CCLI. TO GEORGE SAND Tuesday, March 12, 1873
If I am not at your house, it is the fault of the big Tourgueneff. I was getting ready to go to Nohant, when he said to me: "Wait, I'll go with you the first of April." That is two weeks off. I shall see him tomorrow at Madame Viardot's and I shall beg him to go earlier, as I am beginning to be impatient. I am feeling the NEED of seeing you, of embracing you, and of talking with you. That is the truth.
I am beginning to regain my equilibrium again. What is it that I have had for the past four months? What trouble was going on in the depths of my being? I don't know. What is certain, is, that I was very ill in an indefinable way. But now I am better. Since the end of January, Madame Bovary and Salammbo have belonged to me and I can sell them. I am doing nothing about it, preferring to do without the money other than to exasperate my nerves. Such is your old troubadour.
I am reading all sorts of books and I am taking notes for my big book which will take five or six years to write, and I am thinking of two or three others. There will be dreams for a long time, which is the principal thing.
Art continues to be "in the marasmus," as M. Prudhomme says, and there is no longer any place in this world for people with taste. One must, like the rhinoceros, retire into solitude and await one's death.
CCLII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, in Paris Nohant, 15 March, 1873
Well, my old troubadour, we can hope for you very soon. I was worried about you. I am always worried about you. To tell the truth, I am not happy over your ill tempers, and your PREJUDICES. They last too long, and in effect they are like an illness, you recognize it yourself. Now, forget; don't you know how to forget? You live too much in yourself and get to consider everything in relation to yourself. If you were an egoist, and a conceited person, I would say that it was your normal condition; but with you who are so good and so generous, it is an anomaly, an evil that must be combated. Rest assured that life is badly arranged, painful, irritating for everyone, but do not neglect the immense compensations which it is ungrateful to forget.
That you get angry with this or that person, is of little importance if it is a comfort to you; but that you remain furious, indignant for weeks, months, almost years, is unjust and cruel to those who love you, and who would like to spare you all anxiety and all deception.
You see that I am scolding you; but while embracing you, I shall think only of the joy and the hope of seeing you flourishing again. We are waiting for you with impatience, and we are counting on Tourgueneff whom we adore also.
I have been suffering a good deal lately with a series of very painful hemorrhages; but they have not prevented me from amusing myself writing tales and from playing with my LITTLE CHILDREN. They are so dear, and my big children are so good to me, that I shall die, I believe, smiling at them. What difference does it make whether one has a hundred thousand enemies if one is loved by two or three good souls? Don't you love me too, and wouldn't you reproach me for thinking that of no account? When I lost Rollinat, didn't you write to me to love the more those who were left? Come, so that I may OVERWHELM you with reproaches; for you are not doing what you told me to do.
We are expecting you, we are preparing a mid-Lent fantasy; try to take part. Laughter is a splendid medicine. We shall give you a costume; they tell me that you were very good as a pastry cook at Pauline's! If you are better, be certain it is because you have gotten out of your rut and have distracted yourself a little. Paris is good for you, you are too much alone yonder in your lovely house. Come and work, at our house; how perfectly easy to send on a box of books!
Send word when you are coming so that I can have a carriage at the station at Chateauroux.
CCLIII. TO GEORGE SAND Thursday, 20 March, 1873
The gigantic Tourgueneff is at this moment leaving here and we have just sworn a solemn oath. You will have us at dinner the 12th of April, Easter Eve.
It has not been a small job to get to that point, it is so difficult to succeed in anything, no matter what.
For my part nothing would prevent me from going tomorrow But our friend seems to me to enjoy very little liberty and I myself have engagements the first week in April.
I am going this evening to two costume balls! Tell me after that that I am not young.
A thousand affectionate greetings from your old troubadour who embraces you.
Read as an example of modern fetidness, in the last number of the Vie Parisienne, the article on Marion Delorme. It ought to be framed, if, however, anything fetid can be framed. But nowadays people don't look so closely.
CCLIV. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 23 March, 1873
No, that giant does not do as he likes, I have noticed that. But he is one of the class that finds its happiness in being ruled and I can understand it, on the whole. Provided one is in good hands,--and he is.
Well, we are hoping still, but we are not absolutely counting on anyone but you. You can not give me a greater pleasure than by telling me that you are going out among people, that you are getting out of a rut and distracting yourself, absolutely necessary, in these muddled days.
On the day when a little intoxication is no longer necessary for self-preservation, the world will be getting on very well. We haven't come to that yet.
That FETID thing is not worth the trouble of reading, I didn't finish it, one turns away from such things, one does not spoil one's sense of smell by breathing them. But I do not think that the man to whom one offers that in a censer would be satisfied with it.
Do come with the swallows and bring Saint-Antoine. It is Maurice who is going to be interested in that! He is more of a scholar than I am, I who will appreciate, thanks to my ignorance about many things, only the poetic and great side of it. I am sure of it, I know already that it is there.
Keep on going about, you must, and above all continue to love us as we love you.
Your old troubadour,
CCLV. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 7th April, 1873
I am writing to my friend General Ferri Pisani, whom you know, who HAS CHARGE at Chateauroux, to reserve you a carriage which will be waiting for you on the 12th, at the station, at twenty minutes past three. You must leave Paris at ten minutes past nine o'clock by the EXPRESS. Otherwise the trip is too long and stupid. I hope that the general will come with you, if there is any decision contrary to your promise send him a telegram to Chateauroux so that he shall not wait for you. He usually comes on horseback.
We are looking forward IMPATIENTLY to seeing you.
Your old troubadour
CCLVI. TO GEORGE SAND 23 April, 1873
It is only five days since we parted, and I am missing you like the devil. I miss Aurore and all the household down to Fadette. Yes, that is the way it is, one is so happy at your house! you are so good and so interesting.
Why can't we live together, why is life always so badly arranged? Maurice seems to me to be the type of human happiness. What does he lack? Certainly, he is no more envied by anyone than by me.
Your two friends, Tourgueneff and Cruchard philosophized about that from Nohant to Chateauroux, very comfortably borne along in your carriage at a smart pace by two horses. Hurrah for the postillions of La Chatre! But the rest of the trip was horrid because of the company we had in our car. I was consoled for it by strong drink, as the Muscovite had a flask full of excellent brandy with him. We both felt a little heavy hearted. We did not talk, we did not sleep.
We found here the barodetien folly in full flower again. On the heels of this affair has developed during the last three days, Stoppfel! another bitter narcotic! Oh! Heavens! Heavens! what a bore to live in such times! How wise you are live so far from Paris!
I have begun my readings again, and, in a week I shall begin my excursions hereabouts to discover a countryside that may serve for my two good men. After which, about the 12th or the 15th, I shall return to my house at the water-side. I want very much, this summer, to go to Saint Gervais, to bleach my nose and to strengthen my nerves. For ten years I have been finding a pretext for doing without it. But it is high time to beautify myself, not that I have any pretensions at pleasing and seducing by my physical graces, but I hate myself too much when I look in my mirror. The older one grows, the more care one should take of oneself.
I shall see Madame Viardot this evening, I shall go early and we will talk of you.
When shall we meet again, now? How far Nohant is from Croisset!
Yours, dear good master, all my affection.
otherwise called the R. P. Cruchard of the Barnabites, director of the Ladies of Disillusion.
CCLVII. TO GEORGE SAND
Cruchard should have thanked you sooner for sending him your last book; but his reverence is working like ten thousand negroes, that is his excuse. But it did not hinder him from reading "Impressions et Souvenirs." I already knew some of it, from having read it in le Temps (a pun). [Footnote: "Dans de temps" means also, "some time ago."]
This is what was new to me and what struck me: (1) the first fragment; (2) the second in which there is a charming and just page on the Empress. How true is what you say of the proletariat! Let us hope that its reign will pass like that of the bourgeois, and for the same causes, as a punishment for the same folly and a similar egoism.
The "Reponse a un ami" I knew, as it was addressed to me.
The "Dialogue avec Delacroix" is instructive; two curious pages on what he thought of father Ingres.
I am not entirely of your opinion as regards the punctuation. That is to say that I would shock you by my exaggeration in that respect; but I do not lack, naturally, good reasons to defend my point of view.
"J'allume le fagot," etc., all of this long article charmed me.
In the "Idees d'un maitre d'ecole," I admire your pedagogic spirit, dear master, there are many pretty a b c phrases.
Thank you for what you say of my poor Bouilhet!
I adore your "Pierre Bonin." I have known people like him, and as these pages are dedicated to Tourgueneff it is the moment to ask you if you have read "I'Abandonnee"? For my part, I find it simply sublime. This Scythian is an immense old fellow.
I am not at such high-toned literature now. Far from it! I am hacking and re-hacking "le Sexe faible." I wrote the first act in a week. It is true that my days are long. I spent, last week, one of eighteen hours, and Cruchard is as fresh as a young girl, not tired, no headache. In short, I think that I shall be through that work in three weeks. After that, God knows what!
It would be funny if Carvalho's fantasticality was crowned with success!
I am afraid that Maurice has lost his wager, for I want to replace the three theological virtues by the face of Christ appearing in the sun. What do you think about it? When the correction is made and I have strengthened the massacre at Alexandria and clarified the symbolism of the fantastic beasts, "Saint-Antoine" will be finished forever, and I shall start at my two good fellows who were set aside for the comedy.
What a horrid way of writing is required for the stage! The ellipses, the delays, the questions and the repetitions have to be lavish, if movement is desired, and all that in itself is very ugly.
I am perhaps blinding myself, but I think that I am now writing something very quick and easy to play. We shall see.
Adieu, dear master, embrace all yours for me.
Your old good-for-nothing Cruchard, friend of Chalumeau. Note that name. It is a gigantic story, but it requires one to toe the mark to tell it suitably.
CCLVIII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 4 July, 1873
I don't know where you are at present, Cruchard of my heart. I am addressing this to Paris whence I suppose it will be forwarded to you. I have been ill, your reverence, nothing except a stupid anemia, no legs, no appetite, continual sweat on the forehead and my heart as jumpy as a pregnant woman; it is unfair, that condition, when one gets to the seventies, I begin my seventieth spring tomorrow, cured after a half score of river baths. But I find it so comfortable to rest that I have not yet done an iota of work since I returned from Paris, and until I opened my ink-well again to write to you today. We reread your letter this morning in which you said that Maurice had lost his wager. He insists that he has won it as you are taking out the vertus theologales.
