« ForrigeFortsæt »
this fact, and hoped I should not He looked surprised. "Is that find their society too grave for my really what you wish to do?" age. She would do everything she “ Yes," I answered;but I do not could to make Paris agreeable to know how to set about it. Do you me; and indeed she kept hier word think Madame P. would help me?" but too well. It was indeed a sud- “She would if she could,” he anden change from my former life; a swered, smiling; “ but I would not sudden introduction to every kind give much for the assistance she of interest and amusement. The might afford you. A more kindstreets, the shops, the bustle of hearted person never existed. But Paris ; a variety of new acquaint- though her husband is an author" ances; the pleasure of listening, 6. O, does he write books?” I exand, by degrees, taking part in ani. claimed. “I should never have mated conversations, occasional guessed it. How wonderful!"
, play-going and sight-seeing, were M. C., my new friend, laughed enough to make me feel as if I had outriglit, and said, " Do you think passed into another world. Two it so wonderful, mademoiselle? I or three times a week there was assure you that it is not so difficult company at dinner, chiefly consist- as you imagine. In our days every ing of men belonging to literary or one writes. Even good Madame P. artistic professions. At first I was has published some indescribable quite silent on these occasions, not nouvelles. But to return to the understanding half of what was improvement of your mind-and said, and afraid to betray my in- allow me to say that I can alreally experience by some ignorant re- perceive that it is worth improving mark, but pleased now and again - I suggest a regular course of to hear the expression of an opin- reading and attendance at a class ion or the utterance of a witticism of literary instruction." which I could enter into and smile 6. Who would tell me what to at.
read,” I said," and where to go for One evening, after a dinner party instruction ?” of this kind, an elderly gentleman "If you will accept of my guidsat down by my side, and said, ance,” M. C. replied, “I will draw “Mademoiselle, though you did not up for you a list of the books I speak more than five or six words would advise you to begin with, whilst we were at table, I could see and the order in which to read by your eyes that you were inter- them.” ested in our discussion. I am not “ How shall I manage to get these mistaken, am I, in thinking that books ?" I thought. you are fond of reading ?”
M. C. apparently guessed what * There is to my mind," I replied, was passing through my mind, and no pleasure in the world to be said, “You must allow me to place compared to it; but I am one of my library at your disposal. It is the most ignorant girls in the world, not every one to whom I would and I have read very few books." lend my books; but I have a pre
“But read them to good purpose," sentiment that they will never have he said with a smile.
served a better purpose than that His manner was so kind, that I of making you familiar, mademoifelt immediately at my ease, and I selle, with the literary treasures I asked him how a girl of twenty, intend to offer to your perusal ; but who had lived hitherto in a country you must tell me what you have town, with no resources for improve read, in order that I may be able ing her mind, could set about ac- to advise you what to read.” quiring information.
The shelf where my books were
ranged rose before my mental vis- "A moderate amount of that sort ion. Some of them I had an in- of reading will suffice to make you stinctive reluctance to name. I acquainted with the best modern had not heard M. C. say anything writers of fiction. Imagination at that showed him to be opposed to your age is better cultivated by the Christianity or Catholicism ; and study of good poetry than by an yet I should never have thought indiscriminate perusal of the trash of mentioning to him the Lives of that fills circulating libraries. If the Saints. After a moment's re- Madame P. will permit me, I will flection, I said I had read Les pay my respects to you ladies, toEuvres de Bossuet, Le Génie du morrow, and bring with me the Christianisme, Télémaque, and promised list, and under my arm Paul et Virginie.
some volumes to begin with. My ** You have read these works friend P. will be delighted to find through,” he asked,“ perhaps more that his young guest is more bent than once ?"
on the improvement of her mind "Oh, I could not tell you how than on the gayeties of Paris." often I have read them,” I ex- Madame P., who had been listenclaimed, relieved that he did not ing to the latter part of our converseem to despise my favorite books. sation, cried out, " The one need "I know them and a few others not exclude the other, I hope, M. almost by heart.”
C. I think, for my part, that noth“Not a bad foundation," he ob- ing is more intellectually delightful served. “ They are all good models than a good play; and that fine of style in their way. Well, Made- music is a great help to the imagimoiselle N., the course of reading nation. I began my first nouvelle, I intend to suggest to you will be Catalpa, one night after the opera. in some degree analogous to your The airs of Norma were running in early studies.
