Leaves Paris for Lyons – Absence of vocation – Italy – Dante – Society of St. V. de Paul – Endeavour made to obtain a chair of commercial law at Lyons, and to have Ozanam nominated to it – Reconciliation of the two classes, the rich and the poor, by christian charity – Law occupations.
FREDERIC OZANAM, in 1836, was still in Paris for his last year of studies. He was employed in working for the degree of Doctor of Law, and at the same time for that of Doctor of Letters. Notwithstanding his passionate attachment to letters, writing for him was a very laborious employment,and never a recreation, though it acted the part of one. His scrupulosity, his fastidiousness, a natural difficulty in arranging his materials so as to please himself, made his writing not only a labour, but a severe one. His conscience, at the same time, was not at ease as to the time and labour which literature had taken from his study of the law, in which he thought if he had given to it exclusively the five years of his stay in Paris, he would have obtained a rank which was now beyond his power, and which, no doubt, would have greatly pleased his father. ” But he could not decide’ to bid an eternal adieu ” to his literary studies, which, notwithstanding their thorns, had for him an incomparable charm.
To M. DUFIEUX.
Paris, February 8th, 1836.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I received, a few days ago, your good letter, and I thank you for it with all my heart. These few lines, written by a friendly hand, come so well to renew the chain between two souls that distance of place has separated! When two men walk together, it is often their custom to walk with the same step. They set forth the left foot at the same time, and during a certain time they instinctively keep this equal movement; however, little by little, one slackens, or else the other quickens, and then it is necessary that with a look they put themselves into harmony, and that anew they regulate their march. It is thus with two sister souls who advance together in the road of life: from time to time a word, a look, is necessary to harmonize their movements and reestablish their agreement. Above all, if of these two one is weaker and more easily discouraged, more impatient of the roughness of the way, it has need of a charitable support; and this is what I find, my dear friend, in your correspondence. How I should wish to be able to show myself worthy of it, in writing to you, as you ask, frequently and at length. But I am weighed down under the burden of my duties of this year; I despair almost of being able to accomplish the task I have prescribed to myself; time escapes and betrays me; there does not remain to me enough to satisfy both the duties of study and the duties of friendship.
If I had an energetic will, I might easily attain to marking the hours and the days; by leaving to each occupation its natural place,by making labours and enjoyments succeed each other, I should find a place for study and a place for pleasure. But many times, I have told you, my best resolutions have still remained unaccomplished: I have never been able to realize that economy of time so necessary for a good employment of our passing life. To-day I trace a rule; to-morrow I go and break it. I work by starts, by efforts in bringing all the strength of my mind to bear upon a single point. I do not know how to act with method, with calm—to bring to the front two, or several studies–and it is this above all which distresses me.
Formerly I soothed myself with the consoling idea that my life might be divided into two parts: one for action, the other for study; one for the tumult of business, the other for the peaceful culture of letters—and now I see myself fatally thrust on to the grievous alternative of abandoning the one or the other of these two futures which I had thought I could join. My poor head is not large enough for one thought to lodge there without expelling all rival thoughts. Now for about a month I have worked a little, either at an examination in law, or at my thesis in literature that I am preparing; and yet because I desired to divide myself in this way, I have done very little.
Letters could never be to me a recreation: you have seen by your eyes what it costs me to write. And yet, whether it be self-love, whether it be any other motive, I cannot bring myself to bid an eternal farewell to those friends so severe, who make me pay so dear for their familiarity. From another side, I consider that if I had consecrated to the exclusive study of law the faculties which God has given me, and the five years’ stay at Paris which my parents have given me, I should have been able to acquire at the bar a rank that now I cannot hope to reach. All these reflections agitate and torment me, and the close necessity in which I am about to find myself, of taking a definitive position, weighs me down. I am afraid of causing much pain to my dear parents, and yet you know whether they deserve to be loved. Here, many people who wish me well seem, by their suggestions, to be willing to redouble my agitation and my annoyances. It is certain that I shall leave Paris for ever in five or six months; but what shall I do at Lyons? There is the point on which turn all my uncertainties. They would engage me frequently at the bar, and yet it seems to me that it would be very hard for me to remain confined in the narrow sphere of the forum. Is this pride? Is it vocation? Is it inspiration from above, or temptation from below? All that I have done for five years—is it reason, is it folly? 0 my dear friend, pray that the good God would answer all these questions which I ask myself every day! It seems to me that I am resigned to do His will, whatever humble part, whatever grievous mission He prepares for me. Only let this will be known to me, and let me be no longer, as I have been, for five years, divided against myself; that is to say, feeble, powerless, useless. Alas! He has granted me such numerous graces that they are to me a subject of alarm. Each year of my life has received from heaven more mercies than trials, and yet, I assure you, if there were not the feelings of my moral unworthiness, I should greatly desire that this life might soon finish, and that the day might succeed to this cloudy twilight in which I am enveloped, walking without knowing on what stone my foot shall rest, nor towards what end my course is directed.
