CCCI. TO GEORGE SAND December, 1875
Your good letter of the 18th, so maternally tender, has made me reflect a great deal. I have reread it ten times, and I shall confess to you that I am not sure that I understand it. Briefly, what do you want me to do? Make your instructions exact.
I am constantly doing all that I can to enlarge my brain, and I work in the sincerity of my heart. The rest does not depend on me.
I do not enjoy making "desolation," believe me, but I cannot change my eyes! As for my "lack of convictions," alas! I choke with convictions. I am bursting with anger and restrained indignation. But according to the ideal of art that I have, I think that the artist should not manifest anything of his own feelings, and that the artist should not appear any more in his work than God in nature. The man is nothing, the work is everything! This method, perhaps mistakenly conceived, is not easy to follow. And for me, at least, it is a sort of permanent sacrifice that I am making to good taste. It would be agreeable to me to say what I think and to relieve Mister Gustave Flaubert by words, but of what importance is the said gentleman?
I think as you do, dear master, that art is not merely criticism and satire; moreover, I have never tried to do intentionally the one nor the other. I have always tried to go into the soul of things and to stick to the greatest generalities, and I have purposely turned aside from the accidental and the dramatic. No monsters and no heroes!
You say to me: "I have no literary advice to give you; I have no judgments to formulate on the authors, your friends, etc." Well? indeed! but I implore advice, and I am waiting for your judgments. Who, pray, should give them, and who, pray, should formulate them, if not you?
Speaking of my friends, you add "my school." But I am ruining my temperament in trying not to have a school! A priori, I spurn them, every one. The people whom I see often and whom you designate cultivate all that I scorn and are indifferently disturbed about what torments me. I regard as very secondary, technical detail, local exactness, in short the historical and precise side of things. I am seeking above all for beauty, which my companions pursue but languidly. I see them insensible when I am ravaged with admiration or horror. Phrases make me swoon with pleasure which seem very ordinary to them. Goncourt is very happy when he has seized upon a word in the street that he can stick in a book, and I am well satisfied when I have written a page without assonances or repetitions. I would give all the legends of Gavarni for certain expressions and master strokes, such as "the shade was NUPTIAL, august and solemn!" from Victor Hugo, or this from Montesquieu: "the vices of Alexander were extreme like his virtues. He was terrible in his wrath. It made him cruel."
In short, I try to think well, IN ORDER TO write well. But writing well is my aim, I do not deny it.
"I lack a well-defined and extended vision of life." You are right a thousand times over, but by what means could it be otherwise? I ask you that. You do not enlighten my darkness with metaphysics, neither mine nor that of others. The words religion or Catholicism on the one hand; progress, fraternity, democracy on the other, do not correspond to the spiritual needs of the moment. The entirely new dogma of equality which radicalism praises is experimentally denied by physiology and history. I do not see the means of establishing today a new principle, any more than of respecting the old ones. Therefore I am hunting, without finding it, that idea on which all the rest should depend.
Meanwhile I repeat to myself what Littre said to me one day: "Ah! my friend, man is an unstable compound, and the earth an inferior planet."
Nothing sustains me better than the hope of leaving it soon, and of not going to another which might be worse. "I would rather not die," as Marat said. Ah! no! enough, enough weariness!
I am writing now a little silly story, which a mother can permit her child to read. The whole will be about thirty pages, I shall have two months more at it. Such is my energy, I shall send it to you as soon as it appears (not my energy, but the little story).
CCCII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, in Paris Nohant, 12th January, 1876
My cherished Cruchard,
I want to write to you every day; time is lacking absolutely. At last here is a free moment; we are buried under the snow; it is the sort of weather that I adore: this whiteness is like general purification, and the amusements of the house seem more intimate and sweeter. Can anyone hate the winter in the country? The snow is one of the most beautiful sights of the year!
It appears that I am not clear in my sermons; I have that much in common with the orthodox, but I am not of them; neither in my idea of equality, nor of authority, have I any fixed plan. You seem to think that I want to convert you to a doctrine. Not at all, I don't think of such a thing. Everyone sets off from a point of view, the free choice of which I respect. In a few words, I can give a resume of mine: not to place oneself behind an opaque glass through which one can see only the reflection of one's own nose. To see as far as possible the good, the bad, about, around, yonder, everywhere; to perceive the continual gravitation of all tangible and intangible things towards the necessity of the decent, the good, the true, the beautiful.
