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The Complete text of: The Confessions
By: Jean Jacques Rousseau
This SquaPo version is adapted from the version at gutenberg.org, produced by David Widger. Based on the version printed for the Aldus Society, London, 1903
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J. J. ROUSSEAU
I have entered upon a performance which is without example, whose accomplishment will have no imitator. I mean to present my fellow-mortals with a man in all the integrity of nature; and this man shall be myself.
I know my heart, and have studied mankind; I am not made like any one I have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not better, I at least claim originality, and whether Nature did wisely in breaking the mould with which she formed me, can only be determined after having read this work.
Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the sovereign judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced superfluous ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of memory: I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but have never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood. Such as I was, I have declared myself; sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous, generous and sublime; even as thou hast read my inmost soul: Power eternal! assemble round thy throne an innumerable throng of my fellow-mortals, let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; let each in his turn expose with equal sincerity the failings, the wanderings of his heart, and, if he dare, aver, I was better than that man.
I was born at Geneva, in 1712, son of Isaac Rousseau and Susannah Bernard, citizens. My father's share of a moderate competency, which was divided among fifteen children, being very trivial, his business of a watchmaker (in which he had the reputation of great ingenuity) was his only dependence. My mother's circumstances were more affluent; she was daughter of a Mons. Bernard, minister, and possessed a considerable share of modesty and beauty; indeed, my father found some difficulty in obtaining her hand.
The affection they entertained for each other was almost as early as their existence; at eight or nine years old they walked together every evening on the banks of the Treille, and before they were ten, could not support the idea of separation. A natural sympathy of soul confined those sentiments of predilection which habit at first produced; born with minds susceptible of the most exquisite sensibility and tenderness, it was only necessary to encounter similar dispositions; that moment fortunately presented itself, and each surrendered a willing heart.
The obstacles that opposed served only to give a decree of vivacity to their affection, and the young lover, not being able to obtain his mistress, was overwhelmed with sorrow and despair. She advised him to travel--to forget her. He consented--he travelled, but returned more passionate than ever, and had the happiness to find her equally constant, equally tender. After this proof of mutual affection, what could they resolve?--to dedicate their future lives to love! the resolution was ratified with a vow, on which Heaven shed its benediction.
Fortunately, my mother's brother, Gabriel Bernard, fell in love with one of my father's sisters; she had no objection to the match, but made the marriage of his sister with her brother an indispensable preliminary.
Love soon removed every obstacle, and the two weddings were celebrated the same day: thus my uncle became the husband of my aunt, and their children were doubly cousins german. Before a year was expired, both had the happiness to become fathers, but were soon after obliged to submit to a separation.
My uncle Bernard, who was an engineer, went to serve in the empire and Hungary, under Prince Eugene, and distinguished himself both at the siege and battle of Belgrade. My father, after the birth of my only brother, set off, on recommendation, for Constantinople, and was appointed watchmaker to the Seraglio. During his absence, the beauty, wit, and accomplishments of my mother attracted a number of admirers, among whom Mons. de la Closure, Resident of France, was the most assiduous in his attentions.
[They were too brilliant for her situation, the minister, her father, having bestowed great pains on her education. She was aught drawing, singing, and to play on the theorbo; had learning, and wrote very agreeable verses. The following is an extempore piece which she composed in the absence of her husband and brother, in a conversation with some person relative to them, while walking with her sister--in--law, and their two children:
Ces deux messieurs, qui sont absens, Nous sont chers e bien des manieres; Ce sont nos amiss, nos amans, Ce sont nos maris et nos freres, Et les peres de ces enfans.
These absent ones, who just claim Our hearts, by every tender name, To whom each wish extends Our husbands and our brothers are, The fathers of this blooming pair, Our lovers and our friends.]
His passion must have been extremely violent, since after a period of thirty years I have seen him affected at the very mention of her name.
My mother had a defence more powerful even than her virtue; she tenderly loved my father, and conjured him to return; his inclination seconding his request, he gave up every prospect of emolument, and hastened to Geneva.
I was the unfortunate fruit of this return, being born ten months after, in a very weakly and infirm state; my birth cost my mother her life, and was the first of my misfortunes. I am ignorant how my father supported her loss at that time, but I know he was ever after inconsolable. In me he still thought he saw her he so tenderly lamented, but could never forget I had been the innocent cause of his misfortune, nor did he ever embrace me, but his sighs, the convulsive pressure of his arms, witnessed that a bitter regret mingled itself with his caresses, though, as may be supposed, they were not on this account less ardent. When he said to me, "Jean Jacques, let us talk of your mother," my usual reply was, "Yes, father, but then, you know, we shall cry," and immediately the tears started from his eyes. "Ah!" exclaimed he, with agitation, "Give me back my wife; at least console me for her loss; fill up, dear boy, the void she has left in my soul. Could I love thee thus wert thou only my son?" Forty years after this loss he expired in the arms of his second wife, but the name of the first still vibrated on his lips, still was her image engraved on his heart.
Such were the authors of my being: of all the gifts it had pleased Heaven to bestow on them, a feeling heart was the only one that descended to me; this had been the source of their felicity, it was the foundation of all my misfortunes.
I came into the world with so few signs of life, that they entertained but little hope of preserving me, with the seeds of a disorder that has gathered strength with years, and from which I am now relieved at intervals, only to suffer a different, though more intolerable evil.
I owed my preservation to one of my father's sisters, an amiable and virtuous girl, who took the most tender care of me; she is yet living, nursing, at the age of four--score, a husband younger than herself, but worn out with excessive drinking. Dear aunt! I freely forgive your having preserved my life, and only lament that it is not in my power to bestow on the decline of your days the tender solicitude and care you lavished on the first dawn of mine. My nurse, Jaqueline, is likewise living: and in good health--the hands that opened my eyes to the light of this world may close them at my death. We suffer before we think; it is the common lot of humanity. I experienced more than my proportion of it.
I have no knowledge of what passed prior to my fifth or sixth year; I recollect nothing of learning to read, I only remember what effect the first considerable exercise of it produced on my mind; and from that moment I date an uninterrupted knowledge of myself.
Every night, after supper, we read some part of a small collection of romances which had been my mother's. My father's design was only to improve me in reading, and he thought these entertaining works were calculated to give me a fondness for it; but we soon found ourselves so interested in the adventures they contained, that we alternately read whole nights together, and could not bear to give over until at the conclusion of a volume. Sometimes, in a morning, on hearing the swallows at our window, my father, quite ashamed of this weakness, would cry, "Come, come, let us go to bed; I am more a child than thou art."
I soon acquired, by this dangerous custom, not only an extreme facility in reading and comprehending, but, for my age, a too intimate acquaintance with the passions. An infinity of sensations were familiar to me, without possessing any precise idea of the objects to which they related--I had conceived nothing--I had felt the whole. This confused succession of emotions did not retard the future efforts of my reason, though they added an extravagant, romantic notion of human life, which experience and reflection have never been able to eradicate.
My romance reading concluded with the summer of 1719, the following winter was differently employed. My mother's library being quite exhausted, we had recourse to that part of her father's which had devolved to us; here we happily found some valuable books, which was by no means extraordinary, having been selected by a minister that truly deserved that title, in whom learning (which was the rage of the times) was but a secondary commendation, his taste and good sense being most conspicuous. The history of the Church and Empire by Le Sueur, Bossuett's Discourses on Universal History, Plutarch's Lives, the history of Venice by Nani, Ovid's Metamorphoses, La Bruyere, Fontenelle's World, his Dialogues of the Dead, and a few volumes of Moliere, were soon ranged in my father's closet, where, during the hours he was employed in his business, I daily read them, with an avidity and taste uncommon, perhaps unprecedented at my age.
Plutarch presently became my greatest favorite. The satisfaction I derived from repeated readings I gave this author, extinguished my passion for romances, and I shortly preferred Agesilaus, Brutus, and Aristides, to Orondates, Artemenes, and Juba. These interesting studies, seconded by the conversations they frequently occasioned with my father, produced that republican spirit and love of liberty, that haughty and invincible turn of mind, which rendered me impatient of restraint or servitude, and became the torment of my life, as I continually found myself in situations incompatible with these sentiments. Incessantly occupied with Rome and Athens, conversing, if I may so express myself with their illustrious heroes; born the citizen of a republic, of a father whose ruling passion was a love of his country, I was fired with these examples; could fancy myself a Greek or Roman, and readily give into the character of the personage whose life I read; transported by the recital of any extraordinary instance of fortitude or intrepidity, animation flashed from my eyes, and gave my voice additional strength and energy. One day, at table, while relating the fortitude of Scoevola, they were terrified at seeing me start from my seat and hold my hand over a hot chafing--dish, to represent more forcibly the action of that determined Roman.
My brother, who was seven years older than myself, was brought up to my father's profession. The extraordinary affection they lavished on me might be the reason he was too much neglected: this certainly was a fault which cannot be justified. His education and morals suffered by this neglect, and he acquired the habits of a libertine before he arrived at an age to be really one. My father tried what effect placing him with a master would produce, but he still persisted in the same ill conduct.
Though I saw him so seldom that it could hardly be said we were acquainted. I loved him tenderly, and believe he had as strong an affection for me as a youth of his dissipated turn of mind could be supposed capable of. One day, I remember, when my father was correcting him severely, I threw myself between them, embracing my brother, whom I covered with my body, receiving the strokes designed for him; I persisted so obstinately in my protection, that either softened by my cries and tears, or fearing to hurt me most, his anger subsided, and he pardoned his fault. In the end, my brother's conduct became so bad that he suddenly disappeared, and we learned some time after that he was in Germany, but he never wrote to us, and from that day we heard no news of him: thus I became an only son.
If this poor lad was neglected, it was quite different with his brother, for the children of a king could not be treated with more attention and tenderness than were bestowed on my infancy, being the darling of the family; and what is rather uncommon, though treated as a beloved, never a spoiled child; was never permitted, while under paternal inspection, to play in the street with other children; never had any occasion to contradict or indulge those fantastical humors which are usually attributed to nature, but are in reality the effects of an injudicious education. I had the faults common to my age, was talkative, a glutton, and sometimes a liar, made no scruple of stealing sweetmeats, fruits, or, indeed, any kind of eatables; but never took delight in mischievous waste, in accusing others, or tormenting harmless animals. I recollect, indeed, that one day, while Madam Clot, a neighbor of ours, was gone to church, I made water in her kettle: the remembrance even now makes me smile, for Madame Clot (though, if you please, a good sort of creature) was one of the most tedious grumbling old women I ever knew. Thus have I given a brief, but faithful, history of my childish transgressions.
How could I become cruel or vicious, when I had before my eyes only examples of mildness, and was surrounded by some of the best people in the world? My father, my aunt, my nurse, my relations, our friends, our neighbors, all I had any connection with, did not obey me, it is true, but loved me tenderly, and I returned their affection. I found so little to excite my desires, and those I had were so seldom contradicted, that I was hardly sensible of possessing any, and can solemnly aver I was an absolute stranger to caprice until after I had experienced the authority of a master.
Those hours that were not employed in reading or writing with my father, or walking with my governess, Jaqueline, I spent with my aunt; and whether seeing her embroider, or hearing her sing, whether sitting or standing by her side, I was ever happy. Her tenderness and unaffected gayety, the charms of her figure and countenance have left such indelible impressions on my mind, that her manner, look, and attitude are still before my eyes; I recollect a thousand little caressing questions; could describe her clothes, her head-dress, nor have the two curls of fine black hair which hung on her temples, according to the mode of that time, escaped my memory.
Though my taste, or rather passion, for music, did not show itself until a considerable time after, I am fully persuaded it is to her I am indebted for it. She knew a great number of songs, which she sung with great sweetness and melody. The serenity and cheerfulness which were conspicuous in this lovely girl, banished melancholy, and made all round her happy.
The charms of her voice had such an effect on me, that not only several of her songs have ever since remained on my memory, but some I have not thought of from my infancy, as I grow old, return upon my mind with a charm altogether inexpressible. Would any one believe that an old dotard like me, worn out with care and infirmity, should sometime surprise himself weeping like a child, and in a voice querulous, and broken by age, muttering out one of those airs which were the favorites of my infancy? There is one song in particular, whose tune I perfectly recollect, but the words that compose the latter half of it constantly refuse every effort to recall them, though I have a confused idea of the rhymes. The beginning, with what I have been able to recollect of the remainder, is as follows:
Tircis, je n'ose Ecouter ton Chalumeau Sous l'Ormeau; Car on en cause Deja dans notre hameau.
---- ---- ------ ------ --- un Berger s'engager sans danger, Et toujours l'epine est sons la rose.
I have endeavored to account for the invincible charm my heart feels on the recollection of this fragment, but it is altogether inexplicable.
I only know, that before I get to the end of it, I always find my voice interrupted by tenderness, and my eyes suffused with tears. I have a hundred times formed the resolution of writing to Paris for the remainder of these words, if any one should chance to know them: but I am almost certain the pleasure I take in the recollection would be greatly diminished was I assured any one but my poor aunt Susan had sung them.
Such were my affections on entering this life. Thus began to form and demonstrate itself, a heart, at once haughty and tender, a character effeminate, yet invincible; which, fluctuating between weakness and courage, luxury and virtue, has ever set me in contradiction to myself; causing abstinence and enjoyment, pleasure and prudence, equally to shun me.
This course of education was interrupted by an accident, whose consequences influenced the rest of my life. My father had a quarrel with M. G----, who had a captain's commission in France, and was related to several of the Council. This G----, who was an insolent, ungenerous man, happening to bleed at the nose, in order to be revenged, accused my father of having drawn his sword on him in the city, and in consequence of this charge they were about to conduct him to prison. He insisted (according to the law of this republic) that the accuser should be confined at the same time; and not being able to obtain this, preferred a voluntary banishment for the remainder of his life, to giving up a point by which he must sacrifice his honor and liberty.
I remained under the tuition of my uncle Bernard, who was at that time employed in the fortifications of Geneva. He had lost his eldest daughter, but had a son about my own age, and we were sent together to Bossey, to board with the Minister Lambercier. Here we were to learn Latin, with all the insignificant trash that has obtained the name of education.
Two years spent in this village softened, in some degree, my Roman fierceness, and again reduced me to a state of childhood. At Geneva, where nothing was exacted, I loved reading, which was, indeed, my principal amusement; but, at Bossey, where application was expected, I was fond of play as a relaxation. The country was so new, so charming in my idea, that it seemed impossible to find satiety in its enjoyments, and I conceived a passion for rural life, which time has not been able to extinguish; nor have I ever ceased to regret the pure and tranquil pleasures I enjoyed at this place in my childhood; the remembrance having followed me through every age, even to that in which I am hastening again towards it.
M. Lambercier was a worthy, sensible man, who, without neglecting our instruction, never made our acquisitions burthensome, or tasks tedious.
What convinces me of the rectitude of his method is, that notwithstanding my extreme aversion to restraint, the recollection of my studies is never attended with disgust; and, if my improvement was trivial, it was obtained with ease, and has never escaped memory.
The simplicity of this rural life was of infinite advantage in opening my heart to the reception of true friendship. The sentiments I had hitherto formed on this subject were extremely elevated, but altogether imaginary.
The habit of living in this peaceful manner soon united me tenderly to my cousin Bernard; my affection was more ardent than that I had felt for my brother, nor has time ever been able to efface it. He was a tall, lank, weakly boy, with a mind as mild as his body was feeble, and who did not wrong the good opinion they were disposed to entertain for the son of my guardian. Our studies, amusements, and tasks, were the same; we were alone; each wanted a playmate; to separate would in some measure, have been to annihilate us. Though we had not many opportunities of demonstrating our attachment to each other, it was certainly extreme; and so far from enduring the thought of separation, we could not even form an idea that we should ever be able to submit to it. Each of a disposition to be won by kindness, and complaisant, when not soured by contradiction, we agreed in every particular. If, by the favor of those who governed us he had the ascendant while in their presence, I was sure to acquire it when we were alone, and this preserved the equilibrium so necessary in friendship. If he hesitated in repeating his task, I prompted him; when my exercises were finished, I helped to write his; and, in our amusements, my disposition being most active, ever had the lead. In a word, our characters accorded so well, and the friendship that subsisted between us was so cordial, that during the five years we were at Bossey and Geneva we were inseparable: we often fought, it is true, but there never was any occasion to separate us. No one of our quarrels lasted more than a quarter of an hour, and never in our lives did we make any complaint of each other. It may be said, these remarks are frivolous; but, perhaps, a similiar example among children can hardly be produced.
The manner in which I passed my time at Bossey was so agreeable to my disposition, that it only required a longer duration absolutely to have fixed my character, which would have had only peaceable, affectionate, benevolent sentiments for its basis. I believe no individual of our kind ever possessed less natural vanity than myself. At intervals, by an extraordinary effort, I arrived at sublime ideas, but presently sunk again into my original languor. To be loved by every one who knew me was my most ardent wish. I was naturally mild, my cousin was equally so, and those who had the care of us were of similiar dispositions. Everything contributed to strengthen those propensities which nature had implanted in my breast, and during the two years I was neither the victim nor witness of any violent emotions.
I knew nothing so delightful as to see every one content, not only with me, but all that concerned them. When repeating our catechism at church, nothing could give me greater vexation, on being obliged to hesitate, than to see Miss Lambercier's countenance express disapprobation and uneasiness. This alone was more afflicting to me than the shame of faltering before so many witnesses, which, notwithstanding, was sufficiently painful; for though not oversolicitous of praise, I was feelingly alive to shame; yet I can truly affirm, the dread of being reprimanded by Miss Lambercier alarmed me less than the thought of making her uneasy.
Neither she nor her brother were deficient in a reasonable severity, but as this was scarce ever exerted without just cause, I was more afflicted at their disapprobation than the punishment. Certainly the method of treating youth would be altered if the distant effects, this indiscriminate, and frequently indiscreet method produces, were more conspicuous. I would willingly excuse myself from a further explanation, did not the lesson this example conveys (which points out an evil as frequent as it is pernicious) forbid my silence.
As Miss Lambercier felt a mother's affection, she sometimes exerted a mother's authority, even to inflicting on us when we deserved it, the punishment of infants. She had often threatened it, and this threat of a treatment entirely new, appeared to me extremely dreadful; but I found the reality much less terrible than the idea, and what is still more unaccountable, this punishment increased my affection for the person who had inflicted it. All this affection, aided by my natural mildness, was scarcely sufficient to prevent my seeking, by fresh offences, a return of the same chastisement; for a degree of sensuality had mingled with the smart and shame, which left more desire than fear of a repetition. I was well convinced the same discipline from her brother would have produced a quite contrary effect; but from a man of his disposition this was not probable, and if I abstained from meriting correction it was merely from a fear of offending Miss Lambercier, for benevolence, aided by the passions, has ever maintained an empire over me which has given law to my heart.
This event, which, though desirable, I had not endeavored to accelerate, arrived without my fault; I should say, without my seeking; and I profited by it with a safe conscience; but this second, was also the last time, for Miss Lambercier, who doubtless had some reason to imagine this chastisement did not produce the desired effect, declared it was too fatiguing, and that she renounced it for the future. Till now we had slept in her chamber, and during the winter, even in her bed; but two days after another room was prepared for us, and from that moment I had the honor (which I could very well have dispensed with) of being treated by her as a great boy.
Who would believe this childish discipline, received at eight years old, from the hands of a woman of thirty, should influence my propensities, my desires, my passions, for the rest of my life, and that in quite a contrary sense from what might naturally have been expected? The very incident that inflamed my senses, gave my desires such an extraordinary turn, that, confined to what I had already experienced, I sought no further, and, with blood boiling with sensuality, almost from my birth, preserved my purity beyond the age when the coldest constitutions lose their insensibility; long tormented, without knowing by what, I gazed on every handsome woman with delight; imagination incessantly brought their charms to my remembrance, only to transform them into so many Miss Lamberciers.
If ever education was perfectly chaste, it was certainly that I received; my three aunts were not only of exemplary prudence, but maintained a degree of modest reserve which women have long since thought unnecessary.
My father, it is true, loved pleasure, but his gallantry was rather of the last than the present century, and he never expressed his affection for any woman he regarded in terms a virgin could have blushed at; indeed, it was impossible more attention should be paid to that regard we owe the morals of children than was uniformly observed by every one I had any concern with. An equal degree of reserve in this particular was observed at M. Lambercier's, where a good maid-servant was discharged for having once made use of an expression before us which was thought to contain some degree of indelicacy. I had no precise idea of the ultimate effect of the passions, but the conception I had formed was extremely disgusting; I entertained a particular aversion for courtesans, nor could I look on a rake without a degree of disdain mingled with terror.
These prejudices of education, proper in themselves to retard the first explosions of a combustible constitution, were strengthened, as I have already hinted, by the effect the first moments of sensuality produced in me, for notwithstanding the troublesome ebullition of my blood, I was satisfied with the species of voluptuousness I had already been acquainted with, and sought no further.
Thus I passed the age of puberty, with a constitution extremely ardent, without knowing or even wishing for any other gratification of the passions than what Miss Lambercier had innocently given me an idea of; and when I became a man, that childish taste, instead of vanishing, only associated with the other. This folly, joined to a natural timidity, has always prevented my being very enterprising with women, so that I have passed my days in languishing in silence for those I most admired, without daring to disclose my wishes.
To fall at the feet of an imperious mistress, obey her mandates, or implore pardon, were for me the most exquisite enjoyments, and the more my blood was inflamed by the efforts of a lively imagination the more I acquired the appearance of a whining lover.
It will be readily conceived that this mode of making love is not attended with a rapid progress or imminent danger to the virtue of its object; yet, though I have few favors to boast of, I have not been excluded from enjoyment, however imaginary. Thus the senses, in concurrence with a mind equally timid and romantic, have preserved my moral chaste, and feelings uncorrupted, with precisely the same inclinations, which, seconded with a moderate portion of effrontery, might have plunged me into the most unwarrantable excesses.
I have made the first, most difficult step, in the obscure and painful maze of my Confessions. We never feel so great a degree of repugnance in divulging what is really criminal, as what is merely ridiculous. I am now assured of my resolution, for after what I have dared disclose, nothing can have power to deter me. The difficulty attending these acknowledgments will be readily conceived, when I declare, that during the whole of my life, though frequently laboring under the most violent agitation, being hurried away with the impetuosity of a passion which (when in company with those I loved) deprived me of the faculty of sight and hearing, I could never, in the course of the most unbounded familiarity, acquire sufficient resolution to declare my folly, and implore the only favor that remained to bestow.
In thus investigating the first traces of my sensible existence, I find elements, which, though seemingly incompatible, have united to produce a simple and uniform effect; while others, apparently the same, have, by the concurrence of certain circumstances, formed such different combinations, that it would never be imagined they had any affinity; who would believe, for example, that one of the most vigorous springs of my soul was tempered in the identical source from whence luxury and ease mingled with my constitution and circulated in my veins? Before I quit this subject, I will add a striking instance of the different effects they produced.
One day, while I was studying in a chamber contiguous to the kitchen, the maid set some of Miss Lambercier's combs to dry by the fire, and on coming to fetch them some time after, was surprised to find the teeth of one of them broken off. Who could be suspected of this mischief? No one but myself had entered the room: I was questioned, but denied having any knowledge of it. Mr. and Miss Lambercier consult, exhort, threaten, but all to no purpose; I obstinately persist in the denial; and, though this was the first time I had been detected in a confirmed falsehood, appearances were so strong that they overthrew all my protestations.
This affair was thought serious; the mischief, the lie, the obstinacy, were considered equally deserving of punishment, which was not now to be administered by Miss Lambercier. My uncle Bernard was written to; he arrived; and my poor cousin being charged with a crime no less serious, we were conducted to the same execution, which was inflicted with great severity. If finding a remedy in the evil itself, they had sought ever to allay my depraved desires, they could not have chosen a shorter method to accomplish their designs, and, I can assure my readers, I was for a long time freed from the dominion of them.
As this severity could not draw from me the expected acknowledgment, which obstinacy brought on several repetitions, and reduced me to a deplorable situation, yet I was immovable, and resolutely determined to suffer death rather than submit. Force, at length, was obliged to yield to the diabolical infatuation of a child, for no better name was bestowed on my constancy, and I came out of this dreadful trial, torn, it is true, but triumphant. Fifty years have expired since this adventure--the fear of punishment is no more. Well, then, I aver, in the face of Heaven, I was absolutely innocent: and, so far from breaking, or even touching the comb, never came near the fire. It will be asked, how did this mischief happen? I can form no conception of it, I only know my own innocence.
Let any one figure to himself a character whose leading traits were docility and timidity, but haughty, ardent, and invincible, in its passions; a child, hitherto governed by the voice of reason, treated with mildness, equity, and complaisance, who could not even support the idea of injustice, experiencing, for the first time, so violent an instance of it, inflicted by those he most loved and respected. What perversion of ideas! What confusion in the heart, the brain, in all my little being, intelligent and moral!--let any one, I say, if possible, imagine all this, for I am incapable of giving the least idea of what passed in my mind at that period.
My reason was not sufficiently established to enable me to put myself in the place of others, and judge how much appearances condemned me, I only beheld the rigor of a dreadful chastisement, inflicted for a crime I had not committed; yet I can truly affirm, the smart I suffered, though violent, was inconsiderable compared to what I felt from indignation, rage, and despair. My cousin, who was almost in similar circumstances, having been punished for an involuntary fault as guilty of a premediated crime, became furious by my example. Both in the same bed, we embraced each other with convulsive transport; we were almost suffocated; and when our young hearts found sufficient relief to breathe out our indigination, we sat up in the bed, and with all our force, repeated a hundred times, Carnifex! Carnifex! Carnifex! executioner, tormentor.
Even while I write this I feel my pulse quicken, and should I live a hundred thousand years, the agitation of that moment would still be fresh in my memory. The first instance of violence and oppression is so deeply engraved on my soul, that every relative idea renews my emotion: the sentiment of indignation, which in its origin had reference only to myself, has acquired such strength, and is at present so completely detached from personal motives, that my heart is as much inflamed at the sight or relation of any act of injustice (whatever may be the object, or wheresoever it may be perpetrated) as if I was the immediate sufferer.
When I read the history of a merciless tyrant, or the dark and the subtle machination of a knavish designing priest, I could on the instant set off to stab the miscreants, though I was certain to perish in the attempt.
I have frequently fatigued myself by running after and stoning a cock, a cow, a dog, or any animal I saw tormenting another, only because it was conscious of possessing superior strength. This may be natural to me, and I am inclined to believe it is, though the lively impression of the first injustice I became the victim of was too long and too powerfully remembered not to have added considerable force to it.
This occurrence terminated my infantine serenity; from that moment I ceased to enjoy a pure unadulterated happiness, and on a retrospection of the pleasure of my childhood, I yet feel they ended here. We continue at Bossey some months after this event, but were like our first parents in the Garden of Eden after they had lost their innocence; in appearance our situation was the same, in effect it was totally different.
Affection, respect; intimacy, confidence, no longer attached the pupils to their guides; we beheld them no longer as divinities, who could read the secrets of our hearts; we were less ashamed of committing faults, more afraid of being accused of them: we learned to dissemble, to rebel, to lie: all the vices common to our years began to corrupt our happy innocence, mingle with our sports, and embitter our amusements. The country itself, losing those sweet and simple charms which captivate the heart, appeared a gloomy desert, or covered with a veil that concealed its beauties. We cultivated our little gardens no more: our flowers were neglected. We no longer scratched away the mould, and broke out into exclamations of delight, on discovering that the grain we had sown began to shoot. We were disgusted with our situation; our preceptors were weary of us. In a word, my uncle wrote for our return, and we left Mr.
and Miss Lambercier without feeling any regret at the separation.
Near thirty years passed away from my leaving Bossey, without once recalling the place to my mind with any degree of satisfaction; but after having passed the prime of life, as I decline into old age (while more recent occurrences are wearing out apace) I feel these remembrances revive and imprint themselves on my heart, with a force and charm that every day acquires fresh strength; as if, feeling life fleet from me, I endeavored to catch it again by its commencement. The most trifling incident of those happy days delight me, for no other reason than being of those days. I recall every circumstance of time, place, and persons; I see the maid or footman busy in the chamber, a swallow entering the window, a fly settling on my hand while repeating my lessons. I see the whole economy of the apartment; on the right hand Mr. Lambercier's closet, with a print representing all the popes, a barometer, a large almanac, the windows of the house (which stood in a hollow at the bottom of the garden) shaded by raspberry shrubs, whose shoots sometimes found entrance; I am sensible the reader has no occasion to know all this, but I feel a kind of necessity for relating it. Why am I not permitted to recount all the little anecdotes of that thrice happy age, at the recollection of whose joys I ever tremble with delight? Five or six particularly--let us compromise the matter--I will give up five, but then I must have one, and only one, provided I may draw it out to its utmost length, in order to prolong my satisfaction.
If I only sought yours, I should choose that of Miss Lambercier's backside, which by an unlucky fall at the bottom of the meadow, was exposed to the view of the King of Sardinia, who happened to be passing by; but that of the walnut tree on the terrace is more amusing to me, since here I was an actor, whereas, in the abovementioned scene I was only a spectator; and I must confess I see nothing that should occasion risibility in an accident, which, however laughable in itself, alarmed me for a person I loved as a mother, or perhaps something more.
Ye curious readers, whose expectations are already on the stretch for the noble history of the terrace, listen to the tragedy, and abstain from trembling, if you can, at the horrible catastrophe!
At the outside of the courtyard door, on the left hand, was a terrace; here they often sat after dinner; but it was subject to one inconvenience, being too much exposed to the rays of the sun; to obviate this defect, Mr. Lambercier had a walnut tree set there, the planting of which was attended with great solemnity. The two boarders were godfathers, and while the earth was replacing round the root, each held the tree with one hand, singing songs of triumph. In order to water it with more effect, they formed a kind of luson around its foot: myself and cousin, who were every day ardent spectators of this watering, confirmed each other in the very natural idea that it was nobler to plant trees on the terrace than colors on a breach, and this glory we were resolved to procure without dividing it with any one.
In pursuance of this resolution, we cut a slip off a willow, and planted it on the terrace, at about eight or ten feet distance from the august walnut tree. We did not forget to make a hollow round it, but the difficulty was how to procure a supply of water, which was brought from a considerable distance, and we not permitted to fetch it: but water was absolutely necessary for our willow, and we made use of every stratagem to obtain it.
For a few days everything succeeded so well that it began to bud, and throw out small leaves, which we hourly measured convinced (tho' now scarce a foot from the ground) it would soon afford us a refreshing shade. This unfortunate willow, by engrossing our whole time, rendered us incapable of application to any other study, and the cause of our inattention not being known, we were kept closer than before. The fatal moment approached when water must fail, and we were already afflicted with the idea that our tree must perish with drought. At length necessity, the parent of industry, suggested an invention, by which we might save our tree from death, and ourselves from despair; it was to make a furrow underground, which would privately conduct a part of the water from the walnut tree to our willow. This undertaking was executed with ardor, but did not immediately succeed--our descent was not skilfully planned--the water did not run, the earth falling in and stopping up the furrow; yet, though all went contrary, nothing discouraged us, 'omnia vincit labor improbus'. We made the bason deeper, to give the water a more sensible descent; we cut the bottom of a box into narrow planks; increased the channel from the walnut tree to our willow and laying a row flat at the bottom, set two others inclining towards each other, so as to form a triangular channel; we formed a kind of grating with small sticks at the end next the walnut tree, to prevent the earth and stones from stopping it up, and having carefully covered our work with well--trodden earth, in a transport of hope and fear attended the hour of watering. After an interval, which seemed an age of expectation, this hour arrived. Mr. Lambercier, as usual, assisted at the operation; we contrived to get between him and our tree, towards which he fortunately turned his back. They no sooner began to pour the first pail of water, than we perceived it running to the willow; this sight was too much for our prudence, and we involuntarily expressed our transport by a shout of joy. The sudden exclamation made Mr. Lambercier turn about, though at that instant he was delighted to observe how greedily the earth, which surrounded the root of his walnut tree, imbibed the water. Surprised at seeing two trenches partake of it, he shouted in his turn, examines, perceives the roguery, and, sending instantly for a pick axe, at one fatal blow makes two or three of our planks fly, crying out meantime with all his strength, an aqueduct! an aqueduct! His strokes redoubled, every one of which made an impression on our hearts; in a moment the planks, the channel, the bason, even our favorite willow, all were ploughed up, nor was one word pronounced during this terrible transaction, except the above mentioned exclamation. An aqueduct! repeated he, while destroying all our hopes, an aqueduct! an aqueduct!
It maybe supposed this adventure had a still more melancholy end for the young architects; this, however, was not the case; the affair ended here.
Mr. Lambercier never reproached us on this account, nor was his countenance clouded with a frown; we even heard him mention the circumstance to his sister with loud bursts of laughter. The laugh of Mr. Lambercier might be heard to a considerable distance. But what is still more surprising after the first transport of sorrow had subsided, we did not find ourselves violently afflicted; we planted a tree in another spot, and frequently recollected the catastrophe of the former, repeating with a significant emphasis, an aqueduct! an aqueduct! Till then, at intervals, I had fits of ambition, and could fancy myself Brutus or Aristides, but this was the first visible effect of my vanity.
To have constructed an aqueduct with our own hands, to have set a slip of willow in competition with a flourishing tree, appeared to me a supreme degree of glory! I had a juster conception of it at ten than Caesar entertained at thirty.
The idea of this walnut tree, with the little anecdotes it gave rise to, have so well continued, or returned to my memory, that the design which conveyed the most pleasing sensations, during my journey to Geneva, in the year 1754, was visiting Bossey, and reviewing the monuments of my infantine amusement, above all, the beloved walnut tree, whose age at that time must have been verging on a third of a century, but I was so beset with company that I could not find a moment to accomplish my design. There is little appearance now of the occasion being renewed; but should I ever return to that charming spot, and find my favorite walnut tree still existing, I am convinced I should water it with my tears.
On my return to Geneva, I passed two or three years at my uncle's, expecting the determination of my friends respecting my future establishment. His own son being devoted to genius, was taught drawing, and instructed by his father in the elements of Euclid; I partook of these instructions, but was principally fond of drawing. Meantime, they were irresolute, whether to make me a watchmaker, a lawyer, or a minister. I should have preferred being a minister, as I thought it must be a charming thing to preach, but the trifling income which had been my mother's, and was to be divided between my brother and myself, was too inconsiderable to defray the expense attending the prosecution of my studies. As my age did not render the choice very pressing, I remained with my uncle, passing my time with very little improvement, and paying pretty dear, though not unreasonably, for my board.
My uncle, like my father, was a man of pleasure, but had not learned, like him, to abridge his amusements for the sake of instructing his family, consequently our education was neglected. My aunt was a devotee, who loved singing psalms better than thinking of our improvement, so that we were left entirely to ourselves, which liberty we never abused.
Ever inseparable, we were all the world to each other; and, feeling no inclination to frequent the company of a number of disorderly lads of our own age, we learned none of those habits of libertinism to which our idle life exposed us. Perhaps I am wrong in charging myself and cousin with idleness at this time, for, in our lives, we were never less so; and what was extremely fortunate, so incessantly occupied with our amusements, that we found no temptation to spend any part of our time in the streets.
We made cages, pipes, kites, drums, houses, ships, and bows; spoiled the tools of my good old grandfather by endeavoring to make watches in imitation of him; but our favorite amusement was wasting paper, in drawing, washing, coloring, etc. There came an Italian mountebank to Geneva, called Gamber-Corta, who had an exhibition of puppets, that he made play a kind of comedy. We went once to see them, but could not spare time to go again, being busily employed in making puppets of our own and inventing comedies, which we immediately set about making them perform, mimicking to the best of our abilities the uncouth voice of Punch; and, to complete the business, my good aunt and uncle Bernard had the patience to see and listen to our imitations; but my uncle, having one day read an elaborate discourse to his family, we instantly gave up our comedies, and began composing sermons.
These details, I confess, are not very amusing, but they serve to demonstrate that the former part of our education was well directed, since being, at such an early age, the absolute masters of our time, we found no inclination to abuse it; and so little in want of other companions, that we constantly neglected every occasion of seeking them.
When taking our walks together, we observed their diversions without feeling any inclination to partake of them. Friendship so entirely occupied our hearts, that, pleased with each other's company the simplest pastimes were sufficient to delight us.
We were soon remarked for being thus inseparable: and what rendered us more conspicuous, my cousin was very tall, myself extremely short, so that we exhibited a very whimsical contrast. This meagre figure, small, sallow countenance, heavy air, and supine gait, excited the ridicule of the children, who, in the gibberish of the country, nicknamed him 'Barna Bredanna'; and we no sooner got out of doors than our ears were assailed with a repetition of "Barna Bredanna." He bore this indignity with tolerable patience, but I was instantly for fighting. This was what the young rogues aimed at. I engaged accordingly, and was beat. My poor cousin did all in his power to assist me, but he was weak, and a single stroke brought him to the ground. I then became furious, and received several smart blows, some of which were aimed at 'Barna Bredanna'. This quarrel so far increased the evil, that, to avoid their insults, we could only show ourselves in the streets while they were employed at school.
I had already become a redresser of grievances; there only wanted a lady in the way to be a knight-errant in form. This defect was soon supplied; I presently had two. I frequently went to see my father at Nion, a small city in the Vaudois country, where he was now settled. Being universally respected, the affection entertained for him extended to me: and, during my visits, the question seemed to be, who should show me most kindness.
A Madame de Vulson, in particular, loaded me with caresses; and, to complete all, her daughter made me her gallant. I need not explain what kind of gallant a boy of eleven must be to a girl of two and twenty; the artful hussies know how to set these puppets up in front, to conceal more serious engagements. On my part I saw no inequality between myself and Miss Vulson, was flattered by the circumstance, and went into it with my whole heart, or rather my whole head, for this passion certainly reached no further, though it transported me almost to madness, and frequently produced scenes sufficient to make even a cynic expire with laughter.
I have experienced two kinds of love, equally real, which have scarce any affinity, yet each differing materially from tender friendship. My whole life has been divided between these affections, and I have frequently felt the power of both at the same instant. For example, at the very time I so publically and tyrannically claimed Miss Vulson, that I could not suffer any other of my sex to approach her, I had short, but passionate, assignations with a Miss Goton, who thought proper to act the schoolmistress with me. Our meetings, though absolutely childish, afforded me the height of happiness. I felt the whole charm of mystery, and repaid Miss Vulson in kind, when she least expected it, the use she made of me in concealing her amours. To my great mortification, this secret was soon discovered, and I presently lost my young schoolmistress.
Miss Goton was, in fact, a singular personage. She was not handsome, yet there was a certain something in her figure which could not easily be forgotten, and this for an old fool, I am too often convinced of.
Her eyes, in particular, neither corresponded with her age, her height, nor her manner; she had a lofty imposing air, which agreed extremely well with the character she assumed, but the most extraordinary part of her composition was a mixture of forwardness and reserve difficult to be conceived; and while she took the greatest liberties with me, would never permit any to be taken with her in return, treating me precisely like a child. This makes me suppose she had either ceased herself to be one, or was yet sufficiently so to behold us play the danger to which this folly exposed her.
I was so absolutely in the power of both these mistresses, that when in the presence of either, I never thought of her who was absent; in other respects, the effects they produced on me bore no affinity. I could have passed my whole life with Miss Vulson, without forming a wish to quit her; but then, my satisfaction was attended with a pleasing serenity; and, in numerous companies, I was particularly charmed with her. The sprightly sallies of her wit, the arch glance of her eye, even jealousy itself, strengthened my attachment, and I triumphed in the preference she seemed to bestow on me, while addressed by more powerful rivals; applause, encouragement, and smiles, gave animation to my happiness.
Surrounded by a throng of observers, I felt the whole force of love--I was passionate, transported; in a tete-a-tete, I should have been constrained, thoughtful, perhaps unhappy. If Miss Vulson was ill, I suffered with her; would willingly have given up my own health to establish hers (and, observe I knew the want of it from experience); if absent, she employed my thoughts, I felt the want of her; when present, her caresses came with warmth and rapture to my heart, though my senses were unaffected. The familiarities she bestowed on me I could not have supported the idea of her granting to another; I loved her with a brother's affection only, but experienced all the jealousy of a lover.
With Miss Goton this passion might have acquired a degree of fury; I should have been a Turk, a tiger, had I once imagined she bestowed her favors on any but myself. The pleasure I felt on approaching Miss Vulson was sufficiently ardent, though unattended with uneasy sensations; but at sight of Miss Goton, I felt myself bewildered--every sense was absorbed in ecstasy. I believe it would have been impossible to have remained long with her; I must have been suffocated with the violence of my palpitations. I equally dreaded giving either of them displeasure; with one I was more complaisant; with the other, more submissive. I would not have offended Miss Vulson for the world; but if Miss Goton had commanded me to throw myself into the flames, I think I should have instantly obeyed her. Happily, both for her and myself, our amours; or rather rendezvous, were not of long duration: and though my connection with Miss Vulson was less dangerous, after a continuance of some greater length, that likewise had its catastrophe; indeed the termination of a love affair is good for nothing, unless it partakes of the romantic, and can furnish out at least an exclamation.
Though my correspondence with Miss Vulson was less animated, it was perhaps more endearing; we never separated without tears, and it can hardly be conceived what a void I felt in my heart. I could neither think nor speak of anything but her. These romantic sorrows were not affected, though I am inclined to believe they did not absolutely centre in her, for I am persuaded (though I did not perceive it at that time) being deprived of amusement bore a considerable share in them.
To soften the rigor of absence, we agreed to correspond with each other, and the pathetic expressions these letters contained were sufficient to have split a rock. In a word, I had the honor of her not being able to endure the pain of separation. She came to see me at Geneva.
My head was now completely turned; and during the two days she remained here, I was intoxicated with delight. At her departure, I would have thrown myself into the water after her, and absolutely rent the air with my cries. The week following she sent me sweetmeats, gloves, etc. This certainly would have appeared extremely gallant, had I not been informed of her marriage at the same instant, and that the journey I had thought proper to give myself the honor of, was only to buy her wedding suit.
My indignation may easily be conceived; I shall not attempt to describe it. In this heroic fury, I swore never more to see the perfidious girl, supposing it the greatest punishment that could be inflicted on her.
This, however, did not occasion her death, for twenty years after, while on a visit to my father, being on the lake, I asked who those ladies were in a boat not far from ours. "What!" said my father smiling, "does not your heart inform you? It is your former flame, it is Madame Christin, or, if you please, Miss Vulson." I started at the almost forgotten name, and instantly ordered the waterman to turn off, not judging it worth while to be perjured, however favorable the opportunity for revenge, in renewing a dispute of twenty years past, with a woman of forty.
Thus, before my future destination was determined, did I fool away the most precious moments of my youth. After deliberating a long time on the bent of my natural inclination, they resolved to dispose of me in a manner the most repugnant to them. I was sent to Mr. Masseron, the City Register, to learn (according to the expression of my uncle Bernard) the thriving occupation of a scraper. This nickname was inconceivably displeasing to me, and I promised myself but little satisfaction in the prospect of heaping up money by a mean employment. The assiduity and subjection required, completed my disgust, and I never set foot in the office without feeling a kind of horror, which every day gained fresh strength.
Mr. Masseron, who was not better pleased with my abilities than I was with the employment, treated me with disdain, incessantly upbraiding me with being a fool and blockhead, not forgetting to repeat, that my uncle had assured him I was a knowing one, though he could not find that I knew anything. That he had promised to furnish him with a sprightly boy, but had, in truth, sent him an ass. To conclude, I was turned out of the registry, with the additional ignominy of being pronounced a fool by all Mr. Masseron's clerks, and fit only to handle a file.
My vocation thus determined, I was bound apprentice; not, however, to a watchmaker, but to an engraver, and I had been so completely humiliated by the contempt of the register, that I submitted without a murmur. My master, whose name was M. Ducommon, was a young man of a very violent and boorish character, who contrived in a short time to tarnish all the amiable qualities of my childhood, to stupefy a disposition naturally sprightly, and reduce my feelings, as well as my condition, to an absolute state of servitude. I forgot my Latin, history, and antiquities; I could hardly recollect whether such people as Romans ever existed. When I visited my father, he no longer beheld his idol, nor could the ladies recognize the gallant Jean Jacques; nay, I was so well convinced that Mr. and Miss Lambercier would scarce receive me as their pupil, that I endeavored to avoid their company, and from that time have never seen them. The vilest inclinations, the basest actions, succeeded my amiable amusements and even obliterated the very remembrance of them.
I must have had, in spite of my good education, a great propensity to degenerate, else the declension could not have followed with such ease and rapidity, for never did so promising a Caesar so quickly become a Laradon.
The art itself did not displease me. I had a lively taste for drawing.
There was nothing displeasing in the exercise of the graver; and as it required no very extraordinary abilities to attain perfection as a watchcase engraver, I hoped to arrive at it. Perhaps I should have accomplished my design, if unreasonable restraint, added to the brutality of my master, had not rendered my business disgusting. I wasted his time, and employed myself in engraving medals, which served me and my companions as a kind of insignia for a new invented order of chivalry, and though this differed very little from my usual employ, I considered it as a relaxation. Unfortunately, my master caught me at this contraband labor, and a severe beating was the consequence. He reproached me at the same time with attempting to make counterfeit money because our medals bore the arms of the Republic, though, I can truly aver, I had no conception of false money, and very little of the true, knowing better how to make a Roman As than one of our threepenny pieces.
