with its inevitable issue which renders George Sand suspect. It is not this single case which furnishes the ready means of detraction or enmity, which embarrasses sympathy and admiration. Idealism is the dominant note of her character and work. But Mrs Browning, for instance, in her two sonnets, finds the need to mingle reproach with her glowing tribute to the high representative of woman. It is in the very name of idealism that protest is made against the succession of her experiments in love. The single stumble, the momentary aberration-and who should be rigorous to mark what is amiss? But these repetitions; the bead-roll of lovers! Illusion, and speedy disillusion; that is comprehensible once. Was experience to teach her nothing?

'I care little about growing old, much about growing old alone; but I have not met the being whom I could have loved, or, if I have met him, I did not know how to keep him.'

Her ideal claim was not only excessive, it broke into contrary elements as her moods shifted. Thus, we have come to know somewhat of that Adrien de Sèze, whose name was concealed, and whose influence was but darkly suggested, in the 'Histoire de ma Vie.' That for six years of her early married life she should have found in him a man who brought comfort to her discouragement, and adhered along with her to the enthusiastic vows of renunciation they pledged, is not without its mark of the fairer idealism. The world, indeed, runs as it may; and idealism suffers its rubs and shocks. Adrien de Sèze, the grave and refined magistrate, visiting Nohant, lights upon his mystic Beatrice arranging a layette for that second child of whom there seemed no likelihood; there is a certain cooling of the correspondence, a slackening of enthusiasm on his part. He marries presently, with all due correctness; and with that an end.

Then there was François Rollinat, her life-long friend, the stoic of her lasting admiration, without a failing for her to discover and resent. No, the friend, the spiritual guide, was not enough; he must be at once friend and lover and the strong man on whom you can rest in confidence. She aspires to employ her whole nature in the service of an idea and not of a passion, in the service of truth and not in that of a man. But in vain I seek a

religion; shall it be God, shall it be love, friendship, the public good? Alas! it seems to me that my soul is organised to receive all these imprints, without one effacing the rest.' Prompt to idealise, she is enraptured to discover the man of bronze in Merimée, in Michel de Bourges, even for a moment in Pagello himself; but she speedily detects their weakness, and is disconsolate again. And besides, she is charmed by weakness; alternately with the supposed strong and simple, she idealises the fragile and complicated, a Musset or a Chopin. She was sincerity itself in her intricate confession. There is no real cause to doubt that she eternally craved to devote herself, to help, to inspire. From the first, the love she bestowed was of a maternal nature; the more maternal, no doubt, as her years advanced. Legend, that readily lends to the already rich, compelled by the new documents to forgo its attribution of a Planche and a Liszt to the catalogue of those she 'mothered,' still encumbers it in her years of more than maturity with the obscurer names of a Mallefille, a Manceau. Housemates, one might consider these last-objects of her bounteous hospitality; as was Eugène Lambert, the painter of cats, who exclaimed one day at Nohant: 'Oh, by the way, I came here, ten years ago, to spend a month; I really must think of going.' Still newer documents may settle the matter, or leave it unsettled. It is sure that George Sand prolonged the quest of ideal love, sought in the individual. But it is no less sure that she attained to that ideal and unselfish love, that overflowing compassion and charity, that never-failing goodness of heart which shines like the sun upon all.

There was, in George Sand, a certain defiance of private and public opinion, dating from the time of the calumnies to which she was exposed in her girlhood, or from the still earlier time of the continuous disparagement of mother by grandmother, and of grandmother by mother, both of whom she loved. And together with that characteristic trait of hers, the decisive lapse of enthusiasm, the cold haughtiness from the moment that she could no longer believe the ideal realised, there must be taken into account her faculty of swift oblivion and pardon-pardon of others, and of herself.

Indeed, George Sand wrote the 'Histoire de ma Vie'

with much the same design as that of Goethe in his autobiography. The personal development was to be explained by environment and heredity. It is possible to suppose that she was entering a plea for herself. The vehement temperament, the avidity of new impressions, could hardly fail in the descendant of Maurice de Saxe and of Dupin de Francueil. Here was a race that made little of the distinction between matrimonial and extramatrimonial arrangements. The conflict of her grandmother and mother about the possession of herself was repeated in her own nature. On the one hand, there was the frivolous grisette of a mother, excitable and wholly unbalanced, vulgar and violent, the sport of her emotions and imagination, devoid of all culture from without or within, whom George Sand felt called upon to defend as a daughter, a primitive daughter of the people. And on the other, we have Mme Dupin de Francueil, inheriting Maurice de Saxe's interest in social questions, but free from his libertinage; an aristocrat who welcomed Rousseau in eighteenth-century fashion, orderly and reasonable; ultra-rational, yet given to the utopian.

