This thirteenth number of the “Wandering Jew,” just published by Winchester, has delivered us from our anxieties as to the objects of Jesuit persecution, though by a coup de main clumsier than is usual even with Sue. Now, we have matters arranged for a few months more of contest with the Society of Jesus, but we think our author must depend for interest during the last volume, no longer on the conduct of the plot, but on the portraiture of characters.

  It is cheering to know how great is the influence such a writer as Sue exerts, from his energy of feeling on some objects of moral interest. It is true that he has also much talent and a various experience of life; but writers who far surpass him here, as we think Balzac does, wanting this heart of faith, have no influence, except merely on the tastes of their readers.

  We hear much lamentation among good people at the introduction of so many French novels among us, corrupting, they say, our youth by pictures of decrepit vice and prurient crime, such as would never, otherwise, be dreamed of here, and corrupting it the more that such knowledge is so precocious—for the same reason that a boy may be more deeply injured by initiation into wickedness than a man, for he is not only robbed of his virtue, but prevented from developing the strength that might restore it. But it is useless to bewail what is the inevitable result of the movement of our time. Europe must pour her corruptions, no less than her riches, on our shores, both in the form of books and of living men. She cannot, if she would, check the tide which bears them hitherward; no defenses are possible, on our vast extent of shore, that can preclude their ingress. We have exulted in premature and hasty growth; we must brace ourselves to bear the evils that ensue. Our only hope lies in rousing, in our own community, a soul of goodness, a wise aspiration, that shall give us strength to assimilate this unwholesome food to better substance, or cast off its contaminations. A mighty sea of life swells within our nation, and, if there be salt enough, foreign bodies shall not have power to breed infection there.

  We have had some opportunity to observe that the worst works offered are rejected. On the steamboats we have seen translations of vile books, bought by those who did not know from the names of their authors what to expect, torn, after a cursory glance at their contents, and scattered to the winds. Not even the all but all-powerful desire to get one’s money’s worth, since it had once been paid, could contend against the blush of shame that rose on the cheek of the reader.

  It would be desirable for our people to know something of these writers and of the position they occupy abroad; for the nature of their circulation, rather than its extent, might be the guide both to translator and buyer. The object of the first is generally money—of the last, amusement. But the merest mercenary might prefer to pass his time in translating a good book, and our imitation of Europe does not yet go so far that the American milliner can be depended on to copy any thing from the Parisian grisette, except her cap.

  One of the most unexceptionable and attractive writers of modern France is DE VIGNY. His life has been passed in the Army, but many years of peace have given him time for literary culture, while his acquaintance with the traditions of the Army, from the days of its dramatic achievements under Bonaparte, supply the finest materials both for narrative and reflection. His tales are written with infinite grace, refined sensibility, and a dignified view. His treatment of a subject shows that closeness of grasp and clearness of sight which are rarely attained by one who is not at home in active as well as thoughtful life. He has much penetration, too, and has touched some of the most delicate springs of human action. His works have been written in hours of leisure; this has diminished their number but given him many advantages over the thousands of professional writers that fill the coffee houses of Paris by day, and its garrets by night. We wish he were more read here in the original: with him would be found good French, and the manners, thoughts, and feelings of a cosmopolite gentleman. We have seen, with pleasure, one or two of his tales translated into the pages of the Democratic Review.

  But the three who have been and will be most read here, as they occupy the first rank in their own country, are BALZAC, GEORGE SAND, and EUGENE SUE.

  BALZAC has been a very fruitful writer, and as he is fond of juggler’s tricks of every description, and holds nothing earnest or sacred, he is vain of the wonderful celerity with which some of his works, and those quite as good as any, have been written. They seem to have been conceived, composed and written down with that degree of speed with which it is possible to lay pen to paper. Indeed, we think he cannot be surpassed in the ready and sustained command of his resources. His almost unsurpassed quickness and fidelity of eye, both as to the disposition of external objects, and the symptoms of human passion, combined with a strong memory, have filled his mind with materials, and we doubt not that if his thoughts could be put into writing with the swiftness of thought, he would give us one of his novels every week in the year.

