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Title: Bernardin de St. Pierre
Author: Barine, Arvède
Language: English
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The Great French Writers.

GEORGE SAND                 BY E. CARO.
TURGOT                      BY LÉON SAY.
THIERS                      BY PAUL DE RÉMUSAT.


_Uniform in style. Price, $1.00 a volume._

The Great French Writers







[Illustration: Logo]





CHAPTER                                                 PAGE
  I. YOUTH--YEARS OF TRAVEL                                1

       THE CRISIS                                         42

III. THE "ÉTUDES DE LA NATURE"                            87

 IV. PAUL AND VIRGINIA                                   149

       LITERARY INFLUENCE                                179


The life of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre is so unusual, so interesting,
so suggestive and amusing, that the grumpiest of Anglo-Saxons need
not complain of the fact that no series of Great French Writers would
be complete which did not contain the name of the author of "Paul and
Virginia." Even "Shakespeare's heirs" must accept the judgment of other
nations about their own authors. Our duty is to comprehend a verdict we
are powerless to upset. Dorian women, as Gorgo says in the famous ode
of Theocritus, have a right to chatter in a Dorian accent, and a great
French writer is not necessarily the worse for a strong infusion of
French sentiment.

Saint-Pierre was no ordinary person, either as man or author. His
was a strong and original character, more bent on action than on
literature. Though a master of style and a great painter in words, he
was ever a preacher, a _sermonneur_, as Sainte-Beuve calls him. His
masterpiece--as the French reckon "Paul and Virginia" to be--came by
chance, and is but a chapter in a huge treatise, a parable told by the
way in a voluminous gospel. It is as if Ruskin's _chef d'oeuvre_ were a
novelette, or as if Carlyle's story had been a perfect whole, instead
of a fragment and a failure.

To understand "Paul and Virginia" aright, one should read the "Études
de la Nature," first published in 1784. Our grandparents read them
greedily enough, either in the original or in the excellent translation
of Dr. Henry Hunter, the accomplished minister of the Scots Church,
London Wall. A hundred years have, however, pressed heavily upon these
Studies, but to this day a tender grace clings to them. Even so will
our own descendants in 1984 turn the pages of Ruskin and inhale a stray
whiff of the breath which once animated a generation.

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was as obstinate a theorist as ever lived,
and his theory was that Providence had fashioned the whole world with
one intent only, namely, the happiness of man. That man was not happy,
Saint-Pierre sorrowfully admitted; but there was no reason whatever,
save his own folly, why he should not be as happy as the days were
long. Nothing could shake this faith of Saint-Pierre's. The terrible
catastrophes of life--plague, pestilence, and famine, earthquakes and
shipwreck--counted with him as nothing. That sombre view of human
affairs which so oppressed with gloom the great mind of Bishop Butler,
and drove the lighter but humaner spirit of Voltaire into a revolt
half desperate, half humorous, never affected the imagination of
Saint-Pierre, who none the less had a tender heart, had travelled far
by land and sea, and often had laid down his head to rest with the poor
and the miserable.

Walking once in the fertile district of Caux, he has described how he
saw something red running across the fields at some distance, and
making towards the great road. "I quickened my pace and got up in time
enough to see that they were two little girls in red jackets and wooden
shoes, who, with much difficulty, were scrambling through the ditch
which bounded the road. The tallest, who might be about six or seven
years old, was crying bitterly. 'Child,' said I to her, 'what makes you
cry, and whither are you going at so early an hour?' 'Sir,' replied
she, 'my poor mother is very ill. There is not a mess of broth to be
had in all our parish. We are going to that church in the bottom to see
if the Curé can find us some. I am crying because my little sister is
not able to walk any farther.' As she spoke, she wiped her eyes with a
bit of canvas which served her for a petticoat. On her raising up the
rag to her face, I could perceive she had not the semblance of a shift.
The abject misery of the children, so poor in the midst of plains so
fruitful, wrung my heart. The relief which I could administer them was
small indeed. I myself was then on my way to see misery in other forms."

These woebegone little figures scrambling across a great French ditch
in search of broth attest the tenderness of Saint-Pierre's heart, whose
descriptions are free from all taint of affectation and insincerity. He
has neither the leer of Sterne nor the affected stare of Chateaubriand.
He had, however, a theory which was proof against all sights and
sounds. The great earthquake of Lisbon is reported to have made many
atheists, and certainly no event of the kind has ever so seized hold
of men's imaginations. Saint-Pierre brushes it contemptuously on one
side. Says he in his Seventh Study: "The inhabitants of Lisbon know
well that their city has been several times shattered by shocks of
this kind, and that it is imprudent to build in stone. To persons
who can submit to live in a house of wood, earthquakes have nothing
formidable. Naples and Portici are perfectly acquainted with the fate
of Herculaneum. After all, earthquakes are not universal; they are
local and periodical. Pliny has observed," etc.

And so he works his way through the long list of human miseries.
Tigers, indeed! Who need care for tigers? Have they not dusky stripes
perceptible a great way off on the yellow ground of their skin? Do not
their eyes sparkle in the dark? How easy to avoid a tiger! With all the
enthusiasm of a theorist, he heaps up his authorities for statements
great and small, and levels his quotations from all and sundry at
his reader's head, much after the fashion of Mr. Buckle. Of a truly
scientific spirit these Studies have not a trace, but they contain much
attractive and delightful writing, and, though dominated by a fantastic
and provoking theory, are full of shrewdness and wisdom as well as of
lofty eloquence.

Thus, whilst combating what he conceives to be the error of supposing
that morality is determined by climate, he points out that there is as
much difference in manners, in opinions, in habiliments, and even in
physiognomy, between a French opera actor and a Capuchin friar as there
is between a Swede and a Chinese, and concludes by observing: "It is
not climate which regulates the morality of man; it is opinion, it
is education, and such is their power that they triumph not only over
latitudes, but even over temperament."

Saint-Pierre's views on governments and supreme authority are worth
reading, even after a course of Bodin or Hobbes. He says in the same
Seventh Study:--

"Without paying regard to the common division of governments into
democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, which are only at bottom
political forms that determine nothing as to either their happiness
or their power, we shall insist only on their moral constitution.
Every government of whatever description is internally happy and
respectable abroad when it bestows on all its subjects their natural
right of acquiring fortune and honors, and the contrary takes place
when it reserves to a particular class of citizens the benefits which
ought to be common to all. It is not sufficient to prescribe limits
to the people, and to restrain them within those limits by terrifying
phantoms. They quickly force the person who puts them in motion to
tremble more than themselves. _When human policy locks the chain round
the ankle of a slave, Divine Justice rivets the other end round the
neck of the tyrant._"

Nor is there much amiss with Saint-Pierre's political economy.

"It has always appeared to me strangely unaccountable that in France,
where there are such numerous and such judicious establishments, we
should have ministers of superintendence in foreign affairs, for war,
the marine, finance, commerce, manufactures, the clergy, public
buildings, horsemanship, and so on, but never one for agriculture. It
proceeds, I am afraid, from the contempt in which the peasantry are
held. All men, however, are sureties for each other, and, independently
of the uniform stature and configuration of the human race, I would
exact no other proof that all spring from one and the same original.
It is from the puddle by the side of the poor man's hovel which has
been robbed of the little brook whose stream sweetened it the epidemic
plague shall issue forth to devour the lordly inhabitants of the
neighboring castle."

But I must stop my quotations, which have been made only because by
their means better than by any other the English reader can be made
to perceive the manner of man the author of "Paul and Virginia" was,
and how it came about that he should write such a book. Saint-Pierre
was a missionary. He longed to convince the whole world that he was
right, and to win them over to his side and make them see eye to eye
with him. Hence his fervor and his force. He had not the genius of
Rousseau, with whom he had some odd conversations, but by virtue of his
wondrous sincerity he has an effectiveness which vies with the charm
of the elder and greater writer. There is an air of good faith about
Saint-Pierre. Though he deliberately sets to work and manufactures
descriptions, he seems to do so with as much honesty of purpose and of
detail as Gilbert White made his famous jottings in the parsonage of

Of "Paul and Virginia" little need be said. It is a French classic, by
the same title as "Robinson Crusoe" is a British one. Defoe has made
English boys by the thousand want to be shipwrecked, and Saint-Pierre
has made French boys by the thousand want to cry. The position of
"Paul and Virginia" in French literature is attested in a score of
ways. Editions abound both for the rich and for the poor. It is
everywhere, in every bookshop and on every bookstall. The author of
"Mademoiselle de Maupin" has left it on record that "Paul and Virginia"
made his youthful soul burn within him, and he solemnly pronounces it
a dangerous book. That Theophile Gautier was an expert in such matters
cannot be disputed. His evidence, therefore, must be admitted, though
as expert evidence it may be criticised. Sainte-Beuve is unfailing in
praise of "Paul and Virginia." He discerns in it the notes of reality
and freshness, the dew of youth is upon it,--it is sweet and comely.
"What will ever distinguish this graceful pastoral is its truth, its
humane and tender reality. The graces and sports of childhood are
not followed by an ideal and mythical youth. From the moment when
Virginia is agitated by an unknown trouble, and her beautiful blue
eyes are rimmed with black, we are in the midst of genuine passion,
and this charming little book, which Fontanes with an almost stupid
superficiality judgment placed between 'Telemachus' and the 'Death
of Abel,' I should myself classify between 'Daphnis and Chloe' and
the immortal Fourth Book in honor of Dido. A quite Virgilian genius
breathes through it."

That arch-sentimentalist, Napoleon Bonaparte, kept "Paul et Virginie"
under his pillow during his Italian campaign; so at least he assured
Saint-Pierre, but as he is known to have made precisely the same remark
to Tom Paine about the "Rights of Man," he must not be understood _au
pied de la lettre_. He is known to have read the book over again in the
last sad days at Saint Helena, and no one can doubt that it was much to
his taste.

I cannot disguise from myself--I wish I could--my own dislike of the
book. We may, many of us, be disposed to believe, with Lord Palmerston,
that all babies are born good; but we feel tolerably certain that no
babies, if left to themselves, would grow up like Paul and Virginia.
What is more, we would not wish them to do so. To tell the truth, we
cannot weep over Virginia. A young woman who chooses to drown in sight
of land and her lover, with strong arms ready to save her, rather than
disarrange her clothing, makes us contemptuously angry. Bashfulness is
not modesty, nor can it be necessary to die under circumstances which
might possibly render a blush becoming. But the French cannot be got to
see this, and "Paul et Virginie" was written for the French, to whom
the spectacle of the drowning Virginia "one hand upon her clothing, the
other on her heart," has long seemed sublime,--a human sacrifice to
_la pudeur_. "And we also," exclaims one fervent spirit, "had we been
on that fatal strand, should have cried to Virginia, 'Let yourself be
saved! Quit your clothing, forget an instant the scruples of modesty.
Live!' Do we not hear, however, in despite of our pity, a voice severer
and more delicate than the cries of all these spectators moved by so
many dangers and so much courage. Virginia cannot with the pure and
innocent heart which God has given her, with the chaste love she has
for Paul,--Virginia cannot throw off her garments and let herself be
saved by this sailor. Let her die, therefore, that she may remain as
pure as her soul! Let her die, since she has known how to distinguish,
amidst the howling of the tempest and the cries of the spectators, the
gentle but powerful voice of modesty."

It is interesting after this explosion of French feeling to call to
mind Carlyle's remarks about "Paul and Virginia" in the second book of
his prose poem, "The French Revolution."

"Still more significant are two books produced on the eve of the
ever-memorable explosion itself, and read eagerly by all the
world,--Saint-Pierre's 'Paul et Virginie' and Louvet's 'Chevalier de
Faublas,'--noteworthy books, which may be considered as the last speech
of old Feudal France. In the first there rises melodiously, as it were,
the wail of a moribund world. Everywhere wholesome Nature is in unequal
conflict with diseased perfidious Art; cannot escape from it in the
lowest hut, in the remotest island of the sea. Ruin and Death must
strike down the loved one, and what is most significant of all, death
even here not by necessity, but by etiquette. What a world of prurient
corruption lies visible in that super-sublime of modesty! Yet on the
whole our good Saint-Pierre is musical, poetical, though most morbid.
We will call his book the swan-song of old dying France."

So far Carlyle, who was a sentimentalist at heart.

It is noticeable, however, that M. Barine, whose biography of
Saint-Pierre is here introduced to the English reader, and who, I have
no doubt, represents modern criticism, lays no stress upon the death
of Virginia, observing, with much composure, "The shipwreck of the
'Saint Geran' and the death of Virginia, which made us all shed floods
of tears when we were children, are, it must be allowed, somewhat
melodramatic, and, from a literary point of view, very inferior to
the passionate scenes" (p. 173). It is as a love-story glowing and
fervent, full of the unrestfulness and tumult which are the harbingers
of passion in virgin breasts, that "Paul et Virginie" must now be
regarded. So M. Barine says, and he is undoubtedly right; and the
English reader, however much his moral sense rejects the climax of the
tale, must be dull of heart who does not recognize, even though he fail
to admire, the power which depicts the woful plight of poor Virginia
when she becomes Love's thrall.

The pages of "Paul et Virginie" are frequently enlivened by aphorism
and ennobled by description. One of its sayings is quoted with
great effect by Sainte-Beuve in his "Causerie" on Cowper: "Il y a
de plus dans la femme une gaieté légère qui dissipe la tristesse de
l'homme." In the same way there is a certain quality in the writings
of Saint-Pierre, perceptible even to the foreigner, which renders
acquiescence in the judgment of France upon his fame as a writer easier
than might have been expected.

A. B.




In looking over the collection of the portraits of Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre, we are witnesses of a strange transformation. That
of Lafitte, engraved in 1805, during the lifetime of the original,
represents a fine old man with a long face, strongly marked features,
and locks of white hair falling to his shoulders. His expression has
more penetration than sweetness, and certain vertical lines between the
brows reveal an unaccommodating temper. This is certainly no ordinary
man; but we are not surprised that he had many enemies.

In 1818, four years after the death of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, a
less realistic work begins to idealize his features for posterity. An
engraving by Frédéric Lignon from a drawing by Girodet represents him
as younger, and in an attitude of inspiration. There is an almost
heavenly look upon his innocent face, surrounded by an abundant crop
of hair artistically curled and falling to his shoulders. Everything
in this second portrait is rounded off and toned down, and this is
only the beginning of things. The type created by Girodet became more
angelic and more devoid of significance at each new reproduction. The
eyes get larger, the features are less marked, and we have a hero of
Romance, a dreamy, sentimental youth, the apocryphal Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre which a vignette of the time of the Restoration shows us,
seated at a cottage door, his eyes cast up to heaven, his handkerchief
in his hand, while his dog fixes his eyes tenderly upon him, and a
negress contemplates him with rapture. Legend has decidedly got the
better of history. An insipid and rather ridiculous silhouette has
insinuated itself in the place of a countenance full of originality and

At the present day we do a service to the author of _Paul and Virginia_
by treating him without ceremony. The time has come to resuscitate him
as he appeared to his contemporaries, with his lined forehead, and his
uneasy expression, lest the mawkish Bernardin de Saint-Pierre invented
by sentimentalists should make us forget altogether the real man who
dared to disagree with the philosophers, and to beard the Academy.
One appreciates his work better, knowing that it did not spring from a
purely elegiac soul, but from a deliberate and dogged mind which knew
what it wanted, and did not play its part of literary pioneer at random.

Jacques Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was born at Havre in 1737, of a
family in which there was little common sense, but great pretensions.
The father believed himself to be of noble origin, and was never tired
of discoursing to his children of their illustrious ancestors. He had
three sons, and one daughter. One of the sons, who took his ancestral
glory quite seriously, unable to bear up against the mortifications
which awaited him in the world, went out of his mind. The daughter,
refusing with disdain all the offers of marriage she received, repented
when it was too late, and ended her days in sadness and obscurity. The
mother was good and kind, free from vanity, and richly gifted with
imagination. Bernardin was fond of relating a conversation which they
had had together when he was quite a child about the growing corn. Mme.
de Saint-Pierre had explained to him that if every man took his sheaf
of corn there would not be enough on the earth for every one, from
which they came to the conclusion "that God multiplied the corn when it
was in the barns." Here we have already the scheme of the _Études de
la Nature_ and we need not ask from whom Bernardin held his method of

In spite of the touch of folly which spoilt some members of the family,
it was an ideal home for the children's happiness. The life there was
simple, and humble friends were by no means despised. A servant of
the old-fashioned kind, an old woman called Marie, had her place in
it, gave her advice and spoilt the children. A Capucine monk, Brother
Paul, would bring sugar-plums and delight the whole household with his
stories, which bore no trace of morose religious views. Their studies
were a little desultory, their recreations delightfully homely. They
gardened, played games in the granary, paddled about on the sea-shore,
and fought with the street boys, for all the world as though they had
no belief in their noble ancestors. Occasionally they got old Marie to
do up their hair in numberless starched curl-papers, which stiffened it
and filled the good woman with admiration; they would then put on their
best clothes and go to visit Bernardin's godmother, Mme. de Bayard.
Those were happy days.

Mme. de Bayard was a countess of ruined fortunes, rather too fond of
borrowing, but she had been at the court of Louis XIV. and had known La
Grande Mademoiselle, which amounts to saying that M. de Saint-Pierre
thought it due to his aristocratic dreams to get her to "name" one
of his children, as they called it in those days. The honour of
being her godson devolved upon the future author, who soon learnt to
appreciate his good luck. Mme. de Bayard was a handsome old lady, who
had preserved in her changed fortunes manners of exquisite courtesy and
the airs of a queen. Reduced to all sorts of shifts, and constrained
at such times to forget her pride, no sooner had she obtained the
necessary money than she raised her head again, and hastened to prepare
a fête for those who had obliged her with their purse. Her grace and
dignity of manner made them her slaves. They would form a circle round
her to listen to her stories of the hero Monsieur le Prince, of Louis
XIV., amorous and gay, of the Grande Mademoiselle, grown old, and still
weeping over the memory of the ungrateful Lauzun, of the wonders of
Versailles, and of the romantic nocturnal revels on the grand canal at
Fontainebleau. She told such good stories, had so much wit and cheerful
kindliness, that no one ever had the heart to ask for a return of the
loans they had made to her.

She brought into play the same fascinations to win the heart of the
first comer, were it only a child, so that she appeared to her godson
as a being quite apart, dazzling and adorable. He was not ignorant of
the straits she was put to, and it had even happened to him, seeing
her in tears, to slip his only silver-piece under her cushion; but
none the less for that did she seem to soar above him in a superior
world. Under her faded finery she was to him the personification of
supreme elegance, and he was right. She talked as no one else in Havre
knew how to talk, and in listening to her he was borne away to a new
world peopled with great princes and beautiful princesses who welcomed
Mme. de Bayard with distinction. He himself became a great noble and
showered riches upon his beloved godmother. He would have been a poor
creature not to prefer these beautiful dreams to gifts of any kind, and
besides, the old Countess made presents just as she gave her fêtes, at
the most unexpected moments. M. de Saint-Pierre respected her, and she
had a great influence, and it was always a beneficent one upon little
Bernardin's early education.

He was not an easy child to manage. Some one who knew Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre very well, and who loved and admired him greatly,[1] said
that he united in himself all the good and all the bad qualities of
his brothers and his sister who were themselves neither ordinary nor
accommodating, with the exception, perhaps, of the youngest of the
boys. They were a nervous race, full of ambition, prompt to illusion,
and bitterly resenting deception and injustice. "A single thorn," said
Bernardin, "gives me more pain than the odour of a hundred roses gives
me pleasure." He did not exaggerate, nature had exquisitely adapted him
for suffering.

From his earliest years he showed himself to be of an unequal temper,
which his father utterly failed to understand. The child was often lost
in the clouds, or absorbed in the contemplation of a blade of grass,
a flower, or a fly. One day when M. de Saint-Pierre was calling his
attention to the beauties of the spires of the Cathedral of Rouen, he
cried out in a sort of ecstacy: "Ah, how high they fly!" He had only
noticed the swallows wheeling about in the air. His father looked upon
him as an idiot, a strange undisciplined creature, and he was very
far from guessing at what was taking place in the mind of his little
son. The boy had unearthed from a cabinet an enormous folio containing
"all the visions of the hermits of the Desert," taken from the _Lives
of the Saints_. It became his habitual study, and from it he learnt
that God comes to the help of all those who call upon Him. There
could, therefore, be nothing for him to fear from his masters, his
parents, old Marie, or in fact from any one. He could abandon himself
in peace to his beautiful dreams, and withdraw himself into the ideal
world, where his imagination showed him only tenderness, flowers, and
sunshine. In case of need he would call God to his aid, and God would
surely deliver him.

He did in fact call upon Him, and God came, as He always comes to
those who cry to Him in faith. One day, when his mother had punished
him unjustly, he prayed to heaven to open the door of his prison,
and to make known his innocence. The door remained closed, but a ray
of sunlight suddenly pierced the gloom and lighted up the window.
The little prisoner fell upon his knees, and burst into tears in a
transport of joy. The miracle was accomplished. It is with a ray of
sunshine that God has ever opened the prisons of His children.

But the more Providence showed an interest in him, the more
ungovernable he became. The child so gentle, so compassionate to
animals, became passionate and violent, whenever the shocks of
real life unhinged him, so that he was almost beside himself. His
father raged, and then it was that the godmother interfered. She,
who understood it all, found her godson interesting, and while she
comforted him tenderly, she pacified and reassured his parents. To her
he owed his recall from exile after some innocent escapade which had
terrified his family. To her he owed some of his masters. To her he
owed the book which determined the bent of his mind, and the influence
of which one can trace everywhere in his works: _Robinson Crusoe_.

Mme. de Bayard had made him a present of it, just at a moment when it
was thought necessary to change the current of his thoughts. Before he
was twelve he had set his heart upon becoming a Capucine monk, ever
since the time when Brother Paul had taken him with him for a tour on
foot through Normandy. The journey had been a perpetual enchantment,
one long junketing. They stopped at the convents, at the country
houses, with well-to-do peasants, and there was nothing but feasting
and kindliness everywhere. Brother Paul told stories all the way, the
weather was fine, the fields were in bloom, and little Bernardin adored
nature, whom nobody just then seemed to think much about, with the
exception of one other dreamer who had found her "dead in the eyes of
men," and who was just then engaged in resuscitating her. But as yet
young Saint-Pierre did not even know the name of J. J. Rousseau. He
only knew that in the country "the air is pure, the landscape smiling,
walking pleasant, and living easy"; that he was very happy, and never
wished to do anything else in the future than to watch the growth of
the plants, and listen to the woodland sounds. He made up his mind to
take the monk's habit and staff in order to be able to spend the rest
of his days wandering about the lanes, and this resolution he announced
as soon as he reached home. His father laughed at him, his godmother
gave him _Robinson Crusoe_.

This book had a great influence upon his career. It suggested to
him the idea of his famous island, where Friday was replaced by a
people whom Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, by wise laws and by force of
example, had recalled to the "innocence of the golden age." The more he
reflected upon it the more the enterprise appeared to him practicable
and worthy of a man's powers, so much so that, having served as the
sport of his imagination, it became the aim of his existence. After
some months, no longer able to curb his impatience, he obtained leave
to embark for Martinique in a vessel belonging to one of his uncles.
It seemed to him quite impossible that he should not find somewhere on
the wide ocean a desert island, of which he would make himself king.
Nevertheless, the impossible happened, and he returned to Havre greatly
disappointed but not discouraged. While awaiting another opportunity
he matured his plans, in which the suppression of all schools held a
prominent place. Time only served to strengthen him in his design, and
we shall find him giving up the best part of his youth to the search
for his island. His long journeys had no other object. Being unable to
find it, he wished at least to demonstrate to the world what it might
have been, and he laboured indefatigably to describe it. One of the
results of this fortunate obstinacy is entitled _Paul and Virginia_.
We can understand that Bernardin always preserved a feeling of the
liveliest gratitude towards his godmother and towards _Robinson Crusoe_.

It was again Mme. de Bayard, who on his return from Martinique
interposed to see that he finished his studies. M. de Saint-Pierre did
not trouble himself about it, being discouraged by the capricious and
senseless method in which his incorrigible son studied. He yielded,
however, and sent Bernardin to the Jesuits at Caen, who completed
the work begun by the _Lives of the Saints_ and _Robinson Crusoe_.
They made their pupils read the narratives of their missionaries, and
those great voyages to foreign countries, the daring adventures, the
sublime sufferings, the martyrs and the miracles finally set on fire
the imagination of young Bernardin. He worked no more, played no more,
talked no more, entirely given up to his determined resolution that he
also would become a missionary and go upon these wonderful voyages, and
be a martyr too. The Jesuit father in whom he confided, smiled, but
did not discourage him. M. de Saint-Pierre hastened to recall him, and
old Marie went to meet him outside the town to say, with tears in her
eyes, "Then you mean to become a Jesuit?" That was the first blow to
his vocation. The grief of his mother, and the lectures of Brother Paul
finally put an end to it, and he thought no more of becoming a martyr.

He had suffered an irreparable loss during his sojourn at Caen. Mme. de
Bayard was dead; there was no longer any one to pour peace into that
restless and sombre nature. It became more and more true that "all his
sensations developed at once into passions," and more than ever he
sought a refuge from reality in dreams which his age made dangerous.
Eager for solitude, isolated in the midst of his companions, he became
absorbed in his visionary projects, and expended upon the phantoms of
his imagination the vague emotions that oppressed him.

He sustained another loss equally calamitous to him though for very
different reasons. His mother died while he was finishing his studies
at Rouen, and with her disappeared the peaceful joys and sunshine of
the home, and her son was astonished to discover that at the first
vacation he had no longer any wish to return there.

The thought was new and painful. The following year he went to Paris,
with the intention of becoming an engineer, and when he had been there
a year, he heard that his father had married again and was no longer to
be counted upon to help his sons. One of them was a sailor, the other a
soldier. Bernardin found himself alone in the streets of Paris, without
money, and almost without friends. His real education was about to
commence. He was twenty-three, good-looking, very impressionable, with
a delicate, keen imagination, courage, and unstable character.

Almost all his biographers have deplored the use he made of his time
up to the age of thirty and after. It is true that in the eyes of
prudent people, who approve of a regulated career with promotion at
stated intervals, his entrance into the world must appear absurd, even
reprehensible. No one could make a worse bungle of his future than he
did, his excuse is that it was not intentional. On the contrary, he
took great pains to seek appointments, and believed himself to be a
model employé. But instinct, stronger than reason, constantly drove
him from a line which was not his own. He has very happily expressed
in one of his works[2] the combat which takes place under such
circumstances in a highly-endowed mind.

He has just said that among animals, it is upon the innate and
permanent instinct of each species that depend their character, their
manners and, perhaps, even their expression. "The instincts of animals,
which are so varied," he continues, "seem to be distributed in each one
of us in the form of secret inward impulses which influence all our
lives. Our whole life consists in nothing else but their development,
and it is these impulses, when our reason is in conflict with them,
which inspire us with immovable constancy, and deliver us up among
our fellows to perpetual conflicts with others and with ourselves."
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre knew of these struggles with instinct by
his own experience. Thanks to them he was so fortunate as to succeed
in nothing for twelve years, and to be in the end obliged to abandon
himself in despair to those "secret inward impulses," which predestined
him to take up the pen. But prudent people have never forgiven him for
his inability to settle down, and they have suggested that his conduct
was detestable.

He entered the army with the greatest ease, owing, as it happened, to
a misunderstanding. They were just in the middle of the Seven Years'
War, and a great personage to whom Bernardin had applied mistook him
for somebody else and without any further investigation gave him a
commission in the Engineers. He went through the campaign of 1760,
fell out with his superior officers, and was dismissed. On his return
to France, having been to see his father, his stepmother made him feel
that he was not wanted, and he returned to Paris as destitute and
lonely as it is possible to be. Youth takes these things to heart, and
by reason of them bears a grudge against the world and life.

