Baron Haussmann’s story about George Sand (part one)
From Mémoires de baron Haussmann, 1890
George Sand at Nérac
Before I speak of what came next, I must tell a rather curious episode that arose during the last days of my life as a youth.
I had been presented by M. le Marquis de Lusignan, to Mme le baron Dudevant, widow of a colonel of the First Empire; he being father-in-law to the quite illustrious femme de lettres, who under the pseudonym of George Sand published so many universally admired works.
The Baroness Dudevant came of a rich and noble family of Anjou, and lived alone with a woman companion very mature, as was she, in a château on the estate of de Guillery, (seated in the commune de Pompiey beyond Barbaste, at the border of an area covered with cork oaks, where the Petite Landes begin) that she enjoyed by the last testament of the dead colonel. Up to the death of this respectable and very amiable dowager, I had stopped at her house by habit, coming and going from Houeillès, or from Casteljaloux, as the road forks just in front of her château.
I dined there, in any case, nearly every week.
For lack of a child from her union with the Colonel, the Baroness Dudevant had, by the goodness of her soul, tolerated in her conjugal home the installation and education of a natural son of his, who had come from the tenantry or the household service. The baron succeeded in making him the spouse of Mlle Aurore Dupin, of Nohant (Indre), herself an illegitimate descendant of the Maréchal de Saxe, but one of wealth: Mme George Sand.
When, after her marriage, this young woman came to live at Guillery, she was unaware, it appears, that the Baroness was not her mother-in-law. It was by the foolish talk of a servant she learned of her husband’s low birth.
What’s more, ever following the dictates pursued by his race, the son showed tastes little distinguished from his father the baron’s, in his most eclectic amours…after the example of the young King of Navarre. [Possibly Charles II, called “The Bad”]
He was otherwise vulgar, even brutal, towards his young wife (which fault, the vicissitudes of life making the others useless to mention, she invoked), and she’d won pronounced against her husband, though he fought it, a judgment of bodily separation, allowing the mother custody of the two children.
I was very surprised, without allowing it to be seen, when Mme George Sand told me of this particularity.
The poor Baron Dudevant dead, the son, who already bore the title, and to whom, as I suppose, the property and the hereditary rights had been regularized in some fashion, took possession of Guillery, and made it his home.
He had been there for some time, and come to be invested with the modest functions exercised before him by his father, as Mayor of Pompiey, when suddenly this incident occurred.
One morning, very early, as by custom I was preparing my toilette, I heard the clatter of a post-chaise, that halted itself on the place d’Armes in front of the Sous-Préfecture. I was soon given a card bearing the name of a Paris lawyer. I hurried to my office to receive him. He announced that he accompanied Mme le baron Dudevant, better known under her literary name of George Sand, and was authorized by an interim order from the President of the Civil Court of the Seine, M. Debelleyme, to find and take back her daughter Solange (later Mme Clésinger), carried from Nohant during her absence by the baron, who must have taken her to Guillery, but was suspected of designing her removal to Spain, to evade the actions of the French courts.
As I asked him what in this affair could concern me, he gave me a letter, written in the Minister of the Interior’s hand, inviting me to take the part of Mme George Sand with all my assistance; and a note from my sister, Mme Artaud, praying me to welcome this disconsolate mother, as a literary friend of her husband.
I began by taking myself to this friend of my brother-in-law, and begging her to rest at my house. I placed her in the care of my household; then I went with her lawyer, who had for him a letter from the Keeper of the Seal, to the house of the King’s Prosecutor, whom we roused from his bed. Despite visible repugnance at proceeding against a great landholder, he could not avoid summoning a bailiff, to whom he gave the written requisition as demanded of him, lending his authority to the execution of the interim order, with the assistance, if necessary, of the Public Force.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)