Matthew Arnold

First published in the Fortnightly Review for June, 1877; reprinted in Mixed Essays, Smith, Elder & Co., 1879.

The text for this edition is from Selections from the prose works of Matthew Arnold, edited with introduction and notes by William Savage Johnson. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

Last updated Sun Apr 19 10:27:35 2015.

To the best of our knowledge, the text of this
work is in the “Public Domain” in Australia.
HOWEVER, copyright law varies in other countries, and the work may still be under copyright in the country from which you are accessing this website. It is your responsibility to check the applicable copyright laws in your country before downloading this work.

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

George Sand1

The months go round, and anniversaries return; on the ninth of June George Sand will have been dead just one year. She was born in 1804; she was almost seventy-two years old when she died. She came to Paris after the revolution of 1830, with her Indiana2 written, and began her life of independence, her life of authorship, her life as George Sand. She continued at work till she died. For forty-five years she was writing and publishing, and filled Europe with her name.

It seems to me but the other day that I saw her, yet it was in the August of 1846, more than thirty years ago. I saw her in her own Berry, at Nohant,3 where her childhood and youth were passed, where she returned to live after she became famous, where she died and has now her grave. There must be many who, after reading her books, have felt the same desire which in those days of my youth, in 1846, took me to Nohant,—the desire to see the country and the places of which the books that so charmed us were full. Those old provinces of the centre of France, primitive and slumbering,—Berry, La Marche, Bourbonnais; those sites and streams in them, of name once so indifferent to us, but to which George Sand gave such a music for our ear,—La Châtre, Ste. Sévère, the Vallée Noire, the Indre, the Creuse; how many a reader of George Sand must have desired, as I did, after frequenting them so much in thought, fairly to set eyes upon them!

I had been reading Jeanne.4 I made up my mind to go and see Toulx Ste. Croix, Boussac, and the Druidical stones on Mont Barlot, the Pierres Jaunâtres.5

I remember looking out Toulx in Cassini’s great map6 at the Bodleian Library. The railway through the centre of France went in those days no farther than Vierzon. From Vierzon to Châteauroux one travelled by an ordinary diligence, from Châteauroux to La Châtre by a humbler diligence, from La Châtre to Boussac by the humblest diligence of all. At Boussac diligence ended, and patache7 began. Between Châteauroux and La Châtre, a mile or two before reaching the latter place, the road passes by the village of Nohant. The Château of Nohant, in which Madame Sand lived, is a plain house by the road-side, with a walled garden. Down in the meadows, not far off, flows the Indre, bordered by trees. I passed Nohant without stopping, at La Châtre I dined and changed diligence, and went on by night up the valley of the Indre, the Vallée Noire, past Ste. Sévère to Boussac. At Ste. Sévère the Indre is quite a small stream. In the darkness we quitted its valley, and when day broke we were in the wilder and barer country of La Marche, with Boussac before us, and its high castle on a precipitous rock over the Little Creuse.

That day and the next I wandered through a silent country of heathy and ferny landes,8 a region of granite boulders, holly, and broom, of copsewood and great chestnut trees; a region of broad light, and fresh breezes and wide horizons. I visited the Pierres Jaunâtres. I stood at sunset on the platform of Toulx Ste. Croix, by the scrawled and almost effaced stone lions,—a relic, it is said, of the English rule,—and gazed on the blue mountains of Auvergne filling the distance, and southeastward of them, in a still further and fainter distance, on what seemed to be the mountains over Le Puy and the high valley of the Loire.

From Boussac I addressed to Madame Sand the sort of letter of which she must in her lifetime have had scores, a letter conveying to her, in bad French, the homage of a youthful and enthusiastic foreigner who had read her works with delight. She received the infliction good-naturedly, for on my return to La Châtre I found a message left at the inn by a servant from Nohant that Madame Sand would be glad to see me if I called. The mid-day breakfast at Nohant was not yet over when I reached the house, and I found a large party assembled. I entered with some trepidation, as well I might, considering how I had got there; but the simplicity of Madame Sand’s manner put me at ease in a moment. She named some of those present; amongst them were her son and daughter, the Maurice and Solange 9 so familiar to us from her books, and Chopin10 with his wonderful eyes. There was at that time nothing astonishing in Madame Sand’s appearance. She was not in man’s clothes, she wore a sort of costume not impossible, I should think (although on these matters I speak with hesitation), to members of the fair sex at this hour amongst ourselves, as an outdoor dress for the country or for Scotland. She made me sit by her and poured out for me the insipid and depressing beverage, boisson fade et mélancolique, as Balzac called it, for which English people are thought abroad to be always thirsting,—tea. She conversed of the country through which I had been wandering, of the Berry peasants and their mode of life, of Switzerland, whither I was going; she touched politely, by a few questions and remarks, upon England and things and persons English,—upon Oxford and Cambridge, Byron, Bulwer. As she spoke, her eyes, head, bearing, were all of them striking; but the main impression she made was an impression of what I have already mentioned,—of simplicity, frank, cordial simplicity. After breakfast she led the way into the garden, asked me a few kind questions about myself and my plans, gathered a flower or two and gave them to me, shook hands heartily at the gate, and I saw her no more. In 1859 M. Michelet11 gave me a letter to her, which would have enabled me to present myself in more regular fashion. Madame Sand was then in Paris. But a day or two passed before I could call, and when I called, Madame Sand had left Paris and had gone back to Nohant. The impression of 1846 has remained my single impression of her.

