The Village Rector
Honore de Balzac
Part 4 out of 5
Farrabesche rode first to show the way, taking Veronique through a
path which led to the spot where the two slopes drew closely together
and then flew apart, one to the east the other to the west, as if
repulsed by a shock. This narrow passage, filled with large rocks and
coarse, tall grasses, was only about sixty feet in width.
The Roche-Vive, cut perpendicularly on this side looked like a wall of
granite in which there was no foothold; but above this inflexible wall
was a crown of trees, the roots of which hung down it, mostly pines
clinging to the rock with their forked feet like birds on a bough.
The opposite hill, hollowed by time, had a frowning front, sandy,
rocky, and yellow; here were shallow caverns, dips without depth; the
soft and pulverizing rock had ochre tones. A few plants with prickly
leaves above, and burdocks, reeds, and aquatic growths below, were
indication enough of the northern exposure and the poverty of the
soil. The bed of the torrent was of stone, quite hard, but yellow.
Evidently the two chains, though parallel and ripped asunder by one of
the great catastrophes which have changed the face of the globe, were,
either from some inexplicable caprice or for some unknown reason, the
discovery of which awaited genius, composed of elements that were
wholly dissimilar. The contrast of their two natures showed more
clearly here than elsewhere.
Veronique now saw before her an immense dry plateau, without any
vegetation, chalky (this explained the absorption of the water) and
strewn with pools of stagnant water and rocky places stripped of soil.
To the right were the mountains of the Correze; to left the Roche-Vive
barred the view covered with its noble trees; on its further slope was
a meadow of some two hundred acres, the verdure of which contrasted
with the hideous aspect of the desolate plateau.
"My son and I cut that ditch you see down there marked by the tall
grasses," said Farrabesche; "it joins the one which bounds your
forest. On this side the estate is bounded by a desert, for the
nearest village is three miles distant."
Veronique turned rapidly to the dismal plain, followed by her guide.
She leaped her horse across the ditch and rode at full gallop across
the drear expanse, seeming to take a savage pleasure in contemplating
that vast image of desolation. Farrabesche was right. No power, no
will could put to any use whatever that soil which resounded under the
horses' feet as though it were hollow. This effect was produced by the
natural porousness of the clay; but there were fissures also through
which the water flowed away, no doubt to some distant source.
"There are many souls like this," thought Veronique, stopping her
horse after she had ridden at full speed for fifteen or twenty
minutes. She remained motionless and thoughtful in the midst of this
desert, where there was neither animal nor insect life and where the
birds never flew. The plain of Montegnac was at least pebbly or sandy;
on it were places where a few inches of soil did give a foothold for
the roots of certain plains; but here the ungrateful chalk, neither
stone nor earth, repelled even the eye, which was forced to turn for
relief to the blue of the ether.
After examining the bounds of her forest and the meadows purchased by
her husband, Veronique returned toward the outlet of the Gabou, but
slowly. She then saw Farrabesche gazing into a sort of ditch which
looked like one a speculator might have dug into this desolate corner
of the earth expecting Nature to give up some hidden treasure.
"What is the matter?" asked Veronique, noticing on that manly face an
expression of deep sadness.
"Madame, I owe my life to that ditch; or rather, to speak more
correctly, I owe to it time for repentance, time to redeem my sins in
the eyes of men."
This method of explaining life so affected Madame Graslin that she
stopped her horse on the brink of the ditch.
"I was hiding there, madame. The ground is so resonant that when my
ear was against it I could hear the horses of the gendarmerie, or even
the footsteps of the soldiers, which are always peculiar. That gave me
time to escape up the Gabou to a place where I had a horse, and I
always managed to put several miles between myself and my pursuers.
Catherine used to bring me food during the night; if she did not find
me I always found the bread and wine in a hole covered with a rock."
This recollection of his wandering and criminal life, which might have
injured Farrabesche with some persons, met with the most indulgent
pity from Madame Graslin. She rode hastily on toward the Gabou,
followed by her guide. While she measured with her eye this opening,
through which could be seen the long valley, so smiling on one side,
so ruined on the other, and at its lower end, a league away, the
terraced hill-sides back of Montegnac, Farrabesche said:--
"There'll be a famous rush of water in a few days."
"And next year, on this day, not a drop shall flow there. Both sides
belong to me, and I will build a dam solid enough and high enough to
stop the freshet. Instead of a valley yielding nothing, I will have a
lake twenty, thirty, forty feet deep over an extent of three or four
miles,--an immense reservoir, which shall supply the flow of
irrigation with which I will fertilize the plain of Montegnac."
"Ah, madame! the rector was right, when he said to us as we finished
our road, 'You are working for a mother.' May God shed his blessing on
such an undertaking."
"Say nothing about it, Farrabesche," said Madame Graslin. "The idea
was Monsieur Bonnet's."
They returned to the cottage, where Veronique picked up Maurice, with
whom she rode hastily back to the chateau. When Madame Sauviat and
Aline saw her they were struck with the change in her countenance; the
hope of doing good in the region she now owned gave her already an
appearance of happiness. She wrote at once to Monsieur Grossetete,
begging him to ask Monsieur de Grandville for the complete release of
the returned convict, on whose conduct she gave him assurances which
were confirmed by a certificate from the mayor of Montegnac and by a
letter from Monsieur Bonnet. To this request she added information
about Catherine Curieux, begging Grossetete to interest the
/procureur-general/ in the good work she wished to do, and persuade
him to write to the prefecture of police in Paris to recover traces of
the girl. The circumstance of Catherine's having sent money to
Farrabesche at the galleys ought to be clew enough to furnish
information. Veronique was determined to know why it was that the
young woman had not returned to her child and to Farrabesche, now that
he was free. She also told her old friend of her discovery about the
torrent of the Gabou, and urged him to select an able engineer, such
as she had already asked him to procure for her.
The next day was Sunday, and for the first time since her installation
at Montegnac Veronique felt able to hear mass in church; she
accordingly went there and took possession of the bench that belonged
to her in the chapel of the Virgin. Seeing how denuded the poor church
was, she resolved to devote a certain sum yearly to the needs of the
building and the decoration of the altars. She listened to the sweet,
impressive, angelic voice of the rector, whose sermon, though couched
in simple language suited to the rustic intellects before him, was
sublime in character. Sublimity comes from the heart, intellect has
little to do with it; religion is a quenchless source of this
sublimity which has no dross; for Catholicism entering and changing
all hearts, is itself all heart. Monsieur Bonnet took his text from
the epistle for the day, which signified that, sooner or later, God
accomplishes all promises, assisting His faithful ones, encouraging
the righteous. He made plain to every mind the great things which
might be accomplished by wealth judiciously used for the good of
others,--explaining that the duties of the poor to the rich were as
widely extended as those of the rich to the poor, and that the aid and
assistance given should be mutual.
Farrabesche had made known to a few of those who treated him in a
friendly manner (the result of the Christian charity which Monsieur
Bonnet had put in practice among his parishioners) the benevolent acts
Madame Graslin had done for him. Her conduct in this matter had been
talked over by all the little groups of persons assembled round the
church door before the service, as is the custom in country places.
Nothing could have been better calculated to win the friendship and
good-will of these eminently susceptible minds; so that when Veronique
left the church after service she found nearly all the inhabitants of
the parish formed in two hedges through which she was expected to
pass. One and all they bowed respectfully in profound silence. She was
deeply touched by this reception, without knowing the actual cause of
it. Seeing Farrabesche humbly stationed among the last, she stopped
and said to him:--
"You are a good hunter; do not forget to supply me with game."
A few days later Veronique went to walk with the rector through the
part of the forest that was nearest the chateau, wishing to descend
with him the terraced slopes she had seen from the house of
Farrabesche. In doing this she obtained complete certainty as to the
nature of the upper affluents of the Gabou. The rector saw for himself
that the streams which watered certain parts of upper Montegnac came
from the mountains of the Correze. This chain of hills joined the
barren slopes we have already described, parallel with the chain of
On returning from this walk the rector was joyful as a child; he
foresaw, with the naivete of a poet, the prosperity of his dear
village--for a poet is a man, is he not? who realizes hopes before
they ripen. Monsieur Bonnet garnered his hay as he stood overlooking
that barren plain from Madame Graslin's upper terrace.
STORY OF A GALLEY-SLAVE
The next day Farrabesche and his son came to the chateau with game.
The keeper also brought, for Francis, a cocoanut cup, elaborately
carved, a genuine work of art, representing a battle. Madame Graslin
was walking at the time on the terrace, in the direction which
overlooked Les Tascherons. She sat down on a bench, took the cup in
her hand and looked earnestly at the deft piece of work. A few tears
came into her eyes.
"You must have suffered very much," she said to Farrabesche, after a
few moments' silence.
"How could I help it, madame?" he replied; "for I was there without
the hope of escape, which supports the life of most convicts."
"An awful life!" she said in a tone of horror, inviting Farrabesche by
word and gesture to say more.
Farrabesche took the convulsive trembling and other signs of emotion
he saw in Madame Graslin for the powerful interest of compassionate
curiosity in himself.
Just then Madame Sauviat appeared, coming down a path as if she meant
to join them; but Veronique drew out her handkerchief and made a
negative sign; saying, with an asperity she had never before shown to
the old woman:--
"Leave me, leave me, mother."
"Madame," said Farrabesche, "for ten years I wore there (holding out
his leg) a chain fastened to a great iron ring which bound me to
another man. During my time I had to live thus with three different
convicts. I slept on a wooden bench; I had to work extraordinarily
hard to earn a little mattress called a /serpentin/. Each dormitory
contains eight hundred men. Each bed, called a /tolard/, holds twenty-
four men, chained in couples. Every night the chain of each couple is
passed round another great chain which is called the /filet de ramas/.
This chain holds all the couples by the feet, and runs along the
bottom of the /tolard/. It took me over two years to get accustomed to
that iron clanking, which called out incessantly, 'Thou art a galley-
slave!' If I slept an instant some vile companion moved or quarrelled,
reminding me of where I was. There is a terrible apprenticeship to
make before a man can learn how to sleep. I myself could not sleep
until I had come to the end of my strength and to utter exhaustion.
When at last sleep came I had the nights in which to forget. Oh! to
/forget/, madame, that was something! Once there, a man must learn to
satisfy his needs, even in the smallest things, according to the ways
laid down by pitiless regulations. Imagine, madame, the effect such a
life produced on a lad like me, who had lived in the woods with the
birds and the squirrels! If I had not already lived for six months
within prison-walls, I should, in spite of Monsieur Bonnet's grand
words--for he, I can truly say, is the father of my soul--I should,
ah! I must have flung myself into the sea at the mere sight of my
companions. Out-doors I still could live; but in the building, whether
to sleep or to eat,--to eat out of buckets, and each bucket filled for
three couples,--it was life no longer, it was death; the atrocious
faces and language of my companions were always insufferable to me.
