The Story Of George Sand
( Originally Published 1909 )
TO the student of feminine psychology there is no more curious and complex problem than the one that meets us in the life of the gifted French writer best known to the world as George Sand.
To analyze this woman simply as a writer would in itself be a long, difficult task. She wrote voluminously, with a fluid rather than a ` fluent pen. She scandalized her contemporaries by her theories, and by the way in 'which she applied them in her novels. Her fiction made her, in the history of French literature, second only to Victor Hugo. She might even challenge Hugo, because where he depicts strange and monstrous figures, exaggerated beyond the limits of actual life, George Sand portrays living men and women, whose instincts and desires she understands, and whom she makes us see precisely as if we were admitted to their intimacy.
But George Sand puzzles us most by peculiarities which it is difficult for us to reconcile. She seemed to have no sense of chastity whatever; yet, on the other hand, she was not grossly sensual. She possessed the maternal instinct to a high degree, and liked better to be a mother than a mistress to the men whose love she sought. For she did seek men's love, frankly and shamelessly, only to tire of it. In many cases she seems to have been swayed by vanity, and by a love of con-quest, rather than by passion. She had also ,a spiritual, imaginative side to her nature, and she could be a far better comrade than any-thing more intimate.
The name given to this strange genius at birth was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. The circumstances of her ancestry and birth were quite unusual. Her father was a lieutenant in the French army. His grandmother had been the natural daughter of Marshal Saxe, who was himself the illegitimate son of Augustus the Strong of Poland and of the bewitching Countess of Königsmarck. This was a curious pedigree. It meant strength of character, eroticism, stubbornness, imagination, courage, and recklessness.
Her father complicated the matter by marrying suddenly a Parisian of the lower classes, a bird-fancier named Sophie Delaborde. His daughter, who was born in 1804, used afterward to boast that on one side she was sprung from kings and nobles, while on the other she was a daughter of the people, able, therefore, to understand the sentiments of the aristocracy and of the children of the soil, or even of the gutter.
She was fond of telling, also, of the omen which attended on her birth. Her father and mother were at a country dance in the house of a fellow officer of Dupin's. Suddenly Mme. Dupin left the room. Nothing was thought of this, and the dance went on. n less than an hour, Dupin was called aside and told that his wife had just given birth to a child. It was the child's aunt who brought the news, with the joyous comment:
"She will be lucky, for she was born among the roses and to the sound of music."
This was at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Lieutenant Dupin was on the staff of Prince Murat, and little Aurore, as she was called, at the age of three accompanied the army, as did her mother. The child was adopted by one of those hard-fighting, veteran regiments. The rough old sergeants nursed her and petted her. Even the prince took notice of her; and to please him she wore the green uniform of a hussar.
But all this soon passed, and she was, presently sent to live with her grandmother at the estate now intimately associated with her name —Nohant, in the valley of the Indre, in the midst of a rich country, a love for which she then drank in so deeply that nothing in her later life could lessen it. She was always the friend of the peasant and of the country-folk in general.
At Nohant she was given over to her grand-mother, to be reared in a strangely desultory sort of fashion, doing and reading and studying those things which could best develop her native gifts. Her father had great influence over her, teaching her a thousand things without seeming to teach her anything. Of him George Sand herself has written :
Character is a matter of heredity. If any one desires to know me, he must know my father.
Her father, however, was killed by a fall from a horse ; and then the child grew up almost without any formal education. A tutor, who also managed the estate, believed with Rousseau that the young should be reared according to their own preferences. Therefore, Aurore read poems and childish stories ; she gained a smattering of Latin, and she was devoted to music and the elements of natural science. For the rest of the time she rambled with the country children, learned their games, and became a sort of leader in everything they did.
Her only sorrow was the fact that her mother was excluded from Nohant. The aristocratic old grandmother would not allow under her roof her son's low-born wife ; but she was de-voted to her little grandchild. The girl showed a wonderful degree of sensibility.
This life was adapted to her nature. She fed her imagination in a perfectly healthy fashion ; and, living so much out of doors, she acquired that sound physique which she retained all through her life.
