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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Traveler’s Letters
By George Sand (1804–1876)
I REMEMBER that when I was a child the hunters, towards autumn, brought home beautiful, gentle, blood-stained ringdoves. They would give me those that were still alive, and I took care of them. I did it with all the ardor and tenderness a mother lavishes upon her children, and was able to cure some of them. When their strength came back they grew sad, and refused the fresh beans they had pecked so greedily from my hand during their illness. As soon as they could spread their wings they became restless, and wounded themselves by dashing against the bars of their cage. They would have died of grief and fatigue if I had not set them free. And so, though I was a most selfish child, I trained myself to sacrifice the pleasure of possession to the pleasure of generosity. The day I carried one of my doves to the window was always one of keen emotion, triumphant joy, and invincible regret. I would kiss it a thousand times, and beg it to remember me, return, and feed on the tender beans in my garden. Then I would unclose my hand, but instantly close it again, so as to retain my friend, and embrace it anew with a swelling heart and brimming eyes. At last, after much hesitation and many efforts, I would set it on the windowsill. It would remain motionless for a time, as though amazed, and almost afraid of its happiness; then start off with a little cry of joy that went to my very heart. I would follow it a long time with my eyes; and when it had disappeared behind the mountain-ash trees of the garden I began to weep bitterly, and made my mother anxious all day long by looking both ill and depressed.  1
  When we parted, I was proud and happy to see you restored to life; and I attributed some of the glory of having brought this about to the care I had taken of you. I dreamed of better days, of a calmer life, for you. I saw you revive to youth, to affection, to glory. But when I had set you on shore,—when I found myself alone in that gondola as black as a coffin,—I felt that my soul was departing with you. The wind was tossing nothing but a sick and stupefied body on the restless lagoon. A man was waiting for me on the steps of the Piazzetta. “Courage!” he said. “Yes,” I replied, “you said that same word to me one night when he lay dying in our arms, when we thought he had but an hour to live. Now he is saved, is on his way, is going to his country, his mother, his friends, his pleasures. ’Tis well; but think what you please of me, I regret that horrible night when his pale head rested on your shoulder and his cold hand lay in mine. He was here between us then, he is here no more. You are weeping too, though you shrug your shoulders. Your tears, you see, can argue no better than I do. He is gone; it was our wish: but he is here no longer—and we are in despair.”
G. SAND.    
  THE MOST beautiful object I saw at Chamonix was my daughter. You cannot imagine the self-possession and pride of this eight-year-old beauty at liberty in the mountains. Diana must have looked so as a child, when, as yet unskilled to follow the wild boar in horrible Erymanthea, she gamboled with young fawns on the gentle slopes of Hybla. Solange’s fresh complexion fears neither wind nor sun. Her partly opened bodice leaves her strong chest bare, and nothing can sully its immaculate whiteness. Her long fair hair floats in soft ringlets down her supple and vigorous back, which nothing ever tires: neither the mules’ hard and hurried step, nor a race down abrupt and slippery slopes, nor the tiers of rocks which have to be scaled for hours together. Brave and serious at all times, her cheek colors with pride and scorn when any one tries to help her on. As robust as a mountain cedar, and fresh as a flower of the valley, she seems to divine, although she does not yet know, the value of intelligence; that the finger of God has touched her brow, and that some day she is destined to rule those by moral force whose physical power protects her now. At the Glacier des Bossons she said to me: “When I’m a queen, you may be sure, my dear George, that I’ll give you the whole of Mont Blanc.”  3
  Her brother, although five years older, is less vigorous and less daring. Tender and gentle, he recognizes and instinctively reveres his sister’s superiority; but he knows equally well that kind-heartedness is a treasure. He often says, “She will make you proud: I shall make you happy.”  4
  Perpetual care and joy of our life, our despotic flatterers, greedy for the very least pleasures, skillful in obtaining them either by persistency or obstinacy, frankly selfish, instinctively sure of their too legitimate independence,—children are our masters, no matter how firm we may pretend to be with them. In spite of their natural kindness, mine signalize themselves amongst the most fiery and difficult to manage; and I confess I know no way to make them bend to social forms, before society itself makes them feel its marble angles and iron harrows. I can find no good reason to give, to a spirit fresh from the hand of God and enjoying its free integrity, for subjecting it to so many useless and foolish servitudes. Unless I had such habits as I have not, and such charlatanism as I neither could nor would have, I do not understand how I could dare ask my children to recognize the pretended necessity of our ridiculous fetters. Therefore I have but one means,—authority: and I use it when I must,—that is, very rarely; besides, it is a thing I would not advise any one to try, unless they have the means of making themselves loved as much as feared.  5