My master's tyranny rendered insupportable that labor I should otherwise have loved, and drove me to vices I naturally despised, such as falsehood, idleness, and theft. Nothing ever gave me a clearer demonstration of the difference between filial dependence and abject slavery, than the remembrance of the change produced in me at that period. Hitherto I had enjoyed a reasonable liberty; this I had suddenly lost. I was enterprising at my father's, free at Mr. Lambercier's, discreet at my uncle's; but, with my master, I became fearful, and from that moment my mind was vitiated. Accustomed to live on terms of perfect equality, to be witness of no pleasures I could not command, to see no dish I was not to partake of, or be sensible of a desire I might not express; to be able to bring every wish of my heart to my lips--what a transition!--at my master's I was scarce allowed to speak, was forced to quit the table without tasting what I most longed for, and the room when I had nothing particular to do there; was incessantly confined to my work, while the liberty my master and his journeymen enjoyed, served only to increase the weight of my subjection. When disputes happened to arise, though conscious that I understood the subject better than any of them, I dared not offer my opinion; in a word, everything I saw became an object of desire, for no other reason than because I was not permitted to enjoy anything. Farewell gayety, ease, those happy turns of expressions, which formerly even made my faults escape correction. I recollect, with pleasure, a circumstance that happened at my father's, which even now makes me smile. Being for some fault ordered to bed without my supper, as I was passing through the kitchen, with my poor morsel of bread in my hand, I saw the meat turning on the spit; my father and the rest were round the fire; I must bow to every one as I passed. When I had gone through this ceremony, leering with a wistful eye at the roast meat, which looked so inviting, and smelt so savory, I could not abstain from making that a bow likewise, adding in a pitiful tone, good bye, roast meal! This unpremeditated pleasantry put them in such good humor, that I was permitted to stay, and partake of it. Perhaps the same thing might have produced a similar effect at my master's, but such a thought could never have occurred to me, or, if it had, I should not have had courage to express it.
Thus I learned to covet, dissemble, lie, and, at length, to steal, a propensity I never felt the least idea of before, though since that time I have never been able entirely to divest myself of it. Desire and inability united naturally led to this vice, which is the reason pilfering is so common among footmen and apprentices, though the latter, as they grow up, and find themselves in a situation where everything is at their command, lose this shameful propensity. As I never experienced the advantage, I never enjoyed the benefit.
Good sentiments, ill-directed, frequently lead children into vice.
Notwithstanding my continual wants and temptations, it was more than a year before I could resolve to take even eatables. My first theft was occasioned by complaisance, but it was productive of others which had not so plausible an excuse.
My master had a journeyman named Verrat, whose mother lived in the neighborhood, and had a garden at a considerable distance from the house, which produced excellent asparagus. This Verrat, who had no great plenty of money, took it in his head to rob her of the most early production of her garden, and by the sale of it procure those indulgences he could not otherwise afford himself; but not being very nimble, he did not care to run the hazard of a surprise. After some preliminary flattery, which I did not comprehend the meaning of, he proposed this expedition to me, as an idea which had that moment struck him. At first I would not listen to the proposal; but he persisted in his solicitation, and as I could never resist the attacks of flattery, at length prevailed. In pursuance of this virtuous resolution, I every morning repaired to the garden, gathered the best of the asparagus, and took it to the Holard where some good old women, who guessed how I came by it, wishing to diminish the price, made no secret of their suspicions; this produced the desired effect, for, being alarmed, I took whatever they offered, which being taken to Mr. Verrat, was presently metamorphosed into a breakfast, and divided with a companion of his; for, though I procured it, I never partook of their good cheer, being fully satisfied with an inconsiderable bribe.
I executed my roguery with the greatest fidelity, seeking only to please my employer; and several days passed before it came into my head, to rob the robber, and tithe Mr. Verrat's harvest. I never considered the hazard I run in these expeditions, not only of a torrent of abuse, but what I should have been still more sensible of, a hearty beating; for the miscreant, who received the whole benefit, would certainly have denied all knowledge of the fact, and I should only have received a double portion of punishment for daring to accuse him, since being only an apprentice, I stood no chance of being believed in opposition to a journeyman. Thus, in every situation, powerful rogues know how to save themselves at the expense of the feeble.
This practice taught me it was not so terrible to thieve as I had imagined: I took care to make this discovery turn to some account, helping myself to everything within my reach, that I conceived an inclination for. I was not absolutely ill-fed at my master's, and temperance was only painful to me by comparing it with the luxury he enjoyed. The custom of sending young people from table precisely when those things are served up which seem most tempting, is calculated to increase their longing, and induces them to steal what they conceive to be so delicious. It may be supposed I was not backward in this particular: in general my knavery succeeded pretty well, though quite the reverse when I happened to be detected.
I recollect an attempt to procure some apples, which was attended with circumstances that make me smile and shudder even at this instant. The fruit was standing in the pantry, which by a lattice at a considerable height received light from the kitchen. One day, being alone in the house, I climbed up to see these precious apples, which being out of my reach, made this pantry appear the garden of Hesperides. I fetched the spit--tried if it would reach them--it was too short--I lengthened it with a small one which was used for game,--my master being very fond of hunting, darted at them several times without success; at length was more fortunate; being transported to find I was bringing up an apple, I drew it gently to the lattice--was going to seize it when (who can express my grief and astonishment!) I found it would not pass through--it was too large. I tried every expedient to accomplish my design, sought supporters to keep the spits in the same position, a knife to divide the apple, and a lath to hold it with; at length, I so far succeeded as to effect the division, and made no doubt of drawing the pieces through; but it was scarcely separated, (compassionate reader, sympathize with my affliction) when both pieces fell into the pantry.
Though I lost time by this experiment, I did not lose courage, but, dreading a surprise, I put off the attempt till next day, when I hoped to be more successful, and returned to my work as if nothing had happened, without once thinking of what the two obvious witnesses I had left in the pantry deposed against me.
The next day (a fine opportunity offering) I renew the trial. I fasten the spits together; get on the stool; take aim; am just going to dart at my prey--unfortunately the dragon did not sleep; the pantry door opens, my master makes his appearance, and, looking up, exclaims, "Bravo!" --The horror of that moment returns--the pen drops from my hand.
A continual repetition of ill treatment rendered me callous; it seemed a kind of composition for my crimes, which authorized me to continue them, and, instead of looking back at the punishment, I looked forward to revenge. Being beat like a slave, I judged I had a right to all the vices of one. I was convinced that to rob and be punished were inseparable, and constituted, if I may so express myself, a kind of traffic, in which, if I perform my part of the bargain, my master would take care not to be deficient in his; that preliminary settled, I applied myself to thieving with great tranquility, and whenever this interrogatory occurred to my mind, "What will be the consequence?" the reply was ready, "I know the worst, I shall be beat; no matter, I was made for it."
I love good eating; am sensual, but not greedy; I have such a variety of inclinations to gratify, that this can never predominate; and unless my heart is unoccupied, which very rarely happens, I pay but little attention to my appetite; to purloining eatables, but extended this propensity to everything I wished to possess, and if I did not become a robber in form, it was only because money never tempted me.
My master had a closet in the workshop, which he kept locked; this I contrived to open and shut as often as I pleased, and laid his best tools, fine drawings, impressions, in a word, everything he wished to keep from me, under contribution.
These thefts were so far innocent, that they were always employed in his service, but I was transported at having the trifles in my possession, and imagined I stole the art with its productions. Besides what I have mentioned, his boxes contained threads of gold and silver, a number of small jewels, valuable medals, and money; yet, though I seldom had five sous in my pocket, I do not recollect ever having cast a wishful look at them; on the contrary, I beheld these valuables rather with terror than with delight.
I am convinced the dread of taking money was, in a great measure, the effect of education. There was mingled with the idea of it the fear of infamy, a prison, punishment, and death: had I even felt the temptation, these objects would have made me tremble; whereas my failings appeared a species of waggery, and, in truth, they were little else; they could but occasion a good trimming, and this I was already prepared for. A sheet of fine drawing paper was a greater temptation than money sufficient to have purchased a ream. This unreasonable caprice is connected with one of the most striking singularities of my character, and has so far influenced my conduct, that it requires a particular explanation.
My passions are extremely violent; while under their influence, nothing can equal my impetuosity; I am an absolute stranger to discretion, respect, fear, or decorum; rude, saucy, violent, and intrepid: no shame can stop, no danger intimidate me. My mind is frequently so engrossed by a single object, that beyond it the whole world is not worth a thought; this is the enthusiasm of a moment, the next, perhaps, I am plunged in a state of annihilation. Take me in my moments of tranquility, I am indolence and timidity itself; a word to speak, the least trifle to perform, appear an intolerable labor; everything alarms and terrifies me; the very buzzing of a fly will make me shudder; I am so subdued by fear and shame, that I would gladly shield myself from mortal view.
When obliged to exert myself, I am ignorant what to do! when forced to speak, I am at a loss for words; and if any one looks at me, I am instantly out of countenance. If animated with my subject, I express my thoughts with ease, but, in ordinary conversations, I can say nothing --absolutely nothing; and, being obliged to speak, renders them insupportable.
I may add, that none of my predominant inclinations centre in those pleasures which are to be purchased: money empoisons my delight; I must have them unadulterated; I love those of the table, for instance, but cannot endure the restraints of good company, or the intemperance of taverns; I can enjoy them only with a friend, for alone it is equally impossible; my imagination is then so occupied with other things, that I find no pleasure in eating. Women who are to be purchased have no charms for me; my beating heart cannot be satisfied without affection; it is the same with every other enjoyment, if not truly disinterested, they are absolutely insipid; in a word, I am fond of those things which are only estimable to minds formed for the peculiar enjoyment of them.
I never thought money so desirable as it is usually imagined; if you would enjoy you must transform it; and this transformation is frequently attended with inconvenience; you must bargain, purchase, pay dear, be badly served, and often duped. I buy an egg, am assured it is new-laid --I find it stale; fruit in its utmost perfection--'tis absolutely green.
I love good wine, but where shall I get it? Not at my wine merchant's --he will poison me to a certainty. I wish to be universally respected; how shall I compass my design? I must make friends, send messages, write letters, come, go, wait, and be frequently deceived. Money is the perpetual source of uneasiness; I fear it more than I love good wine.
A thousand times, both during and since my apprenticeship, have I gone out to purchase some nicety, I approach the pastry-cook's, perceive some women at the counter, and imagine they are laughing at me. I pass a fruit shop, see some fine pears, their appearance tempts me; but then two or three young people are near, or a man I am acquainted with is standing at the door; I take all that pass for persons I have some knowledge of, and my near sight contributes to deceive me. I am everywhere intimidated, restrained by some obstacle, and with money in my pocket return as I went, for want of resolution to purchase what I long for.
I should enter into the most insipid details was I to relate the trouble, shame, repugnance, and inconvenience of all kinds which I have experienced in parting with my money, whether in my own person, or by the agency of others; as I proceed, the reader will get acquainted with my disposition, and perceive all this without my troubling him with the recital.
This once comprehended, one of my apparent contradictions will be easily accounted for, and the most sordid avarice reconciled with the greatest contempt of money. It is a movable which I consider of so little value, that, when destitute of it, I never wish to acquire any; and when I have a sum I keep it by me, for want of knowing how to dispose of it to my satisfaction; but let an agreeable and convenient opportunity present itself, and I empty my purse with the utmost freedom; not that I would have the reader imagine I am extravagant from a motive of ostentation, quite the reverse; it was ever in subservience to my pleasures, and, instead of glorying in expense, I endeavor to conceal it. I so well perceive that money is not made to answer my purposes, that I am almost ashamed to have any, and, still more, to make use of it.
Had I ever possessed a moderate independence, I am convinced I should have had no propensity to become avaricious. I should have required no more, and cheerfully lived up to my income; but my precarious situation has constantly and necessarily kept me in fear. I love liberty, and I loathe constraint, dependence, and all their kindred annoyances. As long as my purse contains money it secures my independence, and exempts me from the trouble of seeking other money, a trouble of which I have always had a perfect horror; and the dread of seeing the end of my independence, makes me proportionately unwilling to part with my money. The money that we possess is the instrument of liberty, that which we lack and strive to obtain is the instrument of slavery. Thence it is that I hold fast to aught that I have, and yet covet nothing more.
My disinterestedness, then, is in reality only idleness, the pleasure of possessing is not in my estimation worth the trouble of acquiring: and my dissipation is only another form of idleness; when we have an opportunity of disbursing pleasantly we should make the best possible use of it.
I am less tempted by money than by other objects, because between the moment of possessing the money and that of using it to obtain the desired object there is always an interval, however short; whereas to possess the thing is to enjoy it. I see a thing and it tempts me; but if I see not the thing itself but only the means of acquiring it, I am not tempted.
Therefore it is that I have been a pilferer, and am so even now, in the way of mere trifles to which I take a fancy, and which I find it easier to take than to ask for; but I never in my life recollect having taken a farthing from any one, except about fifteen years ago, when I stole seven francs and ten sous. The story is worth recounting, as it exhibits a concurrence of ignorance and stupidity I should scarcely credit, did it relate to any but myself.
It was in Paris: I was walking with M. de Franceul at the Palais Royal; he pulled out his watch, he looked at it, and said to me, "Suppose we go to the opera?"--"With all my heart." We go: he takes two box tickets, gives me one, and enters himself with the other; I follow, find the door crowded; and, looking in, see every one standing; judging, therefore, that M. de Franceul might suppose me concealed by the company, I go out, ask for my ticket, and, getting the money returned, leave the house, without considering, that by then I had reached the door every one would be seated, and M. de Franceul might readily perceive I was not there.
As nothing could be more opposite to my natural inclination than this abominable meanness, I note it, to show there are moments of delirium when men ought not to be judged by their actions: this was not stealing the money, it was only stealing the use of it, and was the more infamous for wanting the excuse of a temptation.
I should never end these accounts, was I to describe all the gradations through which I passed, during my apprenticeship, from the sublimity of a hero to the baseness of a villain. Though I entered into most of the vices of my situation, I had no relish for its pleasures; the amusements of my companions were displeasing, and when too much restraint had made my business wearisome, I had nothing to amuse me. This renewed my taste for reading which had long been neglected. I thus committed a fresh offence, books made me neglect my work, and brought on additional punishment, while inclination, strengthened by constraint, became an unconquerable passion. La Tribu, a well-known librarian, furnished me with all kinds; good or bad, I perused them with avidity, and without discrimination.
It will be said; "at length, then, money became necessary"--true; but this happened at a time when a taste for study had deprived me both of resolution and activity; totally occupied by this new inclination, I only wished to read, I robbed no longer. This is another of my peculiarities; a mere nothing frequently calls me off from what I appear the most attached to; I give in to the new idea; it becomes a passion, and immediately every former desire is forgotten.
Reading was my new hobby; my heart beat with impatience to run over the new book I carried in my pocket; the first moment I was alone, I seized the opportunity to draw it out, and thought no longer of rummaging my master's closet. I was even ashamed to think that I had been guilty of such meanness; and had my amusements been more expensive, I no longer felt an inclination to continue it. La Tribu gave me credit, and when once I had the book in my possession, I thought no more of the trifle I was to pay for it; as money came it naturally passed to this woman; and when she chanced to be pressing, nothing was so conveniently at hand as my own effects; to steal in advance required foresight, and robbing to pay was no temptation.
The frequent blows I received from my master, with my private and ill-chosen studies, rendered me reserved, unsociable, and almost deranged my reason. Though my taste had not preserved me from silly unmeaning books, by good fortune I was a stranger to licentious or obscene ones; not that La Tribu (who was very accommodating) had any scruple of lending these, on the contrary, to enhance their worth she spoke of them with an air of mystery; this produced an effect she had not foreseen, for both shame and disgust made me constantly refuse them.
Chance so well seconded my bashful disposition, that I was past the age of thirty before I saw any of those dangerous compositions.
In less than a year I had exhausted La Tribu's scanty library, and was unhappy for want of further amusement. My reading, though frequently bad, had worn off my childish follies, and brought back my heart to nobler sentiments than my condition had inspired; meantime disgusted with all within my reach, and thinking everything charming that was out of it, my present situation appeared extremely miserable. My passions began to acquire strength, I felt their influence, without knowing whither they would conduct me. I sometimes, indeed, thought of my former follies, but sought no further.
At this time my imagination took a turn which helped to calm my increasing emotions; it was, to contemplate those situations in the books I had read, which produced the most striking effect on my mind; to recall, combine, and apply them to myself in such a manner, as to become one of the personages my recollection presented, and be continually in those fancied circumstances which were most agreeable to my inclinations; in a word, by contriving to place myself in these fictitious situations, the idea of my real one was in a great measure obliterated.
This fondness for imaginary objects, and the facility with which I could gain possession of them, completed my disgust for everything around me, and fixed that inclination for solitude which has ever since been predominant. We shall have more than once occasion to remark the effects of a disposition, misanthropic and melancholy in appearance, but which proceed, in fact, from a heart too affectionate, too ardent, which, for want of similar dispositions, is constrained to content itself with nonentities, and be satisfied with fiction. It is sufficient, at present, to have traced the origin of a propensity which has modified my passions, set bounds to each, and by giving too much ardor to my wishes, has ever rendered me too indolent to obtain them.
Thus I attained my sixteenth year, uneasy, discontented with myself and everything that surrounded me; displeased with my occupation; without enjoying the pleasures common to my age, weeping without a cause, sighing I knew not why, and fond of my chimerical ideas for want of more valuable realities.
Every Sunday, after sermon-time, my companions came to fetch me out, wishing me to partake of their diversions. I would willingly have been excused, but when once engaged in amusement, I was more animated and enterprising than any of them; it was equally difficult to engage or restrain me; indeed, this was ever a leading trait in my character.
In our country walks I was ever foremost, and never thought of returning till reminded by some of my companions. I was twice obliged to be from my master's the whole night, the city gates having been shut before I could reach them. The reader may imagine what treatment this procured me the following mornings; but I was promised such a reception for the third, that I made a firm resolution never to expose myself to the danger of it. Notwithstanding my determination, I repeated this dreaded transgression, my vigilance having been rendered useless by a cursed captain, named M. Minutoli, who, when on guard, always shut the gate he had charge of an hour before the usual time. I was returning home with my two companions, and had got within half a league of the city, when I heard them beat the tattoo; I redouble my pace, I run with my utmost speed, I approach the bridge, see the soldiers already at their posts, I call out to them in a suffocated voice--it is too late; I am twenty paces from the guard, the first bridge is already drawn up, and I tremble to see those terrible horns advanced in the air which announce the fatal and inevitable destiny, which from this moment began to pursue me.
I threw myself on the glacis in a transport of despair, while my companions, who only laughed at the accident, immediately determined what to do. My resolution, though different from theirs, was equally sudden; on the spot, I swore never to return to my master's, and the next morning, when my companions entered the city, I bade them an eternal adieu, conjuring them at the same time to inform my cousin Bernard of my resolution, and the place where he might see me for the last time.
From the commencement of my apprenticeship I had seldom seen him; at first, indeed, we saw each other on Sundays, but each acquiring different habits, our meetings were less frequent. I am persuaded his mother contributed greatly towards this change; he was to consider himself as a person of consequence, I was a pitiful apprentice; notwithstanding our relationship, equality no longer subsisted between us, and it was degrading himself to frequent my company. As he had a natural good heart his mother's lessons did not take an immediate effect, and for some time he continued to visit me.
Having learned my resolution, he hastened to the spot I had appointed, not, however, to dissuade me from it, but to render my flight agreeable, by some trifling presents, as my own resources would not have carried me far. He gave me among other things, a small sword, which I was very proud of, and took with me as far as Turin, where absolute want constrained me to dispose of it. The more I reflect on his behavior at this critical moment, the more I am persuaded he followed the instructions of his mother, and perhaps his father likewise: for, had he been left to his own feelings, he would have endeavored to retain, or have been tempted to accompany me; on the contrary, he encouraged the design, and when he saw me resolutely determined to pursue it, without seeming much affected, left me to my fate. We never saw or wrote to each other from that time; I cannot but regret this loss, for his heart was essentially good, and we seemed formed for a more lasting friendship.
Before I abandon myself to the fatality of my destiny, let me contemplate for a moment the prospect that awaited me had I fallen into the hands of a better master. Nothing could have been more agreeable to my disposition, or more likely to confer happiness, than the peaceful condition of a good artificer, in so respectable a line as engravers are considered at Geneva. I could have obtained an easy subsistence, if not a fortune; this would have bounded my ambition; I should have had means to indulge in moderate pleasures, and should have continued in my natural sphere, without meeting with any temptation to go beyond it. Having an imagination sufficiently fertile to embellish with its chimeras every situation, and powerful enough to transport me from one to another, it was immaterial in which I was fixed: that was best adapted to me, which, requiring the least care or exertion, left the mind most at liberty; and this happiness I should have enjoyed. In my native country, in the bosom of my religion, family and friends, I should have passed a calm and peaceful life, in the uniformity of a pleasing occupation, and among connections dear to my heart. I should have been a good Christian, a good citizen, a good friend, a good man. I should have relished my condition, perhaps have been an honor to it, and after having passed a life of happy obscurity, surrounded by my family, I should have died at peace. Soon it may be forgotten, but while remembered it would have been with tenderness and regret.
Instead of this--what a picture am I about to draw!--Alas! why should I anticipate the miseries I have endured? The reader will have but too much of the melancholy subject.
THE CONFESSIONS OF JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU (In 12 books)
Privately Printed for the Members of the Aldus Society
The moment in which fear had instigated my flight, did not seem more terrible than that wherein I put my design in execution appeared delightful. To leave my relations, my resources, while yet a child, in the midst of my apprenticeship, before I had learned enough of my business to obtain a subsistence; to run on inevitable misery and danger: to expose myself in that age of weakness and innocence to all the temptations of vice and despair; to set out in search of errors, misfortunes, snares, slavery, and death; to endure more intolerable evils than those I meant to shun, was the picture I should have drawn, the natural consequence of my hazardous enterprise. How different was the idea I entertained of it!--The independence I seemed to possess was the sole object of my contemplation; having obtained my liberty, I thought everything attainable: I entered with confidence on the vast theatre of the world, which my merit was to captivate: at every step I expected to find amusements, treasures, and adventures; friends ready to serve, and mistresses eager to please me; I had but to show myself, and the whole universe would be interested in my concerns; not but I could have been content with something less; a charming society, with sufficient means, might have satisfied me. My moderation was such, that the sphere in which I proposed to shine was rather circumscribed, but then it was to possess the very quintessence of enjoyment, and myself the principal object. A single castle, for instance, might have bounded my ambition; could I have been the favorite of the lord and lady, the daughter's lover, the son's friend, and protector of the neighbors, I might have been tolerably content, and sought no further.
In expectation of this modest fortune, I passed a few days in the environs of the city, with some country people of my acquaintance, who received me with more kindness than I should have met with in town; they welcomed, lodged, and fed me cheerfully; I could be said to live on charity, these favors were not conferred with a sufficient appearance of superiority to furnish out the idea.
I rambled about in this manner till I got to Confignon, in Savoy, at about two leagues distance from Geneva. The vicar was called M. de Pontverre; this name, so famous in the history of the Republic, caught my attention; I was curious to see what appearance the descendants of the gentlemen of the spoon exhibited; I went, therefore, to visit this M. de Pontverre, and was received with great civility.
He spoke of the heresy of Geneva, declaimed on the authority of holy mother church, and then invited me to dinner. I had little to object to arguments which had so desirable a conclusion, and was inclined to believe that priests, who gave such excellent dinners, might be as good as our ministers. Notwithstanding M. de Pontverre's pedigree, I certainly possessed most learning; but I rather sought to be a good companion than an expert theologian; and his Frangi wine, which I thought delicious, argued so powerfully on his side, that I should have blushed at silencing so kind a host; I, therefore, yielded him the victory, or rather declined the contest. Any one who had observed my precaution, would certainly have pronounced me a dissembler, though, in fact, I was only courteous.
Flattery, or rather condescension, is not always a vice in young people; 'tis oftener a virtue. When treated with kindness, it is natural to feel an attachment for the person who confers the obligation; we do not acquiesce because we wish to deceive, but from dread of giving uneasiness, or because we wish to avoid the ingratitude of rendering evil for good. What interest had M. de Pontverre in entertaining, treating with respect, and endeavoring to convince me? None but mine; my young heart told me this, and I was penetrated with gratitude and respect for the generous priest; I was sensible of my superiority, but scorned to repay his hospitality by taking advantage of it. I had no conception of hypocrisy in this forbearance, or thought of changing my religion, nay, so far was the idea from being familiar to me, that I looked on it with a degree of horror which seemed to exclude the possibility of such an event; I only wished to avoid giving offence to those I was sensible caressed me from that motive; I wished to cultivate their good opinion, and meantime leave them the hope of success by seeming less on my guard than I really was. My conduct in this particular resembled the coquetry of some very honest women, who, to obtain their wishes, without permitting or promising anything, sometimes encourage hopes they never mean to realize.
Reason, piety, and love of order, certainly demanded that instead of being encouraged in my folly, I should have been dissuaded from the ruin I was courting, and sent back to my family; and this conduct any one that was actuated by genuine virtue would have pursued; but it should be observed that though M. de Pontverre was a religious man, he was not a virtuous one, but a bigot, who knew no virtue except worshipping images and telling his beads, in a word, a kind of missionary, who thought the height of merit consisted in writing libels against the ministers of Geneva. Far from wishing to send me back, he endeavored to favor my escape, and put it out of my power to return even had I been so disposed.
It was a thousand to one but he was sending me to perish with hunger, or become a villain; but all this was foreign to his purpose; he saw a soul snatched from heresy, and restored to the bosom of the church: whether I was an honest man or a knave was very immaterial, provided I went to mass.
This ridiculous mode of thinking is not peculiar to Catholics; it is the voice of every dogmatical persuasion where merit consists in belief, and not in virtue.
"You are called by the Almighty," said M. de Pontverre; "go to Annecy, where you will find a good and charitable lady, whom the bounty of the king enables to turn souls from those errors she has happily renounced." He spoke of a Madam de Warrens, a new convert, to whom the priests contrived to send those wretches who were disposed to sell their faith, and with these she was in a manner constrained to share a pension of two thousand francs bestowed on her by the King of Sardinia. I felt myself extremely humiliated at being supposed to want the assistance of a good and charitable lady. I had no objection to be accommodated with everything I stood in need of, but did not wish to receive it on the footing of charity and to owe this obligation to a devotee was still worse; notwithstanding my scruples the persuasions of M. de Pontverre, the dread of perishing with hunger, the pleasures I promised myself from the journey, and hope of obtaining some desirable situation, determined me; and I set out though reluctantly, for Annecy. I could easily have reached it in a day, but being in no great haste to arrive there, it took me three. My head was filled with the ideas of adventures, and I approached every country-seat I saw in my way, in expectation of having them realized. I had too much timidity to knock at the doors, or even enter if I saw them open, but I did what I dared--which was to sing under those windows that I thought had the most favorable appearance; and was very much disconcerted to find I wasted my breath to no purpose, and that neither old nor young ladies were attracted by the melody of my voice, or the wit of my poetry, though some songs my companions had taught me I thought excellent and that I sung them incomparably. At length I arrived at Annecy, and saw Madam de Warrens.
As this period of my life, in a great measure, determined my character, I could not resolve to pass it lightly over. I was in the middle of my sixteenth year, and though I could not be called handsome, was well made for my height; I had a good foot, a well turned leg, and animated countenance; a well proportioned mouth, black hair and eyebrows, and my eyes, though small and rather too far in my head, sparkling with vivacity, darted that innate fire which inflamed my blood; unfortunately for me, I knew nothing of all this, never having bestowed a single thought on my person till it was too late to be of any service to me.
The timidity common to my age was heightened by a natural benevolence, which made me dread the idea of giving pain. Though my mind had received some cultivation, having seen nothing of the world, I was an absolute stranger to polite address, and my mental acquisitions, so far from supplying this defect, only served to increase my embarrassment, by making me sensible of every deficiency.
Depending little, therefore, on external appearances, I had recourse to other expedients: I wrote a most elaborate letter, where, mingling all the flowers of rhetoric which I had borrowed from books with the phrases of an apprentice, I endeavored to strike the attention, and insure the good will of Madam de Warrens. I enclosed M. de Pontverre's letter in my own and waited on the lady with a heart palpitating with fear and expectation. It was Palm Sunday, of the year 1728; I was informed she was that moment gone to church; I hasten after her, overtake, and speak to her.--The place is yet fresh in my memory--how can it be otherwise? often have I moistened it with my tears and covered it with kisses.--Why cannot I enclose with gold the happy spot, and render it the object of universal veneration? Whoever wishes to honor monuments of human salvation would only approach it on their knees.
It was a passage at the back of the house, bordered on the left hand by a little rivulet, which separated it from the garden, and, on the right, by the court yard wall; at the end was a private door which opened into the church of the Cordeliers. Madam de Warrens was just passing this door; but on hearing my voice, instantly turned about. What an effect did the sight of her produce! I expected to see a devout, forbidding old woman; M. de Pontverre's pious and worthy lady could be no other in my conception; instead of which, I see a face beaming with charms, fine blue eyes full of sweetness, a complexion whose whiteness dazzled the sight, the form of an enchanting neck, nothing escaped the eager eye of the young proselyte; for that instant I was hers!--a religion preached by such missionaries must lead to paradise!
My letter was presented with a trembling hand; she took it with a smile --opened it, glanced an eye over M. de Pontverre's and again returned to mine, which she read through and would have read again, had not the footman that instant informed her that service was beginning--"Child," said she, in a tone of voice which made every nerve vibrate, "you are wandering about at an early age--it is really a pity!"--and without waiting for an answer, added--"Go to my house, bid them give you something for breakfast, after mass, I will speak to you."
Louisa--Eleanora de Warrens was of the noble and ancient family of La Tour de Pit, of Vevay, a city in the country of the Vaudois. She was married very young to a M. de Warrens, of the house of Loys, eldest son of M. de Villardin, of Lausanne; there were no children by this marriage, which was far from being a happy one. Some domestic uneasiness made Madam de Warrens take the resolution of crossing the Lake, and throwing herself at the feet of Victor Amadeus, who was then at Evian; thus abandoning her husband, family, and country by a giddiness similar to mine, which precipitation she, too, has found sufficient time and reason to lament.
The king, who was fond of appearing a zealous promoter of the Catholic faith, took her under his protection, and complimented her with a pension of fifteen hundred livres of Piedmont, which was a considerable appointment for a prince who never had the character of being generous; but finding his liberality made some conjecture he had an affection for the lady, he sent her to Annecy escorted by a detachment of his guards, where, under the direction of Michael Gabriel de Bernex, titular bishop of Geneva, she abjured her former religion at the Convent of the Visitation.
I came to Annecy just six years after this event; Madam de Warrens was then eight--and--twenty, being born with the century. Her beauty, consisting more in the expressive animation of the countenance, than a set of features, was in its meridian; her manner soothing and tender; an angelic smile played about her mouth, which was small and delicate; she wore her hair (which was of an ash color, and uncommonly beautiful) with an air of negligence that made her appear still more interesting; she was short, and rather thick for her height, though by no means disagreeably so; but there could not be a more lovely face, a finer neck, or hands and arms more exquisitely formed.
Her education had been derived from such a variety of sources, that it formed an extraordinary assemblage. Like me, she had lost her mother at her birth, and had received instruction as it chanced to present itself; she had learned something of her governess, something of her father, a little of her masters, but copiously from her lovers; particularly a M.
de Tavel, who, possessing both taste and information, endeavored to adorn with them the mind of her he loved. These various instructions, not being properly arranged, tended to impede each other, and she did not acquire that degree of improvement her natural good sense was capable of receiving; she knew something of philosophy and physic, but not enough to eradicate the fondness she had imbibed from her father for empiricism and alchemy; she made elixirs, tinctures, balsams, pretended to secrets, and prepared magestry; while quacks and pretenders, profiting by her weakness, destroyed her property among furnaces, drugs and minerals, diminishing those charms and accomplishments which might have been the delight of the most elegant circles. But though these interested wretches took advantage of her ill-applied education to obscure her natural good sense, her excellent heart retained its purity; her amiable mildness, sensibility for the unfortunate, inexhaustible bounty, and open, cheerful frankness, knew no variation; even at the approach of old age, when attacked by various calamities, rendered more cutting by indigence, the serenity of her disposition preserved to the end of her life the pleasing gayety of her happiest days.
Her errors proceeded from an inexhaustible fund of activity, which demanded perpetual employment. She found no satisfaction in the customary intrigues of her sex, but, being formed for vast designs, sought the direction of important enterprises and discoveries. In her place Madam de Longueville would have been a mere trifler, in Madam de Longueville's situation she would have governed the state. Her talents did not accord with her fortune; what would have gained her distinction in a more elevated sphere, became her ruin. In enterprises which suited her disposition, she arranged the plan in her imagination, which was ever carried of its utmost extent, and the means she employed being proportioned rather to her ideas than abilities, she failed by the mismanagement of those upon whom she depended, and was ruined where another would scarce have been a loser. This active disposition, which involved her in so many difficulties, was at least productive of one benefit as it prevented her from passing the remainder of her life in the monastic asylum she had chosen, which she had some thought of. The simple and uniform life of a nun, and the little cabals and gossipings of their parlor, were not adapted to a mind vigorous and active, which, every day forming new systems, had occasions for liberty to attempt their completion.
The good bishop of Bernex, with less wit than Francis of Sales, resembled him in many particulars, and Madam de Warrens, whom he loved to call his daughter, and who was like Madam de Chantel in several respects, might have increased the resemblance by retiring like her from the world, had she not been disgusted with the idle trifling of a convent. It was not want of zeal prevented this amiable woman from giving those proofs of devotion which might have been expected from a new convert, under the immediate direction of a prelate. Whatever might have influenced her to change her religion, she was certainly sincere in that she had embraced; she might find sufficient occasion to repent having abjured her former faith, but no inclination to return to it. She not only died a good Catholic, but truly lived one; nay, I dare affirm (and I think I have had the opportunity to read the secrets of her heart) that it was only her aversion to singularity that prevented her acting the devotee in public; in a word, her piety was too sincere to give way to any affectation of it. But this is not the place to enlarge on her principles: I shall find other occasions to speak of them.
Let those who deny the existence of a sympathy of souls, explain, if they know how, why the first glance, the first word of Madam de Warrens inspired me, not only with a lively attachment, but with the most unbounded confidence, which has since known no abatement. Say this was love (which will at least appear doubtful to those who read the sequel of our attachment) how could this passion be attended with sentiments which scarce ever accompany its commencement, such as peace, serenity, security, and confidence. How, when making application to an amiable and polished woman, whose situation in life was so superior to mine, so far above any I had yet approached, on whom, in a great measure, depended my future fortune by the degree of interest she might take in it; how, I say with so many reasons to depress me, did I feel myself as free, as much at my ease, as if I had been perfectly secure of pleasing her! Why did I not experience a moment of embarrassment, timidity or restraint? Naturally bashful, easily confused, having seen nothing of the world, could I, the first time, the first moment I beheld her, adopt caressing language, and a familiar tone, as readily as after ten years' intimacy had rendered these freedoms natural? Is it possible to possess love, I will not say without desires, for I certainly had them, but without inquietude, without jealousy? Can we avoid feeling an anxious wish at least to know whether our affection is returned? Yet such a question never entered my imagination; I should as soon have inquired, do I love myself; nor did she ever express a greater degree of curiosity; there was, certainly, something extraordinary in my attachment to this charming woman and it will be found in the sequel, that some extravagances, which cannot be foreseen, attended it.
What could be done for me, was the present question, and in order to discuss the point with greater freedom, she made me dine with her. This was the first meal in my life where I had experienced a want of appetite, and her woman, who waited, observed it was the first time she had seen a traveller of my age and appearance deficient in that particular: this remark, which did me no injury in the opinion of her mistress, fell hard on an overgrown clown, who was my fellow guest, and devoured sufficient to have served at least six moderate feeders. For me, I was too much charmed to think of eating; my heart began to imbibe a delicious sensation, which engrossed my whole being, and left no room for other objects.
Madam de Warrens wished to hear the particulars of my little history--all the vivacity I had lost during my servitude returned and assisted the recital. In proportion to the interest this excellent woman took in my story, did she lament the fate to which I had exposed myself; compassion was painted on her features, and expressed by every action. She could not exhort me to return to Geneva, being too well aware that her words and actions were strictly scrutinized, and that such advice would be thought high treason against Catholicism, but she spoke so feelingly of the affliction I must give her(my) father, that it was easy to perceive she would have approved my returning to console him. Alas! she little thought how powerfully this pleaded against herself; the more eloquently persuasive she appeared, the less could I resolve to tear myself from her. I knew that returning to Geneva would be putting an insuperable barrier between us, unless I repeated the expedient which had brought me here, and it was certainly better to preserve than expose myself to the danger of a relapse; besides all this, my conduct was predetermined, I was resolved not to return. Madam de Warrens, seeing her endeavors would be fruitless, became less explicit, and only added, with an air of commiseration, "Poor child! thou must go where Providence directs thee, but one day thou wilt think of me."--I believe she had no conception at that time how fatally her prediction would be verified.
The difficulty still remained how I was to gain a subsistence? I have already observed that I knew too little of engraving for that to furnish my resource, and had I been more expert, Savoy was too poor a country to give much encouragement to the arts. The above-mentioned glutton, who eat for us as well as himself, being obliged to pause in order to gain some relaxation from the fatigue of it, imparted a piece of advice, which, according to him, came express from Heaven; though to judge by its effects it appeared to have been dictated from a direct contrary quarter: this was that I should go to Turin, where, in a hospital instituted for the instruction of catechumens, I should find food, both spiritual and temporal, be reconciled to the bosom of the church, and meet with some charitable Christians, who would make it a point to procure me a situation that would turn to my advantage. "In regard to the expenses of the journey," continued our advisor, "his grace, my lord bishop, will not be backward, when once madam has proposed this holy work, to offer his charitable donation, and madam, the baroness, whose charity is so well known," once more addressing himself to the continuation of his meal, "will certainly contribute."
I was by no means pleased with all these charities; I said nothing, but my heart was ready to burst with vexation. Madam de Warrens, who did not seem to think so highly of this expedient as the projector pretended to do, contented herself by saying, everyone should endeavor to promote good actions, and that she would mention it to his lordship; but the meddling devil, who had some private interest in this affair, and questioned whether she would urge it to his satisfaction, took care to acquaint the almoners with my story, and so far influenced those good priests, that when Madam de Warrens, who disliked the journey on my account, mentioned it to the bishop, she found it so far concluded on, that he immediately put into her hands the money designed for my little viaticum. She dared not advance anything against it; I was approaching an age when a woman like her could not, with any propriety, appear anxious to retain me.
My departure being thus determined by those who undertook the management of my concerns, I had only to submit; and I did it without much repugnance. Though Turin was at a greater distance from Madam de Warrens than Geneva, yet being the capital of the country I was now in, it seemed to have more connection with Annecy than a city under a different government and of a contrary religion; besides, as I undertook this journey in obedience to her, I considered myself as living under her direction, which was more flattering than barely to continue in the neighborhood; to sum up all, the idea of a long journey coincided with my insurmountable passion for rambling, which already began to demonstrate itself. To pass the mountains, to my eye appeared delightful; how charming the reflection of elevating myself above my companions by the whole height of the Alps! To see the world is an almost irresistible temptation to a Genevan, accordingly I gave my consent.
He who suggested the journey was to set off in two days with his wife.
I was recommended to their care; they were likewise made my purse --bearers, which had been augmented by Madam de Warrens, who, not contented with these kindnesses, added secretly a pecuniary reinforcement, attended with the most ample instructions, and we departed on the Wednesday before Easter.
The day following, my father arrived at Annecy, accompanied by his friend, a Mr. Rival, who was likewise a watchmaker; he was a man of sense and letters, who wrote better verses than La Motte, and spoke almost as well; what is still more to his praise, he was a man of the strictest integrity, but whose taste for literature only served to make one of his sons a comedian. Having traced me to the house of Madam de Warrens, they contented themselves with lamenting, like her, my fate, instead of overtaking me, which, (as they were on horseback and I on foot) they might have accomplished with the greatest ease.
My uncle Bernard did the same thing, he arrived at Consignon, received information that I was gone to Annecy, and immediately returned back to Geneva; thus my nearest relations seemed to have conspired with my adverse stars to consign me to misery and ruin. By a similar negligence, my brother was so entirely lost, that it was never known what was become of him.
My father was not only a man of honor but of the strictest probity, and endured with that magnanimity which frequently produces the most shining virtues: I may add, he was a good father, particularly to me whom he tenderly loved; but he likewise loved his pleasures, and since we had been separated other connections had weakened his paternal affections.
He had married again at Nion, and though his second wife was too old to expect children, she had relations; my father was united to another family, surrounded by other objects, and a variety of cares prevented my returning to his remembrance. He was in the decline of life and had nothing to support the inconveniences of old age; my mother's property devolved to me and my brother, but, during our absence, the interest of it was enjoyed by my father: I do not mean to infer that this consideration had an immediate effect on his conduct, but it had an imperceptible one, and prevented him making use of that exertion to regain me which he would otherwise have employed; and this, I think, was the reason that having traced me as far as Annecy, he stopped short, without proceeding to Chambery, where he was almost certain I should be found; and likewise accounts why, on visiting him several times since my flight, he always received me with great kindness, but never made any efforts to retain me.
This conduct in a father, whose affection and virtue I was so well convinced of, has given birth to reflections on the regulation of my own conduct which have greatly contributed to preserve the integrity of my heart. It has taught me this great lesson of morality, perhaps the only one that can have any conspicuous influence on our actions, that we should ever carefully avoid putting our interests in competition with our duty, or promise ourselves felicity from the misfortunes of others; certain that in such circumstances, however sincere our love of virtue may be, sooner or later it will give way and we shall imperceptibly become unjust and wicked, in fact, however upright in our intentions.
This maxim, strongly imprinted on my mind, and reduced, though rather too late, to practice, has given my conduct an appearance of folly and whimsicality, not only in public, but still more among my acquaintances: it has been said, I affected originality, and sought to act different from other people; the truth is, I neither endeavor to conform or be singular, I desire only to act virtuously and avoid situations, which, by setting my interest in opposition to that of another person's, might inspire me with a secret, though involuntary wish to his disadvantage.
Two years ago, My Lord Marshal would have put my name in his will, which I took every method to prevent, assuring him I would not for the world know myself in the will of any one, much less in his; he gave up the idea; but insisted in return, that I should accept an annuity on his life; this I consented to. It will be said, I find my account in the alteration; perhaps I may; but oh, my benefactor! my father, I am now sensible that, should I have the misfortune to survive thee, I should have everything to lose, nothing to gain.
This, in my idea, in true philosophy, the surest bulwark of human rectitude; every day do I receive fresh conviction of its profound solidity. I have endeavored to recommend it in all my latter writings, but the multitude read too superficially to have made the remark. If I survive my present undertaking, and am able to begin another, I mean, in a continuation of Emilius, to give such a lively and marking example of this maxim as cannot fail to strike attention. But I have made reflections enough for a traveller, it is time to continue my journey.
It turned out more agreeable than I expected: my clownish conductor was not so morose as he appeared to be. He was a middle-aged man, wore his black, grizzly hair, in a queue, had a martial air, a strong voice, was tolerably cheerful, and to make up for not having been taught any trade, could turn his hand to every one. Having proposed to establish some kind of manufactory at Annecy, he had consulted Madam de Warrens, who immediately gave into the project, and he was now going to Turin to lay the plan before the minister and get his approbation, for which journey he took care to be well rewarded.
This drole had the art of ingratiating himself with the priests, whom he ever appeared eager to serve; he adopted a certain jargon which he had learned by frequenting their company, and thought himself a notable preacher; he could even repeat one passage from the Bible in Latin, and it answered his purpose as well as if he had known a thousand, for he repeated it a thousand times a day. He was seldom at a loss for money when he knew what purse contained it; yet, was rather artful than knavish, and when dealing out in an affected tone his unmeaning discourses, resembled Peter the Hermit, preaching up the crusade with a sabre at his side.
Madam Sabran, his wife, was a tolerable, good sort of woman; more peaceable by day than by night; as I slept in the same chamber I was frequently disturbed by her wakefulness, and should have been more so had I comprehended the cause of it; but I was in the chapter of dullness, which left to nature the whole care of my own instruction.
I went on gayly with my pious guide and his hopeful companion, no sinister accident impeding our journey. I was in the happiest circumstances both of mind and body that I ever recollect having experienced; young, full of health and security, placing unbounded confidence in myself and others; in that short but charming moment of human life, whose expansive energy carries, if I may so express myself, our being to the utmost extent of our sensations, embellishing all nature with an inexpressible charm, flowing from the conscious and rising enjoyment of our existence.
My pleasing inquietudes became less wandering: I had now an object on which imagination could fix. I looked on myself as the work, the pupil, the friend, almost the lover of Madam de Warrens; the obliging things she had said, the caresses she had bestowed on me; the tender interest she seemed to take in everything that concerned me; those charming looks, which seemed replete with love, because they so powerfully inspired it, every consideration flattered my ideas during this journey, and furnished the most delicious reveries, which, no doubt, no fear of my future condition arose to embitter. In sending me to Turin, I thought they engaged to find me an agreeable subsistence there; thus eased of every care I passed lightly on, while young desires, enchanting hopes, and brilliant prospects employed my mind; each object that presented itself seemed to insure my approaching felicity. I imagined that every house was filled with joyous festivity, the meadows resounded with sports and revelry, the rivers offered refreshing baths, delicious fish wantoned in these streams, and how delightful was it to ramble along the flowery banks! The trees were loaded with the choicest fruits, while their shade afforded the most charming and voluptuous retreats to happy lovers; the mountains abounded with milk and cream; peace and leisure, simplicity and joy, mingled with the charm of going I knew not whither, and everything I saw carried to my heart some new cause for rapture. The grandeur, variety, and real beauty of the scene, in some measure rendered the charm reasonable, in which vanity came in for its share; to go so young to Italy, view such an extent of country, and pursue the route of Hannibal over the Alps, appeared a glory beyond my age; add to all this our frequent and agreeable halts, with a good appetite and plenty to satisfy it; for in truth it was not worth while to be sparing; at Mr. Sabran's table what I eat could scarce be missed. In the whole course of my life I cannot recollect an interval more perfectly exempt from care, than the seven or eight days I was passing from Annecy to Turin. As we were obliged to walk Madam Sabran's pace, it rather appeared an agreeable jaunt than a fatiguing journey; there still remains the most pleasing impressions of it on my mind, and the idea of a pedestrian excursion, particularly among the mountains, has from this time seemed delightful.