I don't say that humanity is on the way to the heights. I believe it in spite of everything; but I do not argue about it, it is useless because each one judges according to his own personal vision, and the general aspect is for the moment poor and ugly. Besides, I do not need to be sure of the safety of the planet and its inhabitants in order to believe in the necessity of the good and the beautiful; if the planet departs from that law it will perish; if the inhabitants discard it they will be destroyed. Other stars, other souls will pass over their bodies, so much the worse! But, as for me, I want to gravitate up to my last breath, not with the certitude nor the need of finding elsewhere a GOOD PLACE, but because my sole joy is in keeping myself with my family on an upward road.
In other words, I am fleeing the sewer, and I am seeking the dry and the clean, certain that it is the law of my existence. Being a man amounts to little; we are still near the monkey from which they say we proceed. Very well! a further reason for separating ourselves still more from it and for being at least at the height of the relative truth that our race has been admitted to comprehend; a very poor truth, very limited, very humble! well, let us possess it as much as we can and not permit anyone to take it from us. We are, I think, quite agreed; but I practice this simple religion and you do not practice it, since you let yourself become discouraged; your heart has not been penetrated with it, since you curse life and desire death like a Catholic who yearns for compensation, were it only the rest eternal. You are no surer than another of this compensation. Life is perhaps eternal, and therefore work is eternal. If this is so, let us do our day's work bravely. If it is otherwise, if the MOI perishes entirely, let us have the honor of having done our stated task, it is our duty; for we have evident duties only toward ourselves and our equals. What we destroy in ourselves, we destroy in them. Our abasement lowers them, our falls drag them down; we owe it to them to remain erect so that they shall not fall. The desire for an early death, as that for a long life, is therefore a weakness, and I do not want you to admit any longer that it is a right. I thought that had it once; I believed, however, what I believe today; but I lacked strength, and like you I said: "I cannot help it." I lied to myself. One can help everything. One has the strength that one thinks one has not, when one desires ardently to GRAVITATE, to mount a step each day, to say to oneself: "The Flaubert of tomorrow must be superior to the one of yesterday, and the one of day after tomorrow more steady and more lucid still."
When you feel you are on the ladder, you will mount very quickly. You are about to enter gradually upon the happiest and most favorable time of life: old age. It is then that art reveals itself in its sweetness; as long as one is young, it manifests itself with anguish. You prefer a well-turned phrase to all metaphysics. I also, I love to see condensed into a few words what elsewhere fills volumes; but these volumes, one must have understood them completely (either to admit them or to reject them) in order to find the sublime resume which becomes literary art in its fullest expression; that is why one should not scorn the efforts of the human mind to arrive at the truth.
I tell you that, because you have excessive prejudices AS TO WORDS. In truth, you read, you dig, you work much more than I and a crowd of others do. You have acquired learning that I shall never attain. Therefore you are a hundred times richer than all of us; you are a rich man, and you complain like a poor man. Be charitable to a beggar who has his mattress full of gold, but who wants to be nourished only on well-turned phrases and choice words. But brute, ransack your own mattress and eat your gold. Nourish yourself with the ideas and feelings accumulated in your head and your heart; the words and the phrases, THE FORM to which you attach so much importance, will issue by itself from your digestion. You consider it as an end, it is only an effect. Happy manifestations proceed only from an emotion, and an emotion proceeds only from a conviction. One is not moved at all by the things that one does not believe with all one's heart.
I do not say that you do not believe: on the contrary, all your life of affection, of protection, and of charming and simple goodness, proves that you are the most convinced individual in the world. But, as soon as you handle literature, you want, I don't know why, to be another man, one who should disappear, one who destroys himself, who does not exist! What an absurd mania! what a false rule of GOOD TASTE! Our work is worth only what we are worth.
Who is talking about putting yourself on the stage? That, in truth, is of no use, unless it is done frankly by way of a chronicle. But to withdraw one's soul from what one does, what is that unhealthy fancy? To hide one's own opinion about the characters that one puts on the stage, to leave the reader therefore uncertain about the opinion that he should have of them, that is to desire not to be understood, and from that moment, the reader leaves you; for if he wants to understand the story that you are telling him, it is on the condition that you should show him plainly that this one is a strong character and that one weak.
L'Education sentimentale has been a misunderstood book, as I have told you repeatedly, but you have not listened to me. There should have been a short preface, or, at a good opportunity, an expression of blame, even if only a happy epithet to condemn the evil, to characterize the defect, to signalize the effort. All the characters in that book are feeble and come to nothing, except those with bad instincts; that is what you are reproached with, because people did not understand that you wanted precisely to depict a deplorable state of society that encourages these bad instincts and ruins noble efforts; when people do not understand us it is always our fault. What the reader wants, first of all, is to penetrate into our thought, and that is what you deny him, arrogantly. He thinks that you scorn him and that you want to ridicule him. For my part, I understood you, for I knew you. If anyone had brought me your book without its being signed, I should have thought it beautiful, but strange, and I should have asked myself if you were immoral, skeptical, indifferent or heart-broken. You say that it ought to be like that, and that M. Flaubert will violate the rules of good taste if he shows his thought and the aim of his literary enterprise. It is false in the highest degree. When M. Flaubert writes well and seriously, one attaches oneself to his personality. One wants to sink or swim with him. If he leaves you in doubt, you lose interest in his work, you neglect it, or you give it up.
