Vacations — Lamartine — Self-disgust — Anxiety about his mother — The Grande Chartreuse — Association of Christian artists.
THEN came some quieter holidays — holidays which nevertheless left a delightful impression on his memory:
To M. LALLIER.
Lyons, October 15th, 1834.
A month and a half has passed away since you conducted me in friendly fashion to the carriage which brought me joyous to Lyons. A month and a half has passed away since my father, come before me, clasped me in his arms; and it seems to me that I have just arrived. I have not yet had the time to take up again my old domestic habits; hardly have I had time to know myself again. Having passed my last vacation in Italy, I am here, after two years absence, almost a stranger. There are old acquaintances wanting; there are little cousins come into the world during my exile, and of whose existence I was ignorant; others, whom I left almost children, have learned their philosophy and are preparing to leave for Paris; these are married, those have lost their wife. My old confessor is dead; they have renewed almost all the priests in the parish. The material even of the town has changed. The cannon of the days of April have overturned houses, but in revenge our hills are crowned with new forts. . . . Commerce does little, and the workmen emigrate for Switzerland; but we have a superb garrison, reviews . . . the uniform carpets the quays, the great sabres trail agreeably on the pavements of the public places; if some manufactures are deserted, the houses of debauch and the prisons are filled. . . . Numbers of people have broken up their houses, and nothing vexes me more than not to find in their places the tradespeople whom I was accustomed to use, or the friends on whom I called in passing. So that, in this poor Lyons, I know no longer whereabouts I am. Yet I have found new enjoyments there; our family of Florence has come to fix itself amongst us; my uncle, my aunt, and my cousins show me the kindest affection. With this, the tenderness of my father, my mother, and my two brothers, is there not sufficient to render me happy?
Well, my dear friend, I believe I may say it without offending Providence, no, it is nct sufficient. God has put into our soul two wants which resemble each other, but which must not be confounded. We need relations who cherish us, but we need also friends who are attached to us. The tenderness which comes from blood, and the affection which proceeds from sympathy. are two enjoyments which we know not how to do without, and of which the one cannot replace the other. The tenderness of relationship has the more sacredness in this, that it is established immediately by the Creator Himself; friendship is the more flattering that it is rather our own work. Relations weigh heaviest in the balance without doubt; yet the other scale must not remain empty. Often at Paris you have heard me regretting the paternal roof, the embraces of my mother, the counsels of my eldest brother, the caresses of my little brother; now that I have all this, I regret our comrades of Paris, the charitable kind-heartedness of M. Bailly, the long evenings passed together, and you above all, who gave me so often good advice and good examples, who showed me an attachment so sincere and so Christian.
You know it well, of all the young people whom I knew in the exile of the capital, it was you whom I preferred; it was you whom I went to seek when you were hidden in your little room, and when you were in your sombre days; it was you, in your turn, who so many times inspired me with holy and salutary thoughts, who consoled my sadnesses, who gave me courage. But these are things which we must feel and not express; in a word, I want you much—we all want you as long as we are here at Lyons—we of your old fellow-disciples. Twice we have dined together —de la Perriere, Chaurand, Bietrix, and many others —and twice we have drunk to your health, amidst the great acclamations of everybody. The last time it was at our house, and my father and my mother, desirous of knowing you, have joined with ready hearts in the toast which we proposed to you.
Of all my pleasures, one of the greatest is the pilgrimage that I have made to Saint-Point, to see M. de Lamartine. Dufieux, who knew him, had obtained of him the permission to bring me. We left together one Sunday morning for Macon, where we arrived in the evening after having passed through a charming country. There we learned,that M. de Lamartine was at his chateau of Saint-Point, five leagues from Macon, in the mountains. The Monday, then, after breakfast, we set out on a light pleasure-car, which a little ragged Phaeton conducted, and we followed the road of the ancient and celebrated Abbey of Cluny. Then, when we had from far perceived the ruins of this old house of God, we turned to the left, in the grand and beautiful valley in which is situated the residence of this great man. On a knoll, at the foot of the mountains, is a hamlet overlooked by a church, quasi Gothic, and an ancient chateau. It is Saint-Point. This chateau belonged formerly to the redoubted Count de Saint-Point, rival in cruelties of the Baron des Adrets. This hamlet was, twenty years ago, an assemblage of rude country-folk, ignorant and bad. M. de Lamartine has brought civilization into these places. He has repaired, embellished, enlarged the chateau; he has raised the steeple again; he has purchased a house to establish there a hospital and schools; he has opened roads to establish communications between the village and the high-road; he is now building a magnificent bridge over a ravine. These benefits have attracted new and numerous inhabitants into the valley. White houses rise up on all sides; all breathes ease and contentment; the manners have become gentle and pure, and the stranger, going to visit the poet, meets honest men who offer to serve him as officious guides. Behold us, then, at the gate of the château. An elegant porch, form Gothic, decorates the entrance; three seigniorial towers lend it a sufficiently majestic aspect. We cross the threshold of the parlour. Madame de Lamartine receives us with the greatest goodness. She is a highly respectable lady, very good and very pious. She is English, and converted to the Catholic religion. This day there was, as it happened, at Saint-Point a number of people, and among others a family of English, and we saw, to our disappointment, that we should not be able to enjoy without sharing the society of him whom we came to seek. However, M. de Lamartine arrived. He showed to Dufieux a very particular friendship, and received me myself in a very affable manner. He took us both into a summer-house, where we three talked alone nearly two hours. He expounded to us his great and generous political ideas, his beautiful literary theories; he asked much concerning the youth of the schools, and the mind which animated them, and appeared to me full of hope for the future. His ideas are connected together by a very solid logic; his language is brilliant, figurative; he seems philosopher still more than poet by the thought, and more poet than philosopher by the word. I have rarely seen a man unite more noble qualities. Aged forty-three years, he carries on his countenance the impress of trouble supported with dignity, of glory accepted with modesty His forehead is very broad, his eyes large and bright, the curve of his mouth gracious and severe at once, his features thin, his stature high.
At table and in the parlour he seemed to me full of amiability. He pressed us very much to pass a week with him; and as we could not do it, he made me promise to go and see him at Paris this winter. We dined and passed the night, and the next day he took us to see his two houses of Milly and of Monceaux. Along the high-road the country people saluted him with an affectionate air. He accosted them and chatted with them, asking them news of their vintage, their interests, their families. They, too, seemed to love him much, and the little children ran after him crying, ” Good-morning, Monsieur Alphonse I” At Monceaux I found de Pierreclau. We dined together, and in the evening we took leave of our illustrious host, and returned into our obscurity.
That is quite enough, is it not? Here I am always with my honeyed words which cannot cover less than a hundred pages; with my immoderate admirations and my grand laudative phrases. What would you? The life of this man has very much struck me; notwithstanding that, before visiting M. de Lamartine, I had read and re-read a certain chapter of the ” Imitation ” against human respect, I was veritably fascinated in considering to what height genius and virtue can raise a creature like ourselves.
