Death of his father – His mother’s declining health – Perplexity and distress of all kinds – Endeavours to obtain the chair of law – Disgust with the bar – Energetic pleadings – Views on marriage – Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Studies on Dante.
FREDERIC OZANAM was still in Paris when a terrible disaster visited his family. Dr. Ozanam was now in the sixty-fourth year of his age—a yet robust and healthy man, occupying himself, as we have seen, with the delightful expectation of seeing his second son establishing himself under his own roof. The numerous cares and sorrows of his life had not destroyed his natural vivacity of spirit. Walks with his family, or quiet family parties, where he was a most agreeable companion, were his favourite recreations. He was very fond of music, and played himself tolerably well on several instruments.
Of the visits which he and his wife mutually paid to the poor an amusing story is told. Some of these poor lived up several flights of stairs, and husband and wife, each conscious of some infirmity in the other, had “forbidden ” each other to mount higher than a certain stage. On one occasion, however, they each went, unknown to the other, to visit a poor invalid who lived beyond the forbidden height. They met on the staircase, and each taken in a flagrant act of disobedience, had nothing for it but to forgive and go home together. A tendency to giddiness in the head was the husband’s infirmity; and, robust as he was, so that it is said that it seemed as if only an accident could put an end to his life, this one infirmity, perhaps only temporary, may have been the partial cause of the deplorable accident which deprived him in a few hours of life. On the 12th of May, 1837, in the evening twilight, visiting one of his poor patients, he mistook the staircase descending to a cellar for the one to the higher stories, and fell on his head. That same day at dinner, d propos of something which is not mentioned, he had remarked, ” Death is nothing, but the judgments of God are to be dreaded.” Yet it was not to be called a judgment in the case of this good man. ” God gave him time to receive the last sacraments,” says his son Alphonse, “of which he had himself procured the benefit for several of his sick.”
Frederic was yet in Paris. There was no railway then, no electric telegraph. It took three days for him, only half informed, to reach his friends; and it was only when he met them all again that he became fully aware of the nature of the calamity which had befallen his house. In every point of view it was a crushing misfortune, coming, too, just at a time when, if possible, it might be felt the more. Madame Ozanam, overwhelmed with grief and in uncertain health, could do little to reassure her family in their bereavement. “My poor friend—my poor Oza!” she cried, using a familiar name which she gave her husband. ” Oh, my God, how unhappy I am!” she exclaimed; then added pathetically, ” and yet how I bless Thee for having given me such good sons!”
When death so rudely broke into this family circle, the youngest son was still a child, the eldest son, the priest, was taken up with his ” missions;” and upon Frederic, young, inexperienced, and looking for something so very different, came, in addition to the grief which he shared with the others, the burden of settling his father’s affairs, of becoming master of his house, of, in some sort, taking his place. It was a dreary and doleful necessity. ” Preoccupation and inquietude of all sorts” came down upon him, of which the greatest was the ill-health and condition of his mother.
The calamity which parted him with such terrible distinctness from the comparatively happy and uncareful time of the past threw all other causes of concern into still deeper shade; and the dark experiences and perplexities of the next two years and a half—till his mother’s death—are best told in the letters themselves.
To M. X
Lyons, June 1st, 1837.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Among all the consoling voices which came from far to show sympathy in my misfortune, yours has been the first, and has not been the least grateful. You know, you too, what a solitude is made in a family by the loss of one of its chiefs. If the death of a mother is most heartrending for her sons, that of a father is most overwhelming. It causes, perhaps, less tears to be shed, but it leaves behind it a sort of terror. As a young child, accustomed to live in the shadow of another, if he is left for an hour alone in a house, penetrated with the feeling of his own weakness, is frightened and begins to weep, so, when one has lived so peacefully in the shadow of a paternal authority, of a visible providence in which he trusted for all things, in seeing it all at once disappear, in finding himself alone, charged with an unaccustomed responsibility in the midst of this bad world, he experiences one of the most grievous troubles which have been prepared since the commencement of the world to chastise fallen man. It is true that my mother is still here to encourage me with her presence and bless me with her hands; but cast down, suffering, desolating me by the uneasiness her health gives me. It is true that I have excellent brothers; but however good those are with whom we are surrounded, they cannot supply the absence of those who protected us. Myself, above all, of an irresolute and fearful temperament, I need not only to have better men than myself about me, but to have them also above me. I need intermediaries between my littleness and the immensity of God; and now I am like him who, living in a stormy region, under the shelter of a large roof in which he had put his confidence, should see it rudely blown away, and should be left forlorn under the infinite vault of the heavens.
I do not know if I make you comprehend my principal kind of affliction; add to it the spectacle of the affliction of my family, the rapidity of the blow which has struck us, the affairs of a succession importunately mingled with the sadness of a mourning, and many things too long to say.
For the rest, we feel a great consolation in thinking that the piety of my father, strengthened during these last years by a more frequent use of the sacraments, the virtues, the labours, the griefs, the perils of his life, have rendered easy to him the access to the celestial dwelling-place; and that soon, if we are good, we shall find him again at the eternal rendezvous, where death shall not be. The more are multiplied in the invisible world the number of the souls who were dear to us and have left us, the more powerful shall we feel the attraction which draws us thither. We hold far less to the earth when the roots by which we were attached to it are broken by time.
What would it serve me, my dear friend, to tell you of my griefs, if I could only sadden you by my recitals? And what a cruel pleasure it would be to make for friendship a community of troubles! But when we pour these troubles into a heart loving and religious at one time, we draw forth from it a prayer, and this prayer rises agreeable towards heaven, which hears it always. It is, then, before God that I desire that you would remember my misfortunes, and the needs of my entire family. You have, besides, other preoccupations sweeter, and which have more claims on your spirit. You are a father; and if this joy is measured by the sadness which one feels at ceasing to be a son, it should be very great. Enjoy the happiness which God grants to you for your deserts, so much more excellent than you seem in the least to comprehend. You believe you owe something to the acquaintance which we made together six years ago; and I, I am sure of finding much there. I do not know if my company in a large town could be any profit to you; I know that yours revealed to me the possibility of certain virtues of which I believed not that youth was capable; I have welcomed with lively gratitude the amiable guest1 whom you have sent me, to be, you said, the interpreter of your gratitude. Two things above all astonish me in this man: an energy which is not of his time, and a choice of style, a constant erudition, an abundance of learned allusions which speak of readings multiplied beyond the rare leisures of a manual profession.
I would converse with you more, but time fails me, and the courage even for/ long conversations fails me also since my misfortune. I would beg you, then, to be patient. Tell du Lac to pray for my father, for my mother, and for me; I will write to him soon.
A Dieu, my dear friend—to Him alone who draws distances near, consoles in absence, and knows how to reunite sooner or later those whom He has made to love each other.
To M. AMPERE.
Lyons, June 2nd, 1837.
SIR AND FRIEND,
The last year, at this time, you had lost an excellent father, France one of her glories, and myself a patronage which honoured and encouraged my youth. My mourning was confounded with the general mourning which must needs have been one of the consolations of yours. Nevertheless, you willingly admitted me to share your sorrows in a more intimate manner. I recall to myself a day when you came to visit me in my little chamber; both of us had tears in our eyes. I said to you how I felt myself urged to return to my family, to profit by all the hours which heaven would grant to my aged parents. The example of your misfortune made me think with trembling of the possibility of a similar misfortune.
