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MME. GEORGE SAND'S EARLY OPINIONS OF HERSELF AND OF THINGS IN GENERAL.
WE devoted a paper some months since to the character of the great female apostle of communism, and gave an abstract of the Mont Revêche, one of those works of her's (not very numerous) which no novel-reading youth or virgin of the British empire need fear to open. We are aware that her uncompromising admirers may excuse her moral delinquencies by pleading that if she had had the good-fortune to be married to an amiable and gifted man who knew how to appreciate her goodness and her genius, she never would have furnished a victim-subject to the tongues of literary scandal. However that may be, the perusal of her own account of her early life* will abundantly prove that the simple household duties of a Christian woman could never have become agreeable to one of her intensely imaginative and erratic temperament, and that her writings, probably, would, in no case, have been uniformly edifying or even harmless.
She was the fourth in a direct line from Augustus II., of whom we have lately treated, her great grandfather being the very valiant and dissolute Maurice, Marshal Saxe. Her grandmother, Aurora the Strongminded, claimed him as father and Mademoiselle Verrière as mother. This lady was an actress of some talent; but we are sorry to add, by no means faithful to the memory of the great Maurice, as was revealed to the gap ing world by the indiscreet M. Marmontel, author of the highly immoral Contes Moraux.
The Dauphiness, mother of Louis XVI., took the infant, Aurora's prospects in charge, and provided for her education at the convent of St. Cloud. She became in time mother of Maurice, the younger, who distinguished himself in the wars of the empire. While she remained in retirement at Nohant, in Berri, and her son, Maurice, was doing duty in Paris under the eyes of Napoleon, she be
came much disturbed by the approaching publication of the posthumous memoirs of Marmontel. She knew that he had revealed her mother's frailties in these gossiping papers, and exerted all her influence to have the dreaded passages suppressed. It could not be done, however, and Aurora, the only irreproachable female ancestress of George Sand for four generations, was not able to screen the faults of her mother.
A more severe trial awaited her. Maurice had become acquainted with Mlle. Delaborde, of whom we have nothing worse to report than that she had given birth to a daughter a few years before she became Mme. Maurice Dupin. Aurora used as earnest endeavours to procure the disannulling of this marriage, as she did to effect the correction and abridgment of Marmontel's memoirs. It was equally in vain. The young couple lived very frugally and very happily while the exigencies of the wars allowed the husband to enjoy home life; and little Aurora, the future novelist and regenerator of French society was the light and joy of their garret. Aurora, the terrible grandmother, came up to Paris with intentions hostile to her daughter-in- · law, but all her wrathful projects were thus disconcerted. Maurice took the little Aurora in his arms—
door of my grandmother's lodgings, gained, "Got into a fiacre, and stopped at the in a few words, the good graces of the portress, and confided me to the care of this woman, who thus acquitted herself of the charge.
"She entered Grandmamma's apartments, and while talking to her on some subject or other, she interrupted herself with,-‘Oh, madame, look at this pretty little darling that they have given me for granddaughter. The nurse brought it to
me to-day, and I'm so happy I can't let it out of my sight for a moment.' 'Yes, indeed: She is very fresh-looking and very strong, said Grandmamma, looking for her comfit-box. Immediately the portress placed me on grandmamma's knees, who
* Histoire de ma Vie, par George Sand.
began to feed me with the sweetmeats, and at the same time to look at me very earnestly. All at once she cried, 'You are deceiving me. This child does not belong to you. I know who it is. It is'. "It appears that, frightened at my Grandmother's voice, I began to shed tears, which at once took effect. Come, my poor love,' said the portress, taking me in her arms, 'It appears that you are not cared for here: let us go."
"My poor grandmamma was overcome. 'Give me her back,' said she. 'Poor in fant! it is not her fault. And who brought the little thing?' 'Monsieur, your son himself. He is below. I will take back the child to him. Pardon me if I have offended you. I thought to give you a pleasant surprise.' 'Never mind: I am not vexed. Go and ask my son to come up, and leave the child with me.'
"My father rushed up stairs, four at a time. He found me on the breast of Grandmamma, who was crying, while striving to make me laugh. They never told me what passed between them, and as I was only eight or nine months old I took no note. It is probable that they wept together, and loved one another more than ever. My mother has told me I brought her a valuable ring, with a ruby stone, which I was to place on her finger, and this my father made me do, without fail."
