BOOK 1 — A JUST MAN
In 1815, M. Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was
Bishop of D---- He was an old man of about
seventy-five years of age; he had occupied the see
of D---- since 1806.
Although this detail has no connection whatever
with the real substance of what we are about to
relate, it will not be superfluous, if merely for
the sake of exactness in all points, to mention here
the various rumors and remarks which had been in
circulation about him from the very moment when he
arrived in the diocese.
True or false, that which is said of men often
occupies as important a place in their lives, and
above all in their destinies, as that which they do.
M. Myriel was the son of a councillor of the
Parliament of Aix; hence he belonged to the nobility
of the bar.
It was said that his father, destining him to be
the heir of his own post, had married him at a very
early age, eighteen or twenty, in accordance with a
custom which is rather widely prevalent in
parliamentary families. In spite of this marriage,
however, it was said that Charles Myriel created a
great deal of talk.
He was well formed, though rather short in
stature, elegant, graceful, intelligent; the whole
of the first portion of his life had been devoted to
the world and to gallantry.
The Revolution came; events succeeded each other
with precipitation; the parliamentary families,
decimated, pursued, hunted down, were dispersed.
M. Charles Myriel emigrated to Italy at the very
beginning of the Revolution.
There his wife died of a malady of the chest, from
which she had long suffered.
He had no children. What took place next in the
fate of M. Myriel?
The ruin of the French society of the olden days,
the fall of his own family, the tragic spectacles of
'93, which were, perhaps, even more alarming to the
emigrants who viewed them from a distance, with the
magnifying powers of terror,--did these cause the
ideas of renunciation and solitude to germinate in
Was he, in the midst of these distractions, these
affections which absorbed his life, suddenly smitten
with one of those mysterious and terrible blows
which sometimes overwhelm, by striking to his heart,
a man whom public catastrophes would not shake, by
striking at his existence and his fortune?
No one could have told:
all that was known was, that when he returned from
Italy he was a priest.
In 1804, M. Myriel was the Cure of B----
[Brignolles]. He was already advanced in years, and
lived in a very retired manner.
About the epoch of the coronation, some petty
affair connected with his curacy--just what, is not
precisely known--took him to Paris.
Among other powerful persons to whom he went to
solicit aid for his parishioners was M. le Cardinal
One day, when the Emperor had come to visit his
uncle, the worthy Cure, who was waiting in the
anteroom, found himself present when His Majesty
Napoleon, on finding himself observed with a
certain curiosity by this old man, turned round and
"Who is this good man who is staring at me?"
"Sire," said M. Myriel, "you are looking at a good
man, and I at a great man.
Each of us can profit by it."
That very evening, the Emperor asked the Cardinal
the name of the Cure, and some time afterwards M.
Myriel was utterly astonished to learn that he had
been appointed Bishop of D----
What truth was there, after all, in the stories
which were invented as to the early portion of M.
No one knew. Very few families had been acquainted
with the Myriel family before the Revolution.
M. Myriel had to undergo the fate of every
newcomer in a little town, where there are many
mouths which talk, and very few heads which think.
He was obliged to undergo it although he was a
bishop, and because he was a bishop.
But after all, the rumors with which his name was
connected were rumors only,--noise, sayings, words;
less than words-- palabres, as the energetic
language of the South expresses it.
However that may be, after nine years of episcopal
power and of residence in D----, all the stories and
subjects of conversation which engross petty towns
and petty people at the outset had fallen into
No one would have dared to mention them; no one
would have dared to recall them.
M. Myriel had arrived at D---- accompanied by an
elderly spinster, Mademoiselle Baptistine, who was
his sister, and ten years his junior.
Their only domestic was a female servant of the
same age as Mademoiselle Baptistine, and named
Madame Magloire, who, after having been the servant
of M. le Cure, now assumed the double title of maid
to Mademoiselle and housekeeper to Monseigneur.
Mademoiselle Baptistine was a long, pale, thin,
gentle creature; she realized the ideal expressed by
the word "respectable"; for it seems that a woman
must needs be a mother in order to be venerable. She
had never been pretty; her whole life, which had
been nothing but a succession of holy deeds, had
finally conferred upon her a sort of pallor and
transparency; and as she advanced in years she had
acquired what may be called the beauty of goodness.
What had been leanness in her youth had become
transparency in her maturity; and this diaphaneity
allowed the angel to be seen. She was a soul rather
than a virgin.
Her person seemed made of a shadow; there was
hardly sufficient body to provide for sex; a little
matter enclosing a light; large eyes forever
drooping;-- a mere pretext for a soul's remaining on
Madame Magloire was a little, fat, white old
woman, corpulent and bustling; always out of
breath,--in the first place, because of her
activity, and in the next, because of her asthma.
On his arrival, M. Myriel was installed in the
episcopal palace with the honors required by the
Imperial decrees, which class a bishop immediately
after a major-general. The mayor and the president
paid the first call on him, and he, in turn, paid
the first call on the general and the prefect.
The installation over, the town waited to see its
bishop at work.
M. MYRIEL BECOMES M. WELCOME
The episcopal palace of D---- adjoins the
The episcopal palace was a huge and beautiful
house, built of stone at the beginning of the last
century by M. Henri Puget, Doctor of Theology of the
Faculty of Paris, Abbe of Simore, who had been
Bishop of D---- in 1712.
This palace was a genuine seignorial residence.
Everything about it had a grand air,--the apartments
of the Bishop, the drawing-rooms, the chambers, the
principal courtyard, which was very large, with
walks encircling it under arcades in the old
Florentine fashion, and gardens planted with
magnificent trees. In the dining-room, a long and
superb gallery which was situated on the
ground-floor and opened on the gardens, M. Henri
Puget had entertained in state, on July 29, 1714, My
Lords Charles Brulart de Genlis, archbishop; Prince
d'Embrun; Antoine de Mesgrigny, the capuchin, Bishop
of Grasse; Philippe de Vendome, Grand Prior of
France, Abbe of Saint Honore de Lerins; Francois de
Berton de Crillon, bishop, Baron de Vence; Cesar de
Sabran de Forcalquier, bishop, Seignor of Glandeve;
and Jean Soanen, Priest of the Oratory, preacher in
ordinary to the king, bishop, Seignor of Senez. The
portraits of these seven reverend personages
decorated this apartment; and this memorable date,
the 29th of July, 1714, was there engraved in
letters of gold on a table of white marble.
The hospital was a low and narrow building of a
single story, with a small garden.
Three days after his arrival, the Bishop visited
the hospital. The visit ended, he had the director
requested to be so good as to come to his house.
"Monsieur the director of the hospital," said he
to him, "how many sick people have you at the
"That was the number which I counted," said the
"The beds," pursued the director, "are very much
crowded against each other."
"That is what I observed."
"The halls are nothing but rooms, and it is with
difficulty that the air can be changed in them."
"So it seems to me."
"And then, when there is a ray of sun, the garden
is very small for the convalescents."
"That was what I said to myself."
"In case of epidemics,--we have had the typhus
fever this year; we had the sweating sickness two
years ago, and a hundred patients at times,--we know
not what to do."
"That is the thought which occurred to me."
"What would you have, Monseigneur?" said the
"One must resign one's self."
This conversation took place in the gallery
dining-room on the ground-floor.
The Bishop remained silent for a moment; then he
turned abruptly to the director of the hospital.
"Monsieur," said he, "how many beds do you think
this hall alone would hold?"
"Monseigneur's dining-room?" exclaimed the
The Bishop cast a glance round the apartment, and
seemed to be taking measures and calculations with
"It would hold full twenty beds," said he, as
though speaking to himself.
Then, raising his voice:--
"Hold, Monsieur the director of the hospital, I
will tell you something. There is evidently a
There are thirty-six of you, in five or six small
There are three of us here, and we have room for
There is some mistake, I tell you; you have my
house, and I have yours.
Give me back my house; you are at home here."
On the following day the thirty-six patients were
installed in the Bishop's palace, and the Bishop was
settled in the hospital.
M. Myriel had no property, his family having been
ruined by the Revolution.
His sister was in receipt of a yearly income of
five hundred francs, which sufficed for her personal
wants at the vicarage.
M. Myriel received from the State, in his quality
of bishop, a salary of fifteen thousand francs.
On the very day when he took up his abode in the
hospital, M. Myriel settled on the disposition of
this sum once for all, in the following manner. We
transcribe here a note made by his own hand:--
NOTE ON THE REGULATION OF MY HOUSEHOLD EXPENSES.
For the little seminary . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Society of the mission . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
For the Lazarists of Montdidier . . . . . . . . . .
Seminary for foreign missions in Paris . . . . . .
Congregation of the Holy Spirit . . . . . . . . . .
Religious establishments of the Holy Land . . . . .
Charitable maternity societies . . . . . . . . . .
Extra, for that of Arles . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Work for the amelioration of prisons . . . . . . .
Work for the relief and delivery of prisoners . . .
To liberate fathers of families incarcerated for
debt 1,000 "
Addition to the salary of the poor teachers of
thediocese . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Public granary of the Hautes-Alpes . . . . . . . .
Congregation of the ladies of D----, of Manosque,
and of Sisteron, for the gratuitous instruction of
poor girls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
For the poor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
My personal expenses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15,000
M. Myriel made no change in this arrangement
during the entire period that he occupied the see of
D---- As has been seen, he called it regulating his
This arrangement was accepted with absolute
submission by Mademoiselle Baptistine.
This holy woman regarded Monseigneur of D---- as
at one and the same time her brother and her bishop,
her friend according to the flesh and her superior
according to the Church. She simply loved and
When he spoke, she bowed; when he acted, she
yielded her adherence.
Their only servant, Madame Magloire, grumbled a
It will be observed that Monsieur the Bishop had
reserved for himself only one thousand livres,
which, added to the pension of Mademoiselle
Baptistine, made fifteen hundred francs a year.
On these fifteen hundred francs these two old
women and the old man subsisted.
And when a village curate came to D----, the
Bishop still found means to entertain him, thanks to
the severe economy of Madame Magloire, and to the
intelligent administration of Mademoiselle
One day, after he had been in D---- about three
months, the Bishop said:--
"And still I am quite cramped with it all!"
"I should think so!" exclaimed Madame Magloire.
"Monseigneur has not even claimed the allowance
which the department owes him for the expense of his
carriage in town, and for his journeys about the
It was customary for bishops in former days."
"Hold!" cried the Bishop, "you are quite right,
And he made his demand.
Some time afterwards the General Council took this
demand under consideration, and voted him an annual
sum of three thousand francs, under this heading:
Allowance to M. the Bishop for expenses of
carriage, expenses of posting, and expenses of
This provoked a great outcry among the local
burgesses; and a senator of the Empire, a former
member of the Council of the Five Hundred which
favored the 18 Brumaire, and who was provided with a
magnificent senatorial office in the vicinity of the
town of D----, wrote to M. Bigot de Preameneu, the
minister of public worship, a very angry and
confidential note on the subject, from which we
extract these authentic lines:--
"Expenses of carriage?
What can be done with it in a town of less than
four thousand inhabitants?
Expenses of journeys?
What is the use of these trips, in the first
Next, how can the posting be accomplished in these
There are no roads. No one travels otherwise than
Even the bridge between Durance and Chateau-Arnoux
can barely support ox-teams. These priests are all
thus, greedy and avaricious.
This man played the good priest when he first
Now he does like the rest; he must have a carriage
and a posting-chaise, he must have luxuries, like
the bishops of the olden days.
Oh, all this priesthood! Things will not go well,
M. le Comte, until the Emperor has freed us from
these black-capped rascals.
Down with the Pope!
[Matters were getting embroiled with Rome.] For my
part, I am for Caesar alone." Etc., etc.
On the other hand, this affair afforded great
delight to Madame Magloire. "Good," said she to
Mademoiselle Baptistine; "Monseigneur began with
other people, but he has had to wind up with
himself, after all. He has regulated all his
Now here are three thousand francs for us!
That same evening the Bishop wrote out and handed
to his sister a memorandum conceived in the
EXPENSES OF CARRIAGE AND CIRCUIT.
For furnishing meat soup to the patients in the
hospital. 1,500 livres
For the maternity charitable society of Aix . . . .
. . . 250 "
For the maternity charitable society of Draguignan .
. . 250 "
For foundlings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . 500 "
For orphans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . 500 "
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Such was M. Myriel's budget.
As for the chance episcopal perquisites, the fees
for marriage bans, dispensations, private baptisms,
sermons, benedictions, of churches or chapels,
marriages, etc., the Bishop levied them on the
wealthy with all the more asperity, since he
bestowed them on the needy.
After a time, offerings of money flowed in.
Those who had and those who lacked knocked at M.
Myriel's door,--the latter in search of the alms
which the former came to deposit.
In less than a year the Bishop had become the
treasurer of all benevolence and the cashier of all
those in distress.
Considerable sums of money passed through his
hands, but nothing could induce him to make any
change whatever in his mode of life, or add anything
superfluous to his bare necessities.
Far from it.
As there is always more wretchedness below than
there is brotherhood above, all was given away, so
to speak, before it was received.
It was like water on dry soil; no matter how much
money he received, he never had any.
Then he stripped himself.
The usage being that bishops shall announce their
baptismal names at the head of their charges and
their pastoral letters, the poor people of the
country-side had selected, with a sort of
affectionate instinct, among the names and prenomens
of their bishop, that which had a meaning for them;
and they never called him anything except
Monseigneur Bienvenu [Welcome]. We will follow their
example, and will also call him thus when we have
occasion to name him.
Moreover, this appellation pleased him.
"I like that name," said he.
"Bienvenu makes up for the Monseigneur."
We do not claim that the portrait herewith
presented is probable; we confine ourselves to
stating that it resembles the original.
A HARD BISHOPRIC FOR A GOOD BISHOP
The Bishop did not omit his pastoral visits
because he had converted his carriage into alms.
The diocese of D---- is a fatiguing one. There are
very few plains and a great many mountains; hardly
any roads, as we have just seen; thirty-two
curacies, forty-one vicarships, and two hundred and
eighty-five auxiliary chapels.
