THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. VIII.—NOVEMBER, 1861.—NO. XLIX.
"Deduci superbo Non humilis mulier triumpho."
These words are applied by Horace to the great Cleopatra, whose heroic end he celebrates, even while exulting in her overthrow. We apply them to another woman of royal soul, who, capitulating with the world of her contemporaries, does not allow them the ignoble triumph of plundering the secrets of her life. They have long clamored at its gates, long shouted at its windows, in defamation and in glorification. Ready now for their admission, she lets the eager public in; but what they were most intent to find still eludes them. In the "Histoire de ma Vie" are the records of her parentage, birth, education. Here are detailed the subtile influences that aided or hindered Nature in one of her most lavish pieces of work; here are study, religion, marriage, maternity, authorship, friendship, travel, litigation: but the passionate loving woman, and whom she loved, are not here. To the world's triumph they belong not, and we honor the decency and self-respect which consign them to oblivion. Nor shall we endeavor to lift the veil which she has thus thrown over the most intimate portion of her private life. We will not ask any Chronique Scandaleuse, of which there are plenty, to supply any hiatus in the dramatis personae of her life. We shall take her as she gives herself to us, bringing out the full significance of what she says, but not interpolating with it what other people say. For she has been generous in telling us all that it imports us most to know. The itching curiosity of the spiteful or the vicious must seek its gratification at other hands than ours: we will not be its ministers. With all this, we are not obliged to shut our eyes to the true significance of what she tells us, or to assume that in the account she gives us of herself there is necessarily less self-deception than self-judgment generally exhibits. If she mistakes the selfish for the heroic, exalts a gratification into a duty, and preaches to her sex as from the standpoint of a morality superior to theirs, we shall set it down as it seems to us. But, for the sake of manhood as well as of womanhood, we would not that any mean or malignant hand should endeavor to show where she failed, and how.
Was she not to all of us, in our early years, a name of doubt, dread, and enchantment? Did not all of us feel, in our young admiration for her, something of the world's great struggle between conservative discipline and revolutionary inspiration? We knew our parents would not have us read her, if they knew. We knew they were right. Yet we read her at stolen hours, with waning and still entreated light; and as we read, in a dreary wintry room, with the flickering candle warning us of late hours and confiding expectations, the atmosphere grew warm and glorious about us,—a true human company, a living sympathy crept near us,—the very world seemed not the same world after as before. She had given us a real gift; no criticism could take it away. The hands might be sinful, but the box they broke contained an exceeding precious ointment.
At a later day we saw these things rather differently. The electric intoxication over, which book or being gives but once to the same person, its elements were viewed with some distrust. Passing from ideal to real life, as all pass, who live on, we shook our heads over the books, sighed, ceased to read them. Grown mothers ourselves, we quietly removed them as far as possible from the young hands about us, and would rather have deprived them of the noble French language altogether than have allowed it to bring them such lessons as Jacques and Valentine. Yet we retain the old love for her; the world of literature still seems brighter for her footsteps; and should we live to learn her death, tears must follow it, and the sense of void left by the loss of a true friend, noble and loyal-hearted, if mistaken. With this confession of sympathy with the woman, we begin the critical consideration of the memoirs of herself she has given to the world.
These memoirs begin at the earliest possible period, including the lives of her parents and grandparents. The latter were illustrious on one side, obscure on the other. She tells us that by her paternal grandmother she was allied to the kings of France, and by her maternal grandfather to the lowest of the people. The grandmother in question was the natural daughter of the famous Marechal de Saxe, recognized and educated, but finally left with slender resources, and married to M. Dupin de Francueil, an accomplished person of good family and fortune, greatly her senior. To him she bore one child, a son named Maurice, after the great soldier. As might have been expected, her widowhood was early and long, for her aged partner soon dropped from her side, beloved and regretted. George tells us that her grandmother was wont to insist that an old man can be more agreeable in the marital relation than a young one, and that M. Dupin de Francueil, elegant, accomplished, and devoted to her happiness, had in his life left nothing for her imagination to desire or her heart to regret.
As this lady is one of the heroines of the "Histoire de ma Vie," we cannot do it justice without lingering a little over her portraiture. She is described as tall, fair, and of a Saxon type of beauty. Her manners would seem to have been de haute ecole, and her culture was on a large and noble scale. Austere in her morals, her faith was the deistic philosophy of the ante-revolutionary period; but, like other people of noble mind, instead of making doubt a pretext for license, she brought up virtue to justify the latitude of her creed, that the solid results of conscience should entitle her to the free interpretation of doctrine. She was chaste, benevolent, and sincere. Her mother had been a singer of merit and celebrity, and she, the daughter, had both inherited her musical talent, and had received one of those thorough musical educations which alone make the possession of the art a pleasure and resource. It must often occur to those who hear our young ladies sing and play, that the accomplishment is little valued by them, save as an outward social adornment.
Hence those ambitious and perfectly uninteresting performances with which we are constantly bored in the fashionable musical world. It is self-love which gives us those flat, empty adagios, those cold, keen runs and embellishments. Love of the art has more modesty in the undertaking, and more warmth in the execution. George says that she has heard all the greatest singers of modern times, but that her grandmother, in her old age, singing fragments of the operas of her own time in a cracked and trembling voice, and accompanying herself on an old harpsichord with three fingers of a palsied hand, always remained to her a type of art above all others.
The first volume of these memoirs gives interesting notice of the friendships which surrounded Madame Dupin during her married life. These embraced various celebrities, historical and literary. Her husband was the congenial friend of the best minds of the day, and was able, among other things, to procure her the difficult pleasure of an interview with Jean Jacques Rousseau, then living near her in great spleen and retirement. We cannot do better than to give the relation of this in her own words, as preserved by her grand-daughter. It is highly characteristic of the parties and of the times.
"Before I had seen Rousseau, I had read the 'Nouvelle Heloise' in one breath, and at the last pages I found myself so overcome that I wept and sobbed. My husband gently rallied me for this; but that day I could only cry from morning till evening. During this, M. de Francueil, with the address and the grace which he knew how to put into everything, ran to find Jean Jacques. I do not know how he managed it, but he carried him off, he brought him, without having communicated to me his intention.
"I, unconscious of all this, was not hastening my toilet. I was with Madame d'Esparbes de Lussan, my friend, the most amiable woman in the world, and the prettiest, though she squinted a little, and was slightly deformed. M. de Francueil had come several times to see if I was ready. I did not observe any marks of haste in my husband, and did not hurry myself, never suspecting that he was there, the sublime Bear, in my parlor. He had entered, looking partly foolish and partly cross, and had seated himself in a corner, showing no other impatience than that about dinner, in order to get away very soon.
"Finally, my toilet finished, and my eyes still red and swollen, I go to the parlor. I see a little man, ill-dressed and scowling, who rose clumsily, who chewed out some confused words. I look, and I guess who it is,—I try to speak,—I burst into tears. Francueil tries to put us in tune by a pleasantry, and bursts into tears. We could not say anything to each other. Rousseau pressed my hand without addressing me a single word. We tried to dine, to cut short all these sobs. But I could eat nothing. M. de Francueil could not be witty that day, and Rousseau escaped directly on leaving the table, without having said a word,—displeased, perhaps, with having found a new contradiction to his claim of being the most persecuted, the most hated, and the most calumniated of men."
The simplicity of this narration justifies its quotation here, as illustrative of the taste and manners that prevailed a hundred years ago. The lively emotion provoked by the "Nouvelle Heloise" is scarcely more foreign to our ideas and experience than the triangular fit of weeping in the parlor, and the dinner, silent through excess of feeling, that followed it.
M. Dupin de Francueil lived with great, but generous extravagance, and, as his widow averred, "ruined himself in the most amiable manner in the world." He died, leaving large estates in great confusion, from which his widow and young son were compelled to "accept the poverty" of seventy-five thousand livres of annual income,—a sum which the Revolution, at a later day, greatly reduced. Till its outbreak, Madame Dupin lived in peace and affluence, though not on the grand scale of earlier days,—devoting herself chiefly to the care and education of her son, Maurice, in which latter task she secured the services of a young abbe, who afterwards prudently became the Citizen Deschartres, and who continued in the service of the family during the rest of a tolerably long life. This personage plays too important a part in the memoirs to be passed over without special notice. He continued to be the faithful teacher and companion of Maurice, until the exigencies of military life removed the latter from his control. He was also the man of business of Madame Dupin, and, at a later day, the preceptor of George herself, who, with childish petulance, bestowed on him the sobriquet of grand homme, in consequence, she tells us, of his omnicompetence and his air of importance. "My grandmother," she says, "had no presentiment, that, in confiding to him the education of her son, she was securing the tyrant, the saviour, and the friend of her whole remaining life." We would gladly give here in full George's portrait of her tutor; but if we should stop to sketch all the admirable photography of this work, our review would become a volume. We can only borrow a trait or two, and pass on to the consideration of other matters.
"He had been good-looking; but I am sure that no one, even in his best days, could have looked at him without laughing, so clearly was the word pedant written in all the lines of his face and in every movement of his person. To be complete, he should have been ignorant, gourmand, and cowardly. But, far from this, he was very learned, temperate, and madly courageous. He had all the great qualities of the soul, joined to an insufferable disposition, and a self-satisfaction which amounted almost to delirium. But what devotion, what zeal, what a tender and generous soul!"
