17 August 2022

Translation: George Sand on the Environmental Rescue of the Fontainebleau Forest by Artists outside of Paris - Part 4

Camille Corot, Barbizon, 1850

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 4

Well, when you have lead him through all the centers from which social life radiates, or on all the pathways through which it functions, when you have taught him what industry, science, art and politics are, there is still one thing which he will not think of if you do not show him, and this thing is religious respect for beauty in nature. Therein lies a deep source of calm and everlasting joy, an immersion of one’s being in the mysterious sources from which it has arisen, a notion of life both positive and pious, the clear and complete idea of which your machines, ships, manufacturing industries, theaters and churches will not have given him. He will have learned how life yields or wastes itself, how man uses himself up; he will not know how life reproduces and renews itself, how man feels and how he belongs. Most of the time, the disorder of social existence makes us act without knowing why and makes us mistake our passions and appetites for real needs. Looking inward is the thing that we are most lacking and from which everything turns us away. Society has launched itself full-steam into an artificial life in every way. We need to answer our appetites and vanities, which come in all shapes and sizes. Life has no other goal, no other illusion, no other promise in the esteem of the masses.

Let’s react a little, that is, as much as we can, because, alas, it will still be too little against this torrent that sweeps our offspring into its muddy waters. Let us not reduce our horizons to the delimited space of a field or the fence around a vegetable garden. Let us open space to the child’s thinking; let us make him drink the poetry of this creation that our industries tend to denature completely at a frightening speed. What? Until now, the young man who deeply feels this poetry is an exceptional being, because, in most families nowadays, we are convinced that contemplation is a waste of time, that dreaming is a lazy habit or a tendency toward madness. Yet, we are sensitive to the beauty of a landscape, and would not want our pupil to be so brutal as to not see it.

I know this, I recognize it, because I am not among those who systematically make war on the bourgeoisie. I have never crusaded against local greengrocers. I am convinced that one can sell capers and cloves, and still be well aware that they are lovable plants, not only because they bring in money, but also because they are gracious and charming. I believe that one can be a good peasant and make a deep furrow without being deaf to the lark’s song or insensitive to the smell of the hawthorn. I would even prefer it this way. I wish that one could be a perfect notary and poet, from time to time, while walking through the countryside or crossing the Seine. I want all men to be complete and that no one prohibits them from any kind of initiation. It is a preconception to believe that one must acquaint oneself with the delicacies of language, with the color arrays of the palette, the technique of the arts for becoming oneself a nuanced critic and an exquisitely sensitive person. Self-expression is a learned ability, but appreciation is a need, and therefore a universal right. It is the mission of artists to bring it to light and to consecrate it; but let us invite all men to a helping of it, in order to experience its joy and to learn to seek to savor it, without thinking that they must give up being good local greengrocers, good farm workers or impeccable notaries, if that be their vocation.

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