George Sand.

Impressions and reminiscences online

. (page 1 of 15)
Online LibraryGeorge SandImpressions and reminiscences → online text (page 1 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook























Madame Amantixe Lucile Aurore - Ditdevant,
botter known by her pseudonyme " George Sand,"
■was the daughter of the Marquis Maurice Dupin da
Franceuil. She was born at Paris, July 5, 1804, and
died there June 8, 1876. She was brought up at the
Chateau de Nohant by her grandmother, the Comtesse
de Horn, a woman of strong intellect. Her theories
Influenced the training of the 3'oung Aurore, who, at
the age of fifteen, could ride and dance with ease and
gi'ace, handle a gun, or flourish a sword, with equal
dexterity. At fifteen she was placed at the Convent
of the Augustines Anglaises, at Paris, for the purpose
of receiving religious instruction. Her imagination
was captivated by the Roman Catholic faith ; and
she embraced it with her whole soul. After the
death of her grandmother, and under the dictation
of her family, she, in 1822, married the Baron
Dudevant, a man of mature years, and little calcu-
lated to interest the affections of a young wife. The



fortune of his 3'outhful bride enabled him to carry out
his agricultural schemes ; but he did not appear
sensible to the fact, that with her natural vigor of
mind, and sensibility of character, she was leading a
monotonous and hopeless existence.

Resolving to divert her mind from her melancholy
lot, she sought the society of such friends as she
could assemble around her. Among these was M.
Jules Sandeau, a young law-student who spent a
vacation at Nohant, and was the first to inspire her
with a longing for literary distinction. It would
seem that feelings of doubt and suspicion aggravated
the harsh characteristics of her husband ; for their
life became insupportable to both, and his wife, by
the sacrifice of her fortune, procured his assent to
a separation. She hastened to Paris, and once more
entered the Convent of the Augustines Anglaises ;
but her mind had become too much habituated to
excitement to rest quietly in so calm a haven, and
she longed to share in the busy turmoil of life. Her
next transition was to a little garret in the Quai
St. Michel at Paris, where she had to struggle against
absolute povert}^ and formed plans with M. Jules
Sandeau, whose worldly circumstances* were no better
than her own, for the supply of each day's necessities.
Having a little skill in painting, Mme. Dudevant was
induced to accept employment occasionally offered


by a toy-vender, in ornamenting candlesticks and
srufF-boxes. But this wearisome and ill-paid work
disgusted her; and the two aspirants for fortune
resolved to seek advice from M. Latouche, the editor
of " Figaro," who suggested literature as a profession,
and encouraged them to write for his own paper. This
led to the curious literary partnership which so greatly
mystified the Parisian press.

A series of articles in " Figaro " were followed
by a novel called ''Rose et Blanche," to which was
appended the signature of "Jules Sand." The authors
received eighty dollars for this manuscript, and for a
time led a life of ease and gayety. It was at this
period that Mme. Dudevant first gave ofience by
donninof male attire, assumed by her for greater
independence of action. Being soon again in strait-
ened circumstances, Mme. Dudevant was advised to
revisit Ben-i for the purpose of obtaining a legal
separation, or at least an alimentary allowance, from
her husband. Previous to her departure, saj-s one
of her biographers, slie arranged with M. Sandeau
the plan of a novel, certain portions of which were
to be completed by each before their next meeting.
The student did not fulfil his share of the undertak-
insr; but on her return Mme. Dudevant surprised
him with the complete manuscript of " Indiana,"
which was sold fur u hundred and twenty dollars,


and met with rapid success. It introduced to the
public the name of " George Sand ; " for M. Sandeau,
unwilling to accept a share of the distinction he had
neglected to earn, refused to permit their ordinary
pen-name to be used in this instance. Her next two
novels were "Valentine" and "Lelia," the latter
being published in the "Revue des Deux Monde s "
in 1833. In 1834 she travelled through Italy in
company with Alfred de Musset ; and she afterward
wrote " Les Lettres d'un Vo3'ageur," wherein she
gave an entertaining account of her journe}-, as well
as her opinions on various subjects. This book was
followed by "Jacques," "Andre," and " Le Secre-
taire," three" novels of considerable merit. Returning
to France in 1835, she met Michel de Bourges, the
eloquent lawyer, who drew her into politics ; Lamenais,
with whom she debated the higher questions of religion ;
and Pierre Leroux, who initiated her into the doc-
trines of socialism. Their influence was perceptible
in several of her subsequent works, such as "Simon,"
"Spiridon," and " Consuelo."