Oh! more than ever have returned to me all my uncertainties, my literary ambitions, the desire of doing good confounded with the desire of acquiring glory, and nevertheless the consciousness of my nothingness, the feeling of my social position, and of the necessity in which I am placed of gaining my bread and working for money. These uncertainties are not at all ended. I have submitted them to my brother; he thinks it is not yet time to cut the Gordian knot; he urges me to pursue at the same time the studies of law and those of history. I have obtained of my father to return two years to Paris. I shall there quietly earn my doctorate, and at the same time I shall learn the Oriental languages. For the rest, no more articles for the journals; only some rare labours for the conference, if there is one, or for the Revue Europeanize, if it is not dead, and in any case to exercise myself. I leave the rest of my future to Providence. Willingly I will accept the place which it pleases it to assign to me; however low it may be, it will be sufficiently good if it is well filled.
I am without any news from Paris; no letters, none of our journals. If you know anything write it to me; I begin to feel the ennui of provincial life. We shall bring you to Paris a band of good Lyonnese who will increase all our reunions; although, to speak the truth, I do not care any longer for the historic conference than as means of recruiting the conference of charity.
To M. X.
Lyons, November 4th, 1834.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Your letter filled me with joy. This joy I have not kept for myself alone; I have communicated it to some of my friends who make a part of our little society, and who are here for the vacation. I have written immediately to the members now at Paris, to tell them this good news1, and to have the report you ask me for. But permit me to congratulate you, from this time, for the good you have begun, and for that which you prepare to do. You have found colleagues worthy of you; you have found a wise guide. The field is before you; misery has there traced large furrows; you will sow benefits there with open hands; you will see them grow and fructify. God and the poor will bless you; and we, whom you will have surpassed, we will be proud and joyful to reckon such brothers. The wish that we formed is then accomplished; you are the first echo which has responded to our feeble voice; others will rise soon perhaps; then the great merits of our little Parisian society will be to have given the idea of forming similar ones. A thread suffices to begin a cloth; often a stone thrown into the waters becomes the foundation of a large island.
I believe, then, that you have taken all that there was of good amongst us in taking from us a charitable idea, which was already without doubt in your heart, but which had not yet expression. In such a work one must abandon one’s self much more to the inspiration of the heart than to the calculations of the mind. Providence itself will give you counsels by the circumstances with which it surrounds you, by the thoughts which it sends to you. I believe that you will do well to follow them freely, and not to charge yourself much with rules and formulas.
Besides, the end which we propose to ourselves in Paris is not absolutely the same as that which you propose to yourselves, I think, in the province. At Paris we are birds of passage, distant for a time from the paternal nest, and over whom Incredulity, this vulture of the thought, hovers to make his prey. We are poor young intelligences, nourished in the bosom of Catholicism, and scattered in the midst of a foolish and sensual crowd. We are the sons of Christian mothers, arriving one by one within strange walls, where Irreligion seeks to recruit herself for her losses. Well, it is a question, before all, of assembling these feeble birds of passage under a shelter which shall protect them; of providing these young intelligences with a rallying-point for the time of their exile; that these Christian mothers may have a few tears less to shed, and that their sons may return to them as they sent them away. It needed then to form an association of mutual encouragement for the young Catholics, where they might find friendship, support, examples; where they might meet, so to speak, a shadow of the religious family in which they had been nourished; where the older ones might receive the new pilgrims from the province, and give them a kind of moral hospitality. Now, the strongest bond, the principle of a veritable friendship, is charity; and charity cannot exist in the hearts of several without gushing over; it is a fire which is extinguished without nourishment, and the nourishment of charity is good works.
For you—you seem to me called to a mission yet more generous… You act directly for the poor; you form, besides, a permanent reunion, and not unceasingly renewed like ours; you spread your benefits in your own town and not in a stranger city. Your work will then be at once more durable, more apparent, more powerful; you may remain less numerous, and, though you should not be more than a dozen, if you are united with a true friendship, you may do great good in a town of thirty thousand souls. We, on the contrary—we are obliged to extend ourselves, even at the risk of relaxing, in order to embrace in our circle the greatest possible number of young people.
I do not know if I have expressed myself in an intelligible manner; but I wished to draw your attention to the difference in the end, because it seems to call for the difference in the means. I do not enter into longer details respecting our little society of Paris. I believe I have told you all in our conversations; and the report of M. de la Noue will teach you more than I can do. Since we have existed, we have distributed nearly two thousand four hundred francs, some books, and a tolerably large quantity of old clothes. Our resources consist in the collection which we make among ourselves every Tuesday; in the alms of some charitable persons who are anxious thus to aid our goodwill; in the cast-off clothes of our wardrobe. As it is probable that at the renewal of the scholar-year our number will increase and rise to a hundred, we shall be obliged to divide ourselves and to form several sections, which will periodically have a common assembly. When these new arrangements shall be ready, I will inform you of them. For, notwithstanding what I have said to you, of the difference which it appears to me should exist between our two societies, it ought not to diminish the union and harmony; on the contrary, in the same manner that the divergent rays all come from the same centre, thus our efforts, varied and tending towards divers points, resolve themselves into one same charitable thought, and proceed from the same principle. It needs, then, that there should be accord between us to double our force; it needs that there should be frequent communications, which give us a laudable emulation for good, and which make us one community, each proud of the success of each.
Ozanam returned to Paris at the close of the vacation to study law, as before, ” by obedience,” and to endeavour to improve upon the dryness of the study by an intelligent attempt to find out from history and philosophy the reason why the laws had been put together. Meanwhile he studied for the diploma of licentiate of letters, in hopes of after obtaining that of doctor. He succeeded in obtaining the licentiate. A review, called the Revue Europlenne, at this time applied to him for help in its resuscitation, begging him to compose an introduction to float it again.
To M. VELAY.
Paris, February 5th, 1835.
MY DEAR VELAY,
I reply very late to thy letter, but I observe to thee that I am yet in the week of visits for New Year’s Day, and that thus I come in good time to present thee my affectionate wishes. I wish thee, then, happy days at Metz—days which shall not be too much encumbered with tedious studies, which will not seem to thee too long, which will leave thee some leisure to think on thy friends the Parisians. For them, I assure thee that they do not forget thee at all; and if thy military step no more makes itself heard ascending the staircase of the Hotel des Ecoles; if thy glorious sword sounds no more on the floor of our rooms; • if we have no more on the Sunday thy accustomed visit—thou livest in our memories, thou comest into our conversations. Thou art cited—regretted. We ask when thou wilt return; and when one of thy letters arrives for some one amongst us, he is courted that we may each have our share.
Thou regrettest, thou sayest, the Conferences of M. Lacordaire. Well, my friend, console thyself; we hear him no longer. It is a great trouble to us, who have need of the bread of the Word, who had accustomed ourselves to this excellent and strong nourishment, to be deprived of it all at once, without anything replacing it.
It is to us a grief still greater to see those of our erring brethren who at this powerful voice had returned to the way of truth, returning from it to their errors—shaking the head and lifting the shoulders. Perhaps heaven desires this silence, this humiliation of the Catholics, as one sacrifice more; perhaps we had too soon lifted up our heads. We put our pride in the word of a man, and God put His hand on the mouth of this man in order that we might learn to be Christians without him, in order that we might learn to do without everything, excepting faith and virtue2.
A slight compensation for these treasures of religious eloquence which M. Lacordaire lavishes upon us, has been offered me these last days. I have heard M. de Lamartine at the Chamber. How great and beautiful he was that day! How full his discourse was of gravity, brilliance and harmony I How far he was from this vagueness and those vaporous theories with which they have reproached him! He was simple, he was a logician, he was generous; he was more—he was charitable. He alone represented the Christian thought in this discussion.
