Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller

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Jenny Lind, the "Consuelo" of George Sand

Jenny Lind, the prima donna of Stockholm, is among the most distinguished of those geniuses who have been invited to welcome the queen to Germany. Her name has been unknown among us, as she is still young, and has not wandered much from the scene of her first triumphs; but many may have seen, last winter, in the foreign papers, an account of her entrance into Stockholm after an absence of some length. The people received her with loud cries of homage, took the horses from her carriage and drew her home; a tribute of respect often paid to conquerors and statesmen, but seldom, or, as far as we know, never to the priesthood of the muses, who have conferred the higher benefit of raising, refining and exhilarating, the popular mind.

An accomplished Swede, now in this country, communicated to a friend particulars of Jenny Lind's career, which suggested the thought that she might have given the hint for the principal figure in Sand's late famous novel, "Consuelo."

This work is at present in process of translation in "The Harbinger," a periodical published at Brook Farm, Mass.; but, as this translation has proceeded but a little way, and the book in its native tongue is not generally, though it has been extensively, circulated here, we will give a slight sketch of its plan.

It has been a work of deepest interest to those who have looked upon Sand for some years back, as one of the best exponents of the difficulties, the errors, the aspirations, the weaknesses, and the regenerative powers of the present epoch. The struggle in her mind and the experiments of her life have been laid bare to the eyes of her fellow-creatures with fearless openness—fearless, not shameless. Let no man confound the bold unreserve of Sand with that of those who have lost the feeling of beauty and the love of good. With a bleeding heart and bewildered feet she sought the truth, and if she lost the way, returned as soon as convinced she had done so; but she would never hide the fact that she had lost it. "What God knows, I dare avow to man," seems to be her motto. It is impossible not to see in her, not only the distress and doubts of the intellect, but the temptations of a sensual nature; but we see too the courage of a hero and a deep capacity for religion. This mixed nature, too, fits her peculiarly to speak to men so diseased as men are at present. They feel she knows their ailment, and if she find a cure, it will really be by a specific remedy.

An upward tendency and growing light are observable in all her works for several years past, till now, in the present, she has expressed such conclusions as forty years of the most varied experience have brought to one who had shrunk from no kind of discipline, yet still cried to God amid it all; one who, whatever you may say against her, you must feel has never accepted a word for a thing, or worn one moment the veil of hypocrisy; and this person one of the most powerful nature, both as to passion and action, and of an ardent, glowing genius. These conclusions are sadly incomplete. There is an amazing alloy in the last product of her crucible, but there is also so much of pure gold that the book is truly a cordial, as its name of Consuelo (consolation) promises.

The young Consuelo lives as a child the life of a beggar. Her youth is passed in the lowest circumstances of the streets of Venice. She brings the more pertinacious fire of Spanish blood to be fostered by the cheerful airs of Italy. A vague sense of the benefits to be derived, from such mingling of various influences, in the formation of a character, is to be discerned in several works of art now, when men are really wishing to become citizens of the world, though old habits still interfere on every side with so noble a development.

Nothing can be more charming than the first volume, which describes the young girl amid the common life of Venice. It is sunny, open, and romantic as the place. The beauty of her voice, when a little singing-girl in the streets, arrested the attention of a really great and severe master, Porpora, who educated her to music. In this she finds the vent and the echo for her higher self. Her affections are fixed on a young companion, an unworthy object, but she does not know him to be so. She judges from her own candid soul, that all must be good, and derives from the tie, for a while, the fostering influences which love alone has for genius. Clear perception follows quickly upon her first triumphs in art. They have given her a rival, and a mean rival, in her betrothed, whose talent, though great, is of an inferior grade to hers; who is vain, every way impure. Her master, Porpora, tries to avail himself of this disappointment to convince her that the artist ought to devote himself to art alone; that private ties must interfere with his perfection and his glory. But the nature of Consuelo revolts against this doctrine, as it would against the seclusion of a convent. She feels that genius requires manifold experience for its development, and that the mind, concentrated on a single object, is likely to pay by a loss of vital energy for the economy of thoughts and time.

Driven by these circumstances into Germany, she is brought into contact with the old noblesse, a very different, but far less charming, atmosphere than that of the gondoliers of Venice. But here, too, the strong, simple character of our Consuelo is unconstrained, if not at home, and when her heart swells and needs expansion, she can sing.

Here the Count de Rudolstadt, Albert, loves Consuelo, which seems, in the conduct of the relation, a type of a religious democracy in love with the spirit of art. We do not mean that any such cold abstraction is consciously intended, but all that is said means this. It shadows forth one of the greatest desires which convulse our age.

A most noble meaning is couched in the history of Albert, and though the writer breaks down under such great attempts, and the religion and philosophy of the book are clumsily embodied compared with its poesy and rhetoric, yet great and still growing thoughts are expressed with sufficient force to make the book a companion of rare value to one in the same phase of mind.

Albert is the aristocratic democrat, such as Alfieri was; one who, in his keen perception of beauty, shares the good of that culture which ages have bestowed on the more fortunate classes, but in his large heart loves and longs for the good of all men, as if he had himself suffered in the lowest pits of human misery. He is all this and more in his transmigration, real or fancied, of soul, through many forms of heroic effort and bloody error; in his incompetency to act at the present time, his need of long silences, of the company of the dead and of fools, and eventually of a separation from all habitual ties, is expressed a great idea, which is still only in the throes of birth, yet the nature of whose life we begin to prognosticate with some clearness.

