Letters of Frédéric Ozanam. Chapter 04

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Author: Frédéric Ozanam · Translator: Ainslie Coates. · Year of first publication: 1886.

English translation of Volume X of Frédéric Ozanam's Œuvres complètes, edited by Jean-Jacques Ampère (París 1862, 11 vol.)

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Cholera-social presentiments-varied occupa­tions and acquaintances.

Ii was in this year the cholera appeared in Paris. Frederic’s father sent to recall him, but he remonstrated, not wishing to interrupt his studies. He suffered nothing himself, and perhaps had no fear of the plague, which alone might serve to protect him from it. He stayed on, visiting even those who were ill, and writing to his anxious mother a letter on the subject, which she read to her friends with tears of tenderness, and in which he quoted the words of the Psalmist: ” A thou­sand shall fall at thy left, and ten thousand at thy right; but death shall not come near thee, because thou /last said, Lord, Thou art my hope, and thou hast chosen the Most High for thy refuge.”

One circumstance which he told her for her comfort was the singular one, that though the plague had entered with some violence the street which he inhabited, it had, nevertheless, left untouched the houses on that side on which M. Amp6re lived. Ozanam slept immediately above his host, and it is said the latter directed him each evening what to do in case the cholera seized him. “If the cholera seizes me this night, I will strike with my stick on the floor. Don’t come to my help, but go as quickly as possible to seek my confessor, the Abbe X–, rue de Sevres; then you may go after to call my physician.” How far this attention was to be recipro­cated is not said, but one can hardly fancy so kind a host would not be equally attentive to his guest. Among those who were ill was the Abbe Duchesne, the cure of Notre Dame des Champs, who recovered. Frederic Ozanam visited him more than once, and brought him several volumes to take up his thoughts. It was charac­teristic of Frederic’s diligent inquiry into all things, that some would have thought they were too suitable to the occasion. They were the history of “the three pests most spoken of in literature— Thucydides and the plague under Pericles; then that of Lucrece and that of Milan, in Les Fiances.” Besides the cholera there were political disturbances at Lyons, and Ozanam’s following letter savours of dark presentiments which, however, were not all fulfilled. Concerning the disturbances at Lyons in the year 1831, there is a pleasant story somewhere re­lating to the founder of the “beautiful factory of La Sauvagere in the vicinity of that city.” ” He had combined the friend with the master in the management of his establishment, and was quite astonished on going out of his house on the morning of the second day of the riots to find a man posted as sentinel at his gate, whom he recognised as a workman dismissed for im­proper conduct.” He inquired what he was doing. ” Keeping guard over you ” was the answer. All the workmen had entered into an association for his defence, and would relieve each other as guard, when guard was needed, till the disturbance was over. On the gentleman further observing that he was not one of his workmen, he had turned him off, the man replied, ” True, sir, but I deserved it. I was in the wrong.”


Paris, July 23rd, 1832. MY DEAR FRIEND,

How happy you are to rest yourself in the bosom of your excellent family, surrounded by relations who cherish you, and whose happiness you make! You hear no longer the rumbling of the political tempest. You are deaf to the confused clamours of these people without number who rise against each other; you see no longer the cholera gathering its great harvest, and the long files of hearses in the streets. The beautiful sky of Touraine, the fertile borders of the Loire, the gentle and peaceable populations—there is the coup d’wil which you enjoy. There you live in the country, and there all one’s ideas become more smiling, the mind more calm, the health more vigorous, knowledge less austere, religion even more amiable and more consoling. The abstruse compilations of the illustrious Tribonian are no more than a play when one reads them in the shadow of green trees, by the border of a brook, on the flowering grass. Poetic dreams come to mingle with your medita­tions, and often, perhaps, pretty verses, as those which you showed to me, are the fruit of them.

But if you taste this happiness, it is because you have made yourself worthy of it; it is because during your long sojourn in the capital you have never been shaken, and you have struggled against the fatigues of labour and the seductions of pleasure.

“Vivite felices quibus est fortuna peracta.”

‘For me, who am only putting my hand to the work, I shall yet have many difficulties to vanquish. I blush almost to confess to you my pusillanimity; but the examination of the first year, which I must soon under­go, is a phantom which frightens me. Little accustomed to the study of law, I have not known how to occupy myself with it as I ought during the course of the year; and at the moment when I have but just made out for myself a method, there is exacted from me the knowledge of the matters themselves. What shall I do? I cannot be irresolute, and I commit myself hardily to the keeping of God, with little confidence in myself. But when this critical moment shall have passed away, I too shall go to find again those who are dear to me. I shall see again my good town of Lyons. I shall make there, if I can, provision of health and of courage for the next year.

