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Montyon devoted himself to scientific pursuits, and found scope for his benevolence in relieving the necessities of poor emigrants, and also in sending occasional contributions to the poor French prisoners of war. Returning to France in 1815, he resumed his labours of public usefulness; and these he continued till the period of his death, on the 29th of December 1820.
Such are the few leading facts in the biography of this remarkable: man, whose life was destitute of all stirring incident, and is only memorable for an untiring course of unostentatious benevolence. Montyon appears to have been one of the kindest-hearted men of whom we have any account; but with this kindness was united the not less rare quality of prudence. His charity was not lavish or indiscriminate; it was founded on comprehensive views of society, and had usually moral advancement for its special object. Influenced by the responsibility which wealth imparts, he seems to have spent the greater part of a long life in organising and establishing beneficiary institutions entirely at his own cost. Besides dispensing large sums for this purpose, he resorted to the plan, more common in France than in England, of founding prizes, to be awarded annually on various objects of benevolence and utility. Among the various foundations which he instituted, we select the following five as the more remarkable:
1. A foundation destined to restore to the poor those articles which they had been driven by necessity to pledge, but had not the means of redeeming—the value of each article to be under five francs.
2. A foundation to award donations of money for the good behaviour of children bred up in the army.
3. A foundation for the relief of convalescent hospital patients, whose weakness incapacitates them from work; but who, being cured, can no longer remain in the asylum which had been opened to them.
4. A foundation to purchase small annuities for poor and infirm persons.
5. A foundation to award annual prizes for acts of virtue and heroism in humble life.
Of this last-mentioned endowment, the greatest and most popular of all Montyon's benevolences, it is our object to speak at some length; for no act of his life was so considerate, or has been attended with such important results.
The foundation consists of a large sum of money, the annual produce of which is placed at the disposal of the French Academya literary and scientific association of gentlemen in Paris. The sum yearly dispensed sometimes more, sometimes less, according to circumstances. In 1845, the sum bestowed was £760, in different allotments. In the first place, there were three large prizes: one of £120, a second of £80, and a third of £60. Next, there were seventeen inferior prizes, called medals, consisting of eight of £40 each, and nine of £20 each. The amount in recent years has varied from 17,000 to 15,000 francs (£680 to £600). The sums are publicly mentioned by the Academy, with the names of those who receive them, and are paid at the secretary's office in Paris on personal application, or to any individual properly authorised to receive them.
All the departments of France have an equal right to furnish or mention candidates for the prizes; and the mode of application is as follows. When any person has become conspicuous in the exercise of either private or public duties, the local authorities, acquainted with the circumstance, make the case known to the Academy, along with the necessary details and vouchers. Their application embraces a full account of the action or actions by which the individuals have become remarkable in the district, their age, means of existence, length of time they have distinguished themselves, and the objects that appear to have influenced their conduct. Great care is taken to prevent imposition. The memorial must be signed by neighbours and the chief persons of the place—such as large proprietors of land and the parish priest. Being corroborated by the mayor, it is handed to the prefect of the department, who, should the facts therein stated be known to him, certifies their truth, and in either case sends the whole to the secretary of the Academy, whom the application must reach before the 15th of January,
With respect to the plan on which this foundation proposes to act, it is undoubtedly true that the encouragement of virtuous actions by money payments, or indeed by any mark of public approbation, is not consistent with the soundest principle in morals. So much may be allowed; and yet, as a measure of social policy, the dispensation of rewards of one kind or other is not only far from being injudicious, but obviously commendable. In all questions of this kind we require to look at the actual condition of society, the generally uncultured habits and lings of the people, the cheerless lot which it is the inheritance of so many to struggle with, the readiness to punish, and the little consideration of provocatives to crime, which unfortunately signalise all governments. These and other circumstances shew that rewards may be judiciously administered as stimulants to virtue; and that such is the general impression of mankind, is evidenced by the distribution of honours among the higher orders of every community. On this topic it may not be inappropriate to give a short extract from the speech of the celebrated statesman Dupin, pronounced with regard to the Montyon Prizes, at the sitting of the Academy on the 11th of December 1845. After stating the great difficulty of properly recompensing virtue, M. Dupin observed : ‘When the French Academy distributes, as it will to-day, the prizes founded by M. de Montyon, it does not pretend to exercise that high justice which human institutions can never attain. For a few traits which are brought under its notice, however remarkable or meritorious these may be, many must remain
unknown. Nor does the Academy pretend to pay the authors of those deeds which have merited its applause ; those men possessed of providential courage, those poor women endowed with angelical devotedness, have placed their reward elsewhere. The French Academy acts merely in the capacity of executor; it simply delivers the pious legacy which has been destined to them. At the same time that it loudly proclaims their actions, it takes pleasure in having the knowledge spread far and wide; not that their vanity may enjoy a puerile satisfaction, but that others may be improved, that this simple recital may touch those who will read it, and create in the hearts of all the love of virtue and the desire of imitation. Philosophers have often shewn themselves embarrassed to define virtue, to assign it its distinctive marks, and divide it into classes. The Academy is not so critical. It prefers, amongst different virtues, when a choice must be made, that which includes and inspires them all, and to which Christianity has given the name of charity
A history of a few of the cases which have merited prizes, will
rve much better than any harangue to point out the utility of this benevolent foundation. The cases occur under four different heads --Filial Piety, Charity, Fidelity, and Courage.
