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Title: Recollections of My Youth
Author: Renan, Ernest, 1823-1892
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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RECOLLECTIONS OF MY YOUTH

BY

ERNEST RENAN

1897



[Illustration: Ernest Renan]



CONTENTS.


  THE FLAX-CRUSHER.

    PART I.

    PART II.

    PART III.

    PART IV.

  PRAYER ON THE ACROPOLIS

  ST. RENAN

  MY UNCLE PIERRE.

  GOOD MASTER SYSTÈME.

    PART I.

    PART II.

  LITTLE NOÉMI.

    PART I.

    PART II.

  THE PETTY SEMINARY OF ST. NICHOLAS DU CHARDONNET.

    PART I.

    PART II.

    PART III.

  THE ISSY SEMINARY.

    PART I.

    PART II.

  THE ST. SULPICE SEMINARY.

    PART I.

    PART II.

    PART III.

    PART IV.

    PART V.

  FIRST STEPS OUTSIDE ST. SULPICE.

    PART I.

    PART II.

    PART III.

    PART IV.

    PART V.

  APPENDIX



PREFACE.


One of the most popular legends in Brittany is that relating to an
imaginary town called Is, which is supposed to have been swallowed up
by the sea at some unknown time. There are several places along the
coast which are pointed out as the site of this imaginary city, and
the fishermen have many strange tales to tell of it. According to
them, the tips of the spires of the churches may be seen in the hollow
of the waves when the sea is rough, while during a calm the music of
their bells, ringing out the hymn appropriate to the day, rises above
the waters. I often fancy that I have at the bottom of my heart a city
of Is with its bells calling to prayer a recalcitrant congregation.
At times I halt to listen to these gentle vibrations which seem as if
they came from immeasurable depths, like voices from another world.
Since old age began to steal over me, I have loved more especially
during the repose which summer brings with it, to gather up these
distant echoes of a vanished Atlantis.

This it is which has given birth to the six chapters which make up the
present volume. The recollections of my childhood do not pretend to
form a complete and continuous narrative. They are merely the images
which arose before me and the reflections which suggested themselves
to me while I was calling up a past fifty years old, written down in
the order in which they came. Goethe selected as the title for his
memoirs "Truth and Poetry," thereby signifying that a man cannot write
his own biography in the same way that he would that of any one else.
What one says of oneself is always poetical. To fancy that the small
details of one's own life are worth recording is to be guilty of very
petty vanity. A man writes such things in order to transmit to others
the theory of the universe which he carries within himself. The form
of the present work seemed to me a convenient one for expressing
certain shades of thought which my previous writings did not convey.
I had no desire to furnish information about myself for the future use
of those who might wish to write essays or articles about me.

What in history is a recommendation would here have been a drawback;
the whole of this small volume is true, but not true in the sense
required-for a "Biographical Dictionary." I have said several things
with the intent to raise a smile, and, if such a thing had been
compatible with custom, I might have used the expression _cum grano
salis_ as a marginal note in many cases. I have been obliged to be
very careful in what I wrote. Many of the persons to whom I refer may
be still alive; and those who are not accustomed to find themselves in
print have a sort of horror of publicity. I have, therefore,
altered several proper names. In other cases, by means of a slight
transposition of date and place, I have rendered identification
impossible. The story of "the Flax-crusher" is absolutely true, with
the exception that the name of the manor-house is a fictitious one.
With regard to "Good Master Système," I have been furnished by M.
Duportal du Godasmeur with further details which do not confirm
certain ideas entertained by my mother as to the mystery in which this
aged recluse enveloped his existence. I have, however, made no change
in the body of the work, thinking that it would be better to leave
M. Duportal to publish the true story, known only to himself, of this
enigmatic character.

The chief defect for which I should feel some apology necessary if
this book had any pretension to be considered a regular memoir of
my life, is that there are many gaps in it. The person who had the
greatest influence on my life, my sister Henriette, is scarcely
mentioned in it.[1] In September 1862, a year after the death of this
invaluable friend, I wrote for the few persons who had known her well,
a short notice of her life. Only a hundred copies were printed. My
sister was so unassuming, and she was so averse from the stress
and stir of the world that I should have fancied I could hear her
reproaching me from her grave, if I had made this sketch public
property. I have more than once been tempted to include it in this
volume, but on second thoughts I have felt that to do so would be an
act of profanation. The pamphlet in question was read and appreciated
by a few persons who were kindly disposed towards her and towards
myself. It would be wrong of me to expose a memory so sacred in my
eyes to the supercilious criticisms which are part and parcel of the
right acquired by the purchaser of a book. It seemed to me that in
placing the lines referring to her in a book for the trade I should
be acting with as much impropriety as if I sent a portrait of her for
sale to an auction room. The pamphlet in question will not, therefore,
be reprinted until after my death, appended to it, very possibly being
several of her letters selected by me beforehand. The natural sequence
of this book, which is neither more nor less than the sequence in the
various periods of my life, brings about a sort of contrast between
the anecdotes of Brittany and those of the Seminary, the latter
being the details of a darksome struggle, full of reasonings and
hard scholasticism, while the recollections of my earlier years are
instinct with the impressions of childlike sensitiveness, of candour,
of innocence, and of affection. There is nothing surprising about
this contrast. Nearly all of us are double. The more a man develops
intellectually, the stronger is his attraction to the opposite pole:
that is to say, to the irrational, to the repose of mind in absolute
ignorance, to the woman who is merely a woman, the instinctive being
who acts solely from the impulse of an obscure conscience. The fierce
school of controversy, in which the mind of Europe has been involved
since the time of Abélard, induces periods of mental drought and
aridity. The brain, parched by reasoning, thirsts for simplicity, like
the desert for spring water. When reflection has brought us up to the
last limit of doubt, the spontaneous affirmation of the good and of
the beautiful which is to be found in the female conscience delights
us and settles the question for us. This is why religion is preserved
to the world by woman alone. A beautiful and a virtuous woman is the
mirage which peoples with lakes and green avenues our great moral
desert. The superiority of modern science consists in the fact
that each step forward it takes is a step further in the order of
abstractions. We make chemistry from chemistry, algebra from algebra;
the very indefatigability with which we fathom nature removes us
further from her. This is as it should be, and let no one fear to
prosecute his researches, for out of this merciless dissection comes
life. But we need not be surprised at the feverish heat which, after
these orgies of dialectics, can only be calmed by the kisses of the
artless creature in whom nature lives and smiles. Woman restores us to
communication with the eternal spring in which God reflects Himself.
The candour of a child, unconscious of its own beauty and seeing God
clear as the daylight, is the great revelation of the ideal, just as
the unconscious coquetry of the flower is a proof that Nature adorns
herself for a husband.

One should never write except upon that which one loves. Oblivion and
silence are the proper punishments to be inflicted upon all that we
meet with in the way of what is ungainly or vulgar in the course of
our journey through life. Referring to a past which is dear to me,
I have spoken of it with kindly sympathy; but I should be sorry to
create any misapprehension, and to be taken for an uncompromising
reactionist. I love the past, but I envy the future. It would have
been very pleasant to have lived upon this planet at as late a period
as possible. Descartes would be delighted if he could read some
trivial work on natural philosophy and cosmography written in the
present day. The fourth form school boy of our age is acquainted with
truths to know which Archimedes would have laid down his life. What
would we not give to be able to get a glimpse of some book which will
be used as a school-primer a hundred years hence?

We must not, because of our personal tastes, our prejudices perhaps,
set ourselves to oppose the action of our time. This action goes on
without regard to us, and probably it is right. The world is moving in
the direction of what I may call a kind of Americanism, which shocks
our refined ideas, but which, when once the crisis of the present
hour is over, may very possibly not be more inimical than the ancient
_régime_ to the only thing which is of any real importance; viz.
the emancipation and progress of the human mind. A society in which
personal distinction is of little account, in which talent and wit are
not marketable commodities, in which exalted functions do not ennoble,
in which politics are left to men devoid of standing or ability, in
which the recompenses of life are accorded by preference to intrigue,
to vulgarity, to the charlatans who cultivate the art of puffing, and
to the smart people who just keep without the clutches of the law,
would never suit us. We have been accustomed to a more protective
system, and to the government patronizing what is noble and worthy.
But we have not secured this patronage for nothing. Richelieu and
Louis XIV. looked upon it as their duty to provide pensions for men of
merit all the world over; how much better it would have been, if the
spirit of the time had admitted of it, that they should have left
the men of merit to themselves! The period of the Restoration has the
credit of being a liberal one; yet we should certainly not like
to live now under a _régime_ which warped such a genius as Cuvier,
stifled with paltry compromises the keen mind of M. Cousin, and
retarded the growth of criticism by half a century. The concessions
which had to be made to the court, to society, and to the clergy, were
far worse than the petty annoyances which a democracy can inflict upon
us.

The eighteen years of the monarchy of July were in reality a period
of liberty, but the official direction given to things of the mind was
often superficial and no better than would be expected of the average
shopkeeper. With regard to the second empire, if the ten last years of
its duration in some measure repaired the mischief done in the first
eight, it must never be forgotten how strong this government was when
it was a question of crushing the intelligence, and how feeble when
it came to raising it up. The present hour is a gloomy one, and the
immediate outlook is not cheerful. Our unfortunate country is ever
threatened with heart disease, and all Europe is a prey to some
deep-rooted malady. But by way of consolation, let us reflect upon
what we have suffered. The evil to come must be grevious indeed if we
cannot say:

  "O passi graviora, dabit deus his quoque finem."

The one object in life is the development of the mind, and the first
condition for the development of the mind is that it should have
liberty. The worst social state, from this point of view, is the
theocratic state, like Islamism or the ancient Pontifical state, in
which dogma reigns supreme. Nations with an exclusive state religion,
like Spain, are not much better off. Nations in which a religion of
the majority is recognized are also exposed to serious drawbacks.
In behalf of the real or assumed beliefs of the greatest number, the
state considers itself bound to impose upon thought terms which it
cannot accept. The belief or the opinion of the one side should not
be a fetter upon the other side. As long as the masses were believers,
that is to say, as long as the same sentiments were almost universally
professed by a people, freedom of research and discussion was
impossible. A colossal weight of stupidity pressed down upon the human
mind. The terrible catastrophe of the middle ages, that break of a
thousand years in the history of civilization, is due less to the
barbarians than to the triumph of the dogmatic spirit among the
masses.

This is a state of things which is coming to an end in our time, and
we cannot be surprised if some disturbance ensues. There are no
longer masses which believe; a great number of the people decline
to recognise the supernatural, and the day is not far distant, when
beliefs of this kind will die out altogether in the masses, just as
the belief in familiar spirits and ghosts have disappeared. Even if,
as is probable, we are to have a temporary Catholic reaction, the
people will not revert to the Church. Religion has become for once and
all a matter of personal taste. Now beliefs are only dangerous
when they represent something like unanimity, or an unquestionable
majority. When they are merely individual, there is not a word to be
said against them, and it is our duty to treat them with the respect
which they do not always exhibit for their adversaries, when they feel
that they have force at their back.

There can be no denying that it will take time for the liberty, which
is the aim and object of human society, to take root in France as it
has in America. French democracy has several essential principles to
acquire, before it can become a liberal _régime_. It will be above
all things necessary that we should have laws as to associations,
charitable foundations, and the right of legacy, analogous to those
which are in force in England and America. Supposing this progress to
be effected (if it is Utopian to count upon it in France, it is not so
for the rest of Europe, in which the aspirations for English liberty
become every day more intense), we should really not have much cause
to look regretfully upon the favours conferred by the ancient _régime_
upon things of the mind. I quite think that if democratic ideas were
to secure a definitive triumph, science and scientific teaching would
soon find the modest subsidies now accorded them cut off. This is an
eventuality which would have to be accepted as philosophically as may
be. The free foundations would take the place of the state institutes,
the slight drawbacks being more than compensated for by the advantage
of having no longer to make to the supposed prejudices of the majority
concessions which the state exacted in return for its pittance. The
waste of power in state institutes is enormous. It may safely be said
that not 50 per cent of a credit voted in favour of science, art, or
literature, is expended to any effect. Private foundations would not
be exposed to nearly so much waste. It is true that spurious science
would, in these conditions, flourish side by side with real science,
enjoying the same privileges, and that there would be no official
criterion, as there still is to a certain extent now, to distinguish
the one from the other. But this criterion becomes every day less
reliable. Reason has to submit to the indignity of taking second
place behind those who have a loud voice, and who speak with a tone of
command. The plaudits and favour of the public will, for a long time
to come, be at the service of what is false. But the true has great
power, when it is free; the true endures; the false is ever changing
and decays. Thus it is that the true, though only understood by a
select few, always rises to the surface, and in the end prevails.

In short, it is very possible that the American-like social condition
towards which we are advancing, independently of any particular
form of government, will not be more intolerable for persons of
intelligence than the better guaranteed social conditions which we
have already been subject to. In such a world as this will be, it
will be no difficult matter to create very quiet and snug retreats
for oneself. "The era of mediocrity in all things is about to begin,"
remarked a short time ago that distinguished thinker, M. Arniel of
Geneva. "Equality begets uniformity, and it is by the sacrifice of the
excellent, the remarkable, the extraordinary that we extirpate what
is bad. The whole becomes less coarse; but the whole becomes more
vulgar." We may at least hope that vulgarity will not yet a while
persecute freedom of mind. Descartes, living in the brilliant
seventeenth century, was nowhere so well off as at Amsterdam, because,
as "every one was engaged in trade there," no one paid any heed to
him. It may be that general vulgarity will one day be the condition
of happiness, for the worst American vulgarity would not send Giordano
Bruno to the stake or persecute Galileo. We have no right to be
very fastidious. In the past we were never more than tolerated.
This tolerance, if nothing more, we are assured of in the future.
A narrow-minded, democratic _régime_ is often, as we know, very
troublesome. But for all that men of intelligence find that they
can live in America, as long as they are not too exacting. _Noli me
tangere is_ the most one can ask for from democracy. We shall pass
through several alternatives of anarchy and despotism before we find
repose in this happy medium. But liberty is like truth; scarcely any
one loves it on its own account, and yet, owing to the impossibility
of extremes, one always comes back to it.

We may as well, therefore, allow the destinies of this planet to
work themselves out without undue concern. We should gain nothing by
exclaiming against them, and a display of temper would be very much
out of place. It is by no means certain that the earth is not falling
short of its destiny, as has probably happened to countless worlds;
it is even possible that our age may one day be regarded as
the culminating point since which humanity has been steadily
deteriorating; but the universe does not know the meaning of the
word discouragement; it will commence anew the work which has come
to naught; each fresh check leaves it young, alert, and full of
illusions. Be of good cheer, Nature! Pursue, like the deaf and blind
star-fish which vegetates in the bed of the ocean, thy obscure task of
life; persevere; mend for the millionth time the broken meshes of the
net; repair the boring-machine which sinks to the last limits of the
attainable the well from which living water will spring up. Sight and
sight again the aim which thou hast failed to hit throughout the ages;
try to struggle through the scarcely perceptible opening which leads
to another firmament. Thou hast the infinity of time and space to try
the experiment. He who can commit blunders with impunity is always
certain to succeed.

Happy they who shall have had a part in this great final triumph which
will be the complete advent of God! A Paradise lost is always, for him
who wills it so, a Paradise regained. Often as Adam must have mourned
the loss of Eden, I fancy that if he lived, as we are told, 930 years
after his fall, he must often have exclaimed: _Felix culpa!_ Truth is,
whatever may be said to the contrary, superior to all fictions. One
ought never to regret seeing clearer into the depths. By endeavouring
to increase the treasure of the truths which form the paid-up capital
of humanity, we shall be carrying on the work of our pious ancestors,
who loved the good and the true as it was understood in their time.
The most fatal error is to believe that one serves one's country by
calumniating those who founded it. All ages of a nation are leaves of
the self-same book. The true men of progress are those who profess as
their starting-point a profound respect for the past. All that we do,
all that we are, is the outcome of ages of labour. For my own part,
I never feel my liberal faith more firmly rooted in me than when I
ponder over the miracles of the ancient creed, nor more ardent for the
work of the future than when I have been listening for hours to the
bells of the city of Is.

[Footnote 1: Upon the very day that this volume was going to press,
news reached me of the death of my brother, snapping the last thread
of the recollections of my childhood's home. My brother Alain was
a warm and true friend to me; he never failed to understand me,
to approve my course of action and to love me. His clear and sound
intellect and his great capacity for work adapted him for a profession
in which mathematical knowledge is of value or for magisterial
functions. The misfortunes of our family caused him to follow a
different career, and he underwent many hardships with unshaken
courage. He never complained of his lot, though life had scant
enjoyment save that which is derived from love of home. These joys
are, however, unquestionably the most unalloyed.]



THE FLAX-CRUSHER.

PART I.


Tréguier, my native place, has grown into a town out of an ancient
monastery founded at the close of the fifth century by St. Tudwal (or
Tual), one of the religious leaders of those great migratory movements
which introduced into the Armorican peninsula the name, the race, and
the religious institutions of the island of Britain. The predominating
characteristic of early British Christianity was its monastic
tendency, and there were no bishops, at all events among the
immigrants, whose first step, after landing in Brittany, the north
coast of which must at that time have been very sparsely inhabited,
was to build large monasteries, the abbots of which had the cure of
souls. A circle of from three to five miles in circumference, called
the _minihi_, was drawn around each monastery, and the territory
within it was invested with special privileges.

The monasteries were called in the Breton dialect _pabu_ after the
monks (_papae_), and in this way the monastery of Tréguier was known
as _Pabu Tual_.

It was the religious centre of all that part of the peninsula which
stretches northward. Monasteries of a similar kind at St. Pol de Léon,
St. Brieuc, St. Malo, and St. Samson, near Dol, held a like position
upon the coast. They possessed, if one may so speak, their diocese,
for in these regions separated from the rest of Christianity nothing
was known of the power of Rome and of the religious institutions which
prevailed in the Latin world, or even in the Gallo-Roman towns of
Rennes and Nantes, hard by.

When Noménoé, in the ninth century, reduced to something like a
regular organisation this half savage society of emigrants and created
the Duchy of Brittany by annexing to the territory in which the
Breton tongue was spoken, the Marches of Brittany, established by the
Carlovingians to hold in respect the forayers of the west, he found it
advisable to assimilate its religious organisation to that of the rest
of the world. He determined, therefore, that there should be bishops
on the northern coast, as there were at Rennes, Nantes, and Vannes,
and he accordingly converted into bishoprics the monasteries of St.
Pol de Léon, Tréguier, St. Brieuc, St. Malo, and Dol. He would
have liked to have had an archbishop as well and so form a separate
ecclesiastical province, but, despite the well-intentioned devices
employed to prove that St. Samson had been a metropolitan prelate, the
grades of the Church universal were already apportioned, and the new
bishoprics were perforce compelled to attach themselves to the nearest
Gallo-Roman province at Tours.

The meaning of these obscure beginnings gradually faded away, and from
the name of _Pabu Tual, Papa Tual_, found, as was reported, upon some
old stained-glass windows, it was inferred that St. Tudwal had been
Pope. The explanation seemed a very simple one, for St. Tudwal, it was
well known, had been to Rome, and he was so holy a man that what could
be more natural than that the cardinals, when they became acquainted
with him, should have selected him for the vacant See. Such things
were always happening, and the godly persons of Tréguier were
very proud of the pontifical reign of their patron saint. The more
reasonable ecclesiastics, however, admitted that it was no easy matter
to discover among the list, of popes the pontiff who previous to his
election was known as Tudwal.

In course of time a small town grew up around the bishop's palace,
but the lay town, dependent entirely upon the Church, increased very
slowly. The port failed to acquire any importance, and no wealthy
trading class came into existence. A very fine cathedral was built
towards the close of the thirteenth century, and from the beginning
of the seventeenth the monasteries became so numerous that they formed
whole streets to themselves. The bishop's palace, a handsome building
of the seventeenth century, and a few canons' residences were the only
houses inhabited by people of civilized habits. In the lower part of
the town, at the end of the High Street, which was flanked by several
turreted buildings, were a few inns for the accommodation of the
sailors.

It was only just before the Revolution that a petty nobility,
recruited for the most part from the country around, sprang up under
the shadow of the bishop's palace. Brittany contained two distinct
orders of nobility. The first derived its titles from the King of
France and displayed in a very marked degree the defects and the
qualities which characterised the French nobility. The other was of
Celtic origin and thoroughly Breton. This latter nobility comprised,
from the period of the invasion, the chief men of the parish, the
leaders of the people, of the same race as them, possessing by
inheritance the right of marching at their head and representing them.
No one was more deserving of respect than this country nobleman when
he remained a peasant, innocent of all intrigues or of any effort to
grow rich: but when he came to reside in town he lost nearly all
his good qualities and contributed but little to the moral and
intellectual progress of the country.

The Revolution seemed for this agglomeration of priests and monks
neither more nor less than a death warrant. The last of the bishops of
Tréguier left one evening by a back door leading into the wood behind
his palace and fled to England. The concordat abolished the bishopric,
and the unfortunate town was not even given a sub-prefect, Lannion and
Guingamp, which are larger and busier, being selected in preference.
But large buildings, fitted up so as to fulfil only one object, nearly
always lead to the reconstitution of the object to which they were
destined. We may say morally what is not true physically: when the
hollows of a shell are very deep, these hollows have the power of
re-forming the animal moulded in them. The vast monastic edifices of
Tréguier were once more peopled, and the former seminary served for
the establishment of an ecclesiastical college, very highly esteemed
throughout the province. Tréguier again became in a few years' time
what St. Tudwal had made it thirteen centuries before, a town of
priests, cut off from all trade and industry, a vast monastery within
whose walls no sounds from the outer world ever penetrated, where
ordinary human pursuits were looked upon as vanity and vexation of
spirit, while those things which laymen treated as chimerical were
regarded as the only realities.

It was amid associations like these that I passed my childhood, and
it gave a bent to my character which has never been removed. The
cathedral, a masterpiece of airy lightness, a hopeless effort to
realise in granite an impossible ideal, first of all warped my
judgment. The long hours which I spent there are responsible for my
utter lack of practical knowledge. That architectural paradox made me
a man of chimeras, a disciple of St. Tudwal, St. Iltud, and St. Cadoc,
in an age when their teaching is no longer of any practical use.
When I went to the more secular town of Guingamp, where I had some
relatives of the middle class, I felt very ill at ease, and the only
pleasant companion I had there was an aged servant to whom I used
to read fairy tales. I longed to be back in the sombre old place,
overshadowed by its cathedral, but a living protest, so to speak,
against all that is mean and commonplace. I felt myself again when
I got back to the lofty steeple, the pointed nave, and the cloisters
with their fifteenth century tombs, being always at my ease when in
the company of the dead, by the side of the cavaliers and proud dames,
sleeping peacefully with their hound at their feet, and a massive
stone torch in their grasp. The outskirts of the town had the same
religious and idealistic aspect, and were enveloped in an atmosphere
of mythology as dense as Benares or Juggernaut. The church of
St. Michael, from which the open sea could be discerned, had been
destroyed by lightning and was the scene of many prodigies. Upon
Maunday Thursday the children of Tréguier were taken there to see the
bells go off to Rome. We were blindfolded, and much we then enjoyed
seeing all the bells in the peal, beginning with the largest and
ending with the smallest, arrayed in the embroidered lace robes which
they had been dressed in upon their baptismal day, cleaving the air on
their way to Rome for the Pope's benediction.

Upon the opposite side of the river there was the beautiful valley
of the Tromeur, watered by a sacred fountain which Christianity had
hallowed by connecting it with the worship of the Virgin. The chapel
was burnt down in 1828, but it was at once rebuilt, and the statue of
the Virgin was replaced by a much more handsome one. That fidelity
to the traditions of the past which is the chief trait in the Breton
character was very strikingly illustrated in this connection, for the
new statue, which was radiant with white and gold over the high altar,
received but few devotions, the prayers of the faithful being said to
the black and calcined trunk of the old statue which was relegated
to a corner of the chapel. The Bretons would have thought that to
pay their devotions to the new Virgin was tantamount to turning their
backs upon their predecessor.

St. Yves was the object of even deeper popular devotion, the patron
saint of the lawyers having been born in the _minihi_ of Tréguier,
where the church dedicated to him is held in great veneration. This
champion of the poor, the widows and the orphans, is looked upon as
the grand justiciary and avenger of wrong. Those who have been badly
used have only to repair to the solemn little chapel of _Saint Yves de
la Vérité_, and to repeat the words: "Thou wert just in thy lifetime,
prove that thou art so still," to ensure that their oppressor will die
within the year. He becomes the protector of all those who are left
friendless, and at my father's death my mother took me to his chapel
and placed me under his tutelary care. I cannot say that the good St.
Yves managed our affairs very successfully, or gave me a very clear
understanding of my worldly interests, but I nevertheless have much to
thank him for, as he endowed me with a spirit of content which passeth
riches, and a native good humour which has never left me.

The month of May, during which the festival of St. Yves fell, was
one long round of processions to the _minihi_, and as the different
parishes, preceded by their processional crucifixes, met in the
roads, the crucifixes were pressed one against the other in token of
friendship. Upon the eve of the festival the people assembled in the
church, and on the stroke of midnight the saint stretched out his arms
to bless the kneeling congregation. But if among them all there was
one doubting soul who raised his eyes to see if the miracle really did
take place, the saint, taking just offence at such a suspicion did not
move, and by the misconduct of this incredulous person, no benediction
was given.

The clergy of the place, disinterested and honest to the core,
contrived to steer a middle course between not doing anything to
weaken these ideas and not compromising themselves. These worthy men
were my first spiritual guides, and I have them to thank for whatever
may be good in me. Their every word was my law, and I had so much
respect for them that I never thought to doubt anything they told me
until I was sixteen years of age, when I came to Paris. Since that
time I have studied under many teachers far more brilliant and
learned, but none have inspired such feelings of veneration, and this
has often led to differences of opinion between some of my friends and
myself. It has been my good fortune to know what absolute virtue is. I
know what faith is, and though I have since discovered how deep a
fund of irony there is in the most sacred of our illusions, yet the
experience derived from the days of old is very precious to me. I feel
that in reality my existence is still governed by a faith which I
no longer possess, for one of the peculiarities of faith is that its
action does not cease with its disappearance. Grace survives by mere
force of habit the living sensation of it which we have felt. In a
mechanical kind of way we go on doing what we had before been doing
in spirit and in truth. After Orpheus, when he had lost his ideal,
was torn to pieces by the Thracian women, his lyre still repeated
Eurydice's name.

The point to which the priests attached the highest importance was
moral conduct, and their own spotless lives entitled them to be severe
in this respect, while their sermons made such an impression upon
me that during the whole of my youth I never once forgot their
injunctions. These sermons were so awe-inspiring, and many of the
remarks which they contained are so engraved upon my memory, that I
cannot even now recall them without a sort of tremor. For instance,
the preacher once referred to the case of Jonathan, who died for
having eaten a little honey. "_Gustans gustavi paululum mellis, et
ecce morior_." I lost myself in wonderment as to what this small
quantity of honey could have been which was so fatal in its effects.
The preacher said nothing to explain this, but heightened the effect
of his mysterious allusion with the words--pronounced in a very hollow
and lugubrious tone--_tetigisse periisse_. At other times the text
would be the passage from Jeremiah, "_Mors ascendit per fenestras_"
This puzzled me still more, for what could be this death which came
up through the windows, these butterfly wings which the lightest touch
polluted? The preacher pronounced the words with knitted brow and
uplifted eyes. But what perplexed me most of all was a passage in the
life of some saintly person of the seventeenth century who compared
women to firearms which wound from afar. This was quite beyond me,
and I made all manner of guesses as to how a woman could resemble
a pistol. It seemed so inconsistent to be told in one breath that a
woman wounds from afar, and in another that to touch her is perdition.
All this was so incomprehensible that I immersed myself in study, and
so contrived to clear my brain of it.

Coming from persons in whom I felt unbounded confidence, these
absurdities carried conviction to my very soul, and even now, after
fifty years' hard experience of the world[1] the impression has not
quite worn off. The comparison between women and firearms made me very
cautious, and not until age began to creep over me did I see that this
also was vanity, and that the Preacher was right when he said: "Go thy
way, eat thy bread joyfully ... with the woman whom thou lovest." My
ideas upon this head outlived my ideas upon religion, and this is
why I have enjoyed immunity from the opprobrium which I should not
unreasonably have been subjected to if it could have been said that I
left the seminary for other reasons than those derived from philology.
The commonplace interrogation, "Where is the woman?" in which laymen
invariably look for an explanation of all such cases cannot but seem
a paltry attempt at humour to those who see things as they really are.
My early days were passed in this high school of faith and of respect.
The liberty in which so many giddy youths find themselves suddenly
landed was in my case acquired very gradually; and I did not attain
the degree of emancipation which so many Parisians reach without any
effort of their own, until I had gone through the German exegesis.
It took me six years of meditation and hard study to discover that my
teachers were not infallible. What caused me more grief than anything
else when I entered upon this new path was the thought of distressing
my revered masters; but I am absolutely certain that I was right, and
that the sorrow which they felt was the consequence of their narrow
views as to the economy of the universe.


[Footnote 1: This passage was written at Ischia in 1875.]



THE FLAX-CRUSHER.

PART II.


The education which these worthy priests gave me was not a very
literary one. We turned out a good deal of Latin verse, but they would
not recognize any French poetry later than the _Religion_ of Racine
the younger. The name of Lamartine was pronounced only with a sneer,
and the existence of M. Hugo was not so much as known. To compose
French verse was regarded as a very dangerous habit, and would have
been sufficient to get a pupil expelled. I attribute partly to this my
inability to express thoughts in rhyme, and this inability has
often caused me great regret, for I have frequently felt a sort
of inspiration to do so, but have invariably been checked by the
association of ideas which has led me to regard versification as a
defect. Our studies of history and of the natural sciences were not
carried far, but, on the other hand, we went deep into mathematics,
to which I applied myself with the utmost zest, these abstract
combinations exercising a wonderful fascination over me. Our
professor, the good Abbé Duchesne, was particularly attentive in his
lessons to me and to my close friend and fellow-student Guyomar,
who displayed a great aptitude for this branch of study. We always
returned together from the college. Our shortest cut was by the
square, and we were too conscientious to deviate from the most direct
route; but when we had had to work out some problem more intricate
than usual our discussion of it lasted far beyond class-time, and on
those occasions we made our way home by the hospital. This road took
us past several large doors which were always shut, and upon which we
worked out our calculations and drew our figures in chalk. Traces
of them are perhaps visible there still, for these were the doors of
large monasteries, where nothing ever changes.

The hospital-general, so called because it was the trysting-place
alike of disease, old age, and poverty, was a very large structure,
standing, like all old buildings, upon a good deal of ground, and
having very little accommodation. Just in front of the entrance
there was a small screen, where the inmates who were either well or
recovering from illness used to meet when the weather was fine, for
the hospital contained not only the sick, but the paupers, and even
persons who paid a small sum for board and lodging. At the first
glimpse of sunshine they all came to sit out beneath the shade of the
screen upon old cane chairs, and it was the most animated place in the
town. Guyomar and myself always exchanged the time of day with these
good people as we passed, and we were greeted with no little respect,
for though young we were regarded as already clerks of the Church.
This seemed quite natural, but there was one thing which excited our
astonishment, though we were too inexperienced to know much of the
world.

Among the paupers in the hospital was a person whom we never passed
without surprise. This was an old maid of about five-and-forty, who
always wore over her head a hood of the most singular shape; as a
rule she was almost motionless, with a sombre and lost expression of
countenance, and with her eyes glazed and hard-set. When we went by
her countenance became animated, and she cast strange looks at us,
sometimes tender and melancholy, sometimes hard and almost ferocious.
If we looked back at her she seemed to be very much put out. We
could not understand all this, but it had the effect of checking our
conversation and any inclination to merriment. We were not exactly
afraid of her, for though she was supposed to be out of her mind, the
insane were not treated with the cruelty which has since been imported
into the conduct of asylums. So far from being sequestered they were
allowed to wander about all day long. There is as a rule a good deal
of insanity at Tréguier, for, like all dreamy races, which exhaust
their mental energies in pursuit of the ideal, the Bretons of this
district only too readily allow themselves to sink, when they are
not supported by a powerful will, into a condition half way between
intoxication and folly, and in many cases brought about by the
unsatisfied aspirations of the heart. These harmless lunatics, whose
insanity differed very much in degree, were looked upon as part and
parcel of the town, and people spoke about "our lunatics" just as at
Venice people say "_nostre carampane_." One was constantly meeting
them, and they passed the time of day with us and made some joke, at
which, sickly as it was, we could not help smiling. They were treated
with kindness, and they often did a service in their turn. I shall
never forget a poor fellow called Brian, who believed that he was a
priest, and who passed part of the day in church, going through
the ceremonies of mass. There was a nasal drone to be heard in the
cathedral every afternoon, and this was Brian reciting prayers which
were doubtless not less acceptable than those of other people. The
cathedral officials had the good sense not to interfere with him, and
not to draw frivolous distinctions between the simple and the humble
who came to kneel before their God.

The insane woman at the hospital was much less popular, on account
of her taciturn ways. She never spoke to any one, and no one knew
anything of her history. She never said a word to us boys, but her
haggard and wild look made a deep and painful impression upon us. I
have often thought since of this enigma, though without being able
to decipher it; but I obtained a clue to it eight years ago, when
my mother, who had attained the age of eighty-five without loss
of health, was overtaken by an illness which slowly undermined her
strength.

My mother was in every respect, whether as regarded her ideas or her
associations, one of the old school. She spoke Breton perfectly,
and had at her fingers' ends all the sailors' proverbs and a host of
things which no one now remembers. She was a true woman of the people,
and her natural wit imparted a wonderful amount of life to the long
stories which she told and which few but herself knew. Her sufferings
did not in any way affect her spirits, and she was quite cheerful the
afternoon of her death. Of an evening I used to sit with her for an
hour in her room, with no other light--for she was very fond of this
semi-obscurity--than that of the gas-lamp in the street. Her lively
imagination would then assume free scope, and, as so often happens
with old people, the recollections of her early days came back with
special force and clearness. She could remember what Tréguier and
Lannion were before the Revolution, and she would describe what the
different houses were like, and who lived in them. I encouraged her
by questions to wander on, as it amused her and kept her thoughts away
from her illness.

Upon one occasion we began to talk of the hospital, and she gave me
the complete history of it. "Many changes," to use her own words,
"have occurred there since I first knew it. No one need ever feel any
shame at having been an inmate of it, for the most highly respected
persons have resided there. During the First Empire, and before the
indemnities were paid, it served as an asylum for the poor daughters
of the nobles, who might be seen sitting out at the entrance upon cane
chairs. Not a complaint ever escaped their lips, but when they saw the
persons who had acquired possession of their family property rolling
by in carriages, they would enter the chapel and engage in devotions
so as not to meet them. This was done not so much to avoid regretting
the loss of goods, of which they had made a willing sacrifice to God,
as from a feeling of delicacy lest their presence might embarrass
these _parvenus_. A few years later the parts were completely
reversed, but the hospital still continued to receive all sorts
of wreckage. It was there that your uncle, Pierre Renan, who led
a vagabond life, and passed all his time in taverns reading to the
tipplers the books he borrowed from us, died; and old Système, whom
the priests disliked though he was a very good man; and Gode, the old
sorceress, who, the day after you were born, went to tell your fortune
in the Lake of the Minihi; and Marguerite Calvez, who perjured herself
and was struck down with consumption the very day she heard that St.
Yves had been implored to bring about her death within the year."[1]

"And who," I asked her, "was that mad woman who used to sit under the
screen, and of whom Guyomar and myself were so afraid?"

Reflecting a moment to remember whom I meant, she replied, "Why, she
was the daughter of the flax-crusher."

"Who was he?"

"I have never told you that story. It is too old-fashioned to be
understood at the present day. Since I have come to Paris there are
many things to which I have never alluded.... These country nobles
were so much respected. I always considered them to be the genuine
noblemen. It would be no use telling this to the Parisians, they would
only laugh at me. They think that their city is everything, and in my
view they are very narrow-minded. People have no idea in the present
day how these old country noblemen were respected, poor as they were."

Here my mother paused for a little, and then went on with the story,
which I will tell in her own words.


[Footnote 1: I may perhaps relate all these anecdotes at a future
time.]



THE FLAX-CRUSHER.

PART III.


"Do you remember the little village of Trédarzec, the steeple of which
was visible from the turret of our house? About half a mile from the
village, which consisted of little more than the church, the priest's
house, and the mayor's office, stood the manor of Kermelle, which
was, like so many others, a well-kept farmhouse, of very antiquated
appearance, surrounded by a lofty wall, and grey with age. There was
a large arched doorway, surmounted by a V-shaped shelter roofed with
tiles, and at the side of this a smaller door for everyday use. At the
further end of the courtyard stood the house with its pointed roof and
its gables covered with ivy. The dovecote, a turret, and two or three
well-constructed windows not unlike those of a church, proved that
this was the residence of a noble, one of those old houses which were
inhabited, previous to the Revolution, by a class of men whose habits
and mode of life have now passed beyond the reach of imagination.

"These country nobles were mere peasants,[1] but the first of their
class. At one time there was only one in each parish, and they were
regarded as the representatives and mouthpieces of the inhabitants,
who scrupulously respected their right and treated them with great
consideration. But towards the close of the last century they were
beginning to disappear very fast. The peasants looked upon them
as being the lay heads of the parish just as the priest was the
ecclesiastical head. He who held this position at Trédarzec of whom I
am speaking, was an elderly man of fine presence, with all the force
and vigour of youth, and a frank and open face; he wore his hair long,
but rolled up under a comb, only letting it fall on Sunday, when he
partook of the Sacrament. I can still see him--he often came to visit
us at Tréguier--with his serious air and a tinge of melancholy, for
he was almost the sole survivor of his order, the majority having
disappeared altogether, while the others had come to live in towns. He
was a universal favourite. He had a seat all to himself in church, and
every Sunday he might be seen in it, just in front of the rest of
the congregation, with his old-fashioned dress and his long gloves
reaching almost to the elbow. When the Sacrament was about to be
administered he withdrew to the end of the choir, unfastened his hair,
laid his gloves upon a small stool placed expressly for him near the
rood screen, and walked up the aisle unassisted and erect. No one
approached the table until he had returned to his seat and put on his
gauntlets.

"He was very poor, but he made a point of concealing it from the
public. These country nobles used to enjoy certain privileges which
enabled them to live rather better than the general mass of peasants,
but these gradually faded away, and Kermelle was in a very embarrassed
condition. He could not well work in the fields, and he kept in doors
all day, having an occupation which could be followed under cover.
When flax has ripened, it is put through a process of decortication,
which leaves only the textile fibre, and this was the work which poor
old Kermelle thought that he could do without loss of dignity. No
one saw him at it, and thus appearances were saved; but the fact was
generally known, and as it was the custom to give every one a nickname
he was soon known all the country over as 'the flax-crusher.' This
sobriquet, as so often happens, gradually took the place of his proper
name, and as 'the flax-crusher' he was soon generally known.

"He was like a patriarch of old, and you would laugh if I told you
how the flax-crusher eked out his subsistence, and added to the scanty
wage which he received for this work. It was supposed that as head of
the village he had special gifts of healing, and that by the laying
on of his hands, and in other ways, he could cure many complaints. The
popular belief was that this power was only possessed by those who
had ever so many quartering, of nobility, and that he alone had the
requisite number. On certain days his house was besieged by people
who had come a distance of fifty miles. If a child was backward in
learning to walk or was weak on its legs, the parents brought it to
him. He moistened his fingers in his mouth and traced figures on the
child's loins, the result being that it soon was able to walk. He was
thoroughly in earnest, for these were the days of simple faith. Upon
no account would he have taken any money, and for the matter of that
the people who came to consult him were too poor to give him any, but
one brought a dozen eggs, another a flitch of bacon, a third a jar of
butter, or some fruit. He made no scruple about accepting these, and
though the nobles in the towns ridiculed him, they were very wrong in
doing so. He knew the country very well, and was the very incarnation
and embodiment of it.

"At the outbreak of the Revolution he emigrated to Jersey, though
why it is difficult to understand, for no one assuredly would have
molested him, but the nobles of Tréguier told him that such was the
king's order, and he went off with the rest. He was not long away, and
when he came back he found his old house, which had not been occupied,
just as he had left it. When the indemnities were distributed some
of his friends tried to persuade him to put in a claim; and there
was much, no doubt, which could have been said in support of it. But
though the other nobles were anxious to improve his position, he would
not hear of any such thing, his sole reply to all arguments being,
'I had nothing, and I could lose nothing.' He remained, therefore, as
poor as ever.

"His wife died, I believe, while he was at Jersey, and he had a
daughter who was born about the same time. She was a tall and handsome
girl (you have only known her since she has lost her freshness), with
much natural vigour, a beautiful complexion, and no lack of generous
blood running through her veins. She ought to have been married
young, but that was out of the question, for those wretched little
starvelings of nobles in the small towns, who are good for nothing,
and not to be compared with him, would not have heard of her for their
sons. As a matter of etiquette she could not marry a peasant, and
so the poor girl remained, as it were, in mid-air, like a wandering
spirit. There was no place for her on earth. Her father was the last
of his race, and it seemed as if she had been brought into the world
with the destiny of not finding a place for herself in it. Endowed
with great physical beauty, she scarcely had any soul, and with her
instinct was everything. She would have made an excellent mother, but
failing marriage a religious vocation would have suited her best,
as the regular and austere mode of life would have calmed her
temperament. But her father, doubtless, could not afford to provide
her with a dowry, and his social condition forbade the idea of making
her a lay-sister. Poor girl, driven into the wrong path, she was fated
to meet her doom there. She was naturally upright and good, with a
full knowledge of her duties, and her only fault was that she had
blood in her veins. None of the young men in the village would have
dreamt of taking a liberty with her, so much was her father respected.
The feeling of her superiority prevented her from forming any
acquaintance with the young peasants, and they never thought of paying
their addresses to her. The poor girl lived, therefore, in a state of
absolute solitude, for the only other inhabitant of the house was a
lad of twelve or thirteen, a nephew, whom Kermelle had taken under his
care and to whom the priest, a good man if ever there was one, taught
what little Latin he knew himself.

"The Church was the only source of pleasure left for her. She was of a
pious disposition, though not endowed with sufficient intelligence to
understand anything of the mysteries of our religion. The priest, very
zealous in the performance of his duties, felt no little respect for
the flax-crusher, and spent whatever leisure time he had at his
house. He acted as tutor to the nephew, treating the daughter with the
reserve which the clergy of Brittany make a point of showing in their
intercourse with the opposite sex. He wished her good day and inquired
after her health, but he never talked to her except on commonplace
subjects. The unfortunate girl fell violently in love with him. He was
the only person of her own station, so to speak, whom she ever saw,
and moreover, he was a young man of very taking appearance; combining
with an attitude of great outward modesty an air of subdued melancholy
and resignation. One could see that he had a heart and strong feeling,
but that a more lofty principle held them in subjection, or rather
that they were transformed into something higher. You know how
fascinating some of our Breton clergy are, and this is a fact very
keenly appreciated by women. The unshaken attachment to a vow, which
is in itself a sort of homage to their power, emboldens, attracts, and
flatters them. The priest becomes for them a trusty brother who
has for their sake renounced his sex and carnal delights. Hence is
begotten a feeling which is a mixture of confidence, pity, regret,
and gratitude. Allow priests to marry and you destroy one of the most
necessary elements of Catholic society. Women will protest against
such a change, for there is something which they esteem even more
than being loved, and that is for love to be made a serious business.
Nothing flatters a woman more than to let her see that she is feared,
and the Church by placing chastity in the first place among the duties
of its ministers, touches the most sensitive chord of female vanity.

"The poor girl thus gradually became immersed in a deep love for
the priest. The virtuous and mystic race to which she belonged knew
nothing of the frenzy which overcomes all obstacles and which accounts
nothing accomplished so long as anything remains to be accomplished.
Her aspirations were very modest, and if he would only have admitted
the fact of her existence she would have been content. She did not
want so much as a look; a place in his thoughts would have been
enough. The priest was, of course, her confessor, for there was no
other in the parish. The mode of Catholic confession, so admirable
in some respects, but so dangerous, had a great effect upon her
imagination. It was inexpressibly pleasing to her to find herself
every Saturday alone with him for half an hour, as if she were face
to face with God, to see him discharging the functions of God, to feel
his breath, to undergo the welcome humiliation of his reprimands, to
confide to him her inmost thoughts, scruples, and fears. You must not
imagine, however, that she told him everything, for a pious woman
has rarely the courage to make use of the confessional for a love
confidence. She may perhaps give herself up to the enjoyment of
sentiments which are not devoid of peril, but there is always a
certain degree of mysticism about them which is not to be conciliated
with anything so horrible as sacrilege. At all events, in this
particular case, the girl was so shy that the words would have died
upon her lips, and her passion was a silent, inward, and devouring
fire. And with all this, she was compelled to see him every day and
many times a day; young and handsome, always following a dignified
calling, officiating with the people on their knees before him, the
judge and keeper of her own conscience. It was too much for her, and
her head began to go. Her vigorous organization, deflected from its
proper course, gave way, and her old father attributed to weakness
of mind what was the result of the ravages wrought by the fantastic
workings of a love-stricken heart.

"Just as a mountain stream is turned from its course by some
insuperable barrier, the poor girl, with no means of making her
affection known to the object of it, found consolation in very
insignificant ways: to secure his notice for a moment, to be able to
render him any slight service, and to fancy that she was of use to him
was enough, and she may have said to herself, who can tell? he is
a man after all, and he may perhaps be touched in reality and only
restrained from showing that he is through discipline. All these
efforts broke against a bar of iron, a wall of ice. The priest
maintained the same cool reserve. She was the daughter of the man for
whom he felt the greatest respect; but she was a woman. Oh! if he had
avoided her, if he had treated her harshly, that would have been a
triumph and a proof that she had made his heart beat for her, but
there was something terrible about his unvarying politeness and his
utter disregard of the most potent signs of affection. He made no
attempt to keep her at a distance, but merely continued steadfastly to
treat her as a mere abstraction.

"After the lapse of a certain time things got very bad. Rejected and
heartbroken, she began to waste away, and her eye grew haggard, but
she put a restraint upon herself, no one knew her secret! 'What,' she
would say to herself,' I cannot attract his notice for a moment; he
will not even acknowledge my existence; do what I will, I can only
be for him a _shadow_, a phantom, one soul among a hundred others. It
would be too much to hope for his love, but his notice, a look from
him.... To be the equal of one so learned, so near to God, is more
than I could hope, and to bear him children would be sacrilege; but
to be his, to be a Martha to him, to be his servant, discharging the
modest duties of which I am capable, so as to have all in common with
him, the household goods and all that concerns a humble woman who is
not initiated in any higher ideas, that would be heavenly!' She would
remain motionless for whole afternoons upon her chair, nursing this
idea. She could see him and picture herself with him, loading him with
attentions, keeping his house, and pressing the hem of his garment.
She thrust away these idle dreams from her but after having been
plunged in them for hours she was deadly pale and oblivious of all
those who were about her. Her father might have noticed it, but what
could the poor old man do to cure an evil which it would be impossible
for a simple soul like his so much as to conceive.