Of courage—certainly we need it for the epoch in which we live, and yet more for that in which we are going to live. All elevated minds say that we are arrived at a period of catastrophes and of universal commotions. Such is at least the opinion of MM. de Chateaubriand, de la Mennais, and de Lamartine. The Governments and the peoples are posing in mutual hostility. The protocol of the Germanic Diet, the Reform Bill, the Irish insurrection, the movements of Germany and Italy, the war even of the Grand Turk and of the Pasha of Egypt—all these are the pre­paratives of the great things which are going to happen; and this terrible drama opens by the tragedy of hostile brothers, by the desperate struggle between Don Miguel and Don Pedro. Here the Republican party has taken considerable strength from the kind of persecution to which it has been subjected; it no longer hides its designs, it speaks already of guillotine and of fusillades. On another side, the friends of order draw their ranks closer, very resolute to resist even to the end: there is the hatred of extermination between the parties. I believe, then, in a civil war imminent; and the entire of Europe, entwined in the threads of Freemasonry, will be the theatre of it. But this redoubtable crisis will pro­bably be decisive; and on the ruins of the old broken-up nations, a new Europe will arise. Then Catholicism will be understood; then it will be given to carry civilization into the old Orient. This will be a magni­ficent era; we shall not see it.

For the rest, M. de la Mennais seems tolerably content at Rome. The Pope has caused very obliging things to be said to him—L’Avenir even may appear again—but these gentlemen have preferred to wait the return of the illustrious pilgrim. He does not expect to return till the month of September. Before that, many things may have happened.

I hope that at the end of the vacation we shall all be re-united. You will find, I assure you, people who love you well, beginning with him who says that he is, and always will be, your friend.

By this time Frederic had made the acquaintance of several young men like-minded with himself, enthusiastic Christians, and likewise energetic Catholics. They attended the lectures of rationalistic professors, and the accounts of their skirmishes are detailed in Ozanam’s letters, some of which have been given. ” From this day,” says Ozanam’s brother, with perhaps a brother’s partiality, ” the professors of the Sorbonne became more measured in their language, and brought more impartiality into their judgments. Ozanam sent them back by the arms of that science of which they believed themselves alone to have the monopoly. It was thus that he taught them to know him who later was to sit among them and to be their colleague.”


Paris, January 5th, 1833


I write to thee Saturday evening. It is mid­night. Soon a new day, great and solemn, will begin—the anniversary of the first homage rendered by the Pagan world to the new-born Christianity. There is something marvellously beautiful in this legend of the three magi—representatives of three human races at the cradle of the Saviour. There is something venerable in this family feast which consecrates joy, which throws a cake by lot, and which creates in its bosom a domestic royalty of some hours, as if to imitate these Oriental royalties sent to the infant Christ. For the rest, what­ever may be the origin of this custom, whether it even comes from the kings of the banquet among the Greeks and Romans, it is always one good occasion the more to reunite relations and friends, to cause hearts to flow out. I should have loved this day to seat myself at a table with all those who are dear to me—with thee consequently, my good comrade; and laying aside my philo­sophic gravity, I would have cried out in all the sim­plicity of my soul and with all the strength of my lungs: “The king drinks! the king drinks!” For I am pleased with all which is old and popular, and I have a deep feeling of sympathy for this primitive freshness, for this good fellowship which is disappearing every day, in proportion as false politeness develops and grows.

And thou, my friend, hast thou taken thy part in these joyous feasts? Hast thou been open to gaiety and pleasure, or rather does melancholy weigh even as a load of iron upon thy soul? Thou hast made me enter into the secret of thy thoughts; thou hast told me thy in­equalities, thy enjoyments, thy sadnesses. Art thou always the same? Or, rather, art thou becoming a man, and preparing thyself to preserve this equality of soul which makes the happiness and the safety of life?

Oh, not yet!—I understand thee well—not yet the calm and the impassibility of ripe age; it is youth with its passion, with its tempests; it is the time of great joys and of great troubles; it is as the vessel which is launched for the first time into the sea, unaccustomed to the waves which toss it about—sometimes it sails rapidly and lightly on the top of the waves, sometimes it falls and disappears in the abysses, until a more experienced hand comes to hold its helm and to guide it to the port. That is how life is to us who are com­mencing. Are we, then, irrevocably condemned to these inquietudes which consume us, to these torments which besiege us; and is there no way of giving to our heart a little peace and consolation?