Pardon me if I have entertained you with my troubles. It is because you have known similar troubles, because you have traversed this burning desert in which I take my first steps. For you life is opening plainly, and I see with joy what solution you are about to give to this dangerous problem. Yes, you will be happy with all the happiness which can be known upon earth. Yes, you will be recompensed for so many sacrifices and so much resignation. Your fine faculties will be able to develop in peace and liberty You understand admirably the poetry which the men of our days must have; you feel it better still. It is no longer inward songs, solitary conversations of the soul with nature and with God. It is no longer barren sighs and complaints without echo. It is fraternal hymns, intelligible, popular, all impregnated with the colours of history, all vivified by the interior breath of tradition, all filled with these three great things—Faith, Hope, Charity. When man is given up to the seductions of the exterior world, the first movement with which grace inspires him is a return to himself. But this movement is not the last. If man forgot himself in the contemplation of himself, he would be nothing but a philosopher—that is to say, a very little thing. It needs that from himself, he mount again to God; and that from God, he come down again to his fellows. From the love of the Creator comes forth the chaste and virtuous love of the creatures. The second commandment is like unto the first. This is why the religious contemplatives themselves, all exiled as they are from our noisy societies, do not believe themselves alone. From the peaceful meditation of their cell they go out to pray; and when they pray, they pray for all—they repeat the prayers that we repeat here. They do not say to God, My Father; they say to him, Our Father. Poetry must do the same. In the midst of the Pagan orgies, to which she was abandoned, a ray from on high has struck her. She has blushed; she has withdrawn herself to sigh in the desert. You have heard, in the Meditations and in the Harmonies, her melodious griefs. But in this isolation she has pleased herself with herself. She has believed she was able to communicate with God without interpreter and without veil. She has become individual, rationalist; and we have seen her, with grief, stop herself half-way on the road of truth. Nevertheless, she must put herself again on the march, Some one must take her by the hand, must bring her back into the society of men, into the society of believers.
I hardly know what I write to you, for my head is tired. For the rest, we will talk of all this together when we shall see you here. Try that it may be in the month of April. Come with the flowers, poet. I went to M. de Lamartine’s a short time ago. Surrounded with political men, he scarcely said anything to me; but, to make up, Madame de Lamartine showed me great kindness. My visits to Montalembert have not succeeded so well. I have not yet been able to meet him. When I see him, I will not forget you.
To M. DE LA NOUE.
Paris, June r ith, 183b.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I am very grateful for the poetic confidence which you are pleased to make me. Your idea seems to me very beautiful, and I believe that you have all which is necessary to develop it in a powerful manner. As for me, I could not give you light on the obscure point you mention to me. Besides my own insufficiency, there is a darkness there which no eye has ever penetrated. Nothing is known, I believe, of the antediluvian world, except that which Genesis reveals. The two races of Cain and of Seth, their early struggles, their fatal unions, a nature more vigorous and more grand, lives of several centuries, the alliance of strength, of knowledge and of sin, all three in a gigantic condition—these are the images which crowd imposingly between the closed doors of Eden and the open cataracts of the deluge. Evoke these images, poet, and they will obey you; they will place themselves in light on the scene which you have prepared for them. The silence of history is the liberty of poetry1.
