Early residence in Paris — MM. Ampère and Chateaubriand — Letters.
Frederic was eighteen on April 23rd, 1831. Late in October, or early in November of the same year, he left his home to study law in Paris. His parents carefully provided, as they thought, for his comfort and well-being in the capital; but his first letter shows that in some way they had made a great mistake.
FREDERIC OZANAM TO HIS MOTHER.
Paris, November 7th, 1831.
You will willingly permit me, my good mother, to make you pay a sum of fourteen sous in order to make you acquainted with news of this poor Frederic that you and I know so well, and who believes himself not forgotten at Lyons, although a distance of a hundred leagues separates him from it.
My passing gaiety has totally made shipwreck. Now that I am alone, without distraction, without outward consolation, I begin to feel all the sadness, all the emptiness of my position. I, so accustomed to the familiar talks, who found so much pleasure and sweetness in seeing again each day gathered around me all those who are dear to me, who had so much need of counsels and encouragements—here am I, thrown without support, without rallying-point, in this capital of egotism, in this whirlwind of passions and of human errors. Who trouble themselves about me? The young people of my acquaintance are too far from my domicile for me to see them often. I have to open my heart to, only you, my mother, you and the good God. But these two are worth many others!
I have a thousand things to say to you; but where shall I begin? Shall I tell you what I have seen? No; you desire to know, in the very first place, where and how I find myself. Here it is: I have been established since Saturday evening in my boarding-house, in a little room to the south, over the gardens very near to the Jardin des Plantes. ” Thou findest thyself comfortable, then?” you say. Not at all; I am very uneasy, and my griefs are numerous. I am distant from the school of law, from the lecture-rooms, from the centre of studies, and from my Lyons comrades. Then my hostess has the air of a crafty gossip; her words and her manners have made me presume that she has a strong affection for the purse of the young people. Lastly, and this is my great reason, the company here is not good. There are ladies and young ladies, boarders as well, who eat at table with us, who take the lead in the conversation, and whose discourse and appearance are extremely common. From my room I hear them putting forth great bursts of laughter; for you must know that it is the custom here to join every evening, to play at cards, and they press me to take part in these games. You may easily think that I refused. These people are neither Christians nor Turks. I am the only one who practises abstinence, and by that alone am exposed to a thousand quo libels. It is very disagreeable to find one’s self in such society. You will tell me what you think of it and what my father thinks, and you will judge if I should make other arrangements.
I begin to know Paris a little, notwithstanding the rain, which is continual. I have seen the Pantheon, singular monument—a pagan temple in the midst of a town whose inhabitants are Christians or Atheists—a magnificent cupola, lacking the cross which crowned it so well—a superb façade whose sombre colour indicates an origin greatly anterior to its extravagant destination. What signifies, in effect, a tomb without a cross, a place of sepulchre without the religious thought which presides there? If death is only a material phenomenon which leaves no hope after it, what mean these honours rendered to dry bones and to a flesh which falls into rottenness? The worship of the Pantheon is a veritable comedy, like that of Reason and of Liberty. But the people have need of a religion, and when they have taken from them that of the Gospel, necessity is great to fabricate for them another, were it at the price of folly and stupidity.
I have been amply made up to for these sad reflections by the beauty of the church St. Etienne du Mont—my parish—the pomp of the ceremonies, and the magnificence of the singing and the organ. A general vibration agitated all my nerves in hearing this instrument of a thousand voices resounding under the Gothic vault, all uniting to glorify the Lord and to chant His praises, as David said, on the harp and the tither, on the flute and trumpets!
Fortunately Ozanam had a visit of civility to pay, which introduced him both to better and pleasanter company. It was to M. Ampere the elder, and the following letter to his father gives the account and the results of it:
To HIS FATHER.
Paris, November 12th, 1831.
Do not disturb yourself, I beg you, my good father, if I so often take the liberty of writing to you; but it must needs be that I keep you well informed respecting my affairs, and I have something very important to communicate to you.
