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Title: George Sand
Author: M'Carthy, Justin
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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GEORGE SAND.

BY JUSTIN M'CARTHY.

_Reprinted from "The Galaxy" for May, 1870._


We are all of us probably inclined, now and then, to waste a little time
in vaguely speculating on what might have happened if this or that
particular event had not given a special direction to the career of some
great man or woman. If there had been an inch of difference in the size
of Cleopatra's nose; if Hannibal had not lingered at Capua; if Cromwell
had carried out his idea of emigration; if Napoleon Bonaparte had taken
service under the Turk,--and so on through all the old familiar
illustrations dear to the minor essayist and the debating society. I
have sometimes felt tempted thus to lose myself in speculating on what
might have happened if the woman whom all the world knows as George Sand
had been happily married in her youth to the husband of her choice.
Would she ever have taken to literature at all? Would she, loving as she
does, and as Frenchwomen so rarely do, the changing face of inanimate
nature,--the fields, the flowers and the brooks,--have lived a peaceful
and obscure life in some happy country place, and been content with
home, and family, and love, and never thought of fame? Or if, thus
happily married, she still had allowed her genius to find an expression
in literature, would she have written books with no passionate purpose
in them,--books which might have seemed like those of a good Miss Mulock
made perfect,--books which Podsnap might have read with approval, and
put without a scruple into the hands of that modest young person, his
daughter? Certainly one cannot but think that a different kind of early
life would have given a quite different complexion to the literary
individuality of George Sand.

Bulwer Lytton, in one of his novels, insists that true genius is always
quite independent of the individual sufferings or joys of its possessor,
and describes some inspired youth in the novel as sitting down, while
sorrow is in his heart, and hunger gnawing at his vitals, to throw off a
sparkling and gladsome little fairy tale. Now this is undoubtedly true,
in general, of any high order of genius; but there are at least some
great and striking exceptions. Rousseau and Byron are, in modern days,
remarkable illustrations of genius, admittedly of a very high rank,
governed and guided almost wholly by the individual fortunes of the men
themselves. So, too, must we speak of the genius of George Sand. Not
Rousseau, not even Byron, was in this sense more egotistic than the
woman who broke the chains of her ill-assorted marriage with a crash
that made its echoes heard at last in every civilized country in the
world. Just as people are constantly quoting _nous avons changé tout
cela_ who never read a page of Molière, or _pour encourager les autres_
without even being aware that there is a story of Voltaire's called
"Candide," so there have been thousands of passionate protests uttered
in America and Europe, for the last twenty years, by people who never
saw a volume of George Sand, and yet are only echoing her sentiments and
even repeating her words.

In a former number of _The Galaxy_, I expressed casually the opinion
that George Sand is probably the most influential writer of our day. I
am still, and deliberately, of the same opinion. It must be remembered
that very few English or American authors have any wide or deep
influence over peoples who do not speak English. Even of the very
greatest authors this is true. Compare, for example, the literary
dominion of Shakespeare with that of Cervantes. All nations who read
Shakespeare read Cervantes: in Stratford-upon-Avon itself Don Quixote is
probably as familiar a figure in people's minds as Falstaff; but
Shakespeare is little known indeed to the vast majority of readers in
the country of Cervantes, in the land of Dante, or in that of Racine and
Victor Hugo. In something of the same way we may compare the influence
of George Sand with that of even the greatest living authors of England
and America. What influence has Charles Dickens or George Eliot outside
the range of the English tongue? But George Sand's genius has been felt
as a power in every country of the world where people read any manner of
books. It has been felt almost as Rousseau's once was felt; it has
aroused anger, terror, pity, or wild and rapturous excitement and
admiration; it has rallied around it every instinct in man or woman
which is revolutionary; it has ranged against it all that is
conservative. It is not so much a literary influence as a great
disorganizing force, riving the rocks of custom, resolving into their
original elements the social combination which tradition and convention
would declare to be indissoluble. I am not now speaking merely of the
sentiments which George Sand does or did entertain on the subject of
marriage. Divested of all startling effects and thrilling dramatic
illustrations, these sentiments probably amounted to nothing more
dreadful than the belief that an unwedded union between two people who
love and are true to each other is less immoral than the legal marriage
of two uncongenial creatures who do not love and probably are not true
to each other. But the grand, revolutionary idea which George Sand
announced was that of the social independence and equality of
woman,--the principle that woman is not made for man in any other sense
than as man is made for woman. For the first time in the history of the
world woman spoke out for herself with a voice as powerful as that of
man. For the first time in the history of the world woman spoke out as
woman, not as the servant, the satellite, the pupil, the plaything, or
the goddess of man.

