Baron Haussmann’s story about George Sand (conclusion)
From Mémoires de baron Haussmann, 1890
I had taken care to forewarn the Lieutenant of the Gendarmerie, and upon our return to the Sous-Préfecture, we found him ready to leave with a brigade. The expedition was put in motion without delay, and in good order, thanks to the post-chaise being harnessed with fresh horses.
Immediately Mme George Sand, who could not contain her impatience and agitation, asked me to prepare my carriage, so that she could go to receive her daughter, once the bailiff had, with his official paraphernalia, accompanied by his counsel, and having, with or without the aid of his escort, obtained her release. I chose to go along, so as to prevent the complications her intervention might give rise to.
En route, she told me the probable motive of her husband’s act: as a constraint to her continuing the alimony paid him since their separation, and which she refused to maintain any longer, given the considerable fortune he had inherited from his father.
At the moment we arrived before the gate of Guillery, the bailiff accomplished his mandate. He was just in time, for they’d sent for the post-chaise at Pompiey, which was about to be dispatched to the castle, when a gendarme put a halt to it.
Mme George Sand, leaving the car, would have run to meet Solange; seeing her at the end of the avenue, between her father and the bailiff, she started in that direction. I stopped her. Bodily separation meant she must not cross the threshold of her husband’s home. He must wait on that side.
Baron Dudevant took the child by the hand. He said, in returning her to her mother, “Madame, I yield to the violence that is done to me!”
“Monsieur,” she interrupted. “I have never refused to allow you to see your daughter. But you wanted to rob me of her, and I had to regulate my conduct after yours.”
I put myself forward to speak to the baron. “Monsieur, I am here in accord with instructions received directly from M. le Ministre de l’Interieur, this very morning; to assure myself that the law is accomplished as, by a decision of the court, has taken place. Permit me to ask that you end this painful and useless debate.”
Going back, just settled in the car, Solange pointed me to her mother and asked, “Who is that?”
Then she began to speak to me familiarly!
To honor the recommendations of my sister, I put at the disposal of Mme Sand and her household the best lodgings I could obtain in the Sous-Préfecture. She stayed for two days to recover her emotions, and saw again, at my table and in my salon, the persons of Nérac she had known, and who, wishing to praise her glorious writings, eagerly pressed themselves around her.
Well rested, she conceived the idea of making for a point on the Pyrenees, unknown to her lawyer. On her return, she stayed two more days at my house, after which I conducted her to Agen, where in duty I presented her to my Prefect, who wished to see her; from there she went on to Paris.
I would need a whole chapter to summarize all my conversations, most interesting and curious, with this remarkable woman. It seemed to me she was quite different, in certain regards, from what she wanted to appear, and systematically revolted against Society—not to be judged, but to obey her deeply held convictions.
She was astonished to encounter, tucked behind the walls of an old monastery, in the hinterlands of the province, in a pretty little garden apartment—very modest, all in all—the lively intellectualism of the Paris life; in the midst of the most prosaic occupations, a young functionary capable of holding his own on a number of subjects: philosophical, religious, political, and social. And she never tired of observing, at our discussions changing to any topic, my position and my habits of living.
What she did not come back to, was that I could remain a sincere Christian and live as a man of the world, including all that was elegant; an artist, and a friend of Good as well as of Beauty.
Mme Sand was then more than thirty years old. Small of stature, very dark-haired, with a profile and complexion Spanish, she was visibly free of all coquetry, and I dare to say that for this reason, or for the effect of her work constantly on her mind, she lacked to my eyes the feminine charms.
I joked on her affectation, when she smoked, that she consumed less tobacco than Oriental perfume, in imperceptible cigarettes lit with a jeweled lighter that threw out the sparkles of an agate.
Parodying a saying of Pius VII to Napoleon I, I said to her at one such moment, “Comedienne!”
(Except that he had said, “Tragedian!”, at the end of a socialist declamation.)
On departing, she gave me her elegant lighter, me who did not smoke!
“Is this an epigram?” I asked her, laughing.
“When you come to see me at Nohant,” she answered, “I will give you the complement, a water-pipe! The smoke is freshened by the rose water…that is the affair for you.”
We were done.
“You may speak more truth than you suppose,” I told her, without pushing further.
We exchanged, after a time, very amicable letters. But I did not go to Nohant. Once, in Paris, I was at the house of Mme Mariani, wife of the Spanish Consul. I presented myself to her; I was not received. The next day was sent to me a letter of regret, that ended with these words.
“I am visible like the stars, from midnight to four in the morning.”
I answered: “You have the right to live in the way of the stars, your sisters. As to me, I have only a resemblance to the sun. I sleep at night and rise in the morning.”
On an invitation from Mme Mariani, I accepted, however, a dinner, where I found, among other celebrated dissidents, l’abbé de Lammenais, Pierre Leroux, Michel (de Bourges). They called my illustrious friend simply “George”, and all were on friendly terms!
After 1848, when she was all-powerful at the Ministry of the Interior, close to Ledru-Rollin, she sought me out in the house of my brother-in-law, and I thanked her for her goodwill. We will see what I had been doing then. [This is a reference to further events in the memoir.]
At the Hôtel de Ville de Paris [seat of city government], I welcomed willingly many of her recommendations.
The last time I saw her—during a dress rehearsal for one of her plays, at Vaudeville, I believe—she was very elderly, but had always presence of mind, and as her memoires attest, fond recollections of the Sous-Préfecture of Nérac.
George Sand helped Ledru-Rollin, a provisional minister in the department of the interior (and weak colleague of socialist Louis Blanc), during the crisis of 1848, by writing public notifications for him.
(2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)