"So things went on for about a year. The probability is that the
priest saw nothing, so firmly do our clergy adhere to the resolution
of living in an atmosphere of their own. This only added fuel to the
fire. Her love became a worship, a pure adoration, and so she gained
comparative peace of mind. Her imagination took quite a childish turn,
and she wanted to be able to fancy that she was employed in doing
things for him. She had got to dream while awake, and, like a
somnambulist, to perform acts in a semi-unconscious state. Day and
night, one thought haunted her: she fancied herself tending him,
counting his linen, and looking after all the details of his
household, which were too petty to occupy his thoughts. All these
fancies gradually took shape, and led up to an act only to be
explained by the mental state to which she had for some time been
reduced."

What follows would indeed be incomprehensible without a knowledge of
certain peculiarities in the Breton character. The most marked feature
in the people of Brittany is their affection. Love is with them a
tender, deep, and affectionate sentiment, rather than a passion. It
is an inward delight which wears and consumes, differing _toto caelo_
from the fiery passion of southern races.

The paradise of their dreams is cool and green, with no fierce heat.
There is no race which yields so many victims to love; for, though
suicide is rare, the gradual wasting away which is called consumption
is very Prevalent. It is often so with the young Breton conscripts.
Incapable of finding any satisfaction in mercenary intrigues,
they succumb to an indefinable sort of languor, which is called
home-sickness, though, in reality, love with them is indissolubly
associated with their native village, with its steeple and vesper
bells, and with the familiar scenes of home. The hot-blooded
southerner kills his rival, as he may the object of his passion. The
sentiment of which I am speaking is fatal only to him who is possessed
by it, and this is why the people of Brittany are so chaste a race.
Their lively imagination creates an aerial world which satisfies their
aspirations. The true poetry of such a love as this is the sonnet on
spring in the Song of Solomon, which is far more voluptuous than it is
passionate. "Hiems transiit; imber abiit et recessit.... Vox turturis
audita est in terra nostra.... Surge, amica mea, et veni."


[Footnote 1: What grand _landwehr_ leaders they would have made! There
are no such men in the present day.]



THE FLAX-CRUSHER

PART IV.


My mother, resuming her story, went on to say:--

"We are all, as a matter of fact, at the mercy of our illusions, and
the proof of this is that in many cases nothing is easier than to
take in Nature by devices which she is unable to distinguish from the
reality. I shall never forget the daughter of Marzin, the carpenter in
the High Street, who, losing her senses owing to a suppression of the
maternal sentiment, took a log of wood, dressed it up in rags, placed
on the top of it a sort of baby's cap, and passed the day in fondling,
rocking, hugging, and kissing this artificial infant. When it was
placed in the cradle beside her of an evening, she was quiet all
night. There are some instincts for which appearances suffice, and
which can be kept quiet by fictions. Thus it was that Kermelle's
daughter succeeded in giving reality to her dreams. Her ideal was a
life in common with the man she loved, and the one which she shared in
fancy was not, of course, that of a priest, but the ordinary domestic
life. She was meant for the conjugal existence, and her insanity
was the result of an instinct for housekeeping being checkmated. She
fancied that her aspiration was realized and that she was keeping
house for the man whom she loved; and as she was scarcely capable of
distinguishing between her dreams and the reality she was the victim
of the most incredible aberrations, which prove in the most effectual
way the sacred laws of nature and their inevitable fatality.

"She passed her time in hemming and marking linen, which, in her idea,
was for the house where she was to pass her life at the feet of her
adored one. The hallucination went so far that she marked the linen
with the priest's initials; often with his and her own interlaced. She
plied her needle with a very deft hand, and would work for hours at
a stretch, absorbed in a delicious reverie. So she satisfied her
cravings, and passed through moments of delight which kept her happy
for days.

"Thus the weeks passed, while she traced the name so dear to her, and
associated it with her own--this alone being a pastime which consoled
her. Her hands were always busy in his service, and the linen which
she had sewn for him seemed to be herself. It would be used and
touched by him, and there was deep joy in the thought. She would be
always deprived of him, it was true, but the impossible must remain
the impossible, and she would have drawn herself as near to him as
could be. For a whole year she fed in fancy upon her pitiful little
happiness. Alone, and with her eyes intent upon her work, she lived
in another world, and believed herself to be his wife in a humble
measure. The hours flowed on slowly like the motion of her needle; her
hapless imagination was relieved. And then she at times indulged in a
little hope. Perhaps he would be touched, even to tears, when he made
the discovery, testifying to her great love. 'He will see how I love
him, and he will understand how sweet it is to be brought together.'
She would be wrapped for days at a time in these dreams, which were
nearly always followed by a period of extreme prostration.

"In course of time the work was completed, and then came the question,
'What should she do with it?' The idea of compelling him to accept
a service, to be under some sort of obligation to her, took complete
possession of her mind. She determined to steal his gratitude, if I
may so express myself; to compel him by force to feel obliged to her;
and this was the plan she resolved upon. It was devoid of all sense or
reason, but her mind was gone, and she had long since been led away by
the vagaries of her disordered imagination. The festivals of Christmas
were about to be celebrated. After the midnight mass the priest was
in the habit of entertaining the mayor and the notabilities of the
village at supper. His house adjoined the church, and besides the
principal door opening on to the village square, there were two
others, one leading into the vestry and so into the church, and
another into the garden and the fields beyond. Kermelle Manor was
about five hundred yards distant, and to save the nephew--who took
lessons from the priest--making a long round, he had been given a key
of this back door. The daughter got possession of this key while the
mass was being celebrated, and entered the house. The priest's servant
had laid the cloth in advance, so as to be free to attend mass, and
the poor daft girl hurriedly removed the tablecloth and napkins and
hid them in the manor-house. When mass was over the theft was detected
at once, and caused very great surprise, the first thing noticed being
that the linen alone had been taken. The priest was unwilling to let
his guests go away supperless, and while they were consulting as to
what to do, the girl herself arrived, saying, 'You will not decline
our good offices this time, Monsieur le Curé. You shall have our
linen here in a few minutes.' Her father expressed himself in the same
sense, and the priest could not but assent, little dreaming of what a
trick had been played upon him by a person who was generally supposed
to be so wanting in intelligence.

"This singular robbery was further investigated the next day. There
was no sign of any force having been used to get into the house.
The main door and the one leading into the garden were untouched and
locked as usual. It never occurred to any one that the key intrusted
to young Kermelle could have been used to commit the robbery. It
followed, therefore, that the theft must have been committed by way
of the vestry door. The clerk had been in the church all the time,
but his wife had been in and out. She had been to the fire to get some
coals for the censers, and had attended to two or three other little
details; and so suspicion fell on her. She was a very respectable
woman, and it seemed most improbable that she would be guilty of such
an offence, but the appearances were dead against her. There was
no getting away from the argument that the thief had entered by the
vestry door, that she alone could have gone through this door, and
that, as she herself admits, she did go through it. The far too
prevalent idea of those days was that every offence must be followed
by an arrest. This gave a very high idea of the extraordinary sagacity
of justice, of its prompt perspicacity, and of the rapidity with which
it tracked out crime. The unfortunate woman was walked off between two
gendarmes. The effect produced by the gendarmes, with their burnished
arms and imposing cross-belts, when they made their appearance in
a village, was very great. All the spectators were in tears; the
prisoner alone retained her composure, and told them all that she was
convinced her innocence would be made clear.

"As a matter of fact, within forty-eight hours it was seen that a
blunder had been committed. Upon the third day, the villagers hardly
ventured to speak to one another on the subject, for they all of them
had the same idea in their heads, though they did not like to give
utterance to it. The idea seemed to them not less absurd than it was
self-evident, viz., that the flax-crusher's key must have been used
for the robbery. The priest remained within doors so as to avoid
having to give utterance to the suspicion which obtruded itself upon
him. He had not as yet examined very closely the linen which had been
sent from the manor in place of his own. His eyes happened to
fall upon the initials, and he was too surprised to understand the
mysterious allusion of the two letters, being unable to follow the
strange hallucinations of an unhappy lunatic.

"While he was immersed in melancholy reflection, the flax-crusher
entered the room, with his figure as upright as ever but pale as
death. The old man stood up in front of the priest and burst into
tears, exclaiming: 'It is my miserable girl. I ought to have kept a
closer watch over her and have found out what her thoughts were
about, but with her constant melancholy she gave me the slip.' He then
revealed the secret, and within an hour the stolen linen was brought
back to the priest's house. The delinquent had hoped that the scandal
would soon be forgotten, and that she would revel in peace over the
success of her little plot, but the arrest of the clerk's wife and the
sensation which it caused spoilt the whole thing. If her moral sense
had not been entirely obliterated, her first thought would have been
to get the clerk's wife set at liberty, but she paid little or no
heed to that. She was plunged in a kind of stupor which had nothing
in common with remorse, and what so prostrated her was the evident
failure of her attempt to move the feelings of the priest. Most men
would have been touched by the revelation of so ardent a passion, but
the priest was unmoved. He banished all thought of this remarkable
event from his mind, and when he was fully convinced of the imprisoned
woman's innocence he went to sleep, celebrated mass the next morning,
and recited his breviary just as if nothing had happened.

"That a blunder had been committed in arresting this woman then became
painfully evident, as but for this the matter might have been hushed
up. There had been no actual robbery, but after an innocent woman
had been several days in prison on the charge of theft, it was very
difficult to let the real culprit go unpunished. Her insanity was not
self-evident, and it may even be said that there were no outward signs
of it. Up to that time it had never occurred to anyone that she was
insane, for there was nothing singular in her conduct except her
extreme taciturnity. It was easy, therefore, to question her insanity,
while the true explanation of the act was so incredible and so strange
that her friends could not well bring it forward. The fact of having
allowed the clerk's wife to be arrested was inexcusable. If the taking
of the linen had only been a joke, the perpetrator ought to have
brought it to an end when a third person was made a victim of it. She
was arrested and taken to St. Brieuc for the assizes. Her prostration
was so complete that she seemed to be out of the world. Her dream was
over, and the fancy upon which she had fed and which had sustained her
for a time had fled. She was not in the least violent but so dejected
that when the medical men examined her they at once saw what was the
true state of the case.

"The case was soon disposed of in court. She would not reply a word
to the examining judge. The flax-crusher came into court erect and
self-possessed as usual, with a look of resignation on his face. He
came up to the bar of the witness-box and deposited upon the ledge
his gloves, his cross of St. Louis, and his scarf. 'Gentlemen of the
jury,' he said. 'I can only put these on again if you tell me to do
so; my honour is in your hands. She is the culprit, but she is not
a thief. She is ill.' The poor fellow burst into tears, and his
utterance was choked with them. There was a general murmur of 'Don't
carry it any further.' The counsel for the Crown had the tact not to
enter upon a dissertation as to a singular case of amorous physiology
and abandoned the prosecution.

"The jury, all of whom were in tears, did not take long to deliberate.
When the verdict of acquittal was recorded the flax-crusher put on his
decorations again and left the court as quickly as possible, taking
his daughter back with him to the village at nightfall.

"The scandal was such a public one that the priest could not fail to
learn the truth in respect to many matters which he had endeavoured
to ignore. This, however, did not affect him, and he did not ask the
bishop to remove him to another parish, nor did the bishop suggest any
change. It might be thought that he must have felt some embarrassment
the first time that he met Kermelle and his daughter. But such was not
the case. He went to the manor at an hour when he knew that he would
find Kermelle and his daughter at home, and addressing himself to the
latter he said: 'You have been guilty of a great sin, not so much by
your folly, for which God will forgive you, but in allowing one of
the best of women to be sent to gaol. An innocent woman has, by your
misconduct, been treated for several days as a thief, and carried off
to prison by gendarmes in the sight of the whole parish. You owe her
some sort of reparation. On Sunday, the clerk's wife will be seated as
usual in the last row, near the church-door; at the Belief, you will
go and fetch her and lead her by the hand to your seat of honour,
which she is better worthy to occupy than you are."

The poor creature did mechanically what she was bid, and she had
ceased to be a sentient being. From this time forth, little was ever
seen of the flax-crusher and his family. The manor had become, as it
were, a tomb, from which issued no sign of life.

The clerk's wife was the first to die. The emotion had been too
much for this simple soul. She had never doubted the goodness of
Providence, but the whole business had upset her, and she gradually
grew weaker. She was a saintly woman, with the most exquisite
sentiment of devotion for the Church. This would scarcely be
understood now in Paris, where the church, as a building, goes for so
little. One Saturday evening, she felt her end approaching, and
her joy was great. She sent for the priest, her mind full of a
long-cherished project, which was that during high mass on Sunday her
body should be laid upon the trestles which are used for the coffins.
It would be joy indeed to hear mass once again, even in death, to
listen to those words of consolation and those hymns of salvation;
to be present there beneath the funeral pall, amid the assembled
congregation, the family which she had so dearly loved, to hear them
all, herself unseen, while all their thoughts and prayers were for
her, to hold communion once again with these pious souls before being
laid in the earth. Her prayer was granted, and the priest pronounced a
very edifying discourse over her grave.

"The old man lived on for several years, dying inch by inch, secluded
in his house, and never conversing with the priest. He attended
church, but did not occupy his front seat. He was so strong that his
agony lasted eight or ten years.

"His walks were confined to the avenue of tall lime-trees which
skirted the manor. While pacing up and down there one day, he saw
something strange upon the horizon. It was the tricolour flag floating
from the steeple of Tréguier; the Revolution of 1830 had just been
effected. When he learnt that the king was an exile, he saw only too
well that he had been bearing his part in the closing scenes of a
world. The professional duty to which he had sacrificed everything
ceased to have any object. He did not regret having formed too high
an idea of duty, and it never occurred to him that he might have
grown rich as others had done; but he lost faith in all save God. The
Carlists of Tréguier went about declaring that the new order of things
would not last, and that the rightful king would soon return. He
only smiled at these foolish predictions, and died soon afterwards,
assisted in his last moments by the priest, who expounded to him that
beautiful passage in the burial service: 'Be not like the heathen, who
are without hope.'

"After his death his daughter was totally unprovided for, and
arrangements were made for placing her in the hospital where you saw
her. No doubt she, too, is dead ere this, and another sleeps in her
bed at the hospital."



PRAYER ON THE ACROPOLIS.


It was not until I was well advanced in life that I began to have any
souvenirs. The imperious necessity which compelled me during my early
years to solve for myself, not with the leisurely deliberation of the
thinker, but with the feverish ardour of one who has to struggle for
life, the loftiest problems of philosophy and religion never left me
a quarter of an hour's leisure to look behind me. Afterwards dragged
into the current of the century in which I lived, and concerning which
I was in complete ignorance, there was suddenly disclosed to my gaze a
spectacle as novel to me as the society of Saturn or Venus would be
to any one landed in those planets. It struck me as being paltry and
morally inferior to what I had seen at Issy and St. Sulpice; though
the great scientific and critical attainments of men like Eugéne
Burnouf, the brilliant conversation of M. Cousin, and the revival
brought about by Germany in nearly all the historical sciences,
coupled with my travels and the fever of production, carried me away
and prevented me from meditating on the years which were already
relegated to what seemed like a distant past. My residence in Syria
tended still further to obliterate my early recollections. The new
sensations which I experienced there, the glimpses which I caught of
a divine world, so different from our frigid and sombre countries,
absorbed my whole being. My dreams were haunted for a time by the
burnt-up mountain-chain of Galaad and the peak of Safed, where the
Messiah was to appear, by Carmel and its beds of anemone sown by
God, by the Gulf of Aphaca whence issues the river Adonis. Strangely
enough, it was at Athens, in 1865, that I first felt a strong backward
impulse, the effect being that of a fresh and bracing breeze coming
from afar.

The impression which Athens made upon me was the strongest which I
have ever felt. There is one and only one place in which perfection
exists, and that is Athens, which outdid anything I had ever imagined.
I had before my eyes the ideal of beauty crystallised in the marble of
Pentelicus. I had hitherto thought that perfection was not to be
found in this world; one thing alone seemed to come anywhere near to
perfection. For some time past I had ceased to believe in miracles
strictly so called, though the singular destiny of the Jewish people,
leading up to Jesus and Christianity, appeared to me to stand alone.
And now suddenly there arose by the side of the Jewish miracle the
Greek miracle, a thing which has only existed once, which had never
been seen before, which will never be seen again, but the effect of
which will last for ever, an eternal type of beauty, without a single
blemish, local or national. I of course knew before I went there that
Greece had created science, art, and philosophy, but the means of
measurement were wanting. The sight of the Acropolis was like a
revelation of the Divine, such as that which I experienced when,
gazing down upon the valley of the Jordan from the heights of Casyoun,
I first felt the living reality of the Gospel. The whole world then
appeared to me barbarian. The East repelled me by its pomp, its
ostentation, and its impostures. The Romans were merely rough
soldiers; the majesty of the noblest Roman of them all, of an Augustus
and a Trajan, was but attitudinising compared to the ease and simple
nobility of these proud and peaceful citizens. Celts, Germans, and
Slavs appeared as conscientious but scarcely civilised Scythians. Our
own Middle Ages seemed to me devoid of elegance and style, disfigured
by misplaced pride and pedantry, Charlemagne was nothing more than an
awkward German stableman; our chevaliers louts at whom Themistocles
and Alcibiades would have laughed. But here you had a whole people
of aristocrats, a general public composed entirely of connoisseurs,
a democracy which was capable of distinguishing shades of art so
delicate that even our most refined judges can scarcely appreciate
them. Here you had a public capable of understanding in what consisted
the beauty of the Propylon and the superiority of the sculptures of
the Parthenon. This revelation of true and simple grandeur went to
my very soul. All that I had hitherto seen seemed to me the
awkward effort of a Jesuitical art, a rococo mixture of silly pomp,
charlatanism, and caricature.

These sentiments were stronger as I stood on the Acropolis than
anywhere else. An excellent architect with whom I had travelled would
often remark that to his mind the truth of the gods was in proportion
to the solid beauty of the temples reared in their honour. Judged by
this standard, Athens would have no rival. What adds so much to the
beauty of the buildings is their absolute honesty and the respect
shown to the Divinity. The parts of the building not seen by the
public are as well constructed as those which meet the eye; and
there are none of those deceptions which, in French churches more
particularly, give the idea of being intended to mislead the
Divinity as to the value of the offering. The aspect of rectitude and
seriousness which I had before me caused me to blush at the thought
of having often done sacrifice to a less pure ideal. The hours which
I passed on the sacred eminence were hours of prayer. My whole life
unfolded itself, as in a general confession, before my eyes. But the
most singular thing was that in confessing my sins I got to like them,
and my resolve to become classical eventually drove me into just the
opposite direction. An old document which I have lighted upon among my
memoranda of travel contains the following:--

_Prayer which I said on the Acropolis when I had succeeded in
understanding the perfect beauty of it_.

"Oh! nobility! Oh! true and simple beauty! Goddess, the worship of
whom signifies reason and wisdom, thou whose temple is an eternal
lesson of conscience and truth, I come late to the threshold of thy
mysteries; I bring to the foot of thy altar much remorse. Ere finding
thee, I have had to make infinite search. The initiation which thou
didst confer by a smile upon the Athenian at his birth I have acquired
by force of reflection and long labour.

"I am born, O goddess of the blue eyes, of barbarian parents,
among the good and virtuous Cimmerians who dwell by the shore of a
melancholy sea, bristling with rocks ever lashed by the storm. The
sun is scarcely known in this country, its flowers are seaweed, marine
plants, and the coloured shells which are gathered in the recesses
of lonely bays. The clouds seem colourless, and even joy is rather
sorrowful there; but fountains of fresh water spring out of the rocks,
and the eyes of the young girls are like the green fountains in which,
with their beds of waving herbs, the sky is mirrored.

"My forefathers, as far as we can trace them, have passed their lives
in navigating the distant seas, which thy Argonauts knew not, I used
to hear as a child the songs which told of voyages to the Pole; I was
cradled amid the souvenir of floating ice, of misty seas like milk,
of islands peopled with birds which now and again would warble, and
which, when they rose in flight, darkened the air.

"Priests of a strange creed, handed down from the Syrians of
Palestine, brought me up. These priests were wise and good. They
taught me long lessons of Cronos, who created the world, and of his
son, who, as they told me, made a journey upon earth. Their temples
are thrice as lofty as thine, O Eurhythmia, and dense like forests.
But they are not enduring, and crumble to pieces at the end of five or
six hundred years. They are the fantastic creation of barbarians, who
vainly imagine that they can succeed without observing the rules which
thou hast laid down, O Reason! Yet these temples pleased me, for I
had not then studied thy divine art and God was present to me in them.
Hymns were sung there, and among those which I can remember were:
'Hail, star of the sea.... Queen of those who mourn in this valley of
tears ...' or again, 'Mystical rose, tower of ivory, house of gold,
star of the morning....' Yes, Goddess, when I recall these hymns of
praise my heart melts, and I become almost an apostate. Forgive
me this absurdity; thou canst not imagine the charm which these
barbarians have imparted to verse, and how hard it is to follow the
path of pure reason.

"And if thou knewest how difficult it has become to serve thee. All
nobility has disappeared. The Scythians have conquered the world.
There is no longer a Republic of free citizens; the world is governed
by kings whose blood scarcely courses in their veins, and at whose
majesty thou wouldst smile. Heavy hyperboreans denounce thy servants
as frivolous.... A formidable _Panbaeotia_, a league of fools, weighs
down upon the world with a pall of lead. Thou must fain despise even
those who pay thee worship. Dost thou remember the Caledonian who half
a century ago broke up thy temple with a hammer to carry it away with
him to Thulé? He is no worse than the rest.... I wrote in accordance
with some of the rules which thou lovest, O Théonoé, the life of the
young god whom I served in my childhood, and for this they beat me
like a Euhemerus and wonder what my motives can be, believing only in
those things which enrich their trapezite tables. And why do we write
the lives of the gods if it is not to make the reader love what is
divine in them, and to show that this divine past yet lives and will
ever live in the heart of humanity?

"Dost thou remember the day when, Dionysodorus being archon, an ugly
little Jew, speaking the Greek of the Syrians, came hither,
passed beneath thy porch without understanding thee, misread thy
inscriptions, and imagined that he had discovered within thy walls an
altar dedicated to what he called the Unknown God? Well, this little
Jew was believed; for a thousand years thou hast been treated as an
idol, O Truth! for a thousand years the world has been a desert
in which no flower bloomed. And all this time thou wert silent, O
Salpinx, clarion of thought. Goddess of order, image of celestial
stability, those who loved thee were regarded, as culprits, and now,
when by force of conscientious labour we have succeeded in drawing
near to thee, we are accused of committing a crime against human
intelligence because we have burst the chains which Plato knew not.

"Thou alone art young, O Cora; thou alone art pure, O Virgin; thou
alone art healthy, O Hygeia; thou alone art strong, O Victory! Thou
keepest the cities, O Promachos; thou hast the blood of Mars in thee,
O Area; peace is thy aim, O Pacifica! O Legislatress, source of just
constitutions; O Democracy[1] thou whose fundamental dogma it is
that all good things come from the people, and that where there is no
people to fertilise and inspire genius there can be none, teach us to
extricate the diamond from among the impure multitudes! Providence of
Jupiter, divine worker, mother of all industry, protectress of labour,
O Ergane, thou who ennoblest the labour of the civilised worker and
placest him so far above the slothful Scythian; Wisdom, thou whom
Jupiter begot with a breath; thou who dwellest within thy father,
a part of his very essence; thou who art his companion and his
conscience; Energy of Zeus, spark which kindles and keeps aflame the
fire in heroes and men of genius, make us perfect spiritualists!
On the day when the Athenians and the men of Rhodes fought for the
sacrifice, thou didst choose to dwell among the Athenians as being the
wisest. But thy father caused Plutus to descend in a shower of gold
upon the city of the Rhodians because they had done homage to his
daughter. The men of Rhodes were rich, but the Athenians had wit, that
is to say, the true joy, the ever-enduring good humour, the divine
youth of the heart.

"The only way of salvation for the world is by returning to thy
allegiance, by repudiating its barbarian ties. Let us hasten into thy
courts. Glorious will be the day when all the cities which have stolen
the fragments of thy temple, Venice, Paris, London, and Copenhagen,
shall make good their larceny, form holy alliances to bring these
fragments back, saying: 'Pardon us, O Goddess, it was done to save
them from the evil genii of the night,' and rebuild thy walls to the
sound of the flute, thus expiating the crime of Lysander the infamous!
Thence they shall go to Sparta and curse the site where stood that
city, mistress of sombre errors, and insult her because she is no
more. Firm in my faith, I shall have force to withstand my evil
counsellors, my scepticism, which leads me to doubt of the people, my
restless spirit which, after truth has been brought to light, impels
me to go on searching for it, and my fancy which cannot be still even
when Reason has pronounced her judgment. O Archegetes, ideal which the
man of genius embodies in his masterpieces, I would rather be last in
thy house than first in any other. Yes, I will cling to the stylobate
of thy temple, I will be a stylites on thy columns, my cell shall be
upon thy architrave and, what is more difficult still, for thy sake
I will endeavour to be intolerant and prejudiced. I will love thee
alone. I will learn thy tongue, and unlearn all others. I will be
unjust for all that concerns not thee; I will be the servant of the
least of thy children. I will exalt and natter the present inhabitants
of the earth which thou gavest to Erechthea. I will endeavour to like
their very defects; I will endeavour to persuade myself, O Hippia,
that they are descendants of the horsemen who, aloft upon the marble
of thy frieze celebrate without ceasing their glad festival. I will
pluck out of my heart every fibre which is not reason and pure art.
I will try to love my bodily ills, to find delight in the flush of
fever. Help me! Further my resolutions, O Salutaris! Help, thou who
savest!

"Great are the difficulties which I foresee. Inveterate the habits of
mind which I shall have to change. Many the delightful recollections
which I shall have to pluck out of my heart. I will try, but I am not
very confident of my power. Late in life have I known thee, O perfect
Beauty. I shall be beset with hesitations and temptation to fall
away. A philosophy, perverse no doubt in its teachings, has led me to
believe that good and evil, pleasure and pain, the beautiful and
the ungainly, reason and folly, fade into one another by shades as
impalpable as those in a dove's neck. To feel neither absolute love
nor absolute hate becomes therefore wisdom. If any one society,
philosophy, or religion, had possessed absolute truth, this society,
philosophy, or religion, would have vanquished all the others and
would be the only one now extant. All those who have hitherto believed
themselves to be right were in error, as we see very clearly. Can we
without utter presumption believe that the future will not judge us as
we have judged the past? Such are the blasphemous ideas suggested to
me by my corrupt mind. A literature wholesome in all respects like
thine would now be looked upon as wearisome.

"Thou smilest at my simplicity. Yes, weariness. We are corrupt; what
is to be done? I will go further, O orthodox Goddess, and confide to
you the inmost depravation of my heart. Reason and common sense are
not all-satisfying. There is poetry in the frozen Strymon and in the
intoxication of the Thracian. The time will come when thy disciples
will be regarded as the disciples of _ennui_. The world is greater
than thou dost suppose. If thou hadst seen the Polar snows and the
mysteries of the austral firmament thy forehead, O Goddess, ever so
calm, would be less serene; thy head would be larger and would embrace
more varied kinds of beauty.

"Thou art true, pure, perfect; thy marble is spotless; but the temple
of Hagia-Sophia, which is at Byzantium, also produces a divine effect
with its bricks and its plaster-work. It is the image of the vault of
heaven. It will crumble, but if thy chapel had to be large enough to
hold a large number of worshippers it would crumble also.

"A vast stream called Oblivion hurries us downward towards a nameless
abyss. Thou art the only true God, O Abyss! the tears of all nations
are true tears; the dreams of all wise men comprise a parcel of truth;
all things here below are mere symbols and dreams. The Gods pass away
like men; and it would not be well for them to be eternal. The faith
which we have felt should never be a chain, and our obligations to it
are fully discharged when we have carefully enveloped it in the purple
shroud within the folds of which slumber the Gods that are dead."


[Footnote 1: [Greek: ATHAENAS DAEMOKRATIAS], Le Bas. I. 32nd Inscrip.]



ST. RENAN.


When I come to look at things very closely, I see that I have changed
very little; my destiny had practically welded me, from my earliest
youth, to the place which I was to hold in the world. My vocation was
thoroughly matured when I came to Paris; before leaving Brittany my
life had been mapped out. By the mere force of things, and despite
my conscientious efforts to the contrary, I was predestined to
become what I am, a member of the romantic school, protesting against
romanticism, a Utopian inculcating the doctrine of half-measures, an
idealist unsuccessfully attempting to pass muster for a Philistine, a
tissue of contradictions, resembling the double-natured _hircocerf_
of scholasticism. One of my two halves must have been busy demolishing
the other half, like the fabled beast of Ctesias which unwittingly
devoured its own paws. As was well said by that keen observer,
Challemel-Lacour: "He thinks like a man, feels like a woman, and acts
like a child." I have no reason to complain of such being the case, as
this moral constitution has procured for me the keenest intellectual
joys which man can taste.

My race, my family, my native place, and the peculiar circle in which
I was brought up, by diverting me from all material pursuits, and by
rendering me unfit for anything except the treatment of things of the
mind, had made of me an idealist, shut out from everything else. The
application of my intellect might have been a different one, but the
principle would have remained the same. The true sign of a vocation
is the impossibility of getting away from it: that is to say, of
succeeding in anything except that for which one was created. The man
who has a vocation mechanically sacrifices everything to his dominant
task. External circumstances might, as so often happens, have checked
the cause of my life and prevented me from following my natural bent,
but my utter incapability of succeeding in anything else would have
been the protest of baffled duty, and Predestination would in one way
have been triumphant by proving the subject of the experiment to be
powerless outside the kind of labour for which she had selected him.
I should have succeeded in any variety of intellectual application; I
should have failed miserably in any calling which involved the pursuit
of material interests.

The characteristic feature of all degrees of the Breton race is its
idealism--the endeavour to attain a moral and intellectual aim, which
is often erroneous but always disinterested. There never was a race of
men less suited for industry and trade. They can be got to do anything
by putting them upon their honour; but material gain is deemed
unworthy of a man of spirit, the noblest occupations being those which
bring no profit, as of the soldier, the sailor, the priest, the true
gentleman who derives from his land no more than the amount sanctioned
by long tradition, the magistrate and the thinker. These ideas are
based upon the theory, an incorrect one perhaps, that wealth is only
to be acquired by taking advantage of others, and grinding down the
poor. The outcome of these views is that the man of wealth is not
thought nearly so much of as he who devotes himself to the public
welfare, or who represents the views of the district. The people have
no patience with the idea, very prevalent among self-made men, that
their accumulation of wealth confers a benefit upon the community.
When in former times they were told that "the king sets great value
upon the Bretons," they were content, and in his abundance they felt
themselves rich. Being convinced that money gained must be taken from
some one else, they despised greed. A like idea of political economy
is very old-fashioned, but human opinion will perhaps come back to
it some day. In the meanwhile, let me claim immunity for these few
survivors of another world, in which this harmless error has kept
alive the tradition of self-sacrifice. Do not improve their worldly
lot, for they would be none the happier; do not add to their wealth,
for they would be less unselfish; do not drive them into the primary
schools, for they would perhaps lose some of their good qualities
without acquiring those which culture bestows; but do not despise
them. Contempt is the one thing which tells upon those of simple
nature; it either shakes their faith in what is right or makes them
doubt whether the better classes are good judges upon this point.

This disposition, for which I can find no better name than moral
romanticism, was inherent in me from my birth, and in some measure
by descent. I had, so Code, the old sorceress, often told me, been
touched by some fairy's wand before my birth. I came into the world
before my time, and was so weak for two months that they did not think
I should live. Code informed my mother that she had an infallible way
of ascertaining my fate. She went one morning with one of the little
shifts which I wore to the sacred lake, and returned in high glee,
exclaiming: "He means to live! No sooner had I thrown the little shift
on to the surface than it lifted itself up." In later years she used
often to say to me with much animation of feature: "Ah! if you had
seen how the two arms stretched themselves out." The fairies were
attached to me from my childhood, and I was very fond of them. You
must not laugh at us Celts. We shall never build a Parthenon, for we
have not the marble; but we are skilled in reading the heart and soul;
we have a secret of our own for inserting the probe; we bury our hands
in the entrails of a man, and, like the witches in _Macbeth_, withdraw
them full of the secrets of infinity. The great secret of our art is
that we can make our very failing appear attractive. The Breton race
has in its heart an everlasting source of folly. The "fairy kingdom,"
which is the most beautiful on earth, is its true domain. The Breton
race alone can comply with the strange conditions exacted by the fairy
Gloriande from all who seek to enter her realm; the horn which will
give no sound except when touched by lips that are pure, the magic
cup which is filled only for the faithful lover, are our special
appurtenances.

Religion is the form behind which the Celtic races disguise their love
of the ideal, but it would be a mistake to imagine that religion is
to them a tie or a servitude. No race has a greater independence of
sentiment in religion. It was not until the twelfth century, and owing
to the support which the Normans of France gave to the See of Rome,
that Breton Christianity was unmistakably brought into the current of
Catholicism. It would have taken very little for the Bretons of France
to have become Protestant like their brethren the Welsh in England.
In the seventeenth century French Brittany was completely permeated by
Jesuitical customs and by the modes of piety common to the rest of the
world. Up to that time the religion of the country had had features of
its own, its special characteristic being the worship of saints. Among
the many peculiarities for which Brittany is noteworthy, its local
hagiography is assuredly the most remarkable. Going through the
country on foot there is one thing which immediately strikes the
observer. The parish churches, in which the Sunday services are
held, do not differ in the main from those of other countries. But in
country districts it is no uncommon thing to find as many as ten or
fifteen chapels in a single parish, most of them little huts with a
single door and window, and dedicated to some saint unknown to the
rest of Christendom. These local saints, who are to be counted by the
hundred, all date from the fifth or the sixth century; that is to say
from the period of the emigration. Most of them are persons who have
really existed, but who have been wrapped by tradition in a very
brilliant network of fable. These fables, which are of the most
primitive simplicity, and form a complete treasure of Celtic mythology
and popular fancies, have never been reduced to writing in their
entirety. The instructive compilations made by the Benedictines and
the Jesuits, even the candid and curious work of Albert Legrand, a
Dominican of Morlaix, reproduce but a very small fraction of them.
So far from encouraging these antique forms of popular worship, the
clergy only just tolerate them, and would suppress them altogether if
they could, feeling that they are the survivals of another and a
much less orthodox age. They consent to say mass once a year in these
chapels, as the saints to whom they are dedicated have too great a
hold in the country to be dislodged, but they say nothing about them
in the parish church. The clergy let the people visit these little
sanctuaries of the antique rite, to seek in them the cure for certain
complaints, and to worship there after their own way; they pretend to
be blind to all this. Where, then, it may be asked, lies concealed the
treasure of all these old stories? Why, in the memory of the people?
Go from chapel to chapel, get the good people who attend them into
conversation, and if they think they can trust you they will tell you
with a mixture of seriousness and pleasantry wonderful stories, from
which comparative mythology and history will one day reap a rich
harvest.[1]

These stories had from the first a very great influence upon my
imagination. The chapels which I have spoken of are always solitary,
and stand by themselves amid the desolate moors or barren rocks. The
wind whistling amid the heather and the stunted vegetation thrilled me
with terror, and I often used to take to my heels, thinking that the
spirits of the past were pursuing me. At other times I would look
through the half ruined door of the chapel at the stained glass or the
statuettes of painted wood which stood on the altar. These plunged
me in endless reveries. The strange and terrible physiognomy of these
saints, more Druid than Christian, savage and vindictive, pursued me
like a nightmare. Saints though they were, they were none the less
subject to very strange weaknesses. Gregory, of Tours, has told us
the story of a certain Winnoch, who passed through Tours on his way
to Jerusalem, his only covering being some sheep skins with their
wool taken off. He seemed so pious that they kept him there and made
a priest of him. He made wild herbs his sole food, and raised the
wine flagon to his lips in such a way that it seemed as if he scarcely
moistened his lips. But as the liberality of the devout provided him
with large quantities of it he got into the habit of drinking, and
was several times observed to be overcome by his potations. The devil
gained such a hold over him that, armed with knives, sticks, stones,
and whatever else he could get hold of, he ran after the people in the
streets. It was found necessary to chain him up in his cell. None the
less was he a saint. St. Cadoc, St. Iltud, St. Conery, St. Renan (or
Ronan), appeared to me as giants. In after years, when I had come to
know India, I saw that my saints were true _Richis_, and that through
them I had became familiarised with the most primitive features of our
Aryan world, with the idea of solitary masters of nature, asserting
their power over it by asceticism and the force of the will.

The last of the saints whom I have mentioned naturally attracted my
attention more than any of the others, as his name was the same as
that by which I was known.[2] There is not a more original figure
among all the saints of Brittany. The story of his life has been
told to me two or three times, and each time with more extraordinary
details. He lived in Cornwall, near the little town which bears his
name (St. Renan). He was more a spirit of the earth than a saint, and
his power over the elements was illimitable. He was of a violent and
rather erratic temperament, and there was no telling beforehand as to
what he would do. He was much respected, but his stubborn resolve to
take in all things his own course caused him to be regarded with no
little fear, and when he was found one day lying dead on the floor of
his hut there was a feeling of consternation in the country. The first
person who, when looking in at the window as he went by, saw him
in this position, took to his heels. He had been so self-willed and
peculiar in his lifetime that no one ventured to guess as to how he
might wish to have his body disposed of. It was feared that if his
wishes were incorrectly interpreted, he would punish them by sending
the plague, or having the town swallowed up by an earthquake, or by
converting the country around into a marsh. Nor would it be wise
to take his body to the parish church, as he had sometimes shown an
aversion to it.

He might, perhaps, create a scandal. All the principal inhabitants
were assembled in the cell, with his stark black corpse in their
midst, when one of them made the following sensible suggestion: "We
never could understand him when he was alive; it was easier to trace
the flight of the swallow than to guess at his thoughts. Now that he
is dead, let him still follow his own fancy. We will cut down a few
trees, make a waggon of them and harness four oxen to it. Then he can
let them take him to the place where he wishes to be buried." This was
done, and the body of the saint deposited on the vehicle. The oxen,
guided by the invisible hand of Ronan, went in a straight line into
the thick of the forest, the trees bent or broke beneath their steps
with an awful crackling sound. The waggon stopped in the centre of the
forest, just where the largest of the oaks reared their head. The hint
was taken and the saint was buried there and a church erected to his
memory.

Tales of this kind inspired me early in life with a love of mythology.
The simplicity of spirit with which they were accepted carried one
back to the early ages of the world. Take for instance the way in
which, as I was taught to believe, my father was cured of fever when
a child. Before daybreak he was taken to the chapel of the saint who
exercised the healing power. A blacksmith arrived at the same time
with his forge, nails, and tongs. He lighted his fire, made his tongs
red hot, and held them before the face of the saint, threatening to
shoe him as he would a horse unless he cured the child of his
fever. The threat took immediate effect, and my father was cured.
Wood-carving has long been in great favour in Brittany. The statues of
these saints are extraordinarily life-like, and in the eyes of people
of vivid imagination they may well seem to be actually alive. I
remember in particular one good man, who was not more daft than the
rest, who always made off to the churches in the evening when he got
the chance. The next morning, he was invariably found in the building,
half dead with fatigue. He had spent the whole night in detaching the
figures of Christ from the crosses and drawing the arrows out of the
bodies of St. Sebastian.

My mother, who was a Gascon on one side (her father was a native of
Bordeaux), told these anecdotes with much wit and tact, passing
deftly between what was real and what was fanciful, so as to leave
the impression that these things were only true from an ideal point
of view. She clung to these fables as a Breton; as a Gascon she
was inclined to laugh at them, and this was the secret of the
sprightliness and gaiety of her life. This state of things has been
the means of giving me what little talent I may have for historical
studies. I have derived from it a kind of habit of looking below the
surface and hearing sounds which other ears do not catch. The essence
of criticism is to be able to realise conditions different from those
under which we are now living. I have been in actual contact with
the primitive ages. The most remote past was still in existence
in Brittany up to 1830. The world of the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries passed daily before the eyes of those who lived in the
towns. The epoch of the Welsh emigration (the fifth and the sixth
centuries) was plainly visible in the country to the practised eye.
Paganism was still to be detected beneath a layer, often so thin as
to be transparent, of Christianity, and with the former were mixed
up traces of a still more ancient world which I afterwards came
upon again among the Laplanders. When visiting in 1870, with Prince
Napoleon, the huts of a Laplander encampment near Tromsoe, I felt some
of my earliest recollections live again in the features of several
women and children and in certain customs and traits of character. It
occurred to me that in ancient times there might have been admixtures
between the lost branches of the Celtic race and races like the
Laplanders which covered the soil upon their arrival. My ethnical
position would in this case be: "A Celt crossed with Gascon with a
slight infusion of Laplander blood." Such a condition of things
ought, if I am not mistaken, according to the theories of the
anthropologists, to represent the maximum of idiocy and imbecility;
but the decrees of anthropology are only relative: what it treats as
stupidity among the ancient races of men is often neither more nor
less than an extraordinary force of enthusiasm and intuition.


[Footnote 1: A conscientious and painstaking student, M. Luzel, will,
I hope, be the Pausanias of these little local chapels, and will
commit to writing the whole of this magnificent legend, which is upon
the point of being lost.]

[Footnote 2: The ancient form of the word is Ronan, which is still to
be found in the names of places, _Loc Ronan_, the well of St. Ronan
(Wales).]



MY UNCLE PIERRE.


Everything, therefore, predisposed me towards romanticism, not in
form, for I was not long in understanding that this is a mistake, that
though there may be two modes of feeling and thinking there can be
but one form of expressing these feelings and thoughts--but towards
romanticism of the mind and imagination, towards the pure ideal. I
was an offshoot from the old idealist race of the most genuine growth.
There is in the district of Goëlo or of Avangour, on the Trieux, a
place called the Lédano, because it is there that the Trieux opens out
and forms a lagoon before running into the sea. Upon the shore of the
Lédano there is a large farm called Keranbélec or Meskanbélec. This
was the head quarters of the Renans, who came there from Cardigan
about the year 480, under the leadership of Fragan. They led there for
thirteen hundred years an obscure existence, storing up sensations and
thoughts the capital of which has devolved upon me I can feel that
I think for them and that they live again in me. Not one of them
attempted to hoard, and the consequence was that they all remained
poor. My absolute inability to be resentful or to appear so is
inherited from them. The only two kinds of occupation which they knew
anything of were to till the land or to steer a boat on the estuaries
and archipelagos of rocks which the Trieux forms at its mouth. A short
time previous to the Revolution, three of them rigged out a bark, and
settled at Lézardrieux. They lived together on the bark, which was for
the best part of her time laid up in a creek of the Lédano, and
they sailed her when the fit took them. They could not be classed
as bourgeois, for they were not jealous of the nobles: they were
well-to-do sailors, independent of every one. My grandfather, one of
the three, took another step towards town life; he came to live at
Tréguier. When the Revolution broke out, he showed himself to be a
sincere but honourable patriot. He had some little money, but, unlike
all others in the same position as himself, he would not buy any of
the national property, holding that this property had been ill-gotten.
He did not think it honourable to make large profits without labour.
The events of 1814-15 drove him half mad.

Hegel had not as yet discovered that might implies right, and in any
event he would have found it difficult to believe that France had been
victorious at Waterloo. The privilege of these charming theories, of
which by the way I have had rather too much, were reserved for me. On
the evening of March 19th, 1815, he came to see my mother and told
her to get up early the next morning and look at the tower. And surely
enough he and several other patriots had during the night, upon the
refusal of the clerk to give them the keys, clambered up the outside
of the steeple at the risk of breaking their necks a dozen times over
and hoisted the national flag. A few months later, when the opposite
cause was triumphant, he literally lost his senses. He would go about
in the street with an enormous tricolour cockade, exclaiming: "I
should like to see any one come and take this away from me," and as he
was a general favourite people used to answer: "Why, no one, Captain."
My father shared the same sentiments. Taken by the English while
serving under Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse, he passed several years on the
pontoons. His great delight was to go each year, when the conscription
was drawn, and humiliate the recruits by relating his experiences as
a volunteer. Regarding with contempt those who were drawing lots, he
would add: "We used not to act in this way," and he would shrug his
shoulders over the degeneracy of the age.

It is from what I have seen of these excellent sailors, and from what
I have read and heard about the peasants of Lithuania, and even of
Poland, that I have derived my ideas as to the innate goodness of our
races when they are organised after the type of the primitive clan. It
is impossible to give an idea of how much goodness and even politeness
and gentle manners there is in these ancient Celts. I saw the last
traces of it some thirty years ago in the beautiful little island of
Bréhat, with its patriarchal ways which carried one back to the time
of the Pheacians. The unselfishness and the practical incapacity of
these good people were beyond conception. One proof of their nobility
was that whenever they attempted to engage in any commercial business
they were defrauded. Never in the world's history did people ruin
themselves with a lighter or more careless heart, keeping up a running
fire of paradox and quips. Never in the world were the laws of common
sense and sound economy more joyously trodden under foot. I asked my
mother, towards the close of her life, whether it was really the case
that all the members of our family whom she had known were upon as bad
terms with fortune as those whom I could remember.

"All as poor as Job," she answered me. "How could it be different?
None of them were born rich, and none of them pillaged their
neighbours. In those days the only rich people were the clergy and the
nobles. There is, however, one exception, I mean A----, who became a
millionaire. Oh! he is a very respectable person, very nearly a member
of parliament, and quite likely to become one."

"How did A---- contrive to make such a large fortune while all his
neighbours remained poor?"

"I cannot tell you that.... There are some people who are born to be
rich, while there are others who never would be so. The former have
claws, and do not scruple to help themselves first. That is just what
we have never been able to do. When it comes to taking the best piece
out of the dish which is handed round our natural politeness stands
in our way. None of your ancestors could make money. They took nothing
from the general mass, and would not impoverish their neighbours. Your
grandfather would not buy any of the national property, as others did.
Your father was like all other sailors, and the proof that he was born
to be a sailor and to fight was that he had no head for business. When
you were born we were in such a bad way that I took you on my knees
and cried bitterly. You see that sailors are not like the rest of the
world. I have known many who entered upon a term of service with
a good round sum of money in their possession. They would heat
the silver pieces in a frying-pan and throw them into the street,
splitting their sides with laughter at the crowd which scrambled for
them. This was meant to show that it was not for mercenary motives
that they were ready to risk their lives, and that honour and duty
cannot be posted in a ledger. And then there was your poor uncle
Peter. I cannot tell you what trouble he used to give me."