In the intervals of his necessary occupations he studied medicine and surgery, in the latter of which he attained considerable skill. In the many subsequent years of his country life, he made these accomplishments very useful to the village folk. No stress of weather or unseasonableness of hours could detain him from attending the sick, when summoned; but being obliged, as George says, to be ridiculous as well as sublime in all things, he was wont to beat his patients when they were bold enough to offer him money for their cure, and even made missile weapons of the poultry and game which they brought him in acknowledgment of his services, assailing them with blows and harder words, till they fled, amused or angry. Maurice, his first pupil, was a delicate and indolent child, and showed little robustness of character till his early manhood, when the necessity of a career forced him into the ranks of the great army.
The first threatenings of the Revolution found in Madame Dupin an unalarmed observer. As a disciple of Voltaire and Rousseau, she could not but detest the abuses of the Court; she shared, too, the general personal alienation of the aristocracy from the German woman, as they called Marie Antoinette. She admired, in turn, the probity of Necker and the genius of Mirabeau; but the current of disorder finally found its way to her, and swept away her household peace among the innumerable wrecks that marked its passage. Implicated as the depository of some papers supposed to be of treasonable character, she was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, her son and Deschartres being officially separated from her and detained at Passy. The imprisonment lasted some months, and its tedium was beguiled by the most fervent love-letters between the boy of sixteen and his mother. The sorrow of this separation, George says, metamorphosed the sickly, spoiled child into a fervent and resolute youth, whose subsequent career was full of courage and self-denial. Of the Revolution she writes:—
"In my eyes, it is one of the phases of evangelical life: a tumultuous, bloody life, terrible at certain moments, full of convulsions, of delirium, and of sobbing. It is the violent contest of the principle of equality preached by Jesus, and passing, now like a radiant light, now like a burning torch, from hand to hand, to our own days, against the old pagan world, which is not destroyed, which will not be for a long time yet, in spite of the mission of Christ, and so many other divine missions, in spite of so many stakes, scaffolds, and martyrs. What is there, then, to astonish us in the vertigo which seized all minds at the period of the inextricable melee into which France precipitated herself in '93? When everything went by retaliation, when every one became, by deed or intention, victim and executioner in turn, and when between the oppression endured and the oppression exercised there was no time for reflection or liberty of choice, how could passion have abstracted itself in action, or impartiality have dictated quiet judgments? Passionate souls were judged by others as passionate, and the human race cried out as in the time of the ancient Hussites,—'This is a time of mourning, of zeal, and of fury.'"
The tone of our author concerning this and subsequent revolutions which have come within her own observation is throughout temperate, hopeful, and charitable. The noblest side of womanhood comes out in this; and however her fiery youth might have counselled, in the pages now under consideration she appears as the apologist of humankind, the world's peacemaker.
George loves to linger over the details of her father's early life. They are, indeed, all she possesses of him, as she was still in early childhood when he died. So much and such charming narrations has she to give us of his military life, his musical ability, his courage and disinterestedness, that she herself does not manage to get born until nearly the end of the third volume, and that through a series of concatenations which we must hastily review.
The imprisonment of Madame Dupin was not long; after some months of detention, she was allowed to rejoin her son at Passy, and the whole family-party speedily removed to Nohant, in the heart of Berry, which henceforth figures as the homestead in the pages of these volumes. But Maurice is soon obliged to adopt a profession. His mother's revenues have been considerably diminished by the political troubles. He feels in himself the power, the determination, to carve out a career for himself, and gallantly enters, as a simple soldier, the armies of the Republic,—Napoleon Bonaparte being First Consul. Although he soon saw service, his promotion seems to have been slow and difficult. He was full of military ardor, and laborious in acquiring the science of his profession; but there were already so many candidates for every smallest distinction, and Maurice was no courtier, to help out his deserts with a little fortunate flattery. He complains in his letters that the tide has already turned, and that even in the army diplomacy fares better than real bravery. Still, he soon rose from the ranks, served with honor on the Rhine and in Italy, and became finally attached to the personnel of Murat, during the occupation of the Peninsula. His title of grandson of the Marechal de Saxe was sometimes helpful, sometimes hurtful. In the eyes of his comrades it won him honor; but Napoleon, on hearing his high descent urged as a claim to consideration, is said to have replied, brusquely,—"I don't want any of those people." In his letters to his mother, he recounts his adventures, military and amorous, with frankness, but without boasting; but his confidences soon become very partial, and before she knows it the poor mother has a dangerous rival. We will let him give his own account of the origin of this new relation.
"You know that I was in love in Milan. You guessed it, because I did not tell you of it. At times I fancied myself beloved in return, and then I saw, or thought I saw, that I was not. I wished to divert my thoughts; I went away, desiring to think no more of it.
"This charming woman is here, and we have hardly spoken to each other. We scarcely exchanged a look. I felt a little vexation, though that is scarcely in my nature. She was proud towards me, although her heart is tender and passionate. This morning, during breakfast, we heard distant cannon. The General ordered me to mount at once, and go to see what it was. I rise, take the staircase in two bounds, and run to the stable. At the very moment of mounting my horse I turned and saw behind me this dear woman, blushing, embarrassed, and casting on me a lingering look, expressive of fear, interest, love."
This fatal look, as the experienced will readily conceive, did the business. The young soldier dreamed only of a love affair like twenty others which had made the pastime of his oft-changing quarters; but this "dear woman," Sophie Victoire Antoinette Delaborde, daughter of an old bird-fancier, was destined to become his wife, and the mother of his daughter, Aurore Dupin, whom the world knows as George Sand. The circumstances of her youth had been untoward. She was at this period already the mother of one child, born out of marriage, and seems to have been making the campaign of Italy under the so-called protection of some rich man, whose name is not given us. This protection she hastened to leave, following thenceforward with devotion the precarious fortunes of the young soldier, and gaining her own subsistence, until their marriage, by the toil of the needle, to which she had been bred. Of course, Maurice's confidences to his mother under this head soon cease. An amour with a person in Victoire's position could be admitted; but a serious, solid affection, leading to marriage, this would break his mother's heart, and indeed not without reason. The reader must remember that this is a chapter out of French society, on which account we suppress all hysterical comment upon a state of things universally received and acknowledged therein. Maurice's trivial, and we should say, unprincipled pursuit of Victoire would be considered perfectly legitimate in the sphere which made the world to him. The sequel, perhaps, would not have been considered differently here and there; for, however we may recognize the sacredness of true affection, a marriage so unequal and with such sinister antecedents would be regarded in all society with little approbation, or hope of good. His mother soon grew alarmed, as various symptoms of an enduring and carefully concealed attachment became evident to her keen observation. In the years that followed, she left no means untried to break off this dangerous connection;—her remonstrances were by turns tender and violent,—her reasonings, no doubt, in great part just; but Maurice defended the woman of his choice from all accusations, from every annoyance, on the ground of her devoted and honorable attachment to him. After four years of continued trouble and irresolution, in which, George tells us, he had again and again made the endeavor to sacrifice Victoire to his mother's happiness, and after the birth of several children, who soon ceased to live, he wedded her by civil rite. The birth of his daughter soon followed. "And thus it was," says George, "that I was born legitimate."
"My mother had on a pretty pink dress that day, and my father was playing some contredanses on his faithful Cremona (I have it yet, that old instrument by the sound of which I first saw the light). My mother left the dance and passed into her own room. As she went out very quietly, the dance continued. At the last chassez all round, my Aunt Lucy went into my mother's room, and immediately cried,—
"Come, come here, Maurice! You have a daughter!"
"She shall be named Aurore, for my poor mother, who is not here to bless her, but who will bless her one day," said my father, receiving me in his arms.
"She was born in music and in pink," said my aunt. "She will be happy."
Not eminent, perhaps, has been the realization of this augury.
The young couple were so poor, at this moment of their marriage, that a slender thread of gold was forced to serve for the nuptial ring; it was not until some days later that they were able to expend six francs in the purchase of that indispensable ornament. The act once consummated, Maurice gave himself up to some hours of bitter suffering, made inevitable by what he considered a grave act of disobedience against the best of mothers. His conscience, however, on the whole, justified him. He had obeyed the Scripture precept, forsaking the old for the inevitable new relation, and surrounding her who was really his wife with the immunities of civil recognition. The marriage was concealed for some months from his mother,—who at a subsequent period left no stone unturned to prove its nullity. The religious ceremony, which Catholicism considers as the indissoluble tie, had not yet been performed, and Mme. Dupin hoped to prove some informality in the civil rite. In this, however, she did not succeed, and after long resistance, and ill-concealed displeasure, she concluded by acknowledging the unwelcome alliance. It was the little Aurore herself whose unconscious hand severed the Gordian knot of the family difficulties. Introduced by a stratagem into her grandmother's presence, and seated in her lap as the child of a stranger, the family traits were suddenly recognized, and the little one (eight months old) effected a change of heart which neither lawyer nor priest could have induced. St. Childhood is fortunately always in the world, working ever these miracles of reconciliation.
