Chapter VIII: The young soul of the apostle
Sub-division of the Conference — Patron, St. Vincent de Paul — Aim of the Society through and for youth — Salvation of souls — Jesus Christ in the poor — “Devotion even unto martydom” — Degree in arts and Doctor of Laws.
Towards the end of November, 1834 we find Ozanam “installed in a very pretty little room with only one drawback, that it is on the sixth storey. But it has good air and a view of the gardens.” He is not alone: he has for a companion “a very amiable young man who is well informed and has sound common sense.” It was Auguste le Taillandier, his fellow founder of the Conference of Charity. “The only fault I have to find with him is, that he is not from Lyons; so even while living so much together we have alas! the prospect of parting in a year, perhaps for ever. In very truth, we are high and puissant lords.”
Ozanam was able to write two years later to his former chamber companion: “Alas! my dear friend, we were living but two short years ago as brothers, our two lives were but as one. How sweet is the memory of those times!”
The academic year 1834-5 was, for those two friends and brothers in St. Vincent de Paul, distinguished by a rapid development of the Society in Paris. We left it with 20 or 25 members at the end of its first year, 1833. In 1834, when we pick up its threads again, the perfume of Charity has begun to spread beyond the bounds of the Conference. One of the Poor Law administrators of the XII Ward, M. Vollot, asked for the co-operation of the Brothers in the visitation of his poor. They gave it to him nobly. On the 1st of February, 1834 the Society took over this work, which it continued and maintained in subsequent years.
On the 4th February, in the same year, they added, for the first time, at each meeting the invocation of our holy Patron, “St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us.” About the same time was adopted, as the principal feast of the Society, that of the same Saint, celebrated on the 19th July. Ozanam was insistent that the Conference should also be placed under the patronage of the Most Holy Virgin. The Hail Mary was then added to the usual prayers, and it was decided to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with special devotion.
On the 12th April the members of the Conference were gathered together in the chapel of the Lazarists, in the Rue de Sevres, to venerate the relics of St. Vincent de Paul, which had been just restored thither. They had lain for four years in the College of Roye, in Picardy, where they had been concealed since the July Revolution.
The veneration of “the father of his country,” as he had been named by his generation, had grown more and more in these young hearts. About this time a few of the Brothers, with Ozanam at their head, decided to celebrate his feast in the little suburban parish of Clichy, of which Pere Vincent had been Parish Priest up to 1612. These young zealots of charity did not merely regard themselves as his parishioners by desire, but as his heirs, his children; it was as such that they sought the honour of carrying his shrine in the procession. “Vincent de Paul was not the man,” wrote Ozanam, “to build on sand or for the moment. The great souls who draw nigh unto God have something of the gift of prophecy. Let us then not hesitate to believe that St. Vincent had a vision of the evils and the needs of our times. He is still making provision; like all great founders he never ceases to have his spiritual posterity alive and active amid the ruins of the past.”
” In our Patron we shall honour a father. Who knows but that one day we shall see the children of our old age shelter in the bosom of a widespreading Society, over whose birth we have watched? That will be the regeneration, the rising flood, which, like the waters of a beneficent river, will renew the face of our own poor country and fertilise its soil.”
Summing up his thoughts in these few words, Ozanam declared that “A patron is an ideal whom we must place before us, a superior type whom we must seek to realise, a life which must be continued, a model on earth and a protector in Heaven.”
During the holidays of the same year, 1834, the membership of the Conference had become sufficiently large to render suspension of the visitation of the poor in their homes unnecessary. Ozanam said, “Gentlemen, let us not forget that the poor have no holidays.” Absent members arranged to have their places supplied by members living in Paris. The most devoted of these substitutes was Le Prevost, who was steadily gaining influence in the Society.
At the first meeting after his return from Lyons, Ozanam acquainted his brother members of his correspondence with M. Curnier a propos of the foundation of a Conference in Nimes. “I have had to read a great part of your letter,” he informed him, “to our colleagues, with the Parish Priest in the chair on that occasion. The impression which it made on them can only be expressed in the words of one of them: “In truth, this is the Charity of the Early Ages of Christianity.”