The following year he succeeded in being sent to Malta, quarrelled with
his superiors and with his comrades, and was shelved. From his return
from Malta we may date the first of the innumerable memorials he wrote
upon all subjects--administrative, political, commercial, military,
moral, scientific, educational, philanthropic, and utopian--with which
he never ceased from that time to overwhelm the ministers and their
offices, his friends and protectors; in fact, the whole universe, and
which made many people look upon him as a plague. One cannot with
impunity undertake to be a reformer and to make the happiness of the
human race Bernardin was eager to point out to men in office the
mistakes and faults in their administration, and to suggest innovations
in the interests of the public good, and he was unaffectedly astonished
at their ingratitude. He claimed recompense for his good advice, and
received no answer; he insisted, got angry, and ended by exasperating
the most kindly disposed, even his old friend Hennin, Chief Clerk in
the Foreign Office, who was obliged to write to him one day: "You
deceive yourself sir, the King owes you nothing, because you have
not acted by his orders. Your memorials, however useful they may be,
do not in the least entitle you to ask favours from the King as a
matter of right." Such lessons, only too well deserved, irritated
the simple-minded petitioner, who had struck out the forgiveness of
injuries from amongst the duties of philanthropy. "I have always needed
the courage," he said, "to forgive an insult, do what I will the scar
remains, unless the occasion arises for returning good for evil;
for any one under an obligation to me is as sacred in my sight as a
benefactor." In the midst of his self-torment he began again, and his
affairs went from bad to worse.

Meanwhile he had to live. In the ministry they gave him no hope
whatever of being restored to his rank. He had written to all his
relations to ask for help, and had received nothing but refusals. He
had given lessons in mathematics and lost his pupils. The baker refused
to give him credit any longer, and his landlady threatened to turn him
out of doors. There was no other resource left to him but to found his
kingdom, which, upon reflection, he had converted into a republic. It
was to this that he devoted himself without further delay.

He no longer thought it essential that it should be an island; any
desert would suffice, provided it had a fertile soil and a good
climate. He fixed his choice upon the shores of the Sea of Aral, and
at once set about his preparations for departure; which consisted in
taking his books to the second-hand bookseller, and his clothes to the
old-clothes man, and in borrowing right and left a few crowns. He thus
scraped together a few sovereigns, and took the diligence to Brussels,
whence be counted on reaching Russia and the Sea of Aral. Why Russia?
Why the Sea of Aral? He has given his reasons in a pamphlet, in which
he goes back to the Scythian migration, to Odin and Cornelius Nepos,
and which explains nothing, unless it is that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
became almost a visionary when his hobby was in question. Here are
the reasons which he gives for his choice: "If there were some place
upon earth, under a bright sky, where one could find at one and the
same time, honour, riches, and society, all due to the security of
possession, that place would soon be filled with inhabitants. _This
happy country is to be found on the east coast of the Caspian Sea_;
but the Tartars who inhabit it have only made of it a desert." That
is all. On the other hand, a note at the bottom of the page shows us
where the future legislator had sought his models, reserving to himself
the liberty to improve upon them. "The English peopled Pennsylvania
with no other invitation than this: _He who shall here plant a tree
shall gather the fruits thereof. That is the whole spirit of the law._"
This note was the reply to a famous apostrophe in the _Discours sur
l'inégalité_ of J. J. Rousseau.

"The first man who, having enclosed a territory, ventured to say _this
is mine_, and who found people simple enough to believe him, was the
real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, miseries
and horrors, would he not have spared the human race who should have
pulled up the stakes, filled in the ditch, and cried to his fellows,
'Beware of listening to this impostor; _you are lost if you forget that
the fruits of the earth are for all, and that the earth belongs to no

One might point out other disagreements between the _Discours sur
l'inégalité_ and the pamphlet upon the colony of the Sea of Aral, but
they all bear upon questions of detail. Jean Jacques and Bernardin
agree at bottom as to the end to aim at and the path to follow. Young
Saint-Pierre was already and for ever a disciple of Rousseau. He
steeped himself in his philosophy, in anticipation of the day when he
was to come to him for lessons in sentiment. Master and pupil both
believed that our ills come from society. Nature arranged everything
for our happiness, and man was good; if we are wicked and unhappy the
fault is in ourselves, who have provoked the evil by disregarding her
laws. One can easily see the consequences of these misanthropical
views. As we have been the authors of our own unhappiness and know
where we have been mistaken, there is certainly a remedy. It rests
with us to overcome most of our sufferings by reforming society, and
changing our laws and our morality. Humanity only needs a clear-sighted
and courageous guide, who would dare to fling in its face its follies
and cruelties--who would bring it back into the right path. Rousseau
was this guide in words and on paper; Saint-Pierre wished to become the
same in deed and in fact. He purposed to put into practice what his
century was dreaming of, and that is why he set out one fine night for
a fabulous country. One may maintain that he could have found other and
more useful ways of employing his time, but, at least, his way was not
commonplace or egotistical.

He travelled as an apostle, solely occupied with his mission, trusting
to Providence to bring him with his 150 francs to the feet of Peter
III.; for it was from the Emperor of Russia that he meant to ask
help and protection to found his ideal republic, by which should be
demonstrated the vast inferiority of monarchies. He never doubted but
that the Czar would share his zeal, then why disturb himself about the
means of accomplishing his design? Had he not in old times travelled
with brother Paul without money and without thought for the morrow? Had
he come to any harm from it? What people gave to the mendicant friar
for the love of God, they would give to him for the love of humanity.
And so it turned out. He arrived in Russia after having spent his last
crown at the Hague. His journey had been a perpetual miracle. One lent
him money, another lodged him, a third introduced him to others because
of his good looks. At Amsterdam they even offered him a situation
and a wife, which he did not think it right to accept because of his
republic. He felt that he owed a duty to his people.

He landed at St. Petersburg with six francs in his pocket, and the
miracle continued. He did not dine every day, thank heaven! or the
romance would have had no further interest. But on the eve of dying
of hunger he always encountered some generous person who, like his
godmother, thought him interesting. He must indeed have been charming,
this fine young fellow, full of fire and good faith, starting out from
his garret to regenerate the world. So much so indeed that, passed on
from one to another, from introduction to introduction, he arrived at
last in the train of a general at Moscow, where the court then was,
received a commission as sub-lieutenant of Engineers, and replaced the
clothes sold to the old-clothes man in Paris by a brilliant uniform.
When his new friends saw him in his scarlet coat with black facings,
his fawn-coloured waistcoat, his white silk stockings, his beautiful
plume, and his glittering sword, they foretold a great fortune for him.
One of them called him _cousin_, and offered to present him to the
Empress Catherine, whom the Revolution of 1762 had just placed upon
the throne. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was transported with joy at this
proposal. It was only four months since he had quitted France, and he
already neared his goal. Providence evidently watched over his republic.

What remained for him to do appeared mere child's play after what he
had accomplished. His pamphlet upon his projected colony was ready--it
was the same from which we have quoted some fragments above--and it was
not too ill-conceived. In it the author spoke little of the happiness
of peoples, and much of the utility to Russia of securing a route to
the Indies. The settlement which he proposed to found on the Sea of
Aral lost under his pen its doubtful character as a philosophical
and humanitarian enterprise, to take on the innocent aspect of a
military colony intended to keep the Tartars in check, and to serve as
an emporium for merchandise from India. In fact he thought he ought
to support it with a speech, which he composed, his Plutarch in his
hand, and in which he celebrated "the happiness of kings who establish
republics." But this speech had no unpleasant consequences as we shall
see presently.

On the day appointed for the audience he put his pamphlet in his
pocket, glanced over his speech, and followed his guide to the palace.
They entered a magnificent gallery, full of great nobles glittering
with gold and precious stones, who inspired our young enthusiast on
the spot with keen repugnance. There they were those vile slaves of
monarchy, whose lying tongues knew no other language than that of
flattery! What would be their surprise, what their attitude, on hearing
a free man speak boldly of freedom to their sovereign? All at once the
door was thrown open with a loud noise, the Empress appeared, every one
was silent and remained motionless. The grand master of the ceremonies
presented M. de Saint-Pierre, who kissed her hand, and forgot his
pamphlet, his speech imitated from Plutarch, his republic, all mankind,
and only remembered how to reply gallantly to the great lady who
deigned to smile upon his youth and his beautiful blue eyes.

And thus was buried for ever the project of a colony by the Sea of
Aral. The author took it the next morning to the favourite of the
day, Prince Orloff, and explained its advantages to him without being
able to inspire him with the least interest. The Prince indeed seemed
relieved when they came to tell him that the Empress was asking for
him. "He waited upon her at once in his slippers and dressing-gown, and
left M. de Saint-Pierre profoundly distressed and in a mood to write
a satire against favourites."[3] He returned, intensely discomfited,
to his room at the inn, and took up the education of his manservant
while awaiting another opportunity of founding his ideal republic.
His servant was a poor devil of a moujik, who had been kidnapped from
his family and made a soldier, and who would sing, with tears in his
eyes, sweet and melancholy folk songs. He would put his master's shoes
into a bucket of water to clean them, only taking them out when they
were wanted. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, having taught him how to brush
a coat, he was ready to throw himself at his feet and adore him as a
superior being.

Meanwhile his master remained inconsolable at having by his own fault
failed to accomplish the happiness of mankind. Russia had lost its
attraction, he now only saw in it matter for disgust and anger, and he
was angry with himself for having come so far simply to contemplate
"slaves" and "victims." His profession bored him. He had addressed to
the Russian government several memorials upon the military position and
means of defence of Finland, whither his duties as officer of Engineers
had called him, and his labours had met with no better fortune there
than in France; nobody paid any attention to it. Anger grew upon him,
then bitterness, and he seized upon the first pretext to send in his
resignation, and cross the frontier in order to seek elsewhere a "land
of liberty" where the antique virtues still lived. A happy inspiration
induced him with this idea to follow the road through Poland where
the people were at that time the most oppressed and most miserable in
Europe. At sight of Warsaw "he felt in his heart all the virtues of a
republican hero."

They did not remain with him long; other and more tender interests
were soon to replace them. Warsaw is the scene of the romance of his
youth, the adventure that his imagination as time went on turned into
a devouring passion, which he ended in believing in himself, and which
his biographers have related sometimes with virtuous indignation,
accusing him of having lived for more than a year at the expense of a
woman, sometimes with the respect due to great sufferings and unmerited
misfortunes. Unhappily or happily, some letters of his, published for
the first time thirty years ago,[4] show him to have been at once less
culpable and less worthy of compassion. These letters are addressed to
a friend in Russia, M. Duval, a Genevese merchant established at St.
Petersburg. In them Saint-Pierre speaks of his love affairs with the
indiscretion of youth and the vanity of a bourgeois anxious to announce
to the world that he has made a conquest of a princess. It is amusing
to compare this sincere report, confirmed by the _Correspondence_
published in his complete works,[5] with the official story no less
sincere, which the hero of the adventure liked to circulate in his old

He arrived at Warsaw on the 17th of June, 1764, and was at once
received into the houses of several of the nobility. Some weeks passed
in festivities, which gave him more just views upon the subject of
Polish austerity, and the antique virtues of the country, and he very
soon wished to leave. On the 28th of July he wrote to his friend
Hennin: "You think my position here agreeable, so it appears from afar,
but if you only knew how empty is the world in which I wander; if you
knew how much these dances and grand repasts stupefy without amusing
me!" He then begs M. Hennin to use his interest for him at Versailles,
and to obtain for him a mission to Turkey, "the finest country in the
world as he has been told."

On the 20th of August there is another letter to M. Hennin, in which
he shows that he is more and more impatient to leave Poland: "If
nothing keeps me here I shall leave in the beginning of the month of
September for ... Vienna, for I am tired of so much idleness, of which
the least evil is that I am growing accustomed to an indolent life."
This is certainly not the language of a man desperately in love, whose
heart would be broken if one tore him away from the spot where his
divinity breathed. But if we believe the legend, that was, however,
the moment in which Bernardin de Saint-Pierre surpassed the passion of
Saint-Preux, and lived the life of _The Modern Heloïse_, because it
was his fate to realise all that Rousseau had been content to write
about, as well in his romances as in his plans of social reform. This
is briefly what the legend tells us.

Among the persons who had thrown open their doors to him at Warsaw,
was a young princess named Marie Miesnik, remarkable for "her love
of virtue." We see that this is exactly the starting-point of _The
Modern Heloïse_, a plebeian falls in love with a patrician. "From the
first day," says Aimé Martin, "M. de Saint-Pierre felt the double
ascendancy of her genius and her beauty, and she became at once the
sole thought of his life." On her side the Julia of Poland did not
remain insensible. We pass over the emotions which filled and lacerated
their souls to the day blessed and fatal, when overtaken by a storm
in a lonely forest, they repeated the scene of the groves of Clarens,
adding thereto recollections of Dido's grotto. "She gave herself up
like Julia, and he was delirious with joy like Saint-Preux," continues
Aimé Martin, whose phrase proves how much the resemblance with _The
Modern Heloïse_ was part of the tradition. Long intoxication followed
these first raptures. _More than a year passed in forgetfulness of the
whole world_, but Princess Marie's family began, like Julia's, to be
irritated with the insolence of this plebeian who dared to make love to
a Miesnik, and the end of it was an order to depart, given by the lady
to her lover, like Rousseau again, and which was obeyed with the same
passionate lamentations.

That is what time and a little good-will made of the adventure of
Warsaw. Now for history.

We have seen just now that nothing bound Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
to Warsaw on the 20th of August, 1764. Fifteen days after, the 5th
of September, he writes to M. Duval at St. Petersburg: "I must tell
you, my dear friend, for I hide nothing from you, that I have formed
an attachment here which almost deserves to be called a passion. It
has had a good effect in that it has cured me of my humours. Love is
therefore a good remedy to recommend to you above all, love gratified.
I have had such a pleasant experience of it, that I impart it to you
as an infallible secret, which will be as useful to you as to me. My
hypochondria is almost cured.

"I might flatter my self-love by naming to you the object of my
passion, but you know I have more delicacy than vanity. I have then
found all that could attach me, graces without number, wit enough, and
reciprocal affection.

"Another time you shall know more, but be persuaded that with me love
does no wrong to friendship."

We are a long way from the genius, the intoxicating beauty, the
unheard-of delights. A young man, full of worries, finds distraction
and amuses himself with a lovely young lady who has "enough wit," and
who is not unkind to him. He is really in love with her, but in a
quite reasonable manner, for he writes the same day to Hennin, then at
Vienna, that the approach of the bad weather obliges him to make up his
mind, and that he will delay no longer in leaving Warsaw. In fact, on
the 26th of September he announces his departure to Duval in a letter
of which I give the essential passages:

"My very worthy friend, the offers which you make me, the interest
which you take in me, your tender attentions, are in my heart subjects
of everlasting attachment. I do not know what Heaven has in store for
me, but it has never before poured so much joy into my soul. It was
something to have given me a friend, love has left me nothing further
to desire; it is into your bosom that I pour out my happiness.

"I will not give you the name of the person who after you holds the
first place in my heart. Her rank is high above mine, her beauty not
extraordinary, but her graces and her wit merit all the homage which
I was not able to deny to them. I have received help from her which
prevents me from actually accepting your offers. It was pressed upon me
so tenderly, that I could not help giving it the preference. I beg you
to forgive me for it. I have accepted from her about the value of the
sum you offered me....

... "I am spending part of the night in writing to you. I start
to-morrow, and my trunks are not yet ready."

One is sorry to learn that he had accepted money from his Princess.
His excuse, if there were one for that sort of thing, will be found in
the letter of _The Modern Heloïse_, where Julia persuades her lover,
by means of eloquent invective, to receive money for a journey. "So I
offend your honour for which I would a thousand times give my life?
I offend thine honour, ungrateful one! who hast found me ready to
abandon mine to thee. Where is then this honour which I offend, tell
me, grovelling heart, soul without delicacy! Ah! how contemptible art
thou if thou hast but one honour of which Julia does not know," &c.
Saint-Preux had submitted to this torrent. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
imitated his model in this also. See where literary loves lead one.

He left Warsaw on the 27th of September, after remaining there three
months and some days. Three months in which to meet, to love, to part,
was really the least one could allow. Certainly there was an epilogue,
but how transitory!

He had gone to rejoin M. Hennin at Vienna, where he received a letter
from the Princess M., who had thought proper to depict for him the
sufferings of absence. With his ordinary ingenuousness he took her at
her word, got into a carriage, returned to Warsaw unannounced, arrived
in the midst of a reception, was received with fiery glances and
insulting words, would take no denial, and after the departure of the
guests, wrested his pardon then and there. The next day when he awoke,
they gave him the following note:

"Your passion is a fury which I can no longer endure. Return to your
senses. Think of your position and your duties. I am just starting, I
am going to rejoin my mother in the Palatinate of X. I shall not return
until I hear that you are no longer here, and you will receive no
letters from me until such time as I can address them to you to France.
Marie M--."

She had in fact departed. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre felt outraged, and
never saw her again.

He returned to his vagrant excursions through Dresden, Berlin, and
Paris, to Havre, where he found only his old nurse. His father was
dead, his sister in a convent, his brothers far away. "Ah! sir," said
the good woman, upsetting her spinning-wheel in her emotion, "the times
are indeed changed. There is no one here to receive you but me!" She
invited him to dine in her bare lodging, beside her bed of straw, and
served up an omelet and a pitcher of cider. Then she opened her trunk,
and took out a chipped glass, which she placed gently beside her guest,
saying, "It was your mother's." They wept together, and then they
talked over the news of the country, of Brother Paul, who was dead, of
those who had left the town, of those who had made their fortunes. They
spoke also of Russia, of what they drank there, and of the price they
paid for bread. Above all things they talked of the happy times when
old Marie used to do up the children's hair in starched curl-papers,
admired their nonsense, and with her own money bought the class books
lost by Bernardin, so as to save him from a scolding. They wept
together again, kissed each other, and the young adventurer set out
once more, less discontented with humanity than usual. He was also less
satisfied with himself, after the lesson of resignation which he had
received from this poor old woman, who lived upon three pence a day,
and praised God for taking care of her.

Returned to Paris he again overwhelmed the ministers of the king,
Louis XV., with memorials which no one wanted, with complaints and
petitions. He continued to invent schemes on all sorts of subjects, and
to cover scraps of paper with a thousand scattered ideas. M. Hennin,
clearly discerning where his talent lay, persuaded him to write his
travels, but the time was not yet come, and the fragments of this
date which have been preserved to us contain nothing but information
upon political, commercial, and agricultural subjects. Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre himself felt that it was too soon. Announcing one day
to Hennin that he had conceived a new idea about the movement of the
earth, he added:

"You can see by that, that I grapple with everything, and that I leave
floating here and there threads, like the spider, until I can weave my

"Give me time to lick my cub. Time, which ripens my intellect, will
make the fruits thereof more worthy of you." (Letter of the 9th of
July, 1767).

He had a sort of instinct that all those Northern scenes which he had
passed through were of no use to him. He tried to find employment in
the countries of the sun--in the East or West Indies--without knowing
himself why there more than anywhere else. It was the exotic that
sought him, and it came to him in a most unexpected manner in the
autumn of 1767.

It is hardly necessary to say that whoever knew him knew his project
of an ideal republic. To whom had he not mentioned it? He had never
ceased to believe in it--to be sure that people would come to it,
one day or another; but his ill-luck at Moscow had made his belief
less confident and less active. He resigned himself to await until
Humanity should call upon him to help it. Great then was his joy when
one of his patrons announced to him in confidence one fine day that
the French government, converted to his ideas, was going to send him
to Madagascar, under the command of a certain person from the Isle of
France, to found the colony of his dreams, and to attach the island to
France by "the power of wisdom" and "the example of happiness." There
was certainly some surprise mixed with his delight, but not sufficient
to make him ask himself whether his protector wished merely to get rid
of him, or for what reason an expedition entrusted solely to himself
had for leader a planter from the Isle of France. He only thought of
his preparations for his great enterprise.

His first care was to re-read Plato and Plutarch, and to determine the
legislation of his colony. He remained faithful to his first idea of a
state entirely free, under the control completely absolute, arbitrary,
and irresponsible, of M. de Saint-Pierre. Some one, of course, would
have to compel the people to be "subject only to virtue." That was the
system put in force later by the Jacobins.

He next drew out the plan of his chief town, and employed the small
inheritance which came to him from his father, in buying scientific
instruments and works upon politics, the navy, and natural history.
The expedition was to embark at Lorient. He hastened to rejoin it,
and was at first disappointed with its composition, for instead of
artisans and agriculturalists, the Commander-in-chief had collected
secretaries, valets, cooks, and a small troupe of comedians of both
sexes. However, Saint-Pierre took heart at once on learning that the
Commander-in-chief had amongst his luggage all the volumes that had
yet appeared of the _Encyclopædia_. He was, therefore, in spite of
all, "a true philosopher," and things were pretty evenly balanced. The
_Encyclopædia_ took the place of the artisans, and made the actresses
pass muster. Take note that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre always reproached
his contemporaries, especially the encyclopædists, with being mere
visionaries, destitute of practical sense. He flattered himself that he
was the practical man in this world of Utopians, but at the same time
he looked upon their work as a sort of supernatural book. Such is the
power of opinion.

The expedition set sail under the most promising auspices, but once on
the open sea, the Commander wished to bring Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
to a more reasonable view of the situation, and explained to him that
he had never had any other design than to sell his subjects. I leave to
the imagination the effects of this thunderclap. They were taking him
to join them in the slave trade of the people of Madagascar! The horror
of such a thought increasing the shame of having been duped, voyage,
companions, projects for the future, and the very name of Madagascar,
all became odious to him on the spot. His ship touched at the Isle
of France. He hastened to disembark, took a situation as engineer,
and left his Commander to go on alone to Madagascar, where, it may be
remarked by the way, the expedition perished of fever. For himself,
discouraged and justly embittered, he lived in a lonely little cottage
from which he could see nothing but the sea, arid plains, and forests.
Seated in front of his one window, he spent long hours in letting
his gaze wander aimlessly. Or, perhaps, a melancholy pedestrian, he
wandered about on the shore, in the mountains, in the depths of those
tropical forests which we picture to ourselves as so beautiful, and
which he found so sad, because nothing there recalled to him the
pleasant scenes of his own country, and because he saw the Isle of
France under such gloomy auspices.

"There is not a flower," he wrote, "in the meadows, which, moreover,
are strewn with stones, and full of an herb as tough as hemp; no
flowering plant with a pleasant scent. Among all the shrubs not
one worth our hawthorn. The wild vines have none of the charms of
honeysuckle or ground ivy. There are no violets in the woods, and as to
the trees, they are great trunks, grey and bare, with a small tuft of
leaves of a dull green. These wild regions have never rejoiced in the
songs of birds or the loves of any peaceable animal. Sometimes one's
ear is offended by the shrieks of the parroquet, or the strident cries
of the mischievous monkey."[6]

His melancholy lasted throughout his stay and was good for him: "One
enjoys agreeable things," he said afterwards, "and the sad ones make
one reflect." That was the lesson which the Isle of France had given
to him. He had been there much thrown back upon himself, and he had
gained at last a glimpse of the right road. Instead of continuing to
cram his notes of travel with technical details, good at most to adorn
his memorials to the ministers, he had set himself to note down what
he observed from his window, or during his walks. He made a note of
the lines and forms of the landscape, of its general appearance, the
formation of the ground, the structure of the rocks, the outlines of
the trees and plants. He observed their colours, their most subtle
shades, their variations according to the weather or time of day, their
smallest details, such as the red fissure on a grey stone, or the white
underside of a green leaf. He notes the sounds of his solitude, the
particular sound of the wind on a certain day in a certain place, the
murmur belonging to each kind of tree, the rhythm of a flight of birds,
the imperceptible rustling of a leaf moved by an insect. He noted the
movements of inanimate nature, the waving of the grass, the parts of a
circle described by the force of the wind in the tree tops, the swaying
of a leaf upon which a bird had perched itself, the flowing of the
streams, the tossing of the sea, the pace of the clouds.[7]

Sometimes he drew, and his sketches were only another form of notes.
During the crossing, while full of acute sorrow, he had drawn
numberless clouds. He studied their forms, their colour, their
foreground and background, their combinations, by themselves or
with the sea, the play of light upon them, with the attention and
conscientiousness of a painter of to-day, exacting in the matter of

This rage for taking notes seems a simple thing to us now; it is the
method of to-day, but it was unique and unheard of in 1769. No one, in
France at least, had bethought himself of these descriptions, for which
one must have materials. Moreover, no one was then in a position to
note the details of a landscape, for the simple reason that no one was
capable of seeing them, not even Rousseau. Not that he had not the same
keen perception for nature that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had, but it
struck him in a somewhat different way, as we shall see later. Besides,
the _Confessions_ and the _Reveries_ did not appear till after his
death, and could not have had any influence whatever on the birth at
the Isle of France in 1769 of picturesque literature.

It was a birth as yet obscure and seemingly uncertain. This young
engineer, who sketched sunsets instead of making plans, did not know
very well what he would do with his "observations." He felt that
they would not be wasted, and that they were not like other stories
of travel; but the definite initiation into his own sphere was still

It concerns us little what Bernardin de Saint-Pierre did at the Isle
of France, outside his dreamings, or whether he was right or wrong in
his quarrels, his disagreements, and his lamentations. It suffices for
us that he returned to Paris in the month of June, 1771, his portfolio
full of scraps of paper, his trunks full of shells, plants, insects and
birds, and what was of more value, his head full of pictures. He was as
poor as when he set out, and still more unsociable, but he was ripe for
his task. "He had seen, he had felt, he had suffered, he had heaped up
emotions and colours, he had made himself different from other men. To
the vulgar crowd he had been an adventurer, but he had passed through
the school which develops painters, poets, and men of talent. That is
what he had gained by his long travels."[8] It is a great advantage
when one is oneself an exceptional being, to have had a youth which
was not like that of everybody else. An ordinary man would have run
a great chance of coming out diminished in energy, and on the wrong
road, from those dangerous years of apprenticeship which led the
author of _Paul and Virginia_ to be himself. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
came through them without too many mishaps. His travels only made
him a little more original, and more misanthropic than he was in the


[1] Aimé Martin, author of the great biography entitled _Memoirs of the
Life and Works of J. H. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre_. [1 vol. 8vo. 1820.]

[2] _Harmonies of Nature_, book v.

[3] Aimé Martin.

[4] In the appendix to vol. vi. of the _Causeries du lundi_.

[5] Three vols. in 8vo., edited by Aimé Martin, Paris, 1826, Ladvocat.

[6] _Voyage to the Isle of France._

[7] The papers of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre are in the possession of
the family Aimé Martin. M. Aimé Martin had beside him, when he was
writing Bernardin's biography, the numerous notes taken by the latter
from nature.

[8] Villemain, _The Literature of the Eighteenth Century_.



He felt about for some time longer before finally taking up the pen.
In vain his friend Hennin urged him: "Above all, do not keep saying as
you have done hitherto, 'I will write, I will publish;' write, publish,
and leave it to your friends to make your work a success." Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre hesitated: "I am occupying myself," he replied, "in
putting in order the journal of my travels; not that I wish to become
an author, that is too distasteful a career and leads to nothing, but I
imitate those who learn to draw in order to adorn their rooms." (Letter
of the 29th of December, 1771). He speaks to him in the same letter of
getting the Government to give him a mission to the Indies, so that
he may be able to regale the ministers with a few more memorials on
politics or strategy.

He hesitated because he did not know how to set to work. He thought
he saw a manner of describing nature for which he knew of no models;
and instead of trusting to himself, he appealed to his writers, who
could do nothing for him. In the _Harmonies de la Nature_, his last
great work, into which he put all his fragments, there is a rhetorical
lecture upon the rules of landscape painting, which bears witness
to the care with which he had analysed the methods of Virgil. In it
Saint-Pierre explains to some imaginary pupils the means employed by
the poet to obtain the desired effect: "When Virgil tells us, 'The
ash-tree is very beautiful _in the woods_, the poplar _on the banks
of the rivers_,' he puts the tree in the singular and the site in the
plural, _in order to enlarge his horizon_. If he had put the vegetation
in the plural, and the sites in the singular, they would not have had
the same scope. He would have contracted his different scenes if he
had said: 'The ash-trees are very beautiful _in a wood_; the poplars
_on the bank of a river_.' The lines of the picture once fixed, Virgil
throws the flash of light upon his landscape, and it appears either
sad or smiling. He succeeds in enlivening it with bees, swans, birds
and flocks; or in saddening it by painting it desolate. A landscape is
always melancholy when it includes nothing but the primitive forces of

It is a subtle piece of observation, but the feeling for nature which
was awakening in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and for which he was
striving to find expression, was more complicated than that of Virgil.
Neither the _Eclogues_ nor the _Georgics_ taught him anything about
what were to be the great novelties of descriptive literature. The
ancients did not feel this need for precise and picturesque detail,
which has enabled us to take the portrait of a corner of country as we
do that of a person, with the same minutiæ, and the same care about the
resemblance. On the other hand, they had little of the intuition for
that mysterious correspondence between the scene and the spectator, for
that reciprocal action of nature upon our feelings, and of our feelings
upon the manner in which we look upon nature that in our day gives so
personal an emphasis to literary pictures of scenery, and can lend a
tragedy to the description of a bit of meadow. The only one of the
Greek or Latin writers, who has described the relations of our souls
with the world around us, has done it magnificently; but Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre had not read him. He was a Father of the Church of the
fourth century, Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, some of whose pages make us
think of Chateaubriand.