In 1838 Mme. Dudevant obtained a decree by
which she was legally separated from her husband,
and restored to the management of her fortune and
the guardianship of her two children. Her life now
became comparatively settled. She made Nohant a
resort for her friends, and attended to her childi'en's


education, without neglecting her literary labors. In
1838, for the benefit of her son's health, she spent
a winter in Majorca, where she was accompanied by
the pianist Chopin. In 1845 she turned her pen to
new and more congenial subjects, and produced pas-
toral novels unparalleled for charm, simplicity, and

The revolutionary movement of 1848 enlisted the
ardent sj-mpathies of "George Sand." She is said
to have written newspaper articles defending the
measures of Ledru-Rollin, then a member of the
Provisional Government ; but a few months afterward
she returned to her country home and literary pursuits.
In 1854 she f>ublished in the " Presse " newspaper
an interesting autobiogi-aph}'. A detailed list of her
works would occupy considerable space. Besides a
large number of popular novels, "George Sand" was
author of several plays, some of which achieved great
success. Her plays, before being represented in Paris,
were usuall}' acted and criticised in a little theatre
attached to her chateau.

The position of " George Sand " in European litera-
ture may be judged by the opinion of some of her
distinguished contemporaries. Thackeray said of her,
" Iler style is noble, and beautifully rich and pure.
She has an exuberant imagination, and with it a
very chaste style of expression. She never scarcely


indulges in declamation, and yet her sentences are
exquisitely melodious and full. She leaves you at
the end of one of her brief, rich, melancholy sen-
tences, with plenty of food for future cogitation. I
can't express to you the charm of them : they seem
to me like the sound of country bells falling sweetly
and sadly upon the ear." The German poet Heine
wrote, " She has naturalness, taste, a strong love
of truth, enthusiasm ; and all these qualities are
linked together by the most severe, as also the
most perfect, harmony. The genius of Mme. George
Sand has an amplitude exquisitely beautiful. What-
ever she feels or thinks breathes grace, and makes
you dream of immense deeps. Her stj'le is a revela-
tion of pure and melodious form." George H. Lewes
said, "No man could have written her books; for
no man could have had her experience, even with a
genius equal to her own. Both philosopher and
critic must perceive that these writings of hers are
original, are genuine, are transcripts of experience,
and, as such, fulfil the primar}^ condition of all
literature." Michelet called her "the grand prosa-
teur of the nineteenth century." John Stuart Mill
declared that, "as a specimen of purely artistic
excellence, there is not in all modern literature any
thing superior to the prose of Mme. Sand, whose
style acts upon the nei-vous system like a symphony


of Haydn or Mozart." Reviewing her career, Justin
McCarth}' said, " George Sand is probabh' the most
influential writer of our daj-. Her genius has been
felt as a power in every countr}' where people read
any manner of books. She is beyond comparison
the greatest living novelist of France, and has won
this position by the most legitimate application of
the gifts of an artist. With all her marvellous
fecundity, she has hardly ever given to the world
Sioy work which does not seem, at least, to have
been the subject of the most elaborate and patient
care. The prose of George Sand stands out con-
spicuous for its wonderful expressiveness and force,
its almost perfect beaut}'. She is, after Rousseau,
the one only great French author who has looked
directly and lovingly into the face of Nature, and
learned the secrets which skies and waters, fields
and lanes, can teach to the heart that loves them.
Gifts such as these have won her the almost unri-
valled place which she holds in living literature.
There is hardl}' a woman's heart anywhere in the
civilized world which has not felt tlie vibration of
George Sand's thrilling voice."

"The London Saturday Review " paid this tribute
to her genius: "In France, of all the novel-writers
of the last twent}' years, the most instructive, the
most genuine, the most original, is George Sand.


