Chapter XXV: Brittany — England — The work of publication
Brittany — “The Fioretti of St. Francis” — “The 5th Century” — Sceaux — London and Dieppe.
Ozanam’s frail physical constitution had not entirely recovered from his attack in 1846. Continuous work, and unmerited accusations completed what illness had begun. The same doctors who had interned him the previous year in Ferney, far from libraries and politics, now ordered him three months’ complete isolation and rest, at or near the sea, during the vacation of 185o. He went to Brittany, accompanied by his wife and child, to enjoy the consolations of religion, the grandeur of nature, and the charm of a circle of friends who were ever ready to welcome him.
He went first to St. Gildas de Ruiz. After some baths and promenades, all pain left him and he felt at ease. He wrote on the ioth September: “I spent a very happy time there, under a cloudless sky by the mighty restless sea enjoying complete peace of heart, with my wife and child who are improving daily in health. There are in this life some moments of happiness which, though short and fleeting, yet repay years of suffering.” He had written previously on the 3rd September: “I am not dissatisfied with the state of my health. As I am living in the open air and—to my shame be it said—in complete idleness, I feel much better. Praise be to God, who gives me even a moment’s respite, to recuperate my health and to prepare me to suffer like a Christian.”
Is the sight of such a soul under the hand of God less impressive than a tranquil sea in which a cloudless sky is mirrored?
An annual procession at Vannes in honour of St. Vincent Ferrar, who died there, the wild landscapes of Morbihan, the ruins of the Castle of Susinio, Gavrinis, Locmariaker, druidical grottos, the tumuli of Carnac, threw him into a state of pious meditation and deep reverie. The people’s piety recalled that of Italy, but it was more serious and more stable: the country did not rival the elysian beauty of the Italian scenes and skies: “When one has seen the banks of the Rhine and the Tiber, one must not look for beauties of nature in Brittany. When one desires to make a world’s tour, one should not commence with Italy, for the memory of its sun throws all that follows into shade.”
Thus impressed and interested in different ways, Ozanam arrived at the castle of Truscat to his friend M. de Francheville. The spell which Brittany cast over him began in a visit to the Island of Artz on the religious feast-day of the place. He received an invitation to visit the isle from M. Rio, whose birthplace it was. M. Rio was the passionate exponent of the wonders of Christian Art, the friend of Montalembert, a professor of history at the Louis-le-Grand Lycee, and lately tutor of young Albert de la Ferronnays. He was the heroic young Royalist who, at the age of seventeen, led his comrades of the Vannes Seminary during the Hundred Days against the Imperial forces until the Bourbons returned. They immediately decorated the wounded youth for the defence of their throne. Ozanam relates that “M. Rio did the honours of his native island. After High Mass, at which the whole population assisted kneeling out to the square, he received us in the cottage of his mother, a dear old peasant, whom we were charmed to see in her simple country costume, enjoying the affection and esteem of her family. We duly honoured the rural festival in a feast, which was not altogether rural.”
Ozanam was entranced by the procession, as it wended its way in. the evening to the music of Breton hymns, down the green slopes to the sea illuminated with the last rays of the setting sun. His little daughter walked in the procession clothed in the native costume. Another feature of the scene gripped his heart. “The most touching incident,” he said, “was that of a young man of twenty-three years of age, who had been intended for the priesthood, but who had become incurably ill. He was standing on the threshold of his home, dressed in black, having crawled there to see for the last time, the procession of his native place—I heard that young sub-deacon’s prayer above the chant of the hymns, offering to God the sacrifice of his life . . . Must not God be touched at such a sight? How could we avoid being deeply moved by it?”
That letter to his brother Charles, in which the morning’s Communion had its due place, ended with a word for “old Guigui. “Tell her that we talk of her from morning to night. Ask her to remember me in her prayers.”
The joy in receiving such descriptive letters was spoiled for the young doctor by the thought of the fatigue, which they must have caused the invalid. “What do you want?” replied the poet. “I have such a scrupulous conscience that it experiences a twinge, if I have passed a day without doing something. Besides I can never grow accustomed to enjoying anything without wishing to share it with those whom I am foolish enough to love!” “But that is only fooling with medicine,” insisted the young doctor—”Oh! as to that I have no fear,” replied his dear client, “I am afraid that I shall need it for a long time to come. The ease of these last few weeks has made me believe prematurely that I could throw away my crutches. But if God is to send me further trials, I am not the less grateful to Him that He has given me two months’ good rest.”