To visit all these is quite a task.
The Bishop managed to do it.
He went on foot when it was in the neighborhood,
in a tilted spring-cart when it was on the plain,
and on a donkey in the mountains.
The two old women accompanied him. When the trip
was too hard for them, he went alone.
One day he arrived at Senez, which is an ancient
episcopal city. He was mounted on an ass.
His purse, which was very dry at that moment, did
not permit him any other equipage.
The mayor of the town came to receive him at the
gate of the town, and watched him dismount from his
ass, with scandalized eyes.
Some of the citizens were laughing around him.
"Monsieur the Mayor," said the Bishop, "and
Messieurs Citizens, I perceive that I shock you.
You think it very arrogant in a poor priest to
ride an animal which was used by Jesus Christ.
I have done so from necessity, I assure you, and
not from vanity."
In the course of these trips he was kind and
indulgent, and talked rather than preached.
He never went far in search of his arguments and
He quoted to the inhabitants of one district the
example of a neighboring district.
In the cantons where they were harsh to the poor,
"Look at the people of Briancon! They have
conferred on the poor, on widows and orphans, the
right to have their meadows mown three days in
advance of every one else. They rebuild their houses
for them gratuitously when they are ruined.
Therefore it is a country which is blessed by God.
For a whole century, there has not been a single
murderer among them."
In villages which were greedy for profit and
harvest, he said: "Look at the people of Embrun!
If, at the harvest season, the father of a family
has his son away on service in the army, and his
daughters at service in the town, and if he is ill
and incapacitated, the cure recommends him to the
prayers of the congregation; and on Sunday, after
the mass, all the inhabitants of the village--men,
women, and children--go to the poor man's field and
do his harvesting for him, and carry his straw and
his grain to his granary." To families divided by
questions of money and inheritance he said: "Look at
the mountaineers of Devolny, a country so wild that
the nightingale is not heard there once in fifty
Well, when the father of a family dies, the boys
go off to seek their fortunes, leaving the property
to the girls, so that they may find husbands." To
the cantons which had a taste for lawsuits, and
where the farmers ruined themselves in stamped
paper, he said:
"Look at those good peasants in the valley of
There are three thousand souls of them. Mon Dieu!
it is like a little republic.
Neither judge nor bailiff is known there.
The mayor does everything.
He allots the imposts, taxes each person
conscientiously, judges quarrels for nothing,
divides inheritances without charge, pronounces
sentences gratuitously; and he is obeyed, because he
is a just man among simple men." To villages where
he found no schoolmaster, he quoted once more the
people of Queyras:
"Do you know how they manage?" he said.
"Since a little country of a dozen or fifteen
hearths cannot always support a teacher, they have
school-masters who are paid by the whole valley, who
make the round of the villages, spending a week in
this one, ten days in that, and instruct them.
These teachers go to the fairs. I have seen them
They are to be recognized by the quill pens which
they wear in the cord of their hat.
Those who teach reading only have one pen; those
who teach reading and reckoning have two pens; those
who teach reading, reckoning, and Latin have three
But what a disgrace to be ignorant!
Do like the people of Queyras!"
Thus he discoursed gravely and paternally; in
default of examples, he invented parables, going
directly to the point, with few phrases and many
images, which characteristic formed the real
eloquence of Jesus Christ.
And being convinced himself, he was persuasive.
WORKS CORRESPONDING TO WORDS
His conversation was gay and affable.
He put himself on a level with the two old women
who had passed their lives beside him. When he
laughed, it was the laugh of a schoolboy.
Madame Magloire liked to call him Your Grace
[Votre Grandeur]. One day he rose from his
arm-chair, and went to his library in search of a
book. This book was on one of the upper shelves.
As the bishop was rather short of stature, he
could not reach it.
"Madame Magloire," said he, "fetch me a chair.
My greatness [grandeur] does not reach as far as
One of his distant relatives, Madame la Comtesse
de Lo, rarely allowed an opportunity to escape of
enumerating, in his presence, what she designated as
"the expectations" of her three sons. She had
numerous relatives, who were very old and near to
death, and of whom her sons were the natural heirs.
The youngest of the three was to receive from a
grand-aunt a good hundred thousand livres of income;
the second was the heir by entail to the title of
the Duke, his uncle; the eldest was to succeed to
the peerage of his grandfather.
The Bishop was accustomed to listen in silence to
these innocent and pardonable maternal boasts.
On one occasion, however, he appeared to be more
thoughtful than usual, while Madame de Lo was
relating once again the details of all these
inheritances and all these "expectations."
She interrupted herself impatiently: "Mon Dieu,
What are you thinking about?"
"I am thinking," replied the Bishop, "of a
singular remark, which is to be found, I believe, in
St. Augustine,--`Place your hopes in the man from
whom you do not inherit.'"
At another time, on receiving a notification of
the decease of a gentleman of the country-side,
wherein not only the dignities of the dead man, but
also the feudal and noble qualifications of all his
relatives, spread over an entire page:
"What a stout back Death has!" he exclaimed.
"What a strange burden of titles is cheerfully
imposed on him, and how much wit must men have, in
order thus to press the tomb into the service of
He was gifted, on occasion, with a gentle
raillery, which almost always concealed a serious
In the course of one Lent, a youthful vicar came
to D----, and preached in the cathedral. He was
The subject of his sermon was charity. He urged
the rich to give to the poor, in order to avoid
hell, which he depicted in the most frightful manner
of which he was capable, and to win paradise, which
he represented as charming and desirable. Among the
audience there was a wealthy retired merchant, who
was somewhat of a usurer, named M. Geborand, who had
amassed two millions in the manufacture of coarse
cloth, serges, and woollen galloons. Never in his
whole life had M. Geborand bestowed alms on any poor
wretch. After the delivery of that sermon, it was
observed that he gave a sou every Sunday to the poor
old beggar-women at the door of the cathedral. There
were six of them to share it.
One day the Bishop caught sight of him in the act
of bestowing this charity, and said to his sister,
with a smile, "There is M. Geborand purchasing
paradise for a sou."
When it was a question of charity, he was not to
be rebuffed even by a refusal, and on such occasions
he gave utterance to remarks which induced
Once he was begging for the poor in a drawing-room
of the town; there was present the Marquis de
Champtercier, a wealthy and avaricious old man, who
contrived to be, at one and the same time, an
ultra-royalist and an ultra-Voltairian. This variety
of man has actually existed.
When the Bishop came to him, he touched his arm,
"You must give me something, M. le Marquis." The
Marquis turned round and answered dryly, "I have
poor people of my own, Monseigneur."
"Give them to me," replied the Bishop.
One day he preached the following sermon in the
"My very dear brethren, my good friends, there
are thirteen hundred and twenty thousand peasants'
dwellings in France which have but three openings;
eighteen hundred and seventeen thousand hovels which
have but two openings, the door and one window; and
three hundred and forty-six thousand cabins besides
which have but one opening, the door.
And this arises from a thing which is called the
tax on doors and windows.
Just put poor families, old women and little
children, in those buildings, and behold the fevers
and maladies which result!
God gives air to men; the law sells it to them. I
do not blame the law, but I bless God.
In the department of the Isere, in the Var, in the
two departments of the Alpes, the Hautes, and the
Basses, the peasants have not even wheelbarrows;
they transport their manure on the backs of men;
they have no candles, and they burn resinous sticks,
and bits of rope dipped in pitch. That is the state
of affairs throughout the whole of the hilly country
They make bread for six months at one time; they
bake it with dried cow-dung. In the winter they
break this bread up with an axe, and they soak it
for twenty-four hours, in order to render it
My brethren, have pity! behold the suffering on
all sides of you!"
Born a Provencal, he easily familiarized himself
with the dialect of the south.
He said, "En be! moussu, ses sage?" as in lower
Languedoc; "Onte anaras passa?" as in the
Basses-Alpes; "Puerte un bouen moutu embe un bouen
fromage grase," as in upper Dauphine.
This pleased the people extremely, and contributed
not a little to win him access to all spirits.
He was perfectly at home in the thatched cottage
and in the mountains.
He understood how to say the grandest things in
the most vulgar of idioms.
As he spoke all tongues, he entered into all
Moreover, he was the same towards people of the
world and towards the lower classes.
He condemned nothing in haste and without taking
circumstances into account.
He said, "Examine the road over which the fault
Being, as he described himself with a smile, an
ex-sinner, he had none of the asperities of
austerity, and he professed, with a good deal of
distinctness, and without the frown of the
ferociously virtuous, a doctrine which may be summed
up as follows:--
"Man has upon him his flesh, which is at once his
burden and his temptation.
He drags it with him and yields to it. He must
watch it, cheek it, repress it, and obey it only at
the last extremity.
There may be some fault even in this obedience;
but the fault thus committed is venial; it is a
fall, but a fall on the knees which may terminate in
"To be a saint is the exception; to be an upright
man is the rule. Err, fall, sin if you will, but be
"The least possible sin is the law of man.
No sin at all is the dream of the angel.
All which is terrestrial is subject to sin. Sin is
When he saw everyone exclaiming very loudly, and
growing angry very quickly, "Oh! oh!" he said, with
a smile; "to all appearance, this is a great crime
which all the world commits.
These are hypocrisies which have taken fright, and
are in haste to make protest and to put themselves
He was indulgent towards women and poor people, on
whom the burden of human society rest.
He said, "The faults of women, of children, of the
feeble, the indigent, and the ignorant, are the
fault of the husbands, the fathers, the masters, the
strong, the rich, and the wise."
He said, moreover, "Teach those who are ignorant
as many things as possible; society is culpable, in
that it does not afford instruction gratis; it is
responsible for the night which it produces. This
soul is full of shadow; sin is therein committed.
The guilty one is not the person who has committed
the sin, but the person who has created the shadow."
It will be perceived that he had a peculiar manner
of his own of judging things:
I suspect that he obtained it from the Gospel.
One day he heard a criminal case, which was in
preparation and on the point of trial, discussed in
a drawing-room. A wretched man, being at the end of
his resources, had coined counterfeit money, out of
love for a woman, and for the child which he had had
by her. Counterfeiting was still punishable with
death at that epoch. The woman had been arrested in
the act of passing the first false piece made by the
She was held, but there were no proofs except
She alone could accuse her lover, and destroy him
by her confession.
She denied; they insisted.
She persisted in her denial.
Thereupon an idea occurred to the attorney for the
crown. He invented an infidelity on the part of the
lover, and succeeded, by means of fragments of
letters cunningly presented, in persuading the
unfortunate woman that she had a rival, and that the
man was deceiving her.
Thereupon, exasperated by jealousy, she denounced
her lover, confessed all, proved all.
The man was ruined.
He was shortly to be tried at Aix with his
They were relating the matter, and each one was
expressing enthusiasm over the cleverness of the
magistrate. By bringing jealousy into play, he had
caused the truth to burst forth in wrath, he had
educed the justice of revenge.
The Bishop listened to all this in silence.
When they had finished, he inquired,--
"Where are this man and woman to be tried?"
"At the Court of Assizes."
He went on, "And where will the advocate of the
crown be tried?"
A tragic event occurred at D---- A man was
condemned to death for murder.
He was a wretched fellow, not exactly educated,
not exactly ignorant, who had been a mountebank at
fairs, and a writer for the public.
The town took a great interest in the trial. On
the eve of the day fixed for the execution of the
condemned man, the chaplain of the prison fell ill.
A priest was needed to attend the criminal in his
They sent for the cure. It seems that he refused
to come, saying, "That is no affair of mine.
I have nothing to do with that unpleasant task,
and with that mountebank:
I, too, am ill; and besides, it is not my place."
This reply was reported to the Bishop, who said,
"Monsieur le Cure is right:
it is not his place; it is mine."
He went instantly to the prison, descended to the
cell of the "mountebank," called him by name, took
him by the hand, and spoke to him. He passed the
entire day with him, forgetful of food and sleep,
praying to God for the soul of the condemned man,
and praying the condemned man for his own.
He told him the best truths, which are also the
He was father, brother, friend; he was bishop only
He taught him everything, encouraged and consoled
him. The man was on the point of dying in despair.
Death was an abyss to him. As he stood trembling
on its mournful brink, he recoiled with horror. He
was not sufficiently ignorant to be absolutely
indifferent. His condemnation, which had been a
profound shock, had, in a manner, broken through,
here and there, that wall which separates us from
the mystery of things, and which we call life.
He gazed incessantly beyond this world through
these fatal breaches, and beheld only darkness.
The Bishop made him see light.
On the following day, when they came to fetch the
unhappy wretch, the Bishop was still there.
He followed him, and exhibited himself to the eyes
of the crowd in his purple camail and with his
episcopal cross upon his neck, side by side with the
criminal bound with cords.
He mounted the tumbril with him, he mounted the
scaffold with him. The sufferer, who had been so
gloomy and cast down on the preceding day, was
He felt that his soul was reconciled, and he hoped
The Bishop embraced him, and at the moment when
the knife was about to fall, he said to him:
"God raises from the dead him whom man slays; he
whom his brothers have rejected finds his Father
Pray, believe, enter into life:
the Father is there." When he descended from the
scaffold, there was something in his look which made
the people draw aside to let him pass.
They did not know which was most worthy of
admiration, his pallor or his serenity. On his
return to the humble dwelling, which he designated,
with a smile, as his palace, he said to his sister,
"I have just officiated pontifically."
Since the most sublime things are often those
which are the least understood, there were people in
the town who said, when commenting on this conduct
of the Bishop, "It is affectation."
This, however, was a remark which was confined to
the drawing-rooms. The populace, which perceives no
jest in holy deeds, was touched, and admired him.
As for the Bishop, it was a shock to him to have
beheld the guillotine, and it was a long time before
he recovered from it.