Her best works remain, and will long remain, among
the most characteristic and the most splendid monu-
ments of that outpouring of French literature, the
period of which happened to be exactl}* conterminous
with the duration of constitutional government in
France." Lastly, her own country-man, Edmond
About, termed hers "the noblest mind of our
epoch." — N^ew York Tribune.



■ ♦


L Winter at Home 1

II, The State of my Mind 16

III. Again in the Woods 38

IV. Love 55

V. The Philosophy of Punctuation . . 75

VI. Universal Suffrage 87

VII. Spiritual Belief 107

VIII. Death in Life 128

IX. The Mind in Sleep 141

X. Some Ideas of a School-Teacher . . ICO

XI. The Poets of To-Day 185

XII. The Revolution for an Ideal . . .198

XIII. Father Hyacinthe 213




XIV. A CtJEious Book 221


XVI. L'Angusta 257

XVU. BiiTWEEN Two Clouds 275


To Charles Edmond: —

I ACKNOWLEDGE that, every evening, I am simple
enough to record, in more or less words, the events
of the day ; and thfs I have done for twenty years.
It does not follow, however, that this journal merits
publication ; and I doubt if even a few of its pages
would be worth the trouble.

On reviewing it, I am convinced that it would be
principally interesting to myself, resembling, as it
does, a journal from shipboard ; for we live, for the
most part, in the country ; and this life is similar to
that on a ship that is lying-to.

Nevertheless, since you urge it, I will make the
attempt, on condition that you will stop me as soon as
it becomes tiresome or childish ; but I ask permission
to fish at will in those mysterious waters which have
swallowed so many objects without leaving any distinct
trace of their existence. I am fond of fiction, and
willingly resign to it my personality. It does not,



however, occupy my whole time ; and I waste a lai^e
portion in revery, without a thought which could be
made practical or manifest. I should hardly know
how to describe this kind of internal action, to whic i
every one yields in his own waj'', and which is infin-
itely varied according to one's temperament, charac-
ter, 3'ears, and surroundings. Perhaps, in this sense,
certain pages of this journal may have the value of a
study which each one can pursue for himself.

It would be impossible to confine myself to a
systematic course ; for to connect logically, daj'' by
da}', twenty years of m,y life, would be the labor of
twenty years more ; and I have too many things to
see and understand, — I, who am not quick at com-
prehension, — to devote the now rather limited term
of my life to the knowledge and understanding of
myself. When these loose pages form the leaves of a
book, it will be the result of some slight desire that I
have felt to promulgate an idea.




Jan. 23, 1863, 5.30, p.m.

THE sunset sky behind the dark yet well-
defined network of the tall and leafless
linden-trees is of an orange red. The moon is
almost at the zenith, and presents the dim out-
line of three quarters. One edge is distinctly
visible : the other is lost, as it were, in the foggy
distance. In the little visual field presented by
this star are hundi-eds of leagues of perspective.
How small a proportion of space is occupied by a
world I

The constellation of Orion, brilliant as the
diamond, is rising behind the moon, in the cold
blue sky ; and, lower down, Siriiis sheds its white
quivering light over the summit of the trees in

the garden. The shadow thrown by the pinea



upon the gravel is clear and steadfast. Are tlie
violets in blossom ? I have not seen any, but the
fresh air is impregnated with their odor.

How charming is this winter I From my open
window I behold on my right hand the dying
rays of the sunset, and on my left the solemn
approach of night. The air is not cold ; and,
were it not for the position of the stars, one
might fancy that it were April. But no ! This
lovely silence is not the imprudent announcement
of spring. It is so profound that I dare not
move, for fear of disturbing it. I would take a
walk before dinner, but I might cause some
derangement in nature : besides, I should hear my
own footsteps ; the charm would be broken.

I have spent half an hour in this silent contem-
plation, mechanically holding my breath in the
surrounding quiet. ]\Iy life seemed, as it were,
suspended without and within. I could think
only of those violets which lie concealed by day,
but betray themselves at night by their subtle
perfume. They need not fear : I will not attempt
to gather them.