It was only in my happiest days that I travelled on foot, and ever with the most unbounded satisfaction; afterwards, occupied with business and encumbered with baggage, I was forced to act the gentleman and employ a carriage, where care, embarrassment, and restraint, were sure to be my companions, and instead of being delighted with the journey, I only wished to arrive at the place of destination.
I was a long time at Paris, wishing to meet with two companions of similar dispositions, who would each agree to appropriate fifty guineas of his property and a year of his time to making the tour of Italy on foot, with no other attendance than a young fellow to carry our necessaries; I have met with many who seemed enchanted with the project, but considered it only as a visionary scheme, which served well enough to talk of, without any design of putting it in execution. One day, speaking with enthusiasm of this project to Diderot and Grimm, they gave into the proposal with such warmth that I thought the matter concluded on; but it only turned out a journey on paper, in which Grimm thought nothing so pleasing as making Diderot commit a number of impieties, and shutting me up in the Inquisition for them, instead of him.
My regret at arriving so soon at Turin was compensated by the pleasure of viewing a large city, and the hope of figuring there in a conspicuous character, for my brain already began to be intoxicated with the fumes of ambition; my present situation appeared infinitely above that of an apprentice, and I was far from foreseeing how soon I should be much below it.
Before I proceed, I ought to offer an excuse, or justification to the reader for the great number of unentertaining particulars I am necessitated to repeat. In pursuance of the resolution I have formed to enter on this public exhibition of myself, it is necessary that nothing should bear the appearance of obscurity or concealment. I should be continually under the eye of the reader, he should be enabled to follow me In all the wanderings of my heart, through every intricacy of my adventures; he must find no void or chasm in my relation, nor lose sight of me an instant, lest he should find occasion to say, what was he doing at this time; and suspect me of not having dared to reveal the whole. I give sufficient scope to malignity in what I say; it is unnecessary I should furnish still more by my science.
My money was all gone, even that I had secretly received from Madam de Warrens: I had been so indiscreet as to divulge this secret, and my conductors had taken care to profit by it. Madam Sabran found means to deprive me of everything I had, even to a ribbon embroidered with silver, with which Madam de Warrens had adorned the hilt of my sword; this I regretted more than all the rest; indeed the sword itself would have gone the same way, had I been less obstinately bent on retaining it. They had, it is true, supported me during the journey, but left me nothing at the end of it, and I arrived at Turin, without money, clothes, or linen, being precisely in the situation to owe to my merit alone the whole honor of that fortune I was about to acquire.
I took care in the first place to deliver the letters I was charged with, and was presently conducted to the hospital of the catechumens, to be instructed in that religion, for which, in return, I was to receive subsistence. On entering, I passed an iron-barred gate, which was immediately double-locked on me; this beginning was by no means calculated to give me a favorable opinion of my situation. I was then conducted to a large apartment, whose furniture consisted of a wooden altar at the farther end, on which was a large crucifix, and round it several indifferent chairs, of the same materials. In this hall of audience were assembled four or five ill-looking banditti, my comrades in instruction, who would rather have been taken for trusty servants of the devil than candidates for the kingdom of heaven. Two of these fellows were Sclavonians, but gave out they were African Jews, and (as they assured me) had run through Spain and Italy, embracing the Christian faith, and being baptised wherever they thought it worth their labor.
Soon after they opened another iron gate, which divided a large balcony that overlooked a court yard, and by this avenue entered our sister catechumens, who, like me, were going to be regenerated, not by baptism but a solemn abjuration. A viler set of idle, dirty, abandoned harlots, never disgraced any persuasion; one among them, however, appeared pretty and interesting; she might be about my own age, perhaps a year or two older, and had a pair of roguish eyes, which frequently encountered mine; this was enough to inspire me with the desire of becoming acquainted with her, but she had been so strongly recommended to the care of the old governess of this respectable sisterhood, and was so narrowly watched by the pious missionary, who labored for her conversion with more zeal than diligence, that during the two months we remained together in this house (where she had already been three) I found it absolutely impossible to exchange a word with her. She must have been extremely stupid, though she had not the appearance of it, for never was a longer course of instruction; the holy man could never bring her to a state of mind fit for abjuration; meantime she became weary of her cloister, declaring that, Christian or not, she would stay there no longer; and they were obliged to take her at her word, lest she should grow refractory, and insist on departing as great a sinner as she came.
This hopeful community were assembled in honor of the new-comer; when our guides made us a short exhortation: I was conjured to be obedient to the grace that Heaven had bestowed on me; the rest were admonished to assist me with their prayers, and give me edification by their good example.
Our virgins then retired to another apartment, and I was left to contemplate, at leisure, that wherein I found myself.
The next morning we were again assembled for instruction: I now began to reflect, for the first time, on the step I was about to take, and the circumstances which had led me to it.
I repeat, and shall perhaps repeat again, an assertion I have already advanced, and of whose truth I every day receive fresh conviction, which is, that if ever child received a reasonable and virtuous education, it was myself. Born in a family of unexceptionable morals, every lesson I received was replete with maxims of prudence and virtue. My father (though fond of gallantry) not only possessed distinguished probity, but much religion; in the world he appeared a man of pleasure, in his family he was a Christian, and implanted early in my mind those sentiments he felt the force of. My three aunts were women of virtue and piety; the two eldest were professed devotees, and the third, who united all the graces of wit and good sense, was, perhaps, more truly religious than either, though with less ostentation. From the bosom of this amiable family I was transplanted to M. Lambercier's, a man dedicated to the ministry, who believed the doctrine he taught, and acted up to its precepts. He and his sister matured by their instructions those principles of judicious piety I had already imbibed, and the means employed by these worthy people were so well adapted to the effect they meant to produce, that so far from being fatigued, I scarce ever listened to their admonitions without finding myself sensibly affected, and forming resolutions to live virtuously, from which, except in moments of forgetfulness, I seldom swerved. At my uncle's, religion was far more tiresome, because they made it an employment; with my master I thought no more of it, though my sentiments continued the same: I had no companions to vitiate my morals: I became idle, careless, and obstinate, but my principles were not impaired.
I possessed as much religion, therefore, as a child could be supposed capable of acquiring. Why should I now disguise my thoughts? I am persuaded I had more. In my childhood, I was not a child; I felt, I thought as a man: as I advanced in years, I mingled with the ordinary class; in my infancy I was distinguished from it. I shall doubtless incur ridicule by thus modestly holding myself up for a prodigy--I am content. Let those who find themselves disposed to it, laugh their fill; afterward, let them find a child that at six years old is delighted, interested, affected with romances, even to the shedding floods of tears; I shall then feel my ridiculous vanity, and acknowledge myself in an error.
Thus when I said we should not converse with children on religion, if we wished them ever to possess any; when I asserted they were incapable of communion with the Supreme Being, even in our confined degree, I drew my conclusions from general observation; I knew they were not applicable to particular instances: find J. J. Rousseau of six years old, converse with them on religious subjects at seven, and I will be answerable that the experiment will be attended with no danger.
It is understood, I believe, that a child, or even a man, is likely to be most sincere while persevering in that religion in whose belief he was born and educated; we frequently detract from, seldom make any additions to it: dogmatical faith is the effect of education. In addition to this general principle which attached me to the religion of my forefathers, I had that particular aversion our city entertains for Catholicism, which is represented there as the most monstrous idolatry, and whose clergy are painted in the blackest colors. This sentiment was so firmly imprinted on my mind, that I never dared to look into their churches--I could not bear to meet a priest in his surplice, and never did I hear the bells of a procession sound without shuddering with horror; these sensations soon wore off in great cities, but frequently returned in country parishes, which bore more similarity to the spot where I first experienced them; meantime this dislike was singularly contrasted by the remembrance of those caresses which priests in the neighborhood of Geneva are fond of bestowing on the children of that city. If the bells of the viaticum alarmed me, the chiming for mass or vespers called me to a breakfast, a collation, to the pleasure of regaling on fresh butter, fruits, or milk; the good cheer of M. de Pontverre had produced a considerable effect on me; my former abhorrence began to diminish, and looking on popery through the medium of amusement and good living, I easily reconciled myself to the idea of enduring, though I never entertained but a very transient and distant idea of making a solemn profession of it.
At this moment such a transaction appeared in all its horrors; I shuddered at the engagement I had entered into, and its inevitable consequences. The future neophytes with which I was surrounded were not calculated to sustain my courage by their example, and I could not help considering the holy work I was about to perform as the action of a villain. Though young, I was sufficiently convinced, that whatever religion might be the true one, I was about to sell mine; and even should I chance to chose the best, I lied to the Holy Ghost, and merited the disdain of every good man. The more I considered, the more I despised myself, and trembled at the fate which had led me into such a predicament, as if my present situation had not been of my own seeking.
There were moments when these compunctions were so strong that had I found the door open but for an instant, I should certainly have made my escape; but this was impossible, nor was the resolution of any long duration, being combated by too many secret motives to stand any chance of gaining the victory.
My fixed determination not to return to Geneva, the shame that would attend it, the difficulty of repassing the mountains, at a distance from my country, without friends, and without resources, everything concurred to make me consider my remorse of conscience, as a too late repentance.
I affected to reproach myself for what I had done, to seek excuses for that I intended to do, and by aggravating the errors of the past, looked on the future as an inevitable consequence. I did not say, nothing is yet done, and you may be innocent if you please; but I said, tremble at the crime thou hast committed, which hath reduced thee to the necessity of filling up the measure of thine iniquities.
It required more resolution than was natural to my age to revoke those expectations which I had given them reason to entertain, break those chains with which I was enthralled, and resolutely declare I would continue in the religion of my forefathers, whatever might be the consequence. The affair was already too far advanced, and spite of all my efforts they would have made a point of bringing it to a conclusion.
The sophism which ruined me has had a similar affect on the greater part of mankind, who lament the want of resolution when the opportunity for exercising it is over. The practice of virtue is only difficult from our own negligence; were, we always discreet, we should seldom have occasion for any painful exertion of it; we are captivated by desires we might readily surmount, give into temptations that might easily be resisted, and insensibly get into embarrassing, perilous situations, from which we cannot extricate ourselves but with the utmost difficulty; intimidated by the effort, we fall into the abyss, saying to the Almighty, why hast thou made us such weak creatures? But, notwithstanding our vain pretexts, He replies, by our consciences, I formed ye too weak to get out of the gulf, because I gave ye sufficient strength not to have fallen into it.
I was not absolutely resolved to become a Catholic, but, as it was not necessary to declare my intentions immediately, I gradually accustomed myself to the idea; hoping, meantime, that some unforeseen event would extricate me from my embarrassment. In order to gain time, I resolved to make the best defence I possibly could in favor of my own opinion; but my vanity soon rendered this resolution unnecessary, for on finding I frequently embarrassed those who had the care of my instruction, I wished to heighten my triumph by giving them a complete overthrow. I zealously pursued my plan, not without the ridiculous hope of being able to convert my convertors; for I was simple enough to believe, that could I convince them of their errors, they would become Protestants; they did not find, therefore, that facility in the work which they had expected, as I differed both in regard to will and knowledge from the opinion they had entertained of me.
Protestants, in general, are better instructed in the principles of their religion than Catholics; the reason is obvious; the doctrine of the former requires discussion, of the latter a blind submission; the Catholic must content himself with the decisions of others, the Protestant must learn to decide for himself; they were not ignorant of this, but neither my age nor appearance promised much difficulty to men so accustomed to disputation. They knew, likewise, that I had not received my first communion, nor the instructions which accompany it; but, on the other hand, they had no idea of the information I received at M. Lambercier's, or that I had learned the history of the church and empire almost by heart at my father's; and though (since that time, nearly forgot, when warmed by the dispute, very unfortunately for these gentlemen), it again returned to my memory.
A little old priest, but tolerably venerable, held the first conference; at which we were all convened. On the part of my comrades, it was rather a catechism than a controversy, and he found more pains in giving them instruction than answering their objections; but when it came to my turn, it was a different matter; I stopped him at every article, and did not spare a single remark that I thought would create a difficulty: this rendered the conference long and extremely tiresome to the assistants.
My old priest talked a great deal, was very warm, frequently rambled from the subject, and extricated himself from difficulties by saying he was not sufficiently versed in the French language.
The next day, lest my indiscreet objections should injure the minds of those who were better disposed, I was led into a separate chamber and put under the care of a younger priest, a fine speaker; that is, one who was fond of long perplexed sentences, and proud of his own abilities, if ever doctor was. I did not, however, suffer myself to be intimidated by his overbearing looks: and being sensible that I could maintain my ground, I combated his assertions, exposed his mistakes, and laid about me in the best manner I was able. He thought to silence me at once with St.
Augustine, St. Gregory, and the rest of the fathers, but found, to his ineffable surprise, that I could handle these almost as dexterously as himself; not that I had ever read them, or he either, perhaps, but I retained a number of passages taken from my Le Sueur, and when he bore hard on me with one citation, without standing to dispute, I parried it with another, which method embarrassed him extremely. At length, however, he got the better of me for two very potent reasons; in the first place, he was of the strongest side; young as I was, I thought it might be dangerous to drive him to extremities, for I plainly saw the old priest was neither satisfied with me nor my erudition. In the next place, he had studied, I had not; this gave a degree of method to his arguments which I could not follow; and whenever he found himself pressed by an unforeseen objection he put it off to the next conference, pretending I rambled from the question in dispute. Sometimes he even rejected all my quotations, maintaining they were false, and, offering to fetch the book, defied me to find them. He knew he ran very little risk, and that, with all my borrowed learning, I was not sufficiently accustomed to books, and too poor a Latinist to find a passage in a large volume, had I been ever so well assured it was there. I even suspected him of having been guilty of a perfidy with which he accused our ministers, and that he fabricated passages sometimes in order to evade an objection that incommoded him.
Meanwhile the hospital became every day more disagreeable to me, and seeing but one way to get out of it, I endeavored to hasten my abjuration with as much eagerness as I had hitherto sought to retard it.
The two Africans had been baptised with great ceremony, they were habited in white from head to foot to signify the purity of their regenerated souls. My turn came a month after; for all this time was thought necessary by my directors, that they might have the honor of a difficult conversion, and every dogma of their faith was recapitulated, in order to triumph the more completely over my new docility.
At length, sufficiently instructed and disposed to the will of my masters, I was led in procession to the metropolitan church of St. John, to make a solemn abjuration, and undergo a ceremony made use of on these occasions, which, though not baptism, is very similar, and serves to persuade the people that Protestants are not Christians. I was clothed in a kind of gray robe, decorated with white Brandenburgs. Two men, one behind, the other before me, carried copper basins which they kept striking with a key, and in which those who were charitably disposed put their alms, according as they found themselves influenced by religion or good will for the new convert; in a word, nothing of Catholic pageantry was omitted that could render the solemnity edifying to the populace, or humiliating to me. The white dress might have been serviceable, but as I had not the honor to be either Moor or Jew, they did not think fit to compliment me with it.
The affair did not end here, I must now go to the Inquisition to be absolved from the dreadful sin of heresy, and return to the bosom of the church with the same ceremony to which Henry the Fourth was subjected by his ambassador. The air and manner of the right reverend Father Inquisitor was by no means calculated to dissipate the secret horror that seized my spirits on entering this holy mansion. After several questions relative to my faith, situation, and family, he asked me bluntly if my mother was damned? Terror repressed the first gust of indignation; this gave me time to recollect myself, and I answered, I hope not, for God might have enlightened her last moments. The monk made no reply, but his silence was attended with a look by no means expressive of approbation.
All these ceremonies ended, the very moment I flattered myself I should be plentifully provided for, they exhorted me to continue a good Christian, and live in obedience to the grace I had received; then wishing me good fortune, with rather more than twenty francs of small money in my pocket, the produce of the above--mentioned collection, turned me out, shut the door on me, and I saw no more of them!
Thus, in a moment, all my flattering expectations were at an end; and nothing remained from my interested conversion but the remembrance of having been made both a dupe and an apostate. It is easy to imagine what a sudden revolution was produced in my ideas, when every brilliant expectation of making a fortune terminated by seeing myself plunged in the completest misery. In the morning I was deliberating what palace I should inhabit, before night I was reduced to seek my lodging in the street. It may be supposed that I gave myself up to the most violent transports of despair, rendered more bitter by a consciousness that my own folly had reduced me to these extremities; but the truth is, I experienced none of these disagreeable sensations. I had passed two months in absolute confinement; this was new to me; I was now emancipated, and the sentiment I felt most forcibly, was joy at my recovered liberty. After a slavery which had appeared tedious, I was again master of my time and actions, in a great city, abundant in resources, crowded with people of fortune, to whom my merit and talents could not fail to recommend me. I had sufficient time before me to expect this good fortune, for my twenty livres seemed an inexhaustible treasure, which I might dispose of without rendering an account of to anyone. It was the first time I had found myself so rich, and far from giving way to melancholy reflections, I only adopted other hopes, in which self-love was by no means a loser. Never did I feel so great a degree of confidence and security; I looked on my fortune as already made and was pleased to think I should have no one but myself to thank for the acquisition of it.
The first thing I did was to satisfy my curiosity by rambling all over the city, and I seemed to consider it as a confirmation of my liberty; I went to see the soldiers mount guard, and was delighted with their military accouterment; I followed processions, and was pleased with the solemn music of the priests; I next went to see the king's palace, which I approached with awe, but seeing others enter, I followed their example, and no one prevented me; perhaps I owed this favor to the small parcel I carried under my arm; be that as it may, I conceived a high opinion of my consequence from this circumstance, and already thought myself an inhabitant there. The weather was hot; I had walked about till I was both fatigued and hungry; wishing for some refreshment, I went into a milk-house; they brought me some cream-cheese curds and whey, and two slices of that excellent Piedmont bread, which I prefer to any other; and for five or six sous I had one of the most delicious meals I ever recollect to have made.
It was time to seek a lodging: as I already knew enough of the Piedmontese language to make myself understood, this was a work of no great difficulty; and I had so much prudence, that I wished to adapt it rather to the state of my purse than the bent of my inclinations. In the course of my inquiries, I was informed that a soldier's wife, in Po-street, furnished lodgings to servants out of place at only one sou a night, and finding one of her poor beds disengaged, I took possession of it. She was young and newly married, though she already had five or six children. Mother, children and lodgers, all slept in the same chamber, and it continued thus while I remained there. She was good-natured, swore like a carman, and wore neither cap nor handkerchief; but she had a gentle heart, was officious; and to me both kind and serviceable.
For several days I gave myself up to the pleasures of independence and curiosity; I continued wandering about the city and its environs, examining every object that seemed curious or new; and, indeed, most things had that appearance to a young novice. I never omitted visiting the court, and assisted regularly every morning at the king's mass.
I thought it a great honor to be in the same chapel with this prince and his retinue; but my passion for music, which now began to make its appearance, was a greater incentive than the splendor of the court, which, soon seen and always the same, presently lost its attraction.
The King of Sardinia had at that time the best music in Europe; Somis, Desjardins, and the Bezuzzi shone there alternately; all these were not necessary to fascinate a youth whom the sound of the most simple instrument, provided it was just, transported with joy. Magnificence only produced a stupid admiration, without any violent desire to partake of it, my thoughts were principally employed in observing whether any young princess was present that merited my homage, and whom I could make the heroine of a romance.
Meantime, I was on the point of beginning one; in a less elevated sphere, it is true, but where could I have brought it to a conclusion, I should have found pleasures a thousand times more delicious.
Though I lived with the strictest economy, my purse insensibly grew lighter. This economy was, however, less the effect of prudence than that love of simplicity, which, even to this day, the use of the most expensive tables has not been able to vitiate. Nothing in my idea, either at that time or since, could exceed a rustic repast; give me milk, vegetables, eggs, and brown bread, with tolerable wine and I shall always think myself sumptuously regaled; a good appetite will furnish out the rest, if the maitre d' hotel, with a number of unnecessary footmen, do not satiate me with their important attentions. Five or six sous would then procure me a more agreeable meal than as many livres would have done since; I was abstemious, therefore, for want of a temptation to be otherwise: though I do not know but I am wrong to call this abstinence, for with my pears, new cheese, bread and some glasses of Montferrat wine, which you might have cut with a knife, I was the greatest of epicures.
Notwithstanding my expenses were very moderate, it was possible to see the end of twenty livres; I was every day more convinced of this, and, spite of the giddiness of youth, my apprehensions for the future amounted almost to terror. All my castles in the air were vanished, and I became sensible of the necessity of seeking some occupation that would procure me a subsistence.
Even this was a work of difficulty; I thought of my engraving, but knew too little of it to be employed as a journeyman, nor do masters abound in Turin; I resolved, therefore, till something better presented itself, to go from shop to shop, offering to engrave ciphers, or coats of arms, on pieces of plate, etc., and hoped to get employment by working at a low price; or taking what they chose to give me. Even this expedient did not answer my expectations; almost all my applications were ineffectual, the little I procured being hardly sufficient to produce a few scanty meals.
Walking one morning pretty early in the 'Contra nova', I saw a young tradeswoman behind a counter, whose looks were so charmingly attractive, that, notwithstanding my timidity with the ladies, I entered the shop without hesitation, offered my services as usual: and had the happiness to have it accepted. She made me sit down and recite my little history, pitied my forlorn situation; bade me be cheerful, and endeavored to make me so by an assurance that every good Christian would give me assistance; then (while she had occasion for) she went up stairs and fetched me something for breakfast. This seemed a promising beginning, nor was what followed less flattering: she was satisfied with my work, and, when I had a little recovered myself, still more with my discourse. She was rather elegantly dressed and notwithstanding her gentle looks this appearance of gayety had disconcerted me; but her good-nature, the compassionate tone of her voice, with her gentle and caressing manner, soon set me at ease with myself; I saw my endeavors to please were crowned with success, and this assurance made me succeed the more. Though an Italian, and too pretty to be entirely devoid of coquetry, she had so much modesty, and I so great a share of timidity, that our adventure was not likely to be brought to a very speedy conclusion, nor did they give us time to make any good of it. I cannot recall the few short moments I passed with this lovely woman without being sensible of an inexpressible charm, and can yet say, it was there I tasted in their utmost perfection the most delightful, as well as the purest pleasures of love.
She was a lively pleasing brunette, and the good nature that was painted on her lovely face rendered her vivacity more interesting. She was called Madam Basile: her husband, who was considerably older than herself, consigned her, during his absence, to the care of a clerk, too disagreeable to be thought dangerous; but who, notwithstanding, had pretensions that he seldom showed any signs of, except of ill--humors, a good share of which he bestowed on me; though I was pleased to hear him play the flute, on which he was a tolerable musician. This second Egistus was sure to grumble whenever he saw me go into his mistress' apartment, treating me with a degree of disdain which she took care to repay him with interest; seeming pleased to caress me in his presence, on purpose to torment him. This kind of revenge, though perfectly to my taste, would have been still more charming in a 'tete a tete', but she did not proceed so far; at least, there was a difference in the expression of her kindness. Whether she thought me too young, that it was my place to make advances, or that she was seriously resolved to be virtuous, she had at such times a kind of reserve, which, though not absolutely discouraging, kept my passion within bounds.
I did not feel the same real and tender respect for her as I did for Madam de Warrens: I was embarrassed, agitated, feared to look, and hardly dared to breathe in her presence, yet to have left her would have been worse than death: How fondly did my eyes devour whatever they could gaze on without being perceived! the flowers on her gown, the point of her pretty foot, the interval of a round white arm that appeared between her glove and ruffle, the least part of her neck, each object increased the force of all the rest, and added to the infatuation. Gazing thus on what was to be seen, and even more than was to be seen, my sight became confused, my chest seemed contracted, respiration was every moment more painful. I had the utmost difficulty to hide my agitation, to prevent my sighs from being heard, and this difficulty was increased by the silence in which we were frequently plunged. Happily, Madam Basile, busy at her work, saw nothing of all this, or seemed not to see it: yet I sometimes observed a kind of sympathy, especially at the frequent rising of her handkerchief, and this dangerous sight almost mastered every effort, but when on the point of giving way to my transports, she spoke a few words to me with an air of tranquility, and in an instant the agitation subsided.
I saw her several times in this manner without a word, a gesture, or even a look, too expressive, making the least intelligence between us. The situation was both my torment and delight, for hardly in the simplicity of my heart, could I imagine the cause of my uneasiness. I should suppose these 'tete a tete' could not be displeasing to her, at least, she sought frequent occasions to renew them; this was a very disinterested labor, certainly, as appeared by the use she made, or ever suffered me to make of them.
Being, one day, wearied with the clerk's discourse, she had retired to her chamber; I made haste to finish what I had to do in the back shop, and followed her; the door was half open, and I entered without being perceived. She was embroidering near a window on the opposite side of the room; she could not see me; and the carts in the streets made too much noise for me to be heard. She was always well dressed, but this day her attire bordered on coquetry. Her attitude was graceful, her head leaning gently forward, discovered a small circle of her neck; her hair, elegantly dressed was ornamented with flowers; her figure was universally charming, and I had an uninterrupted opportunity to admire it. I was absolutely in a state of ecstasy, and, involuntary, sinking on my knees, I passionately extended my arms towards her, certain she could not hear, and having no conception that she could see me; but there was a chimney glass at the end of the room that betrayed all my proceedings. I am ignorant what effect this transport produced on her; she did not speak; she did not look on me; but, partly turning her head, with the movement of her finger only, she pointed to the mat that was at her feet--To start up, with an articulate cry of joy, and occupy the place she had indicated, was the work of a moment; but it will hardly be believed I dared attempt no more, not even to speak, raise my eyes to hers, or rest an instant on her knees, though in an attitude which seemed to render such a support necessary. I was dumb, immovable, but far enough from a state of tranquility; agitation, joy, gratitude, ardent indefinite wishes, restrained by the fear of giving displeasure, which my unpractised heart too much dreaded, were sufficiently discernible. She neither appeared more tranquil, nor less intimidated than myself--uneasy at my present situation; confounded at having brought me there, beginning to tremble for the effects of a sign which she had made without reflecting on the consequences, neither giving encouragement, nor expressing disapprobation, with her eyes fixed on her work, she endeavored to appear unconscious of everything that passed; but all my stupidity could not hinder me from concluding that she partook of my embarrassment, perhaps, my transports, and was only hindered by a bashfulness like mine, without even that supposition giving me power to surmount it. Five or six years older than myself, every advance, according to my idea, should have been made by her, and, since she did nothing to encourage mine, I concluded they would offend her. Even at this time, I am inclined to believe I thought right; she certainly had wit enough to perceive that a novice like me had occasion, not only for encouragement but instruction.
I am ignorant how this animated, though dumb scene would have ended, or how long I should have continued immovable in this ridiculous, though delicious, situation, had we not been interrupted--in the height of my agitation, I heard the kitchen door open, which joined Madam Basile's chamber; who, being alarmed, said, with a quick voice and action, "Get up! Here's Rosina!" Rising hastily I seized one of her hands, which she held out to me, and gave it two eager kisses; at the second I felt this charming hand press gently on my lips. Never in my life did I enjoy so sweet a moment; but the occasion I had lost returned no more, this being the conclusion of our amours.
This may be the reason why her image yet remains imprinted on my heart in such charming colors, which have even acquired fresh lustre since I became acquainted with the world and women. Had she been mistress of the least degree of experience, she would have taken other measures to animate so youthful a lover; but if her heart was weak, it was virtuous; and only suffered itself to be borne away by a powerful though involuntary inclination. This was, apparently, her first infidelity, and I should, perhaps, have found more difficulty in vanquishing her scruples than my own; but, without proceeding so far, I experienced in her company the most inexpressible delights. Never did I taste with any other woman pleasures equal to those two minutes which I passed at the feet of Madam Basile without even daring to touch her gown. I am convinced no satisfaction can be compared to that we feel with a virtuous woman we esteem; all is transport!--A sign with the finger, a hand lightly pressed against my lips, were the only favors I ever received from Madam Basile, yet the bare remembrance of these trifling condescensions continues to transport me.
It was in vain I watched the two following days for another tete a tete; it was impossible to find an opportunity; nor could I perceive on her part any desire to forward it; her behavior was not colder, but more distant than usual, and I believe she avoided my looks for fear of not being able sufficiently to govern her own. The cursed clerk was more vexatious than ever; he even became a wit, telling me, with a satirical sneer, that I should unquestionably make my way among the ladies. I trembled lest I should have been guilty of some indiscretion, and looking at myself as already engaged in an intrigue, endeavored to cover with an air of mystery an inclination which hitherto certainly had no great need of it; this made me more circumspect in my choice of opportunities, and by resolving only to seize such as should be absolutely free from the danger of a surprise, I met none.
Another romantic folly, which I could never overcome, and which, joined to my natural timidity, tended directly to contradict the clerk's predictions, is, I always loved too sincerely, too perfectly, I may say, to find happiness easily attainable. Never were passions at the same time more lively and pure than mine; never was love more tender, more true, or more disinterested; freely would I have sacrificed my own happiness to that of the object of my affection; her reputation was dearer than my life, and I could promise myself no happiness for which I would have exposed her peace of mind for a moment. This disposition has ever made me employ so much care, use so many precautions, such secrecy in my adventures, that all of them have failed; in a word, my want of success with the women has ever proceeded from having loved them too well.
To return to our Egistus, the fluter; it was remarkable that in becoming more insupportable, the traitor put on the appearance of complaisance.
From the first day Madam Basile had taken me under her protection, she had endeavored to make me serviceable in the warehouse; and finding I understood arithmetic tolerably well, she proposed his teaching me to keep the books; a proposition that was but indifferently received by this humorist, who might, perhaps, be fearful of being supplanted. As this failed, my whole employ, besides what engraving I had to do, was to transcribe some bills and accounts, to write several books over fair, and translate commercial letters from Italian into French. All at once he thought fit to accept the before rejected proposal, saying, he would teach me bookkeeping, by double--entry, and put me in a situation to offer my services to M. Basile on his return; but there was something so false, malicious, and ironical, in his air and manner, that it was by no means calculated to inspire me with confidence. Madam Basile, replied archly, that I was much obliged to him for his kind offer, but she hoped fortune would be more favorable to my merits, for it would be a great misfortune, with so much sense, that I should only be a pitiful clerk.
She often said, she would procure me some acquaintance that might be useful; she doubtless felt the necessity of parting with me, and had prudently resolved on it. Our mute declaration had been made on Thursday, the Sunday following she gave a dinner. A Jacobin of good appearance was among the guests, to whom she did me the honor to present me. The monk treated me very affectionately, congratulated me on my late conversion, mentioned several particulars of my story, which plainly showed he had been made acquainted with it, then, tapping me familiarly on the cheek, bade me be good, to keep up my spirits, and come to see him at his convent, where he should have more opportunity to talk with me.
I judged him to be a person of some consequence by the deference that was paid him; and by the paternal tone he assumed with Madam Basile, to be her confessor. I likewise remember that his decent familiarity was attended with an appearance of esteem, and even respect for his fair penitent, which then made less impression on me than at present. Had I possessed more experience how should I have congratulated myself on having touched the heart of a young woman respected by her confessor!
The table not being large enough to accommodate all the company, a small one was prepared, where I had the satisfaction of dining with our agreeable clerk; but I lost nothing with regard to attention and good cheer, for several plates were sent to the side-table which were certainly not intended for him.
Thus far all went well; the ladies were in good spirits, and the gentlemen very gallant, while Madam Basile did the honors of the table with peculiar grace. In the midst of the dinner we heard a chaise stop at the door, and presently some one coming up stairs--it was M. Basile.
Methinks I now see him entering, in his scarlet coat with gold buttons --from that day I have held the color in abhorrence. M. Basile was a tall handsome man, of good address: he entered with a consequential look and an air of taking his family unawares, though none but friends were present. His wife ran to meet him, threw her arms about his neck, and gave him a thousand caresses, which he received with the utmost indifference; and without making any return saluted the company and took his place at table. They were just beginning to speak of his journey, when casting his eye on the small table he asked in a sharp tone, what lad that was? Madam Basile answered ingenuously. He then inquired whether I lodged in the house; and was answered in the negative. "Why not?" replied he, rudely, "since he stays here all day, he might as well remain all night too." The monk now interfered, with a serious and true eulogium on Madam Basile: in a few words he made mine also, adding, that so far from blaming, he ought to further the pious charity of his wife, since it was evident she had not passed the bounds of discretion. The husband answered with an air of petulance, which (restrained by the presence of the monk) he endeavored to stifle; it was, however, sufficient to let me understand he had already received information of me, and that our worthy clerk had rendered me an ill office.
We had hardly risen from table, when the latter came in triumph from his employer, to inform me, I must leave the house that instant, and never more during my life dare to set foot there. He took care to aggravate this commission by everything that could render it cruel and insulting.
I departed without a word, my heart overwhelmed with sorrow, less for being obliged to quit this amiable woman, than at the thought of leaving her to the brutality of such a husband. He was certainly right to wish her faithful; but though prudent and wellborn, she was an Italian, that is to say, tender and vindictive; which made me think, he was extremely imprudent in using means the most likely in the world to draw on himself the very evil he so much dreaded.
Such was the success of my first adventure. I walked several times up and down the street, wishing to get a sight of what my heart incessantly regretted; but I could only discover her husband, or the vigilant clerk, who, perceiving me, made a sign with the ell they used in the shop, which was more expressive than alluring: finding, therefore, that I was so completely watched, my courage failed, and I went no more. I wished, at least, to find out the patron she had provided me, but, unfortunately, I did not know his name. I ranged several times round the convent, endeavoring in vain to meet with him. At length, other events banished the delightful remembrance of Madam Basile; and in a short time I so far forgot her, that I remained as simple, as much a novice as ever, nor did my penchant for pretty women even receive any sensible augmentation.
Her liberality had, however, increased my little wardrobe, though she had done this with precaution and prudence, regarding neatness more than decoration, and to make me comfortable rather than brilliant. The coat I had brought from Geneva was yet wearable, she only added a hat and some linen. I had no ruffles, nor would she give me any, not but I felt a great inclination for them. She was satisfied with having put it in my power to keep myself clean, though a charge to do this was unnecessary while I was to appear before her.
A few days after this catastrophe; my hostess, who, as I have already observed, was very friendly, with great satisfaction informed me she had heard of a situation, and that a lady of rank desired to see me. I immediately thought myself in the road to great adventures; that being the point to which all my ideas tended: this, however, did not prove so brilliant as I had conceived it. I waited on the lady with the servant; who had mentioned me: she asked a number of questions, and my answers not displeasing her, I immediately entered into her service not, indeed, in the quality of favorite, but as a footman. I was clothed like the rest of her people, the only difference being, they wore a shoulder--knot, which I had not, and, as there was no lace on her livery, it appeared merely a tradesman's suit. This was the unforeseen conclusion of all my great expectancies!
The Countess of Vercellis, with whom I now lived, was a widow without children; her husband was a Piedmontese, but I always believed her to be a Savoyard, as I could have no conception that a native of Piedmont could speak such good French, and with so pure an accent. She was a middle-aged woman, of a noble appearance and cultivated understanding, being fond of French literature, in which she was well versed. Her letters had the expression, and almost the elegance of Madam de Savigne's; some of them might have been taken for hers. My principal employ, which was by no means displeasing to me, was to write from her dictating; a cancer in the breast, from which she suffered extremely, not permitting her to write herself.
Madam de Vercellis not only possessed a good understanding, but a strong and elevated soul. I was with her during her last illness, and saw her suffer and die, without showing an instant of weakness, or the least effort of constraint; still retaining her feminine manners, without entertaining an idea that such fortitude gave her any claim to philosophy; a word which was not yet in fashion, nor comprehended by her in the sense it is held at present. This strength of disposition sometimes extended almost to apathy, ever appearing to feel as little for others as herself; and when she relieved the unfortunate, it was rather for the sake of acting right, than from a principle of real commiseration. I have frequently experienced this insensibility, in some measure, during the three months I remained with her. It would have been natural to have had an esteem for a young man of some abilities, who was incessantly under her observation, and that she should think, as she felt her dissolution approaching, that after her death he would have occasion for assistance and support: but whether she judged me unworthy of particular attention, or that those who narrowly watched all her motions, gave her no opportunity to think of any but themselves, she did nothing for me.
I very well recollect that she showed some curiosity to know my story, frequently questioning me, and appearing pleased when I showed her the letters I wrote to Madam de Warrens, or explained my sentiments; but as she never discovered her own, she certainly did not take the right means to come at them. My heart, naturally communicative, loved to display its feelings, whenever I encountered a similar disposition; but dry, cold interrogatories, without any sign of blame or approbation on my answers, gave me no confidence. Not being able to determine whether my discourse was agreeable or displeasing, I was ever in fear, and thought less of expressing my ideas, than of being careful not to say anything that might seem to my disadvantage. I have since remarked that this dry method of questioning themselves into people's characters is a common trick among women who pride themselves on superior understanding. These imagine, that by concealing their own sentiments, they shall the more easily penetrate into those of others; being ignorant that this method destroys the confidence so necessary to make us reveal them. A man, on being questioned, is immediately on his guard: and if once he supposes that, without any interest in his concerns, you only wish to set him a-talking, either he entertains you with lies, is silent, or, examining every word before he utters it, rather chooses to pass for a fool, than to be the dupe of your curiosity. In short, it is ever a bad method to attempt to read the hearts of others by endeavoring to conceal our own.
Madam de Vercellis never addressed a word to me which seemed to express affection, pity, or benevolence. She interrogated me coldly, and my answers were uttered with so much timidity, that she doubtless entertained but a mean opinion of my intellects, for latterly she never asked me any questions, nor said anything but what was absolutely necessary for her service. She drew her judgment less from what I really was, than from what she had made me, and by considering me as a footman prevented my appearing otherwise.
I am inclined to think I suffered at that time by the same interested game of concealed manoeuvre, which has counteracted me throughout my life, and given me a very natural aversion for everything that has the least appearance of it. Madam de Vercellis having no children, her nephew, the Count de la Roque, was her heir, and paid his court assiduously, as did her principal domestics, who, seeing her end approaching, endeavored to take care of themselves; in short, so many were busy about her, that she could hardly have found time to think of me. At the head of her household was a M. Lorenzy, an artful genius, with a still more artful wife; who had so far insinuated herself into the good graces of her mistress, that she was rather on the footing of a friend than a servant. She had introduced a niece of hers as lady's maid: her name was Mademoiselle Pontal; a cunning gypsy, that gave herself all the airs of a waiting-woman, and assisted her aunt so well in besetting the countess, that she only saw with their eyes, and acted through their hands. I had not the happiness to please this worthy triumvirate; I obeyed, but did not wait on them, not conceiving that my duty to our general mistress required me to be a servant to her servants.
Besides this, I was a person that gave them some inquietude; they saw I was not in my proper situation, and feared the countess would discover it likewise, and by placing me in it, decrease their portions; for such sort of people, too greedy to be just, look on every legacy given to others as a diminution of their own wealth; they endeavored, therefore, to keep me as much out of her sight as possible. She loved to write letters, in her situation, but they contrived to give her a distaste to it; persuading her, by the aid of the doctor, that it was too fatiguing; and, under pretence that I did not understand how to wait on her, they employed two great lubberly chairmen for that purpose; in a word, they managed the affair so well, that for eight days before she made her will, I had not been permitted to enter the chamber. Afterwards I went in as usual, and was even more assiduous than any one, being afflicted at the sufferings of the unhappy lady, whom I truly respected and beloved for the calmness and fortitude with which she bore her illness, and often did I shed tears of real sorrow without being perceived by any one.
At length we lost her--I saw her expire. She had lived like a woman of sense and virtue, her death was that of a philosopher. I can truly say, she rendered the Catholic religion amiable to me by the serenity with which she fulfilled its dictates, without any mixture of negligence or affectation. She was naturally serious, but towards the end of her illness she possessed a kind of gayety, too regular to be assumed, which served as a counterpoise to the melancholy of her situation. She only kept her bed two days, continuing to discourse cheerfully with those about her to the very last.
She had bequeathed a year's wages to all the under servants, but, not being on the household list, I had nothing: the Count de la Roque, however, ordered me thirty livres, and the new coat I had on, which M.
Lorenzy would certainly have taken from me. He even promised to procure me a place; giving me permission to wait on him as often as I pleased.
Accordingly, I went two or three times, without being able to speak to him, and as I was easily repulsed, returned no more; whether I did wrong will be seen hereafter.
Would I had finished what I have to say of my living at Madam de Vercellis's. Though my situation apparently remained the same, I did not leave her house as I had entered it: I carried with me the long and painful remembrance of a crime; an insupportable weight of remorse which yet hangs on my conscience, and whose bitter recollection, far from weakening, during a period of forty years, seems to gather strength as I grow old. Who would believe, that a childish fault should be productive of such melancholy consequences? But it is for the more than probable effects that my heart cannot be consoled. I have, perhaps, caused an amiable, honest, estimable girl, who surely merited a better fate than myself, to perish with shame and misery.
Though it is very difficult to break up housekeeping without confusion, and the loss of some property; yet such was the fidelity of the domestics, and the vigilance of M. and Madam Lorenzy, that no article of the inventory was found wanting; in short, nothing was missing but a pink and silver ribbon, which had been worn, and belonged to Mademoiselle Pontal. Though several things of more value were in my reach, this ribbon alone tempted me, and accordingly I stole it. As I took no great pains to conceal the bauble, it was soon discovered; they immediately insisted on knowing from whence I had taken it; this perplexed me--I hesitated, and at length said, with confusion, that Marion gave it me.
Marion was a young Mauriennese, and had been cook to Madam de Vercellis ever since she left off giving entertainments, for being sensible she had more need of good broths than fine ragouts, she had discharged her former one. Marion was not only pretty, but had that freshness of color only to be found among the mountains, and, above all, an air of modesty and sweetness, which made it impossible to see her without affection; she was besides a good girl, virtuous, and of such strict fidelity, that everyone was surprised at hearing her named. They had not less confidence in me, and judged it necessary to certify which of us was the thief. Marion was sent for; a great number of people were present, among whom was the Count de la Roque: she arrives; they show her the ribbon; I accuse her boldly: she remains confused and speechless, casting a look on me that would have disarmed a demon, but which my barbarous heart resisted. At length, she denied it with firmness, but without anger, exhorting me to return to myself, and not injure an innocent girl who had never wronged me. With infernal impudence, I confirmed my accusation, and to her face maintained she had given me the ribbon: on which, the poor girl, bursting into tears, said these words--"Ah, Rousseau! I thought you a good disposition--you render me very unhappy, but I would not be in your situation." She continued to defend herself with as much innocence as firmness, but without uttering the least invective against me. Her moderation, compared to my positive tone, did her an injury; as it did not appear natural to suppose, on one side such diabolical assurance; on the other, such angelic mildness. The affair could not be absolutely decided, but the presumption was in my favor; and the Count de la Roque, in sending us both away, contented himself with saying, "The conscience of the guilty would revenge the innocent." His prediction was true, and is being daily verified.
I am ignorant what became of the victim of my calumny, but there is little probability of her having been able to place herself agreeably after this, as she labored under an imputation cruel to her character in every respect. The theft was a trifle, yet it was a theft, and, what was worse, employed to seduce a boy; while the lie and obstinacy left nothing to hope from a person in whom so many vices were united. I do not even look on the misery and disgrace in which I plunged her as the greatest evil: who knows, at her age, whither contempt and disregarded innocence might have led her?--Alas! if remorse for having made her unhappy is insupportable, what must I have suffered at the thought of rendering her even worse than myself. The cruel remembrance of this transaction, sometimes so troubles and disorders me, that, in my disturbed slumbers, I imagine I see this poor girl enter and reproach me with my crime, as though I had committed it but yesterday. While in easy tranquil circumstances, I was less miserable on this account, but, during a troubled agitated life, it has robbed me of the sweet consolation of persecuted innocence, and made me wofully experience, what, I think, I have remarked in some of my works, that remorse sleeps in the calm sunshine of prosperity, but wakes amid the storms of adversity. I could never take on me to discharge my heart of this weight in the bosom of a friend; nor could the closest intimacy ever encourage me to it, even with Madam de Warrens: all I could do, was to own I had to accuse myself of an atrocious crime, but never said in what it consisted. The weight, therefore, has remained heavy on my conscience to this day; and I can truly own the desire of relieving myself, in some measure, from it, contributed greatly to the resolution of writing my Confessions.
I have proceeded truly in that I have just made, and it will certainly be thought I have not sought to palliate the turpitude of my offence; but I should not fulfill the purpose of this undertaking, did I not, at the same time, divulge my interior disposition, and excuse myself as far as is conformable with truth.