Happily, from five o'clock in summer, and from half-past seven o'clock
in winter we went, in spite of heat or cold and wind or rain, on
'fatigue,' that is, hard-labor. Thus half this life was spent in the
open air; and the air was sweet after the close dormitory packed with
eight hundred convicts. And that air, too, is sea-air! We could enjoy
the breezes, we could be friends with the sun, we could watch the
clouds as they passed above us, we could hope and pray for fine
weather! As for me, I took an interest in my work--"
Farrabesche stopped; two heavy tears were rolling down his mistress's
"Oh! madame, I have only told you the best side of that life," he
continued, taking the expression of her face as meant for him. "The
terrible precautions taken by the government, the constant spying of
the keepers, the blacksmith's inspection of the chains every day,
night and morning, the coarse food, the hideous garments which
humiliate a man at all hours, the comfortless sleep, the horrible
rattling of eight hundred chains in that resounding hall, the prospect
of being shot or blown to pieces by cannon if ten of those villains
took a fancy to revolt, all those dreadful things are nothing,--
nothing, I tell you; that is the bright side only. There's another
side, madame, and a decent man, a bourgeois, would die of horror in a
week. A convict is forced to live with another man; obliged to endure
the company of five other men at every meal, twenty-three in his bed
at night, and to hear their language! The great society of galley-
slaves, madame, has its secret laws; disobey them and you are
tortured; obey them, and you become a torturer. You must be either
victim or executioner. If they would kill you at once it would at
least be the cure of life. But no, they are wiser than that in doing
evil. It is impossible to hold out against the hatred of these men;
their power is absolute over any prisoner who displeases them, and
they can make his life a torment far worse than death. The man who
repents and endeavors to behave well is their common enemy; above all,
they suspect him of informing; and an informer is put to death, often
on mere suspicion. Every hall and community of eight hundred convicts
has its tribunal, in which are judged the crimes committed against
that society. Not to obey the usages is criminal, and a man is liable
to punishment. For instance, every man must co-operate in escapes;
every convict has his time assigned him to escape, and all his fellow-
convicts must protect and aid him. To reveal what a comrade is doing
with a view to escape is criminal. I will not speak to you of the
horrible customs and morals of the galleys. No man belongs to himself;
the government, in order to neutralize the attempts at revolt or
escape, takes pains to chain two contrary natures and interests
together; and this makes the torture of the coupling unendurable; men
are linked together who hate or distrust each other."
"How was it with you?" asked Madame Graslin.
"Ah! there," replied Farrabesche, "I had luck; I never drew a lot to
kill a convict; I never had to vote the death of any one of them; I
never was punished; no man took a dislike to me; and I got on well
with the three different men I was chained to; they all feared me but
liked me. One reason was, my name was known and famous at the galleys
before I got there. A /chauffeur/! they thought me one of those
brigands. I have seen /chauffing/," continued Farrabesche after a
pause, in a low voice, "but I never either did it myself, or took any
of the money obtained by it. I was a refractory, I evaded the
conscription, that was all. I helped my comrades, I kept watch; I was
sentinel and brought up the rear-guard; but I never shed any man's
blood except in self-defence. Ah! I told all to Monsieur Bonnet and my
lawyer, and the judges knew well enough that I was no murderer. But,
all the same, I am a great criminal; nothing that I ever did was
morally right. However, before I got there, as I was saying, two of my
comrades told of me as a man able to do great things. At the galleys,
madame, nothing is so valuable as that reputation, not even money. In
that republic of misery murder is a passport to tranquillity. I did
nothing to destroy that opinion of me. I was sad, resigned, and they
mistook the appearance of it. My gloomy manner, my silence, passed for
ferocity. All that world, convicts, keepers, young and old, respected
me. I was treated as first in my hall. No one interfered with my
sleep; I was never suspected of informing; I behaved honorably
according to their ideas; I never refused to do service; I never
testified the slightest repugnance; I howled with the wolves outside,
I prayed to God within. My last companion in chains was a soldier,
twenty-two years of age, who had committed a theft and deserted in
consequence of it. We were chained together for four years, and we
were friends; wherever I may be I am certain to meet him when his time
is up. This poor devil, whose name is Guepin, is not a scoundrel, he
is merely heedless; his punishment may reform him. If my comrades had
discovered that religion led me to submit to my trials,--that I meant,
when my time was up, to live humbly in a corner, letting no one know
where I was, intending to forget their horrible community and never to
cross the path of any of them,--they would probably have driven me
"Then," said Madame Graslin, "if a poor young man, a tender soul,
carried away by passion, having committed a murder, was spared from
death and sent to the galleys--"
"Oh! madame," said Farrabesche, interrupting her, "there is no sparing
in that. The sentence may be commuted to twenty years at the galleys,
but for a decent young man, that is awful! I could not speak to you of
the life that awaits him there; a thousand times better die. Yes, to
die upon the scaffold is happiness in comparison."
"I dared not think it," murmured Madame Graslin.
She had turned as white as wax. To hide her face she laid her forehead
on the balustrade, and kept it there several minutes. Farrabesche did
not know whether he ought to go or remain.
Madame Graslin raised her head at last, looked at Farrabesche with an
almost majestic air, and said, to his amazement, in a voice that
stirred his heart:--
"Thank you, my friend. But," she added, after a pause, "where did you
find courage to live and suffer?"
"Ah! madame, Monsieur Bonnet put a treasure within my soul! and for
that I love him better than all else on earth."
"Better than Catherine?" said Madame Graslin, smiling with a sort of
"Almost as well, madame."
"How did he do it?"
"Madame, the words and the voice of that man conquered me. Catherine
brought him to that hole in the ground I showed you on the common; he
had come fearlessly alone. He was, he said, the new rector of
Montegnac; I was his parishioner, he loved me; he knew I was only
misguided, not lost; he did not intend to betray me, but to save me;
in short, he said many such things that stirred my soul to its depths.
That man, madame, commands you to do right with as much force as those
who tell you to do wrong. It was he who told me, poor dear man, that
Catherine was a mother, and that I was dooming two beings to shame and
desertion. 'Well,' I said to him, 'they are like me; I have no
future.' He answered that I had a future, two bad futures, before me--
one in another world, one in this world--if I persisted in not
changing my way of life. In this world, I should die on the scaffold.
If I were captured my defence would be impossible. On the contrary, if
I took advantage of the leniency of the new government toward all
crimes traceable to the conscription, if I delivered myself up, he
believed he could save my life; he would engage a good lawyer, who
would get me off with ten years at the galleys. Then Monsieur Bonnet
talked to me of the other life. Catherine wept like the Magdalen--See,
madame," said Farrabesche, holding out his right arm, "her face was in
that hand, and I felt it wet with tears. She implored me to live.
Monsieur Bonnet promised to secure me, when I had served my sentence,
a peaceful life here with my child, and to protect me against affront.
He catechised me as he would a little child. After three such visits
at night he made me as supple as a glove. Would you like to know how,
Farrabesche and Madame Graslin looked at each other, not explaining to
themselves their mutual curiosity.
"Well," resumed the poor liberated convict, "when he left me the first
time, and Catherine had gone with him to show the way, I was left
alone. I then felt within my soul a freshness, a calmness, a
sweetness, I had never known since childhood. It was like the
happiness my poor Catherine had given me. The love of this dear man
had come to /seek me/; that, and his thought for me, for my future,
stirred my soul to its depths; it changed me. A light broke forth in
my being. As long as he was there, speaking to me, I resisted. That's
not surprising; he was a priest, and we bandits don't eat of their
bread. But when I no longer heard his footsteps nor Catherine's, oh! I
was--as he told me two days later--enlightened by divine grace. God
gave me thenceforth strength to bear all,--prison, sentence, irons,
parting; even the life of the galleys. I believed in his word as I do
in the Gospel; I looked upon my sufferings as a debt I was bound to
pay. When I seemed to suffer too much, I looked across ten years and
saw my home in the woods, my little Benjamin, my Catherine. He kept
his word, that good Monsieur Bonnet. But one thing was lacking. When
at last I was released, Catherine was not at the gate of the galleys;
she was not on the common. No doubt she has died of grief. That is why
I am always sad. Now, thanks to you, I shall have useful work to do; I
can employ both body and soul,--and my boy, too, for whom I live."
"I begin to understand how it is that the rector has changed the
character of this whole community," said Madame Graslin.
"Nothing can resist him," said Farrabesche.
"Yes, yes, I know it!" replied Veronique, hastily, making a gesture of
farewell to her keeper.
Farrabesche withdrew. Veronique remained alone on the terrace for a
good part of the day, walking up and down in spite of a fine rain
which fell till evening. When her face was thus convulsed, neither her
mother nor Aline dared to interrupt her. She did not notice in the
dusk that her mother was talking in the salon to Monsieur Bonnet; the
old woman, anxious to put an end to this fresh attack of dreadful
depression, sent little Francis to fetch her. The child took his
mother's hand and led her in. When she saw the rector she gave a start
of surprise in which there seemed to be some fear. Monsieur Bonnet
took her back to the terrace, saying:--
"Well, madame, what were you talking about with Farrabesche?"
In order not to speak falsely, Veronique evaded a reply; she
questioned Monsieur Bonnet.
"That man was your first victory here, was he not?" she said.
"Yes," he answered; "his conversion would, I thought, give me all
Montegnac--and I was not mistaken."
Veronique pressed Monsieur Bonnet's hand and said, with tears in her
voice, "I am your penitent from this day forth, monsieur; I shall go
to-morrow to the confessional."
Her last words showed a great internal effort, a terrible victory won
over herself. The rector brought her back to the house without saying
another word. After that he remained till dinner-time, talking about
the proposed improvements at Montegnac.
"Agriculture is a question of time," he said; "the little that I know
of it makes me understand what a gain it would be to get some good out
of the winter. The rains are now beginning, and the mountains will
soon be covered with snow; your operations cannot then be begun. Had
you not better hasten Monsieur Grossetete?"
Insensibly, Monsieur Bonnet, who at first did all the talking, led
Madame Graslin to join in the conversation and so distract her
thoughts; in fact, he left her almost recovered from the emotions of
the day. Madame Sauviat, however, thought her daughter too violently
agitated to be left alone, and she spent the night in her room.
CONCERNS ONE OF THE BLUNDERS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
The following day an express, sent from Limoges by Monsieur Grossetete
to Madame Graslin, brought her the following letter:--
To Madame Graslin:
My dear Child,--It was difficult to find horses, but I hope you
are satisfied with those I sent you. If you want work or draft
horses, you must look elsewhere. In any case, however, I advise
you to do your tilling and transportation with oxen. All the
countries where agriculture is carried on with horses lose capital
when the horse is past work; whereas cattle always return a profit
to those who use them.
I approve in every way of your enterprise, my child; you will thus
employ the passionate activity of your soul, which was turning
against yourself and thus injuring you.
Your second request, namely, for a man capable of understanding
and seconding your projects, requires me to find you a /rara avis/
such as we seldom raise in the provinces, where, if we do raise
them, we never keep them. The education of that high product is
too slow and too risky a speculation for country folks.
Besides, men of intellect alarm us; we call them "originals." The
men belonging to the scientific category from which you will have
to obtain your co-operator do not flourish here, and I was on the
point of writing to you that I despaired of fulfilling your
commission. You want a poet, a man of ideas,--in short, what we
should here call a fool, and all our fools go to Paris. I have
spoken of your plans to the young men employed in land surveying,
to contractors on the canals, and makers of the embankments, and
none of them see any "advantage" in what you propose.