Mayst thou have companions who will render agreeable to thee thy two years at Metz! Thou wilt know well, thou, to render them useful to thee. Thou wilt have, I hope, more leisure than at l’Ecole Polytechnique. Thou wilt be able to see again from time to time thy good and ancient friends—the books of history and of literature. Then, when thou shalt have shaken off the last dust of the bench, when thou shalt have no other servitude than the brilliant servitude of the uniform, then thou shalt be very happy. Master of thy time, delivered from the care of material existence, occupying an honourable rank in society, thou shalt no longer have anything to occupy thee but intellectual and moral labours. I envy much thy lot from this point of view. I, a poor creature, who, whilst waiting till fortune comes, shall be attached to the judicial soil from morning to night, save reading from time to time the chapter of Seneca on the contempt of riches. Now I study in a manner serious enough Hebrew and Sanscrit; but what good will it do to the client, if it please thee, that his advocate should know Sanscrit and Hebrew? Better grow mouldy over the code.
TO M. X.
Paris, February 23rd, 1835.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
From the first day of my arrival here, I have thought of the report for which you asked me. Our president, M. Bailly, has sought the report in his papers, and a short time ago he told me of the uselessness of his search. So this document is lost. It is not a great misfortune for us; there was in this abridged history of our work a thought which was perhaps of pride. God, who wishes that the left hand should not know what the right hand giveth, has permitted that we should lose a document which only served to give us a little ridiculous vanity. Charity should never look behind her, but always before, because the number of her past benefits is always very small, and the present and future miseries which she should solace are infinite. See the philanthropic associations—there are only assemblies, and reports, accounts, memoirs—they have not a year of existence when they possess already large volumes of official reports. Philanthropy is a proud dame for whom good actions are a kind of adorning, and who loves to look at herself in the mirror. Charity is a tender mother who keeps her eyes fixed on the child she carries at the breast, who thinks no longer of herself, and who forgets her beauty for her love.
Neither do I think that this loss will be grievous to you. It is better that you raise your work by your own proper force, under the inspiration of your heart, under the influence of local circumstances, under the direction of the venerable priest who presides over you; with all this, you will do very easily without a model, which is besides very imperfect. You will not do as we; you will do better than we.
This prediction is not a flattery; it is the expression of what I have felt at the reading of your letter, so burning with charity, so full of this apostolic fire which has set the world aglow, and of which your soul has gathered up such lively sparks. I should have been an egotist and evil-disposed if I had kept for myself alone this enjoyment. I have read to my assembled colleagues, in presence of the curd of the parish, who consented to come and preside over us that day, a great part of your letter. The impression which it left on them can only be conveyed by these words of one of them:”” Indeed, it is the faith, it is the charity of the first ages.” Oh yes, my friend; the faith, the charity of the first ages! It is not too much for our age. Are we not, like the Christians of the earliest times, thrown into the midst of a corrupted civilization and of a crumbling society? Let us cast our eyes on the world which surrounds us. The rich and the happy, are they much better than those who replied to St. Paul, ” We will hear thee another time “? And the poor and the people, are they much more enlightened, and do they enjoy more prosperity than those to whom the Apostles preached?
Then for equal evils there needs an equal remedy. The earth is chilled; it is for us Catholics to re-animate the vital heat which is being extinguished; it is for us to recommence thus the era of the martyrs. For to be a martyr is a thing possible to all Christians; to be a martyr is to give our lives for God and for our brothers: it is to give our lives in sacrifice, whether the sacrifice be consumed all at once as the holocaust, or whether it be accomplished slowly, and smoke night and day like the perfumes on the altar; to be a martyr is to give to heaven all which we have received from it—our blood, our gold, our soul all entire. This offering is in our hands; this sacrifice, we are able to make it. It is for us to choose to what altars it will please us to carry it, to what divinity we will consecrate our youth and the times which follow it; to what temple we will gather ourselves to meet—at the foot of the idol of egoism, or at the sanctuary of God and humanity.
The humanity of our days seems to me like the traveller of whom the Gospel speaks. It also, whilst it pursued its way in the roads which the Christ had traced for it—it has been assailed by robbers, by the thieves of thought, by wicked men who have stolen away that which it possessed—the treasure of faith and of love, and they have left it naked and groaning, lying at the border of the path. The priests and the Levites have passed; and this time, as they were true priests and Levites, they approached this suffering being, and wished to heal it. But, in its delirium, it knew them not, and repulsed them.
In our turn, feeble Samaritans, profane and men of little faith as we are, we dare nevertheless to accost this great invalid. Perhaps he will not be affrighted at us; let us try to probe his wounds, and to pour into them oil; let us sound in his ear words of consolation and of peace; and then, when his eyes shall be opened, we will put him back into the hands of those whom God has constituted the guardians and physicians of souls, who are also, in some sort, our hosts in the pilgrimage here below, since they give to our wandering and hungry souls the Holy Word for nourishment and the hope of a better world for shelter. This is what is proposed to us; this is the sublime vocation that Providence has made for us. But how little worthy we are of it, and how we bend beneath the burden! I speak of us here, students of Paris, colony of the people of God in a foreign land. It seems that the spectacle of this misery should render us more enthusiastic and stronger. It seems that having before us great vices, and above’ us great virtues, we ought to be as a serried battalion in the face of the enemy, ranged under banners which it loves.
And, unhappily, it is not at all thus. I do not know what languor seems to overwhelm us. I do not fear to say of the greatest number that which is true of me in particular. Nevertheless, I hope that God will not abandon us; above all, if we have brothers who pray and who merit for us.
In the name of our society, I congratulate yours on its courage; I thank it for the attachment which it desires to show us… In the earlier times of Christianity, the communities of Asia sent the torch of the faith to the people of Gaul; and when Gaul became Christian, Asia had ceased to be… Let us act so that it may not be thus with our Parisian work; let us act so that for long yet, and always, if it may be, there shall be in this city a hearth for religion, where the sons of Christian mothers may gather themselves to preserve together warmth and light to increase the one and the other, and to carry them back into their provinces.
I will not give you literary news; there is little important; but you will do me a great pleasure in sending me something of Reboul; a still greater in coming yourself to see us in Paris.
Adieu. Do not forget me; but forget my negligences. I am the first of these idle and discouraged people, of whom I spoke to you lately.
To M. DUFIEUX.
Paris, March 2nd, 1835.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
But if it is true that I am not ungrateful—if it is true that I have preserved for you a sincere affection—how is it that it should remain dumb; and what is this cold friendship, without word, and without works, a sort of moral petrifaction?
