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MY FIRST COMMUNION-DEPARTURE FROM THE COLLEGE OF DOL.
The period of my first communion approached—the moment when it was customary for the family to decide what should be the future career of the child. This religious ceremony superseded, among young Christians, the taking of the viril robe among
the Romans. Madame de Chateaubriand came to be present at the first communion of her son, who, after having dedicated himself to God, was to be separated from his mother.
My piety appeared to be sincere; I edified the whole college; my views were ardent; my repeated fasts were carried to such an extent, that they frequently gave my preceptors uneasiness. It was feared that I should carry my devotion to extremes ; but my fervour was tempered by enlightened religion.
My confessor was the Superior of the Seminary of the Eudistes, a man of about fifty years of age, of an extremely stern aspect : whenever I presented myself at the tribunal of penitence, he interrogated me with great anxiety. Surprised at the trivial nature of my faults, he knew not how to reconcile my distress with the insignificance of the secrets which I deposited in his bosom. As Easter approached more nearly, his questions became more urgent. “Do you conceal nothing from me?” exclaimed he. “No, my Father.”
you not committed such or such a fault ?” “No, my Father." My invariable reply was “No, my Father" He dismissed me sighing and doubting, his look scrutinizing the very depths of my soul ; and, as for me, I quitted his presence, pale and harassed, as if I had been a criminal.
I was to receive absolution on Holy Wednesday. I passed the night of Tuesday in prayer and in reading, with terror, the book called Confessions mal faites. On Wednesday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, we set out for the seminary,
accompanied by our parents. All the vain éclat which has since been attached to my name, could not inspire Madame de Chateaubriand with half the pride which she felt at that moment, when, as a Christian and a mother, she saw her son about to participate in the great mystery of religion.
On my arrival at the church, I prostrated myself before the high altar, where I long remained as if annihilated. When I rose to go to the sacristy, where the Superior was waiting for me, my knees shook under me. I threw myself at the feet of the priest, and it was with the greatest difficulty that I was able to articulate my confiteor. Well,” exclaimed the minister of Jesus Christ, “have you not forgotten anything ?" mute. His questions re-commenced, and the fatal “No, my father,” issued from my mouth. He drew back, and asked counsel of Him, who conferred upon
of remitting and retaining sin. Then, making an effort, he prepared to give me absolution.
If a thunderbolt had fallen upon me, I could not have been more terrified ; and I cried out, “I have not told
all !” This keen-sighted judge, this delegate of the Sovereign Arbiter, whose visage inspired me with such fear, suddenly became the most tender pastor ; he embraced me, and, bursting into tears, exclaimed, “Come, then, my dear son, take courage, and tell
me all !”
I never passed such a moment in all my life. If the weight of a mountain had been taken from me, I could not have felt more relieved. I sobbed for joy. I venture to say that on this day I was made an honest man. I felt that I never could survive remorse; what then must be the feelings of that man who has been guilty of crime, if I suffered so severely for childish frailty! And how divine is that religion which can thus master our best affection !
What moral precepts can ever supply these Christian institutions ?
The first avowal made, all the rest cost me nothing ; and my secret delinquencies, at which the world would have laughed, were weighed in the balance of religion. The Superior was greatly embarrassed : he wished to defer my communion, but I was about to quit college, and to enter the navy.
With extreme sagacity, he discerned in my youthful tendencies, insignificant as they were, the bent of my inclinations. He was the first to penetrate the secret of what I should hereafter become. He divined my future passions : he did not conceal the good that he saw in me; but he, at the same time, pointed out the bad qualities with which I should have to contend. “ There is,” he concluded, no time for you to do penance ;
but you are washed from your sins by a courageous, though tardy avowal.” Then, raising his hand, he pronounced the formula of absolution. And now this second time his arm of thunder descended on my head like the dews of heaven. I inclined my head to receive it : I seemed to share the joy of angels. I ran and threw myself on the bosom of my mother, who was waiting for me on the steps of the altar. I no longer appeared the same to my masters or my schoolfellows. I walked with a light step, raised head and joyous countenance, in all the triumphs of repentance.