Ozanam advised his Nimes friend “of new arrangements, which the increase in the number of members, now numbering one hundred, would necessitate.”—” It is probable that we shall have to subdivide our Conference into several, which will all hold a periodical general meeting in common.” It had become a necessity. The house on the Place de la Vieille-Estrapade had become too small. The meetings had become rather noisy and confused, the duration too short for the reports of the visitation of the poor, and for the necessary explanation of their needs. Had not the moment in fact arrived for the enlarging of the circle of action by the establishment of a second Conference, to be followed in all probability by several others? It was a serious question, a tremendous consideration. To subdivide, was that not to separate, to break up? No, it was to grow. The guest-chamber was taken by assault by the youthful recruits, who demanded the opening of the doors, or the liberty to swarm.
Ozanam proposed on the 16th December that the Conference should subdivide into three sections, distinct, but linked together. “It raised such a violent storm,” relates Claudius Lavergne, who was present, “that M. Bailly, the President, instead of appearing to doze, as was his practice on such occasions, at once adjourned the discussion for a week, and appointed a sub-committee of three members from each side to examine and report on the proposal.” While Ozanam’s proposition was supported by Lallier and Arthaud, others like Le Taillandier and Paul de la Perriere opposed it or demanded its adjournment, through love of that unity which had cemented dear and precious friendships. “M. Bailly rained the impartial judge, but it was sufficiently clear that the proposition did not find favour with him.” It was, therefore, not from him that the inspiration and the conception of a boundless Society of St. Vincent de Paul came.
” The Brother,” he continues, “who hurled this brand of discord into their midst was nevertheless the meekest, most peaceful and most thoughtful among them. It is only necessary to mention the name of Le Prevost de Preville, one of the latest recruits, it is true, but the one who, after Ozanam, got the best hearing. I formed part of the opposition, and when our orator, Paul de la Perriere, developed the arguments with which he was to rout Le Prevost, I did not find his address by any means unanswerable. The stormy meeting of the 23rd resulted in an adjournment.”
The supporters of sub-division received very valuable encouragement on the 24th from the powerful advocacy of the Abbé Combalot. He celebrated midnight Mass in the Carmelite Church. While joining in the friendly midnight meal he urged with eloquence and with insistence on the advantage and advisability of sub-division. It was also the decided opinion and ardent desire of Sister Rosalie. The debate on Ozanam’s proposition was resumed by Arthaud on the 3oth December, and appeared, as a matter of urgency, on the agenda of the following day.
The 3rst December was the day of the great struggle.
Every member was early in his seat in the hall of the Place de 1′ Estrapade. The meeting was larger and more full of animation than ever. The discussion was very lively. Paul de la Perriere, opening the opposition, was more eloquent and more insistent than usual. Le Taillandier was seen to weep; the idea of separation, but still more that of dissension, rent his heart. Ozanam spoke and unfolded a vast perspective of good to be accomplished by general extension. It became then the thesis of the joy and benefit of Christian friendship, at issue with the incommensurable ambition of charity.
One could no longer make oneself heard, and minds were as excited as it was possible to be. They had come to the night of the 31st of December, 1834. Night was advancing, midnight bells had just rung out ushering in a new day and a New Year. M. Bailly besought the young orators to end a discussion which had already lasted too long. But how? Ozanam arose and went over to La Perriere. They both embraced as Brothers with mutual good wishes for the New Year. All applauded, followed their example, and left the hall happy and united. They handed over to the Board of the Conference the difficult task of satisfying everyone.
Several forms of compromise were tried and dropped. For some time partial Conferences held separate meetings in two rooms of the same old house of the Bonnes Etudes. Then one was transferred to the parish of St. Sulpice, under the presidency of M. Gossin. Almost at the very same time two other branches sprang up: the Conference of St. Philippe du Roule, which was due to the efforts of M. Clave, and the Abbé Maret, the subsequent Bishop of Sura, Vicar of the Parish: and the Conference of Notre Dame de Bonne-Nouvelle. Lest the sub-division should loosen the original bond of unity, care was taken to lay down a rule for the holding of general meetings, in which the members met in common and drank in together the true spirit of the Society. Those meetings were presided over by M. Bailly, Father Bailly, the guardian of the Society’s traditions, and were animated by the spirit of Frederic Ozanam, who continued to be the soul of the scattered family.