Of her gaze, form, and speech, that one impression is enough; better perhaps than a mixed impression from seeing her at sundry times and after successive changes. But as the first anniversary of her death12 draws near, there arises again a desire which I felt when she died, the desire, not indeed to take a critical survey of her,—very far from it. I feel no inclination at all to go regularly through her productions, to classify and value them one by one, to pick out from them what the English public may most like, or to present to that public, for the most part ignorant of George Sand and for the most part indifferent to her, a full history and a judicial estimate of the woman and of her writings. But I desire to recall to my own mind, before the occasion offered by her death passes quite away,—to recall and collect the elements of that powerful total-impression which, as a writer, she made upon me; to recall and collect them, to bring them distinctly into view, to feel them in all their depth and power once more. What I here attempt is not for the benefit of the indifferent; it is for my own satisfaction, it is for myself. But perhaps those for whom George Sand has been a friend and a power will find an interest in following me.

Le sentiment de la vie idéale, qui n’est autre que la vie normale telle que nous sommes appelés à la connaître;13—“the sentiment of the ideal life, which is none other than man’s normal life as we shall some day know it,”—those words from one of her last publications give the ruling thought of George Sand, the ground-motive, as they say in music, of all her strain. It is as a personage inspired by this motive that she interests us.

The English public conceives of her as of a novel-writer who wrote stories more or less interesting; the earlier ones objectionable and dangerous, the later ones, some of them, unexceptionable and fit to be put into the hands of the youth of both sexes. With such a conception of George Sand, a story of hers like Consuelo14 comes to be elevated in England into quite an undue relative importance, and to pass with very many people for her typical work, displaying all that is really valuable and significant in the author. Consuelo is a charming story. But George Sand is something more than a maker of charming stories, and only a portion of her is shown in Consuelo. She is more, likewise, than a creator of characters. She has created, with admirable truth to nature, characters most attractive and attaching, such as Edmee, Genevieve, Germain.15 But she is not adequately expressed by them. We do not know her unless we feel the spirit which goes through her work as a whole.

In order to feel this spirit it is not, indeed, necessary to read all that she ever produced. Even three or four only out of her many books might suffice to show her to us, if they were well chosen; let us say, the Lettres d’un Voyageur, Mauprat, François le Champi,16 and a story which I was glad to see Mr. Myers,17 in his appreciative notice of Madame Sand, single out for praise,—Valvèdre.18 In these may be found all the principal elements of their author’s strain: the cry of agony and revolt, the trust in nature and beauty, the aspiration towards a purged and renewed human society.

Of George Sand’s strain, during forty years, these are the grand elements. Now it is one of them which appears most prominently, now it is another. The cry of agony and revolt is in her earlier work only, and passes away in her later. But in the evolution of these three elements,—the passion of agony and revolt, the consolation from nature and from beauty, the ideas of social renewal,—in the evolution of these is George Sand and George Sand’s life and power. Through their evolution her constant motive declares and unfolds itself, that motive which we have set forth above: “the sentiment of the ideal life, which is none other than man’s normal life as we shall one day know it.” This is the motive, and through these elements is its evolution: an evolution pursued, moreover, with the most unfailing resolve, the most absolute sincerity.

The hour of agony and revolt passed away for George Sand, as it passed away for Goethe, as it passes away for their readers likewise. It passes away and does not return; yet those who, amid the agitations, more or less stormy, of their youth, betook themselves to the early works of George Sand, may in later life cease to read them, indeed, but they can no more forget them than they can forget Werther19. George Sand speaks somewhere of her “days of Corinne.”20 Days of Valentine, many of us may in like manner say,—days of Valentine, days of Lélia21, days never to return! They are gone, we shall read the books no more, and yet how ineffaceable is their impression! How the sentences from George Sand’s works of that period still linger in our memory and haunt the ear with their cadences! Grandiose and moving, they come, those cadences, like the sighing of the wind through the forest, like the breaking of the waves on the seashore. Lélia in her cell on the mountain of the Camaldoli—

“Sibyl, Sibyl forsaken; spirit of the days of old, joined to a brain which rebels against the divine inspiration; broken lyre, mute instrument, whose tones the world of today, if it heard them, could not understand, but yet in whose depth the eternal harmony murmurs imprisoned; priestess of death, I, I who feel and know that before now I have been Pythia, have wept before now, before now have spoken, but who cannot recollect, alas, cannot utter the word of healing! Yes, yes! I remember the cavern of truth and the access of revelation; but the word of human destiny, I have forgotten it; but the talisman of deliverance, it is lost from my hand. And yet, indeed, much, much have I seen! and when suffering presses me sore, when indignation takes hold of me, when I feel Prometheus wake up in my heart and beat his puissant wings against the stone which confines him,—oh! then, in prey to a frenzy without a name, to a despair without bounds, I invoke the unknown master and friend who might illumine my spirit and set free my tongue; but I grope in darkness, and my tired arms grasp nothing save delusive shadows. And for ten thousand years, as the sole answer to my cries, as the sole comfort in my agony, I hear astir, over this earth accurst, the despairing sob of impotent agony. For ten thousand years I have cried in infinite space: Truth! Truth! For ten thousand years infinite space keeps answering me: Desire, Desire. O Sibyl forsaken! O mute Pythia! dash then thy head against the rocks of thy cavern, and mingle thy raging blood with the foam of the sea; for thou deemest thyself to have possessed the almighty Word, and these ten thousand years thou art seeking him in vain.”22