Our authoress speaks with much judgment on early education, and finds no fault with the presents brought by mysterious beings to good children on Christmas Eves, &c. She advises that as soon as the child comes to the knowledge of the real fact, the deception should cease. She quotes the first verse she learned, and thus mentions the impression it made on her infant mind :
"Let us go into the barn
"The rhyme is not rich, but I received a lively impression from the milk-white hen and the silver egg, which they promised me every evening and which I never thought to ask for next morning. And what would be the advantage of possessing it? The little hands would not be able to lift it, and the restless mind would be soon tired of the insipid toy. The history of that egg of silver is perhaps that of all the material goods which excite our cupidity. The desire is great, the possession of little
"I well remember the absolute belief I
had in the descent, down the chimney, of Father Christmas, the good little man with the white beard, who at the hour of
midnight came to lay a little present in my shoe, which I was to find there on awaking. What efforts did I not make not to fall asleep till the apparition of the little old. man. I had a great wish and a great fear at the same time, but I never could succeed in staying awake, and my first look, when I awoke, was to my shoe at the edge of the hearth. What emotion did not the envelope of white paper cause in me! Father Christmas was neatness itself, and never omitted to fold up his offering very carefully. I ran with bare feet to secure my treasure. It was never a very magnificent one, for we were not rich, merely a little cake, an orange, or perhaps a rosy-cheeked apple, but to me it was so precious I would hardly eat it.. Imagination was at work and imagination is the very life of a child.
"I do not approve of Rousseau for endeavouring to suppress the wonderful as if it was a falsehood. Reason and incredulity will come soon enough of themselves. I remember the first year when I began to suspect that my mother herself put the cake into my shoe. It did not taste half so nicely, and I regretted the little old man with the white beard. My son believed in him for a longer time. Boys are more simple in this respect than girls, and he too made great efforts to remain awake till midnight. Like myself, he found, next morning, the cake baked in the ovens of paradise. The first year of his doubt saw the last visit of the little old man.
"We must serve to children the food
that agrees with their age, and not anticipate. As long as they need the marvellous let it be given to them. When they begin to lose their taste for it we must not prolong the error, nor fetter the natural progress of their reason. To remove the marvellous from the life of a child is to proceed_contrary to the laws of nature herself. Is not the infancy of man a state mysterious and full of inexplicable prodigies? This rapid development of the human soul in our early years, this strange passage from a state which resembles chaos to a state of comprehension and sensibility, these first notions of language, these incomprehensible efforts of the mind which labours to give a name not only to exterior objects, but even to action, thought, feeling, sentiment!-all this savours of the miraculous, and I know not that it has ever been explained. I have always been struck with wonder at the first verb I have heard pronounced by children. I can comprehend how substantives could be taught to them, but the verbs, and particularly those which express the affections!"
Our authoress recommends simple rhymes and fables to be first taught to children, not exactly such fables as La Fontaine's, which they cannot
thoroughly relish till some years later. She recommends religious instruction under the form of poetry and sentiment.
"When my mother told me that in disobeying her I made the Blessed Virgin and
the angels in heaven weep, my imagination
was affected in the liveliest manner. These wonderful beings and all these tears produced in me a terror and an infinite tenderness. The idea of their existence awed me, and the idea of their tears penetrated me with regret and affection."
We would gladly linger on these recollections of childhood; they possess such naïveté, such penetration, and such good-feeling. We must make room for a glimpse, from the child point of view, of Napoleon :
"He was reviewing the troops on the Boulevard, when my mother and Pierret, having succeeded in getting near the soldiers, Pierret raised me in his arms above the shakos that I might see him. This object which surmounted the line of heads caught the eyes of the Emperor, and my mother cried, 'He has looked at you: remember that; it will bring you good-fortune.' I believe that the Emperor heard the words, for he looked earnestly again, and I saw a smile hover on his pale countenance, whose cold severity had at first fightened me. The benevolent and mild expression which succeeded had all the effect of magnetism on my childish mind.”
Her father being accidentally killed, while still in the pride of youth, young Aurora was adopted by her strong-minded grandmother, and scarcely permitted to see or speak to her widowed mother. This condition of things was most repugnant to her affectionate nature, and at last she rebelled. The old lady, who doated on her, not being able to endure the estrangement, unwillingly took her at last into her confidence, and explained some portions of her mother's history, to justify her own conduct.
This was a terrible affliction to the loving daughter, and she was many days before her usual mood again got the ascendant. No word was ever spoken on the subject again between herself and her grandmother.
It is very probable that the irregularities of her female ancestors must be reckoned for something in the melancholy and evil tendencies of most of the novels of George Sand.