To-day, you know it, these sad presentiments are realized, and the severities of Providence are also heavy on me. I also, during a short absence, I received alarming news. I arrived—it was too late—I arrived to embrace my mother and my brothers alone. My father had left them. He was no longer there; he would never be there again. I had only bade him an adieu for three months, and I found myself separated from him by the whole interval of a life. Those who have not experienced it cannot tell what a void is made by the privation of one single man, when so much respect and love surround him, when one was accustomed to do so many things because of him, and to rest on him in so many things, when he was really among his own—the visible presence of the Divinity. My father had not obtained in science a name illustrious in the first order —his name was not celebrated in far-off countries; but his labours and his virtues had made him loved and esteemed by his colleagues, by his fellow-citizens, and above all, by the poor in whose service he has died. Public regrets have not been wanting to him. He was not known to you; but me you knew—me, his son; and if ever your benevolence has found in me something which did not displease you, it was from him, from his counsels, from his examples, that it came to me. Thus the affection that you have always showed to me assures beforehand that this year also there will have been between us community in afflictions. One finds one’s self almost happy not to suffer alone.
Henceforth, family duties fix me at Lyons more imperiously still than in the past. However, I hope in a few months to see Paris in passing, and there at length to finish the tests for which I am preparing myself, and which, for the second time, are interrupted. As for the affair, on the decision of which I am awaiting, the circumstances in which I find myself oblige me to desire in a more lively manner than ever to succeed. Near my mother and my brothers, the Chair of Commercial Law, which has been asked for, would give me a position sure, honourable, peaceable.
The finances of the family were only straitened; the law, to which he was compelled to devote himself, brought in no flow of money, while it continually disturbed his mind by the practices to which it seemed to compel its followers. The extreme depression of some of his letters is sufficiently accounted for by their contents, and they probably acted as a needed safety-valve for what might well be felt at his time of life, and with his temperament, as overwhelming troubles. The presence of the old servant, Marie, must have been a great stay in many ways; but she herself was now advancing in years. His brothers came to him when they could, and he had many friends. Yet all these were, and must have been, humanly speaking, but slight relief for the daily and hourly loneliness and anxiety of his life.
To M. HENRI PESSONNEAUX.
Paris, June 19th, 1837.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Pardon if I have remained so long without replying to your good letters, and particularly to that of thy father.
You have made it for me, nevertheless, a new duty to love you by the interest which you have taken in my misfortune. The testimonies of sympathy are so much more precious as the grief is greater; and, in proportion as God withdraws from us our nearest relations, we feel the need of drawing yet nearer to our more distant relations. My good mother is always a great sufferer: sadness consumes her heart, and an interior malady never leaves her head. However, her intellect is perfectly sound, and her virtue, piously resigned, causes the admiration of all those who surround her.
Happy the man to whom God gives a holy mother! But why must it be that in proportion as the aureole of sanctity surrounds more brightly this cherished head, the shadow of death seems to approach it? Why, in the tongues of men, is perfection synonym of the end? Why does God give nothing here below? and why does He only lend? My dear friend, pray with me that my mother may be preserved to me, that she may be preserved to my brothers, who also have so much need of her; that this house which thou hast known happy and full of love, may not be desolated, filled with mourning, empty of all enjoyments, given in spectacle as an example of human vicissitudes, become a scandal for the impious, who, seeing Christian families so hardly treated ask insolently where is the God in whom they had hoped: Ubi est Deus eorum?
For me, it is always in Him that I hope; and, up to the present, I am resolved to follow the indications which He gives me in the unequal circumstances of life.
I continue by letters the proceeding which in Paris I took by myself. In waiting, I do not at all abandon literary labours, which are for me one of the most salutary earthly consolations. I still occupy myself a little with Dante.
Adieu. I embrace thee tenderly.
To M. LETAILLANDIER.
Lyons, August 21st, 1837.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
You had reason to be astonished at my silence. Believe me, nevertheless, that imperious and continual business has alone hindered me from answering you. However grievous my ordinary preoccupation might be, and however happy may be the event in which you have given me a share, this contrast should never hinder the exchange of our thoughts; because, for us Christians, the most contrary events of life are seen in the same light, are brought back to the same principle, which is God. Before Him, there are no inconsolable griefs, neither are there joys without mixture; there are no more suffering hearts or satisfied souls who cannot converse together in this admirable language that religion has made for us. As you have shared my mourning in the midst of your smiling projects, I also, in the midst of my sadnesses, I have smiled at your near-approaching happiness. For your happiness is not for you what vulgar men dream: it will be serious, sought out in an order of enjoyments where many sacrifices are met with; it will attach itself to new virtues which you are about to practise. The benediction of heaven will be upon your head, but cares unknown to this day will sit heavily on your brow. Fatherhood is also a sort of royalty—a kind of priesthood. Your vocation is difficult, but it is beautiful, but it is grave, but it is certain. You are fortunate thus to reach the term of these agitations which torment so great a number among us: uneasy, ill-assured of the destiny which Providence prepares for them in this world. Vivitis felices quibus est fortuna peracta.
Alas! my dear friend, it is only two years ago since we lived together as brethren; and the memory of this time is sweet to me. Our two lives were joined in one, and in so short an interval, see how already a frightful divergence is made. You are about to have two families, both prosperous, both full of hope; and I, I see dissolving the only one I had. The void grows around me. My poor mother is ill, my two brothers are wanting to me during the greatest part of the year. You are meeting a future which all promises brilliantly for you; and I, the loss of the one who supported my steps arrests me at the threshold of my career, and leaves me hesitating, trembling, given up to my own counsels. Nevertheless, I am not jealous. God be blessed for having sowed roses on your path! and if He has put thorns in mine, let Him still be blessed, provided that, on the one part and on the other, His eye watches over us, that His love accompanies us; provided that He makes us remember each other frequently here below; that He cause us one day to find each other elsewhere! You have here many friends who rejoice in your happy alliance, but who murmur at the same time to see the hope which they had nourished of drawing you near to them carried away. I speak especially of Chaurand, of la Perriere, of Artand; for if I would name all those who are attached to you, I should have to say all the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul, for the Conference of Lyons is very closely joined with the Society of Paris. This union makes our strength, and this strength augments each time a new conference is formed in some part, as in these last times at Dijon and at Toulouse. Shall you do nothing at Mans? Will you not give us brothers, you who were one of our fathers, you who were, I remember me of it, the first author of our society? See, do not as others whom family ties cause to forget everything else. You have in your heart sufficient love to shed it abroad outside even of your domestic hearth. You will have need of many more graces than in the past; this is not the case in which to do fewer good works. May each one of us, as we grow in age, grow also in friendship, in piety, in zeal for good!
He recurred now with some satisfaction to the idea already set afloat of the establishment of the Chair of Law at Lyons; but a long time and a great many d/marches were necessary before this was accomplished. Indeed, not until the poor mother who had greatly longed for it, and had helped it by her prayers, had passed away from those who loved and needed her, although she had the satisfaction of knowing that it was close upon a satisfactory arrangement. ” Six different powers had to agree to arrive at the conclusion.” These powers were, the Lyons Chamber of Commerce, the Ministry of the Royal Council of Public Instruction, the Municipal Council of Lyons, the Ministry of Commerce, and that of the Interior. With all these complications, it was not wonderful that the affair dragged a wearisome length along—the more wearisome because the pecuniary aid which its settlement would bring was so really needed. During the debates, the Minister of Public Instruction, M. Cousin, intervened with a proposal to Frederic to take a Chair of Philosophy at Orleans. He would greatly have preferred this, but for one thing, the condition of his mother. He could not leave her.
To M. LALLIER.