On Thursday I went to pay a visit of civility to M. Ampere, Member of the Institute, whom I had seen at Lyons with M. Perisse. After having given me a very cordial welcome, he addressed to me some questions about my situation at Faris, on the charge at my boarding-house; then, rising all at once, he led me into a very agreeable apartment, occupied till the present time by his son, and then—” I offer you,” he said to me, ” table and lodging with me at the same charge as in your boarding-house. Your tastes and your sentiments are similar to mine; I shall be very glad to have the opportunity of talking with you. You shall make the acquaintance of my son, who occupies himself greatly with German literature; his library shall be at your disposal. You practise abstinence, so do we. My sister, my daughter, and my son dine with me. This will be agreeable society for you; what think you of it?” I have replied that such an arrangement would please me much, and that I should write for your opinion.
Paris, 7th December, 1831.
To-day I am much better, since I have been settled for two days at M. Ampere’s. I am installed in a beautiful and pleasant room, planked and wainscoted, having two doors upon the garden, a library full of German, Italian, indeed even Swedish and Spanish books, which I use but little, and some good works of French literature in small numbers. It is the library of M. Ampere fits. I have a good stove of Dutch tiles, where I only make a little fire for economy’s sake; a marble chimney-piece, ornamented with an antique amphora, but empty for many ages of this good foamy Falerna of which my friend Horace speaks. I send you the geometrical plan of my room. It is warm, light, and lively.
You may, perhaps, laugh at me. However, I wager that this scrawl will amuse mamma. She will imagine she sees me sitting before my table, lying down in my bed, going from my table to my woodpile, and from the woodpile to the stove.
We breakfast at ten o’clock, we dine at half-past five altogether—M. Ampere, his daughter, and his sister. M. Ampere is talker; his conversation is amusing and very instructive; I have already learned many things since I have been with him. His daughter talks very well, and takes part in what is said. M. Ampere has appeared to me very caressing for her, but he converses with her continually of science. Endowed with a prodigious memory for all which is scientific, in whatever order of knowledge it may be, he is forgetful of all household affairs. He has learned Latin by himself; he has only made Latin verses for two years, and he makes them well; he has a wonderful knowledge of history, and reads with as much pleasure a dissertation on the hieroglyphics as a collection of experiences on physics and natural history. All this with him is instructive. The discoveries which have carried him to the position which he occupies to-day, have come to him, he says, all at once, without knowing why. He is finishing at this time a great encyclopedic project.
Well, this is the excellent man with whom I find myself installed. Are you not very glad of it, my good father? I forgot to tell you that a tone of perfect politeness prevails in the house. I forgot, also, to give you my address—” Rue des Fosses St. Victor, No. 19.”
I have not yet called again on M. de Chateaubriand. I am waiting for M. de Bonnevie’s1 letter, which will furnish me with a new reason for presenting myself there. I saw M. de la Mennais the eve of his departure for Rome. I conversed some time with him. All these learned men of Paris are full of affability. I have heard the course of M. Lherminier, one of the most celebrated Professors of the College de France, a learned man and very eloquent, but very unfortunate in gesture and elocution. He teaches a course of comparative law.
I saw yesterday M. Serullas. He is an excellent man, but gifted in the highest degree with scientific distraction. I found him occupied with chemical manipulations, which he took good care not to interrupt; while at the same time receiving me very well, and regaling me from time to time, as he said himself, with the inflammation of some fragments of potassium. But he was not in the vein, and his experiment did not succeed. He carried me into his cabinet, talked to me much about you, my father, to whom he seemed much attached, and he has offered me his services. This man is very lively. He resembles you in this point; but he is altogether employed in his business, and only knows his chemistry.
* * *
You see that to-day I am optimist; in my last letter, care had rendered me pessimist, and all appeared evil to me. Now that the affairs of Lyons are calm, that I have society and a room to my fancy, and before me the hope of having books, fire, and money, what is wanting to me? You, my good father—you and all my family. Oh! that is what I want, and what I am longing to see again. How good it will be to embrace each other eight months hence! While I write, midnight approaches; soon I shall no longer know whether it is good-morning or good-evening that I should say to you. What would you! when the heart and the hand are in spirits together, how can we stop them?
Adieu, my father.
Frederic had become now the inmate of a happy, apparently well-regulated family. Here he remained for two years; and it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, not only with the father, who died in a few years, but with the son, M. Amperefi/s. M. Ampere the elder was an earnest and good Christian. He would converse with his young guest of the marvels of nature, and ” passing from Nature up to Nature’s God,” he would exclaim, almost as in a transport, “How great God is, Ozanam! How great God is!”