George speaks with admirable candor of the inevitable relations between these two women. She does full justice to the legitimacy of the grandmother's objections to the marriage, and her fears for its result, which were founded much more on moral than on social considerations. At the same time she nobly asserts her mother's claim to rehabilitation through a passionate and disinterested attachment, a faithful devotion to the duties of marriage and maternity, and a widowhood whose sorrow ended only with her life. She says,—"The doctrine of redemption is the symbol of the principle of expiation and of rehabilitation"; but she adds,—"Our society recognizes this principle in religious theory, but not in practice; it is too great, too beautiful for us." She says farther,—"There still exists a pretended aristocracy of virtue, which, proud of its privileges, does not admit that the errors of youth are susceptible of atonement. This condemnation is the more absurd, because, for what is called the World, it is hypocritical. It is not only women of really irreproachable life, nor matrons truly respected, who are called upon to decide upon the merits of their misled sisters. It is not the company of the excellent of the earth who make opinion. That is all a dream. The great majority of women of the world is really a majority of lost women." We must understand these remarks as applying to French society, in respect even of which we are not inclined to admit their truth. Yet there is a certain justice in the inference that women are often most severely condemned by those who are no better than themselves; and this insincerity of uncharity is far more to be dreaded than the over-zeal of virtuous hearts, which oftenest helps and heals where it has been obliged to wound.
At the risk of unduly multiplying quotations, we will quote here what George says of her mother in this, the flower of her days. At a later day, the ill-regulated character suffered and made others suffer with its own discords, which education and moral training had done nothing to reconcile. The manly support, too, of the nobler nature was wanting, and the best half of her future and its possibilities was buried in the untimely grave of her husband. Here is what she was when she was at her best:—
"My mother never felt herself either humiliated or honored by the company of people who might have considered themselves her superiors. She ridiculed keenly the pride of fools, the vanity of parvenus, and, feeling herself of the people to her very finger-ends, she thought herself more noble than all the patricians and aristocrats of the earth. She was wont to say that those of her race had redder blood and larger veins than others,—which I incline to believe; for, if moral and physical energy constitute in reality the excellence of races, we cannot deny that this energy is compelled to diminish in those who lose the habit of labor and the courage of endurance. This aphorism is certainly not without exception, and we may add that excess of labor and of endurance enervates the organization as much as the excess of luxury and idleness. But it is certain, in general, that life rises from the bottom of society, and loses itself in measure as it rises to the top, like the sap in plants.
"My mother was not one of those bold intrigantes whose secret passion is to struggle against the prejudices of their time, and who think to make themselves greater by clinging, at the risk of a thousand affronts, to the false greatness of the world. She was far too proud to expose herself even to coldness. Her attitude was so reserved that she passed for a timid person; but if one attempted to encourage her by airs of protection, she became more than reserved, she showed herself cold and taciturn. With people who inspired her with respect, she was amiable and charming; but her real disposition was gay, petulant, active, and, above all, opposed to constraint. Great dinners, long soirees, commonplace visits, balls themselves, were odious to her. She was the woman of the fireside or of the rapid and frolicking walk; but in her interior, as in her goings abroad, intimacy, confidence, relations of entire sincerity, absolute freedom in her habits and the employment of her time, were indispensable to her. She, therefore, always lived in a retired manner, more anxious to avoid unpleasant acquaintances than eager to make advantageous ones. Such, too, was the foundation of my father's character, and in this respect never was couple better assorted. They were never happy out of their little household. And they have bequeathed me this secret sauvagerie, which has always rendered the [fashionable] world insupportable to me, and home indispensable."
In referring back to these volumes, we are led into continual loiterings by the way. The style of our heroine is so magical, that we are constantly tempted to let her tell her own story, and to give to the gems of hers which we insert in these pages the slightest possible setting of our own. But it is not our business to anticipate for any one a reading from which no student of modern literature, or, indeed, of modern mind, will excuse himself. We must give only so much as shall make it sure that others will seek more at the fountain-head; but for this purpose we must turn less to the book, and trust for our narration to a sufficiently recent perusal still vividly remembered.
Aurore could scarcely have passed out of her third year when she accompanied her mother to Madrid, where her father was already in attendance upon Murat. She remembers their quarters in the palace, magnificently furnished, and the half-broken toys of the royal children, whose destruction she was allowed to complete. To please his commander-in-chief, her father caused her to assume a miniature uniform, like those of the Prince's aide-de-camps, whose splendid discomfort she still recalls. This would seem a sort of prophecy of that assuming of male attire in later years which was to constitute a capital circumstance in her life. The return from the Peninsula was weary and painful to the mother and child, and made more so by the disgust with which the Spanish roadside bill-of-fare inspired the more civilized French stomach. They were forced to make a part of the journey in wagons with the common soldiery and camp-retainers, and Aurore in this manner took the itch, to her mother's great mortification. Arrived at Nohant, however, the care of Deschartres, joined to a self-imposed regime of green lemons, which the little girl devoured, skins, seeds, and all, soon healed the ignominious eruption. Here the whole family passed some months of happy repose, too soon interrupted by the tragical death of Maurice. He had brought back from Spain a formidable horse, which he had christened the terrible Leopardo, and which, brave cavalier as he was, he never mounted without a certain indefinable misgiving. He often said, "I ride him badly, because I am afraid of him, and he knows it." Dining with some friends in the neighborhood, one day, he was late in returning. His wife and mother passed the evening together, the first jealous and displeased at his protracted absence, the second occupied in calming the irritation and rebuking the suspicions of her companion. The wife at last yielded, and retired to rest. But the mother's heart, more anxious, watched and watched. Towards midnight, a slight confusion in the house augmented her alarm. She started at once, alone and thinly dressed, to go and meet her son. The night was dark and rainy; the terrible Leopardo had fulfilled the prophetic forebodings of his rider. The poor lady, brought up in habits of extreme inactivity, had taken but two walks in all her life. The first had been to surprise her son at Passy, when released from the Revolutionary prison. The second was to meet and escort back his lifeless body, found senseless by the roadside.
We have done now with Aurore's ancestry, and must occupy our remaining pages with accounts of herself. Much time is given by her to the record of her early childhood, and the explanation of its various phases. She loves children; it is perhaps for this reason that she dwells longest on this period of her life, describing its minutest incidents with all the poetry that is in her. One would think that her childhood seemed to her that actual flower of her life which it is to few in their own consciousness. Despite the loss of her father, and the vexed relations between her mother and grandmother which followed his death, her infancy was joyous and companionable, passed mostly with the country surroundings and out-door influences which act so magically on the young. It soon became evident that she was to be confided chiefly to her grandmother's care; and this, which was at first a fear, soon came to be a sorrow. Still her mother was often with her, and her time was divided between the plays of her village-friends and the dreams of romantic incident which early formed the main feature of her inner life. Already at a very early age her mother used to say to those who laughed at the little romancer,—"Let her alone; it is only when she is making her novels between four chairs that I can work in peace." This habit of mind grew with her growth. Her very dolls played grandiose parts in her child-drama. The paper on the wall became animated to her at night, and in her dreams she witnessed strange adventures between its Satyrs and Bacchantes. Soon she imagined for herself a sort of angel-companion, whose name was Corambe. His presence grew to be more real to her than reality itself, and in her quiet moments she wove out the mythology of his existence, as Bhavadgheetas and Mahabraatus have been dreamed. In process of time, she built, or rather entwisted, for him a little shrine in the woods. All pretty things the child could gather were brought together there, to give him pleasure. But one day the foot of a little playmate profaned this sanctuary, and Aurore sought it no more, while still Corambe was with her everywhere.
Although she seems to have always suffered from her mother's inequalities of temper, yet for many years she clung to her, and to the thought of her, with jealous affection. The great difference of age which separated her from her grandmother inspired fear, and the grand manners and careful breeding of the elder lady increased this effect. When left with her, the child fell into a state of melancholy, with passionate reactions against the chilling, penetrating influence, which yet, having reason on its side, was destined to subdue her. "Her chamber, dark and perfumed, gave me the headache, and fits of spasmodic yawning. When she said to me, 'Amuse yourself quietly,' it seemed to me as if she shut me up in a great box with her." What sympathetic remembrances must this phrase evoke in all who remember the gene of similar constraints! George draws from this inferences of the wisdom of Nature in confiding the duties of maternity to young creatures, whose pulses have not yet lost the impatient leap of early pleasure and energy, and to whom repose and reflection have not yet become the primal necessities of life. This want of the nearness and sympathy of age she was to experience more, as, by the consent of both parties, her education was to be conducted under the superintendence of her grandmother, from whom the mother derived her pension, and whose estate the child was to inherit. The separation from her mother, gradually effected, was the great sorrow of her childhood. She revolted from it sometimes openly, sometimes in secret; and the project of escaping and joining her mother in Paris, where, with her half-sister Caroline, they would support themselves by needle-work, was soon formed and long cherished. For the expenses of this intended journey, the child carefully gathered and kept her little treasures, a coral comb, a ring with a tiny brilliant, etc., etc. In contemplating these, she consoled many a heartache; as who is there of us who has not often effectually beguiled ennui and privation by dreams of joys that never were to have any other reality? The mother seems to have entered into this plan only for the moment; it soon escaped her remembrance altogether, and the little girl waited and waited to be sent for, till finally the whole vision faded into a dream.
