07 December 2021

Translation: George Sand on the Environmental Rescue of the Fontainebleau Forest by Artists outside of Paris - Part 3

Augustin Enfantin, An Artist Painting in the Forest of Fontainebleau

This is Bora Mici's original French to English translation of a letter the French 19th century writer George Sand wrote in defense of the Fontainebleau Forest on the outskirts of Paris in order to preserve it from urban and rural development. Sand writes of how important it is as a place for artists, poets, naturalists and all classes of society, where beauty and meaning, as embodied in the natural environment, can provide both a respite from the bustle of urban life, from rectilinear productive agricultural plots and where people of all ages, especially older and younger children, can venture in order to learn about the mystery of life as nature reveals it. 

Letter in support of the Environmental Rescue of the Fontainebleau Forest by George Sand and Barbizon School Artists, Part 3

The Fontainebleau forest is not just beautiful because of its vegetation; its terrain features extremely graceful and elegant movements. At each step, its rock formations offer a magnificent decor, austere or delightful. However, these lovely clearings, this unexpected chaos, these melancholic sands would become sad, perhaps even vulgar if they were denuded. The natural sciences also have the right to protest against the destruction of the ground-level plants, which would disappear with the drying of the atmosphere when the tall trees fall. The botanist and the entomologist are serious people who count just as much as the painter and the poet; but even more important than these elites is, I repeat, human kind, whose noble enjoyments we should not impoverish, especially so soon after the atrocious wars that have spoiled and destroyed so many sacred things in nature and civilization. We are all French and we all have, or nearly all of us, children or grandchildren whom we take by the hand to go on walks, with the idea of—regardless of whether we belong to the well-off or not so well-off classes—initiating them to the feeling of life that is in us. In all the places we are with them, we make them observe everything they are supposed to understand, a ship, a train on its tracks, a marketplace, a church, a river, a mountain, or a town. From the gingerbread shop where the lower proletariat look at simple shapes of men and animals, to the museums where the bourgeois leads his progeny and explains what he admires as well as he can; from the furrow where the peasant’s child picks up a flower or a stone all the way to the great royal parks and our public gardens, where both rich and poor can learn by looking; all of these places are a sanctuary for the initiation of a child or the adult who has been developmentally deprived, who wants to exit this childhood that has lasted too long. I know very well that there is a dark or chattering, evil or impassioned proletariat that only dreams of social struggle, looks at nothing and does not take any care to elevate its spirit to the level of the destiny it seeks; but there is also a universal proletariat, the child, the ignorant among all the classes, those we can still shape for social life and for the struggles of the future that are better understood and better positioned. Each one of us has this particular one close at hand because it’s his favorite pupil, or the infant he carries in his arms. We take him on walks, begin his education, explain new objects to him; if the pupil is intelligent, soon he shows an interest in all the things that existence offers for possession, by its very nature or in thought.

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