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Sand would have society make open to every husband. The offspring of the adultery is the heroine of the story, and she brings about a happy reconciliation between her father and the husband of her mother. An unphilosophical irritation has kept them asunder for years; but Gilberte, the heroine, when driven by a storm to seek for shelter, happens to see a portrait of her mother in the house of what, speaking conventionally, we may call the injured husband, and she is struck by its likeness to a miniature which she has often seen in the hands of her father, who, contrary to the usual practice in such cases, has brought her up. "Her modest imagination refusing to comprehend the possibility of an adultery," she is naturally puzzled ; but she takes advantage of the occasion to make friends with the first possessor of the original, and at length gets him to pardon the second possessor. Friendship survives the conflict and consequences of youthful passion, and they are all happy at the end of the book. This, then, is the moral: forgive and forget if you can; or if not, shoot yourself, so as not to annoy any one. If we compare this with the standard of ordinary society, it seems absurd; if with a high standard, it seems lamentably false; and the whole doctrine of elective affinities on which it rests is worse than ridiculous, but it bears a sort of relationship to many thoughts and feelings which we cannot call absolutely untrue or wholly depraved. It belongs to that flux of opinion which is the great characteristic of modern society, when men are striving to gain a substitute for the construction which a past age put on Christianity, and to incorporate their religious traditions and feelings with a mass of thoughts at present utterly confused-partly derived from the notions of antiquity, partly the growth of political changes, and partly the fruit of a real progress in a scientific knowledge both of the moral and the physical world.
It is because there is something elevated in her tone, and because she encounters great and embarrassing problems, that George Sand has made herself a name. But the minor charms, and the minor merits of her writings, ought never to be forgotten. And while we are speaking of her as a portrayer of passion, we cannot omit to notice the many subordinate ways in which she shows her knowledge, her power of reflection, and her sense of beauty with regard to love. Even the physical minutiæ, the magnetism of attraction, the nervous crises, the effect of dress, carriage, and posture, which she notes so carefully, and introduces so effectively, although they belong to the sensual side of love, indicate great power of observation. She constantly makes general remarks on the situation of lovers in the different stages of passion which betray accurate knowledge
and a faculty of sympathetic penetration. Lucrezia Floriani abounds in such remarks. When, for instance, Karol knows that his love is returned, he begins to tremble at his own success, and think his victory had been too easy. "Karol feared to see Lucrezia's love cease as quickly as it had been kindled; and like all men in such circumstances, he got alarmed at the impulsive haste which he had so much admired and blessed." Sometimes a little touch of sentimentalism is thrown in so as to double and complicate the feelings. When Mauprat receives his first kiss from Edmeé: "This kiss, the first a woman had given me since my infancy, recalled to me, I know not how or why, the last kiss of my mother; and instead of pleasure, it produced in me a profound sadness." But the power of George Sand goes much further. She has shown that she can do what so few have ever really done; she can describe young, fresh, pure love so as to make it seem something new, true to life, and yet her own. There is perhaps no passage in her works which, taken by itself, can rival the beautiful account of Bénédict's feelings for Valentine, as he sat with her and her friend on a summer day by a sheet of water, and watched her image alternately formed and broken on the rippling surface. No one without a real gift of native poetry could have conceived or written it.
Next to her treatment of the passion of love, her socialism is the most salient feature in George Sand's writings. She repeatedly proclaims herself a socialist; and in Le Péché de M. Antoine she has given the world a novel in which her doctrines on this head are supposed to be embodied. But frequently as she recurs to the topic in her writings, we must not ask too narrowly what her creed is, or what she means by socialism. In the first place, she uses the privilege of female philosophers to avoid bringing any point to a direct and definite issue. But she is also checked in her communistic aspirations by her common sense; and in no direction is her combination of sentimentalism with a sound appreciation of actual life so visible as in that of her socialism. She is alternately very untrue and very true, very blind and very clear-sighted. In her great socialist novel, she lays down two propositions, which, if taken out of the haze of fine writing, are simply absurd. The first is, that a capitalist, by setting up manufactures in a poor neighbourhood, and einploying work-people, ruins every body about him. The second is, that a proprietor who never interferes with, or is on his guard against the poor, is never robbed. If any one has lived in the country for a fortnight and believes either of these two statements, all reasoning would be powerless to convince him of his error. No wonder that George Sand, who owns she could never manage her own property, and tells us that she never exactly
ascertained which were her fields and which were not, and whose notions of the position of a rich man in the country are of a corresponding dimness, should let her pen loose in dressing up the fancies of a socialist paradise. But, on the other hand, she never loses her common sense altogether. There is a remarkable passage in Mauprat in which she expresses her recognition of the solidity of society. It is, she says, a strange building; but it all coheres, and none but a great genius must think of stirring a stone in it. In her autobiography, again, she tells us that she meditated over her own practical duties on the subject of giving her goods to the poor; and she came to the conclusion, that charity did as much harm as good. The upshot of all this is, that the socialism which she recommends is remanded to a future far enough off to be comfortably safe. No model socialist in the novels sets about doing any thing at once. In Consuelo, the mad count and his bride decide that after a long interval of time Consuelo shall be the instrument of bestowing unascertained blessings on some unknown persons; and Le Péché de M. Antoine ends by the socialist marquis informing the hero and heroine that he is going to bequeath them a property on which he has already laid out a garden, where the peasants of the vicinity, when they have all become good, pious, and wise, are to walk gratis. This may be nonsensical and visionary, but its harmlessness is extreme. There can be nothing dangerous in socialism like this.
