Immortals Crowned by the French Academy,
by Emile Souvestre
No one succeeds in obtaining a prominent place in literature, or in
surrounding himself with a faithful and steady circle of admirers
drawn from the fickle masses of the public, unless he possesses
originality, constant variety, and a distinct personality. It is
quite possible to gain for a moment a few readers by imitating some
original feature in another; but these soon vanish and the writer
remains alone and forgotten. Others, again, without belonging to any
distinct group of authors, having found their standard in themselves,
moralists and educators at the same time, have obtained undying
Of the latter class, though little known outside of France, is
Emile Souvestre, who was born in Morlaix, April 15, 1806, and died at
Paris July 5, 1854. He was the son of a civil engineer, was educated
at the college of Pontivy, and intended to follow his father's career
by entering the Polytechnic School. His father, however, died in
1823, and Souvestre matriculated as a law-student at Rennes. But the
young student soon devoted himself entirely to literature. His first
essay, a tragedy, 'Le Siege de Missolonghi' (1828), was a pronounced
failure. Disheartened and disgusted he left Paris and established
himself first as a lawyer in Morlaix. Then he became proprietor of a
newspaper, and was afterward appointed a professor in Brest and in
Mulhouse. In 1836 he contributed to the 'Revue des Deux Mondes' some
sketches of life in Brittany, which obtained a brilliant success.
Souvestre was soon made editor of La Revue de Paris, and in
consequence early found a publisher for his first novel, 'L'Echelle de
Femmes', which, as was the case with his second work, Riche et
Pauvre', met with a very favorable reception. His reputation was now
made, and between this period and his death he gave to France about
sixty volumes—tales, novels, essays, history, and drama.
A double purpose was always very conspicuous in his books: he
aspired to the role of a moralist and educator, and was likewise a
most impressive painter of the life, character, and morals of the
inhabitants of Brittany.
The most significant of his books are perhaps 'Les Derniers Bretons
(1835-1837, 4 vols.), Pierre Landais (1843, 2 vols.), Le Foyer Breton
(1844, 2 vols.), Un Philosophe sons les Toits, crowned by the Academy
(1850), Confessions d'un Ouvrier (1851), Recits et Souvenirs (1853),
Souvenirs d'un Vieillard (1854); also La Bretagne Pittoresque (1845),
and, finally, Causeries Historiques et Litteraires (1854, 2 vols.)'.
His comedies deserve honorable mention: 'Henri Hamelin, L'Oncle
Baptiste (1842), La Parisienne, Le Mousse, etc'. In 1848, Souvestre
was appointed professor of the newly created school of administration,
mostly devoted to popular lectures. He held this post till 1853,
lecturing partly in Paris, partly in Switzerland.
His death, when comparatively young, left a distinct gap in the
literary world. A life like his could not be extinguished without
general sorrow. Although he was unduly modest, and never aspired to
the role of a beacon- light in literature, always seeking to remain in
obscurity, the works of Emile Souvestre must be placed in the first
rank by their morality and by their instructive character. They will
always command the entire respect and applause of mankind. And thus
it happens that, like many others, he was only fully appreciated after
Even those of his 'confreres' who did not seem to esteem him, when
alive, suddenly found out that they had experienced a great loss in
his demise. They expressed it in emotional panegyrcs; contemporaneous
literature discovered that virtue had flown from its bosom, and the
French Academy, which had at its proper time crowned his 'Philosophe
sons les Toits' as a work contributing supremely to morals, kept his
memory green by bestowing on his widow the "Prix Lambert," designed
for the "families of authors who by their integrity, and by the
probity of their efforts have well deserved this token from the
Republique des Lettres."
de 'Academie Francaise.
CHAPTER I. NEW-YEAR'S GIFTS
The day of the month came into my mind as soon as I awoke. Another
year is separated from the chain of ages, and drops into the gulf of
the past! The crowd hasten to welcome her young sister. But while all
looks are turned toward the future, mine revert to the past. Everyone
smiles upon the new queen; but, in spite of myself, I think of her
whom time has just wrapped in her winding-sheet. The past year!—at
least I know what she was, and what she has given me; while this one
comes surrounded by all the forebodings of the unknown. What does she
hide in the clouds that mantle her? Is it the storm or the sunshine?
Just now it rains, and I feel my mind as gloomy as the sky. I have a
holiday today; but what can one do on a rainy day? I walk up and down
my attic out of temper, and I determine to light my fire.
Unfortunately the matches are bad, the chimney smokes, the wood
goes out! I throw down my bellows in disgust, and sink into my old
In truth, why should I rejoice to see the birth of a new year? All
those who are already in the streets, with holiday looks and smiling
faces—do they understand what makes them so gay? Do they even know
what is the meaning of this holiday, or whence comes the custom of
Here my mind pauses to prove to itself its superiority over that of
the vulgar. I make a parenthesis in my ill-temper in favor of my
vanity, and I bring together all the evidence which my knowledge can
(The old Romans divided the year into ten months only; it was Numa
Pompilius who added January and February. The former took its name
from Janus, to whom it was dedicated. As it opened the new year, they
surrounded its beginning with good omens, and thence came the custom
of visits between neighbors, of wishing happiness, and of New-Year's
gifts. The presents given by the Romans were symbolic. They consisted
of dry figs, dates, honeycomb, as emblems of "the sweetness of the
auspices under which the year should begin its course," and a small
piece of money called stips, which foreboded riches.)
Here I close the parenthesis, and return to my ill-humor. The
little speech I have just addressed to myself has restored me my self-
satisfaction, but made me more dissatisfied with others. I could now
enjoy my breakfast; but the portress has forgotten my morning's milk,
and the pot of preserves is empty! Anyone else would have been vexed:
as for me, I affect the most supreme indifference. There remains a
hard crust, which I break by main strength, and which I carelessly
nibble, as a man far above the vanities of the world and of fresh
However, I do not know why my thoughts should grow more gloomy by
reason of the difficulties of mastication. I once read the story of
an Englishman who hanged himself because they had brought him his tea
without sugar. There are hours in life when the most trifling cross
takes the form of a calamity. Our tempers are like an opera-glass,
which makes the object small or great according to the end you look
Usually, the prospect that opens out before my window delights me.
It is a mountain-range of roofs, with ridges crossing, interlacing,
and piled on one another, and upon which tall chimneys raise their
peaks. It was but yesterday that they had an Alpine aspect to me, and
I waited for the first snowstorm to see glaciers among them; to-day, I
only see tiles and stone flues. The pigeons, which assisted my rural
illusions, seem no more than miserable birds which have mistaken the
roof for the back yard; the smoke, which rises in light clouds,
instead of making me dream of the panting of Vesuvius, reminds me of
kitchen preparations and dishwater; and lastly, the telegraph, that I
see far off on the old tower of Montmartre, has the effect of a vile
gallows stretching its arms over the city.
My eyes, thus hurt by all they meet, fall upon the great man's
house which faces my attic.
The influence of New-Year's Day is visible there. The servants
have an air of eagerness proportioned to the value of their New-Year's
gifts, received or expected. I see the master of the house crossing
the court with the morose look of a man who is forced to be generous;
and the visitors increase, followed by shop porters who carry flowers,
bandboxes, or toys. Suddenly the great gates are opened, and a new
carriage, drawn by thoroughbred horses, draws up before the doorsteps.
They are, without doubt, the New-Year's gift presented to the
mistress of the house by her husband; for she comes herself to look at
the new equipage. Very soon she gets into it with a little girl, all
streaming with laces, feathers and velvets, and loaded with parcels
which she goes to distribute as New- Year's gifts. The door is shut,
the windows are drawn up, the carriage sets off.
Thus all the world are exchanging good wishes and presents to-day.
I alone have nothing to give or to receive. Poor Solitary! I do not
even know one chosen being for whom I might offer a prayer.
Then let my wishes for a happy New Year go and seek out all my
unknown friends—lost in the multitude which murmurs like the ocean at
To you first, hermits in cities, for whom death and poverty have
created a solitude in the midst of the crowd! unhappy laborers, who
are condemned to toil in melancholy, and eat your daily bread in
silence and desertion, and whom God has withdrawn from the
intoxicating pangs of love and friendship!
To you, fond dreamers, who pass through life with your eyes turned
toward some polar star, while you tread with indifference over the
rich harvests of reality!
To you, honest fathers, who lengthen out the evening to maintain
your families! to you, poor widows, weeping and working by a cradle!
to you, young men, resolutely set to open for yourselves a path in
life, large enough to lead through it the wife of your choice! to you,
all brave soldiers of work and of self-sacrifice!
To you, lastly, whatever your title and your name, who love good,
who pity the suffering; who walk through the world like the symbolical
Virgin of Byzantium, with both arms open to the human race!
Here I am suddenly interrupted by loud and increasing chirpings. I
look about me: my window is surrounded with sparrows picking up the
crumbs of bread which in my brown study I had just scattered on the
roof. At this sight a flash of light broke upon my saddened heart. I
deceived myself just now, when I complained that I had nothing to
give: thanks to me, the sparrows of this part of the town will have
their New-Year's gifts!
Twelve o'clock.—A knock at my door; a poor girl comes in, and
greets me by name. At first I do not recollect her; but she looks at
me, and smiles. Ah! it is Paulette! But it is almost a year since I
have seen her, and Paulette is no longer the same: the other day she
was a child, now she is almost a young woman.
Paulette is thin, pale, and miserably clad; but she has always the
same open and straightforward look—the same mouth, smiling at every
word, as if to court your sympathy—the same voice, somewhat timid,
yet expressing fondness. Paulette is not pretty—she is even thought
plain; as for me, I think her charming. Perhaps that is not on her
account, but on my own. Paulette appears to me as one of my happiest
It was the evening of a public holiday. Our principal buildings
were illuminated with festoons of fire, a thousand flags waved in the
night winds, and the fireworks had just shot forth their spouts of
flame into the midst of the Champ de Mars. Suddenly, one of those
unaccountable alarms which strike a multitude with panic fell upon the
dense crowd: they cry out, they rush on headlong; the weaker ones
fall, and the frightened crowd tramples them down in its convulsive
struggles. I escaped from the confusion by a miracle, and was
hastening away, when the cries of a perishing child arrested me: I
reentered that human chaos, and, after unheard-of exertions, I brought
Paulette out of it at the peril of my life.
That was two years ago: since then I had not seen the child again
but at long intervals, and I had almost forgotten her; but Paulette's
memory was that of a grateful heart, and she came at the beginning of
the year to offer me her wishes for my happiness. She brought me,
besides, a wallflower in full bloom; she herself had planted and
reared it: it was something that belonged wholly to herself; for it
was by her care, her perseverance, and her patience, that she had
The wallflower had grown in a common pot; but Paulette, who is a
bandbox- maker, had put it into a case of varnished paper, ornamented
with arabesques. These might have been in better taste, but I did not
feel the attention and good-will the less.
This unexpected present, the little girl's modest blushes, the
compliments she stammered out, dispelled, as by a sunbeam, the kind of
mist which had gathered round my mind; my thoughts suddenly changed
from the leaden tints of evening to the brightest colors of dawn. I
made Paulette sit down, and questioned her with a light heart.
At first the little girl replied in monosyllables; but very soon
the tables were turned, and it was I who interrupted with short
interjections her long and confidential talk. The poor child leads a
hard life. She was left an orphan long since, with a brother and
sister, and lives with an old grandmother, who has "brought them up to
poverty," as she always calls it.
However, Paulette now helps her to make bandboxes, her little
sister Perrine begins to use the needle, and her brother Henry is
apprentice to a printer. All would go well if it were not for losses
and want of work —if it were not for clothes which wear out, for
appetites which grow larger, and for the winter, when you cannot get
sunshine for nothing. Paulette complains that her candles go too
quickly, and that her wood costs too much. The fireplace in their
garret is so large that a fagot makes no more show in it than a match;
it is so near the roof that the wind blows the rain down it, and in
winter it hails upon the hearth; so they have left off using it.
Henceforth they must be content with an earthen chafing-dish, upon
which they cook their meals. The grandmother had often spoken of a
stove that was for sale at the broker's close by; but he asked seven
francs for it, and the times are too hard for such an expense: the
family, therefore, resign themselves to cold for economy!
As Paulette spoke, I felt more and more that I was losing my
fretfulness and low spirits. The first disclosures of the little
bandbox-maker created within me a wish that soon became a plan. I
questioned her about her daily occupations, and she informed me that
on leaving me she must go, with her brother, her sister, and
grandmother, to the different people for whom they work. My plan was
immediately settled. I told the child that I would go to see her in
the evening, and I sent her away with fresh thanks.
I placed the wallflower in the open window, where a ray of sunshine
bid it welcome; the birds were singing around, the sky had cleared up,
and the day, which began so loweringly, had become bright. I sang as
I moved about my room, and, having hastily put on my hat and coat, I
Three o'clock.—All is settled with my neighbor, the
chimney-doctor; he will repair my old stove, and answers for its being
as good as new. At five o'clock we are to set out, and put it up in
Paulette's grandmother's room.
Midnight.—All has gone off well. At the hour agreed upon, I was
at the old bandbox-maker's; she was still out. My Piedmontese
[In Paris a chimney-sweeper is named "Piedmontese" or "Savoyard,"
as they usually come from that country.]
fixed the stove, while I arranged a dozen logs in the great
fireplace, taken from my winter stock. I shall make up for them by
warming myself with walking, or by going to bed earlier.
My heart beat at every step that was heard on the staircase; I
trembled lest they should interrupt me in my preparations, and should
thus spoil my intended surprise. But no!—see everything ready: the
lighted stove murmurs gently, the little lamp burns upon the table,
and a bottle of oil for it is provided on the shelf. The
chimney-doctor is gone. Now my fear lest they should come is changed
into impatience at their not coming. At last I hear children's
voices; here they are: they push open the door and rush in—but they
all stop in astonishment.
At the sight of the lamp, the stove, and the visitor, who stands
there like a magician in the midst of these wonders, they draw back
almost frightened. Paulette is the first to comprehend it, and the
arrival of the grandmother, who is more slowly mounting the stairs,
finishes the explanation. Then come tears, ecstasies, thanks!
But the wonders are not yet ended. The little sister opens the
oven, and discovers some chestnuts just roasted; the grandmother puts
her hand on the bottles of cider arranged on the dresser; and I draw
forth from the basket that I have hidden a cold tongue, a pot of
butter, and some fresh rolls.
Now their wonder turns into admiration; the little family have
never seen such a feast! They lay the cloth, they sit down, they eat;
it is a complete banquet for all, and each contributes his share to
it. I had brought only the supper: and the bandbox-maker and her
children supplied the enjoyment.
What bursts of laughter at nothing! What a hubbub of questions
which waited for no reply, of replies which answered no question! The
old woman herself shared in the wild merriment of the little ones! I
have always been struck at the ease with which the poor forget their
wretchedness. Being used to live only for the present, they make a
gain of every pleasure as soon as it offers itself. But the surfeited
rich are more difficult to satisfy: they require time and everything
to suit before they will consent to be happy.
The evening has passed like a moment. The old woman told me the
history of her life, sometimes smiling, sometimes drying her eyes.
Perrine sang an old ballad with her fresh young voice. Henry told us
what he knows of the great writers of the day, to whom he has to carry
their proofs. At last we were obliged to separate, not without fresh
thanks on the part of the happy family.
I have come home slowly, ruminating with a full heart, and pure
enjoyment, on the simple events of my evening. It has given me much
comfort and much instruction. Now, no New-Year's Day will come amiss
to me; I know that no one is so unhappy as to have nothing to give and
nothing to receive.
As I came in, I met my rich neighbor's new equipage. She, too, had
just returned from her evening's party; and, as she sprang from the
carriage- step with feverish impatience, I heard her murmur "At last!"
I, when I left Paulette's family, said "So soon!"
CHAPTER II. THE CARNIVAL
What a noise out of doors! What is the meaning of these shouts and
cries? Ah! I recollect: this is the last day of the Carnival, and the
maskers are passing.
Christianity has not been able to abolish the noisy bacchanalian
festivals of the pagan times, but it has changed the names. That
which it has given to these "days of liberty" announces the ending of
the feasts, and the month of fasting which should follow; carn-ival
means, literally, "farewell to flesh!" It is a forty days' farewell
to the "blessed pullets and fat hams," so celebrated by Pantagruel's
minstrel. Man prepares for privation by satiety, and finishes his sin
thoroughly before he begins to repent.
Why, in all ages and among every people, do we meet with some one
of these mad festivals? Must we believe that it requires such an
effort for men to be reasonable, that the weaker ones have need of
rest at intervals? The monks of La Trappe, who are condemned to
silence by their rule, are allowed to speak once in a month, and on
this day they all talk at once from the rising to the setting of the
Perhaps it is the same in the world. As we are obliged all the
year to be decent, orderly, and reasonable, we make up for such a long
restraint during the Carnival. It is a door opened to the incongruous
fancies and wishes that have hitherto been crowded back into a corner
of our brain. For a moment the slaves become the masters, as in the
days of the Saturnalia, and all is given up to the "fools of the
The shouts in the square redouble; the troops of masks increase—on
foot, in carriages, and on horseback. It is now who can attract the
most attention by making a figure for a few hours, or by exciting
curiosity or envy; to-morrow they will all return, dull and exhausted,
to the employments and troubles of yesterday.
Alas! thought I with vexation, each of us is like these
masqueraders; our whole life is often but an unsightly Carnival! And
yet man has need of holidays, to relax his mind, rest his body, and
open his heart. Can he not have them, then, with these coarse
pleasures? Economists have been long inquiring what is the best
disposal of the industry of the human race. Ah! if I could only
discover the best disposal of its leisure! It is easy enough to find
it work; but who will find it relaxation? Work supplies the daily
bread; but it is cheerfulness that gives it a relish. O philosophers!
go in quest of pleasure! find us amusements without brutality,
enjoyments without selfishness; in a word, invent a Carnival that will
please everybody, and bring shame to no one.
Three o'clock.—I have just shut my window, and stirred up my fire.
As this is a holiday for everybody, I will make it one for myself,
too. So I light the little lamp over which, on grand occasions, I
make a cup of the coffee that my portress's son brought from the
Levant, and I look in my bookcase for one of my favorite authors.
First, here is the amusing parson of Meudon; but his characters are
too fond of talking slang:—Voltaire; but he disheartens men by always
bantering them:—Moliere; but he hinders one's laughter by making one
think:—Lesage; let us stop at him. Being profound rather than grave,
he preaches virtue while ridiculing vice; if bitterness is sometimes
to be found in his writings, it is always in the garb of mirth: he
sees the miseries of the world without despising it, and knows its
cowardly tricks without hating it.
Let us call up all the heroes of his book.... Gil Blas, Fabrice,
Sangrado, the Archbishop of Granada, the Duke of Lerma, Aurora,
Scipio! Ye gay or graceful figures, rise before my eyes, people my
solitude; bring hither for my amusement the world-carnival, of which
you are the brilliant maskers!
Unfortunately, at the very moment I made this invocation, I
recollected I had a letter to write which could not be put off. One
of my attic neighbors came yesterday to ask me to do it. He is a
cheerful old man, and has a passion for pictures and prints. He comes
home almost every day with a drawing or painting—probably of little
value; for I know he lives penuriously, and even the letter that I am
to write for him shows his poverty. His only son, who was married in
England, is just dead, and his widow—left without any means, and with
an old mother and a child— had written to beg for a home. M. Antoine
asked me first to translate the letter, and then to write a refusal.
I had promised that he should have this answer to-day: before
everything, let us fulfil our promises.
The sheet of "Bath" paper is before me, I have dipped my pen into
the ink, and I rub my forehead to invite forth a sally of ideas, when
I perceive that I have not my dictionary. Now, a Parisian who would
speak English without a dictionary is like a child without
leading-strings; the ground trembles under him, and he stumbles at the
first step. I run then to the bookbinder's, where I left my Johnson,
who lives close by in the square.
The door is half open; I hear low groans; I enter without knocking,
and I see the bookbinder by the bedside of his fellow-lodger. This
latter has a violent fever and delirium. Pierre looks at him
perplexed and out of humor. I learn from him that his comrade was not
able to get up in the morning, and that since then he has become worse
I ask whether they have sent for a doctor.
"Oh, yes, indeed!" replied Pierre, roughly; "one must have money
in one's pocket for that, and this fellow has only debts instead of
"But you," said I, rather astonished; "are you not his friend?"
"Friend!" interrupted the bookbinder. "Yes, as much as the
shaft-horse is friend to the leader—on condition that each will take
his share of the draught, and eat his feed by himself."
"You do not intend, however, to leave him without any help?"
"Bah! he may keep in his bed till to-morrow, as I'm going to the
"You mean to leave him alone?"
"Well! must I miss a party of pleasure at Courtville—[A Parisian
summer resort.]—because this fellow is lightheaded?" asked Pierre,
sharply. "I have promised to meet some friends at old Desnoyer's.
Those who are sick may take their broth; my physic is white wine."
So saying, he untied a bundle, out of which he took the fancy
costume of a waterman, and proceeded to dress himself in it.
In vain I tried to awaken some fellow-feeling for the unfortunate
man who lay groaning there close by him; being entirely taken up with
the thoughts of his expected pleasure, Pierre would hardly so much as
hear me. At last his coarse selfishness provoked me. I began
reproaching instead of remonstrating with him, and I declared him
responsible for the consequences which such a desertion must bring
upon the sick man.
At this the bookbinder, who was just going, stopped with an oath,
and stamped his foot. "Am I to spend my Carnival in heating water for
"You must not leave your comrade to die without help!" I replied.
"Let him go to the hospital, then!"
"How can he by himself?"
Pierre seemed to make up his mind.
"Well, I'm going to take him," resumed he; "besides, I shall get
rid of him sooner. Come, get up, comrade!" He shook his comrade, who
had not taken off his clothes. I observed that he was too weak to
walk, but the bookbinder would not listen: he made him get up, and
half dragged, half supported him to the lodge of the porter, who ran
for a hackney carriage. I saw the sick man get into it, almost
fainting, with the impatient waterman; and they both set off, one
perhaps to die, the other to dine at Courtville Gardens!
Six o'clock.—I have been to knock at my neighbor's door, who
opened it himself; and I have given him his letter, finished at last,
and directed to his son's widow. M. Antoine thanked me gratefully,
and made me sit down.
It was the first time I had been into the attic of the old amateur.
Curtains stained with damp and hanging down in rags, a cold stove, a
bed of straw, two broken chairs, composed all the furniture. At the
end of the room were a great number of prints in a heap, and paintings
without frames turned against the wall.
At the moment I came in, the old man was making his dinner on some
hard crusts of bread, which he was soaking in a glass of 'eau sucree'.
He perceived that my eyes fell upon his hermit fare, and he looked a
"There is nothing to tempt you in my supper, neighbor," said he,
with a smile.
I replied that at least I thought it a very philosophical one for
M. Antoine shook his head, and went on again with his supper.
"Every one keeps his holidays in his own way," resumed he,
beginning again to dip a crust into his glass. "There are several
sorts of epicures, and not all feasts are meant to regale the palate;
there are some also for the ears and the eyes."
I looked involuntarily round me, as if to seek for the invisible
banquet which could make up to him for such a supper.
Without doubt he understood me; for he got up slowly, and, with the
magisterial air of a man confident in what he is about to do, he
rummaged behind several picture frames, drew forth a painting, over
which he passed his hand, and silently placed it under the light of
It represented a fine-looking old man, seated at table with his
wife, his daughter, and his children, and singing to the accompaniment
of musicians who appeared in the background. At first sight I
recognized the subject, which I had often admired at the Louvre, and I
declared it to be a splendid copy of Jordaens.
"A copy!" cried M. Antoine; "say an original, neighbor, and an
original retouched by Rubens! Look closer at the head of the old man,
the dress of the young woman, and the accessories. One can count the
pencil- strokes of the Hercules of painters. It is not only a
masterpiece, sir; it is a treasure—a relic! The picture at the
Louvre may be a pearl, this is a diamond!"
And resting it against the stove, so as to place it in the best
light, he fell again to soaking his crusts, without taking his eyes
off the wonderful picture. One would have said that the sight of it
gave the crusts an unexpected relish, for he chewed them slowly, and
emptied his glass by little sips. His shrivelled features became
smooth, his nostrils expanded; it was indeed, as he said himself, "a
feast for the eyes."
"You see that I also have my treat," he resumed, nodding his head
with an air of triumph. "Others may run after dinners and balls; as
for me, this is the pleasure I give myself for my Carnival."
"But if this painting is really so precious," replied I, "it ought
to be worth a high price."
"Eh! eh!" said M. Antoine, with an air of proud indifference. "In
good times, a good judge might value it at somewhere about twenty
I started back.
"And you have bought it?" cried I.
"For nothing," replied he, lowering his voice. "These brokers are
asses; mine mistook this for a student's copy; he let me have it for
fifty louis, ready money! This morning I took them to him, and now he
wishes to be off the bargain."
"This morning!" repeated I, involuntarily casting my eyes on the
letter containing the refusal that M. Antoine had made me write to his
son's widow, which was still on the little table.