It will comprise my head all the time I was writing.” history, not in a dry, didactic form, "Madame, Malle. N. having acbut under a philosophical and ro. cepted me as her mentor, I wish to mantic aspect. Châteaubriand, in act up to that character, and I his most famous work, brought therefore declare that without obChristianity into harmony with the jecting to balls, plays, and parties imaginative and pictorial side of as a rule, I nevertheless maintain human nature. The authors I shall that late hours, when they are recommend to you have done a ser- habitual, injure the head and weakvice of the same sort to history. en that energy and power of appliThey have drawn it from the do- cation which is requisite for study." main of mere facts into the higher “But I suppose Malle. V. has regions of thought and philosophy. finished her education," Madame I would bave you exercise your P. rejoined. mind on subjects that will enlarge " Oh, no; on the contrary, I it, and enable you to gather, from have never been educated at all,” I writers of various epochs and vari- said, so eagerly that M. C. smiled ous creeds, the essence of truth and and exclaimed, morality. And then we must not 5. So much the better;" and then neglect la folle de la maison, that he asked Madame P. if he might charming capricious being who call the next day with some books plays such delightful pranks, even which would put me in the way of with the wisest of us. Not that I beginning my own educati: n. She would advise you, mademoiselle, to laughed, and answered that this read many novels.”
sounded very formidable, but that “Oh, no, of course," I exclaimed. if he would be merciful, and spare
her young friend some of his favor- life. He had a fatherly affection ite works in seventeen volumes, he for me, and I always gratefully call would be welcome.
to mind his kindness. The society This first conversation with M. that frequented M. and Madame C. was the beginning of a singular P.'s house was literary, and, as I sort of friendship between him and soon found out, mostly composed myself. He was about fifty years of persons without faith or religion. of age. His friends called him an She herself was a Catholic-not an original, and he was certainly very impious or bad woman, but very unlike other people, though this indifferent on the subject; she went did not strike me as much at first to Mass on Sundays and to her as it did afterwards. I was seeing duties at Easter. She thought the at that time so many persons differ- less women spoke of religion the ent from those I had known before, better; all men, with very few exthat his originality passed unper- ceptions, she told me, had ceased ceived. He was
most kind- to believe in it; and nothing bored hearted man, and particularly fond. them so much as women who were of young people. To initiate them dévotes. In her nouvelles she took into the delights of literature—one care, 'as well as in conversation, of his favorite expressions—was never to allude to anything of the his especial hobby. Books were kind. She hoped M. P. would see not, in his opinion, means to an a priest when he was dying, but end, but the sum total of existence; the best way of securing this, she reading the only pursuit fitted for thought, was not to bore him about a reasonable creature: a person it à l'avance. I was pained and who did not care for books and shocked at these things. I prereading he looked upon as scarcely ferred M. C.'s vague appreciation superior to an animal. He had a of Christianity to Madame P.'s particular system of his own on the stunted and lifeless Catholicism. subject of intellectualimprovement, He was careful to guard me from and he considered it a wonderful reading anything openly impious good fortune to have discovered a or glaringly wicked. He warned girl of twenty who had read next me against books which he said to nothing, but had a passionate no modest woman ought even to desire to read more. He undertook glance at; but he selected what apto guide me in a course of study peared to him the most harmless which he sketched out. I shall and unobjectionable works of some always feel that I owe him much. of the modern novelists. Balzac's He had, alas, no definite ideas of Eugénie Grandet, George Sand's faith. He neither believed in nor Geneviève, one or two of Alexandre practiced any particular religion; Dumas, and even Eugéne Sue's but he was not a complete infidel, least pernicious tales, he placed in certainly not an atheist. He would my hands. And he could not deny frequently expatiate in a literary me, he said, the enjoyment of readpoint of view on the beauties of the ing Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Bible; he pointed out to me elo- Paris, though he hesitated a little quent passages in the writings of about it. As the volumes of Saintethe Fathers; and often dwelt on Beuve's Causeries du Lundi came the grandeur of Church history and out, he furnished me with them, the poetical magnificence of Cath. Whatever Lamartine wrote in verse olicism. His mind was refined and or in prose, he recommended. I his feelings elevated. I might almost think that their writings easily have fallen into worse hands were more dangerous to me than at that dangerous moment of my those before mentioned. The poison, from being more disguised, is, and never mentioned my engrossing I believe, more fatal: I am speak- literary occupations, my questioning of young persons educated in able readings, or the worldly influgood principles. For those who ences which surrounded me. from childhood have had evil in- Madame P. was kindness itself stilled into their souls, and have to me, and my life was a very agreenever or rarely heard of goodness able one. Indeed, I never met with or been in the way of holy influ- anything but kindness from all ences, it is possible that Lamar- those who frequented her house. tine's works, with their strange ad- Her society, as I have already said, mixture of good and evil, their was chiefly composed of literary traces of an early faith and a latent persons and artists of both sexes. piety, may awaken some good Though herself an irreproachable thoughts; and that some of Sainte- person, she was not very particular Beuve's portraits of great Christian as to her acquaintances: persons characters may suggest a new view distinguished for talent of any sort of life or a higher ambition. Even found it easy to obtain admittance in my case, I will not say that they into Madame P.'s salon. I think had not sometimes that effect, but she liked me, and that she thought on the whole they did me much my youth and interest in their purharm. La Revue des Deux Mondes, suits made me a favorite with her which I was regularly furnished habitués and enlivened her recepwith, was also a fruitful source of tions. I also made myself useful evil to my mind at that time: on by copying out her contributions the other hand, M. C. often brought to various magazines. She used me very good books, and that is sometimes to say, "Why don't you why I feel that, considering the write yourself?" The fact was, that circumstances in which I was during the first years of my life in placed, I have reason to be grate- Paris, I was so much taken up with ful to him. By this means I read studying, reading, sight-seeing, and Montalembert's Life of St. Eliza- social engagements, that I had beth, Lacordaire's Conferences, never had either time or inclination Nicholas's Philosophical Essays on to put my pen to paper, except for Christianity, Maine de Biron's the purpose of making extracts writings, and Joubert's "Thoughts." from books or comments on what I No doubt that these sort of works read. counteracted, though they did not My mode of existence was cernullify, the effect of the others. tainly congenial to my tastes, and
When I look back to those years, my qualms of conscience few and spent'amidst influences so danger- far between. A clever man ous to faith and piety, I have some said that he liked being in the difficulty in analyzing what was the country in fine weather-it felt so precise state of my mind. The like virtue! My intellectual occunew intellectual life within me, so pations produced upon me a rather suddenly called into existence, similar effect.