As for me, bet or no bet, I want you to keep the new version which is quite in the atmosphere, while the theological virtues are not.-- Have you any news of Tourgueneff? I am worried about him. Madame Viardot wrote me, several days ago, that he had fallen and hurt his leg.--Yes, I have read l'Abandonnee, it is very beautiful as is all that he does. I hope that his injury is not serious! such a thing is always serious with gout.
So you are still working frantically? Unhappy one! you don't know the ineffable pleasure of doing nothing! And how good work will seem to me after it! I shall delay it however as long as possible. I am getting more and more of the opinion that nothing is worth the trouble of being said!
Don't believe a word of that, do write lovely things, and love your old troubadour who always cherishes you.
Love from all Nohant.
CCLIX. TO GEORGE SAND Thursday
Why do you leave me so long without any news of yourself, dear good master? I am cross with you, there!
I am all through with the dramatic art. Carvalho came here last Saturday to hear the reading of le Sexe faible, and seemed to me to be satisfied with it. He thinks it will be a success. But I put so little confidence in the intelligence of all those rascals, that for my part, I doubt it.
I am exhausted, and I am now sleeping ten hours a night, not to mention two hours a day. That is resting my poor brain.
I am going to resume my readings for my wretched book, which I shall not begin for a full year.
Do you know where the great Tourgueneff is now?
A thousand affectionate greetings to all and to you the best of everything from your old friend.
CCLX. TO GEORGE SAND Sunday ...
I am not like M. de Vigny, I do not like the "sound of the horn in the depth of the woods." For the last two hours now an imbecile stationed on the island in front of me has been murdering me with his instrument. That wretched creature spoils my sunlight and deprives me of the pleasure of enjoying the summer. For it is lovely weather, but I am bursting with anger. I should like, however, to talk a bit with you, dear master.
In the first place, congratulations on your seventieth year, which seems more robust to me than the twentieth of a good many others! What a Herculean constitution you have! Bathing in an icy stream is a proof of strength that bewilders me, and is a mark of a "reserve force" that is reassuring to your friends. May you live long. Take care of yourself for your dear grandchildren, for the good Maurice, for me too, for all the world, and I should add: for literature, if I were not afraid of your superb disdain.
Ha! good! again the hunting horn! The man is mad. I want to go and find the rural guard.
As for me, I do not share your disdain, and I am absolutely ignorant of, as you say, "the pleasure of doing nothing." As soon as I no longer hold a book, or am not dreaming of writing one, A LAMENTABLE boredom seizes upon me. Life, in short seems tolerable to me only by legerdemain. Or else one must give oneself up to disordered pleasure ... and even then!
Well, I have finished with le Sexe faible, which will be played, at least so Carvalho promises, in January, if Sardou's l'Oncle Sam is permitted by the censorship; if otherwise, it will be in November.
As I have been accustomed during the last six weeks to seeing things from a theatrical point of view, to thinking in dialogue, here I am starting to build the plot of another play! It will be called le Candidat. My written plot is twenty pages long. But I haven't anyone to show it to. Alas! I shall therefore leave it in a drawer and start at my old book. I am reading l'Histoire de la Medecine by Daremberg, which amuses me a great deal, and I have finished l'Essai sur les facultes de l'entendement by Gamier, which I think very silly. There you have my occupations. THINGS seem to be getting quieter. I breathe again.
I don't know whether they talk as much of the Shah in Nohant as they do around here. The enthusiasm has been immense. A little more and they would have proclaimed him Emperor. His sojourn in Paris has had, on the commercial shop-keeping and artisan class, a monarchical effect which you would not have suspected, and the clerical gentlemen are doing very well, very well indeed!
On the other side of the horizon, what horrors they are committing in Spain! So that the generality of humanity continues to be charming.
CCLXI. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, at Croissset Nohant, 30 August, 1873
Where are you to be found now? where are you nestled? As for me, I have just come from Auvergne with my whole household, Plauchut included. Auvergne is beautiful, above all it is pretty. The flora is always rich and interesting, the walking rough, the living accommodations poor. I got through it all very well, except for the elevation of two thousand meters at Sancy, which combining an icy wind with a burning sun, laid me flat for four days with a fever. After that I got into the running again, and I am returning here to resume my river baths till the frost.
There was no more question of any work, of any literature at all, than if none of us had ever learned to read. The LOCAL POETS pursued me with books and bouquets. I pretended to be dead and was left in peace. I am square with them now that I am home, by sending a copy of something of mine, it doesn't matter what, in exchange. Ah! what lovely places I have seen and what strange volcanic combinations, where we ought to have heard your Saint-Antoine in a SETTING worthy of the subject! Of what use are these pleasures of vision, and how are these impressions transformed later? One does not know ahead, and, with time and the easy ways of life, everything is met with again and preserved.
What news of your play? Have you begun your book? Have you chosen a place to study? Do tell me what is becoming of my Cruchard, the Cruchard of my heart. Write to me even if only a word! Tell me that you still love us as I love you and as all of us here love you.
CCLXII. TO GEORGE SAND Croisset, Friday, 5th September, 1873
On arriving here yesterday, I found your letter, dear good master. All is well with you then, God be praised!
I spent the month of August in wandering about, for I was in Dieppe, in Paris, in Saint-Gratien, in Brie, and in Beauce, hunting for a certain country that I had in mind, and I think that I have found it at last in the neighborhood of Houdan. But, before starting at my terrifying book, I shall make a last search on the road that goes from Loupe to Laigle. After that, good night.
The Vaudeville begins well. Carvalho up to now has been charming. His enthusiasm is so strong even that I am not without anxieties. One must remember the good Frenchmen who cried "On to Berlin," and then received such a fine drubbing.
Not only is the aforesaid Carvalho content with the le Sexe faible, but he wants me to write at once another comedy, the scenario of which I have shown him, and which he would like to produce a year from now. I don't think the thing is quite ready to be put into words. But on the other hand, I should like to be through with it before undertaking the story of my good men. Meanwhile, I am keeping on with my reading and note-taking.
You are not aware, doubtless, that they have forbidden Coetlogon's play formally, BECAUSE IT CRITICISED THE EMPIRE. That is the censorship's answer. As I have in the le Sexe faible a rather ridiculous general, I am not without forebodings. What a fine thing is Censorship! Axiom: All governments curse literature, power does not like another power.
When they forbade the playing of Mademoiselle La Quintinie, you were too stoical, dear master, or too indifferent. You should always protest against injustice and folly, you should bawl, froth at the mouth, and smash when you can. If I had been in your place with your authority, I should have made a grand row. I think too that Father Hugo was wrong in keeping quiet about le Roi s'amuse. He often asserts his personality on less legitimate occasions.
At Rouen they are having processions, but the effect is completely spoiled, and the result of it is deplorable for fusion! What a misfortune! Among the imbecilities of our times, that (fusion) is perhaps the greatest. I should not be surprised if we should see little Father Thiers again! On the other hand many Reds, from fear of the clerical reaction, have gone over to Bonapartism. One needs a fine dose of simplicity to keep any political faith.
Have you read the Antichrist? I find that indeed a beautiful book, aside from some faults of taste, some modern expressions applied to ancient things. Renan seems to me on the whole to have progressed. I passed all one evening recently with him and I thought him adorable.
CCLXIII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, at Croissset Nohant, 3d October, 1873
The existence of Cruchard is a beautiful poem, so much in keeping, that I don't know if it is a fictitious biography or the copy for a real article done in good faith. I had to laugh a bit after the departure of all the Viardots (except Viardot) and the big Muscovite, who was charming although very much indisposed from time to time. He left very well and very gay, but regretting not to have been to see you. The truth is that he was ill just then. He has had a disordered stomach, like me, for some time. I get well by being moderate, and he does not! I excuse him; after these crises one is famished, and if it is because of an empty stomach that one has to fill up, he must be terribly famished. What a kind, excellent and worthy man! And what modest talent! Everyone adores him here and I give them the example. We adore you too, Cruchard of my heart. But you love your work better than your friends, and in that you are inferior to the real Cruchard, who at least adored our holy religion.
By the way, I think that we shall have Henry V. They tell me that I am seeing the dark side of things; I don't see anything, but I perceive the odor of sacristies that increases. If that should not last a long time, I should like our clerical bourgeois to undergo the scorn of those whose lands they have bought and whose titles they have taken. It would be a good thing.
What lovely weather in our country! I still go every day to dip into the cold rush of my little river and I feel better. I hope to resume tomorrow my work that has been absolutely abandoned for six months. Ordinarily, I take shorter holidays; but the flowering of the meadow saffron always warns me that it is time to begin grubbing again. Here it is, let us grub. Love me as I love you.
My Aurore, whom I have not neglected, and who is world: well, sends you a big kiss. Lina, Maurice send affection.
CCLXIV. TO GEORGE SAND Croisset, Thursday
Whatever happens, Catholicism will receive a terrible blow, and if I were a devotee, I should spend my time before a crucifix saying: "Maintain the Republic for us, O my God!"
But THEY ARE AFRAID of the monarchy. Because of itself and because of the reaction which would follow. Public opinion is absolutely against it. The reports of messieurs the prefects are disquieting; the army is divided into Bonapartists and Republicans; the body of big business in Paris has pronounced against Henry V. Those are the bits of information that I bring back from Paris, where I have spent ten days. In a word, dear master, I think now that THEY will be swamped! Amen!
I advise you to read the pamphlet by Cathelineau and the one by Segur also. It is curious! The basis is clearly to be seen. Those people think they are in the XIIth century.
As for Cruchard, Carvalho asked him for some changes which he refused. (You know that sometimes Cruchard is not easy.) The aforesaid Carvalho finally realized that it was impossible to change anything in le Sexe faible without distorting the real idea of the play. But he is asking to play le Candidat first, it is not finished but it delights him--naturally. Then when the thing is finished, reviewed and corrected, perhaps he won't want it. In short, if after l'Oncle Sam, le Candidat is finished, it will be played. If not, it will be le Sexe faible.
However, I don't care, I am so eager to start my novel which will take me several years. And moreover, the theatrical style is beginning to exasperate me. Those little curt phrases, this continual scintillation irritates like seltzer water, which is pleasing at first but shortly seems like nasty water. Between now and January I am going to compose dialogues in the best manner possible, after that I am coming back to serious things.
I am glad to have diverted you a little with the biography of Cruchard. But I find it is hybrid and the character of Cruchard is not consistent! A man with such an executive ability does not have so many literary preoccupations. The archeology is superfluous. It belongs to another kind of ecclesiastics. Perhaps there is a transition that is lacking. Such is my humble criticism.