Alas! my dear Dufieux, this question which I ask myself, in the name of friendship, I repeat every day to myself in the name of all my other duties. My conscience does not spare me; and placed between the desire of doing well and much, and an incredible weakness which hinders me from doing anything, I pass my days in bitter reproaches for the non-execution of my past resolutions, and in new resolutions which I shall execute no better, and which prepare for me new reproaches for the future. I may say it, because I say it to my shame and to the glory of God. Perhaps no one has received more than me of generous inspirations —no one has felt holier jealousies, more noble ambitions. There is no virtue, there is no work, moral or scientific, to which I have not been invited by that mysterious voice which sounds at the bottom of one’s heart; there are no praiseworthy affections of which I have not felt the attraction—no friendships and precious relationships which have not been prepared for me—no encouragements which have been wanting to me—not a favourable breeze which has not breathed on my stem to bring forth the flowers. There is not perhaps in the vineyard of the eternal Father of the family one stock which He has surrounded with more cares, and of which He might say with more justice: ” Quid potni facere vinea niece et non feci.” And I, an evil plant, I have not opened out to the Divine breath; I have not plunged my roots into the soil which He loosened around me; I am dry and withered; I have known the gift of God; I have felt the living water bathe my lips, and I have not opened them—I have remained a passive being. I was shut up in my supineness. In this moment even, when the call from on high sounds in my ear, when I feel the inspiration withdrawing a little as if to threaten me, but not to abandon me for ever—in this moment even I know not how to will; I know not how to act. And I feel accumulating on my head the responsibility of favours which I neglect every day.
I have told you my trouble, I have said it tumultuously and without order, as I feel it; but that you may not refuse to believe me, that your indulgent charity may not attribute to a moment of excitement the lines which I have just written, I will explain myself more clearly.
Two things above all make our hearts beat with a generous envy, we young Christians: these two things are science and virtue. I was early taught to relish them, and I believed myself made for them. In our conversations of these holidays, I related to you my dreams in this regard. I had resolved for the two years which remained to me to pass in the capital, upon labours more serious, and a moral reform more complete. I had placed my desires under the auspices of our celestial Mother, and I confided in my good intention. Now, since that time, three months have passed away, and I am still empty-handed. Continual uneasiness, tedious application, have begun to extinguish my ardour; and when I have had all the leisure and all the facilities desirable, I have fallen into a sort of fatal languor, which I know not how to shake off. The study which I formerly loved fatigues me; the pen weighs in my fingers, I know no longer how to write. We have still literary conferences, but the poor things are dying, and it is not I, most certainly, who will save them. Force—this gift of the Holy Spirit, so necessary to the men of this age to tread their way without falling, through so many perils—force is not in me. I float at the will of all the caprices of my imagination. Piety seems to me sometimes a yoke, prayer a habit of the lips, the practices of Christianity a duty which I accomplish without spirit, a last branch to which I cling that I may not roll into the abyss, but of which I know not how to gather the nourishing fruits. I see the young men of my age advance with head erect in the paths of a real progress; and I, I halt, and despair of being able to follow them, and I pass in sighing the time which one should avail one’s self of for walking.
This is my miserable condition, and this recital serves for explanation of my negligence towards you, if it cannot serve as excuse. If you do not pardon me, you will at least pity me; you will change your friendly adulations into salutary reproaches, into encouragements, into good counsels, and above all into prayers. You comprehend also another motive for my silence. When one writes to a friend like you, one needs to speak of one’s self, and one loves not to speak of one’s self when one feels ill. I waited instinctively to feel myself better before having a talk with you. In fine, yesterday I had the happiness of receiving Him who is the strength of the weak, and the medicine of the languors of the soul, and to-day I write to you in the sincerity of my regrets for the past, and of my good resolutions for the future. Oh! pray, I implore you, that these at last may not be deceitful!
You, my dear friend, you are the most perfect contrast which can be opposed to me. As much as God has loaded me with favours, so much He has loaded you with sufferings and trials; and while I have succumbed and am bending down notwithstanding His benefits, you come forth stronger and stronger from the crucible of trouble in which His hand has placed you.
To HIS FATHER.
Paris, March 15th, 1835.
MY DEAR FATHER,
I thought of not writing to you till to-morrow, because I hoped to have the leisure to talk longer with you; but I like better to write to you to-day, although it will compel me to be short. In point of fact, the courier leaves at two o’clock; it is half-past eleven. Lallier has just gone out from breakfasting with me, and at half an hour after noon I must be at Notre Dame to hear M. l’Abbe Lacordaire, who continues, under the presidency of the Archbishop, and in presence of an immense auditory, the Conferences which he began last year in a little chapel3. These Conferences are magnificent; they are attended by all there is of most distinguished in the capital—M. de Lamartine, M. Berryer, etc., a crowd of literary and learned men, and a very great number of young people from the schools. The space reserved to men takes up all the grand nave; it holds from five to six thousand. I am charged with making the analyses of these conferences for the Univers; they will pay me twenty-five francs for each; there will be eight. If the purse gains little by it, I assure you that the spirit loses nothing. It is impossible to hear anywhere else things more eloquent. However, M. I’Abbe Coeur, our compatriot, is distinguishing himself also by his preachings at St. Roch; and on another side, Lauzet has made yesterday, in the Chamber of Deputies, a discourse which has been followed by unanimous admiration, and which they compare to the best discourses of Berryer.
Now I will complain to you, my dear papa, of an act of dissimulation which your goodness has suggested to you, but which has not succeeded in deceiving me; on the contrary. Mamma has been ill; she has even been so rather seriously, and you tell me in your letter that she begins to recover her strength. Her strength—she had then lost it—she has then been suffering much, and you have not informed me of it; and there pass in the house things which interest me so much, and I know nothing of them. I am no longer able to rest myself in this correspondence, by which I hoped to participate in all the joys and all the sadnesses of the family. You have done it to spare me uneasiness, but this is not just. This poor mother has had so many cares for me, should I not have at least a little for her? And when she suffers, is it proper that I, her son—I should be as gay as usual? No, this is not right; so much the more, my good father, that it is useless to hide it: the heart guesses.
To M. VELAY.
Paris, May znd, 1835.
MY DEAR VELAY,
I confess that all the thunderbolts of thy wrath would not be enough to punish my faithlessness. Two months and a half have passed away since I received a letter from thee, and I have not replied to thee. I could, however, allege a plausible excuse. I have been bringing myself into the mind to reduce to its most simple expression, to its most positive expression, that which I had learned of literature during my three years’ sojourn at Paris, to cause, if it were possible, my knowledge to pass into parchment, and to take the degree of licentiate in letters.
It has been necessary to review Burnouf from one end to the other, and to convince myself that I had never known my Greek. It has been necessary to go over again a crowd of authors, and afterwards all history, of which several parts are tolerably foreign to me. These labours have occupied a long month, at the end of which I have obtained this most happy diploma of licentiate, which will serve me as footstool, I hope, to enable me to receive doctor the next year; then I shall be, if it please God, doctor in law and doctor in letters, which will not cause the pot to boil more than if I possessed them not. At the same time, we have been occupied in resuscitating the defunct Revue Europeenne, these gentlemen having desired that I should compose the introduction to it. I have found myself greatly absorbed by this task, and have not had an instant free up to Easter. I tell thee all these things, not to show my own importance—for there is nothing of that, since I have not, so to speak, laboured but by force—but to excuse myself from negligence in thy regard.
The great rendezvous of young people—Catholic and non-Catholic—this year has been at Notre Dame. Thou hast without doubt heard the Conferences of the Abbe Lacordaire mentioned. They have only one defect, that of being too few. He has delivered eight in the midst of an auditory of nearly six thousand men, without counting women. These Conferences on the Church—its necessity, its infallibility, its constitution, its history, etc.—have all been very beautiful; but the last has been eloquent beyond all that I have ever heard. Mgr. de Quelen, who had assisted at all the Conferences, addressed the last time solemn thanks to M. Lacordaire, and has named him Canon of the Cathedral. This brings balm to our feelings. We have had need of it to console us for the last book of M. de Lamartine on the East. This great poet is at the same time so impressionable, that in traversing Asia he is impregnated with a part of its ideas and tendencies. He gives extreme praises to the Alcoran, and by the strength of optimism and tolerance he evidently departs from orthodoxy. Because orders had been given everywhere that he should be well received—because the pachas and the chiefs of the tribes have welcomed him as a great lord, threatened as they were with losing their heads if they failed in respect, his fine soul, which knows not how to suspect evil, allowed itself to be attracted by these outsides, and is smitten with admiration for the Oriental manners.