Never was wickedness further from my thoughts, than in that cruel moment; and when I accused the unhappy girl, it is strange, but strictly true, that my friendship for her was the immediate cause of it. She was present to my thoughts; I formed my excuse from the first object that presented itself: I accused her with doing what I meant to have done, and as I designed to have given her the ribbon, asserted she had given it to me. When she appeared, my heart was agonized, but the presence of so many people was more powerful than my compunction. I did not fear punishment, but I dreaded shame: I dreaded it more than death, more than the crime, more than all the world. I would have buried, hid myself in the centre of the earth: invincible shame bore down every other sentiment; shame alone caused all my impudence, and in proportion as I became criminal, the fear of discovery rendered me intrepid. I felt no dread but that of being detected, of being publicly, and to my face, declared a thief, liar, and calumniator; an unconquerable fear of this overcame every other sensation. Had I been left to myself, I should infallibly have declared the truth. Or if M. de la Rogue had taken me aside, and said--"Do not injure this poor girl; if you are guilty own it,"--I am convinced I should instantly have thrown myself at his feet; but they intimidated, instead of encouraging me. I was hardly out of my childhood, or rather, was yet in it. It is also just to make some allowance for my age. In youth, dark, premeditated villainy is more criminal than in a riper age, but weaknesses are much less so; my fault was truly nothing more; and I am less afflicted at the deed itself than for its consequences. It had one good effect, however, in preserving me through the rest of my life from any criminal action, from the terrible impression that has remained from the only one I ever committed; and I think my aversion for lying proceeds in a great measure from regret at having been guilty of so black a one. If it is a crime that can be expiated, as I dare believe, forty years of uprightness and honor on various difficult occasions, with the many misfortunes that have overwhelmed my latter years, may have completed it. Poor Marion has found so many avengers in this world, that however great my offence towards her, I do not fear to bear the guilt with me. Thus have I disclosed what I had to say on this painful subject; may I be permitted never to mention it again.
THE CONFESSIONS OF JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU (In 12 books)
Privately Printed for the Members of the Aldus Society
Leaving the service of Madam de Vercellis nearly as I had entered it, I returned to my former hostess, and remained there five or six weeks; during which time health, youth, and laziness, frequently rendered my temperament importunate. I was restless, absent, and thoughtful: I wept and sighed for a happiness I had no idea of, though at the same time highly sensible of some deficiency. This situation is indescribable, few men can even form any conception of it, because, in general, they have prevented that plenitude of life, at once tormenting and delicious.
My thoughts were incessantly occupied with girls and women, but in a manner peculiar to myself: these ideas kept my senses in a perpetual and disagreeable activity, though, fortunately, they did not point out the means of deliverance. I would have given my life to have met with a Miss Goton, but the time was past in which the play of infancy predominated; increase of years had introduced shame, the inseparable companion of a conscious deviation from rectitude, which so confirmed my natural timidity as to render it invincible; and never, either at that time or since, could I prevail on myself to offer a proposition favorable to my wishes (unless in a manner constrained to it by previous advances) even with those whose scruples I had no cause to dread.
My stay at Madam de Vercellis's had procured me some acquaintance, which I thought might be serviceable to me, and therefore wished to retain.
Among others, I sometimes visited a Savoyard abbe, M. Gaime, who was tutor to the Count of Melarede's children. He was young, and not much known, but possessed an excellent cultivated understanding, with great probity, and was, altogether, one of the best men I ever knew. He was incapable of doing me the service I then stood most in need of, not having sufficient interest to procure me a situation, but from him I reaped advantages far more precious, which have been useful to me through life, lessons of pure morality, and maxims of sound judgment.
In the successive order of my inclinations and ideas, I had ever been too high or too low. Achilles or Thersites; sometimes a hero, at others a villain. M. Gaime took pains to make me properly acquainted with myself, without sparing or giving me too much discouragement. He spoke in advantageous terms of my disposition and talents, adding, that he foresaw obstacles which would prevent my profiting by them; thus, according to him, they were to serve less as steps by which I should mount to fortune, than as resources which might enable me to exist without one. He gave me a true picture of human life, of which, hitherto, I had formed but a very erroneous idea, teaching me, that a man of understanding, though destined to experience adverse fortune, might, by skilful management, arrive at happiness; that there was no true felicity without virtue, which was practicable in every situation. He greatly diminished my admiration of grandeur, by proving that those in a superior situation are neither better nor happier than those they command. One of his maxims has frequently returned to my memory: it was, that if we could truly read the hearts of others we should feel more inclination to descend than rise: this reflection, the truth of which is striking without extravagance, I have found of great utility, in the various exigences of my life, as it tended to make me satisfied with my condition. He gave me the first just conception of relative duties, which my high-flown imagination had ever pictured in extremes, making me sensible that the enthusiasm of sublime virtues is of little use in society; that while endeavoring to rise too high we are in danger of falling; and that a virtuous and uniform discharge of little duties requires as great a degree of fortitude as actions which are called heroic, and would at the same time procure more honor and happiness. That it was infinitely more desirable to possess the lasting esteem of those about us, than at intervals to attract admiration.
In properly arranging the various duties between man and man, it was necessary to ascend to principles; the step I had recently taken, and of which my present situation was the consequence, naturally led us to speak of religion. It will easily be conceived that the honest M. Gaime was, in a great measure, the original of the Savoyard Vicar; prudence only obliging him to deliver his sentiments, on certain points, with more caution and reserve, and explain himself with less freedom; but his sentiments and councils were the same, not even excepting his advice to return to my country; all was precisely as I have since given it to the pubic. Dwelling no longer, therefore, on conversations which everyone may see the substance of, I shall only add, that these wise instructions (though they did not produce an immediate effect) were as so many seeds of virtue and religion in my heart which were never rooted out, and only required the fostering cares of friendship to bring to maturity.
Though my conversation was not very sincere, I was affected by his discourses, and far from being weary, was pleased with them on account of their clearness and simplicity, but above all because his heart seemed interested in what he said. My disposition is naturally tender, I have ever been less attached to people for the good they have really done me than for that they designed to do, and my feelings in this particular have seldom misled me: thus I truly esteemed M. Gaime. I was in a manner his second disciple, which even at that time was of inestimable service in turning me from a propensity to vice into which my idleness was leading me.
One day, when I least expected it, I was sent for by the Count de la Roque. Having frequently called at his house, without being able to speak with him, I grew weary, and supposing he had either forgot me or retained some unfavorable impression of me, returned no more: but I was mistaken in both these conjectures. He had more than once witnessed the pleasure I took in fulfilling my duty to his aunt: he had even mentioned it to her, and afterwards spoke of it, when I no longer thought of it myself.
He received me graciously, saying that instead of amusing me with useless promises, he had sought to place me to advantage; that he had succeeded, and would put me in a way to better my situation, but the rest must depend on myself. That the family into which he should introduce me being both powerful and esteemed, I should need no other patrons; and though at first on the footing of a servant, I might be assured, that if my conduct and sentiments were found above that station, I should not long remain in it. The end of this discourse cruelly disappointed the brilliant hopes the beginning had inspired. "What! forever a footman?" said I to myself, with a bitterness which confidence presently effaced, for I felt myself too superior to that situation to fear long remaining there.
He took me to the Count de Gauvon, Master of the Horse to the Queen, and Chief of the illustrious House of Solar. The air of dignity conspicuous in this respectable old man, rendered the affability with which he received me yet more interesting. He questioned me with evident interest, and I replied with sincerity. He then told the Count de la Roque, that my features were agreeable, and promised intellect, which he believed I was not deficient in; but that was not enough, and time must show the rest; after which, turning to me, he said, "Child, almost all situations are attended with difficulties in the beginning; yours, however, shall not have too great a portion of them; be prudent, and endeavor to please everyone, that will be almost your only employment; for the rest fear nothing, you shall be taken care of." Immediately after he went to the Marchioness de Breil, his daughter-in-law, to whom he presented me, and then to the Abbe de Gauvon, his son. I was elated with this beginning, as I knew enough of the world already to conclude, that so much ceremony is not generally used at the reception of a footman. In fact, I was not treated like one. I dined at the steward's table; did not wear a livery; and the Count de Favria (a giddy youth) having commanded me to get behind his coach, his grandfather ordered that I should get behind no coach, nor follow any one out of the house.
Meantime, I waited at table, and did, within doors, the business of a footman; but I did it, as it were, of my own free will, without being appointed to any particular service; and except writing some letters, which were dictated to me, and cutting out some ornaments for the Count de Favria, I was almost the absolute master of my time. This trial of my discretion, which I did not then perceive, was certainly very dangerous, and not very humane; for in this state of idleness I might have contracted vices which I should not otherwise have given into.
Fortunately, it did not produce that effect; my memory retained the lessons of M. Gaime, they had made an impression on my heart, and I sometimes escaped from the house of my patron to obtain a repetition of them. I believe those who saw me going out, apparently by stealth, had no conception of my business. Nothing could be more prudent than the advice he gave me respecting my conduct. My beginning was admirable; so much attention, assiduity, and zeal, had charmed everyone. The Abby Gaime advised me to moderate this first ardor, lest I should relax, and that relaxation should be considered as neglect. "Your setting out," said he, "is the rule of what will be expected of you; endeavor gradually to increase your attentions, but be cautious how you diminish them."
As they paid but little attention to my trifling talents, and supposed I possessed no more than nature had given me, there was no appearance (notwithstanding the promises of Count de Gauvon) of my meeting with any particular consideration. Some objects of more consequence had intervened. The Marquis de Breil, son of the Count de Gauvon, was then ambassador at Vienna; some circumstances had occurred at that court which for some weeks kept the family in continual agitation, and left them no time to think of me. Meantime I had relaxed but little in my attentions, though one object in the family did me both good and harm, making me more secure from exterior dissipation, but less attentive to my duty.
Mademoiselle de Breil was about my own age, tolerably handsome, and very fair complexioned, with black hair, which notwithstanding, gave her features that air of softness so natural to the flaxen, and which my heart could never resist. The court dress, so favorable to youth, showed her fine neck and shape to advantage, and the mourning, which was then worn, seemed to add to her beauty. It will be said, a domestic should not take notice of these things; I was certainly to blame, yet I perceived all this, nor was I the only one; the maitre d' hotel and valet de chambre spoke of her sometimes at table with a vulgarity that pained me extremely. My head, however, was not sufficiently turned to allow of my being entirely in love; I did not forget myself, or my situation.
I loved to see Mademoiselle de Breil; to hear her utter anything that marked wit, sense, or good humor: my ambition, confined to a desire of waiting on her, never exceeded its just rights. At table I was ever attentive to make the most of them; if her footman quitted her chair, I instantly supplied his place; in default of this, I stood facing her, seeking in her eyes what she was about to ask for, and watching the moment to change her plate. What would I not have given to hear her command, to have her look at, or speak the smallest word to me! but no, I had the mortification to be beneath her regard; she did not even perceive I was there. Her brother, who frequently spoke to me while at table, having one day said something which I did not consider obliging, I made him so arch and well-turned an answer, that it drew her attention; she cast her eyes upon me, and this glance was sufficient to fill me with transport. The next day, a second occasion presented itself, which I fortunately made use of. A great dinner was given; and I saw, with astonishment, for the first time, the maitre d' hotel waiting at table, with a sword by his side, and hat on his head. By chance, the discourse turned on the motto of the house of Solar, which was, with the arms, worked in the tapestry: 'Tel fiert qui ne fue pas'. As the Piedmontese are not in general very perfect in the French language, they found fault with the orthography, saying, that in the word fiert there should be no 't'. The old Count de Gauvon was going to reply, when happening to cast his eyes on me, he perceived I smiled without daring to say anything; he immediately ordered me to speak my opinion. I then said, I did not think the 't' superfluous, 'fiert' being an old French word, not derived from the noun 'ferus', proud, threatening; but from the verb 'ferit', he strikes, he wounds; the motto, therefore, did not appear to mean, some threat, but, 'Some strike who do not kill'. The whole company fixed their eyes on me, then on each other, without speaking a word; never was a greater degree of astonishment; but what most flattered me, was an air of satisfaction which I perceived on the countenance of Mademoiselle de Breil. This scornful lady deigned to cast on me a second look at least as valuable as the former, and turning to her grandfather, appeared to wait with impatience for the praise that was due to me, and which he fully bestowed, with such apparent satisfaction, that it was eagerly chorused by the whole table. This interval was short, but delightful in many respects; it was one of those moments so rarely met with, which place things in their natural order, and revenge depressed merit for the injuries of fortune. Some minutes after Mademoiselle de Breil again raised her eyes, desiring me with a voice of timid affability to give her some drink. It will easily be supposed I did not let her wait, but advancing towards her, I was seized with such a trembling, that having filled the glass too full, I spilled some of the water on her plate, and even on herself. Her brother asked me, giddily, why I trembled thus? This question increased my confusion, while the face of Mademoiselle de Breil was suffused with a crimson blush.
Here ended the romance; where it may be remarked (as with Madam Basile, and others in the continuation of my life) that I was not fortunate in the conclusion of my amours. In vain I placed myself in the antechamber of Madam de Breil, I could not obtain one mark of attention from her daughter; she went in and out without looking at me, nor had I the confidence to raise my eyes to her; I was even so foolishly stupid, that one day, on dropping her glove as she passed, instead of seizing and covering it with kisses, as I would gladly have done, I did not dare to quit my place, but suffered it to be taken up by a great booby of a footman, whom I could willingly have knocked down for his officiousness.
To complete my timidity, I perceived I had not the good fortune to please Madam de Breil; she not only never ordered, but even rejected, my services; and having twice found me in her antechamber, asked me, dryly, "If I had nothing to do?" I was obliged, therefore, to renounce this dear antechamber; at first it caused me some uneasiness, but other things intervening, I presently thought no more of it.
The disdain of Madam de Breil was fully compensated by the kindness of her father-in-law, who at length began to think of me. The evening after the entertainment, I have already mentioned, he had a conversation with me that lasted half an hour, which appeared to satisfy him, and absolutely enchanted me. This good man had less sense than Madam de Vercellis, but possessed more feeling; I therefore succeeded much better with him. He bade me attach myself to his son, the Abbe Gauvon, who had an esteem for me, which, if I took care to cultivate, might be serviceable in furnishing me with what was necessary to complete their views for my future establishment. The next morning I flew to M. the Abbe, who did not receive me as a servant, but made me sit by his fireside, and questioned me with great affability. He soon found that my education, which had attempted many things, had completed none; but observing that I understood something of Latin, he undertook to teach me more, and appointed me to attend him every morning. Thus, by one of the whimsicalities which have marked the whole course of my life, at once above and below my natural situation, I was pupil and footman in the same house: and though in servitude, had a preceptor whose birth entitled him to supply that place only to the children of kings.
The Abbe de Gauvon was a younger son, and designed by his family for a bishopric, for which reason his studies had been pursued, further than is usual with people of quality. He had been sent to the university of Sienna, where he had resided some years, and from whence he had brought a good portion of cruscantism, designing to be that at Turin which the Abbe de Dangeau was formerly at Paris. Being disgusted with theology, he gave in to the belle-lettres, which is very frequent in Italy, with those who have entered the career of prelacy. He had studied the poets, and wrote tolerable Latin and Italian verses; in a word, his taste was calculated to form mine, and give some order to that chaos of insignificant trash with which my brain was encumbered; but whether my prating had misled him, or that he could not support the trouble of teaching the elementary parts of Latin, he put me at first too high; and I had scarcely translated a few fables of Phoedrus before he put me into Virgil, where I could hardly understand anything. It will be seen hereafter that I was destined frequently to learn Latin, but never to attain it. I labored with assiduity, and the abbe bestowed his attention with a degree of kindness, the remembrance of which, even at this time, both interests and softens me. I passed the greater part of the morning with him as much for my own instruction as his service; not that he ever permitted me to perform any menial office, but to copy, or write from his dictating; and my employment of secretary was more useful than that of scholar, and by this means I not only learned the Italian in its utmost purity, but also acquired a taste for literature, and some discernment of composition, which could not have been at La Tribu's, and which was useful to me when I afterwards wrote alone.
At this period of my life, without being romantic, I might reasonably have indulged the hope of preferment. The abbe, thoroughly pleased with me, expressed his satisfaction to everyone, while his father had such a singular affection for me, that I was assured by the Count de Favria, that he had spoken of me to the king; even Madam de Breil had laid aside her disdainful looks; in short I was a general favorite, which gave great jealousy to the other servants, who seeing me honored by the instructions of their master's son, were persuaded I should not remain their equal.
As far as I could judge by some words dropped at random, and which I reflected on afterwards, it appeared to me, that the House of Solar, wishing to run the career of embassies, and hoping perhaps in time to arrive at the ministry, wished to provide themselves with a person of merit and talents, who depending entirely on them, might obtain their confidence, and be of essential service. This project of the Count de Gauvon was judicious, magnanimous, and truly worthy of a powerful nobleman, equally provident and generous; but besides my not seeing, at that time, its full extent, it was far too rational for my brain, and required too much confinement.
My ridiculous ambition sought for fortune in the midst of brilliant adventures, and not finding one woman in all this scheme, it appeared tedious, painful and melancholy; though I should rather have thought it more honorable on this account, as the species of merit generally patronized by women is certainly less worthy that I was supposed to possess.
Everything succeeded to my wish: I had obtained, almost forced, the esteem of all; the trial was over, and I was universally considered as a young man with flattering prospects, who was not at present in his proper sphere, but was expected soon to reach it; but my place was not assigned me by man, and I was to reach it by very difficult paths. I now come to one of those characteristic traits, which are so natural to me, and which, indeed, the reader might have observed without this reflection.
There were at Turin several new converts of my own stamp, whom I neither liked nor wish to see; but I had met with some Genevese who were not of this description, and among others a M. Mussard, nicknamed Wryneck, a miniature painter, and a distant relation. This M. Mussard, having learned my situation at the Count de Gauvon's, came to see me, with another Genevese, named Bacle, who had been my comrade during my apprenticeship. This Bacle was a very sprightly, amusing young fellow, full of lively sallies, which at his time of life appeared extremely agreeable. At once, then, behold me delighted with M. Bacle; charmed to such a degree that I found it impossible to quit him. He was shortly to depart for Geneva; what a loss had I to sustain! I felt the whole force of it, and resolving to make the best use of this precious interval, I determined not to leave him, or, rather, he never quitted me, for my head was not yet sufficiently turned to think of quitting the house without leave, but it was soon perceived that he engrossed my whole time, and he was accordingly forbid the house. This so incensed me, that forgetting everything but my friend Bacle, I went neither to the abbe nor the count, and was no longer to be found at home. I paid no attention to repeated reprimands, and at length was threatened with dismissal. This threat was my ruin, as it suggested the idea that it was not absolutely necessary that Bacle should depart alone. From that moment I could think of no other pleasure, no other situation or happiness than taking this journey.
To render the felicity still more complete, at the end of it (though at an immense distance) I pictured to myself Madam de Warrens; for as to returning to Geneva, it never entered into my imagination. The hills, fields, brooks and villages, incessantly succeeded each other with new charms, and this delightful jaunt seemed worthy to absorb my whole existence. Memory recalled, with inexpressible pleasure, how charming the country had appeared in coming to Turin; what then must it be, when, to the pleasure of independence, should be added the company of a good-humored comrade of my own age and disposition, without any constraint or obligation, but free to go or stay as we pleased? Would it not be madness to sacrifice the prospect of so much felicity to projects of ambition, slow and difficult in their execution, and uncertain in their event? But even supposing them realized, and in their utmost splendor, they were not worth one quarter of an hour of the sweet pleasure and liberty of youth.
Full of these wise conclusions, I conducted myself so improperly, that (not indeed without some trouble) I got myself dismissed; for on my return one night the maitre de hotel gave me warning on the part of the count. This was exactly what I wanted; for feeling, spite of myself, the extravagance of my conduct, I wished to excuse it by the addition of injustice and ingratitude, by throwing the blame on others, and sheltering myself under the idea of necessity.
I was told the Count de Favria wished to speak with me the next morning before my departure; but, being sensible that my head was so far turned as to render it possible for me to disobey the injunction, the maitre de hotel declined paying the money designed me, and which certainly I had very ill earned, till after this visit; for my kind patrons being unwilling to place me in the situation of a footman, I had not any fixed wages.
The Count de Favria, though young and giddy, talked to me on this occasion in the most sensible and serious manner: I might add, if it would not be thought vain, with the utmost tenderness. He reminded me, in the most flattering terms, of the cares of his uncle, and intentions of his grandfather; after having drawn in lively colors what I was sacrificing to ruin, he offered to make my peace, without stipulating any conditions, but that I should no more see the worthless fellow who had seduced me.
It was so apparent that he did not say all this of himself, that notwithstanding my blind stupidity, I powerfully felt the kindness of my good old master, but the dear journey was too firmly printed on my imagination for any consideration to balance the charm. Bereft of understanding, firm to my purpose, I hardened myself against conviction, and arrogantly answered, that as they had thought fit to give me warning, I had resolved to take it, and conceived it was now too late to retract, since, whatever might happen to me, I was fully resolved not to be driven a second time from the same house. The count, justly irritated, bestowed on me some names which I deserved, and putting me out of his apartment by the shoulders, shut the door on me. I departed triumphant, as if I had gained the greatest victory, and fearful of sustaining a second combat even had the ingratitude to leave the house without thanking the abbe for his kindness.
To form a just conception of my delirium at that moment, the excess to which my heart is subject to be heated by the most trifling incidents, and the ardor with which my imagination seizes on the most attractive objects should be conceived. At these times, plans the most ridiculous, childish, and void of sense, flatter my favorite idea, and persuade me that it is reasonable to sacrifice everything to the possession of it.
Would it be believed, that when near nineteen, any one could be so stupid as to build his hopes of future subsistence on an empty phial? For example:
The Abbe de Gauvon had made me a present, some weeks before, of a very pretty heron fountain, with which I was highly delighted. Playing with this toy, and speaking of our departure, the sage Bacle and myself thought it might be of infinite advantage, and enable us to lengthen our journey. What in the world was so curious as a heron fountain? This idea was the foundation on which we built our future fortune: we were to assemble the country people in every village we might pass through, and delight them with the sight of it, when feasting and good cheer would be sure to pour on us abundantly; for we were both firmly persuaded, that provisions could cost nothing to those who grew and gathered them, and if they did not stuff travellers, it was downright ill-nature.
We pictured in all parts entertainments and weddings, reckoning that without any expense but wind from our lungs, and the water of our fountain, we should be maintained through Piedmont, Savoy, France, and indeed, all the world over. There was no end to our projected travels, and we immediately directed our course northward, rather for the pleasure of crossing the Alps, than from a supposed necessity of being obliged to stop at any place.
Such was the plan on which I set out, abandoning without regret, my preceptors, studies, and hopes, with the almost certain attainment of a fortune, to lead the life of a real vagabond. Farewell to the capital; adieu to the court, ambition, love, the fair, and all the great adventures into which hope had led me during the preceding year! I departed with my fountain and my friend Bacle, a purse lightly furnished, but a heart over-flowing with pleasure, and only thinking how to enjoy the extensive felicity which I supposed my project encircled.
This extravagant journey was performed almost as agreeably as I had expected, though not exactly on the same plan; not but our fountain highly amused the hostess and servants for some minutes at all the ale-houses where we halted, yet we found it equally necessary to pay on our departure; but that gave us no concern, as we never thought of depending on it entirely until our money should be expended. An accident spared us that trouble, our fountain was broken near Bramant, and in good time, for we both felt (though without daring to own it to each other) that we began to be weary of it. This misfortune rendered us gayer than ever; we laughed heartily at our giddiness in having forgotten that our clothes and shoes would wear out, or trusting to renew them by the play of our fountain. We continued our journey as merrily as we had begun it, only drawing faster towards that termination where our drained purses made it necessary for us to arrive.
At Chambery I became pensive; not for the folly I had committed, for never did any one think less of the past, but on account of the reception I should meet with from Madam de Warrens; for I looked on her house as my paternal home. I had written her an account of my reception at the Count de Gauvon's; she knew my expectancies, and, in congratulating me on my good fortune, had added some wise lessons on the return I ought to make for the kindness with which they treated me. She looked on my fortune as already made, if not destroyed by my own negligence; what then would she say on my arrival? for it never entered my mind that she might shut the door against me, but I dreaded the uneasiness I might give her; I dreaded her reproaches, to me more wounding than want; I resolved to bear all in silence, and, if possible to appease her. I now saw nothing but Madam de Warrens in the whole universe, and to live in disgrace with her was impossible.
I was most concerned about my companion, whom I did not wish to offend, and feared I should not easily get rid of. I prefaced this separation by an affected coldness during the last day's journey. The drole understood me perfectly; in fact, he was rather giddy than deficient in point of sense--I expected he would have been hurt at my inconstancy, but I was quite mistaken; nothing affected my friend Bacle, for hardly had we set foot in town, on our arrival in Annecy, before he said, "You are now at home,"--embraced--bade me adieu--turned on his heel, and disappeared; nor have I ever heard of him since.
How did my heart beat as I approached the habitation of Madam de Warrens! my legs trembled under me, my eyes were clouded with a mist, I neither saw, heard, nor recollected any one, and was obliged frequently to stop that I might draw breath, and recall my bewildered senses. Was it fear of not obtaining that succor I stood in need of, which agitated me to this degree? At the age I then was, does the fear of perishing with hunger give such alarms? No: I declare with as much truth as pride, that it was not in the power of interest or indigence, at any period of my life, to expand or contract my heart. In the course of a painful life, memorable for its vicissitudes, frequently destitute of an asylum, and without bread, I have contemplated, with equal indifference, both opulence and misery. In want I might have begged or stolen, as others have done, but never could feel distress at being reduced to such necessities. Few men have grieved more than myself, few have shed so many tears; yet never did poverty, or the fear of falling into it, make me heave a sigh or moisten my eyelids. My soul, in despite of fortune, has only been sensible of real good and evil, which did not depend on her; and frequently, when in possession of everything that could make life pleasing, I have been the most miserable of mortals.
The first glance of Madam de Warrens banished all my fears--my heart leaped at the sound of her voice; I threw myself at her feet, and in transports of the most lively joy, pressed my lips upon her hand.
I am ignorant whether she had received any recent information of me.
I discovered but little surprise on her countenance, and no sorrow.
"Poor child!" said she, in an affectionate tone, "art thou here again? I knew you were too young for this journey; I am very glad, however, that it did not turn out so bad as I apprehended." She then made me recount my history; it was not long, and I did it faithfully: suppressing only some trifling circumstances, but on the whole neither sparing nor excusing myself.
The question was, where I could lodge: she consulted her maid on this point--I hardly dared to breathe during the deliberation; but when I heard I was to sleep in the house, I could scarce contain my joy; and saw the little bundle I brought with me carried into my destined apartment with much the same sensations as St. Preux saw his chaise put up at Madam de Wolmar's. To complete all, I had the satisfaction to find that this favor was not to be transitory; for at a moment when they thought me attentive to something else, I heard Madam de Warrens say, "They may talk as they please, but since Providence has sent him back, I am determined not to abandon him."
Behold me, then, established at her house; not, however, that I date the happiest days of my life from this period, but this served to prepare me for them. Though that sensibility of heart, which enables us truly to enjoy our being, is the work of Nature, and perhaps a mere effect of organization, yet it requires situations to unfold itself, and without a certain concurrence of favorable circumstances, a man born with the most acute sensibility may go out of the world without ever having been acquainted with his own temperament. This was my case till that time, and such perhaps it might have remained had I never known Madam de Warrens, or even having known her, had I not remained with her long enough to contract that pleasing habit of affectionate sentiments with which she inspired me. I dare affirm, that those who only love, do not feel the most charming sensations we are capable of: I am acquainted with another sentiment, less impetuous, but a thousand times more delightful; sometimes joined with love, but frequently separated from it. This feeling is not simply friendship; it is more enchanting, more tender; nor do I imagine it can exist between persons of the same sex; at least I have been truly a friend, if ever a man was, and yet never experienced it in that kind. This distinction is not sufficiently clear, but will become so hereafter: sentiments are only distinguishable by their effects.
Madam de Warrens inhabited an old house, but large enough to have a handsome spare apartment, which she made her drawing-room. I now occupied this chamber, which was in the passage I have before mentioned as the place of our first meeting. Beyond the brook and gardens was a prospect of the country, which was by no means uninteresting to the young inhabitant, being the first time, since my residence at Bossey, that I had seen anything before my windows but walls, roofs, or the dirty street. How pleasing then was this novelty! it helped to increase the tenderness of my disposition, for I looked on this charming landscape as the gift of my dear patroness, who I could almost fancy had placed it there on purpose for me. Peaceably seated, my eyes pursued her amidst the flowers and the verdure; her charms seemed to me confounded with those of the spring; my heart, till now contracted, here found means to expand itself, and my sighs exhaled freely in this charming retreat.
The magnificence I had been accustomed to at Turin was not to be found at Madam de Warrens, but in lieu of it there was neatness, regularity, and a patriarchal abundance, which is seldom attached to pompous ostentation.
She had very little plate, no china, no game in her kitchen, or foreign wines in her cellar, but both were well furnished, and at every one's service; and her coffee, though served in earthenware cups, was excellent. Whoever came to her house was invited to dine there, and never did laborer, messenger, or traveller, depart without refreshment.
Her family consisted of a pretty chambermaid from Fribourg, named Merceret; a valet from her own country called Claude Anet (of whom I shall speak hereafter), a cook, and two hired chairmen when she visited, which seldom happened. This was a great deal to be done out of two thousand livres a year; yet, with good management, it might have been sufficient in a country where land is extremely good, and money very scarce. Unfortunately, economy was never her favorite virtue; she contracted debts--paid them--thus her money passed from hand to hand like a weaver's shuttle, and quickly disappeared.
The arrangement of her housekeeping was exactly what I should have chosen, and I shared it with satisfaction. I was least pleased with the necessity of remaining too long at table. Madam de Warrens was so much incommoded with the first smell of soup or meat, as almost to occasion fainting; from this she slowly recovered, talking meantime, and never attempting to eat for the first half hour. I could have dined thrice in the time, and had ever finished my meal long before she began; I then ate again for company; and though by this means I usually dined twice, felt no inconvenience from it. In short, I was perfectly at my ease, and the happier as my situation required no care. Not being at this time instructed in the state of her finances, I supposed her means were adequate to her expense; and though I afterwards found the same abundance, yet when instructed in her real situation, finding her pension ever anticipated, prevented me from enjoying the same tranquility.
Foresight with me has always embittered enjoyment; in vain I saw the approach of misfortunes, I was never the more likely to avoid them.
From the first moment of our meeting, the softest familiarity was established between us: and in the same degree it continued during the rest of her life. Child was my name, Mamma was hers, and child and mamma we have ever continued, even after a number of years had almost effaced the apparent difference of age between us. I think those names convey an exact idea of our behavior, the simplicity of our manners, and above all, the similarity of our dispositions. To me she was the tenderest of mothers, ever preferring my welfare to her own pleasure; and if my own satisfaction found some interest in my attachment to her, it was not to change its nature, but only to render it more exquisite, and infatuate me with the charm of having a mother young and handsome, whom I was delighted to caress: I say literally, to caress, for never did it enter into her imagination to deny me the tenderest maternal kisses and endearments, or into my heart to abuse them. It will be said, at length our connection was of a different kind: I confess it; but have patience, that will come in its turn.
The sudden sight of her, on our first interview, was the only truly passionate moment she ever inspired me with; and even that was principally the work of surprise. With her I had neither transports nor desires, but remained in a ravishing calm, sensible of a happiness I could not define, and thus could I have passed my whole life, or even eternity, without feeling an instant of uneasiness.
She was the only person with whom I never experienced that want of conversation, which to me is so painful to endure. Our tete-a-tetes were rather an inexhaustible chat than conversation, which could only conclude from interruption. So far from finding discourse difficult, I rather thought it a hardship to be silent; unless, when contemplating her projects, she sunk into a reverie; when I silently let her meditate, and gazing on her, was the happiest of men. I had another singular fancy, which was that without pretending to the favor of a tete-a-tete, I was perpetually seeking occasion to form them, enjoying such opportunities with rapture; and when importunate visitors broke in upon us, no matter whether it was man or woman, I went out murmuring, not being able to remain a secondary object in her company; then, counting the minutes in her antechamber, I used to curse these eternal visitors, thinking it inconceivable how they could find so much to say, because I had still more.
If ever I felt the full force of my attachment, it was when I did not see her. When in her presence, I was only content; when absent, my uneasiness reached almost to melancholy, and a wish to live with her gave me emotions of tenderness even to tears. Never shall I forget one great holiday, while she was at vespers, when I took a walk out of the city, my heart full of her image, and the ardent wish to pass my life with her.
I could easily enough see that at present this was impossible; that the happiness I enjoyed would be of short duration, and this idea gave to my contemplations a tincture of melancholy, which, however, was not gloomy, but tempered with a flattering hope. The ringing of bells, which ever particularly affects me, the singing of birds, the fineness of the day, the beauty of the landscape, the scattered country houses, among which in idea I placed our future dwelling, altogether struck me with an impression so lively, tender, melancholy, and powerful, that I saw myself in ecstasy transported into that happy time and abode, where my heart, possessing all the felicity it could desire, might taste it with raptures inexpressible.
I never recollect to have enjoyed the future with such force of illusions as at that time; and what has particularly struck me in the recollection of this reverie, is that when realized, I found my situation exactly as I had imagined it. If ever waking dream had an appearance of a prophetic vision, it was assuredly this; I was only deceived in its imaginary duration, for days, years, and life itself, passed ideally in perfect tranquility, while the reality lasted but a moment. Alas! my most durable happiness was but as a dream, which I had no sooner had a glimpse of, than I instantly awoke.
I know not when I should have done, if I was to enter into a detail of all the follies that affection for my dear Madam de Warrens made me commit. When absent from her, how often have I kissed the bed on a supposition that she had slept there; the curtains and all the furniture of my chamber, on recollecting they were hers, and that her charming hands had touched them; nay, the floor itself, when I considered she had walked there. Sometimes even in her presence, extravagancies escaped me, which only the most violent passions seemed capable of inspiring; in a word, there was but one essential difference to distinguish me from an absolute lover, and that particular renders my situation almost inconceivable.
I had returned from Italy, not absolutely as I went there, but as no one of my age, perhaps, ever did before, being equally unacquainted with women. My ardent constitution had found resources in those means by which youth of my disposition sometimes preserve their purity at the expense of health, vigor, and frequently of life itself. My local situation should likewise be considered--living with a pretty woman, cherishing her image in the bottom of my heart, seeing her during the whole day, at night surrounded with objects that recalled her incessantly to my remembrance, and sleeping in the bed where I knew she had slept.
What a situation! Who can read this without supposing me on the brink of the grave? But quite the contrary; that which might have ruined me, acted as a preservative, at least for a time. Intoxicated with the charm of living with her, with the ardent desire of passing my life there, absent or present I saw in her a tender mother, an amiable sister, a respected friend, but nothing more; meantime, her image filled my heart, and left room far no other object. The extreme tenderness with which she inspired me excluded every other woman from my consideration, and preserved me from the whole sex: in a word, I was virtuous, because I loved her. Let these particulars, which I recount but indifferently, be considered, and then let any one judge what kind of attachment I had for her: for my part, all I can say, is, that if it hitherto appears extraordinary, it will appear much more so in the sequel.
My time passed in the most agreeable manner, though occupied in a way which was by no means calculated to please me; such as having projects to digest, bills to write fair, receipts to transcribe, herbs to pick, drugs to pound, or distillations to attend; and in the midst of all this, came crowds of travellers, beggars, and visitors of all denominations. Some times it was necessary to converse at the same time with a soldier, an apothecary, a prebendary, a fine lady, and a lay brother. I grumbled, swore, and wished all this troublesome medley at the devil, while she seemed to enjoy it, laughing at my chagrin till the tears ran down her cheeks. What excited her mirth still more, was to see that my anger was increased by not being able myself to refrain from laughter. These little intervals, in which I enjoyed the pleasure of grumbling, were charming; and if, during the dispute, another importunate visitor arrived, she would add to her amusement by maliciously prolonging the visit, meantime casting glances at me for which I could almost have beat her; nor could she without difficulty refrain from laughter on seeing my constrained politeness, though every moment glancing at her the look of a fury, while, even in spite of myself, I thought the scene truly diverting.
All this, without being pleasing in itself, contributed to amuse, because it made up a part of a life which I thought delightful. Nothing that was performed around me, nothing that I was obliged to do, suited my taste, but everything suited my heart; and I believe, at length, I should have liked the study of medicine, had not my natural distaste to it perpetually engaged us in whimsical scenes, that prevented my thinking of it in a serious light. It was, perhaps, the first time that this art produced mirth. I pretended to distinguish a physical book by its smell, and what was more diverting, was seldom mistaken. Madam de Warrens made me taste the most nauseous drugs; in vain I ran, or endeavored to defend myself; spite of resistance or wry faces, spite of my struggles, or even of my teeth, when I saw her charming fingers approach my lips, I was obliged to give up the contest.
When shut up in an apartment with all her medical apparatus, any one who had heard us running and shouting amidst peals of laughter would rather have imagined we had been acting a farce than preparing opiates or elixirs.
My time, however, was not entirely passed in these fooleries; in the apartment which I occupied I found a few books: there was the Spectator, Puffendorf, St. Everemond, and the Henriade. Though I had not my old passion for books, yet I amused myself with reading a part of them. The Spectator was particularly pleasing and serviceable to me. The Abbe de Gauvon had taught me to read less eagerly, and with a greater degree of attention, which rendered my studies more serviceable. I accustomed myself to reflect on elocution and the elegance of composition; exercising myself in discerning pure French from my provincial idiom.
For example, I corrected an orthographical fault (which I had in common with all Genevese) by these two lines of the Henriade:
Soit qu' un ancient respect pour le sang de leurs maitres, Parlat encore pour lui dans le coeur de ces traitres
I was struck with the word 'parlat', and found a 't' was necessary to form the third person of the subjunctive, whereas I had always written and pronounced it parla, as in the present of the indicative.
Sometimes my studies were the subject of conversation with Madam de Warrens; sometimes I read to her, in which I found great satisfaction; and as I endeavored to read well, it was extremely serviceable to me.
I have already observed that her mind was cultivated; her understanding was at this time in its meridian. Several people of learning having been assiduous to ingratiate themselves, had taught her to distinguish works of merit; but her taste (if I may so express myself) was rather Protestant; ever speaking warmly of Bayle, and highly esteeming St.
Evremond, though long since almost forgotten in France: but this did not prevent her having a taste for literature, or expressing her thoughts with elegance. She had been brought up with polite company, and coming young to Savoy, by associating with people of the best fashion, had lost the affected manners of her own country, where the ladies mistake wit for sense, and only speak in epigram.
Though she had seen the court but superficially, that glance was sufficient to give her a competent idea of it; and notwithstanding secret jealousies and the murmurs excited by her conduct and running in debt, she ever preserved friends there, and never lost her pension. She knew the world, and was useful. This was her favorite theme in our conversations, and was directly opposite to my chimerical ideas, though the kind of instruction I particularly had occasion for. We read Bruyere together; he pleased her more than Rochefoucault, who is a dull, melancholy author, particularly to youth, who are not fond of contemplating man as he really is. In moralizing she sometimes bewildered herself by the length of her discourse; but by kissing her lips or hand from time to time I was easily consoled, and never found them wearisome.
This life was too delightful to be lasting; I felt this, and the uneasiness that thought gave me was the only thing that disturbed my enjoyment. Even in playfulness she studied my disposition, observed and interrogated me, forming projects for my future fortune, which I could readily have dispensed with. Happily it was not sufficient to know my disposition, inclinations and talents; it was likewise necessary to find a situation in which they would be useful, and this was not the work of a day. Even the prejudices this good woman had conceived in favor of my merit put off the time of calling it into action, by rendering her more difficult in the choice of means; thus (thanks to the good opinion she entertained of me), everything answered to my wish; but a change soon happened which put a period to my tranquility.
A relation of Madam de Warrens, named M. d'Aubonne, came to see her; a man of great understanding and intrigue, being, like her, fond of projects, though careful not to ruin himself by them. He had offered Cardinal Fleury a very compact plan for a lottery, which, however, had not been approved of, and he was now going to propose it to the court of Turin, where it was accepted and put into execution. He remained some time at Annecy, where he fell in love with the Intendant's lady, who was very amiable, much to my taste and the only person I saw with pleasure at the house of Madam de Warrens. M. d'Aubonne saw me, I was strongly recommended by his relation; he promised, therefore, to question and see what I was fit for, and, if he found me capable to seek me a situation.
Madam de Warrens sent me to him two or three mornings, under pretense of messages, without acquainting me with her real intention. He spoke to me gayly, on various subjects, without any appearance of observation; his familiarity presently set me talking, which by his cheerful and jesting manner he encouraged without restraint--I was absolutely charmed with him. The result of his observations was, that notwithstanding the animation of my countenance, and promising exterior, if not absolutely silly, I was a lad of very little sense, and without ideas of learning; in fine, very ignorant in all respects, and if I could arrive at being curate of some village, it was the utmost honor I ought ever to aspire to. Such was the account he gave of me to Madam de Warrens. This was not the first time such an opinion had been formed of me, neither was it the last; the judgment of M. Masseron having been repeatedly confirmed.
The cause of these opinions is too much connected with my character not to need a particular explanation; for it will not be supposed that I can in conscience subscribe to them; and with all possible impartiality, whatever M. Masseron, M. d'Aubonne and many others may have said, I cannot help thinking them mistaken.
Two things very opposite, unite in me, and in a manner which I cannot myself conceive. My disposition is extremely ardent, my passions lively and impetuous, yet my ideas are produced slowly, with great embarrassment and after much afterthought. It might be said my heart and understanding do not belong to the same individual. A sentiment takes possession of my soul with the rapidity of lightning, but instead of illuminating, it dazzles and confounds me; I feel all, but see nothing; I am warm, but stupid; to think I must be cool. What is astonishing, my conception is clear and penetrating, if not hurried: I can make excellent impromptus at leisure, but on the instant, could never say or do anything worth notice.
I could hold a tolerable conversation by the post, as they say the Spaniards play at chess, and when I read that anecdote of a duke of Savoy, who turned himself round, while on a journey, to cry out 'a votre gorge, marchand de Paris!' I said, "Here is a trait of my character!"
This slowness of thought, joined to vivacity of feeling, I am not only sensible of in conversation, but even alone. When I write, my ideas are arranged with the utmost difficulty. They glance on my imagination and ferment till they discompose, heat, and bring on a palpitation; during this state of agitation, I see nothing properly, cannot write a single word, and must wait till it is over. Insensibly the agitation subsides, the chaos acquires form, and each circumstance takes its proper place.
Have you never seen an opera in Italy? where during the change of scene everything is in confusion, the decorations are intermingled, and any one would suppose that all would be overthrown; yet by little and little, everything is arranged, nothing appears wanting, and we feel surprised to see the tumult succeeded by the most delightful spectacle. This is a resemblance of what passes in my brain when I attempt to write; had I always waited till that confusion was past, and then pointed, in their natural beauties, the objects that had presented themselves, few authors would have surpassed me.
Thence arises the extreme difficulty I find in writing; my manuscripts, blotted, scratched, and scarcely legible, attest the trouble they cost me; nor is there one of them but I have been obliged to transcribe four or five times before it went to press. Never could I do anything when placed at a table, pen in hand; it must be walking among the rocks, or in the woods; it is at night in my bed, during my wakeful hours, that I compose; it may be judged how slowly, particularly for a man who has not the advantage of verbal memory, and never in his life could retain by heart six verses. Some of my periods I have turned and returned in my head five or six nights before they were fit to be put to paper: thus it is that I succeed better in works that require laborious attention, than those that appear more trivial, such as letters, in which I could never succeed, and being obliged to write one is to me a serious punishment; nor can I express my thoughts on the most trivial subjects without it costing me hours of fatigue. If I write immediately what strikes me, my letter is a long, confused, unconnected string of expressions, which, when read, can hardly be understood.
It is not only painful to me to give language to my ideas but even to receive them. I have studied mankind, and think myself a tolerable observer, yet I know nothing from what I see, but all from what I remember, nor have I understanding except in my recollections. From all that is said, from all that passes in my presence, I feel nothing, conceive nothing, the exterior sign being all that strikes me; afterwards it returns to my remembrance; I recollect the place, the time, the manner, the look, and gesture, not a circumstance escapes me; it is then, from what has been done or said, that I imagine what has been thought, and I have rarely found myself mistaken.
So little master of my understanding when alone, let any one judge what I must be in conversation, where to speak with any degree of ease you must think of a thousand things at the same time: the bare idea that I should forget something material would be sufficient to intimidate me. Nor can I comprehend how people can have the confidence to converse in large companies, where each word must pass in review before so many, and where it would be requisite to know their several characters and histories to avoid saying what might give offence. In this particular, those who frequent the world would have a great advantage, as they know better where to be silent, and can speak with greater confidence; yet even they sometimes let fall absurdities; in what predicament then must he be who drops as it were from the clouds? it is almost impossible he should speak ten minutes with impunity.
In a tete-a-tete there is a still worse inconvenience; that is; the necessity of talking perpetually, at least, the necessity of answering when spoken to, and keeping up the conversation when the other is silent.
This insupportable constraint is alone sufficient to disgust me with variety, for I cannot form an idea of a greater torment than being obliged to speak continually without time for recollection. I know not whether it proceeds from my mortal hatred of all constraint; but if I am obliged to speak, I infallibly talk nonsense. What is still worse, instead of learning how to be silent when I have absolutely nothing to say, it is generally at such times that I have a violent inclination: and endeavoring to pay my debt of conversation as speedily as possible, I hastily gabble a number of words without ideas, happy when they only chance to mean nothing; thus endeavoring to conquer or hide my incapacity, I rarely fail to show it.
I think I have said enough to show that, though not a fool, I have frequently passed for one, even among people capable of judging; this was the more vexatious, as my physiognomy and eyes promised otherwise, and expectation being frustrated, my stupidity appeared the more shocking.
This detail, which a particular occasion gave birth to, will not be useless in the sequel, being a key to many of my actions which might otherwise appear unaccountable; and have been attributed to a savage humor I do not possess. I love society as much as any man, was I not certain to exhibit myself in it, not only disadvantageously, but totally different from what I really am. The plan I have adopted of writing and retirement, is what exactly suits me. Had I been present, my worth would never have been known, no one would even have suspected it; thus it was with Madam Dupin, a woman of sense, in whose house I lived for several years; indeed, she has often since owned it to me: though on the whole this rule may be subject to some exceptions. I shall now return to my history.