I have already combated your favorite heresy, which is that one writes for twenty intelligent people and does not care a fig for the rest. It is not true, since the lack of success irritates you and troubles you. Besides, there have not been twenty critics favorable to this book which was so well written and so important. So one must not write for twenty persons any more than for three, or for a hundred thousand.
One must write for all those who have a thirst to read and who can profit by good reading. Then one must go straight to the most elevated morality within oneself, and not make a mystery of the moral and profitable meaning of one's book. People found that with Madame Bovary. If one part of the public cried scandal, the healthiest and the broadest part saw in it a severe and striking lesson given to a woman without conscience and without faith, to vanity, to ambition, to irrationality. They pitied her; art required that, but the lesson was clear, and it would have been more so, it would have been so for everybody, if you had wished it, if you had shown more clearly the opinion that you had, and that the public ought to have had, about the heroine, her husband, and her lovers.
That desire to depict things as they are, the adventures of life as they present themselves to the eye, is not well thought out, in my opinion. Depict inert things as a realist, as a poet, it's all the same to me, but, when one touches on the emotions of the human heart, it is another thing. You cannot abstract yourself from this contemplation; for man, that is yourself, and men, that is the reader. Whatever you do, your tale is a conversation between you and the reader. If you show him the evil coldly, without ever showing him the good he is angry. He wonders if it is he that is bad, or if it is you. You work, however, to rouse him and to interest him; you will never succeed if you are not roused yourself, or if you hide it so well that he thinks you indifferent. He is right: supreme impartiality is an anti-human thing, and a novel ought to be human above everything. If it is not, the public is not pleased in its being well written, well composed and conscientious in every detail. The essential quality is not there: interest. The reader breaks away likewise from a book where all the characters are good without distinctions and without weaknesses; he sees clearly that that is not human either. I believe that art, this special art of narration, is only worth while through the opposition of characters; but, in their struggle, I prefer to see the right prevail. Let events overwhelm the honest men, I agree to that, but let him not be soiled or belittled by them, and let him go to the stake feeling that he is happier than his executioners.
15th January, 1876
It is three days since I wrote this letter, and every day I have been on the point of throwing it into the fire; for it is long and diffuse and probably useless. Natures opposed on certain points understand each other with difficulty, and I am afraid that you will not understand me any better today than formerly. However, I am sending you this scrawl so that you can see that I am occupied with you almost as much as with myself.
You must have success after that bad luck which has troubled you deeply. I tell you wherein lie the certain conditions for your success. Keep your cult for form; but pay more attention to the substance. Do not take true virtue for a commonplace in literature. Give it its representative, make honest and strong men pass among the fools and the imbeciles that you love to ridicule. Show what is solid at the bottom of these intellectual abortions; in short, abandon the convention of the realist and return to the time reality, which is a mingling of the beautiful and the ugly, the dull and the brilliant, but in which the desire of good finds its place and its occupation all the same.
I embrace you for all of us.
CCCIII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Nohant, 6th March, 1876
I am writing to you in a hurry this morning because I have just received news from M. Perrin of the first performance of the revival of the Mariage de Victorine, a play of mine, at the Theatre Francais.
I have neither the time to go there, nor the wish to leave like that at a moment's notice, but I should have liked to send some of my friends there, and he does not offer me a single seat for them. I am writing him a letter that he will receive tomorrow, and I am asking him to send you at least one orchestra seat. If you do not get it, please understand that it was not my fault. I shall have to say the same thing to five or six other people.
I embrace you therefore in a hurry, so as not to lose the post.
Give me news of your niece and embrace her for me.
CCCIV. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, at Paris Nohant, 8th March, 1876
You scorn Sedaine, you great profane soul! That is where the doctrine of form destroys your eye! Sedaine is not a writer, that is true, although he falls but little short of it, but he is a man, with a heart and soul, with the sense of moral truth, the direct insight into human feelings. I don't mind his out-of-date reasonings and dry phraseology! The right thought is always there, and it penetrates you deeply!
My dear old Sedaine! He is one of my well-beloved papas, and I consider le Philosophe sans le savior far superior to Victorine; it is such a distressing drama and so well carried out! But you only look for the well-turned phrase, that is one thing--only one thing, it is not all of art, it is not even half of it, it is a quarter at most, and if three-quarters are beautiful, one overlooks the part that is not.