In fact, when the scaffold is there, all erected
and prepared, it has something about it which
produces hallucination. One may feel a certain
indifference to the death penalty, one may refrain
from pronouncing upon it, from saying yes or no, so
long as one has not seen a guillotine with one's own
eyes: but if one encounters one of them, the shock
is violent; one is forced to decide, and to take
part for or against. Some admire it, like de
Maistre; others execrate it, like Beccaria. The
guillotine is the concretion of the law; it is
called vindicte; it is not neutral, and it does not
permit you to remain neutral. He who sees it shivers
with the most mysterious of shivers. All social
problems erect their interrogation point around this
chopping-knife. The scaffold is a vision.
The scaffold is not a piece of carpentry; the
scaffold is not a machine; the scaffold is not an
inert bit of mechanism constructed of wood, iron and
It seems as though it were a being, possessed of I
know not what sombre initiative; one would say that
this piece of carpenter's work saw, that this
machine heard, that this mechanism understood, that
this wood, this iron, and these cords were possessed
of will. In the frightful meditation into which its
presence casts the soul the scaffold appears in
terrible guise, and as though taking part in what is
The scaffold is the accomplice of the executioner;
it devours, it eats flesh, it drinks blood; the
scaffold is a sort of monster fabricated by the
judge and the carpenter, a spectre which seems to
live with a horrible vitality composed of all the
death which it has inflicted.
Therefore, the impression was terrible and
profound; on the day following the execution, and on
many succeeding days, the Bishop appeared to be
The almost violent serenity of the funereal moment
had disappeared; the phantom of social justice
He, who generally returned from all his deeds with
a radiant satisfaction, seemed to be reproaching
himself. At times he talked to himself, and
stammered lugubrious monologues in a low voice.
This is one which his sister overheard one evening
"I did not think that it was so monstrous. It is
wrong to become absorbed in the divine law to such a
degree as not to perceive human law.
Death belongs to God alone. By what right do men
touch that unknown thing?"
In course of time these impressions weakened and
probably vanished. Nevertheless, it was observed
that the Bishop thenceforth avoided passing the
place of execution.
M. Myriel could be summoned at any hour to the
bedside of the sick and dying.
He did not ignore the fact that therein lay his
greatest duty and his greatest labor.
Widowed and orphaned families had no need to
summon him; he came of his own accord.
He understood how to sit down and hold his peace
for long hours beside the man who had lost the wife
of his love, of the mother who had lost her child.
As he knew the moment for silence he knew also the
moment for speech.
Oh, admirable consoler!
He sought not to efface sorrow by forgetfulness,
but to magnify and dignify it by hope.
"Have a care of the manner in which you turn
towards the dead. Think not of that which perishes.
You will perceive the living light of your
well-beloved dead in the depths of heaven." He knew
that faith is wholesome.
He sought to counsel and calm the despairing man,
by pointing out to him the resigned man, and to
transform the grief which gazes upon a grave by
showing him the grief which fixes its gaze upon a
MONSEIGNEUR BIENVENU MADE HIS CASSOCKS LAST TOO
The private life of M. Myriel was filled with the
same thoughts as his public life.
The voluntary poverty in which the Bishop of D----
lived, would have been a solemn and charming sight
for any one who could have viewed it close at hand.
Like all old men, and like the majority of
thinkers, he slept little. This brief slumber was
In the morning he meditated for an hour, then he
said his mass, either at the cathedral or in his own
house. His mass said, he broke his fast on rye bread
dipped in the milk of his own cows.
Then he set to work.
A Bishop is a very busy man:
he must every day receive the secretary of the
bishopric, who is generally a canon, and nearly
every day his vicars-general. He has congregations
to reprove, privileges to grant, a whole
ecclesiastical library to examine,-- prayer-books,
diocesan catechisms, books of hours, etc.,--charges
to write, sermons to authorize, cures and mayors to
reconcile, a clerical correspondence, an
administrative correspondence; on one side the
State, on the other the Holy See; and a thousand
matters of business.
What time was left to him, after these thousand
details of business, and his offices and his
breviary, he bestowed first on the necessitous, the
sick, and the afflicted; the time which was left to
him from the afflicted, the sick, and the
necessitous, he devoted to work. Sometimes he dug in
his garden; again, he read or wrote.
He had but one word for both these kinds of toil;
he called them gardening. "The mind is a garden,"
Towards mid-day, when the weather was fine, he
went forth and took a stroll in the country or in
town, often entering lowly dwellings. He was seen
walking alone, buried in his own thoughts, his eyes
cast down, supporting himself on his long cane, clad
in his wadded purple garment of silk, which was very
warm, wearing purple stockings inside his coarse
shoes, and surmounted by a flat hat which allowed
three golden tassels of large bullion to droop from
its three points.
It was a perfect festival wherever he appeared.
One would have said that his presence had
something warming and luminous about it. The
children and the old people came out to the
doorsteps for the Bishop as for the sun.
He bestowed his blessing, and they blessed him.
They pointed out his house to any one who was in
need of anything.
Here and there he halted, accosted the little boys
and girls, and smiled upon the mothers.
He visited the poor so long as he had any money;
when he no longer had any, he visited the rich.
As he made his cassocks last a long while, and did
not wish to have it noticed, he never went out in
the town without his wadded purple cloak.
This inconvenienced him somewhat in summer.
On his return, he dined.
The dinner resembled his breakfast.
At half-past eight in the evening he supped with
his sister, Madame Magloire standing behind them and
serving them at table. Nothing could be more frugal
than this repast.
If, however, the Bishop had one of his cures to
supper, Madame Magloire took advantage of the
opportunity to serve Monseigneur with some excellent
fish from the lake, or with some fine game from the
Every cure furnished the pretext for a good meal:
the Bishop did not interfere. With that exception,
his ordinary diet consisted only of vegetables
boiled in water, and oil soup.
Thus it was said in the town, when the Bishop does
not indulge in the cheer of a cure, he indulges in
the cheer of a trappist.
After supper he conversed for half an hour with
Mademoiselle Baptistine and Madame Magloire; then he
retired to his own room and set to writing,
sometimes on loose sheets, and again on the margin
of some folio. He was a man of letters and rather
He left behind him five or six very curious
manuscripts; among others, a dissertation on this
verse in Genesis, In the beginning, the spirit of
God floated upon the waters.
With this verse he compares three texts: the
Arabic verse which says, The winds of God blew;
Flavius Josephus who says, A wind from above was
precipitated upon the earth; and finally, the
Chaldaic paraphrase of Onkelos, which renders it, A
wind coming from God blew upon the face of the
waters. In another dissertation, he examines the
theological works of Hugo, Bishop of Ptolemais,
great-grand-uncle to the writer of this book, and
establishes the fact, that to this bishop must be
attributed the divers little works published during
the last century, under the pseudonym of
Sometimes, in the midst of his reading, no matter
what the book might be which he had in his hand, he
would suddenly fall into a profound meditation,
whence he only emerged to write a few lines on the
pages of the volume itself.
These lines have often no connection whatever with
the book which contains them.
We now have under our eyes a note written by him
on the margin of a quarto entitled Correspondence of
Lord Germain with Generals Clinton, Cornwallis, and
the Admirals on the American station.
Versailles, Poincot, book-seller; and Paris,
Pissot, bookseller, Quai des Augustins.
Here is the note:--
"Oh, you who are!
"Ecclesiastes calls you the All-powerful; the
Maccabees call you the Creator; the Epistle to the
Ephesians calls you liberty; Baruch calls you
Immensity; the Psalms call you Wisdom and Truth;
John calls you Light; the Books of Kings call you
Lord; Exodus calls you Providence; Leviticus,
Sanctity; Esdras, Justice; the creation calls you
God; man calls you Father; but Solomon calls you
Compassion, and that is the most beautiful of all
Toward nine o'clock in the evening the two women
retired and betook themselves to their chambers on
the first floor, leaving him alone until morning on
the ground floor.
It is necessary that we should, in this place,
give an exact idea of the dwelling of the Bishop of
WHO GUARDED HIS HOUSE FOR HIM
The house in which he lived consisted, as we have
said, of a ground floor, and one story above; three
rooms on the ground floor, three chambers on the
first, and an attic above.
Behind the house was a garden, a quarter of an
acre in extent.
The two women occupied the first floor; the Bishop
was lodged below.
The first room, opening on the street, served him
as dining-room, the second was his bedroom, and the
third his oratory.
There was no exit possible from this oratory,
except by passing through the bedroom, nor from the
bedroom, without passing through the dining-room. At
the end of the suite, in the oratory, there was a
detached alcove with a bed, for use in cases of
The Bishop offered this bed to country curates
whom business or the requirements of their parishes
brought to D----
The pharmacy of the hospital, a small building
which had been added to the house, and abutted on
the garden, had been transformed into a kitchen and
In addition to this, there was in the garden a
stable, which had formerly been the kitchen of the
hospital, and in which the Bishop kept two cows.
No matter what the quantity of milk they gave, he
invariably sent half of it every morning to the sick
people in the hospital.
"I am paying my tithes," he said.
His bedroom was tolerably large, and rather
difficult to warm in bad weather.
As wood is extremely dear at D----, he hit upon
the idea of having a compartment of boards
constructed in the cow-shed. Here he passed his
evenings during seasons of severe cold: he called it
his winter salon.
In this winter salon, as in the dining-room, there
was no other furniture than a square table in white
wood, and four straw-seated chairs. In addition to
this the dining-room was ornamented with an antique
sideboard, painted pink, in water colors.
Out of a similar sideboard, properly draped with
white napery and imitation lace, the Bishop had
constructed the altar which decorated his oratory.
His wealthy penitents and the sainted women of
D---- had more than once assessed themselves to
raise the money for a new altar for Monseigneur's
oratory; on each occasion he had taken the money and
had given it to the poor.
"The most beautiful of altars," he said, "is the
soul of an unhappy creature consoled and thanking
In his oratory there were two straw prie-Dieu, and
there was an arm-chair, also in straw, in his
When, by chance, he received seven or eight
persons at one time, the prefect,
or the general, or the staff of the regiment in
garrison, or several pupils from the little
seminary, the chairs had to be fetched from the
winter salon in the stable, the prie-Dieu from the
oratory, and the arm-chair from the bedroom:
in this way as many as eleven chairs could be
collected for the visitors.
A room was dismantled for each new guest.
It sometimes happened that there were twelve in
the party; the Bishop then relieved the
embarrassment of the situation by standing in front
of the chimney if it was winter, or by strolling in
the garden if it was summer.
There was still another chair in the detached
alcove, but the straw was half gone from it, and it
had but three legs, so that it was of service only
when propped against the wall.
Mademoiselle Baptistine had also in her own room a
very large easy-chair of wood, which had formerly
been gilded, and which was covered with flowered
pekin; but they had been obliged to hoist this
bergere up to the first story through the window, as
the staircase was too narrow; it could not,
therefore, be reckoned among the possibilities in
the way of furniture.
Mademoiselle Baptistine's ambition had been to be
able to purchase a set of drawing-room furniture in
yellow Utrecht velvet, stamped with a rose pattern,
and with mahogany in swan's neck style, with a sofa.
But this would have cost five hundred francs at
least, and in view of the fact that she had only
been able to lay by forty-two francs and ten sous
for this purpose in the course of five years, she
had ended by renouncing the idea.
However, who is there who has attained his ideal?
Nothing is more easy to present to the imagination
than the Bishop's bedchamber.
A glazed door opened on the garden; opposite this
was the bed,--a hospital bed of iron, with a canopy
of green serge; in the shadow of the bed, behind a
curtain, were the utensils of the toilet, which
still betrayed the elegant habits of the man of the
world: there were two doors, one near the chimney,
opening into the oratory; the other near the
bookcase, opening into the dining-room. The bookcase
was a large cupboard with glass doors filled with
books; the chimney was of wood painted to represent
marble, and habitually without fire. In the chimney
stood a pair of firedogs of iron, ornamented above
with two garlanded vases, and flutings which had
formerly been silvered with silver leaf, which was a
sort of episcopal luxury; above the chimney-piece
hung a crucifix of copper, with the silver worn off,
fixed on a background of threadbare velvet in a
wooden frame from which the gilding had fallen; near
the glass door a large table with an inkstand,
loaded with a confusion of papers and with huge
volumes; before the table an arm-chair of straw; in
front of the bed a prie-Dieu, borrowed from the
Two portraits in oval frames were fastened to the
wall on each side of the bed.
Small gilt inscriptions on the plain surface of
the cloth at the side of these figures indicated
that the portraits represented, one the Abbe of
Chaliot, bishop of Saint Claude; the other, the Abbe
Tourteau, vicar-general of Agde, abbe of
Grand-Champ, order of Citeaux, diocese of Chartres.
When the Bishop succeeded to this apartment, after
the hospital patients, he had found these portraits
there, and had left them.
They were priests, and probably donors--two
reasons for respecting them.
All that he knew about these two persons was, that
they had been appointed by the king, the one to his
bishopric, the other to his benefice, on the same
day, the 27th of April, 1785.
Madame Magloire having taken the pictures down to
dust, the Bishop had discovered these particulars
written in whitish ink on a little square of paper,
yellowed by time, and attached to the back of the
portrait of the Abbe of Grand-Champ with four
At his window he had an antique curtain of a
coarse woollen stuff, which finally became so old,
that, in order to avoid the expense of a new one,
Madame Magloire was forced to take a large seam in
the very middle of it.
This seam took the form of a cross. The Bishop
often called attention to it:
"How delightful that is!" he said.
All the rooms in the house, without exception,
those on the ground floor as well as those on the
first floor, were white-washed, which is a fashion
in barracks and hospitals.
However, in their latter years, Madame Magloire
discovered beneath the paper which had been washed
over, paintings, ornamenting the apartment of
Mademoiselle Baptistine, as we shall see further on.
Before becoming a hospital, this house had been the
ancient parliament house of the Bourgeois.
Hence this decoration. The chambers were paved in
red bricks, which were washed every week, with straw
mats in front of all the beds.
Altogether, this dwelling, which was attended to
by the two women, was exquisitely clean from top to
This was the sole luxury which the Bishop
permitted. He said, "That takes nothing from the
It must be confessed, however, that he still
retained from his former possessions six silver
knives and forks and a soup-ladle, which Madame
Magloire contemplated every day with delight, as
they glistened splendidly upon the coarse linen
cloth. And since we are now painting the Bishop of
D---- as he was in reality, we must add that he had
said more than once, "I find it difficult to
renounce eating from silver dishes."