  TRULY, no one had ever sufficiently praised the beauty of the sky and the charms of Venice to us. On fine evenings the lagoon is so calm that the stars do not tremble upon it. Out in the middle, it is so blue and smooth that the eye loses the horizon line, and sky and water become an azure veil, where revery loses its way and falls asleep. The air is so pure and transparent that one discerns five hundred thousand times more stars in the sky than can be seen in our northern France. I have seen nights when there were so many stars that their silvery whiteness held more space in the vault of the firmament than the blue of the ether. There was such a sprinkling of diamonds that there was quite as much light as the moon gives in Paris. I do not wish to insinuate anything against our moon: she is a pale beauty whose melancholy says more to our intellect than this one does, perhaps. Hazy nights in our mild provinces have charms that no one has enjoyed more than I, and that no one has less desire to disown. Nature here, being more vigorous in her influence, may perhaps silence the intellect a little too much. She sends thought to sleep, agitates hearts, and rules the senses. Unless one be a man of genius, it is useless to think of writing poems during these voluptuous nights: one must either love or sleep.  6
  There is one delightful spot for sleeping: it is the flight of marble steps leading from the viceroy’s garden to the Canal. When the gilded gate is closed on the garden side, you can be rowed in a gondola to these flagstones still warm with the setting sun’s rays, and not be disturbed by any intruding pedestrian unless he has the means of reaching you by the faith St. Peter lacked. I have spent many an hour there all alone, thinking of nothing, while Catullo and his gondola slept out on the water, within call of my whistle. When the midnight breeze blows over the lime-trees, and shakes their blossoms on the water; when the perfume of geraniums and clove-trees rises in puffs as if the earth were exhaling balmy sighs under the moon’s gaze; when the cupolas of Santa Maria raise their alabaster hemispheres and their turban-crowned minarets to the sky; when water, sky, and marble—the three elements of Venice—are all white, and a great brazen voice floats over my head from the tower of St. Mark,—I begin to live by my pores alone, and woe to him who might come and appeal to my soul! I vegetate, rest, forget. Who, in my place, would not do the same? How could you expect me to worry about finding out whether Mr. So-and-So has written an article on my books, or whether Mr. What’s-his-Name has declared my principles dangerous and my cigar immoral? All I can say is, that these gentlemen are very good to trouble about me, and that if I had no debts I should not leave the viceroy’s steps to give them food for scandal at my desk. “Ma la fama,” says proud Alfieri. “Ma la fame,” gayly replies Gozzi. 1  7
  I defy any one to prevent me from sleeping agreeably when I see Venice, so impoverished, so oppressed, and so wretched, defy Time and men to prevent her from being beautiful and serene. There she is, all around me, looking at her reflection in her lagoons, with the air of a sultana; and are not those fishermen who sleep on the pavement of the opposite shore both winter and summer, with no other pillow than a granite step, and no other mattress than their slashed jackets, a great example of philosophy as well? When they have not the wherewithal for a pound of rice, they sing a chorus to forget their hunger; and in the same way they defy both their masters and their misery, accustomed as they are to brave heat, cold, and squalls. It will take many a year of slavery to completely brutalize this careless and frivolous disposition, that has lived on amusements and festivities so many years. Life in Venice is still so easy! Nature there is so rich and so readily turned to account! The sea and the lagoons teem with fish and game, and there is enough shellfish caught in the open streets to feed all the population. Gardens make excellent returns: there is not a corner of that rich clay which does not generously produce more fruits and vegetables than a field on terra firma. Every day, boats loaded with fruits, flowers, and such sweet-smelling herbs that their perfumed trace can be scented in the early morning mist, come in from the thousand islets dotting the lagoon. The port being free, foreign commodities are not dear; the most exquisite wines from the Archipelago cost less at Venice than the commonest wine at Paris. Oranges arrive from Palermo in such profusion that on the day the Sicilian vessel comes into port, ten of the finest can be bought for four or five cents of our money. Hence animal life is the least cause of expense at Venice, and the transportation of provisions is so easily effected that it fosters the indolence of the natives. Market produce comes to your house-door by water, and hucksters pass through the streets and over the bridges. The exchange of money for daily food is managed by means of a rope and basket. In this way a family can be abundantly supplied without going out, or even sending a servant. What a difference between this convenient mode of existence and the laborious toil that a family merely half-poor is obliged to perform every single day in Paris, and then only to dine worse than the poorest Venetian workman! What a difference too, between the preoccupied and serious faces of the people who jostle each other and hurry, get muddy and elbow their way through the Parisian crowd, and the easy-going pace of these Venetians, who sing as they crawl along, and lie down every now and then on the smooth, warm pavement of the quays! The traders who bring their whole stock to Venice daily in a single basket are the jolliest wags in the world, and retail jokes with their wares. The fishmonger, at the close of his day’s wanderings, tired and hoarse after shouting all the morning, comes and sits down in a square or on a parapet; and to sell his remnants he throws out the most ingenious invitations to all who pass by, or to the smokers on the neighboring balconies. “Just look!” he says: “this is the finest fish I had in the whole lot! I kept it till now, because I know that rich people dine later than others nowadays. See these fine sardines, four for two centimes. One glance of the pretty housemaid at this fine fish, and another into the bargain at the poor fisherman!” The water-carrier makes puns while offering his merchandise. “Aqua fresca e tenera.” The gondolier at his station solicits passengers with marvelous offers. “Are we going to Trieste this evening, my lord? Here is a fine gondola, not afraid of a gale on the high seas, and a gondolier who can row to Constantinople without stopping!”  8