Or Sylvia’s cry over Jacques23 by his glacier in the Tyrol—

“When such a man as thou art is born into a world where he can do no true service; when, with the soul of an apostle and the courage of a martyr, he has simply to push his way among the heartless and aimless crowds which vegetate without living; the atmosphere suffocates him and he dies. Hated by sinners, the mock of fools, disliked by the envious, abandoned by the weak, what can he do but return to God, weary with having labored in vain, in sorrow at having accomplished nothing? The world remains in all its vileness and in all its hatefulness; this is what men call, ‘the triumph of good sense over enthusiasm.’"24

Or Jacques himself, and his doctrine—

“Life is arid and terrible, repose is a dream, prudence is useless; mere reason alone serves simply to dry up the heart; there is but one virtue, the eternal sacrifice of oneself.”

Or George Sand speaking in her own person, in the Lettres d’un Voyageur

“Ah, no, I was not born to be a poet, I was born to love. It is the misfortune of my destiny, it is the enmity of others, which have made me a wanderer and an artist. What I wanted was to live a human life; I had a heart, it has been torn violently from my breast. All that has been left me is a head, a head full of noise and pain, of horrible memories, of images of woe, of scenes of outrage. And because in writing stories to earn my bread I could not help remembering my sorrows, because I had the audacity to say that in married life there were to be found miserable beings, by reason of the weakness which is enjoined upon the woman, by reason of the brutality which is permitted to the man, by reason of the turpitudes which society covers and protects with a veil, I am pronounced immoral, I am treated as if I were the enemy of the human race.”25

If only, alas, together with her honesty and her courage, she could feel within herself that she had also light and hope and power; that she was able to lead those whom she loved, and who looked to her for guidance! But no; her very own children, witnesses of her suffering, her uncertainty, her struggles, her evil report, may come to doubt her:—

“My poor children, my own flesh and blood, will perhaps turn upon me and say: ‘You are leading us wrong, you mean to ruin us as well as yourself. Are you not unhappy, reprobated, evil spoken of? What have you gained by these unequal struggles, by these much trumpeted duels of yours with custom and belief? Let us do as others do; let us get what is to be got out of this easy and tolerant world.’

“This is what they will say to me. Or at best, if, out of tenderness for me, or from their own natural disposition, they give ear to my words and believe me, whither shall I guide them? Into what abysses shall we go and plunge ourselves, we three?—for we shall be our own three upon earth, and not one soul with us. What shall I reply to them if they come and say to me; ‘Yes, life is unbearable in a world like this. Let us die together. Show us the path of Bernica, or the lake of Sténio, or the glaciers of Jacques.’"26

Nevertheless the failure of the impassioned seekers of a new and better world proves nothing, George Sand maintains, for the world as it is. Ineffectual they may be, but the world is still more ineffectual, and it is the world’s course which is doomed to ruin, not theirs. “What has it done,” exclaims George Sand in her preface to Guérin’s Centaure, “what has it done for our moral education, and what is it doing for our children, this society shielded with such care?” Nothing. Those whom it calls vain complainers and rebels and madmen, may reply:—

“Suffer us to bewail our martyrs, poets without a country that we are, forlorn singers, well versed in the causes of their misery and of our own. You do not comprehend the malady which killed them; they themselves did not comprehend it. If one or two of us at the present day open our eyes to a new light, is it not by a strange and unaccountable good Providence; and have we not to seek our grain of faith in storm and darkness, combated by doubt, irony, the absence of all sympathy, all example, all brotherly aid, all protection and countenance in high places? Try yourselves to speak to your brethren heart to heart, conscience to conscience! Try it!—but you cannot, busied as you are with watching and patching up in all directions your dykes which the flood is invading. The material existence of this society of yours absorbs all your care, and requires more than all your efforts. Meanwhile the powers of human thought are growing into strength, and rise on all sides around you. Amongst these threatening apparitions, there are some which fade away and reënter the darkness, because the hour of life has not yet struck, and the fiery spirit which quickened them could strive no longer with the horrors of this present chaos; but there are others that can wait, and you will find them confronting you, up and alive, to say: ‘You have allowed the death of our brethren, and we, we do not mean to die.’”

She did not, indeed. How should she faint and fail before her time, because of a world out of joint, because of the reign of stupidity, because of the passions of youth, because of the difficulties and disgusts of married life in the native seats of the homme sensuel moyen, the average sensual man, she who could feel so well the power of those eternal consolers, nature and beauty? From the very first they introduce a note of suavity in her strain of grief and passion. Who can forget the lanes and meadows of Valentine?