Pierre-Benite, near to Lyons,
October 5th, 1837.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Since you wish it, I am going to keep you informed of the current of my existence since the time when I quitted you.
You are not ignorant of what there is lasting in certain griefs. When the wings beneath which we have lived so long a time fold themselves; when the shadow which covered our head suddenly fails us; and when alone we carry the burden of the heat is it surprising that henceforth sorrow should be a thing of every day? This immense void which the absence of God makes in the soul of every man, is increased for us by the absence of a father or a mother; and I doubt not, my dear friend that here is one of the causes of that inward melancholy which we both feel.
The health of my mother, who is threatened with slowly losing her sight, is also for me a great affliction. I have had other family tribulations, which it would be too long to enumerate to you. All the administration of our little fortune weighs henceforth on me, and my inexperience makes the burden yet more heavy. Excepting quarrels among brethren, we have had all the annoyances of a succession where there is a minor. Independently of these cares, common to all the family, I have those of my profession. I have pleaded this year about twelve times; three times only in the civil, where
I have always gained The emotions of the pleading at bar are not without charm to me, but the emoluments come in only with difficulty; and the relations with the people of business are so painful, so humiliating, so unjust, that I cannot bend myself to them. Justice is the last moral asylum, the last sanctuary of present society; to see it surrounded with impurities is for me a cause of indignation every instant renewed. This kind of life irritates me too much. I come back almost always from the tribunal deeply wounded: I can no more resign myself to see the evil than to suffer it.
However, I am far from wishing to abandon a profession which actual circumstances make more than ever a necessity to me. After the vacation I shall give a lesson in law to three young people whose money I hope to see.
The horizon of my future is not bounded there; but if it is larger, it is tolerably stormy. The Royal Council of Public Instruction having sent back the demand2 to the Minister of Commerce, this last is disposed to encourage the institution of the chair in a pecuniary sense, if the Chamber of Commerce and the Municipal Council will provide the principal expenses; and now they discuss the shares which the Chamber, the Council, and the Ministry should contribute. The institution, and the dotation once decided, then there will be the question of the nomination. Then I shall present myself, surrounded by those who wish me well; and it must be a singularly unhappy chance which would cause me to fail. Although these negotiations should have no other effects, they would always have that of having proved to me the affection of all my friends; for the wishes of the ones have no more failed than the exertions of the others.
For the rest, in all this I keep myself passive. I feel a sort of religious, perhaps superstitious, respect for the present uncertainty of my destiny. I have put myself under the protection of Providence, I fear to lay my own hand upon the matter. It seems to me that the happy or unhappy success of this affair will decide whether I shall remain in the world or whether I shall leave it when events have rendered me free. You perceive there what is the rashness of my dreams, and on to what sacred ground they venture to bear me. But, in truth, I envy the lot of those who devote themselves entirely to God and to humanity. And from another side, the question of marriage suggests itself often to my mind: it never leaves it without leaving there an incredible repugnance…
It may be that there is in this some unjust contempt for women. Nevertheless, the Holy Virgin and my mother, and some others, would make me pardon many things to these daughters of Eve. But I declare that in general I do not understand them. Their sensibility is sometimes admirable, but their understanding is desperately light and inconsequent. Have you ever seen conversation more capriciously interrupted, less followed out, than theirs? And then to engage one’s self to a society without reserve, without end, with a human creature, mortal, infirm, miserable, however perfect she may be 1 It is, above all, this perpetuity of engagement which is for me a thing full of terror; and this is why I cannot hinder myself from shedding tears when I assist at a marriage, as when I find myself at an ordination, or a taking of the habit. I do not understand the gaiety one is accustomed to meet at weddings3.
You see that life does not appear to me sown with roses, and, if your heaven is sombre, mine is not less so. I will tell you, to hide nothing from you, that images yet more dark show themselves sometimes. It is a little more than a week ago that the prolonged thinking on my miseries, interior and exterior, so thoroughly upset my spirit that I had come to an absolute impossibility of thinking or acting. My head was on fire, whirled in all directions by distressing thoughts; and the most distressing of all, perhaps, was the very idea of my actual condition. The excess of the evil made me have recourse to the doctor—to the doctor, I mean, who has the secret of moral infirmities and the depot of the balm of divine grace. And when I had opened, with an energy which on these occasions is little common to me, my sadnesses and the subjects of my sadnesses to the charitable man whom I call my father, what do you think he replied to me? He replied to me by these words of the Apostle: Gandete in Domino semper. And was not that a strange utterance? Here is a poor man who has just had the greatest of evils in the order of spiritual things, that of offending God; the greatest of evils in the order of natural things, that of becoming an orphan. He has a mother aged and sick, whose every movement he notices—all her looks, all her features every day, that he may know how long yet he may keep her. He sees himself cut off by absence or by death from several friends to whom he was tenderly attached, and other separations yet more grievous threaten him. He is, moreover, in all the distresses of an undecided career, loaded with cares and businesses, of which the most fortunate disturb his mind still. If he falls back upon himself to escape the troubles without, he finds himself filled with weakness, imperfection and defect; and the secret humiliations and sufferings which he causes to himself are not the least painful of all. And he is told not merely to resign himself, not to console himself, but to rejoice—Gazidete semper! It needs truly all the boldness, all the pious insolence of Christianity, to speak in this manner. And yet Christianity is right.
Melancholy has its dangers. It confounds itself often with idleness, and it even occupies the place of this last in the old enumerations of capital sins.
In this condition, we often reproach ourselves with the imperfections which least depend on our will. We love better to despair of ourselves than to condemn ourselves. We would willingly lay the blame on the Creator for not having gifted us more advantageously. We are almost jealous of the faculties and virtues of others. Thus love is weakened, and egotism conceals itself under the deceitful austerity of our regrets. We are so much displeased with ourselves, because we love ourselves too well. And indeed, see how we take delight in melancholy; first, because it is one way of occupying ourselves with ourselves; second, because in default of merits which we would find in ourselves to admire, we are happy, at least, to manifest grief for not having them. It is a feeling in appearance honourable. It is a sort of justice; it is almost a virtue. And also it is more convenient to dream than to act. Tears cost us less than sweat, and it is our sweat that the inexorable sentence demands from us.
It may then be the beginning of wisdom to make a man retire into himself,and indeed ancient and pagan wisdom knew this precept; but, if we desire not that the man thus retired into himself should die there of shame and discouragement, a ray from on high must descend into the prison. There must be something which is not human, which will come nevertheless to visit the man in the solitude of his heart, and which will cause him to go out again to enter into action. This something is love; it is it alone which changes remorse into penitence, which fructifies grief, and makes it germinate in generous resolutions. It is it which gives confidence, and by confidence courage, for it makes that view of ourselves to disappear which confounds us in the sight of God, with whom it clothes us, in whom it makes us feel, be, and move—In ipso movenius et sumus—who lightens us with His light and strengthens us with His strength. In these high regions, all changes its appearance, and, contemplated in the economy of the Divine Will, the most fatal events are explained, are justified, and we may see in them a consoling sign. Thus these evils from within and from without, from which we lately suffered, henceforth only affect our sensibility—the lower stage of our soul. Its higher part is raised above them. Better preoccupations dwell in it. A joy serious, but real, surrounds it; and the prodigy is accomplished, and the precept of the Apostle is realized—Gaudete semper, because it is God Himself who is the cause of this joy unknown to nature—Gaudete in Domino.