When she was thirteen, her grandmother sent the girl to a convent school in Paris. One might suppose that the sudden change from the open woods and fields to the primness of a religious home would have been a great shock to her, and that with her disposition she might have broken out into wild ways that would have shocked the nuns. But, here, as elsewhere, she showed her wonderful adaptability. It even seemed as if she were likely to become what the French call a dévote. She gave herself up to mythical thoughts, and expressed a desire of taking the veil. Her confessor, however, was a keen student of human nature, and he perceived that she was too young to decide upon the renunciation of earthly things. Moreover, her grandmother, who had no intention that Aurore should become a nun, hastened to Paris and carried her back to Nohant.
The girl was now sixteen, and her complicated nature began to make itself apparent. There was no one to control her, because her grandmother was confined to her own room. And so Aurore Dupin, now in superb health, rushed into every sort of diversion with all the zest of youth. She read voraciously—religion, poetry, philosophy. She was an excellent musician, playing the piano and the harp. Once, in a spirit of unconscious egotism, she wrote to her confessor:
Do you think that my philosophical studies are compatible with Christian humility?
The shrewd ecclesiastic answered, with a touch of wholesome irony :
I doubt, my daughter, whether your philosophical studies are profound enough to warrant intellectual pride.
This stung the girl, and led her to think a little less of her own abilities; but perhaps it made her books distasteful to her. For a while she seems to have almost forgotten her sex. She began to dress as a boy, and took to smoking large quantities of tobacco. Her natural brother, who was an officer in the army, came down to Nohant and taught her to ride-to ride like a boy, seated astride. She went about with-out any chaperon, and flirted with the young men of the neighborhood. The prim manners of the place made her subject to a certain amount of scandal, and the village priest chided her in language that was far from tactful. n return she refused any longer to attend his church.
Thus she was living when her grandmother died, in 1821, leaving to Aurore her entire fortune of five hundred thousand francs. As the girl was still but seventeen, she was placed under the guardianship of the nearest relative on her father's side-a gentleman of rank. When the will was read, Aurore 's mother made a violent protest, and caused a most unpleasant scene.
"I am the natural guardian of my child," she cried. "No one can take away my rights!"
The young girl well understood that this was really the parting of the ways. If she turned toward her uncle, she would be forever classed among the aristocracy. If she chose her mother, who, though married, was essentially a grisette, then she must live with grisettes, and find her friends among the friends who visited her mother. She could not belong to both worlds. She must decide once for all whether she would be a woman of rank or a woman entirely separated from the circle that had been her father's.
One must respect the girl for making the choice she did. Understanding the situation ab solutely, she chose her mother; and perhaps one would not have had her do otherwise. Yet in the long run it was bound to be a mistake. Aurore was clever, refined, well read, and had had the training of a fashionable convent school. The mother was ignorant and coarse, as was inevitable, with one who before her marriage had been half shop-girl and half courtesan. The two could not live long together, and hence it was not unnatural that Aurore Dupin should marry, to enter upon a new career.
Her fortune was a fairly large one for the times, and yet not large enough to attract men who were quite her equals. Presently, however, it brought to her a sort of country squire, named Casimir Dudevant. He was the illegitimate son of the Baron Dudevant. He had been in the army, and had studied law; but he possessed no intellectual tastes. He was outwardly eligible; but he was of a coarse type—a man who, with passing years, would be likely to take to drink and vicious amusements, and in serious life cared only for his cattle, his horses; and his hunting. He had, however, a sort of jollity about him which appealed to this girl of eighteen; and so a marriage was arranged. Aurore Dupin became his wife in 1822, and he secured the control of her fortune.
The first few years after her marriage were not unhappy. She had a son, Maurice Dude-vaut, and a daughter, Solange, and she loved them both. But it was impossible that she should continue vegetating mentally upon a farm with a husband who was a fool, a drunkard, and a miser. He deteriorated; his wife grew more and more clever. Dudevant resented this. It made him uncomfortable. Other persons spoke of her talk as brilliant. He bluntly told her that it was silly, and that she must stop it. When she did not stop it, he boxed her ears. This caused a breach between the pair which was never healed. Dudevant drank more and more heavily, and jeered at his wife be-cause she was "always looking for noon at fourteen o'clock." He had always flirted with the country girls ; but now he openly consorted with his wife's chambermaid.