Now, I intend at present to write of George Sand rather as an
individual, or an influence, than as the author of certain works of
fiction. Criticism would now be superfluously bestowed on the literary
merits and peculiarities of the great woman whose astonishing
intellectual activity has never ceased to produce, during the last
thirty years, works which take already a classical place in French
literature. If any reputation of our day may be looked upon as
established, we may thus regard the reputation of George Sand. She is,
beyond comparison, the greatest living novelist of France. She 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 any work which does not seem, at least, to have been the
subject of the most elaborate and patient care. The greatest temptation
which tries a story-teller is perhaps the temptation to rely on the
attractiveness of story-telling, and to pay little or no attention to
style. Walter Scott's prose, for example, if regarded as mere prose, is
rambling, irregular, and almost worthless. Dickens's prose is as bad a
model for imitation as a musical performance which is out of tune. Of
course, I need hardly say that attention to style is almost as
characteristic of French authors in general, as the lack of it is
characteristic of English authors; but, even in France, the prose of
George Sand stands out conspicuous for its wonderful expressiveness and
force, its almost perfect beauty. Then, of all modern French authors,--I
might, perhaps, say of all modern novelists of any country,--George Sand
has added to fiction, has annexed from the worlds of reality and of
imagination the greatest number of original characters,--of what Emerson
calls new organic creations. Moreover, George Sand 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 unrivalled place which she holds in living
literature; and she has conquered at last even the public opinion which
once detested and proscribed her. I could therefore hope to add nothing
to what has been already said by criticism in regard to her merits as a
novelist. Indeed, I think it probable that the majority of readers in
this country know more of George Sand through the interpretation of the
critics than through the pages of her books. And in her case criticism
is so nearly unanimous as to her literary merits, that I may safely
assume the public in general to have in their minds a just recognition
of her position as a novelist. My object is rather to say something
about the place which George Sand has taken as a social revolutionist,
about the influence she has so long exercised over the world, and about
the woman herself. For she is assuredly the greatest champion of woman's
rights, in one sense, that the world has ever seen; and she is, on the
other hand, the one woman out of all the world who has been most
commonly pointed to as the appalling example to scare doubtful and
fluttering womanhood back into its sheepfold of submissiveness and
conventionality. There is hardly a woman's heart anywhere in the
civilized world which has not felt the vibration of George Sand's
thrilling voice. Women who never saw one of her books,--nay, who never
heard even her _nom de plume_, have been stirred by emotions of doubt or
fear, or repining or ambition, which they never would have known but for
George Sand, and perhaps but for George Sand's uncongenial marriage.
For, indeed, there is not now, and has not been for twenty years, I
venture to think, a single "revolutionary" idea, as slow and
steady-going people would call it, afloat anywhere in Europe or America,
on the subject of woman's relations to man, society, and destiny, which
is not due immediately to the influence of George Sand, and to the
influence of George Sand's unhappy marriage upon George Sand herself.