He took no notice of my exclamation, and went on contemplating the
work of Jordaens in an ecstasy.
"What a knowledge of chiaroscuro!" he murmured, biting his last
crust in delight. "What relief! what fire! Where can one find such
transparency of color! such magical lights! such force! such nature!"
As I was listening to him in silence, he mistook my astonishment
for admiration, and clapped me on the shoulder.
"You are dazzled," said he merrily; "you did not expect such a
treasure! What do you say to the bargain I have made?"
"Pardon me," replied I, gravely; "but I think you might have done
M. Antoine raised his head.
"How!" cried he; "do you take me for a man likely to be deceived
about the merit or value of a painting?"
"I neither doubt your taste nor your skill; but I cannot help
thinking that, for the price of this picture of a family party, you
might have had—"
"The family itself, sir."
The old amateur cast a look at me, not of anger, but of contempt.
In his eyes I had evidently just proved myself a barbarian, incapable
of understanding the arts, and unworthy of enjoying them. He got up
without answering me, hastily took up the Jordaens, and replaced it in
its hiding-place behind the prints.
It was a sort of dismissal; I took leave of him, and went away.
Seven o'clock.—When I come in again, I find my water boiling over
my lamp, and I busy myself in grinding my Mocha, and setting out my
The getting coffee ready is the most delicate and most attractive
of domestic operations to one who lives alone: it is the grand work of
a bachelor's housekeeping.
Coffee is, so to say, just the mid-point between bodily and
spiritual nourishment. It acts agreeably, and at the same time, upon
the senses and the thoughts. Its very fragrance gives a sort of
delightful activity to the wits; it is a genius that lends wings to
our fancy, and transports it to the land of the Arabian Nights.
When I am buried in my old easy-chair, my feet on the fender before
a blazing fire, my ear soothed by the singing of the coffee-pot, which
seems to gossip with my fire-irons, the sense of smell gently excited
by the aroma of the Arabian bean, and my eyes shaded by my cap pulled
down over them, it often seems as if each cloud of the fragrant steam
took a distinct form. As in the mirages of the desert, in each as it
rises, I see some image of which my mind had been longing for the
At first the vapor increases, and its color deepens. I see a
cottage on a hillside: behind is a garden shut in by a whitethorn
hedge, and through the garden runs a brook, on the banks of which I
hear the bees humming.
Then the view opens still more. See those fields planted with
apple- trees, in which I can distinguish a plough and horses waiting
for their master! Farther on, in a part of the wood which rings with
the sound of the axe, I perceive the woodsman's hut, roofed with turf
and branches; and, in the midst of all these rural pictures, I seem to
see a figure of myself gliding about. It is my ghost walking in my
The bubbling of the water, ready to boil over, compels me to break
off my meditations, in order to fill up the coffee-pot. I then
remember that I have no cream; I take my tin can off the hook and go
down to the milkwoman's.
Mother Denis is a hale countrywoman from Savoy, which she left when
quite young; and, contrary to the custom of the Savoyards, she has not
gone back to it again. She has neither husband nor child,
notwithstanding the title they give her; but her kindness, which never
sleeps, makes her worthy of the name of mother.
A brave creature! Left by herself in the battle of life, she makes
good her humble place in it by working, singing, helping others, and
leaving the rest to God.
At the door of the milk-shop I hear loud bursts of laughter. In
one of the corners of the shop three children are sitting on the
ground. They wear the sooty dress of Savoyard boys, and in their
hands they hold large slices of bread and cheese. The youngest is
besmeared up to the eyes with his, and that is the reason of their
Mother Denis points them out to me.
"Look at the little lambs, how they enjoy themselves!" said she,
putting her hand on the head of the little glutton.
"He has had no breakfast," puts in one of the others by way of
"Poor little thing," said the milkwoman; "he is left alone in the
streets of Paris, where he can find no other father than the All-good
"And that is why you make yourself a mother to them?" I replied,
"What I do is little enough," said Mother Denis, measuring out my
milk; "but every day I get some of them together out of the street,
that for once they may have enough to eat. Dear children! their
mothers will make up for it in heaven. Not to mention that they
recall my native mountains to me: when they sing and dance, I seem to
see our old father again."
Here her eyes filled with tears.
"So you are repaid by your recollections for the good you do them?"
"Yes! yes!" said she, "and by their happiness, too! The laughter
of these little ones, sir, is like a bird's song; it makes you gay,
and gives you heart to live."
As she spoke she cut some fresh slices of bread and cheese, and
added some apples and a handful of nuts to them.
"Come, my little dears," she cried, "put these into your pockets
Then, turning to me:
"To-day I am ruining myself," added she; "but we must all have our
I came away without saying a word: I was too much affected.
At last I have discovered what true pleasure is. After beholding
the egotism of sensuality and of intellect, I have found the happy
self- sacrifice of goodness. Pierre, M. Antoine, and Mother Denis had
all kept their Carnival; but for the first two, it was only a feast
for the senses or the mind; while for the third, it was a feast for
CHAPTER III. WHAT WE MAY LEARN BY
LOOKING OUT OF WINDOW
A poet has said that life is the dream of a shadow: he would better
have compared it to a night of fever! What alternate fits of
restlessness and sleep! what discomfort! what sudden starts! what
ever-returning thirst! what a chaos of mournful and confused fancies!
We can neither sleep nor wake; we seek in vain for repose, and we
stop short on the brink of action. Two thirds of human existence are
wasted in hesitation, and the last third in repenting.
When I say human existence, I mean my own! We are so made that
each of us regards himself as the mirror of the community: what passes
in our minds infallibly seems to us a history of the universe. Every
man is like the drunkard who reports an earthquake, because he feels
And why am I uncertain and restless—I, a poor day-laborer in the
world— who fill an obscure station in a corner of it, and whose work
it avails itself of, without heeding the workman? I will tell you, my
unseen friend, for whom these lines are written; my unknown brother,
on whom the solitary call in sorrow; my imaginary confidant, to whom
all monologues are addressed and who is but the shadow of our own
A great event has happened in my life! A crossroad has suddenly
opened in the middle of the monotonous way along which I was
travelling quietly, and without thinking of it. Two roads present
themselves, and I must choose between them. One is only the
continuation of that I have followed till now; the other is wider, and
exhibits wondrous prospects. On the first there is nothing to fear,
but also little to hope; on the other are great dangers and great
fortune. Briefly, the question is, whether I shall give up the humble
office in which I thought to die, for one of those bold speculations
in which chance alone is banker! Ever since yesterday I have
consulted with myself; I have compared the two and I remain undecided.
Where shall I find light—who will advise me?
Sunday, 4th.—See the sun coming out from the thick fogs of winter!
Spring announces its approach; a soft breeze skims over the roofs, and
my wallflower begins to blow again.
We are near that sweet season of fresh green, of which the poets of
the sixteenth century sang with so much feeling:
Now the gladsome month of May
All things newly doth array;
Fairest lady, let me too
In thy love my life renew.
The chirping of the sparrows calls me: they claim the crumbs I
scatter to them every morning. I open my window, and the prospect of
roofs opens out before me in all its splendor.
He who has lived only on a first floor has no idea of the
picturesque variety of such a view. He has never contemplated these
tile-colored heights which intersect each other; he has not followed
with his eyes these gutter-valleys, where the fresh verdure of the
attic gardens waves, the deep shadows which evening spreads over the
slated slopes, and the sparkling of windows which the setting sun has
kindled to a blaze of fire. He has not studied the flora of these
Alps of civilization, carpeted by lichens and mosses; he is not
acquainted with the myriad inhabitants that people them, from the
microscopic insect to the domestic cat—that reynard of the roofs who
is always on the prowl, or in ambush; he has not witnessed the
thousand aspects of a clear or a cloudy sky; nor the thousand effects
of light, that make these upper regions a theatre with ever-changing
scenes! How many times have my days of leisure passed away in
contemplating this wonderful sight; in discovering its darker or
brighter episodes; in seeking, in short, in this unknown world for the
impressions of travel that wealthy tourists look for lower!
Nine o'clock.—But why, then, have not my winged neighbors picked
up the crumbs I have scattered for them before my window? I see them
fly away, come back, perch upon the ledges of the windows, and chirp
at the sight of the feast they are usually so ready to devour! It is
not my presence that frightens them; I have accustomed them to eat out
of my hand. Then, why this fearful suspense? In vain I look around:
the roof is clear, the windows near are closed. I crumble the bread
that remains from my breakfast to attract them by an ampler feast.
Their chirpings increase, they bend down their heads, the boldest
approach upon the wing, but without daring to alight.
Come, come, my sparrows are the victims of one of the foolish
panics which make the funds fall at the Bourse! It is plain that
birds are not more reasonable than men!
With this reflection I was about to shut my window, when suddenly I
perceived, in a spot of sunshine on my right, the shadow of two
pricked- up ears; then a paw advanced, then the head of a tabby-cat
showed itself at the corner of the gutter. The cunning fellow was
lying there in wait, hoping the crumbs would bring him some game.
And I had accused my guests of cowardice! I was so sure that no
danger could menace them! I thought I had looked well everywhere! I
had only forgotten the corner behind me!
In life, as on the roofs, how many misfortunes come from having
forgotten a single corner!
Ten o'clock.—I cannot leave my window; the rain and the cold have
kept it shut so long that I must reconnoitre all the environs to be
able to take possession of them again. My eyes search in succession
all the points of the jumbled and confused prospect, passing on or
stopping according to what they light upon.
Ah! see the windows upon which they formerly loved to rest; they
are those of two unknown neighbors, whose different habits they have
One is a poor work-woman, who rises before sunrise, and whose
profile is shadowed upon her little muslin window-curtain far into the
evening; the other is a young songstress, whose vocal flourishes
sometimes reach my attic by snatches. When their windows are open,
that of the work-woman discovers a humble but decent abode; the other,
an elegantly furnished room. But to-day a crowd of tradespeople
throng the latter: they take down the silk hangings and carry off the
furniture, and I now remember that the young singer passed under my
window this morning with her veil down, and walking with the hasty
step of one who suffers some inward trouble. Ah! I guess it all. Her
means are exhausted in elegant fancies, or have been taken away by
some unexpected misfortune, and now she has fallen from luxury to
indigence. While the work-woman manages not only to keep her little
room, but also to furnish it with decent comfort by her steady toil,
that of the singer is become the property of brokers. The one
sparkled for a moment on the wave of prosperity; the other sails
slowly but safely along the coast of a humble and laborious industry.
Alas! is there not here a lesson for us all? Is it really in
hazardous experiments, at the end of which we shall meet with wealth
or ruin, that the wise man should employ his years of strength and
freedom? Ought he to consider life as a regular employment which
brings its daily wages, or as a game in which the future is determined
by a few throws? Why seek the risk of extreme chances? For what end
hasten to riches by dangerous roads? Is it really certain that
happiness is the prize of brilliant successes, rather than of a wisely
accepted poverty? Ah! if men but knew in what a small dwelling joy
can live, and how little it costs to furnish it!
Twelve o'clock.—I have been walking up and down my attic for a
long time, with my arms folded and my eyes on the ground! My doubts
increase, like shadows encroaching more and more on some bright space;
my fears multiply; and the uncertainty becomes every moment more
painful to me! It is necessary for me to decide to-day, and before the
evening! I hold the dice of my future fate in my hands, and I dare
not throw them.
Three o'clock.—The sky has become cloudy, and a cold wind begins
to blow from the west; all the windows which were opened to the
sunshine of a beautiful day are shut again. Only on the opposite side
of the street, the lodger on the last story has not yet left his
One knows him to be a soldier by his regular walk, his gray
moustaches, and the ribbon that decorates his buttonhole. Indeed, one
might have guessed as much from the care he takes of the little garden
which is the ornament of his balcony in mid-air; for there are two
things especially loved by all old soldiers—flowers and children.
They have been so long, obliged to look upon the earth as a field of
battle, and so long cut off from the peaceful pleasures of a quiet
lot, that they seem to begin life at an age when others end it. The
tastes of their early years, which were arrested by the stern duties
of war, suddenly break out again with their white hairs, and are like
the savings of youth which they spend again in old age. Besides, they
have been condemned to be destroyers for so long that perhaps they
feel a secret pleasure in creating, and seeing life spring up again:
the beauty of weakness has a grace and an attraction the more for
those who have been the agents of unbending force; and the watching
over the frail germs of life has all the charms of novelty for these
old workmen of death.
Therefore the cold wind has not driven my neighbor from his
balcony. He is digging up the earth in his green boxes, and carefully
sowing the seeds of the scarlet nasturtium, convolvulus, and
sweet-pea. Henceforth he will come every day to watch for their first
sprouting, to protect the young shoots from weeds or insects, to
arrange the strings for the tendrils to climb on, and carefully to
regulate their supply of water and heat!
How much labor to bring in the desired harvest! For that, how many
times shall I see him brave cold or heat, wind or sun, as he does
to-day! But then, in the hot summer days, when the blinding dust
whirls in clouds through our streets, when the eye, dazzled by the
glare of white stucco, knows not where to rest, and the glowing roofs
reflect their heat upon us to burning, the old soldier will sit in his
arbor and perceive nothing but green leaves and flowers around him,
and the breeze will come cool and fresh to him through these perfumed
shades. His assiduous care will be rewarded at last.
We must sow the seeds, and tend the growth, if we would enjoy the
Four o'clock.—The clouds that have been gathering in the horizon
for a long time are become darker; it thunders loudly, and the rain
pours down! Those who are caught in it fly in every direction, some
laughing and some crying.
I always find particular amusement in these helter-skelters, caused
by a sudden storm. It seems as if each one, when thus taken by
surprise, loses the factitious character that the world or habit has
given him, and appears in his true colors.
See, for example, that big man with deliberate step, who suddenly
forgets his indifference, made to order, and runs like a schoolboy!
He is a thrifty city gentleman, who, with all his fashionable airs,
is afraid to spoil his hat.
That pretty woman yonder, on the contrary, whose looks are so
modest, and whose dress is so elaborate, slackens her pace with the
increasing storm. She seems to find pleasure in braving it, and does
not think of her velvet cloak spotted by the hail! She is evidently a
lioness in sheep's clothing.
Here, a young man, who was passing, stops to catch some of the
hailstones in his hand, and examines them. By his quick and
business-like walk just now, you would have taken him for a
tax-gatherer on his rounds, when he is a young philosopher, studying
the effects of electricity. And those schoolboys who leave their
ranks to run after the sudden gusts of a March whirlwind; those girls,
just now so demure, but who now fly with bursts of laughter; those
national guards, who quit the martial attitude of their days of duty
to take refuge under a porch! The storm has caused all these
See, it increases! The hardiest are obliged to seek shelter. I
see every one rushing toward the shop in front of my window, which a
bill announces is to let. It is for the fourth time within a few
months. A year ago all the skill of the joiner and the art of the
painter were employed in beautifying it, but their works are already
destroyed by the leaving of so many tenants; the cornices of the front
are disfigured by mud; the arabesques on the doorway are spoiled by
bills posted upon them to announce the sale of the effects. The
splendid shop has lost some of its embellishments with each change of
the tenant. See it now empty, and left open to the passersby. How
much does its fate resemble that of so many who, like it, only change
their occupation to hasten the faster to ruin!
I am struck by this last reflection: since the morning everything
seems to speak to me, and with the same warning tone. Everything
says: "Take care! be content with your happy, though humble lot;
happiness can be retained only by constancy; do not forsake your old
patrons for the protection of those who are unknown!"
Are they the outward objects which speak thus, or does the warning
come from within? Is it not I myself who give this language to all
that surrounds me? The world is but an instrument, to which we give
sound at will. But what does it signify if it teaches us wisdom? The
low voice that speaks in our breasts is always a friendly voice, for
it tells us what we are, that is to say, what is our capability. Bad
conduct results, for the most part, from mistaking our calling. There
are so many fools and knaves, because there are so few men who know
themselves. The question is not to discover what will suit us, but for
what we are suited!
What should I do among these many experienced financial
speculators? I am only a poor sparrow, born among the housetops, and
should always fear the enemy crouching in the dark corner; I am a
prudent workman, and should think of the business of my neighbors who
so suddenly disappeared; I am a timid observer, and should call to
mind the flowers so slowly raised by the old soldier, or the shop
brought to ruin by constant change of masters. Away from me, ye
banquets, over which hangs the sword of Damocles! I am a country
mouse. Give me my nuts and hollow tree, and I ask nothing
And why this insatiable craving for riches? Does a man drink more
when he drinks from a large glass? Whence comes that universal dread
of mediocrity, the fruitful mother of peace and liberty? Ah! there
is the evil which, above every other, it should be the aim of both
public and private education to anticipate! If that were got rid of,
what treasons would be spared, what baseness avoided, what a chain of
excess and crime would be forever broken! We award the palm to
charity, and to self- sacrifice; but, above all, let us award it to
moderation, for it is the great social virtue. Even when it does not
create the others, it stands instead of them.
Six o'clock.—I have written a letter of thanks to the promoters of
the new speculation, and have declined their offer! This decision has
restored my peace of mind. I stopped singing, like the cobbler, as
long as I entertained the hope of riches: it is gone, and happiness is
O beloved and gentle Poverty! pardon me for having for a moment
wished to fly from thee, as I would from Want. Stay here forever with
thy charming sisters, Pity, Patience, Sobriety, and Solitude; be ye my
queens and my instructors; teach me the stern duties of life; remove
far from my abode the weakness of heart and giddiness of head which
follow prosperity. Holy Poverty! teach me to endure without
complaining, to impart without grudging, to seek the end of life
higher than in pleasure, farther off than in power. Thou givest the
body strength, thou makest the mind more firm; and, thanks to thee,
this life, to which the rich attach themselves as to a rock, becomes a
bark of which death may cut the cable without awakening all our fears.
Continue to sustain me, O thou whom Christ hath called Blessed!
CHAPTER IV. LET US LOVE ONE ANOTHER
The fine evenings are come back; the trees begin to put forth their
shoots; hyacinths, jonquils, violets, and lilacs perfume the baskets
of the flower-girls—all the world have begun their walks again on the
quays and boulevards. After dinner, I, too, descend from my attic to
breathe the evening air.
It is the hour when Paris is seen in all its beauty. During the
day the plaster fronts of the houses weary the eye by their monotonous
whiteness; heavily laden carts make the streets shake under their huge
wheels; the eager crowd, taken up by the one fear of losing a moment
from business, cross and jostle one another; the aspect of the city
altogether has something harsh, restless, and flurried about it. But,
as soon as the stars appear, everything is changed; the glare of the
white houses is quenched in the gathering shades; you hear no more any
rolling but that of the carriages on their way to some party of
pleasure; you see only the lounger or the light-hearted passing by;
work has given place to leisure. Now each one may breathe after the
fierce race through the business of the day, and whatever strength
remains to him he gives to pleasure! See the ballrooms lighted up,
the theatres open, the eating-shops along the walks set out with
dainties, and the twinkling lanterns of the newspaper criers.
Decidedly Paris has laid aside the pen, the ruler, and the apron;
after the day spent in work, it must have the evening for enjoyment;
like the masters of Thebes, it has put off all serious matter till
I love to take part in this happy hour; not to mix in the general
gayety, but to contemplate it. If the enjoyments of others embitter
jealous minds, they strengthen the humble spirit; they are the beams
of sunshine, which open the two beautiful flowers called trust and
Although alone in the midst of the smiling multitude, I do not feel
myself isolated from it, for its gayety is reflected upon me: it is my
own kind, my own family, who are enjoying life, and I take a brother's
share in their happiness. We are all fellow-soldiers in this earthly
battle, and what does it matter on whom the honors of the victory
fall? If Fortune passes by without seeing us, and pours her favors on
others, let us console ourselves, like the friend of Parmenio, by
saying, "Those, too, are Alexanders."
While making these reflections, I was going on as chance took me.
I crossed from one pavement to another, I retraced my steps, I
stopped before the shops or to read the handbills. How many things
there are to learn in the streets of Paris! What a museum it is!
Unknown fruits, foreign arms, furniture of old times or other lands,
animals of all climates, statues of great men, costumes of distant
nations! It is the world seen in samples!
Let us then look at this people, whose knowledge is gained from the
shop- windows and the tradesman's display of goods. Nothing has been
taught them, but they have a rude notion of everything. They have
seen pineapples at Chevet's, a palm-tree in the Jardin des Plantes,
sugar- canes selling on the Pont-Neuf. The Redskins, exhibited in the
Valentine Hall, have taught them to mimic the dance of the bison, and
to smoke the calumet of peace; they have seen Carter's lions fed; they
know the principal national costumes contained in Babin's collection;
Goupil's display of prints has placed the tiger-hunts of Africa and
the sittings of the English Parliament before their eyes; they have
become acquainted with Queen Victoria, the Emperor of Austria, and
Kossuth, at the office- door of the Illustrated News. We can
certainly instruct them, but not astonish them; for nothing is
completely new to them. You may take the Paris ragamuffin through the
five quarters of the world, and at every wonder with which you think
to surprise him, he will settle the matter with that favorite and
conclusive answer of his class—"I know."
But this variety of exhibitions, which makes Paris the fair of the
world, does not offer merely a means of instruction to him who walks
through it; it is a continual spur for rousing the imagination, a
first step of the ladder always set up before us in a vision. When we
see them, how many voyages do we take in imagination, what adventures
do we dream of, what pictures do we sketch! I never look at that shop
near the Chinese baths, with its tapestry hangings of Florida
jessamine, and filled with magnolias, without seeing the forest glades
of the New World, described by the author of Atala, opening themselves
out before me.
Then, when this study of things and this discourse of reason begin
to tire you, look around you! What contrasts of figures and faces you
see in the crowd! What a vast field for the exercise of meditation!
A half- seen glance, or a few words caught as the speaker passes by,
open a thousand vistas to your imagination. You wish to comprehend
what these imperfect disclosures mean, and, as the antiquary endeavors
to decipher the mutilated inscription on some old monument, you build
up a history on a gesture or on a word! These are the stirring sports
of the mind, which finds in fiction a relief from the wearisome
dullness of the actual.
Alas! as I was just now passing by the carriage-entrance of a
great house, I noticed a sad subject for one of these histories. A
man was sitting in the darkest corner, with his head bare, and holding
out his hat for the charity of those who passed. His threadbare coat
had that look of neatness which marks that destitution has been met by
a long struggle. He had carefully buttoned it up to hide the want of
a shirt. His face was half hid under his gray hair, and his eyes were
closed, as if he wished to escape the sight of his own humiliation,
and he remained mute and motionless. Those who passed him took no
notice of the beggar, who sat in silence and darkness! They had been
so lucky as to escape complaints and importunities, and were glad to
turn away their eyes too.
Suddenly the great gate turned on its hinges; and a very low
carriage, lighted with silver lamps and drawn by two black horses,
came slowly out, and took the road toward the Faubourg St. Germain. I
could just distinguish, within, the sparkling diamonds and the flowers
of a ball- dress; the glare of the lamps passed like a bloody streak
over the pale face of the beggar, and showed his look as his eyes
opened and followed the rich man's equipage until it disappeared in
I dropped a small piece of money into the hat he was holding out,
and passed on quickly.
I had just fallen unexpectedly upon the two saddest secrets of the
disease which troubles the age we live in: the envious hatred of him
who suffers want, and the selfish forgetfulness of him who lives in
All the enjoyment of my walk was gone; I left off looking about me,
and retired into my own heart. The animated and moving sight in the
streets gave place to inward meditation upon all the painful problems
which have been written for the last four thousand years at the bottom
of each human struggle, but which are propounded more clearly than
ever in our days.
I pondered on the uselessness of so many contests, in which defeat
and victory only displace each other by turns, and on the mistaken
zealots who have repeated from generation to generation the bloody
history of Cain and Abel; and, saddened with these mournful
reflections, I walked on as chance took me, until the silence all
around insensibly drew me out from my own thoughts.
I had reached one of the remote streets, in which those who would
live in comfort and without ostentation, and who love serious
reflection, delight to find a home. There were no shops along the
dimly lighted street; one heard no sounds but of distant carriages,
and of the steps of some of the inhabitants returning quietly home.
I instantly recognized the street, though I had been there only
That was two years ago. I was walking at the time by the side of
the Seine, to which the lights on the quays and bridges gave the
aspect of a lake surrounded by a garland of stars; and I had reached
the Louvre, when I was stopped by a crowd collected near the parapet
they had gathered round a child of about six, who was crying, and I
asked the cause of his tears.
"It seems that he was sent to walk in the Tuileries," said a mason,
who was returning from his work with his trowel in his hand; "the
servant who took care of him met with some friends there, and told the
child to wait for him while he went to get a drink; but I suppose the
drink made him more thirsty, for he has not come back, and the child
cannot find his way home."
"Why do they not ask him his name, and where he lives?"
"They have been doing it for the last hour; but all he can say is,
that he is called Charles, and that his father is Monsieur
Duval—there are twelve hundred Duvals in Paris."
"Then he does not know in what part of the town he lives?"
"I should not think, indeed! Don't you see that he is a
gentleman's child? He has never gone out except in a carriage or with
a servant; he does not know what to do by himself."
Here the mason was interrupted by some of the voices rising above
"We cannot leave him in the street," said some.