George Sand is one of the few French writers who keep us closely and truly intimate with rural nature. She gives us the wild-flowers by their actual names,—snowdrop, primrose, columbine, iris, scabious. Nowhere has she touched her native Berry and its little-known landscape, its campagnes ignorées, with a lovelier charm than in Valentine. The winding and deep lanes running out of the high road on either side, the fresh and calm spots they take us to, “meadows of a tender green, plaintive brooks, clumps of alder and mountain ash, a whole world of suave and pastoral nature,”—how delicious it all is! The grave and silent peasant whose very dog will hardly deign to bark at you, the great white ox, “the unfailing dean of these pastures,” staring solemnly at you from the thicket; the farmhouse “with its avenue of maples, and the Indre, here hardly more than a bright rivulet, stealing along through rushes and yellow iris, in the field below,”—who, I say, can forget them? And that one lane in especial, the lane where Athenais puts her arm out of the side window of the rustic carriage and gathers May from the overarching hedge,—that lane with its startled blackbirds, and humming insects, and limpid water, and swaying water-plants, and shelving gravel, and yellow wagtails hopping, half-pert, half-frightened, on the sand,—that lane with its rushes, cresses, and mint below, its honeysuckle and traveller’s-joy above,—how gladly might one give all that strangely English picture in English, if the charm of Madame Sand’s language did not here defy translation! Let us try something less difficult, and yet something where we may still have her in this her beloved world of “simplicity, and sky, and fields and trees, and peasant life,—peasant life looked at, by preference, on its good and sound side.” Voyez donc la simplicité, vous autres, voyez le ciel et les champs, et les arbres, et les paysans, surtout dans ce qu’ils ont de bon et de vrai.


The introduction to La Mare au Diable will give us what we want. George Sand has been looking at an engraving of Holbein’s Laborer.27 An old thick-set peasant, in rags, is driving his plough in the midst of a field. All around spreads a wild landscape, dotted with a few poor huts. The sun is setting behind a hill; the day of toil is nearly over. It has been a hard one; the ground is rugged and stony, the laborer’s horses are but skin and bone, weak and exhausted. There is but one alert figure, the skeleton Death, who with a whip skips nimbly along at the horses’ side and urges the team. Under the picture is a quotation in old French, to the effect that after the laborer’s life of travail and service, in which he has to gain his bread by the sweat of his brow, here comes Death to fetch him away. And from so rude a life does Death take him, says George Sand, that Death is hardly unwelcome; and in another composition by Holbein, where men of almost every condition,—popes, sovereigns, lovers, gamblers, monks, soldiers,—are taunted with their fear of Death and do indeed see his approach with terror, Lazarus alone is easy and composed, and sitting on his dunghill at the rich man’s door, tells Death that he does not dread him.

With her thoughts full of Holbein’s mournful picture, George Sand goes out into the fields of her own Berry:—

“My walk was by the border of a field which some peasants were getting ready for being sown presently. The space to be ploughed was wide, as in Holbein’s picture. The landscape was vast also; the great lines of green which it contained were just touched with russet by the approach of autumn; on the rich brown soil recent rain had left, in a good many furrows, lines of water, which shone in the sun like silver threads. The day was clear and soft, and the earth gave out a light smoke where it had been freshly laid open by the ploughshare. At the top of the field an old man, whose broad back and severe face were like those of the old peasant of Holbein, but whose clothes told no tale of poverty, was gravely driving his plough of an antique shape, drawn by two tranquil oxen, with coats of a pale buff, real patriarchs of the fallow, tall of make, somewhat thin, with long and backward-sloping horns, the kind of old workmen who by habit have got to be brothers to one another, as throughout our country-side they are called, and who, if one loses the other, refuse to work with a new comrade, and fret themselves to death. People unacquainted with the country will not believe in this affection of the ox for his yoke-fellow. They should come and see one of the poor beasts in a corner of his stable, thin, wasted, lashing with his restless tail his lean flanks, blowing uneasily and fastidiously on the provender offered to him, his eyes forever turned towards the stable door, scratching with his foot the empty place left at his side, sniffing the yokes and bands which his companion has worn, and incessantly calling for him with piteous lowings. The ox-herd will tell you: There is a pair of oxen done for! his brother is dead, and this one will work no more. He ought to be fattened for killing; but we cannot get him to eat, and in a short time he will have starved himself to death.”28

How faithful and close it is, this contact of George Sand with country things, with the life of nature in its vast plenitude and pathos! And always in the end the human interest, as is right, emerges and predominates. What is the central figure in the fresh and calm rural world of George Sand? It is the peasant. And what is the peasant? He is France, life, the future. And this is the strength of George Sand, and of her second movement, after the first movement of energy and revolt was over, towards nature and beauty, towards the country, towards primitive life, the peasant. She regarded nature and beauty, not with the selfish and solitary joy of the artist who but seeks to appropriate them for his own purposes, she regarded them as a treasure of immense and hitherto unknown application, as a vast power of healing and delight for all, and for the peasant first and foremost. Yes she cries, the simple life is the true one! but the peasant, the great organ of that life, “the minister in that vast temple which only the sky is vast enough to embrace,” the peasant is not doomed to toil and moil in it forever, overdone and unawakened, like Holbein’s laborer, and to have for his best comfort the thought that death will set him free. Non, nous n’avons plus affaire à la mort, mais à la vie.29 “Our business henceforth is not with death, but with life.”