The world has of late years grown used to this extraordinary woman, and
has lost much of the wonder and terror with which it once regarded her.
I can quite remember,--younger people than I can remember,--the time
when all good and proper personages in England regarded the authoress of
"Indiana" as a sort of feminine fiend, endowed with a hideous power for
the destruction of souls, and an inextinguishable thirst for the
slaughter of virtuous beliefs. I fancy a good deal of this sentiment was
due to the fearful reports wafted across the seas, that this terrible
woman had not merely repudiated the marriage bond, but had actually put
off the garments sacred to womanhood. That George Sand appeared in men's
clothes was an outrage upon consecrated proprieties far more astonishing
than any theoretical onslaught upon old opinions could be. Reformers,
indeed, should always, if they are wise in their generation, have a care
of the proprieties. Many worthy people can listen with comparative
fortitude when sacred and eternal truths are assailed, who are stricken
with horror when the ark of propriety is never so lightly touched.
George Sand's pantaloons were, therefore, regarded as the most appalling
illustration of George Sand's wickedness. I well remember what
excitement, scandal, and horror were created in the provincial town
where I lived, some twenty years ago, when the editor of a local
Panjandrum (to borrow Mr. Trollope's word) insulted the feelings and the
morals of his constituents and subscribers by polluting his pages with a
translation from one of George Sand's shorter novels. Ah me! the little
novel might, so far as morality was concerned, have been written every
word by Miss Phelps, or the authoress of the "Heir of Redcliff"; it had
not a word, from beginning to end, which might not have been read out to
a Sunday-school of girls; the translation was made by a woman of the
purest soul, and, in her own locality, of the highest name; and yet how
virtue did shriek out against the publication! The editor persevered in
the publishing of the novel, spurred on to boldness by some of his very
young and therefore fearless coadjutors, who thought it delightful to
confront public opinion, and liked the notion of the stars in their
courses fighting against Sisera, and Sisera not being dismayed. That
charming, tender, touching little story! I would submit it to-day
cheerfully to the verdict of a jury of matrons, confident that it would
be declared a fit and proper publication. But at that time it was enough
that the story bore the odious name of George Sand; public opinion
condemned it, and sent the magazine which ventured to translate it to an
early and dishonored grave. I remember reading, about that time, a short
notice of George Sand by an English authoress of some talent and
culture, in which the Frenchwoman's novels were described as so
abominably filthy that even the denizens of the Paris brothels were
ashamed to be caught reading them. Now, this declaration was made all in
good faith, in the simple good faith of that class of persons who will
pass wholesale and emphatic judgment upon works of which they have never
read a single page. For I need hardly tell any intelligent person of
to-day that, whatever may be said of George Sand's doctrines, she is no
more open to the charge of indelicacy than the authoress of "Romola." I
cannot, myself, remember any passage in George Sand's novels which can
be called indelicate; and, indeed, her severest and most hostile critics
are fond of saying, not without a certain justice, that one of the worst
characteristics of her works is the delicacy and beauty of her style,
which thus commends to pure and innocent minds certain doctrines that,
broadly stated, would repel and shock them. Were I one of George Sand's
inveterate opponents, this, or something like it, is the ground I would
take up. I would say: "The welfare of the human family demands that a
marriage, legally made, shall never be questioned or undone. Marriage is
not a union depending on love or congeniality, or any such condition. It
is just as sacred when made for money, or for ambition, or for lust of
the flesh, or for any other purpose, however ignoble and base, as when
contracted in the spirit of the purest mutual love. Here is a woman of
great power and daring genius, who says that the essential condition of
marriage is love and natural fitness; that a legal union of man and
woman without this is no marriage at all, but a detestable and
disgusting sin. Now, the more delicately, modestly, plausibly she can
put this revolutionary and pernicious doctrine, the more dangerous she
becomes, and the more earnestly we ought to denounce her." This was, in
fact, what a great many persons did say; and the protest was at least
consistent and logical.

But horror is an emotion which cannot long live on the old fuel, and
even the world of English Philistinism soon ceased to regard George Sand
as a mere monster. Any one now taking up "Indiana," for example, would
perhaps find it not quite easy to understand how the book produced such
an effect. Our novel-writing women of to-day commonly feed us on more
fiery stuff than this. Not to speak of such accomplished artists in
impurity as the lady who calls herself Ouida, and one or two others of
the same school, we have young women, only just promoted from
pantalettes, who can throw you off such glowing chapters of passion and
young desire as would make the rhapsodies of "Indiana" seem very feeble
milk-and-water brewage by comparison. Indeed, except for some of the
descriptions in the opening chapters, I fail to see any extraordinary
merit in "Indiana"; and toward the end it seems to me to grow verbose,
weak, and tiresome. "Leone Leoni" opens with one of the finest dramatic
outbursts of emotion known to the literature of modern fiction; but it
soon wanders away into discursive weakness, and only just toward the
close brightens up into a burst of lurid splendor. It is not those which
I may call the questionable novels of George Sand,--the novels which
were believed to illustrate in naked and appalling simplicity her
doctrines and her life,--that will bear up her fame through succeeding
generations. If every one of the novels which thus in their time drew
down the thunders of Society's denunciation were to be swept into the
wallet wherein Time, according to Shakespeare, carries scraps for
oblivion, George Sand would still remain where she now is,--at the head
of the French fiction of her day. It is true, as Goethe says, that
"miracle-working pictures are rarely works of art." The books which make
the hair of the respectable public stand on end are not often the works
by which the fame of the author is preserved for posterity.