The estimate of my talents thus fixed, the situation I was capable of promised, the question only remained how to render her capable of fulfilling my destined vocation. The principle difficulty was, I did not know Latin enough for a priest. Madam de Warrens determined to have me taught for some time at the seminary, and accordingly spoke of it to the Superior, who was a Lazarist, called M. Gras, a good-natured little fellow, half blind, meagre, gray-haired, insensible, and the least pedantic of any Lazarist I ever knew; which, in fact, is saying no great matter.
He frequently visited Madam de Warrens, who entertained, caressed, and made much of him, letting him sometimes lace her stays, an office he was willing enough to perform. While thus employed, she would run about the room, this way or that, as occasion happened to call her. Drawn by the lace, Monsieur the Superior followed, grumbling, repeating at every moment, "Pray, madam, do stand still;" the whole forming a scene truly diverting.
M. Gras willingly assented to the project of Madam de Warrens, and, for a very moderate pension, charged himself with the care of instructing me.
The consent of the bishop was all that remained necessary, who not only granted it, but offered to pay the pension, permitting me to retain the secular habit till they could judge by a trial what success they might have in my improvement.
What a change! but I was obliged to submit; though I went to the seminary with about the same spirits as if they had been taking me to execution.
What a melancholy abode! especially for one who left the house of a pretty woman. I carried one book with me, that I had borrowed of Madam de Warrens, and found it a capital resource! it will not be easily conjectured what kind of book this was--it was a music book. Among the talents she had cultivated, music was not forgotten; she had a tolerable good voice, sang agreeably, and played on the harpsichord. She had taken the pains to give me some lessons in singing, though before I was very uninformed in that respect, hardly knowing the music of our psalms.
Eight or ten interrupted lessons, far from putting me in a condition to improve myself, did not teach me half the notes; notwithstanding, I had such a passion for the art, that I determined to exercise myself alone.
The book I took was not of the most easy kind; it was the cantatas of Clerambault. It may be conceived with what attention and perseverance I studied, when I inform my reader, that without knowing anything of transposition or quantity, I contrived to sing with tolerable correctness, the first recitative and air in the cantata of Alpheus and Arethusa; it is true this air is, so justly set, that it is only necessary to recite the verses in their just measure to catch the music.
There was at the seminary a curst Lazarist, who by undertaking to teach me Latin made me detest it. His hair was coarse, black and greasy, his face like those formed in gingerbread, he had the voice of a buffalo, the countenance of an owl, and the bristles of a boar in lieu of a beard; his smile was sardonic, and his limbs played like those of a puppet moved by wires. I have forgotten his odious name, but the remembrance of his frightful precise countenance remains with me, though hardly can I recollect it without trembling; especially when I call to mind our meeting in the gallery, when he graciously advanced his filthy square cap as a sign for me to enter his apartment, which appeared more dismal in my apprehension than a dungeon. Let any one judge the contrast between my present master and the elegant Abbe de Gauvon.
Had I remained two months at the mercy of this monster, I am certain my head could not have sustained it; but the good M. Gras, perceiving I was melancholy, grew thin, and did not eat my victuals, guessed the cause of my uneasiness (which indeed was not very difficult) and taking me from the claws of this beast, by another yet more striking contrast, placed me with the gentlest of men, a young Faucigneran abbe, named M. Gatier, who studied at the seminary, and out of complaisance for M. Gras, and humanity to myself, spared some time from the prosecution of his own studies in order to direct mine. Never did I see a more pleasing countenance than that of M. Gatier. He was fair complexioned, his beard rather inclined to red; his behavior like that of the generality of his countrymen (who under a coarseness of countenance conceal much understanding), marked in him a truly sensible and affectionate soul.
In his large blue eyes there was a mixture of softness, tenderness, and melancholy, which made it impossible to see him without feeling one's self interested. From the looks and manner of this young abbe he might have been supposed to have foreseen his destiny, and that he was born to be unhappy.
His disposition did not belie his physiognomy: full of patience and complaisance, he rather appeared to study with than to instruct me.
So much was not necessary to make me love him, his predecessor having rendered that very easy; yet, notwithstanding all the time he bestowed on me, notwithstanding our mutual good inclinations, and that his plan of teaching was excellent, with much labor, I made little progress. It is very singular, that with a clear conception I could never learn much from masters except my father and M. Lambercier; the little I know besides I have learned alone, as will be seen hereafter. My spirit, impatient of every species of constraint, cannot submit to the law of the moment; even the fear of not learning prevents my being attentive, and a dread of wearying those who teach, makes me feign to understand them; thus they proceed faster than I can comprehend, and the conclusion is I learn nothing. My understanding must take its own time and cannot submit to that of another.
The time of ordination being arrived, M. Gatier returned to his province as deacon, leaving me with gratitude, attachment, and sorrow for his loss. The vows I made for him were no more answered than those I offered for myself. Some years after, I learned, that being vicar of a parish, a young girl was with child by him, being the only one (though he possessed a very tender heart) with whom he was ever in love. This was a dreadful scandal in a diocese severely governed, where the priests (being under good regulation) ought never to have children--except by married women. Having infringed this politic law, he was put in prison, defamed, and driven from his benefice. I know not whether it was ever after in his power to reestablish his affairs; but the remembrance of his misfortunes, which were deeply engraven on my heart, struck me when I wrote Emilius, and uniting M. Gatier with M. Gaime, I formed from these two worthy priests the character of the Savoyard Vicar, and flatter myself the imitation has not dishonored the originals.
While I was at the seminary, M. d'Aubonne was obliged to quit Annecy, Moultou being displeased that he made love to his wife, which was acting like a dog in the manger, for though Madam Moultou was extremely amiable, he lived very ill with her, treating her with such brutality that a separation was talked of. Moultou, by repeated oppressions, at length procured a dismissal from his employment: he was a disagreeable man; a mole could not be blacker, nor an owl more knavish. It is said the provincials revenge themselves on their enemies by songs; M. d'Aubonne revenged himself on his by a comedy, which he sent to Madam de Warrens, who showed it to me. I was pleased with it, and immediately conceived the idea of writing one, to try whether I was so silly as the author had pronounced me. This project was not executed till I went to Chambery, where I wrote 'The Lover of Himself'. Thus when I said in the preface to that piece, "it was written at eighteen," I cut off a few years.
Nearly about this time an event happened, not very important in itself, but whose consequence affected me, and made a noise in the world when I had forgotten it. Once a week I was permitted to go out; it is not necessary to say what use I made of this liberty. Being one Sunday at Madam de Warrens, a building belonging to the Cordeliers, which joined her house, took fire; this building which contained their oven, being full of dry fagots, blazed violently and greatly endangered the house; for the wind happening to drive the flames that way, it was covered with them. The furniture, therefore, was hastily got out and carried into the garden which fronted the windows, on the other side the before-mentioned brook. I was so alarmed that I threw indiscriminately everything that came to hand out of the window, even to a large stone mortar, which at another time I should have found it difficult to remove, and should have thrown a handsome looking-glass after it had not some one prevented me.
The good bishop, who that day was visiting Madam de Warrens, did not remain idle; he took her into the garden, where they went to prayers with the rest that were assembled there, and where sometime afterwards, I found them on their knees, and presently joined them. While the good man was at his devotions, the wind changed, so suddenly and critically, that the flames which had covered the house and began to enter the windows, were carried to the other side of the court, and the house received no damage. Two years after, Monsieur de Berner being dead, the Antoines, his former brethren, began to collect anecdotes which might serve as arguments of his beatification; at the desire of Father Baudet, I joined to these an attestation of what I have just related, in doing which, though I attested no more than the truth, I certainly acted ill, as it tended to make an indifferent occurrence pass for a miracle. I had seen the bishop in prayer, and had likewise seen the wind change during the prayer, and even much to the purpose, all this I could certify truly; but that one of these facts was the cause of the other, I ought not to have attested, because it is what I could not possibly be assured of.
Thus much I may say, that as far as I can recollect what my ideas were at that time, I was sincerely, and in good earnest a Catholic. Love of the marvellous is natural to the human heart; my veneration for the virtuous prelate, and secret pride in having, perhaps, contributed to the event in question, all helped to seduce me; and certainly, if this miracle was the effect of ardent prayer, I had a right to claim a share of the merits.
More than thirty years after, when I published the 'Lettres de la Montagne', M. Feron (I know not by what means) discovered this attestation, and made use of it in his paper. I must confess the discovery was very critically timed, and appeared very diverting, even to me.
I was destined to be the outcast of every condition; for notwithstanding M. Gatier gave the most favorable account he possibly could of my studies, they plainly saw the improvement I received bore no proportion to the pains taken to instruct me, which was no encouragement to continue them: the bishop and superior, therefore, were disheartened, and I was sent back to Madam de Warrens, as a subject not even fit to make a priest of; but as they allowed, at the same time, that I was a tolerably good lad, and far from being vicious, this account counterbalanced the former, and determined her not to abandon me.
I carried back in triumph the dear music book, which had been so useful to me, the air of Alpheus and Arethusa being almost all I had learned at the seminary. My predilection for this art started the idea of making a musician of, me. A convenient opportunity offered; once a week, at least, she had a concert at her house, and the music-master from the cathedral, who directed this little band, came frequently to see her.
This was a Parisian, named M. le Maitre, a good composer, very lively, gay, young, well made, of little understanding, but, upon the whole, a good sort of man. Madam de Warrens made us acquainted; I attached myself to him, and he seemed not displeased with me. A pension was talked of, and agreed on; in short, I went home with him, and passed the winter the more agreeably at his chambers, as they were not above twenty paces distant from Madam de Warrens', where we frequently supped together.
It may easily be supposed that this situation, ever gay, and singing with the musicians and children of the choir, was more pleasing to me than the seminary and fathers of St. Lazarus. This life, though free, was regular; here I learned to prize independence, but never to abuse it.
For six whole months I never once went out except to see Madam de Warrens, or to church, nor had I any inclination to it. This interval is one of those in which I enjoyed the greatest satisfaction, and which I have ever recollected with pleasure. Among the various situations I have been placed in, some were marked with such an idea of virtuous satisfaction, that the bare remembrance affects me as if they were yet present. I vividly recollect the time, the place, the persons, and even the temperature of the air, while the lively idea of a certain local impression peculiar to those times, transports me back again to the very spot; for example, all that was repeated at our meetings, all that was sung in the choir, everything that passed there; the beautiful and noble habits of the canons, the chasubles of the priests, the mitres of the singers, the persons of the musicians; an old lame carpenter who played the counter-bass, a little fair abbe who performed on the violin, the ragged cassock which M. le Maitre, after taking off his sword, used to put over his secular habit, and the fine surplice with which he covered the rags of the former, when he went to the choir; the pride with which I held my little flute to my lips, and seated myself in the orchestra, to assist in a recitative which M. le Maitre had composed on purpose for me; the good dinner that afterwards awaited us, and the good appetites we carried to it. This concourse of objects, strongly retraced in my memory, has charmed me a hundred time as much, or perhaps more, than ever the reality had done. I have always preserved an affection for a certain air of the 'Conditor alme Syderum', because one Sunday in Advent I heard that hymn sung on the steps of the cathedral, (according to the custom of that place) as I lay in bed before daybreak. Mademoiselle Merceret, Madam de Warrens' chambermaid, knew something of music; I shall never forget a little piece that M. le Maitre made me sing with her, and which her mistress listened to with great satisfaction. In a word, every particular, even down to the servant Perrine, whom the boys of the choir took such delight in teasing. The remembrance of these times of happiness and innocence frequently returning to my mind, both ravish and affect me.
I lived at Annecy during a year without the least reproach, giving universal satisfaction. Since my departure from Turin I had been guilty of no folly, committed none while under the eye of Madam de Warrens.
She was my conductor, and ever led me right; my attachment for her became my only passion, and what proves it was not a giddy one, my heart and understanding were in unison. It is true that a single sentiment, absorbing all my faculties, put me out of a capacity of learning even music: but this was not my fault, since to the strongest inclination, I added the utmost assiduity. I was attentive and thoughtful; what could I do? Nothing was wanting towards my progress that depended on me; meantime, it only required a subject that might inspire me to occasion the commission of new follies: that subject presented itself, chance arranged it, and (as will be seen hereafter) my inconsiderate head gave in to it.
One evening, in the month of February, when it was very cold, being all sat round the fire, we heard some one knock at the street door. Perrine took a light, went down and opened it: a young man entering, came upstairs, presented himself with an easy air, and making M. Maitre a short, but well-turned compliment, announced himself as a French musician, constrained by the state of his finances to take this liberty.
The hart of the good Le Maitre leaped at the name of a French musician, for he passionately loved both his country and profession; he therefore offered the young traveller his service--and use of his apartment, which he appeared to stand much in need of, and which he accepted without much ceremony. I observed him while he was chatting and warming himself before supper; he was short and thick, having some fault in his shape, though without any particular deformity; he had (if I may so express myself) an appearance of being hunchbacked, with flat shoulders, and I think he limped. He wore a black coat, rather worn than old, which hung in tatters, a very fine but dirty shirt, frayed ruffles; a pair of splatterdashes so large that he could have put both legs into either of them, and, to secure himself from the snow, a little hat, only fit to be carried under his arm. With this whimsical equipage, he had, however, something elegant in his manners and conversation; his countenance was expressive and agreeable, and he spoke with facility if not with modesty; in short, everything about him bore the mark of a young debauchee, who did not crave assistance like a beggar, but as a thoughtless madcap.
He told us his name was Venture de Villeneuve, that he came from Paris, had lost his way, and seeming to forget that he had announced himself for a musician, added that he was going to Grenoble to see a relation that was a member of Parliament.
During supper we talked of music, on which subject he spoke well: he knew all the great virtuosi, all the celebrated works, all the actors, actresses, pretty women, and powerful lords; in short nothing was mentioned but what he seemed thoroughly acquainted with. Though no sooner was any topic started, than by some drollery, which set every one a-laughing, he made them forget what had been said. This was on a Saturday; the next day there was to be music at the cathedral: M. le Maitre asked if he would sing there--"Very willingly."--"What part would he chose?"--"The counter-tenor:" and immediately began speaking of other things. Before he went to church they offered him his part to peruse, but he did not even look at it. This Gasconade surprised Le Maitre --"You'll see," said he, whispering to me, "that he does not know a single note."--I replied: "I am very much afraid of him." I followed them into the church; but was extremely uneasy, and when they began, my heart beat violently, so much was I interested in his behalf.
I was presently out of pain: he sung his two recitatives with all imaginable taste and judgment; and what was yet more, with a very agreeable voice. I never enjoyed a more pleasing surprise. After mass, M. Venture received the highest compliments from the canons and musicians, which he answered jokingly, though with great grace. M. le Maitre embraced him heartily; I did the same; he saw I was rejoiced at his success, and appeared pleased at my satisfaction.
It will easily be surmised, that after having been delighted with M.
Bacle, who had little to attract my admiration, I should be infatuated with M. Venture, who had education, wit, talents, and a knowledge of the world, and might be called an agreeable rake. This was exactly what happened, and would, I believe, have happened to any other young man in my place; especially supposing him possessed of better judgment to distinguish merit, and more propensity to be engaged by it; for Venture doubtless possessed a considerable share, and one in particular, very rare at his age, namely, that of never being in haste to display his talents. It is true, he boasted of many things he did not understand, but of those he knew (which were very numerous) he said nothing, patiently waiting some occasion to display them, which he then did with ease, though without forwardness, and thus gave them more effect.
As there was ever some intermission between the proofs of his various abilities, it was impossible to conjecture whether he had ever discovered all his talents. Playful, giddy, inexhaustible, seducing in conversation, ever smiling, but never laughing, and repeating the rudest things in the most elegant manner--even the most modest women were astonished at what they endured from him: it was in vain for them to determine to be angry; they could not assume the appearance of it.
It was extraordinary that with so many agreeable talents, in a country where they are so well understood, and so much admired, he so long remained only a musician.
My attachment to M. Venture, more reasonable in its cause, was also less extravagant in its effects, though more lively and durable than that I had conceived for M. Bacle. I loved to see him, to hear him, all his actions appeared charming, everything he said was an oracle to me, but the enchantment did not extend far enough to disable me from quitting him. I spoke of him with transport to Madam de Warrens, Le Maitre likewise spoke in his praise, and she consented we should bring him to her house. This interview did not succeed; he thought her affected, she found him a libertine, and, alarmed that I had formed such an ill acquaintance, not only forbade me bringing him there again, but likewise painted so strongly the danger I ran with this young man, that I became a little more circumspect in giving in to the attachment; and very happily, both for my manners and wits, we were soon separated.
M. le Maitre, like most of his profession, loved good wine; at table he was moderate, but when busy in his closet he must drink. His maid was so well acquainted with this humor that no sooner had he prepared his paper to compose, and taken his violoncello, than the bottle and glass arrived, and was replenished from time to time: thus, without being ever absolutely intoxicated, he was usually in a state of elevation. This was really unfortunate, for he had a good heart, and was so playful that Madam de Warrens used to call him the kitten. Unhappily, he loved his profession, labored much and drank proportionately, which injured his health, and at length soured his temper. Sometimes he was gloomy and easily offended, though incapable of rudeness, or giving offence to any one, for never did he utter a harsh word, even to the boys of the choir: on the other hand, he would not suffer another to offend him, which was but just: the misfortune was, having little understanding, he did not properly discriminate, and was often angry without cause.
The Chapter of Geneva, where so many princes and bishops formerly thought it an honor to be seated, though in exile it lost its ancient splendor, retained (without any diminution) its pride. To be admitted, you must either be a gentleman or Doctor of Sorbonne. If there is a pardonable pride, after that derived from personal merit, it is doubtless that arising from birth, though, in general, priests having laymen in their service treat them with sufficient haughtiness, and thus the canons behaved to poor Le Maitre. The chanter, in particular, who was called the Abbe de Vidonne, in other respects a well-behaved man, but too full of his nobility, did not always show him the attention his talents merited. M. le Maitre could not bear these indignities patiently; and this year, during passion week, they had a more serious dispute than ordinary. At an institution dinner that the bishop gave the canons, and to which M. Maitre was always invited, the abbe failed in some formality, adding, at the same time, some harsh words, which the other could not digest; he instantly formed the resolution to quit them the following night; nor could any consideration make him give up his design, though Madam de Warrens (whom he went to take leave of) spared no pains to appease him. He could not relinquish the pleasure of leaving his tyrants embarrassed for the Easter feast, at which time he knew they stood in greatest need of him. He was most concerned about his music, which he wished to take with him; but this could not easily be accomplished, as it filled a large case, and was very heavy, and could not be carried under the arm.
Madam de Warrens did what I should have done in her situation; and indeed, what I should yet do: after many useless efforts to retain him, seeing he was resolved to depart, whatever might be the event, she formed the resolution to give him every possible assistance. I must confess Le Maitre deserved it of her, for he was (if I may use the expression) dedicated to her service, in whatever appertained to either his art or knowledge, and the readiness with which he obliged gave a double value to his complaisance: thus she only paid back, on an essential occasion, the many favors he had been long conferring on her; though I should observe, she possessed a soul that, to fulfill such duties, had no occasion to be reminded of previous obligations. Accordingly she ordered me to follow Le Maitre to Lyons, and to continue with him as long as he might have occasion for my services. She has since avowed, that a desire of detaching me from Venture had a great hand in this arrangement. She consulted Claude Anet about the conveyance of the above-mentioned case.
He advised, that instead of hiring a beast at Annecy, which would infallibly discover us, it would be better, at night, to take it to some neighboring village, and there hire an ass to carry it to Seyssel, which being in the French dominions, we should have nothing to fear. This plan was adopted; we departed the same night at seven, and Madam de Warrens, under pretense of paying my expenses, increased the purse of poor Le Maitre by an addition that was very acceptable. Claude Anet, the gardiner, and myself, carried the case to the first village, then hired an ass, and the same night reached Seyssel.
I think I have already remarked that there are times in which I am so unlike myself that I might be taken for a man of a direct opposite disposition; I shall now give an example of this. M. Reydelet, curate of Seyssel, was canon of St. Peter's, consequently known to M. le Maitre, and one of the people from whom he should have taken most pains to conceal himself; my advice, on the contrary, was to present ourselves to him, and, under some pretext, entreat entertainment as if we visited him by consent of the chapter. Le Maitre adopted the idea, which seemed to give his revenge the appearance of satire and waggery; in short, we went boldly to Reydelet, who received us very kindly. Le Maitre told him he was going to Bellay by desire of the bishop, that he might superintend the music during the Easter holidays, and that he proposed returning that way in a few days. To support this tale, I told a hundred others, so naturally that M. Reydelet thought me a very agreeable youth, and treated me with great friendship and civility. We were well regaled and well lodged: M. Reydelet scarcely knew how to make enough of us; and we parted the best friends in the world, with a promise to stop longer on our return. We found it difficult to refrain from laughter, or wait till we were alone to give free vent to our mirth: indeed, even now, the bare recollection of it forces a smile, for never was waggery better or more fortunately maintained. This would have made us merry during the remainder of our journey, if M. le Maitre (who did not cease drinking) had not been two or three times attacked with a complaint that he afterwards became very subject to, and which resembled an epilepsy.
These fits threw me into the most fearful embarrassments, from which I resolved to extricate myself with the first opportunity.
According to the information given to M. Reydelet, we passed our Easter holidays at Bellay, and though not expected there, were received by the music--master, and welcomed by every one with great pleasure. M. le Maitre was of considerable note in his profession, and, indeed, merited that distinction. The music-master of Bellay (who was fond of his own works) endeavored to obtain the approbation of so good a judge; for besides being a connoisseur, M. le Maitre was equitable, neither a jealous, ill-natured critic, nor a servile flatterer. He was so superior to the generality of country music-masters and they were so sensible of it, that they treated him rather as their chief than a brother musician.
Having passed four or five days very agreeably at Bellay, we departed, and continuing our journey without meeting with any accidents, except those I have just spoken of, arrived at Lyons, and were lodged at Notre Dame de Pitie. While we waited for the arrival of the before-mentioned case (which by the assistance of another lie, and the care of our good patron, M. Reydelet, we had embarked on the Rhone) M. le Maitre went to visit his acquaintance, and among others Father Cato, a Cordelier, who will be spoken of hereafter, and the Abbe Dortan, Count of Lyons, both of whom received him well, but afterwards betrayed him, as will be seen presently; indeed, his good fortune terminated with M. Reydelet.
Two days after our arrival at Lyons, as we passed a little street not far from our inn, Le Maitre was attacked by one of his fits; but it was now so violent as to give me the utmost alarm. I screamed with terror, called for help, and naming our inn, entreated some one to bear him to it, then (while the people were assembled, and busy round a man that had fallen senseless in the street) he was abandoned by the only friend on whom he could have any reasonable dependence; I seized the instant when no one heeded me, turned the corner of the street and disappeared.
Thanks to Heaven, I have made my third painful confession; if many such remained, I should certainly abandon the work I have undertaken.
Of all the incidents I have yet related, a few traces are remaining in the places where I have lived; but what I have to relate in the following book is almost entirely unknown; these are the greatest extravagancies of my life, and it is happy they had not worse conclusions. My head, (if I may use the simile) screwed up to the pitch of an instrument it did not naturally accord with, had lost its diapason; in time it returned to it again, when I discontinued my follies, or at least gave in to those more consonant to my disposition. This epoch of my youth I am least able to recollect, nothing having passed sufficiently interesting to influence my heart, to make me clearly retrace the remembrance. In so many successive changes, it is difficult not to make some transpositions of time or place. I write absolutely from memory, without notes or materials to help my recollection. Some events are as fresh in my idea as if they had recently happened, but there are certain chasms which I cannot fill up but by the aid of recital, as confused as the remaining traces of those to which they refer. It is possible, therefore, that I may have erred in trifles, and perhaps shall again, but in every matter of importance I can answer that the account is faithfully exact, and with the same veracity the reader may depend I shall be careful to continue it.
My resolution was soon taken after quitting Le Maitre; I set out immediately for Annecy. The cause and mystery of our departure had interested me for the security of our retreat: this interest, which entirely employed my thoughts for some days, had banished every other idea; but no sooner was I secure and in tranquility, than my predominant sentiment regained its place. Nothing flattered, nothing tempted me, I had no wish but to return to Madam de Warrens; the tenderness and truth of my attachment to her had rooted from my heart every imaginable project, and all the follies of ambition, I conceived no happiness but living near her, nor could I take a step without feeling that the distance between us was increased. I returned, therefore, as soon as possible, with such speed, and with my spirits in such a state of agitation, that though I recall with pleasure all my other travels, I have not the least recollection of this, only remembering my leaving Lyons and reaching Annecy. Let anyone judge whether this last event can have slipped my memory, when informed that on my arrival I found Madam de Warrens was not there, having set out for Paris.
I was never well informed of the motives of this journey. I am certain she would have told me had I asked her, but never was man less curious to learn the secrets of his friend. My heart is ever so entirely filled with the present, or with past pleasures, which become a principal part of my enjoyment, that there is not a chink or corner for curiosity to enter. All that I conceive from what I heard of it, is, that in the revolution caused at Turin by the abdication of the King of Sardinia, she feared being forgotten, and was willing by favor of the intrigues of M. d' Aubonne to seek the same advantage in the court of France, where she has often told me she should, have preferred it, as the multiplicity of business there prevents your conduct from being so closely inspected.
If this was her business, it is astonishing that on her return she was not ill received; be that as it will, she continued to enjoy her allowance without any interruption. Many people imagined she was charged with some secret commission, either by the bishop, who then had business at the court of France, where he himself was soon after obliged to go, or some one yet more powerful, who knew how to insure her a gracious reception at her return. If this was the case, it is certain the ambassadress was not ill chosen, since being young and handsome, she had all the necessary qualifications to succeed in a negotiation.
THE CONFESSIONS OF JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU (In 12 books)
Privately Printed for the Members of the Aldus Society
Let any one judge my surprise and grief at not finding her on my arrival.
I now felt regret at having abandoned M. le Maitre, and my uneasiness increased when I learned the misfortunes that had befallen him. His box of music, containing all his fortune, that precious box, preserved with so much care and fatigue, had been seized on at Lyons by means of Count Dortan, who had received information from the Chapter of our having absconded with it. In vain did Le Maitre reclaim his property, his means of existence, the labor of his life; his right to the music in question was at least subject to litigation, but even that liberty was not allowed him, the affair being instantly decided on the principal of superior strength. Thus poor Le Maitre lost the fruit of his talents, the labor of his youth, and principal dependence for the support of old age.
Nothing was wanting to render the news I had received truly afflicting, but I was at an age when even the greatest calamities are to be sustained; accordingly I soon found consolation. I expected shortly to hear news of Madam de Warrens, though I was ignorant of the address, and she knew nothing of my return. As to my desertion of Le Maitre (all things considered) I did not find it so very culpable. I had been serviceable to him at his retreat; it was not in my power to give him any further assistance. Had I remained with him in France it would not have cured his complaint. I could not have saved his music, and should only have doubled his expense: in this point of view I then saw my conduct; I see it otherwise now. It frequently happens that a villainous action does not torment us at the instant we commit it, but on recollection, and sometimes even after a number of years have elapsed, for the remembrance of crimes is not to be extinguished.
The only means I had to obtain news of Madam de Warrens was to remain at Annecy. Where should I seek her in Paris? or how bear the expense of such a journey? Sooner or later there was no place where I could be so certain to hear of her as that I was now at; this consideration determined me to remain there, though my conduct was very indifferent.
I did not go to the bishop, who had already befriended me, and might continue to do so; my patroness was not present, and I feared his reprimands on the subject of our flight; neither did I go to the seminary, M. Graswas no longer there; in short, I went to none of my acquaintances. I should gladly have visited the intendant's lady, but did not dare; I did worse, I sought out M. Venture, whom (notwithstanding my enthusiasm) I had never thought of since my departure. I found him quite gay, in high spirits, and the universal favorite of the ladies of Annecy.
This success completed my infatuation; I saw nothing but M. Venture; he almost made me forget even Madam de Warrens. That I might profit more at ease by his instructions and example, I proposed to share his lodgings, to which he readily consented. It was at a shoemaker's; a pleasant, jovial fellow, who, in his county dialect, called his wife nothing but trollop; an appellation which she certainly merited. Venture took care to augment their differences, though under an appearance of doing the direct contrary, throwing out in a distant manner, and provincial accents, hints that produced the utmost effect, and furnished such scenes as were sufficient to make any one die with laughter. Thus the mornings passed without our thinking of them; at two or three o'clock we took some refreshment. Venture then went to his various engagements, where he supped, while I walked alone, meditating on his great merit, coveting and admiring his rare talents, and cursing my own unlucky stars, that did not call me to so happy a life. How little did I then know of myself! mine had been a thousand times more delightful, had I not been such a fool, or known better how to enjoy it.
Madam de Warrens had taken no one with her but Anet: Merceret, the chambermaid, whom I have before mentioned, still remained in the house.
Merceret was something older than myself, not pretty, but tolerably agreeable; good-natured, free from malice, having no fault to my knowledge but being a little refractory with her mistress. I often went to see her; she was an old acquaintance, who recalled to my remembrance one more beloved, and this made her dear to me. She had several friends, and among others one Mademoiselle Giraud, a Genevese, who, for the punishment of my sins, took it in her head to have an inclination for me, always pressing Merceret, when she returned her visits, to bring me with her. As I liked Merceret, I felt no disinclination to accompany her; besides I met there with some young people whose company pleased me.
For Mademoiselle Giraud, who offered every kind of enticement, nothing could increase the aversion I had for her. When she drew near me, with her dried black snout, smeared with Spanish snuff, it was with the utmost difficulty that I could refrain from expressing my distaste; but, being pleased with her visitors, I took patience. Among these were two girls who (either to pay their court to Mademoiselle Giraud or myself) paid me every possible attention. I conceived this to be only friendship; but have since thought it depended only on myself to have discovered something more, though I did not even think of it at the time.
There was another reason for my stupidity. Seamstresses, chambermaids, or milliners, never tempted me; I sighed for ladies! Every one has his peculiar taste, this has ever been mine; being in this particular of a different opinion from Horace. Yet it is not vanity of riches or rank that attracts me; it is a well-preserved complexion, fine hands, elegance of ornaments, an air of delicacy and neatness throughout the whole person; more in taste, in the manner of expressing themselves, a finer or better made gown, a well-turned ankle, small foot, ribbons, lace, and well-dressed hair; I even prefer those who have less natural beauty, provided they are elegantly decorated. I freely confess this preference is very ridiculous; yet my heart gives in to it spite of my understanding. Well, even this advantage presented itself, and it only depended on my own resolution to have seized the opportunity.
How do I love, from time to time, to return to those moments of my youth, which were so charmingly delightful; so short, so scarce, and enjoyed at so cheap a rate!--how fondly do I wish to dwell on them! Even yet the remembrance of these scenes warms my heart with a chaste rapture, which appears necessary to reanimate my drooping courage, and enable me to sustain the weariness of my latter days.
The appearance of Aurora seemed so delightful one morning that, putting on my clothes, I hastened into the country, to see the rising of the sun.
I enjoyed that pleasure in its utmost extent; it was one week after midsummer; the earth was covered with verdure and flowers, the nightingales, whose soft warblings were almost concluded, seemed to vie with each other, and in concert with birds of various kinds to bid adieu to spring, and hail the approach of a beautiful summer's day: one of those lovely days that are no longer to be enjoyed at my age, and which have never been seen on the melancholy soil I now inhabit.
I had rambled insensibly, to a considerable distance from the town--the heat augmented--I was walking in the shade along a valley, by the side of a brook, I heard behind me the steps of horses, and the voice of some females who, though they seemed embarrassed, did not laugh the less heartily on that account. I turn round, hear myself called by name, and approaching, find two young people of my acquaintance, Mademoiselle de G---- and Mademoiselle Galley, who, not being very excellent horsewomen, could not make their horses cross the rivulet.
Mademoiselle de G---- was a young lady of Berne, very amiable; who, having been sent from that country for some youthful folly, had imitated Madam de Warrens, at whose house I had sometimes seen her; but not having, like her, a pension, she had been fortunate in this attachment to Mademoiselle Galley, who had prevailed on her mother to engage her young friend as a companion, till she could be otherwise provided for.
Mademoiselle Galley was one year younger than her friend, handsomer, more delicate, more ingenious, and to complete all, extremely well made.
They loved each other tenderly, and the good disposition of both could not fail to render their union durable, if some lover did not derange it.
They informed me they were going to Toune, an old castle belonging to Madam Galley, and implored my assistance to make their horses cross the stream, not being able to compass it themselves. I would have given each a cut or two with the whip, but they feared I might be kicked, and themselves thrown; I therefore had recourse to another expedient, I took hold of Mademoiselle Galley's horse and led him through the brook, the water reaching half-way up my legs. The other followed without any difficulty. This done, I would have paid my compliments to the ladies, and walked off like a great booby as I was, but after whispering each other, Mademoiselle de G---- said, "No, no, you must not think to escape thus; you have got wet in our service, and we ought in conscience to take care and dry you. If you please you must go with us, you are now our prisoner." My heart began to beat--I looked at Mademoiselle Galley --"Yes, yes," added she, laughing at my fearful look; "our prisoner of war; come, get up behind her, we shall give a good account of you."--"But, mademoiselle," continued I, "I have not the honor to be acquainted with your mother; what will she say on my arrival?"--"Her mother," replied Mademoiselle de G---- is not at Toune, we are alone, we shall return at night, and you shall come back with us."
The stroke of electricity has not a more instantaneous effect than these words produced on me. Leaping behind Mademoiselle de G----, I trembled with joy, and when it became necessary to clasp her in order to hold myself on, my heart beat so violently that she perceived it, and told me hers beat also from a fear of falling. In my present posture, I might naturally have considered this an invitation to satisfy myself of the truth of her assertion, yet I did not dare, and during the whole way my arm served as a girdle (a very close one, I must confess), without being a moment displaced. Some women that may read this would be for giving me a box on the ear, and, truly, I deserved it.
The gayety of the journey, and the chat of these girls, so enlivened me, that during the whole time we passed together we never ceased talking a moment. They had set me so thoroughly at ease, that my tongue spoke as fast as my eyes, though not exactly the same things. Some minutes, indeed, when I was left alone with either, the conversation became a little embarrassed, but neither of them was absent long enough to allow time for explaining the cause.
Arrived at Toune, and myself well dried, we breakfasted together; after which it was necessary to settle the important business of preparing dinner. The young ladies cooked, kissing from time to time the farmer's children, while the poor scullion looked on grumbling. Provisions had been sent for from town, and there was everything necessary for a good dinner, but unhappily they had forgotten wine; this forgetfulness was by no means astonishing to girls who seldom drank any, but I was sorry for the omission, as I had reckoned on its help, thinking it might add to my confidence. They were sorry likewise, and perhaps from the same motive; though I have no reason to say this, for their lively and charming gayety was innocence itself; besides, there were two of them, what could they expect from me? they went everywhere about the neighborhood to seek for wine, but none could be procured, so pure and sober are the peasants in those parts. As they were expressing their concern, I begged them not to give themselves any uneasiness on my account, for while with them I had no occasion for wine to intoxicate me. This was the only gallantry I ventured at during the whole of the day, and I believe the sly rogues saw well enough that I said nothing but the truth.
We dined in the kitchen; the two friends were seated on the benches, one on each side the long table, and their guest at the end, between them, on a three--legged stool. What a dinner! how charming the remembrance! While we can enjoy, at so small an expense, such pure, such true delights, why should we be solicitous for others? Never did those 'petite soupes', so celebrated in Paris, equal this; I do not only say for real pleasure and gayety, but even for sensuality.
After dinner, we were economical; instead of drinking the coffee we had reserved at breakfast, we kept it for an afternoon collation, with cream, and some cake they had brought with them. To keep our appetites in play, we went into the orchard, meaning to finish our dessert with cherries.
I got into a tree, throwing them down bunches, from which they returned the stones through the branches. One time, Mademoiselle Galley, holding out her apron, and drawing back her head, stood so fair, and I took such good aim, that I dropped a bunch into her bosom. On her laughing, I said to myself, "Why are not my lips cherries? How gladly would I throw them there likewise."
Thus the day passed with the greatest freedom, yet with the utmost decency; not a single equivocal word, not one attempt at double-meaning pleasantry; yet this delicacy was not affected, we only performed the parts our hearts dictated; in short, my modesty, some will say my folly, was such that the greatest familiarity that escaped me was once kissing the hand of Mademoiselle Galley; it is true, the attending circumstances helped to stamp a value on this trifling favor; we were alone, I was embarrassed, her eyes were fixed on the ground, and my lips, instead of uttering words, were pressed on her hand, which she drew gently back after the salute, without any appearance of displeasure. I know not what I should have said to her; but her friend entered, and at that moment I thought her ugly.
At length, they bethought themselves, that they must return to town before night; even now we had but just time to reach it by daylight; and we hastened our departure in the same order we came. Had I pleased myself, I should certainly have reversed this order, for the glance of Mademoiselle Galley had reached my heart, but I dared not mention it, and the proposal could not reasonably come from her. On the way, we expressed our sorrow that the day was over, but far from complaining of the shortness of its duration, we were conscious of having prolonged it by every possible amusement.
I quitted them in nearly the same spot where I had taken them up. With what regret did we part! With what pleasure did we form projects to renew our meeting! Delightful hours, which we passed innocently together, yet were worth ages of familiarity! The sweet remembrance of those days cost those amiable girls nothing; the tender union which reigned among us equalled more lively pleasures, with which it could not have existed. We loved each other without shame or mystery, and wished to continue our reciprocal affection. There is a species of enjoyment connected with innocence of manners which is superior to any other, because it has no interval; for myself, the remembrance of such a day touches me nearer, delights me more, and returns with greater rapture to my heart than any other pleasure I ever tasted. I hardly knew what I wished with those charming girls. I do not say: that had the arrangement been in my power, I should have divided my heart between them; I certainly felt some degree of preference: though I should have been happy to have had Mademoiselle de G----, for a mistress, I think, by choice, I should have liked her, better as a confidante; be that as it may, I felt on leaving them as though I could not live without either.
Who would have thought that I should never see them more; and that here our ephemeral amours must end?
Those who read this will not fail to laugh at my gallantries, and remark, that after very promising preliminaries, my most forward adventures concluded by a kiss of the hand: yet be not mistaken, reader, in your estimate of my enjoyments; I have, perhaps, tasted more real pleasure in my amours, which concluded by a kiss of the hand, than you will ever have in yours, which, at least, begin there.
Venture, who had gone to bed late the night before, came in soon after me. I did not now see him with my usual satisfaction, and took care not to inform him how I had passed the day. The ladies had spoken of him slightingly, and appeared discontented at finding me in such bad hands; this hurt him in my esteem; besides, whatever diverted my ideas from them was at this time disagreeable. However, he soon brought me back to him and myself, by speaking of the situation of my affairs, which was too critical to last; for, though I spent very little, my slender finances were almost exhausted. I was without resource; no news of Madam de Warrens; not knowing what would become of me, and feeling a cruel pang at heart to see the friend of Mademoiselle Galley reduced to beggary.
I now learned from Venture that he had spoken of me to the Judge Major, and would take me next day to dine with him; that he was a man who by means of his friends might render me essential service. In other respects he was a desirable acquaintance, being a man of wit and letters, of agreeable conversation, one who possessed talents and loved them in others. After this discourse (mingling the most serious concerns with the most trifling frivolity) he showed me a pretty couplet, which came from Paris, on an air in one of Mouret's operas, which was then playing.
Monsieur Simon (the judge major) was so pleased with this couplet, that he determined to make another in answer to it, on the same air. He had desired Venture to write one, and he wished me to make a third, that, as he expressed it, they might see couplets start up next day like incidents in a comic romance.
In the night (not being able to sleep) I composed a couplet, as my first essay in poetry. It was passable; better, or at least composed with more taste than it would have been the preceding night, the subject being tenderness, to which my heart was now entirely disposed. In the morning I showed my performance to Venture, who, being pleased with the couplet, put it in his pocket, without informing me whether he had made his. We dined with M. Simon, who treated us very politely. The conversation was agreeable; indeed it could not be otherwise between two men of natural good sense, improved by reading. For me, I acted my proper part, which was to listen without attempting to join in the conversation. Neither of them mentioned the couplet nor do I know that it ever passed for mine.
M. Simon appeared satisfied with my behavior; indeed, it was almost all he saw of me at this interview. We had often met at Madam de Warrens, but he had never paid much attention to me; it is from this dinner, therefore, that I date our acquaintance, which, though of no use in regard to the object I then had in view, was afterwards productive of advantages which make me recollect it with pleasure. I should be wrong not to give some account of this person, since from his office of magistrate, and the reputation of wit on which he piqued himself, no idea could be formed of it. The judge major, Simon, certainly was not two feet high; his legs spare, straight, and tolerably long, would have added something to his stature had they been vertical, but they stood in the direction of an open pair of compasses. His body was not only short, but thin, being in every respect of most inconceivable smallness--when naked he must have appeared like a grasshopper. His head was of the common size, to which appertained a well-formed face, a noble look, and tolerably fine eyes; in short, it appeared a borrowed head, stuck on a miserable stump. He might very well have dispensed with dress, for his large wig alone covered him from head to foot.
He had two voices, perfectly different, which intermingled perpetually in his conversation, forming at first a diverting, but afterwards a very disagreeable contrast. One grave and sonorous, was, if I may hazard the expression, the voice of his head: the other, clear, sharp, and piercing, the voice of his body. When he paid particular attention, and spoke leisurely, so as to preserve his breath, he could continue his deep tone; but if he was the least animated, or attempted a lively accent, his voice sounded like the whistling of a key, and it was with the utmost difficulty that he could return to the bass.
With the figure I have just described, and which is by no means overcharged, M. Simon was gallant, ever entertaining the ladies with soft tales, and carrying the decoration of his person even to foppery.
Willing to make use of every advantage he, during the morning, gave audience in bed, for when a handsome head was discovered on the pillow no one could have imagined what belonged to it. This circumstance gave birth to scenes, which I am certain are yet remembered by all Annecy.
One morning, when he expected to give audience in bed, or rather on the bed, having on a handsome night-cap ornamented with rose-colored ribbon, a countryman arriving knocked at the door; the maid happened to be out; the judge, therefore, hearing the knock repeated, cried "Come in," and, as he spoke rather loud, it was in his shrill tone. The man entered, looked about, endeavoring to discover whence the female voice proceeded and at length seeing a handsome head-dress set off with ribbons, was about to leave the room, making the supposed lady a hundred apologies.
M. Simon, in a rage, screamed the more; and the countryman, yet more confirmed in his opinion, conceiving himself to be insulted, began railing in his turn, saying that, "Apparently, she was nothing better than a common streetwalker, and that the judge major should be ashamed of setting such ill examples." The enraged magistrate, having no other weapon than the jordan under his bed, was just going to throw it at the poor fellow's head as his servant returned.
This dwarf, ill-used by nature as to his person, was recompensed by possessing an understanding naturally agreeable, and which he had been careful to cultivate. Though he was esteemed a good lawyer, he did not like his profession, delighting more in the finer parts of literature, which he studied with success: above all, he possessed that superficial brilliancy, the art of pleasing in conversation, even with the ladies.
He knew by heart a number of little stories, which he perfectly well knew how to make the most of; relating with an air of secrecy, and as an anecdote of yesterday, what happened sixty years before. He understood music, and could sing agreeably; in short, for a magistrate, he had many pleasing talents. By flattering the ladies of Annecy, he became fashionable among them, appearing continually in their train. He even pretended to favors, at which they were much amused. A Madam D'Epigny used to say "The greatest favor he could aspire to, was to kiss a lady on her knees."
As he was well read, and spoke fluently, his conversation was both amusing and instructive. When I afterwards took a taste for study, I cultivated his acquaintance, and found my account in it: when at Chambery, I frequently went from thence to see him. His praises increased my emulation, to which he added some good advice respecting the prosecution of my studies, which I found useful. Unhappily, this weakly body contained a very feeling soul. Some years after, he was chagrined by I know not what unlucky affair, but it cost him his life. This was really unfortunate, for he was a good little man, whom at a first acquaintance one laughed at, but afterwards loved. Though our situations in life were very little connected with each other, as I received some useful lessons from him, I thought gratitude demanded that I should dedicate a few sentences to his memory.
As soon as I found myself at liberty, I ran into the street where Mademoiselle Galley lived, flattering myself that I should see someone go in or out, or at least open a window, but I was mistaken, not even a cat appeared, the house remaining as close all the time as if it had been uninhabited. The street was small and lonely, any one loitering about was, consequently, more likely to be noticed; from time to time people passed in and out of the neighborhood; I was much embarrassed, thinking my person might be known, and the cause that brought me there conjectured; this idea tortured me, for I have ever preferred the honor and happiness of those I love to my own pleasures.
At length, weary of playing the Spanish lover, and having no guitar, I determined to write to Mademoiselle de G----. I should have preferred writing to her friend, but did not dare take that liberty, as it appeared more proper to begin with her to whom I owed the acquaintance, and with whom I was most familiar. Having written my letter, I took it to Mademoiselle Giraud, as the young ladies had agreed at parting, they having furnished me with this expedient. Mademoiselle Giraud was a quilter, and sometimes worked at Madam Galley's, which procured her free admission to the house. I must confess, I was not thoroughly satisfied with this messenger, but was cautious of starting difficulties, fearing that if I objected to her no other might be named, and it was impossible to intimate that she had an inclination to me herself. I even felt humiliated that she should think I could imagine her of the same sex as those young ladies: in a word, I accepted her agency rather than none, and availed myself of it at all events.
At the very first word, Giraud discovered me. I must own this was not a difficult matter, for if sending a letter to young girls had not spoken sufficiently plain, my foolish embarrassed air would have betrayed me.
