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Modern Huguenots by James M. Bruce

1876

It demands a good deal of energy, and it involves a little hardship, to see the Protestant communities of the High Alps of France, but the picturesque and historic interests of the journey furnish a sufficient motive and make ample amends. I can think of no route so entirely unhackneyed to recommend to blasé tourists. The point of departure is Grenoble, reached in an hour or so from Chambéry, and in itself well worth turning aside from the Mont Cenis thoroughfare to visit. As far as Corps the way lies over the beaten track of the Salette pilgrims, of which the charms are recorded in many a devout description.

It happened to us, however, to get a preliminary glimpse of French Protestantism in a characteristic, although wholly modern, development before leaving Grenoble. We applied to the Protestant clergyman there for information respecting the details of our proposed tour. Pleased with our project, he told us the story of a mission which he had established under circumstances altogether unique, and invited us to join him in paying it a visit. The scene of his enterprise was a sunny little village lying high among vineyarded hills, and bearing the name of Notre Dame des Commiers. Owing to its remoteness and insignificance, the Roman Catholic authorities had never replaced its last priest, who withdrew during the turmoils of the Revolution. For all their ecclesiastical needs the people were obliged to descend to the next village, the curé of which gave them little pastoral care beyond the thrifty collection of his dues. Learning these facts, our Grenoble friend determined to take advantage of the situation. He presented himself in the village and told the people he was willing to become their pastor. He only asked them to acknowledge the validity of baptism and marriage performed by him, and to pledge him their support in the struggle with the priests that would probably ensue. Later, he said, he hoped to convince them that he taught a better religion than that at the hands of whose ministers they had suffered such neglect. A majority of the villagers accepted his proposal, and by a formal act constituted themselves a Protestant commune. By so doing they were able to secure recognition by the government as belonging to the National Protestant Church of France. It was not long before the parishioners grew warmly attached to their new pastor. His position of assistant at Grenoble enabled him to assume the sole charge of the enterprise. Week after week he made the tedious stage-coach journey, walking up the two-mile hill at the foot of which he had to quit the highway. Often in winter he toiled for hours through deep snow and faced violent storms in making the ascent. In the worst weather it sometimes happened that the whole journey from Grenoble had to be made on foot. For two years he carried on the work unaided, holding his services in such rude quarters as he was able to secure. The village is now, after an interval of seven years since the missionary's first visit, adorned with a pretty chapel and school-house and provided with a resident minister.

In talking with the people we found abundant proof that their Protestant faith is both intelligent and practical. Such of them as were not busy in the fields surrounded their old pastor with greetings that touchingly expressed their affection and gratitude, and we, as his friends, had a share in the demonstration. One stalwart, clear-eyed old woman obliged us to sit down in front of her chalet, cheerfully explaining that she had just been burned out, and that the shed in which she had found a shelter was not fit for us to enter. She would take no refusal of her offer to fetch us grapes, and ran all the way to and from her vineyard on the opposite hillside, returning in an incredibly short time, scarcely out of breath, and carrying a basket heavy with great white and purple clusters. As she stood watching with delight our appreciation of her produce—the only sweet and luscious grapes, by the way, that we found throughout the autumn in that land of vines—she talked frankly of her religious vicissitudes, summing up as follows: "The priests used to say to me that I had turned Protestant because that is an easier religion than the Roman Catholic. But I have not found it so at all. Il est beaucoup plus facile de me confesser que de me corriger." Presently another woman came up the hill, bending painfully under the weight of two water-pails hanging from the ends of a yoke that rested on her shoulders. "Ah," said our hostess, "if they would but let us build the aqueduct, we should not have that ugly work to do." And then we learned that among the small minority of Roman Catholics left in the village, to care for whom, as soon as it was found a wolf had entered the fold, a priest arrived promptly enough, there prevail the wildest superstitions concerning the Protestants. Among many improvements introduced by the latter an aqueduct had been planned to furnish the hamlet with wholesome water. The project was defeated by the opposition of the Roman Catholics, who considered it a scheme for poisoning them en masse. It was here that we heard for the first time the epithet Huguenots applied as a term of reproach and derision to the Protestants. Afterward, in regions where Protestants have a history of centuries, we found it commonly used in the same way.