It is a curious fact that, at the early time to which I have been
alluding, little or nothing was known in England (or, I presume, in
America) of the real life of Aurora Amandine Dupin, who had been pleased
to call herself George Sand. People knew, or had heard, that she had
separated from her husband, that she had written novels which
depreciated the sanctity of legal marriage, and that she sometimes wore
male costume in the streets. This was enough. In England, at least, we
were ready to infer any enormity regarding a woman who was unsound on
the legal marriage question, and who did not wear petticoats. What
would have been said had people then commonly known half the stories
which were circulated in Paris,--half the extravagances into which a
passionate soul, and the stimulus of sudden emancipation from restraint,
had hurried the authoress of "Indiana" and "Lucrezia Floriani"? For it
must be owned that the life of that woman was, in its earlier years, a
strange and wild phenomenon, hardly to be comprehended, perhaps, by
American or English natures. I have heard George Sand bitterly arraigned
even by persons who protested that they were at one with her as regards
the early sentiments which used to excite such odium. I have heard her
described by such as a sort of Lamia of literature and passion,--a
creature who could seize some noble, generous, youthful heart, drain it
of its love, its aspirations, its profoundest emotions, and then fling
it, squeezed and lifeless, away. I have heard it declared that George
Sand made "copy" of the fierce and passionate loves which she knew so
well how to awaken and to foster; that she distilled the life-blood of
youth to obtain the mixture out of which she derived her inspiration.
The charge so commonly (I think unjustly) made against Goethe, that he
played with the girlish love of Bettina and of others in order to obtain
a subject for literary dissection, is vehemently and deliberately urged
in an aggravated form,--in many aggravated forms,--against George Sand.
Where, such accusers ask, is that young poet, endowed with a lyrical
genius rare indeed in the France of later days,--that young poet whose
imagination was at once so daring and so subtle,--who might have been
Béranger and Heine in one, and have risen to an atmosphere in which
neither Béranger nor Heine ever floated? Where is he, and what evil
influence was it which sapped the strength of his nature, corrupted his
genius, and prepared for him a premature and shameful grave? Where is
that young musician, whose pure, tender, and lofty strains sound sweetly
and sadly in the ears, as the very hymn and music of the
Might-Have-Been,--where is he now, and what was the seductive power
which made a plaything of him and then flung him away? Here and there
some man of stronger mould is pointed out as one who was at the first
conquered, and then deceived and trifled with, but who ordered his stout
heart to bear, and rose superior to the hour, and lived to retrieve his
nature and make himself a name of respect; but the others, of more
sensitive and perhaps finer organizations, are only the more to be
pitied because they were so terribly in earnest. Seldom, even in the
literary history of modern France, has there been a more strange and
shocking episode than the publication by George Sand of the little book
called "Elle et Lui," and the rejoinder to it by Paul de Musset, called
"Lui et Elle." I can hardly be accused of straying into the regions of
private scandal when I speak of two books which had a wide circulation,
are still being read, and may be had, I presume, in any New York
book-store where French literature is sold. The former of the two books,
"She and He," was a story, or something which purported to be a story,
by George Sand, telling of two ill-assorted beings whom fate had thrown
together for awhile, and of whom the woman was all tenderness, love,
patience, the man all egotism, selfishness, sensuousness, and
eccentricity. The point of the whole business was to show how sublimely
the woman suffered, and how wantonly the man flung happiness away. Had
it been merely a piece of fiction, it must have been regarded by any
healthy mind as a morbid, unwholesome, disagreeable production,--a sin
of the highest æsthetic kind against true art, which must always, even
in its pathos and its tragedy, leave on the mind exalted and delightful
impressions. But every one in Paris at once hailed the story as a
chapter of autobiography, as the author's vindication of one episode in
her own career,--a vindication at the expense of a man who had gone
down, ruined and lost, to an early grave. Therefore the brother of the
dead man flung into literature a little book called "He and She," in
which a story, substantially the same in its outlines, is so told as
exactly to reverse the conditions under which the verdict of public
opinion was sought. Very curious indeed was the manner in which the same
substance of facts was made to present the two principal figures with
complexions and characters so strangely altered. In the woman's book the
woman was made the patient, loving, suffering victim; in the man's reply
this same woman was depicted as the most utterly selfish and depraved
creature the human imagination could conceive. Even if one had no other
means whatever of forming an estimate of the character of George Sand,
it would be hardly possible to accept as her likeness the hideous
picture sketched by Paul de Musset. No woman, I am glad to believe, ever
existed in real life so utterly selfish, base, and wicked as his bitter
pen has drawn. I must say that the thing is very cleverly done. The
picture is at least consistent with itself. As a character in romance it
might be pronounced original, bold, brilliant, and, in an artistic
sense, quite natural. There is something thoroughly French in the easy
and delicate force of the final touch with which de Musset dismisses his
hideous subject. Having sketched this woman in tints that seem to flame
across the eyes of the reader,--having described with wonderful realism
and power her affectation, her deceit, her reckless caprices, her base
and cruel coquetries, her devouring wantonness, her soul-destroying
arts, her unutterable selfishness and egotism,--having, to use a vulgar
phrase, "turned her inside out," and told her story backwards,--the
author calmly explains that the hero of the narrative in his dying hour
called his brother to his bedside, and enjoined him, if occasion should
ever arise, if the partner of his sin should ever calumniate him in his
grave, to vindicate his memory, and avenge the treason practised upon
him. "Of course," adds the narrator, "the brother made the promise,--and
I have since heard that he has kept his word." I can hardly hope to
convey to the reader any adequate idea of the effect produced on the
mind by these few simple words of compressed, whispered hatred and
triumph, closing a philippic, or a revelation, or a libel of such
extraordinary bitterness and ferocity. The whole episode is, I believe
and earnestly hope, without precedent or imitation in literary
controversy. Never, that I know of, has a living woman been publicly
exhibited to the world in a portraiture so hideous as that which Paul de
Musset drew of George Sand. Never, that I know of, has any woman gone so
near to deserving and justifying such a measure of retaliation.