They had said in a theatrical bulletin that you were in Paris; I had a mistaken joy about it, dear good master whom I adore and whom I embrace.
CCLXV. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
Your poor old troubadour, just getting well from a cruel attack of rheumatism, during which he could not lie down, nor eat, nor dress without aid, is at last up again. He suffered liver trouble, jaundice, rash, fever, in short he was fit to be thrown out on a pile of rubbish.
Here he is up again, very feeble, but able to write a few lines and to say with you AMEN to the buried catholic dictatorships; it is not even Catholics that they should be called, those people are not. They are only clericals.
I note today in the papers that they have played l'Oncle Sam. I hear that it is bad, but it may very well be a success all the same. I think that your play is surely postponed and Carvalho seems as capricious too, to me, as hard to put your finger on as other theatrical managers.
All Nohant embraces you and I embrace you even more, but I cannot write any more.
G. Sand Monday
Hard work? When indeed can I start at it? I am NO GOOD.
CCLXVI. TO GEORGE SAND January, 1874
As I have a quiet moment, I am going to profit by it by talking a little with you, dear good master! And first of all, embrace for me all your family and accept all my wishes for a Happy New Year!
This is what is happening now to your Father Cruchard.
Cruchard is very busy, but serene and very calm, which surprises everybody. Yes, that's the way it is. No indignations, no boiling over. The rehearsals of le Candidat have begun, and the thing will be on the boards the first of February. Carvalho seems to me very satisfied with it! Nevertheless he has insisted on my combining two acts in one, which makes the first act inordinately long.
I did this work in two days, and Cruchard has been splendid! He slept seven hours in all, from Thursday morning (Christmas Day) to Saturday, and he is only the better for it.
Do you know what I am going to do to complete my ecclesiastical character? I am going to be a godfather. Madame Charpentier in her enthusiasm for Saint-Antoine came to beg me to give the name Antoine to the child that she is expecting! I refused to inflict on this young Christian the name of such an agitated man, but I had to accept the honor that was done me. Can you see my old top-knot by the baptismal font, beside the chubby-cheeked baby, the nurse and the relatives? O civilization, such are your blows! Good manners, such are your exactions!
I went on Sunday to the civic funeral of Francois-Victor Hugo. What a crowd! and not a cry, not the least bit of disorder! Days like that are bad for Catholicism. Poor father Hugo (whom I could not help embracing) was very broken, but stoical.
What do you think of le Figaro, which reproached him for wearing at his son's funeral, "a soft hat"?
As for politics, a dead calm. The Bazaine trial is ancient history. Nothing shows better the contemporary demoralization than the pardon granted to this wretched creature! Besides, the right of pardon if one departs from theology is a denial of justice. By what right can a man prevent the accomplishment of the law?
The Bonapartists should have let this alone; but not at all: they defended him bitterly, out of hatred for the 4th of September. Why do all the parties regard themselves as having joint interests with the rascals who exploit them? It is because all parties are execrable, imbecile, unjust, blind! An example: the history of Azor (what a name!). He robbed the ecclesiastics. Never mind! the clericals consider themselves attacked.
As regards the church. I have read in full (which I never did before) Lamennais' Essai sur l'indifference. I know now, and thoroughly, all the great buffoons who had a disastrous influence on the XIXth century. To establish common sense or the prevailing mode and custom as the criterion of certitude, that is preparing the way for universal suffrage, which is, to my way of thinking, the shame of human kind.
I have just read also, la Chretienne by the Abbe Bautain. A curious book for a novelist. It smacks of its period of modern Paris. I gulped a volume by Garcin de Tassy on Hindustani literature, to get clean. One can breathe, at least, in that.
You see that your Father Cruchard is not entirely stupefied by the theatre. However, I haven't anything to complain of in the Vaudeville. Everyone there is polite and exact! How different from the Odeon!
Our friend Chennevieres is now our superior, since the theatres are in his division. The theatrical people are enchanted.
I see the Muscovite every Sunday. He is very well and like him better and better.
Saint-Antoine will be in galley proof at the end of January.
Adieu, dear master! When shall we meet? Nohant is very far away! and I am going to be, all this winter, very busy.
CCLXVII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT January, 1874
I am seized with a headache, but, although perfectly imbecile, I want to embrace you and thank you for having written to me on New Year's day. All Nohant loves you and smacks you, as they say in the country.
We wish you a magnificent success and we are glad that it is not to be at the cost of annoyances. However, that is hardly the way of the actors whom I have known, and at the Vaudeville I have found only those who were good natured. Have you a part for my friend Parade? And for Saint-Germain, who seemed to you idiotic one day when perhaps he had lunched too well, but who nevertheless is a fine addlepate, full of sympathy and spirit. And with real talent!
I am not reading all these horrid things that you feed on so as to sense better apparently the good things with which you sandwich them. I have stopped laughing at human folly, I flee it and try to forget it. As for admiration, I am always ready, it is the healthiest regime by far, and too, I am glad to know that I shall soon read Saint-Antoine again.
Keep in touch with your play and don't get ill this hateful winter.
Your old troubadour who loves you.
CCLXVIII. TO GEORGE SAND Saturday evening, 7th February, 1874
I have at last a moment to myself, dear master; now let us talk a little.
I knew through Tourgueneff that you were doing very well. That is the main thing. Now I am going lo give you some news about that excellent Father Cruchard.
Yesterday I signed the final proof for Saint-Antoine. ...But the aforesaid old book will not be published until the first of April (like an April fool trick?) because of the translations. It is finished, I am not thinking any more about it! Saint-Antoine is relegated, as far as I am concerned, to the condition of a memory! However I do not conceal from you that I had a moment of great sadness when I looked at the first proof. It is hard to separate oneself from an old companion!
As for le Candidat, it will be played, I think, between the 2oth and the 25th of this month. As that play gave me very little trouble and as I do not attach great importance to it, I am rather calm about the results of it.
Carvalho's leaving irritated and disturbed me for several days. But his successor Cormon is full of zeal. Up to now I have nothing but praise for him, as for all the others in fact. The people at the Vaudeville are charming. Your old troubadour, whom you picture agitated and always angry, is gentle as a lamb and even good natured! First I made all the changes that THEY wanted, and then THEY put back the original text. But of my own accord I have cut out what seemed to me too long, and it goes well, very well. Delannoy and Saint-Germain have excellent wigs and play like angels. I think it will be all right.
One thing vexes me. The censorship has ruined the role of a little legitimist ragamuffin, so that the play, conceived in the spirit of strict unpartisanship, has now to flatter the reactionaries: a result that distresses me. For I don't want to please the political passions of anyone, no matter who it may be, having, as you know, an essential hatred of all dogmatism, of all parties.
Well, the good Alexander Dumas has made the plunge! Here he is an Academician! I think him very modest. He must be to think himself honored by honors.
CCLXIX. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 15 February, 1874
Everything is going well, and you are satisfied, my troubadour. Then we are happy here over your satisfaction and we are praying for success, and we are waiting impatiently Saint-Antoine so as to read it again. Maurice has had a cold which attacks him every other day. Lina and I are well, little girls superlatively so. Aurore learns everything with admirable facility and docility; that child is my life and ideal. I no longer enjoy anything except her progress. All my past, all that I have been able to acquire or to produce, has no value in my eyes unless it can profit her. If a certain portion of intelligence and goodness was granted to me, it is so that she may have a greater share. You have no children, be therefore a litterateur, an artist, a master; that is logical, that is your compensation, your happiness, and your strength. And do tell us that you are getting on, that seems to us the main thing in life.--And keep well, I think that these rehearsals which make you go to and fro are good for you.
We all embrace you fondly.
CCLXX. TO GEORGE SAND Saturday evening, 28 February, 1874
The first performance of le Candidat is set for next Friday, unless it is Saturday, or perhaps Monday the 9th? It has been postponed by Delannoy's illness and by l'Oncle Sam, for we had to wait until the said Sam had come down to under fifteen hundred francs.
I think that my play will be very well given, that is all. For I have no idea about the rest of it, and I am very calm about the result, a state of indifference that surprises me greatly. If I were not harassed by people who ask me for seats, I should forget absolutely that I am soon to appear on the boards, and to expose myself, in spite of my great age, to the derision of the populace. Is it stoicism or fatigue?
I have been having and still have the grippe, the result of it for your Cruchard, is a general lassitude accompanied by a violent (or rather a profound) melancholy. While spitting and coughing beside my fire, I muse over my youth. I dream of all my dead friends, I wallow in blackness! Is it the result of a too great activity for the past eight months, or the radical absence of the feminine element in my life? But I have never felt more abandoned, more empty, more bruised. What you said to me (in your last letter) about your dear little girls moved me to the depths of my soul! Why haven't I that? I was born with all the affections, however! But one does not make one's destiny, one submits to it. I was cowardly in my youth, I had a fear of life! One pays for everything.
Let us speak of other things, it will be gayer.
H. M. the Emperor of all the Russias does not like the Muses. The censorship of the "autocrat of the north" had formally forbidden the transportation of Saint-Antoine, and the proofs were returned me from Saint Petersburg, last Sunday; the French edition even will be prohibited. That is quite a serious money loss to me. It would have taken very little for the French censorship to forbid my play. Our friend Chennevieres gave me a good boost. Except for him I should not be played. Cruchard does not please the temporal powers. Isn't it funny, this simple hatred of authority, of all government whatever, for art!
I am reading now books on hygiene. Oh! but they are comic! What assurance physicians have! what effrontery! what asses for the most part! I have just finished the Gaule poetique of Marchangy (the enemy of Beranger). This book gave me hysterics.
So as to retemper myself in something stronger, I reread the great, the most holy, the incomparable Aristophanes. There is a man, that fellow! What a world in which such work were produced!
CCLXXI. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, March, 1874
Our two little girls cruelly ill with the grippe have taken up all my time, but I am following, in the papers, the course of your play. I would go to applaud it, my cherished Cruchard, if I could leave these dear little invalids. So it is on Wednesday that they are going to judge it. The jury may be good or stupid, one never knows!
I have started grubbing again after having rested from the long and successful novel published by the Revue. I shall send it to you when it is published in book form.
Don't you delay to give me the news on Thursday, I don't need to tell you that success and the lack of it prove nothing, and that it is a ticket in a lottery. It is agreeable to succeed; to a philosophical spirit it ought not to be very distressing to fail. As for me, without knowing the play, I predict a success on the first day. As for its continuance, that is always unknown and unforeseen from day to day.