"The child-stealers would carry him off," continued others.
"We must take him to the overseer."
"Or to the police-office."
"That's the thing. Come, little one!"
But the child, frightened by these suggestions of danger, and at
the names of police and overseer, cried louder, and drew back toward
the parapet. In vain they tried to persuade him; his fears made him
resist the more, and the most eager began to get weary, when the voice
of a little boy was heard through the confusion.
"I know him well—I do," said he, looking at the lost child; "he
belongs in our part of the town."
"What part is it?"
"Yonder, on the other side of the Boulevards—Rue des Magasins."
"And you have seen him before?"
"Yes, yes! he belongs to the great house at the end of the street,
where there is an iron gate with gilt points."
The child quickly raised his head, and stopped crying. The little
boy answered all the questions that were put to him, and gave such
details as left no room for doubt. The other child understood him,
for he went up to him as if to put himself under his protection.
"Then you can take him to his parents?" asked the mason, who had
listened with real interest to the little boy's account.
"I don't care if I do," replied he; "it's the way I'm going."
"Then you will take charge of him?"
"He has only to come with me."
And, taking up the basket he had put down on the pavement, he set
off toward the postern-gate of the Louvre.
The lost child followed him.
"I hope he will take him right," said I, when I saw them go away.
"Never fear," replied the mason; "the little one in the blouse is
the same age as the other; but, as the saying is, he knows black from
white;' poverty, you see, is a famous schoolmistress!"
The crowd dispersed. For my part, I went toward the Louvre; the
thought came into my head to follow the two children, so as to guard
against any mistake.
I was not long in overtaking them; they were walking side by side,
talking, and already quite familiar with each other. The contrast in
their dress then struck me. Little Duval wore one of those fanciful
children's dresses which are expensive as well as in good taste; his
coat was skilfully fitted to his figure, his trousers came down in
plaits from his waist to his boots of polished leather with
mother-of-pearl buttons, and his ringlets were half hid by a velvet
cap. The appearance of his guide, on the contrary, was that of the
class who dwell on the extreme borders of poverty, but who there
maintain their ground with no surrender. His old blouse, patched with
pieces of different shades, indicated the perseverance of an
industrious mother struggling against the wear and tear of time; his
trousers were become too short, and showed his stockings darned over
and over again; and it was evident that his shoes were not made for
The countenances of the two children were not less different than
their dress. That of the first was delicate and refined; his clear
blue eye, his fair skin, and his smiling mouth gave him a charming
look of innocence and happiness. The features of the other, on the
contrary, had something rough in them; his eye was quick and lively,
his complexion dark, his smile less merry than shrewd; all showed a
mind sharpened by too early experience; he walked boldly through the
middle of the streets thronged by carriages, and followed their
countless turnings without hesitation.
I found, on asking him, that every day he carried dinner to his
father, who was then working on the left bank of the Seine; and this
responsible duty had made him careful and prudent. He had learned
those hard but forcible lessons of necessity which nothing can equal
or supply the place of. Unfortunately, the wants of his poor family
had kept him from school, and he seemed to feel the loss; for he often
stopped before the printshops, and asked his companion to read him the
names of the engravings. In this way we reached the Boulevard Bonne
Nouvelle, which the little wanderer seemed to know again.
Notwithstanding his fatigue, he hurried on; he was agitated by mixed
feelings; at the sight of his house he uttered a cry, and ran toward
the iron gate with the gilt points; a lady who was standing at the
entrance received him in her arms, and from the exclamations of joy,
and the sound of kisses, I soon perceived she was his mother.
Not seeing either the servant or child return, she had sent in
search of them in every direction, and was waiting for them in intense
I explained to her in a few words what had happened. She thanked
me warmly, and looked round for the little boy who had recognized and
brought back her son; but while we were talking, he had disappeared.
It was for the first time since then that I had come into this part
of Paris. Did the mother continue grateful? Had the children met
again, and had the happy chance of their first meeting lowered between
them that barrier which may mark the different ranks of men, but
should not divide them?
While putting these questions to myself, I slackened my pace, and
fixed my eyes on the great gate, which I just perceived. Suddenly I
saw it open, and two children appeared at the entrance. Although much
grown, I recognized them at first sight; they were the child who was
found near the parapet of the Louvre, and his young guide. But the
dress of the latter was greatly changed: his blouse of gray cloth was
neat, and even spruce, and was fastened round the waist by a polished
leather belt; he wore strong shoes, but made for his feet, and had on
a new cloth cap. Just at the moment I saw him, he held in his two
hands an enormous bunch of lilacs, to which his companion was trying
to add narcissuses and primroses; the two children laughed, and parted
with a friendly good-by. M. Duval's son did not go in till he had seen
the other turn the corner of the street.
Then I accosted the latter, and reminded him of our former meeting;
he looked at me for a moment, and then seemed to recollect me.
"Forgive me if I do not make you a bow," said he, merrily, "but I
want both my hands for the nosegay Monsieur Charles has given me."
"You are, then, become great friends?" said I.
"Oh! I should think so," said the child; "and now my father is
"Monsieur Duval lent him some money; he has taken a shop, where he
works on his own account; and, as for me, I go to school."
"Yes," replied I, remarking for the first time the cross that
decorated his little coat; "and I see that you are head-boy!"
"Monsieur Charles helps me to learn, and so I am come to be the
first in the class."
"Are you now going to your lessons?"
"Yes, and he has given me some lilacs; for he has a garden where we
play together, and where my mother can always have flowers."
"Then it is the same as if it were partly your own."
"So it is! Ah! they are good neighbors indeed. But here I am;
He nodded to me with a smile, and disappeared.
I went on with my walk, still pensive, but with a feeling of
relief. If I had elsewhere witnessed the painful contrast between
affluence and want, here I had found the true union of riches and
poverty. Hearty good-will had smoothed down the more rugged
inequalities on both sides, and had opened a road of true neighborhood
and fellowship between the humble workshop and the stately mansion.
Instead of hearkening to the voice of interest, they had both
listened to that of self-sacrifice, and there was no place left for
contempt or envy. Thus, instead of the beggar in rags, that I had
seen at the other door cursing the rich man, I had found here the
happy child of the laborer loaded with flowers and blessing him! The
problem, so difficult and so dangerous to examine into with no regard
but for the rights of it, I had just seen solved by love.
CHAPTER V. COMPENSATION
Sunday, May 27th
Capital cities have one thing peculiar to them: their days of rest
seem to be the signal for a general dispersion and flight. Like birds
that are just restored to liberty, the people come out of their stone
cages, and joyfully fly toward the country. It is who shall find a
green hillock for a seat, or the shade of a wood for a shelter; they
gather May flowers, they run about the fields; the town is forgotten
until the evening, when they return with sprigs of blooming hawthorn
in their hats, and their hearts gladdened by pleasant thoughts and
recollections of the past day; the next day they return again to their
harness and to work.
These rural adventures are most remarkable at Paris. When the fine
weather comes, clerks, shop keepers, and workingmen look forward
impatiently for the Sunday as the day for trying a few hours of this
pastoral life; they walk through six miles of grocers' shops and
public- houses in the faubourgs, in the sole hope of finding a real
turnip-field. The father of a family begins the practical education of
his son by showing him wheat which has not taken the form of a loaf,
and cabbage "in its wild state." Heaven only knows the encounters,
the discoveries, the adventures that are met with! What Parisian has
not had his Odyssey in an excursion through the suburbs, and would not
be able to write a companion to the famous Travels by Land and by Sea
from Paris to St. Cloud?
We do not now speak of that floating population from all parts, for
whom our French Babylon is the caravansary of Europe: a phalanx of
thinkers, artists, men of business, and travellers, who, like Homer's
hero, have arrived in their intellectual country after beholding "many
peoples and cities;" but of the settled Parisian, who keeps his
appointed place, and lives on his own floor like the oyster on his
rock, a curious vestige of the credulity, the slowness, and the
simplicity of bygone ages.
For one of the singularities of Paris is, that it unites twenty
populations completely different in character and manners. By the
side of the gypsies of commerce and of art, who wander through all the
several stages of fortune or fancy, live a quiet race of people with
an independence, or with regular work, whose existence resembles the
dial of a clock, on which the same hand points by turns to the same
hours. If no other city can show more brilliant and more stirring
forms of life, no other contains more obscure and more tranquil ones.
Great cities are like the sea: storms agitate only the surface; if
you go to the bottom, you find a region inaccessible to the tumult and
For my part, I have settled on the verge of this region, but do not
actually live in it. I am removed from the turmoil of the world, and
live in the shelter of solitude, but without being able to disconnect
my thoughts from the struggle going on. I follow at a distance all
its events of happiness or grief; I join the feasts and the funerals;
for how can he who looks on, and knows what passes, do other than take
part? Ignorance alone can keep us strangers to the life around us:
selfishness itself will not suffice for that.
These reflections I made to myself in my attic, in the intervals of
the various household works to which a bachelor is forced when he has
no other servant than his own ready will. While I was pursuing my
deductions, I had blacked my boots, brushed my coat, and tied my
cravat; I had at last arrived at the important moment when we
pronounce complacently that all is finished, and that well.
A grand resolve had just decided me to depart from my usual habits.
The evening before, I had seen by the advertisements that the next day
was a holiday at Sevres, and that the china manufactory would be open
to the public. I was tempted by the beauty of the morning, and
suddenly decided to go there.
On my arrival at the station on the left bank, I noticed the crowd
hurrying on in the fear of being late. Railroads, besides many other
advantages, possess that of teaching the French punctuality. They
will submit to the clock when they are convinced that it is their
master; they will learn to wait when they find they will not be waited
for. Social virtues, are, in a great degree, good habits. How many
great qualities are grafted into nations by their geographical
position, by political necessity, and by institutions! Avarice was
destroyed for a time among the Lacedaemonians by the creation of an
iron coinage, too heavy and too bulky to be conveniently hoarded.
I found myself in a carriage with two middle-aged women belonging
to the domestic and retired class of Parisians I have spoken of above.
A few civilities were sufficient to gain me their confidence, and
after some minutes I was acquainted with their whole history.
They were two poor sisters, left orphans at fifteen, and had lived
ever since, as those who work for their livelihood must live, by
economy and privation. For the last twenty or thirty years they had
worked in jewelry in the same house; they had seen ten masters succeed
one another, and make their fortunes in it, without any change in
their own lot. They had always lived in the same room, at the end of
one of the passages in the Rue St. Denis, where the air and the sun
are unknown. They began their work before daylight, went on with it
till after nightfall, and saw year succeed to year without their lives
being marked by any other events than the Sunday service, a walk, or
The younger of these worthy work-women was forty, and obeyed her
sister as she did when a child. The elder looked after her, took care
of her, and scolded her with a mother's tenderness. At first it was
amusing; afterward one could not help seeing something affecting in
these two gray-haired children, one unable to leave off the habit of
obeying, the other that of protecting.
And it was not in that alone that my two companions seemed younger
than their years; they knew so little that their wonder never ceased.
We had hardly arrived at Clamart before they involuntarily exclaimed,
like the king in the children's game, that they "did not think the
world was so great"!
It was the first time they had trusted themselves on a railroad,
and it was amusing to see their sudden shocks, their alarms, and their
courageous determinations: everything was a marvel to them! They had
remains of youth within them, which made them sensible to things which
usually only strike us in childhood. Poor creatures! they had still
the feelings of another age, though they had lost its charms.
But was there not something holy in this simplicity, which had been
preserved to them by abstinence from all the joys of life? Ah!
accursed be he who first had the had courage to attach ridicule to
that name of "old maid," which recalls so many images of grievous
deception, of dreariness, and of abandonment! Accursed be he who can
find a subject for sarcasm in involuntary misfortune, and who can
crown gray hairs with thorns!
The two sisters were called Frances and Madeleine. This day's
journey was a feat of courage without example in their lives. The
fever of the times had infected them unawares. Yesterday Madeleine
had suddenly proposed the idea of the expedition, and Frances had
accepted it immediately. Perhaps it would have been better not to
yield to the great temptation offered by her younger sister; but "we
have our follies at all ages," as the prudent Frances philosophically
remarked. As for Madeleine, there are no regrets or doubts for her;
she is the life- guardsman of the establishment.
"We really must amuse ourselves," said she; "we live but once."
And the elder sister smiled at this Epicurean maxim. It was
evident that the fever of independence was at its crisis in both of
And in truth it would have been a great pity if any scruple had
interfered with their happiness, it was so frank and genial! The
sight of the trees, which seemed to fly on both sides of the road,
caused them unceasing admiration. The meeting a train passing in the
contrary direction, with the noise and rapidity of a thunderbolt, made
them shut their eyes and utter a cry; but it had already disappeared!
They look around, take courage again, and express themselves full of
astonishment at the marvel.
Madeleine declares that such a sight is worth the expense of the
journey, and Frances would have agreed with her if she had not
recollected, with some little alarm, the deficit which such an expense
must make in their budget. The three francs spent upon this single
expedition were the savings of a whole week of work. Thus the joy of
the elder of the two sisters was mixed with remorse; the prodigal
child now and then turned its eyes toward the back street of St.
But the motion and the succession of objects distract her. See the
bridge of the Val surrounded by its lovely landscape: on the right,
Paris with its grand monuments, which rise through the fog, or sparkle
in the sun; on the left, Meudon, with its villas, its woods, its
vines, and its royal castle! The two work-women look from one window
to the other with exclamations of delight. One fellow-passenger
laughs at their childish wonder; but to me it is deeply touching, for
I see in it the sign of a long and monotonous seclusion: they are the
prisoners of work, who have recovered liberty and fresh air for a few
At last the train stops, and we get out. I show the two sisters
the path that leads to Sevres, between the railway and the gardens,
and they go on before, while I inquire about the time of returning.
I soon join them again at the next station, where they have stopped
at the little garden belonging to the gatekeeper; both are already in
deep conversation with him while he digs his garden-borders, and marks
out the places for flower-seeds. He informs them that it is the time
for hoeing out weeds, for making grafts and layers, for sowing
annuals, and for destroying the insects on the rose-trees. Madeleine
has on the sill of her window two wooden boxes, in which, for want of
air and sun, she has never been able to make anything grow but mustard
and cress; but she persuades herself that, thanks to this information,
all other plants may henceforth thrive in them. At last the
gatekeeper, who is sowing a border with mignonette, gives her the rest
of the seeds which he does not want, and the old maid goes off
delighted, and begins to act over again the dream of Paired and her
can of milk, with these flowers of her imagination.
On reaching the grove of acacias, where the fair was going on, I
lost sight of the two sisters. I went alone among the sights: there
were lotteries going on, mountebank shows, places for eating and
drinking, and for shooting with the cross-bow. I have always been
struck by the spirit of these out-of-door festivities. In
drawing-room entertainments, people are cold, grave, often listless,
and most of those who go there are brought together by habit or the
obligations of society; in the country assemblies, on the contrary,
you only find those who are attracted by the hope of enjoyment.
There, it is a forced conscription; here, they are volunteers for
gayety! Then, how easily they are pleased! How far this crowd of
people is yet from knowing that to be pleased with nothing, and to
look down on everything, is the height of fashion and good taste!
Doubtless their amusements are often coarse; elegance and refinement
are wanting in them; but at least they have heartiness. Oh, that the
hearty enjoyments of these merry-makings could be retained in union
with less vulgar feeling! Formerly religion stamped its holy
character on the celebration of country festivals, and purified the
pleasures without depriving them of their simplicity.
The hour arrives at which the doors of the porcelain manufactory
and the museum of pottery are open to the public. I meet Frances and
Madeleine again in the first room. Frightened at finding themselves
in the midst of such regal magnificence, they hardly dare walk; they
speak in a low tone, as if they were in a church.
"We are in the king's house," said the eldest sister, forgetting
that there is no longer a king in France.
I encourage them to go on; I walk first, and they make up their
minds to follow me.
What wonders are brought together in this collection! Here we see
clay moulded into every shape, tinted with every color, and combined
with every sort of substance!
Earth and wood are the first substances worked upon by man, and
seem more particularly meant for his use. They, like the domestic
animals, are the essential accessories of his life; therefore there
must be a more intimate connection between them and us. Stone and
metals require long preparations; they resist our first efforts, and
belong less to the individual than to communities. Earth and wood
are, on the contrary, the principal instruments of the isolated being
who must feed and shelter himself.
This, doubtless, makes me feel so much interested in the collection
I am examining. These cups, so roughly modelled by the savage, admit
me to a knowledge of some of his habits; these elegant yet incorrectly
formed vases of the Indian tell me of a declining intelligence,—in
which still glimmers the twilight of what was once bright sunshine;
these jars, loaded with arabesques, show the fancy of the Arab rudely
and ignorantly copied by the Spaniard! We find here the stamp of
every race, every country, and every age.
My companions seemed little interested in these historical
associations; they looked at all with that credulous admiration which
leaves no room for examination or discussion. Madeleine read the name
written under every piece of workmanship, and her sister answered with
an exclamation of wonder.
In this way we reached a little courtyard, where they had thrown
away the fragments of some broken china.
Frances perceived a colored saucer almost whole, of which she took
possession as a record of the visit she was making; henceforth she
would have a specimen of the Sevres china, "which is only made for
kings!" I would not undeceive her by telling her that the products of
the manufactory are sold all over the world, and that her saucer,
before it was cracked, was the same as those that are bought at the
shops for sixpence! Why should I destroy the illusions of her humble
existence? Are we to break down the hedge-flowers that perfume our
paths? Things are oftenest nothing in themselves; the thoughts we
attach to them alone give them value. To rectify innocent mistakes,
in order to recover some useless reality, is to be like those learned
men who will see nothing in a plant but the chemical elements of which
it is composed.
On leaving the manufactory, the two sisters, who had taken
possession of me with the freedom of artlessness, invited me to share
the luncheon they had brought with them. I declined at first, but
they insisted with so much good-nature, that I feared to pain them,
and with some awkwardness gave way.
We had only to look for a convenient spot. I led them up the hill,
and we found a plot of grass enamelled with daisies, and shaded by two
Madeleine could not contain herself for joy. All her life she had
dreamed of a dinner out on the grass! While helping her sister to
take the provisions from the basket, she tells me of all her
expeditions into the country that had been planned, and put off.
Frances, on the other hand, was brought up at Montmorency, and before
she became an orphan she had often gone back to her nurse's house.
That which had the attraction of novelty for her sister, had for her
the charm of recollection. She told of the vintage harvests to which
her parents had taken her; the rides on Mother Luret's donkey, that
they could not make go to the right without pulling him to the left;
the cherry-gathering; and the sails on the lake in the innkeeper's
These recollections have all the charm and freshness of childhood.
Frances recalls to herself less what she has seen than what she has
felt. While she is talking the cloth is laid, and we sit down under a
tree. Before us winds the valley of Sevres, its many-storied houses
abutting upon the gardens and the slopes of the hill; on the other
side spreads out the park of St. Cloud, with its magnificent clumps of
trees interspersed with meadows; above stretch the heavens like an
immense ocean, in which the clouds are sailing! I look at this
beautiful country, and I listen to these good old maids; I admire, and
I am interested; and time passes gently on without my perceiving it.
At last the sun sets, and we have to think of returning. While
Madeleine and Frances clear away the dinner, I walk down to the
manufactory to ask the hour. The merrymaking is at its height; the
blasts of the trombones resound from the band under the acacias. For
a few moments I forget myself with looking about; but I have promised
the two sisters to take them back to the Bellevue station; the train
cannot wait, and I make haste to climb the path again which leads to
Just before I reached them, I heard voices on the other side of the
hedge. Madeleine and Frances were speaking to a poor girl whose
clothes were burned, her hands blackened, and her face tied up with
bloodstained bandages. I saw that she was one of the girls employed
at the gunpowder mills, which are built further up on the common. An
explosion had taken place a few days before; the girl's mother and
elder sister were killed; she herself escaped by a miracle, and was
now left without any means of support. She told all this with the
resigned and unhopeful manner of one who has always been accustomed to
suffer. The two sisters were much affected; I saw them consulting
with each other in a low tone: then Frances took thirty sous out of a
little coarse silk purse, which was all they had left, and gave them
to the poor girl. I hastened on to that side of the hedge; but,
before I reached it, I met the two old sisters, who called out to me
that they would not return by the railway, but on foot!
I then understood that the money they had meant for the journey had
just been given to the beggar! Good, like evil, is contagious: I run
to the poor wounded girl, give her the sum that was to pay for my own
place, and return to Frances and Madeleine, and tell them I will walk
I am just come back from taking them home; and have left them
delighted with their day, the recollection of which will long make
them happy. This morning I was pitying those whose lives are obscure
and joyless; now, I understand that God has provided a compensation
with every trial. The smallest pleasure derives from rarity a relish
otherwise unknown. Enjoyment is only what we feel to be such, and the
luxurious man feels no longer: satiety has destroyed his appetite,
while privation preserves to the other that first of earthly
blessings: the being easily made happy. Oh, that I could persuade
every one of this! that so the rich might not abuse their riches, and
that the poor might have patience. If happiness is the rarest of
blessings, it is because the reception of it is the rarest of virtues.
Madeleine and Frances! ye poor old maids whose courage,
resignation, and generous hearts are your only wealth, pray for the
wretched who give themselves up to despair; for the unhappy who hate
and envy; and for the unfeeling into whose enjoyments no pity enters.
CHAPTER VI. UNCLE MAURICE
June 7th, Four O'clock A.M.
I am not surprised at hearing, when I awake, the birds singing so
joyfully outside my window; it is only by living, as they and I do, in
a top story, that one comes to know how cheerful the mornings really
are up among the roofs. It is there that the sun sends his first
rays, and the breeze comes with the fragrance of the gardens and
woods; there that a wandering butterfly sometimes ventures among the
flowers of the attic, and that the songs of the industrious work-woman
welcome the dawn of day. The lower stories are still deep in sleep,
silence, and shadow, while here labor, light, and song already reign.
What life is around me! See the swallow returning from her search
for food, with her beak full of insects for her young ones; the
sparrows shake the dew from their wings while they chase one another
in the sunshine; and my neighbors throw open their windows, and
welcome the morning with their fresh faces! Delightful hour of
waking, when everything returns to feeling and to motion; when the
first light of day strikes upon creation, and brings it to life again,
as the magic wand struck the palace of the Sleeping Beauty in the
wood! It is a moment of rest from every misery; the sufferings of the
sick are allayed, and a breath of hope enters into the hearts of the
despairing. But, alas! it is but a short respite! Everything will
soon resume its wonted course: the great human machine, with its long
strains, its deep gasps, its collisions, and its crashes, will be
again put in motion.
The tranquillity of this first morning hour reminds me of that of
our first years of life. Then, too, the sun shines brightly, the air
is fragrant, and the illusions of youth-those birds of our life's
morning- sing around us. Why do they fly away when we are older?
Where do this sadness and this solitude, which gradually steal upon
us, come from? The course seems to be the same with individuals and
with communities: at starting, so readily made happy, so easily
enchanted; and at the goal, the bitter disappointment or reality! The
road, which began among hawthorns and primroses, ends speedily in
deserts or in precipices! Why is there so much confidence at first,
so much doubt at last? Has, then, the knowledge of life no other end
but to make it unfit for happiness? Must we condemn ourselves to
ignorance if we would preserve hope? Is the world and is the
individual man intended, after all, to find rest only in an eternal
How many times have I asked myself these questions! Solitude has
the advantage or the danger of making us continually search more
deeply into the same ideas. As our discourse is only with ourself, we
always give the same direction to the conversation; we are not called
to turn it to the subject which occupies another mind, or interests
another's feelings; and so an involuntary inclination makes us return
forever to knock at the same doors!
I interrupted my reflections to put my attic in order. I hate the
look of disorder, because it shows either a contempt for details or an
unaptness for spiritual life. To arrange the things among which we
have to live, is to establish the relation of property and of use
between them and us: it is to lay the foundation of those habits
without which man tends to the savage state. What, in fact, is social
organization but a series of habits, settled in accordance with the
dispositions of our nature?
I distrust both the intellect and the morality of those people to
whom disorder is of no consequence—who can live at ease in an Augean
stable. What surrounds us, reflects more or less that which is within
us. The mind is like one of those dark lanterns which, in spite of
everything, still throw some light around. If our tastes did not
reveal our character, they would be no longer tastes, but instincts.
While I was arranging everything in my attic, my eyes rested on the
little almanac hanging over my chimney-piece. I looked for the day of
the month, and I saw these words written in large letters: "FETE
It is to-day! In this great city, where there are no longer any
public religious solemnities, there is nothing to remind us of it; but
it is, in truth, the period so happily chosen by the primitive church.
"The day kept in honor of the Creator," says Chateaubriand, "happens
at a time when the heaven and the earth declare His power, when the
woods and fields are full of new life, and all are united by the
happiest ties; there is not a single widowed plant in the fields."
What recollections these words have just awakened! I left off what
I was about, I leaned my elbows on the windowsill, and, with my head
between my two hands, I went back in thought to the little town where
the first days of my childhood were passed.
