fun and good nature, and who dines with us every day, seeing that he lives not two miles off. Such are our grand pranks.
Sometimes these little outings would originate a novel, as with the Meunier d'Angibault, which she ascribes to "a walk, a discovery, a day of leisure, an hour of idleness." On a ramble with her children she came upon what she calls "a nook in a wild paradise;" a mill, whose owner had allowed everything to grow around the sluices that chose to spring up, briar and alder, oaks and rushes. The stream, left to follow its devices, had forced its way through the sand and the grass in a network of little waterfalls, covered below in the summer time with thick tufts of aquatic plants.
It was enough; the seed was sown and the fruit resulted. "The apple falling from the tree led Newton to the discovery of one of the grand laws of the universe.... In scientific works of genius, reflection derives the causes of things from a single fact. In art's humbler fancies, that isolated fact is dressed and completed in a dream."
The picture given by Madame Sand and her guests of these years of her life is charming enough, and in certain ways seems an ideal kind of existence, amid beloved children, friends, pleasant and calm surroundings, and the sweets of successful literary activity. But if it had its bright lights, it had also its deep shadows. For every fresh pleasure and interest crowded into her existence, there entered a fresh source of anxiety and trouble. Age, in bringing her more power of endurance, had not blunted her sensibilities. As usual with the strongest natures in their hours of depression—and none so strong as to escape these—she could then look for no help except from herself. Those accustomed, like her, to shirk no responsibility, no burden, to invite others to lean on them, and to ask no support, if their fortitude gives way find the allowance, help and sympathy so easily accorded to their weaker fellow-creatures nowhere ready for them. The exclamation wrung from one of the characters in a later work of Madame Sand's, may be but a faithful echo of the cry of her own nature in some moment of mental torment. "Let me be weak; I have been seeming to be strong for so long a time!"
Chopin, though the study of his genius had freshly inspired her own, and greatly extended her comprehension of musical art, was a being to whom the burden of his own life was too painful to allow him to lighten the troubles of another; a partial invalid, a prey to nervous irritation, he was dependent on her to soothe and cheer him at the best of times, and to be nurse and secretary besides when he was prostrated by illness or despondency. One is loth to call selfish a nature so attractive in its refinement, so unhappy in its over-susceptibility. But it is obvious that such a one might easily become a trial to those he loved. With all its vigor her nervous system could not escape the exhaustion and disturbance that attend on incessant brain-work. "Those who have nothing to do," she remarks, "when they see artists produce with facility, are ready to wonder at how few hours, how few instants, these can reserve for themselves. For such do not know how these gymnastics of the imagination, if they do not affect your health, yet leave an excitation of your nerves, an obsession of mental pictures, a languor of spirit, that forbid you to carry on any other kind of work."
Although her constitution was even stronger than in her youth, she had for some years been subject to severe attacks of neuralgia. "Madame Sand suffers terribly from violent headaches and pain in her eyes," remarks Delacroix, in one of the letters above quoted, "which she takes upon herself to surmount as far as possible, with a great effort, so as not to distress us by what she goes through." Her habit of writing principally at night and contenting herself with the least possible allowance of repose, few could have persisted in for so long without breaking down. For many years she never took more than four hours sleep. The strain began to tell on her eye-sight at last, and already in a letter of 1842 she speaks of being temporarily compelled to suspend this practice of night-work, to her great regret, as in the daylight hours she was never secure from interruption. Only her abnormal power of activity and of bearing fatigue could have enabled her to fulfill so strenuously the responsibilities she had undertaken to her children, her private friends, and the public. The pressure of literary work was incessant, and whatever her dislike to accounts and arithmetic she is said to have fulfilled her engagements to editors and publishers with the regularity and punctuality of a notary. Her large acquaintance, relations with various classes, various projects, literary, political, and philanthropical, involved an immense amount of serious correspondence in addition to that arising from the postal persecution from which no celebrity escapes. Ladies wrote to consult her on sentimental subjects—to inquire of her, as of an oracle, whether they should bestow their heart, their hand, or both, upon their suitors; poets, to solicit her patronage and criticism. In the course of a single half-year, 153 manuscripts were sent her for perusal! She replied when it seemed fit, conscientiously and ungrudgingly; but experience had made her less expansive than formerly to those whose overtures she felt to be prompted by curiosity or some such idle motive, in the absence of any sympathy for her ways of thinking. "I am not to be caught in my words with indifferent persons," she writes to M. Charles Duvernet, describing how, when in her friend Madame Marliani's salon in Paris she heard herself and her political allies or their opinions attacked, she was not to be provoked into argument or indignant denial, but went on quietly with her work of hemming pocket-handkerchiefs. "To such people one speaks through the medium of the Press. If they will not attend, no matter."
Her sex, her anomalous position, her freedom of expression and action, exposed her to an extent quite exceptional, even for a public character, to the shafts of malice and slander. Accustomed to have to brave the worst from such attacks, she might and did arrive at treating them with an indifference that was not, however, in her nature, which shrank from the observation and personal criticism of the vulgar.
To a young poet of promise in whose welfare she took interest, she writes, August, 1842:—
Never show my letters except to your mother, your wife, or your greatest friend. It is a shy habit, a mania I have to the last degree. The idea that I am not writing for those alone to whom I write, or for those who love them thoroughly, would freeze my heart and my hand directly. Everyone has a fault. Mine is a misanthropy in my outward habits—for all that I have no passion left in me but the love of my fellow-creatures; but with the small services that my heart and my faith can render in this world, my personality has nothing to do. Some people have grieved me very much, unconsciously, by talking and writing about me personally and my doings, even though favorably, and meaning well. Respect this malady of spirit.
Madame Sand, being naturally undemonstrative, was commonly more or less tongue-tied and chilled in the presence of a stranger, and she had a frank dread of introductions and first interviews, even when the acquaintance was one she desired to make. Sometimes she asks her friends to prepare such new comers for receiving an unfavorable first impression, and to beg them not to be unduly prejudiced thereby. Such a one would find the persecution of lion-hunters intolerable, and now and then this drove her to extremities. Great must, indeed, have been the wrath of one of these irrepressibles, who, more obstinate than the rest, failing by fair means to get an introduction to George Sand, calmly pushed his way into Nohant unauthorized by anyone, whereupon her friends conspired to serve him the trick it must be owned he deserved; and which we give in the words of Madame Sand, writing to the Comtesse d'Agoult. The story is told also by Liszt in his letters:—
M. X. is ushered into my room. A respectable-looking person there receives him. She was about forty years of age, but you might give her sixty at a pinch. She had had beautiful teeth, but had got none left. All passes away! She had been rather good-looking, but was so no longer. All changes! Her figure was corpulent, and her hands were soiled. Nothing is perfect!
She was clad in a gray woolen gown spotted with black, and lined with scarlet. A silk handkerchief was negligently twisted round her black hair. Her shoes were faulty, but she was thoroughly dignified. Now and then she seemed on the point of putting an s or a t in the wrong place, but she corrected herself gracefully, talked of her literary works, of her excellent friend M. Rollinat, of the talents of her visitor which had not failed to reach her ears, though she lived in complete retirement, overwhelmed with work. M. G. brought her a foot-stool, the children called her mamma, the servants Madame.