Our visit to Notre Dame des Commiers was like reading a living page of early Reformation history, and the whole neighborhood made a fitting stage for such a reproduction. Some six or seven miles from Grenoble we passed the restored but still, in parts at least, historic château of Lesdiguières at Vizille. Nearer our mountain-village we stopped to admire an ivy-covered bit of tower-ruin, associated by a grim tradition with the same Dauphiné hero. A prisoner confined here by the apostate constable had, says the legend, a lady true who came every night and clasped her lover's hand stretched out to her between the bars of his dungeon window. Lesdiguières discovered the rendezvous, and the spot is still pointed out where his soldier was stationed one fatal night to chop off the hand that sought its accustomed pledge. The historical associations of our excursion were, indeed, somewhat confused, but a fresh feature was added to its interest by the departure, which we chanced to witness, of Monsieur Thiers from the Château de Vizille, now occupied by Casimir Perier, whom the ex-president had been visiting.

The two days' diligence journey from Grenoble to the département des Hautes-Alpes was over one of those broad macadamized highways which make driving a luxury in many parts of Europe. If we were more huddled than in the less-antiquated Swiss diligences, we had the compensation of far more original fellow-travelers than one is apt to find among the tourists that monopolize those vehicles. There were generally two or three priests, half a dozen merry peasants, and a sprinkling of small officers and country-townspeople, who respectively lost no time in establishing a pleasant intimacy with their neighbors. The unflagging chatter, in which all joined vivaciously, and often all at once, was in striking contrast with the silent gloom which would have enshrouded a similar party of English or American travelers. It was impossible to resist the contagion of cheerfulness or to refuse to mingle more or less in the talk.

On the second evening, having trusted to the map and the very meagre information supplied by Murray, we found ourselves deposited at an isolated wayside cabaret. It presently transpired that St. Bonnet, where we expected to pass the Sunday, was some half mile or more off the high-road on which this was the nearest station. While we waited in a long, low, dimly-lighted room for the guide we had bespoken, two gendarmes and a peasant sat listening to, or rather looking at, a vivid account of some shooting adventure given in extraordinary pantomime by a deaf and dumb huntsman. In time a withered gnome trundling a wheelbarrow took possession of us and our light belongings, and led us forth into the night. We traversed the valley, mounted the hill on the other side, and at last entered the deeper night of a lampless village, and began to thread its steep, black streets. The only gleam of light was at what seemed to be the central fountain. Many women were gathered there, chatting as they filled their pails or stood with the replenished vessels poised on their heads. The inn was of a piece with all those at which we lodged in Dauphiné, deficient in everything for which an inn exists. The feature of these inns which I remember, I think, with the least relish was the condition of the floors. It is literally true that they are never washed. A daily sprinkling is the only cleansing process they undergo: its effect is to soften the wood until it begins to absorb a large proportion of the rubbish which is often but never thoroughly swept up, and grows black and evil-odored. This result is most manifest, of course, and most offensive in the dining-rooms.

St. Bonnet offered even less than we anticipated of interest. On the Sunday morning we gladly drove away in such an equipage as the place afforded to the not very distant village of St. Laurent en Champsaur. Here we reached our first point in what was fifty years ago the parish of Felix Neff, and has been for centuries a refuge of Protestantism. It is a hamlet of stone cottages, lying on a kind of plateau and overlooking a wide and fertile valley. The surrounding hills, though mostly bare, were broken and beautified on that still autumn morning with dim clefts of shadow. The sun was not yet high, and broad masses of purple fell here and there across the plain and the brawling stream that divides it, still the Drac, which we had seen an almost stately river near Grenoble.