See, my good friend, we have need, all of us, of something which may possess and uplift us, which may dominate our thoughts and raise them; we have need of poetry in the midst of this prosaic and cold world, and at the same time of a philosophy which gives some reality to our ideal conceptions—of a union of doctrines which shall be the base and the rule of our studies and of our actions. This double benefit we find in Catholicism, with which we are connected for our happiness. There, then, is the point of departure of all the labours of our intelligence, of all the dreams of our imagination; it is the central point to which they must tend. Thus disappears this vague uncertainty which hurts us, and which leaves us abandoned to our own weakness. Now the feeling of our weakness being one of, the prin­cipal sources of melancholy, the presence of the Catholic thought in our souls is the first remedy to oppose to it.

Is that all? No, certainly, in my opinion; let us not leave our beliefs in a domain of speculation and theory, let us take them seriously, and let our lives be the con­tinual impression of them. Let us never be unoccupied; let us form, if it must be, castles in the air and gigantic enterprises; but let us not leave our spirit without pas­ture. Let us begin laborious studies, based on those subjects most suited to our inclinations; but let us not be too much drawn away to reverie and literature. These are excellent things; but they cease to have any value when there is not at the foundation of them precise ideas and facts.

There are plenty of reflections. Now, I am going to tell thee something of what passes around me, to make thee know a little of the world in which I live, and in which thou wilt have to live.

As lawyer, as man, I should have in the world three missions to fulfil; and I ought to be, to arrive at my end, jurisconsult, man of letters, man of society. Here, then, begins my apprenticeship; and jurisprudence, the moral sciences, and some knowledge of the world as seen under the Christian point of view, ought to be the object of our studies.

Several means are given us at this moment by Providence to try us in this triple career: these are the Conferences of Law, those of History, and the reunions at M. de Montalembert’s.

The Conferences of Law are held twice a week; they argue there controverted questions. There is in each affair two advocates, and a third who performs the func­tions of the public prosecutor. The others judge both the cause itself and the merit of the pleadings. It is not permitted to read, most frequently they improvise . . . I have already spoken twice . . . they only gave me an hour to prepare my business; however, they appeared fairly satisfied. For myself, I found myself feeble and hesi­tating, because I did not feel at all master of my subject.

But the Conference of History is altogether another thing. Composed of forty members, it assembles every Saturday. There all the subjects are free: history, philosophy, literature, all are admitted. All opinions find the doors open, and from that results a very strong emulation; for if one aims to do well, it is not in order to seek applause and praise, it is to give more solid sup­port to the cause which we have embraced. There every attempt, after it has been read, is submitted to a commis­sion, which criticizes it, discusses it, and names a reporter who is its organ before the conference. Nothing escapes the severity of this censure. . . . There is a proposition that corresponding members should be named in the provinces. If thou wilt be one, write to me. Thou wilt have nothing special to do; only, when it seems good to thee, thou wilt send some little work in thy fashion, which I will read in thy name to the conference.

So much for studies. There are, besides, every Sun­day, evenings for the young people at M. de Montalem­bert’s. They converse much and in a varied manner; they take punch and little cakes, and return joyously in bands of four or five. I expect to go from time to time. Last Sunday I saw there MM. de Coux, d’Ault-Dumes­nil, Mickiewicz, celebrated Lithuanian poet, Felix de Merode, whom the Belgian nation wished to give itself as king; Saint-Beuve was there also; Victor Hugo was to come. There breathes in these reunions a perfume of Catholicism and of paternity. M. de Montalembert has an angelic countenance and a very instructive con­versation.

The points of doctrine on which Rome has desired silence are not brought on to the carpet; the wisest dis­cretion reigns in this respect. But they converse about literature, about history, about the interests of the poor classes, about the progress of civilization; the heart is animated and warmed, and one carries away a sweet satisfaction, a pure pleasure, a soul mistress of itself, re­solutions and courage for the future.

The future is for us, young people that we are; let us reserve ourselves, then, and steady ourselves against enemies and molestations. Let us think that the con­dition of progress is suffering, and that friendship may soften the afflictions which we shall not be able to avoid.


Paris, March 19th, 1833.


Shall I tell thee that thy two letters have given me much pleasure? No; it would be an expression too feeble to express the sentiment which a man feels when his friend opens his heart and lets him read within. Our friendship has never been troubled. . . . I avow that I was wrong to think what I thought, and to write what I wrote; but listen, my friend: friendship is also a timid and jealous virgin—the least breath of coldness makes her tremble; and I, at a hundred leagues distance from my dear Ernest, while he is thrown into the whirlpool of fetes and pleasures, while the world charms so loudly at his ears, might I not fear that my memory might lose some place in his spirit, and that—too far off to make myself heard—my brotherly words might be lost on the road?