Ozanam left Truscat and his friend de Francheville towards the end of September, for the castle of Kerbertrand, where another distinguished friend, Viscount de La Villemarque expected him. “De Francheville’s boat placed us on board a sloop which had been chartered to take us across the Morbihan basin, under a glorious sun which tinted the sea with silver and the isles with gold. We then entered an arm of the sea five miles long, after which we arrived in good time at the town of Auray. We pressed on the same evening to St. Anne, the Breton’s national place of pilgrimage. It was late on a week-day; nevertheless, in less than one hour we saw several bands of pilgrims come and pray fervently before the miraculous statue of St. Anne, or follow the Holy Way of the Cross in the cloister close-by. We were glad to kneel amid those good country people so full of faith and devotion. We prayed more fervently than usual, sustained and, as it were, uplifted by better prayers than ours.”
At Kerbertrand, near Qoimperle, Ozanam enjoyed happy days in the distinguished and hospitable family of the author of the Bardes and the Ligendes celtiques. The renowned archaeologist was then collecting and translating the poems of the country of Armor. Ozanam pressed him to publish them: “Have you taken up Taliesin’s lute to re-arrange the strings, or to give us the Welsh triads, from which duty I shall not discharge you.” The two friends spent much time together over congenial matters as M. de La Villemarque afterwards recalled: “One day—it was near the hour for retiring—we were reading together the poem in which the bard, Liwar’hen laments the death of his twenty-four sons slain in battle. We came to the verse depicting the youngest son, the best beloved, whom the father rests on his knees as he dies at the foot of a pear-tree, and in which he says, ‘A bird was sweetly singing in the pear-tree over the head of my son before he was committed to the earth: it broke the old bard’s heart.’ We read no more in that book. I looked at Ozanam, his eyes were filled with tears.” M. de La Villemarque adds: “As for me, I cannot bear to think of my friend, then near his death, above whom was also singing the bird of poetry. But his sweet voice breaks my heart and I too cannot finish.”
We shall not follow Ozanam in his exploration of Finisterre after Morbihan. He names the principal stations: “I saw the severe shores of St. Gildas and the enchanting bay of Douardenez . . . I went and sat courageously on the furthest projecting rock of the Raz Point, from which I contemplated with deep feelings that ocean, which was the boundary of this world for so many centuries. . . I put up that night at Lesneven on the Brest to St. Pol-de-Leon route, close by the celebrated pilgrimage of Notre-Dame de FolGoat. We had a run over the magnificent harbour of Brest, paid a visit to several of the vessels, saw something of the naval dockyards, and returned much impressed with the naval greatness of France.”
” But, to speak truly, what attracts me to this region is not so much the country as the people; the primitive monuments, the Druid stones of Locmariaker and Carnac, the cromlechs of Crozon and all the lost traditions which they stand for; the legend of their first apostles, and all the extant traces of the heroic combats between Christianity and the ancient gods; the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, of unique interest in the country of Duguesclin and of Anne of Brittany. Then there are the morals of those good people, which are very little contaminated by the triviality and the corruption of ours.
” In truth, if we were only in search of wonderful scenes of nature and of Art, we had done better to put away our walking sticks and live on our recollections of Vesuvius and the Vatican. But one would indeed have to make a world tour to meet a livelier faith, better men, or more modest women.”
Ozanam had also found—where cannot one be found to-day—a Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It was at Morlaix: “We were welcomed most affectionately and put up for three days by a family whom we did not know, and with whom we have no bond of union save that of membership of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I paid a visit to that young Conference, which is very active.”
The return journey was made by way of Lorient, Vannes and Nantes. It had done him good. “The air of Brittany has worked wonders,” he wrote to M. Ampère immediately on his return. “The repose of mind, exercise, and sea air, have restored my strength. Without being exactly copper-lined, I believe I am sufficiently strong to be able to work quietly this winter. Madame Ozanam, in whose complete charge I was, points triumphantly to my cheeks, to which the unaccustomed colour is returning. Your little girl friend is in the same condition, so that we form a trio that is pleasant enough to look upon for those who are foolish enough not to dislike us!”