"Tell me about him," I said, "for somehow or other I like him very
much."

"You saw him once; he met us near the bridge, and he lifted his hat to
you, but you were too much respected in the neighbourhood for him to
venture to speak to you, though I did not like to tell you so. He was
one of the best-natured creatures in existence, but he could never be
got to apply himself to work. He was always lounging about, passing
the best part of the day and night in taverns. He was honest and
good-hearted withal, but there was no getting him to follow any
trade. You have no idea how agreeable he was until the life he led
had exhausted him. He was a universal favourite, and with his
inexhaustible stock of tales, proverbs, and funny stories, he was
welcome everywhere. He was very well read, too, and by no means devoid
of learning. He was the oracle of the taverns, and was the life and
soul of any party at which he might be present. He effected a regular
literary revolution. Heretofore the only books which people cared for
were the _Quatre Fils d'Aymon_ and _Renaud de Montauban_. All these
ancient characters were familiar to us, and each of us had his or her
favourite hero, but Peter taught us more modern tales which he took
from books, but which he remodelled to suit the local taste.

"We had at that time a pretty good library. When the mission fathers
came to Tréguier, during the reign of Charles X., the preacher
delivered such an eloquent sermon against dangerous books that we all
of us burnt any such volumes as we had. The missionary had told us
that it was better to burn too many than too few, and that, for the
matter of that, all books might under certain conditions be dangerous.
I did like the rest of the people, but your father put several upon
the top of the large wardrobe, saying that they were too handsome
to be burnt; they were _Don Quixotte, Gil Bias_, and the _Diable
Boiteux_. Peter found them there, and would read them to the common
people and to the men employed in the port. And so the whole of our
library disappeared. In this way he spent the modest little fortune
which he possessed, and became a regular vagabond, though in spite of
this he remained kind and generous, incapable of harming a worm."

"But," I rejoined, "why did not his friends send him to sea? that
would have made him more regular in his ways."

"That could never have been, for he was so popular that all his
friends would have run after him and fetched him back. You have no
idea how full of fun he was. Poor Peter! with all his faults I could
not help liking him, for he was charming at times. He could set you
off into a fit of laughter with a word. He had a knack of his own for
springing a joke upon you in the most unexpected way. I shall never
forget the evening when they came to tell me that he had been found
dead on the road to Langoat. I went and had him properly laid out. He
was buried, and the priest spoke in consoling terms about the death
of these poor waifs whose heart is not always so far from God as some
people may imagine."

Poor Uncle Pierre! I have often thought of him. This tardy esteem will
be his sole recompense. The metaphysical paradise would be no place
for him. His lively imagination, his high spirits, and his keen sense
of enjoyment constituted him for a distinct individualism in his
own sphere. My father's character was just the opposite, for he was
inclined to be sentimental and melancholy. It was when he was advanced
in years and upon his return from a long voyage that he gave me birth.
In the early dawn of my existence I felt, the cold sea mist, shivered
under the cutting morning blast and passed my bitter and gloomy watch
on the quarter-deck.



GOOD MASTER SYSTÈME.

PART I.


I was related on my maternal grandmother's side to a much more prim
class of people. My grandmother was a very good specimen of the
middle-classes of former days. She had been excessively pretty. I can
remember her towards the close of her life, and she was always dressed
in the fashion which prevailed at the time of her being left a widow.
She was very particular about her class, never altered her head-dress,
and would not allow herself to be addressed except as "Mademoiselle."
The ladies of noble birth had a great respect for her. When they met
my sister Henrietta they used to kiss her and say, "My dear, your
grandmother was a very respectable person, we were very fond of her.
Try to be like her." And as it happened my sister did like her very
much and took her as a pattern, but my mother, always laughing and
full of wit, differed from her very much. Mother and daughter were in
all respects a marked contrast.

The worthy burghers of Lannion and their families were models of
simplicity, honour, and respectability. Several of my aunts never
married, but they were very light-spirited and cheerful, thanks to the
innocence of their hearts. Families dwelt together in unity, animated
by the same simple faith. My aunts' sole amusement on Sundays after
mass was to send a feather up into the air, each blowing at it in turn
to prevent it from falling to the ground. This afforded them
amusement enough to last until the following Sunday. The piety of my
grandmother, her urbanity, her regard for the established order
of things are graven in my heart as the best pictures of that
old-fashioned society based upon God and the king--two props for which
it may not be easy to find substitutes.

When the Revolution broke out my grandmother was horror-struck, and
she took the lead with so many other pious persons in hiding
the priests who had refused to take the oath of fidelity to the
Constitution. Mass was celebrated in her drawing-room, and as the
ladies of the nobility had emigrated she thought it her duty to
take their place. Most of my uncles, on the other hand were ardent
patriots. When any public misfortune occurred, such, for instance, as
the treason of Dumouriez, my uncles allowed their beards to grow and
went about with long faces, flowing cravats, and untidy garments. My
grandmother would at these times indulge in delicate but rather
risky satire. "My dear Tanneguy, what is the matter with you? Has any
trouble befallen us? Has anything happened to Cousin Amélie? Is my
Aunt Augustine's asthma worse?"--"No, cousin, the Republic is in
danger."--"Oh, is that all, my dear Tanneguy? I am so glad to hear you
say so. You quite relieve me." Thus she sported for two years with
the guillotine, and it is a wonder that she escaped it. A lady named
Taupin, pious like herself, was associated with her in these good
works. The priests were sheltered by turns in her house and in that
of Madame Taupin. My uncle Y----, a very sturdy Revolutionist, but a
good-hearted man at bottom, often said to her: "My cousin, if it came
to my knowledge that there were priests or aristocrats concealed in
your house, I should be obliged to denounce you." She always used to
reply that her only acquaintances were true friends of the Republic
and no mistake about it.

So it was that Madame Taupin was the one to be guillotined. My mother
never related this incident to me without being very deeply moved. She
showed me when I was a child the spot where the tragedy was enacted.
Upon the day of the execution, my grandmother went, with all her
family, out of Lannion, so as not to participate in the crime which
was about to be committed. She went before daybreak to a chapel,
situated rather more than a mile from the town in a retired spot and
dedicated to St. Roch. Several pious persons had arranged to meet
there, and a signal was to let them know just when the knife was
about to drop so that they might all be in prayer when the soul of the
martyr was, brought by the angels before the throne of the Most High.

All this bound people together more closely than we can form any idea
of. My grandmother loved the priests and believed in their courage and
devotion to duty. She was destined to meet with a very cool reception
from one of them. When during the Consulate religious worship was
re-established, the priest whom she had sheltered at the risk of her
life was appointed incumbent of a parish near Lannion. She took my
mother, then quite a child, with her, and they walked the five miles
under a scorching sun. The thought of meeting again one whom she
had seen keeping the night watch at her house under such tragical
circumstances made her heart beat fast. The priest, whether from
sacerdotal pride or from a feeling of duty, behaved in a very strange
manner. He scarcely seemed to recognise her, never asked her to be
seated, and dismissed her with a few short remarks. Not a word of
thanks or an allusion to the past. He did not even offer her a glass
of water. My grandmother could scarcely keep from fainting; and she
returned to Lannion in tears, whether because she reproached herself
for some feminine error of the heart or because she was hurt by so
much pride. My mother never knew whether in after years she looked
back to this incident with the more of injured pride or of admiration.
Perhaps, she came at last to recognise the infinite wisdom of the
priest, who seemed to say to her, "Woman, what have I to do with
thee?" and who would not admit that he had any reason to be grateful
to her. It is difficult for women to comprehend this abstract feeling.
Their work, whatever it may be, has always a personal object in view,
and it would be hard to make them believe it natural that people
should fight shoulder to shoulder without knowing and liking one
another.

My mother, with her frank, cheerful, and inquisitive ways, was rather
partial to the Revolution than the reverse. Unknown to my grandmother
she used to go and hear the patriotic songs. The _Chant du Départ_
made a great impression upon her, and when she repeated the stirring
line put in the mouth of the mothers,

  "De nos yeux maternels ne craignez point de larmes,"

her voice was always broken. These stirring and terrible scenes had
imprinted themselves for ever upon her mind. When she began to go back
over these recollections, indissolubly bound up with the days of
her girlhood, when she remembered how enthusiasm and wild delight
alternated with scenes of terror, her whole life seemed to rise up
before her I learnt from her to be so proud of the Revolution that I
have liked it since, in spite of my reason and of all that I have said
against it. I do not withdraw anything that I have already said; but
when I see the inveterate persistency of foreign writers to try and
prove that the French Revolution was one long story of folly and
shame, and that it is but an unimportant factor in the world's
history, I begin to think that it is perhaps the greatest of all our
achievements, inasmuch as other people are so jealous of it.



GOOD MASTER SYSTÈME.

PART II.


Among those whom I have to thank for being more a son of the
Revolution than of the Crusaders was a singular character who was long
a puzzle to us. He was an elderly man, whose mode of life, ideas, and
habits were in striking contrast with those of the country at large.
I used to see him every day, with his threadbare cloak, going to buy
a pennyworth of milk which the girl who sold it poured into the tin
he brought with him. He was poor without being literally in want. He
never spoke to any one, but he had a very gentle look about the eyes,
and those who had happened to be brought into contact with him spoke
in very eulogistic terms of his amiability and good sense. I never
knew his name, and I do not believe that any one else did. He did not
belong to our part of the country, and he had no relations. He was
allowed to go his own way, and his singular mode of life excited no
other feeling than one of surprise; but it had not always been so.
He had passed through many vicissitudes. At one time he had been in
communication with the people of the place and had imparted some
of his ideas to them; but no one understood what he meant. The word
_system_ which he used several times tickled their fancy, and this
nickname was at once applied to him. If he had gone on imparting his
ideas he would have got himself into trouble, and the children would
have pelted him. Like a wise man he kept his tongue between his teeth,
and no one attempted to molest him. He came out every day to make
his modest purchases, and of an evening he would take a walk in some
unfrequented spot. He was of a serious but not melancholy cast of
countenance, and with more of an amiable than morose expression. Later
in life when I read Colerus's _Life of Spinoza_, I at once saw that
as a child I had had before my eyes the very image of the holy man of
Amsterdam. He was left to follow his own courses, and was even treated
with respect. His resigned and affable airs seemed like a glimpse from
another world. People did not understand him, but they felt that he
possessed higher qualities to which they paid implicit homage.

He never went to church, and avoided any occasion of having to
make external display of religious belief. The clergy were very
unfavourable to him and though they did not denounce him from the
pulpit, as he had never given any cause for scandal, his name was
always mentioned with repugnance. A peculiar incident occurred to fan
this animosity into a flame, and to involve the aged recluse in an
atmosphere of ghostly terror. He possessed a very large library,
consisting of works belonging to the eighteenth century. All those
philosophical treatises which have exercised a wider influence than
Luther and Calvin were to be found in it, and the old bookworm knew
them by heart, and eked out a living by lending them to some of
his neighbours. The clergy looked upon this as the abomination of
desolation, and strictly forbade their flocks to borrow these books.
System's lodging was looked upon as a receptacle for every kind of
impiety.

I, as a matter of course, looked upon him and his books in the
same light, and it was only when my ideas upon philosophy were well
consolidated that I came to understand that I had been fortunate
enough during my youth to contemplate a truly wise man. I had no
difficulty in reconstructing his ideas by piecing together a few words
which at the time had appeared to me unintelligible, but which I had
remembered. God, in his eyes, was the order of nature, from which all
things proceed, and he would not brook contradiction upon this point.
He loved humanity as representing reason, and he hated superstition as
the negation of reason. Although he had not the poetic afflatus which
the nineteenth century has given to these great truths, System, I feel
sure, had very high and far-reaching views. He was quite in the right.
So far from failing to appreciate the greatness of God, he looked with
contempt upon those who believed that they could move Him. Lost in
profound tranquillity and unaffected humility, he saw that human error
was more to be pitied than hated. It was evident that he despised his
age. The revival of superstition, which, he thought, had been buried
by Voltaire and Rousseau, seemed to him a sign of utter imbecility in
the rising generation.

He was found dead one morning in his humble room, with his books and
papers littered all about him. This was soon after the Revolution of
1830, and the mayor had him decently interred at night. The clergy
purchased the whole of his library at a nominal price and made away
with it. No papers were found which served to elucidate the mystery
which had always surrounded him, but in the corner of one drawer
was found a packet containing some faded flowers tied up with a
tricoloured ribbon. At first this was supposed to be some love-token,
and several people built upon this foundation a romantic biography
of the deceased recluse, but the tricolour ribbon tended to discredit
this version. My mother never believed that it was the correct one.
Although she had an instinctive feeling of respect for System, she
always said to me: "I am sure that he was one of the Terrorists. I
sometimes fancy that I remember seeing him in 1793. Besides, he has
all the ways and ideas of M----, who terrorised Lannion and kept the
guillotine in constant play there during the time that Robespierre
had the upper hand." Fifteen or twenty years ago, I read the following
paragraph in a newspaper:

"There died yesterday, almost suddenly, in an unfrequented street
of the Faubourg St. Jacques, an old man whose way of living was a
constant source of gossip in the neighbourhood. He was respected in
the parish as a model of charity and kindness, but he was careful
to avoid any allusion to his past. A few works, such as Volney's
_Catechism_, and odd volumes of Rousseau, were scattered about the
table. All his property consisted of a trunk, which, when opened by
the Commissary of Police, was found to contain only a few clothes and
a faded bouquet carefully wrapped up in a piece of paper on which was
written: 'Bouquet which I wore at the festival of the Supreme Being,
20 Prairial, year II.'"

This explained the whole thing to me. I remembered how the few
disciples of the Jacobite School whom I had known were ardently
attached to the recollections of 1793-94 and incapable of dwelling
upon anything else. The twelvemonths' dream was so vivid that those
who had experienced it could not come back to real life. They were
ever haunted by the same sinister fancy; they had a _delirium tremens_
of blood. They were uncompromising in their belief, and the world at
large, which no longer pitched its note to their cry, seemed idle and
empty in their eyes. Left standing alone like the survivors of a world
of giants, loaded with the opprobrium of the human race, they could
hold no sort of communion with the living. I could quite understand
the effect which Lakanal must have produced when he returned from
America in 1833 and appeared among his colleagues of the _Academic
des Sciences Morales et Politiques_ like a phantom. I could understand
Daunou looking upon M. Cousin and M. Guizot as dangerous Jesuits. By
a not uncommon contrast these survivors of the fierce struggles and
combats of the Revolution had become as gentle as lambs. Man, to be
kind, need not necessarily have a logical basis for his kindness. The
most cruel of the Inquisitors of the middle ages, Conrad of Marburg
for instance, were the kindest of men. This we see in _Torquemada_,
where the genius of Victor Hugo shows us how a man may send his
fellows to the stake out of charity and sentimentalism.



LITTLE NOÉMI.

PART I.


Although the religious and too premature sacerdotal education which I
had received prevented me from being on any intimate terms with young
people of the other sex, I had several little girl-friends one of
whom more particularly has left a profound impression upon me. From an
early age I preferred the society of girls to boys, and the latter
did not like me, as I was too effeminate for them. We could not play
together, as they called me "Mademoiselle," and teased me in a variety
of ways. On the other hand, I got on very well with girls of my own
age, and they found me very sensible and steady. I was about twelve or
thirteen, and I could not account for the preference. The vague idea
which attracted me to them was, I think, that men are at liberty to do
many things which women cannot, and the latter consequently had, in
my eyes, the charm of being weak and beautiful creatures, subject in
their daily life to rules of conduct which they did not attempt to
override. All those whom I had known were the pattern of modesty.
The first feeling which stirred in me was one of pity, so to speak,
coupled with the idea of assisting them in their becoming resignation,
of liking them for their reserve, and making it easier for them. I
quite felt my own intellectual superiority; but even at that early
age, I felt that the woman who is very beautiful or very good, solves
completely the problem of which we, with all our hard-headedness, make
such a hash. We are mere children or pedants compared to her. I as yet
understood this only vaguely, though I saw clearly enough that beauty
is so great a gift that talent, genius, and even virtue are nothing
when weighed in the balance with it; so that the woman who is really
beautiful has the right to hold herself superior to everybody and
everything, inasmuch as she combines not in a creation outside of
herself, but in her very person, as in a Myrrhine vase, all the
qualities which genius painfully endeavours to reproduce.

Among these, my companions, there was, as I have said, one to whom
I was particularly attached Her name was Noémi, and she was quite a
model of good conduct and grace. Her eyes had a languid look which
denoted at once good-nature and quickness; her hair was beautifully
fair. She was about two years my senior, and she treated me partly as
an elder sister, partly with the confidential affection of one child
for another. We got on very well together, and while our friends were
constantly falling out, we were always of one mind. I tried to make
these quarrels up, but she never thought that I should be successful,
and would tell me that it was hopeless to try and make everybody
agree. These attempts at mediation, which gave us an imperceptible
superiority over the other children, formed a very pleasing tie
between us. Even now I cannot hear "_Nous n'irons plus an bois_," or
"_Il pleut, il pleut, bergère_" without my heart beating rather more
quickly than is its wont. There can be no doubt that but for the fatal
vice which held me fast, I should have been in love with Noémi two or
three years later; but I was a slave to reasoning, and my whole time
was devoted to religious dialectics. The flow of abstractions which
rushed to the head made me giddy, and caused me to be absent-minded
and oblivious of all else.

This budding affection was, moreover, turned from its course by
a peculiar defect which, has more than once been injurious to my
prospects in life. This is my indecision of character, which often
leads me into positions from which I have great difficulty in
extricating myself. This defect was further complicated in this
particular case by a good quality which has led me into as many
difficulties as the most serious of defects. There was among these
children a little girl though much less pretty than Noémi, who, gentle
and amiable as she was, did not get nearly so much notice taken of
her. She was even fonder of making me her companion than Noémi, of
whom she was rather jealous. I have never been able to do a thing
which would give pain to any one. I had a vague sort of idea that a
woman who was not very pretty must be unhappy and feel the inward pang
of having missed her fate. I was oftener, therefore, with her than
with Noémi, because I saw that she was melancholy. So I allowed my
first love to go off at a tangent, just as, later in life, I did in
politics, and in a very bungling sort of way. Once or twice I noticed
Noémi laughing to herself at my simple folly. She was always nice with
me, but at times her manner was slightly sarcastic, and this tinge of
irony, which she made no attempt to conceal, only rendered her more
charming in my eyes.

The struggles amid which I grew to manhood nearly effaced her from my
memory. In after years I often fancied that I could see her again, and
one day I asked my mother what had become of her. "She is dead," my
mother replied, "and of a broken heart. She had no fortune of her
own. When she lost her father and mother, her aunt--a very respectable
woman who kept the equally respectable Hotel ----, took her to live
there. She did the best she could. Even as a child, when you knew
her, she was charming, but at two-and-twenty she was marvellously
beautiful. Her hair--which she tried in vain to keep out of sight
under a heavy cap--came down over her neck in wavy tresses like
handfuls of ripe wheat. She did all that she could to conceal her
beauty. Her beautiful figure was disguised by a cape, and her long
white hands were always covered with mittens. But it was all of no
use. Groups of young men would assemble in church to see her at her
devotions. She was too beautiful for our country, and she was as good
as she was beautiful." My mother's story touched me very much. I have
thought of her much more frequently since, and when it pleased God to
give me a daughter I named her Noémi.



LITTLE NOÉMI.

PART II.


The world in its progress cares little more how many it crushes than
the car of the idol of Juggernaut. The whole of the ancient society
which I have endeavoured to portray has disappeared. Bréhat has passed
out of existence. I revisited it six years ago and should not have
known it again. Some genius in the capital of the department has
discovered that certain ancient usages of the island are not in
keeping with some article of the code, and a peaceable and well-to-do
population has been reduced to revolt and beggary. These islands and
coasts which were formerly such a good nursery for the navy are so no
longer. The railways and the steamers have been the ruin of them. And
like old Breton bards, to what a case they have been brought! I found
several of them a few years ago among the Bas-Bretons who came to eke
out a miserable existence at St. Malo. One of them, who was employed
in sweeping the streets, came to see me. He explained to me in
Breton--for he could not speak a word of French--his ideas as to the
decadence of all poetry and the inferiority of the new schools. He was
attached to the old style--the narrative ballad--and he began to sing
to me the one which he deemed the prettiest of them. The subject of
it was the death of Louis XVI. He burst into tears, and when he got to
Santerre's beating of the drums he could not continue. Rising proudly
to his feet, he said: "If the king could have spoken, the spectators
would have rallied to him." Poor dear man!

With all these instances before me the case of the wealthy M.A.,
seemed to me all the more singular. When I asked my mother to explain
it to me, she always evaded an answer and spoke vaguely of adventures
on the coast of Madagascar. Upon one occasion, I pressed her more
closely and asked her how it was that the coasting trade, at which no
one had ever made money, could have made a millionaire of him. "How
obstinate you are, Ernest," she replied. "I have often told you not
to ask me that! Z---- is the only person in our circle who has any
pretensions to polish; he is in a good position; he is rich and
respected; there is no need to ask him how he made his money." "Tell
me all the same." "Well if you must know, and as people cannot get
rich without soiling their fingers more or less, he was in the slave
trade."

A noble people, fit only to serve nobles, and in harmony of ideas with
them, is in our day at the very antipodes of sound political economy,
and is bound to die of starvation. Persons of delicate ideas, who
are hampered by honourable scruples of one kind and another, stand no
chance with the matter-of-fact competitors who are the men not to let
slip any advantage in the battle of life. I soon found this out when
I began to know something of the planet in which we live, and hence
there arose within me a struggle or rather a dualism which has been
the secret of all my opinions. I did not in any way lose my fondness
for the ideal; it still is and always will be implanted in me as
strongly as ever. The most trifling act of goodness, the least spark
of talent, are in my eyes infinitely superior to all riches and
worldly achievements. But as I had a well-balanced mind I saw that the
ideal and reality have nothing in common; that the world is, at all
events for the time, given over to what is commonplace and paltry;
that the cause which generous souls will embrace is sure to be the
losing one; and that what men of refined intellect hold to be true
in literature and poetry is always wrong in the dull world of
accomplished facts. The events which followed the Revolution of
1848 confirmed all their ideas. It turned out that the most alluring
dreams, when carried into the domain of facts, were mischievous to
the last degree, and that the affairs of the world were never so well
managed as when the idealists had no part or lot in them. From that
time I accustomed myself to follow a very singular course: that is to
shape my practical judgments in direct opposition to my theoretical
judgments, and to regard as possible that which was in contradiction
with my desires. A somewhat lengthy experience had shown me that
the cause I sympathised with always failed and that the one which I
decried was certain to be triumphant. The lamer a political solution
was, the brighter appeared to me its prospect of being accepted In the
world of realities.

In fine, I only care for characters of an absolute idealism: martyrs,
heroes, utopists, friends of the impossible. They are the only persons
in whom I interest myself; they are, if I may be permitted to say so,
my specialty. But I see what those whose imagination runs away with
them fail to see, viz., that these flights of fancy are no longer of
any use and that for a long time to come the heroic follies which were
deified in the past will fall flat. The enthusiasm of 1792 was a great
and noble outburst, but it was one of those things which will not
recur. Jacobinism, as M. Thiers has clearly shown, was the salvation
of France; now it would be her ruin. The events of 1870 have by no
means cured me of my pessimism. They taught me the high value of
evil, and that the cynical disavowal of all sentiment, generosity
and chivalry gives pleasure to the world at large and is invariably
successful. Egotism is the exact opposite of what I had been
accustomed to regard as noble and good. We see that in this world
egotism alone commands success. England has until within the last
few years been the first nation in the world because she was the most
selfish. Germany has acquired the hegemony of the world by repudiating
without scruple the principles of political morality which she once so
eloquently preached.

This is the explanation of the anomaly that having on several
occasions been called upon to give practical advice in regard to
the affairs of my country, this advice has always been in direct
contradiction with my artistic views. In so doing, I have been
actuated by conscientious motives. I have endeavoured to evade the
ordinary cause of my errors; I have taken the counterpart of my
instincts and been on guard against my idealism. I am always afraid
that my mode of thought will lead me wrong and blind me to one side of
the question. This is how it is that, much as I love what is good,
I am perhaps over indulgent for those who have taken another view of
life, and that, while always being full of work, I ask myself very
often whether the idlers are not right after all.

So far as regards enthusiasm, I have got as much of it as any one;
but I believe that the reality will have none of it, and that with the
reign of men of business, manufacturers, the working class (which is
the most selfish of all), Jews, English of the old school and Germans
of the new school, has been ushered in a materialist age in which it
will be as difficult to bring about the triumph of a generous idea as
to produce the silvery note of the great bell of Notre Dame with one
cast in lead or tin. It is strange, moreover, that while not pleasing
one side I have not deceived the other. The bourgeois have not been
the least grateful to me for my concessions; they have read me better
than I can read-myself, and they have seen that I was but a poor sort
of Conservative, and that without the most remote intention of acting
in bad faith, I should have played them false twenty times over out of
affection for the ideal, my ancient mistress. They felt that the hard
things which I said to her were only superficial, and that I should be
unable to resist the first smile which she might bestow upon me.

We must create the heavenly kingdom, that is the ideal one, within
ourselves. The time is past for the creation of miniature worlds,
refined Thélèmes, based upon mutual affection and esteem; but life,
well understood and well lived, in a small circle of persons who can
appreciate one another, brings its own reward. Communion of spirit is
the greatest and the only reality. This is why my thoughts revert so
willingly to those worthy priests who were my first masters, to the
honest sailors who lived only to do their duty, to little Noémi who
died because she was too beautiful, to my grandfather who would not
buy the national property, and to good Master Système, who was
happy inasmuch as he had his hour of illusion. Happiness consists in
devotion to a dream or to a duty; self-sacrifice is the surest means
of securing repose. One of the early Buddhas who preceded Sakya-Mouni
obtained the _nirvana_ in a singular way. He saw one day a falcon
chasing a little bird. "I beseech thee," he said to the bird of prey,
"leave this little creature in peace; I will give thee its weight from
my own flesh." A small pair of scales descended from the heavens, and
the transaction was carried out. The little bird settled itself upon
one side of the scales, and the saint placed in the other platter a
good slice of his flesh, but the beam did not move. Bit by bit the
whole of his body went into the scales, but still the scales were
motionless. Just as the last shred of the holy man's body touched the
scale the beam fell, the little bird flew away and the saint entered
into _nirvana_. The falcon, who had not, all said and done, made a bad
bargain, gorged itself on his flesh.

The little bird represents the unconsidered trifles of beauty and
innocence which our poor planet, worn out as it may be, will ever
contain. The falcon represents the far larger proportion of egotism
and gross appetites which make up the sum of humanity. The wise man
purchases the free enjoyment of what is good and noble by making over
his flesh to the greedy, who, while engrossed by this material feast,
leave him and the free objects of his fancy in peace. The scales
coming down from above represent fatality, which is not to be moved,
and which will not accept a partial sacrifice; but from which, by a
total abnegation of self, by casting it a prey, we can escape, as it
then has no further hold upon us. The falcon, for its part is content
when virtue, by the sacrifices which she makes, secures for it
greater advantages than it could obtain by the force of its own claws.
Desiring a profit from virtue, its interest is that virtue should
exist; and so the wise man, by the surrender of his material
privileges, attains his one aim, which is to secure free enjoyment of
the ideal.



THE PETTY SEMINARY OF SAINT NICHOLAS DU CHARDONNET.

PART I.


Many persons who allow that I have a perspicuous mind wonder how
I came during my boyhood and youth to put faith in creeds, the
impossibility of which has since been so clearly revealed to me.
Nothing, however, can be more simple, and it is very probable that if
an extraneous incident had not suddenly taken me from the honest but
narrow-minded associations amid which my youth was passed, I should
have preserved all my life long the faith which in the beginning
appeared to me as the absolute expression of the truth. I have said
how I was educated in a small school kept by some honest priests, who
taught me Latin after the old fashion (which was the right one), that
is to say to read out of trumpery primers, without method and almost
without grammer, as Erasmus and the humanists of the fifteenth and
sixteenth century, who are the best Latin scholars since the days of
old, used to learn it. These worthy priests were patterns of all that
is good. Devoid of anything like _pedagogy_, to use the modern phrase,
they followed the first rule of education, which is not to make too
easy the tasks which have for their aim the mastering of a difficulty.
Their main object was to make their pupils into honourable men. Their
lessons of goodness and morality, which impressed me as being the
literal embodiments of virtue and high feeling, were part and parcel
of the dogma which they taught. The historical education they had
given me consisted solely in reading Rollin. Of criticism, the natural
sciences, and philosophy I as yet knew nothing of course. Of all that
concerned the nineteenth century, and the new ideas as to history
and literature expounded by so many gifted thinkers, my teachers knew
nothing. It was impossible to imagine a more complete isolation from
the ambient air. A thorough-paced Legitimist would not even admit the
possibility of the Revolution or of Napoleon being mentioned except
with a shudder. My only knowledge of the Empire was derived from the
lodge-keeper of the school. He had in his room several popular prints.
"Look at Bonaparte," he said to me one day, pointing to one of these,
"he was a patriot, he was!" No allusion was ever made to contemporary
literature, and the literature of France terminated with Abbé Delille.
They had heard of Chateaubriand, but, with a truer instinct than that
of the would-be Neo-Catholics, whose heads are crammed with all
sorts of delusions, they mistrusted him. A Tertullian enlivening his
Apologeticum with _Atala_ and _René_ was not calculated to command
their confidence. Lamartine perplexed them more sorely still;
they guessed that his religious faith was not built on very strong
foundations, and they foresaw his subsequent falling away. This gift
of observation did credit to their orthodox sagacity, but the result
was that the horizon of their pupils was a very narrow one. Rollin's
_Traité des Études_ is a work full of large-minded views compared to
the circle of pious mediocrity within which they felt it their duty to
confine themselves.

Thus the education which I received in the years following the
Revolution of 1830 was the same as that which was imparted by the
strictest of religious sects two centuries ago. It was none the worse
for that, being the same forcible mode of teaching, distinctively
religious, but not in the least Jesuitical, under which the youth of
ancient France had studied, and which gave so serious and so Christian
a turn to the mind. Educated by teachers who had inherited the
qualities of Port Royal, minus their heresy, but minus also their
power over the pen, I may claim forgiveness for having, at the age of
twelve or fifteen, admitted the truth of Christianity like any pupil
of Nicole or M. Hermant. My state of mind was very much that of so
many clever men of the seventeenth century, who put religion beyond
the reach of doubt, though this did not prevent them having very clear
ideas upon all other topics. I afterwards learnt facts which caused me
to abandon my Christian beliefs, but they must be profoundly ignorant
of history and of human intelligence who do not understand how strong
a hold the simple and honest discipline of the priests took upon the
more gifted of their students. The basis of this primitive form
of education was the strictest morality, which they inculated as
inseparable from religious practice, and they made us regard the
possession of life as implying duties towards truth. The very
effort to shake off opinions, in some respects unreasonable, had its
advantages. Because a Paris flibbertigibbet disposes with a joke of
creeds, from which Pascal, with all his reasoning powers, could not
shake himself free, it must not be concluded that the Gavroche is
superior to Pascal. I confess that I at times feel humiliated to think
that it cost me five or six years of arduous research, and the study
of Hebrew, the Semitic languages, Gesenius, and Ewald to arrive at
the result which this urchin achieves in a twinkling. These pilings
of Pelion upon Ossa seem to me, when looked at in this light, a mere
waste of time. But Père Hardouin observed that he had not got up at
four o'clock every morning for forty years to think as all the world
thought. So I am loth to admit that I have been at so much pains to
fight a mere _chimaera bombinans_. No, I cannot think that my labours
have been all in vain, nor that victory is to be won in theology as
cheaply as the scoffers would have us believe. There are, in reality,
but few people who have a right not to believe in Christianity. If
the great mass of people only knew how strong is the net woven by the
theologians, how difficult it is to break the threads of it, how much
erudition has been spent upon it, and what a power of criticism is
required to unravel it all.... I have noticed that some men of talent
who have set themselves too late in life the task have been taken in
the toils and have not been able to extricate themselves.

My tutors taught me something which was infinitely more valuable than
criticism or philosophic wisdom; they taught me to love truth, to
respect reason, and to see the serious side of life. This is the only
part in me which has never changed. I left their care with my moral
sense so well prepared to stand any test, that this precious jewel
passed uninjured through the crucible of Parisian frivolity. I was so
well prepared for the good and for the true that I could not possibly
have followed a career which was not devoted to the things of the
mind. My teachers rendered me so unfit for any secular work that I was
perforce embarked upon a spiritual career. The intellectual life
was the only noble one in my eyes; and mercenary cares seemed to me
servile and unworthy.

I have never departed from the sound and wholesome programme which my
masters sketched out for me. I no longer believe Christianity to be
the supernatural summary of all that man can know; but I still believe
that life is the most frivolous of things, unless it is regarded as
one great and constant duty. Oh! my beloved old teachers, now nearly
all with the departed, whose image often rises before me in my
dreams, not as a reproach but as a grateful memory, I have not been so
unfaithful to you as you believe! Yes, I have said that your history
was very short measure, that your critique had no existence, and
that your natural philosophy fell far short of that which leads us to
accept as a fundamental dogma: "There is no special supernatural;"
but in the main I am still your disciple. Life is only of value by
devotion to what is true and good. Your conception of what is good was
too narrow; your view of truth too material and too concrete, but
you were, upon the whole, in the right, and I thank you for having
inculcated in me like a second nature the principle, fatal to worldly
success but prolific of happiness, that the aim of a life worth living
should be ideal and unselfish.

Most of my fellow-students were brawny and high-spirited young
peasants from the neighbourhood of Tréguier, and, like most
individuals occupying an inferior place in the scale of civilization,
they were inclined to air an exaggerated regard for bodily strength,
and to show a certain amount of contempt for women and for anything
which they considered effeminate. Most of them were preparing for the
priesthood. My experiences of that time put me in a very good position
for understanding the historical phenomena, which occur when a
vigorous barbarism first comes into contact with civilization. I can
quite easily understand the intellectual condition of the Germans at
the Carlovingian epoch, the psychological and literary condition of
a Saxo Grammaticus and a Hrabanus Maurus. Latin had a very singular
effect upon their rugged natures, and they were like mastodons going
in for a degree. They took everything as serious as the Laplanders
do when you give them the Bible to read. We exchanged with regard to
Sallust and Livy, impressions which must have resembled those of the
disciples of St. Gall or St. Colomb when they were learning Latin. We
decided that Caesar was not a great man because he was not virtuous,
our philosophy of history was as artless and childlike as might have
been that of the Heruli.

The morals of all these young people, left entirely to themselves and
with no one to look after them, were irreproachable. There were very
few boarders at the Tréguier College just then. Most of the students
who did not belong to the town boarded in private houses, and their
parents used to bring them in on market day their provisions for
the week. I remember one of these houses, close to our own, in which
several of my fellow-students lodged. The mistress of it, who was an
indefatigable housewife, died, and her husband, who at the best of
times was no genius, drowned what little he had in the cider-cup every
evening. A little servant-maid, who was wonderfully intelligent, took
the whole burden upon her shoulders. The young students determined to
help her, and so the house went on despite the old tippler. I always
heard my comrades speak very highly of this little servant, who was
a model of virtue and who was gifted, moreover, with a very pleasing
face.

The fact is that, according to my experience, all the allegations
against the morality of the clergy are devoid of foundation. I passed
thirteen years of my life under the charge of priests, and I never saw
anything approaching to a scandal; all the priests I have known have
been good men. Confession may possibly be productive of evil in
some countries, but I never saw anything of the sort during my
ecclesiastical experience. The old-fashioned book which I used for
making my examinations of conscience was innocence itself. There was
only one sin which excited my curiosity and made me feel uneasy. I
was afraid that I might have been guilty of it unawares. I mustered
up courage enough, one day, to ask my confessor what was meant by the
phrase: "To be guilty of simony in the collation of benefices." The
good priest reassured me and told me that I could not have committed
that sin.

Persuaded by my teachers of two absolute truths, the first, that no
one who has any respect for himself can engage in any work that is not
ideal--and that all the rest is secondary, of no importance, not to
say shameful, _ignominia seculi_--and the second, that Christianity
embodies everything which is ideal, I could not do otherwise than
regard myself as destined for the priesthood. This thought was not the
result of reflection, impulse, or reasoning. It came so to speak, of
itself. The possibility of a lay career never so much as occurred
to me. Having adopted with the utmost seriousness and docility the
principles of my teachers, and having brought myself to consider all
commercial and mercenary pursuits as inferior and degrading, and only
fit for those who had failed in their studies, it was only natural
that I should wish to be what they were. They were my patterns in
life, and my sole ambition was to be like them, professor at the
College of Tréguier, poor, exempt from all material cares, esteemed
and respected like them.

Not but what the instincts which in after years led me away from these
paths of peace already existed within me; but they were dormant. From
the accident of my birth I was torn by conflicting forces. There was
some Basque and Bordeaux blood in my mother's family, and unknown
to me the Gascon half of myself played all sorts of tricks with the
Breton half. Even my family was divided, my father, my grandfather,
and my uncles being, as I have already said, the reverse of clerical,
while my maternal grandmother was the centre of a society which knew
no distinction between royalism and religion. I recently found among
some old papers a letter from my grandmother addressed to an estimable
maiden lady named Guyon, who used to spoil me very much when I was a
child, and who was then suffering from a dreadful cancer.

TRÉGUIER, _March_ 19, 1831.

"Though two months have elapsed since Natalie informed me of your
departure for Tréglamus, this is the first time I have had a few
moments to myself to write and tell you, my dear friend, how deeply
I sympathise with you in your sad position. Your sufferings go to my
heart, and nothing but the most urgent necessity has prevented me from
writing to you before. The death of a nephew, the eldest son of my
defunct sister, plunged us into great sorrow. A few days later, poor
little Ernest, son of my eldest daughter, and a brother of Henriette,
the boy whom, you were so fond of and who has not forgotten you, fell
ill. For forty days he was hanging between life and death, and we have
now reached the fifty-fifth day of his illness and still he does not
make much progress towards his recovery. He is pretty well in the day
time, but his nights are very bad. From ten in the evening to five
or six in the morning, he is feverish and half-delirious. I have said
enough to excuse myself in the eyes of one who is so kind-hearted and
who will forgive me. How I wish I was by your side to repay you the
attention you bestowed on me with so much zeal and benevolence. My
great grief is to be unable to help you.

"_March 20th_.

"I was sent for to the bedside of my dear little grandson, and I was
obliged to break off my conversation with you, which I now resume, my
dear friend, to exhort you to put all your trust in God. It is He who
afflicts us, but He consoles us with the hope of a reward far beyond
what we suffer. Let us be of good cheer; our pains and our sorrows do
not last long, and the reward is eternal.

"Dear Natalie tells me how patient and resigned you are amid the most
cruel sufferings. That is quite in keeping with your high feelings.
She says that never a complaint comes from you however keen your pain.
How pleasing you are in God's sight by your patience and resignation
to His heavenly will. He afflicts you, but those whom He loveth He
chasteneth. What joy can be compared to that which God's love gives?
I send you _L'Ame sur le Calvaire_, which will furnish you with much
consolation in the example of a God who suffered and died for us.
Madame D---- will be so kind, I am sure, as to read you a chapter
of it every day, if you cannot read yourself. Give her my kindest
regards, and beg her to write and tell me how you are going on, and
how she is herself. If you will not think me troublesome I will write
to you more frequently. Good-bye, my dear friend. May God pour upon
you His grace and blessing. Be patient and of good cheer.

"Your ever devoted friend,

"WIDOW...."

"In taking the Communion to-day my prayers were specially for you. My
daughter, Henriette, and Ernest, who has passed a much better night,
beg to be remembered, as also does Clara. We often talk of you. Let
me know how you are, I beg of you. When you have read _L'Ame sur
le Calvaire_ you can send it back to me, and I will let you have
_L'Esprit Consolateur_."

The letter and the books were never sent, for my mother, who was to
have forwarded them, learnt that Mademoiselle Guyon had died. Some of
the consolatory remarks which the letter contains may seem very trite,
but are there any better ones to offer a person afflicted with cancer?
They are, at all events, as good as laudanum. As a matter of fact the
Revolution had left no impress upon the people among whom I lived. The
religious ideas of the people were not touched; the congregations
came together again, and the nuns of the old orders, converted into
schoolmistresses, imparted to women the same education as before. Thus
my sister's first mistress was an old Ursuline nun, who was very fond
of her, and who made her learn by heart the psalms which are chanted
in church. After a year or two the worthy old lady had reached the end
of her tether, and was conscientious enough to come and tell my mother
so. She said, "I have nothing more to teach her; she knows all that
I know better than I do myself." The Catholic faith revived in these
remote districts, with all its respectable gravity and, fortunately
for it, disencumbered of the worldly and temporal bonds which the
ancient _régime_ had forged for it.

This complexity of origin is, I believe, to a great extent the cause
of my seeming inconsistency. I am double, as it were, and one half
of me laughs while the other weeps. This is the explanation of my
cheerfulness. As I am two spirits in one body, one of them has always
cause to be content. While upon the one hand I was only anxious to be
a village priest or tutor in a seminary. I was all the time dreaming
the strangest dreams. During divine service I used to fall into long
reveries; my eyes wandered to the ceiling of the chapel, upon which
I read all sorts of strange things. My thoughts wandered to the great
men whom we read of in history. I was playing one day, when six years
old, with one of my cousins and other friends, and we amused ourselves
by selecting our future professions. "And what will you be?" my
cousin asked me. "I shall make books." "You mean that you will be a
bookseller." "Oh, no," I replied, "I mean to make books--to
compose them." These dawning dispositions needed time and favourable
circumstances to be developed, and what was so completely lacking in
all my surroundings was ability. My worthy tutors were not endowed
with any seductive qualities. With their unswerving moral solidity,
they were the very contrary of the southerners--of the Neapolitan, for
instance, who is all glitter and clatter. Ideas did not ring within
their minds with the sonorous clash of crossing swords. Their head was
like what a Chinese cap without bells would be; you might shake it,
but it would not jingle. That which constitutes the essence of talent,
the desire to show off one's thoughts to the best advantage, would
have seemed to them sheer frivolity, like women's love of dress, which
they denounced as a positive sin. This excessive abnegation of self,
this too ready disposition to repulse what the world at large likes by
an _Abrenuntio tibi, Satana_, is fatal to literature. It will be said,
perhaps, that literature necessarily implies more or less of sin. If
the Gascon tendency to elude many difficulties with a joke, which I
derived from my mother, had always been dormant in me, my spiritual
welfare would perhaps have been assured. In any event, if I had
remained in Brittany I should never have known anything of the vanity
which the public has liked and encouraged--that of attaining a certain
amount of art in the arrangement of words and ideas. Had I lived in
Brittany I should have written like Rollin. When I came to Paris I had
no sooner given people a taste of what few qualities I possessed than
they took a liking for them, and so--to my disadvantage it may be--I
was tempted to go on.

I will at some future time describe how it came to pass that special
circumstances brought about this change, which I underwent without
being at heart in the least inconsistent with my past. I had
formed such a serious idea of religious belief and duty that it was
impossible for me, when once my faith faded, to wear the mask which
sits so lightly upon many others. But the impress remained, and though
I was not a priest by profession I was so in disposition. All my
failings sprung from that. My first masters taught me to despise
laymen, and inculcated the idea that the man who has not a mission in
life is the scum of the earth. Thus it is that I have had a strong and
unfair bias against the commercial classes. Upon the other hand, I am
very fond of the people, and especially of the poor. I am the only man
of my time who has understood the characters of Jesus and of Francis
of Assisi. There was a danger of my thus becoming a democrat like
Lamennais. But Lamennais merely exchanged one creed for another,
and it was not until the close of his life that he acquired the cool
temper necessary to the critic, whereas the same process which
weaned me from Christianity made me impervious to any other practical
enthusiasm. It was the very philosophy of knowledge which, in my
revolt against scholasticism, underwent such a profound modification.

A more serious drawback is that, having never indulged in gaiety while
young, and yet having a good deal of irony and cheerfulness in my
temperament, I have been compelled, at an age when we see how vain
and empty it all is, to be very lenient as regards foibles which I had
never indulged in myself, so much so that many persons who have not
perhaps been as steady as I was have been shocked at my easy-going
indifference. This holds especially true of politics. This is a matter
upon which I feel easier in my mind than upon any other, and yet a
great many people look upon me as being very lax. I cannot get out
of my head the idea that perhaps the libertine is right after all and
practises the true philosophy of life. This has led me to express too
much admiration for such men as Sainte-Beuve and Théophile Gautier.
Their affectation of immorality prevented me from seeing how
incoherent their philosophy was. The fear of appearing pharisaical,
the idea, evangelical in itself, that he who is immaculate has the
right to be indulgent, and the dread of misleading, if by chance all
the doctrines emitted by the professors of philosophy were wrong, made
my system of morality appear rather shaky. It is, in reality, as solid
as the rock. These little liberties which I allow myself are by way
of a recompense for my strict adherence to the general code. So in
politics I indulge in reactionary remarks so that I may not have the
appearance of a Liberal understrapper. I don't want people to take me
for being more of a dupe than I am in reality; I would not upon any
account trade upon my opinions, and what I especially dread is to
appear in my own eyes to be passing bad money. Jesus has influenced
me more in this respect than people may think, for He loved to show up
and deride hypocrisy, and in His parable of the Prodigal Son He places
morality upon its true footing--kindness of heart--while seeming to
upset it altogether.

To the same cause may be attributed another of my defects, a tendency
to waver which has almost neutralized my power of giving verbal
expression to my thoughts in many matters. The priest carries his
sacred character into every relation of life, and there is a good deal
of what is conventional about what he says. In this respect, I have
remained a priest, and this is all the more absurd because I do
not derive any benefit either for myself or for my opinions. In my
writings, I have been outspoken to a degree. Not only have I never
said anything which I do not think, but, what is much less frequent
and far more difficult, I have said all I think. But in talking and
in letter-writing, I am at times singularly weak. I do not attach any
importance to this, and, with the exception of the select few between
whom and myself there is a bond of intellectual brotherhood, I say to
people just what I think is likely to please them. In the society of
fashionable people I am utterly lost. I get into a muddle and flounder
about, losing the thread of my ideas in some tissue of absurdity. With
an inveterate habit of being over polite, as priests generally are, I
am too anxious to detect what the person I am talking with would
like said to him. My attention, when I am conversing with any one,
is engrossed in trying to guess at his ideas, and, from excess of
deference, to anticipate him in the expression of them. This is based
upon the supposition that very few men are so far unconcerned as to
their own ideas as not to be annoyed when one differs from them. I
only express myself freely with people whose opinions I know to sit
lightly upon them, and who look down upon everything with good-natured
contempt. My correspondence will be a disgrace to me if it should be
published after my death. It is a perfect torture for me to write a
letter. I can understand a person airing his talents before ten as
before ten thousand persons, but before one! Before beginning to
write, I hesitate and reflect, and make out a rough copy of what I
shall say; very often I go to sleep over it. A person need only look
at these letters with their heavy wording and abrupt sentences to see
that they were composed in a state of torpor which borders on sleep.
Reading over what I have written, I see that it is poor stuff, and
that I have said many things which I cannot vouch for. In despair, I
fasten down the envelope, with the feeling that I have posted a letter
which is beneath criticism.