To this silverware must be added two large
candlesticks of massive silver, which he had
inherited from a great-aunt. These candlesticks held
two wax candles, and usually figured on the Bishop's
chimney-piece. When he had any one to dinner, Madame
Magloire lighted the two candles and set the
candlesticks on the table.
In the Bishop's own chamber, at the head of his
bed, there was a small cupboard, in which Madame
Magloire locked up the six silver knives and forks
and the big spoon every night. But it is necessary
to add, that the key was never removed.
The garden, which had been rather spoiled by the
ugly buildings which we have mentioned, was composed
of four alleys in cross-form, radiating from a tank.
Another walk made the circuit of the garden, and
skirted the white wall which enclosed it.
These alleys left behind them four square plots
rimmed with box.
In three of these, Madame Magloire cultivated
vegetables; in the fourth, the Bishop had planted
some flowers; here and there stood a few
fruit-trees. Madame Magloire had once remarked, with
a sort of gentle malice: "Monseigneur, you who turn
everything to account, have, nevertheless, one
It would be better to grow salads there than
bouquets." "Madame Magloire," retorted the Bishop,
"you are mistaken. The beautiful is as useful as the
He added after a pause, "More so, perhaps."
This plot, consisting of three or four beds,
occupied the Bishop almost as much as did his books.
He liked to pass an hour or two there, trimming,
hoeing, and making holes here and there in the
earth, into which he dropped seeds.
He was not as hostile to insects as a gardener
could have wished to see him.
Moreover, he made no pretensions to botany; he
ignored groups and consistency; he made not the
slightest effort to decide between Tournefort and
the natural method; he took part neither with the
buds against the cotyledons, nor with Jussieu
He did not study plants; he loved flowers. He
respected learned men greatly; he respected the
ignorant still more; and, without ever failing in
these two respects, he watered his flower-beds every
summer evening with a tin watering-pot painted
The house had not a single door which could be
The door of the dining-room, which, as we have
said, opened directly on the cathedral square, had
formerly been ornamented with locks and bolts like
the door of a prison.
The Bishop had had all this ironwork removed, and
this door was never fastened, either by night or by
day, with anything except the latch.
All that the first passerby had to do at any hour,
was to give it a push.
At first, the two women had been very much tried
by this door, which was never fastened, but Monsieur
de D---- had said to them, "Have bolts put on your
rooms, if that will please you."
They had ended by sharing his confidence, or by at
least acting as though they shared it.
Madame Magloire alone had frights from time to
As for the Bishop, his thought can be found
explained, or at least indicated, in the three lines
which he wrote on the margin of a Bible, "This is
the shade of difference:
the door of the physician should never be shut,
the door of the priest should always be open."
On another book, entitled Philosophy of the
Medical Science, he had written this other note:
"Am not I a physician like them? I also have my
patients, and then, too, I have some whom I call my
Again he wrote:
"Do not inquire the name of him who asks a shelter
The very man who is embarrassed by his name is the
one who needs shelter."
It chanced that a worthy cure, I know not whether
it was the cure of Couloubroux or the cure of
Pompierry, took it into his head to ask him one day,
probably at the instigation of Madame Magloire,
whether Monsieur was sure that he was not committing
an indiscretion, to a certain extent, in leaving his
door unfastened day and night, at the mercy of any
one who should choose to enter, and whether, in
short, he did not fear lest some misfortune might
occur in a house so little guarded.
The Bishop touched his shoulder, with gentle
gravity, and said to him, "Nisi Dominus custodierit
domum, in vanum vigilant qui custodiunt eam," Unless
the Lord guard the house, in vain do they watch who
Then he spoke of something else.
He was fond of saying, "There is a bravery of the
priest as well as the bravery of a colonel of
dragoons,--only," he added, "ours must be tranquil."
It is here that a fact falls naturally into
place, which we must not omit, because it is one of
the sort which show us best what sort of a man the
Bishop of D---- was.
After the destruction of the band of Gaspard Bes,
who had infested the gorges of Ollioules, one of his
lieutenants, Cravatte, took refuge in the mountains.
He concealed himself for some time with his
bandits, the remnant of Gaspard Bes's troop, in the
county of Nice; then he made his way to Piedmont,
and suddenly reappeared in France, in the vicinity
He was first seen at Jauziers, then at Tuiles.
He hid himself in the caverns of the
Joug-de-l'Aigle, and thence he descended towards the
hamlets and villages through the ravines of Ubaye
He even pushed as far as Embrun, entered the
cathedral one night, and despoiled the sacristy.
His highway robberies laid waste the country-side.
The gendarmes were set on his track, but in vain. He
always escaped; sometimes he resisted by main force.
He was a bold wretch.
In the midst of all this terror the Bishop
arrived. He was making his circuit to Chastelar.
The mayor came to meet him, and urged him to
retrace his steps.
Cravatte was in possession of the mountains as far
as Arche, and beyond; there was danger even with an
escort; it merely exposed three or four unfortunate
gendarmes to no purpose.
"Therefore," said the Bishop, "I intend to go
"You do not really mean that, Monseigneur!"
exclaimed the mayor.
"I do mean it so thoroughly that I absolutely
refuse any gendarmes, and shall set out in an hour."
"Monseigneur, you will not do that!"
"There exists yonder in the mountains," said the
Bishop, a tiny community no bigger than that, which
I have not seen for three years. They are my good
friends, those gentle and honest shepherds.
They own one goat out of every thirty that they
They make very pretty woollen cords of various
colors, and they play the mountain airs on little
flutes with six holes.
They need to be told of the good God now and then.
What would they say to a bishop who was afraid?
What would they say if I did not go?"
"But the brigands, Monseigneur?"
"Hold," said the Bishop, "I must think of that.
You are right. I may meet them.
They, too, need to be told of the good God."
"But, Monseigneur, there is a band of them!
A flock of wolves!"
"Monsieur le maire, it may be that it is of this
very flock of wolves that Jesus has constituted me
Who knows the ways of Providence?"
"They will rob you, Monseigneur."
"I have nothing."
"They will kill you."
"An old goodman of a priest, who passes along
mumbling his prayers? Bah!
To what purpose?"
"Oh, mon Dieu! what if you should meet them!"
"I should beg alms of them for my poor."
"Do not go, Monseigneur.
In the name of Heaven!
You are risking your life!"
"Monsieur le maire," said the Bishop, "is that
really all? I am not in the world to guard my own
life, but to guard souls."
They had to allow him to do as he pleased.
He set out, accompanied only by a child who
offered to serve as a guide.
His obstinacy was bruited about the country-side,
and caused great consternation.
He would take neither his sister nor Madame
He traversed the mountain on mule-back,
encountered no one, and arrived safe and sound at
the residence of his "good friends," the shepherds.
He remained there for a fortnight, preaching,
administering the sacrament, teaching, exhorting.
When the time of his departure approached, he
resolved to chant a Te Deum pontifically.
He mentioned it to the cure.
But what was to be done?
There were no episcopal ornaments. They could only
place at his disposal a wretched village sacristy,
with a few ancient chasubles of threadbare damask
adorned with imitation lace.
"Bah!" said the Bishop.
"Let us announce our Te Deum from the pulpit,
nevertheless, Monsieur le Cure.
Things will arrange themselves."
They instituted a search in the churches of the
neighborhood. All the magnificence of these humble
parishes combined would not have sufficed to clothe
the chorister of a cathedral properly.
While they were thus embarrassed, a large chest
was brought and deposited in the presbytery for the
Bishop, by two unknown horsemen, who departed on the
The chest was opened; it contained a cope of cloth
of gold, a mitre ornamented with diamonds, an
archbishop's cross, a magnificent crosier,--all the
pontifical vestments which had been stolen a month
previously from the treasury of Notre Dame d'Embrun.
In the chest was a paper, on which these words were
written, "From Cravatte to Monseigneur Bienvenu."
"Did not I say that things would come right of
themselves?" said the Bishop.
Then he added, with a smile, "To him who contents
himself with the surplice of a curate, God sends the
cope of an archbishop."
"Monseigneur," murmured the cure, throwing back
his head with a smile. "God--or the Devil."
The Bishop looked steadily at the cure, and
repeated with authority, "God!"
When he returned to Chastelar, the people came out
to stare at him as at a curiosity, all along the
At the priest's house in Chastelar he rejoined
Mademoiselle Baptistine and Madame Magloire, who
were waiting for him, and he said to his sister:
"Well! was I in the right?
The poor priest went to his poor mountaineers with
empty hands, and he returns from them with his hands
full. I set out bearing only my faith in God; I have
brought back the treasure of a cathedral."
That evening, before he went to bed, he said
"Let us never fear robbers nor murderers.
Those are dangers from without, petty dangers.
Let us fear ourselves.
Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the
The great dangers lie within ourselves. What
matters it what threatens our head or our purse!
Let us think only of that which threatens our
Then, turning to his sister:
"Sister, never a precaution on the part of the
priest, against his fellow-man. That which his
fellow does, God permits.
Let us confine ourselves to prayer, when we think
that a danger is approaching us.
Let us pray, not for ourselves, but that our
brother may not fall into sin on our account."
However, such incidents were rare in his life.
We relate those of which we know; but generally he
passed his life in doing the same things at the same
One month of his year resembled one hour of his
As to what became of "the treasure" of the
cathedral of Embrun, we should be embarrassed by any
inquiry in that direction. It consisted of very
handsome things, very tempting things, and things
which were very well adapted to be stolen for the
benefit of the unfortunate.
Stolen they had already been elsewhere. Half of
the adventure was completed; it only remained to
impart a new direction to the theft, and to cause it
to take a short trip in the direction of the poor.
However, we make no assertions on this point.
Only, a rather obscure note was found among the
Bishop's papers, which may bear some relation to
this matter, and which is couched in these terms,
"The question is, to decide whether this should be
turned over to the cathedral or to the hospital."
PHILOSOPHY AFTER DRINKING
The senator above mentioned was a clever man, who
had made his own way, heedless of those things which
present obstacles, and which are called conscience,
sworn faith, justice, duty:
he had marched straight to his goal, without once
flinching in the line of his advancement and his
He was an old attorney, softened by success; not a
bad man by any means, who rendered all the small
services in his power to his sons, his sons-in-law,
his relations, and even to his friends, having
wisely seized upon, in life, good sides, good
opportunities, good windfalls. Everything else
seemed to him very stupid.
He was intelligent, and just sufficiently educated
to think himself a disciple of Epicurus; while he
was, in reality, only a product of Pigault-Lebrun.
He laughed willingly and pleasantly over infinite
and eternal things, and at the "Crotchets of that
good old fellow the Bishop." He even sometimes
laughed at him with an amiable authority in the
presence of M. Myriel himself, who listened to him.
On some semi-official occasion or other, I do not
recollect what, Count*** [this senator] and M.
Myriel were to dine with the prefect. At dessert,
the senator, who was slightly exhilarated, though
still perfectly dignified, exclaimed:--
"Egad, Bishop, let's have a discussion.
It is hard for a senator and a bishop to look at
each other without winking.
We are two augurs. I am going to make a confession
I have a philosophy of my own."
"And you are right," replied the Bishop.
"As one makes one's philosophy, so one lies on it.
You are on the bed of purple, senator."
The senator was encouraged, and went on:--
"Let us be good fellows."
"Good devils even," said the Bishop.
"I declare to you," continued the senator, "that
the Marquis d'Argens, Pyrrhon, Hobbes, and M.
Naigeon are no rascals. I have all the philosophers
in my library gilded on the edges."
"Like yourself, Count," interposed the Bishop.
The senator resumed:--
"I hate Diderot; he is an ideologist, a declaimer,
and a revolutionist, a believer in God at bottom,
and more bigoted than Voltaire. Voltaire made sport
of Needham, and he was wrong, for Needham's eels
prove that God is useless.
A drop of vinegar in a spoonful of flour paste
supplies the fiat lux.
Suppose the drop to be larger and the spoonful
bigger; you have the world.
Man is the eel. Then what is the good of the
The Jehovah hypothesis tires me, Bishop.
It is good for nothing but to produce shallow
people, whose reasoning is hollow.
Down with that great All, which torments me!
Hurrah for Zero which leaves me in peace!
Between you and me, and in order to empty my sack,
and make confession to my pastor, as it behooves me
to do, I will admit to you that I have good sense. I
am not enthusiastic over your Jesus, who preaches
renunciation and sacrifice to the last extremity.
'Tis the counsel of an avaricious man to beggars.
Sacrifice; to what end? I do not see one wolf
immolating himself for the happiness of another
Let us stick to nature, then.
We are at the top; let us have a superior
What is the advantage of being at the top, if one
sees no further than the end of other people's
Let us live merrily.
Life is all.
That man has another future elsewhere, on high,
below, anywhere, I don't believe; not one single
word of it.
Ah! sacrifice and renunciation are recommended to
me; I must take heed to everything I do; I must
cudgel my brains over good and evil, over the just
and the unjust, over the fas and the nefas.
Because I shall have to render an account of my
What a fine dream! After my death it will be a
very clever person who can catch me. Have a handful
of dust seized by a shadow-hand, if you can. Let us
tell the truth, we who are initiated, and who have
raised the veil of Isis:
there is no such thing as either good or evil;
there is vegetation.
Let us seek the real.
Let us get to the bottom of it.
Let us go into it thoroughly.
What the deuce! let us go to the bottom of it!
We must scent out the truth; dig in the earth for
it, and seize it.
Then it gives you exquisite joys. Then you grow
strong, and you laugh.
I am square on the bottom, I am.
Immortality, Bishop, is a chance, a waiting for
dead men's shoes.
Ah! what a charming promise! trust to it, if you
like! What a fine lot Adam has!
We are souls, and we shall be angels, with blue
wings on our shoulder-blades. Do come to my
assistance: is it not Tertullian who says that the
blessed shall travel from star to star?
We shall be the grasshoppers of the stars. And
then, besides, we shall see God.
