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this fact, and hoped I should not find their society too grave for my age. She would do everything she could to make Paris agreeable to me; and indeed she kept her word but too well. It was indeed a sudden change from my former life; a sudden introduction to every kind of interest and amusement. The streets, the shops, the bustle of Paris; a variety of new acquaintances; the pleasure of listening, and, by degrees, taking part in animated conversations, occasional play-going and sight-seeing, were enough to make me feel as if I had passed into another world. Two or three times a week there was company at dinner, chiefly consisting of men belonging to literary or artistic professions. At first I was quite silent on these occasions, not understanding half of what was said, and afraid to betray my inexperience by some ignorant remark, but pleased now and again to hear the expression of an opinion or the utterance of a witticism which I could enter into and smile at.
One evening, after a dinner-party of this kind, an elderly gentleman sat down by my side, and said, "Mademoiselle, though you did not speak more than five or six words whilst we were at table, I could see by your eyes that you were interested in our discussion. I am not mistaken, am I, in thinking that you are fond of reading?"
"There is to my mind," I replied, no pleasure in the world to be compared to it; but I am one of the most ignorant girls in the world, and I have read very few books."
"But read them to good purpose," he said with a smile.
His manner was so kind, that I felt immediately at my ease, and I asked him how a girl of twenty, who had lived hitherto in a country town, with no resources for improving her mind, could set about acquiring information.
He looked surprised. "Is that really what you wish to do?"
"Yes," I answered; "but I do not know how to set about it. Do you think Madame P. would help me?"
"She would if she could," he answered, smiling; "but I would not give much for the assistance she might afford you. A more kindhearted person never existed. But though her husband is an author—”
"Ö, does he write books?" I exclaimed. "I should never have guessed it. How wonderful!"
M. C., my new friend, laughed outright, and said, "Do you think it so wonderful, mademoiselle? I assure you that it is not so difficult as you imagine. In our days every one writes. Even good Madame P. has published some indescribable nouvelles. But to return to the improvement of your mind-and allow me to say that I can already perceive that it is worth improving I suggest a regular course of reading and attendance at a class of literary instruction."
"Who would tell me what to read," I said," and where to go for instruction?"
"If you will accept of my guidance," M. C. replied, "I will draw up for you a list of the books I would advise you to begin with, and the order in which to read them."
"How shall I manage to get these books?" I thought.
M. C. apparently guessed what was passing through my mind, and said, "You must allow me to place my library at your disposal. It is not every one to whom I would lend my books; but I have a presentiment that they will never have served a better purpose than that of making you familiar, mademoiselle, with the literary treasures I intend to offer to your perusal ; but you must tell me what you have read, in order that I may be able to advise you what to read."
The shelf where my books were
ranged rose before my mental vision. Some of them I had an instinctive reluctance to name. I had not heard M. C. say anything that showed him to be opposed to Christianity or Catholicism; and yet I should never have thought of mentioning to him the Lives of the Saints. After a moment's reflection, I said I had read Les Euvres de Bossuet, Le Génie du Christianisme, Télémaque, and Paul et Virginie.
"You have read these works through," he asked, "perhaps more than once?"
"Oh, I could not tell you how often I have read them," I exclaimed, relieved that he did not seem to despise my favorite books. "I know them and a few others almost by heart."
"Not a bad foundation," he observed. "They are all good models of style in their way. Well, Mademoiselle N., the course of reading I intend to suggest to you will be in some degree analogous to your early studies. It will comprise history, not in a dry, didactic form, but under a philosophical and romantic aspect. Châteaubriand, in his most famous work, brought Christianity into harmony with the imaginative and pictorial side of human nature. The authors I shall recommend to you have done a service of the same sort to history. They have drawn it from the domain of mere facts into the higher regions of thought and philosophy. I would have you exercise your mind on subjects that will enlarge it, and enable you to gather, from writers of various epochs and various creeds, the essence of truth and morality. And then we must not neglect la folle de la maison, that charming capricious being who plays such delightful pranks, even with the wisest of us. Not that I would advise you, mademoiselle, to read many novels."
"Oh, no, of course," I exclaimed.
"A moderate amount of that sort of reading will suffice to make you acquainted with the best modern writers of fiction. Imagination at your age is better cultivated by the study of good poetry than by an indiscriminate perusal of the trash that fills circulating libraries. If Madame P. will permit me, I will pay my respects to you ladies, tomorrow, and bring with me the promised list, and under my arm. some volumes to begin with. My friend P. will be delighted to find that his young guest is more bent on the improvement of her mind. than on the gayeties of Paris."
