Letters of Frédéric Ozanam. Chapter 10

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoWritings of Frédéric OzanamLeave a Comment

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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Visit to Paris – Increased illness of his mother – Lacordaire – Silvio Pellico – His mother’s death – Opens his course as professor of com­mercial law-the chair of M. Quinet – M. Cousin.

AGAIN, in 1839, Frederic Ozanam repaired to Paris for the entire conclusion of his business there. He remained till towards the middle of August. On the very day of his departure for home his mother was taken worse, and when he reached home he found her in bed and suffering greatly. Her eldest son had then just ended a retreat at Autun, which he had been giving to a community, and on receiving the news of his mother’s danger he hastened immediately to her, travelling all night. ” On the great day of the Assumption,” he says, ” the three brothers found themselves united at the bedside of their dying mother, for our brother Charles, returned from school, began his holidays. Alas! this day, formerly so joyous, because it was the fete of our excellent mother, was no longer filled for us but with funereal threatenings.” One may describe this melancholy period to the mother’s death, two months later, in her son Frederic’s letters, in which the chief cause of trouble is mixed up also with other perturbations and disquietudes of this distressing time of his life.



Lyons, August 26th, 1839.


When your letter from la Quercia came to inform me of your happy arrival at the term of your pilgrimage, the welcome which you had received into the family of St. Dominic, and the memory which you desired to preserve, amid so many grave occupations, of the associates of St. Vincent de Paul, I hesitated for long between the need of showing my gratitude to you for this unhoped-for honour, and the fear of troubling, by an indiscreet importunity, the laborious repose of your novitiate. But during a journey to Paris, whence I am quite recently returned, I have learned that your friends have not ceased to correspond with you; and since you have not disdained to give me this title, I have believed I might take the liberties which are the con­sequence of it.

Too few months have passed since you left our great capital for the impressions of a traveller of yesterday to have any interest for you. You know, without having need to hear it still repeated, that the movement to which you gave from,the pulpit of Notre Dame so powerful an impulsion, has not ceased to spread among the intelligent multitudes. I have seen, near at hand, these men of Republican Carbonarism become humble believers, I have seen impassioned artists asking for the rules of brother­hood. I have perceived the disorganization, the discredit of the rationalistic school, which has reduced it to powerlessness, and forces its two principal organs—the Revue Franfaise and the Revue des Deux Mondes—to seek for the collaboration of Catholics, or, as says M. Buloz, of honest men.

At the same time that M. de Montalembert has gathered together in the Chamber of Peers a phalanx disposed to contend for the good, M. de Came affirms that half-a-hundred voices will soon agree in favour of religious questions in the Chamber of Deputies. On another hand, the little Society of St. Vincent de Paul sees its ranks increasing in a surprising manner. A new Conference is formed of the pupils of the Normal and Polytechnic Schools; fifteen young people, composing about the third of the seminary of the University, have Asked, as a favour, to spend two hours each Sunday, their only day of liberty, in occupying themselves with God and the poor. The next year, Paris will count fourteen conferences; we shall have an equal number in province. They will represent a total of more than a thousand Catholics, impatient to march to the intellectual crusade which you will preach.

For me, humble witness of so many things full of hope, I am now probably fixed in the post which I had so long desired. I am Professor of Commercial Law, and I re­joice in a function which fixes me near to my poor aged mother, and which, nevertheless, does not tear me from my inclinations—unfortunate without doubt, but obsti­nate—for philosophic and literary labours. Notwith­standing the extreme difficulty of writing, which holds my pen indefinitely captive on the pages where my eye discovers numerous defects, in despite of all the signs in which I ought, perhaps, to see the contrary will of Providence; the attachments of habit, self-love, the encouragement of some friends, make me return a thou­sand times to projects a thousand times abjured; and I fear much losing in useless efforts a time which I might employ more modestly and more certainly in my own salvation, and in the service of my neigh­bour. I feel more than ever the need of a spiritual direction which would aid my weakness and ease me of my responsibility. And, to speak with open heart, seeing my mother’s malady make such distressing progress, when the possibility of so terrible a loss presents itself to my mind, I see no longer any reason to hold me in a position which filial duty alone made me solicit, and the uncertainty of my vocation comes back upon me with more disturbing influence than ever. It is this inward trouble from which I have suffered for a long time, that I recommend to your charitable prayers; for if God really willed to call me to Himself, I see no militia in which it would be more pleasant to me to serve than that in which you are engaged. I should even be happy to know beforehand the conditions of it, to help me with the counsel of my confessor, to make up my mind. The Rule of the Preaching-Friars is ‘wanting in our library; could you enlighten me on the means of discovering it? You would oblige anew one of those who have already so many obligations to you.