For if it be assumed,--and I suppose it never has been disputed,--that
in writing "Elle et Lui" George Sand meant to describe herself and
Alfred de Musset, it is hard to conceive of any sin against taste and
feeling,--against art and morals,--more flagrant than such a
publication. The practice, to which French writers are so much addicted,
of making "copy" of the private lives, characters, and relationships of
themselves and their friends, seems to me in all cases utterly
detestable. Lamartine's sins of this kind were grievous and glaring; but
were they red as scarlet, they would seem whiter than snow when compared
with the lurid monstrosity of George Sand's assault on the memory of the
dead poet who was once her favorite. The whole affair, indeed, is so
unlike anything which could occur in America or in England, that we can
hardly find any canons by which to try it, or any standard of punishment
by which to regulate its censure. I allude to it now because it is the
only substantial evidence I know of which does fairly seem to justify
the worst of the accusations brought against George Sand; and I do not
think it right, when writing for grown men and women, who are supposed
to have sense and judgment, to affect not to know that such accusations
are made, or to pretend to think that it would be proper not to allude
to them. They have been put forward, replied to, urged again, made the
theme of all manner of controversy in scores of French and in some
English publications. Pray let it be distinctly understood that I am not
entering into any criticism of the morality of any part of George Sand's
private life. With that we have nothing here to do. I am now dealing
with the question, fairly belonging to public controversy, whether the
great artist did not deliberately deal with human hearts as the painter
of old is said to have done with a purchased slave,--inflicting torture
in order the better to learn how to depict the struggles and contortions
of mortal agony. In answer to such a question I can only point to
"Lucrezia Floriani" and to "Elle et Lui," and say that unless the
universal opinion of qualified critics be wrong, these books, and others
too, owe their piquancy and their dramatic force to the anatomization
of dead passions and discarded lovers. We have all laughed over the
pedantic surgeon in Molière's "Malade Imaginaire", who invites his
_fiancée_, as a delightful treat, to see him dissect the body of a
woman. I am afraid that George Sand did sometimes invite an admiring
public to an exhibition yet more ghastly and revolting,--the dissection
of the heart of a dead lover.