Perhaps, my dear friend, this savours greatly of the sermon. And, nevertheless, what employment more worthy of friendship than that of seeking together the remedy for those evils which we think we have in common? I believe there are three sorts of manners of life between which we must choose—the external life, which loses itself in material joys, and which is that of the pagans, and of the lowest class of humanity; the internal and reflective life, which concentrates itself in the meditation of the infirmities and the needs of the soul, but which is sterile and dead if one stops there, like the ancient philosophers and some weak minds of our days; the superior and Christian life, which draws us out of ourselves to lead us to God, where henceforth we find the central point of all our thoughts —the central support of all our works.
Now, if I must believe you, you must be ranged with me in the second category, from which it is easy to fall back into the first, if we do not rise to the third. Let us help each other then, my dear friend, with counsels and examples: let us seek that confidence in grace may equal our distrust in nature, and that not only in the order of religious virtues, but even in our temporal occupations. Let us be strong, for the disease of this age is weakness. Let us consider that we have already lived more than a third of our probable existence, that we have lived by the benefits of others, and that we should live the rest for the good of others. Let us do this good in the way it is offered, without ever holding back by a false humility.
And you particularly, my dear friend, do not deceive our hopes… Without abandoning your profession you may make good writings and good works… Prepare yourself for one or ether of these missions.
Our little Society of St. Vincent de Paul has become sufficiently considerable to be regarded as a providential fact, and it is not without some reason that you occupy an important place in it. Do not deceive yourself; as general secretary, you are, after M. Bailly, the soul of the society. It is on you that the union of the different conferences depends, and by the union the vigour and endurance. See then what duties are imposed on you, and activity is the first of all. Be often present at the particular assemblies; see from time to time the president; keep the place at the meetings of the council for direction; stimulate sometimes the too great calm of the president-general; do not neglect the correspondence with the Provincial Conferences. If you will credit me, when a conference has failed to write at the fixed time, you will write to it yourself a little before the following time, to engage it to be more faithful to the rendezvous. Neither allow the circulars to be too long waited for. That which you addressed to me two months ago was very good, and answered to an urgent want: the visiting of families is not so easy as one imagines; the instructions on this subject are of an extreme utility, it would be good to come back to them. You will have read in the Universite Catizolique some lines of this poor M. de la Morvonnais, which seem to me to oppose, with great advantage, the system of domiciliary help to that of bureaux for mendicity. Perhaps we shall agree on this one day, and a better organization of the charitable boards will resolve the question, so much agitated, of the forms which public charity ought to take. Meditate on these points, but do not ask light from me; for, for my part, I perceive inconveniences well, but resources very little. Between prudence in religious matters and pusillanimity, between extreme reserve and extreme familiarity, there is a medium difficult to keep.
I will speak to you in a letter which I will address to M. Bailly for the council of directors, of a work which we have undertaken without prejudice to the visiting of families, and which it would be desirable to see established everywhere where conferences exist. It is the propagation of Christian instruction among the soldiers of the garrisons. We have got up here a library and a school for reading, writing, and arithmetic, for the soldiers, and already the results are consoling.
To M. LALLIER.
Lyons, February 7th, 1838.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
The business of which I spoke to you comes to a conclusion. The Municipal Council only waits for the approbation of the budget of the town by the Minister of the Interior to proceed to the nomination of candidates. I have made more than sixty visits, I have seen thirty-four municipal councillors, and, thanks to the goodness of many people, I have gained the almost entire certainty of being presented. I know not why, I feel pressed to draw you into this affair; or rather you know already’ with what hope I flatter myself. If I obtain this post, where everyone tells me of the formation of a connexion which I would not desire to exhaust, it only needs for you to come and share with me the advantages of this position. In a town where reputations are quickly made, where you have already acquired so much affection and so much esteem, you will perhaps find yourself better than at Paris.
This proposition is serious and conscientious on my part, however interested it may appear. In presence of the ruins which are made in the family which nature had given me, I need that the one which friendship has created should not abandon me. I am a witness every day of the most grievous of spectacles, the decay of the forces of my poor mother; at the same time that her sight is going, her moral energy is enfeebled; her sensibility seems to augment in proportion, with all the disquietudes, all the sadnesses which one can conceive in a soul like hers. Instead, then, of finding in her the support necessary to my age, and to my first step in the world, I must sustain her by word as well as by my arm. The continual missions of my elder brother take from me the resource of his good counsels, and perhaps the designs of God upon him may draw him yet further from me. But it is, above all, the communication of sentiment and of idea; it is sympathy, intellectual encouragement, moral assistance—it is these intimate offices of friendship which are wanting to me, and this want has made me suffer greatly. I find them still, but less frequently than I need, in our society of St. Vincent de Paul. These weekly soirees are one of the greatest consolations that Providence has left me, and particularly my relations, too little multiplied for my taste, with Chaurand, Arthand, la Perriere, recall to me the best days of Paris.
Adieu, my dear Lallier. I have allowed myself to be drawn into an impetuosity which will appear to you perhaps very juvenile in a man whom this past year ought to have much aged. Adieu. I must finish; but I finish not, I assure you, thinking of you, and praying for your happiness Him in whom I am for always,
To M. LALLIER.
Lyons, April 9th, 1838.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I had hoped to carry you myself the reply to your last letter; but delays are still multiplied, and not being able to determine in a precise manner the time of my journey, I must write in order not to leave a void in a correspondence which is so dear to us.
And first receive my very lively thanks for the good offices which you have rendered me. The Municipal Council cannot make its presentation of candidates till after the budget of the town, approved at Paris, shall be returned, bringing implicitly the approbation of the Government for the establishment of the Chair of Commercial Law. I hope much, seeing in this something providential: the most difficult is accomplished, and I cannot be sufficiently astonished that a poor fellow like myself should have arrived at causing a chair to be created. It remains to take care not to add a fifth verse to the “Sic vos non vobis ” of Virgil. If, nevertheless, it should happen thus, after all human means which can be imagined have been employed in my favour, I would still acknowledge in it a will of God, and I would easily console myself for it. All this affair is for me a question of vocation: I wait the solution of it with respect, and I hope to receive it calmly, whatever it may be. It is, however, true, that a considerable temporal interest is involved in it, for I experience, like you, the disquietudes of the” Res angusta domi;” and, what is worse, this disquietude is not confined to myself alone, it extends to my little brother and to my mother, whose needs augment in proportion as her health becomes feebler. And I, who, after so many sacrifices made by my father for my education, ought to be able to replace him to-day and to become the support of my family, I am, on the contrary, but one charge more. A lesson of law that I give every day is the most positive of my revenues. My law connection leaves me large leisure. With the exception of two assize matters which have served me to make a little noise and no money; two processes which I have reconciled; one which I pleaded at the Tribunal of Commerce last week, a tolerably considerable memoir which I have drawn up in a contest between tradesmen; a certain number, lastly,of gratuitous consultations—this is all the occupation which for five months has been given to me by this worthy profession of advocate, one of those in which the best fortune is made in the end, if one is not dead of hunger at the beginning. And yet I will confess to you, that these so rare preoccupations weigh upon me. I cannot acclimatize myself in the atmosphere of chicanery: the discussions of pecuniary interests are painful to me. There is no cause so good that there are not reciprocal wrongs; there is no plea so loyal that some weak points must not be hidden. There exist habits of hyperbole and reticence of which the most respectable members of the bar give the example, and to which one must submit one’s self; all the figures of rhetoric are reduced into action before the tribunals which only understand this language. It is agreed that one must ask two hundred francs damages when one desires fifty; that the client cannot fail to be right in all his allegations, and that the adversary is a fool. Explain yourself in terms more reasonable, you pass for having made concessions; -you have avowed yourself vanquished; your colleagues reproach you with it; your client pretends himself betrayed; and if you meet in the world one of the judges who have sat in the affair, he will accost you with saying “My dear, you are too timid.”