Receive, with my respects, those of my Lyonnese friends, of whom I am at this moment the envied inter­preter.


La Quercia, October 2nd, 1839.


My first thought is to congratulate you on the very suitable post to which your merit has promoted you. I am truly happy to know you at Lyons, near to your mother and your friends, in a Church which has so in­violably preserved the greatness of its faith. What you tell me of the modifications which are apparent in the tendencies of the clergy, and in the opinions of several men who had contributed to make for them a false position, appears to me to agree with the more general movement which becomes everywhere visible.

I have seen the reprinting of your Dante announced in the Univers, which we receive. This has given me plea­sure. It is necessary to beware of quitting the pen. Without doubt writing is a hard trade, but the press has become too powerful to abandon our post in it. Let us write, not for glory, but for Jesus Christ: let us crucify ourselves to our pen. Although no one should read us more in a hundred years, what matters that? The drop of water on the border of the sea has none the less contributed to make the stream, and the stream dies not. “He who has been of his own time,” says Schiller, “has been of all times.” He has done his task; he has had his part in the creation of things which are eternal. How many books, lost to-day in libraries, have made, three centuries ago, the revolution which we see with our eyes! Our fathers are unknown to ourselves, but we live by them. Besides, nothing in what you have published need discourage your pen. You have a style which has a nerve, brilliancy, and an erudition which sustains itself well. I engage you strongly to work; and if I were the director of your conscience, I would impose on you the obligation.

The end of your letter, where you speak to me of the persevering instincts which impel you to serve God, has greatly touched me. The hope of one day seeing you with us would be very dear to me. I cannot tell you where you will find our Rules. It seems to me that a Paris bookseller would procure them for you easily.

For the rest, you would with difficulty collect from them the mechanism of our order. I believe that, in a few words, you would be put better into possession. The end is preaching, and Divine knowledge. The means: prayer, mortification of the senses, study.

Kindly present my respectful homage to madame your mother, and recall me to the remembrance of all our friends of Lyons. I embrace you cordially, with a great desire to call you one day my brother and my father.


Lyons, October 12th, 1839.


Since the time when I wrote you a very few lines, promising you to open my heart more at ease an­other time, there have happened things which have only furnished too much reason for my silence.

Fresh uneasiness about my mother’s health reached me several times at Paris. However, nothing spoke of a grave peril; and I remained till the entire conclusion of my business, that is to say, till the irth of the month of August. This very day, which was that of my departure, my mother had a crisis, which compelled her to go to bed; and the evening of my arrival, eve of the Assumption, I found her shedding tears on account of her excessive suffering, attacked by a burning fever, causing, in a word, lively apprehensions. At the same time, my eldest brother, warned by the doctor, travelled post from Autun, where he had been preaching, still suffering from his throat; and Charles was there, pass­ing a melancholy vacation. How sad this return was! At the end of a week the malady took a turn, and from acute became chronic. We took a little hope. But soon we were forced to acknowledge that the evil made incontestable progress; we sought to delude ourselves, and after some time we were forced to confess that the apparent improvement had been deceitful, and, from deception to deception, we have come, my dear friend, no longer to believe a cure possible. To-day, sunk in a heavy and continual drowsiness, caused by a con­suming fever, she no longer hears much; she answers scarcely at all, unless when she is spoken to of her children and of God, towards whom all her thoughts continue to rise without effort. She has received the last sacraments with a calm piety which avoided emotion to spare our sobs; she suffers the most incon­venient and the most painful remedies, resigned, gentle, and almost smiling, not by a moral constraint, of which she is no longer capable, but by the habit of kindliness and charity. Never was her virtue more apparent than in these moments when it has in some sort become in­stinctive. And it is now when we begin to comprehend and to appreciate her, that our poor mother escapes from us, and leaves us all alone in the world—my little brother, so young and so exposed; myself, so weak and so evil.