Joy is the great lifter of men, the great unfolder. Il faut que la vie soit bonne afin qu’elle soit féconde. “For life to be fruitful, life must be felt as a blessing”:—

“Nature is eternally young, beautiful, bountiful. She pours out beauty and poetry for all that live, she pours it out on all plants, and the plants are permitted to expand in it freely. She possesses the secret of happiness, and no man has been able to take it away from her. The happiest of men would be he who possessing the science of his labor and working with his hands, earning his comfort and his freedom by the exercise of his intelligent force, found time to live by the heart and by the brain, to understand his own work and to love the work of God. The artist has satisfactions of this kind in the contemplation and reproduction of nature’s beauty; but when he sees the affliction of those who people this paradise of earth, the upright and human-hearted artist feels a trouble in the midst of his enjoyment. The happy day will be when mind, heart, and hands shall be alive together, shall work in concert; when there shall be a harmony between God’s munificence and man’s delight in it. Then, instead of the piteous and frightful figure of Death, skipping along whip in hand by the peasant’s side in the field, the allegorical painter will place there a radiant angel, sowing with full hands the blessed grain in the smoking furrow.

“And the dream of a kindly, free, poetic, laborious, simple existence for the tiller of the field is not so hard to realize that it must be banished into the world of chimæras. Virgil’s sweet and sad cry: ‘O happy peasants, if they but knew their own blessings!’ is a regret; but like all regrets, it is at the same time a prediction. The day will come when the laborer may be also an artist;—not in the sense of rendering nature’s beauty, a matter which will be then of much less importance, but in the sense of feeling it. Does not this mysterious intuition of poetic beauty exist in him already in the form of instinct and of vague reverie?”30

It exists in him, too, adds Madame Sand, in the form of that nostalgia, that homesickness, which forever pursues the genuine French peasant if you transplant him. The peasant has here, then, the elements of the poetic sense, and of its high and pure satisfactions.

“But one part of the enjoyment which we possess is wanting to him, a pure and lofty pleasure which is surely his due, minister that he is in that vast temple which only the sky is vast enough to embrace. He has not the conscious knowledge of his sentiment. Those who have sentenced him to servitude from his mother’s womb, not being able to debar him from reverie, have debarred him from reflection.

“Well, for all that, taking the peasant as he is, incomplete and seemingly condemned to an eternal childhood, I yet find him a more beautiful object than the man in whom his acquisition of knowledge has stifled sentiment. Do not rate yourselves so high above him, many of you who imagine that you have an imprescriptible right to his obedience; for you yourselves are the most incomplete and the least seeing of men. That simplicity of his soul is more to be loved than the false lights of yours.”31

In all this we are passing from the second element in George Sand to the third,—her aspiration for a social new-birth, a renaissance sociale. It is eminently the ideal of France; it was hers. Her religion connected itself with this ideal. In the convent where she was brought up, she had in youth had an awakening of fervent mystical piety in the Catholic form. That form she could not keep. Popular religion of all kinds, with its deep internal impossibilities, its “heaven and hell serving to cover the illogical manifestations of the Divinity’s apparent designs respecting us,” its “God made in our image, silly and malicious, vain and puerile, irritable or tender, after our fashion,” lost all sort of hold upon her:—

“Communion with such a God is impossible to me, I confess it. He is wiped out from my memory: there is no corner where I can find him any more. Nor do I find such a God out of doors either; he is not in the fields and waters, he is not in the starry sky. No, nor yet in the churches where men bow themselves; it is an extinct message, a dead letter, a thought that has done its day. Nothing of this belief, nothing of this God, subsists in me any longer.”32

She refused to lament over the loss, to esteem it other than a benefit:—

“It is an addition to our stock of light, this detachment from the idolatrous conception of religion. It is no loss of the religious sense, as the persisters in idolatry maintain. It is quite the contrary, it is a restitution of allegiance to the true Divinity. It is a step made in the direction of this Divinity, it is an abjuration of the dogmas which did him dishonor.”33

She does not attempt to give of this Divinity an account much more precise than that which we have in Wordsworth,—“a presence that disturbs me with the joy of animating thoughts.”34

“Everything is divine (she says), even matter; everything is superhuman, even man. God is everywhere; he is in me in a measure proportioned to the little that I am. My present life separates me from him just in the degree determined by the actual state of childhood of our race. Let me content myself, in all my seeking, to feel after him, and to possess of him as much as this imperfect soul can take in with the intellectual sense I have.”35

And she concludes:—

“The day will come when we shall no longer talk about God idly, nay, when we shall talk about him as little as possible. We shall cease to set him forth dogmatically, to dispute about his nature. We shall put compulsion on no one to pray to him, we shall leave the whole business of worship within the sanctuary of each man’s conscience. And this will happen when we are really religious.”36

Meanwhile the sense of this spirit or presence which animates us, the sense of the divine, is our stronghold and our consolation. A man may say of it: “It comes not by my desert, but the atom of divine sense given to me nothing can rob me of.” Divine sense,—the phrase is a vague one; but it stands to Madame Sand for that to which are to be referred “all the best thoughts and the best actions of life, suffering endured, duty achieved, whatever purifies our existence, whatever vivifies our love.”