However, the evil is not without remedy, for it is only the exaggeration of a good quality. Besides, the book contains no formal apostasy. But it is evident that the sky of Palestine is reflected with all its vividness in the clear spirit of the poet. Time will efface what there is of impure in this image. For the rest, there are also in this same work admirable things; above all, every time that the father shows himself, holding in his hands this poor Julia who was about to die at the feet of the mountains of Jerusalem.
All the Lyonnese here present send thee their kind remembrance. It is impossible to me to name them all.
To M. X—.
Paris, May i6th, 1835.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I bear you a grudge for having said so little of yourself in your last letter, and for having said so much of me. That which I do is a very small thing. I have great trouble in working; the ideas that I express laboriously are not my own. I try to make myself the echo of the young Christians in the midst of whom I live. But how feeble this echo is; how cold are these words slowly put together, in comparison of this luminous faith, this burning charity, this courageous hope, which palpitates in souls like yours, like those of some whom you resemble! If you knew how feeble I am! how my goodwill is easily broken by the encounter with circumstances! how I pass from ambitious presumption to discouragement and inaction! what vanity in my thoughts, what powerlessness in my works! Yes. I dare say it—Providence has surrounded me with so much care, it has so well provided for me the benefits of education, it has given me prodigally such good relations, such wise teachers, such exemplary friends, that often I allow myself to believe that it intends from me something more than a common virtue; and nevertheless my soul is as a barren sand which the rains of heaven inundate without fructifying.
And yet, in the days in which we are, there need great virtues and strong men. Without doubt the empire of evil begins to be undermined in all parts, and the time approaches when Truth shall be anew saluted Queen of the world. But as long as the earthly life of the human race shall last, evil will not disappear from the midst of it. Evil is always on some part of the earth—sometimes as tyrant, sometimes as slave. It never makes such redoubtable efforts as when it sees its tyranny departing from it. To seize again its falling sceptre it re-unites all its forces; to every religious reaction corresponds necessarily a contrary reaction of impiety. Thus, whilst the idols of the eighteenth century are deserted, whilst the solitude of our temples is peopled anew, whilst indifference is dying out, and whilst M. Lacordaire sounds out the Word of God to an auditory of six thousand men crowded into the grand nave of Notre Dame, rationalism is not idle. It multiplies its periodical reviews; it organizes a seductive propagandism around young people; it surrounds them with its emissaries; it besieges our most illustrious men; it provokes the defection of those who lately were our glories; it dethrones the Abbe de la Mennais from those heights where his genius and his faith had placed him; it makes us tremble for the virginal muse of Lamar-tine.
These things are sad, but they are true. We are punished, Catholics, for having put more confidence in the genius of our great men than in the power of our God. We are punished for indulging pride in themselves, for having repulsed with some fierceness the affronts of the incredulous, and for having showed them, to justify us in their eyes, our philosophers and our poets, in place of showing them the eternal Cross. We are punished for having rested on these feeble reeds, however melodious they were; they are broken under our hands. Henceforth it is higher that we must seek our help. It is not a weak staff which we need for journeying through the earth: it is wings—those two wings which carry the angels, Faith and Charity. Those places which have become empty must be filled. In the place of genius which fails us, grace must conduct us. We must be courageous, we must be persevering, we must love until death, we must combat until the end. We must not reckon on an easy victory. God has made it difficult to us, in order to make our crowns more glorious.
Alas, my dear, I know not if you feel what I feel, but I feel sometimes so much discouragement and feebleness that I have need to write thus exhortations and strong resolutions to elevate me. I am like children who lift up their voices when they are afraid. I feel myself better when I have opened my heart into the heart of a friend who is better than I. Thus, without knowing it, you do me good; and these lines which you will read in a few days—these lines of which you are the object—before reaching you, will have a little strengthened my heart, and will have given me energy foi some time.
The next letter, written from Villefranche, near Lyons, opens with an account of his vain attempt to reach Lyons in time to keep his mother’s fete, an occasion which was always very especially celebrated in the family.
To M. LALLIER.
Villefranche, near Lyons, Sept. 23rd, 1835.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
More than a month has passed away since we made our adieus, and promised ourselves to visit each other by letters from time to time in our vacation. In waiting for your visit I come to make you mine, impatient as I am to know something of you, what are your occupations for the present, and what are your ideas for the future. Besides, you are not ignorant that the love of silence is not my favourite virtue, that my happiness is to pour out into the soul of a friend all that I think, all that I feel, all the fantasies of my imagination, all the dreams of my mind; and transported for five weeks under other skies, I have seen, felt, and thought a multitude of things that I need to tell you.
And, first, there were the pleasures of the return—pleasures which were not obtained without pain. You know that I left Paris the 12th. I desired to reach Lyons the 15th, my mother’s fête; I desired not less to have mass that day, fête of the holy Virgin. It was necessary for me, therefore, in the morning to stop at Macon, twelve leagues from my home, to assist at the holy sacrifice, hoping to find afterwards a carriage which would take me through in a day. I had reckoned without my host. I found no other carriage than that with which all the sons of Adam are provided from their birth, and I was obliged to pass all this great day of the Assumption in treading on foot the dusty road. At last, some leagues from Lyons, I found a poor tilted cart which brought me at eight o’clock in the evening to the house, at the moment when all the family, assembled to do honour to mamma, were troubling themselves with my delay. Father, mother, brothers, uncle, aunt, cousins —all were there. I leave you to imagine the joy of the first embrace.
Nevertheless, with this first embrace was certainly mingled some sadness. The uneasiness which I had felt about the health of my good mother had been only too well founded. You remember that day of trouble and that charming4 letter of which I told you: this trouble and these alarms, my father and my brothers had shared them. Mamma had been subject during more than two months to a weakness and languor of which one could not foresee the end. Accidents sufficiently grave were added to this indisposition, and the fears that they had had at Lyons were not less than those I had experienced at Paris. Happily, at my return there was a great improvement. My good mother was no longer suffering, but she carried the traces of her sufferings past; and in kissing her I was startled by the thinness of her face. Tranquil for the present, I am yet very anxious for the future. I see that this health, which is so dear to me, is really enfeebled; that her sensibility has become extreme; that a small thing is sufficient to trouble her—to disturb her; that her virtue and her angelic goodness are always in strife with her delicate and nervous organization. With this she redoubles her good works, and imposes on herself fatigues before which I myself, young and strong, shrink back. I have much anxiety for the next winter. My dear friend, if you have two places to give me in your prayers, give one of them for the health of my mother, and the other for me. If you have only one, let it be for my mother. Praying for her is praying for me. To her preservation in this world is, perhaps, attached my salvation in the other.