I hope that you will not go to seek for your country-side before the good weather; here, we have been pretty well spared; but for the past three days there has been a deluge, and it makes me ill. I should not have been able to go to Paris. Your niece is better, God be praised! I love you and I embrace you with all my soul.
Do tell M. Zola to send me his book. I shall certainly read it with great interest.
CCCV. TO GEORGE SAND Wednesday, 9th March, 1876
COMPLETE SUCCESS, dear master. The actors were recalled after each act, and warmly applauded. The public was pleased and from time to time cries of approval were heard. All your friends who had come at your summons were sorry that you were not there.
The roles of Antoine and Victorine were especially well played. Little Baretta is a real treasure.
How were you able to make Victorine from le Philosophe sans le savoir? That is beyond me. Your play charmed me and made me weep like an idiot, while the other bored me to death, absolutely bored me to death; I longed to get to the end. What language! the good Tourgueneff and Madame Viardot made saucer-eyes, comical to behold. In your work, what produced the greatest effect is the scene in the last act between Antoine and his daughter. Maubant is too majestic, and the actor who plays Fulgence is inadequate. But everything went very well, and this revival will have a long life.
The gigantic Harrisse told me that he was going to write to you immediately. Therefore his letter will arrive before mine. I should have started this morning for Pont-l'Eveque and Honfleur to see a bit of the country that I have forgotten, but the floods stopped me.
Read, I beg of you, the new novel by Zola, Son Excellence Rougon: I am very anxious to know what you think of it.
No, I do not SCORN Sedaine, because I do not scorn what I do not understand. He is to me, like Pindar, and Milton, who are absolutely closed to me; however, I quite understand that the citizen Sedaine is not exactly of their calibre.
The public of last Tuesday shared my error, and Victorine, independently of its real worth, gained by contrast. Madame Viardot, who has naturally good taste, said to me yesterday, in speaking of you: "How was she able to make one from the other?" That is exactly what I think.
You distress me a bit, dear master, by attributing esthetic opinions to me which are not mine. I believe that the rounding of the phrase is nothing. But that WRITING WELL is everything, because "writing well is at the same time perceiving well, thinking well and saying well" (Buffon). The last term is then dependent on the other two, since one has to feel strongly, so as to think, and to think, so as to express.
All the bourgeois can have a great deal of heart and delicacy, be full of the best sentiments and the greatest virtues, without becoming for all that, artists. In short, I believe that the form and the matter are two subtleties, two entities, neither of which can exist without the other.
This anxiety for external beauty which you reproach me with is for me a METHOD. When I discover a bad assonance or a repetition in one of my phrases, I am sure that I am floundering in error; by dint of searching, I find the exact expression which was the only one and is, at the same time, the harmonious one. The word is never lacking when one possesses the idea.
Note (to return to the good Sedaine) that I share all his opinions and I approve his tendencies. From the archeological point of view, he is curious and from the humanitarian point of view very praiseworthy, I agree. But what difference does it make to us today? Is it eternal art? I ask you that.
Other writers of his period have formulated useful principles also, but in an imperishable style, in a more concrete and at the same time more general manner.
In short, the persistence of the Comedie Francais in exhibiting that to us as "a masterpiece" had so exasperated me that, having gone home in order to get rid of the taste of this milk-food, I read before going to bed the Medea of Euripides, as I had no other classic handy, and Aurora surprised Cruchard in this occupation.
I have written to Zola to send you his book. I shall tell Daudet also to send you his Jack, as I am very curious to have your opinion on these two books, which are very different in composition and temperament, but quite remarkable, both of them.
The fright which the elections caused to the bourgeois has been diverting.
CCCVI. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, at Croissset Nohant, 15th March, 1876
I should have a good deal to say about the novels of M. Zola, and it would be better to say it in an article than in a letter, because there is a general question there which must be formulated with a refreshed brain. I should like to read M. Daudet's book first, the book you spoke of to me, the title of which I cannot recall. Have the publisher send it to me collect, if he does not want to give it to me; that is very simple. On the whole, the thing that I shall not gainsay, meanwhile making a PHILOSOPHICAL criticism of the method, is that Rougon is a STRONG book, as you say, and worthy of being placed in the first rank.
That does not change anything in my way of thinking, that art ought to be the search for the truth, and that truth is not the picture of evil. It ought to be the picture of good and evil. A painter who sees only one is as false as he who sees only the other. Life is not crammed with monsters only. Society is not formed of rascals and wretches only. The honest people are not the minority, since society exists in a certain order and without too many unpunished crimes. Imbeciles dominate, it is true, but there is a public conscience which weighs on them and obliges them to respect the right. Let people show up and chastise the rascals, that is good, it is even moral, but let them tell us and show us the opposite; otherwise the simple reader, who is the average reader, is discouraged, saddened, horrified, and contradicts you so as not to despair.