Having already learned something of the local habits, we bade our driver take us to the temple. That is the distinctive name of a Protestant church in these Roman Catholic lands. The morning service was in progress when we entered the square and austere little chapel. Every pew was occupied, the men and women taking different sides of the one stone-paved aisle. A gentle-looking old man was reading from a book with much clearness and expression, and in a singularly pleasant voice, what we soon found to be an excellent sermon. At its close a quaint, slow hymn was sung, and the congregation was dismissed. To our amusement, the simple folk formed a double line outside the door to inspect us as we emerged. It was easy to imagine their interest in an apparition so unusual as foreign visitors, and we submitted to their curious but entirely respectful scrutiny, wishing that our aspect might give them half the satisfaction we had in watching their eager faces and noting their droll costumes. Ludicrously high stocks and "swallow-tail" coats of brown homespun made the dress of the men different from that of corresponding rustics in America. The chief peculiarity in the women's attire was a straw hat, of which the towering crown, decked with huge bows, and the vast flapping brim, were like an extravagant caricature of the poke-bonnets of our grandmothers.

As we stood demurely in the midst of the group, the old man who had read, and who proved to be the schoolmaster, hastened out to greet us. It was his habit, he said, in the pastor's absence, to conduct the service. For more than thirty years, although the parish had repeatedly been for months without a minister, he had not allowed the temple to remain closed a single Sunday. His wife appeared directly, and both insisted, with apologies for their peasant fare, that we should stop to dinner at their house, a few yards from the church. We were in truth nothing loath to accept the invitation, and found little to excuse in the savory soup, the fresh-laid eggs and the fruit that composed the simple feast, while we were scarcely less regaled with the neatness of the rooms and the spectacle of well-washed floors and spotless though coarsely-woven linen. But most of all to be enjoyed and remembered was the peep we got into this good old man's life and history. From his youth he had been schoolmaster at St. Laurent, and it seemed never to have occurred to him that he might claim a more distinguished post. Unconscious of any special self-sacrifice, he told us about his work, heroic through its quiet faithfulness, in that obscure hamlet. He enumerated with pride the various pastors and teachers who had been his scholars—among the former his eldest son, among the latter two of his daughters. Listening to his talk, we understood the intelligence of expression in many faces and the large proportion of young men at the service of the morning.

In our walks about the village after dinner the schoolmaster took us to see an ancient woman who in her youth had been a catechumen of Felix Neff. It is curious to find that term, which was applied by the early Church to candidates for admission, in use now among the Protestants of France and Italy. With tears in her eyes and an enthusiasm that made her speech almost incoherent, the grandame talked of "Monsieur Neff," his courage, his friendliness, how he went among his people like one of themselves, and what good words he always spoke. As we left St. Laurent our host and his wife bore us company to the brow of a little hill whither we had sent on our chaise, and stood there to wave us an adieu as we descended on the other side. Then we saw them turn back toward the group of thatched and moss-grown cottages which was all their world.