I saw so many seemed, for the time being, to over- young women absorbed by frivolpower, though it did not destroy, ous amusements, wasting their time my faith. I became indeed very in sheer idleness, caring for nothnegligent about my religious duties, ing but dressing and dancing, that but did not absolutely give them in comparing my life with theirs, up. Two or three times a year I I felt no small amount of comwent to confession, but not to the placency. Whilst they were lying same priest; and then I only briefly in bed, I was hard at work, seated accused myself of my positive sins, before my bureau, reading, copy
ing, analyzing volume after volume. worked up into just such an excitWhilst they were driving in the ing tale—and then the next thought Bois de Boulogne, or endlessly was, Why should I not write it? loitering in shops, I was visiting Why should I not write a novel? I with M. C. the Bibliothèque Royale, think I could.” That day I began the Louvre, the Jardin des Plantes, the first story I ever wrote. I the museums, old monuments, and worked at it in secret, in the early ancient churches of Paris, or with mornings and late at night. In a other friends attending a debate in state of feverish ardor, with my the Chambers or a musical festival mind full of impressions derived at the Conservatoire. I said to from the works I had been lately myself that my time was usefully reading, pouring out the thoughts employed. If for a moment I re- which had been accumulating within proached myself for my neglect of me during the last years, exciting religion, vague thoughts of turn- myself to the utmost in order to ing to it later on pacified those excite others, I composed a novel. transient fits of remorse; and in a A wonderfully original one I am somewhat pharisaical spirit, I re- convinced it was; one which could joined that though I was not pious, have hardly been produced by any I was, nevertheless, not as other one but a young person, innocent girls were, frivolous and empty- and, as yet, pure in heart, but conheaded. It happened that, after I versant with bad books, imbued had been in Paris nearly five years, with false ideas, bewildered as to I sprained my foot very severely, right or wrong by the tone of the and was obliged for weeks to lie society in which she had lived, and upon the sofa. Having more time unconscious of the drift of what than usual on my hands, I read a she wrote. This story, abounding greater variety of works of fiction in passionate descriptions, and full than I had hitherto done. I had of sophistical distinctions, tending gradually become less particular in to confound virtue and vice, written the choice of them. There is noth- too with a sort of artlessness which ing to which the mind gets so easily often powerfully attracts, would and imperceptibly accustomed as a have been more dangerous to some tone of immorality. The conversa- minds than far worse books. I fintions I was constantly hearing bar- ished it on my twenty-fifth birthmonized but too well with the ques. day. No misgivings crossed me as tionable reading I was indulging to its morality. I thought it in in. Anything coarse or grossly im- many respects a good book. There moral still shocked me, but I ceased were passages in it, I thought, that to shrink from the insidious writ- might have been read from the pulings of unprincipled authors. The pit. Not a word in it shocked me tone of my mind became thus as I read it through, previous to lowered. Excitement was what I the important step of showing it sought. My love of study and seri- to M. C. As to its literary merit I ons reading diminished. Emotions felt diffident. I knew that persons were what I cared for. One day I cannot themselves judge of their had just finished a novel which had own writings; I had had occasion powerfully roused my feelings. The to observe the gross illusions which story, the language, the sentiments, authors labor under with regard to had affected me deeply. My cheeks their works; and though I could were flushed, and my eyes full of not but think, that if somebody else tears. All at once I thought of a had written this tale, I should have plot - quite a different one, but thought it very striking and inwhich would be capable of being teresting, I was quite uncertain if