"Yesterday, tortured by my regrets, I seated myself under the shade
of a thick wood, eating my heart in solitude; for in trouble this
silent communing with one's soul is a consolation that I love. From
the tree-tops where the breeze murmured, and the birds were singing,
gladdened by the sunlight, there fell a soft influence of sleep. The
grasshoppers hidden in the grass echoed through the wood, a clear
stream softly gliding through its cool glades bathed my feet; as for
me, I remained pre-occupied with my grief, and had no care for these
things; for when the soul is overwhelmed with sorrow it cannot yield
itself up to pleasure. In the tumult of my troubled heart, I spoke
aloud the thoughts which were contending within me: 'What have I been?
What am I? What shall I become? I know not. One wiser than I knows no
better. Lost in clouds I wander to and fro; having nothing, not even
the dream of what I desire.'"[9]

One might urge that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had not read the poets
of the sixteenth century any more than the Fathers of the Church.
It was not the fashion of his day, and he was not the sort of man
to go and explore the libraries; he was too much occupied in making
discoveries in the fields. Like almost all his contemporaries, he
jumped from antiquity to the seventeenth century with only Montaigne
in the interval. After Homer, Virgil, the Gospel, and Plutarch, his
intellectual sustenance had been Racine, La Fontaine, Fénélon, and at
last coming to his contemporaries, Jean Jacques Rousseau. In vain he
questioned them upon the idea which pursued him; not one of them gave
him a satisfactory answer. Racine, who they say was enchanted with
the valley of Port Royal, had had no room in his tragedies for word
pictures. La Fontaine had more the feeling for the country than for
nature. Fénélon saw the woods and the fields from the point of view of
the ancients. We have purposely not mentioned Buffon; Bernardin did not
understand or appreciate him.

There remained Rousseau, who loved the beauty of the universe with all
his passionate heart; but the fine descriptions of Rousseau appear in
his posthumous works--in the _Confessions_ and the _Reveries_ which
were published, it is well to insist upon this, nine years after the
_Voyage to the Isle of France_. The celebrated landscapes in _La
Nouvelle Heloïse_, which Saint-Pierre had certainly studied, have about
them something conventional, which makes them appear cold. Call to mind
Saint-Preux in the mountains of Valais:

"Here immense rocks hung in ruins above my head; there high and
thundering cascades drenched me with their thick mist; again, an
eternal torrent would open beside me an abyss, of which my eyes did
not dare to sound the depths. Sometimes I lost myself in the obscurity
of a thick wood. Sometimes on emerging from a ravine my eyes would
suddenly be rejoiced by a pleasant plain. An astonishing admixture of
wilderness and cultivation showed everywhere the hand of men, where one
would have thought that they had never penetrated: beside a cavern you
found houses, dried vine branches where one only sought brambles, vines
growing upon landslips, excellent fruit upon rocks, and fields in the
midst of precipices."

In this bit, almost all the adjectives are abstract. The torrent is
_eternal_, the meadow _agreeable_, the fruits _excellent_. It is still
in the style of Poussin, and nothing in it foretells the pictures
in the manner of Corot and Théodore Rousseau, which Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre was soon to give to us. Let us say at once, in order
to establish the claim of the author of _Paul and Virginia_ to the
character of an innovator and pioneer, that the posthumous works of
Jean Jacques only give us his own impressions of a picture which he
suggests rather than shows to us. The immortal summer night of the
_Confessions_, on the road near Lyons, or the walk to Ménilmontant of
the _Reveries_, after the vintage and through the leafless country,
leave in the memory recollections of sensations rather than pictures.
One recalls a breeze of voluptuous warmth, a soft light of autumn; but
the physiognomy of the country escapes us. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
will be the first to paint it for us accurately. Just because he is
much less great than his glorious predecessor, we must give him his
due, and insist upon his originality.

Thus thrown upon his own resources, and finding by great good fortune
no one to imitate, he decided to take up the pen, and wrote, as well as
he could, and with many erasures, his _Voyage to the Isle of France_.
He had succeeded in sufficiently clearing up his ideas to know very
well what he wanted to do. He had two objects in view: in the first
place he wished to awaken a love of nature amongst the public. "By dint
of familiarising ourselves with the arts," he says in _The Voyage_,
"Nature becomes alien to us; we are even so artificial that we call
natural objects curiosities." He was shocked that the multitude who
became enamoured of the works of men could pass by the works of God
without seeing them, and he boasted for his part that he "preferred a
vine-stock to a column ... the flight of a gnat to the colonnade of
the Louvre." Moreover, he could not understand how one could separate
man from his surroundings, from the air which he breathed, the soil
which he trod upon, the plants and animals which were about him. "A
landscape," he says in his preface, "is the background of the picture
of human life."

The second object of his work was in his eyes still more important
than the first. The awakening of a love of nature amongst men was not
to be a simple artistic pleasure. Saint-Pierre designed to make use of
it to teach these same multitudes to seek evidences of the Divinity
elsewhere than in books. He wished to restore to the France of the
philosophers the sense of the presence of God in the universe, and the
best way to do it seemed to him to be to draw attention towards the
marvels of creation. No argument in his eyes was worth a day passed in
the fields in looking at what was about him and at his feet. "Nature,"
he wrote, "presents such ingenious harmonies, such benevolent designs;
mute scenes so expressive and little noticed, that if one could present
even a feeble picture of them to the most thoughtless man, he would
be forced to exclaim, 'There is some moving spirit in all this.'" In
another place he apologises himself for having written about plants and
animals without being a naturalist, and he adds: "Natural history not
being confined to the libraries it seemed to me that it was a book
wherein all the world might read. I have thought I could perceive the
tangible evidence of the existence of a Providence, and I have spoken
of it, not as a system which amuses my mind but as a feeling of which
my heart is full."

We notice in the two last lines the avowal, as yet timid and obscure,
of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's favourite maxim, the key to all his
schemes philosophical, scientific, political, or educational. He always
strove, and more and more openly as he gained reputation and authority,
to persuade the world that feeling is ever a better guide than reason
in all questions, and that it gives us greater certainty. He himself
gave an example in applying it to everything, and in particular to the
truths of religion. We should say truthfully, that he was sufficiently
of his day, sufficiently imbued with the spirit of the encyclopædists
to believe himself already conquered if he appealed to reason in favour
of God. He thought it safest to address himself to the feelings of the
reader rather than to his intelligence, in order to reconcile him with
a personage so little in favour.

This fine programme was unhappily very indifferently realised in the
_Voyage to the Isle of France_. Bernardin had first and foremost an
immense difficulty to contend against in the absence of a picturesque
vocabulary. "The art of depicting nature is so new," he said in the
course of his narrative, "that its terminology is yet uninvented. Try
to describe a mountain so that it shall be recognisable: when you have
spoken of the foundation, of the sides, and the summit, you will have
said everything. But what variety is there in those forms bulging,
rounded, extended, here flattened, there hollowed, &c.! You can find
nothing but paraphrases. There is the same difficulty with the plains
and valleys.... It is not astonishing, then, that travellers give such
poor accounts of natural objects. If they describe a country to you,
you will see in it towns, rivers, mountains; but their descriptions are
as barren as a geographical map: Hindostan resembles Europe; _there is
no character in it_."

There are, in fact, accounts of travels of the eighteenth century
in which one might confound a landscape in the East, with one in
Touraine. Not only they did not see so much difference as we do: they
wanted words to give to each its own idiosyncrasy. To Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre is due the honour of having begun the work of enriching
the language, which was one of the glories of the Romantic School.

Having to some extent overcome this first difficulty, Bernardin
encountered a second before which he succumbed. That was his
inexperience, and the timidity of a novice who dares not let himself
go. His narrative is dry and often tiresome. There are here and
there fine descriptions, written with a certain breadth and musical
expression, but the whole only creates an interest because it is an
attempt to achieve something new. The picture of the port at Lorient is
one of the best things in it. It is at the beginning and it makes one
hope for better things.

"A strong wind was blowing. We had crossed through the town without
meeting any one. From the walls of the citadel I could see the inky
horizon, the island of Grois covered with mist, the open sea tossing
restlessly; in the distance great ships close-reefed, and poor
sailing luggers in the trough of the sea; upon the shore troops of
women benumbed with cold and fear; a sentinel on the top of a bastion
surprised at the hardihood of those poor men who fish with the gulls in
the midst of the tempest."

There is grandeur and emphasis in this passage. It has character, to
use Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's expression; the sea which he paints for
us is the real ocean, and the ocean as seen from the coast of France
on a stormy day. He is no less happy in describing familiar things;
witness his description of the fish market. "We returned well buttoned
up, very wet, and holding on our hats with our hands. In passing
through Lorient we saw the whole market-place covered with fish; skates
white and dark-coloured, others bristling with spines; dog-fish,
monstrous conger-eels writhing upon the ground; large baskets full
of crabs and lobsters; heaps of oysters, mussels, and scallops; cod,
soles, turbot, in fine a miraculous draught like that of the apostles."

The tempest at sea in the Mozambique Channel is perhaps the best page
in the book. In order to enjoy it thoroughly, we must turn first to the
classical tempests before Saint-Pierre's time, which are still more
featureless, more destitute of character, than the landscapes. The
following example is taken from _Telemachus_: "While they thus forgot
the dangers of the sea a sudden tempest agitated the heavens and the
sea. The unchained winds roared with fury in the sails; dark waves beat
against the sides of the vessel, which groaned under their blows. Now
we rose on to the summits of the swollen waves; now the sea seemed to
disappear from under the ship and to plunge us into the abyss." When
one has read one of these accounts one has read them all. The same
terms, few in number, serve to fashion indefinitely the same images of
groaning vessels which roaring winds precipitate into the abyss, and it
is not even necessary to have seen the sea in order to acquit oneself
quite respectably: it is enough if one consults the proper authors. Not
a word of the description which we have been reading belonged really to
Fénélon. He took it in its entirety from Virgil and Ovid:

                               ... stridens aquilone procella.
     Velum adversa ferit.

                                      (Virgil. _The Eniad._)

     Sæpe? dat ingentem fluctu latus icta fragorem.

                                (Ovid. _The Metamorphosis._)

     Hi summo in fluctu pendent; his unda dehiscens
     Terram inter fluctus aperit.

                                      (Virgil. _The Eniad._)

Now compare with this literary tempest the realistic description of
Saint-Pierre, taken from hour to hour, minute to minute, and put down
in a note-book as the rolling of the vessel permitted.

"On the 23rd (June, 1768), at half-past twelve, a tremendously heavy
sea stove in four windows out of five in the large saloon, although
their shutters were fastened with crossbars. The vessel made a backward
movement as if she were going down by the stern. Hearing the noise, I
opened the door of my cabin, which in a moment was full of water and
floating furniture. The water escaped by the door of the grand saloon
as though through the sluices of a mill; upwards of twenty hogsheads
had come in. The carpenters were called, a light was brought, and they
hastened to nail up other port-holes. We were then flying along under
the foresail; the wind and the sea were terrible....

"As the rolling of the ship prevented me from sleeping, I had thrown
myself into my berth in my boots and dressing-gown; my dog seemed to
be seized with extraordinary fear. While I was amusing myself trying
to calm him, I saw a flash of lightning through the dim light of my
port-hole, and heard the noise of thunder. It might have been about
half-past three. An instant later a second peal of thunder burst
overhead, and my dog began to tremble and howl. Then came a third
flash of lightning, followed almost immediately by a third peal of
thunder, and I heard some one in the forecastle cry that the ship
was in danger; in fact, the noise was like the roar of a cannon
discharged close to us; there was no reverberation. As I smelt a
strong odour of sulphur, I went up on deck, where at first I felt it
intensely cold. A great silence reigned there, and the night was so
dark that I could see nothing. However, I made out dimly some one
near me. I asked him what had happened; he replied, 'They have just
carried the officer of the watch to his cabin; he has fainted, as has
also the pilot. The lightning struck our vessel, and our mainmast is
split.' I could in fact distinguish the yard of the topsail, which
had fallen upon the cross-trees of the main-top. Above it there was
neither mast nor rigging, and the whole of the crew had retired into
the chart-room. They made a round of the decks, and found that the
lightning had descended the whole length of the mast. A woman who had
just been confined had seen a globe of fire at the foot of her berth;
nevertheless, they found no trace of fire. Everybody awaited with
impatience the end of the night.

"At daybreak I went up on deck again. In the sky were some clouds,
white and copper-coloured. The wind blew from the west, where the
horizon appeared of a ruddy silver, as though the sun were going to
rise there; the east was entirely black. The sea rose in huge waves,
resembling jagged mountain ranges, formed of tier upon tier of hills.
On their summit were great jets of spray tinted with the colours of
the rainbow. They rose to such a height that from the quarter-deck
they seemed to us higher than the topmast. The wind made so much noise
in the rigging it was impossible for us to hear one another. We were
scudding before the wind under the foresail. A stump of the topmast
hung from the end of the mainmast, which was split in eight places down
to the level of the deck. Five of the iron bands with which it was
bound had been melted away...."

Here are now some extracts from one of Pierre Loti's storms. We shall
thus be able to estimate the progress which descriptive literature has
made in the last two centuries.

"The waves, still small, began to chase one another and melt together;
they were at first marbled with white foam, which on their crests broke
into spray. Then with a kind of hiss there rose a smoke: you would have
said the water was boiling or burning, and the strident clamour of it
all increased from moment to moment.... The great bank of clouds which
had gathered on the western horizon in the shape of an island, was
beginning to break up from the top and the fragments were scudding over
the sky. It seemed to be inexhaustible; the wind drew it out, elongated
it, and stretched it, bringing out of it dark curtains, which it spread
over the clear yellow sky, now become livid, cold, and dark.

"And all the while it grew stronger and stronger, this mighty breath
which made all things to tremble.

"The ship, the _Marie_, prepares for bad weather, and begins to fly to

"Overhead it had become quite dark, a dead vault that seemed as if
it would crush you--with a few spots of a yet blacker blackness,
which were spread over it in formless patches. It seemed almost like
a motionless dome, and you had to look closely to see that it was in
the full whirl of movement. Great sheets of grey cloud hurrying by and
unceasingly replaced by others, rose from the bottom of the horizon,
like gloomy curtains unrolling from an endless coil.

"The _Marie_ fled faster and faster before the storm, and the storm
fled after her as if from some mysterious terror. Everything--the wind,
the sea, the ship, the clouds--was seized with the same panic of flight
and speed towards the same point. And all this passion of movement grew
greater, under an ever-darkening sky, in the midst of ever-increasing

"From everything arose a Titanic clamour, like the prelude of an
apocalypse foreboding the horror of a world's catastrophe. Amidst it
you could distinguish thousands of voices; those above were shrill
or deep, and seemed far off because they were so mighty; that was
the wind, the great soul of this confusion, the invisible power that
dominated it all. It filled one with fear, but there were other sound
nearer, more material, more ominous of destruction, which came from the
writhen water, that hissed as it were upon embers."[10]

After the pages which we have just read there is nothing more in the
way of progress possible. The only thing to be done would be to return
to the great simplicity of Homer, Lucretius, and Virgil, to obtain the
same emotions in two or three lines.

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's style is bald beside that of Pierre Loti;
it requires an effort to return to it. The arrival at Port Louis
of the ship, disabled, and filled with scurvy-smitten people, is,
however, striking in its simplicity. "Just imagine this riven mainmast,
this ship with her flag of distress, firing guns every minute; a few
sailors, looking like spectres, seated on the deck; the open hatches,
whence rose a poisonous vapour; the 'tween-decks full of dying people,
the deck covered with invalids exposed to the heat of the sun, and
who died whilst speaking to one. I shall never forget a young man of
eighteen, to whom the evening before I had promised a little lemonade.
I sought him on the deck amongst the others; they pointed him out to me
lying on a plank; he had died during the night."

The passages in which the thought and the expression are thus wedded
are unfortunately rare in the _Voyage to the Isle of France_. In
general, the writer does not yet understand how to make the best use
of his sketches and notes; and he did not hesitate later on to go over
his first sketches and develop them. This makes it very convenient for
following his progress in the difficult art which he was creating. One
can judge of it in his account of a sunset at sea in the tropics, which
he re-wrote for the _Études de la Nature_. Here is the sketch as it
appeared in the _Voyage to the Isle of France_:

"One evening the clouds gathered towards the west in the form of a vast
net, resembling in texture white silk. As the sun passed behind it each
strand appeared in relief surrounded with a circle of gold. The gold
gradually dissolved into flame-colour and crimson tints, and low on the
horizon appeared pale tones of purple, green, and azure.

"Often in the sky there are formed landscapes of singular variety,
where you can find the most fantastic shapes, promontories, steep
declivities, towers, and hamlets, over which the light throws in
succession all sorts of prismatic colours."

This is but a summary account of the scene, a sort of table of contents
of the state of the sky on a certain evening. The second description
is almost too excessive, and contains too much imagery and too many

"Sometimes the winds roll up the clouds as though they were strands of
silk; then they drive them to the west, crossing them over one another
like the withies of a basket. They throw to one side of this network
the clouds which they have not made use of, and which are not few in
number. They roll them up into immense white masses like snow, and pile
them up one upon another, like the Cordilleras of Peru, giving to them
the forms of mountains, caverns, and rocks. Then towards the evening
they calm down a bit, as if they feared to disarrange their work. When
the sun goes down behind this magnificent tracery, one sees through
all the interstices a multitude of luminous rays, which, lighting up
two sides of each mesh, seem to illuminate it with a golden aureole,
while the other two sides, which are in shadow, are tipped with superb
tones of pale red. Four or five rays of light rise from the setting sun
right to the zenith, and edge with a golden fringe the vaguely-defined
outline of this celestial barrier, throwing their glowing reflections
upon the pyramids of the airy mountains beside them, which appear gold
and vermilion. It is then that you see in the midst of their numerous
ridges a multitude of valleys which extend into space, and are marked
at their entrance by some shade of flesh-colour or pink. The celestial
valleys present in their diverse contours inimitable tones of white,
which melt away into space as far as the eye can reach, or shadows
which lengthen out towards the other clouds without losing themselves
in them. You see here and there, emerging from the cavernous sides of
these cloud mountains, streams of light which are thrown in bars of
gold and silver upon rocks of coral. Here are gloomy rocks pierced
through so that you can see the pure blue of heaven through their
apertures; there appear long stretches of golden sands, which extend
into the wondrous depths of the crimson, scarlet, and emerald-green
sky. By degrees the luminous clouds become faint-coloured, and the
faint-coloured fade into shadow. Their forms are as varied as their
tints, and in turn they appear as islands, hamlets, hills planted with
palms, great bridges across rivers, countries of gold, of amethysts,
of rubies, or rather there is nothing of all this but just colours and
heavenly forms, which no brush can paint, and no tongue express."

The landscapes of the _Voyage to the Isle of France_ are for the most
part very sad. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre found the Isle of France ugly
and gloomy, perhaps because he had had nothing but trouble there.
Throughout his narrative he tries to convey the impression of a barren,
cheerless country, in some places covered with scorched grass, which
makes it look "black as a coal-pit," in others paved with stones of
an iron-grey colour, which form an unpleasant surface to a rugged
country. Plants, which he generally loves so much, do not appeal to him
there. Many are thorny, others mal-odorous, and the flowers are not
pretty. He does not like the trees, they have not the superb bearing
of French oaks and chestnuts, and their stiff leaves of dark green
give an effect of sadness to the verdure. Here and there, however, one
comes across delightful spots where the great woods are enlivened by
babbling brooks, but these solitudes, the refuge for runaway slaves,
are the theatre of hideous man-hunts. You see this unhappy quarry
killed or wounded with gun-shots, and hear the crack of the whip in the
air like pistol-shots, and cries which rend one's heart, "Spare me,
master, have pity!" To the heart thus oppressed the beauties of the
landscape disappear, and one only sees in it "an abominable country."
Abominable country, abominable abode, abominable inhabitants, for
the most part--that is, the Isle of France of the _Voyage_--little
in all conscience to impress our minds with the idea of a beneficent
Providence, careful of our needs. The author saw this, for he
abandoned this part of his programme and kept to picturesque effects,
producing in the end a meagre book, only a rough sketch of what he had
in his head.

The volume appeared in the first months of the year 1773, and in the
article of the _Correspondence littéraire_, by Grunin, in the end of
February. The letter which accompanied the copy destined for Hennin
is dated March 17: "Here at last, sir and dear friend, is some of
the fruit of my garden.... Send me your opinion of my _Voyage_."
Saint-Pierre added in another letter of the 1st of June: "My book has
had a great literary success; but that is almost the only profit which
I have obtained from it."

Did he really have a great success? It is doubtful as regards the
masculine public. Hennin kept an obstinate silence on the subject in
his letters, to the great disgust of the author, who had the bad taste
to persist, and who wrote to him two years later: "Why do you not talk
to me of my _Voyage_?" Duval, his friend at St. Petersburg, insinuated
among his compliments a few words on the passages which suggested "an
imitation of Rousseau, of Voltaire, or of Montesquieu." Grunin did not
understand it at all. Here is the essential part of his notice: "M. de
Saint-Pierre is not wanting in wit, still less in feeling; this last
quality appears to be his especial and distinctive characteristic.
The greater part of the work consists of observations made at sea,
and details of natural history. That struck me as very superficial."
Nothing about the style, nor the descriptive scenes, of which the
number ought, one would think, to have arrested his observation.
Grunin took the _Voyage_ for a scientific work and found it bad; its
originality entirely escaped him. It was the same thing with Leharpe,
who does not even mention Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in his _Cours de
Litterature_, that is to say that he took little notice of secondary
works. Then Sainte-Beuve, who collected his information with so much
care, has contradicted himself about the effect produced by the _Voyage
to the Isle of France_. One reads in his first article upon Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre: "This narrative had a well-deserved success,"[11] and
in his second article, written thirteen years later: "The work received
very little notice."[12]

It is curious to compare the indifference of the men towards Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre's attempt, with the enthusiasm of the women for the
young unknown author who had spoken to them of the colour of the
clouds and the melancholy of the great forests. Women arrive at a
conclusion much more quickly than men when it is a question of feeling.
The women who read the _Voyage to the Isle of France_ understood at
once that there was something in it beyond mere observations made at
sea and natural history details, more even than sentimental tirades
upon the negroes. They divined that they were being introduced to
new joys, and they hastened to seek them under the guidance of the
sympathetic master who interpreted Nature to them, her beauties, her
gentleness, and her passion. The interest which they took in this first
work, not very attractive as a whole, was a sort of miraculous instinct
on their part.

The _Voyage to the Isle of France_ had hardly appeared before Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre set to work again, in spite of all his protestations
against ever becoming an author. His diffidence had disappeared. He
felt himself to be full of courage and spirit, and it was not to his
success that he owed this, but simply to a visit which he chanced to
pay, and which was in its consequences the great event of his career.
"In the month of May, 1772, a friend having proposed to take me to see
J. J. Rousseau, he conducted me to a house in the rue Plâtrière, nearly
opposite to the Post Office. We ascended to the fourth story and
knocked at the door, which was opened by Mme. Rousseau, who said to us,
'Enter, gentlemen, you will find "my husband" in.' We passed through
a tiny ante-room, in which were neatly arranged all the household
chattels, to a room where J. J. Rousseau was sitting, in a frock-coat,
with a white cap on his head, occupied in copying music. He rose with a
smile, offered us seats, and returned to his work, giving his attention
all the while to the conversation."[13]

Rousseau was sixty in 1772; his infirmities, his morbid ideas on
the subject of persecution, and his disputes with Hume, had put the
finishing touch to his reputation as a dangerous lunatic. His visitor
was struck with the sad expression underlying his "smiling air." But
he was irresistible when he was not roused. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
joyfully yielded to this all-powerful fascination. He felt that he had
found the master in literature who had been wanting to him, he who was
to give him the right impulse and direction, and that by oral teaching,
so much more fruitful than written instruction.

"Near him," he continues, "was a spinet, on which from time to time
he tried over some airs. Two little beds, covered with coarse print,
striped blue and white like the hangings of his room, a chest of
drawers, a table, and a few chairs completed his furniture. On the
walls hung a map of the forest and park of Montmorency, where he
had lived, and a print of his old benefactor the king of England.
His wife was seated sewing; a canary sang in its cage suspended
from the ceiling; some sparrows came to pick up bread-crumbs from
the window-sills on the side of the street, and on those of the
ante-room one saw boxes and pots full of plants such as Nature chose
to sow there. The whole effect of this little household was one of
cleanliness, peace, and simplicity, which gave one pleasure."

It suggests one of those interiors of Chardin, where the neat little
mistress of the house in white cap and apron is busy about the
children's dinner. It is the most charming picture we possess of
Rousseau at home.

The conversation turned upon travels, the news of the day, and the
works of the master of the house. Rousseau was most gracious all the
time, and reconducted his visitors to the head of the stairs; but who
could tell with so capricious a being whether this first visit would
lead to anything? It did, in fact, to Bernardin's intense satisfaction.
"Some days after that he came to return my visit. He had on a round
wig, well powdered and curled, a nankeen suit, and carried his hat
under his arm. In his hand he held a small cane. His whole appearance
was modest but very neat, as was that of Socrates, we are told."

This second interview also passed off most agreeably, in looking at
tropical plants and seeds, but it was followed by the first tiff.
Deceived by the good-natured air of his new friend, Saint-Pierre
included him in a distribution he was making of coffee, which he had
received from the Colonies. Rousseau wrote to him: "Sir, we have only
met once, and you already begin to make me presents; that is being a
little too hasty it seems to me. As I am not in a position to make
presents myself, it is my custom, in order to avoid the annoyance of
unequal friendships, not to receive the persons who make me presents;
you can do as you like about leaving this coffee with me, or sending to
fetch it; but in the first case please accept my thanks, and there will
be an end of our acquaintanceship."

They made it up on condition that Saint-Pierre received "a root of
ginseng[14] and a work on Ichthyology," in exchange for his coffee.
Rousseau, appeased, invited him to dinner for the next day. After the
repast he read his MSS. to him. They talked, the hours flew by, and
there resulted from these difficult beginnings an intimacy, stormy, as
it was bound to be with Jean Jacques, but wonderfully fruitful for the
disciple, who drank in deep draughts of the nectar of poetry, if not of
wisdom, which fell from the master's lips. All this took place during
their long walks together in the environs of Paris. They would start
on foot, early in the morning, each choosing in turn the direction
of their walk. Rousseau loved the banks of the Seine and the heights
above them, as deserted then as they are peopled to-day. They would go
through the bois de Boulogne, botanizing as they went along, and they
sometimes saw in "these solitudes" young girls occupied in making their
toilet in the open air. A ferry boat would land the two friends at the
foot of Mount Valérien, and they would climb up to visit the hermit
at the top, who would give them food; or perhaps Rousseau would lead
his companion towards the height of Sèvres, promising him "beautiful
pine-woods and purple moors." The "deserted commons" of Saint Cloud
had also their attractions; nevertheless all that side of Paris rather
erred in the way of extreme wildness. Such a powerful effect did Nature
have upon these her first lovers, intoxicated with their discoveries,
and whose sensations had not been discounted by descriptions taken from

When Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was the guide they chose by preference
the direction of Prés-Saint-Gervais and Romainville. The familiar
and peaceful nooks and corners around these attracted him more than
the extreme wildness of Sèvres and Ville-d'Avray. "You have shown me
the places which please you," he said; "I am now going to show you
one which is to my taste." They passed by the park of Saint-Fargean,
absorbed to-day into Belleville, and, by almost imperceptible degrees,
gained the gentle heights of those charming solitudes--for they
were also solitudes, but less severe than those chosen by Rousseau;
green grass there took the place of the brambles of Saint Cloud, and
cherry-trees and gooseberry-bushes the dark pines of Sèvres. One had
not to seek hospitality from hermits; there were inns, where Rousseau
liked himself to make an omelet of bacon, while Saint-Pierre made
the coffee, a luxury brought in a box from Paris. They would return
by another road, gathering plants and digging up roots as they went;
and nothing can express the charm with which the cantankerous and
suspicious Jean Jacques knew how to surround these excursions. He
showed himself a simple-minded, good fellow, an easy-going and cheery
comrade, interesting himself in everything, talking of everything, and
lavishing his ideas with the magnificent prodigality of the rich.