On the following day, Holy Thursday, I was admitted to that touching and sublime ceremony, which I have in vain attempted to portray in my “ Génie du Christianisme.” Here again I might have found my wonted petty humiliations. My bouquet and my dress were less handsome than those of my companions; but on this day all was to God and for God. I perfectly realized faith : the real presence of the Victim in the Holy Sacrament of the altar, was as sensible to me, as the presence of my mother at my side. When the Host was placed upon my lips, I felt as if enlightened within. I trembled with awe, and the only material thing which occupied my mind, was the fear of profaning the sacred wafer.
“Le pain que je vous propose
At this moment, I understood the courage of the martyrs, and could have confessed Christ on the scaffold, or in the midst of lions.
I love to recall this happiness, which briefly preceded in my soul the tribulations of the world. Compare its joys with the transport which I have depicted ; see the same heart experience in the space of two or three years all that is lovely and salutary in innocence and religion, and all that is seductive and melancholy in passion; choose between these two joys ; you will see on which side you must seek for happiness, and, above all, for repose.
Three weeks after my first communion, I quitted the College of Dol. Even now I retain a pleasant recollection of that institution. Childhood itself lends a charm to the places which it has embellished, as a flower imparts its perfume to the objects which it has touched. I linger yet, in thought, on the dispersion of my first comrades, and of my first preceptors. The Abbé Leprince, who was appointed to a benefice near Rouen, died soon, after. The Abbé Egault obtained a cure in the diocese of Rennes ; and I witnessed the death of the excellent Principal, Abbé Porcher, at the beginning of the Revolution. He was a learned man, gentle and simple-hearted. The memory of this obscure Rollin will always be cherished and venerated by me.
Vallée-aux-Loups, close of December, 1813.
COMBOURG-COLLEGE OF RENNES-MEETING WITH GESRIL-MOREAU,
LIMOELAN-MARRIAGE OF MY THIRD SISTER.
At Combourg, I found that which nourished my piety-a mission, in which I followed up my religious duties. I received confirmation on the perron
of the castle, with the peasant boys and girls, at the hand of the Bishop of St. Malo. After this, a crucifix was erected, and I assisted in holding it, while it was being fixed on its base. It still exists : it rises before the tower in which my father died. For thirty years it has not seen a human face at the window of that tower. longer saluted by the children of the château ; every spring it
It is no
waits for them in vain : it sees only the returning nightingale, companion of my childish days, more faithful to its nest than man to his home. Happy, if my life had glided away at the foot of this crucifix, if my hair had been blanched by the days which clothed with verdant moss this venerated crucifix !
I soon set out for Rennes ; there I was to continue my studies, and finish my mathematical course for the purpose of subsequently undergoing an examination in order to become a naval cadet at Brest.
M. de Fayolle was Principal of the College of Rennes. This “Tuilly" of Bretagne boasted of three distinguished professors, the Abbé de Chateaugiron for the second ; the Abbé Germé for rhetoric; the Abbé Marchand for philosophy. There was a great number of students, both boarders and day scholars, and the classes were full. In later times, Geoffroy and Ginguené of this college would have done honour to St. Barbe and Plessis. The Chevalier de Parny had also studied at Rennes ; I occupied his bed in the chamber that was assigned to me.
Rennes seemed to me a complete Babylon, and the College a world. The number of masters and scholars, the extent of the buildings, gardens, and court-yards appeared to me boundless ; gradually, however, I got accustomed to all. On the birthday of the Principal, we always had a holiday, and sang with all our might some splendid verses of our own composition in his praise, or we used to say:
“O Terpsichore ! 0 Polymnie !
I acquired the same ascendancy over my new comrades, which I had formerly had over my schoolfellows at Dol; but it cost me a good many blows. The youngsters of Bretagne have a very peevish temper. Hence we used constantly to send each other a challenge on walking days, appointing a meeting in the woods of the Benedictine gardens, called the Tabor ; we fastened our mathematical compasses to the end of a stick, or we engaged in single combat—more or less