But suddenly, as good luck would have it, chance has thrown in my
way the very man you want; a young man to whom I believe I render
a service in naming him to you. You will see by his letter,
herewith enclosed, that deeds of beneficence ought not to be done
hap-hazard. Nothing needs more reflection than a good action. We
never know whether that which seems best at one moment may not
prove an evil later. The exercise of beneficence, as I have lived
to discover, is to usurp the role of Destiny.
As she read that sentence Madame Graslin let fall the letter and was
thoughtful for several minutes.
"My God!" she said at last, "when wilt thou cease to strike me down on
Then she took up the letter and continued reading it:
Gerard seems to me to have a cool head and an ardent heart; that's
the sort of man you want. Paris is just now a hotbed of new
doctrines; I should be delighted to have the lad removed from the
traps which ambitious minds are setting for the generous youth of
France. While I do not altogether approve of the narrow and
stupefying life of the provinces, neither do I like the passionate
life of Paris, with its ardor of reformation, which is driving
youth into so many unknown ways. You alone know my opinions; to my
mind the moral world revolves upon its own axis, like the material
world. My poor protege demands (as you will see from his letter)
things impossible. No power can resist ambitions so violent, so
imperious, so absolute, as those of to-day. I am in favor of low
levels and slowness in political change; I dislike these social
overturns to which ambitious minds subject us.
To you I confide these principles of a monarchical and prejudiced
old man, because you are discreet. Here I hold my tongue in the
midst of worthy people, who the more they fail the more they
believe in progress; but I suffer deeply at the irreparable evils
already inflicted on our dear country.
I have replied to the enclosed letter, telling my young man that a
worthy task awaits him. He will go to see you, and though his
letter will enable you to judge of him, you had better study him
still further before committing yourself,--though you women
understand many things from the mere look of a man. However, all
the men whom you employ, even the most insignificant, ought to be
thoroughly satisfactory to you. If you don't like him don't take
him; but if he suits you, my dear child, I beg you to cure him of
his ill-disguised ambition. Make him take to a peaceful, happy,
rural life, where true beneficence is perpetually exercised; where
the capacities of great and strong souls find continual exercise,
and they themselves discover daily fresh sources of admiration in
the works of Nature, and in real ameliorations, real progress, an
occupation worthy of any man.
I am not oblivious of the fact that great ideas give birth to
great actions; but as those ideas are necessarily few and far
between, I think it may be said that usually things are more
useful than ideas. He who fertilizes a corner of the earth, who
brings to perfection a fruit-tree, who makes a turf on a thankless
soil, is far more useful in his generation than he who seeks new
theories for humanity. How, I ask you, has Newton's science
changed the condition of the country districts? Oh! my dear, I
have always loved you; but to-day I, who fully understand what you
are about to attempt, I adore you.
No one at Limoges forgets you; we all admire your grand resolution
to benefit Montegnac. Be a little grateful to us for having soul
enough to admire a noble action, and do not forget that the first
of your admirers is also your first friend.
The enclosed letter was as follows:--
To Monsieur Grossetete:
Monsieur,--You have been to me a father when you might have been
only a mere protector, and therefore I venture to make you a
rather sad confidence. It is to you alone, you who have made me
what I am, that I can tell my troubles.
I am afflicted with a terrible malady, a cruel moral malady. In my
soul are feelings and in my mind convictions which make me utterly
unfit for what the State and society demand of me. This may seem
to you ingratitude; it is only the statement of a condition. When
I was twelve years old you, my generous god-father, saw in me, the
son of a mere workman, an aptitude for the exact sciences and a
precocious desire to rise in life. You favored my impulse toward
better things when my natural fate was to stay a carpenter like my
father, who, poor man, did not live long enough to enjoy my
advancement. Indeed, monsieur, you did a good thing, and there is
never a day that I do not bless you for it. It may be that I am
now to blame; but whether I am right or wrong it is very certain
that I suffer. In making my complaint to you I feel that I take
you as my judge like God Himself. Will you listen to my story and
grant me your indulgence?
Between sixteen and eighteen years of age I gave myself to the
study of the exact sciences with an ardor, you remember, that made
me ill. My future depended on my admission to the Ecole
Polytechnique. At that time my studies overworked my brain, and I
came near dying; I studied night and day; I did more than the
nature of my organs permitted. I wanted to pass such satisfying
examinations that my place in the Ecole would be not only secure,
but sufficiently advanced to release me from the cost of my
support, which I did not want you to pay any longer.
I triumphed! I tremble to-day as I think of the frightful
conscription (if I may so call it) of brains delivered over yearly
to the State by family ambition. By insisting on these severe
studies at the moment when a youth attains his various forms of
growth, the authorities produce secret evils and kill by midnight
study many precious faculties which later would have developed
both strength and grandeur. The laws of nature are relentless;
they do not yield in any particular to the enterprises or the
wishes of society. In the moral order as in the natural order all
abuses must be paid for; fruits forced in a hot-house are produced
at the tree's expense and often at the sacrifice of the goodness
of its product. La Quintinie killed the orange-trees to give Louis
XIV. a bunch of flowers every day at all seasons. So it is with
intellects. The strain upon adolescent brains discounts their
That which is chiefly wanting to our epoch is legislative genius.
Europe has had no true legislators since Jesus Christ, who, not
having given to the world a political code, left his work
incomplete. Before establishing great schools of specialists and
regulating the method of recruiting for them, where were the great
thinkers who could bear in mind the relation of such institutions
to human powers, balancing advantages and injuries, and studying
the past for the laws of the future? What inquiry has been made as
to the condition of exceptional men, who, by some fatal chance,
knew human sciences before their time? Has the rarity of such
cases been reckoned--the result examined? Has any enquiry been
made as to the means by which such men were enabled to endure the
perpetual strain of thought? How many, like Pascal, died
prematurely, worn-out by knowledge? Have statistics been gathered
as to the age at which those men who lived the longest began their
studies? Who has ever known, does any one know now, the interior
construction of brains which have been able to sustain a premature
burden of human knowledge? Who suspects that this question
belongs, above all, to the physiology of man?
For my part, I now believe the true general law is to remain a
long time in the vegetative condition of adolescence; and that
those exceptions where strength of organs is produced during
adolescence result usually in the shortening of life. Thus the
man of genius who is able to bear up under the precocious exercise
of his faculties is an exception to an exception.
If I am right, if what I say accords with social facts and medical
observations, then the system practised in France in her technical
schools is a fatal impairment and mutilation (in the style of La
Quintinie) practised upon the noblest flower of youth in each
But it is better to continue my history, and add my doubts as the
facts develop themselves.
When I entered the Ecole Polytechnique, I worked harder than ever
and with even more ardor, in order to leave it as triumphantly as
I had entered it. From nineteen to twenty-one I developed every
aptitude and strengthened every faculty by constant practice.
Those two years were the crown and completion of the first three,
during which I had only prepared myself to do well. Therefore my
pride was great when I won the right to choose the career that
pleased me most,--either military or naval engineering, artillery,
or staff duty, or the civil engineering of mining, and /ponts et
chaussees/.[*] By your advice, I chose the latter.
[*] Department of the government including everything connected with
the making and repairing of roads, bridges, canals, etc.
But where I triumphed how many others fail! Do you know that from
year to year the State increases the scientific requirements of
the Ecole? the studies are more severe, more exacting yearly. The
preparatory studies which tried me so much were nothing to the
intense work of the school itself, which has for its object to put
the whole of physical science, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry,
and all their nomenclatures into the minds of young men of
nineteen to twenty-one years of age. The State, which seems in
France to wish to substitute itself in many ways for the paternal
authority, has neither bowels of compassion nor fatherhood; it
makes its experiments /in anima vili/. Never does it inquire into
the horrible statistics of the suffering it causes. Does it know
the number of brain fevers among its pupils during the last
thirty-six years; or the despair and the moral destruction which
decimate its youth? I am pointing out to you this painful side of
the State education, for it is one of the anterior contingents of
the actual result.
You know that scholars whose conceptions are slow, or who are
temporarily disabled from excess of mental work, are allowed to
remain at the Ecole three years instead of two; they then become
the object of suspicions little favorable to their capacity. This
often compels young men, who might later show superior capacity,
to leave the school without being employed, simply because they
could not meet the final examination with the full scientific
knowledge required. They are called "dried fruits"; Napoleon made
sub-lieutenants of them. To-day the "dried fruits" constitute an
enormous loss of capital to families and of time to individuals.
However, as I say, I triumphed. At twenty-one years of age I knew
the mathematical sciences up to the point to which so many men of
genius have brought them, and I was impatient to distinguish
myself by carrying them further. This desire is so natural that
almost every pupil leaving the Ecole fixes his eyes on that moral
sun called Fame. The first thought of all is to become another
Newton, or Laplace, or Vauban. Such are the efforts that France
demands of the young men who leave her celebrated school.
Now let us see the fate of these men culled with so much care from
each generation. At one-and-twenty we dream of life, and expect
marvels of it. I entered the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees; I was a
pupil-engineer. I studied the science of construction, and how
ardently! I am sure you remember that. I left the school in 1827,
being then twenty-four years of age, still only a candidate as
engineer, and the government paid me one hundred and fifty francs
a month; the commonest book-keeper in Paris earns that by the time
he is eighteen, giving little more than four hours a day to his
By a most unusual piece of luck, perhaps because of the
distinction my devoted studies won for me, I was made, in 1828,
when I was twenty-five years old, engineer-in-ordinary. I was
sent, as you know, to a sub-prefecture, with a salary of twenty-
five hundred francs. The question of money is nothing. Certainly
my fate has been more brilliant than the son of a carpenter might
expect; but where will you find a grocer's boy, who, if thrown
into a shop at sixteen, will not in ten years be on the high-road
to an independent property?
I learned then to what these terrible efforts of mental power,
these gigantic exertions demanded by the State were to lead. The
State now employed me to count and measure pavements and heaps of
stones on the roadways; I had to keep in order, repair, and
sometimes construct culverts, one-arched bridges, regulate drift-
ways, clean and sometimes open ditches, lay out bounds, and answer
questions about the planting and felling of trees. Such are the
principal and sometimes the only occupations of ordinary
engineers, together with a little levelling which the government
obliges us to do ourselves, though any of our chain-bearers with
their limited experience can do it better than we with all our
There are nearly four hundred engineers-in-ordinary and pupil
engineers; and as there are not more than a hundred or so of
engineers-in-chief, only a limited number of the sub-engineers can
hope to rise. Besides, above the grade of engineer-in-chief, there
is no absorbent class; for we cannot count as a means of
absorption the ten or fifteen places of inspector-generals or
divisionaries,--posts that are almost as useless in our corps as
colonels are in the artillery, where the battery is the essential
thing. The engineer-in-ordinary, like the captain of artillery,
knows the whole science. He ought not to have any one over him
except an administrative head to whom no more than eighty-six
engineers should report,--for one engineer, with two assistants is
enough for a department.