  Here end our praises of Balzac; what he is, as a man, in daily life, we know not, he must originally have had a heart, or he could not read so well the hearts of others; perhaps there are still private ties that touch him. But as a writer, never was the modern Mephistopheles, “the spirit that denieth,” more worthily represented than by Balzac.

  He combines the spirit of the man of science, with that of the amateur collector. He delights to analyze, to classify; there is no anomaly too monstrous, no specimen too revolting, to ensure his ardent, but passionless scrutiny. But then—he has taste and judgment to know what is fair, rare and exquisite. He takes up such an object carefully and puts it in a good light. But he has no hatred for what is loathsome, no contempt for what is base, no love for what is lovely, no faith in what is noble. To him there is no virtue and no vice; men and women are more or less finely organized; noble and tender conduct is more agreeable than the reverse, because it argues better health; that is all.

  Nor is this from an intellectual calmness, nor from an unusual power of analyzing motives, and penetrating delusions merely; neither is it mere indifference. There is a touch of the demon, also, in Balzac; the cold but gayly familiar demon, and the smile of the amateur yields easily to a sneer, as he delights to show you on what foul juices the fair flower was fed. He is a thorough and willing materialist. The trance of Religion is congestion of the brain; the joy of the Poet the thrilling of the blood in the rapture of sense; and every good not only rises from, but hastens back into, the jaws of death and nothingness: a rainbow arch above a pestilential chaos!

  Thus Balzac, with all his force and fulness of talent, never rises one moment into the region of genius. For genius is, in its nature, positive and creative, and cannot exist where there is no heart to believe in realities. Neither can he have a permanent influence on a nature which is not thoroughly corrupt. He might for a while stagger an ingenuous mind which had not yet thought for itself. But this could not last. His unbelief makes his thought too shallow. He has not that power which a mind, only in part sophisticated, may retain, where the heart still beats warmly, though it sometimes beats amiss. Write, paint, argue, as you will, where there is a sound spot in any human being, he cannot be made to believe that this present bodily frame is more than a temporary condition of his being, though one to which he may have become shamefully enslaved by fault of inheritance, education, or his own carelessness.

  Taken in his own way, we know no modern tragedies more powerful than Balzac’s “Eugenie Grandet,” “Sweet Pea,” “Search after the Absolute,” “Father Goriot.” See there goodness, aspiration, the loveliest instincts, stifled, strangled by fate, in the form of our own brute nature—The fate of the ancient Prometheus was happiness to that of these who must pay for ever having believed there was divine fire in Heaven, by agonies of despair, and conscious degradation, unknown to those who began by believing man to be the most richly endowed of brutes—no more!

  Balzac is admirable in his description of look, tone, gesture. He has a keen sense of whatever is peculiar to the individual. Nothing in modern romance surpasses the death-scene of Father Goriot, the Parisian Lear, in the almost immortal life with which the parental instincts are displayed. And with equal precision and delicacy of shading he will paint the slightest by play in the manners of some young girl.

  “Seraphitus” is merely a specimen of his great powers of intellectual transposition. Amid his delight at the botanical riches of the new and elevated region in which he is traveling, we catch, if only by echo, the hem and chuckle of the French materialist.

  No more of him!—We leave him to his suicidal work.

  An entirely opposite character, in every leading trait, yet bearing traces of the same influences, is the celebrated GEORGE SAND. It is probably known to a great proportion of readers that this writer is a woman, who writes under the name of and frequently assumes the dress and manners of a man. It is also known that she has not only broken the marriage bond, and, since that, formed other connections independent of the civil or ecclesiastical sanction, but that she first rose into notice through works which systematically assailed the present institution of marriage and the social bonds which are connected with it.

  No facts are more adapted to startle every feeling of our community; but, since the works of Sand are read here, notwithstanding, and cannot fail to be so while they exert so important an influence abroad, it would be well they should be read intelligently, as to the circumstances of their birth, and their tendency.