How are you? Tourgueneff wrote me that your last work was very remarkable: then you are not DONE FOR, as you pretend?
Your niece continues to improve, does she not? I too am better, after cramps in my stomach that made me blue, and continued with a horrible persistence. Physical suffering is a good lesson when it leaves one freedom of spirit. One learns to endure it and to conquer it. Of course one has some moments of discouragement when one throws oneself on the bed; but, for my part, I always think of what my old cure used to say to me, when he had the gout: THAT WILL PASS, OR I SHALL PASS. And thereupon he would laugh, content with his joke.
My Aurore is beginning history, and she is not very well pleased with these killers of men whom they call heroes and demigods. She calls them horrid fellows.
We have a confounded spring; the earth is covered with flowers and snow, one gets numb gathering violets and anemones.
I have read the manuscript of l'Etrangere. It is not as DECADENT as you say. There are diamonds that sparkle brightly in this polychrome. Moreover, the decadences are transformations. The mountains in travail roar and scream, but they sing beautiful airs, also.
I embrace you and I love you. Do have your legend published quickly, so that we may read it.
Your old troubadour,
CCCVII. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 30th March, 1876
I am enthusiastic about Jack, and I beg you to send my thanks to M. Daudet. Ah, yes! He has talent and heart! and how well all that is done and SEEN!
I am sending you a volume of old things that have just been collected. I embrace you, and I love you.
Your old troubadour,
CCCVIII. TO GEORGE SAND Monday evening, 3rd April, 1876
I have received your volume this morning, dear master. I have two or three others that have been loaned to me for a long time; I shall send them off, and I shall read yours at the end of the week, during a little two-days' trip that I am forced to take to Pont-l'Eveque and to Honfleur for my Histoire d'un coeur simple, a trifle now "on the stocks," as M. Prudhomme would say.
I am very glad that Jack has pleased you. It is a charming book, isn't it? If you knew the author you would like him even better than his book. I have told him to send you Risler and Tartarin. I am sure in advance that you would thank me for the opportunity of reading these two books.
I do not share in Tourgueneff's severity as regards Jack, nor in the immensity of his admiration for Rougon. The one has charm, the other force. But neither one is concerned ABOVE ALL else with what is for me the end of art, namely, beauty. I remember having felt my heart beat violently, having felt a fierce pleasure in contemplating a wall of the Acropolis, a perfectly bare wall (the one on the left as you go up to the Propylaea). Well! I wonder if a book independently of what it says, cannot produce the same effect! In the exactness of its assembling, the rarity of its elements, the polish of its surface, the harmony of its ensemble, is there not an intrinsic virtue, a sort of divine force, something eternal as a principle? (I speak as a Platonist.) Thus, why is a relation necessary between the exact word and the musical word? Why does it happen that one always makes a verse when one restrains his thought too much? Does the law of numbers govern then the feelings and the images, and is what seems to be the exterior quite simply inside it? If I should continue a long time in this vein, I should blind myself entirely, for on the other side art has to be a good fellow; or rather art is what one can make it, we are not free. Each one follows his path, in spite of his own desire. In short, your Cruchard no longer knows where he stands.
But how difficult it is to understand one another! There are two men whom I admire a great deal and whom I consider real artists, Tourgueneff and Zola. Yet they do not admire the prose of Chateaubriand at all, and even less that of Gautier. Phrases which ravish me seem hollow to them. Who is wrong? And how please the public when one's nearest friends are so remote? All that saddens me very much. Do not laugh.
CCCIX. TO GEORGE SAND Sunday evening... 1876
You OUGHT to call me inwardly, dear master, "a confounded pig,"--for I have not answered your last letter, and I have said nothing to you about your two volumes, not to mention a third that I received this morning from you. But I have been, for the last two weeks, entirely taken up by my little tale which will be finished soon. I have had several errands to do, various readings to finish up with, and a thing more serious than all that, the health of my poor niece worries me extremely and, at times, disturbs my brain, so that I do not know at all what I am doing! You see that my cup is bitter! That young woman is anemic to the last degree. She is wasting away. She has been obliged to leave off painting, which is her sole distraction. All the usual tonics do no good. Three days ago, by the orders of another physician, who seems to me more learned than the others, she began hydrotherapy. Will he succeed in making her digest and sleep? in building up her strength? Your poor Cruchard takes less and less pleasure in life, and he even has too much of it, infinitely too much. Let us speak of your books, that will be better.