The present hierarchy in these bodies results in the subordination
of active energetic capacities to the worn-out capacities of old
men, who, thinking they know best, alter or nullify the plans
submitted by their subordinates,--perhaps with the sole aim of
making their existence felt; for that seems to me the only
influence exercised over the public works of France by the
Council-general of the /Ponts et Chaussees/.
Suppose, however, that I become, between thirty and forty years of
age, an engineer of the first-class and an engineer-in-chief
before I am fifty. Alas! I see my future; it is written before my
eyes. Here is a forecast of it:--
My present engineer-in-chief is sixty years old; he issued with
honors, as I did, from the famous Ecole; he has turned gray doing
in two departments what I am doing now, and he has become the most
ordinary man it is possible to imagine; he has fallen from the
height to which he had really risen; far worse, he is no longer on
the level of scientific knowledge; science has progressed, he has
stayed where he was. The man who came forth ready for life at
twenty-two years of age, with every sign of superiority, has
nothing left to-day but the reputation of it. In the beginning,
with his mind specially turned to the exact sciences and
mathematics by his education, he neglected everything that was not
his specialty; and you can hardly imagine his present dulness in
all other branches of human knowledge. I hardly dare confide even
to you the secrets of his incapacity sheltered by the fact that he
was educated at the Ecole Polytechnique. With that label attached
to him and on the faith of that prestige, no one dreams of
doubting his ability. To you alone do I dare reveal the fact that
the dulling of all his talents has led him to spend a million on a
single matter which ought not to have cost the administration more
than two hundred thousand francs. I wished to protest, and was
about to inform the prefect; but an engineer I know very well
reminded me of one of our comrades who was hated by the
administration for doing that very thing. "How would you like," he
said to me, "when you get to be engineer-in-chief to have your
errors dragged forth by your subordinate? Before long your
engineer-in-chief will be made a divisional inspector. As soon as
any one of us commits a serious blunder, as he has done, the
administration (which can't allow itself to appear in the wrong)
will quietly retire him from active duty by making him inspector."
That's how the reward of merit devolves on incapacity. All France
knew of the disaster which happened in the heart of Paris to the
first suspension bridge built by an engineer, a member of the
Academy of Sciences; a melancholy collapse caused by blunders such
as none of the ancient engineers--the man who cut the canal at
Briare in Henri IV.'s time, or the monk who built the Pont Royal--
would have made; but our administration consoled its engineer for
his blunder by making him a member of the Council-general.
Are the technical schools vast manufactories of incapables? That
subject requires careful investigation. If I am right they need
reforming, at any rate in their method of proceeding,--for I am
not, of course, doubting the utility of such schools. Only, when
we look back into the past we see that France in former days never
wanted for the great talents necessary to the State; but now she
prefers to hatch out talent geometrically, after the theory of
Monge. Did Vauban ever go to any other Ecole than that great
school we call vocation? Who was Riquet's tutor? When great
geniuses arise above the social mass, impelled by vocation, they
are nearly always rounded into completeness; the man is then not
merely a specialist, he has the gift of universality. Do you think
that an engineer from the Ecole Polytechnique could ever create
one of those miracles of architecture such as Leonardo da Vinci
knew how to build,--mechanician, architect, painter, inventor of
hydraulics, indefatigable constructor of canals that he was?
Trained from their earliest years to the baldness of axiom and
formula, the youths who leave the Ecole have lost the sense of
elegance and ornament; a column seems to them useless; they return
to the point where art begins, and cling to the useful.
But all this is nothing in comparison to the real malady which is
undermining me. I feel an awful transformation going on within me;
I am conscious that my powers and my faculties, formerly
unnaturally taxed, are giving way. I am letting the prosaic
influence of my life get hold of me. I who, by the very nature of
my efforts, looked to do some great thing, I am face to face with
none but petty ones; I measure stones, I inspect roads, I have not
enough to really occupy me for two hours in my day. I see my
colleagues marry, and fall into a situation contrary to the spirit
of modern society. I wanted to be useful to my country. Is my
ambition an unreasonable one? The country asked me to put forth
all my powers; it told me to become a representative of science;
yet here I am with folded arms in the depths of the provinces. I
am not even allowed to leave the locality in which I am penned, to
exercise my faculties in planning useful enterprises. A hidden but
very real disfavor is the certain reward of any one of us who
yields to an inspiration and goes beyond the special service laid
down for him.
No, the favor a superior man has to hope for in that case is that
his talent and his presumption may not be noticed, and that his
project may be buried in the archives of the administration. What
think you will be the reward of Vicat, the one among us who has
brought about the only real progress in the practical science of
construction? The Council-general of the /Ponts et Chaussees/,
composed in part of men worn-out by long and sometimes honorable
service, but whose only remaining force is for negation, and who
set aside everything they no longer comprehend, is the
extinguisher used to snuff out the projects of audacious spirits.
This Council seems to have been created to paralyze the arm of
that glorious youth of France, which asks only to work and to be
useful to its country.
Monstrous things are done in Paris. The future of a province
depends on the mere signature of men who (through intrigues I have
no time to explain to you) often stop the execution of useful and
much-needed work; in fact, the best plans are often those which
offer most to the cupidity of commercial companies or speculators.
Another five years and I shall no longer be myself; my ambition
will be quenched, my desire to use the faculties my country
ordered me to exercise gone forever; the faculties themselves are
rusting out in the miserable corner of the world in which I
vegetate. Taking my chances at their best, the future seems to me
a poor thing. I have just taken advantage of a furlough to come to
Paris; I mean to change my profession and find some other way to
put my energy, my knowledge, and my activity to use. I shall send
in my resignation and go to some other country, where men of my
special capacity are wanted.
If I find I cannot do this, then I shall throw myself into the
struggle of the new doctrines, which certainly seem calculated to
produce great changes in the present social order by judiciously
guiding the working-classes. What are we now but workers without
work, tools on the shelves of a shop? We are trained and organized
as if to move the world, and nothing is given us to do. I feel
within me some great thing, which is decreasing daily, and will
soon vanish; I tell you so with mathematical frankness. Before
making the change I want your advice; I look upon myself as your
child, and I will never take any important step without consulting
you, for your experience is equal to your kindness.
I know very well that the State, after obtaining a class of
trained men, cannot undertake for them alone great public works;
there are not three hundred bridges needed a year in all France;
the State can no more build great buildings for the fame of its
engineers than it can declare war merely to win battles and bring
to the front great generals; but, then, as men of genius have
never failed to present themselves when the occasion called for
them, springing from the crowd like Vauban, can there be any
greater proof of the uselessness of the present institution? Can't
they see that when they have stimulated a man of talent by all
those preparations he will make a fierce struggle before he allows
himself to become a nonentity? Is this good policy on the part of
the State? On the contrary, is not the State lighting the fire of
ardent ambitions, which must find fuel somewhere.
Among the six hundred young men whom they put forth every year
there are exceptions,--men who resist what may be called their
demonetization. I know some myself, and if I could tell you their
struggles with men and things when armed with useful projects and
conceptions which might bring life and prosperity to the half-dead
provinces where the State has sent them, you would feel that a man
of power, a man of talent, a man whose nature is a miracle, is a
hundredfold more unfortunate and more to be pitied than the man
whose lower nature lets him submit to the shrinkage of his
I have made up my mind, therefore, that I would rather direct some
commercial or industrial enterprise, and live on small means while
trying to solve some of the great problems still unknown to
industry and to society, than remain at my present post.
You will tell me, perhaps, that nothing hinders me from employing
the leisure that I certainly have in using my intellectual powers
and seeking in the stillness of this commonplace life the solution
of some problem useful to humanity. Ah! monsieur, don't you know
the influence of the provinces,--the relaxing effect of a life
just busy enough to waste time on futile labor, and not enough to
use the rich resources our education has given us? Don't think me,
my dear protector, eaten up by the desire to make a fortune, nor
even by an insensate desire for fame. I am too much of a
calculator not to know the nothingness of glory. Neither do I want
to marry; seeing the fate now before me, I think my existence a
melancholy gift to offer any woman. As for money, though I regard
it as one of the most powerful means given to social man to act
with, it is, after all, but a means.
I place my whole desire and happiness on the hope of being useful
to my country. My greatest pleasure would be to work in some
situation suited to my faculties. If in your region, or in the
circle of your acquaintances, you should hear of any enterprise
that needed the capacities you know me to possess, think of me; I
will wait six months for your answer before taking any step.
What I have written here, dear sir and friend, others think. I
have seen many of my classmates or older graduates caught like me
in the toils of some specialty,--geographical engineers, captain-
professors, captains of engineers, who will remain captains all
their lives, and now bitterly regret they did not enter active
service with the army. Reflecting on these miserable results, I
ask myself the following questions, and I would like your opinion
on them, assuring you that they are the fruit of long meditation,
clarified in the fires of suffering:--
What is the real object of the State? Does it truly seek to obtain
fine capacities? The system now pursued directly defeats that end;
it has crated the most thorough mediocrities that any government
hostile to superiority could desire. Does it wish to give a career
to its choice minds? As a matter of fact, it affords them the
meanest opportunities; there is not a man who has issued from the
Ecoles who does not bitterly regret, when he gets to be fifty or
sixty years of age, that he ever fell into the trap set for him by
the promises of the State. Does it seek to obtain men of genius?
What man of genius, what great talent have the schools produced
since 1790? If it had not been for Napoleon would Cachin, the man
of genius to whom France owes Cherbourg, have existed? Imperial
despotism brought him forward; the constitutional regime would
have smothered him. How many men from the Ecoles are to be found
in the Academy of Sciences? Possibly two or three. The man of
genius develops always outside of the technical schools. In the
sciences which those schools teach genius obeys only its own laws;
it will not develop except under conditions which man cannot
control; neither the State nor the science of mankind,
anthropology, understands them. Riquet, Perronet, Leonardo da
Vinci, Cachin, Palladio, Brunelleschi, Michel-Angelo, Bramante,
Vauban, Vicat, derive their genius from causes unobserved and
preparatory, which we call chance,--the pet word of fools. Never,
with or without schools, are mighty workmen such as these wanting
to their epoch.
Now comes the question, Does the State gain through these
institutions the better doing of its works of public utility, or
the cheaper doing of them? As for that, I answer that private
enterprises of a like kind get on very well without the help of
our engineers; and next, the government works are the most
extravagant in the world, and the additional cost of the vast
administrative staff of the /Ponts et Chaussees/ is immense. In
all other countries, in Germany, England, Italy, where
institutions like ours do not exist, works of this character are
better done and far less costly than in France. Those three
nations are remarkable for new and useful inventions in this line.
I know it is the fashion to say, in speaking of our Ecoles, that
all Europe envies them; but for the last fifteen years Europe,
which closely observes us, has not established others like them.
England, that clever calculator, has better schools among her
working population, from which come practical men who show their
genius the moment they rise from practice to theory. Stephenson
and MacAdam did not come from schools like ours.