Somewhat re-assured on the question of his health, or appearing to be so, Ozanam considered that the moment had arrived for the publication of his two last years of lectures, 1849 and 185o, the first sketches of which had appeared in the Correspondant. We have already given a summary of them, and indicated the outstanding features of the loftily-conceived series of lectures on the Civilisation chritienne au Ve siecle. The codification would necessitate not merely a revision, but the complete recasting, entailing an immensity of labour which frightened the author. Longing for perfection, always dissatisfied with his own products, casting and re-casting his own work twenty times, Ozanam found, as we already know, literary composition very difficult; the handwriting in his manuscripts, twisted, irregular, and full of erasures, shows that. He had now, in addition, to reckon with relapses of a malady, which made the pen fall from his fingers and paralysed his inspiration. It was in one of such moments that he wrote as follows to a friend: “I have no illusions, and I ask myself if my shoulders are strong enough to carry the burden of the history of letters in Barbarian Times; and if, indeed, it be worth while to incur the trouble of writing, in order to add a few more pages to what each winter’s wind sweeps from our gardens and out of the memory of men.” Ozanam was at that moment in a state of perplexity which is known to every writer. He was about to release to the public a work, which had been frequently re-handled and never finished, and in which was involved the honour of truth even more than that of the author.
In the state of doubt in which he was with regard to his work and himself, Ozanam had recourse to one of whom he felt surer than he did of himself. M. Ampère was that excellent and reliable friend. But he was a wanderer. He was believed to be in Berlin at the close of 1850, when from Rome Ozanam received on the 4th December his friendly pressing advice to get on with the publication of his Civilisation par le Christianisme: “ My friend, I stand by your 5th century. You must first publish that part of the Introduction exactly as it is in your mind and in your notes. No discouragement, please. You must look after your health, and take your place in the great movement for the reconstruction of the history of the human mind, in which we are all co-operating. You will do your part and God will do the rest.”
Ozanam’s health did not on this occasion disappoint the wishes and the recommendations of his friend. He reported progress on the 27th February, 1851: “You will be re-assured as to the use that I have made of the winter, since I have been able to preserve two or three different states of health, to which you attach importance. In this matter I am deserving of all praise. Thanks to the warm winds which you have taken care to send us from Italy, we have got on splendidly up to the present.”
The autumn and winter had been mild. In the autumn he had been able to resume his course in the Sorbonne: in the winter and spring he was confident of being able to resume writing. He wrote to M. Dufieux on the gth April: “Divine Providence having been merciful with us as with children, I hope that I shall be able to resume work on my book this spring.” It is indeed in Spring, 1851 that the Preface to the first volume of the history of the Civilisation aux temps barbares is dated. The work was to grow by one volume each year for ten years. The preliminary pages are a master-piece of eloquence, if it be true, that eloquence is the voice of a great soul.
There was an alternative title to the work: Dessein d’une histoire de la Civilisation aux temps barbares. The plan was as follows: “I propose to write the literary history of the Middle Ages, from the 5th to the 13th century. But in the history of literature I study principally the civilisation, of which it is the flower; in civilisation itself I see principally the work of Christianity. All my argument is then directed to showing how, on the ruins of the Roman Empire and on the tribes encamped on those ruins, Christianity constructed a new Society capable of knowing truth, doing good and realising the beautiful.”
Ozanam describes how that plan formed in his mind. It was born of the faith of his father, of his mother, and of his sister: of the faith of his own youth, temporarily shaken, but restored by the hand of a priest, a master: “I believed ever afterwards with a stronger faith, and deeply touched by such a grace, I promised God to devote my life and my strength to the service of that truth which had restored peace to my mind.”