Ta, ta, ta!
What twaddle all these paradises are!
God is a nonsensical monster.
I would not say that in the Moniteur, egad! but I
may whisper it among friends. Inter pocula.
To sacrifice the world to paradise is to let slip
the prey for the shadow.
Be the dupe of the infinite! I'm not such a fool.
I am a nought.
I call myself Monsieur le Comte Nought, senator.
Did I exist before my birth?
No. Shall I exist after death?
No. What am I?
A little dust collected in an organism. What am I
to do on this earth?
The choice rests with me: suffer or enjoy.
Whither will suffering lead me?
To nothingness; but I shall have suffered.
Whither will enjoyment lead me? To nothingness;
but I shall have enjoyed myself.
My choice is made. One must eat or be eaten.
I shall eat.
It is better to be the tooth than the grass.
Such is my wisdom.
After which, go whither I push thee, the
grave-digger is there; the Pantheon for some of us:
all falls into the great hole.
Total liquidation. This is the vanishing-point.
Death is death, believe me. I laugh at the idea of
there being any one who has anything to tell me on
Fables of nurses; bugaboo for children; Jehovah
No; our to-morrow is the night.
Beyond the tomb there is nothing but equal
You have been Sardanapalus, you have been Vincent
de Paul--it makes no difference.
That is the truth.
Then live your life, above all things.
Make use of your _I_ while you have it.
In truth, Bishop, I tell you that I have a
philosophy of my own, and I have my philosophers.
I don't let myself be taken in with that nonsense.
Of course, there must be something for those who
are down,--for the barefooted beggars,
knife-grinders, and miserable wretches.
Legends, chimeras, the soul, immortality,
paradise, the stars, are provided for them to
swallow. They gobble it down.
They spread it on their dry bread. He who has
nothing else has the good.
That is the least he can have.
I oppose no objection to that; but I reserve
Monsieur Naigeon for myself.
The good God is good for the populace."
The Bishop clapped his hands.
"That's talking!" he exclaimed.
"What an excellent and really marvellous thing is
Not every one who wants it can have it.
Ah! when one does have it, one is no longer a
dupe, one does not stupidly allow one's self to be
exiled like Cato, nor stoned like Stephen, nor
burned alive like Jeanne d'Arc. Those who have
succeeded in procuring this admirable materialism
have the joy of feeling themselves irresponsible,
and of thinking that they can devour everything
without uneasiness,--places, sinecures, dignities,
power, whether well or ill acquired, lucrative
recantations, useful treacheries, savory
capitulations of conscience,--and that they shall
enter the tomb with their digestion accomplished.
How agreeable that is! I do not say that with
reference to you, senator.
Nevertheless, it is impossible for me to refrain
from congratulating you.
You great lords have, so you say, a philosophy of
your own, and for yourselves, which is exquisite,
refined, accessible to the rich alone, good for all
sauces, and which seasons the voluptuousness of life
This philosophy has been extracted from the
depths, and unearthed by special seekers.
But you are good-natured princes, and you do not
think it a bad thing that belief in the good God
should constitute the philosophy of the people, very
much as the goose stuffed with chestnuts is the
truffled turkey of the poor."
THE BROTHER AS DEPICTED BY THE SISTER
In order to furnish an idea of the private
establishment of the Bishop of D----, and of the
manner in which those two sainted women subordinated
their actions, their thoughts, their feminine
instincts even, which are easily alarmed, to the
habits and purposes of the Bishop, without his even
taking the trouble of speaking in order to explain
them, we cannot do better than transcribe in this
place a letter from Mademoiselle Baptistine to
Madame the Vicomtess de Boischevron, the friend of
This letter is in our possession.
D----, Dec. 16, 18--. MY GOOD MADAM:
Not a day passes without our speaking of you. It
is our established custom; but there is another
reason besides. Just imagine, while washing and
dusting the ceilings and walls, Madam Magloire has
made some discoveries; now our two chambers hung
with antique paper whitewashed over, would not
discredit a chateau in the style of yours.
Madam Magloire has pulled off all the paper. There
were things beneath.
My drawing-room, which contains no furniture, and
which we use for spreading out the linen after
washing, is fifteen feet in height, eighteen square,
with a ceiling which was formerly painted and
gilded, and with beams, as in yours. This was
covered with a cloth while this was the hospital.
And the woodwork was of the era of our grandmothers.
But my room is the one you ought to see.
Madam Magloire has discovered, under at least ten
thicknesses of paper pasted on top, some paintings,
which without being good are very tolerable.
The subject is Telemachus being knighted by
Minerva in some gardens, the name of which escapes
In short, where the Roman ladies repaired on one
What shall I say to you?
I have Romans, and Roman ladies [here occurs an
illegible word], and the whole train. Madam Magloire
has cleaned it all off; this summer she is going to
have some small injuries repaired, and the whole
revarnished, and my chamber will be a regular
She has also found in a corner of the attic two
wooden pier-tables of ancient fashion. They asked us
two crowns of six francs each to regild them, but it
is much better to give the money to the poor; and
they are very ugly besides, and I should much prefer
a round table of mahogany.
I am always very happy.
My brother is so good.
He gives all he has to the poor and sick.
We are very much cramped.
The country is trying in the winter, and we really
must do something for those who are in need.
We are almost comfortably lighted and warmed. You
see that these are great treats.
My brother has ways of his own.
When he talks, he says that a bishop ought to be
Just imagine! the door of our house is never
fastened. Whoever chooses to enter finds himself at
once in my brother's room. He fears nothing, even at
That is his sort of bravery, he says.
He does not wish me or Madame Magloire feel any
fear for him. He exposes himself to all sorts of
dangers, and he does not like to have us even seem
to notice it.
One must know how to understand him.
He goes out in the rain, he walks in the water, he
travels in winter. He fears neither suspicious roads
nor dangerous encounters, nor night.
year he went quite alone into a country of
He would not take us.
He was absent for a fortnight.
On his return nothing had happened to him; he was
thought to be dead, but was perfectly well, and
said, "This is the way I have been robbed!"
And then he opened a trunk full of jewels, all the
jewels of the cathedral of Embrun, which the thieves
had given him.
When he returned on that occasion, I could not
refrain from scolding him a little, taking care,
however, not to speak except when the carriage was
making a noise, so that no one might hear me.
At first I used to say to myself, "There are no
dangers which will stop him; he is terrible."
Now I have ended by getting used to it. I make a
sign to Madam Magloire that she is not to oppose
him. He risks himself as he sees fit.
I carry off Madam Magloire, I enter my chamber, I
pray for him and fall asleep.
I am at ease, because I know that if anything were
to happen to him, it would be the end of me.
I should go to the good God with my brother and my
It has cost Madam Magloire more trouble than it
did me to accustom herself to what she terms his
But now the habit has been acquired.
We pray together, we tremble together, and we fall
If the devil were to enter this house, he would be
allowed to do so.
After all, what is there for us to fear in this
There is always some one with us who is stronger
The devil may pass through it, but the good God
This suffices me.
My brother has no longer any need of saying a word
I understand him without his speaking, and we
abandon ourselves to the care of Providence.
That is the way one has to do with a man who
possesses grandeur of soul.
I have interrogated my brother with regard to the
information which you desire on the subject of the
You are aware that he knows everything, and that
he has memories, because he is still a very good
They really are a very ancient Norman family of
the generalship of Caen.
Five hundred years ago there was a Raoul de Faux,
a Jean de Faux, and a Thomas de Faux, who were
gentlemen, and one of whom was a seigneur de
Rochefort. The last was Guy-Etienne-Alexandre, and
was commander of a regiment, and something in the
light horse of Bretagne.
His daughter, Marie-Louise, married Adrien-Charles
de Gramont, son of the Duke Louis de Gramont, peer
of France, colonel of the French guards, and
lieutenant-general of the army.
It is written Faux, Fauq, and Faoucq.
Good Madame, recommend us to the prayers of your
sainted relative, Monsieur the Cardinal.
As for your dear Sylvanie, she has done well in
not wasting the few moments which she passes with
you in writing to me.
She is well, works as you would wish, and loves
That is all that I desire.
The souvenir which she sent through you reached me
safely, and it makes me very happy.
My health is not so very bad, and yet I grow
thinner every day.
Farewell; my paper is at an end, and this forces
me to leave you.
A thousand good wishes.
P.S. Your grand nephew is charming.
Do you know that he will soon be five years old?
Yesterday he saw some one riding by on horseback
who had on knee-caps, and he said, "What has he got
on his knees?" He is a charming child!
His little brother is dragging an old broom about
the room, like a carriage, and saying, "Hu!"
As will be perceived from this letter, these two
women understood how to mould themselves to the
Bishop's ways with that special feminine genius
which comprehends the man better than he comprehends
himself. The Bishop of D----, in spite of the gentle
and candid air which never deserted him, sometimes
did things that were grand, bold, and magnificent,
without seeming to have even a suspicion of the
fact. They trembled, but they let him alone.
Sometimes Madame Magloire essayed a remonstrance
in advance, but never at the time, nor afterwards.
They never interfered with him by so much as a word
or sign, in any action once entered upon.
At certain moments, without his having occasion to
mention it, when he was not even conscious of it
himself in all probability, so perfect was his
simplicity, they vaguely felt that he was acting as
a bishop; then they were nothing more than two
shadows in the house.
They served him passively; and if obedience
consisted in disappearing, they disappeared. They
understood, with an admirable delicacy of instinct,
that certain cares may be put under constraint.
Thus, even when believing him to be in peril, they
understood, I will not say his thought, but his
nature, to such a degree that they no longer watched
over him. They confided him to God.
Moreover, Baptistine said, as we have just read,
that her brother's end would prove her own.
Madame Magloire did not say this, but she knew it.
THE BISHOP IN THE PRESENCE OF AN UNKNOWN LIGHT
At an epoch a little later than the date of the
letter cited in the preceding pages, he did a thing
which, if the whole town was to be believed, was
even more hazardous than his trip across the
mountains infested with bandits.
In the country near D---- a man lived quite alone.
This man, we will state at once, was a former
member of the Convention. His name was G----
Member of the Convention, G---- was mentioned with
a sort of horror in the little world of D---- A
member of the Convention--can you imagine such a
That existed from the time when people called each
other thou, and when they said "citizen."
This man was almost a monster.
He had not voted for the death of the king, but
He was a quasi-regicide. He had been a terrible
man. How did it happen that such a man had not been
brought before a provost's court, on the return of
the legitimate princes? They need not have cut off
his head, if you please; clemency must be exercised,
agreed; but a good banishment for life.
An example, in short, etc.
Besides, he was an atheist, like all the rest of
Gossip of the geese about the vulture.
Was G---- a vulture after all?
Yes; if he were to be judged by the element of
ferocity in this solitude of his.
As he had not voted for the death of the king, he
had not been included in the decrees of exile, and
had been able to remain in France.
He dwelt at a distance of three-quarters of an
hour from the city, far from any hamlet, far from
any road, in some hidden turn of a very wild valley,
no one knew exactly where.
He had there, it was said, a sort of field, a
hole, a lair.
There were no neighbors, not even passers-by.
Since he had dwelt in that valley, the path which
led thither had disappeared under a growth of grass.
The locality was spoken of as though it had been the
dwelling of a hangman.
Nevertheless, the Bishop meditated on the subject,
and from time to time he gazed at the horizon at a
point where a clump of trees marked the valley of
the former member of the Convention, and he said,
"There is a soul yonder which is lonely."
And he added, deep in his own mind, "I owe him a
But, let us avow it, this idea, which seemed
natural at the first blush, appeared to him after a
moment's reflection, as strange, impossible, and
For, at bottom, he shared the general impression,
and the old member of the Convention inspired him,
without his being clearly conscious of the fact
himself, with that sentiment which borders on hate,
and which is so well expressed by the word
Still, should the scab of the sheep cause the
shepherd to recoil? No. But what a sheep!
The good Bishop was perplexed.
Sometimes he set out in that direction; then he
Finally, the rumor one day spread through the town
that a sort of young shepherd, who served the member
of the Convention in his hovel, had come in quest of
a doctor; that the old wretch was dying, that
paralysis was gaining on him, and that he would not
live over night.--"Thank God!" some added.
The Bishop took his staff, put on his cloak, on
account of his too threadbare cassock, as we have
mentioned, and because of the evening breeze which
was sure to rise soon, and set out.
The sun was setting, and had almost touched the
horizon when the Bishop arrived at the
With a certain beating of the heart, he recognized
the fact that he was near the lair. He strode over a
ditch, leaped a hedge, made his way through a fence
of dead boughs, entered a neglected paddock, took a
few steps with a good deal of boldness, and
suddenly, at the extremity of the waste land, and
behind lofty brambles, he caught sight of the
It was a very low hut, poor, small, and clean,
with a vine nailed against the outside.
Near the door, in an old wheel-chair, the
arm-chair of the peasants, there was a white-haired
man, smiling at the sun.
Near the seated man stood a young boy, the
shepherd lad. He was offering the old man a jar of
While the Bishop was watching him, the old man
"Thank you," he said, "I need nothing."
And his smile quitted the sun to rest upon the
The Bishop stepped forward.
At the sound which he made in walking, the old man
turned his head, and his face expressed the sum
total of the surprise which a man can still feel
after a long life.
"This is the first time since I have been here,"
said he, "that any one has entered here.
Who are you, sir?"
The Bishop answered:--
"My name is Bienvenu Myriel."
I have heard that name.
Are you the man whom the people call Monseigneur
The old man resumed with a half-smile
"In that case, you are my bishop?"
"Something of that sort."
The member of the Convention extended his hand to
the Bishop, but the Bishop did not take it.
The Bishop confined himself to the remark:--
"I am pleased to see that I have been misinformed.
You certainly do not seem to me to be ill."
"Monsieur," replied the old man, "I am going to
He paused, and then said:--
"I shall die three hours hence."
Then he continued:--
"I am something of a doctor; I know in what
fashion the last hour draws on.