But, in truth, we shall never judge George Sand and her writings at all,
if we insist on criticising them from any point of view set up by the
proprieties or even the moralities of Old England or New England. When
the passionate young woman,--in whose veins ran the wild blood of
Marshal Saxe,--found herself surrendered by legality and prescription to
a marriage bond against which her soul revolted, society seemed for her
to have resolved itself into its original elements. Its
conventionalities and traditions contained nothing which she held
herself bound to respect. The world was not her friend, nor the world's
law. By one great decisive step she sundered herself forever from the
bonds of what we call "society". She had shaken the dust of convention
from her feet; the world was all before her where to choose. No creature
on earth is so absolutely free as the Frenchwoman who has broken with
society: There, then, stood this daring young woman, on the threshold of
a new, fresh, and illimitable world; a young woman gifted with genius
such as our later years have rarely seen, and blessed or cursed with a
nature so strangely uniting the most characteristic qualities of man and
woman, as to be in itself quite unparalleled and unique. Just think of
it,--try to think of it! Society and the world had no longer any laws
which she recognized. Nothing was sacred; nothing was settled. She had
to evolve from her own heart and brain her own law of life. What wonder
if she made some sad mistakes? Nay, is it not rather a theme for wonder
and admiration that she did somehow come right at last? I know of no one
who seems to me to have been open at once to the temptations of woman's
nature and man's nature, except this George Sand. Her soul,--her
brain,--her style may be described, from one point of view, as
exuberantly and splendidly feminine; yet no other woman has ever shown
the same power of understanding, and entering into the nature of a man.
If Balzac is the only man who has ever thoroughly mastered the mysteries
of a woman's heart, George Sand is the only woman, so far as I know, who
has ever shown that she could feel as a man can feel. I have read stray
passages in her novels which I would confidently submit to the criticism
of any intelligent men unacquainted with the text, convinced that they
would declare that only a man could have thus analyzed the emotions of
manhood. I have in my mind, just now especially, a passage in the novel
"Piccinino" which, were the authorship unknown, would, I am satisfied,
secure the decision of a jury of literary experts that the author must
be a man. Now this gift of entire appreciation of the feelings of a
different sex or race is, I take it, one of the rarest and highest
dramatic qualities. Especially is it difficult for a woman, as our
social life goes, to enter into the feelings of a man. While men and
women alike admit the accuracy of certain pictures of women drawn by
such artists as Cervantes, Molière, Balzac, and Thackeray, there are few
women,--indeed, perhaps there are no women but one,--by whom a man has
been so painted as to challenge and compel the recognition and
acknowledgment of men. In "The Galaxy", some months ago, I wrote of a
great Englishwoman, the authoress of "Romola", and I expressed my
conviction that on the whole she is entitled to higher rank, as a
novelist, than even the authoress of "Consuelo". Many, very many men and
women, for whose judgment I have the highest respect, differed from me
in this opinion. I still hold it, nevertheless; but I freely admit that
George Eliot has nothing like the dramatic insight which enables George
Sand to enter into the feelings and experiences of a man. I go so far as
to say that, having some knowledge of the literature of fiction in most
countries, I am not aware of the existence of any woman but this one,
who could draw a real, living, straggling, passion-tortured man. All
other novelists of George Sand's sex,--even including Charlotte
Brontë,--draw only what I may call "women's men". If ever the two
natures could be united in one form,--if ever a single human being could
have the soul of man and the soul of woman at once,--George Sand might
be described as that physical and psychological phenomenon. Now the
point to which I wish to direct attention, is the peculiarity of the
temptation to which a nature such as this was necessarily exposed at
every turn when, free of all restraint and a rebel against all
conventionality, it confronted the world and the world's law, and stood
up, itself alone, against the domination of custom and the majesty of
tradition. I claim, then, that when we have taken all these
considerations into account, we are bound to admit that Aurora Dudevant
deserves the generous recognition of the world for the use which she
made of her splendid gifts. Her influence on French literature has been,
on the whole, a purifying and strengthening power. The cynicism, the
recklessness, the wanton, licentious disregard of any manner of
principle, the debasing parade of disbelief in any higher purpose or
nobler restraint, which are the shame and curse of modern French
fiction, find no sanction in the pages of George Sand. I remember no
passage in her works which gives the slightest encouragement to the
"nothing new, and nothing true, and it don't signify" code of ethics
which has been so much in fashion of late years. I find nothing in
George Sand which does not do homage to the existence of a principle and
a law in everything. This daring woman, who broke with society so early
and so conspicuously, has always insisted, through every illustration,
character, and catastrophe in her books, that the one only reality, the
one only thing that can endure, is the rule of right and of virtue. Nor
has she ever, that I can recollect, fallen into the enfeebling and
sentimental theory so commonly expressed in the works of Victor Hugo,
that the vague abstraction society is always to bear the blame of the
faults committed by the individual man or woman. Of all persons in the
world, Aurora Dudevant might be supposed most likely to adopt this easy
and complacent theory as her guiding principle. She had every excuse,
every reason for endeavoring to preach up the doctrine that our errors
are society's and our virtues our own. But I am not aware that she ever
taught any lesson save the lesson that men and women must endeavor to be
heroes and heroines for themselves, heroes and heroines though all the
world else were craven, and weak, and selfish, and unprincipled. Even
that wretched and lamentable "Elle et Lui" affair, utterly inexcusable
as it is when we read between the lines its secret history, has, at
least, the merit of being an earnest and powerful protest against the
egotistical and debasing indulgence of moral weaknesses and
eccentricities which mean and vulgar minds are apt to regard as the
privilege of genius. "Stand upon your own ground; be your own ruler;
look to yourself, not to your stars, for your failure or success; always
make your standard a lofty ideal, and try persistently to reach it,
though all the temptations of earth, and all the power of darkness
strive against you"--this, and nothing else, if I have read her books
rightly, is the moral taught by George Sand. She may be wrong in her
principle sometimes, but, at least, she always has a principle. She has
a profound and generous faith in the possibilities of human nature; in
the capacity of man's heart for purity, self-sacrifice, and
self-redemption. Indeed, so far is she from holding counsel with wilful
weakness or sin, that I think she sometimes falls into the noble error
of painting her heroes as too glorious in their triumph over temptation,
in their subjugation of every passion and interest to the dictates of
duty and of honor. Take, for instance, that extraordinary book which has
just been given to the American public in Miss Virginia Vaughan's
excellent translation, "Mauprat". If I understand that magnificent
romance at all, its purport is to prove that no human nature is ever
plunged into temptation beyond its own strength to resist, provided that
it really wills resistance; that no character is irretrievable, no error
inexpiable, where there is sincere resolve to expiate, and longing
desire to retrieve. Take, again, that exquisite little story, "La
Dernière Aldini"; I do not know where one could find a finer
illustration of the entire sacrifice of man's natural impulse, passion,
interest, to what might almost be called an abstract idea of honor and
principle. I have never read this little story without wondering how
many men one ever has known who, placed in the same situation as that of
Nello, the hero, would have done the same thing; and yet so simply and
naturally are the characters wrought out, and the incidents described,
that the idea of pompous, dramatic self-sacrifice never enters the mind
of the reader, and it seems to him that Nello could not do otherwise
than as he is doing. I speak of these two stories particularly, because
in both of them there is a good deal of the world and the flesh; that
is, both are stories of strong human passion and temptation. Many of
George Sand's novels, the shorter ones especially, are as absolutely
pure in moral tone, as entirely free from even a taint or suggestion of
impurity, as they are perfect in style. Now, if we cannot help knowing
that much of this great woman's life was far from being irreproachable,
are we not bound to give her all the fuller credit, because her genius,
at least, kept so far the whiteness of its soul? Revolutions are not to
be made with rose-water; you cannot have omelettes without breaking of
eggs. I am afraid that great social revolutionists are not often
creatures of the most pure and perfect nature. It is not to patient
Griselda you must look for any protest against even the uttermost
tyranny of social conventions. One thing I think may, at least, be
admitted as part of George Sand's vindication,--that the marriage system
in France is the most debased and debasing institution existing in
civilized society, now that the buying and selling of slaves has ceased
to be a tolerated system. I hold that the most ardent advocates of the
irrevocable endurance of the marriage bond are bound, by their very
principles, to admit that, in protesting against the so-called marriage
system of France, George Sand stood on the side of purity and right.
Assuredly, she often went into extravagances in the other direction. It
seems to be the fate of all French reformers to rush suddenly to
extremes; and we must remember that George Sand was not a Bristol
Quakeress, or a Boston transcendentalist, but a passionate Frenchwoman,
the descendant of one of the maddest votaries of love and war who ever
stormed across the stage of European history.