There is enough here for you to know my grief; but what you know not how to imagine is the trouble which accompanies it. Forsaken by her who was my guardian angel, it seems to me that she carries with her the little that I had of religion. My heart turns sour, and goes astray in its mourning; I feel as if I shall become less Christian than formerly, if the prayer of my friends comes not to my aid. And that is why, my dear Lallier, I can delay no longer writing to you. I have need, for myself, for my brothers, for my mother, of your intercession, and of that of the Catholic souls by whom you may be sur­rounded. Do not refuse me a succour so necessary.

As this fatal malady is prolonged for more than two months, it does not release me from the obligation of thinking of my business; and the world, which would excuse me perfectly for shutting myself up for eight days by my mother’s bedside, would not permit me to remain there for eight or ten weeks. This is a new and not less cruel trial—the Propagation de la Foi, my study, the preparation of my course—so many cares which come to throw themselves across my troubles. And the event with which I am threatened changing all my existence, leaves no more any interest for me in these different occupations. At the moment of choosing a profession, seeing my parents still young, I had accepted, to please them, the profession of the bar. Hardly had I taken my degrees, when my poor father failed me, and could not enjoy the fruit of his sacrifices. I tried then a new career, to assist the pecuniary exigencies of my mother, whom I could not leave; and when, after two years, I obtain my nomination, and settle myself to dis­charge my new functions, my mother will have no ad­vantage from what has been done for her. In truth, this double and severe disappointment startles me, overturns all my designs, and throws me with regard to my vocation into grievous uncertainties of which I do not perceive the end.

The day before yesterday a letter from the Abbe Lacordaire arrived for me. He is still satisfied with the order of St. Dominic—still filled with magnificent hopes. .,

Where are you? How has your vacation passed? Does health reign in your new household? Do you hope soon to realize the title of ” Father ” which our familiarity formerly decreed to you? Are you content with your duties? Answer a little at length; you are sure not to weary me.


Turin, November 5th, 1839.


You will have received by M. Collombet my salutations and my thanks. It is time that I begged you to excuse me for having so long delayed to express to you myself how much I appreciate the kind gift which you have sent me. Your book on Dante pleases me; it is a good book in all ways. What you say of the thorough Catholic philosophy of this great poet is the most exact truth. The unhappy writers contrary to the Church who have tried to make of Dante one of their patriarchs have been pitiably blinded by their prejudices. Your manner of refuting them is triumphant. All Italians should felicitate themselves on the brotherhood which unites you to them, and which has inspired you with so noble and holy an apology for their cherished poet. You make us forget the infinite number of inexact judgments which have been passed on our literature beyond the Alps. But with regard to Dante, it must be said that, among those who have painted him in false colours, there are many Italians.

I join to my thanks for your book the very particular expression of my gratitude for what you address to me with such extreme kindness in your letter. May God lead you always, and may He sanctify you! You have talent; employ it constantly in His honour, to the honour of His dear Church, our mother, the only de­positary of the truth. Write, and above all, act always in a manner to edify friends and enemies. Let us aspire unceasingly to render ourselves better servants and children of our divine model, Jesus.

One of my friends, a Piedmontese, the Count Cesar Balbo, has written a life, also very Catholic, of Dante. This work would please you. He has given me a copy of it for you. I send it you by M. Bonafous.

A thousand affectionate things to M. Collombet! Tell him that I thank him for having brought me near to the good Boethius. Tell him that I love his books.


Lyons, November loth, 1839.


Your consoling letter came to visit me in the country, to which my brothers and I had withdrawn ourselves for a few days for the need of our health and the rest of our spirits. Your words came down upon my solitude like the voice of the angel whom Hagar heard in the desert, for there is something angelic, that is to say, fraternal and superior at the same time, in the accent of a friend like you. To the overflowings of so cordial an affection, you join already the authority of your ministry. Your advice has the beneficent force which constrains the soul to open to receive it, and to let itself be healed.

My mother was very ill the last time I had the happiness to see you. Nevertheless, I looked not for so speedy a catastrophe. I thought to keep her yet all winter, and I held with all the obstinacy of despair to this last illusion. It was then with an inexpressible grief that I saw her escape me, when an access of fever, determined by the stormy temperature of the first days of October, warned us of the approaches of her end. And, nevertheless, the intellectual and moral faculties which the malady had at first pressed down seemed to rise again. Every time anyone spoke to her of God and of her children, she answered by some touching words. She understood all the gravity of her position; and yet she was calm, serene, and during sleep a smile spread over her lips.

