Page images
PDF
EPUB

GEORGE SAND

TO-DAY a statue of George Sand is unveiled at La Châtre, a little town of Berry, not far from Nohant, where she lived. She could hardly escape a statue, but the present is not her hour, and the excuses for taking part in to-day's ceremony prove it. Now is the hour of the naturalists and realists, of the great work, as it is called, and solid art of Balzac, which Monsieur Daudet and other disciples are continuing; not of the work of humanitarians and idealists like George Sand and her master Rousseau. The work, whether of idealists or realists, must stand for what it is worth, and must pay the penalty of its defects. George Sand has admirably stated the conditions under which Rousseau's work was produced: Rousseau had within him the love of goodness and the enthusiasm of beauty-and he knew nothing of them to start with. The absence of moral education had prolonged the childhood of his spirit beyond the ordinary term. The reigning philosophy of his time was not moralist; in its hatred of unjust restraints, it left

VOL. IV

245

R 2

out the chapter of duty altogether. Rousseau, more logical and more serious than the rest, came then to perceive that liberty was not all, and that philosophy must be a virtue, a religion, a social law.'

Of George Sand herself, too, we may say that she suffered from the absence of moral education, and had to find out for herself that liberty is not all, and that philosophy must be a virtue, a religion, a social law. Her work, like Rousseau's, has faults due to the conditions under which it arose - - faults of declamation, faults of repetition, faults of extravagance. But do not let us deceive ourselves. Do not let us suppose that the work of Rousseau and George Sand is defective because those writers are inspired by the love of goodness and the desire for beauty, and not, according to the approved recipe at present, by a disinterested curiosity. Do not let us assume that the work of the realists is solid-that the work of Balzac, for instance, will stand, that the work of M. Daudet will stand, because it is inspired by disinterested curiosity. The best work, the work which endures, has not been thus inspired. M. Taine is a profound believer in the motive of disinterested curiosity, a fervent admirer of the work of Balzac. He even puts his name in connection with that of Shakspeare, and appears to think that the two men work with the same motive. He is mistaken. The motive

of Shakspeare, the master-thought at the bottom of Shakspeare's production, is the same as the master-thought at the bottom of the production of Homer and Sophocles, Dante and Molière, Rousseau and George Sand. With all the differences of manner, power, and performance between these makers, the governing motive is the same. It is the motive enunciated in the burden of the famous chorus in the Agamemnon — тò & ev vináтw, 'Let the good prevail.' Until this is recognised, Shakspeare's work is not understood. We connect the word morality with preachers and bores, and no one is so little of a preacher and bore as Shakspeare; but yet, to understand Shakspeare aright, the clue to seize is the morality of Shakspeare. The same with the work of the older French writers, Molière, Montaigne, Rabelais. The master-pressure upon their spirit is the pressure exercised by this same thought: Let the good prevail.' And the result is that they deal with the life of all of us-the life of man in its fulness and greatness.

·

The motive of Balzac is curiosity. The result is that the matter on which he operates bounds him, and he delineates not the life of man but the life of the Frenchman, and of the Frenchman of these our times, the homme sensuel moyen. Balzac deals with this life, delineates it with splendid ability, loves it, and is bounded by it. He has for his public the

lovers and seekers of this life everywhere. His imitators follow eagerly in his track, are more and more subdued by the material in which they work, more and more imprisoned within the life of the average sensual man, until at last we can hardly say the motive of their work is the sheer motive of curiosity, it has become a mingled motive of curiosity, cupidity, lubricity. And these followers of Balzac, in their turn, have some of them high ability, and they are eagerly read by whosoever loves and seeks the life they believe in. Rousseau, with all his faults, yet with the love of goodness and the enthusiasm for beauty moving him, is even to-day more truly alive than Balzac, his work is more than Balzac's a real part of French literature. A hundred years hence, this will be far more apparent than it is now. And a hundred years hence George Sand, the disciple of Rousseau, with much of Rousseau's faults, but yet with Rousseau's great motive inspiring her-George Sand, to whom the French literature of to-day is backward to do honour-George Sand will have established her superiority to Balzac as incontestably as Rousseau. In that strenuous and mixed work of hers, continuing from Indiana, in 1832, to her death in 1876, we may take Mauprat, La Petite Fadette, Jean de la Roche, Valvédre, as characteristic and representative points; and re-reading these novels, we shall feel her power. The novel is a more

« PreviousContinue »