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as if to afford us a spectacle. Some carpenters from St. Malo squared the fallen trunks, and hewed off the green branches, which fell to the earth like the flowing locks clipped from the head of a youthful noviciate. My heart bled at the sight of these despoiled forests, and of that deserted monastery. The general sacking of religious establishments, which has since taken place, reminded me of the spoliation of this Abbey,—to me the prognostic of a melancholy future. On
my arrival at St. Malo, I found the Marquis de Causans. Under his care I passed through the divisions of the camp. The tents, the piles of arms, the noble war-chargers, formed a fine ensemble with the sea, the vessels, the fortifications, and the distant spires of the city. I saw one of those men, the last of an era, the Duke de Lauzun, pass by at full gallop on a Barbary steed. The Prince of Carignon, who had just arrived at the camp, had married the daughter of M. de Boisgarin, who was rather lame, but a very charming person. This event caused a great sensation at the time, and gave
rise to a law suit, which is still carried on by the elder M. de Lacretelle. But what has all this to do with
life! proportion," says Montaigne, “as the memory of my friends furnished them with circumstantial facts, they digressed so much, that if their narrations were of any worth, it was completely neutralized, and if otherwise, woe to their good memory and bad judgment ! I have known the most entertaining topics rendered perfectly tedious by the manner in which they were related by some man of quality.” I fear I somewhat resemble this man of quality.
My brother, who was at St. Malo when M. de la Morandais brought me thither, said to me one evening, “ I will take you to the theatre, get your hat.” I was out of my wits for joy, and scarcely knew what I did. I ran straight to the basement to fetch my hat, which was up in the garret. А company of strolling players had just landed. I had seen puppet-shows, and imagined that at the theatre the polichinellos must be very superior to those in the streets.
With a palpitating heart, I arrived at a wooden building, in a deserted part of the town. I entered one of the dark pas
sages, but not without a slight feeling of timidity. A small door was opened, and I suddenly found myself with my brother, in a box which was already half filled.
The curtain was raised, and the piece had just commenced. They were acting Le Père de la Famille. I saw two men walking about the theatre, talking to each other, with everybody's eyes fixed upon
them. I took them for the managers of the puppet-show, who chatted before the lodge of Madame Gigogne, waiting the arrival of the audience. I was only astonished that they should talk so loud of their own matters, and that they should be listened to with such profound silence. My amazement increased, when I saw other persons come on the stage, and begin gesticulating and weeping; and then I saw that everybody began to weep, as if by contagion. The curtain fell, without my having the slightest conception what all this meant. My brother went to the green-room between the pieces ; and, when I was left alone among strangers, which, owing to my timid disposition, was a real torment to me, I heartily wished myself buried at college. Such was the first impression which I received of the art of Sophocles and of Molière. The third
residence at Dol was marked by the marriage of my two elder sisters. Marianne married the Count de Marigny, and Benigne to the Count de Québriac. They accompanied their husbands to Fougères ; a signal, as it were, for the dispersion of our family, the members of which were so soon to separate. My sisters both received the nuptial benediction at Combourg, the same day, at the same hour, at the same altar, in the chapel belonging to the castle. They wept, and so did my mother. I was much surprised at their grief ; but I now understand it. I am never present at a baptism or a marriage, without a smile of sadness, or experiencing a feeling of oppression at my heart. Next to the misfortune of having been born, I can imagine none greater than that of giving birth to another.
This same year a change took place in my mind, as well as in my family. Chance threw into my hands two books of a very opposite tendency; the one, an unrevised Horace; the other, a History of “ Confessions mal faites.” The revolution caused in my ideas by these two books is indescribable. A new world opened before me.
On the one hand, I suspected mysteries, incomprehensible at my age ; an existence different from my own; pleasures beyond my boyish games, and charms of an unknown nature in a sex, of which I had known only a mother and sisters : on the other hand, spectres dragging chains, and vomiting forth fire, announced to me eternal torments for a single unconfessed sin. I could not sleep. I fancied I saw black and white hands passing across my curtains. I pictured to myself that the latter were cursed by religion ; and this idea increased my horror of those infernal spectres. I sought in vain, in heaven and in hell, for the explanation of this twofold mystery. Attacked at once, morally and physically, my innocence still strove with the storms of premature passion, and the terrors of superstition.