In short, all my defects are those of the young ecclesiastical student
of Tréguier. I was born to be a priest, as others are born to be
soldiers and lawyers. The very fact of my being successful in my
studies was a proof of it. What was the good of learning Latin so
thoroughly if it was not for the Church? A peasant, noticing all my
dictionaries upon one occasion, observed: "These, I suppose, are the
books which people study when they are preparing for the priesthood."
As a matter of fact, all those who studied at school at all were in
training for the ecclesiastical profession. The priestly order stood
on a par with the nobility: "When you meet a noble," I have heard it
observed, "you salute him, because he represents the king; when you
meet a priest, you salute him because he represents God." To make a
priest was regarded as the greatest of good works; and the elderly
spinsters who had a little money thought that they could not find
a better use for it than in paying the college fees of a poor but
hard-working young peasant. When he came to be a priest, he became
their own child, their glory, and their honour. They followed him
in his career, and watched over his conduct with jealous care. As a
natural consequence of my assiduity in study I was destined for the
priesthood. Moreover, I was of sedentary habits and too weak of
muscle to distinguish myself in athletic sports. I had an uncle of a
Voltairian turn of mind, who did not at all approve of this. He was
a watchmaker, and had reckoned upon me to take on his business. My
successes were as gall and wormwood to him, for he quite saw that all
this store of Latin was dead against him, and that it would convert
me into a pillar of the Church which he disliked. He never lost an
opportunity of airing before me his favourite phrase, "a donkey loaded
with Latin." Afterwards, when my writings were published, he had his
triumph. I sometimes reproach myself for having contributed to the
triumph of M. Homais over his priest. But it cannot be helped, for
M. Homais is right. But for M. Homais we should all be burnt at the
stake. But as I have said, when one has been at great pains to learn
the truth, it is irritating to have to allow that the frivolous, who
could never be induced to read a line of St. Augustine or St. Thomas
Aquinas, are the true sages. It is hard to think that Gavroche and M.
Homais attain without an effort the alpine heights of philosophy.

My young compatriot and friend, M. Quellien, a Breton poet full of
raciness and originality, the only man of the present day whom I have
known to possess the faculty of creating myths, has described this
phase of my destiny in a very ingenious style. He says that my soul
will dwell, in the shape of a white sea-bird, around the ruined church
of St. Michel, an old building struck by lightning which stands above
Tréguier. The bird will fly all night with plaintive cries around the
barricaded door and windows, seeking to enter the sanctuary, but not
knowing that there is a secret door. And so through all eternity
my unhappy spirit will moan, ceaselessly upon this hill. "It is
the spirit of a priest who wants to say mass," one peasant will
observe.--"He will never find a boy to serve it for him," will rejoin
another. And that is what I really am--an incomplete priest.
Quellien has very clearly discerned what will always be lacking in
my church--the chorister boy. My life is like a mass which has some
fatality hanging over it, a never-ending _Introibo ad altare Dei_ with
no one to respond: _Ad Deum qui loetificat juventutem meam_. There is
no one to serve my mass for me. In default of any one else I respond
for myself, but it is not the same thing.

Thus everything seemed to make for my having a modest ecclesiastical
career in Brittany. I should have made a very good priest, indulgent,
fatherly, charitable, and of blameless morals. I should have been as
a priest what I am as a father, very much loved by my flock, and as
easy-going as possible in the exercise of my authority. What are now
defects would have been good qualities. Some of the errors which
I profess would have been just the thing for a man who identifies
himself with the spirit of his calling. I should have got rid of some
excrescences which, being only a layman, I have not taken the trouble
to remove, easy as it would have been for me to do so. My career would
have been as follows: at two-and-twenty professor at the College of
Tréguier, and at about fifty canon, or perhaps grand vicar at St.
Brieuc, very conscientious, very generally respected, a kind-hearted
and gentle confessor. Little inclined to new dogmas, I should have
been bold enough to say with many good ecclesiastics after the Vatican
Council: _Posui custodiam ori meo._ My antipathy for the Jesuits
would have shown itself by never alluding to them, and a fund of mild
Gallicanism would have been veiled beneath the semblance of a profound
knowledge of canon law.

An extraneous incident altered the whole current of my life. From the
most obscure of little towns in the most remote of provinces I
was thrust without preparation into the vortex of all that is most
sprightly and alert in Parisian society. The world stood revealed to
me, and my self became a double one. The Gascon got the better of the
Breton; there was no more _custodia oris mei_, and I put aside the
padlock which I should otherwise have set upon my mouth. In so far as
regards my inner self I remained the same. But what a change in the
outward show! Hitherto I had lived in a hypogeum, lighted by smoky
lamps; now I was going to see the sun and the light of day.



THE PETTY SEMINARY OF SAINT NICHOLAS DU CHARDONNET.

PART II.


About the month of April, 1838, M. de Talleyrand, feeling his end draw
near, thought it necessary to act a last lie in accordance with human
prejudices, and he resolved to be reconciled, in appearance, to
a Church whose truth, once acknowledged by him, convicted him of
sacrilege and of dishonour. This ticklish job could best be performed,
not by a staid priest of the old Gallican school, who might have
insisted upon a categorical retractation of errors, upon his making
amends and upon his doing penance; not by a young Ultramontane of the
new school, against whom M. de Talleyrand would at once have been very
prejudiced, but by a priest who was a man of the world, well-read,
very little of a philosopher, and nothing of a theologian, and upon
those terms with the ancient classes which alone give the Gospel
occasional access to circles for which it is not suited. Abbé
Dupanloup, already well known for his success at the Catechism of the
Assumption among a public which set more store by elegant phrases
than doctrine, was just the man to play an innocent part in the comedy
which simple souls would regard as an edifying act of grace. His
intimacy with the Duchesse de Dino, and especially with her daughter,
whose religious education he had conducted, the favour in which he was
held by M. de Quélen (Archbishop of Paris), and the patronage which
from the outset of his career had been accorded him by the Faubourg
St. Germain, all concurred to fit him for a work which required more
worldly tact than theology, and in which both earth and heaven were to
be fooled.

It is said that M. de Talleyrand, remarking a certain hesitation on
the part of the priest who was about to convert him, ejaculated: "This
young man does not know his business." If he really did make this
remark, he was very much mistaken. Never was a priest better up in his
calling than this young man. The aged statesman, resolved not to erase
his past until the very last hour, met all the entreaties made to him
with a sullen "not yet." The _Sto ad ostium etpulso_ had to be brought
into play with great tact. A fainting-fit, or a sudden acceleration
in the progress of the death-agony would be fatal, and too much
importunity might bring out a "No" which would upset the plans so
skilfully laid. Upon the morning of May 17th, which was the day of
his death, nothing was yet signed. Catholics, as is well known, attach
very great importance to the moment of death. If future rewards and
punishments have any real existence, it is evident that they must be
proportioned to a whole life of virtue or of vice. But the Catholic
does not look at it in this light, and an edifying death-bed makes up
for all other things. Salvation is left to the chances of the eleventh
hour. Time pressed, and it was resolved to play a bold game. M.
Dupanloup was waiting in the next room, and he sent the winsome
daughter of the Duchesse de Dino, of whom Talleyrand was always so
fond, to ask if he might come in. The answer, for a wonder, was in the
affirmative, and the priest spent several minutes with him,
bringing out from the sick-room a paper signed "Charles Maurice de
Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince de Bénévent."

There was joy--if not in heaven, at all events in the Catholic world
of the Faubourgs St. Germain and St. Honoré. The credit of this
victory was ascribed, in the main, to the female grace which had
succeeded in getting round the aged prince, and inducing him to
retract the whole of his revolutionary past, but some of it went to
the youthful ecclesiastic who had displayed so much tact in bringing
to a satisfactory conclusion a project in which it was so easy to
fail. M. Dupanloup was from that day one of the first of French
priests. Position, honours, and money were pressed upon him by the
wealthy and influential classes in Paris. The money he accepted, but
do not for a moment suppose that it was for himself, as there never
was any one so unselfish as M. Dupanloup. The quotation from the Bible
which was oftenest upon his lips, and which was doubly a favourite
one with him because it was truly Scriptural and happened to terminate
like a Latin verse was: _Da mihi animas; cetera tolle tibi_. He had
at that time in his mind the general outlines of a grand propaganda by
means of classical and religious education, and he threw himself
into it with all the passionate ardour which he displayed in the
undertakings upon which he embarked.

The seminary Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet, situated by the side of
the church of that name, between the Rue Saint Victor and the Rue de
Pontoise, had since the Revolution been the petty seminary for the
diocese of Paris. This was not its primitive destination. In the great
movement of religious reform which occurred during the first half of
the seventeenth century, and to which the names of Vincent de Paul,
Olier, Bérulle, and Father Eudes are attached, the church of Saint
Nicholas du Chardonnet filled, though in a humbler measure, the same
part as Saint Sulpice. The parish of Saint Nicholas, which derived its
name from a field of thistles well known to students at the University
of Paris in the middle ages, was then the centre of a very wealthy
neighbourhood, the principal residents belonging to the magistracy.
As Olier founded the St. Sulpice Seminary, so Adrien de Bourdoise,
founded the company of Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet, and made this
establishment a nursery for young priests which lasted until the
Revolution. It had not, however, like the Saint Sulpice establishment,
a number of branch houses in other parts of France. Moreover, the
association was not revived after the Revolution like that of Saint
Sulpice, and their building in the Rue Saint Victor was untenanted. At
the time of the Concordat it was given to the diocese of Paris, to be
used as a petty seminary. Up to 1837, this establishment did not make
any sort of a name for itself. The brilliant Renaissance of learned
and worldly clericalism dates from the decade of 1830-40. During the
first third of the century, Saint Nicholas was an obscure religious
establishment, the number of students being below the requirements of
the diocese, and the level of study a very low one. Abbé Frère, the
head of the seminary, though a profound theologian and well versed in
the mysticism of the Christian faith, was not in the least suited to
rouse and stimulate lads who were engaged in literary study. Saint
Nicholas, under his headship, was a thoroughly ecclesiastical
establishment, its comparatively few students having a clerical career
in view, and the secular side of education was passed over entirely.

M. de Quélen was very well inspired when he entrusted the management
of this college to M. Dupanloup. The archbishop was not the man to
approve of the strict clericalism of Abbé Frère. He liked _piety_,
but worldly and well-bred piety, without any scholastic barbarisms or
mystic jargon, piety as a complement of the well-bred ideal which,
to tell the truth, was his main faith. If Hugues or Richard de Saint
Victor had risen up before him in the shape of pedants or boors he
would have set little store by them. He was very much attached to M.
Dupanloup, who was at that time Legitimist and Ultramontane. It was
only the exaggerations of a later day which so changed the parts that
he came to be looked upon as a Gallican and an Orleanist. M. de
Quélen treated him as a spiritual son, sharing his dislikes and his
prejudices. He doubtless knew the secret of his birth. The families
which had looked after the young priest, had made him a man of
breeding, and admitted him into their exclusive coterie, were those
with which the archbishop was intimate, and which formed in his eyes
the limits of the universe. I remember seeing M. de Quélen, and he was
quite the type of the ideal bishop under the old _régime_. I remember
his feminine beauty, his perfect figure, and the easy grace of all his
movements. His mind had received no other cultivation than that of a
well-educated man of the world. Religion in his eyes was inseparable
from good breeding and the modicum of common sense which a classical
education is apt to give.

This was about the level of M. Dupanloup's intellect. He had neither
the brilliant imagination which will give a lasting value to certain
of Lacordaire's and Montalembert's works, nor the profound passion
of Lamennais. In the case of the archbishop and M. Dupanloup, good
breeding and polish were the main thing, and the approval of those who
stood high in the world was the touchstone of merit. They knew nothing
of theology, which they had studied but little, and for which they
thought it enough to express platonic reverence. Their faith was
very keen and sincere, but it was a faith which took everything for
granted, and which did not busy itself with the dogmas which must be
accepted. They knew that scholasticism would not go down with the
only public for which they cared--the worldly and somewhat frivolous
congregations which sit beneath the preachers at St. Roch or St.
Thomas Aquinas.

Such were the views entertained by M. de Quélen when he made over to
M. Dupanloup the austere and little known establishment of Abbé Frère
and Adrien de Bourdoise. The petty seminary of Paris had hitherto, by
virtue of the Concordat, been merely a training school for the clergy
of Paris, quite sufficient for its purpose, but strictly confined
to the object prescribed by the law. The new superior chosen by the
archbishop had far higher aims. He set to work to re-construct the
whole fabric, from the buildings themselves, of which only the old
walls were left standing, to the course of teaching, which he re-cast
entirely. There were two essential points which he kept before him.
In the first place he saw that a petty seminary which was altogether
ecclesiastical could not answer in Paris, and would never suffice to
recruit a sufficient number of priests for the diocese. He accordingly
utilised the information which reached him, especially from the west
of France and from his native Savoy, to bring to the college any
youths of promise whom he might hear of. Secondly, he determined that
the college should become a model place of education instead of being
a strict seminary with all the asceticism of a place in which the
clerical element was unalloyed. He hoped to let the same course of
education serve for the young men studying for the priesthood, and
for the sons of the highest families in France. His success in the
Rue Saint Florentin (this was where Talleyrand died) had made him
a favourite with the Legitimists, and he had several useful friends
among the Orleanists. Well posted in all the fashionable changes, and
neglecting no opportunity for pushing himself, he was always quick to
adapt himself to the spirit of the time. His theory of what the world
should be was a very aristocratic one, but he maintained that there
were three orders of aristocracy: the nobility, the clergy, and
literature. What he wished to insure was a liberal education, which
would be equally suitable for the clergy and for the youths of the
Faubourg Saint Germain, based upon Christian piety and classical
literature. The study of science was almost entirely excluded, and he
himself had not even a smattering of it.

Thus the old house in the Rue Saint Victor was for many years the
rendezvous of youths bearing the most famous of French names, and
it was considered a very great favour for a young man to obtain
admission. The large sums which many rich people paid to secure
admission for their sons served to provide a free education for young
men without fortune who had shown signs of talent. This testified to
the unbounded faith of M. Dupanloup in classical learning. He looked
upon these classical studies as part and parcel of religion. He held
that youths destined for holy orders and those who were in afterlife
to occupy the highest social positions should both receive the same
education. Virgil, he thought should be as much a part of a priest's
intellectual training as the Bible. He hoped that the _élite_ of his
theological students would, by their association upon equal terms with
young men of good family, acquire more polish and a higher social tone
than can be obtained in seminaries peopled by peasants' sons. He was
wonderfully successful in this respect. The college, though consisting
of two elements, apparently incongruous, was remarkable for its unity.
The knowledge that talent overrode all other considerations prevented
anything like jealousy, and by the end of a week the poorest youth
from the provinces, awkward and simple as he might be, was envied by
the young millionaire--who, little as he might know it, was paying for
his schooling--if he had turned out some good Latin verses, or written
a clever exercise.

In the year 1838, I was fortunate enough to win all the prizes in my
class at the Tréguier College. The _palmares_ happened to be seen by
one of the enlightened men whom M. Dupanloup employed to recruit his
youthful army. My fate was settled in a twinkling, and "Have him sent
for" was the order of the impulsive Superior. I was fifteen and a half
years old, and we had no time to reflect. I was spending the holidays
with a friend in a village near Tréguier, and in the afternoon of the
4th of September I was sent for in haste. I remember my returning home
as well as if it was only yesterday. We had a league to travel through
the country. The vesper bell with its soft cadence echoing from
steeple to steeple awoke a sensation of gentle melancholy, the image
of the life which I was about to abandon for ever. The next day I
started for Paris; upon the 7th I beheld sights which were as novel
for me as if I had been suddenly landed in France from Tahiti or
Timbuctoo.



THE PETTY SEMINARY OF SAINT NICHOLAS DU CHARDONNET.

PART III.


No Buddhist Lama or Mussulman Fakir, suddenly translated from Asia to
the Boulevards of Paris, could have been more taken aback than I was
upon being suddenly landed in a place so different from that in which
moved my old Breton priests, who, with their venerable heads all wood
or granite, remind one of the Osirian colossi which in after life
so struck my fancy when I saw them in Egypt, grandiose in their long
lines of immemorial calm. My coming to Paris marked the passage
from one religion to another. There was as much difference between
Christianity as I left it in Brittany and that which I found current
in Paris, as there is between a piece of old cloth, as stiff as a
board, and a bit of fine cambric. It was not the same religion. My old
priests, with their heavy old-fashioned copes, had always seemed to
me like the magi, from whose lips came the eternal truths, whereas
the new religion to which I was introduced was all print and calico, a
piety decked out with ribbons and scented with musk, a devotion which
found expression in tapers and small flower-pots, a young lady's
theology without stay or style, as composite as the polychrome
frontispiece of one of Lebel's prayer-books.

This was the gravest crisis in my life. The young Breton does not bear
transplanting. The keen moral repulsion which I felt, superadded to
a complete change in my habits and mode of life, brought on a very
severe attack of home-sickness. The confinement to the college was
intolerable. The remembrance of the free and happy life which I had
hitherto led with my mother went to my very heart. I was not the only
sufferer. M. Dupanloup had not calculated all the consequences of
his policy. Imperious as a military commander, he did not take into
account the deaths and casualties which occurred among his young
recruits. We confided our sorrows to one another. My most intimate
friend, a young man from Coutances, if I remember right, who had been,
transported like myself from a happy home, brooded in solitary grief
over the change and died. The natives of Savoy were even less easily
acclimatised. One of them, who was rather my senior, confessed to me
that every evening he calculated the distance from his dormitory on
the third floor to the pavement in the street below. I fell ill, and
to all appearances was not likely to recover. The melancholy to which
Bretons are so subject took hold of me. The memories of the last notes
of the vesper bell which I had heard pealing over our dear hills, and
of the last sunset upon our peaceful plains, pricked me like pointed
darts.

According to every rule of medicine I ought to have died; and it is
perhaps a pity that I did not. Two friends whom I brought with me from
Brittany, in the following year gave this clear proof of fidelity.
They could not accustom themselves to this new world, and they left
it. I sometimes think that the Breton part of me did die; the
Gascon, unfortunately, found sufficient reason for living! The latter
discovered, too, that this new world was a very curious one, and was
well worth clinging to. It was to him who had put me to this severe
test that I owed my escape from death. I am indebted to M. Dupanloup
for two things: for having brought me to Paris, and for having saved
me from dying when I got there. He naturally did not concern himself
much about me at first. The most eagerly sought after priest in Paris,
with an establishment of two hundred students to superintend or rather
to found, could not be expected to take any deep personal interest in
an obscure youth. A peculiar incident formed a bond between us. The
real cause of my suffering was the ever-present souvenir of my mother.
Having always lived alone with her, I could not tear myself away from
the recollection of the peaceful, happy life which I had led year
after year. I had been happy, and I had been poor with her. A
thousand details of this very poverty, which absence made all the more
touching, searched out my very heart. At night I was always thinking
of her, and I could get no sleep. My only consolation was to write her
letters full of tender feeling and moist with tears. Our letters,
as is the usage in religious establishments, were read by one of the
masters. He was so struck by the tone of deep affection which pervaded
my boyish utterances that he showed one of them to M. Dupanloup, who
was very much surprised when he read it.

The noblest trait in M. Dupanloup's character was his affection for
his mother. Though his birth was, in one way, the greatest trouble of
his life, he worshipped his mother. She lived with him, and though
we never saw her, we knew that he always spent so much time with her
every day. He often said that a man's worth is to be measured by the
respect he pays to his mother. He gave us excellent advice upon
this head which I never failed to follow, as, for instance, never to
address her in the second person singular, or to end a letter without
using the word _respect_. This created a connecting link between us.
My letter was shown to him on a Friday, upon which evening the reports
for the week were always read out before him. I had not, upon that
occasion, done very well with my composition, being only fifth or
sixth. "Ah!" he said, "if the subject had been that of a letter which
I read this morning, Ernest Renan would have been first." From that
time forth he noticed me. He recognised the fact of my existence, and
I regarded him, as we all did, as a principle of life, a sort of god.
One worship took the place of another, and the sentiment inspired by
my early teachers gradually died out.

Only those who knew Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet during the brilliant
period from 1838 to 1844 can form an adequate idea of the intense
life which prevailed there.[1] And this life had only one source, one
principle: M. Dupanloup himself. The whole work fell on his shoulders.
Regulations, usage administration, the spiritual and temporal
government of the college, were all centred in him. The college was
full of defects, but he made up for them all. As a writer and an
orator he was only second-rate, but as an educator of youth he had no
equal. The old rules of Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet provided, as
in all other seminaries, that half an hour should be devoted every
evening to what was known as spiritual reading. Before M. Dupanloup's
time, the readings were from some ascetic book such as the _Lives of
the Fathers in the Desert_, but he took this half hour for himself,
and every evening he put himself into direct communication with all
his pupils by the medium of a familiar conversation, which was so
natural and unrestrained that it might often have borne comparison
with the homilies of John Chrysostom in the Palaea of Antioch. Any
incident in the inner life of the college, any occurrence directly
concerning himself or one of the pupils furnished the theme for a
brief and lively soliloquy. The reading of the reports on Friday was
still more dramatic and personal, and we all anticipated that day with
a mixture of hope and apprehension. The observations with which he
interlarded the reading of the notes were charged with life and death.
There was no mode of punishment in force; the reading of the notes and
the reflections which he made upon them being the sole means which he
employed to keep us all on the _qui vive_. This system, doubtless, had
its drawbacks. Worshipped by his pupils, M. Dupanloup was not always
liked by his fellow-workers. I have been told that it was the same
in his diocese, and that he was always a greater favourite with his
laymen than with his priests. There can be no doubt that he put every
one about him into the background. But his very violence made us like
him, for we felt that all his thoughts were concentrated on us. He was
without an equal in the art of rousing his pupils to exertion, and
of getting the maximum amount of work out of each. Each pupil had a
distinct existence in his mind, and for each one of them he was an
ever-present stimulus to work. He set great store by talent, and
treated it as the groundwork of faith. He often said that a man's
worth must be measured by his faculty for admiration. His own
admiration was not always very enlightened or scientific, but it was
prompted by a generous spirit, and a heart really glowing with the
love of the beautiful. He was the Villemain of the Catholic school,
and M. Villemain was the friend whom he loved and appreciated the most
among laymen. Every time he had seen him, he related the conversation
which they had together in terms of the warmest sympathy.

The defects of his own mind were reflected in the education which he
imparted. He was not sufficiently rational or scientific. It might
have been thought that his two hundred pupils were all destined to be
poets, writers, and orators. He set little value on learning without
talent. This was made very clear at the entrance of the Nicolaites
to St. Sulpice, where talent was held of no account, and where
scholasticism and erudition alone were prized. When it came to a
question of doing an exercise of logic or philosophy in barbarous
Latin, the students of St. Nicholas, who had been fed upon more
delicate literature, could not stomach such coarse food. They were
not, therefore, much liked at St. Sulpice, to which M. Dupanloup,
was never appointed, as he was considered to be too little of a
theologian. When an ex-student of St. Nicholas ventured to speak of
his former school, the old tutors would remark: "Oh, yes! in the time
of M. Bourdoise," as much as to say that the seventeenth century was
the period during which this establishment achieved its celebrity.

Whatever its shortcomings in some respects, the education given at St.
Nicholas was of a very high literary standard. Clerical education has
this superiority over a university education, that it is absolutely
independent in everything which does not relate to religion.
Literature is discussed under all its aspects, and the yoke of
classical dogma sits much more lightly. This is how it was that
Lamartine, whose education and training were altogether clerical,
was far more intelligent than any university man; and when this is
followed by philosophical emancipation, the result is a very frank and
unbiased mind. I completed my classical education without having read
Voltaire, but I knew the _Soirées de St. Pétersbourg_ by heart, and
its style, the defects of which I did not discover until much later,
had a very stimulating effect upon me.

The discussions on romanticism, then so fierce in the world outside,
found their way into the college and all our talk was of Lamartine and
Victor Hugo. The superior joined in with them, and for nearly a year
they were the sole topic of our spiritual readings. M. Dupanloup did
not go all the way with the champions of romanticism, but he was much
more with them than against them. Thus it was that I came to know of
the struggles of the day. Later still, the _solvuntur objecta_ of the
theologians enabled me to attain liberty of thought. The thorough
good faith of the ancient ecclesiastical teaching consisted in not
dissimulating the force of any objection, and as the answers were
generally very weak, a clever person could work out the truth for
himself.

I learnt much, too, from the course of lectures on history. Abbé
Richard[2] gave these lectures in the spirit of the modern school
and with marked ability. For some reason or other his lectures were
interrupted, and his place was taken by a tutor, who with many other
engagements on hand, merely read to us some old notes, interspersed
with extracts from modern books. Among these modern volumes, which
often formed a striking contrast with the jog-trot old notes, there
was one which produced a very singular effect upon me. Whenever he
began to read from it I was incapable of taking a single note, my
whole being seeming to thrill with intoxicating harmony. The book was
Michelet's _Histoire de France_, the passages which so affected me
being in the fifth and sixth volumes. Thus the modern age penetrated
into me as through all the fissures of a cracked cement. I had come to
Paris with a complete moral training, but ignorant to the last degree.
I had everything to learn. It was a great surprise for me when I
found that there was such a person as a serious and learned layman.
I discovered that antiquity and the Church are not everything in this
world, and especially that contemporary literature was well worthy of
attention. I ceased to look upon the death of Louis XIV. as marking
the end of the world. I became imbued with ideas and sentiments which
had no expression in antiquity or in the seventeenth century.

So the germ which was in me began to sprout. Distasteful as it was
in many respects to my nature, this education had the effect of a
chemical reagent, and stirred all the life and activity that was in
me. For the essential thing in education is not the doctrine taught,
but the arousing of the faculties. In proportion as the foundations of
my religious faith had been shaken by finding the same names applied
to things so different, so did my mind greedily swallow the new
beverage prepared for it. The world broke in upon me. Despite its
claim to be a refuge to which the stir of the outside world never
penetrated, St. Nicholas was at this period the most brilliant and
worldly house in Paris. The atmosphere of Paris--minus, let me
add, its corruptions--penetrated by door and window; Paris with its
pettiness and its grandeur, its revolutionary force and its lapses
into flabby indifference. My old Brittany priests knew much more Latin
and mathematics than my new masters; but they lived in the catacombs,
bereft of light and air. Here, the atmosphere of the age had free
course. In our walks to Gentilly of an evening we engaged in endless
discussions. I could never sleep of a night after that; my head was
full of Hugo and Lamartine. I understood what glory was after having
vaguely expected to find it in the roof of the chapel at Tréguier. In
the course of a short time a very great revelation was borne in upon
me. The words talent, brilliancy, and reputation, conveyed a meaning
to me. The modest, ideal which my earliest teachers had inculcated
faded away; I had embarked upon a sea agitated by all the storms and
currents of the age. These currents and gales were bound to drive my
vessel towards a coast whither my former friends would tremble to see
me land.

My performances in class were very irregular. Upon one occasion I
wrote an _Alexander_, which must be in the prize exercise book,
and which I would reprint if I had it by me. But purely rhetorical
compositions were very distasteful to me; I could never make a decent
speech. Upon one prize-day we got up a representation of the Council
of Clermont, and the various speeches suitable to the occasion were
allotted by competition. I was a miserable failure as Peter the Hermit
and Urban II.; my Godefroy de Bouillon was pronounced to be utterly
devoid of military ardour. A warlike song in Sapphic and Adonic
stanzas created a more favourable impression. My refrain _Sternite
Turcas_, a short and sharp solution of the Eastern Question, was
selected for recital in public. I was too staid for these childish
proceedings. We were often set to write a Middle Age tale, terminating
with some striking miracle, and I was far too fond of selecting the
cure of lepers. I often thought of my early studies in mathematics,
in which I was pretty well advanced, and I spoke of it to my fellow
students, who were much amused at the idea, for mathematics stood very
low in their estimation, compared to the literary studies which
they looked upon as the highest expression of human intelligence.
My reasoning powers only revealed themselves later, while studying
philosophy at Issy. The first time that my fellow pupils heard me
argue in Latin they were surprised. They saw at once that I was of a
different race from themselves, and that I should still be marching
forward when they had reached the bounds set for them. But in rhetoric
I did not stand so well. I looked upon it as a pure waste of time and
ingenuity to write when one has no thoughts of one's own to express.

The groundwork of ideas upon which education at St. Nicholas was based
was shallow, but it was brilliant upon the surface, and the elevation
of feeling which pervaded the whole system was another notable
feature. I have said that no kind of punishment was administered; or,
to speak more accurately, there was only one, expulsion. Except in
cases where some grave offence had been committed, there was nothing
degrading in being dismissed. No particular reason was alleged, the
superior saying to the student who was sent away: "You are a very
worthy young man, but your intelligence is not of the turn we require.
Let us part friends. Is there any service I can do you?" The favour
of being allowed to share in an education considered to be so
exceptionally good was thought so much of that we dreaded an
announcement of this kind like a sentence of death. This is one of
the secrets of the superiority of ecclesiastical over state colleges;
their _régime_ is much more liberal, for none of the students are
there by right, and coercion must inevitably lead to separation.
There is something cold and hard about the schools and colleges of
the state, while the fact of a student having secured by a competitive
examination an inalienable right to his place in them, is an
infallible source of weakness. For my own part I have never been
able to understand how the master of a normal school, for instance,
manages, inasmuch as he is unable to say, without further explanation,
to the pupils who are unsuited for their vocation: "You have not the
bent of intelligence for our calling, but I have no doubt that you are
a very good lad, and that you will get on better elsewhere. Good-bye."
Even the most trifling punishment implies a servile principle of
obedience from fear. So far as I am myself concerned, I do not think
that at any period of my life I have been obedient. I have, I know,
been docile and submissive, but it has been to a spiritual principle,
not to a material force wielding the dread of punishment. My
mother never ordered me to do a thing. The relations between my
ecclesiastical teachers and myself were entirely free and spontaneous.
Whoever has had experience of this _rationabile obsequium_ cannot put
up with any other. An order is a humiliation whosoever has to obey is
a _capitis minor_ sullied on the very threshold of the higher life.
Ecclesiastical obedience has nothing lowering about it; for it is
voluntary, and those who do not get on together can separate. In one
of my Utopian dreams of an aristocratic society, I have provided that
there should only be one penalty, death; or rather, that all serious
offences should be visited by a reprimand from the recognised
authorities which no man of honour would survive. I should never have
done to be a soldier, for I should either have deserted or committed
suicide. I am afraid that the new military institutions which do
not leave a place for any exceptions or equivalents will have a very
lowering moral effect. To compel every one to obey is fatal to genius
and talent. The man who has passed years in the carriage of arms after
the German fashion is dead to all delicate work whether of the hand or
brain. Thus it is that Germany would be devoid of all talent since she
has been engrossed in military pursuits, but for the Jews, to whom she
is so ungrateful.

The generation which was from fifteen to twenty years of age, at the
brilliant but fleeting epoch of which I am speaking, is now between
fifty-five and sixty. It will be asked whether this generation has
realised the unbounded hopes which the ardent spirit of our great
preceptor had conceived. The answer must unquestionably be in the
negative, for if these hopes had been fulfilled the face of the world
would have been completely changed. M. Dupanloup was too little in
love with his age, and too uncompromising to its spirit, to mould men
in accordance with the temper of the time. When I recall one of these
spiritual readings during which the master poured out the treasures of
his intelligence, the class-room with its serried benches upon which
clustered two hundred lads hushed in attentive respect, and when I set
myself to inquire whither have fled the two hundred souls, so closely
bound together by the ascendency of one man, I count more than one
case of waste and eccentricity; as might be expected, I can count
archbishops, bishops, and other dignitaries of the Church, all to a
certain extent enlightened and moderate in their views. I come upon
diplomatists, councillors of state, and others, whose honourable
careers would in some instances have been more brilliant if Marshal
MacMahon's dismissal of his ministry on the 16th of May, 1877, had
been a success. But, strange to say, I see among those who sat beside
a future prelate a young man destined to sharpen his knife so well
that he will drive it home to his archbishop's heart.... I think I
can remember Verger, and I may say of him as Sachetti said of the
beatified Florentine: _Fu mia vicina, andava come le altre._ The
education given us had its dangers; it had a tendency to produce over
excitement, and to turn the balance of the mind, as it did in Verger's
case.

A still more striking instance of the saying that "the spirit bloweth
where it listeth," was that of H. de ----. When I first entered at
Saint-Nicholas he was the object of my special admiration. He was a
youth of exceptional talent, and he was a long way ahead of all his
comrades in rhetoric. His staid and elevated piety sprung from a
nature endowed with the loftiest aspirations. He quite came up to
our idea of perfection, and according to the custom of ecclesiastical
colleges, in which the senior pupils share the duties of the masters,
the most important of these functions were confided to him. His piety
was equally great for several years at the seminary of St. Sulpice. He
would remain for hours in the chapel, especially on holy days, bathed
in tears. I well remember one summer evening at Gentilly--which was
the country-house of the Petty Seminary of Saint-Nicholas--how we
clustered round some of the senior students and one of the masters
noted for his Christian piety, listening intently to what they told
us. The conversation had taken a very serious turn, the question under
discussion being the ever-enduring problem upon which all Christianity
rests--the question of divine election--the doubt in which each
individual soul must stand until the last hour, whether he will be
saved. The good priest dwelt specially upon this, telling us that no
one can be sure, however great may be the favours which Heaven has
showered upon him, that he will not fall away at the last. "I think,"
he said, "that I have known one case of predestination." There was a
hush, and after a pause he added, "I mean H. de ----; if any one is
sure of being saved it is he. And yet who can tell that H. de ---- is
not a reprobate?" I saw H. de ---- again many years afterwards. He
had in the interval studied the Bible very deeply. I could not tell
whether he was entirely estranged from Christianity, but he no longer
wore the priestly garb, and was very bitter against clericalism. When
I met him later still I found that he had become a convert to extreme
democratic ideas, and with the passionate exaltation which was the
principal trait in his character, he was bent upon inaugurating the
reign of justice. His head was full of America, and I think that he
must be there now. A few years ago one of our old comrades told me
that he had read a name not unlike his among the list of men shot for
participation in the Communist insurrection of 1871. I think that he
was mistaken, but there can be no doubt that the career of poor H. de
---- was shipwrecked by some great storm. His many high qualities were
neutralised by his passionate temper. He was by far the most gifted of
my fellow pupils at Saint-Nicholas. But he had not the good sense
to keep cool in politics. A man who behaved as he did might get shot
twenty times. Idealists like us must be very careful how we play
with those tools. We are very likely to leave our heads or our
wing-feathers behind us. The temptation for a priest who has thrown up
the Church to become a democrat is very strong, beyond doubt, for
by so doing he regains colleagues and friends, and in reality merely
exchanges one sect for another. Such was the fate of Lamennais. One
of the wisest acts of Abbé Loyson has been the resistance of this
temptation and his refusal to accept the advances which the extreme
party always makes to those who have broken away from official ties.

For three years I was subjected to this profound influence, which
brought about a complete transformation in my being. M. Dupanloup
had literally transfigured me. The poor little country lad struggling
vainly to emerge from his shell, had been developed into a young man
of ready and quick intelligence. There was, I know, one thing wanting
in my education, and until that void was filled up I was very cramped
in my powers. The one thing lacking was positive science, the idea
of a critical search after truth. This superficial humanism kept my
reasoning powers fallow for three years, while at the same time it
wore away the early candour of my faith. My Christianity was being
worn away, though there was nothing as yet in my mind which could be
styled doubt. I went every year, during the holidays, into Brittany.
Notwithstanding more than one painful struggle, I soon became my old
self again just as my early masters had fashioned me.

In accordance with the general rule I went, after completing my
rhetoric at Saint-Nicholas du Chardonnet, to Issy, the country
branch of the St. Sulpice seminary. Thus I left M. Dupanloup for an
establishment in which the discipline was diametrically opposed to
that of Saint-Nicholas. The first thing which I was taught at St.
Sulpice was to regard as childish nonsense the very things which M.
Dupanloup had told me to prize the most. What, I was taught, could
be simpler? If Christianity is a revealed truth, should not the chief
occupation of the Christian be the study of that revelation, in other
words of theology? Theology and the study of the Bible absorbed my
whole time, and furnished me with the true reasons for believing in
Christianity and for not adhering to it. For four years a terrible
struggle went on within me, until at last the phrase, which I had long
put away from me as a temptation of the devil, "It is not true," would
not be denied. In describing this inward combat and the Seminary of
St. Sulpice itself, which is further removed from the present age than
if encircled by thousands of leagues of solitude, I will endeavour
also to show how I arose from the direct study of Christianity,
undertaken in the most serious spirit, without sufficient faith to be
a sincere priest, and yet with too much respect for it to permit of my
trifling with faiths so worthy of that respect.


[Footnote 1: A very graphic description of it has been given by
M. Adolphe Morillon in his _Souvenirs de Saint-Nicolas_. Paris.
Licoffre.]

[Footnote 2: See the excellent memoir by M. Fonlon (now Archbishop of
Besançon) upon Abbé Richard.]



THE ISSY SEMINARY.

PART I.


The Petty Seminary of Saint-Nicholas du Chardonnet had no
philosophical course, philosophy being, in accordance with the
division of ecclesiastical studies, reserved for the great seminary.
After having finished my classical education in the establishment so
ably directed by M. Dupanloup, I was, with the students in my class,
passed into the great seminary, which is set apart for an exclusively
ecclesiastical course of teaching. The grand seminary for the diocese
of Paris is St. Sulpice, which consists of two houses, one in
Paris and the other at Issy, where the students devote two years to
philosophy. These two seminaries form, in reality, one. The one is the
outcome of the other, and they are both conjoined at certain times;
the congregation from which the masters are selected is the same. St.
Sulpice exercised so great an influence over me, and so definitely
decided the whole course of my life, that I must perforce sketch its
history, and explain its principles and tendencies, so as to show how
they have continued to be the mainspring of all my intellectual and
moral development.

St. Sulpice owes its origin to one whose name has not attained any
great celebrity, for celebrity rarely seeks out those who make a
point of avoiding notoriety, and whose predominant characteristic is
modesty. Jean-Jacques Olier, member of a family which supplied the
state with many trusty servitors, was the contemporary of, and a
fellow-worker with, Vincent de Paul, Bérulle, Adrien de Bourdoise,
Père Eudes, and Charles de Gondren, founders of congregations for the
reform of ecclesiastical education, who played a prominent part in the
preparatory reforms of the seventeenth century. During the reign of
Henri IV. and in the early years of the reign of Louis XIII.,
the morality of the clergy was at the lowest possible point. The
fanaticism of the League, far from serving to make their morality more
rigorous, had just the contrary effect. Priests thought that because
they shouldered musket and carbine in the good cause they were at
liberty to do as they liked. The racy humour which prevailed during
the reign of Henri IV. was anything but favourable to mysticism. There
was a good side to the outspoken Rabelaisian gaiety which was not
deemed, in that day, incompatible with the priestly calling. In many
ways we prefer the bright and witty piety of Pierre Camus, a friend of
François de Sales, to the rigid and affected attitude which the French
clergy has since assumed, and which has converted them into a sort of
black army, holding aloof from the rest of the world and at war with
it. But there can be no doubt that about the year 1640 the education
of the clergy was not in keeping with the spirit of regularity and
moderation which was becoming more and more the law of the age. From
the most opposite directions came a cry for reform. François de Sales
admitted that he had not been successful in this attempt, and he told
Bourdoise that "after having laboured during seventeen years to train
only three such priests as I wanted to assist me in re-forming
the clergy of my diocese, I have only succeeded in forming one
and-a-half." Following upon him came the men of grave and reasonable
piety whom I named above. By means of congregations of a fresh type,
distinct from the old monkish rules and in some points copied from
the Jesuits, they created the seminary, that is to say the well-walled
nursery in which young clerks could be trained and formed. The
transformation was far extending. The schools of these powerful
teachers of the spiritual life turned out a body of men representing
the best disciplined, the most orderly, the most national, and it
maybe added, the most highly educated clergy ever seen--a clergy which
illustrated the second half of the seventeenth century and the whole
of the eighteenth, and the last of whose representatives have only
disappeared within the last forty years. Concurrently with these
exertions of orthodox piety arose Port-Royal, which was far superior
to St. Sulpice, to St. Lazare, to the Christian doctrine, and even
to the Oratoire, as regarded consistency in reasoning and talent in
writing, but which lacked the most essential of Catholic virtues,
docility. Port-Royal, like Protestantism, passed through every phase
of misfortune. It was distasteful to the majority, and was always in
opposition. When you have excited the antipathy of your country you
are too often led to take a dislike to your country. The persecuted
one is doubly to be pitied, for, in addition to the suffering which he
endures, persecution affects him morally; it rarely fails to warp the
mind and to shrink the heart.

Olier occupies a place apart in this group of Catholic reformers. His
mysticism is of a kind peculiar to himself. His _Cathéchisme chrétien
pour la Vie intérieure_, which is scarcely ever read outside
St. Sulpice, is a most remarkable book, full of poesy and sombre
philosophy, wavering from first to last between Louis de Léon and
Spinoza. Olier's ideal of the Christian life is what he calls "the
state of death."

"What is the state of death?--It is a state during which the heart
cannot be moved to its depths, and though the world displays to it its
beauties, its honours, and its riches, the effect is the same as if it
offered them to a corpse, which remains motionless, and devoid of all
desire, insensible to all that goes on.... The corpse may be agitated
outwardly, and have some movement of the body; but this agitation
is all on the surface; it does not come from the inner man, which is
without life, vigour, or strength. Thus a soul which is dead within
may easily be attached by external things and be disturbed outwardly;
but in its inner self it remains dead and motionless to whatever may
happen."

Nor is this all. Olier imagines as far superior to the state of death
the state of burial.

"Death retains the appearance of the world and of the flesh; the dead
man seems to be still a part of Adam. He is now and again moved; he
continues to afford the world some pleasure. But the buried body is
forgotten, and no longer ranks with men. He is noisome and horrible;
he is bereft of all that pleases the eye; he is trodden under foot in
a cemetery without compunction, so convinced is every one that he is
nothing, and that he is rooted from among the number of men."

The sombre fancies of Calvin are as Pelagian optimism compared to
the horrible nightmares which original sin evokes in the brain of the
pious recluse.

"Could you add anything to drive more closely home the conception as
to how the flesh is only sin? It is so completely sin that it is all
intent and motion towards sin, and even to every kind of sin; so much
so, that if the Holy Ghost did not restrain our souls and succour us
with His grace, it would be carried away by all the inclinations of
the flesh, all of which tend to sin.

"What is then the flesh?--It is the effect of sin; it is the principle
of sin.

"If that is so, how comes it that you did not fall away every hour
into sin?--It is the mercy of God which keeps us from it.... I am,
therefore, indebted to God if I do not commit every kind of
sin?--Yes ... this is the general feeling of the saints, because the flesh
is drawn down towards sin by such a heavy weight that God alone can
prevent it from falling.

"But will you kindly tell me something more about this?--All I can
tell you is that there is no conceivable kind of sin, no imperfection,
disorder, error, or unruliness of which the flesh is not full, just
as there is no levity, folly, or stupidity of which the flesh is not
capable at any moment.

"What, I should be mad, and comport myself like a madman in the
highways and byways, but for the help of God?--That is a small matter,
and a question of common decency; but you must know that without
the grace of God and the virtue of His Spirit, there is no impurity,
meanness, infamy, drunkenness, blasphemy, or other kind of sin to
which man would not give himself over.

"The flesh is very corrupt then?--You see that it is.

"I cannot wonder therefore that you tell us we must hate our flesh and
hold our own bodies in horror; and that man, in his present condition,
is fated to be accursed, vilified and persecuted.--No, I can no longer
feel surprise at this. In truth, there is no form of misfortune and
suffering but which he may expect his flesh to bring down upon him.
You are right; all the hatred, malediction, and persecution which
beset the demon must also beset the flesh and all its motions.

"There is, then, no extremity of insult too great to be put up with
and to be looked upon as deserved?--No.

"Contempt, insult, and calumny should not then disturb our peace of
mind?--No. We should behave like the saint of former days, who was led
to the scaffold for a crime which he had not committed, and from which
he would not attempt to exculpate himself, as he said to himself that
he should have been guilty of this crime and of many far worse but for
the preventing grace of God.

"Men, angels, and God Himself ought, therefore to persecute us without
ceasing? Yes, so it ought to be.

"What! do you mean to say that sinners ought to be poor and bereft of
everything, like the demons?--Yes, and more than that. Sinners ought
to be placed under an interdict in regard to all their corporal and
spiritual faculties, and bereft of all the gifts of God."

A hero of Christian humility, Olier was acting as he thought for the
best in making a mock of human nature and dragging it through the
mire. He had visions, and was favoured with inner revelations of which
the autographic account, written for his director, is still at St.
Sulpice. He stops short in his writing to make such reflections as
these: "My courage is at times utterly cast down when I see what
impertinences I have been writing. They must, I think, be a great
waste of time for my good director, whom I am afraid of amusing. I
pity him for having to spend his time in reading them, and it seems
to me that he ought to stop my writing this intolerable frivolity and
impertinence."

But Olier, like nearly all the mystics, was not merely a strange
dreamer, but a powerful organizer. Entering very young into holy
orders, he was appointed, through the influence of his family, priest
of the parish of St. Sulpice, which was then attached to the Abbey of
Saint-Germain des Près. His tender and susceptible piety took umbrage
at many things which had hitherto been looked upon as harmless--for
instance, at a tavern situated in the charnel-house of the church and
frequented by the choristers. His ideal was a clergy after his own
image--pious, zealous, and attached to their duties. Many other
saintly personages were labouring towards the same end, but Olier set
to work in very original fashion. Adrien de Bourdoise alone took the
same view as he did of ecclesiastical reform. What was truly novel in
the idea of these two founders was to try and effect the improvement
of the secular clergy by means of institutions for priests mixing
with the world and combining the cure of souls with the training of
students for the Church.