Deschartres, the tutor of Maurice, and of Hippolyte, his illegitimate son, became also the instructor of the little Aurore. With all her passion for out-door life, she felt always, she tells us, an invincible necessity of mental cultivation, and perpetually astonished those who had charge of her by her ardor alike in work and in play. Her grandmother soon found that the child was never ill, so long as sufficient freedom of exercise was permitted; so she was soon allowed to run at will, dividing her time pretty equally between the study and the fields. Thus she grew in mind and body from seven to twelve, promising to be tall and handsome, though not in after-years fulfilling this promise; for of her stature she tells us that it did not exceed that of her mother, whom she calls a petite femme,—and of her appearance she simply says that in her youth "with eyes, hair, and a robust organization," she was neither handsome nor ugly. At the age of twelve, a social necessity compelled her to go through the form of confession and the first communion. Her grandmother was divided between the convictions of her own liberalism, and the desire not to place her cherished charge in direct opposition to the imperious demands of a Catholic community. The laxity of the period allowed the compromise to be managed in a merely formal and superficial manner. The grandmother tried to give the rite a certain significance, at the same time imploring the child "not to suppose that she was about to eat her Creator." The confessor asked none of those questions which our author simply qualifies as infamous, and, with a very mild course of catechism and slight dose of devotion, that Rubicon of maturity was passed. Not far beyond it waited a terrible trial, perhaps as great a sorrow as the whole life was to bring. Aurore's diligence in her studies was marred by the secret intention, long cherished, of escaping to her mother, and adopting with her her former profession of dress-maker. Having one day answered reproof with a petulant assertion of her desire to rejoin her mother at all hazards, the grandmother determined to put an end to such projects by a severe measure. Aurore was banished from her presence during a certain number of days. Neither friend nor servant spoke to her. She describes naturally enough this lonely, uncomforted condition, in which, more than ever, she meditated upon the wished-for return to her mother, and the beginning with her of a new life of industry and privation. Summoned at last to her grandmother's bedside, and kneeling to ask for reconciliation, she is forced to stay there, and to listen to the most cruel and literal account of her mother's life, its early errors, and their inevitable consequences.
"All that she narrated was true in point of fact, and attested by circumstances whose detail admitted of no doubt. But this terrible history might have been unveiled to me without injury to my respect and love for my mother, and, thus told, it would have been much more probable and more true. It would have sufficed to tell all the causes of her misfortunes,—loneliness and poverty from the age of fourteen years, the corruption of the rich, who are there to lie in wait for hunger and to blight the flower of innocence, the pitiless rigorism of opinion, which allows no return and accepts no expiation. They should also have told me how my mother had redeemed the past, how faithfully she had loved my father, how, since his death, she had lived humble, sad, and retired. Finally, my poor grandmother let fall the fatal word. My mother was a lost woman, and I a blind child rushing towards a precipice."
The horror of this disclosure did not work the miracle anticipated. Aurore submitted indeed outwardly, but a spell of hardness and hopelessness was drawn around her young heart, which neither tears nor tenderness could break. The blow struck at the very roots of life and hope in her. Self-respect was wounded in its core. If the mother who bore her was vile, then she was vile also. All object in life seemed gone. She tried to live from day to day without interest, without hope. From her dark thoughts she found refuge only in extravagant gayety, which brought physical weariness, but no repose of mind. She, who had been on the whole a docile, manageable child, became so riotous, unreasonable, and insupportable, that the only alternative of utter waste of character seemed to be the discipline and seclusion of the convent. She was accordingly taken to Paris, and received as a pensionnaire in the Convent des Anglaises, which had been, in the Revolution, her grandmother's prison. To Aurore it was rather a place of refuge than a place of detention. The chords of life had been cruelly jarred in her bosom, and the discords in her character thence resulting agonized her more than they displeased others. As for the extraordinary communication which had led to this disorder of mind, we do not hesitate, under the circumstances, to pronounce it an act of gratuitous cruelty. Of all pangs that can assail a human heart, none transcends that of learning the worthlessness of those we love; and to lay this burden, which has crushed and crazed the strongest natures, upon the tender heart of a child, was little less than murderous. Nor can the motive assigned justify an act so cruel; since modern morality increasingly teaches that the means must justify themselves, as well as the end. In spite of these odious revelations, the child felt that her love for her mother was undiminished, and a pitying comprehension of the natural differences between the two nearest to her on earth slowly arose in her mind, allowing her to do justice to the intentions of both.
Aurore wandered at first about the convent with only a vague feeling of loneliness. The young girls, French and English, who composed its classes, surveyed her in the beginning with distrust. Soon the youngest and wildest set, called Diables, accorded her affiliation, and in their company she managed to increase tolerably the anxieties and troubles of the under-mistresses.
She was early initiated into the great secret, the traditionary legend of the convent. This pointed at the existence, in some subterranean dungeon, of a wretched prisoner, or perhaps of several, cut off from liberty and light; and to deliver the victim became the object of a hundred wild expeditions, by day and by night, through the uninhabited rooms and extensive vaults of the ancient edifice. The little ladies hoarded with care their candle-ends,—they tumbled up and down ruinous staircases, listened for groans and complaints, tried to undermine walls and partitions, fortunately with little success. The victim was never found, but her story was bequeathed from class to class, and her deliverance was always the object and excuse of the Diables.
After much time wasted in these pursuits, attended by a mediocre progress in the ordinary course of study and what the French call lecons d'agrement, and we accomplishments, a critical moment came for Aurore. She was weary of frolic and mischief,—she had tormented the nuns to her heart's content. She knew not what new comedy to invent. She thought of putting ink in the holy water,—it had been done already; of hanging the parrot of the under-mistress,—but they had given her so many frights, there would be nothing new in that. She saw, one evening, the door of the little chapel open;—its quiet, its exquisite cleanliness and simplicity attracted her. She had followed thither to mock at the awkward motions of a little hunch-backed sister at her devotions,—but once within she forgot this object. A veiled nun was kneeling in her stall at prayer,—a single lamp feebly illuminated the white walls,—a star looked in at her through the dim window. The nun slowly rose and departed. Aurore was left alone. A calm, such as she had never known, took possession of her,—a sudden light seemed to envelop her,—she heard the mystical sentence vouchsafed to Saint Augustin: "Toile, lege!" Turning to see who whispered it, she found herself alone.
"I cherished no vain illusion. I did not believe in a miraculous voice. I understood perfectly the sort of hallucination into which I had fallen. I was neither elated nor frightened at it. Only, I felt that Faith was taking possession of me, as I had wished, through the heart. I was so grateful, in such delight, that a torrent of tears inundated my face. 'Yes, yes, the veil is torn!' I said, 'I see the light of heaven! I will go! But, before all, let me render thanks. To whom? how? What is thy name?' said I to the unknown God who called me to him. 'How shall I pray to thee? What language worthy of thee and capable of expressing its love can my soul speak to thee? I know not; but thou readest my heart,—thou seest that I love thee!'"
From this moment, Aurore gave herself up to the passion of devotion, which, in natures like hers, is often the first to unclose. There are all sorts of religious experiences,—some poor and shallow, some rich and deep, with every variety of shade between. But wherever Love is capable of being heroic, Religion will also find room to work its larger miracles. Aurore's devotion was not likely to be a frigid recognition of doctrine, nor to consist in the minute care of an infinitesimal soul, whose salvation could be of small avail to any save its possessor. Her religion could only be a sympathetic and contagious flame, running from soul to soul, as beacon-fires catch at night and illuminate a whole tract of country. From this time she became patient, thorough, and laborious in all the duties of her age and place. A closer sympathy now drew her to the nuns, with several of whom she formed happy and intimate relations. The convent life became for the time her ideal of existence, and she formed the plan, so common among young girls educated in this manner, of taking the veil herself, when such a step should become possible. This hidden purpose she carried with her, when, at the age of sixteen, she quitted the convent with bitter regret, fearing the strange world, fearing a conventional marriage, and looking back to the pleasant restraints of tutelage, whose thorn hedges are always in blossom when we view them from the dusty ways and traffic of real, responsible life.