According as the Society was developing in numbers and importance, a similar growth and enlightenment as to its aims was taking place in the docile mind of the young man. The Holy Spirit was moulding him in the fashion of founders of religious institutions in the Church.
Thus, it is to be noted that, instead of making the Society a work of mere philantrophy, such as it might appear to the world, or even a work of active religious propaganda, Ozanam had in view at first nothing but the personal sanctification of the Brothers, and more especially the moral and religious preservation of the young men in the schools. He wrote as follows to Curnier on the 4th November, 1834: “In Paris we are but birds of passage, removed for a time from the home nest. Unbelief, that vulture of thought, hovers over us, before swooping. We are poor young minds reared within the bosom of the Church, surrounded by an impious and sensual crowd. We are sons of Catholic mothers, entering singly into new and perfidious surroundings, wherein irreligion seeks to enlist us. Well, the first matter of importance is that these feeble birds of passage must have a protecting shelter: those young minds must have a rallying, centre for the time of their exile: that those Catholic mothers may have less tears to shed, and that their sons may return to them as they left them.”
“It is therefore of importance,” he added, “to form, for young students from the provinces a Catholic association for mutual encouragement, where friendship, support, and edification would be found; wherein the family life of the home would be, in some small measure, reproduced: wherein the older members would welcome the new pilgrims from the provinces and would offer them moral support and friendly hospitality. Now the strongest bond of true friensdhip is charity, and the exercise of charity is the practice of good works.”
Ozanam continues that if the Society should endeavour to come to the corporal assistance of the poor, it is at spiritual aid and the salvation of the soul that it should principally aim. Alms would be but the key by which truth and grace should enter. Ozanam sees in the parable of the Good Samaritan the lay mission and apostolate to the masses of the people, who have been plundered and left for dead by spiritual thieves and moral assassins. “The nursing of the sick patient is proposed to us, lay Samaritans. Let us try it. Perhaps he will fear us less. Let us endeavour to pour balm into his wounds: let us whisper words of consolation and peace into his ear. Afterwards, when his eyes shall have been opened, we shall lead him to those who are the guardians and the doctors of souls. They are our hosts, as it were, in the pilgrimage here below, for they give our souls the sacred bread to nourish them, the hope of a better world to shelter them.”
Ozanam had a still more lofty view: more lofty even than the consideration of the moral and eternal salvation of the young man by the practice of charity: more lofty even than the consideration of moral and material aid for the poor. Ozanam had the supernatural view of Jesus Christ, made poor for the love of us, and living in our midst in the person of the poor. In its divine aim it is exactly the theological virtue of Charity.
Ozanam had a friend from childhood, his First Communion comrade, Louis Janmot, the distinguished Lyons painter, the pupil of M. Ingres, who at this time, 1836, was completing an art tour in Italy. The student envied him the happiness of being able to visit Assisi and the Umbrian country, where he would find many traces of the seraphic Francis, “the madman from love,” who became a mendicant for the sake of Jesus Christ. Thereupon Ozanam appealed to a heart worthy of his own: “Will not we too, my dear friend, do something to resemble the saints we love? Will we be satisfied to lament the barrenness of the present time, when each bears in his heart a germ of holiness, which a simple desire would be sufficient to develop? If we do not know how to love God as they did, it is certainly because we see God with the eyes of faith alone, and our faith is so weak But the poor, we see with eyes of the flesh. They are present. We can put our fingers and our hands into their wounds, the marks of the crown of thorns are plainly visible on their heads. There is no place for unbelief there. We should fall at their feet and say to them with the Apostle, Tu es Dominus et Deus meus! You are our masters, we shall be your servants; you are the visible image of the God whom we do not see, but Whom we love in loving you.”