One day, in one of his frequent downhearted moods, the young man wandered into one of the churches—St. Etienne du Mont—to pray, as is the habit of his co-religionists. One cannot help wishing that this custom obtained a little more amongst us. Our churches, and chapels too, might, as it seems, be put to very great service in this way. Without saying anything of those who have places of retirement in their own homes, among whom there may yet be some who, in the bustle of everyday labour, would be glad for a few moments to turn into a quiet building, there arc multitudes among the poor who have no such quiet places, and to whom five minutes or half an hour in a quiet church or chapel would be an immense boon. Meanwhile, the churches and chapels for the most part “stand here all the day idle,” their pleasant space, their quiet solitude, of no use to anyone in this crowded world—like capital lying unused. Possibly young Ozanam, trained in the observance of a different faith, had his ideas intermixed with many that neither do nor need to occur to us; nevertheless, we cannot doubt that he really sought help of God, and found it too. ” He came,” says his brother, “to draw at the feet of the holy altars the courage which failed him, and which He never refuses, Who has said, ‘ Come unto Me, all you who labour and who bend under the burden of life, and I will comfort you.” But as Frederic was about to bow his knees, he perceived in a retired corner, among some women, a kneeling man praying in profound abstraction. He soon saw that it was his own host. He began to blush for his weakness, and the faith before which the lofty genius of his friend bowed down, came “like oil poured from vessel to vessel,” to strengthen his own courage and to comfort his sadness. He went out like a new man.
To M. ERNEST FALCONNET.
Paris, November zoth, 1831.
MY DEAR FALCONNET,[…] Do not say, then, that I forget thee. I, that I should forget this good Ernest, this cousin, this friend of my heart, with whom I have passed hours so sweet, days so full! Oh! believe it not. Very often thou art present to my spirit; very often, in talking with Henri Pessonneaux, with our Lyonnese friends, thy name mingles in our discourses, and we call thee to memory.
Since thou askest me my advice on thy ideas, I avow that I believe that there is confusion on thy part on one point. I see a great difference between the patriarchal school and the theosophic epoch. With the patriarch there is faith: inheritor of belief, pure and without mixture, he adores the God-spirit; he is monotheist: his worship is as little complicated as his religion. Human sacrifices are unknown to him. The patriarch represents the society all entire over which he presides. But there comes an age when men more numerous have also more wants, when peoples form themselves, when conditions are sketched out, limited, when each takes a condition. Then, preoccupied by the exercise of their special functions, shut up within the limits of their labours, men leave the care of praying and teaching to those whom their genius calls more specially to this function. The priesthood arises. From domestic it becomes public—it becomes in its turn a condition, a profession, sometimes a caste.
At this time, religion ceases to penetrate into the families and to be seated at the fireside. It shuts itself up in the temples; it explains itself no longer as a familiar instruction by the mouth of the father—it is taught by initiation, it speaks by the mouth of the pontiffs. The patriarch, occupied with the care of his house, and the nourishment of his children, prayed in the simplicity of the heart, without having leisure to meditate doctrine. But the priest, alone with his thoughts, attached by duty to theological teaching, without other care, without other uneasiness, will he be able to abstain from meditating, from contemplating that which is become the object of his entire life? Then, imagination and reason carrying away by turns the dogmas to comment on and to embellish, to deepen, or even to disguise from vulgar eyes, will they not finish by raising at the common charge the immense edifice of mythology? This applies to all the castes, to all the colleges of priests: Druids, Shamaneans, Brahmins, Scalds, initiators of all the countries, of Samothracia, of Egypt, and of Greece. In Israel, it is the tribe of Levi, depositary of the traditions after Moses. Moses and Aaron, priests and legislators, succeed to the patriarchal epoch of Abraham and of Jacob, at the time when the Hebrews became a people.
Thus the patriarch is the primitive man—is the man who believes. There is synthesis in his thought. The theosoph, wisdom, knowledge, is the man of the second epoch—he who reflects. It is the man of analysis who isolates the different aspects of the reality, assimilates them to his imagination, oftenest wrongly, sometimes with reason.
There is a dissertation sufficiently long. Thou canst make of it what thou pleasest, and thou canst tell me what thou thinkest of it. I wait impatiently for the manuscript, and I will criticize it with severity. MM. de Chateaubriand and Ballanche have received me well. M. Ballanche said to me in conversation: ” All religion necessarily includes a theology, a psychology, and a cosmology.” Is not this that which we one day said to each other? Is not this that mysterious triad into which all science resolves itself? Is not this the transcendental metaphysic in which all human knowledge is gathered up? And is not this one manner of understanding the Apostle St. Paul, when he declares that all knowledge is included in the knowledge of Christ crucified?
