Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

to be loved and respected even by the enemies of France. He was removed from the church, from letters, and from his country, on the 7th of January, 1715, at 63 years of age. On his tomb we read a latin epitaph, which M. d'Alembert thought too long and too frigid, and for which he wished to substitute the following:

• Under this stone rests Fenelon ! Passenger, blot not out this epitaph with thy tears, thal others may read it, and weep as thou dosi.'

When he was nominated to the archbishopric of Cambray, be gave up his abbey of St. Valery, and his liitle priory, for he thought himself not at liberty to hold any other benefice together with his archbishopric.

Fenelon has himself characterized in few words, that simplicity of character which so endeared him to all who approached him. “Simplicity,' said he, in one of his works, is that rectitude of a soul, which forbids its having any reference to itself or to its own actions. This virtue is different from sincerity, and surpasses it. We see many people, who are sincere without being simple. They have no wish to pass but for what they are, yet are always in fear of passing for what they are not. The man of simplicity is never occopied about himself. He seems even to have lost this self about which we are so jealous.? In this picture, Fenelon, without designing it, has given a portrait of himself. He was much better than modest, for he never thought of being so. It sufficed to make him beloved, to sbow himself, just what he was; and one might say to him, Arl is not made for thee, thou hast no need of it.

The following are some of the instances of that humanity, which constituted the great peculiarity of his character.

What was said by a literary man on the occasion of his library being destroyed by an incendiary, has been deservedly ad. inired. •I should have profited little by my books, if they had not taught me how to bear the loss of ihem. That of Fenelon, who lost his also by a similar accident, is still more simple and more touching. I had much rather they were burnt, said he, than the cottage of a poor family.' He often took a walk alone in the environs of Cambray;

and in his pastoral visits, was accustomed to enter the cottages of the peasants, and to administer relief and consolation, as ibere was occasion. Old people who had the happiness of seeing him on these occasions, still speak of him with most tender re. spect. There, say they, is the wooden stool, on which our good archbishop used to sit in the midst of us. We shall see him no more!' And the tears flow.

He brought together into his palace the wretched inhabitants of the country, whom the war had driven from their habitations, and took care of them and fed them himself at his own table. Seeing one day that one of these peasants ate nothing, and asking the reason of his abstinence; • Alas, my Lord,' said the peasant, in making my escape from my cottage, I had not time to bring off my cow, which was the support of my family. The chemy will drive her away with them, and I shall never find another so good.' Fenelon, availing himself of his safe conduct, immediately set out, accompanied by a single servant, found the cow, and drove it back himself to the peasant. I pity the man who thinks this affecting anecdote not sufficiently dignified to deserve a place in these memoirs. He is certainly not worthy to hear it.

One of the curates of his diocese complained to him, that he was unable to put a stop to dances on the feast days. “Mr. Corate,' said Fenelon to him, let us abstain from 'amusement ourselves, but let us permit these poor people to dance. Why prevent them from forgetting for a moment their poverty and their wretchedness? The simplicity of Fenelon's cha. ract er obtained for him a triumph, on one occasion, which must have been most flattering to his feelings and pleasant to his recollection. His enemies (for to the reproach of human nature, Fenelon bad his enemies) were mean enough to practice the abominable cunning of placing about him an ecclesiastic of high birth, whom he considered only as his grand vicar, but who was to act as a spy upon him. This man, who had consented to undertake so base an office, had however the inagnadimity to punish himself for it. After having long witnessed the purity and gentleness of spirit, which he had taken upon him to blacken, he threw himself at the feet of Fenelon, and with tears, confessed the unworthy part he had been led to act, and withdrew from the world to conceal in retirement his grief and bis shame,

This excellent prelate, so indulgent to others, required no indulgence to be exercised to himself. Not only was he willing to be treated with severity; he was even grateful for it. Father Seraphin, a capuchin missionary, of more zeal than cloquence, preached at Versailles before Louis XIV. The abbe Fenelon, at that time the king's chaplain, being present at the sermon, fell asleep. Father Seraphin perceived it, and suddenly stopping in the midst of his discourse, wake that Abbe, said he, who is asleep, and who seems to be present here only to pay his court to the king.' Fenelon was fond of relating this anecdole. With the truest' satisfaction, he praised the preacher,

who was not deterred from exercising such apostolical liberty, and the king, who approved it by bis silence. Upon the same occasion be related also, that Louis XIV, was astonished one day to see no one present at the sermon, where he had always founu a great concourse of courtiers, and where Fenelon found himself at this time almost alone with the king. His majesty asked the marslial of Luxemburg, his captain of the guard, the reason of it. Sire,' replied the marshal, * I had given out word, that your majesty would not be at the sermon today. I wished you to know for yourself

, who came there on God's account, and who only on yours.'

