Imagens das páginas

a clearness of perception that astonished the Abbé Leprince. At the same time, I evinced a decided taste for languages. The rudiments, those torments of the school-boy, were learned by me without difficulty ; I awaited the hour for my Latin lesson with a kind of impatience, as a recreation from cyphering and geometrical figures. In less than a twelvemonth, I was high in the fifth form, and singularly enough, my Latin phraseology so naturally resolved itself in pentametre, that the Abbé Egault called me Elegiac,” a name which I believe I always retained among my companions.

With respect to my memory, I will mention two traits. I learned by heart my tables of logarithms, that is to say, a number being given in geometrical proportion, I had to find its solution by memory in arithmetical proportion, and vice versa.

After evening prayer, the principal generally delivered a lecture at the College Chapel, of which one of the boys, selected at random, was obliged to give an account. We often came back tired from play, and during prayers were half dead with sleep; we threw ourselves upon the forms, each seeking to hide himself in some dark place, in order to escape notice, and consequently interrogation. There was a particular confessional which was a constant bone of contention, as being a sure retreat. One evening I was so fortunate as to gain this desired haven, and thought myself quite secure from the observation of the principal. Unhappily, he perceived my manouvre, and determined to make an example of me. He read prosily and deliberately the second part of a sermon ; every one fell asleep; I know not how it was, but I happened to remain awake in my snug confessional. The Principal, who could see only the tips of my toes, thought that I was nodding like the rest, and all on a sudden apostrophized me, and demanded what he had been reading?

This second part of this sermon contained an enumeration of the different ways of sinning against God. I was not only able to repeat the subject matter, but I took up the divisions in their order, and repeated almost word for word, several pages of mystic prose, utterly beyond the comprehension of a schoolboy. A murmur of applause ran through the chapel ; the principal called me up, and giving me a gentle tap upon the cheek, permitted me, by way of reward, to lie in bed next morning till breakfast time! I modestly shunned the admiration of my companions, but did not fail to take advantage of the grace awarded to me.

This verbal memory, which I have not altogether retained, called forth in me another kind of memory, more remarkable, and which I may hereafter have occasion to mention.

One thing humbles me: memory is often the quality of folly: it is generally possessed by sluggish minds, which it renders yet more dull by the lumber with which it incumbers them. Yet, nevertheless, what should we be without


? We should forget our friendships, our loves, our pleasures, our business ; genius could not store up its ideas; the most affectionate heart would lose its tenderness, if memory were gone; our existence would be reduced to the successive moments of a present which would roll heedlessly away ; there would no longer be a past.

Miserable that we are ! So vain is life, it is naught but the reflex of our memory.

Dieppe, October, 1812.




I used to pass my vacations at Combourg. Life in a château in the environs of Paris, can afford no idea of that in a château in a distant province. The domains of Combourg were nothing more than some open heaths, a few mills, and couple of forests, Bourgouët and Tanoërn, in a country where wood was almost valueless. Combourg, however, was rich in feudal privileges : these were of divers sorts : some determined certain ground rents for certain concessions, or decreed the usages which originated under the ancient political state of


things. The rest appear to have arisen from games, or pastimes.

My father had revived some of the latter privileges for the purpose of avoiding prescription. When all the family were assembled, we took part in these gothic amusements: the three principal of which were the “Saut de Poissonniers,” “ La Quintaine," and a fair called “L'Angevine.” The peasants, in their wooden shoes, men of a France which no longer exists, looked on, as spectators, upon the games of a France which no longer exist. There were prizes for the conqueror, and fines for the vanquished.

La Quintaine” kept up the tradition of the Tourneys; and undoubtedly had reference to the ancient military service of the fiefs. It is extremely well described in Du Cange (voce Quintana). The fines were obliged to be paid in ancient copper coins, to the value of two moutons d'or à la couronne de 25 sols parisis each.