Madame Sand is a Frenchwoman, and her religion is therefore, as we might expect, with peculiar fervency social. Always she has before her mind “the natural law which will have it (the italics are her own) that the species man cannot subsist and prosper but by association.” Whatever else we may be in creation, we are, first and foremost, “at the head of the species which are called by instinct, and led by necessity, to the life of association.” The word love—the great word, as she justly says, of the New Testament—acquires from her social enthusiasm a peculiar significance to her:—

“The word is a great one, because it involves infinite consequences. To love means to help one another, to have joint aspirations, to act in concert, to labor for the same end, to develop to its ideal consummation the fraternal instinct, thanks to which mankind have brought the earth under their dominion. Every time that he has been false to this instinct which is his law of life, his natural destiny, man has seen his temples crumble, his societies dissolve, his intellectual sense go wrong, his moral sense die out. The future is founded on love.”37

So long as love is thus spoken of in the general, the ordinary serious Englishman will have no difficulty in inclining himself with respect while Madame Sand speaks of it. But when he finds that love implies, with her, social equality, he will begin to be staggered. And in truth for almost every Englishman Madame Sand’s strong language about equality, and about France as the chosen vessel for exhibiting it, will sound exaggerated. “The human ideal,” she says, “as well as the social ideal, is to achieve equality.”38 France, which has made equality its rallying cry, is therefore “the nation which loves and is loved,” la nation qui aime et qu’on aime. The republic of equality is in her eyes “an ideal, a philosophy, a religion.” She invokes the “holy doctrine of social liberty and fraternal equality, ever reappearing as a ray of love and truth amidst the storm.” She calls it “the goal of man and the law of the future.” She thinks it the secret of the civilization of France, the most civilized of nations. Amid the disasters of the late war she cannot forbear a cry of astonishment at the neutral nations, insensibles à l’égorgement d’une civilisation comme la nôtre, “looking on with insensibility while a civilization such as ours has its throat cut.” Germany, with its stupid ideal of corporalism and Kruppism, is contrasted with France, full of social dreams, too civilized for war, incapable of planning and preparing war for twenty years, she is so incapable of hatred;—nous sommes si incapables de haïr! We seem to be listening, not to George Sand, but to M. Victor Hugo, half genius, half charlatan; to M. Victor Hugo, or even to one of those French declaimers in whom we come down to no genius and all charlatan.

The form of such outbursts as we have quoted will always be distasteful to an Englishman. It is to be remembered that they came from Madame Sand under the pressure and anguish of the terrible calamities of 1870. But what we are most concerned with, and what Englishmen in general regard too little, is the degree of truth contained in these allegations that France is the most civilized of nations, and that she is so, above all, by her “holy doctrine of equality.” How comes the idea to be so current; and to be passionately believed in, as we have seen, by such a woman as George Sand? It was so passionately believed in by her, that when one seeks, as I am now seeking, to recall her image, the image is incomplete if the passionate belief is kept from appearing.

I will not, with my scanty space, now discuss the belief; but I will seek to indicate how it must have commended itself, I think, to George Sand. I have somewhere called France “the country of Europe where the people is most alive.”39 The people is what interested George Sand. And in France the people is, above all, the peasant. The workman in Paris or in other great towns of France may afford material for such pictures as those which M. Zola40 has lately given us in L’Assommoir—pictures of a kind long ago labelled by Madame Sand as “the literature of mysteries of iniquity, which men of talent and imagination try to bring into fashion.” But the real people in France, the foundation of things there, both in George Sand’s eyes and in reality, is the peasant. The peasant was the object of Madame Sand’s fondest predilections in the present, and happiest hopes in the future. The Revolution and its doctrine of equality had made the French peasant. What wonder, then, if she saluted the doctrine as a holy and paramount one?

And the French peasant is really, so far as I can see, the largest and strongest element of soundness which the body social of any European nation possesses. To him is due that astonishing recovery which France has made since her defeat, and which George Sand predicted in the very hour of ruin. Yes, in 1870 she predicted ce reveil général qui va suivre, à la grande surprise des autres nations, l’espèce d’agonie où elles nous voient tombés,41 “the general rearising which, to the astonishment of other nations, is about to follow the sort of agony in which they now see us lying.” To the condition, character, and qualities of the French peasant this recovery is in the main due. His material well-being is known to all of us. M. de Laveleye,42 the well-known economist, a Belgian and a Protestant, says that France, being the country of Europe where the soil is more divided than anywhere except in Switzerland and Norway, is at the same time the country where well-being is most widely spread, where wealth has of late years increased most, and where population is least outrunning the limits which, for the comfort and progress of the working classes themselves, seem necessary. George Sand could see, of course, the well-being of the French peasant, for we can all see it.

But there is more. George Sand was a woman, with a woman’s ideal of gentleness, of “the charm of good manners,” as essential to civilization. She has somewhere spoken admirably of the variety and balance of forces which go to make up true civilization; “certain forces of weakness, docility, attractiveness, suavity, are here just as real forces as forces of vigor, encroachment, violence, or brutality.” Yes, as real forces, although Prince Bismarck cannot see it; because human nature requires them, and, often as they may be baffled, and slow as may be the process of their asserting themselves, mankind is not satisfied with its own civilization, and keeps fidgeting at it and altering it again and again, until room is made for them. George Sand thought the French people,—meaning principally, again, by the French people the people properly so called, the peasant,—she thought it “the most kindly, the most amiable, of all peoples.” Nothing is more touching than to read in her Journal, written in 1870, while she was witnessing what seemed to be “the agony of the Latin races,” and undergoing what seemed to be the process of “dying in a general death of one’s family, one’s country, and one’s nation,” how constant is her defence of the people, the peasant, against her Republican friends. Her Republican friends were furious with the peasant; accused him of stolidity, cowardice, want of patriotism; accused him of having given them the Empire, with all its vileness; wanted to take away from him the suffrage. Again and again does George Sand take up his defence, and warn her friends of the folly and danger of their false estimate of him. “The contempt of the masses, there,” she cries, “is the misfortune and crime of the present moment!”43 “To execrate the people,” she exclaims again, “is real blasphemy; the people is worth more than we are.”