So tender, and so delicate, if I may be allowed the expression, was Fenelon's love of virtue, that he considered nothing as innocent, which could wound it in its slightest touches. He bensured Moliere for having represented it in The Misanthrope, with au austerity that exposed it to odiumn and ridicule. The criticism might not be just, but the motire which dictated it, was honourable to bis candour. It is indeed the more praiseworthy, that it cannot be liable to the suspicion of interestedness; for the gentle and indulgent virtue of Fenelon was far from bearing any resemblance to the savage and inflexible virtue of The Misanthrope. On the contrary, Fenelon relished highly The Hypocrite; for the more he loved sincere and genuine virtue, the more he detested the mask of it, which he complained of meeting with so often at Versailles ; and the more he commended those, who endeavoured to tear it off. He did not, like Baillet, make it a crime in Moliere, to have usurped the right of the ministers of the Lord, to reprove hypocrites. Fenelon was persuaded, that those, who complained of bis encroaching upon their right, which after all, is only the right of every good man, are commonly but little in baste to make use of it themselves, and are even afraid to have others exercise it for them. He dared to blame Bourdeloue, whose talents and virtues he otherwise respected, for baving attacked, with insipid declamation, in one of his sermons, that excellent comedy, where the contrast between true and false piety is painted in colours, so well calculated to make us respect the one and detest the other. Bourdeloue,' said he, with his usual candour, is not a hypocrite, but his enemies will say, that he is a jesuit.'

During the war of 1701, a young prince of the allied army passed some time at Cambray. Fenelon gave him instructions

, which he listened to with great veneration and sensibility. Above all things he recommended to him never to oblige his subjects to change their religion. No human power, said he, bas any right over the liberty of the heart. Violence persuades

[ocr errors]

none; it makes only hypocrites. To give such proselytes to religion, is not to patronize but to enslave it. Encourage, ada ded he, in your states, the progress of light. The more a nation is enlightened, the more it perceives its true interest to consist in yielding obedience to just and wise laws; and every prince, who is worthy of the name, ought to wish himself to reign only by such laws. His happiness, his glory, his power, are inseparably connected with it."

During the same war of 1701, Fenelon, having fallen into disgrace with the king, and being in exile in his diocese, met with far better reception from the generals of the enemy, than from ours. Abandoned and cast off, as one may say, in his own country, he was obliged to regard it, in some sort, as a foreign land. When France, torn in pieces by an eight years' miserable war, was completely ruined by the fatal winter of 1709, Fenelou had grain in his magazines, to the value of a hundred thogsand francs. He distributed it to the soldiers, who were often without bread, and refused to receive any pay for it. The king, said he, owes me nothing; and in times of calamity, which press heavily upon the people, it is my duty, as a citizen, and as a bishop, to give back to the state, what I have received from it.' It was thus that he avenged himself of his disgrace.

The different writings in philosophy, theology, and belles lettres, which came from the pen of Fenelon, have made his name immortal. The most powerful charm of his writings is that feeling of quiet and tranquillity, with which they delight the reader. It is a friend, who approaches you, and pours his soul into yours. He moderates and suspends, at least for a while, your sorrows and your sufferings. We are ready to forgive human nature so many men, who make us bate it, on account of Fenelon, who makes us love it.

His dialogues upon eloquence, and his letter to the French academy on the same subject, are those of an orator, and a philosopher. Rh

Rhetoricians who were neither the one nor the other, attacked, but did not refute him. They had only studied Aristotle, whom they understood but very little, and he had studied nature, which never misleads. In the authors whom he cites as models, those touches which go to the soul, are those upon which he chooses to rest. He then seems, if I may so say, to breathe sweetly his native air, and to find himself in the midst of what is most dear to bim.

The best written of his works, if they are not those in which the best reasoning is displayed, are perhaps those upon Quietism, or that disinterested love, which he requires toward the Supreme Being. I know not, said a celebrated writer, wheth

6

er Fenelon was a heretic in asserting that God deserved to be loved for himself; but I know that Fenelon deserved to be so loved. He defended his cause in so interesting and engaging a manner, that the intrepid Bossuet, his antagonist, who had been engaged in controversy with the most formidable protestant ministers, confessed that Fenelon had given bim more trouble than the Claudes and Basnages. He accordingly said of the archbishop of Cambray, what Philip IV. king of Spain, said of M. de Turenne : That man has made me pass many uncomfortable nights. There were the evidences of it sometimes in the harsh and violent manner in which Bossuet attacked his mild adversary. "My Lord,' replied the archbishop of Cambray to him, why do you offer me abuse for argument ? should you have taken my arguments for abuse?

Although the lovely sensibility of Penelon is stamped upon all his writings, it is most deeply impressed on all those, which were composed for his pupil. He seems in writing them not to have ceased repeating to himself: What I am going to say to this child, will be the occasion of happiness or misery to twenty millions of people.'

He said, that not having been able to procure for the duke of Burgundy the privilege of actually travelling himself, he had made him travel over the world with Mentor and Telemachus. • If he ever travel, added he, I should wish that it might be without equipage. The less retinue he should have, the more would truth be able to approach him. He would be able to see good and evil, so as to adopt the one and avoid the other, much better abroad than at home: and delivered for a while from the cares and anxieties of being a prince, he would taste the pleasure of being a man.'

Let us not forget a very interesting circumstance, perbaps the most so that occurred in the education of this prince, and which bound him by the strongest tie of affection to his instructer. When Fenelon had committed any fault, even the slightest in the execution of this trust (and other than slight ones he was not liable to commit) he never failed to accuse himself of it to his pupil. What an authority, founded in affection and confidence, must he have acquired over him by this ingenuous frankness! What lessons of virtue, at the same time, did

! it teach him—the habit of being open and ingenuous, even at the expense of his self-love, indulgence toward the faults of another, readiness to confess his own, the courage even to accuse himself of them, the noble ambition of kpowing himself, and the still more noble ambition of self-government! If you wish, said a philosopher, to bave your son listen to stern un

« AnteriorContinuar »