Besides domestic cares, I found at Lyons an impression of general terror. The cholera, which struck such dreadful blows in the southern provinces, seemed to be advancing towards our gates. It had ascended the Rhone, to fifteen leagues from our city, chasing before it multitudes of fugitives who came bringing among us frightful recitals, and a terror still greater than the evil. Our lively and impressionable population was greatly moved. Whilst the rude and uninformed spirits began to talk of rumours of poisoning, and prepared themselves to reply to the invasion of the plague by disturbances and violence, a religious crowd besieged Notre Dame de Fourvieres, and knelt down in the open air on the space before the church to chant their songs of sorrow. At the same time, a number of devoted persons presented themselves to serve the poor at the time when the epidemic should come. More than fifteen hundred of these people were inscribed beforehand.
At length we breathe. I cannot tell you how happy I am at this momentary repose from all my inquietudes, at having no longer to preoccupy myself either with the approaches of an examination, or with the coming of the cholera, or, above all, with the illness of my mother. I find in my family many consolations and enjoyments. My eldest brother is my guardian angel. For a long time we have projected going together to make a pilgrimage to the Grande Chartreuse. We have accomplished it; we have made on foot a journey of sixty leagues through Dauphiny. There, in the mountains which form the footstool of the Alps, in the midst of a magnificent nature, at the end of a valley cut up by torrents and cascades, bordered with a luxuriant and grand vegetation, in the midst of a hollow in the rocks—some sombre and arid, some covered with moss and flowers—at the foot of elevated and snow-covered peaks, is found the Grande Chartreuse—the chief residence-general of the order founded in this same place by St. Bruno.
For the present I am always the same, the same that you know well, always abundant in words and poor in works, always suffering from my powerlessness and my misery, and not being able to raise myself with difficulty deciding to take a step towards the good; and after having taken it, always fearing to have done wrong… without ceasing discontented with myself, and not knowing how to destroy the causes of this discontent; finding neither strength nor repose, except in friendship, the lessons and the examples. of others. Providence has not willed that this succour should fail me. It has given me excellent friends. You know several of them; and if I suffer from anything in this moment,a is from their absence. However, I have my brother, who keeps me up and helps me much. I have heard him and another ecclesiastic, whose wisdom I esteem, speak of the apostolate of the laity in the world, in a manner altogether reassuring for us.
If you come into my country, at the next vacation, you will find numerous friends, without counting me—me, who am and will be all my life your devoted.
To M. HENRI PESSONNEAUX.
Lyons, September 24th, 1835.
A thousand thanks, my dear Henri, for the services which thou hast rendered me, for thy good letter, and the interesting news which are contained in it. The history of M— has greatly rejoiced us. I distrust vocations which speak so highly and so long beforehand; that which is violent does not last. Silent and discreet vocations are much more sure. It appears that we are come to that time of life where the road divides into two, and where we make an irrevocable choice. Here are several of our friends who push their way into the straight road of the seminary; here are many who descend into the broad career of marriage. I will give thee the change of thy piece in announcing to thee that C–, at the age of twenty-one years, is learning to light continually the torches of Hymen with some notes of a hundred thousand francs. It is a blessing: the end of the world, announced by the sombre spirits of our time, is adjourned until a new order. The last number of the Revue contains a poem of Francheville, which strongly resembles an epithalamium; and there is a talk of things which the known virtue of the young man commands me to regard as a preliminary of marriage. Such are the news which it is permitted me to publish. What would it be if I could reveal all which is told into my ears!
To fortify myself against the contagion of example, to strengthen myself again in the love of solitude and of liberty, I have been with my brother in pilgrimage to the Grande Chartreuse. I need not say that we went on foot, and that we did not die of sadness on the road. The first day we accomplished more than twelve leagues; thus I am henceforth thy equal. I will not tell thee what we have seen, because thou hast already made the same pilgrimage. All that I can say is that I have found there a nature that I should not have the talent to describe, and men whom I should not have the strength to imitate. Yet the impression that this journey has produced upon me differs greatly from the idea I had formed of it beforehand. I had only heard of sublime horrors, of torrents, of precipices, of deserts, of frightful austerities; and I have only seen a delicious solitude, a magnificent vegetation, rich prairies, forests where the greenness of the beech mingles with the blackness of the fir, rocks intermingled with rosebushes, brooks falling in elegant cascades on to a bed of turf and moss, on all sides tufts of blue campanulas, large and graceful ferns like dwarf palm-trees, great flocks on the mountains, birds in the woods; and there, in the valley, the monastery majestic and grand, the monks in their ancient dress, with serene countenance, expressing in all their features happiness and quietude; the chant rising at every hour of the day with strength, with harmony; the hymns of the night rising towards heaven at the hour when crimes are multiplied, and when the judgments of God are prepared; lastly, the charming chapels of Notre Dame ei Casalibus and of St. Bruno, with their fountains and their memories of seven hundred years. I know not if the idea is not eccentric, but the Chartreuse, thus placed in this hollow of the mountains, seemed to me like a solitary nest where holy souls, gathered together and sheltered under the maternal wings of religion, developed peaceably to fly away one day to heaven.
Religion, mother full of condescension and of goodness, has united around this sacred nest all the harmonies of nature, all the graces of creation. And it is a remarkable thing that the anchorites and monks of all times, in retrenching the artificial enjoyments of society, in exiling themselves from the tumults and pleasures of the towns, in treating their flesh hardly, have always sought out for the place of their solitude picturesque positions, grand aspects, magnificent landscapes, and have never refused themselves the pleasure of the eyes. It is a remark which is verified every moment in Italy: all the summits of the mountains are there crowned with monasteries. It was the same in old France. If there was in some part a boldly elevated mountain, a laughing valley, a forest with melancholy shades, the traveller was sure to see raised there a steeple surmounted with a cross. . . . Nature, in her simplicity, in her virginity, is profoundly Christian. She is filled with solemn sadnesses and ineffable consolations; she only speaks of deaths and of resurrections, of past falls and of future glorifications. The mountains, above all, say much to the soul, of which they are, in some sort, the image. Richness and nakedness, heights without measure, abysses without bottom, innumerable and divers landscapes, immense disorder, traces of ancient upturnings, expansions, efforts to reach heaven, always powerless, always renewed! Is not there the image of our poor existence? The mountains with their variety resemble human nature, as the sea with its immensity resembles the divine nature. It is thus that on the globe which we tread under foot are written in ineffaceable characters the lessons of a sublime philosophy, and this philosophy is no other than that written in characters not less ineffaceable in the pages of the Gospel.
From the Grande Chartreuse we went to visit the Grand-Som, a very elevated mountain whence one can see the whole of Dauphiny, a part of Savoy, and whence is descried all the chain of the Alps. We had snow up to the knees, and the traces of wolves were freshly imprinted all around. Afterwards we descended to Grenoble by le Sapey; and during an entire day we enjoyed still more admirable points of view. In this part of Dauphiny the vines are suspended to the trees, as in Italy. The land there is as fertile as in Piedmont. The population there made a good appearance, seemed rich, and very religious to judge by the number of persons who saluted my brother, the Abbe, along the roads, or that we saw at church on Sunday. Grenoble is a pretty town seated on the border of the Isere, and surrounded with inaccessible fortifications. However, Lyons is worth more; above all when we have there our family and our friends.