Aurore exchanged her convent for a life of equal retirement; for her grandmother, fearing lest the pietistic influences to which she had been subjected should awake too dominant a chord in the passionate nature of her pupil, brought her to Nohant at once, where, for a few days, she realized the delight of a greater freedom from rule and surveillance. It was pleasant for once, she says, to sleep into la grasse matinee, to wear a bright gingham instead of her dress of purple serge, and to comb her hair without being reminded that it was indecent for a young girl to uncover her temples. The projects of marriage which had alarmed her were abandoned for the present, and she was left to enjoy, unmolested, the pleasure of finding again the friends and playmates of her youth. It soon appeared, however, that the convent education had left many a lacune, and the grandmother felt that the result of the three years' claustration in nowise corresponded to its expense. Aurore set herself to work to fill up, in secret, the many blanks left by her preceptresses,—wishing, as she says, to conceal, as far as she could, their want of faith or of thoroughness. She sat at her books half the night, being gifted, according to her own account, with a marvellous power of sacrificing sleep to any other necessity. At this time she learned to ride on horseback, her first exploit being to tame a colt of four years, the after-companion of many a wild scramble, who grew old and died in her service. Her grandmother becoming soon after disabled by a paralytic stroke, the alternation of this new exercise enabled Aurore to bear the fatigues of the sick-room without serious inconvenience. Of this period of her life our heroine speaks as follows:—
"Had my destiny caused me to pass immediately from my grandmother's control to that of a husband, or of a convent, it is possible that, subjected always to influences already accepted, I should never have been myself. But it was decided by Fate that at the age of seventeen years I should experience a suspension of external authority, and that I should belong wholly to myself for nearly a year, to become, for good or evil, what I was to be for nearly all the rest of my life."
Passing much of her time at the bedside of the invalid, now incapable of giving any further direction to the young life so dear to her, Aurore plunged into many studies which opened to her new worlds of thought and observation. She read Chateaubriand with delight. The "Genie du Christianisme" proved to her rather an intellectual than a religious stimulant, and under its impulse she proceeded, as she says, to encounter without ceremony the French and other authors most quoted at that time, to wit: Locke, Bacon, Montesquieu, Leibnitz, Pascal, La Bruyere, Pope, Milton, Dante, and others not below these in difficulty. She studied them in a crude and hurried manner; but that wonderful alembic of youth, with its fiery heat of ardor, enabled her to compose these far and hastily gathered ingredients into a certain homogeneity of knowledge. "The brain was young," she says, "the memory always fugitive; but the sentiment was quick, and the will ever tense." From these pursuits, interrupted by the cares of nursing, she broke loose only to mount her favorite Colette, and accompany Deschartres in his hunting expeditions. She attempted also to acquire some knowledge of Natural History, Mineralogy, and so on; but science was always less congenial to her than literature, and of Leibnitz, the "Theodicee" is the only work of which she speaks with any familiarity. For convenience in riding and hunting, she adopted, on occasion, the dress of a boy, a blouse, cap, and trousers, to the great scandal of the neighborhood, already indisposed towards her by reason of her eccentric reputation; since, as one can imagine, a small French province is the last place in the world where a young girl can display the lone-star banner of individuality with impunity.
Aurore had promised her aged relative that she would not read Voltaire before the age of thirty; but her literary wanderings soon brought her across the path of Rousseau.
The French make the reading of the "Nouvelle Heloise" one of the epochs in the life of woman. According to its motto, "The mother will not allow the daughter to read it," this critical act is by common consent adjourned till after marriage, when, we suppose, it appears something in the light of a Bill of Rights, a coming to the knowledge of what women can do, if they will. But as all Julie's divagations occur before marriage, and as her subsequent life becomes a model of Puritanic duty and piety, one does not understand the applicability of her example to French life, in which this progress is reversed. In this, as in all works of true genius, people of the most opposite ways of thinking take what is congenial to themselves,—the ardent and passionate fling themselves on the swollen stream of Saint Preux's stormy love, the older and colder justify Julie's repentance, and the slow but certain rehabilitation of her character. With all its magnificences, and even with the added zest of a forbidden book, the "Nouvelle Heloise" would be very slow reading for our youth of today. Its perpetual balloon voyage of sentiment was suited to other times, or finds sympathy to-day with other races. With all this, there is a great depth of truth and eloquence in its pages,—and its moral, which at first sight would seem to be, that the blossom of vice necessarily contains the germ of virtue, proves to be this wiser one, that you can tell the tree only by its fruits, which slowly ripen with length of life. As a novel, it is out of fashion,—for novels have fashion; as a development of the individuality of passion, it has perhaps no equal. Be sure that Aurore saw in it its fullest significance. It was strange reading for the disciple of the convent, but she had laid her bold hand upon the tree of the knowledge of good and of evil. She was not to be saved like a woman, through ignorance, but like a man, through the wisdom which has its heavenly and its earthly side. "Emile," the "Contrat Social," and the rest of the series succeeded each other in her studies; but she does not speak of the "Confessions," a book most cruel to those who love the merits of the author, and to whom the nauseating vulgarity of his personal character is a disgust scarcely to be recovered from. Taken at his best, however, Rousseau was the Saint John of the Revolutionary Gospel, though the bloody complement of its Apocalypse was left for other hands than his to trace. To Aurore, stumbling almost unaided through fragmentary studies of science and philosophy, his glowing, broad, synthetic statement was indeed a revelation. It made an epoch in her life. She compared him to Mozart. "In politics," she says, "I became the ardent disciple of this master, and I followed him long without restriction. As to religion, he seemed to me the most Christian of all the writers of his time. I pardoned his abjuration of Catholicism the more easily because its sacraments and title had been given to him in an irreligious manner, well calculated to disgust him with them." But with Aurore, too, the day of Catholicism was over,—its rites were become "heavy and unhealthy" to her. Her faith in things divine was unshaken; but the confessional was empty, the mass dull, the ceremonial ridiculous to her. She was glad to pray alone, and in her own words. Hers was a nature beyond forms. By a rapid intuition, she saw and appropriated what is intrinsic in all religions,—faith in God and love to man. However wild and volcanic may have been her creed in other matters, she has never lost sight of these two cardinal points, which have been the consolation of her life and its redemption. The year comprising these studies and this new freedom ended sadly with the death of her grandmother.
And now, her real protectress being removed, the discords of life broke in upon her, and asserted themselves. Scarcely was the beloved form cold, when Aurore's mother arrived, to wake the echoes of the chateau with wild abuse of its late mistress. By testamentary disposition, Madame Dupin had made Aurore her heir, and had named two of her own relatives as guardians; but the mother now insisted on her own rights, and, after much acrimonious dispute and comment, carried Aurore from her beloved solitudes to her own quarters in Paris,—a journey of sorrow, and the beginning of sorrows. In her childhood Aurore had often longed for this mother's breast as her natural refuge, and the true home of her childish affections. But it "was one of those characters of self-will and passion which deteriorate in later life, and in which no new moral beauties spring up to replace the impulsive graces of youth. Regarding Aurore now as the work of another's hands, she made her the victim of ceaseless and causeless petulance. Her gross abuse of her mother-in-law gave Aurore many tears to shed in private, while her persecution of poor Deschartres drove her daughter to the expedient of shielding him—with a lie. The poor tutor had administered the affairs of Nohant for some time. He was now called to account for every farthing with the most malignant accuracy, and a sum of money, lost by ill-management, not being satisfactorily accounted for, his new tormentor threatened him with prison and trial. As he muttered to his late pupil that he would not survive this disgrace, she stepped forward and shielded him after the fashion of Consuelo.
"I have received this money," said she.
"You? Impossible! What have you done with it?"
"No matter, I have received it."
Deschartres was saved, and Aurore had only availed herself of the first of a Frenchwoman's privileges. Nor will we reckon with her too harshly for this lie, so benevolent in intention, so merciful in effect. A lie sometimes seems the only refuge of the oppressed; but there is always something better than a lie, if we could only find it out. Here is her account of the scene itself:—
"To have gone through a series of lies and of false explanations would not, perhaps, have been possible for me. But from the moment that it was only necessary to persist in a 'yes' to save Deschartres, I thought that I ought not to hesitate. My mother insisted:—
"'If M. Deschartres has paid you eighteen thousand francs, we can easily find it out. You would not give your word of honor?'
"I felt a shudder, and I saw Deschartres ready to speak out.
"'I would give it!' I cried out
"'Give it, then,' said my aunt.
"'No, Mademoiselle,' said my mother's lawyer, 'don't give it.'
"'She shall give it!' cried my mother, to whom I could scarcely pardon this infliction of torture.
"'I give it,' I replied;' and God is with me against you in this matter.'
"'She has lied! she lies!' cried my mother. 'A bigot, a _philosophailleuse.' She is lying and defrauding herself.'
"'Oh, as to that,' said the lawyer, laughing, 'she has the right to do it, since she robs only herself.'
"'I will take her with her Deschartres before the justice of the peace,' said my mother. 'I will make her take oath by Christ, by the Gospel!'
"'No, Madame,' said the lawyer, 'you will go no further in this matter; and as for you, Mademoiselle, I beg your pardon for the annoyance I have given you. Charged with your interests, I felt obliged to do so.'"
Eternal shame to those who make use of any authority to force the secrets of a generous heart, cutting off from it every alternative but that of a loathed deceit, or still more hateful, and scarcely less guilty, betrayal!