Yesterday, only my feet were cold; to-day, the
chill has ascended to my knees; now I feel it
mounting to my waist; when it reaches the heart, I
The sun is beautiful, is it not?
I had myself wheeled out here to take a last look
You can talk to me; it does not fatigue me.
You have done well to come and look at a man who
is on the point of death. It is well that there
should be witnesses at that moment.
One has one's caprices; I should have liked to
last until the dawn, but I know that I shall hardly
live three hours.
It will be night then. What does it matter, after
Dying is a simple affair. One has no need of the
light for that.
So be it.
I shall die by starlight."
The old man turned to the shepherd lad:--
"Go to thy bed; thou wert awake all last night;
thou art tired."
The child entered the hut.
The old man followed him with his eyes, and added,
as though speaking to himself:--
"I shall die while he sleeps.
The two slumbers may be good neighbors."
The Bishop was not touched as it seems that he
should have been. He did not think he discerned God
in this manner of dying; let us say the whole, for
these petty contradictions of great hearts must be
indicated like the rest:
he, who on occasion, was so fond of laughing at
"His Grace," was rather shocked at not being
addressed as Monseigneur, and he was almost tempted
to retort "citizen." He was assailed by a fancy for
peevish familiarity, common enough to doctors and
priests, but which was not habitual with him. This
man, after all, this member of the Convention, this
representative of the people, had been one of the
powerful ones of the earth; for the first time in
his life, probably, the Bishop felt in a mood to be
Meanwhile, the member of the Convention had been
surveying him with a modest cordiality, in which one
could have distinguished, possibly, that humility
which is so fitting when one is on the verge of
returning to dust.
The Bishop, on his side, although he generally
restrained his curiosity, which, in his opinion,
bordered on a fault, could not refrain from
examining the member of the Convention with an
attention which, as it did not have its course in
sympathy, would have served his conscience as a
matter of reproach, in connection with any other
man. A member of the Convention produced on him
somewhat the effect of being outside the pale of the
law, even of the law of charity.
G----, calm, his body almost upright, his voice
vibrating, was one of those octogenarians who form
the subject of astonishment to the physiologist. The
Revolution had many of these men, proportioned to
the epoch. In this old man one was conscious of a
man put to the proof. Though so near to his end, he
preserved all the gestures of health. In his clear
glance, in his firm tone, in the robust movement of
his shoulders, there was something calculated to
disconcert death. Azrael, the Mohammedan angel of
the sepulchre, would have turned back, and thought
that he had mistaken the door.
G---- seemed to be dying because he willed it so.
There was freedom in his agony.
His legs alone were motionless.
It was there that the shadows held him fast. His
feet were cold and dead, but his head survived with
all the power of life, and seemed full of light.
G----, at this solemn moment, resembled the king
in that tale of the Orient who was flesh above and
There was a stone there.
The Bishop sat down.
The exordium was abrupt.
"I congratulate you," said he, in the tone which
one uses for a reprimand.
"You did not vote for the death of the king, after
The old member of the Convention did not appear to
notice the bitter meaning underlying the words
He replied. The smile had quite disappeared from
"Do not congratulate me too much, sir.
I did vote for the death of the tyrant."
It was the tone of austerity answering the tone of
"What do you mean to say?" resumed the Bishop.
"I mean to say that man has a tyrant,--ignorance.
I voted for the death of that tyrant.
That tyrant engendered royalty, which is authority
falsely understood, while science is authority
rightly understood. Man should be governed only by
"And conscience," added the Bishop.
"It is the same thing.
Conscience is the quantity of innate science which
we have within us."
Monseigneur Bienvenu listened in some astonishment
to this language, which was very new to him.
The member of the Convention resumed:--
"So far as Louis XVI.
was concerned, I said `no.' I did not think that I
had the right to kill a man; but I felt it my duty
to exterminate evil.
I voted the end of the tyrant, that is to say, the
end of prostitution for woman, the end of slavery
for man, the end of night for the child.
In voting for the Republic, I voted for that.
I voted for fraternity, concord, the dawn. I have
aided in the overthrow of prejudices and errors.
The crumbling away of prejudices and errors causes
We have caused the fall of the old world, and the
old world, that vase of miseries, has become,
through its upsetting upon the human race, an urn of
"Mixed joy," said the Bishop.
"You may say troubled joy, and to-day, after that
fatal return of the past, which is called 1814, joy
which has disappeared! Alas!
The work was incomplete, I admit:
we demolished the ancient regime in deeds; we were
not able to suppress it entirely in ideas. To
destroy abuses is not sufficient; customs must be
modified. The mill is there no longer; the wind is
"You have demolished.
It may be of use to demolish, but I distrust a
demolition complicated with wrath."
"Right has its wrath, Bishop; and the wrath of
right is an element of progress.
In any case, and in spite of whatever may be said,
the French Revolution is the most important step of
the human race since the advent of Christ.
Incomplete, it may be, but sublime. It set free
all the unknown social quantities; it softened
spirits, it calmed, appeased, enlightened; it caused
the waves of civilization to flow over the earth.
It was a good thing.
The French Revolution is the consecration of
The Bishop could not refrain from murmuring:--
The member of the Convention straightened himself
up in his chair with an almost lugubrious solemnity,
and exclaimed, so far as a dying man is capable of
"Ah, there you go; '93!
I was expecting that word.
A cloud had been forming for the space of fifteen
hundred years; at the end of fifteen hundred years
You are putting the thunderbolt on its trial."
The Bishop felt, without, perhaps, confessing it,
that something within him had suffered extinction.
Nevertheless, he put a good face on the matter.
"The judge speaks in the name of justice; the
priest speaks in the name of pity, which is nothing
but a more lofty justice. A thunderbolt should
commit no error."
And he added, regarding the member of the
Convention steadily the while, "Louis XVII.?"
The conventionary stretched forth his hand and
grasped the Bishop's arm.
"Louis XVII.! let us see.
For whom do you mourn? is it for the innocent
child? very good; in that case I mourn with you. Is
it for the royal child?
I demand time for reflection. To me, the brother
of Cartouche, an innocent child who was hung up by
the armpits in the Place de Greve, until death
ensued, for the sole crime of having been the
brother of Cartouche, is no less painful than the
grandson of Louis XV., an innocent child, martyred
in the tower of the Temple, for the sole crime of
having been grandson of Louis XV."
"Monsieur," said the Bishop, "I like not this
conjunction of names."
Louis XV.? To which of the two do you object?"
A momentary silence ensued.
The Bishop almost regretted having come, and yet
he felt vaguely and strangely shaken.
The conventionary resumed:--
"Ah, Monsieur Priest, you love not the crudities
of the true. Christ loved them.
He seized a rod and cleared out the Temple. His
scourge, full of lightnings, was a harsh speaker of
truths. When he cried, `Sinite parvulos,' he made no
distinction between the little children.
It would not have embarrassed him to bring
together the Dauphin of Barabbas and the Dauphin of
Innocence, Monsieur, is its own crown.
Innocence has no need to be a highness. It is as
august in rags as in fleurs de lys."
"That is true," said the Bishop in a low voice.
"I persist," continued the conventionary G----
"You have mentioned Louis XVII.
Let us come to an understanding.
Shall we weep for all the innocent, all martyrs,
all children, the lowly as well as the exalted?
I agree to that.
But in that case, as I have told you, we must go
back further than '93, and our tears must begin
before Louis XVII.
I will weep with you over the children of kings,
provided that you will weep with me over the
children of the people."
"I weep for all," said the Bishop.
"Equally!" exclaimed conventionary G----; "and if
the balance must incline, let it be on the side of
They have been suffering longer."
Another silence ensued.
The conventionary was the first to break it. He
raised himself on one elbow, took a bit of his cheek
between his thumb and his forefinger, as one does
mechanically when one interrogates and judges, and
appealed to the Bishop with a gaze full of all the
forces of the death agony.
It was almost an explosion.
"Yes, sir, the people have been suffering a long
And hold! that is not all, either; why have you
just questioned me and talked to me about Louis
XVII.? I know you not.
Ever since I have been in these parts I have dwelt
in this enclosure alone, never setting foot outside,
and seeing no one but that child who helps me. Your
name has reached me in a confused manner, it is
true, and very badly pronounced, I must admit; but
that signifies nothing:
clever men have so many ways of imposing on that
honest goodman, the people. By the way, I did not
hear the sound of your carriage; you have left it
yonder, behind the coppice at the fork of the roads,
no doubt. I do not know you, I tell you.
You have told me that you are the Bishop; but that
affords me no information as to your moral
personality. In short, I repeat my question.
Who are you?
You are a bishop; that is to say, a prince of the
church, one of those gilded men with heraldic
bearings and revenues, who have vast prebends,-- the
bishopric of D---- fifteen thousand francs settled
income, ten thousand in perquisites; total,
twenty-five thousand francs,-- who have kitchens,
who have liveries, who make good cheer, who eat
moor-hens on Friday, who strut about, a lackey
before, a lackey behind, in a gala coach, and who
have palaces, and who roll in their carriages in the
name of Jesus Christ who went barefoot! You are a
prelate,--revenues, palace, horses, servants, good
table, all the sensualities of life; you have this
like the rest, and like the rest, you enjoy it; it
is well; but this says either too much or too
little; this does not enlighten me upon the
intrinsic and essential value of the man who comes
with the probable intention of bringing wisdom to
To whom do I speak? Who are you?"
The Bishop hung his head and replied, "Vermis
sum--I am a worm."
"A worm of the earth in a carriage?" growled the
It was the conventionary's turn to be arrogant,
and the Bishop's to be humble.
The Bishop resumed mildly:--
"So be it, sir.
But explain to me how my carriage, which is a few
paces off behind the trees yonder, how my good table
and the moor-hens which I eat on Friday, how my
twenty-five thousand francs income, how my palace
and my lackeys prove that clemency is not a duty,
and that '93 was not inexorable.
The conventionary passed his hand across his brow,
as though to sweep away a cloud.
"Before replying to you," he said, "I beseech you
to pardon me. I have just committed a wrong, sir.
You are at my house, you are my guest, I owe you
You discuss my ideas, and it becomes me to confine
myself to combating your arguments.
Your riches and your pleasures are advantages
which I hold over you in the debate; but good taste
dictates that I shall not make use of them.
I promise you to make no use of them in the
"I thank you," said the Bishop.
"Let us return to the explanation which you have
asked of me. Where were we?
What were you saying to me?
That '93 was inexorable?"
"Inexorable; yes," said the Bishop.
"What think you of Marat clapping his hands at the
"What think you of Bossuet chanting the Te Deum
over the dragonnades?"
The retort was a harsh one, but it attained its
mark with the directness of a point of steel.
The Bishop quivered under it; no reply occurred to
him; but he was offended by this mode of alluding to
The best of minds will have their fetiches, and
they sometimes feel vaguely wounded by the want of
respect of logic.
The conventionary began to pant; the asthma of the
agony which is mingled with the last breaths
interrupted his voice; still, there was a perfect
lucidity of soul in his eyes.
He went on:--
"Let me say a few words more in this and that
direction; I am willing.
Apart from the Revolution, which, taken as a
whole, is an immense human affirmation, '93 is,
alas! a rejoinder. You think it inexorable, sir; but
what of the whole monarchy, sir? Carrier is a
bandit; but what name do you give to Montrevel?
Fouquier-Tainville is a rascal; but what is your
opinion as to Lamoignon-Baville? Maillard is
terrible; but Saulx-Tavannes, if you please?
Duchene senior is ferocious; but what epithet will
you allow me for the elder Letellier?
Jourdan-Coupe-Tete is a monster; but not so great
a one as M. the Marquis de Louvois. Sir, sir, I am
sorry for Marie Antoinette, archduchess and queen;
but I am also sorry for that poor Huguenot woman,
who, in 1685, under Louis the Great, sir, while with
a nursing infant, was bound, naked to the waist, to
a stake, and the child kept at a distance; her
breast swelled with milk and her heart with anguish;
the little one, hungry and pale, beheld that breast
and cried and agonized; the executioner said to the
woman, a mother and a nurse, `Abjure!' giving her
her choice between the death of her infant and the
death of her conscience.
What say you to that torture of Tantalus as
applied to a mother?
Bear this well in mind sir: the French Revolution
had its reasons for existence; its wrath will be
absolved by the future; its result is the world made
better. From its most terrible blows there comes
forth a caress for the human race.
I abridge, I stop, I have too much the advantage;
moreover, I am dying."
And ceasing to gaze at the Bishop, the
conventionary concluded his thoughts in these
"Yes, the brutalities of progress are called
revolutions. When they are over, this fact is
recognized,--that the human race has been treated
harshly, but that it has progressed."
The conventionary doubted not that he had
successively conquered all the inmost intrenchments
of the Bishop.
One remained, however, and from this intrenchment,
the last resource of Monseigneur Bienvenu's
resistance, came forth this reply, wherein appeared
nearly all the harshness of the beginning:--
"Progress should believe in God.
Good cannot have an impious servitor. He who is an
atheist is but a bad leader for the human race."
The former representative of the people made no
He was seized with a fit of trembling.
He looked towards heaven, and in his glance a tear
When the eyelid was full, the tear trickled down
his livid cheek, and he said, almost in a stammer,
quite low, and to himself, while his eyes were
plunged in the depths:--
Thou alone existest!"
The Bishop experienced an indescribable shock.
After a pause, the old man raised a finger
heavenward and said:--
"The infinite is.
He is there.
If the infinite had no person, person would be
without limit; it would not be infinite; in other
words, it would not exist.
There is, then, an _I_. That _I_ of the infinite
The dying man had pronounced these last words in a
loud voice, and with the shiver of ecstasy, as
though he beheld some one. When he had spoken, his
The effort had exhausted him. It was evident that
he had just lived through in a moment the few hours
which had been left to him.
That which he had said brought him nearer to him
who is in death.
The supreme moment was approaching.
The Bishop understood this; time pressed; it was
as a priest that he had come:
from extreme coldness he had passed by degrees to
extreme emotion; he gazed at those closed eyes, he
took that wrinkled, aged and ice-cold hand in his,
and bent over the dying man.