The dinner-bell has just rung. There was
nothing sharp or clamorous in its sound, but it
set the dog to barking. The dog is a timid, sus-


picious being, full of visions and terrors, uttering
cries of distress without any apparent cause. The
moon on the horizon drives liim to despair. He
pays no attention to the white stars, but has an
evident aversion to the red planets. No doubt
he has perceptions of which we are unconscious.
White walls frighten him at twilight. He is the
dupe of shadows, and constant!}^ tormented by
fancies. This is the effect of a vivid imagination,
without the capacity for visual enjoyment.

Midnight. — A has just raised a scene,

because I risked taking cold at the open window.
This excellent man cannot understand that it is
better to have a cold in his head than to deprive
his soul of a sublime joy. I try in vain to describe
to him this quiet enjoyment arising from contem-
plation. He is enraged at logic, and begs for
words that define ; but I can find none to define
60 vague a feeling.

Nevertheless I try to answer his questions.

" Does it require half an hour to behold one of
Nature's pictures ? Does not the picture change
every second during that half-hour ? "

" It is tliis very change, rapid yet impercepti-
ble, that I like to watch."

" What good does it do you ? This change is


the despair of painters, who may seek in vain to
fix the effect."

" I find enjoyment where the painter finds
despair. I behold a scene always fresh, and not
subject to the merciless and uncertain law of

" But that does not serve art. You cannot
portray a position which is constantly changing.
You are forced to seize it at a given moment,
or to reproduce merely its principal phases."

" That is very true ; but I have never thought
of attempting a description. Such things do not
take so strong a hold on our feelings at the
moment as afterwards, — that is, provided they
have made a deep impression ; but the most
thorough appreciation does not need to be com-

" That is to say, that what you feel most
ardently you do not commit to writing ? "

"I believe so."

" For my part, I see nothing when I am alone.
I do not look."

" You do not care to see ? "

" Precisely. It would make me sorrowful. I
should begin to cry perhaps, like the dog, whose
neives are irritated by the moon. I must feel


human life around me, the life of my own species :
that of beings with whom I cannot hold com-
munion awakens within me an indifference, almost
an antipathy. With you, then, it is the reverse ? "

" How do I know ? "

" That is not an answer."

" If my answer must give rise to a discussion,
I prefer to remain silent, and leave you to infer
that I possess a grain of folly. The discussion of
certain internal and self-gratifying perceptions
resembles profanation. What would you think
of a painter, who, to make a more exact copy of
the color of a plum, should wipe away the bloom
which covers it? There is a bloom cast over
certain impressions. It is like a veil of freshness,
which I do not like to disturb."

He retired, saying that he respected my fancy,
but should never understand it. He would like,
artist that he is in another sense, to pursue the
normal and rational course. I believe that he is
attempting an impossibility. Every one must
take his own course. There are artists, though,
who have none ; and I am, perhaps, of that class.
Whether it be an advantage or infirmily, 1 know
not ; but, having found infinite joys in my mode
of perception, I confess that I should be unwill-
ing to lose them.


A friend who talks with me sometimes, on this
subject, assures me that the analysis of my in-
most self would n(tt deprive me of those joys
which he calls mysterious, because, he says, I
make myself a mystery to myself. He believes
that a pleasure is appreciated according as we
know in what it consists. But this pleasure is
not at my disposal. I can seat mj'self at the
window, some splendid night, to notice the distri-
bution of light and shade, to discover what con-
stitutes the beauty of the hour and the place, to
listen to the song of the nocturnal bird ; in short,
to witness the little wonders of the outward
world, without identifying myself with them.
My individual self, then, lives its own life, which
is not one perpetual enchantment, since it is sub-
ject to a round of duties and obligations in which
I have no right to seek my own gratification at
the expense of that of others. Those moments
when, transported and borne beyond myself by
the power of external objects, I can withdraw
myself from the life of my fellow - creatures,
are entirely casual ; and it is not always in my
power to transfer my mind into other beings than
myself. When this phenomenon is produced
spontaneously, I cannot tell whether I am pre-


pared for it by any particular circumstance, psy-
chological or physiological. Most surely there
must be an absence of all absorbing thoughts.
The least cause for solicitude banishes this kind
of internal ecstasy, which is, as it were, an invol-
untary oblivion, unforeseen by my own vitality.