It will easily be supposed that the employment gave her little satisfaction, she undertook it, however, and performed it faithfully.
The next morning I ran to her house and found an answer ready for me.
How did I hurry away that I might have an opportunity to read and kiss it alone! though this need not been told, but the plan adopted by Mademoiselle Giraud (and in which I found more delicacy and moderation than I had expected) should. She had sense enough to conclude that her thirty--seven years, hare's eyes, daubed nose, shrill voice, and black skin, stood no chance against two elegant young girls, in all the height and bloom of beauty; she resolved, therefore, nether to betray nor assist them, choosing rather to lose me entirely than entertain me for them.
As Merceret had not heard from her mistress for some time, she thought of returning to Fribourg, and the persuasions of Giraud determined her; nay more, she intimated it was proper someone should conduct her to her father's and proposed me. As I happened to be agreeable to little Merceret, she approved the idea, and the same day they mentioned it to me as a fixed point. Finding nothing displeasing in the manner they had disposed of me, I consented, thinking it could not be above a week's journey at most; but Giraud, who had arranged the whole affair, thought otherwise. It was necessary to avow the state of my finances, and the conclusion was, that Merceret should defray my expenses; but to retrench on one hand what was expended on the other, I advised that her little baggage should be sent on before, and that we should proceed by easy journeys on foot.
I am sorry to have so many girls in love with me, but as there is nothing to be very vain of in the success of these amours, I think I may tell the truth without scruple. Merceret, younger and less artful than Giraud, never made me so many advances, but she imitated my manners, my actions, repeated my words, and showed me all those little attentions I ought to have had for her. Being very timorous, she took great care that we should both sleep in the same chamber; a circumstance that usually produces some consequences between a lad of twenty and a girl of twenty --five.
For once, however, it went no further; my simplicity being such, that though Merceret was by no means a disagreeable girl, an idea of gallantry never entered my head, and even if it had, I was too great a novice to have profited by it. I could not imagine how two young persons could bring themselves to sleep together, thinking that such familiarity must require an age of preparation. If poor Merceret paid my expenses in hopes of any return, she was terribly cheated, for we arrived at Fribourg exactly as we had quitted Annecy.
I passed through Geneva without visiting any one. While going over the bridges, I found myself so affected that I could scarcely proceed. Never could I see the walls of that city, never could I enter it, without feeling my heart sink from excess of tenderness, at the same time that the image of liberty elevated my soul. The ideas of equality, union, and gentleness of manners, touched me even to tears, and inspired me with a lively regret at having forfeited all these advantages. What an error was I in! but yet how natural! I imagined I saw all this in my native country, because I bore it in my heart.
It was necessary to pass through Nion: could I do this without seeing my good father? Had I resolved on doing so, I must afterwards have died with regret. I left Merceret at the inn, and ventured to his house.
How wrong was I to fear him! On seeing me, his soul gave way to the parental tenderness with which it was filled. What tears were mingled with our embraces! He thought I was returned to him: I related my history, and informed him of my resolution. He opposed it feebly, mentioning the dangers to which I exposed myself, and telling me the shortest follies were best, but did not attempt to keep me by force, in which particular I think he acted right; but it is certain he did not do everything in his power to detain me, even by fair means. Whether after the step I had taken, he thought I ought not to return, or was puzzled at my age to know what to do with me--I have since found that he conceived a very unjust opinion of my travelling companion. My step --mother, a good woman, a little coaxingly put on an appearance of wishing me to stay to supper; I did not, however, comply, but told them I proposed remaining longer with them on my return; leaving as a deposit my little packet, that had come by water, and would have been an incumbrance, had I taken it with me. I continued my journey the next morning, well satisfied that I had seen my father, and had taken courage to do my duty.
We arrived without any accident at Fribourg. Towards the conclusion of the journey, the politeness of Mademoiselle Merceret rather diminished, and, after our arrival, she treated me even with coldness. Her father, who was not in the best circumstances, did not show me much attention, and I was obliged to lodge at an alehouse. I went to see them the next morning, and received an invitation to dine there, which I accepted. We separated without tears at night; I returned to my paltry lodging, and departed the second day after my arrival, almost without knowing whither to go to.
This was a circumstance of my life in which Providence offered me precisely what was necessary to make my days pass happily. Merceret was a good girl, neither witty, handsome, nor ugly; not very lively, but tolerably rational, except while under the influence of some little humors, which usually evaporated in tears, without any violent outbreak of temper. She had a real inclination for me; I might have married her without difficulty, and followed her father's business. My taste for music would have made me love her; I should have settled at Fribourg, a small town, not pretty, but inhabited by very worthy people--I should certainly have missed great pleasures, but should have lived in peace to my last hour, and I must know best what I should have gained by such a step.
I did not return to Nion, but to Lausanne, wishing to gratify myself with a view of that beautiful lake which is seen there in its utmost extent.
The greater part of my secret motives have not been so reasonable.
Distant expectation has rarely strength enough to influence my actions; the uncertainty of the future ever making me regard projects whose execution requires a length of time as deceitful lures. I give in to visionary scenes of hope as well as others, provided they cost nothing, but if attended with any trouble, I have done with them. The smallest, the most trifling pleasure that is conveniently within my reach, tempts me more than all the joys of paradise. I must except, however, those pleasures which are necessarily followed by pain; I only love those enjoyments which are unadulterated, which can never be the case where we are conscious they must be followed by repentance.
It was necessary I should arrive at some place, and the nearest was best; for having lost my way on the road, I found myself in the evening at Moudon, where I spent all that remained of my little stock except ten creuzers, which served to purchase my next day's dinner. Arriving in the evening at Lausanne, I went into an ale-house, without a penny in my pocket to pay for my lodging, or knowing what would become of me. I found myself extremely hungry--setting, therefore, a good face on the matter, I ordered supper, made my meal, went to bed without thought and slept with great composure. In the morning, having breakfasted and reckoned with my host, I offered to leave my waistcoat in pledge for seven batz, which was the amount of my expenses. The honest man refused this, saying, thank Heaven, he had never stripped any one, and would not now begin for seven batz, adding I should keep my waistcoat and pay him when I could. I was affected with this unexpected kindness, but felt it less than I ought to have done, or have since experienced on the remembrance of it. I did not fail sending him his money, with thanks, by one I could depend on. Fifteen years after, passing Lausanne, on my return from Italy, I felt a sensible regret at having forgotten the name of the landlord and house. I wished to see him, and should have felt real pleasure in recalling to his memory that worthy action.
Services which doubtless have been much more important, but rendered with ostentation, have not appeared to me so worthy of gratitude as the simple unaffected humanity of this honest man.
As I approached Lausanne, I thought of my distress, and the means of extricating myself, without appearing in want to my step-mother.
I compared myself, in this walking pilgrimage, to my friend Venture, on his arrival at Annecy, and was so warmed with the idea, that without recollecting that I had neither his gentility nor his talents, I determined to act the part of little Venture at Lausanne, to teach music, which I did not understand, and say I came from Paris, where I had never been.
In consequence of this noble project (as there was no company where I could introduce myself without expense, and not choosing to venture among professional people), I inquired for some little inn, where I could lodge cheap, and was directed to one named Perrotet, who took in boarders.
This Perrotet, who was one of the best men in the world, received me very kindly, and after having heard my feigned story and profession, promised to speak of me, and endeavored to procure me scholars, saying he should not expect any money till I had earned it. His price for board, though moderate in itself, was a great deal to me; he advised me, therefore, to begin with half board, which consisted of good soup only for dinner, but a plentiful supper at night. I closed with this proposition, and the poor Perrotet trusted me with great cheerfulness, sparing, meantime, no trouble to be useful to me.
Having found so many good people in my youth, why do I find so few in my age? Is their race extinct? No; but I do not seek them in the same situation I did formerly, among the commonality, where violent passions predominate only at intervals, and where nature speaks her genuine sentiments. In more elevated stations they are entirely smothered, and under the mask of sentiment, only interest or vanity is heard.
Having written to my father from Lausanne, he sent my packet and some excellent advice, of which I should have profited better. I have already observed that I have moments of inconceivable delirium, in which I am entirely out of myself. The adventure I am about to relate is an instance of this: to comprehend how completely my brain was turned, and to what degree I had 'Venturised' (if I may be allowed the expression), the many extravagances I ran into at the same time should be considered.
Behold me, then, a singing master, without knowing how to note a common song; for if the five or six months passed with Le Maitre had improved me, they could not be supposed sufficient to qualify me for such an undertaking; besides, being taught by a master was enough (as I have before observed) to make me learn ill. Being a Parisian from Geneva, and a Catholic in a Protestant country, I thought I should change my name with my religion and country, still approaching as near as possible to the great model I had in view. He called himself Venture de Villeneuve.
I changed, by anagram, the name Rousseau into that of Vaussore, calling myself Monsieur Vaussore de Villeneuve. Venture was a good composer, though he had not said so; without knowing anything of the art, I boasted of my skill to every one. This was not all: being presented to Monsieur de Freytorens, professor of law, who loved music, and who gave concerts at his house, nothing would do but I must give him a proof of my talents, and accordingly I set about composing a piece for his concerts, as boldly as if I had really understood the science. I had the constancy to labor a fortnight at this curious business, to copy it fair, write out the different parts, and distribute them with as much assurance as if they had been masterpieces of harmony; in short (what will hardly be believed, though strictly true), I tacked a very pretty minuet to the end of it, that was commonly played about the streets, and which many may remember from these words, so well known at that time:
Quel caprice! Quel injustice! Quio, tu Clarice Trahiriot tes feux? &'c.
Venture had taught me this air with the bass, set to other words, by the help of which I had retained it: thus at the end of my composition, I put this minuet and bass, suppressing the words, and uttering it for my own as confidently as if I had been speaking to the inhabitants of the moon.
They assembled to perform my piece; I explain to each the movement, taste of execution, and references to his part--I was fully occupied. They were five or six minutes preparing, which were for me so many ages: at length, everything is adjusted, myself in a conspicuous situation, a fine roll of paper in my hand, gravely preparing to beat time. I gave four or five strokes with my paper, attending with "take care!" they begin --No, never since French operas existed was there such a confused discord! The minuet, however, presently put all the company in good humor; hardly was it begun, before I heard bursts of laughter from all parts, every one congratulated me on my pretty taste for music, declaring this minuet would make me spoken of, and that I merited the loudest praise. It is not necessary to describe my uneasiness, or to own how much I deserved it.
Next day, one of the musicians, named Lutold, came to see me and was kind enough to congratulate me on my success. The profound conviction of my folly, shame, regret, and the state of despair to which I was reduced, with the impossibility of concealing the cruel agitation of my heart, made me open it to him; giving, therefore, a loose to my tears, not content with owning my ignorance, I told all, conjuring him to secrecy; he kept his word, as every one will suppose. The same evening, all Lausanne knew who I was, but what is remarkable, no one seemed to know, not even the good Perrotet, who (notwithstanding what had happened) continued to lodge and board me.
I led a melancholy life here; the consequences of such an essay had not rendered Lausanne a very agreeable residence. Scholars did not present themselves in crowds, not a single female, and not a person of the city.
I had only two or three great dunces, as stupid as I was ignorant, who fatigued me to death, and in my hands were not likely to edify much.
At length, I was sent for to a house, where a little serpent of a girl amused herself by showing me a parcel of music that I could not read a note of, and which she had the malice to sing before her master, to teach him how it should be executed; for I was so unable to read an air at first sight, that in the charming concert I have just described, I could not possibly follow the execution a moment, or know whether they played truly what lay before them, and I myself had composed.
In the midst of so many humiliating circumstances, I had the pleasing consolation, from time to time, of receiving letters from my two charming friends. I have ever found the utmost consolatory virtue in the fair; when in disgrace, nothing softens my affliction more than to be sensible that an amiable woman is interested for me. This correspondence ceased soon after, and was never renewed: indeed it was my own fault, for in changing situations I neglected sending my address, and forced by necessity to think perpetually of myself, I soon forgot them.
It is a long time since I mentioned Madam de Warrens, but it should not be supposed I had forgotten her; never was she a moment absent from my thoughts. I anxiously wished to find her, not merely because she was necessary to my subsistence, but because she was infinitely more necessary to my heart. My attachment to her (though lively and tender, as it really was) did not prevent my loving others, but then it was not in the same manner. All equally claimed my tenderness for their charms, but it was those charms alone I loved, my passion would not have survived them, while Madam de Warrens might have become old or ugly without my loving her the less tenderly. My heart had entirely transmitted to herself the homage it first paid to her beauty, and whatever change she might experience, while she remained herself, my sentiments could not change. I was sensible how much gratitude I owed to her, but in truth, I never thought of it, and whether she served me or not, it would ever have been the same thing. I loved her neither from duty, interest, nor convenience; I loved her because I was born to love her. During my attachment to another, I own this affection was in some measure deranged; I did not think so frequently of her, but still with the same pleasure, and never, in love or otherwise, did I think of her without feeling that I could expect no true happiness in life while in a state of separation.
Though in so long a time I had received no news from Madam de Warrens, I never imagined I had entirely lost her, or that she could have forgotten me. I said to myself, she will know sooner or later that I am wandering about, and will find some means to inform me of her situation: I am certain I shall find her. In the meantime, it was a pleasure to live in her native country, to walk in the streets where she had walked, and before the houses that she had lived in; yet all this was the work of conjecture, for one of my foolish peculiarities was, not daring to inquire after her, or even pronounce her name without the most absolute necessity. It seemed in speaking of her that I declared all I felt, that my lips revealed the secrets of my heart, and in some degree injured the object of my affection. I believe fear was likewise mingled with this idea; I dreaded to hear ill of her. Her management had been much spoken of, and some little of her conduct in other respects; fearing, therefore, that something might be said which I did not wish to hear, I preferred being silent on the subject.
As my scholars did not take up much of my time, and the town where she was born was not above four leagues from Lausanne, I made it a walk of three or four days; during which time a most pleasant emotion never left me. A view of the lake of Geneva and its admirable banks, had ever, in my idea, a particular attraction which I cannot describe; not arising merely from the beauty of the prospect, but something else, I know not why, more interesting, which affects and softens me. Every time I have approached the Vaudois country I have experienced an impression composed of the remembrance of Madam de Warrens, who was born there; of my father, who lived there; of Miss Vulson, who had been my first love, and of several pleasant journeys I had made there in my childhood, mingled with some nameless charm, more powerfully attractive than all the rest. When that ardent desire for a life of happiness and tranquility (which ever follows me, and for which I was born) inflames my mind, 'tis ever to the country of Vaud, near the lake, in those charming plains, that imagination leads me. An orchard on the banks of that lake, and no other, is absolutely necessary; a firm friend, an amiable woman, a cow, and a little boat; nor could I enjoy perfect happiness on earth without these concomitants. I laugh at the simplicity with which I have several times gone into that country for the sole purpose of seeking this imaginary happiness when I was ever surprised to find the inhabitants, particularly the women, of a quite different disposition to what I sought. How strange did this appear to me! The country and people who inhabit it, were never, in my idea, formed for each other.
Walking along these beautiful banks, on my way to Vevay, I gave myself up to the soft melancholy; my heart rushed with ardor into a thousand innocent felicities; melting to tenderness, I sighed and wept like a child. How often, stopping to weep more at my ease, and seated on a large stone, did I amuse myself with seeing my tears drop into the water.
On my arrival at Vevay, I lodged at the Key, and during the two days I remained there, without any acquaintance, conceived a love for that city, which has followed me through all my travels, and was finally the cause that I fixed on this spot, in the novel I afterwards wrote, for the residence of my hero and heroines. I would say to any one who has taste and feeling, go to Vevay, visit the surrounding country, examine the prospects, go on the lake and then say, whether nature has not designed this country for a Julia, a Clara, and a St. Preux; but do not seek them there. I now return to my story.
Giving myself out for a Catholic, I followed without mystery or scruple the religion I had embraced. On a Sunday, if the weather was fine, I went to hear mass at Assans, a place two leagues distant from Lausanne, and generally in company with other Catholics, particularly a Parisian embroiderer, whose name I have forgotten. Not such a Parisian as myself, but a real native of Paris, an arch-Parisian from his maker, yet honest as a peasant. He loved his country so well, that he would not doubt my being his countryman, for fear he should not have so much occasion to speak of it. The lieutenant-governor, M. de Crouzas, had a gardener, who was likewise from Paris, but not so complaisant; he thought the glory of his country concerned, when any one claimed that honor who was not really entitled to it; he put questions to me, therefore, with an air and tone, as if certain to detect me in a falsehood, and once, smiling malignantly, asked what was remarkable in the 'Marcheneuf'? It may be supposed I asked the question; but I have since passed twenty years at Paris, and certainly know that city, yet was the same question repeated at this day, I should be equally embarrassed to answer it, and from this embarrassment it might be concluded I had never been there: thus, even when we meet with truths, we are subject to build our opinions on circumstances, which may easily deceive us.
I formed no ideas, while at Lausanne, that were worth recollecting, nor can I say exactly how long I remained there; I only know that not finding sufficient to subsist on, I went from thence to Neutchatel, where I passed the winter. Here I succeeded better, I got some scholars, and saved enough to pay my good friend Perrotet, who had faithfully sent my baggage, though at that time I was considerably in his debt.
By continuing to teach music, I insensibly gained some knowledge of it.
The life I led was sufficiently agreeable, and any reasonable man might have been satisfied, but my unsettled heart demanded something more.
On Sundays, or whenever I had leisure, I wandered, sighing and thoughtful, about the adjoining woods, and when once out of the city never returned before night. One day, being at Boudry, I went to dine at a public-house, where I saw a man with a long beard, dressed in a violet-colored Grecian habit, with a fur cap, and whose air and manner were rather noble. This person found some difficulty in making himself understood, speaking only an unintelligible jargon, which bore more resemblance to Italian than any other language. I understood almost all he said, and I was the only person present who could do so, for he was obliged to make his request known to the landlord and others about him by signs. On my speaking a few words in Italian, which he perfectly understood, he got up and embraced me with rapture; a connection was soon formed, and from that moment, I became his interpreter. His dinner was excellent, mine rather worse than indifferent, he gave me an invitation to dine with him, which I accepted without much ceremony. Drinking and chatting soon rendered us familiar, and by the end of the repast we had all the disposition in the world to become inseparable companions. He informed me he was a Greek prelate, and 'Archimandrite' of Jerusalem; that he had undertaken to make a gathering in Europe for the reestablishment of the Holy Sepulchre, and showed me some very fine patents from the czarina, the emperor, and several other sovereigns.
He was tolerably content with what he had collected hitherto, though he had experienced inconceivable difficulties in Germany; for not understanding a word of German, Latin, or French, he had been obliged to have recourse to his Greek, Turkish Lingua Franca, which did not procure him much in the country he was travelling through; his proposal, therefore, to me was, that I should accompany him in the quality of secretary and interpreter. In spite of my violet-colored coat, which accorded well enough with the proposed employment, he guessed from my meagre appearance, that I should easily be gained; and he was not mistaken. The bargain was soon made, I demanded nothing, and he promised liberally; thus, without any security or knowledge of the person I was about to serve, I gave myself up entirely to his conduct, and the next day behold me on an expedition to Jerusalem.
We began our expedition unsuccessfully by the canton of Fribourg.
Episcopal dignity would not suffer him to play the beggar, or solicit help from private individuals; but we presented his commission to the Senate, who gave him a trifling sum. From thence we went to Berne, where we lodged at the Falcon, then a good inn, and frequented by respectable company; the public table being well supplied and numerously attended.
I had fared indifferently so long, that I was glad to make myself amends, therefore took care to profit by the present occasion. My lord, the Archimandrite, was himself an excellent companion, loved good cheer, was gay, spoke well for those who understood him, and knew perfectly well how to make the most of his Grecian erudition. One day, at dessert while cracking nuts, he cut his finger pretty deeply, and as it bled freely showed it to the company, saying with a laugh, "Mirate, signori; questo a sangue Pelasgo."
At Berne, I was not useless to him, nor was my performance so bad as I had feared: I certainly spoke better and with more confidence than I could have done for myself. Matters were not conducted here with the same simplicity as at Fribourg; long and frequent conferences were necessary with the Premiers of the State, and the examination of his titles was not the work of a day; at length, everything being adjusted, he was admitted to an audience by the Senate; I entered with him as interpreter, and was ordered to speak. I expected nothing less, for it never entered my mind, that after such long and frequent conferences with the members, it was necessary to address the assembly collectively, as if nothing had been said. Judge my embarrassment!--a man so bashful to speak, not only in public, but before the whole of the Senate of Berne! to speak impromptu, without a single moment for recollection; it was enough to annihilate me--I was not even intimidated. I described distinctly and clearly the commission of the Archimandrite; extolled the piety of those princes who had contributed, and to heighten that of their excellencies by emulation, added that less could not be expected from their well--known munificence; then, endeavoring to prove that this good work was equally interesting to all Christians, without distinction of sect; and concluded by promising the benediction of Heaven to all those who took part in it. I will not say that my discourse was the cause of our success, but it was certainly well received; and on our quitting the Archimandrite was gratified by a very genteel present, to which some very handsome compliments were added on the understanding of his secretary; these I had the agreeable office of interpreting; but could not take courage to render them literally.
This was the only time in my life that I spoke in public, and before a sovereign; and the only time, perhaps, that I spoke boldly and well.
What difference in the disposition of the same person. Three years ago, having been to see my old friend, M. Roguin, at Yverdon, I received a deputation to thank me for some books I had presented to the library of that city; the Swiss are great speakers; these gentlemen, accordingly, made me a long harangue, which I thought myself obliged in honor to answer, but so embarrassed myself in the attempt, that my head became confused, I stopped short, and was laughed at. Though naturally timid, I have sometimes acted with confidence in my youth, but never in my advanced age: the more I have seen of the world the less I have been able to adapt its manners.
On leaving Berne, we went to Soleurre: the Archimandrite designing to re-enter Germany, and return through Hungary or Poland to his own country.
This would have been a prodigious tour; but as the contents of his purse rather increased than diminished during his journey, he was in no haste to return. For me, who was almost as much pleased on horseback as on foot, I would have desired no better than to have travelled thus during my whole life; but it was pre-ordained that my journey should soon end.
The first thing we did after our arrival at Soleurre, was to pay our respects to the French ambassador there. Unfortunately for my bishop, this chanced to be the Marquis de Bonac, who had been ambassador at the Porte, and was acquainted with every particular relative to the Holy Sepulchre. The Archimandrite had an audience that lasted about a quarter of an hour, to which I was not admitted, as the ambassador spoke French and Italian at least as well as myself. On my Grecian's retiring, I was prepared to follow him, but was detained: it was now my turn. Having called myself a Parisian, as such, I was under the jurisdiction of his excellency: he therefore asked me who I was? exhorting me to tell the truth; this I promised to do, but entreated a private audience, which was immediately granted. The ambassador took me to his closet, and shut the door; there, throwing myself at his feet, I kept my word, nor should I have said less, had I promised nothing, for a continual wish to unbosom myself, puts my heart perpetually upon my lips. After having disclosed myself without reserve to the musician Lutold, there was no occasion to attempt acting the mysterious with the Marquis de Bonac, who was so well pleased with my little history, and the ingenuousness with which I had related it, that he led me to the ambassadress, and presented me, with an abridgment of my recital. Madam de Bonac received me kindly, saying, I must not be suffered to follow that Greek monk. It was accordingly resolved that I should remain at their hotel till something better could be done for me. I wished to bid adieu to my poor Archimandrite, for whom I had conceived an attachment, but was not permitted; they sent him word that I was to be detained there, and in quarter of an hour after, I saw my little bundle arrive. M. de la Martiniere, secretary of the embassy, had in a manner the care of me; while following him to the chamber appropriated to my use, he said, "This apartment was occupied under the Count de Luc, by a celebrated man of the same name as yourself; it is in your power to succeed him in every respect, and cause it to be said hereafter, Rousseau the First, Rousseau the Second." This similarity which I did not then expect, would have been less flattering to my wishes could I have foreseen at what price I should one day purchase the distinction.
What M. de la Martiniere had said excited my curiosity; I read the works of the person whose chamber I occupied, and on the strength of the compliment that had been paid me (imagining I had a taste for poetry) made my first essay in a cantata in praise of Madam de Bonac. This inclination was not permanent, though from time to time I have composed tolerable verses. I think it is a good exercise to teach elegant turns of expression, and to write well in prose, but could never find attractions enough in French poetry to give entirely in to it.
M. de la Martiniere wished to see my style, and asked me to write the detail I had before made the ambassador; accordingly I wrote him a long letter, which I have since been informed was preserved by M. de Marianne, who had long been attached to the Marquis de Bonac, and has since succeeded M. de Martiniere as secretary to the embassy of M. de Courtellies.
The experience I began to acquire tended to moderate my romantic projects; for example, I did not fall in love with Madam de Bonac, but also felt I did not stand much chance of succeeding in the service of her husband. M. de la Martiniere was already in the only place that could have satisfied my ambition, and M. de Marianne in expectancy: thus my utmost hopes could only aspire to the office of under secretary, which did not infinitely tempt me: this was the reason that when consulted on the situation I should like to be placed in, I expressed a great desire to go to Paris. The ambassador readily gave in to the idea, which at least tended to disembarrass him of me. M. de Mervilleux interpreting secretary to the embassy, said, that his friend, M. Godard, a Swiss colonel, in the service of France, wanted a person to be with his nephew, who had entered very young into the service, and made no doubt that I should suit him. On this idea, so lightly formed, my departure was determined; and I, who saw a long journey to perform with Paris at the end of it, was enraptured with the project. They gave me several letters, a hundred livres to defray the expenses of my journey, accompanied with some good advice, and thus equipped I departed.
I was a fortnight making the journey, which I may reckon among the happiest days of my life. I was young, in perfect health, with plenty of money, and the most brilliant hopes, add to this, I was on foot, and alone. It may appear strange, I should mention the latter circumstance as advantageous, if my peculiarity of temper is not already familiar to the reader. I was continually occupied with a variety of pleasing chimeras, and never did the warmth of my imagination produce more magnificent ones. When offered an empty place in a carriage, or any person accosted me on the road, how vexed was I to see that fortune overthrown, whose edifice, while walking, I had taken such pains to rear.
For once my ideas were all martial: I was going to live with a military man; nay, to become one, for it was concluded I should begin with being a cadet. I already fancied myself in regimentals, with a fine white feather nodding on my hat, and my heart was inflamed by the noble idea.
I had some smattering of geometry and fortification; my uncle was an engineer; I was in a manner a soldier by inheritance. My short sight, indeed, presented some little obstacle, but did not by any means discourage me, as I reckoned to supply that defect by coolness and intrepidity. I had read, too, that Marshal Schomberg was remarkably shortsighted, and why might not Marshal Rousseau be the same? My imagination was so warm by these follies, that it presented nothing but troops, ramparts, gabions, batteries, and myself in the midst of fire and smoke, an eyeglass in hand, commanding with the utmost tranquility.
Notwithstanding, when the country presented a delightful prospect, when I saw charming groves and rivulets, the pleasing sight made me sigh with regret, and feel, in the midst of all this glory, that my heart was not formed for such havoc; and soon without knowing how, I found my thoughts wandering among my dear sheep-folds, renouncing forever the labor of Mars.
How much did Paris disappoint the idea I had formed of it! The exterior decorations I had seen at Turin, the beauty of the streets, the symmetry and regularity of the houses, contributed to this disappointment, since I concluded that Paris must be infinitely superior. I had figured to myself a splendid city, beautiful as large, of the most commanding aspect, whose streets were ranges of magnificent palaces, composed of marble and gold. On entering the faubourg St. Marceau, I saw nothing but dirty stinking streets, filthy black houses, an air of slovenliness and poverty, beggars, carters, butchers, cries of diet-drink and old hats.
This struck me so forcibly, that all I have since seen of real magnificence in Paris could never erase this first impression, which has ever given me a particular disgust to residing in that capital; and I may say, the whole time I remained there afterwards, was employed in seeking resources which might enable me to live at a distance from it. This is the consequence of too lively imagination, which exaggerates even beyond the voice of fame, and ever expects more than is told. I have heard Paris so flatteringly described, that I pictured it like the ancient Babylon, which, perhaps, had I seen, I might have found equally faulty, and unlike that idea the account had conveyed. The same thing happened at the Opera-house, to which I hastened the day after my arrival! I was sensible of the same deficiency at Versailles! and some time after on viewing the sea. I am convinced this would ever be the consequence of a too flattering description of any object; for it is impossible for man, and difficult even for nature herself, to surpass the riches of my imagination.
By the reception I met with from all those to whom my letters were addressed, I thought my fortune was certainly made. The person who received me the least kindly was M. de Surbeck, to whom I had the warmest recommendation. He had retired from the service, and lived philosophically at Bagneux, where I waited on him several times without his offering me even a glass of water. I was better received by Madam de Merveilleux, sister-in-law to the interpreter, and by his nephew, who was an officer in the guards. The mother and son not only received me kindly, but offered me the use of their table, which favor I frequently accepted during my stay at Paris.
Madam de Merveilleux appeared to have been handsome; her hair was of a fine black, which, according to the old mode, she wore curled on the temples. She still retained (what do not perish with a set of features) the beauties of an amiable mind. She appeared satisfied with mine, and did all she could to render me service; but no one seconded her endeavors, and I was presently undeceived in the great interest they had seemed to take in my affairs. I must, however, do the French nation the justice to say, they do not so exhaust themselves with protestations, as some have represented, and that those they make are usually sincere; but they have a manner of appearing interested in your affairs, which is more deceiving than words. The gross compliments of the Swiss can only impose upon fools; the manners of the French are more seducing, and at the same time so simple, that you are persuaded they do not express all they mean to do for you, in order that you may be the more agreeably surprised. I will say more; they are not false in their protestations, being naturally zealous to oblige, humane, benevolent, and even (whatever may be said to the contrary) more sincere than any other nation; but they are too flighty: in effect they feel the sentiments they profess for you, but that sentiment flies off as instantaneously as it was formed. In speaking to you, their whole attention is employed on you alone, when absent you are forgotten. Nothing is permanent in their hearts, all is the work of the moment.
Thus I was greatly flattered, but received little service. Colonel Godard for whose nephew I was recommended, proved to be an avaricious old wretch, who, on seeing my distress (though he was immensely rich), wished to have my services for nothing, meaning to place me with his nephew, rather as a valet without wages than a tutor. He represented that as I was to be continually engaged with him, I should be excused from duty, and might live on my cadet's allowance; that is to say, on the pay of a soldier: hardly would he consent to give me a uniform, thinking the clothing of the army might serve. Madam de Merveilleux, provoked at his proposals, persuaded me not to accept them; her son was of the same opinion; something else was to be thought on, but no situation was procured. Meantime, I began to be necessitated; for the hundred livres with which I had commenced my journey could not last much longer; happily, I received a small remittance from the ambassador, which was very serviceable, nor do I think he would have abandoned me had I possessed more patience; but languishing, waiting, soliciting, are to me impossible: I was disheartened, displeased, and thus all my brilliant expectations came once more to nothing. I had not all this time forgotten my dear Madam de Warrens, but how was I to find her? Where should I seek her? Madam de Merveilleux, who knew my story, assisted me in the search, but for a long time unavailingly; at length, she informed me that Madam de Warrens had set out from Paris about two months before, but it was not known whether for Savoy or Turin, and that some conjectured she was gone to Switzerland. Nothing further was necessary to fix my determination to follow her, certain that wherever she might be, I stood more chance of finding her at those places than I could possibly do at Paris.
Before my departure, I exercised my new poetical talent in an epistle to Colonel Godard, whom I ridiculed to the utmost of my abilities. I showed this scribble to Madam de Merveilleux, who, instead of discouraging me, as she ought to have done, laughed heartily at my sarcasms, as well as her son, who, I believe, did not like M. Godard; indeed, it must be confessed, he was a man not calculated to obtain affection. I was tempted to send him my verses, and they encouraged me in it; accordingly I made them up in a parcel directed to him, and there being no post then at Paris by which I could conveniently send this, I put it in my pocket, and sent it to him from Auxerre, as I passed through that place. I laugh, even yet, sometimes, at the grimaces I fancy he made on reading this panegyric, where he was certainly drawn to the life; it began thus:
Tu croyois, vieux Penard, qu' une folle manie D' elever ton neveu m'inspireroit l'envie.
This little piece, which, it is true, was but indifferently written; did not want for salt, and announced a turn for satire; it is, notwithstanding, the only satirical writing that ever came from my pen.
I have too little hatred in my heart to take advantage of such a talent; but I believe it may be judged from those controversies, in which from time to time I have been engaged in my own defence, that had I been of a vindictive disposition, my adversaries would rarely have had the laughter on their side.
What I most regret, is not having kept a journal of my travels, being conscious that a number of interesting details have slipped my memory; for never did I exist so completely, never live so thoroughly, never was so much myself, if I dare use the expression, as in those journeys made on foot. Walking animates and enlivens my spirits; I can hardly think when in a state of inactivity; my body must be exercised to make my judgmemt active. The view of a fine country, a succession of agreeable prospects, a free air, a good appetite, and the health I gained by walking; the freedom of inns, and the distance from everything that can make me recollect the dependence of my situation, conspire to free my soul, and give boldness to my thoughts, throwing me, in a manner, into the immensity of beings, where I combine, choose and appropriate them to my fancy, without constraint or fear. I dispose of all nature as I please; my heart wandering from object to object, approximates and unites with those that please it, is surrounded by charming images, and becomes intoxicated with delicious sensations. If, attempting to render these permanent, I am amused in describing to myself, what glow of coloring, what energy of expression, do I give them!--It has been said, that all these are to be found in my works, though written in the decline of life.
Oh! had those of my early youth been seen, those made during my travels, composed, but never written!--Why did I not write them? will be asked; and why should I have written them? I may answer. Why deprive myself of the actual charm of my enjoyments to inform others what I enjoyed? What to me were readers, the public, or all the world, while I was mounting the empyrean. Besides, did I carry pens, paper and ink with me? Had I recollected all these, not a thought would have occurred worth preserving. I do not foresee when I shall have ideas; they come when they please, and not when I call for them; either they avoid me altogether, or rushing in crowds, overwhelm me with their force and number. Ten volumes a day would not suffice barely to enumerate my thoughts; how then should I find time to write them? In stopping, I thought of nothing but a hearty dinner; on departing, of nothing but a charming walk; I felt that a new paradise awaited me at the door, and eagerly leaped forward to enjoy it.
Never did I experience this so feelingly as in the perambulation I am now describing. On coming to Paris, I had confined myself to ideas which related to the situation I expected to occupy there. I had rushed into the career I was about to run, and should have completed it with tolerable eclat, but it was not that my heart adhered to. Some real beings obscured my imagined ones--Colonel Godard and his nephew could not keep pace with a hero of my disposition. Thank Heaven, I was soon delivered from all these obstacles, and could enter at pleasure into the wilderness of chimeras, for that alone remained before me, and I wandered in it so completely that I several times lost my way; but this was no misfortune, I would not have shortened it, for, feeling with regret, as I approached Lyons, that I must again return to the material world, I should have been glad never to have arrived there.
One day, among others, having purposely gone out of my way to take a nearer view of a spot that appeared delightful, I was so charmed with it, and wandered round it so often, that at length I completely lost myself, and after several hours' useless walking, weary, fainting with hunger and thirst, I entered a peasant's hut, which had not indeed a very promising appearance, but was the only one I could discover near me. I thought it was here, as at Geneva, or in Switzerland, where the inhabitants, living at ease, have it in their power to exercise hospitality. I entreated the countryman to give me some dinner, offering to pay for it: on which he presented me with some skimmed milk and coarse barley--bread, saying it was all he had. I drank the milk with pleasure, and ate the bread, chaff and all; but it was not very restorative to a man sinking with fatigue.
The countryman, who watched me narrowly, judged the truth of my story by my appetite, and presently (after having said that he plainly saw I was an honest, good--natured young man, and did not come to betray him) opened a little trap door by the side of his kitchen, went down, and returned a moment after with a good brown loaf of pure wheat, the remains of a well-flavored ham, and a bottle of wine, the sight of which rejoiced my heart more than all the rest: he then prepared a good thick omelet, and I made such a dinner as none but a walking traveller ever enjoyed.
When I again offered to pay, his inquietude and fears returned; he not only would have no money, but refused it with the most evident emotion; and what made this scene more amusing, I could not imagine the motive of his fear. At length, he pronounced tremblingly those terrible words, "Commissioners," and "Cellar-rats," which he explained by giving me to understand that he concealed his wine because of the excise, and his bread on account of the tax imposed on it; adding, he should be an undone man, if it was suspected he was not almost perishing with want. What he said to me on this subject (of which I had not the smallest idea) made an impression on my mind that can never be effaced, sowing seeds of that inextinguishable hatred which has since grow up in my heart against the vexations these unhappy people suffer, and against their oppressors.
This man, though in easy circumstances, dare not eat the bread gained by the sweat of his brow, and could only escape destruction by exhibiting an outward appearance of misery!--I left his cottage with as much indignation as concern, deploring the fate of those beautiful countries, where nature has been prodigal of her gifts, only that they may become the prey of barbarous exactors.
The incident which I have just related, is the only one I have a distinct remembrance of during this journey: I recollect, indeed, that on approaching Lyons, I wished to prolong it by going to see the banks of the Lignon; for among the romances I had read with my father, Astrea was not forgotten and returned more frequently to my thoughts than any other.
Stopping for some refreshment (while chatting with my hostess), I inquired the way to Forez, and was informed that country was an excellent place for mechanics, as there were many forges, and much iron work done there. This eulogium instantly calmed my romantic curiosity, for I felt no inclination to seek Dianas and Sylvanders among a generation of blacksmiths. The good woman who encouraged me with this piece of information certainly thought I was a journeyman locksmith.
I had some view in going to Lyons: on my arrival, I went to the Chasattes, to see Mademoiselle du Chatelet, a friend of Madam de Warrens, for whom I had brought a letter when I came there with M. le Maitre, so that it was an acquaintance already formed. Mademoiselle du Chatelet informed me her friend had passed through Lyons, but could not tell whether she had gone on to Piedmont, being uncertain at her departure whether it would not be necessary to stop in Savoy; but if I choose, she would immediately write for information, and thought my best plan would be to remain at Lyons till she received it. I accepted this offer; but did not tell Mademoiselle du Chatelet how much I was pressed for an answer, and that my exhausted purse would not permit me to wait long.
It was not an appearance of coolness that withheld me, on the contrary, I was very kindly received, treated on the footing of equality, and this took from me the resolution of explaining my circumstances, for I could not bear to descend from a companion to a miserable beggar.
I seem to have retained a very connecting remembrance of that part of my life contained in this book; yet I think I remember, about the same period, another journey to Lyons, (the particulars of which I cannot recollect) where I found myself much straitened, and a confused remembrance of the extremities to which I was reduced does not contribute to recall the idea agreeably. Had I been like many others, had I possessed the talent of borrowing and running in debt at every ale-house I came to, I might have fared better; but in that my incapacity equalled my repugnance, and to demonstrate the prevalence of both, it will be sufficient to say, that though I have passed almost my whole life in indifferent circumstances, and frequently have been near wanting bread, I was never once asked for money by a creditor without having it in my power to pay it instantly; I could never bear to contract clamorous debts, and have ever preferred suffering to owing.
Being reduced to pass my nights in the streets, may certainly be called suffering, and this was several times the case at Lyons, having preferred buying bread with the few pence I had remaining, to bestowing them on a lodging; as I was convinced there was less danger of dying for want of sleep than of hunger. What is astonishing, while in this unhappy situation, I took no care for the future, was neither uneasy nor melancholy, but patiently waited an answer to Mademoiselle du Chatelet's letter, and lying in the open air, stretched on the earth, or on a bench, slept as soundly as if reposing on a bed of roses. I remember, particularly, to have passed a most delightful night at some distance from the city, in a road which had the Rhone, or Soane, I cannot recollect which, on the one side, and a range of raised gardens, with terraces, on the other. It had been a very hot day, the evening was delightful, the dew moistened the fading grass, no wind was stirring, the air was fresh without chillness, the setting sun had tinged the clouds with a beautiful crimson, which was again reflected by the water, and the trees that bordered the terrace were filled with nightingales who were continually answering each other's songs. I walked along in a kind of ecstasy, giving up my heart and senses to the enjoyment of so many delights, and sighing only from a regret of enjoying them alone.
Absorbed in this pleasing reverie, I lengthened my walk till it grew very late, without perceiving I was tired; at length, however, I discovered it, and threw myself on the step of a kind of niche, or false door, in the terrace wall. How charming was the couch! the trees formed a stately canopy, a nightingale sat directly over me, and with his soft notes lulled me to rest: how pleasing my repose; my awaking more so.
It was broad day; on opening my eyes I saw the water, the verdure, and the admirable landscape before me. I arose, shook off the remains of drowsiness, and finding I was hungry, retook the way to the city, resolving, with inexpressible gayety, to spend the two pieces of six francs I had yet remaining in a good breakfast. I found myself so cheerful that I went all the way singing; I even remember I sang a cantata of Batistin's called the Baths of Thomery, which I knew by heart.
May a blessing light on the good Batistin and his good cantata, which procured me a better breakfast than I had expected, and a still better dinner which I did not expect at all! In the midst of my singing, I heard some one behind me, and turning round perceived an Antonine, who followed after and seemed to listen with pleasure to my song.
At length accosting me, he asked, If I understood music. I answered, "A little," but in a manner to have it understood I knew a great deal, and as he continued questioning of me, related a part of my story.
He asked me, If I had ever copied music? I replied, "Often," which was true: I had learned most by copying. "Well," continued he, "come with me, I can employ you for a few days, during which time you shall want for nothing; provided you consent not to quit my room." I acquiesced very willingly, and followed him.
This Antonine was called M. Rotichon; he loved music, understood it, and sang in some little concerts with his friends; thus far all was innocent and right, but apparently this taste had become a furor, part of which he was obliged to conceal. He conducted me into a chamber, where I found a great quantity of music: he gave me some to copy, particularly the cantata he had heard me singing, and which he was shortly to sing himself.
I remained here three or four days, copying all the time I did not eat, for never in my life was I so hungry, or better fed. M. Rolichon brought my provisions himself from the kitchen, and it appeared that these good priests lived well, at least if every one fared as I did. In my life, I never took such pleasure in eating, and it must be owned this good cheer came very opportunely, for I was almost exhausted. I worked as heartily as I ate, which is saying a great deal; 'tis true I was not as correct as diligent, for some days after, meeting M. Rolichon in the street, he informed me there were so many omissions, repetitions, and transpositions, in the parts I had copied, that they could not be performed. It must be owned, that in choosing the profession of music, I hit on that I was least calculated for; yet my voice was good and I copied neatly; but the fatigue of long works bewilders me so much, that I spend more time in altering and scratching out than in pricking down, and if I do not employ the strictest attention in comparing the several parts, they are sure to fail in the execution. Thus, through endeavoring to do well, my performance was very faulty; for aiming at expedition, I did all amiss. This did not prevent M. Rolichon from treating me well to the last, and giving me half-a-crown at my departure, which I certainly did not deserve, and which completely set me up, for a few days after I received news from Madam de Warrens, who was at Chambery, with money to defray the expenses of my journey to her, which I performed with rapture. Since then my finances have frequently been very low, but never at such an ebb as to reduce me to fasting, and I mark this period with a heart fully alive to the bounty of Providence, as the last of my life in which I sustained poverty and hunger.
I remained at Lyons seven or eight days to wait for some little commissions with which Madam de Warrens had charged Mademoiselle du Chatelet, who during this interval I visited more assiduously than before, having the pleasure of talking with her of her friend, and being no longer disturbed by the cruel remembrance of my situation, or painful endeavors to conceal it. Mademoiselle du Chatelet was neither young nor handsome, but did not want for elegance; she was easy and obliging while her understanding gave price to her familiarity. She had a taste for that kind of moral observation which leads to the knowledge of mankind, and from her originated that study in myself. She was fond of the works of Le Sage, particularly Gil Blas, which she lent me, and recommended to my perusal. I read this performance with pleasure, but my judgment was not yet ripe enough to relish that sort of reading. I liked romances which abounded with high-flown sentiments.
Thus did I pass my time at the grate of Mademoiselle du Chatelet, with as much profit as pleasure. It is certain that the interesting and sensible conversation of a deserving woman is more proper to form the understanding of a young man than all the pedantic philosophy of books.
I got acquainted at the Chasattes with some other boarders and their friends, and among the rest, with a young person of fourteen, called Mademoiselle Serre, whom I did not much notice at that time, though I was in love with her eight or nine years afterwards, and with great reason, for she was a most charming girl.
I was fully occupied with the idea of seeing Madam de Warrens, and this gave some respite to my chimeras, for finding happiness in real objects I was the less inclined to seek it in nonentities. I had not only found her, but also by her means, and near her, an agreeable situation, having sent me word that she had procured one that would suit me, and by which I should not be obliged to quit her. I exhausted all my conjectures in guessing what this occupation could be, but I must have possessed the art of divination to have hit it on the right. I had money sufficient to make my journey agreeable: Mademoiselle du Chatelet persuaded me to hire a horse, but this I could not consent to, and I was certainly right, for by so doing I should have lost the pleasure of the last pedestrian expedition I ever made; for I cannot give that name to those excursions I have frequently taken about my own neighborhood, while I lived at Motiers.