But it seems to me that I return to a chapter that you have always had reason to find long in my letters: that of my troubles. I had much of them to say to you; always the same sadnesses around me, and my mother nearly blind; always the same sadnesses in me, and the discontents which my incorrigible nature gives me. At this moment I suffer from an evil which will appear singular to you in a town where I have so many relations and friends—I mean isolation. For on one side I cannot confide to my mother, whose extreme sensibility renders emotion very dangerous, all that I have of care and afflicting thought. I cannot pour them into the heart of my brother, who is almost always absent, and whom I see scarcely ever alone. If I spoke of them to other relations, it would be to ask counsels, which on their part would be orders. My friends, happier than I, have no longer need to go out of their families: they remain habitually shut up there. There exists no more between us that necessity for a mutual drawing together which we experienced at Paris.
One distraction remains to me in literary labours to which I can still give myself, but with interruptions so numerous, and such a difficulty of execution, that I often fear being attached by self-love alone to an ungrateful pen, which it would, perhaps, be better to break. I have, however, a service to ask from you. In about three weeks I shall have finished copying my thesis on Dante, which is become a volume. Will you permit me to address it to you, and to beg you, after having read it, to carry it to M. le Clerc, Dean of the Faculty of Letters, to whose examination it should be submitted? Thus I shall at least lessen the delays that I shall have to suffer on arriving at Paris.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul also owes you thanks for the promptitude with which you have sent her the last report. This poor Society, indeed, has her tribulations too. She has them on the part of her members, whose inexactitude has often made her languish; she has them, above all, from without, whence there cease not to be renewed aggressions whose authors it is difficult to recognise. I need, indeed, an energy and liberty of spirit which my temperament and my affairs leave me not to make head against all; and yet there are circumstances which hinder me from laying down a presidency so ill filled. Nevertheless, we have consolations of more than one kind. Four joyous reunions have gathered together this winter members of the society around a fraternal table, where the bonds of charity are tightened, whilst those of the purses are relaxed.
TO M. LALLIER.
Lyons, May 17th, 1838.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Your excellent letter of Easter Day has solicited a reply for a long time. The report, and the few lines I have just received from you, would leave no excuse to my silence; or rather the need that I always feel to converse with you awaking more lively in proportion as the subjects of conversation multiply, it must needs be that the most importunate occupations yield and give place for some hours to the duties of friendship.
For I assure you, Lamache has well said, and you will thank him for it for me, these friendships, formed under the auspices of faith and charity, in a double confraternity of religious disputes and beneficent works, far from growing lukewarm by the effects of a prolonged absence, gather together and condense themselves as it were. They are nourished with the memory; and you know that memory embellishes all things, idealizes realities, purifies images, and preserves more willingly pleasant impressions than painful emotions. Thus all these humble scenes of our student life, when they come back to me in the twilight of the past, have for me an inexpressible charm: the evening reunions at M. Gerbet’s Conferences, which had a little the prestige of mystery, and in which we first met each other; the historic philosophic struggles, in which we engaged with so pure an ardour, and the successes of which were so willingly allowed to be common property; the little assemblies of the street of Petit Bourbon Saint Sulpice4;… and that famous soiree when we assisted at the farewells of the Academy de Saint Hyacinth, and came back to draw up on the spot the petition to Mgr. de Quelen; and the improvised visit which we paid trembling, in which we sustained so hard a shock, whence we came out so much moved; and the first beginnings of Lacordaire at Stanislas, and his triumphs at Notre Dame, which we made a little our own; and the editing of the Revue Europeenne in M. Bailly’s salon; and the vicissitudes of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the famous sitting of the last December, 1834, where a division was discussed, where Letaillandier wept, where la Perriere and I treated each other in such harsh fashion, where we finished by an embrace more friendly than ever, by wishing a good year the next day.
All this, my dear friend, becomes for me as the background in my ideal picture. All this throws a pleasant and somewhat melancholy light on my present existence, which loses much in comparison. I believe I can really comprehend how history becomes poetry for the human mind, and why nations hold their traditions with so filial an attachment. I have also my age of gold, my time of fables, my mythology, if you will permit it; for fable necessarily mingles with it, if it be only in effacing all the trivial things amongst which those whose memory I have kept were confounded. That which is true, that which is most serious, that which has thrown deepest root not only in the imagination, but also in the depth of my heart, is the foundation of affections formed during this period of life. I have surprised the proof in myself at the time of two recent losses—that of Serre and that of la Noue, which have made me shed more tears than others more capable, according to the general order, of drawing them from me. I gain every day some new assurance, when there comes to me some letter from you, some article of Lamache in a journal, some news of Letaillandier, of Pessonneaux, or other similar things.
This makes me forget all the disturbances of the present time, and if it were not ridiculous to use such an expression at twenty-five years, I should say: This makes me young again.
I feel, indeed, a little aged in every way since the day of our last separation. It was the i 5th of May, my dear friend: it is a year. You brought me, knowing the misfortune which I knew not, to the carriage which took me away, a very anxious son, and was to bring me back here an orphan. Since then, have I lived? or rather, have I not been in a long dream? I need not tell you over again all these troubles. You have known them; but they are not yet at their term. The time of Easter—that, alas! of the change of seasons—has been a terrible trial for the health of my mother. I have seen her for a fortnight threatened with an attack of apoplexy. She is now in a much less alarming condition; but we are warned to dread everything for the autumn. The future, which is the commonplace of hope, is for us the point where every fear is gathered up. She often repeats that the success of my endeavours for the professorship would prolong her days, and I know not if this last means of attaching her to life will be given to me.
I thank you for all your good services, and particularly for the hospitalitywhich you will willingly give to this poor Dante. He is constant, as when living, and towards the year of grace 1290 he went to pass some time at Paris; he assisted, even, at the lessons of one named Sigierthe Cousin of that time—in the Street du Fouarre. But it is told me that the capital has changed a little since that time; that, besides, the poet has become very old, and .would see badly to guide himself there; add that, the Sorbonne of the present time resembles little that of St. Louis, and that Dante would run a risk of presenting himself badly, if he were alone, at the door of M. X, who is not a St. Thomas of Aquin.
However prolonged it has been by the embarrassment of circumstances, this labour would not have wanted pleasure for me, if the aids which I had at Paris had not here completely failed me. Our library is sufficiently rich, but our living literature is singularly poor; and the small number of learned men which we possess, surrounded with a kind of disfavour in society, obliged to fall back upon themselves, have contracted habits of unsociableness which render them inaccessible. I have not, then, been able to find, except with M. Noirot, our old Professor of Philosophy, the counsels which I needed. For the rest, no more of the drawing on, no trace of the general warmth, of the outside life, which at Paris sustained and carried me on. I believe that, if one were stronger in intellectual constitution, better furnished in studies beforehand, this solitary labour would have its advantage: it would preserve an originality which is lost in the sort of contagion of style to which one is exposed at Paris; there would be found in it a little more of that austerity of thought, of those conscientious convictions which are broken, or at least are rounded off, are lessened by friction. The mind is better polished amongst you, but it is on condition of being worn away. As to me, I am not yet of temper to labour alone; I am bad company, as it seems to me, for I am never so weary as with myself. And although the books were placed in tiers, at the end of some hours this dead word wearies me. I need to hear animated voices; for by them alone is it possible to stir souls profoundly. This prestige goes so far with me, that, the merit being equal, the writings of a living author strike me infinitely more than those of an illustrious dead man.
