Letters of Frédéric Ozanam. Chapter 12 (end)

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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Return home — Entrance on his duties at the Sorbonne — Marriage

AFTER this enforced absence, Ozanam returned to his congratulating friends. Nevertheless, his triumph and happiness were not unmixed. Lyons was his home, had been his home ever since he could remember; his friends —many of them—lived here; here his parents had lived and died; it was breaking many ties of affection, as well as deranging his own plans, to leave Lyons and go to Paris, though it might be to profess at the Sorbonne. Moreover, whatever the value and prestige of a Professor­ship at the Sorbonne, there were things to be said in comparison of it and his present engagement, to the preference of the latter—it was provisional; being only a supply for another, it might be altered at any time. At Lyons the two chairs would be his own.

His lifelong friend, M. Ampere, who had been one of the judges at the competition, combated his doubts determinedly, telling him that his place was at Paris. and that a brilliant and useful future awaited him there. M. Soulacroix, proud of the successes of his future son-in-law, approved his decision entirely, and placed no obstacle in the way of his speedy marriage with his daughter. The elder brother, in place “of a father and mother whom we still mourned, and who would greatly have approved of this happy alliance,” went solemnly to present the younger to his future father-in-law, and Frederic found himself warmly welcomed into a second family circle. The father took them in to his wife and daughter, and after some conversation and mutual con­gratulations, he took Frederic’s hand, and joined it with his daughter’s in his own, thus consecrating ” the knot which a little later would be tightened for ever.”


Lyons, December 6th, 1840.


After six weeks of vacation, passed in the midst of great events, it is needful to return to Paris, there to begin my part on the dangerous theatre of the Sorbonne. But I cannot decide to enter on this new and unforeseen phase of my destinies without opening my heart, en­lightening and strengthening myself by some talks with the best friend I have in this world. So I propose to myself, in leaving Monday (i4th), to stop at Sens Wednesday (16th), and to pass the day with you if you will allow me; this will be a happy indemnification for the privation suffered in the month of October.

How many things to tell you, and how this cruel question of vocation, so long uncertain, is all at once decided! At the same time that Providence calls me back to the slippery ground of the capital, it seems to be willing to give me there an angel guardian to console my solitude; I go away, leaving an alliance concluded which will be solemnized at my return.

I should have had recourse to your counsels if events had not been precipitated with an imperious rapidity. I have recourse now to your prayers. May God pre­serve to me, during this exile of six months, her whom He seems to have chosen for me, and whose smile is the first ray of happiness which has shone upon my life since the loss of my poor father!

You will find me very tenderly enamoured; but I do not try to hide it, although I cannot sometimes hinder myself from laughing at it. I had believed my heart more bronzed.

You will see me happy: this will compensate for the share you have so often had in my grief.

Adieu, my excellent friend. I feel truly that new affec­tions will never dislodge any of those which were already in the heart, and that it will enlarge that it may lose nothing.

The Abbé Ozanam, looking back forty years on the marriage of his younger brother, recurs with the utmost tenderness to the various details of its arrangements, and even lingers on the softness and gentleness of the name of the bride—Amelie—and its suitability to her who bore it, ” who was to make the happiness” of his brother. ” A name,” he says, ” so much the more harmonious to our ears that it was also that of one of our aunts, become in some sort for us a second mother since we had been orphans.”

For the few days which remained to Ozanam before his return to Paris, he consoled himself by constant visits to his affianced bride. He did not understand music, but he loved it; and was greatly influenced by it. Amélie Soulacroix was a clever and sweet musician. From her evening witcheries he went out with his whole soul refreshed and inundated with delight. In the beautiful words of Scrip­ture, like Isaac, he “was comforted after his mother’s death.” In the strength of this refreshment he went .alone to Paris. Between the lovers was established a most constant correspondence, in which Frederic laid his muse under contribution “the better to render the hymns which his heart chanted.” The letters, however, were far from being sufficient; “for,” says the elder brother, ” it would be difficult to tell the numerous mes­sages which were then confided to us by the future bride and bridegroom. We delivered ourselves of them,” he adds, ” so much the more willingly, that besides the happiness which we procured to our two fiances, we had the pleasure of finding again a sister worthy of consol­ing us to a certain point for her whom we had lost.”

This must have been Eliza, who died when Frederic was a mere child, and of whom he says that God “gave him for his first instructress a sister pious and intelligent as the angels whom she went to rejoin;” and whom the Abbe Ozanam thus tenderly recalls to memory. After three months at the Sorbonne, Frederic returned to Lyons for a brief vacation, was compelled to return after a week or two, and comforted and diverted himself in the midst of more serious employment by joining to the preparation of his lessons the interesting of himself in the wedding preparations.