If the peasant gave us the Empire, says Madame Sand, it was because he saw the parties of liberals disputing, gesticulating, and threatening to tear one another asunder and France too; he was told the Empire is peace, and he accepted the Empire. The peasant was deceived, he is uninstructed, he moves slowly; but he moves, he has admirable virtues, and in him, says George Sand, is our life:—

“Poor Jacques Bonhomme! accuse thee and despise thee who will; for my part I pity thee, and in spite of thy faults I shall always love thee. Never will I forget how, a child, I was carried asleep on thy shoulders, how I was given over to thy care and followed thee everywhere, to the field, the stall, the cottage. They are all dead, those good old people who have borne me in their arms; but I remember them well, and I appreciate at this hour, to the minutest detail, the pureness, the kindness, the patience, the good humor, the poetry, which presided over that rustic education amidst disasters of like kind with those which we are undergoing now. Why should I quarrel with the peasant because on certain points he feels and thinks differently from what I do? There are other essential points on which we may feel eternally at one with him,—probity and charity.”44

Another generation of peasants had grown up since that first revolutionary generation of her youth, and equality, as its reign proceeded, had not deteriorated but improved them.

“They have advanced greatly in self-respect and well-being, these peasants from twenty years old to forty: they never ask for anything. When one meets them they no longer take off their hat. If they know you they come up to you and hold out their hand. All foreigners who stay with us are struck with their good bearing, with their amenity, and the simple, friendly, and polite ease of their behavior. In presence of people whom they esteem they are, like their fathers, models of tact and politeness; but they have more than that mere sentiment of equality which was all that their fathers had,—they have the idea of equality, and the determination to maintain it. This step upwards they owe to their having the franchise. Those who would fain treat them as creatures of a lower order dare not now show this disposition to their face; it would not be pleasant.”45

Mr. Hamerton’s46 interesting book about French life has much, I think, to confirm this account of the French peasant. What I have seen of France myself (and I have seen something) is fully in agreement with it. Of a civilization and an equality which makes the peasant thus human, gives to the bulk of the people well-being, probity, charity, self-respect, tact, and good manners, let us pardon Madame Sand if she feels and speaks enthusiastically. Some little variation on our own eternal trio of Barbarians, Philistines, Populace,47 or on the eternal solo of Philistinism among our brethren of the United States and the Colonies, is surely permissible.

Where one is more inclined to differ from Madame Sand is in her estimate of her Republican friends of the educated classes. They may stand, she says, for the genius and the soul of France; they represent its “exalted imagination and profound sensibility,” while the peasant represents its humble, sound, indispensable body. Her protégé, the peasant, is much ruder with those eloquent gentlemen, and has his own name for one and all of them, l’avocat, by which he means to convey his belief that words are more to be looked for from that quarter than seriousness and profit. It seems to me by no means certain but that the peasant is in the right.

George Sand herself has said admirable things of these friends of hers; of their want of patience, temper, wisdom; of their “vague and violent way of talking”; of their interminable flow of “stimulating phrases, cold as death.” Her own place is of course with the party and propaganda of organic change. But George Sand felt the poetry of the past; she had no hatreds; the furies, the follies, the self-deceptions of secularist and revolutionist fanatics filled her with dismay. They are, indeed, the great danger of France, and it is amongst the educated and articulate classes of France that they prevail. If the educated and articulate classes in France were as sound in their way as the inarticulate peasant is in his, France would present a different spectacle. Not “imagination and sensibility” are so much required from the educated classes of France, as simpler, more serious views of life; a knowledge how great a part conduct (if M. Challemel–Lacour48 will allow me to say so) fills in it; a better example. The few who see this, such as Madame Sand among the dead, and M. Renan49 among the living, perhaps awaken on that account, amongst quiet observers at a distance, all the more sympathy; but in France they are isolated.

All the later work of George Sand, however, all her hope of genuine social renovation, take the simple and serious ground so necessary. “The cure for us is far more simple than we will believe. All the better natures amongst us see it and feel it. It is a good direction given by ourselves to our hearts and consciences;—une bonne direction donnée par nous-mêmes à nos coeurs et à nos consciences.”50 These are among the last words of her Journal of 1870.

Whether or not the number of George Sand’s works—always fresh, always attractive, but poured out too lavishly and rapidly—is likely to prove a hindrance to her fame, I do not care to consider. Posterity, alarmed at the way in which its literary baggage grows upon it, always seeks to leave behind it as much as it can, as much as it dares,—everything but masterpieces. But the immense vibration of George Sand’s voice upon the ear of Europe will not soon die away. Her passions and her errors have been abundantly talked of. She left them behind her, and men’s memory of her will leave them behind also. There will remain of her to mankind the sense of benefit and stimulus from the passage upon earth of that large and frank nature, of that large and pure utterance,—the the large utterance of the early gods. There will remain an admiring and ever widening report of that great and ingenuous soul, simple, affectionate, without vanity, without pedantry, human, equitable, patient, kind. She believed herself, she said, “to be in sympathy, across time and space, with a multitude of honest wills which interrogate their conscience and try to put themselves in accord with it.” This chain of sympathy will extend more and more.