Mme. Dudevant, on her side, would have nothing more to do with this rustic rake. She formed what she called a platonic friendship—and it was really so—with a certain M. de Sèze, who was advocate-general at Bordeaux. With him this clever woman could talk without being called silly, and he took sincere pleasure in her company. He might, in fact, have gone much further, had not both of them been in an impossible situation.
Aurore Dudevant really believed that she was swayed by a pure and mystic passion. De Sèze, on the other hand, believed this mystic passion to be genuine love. Coming to visit her at Nohant, he was revolted by the clownish husband with whom she lived. It gave him an esthetic shock to see that she had borne children to this boor. Therefore he shrank back from her, and in time their relation faded into nothingness.
It happened, soon after, that she found a packet in her husband's desk, marked "Not to be opened until after my death." She wrote of this in her correspondence :
I had not the patience to wait till widowhood. No one can be sure of surviving anybody. I assumed that my husband had died, and I was very glad to learn what he thought of me while he was alive. Since the package was addressed to me, it was not dishonorable for me to open it.
And so she opened it. It proved to be his will, but containing, as a preamble, his curses on her, expressions of contempt, and all the vulgar outpouring of an evil temper and angry passion. She went to her husband as he was opening a bottle, and flung the document upon the table. He cowered at her glance, at her firmness, and at her cold hatred. He grumbled and argued and entreated; but all that his wife would say in answer was:
"I must have an allowance. I am going to Paris, and my children are to remain here."
At last he yielded, and she went at once to Paris, taking her daughter with her, and having the promise of fifteen hundred francs a year out of the half-million that was hers by right.
In Paris she developed into a thorough-paced Bohemian. She tried to make a living in sundry hopeless ways, and at last she took to literature. She was living in a garret, with little to eat, and sometimes without a fire in winter.
She had some friends who helped her as well as they could, but though she was attached to the Figaro, her earnings for the first month amounted to only fifteen francs.
Nevertheless, she would not despair. The editors and publishers might turn the cold shoulder to her, but she would not give up her ambitions. She went down into the Latin Quarter, and there shook off the proprieties of life. She assumed the garb of a man, and with her quick perception she came to know the left bank of the Seine just as she had known the country-side at Nohant or the little world at her convent school. She never expected again to see any woman of her own rank in life. Her mother's influence became strong in her. She wrote:
The proprieties are the guiding principle of people without soul and virtue. The good opinion of the world is a prostitute who gives herself to the highest bidder.
She still pursued her trade of journalism, calling herself a "newspaper mechanic," sitting all day in the office of the Figaro and writing whatever was demanded, while at night she would prowl in the streets haunting the cafés, continuing to dress like a man, drinking sour wine, and smoking cheap cigars.
One of her companions in this sort of hand-to-mouth journalism was a young student and writer named Jules Sandeau, a man seven years younger than his comrade. He was at that time as indigent as she, and their hardships, shared in common, brought them very close together. He was clever, boyish, and sensitive, and it was not long before he had fallen at her feet and kissed her knees, begging that she would requite the love he felt for her. According to herself, she resisted him for six months, and then at last she yielded. The two made their home together, and for a while were wonderfully happy. Their work and their diversions they. enjoyed in common, and now for the first time she experienced emotions which in all probability she had never known before.
Probably not very much importance is to be given to the earlier flirtations of George Sand, though she herself never tried to stop the mouth of scandal. Even before she left her husband, she was credited with having four lovers; but all she said, when the report was brought to her, was this : "Four lovers are none too many for one with such lively passions as mine.''
This very frankness makes it likely that she enjoyed shocking her prim neighbors at Nohant. Eut if she only played at love-making then, she now gave herself up to it with entire abandonment, intoxicated, fascinated, satisfied. She herself wrote :
How I wish I could impart to you this sense of the intensity and joyousness of life that I have in my veins. To live ! How sweet it is, and how good, in spite of annoyances, husbands, debts, relations, scandal-mongers, sufferings, and irritations ! To live ! It is intoxicating! To love, and to be loved! It is happiness ! It is heaven !