The 'Fete Dieu' was then one of the great events of my life! It
was necessary to be diligent and obedient a long time beforehand, to
deserve to share in it. I still recollect with what raptures of
expectation I got up on the morning of the day. There was a holy joy
in the air. The neighbors, up earlier than usual, hung cloths with
flowers or figures, worked in tapestry, along the streets. I went
from one to another, by turns admiring religious scenes of the Middle
Ages, mythological compositions of the Renaissance, old battles in the
style of Louis XIV, and the Arcadias of Madame de Pompadour. All this
world of phantoms seemed to be coming forth from the dust of past
ages, to assist—silent and motionless—at the holy ceremony. I
looked, alternately in fear and wonder, at those terrible warriors
with their swords always raised, those beautiful huntresses shooting
the arrow which never left the bow, and those shepherds in satin
breeches always playing the flute at the feet of the perpetually
smiling shepherdess. Sometimes, when the wind blew behind these
hanging pictures, it seemed to me that the figures themselves moved,
and I watched to see them detach themselves from the wall, and take
their places in the procession! But these impressions were vague and
transitory. The feeling that predominated over every other was that
of an overflowing yet quiet joy. In the midst of all the floating
draperies, the scattered flowers, the voices of the maidens, and the
gladness which, like a perfume, exhaled from everything, you felt
transported in spite of yourself. The joyful sounds of the festival
were repeated in your heart, in a thousand melodious echoes. You were
more indulgent, more holy, more loving! For God was not only
manifesting himself without, but also within us.
And then the altars for the occasion! the flowery arbors! the
triumphal arches made of green boughs! What competition among the
different parishes for the erection of the resting-places where the
procession was to halt! It was who should contribute the rarest and
the most beautiful of his possessions!
It was there I made my first sacrifice!
The wreaths of flowers were arranged, the candles lighted, and the
Tabernacle dressed with roses; but one was wanting fit to crown the
whole! All the neighboring gardens had been ransacked. I alone
possessed a flower worthy of such a place. It was on the rose-tree
given me by my mother on my birthday. I had watched it for several
months, and there was no other bud to blow on the tree. There it was,
half open, in its mossy nest, the object of such long expectations,
and of all a child's pride! I hesitated for some moments. No one had
asked me for it; I might easily avoid losing it. I should hear no
reproaches, but one rose noiselessly within me. When every one else
had given all they had, ought I alone to keep back my treasure? Ought
I to grudge to God one of the gifts which, like all the rest, I had
received from him? At this last thought I plucked the flower from the
stem, and took it to put at the top of the Tabernacle. Ah! why does
the recollection of this sacrifice, which was so hard and yet so sweet
to me, now make me smile? Is it so certain that the value of a gift is
in itself, rather than in the intention? If the cup of cold water in
the gospel is remembered to the poor man, why should not the flower be
remembered to the child? Let us not look down upon the child's simple
act of generosity; it is these which accustom the soul to self-denial
and to sympathy. I cherished this moss-rose a long time as a sacred
talisman; I had reason to cherish it always, as the record of the
first victory won over myself.
It is now many years since I witnessed the celebration of the 'Fete
Dieu'; but should I again feel in it the happy sensations of former
days? I still remember how, when the procession had passed, I walked
through the streets strewed with flowers and shaded with green boughs.
I felt intoxicated by the lingering perfumes of the incense, mixed
with the fragrance of syringas, jessamine, and roses, and I seemed no
longer to touch the ground as I went along. I smiled at everything;
the whole world was Paradise in my eyes, and it seemed to me that God
was floating in the air!
Moreover, this feeling was not the excitement of the moment: it
might be more intense on certain days, but at the same time it
continued through the ordinary course of my life. Many years thus
passed for me in an expansion of heart, and a trustfulness which
prevented sorrow, if not from coming, at least from staying with me.
Sure of not being alone, I soon took heart again, like the child who
recovers its courage, because it hears its mother's voice close by.
Why have I lost that confidence of my childhood? Shall I never feel
again so deeply that God is here?
How strange the association of our thoughts! A day of the month
recalls my infancy, and see, all the recollections of my former years
are growing up around me! Why was I so happy then? I consider well,
and nothing is sensibly changed in my condition. I possess, as I did
then, health and my daily bread; the only difference is, that I am now
responsible for myself! As a child, I accepted life when it came;
another cared and provided for me. So long as I fulfilled my present
duties I was at peace within, and I left the future to the prudence of
my father! My destiny was a ship, in the directing of which I had no
share, and in which I sailed as a common passenger. There was the
whole secret of childhood's happy security. Since then worldly wisdom
has deprived me of it. When my lot was intrusted to my own and sole
keeping, I thought to make myself master of it by means of a long
insight into the future. I have filled the present hour with
anxieties, by occupying my thoughts with the future; I have put my
judgment in the place of Providence, and the happy child is changed
into the anxious man.
A melancholy course, yet perhaps an important lesson. Who knows
that, if I had trusted more to Him who rules the world, I should not
have been spared all this anxiety? It may be that happiness is not
possible here below, except on condition of living like a child,
giving ourselves up to the duties of each day as it comes, and
trusting in the goodness of our heavenly Father for all besides.
This reminds me of my Uncle Maurice! Whenever I have need to
strengthen myself in all that is good, I turn my thoughts to him; I
see again the gentle expression of his half-smiling, half-mournful
face; I hear his voice, always soft and soothing as a breath of
summer! The remembrance of him protects my life, and gives it light.
He, too, was a saint and martyr here below. Others have pointed out
the path of heaven; he has taught us to see those of earth aright.
But, except the angels, who are charged with noting down the
sacrifices performed in secret, and the virtues which are never known,
who has ever heard of my Uncle Maurice? Perhaps I alone remember his
name, and still recall his history.
Well! I will write it, not for others, but for myself! They say
that, at the sight of the Apollo, the body erects itself and assumes a
more dignified attitude: in the same way, the soul should feel itself
raised and ennobled by the recollection of a good man's life!
A ray of the rising sun lights up the little table on which I
write; the breeze brings me in the scent of the mignonette, and the
swallows wheel about my window with joyful twitterings. The image of
my Uncle Maurice will be in its proper place amid the songs, the
sunshine, and the fragrance.
Seven o'clock.—It is with men's lives as with days: some dawn
radiant with a thousand colors, others dark with gloomy clouds. That
of my Uncle Maurice was one of the latter. He was so sickly, when he
came into the world, that they thought he must die; but
notwithstanding these anticipations, which might be called hopes, he
continued to live, suffering and deformed.
He was deprived of all joys as well as of all the attractions of
childhood. He was oppressed because he was weak, and laughed at for
his deformity. In vain the little hunchback opened his arms to the
world: the world scoffed at him, and went its way.
However, he still had his mother, and it was to her that the child
directed all the feelings of a heart repelled by others. With her he
found shelter, and was happy, till he reached the age when a man must
take his place in life; and Maurice had to content himself with that
which others had refused with contempt. His education would have
qualified him for any course of life; and he became an octroi-clerk—
[The octroi is the tax on provisions levied at the entrance of the
town] —in one of the little toll-houses at the entrance of his native
He was always shut up in this dwelling of a few feet square, with
no relaxation from the office accounts but reading and his mother's
visits. On fine summer days she came to work at the door of his hut,
under the shade of a clematis planted by Maurice. And, even when she
was silent, her presence was a pleasant change for the hunchback; he
heard the clinking of her long knitting-needles; he saw her mild and
mournful profile, which reminded him of so many courageously-borne
trials; he could every now and then rest his hand affectionately on
that bowed neck, and exchange a smile with her!
This comfort was soon to be taken from him. His old mother fell
sick, and at the end of a few days he had to give up all hope.
Maurice was overcome at the idea of a separation which would
henceforth leave him alone on earth, and abandoned himself to
boundless grief. He knelt by the bedside of the dying woman, he
called her by the fondest names, he pressed her in his arms, as if he
could so keep her in life. His mother tried to return his caresses,
and to answer him; but her hands were cold, her voice was already
gone. She could only press her lips against the forehead of her son,
heave a sigh, and close her eyes forever!
They tried to take Maurice away, but he resisted them and threw
himself on that now motionless form.
"Dead!" cried he; "dead! She who had never left me, she who was
the only one in the world who loved me! You, my mother, dead! What
then remains for me here below?"
A stifled voice replied:
Maurice, startled, raised himself! Was that a last sigh from the
dead, or his own conscience, that had answered him? He did not seek
to know, but he understood the answer, and accepted it.
It was then that I first knew him. I often went to see him in his
little toll-house. He joined in my childish games, told me his finest
stories, and let me gather his flowers. Deprived as he was of all
external attractiveness, he showed himself full of kindness to all who
came to him, and, though he never would put himself forward, he had a
welcome for everyone. Deserted, despised, he submitted to everything
with a gentle patience; and while he was thus stretched on the cross
of life, amid the insults of his executioners, he repeated with
Christ, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
No other clerk showed so much honesty, zeal, and intelligence; but
those who otherwise might have promoted him as his services deserved
were repelled by his deformity. As he had no patrons, he found his
claims were always disregarded. They preferred before him those who
were better able to make themselves agreeable, and seemed to be
granting him a favor when letting him keep the humble office which
enabled him to live. Uncle Maurice bore injustice as he had borne
contempt; unfairly treated by men, he raised his eyes higher, and
trusted in the justice of Him who cannot be deceived.
He lived in an old house in the suburb, where many work-people, as
poor but not as forlorn as he, also lodged. Among these neighbors
there was a single woman, who lived by herself in a little garret,
into which came both wind and rain. She was a young girl, pale,
silent, and with nothing to recommend her but her wretchedness and her
resignation to it. She was never seen speaking to any other woman,
and no song cheered her garret. She worked without interest and
without relaxation; a depressing gloom seemed to envelop her like a
shroud. Her dejection affected Maurice; he attempted to speak to her;
she replied mildly, but in few words. It was easy to see that she
preferred her silence and her solitude to the little hunchback's
good-will; he perceived it, and said no more.
But Toinette's needle was hardly sufficient for her support, and
presently work failed her! Maurice learned that the poor girl was in
want of everything, and that the tradesmen refused to give her credit.
He immediately went to them privately and engaged to pay them for what
they supplied Toinette with.
Things went on in this way for several months. The young
dressmaker continued out of work, until she was at last frightened at
the bills she had contracted with the shopkeepers. When she came to
an explanation with them, everything was discovered. Her first
impulse was to run to Uncle Maurice, and thank him on her knees. Her
habitual reserve had given way to a burst of deepest feeling. It
seemed as if gratitude had melted all the ice of that numbed heart.
Being now no longer embarrassed with a secret, the little hunchback
could give greater efficacy to his good offices. Toinette became to
him a sister, for whose wants he had a right to provide. It was the
first time since the death of his mother that he had been able to
share his life with another. The young woman received his attentions
with feeling, but with reserve. All Maurice's efforts were
insufficient to dispel her gloom: she seemed touched by his kindness,
and sometimes expressed her sense of it with warmth; but there she
stopped. Her heart was a closed book, which the little hunchback
might bend over, but could not read. In truth he cared little to do
so; he gave himself up to the happiness of being no longer alone, and
took Toinette such as her long trials had made her; he loved her as
she was, and wished for nothing else but still to enjoy her company.
This thought insensibly took possession of his mind, to the
exclusion of all besides. The poor girl was as forlorn as himself;
she had become accustomed to the deformity of the hunchback, and she
seemed to look on him with an affectionate sympathy! What more could
he wish for? Until then, the hopes of making himself acceptable to a
helpmate had been repelled by Maurice as a dream; but chance seemed
willing to make it a reality. After much hesitation he took courage,
and decided to speak to her.
It was evening; the little hunchback, in much agitation, directed
his steps toward the work-woman's garret just as he was about to
enter, he thought he heard a strange voice pronouncing the maiden's
name. He quickly pushed open the door, and perceived Toinette
weeping, and leaning on the shoulder of a young man in the dress of a
At the sight of my uncle, she disengaged herself quickly, and ran
to him, crying out:
"Ah! come in—come in! It is he that I thought was dead: it is
Julien; it is my betrothed!"
Maurice tottered, and drew back. A single word had told him all!
It seemed to him as if the ground shook and his heart was about to
break; but the same voice that he had heard by his mother's deathbed
again sounded in his ears, and he soon recovered himself. God was
still his friend!
He himself accompanied the newly-married pair on the road when they
left the town, and, after wishing them all the happiness which was
denied to him, he returned with resignation to the old house in the
It was there that he ended his life, forsaken by men, but not as he
said by the Father which is in heaven. He felt His presence
everywhere; it was to him in the place of all else. When he died, it
was with a smile, and like an exile setting out for his own country.
He who had consoled him in poverty and ill-health, when he was
suffering from injustice and forsaken by all, had made death a gain
and blessing to him.
Eight o'clock.—All I have just written has pained me! Till now I
have looked into life for instruction how to live. Is it then true
that human maxims are not always sufficient? that beyond goodness,
prudence, moderation, humility, self-sacrifice itself, there is one
great truth, which alone can face great misfortunes? and that, if man
has need of virtues for others, he has need of religion for himself?
When, in youth, we drink our wine with a merry heart, as the
Scripture expresses it, we think we are sufficient for ourselves;
strong, happy, and beloved, we believe, like Ajax, we shall be able to
escape every storm in spite of the gods. But later in life, when the
back is bowed, when happiness proves a fading flower, and the
affections grow chill- then, in fear of the void and the darkness, we
stretch out our arms, like the child overtaken by night, and we call
for help to Him who is everywhere.
I was asking this morning why this growing confusion alike for
society and for the individual? In vain does human reason from hour
to hour light some new torch on the roadside: the night continues to
grow ever darker! Is it not because we are content to withdraw
farther and farther from God, the Sun of spirits?
But what do these hermit's reveries signify to the world? The
inward turmoils of most men are stifled by the outward ones; life does
not give them time to question themselves. Have they time to know
what they are, and what they should be, whose whole thoughts are in
the next lease or the last price of stock? Heaven is very high, and
wise men look only at the earth.
But I—poor savage amid all this civilization, who seek neither
power nor riches, and who have found in my own thoughts the home and
shelter of my spirit—I can go back with impunity to these
recollections of my childhood; and, if this our great city no longer
honors the name of God with a festival, I will strive still to keep
the feast to Him in my heart.
CHAPTER VII. THE PRICE OF POWER AND
THE WORTH OF FAME
Sunday, July 1st
Yesterday the month dedicated to Juno (Junius, June) by the Romans
ended. To-day we enter on July.
In ancient Rome this latter month was called Quintiles (the fifth),
because the year, which was then divided into only ten parts, began in
March. When Numa Pompilius divided it into twelve months this name of
Quintiles was preserved, as well as those that followed—Sexteles,
September, October, November, December—although these designations
did not accord with the newly arranged order of the months. At last,
after a time the month Quintiles, in which Julius Caesar was born, was
called Julius, whence we have July. Thus this name, placed in the
calendar, is become the imperishable record of a great man; it is an
immortal epitaph on Time's highway, engraved by the admiration of man.
How many similar inscriptions are there! Seas, continents,
mountains, stars, and monuments, have all in succession served the
same purpose! We have turned the whole world into a Golden Book, like
that in which the state of Venice used to enroll its illustrious names
and its great deeds. It seems that mankind feels a necessity for
honoring itself in its elect ones, and that it raises itself in its
own eyes by choosing heroes from among its own race. The human family
love to preserve the memory; of the parvenus of glory, as we cherish
that of a great ancestor, or of a benefactor.
In fact, the talents granted to a single individual do not benefit
himself alone, but are gifts to the world; everyone shares them, for
everyone suffers or benefits by his actions. Genius is a lighthouse,
meant to give light from afar; the man who bears it is but the rock
upon which this lighthouse is built.
I love to dwell upon these thoughts; they explain to me in what
consists our admiration for glory. When glory has benefited men, that
admiration is gratitude; when it is only remarkable in itself, it is
the pride of race; as men, we love to immortalize the most shining
examples of humanity.
Who knows whether we do not obey the same instinct in submitting to
the hand of power? Apart from the requirements of a gradation of
ranks, or the consequences of a conquest, the multitude delight to
surround their chiefs with privileges—whether it be that their vanity
makes them thus to aggrandize one of their own creations, or whether
they try to conceal the humiliation of subjection by exaggerating the
importance of those who rule them. They wish to honor themselves
through their master; they elevate him on their shoulders as on a
pedestal; they surround him with a halo of light, in order that some
of it may be reflected upon themselves. It is still the fable of the
dog who contents himself with the chain and collar, so that they are
This servile vanity is not less natural or less common than the
vanity of dominion. Whoever feels himself incapable of command, at
least desires to obey a powerful chief. Serfs have been known to
consider themselves dishonored when they became the property of a mere
count after having been that of a prince, and Saint-Simon mentions a
valet who would only wait upon marquises.
July 7th, seven o'clock P. M.—I have just now been up the
Boulevards; it was the opera night, and there was a crowd of carriages
in the Rue Lepelletier. The foot-passengers who were stopped at a
crossing recognized the persons in some of these as we went by, and
mentioned their names; they were those of celebrated or powerful men,
the successful ones of the day.
Near me there was a man looking on with hollow cheeks and eager
eyes, whose thin black coat was threadbare. He followed with envious
looks these possessors of the privileges of power or of fame, and I
read on his lips, which curled with a bitter smile, all that passed in
"Look at them, the lucky fellows!" thought he; "all the pleasures
of wealth, all the enjoyments of pride, are theirs. Their names are
renowned, all their wishes fulfilled; they are the sovereigns of the
world, either by their intellect or their power; and while I, poor and
unknown, toil painfully along the road below, they wing their way over
the mountain-tops gilded by the broad sunshine of prosperity."
I have come home in deep thought. Is it true that there are these
inequalities, I do not say in the fortunes, but in the happiness of
men? Do genius and authority really wear life as a crown, while the
greater part of mankind receive it as a yoke? Is the difference of
rank but a different use of men's dispositions and talents, or a real
inequality in their destinies? A solemn question, as it regards the
verification of God's impartiality.
July 8th, noon.—I went this morning to call upon a friend from the
same province as myself, who is the first usher-in-waiting to one of
our ministers. I took him some letters from his family, left for him
by a traveller just come from Brittany. He wished me to stay.
"To-day," said he, "the Minister gives no audience: he takes a day
of rest with his family. His younger sisters are arrived; he will
take them this morning to St. Cloud, and in the evening he has invited
his friends to a private ball. I shall be dismissed directly for the
rest of the day. We can dine together; read the news while you are
waiting for me."
I sat down at a table covered with newspapers, all of which I
looked over by turns. Most of them contained severe criticisms on the
last political acts of the minister; some of them added suspicions as
to the honor of the minister himself.
Just as I had finished reading, a secretary came for them to take
them to his master.
He was then about to read these accusations, to suffer silently the
abuse of all those tongues which were holding him up to indignation or
to scorn! Like the Roman victor in his triumph, he had to endure the
insults of him who followed his car, relating to the crowd his
follies, his ignorance, or his vices.
But, among the arrows shot at him from every side, would no one be
found poisoned? Would not one reach some spot in his heart where the
wound would be incurable? What is the worth of a life exposed to the
attacks of envious hatred or furious conviction? The Christians
yielded only the fragments of their flesh to the beasts of the
amphitheatres; the man in power gives up his peace, his affections,
his honor, to the cruel bites of the pen.
While I was musing upon these dangers of greatness, the usher
entered hastily. Important news had been received: the minister is
just summoned to the council; he will not be able to take his sisters
to St. Cloud.
I saw, through the windows, the young ladies, who were waiting at
the door, sorrowfully go upstairs again, while their brother went off
to the council. The carriage, which should have gone filled with so
much family happiness, is just out of sight, carrying only the cares
of a statesman in it.
The usher came back discontented and disappointed. The more or
less of liberty which he is allowed to enjoy, is his barometer of the
political atmosphere. If he gets leave, all goes well; if he is kept
at his post, the country is in danger. His opinion on public affairs
is but a calculation of his own interest. My friend is almost a
I had some conversation with him, and he told me several curious
particulars of public life.
The new minister has old friends whose opinions he opposes, though
he still retains his personal regard for them. Though separated from
them by the colors he fights under, they remain united by old
associations; but the exigencies of party forbid him to meet them. If
their intercourse continued, it would awaken suspicion; people would
imagine that some dishonorable bargain was going on; his friends would
be held to be traitors desirous to sell themselves, and he the corrupt
minister prepared to buy them. He has, therefore, been obliged to
break off friendships of twenty years' standing, and to sacrifice
attachments which had become a second nature.
Sometimes, however, the minister still gives way to his old
feelings; he receives or visits his friends privately; he shuts
himself up with them, and talks of the times when they could be open
friends. By dint of precautions they have hitherto succeeded in
concealing this blot of friendship against policy; but sooner or later
the newspapers will be informed of it, and will denounce him to the
country as an object of distrust.
For whether hatred be honest or dishonest, it never shrinks from
any accusation. Sometimes it even proceeds to crime. The usher
assured me that several warnings had been given the minister which had
made him fear the vengeance of an assassin, and that he no longer
ventured out on foot.
Then, from one thing to another, I learned what temptations came in
to mislead or overcome his judgment; how he found himself fatally led
into obliquities which he could not but deplore. Misled by passion,
over- persuaded by entreaties, or compelled for reputation's sake, he
has many times held the balance with an unsteady hand. How sad the
condition of him who is in authority! Not only are the miseries of
power imposed upon him, but its vices also, which, not content with
torturing, succeed in corrupting him.
We prolonged our conversation till it was interrupted by the
minister's return. He threw himself out of the carriage with a
handful of papers, and with an anxious manner went into his own room.
An instant afterward his bell was heard; his secretary was called to
send off notices to all those invited for the evening; the ball would
not take place; they spoke mysteriously of bad news transmitted by the
telegraph, and in such circumstances an entertainment would seem to
insult the public sorrow.
I took leave of my friend, and here I am at home. What I have just
seen is an answer to my doubts the other day. Now I know with what
pangs men pay for their dignities; now I understand
That Fortune sells what we believe she gives.
This explains to me the reason why Charles V aspired to the repose
of the cloister.
And yet I have only glanced at some of the sufferings attached to
power. What shall I say of the falls in which its possessors are
precipitated from the heights of heaven to the very depths of the
earth? of that path of pain along which they must forever bear the
burden of their responsibility? of that chain of decorums and ennuis
which encompasses every act of their lives, and leaves them so little
The partisans of despotism adhere with reason to forms and
ceremonies. If men wish to give unlimited power to their fellow-man,
they must keep him separated from ordinary humanity; they must
surround him with a continual worship, and, by a constant ceremonial,
keep up for him the superhuman part they have granted him. Our
masters cannot remain absolute, except on condition of being treated
But, after all, these idols are men, and, if the exclusive life
they must lead is an insult to the dignity of others, it is also a
torment to themselves. Everyone knows the law of the Spanish court,
which used to regulate, hour by hour, the actions of the king and
queen; "so that," says Voltaire, "by reading it one can tell all that
the sovereigns of Spain have done, or will do, from Philip II to the
day of judgment." It was by this law that Philip III, when sick, was
obliged to endure such an excess of heat that he died in consequence,
because the Duke of Uzeda, who alone had the right to put out the fire
in the royal chamber, happened to be absent.
When the wife of Charles II was run away with on a spirited horse,
she was about to perish before anyone dared to save her, because
etiquette forbade them to touch the queen. Two young officers
endangered their lives for her by stopping the horse. The prayers and
tears of her whom they had just snatched from death were necessary to
obtain pardon for their crime. Every one knows the anecdote related
by Madame Campan of Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. One day,
being at her toilet, when the chemise was about to be presented to her
by one of the assistants, a lady of very ancient family entered and
claimed the honor, as she had the right by etiquette; but, at the
moment she was about to fulfil her duty, a lady of higher rank
appeared, and in her turn took the garment she was about to offer to
the queen; when a third lady of still higher title came in her turn,
and was followed by a fourth, who was no other than the king's sister.
The chemise was in this manner passed from hand to hand, with
ceremonies, courtesies, and compliments, before it came to the queen,
who, half naked and quite ashamed, was shivering with cold for the
great honor of etiquette.
12th, seven o'clock, P.M.—On coming home this evening, I saw,
standing at the door of a house, an old man, whose appearance and
features reminded me of my father. There was the same beautiful
smile, the same deep and penetrating eye, the same noble bearing of
the head, and the same careless attitude.
I began living over again the first years of my life, and recalling
to myself the conversations of that guide whom God in his mercy had
given me, and whom in his severity he had too soon withdrawn.
When my father spoke, it was not only to bring our two minds
together by an interchange of thought, but his words always contained
Not that he endeavored to make me feel it so: my father feared
everything that had the appearance of a lesson. He used to say that
virtue could make herself devoted friends, but she did not take
pupils: therefore he was not desirous to teach goodness; he contented
himself with sowing the seeds of it, certain that experience would
make them grow.
How often has good grain fallen thus into a corner of the heart,
and, when it has been long forgotten, all at once put forth the blade
and come into ear! It is a treasure laid aside in a time of
ignorance, and we do not know its value till we find ourselves in need
Among the stories with which he enlivened our walks or our
evenings, there is one which now returns to my memory, doubtless
because the time is come to derive its lesson from it.