But what is the good of talking? When a few young and able
engineers, full of ardor, solve, at the outset of their career,
the problem of maintaining the roads of France, which need some
hundred millions spent upon them every quarter of a century (and
which are now in a pitiable state), they gain nothing by making
known in reports and memoranda their intelligent knowledge; it is
immediately engulfed in the archives of the general Direction,--
that Parisian centre where everything enters and nothing issues;
where old men are jealous of young ones, and all the posts of
management are used to shelve old officers or men who have
This is why, with a body of scientific men spread all over the
face of France and constituting a part of the administration,--a
body which ought to enlighten every region on the subject of its
resources,--this is why we are still discussing the practicability
of railroads while other countries are making theirs. If ever
France was to show the excellence of her institution of technical
schools, it should have been in this magnificent phase of public
works, which is destined to change the face of States and nations,
to double human life, and modify the laws of space and time.
Belgium, the United States of America, England, none of whom have
an Ecole Polytechnique, will be honeycombed with railroads when
French engineers are still surveying ours, and selfish interests,
hidden behind all projects, are hindering their execution.
Thus I say that as for the State, it derives no benefit from its
technical schools; as for the individual pupil of those schools,
his earnings are poor, his ambition crushed, and his life a cruel
deception. Most assuredly the powers he has displayed between
sixteen and twenty-six years of age would, if he had been cast
upon his own resources, have brought him more fame and more wealth
than the government in whom he trusted will ever give him. As a
commercial man, a learned man, a military man, this choice
intellect would have worked in a vast centre where his precious
faculties and his ardent ambition would not be idiotically and
Where, then, is progress? Man and State are both kept backward by
this system. Does not the experience of a whole generation demand
a reform in the practical working of these institutions? The duty
of culling from all France during each generation the choice minds
destined to become the learned and the scientific of the nation is
a sacred office, the priests of which, the arbiters of so many
fates, should be trained by special study. Mathematical knowledge
is perhaps less necessary to them than physiological knowledge.
And do you not think that they need a little of that second-sight
which is the witchcraft of great men? As it is, the examiners are
former professors, honorable men grown old in harness, who limit
their work to selecting the best themes. They are unable to do
what is really demanded of them; and yet their functions are the
noblest in the State and demand extraordinary men.
Do not think, dear sir and friend, that I blame only the Ecole
itself; no, I blame the system by which it is recruited. This
system is the /concours/, competition,--a modern invention,
essentially bad; bad not only in science, but wherever it is
employed, in arts, in all selections of men, of projects, of
things. If it is a reproach to our great Ecoles that they have not
produced men superior to other educational establishments, it is
still more shameful that the /grand prix/ of the Institute has not
as yet furnished a single great painter, great musician, great
architect, great sculptor; just as the suffrage for the last
twenty years has not elected out of its tide of mediocrities a
single great statesman. My observation makes me detect, as I
think, an error which vitiates in France both education and
politics. It is a cruel error, and it rests on the following
principle, which organizers have misconceived:--
/Nothing, either in experience or in the nature of things, can
give a certainty that the intellectual qualities of the adult
youth will be those of the mature man./
At this moment I am intimate with a number of distinguished men
who concern themselves with all the moral maladies which are now
afflicting France. They see, as I do, that our highest education
is manufacturing temporary capacities,--temporary because they
are without exercise and without future; that such education is
without profit to the State because it is devoid of the vigor of
belief and feeling. Our whole system of public education needs
overhauling, and the work should be presided over by some man of
great knowledge, powerful will, and gifted with that legislative
genius which has never been met with among moderns, except perhaps
in Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Possibly our superfluous numbers might be employed in giving
elementary instruction so much needed by the people. The
deplorable amount of crime and misdemeanors shows a social disease
directly arising from the half-education given the masses, which
tends to the destruction of social ties by making the people
reflect just enough to desert the religious beliefs which are
favorable to social order, and not enough to lift them to the
theory of obedience and duty, which is the highest reach of the
new transcendental philosophy. But as it is impossible to make a
whole nation study Kant, therefore I say fixed beliefs and habits
are safer for the masses than shallow studies and reasoning.
If I had my life to begin over again, perhaps I would enter a
seminary and become a simple village priest, or the teacher of a
country district. But I am too far advanced in my profession now
to be a mere primary instructor; I can, if I leave my present
post, act in a wider range than that of a school or a country
parish. The Saint-Simonians, to whom I have been tempted to ally
myself, want now to take a course in which I cannot follow them.
Nevertheless, in spite of their mistakes, they have touched on
many of the sore spots which are the fruits of our present
legislation, and which the State will only doctor by insufficient
palliatives,--merely delaying in France the moral and political
crisis that must come.
Adieu, dear Monsieur Grossetete; accept the assurance of my
respectful attachment, which, notwithstanding all these
observations, can only increase.
According to his old habit as a banker, Grossetete had jotted down his
reply on the back of the letter itself, heading it with the
sacramental word, /Answered/.
It is useless, my dear Gerard, to discuss the observations made in
your letter, because by a trick of chance (I use the term which
is, as you say, the pet word of fools) I have a proposal to make
to you which may result in withdrawing you from the situation you
find so bad. Madame Graslin, the owner of the forests of Montegnac
and of a barren plateau extending from the base of a chain of
mountains on which are the forests, wishes to improve this vast
domain, to clear her timber properly, and cultivate the stony
To put this project into execution she needs a man of your
scientific knowledge and ardor, and one who has also your
disinterested devotion and your ideas of practical utility. It
will be little money and much work! a great result from small
means! a whole region to be changed fundamentally! barren places
to be made to gush with plenty! Isn't that precisely what you
want,--you who are dreaming of constructing a poem? From the tone
of sincerity which pervades your letter, I do not hesitate to bid
you come and see me at Limoges. But, my good friend, don't send in
your resignation yet; get leave of absence only, and tell your
administration that you are going to study questions connected
with your profession outside of the government works. In this way,
you will not lose your rights, and you will have time to judge for
yourself whether the project conceived by the rector of Montegnac
and approved by Madame Graslin is feasible.
I will explain to you by word of mouth the advantages you will
find in case this great scheme can be carried out. Rely on the
Yours, etc, T. Grossetete.
Madame Graslin replied to Grossetete in few words: "Thank you, my
friend; I shall expect your /protege/." She showed the letter to the
"One more wounded man for the hospital."
The rector read the letter, reread it, made two or three turns on the
terrace silently; then he gave it back to Madame Graslin, saying,--
"A fine soul, and a superior man. He says the schools invented by the
genius of the Revolution manufacture incapacities. For my part, I say
they manufacture unbelievers; for if Monsieur Gerard is not an
atheist, he is a protestant."
"We will ask him," she said, struck by an answer.
THE REVOLUTION OF JULY JUDGED AT MONTEGNAC
A fortnight later, in December, and in spite of the cold, Monsieur
Grossetete came to the chateau de Montegnac, to "present his protege,"
whom Veronique and Monsieur Bonnet were impatiently awaiting.
"I must love you very much, my dear child," said the old man, taking
Veronique's two hands in his, and kissing them with that gallantry of
old men which never displeases women, "yes, I must love you well, to
come from Limoges in such weather. But I wanted to present to you
myself the gift of Monsieur Gregoire Gerard here present. You'll find
him a man after your own heart, Monsieur Bonnet," added the banker,
bowing affectionately to the rector.
Gerard's external appearance was not prepossessing. He was of middle
height, stocky in shape, the neck sunk in the shoulders, as they say
vulgarly; he had yellow hair, and the pink eyes of an albino, with
lashes and eyebrows almost white. Though his skin, like that of all
persons of that description, was amazingly white, marks of the small-
box and other very visible scars had destroyed its original
brilliancy. Study had probably injured his sight, for he wore glasses.
When he removed the great cloak of a gendarme in which he was wrapped,
it was seen that his clothing did not improve his general appearance.
The manner in which his garments were put on and buttoned, his untidy
cravat, his rumpled shirt, were signs of the want of personal care
with which men of science, all more or less absent-minded, are
charged. As in the case of most thinkers, his countenance and his
attitude, the development of his bust and the thinness of his legs,
betrayed a sort of bodily debility produced by habits of meditation.
Nevertheless, the ardor of his heart and the vigor of his mind, proofs
of which were given in this letter, gleamed from his forehead, which
was white as Carrara marble. Nature seemed to have reserved to herself
that spot in order to place there visible signs of the grandeur,
constancy, and goodness of the man. The nose, like that of most men of
the true Gallic race, was flattened. His mouth, firm and straight,
showed absolute discretion and the instinct of economy. But the whole
mask, worn by study, looked prematurely old.
"We must begin by thanking you, monsieur," said Madame Graslin,
addressing the engineer, "for being willing to direct an enterprise in
a part of the country which can offer you no other pleasure than the
satisfaction of knowing that you are doing a real good."
"Madame," he replied, "Monsieur Grossetete has told me enough about
your enterprise as we came along to make me already glad that I can in
any way be useful to you; the prospect of living in close relations
with you and Monsieur Bonnet seems to me charming. Unless I am
dismissed from this region, I expect to end my days here."
"We will try not to let you change your mind," replied Madame Graslin,
"Here," said Grossetete, addressing Veronique, whom he took aside,
"are the papers which the /procureur-general/ gave to me. He was quite
surprised that you did not address your inquiry about Catherine
Curieux to him. All that you wished has been done immediately, with
the utmost promptitude and devotion. Three months hence Catherine
Curieux will be sent to you."
"Where is she?" asked Veronique.
"She is now in the hospital Saint-Louis," replied the old man; "they
are awaiting her recovery before sending her from Paris."
"Ah! is the poor girl ill?"
"You will find all necessary information in these papers," said
Grossetete, giving Veronique a packet.
Madame Graslin returned to her guests to conduct them into the
magnificent dining-room on the ground-floor. She sat at table, but did
not herself take part in the dinner; since her arrival at Montegnac
she had made it a rule to take her meals alone, and Aline, who knew
the reason of this withdrawal, faithfully kept the secret of it till
her mistress was in danger of death.
The mayor, the /juge de paix/, and the doctor of Montegnac had been
The doctor, a young man twenty-seven years of age, named Roubaud, was
extremely desirous of knowing a woman so celebrated in Limoges. The
rector was all the more pleased to present him at the chateau because
he wanted to gather a little society around Veronique to distract her
mind and give it food. Roubaud was one of those thoroughly well-
trained young physicians whom the Ecole de Medecine in Paris sends
forth to the profession. He would undoubtedly have shone on the vast
stage of the capital; but frightened by the clash of ambitions in
Paris, and knowing himself more capable than pushing, more learned
than intriguing, his gentle disposition led him to choose the narrow
career of the provinces, where he hoped to be sooner appreciated than
At Limoges, Roubaud came in contact with the settled practice of the
regular physicians and the habits of the people; he therefore let
himself be persuaded by Monsieur Bonnet, who, judging by the gentle
and winning expression of his face, thought him well-suited to
co-operate in his own work at Montegnac. Roubaud was small and fair;
his general appearance was rather insipid, but his gray eyes betrayed
the depths of the physiologist and the patient tenacity of a studious
man. There was no physician in Montegnac except an old army-surgeon,
more devoted to his cellar than to his patients, and too old to
continue with any vigor the hard life of a country doctor. At the
present time he was dying.