Regarding George Sand, then, as an influence in literature, and on
society, I claim for her at least four great and special merits: First,
she insisted on calling public attention to the true principle of
marriage; that is to say, she put the question as it had not been put
before. Of course, the fundamental principle she would have enforced is
always being urged more or less feebly, more or less sincerely; but she
made it her own question, and illuminated it by the fervid, fierce rays
of her genius and her passion. Secondly, her works are an exposition of
the tremendous reality of the feelings which people who call themselves
practical are apt to regard with indifference or contempt as mere
sentiments. In the long run, the passions decide the life-question one
way or the other. They are the tide which, as you know or do not know
how to use it, will either turn your mill and float your boat, or drown
your fields and sweep away your dwellings. Life and society receive no
impulse and no direction from the influences out of which the novels of
Dickens, or even of Thackeray, are made up. These are but pleasant or
tender toying with the playthings and puppets of existence. George Sand
constrains us to look at the realities through the medium of her
fiction. Thirdly, she insists that man can and shall make his own
career; not whine to the stars, and rail out against the powers above,
when he has weakly or wantonly marred his own destiny. Fourthly,--and
this ought not to be considered her least service to the literature of
her country,--she has tried to teach people to look at Nature with
their own eyes, and to invite the true love of her to flow into their
hearts. The great service which Ruskin, with all his eccentricities and
extravagances, has rendered to English-speaking peoples by teaching them
to use their own eyes when they look at clouds, and waters, and grasses,
and hills, George Sand has rendered to France.