I do not know how it was that my letter only reached you the day after the assembly. You would see that it was written specially for the presumed case of Monseigneur’s presence. It was necessary, then, to confine one’s self to generalities, and I was not able to insert a certain number of observations which the Council for Direction charged me to transmit to you. I now acquit myself of them:
1st. The charity sermon,whose history you so pleasantly relate to me, has met among us a general repulsion. We have thought that Parisians like you might well perceive the commonplace into which the charity sermon has fallen for some time. A thing little productive because it is too frequent; little edifying because of the self-love of works, of collectors, of preachers even, which it sets moving; little convenient, above all, for a society, the friend of obscurity, of simplicity, humble by duty and by necessity of position. If, then, a sermon is preached for the poor of a parish, and M. le Cure entrusts to the conference the distribution of the money, nothing better; but to make our poor name sound from the height of the Christian pulpit is a thing of which we wish not to hear; and the name, the history, the merits of the society being common property to all its members, we do not think that a particular conference has a right to dispose of them in despite of the opposition of the others.[…]
3rd. I am charged to tell you that we regret the interruption of a habit introduced the last year, in virtue of which to the report was joined a circular containing instructions on those points most interesting to the society.[…]
4th. The Conferences of Lyons, in losing two of their members, who are gone to live in neighbouring towns, have returned to a thought which had already several times preoccupied them: it is to seek to attach to the centre of association the associates isolated by the fatality of circumstances. The utility of these bonds is incontestable. They would hinder those from falling who have need of being sustained; they would prepare beforehand elements to form later new conferences. Two young people from Paris go to fix themselves at Lisle or Montpellier; alone, they continue no longer the work of St. Vincent de Paul. The following year two come to join them, and two others the year after. They would be sufficient to associate and work together, if the two first were not cold and relaxed, if some relations with their old colleagues had held them still, if they had continued to consider themselves as joined in intention, prayers, merits, with the others. See, then, you who are at the source, how one might be able to multiply the canals. The want is signalled; you have to fill it. For us, it has seemed to us that it would be possible to the isolated members, (I) to continue to do some good in the place of their sojourn; (2) to unite themselves, by thought and by prayer, in reciting once a week the prayer of St. Vincent de Paul; (3) to write once or several times a year to the Society at Paris to give an account of what they have done.[…]
Lastly, and here I speak in my personal name, I have just seen announced a petition, which is signed at M. de Lamartine’s, against the suppression of the tours. This petition, written by M. Guiraud, is Catholic. It has for end the re-establishment of one of the most merciful works of St. Vincent de Paul. Would it not be suitable that all the young advocates who make a part of the society, the young doctors also, competent all of them in this matter, should present themselves to sign the petition? Is there not there a homage to render to the memory of our holy patron at the same time as a good action to do?
Adieu; here is certainly enough. You should know me by my prolixity, by my greediness of new things, by a thousand other defects which I know well, and which I have even the pride to avow, for fear of appearing yet more foolish if I ignore them. My dear friend, who will deliver me from myself, if it is not He to whom we pray to deliver us from evil? Let us ask together, and we shall receive. Ask for me at these approaching feasts, for my mother also, and for all mine, and for my poor father whose mournful anniversary we have just celebrated. Count on a just reciprocity. There are many here who love you.
To M. LALLIER.
Lyons, August iith, 1838.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
It is at first as President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at Lyons that I must write to the Secretary-General to give him an account of the operations of the Council for Direction. Interpreter of several opinions which I have not always shared, I must be short to remain impartial.
Now, my dear friend, I would for all the world talk by the living voice with you for two hours, and tell you a thousand of those things which may be said and not written: The real dangers which we may run at Lyons, and those imaginary ones which have perhaps too much occupied us; the Lanzennaisian distrusts and rancours of some, the ardour somewhat clerical of the others; my middle system displeasing to all, and raising against me every day contrary recriminations, and yet without their allowing me to give in my resignation—my fears consequently, and nevertheless my hopes. For it seems to me that with a strong organization, such as you might easily give us, the work of the regeneration of the student youths would begin to be accomplished by our hands. See, then, to what point we shall be responsible for the evil which we shall not prevent, for the good which we shall have omitted to do! God knows how many ideas pass through my mind, and how much better they would be to obtain their execution could they lodge in yours!
You understand, without doubt, my regrets, dear friend, that our projected interview for the 15th of August is put back. I assure you that for two years I have made a hard apprenticeship to a virtue which was not familiar to me, the abandonment of myself to the Divine Will. My plans are successively overturned, without at the same time being so completely destroyed as to hinder me from setting them up again and still attaching myself to them. This time, for example, after having voted the salary of their professor, the Municipal Council had no more to do than to form the list of their candidates; and now it has stopped there without fixing term. This delay, combined with the advice which you transmit to me on the part of M. le Clerc, and above all, with the little flourishing condition of my health, decides me still to delay my departure till the first days of October. Kindly then, in continuing your good offices, for which I know not how to show you my gratitude, suspend the impression, report my manuscript to M. le Clerc, begging him to be willing to read it, to give me later his advice concerning it.
You will achieve the possession of a right to my endless thanks, if, considering the trouble I have to arrange for my journey, you come to seek me yourself. If at your return from Rouen, after having passed a month in your family, whose affairs you have to regulate, you allowed yourself to descend this beautiful Saone as far as the Isle Barbe, which I have showed to you, there, in a little house which we rent there, would be plenty of room to receive you comfortably, as there is in all my family sufficient friendship to rejoice long at your coming. You know that a little further, where this same river loses its colour and its name, another hospitality, not less ancient would wait for you. Thus balanced, in the gentle current of the waters between our dwelling and our affections, saluted by so many others who love you here, welcomed in our conferences by those even who know you not, you would pass among us some days; and I would conduct you back afterwards, happy to prolong our companionship, even to the capital, which has fascinated you and holds you back in despite of our desires.
After Frederic Ozanam had arranged the affairs of his family, he had hastened—in spite of his repugnance—to inscribe his name on the list of advocates at the bar of Lyons. His letters have mentioned various incidents and impressions. An anecdote of him as a pleader at the bar may be inserted here. According to custom as a beginner, he was charged with the defence of an accused person who was too poor to provide himself with an advocate. Theclient’s poverty was his recommendation. Ozanam undertook his cause with ” all the resources of his talent ” and ” all the emotions of the heart.” The advocate who sustained the accusation rallied him, and told him ironically that he needed not to put so much earnestness and vivacity into a part that he played only as a form. But this only roused Ozanam, whose indignant reply, in which he reproached his antagonist for taking him for an actor, astonished the public prosecutor, who did not expect to be taken to task in such a manner by a young man of twenty-four. The judges, however, approved the lesson given to their imprudent colleague; and one of them, after the hearing, came to shake Frederic by the hand, and to congratulate him on the manner in which he had performed his duty. ” He was never willing,” says his brother, ” to consent, as beginners often do, to employ an attorney who might have procured him a large number of clients. He had too much delicacy in respect to the justice of the causes which were proposed to him to engage to plead for the first comer. Therefore, his clients were not very numerous. However, he pleaded several times, either in criminal or civil causes, either before the Tribunal of Commerce or at the Assizes. We remember that at the last he had to defend an unhappy deaf mute charged with a capital crime; and after a long and difficult strife, he had the happiness of seeing him completely acquitted. We remember, also, witnessing the marks of gratitude which this poor man came to express to Frederic immediately upon being set at liberty.”