It is silent, that eloquent voice! it is sunk, that noble, that speaking head! we sum up, as we best can, what she said to us, and we bid her adieu. From many hearts in many lands a troop of tender and grateful regrets converge towards her humble churchyard in Berry. Let them be joined by these words of sad homage from one of a nation which she esteemed, and which knew her very little and very ill. Her guiding thought, the guiding thought which she did her best to make ours too, “the sentiment of the ideal life, which is none other than man’s normal life as we shall one day know it,” is in harmony with words and promises familiar to that sacred place where she lies. Exspectat resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi sæculi.51

1 Amandine Lucile Aurore Dudevant, née Dupin (1804–76), was the most prolific woman writer of France. The pseudonym George Sand was a combination of George, the typical Berrichon name, and Sand, abbreviated from (Jules) Sandeau, in collaboration with whom she began her literary career.

2 Indiana, George Sand’s first novel, 1832.

3 Nohant is a village of Berry, one of the ancient provinces of France, comprising the modern departments of Cher and Indre. The Indre and the Creuse are its chief rivers. Vierzon, Châteauroux, Le Châtre, and Ste.-Sévère are towns of the province. Le Puy is in the neighboring department of Haute–Loire, and La Marche is in the department of Vosges. For the Vallée Noire see Sand’s The Miller of Angibault, chap. III, etc.

4 Jeanne. The first of a series of novels in which the pastoral element prevails. It was published in 1844.

5 The Pierres Jaunâtres (or Jomâtres) is a district in the mountains of the Creuse (see Jeanne, Prologue). Touix Ste.-Croix is a ruined Gallic town (Jeanne, chap. I). For the druidical stones of Mont Barlot see Jeanne, chap. VII.

6 Cassini’s great map. A huge folio volume containing 183 charts of the various districts of France, published by Mess. Maraldi and Cassini de Thury, Paris, 1744.

7 For an interesting description of the patache, or rustic carriage, see George Sand’s Miller of Angibault, chap. II.

8 landes. An infertile moor.

9 Maurice and Solange. See, for example, the Letters of a Traveller.

10 Chopin. George Sand’s friendship for the composer Chopin began in 1837.

11 Jules Michelet (1798–1874), French historian.

12 her death. George Sand died at Nohant, June 8, 1876.

13. From the Journal d’un Voyageur, September 15, 1870, ed. 1871, p. 2.

14 Consuelo (1842–44) is George Sand’s best-known novel.

15 Edmée, Geneviève, Germain. Characters in the novels Mauprat, André, and La Mare au Diable.

16 Lettres d’un Voyageur, Mauprat, François le Champi. Published in 1830–36, 1836, and 1848.

17 F.W.H. Myers (1843–1901), poet and essayist. See his Essays, Modern, ed. 1883, pp. 70–103.

18 Valvèdre. Published in 1861.

19 Werther. See The Contribution of the Celts, Selections, Note 1, p. 182.

20 Corinne. An esthetic romance (1807) by Mme. de Staël.

21 Valentine (1832), George Sand’s second novel, pointed out “the dangers and pains of an ill-assorted marriage.” Lélia (1833) was a still more outspoken diatribe against society and the marriage law.

22 From Lélia, chap. LXVII.

23 Jacques (1834), the hero of which is George Sand in man’s disguise, sets forth the author’s doctrine of free love.

24 From Jacques, letter 95.

25 From Lettres d’un Voyageur, letter 9.

26 Ibid., à Rollinat, September, 1834.

27 Hans Holbein, the younger (1497–1543), German artist.

28 From La Mare au Diable, chap. 1.

29 Ibid., The Author to the Reader.

30 Ibid., chap. 1.

31 Ibid., chap. 1.

32 From Impressions et Souvenirs, ed. 1873, p. 135.

33 Ibid., p. 137.

34 From Wordsworth’s Lines Composed a few Miles above Tintern Abbey.

35 From Impressions et Souvenirs, p. 136.

36 Ibid., p. 139.

37 Ibid., p. 269.

38 Ibid., p. 253.

39 See The Function of Criticism, Selections, p. 29.

40 *Émile Zola (1840–1902), French novelist, was the apostle of the “realistic” or “naturalistic” school. L’Assommoir (1877) depicts especially the vice of drunkenness.

41 From Journal d’un Voyageur, February 10, 1871, p. 305.

42 *Émile Louis Victor de Laveleye (1822–92), Belgian economist. He was especially interested in bimetallism, primitive property, and nationalism.

43 From Journal d’un Voyageur, December 21, 1870, p. 202.

44 Ibid., December 21, 1870, p. 220.

45 Ibid., February 7, 1871, p. 228.

46 Round my House: Notes of Rural Life in France in Peace and War (1876), by Philip Gilbert Hamerton. See especially chapters XI and xii.

47 Barbarians, Philistines, Populace. Arnold’s designations for the aristocratic, middle, and lower classes of England in Culture and Anarchy.

48 Paul Amand Challemel–Lacour (1827–96), French statesman and man of letters.

49 See The Function of Criticism, Selections, Note 4, p. 44.

50 From Journal d’un Voyageur, February 10, 1871, p. 309.

51 The closing sentence of the Nicene Creed with expecto changed to exspectat. For the English translation see Morning Prayer in the Episcopal Prayer Book; for the Greek and Latin see Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, II, 58, 59.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005