My father, who was apprenticed at the age of twelve to one of those
trading collectors who call themselves naturalists, because they put
all creation under glasses that they may sell it by retail, had always
led a life of poverty and labor. Obliged to rise before daybreak, by
turns shop-boy, clerk, and laborer, he was made to bear alone all the
work of a trade of which his master reaped all the profits. In truth,
this latter had a peculiar talent for making the most of the labor of
other people. Though unfit himself for the execution of any kind of
work, no one knew better how to sell it. His words were a net, in
which people found themselves taken before they were aware. And since
he was devoted to himself alone, and looked on the producer as his
enemy, and the buyer as prey, he used them both with that obstinate
perseverance which avarice teaches.
My father was a slave all the week, and could call himself his own
only on Sunday. The master naturalist, who used to spend the day at
the house of an old female relative, then gave him his liberty on
condition that he dined out, and at his own expense. But my father
used secretly to take with him a crust of bread, which he hid in his
botanizing-box, and, leaving Paris as soon as it was day, he would
wander far into the valley of Montmorency, the wood of Meudon, or
among the windings of the Marne. Excited by the fresh air, the
penetrating perfume of the growing vegetation, or the fragrance of the
honeysuckles, he would walk on until hunger or fatigue made itself
felt. Then he would sit under a hedge, or by the side of a stream,
and would make a rustic feast, by turns on watercresses, wood
strawberries, and blackberries picked from the hedges; he would gather
a few plants, read a few pages of Florian, then in greatest vogue, of
Gessner, who was just translated, or of Jean Jacques, of whom he
possessed three old volumes. The day was thus passed alternately in
activity and rest, in pursuit and meditation, until the declining sun
warned him to take again the road to Paris, where he would arrive, his
feet torn and dusty, but his mind invigorated for a whole week.
One day, as he was going toward the wood of Viroflay, he met, close
to it, a stranger who was occupied in botanizing and in sorting the
plants he had just gathered. He was an elderly man with an honest
face; but his eyes, which were rather deep-set under his eyebrows, had
a somewhat uneasy and timid expression. He was dressed in a brown
cloth coat, a gray waistcoat, black breeches, and worsted stockings,
and held an ivory- headed cane under his arm. His appearance was that
of a small retired tradesman who was living on his means, and rather
below the golden mean of Horace.
My father, who had great respect for age, civilly raised his hat to
him as he passed. In doing so, a plant he held fell from his hand;
the stranger stooped to take it up, and recognized it.
"It is a Deutaria heptaphyllos," said he; "I have not yet seen any
of them in these woods; did you find it near here, sir?"
My father replied that it was to be found in abundance on the top
of the hill, toward Sevres, as well as the great Laserpitium.
"That, too!" repeated the old man more briskly. "Ah! I shall go
and look for them; I have gathered them formerly on the hillside of
My father proposed to take him. The stranger accepted his proposal
with thanks, and hastened to collect together the plants he had
gathered; but all of a sudden he appeared seized with a scruple. He
observed to his companion that the road he was going was halfway up
the hill, and led in the direction of the castle of the Dames Royales
at Bellevue; that by going to the top he would consequently turn out
of his road, and that it was not right he should take this trouble for
My father insisted upon it with his habitual good-nature; but, the
more eagerness he showed, the more obstinately the old man refused; it
even seemed to my father that his good intention at last excited his
suspicion. He therefore contented himself with pointing out the road
to the stranger, whom he saluted, and he soon lost sight of him.
Many hours passed by, and he thought no more of the meeting. He
had reached the copses of Chaville, where, stretched on the ground in
a mossy glade, he read once more the last volume of Emile. The
delight of reading it had so completely absorbed him that he had
ceased to see or hear anything around him. With his cheeks flushed
and his eyes moist, he repeated aloud a passage which had particularly
An exclamation uttered close by him awoke him from his ecstasy; he
raised his head, and perceived the tradesman-looking person he had met
before on the crossroad at Viroflay.
He was loaded with plants, the collection of which seemed to have
put him into high good-humor.
"A thousand thanks, sir," said he to my father. "I have found all
that you told me of, and I am indebted to you for a charming walk."
My father respectfully rose, and made a civil reply. The stranger
had grown quite familiar, and even asked if his young "brother
botanist" did not think of returning to Paris. My father replied in
the affirmative, and opened his tin box to put his book back in it.
The stranger asked him with a smile if he might without
impertinence ask the name of it. My father answered that it was
The stranger immediately became grave.
They walked for some time side by side, my father expressing, with
the warmth of a heart still throbbing with emotion, all that this work
had made him feel; his companion remaining cold and silent. The
former extolled the glory of the great Genevese writer, whose genius
had made him a citizen of the world; he expatiated on this privilege
of great thinkers, who reign in spite of time and space, and gather
together a people of willing subjects out of all nations; but the
stranger suddenly interrupted him:
"And how do you know," said he, mildly, "whether Jean Jacques would
not exchange the reputation which you seem to envy for the life of one
of the wood-cutters whose chimneys' smoke we see? What has fame
brought him except persecution? The unknown friends whom his books
may have made for him content themselves with blessing him in their
hearts, while the declared enemies that they have drawn upon him
pursue him with violence and calumny! His pride has been flattered by
success: how many times has it been wounded by satire? And be assured
that human pride is like the Sybarite who was prevented from sleeping
by a crease in a roseleaf. The activity of a vigorous mind, by which
the world profits, almost always turns against him who possesses it.
He expects more from it as he grows older; the ideal he pursues
continually disgusts him with the actual; he is like a man who, with a
too-refined sight, discerns spots and blemishes in the most beautiful
face. I will not speak of stronger temptations and of deeper
downfalls. Genius, you have said, is a kingdom; but what virtuous man
is not afraid of being a king? He who feels only his great powers,
is—with the weaknesses and passions of our nature—preparing for
great failures. Believe me, sir, the unhappy man who wrote this book
is no object of admiration or of envy; but, if you have a feeling
heart, pity him!"
My father, astonished at the excitement with which his companion
pronounced these last words, did not know what to answer.
Just then they reached the paved road which led from Meudon Castle
to that of Versailles; a carriage was passing.
The ladies who were in it perceived the old man, uttered an
exclamation of surprise, and leaning out of the window repeated:
"There is Jean Jacques—there is Rousseau!"
Then the carriage disappeared in the distance.
My father remained motionless, confounded, and amazed, his eyes
wide open, and his hands clasped.
Rousseau, who had shuddered on hearing his name spoken, turned
"You see," said he, with the bitter misanthropy which his later
misfortunes had produced in him, "Jean Jacques cannot even hide
himself: he is an object of curiosity to some, of malignity to others,
and to all he is a public thing, at which they point the finger. It
would signify less if he had only to submit to the impertinence of the
idle; but, as soon as a man has had the misfortune to make himself a
name, he becomes public property. Every one rakes into his life,
relates his most trivial actions, and insults his feelings; he becomes
like those walls, which every passer-by may deface with some abusive
writing. Perhaps you will say that I have myself encouraged this
curiosity by publishing my Confessions. But the world forced me to
it. They looked into my house through the blinds, and they slandered
me; I have opened the doors and windows, so that they should at least
know me such as I am. Adieu, sir. Whenever you wish to know the worth
of fame, remember that you have seen Rousseau."
Nine o'clock.—Ah! now I understand my father's story! It contains
the answer to one of the questions I asked myself a week ago. Yes, I
now feel that fame and power are gifts that are dearly bought; and
that, when they dazzle the soul, both are oftenest, as Madame de Stael
says, but 'un deuil eclatant de bonheur!
'Tis better to be lowly born,
And range with humble livers in content,
Than to be perk'd up in a glistering grief,
And wear a golden sorrow.
[Henry VIII., Act II., Scene 3.]
CHAPTER VIII. MISANTHROPY AND
August 3d, Nine O'clock P.M.
There are days when everything appears gloomy to us; the world,
like the sky, is covered by a dark fog. Nothing seems in its place;
we see only misery, improvidence, and cruelty; the world seems without
God, and given up to all the evils of chance.
Yesterday I was in this unhappy humor. After a long walk in the
faubourgs, I returned home, sad and dispirited.
Everything I had seen seemed to accuse the civilization of which we
are so proud! I had wandered into a little by-street, with which I
was not acquainted, and I found myself suddenly in the middle of those
dreadful abodes where the poor are born, to languish and die. I
looked at those decaying walls, which time has covered with a foul
leprosy; those windows, from which dirty rags hang out to dry; those
fetid gutters, which coil along the fronts of the houses like venomous
reptiles! I felt oppressed with grief, and hastened on.
A little farther on I was stopped by the hearse of a hospital; a
dead man, nailed down in his deal coffin, was going to his last abode,
without funeral pomp or ceremony, and without followers. There was
not here even that last friend of the outcast—the dog, which a
painter has introduced as the sole attendant at the pauper's burial!
He whom they were preparing to commit to the earth was going to the
tomb, as he had lived, alone; doubtless no one would be aware of his
end. In this battle of society, what signifies a soldier the less?
But what, then, is this human society, if one of its members can
thus disappear like a leaf carried away by the wind?
The hospital was near a barrack, at the entrance of which old men,
women, and children were quarrelling for the remains of the coarse
bread which the soldiers had given them in charity! Thus, beings like
ourselves daily wait in destitution on our compassion till we give
them leave to live! Whole troops of outcasts, in addition to the
trials imposed on all God's children, have to endure the pangs of
cold, hunger, and humiliation. Unhappy human commonwealth! Where man
is in a worse condition than the bee in its hive, or the ant in its
Ah! what then avails our reason? What is the use of so many high
faculties, if we are neither the wiser nor the happier for them?
Which of us would not exchange his life of labor and trouble with
that of the birds of the air, to whom the whole world is a life of
How well I understand the complaint of Mao, in the popular tales of
the 'Foyer Breton' who, when dying of hunger and thirst, says, as he
looks at the bullfinches rifling the fruit-trees:
"Alas! those birds are happier than Christians; they have no need
of inns, or butchers, or bakers, or gardeners. God's heaven belongs
to them, and earth spreads a continual feast before them! The tiny
flies are their game, ripe grass their cornfields, and hips and haws
their store of fruit. They have the right of taking everywhere,
without paying or asking leave: thus comes it that the little birds
are happy, and sing all the livelong day!"
But the life of man in a natural state is like that of the birds;
he equally enjoys nature. "The earth spreads a continual feast before
him." What, then, has he gained by that selfish and imperfect
association which forms a nation? Would it not be better for every
one to turn again to the fertile bosom of nature, and live there upon
her bounty in peace and liberty?
August 20th, four o'clock A.M.—The dawn casts a red glow on my
bed- curtains; the breeze brings in the fragrance of the gardens
below. Here I am again leaning on my elbows by the windows, inhaling
the freshness and gladness of this first wakening of the day.
My eye always passes over the roofs filled with flowers, warbling,
and sunlight, with the same pleasure; but to-day it stops at the end
of a buttress which separates our house from the next.
The storms have stripped the top of its plaster covering, and dust
carried by the wind has collected in the crevices, and, being fixed
there by the rain, has formed a sort of aerial terrace, where some
green grass has sprung up. Among it rises a stalk of wheat, which
to-day is surmounted by a sickly ear that droops its yellow head.
This poor stray crop on the roofs, the harvest of which will fall
to the neighboring sparrows, has carried my thoughts to the rich crops
which are now falling beneath the sickle; it has recalled to me the
beautiful walks I took as a child through my native province, when the
threshing-floors at the farmhouses resounded from every part with the
sound of a flail, and when the carts, loaded with golden sheaves, came
in by all the roads. I still remember the songs of the maidens, the
cheerfulness of the old men, the open-hearted merriment of the
laborers. There was, at that time, something in their looks both of
pride and feeling. The latter came from thankfulness to God, the
former from the sight of the harvest, the reward of their labor. They
felt indistinctly the grandeur and the holiness of their part in the
general work of the world; they looked with pride upon their mountains
of corn-sheaves, and they seemed to say, Next to God, it is we who
feed the world!
What a wonderful order there is in all human labor!
While the husbandman furrows his land, and prepares for every one
his daily bread, the town artizan, far away, weaves the stuff in which
he is to be clothed; the miner seeks underground the iron for his
plow; the soldier defends him against the invader; the judge takes
care that the law protects his fields; the tax-comptroller adjusts his
private interests with those of the public; the merchant occupies
himself in exchanging his products with those of distant countries;
the men of science and of art add every day a few horses to this ideal
team, which draws along the material world, as steam impels the
gigantic trains of our iron roads! Thus all unite together, all help
one another; the toil of each one benefits himself and all the world;
the work has been apportioned among the different members of the whole
of society by a tacit agreement. If, in this apportionment, errors
are committed, if certain individuals have not been employed according
to their capacities, those defects of detail diminish in the sublime
conception of the whole. The poorest man included in this association
has his place, his work, his reason for being there; each is something
in the whole.
There is nothing like this for man in the state of nature. As he
depends only upon himself, it is necessary that he be sufficient for
everything. All creation is his property; but he finds in it as many
hindrances as helps. He must surmount these obstacles with the single
strength that God has given him; he cannot reckon on any other aid
than chance and opportunity. No one reaps, manufactures, fights, or
thinks for him; he is nothing to any one. He is a unit multiplied by
the cipher of his own single powers; while the civilized man is a unit
multiplied by the whole of society.
But, notwithstanding this, the other day, disgusted by the sight of
some vices in detail, I cursed the latter, and almost envied the life
of the savage.
One of the infirmities of our nature is always to mistake feeling
for evidence, and to judge of the season by a cloud or a ray of
Was the misery, the sight of which made me regret a savage life,
really the effect of civilization? Must we accuse society of having
created these evils, or acknowledge, on the contrary, that it has
alleviated them? Could the women and children, who were receiving the
coarse bread from the soldier, hope in the desert for more help or
pity? That dead man, whose forsaken state I deplored, had he not
found, by the cares of a hospital, a coffin and the humble grave where
he was about to rest? Alone, and far from men, he would have died like
the wild beast in his den, and would now be serving as food for
vultures! These benefits of human society are shared, then, by the
most destitute. Whoever eats the bread that another has reaped and
kneaded, is under an obligation to his brother, and cannot say he owes
him nothing in return. The poorest of us has received from society
much more than his own single strength would have permitted him to
wrest from nature.
But cannot society give us more? Who doubts it? Errors have been
committed in this distribution of tasks and workers. Time will
diminish the number of them; with new lights a better division will
arise; the elements of society go on toward perfection, like
everything else. The difficulty is to know how to adapt ourselves to
the slow step of time, whose progress can never be forced on without
August 14th, six o'clock A.M.—My garret window rises upon the roof
like a massive watch-tower. The corners are covered by large sheets
of lead, which run into the tiles; the successive action of cold and
heat has made them rise, and so a crevice has been formed in an angle
on the right side. There a sparrow has built her nest.
I have followed the progress of this aerial habitation from the
first day. I have seen the bird successively bring the straw, moss,
and wool designed for the construction of her abode; and I have
admired the persevering skill she expended in this difficult work. At
first, my new neighbor spent her days in fluttering over the poplar in
the garden, and in chirping along the gutters; a fine lady's life
seemed the only one to suit her. Then all of a sudden, the necessity
of preparing a shelter for her brood transformed our idler into a
worker; she no longer gave herself either rest or relaxation. I saw
her always either flying, fetching, or carrying; neither rain nor sun
stopped her. A striking example of the power of necessity! We are
indebted to it not only for most of our talents, but for many of our
Is it not necessity that has given the people of less favored
climates that constant activity which has placed them so quickly at
the head of nations? As they are deprived of most of the gifts of
nature, they have supplied them by their industry; necessity has
sharpened their understanding, endurance awakened their foresight.
While elsewhere man, warmed by an ever brilliant sun, and loaded with
the bounties of the earth, was remaining poor, ignorant, and naked, in
the midst of gifts he did not attempt to explore, here he was forced
by necessity to wrest his food from the ground, to build habitations
to defend himself from the intemperance of the weather, and to warm
his body by clothing himself with the wool of animals. Work makes him
both more intelligent and more robust: disciplined by it, he seems to
mount higher on the ladder of creation, while those more favored by
nature remain on the step nearest to the brutes.
I made these reflections while looking at the bird, whose instinct
seemed to have become more acute since she had been occupied in work.
At last the nest was finished; she set up her household there, and I
followed her through all the phases of her new existence.
When she had sat on the eggs, and the young ones were hatched, she
fed them with the most attentive care. The corner of my window had
become a stage of moral action, which fathers and mothers might come
to take lessons from. The little ones soon became large, and this
morning I have seen them take their first flight. One of them, weaker
than the others, was not able to clear the edge of the roof, and fell
into the gutter. I caught him with some difficulty, and placed him
again on the tile in front of his house, but the mother has not
noticed him. Once freed from the cares of a family, she has resumed
her wandering life among the trees and along the roofs. In vain I
have kept away from my window, to take from her every excuse for fear;
in vain the feeble little bird has called to her with plaintive cries;
his bad mother has passed by, singing and fluttering with a thousand
airs and graces. Once only the father came near; he looked at his
offspring with contempt, and then disappeared, never to return!
I crumbled some bread before the little orphan, but he did not know
how to peck it with his bill. I tried to catch him, but he escaped
into the forsaken nest. What will become of him there, if his mother
does not come back!
August 15th, six o'clock.—This morning, on opening my window, I
found the little bird dying upon the tiles; his wounds showed me that
he had been driven from the nest by his unworthy mother. I tried in
vain to warm him again with my breath; I felt the last pulsations of
life; his eyes were already closed, and his wings hung down! I placed
him on the roof in a ray of sunshine, and I closed my window. The
struggle of life against death has always something gloomy in it: it
is a warning to us.
Happily I hear some one in the passage; without doubt it is my old
neighbor; his conversation will distract my thoughts.
It was my portress. Excellent woman! She wished me to read a
letter from her son the sailor, and begged me to answer it for her.
I kept it, to copy it in my journal. Here it is:
"DEAR MOTHER: This is to tell you that I have been very well ever
since the last time, except that last week I was nearly drowned with
the boat, which would have been a great loss, as there is not a
better craft anywhere.
"A gust of wind capsized us; and just as I came up above water, I
saw the captain sinking. I went after him, as was my duty, and,
after diving three times, I brought him to the surface, which
pleased him much; for when we were hoisted on board, and he had
recovered his senses, he threw his arms round my neck, as he would
have done to an officer.
"I do not hide from you, dear mother, that this has delighted me.
But it isn't all; it seems that fishing up the captain has reminded
them that I had a good character, and they have just told me that I
am promoted to be a sailor of the first class! Directly I knew it,
I cried out, 'My mother shall have coffee twice a day!' And really,
dear mother, there is nothing now to hinder you, as I shall now have
a larger allowance to send you.
"I include by begging you to take care of yourself if you wish to do
me good; for nothing makes me feel so well as to think that you want
"Your son, from the bottom of my heart,
This is the answer that the portress dictated to me:
"MY GOOD JACQUOT: It makes me very happy to see that your heart is
still as true as ever, and that you will never shame those who have
brought you up. I need not tell you to take care of your life,
because you know it is the same as my own, and that without you,
dear child, I should wish for nothing but the grave; but we are not
bound to live, while we are bound to do our duty.
"Do not fear for my health, good Jacques; I was never better! I do
not grow old at all, for fear of making you unhappy. I want
nothing, and I live like a lady. I even had some money over this
year, and as my drawers shut very badly, I put it into the savings'
bank, where I have opened an account in your name. So, when you
come back, you will find yourself with an income. I have also
furnished your chest with new linen, and I have knitted you three
"All your friends are well. Your cousin is just dead, leaving his
widow in difficulties. I gave her your thirty francs' remittance
and said that you had sent it her; and the poor woman remembers you
day and night in her prayers. So, you see, I have put that money in
another sort of savings' bank; but there it is our hearts that get
"Good-bye, dear Jacquot. Write to me often, and always remember the
good God, and your old mother,
Good son, and worthy mother! how such examples bring us back to a
love for the human race! In a fit of fanciful misanthropy, we may
envy the fate of the savage, and prefer that of the bird to such as
he; but impartial observation soon does justice to such paradoxes. We
find, on examination, that in the mixed good and evil of human nature,
the good so far abounds that we are not in the habit of noticing it,
while the evil strikes us precisely on account of its being the
exception. If nothing is perfect, nothing is so bad as to be without
its compensation or its remedy. What spiritual riches are there in
the midst of the evils of society! how much does the moral world
redeem the material!
That which will ever distinguish man from the rest of creation, is
his power of deliberate affection and of enduring self-sacrifice. The
mother who took care of her brood in the corner of my window devoted
to them the necessary time for accomplishing the laws which insure the
preservation of her kind; but she obeyed an instinct, and not a
rational choice. When she had accomplished the mission appointed her
by Providence, she cast off the duty as we get rid of a burden, and
she returned again to her selfish liberty. The other mother, on the
contrary, will go on with her task as long as God shall leave her here
below: the life of her son will still remain, so to speak, joined to
her own; and when she disappears from the earth, she will leave there
that part of herself.
Thus, the affections make for our species an existence separate
from all the rest of creation. Thanks to them, we enjoy a sort of
terrestrial immortality; and if other beings succeed one another, man
alone perpetuates himself.
CHAPTER IX. THE FAMILY OF MICHAEL
September 15th, Eight O'clock
This morning, while I was arranging my books, Mother Genevieve came
in, and brought me the basket of fruit I buy of her every Sunday. For
the nearly twenty years that I have lived in this quarter, I have
dealt in her little fruit-shop. Perhaps I should be better served
elsewhere, but Mother Genevieve has but little custom; to leave her
would do her harm, and cause her unnecessary pain. It seems to me
that the length of our acquaintance has made me incur a sort of tacit
obligation to her; my patronage has become her property.
She has put the basket upon my table, and as I want her husband,
who is a joiner, to add some shelves to my bookcase, she has gone
downstairs again immediately to send him to me.
At first I did not notice either her looks or the sound of her
voice: but, now that I recall them, it seems to me that she was not as
jovial as usual. Can Mother Genevieve be in trouble about anything?
Poor woman! All her best years were subject to such bitter trials,
that she might think she had received her full share already. Were I
to live a hundred years, I should never forget the circumstances which
made her known to me, and which obtained for her my respect.
It was at the time of my first settling in the faubourg. I had
noticed her empty fruit-shop, which nobody came into, and, being
attracted by its forsaken appearance, I made my little purchases in
it. I have always instinctively preferred the poor shops; there is
less choice in them, but it seems to me that my purchase is a sign of
sympathy with a brother in poverty. These little dealings are almost
always an anchor of hope to those whose very existence is in
peril—the only means by which some orphan gains a livelihood. There
the aim of the tradesman is not to enrich himself, but to live! The
purchase you make of him is more than an exchange—it is a good
Mother Genevieve at that time was still young, but had already lost
that fresh bloom of youth which suffering causes to wither so soon
among the poor. Her husband, a clever joiner, gradually left off
working to become, according to the picturesque expression of the
workshops, a worshipper of Saint Monday. The wages of the week, which
was always reduced to two or three working days, were completely
dedicated by him to the worship of this god of the Barriers,—[The
cheap wine shops are outside the Barriers, to avoid the octroi, or
municipal excise.]—and Genevieve was obliged herself to provide for
all the wants of the household.
One evening, when I went to make some trifling purchases of her, I
heard a sound of quarrelling in the back shop. There were the voices
of several women, among which I distinguished that of Genevieve,
broken by sobs. On looking farther in, I perceived the fruit-woman
holding a child in her arms, and kissing it, while a country nurse
seemed to be claiming her wages from her. The poor woman, who without
doubt had exhausted every explanation and every excuse, was crying in
silence, and one of her neighbors was trying in vain to appease the
countrywoman. Excited by that love of money which the evils of a hard
peasant life but too well excuse, and disappointed by the refusal of
her expected wages, the nurse was launching forth in recriminations,
threats, and abuse. In spite of myself, I listened to the quarrel,
not daring to interfere, and not thinking of going away, when Michael
Arout appeared at the shop-door.
The joiner had just come from the Barriers, where he had passed
part of the day at a public-house. His blouse, without a belt, and
untied at the throat, showed none of the noble stains of work: in his
hand he held his cap, which he had just picked up out of the mud; his
hair was in disorder, his eye fixed, and the pallor of drunkenness in
his face. He came reeling in, looked wildly around him, and called
She heard his voice, gave a start, and rushed into the shop; but at
the sight of the miserable man, who was trying in vain to steady
himself, she pressed the child in her arms, and bent over it with
The countrywoman and the neighbor had followed her.
"Come! come!" cried the former in a rage, "do you intend to pay
me, after all?"
"Ask the master for the money," ironically answered the woman from
the next door, pointing to the joiner, who had just fallen against the
The countrywoman looked at him.
"Ah! he is the father," returned she. "Well, what idle beggars!
not to have a penny to pay honest people; and get tipsy with wine in
The drunkard raised his head.
"What! what!" stammered he; "who is it that talks of wine? I've
had nothing but brandy! But I am going back again to get some wine!