I engage thee to submit all these ideas pell-mell with thine to M. Noirot, and to tell me what he thinks. See him often; offer him my respects, and assure him that I shall soon come to plague him with my letters.
I shall see M. de Montalembert, and perhaps M. de la Mennais, to-morrow or the day after, before their departure for Rome.
Until now, Paris has not enchanted me. I have, however, seen a great deal. I have not great facilities for working, considering my inexperience, my ignorance of resources and the provisional condition in which I find myself. I hope to succeed in founding the reunion of which I have spoken to thee. I have already foundations for that. Pessonneaux shares our projects, and willingly keeps me company. Adieu, my good friend. May God bless our efforts!
F. OZANAM TO M. ERNEST FALCONNET.
Paris, December 18th, 1831.
The pleasure which thou findest in writing to me, in telling me thy feelings, thy thoughts, thy dreams, thou mayest well think that I share; and thou wouldest often be assailed with my letters, if so many occupations did not come to tie my hands. To-day that I have a little leisure, I am going to converse long with thee, and to reply to thee.
But where shall I begin? I will first reply to thy questions, then I will talk in my turn. Thy two letters —the last especially—have caused me a real pleasure. Wouldst thou really believe that at the reading of this one tears of tenderness moistened my eyes? For I was full of a sweet joy at the sight of thy catholic nerve, and thy young indignation. Courage! thou art now in the way of good… Guard thyself, above all, against discouragement: it is the death of the soul. Thus acquire the habit of seeing the evil around thee without being shaken by it. In the days of our childhood—in those days which passed peacefully in the midst of virtuous relations and well-beloved friends—we believed, simple as we were, that our family was the universe, and that all the world must practise what we were taught. Thus the moment is very painful when our eyes are opened, when the world appears under its true colours, with the ugliness of its vices, the noise of its passions, the blasphemies of its impiety. We were full of confidence and of candour; our soul was open to every word of man, and every discourse seemed to us to bear the imprint of truth. And behold to-day we must learn the painful art of mistrust and suspicion.
December 29th, 1831.
Fifteen days have passed! My numerous occupations have hindered me from writing to thee, but not from thinking of thee. Now that I have a little leisure, let us take up our chit-chat, and renew our conversation. Thou hast asked me for news, for numerous news about myself, about science, about politics, about religion.
I! Could I be better? A pretty room, a good table, an agreeable society; conversations almost always instructive, often amusing, with my estimable host; a lesson in law and one or two courses in literature daily; lastly, the almost constant company of Henri—surely there is more than needs to make a student’s life sufficiently pleasant, sufficiently happy. Well, dost thou think me happy? Oh no, I am not so! For there is with me an immense solitude, a great dissatisfaction. Separated from those whom I love, I feel within me—I know not what of childish which needs to live beside the domestic hearth, under the shadow of the father and the mother—something of an unexplainable tenderness which dries up in the air of the capital. And Paris displeases me, because there is no life, no faith, no love; it is like a vast corpse, to which I am tied—all young and living–of which the coldness freezes me, and of which the corruption kills me. It is truly in the midst of this moral desert that we well understand, and that we repeat with love these cries of the Prophet:
“Habitavi cum habitantibus Cedar, multum incola fuit anima mea!
Si oblitus fuero tui, Jerusalem, adhxreat lingua mea faucibus meis!”
These accents of eternal poetry often sound in my soul, and for me this city without bounds, where I find myself lost, is Cedar—is Babylon—is the place of exile and of pilgrimage; and Sion is my native city, with those whom I have left, with its provincial kindliness, with the charity of its inhabitants, with its altars standing, and its belief respected.
Knowledge and Catholicism—these are my only consolation, and certainly this side is beautiful; but there also are hopes deceived, obstacles to surmount, difficulties to vanquish. Thou art not ignorant of how much I have desired to surround myself with young men feeling, thinking as myself; now 1 know that there are such—that there are many such—but they are scattered abroad as the gold on the dunghill, and difficult is the task of him who would •unite the defenders around one flag-. However, I hope in my next letter to give thee more positive hopes.