No; I have not accused thee. I understand in some sort the possibility of thy forgetfulness. I am thy rela­tion, thy friend; but beyond that, I am too little a thing to claim a privileged part in thy affections. The time

is no more when the Sunday found us sitting at the same hearth, dreaming the same dreams, desiring the same desires, the one completing the thought of the other, and both forming together one single intelligence of which thou wast thyself the cheerful, lively, buoyant part; I, the centre of gravity—solid but heavy. Thy ideas, capricious, but full of grace and delicacy; thy opinions, often bold, but always original and sometimes true, joined themselves marvellously to my reflections, more serious, more stiff, more borrowed. But in this division the better part fell not to my lot. Age, in con­densing, so to speak, the fluidity of thy spirit, would give to it, day by day, the equilibrium which it needed; and I, in tending towards the maturity of reason, I would acquire always more heaviness and keep always less mobility.

* * *

Since the year and a half that we have been separated, thou hast walked quickly in the way. Not alone hast thou reached me, but thou hast passed me in many ways; thou hast been much occupied with the great social problem of the amelioration of the working classes, of which I have hardly thought. Much better than I thou knowest the German literature and philosophy; thou hast acquired in the usage of good society a facility of speech from which I am very far; in a word, what is much more meritorious, thou hast carried into thy new studies of law a goodwill which will be recompensed later on. For me, on the contrary, except some knowledge of Orientalisms, some very vague ideas of law and of legis­lation, a certain number of new notions on the philosophy of history, some rapid glances at political economy, drawn above all from the discussions of the conference, these fourteen months passed in the capital have left me very little fruit. And I acknowledge that it is my fault, because I have allowed myself to succumb to a sort of indolence and cowardice almost insurmountable. Thus thou seest how little I can offer thee, and what a feeble contribution I am able to bring to that association of two souls for good which is called friendship. Do not represent to thyself that I say all this by jealousy; no, I speak to thee with open heart.

* * *

However, if I have nothing in myself to offer, I rejoice in thinking that a day is coming in which I shall not be useless to thee; and when thou shalt come to Paris I shall be able to introduce thee to a new sphere, where thou wilt not find, certainly, either brilliant fetes or joyous tumult, but where thou wilt meet, in exchange, joys purer and more fruitful.

Thou knowest what was, before my departure from Lyons, the object of all my desires. Thou knowest that I aspired to form a reunion of friends,working together at the edifice of science, under the standard of the Catholic idea. This thought remained for long barren; but a friend had opened to me the door of a literary reunion, not at all numerous—last remains of the old Soci Ile des bonnes Etudes—but whose customs, little scientific, left hardly any place for philosophy or serious investigations. Hardly fifteen members were faithful to this studious rendezvous; hardly dared they produce there the great questions of the future and of the past. To-day, thanks to the zeal of some of the old members, this society has grown in a marvellous manner. It reckons sixty persons, of whom several bear names not wanting in celebrity. Numerous auditors assist at the sittings.

The greater number give themselves up to the study of history, some to philosophy.

* * *

The tumultuous domain of politics is outside our excursions. But everywhere else there is full and entire liberty. Thus grave questions arise: young philosophers come to ask from Catholicism an account of her doctrines and of her works; and then, seizing the inspiration of the moment, one of us makes head against the attack, develops the Christian idea not well comprehended, unrolls history to show its glorious applications, and, finding sometimes a source of eloquence in the grandeur of the subject, establishes on solid bases the immortal union of true philosophy with faith. . . The lists are open; and all opinions, even Saint-Simonian, are ad­mitted to the tribune. Nevertheless, as the Catholics are equal in number to those who are not so, and as, furthermore, they bring more ardour, zeal and assiduity, it is always in their favour that intellectual victory decides: thus, between them, frank and intimate cordiality—a sort of fraternity altogether special; with the others, always benevolence and politeness.

* * *

Another source of life are the assemblies of the young and excellent Count de Montalembert. Then the most illustrious champions of the Catholic school open to us the treasures of their conversation; others come there who have defended with the sword and watered with their blood the domain of their convic­tions—young officers, Belgian or Polish, distinguished diplomatists; then men of another school, who come, as the pilgrims of another empire, to contemplate for some moments the spirit of union and of harmony which reigns among their adversaries. There come by turns MM. Ballanche and Saint-Beuve, Savigny junior and de Beauffort, Ampere fits and Alfred de Vigny, de Merode and d’Eckstein. Last Sunday Lherminier was there. I even spoke a little with him; then a very interesting conversation sprang up between him and M. de Montalembert. We remained till midnight to hear them. Victor Considerant was there also; they spoke much of the actual misery of the people, and drew from it dark presages as to the future. For the rest, they talk very little of politics and much of science. The young people are numerous. M. de Montalembert does the honours with a marvellous grace.