She had a gracious smile, and much more distinguished manners than that fellow George Sand. In a word X. was happy and proud of his visit. Perched in a big chair, with beaming aspect, arm extended, speech abundant, there he stayed for a full quarter of an hour in ecstasies, and then took leave, bowing down to the ground to—Sophie!
It was the maid that had thus been successfully passed off as the mistress, who with her whole household enjoyed a long and hearty laugh at the expense of the departed unbidden guest. "M. X. has gone off to Chateauroux," she concludes, "on purpose to give an account of his interview with me, and to describe me personally in all the cafes."
This anecdote however belongs to a much earlier period of her life, the year 1837. Of her cordiality and kindliness to those who approached her in a right spirit of sincerity and simplicity, many have spoken. For English readers we cannot do better than quote Mr. Matthew Arnold's interesting account, given in the Fortnightly, 1877, of his visit to her in August, 1846. Desirous of seeing the green lanes of Berry, the rocky heaths of Bourbonnais, the descriptions of which in Valentine and Jeanne had charmed him so strongly, the traveller chose a route that brought him to within a few miles of her home:—"I addressed to Madame Sand," he tells us, "the sort of letter of which she must in her lifetime have had scores—a letter conveying to her, in bad French, the youthful and enthusiastic homage of a foreigner who had read her works with delight." She responded by inviting him to call at Nohant. He came and joined a breakfast-party that included Madame Sand and her son and daughter, Chopin, and other friends—Mr. Arnold being placed next to the hostess. He says of her:—
As she spoke, her eyes, head, bearing were all of them striking, but the main impression she made was one of simplicity, frank, cordial simplicity. After breakfast she led the way into the garden, asked me a few kind questions about myself and my plans, gathered a flower or two and gave them to me, shook hands heartily at the gate, and I saw her no more.
During the eight years of successful literary activity, lying between Madame Sand's return from Majorca and the Revolution of February, 1848, the profits of her work had, after the first, enabled her freely to spend the greater part of the year at Nohant, and to provide a substantial dowry for her daughter. But the amassing of wealth suited neither her taste nor her principles. She writes to her poet-protege M. Poncy, in September, 1845:—
We are in easy circumstances, which enables us to do away with poverty in our own neighborhood, and if we feel the sorrow of being unable to do away with that which desolates the world—a deep sorrow, especially at my age, when life has no intoxicating personality left, and one sees plainly the spectacle of society in its injustices and frightful disorder—at least we know nothing of ennui, of restless ambition and selfish passions. We have a sort of relative happiness, and my children enjoy it with the simplicity of their age.
As for me, I only accept it in trembling, for all happiness is like a theft in this ill-regulated world of men, where you cannot enjoy your ease or your liberty, except to the detriment of your fellow-creatures—by the force of things, the law of inequality, that odious law, those odious combinations, the thought of which poisons my sweetest domestic joys and revolts me against myself at every moment. I can only find consolation in vowing to go on writing as long as I have a breath of life left in me, against the infamous maxim, "Chacun chez soi, chacun pour soi." Since all I can do is to make this protest, make it I shall, in every key.
Her republican friends in Berry had founded in 1844 a local journal for the spread of liberal ideas—such as Lamartine at the time was supporting at Macon. Madame Sand readily contributed her services to a cause where she labored for the enlightenment of the masses on all subjects—truth, justice, religion, liberty, fraternity, duties, and rights. The government of Louis Philippe, so long as such utterances attacked no definite institution, allowed an almost illimitable freedom in expression of opinion. The result was that thought had advanced so far ahead of action that social philosophers had grown to argue as though practical obstacles had no existence—to be rudely reminded of their consequence, when brought to the front in 1848, and acting somewhat too much as if on that supposition.
It is impossible not to make concerning Madame Sand, the reflection made on other foremost workers in the same cause of organic social reform—namely, that her character and her instincts were in curious opposition to her ideas. What was said by Madame d'Agoult of Louis Blanc applies with even greater force to George Sand: "The sentiment of personality was never stronger than in this opposer of individualism, communist theories had for their champion one most unfit to be absorbed into the community." For no length of time was the idea of "communism" accepted, and never was it advocated by her except in the most restricted sense. The land-hunger, or rather land-greed, of the small proprietors in her neighborhood had, it is true, given her a certain disgust for these contested possessions. But from the preference of a small child for a garden of its own however small, to another's however large, she characteristically infers the instinct of property as a law of nature it were preposterous to disallow, and furthermore she lays down as an axiom that, "in treating the communistic idea it is necessary first to distinguish what is essential in liberty and work to the complete existence of the individual, from what is collective." When forced by actual experience to point out what she holds to be the rightful application of the idea, she limits it to voluntary association; and she hoped great things from the co-operative principle, as tending to eliminate the ills of extreme inequalities in the social structure, and to preserve everything in it that is worth preserving.
NOVELIST AND POLITICIAN.
By her novels classed as "socialistic," Madame Sand had, as we have seen, incurred the public hostility of those whom her doctrines alarmed. And yet her "communist" heroes and heroines are the most pacific and inoffensive of social influences. They merely aspire to isolate themselves, and personally to practice principles and virtues of the highest order; unworldliness such as, if general, might indeed turn the earth into the desired Utopia. Nothing can be said against their example, unless that it is too good, and that there is little hope of its being widely followed.
Charges of another sort, no less bitter, and though exaggerated, somewhat better founded, assailed her after the appearance in 1847 of Lucrezia Floriani, a novel of character-analysis entirely, but into which she was accused of having introduced an unflattering portrait of Frederic Chopin, whose long and long-requited attachment to her entitled him to better treatment at her hands.
With respect to the general question of such alleged fictitious reproductions, few novelists escape getting into trouble on this head. It has been aptly observed by Mr. Hamerton that the usual procedure of the reading public in such cases is to fix on some real personage as distinctly unlike the character in the book as possible, for the original, and then to complain of the unfaithfulness of the resemblance. Madame Sand's taste and higher art-instincts would have revolted against the practice—now unfortunately no longer confined to inferior writers—of forcing attention to a novel by making it the gibbet of well-known personalities, with little or no disguise; and Chopin himself, morbidly sensitive and fanciful though he was, read her work without perceiving in it any intention there to portray their relations to each other, which, indeed, had differed essentially from those of the personages in the romance.
Lucrezia Floriani is a cantatrice of genius, who, whilst still young, has retired from the world, indifferent to fame, and effectually disenchanted—so she believes—with passion. Despite an experience strange and stormy, even for a member of her Bohemian profession, Lucrezia has miraculously preserved intact her native nobility of soul, and appears as a meet object of worship to a fastidious young prince on his travels, who becomes passionately enamored of her. He over-persuades Lucrezia into trusting that they will find their felicity in each other. Their happiness is of the briefest duration, owing to the unreasonable character of the prince, who leads the actress a miserable life; his love taking the form of petty tyranny and retrospective jealousy. After long years of this material and moral captivity, the heroic Lucrezia fades and dies.