Madame P., who had been listening to the latter part of our conversation, cried out, "The one need not exclude the other, I hope, M. C. I think, for my part, that nothing is more intellectually delightful than a good play; and that fine music is a great help to the imagination. I began my first nouvelle, Catalpa, one night after the opera. The airs of Norma were running in my head all the time I was writing."
"Madame, Mdlle. N. having accepted me as her mentor, I wish to act up to that character, and I therefore declare that without objecting to balls, plays, and parties as a rule, I nevertheless maintain that late hours, when they are habitual, injure the head and weaken that energy and power of application which is requisite for study."
"But I suppose Mdlle. N. has finished her education," Madame P. rejoined.
"Oh, no; on the contrary, I have never been educated at all," I said, so eagerly that M. C. smiled and exclaimed,
"So much the better;" and then he asked Madame P. if he might call the next day with some books which would put me in the way of beginning my own education. She laughed, and answered that this sounded very formidable, but that if he would be merciful, and spare
her young friend some of his favorite works in seventeen volumes, he would be welcome.
This first conversation with M. C. was the beginning of a singular sort of friendship between him and myself. He was about fifty years of age. His friends called him an original, and he was certainly very unlike other people, though this did not strike me as much at first as it did afterwards. I was seeing at that time so many persons different from those I had known before, that his originality passed unperceived. He was a most kindhearted man, and particularly fond of young people. To initiate them into the delights of literature-one of his favorite expressions-was his especial hobby. Books were not, in his opinion, means to an end, but the sum total of existence; reading the only pursuit fitted for a reasonable creature: a person who did not care for books and reading he looked upon as scarcely superior to an animal. He had a particular system of his own on the subject of intellectual improvement, and he considered it a wonderful good fortune to have discovered a girl of twenty who had read next to nothing, but had a passionate desire to read more. He undertook to guide me in a course of study which he sketched out. I shall always feel that I owe him much. He had, alas, no definite ideas of faith. He neither believed in nor practiced any particular religion; but he was not a complete infidel, certainly not an atheist. He would frequently expatiate in a literary point of view on the beauties of the Bible; he pointed out to me eloquent passages in the writings of the Fathers; and often dwelt on the grandeur of Church history and the poetical magnificence of Catholicism. His mind was refined and his feelings elevated. I might easily have fallen into worse hands at that dangerous moment of my
life. He had a fatherly affection for me, and I always gratefully call to mind his kindness. The society that frequented M. and Madame P.'s house was literary, and, as I soon found out, mostly composed of persons without faith or religion. She herself was a Catholic-not an impious or bad woman, but very indifferent on the subject; she went to Mass on Sundays and to her duties at Easter. She thought the less women spoke of religion the better; all men, with very few exceptions, she told me, had ceased to believe in it; and nothing bored them so much as women who were dévotes. In her nouvelles she took care, as well as in conversation, never to allude to anything of the kind. She hoped M. P. would see a priest when he was dying, but the best way of securing this, she thought, was not to bore him about it à l'avance. I was pained and shocked at these things. I preferred M. C.'s vague appreciation of Christianity to Madame P.'s stunted and lifeless Catholicism. He was careful to guard me from reading anything openly impious or glaringly wicked. He warned me against books which he said no modest woman ought even to glance at; but he selected what appeared to him the most harmless and unobjectionable works of some of the modern novelists. Balzac's Eugénie Grandet, George Sand's Geneviève, one or two of Alexandre Dumas, and even Eugéne Sue's least pernicious tales, he placed in my hands. And he could not deny me, he said, the enjoyment of reading Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris, though he hesitated a little about it. As the volumes of SainteBeuve's Causeries du Lundi came out, he furnished me with them. Whatever Lamartine wrote in verse or in prose, he recommended. I almost think that their writings were more dangerous to me than those before mentioned. The poi
son, from being more disguised, is, I believe, more fatal: I am speaking of young persons educated in good principles. For those who from childhood have had evil instilled into their souls, and have never or rarely heard of goodness or been in the way of holy influences, it is possible that Lamartine's works, with their strange admixture of good and evil, their traces of an early faith and a latent piety, may awaken some good thoughts; and that some of SainteBeuve's portraits of great Christian characters may suggest a new view of life or a higher ambition. Even in my case, I will not say that they had not sometimes that effect, but on the whole they did me much harm. La Revue des Deux Mondes, which I was regularly furnished with, was also a fruitful source of evil to my mind at that time: on the other hand, M. C. often brought me very good books, and that is why I feel that, considering the circumstances in which I was placed, I have reason to be grateful to him. By this means I read Montalembert's Life of St. Elizabeth, Lacordaire's Conferences, Nicholas's Philosophical Essays on Christianity, Maine de Biron's writings, and Joubert's "Thoughts." No doubt that these sort of works counteracted, though they did not nullify, the effect of the others.