They have amused me, and the proof is that I have devoured with one gulp and one after another, Flamarande and the Deux Freres. What a charming woman is Madame Flamarande, and what a man is M. Salcede. The narrative of the kidnapping of the child, the trip in the carriage, and the story of Zamora are perfect passages. Everywhere the interest is sustained and at the same time progressive. In short, what strikes me the most in these two novels (as in all yours, moreover), is the natural order of the ideas, the talent, or rather the genius for narrative. But what an abominable wretch is your M. Flamarande! As for the servant who tells the story and who is evidently in love with Madame, I wonder why you did not show more plainly his personal jealousy.
Except for the count, all are virtuous persons in that story, even extraordinarily virtuous. But do you think them really true to life? Are there many like them? It is true that while reading, one accepts them because of the cleverness of the execution; but afterwards?
Well, dear master, and this is to answer your last letter, this is, I think what separates us essentially. You, on the first bound, in everything, mount to heaven, and from there you descend to the earth. You start from a priori, from the theory, from the ideal. Thence your pity for life, your serenity, and to speak truly, your greatness.--I, poor wretch, I am stuck on the earth as with soles of lead; everything disturbs me, tears me to pieces, ravages me, and I make efforts to rise. If I should take your manner of looking at the whole of life I should become laughable, that is all. For you preach to me in vain. I cannot have another temperament than my own; nor another esthetics than what is the consequence of it. You accuse me of not letting myself go, according to nature. Well, and that discipline? that virtue? what shall we do with it? I admire M. Buffon putting on cuffs when he wrote. This luxury is a symbol. In short I am trying simply to be as comprehensive as possible. What more can one exact?
As for letting my personal opinion be known about the people I put on the stage: no, no, a thousand times no! I do not recognize the right to that. If the reader does not draw from a book the moral that should be found there, the reader is an imbecile or the book is false from the point of view of accuracy. For, the moment that a thing is true, it is good. Obscene books likewise are immoral only because they lack truth. Things are not "like that" in life.
And observe that I curse what they agree to call realism, although they make me one of its high priests; reconcile all that.
As for the public, its taste disgusts me more and more. Yesterday, for instance, I was present at the first night of the Prix Martin, a piece of buffoonery that, for my part, I think full of wit. Not one of the witty things in the play produced a laugh, and the denouement, which seems out of the ordinary, passed unperceived. Then to look for what can please seems to me the most chimerical of undertakings. For I defy anyone to tell me by what means one pleases. Success is a consequence and must not be an end. I have never sought it (although I desire it) and I seek it less and less.
After my little story, I shall do another,--for I am too deeply shaken to start on a great work. I had thought first of publishing Saint-Julien in a periodical, but I have given the plan up.
CCCX. TO GEORGE SAND Friday evening...1876
Ah! thank you from the bottom of my heart, dear master! You have made me pass an exquisite day, for I have read your last volume, la Tour de Percemont.--Marianne only to-day; as I had many things to finish, among others my tale of Saint-Julien, I had shut up the aforesaid volume in a drawer so as not to succumb to the temptation. As my little story was finished last night, I rushed upon your book when morning came and devoured it.
I find it perfect, two jewels! Marianne moved me deeply and two or three times I wept. I recognized myself in the character of Pierre. Certain pages seemed to me fragments of my own memoirs, supposing I had the talent to write them in such a way! How charming, poetic and true to life all that is! La Tour de Percemont pleased me extremely. But Marianne literally enchanted me. The English think as I do, for in the last number of the Athenaeum there is a very fine article about you. Did you know that? So then, for this time, I admire you completely and without the least reserve.
There you are, and I am very glad of it. You have never done anything to me that was not good; I love you tenderly!
CCCXI. TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT Sunday, Nohant, 5th April, 1876.
Victor Borie is in Italy, what must I write him? Are you the man to go to find him and explain the affair to him? He is somewhere near Civita-Vecchia, very much on the go and perhaps not easy to catch up with.
I am sure that he would receive you with open arms, for, although a financier to his finger-tips he has remained very friendly and nice to us. He does not tell us if he is on his mountain of alum for long. Lina is writing to him and will know soon, shall she tell him that you are disposed to go to meet him, or that you will wait until his return to Paris? anyway until the 20th of May he will get letters addressed to him at the Hotel Italy in Florence. We shall have to be on the watch, for he writes AT LONG INTERVALS.
I have not the time to say any more to you today. People are coming in. I have read Fromont et Risler; I charge you to thank M. Daudet, to tell him that I spent the night in reading it and that I do not know whether I prefer Jack or Risler; it is interesting, I might almost say GRIPPING.
I embrace you and I love you, when will you give me some Flaubert to read?