Finally, to what degree must we love Jesus Christ in the person of the poor? Ozanam states, to the point of self-sacrifice, to that point of the sublime proof of love, which he calls by its true name in reply to Leonce Currier.—” Even to martyrdom.”—” The world has grown cold, it is for us Catholics to rekindle the vital fire which had been extinguished. It is for us to inaugurate the era of the martyrs, for it is a martyrdom possible to every Christian. To give one’s life for God and for one’s brothers, to give one’s life in sacrifice, is to be a martyr. It is indifferent whether the sacrifice be consummated at one moment, or whether slowly consuming, it fills the altar night and day with sweet perfume. To be a martyr is to give back to heaven all that one has received, wealth, life, our whole soul. It is in our power to make this offering, this sacrifice. It is for us to select the altar at which we shall dedicate it; the divinity to whom we shall consecrate youth and life; the temple where we shall meet again: at the feet of the idol of egotism, or in the sanctuary of God and Humanity.”
To be an apostle, a martyr, that was his dream. M. Maxime de Montrond recalls an evening when the Right Rev. Monsignor Dupuch, Bishop of Algeria, had come to visit the Conference of St. Sulpice “Every member of the Conference was present on that day. The venerable M. Bailly was presiding by the side of the Abbé Collin, Parish Priest of St. Sulpice. The young orphans had been brought in from St. Vincent de Paul’s. The Monsignor shot fiery arrows from his apostle’s heart that pierced ours. I was beside Ozanam. He and I were electrified by those words. When we arose at the end of an hour, having received the blessing of that man of God, Ozanam gripped my hand with great emotion, uttering words that still ring in my ears: “What are we doing here? Do you not also desire to set out with this apostle and help him to plant the Cross in Africa? Oh! how paltry and how petty we are compared to him, how poor our deeds compared to what he will do!” Is not continental France a country of missions?
Now, when it is fully understood that he who spoke and wrote these sublime thoughts had realised them at the age of 21 years; that he had dedicated to God and to God’s poor, his strength, his health, life itself before his majority: that he had thus sacrificed himself, whole and entire, knowingly and voluntarily; will not the title of martyr be conferred upon him? Shall we be astonished at finding a saint revealed according as we proceed in the examination of his soul?
Ozanam resolved definitely to sanctify himself through sacrifice at the foot of the altar of Notre Dame de Fourviere. He wrote from Lyons: “I have made a resolution of more complete moral reform during my remaining two years in the capital. I placed my intentions under the auspices of our Divine Mother, trusting for the rest to my good will!” Whence had the inspiration come to him? He unburthened himself to Dufieux. He is to be seen, first in his self-humiliation, then in his resurrection unto the virility and sanctity of life, approaching what St. Paul calls “the fulness of age in Christ.”
” Three months have passed,” he confessed, “since I made that resolution at Fourviere, and here I stand with empty hands. I am suffering from a spiritual shyness that I do not seem to be able to shake off. My conscience is not sparing me. With the desire to do good and much good on one side, and an incredible irresolution on the other that prevents me from doing anything, I pass days in bitter reproaches for unfulfilled resolutions, and in the formation of new resolutions which I shall not fulfil either.”
Striking the balance of the account, on one side the graces received, and on the other the constant failures to respond thereto, he cries out “Alas! my dear Dufieux, I can indeed say this, since it is said for the greater glory of God, it is probable that no one has received more generous inspirations, nor experienced more holy emotions, nor more noble ambition than I. There is not one single virtue, there is not one moral good work to which I have not been called by the mysterious voice from within. There is not a worthy affection, the charm of which I have not felt: there is not any form of friendship, nor of precious intimate relationship, that I have not enjoyed; encouragement in every shape has been vouchsafed me; there is not a zephyr that blows, which has not breathed over me to unfold blossoms. There does not exist perhaps in the vineyard of the Eternal Father, a single vine to which He has given so much care and attention and of which could be said with more justice: What could I have done for My vine that I have not done?—And I, wretched plant, I have not unfolded my petals to the divine breathing; I have not driven my roots into the good soil; I have become dried up and withered. I recognised God’s gift; I felt the living waters bathe my lips and I opened them not. I remained a passive creature, I wrapped myself up in a cowardly inertia. I am incapable of willing or of acting, and I feel accumulating on my head the crushing responsibility of favours that I daily ignore.”
That strength of God, which piety alone gives and nourishes, was necessary, if he were again to get on his feet and to become master of himself. “But strength,” he says, “that gift from the Holy Ghost so necessary to me who, in the midst of perils, is to walk without stumbling, is not in me. I am drifting hither and thither, a prey to every caprice of the imagination. At times piety seems to me a yoke, prayer a lip-habit, Christian practices the last branch to which I cling to save myself from falling into the abyss, but the fruit of which I cannot gather. I see my contemporaries advancing with head erect. I stand still in despair of being able to follow them, and I spend in idle lament the time that I should devote to marching forward.”
