In reply to all his wild harangues, George Sand gives wise answers, smiling as she gives them, and using her common sense with which to protect herself against the trickery of words. What has he to complain of, this grown-up child who is too naive and who expects too much? By what extraordinary misfortune has he such an exceptionally unhappy lot? He is fairly well off and he has great talent. How many people would envy him! He complains of life, such as it is for every one, and of the present conditions of life, which had never been better for any one at any epoch. What is the use of getting irritated with life, since we do not wish to die? Humanity seemed despicable to him, and he hated it. Was he not a part of this humanity himself? Instead of cursing our fellow-men for a whole crowd of imperfections inherent to their nature, would it not be more just to pity them for such imperfections? As to stupidity and nonsense, if he objected to them, it would be better to pay no attention to them, instead of watching out for them all the time. Beside all this, is there not more reason than we imagine for every one of us to be indulgent towards the stupidity of other people?
"That poor stupidity of which we hear so much," exclaimed George Sand. "I do not dislike it, as I look on it with maternal eyes." The human race is absurd, undoubtedly, but we must own that we contribute ourselves to this absurdity.
There is something morbid in Flaubert's case, and with equal clearness of vision George Sand points out to him the cause of it and the remedy. The morbidness is caused in the first place by his loneliness, and by the fact that he has severed all bonds which united him to the rest of the universe. Woe be to those who are alone! The remedy is the next consideration. Is there not, somewhere in the world, a woman whom he could love and who would make him suffer? Is there not a child somewhere whose father he could imagine himself to be, and to whom he could devote himself? Such is the law of life. Existence is intolerable to us as long as we only ask for our own personal satisfaction, but it becomes dear to us from the day when we make a present of it to another human being.
There was the same antagonism in their literary opinions. Flaubert was an artist, the theorist of the doctrine of art for art, such as Theophile Gautier, the Goncourt brothers and the Parnassians comprehended it, at about the same epoch. It is singularly interesting to hear him formulate each article of this doctrine, and to hear George Sand's fervent protestations in reply. Flaubert considers that an author should not put himself into his work, that he should not write his books with his heart, and George Sand answers:
"I do not understand at all, then. Oh no, it is all incomprehensible to me."
With what was an author to write his books, if not with his own sentiments and emotions? Was he to write them with the hearts of other people? Flaubert maintained that an author should only write for about twenty persons, unless he simply wrote for himself, "like a _bourgeois_ turning his serviette-rings round in his attic." George Sand was of opinion that an author should write "for all those who can profit by good reading." Flaubert confesses that if attention be paid to the old distinction between matter and form, he should give the greater importance to form, in which he had a religious belief. He considered that in the correctness of the putting together, in the rarity of the elements, the polish of the surface and the perfect harmony of the whole there was an intrinsic virtue, a kind of divine force. In conclusion, he adds:
"I endeavour to think well always, _in order to_ write well, but I do not conceal the fact that my object is to write well."
This, then, was the secret of that working up of the style, until it became a mania with him and developed into a torture. We all know of the days of anguish which Flaubert spent in searching for a word that escaped him, and the weeks that he devoted to rounding off one of his periods. He would never write these down until he had said them to himself, or, as he put it himself, until "they had gone through his jaw." He would not allow two complements in the same phrase, and we are told that he was ill after reading in one of his own books the following words: "Une couronne _de_ fleurs _d_'oranger."