André Léo, “The Young Girl and the Bird” (1850)

It’s certainly no surprise to find work by André Léo in Pierre Leroux’s journal La Revue Sociale. The prolific writer, whose real name was Victoire Léodile Béra, was married to the editor, Grégoire Champseix. But much of her literary output was later, after Champseix’s death, and despite all the very interesting material that I have pulled from La Revue Sociale, I’ll admit that I have never been able to steal the time to give the journal all the attention I’m sure it deserves. So it was nice to find that members of L’Association André Léo have identified a number of contributions, under the pseudonyms Victor Léo and Léo, as also being the work of this woman with so very many names. I started my workday with a quick translation of the shortest of them:


This is the time when the wild rose and honeysuckle bushes extend fragrant garlands, when a thousand wonders frail blossom in the grass, under the foliage, in the hollows of rocks. This is the time when amidst the wheat the cornflower shines; when the wild thyme, with its soft color, lines the edges of the roads.

How sweet it is to tread the carpet meadows, when every step brings forth a perfume!

How sweet is the shade of the trees, from which we hear, stretched out on the moss, the song of the birds and the call of the cicada!

When nature lulls with a monotonous voice her voluptuous daytime sleep.

What fragrance does that breeze carry?… My spirit has leapt like the exile at the song of their homeland. — Let us go to the country; Let us worship God.

So said the young girl from the city; but they respond to her: “Custom shuts up your life.” — And, crying, she went to sit before the cage of her favorite bird, which each day she fills with seed and fresh biscuit.

“You cry,” Said the bird. “Your breast swells with indignation because they refuse you, O daughter of infinity, air and space. — And yet I, whose wings travel farther in an hour than your steps will take you in a week, you hold me in this narrow cage, far from the flowers and the sun.”

— Thus, absorbed in ourselves, we do not find in our own misfortunes a feeling for those of others. Mutually, at every opportunity, we shatter our destinies; in our hands, space has become a prison. The body lacks air and the spirit love. We suffer without understanding; and each complains by striking.


REVUE SOCIALE n° 11, July 1850

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]