Not content with identifying the intolerable, though it must be owned severely-tested, Prince Karol with Chopin, imaginative writers have gone so far as to assert that the book was conceived and written from an express design on the novelist's part to bring about the breach of a link she was beginning to find irksome!
Madame Sand has described how it was written—as are all such works of imagination—in response to a sort of "call"—some striking yet indefinable quality in one idea among the host always floating through the brain of the artist, that makes him instantly seize it and single it out as inviting to art-treatment. It would be preposterous to doubt her statement. But whether the inspiration ought not to have been sacrificed is another question. Her gift was her good angel and her evil angel as well, but in any case something of her despot. Here, assuredly, it ruled her ill. It is indisputable that, as she had pointed out, the sad history of the attachment of Lucrezia the actress and Karol the prince deviates too widely from that which was supposed to have originated it for just comparisons to be drawn between the two, that Karol is not a genius, and therefore has none of the rights of genius—including, we presume, the right to be a torment to those around him—that to talk of a portrait of Chopin without his genius is a contradiction in terms, that he never suspected the likeness assumed until it was insinuated to him, and so forth. But there remains this, that in the work of imagination she here presented to the public there was enough of reality interwoven to make the world hasten to identify or confound Prince Karol with Chopin. This might have been a foregone conclusion, as also that Chopin, the most sensitive of mortals, would be infinitely pained by the inferences that would be drawn. Perhaps if only as a genius, he had the right to be spared such an infliction; and one must wish it could have appeared in this light to Madame Sand. It seems as though it were impossible for the author to put himself at the point of view of the reader in such matters. The divine spark itself, that quickens certain faculties, deadens others. When Goethe, in Werther, dragged the private life of his intimate friends, the Kestners, into publicity, and by falsifying the character of the one and misrepresenting the conduct of the other, in obedience to the requisitions of art, exposed his beloved Charlotte and her husband to all manner of annoyances, it never seems to have entered into his head beforehand but that they would be delighted by what he had done. Nor could he get over his surprise that such petty vexations on their part should not be merged in a proud satisfaction at the literary memorial thus raised by him to their friendly intercourse! This seems incredible, and yet his sincerity leaves no room for doubt.
Madame Sand's transgressions on this head, though few, have obtained great notoriety, on account of the extraordinary celebrity of two of the personages that suggested characters she has drawn. To the supposed originals, however obscure, the mortification is the same. But what often passes uncommented on when the individuals said to be traduced are unknown to fame, sets the whole world talking when one of the first musicians or poets of the century is involved; so that Madame Sand has incurred more censure than other novelists, though she has deserved it more rarely. But regret remains that for the sake of Lucrezia Floriani, one of the least pleasant though by no means the least powerful of her novels, she should have exposed herself to the charge of unkindness to one who had but a short while to live.
Other causes had latterly been combining to lead to differences of which it would certainly be unfair to lay the whole blame on Madame Sand. The tie of personal attachment between Chopin and herself was not associated by identity of outward interests or even of cares and family affections, such as, in the case of husband and wife, make self-sacrifice possible under conditions which might otherwise be felt unbearable, and help to tide over crises of impatience or wrong. Madame Sand's children were now grown up; cross-influences could not but arise, hard to conciliate. Without accrediting Chopin with the self-absorption of Prince Karol, it is easy to see here, in a situation somewhat anomalous, elements of probable discord. It was impossible that he should any longer be a first consideration; impossible that he should not resent it.
For some years his state of health had been getting worse and worse, and his nervous susceptibilities correspondingly intensified. Madame Sand betrayed some impatience at last of what she had long borne uncomplainingly, and their good understanding was broken. As was natural, the breach was the more severely felt by Chopin, but that it was of an irreparable nature, one is at liberty to doubt. He bitterly regretted what he had lost, for which not all the attentions showered on him by his well-wishers could afford compensation, as his letters attest.
But outward circumstances prolonged the estrangement till it was too late. They met but once after the quarrel, and that was in company in March, 1848. Madame Sand would at once have made some approach, but Chopin did not then respond to the appeal; and the reconciliation both perhaps desired was never to take place. Political events had intervened to widen the gap between their paths. Chopin had neither part nor lot in the revolutionary movement that just then was throwing all minds and lives into a ferment, and which was completely to engross Madame Sand's energies for many months to come. It drove him away to England, and he only returned to Paris, in 1849, to die.
In May, 1847, the tranquility of life at Nohant had been varied by a family event, the marriage of Madame Sand's daughter Solange with the sculptor Clesinger. The remainder of the twelvemonth was spent in the country, apparently with very little anticipation on Madame Sand's part that the breaking of the political storm, that was to draw her into its midst, was so near.
The new year was to be one of serious agitations, different to any that had yet entered into her experience. Political enterprise for the time cast all purely personal interests and emotions into the background. "I have never known how to do anything by halves," she says of herself very truly; and whatever may be thought of the tendency of her political influence and the manner of its exertion, no one can tax her with sparing herself in a contest to which, moreover, she came disinterested; vanity and ambition having, in one of her sex, nothing to gain by it. But in political matters it seems hard for a poet to do right. If, like Goethe, he holds aloof in great crises, he is branded for it as a traitor and a bad patriot. The battle of Leipzig is being fought, and he sits tranquilly writing the epilogue for a play. If, like George Sand, he throws the whole weight of his enthusiastic eloquence into what he believes to be the right scale, it is ten to one that his power, which knows nothing of caution and patience, may do harm to the cause he has at heart.
Madame Sand rested her hopes for a better state of things, for the redemption of France from political corruption, for the amelioration of the condition of the working classes, and reform of social institutions in general, on the advent to power of those placed at the head of affairs by the collapse of the government of Louis Philippe, a crisis long threatened, long prepared, and become inevitable.
"The whole system," wrote Heine prophetically of the existing monarchy, five years before its fall, "is not worth a charge of powder, if indeed some day a charge of powder does not blow it up." February, 1848, saw the explosion, the flight of the Royal Family, and the formation of a Provisional Government, with Lamartine at its head.
It is hard to realize in the present day, when we contemplate these events through the sobering light of the deplorable sequel, how immense and wide-spreading was the enthusiasm that at this particular juncture seemed to put the fervent soul of a George Sand or an Armand Barbes into the most lukewarm and timid. "More than one," writes Madame d'Agoult, "who for the last twenty years had been scoffing at every grand thought, let himself be won by the general emotion." The prevailing impression can have fallen little short of the conviction that a sort of millennium was at hand for mankind in general and the French in particular, and that all human ills would disappear because a bad government had been got rid of, and that without such scenes of blood and strife as had disfigured previous revolutions.
The first task was firmly to establish a better one in its place. Madame Sand, though with a strong perception of the terrible difficulties besetting a ministry which, to quote her own words, would need, in order to acquit itself successfully, "the genius of a Napoleon and the heart of Christ," never relaxed an instant in the enforcement, both by example and exhortation, of her conviction that it was the duty of all true patriots and philanthropists to consecrate their energies to the cause of the new republic.