In the midst of all these labours and distractions there was one continual source of pleasure to him—in literary labours, from which nothing could turn him. In the end of 1838, he went to Paris with the desire of taking the degree of Doctor of Letters, and succeeded in passing brilliantly, hastening back to Lyons to rejoice his mother with his success.
To M. HENRI PESSONNEAUX.
Lyons, August 21st, 1838.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Be thanked a thousand times, since this contagion of forgetfulness, so common at Paris,—where more than elsewhere the poor absent always have the wrong,—has not taken possession of thy soul, since, amidst so many laborious cares and so many domestic griefs, thou hast preserved a memory and a tear for the friend of thy childhood. Be assured that I paid thee with a just reciprocity, and that among the consolations which must render my departure from Lyons less painful, I put first the pleasure of seeing thee again.
But, on one side, the new delays which my affair has undergone, and on the other, the counsels of M. le Clerc, have decided me yet to delay, till the commencement of October, this fabulous journey. I delude myself, as with a pleasant dream, with the idea of making the journey in thy company, reconducting thee thus to thy house, according to our old Parisian habit. Who knows if this idea will not pass away like so many others? I have learned in a hard manner for eighteen months, or rather I have been put in a position to learn, the science of abnegation, which has always appeared so difficult to me. I, who formerly could not close my eye at night without having sketched for the morrow the detailed plan of my day’s work; I, who pleased myself in constructing, outside the narrow limits of the present, the capricious edifice of my future, now uncertainty, like our winter fogs, closes my horizon at four paces. My projects are overturned, like the fantastic figures which the clouds form in the distance. I begin to know what the will of man is worth when circumstances are not at its service. Would to God that I might know as well how to trust in Him as to distrust myself!
For the rest, outside my calculations, in me and around me, few things are changed. If, in reading again one of my old letters, thou wast compassionate over my troubles of that time, perhaps it was one of these marvellous affinities which connect hearts at a distance which interested thee in thy ignorance in my present afflictions. My mother always equally suffering, with the greater chance that sufferings already long give to a terrible catastrophe; my brothers almost always far from me; the embarrassment of an insufficient income; some friends, but very few, with whom there is complete association of tastes and similarity of habits,—the duties of family and of profession, which divide and isolate, have taken the place of the relations in study which united us. Consequently my literary labours are stripped of encouragements and counsels, and yet there is too little business at the bar to:distract me, and to detach me from those preoccupations which have hitherto swayed my youth; with health uncertain, fatiguing endeavours to obtain a nomination that is certainly promised, and for which I am made to wait indefinitely; the contrarieties to which the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul has not ceased to be exposed and which all fall on me as president; lastly, my moral infirmities and the perpetual discontent with myself. Thou seest, my dear friend, it is an old and monotonous history: they are griefs which have not even the commonplace consolation of being able to complain, since they have already done that too much.
I should, however, be unjust not to speak of the temperaments which Divine Providence has been pleased to grant; and, to be brief, I will mention two of these. First, the pleasure of having finished my thesis, or rather my work on the philosophy of Dante; then the stay which I have made for some days in a delicious little house which we have rented in the Isle Barbe for the vacation. . . . I have spoken enough to thee of myself; I am eager to learn in my turn many things, and thy friendly pages are still far from putting me, as I would be, in possession of thy situation and of thy ideas. We will talk of the history of St. Louis. It is, it seems to me, one of the finest subjects which can be treated, but will six months suffice thee? Believe me, the middle age is a little like those enchanted isles of which the poets speak. One lands on passing, and only for a few hours; but one gathers fruit there, one allays one’s thirst there at streams which make one’s country—that is the present time—to be forgotten; or, to explain myself in a more simple fashion, we are really captivated there by the charm of facts, manners, traditions; we are detained by the multitude of documents.
For myself, I know that my studies on Dante have made me feel something like my journey to Rome; the sweet and voluntary servitude which enchains the soul among ruins, causes it also to please itself in the midst of memories. And what are memories if not other ruins, sadder and, at the same time, more attaching than those which the ivy and the moss cover? And is it not as pious to make a pause at the legends and traditions of our fathers, as to seat one’s self on the ruins of aqueducts and temples with which antiquity has sown our soil?
But to what good is it to express on paper, in phrases in which elaboration always betrays itself, ideas which will escape in a much more lively and spontaneous manner in our approaching conversations? To what good to prolong my solitary watch, when soon, perhaps, we may be able to spend together hours much pleasanter and better filled? The lamp which lights me, warns me, in getting low, to go and take a rest, of which my disorders make me feel the need more strongly.
Adieu, my dear friend. Receive from me the promise, so often renewed, of being all my life
Thy faithful friend and cousin.
At this time Ozanam composed several articles for the reviews, and continued his constant interest in the growing work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. While he was yet a student at Paris, one of the first Provincial Conferences was established at Lyons, and he had scarcely settled there when he was unanimously named President-General of the Conferences already founded, and of those which were soon to be founded.
To M. DUFIEUX.
Paris, November 18th, 1838.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
It is a very unexpected visit, but also a very pleasant one, this of yours, under this sky of Paris, where you have been so seldom seen. You are welcome, then, even when you, come with a reproach on your lips. I add that you have not all the wrong in presenting yourself thus, for my sole adieu for you in leaving Lyons has been an embarrassment which I left you. My silence since could not fail to seem reprehensible to you; and yet, if it was possible to you, my dear friend, to transport yourself suddenly into the midst of my occupations and my anxieties, I am sure that to the little grudge which you think you owe me, would succeed a feeling of generous pity. My affairs, which began happily enough, have undergone new complications. The vote of the Municipal Council, which fixed the salary of the future Professor of Commercial Law, has been approved by the Minister of the Interior. Thus far, one cannot complain of delays, and I thank you for your friendly offers in this respect.
And although a part of the good people who wished to support me are not at this moment in Paris, nevertheless I am assured of their favourable dispositions. But the event which disturbs me is the approaching and probable retirement of the Minister of Public Instruction. At the same time, I am disputed for by the cares which are exacted by the printing of my work and the preparation of my theses. The desperate slowness of the workmen causes me a vexatious delay; and, to avoid its prolongation, I must torment them without relaxation. Lastly, friendship itself, which has preserved to me at Paris a sufficiently large number of people who see me with pleasure, has reserved to itself, by that feeling alone, the right to levy a frequent tribute on my hours, and often a half day passes in receiving and paying indispensable visits. I find thus trial and contrariety even in the circumstances which ought to make my consolation and my happiness.
For you, my dear friend, in telling me of your approaching journey, you have singularly saddened for me the perspective of the winter of 1839.
You are going, then, to see my poor Italy! You will tread that glorious land whose memories people today my imagination. You will measure with your eye those monuments where my thought has so often taken refuge. We shall then have later the joy of talking of them together: a point of contact the more between our hearts!
You desire the suggestion of a book to enlighten your steps—it is in your heart, above all, that you must read, my friend. Your memory has, without doubt, retained sufficiently the principal details of ancient and modern history for the places to appear to you surrounded by the great things which were accomplished in them. The commonest itinerary will tell you the buildings and collections to visit, and will give you the information necessary to comprehend them. For the rest, you will see, you will judge, you will admire for yourself: you will not refer yourself to the judgments of cicerones and tourists. You will, above all, study independently those institutions, those populations, so calumniated, so unknown.
