We meet with Consuelo again in another book. In those days, it was not enough for a novel to consist of several volumes. People liked a sequel also. _Vingt ans apres_ was the sequel to _Trois Mousquetaires_, and the _Vicomte de Bragelonne_ was a sequel to that sequel. Our grandparents were capable of allowing themselves to be bored to a degree which makes us ashamed of our frivolity. The _Comtesse de Rudolstadt_ was the sequel to _Consuelo_. As time went on, Pierre Leroux called George Sand's attention to the study of freemasonry. In 1843, she declared that she was plunged in it, and that it was a gulf of nonsense and uncertainties, in which "she was dabbling courageously."
"I am up to my ears in freemasonry," she writes. "I cannot get away from the kaddosh, the Rose Croix and the Sublime Scotchman. The result of all this will be a mysterious novel." The mysterious novel was the _Comtesse de Rudolstadt_. Consuelo, who through her marriage with Albert is now Comtesse de Rudolstadt, continues her European tour. She reaches Berlin, and we find her at the Court of Frederick II. We now have Voltaire, La Mettrie, the Sans-Souci suppers, Cagliostro, Saint-Germain and the occult sciences. Frederick II sends Consuelo to prison. There appears to be no reason for this, unless it be that in order to escape she must first have been imprisoned. Some mysterious rescuers take a great interest in Consuelo, and transport her to a strange dwelling, where she has a whole series of surprises. It is, in fact, a sort of Palace of Illusions. She is first in a dark room, and she then finds herself suddenly in a room of dazzling light. "At the far end of this room, the whole aspect of which is very forbidding, she distinguishes seven personages, wrapped in red cloaks and wearing masks of such livid whiteness that they looked like corpses. They were all seated behind a table of black marble. Just in front of the table, and on a lower seat, was an eighth spectre. He was dressed in black, and he, too, wore a white mask. By the wall, on each side of the room, were about twenty men in black cloaks and masks. There was the most profound silence. Consuelo turned round and saw that there were also black phantoms behind her. At each door there were two of them standing up, each holding a huge, bright sword."
She wondered whether she had reached the infernal regions, but she discovered that she was in the midst of a secret society, styled the Invisibles. Consuelo is to go through all the various stages of the initiation. She first puts on the bridal dress, and after this the widow's weeds. She undergoes all the various trials, and has to witness the different spectacles provided for her edification, including coffins, funeral palls, spectres and simulated tortures. The description of all the various ceremonies takes up about half of the book. George Sand's object was to show up this movement of secret societies, which was such a feature of the eighteenth century, and which was directed both against monarchical power and against the Church. It contributed to prepare the way for the Revolution, and gave to this that international character and that mystic allure which would otherwise have been incomprehensible.
From _Spiridion_ to the _Comtesse de Rudolstadt_, then, we have this series of fantastical novels with ghosts, subterranean passages, secret hiding-places,
hallucinations and apparitions. The unfortunate part is that at present we scarcely know to what category of readers they would appeal. As regards grown-up people, we all prefer something with a vestige of truth in it now-a-days. As to our children, they would prefer _Monte-Cristo_ to _Consuelo_, and _Tom Thumb_ to _Spiridion_. At the time that they were written, in spite of the fact that Buloz protested against all this philosophy, these novels were quite in accordance with the public taste. A mania for anything fantastic had taken possession of the most serious people. Ballanche wrote his _La Palingenesie_, and Edgar Quinet _Ahasverus_. Things took place through the ages, and the reader travelled through the immensity of the centuries, just as though Wells had already invented his machine for exploring time. In a country like France, where clear-mindedness and matter-of-fact intelligence are appreciated, all this seems surprising. It was no doubt the result of infiltrations which had come from abroad. There was something wrong with us just then, "something rotten in the kingdom of France." We see this by that fever of socialistic doctrines which burst forth among us about the year 1840. We have the _Phalanstere_ by Fourier, _La Phalange_ by Considerant, the _Icarie_ by Cabet, and his famous _Voyage_, which appeared that very year. We were always to be devoured by the State, accompanied by whatever sauce we preferred. The State was always to find us shelter, to dress us, to govern us and to tyrannize over us. There was the State as employer, the State as general storekeeper, the State to feed us; all this was a dream of bliss. Buonarotti, formerly Babeuf's accomplice, preached Communism. Louis Blanc published his _Organisation du travail_, in which he calls to his aid a political revolution, foretaste of a social revolution. Proudhon published his _Memoire sur la propriete_, containing the celebrated phrase: "Property means theft." He declared himself an anarchist, and as a matter of fact anarchy was already everywhere. A fresh evil had suddenly made its appearance, and, by a cruel irony, it was the logical consequence of that industrial development of which the century was so proud. The result of all that wealth had been to create a new form of misery, an envious, jealous form of misery, much more cruel than the former one, for it filled the heart with a ferment of hatred, a passion for destruction.
It was Pierre Leroux, also, who led George Sand on to Socialism. She had been on the way to it by herself. For a long time she had been raising an altar in her heart to that entity called the People, and she had been adorning it with all the virtues. The future belonged to the people, the whole of the future, and first of all that of literature.
Poetry was getting a little worn out, but to restore its freshness there were the poets of the people. Charles Poncy, of Toulon, a bricklayer, published a volume of poetry, in 1842, entitled _Marines_. George Sand adopted him. He was the demonstration of her theory, the example which illustrated her dream. She congratulated him and encouraged him. "You are a great poet," she said to him, and she thereupon speaks of him to all her friends. "Have you read Baruch?" she asks them. "Have you read Poncy, a poet bricklayer of twenty years of age?" She tells every one about his book, dwells on its beauties, and asks people to speak of it.
As a friend of George Sand, I have examined the poems by Poncy of which she specially speaks. The first one is entitled _Meditation sur les toits_. The poet has been obliged to stay on the roof to complete his work, and while there he meditates.