CCCXII. To GEOBGE SAND Monday evening
Dear master, Thanks to Madame Lina's kind note, I betook myself to V. Borie's yesterday and was most pleasantly received. My nephew went to carry him the documents today. Borie has promised to look after the affair; will he do it?
I think that he is in just the position to do me indirectly the greatest service that any one could do me. If my poor nephew should get the capital which he needs in order to work, I could get back a part of what I have lost and live in peace the rest of my days.
I presented myself to Borie under your recommendation, and it is to you that I owe the cordiality of his reception. I do not thank you (of course) but you can tell him that I was touched by his kind reception (and stimulate his zeal if you think that may be useful).
I have been working a great deal lately. How I should like to see you so as to read my little medieval folly to you! I have begun another story entitled Histoire d'un coeur simple. But I have interrupted this work to make some researches on the period of Saint John the Baptist, for I want to describe the feast of Herodias.
I hope to have my readings finished in a fortnight, after which I shall return to Croisset from which spot I shall not budge till winter,--my long sessions at the library exhaust me. Cruchard is weary.
The good Tourgueneff leaves this evening for Saint Petersburg. He asks me if I have thanked you for your last book? Could I be guilty of such an oversight? You will see by my Histoire d'un coeur simple where you will recognize your immediate influence, that I am not so obstinate as you think. I believe that the moral tendency, or rather the human basis of this little work will please you!
Adieu, dear good master. Remembrances to all yours.
I embrace you very tenderly.
Your old Gustave Flaubert
CCCXIII. To MAURICE SAND Tuesday evening, 27th
All I can say to you, in the first place, my dear friend, is, that your book has made me pass a sleepless night. I read it instantly, at one fell swoop, only stopping to fill my good pipe from time to time and then to resume my reading.
When the impression is a little less fresh I shall take up your book again to find the flaws in it. But I think that there are very few. You must be content? It ought to please? It is dramatic and as amusing as possible!
Beginning with the first page I was charmed with the sincerity of the description. And at the end I admired the composition of the whole, the logical way the events were worked out and the characters related.
Your chief character, Miss Mary, is too hateful (to my taste) to be anything but an exact picture. That is one of the choicest parts of your book, together with the homelife, the life in New York?
Your good savage makes me laugh out loud when he is at the Opera.
I was struck by the house of the missionaries (Montaret's first night). You make it seem real. Naissa scalping, and then wiping her hands on the grass, seemed to me especially well done. As well as the disgust that she inspires in Montaret,
I venture a timid observation: it seems to me that the flight of father Athanasius and of Montaret, when they escape from their prison, is not perfectly clear? Is not the material explanation of the event too short?
I do not care for, as language, two or three ready-made locutions, such as "break the ice." You can see that I have read you attentively! What a pedagogue I make, eh! I am telling you all that from memory, for I have lent your book, and it has not been returned to me yet. But my recollection of it is of a thing very well done.
Don't you agree with me that a play of very great effect could be made from it for a boulevard theatre?
By the way, how is Cadio going?
Tell your dear mamma that I adore her.
Harrisse, from whom I have received a letter today, charges me to remember him to her, and, for my part, I charge you to embrace her for me.
And I grasp your two hands heartily and say "bravo" to you again, and faithfully yours.
CCCXIV. To MADAM MAURICE SAND Thursday evening, 25th May, 1876
I sent a telegram to Maurice this morning, asking for news of Madam Sand.
I was told yesterday that she was very ill, why has not Maurice answered me?
I went to Plauchut's this morning to get details. He is in the country, at Le Mans, so that I am in a state of cruel uncertainty.
Be good enough to answer me immediately and believe me, dear madam,
Your very affectionate,
4 rue Murillo, Parc Monceau
CCCXV. To MADAM LINA SAND
Your note of this morning reassures me a little. But that of last night had absolutely upset me.
I beg you to give me very frequent news of your dear mother-in-law.
Embrace her for me and believe that I am
Your very devoted
Beginning with the middle of next week, about Wednesday or Thursday, I shall be at Croisset.
Saturday morning, 3d June, 1876.
CCCXVI. To MAURICE SAND Croisset, Sunday, 24 June, 1876
You had prepared me, my dear Maurice, I wanted to write to you, but I was waiting till you were a little freer, more alone. Thank you for your kind thought.
Yes, we understood each other, yonder! (And if I did not remain longer, it is because my comrades dragged me away.) It seemed to me that I was burying my mother the second time. Poor, dear, great woman! What genius and what heart! But she lacked nothing, it is not she whom we must pity.