For the purpose of studying George Sand as an author, it is much more important to look at the sources than the results of her socialism. The opinions are of little value; but it is instructive to see how she came to hold them. The situation of France during the last twenty years has certainly had something to do with the formation of her creed. Not only is the contrast between luxury and poverty, palaces and hovels, as marked in Paris as in any spot of civilised Europe; but in France, as Bénédict complains in Valentine, the notion of citizenship has been lost. If an Englishman feels a desire to remove social evils, he has at least got the advantage of a definite starting-point in society. But in France this is far less the case; and although there is undoubtedly something morbid in such moanings against the existing state of things as are put into the mouth of Bénédict, yet an Englishman may be apt to forget how much he is supported by the consciousness that he forms part of a system of government which he is proud of, and how powerfully the alienation of honest minds from a régime like that of Louis Philippe must have tended to produce inaction and apathy. George Sand came to Paris with a sense of personal injury, and an aversion to the constitution of society,
which, for some reason or other, she evidently thought pressed hardly on her. When she arrived there, she fell in with many writings, and many persons, of a socialistic character; and it was very natural that she should readily accept a scheme which satisfied her imagination, stimulated her enthusiasm, and gave an expression at once to her personal dissatisfaction and to the dissatisfaction pervading the society around her. It also appealed to a very different class of her sympathies-to her love of the country and of the dwellers in the country. She delights in telling us that the poor and the uneducated are often much wiser and nobler than the rich; and she has twice drawn, in the Jean Jappeloup of Le Péché de M. Antoine, and the Patience of Mauprat, the character of such a peasant-a thoughtful, benevolent, eccentric man, the terror of the selfish rich, the darling of the socialist heroines, and the champion of the surrounding poor. When she is guided, not by her feelings, but by her experience, and speaks of the real peasants she had known in Berry, she very honestly describes them as cunning, superstitious, and pigheaded. But she could not be happy without her ideal peasant also; and as it cannot be denied that there are exceptional peasants, she does but magnify and clothe with a sentimental glory virtues that either exist, or might very possibly do so.
George Sand talks so much of art and of artists, she alludes to works of art so repeatedly and so enthusiastically, and she has made so many of her novels turn on the adventures of persons who have sought a livelihood in some kind of artistic occupation, that we might easily imagine a love and knowledge of what we technically term 'art' to be a prominent part in her intellectual culture. But when we examine what she has written, we find that what she really cares for in art is a certain mode of living which she conceives artists at liberty to enjoy, and that her appreciation of the works of great masters is very slight, her judgment very untrustworthy, and her acquaintance with the principles and history of art very superficial. She has given us a most highly-wrought and seductive account of the labours of the Maitres mosaïstes; she has brought before us their noble patience, their honest enthusiasm, their disinterested carefulness of execution; but of any thing like intelligent criticism on their productions there is not a trace. The compositions of these Maitres mosaïstes still exist in Venice, and they are indisputably of a very poor and second-rate order of merit. But the quality of their performance is a matter of utter indifference to George Sand; her only interest is in their biography. When she gives an account of the works of a really great artist, as, for instance, when in her Lettres d'un Voyageur she speaks of Canova, the writing is as
graceful as her writing always is; but the criticism is of the most commonplace kind. Her admiration of what excellence she has seen in architecture, sculpture, and painting, is genuine; but it is uninstructed. She is an imaginative observer, but not a connoisseur.
Artists, not art, have been her real study; and for many years of her life, as we learn from her autobiography, artists have been her constant companions. She delights in them, because she believes that they are more independent of society than any other set of people: they live, or are supposed to live, in their own world, with their own rules of conduct and their own code of morality. George Sand admires excessively what she calls their vie bohémienne et insouciante. She also likes them because women are brought into a greater equality in their world than elsewhere. In the theatre, a prima donna is a very great person. The equality of the sexes seems restored if the female contralto can snub the male bass. All this goes straight to George Sand's heart, and we may be sure she manages to idealise the most ordinary of these facts. She furnishes, for instance, Consuelo with excellent reasons for going on the stage; the gist of which is, that in Druidical times the attractions of the theatre and the altar were united in the solemnities of religious processions, and that women were then priestesses. In these degenerate days, if a woman wishes to assume a religious character she has to become a nun, and is then buried alive; so her only way of retaining any thing of her sibylline privileges is to look to the other half of the vocation of a Druidess, and get a satisfactory engagement as an opera-singer. But it would be unfair to say that George Sand passes over the higher side of an artist's life. She has drawn in Consuelo a very beautiful picture of an artist who loves what is highest in her own branch of art, and whose purity of mind is allied to, and strengthened by, her refinement of taste. In the Maîtres mosaïstes also she has exhibited an impressive type of the conscientious, laborious, far-seeing workman. But it is to the lower side of this life that she generally looks. Her whole conception of an artist's life, so far as it is founded on fact at all, relates entirely to the secondary class of artists. The great artists of each generation do not lead a vie bohémienne et insouciante; or if they do, their work suffers proportionately. But it is quite true that there is a society of more unpretending artists who have a sort of world of their own, and whose life, if regarded in its hours of gaiety and prosperity, may be said to possess that careless happiness which is popularly ascribed to a gipsy existence.
George Sand idealises this lower artist-life in one way; for