In collaboration with Jules Sandeau, she wrote a novel called Rose et Blanche. The two lovers were uncertain what name to place upon the title-page, but finally they hit upon the pseudonym of Jules Sand. The book succeeded ; but thereafter each of them wrote separately, Jules Sandeau using his own name, and Mme. Dudevant styling herself George Sand, a name by which she was to be illustrious ever after.
As a novelist, she had found her real vocation. She was not yet well known, but she was on the verge of fame. As soon as she had written Indiana and Valentine, George Sand had secured a place in the world of letters. The magazine which still exists as the Revue des Deux Mondes gave her a retaining fee of four thousand francs a year, and many other publications begged her to write serial stories for them.
The vein which ran through all her stories was new and piquant. As was said of her :
In George Sand, whenever a lady wishes to change her lover, God is always there to make the *transfer easy.
In other words, she preached free love in the name of religion. This was not a new doctrine with her. After the first break with her husband, she had made up her mind about certain matters, and wrote :
One is no more justified in claiming the ownership of a soul than in claiming the ownership of a slave.
According to her, the ties between a man and a woman are sacred only when they are sanctified by love ; and she distinguished between love and passion in this epigram :
Love seeks to give, while passion seeks to take.
At this time, George Sand was in her twenty-seventh year. She was not beautiful, though there was something about her which attracted observation. Of middle height, she was fairly slender. Her eyes were somewhat projecting, and her mouth was almost sullen when in re-pose. Her manners were peculiar, combining boldness with timidity. Her address was almost as familiar as a man's, so that it was easy to, be acquainted with her; yet a certain haughtiness and a touch of aristocratic pride made it plain that she had drawn a line which none must pass without her wish. When she was deeply stirred, however, she burst forth into an extraordinary vivacity, showing a nature richly endowed and eager to yield its treasures.
The existence which she now led was a curious one. She still visited her husband at Nohant, so that she might see her son, and sometimes, when M. Dudevant came to town, he called upon her in the apartments which she shared with Jules Sandeau. He had accepted the situation, and with his crudeness and lack of feeling he seemed to think it, if not natural, at least diverting. At any rate, so long as he could retain her half-million francs, he was not the man to make trouble about his former wife's arrangements.
Meanwhile, there began to be perceptible the very slightest rift within the lute of her romance. Was her love for Sandeau really love, or was it only passion? In his absence, at any rate, the old obsession still continued. Here we see, first of all, intense pleasure shading off into a sort of maternal fondness. She sends Sandeau adoring letters. She is afraid that his delicate appetite is not properly satisfied.
Yet, again, there are times when she feels that he is irritating and ill. Those who knew them said that her nature was too passionate and her love was too exacting for him. One of her letters seems to make this plain. She writes that she feels uneasy, and even fright-fully remorseful, at seeing Sandeau "pine away." She knows, she avows, that she is killing him, that her caresses are a poison, and her love a consuming fire.
It is an appalling thought, and Jules will not understand it. He laughs at it ; and when, in the midst of his transports of delight, the idea comes to me and makes my blood run cold, he tells me that here is the death that he would like to die. At such moments he promises whatever I make him promise.
This letter throws a clear light upon the nature of George Sand's temperament. It will be found all through her career, not only that she sought to inspire passion, but that she strove to gratify it after fashions of her own. One little passage from a description of her written by the younger Dumas will perhaps make this phase of her character more intelligible, without going further than is strictly necessary:
Mme. Sand has little hands without any bones, soft and plump. She is by destiny a woman of excessive curiosity, always disappointed, always deceived in her incessant investigation, but she is not fundamentally ardent. In vain would she like to be so, but she does not find it possible. Her physical nature utterly refuses.
The reader will find in all that has now been said the true explanation of George Sand. Abounding with life, but incapable of long stretches of ardent love, she became a woman who sought conquests everywhere without giving in return more than her temperament made it possible for her to do. She loved Sandeau as much as she ever loved any man ;' and yet she left him with a sense that she had never become wholly his. Perhaps this is the reason why their romance came to an end abruptly, and not altogether fittingly.
She had been spending a short time at Nohant, and came to Paris without announcement. She intended to surprise her lover, and she surely did so. She found him in the apartment that had been theirs, with his arms about an attractive laundry-girl. Thus closed what was probably the only true romance in the life of George Sand. Afterward she had many lovers, but to no one did she so nearly become a true mate.
