« VorigeDoorgaan »
nais, she required the artist to be prophet and priest, the vates; which he may not be unless his own life is stainless. In the letters of her last years to Flaubert, it is upon the difficulties and dangers of the artist, upon his duties rather than his privileges, that she dwells. Forcibly given to self-analysis, he has at once to guard and to devote himself; a being of impulse and sentiment, he must learn self-oblivion, learn to doubt his own infallibility. As for the dream of power, of development in all directions, that was as absurd as it was impossible. Nature had taken care to assign limitations. •Don Juan wrote no poems, or bad ones; and Byron, a poet, made love, they say, in poor style.'
It is this same excess of individualism, the boundless pretension with the sorry performance, now as under Louis Philippe and during the Third Empire, against which M. Mariéton and M. Maurras inveigh, using George Sand as the 'vile body' for experiment, and triumphantly demonstrating the folly and peril of the New Romanticism by the example of the Old. Like so many French. men of good purpose, they fear the
the ravages of Individualism, and would utter their warning. In the crusade against the dread enemy of many names, they seize upon and mangle George Sand, whom rather they should have put forward as their spokesman, if there is aught in eloquent conviction, or if those best know the disease who have suffered from it. Terms and labels have changed with the times. For artist, for the rights of genius and passion, we now read Intellectualism, Amoralism, the Will of Power, and the like. But it is still the same selfish craving for the inordinate. And this claim to transcend due limits, whether it be the claim of the heart in the Romantic period, or the claim of the head nowadays, frustrates itself inevitably, The flight into the empyrean will, as ever, be followed by the plunge into the mire. Even the change from the sentiment to the reason and will is a doubtful gain. Is it progress, or reversion? The tragic imitation, in little, of a Napoleon were equally disastrous.
There is yet another charge recently brought against her. It is surely possible for a mother, who is not a George Sand, to have a brilliant, erratic and unfortunate daughter. If the daughter of George Sand repeats the experience of an unhappy marriage, struggling with a faulty husband for the possession of a child and subsequently emancipating herself, the blame is sure to be laid upon the mother. But what of Maurice Sand, orderly throughout his life? Their mutual devotion is admitted; they were at one in sympathies and interests. Writing to Flaubert a few years before her death, George Sand claims that the common humanity of the two sexes rather than their differences should be considered; and she cites her children as a case. 'I have watched the childhood and development of my son and daughter. My son was myself, consequently much more of a woman than my daughter, who was a man, but no very successful example.'
Of this daughter, Solange, little was remembered beyond the fact that she married Clesinger the sculptor, and wrote two novels, marked by a certain vivacity and a turn for epigrammatic wit. M. Rocheblave, as devout in his admiration of George Sand as are M. Spoelberch de Lovenjoul and M. Plauchut, has published a volume of letters, with the necessary framework. The continuous anxiety, the patient attempt towards moral education, the invincible affection of George Sand, are patent. Her lavish generosity in monetary matters could never have been doubted. The misunderstanding as to the circumstances of the marriage, which has passed from Chopin to his biographers, is corrected.
The character of Solange was baffling. She rebelled against all discipline, and was incapable of perseverance. Her nature never attained harmony. A mass of contrary qualities, and able to analyse her own incoherence, she was at a loss with regard to her own conduct, and beyond the never-failing aid and counsel of her mother. From the first she lacked that bounteous goodness of heart, the resolute will and heroic acceptance of toil, which were so conspicuous in George Sand. Impulse, the passion of the head and not of the heart, followed promptly by ennui ; the craving and contempt for social excitement; the wit that springs from a spontaneous and merciless scepticism-in all these she was widely removed from her mother, and a cause of dismay. George Sand,
so skilful in the disentanglement of problematic characters, could only write to her: • Here is one whom I have brought into the world, suckled, adored, spoiled, scolded, punished, pardoned; and with all that I do not know her in the least.'