I hold that these are virtues and services which ought to outweigh even
very grave personal and artistic errors. We often hear that this or that
great poet or romancist has painted men as they are; this other as they
ought to be. I think George Sand paints men as they are, and also not
merely as they ought to be, but as they can be. The sum of the lesson
taught by her books is one of confidence in man's possibilities, and
hope in his steady progress. At the same time she is entirely practical
in her faith and her aspirations. She never expects that the trees are
to grow up into the heavens, that men and women are to be other than men
and women. She does not want them to be other; she finds the springs and
sources of their social regeneration in the fact that they are just what
they are, to begin with. I am afraid some of the ladies who seem to base
their scheme of woman's emancipation and equality on the assumption
that, by some development of time or process of schooling, a condition
of things is to be brought about where difference of sex is no longer to
be a disturbing power, will find small comfort or encouragement in the
writings of George Sand. She deals in realities altogether; the
realities of life, even when they are such as to shallow minds may seem
mere sentiments and ecstacies; the realities of society, of suffering,
of passion, of inanimate nature. There is in her nothing unmeaning,
nothing untrue; there is in her much error, doubtless, but no sham.

I believe George Sand is growing into a quiet and beautiful old age.
After a life of storm and stress, a life which, metaphorically at least,
was "worn by war and passion", her closing years seem likely to be
gilded with the calm glory of an autumnal sunset. One is glad to think
of her thus happy and peaceful, accepting so tranquilly the reality of
old age, still laboring with her unwearied pen, still delighting in
books, and landscapes, and friends, and work. The world can well afford
to forget as soon as possible her literary and other errors. Of the vast
mass of romances, stories, plays, sketches, criticisms, pamphlets,
political articles, even, it is said, ministerial manifestoes of
republican days, which she poured out, only a few comparatively will
perhaps be always treasured by posterity; but these will be enough to
secure her a classic place. And she will not be remembered by her
writings alone. Hers is probably the most powerful individuality
displayed by any modern Frenchwoman. The influence of Madame Roland was
but a glittering unreality, that of Madame de Staël only a boudoir and
coterie success, when compared with the power exercised over literature,
human feeling, and social law, by the energy, the courage, the genius,
even the very errors and extravagances of George Sand.





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