  George Sand we esteem to be a person of strong passions, but of original nobleness and a love of right sufficient to guide them all to the service of aims. But she fell upon evil times. She was given in marriage according to the fashion of the old regime; she was taken from a convent where she had heard a great deal about the law of God and the example of Jesus, into a society where no vice was proscribed, if it would wear the cloak of hypocrisy. She found herself impatient of deception, and loudly called by passion: she yielded; but she could not do so, as others did, sinning against what she owned to be the rule of right, and the will of Heaven. She protested; she examined; she assailed. She “hacked into the roots of things,” and the bold sound of her axe called around her every foe that finds a home amid the growths of civilization. Still she persisted. “If it be real,” thought she, “it cannot be destroyed; as to what is false, the sooner it goes the better; and I, for one, had rather perish beneath its fall than wither in its shade.”

  SCHILLER puts into the mouth of Mary Stuart these words as her only plea: “The world knows the worst of me; and I may boast that, though I have erred, I am better than my reputation.” Sand may say the same. All is open, noble; the free descriptions, the sophistry of passion are, at least, redeemed by a desire for truth as strong as ever beat in any heart. To the weak or unthinking the reading of such books may not be desirable, for only those who take exercise as men can digest strong meat. But to anyone able to understand the position and circumstances, we believe this reading cannot fail of bringing good impulses, valuable suggestions, and it is quite free from that subtle miasma which taints so large a portion of French literature, not less since the Revolution than before. This we say to the foreign reader. To her own country Sand is a boon precious and prized, both as a warning and a leader, for which none there can be ungrateful. She has dared to probe its festering wounds, and if they be not past all surgery, she is one who, most of any, helps toward a cure.

  Would, indeed, the surgeon had come with quite clean hands! A woman of Sand’s genius, as free, as bold, and pure from even the suspicion of error, might have filled an apostolic station among her people. Then with what force had come her cry, “If it be false, give it up; but, if it be true, keep to it—one or the other!”

  But we have read all we wish to say upon this subject, lately uttered just from the quarter we could wish. It is such a woman, so unblemished in character, so high in aim, and pure in soul, that should address this other, as noble in nature, but clouded by error, and struggling with circumstances. It is such women that will do such justice. They are not afraid to look for virtue and reply to aspiration, among those who have not ‘dwelt in decencies for ever.’ It is a source of pride and happiness to read this address from the heart of Elizabeth Barrett:

Thou large-brained woman and large-hearted man,
Self-called George Sand! whose soul, amid the lions
Of thy tumultuous senses moans defiance,
And answers roar for roar, as spirits can:
I would some mild miraculous thunder ran
Above th’ applauded circus, in appliance
Of thine own nobler nature’s strength and science,
Drawing two pinions, white as wings of swan,
From the strong shoulders, to amaze the place
With holier light! that thou to woman’s claim,
And man’s, might join, beside, the angel’s grace
Of a pure genius sanctified from blame;
Till child and maiden pressed to thine embrace,
To kiss upon thy lips a stainless fame.

True genius, but true woman! dost deny
Thy woman’s nature with a manly scorn,
And break away the gauds and armlets worn
By weaker women in captivity?
Ah, vain denial! that revolted cry
Is sobbed in by a woman’s voice forlorn:—
Thy woman’s hair, my sister, all unshorn,
Floats back disheveled strength in agony,
Disproving thy man’s name, and while before
The world thou burnest in a poet-fire,
We see thy woman-heart beat evermore
Through the large flame. Beat purer, heart, and higher,
Till God unsex thee on the spirit shore;
To which alone unsexing, purely aspire.

  This last sonnet seems to have been written after seeing the picture of Sand, which represents her in a man’s dress, but with long, loose hair, and an eye whose mournful fire is impressive even in the caricatures.

