Mauprat, by George Sand


We returned to Sainte–Severe at the expiration of Edmee’s period of mourning. This was the time that had been fixed for our marriage. When we had quitted the province where we had both experienced so many bitter mortifications and such grievous trials, we had imagined that we should never feel any inclination to return. Yet, so powerful are the recollections of childhood and the ties of family life that, even in the heart of an enchanted land which could not arouse painful memories, we had quickly begun to regret our gloomy, wild Varenne, and sighed for the old oaks in the park. We returned, then, with a sense of profound yet solemn joy. Edmee’s first care was to gather the beautiful flowers in the garden and to kneel by her father’s grave and arrange them on it. We kissed the hallowed ground, and there made a vow to strive unceasingly to leave a name as worthy of respect and veneration as his. He had frequently carried this ambition to the verge of weakness, but it was a noble weakness, a sacred vanity.

Our marriage was celebrated in the village chapel, and the festivities were confined to the family; none but Arthur, the abbe, Marcasse, and Patience sat down to our modest banquet. What need had we of the outside world to behold our happiness? They might have believed, perhaps, that they were doing us an honour by covering the blots on our escutcheon with their august presence. We were enough to be happy and merry among ourselves. Our hearts were filled with as much affection as they could hold. We were too proud to ask more from any one, too pleased with one another to yearn for greater pleasure. Patience returned to his sober, retired life, resumed the duties of “great judge” and “treasurer” on certain days of the week. Marcasse remained with me until his death, which happened towards the end of the French Revolution. I trust I did my best to repay his fidelity by an unreserved friendship and an intimacy that nothing could disturb.

Arthur, who had sacrificed a year of his life to us, could not bring himself to abjure the love of his country, and his desire to contribute to its progress by offering it the fruits of his learning and the results of his investigations; he returned to Philadelphia, where I paid him a visit after I was left a widower.

I will not describe my years of happiness with my noble wife; such years beggar description. One could not resign one’s self to living after losing them, if one did not make strenuous efforts to avoid recalling them too often. She gave me six children; four of these are still alive, and all honourably settled in life. I have lived for them, in obedience to Edmee’s dying command. You must forgive me for not speaking further of this loss, which I suffered only ten years ago. I feel it now as keenly as on the first day, and I do not seek to find consolation for it, but to make myself worthy of rejoining the holy comrade of my life in a better world after I have completed my period of probation in this. She was the only woman I ever loved; never did any other win a glance from me or know the pressure of my hand. Such is my nature; what I love I love eternally, in the past, in the present, in the future.

The storms of the Revolution did not destroy our existence, nor did the passions it aroused disturb the harmony of our private life. We gladly gave up a large part of our property to the Republic, looking upon it, indeed, as a just sacrifice. The abbe, terrified by the bloodshed, occasionally abjured this political faith, when the necessities of the hour were too much for the strength of his soul. He was the Girondin of the family.

With no less sensibility, Edmee had greater courage; a woman and compassionate, she sympathized profoundly with the sufferings of all classes. She bewailed the misfortune of her age; but she never failed to appreciate the greatness of its holy fanaticism. She remained faithful to her ideas of absolute equality. At a time when the acts of the Mountain were irritating the abbe, and driving him to despair, she generously sacrificed her own patriotic enthusiasm; and her delicacy would never let her mention in his presence certain names that made him shudder, names for which she herself had a sort of passionate veneration, the like of which I have never seen in any woman.

As for myself, I can truthfully say that it was she who educated me; during the whole course of my life I had the profoundest respect for her judgment and rectitude. When, in my enthusiasm, I was filled with a longing to play a part as a leader of the people, she held me back by showing how my name would destroy any influence I might have; since they would distrust me, and imagine my aim was to use them as an instrument for recovering my rank. When the enemy was at the gates of France, she sent me to serve as a volunteer; when the Republic was overthrown, and a military career came to be merely a means of gratifying ambition, she recalled me, and said:

“You must never leave me again.”

Patience played a great part in the Revolution. He was unanimously chosen as judge of his district. His integrity, his impartiality between castle and cottage, his firmness and wisdom will never be forgotten in Varenne.

During the war I was instrumental in saving M. de la Marche’s life, and helping him to escape to a foreign country.

Such, I believe, said old Mauprat, are all the events of my life in which Edmee played a part. The rest of it is not worth the telling. If there is anything helpful in my story, try to profit by it, young fellows. Hope to be blessed with a frank counsellor, a severe friend; and love not the man who flatters, but the man who reproves. Do not believe too much in phrenology; for I have the murderer’s bump largely developed, and, as Edmee used to say with grim humour, “killing comes natural” to our family. Do not believe in fate, or, at least, never advise any one to tamely submit to it. Such is the moral of my story.

After this old Bernard gave us a good supper, and continued conversing with us for the rest of the evening without showing any signs of discomposure or fatigue. As we begged him to develop what he called the moral of his story a little further, he proceeded to a few general considerations which impressed me with their soundness and good sense.

I spoke of phrenology, he said, not with the object of criticising a system which has its good side, in so far as it tends to complete the series of physiological observations that aim at increasing our knowledge of man; I used the word phrenology because the only fatality that we believe in nowadays is that created by our own instincts. I do not believe that phrenology is more fatalistic than any other system of this kind; and Lavater, who was also accused of fatalism in his time, was the most Christian man the Gospel has ever formed.

Do not believe in any absolute and inevitable fate; and yet acknowledge, in a measure, that we are moulded by instincts, our faculties, the impressions of our infancy, the surroundings of our earliest childhood — in short, by all that outside world which has presided over the development of our soul. Admit that we are not always absolutely free to choose between good and evil, if you would be indulgent towards the guilty — that is to say, just even as Heaven is just; for there is infinite mercy in God’s judgments; otherwise His justice would be imperfect.

What I am saying now is not very orthodox, but, take my word for it, it is Christian, because it is true. Man is not born wicked; neither is he born good, as is maintained by Jean Jacques Rousseau, my beloved Edmee’s old master. Man is born with more or less of passions, with more or less power to satisfy them, with more or less capacity for turning them to a good or bad account in society. But education can and must find a remedy for everything; that is the great problem to be solved, to discover the education best suited to each individual. If it seems necessary that education should be general and in common, does it follow that it ought to be the same for all? I quite believe that if I had been sent to school when I was ten, I should have become a civilized being earlier; but would any one have thought of correcting my violent passions, and of teaching me how to conquer them as Edmee did? I doubt it. Every man needs to be loved before he can be worth anything; but each in a different way; one with never-failing indulgence, another with unflinching severity. Meanwhile, until some one solves the problem of making education common to all, and yet appropriate to each, try to improve one another.

Do you ask me how? My answer will be brief: by loving one another truly. It is in this way — for the manners of a people mould their laws — that you will succeed in suppressing the most odious and impious of all laws, the lex talionis, capital punishment, which is nothing else than the consecration of the principle of fatality, seeing that it supposes the culprit incorrigible and Heaven implacable.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59