31 May 2024

Translation: George Sand on the Environmental Rescue of the Fontainebleau Forest by Artists outside of Paris - Part 5

Jules Dupré, Fontainebleau Oaks, 1840

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 5

There’s more. An exclusively artistic education is not an infallible means of developing the sentiment of the beautiful and the truthful in man. It entails too much discussion, too many conventions, too much professional skill; by learning how one should see and how one should express things, it is quite possible that the disciple of so many masters could often lose the gift of seeing through his own eyes and of producing according to a meaning that is his own. Nature does not buckle this way to the professor’s orders; essentially mysterious, she has her own revelation for each individual and possesses him through a process that she does not repeat for someone else. You must see her for yourself and question her with your own tentacles. She is eloquent for everyone, but never fully translatable, because she possesses all the languages, and beneath the profusion of her different expressions, she keeps a last hidden word for herself and which, thank God, man will seek eternally. No painter, no poet, no musician, no naturalist will ever finish this goblet of beauty that always overflows after he has drunk from it at length. After the most splendid drinkers, the smallest little birds will always be able to quench their thirst, and when you will have learned about all of the artists, all of the poets, all of the naturalists, you will still have everything to learn if you have not seen nature in her own home, if you have not personally quizzed the sphinx.

What a conquest to be undertaken by man, and I mean for every man currently alive or to be born! To go into nature, to search for the oracle of the sacred forest and bring back her word, even if just one word that will imbue all of your life with the profound charm of possessing her being! This is well worth conserving the temples from where this benevolent divinity has not been hunted!

Because it’s time to think about it. Nature is disappearing. The great plants are disappearing at the hand of the farmworker, the moors are losing their scents, and you have to go quite far from the city to find silence, to breathe in the odors of the the free-growing plant or to find out the secret of the stream that chatters and flows as it wants. Everything is cut down, razed to the ground, improved, penned in, aligned or made into an obstacle: if in these cultivated rectilinear plots that we pretend to call the countryside, from time to time you see a group of beautiful trees, you can be certain that it will be surrounded by walls and that you are in front of a private property where you don’t have the right to let your child enter so that he can find out what a linden or oak tree is like. Only the wealthy have the right to keep a little corner of nature for their personal enjoyment. On the day that an agricultural law is decreed, not even a tree would be left in France. In Berry, in the winter, they mutilate the elm tree in order to feed the sheep with its leaves and heat the oven with its branches. There are only stumps left, monsters.

Everyone knows the story of the white willow in France; it’s our most beautiful tree, the one that reaches the most imposing stature. There are maybe three left; but certain regions are covered by little bundles of whitish leaves that are supported by a large, shapeless, entirely cracked log. There you have the white willow, the giant of our climate.

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