Critical assessments

George Sand

Letters of George Sand. Volume II, trans. Raphael Ledos de Beaufort. New York: Cosimo, 2009.

To Maurice Sand, Nohant. Paris, 17th April, 1848, 18-27.

[…] Three, or rather four, conspiracies have been set on foot during the last week.

[…] The third was, so they say, that of Blanqui, Cabet, and Raspail, who intended to attempt a coup de main, with the help of their disciples and friends of the Jacobin clubs, in order to put themselves in the place of the provisional Government. […]

This is the story of those four conspiracies:

Ledru-Rollin, unable to arrange with Louis Blanc, or thinking himself betrayed by him, faield to act adequately, in fact, took no prominent part in the precedings.

Under the pretence that Cabet was bent upon bloodshed and pillage, Marrast and Co. secretly called to their aid all the suburbs and all the armed bourgeoisie, and succeeded so well in impressing everybody with that belief, that Ledru-Rollin’s honest and respectable party, supported by Barbès, Caussidière, and all my friends, never stirred, being unwilling, in the midst of the confusion of a popular authority, to give help and protection to Cabet, who is an ass, or to Raspail and Blanqui, the Marat of the present times. The conspiracy of Blanqui, Raspail, and Cabet did not perhaps exist by itself, though it was possibly part and parcel of Louis Blanc’s. The former cannot, by themselves, rely upon more than a thousand faithful followers throughout the whole of Paris. They, therefore, do not deserve all the noise made about them. […]

On the Pont des Arts we heard the drums beating the charge, and, by the light of the torches, we saw an immense line of bayonets moving quickly in the direction of the Hôtel de Ville. We ran there. It was the Second Legion, composed of the leading bourgeois of Paris and others of the same rank, about 20,000 men altogether, deafeningly vociferating that eternal cry of ‘Death to Cabet!’ ‘Death to the Communists!’ I certainly do no much care for Cabet; but why, out of three men of whom he is not the worst, is he always taken to task? Blanqui and Raspail, without doubt, deserve more hatred, yet their names were not even once pronounced. It is that they do not represent ideas, and that is precisely what the bourgeoisie wants to do away with. […]

That wretch of a Cabet, Blanqui, Raspail, and a few others miss the truth because they preach only one side of it. We cannot embrace their cause, and yet the persecution which attaches to them paves the way to that to which we shall soon be subjected ourselves. The principle is violated, and it is the bourgeoisie who will again raise the scaffold. […]

To Maurice Sand, Nohant. Paris, 19th April, 1848, 27-28.

I hope that you sleep in full security, and that, if the rumours which are night and day circulated through Paris have reached the provinces, where they must assume dreadful proportions, you do not believe a word of them. We are again going through the year of fear. It is fabulous! Last night every quarter of Paris pretended that two of its pickets had been attacked and carried off. That meant many pickets carried off, although in reality not a dog had stirred.

This morning at daybreak the rappel was beat. Orders were then countermanded, although the National Guards were told to remain in readiness for any emergency. Every hour a fresh story was circulated. Blanqui was arrested, or Cabet, who flies for his life! had attacked the Hôtel de Ville. Leroux has become invisible; I believe he has gone to Boussac. Raspail gives himself out as dead. Any yet the whole of Paris, without exception all the clubs, the provisional Government, Caussidière himself, and the rank and file of the National Guards, have all been thrown into the wildest state of excitement by those three very men – Cabet, Blanqui, and Raspail. The Mobile Guards are being told that the suburbs are looting everything; the suburbs are informed that the Communists are making barricades. It is a regular farce. They were all bent upon frightening one another, and succeeded so well that they are all frightened in earnest. […]

To Citizen Théophile Thoré, Paris. Nohant, 28th May, 1848, 38-40

[…] As for the events of the 15th, I will leave them unnoticed. The outbreak is over now, and I have no right to condemn it, since it is put down; and I will abstain from passing any remark upon the men who brought it about, and with whom we have no sympathy. But I can tell you that, when I learned from the crowd that strange mixture of names uttered in defiance of the future, I went back home fully determined not to risk one single hair of my head for such men as Raspail, Cabet, or Blanqui. So long as their names are inscribed upon our banner I will hold aloof. They are but pedants and theocrats. I will not be subjected to individual whims, and will exile myself the day we commit the mistake of placing them in power. […]

But my conscience is timid and my scruples go far whenever he question is to advise and stir the masses in the streets. There is no doctrine too new or too rash; but action is not to be resorted to without careful consideration. Like a man, I understand the emotion of the struggle and the attraction of the fight. In my youth, I would have followed the devil himself, had he given the word to fire. But I have learned so many things since, that I much fear the morrow of a victory. Are we ripe for a good reckoning with God and men? I say we, because I cannot, in my mind, separate our cause from the people’s. And then! the people are not ready, and too much urging retards their progress; that seems a rather illogical fact, but facts are so seldom logical! Yet that is a very true fact, and far more obvious in the provinces than in Paris.

Barbès is a hero, he reasons like a saint, that is, very falsely in a wordly point of view. I love him tenderly, and do not know how to take his defence, because I cannot admit that, on that deplorable day of the 15th, he had right on his side in the name of the people. Those who were called factious were, indeed, more so than most people think. In a political sense there were less so than the National Assembly itself; but in a moral and intellectual sense they were factious without a doubt.

Through surprise, audacity (and even force, had they been able to resort to it), they wished to impose upon the people an idea which the people have not yet accepted. They would have established, not the law of fraternity of Jesus, but that of Mahomet. Instead of religion, we should have had fanaticism. It is not thus that true ideas gain adherents. Three months after such a philosophical usurpation we would have been, not Republicans, but Cossacks. Even supposing those sectarians to have mustered 10,000 men each, and the exaltation of their united numbers to have sufficed to hold Paris during a few weeks against the provinces, would, I ask, those sectarians have supported one another? Would Blanqui have submitted himself to Barbès? Would Leroux have tolerated Cabet? Would you yourself have been accepted by Raspail? What a struggle there would have been in the midst of that impossible association! You would have been led into more blunders that the Provisional Government; you could not have succeeded in calling together an Assembly, and would have found yourselves already entangled with Europe. […]

Correspondance Volume III: 1848-1853. Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1883, 341.

A Joseph Mazzini, A Londres, Nohant 23 mai 1852.

[…] Quant à Blanqui, je ne connais pas celui-là, et je déclare que je n’ai jamais lu une seule ligne de lui. Je n’ai donc pas le droit d’en parler. Je ne le connais que par quelques partisans de ses principes qui prêchent une république forcenée, des actes de rigueur effroyables, quelque chose de cent fois plus dictatorial, arbitraire et antihumain que ce que nous subissons aujourd’hui. Est-ce là la pensée de Blanqui? est-ce une fausse interprétation donnée par ses adeptes? Avant de juger Blanqui, je voudrais le lire ou l’entendre; ne le connaissant que par des on dit, je ne me permettrais jamais de le traduire devant l’opinion socialiste ou non socialiste. J’ignore si vous êtes mieux renseigné que moi. Mais, s’il est homme d’action, de combat et de conspiration comme on le dit, qu’il soit ou non socialiste, vous ne devez pas le renier comme combattant, vous qui voulez des combattants avant tout. […]

‘Une lettre à George Sand de Mlle Leroyer de Chantepie’. 16 March 1872.

[…] Quant à Blanqui, je ne connais rien de ses opinions, mais instinctivement, il m’a toujours été antipathique. Je ne suis point étonnée de la répulsion qu’il inspirait à Barbès. Il paraît cependant que Blanqui n’a été que le prétexte et la cause involontaire des derniers malheurs. […]