Whether Bernardin de Saint-Pierre turned the conversation upon
philosophy or questions of economy, upon the Greeks and Romans, or
hygiene, upon his father the watchmaker, or upon Voltaire, the stream
flowed on in great waves, pouring out pell-mell anecdotes, aphorisms,
theories, descriptions of scenery, and literary opinions. One might
have said that he was taking his revenge for those conversations in
society in which he was known to fall short. "My wit is always half
an hour after that of others," he said of himself. It was not so in
a _tête-a-tête_, and every one of his words entered like the stroke
of a plummet into his young companion's mind, whose ideas had need of
a little help before they could burst forth. The effect of all this
was not long in showing itself. Saint-Pierre has fixed the dates in a
letter to Hennin of July 2, 1778, six years after his intimacy with
Rousseau. "At last I hope to find water in my wells; for six years I
have jotted down a great many ideas, which require putting in order.
Amongst much sand there are, I hope, some grains of gold."

The enchantment of the walks lasted until their return to Paris. Then
Rousseau's brow would grow dark at the sight of the first houses of
the suburb. His mania resumed possession of him. He frowned, hastened
his steps, became taciturn and morose. One day, when his friend tried
to distract him, he stopped short, to say to him all at once, in the
middle of the street: "I would rather be exposed to the arrows of
the Parthians than to the gaze of men." This mood would sometimes be
prolonged as long as they were in the town, and no one was then safe
from the strokes of his sarcasm.

"One day, when I went to return a book ... he received me without
saying a word, and with an austere and gloomy air. I spoke to him; he
only replied in monosyllables, continuing all the time to copy music;
he struck out or erased his work every minute. To distract myself, I
opened a book which was on the table. 'You like reading, sir?' he said,
in a discontented tone. I got up to go; he rose at the same time, and
reconducted me to the head of the stairs, saying, when I begged him not
to trouble himself: 'One must be ceremonious with persons with whom one
is not on a familiar footing.'" Saint-Pierre, hurt, swore that he would
never return; but they met, arranged another walk, and Rousseau once
more became amiable at sight of the first bushes. "At last," he said,
"here we are beyond the carriages, pavements, and men."[15]

Their intimacy lasted until after Rousseau's departure for
Ermenonville in 1778, a short time before his death. His friend
mourned his loss bitterly, and always spoke of him with tenderness and
admiration. He did not forget how much he owed to him. He acknowledged,
at least in part--which is, after all, fine and praiseworthy--that
if he had shown a spark of the sacred fire, it was Rousseau who had
lighted it in their intercourse. He has never sought to hide the fact
that his works are strewn with ideas which occurred to them during
their walks, and which they had discussed as they sauntered together
under the shadow of some tree, or in the green woodland paths. The
results of these walks with Jean Jacques will be found in the _Études
de la Nature_. In comparing this work with the _Voyage to the Isle of
France_, one can see exactly what Bernardin owed to his illustrious
friend. The _Voyage_ proves to us that he knew what he wished to do
long before he met the author of the _Reveries_, but that, at the same
time, he would never have reached the goal without the impulse given to
him by a genius more robust than his own.

It hung on quite a small chance that his career was not blighted at the
very moment when his fancy was preparing to take flight. The success
which the _Voyage to the Isle of France_ had with the fair sex nearly
proved fatal to its author. Their approval had to be paid for, as is
always the case. M. de Saint-Pierre was invited into the fashionable
world, and charming women flung themselves at his head, with their
habitual indiscretion, and caused him acute suffering. He had scruples,
and he was vain. The world laughed at his scruples, his vanity could
not console him for its scoffs, and the women did not thank him for
his respect; so that his soul was filled with bitterness and disgust.
He could not get over the depravity of society, and was seized with a
morbid irritation against it. Some months after he had mixed in it,
his imagination made it appear to him to be wholly and solely occupied
in making fun of him, of his goodness, of his gentleness, of his
pride, of all the virtues that he liked to attribute to himself, and
which he chose, as is the habit of all of us, amongst those he least
possessed. Soon he could not hear any one laugh without thinking they
were laughing at him, and every gesture made him suspicious. He said
later: "I could not even walk along a path in a public garden where
a few people were assembled without thinking, if they looked at me,
that they were disparaging me, even if they were quite unknown to me."
Thirty years later he was still persuaded that Mlle. de Lespinasse had
intended to insult him one day when she offered him a sweetmeat, at the
same time praising him for his kindness on a recent occasion.

He fought duels in order to put a stop to the whispered raillery which
he thought he heard around him. Two fortunate affairs were powerless
to soothe his nerves, and strange disorders began to make him fear for
his reason. He consulted physicians, who recommended diverse remedies;
but he required money for them, and his bookseller had not paid him.
Meanwhile the evil grew from bad to worse, and at last came the crisis.
"Flashes of light, resembling lightning, disturbed my sight; every
object appeared to me to be double, and as though in motion.... My
heart was not less troubled than my head. On the finest summer day
I could not cross the Seine in a boat without feeling intolerable
qualms.... If in a public garden I but passed near the basin of a
fountain full of water, I felt a sensation of spasm and horror. There
were times when I believed that I must have been bitten by a mad dog
without knowing it."

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was mad, not incurably so, or enough to be
shut up; but, for all that, mad. He knows it, acknowledges it, and
adds to his heartrending confession a note, which explains how he was
able to hide his condition from the world around him. "God granted me
this signal favour, that however much my reason was disturbed, I never
lost the consciousness of my condition myself, or forgot myself before
others. Directly I felt the approach of the paroxysms of my malady,
I would retire into solitude." Here follows a slight metaphysical
discussion upon "this extraordinary reason," which warned him "that his
ordinary reason was disturbed."

Just about the same time his brother Dutailly began the series of
extravagances which obliged them to shut him up.

Meantime, the world from which Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had succeeded
in hiding himself, was without indulgence for him, and pronounced
him to be wicked, while he was in reality only unhappy. We have now
arrived at the years of pain, of physical and moral distress, of
equivocal ills, absurd suspicions, quarrels, ill-will, and, alas! of
begging. Some of his friends became estranged by his incomprehensible
humour, others gave him up, and of this number were "the philosophers,"
d'Alembert, Condorcet, all the intimates of Mlle. de Lespinasse.
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre has, in an _Apologie_ addressed to Mme.
Necker to beg her protection, naïvely explained that he quarrelled
with "the philosophers" because they failed to induce Turgot to help
him. "If they had been my friends," he adds, with indignation, "could
they have acted so? Pensions, easy posts, rings for their fingers, are
distributed to their clients, while to me they only come to advise me
to leave the country, although I showed them that I had the greatest
repugnance to such a course."[16] (January 26, 1780.)

He retired from the world, living an unsociable life in a miserable
lodging-house, not willingly seeing any one but Rousseau, so well able
to understand a misanthrope, and a few faithful friends who put up
with all his moods, at the head of whom was Hennin, whose patience was
admirable. The position which the latter held in the Foreign Office
led to his being charged with the presentation of the petitions that
his gloomy and needy friend addressed to the ministers; and the task
was not an easy or pleasant one, as their correspondence testifies.
Saint-Pierre begged shamelessly. "I have neither linen nor clothes; my
excursions on foot have worn them out. If you wish to see me again,
induce them to give me the means of appearing. You know that your
department decidedly owes me something.... Do remember to think of me
in the distribution of the king's favours; I need them greatly.... I
am reduced to borrowing, and I have nothing to expect till February of
next year." And so on from month to month, if not from week to week.
If there was delay in sending the money, M. Hennin would receive a
bitter letter, in which M. de Saint-Pierre would excuse himself for not
having visited him on account of the bad weather, adding: "If I had
received the favour which you led me to hope for, I should have taken a
carriage." If the money was forthcoming, it was still worse for Hennin,
because of the ceremonies with which it had to be conveyed to its
recipient. There is amongst their correspondence a series of letters
which are quite comic, about a sum of £300 that Saint-Pierre had begged
hard for, and which he wished M. de Vergennes personally to press him
to accept. He demands a "letter of satisfaction and kindness" from
the minister, written with his own hand, without which he refuses the
£300. Silence on the part of Hennin, who is evidently overcome by this
extraordinary pretentiousness; uneasiness on the part of Bernardin, who
trembles lest he should be taken at his word. The £300 are sent to him;
he pockets them, spends them, and continues to claim his letter. A
year later he is still claiming it, without having ceased to beg in the

It is true that this took place at a time when the bounties of the king
conferred honour upon the recipient, and when the nobility of France
set the example of holding out the hat to catch the royal manna. It
is true that it took place very near the time when the man of letters
lived upon his servile dedications, upon inferior employments among
the rich and great, and considered himself only too happy, in the
absence of copyright, to repay in flatteries the rent of a room at
the Louvre or the Condé mansion. It is true that one must not ask for
a strict account from a brain disturbed by hallucinations, and that
nothing could relieve the mind of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre of the idea
that the French Government owed him compensation for his journey to
Poland, where he assured them he had run the risk of being taken by the
Russians and sent to Siberia. It was the same with the memorials, with
which for fifteen years he harassed people in office, and the others
which he promised to send them. The same with the situations which he
had lost through his own fault, and those which had been refused to
him. The same with his literary works, to which he gave up his time,
and which had for their aim the happiness of mankind; and the same
with the services which he had rendered to his country, a long list
of which appears in the _Apologie_. "I remember that in the park at
Versailles I pacified an infuriated Breton peasant woman, who intended,
she informed me, to go and get up a riot under the very windows of the
king. This was during the bread riots. Another time I had a discussion
with an atheistical reaper." How was it possible to refuse a pension to
a man who had done that!

In common justice they owed him also compensation for the great and
glorious things they had prevented him from accomplishing. He had
ripened his plan of an ideal colony, and sent project after project
to Versailles. Sometimes he offered himself to civilise Corsica,
sometimes to conquer Jersey, or North America, or to found a small
state in France itself, within the king's dominions. Nobody had deigned
to take any notice of his plans, unless perhaps "some intriguing,
avaricious protegé" should have stolen his ideas and was preparing to
carry them out in his stead; such things did happen sometimes. He laid
the blame of the culpable negligence of the Government upon the head
clerk of the Foreign Office, and he did not spare his reproaches. The
excellent Hennin groaned, grieved over it, but did not get angry. He
himself counted upon recompense also, and he did not count in vain.
As soon as this mind diseased recovered itself a little, there were
most delightful outpourings to the good and true friend who was never
harsh or unfeeling. Then there are periods in their correspondence
like oases of peace and poetry. In the beginning of 1781 Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre, at Hennin's suggestion, quitted his wretched furnished
room, and took a lodging in the rue Neuve-Saint-Etienne-du-Mont,
which he called his donjon, and where cheerfulness streamed in at
every window. The staircase was in the courtyard to the right, and on
ascending to the fourth story under the roof, one found four small
bright rooms, from which one looked out upon a little bit of country.
It was nothing but gardens, orchards, convents, peaceful little
cottages, the wide sky overhead, and the low horizon. Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre felt that he was saved. He wrote a letter to Hennin which
is a song of joy. He says:--

"I shall come to see you with the first violet; I shall have to walk
five miles, but shall do it joyfully, and I intend to give you such a
description of my abode as will make you long to come and see me and
take a meal with me. Horace invited Mecænas to come to his cottage at
Tivoli, to eat a quarter of lamb and drink Falernian wine. As my purse
is getting very low, I shall only offer you strawberries and mugs of
milk, but you will have the pleasure of hearing the nightingales sing
in the groves of the convent of the English nuns, and of seeing the
young novices play in their garden." (February 7, 1781.)

Another year April perfumes the air, and Hennin has promised to come
and dine in the donjon. His friend describes the menu to him: "Simple
viands, amongst which will be found a big pie that Mme. Mesnard is
going to give me; a pure wine, good of its kind; excellent coffee,
and punch, which I make well, let me say without vanity." It is a
question of fixing a day. "Nature must undertake the chief cost of
this little feast, therefore I expect she will have carpeted the paths
with verdure and decorated the groves of trees in my landscape with
leaves and flowers. If you were an observer of nature, I should say to
you start the very first day that you see the chestnut tree set out
its chandeliers; but you are one of those who only have eyes for the
evolution of human forces. Let me know the day you choose," &c.

The dinner was as charming as the invitation. It was talked of at
Versailles, and some fair dames lamented aloud that they had not been

To most of them the donjon would have appeared a hateful abode: one
froze in it in winter and was roasted in summer, and every gust of
wind threatened to blow it away. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, obstinate
dreamer that he was, preserved all his life the most tender and
faithful remembrance of his aërial lodging: "It was there," he wrote
in his mature age, "in the midst of a profound solitude, and under a
bewitching horizon, that I experienced the sweetest joys of my life.
I should perhaps still be there if for a whim they had not forced
me to turn out in order to pull it down. It was there that I put
the finishing touches to my _Études de la Nature_, and from there I
published it."[17] And it is there that one must look upon him in order
to do him justice after our earlier sad pictures of him.

Before he had become a morose beggar, suffering with weak nerves, he
was, we must remember, possessed with the idea that to a man carrying
in his head a book which he believes to be good and useful, all
means are fair for accomplishing his destiny of creative artist and
intellectual guide. He recognises no choice of means, he is the slave,
and at need the victim of a superior power, which commands him to
sacrifice his repose and his pride on condition that he acquits himself
of his debt towards mankind by giving to it a work which will bring a
little happiness to our poor world. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was quite
certain that he possessed the magic word which lifts up the heart, and
rather than throw it to the four winds of heaven, he would have begged
alms on the highway. Was he right? was he wrong? We owe it to his great
faith to leave our verdict undecided.

Think of him in his garret, and you will understand that he begged not
for himself, but for his book, which is a very different matter. He is
avaricious because he hopes still to write another chapter before going
on the tramp again. He has only one coat for the whole year, winter and
summer. He does his own housekeeping, sweeps, cleans, cooks. He allows
himself so little firing that in winter the water remains frozen for
eight days in his rooms, and his pitchers burst. He goes on foot to
Versailles to see Hennin, and returns in the same way at night; all
the better if it is moonlight, all the worse if it rains. His health
suffers, but his head recovers, and he is happy; he has a "whole trunk"
full of rough draughts, which he copies, corrects, and arranges. "You
cannot imagine," he writes to Hennin, "the tenderness of an author for
his production; that of a mother for her son is not to be compared to
it. I am always adding to or cutting out something of mine. A bear
does not lick her cub with more care than I; I fear in the end I shall
rub away the muzzle of mine with my licking. I do not wish to touch it
any more.... There have been moments when I have caught a glimpse of
heaven." (December 18, 1783.)

When the moment arrives to have his work printed, he redoubles his
economy. He is sordid and at the same time a greater borrower, more
in debt than ever; for after all it is in order to commit some
extravagance for his "child"--to have fine paper, to add a print here,
a pretty frontispiece there. The extravagance accomplished, he writes
to Hennin, one of his principal lenders, to demonstrate to him that
this is an excellent speculation:--

"It is not a superfluous expense, even if the print in 12º itself
comes to fourteen or fifteen pounds, because it is possible that many
people will buy my work for the print alone, as has happened to others.
Moreover, I shall raise the price of my edition with it, so as to reap
more than I sowed. So...." (June 29, 1784.)

Thus it was as clear as noonday that this lovely engraving would make
his fortune, a very important matter to his creditors. We do not
possess Hennin's reply, but there is no doubt, after what we know of
his kindness, that he made pretence of being convinced.


[9] _Poems._ Translated by Villemain.

[10] Pecheur d'Islande.

[11] Portraits littéraires, 1836.

[12] Causeries du lundi, 1852.

[13] Essay upon J. J. Rousseau.

[14] Chinese name for a bitter-sweet root used in medicine.--TRANSLATOR.

[15] He has expressed the same sentiment, only more energetically, in
a passage of the _Huitième Promenade_, where he represents himself as
escaping at last from the "procession of the wicked."

[16] This curious note does not appear in the complete works. It
formed part of the collection of autographs belonging to M. Feuillet
de Conches. I owe the information to the kindness of Mme. Feuillet de

[17] Sequel to the _Vows of a Hermit_.



The _Études de la Nature_ appeared in three volumes towards the end
of 1784. It did not then comprise the fragments of _l'Arcadie_, which
have been since added to it, nor _Paul and Virginia_, which the author
had cut out in consequence of an adventure that has been recounted a
thousand times, and that we must recount yet again in order to give
consolation to any disappointed young man who may be breaking his heart
because he is not understood.

Mme. Necker had invited him to come and read some of his MSS. aloud,
promising that he should have for his audience some distinguished
judges. Amongst them were in fact Buffon, the Abbé Galiani, Thomas,
Necker, and some others. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre chose _Paul and
Virginia_. At first they listened in silence, then they began to
whisper, to pay less attention, to yawn, and finally not to listen at
all. Thomas fell asleep, those nearest the door slipped out, Buffon
looked at his watch and called for his carriage. Necker smiled at
seeing some of the women, who dared not appear otherwise touched, in
tears. The reading ended, not one of these persons, though trained in
the world's deceits, could find a word of praise for the author. Mme.
Necker was the only person to speak, and it was to remark that the
conversations between Paul and the old man suspended the action of the
story, and chilled the reader; that it was "a glass of iced water":
a very just definition, but ungracious, and it reduced Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre to despair.

He thought he was condemned without appeal, and returned to his house
so prostrated in spirit that he thought of burning _Paul and Virginia_,
the _Études_, and _l'Arcadie_--all his papers in fact--so as not to
be tempted to touch them again. One of the Vernets turned up at this
crisis, took pity upon his suffering, had the despised work read over
to him, and recognised the charm of it. He applauded, wept, proclaimed
it a masterpiece, the MSS. are saved, and the author consoled, without,
however, gaining sufficient courage to print a work which had sent
Thomas to sleep, and put Buffon to flight. _Paul and Virginia_ remained
in a drawer.

It was the same with the fragments of the _Arcadie_, and with much
more reason. _L'Arcadie_, begun after the publication of the _Voyage to
the Isle of France_, was to be an epic poem in prose in twelve books,
and was inspired by _Telémaque_ and _Robinson Crusoe_. Saint-Pierre
proposed "to represent the three successive states through which most
nations pass: that of barbarism, of nature, and of corruption."[18]
Notice in passing this progression. The state of nature is not the
first state, it is between the two, after the state of barbarism
and before the state of over-civilisation, which proves that before
admiring or despising natural man, according to the eighteenth century,
it is as well to understand the sense which each writer gives to the

The picture of these three states furnished our author with the means
of expressing his ideas upon the ideal republic which he proposed
to form. Thus _l'Arcadie_ became the instrument of propagandism,
just the thing to lead M. de Saint-Pierre to fortune, and he never
forgave himself for having given up this work, a little through
Rousseau's fault, who proclaimed the plan of the book admirable, but,
nevertheless, advised him to re-write it from beginning to end. Jean
Jacques acknowledged at the same time, with a smile, that he had ceased
to believe in poetical and virtuous shepherds since a certain journey
which he had taken beside the Lignon: "I once made an excursion to
Forez," he continued, with the geniality of his good days, "solely to
see the country of Celadon and Astrea, of which Urfé gives us such
charming pictures. Instead of loving shepherds, I only saw on the banks
of the Lignon farriers, blacksmiths, and edge-tool makers." "What!"
cried Saint-Pierre, overwhelmed with astonishment, "that all, in so
delightful a country?" "It is only a country of smithies," replied
Rousseau. "It was that journey to Forez which cured me of my illusion;
up to that time never a year passed without my reading Astrea from end
to end. I was acquainted with all its characters. Thus does science rob
us of our pleasures.[19]"

It was in the bois de Boulogne, seated under a tree, that Jean Jacques
Rousseau taught his astonished disciple not to take the Astrea for
history. He also told him with great modesty that he felt himself
incapable of governing the Republic of their dreams; that all he
could do would be to live in it. This declaration piqued Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre; he thought he perceived an underlying criticism,
and enlarged with enthusiasm upon the sublime virtues of his future
subjects which would make them easy to govern. But even while
disputing about it he grew disgusted with _l'Arcadie_, put it on one
side, and used up the materials for his _Études_. Posterity has no
reason to regret it. The fragments which have reached us suggest a
work in which the ideas are false and the characters conventional.
One reads in it for example: "One could see by her timidity that she
was a shepherdess." The contrary is the case in point of fact, and
Saint-Pierre knew it better than any one; he who had trotted on foot
through the whole of Normandy in quest of models for his heroes, before
tracing the portraits of the beautiful Cyanée of Tirteé, her father,
and their guest Amasis. His rustics seem to be drawn by a wit who is a
clumsy imitator of Fénélon. He was quite wise to give it up.

According to his correspondence, the _Études de la Nature_ was begun
in 1773. The plan of it was at that time gigantic. He informs us on
the first page that he wished "to write a general history of nature,
in imitation of Aristotle, of Pliny, of Bacon, and other modern
celebrities." He set to work, but he soon acknowledged, in making his
observations of a strawberry-plant, that he would never have the time
to observe all that there is on the earth. Although the page upon the
strawberry-plant has become classical, it is as well to re-read it in
order to be able to realise its effect upon readers, who up to that
time had dwelt upon our beautiful Mother Earth deaf and blind, without
hearing the pulsation of her life, without seeing her prodigious
eternal productiveness.

"One summer day ... I perceived upon a strawberry-plant, which had
by chance been placed upon my window-sill, a lot of little flies, so
pretty, that I became possessed of the wish to describe them. The next
day I saw another kind, and of them also I wrote a description. During
three weeks I observed thirty-seven different species of them; but they
came in such numbers at last, and in so many varieties, that I gave
up the study of them, although it was most interesting, because I had
not sufficient leisure, or, to tell the truth, sufficient command of
language for the task.

"The flies which I did observe were distinguished from each other by
their colours, their forms, and their habits. There were some of a
golden hue, some silver, some bronze, speckled, striped, blue, green,
some dusky, some irridescent. In some the head was round like a turban;
in others, flat like the head of a nail. In some they appeared dark
like a spot of black velvet; in others, they shone out like a ruby.
There was no less variety in their wings; some had them long and
brilliant like a sheet of mother-o'-pearl; in others, they were short
and broad, resembling the meshes of the finest gauze. Each one had its
own way of carrying its wings and of using them. Some carried them
erect, and others horizontally, and they seemed to take pleasure in
spreading them out. Some would fly, fluttering about like butterflies;
others would rise in the air, flying against the wind by aid of a
mechanism somewhat resembling toy beetles. Some would alight upon a
plant to deposit their eggs; others simply to seek shelter from the
sun. But most of them came for reasons which were quite unknown to
me; for some flew to and fro in perpetual movement, while others only
moved their backs. There were some who remained quite immoveable, and
were, perhaps, like me, engaged in making observations. I disdained,
as I already knew them so well, all the tribes of other insects which
were attracted to my strawberry-plant: such as the snails which
nestled under its leaves; the butterflies which fluttered around it;
the beetles which dug at its roots; the little worms which found the
means of living in the cellular tissue, that is to say, simply in the
thickness of a leaf; the wasps and the bees which hummed about its
flowers; the aphis which sucked the stems, the ants which ate up the
aphis; and last of all, the spiders which wove their webs near at hand
in order to catch all these different victims."

He then had recourse to the microscope to examine into the world of the
infinitely little, and saw that the only limit to his observation was
the imperfections of our instruments; each leaf of the strawberry-plant
was a little universe in which creatures invisible to the naked eye
were born, lived, and died. This led to the reflection that his
plant would be more densely peopled if it had not been in a pot, in
the midst of the smoke of Paris; that, moreover, he had only made
his observations of it at one hour of the day, and at one season of
the year; and he perceived that the complete history of one species
of plant, comprising its relations with the animal world, would be
sufficient to occupy several naturalists. His thoughts turned to the
immense number of plants and animals known to us, and to the small
amount of attention which up to that time had been given to their
instincts, their appearances, their friendships and enmities, so that
almost everything remained still to be found out. He thought over the
weakness of his intention, and acknowledged himself vanquished at the
outset. Far from being able to embrace in his work this formidable
mass of information which we call creation, he felt himself incapable
of explaining fully even its details. "All my ideas," he wrote to
Hennin, "are but the shadows of nature, collected by another shadow."
He also compared himself to a child who has dug a hole in the sand
with a shell, to contain the sea. So he gave up his project of writing
a general history, and lowered his ambition till it was more in
accordance with his powers, declaring himself satisfied that he had
given his readers some new delights, and extended their views in the
infinite and mysterious world of nature.

Nevertheless, if his work was given to the public only in a curtailed
and mutilated form, his object remained. The _Études de la Nature_
was destined to paraphrase the first part of Fénélon's _Traité de
l'existence de Dieu_, especially of the second chapter, entitled
"Proofs of the Existence of God, taken from the Consideration of
the Chief Marvels of Nature." Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was born
religious at heart in an age which had "lost the taste for God," to
use Bossuet's expression, when believers themselves were wanting in
spirit and tenderness. He was brought up upon the celebrated phrase of
Voltaire--"The people must have a religion"--and never could reconcile
himself to hear repeated around him that in truth, "Religion is the
portion of the people, just a kind of political engine invented to keep
them in check" (_Études_). Atheism seemed to him a diminution of our
being, a lessening of its most noble sensations and its most elevated
emotions. "It is only religion," he said, "which gives to our passions
a lofty character"; and he related, apropos of this, that the day on
which he himself had perceived most vividly the power of the "divine
majesty" of suffering was in contemplating a peasant woman from Caux
prostrated at the foot of the cross one stormy day, praying, with
clasped hands, her eyes cast up to heaven, for a boat which was in
danger. The seventeenth century would not have admitted for poetical
reasons that they believed thus in God. Men's minds were then too
serious; and the great spiritual directors of the time of Bossuet and
Bourdaloue, without mentioning the Jansenists, would have been shocked
at the sentimental religion of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. But the
eighteenth century had taught men to be less nice, and such things
appeared to it to be sublime.

It must be said that they were very tired of arguments and philosophy,
and the idea that they might seek for truth by some less tiresome
paths was very pleasing. They had for so long lived like the Carthusian
friars of the _Harmonies_. "One day one of my friends went to visit a
Carthusian friar. It was the month of May; the garden of the recluse
was covered with flowers, in the borders and on the fruit-trees. As
for him, he had shut himself up in his room, from which he could see
absolutely nothing. 'Why,' asked my friend, 'have you closed your
shutters?' 'In order,' replied the friar, 'to be able to meditate
without distraction on the attributes of God.' 'Ah!' said my friend,
'don't you think that perhaps you may find greater distraction in your
own heart than nature would give to you in the month of May? Take my
advice, open your shutters and shut the door upon your imagination.'"

Open your shutters and shut your books, cried this new-comer in
the world of letters. Nature is the source of everything which is
ingenious, useful, pleasant and beautiful, but she must be contemplated
in all simplicity of heart. It is for our happiness that she hides
from us the laws which govern her mighty forces, and there is a kind
of thoughtless impiety in wishing to penetrate too deeply into her
mysteries. Besides, we always fail, and our imprudent efforts only
succeed in adding the mist of our errors to the cloud which veils
her divinity. Let us make up our minds to not being taken into the
Divine confidence; content to examine Nature at work, observing her
work without studying it on a system, forgetting what the scholars
and the academies have decided and decreed as a matter of doctrine.
The forces of Nature, ever young and active, form one of the most
wonderful and admirable spectacles which the universe affords us. The
same spirit of life which formed our world out of chaos, continues to
develop the germs under our eyes, to repair the wounded plants and
renew their injured tissues with fresh growths. They tell you that
Nature brings forth at hazard, producing pell-mell and indifferently
the good and the bad, annulling the good by this disorder. But I tell
you that not a blade of grass has been made at hazard, and that the
least mite testifies to the existence of a sovereign intelligence
and goodness. I assure you also that this goodness has only had one
pre-occupation--yourself; but one aim--your happiness. God made nature
for man, and man for Himself. Man is the end and aim of everything upon
the earth, and the proofs of this are infinite in number.