That evening we reached Gap, the capital of the department of the High Alps, and once an important Protestant centre. Farel, the French Reformer of the sixteenth century, was born and for a time preached here. But since the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes until very lately—during a period, that is, of nearly two hundred years—no Protestant pastor has been tolerated in the town, and the once numerous flock was long since dispersed. A Swiss society undertook two or three years ago a Protestant mission at Gap, and a friend in Geneva had given us the name of the present evangelist. A humbler or more thankless charge could scarcely be imagined than such a work in such a place. There is no nucleus of hereditary Protestants, as in the mountain-parishes of the department, and at the same time the little city is so isolated that its people have retained the superstitions and religious animosities of the Dark Ages. It was therefore with much compassionate thought of his pitiful case that we sought the evangelist's house. He was not, however, a man toward whom one could maintain for a moment that frame of mind. Brisk, cheerful, polished in manner and with an unsought elegance of dress and carriage, he had not in the least the air of a despised heretic struggling hopelessly against social as well as ecclesiastical contempt. Six avowed converts were the definite results of his work for more than two years. During much of that time he had been hampered by insuperable difficulties in finding a place for his service or even a lodging for his family. The latter was at last provided, as a daring defiance of popular prejudice, by a landlord who prided himself upon being a libre penseur. For his chapel he secured a disused shop in the front of a bath-house. The proprietress of the establishment was punished by the priests for her unrighteous thrift by being refused the sacrament. Her business, too, was for a while endangered. One instance out of many of the kind of prejudice she provoked was that of two wealthy and educated ladies, who, as they entered the bath one day, heard music in the chapelle évangélique and instantly beat a hurried retreat. They only stopped to explain that all the world knows the object of Protestant worship is the devil, and they dare not stay within hearing of the sacrilegious rites. In spite of multiform discouragements like these, the evangelist and his wife, a motherly woman of much quiet strength, whose gentleness made sweet a very homely face, talked of their work and prospects with a matter-of-course hopefulness which it was not easy to share. Nothing in their habits, they told us, had more amazed their Roman Catholic neighbors at first than their lavish use of water. But in that particular, at least, suspicion had been allayed, their perseverance had proved the practice harmless, and their example was beginning to find a few timid imitators.

Our first night after leaving Gap was spent at Embrun. As we approached the town, which surmounts an extraordinary platform of rock, its walls looking like part of the smooth, brown tufa precipice that rises abruptly out of the valley, we seemed to see in its picturesque and impressive aspect something of the grandeur and gloom of its long history. The cathedral where so many archbishops have ministered preserves little trace of its former splendors: even architecturally it is without attraction.

For the next two days our route continued to lie through the valley, which we entered upon leaving Gap, of the Durance. It is an apparently insignificant but treacherous stream, which by repeated floods has spread ugly devastation over a hill-girdled country that ought to be smiling with peace and plenty. At Guillestre we came in sight of the jagged double peak of Mont Pelvoux, and got a magnificent vista toward the south, ending in the white slopes of some giant of the Cottian Alps. The Mont Pelvoux and the Pointe des Écrins, the greatest of those mountains from which the department takes its name, although they appear on none of the ordinary maps, stand, I believe, only twelfth and thirteenth in the scale of height among the mountains of Europe. The explorations of Whymper have introduced them to his readers, but they still remain almost untrodden by other climbers.

On the second afternoon we reached the lateral valley of Fressinière, the climax of our journey. There was refreshment for soul as well as body in the daintily-clean, bare-floored rooms, redolent of apples set out to dry, into which we were welcomed by Pastor Charpiot and his wife at Pallons. The village is a mere group of Alpine huts, and the only chance of shelter was at the presbytery. So much we had little doubt of finding there, but we counted as little upon the warm and graceful hospitality which greeted our application. And when our nationality transpired it added new zest to the good-will of our host and hostess. We were their first Transatlantic guests.

The valley of Fressinière, at the entrance of which Pallons lies, is the centre of those special interests which first prompted the pilgrimage I am recording. With it are specially associated the earliest traditions of Protestantism in France, and here Felix Neff spent the larger part of his brief but memorable career as pastor in the High Alps. I suppose the exact antiquity of the Protestants of Dauphiné is one of the historical problems that still await their final solution. The older chronicles provide them with what seems an unbroken line of descent from the second century, when Irenæus preached in Lyons and Vienne. Christian fugitives from those cities during the persecution of Marcus Aurelius may, it is alleged, have taken refuge in the not distant Dauphiné mountains, and have transmitted to their descendants the primitive faith they had received. But modern criticism has so seriously undermined, as practically to have demolished, this imposing genealogical structure. It is not denied that voices of more or less emphatic protest against Rome made themselves heard among these mountains and the neighboring Cottian Alps during the earlier centuries. Can such voices be held to represent any definitely-organized dissentient body of more remote origin than the Poor Men of Lyons, led by Peter Waldo in 1172? The latest researches give an apparently final negative answer to this question. At least, however, it is beyond dispute that long before the Reformation the valleys of the High Alps were a retreat for persecuted schismatics whose opposition to the Romish Church anticipated Protestantism. As early as the fifteenth century a papal bull denounced as inveterate the heretics of Dauphiné and Provence, and about the middle of the next century delegates from those provinces appeared at the first national Protestant synod in France with the following declaration: "We consent to merge in the common cause, but we require no Reformation, for our forefathers and ourselves have ever disclaimed the corruptions of the churches in communion with Rome." Enough is therefore certain as to the antecedents of these Protestant mountaineers to surround them with an entirely peculiar interest. The saddest feature, perhaps, of all their history is the stunting of mind and character that has resulted from centuries of oppression. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes they were subject to fresh persecution, and until within the present century they have been denied the privileges of citizenship and forced to look upon themselves as outcasts. One can only wonder at the degree of individuality and force which they have still preserved.