Frederic Ozanam’s religious faith did not desert him in his times of need: ” more and more it lighted up his soul as his studies became deeper, his prayers more fervent.” He often had recourse to what was for him a means of grace, and felt that a divine Saviour and Master met him at ” this Sacrament of love.” Among those works which he regarded as the necessary aliment of his charity, that which had his preference was visiting the poor. It was open to all; it became the source of nearly all the other works so varied, nevertheless, which, as time went on, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul undertook, such as the work of apprentices, those of clothing, rent, libraries, ovens, etc. ” His extreme sensibility caused a truly paternal tenderness for the poor to spring up early in his soul, and those whom he visited became to him as members of his own family. He visited them hat in hand, and on leaving them would say, far more in the spirit of faith than for politeness, ” Your very humble servant.” The Society of St. Vincent was to Frederic a means of filling up the void which the distance from his family created. In their weekly meetings he met dear friends and good Christians, into whose hearts he poured his own joys and sorrows according to the needs of his temperament; and he found at the same time a vast field for the exercise of his zeal. Here he used all the influence which his character gave him, in acting upon those around him who in their turn needed it—the youth of the schools especially.
Dr. Ozanam wished his son to enter the bar at Lyons. He was delighted as the time approached for him to leave Paris, and busied himself in preparing beforehand for him a pleasant room as his peculiar property. Carefully the affectionate father furnished it, and, above all collected a library into it, placing there some of his own books: happy to be able to despoil himself for the sake of the young advocate, who was soon to find in his family’s town—such were the father’s dreams—his sphere for action, and perhaps for fame. Frederic, however deeply he had felt his separation from his family, and very sensible though he was of the fond affection and hopes of his father, and of his own happiness in returning once more to the bosom of his family, could not now leave Paris without regret—the cradle of his beloved Society, the theatre of the Conferences of Notre Dame, the place of extensive libraries and of learned men, the residence or sojourning-place of many beloved friends. But he had now obtained his doctor’s degree in law, and he returned to Lyons as his home at the vacation of 1836.
During the time of rest he and his brother made some little excursions together, taking with them on one of these occasions their young brother Charles, then in his twelfth year, this being his first pedestrian excursion. The elder brothers passed some days with a friend near Macon; and “one charming morning, when all three had set off to visit the ruins of the old and celebrated Abbey of Cluny,” they:met Lamartine. He asked them all to dine with him, and, together with his wife, gave them the kindest welcome. A large party of intellectual men were gathered there.
To M. LALLIER.
Lyons, November 5th, 1836.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Tuesday evening I had begun to write to you. It was the solemn day of the Communion of Saints. Perhaps —and the supposition is not injurious— perhaps it is for this, that by a singular exchange, at the moment when I finished the first page of my letter, there came to me one from you. Thus your thoughts came all ready to hold converse with mine, as in those Sunday evenings when we met each other at du Lac or de la Perriere. But never a clock replied to another clock in a tone so different, as your epistle, the just welcomed, to mine unfinished. Still quite preoccupied with the somewhat sad news that la Perriere had received from you, I pitied and I blamed at the same time your melancholy; and I was given up on this subject to long considerations which savoured, I suspect, of the sermon of M. le Cure on the Gospel of the day. And behold, in one of the moments of gaiety, into which you pass often at the conclusion of your times of ennui, you write me a thousand joyous things, and talk about the future as a man without care and without business. Necessity was then to put into the fire the page that I had scribbled for the benefit of your melancholy, and to trace other lines more suited to the present colour of your spirit.
I am completely of your advice, and I profess that it is folly to consume one’s days in accumulating that which one will never enjoy—folly even to heap up for one’s children. For the children who see a heap of gold formed behind them, are furiously tempted to sit down upon it and to fold their arms; and to prepare them a fortune is very often to invite them to the sin of idleness. And then children are sometimes only a respectable pretext; lift the veil, and you will see egotism —the egotism which finds in property a means of extending and prolonging in some sort the personality, which is very glad to have much about it for the present, and to leave much behind it for the future. Happily, this applies to none of those to whom I owe love or respect, although at Lyons this vice be common.
I desire to give thanks to God for having caused me to be born in one of those positions on the limit of embarrassment and ease, which habituates to privation without leaving one absolutely ignorant of enjoyments; where one cannot slumber in the gratifications of all one’s desires, but where at the same time one is not distracted by the continual solicitations of want. God knows, with the weakness natural to my character, what dangers there would have been for me in the soft indulgence of riches, or in the abjection of the indigent classes. I feel also that this humble post in which I find myself puts me in a position the better to serve my fellows. For if the question which to-day disturbs the world around us is neither an individual question nor a question of political forms, but a social question; if it is the struggle of those who have nothing with those who have too much; if it is the violent shock of opulence and of poverty which makes the soil tremble under our tread—our duty as Christians is to interpose ourselves between these irreconcilable enemies, and to bring about that the ones may despoil themselves as for the accomplishment of a law, and that the others may receive as a benefit; that the ones may cease to exact and the others to refuse; that equality may operate as much as is possible among men; that voluntary community may replace taxes and forced loans; that charity may do that which justice alone knows not how to do. It is a happy thing, then, to be placed by Providence on a neutral ground between the two belligerent parties, to have among both ways opened and means of communication, without being compelled, in order to act as mediator, either to mount too high or to descend too low.