A great part of the _Études_ is taken up with the gathering together of
these proofs. I do not believe that there exists another so intrepid
a partisan of final causes. Nothing turns him from his demonstration,
not facts, nor absurdities, nor ridicule. Things are so because it
is necessary to the happiness of man that they should be so: nothing
turns Bernardin de Saint-Pierre from that opinion. I do not say that he
scoffed at science; he looked upon himself as a scientific spirit who
was to set his predecessors right, including Descartes and Newton; I
only say that he speaks about it rather as though he were laughing at

Our earth, then, has been solidified, modelled and carved out by God
for our needs and our comfort. There is not a mountain whose height,
breadth, and site have not been calculated by Divine wisdom for our
advantage. One is intended to refresh us with its ice, another to
protect us from the north wind, a third to produce a healthful current
of air; this last we call eolian. Those islands of rock strewn along
the seashore, and vulgarly called sand-banks, are fortifications placed
there by Providence, without which our coasts would be demolished by
the ocean. Those which one remarks at the mouths of water-courses "form
channels for the rivers, each channel taking a different direction, so
that if one becomes stopped up by the winds or the currents from the
sea, the water can escape by another." It speaks for itself that God
does not have to try a thing over and over again before it is perfect.
Creation was perfect from the first day, and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
suppresses the slow evolutions, due to the action of the forces of
nature, which according to some incessantly alter the surface of the
earth. That surface is unchangeable. There is no example that the sea
ever "hollowed out a bay, or detached anything from the continent;"
that the "rivers formed at their entrance into the sea sand-banks and
promontories;" that ancient ports had been effaced, islands destroyed,
or mountains denuded and levelled to the ground. In truth, the works
of God, like those of man, are subject to wear, and need reparation;
but the Divine Architect is never idle, and works without ceasing to
maintain them, which amounts to the same thing.

The means which He employs for reparation often escape our notice from
their very simplicity. What pedestrian has not execrated the clouds of
sand or dust which the wind raises on the strand or on barren plains.
He would have been rather astonished if he had known that he was
witnessing the dispersal of materials designed by Providence to replace
the soil in the mountains, which had been worn away by water. Sand
and dust are transported to the tops of the peaks upon the wings of
storms, thanks to the "fossil attractions" of the mountains.

It was six years after Buffon's _Époques de la Nature_ had appeared,
that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre offered to the public this astonishing
system of the Universe. It needed a certain amount of courage to be so
deliberately behindhand.

The theory of final causes thus carried to extremes occasioned a good
deal of embarrassment to the Deist. It is no slight matter to undertake
to explain, to the advantage of Providence, everything that there is
upon the earth without any exception; so many things appear useless,
so many hurtful. Saint-Pierre never despaired of finding justification
for every one of them, with human happiness as its basis. He went on
bravely without disturbing himself that the laugh was at his expense,
and with an ardour of conviction which convinced many of the men and
almost all the women who read him. The spirit of that day was not very

Of what use are volcanoes? Hardly any one has failed to perceive
that rivers are, so to speak, the drains of the continent. The oils,
the resin, and the nitre of vegetables and animals are carried by
the water-courses to the sea, where all their component parts become
dissolved, covering the surface with fatty matter, which does not
evaporate because it resists the action of the air. Without the
intervention of Providence the entire ocean since the existence of the
world would be defiled with these tainted oils; but Providence made
volcanoes, and the waters were purified. In fact, volcanoes "do not
proceed from heat inside the earth, but they owe their origin to the
waters, and the matter contained in them. One can convince one's self
of this fact by remarking that there is not a single volcano in the
interior of a continent, unless it is in the neighbourhood of some
great lake like that of Mexico." Nature, obeying a Divine impulse,
has "lighted these vast furnaces on the shores of the ocean," so that
the oils of which we have spoken, being attracted towards them by a
phenomenon which the author does not explain, are burnt up as the weeds
in a garden are burnt in the autumn by a careful gardener. One does
in truth find lava in the interior of a country, but a proof that it
owes its origin to water is that the volcanoes which have produced
it have become extinct, when the waters have failed. Those volcanoes
were lighted there like those of our day, by the animal and vegetable
fermentations with which the earth was covered after the Deluge, when
the remains of so many forests and so many animals, whose trunks
and bones are still found in our quarries, floated on the surface
of the ocean, forming huge deposits, which the currents accumulated
in the cavities of the mountains, so that the ancient craters of the
Auvergne mountains prove that all volcanoes are found beside the sea.
Inundations afford us the pleasures of boating and fishing. That is
the reason that the nations which inhabit the shores of the Amazon and
the Orinico, and many other rivers which overflow their banks, looked
upon these inundations as blessings from heaven before the arrival
of Europeans, who upset their ideas: "Was it, then, so displeasing a
spectacle for them to see their immense forests intersected by long
water-roads, which they could navigate without trouble of any sort
in their canoes, and of which they could gather in the produce with
the greatest ease? Some colonies like those on the Orinico, convinced
of these advantages, had adopted the strange habit of living in the
tops of trees, like the birds, seeking board, lodging and shelter
under their foliage. In spite of the epithet _strange_, one feels that
he regretted these picturesque manners, and that it would not have
displeased him at all to see the dwellers on the banks of the Loire,
nesting with the magpies and jays in their own poplars."

Beasts of prey rid the earth of dead bodies, which without them
would not fail to infect the air. Every year there dies a natural
death at least the twentieth part of the quadrupeds, the tenth part
of the birds, and an infinite number of insects, of which most of the
species only live a year. There are some insects even who only live
a few hours, such as the ephemera. This enormous destruction would
soon poison the air and the water without the aid of the innumerable
army of grave-diggers created and maintained by Nature to keep the
surface of the globe clean. Saint-Pierre draws a description of it
which is wonderful for its colour and spirit: "It is above all in hot
countries, where the effects of decomposition are most rapid and most
dangerous, that Nature has multiplied carnivorous animals. Tribes
of lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, civet-cats, lynxes, jackals,
hyenas, condors, &c., there come to reinforce the wolves, foxes,
martens, otters, vultures, ravens, &c. Legions of voracious crabs
make their homes in the sand there; alligators and crocodiles lie in
ambush amongst their reeds, an innumerable species of shell-fish, armed
with implements to enable them to suck, to bore, to file, to crush,
bristle on the rocks and pave their sea-shores. Clouds of sea-birds
fly screaming along the rocks, or sail round them on the tops of the
waves seeking their prey; eels, garfish, shad, and every species of
cartiaginous fish which only lives upon flesh, such as long sharks,
big skate, hammer-fish, octopuses armed with suckers, and every variety
of dog-fish, swim about in shoals, occupied all the time in devouring
the remains of the dead bodies which collect there. Nature also musters
insects to hasten on the destruction. Wasps armed with shears cut the
flesh, flies pump out the fluids, marine worms separate the bones....
What remains of all these bodies, after having served as food to
numberless shoals of other kinds of fish, some with snouts formed like
a spoon, others like a pipe, so that they can pick up every crumb from
the vast table, at last converted by so many digestions into oils and
fats and added to the vegetable pulps which descends from all parts
into the ocean, would reproduce a new chaos of putrefaction in its
waters, if the currents did not carry it to the volcanoes, the fires of
which succeed in decomposing it and giving it back to the elements. It
is for this reason, as we have already indicated, that volcanoes ...
are all in the neighbourhood of the sea or big lakes."

How happy are the poets! for they can talk nonsense with impunity. With
all his extravagant ideas, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre has brought home
to us like no one else, the sensation of the activity of Nature, and of
the swarming life which covers the earth, moves inside it, and fills
the air and the sea.

He had quite foreseen that people would oppose to all this the
sufferings inflicted by beasts of prey, large and small, upon living
animals, men even, but this objection did not embarrass him in the
least. As far as animals are concerned, it would disappear of itself
only by taking a broader view of things. "It is true," he said,
"several species of carnivorous beasts devour living animals.... Let
us return to the great principle of Nature: she has made nothing in
vain. She destines few animals to die of old age, and I believe even
that it is only man whom she permits to run through the entire course
of life, because it is only man whose old age can be useful to his
fellows. Among animals what would be the use of unreflecting old age to
their posterity, which is born with the instinct which takes the place
of experience? On the other hand, how would the decrepid parents find
sustenance among their children who leave them the moment they know how
to swim, fly, or walk? Old age would be for them a weight from which
the wild beasts deliver them." Let us add that to them death means
little suffering. They are generally destroyed in the night during
their sleep. "They do not attach to this fatal moment any of the
feelings which render it so bitter to the greater part of humanity--the
regrets for the past and anxieties for the future. _In the midst of a
life of innocence, often with their dreams of love still fresh, their
untroubled spirits wing their flight into the shades of night._ It is
very prettily phrased, but unhappily no one has ever succeeded, often
as it has been tried, in convincing those who are eaten that it is for
their good."

The objection relative to man is dismissed with the same ease. "Man
has nothing to fear from beasts of prey. Firstly, most of them only
go abroad in the night, and they possess striking characteristics
which announce their approach even before they become visible. Some
of them have strong odours of musk like the marten, the civet cat,
and the crocodile; others shrill voices which can be heard for long
distances in the night like the wolves and jackals; again, others have
strongly-marked colours which can be distinguished a long way off upon
the neutral tint of their skins: such are the dark stripes of the
tiger and the distinct spots of the leopard. They all have eyes which
shine in the darkness.... Even those which attack the human body have
distinguishing signs; either they have a strong odour like the bug,
or contrasts in colour to the parts to which they attach themselves,
like white insects on the hair, or the blackness of fleas against the
whiteness of the skin." How about fleas upon the negro?

The flea's usefulness does not stop with its blackness. It is also
useful from the point of view of political economy, by obliging "the
rich to employ those who are destitute, in the capacity of domestics,
to keep things clean about them." Furthermore hail, with the help of
its ally, the hurricane, destroys a great many insects; earthquakes
are no less necessary and useful, their function being to purify
the atmosphere. Hail, tempests, earthquakes, are in reality so many
benefactors, unrecognised because we are not penetrated to the marrow
of our bones with these fundamental truths: the happiness of man is the
first law of the world; "nothing superfluous exists, only such things
as are useful relatively to man."

Here are some more proofs which Bernardin de Saint-Pierre considers
striking. Nature invented the hideous scorpion to be a salutary terror
to us, to keep us away from damp, unhealthy places, its ordinary abode.
She has given four teats to the cow, which only brings forth one calf
at a time, and a dozen to the sow, which has to bring up as many as
fifteen young ones, and this because mankind liking milk and pork, the
cow had to be made to give us of "the superabundance of her milk, and
the sow of that of her young."

What shall be said of the "royal foresight" of the Divinity when it
wishes to act upon our hearts and prepare them to learn patience, or
open them to gentle feelings? Every one of us has mourned a dog, and
has asked himself why these faithful animals have so short a life.
Listen to the answer. "If the death of the dog of the house reduces our
children, whose companion and contemporary he has been, to despair,
doubtless Nature wished to give them, through the loss of an animal so
worthy of human affection, their first experience of the privations of
which human life is full." The example of the melon and the pumpkin
is still more characteristic. While most fruits are cultivated for
the mouth of man, like cherries and plums, or for his hand like pears
and apples, the melon much larger and divided into quarters, "seems
intended to be eaten by the family." As for the enormous pumpkin,
Nature intends that one should share it with one's neighbours; it is
pre-eminently a sociable fruit.

In spite of all these benefits, we hear our impious race accusing
Nature, and blaspheming Providence. We are angry against Heaven when
we suffer, when this or that fails us, as though Providence could be
at fault, and as though we were not ourselves the real authors of our
woes. A little faith, a little confidence, and we should be comforted,
but we do not possess it, and we rush to our ruin through ignorance and
unbelief, just as it happened one day to some men who had landed upon a
desert island where there were no cocoa-nut trees. Soon the sea "threw
upon the strand several sprouting cocoa-nuts, as if Providence were
eager to persuade them by this useful and agreeable present to remain
upon the island and cultivate it." Notice that this was not brought
about by any chance currents, because sea-currents are regular, and
those which surrounded this island had had time since the creation of
the world to sow it with all sorts of seeds. "However that may be, the
emigrants planted the cocoa-nuts, and in the course of a year and a
half they sent up shoots four feet in height. So marked a favour from
Heaven was, nevertheless, not sufficient to keep them in this happy
spot: a thoughtless desire to procure for themselves wives, induced
them to leave it, and plunged them in a long series of misfortunes,
which most of them could not survive. _For my part, I do not doubt that
if they had had that confidence in Providence which they owed to her,
she would have sent wives to them in their desert island, as she had
sent them cocoa-nuts._"

Providence also takes touching care of the animals. The thorns of
the brambles and bushes protect the little birds in their nests, and
collect the sheep's wool to line the nests with. Ermines have the tips
of their tails black, "so that these small animals, entirely white,
when going after one another in the snow, where they leave hardly any
footmarks, may recognise one another in the luminous reflections of the
long nights of the North." Hairy animals are generally white underneath
because white keeps them warmer than any other colour, and because
"the stomach needs most heat on account of the digestive and other
functions; on the other hand, the head is always the deepest in colour,
above all in hot countries, because that part has most need of coolness
in the animal economy." It is also for the last reason that several of
the birds in hot regions have tufts and crests on their heads, to shade
them. Lastly, all animals without exception find their table set for
them ever since the world began, even those who only feed upon carrion.
"Ancient trees grow in the depths of new forests to afford sustenance
to the insects and birds who find it in their aged trunks. _Corpses
were created for the carnivorous animals._ In every age there must
come forth creatures young, old, living and dying." There is always an
essential difference in the methods of Providence towards animals and
towards man. God takes care of us for our own sakes, He only takes care
of animals or plants as they affect us, and in such measure as they are
useful or agreeable to us. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was never tired
of making remarks in support of these diverse opinions, and we could
multiply quotations indefinitely, but what has already been said gives
an adequate idea of his theory of the universe.

At first sight we are inclined to shrug our shoulders and pity the
final causes for having found an advocate capable of such sad nonsense;
but on reflection we are obliged to admit that once the principle is
conceded, there is no means of stopping one's self in the downward
course. Why admit this final cause and reject that one? If the world
is arranged for the happiness of man, ought we not to explain the
utility of moths and weevils after that of wool and corn? And if we see
in it, as Saint-Pierre did, a means of compelling the monopolists to
sell their merchandise for fear that the poor would have to go naked
or die of hunger, have we not the right to maintain that one argument
is worth another, and that it would be difficult for you to find a
better? On the whole, Bernardin only developed Fénélon's idea, who
also subordinated the creation to man, and was led by that, in spite
of all his cleverness, to affirm that the stars were made to give us
light; that the dog is born "to give us a pleasant picture of society,
friendship, fidelity, and tender affection;" that wild beasts are
intended "to exercise the courage, strength, and skill of mankind."
Between Fénélon and Saint-Pierre, as between all determined partisans
of final causes, it is only a question of more or less ingenuity, and
Saint-Pierre was very ingenious. Grimm wrote, "I do not believe that
any man had as yet ventured to recognise Providence, or to attribute
to it more skilful attention, more refined research, more delicacy
of feeling; but his idea is carried beyond all bounds, and leads him
occasionally into all kinds of nonsense and absurd puerilities. His
book is one long collection of eclogues, hymns, and madrigals in honour
of Providence."[20] The _Études de la Nature_ makes us still better
able to understand the warmth with which Buffon repudiated the theory
of final causes.

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre would have been immensely astonished if
he had been told that he was labouring to prepare generations of
pessimists by attributing to Providence the cares and solicitude of a
nurse in its relations with men. Nothing was further from his thoughts,
and yet nothing is more certain from the moment that his works became
a success with the public, and exerted an influence over men's minds.
Man once convinced that his happiness is the concern of God, considers
it the duty of the Divinity to secure it. In misfortune he has no
patience to bear his troubles, because he looks upon himself as injured
by Providence. The horror of the injustice done to him redoubles his
suffering, and he curses the Heaven which does not respect his rights.
It would be doing too much honour to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre if we
were to make him answerable for the gloomy and bitter turn of mind
of our contemporaries, but he certainly helped it on, since for a
thoughtful mind his philosophy has a fatal tendency to demonstrate the
fallibility of Providence.

He perceived the difficulty quite well, and felt that it is not
sufficient to keep repeating over and over again the axiom: "All is
for the best in the best of worlds." When one has finished repeating
it, the evil is not ended nor explained. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was
only too glad to fall back upon his own century, on which he had turned
his back during his religious exaltation, and to explain by reasons
taken from Diderot and Jean-Jacques the sufferings of humanity in a
world created perfect. So he wrote: "Man is born good; it is society
that makes bad people, and your education which prepares them." Man
is born good; take the savages, who alone upon the earth still possess
"real virtue." A good man continues happy so long as he does not turn
aside from "the law of nature." Take the savages again--their happiness
is perfect, according to the missionaries, so long as they have no
intercourse with civilised nations. Society "makes bad people" by its
stupid and brutal laws, which ignore and defy those of nature and
precipitate us into abysses of evil. Our education prepares our young
people to be in their turn wicked, because it is founded upon the false
idea with which our whole civilisation is impregnated: it develops the
intelligence instead of developing the heart. Nature "does not wish
man to be skilful and vainglorious; she wishes him to be happy and
good." We are going against her intentions when we undertake to invent
scientific systems which "deprave the heart," instead of cultivating
sweet and tender sentiments amongst our children. In doing so we
commit a criminal error every day of our lives, the fatal consequences
of which are quite apparent. Consider what man has become under the
influence of this civilisation of which we are so proud.

"Nature, which intended him to be loving, did not furnish him with
arms, and so he forged them himself to fight his fellows with. She
provides food and shelter for all her children; and the roads leading
to our towns are only distinguishable from afar by their gibbets! The
history of nature presents only benefits, that of man nothing but wrath
and rapine." And further on: "There are many lands which have never
been cultivated; but there are none known to Europeans which have
not been stained with human blood. Even the lonely wastes of the sea
swallow up in their depths shiploads of men sent to the bottom by their
fellows. In the towns, flourishing as they seem with their arts and
monuments, pride and cunning, superstition and impiety, violence and
treachery wage their eternal strife and fill with trouble the lot of
the unfortunate inhabitants. _The more civilised the society there, the
more cruel are its evils and the more they increase in number._"

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had his Rousseau beside him, when he
thus launched his anathemas against civilisation and the sciences.
He occasionally makes use of expressions which closely recall the
_Discours sur les lettres, les sciences et les arts_, and the _Discours
sur l'inegalité parmi les hommes_. Unhappily for his thesis, his
eloquent rage against our social state rings false. We feel that it is
a rhetorical artifice to help him out of the difficulty of his theory
of final causes, and to open out a way for him to bring at last his
character of legislator before the public. The occasion was unique
for showing to France what she had lost through the incapacity of her
ministers, who allowed the memorials of M. de Saint-Pierre to moulder
in their portfolios. We thus return to _Robinson Crusoe_, the ideal
colony, and those famous laws of nature which it is our mission to
contrast with the laws made by man.

The laws of nature are "moral" and "sentimental" laws; they comprise
in the first place all the good and noble sentiments which God has
placed in our hearts. Just as reason is a miserable and inferior
faculty, so sentiment is the glory and strength of mankind; man owes
to it everything great and splendid which he has ever accomplished.
"Reason has produced many men of mind in the so-called civilised ages,
and sentiment men of genius in the so-called barbarous ages. Reason
varies from age to age, sentiment is always the same. Errors of reason
are local and transitory, the truths of sentiment are unchanging and
universal. By reason the ego is made Greek, English, Turkish; by
sentiment it becomes human, divine.... In truth, reason gives us some
pleasures; but if it reveals some portion of the order of the universe,
it shows us at the same time our own destruction, which is involved
in the laws of its preservation. It shows us at once past ills and
those that are to come.... The wider it explores it brings back to us
the evidence of our nothingness; and far from calming our anxieties by
its researches, it often only increases them by its knowledge. On the
contrary sentiment, blind in its desires, surveys the relics of all
countries and all times; it trusts in the midst of ruins, of battles,
even of death, in some vague, eternal existence; in all its yearnings
it strives after the attributes of the Divinity--infinity, scope,
duration, power, greatness, and glory; it adds ardent desire to all
our passions, gives to them a sublime impulse, and in subjugating our
reason, becomes itself the noblest and best instinct of human life." We
must correct Descartes and say: "I feel, therefore I exist."

The apotheosis of sentiment, "blind in its desires" and indomitable
in their pursuit, which "subjugates our reason" and makes us act on
impulse, strongly resembles an apotheosis of passion, and in fact has
led to it. So George Sand strikes some roots in the insipid sensibility
of the last century, but we know already that it was not within the
scope of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre to calculate the not very remote
consequences of his principles. He dreamt, without the very least
anxiety, of a world entirely governed by sentiment, and emancipated
from that abominable reason. No danger could threaten this regenerated
community, because its leader had sorted out the sentiments common to
humanity, and only allowed such of them to prevail as pity, innocence,
admiration, melancholy, and love. This choice promised to the world
a succession of Idylls. As for the bad sentiments, hate, avarice,
jealousy, ambition, there was no need to take them into consideration
or to fear their usurpation; they would disappear from the face of
France so soon as the plan of education placed at the end of the
_Études de la Nature_ had been adopted.

There is nothing like coming at the right time. At the beginning of
the Revolution these sorts of things were listened to with a contrite
spirit, and no one thought of laughing at them. Such sentiments
appeared as wise as they were beautiful; no one doubted his own virtue
and goodness, and all rejoiced in this picture of the delightful
emotions which awaited the new society. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
laboured to draw seductive pictures of it, and his efforts have
procured us some analyses of public feeling which their date render
most interesting.

His chapter on _Melancholy_ is one of the most interesting. Melancholy
had only lately come into fashion, and he exerted himself to inquire
into the source of this seductive sentiment, the sweetest and most
cherished poison of the soul. He to some extent recognised the danger
of it, for the word _voluptuous_ occurs several times under his pen:
"I do not know," he wrote, "to what physical law the philosopher may
attribute the sensations of melancholy. For my part I think that
they are the most voluptuous impressions of the soul." That is very
finely expressed and very true. Further on, apropos of people who
try by artificial means to give themselves sensations of melancholy,
he writes: "Our voluptuaries have artificial ruins erected in their
gardens.... The tomb has supplied to the poetry of Young and Gessner
pictures full of charm; therefore our voluptuaries have imitation
tombs put up in their gardens." He is himself "a voluptuary" when he
solaces his woes, by abandoning himself to the melancholy which bad
weather creates in him. "It seems to me at such times that nature
conforms to my situation like a tender friend. She is, besides, always
so interesting under whatever aspect she reveals herself, that when it
rains I seem to see a beautiful woman in tears, all the more beautiful
the more she is distressed. In order to experience these sentiments,
which I dare to call voluptuous, we must have no plans for going out,
or paying visits, or hunting, or travelling, which always put us into
a bad temper, because we are thwarted; ... to enjoy bad weather it is
necessary that our soul should travel, our body stay quiet."

We have in these lines a great science of melancholy, given to us
by a refined "voluptuary" who understands how to give to agreeable
sensations their maximum of enjoyment. One is quite taken in to find
directly after a series of pretentious articles in the manner of
the day, in which Bernardin de Saint-Pierre explains the _pleasure
of the grave_ by the sentiment of the immortality of the soul, and
_the pleasure of decay_ by that of the infinity of time. I notice in
it, however, an effort to interest the reader in the real and native
gothic ruins, which might be called daring, at that time of mania for
filling one's garden with Greek and Roman erections, imitation temples,
imitation tombs, imitation columns, and imitation ruins, ornamented
with allegorical emblems and sentimental inscriptions. Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre did not oppose this classical bric-à-brac which pleased
him only too well, but he possessed to a greater extent than his
contemporaries the sense of the picturesque, which bore fruit in some
romantic scenes like the description of the Château of Lillebonne.

The château is perched on a height commanding a valley. "The high walls
which surround it are rounded off at the corners, and so covered with
ivy that there are but few points from which one can mark their course.
About the middle of their length, where I should think it would not
be easy to penetrate, rise high battlemented towers, upon the tops of
which grow big trees, having the appearance of a thick head of hair.
Here and there through the carpet of ivy which covers their sides,
are gothic windows, embrasures and gaps resembling mouths of caverns,
through which one can see the stairs. The only birds to be seen flying
round this desolate habitation are buzzards, which hover about in
silence; and if occasionally the cry of a bird is heard, it is sure
to be an owl whose nest is there.... When I remember at sight of this
stronghold, that it was formerly inhabited by petty tyrants who from
there used to plunder their unlucky vassals and even travellers, I
seem to see the carcass of some great beast of prey." This conclusion
is from a man who, in default of an historical sense, has at least an
historical imagination.

_Love_ inspires him with a charming page on the expansion of every
living thing during the love-season. The plant opens its flowers, the
bird puts on his most beautiful plumage, the wild beasts fill the
forests with their roaring, and the soul of the young man "receives
its full expansion." His soul also opens its flowers and exhales
its perfume of generosity, candour, heroism, and holy faith, and
love adorns it with wondrous graces which take the form of "all the
characteristics of virtue." It is a dazzling metamorphosis, and
it is in some sort a disguise, for the virtues, which are only a
transformation of love, run great danger of evaporating with the
age of love, like the parade dress of certain birds in the Indies,
which are only lent by nature during the pairing season. Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre remarks that certainly young men have some modesty, and
that "most of our old men have none at all, because they have lost the
feeling of love." Honour to the sentiment which thus raises us above
ourselves! It is a great thing to have felt certain things once in our

Admiration is another of the moral laws by which nature, left to
herself, governs the earth. The author adds to it the _pleasures
of ignorance_, which he declares to be incomparable. Ignorance is
the supreme blessing from Heaven, the masterpiece of nature, "the
never-failing source of our pleasures." We owe to it the exquisite
enjoyments of mystery. It takes away all our ills, and embellishes the
good things of this life with illusion, upholds the poetry of the world
against science. "It is science which has hurled the chaste Diana from
her nocturnal chariot; has banished the wood-nymphs from our ancient
forests and the sweet naiads from our fountains. Ignorance invited the
gods to share in its joys, its sorrows, its hymeneal festivities, and
its funeral rites: science sees nothing there but the elements. It has
abandoned man to man, and thrown him upon the earth as into a desert."
Every epoch which repudiates the supernatural will recognize itself in
this _man abandoned to man_, and feeling that he is in a desert.

It would have been best to stop there, glorifying ignorance on poetical
grounds only. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre spoilt everything by insisting
on the misdeeds of science. He wished to profit by the occasion to
crush his enemies the Academicians, men with systems, who never
appeared to take his theories seriously, and he gravely affirms that
ignorance is the only preservative against the errors into which the
"so-called human sciences" plunge us. When one knows nothing, one is
sure to know no nonsense. Let it be said in passing that the scientific
works of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre confirm this maxim; for if he had
not learnt geometry, he would not have said such absurd things as
we shall see presently, and which covered him with ridicule in the
eyes of the scholars of his day. But he did not think of himself in
celebrating the advantages of perfect ignorance; in such a case one
never does think of oneself.

After the preceding, one does not expect study to hold a great place
in the plan of education which crowns the _Études de la Nature_, the
object of which is to expel all evil sentiments from the hearts of the
French people. To begin with, Saint-Pierre abolishes learning from
the education of women, of whom he only purposes to make housekeepers
and mistresses. Love is their only end upon earth, the sole reason
of their existence, and experience has proved that learning does not
help them in this: "Those who have been learned, have almost all been
unhappy in love, from Sappho to Christina, Queen of Sweden." It is
not with theology and philosophy that they gain a man's affection, it
is by all their feminine seductions, and it is with cookery that they
keep it. "A man does not like to find a rival or an instructor in his
wife." A husband likes good pastry when he is well, and good herb-tea
when he is ill. He likes his coffee to be good, preserves in which
"the juice is as clear as the flash of a ruby," flowers preserved in
sugar which "display more brilliant colours than the amethyst in the
rocks of Golconda." He likes his dining-room to be well lighted, the
fishing expedition well organized. Look at Cleopatra: it was with
her talents as mistress of the house that she subjugated Antony, and
made him forget "the virtuous Octavia, who was as beautiful as the
Queen of Egypt, but who as a Roman dame had neglected all the homely
womanly arts, to occupy herself with affairs of state." Let us beware
of turning our daughters into Octavias. They are to have no books;
the best are of no use to them. No theatres. Give them a dancing
master, a singing master, let them learn needlework and the science of
housekeeping; nothing more is necessary to a young girl in the interest
of her own happiness. It is thus that united families are prepared,
where contentment engenders goodness and makes virtue easy.[21]

Boys are to leave classical studies alone, as they only delay at a
dead loss their entry into life. Seven years of humanities, two of
philosophy, three of theology; twelve years of weariness, ambition,
and self-conceit.... "I ask if, after going through that, a schoolboy,
following the denominations of these same studies, is more human, more
philosophical, and believes more in God than a good peasant who does
not know how to read? Of what use is it all to most men?" A boy ought
to have finished his studies and begun a trade at sixteen. Up to then
he is to study according to a programme which has made good its way
in the world since, and for which Bernardin de Saint-Pierre merits a
second time the title of pioneer. These boys were to learn nothing but
useful things--arithmetic, geometry, physics, mechanics, agriculture,
the art of making bread and weaving cloth, how to build a house and
decorate it. A very careful civil education. It is generally forgotten
that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre is the inventor of school-drill. It was
one of his favourite ideas; he even wished the little school-boys to
undertake the grand manoeuvres.