Aurore now found herself in the hands of a woman of the people, ennobled for a time by beauty and a true affection, but sinking, her good inspiration gone, into the bitterest ill-temper and most vulgar uncharity. Detesting her superiors in rank and position, she soon managed to cut off Aurore from all intercourse with her father's family, and thus to frustrate every prospect of her marriage in the sphere for which she had been so carefully educated. She was even forbidden to visit her old friends at the convent, and was eventually placed by her mother with a family nearly unknown to both, whose pity had been excited by her friendless condition and unhappy countenance. Aurore's mother seems to us, du reste, the perfect type of a Parisian lorette, the sort of woman so keenly attractive with the bloom of youth and the eloquence of passion,—but when these have passed their day, the most detestable of mistresses, the most undesirable of companions. Men of all ranks and ages acknowledge their attraction, endure their tyranny, and curse the misery it inflicts. Marriage and competency had protected this one from the deteriorations which almost inevitably await those of her class, but they could not save her from the natural process of an undisciplined mind, an ungoverned temper, and a caprice verging on insanity. This self-torment of caprice could be assuaged only by constant change of circumstance and surroundings; her only resource was to metamorphose things about her as often and as rapidly as possible. She changed her lodgings, her furniture, her clothes, retrimmed her bonnets continually, always finding them worse than before. Finally, she grew weary of her black hair, and wore a blond periwig, which disgusting her in turn, she finished by appearing in a different head of hair every day in the week.
Aurore's new friends proved congenial to her, and the influence of their happy family-life dispersed, she says, her last dreams of the beatitudes of the convent. It was in their company that she first met the man destined to become her husband. Most of us would like to know the impression he made upon her at first sight. We will give it in her own words.
"We were eating ices at Tortoni's, after the theatre, when my mother Angele [her new friend] said to her husband,—'See, there is Casimir.'
"A slender young man, rather elegant, with a gay aspect and military bearing, came to shake hands with them. He seated himself by Madame Angele, and asked her in a low voice who I was.
"'It is my daughter,' she replied.
"'Then,' whispered he, 'she is my wife. You know that you have promised me the hand of your eldest daughter. I thought it would have been Wilfrid; but as this one seems of an age more suitable to mine, I accept her, if you will give her to me.'
"Madame Angele laughed at this, but the pleasantry proved a prediction."
Aurore had given her new protectors the titles of Mother Angele and Father James, and they in turn called her their daughter. The period of her residence with them at Plessis appears in her souvenirs as an ideal interval of happiness and repose, a renewal of the freedom and insousiance of childhood, with the added knowledge of their value, a suspension of the terrible demands and interests of life. Would that this ideal period could be prolonged for women!—but the exigencies of the race, or perhaps the fears of society, do not permit it. The two-faced spectre of marriage awaits her, for good or ill. The aphelion of a woman's liberty is soon reached, the dark organic forces bind her to tread the narrow orbit of her sex, and if, at the farthest bound of her individual progress, the attraction could fail, and let her slip from the eternal circle, chaos would be the result.
Uninvited, therefore, but unrepulsed, Hymen approached our heroine in the form of Casimir Dudevant, the illegitimate, but acknowledged son and heir of Colonel Dudevant, an officer of good standing and reasonable fortune. The only feeling he seems to have inspired in the bosom of his future wife was one of mild good-will. His only recommendation was a decent degree of suitableness in outward circumstances. For the true wants of her nature he had neither fitness nor sympathy; but she did not know herself then,—she was not yet George Sand. From the stand-point of her later development, her marriage would seem to us a low one; but we must remember that she started only from the plane, and not the highest plane, of French society, in which a marriage of some sort is the first necessity of a woman's life, and not the crowning point of her experience. To compensate the rigor of such a requisition, a French marriage, though civilly indissoluble, has yet a hundred modifications which remove it far from the Puritan ideal which we of the Protestant faith cherish. Hence the French novel, whose strained sentiment and deeply logical immorality have wakened strange echoes among us of the stricter rule and graver usage.
Without passion, then, or tender affection on either side, but with a tolerable harmony of views for the moment, and after long and causeless opposition on the part of Aurore's mother, this marriage took place. Aurore was but eighteen; her bridegroom was of suitable age. With dreams of a peaceful family existence, and looking forward to maternity as the great joy and office of the coming years, she brought her husband to Nohant, whose inheritance had been settled by contract upon the children of this marriage.
But these dreams were not to be realized. Aurore was not born to be the companion of a dull, narrow man, nor the Lady Bountiful of a little village in the heart of France. Would she not have had it so? She tells us that she would; and as honesty is one of her strong points, we may believe her. She knew not the stormy ocean of life, nor the precious freight she carried, when she committed the vessel of her fortunes to so careless a hand as that of M. Dudevant. She throws no special blame or odium upon him, nor does he probably deserve any.
The recital of the events spoken of above brings us well into the eighth volume of the "Histoire de ma Vie"; and as there are but ten in all, the treatment of the things that follow is pursued with much less detail, and with many a gap, which the malevolent among our author's contemporaries would assure us that they know well how to fill up. Between the extreme reserve of the last two volumes and the wild assertions of so many we would gladly keep the juste milieu, if we could; but we wish only truth, and it is not at the hands of the scandalmongers of any society—is it?—that we seek that commodity. The decree of the court which at a later day gave her the guardianship of her children, and the friendship of many illustrious and of some irreproachable men, must be accepted in favor of her of whom we write,—and the known fanaticism of slander, and the love of the marvellous, which craves, in stories of good or evil, such monstrous forms for its gratification, cause us, on the other side, to deduct a large average from the narrations current against her. But we anticipate.
Aurore, at first, was neither happy nor unhappy in her marriage. Her surroundings were friendly and pleasant, and the birth of a son, a third Maurice, soon brought to her experience the keenest joy of womanhood. Before this child numbered two years, however, she began to feel a certain blank in her household existence, an emptiness, a discouragement as to all things, whose cause she could not understand. In this ennui, she tells us, her husband sympathized, and by common consent they strove to remedy it by frequent changes of abode. They visited Paris, Plessis, returned to Nohant, made a journey in the Pyrenees, a visit to Guillery, the chateau of Colonel Dudevant. Still the dark guest pursued them. Aurore does not pretend that there was any special cause for her suffering. It was but the void which her passionate nature found in a conventional and limited existence, and for which as yet she knew no remedy. The fervor of Catholic devotion had, as we have seen, long forsaken her; her studies did not satisfy her; her children—she had by this time a daughter—were yet in infancy; her husband was not unkind, but indifferent, and the object of indifference. She occupied herself with the business of her estate, and with the wants of the neighboring poor; but she was unsuccessful in administering her expenses, and her narrow revenue did not allow her to give large satisfaction to her charitable impulses. After some years of seclusion and effort, she began to dream of liberty, of wealth,—in a word, of trying her fortunes in Paris. She felt a power within her for which she had found no adequate task. She speaks vaguely, too, of a Being platonically loved, and loving in like manner, absent for most of the year, and seen only for a few days at long intervals, whose correspondence had added a new influence to her life. This attenuated relation was, however, broken before she made her essay of a new life. Her half-brother, Hippolyte, brought to Nohant a habit of joviality which soon degenerated into chronic intemperance; and though she does not accuse her husband of participation in this vice, or, indeed, of any wrong towards her, she yet makes us understand that an occasional escape from Nohant became to her almost a matter of necessity. She, therefore, made arrangements, with her husband's free consent, to pass alternately three months in Paris and three months at home, for an indefinite period; and leaving Maurice in good hands, and the little Solange, her daughter, for a short time only, she came to Paris in the winter with the intention of writing.
Her hopes and pretensions were at first very modest. It had been agreed that her husband should pay her an annual pension of fifteen hundred francs. She would have been well satisfied to earn a like sum by her literary efforts. She established herself in a small mansarde, a sort of garret, and managed by great economy to furnish it so that Solange could be made comfortable. She washed and ironed her fine linen with her own hands. Not finding literary employment at once, and her slender salary running very low, she adopted male attire for a while, as she says, because she was too poor to dress herself suitably in any other. The fashion of the period was favorable to her design. Men wore long square-skirted overcoats, down to the heels. With one of these, and trousers to match, with a gray hat and large woollen cravat, she might easily pass for a young student.
"I cannot express the pleasure my boots gave me. I would gladly have slept with them on. With these little iron-shod heels, I stood firm on the pavement. I flew from one end of Paris to the other. I could have made the circuit of the world, thus attired. Besides, my clothes did not fear spoiling. I ran about in all weathers, I came back at all hours, I went to the pit of every theatre. No one paid me any attention, or suspected my disguise. Besides that, I wore it with ease; the entire want of coquetry in my costume and physiognomy disarmed all suspicion. I was too ill-dressed, and my manner was too simple, to attract or fix attention. Women know little how to disguise themselves, even upon the stage. They are unwilling to sacrifice the slenderness of their waists, the smallness of their feet, the prettiness of their movements, the brilliancy of their eyes; and it is by all these, nevertheless, it is especially by the look, that they might avoid easy detection. There is a way of gliding in everywhere without causing any one to turn round, and of speaking in a low, unmodulated tone which does not sound like a flute in the ears which may hear you. For the rest, in order not to be remarked as a man, you must already have the habit of not making yourself remarked as a woman."
This travesty, our heroine tells us, was of short duration;—it answered the convenience of some months of poverty and obscurity. Its traditions did not pass away so soon;—ten years later, her son, in his beardless adolescence, was often taken for her, and sometimes amused himself by indulging the error in those who accosted him. But in the greatly changed circumstances in which she soon found herself, the disguise became useless and unavailing. Its economy was no longer needed, and the face of its wearer was soon too well known to be concealed by hat or coat-collar.