It is very singular that my imagination never rises so high as when my situation is least agreeable or cheerful. When everything smiles around me, I am least amused; my heart cannot confine itself to realities, cannot embellish, but must create. Real objects strike me as they really are, my imagination can only decorate ideal ones. If I would paint the spring, it must be in winter; if describe a beautiful landscape, it must be while surrounded with walls; and I have said a hundred times, that were I confined in the Bastile, I could draw the most enchanting picture of liberty. On my departure from Lyons, I saw nothing but an agreeable future, the content I now with reason enjoyed was as great as my discontent had been at leaving Paris, notwithstanding, I had not during this journey any of those delightful reveries I then enjoyed. My mind was serene, and that was all; I drew near the excellent friend I was going to see, my heart overflowing with tenderness, enjoying in advance, but without intoxication, the pleasure of living near her; I had always expected this, and it was as if nothing new had happened. Meantime, I was anxious about the employment Madam de Warrens had procured me, as if that alone had been material. My ideas were calm and peaceable, not ravishing and celestial; every object struck my sight in its natural form; I observed the surrounding landscape, remarked the trees, the houses, the springs, deliberated on the cross-roads, was fearful of losing myself, yet did not do so; in a word, I was no longer in the empyrean, but precisely where I found myself, or sometimes perhaps at the end of my journey, never farther.
I am in recounting my travels, as I was in making them, loath to arrive at the conclusion. My heart beat with joy as I approached my dear Madam de Warrens, but I went no faster on that account. I love to walk at my ease, and stop at leisure; a strolling life is necessary to me: travelling on foot, in a fine country, with fine weather and having an agreeable object to terminate my journey, is the manner of living of all others most suited to my taste.
It is already understood what I mean by a fine country; never can a flat one, though ever so beautiful, appear such in my eyes: I must have torrents, fir trees, black woods, mountains to climb or descend, and rugged roads with precipices on either side to alarm me. I experienced this pleasure in its utmost extent as I approached Chambery, not far from a mountain which is called Pas de l'Echelle. Above the main road, which is hewn through the rock, a small river runs and rushes into fearful chasms, which it appears to have been millions of ages in forming. The road has been hedged by a parapet to prevent accidents, which enabled me to contemplate the whole descent, and gain vertigoes at pleasure; for a great part of my amusement in these steep rocks, is, they cause a giddiness and swimming in my head, which I am particularly fond of, provided I am in safety; leaning, therefore, over the parapet, I remained whole hours, catching, from time to time, a glance of the froth and blue water, whose rushing caught my ear, mingled with the cries of ravens, and other birds of prep that flew from rock to rock, and bush to bush, at six hundred feet below me. In places where the slope was tolerably regular, and clear enough from bushes to let stones roll freely, I went a considerable way to gather them, bringing those I could but just carry, which I piled on the parapet, and then threw down one after the other, being transported at seeing them roll, rebound, and fly into a thousand pieces, before they reached the bottom of the precipice.
Near Chambery I enjoyed an equal pleasing spectacle, though of a different kind; the road passing near the foot of the most charming cascade I ever saw. The water, which is very rapid, shoots from the top of an excessively steep mountain, falling at such a distance from its base that you may walk between the cascade and the rock without any inconvenience; but if not particularly careful it is easy to be deceived as I was, for the water, falling from such an immense height, separates, and descends in a rain as fine as dust, and on approaching too near this cloud, without perceiving it, you may be wet through in an instant.
At length I arrived at Madam de Warrens; she was not alone, the intendant-general was with her. Without speaking a word to me, she caught my hand, and presenting me to him with that natural grace which charmed all hearts, said: "This, sir, is the poor young man I mentioned; deign to protect him as long as he deserves it, and I shall feel no concern for the remainder of his life." Then added, addressing herself to me, "Child, you now belong to the king, thank Monsieur the Intendant, who furnishes you with the means of existence." I stared without answering, without knowing what to think of all this; rising ambition almost turned my head; I was already prepared to act the intendant myself. My fortune, however, was not so brilliant as I had imagined, but it was sufficient to maintain me, which, as I was situated, was a capital acquisition. I shall now explain the nature of my employment.
King Victor Amadeus, judging by the event of preceding wars, and the situation of the ancient patrimony of his fathers, that he should not long be able to maintain it, wished to drain it beforehand. Resolving, therefore, to tax the nobility, he ordered a general survey of the whole country, in order that it might be rendered more equal and productive.
This scheme, which was begun under the father, was completed by the son: two or three hundred men, part surveyors, who were called geometricians, and part writers, who were called secretaries, were employed in this work: among those of the latter description Madam de Warrens had got me appointed. This post, without being very lucrative, furnished the means of living eligibly in that country; the misfortune was, this employment could not be of any great duration, but it put me in train to procure something better, as by this means she hoped to insure the particular protection of the intendant, who might find me some more settled occupation before this was concluded.
I entered on my new employment a few days after my arrival, and as there was no great difficulty in the business, soon understood it; thus, after four or five years of unsettled life, folly, and suffering, since my departure from Geneva, I began, for the first time, to gain my bread with credit.
These long details of my early youth must have appeared trifling, and I am sorry for it: though born a man, in a variety of instances, I was long a child, and am so yet in many particulars. I did not promise the public a great personage: I promised to describe myself as I am, and to know me in my advanced age it was necessary to have known me in my youth. As, in general, objects that are present make less impression on me than the bare remembrance of them (my ideas being all from recollection), the first traits which were engraven on my mind have distinctly remained: those which have since been imprinted there, have rather combined with the former than effaced them. There is a certain, yet varied succession of affections and ideas, which continue to regulate those that follow them, and this progression must be known in order to judge rightly of those they have influenced. I have studied to develop the first causes, the better to show the concatenation of effects. I would be able by some means to render my soul transparent to the eyes of the reader, and for this purpose endeavor to show it in every possible point of view, to give him every insight, and act in such a manner, that not a motion should escape him, as by this means he may form a judgment of the principles that produce them.
Did I take upon myself to decide, and say to the reader, "Such is my character," he might think that if I did not endeavor to deceive him, I at least deceived myself; but in, recounting simply all that has happened to me, all my actions, thoughts, and feelings, I cannot lead him into an error, unless I do it wilfully, which by this means I could not easily effect, since it is his province to compare the elements, and judge of the being they compose: thus the result must be his work, and if he is then deceived the error will be his own. It is not sufficient for this purpose that my recitals should be merely faithful, they must also be minute; it is not for me to judge of the importance of facts, I ought to declare them simply as they are, and leave the estimate that is to be formed of them to him. I have adhered to this principle hitherto, with the most scrupulous exactitude, and shall not depart from it in the continuation; but the impressions of age are less lively than those of youth; I began by delineating the latter: should I recollect the rest with the same precision, the reader, may, perhaps, become weary and impatient, but I shall not be dissatisfied with my labor. I have but one thing to apprehend in this undertaking: I do not dread saying too much, or advancing falsities, but I am fearful of not saying enough, or concealing truths.
THE CONFESSIONS OF JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU (In 12 books)
Privately Printed for the Members of the Aldus Society
It was, I believe, in 1732, that I arrived at Chambery, as already related, and began my employment of registering land for the king. I was almost twenty-one, my mind well enough formed for my age, with respect to sense, but very deficient in point of judgment, and needing every instruction from those into whose hands I fell, to make me conduct myself with propriety; for a few years' experience had not been able to cure me radically of my romantic ideas; and notwithstanding the ills I had sustained, I knew as little of the world, or mankind, as if I had never purchased instruction. I slept at home, that is, at the house of Madam de Warrens; but it was not as at Annecy: here were no gardens, no brook, no landscape; the house was dark and dismal, and my apartment the most gloomy of the whole. The prospect a dead wall, an alley instead of a street, confined air, bad light, small rooms, iron bars, rats, and a rotten floor; an assemblage of circumstances that do not constitute a very agreeable habitation; but I was in the same house with my best friend, incessantly near her, at my desk, or in chamber, so that I could not perceive the gloominess of my own, or have time to think of it.
It may appear whimsical that she should reside at Chambery on purpose to live in this disagreeable house; but it was a trait of contrivance which I ought not to pass over in silence. She had no great inclination for a journey to Turin, fearing that after the recent revolutions, and the agitation in which the court yet was, she should not be very favorably received there; but her affairs seemed to demand her presence, as she feared being forgotten or ill-treated, particularly as the Count de Saint-Laurent, Intendent-general of the Finances, was not in her interest. He had an old house in Chambery, ill-built, and standing in so disagreeable a situation that it was always untenanted; she hired, and settled in this house, a plan that succeeded much better than a journey to Turin would have done, for her pension was not suppressed, and the Count de Saint-Laurent was ever after one of her best friends.
Her household was much on the old footing; her faithful Claude Anet still remained with her. He was, as I have before mentioned, a peasant of Moutru, who in his childhood had gathered herbs in Jura for the purpose of making Swiss tea; she had taken him into her service for his knowledge of drugs, finding it convenient to have a herbalist among her domestics.
Passionately fond of the study of plants, he became a real botanist, and had he not died young, might have acquired as much fame in that science as he deserved for being an honest man. Serious even to gravity, and older than myself, he was to me a kind of tutor, commanding respect, and preserving me from a number of follies, for I dared not forget myself before him. He commanded it likewise from his mistress, who knew his understanding, uprightness, and inviolable attachment to herself, and returned it. Claude Anet was of an uncommon temper. I never encountered a similar disposition: he was slow, deliberate, and circumspect in his conduct; cold in his manner; laconic and sententious in his discourse; yet of an impetuosity in his passions, which (though careful to conceal) preyed upon him inwardly, and urged him to the only folly he ever committed; that folly, indeed was terrible, it was poisoning himself.
This tragic scene passed soon after my arrival, and opened my eyes to the intimacy that subsisted between Claude Anet and his mistress, for had not the information come from her, I should never have suspected it; yet, surely, if attachment, fidelity, and zeal, could merit such a recompense, it was due to him, and what further proves him worthy such a distinction, he never once abused her confidence. They seldom disputed, and their disagreements ever ended amicably; one, indeed, was not so fortunate; his mistress, in a passion, said something affronting, which not being able to digest, he consulted only with despair, and finding a bottle of laudanum at hand, drank it off; then went peaceably to bed, expecting to awake no more. Madam de Warrens herself was uneasy, agitated, wandering about the house and happily--finding the phial empty--guessed the rest.
Her screams, while flying to his assistance, alarmed me; she confessed all, implored my help, and was fortunate enough, after repeated efforts, to make him throw up the laudanum. Witness of this scene, I could not but wonder at my stupidity in never having suspected the connection; but Claude Anet was so discreet, that a more penetrating observer might have been deceived. Their reconciliation affected me, and added respect to the esteem I before felt for him. From this time I became, in some measure, his pupil, nor did I find myself the worse for his instruction.
I could not learn, without pain, that she lived in greater intimacy with another than with myself: it was a situation I had not even thought of, but (which was very natural) it hurt me to see another in possession of it. Nevertheless, instead of feeling any aversion to the person who had this advantage over me, I found the attachment I felt for her actually extend to him. I desired her happiness above all things, and since he was concerned in her plan of felicity, I was content he should be happy likewise. Meantime he perfectly entered into the views of his mistress; conceived a sincere friendship for me, and without affecting the authority his situation might have entitled him to, he naturally possessed that which his superior judgment gave him over mine. I dared do nothing he disproved of, but he was sure to disapprove only what merited disapprobation: thus we lived in an union which rendered us mutually happy, and which death alone could dissolve.
One proof of the excellence of this amiable woman's character, is, that all those who loved her, loved each other; even jealousy and rivalship submitting to the more powerful sentiment with which she inspired them, and I never saw any of those who surrounded her entertain the least ill will among themselves. Let the reader pause a moment on this encomium, and if he can recollect any other woman who deserves it, let him attach himself to her, if he would obtain happiness.
From my arrival at Chambery to my departure for Paris, 1741, included an interval of eight or nine years, during which time I have few adventures to relate; my life being as simple as it was agreeable. This uniformity was precisely what was most wanting to complete the formation of my character, which continual troubles had prevented from acquiring any degree of stability. It was during this pleasing interval, that my unconnected, unfinished education, gained consistence, and made me what I have unalterably remained amid the storms with which I have since been surrounded.
The progress was slow, almost imperceptible, and attended by few memorable circumstances; yet it deserves to be followed and investigated.
At first, I was wholly occupied with my business, the constraint of a desk left little opportunity for other thoughts, the small portion of time I was at liberty was passed with my dear Madam de Warrens, and not having leisure to read, I felt no inclination for it; but when my business (by daily repetition) became familiar, and my mind was less occupied, study again became necessary, and (as my desires were ever irritated by any difficulty that opposed the indulgence of them) might once more have become a passion, as at my master's, had not other inclinations interposed and diverted it.
Though our occupation did not demand a very profound skill in arithmetic, it sometimes required enough to puzzle me. To conquer this difficulty, I purchased books which treated on that science, and learned well, for I now studied alone. Practical arithmetic extends further than is usually supposed if you would attain exact precision. There are operations of extreme length in which I have sometimes seen good geometricians lose themselves. Reflection, assisted by practice, gives clear ideas, and enables you to devise shorter methods, these inventions flatter our self-complacency, while their exactitude satisfies our understanding, and renders a study pleasant, which is, of itself, heavy and unentertaining.
At length I became so expert as not to be puzzled by any question that was solvable by arithmetical calculation; and even now, while everything I formerly knew fades daily on my memory, this acquirement, in a great measure remains, through an interval of thirty years. A few days ago, in a journey I made to Davenport, being with my host at an arithmetical lesson given his children, I did (with pleasure, and without errors) a most complicated work. While setting down my figures, methought I was still at Chambery, still in my days of happiness--how far had I to look back for them!
The colored plans of our geometricians had given me a taste for drawing: accordingly I bought colors, and began by attempting flowers and landscapes. It was unfortunate that I had not talents for this art, for my inclination was much disposed to it, and while surrounded with crayons, pencils, and colors, I could have passed whole months without wishing to leave them. This amusement engaged me so much that they were obliged to force me from it; and thus it is with every inclination I give into, it continues to augment, till at length it becomes so powerful, that I lose sight of everything except the favorite amusement. Years have not been able to cure me of that fault, nay, have not even diminished it; for while I am writing this, behold me, like an old dotard, infatuated with another, to me useless study, which I do not understand, and which even those who have devoted their youthful days to the acquisition of, are constrained to abandon, at the age I am beginning with it.
At that time, the study I am now speaking of would have been well placed, the opportunity was good, and I had some temptation to profit by it; for the satisfaction I saw in the eyes of Anet, when he came home loaded with new discovered plants, set me two or three times on the point of going to herbalize with him, and I am almost certain that had I gone once, I should have been caught, and perhaps at this day might have been an excellent botanist, for I know no study more congenial to my natural inclination, than that of plants; the life I have led for these ten years past, in the country, being little more than a continual herbalizing, though I must confess, without object, and without improvement; but at the time I am now speaking of I had no inclination for botany, nay, I even despised, and was disgusted at the idea, considering it only as a fit study for an apothecary. Madam de Warrens was fond of it merely for this purpose, seeking none but common plants to use in her medical preparations; thus botany, chemistry, and anatomy were confounded in my idea under the general denomination of medicine, and served to furnish me with pleasant sarcasms the whole day, which procured me, from time to time, a box on the ear, applied by Madam de Warrens. Besides this, a very contrary taste grew up with me, and by degrees absorbed all others; this was music. I was certainly born for that science, I loved it from my infancy, and it was the only inclination I have constantly adhered to; but it is astonishing that what nature seemed to have designed me for should have cost so much pains to learn, and that I should acquire it so slowly, that after a whole life spent in the practice of this art, I could never attain to sing with any certainty at sight. What rendered the study of music more agreeable to me at that time, was, being able to practise it with Madam de Warrens. In other respects our tastes were widely different: this was a point of coincidence, which I loved to avail myself of. She had no more objection to this than myself. I knew at that time almost as much of it as she did, and after two or three efforts, we could make shift to decipher an air. Sometimes, when I saw her busy at her furnace, I have said, "Here now is a charming duet, which seems made for the very purpose of spoiling your drugs;" her answer would be, "If you make me burn them, I'll make you eat them:" thus disputing, I drew her to the harpsichord; the furnace was presently forgotten, the extract of juniper or wormwood calcined (which I cannot recollect without transport), and these scenes usually ended by her smearing my face with the remains of them.
It may easily be conjectured that I had plenty of employment to fill up my leisure hours; one amusement, however, found room, that was well worth all the rest.
We lived in such a confined dungeon, that it was necessary sometimes to breathe the open air; Anet, therefore, engaged Madam de Warrens to hire a garden in the suburbs, both for this purpose and the convenience of rearing plants, etc.; to this garden was added a summer--house, which was furnished in the customary manner; we sometimes dined, and I frequently slept, there. Insensibly I became attached to this little retreat, decorated it with books and prints, spending part of my time in ornamenting it during the absence of Madam de Warrens, that I might surprise her the more agreeably on her return. Sometimes I quitted this dear friend, that I might enjoy the uninterrupted pleasure of thinking on her; this was a caprice I can neither excuse nor fully explain, I only know this really was the case, and therefore I avow it. I remember Madam de Luxembourg told me one day in raillery, of a man who used to leave his mistress that he might enjoy the satisfaction of writing to her; I answered, I could have been this man; I might have added, That I had done the very same.
I did not, however, find it necessary to leave Madam de Warrens that I might love her the more ardently, for I was ever as perfectly free with her as when alone; an advantage I never enjoyed with any other person, man or woman, however I might be attached to them; but she was so often surrounded by company who were far from pleasing me, that spite and weariness drove me to this asylum, where I could indulge the idea, without danger of being interrupted by impertinence. Thus, my time being divided between business, pleasure, and instruction, my life passed in the most absolute serenity. Europe was not equally tranquil: France and the emperor had mutually declared war, the King of Sardinia had entered into the quarrel, and a French army had filed off into Piedmont to awe the Milanese. Our division passed through Chambery, and, among others, the regiment of Champaigne, whose colonel was the Duke de la Trimouille, to whom I was presented. He promised many things, but doubtless never more thought of me. Our little garden was exactly at the end of the suburb by which the troops entered, so that I could fully satisfy my curiosity in seeing them pass, and I became as anxious for the success of the war as if it had nearly concerned me. Till now I had never troubled myself about politics, for the first time I began reading the gazettes, but with so much partiality on the side of France, that my heart beat with rapture on its most trifling advantages, and I was as much afflicted on a reverse of fortune, as if I had been particularly concerned.
Had this folly been transient, I should not, perhaps, have mentioned it, but it took such root in my heart (without any reasonable cause) that when I afterwards acted the anti-despot and proud republican at Paris, in spite of myself, I felt a secret predilection for the nation I declared servile, and for that government I affected to oppose. The pleasantest of all was that, ashamed of an inclination so contrary to my professed maxims, I dared not own it to any one, but rallied the French on their defeats, while my heart was more wounded than their own. I am certainly the first man, that, living with a people who treated him well, and whom he almost adored, put on, even in their own country, a borrowed air of despising them; yet my original inclination is so powerful, constant, disinterested, and invincible, that even since my quitting that kingdom, since its government, magistrates, and authors, have outvied each other in rancor against me, since it has become fashionable to load me with injustice and abuse, I have not been able to get rid of this folly, but notwithstanding their ill-treatment, love them in spite of myself.
I long sought the cause of this partiality, but was never able to find any, except in the occasion that gave it birth. A rising taste for literature attached me to French books, to their authors, and their country: at the very moment the French troops were passing Chambery, I was reading Brantome's 'Celebrated Captains'; my head was full of the Clissons, Bayards, Lautrecs Colignys, Monlmoreneys, and Trimouille, and I loved their descendants as the heirs of their merit and courage. In each regiment that passed by methought I saw those famous black bands who had formerly done so many noble exploits in Piedmont; in fine, I applied to these all the ideas I had gathered from books; my reading continued, which, still drawn from the same nation, nourished my affection for that country, till, at length, it became a blind passion, which nothing could overcome. I have had occasion to remark several times in the course of my travels, that this impression was not peculiar to me for France, but was more or less active in every country, for that part of the nation who were fond of literature, and cultivated learning; and it was this consideration that balanced in my mind the general hatred which the conceited air of the French is so apt to inspire. Their romances, more than their men, attract the women of all countries, and the celebrated dramatic pieces of France create a fondness in youth for their theaters; the reputation which that of Paris in particular has acquired, draws to it crowds of strangers, who return enthusiasts to their own country: in short, the excellence of their literature captivates the senses, and in the unfortunate war just ended, I have seen their authors and philosophers maintain the glory of France, so tarnished by its warriors.
I was, therefore, an ardent Frenchman; this rendered me a politician, and I attended in the public square, amid a throng of news-mongers, the arrival of the post, and, sillier than the ass in the fable, was very uneasy to know whose packsaddle I should next have the honor to carry, for it was then supposed we should belong to France, and that Savoy would be exchanged for Milan. I must confess, however, that I experienced some uneasiness, for had this war terminated unfortunately for the allies, the pension of Madam de Warrens would have been in a dangerous situation; nevertheless, I had great confidence in my good friends, the French, and for once (in spite of the surprise of M. de Broglio) my confidence was not ill-founded--thanks to the King of Sardinia, whom I had never thought of.
While we were fighting in Italy, they were singing in France: the operas of Rameau began to make a noise there, and once more raise the credit of his theoretic works, which, from their obscurity, were within the compass of very few understandings. By chance I heard of his 'Treatise on Harmony', and had no rest till I purchased it. By another chance I fell sick; my illness was inflammatory, short and violent, but my convalescence was tedious, for I was unable to go abroad for a whole month. During this time I eagerly ran over my Treatise on Harmony, but it was so long, so diffuse, and so badly disposed, that I found it would require a considerable time to unravel it: accordingly I suspended my inclination, and recreated my sight with music.
The cantatas of Bernier were what I principally exercised myself with.
These were never out of my mind; I learned four or five by heart, and among the rest, 'The Sleeping Cupids', which I have never seen since that time, though I still retain it almost entirely; as well as 'Cupid Stung by a Bee', a very pretty cantata by Clerambault, which I learned about the same time.
To complete me, there arrived a young organist from Valdoste, called the Abbe Palais, a good musician and an agreeable companion, who performed very well on the harpsichord; I got acquainted with him, and we soon became inseparable. He had been brought up by an Italian monk, who was a capital organist. He explained to me his principles of music, which I compared with Rameau; my head was filled with accompaniments, concords and harmony, but as it was necessary to accustom the ear to all this, I proposed to Madam de Warrens having a little concert once a month, to which she consented.
Behold me then so full of this concert, that night or day I could think of nothing else, and it actually employed a great part of my time to select the music, assemble the musicians, look to the instruments, and write out the several parts. Madam de Warrens sang; Father Cato (whom I have before mentioned, and shall have occasion to speak of again) sang likewise; a dancing--master named Roche, and his son, played on the violin; Canavas, a Piedmontese musician (who was employed like myself in the survey, and has since married at Paris), played on the violoncello; the Abbe Palais performed on the harpsichord, and I had the honor to conduct the whole. It may be supposed all this was charming; I cannot say it equalled my concert at Monsieur de Tretoren's, but certainly it was not far behind it.
This little concert, given by Madam de Warrens, the new convert, who lived (it was expressed) on the king's charity, made the whole tribe of devotees murmur, but was a very agreeable amusement to several worthy people, at the head of whom it would not be easily surmised that I should place a monk; yet, though a monk, a man of considerable merit, and even of a very amiable disposition, whose subsequent misfortunes gave me the most lively concern, and whose idea, attached to that of my happy days, is yet dear to my memory. I speak of Father Cato, a Cordelier, who, in conjunction with the Count d'Ortan, had caused the music of poor Le Maitre to be seized at Lyons; which action was far from being the brightest trait in his history. He was a Bachelor of Sorbonne, had lived long in Paris among the great world, and was particularly caressed by the Marquis d'Antremont, then Ambassador from Sardinia. He was tall and well made; full faced, with very fine eyes, and black hair, which formed natural curls on each side of his forehead. His manner was at once noble, open, and modest; he presented himself with ease and good manners, having neither the hypocritical nor impudent behavior of a monk, or the forward assurance of a fashionable coxcomb, but the manners of a well-bred man, who, without blushing for his habit, set a value on himself, and ever felt in his proper situation when in good company.
Though Father Cato was not deeply studied for a doctor, he was much so for a man of the world, and not being compelled to show his talents, he brought them forward so advantageously that they appeared greater than they really were. Having lived much in the world, he had rather attached himself to agreeable acquirements than to solid learning; had sense, made verses, spoke well, sang better, and aided his good voice by playing on the organ and harpsichord. So many pleasing qualities were not necessary to make his company sought after, and, accordingly, it was very much so, but this did not make him neglect the duties of his function: he was chosen (in spite of his jealous competitors) Definitor of his Province, or, according to them, one of the greatest pillars of their order.
Father Cato became acquainted with Madam de Warrens at the Marquis of Antremont's; he had heard of her concerts, wished to assist at them, and by his company rendered our meetings truly agreeable. We were soon attached to each other by our mutual taste for music, which in both was a most lively passion, with this difference, that he was really a musician, and myself a bungler. Sometimes assisted by Canavas and the Abbe Palais, we had music in his apartment; or on holidays at his organ, and frequently dined with him; for, what was very astonishing in a monk, he was generous, profuse, and loved good cheer, without the least tincture of greediness. After our concerts, he always used to stay to supper, and these evenings passed with the greatest gayety and good-humor; we conversed with the utmost freedom, and sang duets; I was perfectly at my ease, had sallies of wit and merriment; Father Cato was charming, Madam de Warrens adorable, and the Abbe Palais, with his rough voice, was the butt of the company. Pleasing moments of sportive youth, how long since have ye fled!
As I shall have no more occasion to speak of poor Father Cato, I will here conclude in a few words his melancholy history. His brother monks, jealous, or rather exasperated to discover in him a merit and elegance of manners which favored nothing of monastic stupidity, conceived the most violent hatred to him, because he was not as despicable as themselves; the chiefs, therefore, combined against this worthy man, and set on the envious rabble of monks, who otherwise would not have dared to hazard the attack. He received a thousand indignities; they degraded him from his office, took away the apartment which he had furnished with elegant simplicity, and, at length, banished him, I know not whither: in short, these wretches overwhelmed him with so many evils, that his honest and proud soul sank under the pressure, and, after having been the delight of the most amiable societies, he died of grief, on a wretched bed, hid in some cell or dungeon, lamented by all worthy people of his acquaintance, who could find no fault in him, except his being a monk.
Accustomed to this manner of life for some time, I became so entirely attached to music that I could think of nothing else. I went to my business with disgust, the necessary confinement and assiduity appeared an insupportable punishment, which I at length wished to relinquish, that I might give myself up without reserve to my favorite amusement. It will be readily believed that this folly met with some opposition; to give up a creditable employment and fixed salary to run after uncertain scholars was too giddy a plan to be approved of by Madam de Warrens, and even supposing my future success should prove as great as I flattered myself, it was fixing very humble limits to my ambition to think of reducing myself for life to the condition of a music-master. She, who formed for me the brightest projects, and no longer trusted implicitly to the judgment of M. d'Aubonne, seeing with concern that I was so seriously occupied with a talent which she thought frivolous, frequently repeated to me that provincial proverb, which does not hold quite so good in Paris,
"Qui biens chante et biens dance, fait un metier qui peu avance."
[He who can sweetly sing and featly dance.
His interests right little shall advance.]
On the other hand, she saw me hurried away by this irresistible passion, my taste for music having become a furor, and it was much to be feared that my employment, suffering by my distraction, might draw on me a discharge, which would be worse than a voluntary resignation.
I represented to her; that this employment could not last long, that it was necessary I should have some permanent means of subsistence, and that it would be much better to complete by practice the acquisition of that art to which my inclination led me than to make fresh essays, which possibly might not succeed, since by this means, having passed the age most proper for improvement, I might be left without a single resource for gaining a livelihood: in short, I extorted her consent more by importunity and caresses than by any satisfactory reasons. Proud of my success, I immediately ran to thank M. Coccelli, Director-General of the Survey, as though I had performed the most heroic action, and quitted my employment without cause, reason, or pretext, with as much pleasure as I had accepted it two years before.
This step, ridiculous as it may appear, procured me a kind of consideration, which I found extremely useful. Some supposed I had resources which I did not possess; others, seeing me totally given up to music, judged of my abilities by the sacrifice I had made, and concluded that with such a passion for the art, I must possess it in a superior degree. In a nation of blind men, those with one eye are kings. I passed here for an excellent master, because all the rest were very bad ones. Possessing taste in singing, and being favored by my age and figure, I soon procured more scholars than were sufficient to compensate for the losses of my secretary's pay. It is certain, that had it been reasonable to consider the pleasure of my situation only, it was impossible to pass more speedily from one extreme to the other. At our measuring, I was confined eight hours in the day to the most unentertaining employment, with yet more disagreeable company. Shut up in a melancholy counting-house, empoisoned by the smell and respiration of a number of clowns, the major part of whom were ill-combed and very dirty, what with attention, bad air, constraint and weariness, I was sometimes so far overcome as to occasion a vertigo. Instead of this, behold me admitted into the fashionable world, sought after in the first houses, and everywhere received with an air of satisfaction; amiable and gay young ladies awaiting my arrival, and welcoming me with pleasure; I see nothing but charming objects, smell nothing but roses and orange flowers; singing, chatting, laughter, and amusements, perpetually succeed each other. It must be allowed, that reckoning all these advantages, no hesitation was necessary in the choice; in fact, I was so content with mine, that I never once repented it; nor do I even now, when, free from the irrational motives that influenced me at that time, I weigh in the scale of reason every action of my life.
This is, perhaps, the only time that, listening to inclination, I was not deceived in my expectations. The easy access, obliging temper, and free humor of this country, rendered a commerce with the world agreeable, and the inclination I then felt for it, proves to me, that if I have a dislike for society, it is more their fault than mine. It is a pity the Savoyards are not rich: though, perhaps, it would be a still greater pity if they were so, for altogether they are the best, the most sociable people that I know, and if there is a little city in the world where the pleasures of life are experienced in an agreeable and friendly commerce, it is at Chambery. The gentry of the province who assemble there have only sufficient wealth to live and not enough to spoil them; they cannot give way to ambition, but follow, through necessity, the counsel of Cyneas, devoting their youth to a military employment, and returning home to grow old in peace; an arrangement over which honor and reason equally preside. The women are handsome, yet do not stand in need of beauty, since they possess all those qualifications which enhance its value and even supply the want of it. It is remarkable, that being obliged by my profession to see a number of young girls, I do not recollect one at Chambery but what was charming: it will be said I was disposed to find them so, and perhaps there maybe some truth in the surmise. I cannot remember my young scholars without pleasure. Why, in naming the most amiable, cannot I recall them and myself also to that happy age in which our moments, pleasing as innocent, were passed with such happiness together? The first was Mademoiselle de Mallarede, my neighbor, and sister to a pupil of Monsieur Gaime. She was a fine clear brunette, lively and graceful, without giddiness; thin as girls of that age usually are; but her bright eyes, fine shape, and easy air, rendered her sufficiently pleasing with that degree of plumpness which would have given a heightening to her charms. I went there of mornings, when she was usually in her dishabille, her hair carelessly turned up, and, on my arrival, ornamented with a flower, which was taken off at my departure for her hair to be dressed. There is nothing I fear so much as a pretty woman in an elegant dishabille; I should dread them a hundred times less in full dress. Mademoiselle de Menthon, whom I attended in the afternoon, was ever so. She made an equally pleasing, but quite different impression on me. Her hair was flaxen, her person delicate, she was very timid and extremely fair, had a clear voice, capable of just modulation, but which she had not courage to employ to its full extent.
She had the mark of a scald on her bosom, which a scanty piece of blue chenille did not entirely cover, this scar sometimes drew my attention, though not absolutely on its own account. Mademoiselle des Challes, another of my neighbors, was a woman grown, tall, well-formed, jolly, very pleasing though not a beauty, and might be quoted for her gracefulness, equal temper, and good humor. Her sister, Madam de Charly, the handsomest woman of Chambery, did not learn music, but I taught her daughter, who was yet young, but whose growing beauty promised to equal her mother's, if she had not unfortunately been a little red-haired.
I had likewise among my scholars a little French lady, whose name I have forgotten, but who merits a place in my list of preferences. She had adopted the slow drawling tone of the nuns, in which voice she would utter some very keen things, which did not in the least appear to correspond with her manner; but she was indolent, and could not generally take pains to show her wit, that being a favor she did not grant to every one. After a month or two of negligent attendance, this was an expedient she devised to make me more assiduous, for I could not easily persuade myself to be so. When with my scholars, I was fond enough of teaching, but could not bear the idea of being obliged to attend at a particular hour; constraint and subjection in every shape are to me insupportable, and alone sufficient to make me hate even pleasure itself.
I had some scholars likewise among the tradespeople, and, among others, one who was the indirect cause of a change of relationship, which (as I have promised to declare all) I must relate in its place. She was the daughter of a grocer, and was called Mademoiselle de Larnage, a perfect model for a Grecian statue, and whom I should quote for the handsomest girl I have ever seen, if true beauty could exist without life or soul.
Her indolence, reserve, and insensibility were inconceivable; it was equally impossible to please or make her angry, and I am convinced that had any one formed a design upon her virtue, he might have succeeded, not through her inclination, but from her stupidity. Her mother, who would run no risk of this, did not leave her a single moment. In having her taught to sing and providing a young master, she had hoped to enliven her, but it all proved ineffectual. While the master was admiring the daughter, the mother was admiring the master, but this was equally lost labor. Madam de Larnage added to her natural vivacity that portion of sprightliness which should have belonged to the daughter. She was a little, ugly, lively trollop, with small twinkling ferret eyes, and marked with smallpox. On my arrival in the morning, I always found my coffee and cream ready, and the mother never failed to welcome me with a kiss on the lips, which I would willingly have returned the daughter, to see how she would have received it. All this was done with such an air of carelessness and simplicity, that even when M. de Larnage was present; her kisses and caresses were not omitted. He was a good quiet fellow, the true original of his daughter; nor did his wife endeavor to deceive him, because there was absolutely no occasion for it.
I received all these caresses with my usual stupidity, taking them only for marks of pure friendship, though they were sometimes troublesome; for the lively Madam Lard was displeased, if, during the day, I passed the shop without calling; it became necessary, therefore (when I had no time to spare), to go out of my way through another street, well knowing it was not so easy to quit her house as to enter it.
Madam Lard thought so much of me, that I could not avoid thinking something of her. Her attentions affected me greatly; and I spoke of them to Madam de Warrens, without supposing any mystery in the matter, but had there been one I should equally have divulged it, for to have kept a secret of any kind from her would have been impossible. My heart lay as open to Madam de Warrens as to Heaven. She did not understand the matter quite so simply as I had done, but saw advances where I only discovered friendship. She concluded that Madam Lard would make a point of not leaving me as great a fool as she found me, and, some way or other, contrive to make herself understood; but exclusive of the consideration that it was not just, that another should undertake the instruction of her pupil, she had motives more worthy of her, wishing to guard me against the snares to which my youth and inexperience exposed me. Meantime, a more dangerous temptation offered which I likewise escaped, but which proved to her that such a succession of dangers required every preservative she could possibly apply.
The Countess of Menthon, mother to one of my scholars, was a woman of great wit, and reckoned to possess, at least, an equal share of mischief, having (as was reported) caused a number of quarrels, and, among others, one that terminated fatally for the house of D' Antremont. Madam de Warrens had seen enough of her to know her character: for having (very innocently) pleased some person to whom Madam de Menthon had pretensions, she found her guilty of the crime of this preference, though Madam de Warrens had neither sought after nor accepted it, and from that moment endeavored to play her rival a number of ill turns, none of which succeeded. I shall relate one of the most whimsical, by way of specimen.
They were together in the country, with several gentlemen of the neighborhood, and among the rest the lover in question. Madam de Menthon took an opportunity to say to one of these gentlemen, that Madam de Warrens was a prude, that she dressed ill, and particularly that she covered her neck like a tradeswoman. "O, for that matter," replied the person she was speaking to (who was fond of a joke), "she has good reason, for I know she is marked with a great ugly rat on her bosom, so naturally, that it even appears to be running." Hatred, as well as love, renders its votaries credulous. Madam de Menthon resolved to make use of this discovery, and one day, while Madam de Warrens was at cards with this lady's ungrateful favorite, she contrived, in passing behind her rival, almost to overset the chair she sat on, and at the same instant, very dexterously displaced her handkerchief; but instead of this hideous rat, the gentleman beheld a far different object, which it was not more easy to forget than to obtain a sight of, and which by no means answered the intentions of the lady.
I was not calculated to engross the attention of Madam de Menthon, who loved to be surrounded by brilliant company; notwithstanding she bestowed some attention on me, not for the sake of my person, which she certainly did not regard, but for the reputation of wit which I had acquired, and which might have rendered me convenient to her predominant inclination.
She had a very lively passion for ridicule, and loved to write songs and lampoons on those who displeased her: had she found me possessed of sufficient talents to aid the fabrication of her verses, and complaisance enough to do so, we should presently have turned Chambery upside down; these libels would have been traced to their source, Madam de Menthon would have saved herself by sacrificing me, and I should have been cooped up in prison, perhaps, for the rest of my life, as a recompense for having figured away as the Apollo of the ladies. Fortunately, nothing of this kind happened; Madam de Menthon made me stay for dinner two or three days, to chat with me, and soon found I was too dull for her purpose.
I felt this myself, and was humiliated at the discovery, envying the talents of my friend Venture; though I should rather have been obliged to my stupidity for keeping me out of the reach of danger. I remained, therefore, Madam de Menthon's daughter's singing-master, and nothing more! but I lived happily, and was ever well received at Chambery, which was a thousand times more desirable than passing for a wit with her, and for a serpent with everybody else.
However this might be, Madam de Warrens conceived it necessary to guard me from the perils of youth by treating me as a man: this she immediately set about, but in the most extraordinary manner that any woman, in similar circumstances, ever devised. I all at once observed that her manner was graver, and her discourse more moral than usual. To the playful gayety with which she used to intermingle her instructions suddenly succeeded an uniformity of manner, neither familiar nor severe, but which seemed to prepare me for some explanation. After having vainly racked my brain for the reason of this change, I mentioned it to her; this she had expected and immediately proposed a walk to our garden the next day. Accordingly we went there the next morning; she had contrived that we should remain alone the whole day, which she employed in preparing me for those favors she meant to bestow; not as another woman would have done, by toying and folly, but by discourses full of sentiment and reason, rather tending to instruct than seduce, and which spoke more to my heart than to my senses. Meantime, however excellent and to the purpose these discourses might be, and though far enough from coldness or melancholy, I did not listen to them with all the attention they merited, nor fix them in my memory as I should have done at any other time. That air of preparation which she had adopted gave me a degree of inquietude; while she spoke (in spite of myself) I was thoughtful and absent, attending less to what she said than curious to know what she aimed at; and no sooner had I comprehended her design (which I could not easily do) than the novelty of the idea, which, during all the years I had passed with her, had never once entered my imagination, took such entire possession of me that I was no longer capable of minding what she said! I only thought of her; I heard her no longer.
Thinking to render young minds attentive to reason by proposing some highly interesting object as the result of it, is an error instructors frequently run into, and one which I have not avoided in my Umilius.
The young pupil, struck with the object presented to him, is occupied only with that, and leaping lightly over your preliminary discourses, lights at once on the point, to which, in his idea, you lead him too tediously. To render him attentive, he must be prevented from seeing the whole of your design; and, in this particular, Madam de Warrens did not act with sufficient precaution.
By a singularity which adhered to her systematic disposition, she took the vain precaution of proposing conditions; but the moment I knew the purchase, I no longer even heard them, but immediately consented to everything; and I doubt whether there is a man on the whole earth who would have been sincere or courageous enough to dispute terms, or one single woman who would have pardoned such a dispute. By a continuation of the same whimsicality, she attached a number of the gravest formalities to the acquisition of her favors, and gave me eight days to think of them, which I assured her I had no need of, though that assurance was far from a truth: for to complete this assemblage of singularities, I was very glad to have this intermission; so much had the novelty of these ideas struck me, and such disorder did I feel in mine, that it required time to arrange them.
It will be supposed, that these eight days appeared to me as many ages; on the contrary, I should have been very glad had the time been lengthened. I find it difficult to describe the state I found myself in; it was a strange chaos of fear and impatience, dreading what I desired, and studying some civil pretext to evade my happiness.
Let the warmth of my constitution be remembered, my age, and my heart intoxicated with love; let my tender attachment to her be supposed, which, far from having diminished, had daily gained additional strength; let it be considered that I was only happy when with her, that my heart was full, not only of her bounty, of her amiable disposition, but of her shape, of her person, of herself; in a word, conceive me united to her by every affinity that could possibly render her dear; nor let it be supposed, that, being ten or twelve years older than myself, she began to grow an old woman, or was so in my opinion. From the time the first sight of her had made such an impression on me, she had really altered very little, and, in my mind, not at all. To me she was ever charming, and was still thought so by everyone. She had got something jollier, but had the same fine eyes, the same clear complexion, the same features, the same beautiful light hair, the sane gayety, and even the same voice, whose youthful and silvery sound made so lively an impression on my heart, that, even to this day, I cannot hear a young woman's voice, that is at all harmonious, without emotion. It will be seen, that in a more advanced age, the bare idea of some trifling favors I had to expect from the person I loved, inflamed me so far, that I could not support, with any degree of patience, the time necessary to traverse the short space that separated us; how then, by what miracle, when in the flower of my youth, had I so little impatience for a happiness I had never tasted but in idea? How could I see the moment advancing with more pain than pleasure? Why, instead of transports that should have intoxicated me with their deliciousness, did I experience only fears and repugnance? I have no doubt that if I could have avoided this happiness with any degree of decency, I should have relinquished it with all my heart.
I have promised a number of extravagancies in the history of my attachment to her; this certainly is one that no idea could be formed of.
The reader (already disgusted) supposes, that being in the situation I have before described with Claude Anet, she was already degraded in my opinion by this participation of her favors, and that a sentiment of disesteem weakened those she had before inspired me with; but he is mistaken. 'Tis true that this participation gave me a cruel uneasiness, as well from a very natural sentiment of delicacy, as because it appeared unworthy both of her and myself; but as to my sentiments for her, they were still the same, and I can solemnly aver, that I never loved her more tenderly than when I felt so little propensity to avail myself of her condescension. I was too well acquainted with the chastity of her heart and the iciness of her constitution, to suppose a moment that the gratification of the senses had any influence over her; I was well convinced that her only motive was to guard me from dangers, which appeared otherwise inevitable, by this extraordinary favor, which she did not consider in the same light that women usually do; as will presently be explained.
The habit of living a long time innocently together, far from weakening the first sentiments I felt for her, had contributed to strengthen them, giving a more lively, a more tender, but at the same time a less sensual, turn to my affection. Having ever accustomed myself to call her Mama (as formerly observed) and enjoying the familiarity of a son, it became natural to consider myself as such, and I am inclined to think this was the true reason of that insensibility with a person I so tenderly loved; for I can perfectly recollect that my emotions on first seeing her, though not more lively, were more voluptuous: At Annecy I was intoxicated, at Chambery I possessed my reason. I always loved her as passionately as possible, but I now loved her more for herself and less on my own account; or, at least, I rather sought for happiness than pleasure in her company. She was more to me than a sister, a mother, a friend, or even than a mistress, and for this very reason she was not a mistress; in a word, I loved her too much to desire her.
This day, more dreaded than hoped for, at length arrived. I have before observed, that I promised everything that was required of me, and I kept my word: my heart confirmed my engagements without desiring the fruits, though at length I obtained them. Was I happy? No: I felt I know not what invincible sadness which empoisoned my happiness, it seemed that I had committed an incest, and two or three times, pressing her eagerly in my arms, I deluged her bosom with my tears. On her part, as she had never sought pleasure, she had not the stings of remorse.
I repeat it, all her failings were the effect of her errors, never of her passions. She was well born, her heart was pure, her manners noble, her desires regular and virtuous, her taste delicate; she seemed formed for that elegant purity of manners which she ever loved, but never practised, because instead of listening to the dictates of her heart, she followed those of her reason, which led her astray: for when once corrupted by false principles it will ever run counter to its natural sentiments.
Unhappily, she piqued herself on philosophy, and the morals she drew from thence clouded the genuine purity of her heart.
M. Tavel, her first lover, was also her instructor in this philosophy, and the principles he instilled into her mind were such as tended to seduce her. Finding her cold and impregnable on the side of her passions, and firmly attached to her husband and her duty, he attacked her by sophisms, endeavoring to prove that the list of duties she thought so sacred, was but a sort of catechism, fit only for children. That the kind of infidelity she thought so terrible, was, in itself, absolutely indifferent; that all the morality of conjugal faith consisted in opinion, the contentment of husbands being the only reasonable rule of duty in wives; consequently that concealed infidelities, doing no injury, could be no crime; in a word, he persuaded her that the sin consisted only in the scandal, that woman being really virtuous who took care to appear so. Thus the deceiver obtained his end in the subverting the reason of a girl; whose heart he found it impossible to corrupt, and received his punishment in a devouring jealousy, being persuaded she would treat him as he had prevailed on her to treat her husband.
I don't know whether he was mistaken in this respect: the Minister Perret passed for his successor; all I know, is, that the coldness of temperament which it might have been supposed would have kept her from embracing this system, in the end prevented her from renouncing it. She could not conceive how so much importance should be given to what seemed to have none for her; nor could she honor with the name of virtue, an abstinence which would have cost her little.
She did not, therefore, give in to this false principle on her own account, but for the sake of others; and that from another maxim almost as false as the former, but more consonant to the generosity of her disposition.
She was persuaded that nothing could attach a man so truly to any woman as an unbounded freedom, and though she was only susceptible of friendship, this friendship was so tender, that she made use of every means which depended on her to secure the objects of it, and, which is very extraordinary, almost always succeeded: for she was so truly amiable, that an increase of intimacy was sure to discover additional reasons to love and respect her. Another thing worthy of remark is, that after her first folly, she only favored the unfortunate. Lovers in a more brilliant station lost their labor with her, but the man who at first attracted her pity, must have possessed very few good qualities if in the end he did not obtain her affection. Even when she made an unworthy choice, far from proceeding from base inclinations (which were strangers to her noble heart) it was the effect of a disposition too generous, humane, compassionate, and sensible, which she did not always govern with sufficient discernment.
