The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters

CLXXXVIII. To George Sand

I am answering at once your questions that concern me personally. No! the Prussians did not loot my house. They HOOKED some little things of no importance, a dressing case, a bandbox, some pipes; but on the whole they did no harm. As for my study, it was respected. I had buried a large box full of letters and hidden my voluminous notes on Saint-Antoine. I found all that intact.

The worst of the invasion for me is that it has aged my poor, dear, old mother by ten years! What a change! She can no longer walk alone, and is distressingly weak! How sad it is to see those whom one loves deteriorate little by little!

In order to think no longer on the public miseries or on my own, I have plunged again with fury into Saint-Antoine, and if nothing disturbs me and I continue at this pace, I shall have finished it next winter. I am very eager to read to you the sixty pages which are done. When we can circulate about again on the railroad, do come to see me for a little while. Your old troubadour has waited for you for such a long time! Your letter of this morning has saddened me. What a proud fellow you are and what immense courage you have!

I am not like a lot of people whom I hear bemoaning the war of Paris. For my part, I find it more tolerable than the invasion, there is no more despair possible, and that is what proves once more our abasement. “Ah! God be thanked, the Prussians are there!” is the universal cry of the bourgeois. I put messieurs the workmen into the same pack, and would have them all thrust together into the river! Moreover they are on the way there, and then calm will return. We are going to become a great, flat industrial country like Belgium. The disappearance of Paris (as center of the government) will render France colorless and dull. She will no longer have a heart, a center, nor, I think, a spirit.

As for the Commune, which is about to die out, it is the last manifestation of the Middle Ages. The very last, let us hope!

I hate democracy (at least the kind that is understood in France), that is to say, the exaltation of mercy to the detriment of justice, the negation of right, in a word, antisociability.

The Commune rehabilitates murderers, quite as Jesus pardoned thieves, and they pillage the residences of the rich, because they have been taught to curse Lazarus, who was not a bad rich man, but simply a rich man. “The Republic is above every criticism” is equivalent to that belief: “The pope is infallible!” Always formulas! Always gods!

The god before the last, which was universal suffrage, has just shown his adherents a terrible farce by nominating “the murderers of Versailles.” What shall we believe in, then? In nothing! That is the beginning of wisdom. It was time to have done with “principles” and to take up science, and investigation. The only reasonable thing (I always come back to that) is a government by mandarins, provided the mandarins know something and even that they know many things. The people is an eternal infant, and it will be (in the hierarchy of social elements) always in the last row, since it is number, mass, the unlimited. It is of little matter whether many peasants know how to read and listen no longer to their cure, but it is of great matter that many men like Renan or Littre should be able to live and be listened to! Our safety is now only in a LEGITIMATE ARISTOCRACY, I mean by that, a majority that is composed of more than mere numbers.

If they had been more enlightened, if there had been in Paris more people acquainted with history, we should not have had to endure Gambetta, nor Prussia, nor the Commune. What did the Catholics do to meet a great danger? They crossed themselves while consigning themselves to God and to the saints. We, however, who are advanced, we are going to cry out, “Long live the Republic!” while recalling what happened in ’92; and there was no doubt of its success, observe that. The Prussian existed no longer, they embraced one another with joy and restrained themselves from running to the defiles of the Argonne where there are defiles no longer; never mind, that is according to tradition. I have a friend in Rouen who proposed to a club the manufacture of lances to fight against the breech-loaders!

Ah! it would have been more practical to keep Badinguet, in order to send him to the galleys once peace was made! Austria did not have a revolution after Sadowa, nor Italy after Novara, nor Russia after Sebastopol! But the good French hasten to demolish their house as soon as the chimney has caught fire.

Well, I must tell you an atrocious idea; I am AFRAID that the destruction of the Vendome column is sowing the seeds of a third Empire! Who knows if in twenty or in forty years, a grandson of Jerome will not be our master?

For the moment Paris is completely epileptic. A result of the congestion caused by the siege. France, on the whole, has lived for several years in an extraordinary mental state. The success of la Lanterne and Troppman have been very evident symptoms of it. That folly is the result of too great imbecility, and that imbecility comes from too much bluffing, for because of lying they had become idiotic. They had lost all notion of right and wrong, of beautiful and ugly. Recall the criticism of recent years. What difference did it make between the sublime and the ridiculous? What lack of respect; what ignorance! what a mess! “Boiled or roasted, same thing!” and at the same time, what servility for the opinion of the day, the dish of the fashion!

All was false! False realism, false army, false credit, and even false harlots. They were called “marquises,” while the great ladies called themselves familiarly “cochonnettes.” Those girls who were of the tradition of Sophie Arnould, like Lagier, roused horror. You have not seen the reverence of Saint-Victor for la Paiva. And this falseness (which is perhaps a consequence of romanticism, predominance of passion over form, and of inspiration over rule) was applied especially in the manner of judging. They extolled an actress not as an actress, but as a good mother of a family! They asked art to be moral, philosophy to be clear, vice to be decent, and science to be within the range of the people.

But this is a very long letter. When I start abusing my contemporaries, I never get through with it.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54