That work was then the fulfilment of a promise made to God, and told to men, the accomplishment of a mission from on high, of which his own youth was conscious and which it had already undertaken. “Twenty years have gone since then. As I grow in years, that faith has been better realised and has become proportionately dearer to me. I have found its worth in great sorrows and in times of public danger. I pity all the more those who do not know it. In an unseen way, which strikes me with wonder, God made me especially study Religion, Law, and Literature, that is, the three things most necessary to the accomplishment of my plan. I have been able to visit those scenes that could enlighten me. I have had the happiness of knowing great Christians, men distinguished in Science and Religion, as well as those who unwittingly serve the cause of faith by the exactitude and soundness of their knowledge. Life is however not standing still and I shall have to seize whatever little youth remains. It is full time to write and to keep my eighteen year old promise to God.”
He would have to refute the Science of negation and of hostility. He knows that well. Read this beautiful passage: “Gibbon the historian visited Rome in his youth. Deep in thought one day he strayed into the Capitol. Suddenly he heard religious hymns. He saw a long procession of Franciscans leaving the gates of the Ara Coeli, brushing with their sandals that roadway, the scene of many triumphs. Then indignation seized him, and to avenge antiquity outraged by Christian barbarity he conceived The History of the Fall of the Roman Empire. I too have seen the Friars tramping on the old roadway of Jupiter Capitoline. I rejoiced at that sight as at a victory of love over force. I resolved to write a history of Progress of the very period in which the English philosopher saw only decay; a history of civilisation in barbarian times; a history of mind surviving invasions and saving the debris of the empire of Letters. I do not know anything more supernatural, nor any event which proves more conclusively the divinity of Christianity than the salvation of the human mind by it.”
But he has more than that to say to Gibbon: “His thesis is supported by a great part of Germany. It is that of all sensual schools of thought, who accuse Christianity of having stifled the legitimate development of humanity by keeping the flesh in subjection, by postponing to a future existence the happiness which should be enjoyed here, by destroying that enchanted world in which Greece had made deities of force, wealth, and pleasure, and by substituting a world of sadness in which humility, poverty, and chastity are watching at the foot of the Cross.” That is eternal paganism, characteristic of our fallen nature; it is not progress, it is a retrogression to ancient barbarism. “The glory of the Church in the Middle Ages is not so much that she conquered, as that she never ceased to struggle. But while recognising the permanence of sin, I do not therefore believe the less in progress in Christian times. I am not dismayed by the falls or the stumbles that interrupt that progress. Chill nights following on warm days in May do not prevent Summer from running its course and ripening the harvest.”
The comfort to be derived from the study of history was one of hope for the times in which he was living, and the lesson to be learned was work: “I therefore do thank God to-day, for having, in these disturbed times and amid the terrors of society which would appear to be perishing, engaged me in studies in which I find peace of mind. When I turn to more dangerous periods, when I see the perils which Christian society has survived, that society whose disciples we are, whose soldiers we should learn to be, I am taught not to despair of my age. I am not blind to the tempests of our time; I know well that I may perish in them and with me my work, to which I cannot offer a long life. I engage in writing, because I have not received from God the strength to drive a plough, and I must obey the law of labour and do my day’s work.”
It is difficult to refrain from quoting such arresting views. But if it be Ozanam himself, whom we seek to know intimately, he is to be found in the melancholy, forceful, prophetic, and resigned finale, charged with tenderness and sadness: “I do not know what is to be my lot, whether this book will be completed, or whether I shall reach the end of the page which I am now writing. But I know enough to devote whatever remains of my life and strength to that work. I shall continue to discharge my duty of public instruction; I shall extend and perpetuate, as far as in me lies, an audience which is ever friendly, but which changes too often. I shall seek out those who heard me for a while, and who kept in their memory what I said. That work will summarise, will recast my lectures and my writings.”
” I am beginning at a solemn moment and under sacred auspices. Dante, having come as he expressed it to the middle of his way of life, began his pilgrimage into Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, in the great Jubilee of 130o, and on Holy Thursday. At the threshold of the journey his heart failed him for one moment; but three blessed women watched over him in the heavenly court, the Blessed Virgin, St. Lucia, and Beatrice. Virgil guided his steps, and, relying on that guide, he plunged forward bravely on the darksome journey. Alas! I have not his great soul, but I have his faith. Like him, in my mature years, I have seen the Holy Year, the year which divides into two the stormy and fruitful century, the jubilee year which re-invigorates the consciences of Catholics. I desire to make a pilgrimage of the three stages of history, stretching from the barbarian invasions to Charlemagne and from Charlemagne to the religious splendour of the thirteenth century. Dante, a better guide than Virgil, will accompany me to the end of my pilgrimage, which is on the heights of the Middle Ages, where his throne is set. Three blessed women will also assist me; the Blessed Virgin, my mother, and sister. My Beatrice, too, has been spared to me on this earth, to sustain me with her smile and her glance, to raise me from despondency, and to exhibit to me in its most touching form the power of Christian love, the good works of which I am to describe.”