"This hour is the hour of God.
Do you not think that it would be regrettable if
we had met in vain?"
The conventionary opened his eyes again.
A gravity mingled with gloom was imprinted on his
"Bishop," said he, with a slowness which probably
arose more from his dignity of soul than from the
failing of his strength, "I have passed my life in
meditation, study, and contemplation. I was sixty
years of age when my country called me and commanded
me to concern myself with its affairs.
Abuses existed, I combated them; tyrannies
existed, I destroyed them; rights and principles
existed, I proclaimed and confessed them.
Our territory was invaded, I defended it; France
was menaced, I offered my breast. I was not rich; I
I have been one of the masters of the state; the
vaults of the treasury were encumbered with specie
to such a degree that we were forced to shore up the
walls, which were on the point of bursting beneath
the weight of gold and silver; I dined in Dead Tree
Street, at twenty-two sous. I have succored the
oppressed, I have comforted the suffering. I tore
the cloth from the altar, it is true; but it was to
bind up the wounds of my country.
I have always upheld the march forward of the
human race, forward towards the light, and I have
sometimes resisted progress without pity.
I have, when the occasion offered, protected my
own adversaries, men of your profession.
And there is at Peteghem, in Flanders, at the very
spot where the Merovingian kings had their summer
palace, a convent of Urbanists, the Abbey of Sainte
Claire en Beaulieu, which I saved in 1793.
I have done my duty according to my powers, and
all the good that I was able. After which, I was
hunted down, pursued, persecuted, blackened, jeered
at, scorned, cursed, proscribed.
For many years past, I with my white hair have
been conscious that many people think they have the
right to despise me; to the poor ignorant masses I
present the visage of one damned.
And I accept this isolation of hatred, without
hating any one myself.
Now I am eighty-six years old; I am on the point
What is it that you have come to ask of me?"
"Your blessing," said the Bishop.
And he knelt down.
When the Bishop raised his head again, the face of
the conventionary had become august.
He had just expired.
The Bishop returned home, deeply absorbed in
thoughts which cannot be known to us.
He passed the whole night in prayer. On the
following morning some bold and curious persons
attempted to speak to him about member of the
Convention G----; he contented himself with pointing
From that moment he redoubled his tenderness and
brotherly feeling towards all children and
Any allusion to "that old wretch of a G----"
caused him to fall into a singular preoccupation.
No one could say that the passage of that soul
before his, and the reflection of that grand
conscience upon his, did not count for something in
his approach to perfection.
This "pastoral visit" naturally furnished an
occasion for a murmur of comment in all the little
"Was the bedside of such a dying man as that the
proper place for a bishop?
There was evidently no conversion to be expected.
All those revolutionists are backsliders.
Then why go there? What was there to be seen
He must have been very curious indeed to see a
soul carried off by the devil."
One day a dowager of the impertinent variety who
thinks herself spiritual, addressed this sally to
him, "Monseigneur, people are inquiring when Your
Greatness will receive the red cap!"--"Oh! oh!
that's a coarse color," replied the Bishop. "It is
lucky that those who despise it in a cap revere it
in a hat."
We should incur a great risk of deceiving
ourselves, were we to conclude from this that
Monseigneur Welcome was "a philosophical bishop," or
a "patriotic cure."
His meeting, which may almost be designated as his
union, with conventionary G----, left behind it in
his mind a sort of astonishment, which rendered him
still more gentle. That is all.
Although Monseigneur Bienvenu was far from being a
politician, this is, perhaps, the place to indicate
very briefly what his attitude was in the events of
that epoch, supposing that Monseigneur Bienvenu ever
dreamed of having an attitude.
Let us, then, go back a few years.
Some time after the elevation of M. Myriel to the
episcopate, the Emperor had made him a baron of the
Empire, in company with many other bishops.
The arrest of the Pope took place, as every one
knows, on the night of the 5th to the 6th of July,
1809; on this occasion, M. Myriel was summoned by
Napoleon to the synod of the bishops of France and
Italy convened at Paris.
This synod was held at Notre-Dame, and assembled
for the first time on the 15th of June, 1811, under
the presidency of Cardinal Fesch.
M. Myriel was one of the ninety-five bishops who
But he was present only at one sitting and at
three or four private conferences. Bishop of a
mountain diocese, living so very close to nature, in
rusticity and deprivation, it appeared that he
imported among these eminent personages, ideas which
altered the temperature of the assembly.
He very soon returned to D---- He was interrogated
as to this speedy return, and he replied:
"I embarrassed them. The outside air penetrated to
them through me.
I produced on them the effect of an open door."
On another occasion he said, "What would you have?
Those gentlemen are princes.
I am only a poor peasant bishop."
The fact is that he displeased them.
Among other strange things, it is said that he
chanced to remark one evening, when he found himself
at the house of one of his most notable colleagues:
"What beautiful clocks!
What beautiful carpets!
What beautiful liveries! They must be a great
I would not have all those superfluities, crying
incessantly in my ears:
`There are people who are hungry! There are people
who are cold!
There are poor people!
There are poor people!'"
Let us remark, by the way, that the hatred of
luxury is not an intelligent hatred.
This hatred would involve the hatred of the arts.
Nevertheless, in churchmen, luxury is wrong,
except in connection with representations and
It seems to reveal habits which have very little
that is charitable about them. An opulent priest is
The priest must keep close to the poor.
Now, can one come in contact incessantly night and
day with all this distress, all these misfortunes,
and this poverty, without having about one's own
person a little of that misery, like the dust of
Is it possible to imagine a man near a brazier who
is not warm?
Can one imagine a workman who is working near a
furnace, and who has neither a singed hair, nor
blackened nails, nor a drop of sweat, nor a speck of
ashes on his face?
The first proof of charity in the priest, in the
bishop especially, is poverty.
This is, no doubt, what the Bishop of D----
It must not be supposed, however, that he shared
what we call the "ideas of the century" on certain
He took very little part in the theological
quarrels of the moment, and maintained silence on
questions in which Church and State were implicated;
but if he had been strongly pressed, it seems that
he would have been found to be an ultramontane
rather than a gallican.
Since we are making a portrait, and since we do
not wish to conceal anything, we are forced to add
that he was glacial towards Napoleon in his decline.
Beginning with 1813, he gave in his adherence to or
applauded all hostile manifestations.
He refused to see him, as he passed through on his
return from the island of Elba, and he abstained
from ordering public prayers for the Emperor in his
diocese during the Hundred Days.
Besides his sister, Mademoiselle Baptistine, he
had two brothers, one a general, the other a
He wrote to both with tolerable frequency.
He was harsh for a time towards the former,
because, holding a command in Provence at the epoch
of the disembarkation at Cannes, the general had put
himself at the head of twelve hundred men and had
pursued the Emperor as though the latter had been a
person whom one is desirous of allowing to escape.
His correspondence with the other brother, the
ex-prefect, a fine, worthy man who lived in
retirement at Paris, Rue Cassette, remained more
Thus Monseigneur Bienvenu also had his hour of
party spirit, his hour of bitterness, his cloud.
The shadow of the passions of the moment traversed
this grand and gentle spirit occupied with eternal
things. Certainly, such a man would have done well
not to entertain any political opinions.
Let there be no mistake as to our meaning: we are
not confounding what is called "political opinions"
with the grand aspiration for progress, with the
sublime faith, patriotic, democratic, humane, which
in our day should be the very foundation of every
Without going deeply into questions which are only
indirectly connected with the subject of this book,
we will simply say this:
It would have been well if Monseigneur Bienvenu
had not been a Royalist, and if his glance had never
been, for a single instant, turned away from that
serene contemplation in which is distinctly
discernible, above the fictions and the hatreds of
this world, above the stormy vicissitudes of human
things, the beaming of those three pure radiances,
truth, justice, and charity.
While admitting that it was not for a political
office that God created Monseigneur Welcome, we
should have understood and admired his protest in
the name of right and liberty, his proud opposition,
his just but perilous resistance to the all-powerful
Napoleon. But that which pleases us in people who
are rising pleases us less in the case of people who
We only love the fray so long as there is danger,
and in any case, the combatants of the first hour
have alone the right to be the exterminators of the
He who has not been a stubborn accuser in
prosperity should hold his peace in the face of
The denunciator of success is the only legitimate
executioner of the fall. As for us, when Providence
intervenes and strikes, we let it work. 1812
commenced to disarm us.
In 1813 the cowardly breach of silence of that
taciturn legislative body, emboldened by
catastrophe, possessed only traits which aroused
And it was a crime to applaud, in 1814, in the
presence of those marshals who betrayed; in the
presence of that senate which passed from one
dunghill to another, insulting after having deified;
in the presence of that idolatry which was loosing
its footing and spitting on its idol,-- it was a
duty to turn aside the head.
In 1815, when the supreme disasters filled the
air, when France was seized with a shiver at their
sinister approach, when Waterloo could be dimly
discerned opening before Napoleon, the mournful
acclamation of the army and the people to the
condemned of destiny had nothing laughable in it,
and, after making all allowance for the despot, a
heart like that of the Bishop of D----, ought not
perhaps to have failed to recognize the august and
touching features presented by the embrace of a
great nation and a great man on the brink of the
With this exception, he was in all things just,
true, equitable, intelligent, humble and dignified,
beneficent and kindly, which is only another sort of
He was a priest, a sage, and a man.
It must be admitted, that even in the political
views with which we have just reproached him, and
which we are disposed to judge almost with severity,
he was tolerant and easy, more so, perhaps, than we
who are speaking here.
The porter of the town-hall had been placed there
by the Emperor.
He was an old non-commissioned officer of the old
guard, a member of the Legion of Honor at
Austerlitz, as much of a Bonapartist as the eagle.
This poor fellow occasionally let slip inconsiderate
remarks, which the law then stigmatized as seditious
After the imperial profile disappeared from the
Legion of Honor, he never dressed himself in his
regimentals, as he said, so that he should not be
obliged to wear his cross.
He had himself devoutly removed the imperial
effigy from the cross which Napoleon had given him;
this made a hole, and he would not put anything in
its place. "I will die," he said, "rather than wear
the three frogs upon my heart!"
He liked to scoff aloud at Louis XVIII.
"The gouty old creature in English gaiters!" he
said; "let him take himself off to Prussia with that
queue of his."
He was happy to combine in the same imprecation
the two things which he most detested, Prussia and
He did it so often that he lost his place. There
he was, turned out of the house, with his wife and
children, and without bread.
The Bishop sent for him, reproved him gently, and
appointed him beadle in the cathedral.
In the course of nine years Monseigneur Bienvenu
had, by dint of holy deeds and gentle manners,
filled the town of D---- with a sort of tender and
Even his conduct towards Napoleon had been
accepted and tacitly pardoned, as it were, by the
people, the good and weakly flock who adored their
emperor, but loved their bishop.
THE SOLITUDE OF MONSEIGNEUR WELCOME
A bishop is almost always surrounded by a full
squadron of little abbes, just as a general is by a
covey of young officers. This is what that charming
Saint Francois de Sales calls somewhere "les pretres
blancs-becs," callow priests.
Every career has its aspirants, who form a train
for those who have attained eminence in it. There is
no power which has not its dependents.
There is no fortune which has not its court.
The seekers of the future eddy around the splendid
Every metropolis has its staff of officials. Every
bishop who possesses the least influence has about
him his patrol of cherubim from the seminary, which
goes the round, and maintains good order in the
episcopal palace, and mounts guard over
To please a bishop is equivalent to getting one's
foot in the stirrup for a sub-diaconate. It is
necessary to walk one's path discreetly; the
apostleship does not disdain the canonship.
Just as there are bigwigs elsewhere, there are big
mitres in the Church. These are the bishops who
stand well at Court, who are rich, well endowed,
skilful, accepted by the world, who know how to
pray, no doubt, but who know also how to beg, who
feel little scruple at making a whole diocese dance
attendance in their person, who are connecting links
between the sacristy and diplomacy, who are abbes
rather than priests, prelates rather than bishops.
Happy those who approach them!
Being persons of influence, they create a shower
about them, upon the assiduous and the favored, and
upon all the young men who understand the art of
pleasing, of large parishes, prebends,
archidiaconates, chaplaincies, and cathedral posts,
while awaiting episcopal honors.
As they advance themselves, they cause their
satellites to progress also; it is a whole solar
system on the march.
Their radiance casts a gleam of purple over their
Their prosperity is crumbled up behind the scenes,
into nice little promotions.
The larger the diocese of the patron, the fatter
the curacy for the favorite.
And then, there is Rome.
A bishop who understands how to become an
archbishop, an archbishop who knows how to become a
cardinal, carries you with him as conclavist; you
enter a court of papal jurisdiction, you receive the
pallium, and behold! you are an auditor, then a
papal chamberlain, then monsignor, and from a Grace
to an Eminence is only a step, and between the
Eminence and the Holiness there is but the smoke of
Every skull-cap may dream of the tiara. The priest
is nowadays the only man who can become a king in a
regular manner; and what a king! the supreme king.
Then what a nursery of aspirations is a seminary!
How many blushing choristers, how many youthful
abbes bear on their heads Perrette's pot of milk!
Who knows how easy it is for ambition to call itself
vocation? in good faith, perchance, and deceiving
itself, devotee that it is.
Monseigneur Bienvenu, poor, humble, retiring, was
not accounted among the big mitres.
This was plain from the complete absence of young
priests about him.
We have seen that he "did not take" in Paris.
Not a single future dreamed of engrafting itself
on this solitary old man.
Not a single sprouting ambition committed the
folly of putting forth its foliage in his shadow.
His canons and grand-vicars were good old men,
rather vulgar like himself, walled up like him in
this diocese, without exit to a cardinalship, and
who resembled their bishop, with this difference,
that they were finished and he was completed.
The impossibility of growing great under
Monseigneur Bienvenu was so well understood, that no
sooner had the young men whom he ordained left the
seminary than they got themselves recommended to the
archbishops of Aix or of Auch, and went off in a
For, in short, we repeat it, men wish to be
A saint who dwells in a paroxysm of abnegation is
a dangerous neighbor; he might communicate to you,
by contagion, an incurable poverty, an anchylosis of
the joints, which are useful in advancement, and in
short, more renunciation than you desire; and this
infectious virtue is avoided.