"My heart is full and my head on fire," she writes to a fellow-worker in the same cause. "All my physical ailments, all my personal sorrows are forgotten. I live, I am strong, active, I am not more than twenty years old." The exceptional situation of the country was one in which, according to her opinion, it behooved men to be ready not only with loyalty and devotion, but with fanaticism if needed. She worked hard with her son and her local allies at the ungrateful task of revolutionizing Le Berry, which, she sighs, "is very drowsy." In March she came up to Paris and placed her services as journalist and partizan generally at the disposal of Ledru-Rollin, Minister of the Interior under the new Government. "Here am I already doing the work of a statesman," she writes from Paris to her son at Nohant, March 24. Her indefatigable energy, enabling her as it did to disdain repose, was perhaps the object of envy to the statesmen themselves. At their disgust when kept up all night by the official duties of their posts, she laughs without mercy. Night and day her pen was occupied, now drawing up circulars for the administration, now lecturing the people in political pamphlets addressed to them. To the Bulletin de la Republique, a government journal started with the laudable purpose of preserving a clear understanding between the mass of the people in the provinces and the central government, she became a leading contributor. For the festal invitation performances given to the people at the "Theatre de la Republique," where Rachel sang the Marseillaise and acted in Les Horaces, Madame Sand wrote a little "occasional" prologue, Le Roi Attend, a new and democratic version of Moliere's Impromptu de Versailles. The outline is as follows:—Moliere is discovered impatient and uneasy; the King waits, and the comedians are not ready. He sinks asleep, and has a vision, in which the muse emerges out of a cloud, escorted by AEschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, and Beaumarchais, to each of whom are assigned a few lines—where possible, lines of their own—in praise of equality and fraternity. They vanish, and Moliere awakes; his servant announces to him that the King waits—but the King this time is, of course, the people, to whom Moliere now addresses his flattering speech in turn.
But the fervor of heroism that fired everybody in the first days of successful revolution, that made the leaders disinterested, the masses well-behaved, reasonable, and manageable, was for the majority a flash only; and the dreamed-of social ideal, touched for a moment was to recede again into the far distance. It was Madame Sand's error, and no ignoble one, to entertain the belief that a nation could safely be trusted to the guidance of a force so variable and uncontrollable as enthusiasm, and that the principle of self-devotion could be relied upon as a motive power. The divisions, intrigues, and fatal complications that quickly arose at head-quarters confirmed her first estimation of the practical dangers ahead. She clung to her belief in the sublime virtues of the masses, and that they would prove themselves grander, finer, more generous than all the mighty and the learned ones upon earth. But each of the popular leaders in turn was pronounced by her tried and found wanting. None of the party chiefs presented the desirable combination of perfect heroism and political genius. Michel, the apostle who of old had converted her to the cause, she had long scorned as a deserter. Leroux, in the moment of action, was a nonentity. Barbes "reasons like a saint," she observes, "that is to say, very ill as regards the things of this world." Lamartine was a vain trimmer; Louis Blanc, a sectarian; Ledru-Rollin, a weathercock. "It is the characters that transgress," she complains naively as one after the other disappointed her. Her own shortcomings on the score of patience and prudence were, it must be owned, no less grave. Her clear-sightedness was unaccompanied by the slightest dexterity of action. Years before, in one of the Lettres d'un Voyageur, she had passed a criticism on herself as a political worker, the accuracy of which she made proof of when carried into the vortex. "I am by nature poetical, but not legislative, warlike, if required, but never parliamentary. By first persuading me and then giving me my orders some use may be made of me, but I am not fit for discovering or deciding anything."
Such an influence, important for raising an agitation, was null for controlling and directing the forces thus set in motion. In the application of the theories she had accepted she was as weak and obscure as she was emphatic and eloquent in the preaching of them. Little help could she afford the republican leaders in dealing with the momentous question how to fulfill the immense but confused aspirations they had raised, how to show that their principles could answer the necessities of the moment.
The worst, perhaps, that can be said of Madame Sand's political utterances is that they encouraged the people in their false belief—which belief she shared—that the social reforms so urgently needed could be worked rapidly by the Government, providing only it were willing. Over-boldness of expression on the part of advanced sections only increased the timidity and irresolution of action complained of in the administration. As the ranks of the Ministry split up into factions, Madame Sand attached herself to the party of Ledru-Rollin—in whom at that time she had confidence,—a party that desired to see him at the head of affairs, and that included Jules Favre, Etienne Arago, and Armand Barbes. No more zealous political partizan and agent than Madame Sand. The purpose in view was to preserve a cordial entente between these trusted chiefs and the masses whose interests they represented and on whose support they relied. To this end she got together meetings of working-men at her temporary Parisian abode, addressing them in speech and in print, and seemingly blind in the heat of the struggle to the enormous danger of playing with the unmanageable, unreasoning instincts of the crowd. She still cherished the chimera dear to her imagination—the prospective vision of the French people assembling itself in large masses, and deliberately and pacifically giving expression to its wishes.
Into the Bulletin de la Republique there crept soon a tone of impatience and provocation, improper and dangerous in an official organ. The 16th number, which appeared on April 16, at a moment when the pending general elections seemed likely to be overruled by reactionaries, contained the startling declaration that if the result should thus dissatisfy the Paris people, these would manifest their will once more, by adjourning the decision of a false national representation.
This sentence, which came from the pen of Madame Sand, was interpreted into a threat of intimidation from the party that would make Ledru-Rollin dictator, and created a considerable stir. There was, indeed, no call for a fresh brand of discord in the republican ranks. Almost simultaneously came popular demonstrations of a menacing character. Ledru-Rollin disavowed the offending Bulletin; but the growing uneasiness of the bourgeoisie, the unruly discontent among the workmen, the Government, embarrassed and utterly disorganized, was powerless to allay. Madame Sand began to perceive that the republic of her dreams, the "republican republic," was a forlorn hope, though still unconscious that even heavier obstacles to progress existed in the governed many than in the incapacity or personal ambition of the governing few. She writes to her son from Paris, April 17:—
I am sad, my boy. If this goes on, and in some sense there should be no more to be done, I shall return to Nohant to console myself by being with you. I shall stay and see the National Assembly, after which I think I shall find nothing more here that I can do.
At the Fete de la Fraternite, April 20th, the spectacle of a million of souls putting aside and agreeing to forget all dissensions, all wrongs in the past and fears for the future, and uniting in a burst of joyous exultation, filled her with enthusiasm and renewed hope. But the demonstration of the 15th of May, of which she was next a spectator, besides its mischievous effect in alarming the quiet classes and exciting the agitators afresh, gave fatal evidence of the national disorganization and uncontrollable confusion everywhere prevailing, that had doomed the republic from the hour of its birth.