  Unexpected pleasures are the only pleasures in this world. Yesterday I wanted to see the moon rise on the Adriatic; I never could induce Catullo the elder to take me to the shore of the Lido. He pretended what they all pretend when they do not want to obey, that wind and tide were against him. I most cordially wished the doctor to the deuce for having sent me this asthmatic fellow, who gives up the ghost at every stroke of his oar, and chatters more than a thrush when he is in his cups. I was in the worst kind of humor when, in front of the Salute, we met a boat slowly gliding down towards the Grand Canal, shedding the sounds of a delicious serenade, like a perfume, in its wake. “Turn your prow,” I said to old Catullo: “I hope you’ll have at least the strength to follow that boat.”  9
  Another boat loitering about there followed my example, then a second one, and yet another; and at last, all those out breathing the evening freshness on the Canalazzo, and even some empty boats, began to row towards us, their gondoliers shouting “Music! Music!” in as famished a way as the Israelites clamoring for manna in the desert. In ten minutes a flotilla had formed about the dilettanti; every oar was silent, and the boats were carried on by the current. The harmony swept softly on with the breeze, and the oboe sighed so tenderly that every one held his breath for fear of interrupting its love-plaints. The violin began to weep so sadly and with so sympathetic a quivering that I dropped my pipe and pulled my cap down to my eyes. Then the harp let us hear two or three scales of harmonious sounds which seemed to come down from heaven, and promise the caresses and consolations of angels to suffering souls on earth. Next the horn came out of the heart of the woods, as it were; and each one of us thought he saw his first love come from the heights of the forests of Frioul, and draw near to the joyous sound of the flourish. The oboe addressed her with more passionate words than those of a dove following its beloved through the air. The violin breathed throbs of convulsive joy; the harp made its deep strings vibrate generously, as if they were the palpitations of a flaming heart; and the tones of the four instruments clasped each other like blessed souls embracing before departing for heaven together. I caught and held their accents, and my imagination heard them long after they had ceased. Their passage had left a magic warmth in the atmosphere, as if Love had shaken it with his wings.  10
  A few moments of silence, which no one dared to break, followed. The melodious bark began to move more rapidly, as if it wished to escape from us; but we dashed in its wake. We were like a flock of petrels fighting to be the first to seize a gold-fish. We pressed around it, the great steel saws of our prows shining in the moonlight like the fiery teeth of Ariosto’s dragons. The fugitive freed itself in Orpheus’s manner: a few chords on the harp made all fall into silence and order again. At the sound of the light arpeggios, three gondolas took their place at either side of the one carrying the symphony, and followed the adagio with a religiously slow movement. The others dropped behind, forming a retinue; and this was not the worst place for hearing. These rows of silent gondolas, gliding so gently down the wide and magnificent Venetian canal, were a sight made to realize the loveliest of dreams. At the sound of the sweetest strains of ‘Oberon’ and ‘William Tell,’ every ripple, every light rebound of the oars, seemed to respond fondly to the sentiment of each musical phrase. The gondoliers, standing in their bold attitude at the stern, were outlined against the blue air like thin black spectres, behind the groups of friends and lovers they were rowing. The moon was rising slowly, and began to show her inquisitive face above the roofs; she too seemed to be listening, and to like the music. One of the palace-lined banks of the Canal, still steeped in darkness, stenciled its huge Moorish lacework, blacker than the gates of hell, against the sky. The other bank received the reflection of the full moon, now as broad and white as a silver shield, on its serene and silent façades. This immense line of fairy-like buildings, illumined by no other light than that of the heavenly bodies, was truly sublime in its look of solitude, repose, and immobility. The slender statues, rising by hundreds against the sky, seemed flights of mysterious spirits charged to protect the mute city’s rest, plunged thus in a slumber like that of the Sleeping Beauty, and condemned like her to sleep a hundred years and more.  11
  We rowed along thus for nearly an hour. The gondoliers had become rather wild. Old Catullo himself bounded at the allegro, and followed the rapid course of the little fleet. Then his oar would take an amoroso movement at the andante, and he would accompany it with a sort of grunt of beatitude. The orchestra halted under the portico of the White Lion. I leaned over to see “my lord” step out of his gondola. He was a splenetic child of seventeen or eighteen, burdened with a long Turkish pipe, that he could not have smoked completely without becoming consumptive to the last degree. He looked very much bored; but he had paid for a serenade that I had enjoyed far more than he, and for which I was very much obliged to him.
G. SAND.    
Note 1. “But—fame!” “But—hunger!” [back]

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