We all embrace you very affectionately.
CCLXXII. TO GEORGE SAND Thursday, one o'clock, 12 March, 1874
Speaking of FROSTS, this is one! People who want to flatter me insist that the play will do better before the real public, but I don't think so! I know the defects of my play better than anyone. If Carvalho had not, for a month, bored me to death with corrections that I have cut out, I would have made re-touches or perhaps changes which would perhaps have modified the final issue. But I was so disgusted with it that I would not have changed a line for a million francs. In a word, I am dished.
It must be said too that the hall was detestable, all fops and students who did not understand the material sense of the words. They made jokes of the poetical things. A poet says: "I am of 1830, I learned to read in Hernani, and I wanted to be Lara." Thereupon a burst of ironical laughter, etc.
And moreover I have fooled the public in regard to the title. They expected another Rabagas! The conservatives have been vexed because I did not attack the republicans. Similarly the communists would have liked some insults against the legitimists.
My actors played superbly, Saint-Germain among others; Delannoy who carries all the play, is distressed, and I don't know what to do to soften his grief. As for Cruchard, he is calm, very calm! He had dined very well before the performance, and after it he supped even better. Menu: two dozen oysters from Ostend, a bottle of champagne frappe, three slices of roast beef, a truffle salad, coffee and a chaser. Religion and the stomach sustain Cruchard.
I confess that I should have liked to make some money, but as my fall involves neither art nor sentiment I am profoundly unconcerned.
I tell myself: "well, it's over!" and I experience a feeling of freedom. The worst of it all is the scandal about the tickets. Observe that I had twelve orchestra seats and a box! (Le Figaro had eighteen orchestra seats and three boxes.) I did not even see the chief of the claque. One would say that the management of the Vaudeville had arranged for me to fail. Its dream is fulfilled.
I did not give away a quarter of the seats that I needed and I bought a great many for people who slandered me eloquently in the lobbies. The "bravos" of a devoted few were drowned at once by the "hushes." When they mentioned my name at the end, there was applause (for the man but not for the work) accompanied by two beautiful cat- calls from the gallery gods. That is the truth.
La Petite Presse of this morning is polite. I can ask no more of it. Farewell, dear good master, do not pity me, for I don't feel pitiable.
P. S.--A nice bit from my servant when he handed me your letter this morning. Knowing your handwriting, he said sighing: "Ah! the best one was not there last evening!" That is just what I think.
CCLXXIII TO GEORGE SAND Wednesday, April, 1874
Thank you for your long letter about le Candidat. Now here are the criticisms that I add to yours: we ought to have: (1) lowered the curtain after the electoral meeting and put the entire half of the third act into the beginning of the fourth; (2) cut out the anonymous letter, which is unnecessary, since Arabelle informs Rousselin that his wife has a lover; (3) inverted the order of the scenes in the fourth act, that is to say, beginning with the announcement of the tryst between Madame Rousselin and Julien and, making Rousselin a little more jealous. The anxieties of his election turn him aside from his desire to go to entrap his wife. Not enough is made of the exploiters. There should be ten instead of three. Then, he gives his daughter. The end was there, and at the instant that he notices the blackguardism, he is elected. Then his dream is accomplished, but he feels no joy over it. In that manner there would have been moral progress.
I think, whatever you say about it, that the subject was good, but that I have spoiled it. Not one of the critics has shown me in what. But I know, and that consoles me. What do you think of La Rounat, who in his page implores me, "in the name of our old friendship," not to have my play printed, he thinks it so "silly and badly written"! A parallel between me and Gondinet follows.
The theatrical mystery is one of the funniest things of this age. One would say that the art of the theatre goes beyond the limits of human intelligence, and that it is a secret reserved for those who write like cab drivers. The QUESTION OF IMMEDIATE SUCCESS leads all others. It is the school of demoralization. If my play had been sustained by the management, it could have made money like another. Would it have been the better for that?
The Tentation is not doing badly. The first edition of two thousand copies is exhausted. Tomorrow the second will be published. I have been torn in pieces by the petty journals and praised highly by two or three persons. On the whole nothing serious has appeared yet, nor will appear, I think. Renan does not write any more (he says) in the Debats, and Taine is busy getting settled at Annecy.
I have been EXECRATED by the Messrs. Villemessant and Buloz, who will do all they can to be disagreeable to me. Villemessant reproaches me for not "having been killed by the Prussians." All that is nauseous!
And you beg me not to notice human folly, and to deprive myself of the pleasure of depicting it! But the comic is the only consolation of virtue. There is, moreover, a manner of taking it which is elevated; that is what I am aiming at with two good people. Don't fear that they are too realistic! I am afraid, on the contrary, that it may seem beyond the bounds of possibility, for I shall push the idea to the limit. This little work that I shall start in six weeks will keep me busy for four or five years!
CCLXXIV. TO GEORGE SAND April, 1874
As it would have necessitated a STRUGGLE, and as Cruchard has lawsuits in horror, I have withdrawn my play on the payment of five thousand francs, so much the worse! I will not have my actors hissed! The night of the second performance when I saw Delannoy come back into the wings with his eyes wet, I felt myself a criminal and said to myself: "Enough." (Three persons affect me: Delannoy, Tourgueneff and my servant!) In short, it is over. I am printing my play, you will get it towards the end of the week.
I am jumped on on all sides! le Figaro and le Rappel; it is complete! Those people to whom I lent money or for whom I did favors call me an idiot. I have never had less nerves. My stoicism (or pride) surprises myself even, and when I look for the causes, I ask myself, dear master, if you are not one of them.
I recall the first night of Villemer, which was a triumph, and the first night of Don Juan de Village, which was a failure. You do not know how much I admired you on those two occasions! The dignity of your character (a thing rarer still than genius) edified me! and I formulated within myself this prayer: "Oh! how I wish I could be like her, on a similar occasion." Who knows, perhaps your example has sustained me? Forgive the comparison! Well, I don't bat an eye- lid. That is the truth.
But I confess to regretting the THOUSANDS OF FRANCS which I should have made. My little milk-jug is broken. I should have liked to renew the furniture at Croisset, fooled again!
My dress rehearsal was deadly! Every reporter in Paris! They made fun of it all. I shall underline in your copy, all the passages that they seized on. Yesterday and the day before they did not seize on them any more. Oh! well, so much the worse! It is too late. Perhaps the PRIDE of Cruchard has killed it.
And they have written articles on MY dwellings, my SLIPPERS, my DOG. The chroniclers have described my apartment where they saw "on the walls, pictures and bronzes." But there is nothing at all on the walls! I know that one critic was enraged because I did not go to see him; and a third person came to tell me so this morning, adding: "What do you want me to tell him?...But Messieurs Dumas, Sardou and even Victor Hugo are not like you.--Oh! I know it!--Then you are not surprised, etc."
Farewell, dear good adored master, friendly regards to yours. Kisses to the dear little girls, and all my love to you.
P.S. Could you give me a copy or the original of Cruchard's biography; I have no draft of it and I want to reread it to freshen up MY IDEAL.
CCLXXV. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, at Croissset Nohant, 10 April, 1874
Those who say that I do not think Saint-Antoine beautiful! and excellent, lie about it, I do not need to tell you. Let me ask you how I could have confided in the Levy clerks whom I do not know! I remember, as for Levy himself, saying to him last summer, that I found the thing superb and first class.
I would have done an article for you if I had not already refused Maurice recently, to do one about Hugo's Quatre-vingt-treize. I said that I was ill. The fact is, that I do not know how to DO ARTICLES, and I have done so many of them for Hugo that I have exhausted my subject. I wonder why he has never done any for me; for, really, I am no more of a journalist than he is, and I need his support much more than he needs mine.
On the whole, articles are not of any use, now, no more than are friends at the theatre. I have told you that it is the struggle of one against all, and the mystery, if there is one, is to turn on an electric current. The subject then is very important in the theatre. In a novel, one has time to win the reader over. What a difference! I do not say as you do that there is nothing mysterious in that. Yes, indeed, there is something very mysterious in one respect: namely that one can not judge of one's effect beforehand, and that the shrewdest are mistaken ten times out of fifteen. You say yourself that you have been mistaken. I am at work now on a play; it is not possible to know if I am mistaken or not. And when shall I know? The day after the first performance, if I have it performed, which is not certain. There is no fun in anything except work that has not been read to any one. All the rest is drudgery and PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS, a horrible thing. So make fun of all this GOSSIP; the guiltiest ones are those who report it to you. I think it is very odd that they say so much against you to your friends. No one indeed ever says anything to me: they know that I would not allow it. Be valiant and CONTENT since Saint-Antoine is doing well and selling better. What difference does it make if they cut you up in this or that paper? In former times it meant something; in these days, nothing. The public is not the public of other days, and journalism has not the least literary influence. Every one is a critic and forms his own opinions. They never write articles about my novels. That doesn't make any difference to me.
I embrace you and we love you.
Your old troubadour.
CCLXXVI. TO GEORGE SAND Friday evening, 1st May, 1874
Things are progressing, dear master, insults are accumulating! It is a concerto, a symphony in which each one is intent on his own instrument. I have been cut up beginning le Figaro up to la Revue des Deux Mondes, including la Gazette de France and le Constitutionnel. And THEY have not finished yet! Barbey d'Aurevilly has insulted me personally, and the good Saint-Rene Taillandier, who declares me "unreadable," attributes ridiculous words to me. So much for printing. As for speech, it is in accord. Saint-Victor (is it servility towards Michel Levy) rends me at the Brabant dinner, as does that excellent Charles Edmond, etc. On the other hand I am admired by the professors of the Faculty of Theology at Strasbourg, by Renan, and by the cashier at my butcher's! not to mention some others. There is the truth.
What surprises me, is that under several of these criticisms there is a HATRED against me, against me personally, a deliberate slandering, the cause of which I am seeking. I do not feel hurt, but this avalanche of foolishness saddens me. One prefers inspiring good feelings to bad ones. As for the rest, I am not thinking any more about Saint-Antoine. That is over with!
I shall start, this summer, another book of about the same calibre; after that I shall return to the novel pure and simple. I have in my head two or three to write before I die. Just now I am spending my days at the Library, where I am accumulating notes. In a fortnight, I shall return to my house in the fields. In July I shall go to get rid of my congestion on the top of a Swiss mountain, obeying the advice of Doctor Hardy, the man who called me "a hysterical woman," a saying that I consider profound.