Madame Sand, though she strenuously denied any participation or sympathy with this particular manifestation, was closely associated in the public mind with those who had aided and abetted the uprising. During the gathering of the populace, which she had witnessed, mingling unrecognized among the crowd, a female orator haranguing the mob from the lower windows of a cafe was pointed out to her, and she was assured that it was George Sand. During the repressive measures the administration was led to take she felt uncertain whether the arrest of Barbes might not be followed by her own. Some of her friends advised her to seek safety in Italy, where at that time the partisans of liberty were more united and sanguine. She turned a deaf ear. But she was severed now from all influential connection with those in authority. Before the end of May she left for Nohant, with her hopes for the rapid regeneration of her country on the wane. "I am afraid for the future," she writes to the imprisoned Barbes, shortly after these events. "I suffer for those who do harm and allow harm to be done without understanding it.... I see nothing but ignorance and moral weakness preponderating on the face of the globe."
Through the medium of the press, notably of the journal La Vraie Republique, she continued to give plain expression to her sentiments, regardless of the political enmities she might excite, and of the personal mortification to which she was exposed, even at Nohant, which with its inmates had recently become the mark for petty hostile "demonstrations." Alluding to these, she writes:—
Here in this Berry, so romantic, so gentle, so calm and good, in this land I love so tenderly, and where I have given sufficient proof to the poor and uneducated that I know my duties towards them, I myself in particular am looked upon as the enemy of the human race; and if the Republic has not kept its promises, it is I, clearly, who am the cause.
The term "communist," caught up and passed from mouth to mouth, was flung at Madame Sand and her son by the peasants, whose ideas as to its significance were not a little wild. "A pack of idiots," she writes to Madame Marliani, "who threaten to come and set fire to Nohant. Brave they are not, neither morally nor physically; and when they come this way and I walk through the midst of them they take off their hats; but when they have gone by they summon courage to shout, 'Down with the communists.'"
The ingratitude of many who again and again had received succor from her and hers, she might excuse on account of their ignorance, but the extent of their ignorance was an obstacle to immediate progress whose weight she had miscalculated.
"I shall keep my faith," she writes to Joseph Mazzini at this crisis—"the idea, pure and bright, the eternal truth will ever remain for me in my heaven, unless I go blind. But hope is a belief in the near triumph of one's faith. I should not be sincere if I said that this state of mind had not been modified in me during these last months."
The terrible insurrection of June followed, and overwhelmed her for the time. It was not only that her nature, womanly and poetical, had the greatest horror of bloodshed. The spectacle of the republicans slaughtering each other, of the evil passions stirred, the frightful anarchy, ended but at a frightful cost, the complete extinction of all hopes,—nothing left rampant but fear, rancor and distrust,—was heart-rendering to her whose heart had been thrown into the national troubles. Great was the panic in Berry, an after-clap of the disturbances in the capital. Madame Sand's position became more unpleasant than ever. She describes herself as "blasee d outrages—threatened perpetually by the coward hatreds and imbecile terrors of country places." But to all this she was well-nigh insensible in her despair over the public calamities oppressing her nation—the end of all long-struggling aspirations in "frightful confusion, complete moral anarchy, a morbid condition, in most which the courageous of us lost heart and wished for death.
"You say that the bourgeoisie prevails," she writes to Mazzini, in September, 1848, "and that thus it is quite natural that selfishness should be the order of the day. But why does the bourgeoisie prevail, whilst the people is sovereign, and the principle of its sovereignty, universal suffrage, is still standing? We must open our eyes at last, and the vision of reality is horrible. The majority of the French people is blind, credulous, ignorant, ungrateful, wicked, and stupid; it is bourgeoisie itself!"
Under no conceivable circumstances is it likely that Madame Sand would not very soon have become disgusted with active politics, for which her temperament unfitted her in every respect. Impetuous and uncompromisingly sincere, she was predestined to burn her fingers; proud and independent, to become something of a scape-goat, charged with all the follies and errors which she repudiated, as well as with those for which she was more or less directly responsible.
For some time to come she remained in comparative seclusion at Nohant. She had not ceased her propaganda, though obliged to conduct it with greater circumspection. After the horrors of civil warfare, had come the cry for order at any price, and France had declared for the rule of Louis Bonaparte. During the course of events that consolidated his power, Madame Sand withdrew more and more from the strife of political parties. She had been, and we shall find her again, inclined to hope for better things for France from its new master than time showed to be in store. Other republicans besides herself had been disposed to build high their hopes of this future "saviour of society" in his youthful days of adversity and mysterious obscurity. When in confinement at the fortress of Ham, in 1844, Louis Napoleon sent to George Sand his work on the Extinction of Pauperism. She wrote back a flattering letter in which, however, with characteristic sincerity, she is careful to remind him that the party to which she belonged could never acknowledge any sovereign but the people; that this they considered to be incompatible with the sovereignty of one man; that no miracle, no personification of popular genius in a single individual, could prove to them the right of that individual to sovereign power.
Since then she had seen the people supreme, and been forced to own that they knew not what they wanted, nor whither they were going, divided in mind, ferocious in action. Among the leaders, she had seen some infatuated by the allurements of personal popularity, and the rest showing, by their inability to cope with the perplexities of administrative government, that so far philosophical speculations were of no avail in the actual solution of social problems.
The result of her disenchantment was in no degree the overthrow of her political faith. A conviction was dawning on her that her social ideal was absolutely impracticable in any future that she and her friends could hope to live to see. But the belief on which she founded her social religion was one in which she never wavered; a certainty that a progress, the very idea of which now seemed chimerical, would some day appear to all as a natural thing; nay, that the stream of tendency would carry men towards this goal in spite of themselves.
"So you thought," wrote Madame Sand to a political friend, in 1849, "that I was drinking blood out of the skulls of aristocrats. Not I! I am reading Virgil and learning Latin." And her best propaganda, as by and by she came to own, was not that carried on in journals such as La Vraie Republique and La Cause du Peuple. Through her works of imagination she has exercised an influence more powerful and universal, if indirect.
Among the more than half a hundred romances of George Sand, there stands out a little group of three, belonging to the period we have now reached—the mezzo cammin of her life—creations in a special style, and over which the public voice, whether of fastidious critics or general readers, in France or abroad, has been and remains unanimous in praise.
In these, her pastoral tales, she hit on a new and happy vein which she was peculiarly qualified to work, combining as she did, intimate knowledge of French peasant life with sympathetic interest in her subject and lively poetic fancy. Here she affronts no prejudices, advances no startling theories, handles no subtle, treacherous social questions, and to these compositions in a perfectly original genre she brought the freshness of genius which "age cannot wither," together with the strength and finish of a practiced hand.
Peasants had figured as accessories in her earlier works. The rustic hermit and philosopher, Patience, and Marcasse the rat-catcher, in Mauprat, are note-worthy examples. In 1844 had appeared Jeanne, with its graceful dedication to Francoise Meillant, the unlettered peasant-girl who may have suggested the work she could not read—one of a family of rural proprietors, spoken of by Madame Sand in a letter of 1843 as a fine survival of a type already then fast vanishing—of patriarchally constituted family-life, embodying all that was grand and simple in the forms of the olden time.