It could hardly be otherwise; Solange was incoherent. George Sand foresees the consequences of her daughter's marriage; there could be no lasting agreement between Solange and the man she had so lightly chosen. But the marriage was forced by the headstrong girl ; and her mother had to put the best face she could upon the matter. Presently, there is bitter despair; and the whirl of fugitive purposes is resumed. Solange would take refuge in the fold of the Roman Church, but she judges herself incapable of submission. In default of this, she would daze herself with social noise and dissipation. No, she is weary of that, and would turn author; but the effort and the result are speedily misliked. “At bottom, now I think of it, I find that suicide is my sole religion.' She would be unhappy were not this last resource at her disposal; for is life good for anything? Duty? one of those lofty words which are empty of meaning ;virtue? a famous cheat, etc.' The etc.' is characteristic; the effort needed to express her disdain in full is not worth the while. George Sand hoped against hope. Caprice, unreasonableness, might prove to be no more than the first disorderly manifestations of future force and unity. She was entirely convinced, and did not fail to teach her daughter that the possibility of selfamendment and victorious progress is within the reach of everyone. When Solange announces her conversion, such as it is, she receives no word of reproach for the abandonment of that vague Christianity, that Christian Deism, in which she had been nurtured. Solange has but to make a sign that she is weary of self-will, and would avail herself of those resources which her mother used against all trouble—the strenuous application to chosen and necessary tasks, the study of some branch of natural science. But one never knows anything certain where you are concerned; and to advise you is the most impossible and useless thing in the world.'
At length the time came when George Sand found it better not to know what was the real life of her daughter;
otherwise, she would be compelled to judge and reproach continuously, and in vain. We look on life from such
• different points of view that, from your earliest childhood, the part I have had to play is that of powerlessness.' But, even in reproach, the great maternal heart of George Sand is not wanting to itself; and, moreover, the two were linked together by the loss of their little daughter and granddaughter. Solange had revived the eighteenth century in some sort by establishing a salon in which to exercise her wit and coquetry amid the company of literary men and politicians; that, if anything, was her ideal. She might come to Nohant when asked, or when she would, if she cared for restful behaviour. Such intervals of calm were a relief to herself and to her mother, freed from anxiety for the time being. But even in such intervals Solange must have been difficult. And it is not without a touch of irony that she should be successful in speculative building on the Riviera ; and that, establishing herself at last within reach of her mother in Berry, she should have been further away, if possible, than when she was at Cannes or Turin.
Solange, during one of her short-lived projects of literary fame, encountered Sainte-Beuve, who showed her much courtesy and offered his aid. The page in which she describes him and his household is a pretty piece of witty and unsparing observation. Generous and single-minded in friendships, George Sand passes over the malice, to welcome the news. Her daughter could find no better guide in the practice of literature, or of anything. She is reminded of the time when he used to visit her, bringing calm and comfort that lasted for days. She hopes he will have as much influence over Solange's life as he had had over her own upon several occasions. Sainte-Beuve, indeed, had been her spiritual director, her lay confessor in the early days of her fame, taking the place of Adrien de Sèze until, in turn, he was superseded by Lamennais, and Lamennais by Leroux. He had also mediated, as far as might be, between her and Musset, in the dread season before the decisive rupture.
It is almost pleasant to turn away from the SainteBeuve whose lately divulged Livre d'Amour' and relations with Mme Victor Hugo are a problem beyond
ready or final settlement, to the Sainte-Beuve of the same date to whom the letters of George Sand, now brought together, are addressed. He comes out of the matter so well, in comparison. The legend which made of him a sort of Pandar is exploded. It was not a case of his furnishing her with a Prosper Merimée, to be discarded in cavalier fashion--you lent him to me, and you can have him back.' Her own account is as follows. In the days of blank disillusion and bitter despair, she says, 'I met with a man who was sure of everything, a man calm and strong, who understood nothing of my nature and laughed at my sorrows. The power of his mind wholly fascinated me; for a week I believed he possessed the secret of happiness, that he would reveal it to me, that his scornful indifference would cure me of my childish susceptibility. I believed he had suffered like myself, and had overcome his outward sensibility. ... The experiment failed entirely. I wept for pain, disgust, discouragement. Instead of finding an affection capable of compassion and solace, I found nothing but bitter and frivolous sarcasm. ... Had he understood me, he would perchance have loved me; and if he had loved me, he would have subdued me; and if I had been able to allow myself to be subdued by a man, I should have been saved, for liberty wastes and consumes me utterly.' But Sainte-Beuve is of the angels, she knows, and will hold out a helping hand. Her plaints must have afflicted, or even irritated him; but he is the sole friend to whom she can appeal.
Presently-Donna Juana, indeed,—she announces that she has given herself to Alfred de Musset, ' rather out of friendship than love,' and is in the fairest way to be consoled, regenerated. But none the less she continues
' her appeal. She is busy, and must consult him about the book she is writing. 'You are moral, my friend; but am I moral also, or not? I know not which. I believe that to hope is to be moral; but I lack hope; I have blasphemed against nature and God, perchance, in “Lélia”; God, who is not ill-disposed towards us, and has no care to take vengeance upon us, has sealed my lips by restoring my youth of heart and by forcing me to confess that He has set the fount of sublime joys within us. But human society-that is a different matter; I believe it wholly corrupt, I find it odious; and I shall never write any