The good Tourgueneff is leaving next week for Russia, his trip will forcibly interrupt his frenzy for pictures, for our friend never leaves the auction rooms now! He is a man with a passion, so much the better for him!
I missed you very much at Madame Viardot's a fortnight ago. She sang Iphigenie en Aulide. I can not tell you how beautiful it was, how transporting, in short how sublime. What an artist that woman is! What an artist! Such emotions console one for life.
Well! and you, dear good master, that play that they talk about, is it finished? You are going to fall back into the theatre! I pity you! After having put dogs on the boards at the Odeon, perhaps they are going to ask you to put on horses! That is where we are now!
And all the household, from Maurice to Fadet, how is it?
Kiss the dear little girls for me and let them return it to you from me.
Your old friend.
CCLXXVII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 4th May, 1874
Let them say what they like, Saint-Antoine is a masterpiece, a magnificent book. Ridicule the critics, they are blockheads. The present century does not like lyricism. Let us wait for the reaction, it will come for you, and a splendid one. Rejoice in your insults, they are great promises for the future.
I am working still on my play, I don't at all know if it is worth anything and don't worry about it. I shall be told that when it is finished, and if it does not seem interesting I shall lock it up. It will have amused me for six weeks, that is the most certain thing for us about our profession.
Plauchut is the joy of the salons! happy old man! always content with himself and with others; that makes him as good as an angel, I forgive him all his graces.
You were happy at hearing the Diva Paulita, we had her, with Iphigenie, for two weeks in Nohant last autumn. Ah! yes, there is beauty and grandeur! Try to come to see us before going to Croisset, you would make us happy.
We all love you and all my dear world embraces you with a GREAT GOOD HEART.
Your old troubadour always,
CCLXXVIII. TO GEORGE SAND Croisset, Tuesday, 26th March, 1874
Dear good master,
Here I am back again in my solitude! But I shall not remain in it long, for, in a short month, I shall go to spend three weeks on the Righi, so as to breathe a bit, to relax myself, to deneurasthenize myself! It is a long time since I took the air, I am tired. I need a little rest. After that I shall start at my big book which will take at least four years. It will have that good quality!
Le Sexe faible which was accepted at the Vaudeville Carvalho, was returned to me by the said Vaudeville and returned also by Perrin, who thinks the play off-color and unconventional. "Putting a cradle and a nurse on the French stage!" Think of it! Then, I took the thing to Duquesnel who has not yet (naturally) given me any answer. How far the demoralization which the theatres bring about extends! The bourgeois of Rouen, my brother included, have been talking to me of the failure of le Candidat in hushed voices (sic) and with a contrite air, as if I had been taken to the assizes under an accusation of forgery. NOT TO SUCCEED IS A CRIME and success is the criterion of well doing. I think that is grotesque in a supreme degree.
Now explain to me why they put mattresses under certain falls and thorns under others? Ah! the world is funny, and it seems chimerical to me to want to regulate oneself according to its opinion.
The good Tourgueneff must be now in Saint Petersburg; he sent me a favorable article on Saint-Antoine from Berlin. It is not the article, but he, that has given me pleasure. I saw him a great deal this winter, and I love him more and more. I saw a good deal of father Hugo who is (when the political gallery is absent) a charming, good fellow.
Was not the fall of the Broglie ministry pleasing to you? Very much so to me! but the next! I am still young enough to hope that the next Chamber will bring us a change for the better. However?
Ah, confound it! how I want to see you and talk a long time with you! Everything is poorly arranged in this world. Why not live with those one loves? The Abbey of Theleme [Footnote: Cf. Rabelais' Gargantua.] is a fine dream, but nothing but a dream. Embrace warmly the dear little girls for me, and entirely yours.
R. P. Cruchard
More Cruchard than ever. I feel like a good-for-nothing, a cow, damned, antique, deliquescent, in short calm and moderate, which is the last term in decadence.
CCLXXIX. TO GEORGE SAND Kalt-Bad. Righi. Friday, 3d July, 1874
Is it true, dear master, that last week you came to Paris? I went through it to go to Switzerland, and I read "in a sheet" that you had been to see les Deux Orphelines, had taken a walk in the Bois de Boulogne, had dined at Magny's, etc.; all of which goes to prove that, thanks to the freedom of the Press, one is not master of one's own actions. Whence it results that Father Cruchard is wrathful with you for not having advised him of your presence in the "new Athens." It seems to me that people are sillier and flatter there than usual. The state of politics has become drivel! They have tickled my ears with the return of the Empire. I don't believe in it! However...We should have to expatriate ourselves then. But how and where?
Is it for a play that you came? I pity you for having anything to do with Duquesnel! He had the manuscript of le Sexe faible returned to me by an agent of the theatrical management, without a word of explanation, and in the ministerial envelope was a letter from an underclerk, which is a gem! I will show it to you. It is a masterpiece of impertinence! People do not write in that way to a Carpentras urchin, offering a skit to the Beaumarchais theatre.
It is that very play le Sexe faible that, last year, Carvalho was so enthusiastic about! Now no one wants it any more for Perrin thinks it unconventional to put on the boards of the Theatre Francais, a nurse and a cradle. Not knowing what to do with it, I have taken it to the Cluny Theatre.
Ah! my poor Bouilhet did well to die! But I think that the Odeon could show more respect for his posthumous work.
Without believing in an Holbachic conspiracy, I think that they have been knocking me a bit too much of late; and they are so indulgent towards certain others.
The American Harrisse maintained to me the other day that Saint- Simon wrote badly. At that I burst out and talked to him in such a way that he will never more before me belch his idiocy. It was at dinner at the Princess's; my violence cast a chill.
You see that your Cruchard continues not to listen to jokes on religion! He does not become calm! quite the contrary!
I have just read la Creation naturelle by Haeckel, a pretty book, pretty book! Darwinism seems to me to be better expounded there than in the books of Darwin himself.
The good Tourgueneff has sent me news from the depths of Scythia. He has found the information he wanted for a book that he is going to do. The tone of his letter is frivolous, from which I conclude that he is well. He will return to Paris in a month.
A fortnight ago I made a little trip to Lower Normandy, where I have found at last a neighborhood suitable to place my two good men. It will be between the valley of the Orne and the valley of the Auge. I shall have to return there several times.
Beginning with September, then, I shall start that hard task! it makes me afraid, and I am overwhelmed by it in advance.
As you know Switzerland, it is useless for me to talk to you of it, and you would scorn me if I were to tell you that I am bored to extinction here. I came here obediently because they ordered me to, for the purpose of bleaching my face and calming my nerves! I don't think that the remedy will be efficacious; anyhow it has been deadly boring to me. I am not a man of nature, and I do not understand anything in a country where there is no history. I would give all these glaciers for the Vatican Museum. One can dream there. Well, in three weeks I shall be glued to my green table! in a humble refuge, where it seems to me you never want to come!
CCLXXX. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 6th July, 1874 (Yesterday, seventy years.)
I was in Paris from the 30th of May to the 10th of June, you were not there. Since my return here, I have been ill with the grippe, rheumatic, and often absolutely deprived of the use of my right arm. I have not the courage to stay in bed: I spend the evening with my children and I forget my little miseries which will pass; everything passes. That is why I was not able to write to you, even to thank you for the good letter which you wrote to me about my novel. In Paris I was overwhelmed by fatigue. That is the way I am growing old, and now I am beginning to feel it; I am not more often ill, now, illness PROSTRATES me more. That is nothing, I have not the right to complain, being well loved and well cared for in my nest. I urge Maurice to go about without me, since my strength is not equal to going with him. He leaves tomorrow for Cantal with a servant, a tent, a lamp, and a quantity of utensils to examine the MICROS of his entomological DIVISION I am telling him that you are bored on the Righi. He cannot understand it.
I am taking up my letter again, begun yesterday; I still find it very hard to move my pen, and even at this moment, I have a pain in my side, and I cannot...
At last, I shall be able perhaps today: for I am furious to think that perhaps you are accusing me of forgetting you, when I am prevented by weakness that is entirely physical, in which my affections count for nothing. You tell me that they KNOCK you too much. I read only le Temps and it is a good deal for me even to open a paper to see about what it is talking. You ought to do as I do and IGNORE criticism when it is not serious, and even when it is. I have never been able to see what good it is to the author criticised. Criticism always starts from a personal point of view, the authority of which the artist does not recognize. It is because of that usurpation of powers in the intellectual order of things, that people get to discussing the Sun and the Moon; but that does not prevent them in the least from showing us their good tranquil faces.
You do not want to be a man of nature, so much the worse for you! therefore you attach too much importance to the details of human things, and you do not tell yourself that there is in you a NATURAL force that defies the IFS and the BUTS of human prattle. We are of nature, in nature, by nature, and for nature. Talent, will, genius, are natural phenomena like the lake, the volcano, the mountain, the wind, the star, the cloud. What man dabbles in is pretty or ugly, ingenious or stupid; what he gets from nature is good or bad; but it is, it exists and subsists. One should not ask from the jumble of appreciation called CRITICISM, what one has done and what one wants to do. Criticism does not know anything about it; its business is to gossip.
Nature alone knows how to speak to the intelligence in a language that is imperishable, always the same, because it does not depart from the eternally true, the absolutely beautiful. The hard thing, when one travels, is to find nature, because man has arranged it everywhere and has almost spoiled it everywhere; probably it is because of that that you are bored, it is because it is disguised and travestied everywhere. However, the glaciers are still intact, I presume.
But I cannot write further, I must tell you quickly that I love you, that I embrace you affectionately. Give me news of yourself. I hope to be on my feet in a few days. Maurice is waiting until I am robust before he goes: I am hurrying as much as I can! My little girls embrace you, they are superb. Aurore is devoted to mythology (George Cox, Baudry translation). You know that? An adorable work for children and parents. Enough, I can no more. I love you; don't have black ideas, and resign yourself to being bored if the air is good there.
CCLXXXI. TO GEORGE SAND Righi, 14 July, 1874;
What? ill? poor, dear master! If it is rheumatism, do as my brother does, who in his character of physician, scarcely believes in medicine. Last year he went to the baths at Aix in Savoy, and in two weeks he was cured of the pains that had tormented him for six years. But to do that you would have to move, to resign your habits, Nohant and the dear little girls. You will remain at home and YOU WILL BE WRONG. You ought to take care of yourself ... for those who love you.
And as regard this, you send me, in your last letter, a horrid thing. Could I, for my part, suspect you of forgetting Cruchard! Come now, I have, first of all, too much vanity and next, too much faith in you.