"During the summer, when the harvest is gathered in, towards the
beginning of September, I should take them into the country in
battalions, divided under several flags. I should give them a picture
of war. I should let them sleep on the grass in the shadow of the
woods, where they should prepare their food themselves, and learn to
defend and attack a post, swim a river, exercise themselves in the
use of firearms, and at the same time in manoeuvres taken from the
tactics of the Greeks, who are our superiors in almost everything."

A little Greek and Latin they might learn during their last years
at school, but taught "by use," without grammar; lessons learnt by
heart, or written exercises; a little law, something of politics, some
ideas upon the history of religion; but no abstract speculations or
researches, even in science.

One did not expect to meet so utilitarian a Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.
In a hundred years we have not got beyond him, and yet we know
whether our generation prides itself upon its contempt of the
schools or not. The wonder is that he found means to retain his
Louis XVI. sentimentalism in spite of this overflow of practical
ideas. He corrected with one stroke of his pen the dryness of his
programme. Everything which was to be taught in his _Écoles de la
Patrie_--orthography, ethics, arithmetic, baking--all, without
exception, were to be "put into verse and set to music." Out of
school-hours the pupils were to be commanded by "the sound of flutes,
hautbois, and bagpipes." Here we find ourselves again in the land of
Utopia, and we recognise our Bernardin.

The schemes of political and social reforms which fill the last two
volumes of the _Études de la Nature_ are full of this curious mixture
of a practical mind with a romantic imagination. Saint-Pierre is a
democrat, and rather an advanced one for the day for which he was
writing. He works with all his might to disturb the existing state of
things, and the end is always simply a dream. You have the impression
that in his regenerated state the most serious questions would be
"put into verse and set to music," like the course of geometry in
his model school. He asks for the suppression of large estates and
great capitalists, monopolies, privileged companies, the rights of
taxation. He proposes several means of putting down the nobility, whose
existence would not fail in the long run to bring about the downfall
and ruin of the State. He demands energetically the confiscation of the
property of the clergy for the good of the poor. He wishes to replace
hospitals with home nursing, by which the families of the sick persons
would benefit; to ameliorate prison regime and madhouses, to secure
pensions to aged workmen, and to construct in Paris edifices large
enough to admit of fêtes for the people being held there. All at once
he interrupts himself in these grave subjects to describe an _Elysium_
of his invention, which will be like the visible epitome of the happy
metamorphosis of France.

His Elysium is situated at Neuilly, in the island of the Grande-yatte,
enlarged by the small arm of the Seine and a bit of the shore. It
is encumbered with all that the eighteenth century could invent in
the way of symbols, allegories, emblems, touching combinations, and
instructive conjunctions. There are nothing but obelisques, peristyles,
tombs, pyramids, temples, urns, altars, trophies, busts, bas-reliefs,
medallions, statues, domes, columns and colonnades, epitaphs, mottoes,
maxims, complicated bowers, and "enchanted groves." There is not an
object of art in it which has not a moral signification; not a pebble
or blade of grass which does not give the passer-by a lesson in virtue
or gratitude. Thus, for example, upon a rock placed in the midst of a
tuft of strawberry-plants from Chili, one reads these words:--

"_I was unknown in Europe; but in such a year, such a one, born in such
a place, transplanted me from the high mountains of Chili; and now I
bear flowers and fruit in the pleasant climate of France._"

Under a bas-relief of coloured marble, representing small children
eating, drinking, and enjoying themselves, one would read this

"_We were exposed in the streets, to the dogs, to hunger and cold; such
a one, from such a place, lodged us, clothed us, and gave us the milk
refused to us by our mothers._"

At the foot of a statue, in white marble, of a young and beautiful
woman, seated, and wiping her eyes with symptoms of sadness and joy:--

"_I was hateful in the sight of Heaven and before men; but, touched
with repentance, I appeased Heaven with my tears; and I have repaired
the evil which I did to men, by serving the sorrowful._"

Not far from this repentant Magdalen, whose marble face expresses,
according to the æsthetics of the day, at one and the same time
joy and sadness, some statues are erected to good housewives "who
shall re-establish order in an untidy house," to widows who have not
re-married on account of their children, and to women "who shall have
attained to the most illustrious position through the very modesty
of their virtues." Further on are the busts of inventors of useful
instruments, ornamented with the objects which they have invented: "the
representation of a stocking-frame and that of a silk-throwing mill."
As for the inventor of gunpowder, if he is ever discovered, there is no
place for him in the Elysium.

Further away still, a magnificent tomb, surrounded with tobacco-plants,
is consecrated to Nicot, who imported tobacco into Europe. A tuft of
Lucern-grass, from Media, "surrounds with its tendrils the monument
dedicated to the memory of the unknown husbandman who was the first
to sow seed on our stony hills, and to present to us pasturage which
renews itself four times a year on spots which were barren." And
so on for all travellers who have brought into the country useful
or agreeable plants. Seeing an urn in the midst of a nasturtium
bed, a pedestal among the potatoes, the people would think of their
benefactors, and their hearts would be softened. They would leave
the island Grande-yatte better men; easy, too, as to their future,
for this sublime spot would make the fortune of Paris. This Elysium
would attract a crowd of rich foreigners, anxious to "deserve well" of
France, so as to obtain the honour of being buried in the pantheon of
virtuous men.

In the eyes of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre this enormous toy-fair was
nothing less than "the re-establishment of one of the laws of nature
most important to a nation--I would say an inexhaustible perspective
of the Infinite." In the same way the reforms which have just been
expounded all have for their object "the application of the laws of
nature to the evils of society," and for a result the cure of these
ills by the return of the "harmonious laws of nature" and the "natural
affections." Unhappily for France, Saint-Pierre was not the only man
who knew what he meant when he talked this jargon, without sense to us.
In 1784 there was a large number of persons who imagined that there
was something in it, and that, in fact, nothing was simpler than to
return to the "harmonious laws of nature." The _Études de la Nature_
corresponded with a widely-diffused current of ideas, and that adds
to their interest. They help to represent to us the condition of many
minds at the beginning of the Revolution. At that time they thought to
overthrow everything to the sound of the bagpipes, and they believed in
the panacea of Elysiums.

We have sketched the general plan of the work; it now remains to point
out some of the ideas "by the way," which are its chief riches. The
author strongly suspected that he was never more interesting than
when he gave loose rein to his pen, and he never refused himself a
digression or fancy. "Descriptions, conjectures, insight, views,
objections, doubts, and even my errors," he says in his "Plan of Work,"
"I collected them all." He did well; for it is when he wanders from the
point and forgets his system that he is original and interesting.

In Art he could not disabuse his mind of the mania for moral effect;
he does not even spare the landscape. "If one wishes to find a great
deal of interest in a smiling and agreeable landscape, one must be
able to see it through a great triumphal arch, ruined by time. On the
contrary, a town full of Etruscan and Egyptian monuments looks much
more antique when one sees it from under a green and flowery bower."

He is, however, much more realistic, and consequently more modern, than
his description of his Elysium would lead one to suppose. He deserves
to be pardoned his philosophical landscapes, because he was the first
to say that there is nothing ugly in nature, one only needs to know
how to look at it. Man disfigures it by his works, but that which he
has not touched always retains its beauty. "The ugliest objects are
agreeable when they are in the place where Nature put them." A crab or
a monkey which appears to you hideous in a natural history collection,
ceases to be so when you see it on the shore or in a virgin forest;
they then form an integral part of the general beauty of the landscape.

The same with people. A fig for conventional types and mythological
costumes! copy nature. Make real shoe-blacks with their blacking-boxes;
real nuns with their mob-caps; real kitchens with the real milk-jug
and saucepan. Make your great men look like other people, instead
of representing them "like angel trumpeters at the day of judgment,
hair flying, eyes wild, the muscles of the face convulsed, and their
draperies floating about in the wind." "Those are," say the painters
and sculptors, "expressions of genius. But men of genius and great men
are not fools.... The coins of Virgil, Plato, Scipio, Epaminondas, and
even of Alexander, represent them with a calm, tranquil air." Show us a
real Cleopatra, not "an academical face without expression, a Sabine in
stature, looking robust and full of health, her large eyes cast up to
heaven, wearing around her big and massive arms a serpent coiled about
them like a bracelet. No, make her as Plutarch shows her to us: 'Small,
vivacious, sprightly, running about the streets of Alexandria at night
disguised as a market-woman, and, concealed amongst some goods, being
carried on Apollodore's shoulders to go and see Julius Cæsar.'"

In ethics Bernardin de Saint-Pierre warmly combats the theory of the
influence of climate, race, soil, temperament and food upon the vicious
or virtuous tendencies of men. It seemed to him absurd to say, like
Montesquieu, that the mountain is republican, and the plain monarchic;
that cold makes us conquerors, and heat slaves. That is only "a
philosophical opinion ... refuted by all historical evidence."

He attacked with the same ardour the theory of heredity which has
become so widespread in our day. "I myself ask where one has ever seen
inclination to vice or virtue communicated through the blood?" History
proves that that too is only "a philosophical opinion," and it is a
good thing that it is so, for man would no longer be at liberty to
choose between good and evil if these different doctrines were true.

It is curious to see the partisans of free-will preoccupying
themselves, more than a hundred years ago, with the theory of heredity.
It is a proof that ideas float about a long time in the air in the
germ-stage before they come to maturity and are adopted into the
general advance of thought. It would be as absurd to pretend that
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had actually conceived the physiological
law, whose consequences make him so indignant as to attribute the
discoveries of Darwin to his grandfather Erasmus. It is none the less
true that his generation had glimmering ideas of a number of questions
which have become common-places in the second half of the nineteenth

With a little good will we find even in the _Études de la Nature_ a
kind of embryo of Hegel's theory of Contradictions. Contraries produce
agreement, said Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. "I look upon this great
truth as the key to the whole of philosophy. It has been as fruitful in
discoveries as this other maxim: 'Nothing has been made in vain.'" He
adds: "Every truth, except the truths of fact, is the result of two
contrary ideas.... If men paid attention to this law, it would put an
end to most of their mistakes and their disputes; for one may say that
everything being compensated by contraries, every man who affirms a
simple proposition is only half right, because the contrary proposition
exists equally in nature."

We have already said that he had not been happy in the field of
science. It would be doing him a service to pass over in silence this
part of his work, but his shade would not forgive us. He attached
an enormous importance to it, and only attributed to the spirit of
routine and professional jealousy the obstinacy of the learned men in
taking no notice of his two chief discoveries--the origin of tides,
and the elongation of the poles. We will explain them briefly. It is
picturesque science if ever anything was.

The poles, says Saint-Pierre, are covered with an immense cupola of
ice, "according to the experience of sailors, and also of common sense.
The cupola of the north pole is about two thousand leagues in diameter,
and twenty-five in height. It is covered with icicles, which are
about ten leagues high. The cupola of the south pole is larger still.
Each one melts alternately during half the year, according as each
hemisphere is in summer or winter. The two poles are thus 'the sources
of the sea, as the snow mountains are the sources of the principal
rivers.' From the sides of the poles escape currents which produce the
great movements of the ocean. This granted, the flow of these currents
takes its course to the middle channel of the Atlantic ocean, drawn
towards the line by the diminution of waters which the sun evaporates
there continually. Two contrary currents or collateral eddies are thus
produced, which are in fact the tides."

Now imagine the terrestrial globe capped at the two poles with these
formidable glaciers, beside which Mont Blanc is only a mole-hill.
The globe is necessarily oval in form. "In truth some celebrated
academicians have laid down as a principle that the earth is flattened
at the poles."[22] According to them "the curve of the earth is more
sudden towards the equator in the sense north and south, because the
degrees are there smaller; and the earth, on the contrary, is flatter
towards the poles because the degrees are larger there."

Note that it is not only "celebrated academicians," but all the
astronomers, all the geographers, every one having some notions of
geometry, who conclude, from the increase in length of the degrees of
the equator, that the earth is flat at the poles. But from these same
measurements, of which he does not dispute the accuracy, Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre draws an absolutely contrary conclusion. Here is
an abridgment of his demonstration. "If one placed a degree of the
meridian of the polar circle upon a degree of the same meridian at
the equator, the first degree would exceed the second according to
the experiments of the academicians. Consequently if one placed the
whole arc of the meridian which crowns the polar circle, and which
is forty-seven degrees, upon an arc forty-seven degrees of the same
meridian near the equator, it would produce a considerable enlargement
there, because its degrees are larger.... As the degrees of the polar
curve are, on the contrary, larger than those of an arc of the circle,
the entire curve must be as extensive as an arc of the circle; now
it cannot be more extensive than by supposing it more enlarged and
circumscribed at this arc; consequently the polar curve forms an
elongated ellipsis."

If there happens to be amongst my readers a graduate of science,
the defects of this reasoning must be obvious to him. Saint-Pierre
implicitly believes that the two verticals whose angle forms a degree
meet in the centre of the earth, which would be true if the earth was
a perfect sphere, but which is not so at all if it is flat at the
poles, as all the world admits it to be, or if it is elongated, as he
maintains. He was apparently unaware that the curve of a contour at
a certain point is defined according to the radius of the circle of
curvature at that point, and that the curve is greater than the radius,
and consequently the degree of the circle of curvature is smaller. The
smallness of the degrees at the equator is, then, a proof that the
curve is larger there, or, what comes to the same thing, that the earth
is flat at the poles. His strange mistake proves that his scientific
equipment was limited to the most elementary knowledge of geometry,
which makes his audacity in continually going to war against "the
celebrated academicians," against Newton, and every scholar whose works
thwarted his poetical ideas about the universe, very characteristic. It
is the indication of a strong dash of infatuation, to which is joined
an equally large dash of obstinacy. He never admits that he might have
been mistaken. He fought all his life for his theory about the tides
and his elongation of the poles. He judged of men by their manner of
speaking of it, or being silent; it was for him the touchstone of
character no less than of the intelligence. Whosoever expressed an
objection to it was an ignoramus or a fool, if he was not malicious.
Whosoever said nothing was a vulgar pedant, an abject flatterer, one
of those servile creatures who "only flatter accredited systems by
which one gains pensions." (Letter to Duval, December 23, 1785.) All
the French scholars had the misfortune to place themselves in one of
these positions, and many sharp words were the consequence.

Bernardin is not the first nor the last writer who has mistaken his
real vocation. His was neither science, nor philosophy, nor teaching.
It was the love of the fields, the profound feeling and passion for
this living and changing spectacle which we call a landscape. The
design of his work impelled him to abandon himself to his adoration.
He lost himself in it, and the result was a book which, when it
appeared, was unique. From end to end it is nothing but descriptions;
of the tropics, of Russia, of the Island of Malta, of Normandy, and
of the environs of Paris. His travels had taught him to observe. The
hurricane in the Indian Ocean, and the aurora borealis of Finland had
made him more sensitive than ever to the sweetness of French scenery,
to the charm of a bit of meadow, or a hedge in flower. He is, besides,
much more sure of himself than in the beginning, much more capable of
depicting whatever struck his fancy. His powers did not betray him any
more as they had done in the _Voyage to the Isle of France_. There is
an end of general descriptions and abstract epithets; at the first
glance we are made to distinguish the characteristic of each tree,
each tuft of grass, the colour of every stone, and of merging those
particular and manifold impressions in a general impression. Here, for
example, is a scene in Normandy, taken from the first _étude_, into
which enter only "localities, animals, and vegetables of the commonest
kind in our climate." It has all the air of having been destined by
the author to instruct those persons who do not admire anything less
than the Bay of Naples. In any case it was a revelation in the way of a
landscape, taken no matter whence, and of the colours which the French
language even then offered to its painters in prose and verse.

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre supposes himself to be upon "the most barren
spot, a rock at the mouth of a river," and to be at liberty to ornament
it with plants suitable to such a soil. These plants spring to life
under his pen, and one sees them overrun this miserable corner of earth
until its bareness disappears under a glorious mantle of vegetation
in all sorts of brilliant and soft tints. "That on the side towards
the sea the waves shall cover with foam, its rocks clad with wrack,
fucus, and seaweed of all colours and all forms--green, brown, purple,
in tufts and garlands, as I have seen it in Normandy, on crags of
marl, detached from its cliffs by the sea; then on the side towards the
river one shall see on the yellow sand, fine turf mixed with clover,
and here and there some tufts of marine wormwood. Let us plant there
some willows, not like those of our meadows, but with their natural
growth--let us not forget the harmony of the different ages--that we
may have some of these willows smooth and succulent, shooting their
young branches into the air, and others very old, whose drooping
branches form cavernous bowers; let us add to these their auxiliary
plants, such as green mosses and golden-tinted lichens, which variegate
their grey bark, and a few of those convolvuli called lady's smocks,
which like to climb round the trunk and adorn the branches that have
no apparent flowers with their heart-shaped leaves and bell-shaped
flowers, white as snow. Let us also place there the animal life natural
to the willow and its plants--the flies, beetles, and other insects,
with the winged creatures who do battle with them, such as the aquatic
dragon-flies, gleaming like burnished steel, who catch them in the air,
the water-wagtails who, with their tails cocked, pursue them to earth,
and the kingfishers who lie in wait for them at the water's edge."

Here we have the rock quite covered with a thousand different tints,
and yet remark that Saint-Pierre has only given us one kind of tree.
Let us finish the picture. "Contrast with the willow the alder, which
like it grows on the banks of rivers, and which by its form, resembling
a turret, its broad leaves, its dusky green colour, its fleshy roots,
like cords running along the banks and binding up the soil, differs
in every way from the thick mass, the light-green foliage, grey
underneath, and the taproots of the willow; add to this the plants of
different ages which cling to the alder, like so many odalisques of
greenery, with their parasites, such as the maidenhair fern, shining
out like a star on its humid trunk, the long hart's-tongue fern hanging
down from its branches, and the other accessories of insects, birds,
and even quadrupeds, which probably contrast in form, in colour, in
manner and instincts with those of the willow."

The picture is now complete as regards form and colour, but how much
is wanting to it still! First of all the _flash of light_. We light up
our rock with the "first flush of dawn," and we see at the same time
strong shadows and transparent ones thrown upon the grass, and dark and
silvery green shades flung upon the blue of the heavens, and reflected
in the water. Now we will put life into it. "Let us imagine here
what neither painting nor poetry can render--the odour of the herbs,
even that of the sea, the trembling of the leaves, the humming of the
insects, the morning song of the birds, the rumbling, hollow murmurs,
alternated with the silence of the billows which break on the shore,
and the repetitions that the echoes make of all these sounds in the
distance, as they lose themselves in the sea and seem like the voices
of the nereids." Now it is finished, and if you do not breathe the salt
air, do not feel yourself surrounded by the universal life, before
this medley of changing colours and variable forms, this rustling,
murmuring, roaring, it must be that the feeling for nature is not
awakened in you--you are before Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's day, and
the nineteenth century has passed in vain for you.

Perhaps we see better still the indefatigable activity of nature in
the _Jardin abandonné_. It is a French garden, with straight, trimmed
walks, symmetrical flower-beds, regular fountains, and mythological
statues. A country house stands in the midst of it. The hand of man has
been withdrawn from this place, once so well cared for, and it becomes
what the general life of earth chooses to make of it. It is soon done.
"The ponds become swamps; the hedges of yoke-elm look ragged; all the
arbours are choked up, and all the avenues overgrown. The vegetation
natural to the soil declares war against the foreign vegetation; the
starry thistles, and the vigorous mullein choke the English turf with
their large leaves; thick masses of coarse grass and clover crowd round
the judas trees; dog rose-briers climb upon them with their thorny
brambles, as though they were going to take them by assault; tufts
of nettles take possession of the naiad's urn, and forests of reeds
the Vulcan's forges; greenish patches of moss cover the faces of the
Venuses, without respect for their beauty. Even the trees besiege the
house; wild cherry trees, elms, and maples rise to the roof, thrusting
their long taproots into its raised parapet, finally taking command of
its proud cupolas." In the eyes of a passer-by this is merely a ruin;
in Bernardin's it is the re-establishment of order and beauty. Man
appears to him nowhere so mischievous as when he alters the landscape.

His descriptions of foreign countries had a very great success
and a great influence. As his first book was not much read, it is
through the second that he has been the father of exoticism in French
literature. Chateaubriand found his path prepared when he wrote
_Atala_. Another had already revealed the virgin forest, dazzled the
eyes with tropical colouring, and amused the mind with strange types
and costumes. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre carried the taste for exoticism
to childishness, as we do in our day, and he it was who invented
exhibitions of savages and semi-savages. He dreamed of drawing to Paris
Indians with their canoes, caravans of Arabs mounted on camels and
bullocks, Laplanders in their reindeer sledges, Africans and Asiatics.
"What a delight for us," he said, "to take part in their joy, to see
their dances in our public squares, and to hear the drums of the
Tartars, and the ivory horns of the negroes, resounding around the
statues of our kings."

To sum up, the _Études de la Nature_ is a beautiful prose poem upon
a bad philosophical thesis. In Bernardin de Saint-Pierre Providence
had a compromising advocate, which happens, however, pretty often.
Not content with dragging the final causes into everything, he gave
them such a royal following of false ideas and scientific errors,
that the reading of his book becomes in places irksome. In order to
find pleasure in it to-day we must follow his advice, throw away
reason and give ourselves up entirely to feeling. In such a case it
is impossible not to be touched with this effort to recall man to the
thought of the Infinite, or not to let oneself be seduced by the
charm of the advocate. As soon as we have given up disputing with the
author on fundamental grounds, we are filled with pleasure at his
sincere enthusiasm, the wealth of his sensations and their quite modern
subtilty. He is himself as though intoxicated by the vividness of his
impressions. By the strength of his love for nature he confounds it
with the Divinity, and adores the works instead of the Author of them.
He speaks of nature with a tenderness which communicates itself to his
writing and wins over his reader. He wished to re-open the door to
Providence, he re-opened it to the great god Pan; a result which was
not worth the other, no doubt, but which has had immense consequences
in our century.


[18] Introduction to _l'Arcadie_.

[19] That is Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's account of the conversation.
In reality, Rousseau had not visited le Forez. He had been tempted
to go there, but was dissuaded from his project by "a landlady" whom
he consulted as to the route he should follow, and whose description
prevented him from going to seek Dianas and Sylvanders amongst a
population of blacksmiths. (_The Confessions_, year 1732.)

[20] Literary Correspondence, April, 1785.

[21] Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had developed his ideas upon the
education of women, long before the publication of the _Études de
la Nature_, in a speech delivered in 1777, without success, at an
academical meeting in the country. Some of the details given here are
borrowed from this _Discours sur l'Education des femmes_.

[22] The celebrated academician to whom allusion is made in this
passage is Pierre Bouguer, who took part in the scientific expedition
sent to the equator in 1736 to determine the shape of the earth. The
quotation which follows is taken from his _Traité de la Navigation_,
Book II., Chap. xiv.



Before the appearance of the _Études de la Nature_, Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre was a poor devil, in want, and little known outside one or
two salons, where he was not liked, and with reason. He quite counted
upon his work not passing unnoticed. "I dare say that I shall astonish
you," he wrote to Hennin, before going to print, when announcing his
intention of reading a fragment of his MS. to him; but it is doubtful
whether he expected to make a noise in the world. He had said what
he wished to say, but not in the manner which he had dreamed of. His
language appeared to him poor, in spite of his efforts to vary his
vocabulary. "The new career which I have adopted," he said, "has not
furnished me with new expressions; I have often to repeat the same.
But notwithstanding its defects, which spring from the incapacity of
the workman, I dare to affirm that the basis of my work is calculated
to throw a great light on every part of nature, and to overthrow the
methods which are employed to study it. What a fertile subject it
would be in happier hands." (Letter to Hennin, December 25, 1783.) For
himself the _Études de la Nature_ was valuable because of the ideas in
it; the form they took was of less importance--a judgment which appears
very singular to us in our day.

There is as much astonishment as pleasure in the first letters where
he tells his old friend of the enthusiastic reception given to his
book by the public. "I receive letters in which I am exalted far
above my merits; I really must have done something quite out of the
common. I have, however, but touched upon the shadows of the reality.
It is but a trifle, the work of a man" (March 1, 1785). Three days
later: "I receive ... private letters from persons with whom I have
no connection, but which praise me too much to allow of my showing
them to any one." The applause grew, reached the provinces, and became
formidable. As is usual, the author quickly got accustomed to it,
and soon learnt to speak with complaisance of the shower of visits,
letters, and invitations to dinner which descended upon his garret. "An
old friend of Jean-Jacques and D'Alembert came to express all sorts
of affection and interest in me, and wished actually to carry me off
to his country house. He appeared to have been particularly struck
with what I have said about plants. Painters are enraptured with what
I have said about the arts; others upon education; and yet more on the
causes of the tides" (March 20, 1785). "It seems that my book makes a
great sensation amongst the clergy; a grand vicar of Soissons, named
M. l'Abbé de Montmignon, came to see me four or five times, and begged
me to accept a lodging with him in his country house, so that I might
satisfy my taste for the fields. I told him that in truth I did wish
for a country house, but not other people's. Another grand vicar of
Agde, called M. l'Abbé de Bysants, came to see me, ... and is going to
take me next Wednesday to visit the Archbishop of Aix, who wishes to
see me in order to speak of me at the convocation of the clergy....
There are five or six great dinners that I have refused during the last
eight days" (April 25). "Sentimental people send me letters full of
enthusiasm; from women I get receipts for my ailments; rich men offer
me dinners; gentlemen of property country houses; authors their works;
men of the world their influence, their patronage, and even money. I
find in all that but the simple testimony of their good will" (June 3).

He is discreet; he keeps to himself the declarations of love by
which a man knows at once that he is become celebrated. None of them
escapes it, let him be writer, statesman, or tenor, and Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre received his share like the rest. One of the first came
from a young Swiss lady of Lausanne, whose letter is a jewel of artless
simplicity. She writes to him that she is young, beautiful, and rich;
that she offers him her hand, with her mother's sanction, but that
being a protestant, she does not wish to marry a Roman Catholic; she
continues, "I wish to have a husband who will love only me, and who
will always love me. He must believe in God, and must serve Him in the
same way that I do; ... I would not be your wife unless we are to work
out our salvation together." He replied evasively: "I think as you do,
and to love, Eternity does not seem to me too long. But before all
people must know one another, and see one another in the world." His
young correspondent found the reply too vague, and sent a friend of
hers to M. de Saint-Pierre to ask him whether or not he would become a
convert. The ambassadress was pressing: "You have said that the birds
sing their hymns, each one in his own language, and that all these
hymns are acceptable in the sight of God; therefore you will become
protestant and marry my friend." M. de Saint-Pierre contended: "I have
never said that a nightingale ought to sing like a blackbird, I shall
therefore change neither my religion nor my song." The negotiation
ended there.

Another suit was pressed upon him by an abbé. The letter began with
reproaches upon the pride of which M. de Saint-Pierre had given proof
on several occasions, and continued in these terms: "My niece is a very
amiable young lady, as artless as innocence itself, pure as a beautiful
spring day, of noble stature, happy countenance ... (we abridge), and
above all, of the best disposition." This niece being only seventeen,
her husband would receive her "straight from the hand of nature, before
society had moulded her to its methods," which is certainly the duty
of the author of the _Études de la Nature_. The lady has not a penny,
but that would evidently not deter the author of the _Études_. "We
believe," wrote her uncle, "you, she, and I, in Providence." We have
not Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's reply, but he did not marry this time

He refused with the same prudence invitations to go and stay with
people in the country. "Benevolence," he said wittily, "is the flower
of friendship, and its perfume lasts as long as one leaves it on its
stem, without plucking it."