That religious confidence was begot in the presence of “Him Who loves us both and in Whom our separated souls can be united and converse together.” It is perfected at the foot of His Altar and at His Holy Table: “I waited until I should feel brighter to write to you. Yesterday I had the great happiness of receiving Him, Who is the strength of the weak and the Doctor of souls. To-day I write to you with sincere regret for the past and with good resolutions for the future. Oh! I beg of you to pray, that these latter may not prove vain.”
The thoughts of Ozanam which we have just read were the fruits of the Lent of 1835. It was the memorable season when the Lenten Conferences of the Dominican, the Abbé Lacordaire, were definitely inaugurated. He spoke of the necessity of a Church which teaches. “Why,” asked the orator after the few introductory remarks, “why has this temple been chosen for these sermons? My dear brethren, tell me what do you ask of me? Truth! Do you not possess it then, etc.”
Ozanam was present. We know the steps which he had taken to have those Lenten addresses instituted, and we can understand with what great joy he welcomed their authoritative inauguration and brilliant success. At the close of the first, Monsignor Quelen, the Archbishop, arose and thanked “the man whom God had dowered with piety and eloquence and with, what is still greater, that virtue which marks the priest, viz., obedience. He called him his loyal and faithful friend, the consolation and joy of his heart.”
Ozanam was enthusiastic. One Sunday morning, the 15th March, he cut short a letter to his father, because at half-past twelve o’clock he had to be at Notre Dame, to hear the Abbé Lacordaire, who was delivering to an immense congregation the series of sermons, which he had commenced the year before in the Stanislaus College. “The discourses are magnificent. They are attended by the most distinguished people in the capital, M. de Lamartine, M. Berryer, etc. Literateurs, scientists, and numbers of students are observed there. One complete isle is reserved for men and holds from five to six thousand.
Ozanam had not only his place at these addresses, but also his work. His letter to his father adds: “I have to review those lectures for the Univers. I receive one pound for each; the series will consist of eight. If the purse does not gain much, the spirit will, at all events, not lose.” Nor would charity for the poor lose either.
The story is told how Ozanam managed to draw to Notre Dame his companions at the schools, particularly those whom he knew to stand most in need. Several alleged the difficulty of finding room: “Come, I shall keep a place for you.” In order to do that he had to come very early, sometimes two hours before the time of starting, reserving seats against all and sundry until his grateful guests should arrive.
Lallier and La Pierri&re took notes by Ozanam’s side for his articles. The visions and impressions which the friend’s pen reproduced on the 14th March, 1835 were also theirs: “When the congregation, entranced by the accents of the young priest, knelt at the close of the sermon to receive the Papal Benediction, when the bells of Notre Dame pealed forth, the portals opened, and that mighty congregation, rich in truth, poured out into the capital, we seemed to be assisting, not at the resurrection of Catholicity, for it never dies, but at the religious resurrection of society.”
In the reports which follow, Ozanam describes the congregation as becoming more crowded on each occasion, and Lacordaire more splendid. He remarked among other notabilities present, Chateaubriand, Saint Marc-Girardin, Ballanche, Pastor Athanase Coquerel. Enthusiasm increased with every discourse. The last was “superior in eloquence to anything I had ever heard. There is something that heartens the spirit.”
Ozanam desired to see our Holy Mother Church, recognised and proclaimed Queen of Art as well as of Science and Literature, extending her sceptre over every branch of human thought. About that time his friend de la Noue wrote, that he had just formed an Association of Artists and asked him to become Vice-President of it. Ozanam declined the honour, urging, as an excuse, his numerous occupations, but accepted ordinary membership with the intention of emphasizing the spirit of Christianity in the world of Artists and of Poets, “with whom he desires to keep in touch.”