You don't tell me how your play is getting on at the Odeon.
Speaking of plays, I am going again to expose myself to insults of the populace and the penny-a-liners. The manager of the Cluny Theatre, to whom I took le Sexe faible, has written me an admiring letter and is disposed to put on that play in October. He is reckoning on a great money success. Well, so be it! But I am recalling the enthusiasm of Carvalho, followed by an absolute chill! and all that increases my scorn for the so-called shrewd people who pretend to know all about things. For, in short, there is a dramatic work, declared by the managers of the Vaudeville and the Cluny "perfect," by the Theatre Francais "unplayable," and by the manager of the Odeon "in need of rewriting from one end to the other." Draw a conclusion now! and listen to their advice! Never mind, as these four gentlemen are the masters of your destinies because they have the money, and as they have more mind than you, never having written a line, you must believe them and submit to them.
It is a strange thing how much pleasure imbeciles find in floundering about in the work of another! in cutting it, correcting it, playing the pedagogue! Did I tell you that I was, because of that, very much at odds with a certain *****. He wanted to make over, sometime ago, a novel that I had recommended to him, which was not very good, but of which he is incapable of turning the least phrase. And I did not hide from him my opinion about him; inde irae. However, it is impossible for me to be so modest as to think that that good Pole is better than I am in French prose. And you want me to remain calm! dear master! I have not your temperament! I am not like you, always soaring above the miseries of this world. Your Cruchard is as sensitive as if he were divested of skin. And imbecility, self-sufficiency, injustice exasperate him more and more. Thus the ugliness of the Germans who surround me shuts off the view of the Righi!!! Zounds! What mugs!
God be thanked, "of my horrible sight I purge their States."
CCLXXXII. TO GEORGE SAND Saturday, 26 September, 1874
Then, after having been bored like an ass on the top of the Righi, I returned home the first of August and started my book. The beginning was not easy, it was even "direful," and "methought" I should die of despair; but now things are going, I am all right, come what may! But one needs to be absolutely mad to undertake such a book. I fear that, by its very conception, it is radically impossible. We shall see, Ah! supposing I should carry it out well ... what a dream.
You doubtless know that once more I am exposing myself to the storms of the footlights (pretty metaphor) and that "braving the publicity of the theatre" I shall appear upon the boards of Cluny, probably, towards the end of December. The manager of that "little theatre" is enchanted with le Sexe faible. But so was Carvalho, which did not prevent him ... You know the rest.
Of course every one blames me for letting my play be given in such a joint. But since the others do not want that play and since I insist that it shall be presented to make a few sous for the Bouilhet heirs, I am forced to pass that over. I am keeping two or three pretty anecdotes about this to tell you when we meet. Why is the theatre such a general cause of delirium? Once one is on that ground, ordinary conditions are changed. If one has had the misfortune (slight) not to succeed, friends turn from one. They are very inconsiderate of one. They never salute one! I swear to you on my word of honor that that happened to me on account of le Candida. I do not believe in Holbachic conspiracies, but all that they have done to me since March amazes me. But, I decidedly don't bat an optic, and the fate of le Sexe faible disturbs me less than the least of the phrases of my novel.
Public intelligence seems to me to get lower and lower! To what depth of imbecility shall we descend? Belot's last book sold eight thousand copies in two weeks. Zola's Conquete de Plassans, seventeen hundred in six months, and there was an article about it. All the Monday-morning idiots have just been swooning away about M. Scribe's Une Chaine. France is ill, very ill, whatever they say; and my thoughts are more and more the color of ebony.
However, there are some pretty comic elements: (1) the Bazaine escape with the episode of the sentinel; (2) l'Histoire d'un Diamant by Paul de Musset (see the Revue des Deux Mondes for September); (3) the vestibule of the former establishment of Nadar near Old England [sic], where one can contemplate a life-size photograph of Alexander Dumas.
I am sure that you are finding me grouchy and that you are going to answer me: "What difference does all that make?" But everything makes a difference, and we are dying of humbug, of ignorance, of self-confidence, of scorn of grandeur, of love of banality, and imbecile babble.
"Europe which hates us, looks at us and laughs," said Ruy Blas. My Heavens, she has a right to laugh.
CCLXXXIII TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 5th November, 1874
What, my Cruchard, you have been ill? That is what I feared, I who live in the woes of indigestion and yet hardly work at all, I am disquieted at your kind of life, the excess of intellectual expenditure and the seclusion. In spite of the charm that I have proved and appreciated at Croisset, I fear for you that solitude where you have no longer anyone to remind you that you must eat, drink and sleep, and above all walk. Your rainy climate makes you keep to the house. Here, where it does not rain enough, we are at least hustled out of doors by the beautiful warm sun and that Phoebus invigorates us, while our Phoebus-Apollo murders us.
But I am always talking to you as to a Cruchard philosophic and detached from his personality, to a Cruchard fanatical about literature and drunk with production. When, then, shall you be able to say to yourself: Lo! this is the time for rest, let us taste the innocent pleasure of living for life's sake, of watching with amazement the agitations of others and of not giving to them anything except the excess of our overflow. It does one good to ruminate over what one has assimilated in life, sometimes without attention and without discrimination.
Old friendships sustain us and all at once they distress us. I have just lost my poor blind Duvernet, whom you have seen at our house. He expired very quietly without suspecting it and without suffering. There is another great void about us and my nephew, the substitute, has been nominated for Chateauroux. His mother has followed him.
So we are all alone. Happily we love one another so much that we can live like that, but not without regret for the absent ones. Plauchut left us yesterday to return at Christmas. Maurice is already at work preparing a splendid performance of marionettes for us. And you, if you are in Paris, won't you come to keep the Christmas Eve revels with us? You will have finished your rehearsals, you will have had a success, perhaps you will be in the mood to return to material life, eating truffles?
Tell us about yourself, do not be ill, always love your old troubadour and his people who love you too.
CCLXXXIV. TO GEORGE SAND Wednesday, 2nd December, 1874
I am having remorse about you. It is a crime to let so long a time elapse without answering such a letter as your last. I was waiting to write to you until I had something definite to tell you about le Sexe faible. What is definite is that I took it away from the Cluny a week ago. The cast that Weinschenk proposed to me was odiously stupid and he did not keep the promises that he made. But, God be thanked, I withdrew in time. At present my play has been offered to the Gymnase. No news up to now from Montigny.
I am worrying like five hundred devils about my book, asking myself sometimes if I am not mad to have undertaken it. But, like Thomas Diafoirus, I am stiffening myself against the difficulties of execution which are frightful. I need to learn a heap of things about which I am ignorant. In a month I hope to finish with the agriculture and the gardening, and I shall only then be at the second third of my first chapter.
Speaking of books, do read Fromont et Risler, by my friend Daudet, and les Diaboliques, by my enemy Barbey d'Aurevilly. You will writhe with laughter. It is perhaps owing to the perversity of my mind, which likes unhealthy things, but the latter work seemed to me extremely amusing; it is the last word in the involuntary grotesque. In other respects, dead calm, France is sinking gently like a rotten hulk, and the hope of salvage, even for the staunchest, seems chimerical. You need to be here, in Paris, to have an idea of the universal depression, of the stupidity, of the decrepitude in which we are floundering.
The sentiment of that agony penetrates me and I am sad enough to die. When I am not torturing myself about my work, I am groaning about myself. That is the truth. In my leisure moments, all I do is to think of the dead, and I am going to say a very pretentious thing to you. No one understands me; I belong to another world. The men of my profession are so little of my profession! There is hardly anyone except Victor Hugo with whom I can talk of what interests me. Day before yesterday he recited by heart to me from Boileau and from Tacitus. That was like a gift to me, the thing is so rare. Moreover, the days when there are not politicians at his house, he is an adorable man.
CCLXXXV. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, at Croissset Nohant, 8th December, 1874
Poor dear friend,
I love you all the more because you are growing more unhappy. How you torment yourself, and how you disturb yourself about life! for all of which you complain, is life; it has never been better for anyone or in any time. One feels it more or less, one understands it more or less, one suffers with it more or less, and the more one is in advance of the age one lives in, the more one suffers. We pass like shadows on a background of clouds which the sun seldom pierces, and we cry ceaselessly for the sun which can do no more for us. It is for us to clear away our clouds.
You love literature too much; it will destroy you and you will not destroy the imbecility of the human race. Poor dear! imbecility, that, for my part, I do not hate, that I regard with maternal eyes: for it is a childhood and all childhood is sacred. What hatred you have devoted to it! what warfare you wage on it!
You have too much knowledge and intelligence, you forget that there is something above art: namely, wisdom, of which art at its apogee is only the expression. Wisdom comprehends all: beauty, truth, goodness, enthusiasm, in consequence. It teaches us to see outside of ourselves, something more elevated than is in ourselves, and to assimilate it little by little, through contemplation and admiration.
But I shall not succeed in changing you. I shall not even succeed in making you understand how I envisage and how I lay hold upon HAPPINESS, that is to say, the acceptation of life whatever it may be! There is one person who could change you and save you, that is father Hugo; for he has one side on which he is a great philosopher, while at the same time he is the great artist that you require and that I am not. You must see him often. I believe that he will quiet you: I have not enough tempest in me now for you to understand me. As for him, I think that he has kept his thunderbolts and that he has all the same acquired the gentleness and the compassion of age.
See him, see him often and tell him your troubles, which are great, I see that, and which turn too much to spleen. You think too much of the dead, you think that they have too soon reached their rest. They have not. They are like us, they are searching. They labor in the search.
Every one is well, and embraces you. As for me, I do not get well, but I have hopes, well or not, to keep on still so as to bring up my grandchildren, and to love you as long as I have a breath left.
CCLXXXVI. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, at Croissset Nohant, 16th January, 1875
I too, dear Cruchard, embrace you at the New Year, and wish that you may have a tolerable one, since you do not care to hear the myth happiness spoken of. You admire my serenity; it does not come from my depths, it comes from my necessity of thinking only of others. There is but a little time left, old age creeps on and death is pushing me by the shoulders.
I am as yet, if not necessary, at least extremely useful, and I shall go on as long as I have a breath, thinking, talking, working for them.
Duty is the master of masters, it is the real Zeus of modern times, the son of Time, and has become his master. It is that which lives and acts outside of all the agitations of the world. It does not reason, does not discuss. It examines without fear, it walks without looking behind it; Cronos, the stupid, swallowed stones, Zeus breaks them with the lightning, and the lightning is the will. I am not a philosopher, I am a servant of Zeus, who takes away half of their souls from slaves, but who leaves them entire to the brave.