And yet, in writing this, it seems that I do myself some violence, and that the numerous erasures which are made in these last lines bear testimony that a contrary thought disturbs me. While acknowledging in the past of my life that providential conduct which I cannot weary of admiring, I cannot hinder myself from casting a doubtful and somewhat sombre glance upon the future. The moment of deciding a destiny is a solemn moment, and all which is solemn is sad. I am troubled by this absence of vocation which makes me see the dust and the stones on every path in life, and the flowers in none. In particular, that to which I am now nearest, that of the bar, appears to me little attractive. I have talked with some business men; I have seen the miseries to which one must resign one’s self to obtain employment, and the other miseries which accompany employment. One is accustomed to say that advocates are the most independent of men; they are, at least, as much slaves as others, for they have two sorts of tyrants equally insupportable; the attorneys at the beginning, and the clients later on. Enough, my dear friend, enough of my murmurs, enough of these disquietudes of a man of little faith; and if you desire that it shall not be a fault to have told them to you, receive them as a sort of confession which asks counsels, friendly exhortations, and reproaches at need.
Do not believe, nevertheless, that these wearisome preoccupations fill up all my hours: the hours for some time past have passed away for me in a pleasant and varied manner. I have made with my eldest brother two charming little excursions: one to Saint-Etienne, where I have seen miracles of industry; the other into Maconnais and into Beaujolais, where I found the hospitality of M. de Maubout, and the society of M. de Lamar-tine: nature beautiful in autumn, populations surprising by their fidelity to the faith and to religious practices. I have worked a little at the organization of our little Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. I have brought back my mother from the country; but in return I have seen my eldest brother leave for his missions, my little brother for his school.
It may be that at Joigny you have yet to learn from me two literary events, which without doubt are already old at Paris, but which have left with me a lasting bitterness: I mean the putting of Jocelyn into the Index, and the appearance of the new work of M. de la Mennais.
I know that God, that the Church, need not poets nor doctors; but those who do need them are the feeble believers whom these defections scandalize. They are those who believe not, and who despise our poverty of spirit; they are ourselves, who have need sometimes to see before us men greater and better, whose foot might mark out our path, whose example might encourage and elevate our weakness. We cannot, young Christians, think to replace these men; but could we not make the change of them, and fill up by number and by labour the void which they have left in our ranks?
This question, in which my self-love finds its own account a little, is nevertheless asked above all in your interest. Often I have admired in you a humble opinion of yourself, a contempt for earthly things of which I afterwards deplored the excessive consequences. . . . Yes, we are unprofitable servants; but we are servants, and the salary is only given on the condition of work which we do in the vineyard of the Lord in the place which shall be assigned to us. Yes, life is contemptible if we consider it in the use which we make of it, but not if we see the use we might make of it, if we consider it as the most perfect work of the Creator, as the sacred vesture with which the Saviour has willed to cover Himself: life, then, is worthy of respect and of love. Let us pray the one for the other, my very dear friend; let us distrust our wearinesses, our sadnesses, our doubts; let us go simply where a merciful Providence conducts us, content to see the stone on which we must place our foot, without wishing to discover all the length and all the windings of the way.
You know if it will be hard to me to be deprived of you this year. Let us often overpass the distance by thought; let us write to each other; let us counsel; let us sustain each other. I believe that you must certainly have need of it, since you are a man; but I have yet more need of it.
Be my interpreter to all our old friends. Please to give to those who ask for them my themes of which you have the depot. Do not neglect, if you can, to see N— occasionally; you will be useful to him. Let me know something of our little apprentices.
All your friends here recommend themselves to your memory. My father and my mother give to you in affection that which you charged me to offer them in respects.
Adieu, my dear Lallier! May I soon see you again!
To M. JANMOT.