Hence the isolation of Monseigneur Bienvenu.
We live in the midst of a gloomy society. Success;
that is the lesson which falls drop by drop from the
slope of corruption.
Be it said in passing, that success is a very
Its false resemblance to merit deceives men.
For the masses, success has almost the same
profile as supremacy.
Success, that Menaechmus of talent, has one
Juvenal and Tacitus alone grumble at it. In our
day, a philosophy which is almost official has
entered into its service, wears the livery of
success, and performs the service of its
Prosperity argues capacity. Win in the lottery,
and behold! you are a clever man.
He who triumphs is venerated.
Be born with a silver spoon in your mouth!
everything lies in that.
Be lucky, and you will have all the rest; be
happy, and people will think you great.
Outside of five or six immense exceptions, which
compose the splendor of a century, contemporary
admiration is nothing but short-sightedness. Gilding
It does no harm to be the first arrival by pure
chance, so long as you do arrive.
The common herd is an old Narcissus who adores
himself, and who applauds the vulgar herd.
That enormous ability by virtue of which one is
Moses, Aeschylus, Dante, Michael Angelo, or
Napoleon, the multitude awards on the spot, and by
acclamation, to whomsoever attains his object, in
whatsoever it may consist. Let a notary transfigure
himself into a deputy:
let a false Corneille compose Tiridate; let a
eunuch come to possess a harem; let a military
Prudhomme accidentally win the decisive battle of an
epoch; let an apothecary invent cardboard shoe-soles
for the army of the Sambre-and-Meuse, and construct
for himself, out of this cardboard, sold as leather,
four hundred thousand francs of income; let a
pork-packer espouse usury, and cause it to bring
forth seven or eight millions, of which he is the
father and of which it is the mother; let a preacher
become a bishop by force of his nasal drawl; let the
steward of a fine family be so rich on retiring from
service that he is made minister of finances,--and
men call that Genius, just as they call the face of
Mousqueton Beauty, and the mien of Claude Majesty.
With the constellations of space they confound the
stars of the abyss which are made in the soft mire
of the puddle by the feet of ducks.
WHAT HE BELIEVED
We are not obliged to sound the Bishop of D----
on the score of orthodoxy.
In the presence of such a soul we feel ourselves
in no mood but respect.
The conscience of the just man should be accepted
on his word.
Moreover, certain natures being given, we admit
the possible development of all beauties of human
virtue in a belief that differs from our own.
What did he think of this dogma, or of that
These secrets of the inner tribunal of the
conscience are known only to the tomb, where souls
The point on which we are certain is, that the
difficulties of faith never resolved themselves into
hypocrisy in his case.
No decay is possible to the diamond. He believed
to the extent of his powers.
"Credo in Patrem," he often exclaimed.
Moreover, he drew from good works that amount of
satisfaction which suffices to the conscience, and
which whispers to a man, "Thou art with God!"
The point which we consider it our duty to note
is, that outside of and beyond his faith, as it
were, the Bishop possessed an excess of love.
In was in that quarter, quia multum
amavit,--because he loved much--that he was regarded
as vulnerable by "serious men," "grave persons" and
"reasonable people"; favorite locutions of our sad
world where egotism takes its word of command from
pedantry. What was this excess of love?
It was a serene benevolence which overflowed men,
as we have already pointed out, and which, on
occasion, extended even to things.
He lived without disdain. He was indulgent towards
Every man, even the best, has within him a
thoughtless harshness which he reserves for animals.
The Bishop of D---- had none of that harshness,
which is peculiar to many priests, nevertheless.
He did not go as far as the Brahmin, but he seemed
to have weighed this saying of Ecclesiastes:
"Who knoweth whither the soul of the animal
Hideousness of aspect, deformity of instinct,
troubled him not, and did not arouse his
He was touched, almost softened by them. It seemed
as though he went thoughtfully away to seek beyond
the bounds of life which is apparent, the cause, the
explanation, or the excuse for them.
He seemed at times to be asking God to commute
He examined without wrath, and with the eye of a
linguist who is deciphering a palimpsest, that
portion of chaos which still exists in nature.
This revery sometimes caused him to utter odd
One morning he was in his garden, and thought
himself alone, but his sister was walking behind
him, unseen by him:
suddenly he paused and gazed at something on the
ground; it was a large, black, hairy, frightful
His sister heard him say:--
It is not its fault!"
Why not mention these almost divinely childish
sayings of kindness? Puerile they may be; but these
sublime puerilities were peculiar to Saint Francis
d'Assisi and of Marcus Aurelius.
One day he sprained his ankle in his effort to
avoid stepping on an ant. Thus lived this just man.
Sometimes he fell asleep in his garden, and then
there was nothing more venerable possible.
Monseigneur Bienvenu had formerly been, if the
stories anent his youth, and even in regard to his
manhood, were to be believed, a passionate, and,
possibly, a violent man.
His universal suavity was less an instinct of
nature than the result of a grand conviction which
had filtered into his heart through the medium of
life, and had trickled there slowly, thought by
thought; for, in a character, as in a rock, there
may exist apertures made by drops of water. These
hollows are uneffaceable; these formations are
In 1815, as we think we have already said, he
reached his seventy-fifth birthday, but he did not
appear to be more than sixty.
He was not tall; he was rather plump; and, in
order to combat this tendency, he was fond of taking
long strolls on foot; his step was firm, and his
form was but slightly bent, a detail from which we
do not pretend to draw any conclusion.
Gregory XVI., at the age of eighty, held himself
erect and smiling, which did not prevent him from
being a bad bishop.
Monseigneur Welcome had what the people term a
"fine head," but so amiable was he that they forgot
that it was fine.
When he conversed with that infantile gayety which
was one of his charms, and of which we have already
spoken, people felt at their ease with him, and joy
seemed to radiate from his whole person.
His fresh and ruddy complexion, his very white
teeth, all of which he had preserved, and which were
displayed by his smile, gave him that open and easy
air which cause the remark to be made of a man,
"He's a good fellow"; and of an old man, "He is a
That, it will be recalled, was the effect which he
produced upon Napoleon.
On the first encounter, and to one who saw him for
the first time, he was nothing, in fact, but a fine
But if one remained near him for a few hours, and
beheld him in the least degree pensive, the fine man
became gradually transfigured, and took on some
imposing quality, I know not what; his broad and
serious brow, rendered august by his white locks,
became august also by virtue of meditation; majesty
radiated from his goodness, though his goodness
ceased not to be radiant; one experienced something
of the emotion which one would feel on beholding a
smiling angel slowly unfold his wings, without
ceasing to smile.
Respect, an unutterable respect, penetrated you by
degrees and mounted to your heart, and one felt that
one had before him one of those strong, thoroughly
tried, and indulgent souls where thought is so grand
that it can no longer be anything but gentle.
As we have seen, prayer, the celebration of the
offices of religion, alms-giving, the consolation of
the afflicted, the cultivation of a bit of land,
fraternity, frugality, hospitality, renunciation,
confidence, study, work, filled every day of his
Filled is exactly the word; certainly the Bishop's
day was quite full to the brim, of good words and
Nevertheless, it was not complete if cold or rainy
weather prevented his passing an hour or two in his
garden before going to bed, and after the two women
had retired. It seemed to be a sort of rite with
him, to prepare himself for slumber by meditation in
the presence of the grand spectacles of the
Sometimes, if the two old women were not asleep,
they heard him pacing slowly along the walks at a
very advanced hour of the night.
He was there alone, communing with himself,
peaceful, adoring, comparing the serenity of his
heart with the serenity of the ether, moved amid the
darkness by the visible splendor of the
constellations and the invisible splendor of God,
opening his heart to the thoughts which fall from
the Unknown. At such moments, while he offered his
heart at the hour when nocturnal flowers offer their
perfume, illuminated like a lamp amid the starry
night, as he poured himself out in ecstasy in the
midst of the universal radiance of creation, he
could not have told himself, probably, what was
passing in his spirit; he felt something take its
flight from him, and something descend into him.
Mysterious exchange of the abysses of the soul
with the abysses of the universe!
He thought of the grandeur and presence of God; of
the future eternity, that strange mystery; of the
eternity past, a mystery still more strange; of all
the infinities, which pierced their way into all his
senses, beneath his eyes; and, without seeking to
comprehend the incomprehensible, he gazed upon it.
He did not study God; he was dazzled by him.
He considered those magnificent conjunctions of
atoms, which communicate aspects to matter, reveal
forces by verifying them, create individualities in
unity, proportions in extent, the innumerable in the
infinite, and, through light, produce beauty. These
conjunctions are formed and dissolved incessantly;
hence life and death.
He seated himself on a wooden bench, with his back
against a decrepit vine; he gazed at the stars, past
the puny and stunted silhouettes of his fruit-trees.
This quarter of an acre, so poorly planted, so
encumbered with mean buildings and sheds, was dear
to him, and satisfied his wants.
What more was needed by this old man, who divided
the leisure of his life, where there was so little
leisure, between gardening in the daytime and
contemplation at night?
Was not this narrow enclosure, with the heavens
for a ceiling, sufficient to enable him to adore God
in his most divine works, in turn?
Does not this comprehend all, in fact? and what is
there left to desire beyond it? A little garden in
which to walk, and immensity in which to dream. At
one's feet that which can be cultivated and plucked;
over head that which one can study and meditate
some flowers on earth, and all the stars in the
WHAT HE THOUGHT
One last word.
Since this sort of details might, particularly at
the present moment, and to use an expression now in
fashion, give to the Bishop of D---- a certain
"pantheistical" physiognomy, and induce the belief,
either to his credit or discredit, that he
entertained one of those personal philosophies which
are peculiar to our century, which sometimes spring
up in solitary spirits, and there take on a form and
grow until they usurp the place of religion, we
insist upon it, that not one of those persons who
knew Monseigneur Welcome would have thought himself
authorized to think anything of the sort. That which
enlightened this man was his heart.
His wisdom was made of the light which comes from
No systems; many works.
Abstruse speculations contain vertigo; no, there
is nothing to indicate that he risked his mind in
apocalypses. The apostle may be daring, but the
bishop must be timid.
He would probably have felt a scruple at sounding
too far in advance certain problems which are, in a
manner, reserved for terrible great minds. There is
a sacred horror beneath the porches of the enigma;
those gloomy openings stand yawning there, but
something tells you, you, a passer-by in life, that
you must not enter. Woe to him who penetrates
Geniuses in the impenetrable depths of abstraction
and pure speculation, situated, so to speak, above
all dogmas, propose their ideas to God.
Their prayer audaciously offers discussion. Their
This is direct religion, which is full of anxiety
and responsibility for him who attempts its steep
Human meditation has no limits.
At his own risk and peril, it analyzes and digs
deep into its own bedazzlement.
One might almost say, that by a sort of splendid
reaction, it with it dazzles nature; the mysterious
world which surrounds us renders back what it has
received; it is probable that the contemplators are
However that may be, there are on earth men who--are
they men?-- perceive distinctly at the verge of the
horizons of revery the heights of the absolute, and
who have the terrible vision of the infinite
Monseigneur Welcome was one of these men;
Monseigneur Welcome was not a genius.
He would have feared those sublimities whence some
very great men even, like Swedenborg and Pascal,
have slipped into insanity.
Certainly, these powerful reveries have their
moral utility, and by these arduous paths one
approaches to ideal perfection.
As for him, he took the path which shortens,-- the
He did not attempt to impart to his chasuble the
folds of Elijah's mantle; he projected no ray of
future upon the dark groundswell of events; he did
not see to condense in flame the light of things; he
had nothing of the prophet and nothing of the
magician about him. This humble soul loved, and that
That he carried prayer to the pitch of a
superhuman aspiration is probable:
but one can no more pray too much than one can
love too much; and if it is a heresy to pray beyond
the texts, Saint Theresa and Saint Jerome would be
He inclined towards all that groans and all that
expiates. The universe appeared to him like an
immense malady; everywhere he felt fever, everywhere
he heard the sound of suffering, and, without
seeking to solve the enigma, he strove to dress the
wound. The terrible spectacle of created things
developed tenderness in him; he was occupied only in
finding for himself, and in inspiring others with
the best way to compassionate and relieve.
That which exists was for this good and rare
priest a permanent subject of sadness which sought
There are men who toil at extracting gold; he
toiled at the extraction of pity.
Universal misery was his mine.
The sadness which reigned everywhere was but an
excuse for unfailing kindness.
Love each other; he declared this to be complete,
desired nothing further, and that was the whole of
One day, that man who believed himself to be a
"philosopher," the senator who has already been
alluded to, said to the Bishop:
"Just survey the spectacle of the world: all war
against all; the strongest has the most wit.
Your love each other is nonsense."--"Well,"
replied Monseigneur Welcome, without contesting the
point, "if it is nonsense, the soul should shut
itself up in it, as the pearl in the oyster."
Thus he shut himself up, he lived there, he was
absolutely satisfied with it, leaving on one side
the prodigious questions which attract and terrify,
the fathomless perspectives of abstraction, the
precipices of metaphysics--all those profundities
which converge, for the apostle in God, for the
atheist in nothingness; destiny, good and evil, the
way of being against being, the conscience of man,
the thoughtful somnambulism of the animal, the
transformation in death, the recapitulation of
existences which the tomb contains, the
incomprehensible grafting of successive loves on the
persistent _I_, the essence, the substance, the
Nile, and the Ens, the soul, nature, liberty,
necessity; perpendicular problems, sinister
obscurities, where lean the gigantic archangels of
the human mind; formidable abysses, which Lucretius,
Manou, Saint Paul, Dante, contemplate with eyes
flashing lightning, which seems by its steady gaze
on the infinite to cause stars to blaze forth there.
Monseigneur Bienvenu was simply a man who took
note of the exterior of mysterious questions without
scrutinizing them, and without troubling his own
mind with them, and who cherished in his own soul a
grave respect for darkness.
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