  For some years Sand has quitted her post of assailant. She has seen that it is better to seek some form of life worthy to supersede the old, than rudely to destroy it, heedless of the future. Her force is bending towards philanthropic measures. She does not appear to possess much of the constructive faculty, and, though her writings command a great pecuniary compensation, and have a wide sway, it is rather for their tendency than their thought. She has reached no commanding point of view from which she may give orders to the advanced corps. She is still at work with others in the trench, though she works with more force than almost any.

  In power, indeed, Sand bears the palm above any of the Novelists. She is vigorous in conception, often great in the apprehension and the contrast of characters. She knows passion, as has been well hinted, at a white heat, when all the lower particles are remoulded by its power. Her descriptive talent is very great, and her poetic feeling exquisite. She wants but little of being a poet, but that little is indispensable. Yet she keeps us always hovering on the borders of the enchanted fields. She has, to a signal degree, that power of exact transcript from her own mind of which almost all writers fail. There is no veil, no half-plastic integument between us and the thought. We vibrate perfectly with it.

  This is her chief charm, and, next to it, is one in which we know no French writer that resembles her, except Rousseau, though he, indeed, is vastly her superior in it. This is, of concentrated glow. Her nature glows beneath the words, like fire beneath the ashes, deep;—deep!

  Her best works are unequal; in many parts written hastily, or carelessly, or with flagging spirits. They all promise far more than they perform; the work is not done masterly; she has not reached that point where a writer sits at the helm of his own genius. Sometimes she plies the oar; sometimes she drifts. But what greatness she has is genuine; there is no tinsel of any kind, no drapery carefully adjusted or chosen gesture about her. May Heaven lead her, at last, to the full possession of her best self, in harmony with the higher laws of life!

  We are not acquainted with all her works, but among those we know, mention “La Roche Mauprat,” “André,” “Jacques,” “Les Sept Cordes de la Lyre,” and “Les Maitres Mosaistes” as representing her higher inspirations, her sincerity in expression, and her dramatic powers. They are full of faults; still they also show her scope and aim with some fairness, which those readers who chance at first on such of her books as “Leone Leoni,” may fail to find, or even such as “Simon” and “Spiridion,” though into the imperfect web of these are woven threads of pure gold. Such is the first impression made by the girl Fiamma as she appears before us, so noble, with the words “E l’onore;” such the thought in “Spiridion” of making the apparition the reward of virtue.

  The work she is now publishing, “Consuelo,” with its sequel “Baroness de Rudolstadt,” exhibit her genius poised on a firmer pedestal, breathing a serener air. Still it is faulty in conduct, and show some obliquity of vision. She has not reached the Interpreter’s house yet. But when she does, she will have clues to guide many a pilgrim whom one less tried, less tempted than herself, could not help on the way.

  EUGENE SUE is a writer of far inferior powers, on the whole, to Sand, though he possesses some brilliant talents that she wants. His aims and modes are more external than her’s; he is not so deeply acquainted with his own nature, or with that of any other person. Like her, he began life in a corrupt society—struggled, doubted, half despaired; erred, apparently, himself, and feared there was no virtue and no truth; but is conquering now.

  We observe, in a late notice of Sue, that he began to write at quite mature age, at the suggestion of a friend. We should think it was so; that he was by nature intended for a practical man, rather than a writer. He paints all his characters from the practical point of view.

  As an observer, when free from exaggeration, he has as good an eye as Balzac, but he is far more rarely thus free, for, in temperament, he is unequal and sometimes muddy. But then he has the heart and faith that Balzac wants, yet is less enslaved by emotion than Sand, therefore he has made more impression on his time and place than either. We refer now to his later works; though his earlier show much talent, yet his progress, both as a writer and thinker, has been so considerable that those of the last few years entirely eclipse his earlier essays.

  These latter works are the “Mysteries of Paris,” “Matilda,” and the “Wandering Jew,” which is now in course of publication. In these, he has begun and is continuing a crusade against the evils of a corrupt civilization which are inflicting such woes and wrongs upon his contemporaries.