Consuelo's escape from the castle, and even from Albert, her admiration of him, and her incapacity to love him till her own character be more advanced, are told with great naturalness. Her travels with Joseph Haydn, are again as charmingly told as the Venetian life. Here the author speaks from her habitual existence, and far more masterly than of those deep places of thought where she is less at home. She has lived much, discerned much, felt great need of great thoughts, but not been able to think a great way for herself. She fearlessly accompanies the spirit of the age, but she never surpasses it; that is the office of the great thinker.

At Vienna Consuelo is brought fully into connection with the great world as an artist. She finds that its realities, so far from being less, are even more harsh and sordid for the artist than for any other; and that with avarice, envy and falsehood, she must prepare for the fearful combat which awaits noble souls in any kind of arena, with the pain of disgust when they cannot raise themselves to patience—with the almost equal pain, when they can, of pity for those who know not what they do.

Albert is on the verge of the grave; and Consuelo, who, not being able to feel for him sufficient love to find in it compensation for the loss of that artist-life to which she feels Nature has destined her, had hitherto resisted the entreaties of his aged father, and the pleadings of her own reverential and tender sympathy with the wants of his soul, becomes his wife just before he dies.

The sequel, therefore, of this history is given under the title of Countess of Rudolstadt. Consuelo is still on the stage; she is at the Prussian court. The well-known features of this society, as given in the memoirs of the time, are put together with much grace and wit. The sketch of Frederic is excellent.

The rest of the book is devoted to expression of the author's ideas on the subject of reform, and especially of association as a means thereto. As her thoughts are yet in a very crude state, the execution of this part is equally bungling and clumsy. Worse: she falsifies the characters of both Consuelo and Albert,—who is revived again by subterfuge of trance,—and stains her best arrangements by the mixture of falsehood and intrigue.

Yet she proceeds towards, if she walks not by, the light of a great idea; and sincere democracy, universal religion, scatter from afar many seeds upon the page for a future time. The book should be, and will be, universally read. Those especially who have witnessed all Sand's doubts and sorrows on the subject of marriage, will rejoice in the clearer, purer ray which dawns upon her now. The most natural and deep part of the book, though not her main object, is what relates to the struggle between the claims of art and life, as to whether it be better for the world and one's self to develop to perfection a talent which Heaven seemed to have assigned as a special gift and vocation, or sacrifice it whenever the character seems to require this for its general development. The character of Consuelo is, throughout the first part, strong, delicate, simple, bold, and pure. The fair lines of this picture are a good deal broken in the second part; but we must remain true to the impression originally made upon us by this charming and noble creation of the soul of Sand.

It is in reference to our Consuelo that a correspondent [Footnote: We do not know how accurate is this correspondent's statement of facts. The narrative is certainly interesting.—Ed.] writes, as to Jenny Lind; and we are rejoiced to find that so many hints were, or might have been, furnished for the picture from real life. If Jenny Lind did not suggest it, yet she must also be, in her own sphere, a Consuelo.

"Jenny Lind must have been born about 1822 or 1828. When a young child, she was observed, playing about and singing in the streets of Stockholm, by Mr. Berg, master of singing for the royal opera. Pleased and astonished at the purity and suavity of her voice, he inquired instantly for her family, and found her father, a poor innkeeper, willing and glad to give up his daughter to his care, on the promise to protect her and give her an excellent musical education. He was always very careful of her, never permitting her to sing except in his presence, and never letting her appear on the stage, unless as a mute figure in some ballet, such, for instance, as Cupid and the Graces, till she was sixteen, when she at once executed her part in 'Der Freyschutz,' to the full satisfaction and surprise of the public of Stockholm. From that time she gradually became the favorite of every one. Without beauty, she seems, from her innocent and gracious manners, beautiful on the stage and charming in society. She is one of the few actresses whom no evil tongue can ever injure, and is respected and welcomed in any and all societies.

"The circumstances that reminded me of Consuelo were these: that she was a poor child, taken up by this singing-master, and educated thoroughly and severely by him; that she loved his son, who was a good-for-nothing fellow, like Anzoleto, and at last discarded him; that she refused the son of an English earl, and, when he fell sick, his father condescended to entreat for him, just as the Count of Rudolstadt did for his son; that, though plain and low in stature, when singing her best parts she appears beautiful, and awakens enthusiastic admiration; that she is rigidly correct in her demeanor towards her numerous admirers, having even returned a present sent her by the crown-prince, Oscar, in a manner that she deemed equivocal. This last circumstance being noised abroad, the next time she appeared on the stage she was greeted with more enthusiastic plaudits than ever, and thicker showers of flowers fell upon her from the hands of her true friends, the public. She was more fortunate than Consuelo in not being compelled to sing to a public of Prussian corporals."

Indeed, the picture of Frederic's opera-audience, with the pit full of his tall grenadiers with their wives on their shoulders, never daring to applaud except when he gave the order, as if by tap of drum, opposed to the tender and expansive nature of the artist, is one of the best tragicomedies extant. In Russia, too, all is military; as soon as a new musician arrives, he is invested with a rank in the army. Even in the church Nicholas has lately done the same. It seems as if he could not believe a man to be alive, except in the army; could not believe the human heart could beat, except by beat of drum. But we believe in Russia there is at least a mask of gayety thrown over the chilling truth. The great Frederic wished no disguise; everywhere he was chief corporal, and trampled with his everlasting boots the fair flowers of poesy into the dust.

The North has been generous to us of late; she has sent us Ole Bull. She is about to send Frederika Bremer. May she add JENNY LIND!

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