In Jeanne, Madame Sand had first ventured to make a peasant-girl the central figure of her novel, though still so far deferring to the received notions of what was essential in order to interest the "gentle" reader as to surround her simple heroine with personages of rank and education. Jeanne herself, moreover, is an exceptional and a highly idealized type—as it were a sister to Joan of Arc, not the inspired warrior-maid, but the visionary shepherdess of the Vosges. Yet the creation is sufficiently real. The author had observed how favorable was the life of solitude and constant communion with nature led by many of these country children in their scattered homesteads, to the development of remarkable and tenacious individuality. So with the strange and poetical Jeanne, too innately refined to prosper in her rough human environment, yet too fixedly simple to fare much better in more cultivated circles. She is the victim of a sort of celestial stupidity we admire and pity at once. In this study of a peasant heroine resides such charm as the book possesses, and the attempt was to lead on the author to the productions above alluded to, La Mareau Diable, Francois le Champi, and La Petite Fadette. Of this popular trio the first had been published already two years before the Revolution, in 1846; the second was appearing in the Feuilleton of the Journal des Debats at the very moment of the breaking of the storm, which interrupted its publication awhile. When those tumultuous months were over, and Madame Sand, thrown out of the hurly-burly of active politics, was brought back by the course of events to Nohant, she seems to have taken up her pen very much where she had laid it down. The break in her ordinary round of work made by the excitements of active statesmanship was hardly perceptible, and in 1849 Le Champi was followed by La Petite Fadette.
La Mare au Diable, George Sand's first tale of exclusively peasant-life, is usually considered her masterpiece in this genre. It was suggested to her, she tells us, by Holbein's dismal engraving of death coming to the husbandman, an old, gaunt, ragged, over-worked representative of his tribe—grim ending to a life of cheerless poverty and toil!
Here was the dark and painful side of the laborer's existence—a true picture, but not the whole truth. There was another and a bright side, which might just as allowably be represented in art as the dreary one, and which she had seen and studied. In Berry extreme poverty was the exception, and the agriculturist's life appeared as it ought to be, healthy, calm, and simple, its laboriousness compensated by the soothing influences of nature, and of strong home affections.
This little gem of a work is thoroughly well-known. The ploughing-scene in the opening—ploughing as she had witnessed it sometimes in her own neighborhood, fresh, rough ground broken up for tillage, the plough drawn by four yoke of young white oxen new to their work and but half-tamed, has a simplicity and grandeur of effect not easy to parallel in modern art. The motif of the tale is that you often go far to search for the good fortune that lies close to your door. Never was so homely an adage more freshly and prettily illustrated; yet how slight are the materials, how plain is the outline! Germain, the well-to-do, widowed laborer, in the course of a few miles' ride, a journey undertaken in order to present himself and his addresses to the rich widow his father desires him to woo, discovers the real life-companion he wants in the poor girl-neighbor, whom he patronizingly escorts on her way to the farm where she is hired for service. It all slowly dawns upon him, in the most natural manner, as the least incidents of the journey call out her good qualities of head and heart—her helpfulness in misadventure, forgetfulness of self, unaffected fondness for children, instinctively recognized by Germain's little boy, who, with his unconscious childish influence, is one of the prettiest features in the book. Germain, by his journey's end, has his heart so well engaged in the right quarter that he is proof against the dangerous fascinations of the coquettish widow.
There is a breath of poetry over the picture, but no denaturalization of the uncultured types. Germain is honest and warm-hearted, but not bright of understanding; little Marie is wise and affectionate, but as unsentimentally-minded as the veriest realist could desire. The native caution and mercenary habit of thought of the French agricultural class are indicated by many a humorous touch in the pastorals of George Sand.
Equally pleasing, though not aiming at the almost antique simplicity of the Mare au Diable, is the story of Francois le Champi, the foundling, saved from the demoralization to which lack of the softening influences of home and parental affection predestine such unhappy children, through the tenderness his forlorn condition inspires in a single heart—that of Madeline Blanchet, the childless wife, whose own wrongs, patiently borne, have quickened her commiseration for the wrongs of others. Her sympathy, little though it lies in her power to manifest it, he feels, and its incalculable worth to him, which is such that the gratitude of a whole life cannot do more than repay it.
Part of the narrative is here put into the mouth of a peasant, and told in peasant language, or something approaching to it. Over the propriety of this proceeding, adopted also in Les Maitres Sonneurs, French critics are disagreed, though for the most part they regret it. It is not for a foreigner to decide between them. One would certainly regret the absence of some of the extremely original and expressive words and turns of speech current among the rural population, forms which such a method enabled her to introduce into the narrative as well as into the dialogue.
La Petite Fadette is not only worthy of its predecessors but by many will be preferred to either. There is something particularly attractive in the portraits of the twin brothers—partly estranged by character, wholly united by affection,—and in the figure of Fanchon Fadet, an original in humble life, which has made this little work a general favorite wherever it is known.
These prose-idylls have been called "The Georgics of France." It is curious that in a country so largely agricultural, and where nature presents more variety of picturesque aspect than perhaps in any other in Europe, the poetic side of rural life should have been so sparingly represented in her imaginative literature. French poets of nature have mostly sought their inspiration out of their own land, "In France, especially," observes Theophile Gautier, "all literary people live in town, that is in Paris the centre, know little of what is unconnected with it, and most of them cannot tell wheat from barley, potatoes from beetroot." It was a happy inspiration that prompted Madame Sand to fill in the blank, in a way all her own, and her task as we have seen was completed, revolutions notwithstanding. She owns to having then felt the attraction experienced in all time by those hard hit by public calamities, "to throw themselves back on pastoral dreams, all the more naive and childlike for the brutality and darkness triumphant in the world of activity." Tired of "turning round and round in a false circle of argument, of accusing the governing minority, but only to be forced to acknowledge after all that they were put there by the choice of the majority," she wished to forget it all: and her poetic temperament which unfitted her for success in politics assisted her in finding consolation in nature.
Moreover a district like Le Berry, singularly untouched by corruptions of the civilization, and preserving intact many old and interesting characteristics, was a field in which she might draw from reality many an attractive picture. She was as much rallied by town critics about her shepherdesses as though she had invented them. And yet she saw them every day, and they may be seen still by any wanderer in those lanes, and at every turn, Fanchons, Maries, Nanons, as she described them, tending their flock of from five to a dozen sheep, or a few geese, a goat and a donkey, all day long between the tall hedgerows, or on the common, spinning the while, or possibly dreaming. A certain refinement of cast distinguishes the type. Eugene Delacroix, in a letter describing a village festival at Nohant, remarks that if positive beauty is rare among the natives, ugliness is a thing unknown. A gentle, passive cast of countenance prevails among the women: "They are all St. Annes," as the artist expresses it. The inevitable changes brought about by steam-communication, which have as yet only begun to efface the local habits and peculiarities, must shortly complete their work. George Sand's pastoral novels will then have additional value, as graphic studies of a state of things that has passed away.