Our excellent mother was so pious and so charitable, so exempt even from the small imperfections of her sex, so proved by griefs and sufferings of every kind, so admirable in her last moments.

Without doubt she rests in the bosom of Him whom she loved, and when from the height of these divine splendours she sees us kneeling still under our funeral veils, and praying to obtain for her the deliverance which she already enjoys, without doubt she pardons us this mourning and this error, and she causes those prayers, useless for her, to fall in beneficent dew on souls less happy. It is in this thought that I come to ask you to join your offerings with ours; they will not be lost.

Besides, we have much need of this spiritual help, we who remain. Our age would seem to render us, my eldest brother and me, more firm and more courageous. But we have so long lived the family life, we found ourselves so happy under our mother’s wings, that we had never left the birth-nest without the desire to return. When it was necessary to absent ourselves, the privation made us appreciate in a more lively manner what was wanting to us; and absence had taught us to love it better still. The maladies and infirmities which might have prepared us for a separation only served to render it more cruel to us. The cares which they exacted had finished by taking in our days a place which remains empty, and which nothing can fill in the same manner. Above all, how dark and desolate are my evenings when a friend does not come to distract their sadness! But above all, what a loss for the religious interests of my soul! Gentle exhortations, powerful examples, fervour which warmed my lukewarm heart, encouragements which raised my strength! And then it was she whose first teachings had given me faith; she who was for me as a living image of the holy Church—our mother also; she who seemed to me the most perfect expression of Providence. Thus I think I feel nearly as the disciples must have done after the Ascension of the Saviour. I am as if the Divinity was retired from beside me. It seems to me for a moment—shall I confess it to you?—that the faith escapes me with her who was for me the interpreter of it, and that I remain alone in my nothingness. For a week I have worked much; but work which occupies the mind does nothing for the heart. Oh, ask for me of the Lord that He will send to me as to His disciples, orphans likewise, the Spirit who consoles, the Paraclete! I have not, as they had, an extraordinary mission to fill. I do not desire the miraculous gifts with which they were loaded. I desire only to obtain the strength necessary to finish my pilgrimage of some years, perhaps of some days, and to finish at last as my holy mother has finished.

Adieu, my dear friend. I renew to you, with my lively thanks for you, the prayer to recall me to the memories of our common friends.

Adieu. May your mother long be preserved to you! Adieu once more!

Your devoted brother in our Lord.


Lyons, Christmas, 1839.


This fair day shall not pass away without my accomplishing a duty very dear, retarded until now by more imperious obligations, or which perhaps seemed to me such, precisely because they were less pleasant. God permits, without doubt, that in these grand solemnities in which He showers upon us graces from heaven, we should mingle a little of the happiness of the earth; and what happiness purer than that of Christian friendship?

You are come, then, to visit me in the first days of my mourning, and you have had the courage, so rare, to give me veritable and serious consolations. Alas! what need I had of them! what ravages this death has made in my mind and in my heart! Or rather, I mistake—that which has demoralized me is, first, the long malady whose daily undeniable progress carried away from me one by one my last hopes, and which—shall I say it to you 1—seemed to desire to dishonour the sacrifice before consuming it, by extinguishing the intellectual faculties, by deadening the moral feelings. This thought was horrible, but it assailed me always. I imagined I saw the soul die at the same time as the body. Happily, the trial was cut short. In the last moments inward energy revived, and the Christ, in descending for the last time into the heart of his well-beloved servant, left there strength for the last combats.

She remained nearly three days calm, serene, mur­muring prayers, or replying by some words of ineffable maternal goodness to our caresses and our cares. At length came the fatal night. It was I who watched. Weeping I suggested to our poor mother the acts of faith, hope, and love, which, as a little child, she had formerly taught me to lisp. Towards one o’clock new symptoms alarmed me. I called my eldest brother, who slept in the neighbouring room. Charles heard us, and rose. The servants ran to us. We knelt about the bed. Alphonse uttered the last heartrending prayers, to which we replied with sobs. All the aids which religion preserves for this last solemn hour . . . lastly, the hopes, already near, of a happy immortality—all these circumstances seemed gathered together to soften the horror, to enlighten the darkness of death. No convulsions nor agony, but a sleep which left her coun­tenance almost smiling, a light breath which grew weaker and weaker. A moment came when it stopped —we rose orphans. How shall I tell you the grief and tears which then burst forth without, and yet the inex­pressible, the inexplicable peace which we enjoyed within; and how the feeling of a new beatitude carried away, in spite of ourselves, not alone our hearts, but also those of others the dearest to the family! Then the immense concourse at the funeral, and the teari of the poor, the prayers made from all parts spon­taneously, without waiting for our solicitations; and at last, to come back to you, the charitable expressions of friendship, astonished, without doubt, to find us so tranquil in our grief.