Olier and Bourdoise accordingly, while carrying on the work of reform,
and becoming heads of religious congregations, remained parish priests
of St. Sulpice and Saint-Nicholas du Chardonnet. The seminary had its
origin in the assembling together of the priests into communities, and
these communities became schools of clericalism, homes in which
young men destined for the Church were piously trained for it.
What facilitated the creation of these establishments and made them
innocuous to the state was that they had no resident tutors. All the
theological tutors were at the Sorbonne, and the young men from St.
Sulpice and St. Nicholas, who were studying theology, went there for
their lectures. Thus the system of teaching remained national and
common to all. The seclusion of the seminary only applied to the
moral discipline and religious duties. This was the equivalent of the
practice now prevalent among the boarding-schools which send their
pupils to the Lycée. There was only one course of theology in Paris,
and that was the official one at the Faculty. The work in the interior
of the seminary was confined to repetitions and lectures. It is true
that this rule soon became obsolete. I have heard it said by old
students of St. Sulpice that towards the end of last century they went
very little to the Sorbonne, that the general opinion was that there
was little to be learnt there, and that the private lessons in
the seminary quite took the place of the official lecture. This
organisation was very similar, as may be seen, to that which now
obtains in the Normal School and regulates its relations with the
Sorbonne. Subsequent to the Concordat the whole of the education of
the seminaries was given within the walls. Napoleon did not think it
worth while to revive the monopoly of the Theological Faculty. This
could only have been effected by obtaining from the Court of Rome a
canonical institution, and this the Imperial Government did not care
to have. M. Emery, moreover, took good care never to suggest such a
step. He had anything but a favourable recollection of the old system,
and very much preferred keeping his young men under his own control.
The lectures _intra muros_ thus became the regular course of teaching.
Nevertheless, as change is a thing unknown at St. Sulpice, the old
names remain what they were. The seminary has no professors; all the
members of the congregation have the uniform title of director.

The company founded by Olier retained until the Revolution its repute
for modesty and practical virtue. Its achievements in theology were
somewhat insignificant, as it had not the lofty independence of
Port-Royal. It went too far into Molinism, and did not avoid the
paltry meanness which is, so to speak, the outcome of the rigid
ideas of the orthodox and a set-off against his good qualities. The
ill-humour of Saint Simon against these pious priests is, however,
carried too far. They were, in the great ecclesiastical army, the
noncommissioned officers and drill-sergeants, and it would have been
absurd to expect from them the high breeding of general officers. The
company exercised through its numerous provincial houses a decisive
influence upon the education of the French clergy, while in Canada
it acquired a sort of religious suzerainty which harmonised very well
with the English rule--so well-disposed towards ancient rights and
custom, and which has lasted down to our own day.

The Revolution did not have any effect upon St. Sulpice. A man of cool
and resolute character, such as the company always numbered among its
members, reconstructed it upon the very same basis. M. Emery, a
very learned and moderately Gallican priest, so completely gained
Napoleon's confidence that be obtained from him the necessary
authorisations. He would have been very much surprised if he had been
told that the fact of making such a demand was a base concession to
the civil power, and a sort of impiety. Thus things recurred to their
old groove as they were before the Revolution, the door moved on its
old hinges, and as from Olier to the Revolution there had not been
any change, the seventeenth century had still a resting-place in one
corner of Paris.

St. Sulpice continued amid surroundings so different, to be what it
had always been before--moderate and respectful towards the civil
power, and to hold aloof from politics.[1] With its legal status
thoroughly assured, thanks to the judicious measures taken by M.
Emery, St. Sulpice was blind to all that went on in the world outside.
After the Revolution of 1830, there was some little stir in the
college. The echo of the heated discussions of the day sometimes
pierced its walls, and the speeches of M. Mauguin--I am sure I don't
know why--were special favourites with the junior students. One of
them took an opportunity of reading to the superior, M. Duclaux, an
extract from a debate which had struck him as being more violent than
usual. The old priest, wrapped up in his own reflections, had scarcely
listened. When the student had finished, he awoke from his lethargy,
and shaking him by the hand, observed: "It is very clear, my lad, that
these men do not say their orisons." The remark has often recalled
itself to me of late in connection with certain speeches. What a light
is let in upon many points by the fact that M. Clémenceau does not
probably say his orisons!

These imperturbable old men were very indifferent to what went on
in the world, which to their mind was a barrel-organ continually
repeating the same tune. Upon one occasion there was a good deal of
commotion upon the Place St. Sulpice, and one of the professors, whose
feelings were not so well under control as those of his colleagues,
wanted them all "to go to the chapel and die in a body." "I don't
see the use of that," was the reply of one of his colleagues, and the
professors continued their constitutional walk under the colonnade of
the courtyard.

Amid the religious difficulties of the time, the priests of St.
Sulpice preserved an equally neutral and sagacious attitude, the only
occasions upon which they betrayed anything like warmth of feeling
being when the episcopal authority was threatened. They soon found out
the spitefulness of M. de Lamennais, and would have nothing to do with
him. The theological romanticism of Lacordaire and of Montalembert was
not much more appreciated by them, the dogmatic ignorance and the very
weak reasoning powers of this school indisposing them against it. They
were fully alive to the danger of Catholic journalism. Ultramontanism
they at first looked upon as merely a convenient method of appealing
to a distant and often ill-informed authority from one nearer at hand,
and less easy to inveigle. The older members, who had gone
through their studies at the Sorbonne before the Revolution, were
uncompromising partisans of the four propositions of 1682. Bossuet
was their oracle on every point. One of the most respected of the
directors, M. Boyer, had, while at Rome, a long argument with Pope
Gregory XVI. upon the Gallican propositions. He asserted that the Pope
could not answer his arguments. He detracted, it is true, from the
significance of his success by admitting that no one in Rome took him
_au sérieux_, and the residents in the Vatican made sport of him as
being "an antediluvian." It is a pity-that they did not pay more heed
to what he said. A complete change took place about 1840. The older
members whose training dated from before the Revolution were dead,
and the younger ones nearly all rallied to the doctrine of papal
infallibility; but there was, despite of that, a great gulf between
these Ultramontanes of the eleventh hour and the impetuous deriders
of Scholasticism and the Gallican Church who were enrolled under the
banner of Lamennais. St. Sulpice never went so far as they did in
trampling recognised rules under foot.

It cannot be denied that mingled with all this there was a certain
amount of antipathy against talent, and of resentment at interference
with the routine of the schoolmen disturbed in their old-fashioned
doctrines by troublesome innovators. But there was at the same time
a good deal of practical tact in the rules followed by these prudent
directors. They saw the danger of being more royalist than the king,
and they knew how easy was the transition from one extreme to the
other. Men less exempt than they were, from anything like vanity,
would have exulted when Lamennais, the master of these brilliant
paradoxes, who had represented them as being guilty of heresy and
lukewarmness for the Holy See, himself became a heretic, and accused
the Church of Rome of being the tomb of human souls and the mother of
error. Age must not attempt to ape the ways of youth under penalty of
being treated with disrespect.

It is on account of this frankness that St. Sulpice represents all
that is most upright in religion. No attenuation of the dogmas of
Scripture was allowed at St. Sulpice; the fathers, the councils, and
the doctors were looked upon as the sources of Christianity. Proof
of the divinity of Christ was not sought in Mohammed or the battle of
Marengo. These theological buffooneries, which by force of impudence
and eloquence extorted admiration in Notre-Dame, had no such effect
upon these serious-minded Christians. They never thought that the
dogma had any need to be toned down, veiled, or dressed up to suit
the taste of modern France. They showed themselves deficient in the
critical faculty in supposing that the Catholicism of the theologians
was the self-same religion of Jesus and the prophets; but they did not
invent for the use of the worldly, a Christianity revised and adapted
to their ideas. This is why the serious study--may I even add, the
reform--of Christianity is more likely to proceed from St. Sulpice
than from the teachings of M. Lacordaire or M. Gratry, and _a
fortiori_, from that of M. Dupanloup, in which all its doctrines are
toned down, contorted, and blunted; in which Christianity is never
represented as it was conceived by the Council of Trent or the Vatican
Council, but as a thing without frame or bone, and with all its
essence taken from it. The conversions which are made by preaching of
this kind do no good either to religion or to the mind. Conversions of
this kind do not make Christians, but they warp the mind and unfit men
for public business. There is nothing so mischievous as the vague; it
is even worse than what is false. "Truth," as Bacon has well observed,
"is derived from error rather than from confusion."

Thus, amid the pretentious pathos which in our day has found its way
into the Christian Apologia, has been preserved a school of solid
doctrine, averse to all show and repugnant to success. Modesty has
ever been the special attribute of the Company of St. Sulpice; this is
why it has never attached any importance to literature, excluding it
almost entirely. The rule of the St. Sulpice Company is to publish
everything anonymously, and to write in the most unpretending
and retiring style possible. They see clearly the vanity, and the
drawbacks of talent, and they will have none of it. The word which
best characterises them is mediocrity, but then their mediocrity
is systematic and self-planned. Michelet has described the alliance
between the Jesuits and the Sulpicians as "a marriage between death
and vacuum." This is no doubt true, but Michelet failed to see that
in this case the vacuum is loved for its own sake. There is something
touching about a vacuum created by men who will not think for fear of
thinking ill. Literary error is in their eyes the most dangerous of
errors, and it is just on this account that they excel in the true
style of writing. St. Sulpice is now the only place where, as
formerly at Port-Royal, the style of writing possesses that absolute
forgetfulness of form which is the proof of sincerity. It never
occurred to the masters that among their pupils must be a writer or an
orator. The principle which they insisted upon the most earnestly was
never to make any reference to self, and if one had anything to say,
to say it plainly and in undertones. It was all very well for you, my
worthy masters, with that total ignorance of the world which does
you so much honour, to take this view; but if you knew how little
encouragement the world gives to modesty, you would see how difficult
it is for literature to act up to your principles. What would modesty
have done for M. de Chateaubriand? You were right to be severe upon
the stagey ways of a theology reduced so low as to bid for applause
by resorting to worldly tactics. But what does one ever hear of your
theology? It has only one defect, but that is a serious one; it is
dead. Your literary principles were like the rhetoric of Chrysippus,
of which Cicero said that it was excellent for teaching the way of
silence. Whoever speaks or writes for the public ear or eye must
inevitably be bent upon succeeding. The great thing is not to make
any sacrifice in order to attain that success, and this is what your
serious, upright and honest teaching inculcated to perfection.

In this way St. Sulpice with its contempt for literature is perforce
a capital school for style, the fundamental rule of which is to
have solely in view the thought which it is wished to inculcate, and
therefore to have a thought in the mind. This was far more valuable
than the rhetoric of M. Dupanloup, and the teaching of the new
Catholic school. At St. Sulpice, the main substance of a matter
excluded all other considerations. Theology was of prime importance
there, and if the way in which the studies were shaped was somewhat
deficient in vigour, this was because the general tendency of
Catholicism, especially in France, is not in the direction of very
high and sustained efforts. St. Sulpice has, however, in our time
turned out a theologian like M. Carrière, whose vast labours are in
many respects remarkable for their depth; men of erudition like M.
Gosselin and M. Faillon, whose conscientious researches are of great
value, and philologists like M. Garnier, and especially M. Le Hir, the
only eminent masters in the field of ecclesiastical critique whom the
Catholic school in France has turned out.

But it is not to results such as these that the teachers of St.
Sulpice attach the highest value. St. Sulpice is, above all, a school
of virtue. It is chiefly in respect to virtue that St. Sulpice is
a remnant of the past, a fossil two hundred years old. Many of my
opinions surprise the outside world, because they have not seen what
I have. At Sulpice I have seen, allied as I admit, with very narrow
views, the perfection of goodness, politeness, modesty, and sacrifice
of self. There is enough virtue in St. Sulpice to govern the
whole world, and this fact has made me very discriminating in my
appreciation of what I have seen elsewhere. I have never met but one
man in the present age who can bear comparison with the Sulpicians,
that is M. Damiron, and those who knew him, know what the Sulpicians
were. A future generation will never be able to realise what treasures
to be expended in improving the welfare of mankind, are stored up in
these ancient schools of silence, gravity and respect.

Such was the establishment in which I spent four years at the most
critical period of my life. I was quite in my element there. While
the majority of my fellow-students, weakened by the somewhat insipid
classical teaching of M. Dupanloup, could not fairly settle down to
the divinity of the schools, I at once took a liking for its bitter
flavour; I became as fond of it as a monkey is of nuts. The grave
and kindly priests, with their strong convictions and good desires
reminded me of my early teachers in Lower Brittany. Saint-Nicholas du
Chardonnet and its superficial rhetoric I came to look upon as a mere
digression of very doubtful utility. I came to realities from words,
and I set seriously to study and analyse in its smallest details the
Christian Faith which I more than ever regarded as the centre of all
truth.


[Footnote 1: I am speaking of the years from 1842 to 1845. I believe
that it is the same still.]



THE ISSY SEMINARY.

PART II.


As I have already explained, the two years of philosophy which serve
as an introduction to the study of theology are spent, not in Paris,
but at the country house of Issy, situated in the village of that name
outside Paris, just beyond the last houses of Vaugirard. The seminary
is a very long building at one end of a large park, and the only
remarkable feature about it is the central pavilion, which is so
delicate and elegant in style that it will at once take the eye of a
connoisseur. This pavilion was the suburban residence of Marguerite
de Valois, the first wife of Henri IV., between the year 1606 and her
death in 1615. This clever but not very strait-laced princess (upon
whom, however, we need not be harder than was he who had the best
right to be so) gathered around her the clever men of the day, and
the _Petit Olympe d'Issy,_ by Michel Bouteroue,[1] gives a good
description of this bright and witty court. The verses are as follows:

  Je veux d'un excellent ouvrage,
  Dedans un portrait racourcy,
  Représenter le païsage
  Du petit Olympe d'Issy,
  Pourven que la grande princesse,
  La perle et fleur de l'univers,
  A qui cest ouvrage s'addresse,
  Veuille favoriser mes vers.

  Que l'ancienne poésie
  Ne vante plus en ses écrits
  Les lauriers du Daphné d'Asie
  Et les beaux jardins de Cypris,
  Les promenoirs et le bocage
  Du Tempé frais et ombragé,
  Qui parut lors qu'un marescage
  En la mer se fut deschargé.

  Qa'on ne vante plus la Touraine
  Pour son air doux et gracieux,
  Ny Chenonceaus, qui d'une reyne
  Fut le jardin délicieux,
  Ny le Tivoly magnifique
  Où, d'un artifice nouveau,
  Se faict une douce musique
  Des accords du vent et de l'eau.

  Issy, de beauté les surpasse
  En beaux jardins et prés herbus,
  Dignes d'estre au lieu de Parnasse
  Le séjour des soeurs de Phébus.
  Mainte belle source ondoyante,
  Découlant de cent lieux divers,
  Maintient sa terre verdoyante
  Et ses arbrisseaux toujours verds.

       *       *       *       *       *

  Un vivier est à l'advenüe
  Près la porte de ce verger,
  Qui, par une sente cognüe,
  En l'estang se va descharger;
  Comme on voit les grandes rivières
  Se perdre au giron de la mer,
  Ainsi ces sources fontenières
  En l'estang se vont renfermer.

       *       *       *       *       *

  Une autre mare plus petite,
  Si l'on retourne vers le mont,
  Par l'ombre de son boys invite
  De passer sur un petit pont,
  Pour aller au lieu de delices,
  Au plus doux séjour du plaisir,
  Des mignardises, des blandices,
  Du doux repos et du loysir.

After the death of Queen Marguerite, the house was sold and it
belonged in turn to several Parisian families which occupied it until
1655. Olier turned it to more pious uses than it had known before,
by inhabiting it during the last few years of his life. M. de
Bretonvilliers, his successor, gave it to the Company of St. Sulpice
as a branch for the Paris house. The little pavilion of Queen
Marguerite was not in any way changed, except that the paintings
on the walls were slightly modified. The Venuses were changed into
Virgins, and the Cupids into angels, while the emblematic paintings
with Spanish mottoes in the interstices were left untouched, as they
did not shock the proprieties. A very fine room, the walls of which
were covered with paintings of a secular character, was whitewashed
about half a century ago, but they would perhaps be found uninjured if
this was washed off. The park to which Bouteroue refers in his poem
is unchanged; except that several statues of holy persons have been
placed in it. An arbour with an inscription and two busts marks the
spot where Bossuet and Fénelon, M. Tronson and M. de Noailles had
long conferences upon the subject of Quietism, and agreed upon the
thirty-four articles of the spiritual life, styled the Issy Articles.

Further on, at the end of an avenue of high trees, near the little
cemetery of the Company, is a reproduction of the inside of the Santa
Casa of Loretta, which is a favourite spot with the residents in the
seminary, and which is decorated with the emblematic paintings of
which they are so fond. I can still see the mystical rose, the tower
of ivory, and the gate of gold, before which I have passed many a long
morning in a state betwixt sleep and waking. _Hortus conclusus, fons
signatus_, very plainly represented by means of what may be
described as mural miniatures, excited my curiosity very much, but my
imagination was too chaste to carry my thoughts beyond the limits
of pious wonder. I am afraid that this beautiful park has been sadly
injured by the war and the Communist insurrection of 1870--71. It was
for me, after the cathedral of Tréguier, the first cradle of thought.
I used to pass whole hours under the shade of its trees, seated on a
stone bench with a book in my hand. It was there that I acquired
not only a good deal of rheumatism, but a great liking for our damp
autumnal nature in the north of France. If, later in life, I have been
charmed by Mount Hermon, and the sunheated slopes of the Anti-Lebanon,
it is due to the polarisation which is the law of love and which leads
us to seek out our opposites. My first ideal is a cool Jansenist bower
of the seventeenth century, in October, with the keen impression of
the air and the searching odour of the dying leaves. I can never
see an old-fashioned French house in the Seine-et-Oise or the
Seine-et-Marne, with its trim fenced gardens, without calling up to
my mind the austere books which were in bygone days read beneath the
shade of their walks. Deep should be our pity for those who have never
been moved to these melancholy thoughts, and who have not realised how
many sighs have been heaved ere joy came into our heart.

The mutual footing upon which masters and students at St. Sulpice
stand is a very tolerant one. There is not beyond doubt a single
establishment in the world where the student has more liberty. At St.
Sulpice in Paris, a student might pass his three years without having
any close communication with a single one of the superiors. It is
assumed that the _régime_ of the establishment will be self-acting.
The superiors lead just the same life as the students, and intervene
as little as possible. A student who is anxious to work has the
greatest of facilities for doing so. On the other hand, those who
are inclined to be idle have no compulsion to work put upon them;
and there are very many in this case. The examinations are very
insignificant in scope; there is not the least attempt at competition,
and if there was it would be discouraged, though when we remember that
the age of the students averages between eighteen and twenty, this is
carrying the doctrine of non-intervention too far. It is beyond
doubt very prejudicial to learning. But after all said and done, this
unqualified respect for liberty and the treating as grown-up men of
the lads who are already in spirit set apart for the priesthood,
are the only proper rules to follow in the delicate task of training
youths for what is in the eye of the Christian the most exalted of
callings. I am myself of opinion that the same rule might be applied
with advantage to the department of Public Instruction, and that the
Normal School more especially might in some particulars take example
by it.

The superior at Issy, during my stay there, was M. Gosselin, one of
the most amiable and polite men I have ever known. He was a member of
one of those old bourgeois families which, without being affiliated
to the Jansenists, were not less deeply attached than the latter to
religion. His mother, to whom he bore a great likeness, was still
alive, and he was most devoted in his respectful regard for her. He
was very fond of recalling the first lessons in politeness which
she gave him somewhere about 1796. He had accustomed himself in his
childhood to adopt a usage which it was at that time dangerous to
repudiate, and to use the word citizen instead of monsieur. As soon as
mass began to be celebrated after the Revolution, his mother took him
with her to church. They were nearly the only persons in the church,
and his mother bade him go and offer to act as acolyte to the
priest. The boy went up timidly to the priest, and with a blush said,
"Citizen, will you allow me to serve mass for you?" "What are you
saying!" exclaimed his mother; "you should never use the word citizen
to a priest." His affability and kindness were beyond all praise. He
was very delicate, and only attained an advanced age by exercising the
strictest care over himself. His engaging features, wan and delicate,
his slender body, which did not half fill the folds of his cassock,
his exquisite cleanliness, the result of habits contracted in
childhood, his hollow temples, the outlines of which were so clearly
marked behind the loose silk skull-cap which he always wore, made up a
very taking picture.

M. Gosselin was more remarkable for his erudition than his theology.
He was a safe critic within the limits of an orthodoxy which he never
thought of questioning, and he was placid to a degree. His _Histoire
Littéraire de Fénelon_ is a much esteemed work, and his treatise on
the power of the Pope over the sovereign in the Middle Ages[2] is
full of research. It was written at a time when the works of Voigt and
Hurter revealed to the Catholics the greatness of the Roman pontiffs
in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This greatness was rather an
awkward obstacle for the Gallicans, as there could be no doubt that
the conduct of Gregory VII. and Innocent III. was not at all in
conformity with the maxims of 1682. M. Gosselin thought that by means
of a principle of public law, accepted in the Middle Ages, he had
solved all the difficulties which these imposing narratives place in
the way of theologians. M. Carrière was rather inclined to laugh at
his sanguine ideas, and compared his efforts to those of an old woman
who tries to thread her needle by holding it tight between the lamp
and her spectacles. At last the cotton passes so close to the eye of
the needle that she says "I have done it now!"--'Not so, though she
was scarcely a hairsbreadth off; but still she must begin again.

At my own inclination, and the advice of Abbé Tresvaux, a pious and
learned Breton priest who was vicar-general to M. de Quélen, I chose
M. Gosselin for my tutor, and I have retained a most affectionate
recollection of him. No one could have shown more benevolence,
cordiality and respect for a young man's conscience. He left me in
possession of unrestricted liberty. Recognising the honesty of my
character, the purity of my morals and the uprightness of my mind, it
never occurred to him for a moment that I could be led to feel doubt
upon subjects about which he himself had none. The great number of
young ecclesiastics who had passed through his hands had somewhat
weakened his powers of diagnosis. He classed his students wholesale,
and I will, as I proceed, explain how one who was not my tutor read
far more clearly into my conscience than he did, or than I did myself.
Two of the other tutors, M. Gottofrey, one of the professors of
philosophy, and M. Pinault, professor of mathematics and natural
philosophy, were in every respect a contrast to M. Gosselin. The first
named, a young priest of about seven and twenty, was, I believe, only
half a Frenchman by descent. He had the bright rosy complexion of
a young Englishwoman, with large eyes which had a melancholy candid
look. He was the most extraordinary instance which can be conceived of
suicide through mystical orthodoxy. He would certainly have made, if
he had cared to do so, an accomplished man of the world, and I have
never known any one who would have been a greater favourite with
women. He had within him an infinite capacity for loving. He felt that
he had been highly gifted in this way; and then he set to work, in
a sort of blind fury, to annihilate himself. It seemed as if he
discerned Satan in those graces which God had so liberally bestowed
upon him. He boiled with inward anger at the sight of his own
comeliness; he was like a shell within which a puny evil genius
was ever busy in crushing the inner pearl. In the heroic ages of
Christianity, he would have sought out the keen agony of martyrdom,
but failing that he paid such constant court to death that she, whom
alone he loved, embraced him at last. He went out to Canada, and the
cholera which raged at Montreal gave him an excellent opportunity for
attaining his end. He nursed the sick with eager joy and died.

I have always thought that there must have been a hidden romance
in the life of M. Gottofrey, and that he had undergone some
disappointment in love. He had perhaps expected too much from it, and
finding that it was not boundless, had broken it as he would an idol.
At all events he was not one of those who, knowing how to love have
not known how to die. At times I fancy that I can see him in heaven
amid the hosts of rosy-hued angels which Correggio loved to paint: at
others, I imagine that the woman whom he might have taught to love
him to distraction is scourging him through all eternity. Where he was
unjust was in making his reason, which was in nowise to blame, suffer
for the perturbation of his uneasy nature (or spirit). He practised
the studied absurdity of Tertullian and emulated the exaltation of
St. Paul. His lectures on philosophy were an absolute travesty, as his
contempt for philosophy was made apparent in every sentence; and
M. Gosselin, who set great value upon the divinity of the schools,
quietly endeavoured to counteract his teaching. But fanaticism does
not always prevent people from being clear-sighted. M. Gottofrey
noticed something peculiar about me, and he detected that which had
escaped the paternal optimism of M. Gosselin. He stirred my conscience
to its very depths, as I shall presently explain, and with an
unrelenting hand tore asunder all the bandages with which I had
disguised even from myself the wounds of a faith already severely
stricken.

M. Pinault was very much like M. Littré in respect to his concentrated
passion and the originality of his ways. If M. Littré had received a
Catholic education, he would have gone to the extreme of mysticism; if
M. Pinault had not received a Catholic education he would have been
a revolutionist and positivist. Men of their stamp always go to
one extreme or another. The very physiognomy of M. Pinault arrested
attention. Eaten up by rheumatism, he seemed to embody in his person
all the ways in which a body may be contorted from its proper shape.
Ugly as he was, there was a marked expression of vigour about his
face; but in direct contrast to M. Gosselin, he was deplorably lacking
in cleanliness. While he was lecturing he would use his old cloak and
the sleeves of his cassock as if it were a duster to wipe up anything;
and his skull-cap, lined with cotton wool to protect him from
neuralgia, formed a very ugly border round his head. With all that he
was full of passion and eloquence, somewhat sarcastic at times, but
witty and incisive. He had little literary culture, but he often came
out with some unexpected sally. You could feel that his was a
powerful individuality which faith kept under due control, but which
ecclesiastical discipline had not crushed. He was a saint, but had
very little of the priest and nothing of the Sulpician about him. He
did violence to the prime rule of the Company, which is to renounce
anything approaching talent and originality, and to be pliant to the
discipline which enjoys a general mediocrity.

M. Pinault had at first been professor of mathematics in the
university. In associating himself with studies which, in our
view, are incompatible with faith in the supernatural and fervent
catholicism, he did no more than M. Cauchy, who was at once a
mathematician of the first order and a more fervent believer than
many members of the Academy of Sciences who are noted for their piety.
Christianity is alleged to be a supernatural historical fact. The
historical sciences can be made to show--and to my mind, beyond the
possibility of contradiction--that it is not a supernatural fact, and
that there never has been such a thing as a supernatural fact. We do
not reject miracles upon the ground of _a priori_ reasoning, but upon
the ground of critical and historical reasoning, we have no difficulty
in proving that miracles do not happen in the nineteenth century, and
that the stones of miraculous events said to have taken place in our
day are based upon imposture and credulity. But the evidence in favour
of the so-called miracles of the last three centuries, or even of
those in the Middle Ages, is weaker still; and the same may be said
of those dating from a still earlier period, for the further back one
goes, the more difficult does it become to prove a supernatural fact.
In order thoroughly to understand this, you must have been accustomed
to textual criticism and the historical method, and this is just what
mathematics do not give. Even in our own day, we have seen an eminent
mathematician fall into blunders which the slightest knowledge of
historical science would have enabled him to avoid. M. Pinault's
religious belief was so keen that he was anxious to become a priest.
He was allowed to do very little in the way of theology, and he was
at first attached to the science courses which in the programme of
ecclesiastical studies are the necessary accompaniment of the two
years of philosophy. He would have been out of place at St. Sulpice
with his lack of theological knowledge and the ardent mysticism of his
imagination. But at Issy, where he associated with very young men who
had not studied the texts, he soon acquired considerable influence. He
was the leader of those who were full of ardent piety--the "mystics,"
as they are now called. All of them treated him as their director, and
they formed, as it were, a school apart, from which the profane were
excluded, and which had its own important secrets. A very powerful
auxiliary of this party was the lay doorkeeper of the college, Père
Hanique, as we called him. I always excite the wonder of the realists
when I tell them that I have seen with my own eyes, a type which,
owing to their scanty knowledge of human society, has never come
beneath their notice, viz., the sublime conception of a hall-porter
who has reached the most transcendent limits of speculation. Hanique
in his humble lodge was almost as great a man as M. Pinault. Those who
aimed at saintliness of life consulted him and looked up to him. His
simplicity of mind was contrasted with the savant's coldness of soul,
and he was adduced as an instance that the gifts of God are absolutely
free. All this created a deep division of feeling in the college. The
mystics worked themselves up to such a pitch of mental tension that
several of them died, but this only increased the frenzy of the
others. M. Gosselin had too much tact to offer them a direct
opposition, but for all that, there were two distinct parties in the
college, the mystics acting under the immediate guidance of M. Pinault
and Père Hanique, while the "good fellows" (as we modestly entitled
ourselves) were guided by the simple, upright, and good Christian
counsels of M. Gosselin. This division of opinion was scarcely
noticeable among the masters. Nevertheless, M. Gosselin, disliking
anything in the way of singularities or novelties, often looked
askance at certain eccentricities. During recreation time he made a
point of conversing in a gay and almost worldly tone, in contrast
to the fine frenzy which M. Pinault always imported into his
observations. He did not like Père Hanique and would not listen to
any praise of him, perhaps because he felt the impropriety of a
hall-porter being taken out of his place and set up as an authority
on theology. He condemned and prohibited the reading of several books
which were favourites with the mystical set, such as those of Marie
d'Agreda. There was something very singular about M. Pinault's
lectures, as he did not make any effort to conceal his contempt for
the sciences which he taught and for the human intelligence at large.
At times he would nearly go to sleep over his class, and altogether
gave his pupils anything but a stimulus to work; and yet with all that
he still had in him remnants of the scientific spirit which he had
failed to destroy. At times he had extraordinary flashes of genius,
and some of his lectures on natural history have been one of the bases
of my philosophical strain of thought. I am much indebted to him, but
the instinct for learning which is in me, and which will, I trust,
remain alive until the day of my death, would not admit of my
remaining long in his set. He liked me well enough, but made no effort
to attract me to him. His fiery spirit of apostleship could not brook
my easy-going ways, and my disinclination for research. Upon one
occasion he found me sitting in one of the walks, reading Clarke's
treatise upon the _Existence of God_. As usual, I was wrapped up in a
heavy coat. "Oh! the nice little fellow," he said, "how beautifully he
is wrapped up. Do not interfere with him. He will always be the same.
Fie will ever be studying, and when he should be attending to the
charge of souls he will be at it still. Well wrapped up in his cloak,
he will answer those who come to call him away: 'Leave me alone, can't
you?'" He saw that his remark had gone home. I was confused but not
converted, and as I made no reply, he pressed my hand and added, with
a slight touch of irony, "He will be a little Gosselin."

M. Pinault, there can be no question, was far above M. Gosselin in
respect to his natural force and the hardihood with which he took
up certain views. Like another Diogenes, he saw how hollow and
conventional were a host of things which my worthy director regarded
as articles of faith. But he did not shake me for a moment. I have
never ceased to put faith in the intelligence of man. M. Gosselin,
by his confidence in scholasticism, confirmed me in my rationalism,
though not to so great an extent as M. Manier, one of the professors
of philosophy. He was a man of unswerving honesty, whose opinions were
in harmony with those of the moderate universitarian school, at that
time so decried by the clergy. He had a great liking for the Scottish
philosophers, and gave me Thomas Reid to study. He steadied my
thoughts very much, and by the aid of his authority and that of M.
Gosselin, I was enabled to put away the exaggerations of M. Pinault;
my conscience was at rest, and I even got to think that the contempt
for scholasticism and reason, so stoutly professed by the mystics, was
not devoid of heresy, and of the worst of all heresies in the eyes of
the Company of St. Sulpice, viz., the _Fideism_ of M. de Lamennais.

Thus I gave myself over without scruple to my love for study, living
in complete solitude during' two whole years. I did not once come to
Paris, readily as leaves were granted. I never joined in any games,
passing the recreation hours on a seat in the grounds, and trying to
keep myself warm by wearing two or three overcoats. The heads of the
college, better advised than I was, told me how bad it was for a lad
of my age to take no exercise. I had scarcely done growing before I
began to stoop. But my passion for study was too strong for me, and
I gave way to it all the more readily because I believed it to be a
wholesome one. I was blind to all else, but how could I suppose that
the ardour for thought which I heard praised in Malebranche and so
many other saintly and illustrious men was blameworthy in me, and
was fated to bring about a result which I should have repudiated with
indignation if it had been foreshadowed to me.

The character of the philosophy taught in the seminary was the Latin
divinity of the schools--not in the outlandish and childish form which
it assumed in the thirteenth century, but in the mitigated Cartesian
form which was generally adopted for ecclesiastical education in the
eighteenth century, and set out in the three volumes known by the name
of _Philosophic de Lyon_. This name was given to it because the book
formed part of a complete course of ecclesiastical study, drawn up a
hundred years ago by order of M. de Montazet, the Jansenist Archbishop
of Lyons. The theological part of the work, tainted with heresy,
is now forgotten; but the philosophical part, imbued with a very
commendable spirit of rationalism, remained, as recently as 1840, the
basis of philosophical teaching in the seminaries, much to the disgust
of the neo-Catholic school, which regarded the book as dangerous and
absurd. It cannot be denied, however, that the problems were cleverly
put, and the whole of these syllogistical dialectics formed an
excellent course of training. I owe my lucidity of mind, more
especially what skill I possess in dividing my subject (which is
an art of capital importance, one of the conditions of the art of
writing), to my divinity training, and in particular to geometry,
which is the truest application of the syllogistical method. M. Manier
mixed up with these ancient propositions the psychological analysis
of the Scotch school. He had imbibed through his intimacy with Thomas
Reid a great aversion to metaphysics, and an unlimited faith in common
sense. _Posuit in visceribus hominis sapientiam_ was his favourite
motto, and it did not occur to him that if man, in his quest after the
true and the good, has only to explore the recesses of his own heart,
the _Catéchisme_ of M. Olier was a building without a foundation.
German philosophy was just beginning to be known, and what little I
had been able to pick up had a strangely fascinating effect upon me.
M. Manier impressed upon me that this philosophy shifted its ground
too much, and that it was necessary to wait until it had completed its
development before passing judgment upon it. "Scottish philosophy," he
said, "has a reassuring influence and makes for Christianity;" and
he depicted to me the worthy Thomas Reid in his double character of
philosopher and minister of the Gospel. Thus Reid was for some time my
ideal, and my aspiration was to lead the peaceful life of a laborious
priest, attached to his sacred office and dispensed from the ordinary
duties of his calling in order to follow out his studies. The
antagonism between philosophical pursuits of this kind and the
Christian faith had not as yet come in upon me with the irresistible
force and clearness which was soon to leave me no alternative between
the renunciation of Christianity and inconsistency of the most
unwarrantable kind.

The modern philosophical works, especially those of MM. Cousin and
Jouffroy, were rarely seen in the seminary, though they were the
constant subject of conversation on account of the discussion which
they had excited among the clergy. This was the year of M. Jouffroy's
death, and the pathetic despairing pages of his philosophy captivated
us. I myself knew them by heart. We followed with deep interest the
discussion raised by the publication of his posthumous works. In
reality, we only knew Cousin, Jouffroy, and Pierre Leroux by those
who had opposed them. The old-fashioned divinity of the schools is
so upright that no demonstration of a proposition is complete unless
followed by the formula, _Solvuntur objecta_. Herein are ingenuously
set forth the objections against the proposition which it is sought to
establish; and these objections are then solved, often in a way which
does not in the least diminish the force of the heterodox ideas which
are supposed to have been controverted. In this way the whole body of
modern ideas reached us beneath the cover of feeble refutations. We
gained, moreover, a great deal of information from each other. One of
our number, who had studied philosophy in the university, would recite
passages from M. Cousin to us; a second, who had studied history,
would familiarise us with Augustin Thierry; while a third came to us
from the school of Montalembert and Lacordaire. His lively imagination
made him a great favourite with us, but the _Philosophie de Lyon_ was
more than he could endure, and he left us.

M. Cousin fascinated us, but Pierre Leroux, with his tone of profound
conviction and his thorough appreciation of the great problems
awaiting solution, exercised a still more potent influence, and we did
not see the shortcomings of his studies and the sophistry of his mind.
My customary course of reading was Pascal, Malebranche, Euler, Locke,
Leibnitz, Descartes, Reid, and Dugald Stewart. In the way of religious
books, my preferences were for Bossuet's Sermons and the _Elevations
sur les Mysttres_. I was very familiar, too, with François de Sales,
both by continually hearing extracts from his works read in the
seminary, and especially through the charming work which Pierre le
Camus has written about him. With regard to the more mystical works,
such as St. Theresa, Marie d'Agreda, Ignatius de Loyola, and M. Olier,
I never read them. M. Gosselin, as I have said, dissuaded me from
doing so. The _Lives of the Saints_, written in an overwrought strain,
were also very distasteful to him, and Fénelon was his rule and his
limit. Many of the early saints excited his strongest prejudices
because of their disregard of cleanliness, their scant education, and
their lack of common sense.

My keen predilection for philosophy did not blind me as to the
inevitable nature of its results. I soon lost all confidence in the
abstract metaphysics which are put forward as being a science apart
from all others, and as being capable of solving alone the highest
problems of humanity. Positive science then appeared to me to be the
only source of truth. In after years I felt quite irritated at the
idea of Auguste Comte being dignified with the title of a great man
for having expressed in bad French what all scientific minds had
seen for the last two hundred years as clearly as he had done. The
scientific spirit was the fundamental principle in my disposition.
M. Pinault would have been the master for me if he had not in some
strange way striven to disguise and distort the best traits in his
talent. I understood him better than he would have wished, and,
in spite of himself. I had received a rather advanced education
in mathematics from my first teachers in Brittany. Mathematics and
physical induction have always been my strong point, the only stones
in the edifice which have never shifted their ground and which are
always serviceable. M. Pinault taught me enough of general natural
history and physiology to give me an insight into the laws
of existence. I realised the insufficiency of what is called
spiritualism; the Cartesian proofs of the existence of a soul distinct
from the body always struck me as being very inadequate, and thus I
became an idealist and not a spiritualist in the ordinary acceptation
of the term. An endless _fieri_, a ceaseless metamorphosis seemed to
me to be the law of the world. Nature presented herself to me as
a whole in which creation of itself has no place, and in which
therefore, everything undergoes transformation.[3] It will be asked
how it was that this fairly clear conception of a positive philosophy
did not eradicate my belief in scholasticism and Christianity. It was
because I was young and inconsistent, and because I had not acquired
the critical faculty. I was held back by the example of so many mighty
minds which had read so deeply in the book of nature, and yet had
remained Christians. I was more specially influenced by Malebranche,
who continued to recite his prayers throughout the whole of his
life, while holding, with regard to the general dispensation of the
universe, ideas differing but very little from those which I had
arrived at. The _Entretiens sur la Métaphysique_ and the _Méditations
chrétiennes_ were ever in my thoughts.

The fondness for erudition is innate in me, and M. Gosselin did much
to develop it. He had the kindness to choose me as his reader. At
seven o'clock every morning I went to read to him in his bedroom,
and he was in the habit of pacing up and down, sometimes stopping,
sometimes quickening his pace and interrupting me with some sensible
or caustic remark. In this way I read to him the long stories of
Father Maimbourg, a writer who is now forgotten, but who in his time
was appreciated by Voltaire, various publications by M. Benjamin
Guérard, whose learning was much appreciated by him, and a few works
by M. de Maistre, notably his _Lettre sur l'Inquisition espagnole_.
He did not much like this last-named treatise, and he would constantly
rub his hands and say, "How plain it is that M. de Maistre is no
theologian." All he cared for was theology, and he had a profound
contempt for literature. He rarely failed to stigmatise as futile
nonsense the highly-esteemed studies of the Nicolaites. For M.
Dupanloup, whose principal dogma was that there is no salvation
without a good literary education, he had little sympathy, and he
generally avoided mention of his name.

For myself, believing as I do that the best way to mould young men of
talent is never to speak to them about talent or style, but to
educate them and to stimulate their mental curiosity upon questions
of philosophy, religion, politics, science, and history--or, in other
words, to go to the substance of things instead of adopting a hollow
rhetorical teaching, I was quite satisfied at this new direction given
to my studies. I forgot the very existence of such a thing as modern
literature. The rumour that contemporary writers existed occasionally
reached us, but we were so accustomed to suppose that there had not
been any of talent since the death of Louis XIV., that we had an _a
priori_ contempt for all contemporary productions. _Le Téléinaque_ was
the only specimen of light literature which ever came into my hands,
and that was in an edition which did not contain the Eucharis episode,
so that it was not until later that I became acquainted with the few
delightful pages which record it. My only glimpse of antiquity was
through _Téléinaque_ and _Aristonoüs_, and I am very glad that such
is the case. It was thus that I learnt the art of depicting nature by
moral touches. Up to the year 1865 I had never formed any other idea
of the island of Chios except that embodied in the phrase of Fénelon:
"The island of Chios, happy as the country of Homer."

These words, so full of harmony and rhythm,[4] seemed to present
a perfect picture of the place, and though Homer was not born
there--nor, perhaps, anywhere--they gave me a better idea of the
beautiful (and now so hapless) isle of Greece than I could have
derived from a whole mass of material description.

I must not omit to mention another book, which together with
_Télémaque_, I for a long time regarded as the highest expression
of literature. M. Gosselin one day called me aside, and after much
beating about the bush, told me that he had thought of letting me read
a book which some people might regard as dangerous, and which, as a
matter of fact, might be in certain cases on account of the vivacity
with which the author expresses passion. He had, however, decided
that I might be trusted with this book, which was called the _Comte
de Valmont_. Many people will no doubt wonder what could have been
the book which my worthy director thought could only be read after
a special preparation as regards judgment and maturity. _Le Comte de
Valmont; ou, Les Egarements de la Raison,_ is a novel by Abbé Gérard,
in which, under the cover of a very innocent plot, the author refutes
the doctrines of the eighteenth century, and inculcates the principles
of an enlightened religion. Sainte-Beuve, who knew the _Comte de
Valmont_, as he knew everything, was consumed with laughter when I
told him this story. But for all that the _Comtede Valmont_ was a
rather dangerous book. The Christianity set forth in it is no more
than Deism, the religion of _Télémaque_, a sort of sentiment in the
abstract, without being any particular kind of religion.[5] Thus
everything tended to lull me into a state of fancied security.
I thought that by copying the politeness of M. Gosselin and the
moderation of M. Manier I was a Christian.

I cannot honestly say, moreover, that my faith in Christianity was
in reality diminished. My faith has been destroyed by historical
criticism, not by scholasticism nor by philosophy. The history of
philosophy and the sort of scepticism by which I had been caught
rather maintained me within the limits of Christianity than drove me
beyond them. I often repeated to myself the lines which I had read in
Brucker:--

  "Percurri, fateor, sectas attentius omnes,
  Plurima qusesivi, per singula quaque cucurri,
  Nee quidquam invent melius quam credere Christo."

A certain amount of modesty kept me back. The capital question as to
the truth of the Christian dogmas and of the Bible never forced itself
upon me. I admitted the revelation in a general sense, like Leibnitz
and Malebranche. There can be no doubt that my _fieri_ philosophy
was the height of heterodoxy, but I did not stop to reason out the
consequences. However, all said and done, my masters were satisfied
with me. M. Pinault rarely interfered with me. More of a mystic than
a fanatic, he concerned himself but little with those who did not come
immediately in his way. The finishing stroke was given by M. Gottofrey
with a degree of boldness and precision which I did not thoroughly
appreciate until afterwards. In the twinkling of an eye, this truly
gifted man tore away the veils which the prudent M. Gosselin and
the honest M. Manier had adjusted around my conscience in order to
tranquillise it, and to lull it to sleep.

M. Gottofrey rarely spoke to me, but he followed me with the utmost
curiosity. My arguments in Latin, delivered with much firmness and
emphasis, caused him surprise and uneasiness. Sometimes, I was too
much in the right; at others I pointed out the weak points in the
reasons given me as valid. Upon one occasion, when my objections
had been urged with force, and when some of the listeners could not
repress a smile at the weakness of the replies, he broke off the
discussion. In the evening he called me on one side, and described
to me with much warmth how unchristian it was to place all faith in
reasoning, and how injurious an effect rationalism had upon faith. He
displayed a remarkable amount of animation, and reproached me with
my fondness for study. What was to be gained, he said, by further
research. Everything that was essential to be known had already been
discovered. It was not by knowledge that men's souls were saved. And
gradually working himself up, he exclaimed in passionate accents--"
You are not a Christian!"

I never felt such terror as that which this phrase, pronounced in
a very resonant tone, evoked within me. In leaving M. Gottofrey's
presence the words "You are not a Christian" sounded all night in my
ear like a clap of thunder. The next day I confided my troubles to M.
Gosselin, who kindly reassured me, and who could not or would not
see anything wrong. He made no effort, even, to conceal from me
how surprised and annoyed he was at this ill-timed attempt upon a
conscience for which he, more than any one else, was responsible. I am
sure that he looked upon the hasty action of M. Gottofrey as a piece
of impudence, the only result of which would be to disturb a dawning
vocation. M. Gosselin, like many directors, was of opinion that
religious doubts are of no gravity among young men when they are
disregarded, and that they disappear when the future career has
been finally entered upon. He enjoined me not to think of what had
occurred, and I even found him more kindly than ever before. He did
not in the least understand the nature of my mind, or in any degree
foresee its future logical evolutions. M. Gottofrey alone had a clear
perception of things. He was right a dozen times over, as I can now
very plainly see. It needed the transcendent lucidity of this martyr
and ascetic to discover that which had quite escaped those who
directed my conscience with so much uprightness and goodness.

I talked too with M. Manier, who strongly advised me not to let my
faith in Christianity be affected by objections of detail. With regard
to the question of entering holy orders, he was always very reserved.
He never said anything which was calculated either to induce me
or dissuade me. This was in his eyes more or less of a secondary
consideration. The essential point, as he thought, was the possession
of the true Christian spirit, inseparable from real philosophy. In his
eyes there was no difference between a priest, or professor of Scotch
philosophy, in the university. He often dwelt upon the honourable
nature of such a career, and more than once he spoke to me of the
École Normale. I did not speak of this overture to M. Gosselin, for
assuredly the very idea of leaving the seminary for the École Normale,
would have seemed to him perdition.

It was decided, therefore, that after my two years of philosophy
I should pass into the seminary of St. Sulpice to get through my
theological course. The flash which shot through the mind of M.
Gottofrey had no immediate consequence. But now at an interval of
eight and thirty years, I can see how clear a perception of the
reality he had. He alone possessed foresight, and I much regret now
that I did not follow his impulse. I should have quitted the seminary
without having studied Hebrew or theology. Physiology and the natural
sciences would have absorbed me, and I do not hesitate to express my
belief--so great was the ardour which these vital sciences excited in
me--that if I had cultivated them continuously I should have arrived
at several of the results achieved by Darwin, and partially foreseen
by myself. Instead of that I went to St. Sulpice and learnt German
and Hebrew, the consequence being that the whole course of my life
was different. I was led to the study of the historical
sciences--conjectural in their nature--which are no sooner made than
they are unmade, and which will be put on one side in a hundred years
time. For the day is not we may be sure, very far distant when man
will cease to attach much interest to his past. I am very much afraid
that our minute contributions to the Académie des Inscriptions
et Belles-Lettres, which are intended to assist to an accurate
comprehension of history, will crumble to dust before they have been
read. It is by chemistry at one end and by astronomy at the other, and
especially by general physiology, that we really grasp the secret of
existence of the world or of God, whichever it may be called. The one
thing which I regret is having selected for my study researches of a
nature which will never force themselves upon the world, or be more
than interesting dissertations upon a reality which has vanished
for ever. But as regards the exercise--and pleasure of thought is
concerned--I certainly chose the better part, for at St. Sulpice I was
brought face to face with the Bible, and the sources of Christianity,
and in the following chapter I will endeavour to describe how eagerly
I immersed myself in this study, and how, through a series of critical
deductions, which forced themselves upon my mind, the bases of
my existence, as I had hitherto understood it, were completely
overturned.