I have no more leisure to think of myself, to dream of discouraging things, to despair of human-kind, to look at my past sorrows and joys and to summon death.
Mercy! If one were an egoist, one would see it approach with joy; it is so easy to sleep in nothingness, or to awaken in a better life! for it opens these two hypotheses, or to express it better, this antithesis.
But, for the one who must continue working, death must not be summoned before the hour when exhaustion opens the doors of liberty. You have had no children. It is the punishment of those who wish to be too independent; but that suffering is nevertheless a glory for those who vow themselves to Apollo. Then do not complain for having to grub, and describe your martyrdom to us; there is a fine book to be written about that.
You say that Renan is despairing; for my part, I don't believe that: I believe that he is suffering as are all those who look high and far ahead; but he ought to have strength in proportion to his vision. Napoleon shares his ideas, he does well if he shares them all. He has written me a very wise and good letter. He now sees relative safety in a wise republic, and I, too, think it still possible. It will be very bourgeois and not very ideal, but one has to begin at the beginning. We artists have no patience at all. We want the Abbey of Theleme at once; but before saying, "Do what you want!" one must go through with "Do what you can!" I love you and I embrace you with all my heart, my dear Polycarp. My children large and small join with me.
Come now, no weakness! We all ought to be examples to our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens. And how about me, don't you think that I need help and support in my long task that is not yet finished? Don't you love anyone, not even your old troubadour, who still sings, and often weeps, but who conceals himself when he weeps, as cats do when they die?
CCLXXXVII. TO GEORGE SAND Paris, Saturday evening
I curse once more THE DRAMATIC MANIA and the pleasure that certain people have in announcing remarkable news! Someone had told me that you were VERY ill. Your good handwriting came to reassure me yesterday morning, and this morning I have received the letter from Maurice, so the Lord be praised!
What to tell you about myself? I am not stiff, I have ... I don't know what. Bromide of potassium has calmed me and given me eczema on the middle of my forehead.
Abnormal things are going on inside me. My psychic depression must relate to some hidden cause. I feel old, used up, disgusted with everything, and others bore me as I do myself.
However, I am working, but without enthusiasm: as one does a stint, and perhaps it is the work that makes me ill, for I have undertaken a senseless book.
I lose myself in the recollections of my childhood like an old man ... I do not expect anything further in life than a succession of sheets of paper to besmear with black. It seems to me that I am crossing an endless solitude to go I don't know where. And it is I who am at the same time the desert, the traveller, and the camel.
I spent the afternoon today at the funeral of Amedee Achard. The Protestant ceremonies were as inane as if they had been Catholic. ALL PARIS and the reporters were there in force!
Your friend, Paul Meurice, came a week ago to ask me to "do the Salon" in le Rappel. I declined the honor, for I do not admit that anyone can criticise an art of which he does not know the technique! And then, what use is so much criticism!
I am reasonable. I go out every day, I exercise, and I come home tired, and still more irritated, that is the good I get out of it. In short, your troubadour (not very troubadourish) has become a sad bonehead.
It is in order not to bore you with my complaints that I write so rarely to you now, for no one has a livelier sense than I of my unbearableness.
Send me Flamarande; that will give me a little air.
I embrace you all, and especially you, dear master, so great, so strong, and so gentle. Your Cruchard, who is more and more cracked, if cracked is the right word, for I perceive that the contents are escaping.
CCLXXXVIII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 20th February
Then you are quite ill, dear old fellow? I am not worried about it, since it concerns only nerves and rheumatisms, and I have lived seventy years with all that nuisance in my body, and I am still healthy. But I am sad to know that you are bored, suffering, and your spirit turned to darkness as it necessarily is when one is ill.
I was sure that a moment would come when someone would prescribe walking to you. All your illness comes from the lack of exercise, a man of your strength and your complexion ought to have lived an athletic life.
Don't sulk then about the very wise order that condemns you to an hour's walk each day.
You fancy that the work of the spirit is only in the brain, you are very much mistaken, it is also in the legs.
Tell me that two weeks of this regime has cured you. It will happen, I am sure of it.
I love you, and I embrace you, as does every one of my brood.
Your old troubadour
CCLXXXIX. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 25th March, 1875
Don't be worried about me, my Polycarp. I have nothing serious, a little grippe, and this right arm which hardly moves but which electricity will cure. One thinks that it is an effort.
I am much more worried about you, although you are ten times as strong as I am, but your morale is affected whereas mine takes what comes, in a cowardly way, if you like, but there is perhaps a philosophy in knowing how to be cowardly rather than angry.
Do write to me, tell me that you are going out of doors, that you are walking, that you are better.--I have finished going over the proofs of Flamarande. That is the most boring part of the task.
I shall send you the book when it is published. I know that you do not like to read bit by bit.
I am a little tired; however, I want to begin something else. Since it is not warm enough to go out, I get bored with not having anything on the stocks. Everything is going well in the nest, except for a few colds. Spring is so peevish this year! At last the pale sun will become the dear Phoebus-Appolo with the shining hair, and all will go well.
Aurore is getting so big that one is surprised to hear her laugh and play like a child, always good, and tender, the other is always very funny and facetious.
Tell us of yourself and always love us as we love you.
Your old troubadour
CCXC. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 7th May, 1875
You leave me without news of you? You say that you prefer to be forgotten, rather than to complain ceaselessly, as it is very useless and since you will not be forgotten; complain then, but tell us that you are alive and that you still love us.
As you are much nicer, the more surly you are, I know that you are not rejoicing over the death of poor Michel. For me, it is a great loss in every way, for he was absolutely devoted to me and proved it all the time by his care and services without number.
We are all well here. I am better since it is not cold any more, and I am working a great deal. I am also doing many water colors, I am reading the Iliad with Aurore, who does not like any translation except Leconte de Lisle's, insisting that Homer is spoiled by approximate renderings.
The child is a singular mixture of precocity and childishness. She is nine years old and so large that one would think her twelve. She plays dolls with passion, and she is as LITERARY as you or I, meanwhile learning her own language which she does not yet know.
Are you still in Paris in this lovely weather? Nohant is now STREAMING with flowers, from the tips of the trees to the turf; Croisset must be even prettier, for it is cool, and we are struggling with a drought that has now become chronic in Berry. But if you are still in Paris, you have that beautiful Pare Monceau under your eyes where you are walking, I hope, since you have to. Life is at the price of walking!
Won't you come to see us? Whether you are sad or gay, we love you the same here, and we wish that affection meant something to you, but we shall give it to you, and we give it to you without conditions.
I am thinking of going to Paris next month, shall you be there?
CCXCI. TO GEORGE SAND Croisset, 10th May, 1875
A wandering gout, pains that go all over me, an invincible melancholy, the feeling of "universal uselessness" and grave doubts about the book that I am writing, that is what is the matter with me, dear and valiant master. Add to that worries about money with melancholic recollections of the past, that is my condition, and I assure you that I make great efforts to get out of it. But my will is tired. I cannot decide about anything effective! Ah! I have eaten my white bread first, and old age is not announcing itself under gay colors. Since I have begun hydrotherapy, however, I feel a little less like a COW, and this evening I am going to begin work without looking behind me.
I have left my apartment in the rue Murillo, and I have taken a larger one which is next to the one that my niece has just reserved on the Boulevard Reine Hortense. I shall be less alone next winter, for I cannot endure solitude.
Tourgueneff seemed to me, however, to be very well pleased with the two first chapters of my frightful book. But Tourgueneff loves me too much, perhaps to judge impartially. I am not going to leave my house for a long time now, for I WILL get ahead in my task, which weighs on my chest like a burden of a million pounds. My niece will come to spend all the month of June here. When she has gone away, I shall make a little archeological and geological excursion in Calvados, and that will be all.
No, I do not rejoice at Michel Levy's death, and I even envy him that death so quiet. Just the same, that man did me a great deal of harm. He wounded me deeply. It is true that I am endowed with an absurd sensitiveness; what scratches others tears me to pieces. Why am I not organized for enjoyment as I am for suffering!
The bit you sent me about Aurore who is reading Homer, did me good. That is what I miss: a little girl like that! But one does not arrange one's own destiny, one submits to it. I have always lived from day to day, without plans for the future and pursuing my end (one alone, literature) without looking to the right or to the left. Everything that was around me has disappeared, and now I find I am in a desert. In short, the element of distraction is absolutely lacking to me. One needs a certain vivacity to write good things! What can one do to get it again? How can one proceed, to avoid thinking continually about one's miserable person? The sickest thing in me is my humor: the rest doubtless would go well. You see, dear, good master, that I am right to spare you my letters. Nothing is as imbecile as the whiners.
CCXCII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Thursday morning, 10th June, 1875
We are leaving, Lina and I, on Saturday morning, and up to then we shall be on the move. If you wanted to come to dine with us Friday at Magny's at six o'clock, at least we could say farewell. You should be free at nine o'clock, for we go to bed with the chickens in order to leave early the next day. What do you say?
I love you with all my heart.
CCXCIII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
Friend, I shall come at your call as soon as you say to me, "I have finished."
I love you, and I embrace you.
CCXCIV. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 15 August
My poor, dear, old fellow,
I learn only today in a letter from that dear, lazy soul of a Tourgueneff, about the misfortune which has come to your niece. Is it then irreparable? Her husband is very young and intelligent, can't he begin over again, or take a position that will give him a living? They have no children, they do not need millions to live on, young and well as they both are. Tourgueneff tells me that your property has been affected by this failure. If it is AFFECTED MERELY you will bear this serious annoyance philosophically. You have no vices to satisfy, nor ambitions to appease. I am sure that you will accommodate your life to your resources. The hardest thing for you to bear, is the chagrin of that young woman who is as a daughter to you. But you will give her courage and consolation, it is the moment to be above your own worries, in order to assuage those of others. I am sure that as I write, you have calmed her mind and soothed her heart. Perhaps, too, the disaster is not what it seems at the first moment. There will be a change for the better, a new way will be found, for it is always so, and the worth of men is measured according to their energy, to the hopes which are always a sign of their force and intelligence. More than one has risen again bravely. Be sure that better days will come and tell them so continually, for it is true. Your moral and physical welfare must not be shaken by this rebuff. Think of healing those whom you love, and forget yourself. We shall be thinking of you, and we shall be suffering for you; for I am keenly affected at seeing that you have a new subject of sadness amidst your spleen.