The fair called “L'Angevine,” was annually held in the meadow with the pond, on the 4th of September, the anniversary of my birth. The vassals were obliged to take arms and come to the château to hoist their Lord’s banner; from thence they repaired to the fair to keep order, and to enforce the payment of a mulct due to the Lords of Combourg for every head of cattle : a species of regal law. At these times, my father kept open table, and dancing was continued for three days; the gentry in the Grand Hall, to the scraping of a violin, and the peasantry on the lawn, to the squeaking of a bagpipe. Singing, huzzaing, and firing arquebusses were the order of the day. These noises were mingled with the lowing of the cattle at the fair ; the buzz of the crowd that moved backwards and forwards in the gardens and woods : thus once in the year, at any rate, something like joy was seen at Combourg

Hence I was so singularly placed in life, as to have been present at the “La Quintaine,” and at the proclamation of the rights of man; to have seen the Burgher Militia of a village of Bretagne and the National Guard of France; the banners of the Lords of Combourg, and the standard of the Revolution. I am, as it were, the last witness of these feudal


The visitors who were received at the château, were composed of the inhabitants of the borough and the noblesse of the district. These good people were my first friends. Our vanity assigns too much importance to the part which we play in the world. The burgher of Paris laughs at the burgher of a little town. The Court noble scorns the noble of a province; the man of renown disdains the man who is without fame, forgetting that time will do equal justice to their pretensions, and, that all are equally ridiculous or indifferent in the eyes of the generation which succeeds them.

The chief inhabitant of the place was a M. Potelet, an old Captain of an East Indiaman, who repeated over and over again some long and wondrous tales of Pondicherry. As he was relating them, with his elbows resting upon the table, my father always seemed inclined to throw his plate in the face of the prolix narrator. The next personage was a great tobacco merchant, M. Launay de La Billardière, the father of a family, which, like that of Jacob, consisted of twelve children, nine daughters and three sons, the youngest of whom, David was my playfellow.* This good man resolved to be a noble in 1789; he chose his time well! In this house there was much forced joy and heavy debt. The Seneschal, Gébert, the fiscal procurator, Petit, the receiver Corvaisier, and the chaplain, the Abbé Charmel, constituted the society of Combourg. Not even at Athens have I met more celebrated personages !

M. de Petit-Bois, M. de Château-d'Assie, M. de Tinteniac, and one or two other gentlemen used to come on Sundays to hear mass, at the Parish Church, and afterwards to dine with the Lord of the Manor. We were very intimate with the family of Trémaudan, which consisted of the husband and his extremely pretty wife, a natural sister and several children. They lived at a farm, whose only indication of nobility was a pigeon-house ! The Trémaudans are still living. Wiser and happier than I, they have not lost sight of the towers of the Castle which I quitted thirty years since. They do now what they did when I used to go and eat brown bread at their table. They have not left the port which I shall never mere enter. Perhaps they may be speaking of me, at the very moment that I am writing this page. I reproach myself for drawing their name from that obscurity which is their safeguard. They doubted for a long time, whether the man of whom they had heard so much was the “ Petit Chevalier.” The rector or curate of Combourg, also the Abbé Sévin, the same whom I used to hear holding forth every Sunday, manifested the like credulity, and could not persuade himself that the “polisson,” the companion of peasant boys, could be the defender of religion. In the end, however, he believed it, and even quoted me in his sermons, after having dandled me upon his knee. These worthy people, who so naturally present themselves to my mind, who saw me such as I was in my infancy and youth, would they know me now, after all the changes which time has made ? I should be obliged to tell them my name, before they would press me in their arms.

* I have again met my friend, David. I will afterwards relate how and when. (Note at Geneva, 1832).

I bring misfortune to my friends. A gamekeeper, called Raulx, who was attached to me, was killed by a poacher. This murder made an extraordinary impression on me. How strange a mystery is the sacrifice of human life! Why is it that it is the greatest crime and the greatest glory, to shed the blood of man? My imagination pictures to me my faithful Raulx holding his intestines in his hands, and dragging himself along to a little cottage where he died. I conceived the idea of vengeance, and resolved to punish the assassin. In this respect, I am singularly constituted. At first, I scarcely feel an offence; but it fastens itself upon my memory; the remembrance of it, instead of decreasing, augments with time. It sleeps in my heart for months, for years, perhaps, but it suddenly re-awakens at some trivial circumstances with renewed force, and my wound bleeds more severely than when it was first inflicted. But if I do not forgive my enemies, at all events, I never harm them. I am rancorous, but not vindictive. If I have the power to revenge myself, I lose the

« AnteriorContinuar »