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)
LISZT AND COMTESSE D’AGOULT. MAUPRAT