Poor little warbler

George Sand photographed by Nadar, 1864

Few writers of the 19th century were as widely read as George Sand. Born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin de Francueil in 1804, she was twenty seven when her first novel was published under the pseudonym for which she is now known. By the time of her death in 1876, she was a giant of French literature with seventy novels to her name, numerous plays, a memoir, and The Intimate Journal—a collection of letters, poems, sketches, and, in one particular chapter, a journal written for an audience of one: ‘Doctor Piffoël,’ her masculine alter-ego. The following entry came on 25th June 1837, and finds Sand deeply engrossed in the care of a small bird.

The Diary Entry
A page from George Sand’s ‘Piffoël Journal

June 25.

Poor little warbler, how unlucky you were to fall out of your nest last evening before your wings were grown. Forlorn little bird, you are no heavier than a feather and no bigger than a fly. You have made yourself at home here, perching on my finger, nestling in my hair, pecking at my hand and answering the sound of my voice. Who gives you this confidence in my strength, and why do you rely on me to sustain and comfort your weakness? This fold of my sleeve in which you take refuge is not your nest. This hand that feeds you is not your mother’s beak. You cannot be so easily deceived, nor have you forgotten your family. You hear the cry of your frantic mother as she hunts for you in the branches of neighboring trees. She would fly through this window if she dared, and you would go to her if you were able. I see that you recognize her cries. Your bright black eyes seem ready to swim with tears. Your head turns restlessly from side to side. Your tiny throat utters feeble notes of protest.

Poor baby bird, you are so fragile that in giving you life, nature seems to have made a jest of you. Yet, that bald head of yours holds a mite of intelligence, and you contain a spark of divinity. You mourn your mother, your brothers, your father, your nest and your tree. You long for a home more suited to your frail organization than the one I provide.

I know that you mourn because you seem troubled. I know you remember because you gaze nervously at the window and feebly strive to answer the voice that calls to you from outside. And since you mourn, since you desire, you love. Yet you submit to the inevitable, and your helplessness is instinct with intelligence which tells you to take refuge in my goodness and to accept my care. You even know how to appeal for sympathy by a manner so full of trust and abandon that it would disarm the hardest heart.

You are not beautiful, I admit. Your ash-colored coat is neither striking nor stylish. Your feathers are ragged. The quills of your tail are rolled into a ball of fur. This manner of dress makes you so dowdy that at first impulse one might be impelled to brush you aside.

Nature distributes her favors unequally. To some of her creatures she gives intelligence, to others beauty. My stupid lap-wing, without sense enough to fly straight, blunders around in a beautiful emerald coat and gorgeous aigrette, while you, aborted bird, are colorless and shapeless, yet you know how to give to your homely exterior all the expression necessary for me to divine your least desire.

The love of weakness for strength is a blessed law of nature, but even more sacred is the love of strength for weakness. Therefore it is that woman cherishes her little ones, and thus man should cherish his woman.

But man, in an effort to maintain and exaggerate the natural dependence of woman, has bound her to himself by laws of servitude. By so doing he has destroyed the joy and the freedom of love.

What woman whose heart life is satisfied will demand a life of intellect? It is so sweet to be loved!

Men mistreat women and abandon them. They despise their ignorance, accuse them of idiocy, and then, when women try to use their own especial wisdom, it is ridiculed. In love, women are treated as courtesans. In the conjugal relation, they are looked upon as servants. Men do not love women. They use them and exploit them, and then consider it fair to subject them to the law of fidelity.

If I abuse you, dear dependent warbler, you will soon escape to the highest trees of the garden, for in a week your wings will have grown and love alone will hold you to my side.

Further Reading

First published in France in 1926, Journal intime can be read online, in French, at Wikisource—the chapter containing the Piffoël journal is here. Three years later, it was translated into English by Marie Jenney Howe and published by Williams & Norgate. You can find a later edition at the Internet Archive.

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