Felix Neff, while still a proposant, or candidate for the ministry, at Geneva, was sent to Dauphiné in response to the appeal of two pastors there for an assistant. Two years later, at the beginning of 1824, in the twenty-sixth year of his age, he became pastor of the Protestant churches in the Arvieux section of the High Alps. This was the larger and by far the more arduous of the two parishes into which the department was at that time divided. In seventeen or eighteen widely-scattered villages Neff found the little groups of "Huguenots" which composed his charge. His official residence, the presbytery, was at La Chalp, a hamlet above the village of Arvieux and near the border of Italy. From this point to St. Laurent, the western limit of his parish, is a journey of sixty miles, including the passage of a dangerous gorge and the crossing of a difficult snow-pass. St. Véran on the east was the least remote of his boundaries, but even this is separated from La Chalp by twelve miles of steep descent and rough climbing. On the north and the south the extreme points were distant respectively thirty-three and twenty-miles, and the routes are of the same character as in the other directions.

These disadvantages, instead of daunting the young pastor, seemed only to stimulate his ardor. "I am always dreaming of the High Alps," he had written in 1823, after visiting them for the first time. "I had rather be stationed there than in places which are under the beautiful sky of Languedoc. The country bears a strong resemblance to the Alps of Switzerland. It has their advantages, and even their beauties. It has, above all, an energetic race of people—intelligent, active, hardy and patient under fatigue—who offer a better soil for the gospel than the wealthy and corrupt inhabitants of the plains of the South." The illusions that mingled with these early impressions were doubtless soon dispelled. He shows later a perfectly clear perception of the degenerate condition of his parishioners, but his eagerness to serve them waxes with his sense of their need. Neff was in modern times their first regularly-appointed pastor. A son of Oberlin, whose short but devoted life shows him to have inherited his father's spirit, had once undertaken the provisional charge of the parish, but only for a few months. In general, it had had no ministry beyond occasional visits from the pastor of Orpierre, the other section of the department.

The valley of Fressinière at once attracted Neff's peculiar regard. It was the part of his parish most difficult of access and most cut off from any chance of material prosperity. The climate is such that in unfavorable seasons even rye will not ripen, and the patches of potatoes straggling forlornly among the rocks often fail to reach maturity. No other grain or vegetable can be raised. Mould quickly attacks the flour in this mountain-air, and the year's baking is accordingly done in the autumn as soon as the rye comes back from the mill. The coarse black loaves grow perfectly hard in a few weeks, and have to be chopped into pieces and soaked in hot water before they can be eaten. It is only at the head of the valley, above the hamlet of Dourmillouse, that any pastures are found, and many of those are inaccessible to cattle and scarcely safe for sheep. They are besides so meagre that in dry summers no hay can be made, and the peasants are forced to sell their beasts at a loss or else see them die for want of food. The addition of a little salted meat to the half-grown potatoes and the stony bread is a luxury of only the most prosperous years. The bald mountain-slopes furnish no fuel, and it is of course only in the smallest quantities that the people can afford to buy wood in the valley of the Durance. Their resource against the winter's cold is moving into their stables, where, huddled together in a corner cleared for the purpose, they pass four or five months. The smoky and confined air is a welcome change from the icy winds outside, and the steaming cattle are a source of grateful warmth. "This village," Neff writes, about the middle of September, from the smallest and most destitute of the hamlets of Fressinière, "is squeezed up in the very narrowest gorge of the valley, and is now buried in snow, and without the hope of seeing the sun during the rest of the winter. The houses are low, dark and dirty, and the people themselves seem to be stupefied with the utter misery of their condition."