PAULINE COPAIN. In the year 1838, a lawyer was directed to take the necessary steps for recovering a debt which was due to one of his clients by a man named Copain, then residing with his family in the village of Saint-Marc-sur-Seine, in the north-eastern part of France. In order to ascertain what likelihood there was of the debt being paid, the lawyer proceeded himself to the house of the debtor. Never," he afterwards declared, 'did I witness a sight more touching than that offered to me on this occasion. He was introduced into a small and humbly furnished, but strictly clean room. An infirm and aged man, in whom it was not difficult to recognise an old soldier, was sitting near the fire-place, and with difficulty rose to receive the visitor; his wife, whom her advanced age evidently rendered incapable of any save the slightest exertion, was busying herself in some trifling household work; and on a bed, in a recess of the apartment, lay a poor helpless girl, seemingly deprived of the use of her limbs, and whom her vacant and wandering look but too evidently proclaimed to be an idiot. Almost immediately a fourth person appeared; this was Mademoiselle Pauline Copain, a poor village schoolmistress, and daughter of the debtor. She seemed to be about thirty-five years of age, and was neatly but simply attired; her appearance was mild and interesting, but without anything very remarkable; indeed, the lawyer would certainly have paid no attention to her but for one circumstance--it was on her single and
unaided exertions that the three helpless beings he had seen depended for their daily bread.
Struck with this fact, he made a few inquiries, and was still more astonished at what he learned. For nearly twenty years, Pauline had been the only support of her parents and her unfortunate sister; she was, moreover, known throughout the village for acts of universal benevolence and charity ; yet the number of her scholars was limited, they paid but little, and many of them were gratuitously instructed. Many people were found who asserted that if Pauline and her family could subsist on her small earnings, it must be through a miracle. It was indeed through a miracle; but through such a one as charity, industry, and economy can alone achieve. The lawyer could not without difficulty bring himself to believe what he saw. He at length did so, but it was by concluding that the blessing of Heaven rested on this humble roof; nor was he mistaken, for Pauline dwelt beneath it.
Anxious to know more of what he rightly considered surprising, he purposely prolonged his visit, and thus only acquired stronger grounds for admiring the noble character of Pauline Copain. The love and attention she displayed not only for her parents, but also towards the children confided to her care, her gentleness and affection for all were so touching, and yet exercised with such simplicity, that the lawyer knew not which to admire most; her calm unostentatious manner, or the extent of the daily sacrifices her position compelled her to make. So astonished and struck was he with all he saw, that he was on the point of departing with the conviction that not only those poor people could never pay the debt which had caused his visit, but that there would also be direct cruelty and inhumanity in endeavouring to force them into compliance, when Mademoiselle Pauline Copain, having learned with what object he had come, and ascertained that the claim of his client was founded on justice, firmly and unhesitatingly declared that her father's debts were like her own, and insisted that he should receive her personal engagement for the payment of the sum which was due. And not only did she pay this debt, but also every other which came to her knowledge; and, lest any should escape, she industriously sought them out one by one. On being remonstrated with on this subject, she earnestly exclaimed: “What! disown my father's debts ! allow his honour to suffer şuch a stain ! Nay, by working assiduously, I can accomplish everything !'
Years have passed since then, and still Pauline Copain labours in her filial task, cheerfully and undauntedly. Nor is her pride misplaced : her father is an old and honourable soldier, whose infirmities proceed from the wounds received in his country's service ; his poverty, and the debts he has unfortunately been obliged to contract, are the result of the severe losses he experienced in 1814 and 1815, when his house was twice pillaged of all that it contained by the allied troops; and he was, moreover, deprived by the new government of the small benefit he reaped by holding a tobacconist's shopan office which, in France, is not the property of private individuals, but a post of trust depending on the state. But for his daughter Pauline, the unfortunate Copain and his family must undoubtedly have fallen into the deepest misery. At the epoch of his misfortunes, she was living in Paris in a comfortable place ; but on hearing of his unhappy position, she immediately relinquished it to join him, and resume her former humble station of village schoolmistress. Pauline has spent her youth in poverty and obscurity ; but, thanks to her unwearied efforts, neither the old soldier, nor his helpmate, nor poor insane daughter, have lacked bread.
Noble as is the conduct of Pauline Copain towards her parents, it is not her only claim on admiration and respect. She has ever given proofs of her charitable and benevolent disposition; and though many instances of this might be quoted, a few will suffice.
In the year 1819, Pauline was returning home towards evening, and following the high-road which leads to the village of SaintMarc, when the loud cries of a child suddenly attracted her attention. Hastening towards the spot whence the sounds proceeded, she perceived a poor woman lying in a ditch, and evidently in great bodily anguish. A little girl, of about four or five years of age, and the same whom Pauline had heard, was standing near her, and crying bitterly. Moved at the sight of their distress, Pauline inquired into the causes of it, and learned that the woman before her, after wandering for several days with her child about the country in a state of great destitution, without a shelter or the means of procuring one, had suddenly, and on the spot where she now saw her, been overtaken with the pains of premature labour, which, unless she received proper assistance, threatened speedily to end her life. Without a moment's hesitation or delay, Pauline hastily summoned several persons to the spot; a rude litter was immediately procured; and on it Pauline had the poor creature conveyed to her father's dwelling. Although this was the epoch of their greatest poverty, the worthy family gladly received the unfortunate woman and her child, immediately shewing them every attention in their power. Pauline especially attended the sick woman with unremitting zeal, until death, brought on by exposure and fatigue, put an end to her sufferings. But her last moments were at least soothed by the promise which Pauline made, and faithfully performed—that the little girl, her only surviving child, should never want a home. And she kept her word.
A band of those Savoyards who annually emigrate from their country, and generally return towards spring to their native hills, was in the vicinity of Saint-Marc, when one of the boys who accompanied the caravan having severely wounded his foot on the road, was compelled to remain behind, whilst his companions continued