It does not appear that the merit of these stories was so quickly recognized as that of Indiana and Valentine. The author might abstract herself awhile from passing events and write idylls, but the public had probably not yet settled down into the proper state of mind for fully enjoying them. Moreover Madame Sand's antagonists in politics and social science, as though under the impression that she could not write except to advance some theory of which they disapproved, pre-supposed in these stories a set purpose of exalting the excellence of rustic as compared with polite life—of exaggerating the virtues of the poor, to throw into relief the vices of the rich. The romances themselves do not bear out such a supposition. In them the author chooses exactly the same virtues to exalt, the same vices to condemn, as in her novels of refined society. She shows us intolerance, selfishness, and tyranny of custom marring or endangering individual happiness among the working-classes, as with their superiors. There are Philistines in her thatched cottages, as well as in her marble halls. Germain, in La Mare au Diable, has some difficulty to discover for himself, as well as to convince his family and neighbors, that in espousing the penniless Marie he is not marrying beneath him in every sense. Francois le Champi is a pariah, an outcast in the estimation of the rustic world. Fanchon Fadet, by her disregard of appearances and village etiquette, scandalizes the conservative minds of farmers and millers very much as Aurore Dupin scandalized the leaders of society at La Chatre. Most prominence is given to the more pleasing characters, but the existence of brutality and cupidity among the peasant classes is nowhere kept out of sight. Her long practical acquaintance with these classes indeed was fatal to illusions on the subject. The average son of the soil was as far removed as any other living creature from her ideal of humanity, and at the very time when she penned La Petite Fadette she was experiencing how far the ignorance, ill-will, and stupidity of her poorer neighbors could go.
Thus she writes from Nohant to Barbes at Vincennes, November 1848: "Since May, I have shut myself up in prison in my retreat, where, though without the hardships of yours, I have more to suffer than you from sadness and dejection, ... and am less in safety." Threatened by the violence and hatred of the people, she had painfully realized that she and her party had their most obstinate enemies among those whom they wished and worked to save and defend.
Her profound discouragement finds expression in many of her letters from 1849 to 1852. The more sanguine hopes of Mazzini and other of her correspondents she desires, but no longer expects, to see fulfilled. She compares the moral state of France to the Russian retreat; the soldiers in the great army of progress seized with vertigo, and seeking death in fighting with each other.
To her son, who was in Paris at the time of the disturbances in May, 1849, she writes:—
Come back, I implore you. I have only you in the world, and your death would be mine. I can still be of some small use to the cause of truth, but if I were to lose you it would be all over with me. I have not got the stoicism of Barbes and Mazzini. It is true they are men, and they have no children. Besides, in my opinion it is not in fight, not by civil war, that we shall win the cause of humanity in France. We have got universal suffrage. The worse for us if we do not know how to avail ourselves of it, for that alone can lastingly emancipate us, and the only thing that would give us the right to take up arms would be an attempt on their part to take away our right to vote.
During the two years preceding the coup d'etat of December, 1851, life at Nohant had resumed its wonted cheerfulness of aspect. Madame Sand was used to surround herself with young people and artistic people; but now, amid their light-heartedness, she had for a period to battle with an extreme inward sadness, confirmed by the fresh evidence brought by these years of the demoralization in all ranks of opinion. "Your head is not very lucid when your heart is so deeply wounded," she had remarked already, after the disasters of 1848, "and how can one help suffering mortally from the spectacle of civil war and the slaughter among the people?"
To that was now added a loss of faith in the virtues of her own party, as well as of the masses. It is no wonder if she fell out of love for awhile with the ideals of romance, with her own art of fiction, and the types of heroism that were her favorite creations. But if the shadow of a morbid pessimism crept over her mind, she could view it now as a spiritual malady which she had yet the will and the strength to live down; as years before she had surmounted a similar phase of feeling induced by personal sorrow.
Already, in 1847, she had begun to write her Memoirs, and reverting to them now, she found there work that suited her mood, as dealing with the past, more agreeable to contemplate just then than the present or the future.
However, in September, 1850, we find her writing to Mazzini,—after dwelling on the present shortcomings of the people, and the mixture of pity and indignation with which they inspired her: "I turn back to fiction and produce, in art, popular types such as I see no longer; but as they ought to be and might be." She alludes to a play on which she was engaged, and continues: "The dramatic form, being new to me, has revived me a little of late; it is the only kind of work into which I have been able to throw myself for a year."
The events of December, 1851, surprised her during a brief visit to Paris. Her hopes for her country had sunk so low, that she owns herself at the moment not to have regarded the coup d'etat as likely to prove more disastrous to the cause of progress than any other of the violent ends which threatened the existing political situation. She left the capital in the midst of the cannonade, and with her family around her at Nohant awaited the issue of the new dictatorship.
The wholesale arrests that followed immediately, and filled the country with stupefaction, made havoc on all sides of her. Among the victims were comrades of her childhood, numbers of her friends and acquaintance and their relatives—as well in Berry as in the capital—many arrested solely on suspicion of hostility to the President's views, yet none the less exposed to chances of death, or captivity, or exile.
The crisis drove Madame Sand once more to quit the privacy of her country life, but this time in the capacity of intercessor with the conqueror for his victims. She came up to Paris, and on January 20, 1852, addressed a letter to the President, imploring his clemency for the accused generally in an admirably eloquent appeal to his sentiments as well of justice as of generosity. The plea she so forcibly urged, that according to his own professions mere opinion was not to be prosecuted as a crime, whereas the so-called "preventive measures" had involved in one common ruin with his active opponents those who had been mere passive spectators of late events, was, of course, unanswerable. The future Emperor granted her two audiences within a week at the Elysee, in answer to her request, and he succeeded on the first occasion in convincing her that the acts of iniquity and intimidation perpetrated as by his authority were as completely in defiance of his public intentions as of his private principles. As a personal favor to herself, he readily offered her the release of any of the political prisoners that she choose to name, and promised that a general amnesty should speedily follow. She left him, reassured to some extent as to the fate in store for her country. The second interview she had solicited in order to plead the cause of one of her personal friends, condemned to transportation. The mission was a delicate one, for her client would engage himself to nothing for the future, and Madame Sand, in petitioning for his release, saw no better course open to her than as expressed by herself, frankly to denounce him to the President as his "incorrigible personal enemy." Upon this the President granted her the prisoner's full pardon at once. Madame Sand was naturally touched by this ready response of the generous impulse to which she had trusted. To those who cast doubts on the sincerity of any good sentiment in such a quarter, she very properly replied that it was not for her to be the first to discredit the generosity she had so successfully appealed to.
But between her republican friends, loth to owe their deliverance to the tender mercies of Louis Napoleon, and her own desire to save their lives and liberties, and themselves and their families from ruin and despair, she found her office of mediator a most unthankful one. She persisted however in unwearying applications for justice and mercy, addressed both to the dictator directly, and through his cousin, Prince Napoleon (Jerome), between whom and herself there existed a cordial esteem. She clung as long as she could to her belief in the public virtue of the President, or Emperor as he already began to be called here and there. But the promised clemency limited itself to a number of particular cases for whom she had specially interceded.