Besides the strong appeal thus made to his sympathy, the young pastor nowhere else felt as in this valley the inspiration of his parish's history. Dourmillouse especially he regarded as the most staunchly Protestant of all the villages to which he ministered. "It is celebrated," he writes, "for the resistance which its inhabitants have opposed for more than six hundred years to the Church of Rome. They never bowed their knee before an idol, even when all the inhabitants of the valley of Queyras" (on the opposite side of the Durance, and embracing Arvieux, St. Véran and other villages) "dissembled their faith. The aspect of this desert, both terrible and sublime, which served as the asylum of truth when almost all the world lay in darkness; the recollection of the faithful martyrs of old; the deep caverns into which they withdrew to read the Bible in secret and to worship the Father of Light in spirit and in truth,—everything tends to elevate my soul." He spent here the whole of one winter and large portions of another, and it was here that he gathered his most important schools.

The rest of the field was not, however, neglected. Neff allowed himself twenty-one days for traversing his parish from end to end, and during much of the year his rounds succeeded each other with little interval. He was continually passing from the extreme of heat in sunny valleys to the arctic cold of snows and glaciers. His lodging on these journeys was in the huts of the peasants. He shared their coarse and unwholesome food, often cooked in ill-cleansed copper vessels. He slept in small, unventilated hovels, a dozen other persons often dividing with him the scanty space. He did not shrink from even the stables in winter. However exhausted he might be by hours of toilsome walking, his elastic spirit quickly revived: all thought of refreshment for himself was secondary to the spiritual wants he sought to meet in others.

Nor was he content without trying to ameliorate the temporal condition of his parishioners. By the care of his own garden he sought to teach them more intelligent and productive methods of agriculture than the rude processes to which they were accustomed. In the valley of Fressinière he built an aqueduct for purposes of irrigation, overcoming prejudice and opposition by beginning the work with his own hands. The example of Oberlin was constantly before him, and he often expresses his ambition to be to his people such a guide and helper as the pastor of Ban de la Roche had been to the peasants of the Vosges.

Neff was not long in discovering that his work must begin with the most elementary instruction. Generally, the people were ignorant of any language but their native patois. Up to this period their schoolmasters, paid at the rate of twenty-five francs a year, had been peasants like themselves. Their only time for study was such of the year as was not needed for the tilling of the niggardly soil or spent in the care of the flocks. And even the little they were able to learn was easily lost on account of the scarcity of books. Neff first addressed himself to learning the patois, and then, as he went from village to village, made ordinary teaching a part of his pastoral functions. At the beginning of his second winter he resolved to undertake the training of teachers. "I foresaw," he writes, "that the truth which I had been permitted to preach would not only not spread, but might even be lost, unless something should be done to promote its continuance." Accordingly, for five months he relinquished the more congenial general work of his parish and devoted himself to a normal school at Dourmillouse. One reason for planting it there was the inaccessibility of the place and its consequent freedom from distraction. More than twenty young men from other villages cheerfully submitted to the long confinement in this ice-bound fastness, and the people of Dourmillouse were glad to make room in their huts for the new-comers, and to add to the supplies brought by them their own scanty stores.

