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canon of St. Malo. He lay expiring on his bed, his countenance distorted by the last convulsions. Death is our friend, nevertheless we do not recognise it as such, because it presents itself to us under a mask, and that mask inspires us with terror.
I was sent back to college at the close of autumn.
Vallée-aux-Loups, December, 1813.
INVASION OF FRANCE-GAMES-THE ABBE CHATEAUBRIAND.
From Dieppe, where the injunctions of the police had compelled me to take refuge, I was permitted to return to the Vallée-aux-Loups, from which place I now continue my narrative.
The ground trembles beneath the tread of the foreign soldier, who is at this moment invading my native country Like the last of the Romans, I am writing amid the noise of invading barbarians. By day I trace pages* as agitated as the events of that day; and at night, when the sound of the distant cannon has died away in the woods, I return to the silence of those years which sleep in the tomb, to the peace
of my youthful souvenirs. How circumscribed and brief is the past of our existence, compared with the vastness of the present, and the importance of the future !
Mathematics, Greek, and Latin occupied me at college the whole of the winter. The time that was not consecrated to study, was devoted to those games of early life, which are the same in all countries. The young Englishman, the young German, the young Italian, the young Spaniard, the young American, the young Bedouin,-alike trundle the hoop and throw the ball. All brothers of one large family, children do not lose their traits of resemblance till they lose their innocence, and this rule obtains everywhere. However, diver
* Bonaparte and the Bourbons. (Note at Genoa, 1831.)
sities arise in nations, because the passions are modified by climate, government, and manners, the members of the human race cease to understand each other and to speak the same language : society is the true tower of Babel.
One morning I formed one of a party that was playing at prisoners base with very much animation in the great court of the College, when a message was brought that I was wanted. I immediately followed the servant to the outer gate. I here found a tall, florid man, of brusque and impatient manner, and a gruff voice, with a stick in his hand. He wore a black, untidy wig, a cassock torn and tucked in at the pockets, dusty shoes, and stockings out at heel : “Young polisson,” said he, “are you not the Chevalier de Chateaubriand de Combourg ?”
“Yes, Sir," replied I, perfectly astonished at his interrogation.
“And I,” exclaimed he, much excited, “I am the last senior of your family, I am the Abbé de Chateaubriand de la Guérande ; look at me well.” The haughty Abbé thrust his hand into the pocket of his ancient shag breeches, took out a dirty crown piece of six francs, wrapped in a greasy piece of paper, flung it at my head, and continued his journey on foot, grunting his matins, with a ferocious mien. I afterwards learned that the Prince de Condé had offered this rustic vicar the preceptorate of the Duke de Bourbon. The arrogant priest replied, that the “ Prince, possessor of the Barony of Chateaubriand, ought to know that the heirs of that Barony might have preceptors, but were not the preceptors of any person.” This hauteur is a family failing. In my father it was perfectly odious; my brother carried it to a ridiculous extreme, and his eldest son is somewhat tainted with it. I am not sure, whether, in spite of my republican opinions, I myself am altogether exempt from it. However, I most studiously conceal it.
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.
Father.” not committed such or such a fault ?”! 'No, my Father.” My invariable reply was
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,
“ Have you
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 ?” I was 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 His Apostles the power 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.