He also had conceived the plan of a similar society “with a view to glorifying religion by the Fine Arts, and regenerating the Fine Arts through religion. The power of association is mighty, for it is the power of love! That idea has taken complete and permanent possession of me for the last five years.” It would not be the Fine Arts alone that should be enrolled, but also Literature and Science: not only those who teach or study them, but also those who patronise and love them. Then there would be a Society to assist and encourage the Fine Arts by means of competitions and prizes: a benevolent society for talent in distress: a society for Catholic propaganda among the intellectual elite of the country. What else? “When a more liberal-minded legislation would allow, the establishment of Colleges, Academies, Catholic Universities! Ah! I can never hope to realize that beautiful dream myself, but I always hope that God will accomplish it, if men only co-operate.”
The young apostle is very insistent that the proposed Association should be really a society of Christians, of loyal and practical Catholics, faithful to the teaching and to the direction of the Church. He questions his friend: “Will it be religious, in the rather liberal meaning of the word, or in the sense which is actively Christian and positively orthodox? Let us be convinced, my dear friend, that orthodoxy is the nerve centre, the vital essence, of every Catholic society; it is from faith that it will derive life and strength.”
Just as all his ambition was for the Church, and as he rejoiced in all her triumphs, so the same apostle trembled and shuddered at her trials and her sorrows. It was a great grief to him to witness “the progress which the rationalist propaganda is making among students, and the deplorable defection of some who but lately were our glory.” Reading the Voyage en Orient of M. de Lamartine, he quickly discovered the poison of scepticism mixed with the honey of poetry in the enchanting goblet. “Through optimism and a false tolerance for the Koran the poet has evidently strayed from the path of orthodoxy,” he writes. But Ozanam believed that the evil was not without remedy, and that time would obliterate the impurities in the Oriental ideas and images. But his grief is bitter, and he cries out: “It is that pride of intellect which has already dethroned the Abbé de Lamennais from the lofty elevation whereon his genius and his faith had placed him. Now we are to tremble for the virginal muse of Lamartine.”
The faith of the young Christian finds expression in accents of virile grief: “Such things are sad,” he says, “but they are true. We Catholics are punished, because we have placed more reliance on the genius of our great men than on the power of God. We are punished because we have taken pride in their person, because we have repelled with some disdain the attacks of unbelief by pointing to the galaxy of our philosophers and poets, rather than to the eternal cross! We are punished because we have leaned upon the reeds of intellect; they have broken in our hands.”
Then he adds in a noble outburst: “Henceforward we must seek help from higher sourses. A slender twig will not suffice to traverse life with; we need wings, the wings that support angels, faith and charity. The empty places must be filled. Grace must guide us in place of genius, which has failed us. We must have courage, we must persevere, we must love unto death, we must fight to the end. Let us not count on an easy victory; God makes that difficult for us that our crowns may be more glorious.”
Even should genius fail, industry would not. Taken up with Law and Literature, his share of the toil was to be double, but twofold also was to be his armour for the morrow’s fight. True, his health was suffering. His correspondence to his mother discloses the fact that owing to frequent and serious attacks his doctor, Dr. Durnerin, forbade all unnecessary study1. He therefore abandoned the course of Oriental Languages, to confine himself to the immediate preparation for his legal and literary examinations, which were the objective of the hard but fruitful scholastic year, 1834-35. “As a matter of fact,” he says, not without some little irritation, “what will it matter to my future client that his counsel knows Hebrew and Sanscrit? It is better to grow musty studying the Code, for to-morrow will see me harnessed to the Law, even while meditating with Seneca on the contempt of riches.” He consents, however, to write an introduction for the Revue Europeenne, which was then rising phoenix-like from its ashes. But he had definitely bidden adieu to the Conference of History. “The poor little meetings are dying, and it is not I alas! who will revive them.”
It is therefore with the representative men of the Bar on one side, and of contemporary literature on the other, that we shall find him in touch, simultaneously, if not equally. On the 8th February, 1835, he informed his mother that on her recommendation he paid his New Year’s call on M. de Lamartine: “He welcomed me very graciously. It seems that the verses which I sent him gave him genuine pleasure. He said many flattering things to me, which however gave me pain, because they are not deserved. He also predicted a brilliant future for me, which does not appear to be under way yet. He made a note of my address, to invite me to dine with him. He also asked me to come occasionally to his literary Saturday evenings. I shall certainly go.”