What seems to be to-day the situation of the scientific ideas; what are the schools, the belligerent powers in the field of philosophy?
We must first consider that after all the discussions and all the struggles, after all the one-sided problems, a moment must come when reason will resume all her doubts in one alone, and will put forth the general problem. To-day this problem is conceived in these terms: For what is man made? What is the end, the law of humanity? Relatively to the past age, there is progress, since the terms even of the problem suppose a providence, an end, a creative, preserving thought. Now the question in this condition rises from the philosophy of history; to the philosophy of history it belongs to resolve it. Thou understandest, consequently, the importance given in our days to historical studies. So far everyone is agreed. But the scission begins at the very starting-point; it has for object the very elements of the question. The one side take psychology as the foundation of their researches; they make a sort of abstract man after the manner of the statue of Condillac: in this man they see all that they wish to see, and they deduct thence a philosophic formula upon which they sketch history as upon the bed of Procrustes, cutting and slaying all which cannot well come into their inflexible framework. These people, who only revive again Rousseau, Dupuis, and Volney—these people, I say, have made this admirable discovery, that the religions have begun by Fetichism; and they go on repeating it to whoever is willing to hear, discoursing on the law of progress, on the extinction of Christianity, and on the near approach of a new religion. There is what has been lately preached to us by M. Jouftroy, Professor of Philosophy at the Sorbonne, that ancient Sorbonne which Christianity has founded, and whose dome is still crowned with the sign of the cross.
But in face of this school, which confers upon itself the name of rationalist, another rises up which takes the name of traditional; not that it has broken with reason, but because history is the base, and tradition the point of departure of its system. In its ranks appear MM. de Chateaubriand, de la Mennais, d’Ekstein, Ballanche, de Bonald; and for Germany, Schlegel, Baader, Stolberg, Gcerres. They distinguish two objects of human knowledge: the finite and the infinite, philosophic truth and religious truth; two ways of knowing: reason and belief, analysis and synthesis, or perhaps, as speaks the Church, the order of nature and the order of grace. Now, the finite is pressed upon by the infinite at all parts. The infinite is God, it is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Whence it follows that synthesis is at the same time the base and the crown of humanity, and that religious truth is the source and the end of philosophic truth. On these foundations rise a vast theory of the relations of science and of faith, a large explication of history. And as synthesis is the primitive fact which precedes all knowledge, as its time is the time of childhood, when reason sleeps, it follows from thence that psychology is incapable of examining deeply the nature of it, of seizing the extent of it. Then it is in history that one must search out, must study it; it is for history to tell us again the history of the human kind. They declare further, that Fetichism, far from being the first step of humanity, is the lowest degree of corruption; that the memories of the golden age, and of the primitive fault, and of the expiation by blood are sown among the people. That is what they say, and meanwhile our work ripens with us in our young thoughts, it will come in its time. Never was a history of religions more called for by social wants.—Tempus erit.
I have finished translating from Mona that which concerns the mythology of the Lapps; nothing better confirms our ideas. It is a pleasure to see the good German twist himself about to explain philosophically the most moral myths, and searching the worship of the stars in the adoration of God in three persons.
To HIS MOTHER.
Paris, December 23rd, 1831.
MY GOOD MOTHER,
I must first thank you for the good counsels of all kinds that you have been anxious to give me. But, unfortunately, all your advice on politeness is paralyzed by this good M. Ampere, who will always be served the last, and who is vexed when one attempts to show him some civility. It is of little use for me to debate. I must absolutely be served the first, or he is annoyed. They have for me all sorts of kindnesses. The other day M. Ampere took me to the Institute, and recommended the doorkeeper to let me enter as often as I pleased. Monday next he is to take me there again, to obtain for me the permission to come to the library of the Institute, which is very rich, and which is less distant than that of the King.