Wife, give me your money; there are some friends waiting for me at
the 'Pere la Tuille'."
Genevieve did not answer: he went round the counter, opened the
till, and began to rummage in it.
"You see where the money of the house goes!" observed the neighbor
to the countrywoman; "how can the poor unhappy woman pay you when he
"Is that my fault?" replied the nurse, angrily. "They owe to me,
and somehow or other they must pay me!"
And letting loose her tongue, as these women out of the country do,
she began relating at length all the care she had taken of the child,
and all the expense it had been to her. In proportion as she recalled
all she had done, her words seemed to convince her more than ever of
her rights, and to increase her anger. The poor mother, who no doubt
feared that her violence would frighten the child, returned into the
back shop, and put it into its cradle.
Whether it is that the countrywoman saw in this act a determination
to escape her claims, or that she was blinded by passion, I cannot
say; but she rushed into the next room, where I heard the sounds of
quarrelling, with which the cries of the child were soon mingled. The
joiner, who was still rummaging in the till, was startled, and raised
At the same moment Genevieve appeared at the door, holding in her
arms the baby that the countrywoman was trying to tear from her. She
ran toward the counter, and throwing herself behind her husband,
"Michael, defend your son!"
The drunken man quickly stood up erect, like one who awakes with a
"My son!" stammered he; "what son?"
His looks fell upon the child; a vague ray of intelligence passed
over his features.
"Robert," resumed he; "it is Robert!"
He tried to steady himself on his feet, that he might take the
baby, but he tottered. The nurse approached him in a rage.
"My money, or I shall take the child away!" cried she. "It is I
who have fed and brought it up: if you don't pay me for what has made
it live, it ought to be the same to you as if it were dead. I shall
not go until I have my due, or the baby."
"And what would you do with him?" murmured Genevieve, pressing
Robert against her bosom.
"Take it to the Foundling!" replied the countrywoman, harshly;
"the hospital is a better mother than you are, for it pays for the
food of its little ones."
At the word "Foundling," Genevieve had exclaimed aloud in horror.
With her arms wound round her son, whose head she hid in her bosom,
and her two hands spread over him, she had retreated to the wall, and
remained with her back against it, like a lioness defending her young.
The neighbor and I contemplated this scene, without knowing how we
could interfere. As for Michael, he looked at us by turns, making a
visible effort to comprehend it all. When his eye rested upon
Genevieve and the child, it lit up with a gleam of pleasure; but when
he turned toward us, he again became stupid and hesitating.
At last, apparently making a prodigious effort, he cried out,
And going to a tub filled with water, he plunged his face into it
Every eye was turned upon him; the countrywoman herself seemed
astonished. At length he raised his dripping head. This ablution had
partly dispelled his drunkenness; he looked at us for a moment, then
he turned to Genevieve, and his face brightened up.
"Robert!" cried he, going up to the child, and taking him in his
arms. "Ah! give him me, wife; I must look at him."
The mother seemed to give up his son to him with reluctance, and
stayed before him with her arms extended, as if she feared the child
would have a fall. The nurse began again in her turn to speak, and
renewed her claims, this time threatening to appeal to law. At first
Michael listened to her attentively, and when he comprehended her
meaning, he gave the child back to its mother.
"How much do we owe you?" asked he.
The countrywoman began to reckon up the different expenses, which
amounted to nearly thirty francs. The joiner felt to the bottom of
his pockets, but could find nothing. His forehead became contracted
by frowns; low curses began to escape him. All of a sudden he
rummaged in his breast, drew forth a large watch, and holding it up
above his head:
"Here it is—here's your money!" cried he with a joyful laugh; "a
watch, a good one! I always said it would keep for a drink on a dry
day; but it is not I who will drink it, but the young one. Ah! ah!
ah! go and sell it for me, neighbor, and if that is not enough, I have
my earrings. Eh! Genevieve, take them off for me; the earrings will
square all! They shall not say you have been disgraced on account of
the child—no, not even if I must pledge a bit of my flesh! My watch,
my earrings, and my ring—get rid of all of them for me at the
goldsmith's; pay the woman, and let the little fool go to sleep. Give
him me, Genevieve; I will put him to bed."
And, taking the baby from the arms of his mother, he carried him
with a firm step to his cradle.
It was easy to perceive the change which took place in Michael from
this day. He cut all his old drinking acquaintances. He went early
every morning to his work, and returned regularly in the evening to
finish the day with Genevieve and Robert. Very soon he would not
leave them at all, and he hired a place near the fruit-shop, and
worked in it on his own account.
They would soon have been able to live in comfort, had it not been
for the expenses which the child required. Everything was given up to
his education. He had gone through the regular school training, had
studied mathematics, drawing, and the carpenter's trade, and had only
begun to work a few months ago. Till now, they had been exhausting
every resource which their laborious industry could provide to push
him forward in his business; and, happily, all these exertions had not
proved useless: the seed had brought forth fruit, and the days of
harvest were close by.
While I was thus recalling these remembrances to my mind, Michael
had come in, and was occupied in fixing shelves where they were
During the time I was writing the notes of my journal, I was also
scrutinizing the joiner.
The excesses of his youth and the labor of his manhood have deeply
marked his face; his hair is thin and gray, his shoulders stoop, his
legs are shrunken and slightly bent. There seems a sort of weight in
his whole being. His very features have an expression of sorrow and
despondency. He answers my questions by monosyllables, and like a man
who wishes to avoid conversation. Whence comes this dejection, when
one would think he had all he could wish for? I should like to know!
Ten o'clock.—Michael is just gone downstairs to look for a tool he
has forgotten. I have at last succeeded in drawing from him the
secret of his and Genevieve's sorrow. Their son Robert is the cause
Not that he has turned out ill after all their care—not that he is
idle or dissipated; but both were in hopes he would never leave them
any more. The presence of the young man was to have renewed and made
glad their lives once more; his mother counted the days, his father
prepared everything to receive their dear associate in their toils;
and at the moment when they were thus about to be repaid for all their
sacrifices, Robert had suddenly informed them that he had just engaged
himself to a contractor at Versailles.
Every remonstrance and every prayer were useless; he brought
forward the necessity of initiating himself into all the details of an
important contract, the facilities he should have in his new position
of improving himself in his trade, and the hopes he had of turning his
knowledge to advantage. At, last, when his mother, having come to the
end of her arguments, began to cry, he hastily kissed her, and went
away that he might avoid any further remonstrances.
He had been absent a year, and there was nothing to give them hopes
of his return. His parents hardly saw him once a month, and then he
only stayed a few moments with them.
"I have been punished where I had hoped to be rewarded," Michael
said to me just now. "I had wished for a saving and industrious son,
and God has given me an ambitious and avaricious one! I had always
said to myself that when once he was grown up we should have him
always with us, to recall our youth and to enliven our hearts. His
mother was always thinking of getting him married, and having children
again to care for. You know women always will busy themselves about
others. As for me, I thought of him working near my bench, and
singing his new songs; for he has learnt music, and is one of the best
singers at the Orpheon.
A dream, sir, truly! Directly the bird was fledged, he took to
flight, and remembers neither father nor mother. Yesterday, for
instance, was the day we expected him; he should have come to supper
with us. No Robert to-day, either! He has had some plan to finish,
or some bargain to arrange, and his old parents are put down last in
the accounts, after the customers and the joiner's work. Ah! if I
could have guessed how it would have turned out! Fool! to have
sacrificed my likings and my money, for nearly twenty years, to the
education of a thankless son! Was it for this I took the trouble to
cure myself of drinking, to break with my friends, to become an
example to the neighborhood? The jovial good fellow has made a goose
of himself. Oh! if I had to begin again! No, no! you see women and
children are our bane. They soften our hearts; they lead us a life of
hope and affection; we pass a quarter of our lives in fostering the
growth of a grain of corn which is to be everything to us in our old
age, and when the harvest-time comes—good-night, the ear is empty!"
While he was speaking, Michael's voice became hoarse, his eyes
fierce, and his lips quivered. I wished to answer him, but I could
only think of commonplace consolations, and I remained silent. The
joiner pretended he needed a tool, and left me.
Poor father! Ah! I know those moments of temptation when virtue
has failed to reward us, and we regret having obeyed her! Who has not
felt this weakness in hours of trial, and who has not uttered, at
least once, the mournful exclamation of Brutus?
But if virtue is only a word, what is there then in life that is
true and real? No, I will not believe that goodness is in vain! It
does not always give the happiness we had hoped for, but it brings
some other. In the world everything is ruled by order, and has its
proper and necessary consequences, and virtue cannot be the sole
exception to the general law. If it had been prejudicial to those who
practised it, experience would have avenged them; but experience has,
on the contrary, made it more universal and more holy. We only accuse
it of being a faithless debtor because we demand an immediate payment,
and one apparent to our senses. We always consider life as a
fairytale, in which every good action must be rewarded by a visible
wonder. We do not accept as payment a peaceful conscience,
self-content, or a good name among men— treasures that are more
precious than any other, but the value of which we do not feel till
after we have lost them!
Michael is come back, and has returned to his work. His son has
not yet arrived.
By telling me of his hopes and his grievous disappointments, he
became excited; he unceasingly went over again the same subject,
always adding something to his griefs. He had just wound up his
confidential discourse by speaking to me of a joiner's business which
he had hoped to buy, and work to good account with Robert's help. The
present owner had made a fortune by it, and, after thirty years of
business, he was thinking of retiring to one of the ornamental
cottages in the outskirts of the city, a usual retreat for the frugal
and successful workingman. Michael had not indeed the two thousand
francs which must be paid down; but perhaps he could have persuaded
Master Benoit to wait. Robert's presence would have been a security
for him, for the young man could not fail to insure the prosperity of
a workshop; besides science and skill, he had the power of invention
and bringing to perfection. His father had discovered among his
drawings a new plan for a staircase, which had occupied his thoughts
for a long time; and he even suspected him of having engaged himself
to the Versailles contractor for the very purpose of executing it.
The youth was tormented by this spirit of invention, which took
possession of all his thoughts, and, while devoting his mind to study,
he had no time to listen to his feelings.
Michael told me all this with a mixed feeling of pride and
vexation. I saw he was proud of the son he was abusing, and that his
very pride made him more sensitive to that son's neglect.
Six o'clock P.M.—I have just finished a happy day. How many
events have happened within a few hours, and what a change for
Genevieve and Michael!
He had just finished fixing the shelves, and telling me of his son,
while I laid the cloth for my breakfast.
Suddenly we heard hurried steps in the passage, the door opened,
and Genevieve entered with Robert.
The joiner gave a start of joyful surprise, but he repressed it
immediately, as if he wished to keep up the appearance of displeasure.
The young man did not appear to notice it, but threw himself into
his arms in an open-hearted manner, which surprised me. Genevieve,
whose face shone with happiness, seemed to wish to speak, and to
restrain herself with difficulty.
I told Robert I was glad to see him, and he answered me with ease
"I expected you yesterday," said Michael Arout, rather dryly.
"Forgive me, father," replied the young workman, "but I had
business at St. Germain's. I was not able to come back till it was
very late, and then the master kept me."
The joiner looked at his son sidewise, and then took up his hammer
"All right," muttered he, in a grumbling tone; "when we are with
other people we must do as they wish; but there are some who would
like better to eat brown bread with their own knife than partridges
with the silver fork of a master."
"And I am one of those, father," replied Robert, merrily, "but, as
the proverb says, "you must shell the peas before you can eat them."
It was necessary that I should first work in a great workshop—"
"To go on with your plan of the staircase," interrupted Michael,
"You must now say Monsieur Raymond's plan, father," replied Robert,
"Because I have sold it to him."
The joiner, who was planing a board, turned round quickly.
"Sold it!" cried he, with sparkling eyes.
"For the reason that I was not rich enough to give it him."
Michael threw down the board and tool.
"There he is again!" resumed he, angrily; "his good genius puts an
idea into his head which would have made him known, and he goes and
sells it to a rich man, who will take the honor of it himself."
"Well, what harm is there done?" asked Genevieve.
"What harm!" cried the joiner, in a passion. "You understand
nothing about it—you are a woman; but he—he knows well that a true
workman never gives up his own inventions for money, no more than a
soldier would give up his cross. That is his glory; he is bound to
keep it for the honor it does him! Ah, thunder! if I had ever made a
discovery, rather than put it up at auction I would have sold one of
my eyes! Don't you see that a new invention is like a child to a
workman? He takes care of it, he brings it up, he makes a way for it
in the world, and it is only a poor creature who sells it."
Robert colored a little.
"You will think differently, father," said he, "when you know why I
sold my plan."
"Yes, and you will thank him for it," added Genevieve, who could no
longer keep silence.
"Never !" replied Michael.
"But, wretched man!" cried she, "he sold it only for our sakes!"
The joiner looked at his wife and son with astonishment. It was
necessary to come to an explanation. The latter related how he had
entered into a negotiation with Master Benoit, who had positively
refused to sell his business unless one half of the two thousand
francs were first paid down. It was in the hopes of obtaining this
sum that he had gone to work with the contractor at Versailles; he had
had an opportunity of trying his invention, and of finding a
purchaser. Thanks to the money he received for it, he had just
concluded the bargain with Benoit, and had brought his father the key
of the new work-yard.
This explanation was given by the young workman with so much
modesty and simplicity that I was quite affected by it. Genevieve
cried; Michael pressed his son to his heart, and in a long embrace he
seemed to ask his pardon for having unjustly accused him.
All was now explained with honor to Robert. The conduct which his
parents had ascribed to indifference really sprang from affection; he
had neither obeyed the voice of ambition nor of avarice, nor even the
nobler inspiration of inventive genius: his whole motive and single
aim had been the happiness of Genevieve and Michael. The day for
proving his gratitude had come, and he had returned them sacrifice for
After the explanations and exclamations of joy were over, all three
were about to leave me; but, the cloth being laid, I added three more
places, and kept them to breakfast.
The meal was prolonged: the fare was only tolerable; but the over-
flowings of affection made it delicious. Never had I better
understood the unspeakable charm of family love. What calm enjoyment
in that happiness which is always shared with others; in that
community of interests which unites such various feelings; in that
association of existences which forms one single being of so many!
What is man without those home affections, which, like so many roots,
fix him firmly in the earth, and permit him to imbibe all the juices
of life? Energy, happiness—do not all these come from them? Without
family life where would man learn to love, to associate, to deny
himself? A community in little, is it not this which teaches us how
to live in the great one? Such is the holiness of home, that, to
express our relation with God, we have been obliged to borrow the
words invented for our family life. Men have named themselves the
sons of a heavenly Father!
Ah! let us carefully preserve these chains of domestic union. Do
not let us unbind the human sheaf, and scatter its ears to all the
caprices of chance and of the winds; but let us rather enlarge this
holy law; let us carry the principles and the habits of home beyond
set bounds; and, if it may be, let us realize the prayer of the
Apostle of the Gentiles when he exclaimed to the newborn children of
Christ: "Be ye like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord,
of one mind."
CHAPTER X. OUR COUNTRY
October 12th, Seven O'clock A.M.
The nights are already become cold and long; the sun, shining
through my curtains, no more wakens me long before the hour for work;
and even when my eyes are open, the pleasant warmth of the bed keeps
me fast under my counterpane. Every morning there begins a long
argument between my activity and my indolence; and, snugly wrapped up
to the eyes, I wait like the Gascon, until they have succeeded in
coming to an agreement.
This morning, however, a light, which shone from my door upon my
pillow, awoke me earlier than usual. In vain I turned on my side; the
persevering light, like a victorious enemy, pursued me into every
position. At last, quite out of patience, I sat up and hurled my
nightcap to the foot of the bed!
(I will observe, by way of parenthesis, that the various evolutions
of this pacific headgear seem to have been, from the remotest time,
symbols of the vehement emotions of the mind; for our language has
borrowed its most common images from them.)
But be this as it may, I got up in a very bad humor, grumbling at
my new neighbor, who took it into his head to be wakeful when I wished
to sleep. We are all made thus; we do not understand that others may
live on their own account. Each one of us is like the earth,
according to the old system of Ptolemy, and thinks he can have the
whole universe revolve around himself. On this point, to make use of
the metaphor alluded to: 'Tous les hommes ont la tete dans le meme
I had for the time being, as I have already said, thrown mine to
the other end of my bed; and I slowly disengaged my legs from the warm
bedclothes, while making a host of evil reflections upon the
inconvenience of having neighbors.
For more than a month I had not had to complain of those whom
chance had given me; most of them only came in to sleep, and went away
again on rising. I was almost always alone on this top story—alone
with the clouds and the sparrows!
But at Paris nothing lasts; the current of life carries us along,
like the seaweed torn from the rock; the houses are vessels which take
mere passengers. How many different faces have I already seen pass
along the landing-place belonging to our attics! How many companions
of a few days have disappeared forever! Some are lost in that medley
of the living which whirls continually under the scourge of necessity,
and others in that resting-place of the dead, who sleep under the hand
Peter the bookbinder is one of these last. Wrapped up in
selfishness, he lived alone and friendless, and he died as he had
lived. His loss was neither mourned by any one, nor disarranged
anything in the world; there was merely a ditch filled up in the
graveyard, and an attic emptied in our house.
It is the same which my new neighbor has inhabited for the last few
To say truly (now that I am quite awake, and my ill humor is gone
with my nightcap)—to say truly, this new neighbor, although rising
earlier than suits my idleness, is not the less a very good man: he
carries his misfortunes, as few know how to carry their good fortunes,
with cheerfulness and moderation.
But fate has cruelly tried him. Father Chaufour is but the wreck
of a man. In the place of one of his arms hangs an empty sleeve; his
left leg is made by the turner, and he drags the right along with
difficulty; but above these ruins rises a calm and happy face. While
looking upon his countenance, radiant with a serene energy, while
listening to his voice, the tone of which has, so to speak, the accent
of goodness, we see that the soul has remained entire in the
half-destroyed covering. The fortress is a little damaged, as Father
Chaufour says, but the garrison is quite hearty.
Decidedly, the more I think of this excellent man, the more I
reproach myself for the sort of malediction I bestowed on him when I
We are generally too indulgent in our secret wrongs toward our
neighbor. All ill-will which does not pass the region of thought seems
innocent to us, and, with our clumsy justice, we excuse without
examination the sin which does not betray itself by action!
But are we then bound to others only by the enforcement of laws?
Besides these external relations, is there not a real relation of
feeling between men? Do we not owe to all those who live under the
same heaven as ourselves the aid not only of our acts but of our
purposes? Ought not every human life to be to us like a vessel that
we accompany with our prayers for a happy voyage? It is not enough
that men do not harm one another; they must also help and love one
another! The papal benediction, 'Urbi et orbi'! should be the
constant cry from all hearts. To condemn him who does not deserve it,
even in the mind, even by a passing thought, is to break the great
law, that which has established the union of souls here below, and to
which Christ has given the sweet name of charity.
These thoughts came into my mind as I finished dressing, and I said
to myself that Father Chaufour had a right to reparation from me. To
make amends for the feeling of ill-will I had against him just now, I
owed him some explicit proof of sympathy. I heard him humming a tune
in his room; he was at work, and I determined that I would make the
first neighborly call.
Eight o'clock P.M.—I found Father Chaufour at a table lighted by a
little smoky lamp, without a fire, although it is already cold, and
making large pasteboard boxes; he was humming a popular song in a low
tone. I had hardly entered the room when he uttered an exclamation of
surprise and pleasure.
"Eh! is it you, neighbor? Come in, then! I did not think you got
up so early, so I put a damper on my music; I was afraid of waking
Excellent man! while I was sending him to the devil he was putting
himself out of his way for me!
This thought touched me, and I paid my compliments on his having
become my neighbor with a warmth which opened his heart.
"Faith! you seem to me to have the look of a good Christian," said
he in a voice of soldierlike cordiality, and shaking me by the hand.
"I do not like those people who look on a landing-place as a frontier
line, and treat their neighbors as if they were Cossacks. When men
snuff the same air, and speak the same lingo, they are not meant to
turn their backs to each other. Sit down there, neighbor; I don't
mean to order you; only take care of the stool; it has but three legs,
and we must put good-will in place of the fourth."
"It seems that that is a treasure which there is no want of here,"
"Good-will!" repeated Chaufour; "that is all my mother left me,
and I take it no son has received a better inheritance. Therefore
they used to call me Monsieur Content in the batteries."
"You are a soldier, then?"
"I served in the Third Artillery under the Republic, and afterward
in the Guard, through all the commotions. I was at Jemappes and at
Waterloo; so I was at the christening and at the burial of our glory,
as one may say!"
I looked at him with astonishment.
"And how old were you then, at Jemappes?" asked I.
"Somewhere about fifteen," said he.
"How came you to think of being a soldier so early?"
"I did not really think about it. I then worked at toy-making, and
never dreamed that France would ask me for anything else than to make
her draught-boards, shuttlecocks, and cups and balls. But I had an
old uncle at Vincennes whom I went to see from time to time—a
Fontenoy veteran in the same rank of life as myself, but with ability
enough to have risen to that of a marshal. Unluckily, in those days
there was no way for common people to get on. My uncle, whose
services would have got him made a prince under the other, had then
retired with the mere rank of sub- lieutenant. But you should have
seen him in his uniform, his cross of St. Louis, his wooden leg, his
white moustaches, and his noble countenance. You would have said he
was a portrait of one of those old heroes in powdered hair which are
"Every time I visited him, he said something which remained fixed
in my memory. But one day I found him quite grave.
"'Jerome,' said he, 'do you know what is going on on the frontier?'
"'No, lieutenant,' replied I.
"'Well,' resumed he, 'our country is in danger!'
"I did not well understand him, and yet it seemed something to me.
"'Perhaps you have never thought what your country means,'
continued he, placing his hand on my shoulder; `it is all that
surrounds you, all that has brought you up and fed you, all that you
have loved! This ground that you see, these houses, these trees,
those girls who go along there laughing—this is your country! The
laws which protect you, the bread which pays for your work, the words
you interchange with others, the joy and grief which come to you from
the men and things among which you live —this is your country! The
little room where you used to see your mother, the remembrances she
has left you, the earth where she rests— this is your country! You
see it, you breathe it, everywhere! Think to yourself, my son, of
your rights and your duties, your affections and your wants, your past
and your present blessings; write them all under a single name—and
that name will be your country!'
"I was trembling with emotion, and great tears were in my eyes.
"'Ah! I understand,' cried I; 'it is our home in large; it is that
part of the world where God has placed our body and our soul.'
"'You are right, Jerome,' continued the old soldier; 'so you
comprehend also what we owe it.'
"'Truly,' resumed I, 'we owe it all that we are; it is a question
"'And of honesty, my son,' concluded he. 'The member of a family
who does not contribute his share of work and of happiness fails in
his duty, and is a bad kinsman; the member of a partnership who does
not enrich it with all his might, with all his courage, and with all
his heart, defrauds it of what belongs to it, and is a dishonest man.
It is the same with him who enjoys the advantages of having a
country, and does not accept the burdens of it; he forfeits his honor,
and is a bad citizen!'
"'And what must one do, lieutenant, to be a good citizen?' asked I.
"'Do for your country what you would do for your father and
mother,' said he.
"I did not answer at the moment; my heart was swelling, and the
blood boiling in my veins; but on returning along the road, my uncle's
words were, so to speak, written up before my eyes. I repeated, 'Do
for your country what you would do for your father and mother.' And
my country is in danger; an enemy attacks it, while I—I turn cups and
"This thought tormented me so much all night that the next day I
returned to Vincennes to announce to the lieutenant that I had just
enlisted, and was going off to the frontier. The brave man pressed
upon me his cross of St. Louis, and I went away as proud as an
"That is how, neighbor, I became a volunteer under the Republic
before I had cut my wisdom teeth."
All this was told quietly, and in the cheerful spirit of him who
looks upon an accomplished duty neither as a merit nor a grievance.
While he spoke, Father Chaufour grew animated, not on account of
himself, but of the general subject. Evidently that which occupied
him in the drama of life was not his own part, but the drama itself.
This sort of disinterestedness touched me. I prolonged my visit,
and showed myself as frank as possible, in order to win his confidence
in return. In an hour's time he knew my position and my habits; I was
on the footing of an old acquaintance.
I even confessed the ill-humor the light of his lamp put me into a
short time before. He took what I said with the touching cheerfulness
which comes from a heart in the right place, and which looks upon
everything on the good side. He neither spoke to me of the necessity
which obliged him to work while I could sleep, nor of the deprivations
of the old soldier compared to the luxury of the young clerk; he only
struck his forehead, accused himself of thoughtlessness, and promised
to put list round his door!
O great and beautiful soul! with whom nothing turns to bitterness,
and who art peremptory only in duty and benevolence!
October 15th.—This morning I was looking at a little engraving I
had framed myself, and hung over my writing-table; it is a design of
Gavarni's; in which, in a grave mood, he has represented a veteran and
By often contemplating these two figures, so different in
expression, and so true to life, both have become living in my eyes; I
have seen them move, I have heard them speak; the picture has become a
real scene, at which I am present as spectator.