Lyons, November 13th, 1836.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Here are nearly two months since I received thy good letter, and thou wilt address to me perhaps lively reproaches for my delay. I find, however, my excuse in thy far-away pilgrimages, which have left me completely in ignorance where I might find thee. Thy mother herself for a month has had no news. At length, a few days ago, they told me of thy return to Rome, and immediately I set myself to pay thee a visit. Poor visits are they that are thus made in haste and uncertainty; stupid conversations, where one speaks all alone, where one replies to words already forgotten by the other interlocutor, where one moralizes when he should cause to laugh, where one laughs when he should console. Friendship is nevertheless obliged to hold itself content with this last resource which remains to it; it is for her to divine the impressions of the present hour, and to bring hearts into relation and discourses into harmony. I think, then, that at the moment when these lines reach thee thou wilt be still under the lasting influence of the beautiful tour which thou hast just made through Umbria. It is indeed, if I mistake not, one of the most admirable countries of admirable Italy. The majesty of high mountains crowning sweet and laughing valleys; contrary climates disposed as in an amphitheatre to give place to all the riches of vegetation, from the pine and the oak to the orange and the aloe; the cities seated or suspended here and there on proud heights; and each city, each hill, each brook, each stone where the foot can tread, filled with memories. Spoleto, whose humble gates were closed before H an nibal, while those of Capua opened only at the noise of his steps; and the lake Trasimene, where two giant peopl e sustained blows so terrible that during the combat an earthquake overturned towns and was not felt; Orvieto and its Etruscan antiquities, heritage of a civilization dead without having left a history; the desolate lake of Bolsena, and the island where a Queen died of hunger; and later, the Christian traditions which have purified, em – balmed all these places. Here, the miracle of Bolsena eternized by Raphael; there, the marvellous legend of St. Marguerite of Cortona: but above all must hover the grand memory of St. Francis.
It is in these roads by which thou hast passed, that he went inviting the little birds of the heaven to sing the glories of the Lord, and redeeming with the price of his mantle the lamb whom the butchers led to the slaughter. But it is Assisi, above all, which must be full of him—Assisi and its cloisters, which contained of old six thousand monks, and its two churches—symbol of the two lives of the saint, the one terrestrial and mysterious, the other immortal and resplendent—its two churches, where the good and pious painting of the middle age has developed from its cradle to its maturity, from Cimabue and Giotto till the time of Perugino and his disciple. For it seems that nature and history had not yet done enough for this blessed country, and that art has there shone willingly to surround it with a third and not less brilliant aureole. The Umbrian school, with that one which painted the Campo Santo, certainly appears to me, as to thee, and reserving the mistakes into which my ignorance may draw me, to have walked in the veritable way which was forsaken afterwards at the time of the Renaissance.
Thou wilt not have crossed the threshold of the sanctuaries of Assisi without reading the magnificent history of St. Francis in the eleventh canto of the Paradise of Dante:
Fertile costa d’ alto monte pende…
Di quella costa la dov’ ella frange
Pia sua ratezza, nacque al mondo un sole,
Come fa questo tal volta di Gange.
Perb chi d’ esso loco fa parole
Non dica Ascesi, the direbbe corto,
Ma Oriente, se proprio dir vuole.°2
Dante should be there, the necessary commentator of Giotto, his contemporary and his friend. What men, what pencils, and what voices to celebrate the name of a poor man, of a mendicant, who was taken for a madman! It is because, according to the word of Lacordaire, he was that very thing, he was beside himself with love. His immense love embraced God, humanity, nature: and considering that God made Himself poor to inhabit the earth, that the greater number among humanity are poor, and that Nature herself, in the midst of her magnificence, is poor, since she is subject to death, he desired to be poor himself also. The characteristic of love is to assimilate itself as much as is in it to the things beloved.
And we, my dear friend, shall we do nothing to resemble these saints whom we love, and shall we content ourselves with sighing over the barrenness of the present time, whilst each of us carries in the heart a germ of holiness which the simple will would suffice to cause to bud forth? If we know not how to love God as these loved Him, without doubt this ought to be to us a subject of reproach; but yet our weakness may perhaps find for it some shadow of excuse; for it seems that we must see in order to love, and we only see God by the eyes of faith, and our faith is so weak! But men, but the poor, we see them with the eyes of flesh; they are there, and we are able to put our finger and our hand into their wounds, and the traces of the crown of thorns are visible on their forehead: here incredulity has no more place possible, and we should fall at their feet and say to them with the apostle, Tu es Dominus et Deus mews. ” You are our masters, and we will be your servants; you are for us the sacred images of that God whom we see not, and not knowing how to love Him otherwise, we will love him in your persons.”