He tried to reply to his letters, but had to give up the attempt;
they came now from the whole of Europe. Very soon he was compelled to
refuse them at the post office, for they did not frank them at that
time. He paid upwards of £80 for postage of letters in one year, saw
that glory costs too much, and from that time made a selection of his

At last, joy of joys! The Queen Marie Antoinette mentioned the _Études
de la Nature_ at a dinner at Mme. de Polignac's, and Mme. de Genlis
took the princes, her pupils, to visit the author, the lion of the day,
in his hermitage.

The reasons of this triumph are easily explained. The influence of
Rousseau, which was always growing, had a good deal to do with it.
People only asked to be sentimental, to believe in natural laws, to
make the social organisation responsible for all their ills. Many of
them, too, only asked to rest from the aggressive and dry irreligion
in which they had lived for so long. All the tender souls for whom
scepticism is never anything but a passing mood, hailed with joy the
religious reaction of which the _Études de la Nature_ gave the signal.
This was one of the two principal reasons of its enormous success.
The other great reason was that people were beginning to read the
_Confessions_ and the _Reveries_, just published at Geneva, and that
men's minds were open to poetry, of which they had been for many
generations deprived. Poetry was the thing most wanting in France
at the end of the eighteenth century, and was most in need of being
revived. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was a poet, and he brought them a
new poetry that became popular in a few weeks. As to his false science,
it only irritated the scientists. The great public was at that time
very ignorant on all scientific subjects, and quite ready to judge
by sentiment of the origin of volcanoes and the form of the poles.
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's theories found zealous partisans, and
seven months had not passed when a candidate at the Sorbonne presented
a thesis in which he compared the _Études de la Nature_ to Buffon's
_Époques de la Nature_, which was a great enemy to final causes, as we
know, and held the natural man to be a mere brute.

Meantime the object of so much praise remained poor. Imitations of his
book appeared on all sides, and took from him the best of his profits.
"Hardly have I gathered a few sheaves," he wrote on the 6th of July,
1785, "than the rats enter my granary." Besides that he worked hard to
pay his debts, which were many. That is why he begged just as before,
pensions from the king and gratuities from the ministers. The habit was
formed, as often happens to men who have had a needy youth.

His first savings (he made them in spite of everything, and that is
what makes it difficult to excuse him this time) were devoted to buying
a cottage and garden in an obscure part of the town, amongst low,
miserable surroundings. His street was not paved, and he said gaily
about it: "Perhaps if my work continues to bring me so many visitors,
the carriage-folk will employ their influence at least to have it
cleaned for me." The ragged neighbours did not frighten him. "When I
came to live amongst the poor in this part of the town," he replied to
remarks, "I took my place amongst the class to which I have belonged
for some time. Everything gave way to the happiness of having a corner
of land to dig and mess about in." Hardly established in it, the naïve
pride of the householder bursts forth in his letters. He had paid for
house and garden £200, and one would think, in reading what he writes
of it, that he possessed an extensive park. He has "an orchard, some
vines," and a large space for flowers. He writes to ask his friends
to give him seeds, bulbs, and plants; one would imagine that all the
species of both hemispheres would not suffice to fill his garden.
As soon as his innocent mania is known, they send him from all sides
enough to fill the parterres of Versailles, but he still finds so much
room that he sows a patch of vegetables.

With all that he is sad and ill. The reaction has been too great. He
writes to Duval: "I have experienced a succession of such vexatious
events ... that I may say the depths of my soul have been shaken by
them." (January 7, 1787). To someone who congratulates him on his
success, he replies: "You only see the flower, the thorn has remained
in my nerves." Little by little he calmed down, recovered himself, and
gained enough courage to dispute the genuineness of the judgment of the
noble tribunal, which had once condemned one part of his work. A fourth
volume of the _Études de la Nature_ appeared in 1788. It contained
_Paul and Virginia_.

The introduction to _Paul and Virginia_ clearly explains the intention
of the author. "I had great designs in this little work. I tried to
depict in it a different soil and vegetation to those of Europe. Our
poets have too long allowed their lovers to repose upon the banks of
streams, in the meadows, and under the foliage of the beech-trees. I
wished to place mine on the seashore, at the foot of the rocks, in
the shadow of the cocoa-nut palms, bananas, and flowering lemon-trees.
It only needs, at the other side of the world, a Theocritus, or a
Virgil, to give us pictures, at least as interesting as those of our
country." The ambition to be the Theocritus and the Virgil of the
tropics, comes out in all that he had hitherto written, but he wished
for something more in his romance, and what follows makes one bless the
insubordination of genius, which goes on its way laughing at the best
made plans. "I also proposed to myself to bring forward in it several
great truths; amongst others this one, that our happiness consists
in living according to nature and virtue." A later edition is still
more explicit: "This little work is but a relaxation from my _Études
de la Nature_, and the application which I have made of its laws to
the happiness of two unhappy families." In other words, Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre meant _Paul and Virginia_ to be an instructive and useful
romance, a sort of lesson in things intended to prove the justice of
the theories developed in his _Études de la Nature_, and the wisdom of
the reforms which he there set forth. His young hero and heroine were
to be the living and striking demonstration of the natural goodness
of man, of the uselessness of our vain sciences, and of an infinite
number of other "great truths" propounded in the course of his work.
Happily the poet was often able to make the philosopher forget his

It is the poet, the Theocritus of the tropics, who begins. He sings of
a voluptuous nature that squanders her caresses upon two nurslings.
She lulls them to the murmur of the springs, and smiles upon them in
a thousand brilliant colours. Around their cradle is only warmth and
perfume. They develop harmoniously in this solitude, whose gentle
influences are in accord with the gentleness of the sentiments placed
by Providence in the hearts of the newly-born. Nothing could be more
charming than these two beautiful children, "quite naked, according
to the custom of the country, hardly able to walk, holding each other
by the hand and under the arms, as we represent the twins in the
zodiac. Night even could not separate them; they were often found in
the same cradle, cheek to cheek, breast to breast, the hands of each
round the other's neck, asleep in each other's arms." These last lines
are exquisite; it would be impossible better to express the ineffable
graces of the sleep of childhood.

Paul and Virginia grew up, and their games and little adventures are
recounted with the same charm. It is not high art, it is too pretty,
could be too easily turned into a ballad, or used to decorate a
chocolate box, but it is delightful all the same. Besides, the beauty
of some of the pictures is considerably heightened by their frames; for
instance, the two children performing pantomines "like the negroes."
"The place generally chosen for the scenes was the cross-roads of a
forest, whose glades formed around us several arcades of foliage. In
their midst we were sheltered from the heat during the whole day; but
when the sun had sunk to the horizon, his rays, broken by the trunks
of the trees, were divided _among the shadows of the forest into long
luminous beams_, which produced the most majestic effect. Sometimes
his whole disc would appear at the end of one of the avenues, making
it sparkle with light. The foliage of the trees, lighted from below
with the sun's saffron-tinted rays, shone with the glow of the topaz
and the emerald. Their trunks, mossy and brown, seemed to be changed
into columns of antique bronze; and the birds already gone to rest in
silence under the dark leaves, there to pass the night, surprised by
the vision of a second dawn, would salute altogether the star of the
day with a thousand songs." How beautiful and true all this is. This
sudden illumination of a great forest from below by the setting sun,
is as real as it is dazzling. One understands how scenes like that
astonished a generation brought up upon the _Fastes_ of Lemierre and
the _Jardins_ of Delille.

The infancy of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's young hero and heroine is
passed entirely in a a desert, far from all society; and in them can be
verified the statement made in the _Études de la Nature_, that "man is
born good." They only possess virtuous instincts, good feelings, and
not a germ of vice, for these germs are only communicated to us from
without, nature did not place them in us.

Before going further we would remark once again how anti-Christian
these ideas are. The necessity for the Redemption disappears with
original sin, and Christianity altogether is only a superfluity, if
not perhaps even charlatanism. Faith must certainly have been very
weak, when the author of these heresies received from religious
people a rapturous welcome, and from the Church of Rome so benignant
a reception, that the philosophers accused him of being in the pay of
the clergy. Godless ages very soon reach a point where they lose their
sense of religion. Then there comes a general atmosphere of ignorance
and want of intelligence of sacred things, from which Christians who
have retained their belief also suffer; they accustom themselves to be
too inexacting, and not to look too closely into things.

The moment arrives to educate the two children, and to demonstrate
what is also said in the _Études de la Nature_ that, "it is society
which makes evil doers, and it is our education which prepares them."
The philosopher here interrupts the poet, and explains his system.
Paul and Virginia are not "prepared" to become wicked, because they
are brought up far from schools and libraries, without any other
teacher than nature. "All their study was to take delight in and help
one another. For the rest they were as ignorant as creoles, and did
not know how to read or write. They did not disturb themselves about
what had happened in remote times, far from them; their curiosity did
not extend beyond their mountain. They believed that the world ended
where their island did, and they never imagined anything pleasant where
they were not. Their affection for each other and for their mothers,
occupied all the activity of their souls. Useless sciences had never
made their tears flow; lessons of sad morality had never filled them
with weariness. They did not know that they must not steal, for they
had all things in common; nor that they must not be intemperate, for
they had as much as they liked of simple food; nor that they must not
lie, having nothing to hide. No one had ever frightened them by telling
them that God reserves terrible punishments for ungrateful children;
with them filial love was born of maternal love." Daphnis and Chloe had
less innocent souls, less pure from all human teaching; they knew how
to read, and, having flocks to mind, they had, at least, been taught
that thieves exist.

An education so adapted to scandalise the Academies naturally produced
the happiest results. At twelve Paul was "more robust and more
intelligent than Europeans of fifteen." He had more "enlightenment."
Virginia was no less superior to the girls of our countries. For all
that they had no clocks, almanacs, or books of chronology, history, and
philosophy, they were not ignorant, except to our pedantic ideas, as
they possessed the knowledge which the country teaches us. "They knew
the hours of the day by the shadows of the trees, the seasons by the
time which gave them their flowers and their fruits, and the year by
the number of their harvests." They knew the names and characteristics
of all the plants and birds, and of everything which had life in their
valley and its environs. They knew how to make everything necessary to
the life of a man in the country, and they accomplished all these works
with the good temper which comes from health, open air, and the absence
of care. Seeing them so skilful, ingenious, and happy, their mothers
congratulated themselves on having been "compelled by misfortune to
return to nature."

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre foresaw that people might make some
objections, and he hastened to be beforehand with them. "You Europeans,
whose souls are filled from infancy with so many prejudices contrary to
happiness, cannot understand that nature could give so much sagacity,
judgment, and pleasure. Your souls, circumscribed by a small sphere of
human knowledge, soon reach the limit of their artificial pleasures,
but nature and the heart are inexhaustible." "... After all, what need
had these young people to be rich and learned in our manner? their
wants and their ignorance added still more to their happiness. There
was not a day in which they did not impart to each other some help or
some information, ay, real information; and if some errors were mixed
up in it a pure man has no dangerous ones to fear."

There is a touch of declamation about this apostrophe. It threatens to
become a little dull, when the poet awakes, and carries us with a flap
of his wings above all theories and systems. The poet only knows one
thing: his hero and heroine are beautiful, loving, tender, at an age to
love; let them love therefore. All else is forgotten, and Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre in his turn writes, like so many others, the everlasting
romance of sweet fifteen. He writes it with chastity and fire, with a
pure pen, but with deep and stirring passion. Genius just touched him
with its breath for the first and last time, and he writes some pages
of lofty conception such as mere talent however great cannot reach.

"Nevertheless for some time Virginia was agitated by an unknown
trouble. Her beautiful blue eyes had black circles under them; her
complexion became yellow, and a great languor took possession of her.
Serenity was no longer on her brow, nor a smile upon her lips. They saw
her all at once gay without joy, and sad without sorrow. She shunned
her innocent sports, her pleasant labours, and the society of her
beloved family. She wandered hither and thither in the most lonely
parts of the homestead, everywhere seeking repose and finding none....
Sometimes at sight of Paul she would go towards him gaily, then all at
once on getting near to him, a sudden embarrassment would seize her, a
vivid blush would dye her pale cheeks, and her eyes would not dare to
meet his. Paul would say to her, 'These rocks are covered with verdure;
our birds sing when they see thee; everything around thee is gay, thou
only art sad,' and he would try to cheer her by embracing her, but she
would turn away her head and fly trembling towards her mother. The
unhappy girl felt herself troubled by the caresses of her brother. Paul
could not understand such new and strange caprices."

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had so absolutely lost sight of his systems,
that he gives to Virginia the refined modesty which is only generated
in creatures complicated by civilisation. "Children of Nature" are
ignorant of these shy reserves which do not occur at all without a
certain amount of knowledge. Longus is much more to the point when
he depicts the amorous Chloe kissing her Daphnis with all her heart,
and without thinking of any harm, as a "simple girl brought up in the
country, and never having in her life heard even the name of love."

A terrible summer came to increase the mysterious trouble from which
Virginia suffered. "It was towards the end of December when the sun in
Capricorn, for weeks burns the Isle of France with its vertical rays.
The south wind which prevails there nearly the whole year, blew no
longer. Great clouds of dust rose upon the roads and remained suspended
in the air. The earth cracked in all directions; the grass was burnt;
warm exhalations issued from the sides of the mountains, and most
of the brooks were dried up. Not a cloud came from the side of the
sea, only during the day a ruddy vapour would rise from its plains,
appearing at sunset like the blaze of a conflagration. Night even
brought no coolness to the heated atmosphere. The moon, quite red, rose
in the misty horizon with extraordinary grandeur. The flocks, prostrate
upon the hill-sides, inhaling the air, made the valleys echo with their
sad bleatings. Even the Kafir tending them lay upon the earth to find
some coolness there; but everywhere the ground was burning, and the
stifling air resounded with the hum of insects, trying to quench their
thirst in the blood of men and animals."

The drama now develops itself in strict accordance with these exterior
sensations. "On one of those sultry nights Virginia felt all the
symptoms of her malady redoubled. She rose, sat up, lay down again,
not finding in any attitude sleep or repose. By the light of the moon
she directed her steps towards the spring. She could see its source
which, in spite of the drought, still flowed like a silver thread along
the brown surface of the rock. She plunged into its trough, and at
first the coolness revived her, and a thousand agreeable recollections
presented themselves to her mind. She remembered that in her infancy
her mother and Marguerite amused themselves by bathing her with Paul
in this same place; that Paul afterwards, reserving this bath for her,
had hollowed it out, covered the bottom with sand, and sown on its
margin aromatic herbs. She caught a glimpse in the water on her bare
arms and bosom of the reflections of two palm-trees, planted at her
own and her brother's birth, which interlaced their green branches and
young cocoa-nuts above her head. She thought of Paul's friendship,
sweeter than perfume, purer than the waters of the springs, stronger
than the united palm-trees, and she sighed. She thought of the night,
of solitude; and a devouring fire took possession of her. She rose
at once, afraid of these dangerous shadows, and these waters more
burning than the suns of the Torrid Zone. She ran to her mother to
seek protection from herself. Several times, wishing to tell her her
sufferings, she took her hands between her own, several times she was
near breathing Paul's name, but her oppressed heart left her tongue
without speech, and laying her head on her mother's breast she could
only burst into floods of tears."

A tempest ravages their valley and destroys their garden, leaving
however after it a feeling of peace and repose. Virginia restored,
becomes once more familiar and affectionate with Paul, but it is only a
flash of light in the darkness, which disappears with the expansion of
nerves produced by the cool damp air.

Already while his hero and heroine were but infants, Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre showed us how nature, even at that early age, mingled in
their pleasures and needs, so that "their life seemed one with that of
the trees, like the fauns and hamadryads." Now it is in their passions
that nature takes part, and with what intensity the scene of the bath,
and the return of intimacy after the storm show us vividly. The author
profits by the characters he has in hand to realise a conception
already old, and establish a bond, henceforth indissoluble, between
the human soul and its surroundings. The bond existed before his time;
it is as old as the world and it acts, without their knowledge, upon
the most uncultured beings. But in the age and surroundings where men
have learnt to recognise it, to be conscious of it, it requires so much
strength and importance that we may be allowed to welcome it as a new
force. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre pointed it out, showed it at work,
and the lesson was not lost. Chateaubriand was twenty at the time of
the appearance of _Paul and Virginia_. When his René cries out amidst
the whistling of the wind, "Be swift to gather ye tempests that I have
longed for," he does not know whether he is speaking of real storms or
of those in his soul. He confounds them, and no one is unaware how
much poetical inspiration has been given to our age by this confusion
between our feelings and external impressions.

Let us remark in passing that it was not worth while being so indignant
in the _Études de la Nature_ against those who dared to say that morals
vary with the climate. The fragments which we have just read bring us
to exactly the same conclusion.

It is also a landscape which prepares us, if I may so express it, for
the scene of the love-confession, when after the episode of the letter
which calls Virginia away to France, the two young people go out after
supper to spend their last evening together. They seat themselves upon
a hillock and at first remain absolutely silent.

It was one of those delicious nights so common in the tropics, whose
beauty no brush however skilful can paint. The moon appeared in the
midst of the firmament, surrounded with a curtain of clouds which were
gradually dispersed by her rays. Her light spread by degrees over the
mountains of the island, and over their highest peaks which shone with
silvery green. The winds held their breath. One heard in the woods, in
the depths of the valleys, and on the rocky heights, little cries,
soft murmurs of birds billing and cooing in their nests, happy in the
moonlight and the tranquility of the air. On the ground everything
seemed to be stirring, even the insects.

The night seemed to breathe of love: an intoxicating languor stole over
the two lovers, and they spoke at last and confessed their secret.
Paul's speech is a little too set, the phrases too smooth, too careful.
Virginia's reply is full of passion and impulse, even when we abridge
it, and only retain the cry at the end: "Oh, Paul, Paul! thou art much
dearer to me than a brother! How much has it not cost me to hold thee
at a distance!... Now whether I remain or go, live or die, do with me
as thou wilt...." At these words Paul clasped her in his arms.

Virginia departs, and with her goes the inspiration. Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre seems to be filled with remorse for having lingered over
trifles which have taught us nothing, unless it is that love belongs
to the number of "natural laws" which govern our earth (we ourselves
rather question it). He tries to make up for lost time, and succeeds
only too well, for until the final catastrophe, we never cease to
be taught, and to verify the truth of the ideas propounded in the
_Études de la Nature_. Paul learns to read and write so as to be able
to correspond with Virginia, and he loses at once his tranquility
of mind. What he learns from romances makes him uneasy and jealous:
"His knowledge already makes him unhappy." He talks sometimes with the
other inhabitants, but their slander, their vain gossip are so many
more causes of sorrow; why was he so imprudent as to leave his desert?
"Solitude restores man in part to natural happiness, by keeping from
him social unhappiness."

He becomes ambitious, dreams of gaining "some high position" so as to
be more worthy of Virginia. The old man reveals to him that all the
roads are closed to those who have neither birth nor fortune. Here
follows a digression upon hereditary nobility, the traffic in public
offices, the indifference of the great to virtue.

Paul declares that he will attach himself to some "society." "I
shall entirely adopt its spirit and its opinions," he says; "I shall
make myself liked." The old man reprimands him severely for his weak
desire to cling to something. Another digression upon the sacrifice of
conscience demanded by societies which "besides interest themselves
very little in the discovery of truth."

In despair of his cause Paul decides to be a writer. One can imagine
how this is received. The old man draws so black a picture of the
persecutions which attend men of letters, that the poor boy is
terrified at the thought of the sufferings which each book represents,
and exclaims, embracing a tree planted by Virginia, "Ah! she who
planted this papaw-tree has given the inhabitants of these forests a
more useful and charming present than if she had given them a library."
Further digression upon the Gospel and the Greek philosophers.

This is the part that Mme. Necker, at the time of the famous reading in
her salon, compared to "a glass of iced water." The criticism was just.
The author himself was chilled by the dialogues between Paul and the
old man, and cannot regain the passion which carried him so high just
before. The shipwreck of the _Saint-Géran_, and the death of Virginia,
which made us all shed floods of tears when we were children, are, it
must be allowed, somewhat melodramatic, and from a literary point of
view very inferior to the passionate scenes.

Let us forget the didactic portions of the work, and the old preacher
who is no other than Bernardin himself. There remains a love-story,
one of the most passionate ever written in any language. The more one
re-reads it, the less one understands how it could have been taken for
an innocent and somewhat insipid pastoral. Sainte-Beuve was surprised
at it even forty years ago. "This charming little book," he writes,
"which Fontanes placed a little too conventionally, perhaps, between
_Telémaque_ and _La Mort d'Abel_ (de Gesner), I should myself place
between _Daphnis and Chloe_, and that immortal fourth book in honour of
Dido." Theophile Gautier declared that _Paul and Virginia_ appeared to
him to be the most dangerous book in the world for young imaginations.
He recalls the fervid emotion which he himself felt in reading it,
and which was never equalled later by any other book.[23] These two
criticisms have nothing exaggerated in them. The place of Virginia
with her beautiful eyes and their black circles, is in the front rank
of illustrious lovers, between Chloe, passionate and simple, and the
despairing Dido. Nevertheless, such is the empire of the commonplace,
that by dint of being enraptured over the grace and sentiment of
Bernardin's narrative, one has become accustomed more and more to see
in it but a superior Berquin, and to relegate it insensibly to the
literature of childhood. More than one reader was scandalized just now
that we dared to speak freely of a sacred masterpiece, though he has
not read _Paul and Virginia_ since the days when he bowled his hoop,
and would have been much surprised if it had been proposed to him.

At the time when the book was most in favour, curiosity was rife to
know how far it was a true story. The problem does not interest us
to-day, except for what it teaches us about the author's manner of
composition. Our realistic novelists would find little to change in it.

The framework is true. The landscapes are copied from nature and
perfected by a divination as to what would be the tropical vegetation
in a country more fertile than the Isle of France. "_Paul and
Virginia_," Humboldt wrote, "has accompanied me to the countries which
inspired Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. I have re-read it during many
years with my companion.... When the noonday sky shone with its pure
brightness, or in rainy weather, on the shores of the Orinico, while
the rolling thunderstorm illuminated the forest; and we were struck,
both of us, with the admirable truth with which, in so few pages,
the powerful nature of the tropics in all their original features is

The principal characters of _Paul and Virginia_, those whom he took
pains to make alive, are formed of traits borrowed from flesh and blood
models, and arranged according as they were needed. We have already
said that the author put himself into the book in the character of the
old man. In his heroine he has recalled two charming girls whom he had
met at one time in Russia and at Berlin, Mlle. de la Tour, and Mlle.
Virginie Taubenheim.

Longus furnished the primitive idea of the narrative; the
transformation of friendship into love at a fatal moment between two
young people brought up together. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre also
borrowed from him several points of detail; there are in the first half
of _Paul and Virginia_ some passages which very closely follow _Daphnis
and Chloe_.

The description of the manners of the Isle of France was exact when
it was written. Reminiscences of several periods suggested the
episodes. The pretty scene of the children sheltering themselves from
the rain under Virginia's petticoat had been observed by Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre in the Faubourg Saint Marceau. The tragedy of the
dénoument had been related to him; he did not see it himself, whence it
doubtless comes that it looks rather as though it had been arranged.
"He only knew how to write about what he had seen," said Aimé Martin;
but what he had seen he always illustrated, and one might even give as
an epigraph to _Paul and Virginia_ the title which Goethe chose for his
memoirs: _Poetry and Truth_.

The book was praised up to the skies the moment it appeared. It was
translated into English, Italian, German, Dutch, Russian, Polish, and
Spanish. Upwards of three hundred imitations were written in French.
It was put into novels, plays, pictures, and popular engravings.
Mothers called their newly-born children Paul or Virginia. Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre was decidedly a great man, and in 1791 when the National
Assembly drew up a list from among which to choose a governor for the
Dauphin, his name figures in it, in company with that of Berquin, of
Saint-Martin, called the _unknown philosopher_, of de Sieyes and of
Condorcet; a strange medley that says a good deal for the disorder
which at that time reigned in men's minds.

This brilliant success was not a mere flare up. Some years later we
find the Bonaparte family showing a marked enthusiasm. First there is
a letter signed Louis Bonaparte, in which the author relates that he
had wept so much in reading _Paul and Virginia_ that he would like to
know what is true in the story, "so that another time in re-reading
it I can say to myself to comfort my afflicted feelings--'this is
true, this is false.'" Then comes a note from General Bonaparte,
commanding the army in Italy, who finds time between two battles to
write to M. de Saint-Pierre: "Your pen is a paint brush; all that
you paint one can see; your works charm and comfort us; you will be
one of the men whom I shall see oftenest and with most pleasure in
Paris." After the letters came visits from Louis, from Joseph, from
Napoleon, who flatter and praise the writer of the day. His book never
leaves them; during the campaign in Italy, "it reposed under the
pillow of the General-in-Chief, as Homer did under that of Alexander."
Joseph endeavoured to imitate it in a pastoral called _Moïna_, which
he respectfully submitted to Saint-Pierre. Napoleon envies from the
bottom of his soul the peaceful existence of his host "in the bosom
of nature." He expresses himself in accents of such sincerity that
Bernardin hastens to offer him a small country house of which he had
become the proprietor. The "Conqueror of Italy smiled in rather an
embarrassed manner and murmured in a low voice some words about his
retinue, equipment, and repose from labour," but he redoubled his
politeness, and invited the celebrated man to dinner. Matters became
somewhat strained when the celebrated man refused to enrol himself
amongst the paid journalists. However, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre never
had to complain of the Empire, and on his side Napoleon remained
faithful to his admiration for _Paul and Virginia_; we are assured that
he re-read it several times at Saint Helena.


[23] Theophile Gautier, _Souvenirs intimes_, by Mme. Judith Gautier.



We have not yet got through half the _Complete Works_, and our task is
nearly done. With the exception of certain pages, pleasant or valuable
for the information which they contain, the rest might as well not have
been published; the reputation of the author would have lost nothing
by it. In the month of September, 1789, appeared the _Voeux d'un
solitaire_. The opening promises something rural:

"On the first of May, of this year 1789, I went down into my garden
at sunrise to see what condition it was in after the terrible winter,
in which the thermometer on the 31st of December had gone down to 19°
below freezing....

"On entering it I could see neither cabbages nor artichokes, white
jasmin nor narcissus; almost all my carnations and hyacinths had
perished; my fig-trees were dead, as were also my laurel-thyme which
generally flowered in January. As for my young ivy, its branches were
dried and its leaves the colour of rust.

"However, the rest of my plants were doing well although their growth
was retarded three weeks. My borders of strawberry-plants, violets,
thyme, and primroses were variegated green, white, blue, and red; and
my hedges of honeysuckle, raspberry, and gooseberry bushes, roses and
lilacs were all covered with leaves and buds. My avenues of vines,
apple-trees, pear-trees, peach-trees, plum-trees, cherry-trees, and
apricots were all in blossom. In truth, the vines were only beginning
to open their buds, but the apricots had already their fruit set.

"At this sight I said to myself," ... what he said to himself were
certain reflections upon the "interests of the human race," and upon
"the revolutions of nature," which remind him of "those of the state,"
... "and I said to myself kingdoms have their seasons like the country,
they have their winter and their summer, their frosts and their dews:
the winter of France is passed, her spring is coming. Then full of hope
I seated myself at the end of my garden on a little bank of turf and
clover, in the shadow of an apple-tree in blossom, opposite a hive, the
bees of which hovered about humming on all sides.... And I began to
have aspirations for my country." We know already from the _Études de
la Nature_ what his aspirations were; they were nothing very original
or bold considering it was the year 1789, after the taking of the
Bastille. Saint-Pierre demands that every employment shall be open to
all, that individual liberty shall be assured, that there shall be an
end put to clerical abuses, &c. The book had no success and possesses
no interest for us; we may proceed.

Two years after the _Voeux? d'un solitaire_, in 1791, appeared the
tale entitled _La Chaumière Indienne_. A party of learned Englishmen
(the Academies again!) undertake to start an encyclopædia. Each member
receives a list of 3,500 questions, and sets out for a different
country in order "to seek for ... information upon all the sciences."
The most learned of the band travels overland to the Indies, and on
his way makes a collection of MSS. and rare books forming "ninety
bales weighing altogether 9,550lbs. troy." He converses "with Jewish
rabbis, protestant ministers, superintendents of Lutheran churches,
catholic doctors, academicians from Paris, la Crusca, the Arcades, and
twenty-four others of the most famous academies of Italy, Greek popes,
Turkish mollahs, Armenian priests, the Seids, and Persian priests,
Arab sheiks, ancient Parsees, and Indian pundits." He prepares to
return to London, enchanted to possess "such a splendid cargo of
information," when he perceives that all he has learnt, all he has
collected, only serve to confuse and render obscure the 3,500 questions
on his list. In despair he goes to consult a celebrated Brahmin, who
only tells him that the Brahmins know everything and tell nothing. A
storm obliges him, just in the nick of time, to ask shelter in the
cottage of a pariah, and this man teaches him more in an hour about the
way to find the truth than all the academies of the world had been able
to teach him in several years. One guesses that the pariah did not know
how to read or write, and that his secret consisted in studying nature
"with his heart and not with his mind." This amusing slight fancy is
told gracefully and pleasantly.