The veteran advances slowly, his hand leaning on the shoulder of
the young soldier. His eyes, closed for ever, no longer perceive the
sun shining through the flowering chestnut-trees. In the place of his
right arm hangs an empty sleeve, and he walks with a wooden leg, the
sound of which on the pavement makes those who pass turn to look.
At the sight of this ancient wreck from our patriotic wars, the
greater number shake their heads in pity, and I seem to hear a sigh or
"See the worth of glory!" says a portly merchant, turning away his
eyes in horror.
"What a deplorable use of human life!" rejoins a young man who
carries a volume of philosophy under his arm.
"The trooper would better not have left his plow," adds a
countryman, with a cunning air.
"Poor old man!" murmurs a woman, almost crying.
The veteran has heard, and he knits his brow; for it seems to him
that his guide has grown thoughtful. The latter, attracted by what he
hears around him, hardly answers the old man's questions, and his
eyes, vaguely lost in space, seem to be seeking there for the solution
of some problem.
I seem to see a twitching in the gray moustaches of the veteran; he
stops abruptly, and, holding back his guide with his remaining arm:
"They all pity me," says he, "because they do not understand it;
but if I were to answer them—"
"What would you say to them, father?" asks the young man, with
"I should say first to the woman who weeps when she looks at me, to
keep her tears for other misfortunes; for each of my wounds calls to
mind some struggle for my colors. There is room for doubting how some
men have done their duty; with me it is visible. I carry the account
of my services, written with the enemy's steel and lead, on myself; to
pity me for having done my duty is to suppose I would better have been
false to it."
"And what would you say to the countryman, father?"
"I should tell him that, to drive the plow in peace, we must first
secure the country itself; and that, as long as there are foreigners
ready to eat our harvest, there must be arms to defend it."
"But the young student, too, shook his head when he lamented such a
use of life."
"Because he does not know what self-sacrifice and suffering can
teach. The books that he studies we have put in practice, though we
never read them: the principles he applauds we have defended with
powder and bayonet."
"And at the price of your limbs and your blood. The merchant said,
when he saw your maimed body, 'See the worth of glory!"'
"Do not believe him, my son: the true glory is the bread of the
soul; it is this which nourishes self-sacrifice, patience, and
courage. The Master of all has bestowed it as a tie the more between
men. When we desire to be distinguished by our brethren, do we not
thus prove our esteem and our sympathy for them? The longing for
admiration is but one side of love. No, no; the true glory can never
be too dearly paid for! That which we should deplore, child, is not
the infirmities which prove a generous self-sacrifice, but those which
our vices or our imprudence have called forth. Ah! if I could speak
aloud to those who, when passing, cast looks of pity upon me, I should
say to the young man whose excesses have dimmed his sight before he is
old, 'What have you done with your eyes?' To the slothful man, who
with difficulty drags along his enervated mass of flesh, 'What have
you done with your feet?' To the old man, who is punished for his
intemperance by the gout, 'What have you done with your hands?' To
all, 'What have you done with the days God granted you, with the
faculties you should have employed for the good of your brethren?' If
you cannot answer, bestow no more of your pity upon the old soldier
maimed in his country's cause; for he—he at least—can show his scars
October 16th.—The little engraving has made me comprehend better
the merits of Father Chaufour, and I therefore esteem him all the
He has just now left my attic. There no longer passes a single day
without his coming to work by my fire, or my going to sit and talk by
The old artilleryman has seen much, and likes to tell of it. For
twenty years he was an armed traveller throughout Europe, and he
fought without hatred, for he was possessed by a single thought—the
honor of the national flag! It might have been his superstition, if
you will; but it was, at the same time, his safeguard.
The word FRANCE, which was then resounding so gloriously through
the world, served as a talisman to him against all sorts of
temptation. To have to support a great name may seem a burden to
vulgar minds, but it is an encouragement to vigorous ones.
"I, too, have had many moments," said he to me the other day, "when
I have been tempted to make friends with the devil. War is not
precisely the school for rural virtues. By dint of burning,
destroying, and killing, you grow a little tough as regards your
feelings; 'and, when the bayonet has made you king, the notions of an
autocrat come into your head a little strongly. But at these moments
I called to mind that country which the lieutenant spoke of to me, and
I whispered to myself the well- known phrase, 'Toujours Francais! It
has been laughed at since. People who would make a joke of the death
of their mother have turned it into ridicule, as if the name of our
country was not also a noble and a binding thing. For my part, I
shall never forget from how many follies the title of Frenchman has
kept me. When, overcome with fatigue, I have found myself in the rear
of the colors, and when the musketry was rattling in the front ranks,
many a time I heard a voice, which whispered in my ear, 'Leave the
others to fight, and for today take care of your own hide!' But then,
that word Francais! murmured within me, and I pressed forward to help
my comrades. At other times, when, irritated by hunger, cold, and
wounds, I have arrived at the hovel of some Meinherr, I have been
seized by an itching to break the master's back, and to burn his hut;
but I whispered to myself, Francais! and this name would not rhyme
with either incendiary or murderer. I have, in this way, passed
through kingdoms from east to west, and from north to south, always
determined not to bring disgrace upon my country's flag. The
lieutenant, you see, had taught me a magic word—My country! Not only
must we defend it, but we must also make it great and loved."
October 17th.—To-day I have paid my neighbor a long visit. A
chance expression led the way to his telling me more of himself than
he had yet done.
I asked him whether both his limbs had been lost in the same
"No, no!" replied he; "the cannon only took my leg; it was the
Clamart quarries that my arm went to feed."
And when I asked him for the particulars—
"That's as easy as to say good-morning," continued he. "After the
great break-up at Waterloo, I stayed three months in the camp hospital
to give my wooden leg time to grow. As soon as I was able to hobble a
little, I took leave of headquarters, and took the road to Paris,
where I hoped to find some relative or friend; but no—all were gone,
or underground. I should have found myself less strange at Vienna,
Madrid, or Berlin. And although I had a leg the less to provide for, I
was none the better off; my appetite had come back, and my last sous
were taking flight.
"I had indeed met my old colonel, who recollected that I had helped
him out of the skirmish at Montereau by giving him my horse, and he
had offered me bed and board at his house. I knew that the year
before he had married a castle and no few farms, so that I might
become permanent coat-brusher to a millionaire, which was not without
its temptations. It remained to see if I had not anything better to
do. One evening I set myself to reflect upon it.
"'Let us see, Chaufour,' said I to myself; 'the question is to act
like a man. The colonel's place suits you, but cannot you do anything
better? Your body is still in good condition, and your arms strong; do
you not owe all your strength to your country, as your Vincennes uncle
said? Why not leave some old soldier, more cut up than you are, to
get his hospital at the colonel's? Come, trooper, you are still fit
for another stout charge or two! You must not lay up before your
"Whereupon I went to thank the colonel, and to offer my services to
an old artilleryman, who had gone back to his home at Clamart, and who
had taken up the quarryman's pick again.
"For the first few months I played the conscript's part—that is to
say, there was more stir than work; but with a good will one gets the
better of stones, as of everything else. I did not become, so to
speak, the leader of a column, but I brought up the rank among the
good workmen, and I ate my bread with a good appetite, seeing I had
earned it with a good will. For even underground, you see, I still
kept my pride. The thought that I was working to do my part in
changing rocks into houses pleased my heart. I said to myself,
'Courage, Chaufour, my old boy; you are helping to beautify your
country.' And that kept up my spirit.
"Unfortunately, some of my companions were rather too sensible to
the charms of the brandy-bottle; so much so, that one day one of them,
who could hardly distinguish his right hand from his left, thought
proper to strike a light close to a charged mine. The mine exploded
suddenly, and sent a shower of stone grape among us, which killed
three men, and carried away the arm of which I have now only the
"So you were again without means of living?" said I to the old
"That is to say, I had to change them," replied he, quietly. "The
difficulty was to find one which would do with five fingers instead of
ten; I found it, however."
"How was that?"
"Among the Paris street-sweepers."
"What! you have been one—"
"Of the pioneers of the health force for a while, neighbor, and
that was not my worst time either. The corps of sweepers is not so
low as it is dirty, I can tell you! There are old actresses in it who
could never learn to save their money, and ruined merchants from the
exchange; we even had a professor of classics, who for a little drink
would recite Latin to you, or Greek tragedies, as you chose. They
could not have competed for the Monthyon prize; but we excused faults
on account of poverty, and cheered our poverty by our good-humor and
jokes. I was as ragged and as cheerful as the rest, while trying to
be something better. Even in the mire of the gutter I preserved my
faith that nothing is dishonorable which is useful to our country.
"'Chaufour,' said I to myself with a smile, 'after the sword, the
hammer; after the hammer, the broom; you are going downstairs, my old
boy, but you are still serving your country.'"
"'However, you ended by leaving your new profession?' said I."
"A reform was required, neighbor. The street-sweepers seldom have
their feet dry, and the damp at last made the wounds in my good leg
open again. I could no longer follow the regiment, and it was
necessary to lay down my arms. It is now two months since I left off
working in the sanitary department of Paris.
"At the first moment I was daunted. Of my four limbs, I had now
only my right hand, and even that had lost its strength; so it was
necessary to find some gentlemanly occupation for it. After trying a
little of everything, I fell upon card-box making, and here I am at
cases for the lace and buttons of the national guard; it is work of
little profit, but it is within the capacity of all. By getting up at
four and working till eight, I earn sixty-five centimes; my lodging
and bowl of soup take fifty of them, and there are three sous over for
luxuries. So I am richer than France herself, for I have no deficit
in my budget; and I continue to serve her, as I save her lace and
At these words Father Chaufour looked at me with a smile, and with
his great scissors began cutting the green paper again for his
cardboard cases. My heart was touched, and I remained lost in
Here is still another member of that sacred phalanx who, in the
battle of life, always march in front for the example and the
salvation of the world! Each of these brave soldiers has his war-cry;
for this one it is "Country," for that "Home," for a third "Mankind;"
but they all follow the same standard—that of duty; for all the same
divine law reigns—that of self-sacrifice. To love something more
than one's self—that is the secret of all that is great; to know how
to live for others—that is the aim of all noble souls.
CHAPTER XI. MORAL USE OF INVENTORIES
November 13th, Nine O'clock P.M.
I had well stopped up the chinks of my window; my little carpet was
nailed down in its place; my lamp, provided with its shade, cast a
subdued light around, and my stove made a low, murmuring sound, as if
some live creature was sharing my hearth with me.
All was silent around me. But, out of doors the snow and rain
swept the roofs, and with a low, rushing sound ran along the gurgling
gutters; sometimes a gust of wind forced itself beneath the tiles,
which rattled together like castanets, and afterward it was lost in
the empty corridor. Then a slight and pleasurable shiver thrilled
through my veins: I drew the flaps of my old wadded dressing-gown
around me, I pulled my threadbare velvet cap over my eyes, and,
letting myself sink deeper into my easy-chair, while my feet basked in
the heat and light which shone through the door of the stove, I gave
myself up to a sensation of enjoyment, made more lively by the
consciousness of the storm which raged without. My eyes, swimming in
a sort of mist, wandered over all the details of my peaceful abode;
they passed from my prints to my bookcase, resting upon the little
chintz sofa, the white curtains of the iron bedstead, and the
portfolio of loose papers—those archives of the attics; and then,
returning to the book I held in my hand, they attempted to seize once
more the thread of the reading which had been thus interrupted.
In fact, this book, the subject of which had at first interested
me, had become painful to me. I had come to the conclusion that the
pictures of the writer were too sombre. His description of the
miseries of the world appeared exaggerated to me; I could not believe
in such excess of poverty and of suffering; neither God nor man could
show themselves so harsh toward the sons of Adam. The author had
yielded to an artistic temptation: he was making a show of the
sufferings of humanity, as Nero burned Rome for the sake of the
Taken altogether, this poor human house, so often repaired, so much
criticised, is still a pretty good abode; we may find enough in it to
satisfy our wants, if we know how to set bounds to them; the happiness
of the wise man costs but little, and asks but little space.
These consoling reflections became more and more confused. At last
my book fell on the ground without my having the resolution to stoop
and take it up again; and insensibly overcome by the luxury of the
silence, the subdued light, and the warmth, I fell asleep.
I remained for some time lost in the sort of insensibility
belonging to a first sleep; at last some vague and broken sensations
came over me. It seemed to me that the day grew darker, that the air
became colder. I half perceived bushes covered with the scarlet
berries which foretell the coming of winter. I walked on a dreary
road, bordered here and there with juniper-trees white with frost.
Then the scene suddenly changed. I was in the diligence; the cold
wind shook the doors and windows; the trees, loaded with snow, passed
by like ghosts; in vain I thrust my benumbed feet into the crushed
straw. At last the carriage stopped, and, by one of those stage
effects so common in sleep, I found myself alone in a barn, without a
fireplace, and open to the winds on all sides. I saw again my
mother's gentle face, known only to me in my early childhood, the
noble and stern countenance of my father, the little fair head of my
sister, who was taken from us at ten years old; all my dead family
lived again around me; they were there, exposed to the bitings of the
cold and to the pangs of hunger. My mother prayed by the resigned old
man, and my sister, rolled up on some rags of which they had made her
a bed, wept in silence, and held her naked feet in her little blue
It was a page from the book I had just read transferred into my own
My heart was oppressed with inexpressible anguish. Crouched in a
corner, with my eyes fixed upon this dismal picture, I felt the cold
slowly creeping upon me, and I said to myself with bitterness:
"Let us die, since poverty is a dungeon guarded by suspicion,
apathy, and contempt, and from which it is vain to try to escape; let
us die, since there is no place for us at the banquet of the living!"
And I tried to rise to join my mother again, and to wait at her
feet for the hour of release.
This effort dispelled my dream, and I awoke with a start.
I looked around me; my lamp was expiring, the fire in my stove
extinguished, and my half-opened door was letting in an icy wind. I
got up, with a shiver, to shut and double-lock it; then I made for the
alcove, and went to bed in haste.
But the cold kept me awake a long time, and my thoughts continued
the interrupted dream.
The pictures I had lately accused of exaggeration now seemed but a
too faithful representation of reality; and I went to sleep without
being able to recover my optimism—or my warmth.
Thus did a cold stove and a badly closed door alter my point of
view. All went well when my blood circulated properly; all looked
gloomy when the cold laid hold on me.
This reminds me of the story of the duchess who was obliged to pay
a visit to the neighboring convent on a winter's day. The convent was
poor, there was no wood, and the monks had nothing but their
discipline and the ardor of their prayers to keep out the cold. The
duchess, who was shivering with cold, returned home, greatly pitying
the poor monks. While the servants were taking off her cloak and
adding two more logs to her fire, she called her steward, whom she
ordered to send some wood to the convent immediately. She then had
her couch moved close to the fireside, the warmth of which soon
revived her. The recollection of what she had just suffered was
speedily lost in her present comfort, when the steward came in again
to ask how many loads of wood he was to send.
"Oh! you may wait," said the great lady carelessly; "the weather
is very much milder."
Thus, man's judgments are formed less from reason than from
sensation; and as sensation comes to him from the outward world, so he
finds himself more or less under its influence; by little and little
he imbibes a portion of his habits and feelings from it.
It is not, then, without cause that, when we wish to judge of a
stranger beforehand, we look for indications of his character in the
circumstances which surround him. The things among which we live are
necessarily made to take our image, and we unconsciously leave in them
a thousand impressions of our minds. As we can judge by an empty bed
of the height and attitude of him who has slept in it, so the abode of
every man discovers to a close observer the extent of his intelligence
and the feelings of his heart. Bernardin de St.-Pierre has related
the story of a young girl who refused a suitor because he would never
have flowers or domestic animals in his house. Perhaps the sentence
was severe, but not without reason. We may presume that a man
insensible to beauty and to humble affection must be ill prepared to
feel the enjoyments of a happy marriage.
14th, seven o'clock P.M.—This morning, as I was opening my journal
to write, I had a visit from our old cashier.
His sight is not so good as it was, his hand begins to shake, and
the work he was able to do formerly is now becoming somewhat laborious
to him. I had undertaken to write out some of his papers, and he came
for those I had finished.
We conversed a long time by the stove, while he was drinking a cup
of coffee which I made him take.
M. Rateau is a sensible man, who has observed much and speaks
little; so that he has always something to say.
While looking over the accounts I had prepared for him, his look
fell upon my journal, and I was obliged to acknowledge that in this
way I wrote a diary of my actions and thoughts every evening for
private use. From one thing to another, I began speaking to him of my
dream the day before, and my reflections about the influence of
outward objects upon our ordinary sentiments. He smiled.
"Ah! you, too, have my superstitions," he said, quietly. "I have
always believed, like you, that you may know the game by the lair: it
is only necessary to have tact and experience; but without them we
commit ourselves to many rash judgments. For my part. I have been
guilty of this more than once, but sometimes I have also drawn a right
conclusion. I recollect especially an adventure which goes as far back
as the first years of my youth—"
He stopped. I looked at him as if I waited for his story, and he
told it me at once.
At this time he was still but third clerk to an attorney at
Orleans. His master had sent him to Montargis on different affairs,
and he intended to return in the diligence the same evening, after
having received the amount of a bill at a neighboring town; but they
kept him at the debtor's house, and when he was able to set out the
day had already closed.
Fearing not to be able to reach Montargis in good time, he took a
crossroad they pointed out to him. Unfortunately the fog increased,
no star was visible in the heavens, and the darkness became so great
that he lost his road. He tried to retrace his steps, passed twenty
footpaths, and at last was completely astray.
After the vexation of losing his place in the diligence, came the
feeling of uneasiness as to his situation. He was alone, on foot,
lost in a forest, without any means of finding his right road again,
and with a considerable sum of money about him, for which he was
responsible. His anxiety was increased by his inexperience. The idea
of a forest was connected in his mind with so many adventures of
robbery and murder, that he expected some fatal encounter every
To say the truth, his situation was not encouraging. The place was
not considered safe, and for some time past there had been rumors of
the sudden disappearance of several horse-dealers, though there was no
trace of any crime having been committed.
Our young traveller, with his eyes staring forward, and his ears
listening, followed a footpath which he supposed might take him to
some house or road; but woods always succeeded to woods. At last he
perceived a light at a distance, and in a quarter of an hour he
reached the highroad.
A single house, the light from which had attracted him, appeared at
a little distance. He was going toward the entrance gate of the
courtyard, when the trot of a horse made him turn his head. A man on
horseback had just appeared at the turning of the road, and in an
instant was close to him.
The first words he addressed to the young man showed him to be the
farmer himself. He related how he had lost himself, and learned from
the countryman that he was on the road to Pithiviers. Montargis was
three leagues behind him.
The fog had insensibly changed into a drizzling rain, which was
beginning to wet the young clerk through; he seemed afraid of the
distance he had still to go, and the horseman, who saw his hesitation,
invited him to come into the farmhouse.
It had something of the look of a fortress. Surrounded by a pretty
high wall, it could not be seen except through the bars of the great
gate, which was carefully closed. The farmer, who had got off his
horse, did not go near it, but, turning to the right, reached another
entrance closed in the same way, but of which he had the key.
Hardly had he passed the threshold when a terrible barking
resounded from each end of the yard. The farmer told his guest to
fear nothing, and showed him the dogs chained up to their kennels;
both were of an extraordinary size, and so savage that the sight of
their master himself could not quiet them.
A boy, attracted by their barking, came out of the house and took
the farmer's horse. The latter began questioning him about some
orders he had given before he left the house, and went toward the
stable to see that they had been executed.
Thus left alone, our clerk looked about him.
A lantern which the boy had placed on the ground cast a dim light
over the courtyard. All around seemed empty and deserted. Not a
trace was visible of the disorder often seen in a country farmyard,
and which shows a temporary cessation of the work which is soon to be
resumed again. Neither a cart forgotten where the horses had been
unharnessed, nor sheaves of corn heaped up ready for threshing, nor a
plow overturned in a corner and half hidden under the freshly-cut
clover. The yard was swept, the barns shut up and padlocked. Not a
single vine creeping up the walls; everywhere stone, wood, and iron!
He took up the lantern and went up to the corner of the house.
Behind was a second yard, where he heard the barking of a third dog,
and a covered wall was built in the middle of it.
Our traveller looked in vain for the little farm garden, where
pumpkins of different sorts creep along the ground, or where the bees
from the hives hum under the hedges of honeysuckle and elder. Verdure
and flowers were nowhere to be seen. He did not even perceive the
sight of a poultry-yard or pigeon-house. The habitation of his host
was everywhere wanting in that which makes the grace and the life of
The young man thought that his host must be of a very careless or a
very calculating disposition, to concede so little to domestic
enjoyments and the pleasures of the eye; and judging, in spite of
himself, by what he saw, he could not help feeling a distrust of his
In the mean time the farmer returned from the stables, and made him
enter the house.
The inside of the farmhouse corresponded to its outside. The
whitewashed walls had no other ornament than a row of guns of all
sizes; the massive furniture hardly redeemed its clumsy appearance by
its great solidity. The cleanliness was doubtful, and the absence of
all minor conveniences proved that a woman's care was wanting in the
household concerns. The young clerk learned that the farmer, in fact,
lived here with no one but his two sons.
Of this, indeed, the signs were plain enough. A table with the
cloth laid, that no one had taken the trouble to clear away, was left
near the window. The plates and dishes were scattered upon it without
any order, and loaded with potato-parings and half-picked bones.
Several empty bottles emitted an odor of brandy, mixed with the
pungent smell of tobacco-smoke.
After seating his guest, the farmer lighted his pipe, and his two
sons resumed their work by the fireside. Now and then the silence was
just broken by a short remark, answered by a word or an exclamation;
and then all became as mute as before.
"From my childhood," said the old cashier, "I had been very
sensible to the impression of outward objects; later in life,
reflection had taught me to study the causes of these impressions
rather than to drive them away. I set myself, then, to examine
everything around me with great attention.
"Below the guns, I had remarked on entering, some wolftraps were
suspended, and to one of them still hung the mangled remains of a
wolf's paw, which they had not yet taken off from the iron teeth. The
blackened chimneypiece was ornamented by an owl and a raven nailed on
the wall, their wings extended, and their throats with a huge nail
through each; a fox's skin, freshly flayed, was spread before the
window; and a larder hook, fixed into the principal beam, held a
headless goose, whose body swayed about over our heads.
"My eyes were offended by all these details, and I turned them
again upon my hosts. The father, who sat opposite to me, only
interrupted his smoking to pour out his drink, or address some
reprimand to his sons. The eldest of these was scraping a deep bucket,
and the bloody scrapings, which he threw into the fire every instant,
filled the room with a disagreeable fetid smell; the second son was
sharpening some butcher's knives. I learned from a word dropped from
the father that they were preparing to kill a pig the next day.
"These occupations and the whole aspect of things inside the house
told of such habitual coarseness in their way of living as seemed to
explain, while it formed the fitting counterpart of, the forbidding
gloominess of the outside. My astonishment by degrees changed into
disgust, and my disgust into uneasiness. I cannot detail the whole
chain of ideas which succeeded one another in my imagination; but,
yielding to an impulse I could not overcome, I got up, declaring I
would go on my road again.
"The farmer made some effort to keep me; he spoke of the rain, of
the darkness, and of the length of the way. I replied to all by the
absolute necessity there was for my being at Montargis that very
night; and thanking him for his brief hospitality, I set off again in
a haste which might well have confirmed the truth of my words to him.
"However, the freshness of the night and the exercise of walking
did not fail to change the directions of my thoughts. When away from
the objects which had awakened such lively disgust in me, I felt it
gradually diminishing. I began to smile at the susceptibility of my
feelings, and then, in proportion as the rain became heavier and
colder, these strictures on myself assumed a tone of ill-temper. I
silently accused myself of the absurdity of mistaking sensation for
admonitions of my reason. After all, were not the farmer and his sons
free to live alone, to hunt, to keep dogs, and to kill a pig? Where
was the crime of it? With less nervous susceptibility, I should have
accepted the shelter they offered me, and I should now be sleeping
snugly on a truss of straw, instead of walking with difficulty through
the cold and drizzling rain. I thus continued to reproach myself,
until, toward morning, I arrived at Montargis, jaded and benumbed with
"When, however, I got up refreshed, toward the middle of the next
day, I instinctively returned to my first opinion. The appearance of
the farmhouse presented itself to me under the same repulsive colors
which the evening before had determined me to make my escape from it.
Reason itself remained silent when reviewing all those coarse
details, and was forced to recognize in them the indications of a low
nature, or else the presence of some baleful influence.
"I went away the next day without being able to learn anything
concerning the farmer or his sons; but the recollection of my
adventure remained deeply fixed in my memory.
"Ten years afterward I was travelling in the diligence through the
department of the Loiret; I was leaning from the window, and looking
at some coppice ground now for the first time brought under
cultivation, and the mode of clearing which one of my travelling
companions was explaining to me, when my eyes fell upon a walled
inclosure, with an iron-barred gate. Inside it I perceived a house
with all the blinds closed, and which I immediately recollected; it
was the farmhouse where I had been sheltered. I eagerly pointed it
out to my companion, and asked who lived in it.
"'Nobody just now,' replied he.
"'But was it not kept, some years ago, by a farmer and his two
"'The Turreaus;' said my travelling companion, looking at me; 'did
you know them?'