[Footnote 1: Paris, 1609-1612.]

[Footnote 2: First Edition, 1839; second and much enlarged edition,
1845.]

[Footnote 3: An essay which describes my philosophical ideas at this
epoch, entitled the "Origine du Langage," first published in the
_Liberté de penser_ (September and December, 1848), faithfully
portrays, as I then conceived it, the spectacle of living nature as
the result and evidence of a very ancient historical development.]

[Footnote 4: In the French the phrase is, "L'île de Chio, fortunée
patrie d'Homère."]

[Footnote 5: I went a short time ago to the National Library to
refresh my memory about the _Comte de Valmont_. Having my attention
called away, I asked M. Soury to look through the book for me, as
I was anxious to have his impression of it. He replied to me in the
following terms:

"I have been a long time in telling you what I think of the _Comte
de Valmont._ The fact is that it was only by an heroic effort that I
managed to finish it. Not but what this work is honestly conceived and
fairly well written. But the effect of reading through these thousands
of pages is so profoundly wearisome that one is scarcely in a position
to do justice to the work of Abbé Gérard. One cannot help being vexed
with him for being so unnecessarily tedious.

"As so often happens, the best part of this book are the notes, that
is to say, a mass of extracts and selections taken from the famous
writers of the last two centuries, notably from Rousseau. All the
'proofs' and apologetic arguments ruin the work unfortunately, the
eloquence and dialectics of Rousseau, Diderot, Helvetius, Holbach, and
even Voltaire, differing very much from those of Abbé Gérard. It is
the same with the libertines' reasons refuted by the father of the
Comte de Valmont. It must be a very dangerous thing to bring forward
mischievous doctrines with so much force. They have a savour which
renders the best things insipid, and it is with these good doctrines
that the six or seven volumes of the _Comte de Valmont_ are filled.
Abbé Gérard did not wish his work to be called a novel, and as a
matter of fact there is neither drama nor action in the interminable
letters of the Marquis, the Count and Emilie.

"Count de Valmont is one of those sceptics who are often met with in
the world. A man of weak mind, pretentious and foppish, incapable of
thinking and reflecting for himself, ignorant into the bargain, and
without any kind of knowledge upon any subject, he meets his hapless
father with all sorts of difficulties against morality, religion and
Christianity in particular, just as if he had a right to an opinion on
matters the study of which requires so much enlightenment and takes up
so much timed. The best thing the poor fellow can do is to reform
his ways, and he does not fail to neglect doing this at nearly every
volume.

"The seventh volume of the edition which I have before me is entitled,
_La Théorie du Bonheur; ou, L' Art de se rendre Heureux mis a la
Portée de tous les Hommes, faisant Suite ait 'Comte de Valmont_,'
Paris Bossange, 1801, eleventh edition. This is a different book,
whatever the publisher may say, and I confess that this secret of
happiness, brought within the reach of everybody, did not create a
very favourable impression upon me."]



THE ST. SULPICE SEMINARY.

PART I.


The house built by M. Olier in 1645 was not the large quadrangular
barrack-like building which now occupies one side of the square of St.
Sulpice. The old seminary of the seventeenth and eighteenth century
covered the whole area of what is now the square, and quite concealed
Servandoni's façade. The site of the present seminary was formerly
occupied by the gardens and by the college of bursars nicknamed
the Robertins. The original building disappeared at the time of the
Revolution. The chapel, the ceiling of which was regarded as Lebrun's
masterpiece, has been destroyed, and all that remains of the old house
is a picture by Lebrun representing the Pentecost in a style which
would excite the wonder of the author of the Acts of the Apostles. The
Virgin is the centre figure, and is receiving the whole of the pouring
out of the Holy Ghost, which from her spreads to the apostles. Saved
at the Revolution, and afterwards in the gallery of Cardinal Fesch,
this picture was bought back by the corporation of St. Sulpice, and is
now in the seminary chapel.

With the exception of the walls and the furniture, all is old at
St. Sulpice, and it is easy to believe that one is living in
the seventeenth century. Time and its ravages have effaced many
differences. St. Sulpice now embodies in itself many things which were
once far removed from one another, and those who wish to get the best
idea attainable in the present day, of what Port-Royal, the original
Sorbonne, and the institutions of the ancient French clergy generally
were like, must enter its portals. When I joined the St. Sulpice
seminary in 1843, there were still a few directors who had seen M.
Emery, but there were only two, if I remember right, whose memories
carried them back to a date earlier than the Revolution. M. Hugon had
acted as acolyte at the consecration of M. de Talleyrand in the chapel
of Issy in 1788. It seems that the attitude of the Abbé de Périgord
during the ceremony was very indecorous. M. Hugon related that he
accused himself, when at confession the following Saturday, "of
having formed hasty judgments as to the piety of a holy bishop." The
superior-general, M. Garnier, was more than eighty, and he was in
every respect an ecclesiastic of the old school. He had gone through
his studies at the Robertins College and afterwards at the Sorbonne,
from which he gave one the idea of just emerging, and when one heard
him talk of "Monsieur Bossuet" and "Monsieur Fénelon",[1] it seemed as
if one was face to face with an actual pupil of those great men.
There is nothing in common except the name and the dress between these
ecclesiastics that of the old _régime_ and those of the present day.
Compared to the young and exuberant members of the Issy school, M.
Garnier had the appearance almost of a layman, with a complete absence
of all external demonstrations and his staid and reasonable piety. In
the evening, some of the younger students went to keep him company in
his room for an hour. The conversation never took a mystical turn.
M. Garnier narrated his recollections, spoke of M. Emery, and
foreshadowed with melancholy, his approaching end. The contrast
between his quietude and the ardour of Penault and M. Gottofrey
was very striking. These aged priests were so honest, sensible and
upright, observing their rules, and defending their dogmas, just as
a faithful soldier holds the post which has been committed to his
keeping. The higher questions were altogether beyond them. The love of
order and devotion to duty were the guiding principles of their lives.
M. Garnier was a learned Orientalist, and better versed than any
living Frenchman in the Biblical exegesis as taught by the Catholics a
century ago. The modesty which characterised St. Sulpice deterred him
from publishing any of his works, and the outcome of his studies was
an immense manuscript representing a complete course of Holy Writ, in
accordance with the relatively moderate views which prevailed among
the Catholics and Protestants at the close of the eighteenth century.
It was very analogous in spirit to that of Rosenmüller, Hug and Jahn.
When I joined St. Sulpice, M. Garnier was too old to teach, and our
professors used, to read us extracts from his copy-books. They were
full of erudition, and testified to a very thorough knowledge of
language. Now and then we came upon some artless observation which
made us smile, such, for instance, as the way in which he got over
the difficulties relating to Sarah's adventure in Egypt. Sarah, as we
know, was close upon seventy when Pharaoh conceived so great a passion
for her, and M. Garnier got over this by observing that this was not
the only instance of the kind, and that "Mademoiselle de Lenclos" was
the cause of duels being fought, when over seventy. M. Garnier had
not made himself acquainted with the latest labours of the new German
school, and he remained in happy ignorance of the inroads which the
criticism of the nineteenth century had made upon the ancient system.
His best title to fame is that he moulded in M. Le Hir, a pupil who,
inheriting his own vast knowledge, added to it familiarity with modern
discoveries, and who, with a sincerity which proved the depth of his
faith, did not in the least conceal the depth to which the knife had
gone.

Overborne by the weight of years, and absorbed by the cares which the
general direction of the Company entailed, M. Garnier left the entire
superintendence of the Paris house to M. Carbon, the director.
M. Carbon was the embodiment of kindness, joviality and
straightforwardness. He was no theologian, and was so far from being a
man of superior mind, that at first one would be tempted to look upon
him as a very simple, not to say common, person. But as one came to
know him better, one was surprised to discover beneath this humble
exterior, one of the rarest things in the world, viz., unalloyed
cordiality, motherly condescension, and a charming openness of manner.
I have never met with any one so entirely free from personal vanity.
He was the first to laugh at himself, at his half intentional
blunders, and at the laughable situations into which his artlessness
would often land him. Like all the older directors, he had to say
the orison in his turn. He never gave it five minutes previous
consideration, and he sometimes got into such a comical state of
confusion with his improvised address, that we had to bite our tongues
to keep from laughing. He saw how amused we were, and it struck him
as being perfectly natural. It was he who, during the course of Holy
Writ, had to read M. Garnier's manuscript. He used to flounder about
purposely, in order to make us laugh, in the parts which had fallen
out of date. The most singular thing was that he was not very mystic.
I asked one of my fellow students what he thought was M. Carbon's
motive-idea in life, and his reply was, "the abstract of duty."
M. Carbon took a fancy to me from the first, and he saw that the
fundamental feature in my disposition was cheerfulness, and a
ready acquiescence in my lot. "I see that we shall get on very well
together," he said to me with a pleasant smile; and as a matter
of fact M. Carbon is one of those for whom I have felt the deepest
affection. Seeing that I was studious, full of application, and
conscientious in my work, he said to me after a very short time--"You
should be thinking of your society, that is your proper place." He
treated me almost as a colleague, so complete was his confidence in
me.

The other directors, who had to teach the various branches of
theology, were without exception the worthy continuators of a
respectable tradition. But as regards doctrine itself, the breach was
made. Ultramontanism and the love of the irrational had forced their
way into the citadel of moderate theology. The old school knew how
to rave soberly, and followed the rules of common sense even in the
absurd. This school only admitted the irrational and the miraculous up
to the limit strictly required by Holy Writ and the authority of the
Church. The new school revels in the miraculous, and seems to take
its pleasure in narrowing the ground upon which apologetics can be
defended. Upon the other hand, it would be unfair not to say that the
new school is in some respects more open and consistent, and that it
has derived, especially through its relations with Germany, elements
for discussion which have no place in the ancient treatises _De Loci's
Theologicis_. St. Sulpice has had but one representative in this
path so thickly sown with unexpected incidents and--it may perhaps
be added--with dangers; but he is unquestionably the most remarkable
member of the French clergy in the present day. I am speaking of M. Le
Hir, whom I knew very intimately, as will presently be seen. In order
to understand what follows, the reader must be very deeply versed in
the workings of the human mind, and above all in matters of faith.

M. Le Hir was in an equally eminent degree a savant and a saint. This
co-habitation in the same person, of two entities which are rarely
found together, took place in him without any kind of fraction, for
the saintly side of his character had the absolute mastery. There was
not one of the objections of rationalism which escaped his attention.
He did not make the slightest concession to any of them, for he never
felt the shadow of a doubt as to the truth of orthodoxy. This was due
rather to an act of the supreme will than to a result imposed upon
him. Holding entirely aloof from natural philosophy and the scientific
spirit, the first condition of which is to have no prior faith and to
reject that which does not come spontaneously, he remained in a state
of equilibrium which would have been fatal to convictions less urgent
than his. The supernatural did not excite any natural repugnance in
him. His scales were very nicely adjusted, but in one of them was a
weight of unknown quantity--an unshaken faith. Whatever might have
been placed in the other, would have seemed light; all the objections
in the world would not have moved it a hairsbreadth.

M. Le Hir's superiority was in a great measure due to his profound
knowledge of the German exegeses. Whatever he found in them compatible
with Catholic orthodoxy, he appropriated. In matters of critique,
incompatibilities were continually occurring, but in grammar, upon the
other hand, there was no difficulty in finding common ground. There
was no one like M. Le Hir in this respect. He had thoroughly mastered
the doctrine of Gesenius and Ewald, and criticised many points in
it with great learning. He interested himself in the Phoenician
inscriptions, and propounded a very ingenious theory which has since
been confirmed. His theology was borrowed almost entirely from the
German Catholic School, which was at once more advanced, and less
reasonable, than our ancient French scholasticism. M. Le Hir reminds
one in many respects of Dollinger, especially in regard to his
learning and his general scope of view; but his docility would have
preserved him from the dangers in which the Vatican Council involved
most of the learned members of the clergy. He died prematurely in 1870
upon the eve of the Council which he was just about to attend as a
theologian. I was intending to ask my colleagues in the Académie des
Inscriptions et Belles Lettres to make him an unattached member of our
body. I have no doubt that he would have rendered considerable service
to the Committee of Semitic Inscriptions.

M. Le Hir possessed, in addition to his immense learning, the talent
of writing with much force and accuracy. He might have been very witty
if he had been so minded. His undeviating mysticism resembled that of
M. Gottofrey; but he had much more rectitude of judgment. His aspect
was very singular, for he was like a child in figure, and very weakly
in appearance, but with that, eyes and a forehead indicating the
highest intelligence. In short, the only faculty lacking, was one
which would have caused him to abjure Catholicism, viz. the critical
one. Or I should rather say that he had the critical faculty very
highly developed in every point not touching religious belief; but
that possessed in his view such a co-efficient of certainty, that
nothing could counterbalance it. His piety was in truth, like the
mother o'pearl shells of François de Sales, "which live in the sea
without tasting a drop of salt water." The knowledge of error which
he possessed was entirely speculative: a water-tight compartment
prevented the least infiltration of modern ideas into the secret
sanctuary of his heart, within which burnt, by the side of the
petroleum, the small unquenchable light of a tender and sovereign
piety. As my mind was not provided with these water-tight
compartments, the encounter of these conflicting elements, which in
M. Le Hir produced profound inward peace, led in my case to strange
explosions.


[Footnote 1: I should like to make one observation in this connection.
People of the present day have got into the habit of putting
_Monseigneur_ before a proper name, and of saying _Monseigneur
Dupanloup_ or Monseigneur Affre. This is bad French; the word
"Monseigneur" should only be used in the vocative case or before an
official title. In speaking to M. Dupanloup or M. Affre, it would
be correct to say _Monseigneur_. In speaking of them, _Monsieur
Dupanloup, Monsieur Affre; Monsieur, or Monseigneur l'Évqêue
d'Orleans,_ Monsieur or Monseigneur l'Archévêque de Paris.]



THE ST. SULPICE SEMINARY.

PART II.


St. Sulpice, in short, when I went through it forty years ago,
provided, despite its shortcomings, a fairly high education. My
ardour for study had plenty to feed upon. Two unknown worlds unfolded
themselves before me: theology, the rational exposition of the
Christian dogma, and the Bible, supposed to be the depository and
the source of this dogma. I plunged deeply into work. I was even more
solitary than at Issy, for I did not know a soul in Paris. For two
years I never went into any street except the Rue de Vaugirard,
through which once a week we walked to Issy. I very rarely indulged
in any conversation. The professors were always very kind to me. My
gentle disposition and studious habits, my silence and modesty, gained
me their favour, and I believe that several of them remarked to one
another, as M. Carbon had to me, "He will make an excellent colleague
for us."

Upon the 29th of March, 1844, I wrote to one of my friends in
Brittany, who was then at the St. Brieuc seminary:

"I very much like being here. The tone of the place is excellent,
being equally free from rusticity, coarse egotism and affectation.
There is little intimacy or geniality, but the conversation is
dignified and elevated, with scarcely a trace of commonplace or
gossip. It would be idle to look for anything like cordiality between
the directors and the students, for this is a plant which grows only
in Brittany. But the directors have a certain fund of tolerance and
kindness in their composition which harmonises very well with the
moral condition of the young men upon their joining the seminary.
Their control is exercised almost imperceptibly, for the seminary
seems to conduct itself, instead of being conducted by them. The
regulations, the usages, and the spirit of the place are the sole
agents; the directors are mere passive overseers. St. Sulpice is
a machine which has been well constructed for the last two hundred
years: it goes of itself, and all that the driver has to do is to
watch the movements, and from time to time to screw up a nut and oil
the joints. It is not like Saint-Nicholas, for instance, where the
machine was never allowed to go by itself. The driver was always
tinkering at it, running first to the right and then to the left,
peering in here and altering a wheel there, not knowing or remembering
that the best mounted machine is the one which requires the least
attention from the man who sets it in motion. The great advantage
which I enjoy here is the remarkable facility afforded me for work
which has become a prime necessity to me, and which, considering
my internal condition, is also a duty. The lectures on morals
are excellent, but I cannot say as much of those on dogma, as the
professor is a novice. This, coupled with the great importance of the
_Traités de la Religion et de l'Église,_ especially in my case, would
be a very serious drawback, but for my having found substitutes for
him among the other professors." As a matter of fact, I had a special
liking for the ecclesiastical sciences. A text once implanted in my
memory was never forgotten; my head was in the state of a _Sic et Non_
of Abélard. Theology is like a Gothic cathedral, having in common with
its grandeur its vast empty spaces and its lack of solidity. Neither
to the Fathers of the Church nor to the Christian writers during the
first half of the Middle Ages did it occur to draw up a systematic
exposition of the Christian dogmas which would dispense with reading
the Bible all through. The _Summa_ of St. Thomas Aquinas, a summary of
the earlier scholasticism, is like a vast bookcase with compartments,
which, if Catholicism is to endure, will be of service to all time,
the decisions of councils and of Popes in the future having, so to
speak, their place marked out for them beforehand. There can be no
question of progress in such an order of exposition. In the sixteenth
century, the Council of Trent settled a number of points which had
hitherto been the subject of controversy; but each of these anathemas
had already its place allotted to it in the wide purview of St.
Thomas, Melchior Canus, and Suarès remodelled the _Summa_ without
adding anything essential to it. In the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries the Sorbonne composed for use in the schools handy treatises
which are for the most part revised and reduced copies of the _Summa_.
At each page one can detect the same texts cut out and separated from
the comments which explain them; the same syllogisms, triumphant,
but devoid of any solid foundation; the same defects of historical
criticism, arising from the confusion of dates and places.

Theology may be divided into dogmatics and ethics. Dogmatic theology,
in addition to the Prolegomena comprising the discussions relating
to the sources of divine authority, is divided into fifteen treatises
upon all the dogmas of Christianity. At the basis is the treatise
_De la vraie Religion_, which seeks to demonstrate the supernatural
character of the Christian religion, that is to say of Revealed Writ
and of the Church. Then all the dogmas are proved by Holy Writ, by the
Councils, by the Fathers, and by the theologians. It cannot be denied
that there is a very frank rationalism at the root of all this. If
scholasticism is the descendant in the first generation of St. Thomas
Aquinas, it is descended in the second from Abélard. In such a system
reason holds the first place, reason proves the revelation, the
divinity of Scripture and the authority of the Church. This done, the
door is open to every kind of deduction. The only instance in which
St. Sulpice has been moved to anger since the extinction of Jansenism
was when M. de Lamennais declared that the starting-point should be
faith, and not reason. And what is to be the test in the last resort
of the claims of faith if not reason!

Moral theology consists of a dozen treatises comprising the whole body
of philosophical ethics and of law, completed by the revelation and
decisions of the Church. All this forms a sort of encyclopaedia very
closely connected. It is an edifice, the stones of which are attached
to one another by iron clamps, but the base is extremely weak. This
base is the treatise _De la vraie Religion_, which treatise does not
hold together. For not only does it fail to show that the Christian
religion is more especially divine and revealed than the others, but
it does not even prove that in the field of reality which comes within
the reach of our observation there has occurred a single supernatural
fact or miracle. M. Littre's inexorable phrase, "Despite all the
researches which have been made, no miracle has ever taken place where
it could be observed and put upon record" is a stumbling-block which
cannot be moved out of the path. It is impossible to prove that a
miracle occurred in the past, and we shall doubtless have a long time
to wait before one takes place under such conditions as could alone
give a right-minded person the assurance that he was not mistaken.

Admitting the fundamental thesis of the treatise _De la vraie
Religion_, the field of argument is narrowed, but the argument is a
long way from being at an end. The question has to be discussed with
the Protestants and dissenters, who, while admitting the revealed
texts to be true, decline to see in them the dogmas which the Catholic
Church has in the course of time taken upon herself. The controversy
here branches off into endless points, and the advocates of
Catholicism are continually being worsted. The Catholic Church has
taken upon herself to prove that her dogmas have always existed just
as she teaches them, that Jesus instituted confession, extreme unction
and marriage, and that he taught what was afterwards decided upon
by the Nicene and Trent Councils. Nothing can be more erroneous. The
Christian dogma has been formed, like everything else, slowly and
piecemeal, by a sort of inward vegetation. Theology, by asserting the
contrary, raises up a mass of objections, and places itself in the
predicament of having to reject all criticism. I would advise any one
who wishes to realise this to read in a theological work the treatise
on Sacraments, and he will see by what a series of unsupported
suppositions, worthy of the Apocrypha, of Marie d'Agreda or Catherine
Emmerich, the conclusion is reached that all the sacraments were
established by Jesus Christ during his life. The discussion as to the
matter and form of the sacraments is open to the same objections. The
obstinacy with which matter and form are detected everywhere dates
from the introduction of the Aristotelian tenets into theology in the
thirteenth century. Those who rejected this retrospective application
of the philosophy of Aristotle to the liturgical creations of Jesus
incurred ecclesiastical censure.

The intention of the "about to be" in history as in nature became
henceforth the essence of my philosophy. My doubts did not arise from
one train of reasoning but from ten thousand. Orthodoxy has an answer
to everything and will never avow itself worsted. No doubt, it is
admitted in criticism itself that a subtle answer may, in certain
cases, be a valid one. The real truth does not always look like the
truth. One subtle answer may be true, or even at a stretch, two.
But for three to be true is more difficult, and as to four bearing
examination that is almost impossible. But if a thesis can only be
upheld by admitting that ten, a hundred, or even a thousand subtle
answers are true at one and the same time, a clear proof is afforded
that this thesis is false. The calculation of probabilities applied
to all these shortcomings of detail is overwhelming in its effect
upon unprejudiced minds, and Descartes had taught me that the prime
condition for discovering the truth is to be free from all prejudice.



THE ST. SULPICE SEMINARY.

PART III.


The theological struggle defined itself more particularly in my case
upon the ground of the so-called revealed texts. Catholic teaching,
with full confidence as to the issue, accepted battle upon this ground
as upon others with the most complete good faith. The Hebrew tongue
was in this case the main instrument, for one of the two Christian
Bibles is in Hebrew, while even as regards the New Testament there can
be no proper exegesis without Hebrew.

The study of Hebrew was not compulsory in the seminary, and it was
not followed by many of the students. In 1843-44, M. Garnier still
lectured in his room upon the more difficult texts to two or three
students. M. Le Hir had for several years taken the lectures on
grammar. I joined the course at once, and the well-defined philology
of M. Le Hir was full of charm for me. He was very kind to me, and
being a Breton like myself, there was much similarity of disposition
between us. At the expiration of a few weeks I was almost his only
pupil. His way of expounding the Hebrew grammar, with comparison of
other Semitic idioms, was most excellent. I possessed at this period a
marvellous power of assimilation. I absorbed everything which he told
me. His books were at my disposal and he had a very extensive library.
Upon the days when we walked to Issy he went with me to the heights
of La Solitude, and there he taught me Syriac. We talked together over
the Syriac New Testament of Guthier. M. Le Hir determined my career. I
was by instinct a philologist, and I found in him the man best fitted
to develop this aptitude. Whatever claim to the title of savant I may
possess I owe to M. Le Hir. I often think, even, that whatever I have
not learnt from him has been imperfectly acquired. Thus he did not
know much of Arabic, and this is why I have always been a poor Arabic
scholar.

A circumstance due to the kindness of my teachers confirmed me in my
calling of a philologist and, unknown to them, unclosed for me a
door which I had not dared open for myself. In 1844, M. Gamier was
compelled by old age to give up his lectures on Hebrew. M. Le Hir
succeeded him, and knowing how thoroughly I had assimilated his
doctrine he determined to let me take the grammar course. This
pleasant information was conveyed to me by M. Carbon with his usual
good nature, and he added that the Company would give me three hundred
francs by way of salary. The sum seemed to me such an enormous one
that I told M. Carbon I could not accept it. He insisted, however, on
my taking a hundred and fifty francs for the purchase of books.

A much higher favour was that by which I was allowed to attend M.
Etienne Quatremère's lectures at the Collège de France twice a
week. M. Quatremère did not bestow much preparatory labour upon his
lectures; in the matter of Biblical exegesis he had voluntarily kept
apart from the scientific movement. He much more nearly resembled M.
Garnier than M. Le Hir. Just another such a Jansenist as Silvestre de
Sacy, he shared the demi-rationalism of Hug and Jahn--minimising the
proportion of the supernatural as far as possible, especially in the
cases of what he called "miracles difficult to carry out," such as the
miracle of Joshua, but still retaining the principle, at all events
in respect to the miracles of the New Testament. This superficial
eclecticism did not much take my fancy. M. Le Hir was much nearer
the truth in not attempting to attenuate the matter recounted, and in
closely studying, after the manner of Ewald, the recital itself. As a
comparative grammarian, M. Quatremère was also very inferior to M. Le
Hir. But his erudition in regard to orientalism was enormous. A new
world opened before me, and I saw that what apparently could only be
of interest to priests might be of interest to laymen as well. The
idea often occurred to me from that time that I should one day teach
from the same table, in the small classroom to which I have as a
matter of fact succeeded in forcing my way.

This obligation to classify and systematize my ideas in view of
lessons to be given to fellow-pupils of the same age as myself decided
my vocation. My scheme of teaching was from that moment determined
upon; and whatever I have since accomplished in the way of philology
has its origin in the humble lecture which through the kindness of
my masters was intrusted to me. The necessity for extending as far as
possible my studies in exegesis and Semitic philology compelled me to
learn German. I had no elementary knowledge of it, for at St. Nicholas
my education had been wholly Latin and French. I do not complain of
this. A man need only have a literary knowledge of two languages,
Latin and his own; but he should understand all those which may be
useful to him for business or instruction. An obliging fellow pupil
from Alsace, M. Kl----, whose name I often see mentioned as rendering
services to his compatriots in Paris, kindly helped me at the outset.
Literature was to my mind such a secondary matter, amidst the ardent
investigation which absorbed me, that I did not at first pay much
attention to it. Nevertheless, I felt a new genius, very different
from that of the seventeenth century. I admired it all the more
because I did not see any limit to it. The spirit peculiar to Germany
at the close of the last century, and in the first half of the present
one, had a very striking effect upon me; I felt as if entering a place
of worship. This was just what I was in search of, the conciliation
of a truly religious spirit with the spirit of criticism. There were
times when I was sorry that I was not a Protestant, so that I might
be a philosopher without ceasing to be a Christian. Then, again, I
recognised the fact that the Catholics alone are consistent. A single
error proves that a Church is not infallible; one weak part proves
that a book is not a revealed one. Outside rigid orthodoxy, there was
nothing, so far as I could see, except free thought after the manner
of the French school of the eighteenth century. My familiarity with
the German studies placed me in a very false position; for upon the
one hand it proved to me the impossibility of an exegesis which did
not make any concessions, while upon the other hand I quite saw that
the masters of St. Sulpice were quite right in refusing to make these
concessions, inasmuch as a single confession of error ruins the
whole edifice of absolute truth, and reduces it to the level of human
authorities in which each person makes his selections according to his
individual fancy.

For in a divine book everything must be true, and as two
contradictories cannot both be true, it must not contain any
contradiction. But the careful study of the Bible which I had
undertaken, while revealing to me many historical and esthetic
treasures, proved to me also that it was not more exempt than any
other ancient book from contradictions, inadvertencies, and errors.
It contains fables, legends, and other traces of purely human
composition. It is no longer possible for any one to assert that the
second part of the book of Isaiah was written by Isaiah. The book of
Daniel, which, according to all orthodox tenets, relates to the period
of the captivity, is an apocryphal work composed in the year 169
or 170 B.C. The book of Judith is an historical impossibility. The
attribution of the Pentateuch to Moses does not bear investigation,
and to deny that several parts of Genesis are mystical in their
meaning is equivalent to admitting as actual realities descriptions
such as that of the Garden of Eden, the apple, and Noah's Ark. He
is not a true Catholic who departs in the smallest iota from the
traditional theses. What becomes of the miracle which Bossuet so
admired: "Cyrus referred to two hundred years before his birth"? What
becomes of the seventy weeks of years, the basis of the calculations
of universal history, if that part of Isaiah in which Cyrus is
referred to was composed during the lifetime of that warrior, and if
the pseudo-Daniel is a contemporary of Antiochus Epiphanes?

Orthodoxy calls upon us to believe that the biblical books are the
work of those to whom their titles assign them. The mildest Catholic
doctrine as to inspiration will not allow one to admit that there is
any marked error in the sacred text, or any contradiction in matters
which do not relate either to faith or morality. Well, let us allow
that out of the thousand disputes between critique and orthodox
apologetics as to the details of the so-called sacred text there are
some in which by accident and contrary to appearances the latter
are in the right. It is impossible that it can be right in all the
thousand cases and it has only to be wrong once for all the theory
as to its inspiration to be reduced to nothing. This theory of
inspiration, implying a supernatural fact, becomes impossible to
uphold in the presence of the decided ideas of our modern common
sense. An inspired book is a miracle. It should present itself to
us under conditions totally different from any other book. It may be
said: "You are not so exacting in respect to Herodotus and the poems
of Homer." This is quite true, but then Herodotus and the Homeric
poems do not profess to be inspired books.

With regard to contradictions, for instance, no one whose mind is
free from theological preoccupations can do other than admit the
irreconcilable divergences between the synoptists and the author
of the Fourth Gospel, and between the synoptists Compared with one
another. For us rationalists this is not of much importance; but the
orthodox reasoner, compelled to be of opinion that his book is right
in every particular, finds himself involved in endless subtleties.
Silvestre de Sacy was very much perplexed by the quotations from the
Old Testament which are met with in the New. He found it so difficult,
with his predilection for accuracy in quotations, to reconcile them
that he eventually admitted as a principle that the two Testaments are
both infallible of themselves, but that the New Testament is not so
when it quotes the Old. Only those who have no sort of experience in
the ways of religion will feel any surprise that men of such great
powers of application should have clung to such untenable positions.
In these shipwrecks of a faith upon which you have centred your life,
you cling to the most unlikely means of salvage rather than allow all
you cherish to go to the bottom.

Men of the world who believe that people are brought to a decision in
the choice of their opinions by reasons of sympathy or antipathy will
no doubt be surprised at the train of reasoning which alienated me
from the Christian faith, to which I had so many motives, both of
interest and inclination, for remaining attached. Those who have not
the scientific spirit can scarcely understand that one's opinions are
formed outside of one by a sort of impersonal concretion of which one
is, so to speak, the spectator. In thus letting my course be shaped by
the force of events, I believed myself to be conforming to the rules
of the seventeenth century school, especially to those of Malebranche,
whose first principle is that reason should be contemplated, that man
has no part in its procreation, and that his sole duty is to stand
before the truth, free from all personal bias, ready to let himself be
led whither the balance of demonstration wills it. So far from having
at the outset certain results in view, these illustrious thinkers
urged in the interests of the truth the obliteration of anything like
a wish, a tendency, or a personal attachment. The great reproach of
the preachers of the seventeenth century against the libertines was
that they had embraced their desires and had adopted irreligious
opinions because they wished them to be true.

In this great struggle between my reason and my beliefs I was careful
to avoid a single reasoning from abstract philosophy. The method of
natural and physical sciences which at Issy had imposed itself upon me
as an absolute law led me to distrust all system. I was never stopped
by any objection with regard to the dogmas of the Trinity and the
Incarnation regarded in themselves. These dogmas, occurring in the
metaphysical ether did not shock any opposite opinion in me. Nothing
that was open to criticism in the policy and tendency of the Church,
either in the past or the present, made the slightest impression upon
me. If I could have believed that theology and the Bible were true,
none of the doctrines which were afterwards embodied in the _Syllabus_
and which were thereupon more or less promulgated, would have given me
any trouble. My reasons were entirely of a philological and critical
order; not in the least of a metaphysical, political, or moral kind.
These orders of ideas seemed scarcely tangible or capable of being
applied in any sense. But the question as to whether there are
contradictions between the Fourth Gospel and the synoptics is
one which there can be no difficulty in grasping. I can see these
contradictions with such absolute clearness that I would stake my
life, and, consequently, my eternal salvation, upon their reality
without a moment's hesitation. In a question of this kind there can
be none of those subterfuges which involve all moral and political
opinions in so much doubt. I do not admire either Philip II. or Pius
V., but if I had no material reasons for disbelieving the Catholic
creed, the atrocities of the former and the faggots of the latter
would not be obstacles to my faith.

Many eminent minds have on various occasions hinted to me that I
should never have broken away from Catholicism if I had not formed so
narrow a view of it; or if, to put it in another way, my teachers
had not given me this narrow view of it. Some people hold St.
Sulpice partially responsible for my incredulity, and reproach that
establishment upon the one hand with having inspired me with too
complete a trust in a scholasticism which implied an exaggerated
rationalism, and, upon the other, with having required me to admit as
necessary to salvation the _suimmum_ of orthodoxy, thus inordinately
increasing the amount of sustenance to be swallowed, while they
narrowed in undue proportions the orifice through which it was
to pass. This is very unfair. The directors of St. Sulpice, in
representing Christianity in this light, and by being so open as to
the measure of belief required, were simply acting like honest men.
They were not the persons who would have added the gratifying _est de
fide_ after a number of untenable propositions. One of the worst
kinds of intellectual dishonesty is to play upon words, to represent
Christianity as imposing scarcely any sacrifice upon reason, and in
this way to inveigle people into it without letting them know to what
they have committed themselves. This is where Catholic laymen, who dub
themselves liberals, are under such a delusion. Ignorant of theology
and exegesis, they treat accession to Christianity as if it were a
mere adhesion to a coterie. They pick and choose, admitting one dogma
and rejecting another, and then they are very indignant if any one
tells them that they are not true Catholics. No one who has studied
theology can be guilty of such inconsistency, as in his eyes
everything rests upon the infallible authority of the Scripture and
the Church; he has no choice to make. To abandon a single dogma or
reject a single tenet in the teaching of the Church, is equivalent to
the negation of the Church and of Revelation. In a church founded
upon divine authority, it is as much an act of heresy to deny a single
point as to deny the whole. If a single stone is pulled out of the
building, the whole edifice must come to the ground.

Nor is there any good to be gained by saying that the Church will
perhaps some day make concessions which will avert the necessity of
ruptures, such as that which I felt forced upon me, and that it will
then be seen that I have renounced the kingdom of God for a trumpery
cause. I am perfectly well aware how far the Church can go in the way
of concession, and I know what are the points upon which it is useless
to ask her for any. The Catholic Church will never abandon a jot or
tittle of her scholastic and orthodox system; she can no more do so
than the Comte de Chambord can cease to be legitimist. I have no doubt
that there will be schisms, more, perhaps, than ever before, but
the true Catholic will be inflexible in the declaration: "If I
must abandon my past, I shall abandon the whole; for I believe in
everything upon the principle of infallibility, and this principle
is as much affected by one small concession as by ten thousand large
ones." For the Catholic Church to admit that Daniel was an apocryphal
person of the time of the Maccabaei, would be to admit that she
had made a mistake; if she was mistaken in that, she may have been
mistaken in others, and she is no longer divinely inspired.

I do not, therefore, in any way regret having been brought into
contact, for my religious education, with sincere teachers, who would
have scrupulously avoided letting me labour under any illusion as to
what a Catholic is required to admit. The Catholicism which was taught
me is not the insipid compromise, suitable only for laymen, which has
led to so many misunderstandings in the present day. My Catholicism
was that of Scripture, of the councils, and of the theologians.
This Catholicism I loved, and I still respect it; having found it
inadmissible, I separated myself from it. This is a straightforward
course, but what is not straightforward is to pretend ignorance of
the engagement contracted, and to become the apologist of things
concerning which one is ignorant. I have never lent myself to
a falsehood of this description, and I have looked upon it as
disrespectful to the faith to practise deceit with it. It is no fault
of mine if my masters taught me logic, and by their uncompromising
arguments made my mind as trenchant as a blade of steel. I took
what was taught me--scholasticism, syllogistic rules, theology, and
Hebrew--in earnest; I was an apt student; I am not to be numbered with
the lost for that.



THE ST. SULPICE SEMINARY.

PART IV.


Such were these two years of inward labour, which I cannot compare to
anything better than a violent attack of encephalitis, during which
all my other functions of life were suspended. With a certain amount
of Hebraic pedantry, I called this crisis in my life Naphtali,[1]
and I often repeated to myself the Hebrew saying: "_Napktoulé élohim
niphtali_ (I have fought the fight of God)." My inward feelings were
not changed, but each day a stitch in the tissue of my faith was
broken; the immense amount of work which I had in hand prevented
me from drawing the conclusion. My Hebrew lecture absorbed my whole
thoughts; I was like a man holding his breath. My director, to whom
I confided my difficulties, replied in just the same terms as M.
Gosselin at Issy: "Inroads upon your faith! Pay no heed to that; keep
straight on your way." One day he got me to read the letter which St.
François de Sales wrote to Madame de Chantal: "These temptations are
but afflictions like unto others. I may tell you that I have known but
few persons who have achieved any progress without going through this
ordeal; patience is the only remedy. You must not make any reply, nor
appear to hear what the enemy says. Let him make as much noise at the
door as he likes without so much as exclaiming, 'Who is there?'"

The general practice of ecclesiastical directors is, in fact, to
advise those who confess to feeling doubts concerning the faith not
to dwell upon them. Instead of postponing the engagements on
this account, they rather hurry them forward, thinking that these
difficulties will disappear when it is too late to give practical
effect to them, and that the cares of an active clerical career will
ultimately dispel these speculative-doubts. In this regard, I must
confess that I found my godly directors rather deficient in wisdom. My
director in Paris, a very enlightened man withal, was anxious that I
should be at once ordained a sub-deacon, the first of the holy orders
which constitutes an irrevocable tie. I refused point-blank. So far
as regarded the first steps of the ecclesiastical state, I had obeyed
him. It was he himself who pointed out to me that, the exact form of
the engagement which they imply is contained in the words of the Psalm
which are repeated: "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and
of my cup; thou maintainest my lot." Well, I can honestly declare
that I have never been untrue to that engagement. I have never had any
other interest than that of the truth, and I have made many sacrifices
for it. An elevated idea has always sustained me in the conduct of
my life, so much so that I am ready to forego the inheritance which,
according to our reciprocal arrangement, God ought to restore to me:
"_The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly
inheritance_"

My friend in the seminary of St. Brieuc[2] had decided, after much
hesitation, to take holy orders. I have found the letter which I
wrote to him on the 26th of March, 1844, at a time when my doubts with
regard to religion were not disturbing my peace of mind so much as
they had done.

"I was pleased but not surprised to hear that you had taken the final
step. The uneasiness by which you were beset must always make itself
felt in the mind of one who realizes the serious import of assuming
the order of priesthood. The trial is a painful but an honourable one,
and I should not think much of one who reached the priestly calling
without having experienced it.... I have told you how a power
independent of my will shook within me the beliefs which have hitherto
been the main foundations of my life and of my happiness. These
temptations are cruel indeed, and I should be full of pity for any one
who was ever tortured by them. How wanting in tact towards those who
have suffered these temptations are the persons who have never been
assailed by them. It is no wonder that such should be the case, for
one must have had experience of a thing thoroughly to understand it,
and the subject is such a delicate one, that I question whether there
are any two human beings more incapable of understanding one another
than a believer and a doubter, however complete may be their good
faith and even their intelligence. They speak two unintelligible
languages, unless the grace of God intervenes as an interpreter. I
have felt how completely maladies of this kind are beyond all human
remedy, and that God has reserved the treatment of them to himself,
_inanu mitissimâ et suavissimâ pertractans vulnera mea_, to quote St.
Augustin, who evidently speaks from experience. At times the _Angelus
Satanae qui me colaphizet_ wakes up. Such, my dear friend, is our
fate, and we must abide by it. _Converte te sufra, converte te infra_,
life, especially for the clergy, is a battle, and perhaps in the long
run, these storms are better for man than a dead calm, which would
send him to sleep.... I can hardly bring myself to fancy that within
a twelvemonth you will be a priest, you who were my schoolfellow and
friend as a boy. And now we are halfway through life, according to the
ordinary mode of reckoning, and the second half will probably not
be the pleasanter of the two. This surely should make us look upon
passing ills as of no account, and endure with patience the troubles
of a few days, at which we shall smile in a few years' time, and not
think of in eternity. Vanity of vanities!"

A year later the malady, which I thought was only a fleeting one, had
spread to my whole conscience. Upon the 22nd of March, 1845, I wrote a
letter to my friend which he could not read, as he was on his deathbed
when it reached him.

"My position in the seminary has not varied much since our last
conversation. I am allowed to attend all the lectures on Syriac of
M. Quatremère, at the Collège de France, and I find them extremely
interesting. They are useful to me in many ways; in the first place
by enabling me to learn much that is useful and attractive, and by
distracting my mind from certain subjects.... I should be quite happy
if it were not that the painful thoughts of which you are aware were
ever afflicting my mind at an increasingly rapid rate. I have quite
made up my mind not to accept the grade of sub-deacon at the next
ordination. This will not excite any notice, as owing to my age, I
should be compelled to allow a certain interval to elapse between my
different orders. Nor, for the matter of that, is there any reason why
I should care for what people think. I must accustom myself to brave
public opinion, so as to be ready for any sacrifice. I suffer much at
times. This Holy Week, for instance, has been particularly painful
for me, for every incident which bears me away from my ordinary life,
revives all my anxious doubts. I console myself by thinking of Jesus,
so beautiful, so pure, so ideal in His suffering--Jesus whom I hope
to love always. Even if I should ever abandon Him, that would give Him
pleasure, for it would be a sacrifice made to my conscience, and God
knows that it would be a costly one! I think that you, at all events,
would understand how costly it would be. How little freedom of choice
man has in the ordering of his destiny. When no more than a child who
acts from impulse and the sense of imitation, one is called upon
to stake one's whole existence; a higher power entangles you in
indissoluble toils; this power pursues its work in silence, and before
you have begun to know your own self, you are tied and bound, you know
not how. When you reach a certain age, you wake up and would like
to move. But it is impossible; your hands and arms are caught
in inextricable folds. It is God Himself who holds you fast, and
remorseless opinion is looking on, ready to laugh if you signify that
you are tired of the toys which amused you as a child. It would be
nothing if there was only public opinion to brave. But the pity is
that all the softest ties of your life are woven into the web that
entangles you, and you must pluck out one-half of your heart if you
would escape from it. Many a time I have wished that man was born
either completely free, or deprived of all freedom. He would not be so
much to be pitied if he was born like the plant family, fixed to the
soil which is to give it nourishment. With the dole of liberty allowed
to him, he is strong enough to resist, but not strong enough to act;
he has just what is required to make him unhappy. 'My God, My God, why
hast Thou forsaken Me?' How is all this to be reconciled with the
sway of a father? There are mysteries in all this, and happy is he who
fathoms them only in speculation.

"It is only because you are so true a friend that I tell you all this.
I have no need to ask you to keep it to yourself. You will understand
that I must be very circumspect with regard to my mother. I would
rather die than cause her a moment's pain. O God! shall I have the
strength of mind to give my duty the preference over her? I commend
her to you; she is very pleased with your attentiveness to her. This
is the most real kindness you can do me."


[Footnote 1: _Lucta mea_, Genesis xxx. 8.]

[Footnote 2: His name was François Liart. He was a very upright and
high minded young man. He died at Tréguier at the end of March, 1845.
His family sent me after his death all my letters to him, and I have
them still.]



THE ST. SULPICE SEMINARY.

PART V.


I thus reached the vacation of 1845, which I spent, as I had
the preceding ones, in Brittany. There I had much more time for
reflection. The grains of sand of my doubts accumulated into a solid
mass. My director, who, with the best intentions in the world, gave
me bad advice, was no longer within my reach. I ceased to take part
in the sacraments of the Church, though I still retained my former
fondness for its prayers. Christianity appeared to me greater than
ever before, but I could only cling to the supernatural by an effort
of habit--by a sort of fiction with myself. The task of logic was
done; that of honesty was about to begin. For nearly two months I
was Protestant; I could not make up my mind to abandon altogether the
great religious tradition which had hitherto been part of my life;
I mused upon future reforms, when the philosophy of Christianity,
disencumbered of all superstitious dross and yet preserving its moral
efficacity (that was my great dream), would be left the great school
of humanity and its guide to the future. My readings in German gave
nurture to these ideas. Herder was the German writer with whom I was
most familiar. His vast views delighted me, and I said to myself, with
keen regret, if I could but think all that like a Herder and remain a
priest, a Christian preacher. But with my notions at once precise
and respectful of Catholicism, I could not succeed in conceiving
any honourable way of remaining a Catholic priest while retaining my
opinions. I was Christian after the fashion of a professor of theology
at Halle or Tübingen. An inward voice told me: "Thou art no longer
Catholic; thy robe is a lie; cast it off."

I was a Christian, however; for all the papers of that date which I
have preserved give clear expression to the feeling which I have since
endeavoured to portray in the _Vie de Jésus_, I mean a keen regard
for the evangelic ideal and for the character of the Founder of
Christianity. The idea that in abandoning the Church I should remain
faithful to Jesus got hold upon me, and if I could have brought myself
to believe in apparitions I should certainly have seen Jesus saying
to me: "Abandon Me to become My disciple." This thought sustained and
emboldened me. I may say that from that moment my _Vie de Jésus_ was
mentally written. Belief in the eminent personality of Jesus--which is
the spirit of that book--had been my mainstay in my struggle against
theology. Jesus has in reality ever been my master. In following out
the truth at the cost of any sacrifice I was convinced that I was
following Him and obeying the most imperative of His precepts.

I was at this time so far removed from my old Brittany masters
in respect to disposition, intellectual culture and study that
conversation between us had become almost impossible. One of them
suspected something, and said to me: "I have always thought that you
were being overdone in the way of study." A habit which I had acquired
of reciting the psalms in Hebrew from a small manuscript of my own
which I used as a breviary, surprised them very much. They were half
inclined to ask me if I was a Jew. My mother guessed all that was
taking place without quite understanding it. I continued, as in my
childhood, to take long walks into the country with her. One day, we
sat down in the valley of Guindy, near the Chapelle des Cinq Plaies,
by the side of the spring. For hours I read by her side, without
raising my eyes from the book, which was a very harmless one--M. de
Bonald's _Recherches Philosophiques._ Nevertheless the book displeased
her, and she snatched it away from me, feeling that books of the same
description, if not this particular one, were what she had to dread.