Happy the man to whom God gives a holy mother I This dear memory will not abandon us. Even in my present solitude, in the midst of the desolation which often ravages my soul, the thought of this august scene comes back to me to sustain me, to raise me up. Considering how short is life, how little dis­tant without doubt will be the reunion of those whom death separates, I feel the temptations of self-love and the evil instincts of the flesh to vanish away. All my desires are confounded in one alone—to die like my mother.

And you, my dear friend, you must share with me this precious memory, as you share already so many others; and if my pen has had some pain in retouching traits which are for me so many inward wounds, on the other hand your affectionate sympathies, on which I reckon beforehand, will become as a new balm to heal them, or at least to purify them.

How well I feel now the truth of your words! and how happy I am not to have deserted this bed of sorrow and of blessing to run after the doubtful promises of a university advancement! Although, at the price of this light sacrifice, I should only have purchased the privilege of passing beside my mother a few months more, of finding myself present at this last night, I should be already overpaid for it. I have so much regretted not having been able to close the eyes of my poor unfortunate father. May they now find themselves gathered together in the same happiness as they were here below in the same labours and the same afflictions! May I continue with them by thought, by faith, by virtue, an intercourse that nothing shall know how to interrupt, and may there be no change in the family but two saints more I Pray, then, for us, my excellent friend—for us all—for me above all, who loved so much this existence sheltered by the paternal roof, who in the midst of my brothers, in the midst . of my numerous companions, cannot accustom myself to see no longer those of the preceding generation, and who find myself so lonely!

Work comes a little to my help; the cares of my course of commercial law take the greatest part of my time. I opened only on the 16th December. The dis­course succeeded; it was printed, and in time you will have a copy of it. The two following lessons have been a little injured by the hesitation of speech of which I cannot divest myself. Nevertheless, people are not dis­satisfied, and the hall, which contains two hundred and fifty persons, was not large enough. The benches, with­out doubt, will soon be thinned.

I may obtain the chair of Quinet; it will be vacant at Easter. Lastly, the Abbe Lacordaire will be returning in some months, and then, if old desires change into a real vocation, I shall endeavour to corre­spond. My perplexity is very great. On all sides they already speak to me of marriage. I do not yet know myself sufficiently to resolve. Give me your counsels: you know the burdens and the consolations of the state; you know my character, and the antecedents of the con­sulter. Tell him, I pray you, your opinion with the same frankness which he formerly used in regard to you. Do not fear the responsibility; I do not promise you that your advice shall be decisive.

You gave me for Christmas a rendezvous where I have not failed. I have prayed our merciful God, who visited me in the midst of the ruins of my poor family, to visit also the young hearth where yours is forming; to be with you as he was with Joseph and Mary; to bless the first hope of your union. I have formed there, in the sincerity of prayer, the wishes that many will address to you in the language of the world, now and for a few days.

Receive my wishes for a happy year. Kindly present them to Madame Lallier, as those of one of the most devoted friends her husband can have. My eldest brother embraces you, and I do the same.

Adieu. Answer me, and forget not your old com­rade.


July 6th, 1839.


I did not reply to you whilst I had nothing distinct to say. To-day I come to tell you that in the council of yesterday it was decided that you should be named to the Chair of Commercial Law.

I should have been much better pleased to have seen you in my regiment; but I do not despair of it, and in any case I am sure that with me or without me you will always love and serve the true philosophy.

Do not forget me too much, for you are sure always to find in me

A friend.


January 8th, 1840.


I received some days after your Dante the sad note in which you announce to me the death of madame your mother. This news has been truly grievous to me, by all the pain which it must have caused to you, and which I have been able to measure by the sacrifices of more than one kind which I have seen you make to this great affection, to this great duty. You are now more free; when you are able to come back to me, you will find me again.

Tell me what you are doing—your works, your affairs, and the state of the good cause of philosophy at Lyons. A thousand good wishes from the heart.

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