You are very good to concern yourself about my Sunday evenings. Habitually the papa Ampere, as you say, works much and plays little; and as it is he who is the life and soul of the house, it results from this that diversion is rare in it. The Sunday evening passes often as other days; that is to say, that after having chatted an hour or two, I go to shut myself up in my room, and pass my time as I can. Oh! I assure you that I want you much, above all in these moments; the leagues which are between you and me seem very long to me. I think of my good town of Lyons, of those I have left there, and that I love so much. I think of these Sunday evenings of winter which I passed in the midst of you, under the wing of the family, devising a thousand things with my dear Falconnet, or playing with him the fine game of piquet, which was sometimes agreeably interrupted by white wine and chestnuts. To-day, no more of all that. Certainly the family among whom I am loads me with attentions, but I am a stranger to its joys and its griefs. I am there in a sphere which is not mine; no more chit-chats or openings of the heart—no more fetes. I have allowed to pass unnoticed the pleasant solemnity of childhood, this 6th of December, the day of good St. Nicholas, which we lately kept with such glad hearts. I only remembered it the next day; and I remembered also that there was a term to all these childish joys, and that these artless domestic pleasures are no longer for him who lives in the isolation of the capital.
Thus I shall see New Year’s Day pass—this day so much loved. I shall see it celebrated around me by a happy family; a good father loaded with caresses, beside a hearth where I only sit by a title of hospitality. I shall see all this; and I shall think that I—I also—have an excellent father, that I have a cherished mother and well-beloved brothers, and that I shall not embrace them. Oh! if you knew all that these reflections have of bitterness for my soul 1 God is generous, without doubt, to have softened my exile by the society in which I find myself placed; but God does everything well. He has seen, indeed, that home-sickness would make me suffer—greatly suffer; and that, weak as I am, I should want many consolations to keep me up to the end.
Now, Christmas is coming. I will pray for you; you will pray for me, my good mother. God will hear us both; He will give us strength and courage; His kingdom will come to us, and whatever may be the future, we will walk with a firm step towards the destinies which wait for us.
Frederic had a very great desire to obtain an audience of M. de Chateaubriand, then in his old age, whose works had greatly excited his admiration; his natural timidity held him back, but at last he succeeded in obtaining an interview. This interview, however, was accompanied by an unexpected test, which, at the same time, only timidity and a feeling of awe in the presence of one upon whom he looked with so much reverence, need have occasioned. M. de Chateaubriand received him very kindly, but after having asked him about his various occupations, he inquired if he intended to go to the theatre. Frederic was brought to a stand by this simple question. His mother had earnestly desired him never to do so; but he was terribly afraid of appearing ‘ childish ‘ in so august a presence, and he hesitated to say so. His host continued to look calmly at him as if awaiting his reply, and he was compelled to answer. He told the simple truth, and must have been greatly relieved when the venerable old man, whose writings had so attracted his youthful ardour, leaned towards him and affectionately said, ‘ I conjure you to follow your mother’s counsel: you will gain nothing at the theatre, and may lose a great deal.’ We will finish this chapter by two letters, or parts of letters, to his cousin, M. Ernest Falconnet, in which M. de Chateaubriand’s timid visitor returns to his own self once more, and, one would imagine, in the eagerness of his Catholicity would be afraid of no one. It must be remembered that, although not always—yet often when Ozanam uses the word Catholicism we may translate it by Christianity. It is true that the reverse is sometimes the case; and that when he speaks of Christianity, we are compelled to make a reserve in our own minds.
To M. ERNEST FALCONNET.
Paris, February loth, 1832.
MY GOOD FRIEND,[…] But that which is the pleasantest and the most consoling for the Christian youth, are the conferences established at our demand by M. l’Abbe Gerbet. It is now that one is able to say that the light shineth in darkness: Lux in tenebri s lucet. Every fortnight he gives a lesson on the philosophy of history: there never sounded in our ears a word more penetrating, a doctrine more profound.
He has yet given only three sittings, and the hall is full, full of celebrated men and of eager young people, I have seen there MM. de Potter, de Saint-Beuve• Ampere fils, receiving with delight the teachings of the young priest.
The system of La Mennais laid open by him is no longer that of his provincial partisans; it is the immortal alliance of faith and of knowledge, of charity and of industry, of power and of liberty. Applied to history, it places it in the light; it discovers there the destinies of the future. For the rest, no charlatanism; a feeble voice, an embarrassed gesture, a gentle and peaceful improvisation; but at the end of his discourses his heart warms up, his countenance lightens, a ray illumines his forehead, prophecy is on his lips.
It is time that I gave thee some details on the German books of which thou hast spoken to me. Novalis is in translation; it is our friend M— who occupies himself with it. They have recommended to me two works of Mossuer, a ” Life of Gregory VII.” and a “Life of St. Athanasius,” both full of curious details, both written in a Catholic spirit by a Protestant author. I have, then, asked for the first for myself; the second for thee. I know that thou workest much in German. As for me, I translate, whilst waiting, a little work of Benjamin Bergmann. Thou seest that everything is in the plan of our common labours.