We would not be understood as relaxing in any degree the rigor of repudiation which such an act deserved. Yet it is imaginable, even to an undepraved mind, that a woman might sometimes like to be on the other side of the fence, to view the mad bull of publicity in its own pasture, and feel that it cannot gore her. Poor George! running about in the little boots, and wearing a great ugly coat and woollen choker,—it was not through vanity that you did this. Strange sights you must have seen in Paris!—none, perhaps, stranger than yourself! The would-be nun of the English convent walking the streets in male attire, and even, as you tell us, with your hands in your pockets! Yet when little Solange came to live with you, as we understand, you put on your weeds of weakness again;—your little daughter made you once more a woman!
For she was George Sand now. Aurore Dupin was civilly dead, Aurore Dudevant was uncivilly effaced. She had taken half a name from Jules Sandeau,—she had wrought the glory of that name herself. Yes, a glory, say what you will. Elizabeth Browning's hands were not too pure to soothe that forehead, chiding while they soothed; and these hands, not illustrious as hers, shall soil themselves with no mud flung at a sister's crowned head.
Every one knows the story of the name: how she and Jules Sandeau wrote a novel together, and sought a nom de plume which should represent their literary union,—how soon she found that she could do much better alone, and the weak work of Carl Sand was forgotten in the strong personality of George Sand. Of Jules Sandeau she speaks only as of the associate of a literary enterprise;—the world accords him a much nearer relation to her; but upon this point she cannot, naturally, be either explicit or implicit. One thing is certain: she was a hard worker, and did with her might what her hand found to do. She wrote "Indiana," "Lelia," "Valentine," and had fame and money at will. Neither, however, gave her unmixed pleasure. The eclat of her reputation soon destroyed her incognito, while the sums of money she was supposed to receive for her works attracted to her innumerable beggars and adventurers of all sorts. To ascertain the real wants and character of those who in every imaginable way claimed her assistance became one of the added labors of her life. She visited wretched garrets or cellars, and saw miserable families,—discovering often, too late, that both garret and family had been hired for the occasion. It was now that she first saw the real plagues and ulcers of society. Her convent had not shown her these, nor her life amid the peasantry of Berry. Only great cities produce those unhealthy and unnatural human growths whose monstrosities are their stock in trade, whose power of life lies in their depravation. She tells us that these horrors weighed upon her, and caused her to try various solutions of the ills that are, and are permitted to be. She was never tempted to become an atheist, never lost sight of the Divine in life, yet the necessity of a terrible fatalism seemed to envelop her. With her numerous friends, she sought escape from the dilemma through various theories of social development; and they often sat or walked half through the night, discussing the fortunes of the race, and the intentions of God. With her most intimate set, this sometimes led to a jest, and "It is time to settle the social question" became the formula of announcing dinner. These considerations led the way to her adoption of socialistic theories in later years, of which she herself informs us, but hints at the same time at many important reservations in her acceptance of them.
In process of time she visited Italy with Alfred de Musset. The fever seized on her at Genoa, and she saw the wonders of the fair land through half-shut eyes, alternately shivering and burning. In the languor of disease, she allowed the tossing of a coin to decide whether she should visit Rome or Venice. Venice came uppermost ten times, and she chose to consider it an affair of destiny. Her long stay in this city suggested the themes of several of her romances, and the "Lettres d'un Voyageur" might almost be pages from her own journal. Her companion was here seized with a terrible illness. She nursed him day and night through all its length, being so greatly fatigued at the time of his recovery that she saw every object double, through want of sleep. Yet De Musset went forth from his sick-room with a heart changed towards her. Hatred had taken the place of love. Some say that this cruel change was the punishment of as cruel a deception; others call it a mania of the fever, perpetuating itself thenceforth in a brain sound as to all else. The world does not know about this, and she herself tells us nothing. In the "Lettres d'un Voyageur," however, she gives us to understand that constancy is not her forte, and a sigh escapes with this confession, "Prie pour moi, o Marguerite Le Conte!"
George Sand was now launched,—with brilliant success, in the world of letters, unheeding the conventional restraints of domestic life. The choicest spirits of the day gathered round her. She was the luminous centre of a circle of light. She did not hold a salon, the mimic court of every Frenchwoman of distinction,—nor were the worldly wits of fashion her vain and supercilious satellites. But De Lamennais climbed to her mansarde, and unfolded therein his theories of saintly and visionary philosophy. Liszt and Chopin bound her in the enchantment of their wonderful melodies. De Balzac feasted her in his fantastic lodgings, and lighted her across the square with a silver-gilt flambeau, himself attired in a flounced satin dressing-gown, of which he was extremely proud. Pierre Leroux instructed her in the old and the new religions, and taught her the history of secret societies. Louis Blanc, Cavaignac, and Pauline Garcia were bound to her by ties of intimacy. She knew Lablache, Quinet, Miekiewiez, whom she calls the equal of Lord Byron. Her intimates in her own province were men of high character and intelligence, nor were friends wanting among her own sex. Good-will and sympathy, therefore, not ill-will and antipathy, inspired her best works. Her views of parties were charitable and conciliatory, and her revolutionism more reconstructive than destructive. Yet, with all this array of good company, we cannot accord her a miraculous immunity from the fatalities of her situation. Of the guilt we are not here called upon to judge; of the suffering many pages in this record of her life bear witness. Little as we know, however, of her own power of self-protection against the tyranny of the selfish and the sensual, we yet feel as if the really base could never have held her in other than the briefest thraldom, and as if her nobler nature must have continually asserted and reasserted itself, with a constant tendency towards that higher liberty which she had sought in the abandonment of outward restraints, but which can never be thus attained. Some great moral safeguards she had in her tireless industry, her love of art, her honesty and geniality of nature, and, above all, in her passionate love for her children. Happily, these deep and solid forces of Nature are calculated to outlast the heyday of the blood, and to redeem its errors.
In connection with her domestic life, she gives some explanations which must not be overlooked. She did not at first quit her husband's roof with an intention of permanent absence, but with the intention of a periodical return thither. In time, however, her presence there became unwelcome, and she found those arrangements of which, as she says, she had no right to complain, but which she could not recognize. Friends intervened, advising an effectual reintegration of the broken marriage; but against this, she says, her conscience, no less than her heart, rebelled. There existed, indeed, no virtual bond between herself and her late husband. Whatever may have been the beginning of their estrangement, it seems certain that he acquiesced in her independence with easy satisfaction. He wrote to her,—"I shall not put up at your lodgings when I come to Paris, because I wish as little to be in your way as I wish to have you in mine." At the same time, by visiting her there, and appearing with her in public, he had given a certain recognition to her position. There was, therefore, no room for penitence on the one side, for forgiveness on the other, and, through these, for a renewable moral relation between the two. The law took cognizance of these facts, when, some years later, M. Dudevant brought an action for civil divorce, wishing to recover possession of his children. His complicity in what had taken place, and the amicable nature of the separation, were so fully established, that the court, recognizing in the parties neither husband nor wife, followed the pleadings of Nature, and bestowed the children where, in the present instance, they were likely to find the warmest cherishing. Under this decision, she gave up the estate of Nohant to M. Dudevant, who, becoming weary of its management, returned it to her, by a later compromise, in exchange for other property, and the home of her childhood now shelters her declining years.
For the history draws near its close; more travels, more novels, more successes, more sorrows, much fond talk of her friends, many of whom death has endeared to her, a shadowy sketch of her seven years' intimacy with Chopin, a sob over the untimely grave of her married daughter, and the wonderful book is ended. Surely, it tells its own moral; and we, who have woven into short measure the tissue of its relations, need not appear either as the apologist of a very exceptional woman, or as the vindicator of laws inevitable and universal, the mischief of whose violation no human knowledge can justly fathom. The world knows that the life before us is no example for women to follow; but it also knows, we think, that she who led it was on the whole an earnest and sincere person, of ardent imagination and large heart, loving the good as well as the beautiful, even if often mistaken in both,—and above all, honest in her errors and their acknowledgment. Gross injustice has, no doubt, been done her. The creations of her powerful fancy have been taken for images of herself, and the popular mind, delighting to elevate all things beyond the bounds of Nature, has made her a monster. It is clear, we think, that those who have represented her as plunged headlong in a career of vice and dissipation, the companion of all that is low and trivial, have slandered alike her acts and her intentions. Like the rest of us, she is the child of her antecedents and surroundings. Her education was as exceptional as her character. Her marriage brought no moral influence to bear upon her. Her separation opened before her a new and strange way, never to be trodden by any with impunity. Yet we do not believe, that, in the most undesirable circumstances of her life, she ever long lost sight of its ideal object. We do not doubt that her zeal for human progress, her sympathy for the wrongs of the race, and her distrust of existing institutions were deep and sincere. We do not doubt that she was devoted in friendship, disinterested in love, ardent in philanthropy. She has seen the poverty and insincerity of society; she has quarrelled with what she calls the shams of sacred things, the merely conventional marriage, the God of bigotry and hypocrisy, the government of oppression and fraud; but she ends by recognizing and demanding the marriage of heart, the God of enlightened faith, the government of order and progress. Responding to the dominant chord of the nineteenth century, she strove to exalt individuality above sociality, and passion above decorum and usage. Nor would she allow any World's Congress of morals to settle the delicate limits between these opposing vital forces, between what we owe to ourselves and what we owe to others. If there be a divine of passion for which it is noble to suffer and sacrifice, there is also a deeper divine of duty, far transcending the other both in sacrifice and in reward. To this divine, too often obscured to all of us, her later life increasingly renders homage; and to its gentle redemption, our loving, pitying hearts—the more loving, the more pitying for her story—are glad to leave her.