"'I saw them once.'
"He shook his head.
"'Yes, yes!' resumed he; 'for many years they lived there like
wolves in their den; they merely knew how to till land, kill game, and
drink. The father managed the house, but men living alone, without
women to love them, without children to soften them, and without God
to make them think of heaven, always turn into wild beasts, you see;
so one morning the eldest son, who had been drinking too much brandy,
would not harness the plow-horses; his father struck him with his
whip, and the son, who was mad drunk, shot him dead with his gun.'"
16th, P.M.—I have been thinking of the story of the old cashier
these two days; it came so opportunely upon the reflections my dream
had suggested to me.
Have I not an important lesson to learn from all this?
If our sensations have an incontestable influence upon our
judgments, how comes it that we are so little careful of those things
which awaken or modify these sensations? The external world is always
reflected in us as in a mirror, and fills our minds with pictures
which, unconsciously to ourselves, become the germs of our opinions
and of our rules of conduct. All the objects which surround us are
then, in reality, so many talismans whence good and evil influences
are emitted, and it is for us to choose them wisely, so as to create a
healthy atmosphere for our minds.
Feeling convinced of this truth, I set about making a survey of my
The first object on which my eyes rest is an old map of the history
of the principal monastery in my native province. I had unrolled it
with much satisfaction, and placed it on the most conspicuous part of
the wall. Why had I given it this place? Ought this sheet of old
worm-eaten parchment to be of so much value to me, who am neither an
antiquary nor a scholar? Is not its real importance in my sight that
one of the abbots who founded it bore my name, and that I shall,
perchance, be able to make myself a genealogical tree of it for the
edification of my visitors? While writing this, I feel my own blushes.
Come, down with the map! let us banish it into my deepest drawer.
As I passed my glass, I perceived several visiting cards
complacently displayed in the frame. By what chance is it that there
are only names that make a show among them? Here is a Polish count—a
retired colonel— the deputy of my department. Quick, quick, into the
fire with these proofs of vanity! and let us put this card in the
handwriting of our office-boy, this direction for cheap dinners, and
the receipt of the broker where I bought my last armchair, in their
place. These indications of my poverty will serve, as Montaigne says,
'mater ma superbe', and will always make me recollect the modesty in
which the dignity of the lowly consists.
I have stopped before the prints hanging upon the wall. This large
and smiling Pomona, seated on sheaves of corn, and whose basket is
overflowing with fruit, only produces thoughts of joy and plenty; I
was looking at her the other day, when I fell asleep denying such a
thing as misery. Let us give her as companion this picture of Winter,
in which everything tells of sorrow and suffering: one picture will
modify the other.
And this Happy Family of Greuze's! What joy in the children's
eyes! What sweet repose in the young woman's face! What religious
feeling in the grandfather's countenance! May God preserve their
happiness to them! but let us hang by its side the picture of this
mother, who weeps over an empty cradle. Human life has two faces,
both of which we must dare to contemplate in their turn.
Let me hide, too, these ridiculous monsters which ornament my
chimneypiece. Plato has said that "the beautiful is nothing else than
the visible form of the good." If it is so, the ugly should be the
visible form of the evil, and, by constantly beholding it, the mind
But above all, in order to cherish the feelings of kindness and
pity, let me hang at the foot of my bed this affecting picture of the
Last Sleep! Never have I been able to look at it without feeling my
An old woman, clothed in rags, is lying by a roadside; her stick is
at her feet, and her head rests upon a stone; she has fallen asleep;
her hands are clasped; murmuring a prayer of her childhood, she sleeps
her last sleep, she dreams her last dream!
She sees herself, again a strong and happy child, keeping the sheep
on the common, gathering the berries from the hedges, singing,
curtsying to passers-by, and making the sign of the cross when the
first star appears in the heavens! Happy time, filled with fragrance
and sunshine! She wants nothing yet, for she is ignorant of what
there is to wish for.
But see her grown up; the time is come for working bravely: she
must cut the corn, thresh the wheat, carry the bundles of flowering
clover or branches of withered leaves to the farm. If her toil is
hard, hope shines like a sun over everything and it wipes the drops of
sweat away. The growing girl already sees that life is a task, but she
still sings as she fulfills it.
By-and-bye the burden becomes heavier; she is a wife, she is a
mother! She must economize the bread of to-day, have her eye upon the
morrow, take care of the sick, and sustain the feeble; she must act,
in short, that part of an earthly Providence, so easy when God gives
us his aid, so hard when he forsakes us. She is still strong, but she
is anxious; she sings no longer!
Yet a few years, and all is overcast. The husband's health is
broken; his wife sees him pine away by the now fireless hearth; cold
and hunger finish what sickness had begun; he dies, and his widow sits
on the ground by the coffin provided by the charity of others,
pressing her two half- naked little ones in her arms. She dreads the
future, she weeps, and she droops her head.
At last the future has come; the children are grown up, but they
are no longer with her. Her son is fighting under his country's flag,
and his sister is gone. Both have been lost to her for a long
time—perhaps forever; and the strong girl, the brave wife, the
courageous mother, is henceforth only a poor old beggar-woman, without
a family, and without a home! She weeps no more, sorrow has subdued
her; she surrenders, and waits for death.
Death, that faithful friend of the wretched, is come: not hideous
and with mockery, as superstition represents, but beautiful, smiling,
and crowned with stars! The gentle phantom stoops to the beggar; its
pale lips murmur a few airy words, which announce to her the end of
her labors; a peaceful joy comes over the aged beggarwoman, and,
leaning on the shoulder of the great Deliverer, she has passed
unconsciously from her last earthly sleep to her eternal rest.
Lie there, thou poor way-wearied woman! The leaves will serve thee
for a winding-sheet. Night will shed her tears of dew over thee, and
the birds will sing sweetly by thy remains. Thy visit here below will
not have left more trace than their flight through the air; thy name
is already forgotten, and the only legacy thou hast to leave is the
hawthorn stick lying forgotten at thy feet!
Well! some one will take it up—some soldier of that great human
host which is scattered abroad by misery or by vice; for thou art not
an exception, thou art an instance; and under the same sun which
shines so pleasantly upon all, in the midst of these flowering
vineyards, this ripe corn, and these wealthy cities, entire
generations suffer, succeed each other, and still bequeath to each the
The sight of this sad picture shall make me more grateful for what
God has given me, and more compassionate for those whom he has treated
with less indulgence; it shall be a lesson and a subject for
reflection for me.
Ah! if we would watch for everything that might improve and
instruct us; if the arrangements of our daily life were so disposed as
to be a constant school for our minds! but oftenest we take no heed of
them. Man is an eternal mystery to himself; his own person is a house
into which he never enters, and of which he studies the outside alone.
Each of us need have continually before him the famous inscription
which once instructed Socrates, and which was engraved on the walls of
Delphi by an unknown hand:
CHAPTER XII. THE END OF THE YEAR
December 30th, P.M.
I was in bed, and hardly recovered from the delirious fever which
had kept me for so long between life and death. My weakened brain was
making efforts to recover its activity; my thoughts, like rays of
light struggling through the clouds, were still confused and
imperfect; at times I felt a return of the dizziness which made a
chaos of all my ideas, and I floated, so to speak, between alternate
fits of mental wandering and consciousness.
Sometimes everything seemed plain to me, like the prospect which,
from the top of some high mountain, opens before us in clear weather.
We distinguish water, woods, villages, cattle, even the cottage
perched on the edge of the ravine; then suddenly there comes a gust of
wind laden with mist, and all is confused and indistinct.
Thus, yielding to the oscillations of a half-recovered reason, I
allowed my mind to follow its various impulses without troubling
myself to separate the real from the imaginary; I glided softly from
one to the other, and my dreams and waking thoughts succeeded closely
upon one another.
Now, while my mind is wandering in this unsettled state, see,
underneath the clock which measures the hours with its loud ticking, a
female figure appears before me!
At first sight I saw enough to satisfy me that she was not a
daughter of Eve. In her eye was the last flash of an expiring star,
and her face had the pallor of an heroic death-struggle. She was
dressed in a drapery of a thousand changing colors of the brightest
and the most sombre hues, and held a withered garland in her hand.
After having contemplated her for some moments, I asked her name,
and what brought her into my attic. Her eyes, which were following
the movements of the clock, turned toward me, and she replied:
"You see in me the year which is just drawing to its end; I come to
receive your thanks and your farewell."
I raised myself on my elbow in surprise, which soon gave place to
"Ah! you want thanks," cried I; "but first let me know what for?
"When I welcomed your coming, I was still young and vigorous: you
have taken from me each day some little of my strength, and you have
ended by inflicting an illness upon me; already, thanks to you, my
blood is less warm, my muscles less firm, and my feet less agile than
before! You have planted the germs of infirmity in my bosom; there,
where the summer flowers of life were growing, you have wickedly sown
the nettles of old age!
"And, as if it were not enough to weaken my body, you have also
diminished the powers of my soul; you have extinguished her
enthusiasm; she is become more sluggish and more timid. Formerly her
eyes took in the whole of mankind in their generous survey; but you
have made her nearsighted, and now she hardly sees beyond herself!
"That is what you have done for my spiritual being: then as to my
outward existence, see to what grief, neglect, and misery you have
reduced it! "For the many days that the fever has kept me chained to
this bed, who has taken care of this home in which I placed all my
joy? Shall I not find my closets empty, my bookcase ,stripped, all my
poor treasures lost through negligence or dishonesty? Where are the
plants I cultivated, the birds I fed? All are gone! my attic is
despoiled, silent and solitary! "As it is only for the last few
moments that I have returned to a consciousness of what surrounds me,
I am even ignorant who has nursed me during my long illness!
Doubtless some hireling, who will leave when all my means of
recompense are exhausted ! "And what will my masters, for whom I am
bound to work, have said to my absence? At this time of the year,
when business is most pressing, can they have done without me, will
they even have tried to do so? Perhaps I am already superseded in the
humble situation by which I earned my daily bread! And it is
thou-thou alone, wicked daughter of Time—who hast brought all these
misfortunes upon me: strength, health, comfort, work—thou hast taken
all from me. I have only received outrage and loss from thee, and yet
thou darest to claim my gratitude!
"Ah! die then, since thy day is come; but die despised and cursed;
and may I write on thy tomb the epitaph the Arabian poet inscribed
upon that of a king:
"'Rejoice, thou passer-by: he whom we have buried here
cannot live again.'"
I was wakened by a hand taking mine; and opening my eyes, I
recognized the doctor.
After having felt my pulse, he nodded his head, sat down at the
foot of the bed, and looked at me, rubbing his nose with his snuffbox.
I have since learned that this was a sign of satisfaction with the
"Well! so we wanted old snub-nose to carry us off?" said M.
Lambert, in his half-joking, half-scolding way. "What the deuce of a
hurry we were in! It was necessary to hold you back with both arms at
"Then you had given me up, doctor?" asked I, rather alarmed.
"Not at all," replied the old physician. "We can't give up what we
have not got; and I make it a rule never to have any hope. We are but
instruments in the hands of Providence, and each of us should say,
with Ambroise Pare: 'I tend him, God cures him!"'
"May He be blessed then, as well as you," cried I; "and may my
health come back with the new year!"
M. Lambert shrugged his shoulders.
"Begin by asking yourself for it," resumed he, bluntly. "God has
given it you, and it is your own sense, and not chance, that must keep
it for you. One would think, to hear people talk, that sickness comes
upon us like the rain or the sunshine, without one having a word to
say in the matter. Before we complain of being ill we should prove
that we deserve to be well."
I was about to smile, but the doctor looked angry.
"Ah! you think that I am joking," resumed he, raising his voice;
"but tell me, then, which of us gives his health the same attention
that he gives to his business? Do you economize your strength as you
economize your money? Do you avoid excess and imprudence in the one
case with the same care as extravagance or foolish speculations in the
other? Do you keep as regular accounts of your mode of living as you
do of your income? Do you consider every evening what has been
wholesome or unwholesome for you, with the same care that you bring to
the examination of your expenditure? You may smile; but have you not
brought this illness on yourself by a thousand indiscretions?"
I began to protest against this, and asked him to point out these
indiscretions. The old doctor spread out his fingers, and began to
reckon upon them one by one.
"Primo," cried he, "want of exercise. You live here like a mouse
in a cheese, without air, motion, or change. Consequently, the blood
circulates badly, the fluids thicken, the muscles, being inactive, do
not claim their share of nutrition, the stomach flags, and the brain
"Secundo. Irregular food. Caprice is your cook; your stomach a
slave who must accept what you give it, but who presently takes a
sullen revenge, like all slaves.
"Tertio. Sitting up late. Instead of using the night for sleep,
you spend it in reading; your bedstead is a bookcase, your pillows a
desk! At the time when the wearied brain asks for rest, you lead it
through these nocturnal orgies, and you are surprised to find it the
worse for them the next day.
"Quarto. Luxurious habits. Shut up in your attic, you insensibly
surround yourself with a thousand effeminate indulgences. You must
have list for your door, a blind for your window, a carpet for your
feet, an easy-chair stuffed with wool for your back, your fire lit at
the first sign of cold, and a shade to your lamp; and thanks to all
these precautions, the least draught makes you catch cold, common
chairs give you no rest, and you must wear spectacles to support the
light of day. You have thought you were acquiring comforts, and you
have only contracted infirmities.
"Ah! enough, enough, doctor!" cried I. "Pray, do not carry your
examination farther; do not attach a sense of remorse to each of my
The old doctor rubbed his nose with his snuffbox.
"You see," said he, more gently, and rising at the same time, "you
would escape from the truth. You shrink from inquiry—a proof that
you are guilty. 'Habemus confitentem reum'! But at least, my friend,
do not go on laying the blame on Time, like an old woman."
Thereupon he again felt my pulse, and took his leave, declaring
that his function was at an end, and that the rest depended upon
When the doctor was gone, I set about reflecting upon what he had
Although his words were too sweeping, they were not the less true
in the main. How often we accuse chance of an illness, the origin of
which we should seek in ourselves! Perhaps it would have been wiser
to let him finish the examination he had begun.
But is there not another of more importance—that which concerns
the health of the soul? Am I so sure of having neglected no means of
preserving that during the year which is now ending? Have I, as one
of God's soldiers upon earth, kept my courage and my arms efficient?
Shall I be ready for the great review of souls which must pass before
Him WHO IS in the dark valley of Jehoshaphat?
Darest thou examine thyself, O my soul! and see how often thou
First, thou hast erred through pride! for I have not duly valued
the lowly. I have drunk too deeply of the intoxicating wines of
genius, and have found no relish in pure water. I have disdained
those words which had no other beauty than their sincerity; I have
ceased to love men solely because they are men—I have loved them for
their endowments; I have contracted the world within the narrow
compass of a pantheon, and my sympathy has been awakened by admiration
only. The vulgar crowd, which I ought to have followed with a
friendly eye because it is composed of my brothers in hope or grief, I
have let pass by with as much indifference as if it were a flock of
sheep. I am indignant with him who rolls in riches and despises the
man poor in worldly wealth; and yet, vain of my trifling knowledge, I
despise him who is poor in mind—I scorn the poverty of intellect as
others do that of dress; I take credit for a gift which I did not
bestow on myself, and turn the favor of fortune into a weapon with
which to attack others.
Ah! if, in the worst days of revolutions, ignorance has revolted
and raised a cry of hatred against genius, the fault is not alone in
the envious malice of ignorance, but comes in part, too, from the
contemptuous pride of knowledge.
Alas! I have too completely forgotten the fable of the two sons of
the magician of Bagdad.
One of them, struck by an irrevocable decree of destiny, was born
blind, while the other enjoyed all the delights of sight. The latter,
proud of his own advantages, laughed at his brother's blindness, and
disdained him as a companion. One morning the blind boy wished to go
out with him.
"To what purpose," said he, "since the gods have put nothing in
common between us? For me creation is a stage, where a thousand
charming scenes and wonderful actors appear in succession; for you it
is only an obscure abyss, at the bottom of which you hear the confused
murmur of an invisible world. Continue then alone in your darkness,
and leave the pleasures of light to those upon whom the day-star
With these words he went away, and his brother, left alone, began
to cry bitterly. His father, who heard him, immediately ran to him,
and tried to console him by promising to give him whatever he desired.
"Can you give me sight?" asked the child.
"Fate does not permit it," said the magician.
"Then," cried the blind boy, eagerly, "I ask you to put out the
Who knows whether my pride has not provoked the same wish on the
part of some one of my brothers who does not see?
But how much oftener have I erred through levity and want of
thought! How many resolutions have I taken at random! how many
judgments have I pronounced for the sake of a witticism! how many
mischiefs have I not done without any sense of my responsibility! The
greater part of men harm one another for the sake of doing something.
We laugh at the honor of one, and compromise the reputation of
another, like an idle man who saunters along a hedgerow, breaking the
young branches and destroying the most beautiful flowers.
And, nevertheless, it is by this very thoughtlessness that the fame
of some men is created. It rises gradually, like one of those
mysterious mounds in barbarous countries, to which a stone is added by
every passerby; each one brings something at random, and adds it as he
passes, without being able himself to see whether he is raising a
pedestal or a gibbet. Who will dare look behind him, to see his rash
judgments held up there to view?
Some time ago I was walking along the edge of the green mound on
which the Montmartre telegraph stands. Below me, along one of the
zigzag paths which wind up the hill, a man and a girl were coming up,
and arrested my attention. The man wore a shaggy coat, which gave him
some resemblance to a wild beast; and he held a thick stick in his
hand, with which he described various strange figures in the air. He
spoke very loud, and in a voice which seemed to me convulsed with
passion. He raised his eyes every now and then with an expression of
savage harshness, and it appeared to me that he was reproaching and
threatening the girl, and that she was listening to him with a
submissiveness which touched my heart. Two or three times she ventured
a few words, doubtless in the attempt to justify herself; but the man
in the greatcoat began again immediately with his loud and angry
voice, his savage looks, and his threatening evolutions in the air. I
followed him with my eyes, vainly endeavoring to catch a word as he
passed, until he disappeared behind the hill.
I had evidently just seen one of those domestic tyrants whose
sullen tempers are excited by the patience of their victims, and who,
though they have the power to become the beneficent gods of a family,
choose rather to be their tormentors.
I cursed the unknown savage in my heart, and I felt indignant that
these crimes against the sacred peace of home could not be punished as
they deserve, when I heard his voice approaching nearer. He had
turned the path, and soon appeared before me at the top of the slope.
The first glance, and his first words, explained everything to me:
in place of what I had taken for the furious tones and terrible looks
of an angry man, and the attitude of a frightened victim, I had before
me only an honest citizen, who squinted and stuttered, but who was
explaining the management of silkworms to his attentive daughter.
I turned homeward, smiling at my mistake; but before I reached my
faubourg I saw a crowd running, I heard calls for help, and every
finger pointed in the same direction to a distant column of flame. A
manufactory had taken fire, and everybody was rushing forward to
assist in extinguishing it.
I hesitated. Night was coming on; I felt tired; a favorite book
was awaiting me; I thought there would be no want of help, and I went
on my way.
Just before I had erred from want of consideration; now it was from
selfishness and cowardice.
But what! have I not on a thousand other occasions forgotten the
duties which bind us to our fellowmen? Is this the first time I have
avoided paying society what I owe it? Have I not always behaved to my
companions with injustice, and like the lion? Have I not claimed
successively every share? If any one is so ill-advised as to ask me
to return some little portion, I get provoked, I am angry, I try to
escape from it by every means. How many times, when I have perceived
a beggar sitting huddled up at the end of the street, have I not gone
out of my way, for fear that compassion would impoverish me by forcing
me to be charitable! How often have I doubted the misfortunes of
others, that I might with justice harden my heart against them.
With what satisfaction have I sometimes verified the vices of the
poor man, in order to show that his misery is the punishment he
Oh! let us not go farther—let us not go farther! I interrupted
the doctor's examination, but how much sadder is this one! We pity
the diseases of the body; we shudder at those of the soul.
I was happily disturbed in my reverie by my neighbor, the old
Now I think of it, I seem always to have seen, during my fever, the
figure of this good old man, sometimes leaning against my bed, and
sometimes sitting at his table, surrounded by his sheets of
He has just come in with his glue-pot, his quire of green paper,
and his great scissors. I called him by his name; he uttered a joyful
exclamation, and came near me.
"Well! so the bullet is found again!" cried he, taking my two
hands into the maimed one which was left him; "it has not been without
trouble, I can tell you; the campaign has been long enough to win two
clasps in. I have seen no few fellows with the fever batter windmills
during my hospital days: at Leipsic, I had a neighbor who fancied a
chimney was on fire in his stomach, and who was always calling for the
fire-engines; but the third day it all went out of itself. But with
you it has lasted twenty-eight days—as long as one of the Little
"I am not mistaken then; you were near me?"
"Well! I had only to cross the passage. This left hand has not
made you a bad nurse for want of the right; but, bah! you did not
know what hand gave you drink, and it did not prevent that beggar of a
fever from being drowned—for all the world like Poniatowski in the
The old soldier began to laugh, and I, feeling too much affected to
speak, pressed his hand against my breast. He saw my emotion, and
hastened to put an end to it.
"By-the-bye, you know that from to-day you have a right to draw
your rations again," resumed he gayly; "four meals, like the German
meinherrs —nothing more! The doctor is your house steward."
"We must find the cook, too," replied I, with a smile.
"She is found," said the veteran.
"Who is she?"
"While I am talking she is cooking for you, neighbor; and do not
fear her sparing either butter or trouble. As long as life and death
were fighting for you, the honest woman passed her time in going up
and down stairs to learn which way the battle went. And, stay, I am
sure this is she."
In fact we heard steps in the passage, and he went to open the
"Oh, well!" continued he, "it is Mother Millot, our portress,
another of your good friends, neighbor, and whose poultices I
recommend to you. Come in, Mother Millot—come in; we are quite bonny
boys this morning, and ready to step a minuet if we had our
The portress came in, quite delighted. She brought my linen,
washed and mended by herself, with a little bottle of Spanish wine,
the gift of her sailor son, and kept for great occasions. I would
have thanked her, but the good woman imposed silence upon me, under
the pretext that the doctor had forbidden me to speak. I saw her
arrange everything in my drawers, the neat appearance of which struck
me; an attentive hand had evidently been there, and day by day put
straight the unavoidable disorder consequent on sickness.
As she finished, Genevieve arrived with my dinner; she was followed
by Mother Denis, the milk-woman over the way, who had learned, at the
same time, the danger I had been in, and that I was now beginning to
be convalescent. The good Savoyard brought me a new-laid egg, which
she herself wished to see me eat.
It was necessary to relate minutely all my illness to her. At
every detail she uttered loud exclamations; then, when the portress
warned her to be less noisy, she excused herself in a whisper. They
made a circle around me to see me eat my dinner; each mouthful I took
was accompanied by their expressions of satisfaction and thankfulness.
Never had the King of France, when he dined in public, excited such
admiration among the spectators.
As they were taking the dinner away, my colleague, the old cashier,
entered in his turn.
I could not prevent my heart beating as I recognized him. How
would the heads of the firm look upon my absence, and what did he come
to tell me?
I waited with inexpressible anxiety for him to speak; but he sat
down by me, took my hand, and began rejoicing over my recovery,
without saying a word about our masters. I could not endure this
uncertainty any longer.
"And the Messieurs Durmer," asked I, hesitatingly, "how have they
taken— the interruption to my work?"
"There has been no interruption," replied the old clerk, quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"Each one in the office took a share of your duty; all has gone on
as usual, and the Messieurs Durmer have perceived no difference."
This was too much. After so many instances of affection, this
filled up the measure. I could not restrain my tears.
Thus the few services I had been able to do for others had been
acknowledged by them a hundredfold! I had sown a little seed, and
every grain had fallen on good ground, and brought forth a whole
sheaf. Ah! this completes the lesson the doctor gave me. If it is
true that the diseases, whether of the mind or body, are the fruit of
our follies and our vices, sympathy and affection are also the rewards
of our having done our duty. Every one of us, with God's help, and
within the narrow limits of human capability, himself makes his own
disposition, character, and permanent condition.
Everybody is gone; the old soldier has brought me back my flowers
and my birds, and they are my only companions. The setting sun
reddens my half- closed curtains with its last rays. My brain is
clear, and my heart lighter. A thin mist floats before my eyes, and I
feel myself in that happy state which precedes a refreshing sleep.
Yonder, opposite the bed, the pale goddess in her drapery of a
thousand changing colors, and with her withered garland, again appears
before me; but this time I hold out my hand to her with a grateful
"Adieu, beloved year! whom I but now unjustly accused. That which
I have suffered must not be laid to thee; for thou wast but a tract
through which God had marked out my road—a ground where I had reaped
the harvest I had sown. I will love thee, thou wayside shelter, for
those hours of happiness thou hast seen me enjoy; I will love thee
even for the suffering thou hast seen me endure. Neither happiness
nor suffering came from thee; but thou hast been the scene for them.
Descend again then, in peace, into eternity, and be blest, thou who
hast left me experience in the place of youth, sweet memories instead
of past time, and gratitude as payment for good offices."