Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
AN "ATTIC" PHILOSOPHER
(Un Philosophe sous les Toits)
By EMILE SOUVESTRE
With a Preface by JOSEPH BERTRAND, of the French Academy
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 recognition.
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
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 his death.
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.
AN "ATTIC" PHILOSOPHER
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 armchair.
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 New-Year's gifts?
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 produce.
(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 rolls.
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 through.
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
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
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 my feet!
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
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
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 recollections.
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 obtained it.
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
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
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 went out.
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
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
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
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!"
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 sun.
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 family."
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
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
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 every hour.
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 ball."
"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
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
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 little
"There is nothing to tempt you in my supper, neighbor," said he, with a
I replied that at least I thought it a very philosophical one for the
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 the lamp.
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
"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 thousand
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
"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 coffee-
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
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 reality.
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 dream!
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
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 mirth.
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 excuse.
"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 God!"
"And that is why you make yourself a mother to them?" I replied, gently.
"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 against
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 the heart.
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 himself
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 conscience.
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 long
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
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
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 balcony.
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
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 flower.
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
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
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 transformations.
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
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
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 besides--except security.
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 come
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!
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
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 hope.
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 the night.
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 once
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
"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
"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 the
"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
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 him.
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
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 anxiety.
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
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 rich
"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
"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; good-by,
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.
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.
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 the noise.
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 an illness.
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
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
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 them.
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. Denis.
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 hours.
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
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
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
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
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
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 boat.
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 the walnut-trees.
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
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 with them.
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.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Brought them up to poverty
Carn-ival means, literally, "farewell to flesh!"
Coffee is the grand work of a bachelor's housekeeping
Defeat and victory only displace each other by turns
Did not think the world was so great
Do they understand what makes them so gay?
Each of us regards himself as the mirror of the community
Ease with which the poor forget their wretchedness
Every one keeps his holidays in his own way
Favorite and conclusive answer of his class--"I know"
Fear of losing a moment from business
Finishes his sin thoroughly before he begins to repent
Her kindness, which never sleeps
Hubbub of questions which waited for no reply
Moderation is the great social virtue
No one is so unhappy as to have nothing to give
Our tempers are like an opera-glass
Poverty, you see, is a famous schoolmistress
Prisoners of work
Question is not to discover what will suit us
Ruining myself, but we must all have our Carnival
Two thirds of human existence are wasted in hesitation
What a small dwelling joy can live
AN "ATTIC" PHILOSOPHER
(Un Philosophe sous les Toits)
By EMILE SOUVESTRE
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 childhood?
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
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
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 DIEU!"
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!