Up to Aurora of Königsmarck, all, with the exception of her grandmother, Aurora Dupin, had shown themselves regardless of woman's chief excellence. Being of an affectionate nature, as well as gifted with pride in her royal lineage, she would seem to set no value on what they had disregarded. They were wrong in the eyes of the world. She would convince the world that it was wrong, not they. It made the preservation of a certain attribute an indispensable part of woman's duty. Her great grandmothers knew better. They were superior to the gossiping, and bigoted, and narrow-minded prudes and matrons of this generation, and it was her duty, as the last descendant of these large-minded and unprejudiced victims of the world's censure, to prove that, in acting as they did, they had not sinned against the great Soul that inspires all things.
Other evil influences were not wanting. Her grandmother, with whom her girlhood was spent, was no more a Christian than Voltaire himself. If she had ever prayed to God or offered Him praise, all was over after the accidental death of her much-loved Maurice. As she deson, clared in her last confession, she looked on it as a most cruel act to deprive her of her child. Besides all this, young Aurora might easily have had a more suitable tutor than Deschartres, who directed his chief energies to make her a proficient in positive science, to induct her into anatomical mysteries, and to make her fit for the prosecution of rural sports and occupations. To fit her the better for these pursuits, he and she were of accord that the dress of a boy would be indispensable, and accordingly a boy's dress was donned. Well, there was no absolute evil in this arrangement, nor in her wild enjoyment of rural pastimes with the peasants' children; but she could not be otherwise than injured by the irreligious example of her aged relative, whom she so much revered, and by the ignorance of Christian morality to which she was abandoned.
We shall see in its proper place how her ardent and enthusiastic nature fashioned a divinity for herself from the Bible, and the Iliad, and the Jerusalem Delivered. While a stranger to Christian belief, she was
obliged to present herself at the "altar," exhorted by her confessor of course to earnest belief in the Bodily Presence, and warned by her grandmother to indulge in no superstition. During her sojourn with the English nuns, she became enthusiastically devout; but, on her return to the country, her piety oozed away, day by day, till nothing was left but a belief in the existence of a Deity, but such a deity as Epicurus himself might acknowledge.
These circumstances are sufficient to account for the irreligious spirit of most of her writings; but we must look to influences which had effect after her marriage for the pestilent immoralities by which they are tainted.
The greater portion of the earlier part of her "life" seems to have been written in a truthful spirit. There are exceptions when the religious practices of her neighbours become the topic. If we can trust her own testimony, she has small excuse for her irregularities after she became Madame Dudevant. In her youth she was worthy to be full sister to Diana Vernon. She thus gives us an insight into her character when a child, and her aptitude for some, and inaptitude for other studies :
"I have never revolted in outward fact against those whom I loved or whose natural authority I was bound to respect. I could never comprehend how persons can disobey those with whom they neither wish nor are able to break, even when they are persuaded that they are in the right, nor how they can hesitate between the sacrifice of their own will and the satisfaction of the others. This is why my grandmother, my mother, and the sisters of my convent, always found me of an inexplicable meekness, while I was as headstrong as I could be. The expression is scarcely correct-I was not submissive, for I did not give an interior consent. But not to submit in appearance would be a sign of hatred, while, on the contrary, I loved them. This merely proves that my affection was dearer to me than my reason, and that in outward action I listened to my heart rather than my head.
"Thus it was that out of pure affection for my grandmother, I applied myself as
well as I could to things which only tired me-that I learned by rote, thousands of verses of whose beauties I was not sensible
Latin, which appeared insipid-versification, which was as a strait-waistcoat to which was so repugnant to my organization the innate poetry of my genius-arithmetic, that a sum in addition gave me a head-ache, and sometimes brought on faintness. Also, to give her pleasure, I dived into history, but there my submission found its recompense history interested me exceedingly.
'History I enjoyed merely in its literary and romantic phases. Great characters, fine actions, strange adventures, poetic depleasure in giving a form to these, and in tails, delighted me, and I found a sensible relating them. I was more philosophic than my Pagan historians—more enthusiastic than my sacred one. I gave my recitals the hue of my own thoughts, and I did not scruple to ornament a little the baldness of certain passages. I did not essentially alter facts, but when an insignificant or unexplained personage came under my him some character or other, which I logihand, obeying a necessity of art, I gave cally deduced from the part he played, or the nature of his action in the general drama.
"Finally, when I found an opportunity of introducing a little description into my recital, I did not neglect it. For this, a short phrase in the text-a dry indication, was sufficient. My imagination seized thereon, and began with its embroidery. I brought in the sun, or the storm, flowers, ruins, monuments, choirs-the sounds of the sacred flute or the Ionian lyre, the glitter of arms, the neighing of war-steeds, and what not. I was devilishly classic, but if I had not the art to find a new form, I had the pleasure of feeling in a lively manner, and of seeing with the eyes of the imagination, all that mysterious past which lived again before me."