To M. ERNEST FALCONNET.
Paris, March 25th, 1832.
MY DEAR FALCONNET,
I have seen with pleasure, I will say almost with gratitude, the interest which thou takest in my efforts to keep up the cause of the Gospel. I will continue to converse with thee on the subject, and I will let thee know all which is accomplished round about us for the triumph of this divine cause. I have related to thee our first skirmishes; I rejoice to tell thee that we have engaged some weeks ago in a more serious combat. It is the chair of philosophy, it is the course of Jouffroy, that has been our field of battle. Jouffroy, one of the greatest rationalists of our days, allowed himself to attack revelation, the possibility of revelation even; a Catholic, a young man, addressed to him some observations by writing. The philosopher promised to reply to them; he waited a fortnight, to prepare his arms without doubt, and at the end of this time, without reading the letter, he analysed it in his manner, and endeavoured to refute it. The Catholic, seeing that he was not well understood, presented a second letter to the professor; he took no account of it, did not mention it, and continued his attacks, declaring that Catholicism repudiated science and liberty. Then we united, we drew up a protestation, in which were declared our true sentiments; it was hastily followed by fifteen signatures, and addressed to M. Jouffroy. This time he could not avoid reading it. The numerous auditory, composed of more than two hundred persons, heard with respect our profession of faith. The philosopher endeavoured in vain to reply; he excused himself confusedly, assuring us that he had not intended to attack Christianity in particular, that he had for it a high veneration, that he would endeavour in the future to wound the beliefs no more. But above all he has established a fact very remarkable, very encouraging for the present time. ” Gentlemen,” he said to us, ” for five years I have only received objections dictated by materialism; the spiritualist doctrines experienced the liveliest resistance. To-day minds have greatly changed; the opposition is all Catholic.”
It was sad to see him endeavouring to resolve, by the forces alone of reason, the problem of human destinies; each day contradictions, absurdities, involuntary avowals, escaped him. Lastly, he ventured to sustain that it was false that there were righteous people unhappy, and wicked people prosperous in this world. Yesterday, he confessed that the intellectual wants were immense; that science, far from supplying them, only served to show all their extent, and conducted man to despair in showing him the impossibility of arriving at perfection. He confessed that material knowledge was not sufficient for our spirit, and that after having exhausted it, we experienced a great void, and found ourselves invincibly pushed to seek supernatural lights. He acknowledged, at length, that there must need for reason a high degree of development in order that she might become the foundation of our moral conduct. Thou seest that from these three facts results evidently the necessity of a revelation.
* * *
For thyself, prepare thyself for the struggle by the practice of that Gospel which thou art called on to defend. Pray, pray for us, who begin to take our course, and who stretch the hand to thee with a great and brotherly friendship. Yes, thou hast already here friends who know thee not, who wait for thee, and who will open their arms to thee when thou comest to mingle among them.
Sometimes visit M. Noirot, use his counsels, abuse his patience. I have received from him an excellent letter.
I have finished translating from the German a curious little work of Bergmann on the religion of Thibet. I have begun the version of a Thibetian book, which he has translated into German. It is a genesis, a cosmogonic system in which are strongly imprinted the traces of revelation.
M. de Coux has begun his course of political economy, full of depth and interest. I engage thee to subscribe. There are a crowd at his lessons, because in his lessons there is truth and life—a great knowledge of the wound which festers in society, and a remedy which alone can heal it.
I read the works of M. Ballanche with pleasure, and, I hope, with fruit. They include great ideas mingled with a certain number of errors on the philosophy of history. I read also the celebrated Vico. Lastly, I pursue the study of Hebrew. I beg of thee, occupy thyself seriously with historical and traditional researches, for all is there.
Remember thy friend always.
- M. l’Abbe de Bonnevie was a Canon of Lyons, well acquainted with Chateaubriand. He was a fine benevolent man with a priestly air, whose manner showed “the distinctions of nature and the elevation of grace.” ” He loved young people, and received them well.” The memory of his eccentric taste for long phrases survived him; and a story is told that one day a dog having entered the cathedral where he was preaching, he requested the Swiss attendant to remove him in these terms: ” Son of Helvetia, drive out of the temple this importunate symbol of fidelity.”