Meanwhile the terror approached, and in spite of certain alarms, it was
one of the most tranquil periods of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's life.
After some months passed at the Jardin des Plantes, of which he was for
a short time governor, he looked on at the revolutionary storm from the
depths of a charming retreat, chosen by him, arranged by him, and which
he owed to the mania of women to marry celebrated men.

We have not forgotten that from the moment of his first literary
success several people proposed to him. After _Paul and Virginia_
romantic and sensitive hearts turned more than ever towards him, and
at last he allowed himself to be touched. The daughter of his printer,
Mlle. Félicité Didot, had loved him for a long time. She "did not fear
to own it to him," and was rewarded for so doing: he consented to marry
her. He was fifty-five, she twenty.

He consented, making his own conditions however; his letter to Mlle.
Didot is categorical. He wishes for a secret marriage. Further, he
insists that his father-in-law shall buy him an island at Essonnes, and
build him a house there. "It will take three months to build the house
and make it habitable; when it is ready your parents will retire to
Essonnes, taking you with them, and I shall rejoin you there for our
marriage. I shall have a house, an island, and a wife, without any one
in Paris knowing anything about it. I shall establish you on my island
with a cow, some fowls, and Madelon, who understands to perfection how
to raise them. You will have books, flowers, and the neighbourhood of
your parents. I shall certainly come to see you as often as possible."

According to what follows in the correspondence this arrangement was
not to Mlle. Didot's taste. She dreamed of sharing his glory, and he
offered her the post of his housekeeper. He did not insist upon the
secret marriage, but on the question of the country he would not give
in, declaring that he could only be happy there. "When my business
forces me to be in Paris, I shall write to you frequently. You will
be the reward of my labours; I shall come to forget in your bosom
the troubles of the town. Until I can have you always with me as my
companion, I shall come and pass weeks, whole months with you. This
is my plan of life. I shall rise in the morning with the sun. I shall
go into my library and occupy myself with some interesting study, for
I have a large amount of material to put in order. At ten breakfast,
which you will have prepared yourself (he held to this) will re-unite
us. After breakfast I shall return to my work, and you can accompany
me, if the cares of the household do not call you elsewhere; I presume
that you will occupy yourself with them in the morning. At three
o'clock a dinner of fish, vegetables, poultry, milk-food, eggs, and
fruit produced on our island, will keep us an hour at table. From four
to five rest, and a little music; at five, when the heat will have
passed, fishing, or a walk in our island until six. At six we shall go
to see your parents and walk in the neighbourhood. At nine a frugal

Mlle. Didot understood that she might take it or leave it, and resigned
herself to become the head-servant of the Island of Essonnes. If she
had cherished any illusions as to what was before her, she was not long
in losing them. The letters which her husband wrote to her after their
marriage have been published. This is the beginning of the first one,
written during a journey of Mme. de Saint-Pierre to Paris.

"I send thee, my dear, some wire for my tenant, your mother's
carpet-bag, some potatoes, some beetroots, which thou dost not much
like, but which necessity will perhaps render agreeable to thee. If
thou wilt share them with citizen M---- junior, thou wilt give me
pleasure. In this case thou wilt send Madelon with them, and wilt give
her also the wire intended to clear the conduit to the well of my

Then comes a long paragraph on the nails of various kinds of which he
has need for his workmen, and he continues: "Dost thou remember how
many handkerchiefs I had? there were only eleven here," and in a P.S.,
"There is no sugar here at all, send me a pound of moist sugar."

He had not deceived her, nevertheless his happiness was great in this
first union. He did not certainly use much coquetry with this young
wife, who was about thirty years younger than himself. Everlasting
household details: "Send me some apples." ... "Sow some cucumbers." ...
"Do not forget the haricot beans." ... "Why have a pig when we have
need of potatoes?" It was not worth while having married a poet! As for
him, the country enchanted him, and he left his island as seldom as
possible. He endeavoured to ignore events in Paris, so as to be able
to prepare in peace his _Harmonies de la Nature_. "Putting aside all
newspapers and books which might have told him of the mad excitement
of his country, he made a solitude of his enclosure; and when the
mists and hoar frost on the trees bare of leaves and singing birds,
made the country look sad, _Virgil's eclogues_, _Telemachus_, and the
_Vicar of Wakefield_, gave him in an ideal world, the happiness which
no longer existed on the earth."[24] Let us remember this passage. The
circumstances under which the _Harmonies_ were composed explain the

The death of his father-in-law brought him back willingly or
unwillingly to the world of reality. There was a burdensome
liquidation, family dissensions, and worries of all kinds. Then Mme. de
Saint-Pierre died in her turn, leaving a daughter Virginia, and a son
Paul. It was a general breaking up of things.

There are some people magnificently obstinate in being happy. Bernardin
had the courage to begin life again. At sixty-three he married a pretty
little schoolgirl, Mlle. Désirée de Pelleporc, whose exercises it
amused him to correct, and who was dazzled with the idea of marrying
the author of _Paul and Virginia_. He found that he had done quite
the right thing. There is no more any question of cabbages in his
letters to his second wife. Bernardin is in love, he wishes to please,
and this old grey-beard finds again his imagination of twenty to
write to his Désirée, his "joy," his "dear delight," his "everlasting
love." She is ailing. "Do not distress thyself; I shall work beside
thee; I shall comfort thee with my affection; I shall kiss thy feet
and warm them with my love." She writes to him and he is overcome
with admiration: "Ah! how full of charm is thy last letter! it is an
enchanting combination of youthful imagery, tenderness, philosophy, and
loving religion. I admired that last thought of thine, it is new, it is
sublime--ah! my second providence! &c. I have sent to invite Ducis to
come and see us. If thou hadst not made me full of love for thee, thou
wouldst have filled me with pride."

Poor Félicité never had so much attention in her life as Désirée in
this one day, and that is not all; the letter ends thus: "I believe
that the new moon of yesterday will make a change in the weather.
Meantime she has announced herself by heavy showers; but this abundance
of water accelerates the growth of the vegetables; it is necessary to
their progress and their needs: the month of May is an infant who would
always be at the breast. I embrace thee, my love, my delight, my month
of May. (_Signed_) Thy friend, thy lover, thy husband."

Sainte-Beuve thought this ending charming. "This month of May" he says,
"which is _an infant that would always be at the breast_, is it not the
most graceful and most speaking picture, above all addressed to a young
wife, a young mother?"

It is Bernardin who now does the commissions, and he does not bring
Désirée any nails or moist sugar. Not a bit of it! He brings her
crayons and colours, perfumery, a fine tent for her garden. His
impatience to return is extreme; he no longer lives away from her, is
capable of nothing without her. "The absence of the clear-sighted wife
leaves the husband only one eye to see with, deprives him of the best
part of his senses. Thy absence, my angel, throws me more and more
into a state of indolence which I cannot overcome. It is absolutely
imperative that I come to see thee, and that thou return, my love." In
another letter: "I must return to kindle my flame in the sunlight of
thy presence.... Good-bye, my delight; I wish to live and die beside

He does not doubt that the whole universe shares in this admiration for
Désirée, who was moreover really charming, and the joy of his old age.
One day when she is alone at Eragny, their country house on the Oise,
which had taken the place of the island of Essonnes, her husband sends
her some details about the battle of Eylau. He tells her that two days
before the battle Napoleon had written in an album found in a country
house: "Happy retreat of peace, why art thou so near to the scene
of the horrors of war?" "Does it not seem," continues Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre, "that he was thinking of our Eragny? If he had seen thee
there with our dear family, dost thou think he would ever have fought
that battle? I warn thee that if it falls to my turn to address him, I
shall charge thee with the correction of my speech." Mlle. de Pelleporc
had certainly not been taken in like Mlle. Didot.

It was in his capacity of Academician that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
was liable to be called upon to address the Emperor. He had belonged
to the Academy[25] ever since Napoleon had re-established it (1803). He
had belonged to the Institute in the division of moral and political
science from its foundation in 1795. In the same year he had charge
of the course of ethics at the Normal School, and the Normal School
had been suppressed almost directly, which was very lucky, for he did
not know how to speak. The elevation of the Bonaparte family sufficed
to crown his old age. He was pensioned, decorated, and well treated
by the Emperor. The Parisian world petted and flattered him. On one
of his journeys to Paris he writes to his second wife: "What is to
become of our former dreams of rural solitude? How is it possible, in
the midst of so much writing to be answered, and of visits active and
passive, to make a fair copy of any pages of my old or new _Études_?
I am like the corn-beetle, living happily in the midst of his family,
in the shadow of the harvest-field; should a ray of the rising sun
light up the emerald and gold of his sheath, then the children seeing
him, take possession of him and shut him up in a little cage, choking
him with cake and flowers, believing that they make him happier with
their caresses than he was in the bosom of his family." Of course not a
word of this great boredom is to be believed in. The little beetle is
enchanted, like all literary beetles, to be covered with flowers and
shut up in those beautiful cages which are called aristocratic salons.
He would be perfectly happy if he had a good temper.

But his temper is worse than ever. He had never had so many quarrels,
and there is a concert of recrimination among his colleagues. The
Academy is his favourite field of battle, and two of its sittings
above all have, thanks to him, remained memorable. At the first one he
was in the right; it was in 1798. Religion was still suppressed, and
many people would not allow the name of God to be spoken. Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre had been entrusted with the report upon some meeting, and
into this report he had bravely insinuated a profession of religious
faith. Cries of fury arose in the hall, and through the noise one heard
Cabanis crying out: "I swear that there is no God! and I demand that
his name shall not be mentioned within these walls!" Another wished to
do battle with the blasphemer, and prove to him, sword in hand, that
God did not exist. They all abused him threatened him, and laughed at
him, but he held his own against the storm, and refused to efface the
scandalous passage. The Academy refused to read his report in open

His other great battle was in favour of a less glorious cause. He
found means to raise a tempest apropos of the Dictionary, in which he
wished to insert some sentiment. "Just imagine," he wrote to Désirée,
"that they have put in their Dictionary under the word _appertain_,
'It appertains to a father _to chastise his children_.' I told them
that it was strange that among a hundred duties which bind a father
to his children, they should have chosen the one which would make him
odious to them. Thereupon Morellet the harsh, Suard the pale, Parny
the amorous, Naigeon the atheist, and others all quoted the Scripture,
and all talking at once, assailed me with passages from it, and
united themselves against me as they always do. Then, becoming warm
in my turn, I told them their quotations were those of pedants and
collegians, and that if I were alone in my opinion, I should hold it
against them all. They put it to the vote, all raising their hands to
heaven, and as they congratulated themselves on having a very large
majority, I told them that I challenged their statement because they
were all celibates. These are the kind of scenes to which I expose
myself when I wish to uphold some natural truth; but it suits me from
time to time to defend the laws of nature against people who only know
those of fortune and credit." (Letter of September 23, 1806.)

It was hard on him! He had persuaded himself that he was persecuted
by the Institute. In his mind the chief occupation of the Institute
was to invent some bad turn against M. de Saint-Pierre. In 1803 Maret
asked him for his vote. Bernardin replies: "Of what use can the vote
of a solitary man be to you, one who has long been persecuted by the
body to which you aspire? It can only do you harm. The atheists who
govern the Institute, and against whom I have never ceased to contend,
have not only deprived me of all influence, be it in preventing me
from reading from the tribune at our public meetings the papers which
my class have prepared for that purpose; be it in hindering me from
obtaining the smallest post to help me to bring up my family, but they
have even taken pleasure in publishing abroad that the First Consul
said on one occasion: 'I shall never give any employment to a writer
who disseminates error.' Thus they have even deprived me of hope.

"That is not all, they have lately been trying to take from me my
actual means of subsistence." Here follows a long list of grievances.
He has only received £24 indemnity on an occasion when other members
of the Academy have had £48; one of his pensions has been reduced £2
per month; his works have been mutilated by the Censor; he hardly dares
to present to the public his theory of the tides for fear of sharing
the fate of Galileo; he expects to be exiled, compelled to find at a
distance a spot "wherein to place the cradles of his three children
and his own grave." The admiration of the world would be powerless to
protect him against the stubborn animosity of his colleagues in the
Institute. "I resemble those saints who attract from afar the homage
and the prayers of men, but who near at hand are bitten by insects."
This is all nonsense; he had discussed persecutions too much with J. J.

It is not surprising that he was detested by most of his colleagues.
Andrieux remembers M. de Saint-Pierre as "a hard, ill-natured man." It
is just to add that those who liked him--Ducis, for instance--liked
him very much, and that he knew how to take pains to keep his friends.
There was no middle course with him: he was hateful or delightful.

He continued to write to the end of his life. "He made a point," says
his biographer, "of never letting a single day pass without writing
down some observations on nature, if it were only a single line.
The result was, in the long run, a multitude of rough notes, hardly
decipherable, written upon scraps of paper, which he compared to the
Sibylline leaves blown about by the wind, and of which, according
to the intention of the author, we have collected the best in his

He also continued to publish without succeeding in shaking his
reputation, though it was not his fault if it remained intact, for from
the date of the _Chaumière Indienne_ one can count on one's fingers the
pages which are not worthless.

The _Harmonies de la Nature_ (three vols., 1796) is only a tame
repetition of the _Études de la Nature_. We must recall under what
conditions the _Harmonies_ was written. It required a miracle of faith
or fixed resolution to persevere under the Terror, in teaching that
there is no evil in the heart of man any more than in the rest of
creation. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre accomplished this miracle, but it
was useless for him to shut himself up in his study with _Telemachus_
and the _Vicar of Wakefield_; inspiration did not come, and he had to
content himself with sifting the same ideas with nothing new but a
degree more of exaggeration.

The arguments in favour of final causes surpass in naïveté, if
possible, those of the _Études_. The foresight of creation has no
limit: "Not only has nature given us vegetation suitable to our
physical needs, but she has produced some in connection with our moral
enjoyment which have become the symbols of it by the duration of their
verdure; such as the laurel for victory, the olive for peace, the palm
for glory. They have been made to grow on all those sites which by
their melancholy and religious aspect seem destined for burial places."
These last, which nature has created expressly "to decorate our tombs,"
and which for this reason are named "funereal trees," are divided into
two groups having "opposite characteristics. Those in the first group
let their long and slender branches trail to the earth, and one sees
them waving about at the pleasure of the wind, looking dishevelled and
as though deploring some misfortune. The second group of funereal trees
includes those which grow in the form of obelisks or pyramids. If the
dishevelled trees seem to carry our regrets towards the earth, these
with their upright branches seem to direct our hopes heavenwards."

This example will suffice.

The goodness of man appears to him to be more apparent than ever. "I
repeat, for the consolation of the human race, moral evil is as foreign
to man as physical evil, both only spring from a deviation from the
natural law. Nature made man good." This goodness would be plain to
all at once if they would put into practice M. de Saint-Pierre's plan
of education, and it could hardly be put off much longer. "A day will
come, and I already see its dawn, when Europeans will substitute in the
hearts of their children the wish to serve their fellow-creatures for
the fatal ambition to be the first amongst them, and when they will
recognise that the interest of each of them is the interest of the
human race."

A few new scientific ideas come in to prove that the author is
incorrigible on this point. "If the forces of the vegetable kingdom
reflect and augment the heat of the sun, if they effect the atmosphere
and the water, they have no less influence upon the solid globe of
the earth, of which they extend the circumference from year to year.
It is quite certain that each plant leaves upon the globe a solid
and permanent deposit, and that it is out of the sum total of these
vegetable remains that the circumference of the globe is annually
augmented." We could have pardoned him this theory before the works of
Lavoisier, but coming after, they betray a greater amount of ignorance
than can be allowed even to a poet in speaking of science.

He has also an extraordinary theory upon the chemical composition of
the sun. "If it were allowed to a being as limited as I am to dare
to speculate about a star which I have not even had the happiness to
see through a telescope, I should say that the _material of which
it is composed is gold_, because gold is the heaviest of all known
metals; which would apply to the sun placed in the centre of our
universe.... Its light ... gilds every object that it strikes, and
seems to be volatilised gold.... We are assured that it forms the gold
in the depths of the earth." Mystical reasons confirm Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre in his opinion. "Gold is the prime mover in societies of
human beings as the sun is in the universe. Gold sets in motion all
social harmonies amongst civilised as well as uncivilised peoples."

It is always through sentiment that he makes his scientific
discoveries. "Evidence is but the harmony of the soul with God ... thus
the mind has no science if the heart has no conscience. Certainty is
then after all a sentiment, and this sentiment is only the result of
the laws of nature.... I should then define science as the sentiment of
the laws of nature in relation to man.... This definition of science in
general applies to all sciences in particular.... Astronomy ... is only
the feeling of the laws which exist between the stars and men."

In virtue of "the laws which exist between the stars and men," he
knows that the other planets are inhabited, and he could describe their
Fauna and Flora, their landscapes, and the manners of the inhabitants.
The men on the planet Mercury are philosophers; those on Venus "must
give up all their time to love," to the dance, to festivals and songs.
The character of those of Jupiter no doubt resembles that of the
maritime peoples of Europe; "they must be industrious, patient, wise,
and thoughtful, like the Danes, the Dutch, and the English." On all the
planets, the souls of the just fly away after death into the sun, where
they are better placed than anywhere else for enjoying a view of the
whole universe. "It is there without doubt that you are, unfortunate
Jean-Jacques, who, having reached the end of this life, behold a new
one in the sun!" It is there that Bernardin hopes to go to find again
his master, and from whence in spirit he sees himself throwing "a
triumphant glance to earth where men weep, and where he is no longer."
So ends the _Harmonies de la Nature_ in a sort of ecstasy.

It is deadly dull reading. You are soon surfeited, as after a feast
of nothing but sweet dishes. There is too much feeling, too much
happiness; the world is too well-arranged and engineered, too highly
coloured and varnished. One agrees in the judgment which the book
inspired in Joubert: "Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's style is like a prism
which tires the eyes. After one has read him for long one is charmed
to see that the grass and trees have less colour in nature than they
have in his writings. His harmonies make us love the discords which
he banishes from the world, and which one comes across at every step.
Nature certainly has her music, but happily it is rare. If reality
afforded the melodies which these gentlemen find everywhere, one would
live in an ecstatic languor, and die of inanition."

The works which succeeded to the _Harmonies de la Nature_ are not
worth spending time over any more than his posthumous ones.[26] When
we have excepted the _Café de Surate_, a charming satirical tale of
a few pages, and the fragments on J. J. Rousseau, upon which we have
drawn largely in retracing the history of their acquaintance, we may
dispense with reading the rest. On the whole Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
is complete in a single book, the _Études de la Nature_, on condition
that we take one of the copies perfected by the addition of _Paul and

His last years were the happiest of his long career. They were passed
innocently in observing his flowers, adoring his young wife, and in
realising at last on paper his project of an ideal colony, without
fatigue or expense. It was the best way. He occupied himself every day
for an hour or two in organising it according to the laws of nature,
bringing up the children there to the sound of horns and flutes, and
obtaining results without a precedent, which he recorded in the annals
of the young state.[27]

The colony was situated on the banks of the Amazon, because, as a
child, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had told himself a story of how he
embarked for the Amazon, and there founded a republic. It was above
all distinguished for a fabulous abundance of everything. On fête days
the citizens took their places at public tables, at which were served
whole whales, without counting an infinity of other dishes. Contempt
of systems had there produced some almost incredible scientific and
industrial successes; people went about in balloons formed like fish,
and capable of being steered; one saw "camels laden with provisions,
led by negroes, and sledges drawn by reindeer." All the inhabitants of
this favoured spot were good, virtuous, and happy.

It was an inoffensive and harmless mania. In the end I really believe
that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was no longer surly and bellicose,
except in the Institute. There he certainly was so, but he paid dearly
for it. What did they not impute to him for crime? They reproached him
for sending his son to college, his daughter to Écouen, after having
written against public education in France. It is what the adversaries
of our university system do every day; we blame and we submit, because
we cannot do otherwise. They reproached him with having been servile
in his intercourse with Napoleon, whom he compared in an academical
oration to an eagle "advancing in the very centre of the storm." He
certainly would have done better not to flatter the master, but he was
in such good company! We pass over other absolutely absurd grievances.
His enemies returned his blows with interest, and, being vindictive, he
died without making peace with them.

In the month of November, 1813, being then in Paris, he felt that his
life was ebbing; several apoplectic attacks had reduced his strength.
He hastened to return to his home at Eragny, to see again his garden,
the forest of Saint-Germain, the banks of the Oise, and there he
slowly passed away, filling his eyes with the splendours of the
world. He awaited death with serenity, as it becomes a sage to await
the accomplishment of a law of nature, talking peacefully with those
around him of the terrors which it generally inspires. He said that
our fear of death arises from the fact that "the thought of it does
not enter familiarly enough into our education." It is always spoken
of as something strange, as a misfortune happened to some one else; we
are even surprised at it, so that there seems to be nothing natural in
an act which is being accomplished ceaselessly. Listen to the history
of a malady he adds: "I do not believe ever to have heard of one in
which death did not come from the fault of the sick person, or from the
doctor; never from the will of God."

His heart never failed him except in seeing his dear Désirée weep. "I
see her," he said, "incessantly occupied in holding back my soul which
is ready to escape." For the last time he had himself carried into his
garden. A Bengal rose-bush was still covered with flowers, but the
winter had turned its leaves yellow. "To-morrow," said the dying man
to his wife, "the yellow leaves will no longer be there." On the 21st
of January, 1814, the earth was white with snow, the air misty, and a
cold wind shook the bare trees. At mid-day the sun pierced through the
mist, and fell upon the face of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, who died
breathing the name of God. He was seventy-seven years old. His death
passed unobserved in the midst of the great events which were then
agitating France.

He had intrusted his reputation and his works to his wife; he could
not have left them in better hands. The charming Désirée has been
the faithful and tender guardian of his memory, a guardian sometimes
blind; but who would think of reproaching her with that? She married
again, later, an ardent admirer of her first husband, Aimé Martin,
the author of the great biography of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and
the indefatigable editor of his works. Together they raised an altar
to his memory. One is obliged to challenge Aimé Martin's romantic and
enthusiastic biography, but one could not read without being touched,
the pages in which the youthful love affairs of the hero are poetised
and magnified out of all proportion, for those details can only have
been supplied by his widow. Désirée idealised for posterity even his
most vulgar adventures.

The man was soon forgotten, and then was invented the legend of which
we have spoken at the beginning of this book. The public very much
dislikes to admit that there can be any disagreement between a writer
and his works. It made of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre a reflection of
his writings, a very gentle and universally benevolent man without any
fault except being too over-sensitive. The obstinate combatant of the
Academy became transformed in the imagination of the crowd into an
easy-going man, good-natured and tearful, until his outline was effaced
from men's memory. Nothing remains to-day but an undefined shadow,
a vague something, and this something still finds means to have an
insipid expression. It is a good thing to restore to the original his
angry brow and bitter expression.

An analogous disaster awaited almost all his works. Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre enjoyed the dangerous honour of having disciples much
greater than himself. His unobtrusive halo was lost sight of in the
glitter of Chateaubriand and the radiance of Lamartine. He assisted
at the literary triumphs of the first; but instead of rendering each
other mutual homage, master and disciple treated each other coldly.
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre could not without impatience allow "the
most covetous of honour among his heirs," according to the expression
of Sainte-Beuve, to throw him into the shade. Chateaubriand, at
first eulogistic, was not long before he became irritated at hearing
malevolent critics compare the elegant simplicity of his predecessor
to his own pomp of style. Towards the year 1810, some one having asked
Bernardin if he knew Chateaubriand, the old man replied, "No, I do
not know him; I have in my time read some extracts of the _Génie du
Christianisme_; his imagination is too strong." They certainly became
acquainted after the nomination of Chateaubriand to the Academy in
1811. We do not find that anything resulted from it, but the following
lines from the _Memoires d'outre Tombe_: "A man whose brush I have
admired and always shall admire, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, was wanting
in judgment, and unfortunately his character was on a level with his
judgment. How many pictures are spoilt in the _Études de la Nature_ by
the writer's limited intelligence and want of elevation of soul!"

Lamartine, on the contrary, was the most grateful of pupils, always
eager to acknowledge his master, and make the best of him. _Paul and
Virginia_ had been the favourite book of his childhood, and the poet
paid his debt royally to the favourite volume by giving it a place of
honour in two of his own works. Jocelyn read and re-read _Paul and
Virginia_. Graziella is lost from having heard it only once. Her soul,
until then dormant, revealed itself to her in the soul of Virginia.
Her beautiful impassive face becomes suddenly overspread with the
stormy tints and lines of passion. One hour has sufficed to transform
an innocent and joyous child into a palpitating woman, ripe for love
and its sufferings, and it is Bernardin de Saint-Pierre who has
accomplished this miracle.

It was all in vain; such glorious homage could not protect the bulk
of his work against an indifference which became ever more and more
profound. The reputation of the author of the _Études de la Nature_ has
dispersed in our day like smoke, so much so indeed that in establishing
the literary relation of Chateaubriand and Lamartine, their direct
precursor is usually suppressed; they jump over him to J. J. Rousseau.
Every one of us has forgotten what we owe to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.
Maurice de Guérin said in 1832, after having read the _Études de la
Nature_: "This book sets at liberty and illuminates a sense which we
all possess, but which is generally obscure and without activity; the
sense which gathers up for us physical beauties, and presents them to
the soul." It has not been given to many writers to awaken amongst
the masses a sleeping faculty, and the event should be of sufficient
importance for us not to lose the remembrance of it. But in our day
we are accustomed to observe this sense which "gathers up physical
beauties" active within us, and increasing without intermission the
treasure of our sensations of incomparable enjoyments. This all seems
so natural to us, that we have no more gratitude for him who "set at
liberty and illuminated" this precious faculty in the souls of our
grandfathers and grandmothers.

There is the same ingratitude amongst modern writers who do not seem
to have remembered what they owe to him. Not content with having
loved nature with a contagious tenderness, Bernardin has bequeathed
to his successors the first grand models of descriptive landscapes,
and restored to the French language a picturesque vocabulary of which
it had been deprived for two hundred years. These are two immense
services by which he has exercised a great influence on the literature
of the nineteenth century. Without the _Études de la Nature_ not
only _René_ and _Atala_, _Jocelyn_ and _Graziella_, but the _Génie
du Christianisme_ and the _Méditations_ would have been different
from what they are. Chateaubriand and Lamartine would have followed a
somewhat different bent, and the whole of the modern school would have
followed their lead. It is a very great honour to have given impulse to
the descriptive literature of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, if
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had not possessed another title to glory his
name would no longer be known except to literary men.

But he had another, over which a very faithful public has undertaken
to watch. The people, who never forget what has profoundly touched
them, have guarded the memory of _Paul and Virginia_. They love these
two children, so beautiful, so unhappy; and we still, find in the
homes of the peasants penny engravings of Épinde's picture in glaring
colours, in which are represented their games, their young love and
their tragical end. On a day of inspiration Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
conquered the glory, enviable above all others, and which is given
to few; he created imaginary but living characters, beings who never
existed, and who nevertheless remain more real and more alive than
thousands of creatures of flesh and blood; more alive, if I dare to say
so, than the heroes and heroines of his most illustrious disciples.
Jocelyn is already forgotten by the world, Atala is no more than an
empty shadow, but the popular imagination will for a long time yet keep
in mind the little Virginia sheltering her Paul under her petticoat,
and those two laughing heads flying together in the shower.


[24] The Biography, by Aimé Martin.

[25] That is to say to the class of French language and literature at
the Institute which the French Academy revived, except for the title,
at the time of the reorganisation of the Institute by Bonaparte.
(Decreed January 22, 1803.)

[26] We give the titles of them: _De la Nature de la morale_ (1798),
_Voyage en Silésie_ (1807), _La Mort de Socrate_, drama (1808),
_Empsael_ and _la Pierre d'Abraham_, philosophical novels in the form
of dialogues, _le Café de Surate_--fragments on Rousseau, some accounts
of travels, some pamphlets and fragments of the _Amazon_.

[27] See the fragments of the _Amazon_.


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