Here we are present at the unfolding of a mind which, in nearly every phase of human passion or life-relation, looked alone to their agreement or the reverse with the principles of art. The morality or immorality of the picture were as the dust in the balance. She began at an early age to write descriptive pieces which mightily pleased her grandmother, but did not satisfy herself. quotes one metaphor of the ". ploughing her way through the clouds, seated in her silver boat,"* and then
*It is very annoying to compare this commonplace version with the delicate original. "La lune labourait les nuages, assise dans sa nacelle d'argent," nacelle conveying to our minds the idea of a large mother-of-pearl shell.
VOL. LXIII.-NO. CCCLXXVII.
utters aloud what
"What I recall with more pleasure is that, notwithstanding the imprudent eulogies of my good mamma, I was not at all enchanted with my little success. I entertained at that time a feeling which has never quitted me—that, as no art can render the charm and freshness of the impression produced by the beauties of nature, so no expression can attain the strength and spontaneity of our interior emotions. In the soul there is something more than the mere form. Enthusiasm, reverie, passion, grief, possess not sufficient expression in the domain of art, whatever the art, whoever the artist. I crave the MASTERS' pardon. I reverence and I cherish them, but they
have never afforded me what nature has, and what I myself have felt, a thousand times, the impossibility of conveying to others. Art seems to me an aspiration ever powerless and incomplete, like all other human manifestations. For our misfortune we possess the sentiment of the INFINITE, while all our expressions have a limit quickly reached. This sentiment is very vague in us, and the satisfaction it gives us is a species of torment.
of social life may be traced to the absurd and tyrannical institution of marriage.
Poor Aurora's lines had certainly fallen in evil places. Her Voltairean grandmother's only cares in her regard, were to prevent her becoming superstitious, as she termed it; for the young girl, from reading and some Verbal instruction, had got vague religious notions, which her poetic disposition had invested with a character the most sublime and enthusiastic. Being left pretty much to her own devices, she looked on the divinities of Homer with considerable respect, especially the chaste Diana, and the chaste Pallas, and Apollo, and his chaste and dignified muses. Talking of the personages of the "Iliad" and the Gerusalemme Liberata," she says:—
"It was by the poesy of these symbols that the need of a religious feeling, if not a definite belief, ardently seized on my heart. As they had taught me no religion, and I perceived the necessity of it, I made one for myself.
"Modern art feels this curse of impotency, "I secretly settled the matter with myand has sought to enlarge its faculties in self; religion and romance grew up together literature, in music, in painting. It thinks in my soul. I have elsewhere said that the it has found, in new forms of romanticism, a most romantic spirits are the most positive, new power of expansion. Art may in this and I here maintain it, though it resembles instance have made a gain, but the human a paradox. The romantic leaning is a desoul cannot expand its faculties except resire for the Beau Ideal. Everything in latively, and the thirst for perfection, the vulgar reality which impedes this aspiration necessity for the INFINITE, remain the same is easily put aside and counted for nothing -ever thirsty, ever eager, never satisfied. by these souls, really logical from their own This is to me an irrefutable proof of the ex-point of view. The primitive Christians, istence of God. We feel the unextinguished desire of the Beau Ideal. This desire must have an existing object-this object is nowhere within our reach-this object is infinite--this object is God."
Alas! the deity of George Sand is not much superior, as we have said, to the deities of Epicurus. She looks complacently on outraged wives quitting their brutes of husbands, and sharing the garrets of congenial artistsouls; quitting, at the promptings of caprice, these same noble spirits, wandering through Italian cities with poetic and all-exacting geniuses, dancing attendance on, and nursing these very worthless individuals, and afterwards writing little books to cover their memory with obloquy; and other little books to prove that the idle man has a claim to the goods obtained by the labour of his industrious neighbour, and that most of the evils
the first leaders of all the sects sprung from Christianity, taken by the letter, were romantic spirits, and their logic was rigorous and absolute."
The result of her unregulated studies, moulded by her ardent temperament, was the invention of a heavenly being, to whom she gave the name of Corambé, to whom she ascribed the beauty and grace of Apollo, with the love and pity which a mere heathen would find in the character of the Saviour from a casual reading of the Gospel. Corambé was suffering exile on the earth, having voluntarily assumed the punishment due to some terrible sinner or other. The goodhearted young enthusiast could not help worshipping him in consequence. In the heart of a nearly impervious thicket she raised an altar of turf, suspended garlands over it, adorned it with shells and other rustic trea