Alas! if in the middle age the sickness of society could not be cured but by the immense effusion of love—which was made above all by St. Francis of Assisi; if later, new troubles called for the helping hands of St. Philippe de Ned, of St. John de Dieu, and of St. Vincent de Paul—how much are not needed now of charity, of devotion, of patience to heal the sufferings of those poor people, more indigent now than ever, because they have refused the nourishment of the soul, at the same time that the bread of the body is failing them! The question which divides the men of our days is no longer a question of political forms; it is a social question; it is to know which shall gain the day, the spirit of egoism or the spirit of sacrifice—if society shall only be one great undertaking for the profit of the strongest or a consecration of each for the good of all, and especially for the protection of the weak. There are many men who have too much, and who desire still more; there are many more who have not enough, who have nothing, and who desire to take if it is not given to them. Between these two classes of men a struggle is preparing, and this struggle threatens to be terrible; on one side the power of gold, on the other the power of despair. Between these opposing armies we must cast ourselves, if not to prevent, at least to deaden the shock. And our age as young people, our mediocre condition, renders more easy to us this rate of mediator which our title of Christian renders obligatory.
Here is the possible utility of our Society of St. Vincent de Paul… You have already done an excellent work in establishing a conference there (at Rome); and you have been aided by an admirable instinct when you have given as its object the visiting the poor French in the hospitals of Rome. God will give you the blessing which He gave Himself to His first work, ” Grow, and multiply.” It is little, however, to grow; we must at the same time be united: in proportion as the circumference extends, each of its points must communicate with the centre by uninterrupted lines.
A conference, thou knowest, exists at Nimes; another is just formed at Lyons—we are fifteen, almost all of thy friends; we have much good to do, and we have done little of it. There are rive conferences at Paris. There needs now a correspondence which shall gather us all up. I do not know if you have the Paris rule; if you ask it, I will cause it to be sent to you…
I am much ashamed, my dear friend, to use language so urgent, when I am myself so cold and so sluggish. Thou askest me what I am become, and I hardly know it myself. I have finished my fifth year of law, and am received doctor; now I am fixed at Lyons, where I am contented. But I find here no other career than that of the bar, and, believing it too painful for me, I am trying to prepare for myself another, to which I feel myself better disposed—I mean teaching. It might easily happen that chairs of law or of letters might be established here. I shall endeavour to hold myself ready; and at this moment I occupy myself with my thesis for the doctorate of letters, which I have not been able to pass this year for want of time, and for which I shall return for some weeks to Paris.
I think I have already told thee that one of my theses is on the philosophy of Dante. This has led me to a long study of this poet, whom I admire more and more. I study also his epoch… Happy those whose life can be consecrated to the searching out of the true, the good, and the beautiful, and who are never importuned by the vulgar thought of pecuniary utility! And yet, even in this searching out one is sometimes seized with a scepticism which paralyzes intelligence. Thus it happens to me when I consider the instability and the dissimilarity of human judgments in the matter of the Beautiful. Fenelon compared Gothic churches to bad sermons: thou makest of St. Peter a grand colossus without common-sense. Profane!—what shall I believe when great priests dispute?
However, till some new order, and without fearing either the epithet of eclectic or the reproach of inclining to tripartite divisions, I admit three legitimate forms of Christian architecture: the form Romanic of the beautiful churches of ancient Rome, and of which in my souvenirs the type is St. Clement. The form Gothic of the cathedrals of Milan, of Lyons, and of Paris. The modern form of cupolas, a symbolic form which realizes in its manner an image of heaven, and which, attempted for the first time in St. Sophia of Constantinople, repeated at Pisa and at Venice, is carried out more boldly at Florence, and which, lastly, is posed majestically as a crown on the front of the Eternal City. For of the whole of St. Peter’s, it is really the cupola alone which I have found irreproachable. It is indeed, with that of the Invalides, the only one whose curve has appeared to me perfectly harmonious. As for the seeming mediocrity of the structure of the pile, it is not that which I admire, but the effect which results from it, and in virtue of which the greatness of the church appears always growing in proportion as one visits the details, and we finish by feeling overwhelmed by its immensity.