Come, dear splendid old fellow, cheer up, do us a new successful novel, and think of those who love you, and whose hearts are saddened and torn by your discouragements. Love them, love us, and you will find once more your strength and your enthusiasm.
We all embrace you very tenderly. Do not write if it bores you, say to us only, "I am well, and I love you."
CCXCV. TO GEORGE SAND Wednesday
Will you forgive my long delay, dear master? But I think that I must bore you with my eternal jeremiads. I repeat myself like a dotard! I am becoming too stupid! I am boring everybody. In short, your Cruchard has become an intolerable old codger, because he has been intolerant. And as I cannot do anything that I ought to do, I must, out of consideration for others, spare them the overflow of my bile.
For the last six months, especially, I don't know what has been the trouble with me, but I feel dreadfully ill, without being able to get to the root of the matter, and I know many people are in the same condition. Why? Perhaps we are suffering from the illness of France; here in Paris, where her heart beats, people feel better than at her extremities, in the provinces.
I assure you that every one now is suffering with some incomprehensible trouble. Our friend Renan is one of the most desperate, and Prince Napoleon feels exactly the way he does. But they have strong nerves. But, as for me, I am attacked by a well defined melancholia. I should be resigned to it, and I am not.
I work all the more, so as not to think about myself. But since I have undertaken a book that has absurd difficulties in its execution, the feeling of my powerlessness adds to my chagrin.
Don't tell me again that imbecility is sacred like childhood, for imbecility contains no germ. Let me believe that the dead do not "search any more," and that they are at rest. We are sufficiently tormented on earth to be at rest when we are beneath it! Ah! How I envy you, how I long to have your serenity! To say nothing of the rest! and your two dear little girls, whom I embrace as tenderly as I do--you.
CCXCVI. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, at Croissset Nohant, 7th September, 1875
You are distressed, you are discouraged, you distress me too. That is all right, I would rather have you complain than keep silent, dear friend. And I don't want you to stop writing to me.
I also have great and frequent sorrows. My old friends are dying before I do. One of the dearest, the one who brought up Maurice and whom I was expecting to help me to bring up my grandchildren, has just died, almost in an instant. That is a deep sorrow. Life is a succession of blows at one's heart. But duty is there: we must go on and do our tasks without saddening those who suffer with us.
I ask you absolutely to WILL, and not to be indifferent to the griefs which we are sharing with you. Tell us that calm has come and that the horizon has cleared.
We love you, sad or gay.
Give us news of yourself.
CCXCVII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 8th October, 1875
Well, well, your health has come back in spite of you, since you are sleeping all night. The sea air forces you to live and you have made progress, you have given up a work that would not have made a success. Do something more of earth earthy, which would reach everybody. Tell me what price they would sell Croisset for if they are obliged to sell it. Is it a house and garden, or is there a farm and grounds! If it is not beyond my means I might buy it and you should spend the rest of your life there. I have no money, but I should try to shift a little capital. Answer me seriously, I beg of you; if I can do it, it shall be done.
I have been ill all the summer, that is to say, that I have suffered continually, but I have worked all the more not to think of it. In fact they are to put on Villemer and Victorine at the Theatre Francais again. But there is nothing now in preparation. I do not know at what time in the autumn or winter I shall have to go to Paris. I shall find you there ready and courageous, shan't I? If you have made, through goodness and devotion, as I think, a great sacrifice for your niece, who, in truth, is your real daughter, you will forget all about it and will begin your life again as a young man. Is one old when one does not choose to be? Stay at the seaside as long as you can. The important thing is to patch up the physical machine. Here with us it is as warm as in midsummer. I hope that you still have the sun down there. Study the life of the mollusc! They are creatures better endowed than one thinks, and, for my part, I should love to take a walk with Georges Pouchet! Natural history is the inexhaustible source of agreeable occupations for even those who seek only amusement in it, and if you actually attacked it you would be saved. But you must by all means save yourself, for you are somebody, and you cannot drop out of the running, as can a mere ruined grocer. We all embrace you with our best love.
CCXCVIII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, in Paris Nohant, 15 November, 1875
So you are there in Paris, and have you left your apartment at the rue Murillo? You are working? Good luck and good courage! The old man is coming to the top again! I know that they are rehearsing Victorine at the Theatre Francais; but I don't know whether I shall go to see that revival. I have been so ill all the summer and I am still suffering so much with intestinal trouble, that I do not know if I shall ever be strong enough to move in winter. Well, we shall see. The hope of finding you there will give me courage; that is not what will be lacking, but, since I passed my seventieth birthday, I have been very much upset, and I do not yet know if I shall get over it. I cannot walk any more, I who used to love to be on my feet so much, without risking atrocious pains. I am patient with these miseries, I work all the more, and I do water-colors in my hours of recreation.
Aurore consoles and charms me; I should like to live long enough to get her married. But God disposes, and one must take death and life as He wills.
Well, this is just to say to you that I shall go to embrace you unless the thing is ABSOLUTELY impossible. You shall read me what you have begun. Meanwhile, give me news of yourself; for I shall not stir until the last rehearsals. I know my cast, I know that they will all do well, according to their capabilities, and, besides, that Perrin will look after them.
We all KISS you very tenderly, and we love you, Cruchard or not.
CCXCIX. TO GEORGE SAND Paris, 11 December, 1875
Things are going a little better, and I am profiting by the occasion to write to you, dear, good, adorable master.
You know that I have abandoned my big novel in order to write a little MEDIEVAL bit of nonsense, which won't run to more than thirty pages. It puts me in a more decent setting than that of modern times, and does me good. Then I am hunting for a contemporary novel, but I am hesitating among several embryonic ideas; I should like to do something concise and violent. The string of the necklace (that is to say, the main idea) is still to seek.
Externally my life is scarcely changed: I see the same people, I receive the same visits. My faithful ones on Sunday are first of all, the big Tourgueneff, who is nicer than ever, Zola, Alphonse Daudet, and Goncourt. You have never spoken to me of the first two. What do you think of their books?
I am not reading anything at all, except Shakespeare, whom am going through from beginning to end. That tones you up and puts new air into your lungs, just as if you were on a high mountain. Everything appears mediocre beside that prodigious felow.
As I go out very little, I have not yet seen Victor Hugo. However, this evening I am going to resign myself to putting on my boots, so that I can go to present my compliments to him. His personality pleases me infinitely, but his court! ... mercy!
The senatorial elections are a subject of diversion to the public of which I am a part. There must have occurred, in the corridors of the Assembly, dialogues incredibly grotesque and base. The XlXth century is destined to see all religions perish. Amen! I do not mourn any of them.
At the Odeon, a live bear is going to appear on the boards. That is all that I know about literature.
CCC. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, in Paris Nohant, 18th and 19th December, 1875
At last I discover my old troubadour who was a subject of chagrin and serious worry to me. Here you are yourself again, trusting in the very natural luck of external events, and discovering in yourself the strength to control them, whatever they may be, by effort. What is it that you call some one in HIGH FINANCE? For my part, I don't know; I am in relations with Victor Borie. He will do me a favor if he sees it to his interest. Must I write him?
Then you are going to start grubbing again? So am I; for since Flamarande I have done nothing but mark time, while waiting for something better. I was so ill all summer! but my strange and excellent friend Favre has cured me wonderfully, and I am taking a new lease on life.
What's our next move? For you, of course, DESOLATION, and, for me, consolation. I do not know on what our destinies depend; you see them pass, you criticise them, you abstain from a literary appreciation of them, you limit yourself to depicting them, with deliberate meticulous concealment of your personal feelings. However, one sees them very clearly through your narrative, and you make the people sadder who read you. As for me, I should like to make them less sad. I cannot forget that my personal victory over despair was the work of my will and of a new way of understanding which is entirely opposed to what I had before.
I know that you criticise the intervention of the personal doctrine in literature. Are you right? Isn't it rather a lack of conviction than a principle of esthetics? One cannot have a philosophy in one's soul without its appearing. I have no literary advice to give you, I have no judgment to formulate on the author friends of whom you speak. I, myself have told the Goncourts all my thought; as for the others, I firmly believe that they have more education and more talent than I have. Only I think that they, and you especially, lack a definite and extended vision of life. Art is not merely painting. True painting, moreover, is full of the soul that wields the brush. Art is not merely criticism and satire: criticism and satire depict only one side of the truth.
I want to see a man as he is, he is not good or bad, he is good and bad. But he is something more ... nuance. Nuance which is for me the purpose of art, being good and bad, he has an internal force which leads him to be very bad and slightly good,--or very good and slightly bad.
I think that your school is not concerned with the substance, and that it dwells too much on the surface. By virtue of seeking the form, it makes the substance too cheap! it addresses itself to the men of letters. But there are no men of letters, properly speaking. Before everything, one is a man. One wants to find man at the basis of every story and every deed. That was the defect of l'Education sentimentale, about which I have so often reflected since, asking myself why there was so general a dislike of a work that was so well done and so solid. This defect was the absence of ACTION of the characters on themselves. They submitted to the event and never mastered it. Well, I think that the chief interest in a story is what you did not want to do. If I were you, I would try the opposite; you are feeding on Shakespeare just now, and you are doing well! He is the author who puts men at grips with events; observe that by them, whether for good or for ill, the event is always conquered. In his works, it is crushed underfoot.
Politics is a comedy just now. We have had tragedy, shall we end with the opera or with the operetta? I read my paper conscientiously every morning; but aside from that moment, it is impossible for me to think of it or to be interested in it. All of it is absolutely void of any ideal whatsoever, and therefore I cannot get up any interest in any of the persons concerned in that scullery. All of them are slaves of fact because they have been born slaves of themselves.
My dear little girls are well. Aurore is a well-set-up girl, a beautiful upright soul in a strong body. The other one is grace and sweetness. I am always an assiduous and a patient teacher, and very little time is left to me to write PROFESSIONALLY, seeing that I cannot keep awake after midnight and that I want to spend all my evening with my family; but this lack of time stimulates me and makes me find a true pleasure in digging away; it is like a forbidden fruit that I taste in secret.
All my dear world embraces you and rejoices to hear that you are better. Did I send you Flamarande and the pictures of my little girls? If not, send me a line, and I send you both.
Your old troubadour who loves you,
Embrace your charming niece for me. What a good and lovely letter she wrote me! Tell her that I beg her to take care of herself and to please get well quickly.
What do you mean! Littre a senator? It is impossible to believe it when one knows what the Chamber is. All the same it must be congratulated for this attempt at self-respect.