In this last relation, thou makest for me a great void here. Where are our long conversations, our Jeremiads made in common, and which terminated always by some words of encouragement and of hope? Where are our evening walks, our castles in the air, our students’ follies? Here the present vacation does not at all resemble those which are passed. The fear of the cholera froze the spirits on our arrival. We remained rude and isolated; no friendly dinners, no country parties.
TO M. X-.
Lyons, October 29th, 1835.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Receive my compliments on the poetic fecundity of thy country. Flowers love the sun, and genius opens out more brilliant and stronger under the vivifying climate of the South. But if poesy easily takes root in your natal soil, and puts forth vigorous boughs, it appears that charity germinates there also without trouble. For the grain of mustard-seed which you have planted the last year begins to grow; and soon, I hope, it will become a great tree, and the poor will rejoice under its shadow. You are but twelve; you are only joined together for about six months; and already, by your cares, several marriages are become legitimate. Grace has descended with the nuptial benediction upon seven families,.and the numerous generations which will spring from them will owe to you, with the benefit of being able to name their fathers, the prosperity and virtues which God fails not to shed on alliances contracted according to His law. The work which you have done is very great; it would suffice to honour your life. Your elders in Paris will be jealous of it. Alas! their successes are very far from equalling yours. It is true that on one side we have not the advantages of position that you have, neither have we as you to do with a people ardent, impassioned, of deep feeling, accessible by that even to the moral and religious emotions.
Oh, how often we would wish to meet people who would receive us with blows, provided that we might find others who would listen to us, and who would comprehend us! But no; these are languid souls, who receive us always in the same manner, always with the same reserve at the end of a year as at the first day, who carefully abstain from contradicting a single one of our words, but who change nothing in their actions. However, from time to time some good is done.
Good is done, above all, among us, who mutually sustain and encourage each other. We are yet only in our apprenticeship to the art of charity. Let us hope that one day we shall become clever and laborious workmen; then on the different points where Providence shall have placed us, we will rival each other as to who will cause to be born around them the greatest happiness and the greatest virtue; then when you give us a share in your success, we will reply to you by ours. And from all points of France shall arise a harmonious concert of faith and love to the praise of God.
The great action which you are meditating will only serve to redouble your zeal and your strength. ” When two or several shall assemble in My name,” said the Saviour, ” I will be in the midst of them.” It is in this divine name that you are going to join yourself to a wise and pious wife: the promise will be accomplished upon you. In giving your love to a person who will be so justly dear to you, you will withdraw none from the poor and the unhappy whom you have loved first. Love partakes in this of the divine nature, that it can give itself without being impoverished; that it can communicate itself without dividing; that it multiplies itself; that it is present in many places at the same time; and that its intensity increases as it gains in breadth. In your wife you will love first God, whose admirable and precious work she is; and afterwards humanity—the race of Adam whose pure and amiable daughter she is. You will draw from her tenderness, consolations for evil days; you will find in her examples of courage in perilous times; you will be her guardian angel, she will be yours. Henceforth, you will no more experience those weaknesses, those discouragements, those terrors, which we are seized with at certain hours of life, for you will no longer be alone. You will never more be alone. Your virtues give you the legitimate hope of it. The alliance you are about to contract will be an immortal alliance; that which God has joined—that which He has forbidden man to separate, He will never separate Himself; and in heaven, He will clothe with the same glory those who here below were companions of the same exile.
But I stammer a language which I know not at all yet; I speak of things which have not yet been revealed to me. With me imagination developed early; sensibility has been more tardy. Although my age is that of passions, I have hardly felt their first approaches. My poor head has already suffered much, but my heart has yet known no other affections than those of blood and friendship. However, it seems to me that I have felt for some time the symptoms telling the coming of a new order of sentiment, and it frightens me. I feel a great void making itself in me which neither friendship nor study fills: I am ignorant what will come to fill it. Will it be God? Will it be a creature? If it is a creature, I pray that it may be late before she presents herself, when I shall have become worthy of her; I pray that she may bring with her what is necessary of exterior charms to prevent place being left for any regret. But I pray above all that she may come with an excellent soul; that she may bring a great virtue; that she may be worth much more than I; that she may draw me on high; that she may not make me descend; that she may be generous, because often I am pusillanimous; that she may be fervent, because I am lukewarm in the things of God; that, lastly, she may be compassionate, that I may not have to blush before her for my inferiority. These are my wishes, my dreams; but, as I have told you, nothing is more impenetrable to me than my own future.
Live happy, you whose path is now all traced out: ” Viviti felices, quibus est fortuna peracta.” But when in the midst of your enjoyments you shall have a moment free, pray for me, who know not yet whither I go.
To M. LALLIER.
Lyons, November loth, 1835.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Your letter long expected has at length arrived. I thank you, not for having written to me, but for having so written in a manner so good and so friendly. I fear, on the contrary, that the letter I wrote to you at Joigny has given you some pain. You have perceived, I am sure, that it had a certain tendency to make me out of some value to you, to make you feel my friendship. If you perceived anything of this you were not deceived. I confess to you, my dear friend, notwithstanding all my efforts, I feel always at the bottom of my heart the prick of egoism. I cling infinitely to the esteem, and yet more to the affection of others. You know how often at Paris, talking with you, I begged, as it were, for commendation; oftener still I have begged, indirectly, some words of kindliness on your part. I harassed you in your silence, because I took it for coldness. Many times, nevertheless, you gave me testimonies which surpassed my expectation. One evening, for example, you told me that you prayed every day for me by name, and these words have never since gone out of my heart. In writing to you then, I wished to provoke some similar testimony of your friendship for me, and you have loaded me with it. I was wrong. I wanted confidence—pardon me for it, I pray you. I will try to be henceforth more disinterested in my affection for you.
How right you are in what you say of interior combats! Alas! I have the misfortune of comprehending perfectly these grievous combats. In the midst of the enjoyments with which I am loaded, a vague and multiform uneasiness never leaves me. My conscience has had terrible storms to suffer. Now that it is tolerably calm, it is the turn of the mind. The desire to do something consumes me. I have a thousand things before my eyes which all solicit my attention, and of which I can seize none.
I think still of leaving from the 25th of this month to the 3rd of the next month, without being able to decide anything yet, because my brother is absent. When I shall be at Paris, I must have my own furniture. You will be in the same necessity. Could we not rent a little apartment together? Wait for me for this, if this is possible to you. Solitude would be fatal to my repose: my imagination eats me up. Alone, it always seems to me that some demon may be at my side. With Christian friends I feel immediately the accomplishment of the promise of Him who has engaged Himself to be found wherever we gather together in His name. We should live as two brothers. I should pray you to mortify my indomitable self-love; we would seek together to become better; we would combine our labours of charity; we would ripen our projects of work; we would give each other courage in our times of dejection; we would console each other in our times of sadness; but I see that I am again becoming egotistical.
To M. LALLIER.