Enough on this point. Nor do I wish to seek dispute with thee on the subject of the Italians. I could reply to the anecdote which thou hast told me by another more terrible, of which Chaurand, la Perriere, and I, have been witnesses at Paris. But to what serves it thus to give an evil opinion of humanity? Let us not do as Ham; let us cover, on the contrary, its grievous nakedness, and let us leave each other under better auspices, since here I am at the close of this letter.
The friends here embrace thee; repeat it to our friends there. Remember me also a little.
Shortly after returning to Lyons, before settling down, Frederic received an advice from some of his friends which seemed in some measure to harmonize his own desires and the duties of his calling. Several of the influential inhabitants of Lyons had conceived the idea of obtaining from the Government the establishment of a Chair of Commercial Law in their city, and of procuring Frederic’s nomination to it. This project, which, of course, involved teaching and study of a different order from the mere practice at the bar, made it desirable that he should return to Paris for awhile, as also did the desire which he had for some time cherished to obtain a degree as Doctor of Letters.
To M. AMPERE.
Lyons, February 16th, 1837.
In the humble and peaceful family life which I have led for six months, I often let my thoughts return to the time when, leaving Lyons for the first time, I arrived, a young man of eighteen years, in the midst of the noisy and dangerous solitude of the capital. Then I recall the tutelary house which opened to shelter my inexperience, the family which was willing to admit me into the number of its children, and him who, in the midst of his infinite occupations and his honours, found the time and did not disdain to act to me as father. These memories always leave me in a sort of astonishment; and, my whole heart moved by the bounties of Providence, I ask myself with uneasiness what He has desired from me in placing my youth under such rare auspices.
The affection which you yourself have more than once showed to me, and particularly towards the end of my stay at Paris, has made me believe in the prolongation for the future of this influence which I have so happily experienced in the past. There may be found in the designs of Providence a continuous action of certain men on the destinies of others, and this action may be hereditary. Among so many better things which you have inherited, permit me to reckon the patronage with which your father honoured me.
In a conversation which I had with you last year, I confided to you the hesitations which were common to me with all young men who pass from a studious to an active life, my repugnance for the agitation of business, my quiet tastes, my dreams of study, and the moral necessity under which I nevertheless was to be near to my parents, and to make for myself at Lyons a laborious existence. I confided to you, at the same time, the idea which had been suggested to me, and which seemed to conciliate my mental inclinations and the exigencies of my position. There was a question made of obtaining from Government the establishment of a Chair of Commercial Law at Lyons, and my nomination to this Chair. This thought, which would have been rash if it had been personal to me, had been conceived and adopted by several respectable persons of our town.
To-day things seem to approach their accomplishment. The Chamber of Commerce of Lyons has framed a demand to the Minister of Commerce, which must be communicated to the Minister of Public Instruction.
In asking from you the favourable intervention which I had asked from your father a year earlier, I have not believed I need change anything in the simple expression of my desires, as nothing has been changed in him to whom they are addressed. Representative of his fine intellect, you are also for me of his goodness; and this occasion will not be the first in which I shall owe you gratitude.
I am, sir, in waiting to deserve the title of friend which you have sometimes given me,
Your tenderly devoted servant.
To M. X–.
Lyons, March 9th, 1837.
I am not too much contented with myself, and nevertheless I find in myself one thing, one single thing which does not displease me. It is the need of loving, of possessing, of preserving friends who love me. Above all, when frieridship is formed, so to speak, of itself, by a concourse of unforeseen circumstances, by the will of God who has used these circumstances to draw two men together, then this friendship seems to me more precious still, and in some sort sacred. Such is that which has been formed between us for six years, and which time and distance have not diminished. Is it not so?
We must agree nevertheless that friendship, being a harmony between souls, could not subsist in a prolonged absence, if they gave not from time to time some signs of good accord; and these signs may be of two sorts, words and actions. Words borne by the trustworthy paper come to teach him who forgets that he is by no means forgotten; they scatter disquietude, put grief and annoyances in common. It is, indeed, an epistolary commerce where one always gains and never loses. Nevertheless, there are bonds yet stronger than words—these are actions. I do not know whether you have observed it: nothing familiarizes two men between themselves so much as eating together, travelling together, working together. Now, if acts purely material have this power, acts moral have it much more; and if two or more agree to do good together, their union will be perfect. Thus at least He assures us who says in the Gospel: ” In truth, when you are assembled in My name, I will be in the midst of you.”