None of the letters of this period are published. But at the end of six months Ozanam thus announces his marriage to the friend to whom so many of his most in­timate letters are written, also to M. Ampere and M. de Montalembert.


Château du Vernay, near Lyons,

June 28th, 1841.


The great things in which your affection was interested are accomplished. Wednesday last, 23rd June, at ten o’clock in the morning, in the church of St. Nizier, your friend was on his knees. At the altar was his eldest brother, raising his priestly hands, and at the foot his young brother answered to the liturgical prayers. Beside him you would have seen a young girl, white and veiled, pious as an angel, and already—she allows me to say it—tender and affectionate as a friend. Happier than I, her parents surrounded her, and never­theless, all that heaven has left me of family here had given me the rendezvous; and my old comrades, my brothers of St. Vincent de Paul, and numerous acquaint­ances filled the choir and peopled the nave. It was beauti­ful, and strangers whom chance had brought there were deeply moved. As for me, I knew no more where I was. I hardly kept back great but delicious tears, and I felt the divine benediction descend upon me with the consecrated words.

Ah! my dear Lallier, you, the companion of laborious times; you, the consoler of evil days, why were you not there? I would have begged you, you also, like the good Pessonneaux, to give your signature to the act commemorative of this great occasion; you also, I would have presented to the charming bride who was given to me; you also, she would have saluted with the gracious smile which delighted all the world. And after­wards, for five days that we have been together, what calm, what serenity in this soul, that you have known so unquiet, and so ingenious in inflicting suffering on itself!

I allow myself to be happy. I count no more the moments nor the hours. The course of time is no longer for me; what matters the future to me? The happiness of the present, that is eternity—I comprehend heaven.

Help me to be good and grateful. Each day, in dis­covering to me new merits in her whom I possess, aug­ments my debt towards Providence. What a difference between those days when you saw me so sad at Paris!

I have been half pardoned for having shown you there a certain letter; I shall be altogether pardoned when the pleasure of your acquaintance is realized. You arc invited to make yourself at home with us in the month of November.

Adieu. My respects to Madame Lanier; to you a fraternal embrace.


Château du Vernay, near Lyons, June 29th, 1841.


Permit me to give you the title of affectionate familiarity that you have taken so many times in sharing my joys and my sorrows. For long a sort of respectful reticence has made me hesitate, but to-day I must take all the liberties which the heart loves; and in my pleasant pride of a bridegroom, I feel myself bolder. It is, then, with a freedom quite brotherly that I come to share my happiness with you. It is very great, it passes all hopes and all dreams; and since Wednesday last, the day on which the benediction of God descended on my head, I have been in a calm, serene, delicious enchantment, of which nothing had given me the idea. The angel who has come to me with so many graces and virtues, is as a new revelation of Providence in my obscure and laborious destiny. I am all lighted up with inward pleasure.

But this light which fills my soul cannot leave in the shade the memories of the past, and above all those which accompany gratitude. Your thought has had its place in the midst of the friends present, whose number pressed to the foot of the altar. And afterwards in the charming conversations in which my new family likes to make me talk of past years, at every moment your name, and that of your venerated father, comes up to be received with the sincerest gratitude. Incapable of ever showing it as I would have wished, I feel, allow me to say so, almost acquitted to you when I hear your praise on those lips so dear, of which a single word thrills me.

I am charged to tell you that to know you in Paris will give great pleasure; and that, even at this time, when the presence of a third party is generally undesired, it would please us if the pilgrimage to Greece should have a station near to us.

Adieu, sir and dear friend; allow me to embrace you with all the overflowing of the day of my departure, and believe in the tender devotedness of all my life. This will be in part your work, and if my actual position is a hope of more in the happy future, you know what part you have taken in it.


Lyons, July 25th, 1841.


After having discharged those duties which devolved on me as Secretary, allow me yet a few words in my own name. A design, with which your sympathies were connected, has been accomplished in my behalf. The alliance, already concluded last winter, has been solemnized a few days ago. God, who took from me my poor mother, has been pleased no longer to leave me without an angel guardian. My happiness is great, and whilst I enjoy it in its first sweetness, I remember that you told me of it beforehand. I remember that in leaving you at our last interview, you pressed my hand with kindness, and you told me that intense joys crowned Christian unions here below.

Henceforth in your remembrance, before God, I lay claim to the place you there promised me as Christian husband. St. Elizabeth1 has revealed to us the pure joys of conjugal piety; the friendship of her historian may help us to reproduce them.