” Why then should I hesitate to imitate Alighieri and to close this preface, as he finished that of his Paradise, by placing my book under the protection of God, Who is praised and blessed throughout alI ages?”
Such is the close of the Preface. The name of “the great and good God “is inscribed on the coping-stone of the portico. But would it be vouchsafed to him to place the finishing touches on the edifice of which he had laid the foundations? He answered his vocation, he accomplished his mission, he crossed the desert following the column of fire, he was on the mountain top in sight of the Promised Land. Would he enter? He has just told us his apprehensions, he has also expressed his resignation. Has it not been said of that Preface, that it was a literary testament?”
While those serene lines were veiled with sombre presentiment, another great grief burst on Ozanam. The dear one, whom he had just honoured and thanked under the name of Beatrice, fell ill. I read a little later in his correspondence: “The season of Spring, from which we hoped so much, has been a season of grief. All my thoughts are now occupied in restoring the health of my wife and daughter before the coolness of autumn sets in.” “One would have to know Frederic intimately,” says his brother, “to appreciate what his feelings must have been at that time: I remember him, more dead than alive, saying to me, ‘ I cannot see Amelie suffer without my heart-strings being torn.” Anticipating the holidays a little, he rented a country house at Sceaux, where he placed his two dear invalids, whom he was most reluctant to leave. But that was the last month of the academic year, and there were very few days indeed on which he had not to go to Paris for the grinding work of academic examinations.
He was joined by Jean Jacques Ampère, who had returned to France for a short time. The great wanderer divided that time between Sceaux, where he passed from Monday to Thursday, and Paris, whither he returned for the business of the Academy. Then he finished the week at Montreuil near Versailles, staying with his friend Alexis de Tocqueville.
Ozanam could then enjoy regular society each week, if not each day; delightful society which he had longed for: “Your friends cannot pardon you for letting them live the winter without you. The unusually beautiful weather, which we enjoy, cannot take your place. Would Naples, which certainly has not the power of changing members of the Academy into beasts, would it have Circe’s powers of making them forget their native land. I have, indeed, always prayed earnestly for your happiness; but yet, I do not like the thought of your being so happy hundreds of miles away from us.”
They resumed literary discussion and revision. Ozanam’s writings, now ready for the great outside public, required that. He brought forward, first, the Poeta franciscains that offspring of his, scattered through the files of the Correspondant: then the Cinquieme Siecle which could only be completed with the help of Ampère, and which would only be a success with the public, through him.
We have referred to the Poetes franciscains immediately after Ozanam’s return from Italy where they had received their inspiration. To appear worthily in book form they were to be collated and expanded to double their size and value. In Florence, Ozanam had found a collection of popular legends of the 14th century, the Fioretti of St. Francis, little flowers of poetry in prose, garnered with his harvest of historical research in Italy, “as the convolvulus is gathered with the ripe corn.” Ampère agreed that they should have a place in the volume of the Poetes franciscains, following the articles which had now grown into chapters.
Ozanam’s sense of probity warns the reader in the preface, that he puts forward nothing in those legends for the faith of Catholics. He takes good care not to confound those popular songs, or rhymed traditions, with Catholic dogma “no more,” he says, “than I confound the drops of dew with the rays of the dawn that accompany them.”
Neither are they to be confounded with the authentic history of St. Francis, which he believes on the evidence of authoritative contemporaries. “But poetry grows up side by side with history, born, not of falsehood, but of the universal need for belief and admiration.” That is for him the source of the Fioretti.