Lyons, November 23rd, 1835.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Your good letter, that I received about a month since, has been a great consolation: nothing is in truth more consoling than the remembrance of those to whom we are closely tied by the heart. I believe I have already said it to you; the joys of the family are very precious, blood has rights, inborn and imprescriptible; but friendship has rights acquired and sacred, joys which cannot be supplied; relations and friends are two sorts of companions which God has given us for the road of life, the presence of the one class cannot make us forget the absence of the other. Must it be, then, that we cannot have happiness without alloy, nor pleasures without regrets? That we are not able to return to those who are dear to us without separating ourselves from others who are dear to us also? Does God wish by these continual separations to cause us to make an apprenticeship to death? We cannot pass anywhere without leaving some rag of our affections, as the lambs who leave their wool upon the thorns. During the short journey that I made two years ago in Italy, I felt much this fatality of our nature. All these beautiful things which I looked upon caused me less joy at the first sight than sadness at the moment of departure. I entered Rome with weariness, I left it with tears in my eyes. Rome, Florence, Loretto, Milan, Geneva—all these places have kept something of myself; and every time when I think of it, it seems to me that I ought to return there to take this something which has remained. Now if monuments, memories, landscapes have thus divided and captivated my soul, what must not good and excellent friends have done for me, whose sympathies have so oftentimes consoled me—whose examples have kept me up, who have hindered me from being alone and losing myself? This is why I am sad in thinking that this next year will be the last that I shall pass at Paris. I am happy with my parents; it seems to me that they need me—I feel that I need them. I could not decide to leave them in their old age; and nevertheless, it will be hard, it will be cruel, to me to leave the place of my exile — to bid adieu to those who have made it supportable to me; to bid adieu to our fraternal reunions, but above all to you and to Pessonneaux.
You have given me a proof of your deep and cordial attachment in taking so lively an interest in what I told you of my mother. Perhaps I owe it to the fervour of your prayers, she is now much better, and gives me no more uneasiness. My sinister presentiments have fled away; and I hope to preserve, for long yet, her from whom I have received all there is of good in me. I hope to preserve her for long, and to pay her according to my power the pains, the labours, and the tears that I have cost her. How I pity you for being deprived of such a happiness!
But if my guardian- angel is on earth, yours is in heaven; if mine is near to me, yours is nearer to God. What I owe to her counsels, you owe to her intercessions. You know the great mystery of the communion of saints; you know that this mystery does not permit us to believe ourselves alone here below, and that it surrounds us with the most excellent and the dearest souls as so many witnesses and glorious patrons, in order that the heart may not fail us in our trials. And then, life is very short; and soon the hour will come when, according to the language of Holy Scripture, we shall go to rejoin our people—this great people who have preceded us in the paths of faith and love. Oh, let us be good during ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years more, and then will arise for us the day of the eternal rendezvous!
To M. DE LA NOUE.
Lyons, November 24th, 1835.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Your little epistolary visit has been very pleasant to me. Your remembrance is one of the dearest remembrances that accompany me every year at my departure, and which leave me not during my long vacation. It is very kind on your part, elegant Parisian, gracious poet, to come thus to knock at the door of a dull provincial, to risk yourself through the foggy atmosphere and the miry streets of our commercial city.
You come, then, to tell me that you have been pleased to accept for me a title, and you ask me for my ratification. At the same time you tell me of the foundation of a society whose end is to glorify religion by the arts, and to regenerate the arts by religion. It is nearly six years since such an idea took possession of me, and has not since left me. The power of association is great, for it is a power of love. In the past century a reunion of men swore to crush l’infame, and they brought Christianity to the gates of the tomb—to the gates only, for since our Lord left the sepulchre, it could no more enter. At the same time they debased philosophy, eloquence, poetry, and all the arts, for they put mire on their hands to make them cast it on Christianity, and their hands have kept trace of the stain. It seemed to me that at our epoch an alliance of Christian men might work with success at the restoring of all these holy things dishonoured. This end would be accomplished by the foundation of a society which should embrace in a triple framework: artists, and in the number I comprehend all those who love the arts; men of letters, and under this title I join all those who, by taste or by condition, occupy themselves with religious, philosophic, historic, literary studies; and learned men (savants), and I assemble in this category all those who give themselves up to the investigations of nature. Such a society would have for general end to develop human intelligence under the auspices and for the glory of Christianity; and for special ends: 1st, to gather together all the believers who occupy themselves with arts, letters, sciences, in an encouraging fraternity; znd, to procure by foundations of prizes, or by other means, the composition of a large number of works beautiful and religious; 3rd, to sustain young artists, litteratenrs, and savants by furnishing them with means of cultivating the talents which God has imparted to them, and hindering them thus from flinging themselves into false paths; 4th, to assist those who fall into misery or affliction, in order that we may no more see Camoens, Gilberts, dying in the hospital, in order to save from suicide some new Chatterton or some new Leopold Robert; 5th, to exercise an active proselytism on all those who come young and upright to run their career, and to draw thus under the Catholic standard the intellectual elite; 6th, lastly, when a broader legislation allows it, to establish Catholic colleges, academies, universities. But, however beautiful these dreams might be, I never had the claim to realize them myself, and I have always hoped that God would charge Himself with doing the work, provided that we helped in it. I believe firmly that the solid institutions are not those that man makes in his way, with deliberate purpose, with the elements of his creation, but those which develop by themselves with elements which exist already. Thus, when I have seen our little societies of history, of law, and our little society of charity formed, I have rejoiced, hoping that from this humble nucleus might develop perhaps one day a great tree. I rejoice equally in the news that you tell me; and the formation of a religious association for the arts is to me the guarantee of a like association for letters and for the sciences.
I should conceive yet greater hopes if I saw at the head of this institution a very capable man. But what matters it? God often uses feeble and fragile instruments to execute great things. One must be called to a providential mission, and then talents and defects disappear, to give place to the inspiration which guides. But, on the other side, if there was presumption, if one went without being called, if by his fault the work failed, it would be a great misfortune. A work which has failed is often discredited for ever; it is easier to build on new ground than on ruins.
I believe, then, that it is needful to reflect maturely, and see if the incipient work has guarantees of duration and success. One should know, above all, if it proposes a practical end. For it is not sufficient to bring together a certain number of names, and to arrange a table divided into six sections. It is not even enough to found a journal: there are so many journals, and they live so short a time. Will there be reunions among the members, conferences, some bond of charity? Will it be an association simply religious, in the most extended sense, or positively Christian, orthodox? Be sure, my dear friend, that orthodoxy is the nerve, the strength of religion, and that without this vital condition all Catholic associations are powerless. It is pleasant to dream, but when we dream we sleep, and when we sleep we are not acting. To act we must see with an undisturbed eye, with an assured conviction, the sacred end towards which we march.
These are generalities. Now let us speak of myself, since it is of myself that the question is in your good letter. I leave in eight days for Paris. This year will be the last of my stay, and my time will be taken up entirely by the trials which I shall have to undergo to take the degrees of Doctor in Law and Doctor in Letters. I have reckoned beforehand that, to fulfil my plans, there must be a determined labour and long vigils. There will remain to me then little leisure to satisfy the obligations of the Society of which you speak to me, yet much less to fill in it the task of vice-president. There is nothing so sad as being a dead member.
Afterwards, in seven or eight months, I shall leave again for my province, which perhaps I shall quit no more. Consequently, what should I be good to you for? Lastly, I love the arts much, but I have very little acquaintance with them. Hardly am I initiated into those difficult studies designated by the name of aesthetic.
Altogether, my dear friend, you have presumed on me too much in accepting in my name the dignity of which you speak to me. I must contradict you. You have acted without commission. Do you know that I, an advocate, could prosecute you for it? When I shall be at Paris, we will talk of this; and, if I am not too much occupied, I will willingly accept the title of simple member, to have in the reunions of this Society one point more of contact with you.