Surely every one has experienced something
of this kind ; but I should like to meet with a
person who could say to me, " I have experienced
it in the same manner. There are hours when I
withdi-aw from myself, when I live in a planet,
when I feel myself grass, a bird, the top of a
tree, a cloud, running water, the horizon, color,
form and sensations wavering, variable, indefi-
nite ; hours when I run, I fly, I swim, I sip the
dew, I expand in the sunlight, I sleep beneath
the leaves, I soar with the lark, I crawl with the
lizard, I shine with the stars, and glow with the
brilliant verse ; when, in short, I gain an insight
into the midst of a development which is like a
dilation of my own being."

I have never met this individual ; at least, not to
my knowledge. If I had, I should not have dared
to question him, not always liking to be questioned
myself. We may walk every day by the side of
our translator without suspecting it, or witliout
feeling disposed to deliver him our text.


Nevertheless it would have given me pleasure
to meet such an one, on condition that he were
more learned than I, and could have told me
whether these phenomena are the result of a
certain condition of the body, or the mind ; if it
is the instinct of that universal life which physi-
cally asserts its rights over the individual, or if it
is a higher relationship, an intellectual relationship
with the soul of the universe, which is revealed
to that individual who is delivered, at certain
hours, from the bonds of personality. It is my
opinion that it partakes of both, that it cannot be
otherwise. I should be afraid of a medical ex-
planation, which would inform me that this sort of
hallucination was owing exclusively to the circu-
lation of the blood, and might be accounted for by
an attack of fever. I cannot say what things the
learned do know, but I can say very well what
things they do not know.

Whatever it be, there is within the human being
a double mechanism of action and re-action, the
operation of wliicli it would be curious to be able
to observe ; but it baffles investigation, even in
one's own self. I have never read .nor heard of
any thing satisfactory concerning the correlation
of the thought that conceives its object, with the


object conceived. He who would explain it
ignores that part of his mechanism which is not
that of another, and asserts the peculiar opera-
tions of his own mind, without questioning
whether these do not differ in the multitude of
infinitely diversified organizations, whether even
in the same indi\ddual they do not vary every
day. How does it happen that the food which we
relished yesterday becomes distasteful to-day?
So it is with all intellectual food. Both it and we
are subject to changeu

On reflection at three o'clock in the morning,
— this is the hour for lucid recapitulation, in
summer especially, just at the dawn of day and
the awakening of things in general, — the prob-
lem which tormented A last evening, and,

I must confess, puzzled me a little, seems quite
simple. We are not abstract beings ; and, more-
over, there is nothing abstract in our composition.
Our existence feeds on its surroundings, — air,
heat, moisture, light, electricity, the vitality of
others, and influences of all sorts. These influ-
ences are necessary for the expansion of our
lives ; they are ourselves while life endures. We
are earth and sky, cloud and dust ; neither angels
nor beasts, but a product of tlie two, with the


tliought of one and the instinct of the other
rendered more intense. We are not creatures so
wrapped up in the ideal as to lose all wiU and '
freedom ; neither are we creatiu^es entirely ab-
sorbed in concern for the preservation of our
species, or submissive to an unalterable course.

But our direct and intimate relationship with
the spiritual and the animal becomes apparent
to us in proportion to the exertions which we
make to belong to ourselves. We study the
spiritual, that is, the serene and divine portion
of the universal soul. We observe the animal,
which comprises also the plant, a being without
apparent locomotion. And, by giving our ear-
nest attention to this examination, we are brought
to feel the power still exercised over us by our
manifold generators, beings or bodies. I am not
dreaming, then, when, standing before a great
edifice of rocks, I feel that these mighty bones
of the earth are mine, and that the calmness of
my mind partakes of their apparent death and
their dramatic immobihty. The moon consumes
the stones, so says the peasant. I maintain that
they diink the' cold light of the moon, but
undergo a silent disintegration during the night
from having been subjected to the wasting action

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryGeorge SandImpressions and reminiscences → online text (page 1 of 15)