When I look back to those years, spent amidst influences so dangerous to faith and piety, I have some difficulty in analyzing what was the precise state of my mind. The new intellectual life within me, so suddenly called into existence, seemed, for the time being, to overpower, though it did not destroy, my faith. I became indeed very negligent about my religious duties, but did not absolutely give them up. Two or three times a year I went to confession, but not to the same priest; and then I only briefly accused myself of my positive sins,
and never mentioned my engrossing literary occupations, my questionable readings, or the worldly influences which surrounded me.
Madame P. was kindness itself to me, and my life was a very agreeable one. Indeed, I never met with anything but kindness from all those who frequented her house. Her society, as I have already said, was chiefly composed of literary persons and artists of both sexes. Though herself an irreproachable person, she was not very particular as to her acquaintances: persons distinguished for talent of any sort found it easy to obtain admittance into Madame P.'s salon. I think she liked me, and that she thought my youth and interest in their pursuits made me a favorite with her habitués and enlivened her receptions. I also made myself useful by copying out her contributions to various magazines. She used sometimes to say, "Why don't you write yourself?" The fact was, that during the first years of my life in Paris, I was so much taken up with studying, reading, sight-seeing, and social engagements, that I had never had either time or inclination to put my pen to paper, except for the purpose of making extracts from books or comments on what I read.
My mode of existence was certainly congenial to my tastes, and my qualms of conscience few and far between. A clever man once said that he liked being in the country in fine weather-it felt so like virtue! My intellectual occupations produced upon me a rather similar effect. I saw so many young women absorbed by frivol ous amusements, wasting their time in sheer idleness, caring for nothing but dressing and dancing, that in comparing my life with theirs, I felt no small amount of complacency. Whilst they were lying in bed, I was hard at work, seated before my bureau, reading, copy
ing, analyzing volume after volume. Whilst they were driving in the Bois de Boulogne, or endlessly loitering in shops, I was visiting with M. C. the Bibliothèque Royale, the Louvre, the Jardin des Plantes, the museums, old monuments, and ancient churches of Paris, or with other friends attending a debate in the Chambers or a musical festival at the Conservatoire. I said to myself that my time was usefully employed. If for a moment I reproached myself for my neglect of religion, vague thoughts of turning to it later on pacified those transient fits of remorse; and in a somewhat pharisaical spirit, I rejoined that though I was not pious, I was, nevertheless, not as other girls were, frivolous and emptyheaded. It happened that, after I had been in Paris nearly five years, I sprained my foot very severely, and was obliged for weeks to lie upon the sofa. Having more time than usual on my hands, I read a greater variety of works of fiction than I had hitherto done. I had gradually become less particular in the choice of them. There is nothing to which the mind gets so easily and imperceptibly accustomed as a tone of immorality. The conversations I was constantly hearing harmonized but too well with the questionable reading I was indulging in. Anything coarse or grossly immoral still shocked me, but I ceased to shrink from the insidious writings of unprincipled authors. The tone of my mind became thus lowered. Excitement was what I sought. My love of study and serious reading diminished. Emotions were what I cared for. One day I had just finished a novel which had powerfully roused my feelings. The story, the language, the sentiments, had affected me deeply. My cheeks were flushed, and my eyes full of tears. All at once I thought of a plot-quite a different one, but which would be capable of being
worked up into just such an exciting tale-and then the next thought was, "Why should I not write it? Why should I not write a novel? I think I could." That day I began the first story I ever wrote. worked at it in secret, in the early mornings and late at night. In a state of feverish ardor, with my mind full of impressions derived from the works I had been lately reading, pouring out the thoughts which had been accumulating within me during the last years, exciting myself to the utmost in order to excite others, I composed a novel. A wonderfully original one I am convinced it was; one which could have hardly been produced by any one but a young person, innocent and, as yet, pure in heart, but conversant with bad books, imbued with false ideas, bewildered as to right or wrong by the tone of the society in which she had lived, and unconscious of the drift of what she wrote. This story, abounding in passionate descriptions, and full of sophistical distinctions, tending to confound virtue and vice, written too with a sort of artlessness which often powerfully attracts, would have been more dangerous to some minds than far worse books. I finished it on my twenty-fifth birthday. No misgivings crossed me as to its morality. I thought it in many respects a good book. There were passages in it, I thought, that might have been read from the pulpit. Not a word in it shocked me as I read it through, previous to the important step of showing it to M. C. As to its literary merit I felt diffident. I knew that persons cannot themselves judge of their own writings; I had had occasion to observe the gross illusions which authors labor under with regard to their works; and though I could not but think, that if somebody else had written this tale, I should have thought it very striking and interesting, I was quite uncertain if