And now, my dear Ernest, let our hands clasp each other more firmly than ever. The future is before us, immense as the ocean. Hardy sailors, let us navigate in the same bark and row together; above us religion, a brilliant star which it is given us to follow; before us the glorious track of the great men of our country and of our doctrine; behind us our young brothers, our companions—more timid—who wait for an example.


Paris, June i9th, 1833.


I have promised you the recital of one of my days, and this promise is not the thing in the world the easiest to keep. For, first, as the Wise Man saith, “The just sinneth seven times a day;” and I, who am only half just, I must sin fourteen times at least. This, then, would be fourteen follies to narrate one after the other, from the idleness which keeps me in bed in the morning, to the carelessness which makes me lose much time in chatting with some one in the evening. Then, what sort of a day should I detail to you? Should it be some obscure day of the week—a working-day, a day of misery and of civil law proceedings? Or, rather, should it be some joyful Sunday with its pious offices and its tranquil pleasures; or, lastly, some one of those rare days of fetes and enjoyments, such as we spend only two or three times in the year, with pleasant companions, under a clear sky, in the midst of the smiling country?

If I told you that the day of the Fete Dieu, three hare-brained youths went out of Paris by the Champs Elysees, at eight o’clock in the morning, I should perhaps pique your curiosity. If I told you that at ten o’clock thirty students assisted at the Nanterre procession, I should edify your piety without doubt. If I added that at six in the evening twenty-two of the aforesaid individuals refreshed themselves around a table at St. Germain-en-Laye, I should puzzle you still more. Lastly, if I should reveal to you that at a quarter after midnight, or thereabouts, three youths knocked at the door, Rue des Gres, No. 7; that their spirits were good, their legs a little used up, and their shoes covered with dust, and that one amongst them, with chestnut hair, large nose and grey eyes, is very well known to you —what would you say, my good little mother? You would say, “Oh! oh! this seems to me like a silly adven­ture. This greatly resembles a giddy-goose freak. And were it not for the moral of the procession, I should perhaps make my Brands yeux blancs.” Well, then, I see that I have touched the chord, and that I have met amongst the two hundred and thirty days of my pilgrimage in the capital, precisely that which will awaken your interest.

You know that at Paris, as at Lyons—but for motives much more plausible—processions are forbidden; but because it pleases some disturbers to pen Catholicism up in its temples in the bosom of the great towns, this is not a reason for young Christians, to whom God has given souls with a little manliness, to deprive them­selves of the most touching ceremonies of their religion. So it happened that a few were found who had thought of taking part in the procession of Nanterre—Nanterre, a peaceful village, the country of the good Saint Genevieve.

The rendezvous was appointed a little late it is true, and only in a small circle of friends. The Sunday rose serene and without a cloud, as if the heaven desired to honour it by its splendour. I left early in the morn­ing with two friends; we stopped to breakfast at the Barrier de l’Etoile; we arrived the first at our humble rendezvous. Little by little the small troop increased, and soon we found ourselves thirty. First, all the intellectual aristocracy of the conference: Lallier; Lamache, of whom I will show you excellent historic labours; Cherruel, a converted Saint-Simonian; De la Noue, son of the former President of the Court Royal of Tours, and who makes such beautiful verses; then M. le Jouteux, Languedocians, Franche-Comteans, Nor­mans and Lyonnese above all—and your very humble servant; the greater part carrying moustaches, five or six reckoning five feet eight inches. We mingled among the countrymen who followed the dais: it was a pleasure to us to elbow these honest people—to chant with them.

* * *

One of us — Henri, I believe—proposed to go and dine at St. Germain-en-Laye. Six or eight poltroons objected to the distance; we let them object, and retrace their steps, and there we were—twenty-two of us, by groups of three or four only, not to make trouble—our soles beating the road to St. Germain. The pleasure doubled the quickness of our limbs; and, gathering as we went the strawberries in the woods, we arrived at the end of our expedition. We went for a quarter of an hour into the church where they were chanting vespers. Afterwards we visited the magnificent château, so rich in souvenirs, so proud of its antiquity.

* * *

The night drew on; we lost each other from sight. Some of us mounted into a carriage at Neuilly; and for me, I arrived with two others at my domicile. Monday had just begun.

My heart knows how many times I thought of you all during this day—one of the most charming of my life!


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