Ave, thou long laborious! Ave, thou worker of wonders, thou embalmer of things most fleeting, most precious, so sealed in thy amber,
"That Nature yet remembers What was so fugitive!"
Thou hast wrought many a picture of wild and guilty passion,—yet methinks thou didst always paint the mean as mean, the generous as generous. Nobler stories, too, thou hast told, and thy Consuelo is as pure as holy charity and lofty art could make her. They complain, that, in the world of thy creations, women are sublime and men weak; may not these things, then, be seen and judged for once through woman's eyes? Much harm hast thou done? Nay, that can only God know. They misquote thee, who veil a life of low intrigue with high-flown dicta borrowed from thy works. Thou art not of their sort,—or, if it be indeed thee they seek to imitate,
"Decipit exemplar vitiis imitabile."
Thy faults have attracted them, not the virtues that redeem them. Shake thyself free of such, and with those who have loved much, and to whom much has been forgiven, go in peace! The shades of the Poets will greet thee as they greeted Dante and Virgil, when, thyself a shade, thou goest towards them. The heart that fainted at Francesca's sorrows will not refuse a throb to thine. For there is a gallery of great women, great with and without sin, where thou must sit, between Sappho and Cleopatra, the Magdalen thy neighbor,—nor yet removed wholly out of sight the Mother of the Great Forgiveness of God.
* * * * *
It was really a magnificent ball! The host had determined that his entertainment should minister to all the senses of his guests, and had succeeded so well that there was only room to regret there were but five senses to be gratified. Only five gates in the fortified wall within which the shy soul intrenches itself, where an attack may be made. And even when these are all carried by storm, there are sometimes inner citadels, impregnable to the magic torrent streaming through the Beautiful Gates, where she may survey intruders with calm disdain. In vain floods of delicious intoxication beat against her lofty retreat: she calmly analyzes the sweet poison, (as she thinks it,) separates and retains the solid fact whose solution had enriched the otherwise barren stream, and indifferently suffers the rest to flow by. These are the souls of philosophers and wise men, who never are drowned, never surprised. But the bountiful host had not cared only for these grand super-sensual people, but had striven perfectly to satisfy the eyes, the ears, the noses, the palates of the more numerous throng of weaker folk, whose inner fortifications were not so well defended. Hundreds of wax candles illuminated the far-reaching saloons with soft lustre. The walls were tinted with the most delicate hues, that afforded a pleasant cool background to the blazing rooms, and relieved the rich colors of the pictures. In all the pictures adorning the walls, the eye revelled in the luxurious coloring, careless of the absence of distinctness of form and grand pure outline. Scenes in the dark heart of tropical forests, the dense green foliage here and there startlingly relieved by a bright scarlet flower or the brilliant plumage of a songless bird,—gorgeous sunsets on American prairies, where the rolling purple ground contrasted with the crimson and golden glories of eventide,—vivid sketches along the Mediterranean, the blue sea embracing the twin sky,—vineyards ripening under the mellow Italian sun,—fields of yellow wheat bending to the sickles of English reapers,—and sometimes, half hidden by the folds of a heavy crimson curtain, one was startled to discover the solemn icebergs and everlasting snows of the Arctic regions. The wood-work of all the rooms was of dark oak, so that each appeared with its brilliantly dressed company to be a flashing gem set in a rich casket. A shadow of music wandered through the air, sometimes blended with the sound of the falling fountain in the green-house, sometimes almost absorbed in the fragrance of the flowers.
For two hours the carriages had been steadily streaming under the archway, and pouring their fair occupants, gauzy as summer, into the blazing saloons. The flashing candelabra drew the poor little moths from the outermost corners into the central vortex of light. Dazzled by the hot radiance, they strove to retreat again into the cool conservatories and side-rooms; but at that moment threads of music that had been carelessly winding through the crowd were caught up by an unseen hand and knotted,—and behold! already the moths found themselves imprisoned in a strong net-work of sound, whose intricate meshes entangled the rooms and the company, and the very light itself. The light, however, was too subtile for long confinement; it slipped along the melodious mazes, and melted into the rich odor that exhaled from the roses and jessamines in the conservatory. The light was a welcome visitor to the hyacinths and roses, obliged to hide in torturing silence in the still green-house, pouring out their passionate dumb life in intensity of fragrance. A life just hovering on the borders of the world, and yet forbidden to enter! But, bathed in the glowing effulgence of the light, this invisible fragrance could be born, and enter the visible world as color. For the fragrance is the unborn soul of the flower; color, that soul arrested in its restless wanderings,—embodied fragrance. Then the colors upon the purple hyacinths and white jessamines, and the flashing gems that rested on white bosoms like glittering drops of ice upon a snow-wreath, and the sheen of rustling silks, and the gilded picture-frames, and the florid carpets, and the twinkling feet on the carpets' roses, and the flushing of roses in the dancers' cheeks, and the radiant heads of the white-robed girls, ran into one another, blending into an intensity of color that dimmed itself. And the music still kept spinning and spinning, and finally wove in the color and fragrance and light with its subtile self; and the background of the woof was the hum and murmur of voices, and the continual rustling of feet. No wonder the poor moths were ensnared in such bewilderment!
Do you pity the captives? But it is a delicious imprisonment, and its fullest delights cannot be realized except by prisoners. In the vast halls of Intellect and Reason one may indeed be master, marching (a little chilled perhaps) with firm step and head erect. But on these enchanted grounds there is no medium between a wretched clearness of insight that reduces every curve to a number of straight lines, all clouds to precipitated vapor, all rainbows to an oblique coincidence between a sunbeam and a drop of water, and a total surrender of self to the influences of the flitting moment.
Away with these fellows, who would force their miserable microscopes before the eyes of these happy gauzy moths!—to-night is only the time for spinning cobwebs. Hold your breath, philosopher, lest you sweep them away too rudely! Alas for the airy cobwebs! In that cool anteroom is a philosopher's broom, hard at work, brushing them remorselessly into a perplexing dilemma,—the frightful increase of the human race.
"If," said the philosopher, emphatically, "if there were any prospect of emigrating to the moon, there would be some hope; but in the present state of affairs we shall soon be eating our own heads off, as the proverb says. Europe is almost exhausted, the ultima Thule of arable territory in America has been reached, Asia barely supports her own immense population; nothing is left but Africa, and she presents a merely hopeful prospect for the future. In a hundred years, what will society do for breadstuffs?"
"Live on rice and potatoes," suggested Anthrops.
"Rash boy, and check the advance of civilization! Have you not reflected that the culture of wheat has been an inseparable adjunct to progress and refinement? The difficulties required to be overcome in preparing the ground and sowing the grain promote prudence, foresight, and care."
"It is certainly hard work enough to dig potatoes," quoth Anthrops.
The philosopher passed over the interruption with a dignified wave of the hand, and continued:—
"The watching and waiting, during its progress to maturity, necessarily produce that patience which is so essential to all scientific effort; and the graceful loveliness of the plant in its various stages of growth materially assists in developing that love for the beautiful which is a necessary element in all harmonious individual or social character. Now what aesthetic culture can you evolve from that stubbed, straggling weed you call the potato?"
The discomfited pupil meekly suggested that he had been considering the dietetic, not the aesthetic properties of the despised vegetable.
"Impossible to separate them, Sir!" cried the philosopher. "If, indeed, you could fill the stomach without the intervention of any process of brain or hand, they might be considered apart. But consider the position of the stomach. Like a Persian monarch, it occupies the centre of the system; despotic from its remote situation and the absolute power it exercises, all parts of the external organism are its ministers: the feet must run for its daily food, the hands must prepare that food with cunning devices, the brain must direct the operations of feet and hands. Now, unlearned youth, wilt thou contend that the degree of refinement evinced by attention or indifference to the niceties of cooking, and so forth, has no bearing upon the character of the man and the race? Take as a standard the method of immediately conveying the food to the mouth, as it has progressed from barbarism. First, fingers; then, pieces of bark; then, rough wooden spoons, knives, two-pronged steel forks; and lastly, an epitome of civilization in each one that is used, five-pronged silver forks, evincing both the increased complexity of the nature that devises the extra prongs, and the refinement of taste that insists upon the silver. It is impossible to use wheat in any of its preparations," ("With five-pronged forks," murmured his attentive pupil parenthetically,) "without at least a piece of bark, for mixing and cooking, if not for eating. But in devouring potatoes, we are—I shudder to think of it—each moment upon the brink of being reduced to the absolute savageness of fingers. No, Sir! the moon and wheat both failing us, there is but one method of escaping universal famine,—peremptory reduction of the population."