Henceforth, I experienced that youthful ardour which is the transmission of life. I could explain the fourth book of the Æneid, and read Telemachus : suddenly I discovered, in Dido and in Eucharis, beauties which enchanted me, and became sensible to the harmony of those exquisite verses, and of that ancient prose. I one day translated the “ Eneadum genitrix, hominum divumque voluptas" of Lucretius, at sight, with so much animation, that M. Egault suddenly snatched the book from my hands, and plunged me into the rudiments of Greek. I procured a Tibullus by stealth. When I arrived at the “ Quam juvat immites ventos audire cubantem” those sentiments seemed to reveal to me my own nature. The volumes of Massillon, which contained the sermons on the Magdalen and the Prodigal Son, I read unceasingly. I was permitted to turn over those leaves, for it was little suspected what interested me there. I stole the little ends of the wax-tapers from the chapel, in order to read at night those seductive descriptions of the disorders of the soul. I fell asleep muttering incoherent phrases, in which I tried to infuse the sweetness, the numbers, and the grace of that writer, who has best rendered into prose the euphony of Racine.
If I have succeeded in painting with some truth the conflict
of Christian convictions with the disorders of the heart, I am persuaded that I owe this success to the chance which made me acquainted, at the same moment, with two opposing empires. The ravages which a bad book produced in my imagination found their corrective in the terrors inspired by another book, and which spoke the more forcibly from the softness excited by undisguised representations.
Dieppe, end of October, 1812.
ADVENTURE WITH A MAGPIE'S NEST-THIRD VACATION AT COMBOURG
-THE QUACK-RETURN TO COLLEGE.
That which is said of misfortunes, that they never come singly, may be equally applied to the passions—they arrive together, like the Muses or the Furies. With the sentiment which had begun to torment me, a feeling of horror arose within me—an elevation of soul which keeps the heart incorruptible in the midst of corruption-a corrective principle, springing up by the side of a devouring impulse, as the inexhaustible source of those prodigies which love demands of youth, and of those sacrifices which it imposes.
The students of the college always took walks on Thursdays and Sundays, when the weather was fine. We were often conducted to Mount Dol, on the summit of which were some Gallic-Roman ruins. From this isolated hill, the eye wandered over the sea and the wide marshes, where, during the night, danced those will-o'-the-wisps-kindred spirits of those magic lights which now burn in our lamps. Another favourite walk was to the meadows which surrounded the seminary of Eudistes, so called from Eudes, a brother of the historian Mézerai, and the founder of their congregation.
One morning in the month of May, the Abbé Egault, Prefect for the week, had conducted us to this seminary. We were allowed great liberty at play, but were expressly forbidden
to climb the trees. The Prefect, after having brought us to a grassy spot, quitted us, to repeat his breviary.
The road was lined with elms; at the very summit of the tallest of these trees, a magpie's nest caught our eye; we were in ecstacies, pointing out to each other the mother sitting upon her eggs, and were seized with an ove
verwhelming desire to obtain possession of this splendid prize. But who would dare to risk the adventure? The orders were so peremptory, the Prefect so near, the tree so high! All hopes were centred in me. I could climb like a cat. I hesitated, but the love of glory prevailed. I took off my jacket, and, clasping the elm, commenced the ascent. The trunk was without branches until about two-thirds of its height, from which issued a forked branch. On one of the points rested the nest.
My comrades assembled beneath the tree applauded my efforts, looking alternately at me and in the direction whence the Abbé might surprise us. Fluttering with joy at the hope of obtaining the eggs, and trembling with fear at the possibility of punishment, I approached the nest, the magpie took flight, I seized the eggs, put them into my bosom, and descended. Unfortunately, I attempted to slide down, my feet slipped round the elm, and I lost my footing. The tree being lopped, I could not rest my feet either on the right side or on the left, in order to raise myself and catch hold of the upper branch : and there I stuck fifty feet in the air.
All at once, there was a cry of “ the Prefect !—the Prefect !" and, as is usually the case, I saw myself faithlessly abandoned by my friends. One alone, named Le Gobbien, endeavoured to assist me, but he was soon obliged to give up his
generous attempt. There was but one means of escaping from my vexatious position, which was that of suspending myself backwards by catching, with my hands, one of the forks of the branch, and then endeavouring to seize with my feet the trunk of the tree below the bifurcation. This mancuvre I executed at the peril of my life. In the midst of my distress, I did not cast away my treasure; it would however have been wiser to have thrown it
many others that I have since flung from me. In descending the trunk I skinned my hands, scratched