But those flowers have also their fruit. “Do not charge them with silliness,” protests the moralist. “Those simple, beautiful flowers conceal a virile doctrine fit for freemen. You may smile, for example, at the story of the peace which St. Francis made between the town of Gubbio and the mountain wolf; you do not perceive a charming lecture on charity delivered to the just, in favour of poor sinners. You do not perceive that the wolf, a robber and a murderer, but still capable of being taught, who places his paw in St. Francis’ hand and who keeps his promise to injure no one, is a type of the people of the Middle Ages. Though they are terrible in their passions the Church does not despair of them. She takes the hand of the murderer in her divine hands, and holds it until she has succeeded in inspiring him with a horror for blood, which is the most beautiful and most incontestable characteristic of modern morals.”
So Ozanam returns along flowery slopes to his thesis of social regeneration and the civilisation of the barbarians, passing via Gubbio to Paris, bearing on high the olive branch and clasping in his charitable and merciful hands the still bloody hands of vagabonds and insurgents.
Ozanam selected one out of the many Franciscan legends and entrusted its translation to his wife: “A more delicate hand than mine,” the preface reads, “has done into French one of the most pious, touching, and amiable tales of the Fioretti, in an attempt to grip more closely the simple and natural turn of the old chronicler.” M. Ampère adds: “In our evenings at Sceaux, I was initiated into the secret of that modest piece of translation. The hand which Ozanam described as being more delicate than his, was strong and steady enough to hand him his last drink, and clasp his hand for the last time.”
The volume of the Poites ranciscains appeared complete in 1852. Ozanam lived to see Italian and German translations, while many French editions appeared in succession.
The second and larger work in preparation, that on the 5111 Century, was not completed that term. The Preface was ready by Holy Thursday. The first five lectures, revised and recast by the author, had appeared in the Correspondant under different titles, Progres dans les siecles de decadence, Etudes sur le Paganisme. Ampère writes of them as follows: “The five lectures, now preliminary chapters, form one of the most elevated and most perfect pieces of writing which that author composed.” His dear friend, Aristarque, to whom he submitted the work when completely revised, recalls with deep emotion the reading of it by the enfeebled voice: “It was,” wrote Ampère, “in the summer of 1854 on a seat which I still see, in his little garden at Sceaux, that Ozanam read his picture of Paganism to me; those last days when, though we felt uneasiness on his behalf, we still hid it from him. May I be permitted to remember those days with grief and give free vent to tears which are falling on this paper as I write.”
It now remained to re-arrange, revise and re-cast the sixteen lectures, of which the Professor had only shorthand notes in addition to his own notes. That was more than sufficient work for the strength and the span of life that remained to him. Ampère was setting out on a trans-Atlantic journey, Ozanam was himself sent away for the remainder of the holidays to take sea-baths. Neither was Sceaux a place of quiet, rest, or cure: “I counted on finding peace, leisure, and health, for all my little world: nothing of the kind. The candidates for Degrees find me out, their weeping mamas force my door open; and a racking cough gives me rest neither night nor day.” Sceaux was abandoned, and with it the work of revision, for a month. Pendent opera interrupta, alas! would the work be ever resumed and finished?
Ozanam went to Dieppe in the beginning of the month of August for the benefit of the sea-air. Ampère followed his friends thither. He was to embark at le Havre for England to see the Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. He induced Ozanam to accompany him. “Ampère maintains,” wrote his friend, “that the Professor of Foreign Literature would fail in his obligations, if he did not seize the opportunity of a cheap trip to the country of Shakespeare. I yield, and am dragged at his wheel.”
But, as we shall see, the two friends did not spend a fortnight in England admiring the same objects. M. Ampère wrote: “I made a little trip with him and Madame Ozanam to see the Exhibition in England. I was more enthusiastic than he over the wonders of industry. We did not on this occasion seem to be at one in admiration, as we had been, when considering Dante and the Niebelungen. He was of opinion that I admired England too much and overlooked the Irish unduly. He left me to return alone to the Crystal Palace, in order to have time to visit the slum tenements of poor Irish Catholics. He returned in a state of great emotion; also I suspect somewhat poorer than he went.” We must here reproduce two or three of Ozanam’s letters, which were written on his return from that trip. They show how that rapid survey of the greatness of England had been spoiled for him as a man of faith and charity by “two things which,” he wrote, “Englishmen are careful not to expose to view, and which cursory travellers have not adverted to, when they say that the English are the first people in the world. Those two things are the wretched condition of the poor, Pauperism, and the violence of anti-Papist prejudice, Anglicanism.”
