What tortured them was that the past, which they had believed to be "a beautiful poem," now seemed to them a hideous nightmare. All this, we read, was a game that they were playing. A cruel sort of game, of which Musset grew more and more weary, but which to George Sand gradually became a necessity. We see this, as from henceforth it was she who implored Musset. In her diary, dated December 24, 1834, we read: "And what if I rushed to him when my love is too strong for me. What if I went and broke the bell-pull with ringing, until he opened his door to me. Or if I lay down across the threshold until he came out!" She cut off her magnificent hair and sent it to him. Such was the way in which this proud woman humbled herself. She was a prey to love, which seemed to her a holy complaint. It was a case of Venus entirely devoted to her prey. The question is, was this really love? "I no longer love you," she writes, "but I still adore you. I do not want you any more, but I cannot do without you." They had the courage to give each other up finally in March, 1835.
It now remains for us to explain the singularity of this adventure, which, as a matter of fact, was beyond all logic, even the logic of passion. It is, however, readily understood, if we treat it as a case of acute romanticism, the finest case of romanticism, that has been actually lived, which the history of letters offers us.
The romanticism consists first in exposing one's life to the public, in publishing one's most secret joys and sorrows. From the very beginning George Sand and Musset took the whole circle of their friends into their confidence. These friends were literary people. George Sand specially informs Sainte-Beuve that she wishes her sentimental life from thenceforth to be known. They were quite aware that they were on show, as it were, subjects of an experiment that would be discussed by "the gallery."
Romanticism consists next in the writer putting his life into his books, making literature out of his emotions. The idea of putting their adventure into a story occurred to the two lovers before the adventure had come to an end. It was at Venice that George Sand wrote her first _Lettres d'un voyageur_, addressed to the poet--and to the subscribers of the _Revue des Deux Mondes_. Musset, to improve on this idea, decides to write a novel from the episode which was still unfinished. "I will not die," he says, "until I have written my book on you and on myself, more particularly on you. No, my beautiful, holy fiancee, you shall not return to this cold earth before it knows the woman who has walked on it. No, I swear this by my youth and genius." Musset's contributions to this literature were _Confession d'un enfant du siecle_, _Histoire d'un merle blanc_, _Elle et Lui_, and all that followed.
In an inverse order, romanticism consists in putting literature into our life, in taking the latest literary fashion for our rule of action. This is not only a proof of want of taste; it is a most dangerous mistake. The romanticists, who had so many wrong ideas, had none more erroneous than their idea of love, and in the correspondence between George Sand and Musset we see the paradox in all its beauty. It consists in saying that love leads to virtue and that it leads there through change. Whether the idea came originally from _her_ or from _him_, this was their common faith.
"You have said it a hundred times over," writes George Sand, "and it is all in vain that you retract; nothing will now efface that sentence: `Love is the only thing in the world that counts.' It may be that it is a divine faculty which we lose and then find again, that we must cultivate, or that we have to buy with cruel suffering, with painful experience. The suffering you have endured through loving me was perhaps destined, in order that you might love another woman more easily. Perhaps the next woman may love you less than I do, and yet she may be more happy and more beloved. There are such mysteries in these things, and God urges us along new and untrodden paths. Give in; do not attempt to resist. He does not desert His privileged ones. He takes them by the hand and places them in the midst of the sandbanks, where they are to learn to live, in order that they may sit down at the banquet at which they are to rest. . . ." Later on she writes as follows: "Do you imagine that one love affair, or even two, can suffice for exhausting or taking the freshness from a strong soul? I believed this, too, for a long time, but I know now that it is quite the contrary. Love is a fire that endeavours to rise and to purify itself. Perhaps the more we have failed in our endeavours to find it, the more apt we become to discover it, and the more we have been obliged to change, the more conservative we shall become. Who knows? It is perhaps the terrible, magnificent and courageous work of a whole lifetime. It is a crown of thorns which will blossom and be covered with roses when our hair begins to turn white.
This was pure frenzy, and yet there were two beings ready to drink in all this pathos, two living beings to live out this monstrous chimera. Such are the ravages that a certain conception of literature may make. By the example we have of these two illustrious victims, we may imagine that there were others, and very many others, obscure and unknown individuals, but human beings all the same, who were equally duped. There are unwholesome fashions in literature, which, translated into life, mean ruin. The Venice adventure shows up the truth of this in bright daylight. This is its interest and its lesson.
THE FRIEND OF MICHEL (DE BOURGES)