Upon the 6th of September, 1845, I wrote to M. ----, my director, the
following letter, a copy of which I have found among my papers,
and which I reproduce without in any way attenuating its somewhat
inconsistent and feverish tone:--

"SIR,--Having had to make two or three journeys at the beginning of
the vacation, I have been unable to correspond with you as early as I
could have wished. I was none the less urgently in need of unbosoming
myself to you with regard to pangs which increase in intensity each
day, and which I feel all the keener because there is no one here to
whom I can confide them. What ought to make for my happiness causes
me the deepest sorrow. An imperious sense of duty compels me to
concentrate my thoughts upon myself, in order to spare pain to those
who surround me with their affection, and who would moreover be quite
incapable of understanding my perplexity. Their kindness and soothing
words cut me to the quick. Oh, if they only knew what was going on
in the recesses of my heart! Since my stay here I have acquired some
important data towards the solution of the great problem which is
preoccupying my mind. Several circumstances have, to begin with, made
me realise the greatness of the sacrifice which God required of me,
and into what an abyss the course which my conscience prescribes must
plunge me. It is useless to describe them to you in detail, as, after
all, considerations of this kind can be of no weight in the resolution
which has to be taken. To have abandoned a path which I had selected
from my childhood, and which led without danger to the pure and noble
aims which I had set before myself, in order to tread another along
which I could discern nothing but uncertainty and disappointment; to
have disregarded the opinion which will have only blame in store
for what is really an honest act on my part, would have been a small
thing, if I had not at the same time been compelled to tear out part
of my heart, or, to speak more accurately, to pierce another to which
my own was so deeply attached. Filial love had grown in proportion as
so many other affections were crushed out. Well, it is in this part
of my being that duty exacts from me the most painful sacrifice. My
leaving the seminary will be an inexplicable enigma to my mother; she
will believe that I have killed her out of sheer caprice.

"Truly may I say that when I envisage the inextricable mesh in which
God has ensnared me while my reason and freedom were asleep, while I
was following with docile steps the path He had Himself traced out for
me, distracting thoughts crowd themselves upon me. God knows that I
was simple-minded and pure; I took nothing upon myself; I walked with
free and unflagging steps in the path which He disclosed before me,
and behold this path has led me to the brink of a precipice! God has
betrayed me! I never doubted but that a wise and merciful Providence
governed the universe and governed me in the course which I was to
take. It is not, however, without considerable effort that I have been
able to apply so formal a contradiction to apparent facts. I often say
to myself that vulgar common sense is little capable of appreciating
the providential government whether of humanity, of the universe, or
of the individual. The isolated consideration of facts would scarcely
tend to optimism. It requires a strong dose of optimism to credit God
with this generosity in spite of experience. I hope that I shall never
feel any hesitation upon this point, and that whatever may be the ills
which Providence yet has in store for me I shall ever believe that it
is guiding me to the highest possible good through the least possible
evil.

"According to what I hear from Germany, the situation which was
offered me there is still open;[1] only I cannot enter upon it before
the spring. This makes my journey thither very doubtful, and throws me
back into fresh perplexities. I am also advised to go through a year
of free study in Paris, during which time I should be able to reflect
upon my future career, and also take my university degrees. I am very
much inclined to adopt this last-named course, for though I have made
up my mind to come back to the seminary and confer with you and the
superiors, I should nevertheless be very reluctant to make a long
stay there in my present condition of mind. It is with the utmost
apprehension that I mark the near approach of the time when my inward
irresolution must find expression in a most decided course of action.
Hard it is to have thus to reascend the stream down which one has for
so long been gently floated! If only I could be sure of the future,
and of being one day able to secure for my ideas their due place, and
follow up at my ease and free from all external preoccupations the
work of my intellectual and moral improvement! But even could I
be sure of myself, how could I be of the circumstances which force
themselves so pitilessly upon us? In truth, I am driven to regret the
paltry store of liberty which God has given us; we have enough to
make us struggle; not enough to master destiny, just enough to insure
suffering.

"Happy are the children who only sleep and dream, and who never have a
thought of entering upon this struggle with God Himself! I see around me
men of pure and simple mind, whom Christianity suffices to render
virtuous and happy. God grant that they may never develop the miserable
faculty of criticism which so imperiously demands satisfaction, and
which, when once satisfied, leaves such little happiness in the soul!
Would to God that it were in my power to suppress it. I would not
hesitate at amputation if it were lawful and possible. Christianity
satisfies all my faculties except one, which is the most exacting of
them all, because it is by right judge over all the others. Would it not
be a contradiction in terms to impose conviction upon the faculty which
creates conviction? I am well aware that the orthodox will tell me that
it is my own fault if I have fallen into this condition. I will not
argue the point; no man knows whether he is worthy of love or hatred. I
am quite willing, therefore, to say that it is my fault, provided those
who love me promise to pity me and continue me their friendship.

"A result which now seems beyond all doubt is that I shall not revert
to orthodoxy by continuing to follow the same line,--I mean that of
rational and critical self-examination. Up till now, I hoped that
after having travelled over the circle of doubt I should come back
to the starting-point. I have quite lost this hope, and a return
to Catholicism no longer seems possible to me, except by a receding
movement, by stopping short in the path which I have entered, by
stigmatising reason, by declaring it for once and all null and void,
and by condemning it to respectful silence. Each step in my career of
criticism takes me further away from the starting-point. Have I, then,
lost all hope of coming back to Catholicism? That would be too bitter
a thought. No, sir, I have no hopes of reverting to it by rational
progress; but I have often been on the point of repudiating for once
and all the guide whom at times I mistrust. What would then be the
motive of my life? I cannot tell; but activity will ever find scope.
You may be sure that I must have been sorely forced to have dwelt for
one instant upon a thought which seems more cruel to me than death.
And yet, if my conscience represented it to me as lawful, I should
eagerly avail myself of it, if only out of common decency.

"I hope at all events that those who know me will admit that
interested motives have not estranged me from Christianity. Have not
all my material interests tempted me to find it true? The temporal
considerations against which I have had to struggle would have
sufficed to persuade many others; my heart has need of Christianity;
the Gospel will ever be my moral law; the church has given me my
education, and I love her. Could I but continue to style myself her
son! I pass from her in spite of myself; I abhor the dishonest attacks
levelled at her; I frankly confess that I have no complete substitute
for her teaching; but I cannot disguise from myself the weak points
which I believe that I have found in it and with regard to which it
is impossible to effect a compromise, because we have to do with a
doctrine in which all the component parts hold together and cannot be
detached.

"I sometimes regret that I was not born in a land where the bonds of
orthodoxy are less tightly drawn than in Catholic countries. For, at
whatever cost, I am resolved to be a Christian; but I cannot be an
orthodox Catholic. When I find such independent and bold thinkers as
Herder, Kant, and Fichte, calling themselves Christians, I should like
to be so too. But can I be so in the Catholic faith, which is like a
bar of iron? and you cannot reason with a bar of iron. Will not some
one found amongst us a rational and critical Christianity? I will
confess to you that I believe that I have discovered in some German
writers the true kind of Christianity which is adapted to us. May
I live to see this Christianity assuming a form capable of fully
satisfying all the requirements of our age! May I myself cooperate in
the great work! What so grieves me is the thought that perhaps it will
be needful to be a priest in order to accomplish that; and I could not
become a priest without being guilty of hypocrisy.

"Forgive me, sir, these thoughts, which must seem very reprehensible
to you. You are aware that all this has not as yet any dogmatic
consistence in me; I still cling to the Church, my venerable mother; I
recite the Psalms with heartfelt accents; I should, if I followed the
bent of my inclination, pass hours at a time in church; gentle, plain,
and pure piety touches me to the very heart; and I even have sharp
relapses of devotional feeling. All this cannot coexist without
contradiction with my general condition. But I have once for all made
up my mind on the subject; I have cast off the inconvenient yoke
of consistency, at all events for the time. Will God condemn me for
having simultaneously admitted that which my different faculties
simultaneously exact, although I am unable to reconcile their
contradictory demands? Are there not periods in the history of the
human mind when contradiction is necessary? When the moral verities
are under examination, doubt is unavoidable; and yet during this
period of transition the pure and noble mind must still be moral,
thanks to a contradiction. Thus it is that I am at times both Catholic
and Rationalist; but holy orders I can never take, for 'once a priest,
always a priest.'

"In order to keep my letter within due limits, I must bring the long
story of my inward struggles to a close. I thank God, who has seen
fit to put me through so severe a trial, for having brought me into
contact with a mind such as yours, which is so well able to understand
this trial, and to whom I can confide it without reserve."

M---- wrote me a very kind-hearted reply, offering a merely formal
opposition to my project of following my own course of study. My
sister, whose high intelligence had for years been like the pillar of
fire which lighted my path, wrote from Poland to encourage me in my
resolution, which was finally taken at the end of September. It was
a very honest and straightforward act; and it is one which I now look
back upon with the greatest satisfaction. But what a cruel severance.
It was upon my mother's account that I suffered the most. I was
compelled to inflict a deep wound upon her without being able to
give the slightest explanation. Although gifted with much native
intelligence, she was not sufficiently educated to understand that
a person's religious faith can be affected because he has discovered
that the Messianic explanations of the Psalms are erroneous, and that
Gesenius, in his commentary upon Isaiah, is in nearly every point
right when combating the arguments of the orthodox. It grieved me
much, also, to give pain to my old Brittany masters, who retained such
kindly feelings towards me. The critical question, as it represented
itself to my mind, would have seemed absolutely unintelligible to
them, so plain and unquestioning was their faith. I went back to Paris
therefore without letting them know anything more than that I was
likely to travel, and that my ecclesiastical studies might possibly be
suspended.

The masters of St. Sulpice, accustomed to take a broader view of
things, were not very much surprised. M. Le Hir, who placed an
unlimited confidence in study, and who also knew how steady my conduct
was, did not dissuade me from devoting a few years to free study
in Paris, and sketched out the course which I was to follow at the
Collège de France and at the School of Eastern Languages. M. Carbon
was grieved; he saw how different my position must become, and he
promised to try and find me a quiet and honourable position. M.
Dupanloup[2] displayed in this matter the high and hearty appreciation
of spiritual things which constituted his superiority. I spoke very
frankly to him. The critical side of the question did not in any way
impress him, and my allusion to German criticism took him by surprise.
The labours of M. Le Hir were almost unknown to him. Scripture in his
eyes was only useful in supplying preachers with eloquent passages,
and Hebrew was of no use for that purpose. But how kind and
generous-hearted he was! I have now before me a short note from him,
in which he says: "Do you want any money? This would be natural enough
in your position. My humble purse is at your service. I should like
to be able to offer you more precious gifts. I hope that my plain
and simple offer will not offend you." I declined his kind offer with
thanks, but there was no merit in my refusal, for my sister Henriette
had sent me twelve hundred francs to tide over this crisis. I scarcely
touched this sum, but nevertheless, by relieving me of any immediate
apprehension for the morrow, it was the foundation of the independence
and of the dignity of my whole life.

Thus, on the 6th of October, 1845, I went down, never again to remount
them in priestly dress, the steps of the St. Sulpice seminary. I
crossed the courtyard as quickly as I could, and went to the hotel
which then stood at the north-west corner of the esplanade, not at
that time thrown open, as it is now.

[Footnote 1: This has reference to a post of private tutor which was at my
disposal for a time.]

[Footnote 2: M. Dupanloup was no longer superior of the Petty Seminary
of Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet.]



FIRST STEPS OUTSIDE ST. SULPICE.

PART I.


The name of this hotel I do not remember; it was always spoken of as
"Mademoiselle Céleste's," this being the name of the worthy person who
managed or owned it.

There was certainly no other hotel like it in Paris, for it was a kind
of annex to the seminary, the rules of which were to a great extent
in force there. Lodgers were not admitted without a letter of
introduction from one of the directors of the seminary or some other
notability in the religious world. It was here that students who
wished for a few days to themselves before entering or leaving the
seminary used to stay, while priests and superiors of convents whom
business brought to Paris found it comfortable and inexpensive. The
transition from the priestly to the ordinary dress is like the change
which occurs in a chrysalis; it needs a little shade. Assuredly,
if any one could narrate all the silent and unobtrusive romances
associated with this ancient hotel, now pulled down, we should hear
some very interesting stories. I must not, however, let my meaning be
mistaken, for, like many ecclesiastics still alive, I can testify to
the blameless course of life in Mlle. Céleste's hotel.

While I was awaiting here the completion of my metamorphosis, M.
Carbon's good offices were being busily employed upon my behalf.
He had written to Abbé Gratry, at that time director of the Collège
Stanislas, and the latter offered me a place as usher in the upper
division. M. Dupanloup advised me to accept it, remarking: "You may
rest assured that M. Gratry is a priest of the highest distinction."
I accepted, and was very kindly treated by every one, but I did not
retain the place more than a fortnight. I found that my new situation
involved my making the outward profession of clericalism, the
avoidance of which was my reason for leaving the seminary. Thus my
relations with M. Gratry were but fleeting. He was a kindhearted
man, and a rather clever writer, but there was nothing in him. His
indecision of mind did not suit me at all, M. Carbon and M. Dupanloup
had told him why I had left St. Sulpice. We had two or three
conversations, in the course of which I explained to him my doubts,
based upon an examination of the texts. He did not in the least
understand me, and with his transcendentalism he must have looked upon
my rigid attention to details as very commonplace. He knew nothing of
ecclesiastical science, whether exegesis or theology; his capabilities
not extending beyond hollow phrases, trifling applications of
mathematics, and the region of "matter of fact." I was not slow to
perceive how immensely superior the theology of St. Sulpice was to
these hollow combinations which would fain pass muster as scientific.
St. Sulpice has a knowledge at first hand of what Christianity is;
the Polytechnic School has not. But I repeat, there could be no two
opinions as to the uprightness of M. Gratry, who was a very taking and
highminded man.

I was sorry to part company with him; but there was no help for it.
I had left the first seminary in the world for one in every respect
inferior to it. The leg had been badly set; I had the courage to break
it a second time. On the 2nd or 3rd of November, I passed from out the
last threshold appertaining to the Church, and I obtained a place
as "assistant master _au pair_"--to employ the phrase used in the
Quartier Latin of those days--without salary, in a school of the
St. Jacques district attached to the Lycée Henri IV. I had a small
bedroom, and took my meals with the scholars, and as my time was not
occupied for more than two hours a day, I was able to do a good deal
of work upon my own account. This was just what I wanted.



FIRST STEPS OUTSIDE ST. SULPICE.

PART II.


Constituted as I am to find my own company quite sufficient, the
humble dwelling in the Rue des Deux Eglises (now the Rue de l'Abbé
de l'Épée) would have been a paradise for me had it not been for
the terrible crisis which my conscience was passing through, and the
altered direction which I was compelled to give to my existence. The
fish in Lake Baïkal have, it is said, taken thousands of years in
their transformation from salt to fresh water fish. I had to effect
my transition in a few weeks. Catholicism, like a fairy circle, casts
such a powerful spell upon one's whole life, that when one is deprived
of it everything seems aimless and gloomy. I felt terribly out of
my element. The whole universe seemed to me like an arid and chilly
desert. With Christianity untrue, everything else appeared to me
indifferent, frivolous, and undeserving of interest. The shattering of
my career left me with a sense of aching void, like what may be felt
by one who has had an attack of fever or a blighted affection. The
struggle which had engrossed my whole soul had been so ardent that
all the rest appeared to me petty and frivolous. The world discovered
itself to me as mean and deficient in virtue. I seemed to have lost
caste, and to have fallen upon a nest of pigmies.

My sorrow was much increased by the grief which I had been compelled
to inflict upon my mother. I resorted, perhaps wrongly, to certain
artifices with the view, as I hoped, of sparing her pain. Her letters
went to my heart. She supposed my position to be even more painful
than it was in reality, and as she had, despite our poverty, rather
spoilt me, she thought that I should never be able to withstand any
hardship. "When I remember how a poor little mouse kept you from
sleeping, I am at a loss to know how you will get on," she wrote to
me. She passed her time singing the Marseilles hymns,[1] of which she
was so fond, especially the hymn of Joseph, beginning--

  "O Joseph, ô mon aimable
  Fils affable."

When she wrote to me in this strain, my heart was fit to break. As a
child, I was in the habit of asking her ten times over in the course
of the day--"Mother, have I been good?" The idea of a rupture between
us was most cruel. I accordingly resorted to various devices in order
to prove to her that I was still the same tender son that I had been
in the past. In time the wound healed, and when she saw that I was as
tender and loving towards her as ever, she readily agreed that there
might be more than one way of being a priest, and that nothing was
changed in me except the dress, which was the literal truth.

My ignorance of the world was thorough-paced. I knew nothing except
of literary matters, and as my only real knowledge was that which I
gained at St. Sulpice, I have always been like a child in all worldly
matters. I did not therefore make any effort to render my material
position as good as the circumstances admitted. The one object of life
seemed to me to be thought. The educational profession being the one
which comes nearest to the clerical one, I selected it almost without
reflection. It was hard, no doubt, after having reached the maximum
of intellectual culture, and having held a post of some honour,
to descend to the lowest rank. I was better versed than any living
Frenchman, with the exception of M. Le Hir, in the comparative theory
of the Semitic languages, and my position was no better than that of
an under-master; I was a savant, and I had not taken a degree. But
the inward contentment of my own conscience was enough for me. I
never felt a shadow of regret at the decision which I had come to in
October, 1845.

I had my reward, moreover, the day after I entered the humble school
in which I was to occupy for three years and a-half such a lowly
position. Among the pupils was one who, owing to his successes and
rapid progress, held a place of his own in the school. He was eighteen
years old, and even at that early age the philosophical spirit, the
concentrated ardour, the passionate love of truth, and the inventive
sagacity which have since made his name celebrated were apparent to
those who knew him. I refer to M. Berthelot, whose room was next to
mine. From the day that we knew each other, we became fast friends.
Our eagerness to learn was equally great, and we had both had very
different kinds of culture. We accordingly threw all that we knew
into the same seething cauldron which served to boil joints of very
different kinds. Berthelot taught me what was not to be learnt in the
seminary, while I taught him theology and Hebrew. Berthelot purchased
a Hebrew Bible, which, I believe, is still in his library with its
leaves uncut. He did not get much beyond the _Shevas_, the counter
attractions of the laboratory being too great. Our mutual honesty and
straightforwardness brought us closer together. Berthelot introduced
me to his father, one of those gifted doctors such as may be found in
Paris. The father was a Galilean of the old school, and very advanced
in his political views. He was the first Republican I had ever seen,
and it took me some time to familiarize myself with the idea. But
he was something more than that: he was a model of charity and
self-devotion. He assured the scientific career of his son by enabling
him to devote himself up to the age of thirty to his speculative
researches without having to obtain any remunerative post which would
have interfered with his studies. In politics, Berthelot remained true
to the principles of his father. This is the only point upon which
we have not always been agreed. For my part I should willingly resign
myself, if the opportunity arose (I must say that it seems to grow
more distant every day), to serve, for the greater good of
humanity now so sadly out of gear, a tyrant who was philanthropic,
well-instructed, intelligent, and liberal.

Our discussions were interminable, and we were always resuming the
same subject. We passed part of the night in searching out together
the topics upon which we were engaged. After some little time, M.
Berthelot, having completed his special mathematical studies at the
Lycée Henri IV., went back to his father, who lived at the foot of
the Tour Saint Jacques de la Boucherie. When he came to see me in the
evening at the Rue de l'Abbé de l'Épée, we used to converse for hours,
and then I used to walk back with him to the Tour Saint Jacques. But
as our conversation was rarely concluded when we got back to his
door, he returned with me, and then I went back with him, this game
of battledore and shuttlecock being renewed several times. Social and
philosophical questions must be very hard to solve, seeing that we
could not with all our energy settle them. The crisis of 1848 had a
very great effect upon us. This fateful year was not more successful
than we had been in solving the problems which it had set itself, but
it demonstrated the fragility of many things which were supposed to be
solid, and to young and active minds it seemed like the lowering of a
curtain of clouds upon the horizon.

The profound affection which thus bound M. Berthelot and myself
together was unquestionably of a very rare and singular kind. It
so happened that we were both of an essentially objective nature; a
nature, that is to say, perfectly free from the narrow whirlwind which
converts most consciences into an egotistical gulf like the conical
cavity of the formica-leo. Accustomed each to pay very little
attention to himself, we paid very little attention to one another.
Our friendship consisted in what we mutually learnt, in a sort of
common fermentation which a remarkable conformity of intellectual
organization produced in us in regard to the same objects. Anything
which we had both seen in the same light seemed to us a certainty.
When we first became acquainted, I still retained a tender attachment
for Christianity. Berthelot also inherited from his father a remnant
of Christian belief. A few months sufficed to relegate these vestiges
of faith to that part of our souls reserved for memory. The statement
that everything in the world is of the same colour, that there is no
special supernatural or momentary revelation, impressed itself upon
our minds as unanswerable. The scientific purview of a universe in
which there is no appreciable trace of any free will superior to that
of man became, from the first months of 1846, the immovable anchor
from which we never shifted. We shall never move from this position
until we shall have encountered in nature some one specially
intentional fact having its cause outside the free will of man or the
spontaneous action of the animal.

Thus our friendship was somewhat analogous to that of two eyes when
they look steadily at the same object, and when from two images the
brain receives one and the same perception. Our intellectual growth
was like the phenomenon which occurs through a sort of action due
to close contact and to passive complicity. M. Berthelot looked as
favourably upon what I did as myself; I liked his ways as much as
he could have done himself. There was never so much as a trivial
vulgarity--I will not say a moral slackening of affection--between us.
We were invariably upon the same terms with each other that people are
with a woman for whom they feel respect. When I want to typify what an
unexampled pair of friends we were, I always represent two priests
in their surplices walking arm in arm. This dress does not debar them
from discussing elevated subjects; but it would never occur to them
in such a dress to smoke a cigar, to talk about trifles, or to satisfy
the most legitimate requirements of the body. Flaubert, the novelist,
could never understand that, as Sainte-Beuve relates, the recluses of
Port Royal lived for years in the same house and addressed each other
as Monsieur to the day of their death. The fact of the matter is that
Flaubert had no sort of idea as to what abstract natures are. Not only
did nothing approaching to a familiarity ever pass between us, but
we should have hesitated to ask each other for help, or almost for
advice. To ask a service would, in our view, be an act of corruption,
an injustice towards the rest of the human race; it would, at all
events, be tantamount to acknowledging that there was something to
which we attached a value. But we are so well aware that the temporal
order of things is vain, empty, hollow, and frivolous, that we
hesitate at giving a tangible shape even to friendship. We have too
much regard for each other to be guilty of a weakness towards each
other. Both alike convinced of the insignificance of human affairs,
and possessed of the same aspirations for what is eternal, we could
not bring ourselves to admit having of a set purpose concentrated our
thoughts upon what is casual and accidental. For there can be no doubt
that ordinary friendship presupposes the conviction that all things
are not vain and empty.

Later in life an intimacy of this kind may at times cease to be felt
as a necessity. It recovers all its force whenever the globe of this
world, which is ever changing, brings round some new aspect with
regard to which we want to consult each other. Whichever of us dies
first will leave a great void in the existence of the other. Our
friendship reminds me of that of François de Sales and President
Favre: "They pass away these years of time, my brother, their months
are reduced to weeks, their weeks to days, their days to hours, and
their hours to moments, which latter alone we possess, and these only
as they fleet." The conviction of the existence of an eternal object
embraced in youth, gives a peculiar stability to life. All this is
anything but human or natural, you may say! No doubt, but strength is
only manifested by running counter to nature. The natural tree does
not bear good fruit. The fruit is not good until the tree is trained;
that is to say, until it has ceased to be a tree.

[Footnote 1: A collection of hymns of the sixteenth century, touching
in their simplicity. I have my mother's old copy; I may perhaps write
something about them hereafter.]



FIRST STEPS OUTSIDE ST. SULPICE.

PART III.


The friendship of M. Berthelot, and the approbation of my sister,
were my two chief consolations during this painful period, when the
sentiment of an abstract duty towards truth compelled me at the age
of three and twenty to alter the course of a career already fairly
entered upon. The change was, in reality, only one of domicile, and of
outward surroundings. At bottom I remained the same; the moral course
of my life was scarcely affected by this trial; the craving for truth,
which was the mainspring of my existence, knew no diminution. My
habits and ways were but very little modified.

St. Sulpice, in truth, had left its impress so deeply upon me, that
for years I remained a St. Sulpice man, not in regard to faith but in
habit. The excellent education imparted there, which had exhibited
to me the perfection of politeness in M. Gosselin, the perfection of
kindness in M. Carbon, the perfection of virtue in M. Pinault, M.
Le Hir and M. Gottofrey, made an indelible impression upon my docile
nature. My studies, prosecuted without interruption after I had left
the seminary, so completely confirmed me in my presumptions against
orthodox theology, that at the end of a twelvemonth, I could scarcely
understand how I had formerly been able to believe. But when faith has
disappeared, morality remains; for a long time, my programme was to
abandon as little as possible of Christianity, and to hold on to all
that could be maintained without belief in the supernatural. I sorted,
so to speak, the virtues of the St. Sulpice student, discarding those
which appertain to a positive belief, and retaining those of which
a philosopher can approve. Such is the force of habit. The void
sometimes has the same effect as its opposite. _Est pro corde locus_.
The fowl whose brain has been removed, will nevertheless, under the
influence of certain stimulants, continue to scratch its beak.

I endeavoured, therefore, on leaving St. Sulpice to remain as much of
a St. Sulpice man as possible. The studies which I had begun at the
seminary had so engrossed me, that my one desire was to resume them.
One only occupation seemed worthy to absorb my life, and that was the
pursuit of my critical researches upon Christianity by the much larger
means which lay science offered me. I also imagined myself to be
in the company of my teachers, discussing objections with them, and
proving to them that whole pages of ecclesiastical teaching require
alteration.

For some little time, I kept up my relations with them, notably with
M. Le Hir, but I gradually came to feel that relations of this kind,
between the believer and the unbeliever, grow strained, and I broke
off an intimacy which could be profitable and pleasant to myself
alone.

In respect to matters of critique, I also held my ground as closely as
I possibly could, and thus it comes that, while being unrestrictedly
rationalist, I have none the less seemed a thorough conservative in
the discussions relating to the age and authenticity of Holy Writ. The
first edition of my _Histoire Générale des Langues Sémitiques_, for
instance, contains so far as regards the book of Ecclesiastes and the
Song of Solomon, several concessions to traditional opinions which
I have since eliminated one after the other. In my _Origines du
Christianisme_, upon the other hand, this reserved attitude has stood
me in good stead, for in writing this essay, I had to face a very
exaggerated school--that of the Tübingen Protestants--composed of men
devoid of literary tact and moderation, by whom, through the fault of
the Catholics, researches as to Jesus and the apostolic age have been
almost entirely monopolised. When a reaction sets in against this
school, it will be recognised perhaps that my critique, Catholic in
its origin, and by degrees freed from the shackles of tradition, has
enabled me to see many things in their true light, and has preserved
me from more than one mistake.

But it is in regard to my temperament, more especially, that I have
remained in reality the pupil of my old masters. My life, when I pass
it in review, has been one long application of their good qualities
and their defects; with this difference, that these qualities and
defects, having been transferred to the world's stage, have brought
out inconsistencies more strongly marked. All's well that ends well,
and as my existence has, upon the whole, been a pleasant one, I often
amuse myself, like Marcus Aurelius, by calculating how much I owe to
the various influences which have traversed my life, and woven the
tissue of it. In these calculations, St. Sulpice always comes out
as the principal factor. I can venture to speak very freely on this
point, for little of the credit is due to me. I was well trained, and
that is the secret of the whole matter. My amiability, which is in
many cases the result of indifference; my indulgency, which is sincere
enough, and is due to the fact that I see clearly how unjust men
are to one another; my conscientious habits, which afford me real
pleasure, and my infinite capacity for enduring ennui, attributable
perhaps to my having been so well inoculated by ennui during my youth
that it has never taken since, are all to be explained by the circle
in which I lived, and the profound impressions which I received. Since
I left St. Sulpice, I have been constantly losing ground, and yet,
with only a quarter the virtues of a St. Sulpice man, I have, I think,
been far above the average.

I should like to explain in detail and show how the paradoxical
resolve to hold fast to the clerical virtues, without the faith upon
which they are based, and in a world for which they are not designed,
produced so far as I was concerned, the most amusing encounters. I
should like to relate all the adventures which my Sulpician habits
brought about, and the singular tricks which they played me. After
leading a serious life for sixty years, mirth is no offence, and what
source of merriment can be more abundant, more harmless, and more
ready to hand than oneself? If a comedy writer should ever be inclined
to amuse the public by depicting my foibles I would readily give my
assent if he agreed to let me join him in the work, as I could relate
things far more amusing than any which he could invent. But I find
that I am transgressing the first rule which my excellent masters laid
down, viz., never to speak of oneself. I will therefore treat this
latter part of my subject very briefly.



FIRST STEPS OUTSIDE ST. SULPICE.

PART IV.


The moral teaching inculcated by the pious masters who watched over me
so tenderly up to the age of three-and-twenty may be summed up in the
four virtues of disinterestedness or poverty, modesty, politeness,
and strict morality. I propose to analyse my conduct under these four
heads, not in any way with the intention of advertising my own merits,
but in order to give those who profess the philosophy of good-natured
scepticism an opportunity of exercising their powers of observation at
my expense.

I. Poverty is of all the clerical virtues the one which I have
practised the most faithfully. M. Olier had painted for his church
a picture in which St. Sulpice was represented as laying down the
fundamental rule of life for his clerks: _Habentes alimenta et quibus
tegamur, his contenti sumus_. This was just my idea, and I could
desire nothing better than to be provided with lodging, board, lights,
and firing, without any intervention of my own, by some one who
would charge me a fixed sum and leave me entirely my own master. The
arrangement which dated from my settlement in the little _pension_ of
the Faubourg St. Jacques was destined to become the economic basis of
my whole life. One or two private lessons which I gave saved me from
the necessity of breaking into the twelve hundred francs sent me by my
sister. This was just the rule laid down and observed by my masters
at Tréguier and St. Sulpice: _Victum vestitum_, board and lodging and
just enough money to buy a new cassock once a year. I had never wished
for anything more myself. The modest competence which I now possess
only fell to my share later in life, and quite independently of my
own volition. I look upon the world at large as belonging to me, but
I only spend the interest of my capital. I shall depart this life
without having possessed anything save "that which it is usual to
consume," according to the Franciscan code. Whenever I have been
tempted to buy some small plot of ground, an inward voice has
prevented me. To have done so would have seemed to me gross, material,
and opposed to the principle: _Non habemus hic manentem civitatem_.
Securities are lighter, more ethereal, and more fragile; they do not
exercise the same amount of attachment, and there is more risk of
losing them.

At the present rate this is a bitter contradiction, and though the
rule which I have followed has given me happiness, I would not advise
any one to adopt it. I am too old to change now, and besides I have
nothing to complain of; but I should be afraid of misleading young
people if I told them to do the same. To get the most one can out of
oneself is becoming the rule of the world at large. The idea that the
nobleman is the man who does not make money, and that any commercial
or industrial pursuit, no matter how honest, debases the person
engaged in it, and prevents him from belonging to the highest circle
of humanity is fast fading away. So great is the difference which an
interval of forty years brings about in human affairs. All that I once
did now appears sheer folly, and sometimes in looking around me I fail
to recognise that it is the same world.

The man whose life is devoted to immaterial pursuits is a child in
worldly affairs; he is helpless without a guardian. The world in which
we live is wide enough for every place which is worth taking to be
occupied; every post to be held creates, so to speak, the person to
fill it. I had never imagined that the product of my thought could
have any market value. I had always had an idea of writing, but it
had never occurred to me that it would bring me in any money. I was
greatly astonished, therefore, when a man of pleasant and intelligent
appearance called upon me in my garret one day, and, after
complimenting me upon several articles which I had written, offered
to publish them in a collected form. A stamped agreement which he had
with him specified terms which seemed to me so wonderfully liberal
that when he asked me if all my future writings should be included
in the agreement, I gave my assent. I was tempted to make one or
two observations, but the sight of the stamp stopped me, and I was
unwilling that so fine a piece of paper should be wasted. I did well
to forego them, for M. Michel Lévy must have been created by a special
decree of Providence to be my editor. A man of letters who has any
self-respect should write in only one journal and in one review, and
should have only one publisher. M. Michel Lévy and myself always got
on very well together. At a subsequent date, he pointed out to me that
the agreement which he had prepared was not sufficiently remunerative
for me, and he substituted for it one much more to my advantage. I am
told that he has not made a bad speculation out of me. I am delighted
to hear it. In any event, I may safely say that if I possessed a fund
of literary wealth it was only fair that he should have a large share
of it, as but for him I should never have suspected its existence.

II. It is very difficult to prove that one is modest, for the very
assertion of one's modesty destroys one's claim to it. As I have said,
our old Christian teachers had an excellent rule upon this score,
which was never to speak of oneself either in praise or depreciation.
This is the true principle, but the general reader will not have
it so, and is the cause of all the mischief. He leads the writer to
commit faults upon which he is afterwards very hard, just as the staid
middle classes of another age applauded the actor, and yet excluded
him from the Church. "Incur your own damnation, as long as you amuse
us" is often the sentiment which lurks beneath the encouragement,
often flattering in appearance, of the public. Success is more often
than not acquired by our defects. When I am very well pleased with
what I have written, I have perhaps nine or ten persons who approve
of what I have said. When I cease to keep a strict watch upon myself,
when my literary conscience hesitates, and my hand shakes, thousands
are anxious for me to go on.

But notwithstanding all this, and making due allowance for venial
faults, I may safely claim that I have been modest, and in this
respect, at all events, I have not come short of the St. Sulpice
standard. I am not afflicted with literary vanity. I do not fall into
the error which distinguishes the literary views of our day. I am well
assured that no really great man has ever imagined himself to be one,
and that those who during their lifetime browse upon their glory while
it is green, do not garner it ripe after their death. I only feigned
to set store by literature for a time to please M. Sainte-Beuve who
had great influence over me. Since his death, I have ceased to attach
any value to it. I see plainly enough that talent is only prized
because people are so childish. If the public were wise, they would
be content with getting the truth. What they like is in most cases
imperfections. My adversaries, in order to deny me the possession
of other qualities which interfere with their apologeticum, are so
profuse in their allowance of talent to me that I need not scruple
to accept an encomium which, coming from them, is a criticism. In any
event, I have never sought to gain anything by the display of this
inferior quality, which has been more prejudicial to me as a _savant_
than it has been useful of itself. I have not based any calculations
upon it. I have never counted upon my supposed talent for a
livelihood, and I have not in any way tried to turn it to account.
The late M. Beulé, who looked upon me with a kind of good-natured
curiosity mingled with astonishment, could not understand why I made
so little use of it. I have never been at all a literary man. In the
most decisive moments of my life I had not the least idea that my
prose would secure any success.

I have never done anything to foster my success, which, if I may be
permitted to say so, might have been much greater if I had so willed.
I have in no wise followed up my good fortune; upon the contrary, I
have rather tried to check it. The public likes a writer who sticks
closely to his line, and who has his own specialty; placing but little
confidence in those who try to shine in contradictory subjects. I
could have secured an immense amount of popularity if I had gone in
for a _crescendo_ of anti-clericalism after the _Vie de Jésus_. The
general reader likes a strong style. I could easily have left in the
flourishes and tinsel phrases which excite the enthusiasm of those
whose taste is not of a very elevated kind, that is to say, of the
majority. I spent a year in toning down the style of the _Vie de
Jésus_, as I thought that such a subject could not be treated
too soberly or too simply. And we know how fond the masses are of
declamation. I have never accentuated my opinions in order to gain the
ear of my readers. It is no fault of mine if, owing to the bad taste
of the day, a slender voice has made itself heard athwart the darkness
in which we dwell, as if reverberated by a thousand echoes.

III. With regard to my politeness, I shall find fewer cavillers than
with regard to my modesty, for, so far as mere externals go, I have
been endowed with much more of the former than of the latter. The
extreme urbanity of my old masters made so great an impression upon
me that I have never broken away from it. Theirs was the true French
politeness; that which is shown not only towards acquaintances but
towards all persons without exception.[1] Politeness of this kind
implies a general standard of conduct, without which life cannot, as I
hold, go on smoothly; viz. that every human creature should, be given
credit for goodness failing proof to the contrary, and treated kindly.
Many people, especially in certain countries, follow the opposite
rule, and this leads to great injustice. For my own part, I cannot
possibly be severe upon any one _à priori_. I take for granted that
every person I see for the first time is a man of merit and of good
repute, reserving to myself the right to alter my opinions (as I often
have to do) if facts compel me to do so. This is the St. Sulpice rule,
which, in my contact with the outside world, has placed me in very
singular positions, and has often made me appear very old-fashioned,
a relic of the past, and unfamiliar with the age in which we live. The
right way to behave at table is to help oneself to the worst piece in
the dish, so as to avoid the semblance of leaving for others what
one does not think good enough--or, better still, to take the piece
nearest to one without looking at what is in the dish. Any one who
was to act in this delicate way in the struggle of modern life,
would sacrifice himself to no purpose. His delicacy would not even
be noticed. "First come, first served," is the objectionable rule of
modern egotism. To obey, in a world which has ceased to have any heed
of civility, the excellent rules of the politeness of other days,
would be tantamount to playing the part of a dupe, and no one would
thank you for your pains. When one feels oneself being pushed by
people who want to get in front of one, the proper thing to do is to
draw back with a gesture tantamount to saying: "Do not let me prevent
you passing." But it is very certain that any one who adhered to this
rule in an omnibus would be the victim of his own deference; in fact,
I believe that he would be infringing the bye-laws. In travelling by
rail, how few people seem to see that in trying to force their way
before others on the platform in order to secure the best seats, they
are guilty of gross discourtesy.

In other words, our democratic machines have no place for the man of
polite manners. I have long since given up taking the omnibus; the
conductor came to look upon me as a passenger who did not know what
he was about. In travelling by rail, I invariably have the worst seat,
unless I happen to get a helping hand from the station-master. I was
fashioned for a society based upon respect, in which people could be
treated, classified, and placed according to their costume, and in
which they would not have to fight for their own hand. I am only at
home at the Institute or the Collège de France, and that because our
officials are all well-conducted men and hold us in great respect. The
Eastern habit of always having a _cavass_ to walk in front of one in
the public thoroughfares suited me very well; for modesty is seasoned
by a display of force. It is agreeable to have under one's orders
a man armed with a kourbash which one does not allow him to use. I
should not at all mind having the power of life and death without ever
exercising it, and I should much like to own some slaves in order to
be extremely kind to them and to make them adore me.

IV. My clerical ideas have exercised a still greater influence over
me in all that relates to the rules of morality. I should have looked
upon it as a lack of decorum if I had made any change in my austere
habits upon this score. The world at large, in its ignorance of
spiritual things, believes that men only abandon the ecclesiastical
calling because they find its duties too severe. I should never have
forgiven myself if I had done anything to lend even a semblance of
reason to views so superficial. With my extreme conscientiousness
I was anxious to be at rest with myself, and I continued to live in
Paris the life which I had led in the seminary. As time went on, I
recognised that this virtue was as vain as all the others; and more
especially I noted that nature does not in the least encourage man
to be chaste. I none the less persevered in the mode of life I had
selected, and I deliberately imposed upon myself the morals of a
Protestant clergyman. A man should never take two liberties with
popular prejudice at the same time. The freethinker should be very
particular as to his morals. I know some Protestant ministers, very
broad in their ideas, whose stiff white ties preserve them from all
reproach. In the same way I have, thanks to a moderate style and
blameless morals, secured a hearing for ideas which, in the eyes of
human mediocrity, are advanced.

The worldly views in regard to the relations between the sexes are as
peculiar as the biddings of nature itself. The world, whose; judgments
are rarely altogether wrong, regards it as more or less ridiculous
to be virtuous, when one is not obliged to be so as a matter of
professional duty. The priest, whose place it is to be chaste as it
is that of the soldier to be brave, is, according to this view,
almost the only person who can, without incurring ridicule, stand by
principles over which morality and fashion are so often at variance.
There can be no doubt that, upon this point, as on many others,
adherence to my clerical principles has been injurious to me in the
eyes of the world. These principles have not affected my happiness.
Women have, as a rule, understood how much respect and sympathy for
them my affectionate reserve implied. In fine, I have been beloved by
the four women whose love was of the most comfort to me: My mother,
my sister, my wife and my daughter. I have had the better part, and it
will not be taken from me, for I often fancy that the judgments which
will be passed upon us in the valley of Jehosophat, will be neither
more nor less than those of women, countersigned by the Almighty.

Thus it may, upon the whole, be said that I have come short in little
of my clerical promises. I have exchanged spirituality for ideality.
I have been truer to my engagements than many priests apparently more
regular in their conduct. In resolutely clinging to the virtues of
disinterestedness, politeness, and modesty in a world to which they
are not applicable I have shown how very simple I am. I have never
courted success; I may almost say that it is distasteful to me. The
pleasure of living and of working is quite enough for me. Whatever may
be egotistical in this way of engaging the pleasure of existence is
neutralized by the sacrifices which I believe that I have made for the
public good. I have always been at the orders of my country; at the
first sign from it, in 1869, I placed myself at its disposal. I might
perhaps have rendered it some service; the country did not think so,
but I have done my part. I have never flattered the errors of public
opinion; and I have been so careful not to lose a single opportunity
of pointing out these errors, that superficial persons have regarded
me as wanting in patriotism. One is not called upon to descend to
charlatanism or falsehood to obtain a mandate, the main condition of
which is independence and sincerity. Amidst the public misfortunes
which may be in store for us, my conscience will, therefore, be quite
at rest.

All things considered, I should not, if I had to begin my life
over again, with the right of making what erasures I liked, change
anything. The defects of my nature and education have, by a sort of
benevolent Providence, been so attenuated and reduced as to be of very
little moment. A certain apparent lack of frankness in my relations
with them is forgiven me by my friends, who attribute it to my
clerical education. I must admit that in the early part of my life I
often told untruths, not in my own interest, but out of good-nature
and indifference, upon the mistaken idea which always induces me to
take the view of the person with whom I may be conversing. My sister
depicted to me in very vivid colours the drawbacks involved in acting
like this, and I have given up doing so. I am not aware of having told
a single untruth since 1851, with the exception, of course, of the
harmless stories and polite fibs which all casuists permit, as also
the literary evasions which, in the interests of a higher truth, must
be used to make up a well-poised phrase, or to avoid a still greater
misfortune--that of stabbing an author. Thus, for instance, a poet
brings you some verses. You must say that they are admirable, for if
you said less it would be tantamount to describing them as worthless,
and to inflicting a grievous insult upon a man who intended to show
you a polite attention.

My friends may have well found it much more difficult to forgive me
another defect, which consists in being rather slow not to show them
affection but to render them assistance. One of the injunctions most
impressed upon us at the seminary was to avoid "special friendships."
Friendships of this kind were described as being a fraud upon the rest
of the community. This rule has always remained indelibly impressed
upon my mind. I have never given much encouragement to friendship; I
have done little for my friends, and they have done little for me. One
of the ideas which I have so often to cope with is that friendship, as
it is generally understood, is an injustice and a blunder, which only
allows you to distinguish the good qualities of a single person, and
blinds you to those of others who are perhaps more deserving of your
sympathy. I fancy to myself at times, like my ancient masters, that
friendship is a larceny committed at the expense of society at large,
and that, in a more elevated world, friendship would disappear. In
some cases, it has seemed to me that the special attachment which
unites two individuals is a slight upon good-fellowship generally; and
I am always tempted to hold aloof from them as being warped in their
judgment and devoid of impartiality and liberty. A close association
of this kind between two persons must, in my view, narrow the
mind, detract from anything like breadth of view, and fetter the
independence. Beulé often used to banter me upon this score. He was
somewhat attached to me, and was anxious to render me a service,
though I had not done the equivalent for him. Upon a certain
occasion I voted against him in favour of some one who had been very
ill-natured towards me, and he said to me afterwards: "Renan, I shall
play some mean trick upon you; out of impartiality you will vote for
me."

While I have been very fond of my friends, I have done very little for
them. I have been as much at the disposal of the public as of them.
This is why I receive so many letters from unknown and anonymous
correspondents; and this is also why I am such a bad correspondent. It
has often happened to me while writing a letter to break off suddenly
and convert into general terms the ideas which have occurred to me.
The best of my life has been lived for the public, which has had all I
have to give. There is no surprise in store for it after my death, as
I have kept nothing back for anybody.

Having thus given my preference instinctively to the many rather than
to the few, I have enjoyed the sympathy even of my adversaries, but I
have had few friends. No sooner has there been any sign of warmth in
my feelings, than the St. Sulpice dictum, "No special friendships,"
has acted as a refrigerator, and stood in the way of any close
affinity. My craving to be just has prevented me from being obliging.
I am too much impressed by the idea that in doing one person a service
you as a rule disoblige another person; that to further the chances
of one competitor is very often equivalent to an injury upon another.
Thus the image of the unknown person whom I am about to injure brings
my zeal to a sudden check. I have obliged hardly any one; I have never
learnt how people succeed in obtaining the management of a tobacco
shop for those in whom they are interested. This has caused me to be
devoid of influence in the world, but from a literary point of view
it has been a good thing for me. Merimee would have been a man of the
very highest mark if he had not had so many friends. But his friends
took complete possession of him. How can a man write private letters
when it is in his power to address himself to all the world. The
person to whom you write reduces your talent; you are obliged to write
down to his level. The public has a broader intelligence than any one
person. There are a great many fools, it is true, among the "all," but
the "all" comprises as well the few thousand clever men and women for
whom alone the world may be said to exist. It is in view of them that
one should write.

[Footnote 1: I will add towards animals as well. I could not possibly
behave unkindly to a dog, or treat him roughly, and with an air of
authority.]



FIRST STEPS OUTSIDE ST. SULPICE.

PART V.


I now bring to a conclusion these _Recollections_ by asking the reader
to forgive the irritating fault into which writing of this kind leads
one in every sentence. Vanity is so deep in its secret calculations
that even when frankly criticising himself the writer is liable to the
suspicion of not being quite open and above board. The danger in such
a case is that he will, with unconscious artfulness, humbly confess,
as he can do without much merit, to trifling and external defects so
as indirectly to ascribe to himself very high qualities. The demon
of vanity is, assuredly, a very subtle one, and I ask myself whether
perchance I have fallen a victim to it. If men of taste reproach me
with having shown myself to be a true representative of the age while
pretending not to be so, I beg them to rest well assured that this
will not happen to me again.