As it was, she ended her association with Sandeau, and each pursued a separate path to fame. Sandeau afterward became a well-known novelist and dramatist. He was, in fact, the first writer of fiction who was admitted to the French Academy. The woman to whom he had been unfaithful became greater still, because her fame was not only national, but cosmopolitan.
For a time after her deception by Sandeau, she felt absolutely devoid of all emotions. She shunned men, and sought the friendship of Marie Dorval, a clever actress who was destined afterward to break the heart of Alfred de Vigny. The two went down into the country; and there George Sand wrote hour after hour, sitting by her fireside, and showing herself a tender mother to her little daughter Solange.
This life lasted for a while, but it was not the sort of life that would now content her. She had many visitors from Paris, among them Sainte-Beuve, the critic, who brought with him Prosper Mérimée, then unknown, but . later famous as master of revels to the third Napoleon and as the author of Carmen. Mérimée had a certain fascination of manner, and the predatory instincts of George Sand were again aroused. One day, when she felt bored and desperate, Mérimée paid his court to her, and she listened to him. This is one of the most remarkable of her intimacies, since it began, continued, and ended all in the space of a single week. When Mérimée left Nohant, he was des-tined never again to see George Sand, except long afterward at a dinner-party, where the two stared at each other sharply, but did not speak. This affair, however, made it plain that she could not long remain at Nohant, and that she pined for Paris.
Returning thither, she is said to have set her cap at Victor Hugo, who was, however, too much in love with himself to care for any one, especially a woman who was his literary rival. She is said for a time to have been allied with Gustave Planché, a dramatic critic; but she always denied this, and her denial may be taken as quite truthful. Soon, however, she was to begin an episode which has been more famous than any other in her curious history, for she met Alfred de Musset, then a youth of twenty-three, but already well known for his poems and his plays.
Musset was of noble birth. He would probably have been better for a plebeian strain, since there was in him a touch of the degenerate. His mother's father had published a humanitarian poem on cats. His great-uncle had written a peculiar novel. Young Alfred was nervous, delicate, slightly epileptic, and it is certain that he was given to dissipation, which so far had affected his health only by making him hysterical. He was an exceedingly handsome youth, with exquisite manners, "dreamy rather than dazzling eyes, dilated nostrils, and vermilion lips half opened." Such was he when George Sand, then seven years his senior, met him.
There is something which, to the Anglo-Saxon mind, seems far more absurd than pathetic about the events which presently took place. A woman like George Sand at thirty was practically twice the age of this nervous boy of twenty-three, who had as yet seen little of the world. At first she seemed to realize the fact herself ; but her vanity led her to begin an intrigue, which must have been almost wholly without excitement on her part, but which to him, for a time, was everything in the world.
Experimenting, as usual, after the fashion described by Dumas, she went with De Musset for a "honeymoon" to Fontainebleau. But they could not stay there forever, and presently they decided upon a journey to Italy. Before they went, however, they thought it necessary to get formal permission from Alfred's mother !
Naturally enough, Mme. de Musset refused consent. She had read George Sand's romances, and had asked scornfully:
"Has the woman never in her life met a gentleman?"
She accepted the relations between them, but that she should be asked to sanction this sort of affair was rather too much, even for a French mother who has become accustomed to many strange things. Then there was a curious happening. At nine o'clock at night, George. Sand took a cab and drove to the house of Mme. de Musset, to whom she sent up a message that a lady wished to see her, Mme. de Musset came down, and, finding a woman alone in a carriage, she entered it. Then George Sand burst forth in a torrent of sentimental eloquence. She overpowered her lover's mother, promised to take great care of the delicate youth, and finally drove away to meet Alfred at the coach-yard.
They started off in the mist, their coach being the thirteenth to leave the yard; but the two lovers were in a merry mood, and enjoyed themselves all the way from Paris to Marseilles. By steamer they went to Leghorn; and finally, in January, 1834, they took an apartment in a hotel at Venice. What had happened that their arrival in Venice should be the beginning of a quarrel, no one knows. George Sand has told the story, and Paul de Musset—Alfred's brother—has told the story, but each of them has doubtless omitted a large part of the truth.