In the same letter, he mentioned a short visit to M. Sauzet from Lyons, future President of the Chamber of Deputies, who insisted on seeing in his young townsman the hope of the Chamber and of the Bar. On the 15th March he wrote to his father: “Sauzet delivered a speech yesterday in the Chamber of Deputies which was received with tumultous applause, and which is compared to the best addresses of Berryer.”
In which of the paths, that of author or barrister, of poet or of politician, will the future of the young student lie?
Literature first bore off the palm in the year 1835. One might have foretold it. A letter dated the 2nd May to M. Velay contained some unexpected news: “My dear Velay, here is my excuse for not writing. I had lately taken the notion to reduce to its simplest and most positive form, all the literature that I had learned in my three years’ stay here. To fix my knowledge in parchment and to take the Degree in Arts, I had to look up my Buntouf from end to end and to convince myself that I had never done any Greek. I had first to run in review quite a number of authors, then the whole course of history, several parts of which were strange enough to me. This work occupied me a good month, at the end of which I got this welcome Degree. It will serve as a step to the Degree of Doctor of Laws next year. Then I shall, please God, be Doctor of Laws and Doctor of Literature.”
These were then “the two strings to his bow,” to which his letters to his mother referred, in order to serve the divine King in a double capacity, wherever He would be pleased to call His soldier.
His joy at his daring academic success was, however, clouded by the grave condition of his mother’s health. His tenderness for his beloved mother seemed to increase during those days. He thanked her on the 24th February, in the following terms, for the blessing which she had sent him: “That mother’s blessing is the most precious and most beautiful present which you could possibly make me. . . I knelt down, my dear mama, and asked Him Who endowed you with that blessing, to confirm it, and never to let me be unworthy of it. I prayed for energy and steadiness of purpose; I formed the most fervent resolutions, and I have actually begun to do better for the last three days.” . . . Then, as they were just at Shrovetide, he related to her the little feasts which the Lyons students gave one another in their rooms, Arthaud, Chaurand, Bietrix, La Perriere, Janmot, Ballofet, Falconnet, the two Pessonneaux: “M. Bailly, like a kind father, joined occasionally in our frolics.”
He finished his letter as a son with a message for his father: “Will you please tell father a very flattering piece of news. M.. Andral delivered one of his recent lectures in the medical course altogether on papa’s work, History of Epidemics,” which he spoke of in the highest possible terms.—Good-bye, mama, love me as I shall always love you.—Your Son.”
She loved and blessed him as if she were not to be with him for long, a fact of which Frederic knew nothing. His father only informed him when it was late, and then only partially. The son complains: “Mama has been ill, even seriously ill, and I am not told. Matters are taking place at home in which I am deeply interested and I know nothing of them.. You have done this to spare me anxiety, but it is not right. My poor mother has had so much anxiety on my. account, that I must now have it for her, and I must suffer when she suffers. I, her son, must be told all, the more so, my dear father, that it is useless to dissemble: the heart divines.”
From this time forward he had to hasten: “I am restless, my dearest mama; this uneasiness makes me desirous of standing my law examination on the 25th July, in order to be by your side before the end of the month. Then, dear mother, I shall fling my arms round your neck, I shall try to bring you joy, that sovereign medicine for the soul, which can cure even the ills of the body.”
The work of preparation was of the hardest. He had to make up by closer study the month which he had spent in obtaining the literary degree. He knew “that at the first examination for degree, half the candidates fail. He had counted as usual on the review of the last few days.” He worked night and day. With his head in a whirl, his teeth set, his face swollen, he held on: “I had a mustard bath for my feet, and so remained from eleven at night to one o’clock in the morning. I had to work still later during the last few nights, and took care to have recourse to warm footbaths to keep the blood from my head.” When the day of the examination arrived, the all too energetic young man was but a shadow of himself.
The result was good but not brilliant. “The professors have done me the honour to ask me very difficult questions.” But what would his father say? “I admit I fear that. Yet, my good father has promised that he will not blame me. He knows well that I have done my very best to please him. In very truth, I love you well but I fear you more. Well, even so, I reckon on a good reception from you!” He signed the letter “Your son, who starts in two hours and who will be with you in three days.”