Roubaud had been in Montegnac about eighteen months, and was much
liked there. But this young pupil of Desplein and the successors of
Cabanis did not believe in Catholicism. He lived in a state of
profound indifference as to religion, and did not desire to come out
of it. The rector was in despair. Not that Roubaud did any wrong; he
never spoke against religion, and his duties were excuse enough for
his absence from church; besides, he was incapable of trying to
undermine the faith of others, and indeed behaved outwardly as the
best of Catholics; he simply prohibited himself from thinking of a
problem which he considered above the range of human thought. When the
rector heard him say that pantheism had been the religion of all great
minds he set him down as inclining to the doctrine of Pythagoras on
Roubaud, who saw Madame Graslin for the first time, experienced a
violent sensation when he met her. Science revealed to him in her
expression, her attitude, in the ravages of her face, untold
sufferings both moral and physical, a nature of almost superhuman
force, great faculties which would support her under the most
conflicting trials; he detected all,--even the darkest corners of that
nature so carefully hidden. He felt that some evil, some malady, was
devouring the heart of that fine creature; for just as the color of a
fruit shows the presence of a worm within it, so certain tints in the
human face enable physicians to detect a poisoning thought.
From this moment Monsieur Roubaud attached himself so deeply to Madame
Graslin that he became afraid of loving her beyond the permitted line
of simple friendship. The brow, the bearing, above all, the glance of
Veronique's eye had a sort of eloquence that men invariably
understand; it said as plainly that she was dead to love as other
women say the contrary by a reversal of the same eloquence. The doctor
suddenly vowed to her, in his heart, a chivalrous worship.
He exchanged a rapid glance with the rector, who thought to himself,
"Here's the thunderbolt which will convert my poor unbeliever; Madame
Graslin will have more eloquence than I."
The mayor, an old countryman, amazed at the luxury of this dining-room
and surprised to find himself dining with one of the richest men in
the department, had put on his best clothes, which rather hampered
him, and this increased his mental awkwardness. Moreover, Madame
Graslin in her mourning garments seemed to him very imposing; he was
therefore mute. After living all his life as a farmer at Saint-
Leonard, he had bought the only habitable house in Montegnac and
cultivated with his own hands the land belonging to it. Though he knew
how to read and write, he would have been incapable of fulfilling his
functions were it not for the help of his clerk and the /juge de
paix/, who prepared his work for him. He was very anxious to have a
notary established in Montegnac, in order that he might shift the
burden of his responsibility on to that officer's shoulders. But the
poverty of the village and its outlying districts made such a
functionary almost useless, and the inhabitants had recourse when
necessary to the notaries of the chief town of the arrondissement.
The /juge de paix/, named Clousier, was formerly a lawyer in Limoges,
where cases had deserted him because he insisted on putting into
practice that fine axiom that the lawyer is the best judge of the
client and the case. In 1809 he obtained his present post, the meagre
salary of which just enabled him to live. He had now reached a stage
of honorable but absolute poverty. After a residence of twenty-one
years in this poor village the worthy man, thoroughly countrified,
looked, top-coat and all, exactly like the farmers about him.
Under this coarse exterior Clousier hid a clear-sighted mind, given to
lofty meditation on public policy, though he himself had fallen into a
state of complete indifference, derived from his intimate knowledge of
men and their interests. This man, who baffled for a long time the
rector's perspicacity and who might in a higher sphere have proved
another l'Hopital, incapable of intrigue like all really profound
persons, was by this time living in the contemplative state of an
ancient hermit. Independent through privation, no personal
consideration acted on his mind; he knew the laws and judged
impartially. His life, reduced to the merest necessaries, was pure and
regular. The peasants loved Monsieur Clousier and respected him for
the disinterested fatherly care with which he settled their
differences and gave them advice in their daily affairs. The "goodman
Clousier" as all Montegnac called him, had a nephew with him as clerk,
an intelligent young man, who afterwards contributed much to the
prosperity of the district.
Old Clousier's personal appearance was remarkable for a broad, high
forehead and two bushes of white hair which stood out from his head on
either side of it. His highly colored complexion and well-developed
corpulence might have made persons think, in spite of his actual
sobriety, that he cultivated Bacchus as well as Troplong and Toullier.
His half-extinct voice was the sign of an oppressive asthma. Perhaps
the dry air of Montegnac had contributed to fix him there. He lived in
a house arranged for him by a well-to-do cobbler to whom it belonged.
Clousier had already seen Veronique at church, and he had formed his
opinion of her without communicating it to any one, not even to
Monsieur Bonnet, with whom he was beginning to be intimate. For the
first time in his life the /juge de paix/ was to be thrown in with
persons able to appreciate him.
When the company were seated round a table handsomely appointed (for
Veronique had sent all her household belongings from Limoges to
Montegnac) the six guests felt a momentary embarrassment. The doctor,
the mayor and the /juge de paix/ knew nothing of Grossetete and
Gerard. But during the first course, old Grossetete's hearty good-
humor broke the ice of a first meeting. In addition to this, Madame
Graslin's cordiality led on Gerard, and encouraged Roubaud. Under her
touch these souls full of fine qualities recognized their relation,
and felt they had entered a sympathetic circle. So, by the time the
dessert appeared on the table, when the glass and china with gilded
edges sparkled, and the choicer wines were served by Aline and
Champion and Grossetete's valet, the conversation became sufficiently
confidential to allow these four choice minds, thus meeting by chance,
to express their real thoughts on matters of importance, such as men
like to discuss when they can do so and be sure of the discretion of
"Your furlough came just in time to let you witness the revolution of
July," said Grossetete to Gerard, with an air as if he asked an
opinion of him.
"Yes," replied the engineer. "I was in Paris during the three famous
days. I saw all; and I came to sad conclusions."
"What were they?" said the rector, eagerly.
"There is no longer any patriotism except under dirty shirts," replied
Gerard. "In that lies the ruin of France! July was the voluntary
defeat of all superiorities,--name, fortune, talent. The ardent,
devoted masses carried the day against the rich and the intelligent,
to whom ardor and devotion are repugnant."
"To judge by what has happened during the past year," said Monsieur
Clousier, "this change of government is simply a premium given to an
evil that is sapping us,--individualism. Fifteen years hence all
questions of a generous nature will be met by, /What is that to me?/--
the great cry of Freedom of Will descending from the religious heights
where Luther, Calvin, Zwinglius, and Knox introduced it, into even
political economy. /Every one for himself/; /every man his own
master/,--those two terrible axioms form, with the /What is that to
me?/ a trinity of wisdom to the burgher and the small land-owner. This
egotism results from the vices of our present civil legislation (too
hastily made), to which the revolution of July has just given a
The /juge de paix/ fell back into his usual silence after thus
expressing himself; but the topics he suggested must have occupied the
minds of those present. Emboldened by Clousier's words, and moved by
the look which Gerard exchanged with Grossetete, Monsieur Bonnet
ventured to go further.
"The good King Charles X.," he said, "has just failed in the most far-
sighted and salutary enterprise a monarch ever planned for the welfare
of the people confided to him; and the Church ought to feel proud of
the part she took in his councils. But the upper classes deserted him
in heart and mind, just as they had already deserted him on the great
question of the law of primogeniture,--the lasting honor of the only
bold statesman the Restoration has produced, namely, the Comte de
Peyronnet. To reconstitute the nation through the family; to take from
the press its venomous action and confine it to its real usefulness;
to recall the elective Chamber to its true functions; and to restore
to religion its power over the people,--such were the four cardinal
points of the internal policy of the house of Bourbon. Well, twenty
years from now all France will have recognized the necessity of that
grand and sound policy. Charles X. was in greater peril in the
situation he chose to leave than in that in which his paternal power
has been defeated. The future of our noble country--where all things
will henceforth be brought periodically into question, where our
rulers will discuss incessantly instead of acting, where the press,
become a sovereign power, will be the instrument of base ambitions--
this future will only prove the wisdom of the king who has just
carried away with him the true principles of government; and history
will bear in mind the courage with which he resisted his best friends
after having probed the wound and seen the necessity of curative
measures, which were not sustained by those for whose sake he put
himself into the breach."
"Ah! monsieur," cried Gerard, "you are frank; you go straight to your
thought without disguise, and I won't contradict you. Napoleon in his
Russian campaign was forty years in advance of the spirit of his age;
he was never understood. The Russia and England of 1830 explains the
campaign of 1812. Charles X. has been misunderstood in the same way.
It is quite possible that in twenty-five years from now his ordinances
may become the laws of the land."
"France, too eloquent not to gabble, too full of vanity to bow down
before real talent, is, in spite of the sublime good sense of its
language and the mass of its people, the very last nation in which two
deliberative chambers should have been attempted," said the /juge de
paix/. "Or, at any rate, the weaknesses of our national character
should have been guarded against by the admirable restrictions which
Napoleon's experience laid upon them. Our present system may succeed
in a country whose action is circumscribed by the nature of its soil,
like England; but the law of primogeniture applied to the transmission
of land is absolutely necessary; when that law is suppressed the
system of legislative representation becomes absurd. England owes her
existence to the quasi-feudal law which entails landed property and
family mansions on the eldest son. Russia is based on the feudal right
of autocracy. Consequently those two nations are to-day on the high-
road of startling progress. Austria could only resist our invasions
and renew the way against Napoleon by virtue of that law of
primogeniture which preserves in the family the active forces of a
nation, and supplies the great productions necessary to the State. The
house of Bourbon, feeling that it was slipping to the third rank in
Europe, by reason of liberalism, wanted to regain its rightful place
and there maintain itself, and the nation has thrown it over at the
very time it was about to save the nation. I am sure I don't know how
low down the present system will drop us."
"If we have a war, France will be without horses, as Napoleon was in
1813, when, being reduced to those of France only, he could not profit
by his two victories of Lutzen and Botzen, and so was crushed at
Leipzig," cried Grossetete. "If peace continues, the evil will only
increase. Twenty-five years from now the race of cattle and horses
will have diminished in France by one half."
"Monsieur Grossetete is right," remarked Gerard. "So that the work you
are undertaking here, madame," he added, addressing Veronique, "is
really a service done to the country."
"Yes," said the /juge de paix/, "because Madame has but one son, and
the inheritance will not be divided up; but how long will that
condition last? For a certain length of time the magnificent culture
which you are about to introduce will, let us hope, belong to only one
proprietor, who will continue to breed horned beasts and horses; but
sooner or later the day must come when these forests and fields will
be divided up and sold in small parcels. Divided and redivided, the
six thousand acres of that plain will have a thousand or twelve
hundred owners, and thenceforth--no more horses and cattle!"
"Oh! as for those days"--began the mayor.