If I returned into Italy, to charm away the annoyances of the road and to make its pleasures fertile, I would read again, without doubt, Titus Livius, Virgil the lives of some saints, as St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Gregory VII., St. Gregory the Great, and the Actes des Martyrs. Thus I should take this blessed country by the two sides which solicit and dispute our respect and our love.
The work of M. Rio, notwithstanding some defects, is of an extreme importance for making known all that part hitherto neglected, and precisely the Catholic part in the history of the arts. I do not know well if you will be able, without his help, to find and to appreciate in the museums and churches the touching and pure works of the painters who preceded Raphael, and whom their disciple, ungrateful without knowing it, has caused to be forgotten. However that may be, always ask them to show you in the monuments and galleries what they have most ancient, which unhappily they hide, to put into prominence and light the artistic creations of the Renaissance, alone honoured by the commonplace praises of travellers.
But you ask me for information, and I think I find myself giving you counsels! Excuse my presumption by my attachment to this dear Italy, which I fear, above all, to see badly comprehended by good people.
In finishing this letter, permit me a complaint which my friendship has long felt owing to you. Why shroud with so many precautions your requests for services? If your delicacy takes this means to make me forget those which you have rendered to me, she succeeds badly. You humble me deeply with your protestations and your excuses. It is only by the title of Christian fraternity that I have ventured so often to disarrange you for me. Act by the same title and with the same liberty. Do you not see for how many good offices I owe you since my departure alone? I reckon in this number the two visits you have kindly made to my mother, and of which she has shown me her lively gratitude; lastly and above all, the place you keep for me in your heart and in your prayers.
To M. X—-.
Lyons, February 21st, 1839.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
The Municipal Council, by a majority of twenty-four voices over thirty-six, has nominated me Professor of Commercial Law. But this nomination must be confirmed by M. the Minister of Public Instruction. In consequence I have written to M. Cousin that, in thanking him for the Chair of Philosophy at Orleans, I found myself, nevertheless, obliged by my family duties to choose the Chair of Law at Lyons.
Tell me what you think of my choice, and what my friends the Parisians think of it. Here I have been almost blamed for it. They agreed in believing that my true interests were on the borders of the Loire. For myself, I confess that I was flattered by the perspective of a career exclusively intellectual, of an existence henceforward undivided, and consequently more peaceful, by the neighbourhood of Paris; but I opposed to this the dependence, the isolation in an unknown town, and, above all, the necessity of abandoning my mother ten months in the year, at peril of receiving one day a letter like that of May 12, 1837, and of undertaking once more one of those melancholy journeys of which your consoling friendship has thrice made the experience.
Besides, there is certainly some pleasure in not breaking with our habits and our past entirely; there is place also in my new situation for the illusions of the future. They talk of the foundation of a school of law in this country, and you will understand that the Municipal Professor would be almost sure to find a chair there; that is to say, fixity of condition, honourable position, and liberty to increase at will the sphere of one’s teaching. If God lends me life and spirit, and if He fix me by a definite position in these tranquil functions, I believe I should do well in putting my personal labours in harmony with my public duties, and in occupying myself with a Philosophy and a History of Law, which, treated from the Christian point of view, would seem to me to fill a chasm sufficiently large in science, and would suffice to utilize the years I may have to pass on the earth. The time seems long to me ere I may leave general considerations and enter, as they say, on a speciality. And this of which I speak to you seems to me the most apt to combine the resources of my literary and jurisprudential studies, and to lose nothing of what I have gained. I hold to preserving all, because I feel that it is little. What think you? I have so much the more need of your thoughts, as the recent memory of your conversations has made me feel in a more lively manner the privation of them.
For the moment, shut up in more modest anxieties, I am endeavouring to put the last touch to my work on Dante. Some notes on the passages which in my thesis have undergone reasonable criticism; the translation of several fragments of St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas, which will contribute, I hope, to destroy the prejudice of obscurantism and Catholic servilism; a half-dozen chapters of the philosophical works of Dante for the first time reproduced in French; lastly, notes, explanations, and a dissertation on the poetical antecedents of the Divine Comedie; this is enough to occupy both of us. Pardon this forced association which I impose upon you. But you have permitted me to hope that you would superintend the printing of my last leaves, and my author’s self-love is too much interested in the matter to hold you quit. If you have heard any judicious observations on my work, if you could know that which Cozales thinks of it, I should be very happy if you would let me know, in order that I may set it right. Enclosed is a letter for M. Ballanche, in which I ask his advice. Kindly take it to him, if you are curious to talk with that eminent man.
My dear friend, in speaking to you of my interests, I do not forget yours; and I recall to myself the gravity of the cares of which your last letter speaks. I am singularly touched with the trials which you have to suffer.
Indeed they seem to me trials very severe; these uncertainties on a question on which an entire life may depend, and, in such circumstances, the unlimited acceptance of the Divine Will must be singularly meritorious. You are too much imbued with these sentiments for the part which you take not to turn to your happiness and salvation.
However, I keep the hope, which is dear to me, to see you preserve some time longer your liberty, your activity—to see you waiting awhile before engaging yourself to new duties, which would captivate you entirely at this time, and would leave you the leisure neither to learn nor to do. Without doubt the solitary existence which you lead is melancholy and sad; but labour can fill it, and religion console it. God and knowledge, charity and study—is not this, then, enough to enchant your youth?… Have you ever seen, without experiencing a pang of heart, the morrow of a wedding? Be sure that man abdicates much of his dignity the day when he enchains himself to the arms of a wife. Read St. Paul again.
However, would I then preach eternal, universal celibacy? God forbid! But I would that we should wait for the conjugal union the day when it becomes necessary, and when it has ceased to be able to be fatal; the time when the mind has attained its development, when the will has acquired all its energy, when one is compromised by labours, by relations, by antecedents of all sorts, in such a way that one cannot disengage one’s self; when one has acquired to one’s self some right to family enjoyments by solitary labours; when one can offer something and not receive everything: the time, in a word, when one is sure of being master of one’s self and free without.
You will speak to me of the sweetnesses of domestic life; but, my dear friend, this well-being, material or sentimental, this egoism of two, is it well in season? Is society so happy, religion so honoured, the Christian youth so numerous and so active, those who can work for the general good so much at liberty, that you would be right, with the talent God has given you, with the knowledge and the encouragements with which you are surrounded, with this voice which surely from the bottom of the heart calls you to the work, to withdraw yourself already, as a wearied labourer who has borne the burden and heat of the day? Have you, then, not meant seriously all that you have spoken, written, and done—all that your friends have repeated or attempted with you? Do you despair of the regeneration of the country—of the amendment of thought? Or, rather, do you despair of yourself—that is to say, of God, who has created, redeemed, sanctified you? You have difficulty in finding your place here below!—and who cannot say as much? Is that a reason to justify suicide? And is it not a suicide, when one is what you are, to go to M—- to plant cabbages?
I beg you go to see Montalembert, or, rather, ask of him when he is to be seen. I have reason to think that he will talk to you of projects capable of preoccupying your thoughts, and of tempering a little the intellectual want of employment in which you are. Have you completely abandoned your idea of a History of the Canon Law? I should be sorry for it.
Excuse the sermons of a man who only makes them because he has need of them himself. Lend me as soon as possible the last official report of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Do not forget the improvements of which you have dreamed for this poor and dear society. Do not be disturbed by the shortness and disorder of this letter. It is written in bad company; I speak of the headache which has not ceased to assail me this evening. Keep yourself well; I can appreciate the merit of this counsel, and warrant it to,you. Believe me, for life,
Your devoted friend.