Ozanam visited with an English member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul the slums in which Irish workers were huddled together. “See how to-day Catholic charity,” he wrote, “bears alms with a kind word to those pitiful tenements of indescribable poverty! What courage did not our English brothers need to shake the hands of those down and outs in an aristocratic land, where contact with the poor declasses and degrades! Our noble English brothers, overcoming the double prejudice of nation and class, are doing great good. I passed a very pleasant evening in their midst.”
“The second cause of grief to him who visits London with any regard for God’s interests and for those of humanity,” continues Ozanam, “is the hatred of the Established Church for Catholicism. Do not again praise that people,” he wrote, “for their respect for the past; no people has pushed to such an extent its hatred for the Catholic past. We believed in their spirit of toleration for twenty years, but the old Protestant bigotry was only held in leash; statesmen were always ready to slip it at the proper time. Then you see its fury.” It was the period of the disturbances caused by the re-establishment of ecclesiastical titles which were directed against that great man, whom the Anglican press wished to discredit by calling him The Beggars’ Bishop!”
“But Catholicism had more than made amends in Cardinal Wiseman, and those two other great spirits, Newman and Manning, whose example won many converts in the very ranks of the Anglican clergy.” Such were Ozanam’s thoughts on his return from a visit to Oxford University, the cradle of the new movement. He did not fail to pray before St. Edward’s Shrine in Westminster Abbey, which had been mutilated by Protestant iconoclasts. Overcome with grief at such desecration, the pious visitor fell on his knees in prayer, in expiation for what that ingrate people had clone, who knew not their own saints. He earned the contempt of the crowd of bystanders who, doubtless, took him for a madman.
What Ozanam sincerely admired in England, and in the English people, was respect for law, love of country, the colossal power of industrial labour, and the fundamentally religious character of the people as evidenced by their fidelity to the Lord’s Day of rest, from one end to the other of the most hard-working country in the world. As for the Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, it was not in that fragile and ephemeral building, a mere tent, that he sought the secret of British greatness. There were too many things of luxury for the rich, too many causes of envy and covetousness for the poor, too much pandering to artificial needs, too much uniformity and monotony in that worldly spectacle, ever bringing the same things before our eyes. “Having seen that epitome of human power after sixty centuries I said to myself: Can man not do anything better than that? Is it the last word in human genius to work gold on silk, to mix flowers of emeralds with flowers of diamonds? I was delighted to see as I came out, green lawns, fine clumps of trees, sheep grazing in the fields, anything, in fact, that was not a manufactured product.”
Ozanam, on his return to Dieppe, expatiated on the charity of St. Vincent de Paul at a meeting of the local Conference of the Society. His visits and his eloquent words were not soon forgotten. Twenty years later a baker could repeat his addresses to the descendants of Ozanam, who fled to Dieppe during the siege of Paris.
Sceaux, where he is to be found again in October, had not a Conference. When Ozanam had gathered together a number of suitable prospective members, it appeared that the town had no poor. “What matter,” he said, “material assistance is only a secondary object of the Society; sanctification of souls is the principal aim. We shall work for that.” A flourishing Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin was established for young girls at Sceaux through the labours of the Conference. The Brothers for their part carried out a lay apostolate among the parishioners, whom they brought back to the faith and the practices of religion. One will not be surprised at that when it is stated that one of the members was the illustrious and holy Augustine Cauchy, in whom Ozanam found again the same piety and wisdom, which he had formerly found in the great Ampère.
That gave him the greatest spiritual consolation during the closing period of those holidays. His strength did not improve. He wrote to Ampère on the 23rd October: “I am doing a little work, but very, very slowly, and with great difficulty. I cannot scrawl over a single page, while you out there cover one hundred miles. I am finding peace and calm here in the country at Sceaux. The leaves are going but peace abides.”
That peace lay in himself. He had found its source in the moral virtues which beautified his domestic life, his friendships, his charitable activities. We shall be edified by the contemplation of that complete life, before we close this work with the story of a two years agony, crowned with a death which was still more beautiful than his life, a death which is wonderful in the eyes of men and precious in the sight of God.