The following winter, his third in the High Alps, Neff again opened this school, dividing its care, however, with one of his most capable pupils of the previous year, and paying occasional visits to other parts of his parish. But now his health, never robust, began to give way under the incessant strain to which it was subjected. Early in the spring of 1829 he was forced to go to Geneva with the hope of recruiting. There, after two years of suffering, the details of which are painful beyond expression, he died at the age of thirty-one.

With our minds full of these memories we set out on the morning after our arrival at Pallons, with Pastor Charpiot as guide, to explore the valley of Fressinière and ascend to Dourmillouse. The immediate vicinity of Pallons is fair and fertile, but a short walk up the course of an impetuous torrent brought us to a narrow gorge, beyond which we found a totally different region. Bare slopes of rock that looked grim even in the sunny morning, and a waste valley-bottom, here of considerable width, but sterile and bleak, made up the landscape. Its dreariness was only increased by an occasional chalet standing beside a patch of limp and discolored potato-vines. As we went on the scene grew more and more gloomy. The tillage is in cleared spots not so large as the heaps of stones that surround them, or on bits of practicable soil left by land-slides in the midst of their hideous débris. The only trees are dwarfish pollards, reduced to bare trunks with thin tufts of green atop by the practice of stripping off the sprouts every two or three years to make fodder for the goats. Midway up the valley we passed the village of Violins. It seemed mournfully empty, and many of the houses were in reality deserted. A shy, bright-faced fellow opened the little temple for our inspection, and Pastor Charpiot reminded us how its interior was not only planned by Neff, but in large measure his actual handiwork. Half an hour further on our path led us through the hamlet of Minsas, now entirely abandoned and in ruins. The desolation of the valley here becomes appalling. On either hand sheer precipices of crumbling rock rise above steep slopes of gravel and loose stones. The ground is strewn thick with great boulders, many of which had left traces of their furious descent before settling, sometimes close beside the path, or even after crossing it in a final bound. The precipices from which they had detached themselves are composed of strangely-twisted strata, and frequently recurring streaks of lurid red give them a fierce and ghastly aspect. Landslips and torrents of stones are so frequent of late years that no more attempts are made to clear away the rubbish thus deposited. Where these scourges have not fallen the sullen stream has carried devastation. Floods occur every year. That of 1856 wrought a ruin from which the villages have never rallied. In the whole upper half of the valley of Fressinière there is not, I suppose, an acre of land capable of cultivation. In the time of Neff, wretched as its condition must always have been, the poverty of this region was not so utterly hopeless as it has since become. The failure of all resources is literally driving away its inhabitants. Those who remain, as in such cases a certain proportion cannot help doing, sometimes in bad years pass three, six, and even nine, months without bread. Their small stock of potatoes is often exhausted long before it can be replenished. "I am at a loss," said the pastor, "when we are no longer able to give them aid, to know how they live. The only semblance of food left to them is soup, for which, perhaps, they haven't even salt, much less meat or vegetables. Turbid water—de l'eau trouble, rien de plus!"

The valley terminates abruptly at what seems an impassable wall of rock. Upon nearer approach a zigzag path up its face is discovered. Not far from the top the narrow way creeps by a ledge which barely affords foothold across a thread of sparkling foam slipping down a perpendicular precipice. In winter this passage is sheeted in dangerously unstable ice, and makes Dourmillouse inaccessible for weeks. Neff gives a spirited account in his journal of leading out a party of young peasants by torchlight, armed with axes, to cut a path here on the evening before some service in which he wished the people of the upper and lower valleys to unite. Dourmillouse lies on a slope above this difficult ascent. It is a mere group of rude chalets, like the other villages, but it has a less miserable air. The land-slides are mostly confined to the lower valley, and here the scanty Alpine pastures and steep patches of rye are out of reach of the floods. The people are seldom reduced to actual want of food, and are esteemed prosperous by their more destitute neighbors below.