For long George Sand believed in the fatality of organism, in the irresistible tyranny of temperament. Can we reform our characters? Must we not accept ourselves and others as nature has formed us? And Wladimir Karénine, the completion of whose biography is greatly to be desired, similarly considers that neither censure nor defence is necessary. Defect and quality are mutually determined; George Sand did but act in accordance with her character. But George Sand, progressing towards harmony, shaping order out of disorder, was glad to recall and quote for the example of others the victories of her will, the power that is given us to surmount ourselves, and duly draw nigher to the desired perfection. How these two points of view were to be reconciled was not her concern. Probably she would have reposed her belief in that sense of personal responsibility which abides when the philosophic determinist has had his full say.

It will be noticed that George Sand makes no confession of sensuality. Such an element may, or may not, have been present in her constitution. There is no evidence either way. What is clear is that her intense

capacity of emotion was dominated and directed by a false idealism, the Romantic Idealism of the time. Musset and George Sand, excessive in the style and matter of their love-making, were the victims of this ideal, victims as well as propagators of the contagion. They believed that the life of the artist was wholly separate from the common life. Genius was liberty, supreme in right and might. Obligation, save that of self-development to the full, concerned only the dull folk who did the ordinary work of the world. The cult of passionate enthusiasm was the sole law of us all,' as Sainte-Beuve wrote of his early days. Romantics and Saint-Simonians, all indeed whom George Sand met at her coming to Paris, preached love 'free and divine,' the legitimacy of instinct, the folly of restraint. They would be as gods, these artistic natures. They were gods, and freed from responsibility since Destiny reigned over them. Raised beyond the sphere of vulgar duties and hindrances, if two of these should perchance meet and love, it was theirs, in the plenitude of the joint divinity they arrogated, to worship themselves and each other. And in the expression of such worship they could well advance beyond those mystics who confound the spirit and the senses. Apostrophes to the Deity, the most sacred allusions, must serve for rhetorical embroidery upon occasions that, to say the least, were alien and discordant. Alfred de Musset and George Sand, the typical pair, will swing incense to each other in private and before the public. The one, meditating his 'Confession,' would raise an altar, 'even if it were with his bones,' to the beloved he had lost.

'Posterity shall repeat our names together like those of the immortal lovers indissolubly linked in memory, like Romeo and Juliet, like Héloïse and Abélard. It will be a marriage more sacred than such as priests can make, the imperishable and chaste marriage of intelligence. Future peoples will recognise in it the symbol of the sole God of their adoration.' And George Sand anticipates him in the brilliant rhapsodies of the Lettres d'un Voyageur.' Life and love are a paroxysm. 'Happiness, happiness,' cries Musset, and death to follow, death along with it!'

Should they, or any of their Romantic comrades, find

cause to doubt their own divinity, the imitation of Don Juan would lead them onwards and upwards till they attained it. Don Juan, the type and model of the French Romantics, as of their German contemporaries who sought to amalgamate him with Faust, was transformed by them into the hero who strenuously pursues the quest of the ideal, regardless of disillusion; who ever seeks the one in the many, after another sort than the Greek philosophers of old. George Sand, for instance, could amplify-amplification was an especial trait of Romance -a favourite theme of Alfred de Musset.

'Love is a temple' (she writes to him during their rupture) 'built by the lover to an object more or less worthy of his cult; and what is fair within the temple is not so much the God as the altar. Why fear the risk? Let the idol long stand, or soon be broken, you will none the less have built your fair temple. . . . The God of your worship will be changed perchance, but the temple will last. It will be a place of sublime refuge, in which to lave anew your heart in the eternal flame; and your heart will be rich enough, powerful enough to renew the divinity should it abandon its pedestal. Do you believe that a love or two is sufficient to exhaust and blight a strong soul? I thought so, too, for a long time, but now I know it is quite the opposite. It is a fire which ever tends to mount upward and purify itself.'

And therewith she bids him mount, aspire. Again, he is to watch over his heart, in the various loves that await him. Let him so live in nobleness that 'one day you can look backwards and say as I shall do: "I have suffered often, and have sometimes been mistaken, but I have loved; it is I who have loved, and not a being of mere fancy created by my pride and weariness."' Which phrase could bodily be transferred, as we know, to one of his plays. No wonder that the adversaries of 'feminism' should rage anew against George Sand.

Such was the chosen course of the artist in the Romantic epoch. As for George Sand, sound and reasonable in the tendency of her nature, she presently ceased to be a victim of literature. She grew sceptical of the lyrical life, and could even purpose a sacrifice of all art to socialism. Not that, in her reaction, she did not protest against herself. She knew that man does not live by bread alone, Presently, with Liszt and Lamen

« VorigeDoorgaan »