It is likely that on their long journey each had learned too much of the other. Thus, Paul de Musset says that George Sand made herself outrageous by her conversation, telling every one of her mother's adventures in the army of Italy, including her relations with the general-in-chief. She also declared that she herself was born within a month of her parents' wedding-day. Very likely she did say all these things, whether they were true or not. She had set herself to wage war against conventional society, and she did everything to shock it.
On the other hand, Alfred de Musset fell ill after having lost ten thousand francs in a gambling-house. George Sand was not fond of persons who were ill. She herself was working like a horse, writing from eight to thirteen hours a day. When Musset collapsed she sent for a handsome young Italian doctor named Pagello, with whom she hid struck up a casual acquaintance. He finally cured Musset, but he also cured George Sand of any love for Musset.
Before long she and Pagello were on their way back to Paris, leaving the poor, fevered, whimpering poet to bite his nails and think unutterable things. But he ought to have known George Sand. After that, everybody knew her. They knew just how much she cared when she prfessed to care, and when she acted as she acted with Pagello no earlier lover had any one but himself to blame.
Only sentimentalists can take this story seriously. To them it has a sort of morbid interest.
They like to picture Musset raving and shouting in his delirium, and then to read how George Sand sat on Pagello 's knees, kissing him and drinking out of the same cup. But to the healthy mind the whole story is repulsive from George Sand's appeal to Mme. de Musset down to the very end, when Pagello came to Paris, where his broken French excited a polite ridicule.
There was a touch of genuine sentiment about the affair with Jules Sandeau; but after that, one can only see in George Sand a half libidinous grisette, such as her mother was before her, with a perfect willingness to experiment in every form of lawless love. As for Musset, whose heart she was supposed to have broken, within a year he was dangling after the famous singer, Mme. Malibran, and writing poems to her which advertised their intrigue.
After this episode with Pagello, it cannot be said that the life of George Sand was edifying in any respect, because no one can assume that she was sincere. She had loved Jules Sandeau as much as she could love any one, but all the rest of her intrigues and affinities were in the nature of experiments. She even took back Alfred de Musset, although they could never again regard each other without suspicion. George Sand cut off all her hair and gave it to Musset, so eager was she to keep him as a matter of conquest; but he was tired of her, and even this theatrical trick was of no avail.
She proceeded to other less known and less humiliating adventures. She tried to fascinate the artist Delacroix. She set her cap at Franz Liszt, who rather astonished her by saying that only God was worthy to be loved. She ex-pressed a yearning for the affections of the elder Dumas; but that good-natured giant laughed at her, and in fact gave her some sound advice, and let her smoke unsentimentally in his study. She was a good deal taken with a noisy demagogue named Michel, a lawyer at Bourges, who on one occasion shut her up in her room and harangued her on sociology until she was as weary of his talk as of his wooden shoes, his shapeless greatcoat, his spectacles, and his skull-cap. Balzac felt her fascination, but cared nothing for her, since his love was given to Mme. Hanska.
In the meanwhile, she was paying visits to her husband at Nohant, where she wrangled with him over money matters, and where he would once have shot her had the guests present not interfered. She secured her dowry by litigation, so that she was well off, even without her literary earnings. These were by no means so large as one would think from her popularity and from the number of books she wrote. It is estimated that her whole gains amounted to about a million francs, extending over a period of forty-five years. It is just half the amount that Trollope earned in about the same period, and justifies his remark—"adequate, but not splendid."
One of those brief and strange intimacies that marked the career of George Sand came about in a curious way. Octave Feuillet, a man of aristocratic birth, had set himself to write novels which portrayed the cynicism and hardness of the upper classes in France. One of these novels, Sibylle, excited the anger of George Sand. She had not known Feuillet before; yet now she sought him out, at first in order to berate him for his book, but in the end to add him to her variegated string of lovers.
It has been said of Feuillet that he was a sort of "domesticated Musset." At any rate, he was far less sensitive than Musset, and George Sand was about seventeen years his senior. They parted after a short time, she going her way as a writer of novels that were very different from her earlier ones, while Feuillet grew more and more cynical and even stern, as he lashed the abnormal, neuropathie men and women about him.