Our first visit was to the old priory in which Neff held his winter schools. A row of half a dozen trees planted by him in front of the house now shuts off a good deal of much-needed sunshine, but is nevertheless carefully cherished as a memorial. Beside the priory stands the temple, once a Roman Catholic church, in which, before the Revolution, a priest is said to have ministered for twenty-five years without making a single convert, his own servant constituting his flock. Presently we went to rest and eat the lunch Pastor Charpiot had brought, at the house of the local ancien, or elder. His wife, a sturdy, smiling young woman, gave us an eager welcome. Two round-cheeked boys frisked about their old friend the pastor, and a baby—its spirits quite unclouded by its austere surroundings—crowed lustily from the cradle in which, after the fashion of the country, it was tightly strapped. It was a low, grimy room, with one square bit of a window, and far from clean. Dr. Gilly, the prim English biographer of Neff, quaintly says: "Cleanliness is not a virtue which distinguishes any of the people in these mountains; and, with such a nice sense of moral perception as they display, and with such strict attention to the duties of religion, it is astonishing that they have not yet learnt those ablutions in their persons or habitations which are as necessary to comfort as to health." I suspect, however, that the nicest "sense of moral perception" in the world would excuse the omission of a good many "ablutions" in a place where all the water that is used has to be carried more than a quarter of a mile up a steep and rough mountain-path from the nearest stream. And there was one refinement in the rude chalet not always present in regions far less removed from the centres of civilization: besides the cloth—so coarse as to be a curiosity—which the woman laid for us over an end of the unscoured table, she put at each of our places, as a matter of course, a fresh napkin of the same rude stuff.

I could not sufficiently admire the brave cheerfulness of these simple folk. Many of the villagers were busy gathering their little stock of potatoes, and all had something bright to say about their good fortune in getting them so well grown and safely stored before the frosts. It was the last week in September, and they thought the winter already close at hand. There was, too, in spite of a shrinking from strangers painfully suggestive of tendencies inherited from generations of persecuted ancestors, a degree of intelligence and self-respect often wanting among peasants far more favorably circumstanced. And it seemed to me worthy of remark that in all  our walk—notwithstanding the valley's unexampled poverty—we did not encounter a single beggar. Before we left Dourmillouse the "elder" appeared, a stalwart young mountaineer with his gun slung across his shoulder. He had finished his morning's work in some distant field, and was off for a chamois-hunt among the rocks and glaciers. As a relic of our visit he gave us a block of rye bread twenty-two months old, which he chopped off the loaf with a hatchet.

We had frequent evidence in the course of our excursion that Pastor Charpiot is a real shepherd to his needy flock. Indeed, he gave to the walk an intimate and peculiar interest quite apart from its historical associations. Here he bade us go slowly on while he looked in upon a sick man, explaining that he had to be doctor as well as minister. Again he asked us to stop and share with him some of the grapes which a stout young peasant-woman was bringing on her donkey from the Durance vineyards, and which had no sweetness save in the good-will that offered them. For all whom we met he had a cheery greeting or an affectionate inquiry that showed familiar acquaintance with their concerns; and occasionally a word or two suggested a truth or hope, aptly illustrated in some passing incident, no matter how trifling or homely.

A storm was gathering in the mountains as we made our way back to Pallons through the deepening shadows of the autumn afternoon. Before we emerged from the desolate valley its gloom had grown almost intolerable; and yet this was but a suggestion of the winter horrors which the white-haired pastor at our side had faced for years in his regular ministrations at the different hamlets we had visited. Speaking of the five pastors now distributed over the field of which Neff assumed the whole charge, he said with a modesty that was quite unaffected, "All five together, we are not worth him alone" (nous ne le valons pas). What we had seen that day convinced us that so far at least as concerned himself his deprecation was unfounded, but in expressing it he echoed the tone that seemed universal in the High Alps in reference to the illustrious young pastor. Neff could not, of course, in his short career accomplish the permanent revolution which he dreamed of and longed for. At the same time, it cannot be said that his work has perished while not only pastors but people feel so strongly the inspiration of that heroic life.

JAMES M. BRUCE.