    Claudite jam rivos, pueri; sat prata biberunt

I have too much work before me to amuse myself in a way which many
people will stigmatise as frivolous. My mother's family at Lannion,
from which I have inherited my disposition, has supplied several cases
of longevity; but certain recurrent symptoms lead me to believe that
so far as I am concerned I shall not furnish another. I shall thank
God that it is so, if I am thus spared years of decadence and loss of
power, which are the only things I dread. At all events, the remainder
of my life will be devoted to a research of the pure objective truth.
Should these be the last lines in which I am given an opportunity of
addressing myself to the public, I may be allowed to thank them for
the intelligent and sympathetic way in which they have supported me.
In former times the most that a man who went out of the beaten track
could expect was that he would be tolerated. My age and country have
been much more indulgent for me. Despite his many defects and his
humble origin, the son of peasants and of lowly sailors, trebly
ridiculous as a deserter from the seminary, an unfrocked clerk and a
case-hardened pedant, was from the first well-received, listened to,
and ever made much of, simply because he spoke with sincerity. I have
had some ardent opponents, but I have never had a personal enemy. The
only two objects of my ambition, admission to the Institute and to the
Collège de France, have been gratified. France has allowed me to share
the favours which she reserves for all that is liberal: her admirable
language, her glorious literary tradition, her rules of tact, and the
audience which she can command. Foreigners, too, have aided me in
my task as much as my own country, and I shall carry to my grave a
feeling of affection for Europe as well as for France, to whom I would
at times go on my knees and entreat not to divide her own household
by fratricidal jealousy, nor to forget her duty and her common task,
which is civilization.

Nearly all the men with whom I have had anything to do have been
extremely kind to me. When I first left the seminary, I traversed,
as I have said, a period of solitude, during which my sole support
consisted of my sister's letters and my conversations with M.
Berthelot; but I soon met with encouragement in every direction. M.
Egger became, from the beginning of 1846, my friend and my guide in
the difficult task of proving, rather late in the day, what I could
do in the way of classics. Eugéne Burnouf, after perusing a very
defective essay which I wrote for the Volney Prize in 1847, chose me
as a pupil. M. and Mme. Adolphe Garnier were extremely kind to me.
They were a charming couple, and Madame Garnier, radiant with grace
and devoid of affectation, first inspired me with admiration for a
kind of beauty from which theology had sequestered me. With M. Victor
Le Clerc I had brought before my eyes all those qualities of study and
methodical application which distinguished my former teachers. I had
learnt to like him from the time of my residence at St. Sulpice: he
was the only layman whom the directors of the seminary valued, and
they envied him his remarkable ecclesiastical erudition. M. Cousin,
though he more than once displayed friendliness for me, was too
closely surrounded by disciples for me to try and force my way
through such a crowd, which was somewhat subservient to their master's
utterances. M. Augustin Thierry, upon the other hand, was, in the true
sense of the word, a spiritual father for me. His advice is ever in my
thoughts, and I have him to thank for having kept clear in my style
of writing from certain very ungainly defects which I should not have
discovered for myself. It was through him that I made the acquaintance
of the Scheffer family, whom I have to thank for a companion who has
always assorted herself so harmoniously to my somewhat contracted
conditions of life that I am at times tempted, when I reflect upon so
many fortunate coincidences, to believe in predestination.

According to my philosophy, which regards the world in its entirety as
full of a divine afflation, there is no place for individual will in
the government of the universe. Individual Providence, in the sense
formerly attached to it, has never been proved by any unmistakable
fact. But for this, I should assuredly be thankful to yield to a
combination of circumstances in which a mind, less subjugated than
my own by general reasoning, would detect the traces of the special
protection of benevolent deities. The play of chances which brings
up a ternion or a quaternion is nothing compared to what has been
required to prevent the combination of which I am reaping the fruits
from being disturbed. If my origin had been less lowly in the eyes
of the world, I should not have entered or persevered upon that royal
road of the intellectual life to which my early training for the
priesthood attached me. The displacement of a single atom would have
broken the chain of fortuitous facts which, in the remote district
of Brittany, was preparing me for a privileged life; which brought
me from Brittany to Paris; which, when I was in Paris, took me to the
establishment of all others where the best and most solid education
was to be had; which, when I left the seminary, saved me from two or
three mistakes which would have been the ruin of me; which, when I was
on my travels, extricated me from certain dangers that, according to
the doctrine of chances, would have been fatal to me; which, to cite
one special instance, brought Dr. Suquet over from America to rescue
me from the jaws of death which were yawning to swallow me up.
The only conclusion I would fain draw from all this is that the
unconscious effort towards what is good and true in the universe has
its throw of the dice through the intermediary of each one of us.
There is no combination but what comes up, quaternions like any other.
We may disarrange the designs of Providence in respect to ourselves;
but we have next to no influence upon their accomplishment. _Quid
habes quod non accepisti_? The dogma of grace is the truest of all the
Christian dogmas.

My experience of life has, therefore, been very pleasant; and I do
not think that there are many human beings happier than I am. I have
a keen liking for the universe. There may have been moments when
subjective scepticism has gained a hold upon me, but it never made me
seriously doubt of the reality, and the objections which it has evoked
are sequestered by me as it were within an inclosure of forgetfulness;
I never give them any thought, my peace of mind is undisturbed. Then,
again, I have found a fund of goodness in nature and in society.
Thanks to the remarkable good luck which has attended me all my life,
and always thrown me into communication with very worthy men, I have
never had to make sudden changes in my attitudes. Thanks, also, to
an almost unchangeable good temper, the result of moral healthiness,
which is itself the result of a well-balanced mind, and of tolerably
good bodily health, I have been able to indulge in a quiet philosophy,
which finds expression either in grateful optimism or playful irony.
I have never gone through much suffering. I might even be tempted to
think that nature has more than once thrown down cushions to break the
fall for me. Upon one occasion, when my sister died, nature literally
put me under chloroform, to save me a sight which would perhaps have
created a severe lesion in my feelings, and have permanently affected
the serenity of my thought.

Thus, I have to thank some one; I do not exactly know whom. I have
had so much pleasure out of life that I am really not justified in
claiming a compensation beyond the grave. I have other reasons for
being irritated at death: he is levelling to a degree which annoys
me; he is a democrat, who attacks us with dynamite; he ought, at all
events, to await our convenience and be at our call. I receive many
times in the course of the year an anonymous letter, containing the
following words, always in the same handwriting: "If there should be
such a place as hell after all?" No doubt the pious person who
writes to me is anxious for the salvation of my soul, and I am deeply
thankful for the same. But hell is a hypothesis very far from being in
conformity with what we know from other sources of the divine mercy.
Moreover, I can lay my hand on my heart and say that if there is such
a place I do not think that I have done anything which would consign
me to it. A short stay in purgatory would, perhaps, be just; I would
take the chance of this, as there would be Paradise afterwards, and
there would be plenty of charitable persons to secure indulgences,
by which my sojourn would be shortened. The infinite goodness which
I have experienced in this world inspires me with the conviction
that eternity is pervaded by a goodness not less infinite, in which I
repose unlimited trust.

All that I have now to ask of the good genius which has so often
guided, advised, and consoled me is a calm and sudden death at my
appointed hour, be it near or distant. The Stoics maintained that one
might have led a happy life in the belly of the bull of Phalaris.
This is going too far. Suffering degrades, humiliates, and leads to
blasphemy. The only acceptable death is the noble death, which is not
a pathological accident, but a premeditated and precious end before
the Everlasting. Death upon the battle-field is the grandest of all;
but there are others which are illustrious. If at times I may have
conceived the wish to be a senator, it is because I fancy that
this function will, within some not distant interval, afford fine
opportunities of being knocked on the head or shot--forms of death
which are very preferable to a long illness, which kills you by inches
and demolishes you bit by bit. God's will be done! I have little
chance of adding much to my store of knowledge; I have a pretty
accurate idea of the amount of truth which the human mind can, in the
present stage of its development, discern. I should be very grieved to
have to go through one of those periods of enfeeblement during which
the man once endowed with strength and virtue is but the shadow and
ruin of his former self; and often, to the delight of the ignorant,
sets himself to demolish the life which he had so laboriously
constructed. Such an old age is the worst gift which the gods can
give to man. If such a fate be in store for me, I hasten to protest
beforehand against the weaknesses which a softened brain might lead
me to say or sign. It is the Renan, sane in body and in mind, as I am
now--not the Renan half destroyed by death and no longer himself, as
I shall be if my decomposition is gradual--whom I wish to be believed
and listened to. I disavow the blasphemies to which in my last hour I
might give way against the Almighty. The existence which was given me
without my having asked for it has been a beneficent one for me. Were
it offered to me, I would gladly accept it over again. The age in
which I have lived will not probably count as the greatest, but it
will doubtless be regarded as the most amusing. Unless my closing
years have some very cruel trials in store, I shall have, in bidding
farewell to life, to thank the cause of all good for the delightful
excursion through reality which I have been enabled to make.



APPENDIX.


This volume was already in the press, when Abbé Cognat published in
the _Correspondant_ (January 25th, 1883) the letters which I wrote to
him in 1845 and 1846.[1] As several of my friends told me that they
had found them very interesting, I reproduce them here just as they
were published.


Tréguier, _August 14th, 1845._

My dear friend,

Few events of importance have occurred, but many thoughts and feelings
have crowded in upon me since the day we parted. I am all the more
glad to impart them to you because there is no one else to whom I can
confide them. I am not alone, it is true, when I am with my mother;
but there are many things that my tender regard for her compels me
to keep back, and which, for the matter of that, she would not
understand.

Nothing has occurred to advance the solution of the important problem of
which, as is only natural, my mind is full. I have learnt nothing more,
unless it be the immensity of the sacrifice which God required of me. A
thousand painful details which I had never thought of have cropped up,
with the effect of complicating the situation, and of showing me that
the course dictated me by my conscience opened up a future of endless
trouble. I should have to enter into long and painful details to make
you understand exactly what I mean; and it must suffice if I tell you
that the obstacles of which we have on various occasions spoken are as
nothing by comparison with those which have suddenly started up before
me. It was no small thing to brave an opinion which would, one knew, be
very hard upon one, and to live on for long years an arduous life
leading to one knew not what; but the sacrifice was not then
consummated. God enjoins me to pierce with my own hand a heart upon
which all the affection there is in my own has been poured out. Filial
love had absorbed in me all the other affections of which I was capable,
and which God did not bring into play within me. Moreover, there existed
between my mother and myself many ties arising from a thousand
impalpable details which can be better felt than described. This was the
most painful part of the sacrifice which God required of me. I have
hitherto only spoken to her about Germany, and that is enough to make
her very unhappy. I tremble to think of what will happen when she knows
all. Her tender caresses go to my very heart, as do her plans for my
future, of which she is ever talking to me, and in which I have not the
courage to disappoint her. She is standing close to me as I write this
to you. Did she but know! I would sacrifice everything to her except my
duty and my conscience. Yes, if God exacted of me, in order to spare her
this pain, that I should extinguish my thought and condemn myself to a
plodding, vulgar existence, I would submit. Many a time I have
endeavoured to deceive myself, but it is not in human power to believe
or not to believe at will. I wish that I could stifle within me the
faculty of self-examination, for it is this which has caused all my
unhappiness. Fortunate are the children who all their life long do but
sleep and dream! I see around me men of pure and simple lives whom
Christianity has had the power to make virtuous and happy. But I have
noticed that none of them have the critical faculty; for which let them
bless God!

I cannot tell you to what an extent I am spoilt and made much of here,
and it is this which grieves me so. Did they but know what is
passing in my heart! I am fearful at times lest my conduct may be
hypocritical, but I have satisfied my conscience in this respect. God
forbid that I should be a cause of scandal to these simple souls!

When I see in what an inextricable net God has involved me while I
was asleep, I am unable to resist fatalistic thoughts, and I may often
have sinned in that respect; yet I never have doubted my Father which
is in Heaven or His goodness. Upon the contrary, I have always given
Him thanks, and have never felt myself nearer to Him than at moments
like those. The heart learns only by suffering, and I believe with
Kant that God is only to be known through the heart. Then too I was
a Christian, and resolved ever to remain one. But can orthodoxy be
critical? Had I but been born a German Protestant, for then I should
have been in my proper place! Herder ended his days a bishop, and he
was only just a Christian; but in the Catholic religion you must be
orthodox. Catholicism is a bar of iron, and will not admit anything
like reasoning.

Forgive me, my dear friend, the wish which I have just expressed and
which does not even come from that part in me which still believes
without knowing. You must, in order to be orthodox, believe that I am
reduced to my present condition by my own fault; and that is very hard.
Nevertheless, I am quite disposed to think that it is to a great extent
my own fault. He who knows his own heart will always answer, "Yes," when
he is told, "It is your own fault." Nothing of all that has happened to
me is easier for me to admit than that. I will not be as obstinate as
Job with regard to my own innocence. However pure of offence I might
believe myself to be, I would only pray God to have pity on me. The
perusal of the Book of Job delights me; for in this Book is to be found
poetry in its most divine form. The Book of Job renders palpable the
mysteries which one feels within one's own heart, and to which one has
been painfully endeavouring to give tangible shape.

None the less do I resolutely continue to follow out my thoughts.
Nothing will induce me to abandon this, even if I should be compelled
to appear to sacrifice it to the earning of my daily bread. God had,
in order to sustain me in my resolve, reserved for this critical
moment an event of real significance from the intellectual and moral
standpoint. I have studied Germany, and it has seemed to me that I
have been entering some holy place. All that I have lighted upon in
the course of the study is pure, elevating, moral, beautiful,
and touching. Oh! My Soul! Yes, it is a real treasure, and the
continuation of Jesus Christ. Their moral qualities excite my
liveliest admiration. How strong and gentle they are! I believe that
it is in this direction that we must look for the advent of Christ I
regard this apparition of a new spirit as analogous to the birth of
Christianity, except as to the difference of form. But this is of
little importance, for it is certain that when the event which is
to renovate the world shall recur, it will not in the mode of
its accomplishment resemble that which has already occurred. I am
attentively following the wave of enthusiasm which is at this moment
spreading over the north. M. Cousin has just started to study its
progress for himself, I am referring to Ronge and Czerski, whose names
you must have heard mentioned. May God pardon me for liking them, even
if they should not be pure: for what I like in them, as in all others
who have evoked my enthusiasm, is a certain standard of attractiveness
and morality which I have assigned them; in short, I admire in them my
ideal. It may be asked whether or not they come up to this standard.
That to my mind is quite a secondary matter.

Yes, Germany delights me, not so much in her scientific as in her
moral aspect. The _morale_ of Kant is far superior to all his logic
and intellectual philosophy, and our French writers have never alluded
to it. This is only natural, for the men of our day have no moral
sense. France seems to me every day more devoid of any part in the
great work of renovating the life of humanity. A dry, anti-critical,
barren, and petty orthodoxy, of the St. Sulpice type; a hollow and
superficial imitation full of affectation and exaggeration, like
Neo-Catholicism; and an arid and heartless philosophy, crabbed and
disdainful, like the University, make up the sum of French culture.
Jesus Christ is nowhere to be found. I have been inclined to think
that He would come to us from Germany; not that I suppose He would be
an individual, but a spirit. And when we use the word Jesus Christ we
mean, no doubt, a certain spirit rather than an individual, and that
is the Gospel. Not that I believe that this apparition is likely
to bring about either an upset or a discovery; Jesus Christ neither
overturned nor discovered anything. One must be Christian, but it is
impossible to be orthodox. What is needed is a pure Christianity. The
archbishop will be inclined to believe this; he is capable of founding
pure Christianity in France. I apprehend that one result of the
tendency among the French clergy to study and gain instruction will be
to rationalise us a little. In the first place they will get tired
of scholasticism, and when that has been got rid of there will be a
change in the form of ideas, and it will be seen that the orthodox
interpretation of the Bible does not hold water. But this will not
be effected without a struggle, for your orthodox people are very
tenacious in their dogmatism, and they will apply to themselves a
certain quantity of Athanasian varnish which will close their eyes and
ears. Yes, I should much like to be there! And I am about, it may be,
to cut off my arms, for the priests will be all powerful yet a while,
and it may well be that there will be nothing to be done without being
a priest, as Ronge and Czerski were. I have read a letter to Czerski
from his mother, in which she reminds him of the sacrifices she had
made for his clerical education and entreats him to remain staunch to
Catholicism. But how can he serve it more sincerely than by devoting
himself to what he believes to be the truth?

Forgive me, my dear friend, for what I have just said to you. If you
only knew the state of my head and my heart! Do not imagine that all
this has assumed a dogmatic consistency within me; so far from that,
I am the reverse of exclusive. I am willing to admit counter-evidence,
at all events for the time. Is it not possible to conceive a state of
things during which the individual and humanity are perforce exposed
to instability? You may answer that this is an untenable position for
them. Yes, but how can it be helped? It was necessary at one period
that people should be sceptical from a scientific point of view as to
morality, and yet, at this same period, men of pure minds could be
and were moral, at the risk of being inconsistent. The disciples of
scholasticism would mock at this, and triumphantly point to it as a
blunder in logic. It is easy to prove what is patent to every one.
Their idea is a moral state in which every detail has its set formula,
and they care little about the substance as long as the outward form
is perfect. They know neither man nor humanity as they really exist.

Yes, my dear friend, I still believe; I pray and recite the Lord's
Prayer with ecstasy. I am very fond of being in church, where the pure
and simple piety moves me deeply in the lucid moments when I inhale
the odour of God. I even have devotional fits, and I believe that they
will last, for piety is of value even when it is merely psychological.
It has a moralising effect upon us, and raises us above wretched
utilitarian preoccupations; for where ends utilitarianism there begins
the beautiful, the infinite, and Almighty God; and the pure air wafted
thence is life itself.

I am taken here for a good little seminarist, very pious and
tractable. This is not my fault, but it grieves me now and again, for
I am so afraid of appearing not to be straightforward. Yet I do not
feign anything, God knows; I merely do not say all I feel. Should I do
better to enter upon these wretched controversies, in which they would
have the advantage of being the champions of the beautiful and the
pure, and in which I should have the appearance of assimilating myself
to all that is most vile? for anti-Christianity has in this country so
low, detestable, and revolting an aspect that I am repelled from it if
only by natural modesty. And then they know nothing whatever about
the matter. I cannot be blamed for not speaking to them in German.
Moreover, as I have already explained to you, I am so situated
intellectually that I can appear one thing to this person and another
to that one without any feigning on my part, and without either of
them being deceived, thanks to having for a time shaken off the yoke
of contradiction.

And then I must tell you that at times I have been within an ace of a
complete reaction, and have wondered whether it would not be more
agreeable to God if I were to cut short the thread of my
self-examination and trace my steps back two or three years. The fact is
that I do not see as I advance further any chance of reaching
Catholicism; each step leads me further away from it. However this may
be, the alternative is a very clear one. I can only return to
Catholicism by the amputation of one of my faculties, by definitely
stigmatising my reason and condemning it to perpetual silence. Yes, if I
returned, I should cease my life of study and self-examination,
persuaded that it could only bring me to evil, and I should lead a
purely mystic life in the Catholic sense. For I trust that so far as
regards a mere commonplace life God will always deliver me from that.
Catholicism meets the requirements of all my faculties excepting my
critical one, and as I have no reason to hope that matters will mend in
this respect I must either abandon Catholicism or amputate this faculty.
This operation is a difficult and a painful one, but you may be sure
that if my moral conscience did not stand in the way, that if God came
to me this evening and told me that it would be pleasing to Him, I
should do it. You would not recognise me in my new character, for I
should cease to study or to indulge in critical thought, and should
become a thorough mystic. You may also be sure that I must have been
violently shaken to so much as consider the possibility of such a
hypothesis, which forces itself upon me with greater terrors than death
itself. But yet I should not despair of striking, even in this career, a
vein of activity which would suffice to keep me going.

And what, all said and done, will be my decision? It is with
indescribable dread that I see the close of the vacation drawing near,
for I shall then have to express, by very decisive action, a very
undecided inward state. It is this complication which makes my
position peculiarly painful. So much anxiety unnerves me, and then I
feel so plainly that I do not understand matters of this kind, that I
shall be certain to make some foolish blunder, and that I shall become
a laughing-stock. I was not born a cunning knave. They will laugh at
my simple-mindedness, and will look upon me as a fool. If, with all
this, I was only sure of what I was doing! But then, again, supposing
that by contact with them I were to lose my purity of heart and my
conception of life! Supposing they were to inoculate me with their
positivism! And even if I were sure of myself, could I be sure of the
external circumstances which have so fatal an action upon us? And who,
knowing himself, can be sure that he will be proof against his own
weakness? Is it not indeed the case that God has done me but a
poor service? It seems as if He had employed all His strategy for
surrounding me in every direction, and a simple young fellow like
myself might have been ensnared with much less trouble. But for all
this I love Him, and am persuaded that He has done all for my good,
much as facts may seem to contradict it. We must take an optimist
view for individuals as well as for humanity, despite the perpetual
evidence of facts telling the other way. This is what constitutes true
courage; I am the only person who can injure myself.

I often think of you, my dear friend; you should be very happy. A
bright and assured future is opening before you; you have the goal in
view, and all you have to do is to march steadily onward to it. You
enjoy the marked advantage of having a strictly defined dogma to go
by. You will retain your breadth of view; and I trust that you may
never discover that there is a grievous incompatibility between the
wants of your heart and of your mind. In that case you would have
to make a very painful choice. Whatever conclusion you may perforce
arrive at as to my present condition and the innocence of my mind, let
me at all events retain your friendship. Do not allow my errors, or
even my faults, to destroy it. Besides, as I have said, I count upon
your breadth of view, and I will not do anything to demonstrate that
it is not orthodox, for I am anxious that you should adhere to it; and
at the same time I wish you to be orthodox. You are almost the only
person to whom I have confided my inmost thoughts; in Heaven's name
be indulgent and continue to call me your brother! My affection, dear
friend, will never fail you.

[Footnote 1: See above, page 262.]


PARIS, _November 12th_, 1845.

I was somewhat surprised, my dear friend, not to get a reply from you
before the close of the vacation. The first inquiry, therefore, which
I made at St. Sulpice was for you, first in order to learn the cause
of your silence, and especially in order that I might have some talk
with you. I need not tell you how grieved I was when I learnt that it
was owing to a serious illness that I had not heard from you. It is
true that the further details which were given me sufficed to allay my
anxiety, but they did not diminish the regret which I felt at finding
the chance of a conversation with you indefinitely postponed. This
unexpected piece of news, coinciding with so strange a phase in my
own life, inspired me with many reflections. You will hardly believe,
perhaps, that I envied your lot, and that I longed for something to
happen which would defer my embarking upon the stormy sea of busy life
and prolong the repose which accompanies home life, so quiet and so
free of care. You will understand this when I have explained to you
all the trials which I have had to undergo and which are still in
store for me. I will not attempt to explain them to you in detail, but
will keep them over until we meet. I will merely relate the principal
facts, and those which have led to a lasting result.

My firm resolution upon coming to St. Sulpice was to break with a past
which had ceased to be in harmony with my present dispositions, and to
be quit of appearances which could only mislead. But I was anxious to
proceed very deliberately, especially as I felt that a reaction within
a more or less considerable interval was by no means improbable. An
accidental circumstance had the effect of bringing the crisis to a
head quicker than I had intended. Upon my arrival at St. Sulpice, I
was informed that I was no longer to be attached to the Seminary, but
to the Carmelite establishment, which the Archbishop of Paris had just
founded, and I was ordered to go and report myself to him the same
day. You can fancy how embarrassed I felt. My embarrassment was still
further increased upon learning that the Archbishop had just arrived
at the Seminary, and wished to speak to me. To accept would be
immoral; it was impossible for me to give the real reason for my
refusal, and I could not bring myself to give a false one. I had
recourse to the services of worthy M. Carbon, who undertook to tell my
story, and so spared me this painful interview. I thought it best to
go right through with the matter when once it had been begun, and I
completed in one day what I had intended to spread over several weeks,
so that on the evening of my return I belonged neither to the Seminary
nor to the Carmelite house.

I was terrified at seeing so many ties destroyed in a few hours, and I
should have been glad to arrest this fatal progress, all too rapid as
I thought; but I was perforce driven forward, and there were no means
of holding back. The days which followed were the darkest of my life.
I was isolated from the whole world, without a friend, an adviser or
an acquaintance, without any one to appeal to about me, and this after
having just left my mother, my native Brittany, and a life gilded with
so many pure and simple affections. Here I am alone in the world, and
a stranger to it. Good-bye for ever to my mother, my little room, my
books, my peaceful studies, and my walks by my mother's side. Good-bye
to the pure and tranquil joys which seemed to bring me so near to God;
good-bye to my pleasant past, good-bye to those faiths which so gently
cradled me. Farewell for me to pure happiness. The past all blotted
out, and as yet no future. And then, I ask myself, will the new world
for which I have embarked receive me? I have left one in which I was
loved and made much of. And my mother, to think of whom was formerly
sufficient to solace me in my troubles, was now the cause of my most
poignant grief. I was, as it were, stabbing her with a knife. O God!
was it then necessary that the path of duty should be so stony? I
shall be derided by public opinion, and with all that the future
unfolded itself before me pale and colourless. Ambition was powerless
to remove the veil of sadness and regrets which infolded my heart. I
cursed the fate which had enveloped me in such fatal contradictions.
Moreover, the gross and pressing requirements of material existence
had to be faced. I envied the fate of the simple souls who are born,
who live and who die without stir or thought, merely following the
current as it takes them, worshipping a God whom they call their
Father. How I detested my reason for having bereft me of my dreams. I
passed some time each evening in the church of St. Sulpice, and there
I did my best to believe, but it was of no use. Yes, these days will
indeed count in my lifetime, for if they were not the most decisive,
they were assuredly the most painful. It was a hard thing to
re-commence life from the beginning, at the age of three and twenty.
I could scarcely realise the possibility of my having to fight my way
through the motley crowd of turbulent and ambitious persons. Timid as
I am, I was ever tempted to select a plain and common-place career,
which I might have ennobled inwardly. I had lost the desire to know,
to scrutinise and to criticise; it seemed to me as if it was enough to
love and to feel; but yet I quite feel that as soon as ever the heart
throbbed more slowly, the head would once more cry out for food.

I was compelled, however, to create a fresh existence for myself in
this world so little adapted for me. I need not trouble you with an
account of these complications, which would be as uninteresting to you
as they were painful to myself. You may picture me spending whole
days in going from one person to another. I was ashamed of myself,
but necessity knows no law. Man does not live by bread alone; but he
cannot live without bread. But through it all I never ceased to keep
my eyes fixed heavenwards.

I will merely tell you that in compliance with the advice of M.
Carbon, and for another peremptory reason of which I will speak to
you later on, I thought it best to refuse several rather tempting
proposals, and to accept in the preparatory school annexed to the
Stanislas College, a humble post which in several respects harmonised
very well with my present position. This situation did not take
up more than an hour and a half of my time each day, and I had the
advantage of making use of special courses of mathematics, physics,
etc., to say nothing of preparatory lectures for the M.A. degree, one
of which was delivered twice a week, by M. Lenormant I was agreeably
surprised at finding so much frank and cordial geniality among
these young people; and I can safely say that I never had anything
approaching to a misunderstanding while there, and that I left the
school with sincere regret. But the most remarkable incident in this
period of my life were beyond all doubt my relations with M. Gratry,
the director of the college. I shall have much to tell you about him,
and I am delighted at having made his acquaintance. He is the very
miniature of M. Bautain, of whom he is the pupil and friend. We became
very friendly from the first, and from that time forward we stood upon
a footing towards one another which has never had its like before,
so far as I am concerned. In many matters our ideas harmonised
wonderfully; he, like myself, is governed wholly by philosophy. He is,
upon the whole, a man of remarkably speculative mind; but upon certain
points there is a hollow ring about him. How came it then, you
will ask, that I was obliged to throw up a post which, taking it
altogether, suited me fairly well, and in which I could so easily
pursue my present plans? This, I must tell you, is one of the most
curious incidents in my life; I should find it almost impossible to
make any one understand it, and I do not believe that any one ever has
thoroughly understood it. It was once more a question of duty. Yes,
the same reason which compelled me to leave St. Sulpice and to refuse
the Carmelite establishment obliged me to leave the Stanislas College.
M. Dupanloup and M. Manier impelled me onward; onward I went, and I
had to start afresh. It seems as if I were fated ever to encounter
strange adventures, and I should be very glad that I had met with this
particular one, if for no other reason for the peculiar positions
in which it placed me, and which were the means of my making a
considerable addition to my store of knowledge.

I had no difficulty, upon leaving the Stanislas College, in taking up
one of the negotiations which I had broken off when I joined it, and
in carrying out my original plan of hiring a student's lodging in
Paris. This is my present position. I have hired a room in a sort
of school near the Luxemburg, and in exchange for a few lessons in
mathematics and literature I am, as the saying goes, "about quits."
I did not expect to do so well. I have, moreover, nearly the whole
of the day to myself, and I can spend as much time as I please at the
Sorbonne, and in the libraries. These are my real homes, and it is in
them that I spend my happiest hours. This mode of life would be very
pleasant if I was not haunted by painful recollections, apprehensions
only too well founded, and above all by a terrible feeling of
isolation. Come and join me, therefore, my dear friend, and we shall
pass some very pleasant hours together.

I have spoken to you thus far of the facts which have contributed to
detain me for the present in Paris, and I have said nothing to you
about the ulterior plans which I have in my head; for you take for
granted, I suppose, that I merely look upon this as a transitory
situation, pending the completion of my studies. It is upon the more
remote future, in fact, that my thoughts are concentrated, now that
my present position is assured. From this arises a fresh source of
intellectual worry, by which I am at present beset, for it is quite
painful to me to have to specialize myself, and besides there is
no specialty which fits exactly into the divisions of my mind. But
nevertheless it must be done. It is very hard to be fettered in one's
intellectual development by external circumstances. You can imagine
what I suffer, after having left my mind so absolutely free to follow
its line of development. My first step was to see what could be done
with regard to Oriental languages, and I was promised some lectures
with M. Quatremère and M. Julien, professor of Chinese at the Collège
de France. The result went to prove that this was not my outward
specialty. (I say outward because internally I shall never have
one, unless philosophy be classed as one, which to my mind would be
inaccurate.) Then I thought of the university, and here, as you will
understand, fresh difficulties arose. A professorship in the strict
sense of the term is almost intolerable in my eyes, and even if
one does not retain it all one's life long it must be held for a
considerable period. I could get on very well with philosophy if I
were allowed to teach it in my own way, but I should not be able to do
that, and before reaching that stage one would have to spend years
at what I call school literature, Latin verses, themes, etc. The
perspective seemed so dreadful that I had at one time resolved to
attach myself to the science classes, but in that case I should have
been compelled to specialize myself more than in any other branch, for
in scientific literature the principle of a species of universality is
admitted. And besides, that would divert me from my cherished
ideas. No; I will draw as close as possible to the centre which
is philosophy, theology, science, literature, etc., which is, as I
believe, God. I think it probable, therefore, that I shall fix my
attention upon literature, in order that I may graduate in philosophy.
All this, as you may fancy, is very colourless in my view, and the
bent of the university spirit is the reverse of sympathetic to me. But
one must be something, and I have had to try and be that which differs
the least from my ideal type. And besides, who can tell if I may
not some day succeed thereby in bringing my ideas to light? So many
unexpected things happen which upset all calculations. One must be
prepared therefore, for every eventuality, and be ready to unfurl
one's sail at the first capful of wind.

I must tell you also of an intellectual matter which has helped
to sustain and comfort me in these trying moments: I refer to
my relations with M. Dupanloup. I began by writing him a letter
describing my inward state and the steps which I deemed it necessary
to take in consequence. He quite appreciated my course, and we
afterwards had a conversation of an hour and a half in the course
of which I laid bare, for the first time to one of my fellow-men
my inmost ideas and my doubts with regard to the Catholic faith. I
confess that I never met one more gifted; for he was possessed of true
philosophy and of a really superior intelligence. It was only then
that I learnt thoroughly to know him. We did not go thoroughly into
the question. I merely explained the nature of my doubts, and he
informed me of the judgment which from the orthodox point of view
he would feel it his duty to pass upon them. He was very severe and
plainly told me,[1] "that it was not a question of _temptations_
against the faith--a term which I had employed in my letter by force
of the habit I had acquired of following the terminology adopted at
St. Sulpice, but of a complete loss of faith: secondly, that I was
beyond the pale of the Church; thirdly, that in consequence I could
not partake of any sacrament, and that he advised me not to take part
in any outward religious ceremony; fourthly, that I could not
without being guilty of deception, continue another day to pass as
an ecclesiastic, and so forth." In all that did not relate to the
appreciation of my condition, he was as kind as any one possibly
could be. The priests of St. Sulpice and M. Gratry were not nearly so
emphatic in their views and held that I must still regard myself
as tempted.... I obeyed M. Dupanloup, and I shall always do so
henceforth. Still, I continue to confess, and as I have no longer M.
B---- I confess to M. Le Hir, to whom I am devotedly attached. I find
that this improves and consoles me very much. I shall confess to you
when you are ordained a priest. However, out of condescension, as
he said, for the opinion of others, M. Dupanloup was anxious that I
should, before leaving the Stanislas College, go through a course of
private prayer. At first, I was tempted to smile at this proposal,
coming from him. But when he suggested that I should do this under
the care of M. de Ravignan I took a different view of the proposal.
I should have accepted, for this would have enabled me to bring my
connection with Catholicism to a dignified close. Unfortunately, M. de
Ravignan was not expected in Paris before the 10th of November, and
in the meanwhile M. Dupanloup had ceased to be superior of the petty
seminary and I had left the Stanislas College; the realization of this
proposal seems to me adjourned for a long time to say the least of it.

Good-bye, my dear friend, and forgive me for having spoken only of
myself. For your own as for your friend's sake, let me beg of you to
take care of yourself during the period of convalescence and not to
compromise your health again by getting to work too soon. I will not
ask you to answer this unless you feel that you can do so without
fatigue. The true answer will be when we can grasp hands. Till then,
believe in my sincere friendship.

[Footnote 1: M. Cognat merely analyses the rest as follows:--"M.
Renan then enters into some details with regard to preparing for his
examination for admission into the Normal School, and for a literary
degree. With regard to his bachelor's degree, the examination for
which he has not yet passed, it does not cause him much concern.
He had, however, great difficulty in passing, and only did so by
producing a certificate of home study, much as he disliked having
resort to this evasive course. He did not feel compelled to deprive
himself of the benefit of a course which was made use of by every
one else, and which seemed to be tolerated by the law of monopoly
of university teaching in order to temper the odious nature of its
privileges. 'But,' he goes on to say, 'I bear the university a grudge
for having compelled me to tell a lie, and yet the director of the
Normal School was extolling its liberal-mindedness.'"]


PARIS, _September 5th_, 1846.

I thank you, my dear friend, for your kind letter. It afforded me
great pleasure and comfort during this dreary vacation, which I am
spending in the most painful isolation you can possibly conceive.
There is not a human being to whom I can open my heart, nor, what is
still worse, with whom I can indulge in conversations which, however
commonplace, repose the mind and satisfy one's craving for company.
One can be much more secluded in Paris than in the midst of the
desert, as I am now realizing for myself. Society does not consist
in seeing one's fellow-men, but in holding with them some of those
communications which remind one that one is not alone in the world.
At times, when I happen to be mixed up in the crowds which fill our
streets, I fancy that I am surrounded by trees walking. The effect is
precisely the same. When I think of the perfect happiness which used
to be my lot at this season of the year, a great sadness comes
over me, especially when I remember that I have said an everlasting
farewell to these blissful days. I don't know whether you are like me,
but there is nothing more painful to me than to have to say, even in
respect to the most trifling matter, "It is all over, for once and
all." What must I suffer, then, when I have to say this of the only
pleasures which in my heart I cared for? But what can be done? I do
not repent anything, and the suffering induced in the cause of duty
brings with it a joy far greater than those which may have been
sacrificed to it. I thank God for having given me in you one who
understands me so well that I have no need even to lay bare the state
of my heart to him. Yes, it is one of my chief sorrows to think that
the persons whose approbation would be the most precious to me must
blame me and condemn me. Fortunately that will not prevent them from
pitying and loving me.

I am not one of those who are constantly preaching tolerance to the
orthodox; this is the cause of numberless sophisms for the superficial
minds in both camps. It is unfair upon Catholicism to dress it up
according to our modern ideas, in addition to which this can only be
done by verbal concessions which denote bad faith or frivolity. All or
nothing, the Neo-Catholics are the most foolish of any.

No, my dear friend, do not scruple to tell me that I am in this state
through my own fault; I feel sure that you must think so. It is of
course painful for me to think that perhaps as much as half of the
enlightened portion of humanity would tell me that I am hateful in the
sight of God, and to use the old Christian phraseology, which is the
true one, that if death overtook me, I should be immediately damned.
This is terrible, and it used to make me tremble, for somehow or other
the thought of death always seems to me very close at hand. But I have
got hardened to it, and I can only wish to the orthodox a peace
of mind equal to that which I enjoy. I may safely say that since I
accomplished my sacrifice, amid outward sorrows greater than would be
believed, and which, from perhaps a false feeling of delicacy, I have
concealed from every one, I have tasted a peace which was unknown to
me during periods of my life to all appearance more serene. You
must not accept, my dear friend, certain generalities in regard to
happiness which are very erroneous, and all of which assume that one
cannot be happy except by consistency, and with a perfectly harmonized
intellectual system. At this rate, no one would be happy, or only
those whose limited intelligence could not rise to the conception
of problems or of doubt. It is fortunately not so; and we owe our
happiness to a piece of inconsistency, and to a certain turn of the
wheel which causes us to take patiently what with another turn of the
wheel would be absolute torture. I imagine that you must have felt
this. There is a sort of inward debate going on within us with regard
to happiness, and by it we are inevitably influenced in the way
we take a certain thing; for there is no one who will deny that
he contains within himself a thousand germs which might render him
absolutely wretched. The question is whether he will allow them free
course, or whether he will abstract himself from them. We are only
happy on the sly, my dear friend, but what is to be done? Happiness
is not so sacred a thing that it should only be accepted when derived
from perfect reason.

You will perhaps think it strange that, not believing in Christianity,
I can feel so much at ease. This would be singular if I still had
doubts, but if I must tell you the whole truth, I will confess that
I have almost got beyond the doubting stage. Explain to me how you
manage to believe. My dear friend, it is too late for me to exclaim to
you. "Take care." If you were not what you are, I should throw myself
at your feet, and implore of you to declare whether you felt that you
could swear that you would not alter your views at any period of your
existence.... Think what is involved in swearing as to one's future
thoughts!... I am very sorry that our friend A---- is definitely bound
to the Church, for I feel sure that if he has not already doubted he
will do so. We shall see in another twenty years. I hardly know what
I am saying to you, but I cannot help wishing with St. Paul, that "all
were such as I am," thankful that I have no need to add "except these
bonds." With respect to the bonds which held me before, I do not
regret them. Philosophy bids us say, _Dominus pars_.

When I was going up to the altar to receive the tonsure, I was already
terribly exercised by doubt, but I was forced onward, and I was told
that it was always well to obey. I went forward therefore, but God is
my witness, that my inmost thought and the vow which I made to myself,
was that I would take for my part the truth which is the hidden God,
that I would devote myself to its research, renouncing all that is
profane, or that is calculated to make us deviate from the holy and
divine goal to which nature calls us. This was my resolve, and an
inward voice told me that I should never repent me of my promise. And
I do not repent of it, my dear friend, and I am ever repeating the
soothing words _Dominus pars_, and I believe that I am not less
agreeable to God or faithful to my promise, than he who does not
scruple to pronounce them with a vain heart, and a frivolous mind.
They will never be a reproach to me until, prostituting my thought to
vulgar objects, I devote my life to one of those gross and commonplace
aims which suffice for the profane, and until I prefer gross and
material pleasures to the sacred pursuit of the beautiful and the
true. Until that time arrives, I shall recall with anything but regret
the day on which I pronounced these words.

Man can never be sure enough of his thoughts to swear fidelity to such
and such a system which for the time he regards as true. All that he
can do is to devote himself to the service of the truth, whatever it
may be, and dispose his heart to follow it wherever he believes that
he can see it, at no matter how great a sacrifice.

I write you these lines in haste, and with my head full of the by no
means agreeable work which I am doing for my examination, so you must
excuse the want of order in my ideas. I shall expect a long letter
from you which will have on me the effect of water on a thirsty land.


PARIS, _September 11th_, 1846.

I wish that I could comment on each line of your letter which I
received an hour ago, and communicate the many different reflections
which it awakens in me. But I am so hard at work that this is
impossible. I cannot refrain, however, from committing to paper the
principal points upon which it is important that we should come to an
immediate understanding.

It grieved me very much to read that there was henceforward a gulf
fixed between your beliefs and mine. It is not so--we believe the same
things; you in one form, I in another. The orthodox are too concrete,
they set so much store by facts and by mere trifles. Remember the
definition given of Christianity by the Proconsul (_ni fallor_) spoken
of in the Acts of the Apostles, "Touching one Jesus, which was dead,
and whom Paul declared to be alive." Be upon your guard against
reducing the question to such paltry terms. Now I ask of you can the
belief in any special fact, or rather the manner of appreciating and
criticising this fact, affect a man's moral worth? Jesus was much more
of a philosopher in this respect than the Church.

You will say that it is God's will we should believe these trifles,
inasmuch as He had revealed them. My answer is, prove that this is
so. I am not very partial to the method of proving one's case by
objections. But you have not a proof which can stand the test of
psychological or historical criticism. Jesus alone can stand it. But
He is as much with me as with you. To be a Platonist is it necessary
that one should adore Plato and believe in all he says?

I know of no writers more foolish than all your modern apologists;
they have no elevation of mind, and there is not an atom of criticism
in their heads. There are a few who have more perspicacity, but they
do not face the question.

You will say to me, as I have heard it said in the seminary (it is
characteristic of the seminary that this should be the invariable
answer), "You must not judge the intrinsic value of evidence by
the defective way in which it is offered. To say, 'We have not got
vigorous men but we might have them,' does not touch intrinsic truth."
My answer to this is: 1st, good evidence, especially in historical
critique, is always good, no matter in what form it may be adduced;
2nd, if the cause was really a good one, we should have better
advocates to class among the orthodox:

1. The men of quick intelligence, not without a certain amount
of finesse, but superficial. These can hold their own better; but
orthodoxy repudiates their system of defence, so that we need not take
them into account.

2. Men whose minds are debased, aged drivellers. They are strictly
orthodox.

3. Those who believe only through the heart, like children, without
going into all this network of apologetics. I am very fond of them,
and from an ideal point of view I admire them; but as we are dealing
with a question of critique they do not count. From the moral point of
view, I should be one with them.

There are others who cannot be defined, who are unbelievers unknown to
themselves. Incredulity enters into their principles, but they do not
push these principles to their logical consequences. Others believe
in a rhetorical way, because their favourite authors have held this
opinion, which is a sort of classical and literary religion. They
believe in Christianity as the Sophists of the decadence believed
in paganism. I am sorry that I have not the time to complete this
classification.

You mistrust individual reason when it endeavours to draw up a system
of life. Very good, give me a better system, and I will believe in
it. I follow up mine because I have not got a better one, and I often
mutiny against it.

I am very indifferent with regard to the outward position in which all
this will land me; I shall not attempt to give myself any fixed place.
If I happen to get placed, well and good. If I meet with any who share
my views we shall make common cause; if not, I must go alone. I am
very egotistical; left wholly to myself, I am quite indifferent to the
views of other people. I hope to earn bread and cheese. The people who
do not get to know me well class me as one of those with whom I have
nothing in common; so much the worse, they will be all in the wrong.

In order to gain influence one must rally to a flag and be dogmatic.
So much the better for those who have the heart for it. I prefer to
keep my thoughts to myself and to avoid saying the thing which is not.

If by one of those revulsions which have already occurred this way
of putting things comes into favour, so much the better. People
will rally to me, but I must decline to mix myself up with all this
riffraff, I might have added another category to the classification
I made just now: that of the people who look upon action as the most
important thing of all, and treat Christianity as a means of action.
They are men of commonplace intelligence compared to the thinker. The
latter is the Jupiter Olympius, the spiritual man who is the judge
of all things and who is judged of none. That the simple possess
much that is true I can readily believe, but the shape in which they
possess it cannot satisfy him whose reason is in proper proportion
with his other faculties. This faculty eliminates, discusses, and
refines, and it is impossible to quench it. I would only too gladly
have done so if I could. With regard to the _cupio omnes fieri_, my
ideas are as follows. I do not apply it to my liberty. One should, as
far as possible, so place oneself as to be ready to 'bout ship when
the wind of faith shifts. And it will shift in a lifetime! How often
must depend upon the length of that lifetime. Any kind of tie renders
this more difficult. One shows more respect to truth by maintaining a
position which enables one to say to her, "Take me whither thou wilt;
I am ready to go." A priest cannot very well say this. He must be
endowed with something more than courage to draw back. If, having gone
so far, he does not become celestial, he is repulsive; and this is
so true that I cannot instance a single good pattern of the kind, not
even M. de Lamennais. He must therefore march ever onward, and bluntly
declare, "I shall always see things in the same light as I have seen
them, and I shall never see them in a different light." Would life be
endurable for an hour if one had to say that?

With regard to the matter of M. A----, and putting all personal
consideration upon one side, my syllogism is as follows. One must never
swear to anything of which one is not absolutely sure. Now one is never
sure of not modifying one's beliefs at some future time, however certain
one may be of the present and of the past. Therefore ... I, too, would
have sworn at one time, and yet....

What you say of the antagonists of Christianity is very true. I have,
as it happens, incidentally made some rather curious researches upon
this point which, when completed, might form a somewhat interesting
narrative entitled _History of Incredulity in Christianity_. The
consequences would appear triumphant to the orthodox, and especially
the first, viz., that Christianity has rarely been attacked hitherto
except in the name of immorality and of the abject doctrines of
materialism--by blackguards in so many words. This is a fact, and I
am prepared to prove it. But it admits, I think, of an explanation. In
those days, people were bound to believe in religions. It was the law
at that time, and those who did not believe placed themselves outside
the general order. It is time that another order began. I believe
too that it has begun, and the last generation in Germany furnished
several admirable specimens of it: Kant, Herder, Jacobi, and even
Goethe.

Forgive me for writing to you in this strain. But I do for you what
I am not doing for those who are dearest to me in the world, to my
sister, for instance, to whom I yesterday wrote less than half a page,
so overburdened am I with work. I solace myself with the anticipation
of the conversation which we shall have after my examination, for I
mean to take a holiday then. There is, however, much that I should
like to write to you about what you tell me of yourself. There, too, I
should attempt to refute you, and with more show of being entitled
to do so. Let me tell you that there are certain things the mere
conception of which entails one's being called upon to realise them.

Good-bye, my very dear friend.... Believe in the sincerity of my
affection.





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