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"As soon as he catches sight of me, he begins to paw the ground and rear impatiently. I have trained him to clear a hundred fathoms a second. The sky and the ground disappear when he bears me along under those long vaults formed by the apple-trees in blossom. . . . The least sound of my voice makes him bound like a ball; the smallest bird makes him shudder and hurry along like a child with no experience. He is scarcely five years old, and he is timid and restive. His black crupper shines in the sunshine like a raven's wing." This description has all the relief of an antique figure. Another time, George Sand tells how she has seen Phoebus throw off her robe of clouds and rush along radiant into the pure sky. The following day she writes: "She was eaten by the evil spirits. The dark sprites from Erebus, riding on sombre-looking clouds, threw themselves on her, and it was in vain that she struggled." We might compare these passages with a letter of July 10, 1836, in which she tells how she throws herself, all dressed as she is, into the Indre, and then continues her course through the sunny meadows, and with what voluptuousness she revels in all the joys of primitive life, and imagines herself living in the beautiful times of ancient Greece. There are days and pages when George Sand, under the afflux of physical life, is pagan. Her genius then is that of the greenwood divinities, who, at certain times of the year, were intoxicated by the odour of the meadows and the sap of the woods. If some day we were to have her complete correspondence given to us, I should not be surprised if many people preferred it to her letters to Musset. In the first place, it is not spoiled by that preoccupation which the Venice lovers had, of writing literature. Mingled with the accents of sincere passion, we do not find extraordinary conceptions of paradoxical metaphysics. It is Nature which speaks in these letters, and for that very reason they are none the less sorrowful. They, too, tell us of a veritable martyrdom. We can easily imagine from them that Michel was coarse, despotic, faithless and jealous. We know, too, that more than once George Sand came very near losing all patience with him, so that we can sympathize with her when she wrote to Madame d'Agoult in July, 1836:
"I have had, my fill of great men (excuse the expression). . . . I prefer to see them all in Plutarch, as they would not then cause me any suffering on the human side. May they all be carved in marble or cast in bronze, but may I hear no more about them!" Amen.
What disgusted George Sand with her Michel was his vanity and his craving for adulation. In July, 1837, she had come to the end of her patience, as she wrote to Girerd. It was one of her peculiarities to always take a third person into her confidence. At the time of Sandeau, this third person was Emile Regnault; at the time of Musset, Sainte-Beuve, and now it was Girerd. "I am tired out with my own devotion, and I have fought against my pride with all the strength of my love. I have had nothing but ingratitude and hardness as my recompense. I have felt my love dying away and my soul being crushed, but I am cured at last. . . ." If only she had had all this suffering for the sake of a great man, but this time it was only in imaginary great man.
The influence, though, that he had had over her thought was real, and in a certain way beneficial.
At the beginning she was far from sharing Michel's ideas, and for some of them she felt an aversion which amounted to horror. The dogma of absolute equality seemed an absurdity to her. The Republic, or rather the various republics then in gestation, appeared to her a sort of Utopia, and as she saw each of her friends making "his own little Republic" for himself, she had not much faith in the virtue of that form of government for uniting all French people. One point shocked her above all others in Michel's theories. This politician did not like artists. Just as the Revolution did not find chemists necessary, he considered that the Republic did not need writers, painters and musicians. These were all useless individuals, and the Republic would give them a little surprise by putting a labourer's spade or a shoemaker's awl into their hands. George Sand considered this idea not only barbarous, but silly.
Time works wonders, for we have an indisputable proof that certain of his opinions soon became hers. This proof is the Republican catechism contained in her letters to her son Maurice, who was then twelve years of age. He was at the Lycee Henri IV, in the same class as the princes of Orleans. It is interesting to read what his mother says to him concerning the father of his young school friends. In a letter, written in December, 1835, she says: "It is certainly true that Louis-Philippe is the enemy of humanity. . . ." Nothing less than that! A little later, the enemy of humanity invites the young friends of his son Montpensier to his chateau for the carnival holiday. Maurice is allowed to accept the invitation, as he wishes to, but he is to avoid showing that gratitude which destroys independence. "The entertainments that Montpensier offers you are favours," writes this mother of the Gracchi quite gravely. If he is asked about his opinions, the child is to reply that he is rather too young to have opinions yet, but not too young to know what opinions he will have when he is free to have them. "You can reply," says his mother, "that you are Republican by race and by nature." She then adds a few aphorisms. "Princes are our natural enemies," she says; and then again: "However good-hearted the child of a king may be, he is destined to be a tyrant." All this is certainly a great commotion to make about her little son accepting a glass of fruit syrup and a few cakes at the house of a schoolfellow. But George Sand was then under the domination of "Robespierre in person."
Michel had brought George Sand over to republicanism. Without wishing to exaggerate the service he had rendered her by this, it appears to me that it certainly was one, if we look at it in one way. Rightly or wrongly, George Sand had seen in Michel the man who devotes himself entirely to a cause of general interest. She had learnt something in his school, and perhaps all the more thoroughly because it was in his school. She had learnt that love is in any case a selfish passion. She had learnt that another object must be given to the forces of sympathy of a generous heart, and that such an object may be the service of humanity, devotion to an idea.
This was a turn in the road, and led the writer on to leave the personal style for the impersonal style.
There was another service, too, which Michel had rendered to George Sand. He had pleaded for her in her petition for separation from her husband, and she had won her case.
Ever since George Sand had taken back her independence in 1831, her intercourse with Dudevant had not been disagreeable. She and her husband exchanged cordial letters. When he came to Paris, he made no attempt to stay with his wife, lest he should inconvenience her. "I shall put up at Hippolyte's," he says in his letter to her. "I do not want to inconvenience you in the least, nor to be inconvenienced myself, which is quite natural." He certainly was a most discreet husband. When she started for Italy, he begs her to take advantage of so good an opportunity for seeing such a beautiful country. He was also a husband ready to give good advice. Later on, he invited Pagello to spend a little time at Nohant. This was certainly the climax in this strange story.
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George Sand, Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings -by- Rene Doumic