The subsequent conditions of France precluded all free emission of socialist or republican opinions, but Madame Sand desired nothing better than to send in her political resignation; and it is impossible to share the regret of some of her fellow-republicans at finding her again devoting her best energies to her art of fiction, and in November, 1853, writing to Mazzini such words of wisdom as these:—
You are surprised that I can work at literature. For my part, I thank God that he has let me preserve this faculty; for an honest and clear conscience like mine still finds, apart from all debate, a work of moralization to pursue. What should I do if I relinquish my task, humble though it be? Conspire? It is not my vocation; I should make nothing of it. Pamphlets? I have neither the wit nor the wormwood required for that. Theories? We have made too many, and have fallen to disputing, which is the grave of all truth and all strength. I am, and always have been, artist before everything else. I know that mere politicians look on artists, with great contempt, judging them by some of those mountebank-types which are a disgrace to art. But you, my friend, you well know that a real artist is as useful as the priest and the warrior, and that when he respects what is true and what is good, he is in the right path where the divine blessing will attend him. Art belongs to all countries and to all time, and its special good is to live on when all else seems to be dying. That is why Providence delivers it from passions too personal or too general, and has given to its organization patience and persistence, an enduring sensibility, and that contemplative sense upon which rests invincible faith.
Her novel, Les Maitres Sonneurs, the first-fruits of the year 1853, is what most will consider a very good equivalent for party pamphlets and political diatribes.
When composing La Mare au Diable, in 1846, Madame Sand looked forward to writing a series of such peasant tales, to be collectively entitled Les Veillees du Chanvreur, the hemp-beaters being, as will be recollected, the Scheherazades of each village. Their number was never to be thus augmented, but the idea is recalled by the chapter-headings of Les Maitres Sonneurs, in which Etienne Despardieu, or Tiennet, the rustic narrator, tells, in the successive veillees of a month, the romance of his youth. It is a work of a very different type to the rural tales that had preceded it, and should be regarded apart from them. It is longer, more complex in form and sentiment, more of an ideal composition. Les Maitres Sonneurs, is a delightful pastoral, woodland fantasy, standing by itself among romances much as stands a kindred work of imagination, "As You Like It," among plays, yet thoroughly characteristic of George Sand, the nature-lover, the seer into the mysteries of human character, and the imaginative artist. The agreeable preponderates in the story, but it has its tragic features and its serious import. A picturesque and uncommon setting adds materially to its charm. Every thread tells in this delicate piece of fancy-work, and the weaver's art is indescribable. But one may note the ingenuity with which four or five interesting yet perfectly natural types are brought into a group and contrasted; improbable incidents so handled as not to strike a discordant note, the characteristics of the past introduced without ever losing hold of the links, the points of identity between past and present. The scene is the hamlet of Nohant itself; the time is a century ago, when the country, half covered with forest, was wilder, the customs rougher, the local coloring stronger than even Madame Sand in her childhood had known them. The personages belong to the rural proprietor class. The leading characters are all somewhat out of the common, but such exist in equal proportions in all classes of society, and there is ample evidence besides George Sand's of notable examples among the French peasantry. The plot and its interest lie in the development of character and the fine tracing of the manner in which the different characters are influenced by circumstances and by each other. If the beauty of rustic maidens, and of rustic songs and dance-music, as here described, seem to transcend probability, it must be remembered it is a peasant who speaks of these wonders, and as wonders they might appear to his limited experience. As a musical novel, it has the ingenious distinction of being told from the point of view of the sturdy and honest, but unartistic and non-musical Tiennet; a typical Berrichon. Madame Sand was of opinion that during the long occupation of Berry by the English the two races had blended extensively, and she would thus account for some of the heavier, more inexpansive qualities of our nation having become characteristic of this French province.
More than one English reader of Les Maitres Sonneurs may have been struck by the picture there presented of peasant-folk in a state of peace and comfort, such as we do not suppose to have been common in France before the Revolution. Madame Sand has elsewhere explained how, as a fact, Nohant, and other estates in the region round about, had enjoyed some immunity from the worst abuses of the ancien regime. Several of these properties, as it happened, had fallen to women or minors—widows, elderly maiden ladies, who, and their agents, spared the holders and cultivators of the soil the exactions which, by right or by might, its lords were used to levy. "So the peasants," she writes, "were accustomed not to put themselves to any inconvenience; and when came the Revolution they were already so well relieved virtually from feudal bonds that they took revenge on nobody." A new seigneur of Nohant, coming to take possession, and thinking to levy his utmost dues, in cash and in kind, found his rustic tenants turn a deaf ear to his summons. Ere he could insist the storm burst, but it brought no convulsion, and merely confirmed an independence already existing.
Les Maitres Sonneurs, whilst illustrating some of the most striking merits of George Sand, is free from the defects often laid to her charge; and although of all her pastorals it must suffer the most when rendered in any language but the original, it is much to be regretted that some good translation of this work should not put it within the reach of all English readers.
PLAYS AND LATER NOVELS.
There are few eminent novelists that have not tried their hands at writing for the stage; and Madame Sand had additional inducements to do so, beyond those of ambition satiated with literary success, and tempted by the charm of making fresh conquest of the public in a more direct and personal fashion.
From early childhood she had shown a strong liking for the theatre. The rare performances given by travelling acting-companies at La Chatre had been her greatest delight when a girl. At the convent-school she had arranged Moliere from memory for representation by herself and her school-fellows, careful so to modify the piece as to avoid all possibility of shocking the nuns. Thus the Sisters applauded Le Malade Imaginaire without any suspicion that the author was one whose works, for them, were placed under a ban, and whose very name they held in devout abhorrence. She inherited from her father a taste for acting, which she transmitted to her children. We have seen her during her literary novitiate in Paris, a studious observer at all theatres, from the classic boards of the Francais down to the lowest of popular stages, the Funambules, where reigned at that time a real artist in pantomime, Debureau. His Pierrot, a sort of modified Pulchinello, was renowned; and attracted more fastidious critics to his audience than the Paris artisans whose idol he was. Since then Madame Sand had numbered among her personal friends such leading dramatic celebrities as Madame Dorval, Bocage, and Pauline Garcia. "I like actors," she says playfully, "which has scandalized some austere people. I have also been found fault with for liking the peasantry. Among these I have passed my life, and as I found them, so have I described them. As these, in the light of the sun, give us our daily bread for our bodies, so those by gaslight give us our daily bread of fiction, so needful to the wearied spirit, troubled by realities." Peasants and players seem to be the types of humanity farthest removed from each other, and it is worthy of remark that George Sand was equally successful in her presentation of both.
Her preference for originality and spontaneity before all other qualities in a dramatic artist was characteristic of herself, though not of her nation. Thus it was that Madame Dorval, the heroine of Antony and Marion Delorme, won her unbounded admiration. Even in Racine she clearly preferred her to Mlle. Mars, as being a less studied actress, and one who abandoned herself more to the inspiration of the moment. The effect produced, as described by Madame Sand, will be understood by all keenly alive, like herself, to the enjoyment of dramatic art. "She" (Madame Dorval) "seemed to me to be myself, more expansive, and to express in action and emotion all that I seek to express in writing." And compared with such an art, in which conception and expression are simultaneous, her own art of words and phrases would at such moments appear to her as but a pale reflection.