The last great emotional crisis in George Sand's life was that which centers around her relations with Frédéric Chopin. Chopin was the greatest genius who ever loved her. It is rather odd that he loved her. She had known him for two years, and had not seriously thought of him, though there is a story that when she first met him she kissed him before he had even been presented to her. She waited two years, and in those two years she had three lovers. Then at last she once more met Chopin, when he was in a state of melancholy, because a Polish girl had proved unfaithful to him.
It was the psychological moment; for this other woman, who was a devourer of hearts, found him at a piano, improvising a lamentation. George Sand stood beside him, listening. When he finished and looked up at her, their eyes met. She bent down without a word and kissed him on the lips.
What was she like when he saw her then? Grenier has described her in these words :
She was short and stout, but her face attracted all -my attention, the eyes especially. They were wonderful eyes--a little too close together, it may be, large, with full eyelids, and black, very black, but by no means lustrous ; they reminded me of unpolished marble, or rather of velvet, and this gave a strange, dull, even cold expression to her countenance. Her fine eyebrows and these great placid eyes gave her an air of strength and dignity which was not borne out by the lower part of her face. Her nose was rather thick and not over shapely. Her mouth was also rather coarse, and her chin small. She spoke with great simplicity, and her manners were very quiet.
Such as she was, she attached herself to Chopin for eight years. At first they traveled together very quietly to Majorca; and there, just as Musset had fallen ill at Venice, Chopin became feverish and an invalid. "Chopin coughs most gracefully," George Sand wrote of him, and again Chopin is the most inconstant of men. There is nothing permanent about him but his cough.
It is not surprising if her nerves sometimes gave way. Acting as sick nurse, writing herself with rheumatic fingers, robbed by every one about her, and viewed with suspicion by the peasants because she did not go to church, she may be perhaps excused for her sharp words when, in fact, her deeds were kind.
Afterward, with Chopin, she returned to Paris, and the two lived openly together for seven years longer. An immense literature has grown around the subject of their relations. To this literature George Sand herself contributed very largely. Chopin never wrote a word; but what he failed to do, his friends and pupils did unsparingly.
Probably the truth is somewhat as one might expect. During the first period of fascination, George Sand was to Chopin what she had been to Sandeau and to Musset; and with her strange and subtle ways, she had undermined his health. But afterward that sort of love died out, and was succeeded by something like friendship. At any rate, this woman showed, as she had shown to others, a vast maternal kindness. She writes to him finally as "your old woman," and she does wonders in the way of nursing and care.
But in 1847 came a break between the two. Whatever the mystery of it may be, it turns upon what Chopin said of Sand:
"I have never cursed any one, but now I am so weary of life that I am near cursing her. Yet she suffers, too, and more, because she grows older as she grows more wicked."
In 1848, Chopin gave his last concert in Paris, and in 1849 he died. According to some, he was the victim of a Messalina. According to others, it was only Messalina" that had kept him alive so long.
However, with his death came a change in the nature of George Sand. Emotionally, she was an extinct volcano. intellectually, she was at her very best. She no longer tore passions into tatters, but wrote naturally, simply, stories of country life and tales for children. In one of her books she has given an enduring picture of the Franco-Prussian War. There are many rather pleasant descriptions of her then, living at Nohant, where she made a curious figure, bustling about in ill-fitting costumes, and smoking interminable cigarettes.
She had lived much, and she had drunk deep of life, when she died in 1876. One might believe her to have been only a woman of perpetual liaisons. Externally she was this, and yet what did Balzac, that great master of human psychology, write of her in the intimacy of a private correspondence?
She is a female bachelor. She is an artist. She is generous. She is devoted. She is chaste. Her dominant characteristics are those of a man, and therefore, she is not to be regarded as a woman. She is an excellent mother, adored by her children. Morally, she is like a lad of twenty ; for in her heart of hearts, she is more than chaste—she is a prude. It is only in externals that she comports herself as a Bohemian. All her follies are titles to glory in the eyes of those whose souls are noble.
A curious verdict this ! Her love-life seems almost that of neither man nor woman, but of an animal. Yet whether she was in reality responsible for what she did, when we consider her strange heredity, her wretched marriage, the disillusions of her early life—who shall sit in judgment on her, since who knows all?