What is to become of you? Shall you stay in Nohant? That good old house must seem horribly empty to you! But you, at least, are not alone! You have a wife...a rare one! and two exquisite children. While I was with you, I had, over and above my grief, two desires: to run off with Aurore and to kill M. Marx.[Footnote: A reporter for le Figaro.] There you have the truth, it is unnecessary to make you see the psychology of the thing. I received yesterday a very sympathetic letter from good Tourgueneff. He too loved her. But then, who did not love her? If you had seen in Paris the anguish of Martine![Footnote: George Sand's maid.] That was distressing.
Plauchut is still in Nohant, I suppose. Tell him that I love him because I saw him shed so many tears.
And let yours flow, my dear friend, do all that is necessary not to console yourself,--which would, moreover, be impossible. Never mind! In a short time you will feel a great joy in the idea alone that you were a good son and that she knew it absolutely. She used to talk of you as of a blessing.
And when you shall have rejoined her, when the great-grand-children of the grandchildren of your two little girls shall have joined her, and when for a long time there shall have been no question of the things and the people that surround us,--in several centuries,-- hearts like ours will palpitate through hers! People will read her books, that is to say that they will think according to her ideas and they will love with her love. But all that does not give her back to you, does it? With what then can we sustain ourselves if pride desert us, and what man more than you should have pride in his mother!
Now dear friend, adieu! When shall we meet now? How I should feel the need of talking of her, insatiably!
Embrace Madam Maurice for me, as I did on the stairway at Nohant, and your little girls.
Yours, from the depths of my heart,
Your Gustave Flaubert
CCCXVII. To MAURICE SAND Croisset, Tuesday, 3rd October, 1876
Thank you for your kind remembrance, my dear friend. Neither do I forget, and I dream of your poor, dear mamma in a sadness that does not disappear. Her death has left a great emptiness for me. After you, your wife and the good Plauchut, I am perhaps the one who misses her most! I need her.
I pity you the annoyances that your sister causes you. I too have gone through that! It is so easy moreover to be good! Besides that causes less evil. When shall we meet? I want so much to see you, first just to see you--and second to talk of her.
When your business is finished, why not come to Paris for some time? Solitude is bad under certain conditions. One should not become intoxicated with one's grief, however much attraction one finds in doing so.
You ask me what I am doing. This is it: this year I have written two stories, and I am going to begin another so as to make the three into one volume that I want to publish in the spring. After that I hope to resume the big novel that I laid aside a year ago after my financial disaster. Matters are improving in that direction, and I shall not be forced to change anything in my way of living. If I have been able to start at work again, I owe it partly to the good counsel of your mother. She had found the best way to bring me back to respect myself.
In order to get the quicker at work, I shall stay here till New Year's Day,--perhaps later than that. Do try to put off your visit to Paris.
Embrace your dear little girls warmly for me, my respects to Madam Maurice, and-sincerely yours, ex imo.
CCCXVIII. To MAURICE SAND Saint-Gratien par Sannois, 20th August, 1877
Thank you for your kind remembrance, my dear Maurice. Next winter you will be in Passy, I hope,--and from time to time we can have a good chat. I even count on seeing myself at your table by the side of your friends whose "idol" I am.
You speak to me of your dear and illustrious mamma! Next to you I do not think that any one could think of her more often than I do! How I miss her! How I need her!
I had begun un coeur simple solely on account of her, only to please her. She died while I was in the midst of this work. Thus it is with our dreams.
I still continue not to find diversion in existence. In order to forget the weight of it, I work as frantically as possible.
What sustains me is the indignation that the Imbecility of the Bourgeois affords me! Summed up at present by the large party of law and order, it reaches a dizzy height!
Has there been anything in history more inept than the 16th of May? Where is there an idiot comparable to the Bayard of modern times?
I have been in Paris, or rather at Saint-Gratien, for three days. Day after tomorrow I leave the princess, and in a fortnight I shall make a little trip to Lower Normandy for the sake of literature. When we meet I shall talk a long time with you, if you are interested, about the terrible book that I am in the process of concocting. I shall have enough work in it to take me three or four years. Not less!
Don't leave me so long without news. Give a long look for me at the little corner of the holy ground!...My regards to your dear wife, embrace the dear little girls and sincerely yours, my good Maurice,
Your old friend
CCCXIX. To MAURICE SAND Tuesday morning, April, 1880
My dear Maurice,
No! Erase Cruchard and Polycarp and replace those words by what you like.
The Public ought not to have all of us,--let us reserve something for ourselves. That seems to me more decent (quod decet). You do not speak of a COMPLETE EDITION? Ah! your poor dear mamma! How often I think of her! And what need I have of her! There is not a day when I do not say: "If she were there, I should ask her advice."
I shall be at Croisset till the 8th or the 10th of May. So, my old fellow, when you wish to come there, you will be welcome. I embrace you all from the oldest to the youngest.
Cruchard for you,
Polycarp for the human race,
Gustave Flaubert for Literature