The happiness which attended his marriage, and the peace of mind which he felt after years of perturba­tion, had a very favourable effect on his health; but as he was threatened with a weakness of the throat which might affect his ability to take up his duties as Professor, he was advised to try the waters of Allevard, a beautifully situated little village, surrounded by pleasant excursions, among which was one to the castle where was born, in 1476, the Chevalier Bayard. Here he was joined by his elder brother, also on account of his throat, and his younger brother, whose vacation it was. Later on, partly for the final cure of his throat, more to instruct himself for his future duties, Frederic and his wife visited Italy. There are no letters published of the former journey; of the latter they will suffice for an account. At Marseilles he made the acquaintance of the relations of his wife’s family who resided there. On the 23rd of September they reached Naples.

The following letter to his brothers may close this series.


Naples, October 3rd, 1841.


Here are ten days passed away since our arrival at Naples. To-morrow the steam-boat carries us to Palermo. The short space of time for visiting so many marvels will explain, will justify perhaps, our silence. After having passed the entire day in going over these beautiful places, in interrogating their memories, we return in the evening enchanted, but dead of hunger and fatigue. We dine in haste, and hardly does there rest the time to put in order a few notes, to arrange the plan

of the next day’s excursion, to regulate the accounts. Eleven o’clock strikes often before we are ready to take a little sleep. At the moment even of taking the pen to-day, I am assailed by such violent temptations to sleep, that I know not whether I speak or dream, and I shall not be astonished if I write to you in the most fantastic style in the world.

And what more fantastic, indeed, than this long pano­rama whose scenes succeed each other before us, stirring with them so many thoughts and memories? In the first place the natural world is most beautiful, and surpasses all the conjectures of imagination. The Gulf of Naples, and the two others of Gaeta and of Salerno, all three so well defined, all three displaying majestically the harmo­nious shapes and roundings of their shores, of their pro­montories, and of their islands. Everywhere a luxuriant, tropical vegetation; the green trees and the luxuriant plantations mingling themselves with the thick shadows and the fresh culture of the northern countries. The vines hanging in innumerable festoons from the poplars to give place below to more modest harvests of millet and maize. Woods of orange-trees, with bushes of myrtles and aloes. Then a sky so pure, a light so trans­parent, that the forms of objects stand out with a perfect clearness, and seem nearer to the deceived eye. On this ever-blue vault a single white cloud floats from the southern side. It is the smoke of Vesuvius, whose im­posing mass occupies the first level, whilst far as the eye can reach the horizon is formed by the proud chain of the Apennines.

On this scene so richly adorned, appear in turns the successive civilizations which animated it, beautified it, and sometimes also desolated it. There on the confines of Calabria is the ancient Pestum. Its temples, which we are never weary of seeing, announce by their gigantic proportions, by the grandiose simplicity of their archi­tecture without ornament, the earliest epoch of the Greek colonies. There is still the rudeness of the Etruscans, and there is already the severe art of the Dorians. Above all, there is the work of a people still penetrated with religious sentiment, corrupted as it is, and who do more for their gods than for their magistrates or their actors. Later this will not be the same; and here is Pompeii, where the temples, reduced to the most niggardly dimensions, are effaced before the grandeur and the opulence of particular habitations. This pro­digious quantity of marbles, of mosaics, of paintings; this infinite variety of instruments, of utensils, of furniture, of carved ornaments, sculptured with the most extreme delicacy—all this shows at the same time the refinement of an advanced art, and of an insatiable egotism of enjoyments.

The theatre of Herculaneum,so marvellously preserved in its sepulchre of lava, has interested me extremely, by making me comprehend that which I had never pro­perly figured to myself, the arrangement of the ancient tragedies. The beauty of this edifice, and of the amphitheatre of Puteoli, the immense ruins of villas, hot baths, ponds, aqueducts, on the coast of Bairn, show well the dominant character of the Roman archi­tecture, which was never great except for places of pleasure or works of material utility. The one and the other are found united in the highest degree in the palace of Tiberius at Capri, whence the eye of the tyrant might glance at the same time over the most delicious landscapes in the world, and over all the attempts of his enemies. But these vast constructions, of which so many remains still subsist, and whose stones borne away have sufficed to build the great Church of the Gesú, by what mechanical means have they been able to raise them to this almost inaccessible height? Or rather how many thousands of slaves have toiled and suffered to make this asylum for imperial wickedness? Such was the human destiny at that moment when Redemption was preparing. And indeed, yet a few years, and the Apostle will touch at the port of Puteoli; these places have their page in the Sacred Book. Following after the first bishop, several will go to die one after the other in the arenas, where openings still remaining allow the cages of the ferocious beasts to be seen. We have kissed the soil where the blood of St. Januarius and his companions ran; a few days before we had descended into the Catacombs where their bones were gathered. How we felt our hearts stirred in these sepulchral galleries, as we acknowledged there with a respectful joy the sacred rendezvous of the first faithful, the place of the altar and of the baptistery, and the place whence the voice of the priest made itself heard by the people!