It is for this reason that, at Paris, we desired to establish our little Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and it is also for this reason, perhaps, that heaven has willed to bless it. You will see in the annexed circular, that under the auspices of our humble and illustrious patron are already united in the capital two hundred and twenty young people, and that the work has sent colonies far away, to Rome, Nantes, Rennes, Lyons. Here, in particular, our intentions prosper, and are realized. We are more than thirty. Money does not fail us; and the benevolence of the ecclesiastical authorities, after some slight clouds, is shown to us in all its plenitude. You will see that in Paris they greatly desire to draw tighter this confederation of men of goodwill, in establishing between them regular relations, in order that they may know each other, may encourage each other, and may sustain each other mutually by the force of example, and by the force of prayer. The society of Nimes, the first-born of those of the provinces, will not refuse herself to this fraternal invitation: her sisters will be happy and proud to enter into communication with her.
Do not you find that it is marvellously pleasant to feel your heart beat in unison with the hearts of two hundred other young people scattered over the soil of our France? Do not you find that in casting the good work which is just done as a humble mite into the common treasury, one loves to see it lose itself amid a thousand good works which have been placed there at the same time, and all confounded together in order to be one single offering to Him from whom all good proceeds? And, independently of the present enjoyment which results from this community of charity, are there not there great hopes for the temporal future, even, of the society where this new generation will take its place, and for the eternal future of each of us, for whom that which all have done shall be remembered?
Alas! we see every day the schism begun in society become deeper. It is no longer political opinions which divide men. It is less than opinions: it is interests. Here the camp of the rich, there the camp of the poor. In the one the selfishness which wishes to keep hold of all; in the other the selfishness which wishes to carry away all. Between both an irreconcilable hatred, the menaces of an approaching war, which will be a war of extermination. One only means of safety remains—it is, that in the name of charity the Christians interpose themselves between the two camps; that they go, benevolent fugitives, from one to the other; that they obtain from the rich much alms, from the poor much resignation; that they carry to the poor presents, to the rich words of gratitude; that they accustom them to regard themselves anew as brethren; that they communicate to them a little mutual charity, and this charity paralyzing, stifling the selfishness of the two parties, diminishing each day the antipathies, the two camps will rise, they will destroy their barriers of prejudices; they will throw away their arms of anger; and they will march the one to meet the other, not to fight, but to mingle with each other, to embrace each other, and to make but one fold under one shepherd—Unum ovile, units pastor. Adieu! Tell me at length of your friends, of yourself, of your town, of your Reboul, and of so many other things in which your friendship will know how to guess what interest I shall take.
To M. PAUL DE LA PERRIkRE.
Lyons, March 10th, 1837.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I have to return thanks to you, whether for the services that you have already rendered me, or for those which you still offer me. . . .
Should I interest you in telling you two words of the life which I lead here? It is always this strange life between inconstant studies and importunate occupations. I reckon disrespectfully among these last, the rare pleadings which have taken me to the Palais. The famous affair of interdiction, pending at the time of your departure, has been pleaded twice since, and will be judged perhaps to-morrow. On two other occasions I have spoken at the bar of the Civil Tribunal and the Correctional Police for extremely small interests. This week the Assizes have given me much work.
They really complimented me on my discourse; but, you know, my poor words have the happiness of obtaining felicitations sometimes, convictions scarcely ever. Here, my dear friend, is the most memorable scene of this life at the bar, which I have had the advantage of leading for four months.
I thought to write to-day to N—, but, behold, today is ended, since midnight has struck. Not having the time to write to him to-morrow, which is no more to-morrow, I beg you to communicate to him what may be able to interest him in this letter, and to make ensemble avec lui. In particular, I beg him not to take too much to this habit of writing without thinking, which is common now to many people who are not clerks. I do not press him for my article, but I make a conscience of it to him in the interest of his own intellect, which has need of a little exercise, if he wishes not to go to sleep in the vapour of requests and judgments… Present my respects, I pray you, to M. Bailly. If you see M. de Kerguelen, charge him to say two words of friendship for me to the litttle apprentices Marius and Blondeau. Here all your friends remain tenderly attached to you. Put in the first rank
- M. de la Noue died in 1838, at the age of twenty-six.
- The fertile side of a high mountain slopes . . . From this side there, where broken yet it lies In less abruptness, a new sun doth streak, Like to this one from Ganges’ wave, the skies. Therefore who henceforth of this place shall speak, Let him not say Assisi—that were small—But Orient, if the right word he shall seek.