  Sue, however, does not merely assail, but would build up. His anatomy is not intended to injure the corpse, or, like that of Balzac, to entertain the intellect merely. Earnestly he hopes to learn from it the remedies for disease and the conditions of health. Sue is a Socialist. He believes he sees the means by which the heart of mankind may be made to beat with one great hope, one love; and instinct with this thought, his tales of horror are not tragedies.

  This is the secret of the deep interest he has awakened in this country that he shares a hope which is, half unconsciously to herself, stirring all her veins. It is not so warmly out-spoken as in other lands, both because no such pervasive ills as yet yet call loudly for redress, and because private conservation is here great, in proportion to the absence of authorized despotism. We are not disposed to quarrel with this; it is well for the value of new thoughts to be tested by a good deal of resistance. Opposition, if it does not preclude free discussion, is of use in educating men to know what they want. Only by intelligent men, exercised by thought and tried in virtue, can such measures as Sue proposes be carried out; and when such Associates present themselves in sufficient numbers, we have no fear but the cause of Association, in its grander forms, will have fair play in America.

  As a writer, Sue shows his want of a high kind of imagination by his unshrinking portraiture of physical horrors. We do not believe any man could look upon some things he describes and live. He is very powerful in his description of the workings of animal nature; especially when he speaks of them in animals merely, they have the simplicity of the lower kind with the more full expression of human nature. His pictures of women are of rare excellence, and it is observable that the more simple and pure the character is, the more justice he does to it. This shows that, whatever his career may have been, his heart is uncontaminated. Men he does not describe so well, and fails entirely when he aims at one grand and simple enough for a great moral agent. His conceptions are strong, but in execution he is too melodramatic. Just compare his “Wandering Jew” with that of Beranger. The latter is as diamond compared with charcoal. Then, like all those writers who write in numbers that come out weekly or monthly, he abuses himself and his subject; he often must; the arrangement is false and mechanical.

  The attitude of Sue is at this moment imposing, as he stands, pen in hand—this his only weapon against an innumerable host of foes, the champion of poverty, innocence and humanity, against superstition, selfishness and prejudice. When his works are forgotten, and for all their strong points and brilliant decorations, they may ere long be forgotten, still the writer’s name shall be held in imperishable honor as the teacher of the ignorant, the guardian of the weak, a true Tribune for the people of his own time.

  To sum up this imperfect account of their merits, I see De Vigny, a retiring figure, the gentleman, the solitary thinker, but, in his way, the efficient foe of false honor, and superstitious prejudice. Balzac is the heartless surgeon, probing the wounds and describing the delirium of suffering men for the amusement of his students. Sand a grand, fertile, aspiring, but, in some measure, distorted and irregular nature. Sue a bold and glittering crusader, with endless ballads jingling in the silence of the night before the battle. They are much right and a good deal wrong; for instance, all, even Sand, who would lay down her life for the sake of truth, will let their virtuous characters practice stratagems, falsehood, and violence; in fact, do evil for the sake of good. They still show this taint of the old regime, and no wonder! La belle France has worn rouge so long that the purest mountain air will not, at once, or soon, restore the natural hues to her complexion. But they are fine figures, and all ruled by the onward spirit of the time. Led by that spirit, I see them moving on the troubled waters; they do not sink, and I trust they will find their way to the coasts where the new era will introduce new methods, in a spirit of nobler activity, wiser patience, and holier faith than the world has yet seen.

  Will Balzac also see that shore, or has he only broken away the bars that hindered others from setting sail? We do not know. When we read an expression of such lovely innocence as the letter of the little country maidens to their Parisian brother (in Father Goriot), we hope; but presently we see him sneering behind the mask, and we fear. Let Frenchmen speak to this. They know best what disadvantages a Frenchman suffers under, and whether it is possible Balzac be still alive, except in his eyes. Those, we know, are well alive.

  To read these or any foreign works fairly, the reader must understand the national circumstances under which they were written. To use them worthily, he must know how to interpret them for the use of the Universe.*

“Review.” New-York Daily Tribune, 1 February 1845, p. 1.