The Church remained not long buried in this funereal darkness. At the first ray of liberty which shone for her, she arrayed herself, she crowned herself, she gave herself rich sanctuaries. It is thus that at St. Januarius we see, in the chapel of St. Restituta, the remains of the ancient cathedral erected on the columns of the temple of Apollo, and the fragments of the mosaics of the seventh century. Later, under the Norman princes, rises the actual basilica, with its Gothic facade, and its nave in ogives. But above all, I have examined there with the greatest interest an oratory situated behind the middle of the edifice, and founded by the family of the Minutoli. There, at the foot of an altar crowned with a dais richly sculptured, are found the tombs of these old patricians, from the year 1200 to about 1500. Themselves are painted on the wall of the enclosure, kneeling, some with the insignia of the episcopate, others under their armour of knighthood, with joined hands and pious countenance. Above, and as if to console these images of death, one of the old masters of the Neapolitan school has painted the Passion of the Saviour. The artistic and historic merit of this monu­ment has been acknowledged by the enlightened taste of the Cardinal Archbishop, who has caused its restoration to be actively pursued.

How beautiful was this re-born Italy of the ninth to the thirteenth century! What energetic spring of faith, of courage, of genius! At the same time that Naples shook off the odious dependence on the Greek emperors, all the little scattered cities on the coast imitated the example, and became rivals in courage and activity. Then numerous vessels brought the riches of the East to the inhabitants of Amalfi—a powerful republic, which counted amongst its dearest conquests the body of the Apostle St. Andrew. To-day we see it solitary and depopulated, suspended among its picturesque rocks. From the height of the Convent of the Capuchins, under the vault of an immense grotto, we see by moonlight the waves throw their white foam on the shore to which they formerly bore so much glory and treasure. At Salerno, also, we venerated the tomb of Gregory VII., who came there to find a last shelter, when alone he contended for the liberty of Christianity, and the freedom of the Italian Fatherland.

Unfortunately these times were short, and dating from this epoch begin the traces of the foreign invasions and dominations which disputed the two Sicilies. At Capri is the castle of the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, rivalling that of Tiberius; there, beside the market-place, in the Church of St. Croix, is the block on which the last de­scendant of the German dynasty, Conradin, perished at sixteen years of age, by the orders of Charles of Anjou, brother of St. Louis. This prince and his successors raised the Château Neuf, whose old feudal towers com­mand the port. The palace of the Queen Jeanne recalls this sanguinary woman, who, murderess of her husband, lost by her crimes the empire of France in Italy. Then begins the ascendancy of Spain; rich foundations in the monasteries, palaces more sumptuous than elegant, the names even of Medina and Toledo, etc., given to the streets of the town, recall the Castilian dynasty. This however, was to end one day, and to give place to our fleurs-de-lis, which are found again with the family of the Bourbons on the Neapolitan throne. These last vicissitudes of history, the sceptre balanced by turns among these rival people, the rending of the country by the arms of the stranger, are so many mysteries which are not yet explained. But those of anterior epochs are so completely unravelled, Providence has so plainly showed its finger in the ancient destinies of this country, that we may be sure to acknowledge it sooner or later in her modern revolutions.

I forget myself in recitals without interest for you. Alphonse has himself just seen all these things; him­self can with living voice describe them to Charles better than one knows how to do it by writing. However, I know by experience that we love to hear about that which we have seen, above all when the circumstances are not the same. And now the beauty of the season lends to this country a charm which without doubt was not then there; therefore it is best, is it not, to write you simply my impressions? And as Amelia has told the details of our voyage, there only remains to me the part of generalities. I had much rather talk with you on our affairs, but how can I do it without news? This priva­tion spoils a little the pleasure of our journey; in think­ing of the anxieties of one, of the solitude of the other, I reproach myself for not sharing with you these months of repose.

The End


THE translator of this volume originally intended to present to the English reader the whole of Frederic Ozanam’s letters. As this has been found impracticable, by reason of their extent, the present volume is issued, as a first series, with the intention of following it by a second2, which will contain Ozanam’s correspondence from the time of his marriage and settlement in Paris to his death.

  1. Elizabeth of Hungary.
  2. That was never done (editor’s note)

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