"There! don't you hear the /What is that to me?/ Monsieur Clousier
talked of?" cried Monsieur Grossetete. "Taken in the act! But,
monsieur," resumed the banker, gravely addressing the dumfounded
mayor, "those days have really come. In a radius of thirty miles round
Paris the land is so divided up into small holdings that milch cows
are no longer seen. The Commune of Argenteuil contains thirty-eight
thousand eight hundred and eighty-five parcels of land, many of which
do not return a farthing of revenue. If it were not for the rich
refuse of Paris, which produces a fodder of strong quality, I don't
know how dairymen would get along. As it is, this over-stimulating
food and confinement in close stables produce inflammatory diseases,
of which the cows often die. They use cows in the neighborhood of
Paris as they do horses in the street. Crops more profitable than hay
--vegetables, fruit, apple orchards, vineyards--are taking the place
of meadow-lands. In a few years we shall see milk sent to Paris by the
mail-coaches as they now send fish. What is going on around Paris is
also going on round all the large cities of France; the land will thus
be used up before many years are gone. Chaptel states that in 1800
there were barely two million acres of vineyard in France; a careful
estimate would give ten million to-day. Divided /ad infinitum/ by our
present system of inheritance, Normandy will lose half her production
of horses and cattle; but she will have a monopoly of milk in Paris,
for her climate, happily, forbids grape culture. We shall soon see a
curious phenomenon in the progressive rise in the cost of meat. In
twenty years from now, in 1850, Paris, which paid seven to eleven sous
for a pound of beef in 1814, will be paying twenty--unless there comes
a man of genius who can carry out the plan of Charles X."
"You have laid your finger on the mortal wound of France," said the
/juge de paix/. "The root of our evils lies in the section relating to
inheritance in the Civil Code, in which the equal division of property
among heirs is ordained. That's the pestle that pounds territory into
crumbs, individualizes fortunes, and takes from them their needful
stability; decomposing ever and never recomposing,--a state of things
which must end in the ruin of France. The French Revolution emitted a
destructive virus to which the July days have given fresh activity.
This vitiating element is the accession of the peasantry to the
ownership of land. In the section 'On Inheritance' is the principle of
the evil, the peasant is the means through which it works. No sooner
does that class get a parcel of land into its maw than it begins to
subdivide it, till there are scarcely three furrows left in each lot.
And even then the peasant does not stop! He divides the three furrows
across their length, as Monsieur Grossetete has just shown us at
Argenteuil. The unreasonable price which the peasant attaches to the
smallest scrap of his land makes it impossible to repurchase and
restore a fine estate. Monsieur," he went on, indicating Grossetete,
"has just mentioned the diminution in the raising of horses and
cattle; well, the Code has much to do with that. The peasant-
proprietor owns cows; he looks to them for his means of living; he
sells the calves, he sells his butter; he never dreams of raising
cattle, still less of raising horses; but as he cannot raise enough
fodder to support his cows through a dry season, he sends them to
market when he can feed them no longer. If by some fatal chance the
hay were to fail for two years running, you would see a startling
change the third year in the price of beef, but especially in that of
"That may put a stop to 'patriotic banquets,'" said the doctor,
"Oh!" exclaimed Madame Graslin, looking at Roubaud, "can't politics
get on without the wit of journalism, even here?"
"In this lamentable business, the bourgeoisie plays the same /role/ as
the pioneers of America," continued Clousier. "It buys up great
estates, which the peasantry could not otherwise acquire. It cuts them
up and then sells, either at auction or in small lots at private sale,
to the peasants. Everything is judged by figures in these days, and I
know none more eloquent than these. France has ninety-nine million
acres, which, subtracting highways, roads, dunes, canals, and barren,
uncultivated regions deserted by capital, may be reduced to eighty
millions. Now out of eighty millions of acres to thirty-two millions
of inhabitants we find one hundred and twenty-five millions of small
lots registered on the tax-list (I don't give fractions). Thus, you
will observe, we have gone to the utmost limit of agrarian law, and
yet we have not seen the last of poverty or dissatisfaction. Those who
divide territory into fragments and lessen production have, of course,
plenty of organs to cry out that true social justice consists in
giving every man a life interest, and no more, in a parcel of land;
perpetual ownership, they say, is robbery. The Saint-Simonians are
already proclaiming that doctrine."
"The magistrate has spoken," said Grossetete, "and here's what the
banker adds to those bold considerations. The fact that the peasantry
and the lesser bourgeoisie can now acquire land does France an injury
which the government seems not even to suspect. We may estimate the
number of peasant families, omitting paupers, at three millions. These
families subsist on wages. Wages are paid in money, and not in kind--"
"Yes, that's another blunder of our laws!" cried Clousier,
interrupting the banker. "The right to pay in kind might have been
granted in 1790; now, if we attempted to carry such a law, we should
risk a revolution."
"Therefore, as I was about to say, the proletary draws to himself the
money of the country," resumed Grossetete. "Now the peasant has no
other passion, desire, or will, than to die a land-owner. This desire,
as Monsieur Clousier has well shown, was born of the Revolution, and
is the direct result of the sale of the National domain. A man must be
ignorant indeed of what is going on all over France in the country
regions if he is not aware that these three million families are
yearly hoarding at least fifty francs, thus subtracting a hundred and
fifty millions from current use. The science of political economy has
made it an axiom that a five-franc piece, passing through a hundred
hands in one day, is equivalent to five hundred francs. Now, it is
perfectly plain to all of us who live in the country and observe the
state of affairs, that every peasant has his eye on the land he
covets; he is watching and waiting for it, and he never invests his
savings elsewhere; he buries them. In seven years the savings thus
rendered inert and unproductive amount to eleven hundred million
francs. But since the lesser bourgeoisie bury as much more, with the
same purpose, France loses every seven years the interest of at least
two thousand millions,--that is to say, about one hundred millions; a
loss which in forty-two years amounts to six hundred million francs.
But she not only loses six hundred millions, she fails to create with
that money manufacturing or agricultural products, which represent a
loss of twelve hundred millions; for, if the manufactured product were
not double in value to its cost price, commerce could not exist. The
proletariat actually deprives itself of six hundred millions in wages.
These six hundred millions of dead loss (representing to a stern
economist a loss of twelve hundred millions, through lack of the
benefits of circulation) explain the condition of inferiority in which
our commerce, our merchant service, and our agriculture stand, as
compared with England. In spite of the difference of the two
territories, which is more than two thirds in our favor, England could
remount the cavalry of two French armies, and she has meat for every
man. But there, as the system of landed property makes it almost
impossible for the lower classes to obtain it, money is not hoarded;
it becomes commercial, and is turned over. Thus, besides the evil of
parcelling the land, involving that of the diminution of horses,
cattle, and sheep, the section of the Code on inheritance costs us six
hundred millions of interest, lost by the hoarding of the money of the
peasantry and bourgeoisie, and twelve hundred millions, at least, of
products; or, including the loss from non-circulation, three thousand
millions in half a century!"
"The moral effect is worse than the material effect," cried the
rector. "We are making beggar-proprietors among the people and half-
taught communities of the lesser bourgeoisie; and the fatal maxim
'Each for himself,' which had its effect upon the upper classes in
July of this year, will soon have gangrened the middle classes. A
proletariat devoid of sentiment, with no other god than envy, no other
fanaticism than the despair of hunger, without faith, without belief,
will come forward before long and put its foot on the heart of the
nation. Foreigners, who have thriven under monarchical rule, will find
that, having royalty, we have no king; having legality, we have no
laws; having property, no owners; no government with our elections, no
force with freedom, no happiness with equality. Let us hope that
before that day comes God may raise up in France a providential man,
one of those Elect who give a new mind to nations, and like Sylla or
like Marius, whether he comes from above or rises from below, remakes
"He would be sent to the assizes," said Gerard. "The sentence
pronounced against Socrates and Jesus Christ would be rendered against
them in 1831. In these days as in the old days, envious mediocrity
lets thinkers die of poverty, and so gets rid of the great political
physicians who have studied the wounds of France, and who oppose the
tendencies of their epoch. If they bear up under poverty, common minds
ridicule them or call them dreamers. In France, men revolt in the
moral world against the great man of the future, just as they revolt
in the political world against a sovereign."
"In the olden time sophists talked to a limited number of men; to-day
the periodical press enables them to lead astray a nation," cried the
/juge de paix/; "and that portion of the press which pleads for right
ideas finds no echo."
The mayor looked at Monsieur Clousier in amazement. Madame Graslin,
glad to find in a simple /juge de paix/ a man whose mind was occupied
with serious questions, said to Monsieur Roubaud, her neighbor, "Do
you know Monsieur Clousier?"
"Not rightly until to-day, madame. You are doing miracles," he
answered in a whisper. "And yet, look at his brow, how noble in shape!
Isn't it like the classic or traditional brow given by sculptors to
Lycurgus and the Greek sages? The revolution of July has an evidently
retrograde tendency," said the doctor (who might in his student days
have made a barricade himself), after carefully considering
"These ideas are threefold," continued Clousier. "You have talked of
law and finance, but how is it with the government itself? The royal
power, weakened by the doctrine of national sovereignty, in virtue of
which the election of August 9, 1830, has just been made, will
endeavor to counteract that rival principle which gives to the people
the right to saddle the nation with a new dynasty every time it does
not fully comprehend the ideas of its king. You will see that we shall
then have internal struggles which will arrest for long periods
together the progress of France."
"All these reefs have been wisely evaded by England," remarked Gerard.
"I have been there; I admire that beehive, which sends its swarms over
the universe and civilizes mankind,--a people among whom discussion is
a political comedy, which satisfies the masses and hides the action of
power, which then works freely in its upper sphere; a country where
elections are not in the hands of a stupid bourgeoisie, as they are in
France. If England were parcelled out into small holdings the nation
would no longer exist. The land-owning class, the lords, guide the
social mechanism. Their merchant-service, under the nose of Europe,
takes possession of whole regions of the globe to meet the needs of
their commerce and to get rid of their paupers and malcontents.
Instead of fighting capacities, as we do, thwarting them, nullifying
them, the English aristocratic class seeks out young talent, rewards
it, and is constantly assimilating it. Everything which concerns the
action of the government, in the choice of men and things, is prompt
in England, whereas with us all is slow; and yet the English are slow
by nature, while we are impatient. With them money is bold and
actively employed; with us it is timid and suspicious. What Monsieur
Grossetete has said of the industrial losses which the hoarding
peasantry inflict on France has its proof in a fact I will show to you
in two words: English capital, by its perpetual turning over, has
created ten thousand millions of manufacturing and interest-bearing
property; whereas French capital, which is far more abundant, has not
created one tenth of that amount."
"And that is all the more extraordinary," said Roubaud, "because they
are lymphatic, and we, as a general thing, are sanguine and
"Ah! monsieur," said Clousier, "there you touch a great question,
which ought to be studied: How to find institutions properly adapted
to repress the temperament of a people! Assuredly Cromwell was a great
legislator. He alone made the England of to-day, by inventing the
'Navigation Act,' which has made the English enemies of all the world,
and infused into them a ferocious pride and self-conceit, which is
their mainstay. But, in spite of their Malta citadel, if France and
Russia will only comprehend the part the Mediterranean and the Black
Sea ought to be made to play in the future, the road to Asia through
Egypt or by the Euphrates, made feasible by recent discoveries, will
kill England, as in former times the discovery of the Cape of Good
Hope killed Venice."
"Not one word of God's providence in all this!" cried the rector.
"Monsieur Clousier and Monsieur Roubaud are oblivious of religion. How
is it with you, monsieur?" he added, turning to Gerard.
"Protestant," put in Grossetete.
"You guessed it," cried Veronique, looking at the rector as she took
Clousier's arm to return to the salon.
The prejudice Gerard's appearance excited against him had been quickly
dispelled, and the three notables congratulated themselves on so good
"Unfortunately," said Monsieur Bonnet, "there is a cause of antagonism
between Russia and the Catholic countries which border the
Mediterranean, in the very unimportant schism which separates the
Greek religion from the Latin religion; and it is a great misfortune
"We all preach our own saint," said Madame Graslin. "Monsieur
Grossetete thinks of the lost millions; Monsieur Clousier, of the
overthrow of rights; the doctor here regards legislation as a question
of temperaments; and the rector sees an obstacle to the good
understanding of France and Russia in religion."
"Add to that, madame," said Gerard, "that I see, in the hoarding of
capital by the peasant and the small burgher, the postponement of the
building of railroads in France."
"Then what is it you all want?" she asked.
"We want the wise State councillors who, under the Emperor, reflected
on the laws, and a legislative body elected by the intelligence of the
country as well as by the land-owners, whose only function would be to
oppose bad legislation and capricious wars. The Chamber, as
constituted to-day, will proceed, as you will soon see, to govern, and
that is the first step to legal anarchy."
"Good God!" cried the rector, in a flush of sacred patriotism, "how
can such enlightened minds as these," and he motioned to Clousier,
Roubaud, and Gerard, "how can they see evil so clearly and suggest
remedies without first looking within and applying a remedy to
themselves? All of you, who represent the attacked classes, recognize
the necessity of the passive obedience of the masses of the State,
like that of soldiers during a war; you want the unity of power, and
you desire that it shall never be brought into question. What England
has obtained by the development of her pride and self-interest (a part
of her creed) cannot be obtained in France but through sentiments due
to Catholicism, and none of you are Catholics! Here am I, a priest,
obliged to leave my own ground and argue with arguers. How can you
expect the masses to become religious and obedient when they see
irreligion and want of discipline above them? All peoples united by
any faith whatever will inevitably get the better of peoples without
any faith at all. The law of public interest, which gives birth to
patriotism, is destroyed by the law of private interest, which it
sanctions, but which gives birth to selfishness. There is nothing
solid and durable but that which is natural; and the natural thing in
human policy is the Family. The family must be the point of departure
for all institutions. A universal effect proves a universal cause; and
what you have just been setting forth as evident on all sides comes
from the social principle itself; which is now without force because
it has taken for its basis independence of thought and will, and such
freedom is the parent of individualism. To make happiness depend on
the stability, intelligence, and capacity of all is not as wise as to
make happiness depend on the stability and intelligence of
institutions and the capacity of a single head. It is easier to find
wisdom in one man than in a whole nation. Peoples have heart and no
eyes; they feel, and see not. Governments ought to see, and not
determine anything through sentiment. There is, therefore, an evident
contradiction between the impulses of the multitude and the action of
power whose function it is to direct and unify those impulses. To meet
with a great prince is certainly a rare chance (to use your term), but
to trust to a whole assembly, even though it is composed of honest men
only, is folly. France is committing that folly at this moment. Alas!
you are just as much convinced of that as I am. If all right-minded
men, like yourselves, would only set an example around them, if all
intelligent hands would raise, in the great republic of souls, the
altars of the one Church which has set the interests of humanity
before her, we might again behold in France the miracles our fathers
"But the difficulty is, monsieur," said Gerard,--"if I may speak to
you with the freedom of the confessional,--I look upon faith as a lie
we tell to ourselves, on hope as a lie we tell about the future, and
on charity as a trick for children to keep them good by the promise of
"Still, we sleep better for being rocked by hope, monsieur," said
This speech stopped Roubaud, who was about to reply; its effect was
strengthened by a look from Grossetete and the rector.
"Is it our fault," said Clousier, "that Jesus Christ had not the time
to formulate a government in accordance with his moral teaching, as
did Moses and Confucius, the two greatest human law-givers?--witness
the existence, as a nation, of the Jews and Chinese, the former in
spite of their dispersion over the whole earth, and the latter in
spite of their isolation."
"Ah! dear me! what work you are cutting out for me!" cried the rector
naively. "But I shall triumph, I shall convert you all! You are much
nearer to the true faith than you think you are. Truth always lurks
behind falsehood; go on a step, turn round, and then you'll see it."
This little outburst of the good rector had the effect of changing the
Before taking his departure the next day, Monsieur Grossetete promised
Veronique to associate himself in all her plans, as soon as the
realization of them was a practicable thing. Madame Graslin and Gerard
accompanied his carriage on horseback, and did not leave him till they
reached the junction of the high-road of Montegnac with that from
Bordeaux to Lyon. The engineer was so impatient to see the land he was
to reclaim, and Veronique was so impatient to show it to him, that
they had planned this expedition the evening before.
After bidding adieu to the kind old man, they turned off the road
across the vast plain, and skirted the mountain chain from the foot of
the rise which led to the chateau to the steep face of the Roche-Vive.
The engineer then saw plainly the shelf or barricade of rock mentioned
by Farrabesche; which forms, as it were, the lowest foundation of the
hills. By so directing the water that it should not overflow the
indestructible canal which Nature had built, and by clearing out the
accumulation of earth which choked it up, irrigation would be helped
rather than hindered by this natural sluice-way, which was raised, on
an average, ten feet above the plain. The first important point was to
estimate the amount of water flowing through the Gabou, and to make
sure whether or not the slopes of the valley allowed any to escape in
Veronique gave Farrabesche a horse, and directed him to accompany the
engineer and to explain to him everything he had himself noticed.
After several days' careful exploration, Gerard found that the base of
the two parallel slopes was sufficiently solid, though different in
composition, to hold the water, allowing none to escape. During the
month of January, which was rainy, he estimated the quantity of water
flowing through the Gabou. This quantity, added to that of three
streams which could easily be led into it, would supply water enough
to irrigate a tract of land three times as extensive as the plain of
Montegnac. The damming of the Gabou and the works necessary to direct
the water of the three valleys to the plain, ought not to cost more
than sixty thousand francs; for the engineer discovered on the commons
a quantity of calcareous soil which would furnish the lime cheaply,
the forest was close at hand, the wood and stone cost nothing, and the
transportation was trifling. While awaiting the season when the Gabou
would be dry (the only time suitable for the work) all the necessary
preparations could be made so as to push the enterprise through
rapidly when it was once begun.
But the preparation of the plain was another thing; that according to
Gerard, would cost not less than two hundred thousand francs, without
including the sowing and planting. The plain was to be divided into
square compartments of two hundred and fifty acres each, where the
ground had to be cleared, not only of its stunted growths, but of
rocks. Laborers would have to dig innumerable trenches, and stone them
up so as to let no water run to waste, also to direct its flow at
will. This part of the enterprise needed the active and faithful arms
of conscientious workers. Chance provided them with a tract of land
without natural obstacles, a long even stretch of plain, where the
waters, having a fall of ten feet, could be distributed at will.
Nothing hindered the finest agricultural results, while at the same
time, the eye would be gratified by one of those magnificent sheets of
verdure which are the pride and the wealth of Lombardy. Gerard sent
for an old and experienced foreman, who had already been employed by
him elsewhere in this capacity, named Fresquin.
Madame Graslin wrote to Grossetete, requesting him to negotiate for
her a loan of two hundred and fifty thousand francs, secured on her
income from the Funds, which, if relinquished for six years, would be
enough to pay both capital and interest. This loan was obtained in
March. By this time the preliminary preparations carried on by Gerard
and his foreman, Fresquin, were fully completed; also, the surveying,
estimating, levelling, and sounding. The news of this great enterprise
spreading about the country, stimulated the laboring population. The
indefatigable Farrabesche, Colorat, Clousier, the mayor of Montegnac,
Roubaud, and others, interested either in the welfare of the
neighborhood or in Madame Graslin, selected such of these laborers as
seemed the poorest, or were most deserving of employment. Gerard
bought for himself and for Monsieur Grossetete a thousand acres on the
other side of the high-road to Montegnac. Fresquin, the foreman,
bought five hundred, and sent for his wife and children.
Early in April, 1832, Monsieur Grossetete came to see the land bought
for him by Gerard, though his journey was chiefly occasioned by the
advent of Catherine Curieux, who had come from Paris to Limoges by the
diligence. Grossetete now brought her with him to Montegnac. He found
Madame Graslin just starting for church. Monsieur Bonnet was to say a
mass to implore the blessing of heaven on the works that were then
beginning. All the laborers with their wives and children were
"Here is your protegee," said the old gentleman, presenting to
Veronique a feeble, suffering woman, apparently about thirty years of
"Are you Catherine Curieux?" asked Madame Graslin.
Veronique looked at Catherine for a moment. She was rather tall, well-
made, and fair; her features wore an expression of extreme gentleness
which the beautiful gray tones of the eyes did not contradict. The
outline of the face, the shape of the brow had a nobility both simple
and august, such as we sometimes meet with in country regions among
very young girls,--a sort of flower of beauty, which field labors, the
constant cares of the household, the burning of the sun, and want of
personal care, remove with terrible rapidity. Her movements had that
ease of motion characteristic of country girls, to which certain
habits unconsciously contracted in Paris gave additional grace. If
Catherine had remained in the Correze she would by this time have
looked like an old woman, wrinkled and withered; her complexion, once
rosy, would have coarsened; but Paris, though it paled her, had
preserved her beauty. Illness, toil, and grief had endowed her with
the mysterious gifts of melancholy, the inward vitalizing thought,
which is lacking to poor country-folk whose lives are almost animal.
Her dress, full of that Parisian taste which all women, even the least
coquettish, contract so readily, distinguished her still further from
an ordinary peasant-woman. In her ignorance as to what was before her,
and having no means of judging Madame Graslin, she appeared very shy
"Do you still love Farrabesche?" asked Veronique, when Grossetete left
them for a moment.
"Yes, madame," she replied coloring.
"Why, then, having sent him a thousand francs during his imprisonment,
did you not join him after his release? Have you any repugnance to
him? Speak to me as though I were your mother. Are you afraid he has
become altogether corrupt; or did you fear he no longer wanted you?"
"Neither, madame; but I do not know how to read or write, and I was
serving a very exacting old lady; she fell ill and I had to nurse her.
Though I knew the time when Jacques would be released, I could not get
away from Paris until after the lady's death. She did not leave me
anything, notwithstanding my devotion to her interests and to her
personally. After that I wanted to be cured of an ailment caused by
night-watching and hard work, and as I had used up my savings, I
resolved to go to the hospital of Saint-Louis, which I have just left,
"Very good, my child," said Madame Graslin, touched by this simple
explanation. "But tell me now why you abandoned your parents so
abruptly, why you left your child behind you, and why you did not send
any news of yourself, or get some one to write for you."
For all answer Catherine wept.
"Madame," she said at last, reassured by the pressure of Madame
Graslin's hand, "I may have done wrong, but I hadn't the strength to
stay here. I did not fear myself, but others; I feared gossip,
scandal. So long as Jacques was in danger, I was necessary to him and
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