If some false principles misled her, how many admirable ones did she not possess, which never forsook her! By how many virtues did she atone for her failings! if we can call by that name errors in which the senses had so little share. The man who in one particular deceived her so completely, had given her excellent instructions in a thousand others; and her passions, being far from turbulent, permitted her to follow the dictates. She ever acted wisely when her sophisms did not intervene, and her designs were laudable even in her failings. False principles might lead her to do ill, but she never did anything which she conceived to be wrong. She abhorred lying and duplicity, was just, equitable, humane, disinterested, true to her word, her friends, and those duties which she conceived to be such; incapable of hatred or revenge, and not even conceiving there was a merit in pardoning; in fine (to return to those qualities which were less excusable), though she did not properly value, she never made a vile commerce of her favors; she lavished, but never sold them, though continually reduced to expedients for a subsistence: and I dare assert, that if Socrates could esteem Aspasia, he would have respected Madam de Warrens.
I am well aware that ascribing sensibility of heart with coldness of temperament to the same person, I shall generally, and with great appearance of reason, be accused of a contradiction. Perhaps Nature sported or blundered, and this combination ought not to have existed; I only know it did exist. All those who know Madam de Warrens (a great number of whom are yet living) have had opportunities of knowing this was a fact; I dare even aver she had but one pleasure in the world, which was serving those she loved. Let every one argue on the point as he pleases, and gravely prove that this cannot be; my business is to declare the truth, and not to enforce a belief of it.
I became acquainted with the particulars I have just related, in those conversations which succeeded our union, and alone rendered it delicious.
She was right when she concluded her complaisance would be useful to me; I derived great advantages from it in point of useful instruction.
Hitherto she had used me as a child, she now began to treat me as a man, and entertain me with accounts of herself. Everything she said was so interesting, and I was so sensibly touched with it, that, reasoning with myself, I applied these confidential relations to my own improvement and received more instruction from them than from her teaching. When we truly feel that the heart speaks, our own opens to receive its instructions, nor can all the pompous morality of a pedagogue have half the effect that is produced by the tender, affectionate, and artless conversation of a sensible woman on him who loves her.
The intimacy in which I lived with Madam de Warrens, having placed me more advantageously in her opinion than formerly, she began to think (notwithstanding my awkward manner) that I deserved cultivation for the polite world, and that if I could one day show myself there in an eligible situation, I should soon be able to make my way. In consequence of this idea, she set about forming not only my judgment, but my address, endeavoring to render me amiable, as well as estimable; and if it is true that success in this world is consistent with strict virtue (which, for my part, I do not believe), I am certain there is no other road than that she had taken, and wished to point out to me. For Madam de Warrens knew mankind, and understood exquisitely well the art of treating all ranks, without falsehood, and without imprudence, neither deceiving nor provoking them; but this art was rather in her disposition than her precepts, she knew better how to practise than explain it, and I was of all the world the least calculated to become master of such an attainment; accordingly, the means employed for this purpose were nearly lost labor, as well as the pains she took to procure me a fencing and a dancing master.
Though very well made, I could never learn to dance a minuet; for being plagued with corns, I had acquired a habit of walking on my heels, which Roche, the dancing master, could never break me of. It was still worse at the fencing-school, where, after three months' practice, I made but very little progress, and could never attempt fencing with any but my master. My wrist was not supple enough, nor my arm sufficiently firm to retain the foil, whenever he chose to make it fly out of my hand. Add to this, I had a mortal aversion both to the art itself and to the person who undertook to teach it to me, nor should I ever have imagined, that anyone could have been so proud of the science of sending men out of the world. To bring this vast genius within the compass of my comprehension, he explained himself by comparisons drawn from music, which he understood nothing of. He found striking analogies between a hit in 'quarte' or 'tierce' with the intervals of music which bears those names: when he made a feint he cried out, "take care of this 'diesis'," because anciently they called the 'diesis' a feint: and when he had made the foil fly from my hand, he would add, with a sneer, that this was a pause: in a word, I never in my life saw a more insupportable pedant.
I made, therefore, but little progress in my exercises, which I presently quitted from pure disgust; but I succeeded better in an art of a thousand times more value, namely, that of being content with my situation, and not desiring one more brilliant, for which I began to be persuaded that Nature had not designed me. Given up to the endeavor of rendering Madam de Warrens happy, I was ever best pleased when in her company, and, notwithstanding my fondness for music, began to grudge the time I employed in giving lessons to my scholars.
I am ignorant whether Anet perceived the full extent of our union; but I am inclined to think he was no stranger to it. He was a young man of great penetration, and still greater discretion; who never belied his sentiments, but did not always speak them: without giving me the least hint that he was acquainted with our intimacy, he appeared by his conduct to be so; nor did this moderation proceed from baseness of soul, but, having entered entirely into the principles of his mistress, he could not reasonably disapprove of the natural consequences of them. Though as young as herself, he was so grave and thoughtful, that he looked on us as two children who required indulgence, and we regarded him as a respectable man, whose esteem we had to preserve. It was not until after she was unfaithful to Anet, that I learned the strength of her attachment to him. She was fully sensible that I only thought, felt, or lived for her; she let me see, therefore, how much she loved Anet, that I might love him likewise, and dwell less on her friendship, than on her esteem, for him, because this was the sentiment that I could most fully partake of. How often has she affected our hearts and made us embrace with tears, by assuring us that we were both necessary to her happiness! Let not women read this with an ill-natured smile; with the temperament she possessed, this necessity was not equivocal, it was only that of the heart.
Thus there was established, among us three, a union without example, perhaps, on the face of the earth. All our wishes, our cares, our very hearts, were for each other, and absolutely confined to this little circle. The habit of living together, and living exclusively from the rest of the world, became so strong, that if at our repasts one of the three was wanting, or a fourth person came in, everything seemed deranged; and, notwithstanding our particular attachments, even our tete-a-tete were less agreeable than our reunion. What banished every species of constraint from our little community, was a lively reciprocal confidence, and dulness or insipidity could find no place among us, because we were always fully employed. Madam de Warrens always projecting, always busy, left us no time for idleness, though, indeed, we had each sufficient employment on our own account. It is my maxim, that idleness is as much the pest of society as of solitude. Nothing more contracts the mind, or engenders more tales, mischief, gossiping, and lies, than for people to be eternally shut up in the same apartment together, and reduced, from the want of employment, to the necessity of an incessant chat. When every one is busy (unless you have really something to say), you may continue silent; but if you have nothing to do, you must absolutely speak continually, and this, in my mind, is the most burdensome and the most dangerous constraint. I will go further, and maintain, that to render company harmless, as well as agreeable, it is necessary, not only that they should have something to do, but something that requires a degree of attention.
Knitting, for instance, is absolutely as bad as doing nothing; you must take as much pains to amuse a woman whose fingers are thus employed, as if she sat with her arms crossed; but let her embroider, and it is a different matter; she is then so far busied, that a few intervals of silence may be borne with. What is most disgusting and ridiculous, during these intermissions of conversation, is to see, perhaps, a dozen over-grown fellows, get up, sit down again, walk backwards and forwards, turn on their heels, play with the chimney ornaments, and rack their brains to maintain an inexhaustible chain of words: what a charming occupation! Such people, wherever they go, must be troublesome both to others and themselves. When I was at Motiers, I used to employ myself in making laces with my neighbors, and were I again to mix with the world, I would always carry a cup-and-ball in my pocket; I should sometimes play with it the whole day, that I might not be constrained to speak when I had nothing to discourse about; and I am persuaded, that if every one would do the same, mankind would be less mischievous, their company would become more rational, and, in my opinion, a vast deal more agreeable; in a word, let wits laugh if they please, but I maintain, that the only practical lesson of morality within the reach of the present age, is that of the cup-and-ball.
At Chambery they did not give us the trouble of studying expedients to avoid weariness, when by ourselves, for a troop of important visitors gave us too much by their company, to feel any when alone. The annoyance they formerly gave me had not diminished; all the difference was, that I now found less opportunity to abandon myself to my dissatisfaction.
Poor Madam de Warrens had not lost her old predilection for schemes and systems; on the contrary, the more she felt the pressure of her domestic necessities, the more she endeavored to extricate herself from them by visionary projects; and, in proportion to the decrease of her present resources, she contrived to enlarge, in idea, those of the future.
Increase of years only strengthened this folly: as she lost her relish for the pleasures of the world and youth, she replaced it by an additional fondness for secrets and projects; her house was never clear of quacks, contrivers of new manufactures, alchemists, projects of all kinds and of all descriptions, whose discourses began by a distribution of millions and concluded by giving you to understand that they were in want of a crown--piece. No one went from her empty-handed; and what astonished me most was, how she could so long support such profusion, without exhausting the source or wearying her creditors.
Her principal project at the time I am now speaking of was that of establishing a Royal Physical Garden at Chambery, with a Demonstrator attached to it; it will be unnecessary to add for whom this office was designed. The situation of this city, in the midst of the Alps, was extremely favorable to botany, and as Madam de Warrens was always for helping out one project with another, a College of Pharmacy was to be added, which really would have been a very useful foundation in so poor a country, where apothecaries are almost the only medical practitioners.
The retreat of the chief physician, Grossi, to Chambery, on the demise of King Victor, seemed to favor this idea, or perhaps, first suggest it; however this may be, by flattery and attention she set about managing Grossi, who, in fact, was not very manageable, being the most caustic and brutal, for a man who had any pretensions to the quality of a gentleman, that ever I knew. The reader may judge for himself by two or three traits of character, which I shall add by way of specimen.
He assisted one day at a consultation with some other doctors, and among the rest, a young gentleman from Annecy, who was physician in ordinary to the sick person. This young man, being but indifferently taught for a doctor, was bold enough to differ in opinion from M. Grossi, who only answered him by asking him when he should return, which way he meant to take, and what conveyance he should make use of? The other, having satisfied Grossi in these particulars, asked him if there was anything he could serve him in? "Nothing, nothing," answered he, "only I shall place myself at a window in your way, that I may have the pleasure of seeing an ass ride on horseback." His avarice equalled his riches and want of feeling. One of his friends wanted to borrow some money of him, on good security. "My friend," answered he, shaking him by the arm, and grinding his teeth, "Should St. Peter descend from heaven to borrow ten pistoles of me, and offer the Trinity as securities, I would not lend them." One day, being invited to dinner with Count Picon, Governor of Savoy, who was very religious, he arrived before it was ready, and found his excellency busy with his devotions, who proposed to him the same employment; not knowing how to refuse, he knelt down with a frightful grimace, but had hardly recited two Ave-Marias, when, not being able to contain himself any longer, he rose hastily, snatched his hat and cane, and without speaking a word, was making toward the door; Count Picon ran after him, crying, "Monsieur Grossi! Monsieur Grossi! stop, there's a most excellent ortolan on the spit for you." "Monsieur le Count," replied the other, turning his head, "though you should give me a roasted angel, I would not stay." Such was M. Grossi, whom Madam de Warrens undertook and succeeded in civilizing. Though his time was very much occupied, he accustomed himself to come frequently to her house, conceived a friendship for Anet, seemed to think him intelligent, spoke of him with esteem, and, what would not have been expected of such a brute, affected to treat him with respect, wishing to efface the impressions of the past; for though Anet was no longer on the footing of a domestic, it was known that he had been one, and nothing less than the countenance and example of the chief physician was necessary to set an example of respect which would not otherwise have been paid him. Thus Claude Anet, with a black coat, a well-dressed wig, a grave, decent behavior, a circumspect conduct, and a tolerable knowledge in medical and botanical matters, might reasonably have hoped to fill, with universal satisfaction, the place of public demonstrator, had the proposed establishment taken place. Grossi highly approved the plan, and only waited an opportunity to propose it to the administration, whenever a return of peace should permit them to think of useful institutions, and enable them to spare the necessary pecuniary supplies.
But this project, whose execution would probably have plunged me into botanical studies, for which I am inclined to think Nature designed me, failed through one of those unexpected strokes which frequently overthrow the best concerted plans. I was destined to become an example of human misery; and it might be said that Providence, who called me by degrees to these extraordinary trials, disconcerted every opportunity that could prevent my encountering them.
In an excursion which Anet made to the top of the mountain to seek for genipi, a scarce plant that grows only on the Alps, and which Monsieur Grossi had occasion for, unfortunately he heated himself so much, that he was seized with a pleurisy, which the genipi could not relieve, though said to be specific in that disorder; and, notwithstanding all the art of Grossi (who certainly was very skillful), and all the care of his good mistress and myself, he died the fifth day of his disorder, in the most cruel agonies. During his illness he had no exhortations but mine, bestowed with such transports of grief and zeal, that had he been in a state to understand them, they must have been some consolation to him.
Thus I lost the firmest friend I ever had; a man estimable and extraordinary; in whom Nature supplied the defects of education, and who (though in a state of servitude) possessed all the virtues necessary to form a great man, which, perhaps, he would have shown himself, and been acknowledged, had he lived to fill the situation he seemed so perfectly adapted to.
The next day I spoke of him to Madam de Warrens with the most sincere and lively affection; when, suddenly, in the midst of our conversation, the vile, ungrateful thought occurred, that I should inherit his wardrobe, and particularly a handsome black coat, which I thought very becoming.
As I thought this, I consequently uttered it; for when with her, to think and to speak was the same thing. Nothing could have made her feel more forcibly the loss she had sustained, than this unworthy and odious observation; disinterestedness and greatness of soul being qualities that poor Anet had eminently possessed. The generous Madam de Warrens turned from me, and (without any reply) burst into tears. Dear and precious tears! your reprehension was fully felt; ye ran into my very heart, washing from thence even the smallest traces of such despicable and unworthy sentiments, never to return.
This loss caused Madam de Warrens as much inconvenience as sorrow, since from this moment her affairs were still more deranged. Anet was extremely exact, and kept everything in order; his vigilance was universally feared, and this set some bounds to that profusion they were too apt to run into; even Madam de Warrens, to avoid his censure, kept her dissipation within bounds; his attachment was not sufficient, she wished to preserve his esteem, and avoid the just remonstrances he sometimes took the liberty to make her, by representing that she squandered the property of others as well as her own. I thought as he did, nay, I even sometimes expressed myself to the same effect, but had not an equal ascendancy over her, and my advice did not make the same impression. On his decease, I was obliged to occupy his place, for which I had as little inclination as abilities, and therefore filled it ill.
I was not sufficiently careful, and so very timid, that though I frequently found fault to myself, I saw ill-management without taking courage to oppose it; besides, though I acquired an equal share of respect, I had not the same authority. I saw the disorder that prevailed, trembled at it, sometimes complained, but was never attended to. I was too young and lively to have any pretensions to the exercise of reason, and when I would have acted the reformer, Madam de Warrens calling me her little Mentor, with two or three playful slaps on the cheek, reduced me to my natural thoughtlessness. Notwithstanding, an idea of the certain distress in which her ill-regulated expenses, sooner or later, must necessarily plunge her, made a stronger impression on me since I had become the inspector of her household, and had a better opportunity of calculating the inequality that subsisted between her income and her expenses. I even date from this period the beginning of that inclination to avarice which I have ever since been sensible of.
I was never foolishly prodigal, except by intervals; but till then I was never concerned whether I had much or little money. I now began to pay more attention to this circumstance, taking care of my purse, and becoming mean from a laudable motive; for I only sought to insure Madam de Warrens some resources against that catastrophe which I dreaded the approach of. I feared her creditors would seize her pension or that it might be discontinued and she reduced to want, when I foolishly imagined that the trifle I could save might be of essential service to her; but to accomplish this, it was necessary I should conceal what I meant to make a reserve of; for it would have been an awkward circumstance, while she was perpetually driven to expedients, to have her know that I hoarded money.
Accordingly, I sought out some hiding-place, where I laid up a few louis, resolving to augment this stock from time to time, till a convenient opportunity to lay it at her feet; but I was so incautious in the choice of my repositories, that she always discovered them, and, to convince me that she did so, changed the louis I had concealed for a larger sum in different pieces of coin. Ashamed of these discoveries, I brought back to the common purse my little treasure, which she never failed to lay out in clothes, or other things for my use, such as a silver hilted sword, watch, etc. Being convinced that I should never succeed in accumulating money, and that what I could save would furnish but a very slender resource against the misfortune I dreaded, made me wish to place myself in such a situation that I might be enabled to provide for her, whenever she might chance to be reduced to want. Unhappily, seeking these resources on the side of my inclinations, I foolishly determined to consider music as my principal dependence; and ideas of harmony rising in my brain, I imagined, that if placed in a proper situation to profit by them, I should acquire celebrity, and presently become a modern Orpheus, whose mystic sounds would attract all the riches of Peru.
As I began to read music tolerably well, the question was, how I should learn composition? The difficulty lay in meeting with a good master, for, with the assistance of my Rameau alone, I despaired of ever being able to accomplish it; and, since the departure of M. le Maitre, there was nobody in Savoy who understood anything of the principles of harmony.
I am now about to relate another of those inconsequences, which my life is full of, and which have so frequently carried me directly from my designs, even when I thought myself immediately within reach of them.
Venture had spoken to me in very high terms of the Abbe Blanchard, who had taught him composition; a deserving man, possessed of great talents, who was music-master to the cathedral at Besancon, and is now in that capacity at the Chapel of Versailles. I therefore determined to go to Besancon, and take some lessons from the Abbe Blanchard, and the idea appeared so rational to me, that I soon made Madam de Warrens of the same opinion, who immediately set about the preparations for my journey, in the same style of profusion with which all her plans were executed. Thus this project for preventing a bankruptcy, and repairing in future the waste of dissipation, began by causing her to expend eight hundred livres; her ruin being accelerated that I might be put in a condition to prevent it. Foolish as this conduct may appear, the illusion was complete on my part, and even on hers, for I was persuaded I should labor for her emolument, and she thought she was highly promoting mine.
I expected to find Venture still at Annecy, and promised myself to obtain a recommendatory letter from him to the Abbe Blanchard; but he had left that place, and I was obliged to content myself in the room of it, with a mass in four parts of his composition, which he had left with me. With this slender recommendation I set out for Besancon by the way of Geneva, where I saw my relations; and through Nion, where I saw my father, who received me in his usual manner, and promised to forward my portmanteau, which, as I travelled on horseback, came after me. I arrived at Besancon, and was kindly received by the Abbe Blanchard, who promised me his instruction, and offered his services in any other particular. We had just set about our music, when I received a letter from my father, informing me that my portmanteau had been seized and confiscated at Rousses, a French barrier on the side of Switzerland. Alarmed at the news, I employed the acquaintance I had formed at Besancon, to learn the motive of this confiscation. Being certain there was nothing contraband among my baggage, I could not conceive on what pretext it could have been seized on; at length, however, I learned the rights of the story, which (as it is a very curious one) must not be omitted.
I became acquainted at Chambery with a very worthy old man, from Lyons, named Monsieur Duvivier, who had been employed at the Visa, under the regency, and for want of other business, now assisted at the Survey. He had lived in the polite world, possessed talents, was good-humored, and understood music. As we both wrote in the same chamber, we preferred each other's acquaintance to that of the unlicked cubs that surrounded us. He had some correspondents at Paris, who furnished him with those little nothings, those daily novelties, which circulate one knows not why, and die one cares not when, without any one thinking of them longer than they are heard. As I sometimes took him to dine with Madam de Warrens, he in some measure treated me with respect, and (wishing to render himself agreeable) endeavored to make me fond of these trifles, for which I naturally had such a distaste, that I never in my life read any of them. Unhappily one of these cursed papers happened to be in the waistcoat pocket of a new suit, which I had only worn two or three times to prevent its being seized by the commissioners of the customs. This paper contained an insipid Jansenist parody on that beautiful scene in Racine's Mithridates: I had not read ten lines of it, but by forgetfulness left it in my pocket, and this caused all my necessaries to be confiscated. The commissioners at the head of the inventory of my portmanteau, set a most pompous verbal process, in which it was taken for granted that this most terrible writing came from Geneva for the sole purpose of being printed and distributed in France, and then ran into holy invectives against the enemies of God and the Church, and praised the pious vigilance of those who had prevented the execution of these most infernal machinations. They doubtless found also that my spirits smelt of heresy, for on the strength of this dreadful paper, they were all seized, and from that time I never received any account of my unfortunate portmanteau. The revenue officers whom I applied to for this purpose required so many instructions, informations, certificates, memorials, etc., etc., that, lost a thousand times in the perplexing labyrinth, I was glad to abandon them entirely. I feel a real regret for not having preserved this verbal process from the office of Rousses, for it was a piece calculated to hold a distinguished rank in the collection which is to accompany this Work.
The loss of my necessities immediately brought me back to Chambery, without having learned anything of the Abbe Blanchard. Reasoning with myself on the events of this journey, and seeing that misfortunes attended all my enterprises, I resolved to attach myself entirely to Madam de Warrens, to share her fortune, and distress myself no longer about future events, which I could not regulate. She received me as if I had brought back treasures, replaced by degrees my little wardrobe, and though this misfortune fell heavy enough on us both, it was forgotten almost as suddenly as it arrived.
Though this mischance had rather dampened my musical ardor, I did not leave off studying my Rameau, and, by repeated efforts, was at length able to understand it, and to make some little attempts at composition, the success of which encouraged me to proceed. The Count de Bellegrade, son of the Marquis of Antremont, had returned from Dresden after the death of King Augustus. Having long resided at Paris, he was fond of music, and particularly that of Rameau. His brother, the Count of Nangis, played on the violin; the Countess la Tour, their sister, sung tolerably: this rendered music the fashion at Chambery, and a kind of public concert was established there, the direction of which was at first designed for me, but they soon discovered I was not competent to the undertaking, and it was otherwise arranged. Notwithstanding this, I continued writing a number of little pieces, in my own way, and, among others, a cantata, which gained great approbation; it could not, indeed, be called a finished piece, but the airs were written in a style of novelty, and produced a good effect, which was not expected from me.
These gentlemen could not believe that, reading music so indifferently, it was possible I should compose any that was passable, and made no doubt that I had taken to myself the credit of some other person's labors.
Monsieur de Nangis, wishing to be assured of this, called on me one morning with a cantata of Clerambault's which he had transposed as he said, to suit his voice, and to which another bass was necessary, the transposition having rendered that of Clerambault impracticable. I answered, it required considerable labor, and could not be done on the spot. Being convinced I only sought an excuse, he pressed me to write at least the bass to a recitative: I did so, not well, doubtless, because to attempt anything with success I must have both time and freedom, but I did it at least according to rule, and he being present, could not doubt but I understood the elements of composition. I did not, therefore, lose my scholars, though it hurt my pride that there should be a concert at Chambery in which I was not necessary.
About this time, peace being concluded, the French army repassed the Alps. Several officers came to visit Madam de Warrens, and among others the Count de Lautrec, Colonel of the regiment of Orleans, since Plenipotentiary of Geneva, and afterwards Marshal of France, to whom she presented me. On her recommendation, he appeared to interest himself greatly in my behalf, promising a great deal, which he never remembered till the last year of his life, when I no longer stood in need of his assistance. The young Marquis of Sennecterre, whose father was then ambassador at Turin, passed through Chambery at the same time, and dined one day at M. de Menthon's, when I happened to be among the guests.
After dinner; the discourse turned on music, which the marquis understood extremely well. The opera of 'Jephtha' was then new; he mentioned this piece, it was brought him, and he made me tremble by proposing to execute it between us. He opened the book at that celebrated double chorus,
La Terra, l'Enfer, le Ciel meme, Tout tremble devant le Seigneur!
[The Earth, and Hell, and Heaven itself, tremble before the Lord!]
He said, "How many parts will you take? I will do these six." I had not yet been accustomed to this trait of French vivacity, and though acquainted with divisions, could not comprehend how one man could undertake to perform six, or even two parts at the same time. Nothing has cost me more trouble in music than to skip lightly from one part to another, and have the eye at once on a whole division. By the manner in which I evaded this trial, he must have been inclined to believe I did not understand music, and perhaps it was to satisfy himself in this particular that he proposed my noting a song for Mademoiselle de Menthon, in such a manner that I could not avoid it. He sang this song, and I wrote from his voice, without giving him much trouble to repeat it. When finished he read my performance, and said (which was very true) that it was very correctly noted. He had observed my embarrassment, and now seemed to enhance the merit of this little success. In reality, I then understood music very well, and only wanted that quickness at first sight which I possess in no one particular, and which is only to be acquired in this art by long and constant practice. Be that as it may, I was fully sensible of his kindness in endeavoring to efface from the minds of others, and even from my own, the embarrassment I had experienced on this occasion. Twelve or fifteen years afterwards, meeting this gentleman at several houses in Paris, I was tempted to make him recollect this anecdote, and show him I still remembered it; but he had lost his sight since that time; I feared to give him pain by recalling to his memory how useful it formerly had been to him, and was therefore silent on that subject.
I now touch on the moment that binds my past existence to the present, some friendships of that period, prolonged to the present time, being very dear to me, have frequently made me regret that happy obscurity, when those who called themselves my friends were really so; loved me for myself, through pure good will, and not from the vanity of being acquainted with a conspicuous character, perhaps for the secret purpose of finding more occasions to injure him.
From this time I date my first acquaintance with my old friend Gauffecourt, who, notwithstanding every effort to disunite us, has still remained so.--Still remained so!--No, alas! I have just lost him!--but his affection terminated only with his life--death alone could put a period to our friendship. Monsieur de Gauffecourt was one of the most amiable men that ever existed; it was impossible to see him without affection, or to live with him without feeling a sincere attachment.
In my life I never saw features more expressive of goodness and serenity, or that marked more feeling, more understanding, or inspired greater confidence. However reserved one might be, it was impossible even at first sight to avoid being as free with him as if he had been an acquaintance of twenty years; for myself, who find so much difficulty to be at ease among new faces, I was familiar with him in a moment.
His manner, accent, and conversation, perfectly suited his features: the sound of his voice was clear, full and musical; it was an agreeable and expressive bass, which satisfied the ear, and sounded full upon the heart. It was impossible to possess a more equal and pleasing vivacity, or more real and unaffected gracefulness, more natural talents, or cultivated with greater taste; join to all these good qualities an affectionate heart, but loving rather too diffusively, and bestowing his favors with too little caution; serving his friends with zeal, or rather making himself the friend of every one he could serve, yet contriving very dexterously to manage his own affairs, while warmly pursuing the interests of others.
Gauffecourt was the son of a clock-maker, and would have been a clock-maker himself had not his person and desert called him to a superior situation. He became acquainted with M. de la Closure, the French Resident at Geneva, who conceived a friendship for him, and procured him some connections at Paris, which were useful, and through whose influence he obtained the privilege of furnishing the salts of Valais, which was worth twenty thousand livres a year. This very amply satisfied his wishes with respect to fortune, but with regard to women he was more difficult; he had to provide for his own happiness, and did what he supposed most conducive to it. What renders his character most remarkable, and does him the greatest honor, is, that though connected with all conditions, he was universally esteemed and sought after without being envied or hated by any one, and I really believe he passed through life without a single enemy.--Happy man!
He went every year to the baths of Aix, where the best company from the neighboring countries resorted, and being on terms of friendship with all the nobility of Savoy, came from Aix to Chambery to see the young Count de Bellegarde and his father the Marquis of Antremont. It was here Madam de Warrens introduced me to him, and this acquaintance, which appeared at that time to end in nothing, after many years had elapsed, was renewed on an occasion which I should relate, when it became a real friendship.
I apprehend I am sufficiently authorized in speaking of a man to whom I was so firmly attached, but I had no personal interest in what concerned him; he was so truly amiable, and born with so many natural good qualities that, for the honor of human nature, I should think it necessary to preserve his memory. This man, estimable as he certainly was, had, like other mortals, some failings, as will be seen hereafter; perhaps had it not been so, he would have been less amiable, since, to render him as interesting as possible, it was necessary he should sometimes act in such a manner as to require a small portion of indulgence.
Another connection of the same time, that is not yet extinguished, and continues to flatter me with the idea of temporal happiness, which it is so difficult to obliterate from the human heart, is Monsieur de Conzie, a Savoyard gentleman, then young and amiable, who had a fancy to learn music, or rather to be acquainted with the person who taught it.
With great understanding and taste for polite acquirements, M. de Conzie possessed a mildness of disposition which rendered him extremely attractive, and my temper being somewhat similar, when it found a counterpart, our friendship was soon formed. The seeds of literature and philosophy, which began to ferment in my brain, and only waited for culture and emulation to spring up, found in him exactly what was wanting to render them prolific. M. de Conzie had no great inclination to music, and even this was useful to me, for the hours destined for lessons were passed anyhow rather than musically; we breakfasted, chatted, and read new publications, but not a word of music.
The correspondence between Voltaire and the Prince Royal of Prussia, then made a noise in the world, and these celebrated men were frequently the subject of our conversation, one of whom recently seated on a throne, already indicated what he would prove himself hereafter, while the other, as much disgraced as he is now admired, made us sincerely lament the misfortunes that seemed to pursue him, and which are so frequently the appendage of superior talents. The Prince of Prussia had not been happy in his youth, and it appeared that Voltaire was formed never to be so.
The interest we took in both parties extended to all that concerned them, and nothing that Voltaire wrote escaped us. The inclination I felt for these performances inspired me with a desire to write elegantly, and caused me to endeavor to imitate the colorings of that author, with whom I was so much enchanted. Some time after, his philosophical letters (though certainly not his best work) greatly augmented my fondness for study; it was a rising inclination, which, from that time, has never been extinguished.
But the moment was not yet arrived when I should give into it entirely; my rambling disposition (rather contracted than eradicated) being kept alive by our manner of living at Madam de Warrens, which was too unsettled for one of my solitary temper. The crowd of strangers who daily swarmed about her from all parts, and the certainty I was in that these people sought only to dupe her, each in his particular mode, rendered home disagreeable. Since I had succeeded Anet in the confidence of his mistress, I had strictly examined her circumstances, and saw their evil tendency with horror. I had remonstrated a hundred times, prayed, argued, conjured, but all to no purpose. I had thrown myself at her feet, and strongly represented the catastrophe that threatened her, had earnestly entreated that she would reform her expenses, and begin with myself, representing that it was better to suffer something while she was yet young, than by multiplying her debts and creditors, expose her old age to vexation and misery.
Sensible of the sincerity of my zeal, she was frequently affected, and would then make the finest promises in the world: but only let an artful schemer arrive, and in an instant all her good resolutions were forgotten. After a thousand proofs of the inefficacy of my remonstrances, what remained but to turn away my eyes from the ruin I could not prevent; and fly myself from the door I could not guard! I made therefore little journeys to Geneva and Lyons, which diverted my mind in some measure from this secret uneasiness, though it increased the cause by these additional expenses. I can truly aver that I should have acquiesed with pleasure in every retrenchment, had Madam de Warrens really profited by it, but being persuaded that what I might refuse myself would be distributed among a set of interested villains, I took advantage of her easiness to partake with them, and, like the dog returning from the shambles, carried off a portion of that morsel which I could not protect.
Pretences were not wanting for all these journeys; even Madam de Warrens would alone have supplied me with more than were necessary, having plenty of connections, negotiations, affairs, and commissions, which she wished to have executed by some trusty hand. In these cases she usually applied to me; I was always willing to go, and consequently found occasions enough to furnish out a rambling kind of life. These excursions procured me some good connections, which have since been agreeable or useful to me. Among others, I met at Lyons, with M. Perrichon, whose friendship I accuse myself with not having sufficiently cultivated, considering the kindness he had for me; and that of the good Parisot, which I shall speak of in its place, at Grenoble, that of Madam Deybens and Madam la Presidente de Bardonanche, a woman of great understanding, and who would have entertained a friendship for me had it been in my power to have seen her oftener; at Geneva, that of M. de Closure, the French Resident, who often spoke to me of my mother, the remembrance of whom neither death nor time had erased from his heart; likewise those of the two Barillots, the father, who was very amiable, a good companion, and one of the most worthy men I ever met, calling me his grandson. During the troubles of the republic, these two citizens took contrary sides, the son siding with the people, the father with the magistrates. When they took up arms in 1737, I was at Geneva, and saw the father and son quit the same house armed, the one going to the townhouse, the other to his quarters, almost certain to meet face to face in the course of two hours, and prepared to give or receive death from each other. This unnatural sight made so lively an impression on me, that I solemnly vowed never to interfere in any civil war, nor assist in deciding our internal dispute by arms, either personally or by my influence, should I ever enter into my rights as a citizen. I can bring proofs of having kept this oath on a very delicate occasion, and it will be confessed (at least I should suppose so) that this moderation was of some worth.
But I had not yet arrived at that fermentation of patriotism which the first sight of Geneva in arms has since excited in my heart, as may be conjectured by a very grave fact that will not tell to my advantage, which I forgot to put in its proper place, but which ought not to be omitted.
My uncle Bernard died at Carolina, where he had been employed some years in the building of Charles Town, which he had formed the plan of. My poor cousin, too, died in the Prussian service; thus my aunt lost, nearly at the same period, her son and husband. These losses reanimated in some measure her affection for the nearest relative she had remaining, which was myself. When I went to Geneva, I reckoned her house my home, and amused myself with rummaging and turning over the books and papers my uncle had left. Among them I found some curious ones, and some letters which they certainly little thought of. My aunt, who set no store by these dusty papers, would willingly have given the whole to me, but I contented myself with two or three books, with notes written by the Minister Bernard, my grandfather, and among the rest, the posthumous works of Rohault in quarto, the margins of which were full of excellent commentaries, which gave me an inclination to the mathematics. This book remained among those of Madam de Warrens, and I have since lamented that I did not preserve it. To these I added five or six memorials in manuscript, and a printed one, composed by the famous Micheli Ducret, a man of considerable talents, being both learned and enlightened, but too much, perhaps, inclined to sedition, for which he was cruelly treated by the magistrates of Geneva, and lately died in the fortress of Arberg, where he had been confined many years, for being, as it was said, concerned in the conspiracy of Berne.
This memorial was a judicious critique on the extensive but ridiculous plan of fortification, which had been adopted at Geneva, though censured by every person of judgment in the art, who was unacquainted with the secret motives of the council, in the execution of this magnificent enterprise. Monsieur de Micheli, who had been excluded from the committee of fortification for having condemned this plan, thought that, as a citizen, and a member of the two hundred, he might give his advice, at large, and therefore, did so in this memorial, which he was imprudent enough to have printed, though he never published it, having only those copies struck off which were meant for the two hundred, and which were all intercepted at the post-house by order of the Senate.
[The grand council of Geneva in December, 1728, pronounced this paper highly disrespectful to the councils, and injurious to the committee of fortification.]
I found this memorial among my uncle's papers, with the answer he had been ordered to make to it, and took both. This was soon after I had left my place at the survey, and I yet remained on good terms with the Counsellor de Coccelli, who had the management of it. Some time after, the director of the custom-house entreated me to stand godfather to his child, with Madam Coccelli, who was to be godmother: proud of being placed on such terms of equality with the counsellor, I wished to assume importance, and show myself worthy of that honor.
Full of this idea, I thought I could do nothing better than show him Micheli's memorial, which was really a scarce piece, and would prove I was connected with people of consequence in Geneva, who were intrusted with the secrets of the state, yet by a kind of reserve which I should find it difficult to account for, I did not show him my uncle's answer, perhaps, because it was manuscript, and nothing less than print was worthy to approach the counsellor. He understood, however, so well the importance of this paper, which I had the folly to put into his hands, that I could never after get it into my possession, and being convinced that every effort for that purpose would be ineffectual, I made a merit of my forbearance, transforming the theft into a present. I made no doubt that this writing (more curious, however, than useful) answered his purpose at the court of Turin, where probably he took care to be reimbursed in some way or other for the expense which the acquisition of it might be supposed to have cost him. Happily, of all future contingencies, the least probable, is, that ever the King of Sardina should besiege Geneva, but as that event is not absolutely impossible, I shall ever reproach my foolish vanity with having been the means of pointing out the greatest defects of that city to its most ancient enemy.
I passed three or four years in this manner, between music, magestry, projects, and journeys, floating incessantly from one object to another, and wishing to fix though I knew not on what, but insensibly inclining towards study. I was acquainted with men of letters, I had heard them speak of literature, and sometimes mingled in the conversation, yet rather adopted the jargon of books, than the knowledge they contained.
In my excursions to Geneva, I frequently called on my good old friend Monsieur Simon, who greatly promoted my rising emulation by fresh news from the republic of letters, extracted from Baillet on Colomies. I frequently saw too, at Chambery, a Dominican professor of physic, a good kind of friar, whose name I have forgotten, who often made little chemical experiments which greatly amused me. In imitation of him, I attempted to make some sympathetic ink, and having for that purpose more than half filled a bottle with quicklime, orpiment, and water, the effervescence immediately became extremely violent; I ran to unstop the bottle, but had not time to effect it, for, during the attempt, it burst in my face like a bomb, and I swallowed so much of the orpiment and lime, that it nearly cost me my life. I remained blind for six weeks, and by the event of this experiment learned to meddle no more with experimental Chemistry while the elements were unknown to me.
This adventure happened very unluckily for my health, which, for some time past, had been visibly on the decline. This was rather extraordinary, as I was guilty of no kind of excess; nor could it have been expected from my make, for my chest, being well formed and rather capacious, seemed to give my lungs full liberty to play; yet I was short breathed, felt a very sensible oppression, sighed involuntarily, had palpitations of the heart, and spitting of blood, accompanied with a lingering fever, which I have never since entirely overcome. How is it possible to fall into such a state in the flower of one's age, without any inward decay, or without having done anything to destroy health?
It is sometimes said, "the sword wears the scabbard," this was truly the case with me: the violence of my passions both kept me alive and hastened my dissolution. What passions? will be asked: mere nothings: the most trivial objects in nature, but which affected me as forcibly as if the acquisition of a Helen, or the throne of the universe were at stake.
My senses, for instance, were at ease with one woman, but my heart never was, and the necessities of love consumed me in the very bosom of happiness. I had a tender, respected and lovely friend, but I sighed for a mistress; my prolific fancy painted her as such, and gave her a thousand forms, for had I conceived that my endearments had been lavished on Madam de Warrens, they would not have been less tender, though infinitely more tranquil. But is it possible for man to taste, in their utmost extent, the delights of love? I cannot tell, but I am persuaded my frail existence would have sunk under the weight of them.
I was, therefore, dying for love without an object, and this state, perhaps, is, of all others, the most dangerous. I was likewise uneasy, tormented at the bad state of poor Madam de Warrens' circumstances, and the imprudence of her conduct, which could not fail to bring them, in a short time, to total ruin. My tortured imagination (which ever paints misfortunes in the extremity) continually beheld this in its utmost excess, and in all the horror of its consequences. I already saw myself forced by want to quit her--to whom I had consecrated my future life, and without whom I could not hope for happiness: thus was my soul continually agitated, and hopes and fears devoured me alternately.
Music was a passion less turbulent, but not less consuming, from the ardor with which I attached myself to it, by the obstinate study of the obscure books of Rameau; by an invincible resolution to charge my memory with rules it could not contain; by continual application, and by long and immense compilations which I frequently passed whole nights in copying: but why dwell on these particularly, while every folly that took possession of my wandering brain, the most transient ideas of a single day, a journey, a concert, a supper, a walk, a novel to read, a play to see, things in the world the least premeditated in my pleasures or occupation became for me the most violent passions, which by their ridiculous impetuosity conveyed the most serious torments; even the imaginary misfortunes of Cleveland, read with avidity and frequent interruption, have, I am persuaded, disordered me more than my own.
There was a Genevese, named Bagueret, who had been employed under Peter the Great, of the court of Russia, one of the most worthless, senseless fellows I ever met with; full of projects as foolish as himself, which were to rain down millions on those who took part in them. This man, having come to Chambery on account of some suit depending before the senate, immediately got acquainted with Madam de Warrens, and with great reason on his side, since for those imaginary treasures that cost him nothing, and which he bestowed with the utmost prodigality, he gained, in exchange, the unfortunate crown pieces one by one out of her pocket.
I did not like him, and he plainly perceived this, for with me it is not a very difficult discovery, nor did he spare any sort of meanness to gain my good will, and among other things proposed teaching me to play at chess, which game he understood something of. I made an attempt, though almost against my inclination, and after several efforts, having learned the march, my progress was so rapid, that before the end of the first sitting I gave him the rook, which in the beginning he had given me.
Nothing more was necessary; behold me fascinated with chess! I buy a board, with the rest of the apparatus, and shutting myself up in my chamber, pass whole days and nights in studying all the varieties of the game, being determined by playing alone, without end or relaxation, to drive them into my head, right or wrong. After incredible efforts, during two or three months passed in this curious employment, I go to the coffee-house, thin, sallow, and almost stupid; I seat myself, and again attack M. Bagueret: he beats me, once, twice, twenty times; so many combinations were fermenting in my head, and my imagination was so stupefied, that all appeared confusion. I tried to exercise myself with Phitidor's or Stamina's book of instructions, but I was still equally perplexed, and, after having exhausted myself with fatigue, was further to seek than ever, and whether I abandoned my chess for a time, or resolved to surmount every difficulty by unremitted practice, it was the same thing. I could never advance one step beyond the improvement of the first sitting, nay, I am convinced that had I studied it a thousand ages, I should have ended by being able to give Bagueret the rook and nothing more.
It will be said my time was well employed, and not a little of it passed in this occupation, nor did I quit my first essay till unable to persist in it, for on leaving my apartment I had the appearance of a corpse, and had I continued this course much longer I should certainly have been one.
Any one will allow that it would have been extraordinary, especially in the ardor of youth, that such a head should suffer the body to enjoy continued health; the alteration of mine had an effect on my temper, moderating the ardor of my chimerical fancies, for as I grew weaker they became more tranquil, and I even lost, in some measure, my rage for travelling. I was not seized with heaviness, but melancholy; vapors succeeded passions, languor became sorrow: I wept and sighed without cause, and felt my life ebbing away before I had enjoyed it. I only trembled to think of the situation in which I should leave my dear Madam de Warrens; and I can truly say, that quitting her, and leaving her in these melancholy circumstances, was my only concern. At length I fell quite ill, and was nursed by her as never mother nursed a child. The care she took of me was of real utility to her affairs, since it diverted her mind from schemes, and kept projectors at a distance. How pleasing would death have been at that time, when, if I had not tasted many of the pleasures of life, I had felt but few of its misfortunes. My tranquil soul would have taken her flight, without having experienced those cruel ideas of the injustice of mankind which embitters both life and death.
I should have enjoyed the sweet consolation that I still survived in the dearer part of myself: in the situation I then was, it could hardly be called death; and had I been divested of my uneasiness on her account, it would have appeared but a gentle sleep; yet even these disquietudes had such an affectionate and tender turn, that their bitterness was tempered by a pleasing sensibility. I said to her, "You are the depository of my whole being, act so that I may be happy." Two or three times, when my disorder was most violent, I crept to her apartment to give her my advice respecting her future conduct; and I dare affirm these admonitions were both wise and equitable, in which the interest I took in her future concerns was strongly marked. As if tears had been both nourishment and medicine, I found myself the better for those I shed with her, while seated on her bed-side, and holding her hands between mine.
The hours crept insensibly away in these nocturnal discourses; I returned to my chamber better than I had quitted it, being content and calmed by the promises she made, and the hopes with which she had inspired me: I slept on them with my heart at peace, and fully resigned to the dispensations of Providence. God grant, that after having had so many reasons to hate life, after being agitated with so many storms, after it has even become a burden, that death, which must terminate all, may be no more terrible than it would have been at that moment!
By inconceivable care and vigilance, she saved my life; and I am convinced she alone could have done this. I have little faith in the skill of physicians, but depend greatly on the assistance of real friends, and am persuaded that being easy in those particulars on which our happiness depends, is more salutary than any other application. If there is a sensation in life peculiarly delightful, we experienced it in being restored to each other; our mutual attachment did not increase, for that was impossible, but it became, I know not how, more exquisitely tender, fresh softness being added to its former simplicity. I became in a manner her work; we got into the habit, though without design, of being continually with each other, and enjoying, in some measure, our whole existence together, feeling reciprocally that we were not only necessary, but entirely sufficient for each other's happiness. Accustomed to think of no subject foreign to ourselves, our happiness and all our desires were confined to that pleasing and singular union, which, perhaps, had no equal, which is not, as I have before observed, love, but a sentiment inexpressibly more intimate, neither depending on the senses, age, nor figure, but an assemblage of every endearing sensation that composes our rational existence and which can cease only with our being.
How was it that this delightful crisis did not secure our mutual felicity for the remainder of her life and mine? I have the consoling conviction that it was not my fault; nay, I am persuaded, she did not wilfully destroy it; the invincible peculiarity of my disposition was doomed soon to regain its empire; but this fatal return was not suddenly accomplished, there was, thank Heaven, a short but precious interval, that did not conclude by my fault, and which I cannot reproach myself with having employed amiss.
Though recovered from my dangerous illness, I did not regain my strength; my stomach was weak, some remains of the fever kept me in a languishing condition, and the only inclination I was sensible of, was to end my days near one so truly dear to me; to confirm her in those good resolutions she had formed; to convince her in what consisted the real charms of a happy life, and, as far as depended on me, to render hers so; but I foresaw that in a gloomy, melancholy house, the continual solitude of our tete-a-tetes would at length become too dull and monotonous: a remedy presented itself: Madam de Warrens had prescribed milk for me, and insisted that I should take it in the country; I consented, provided she would accompany me; nothing more was necessary to gain her compliance, and whither we should go was all that remained to be determined on. Our garden (which I have before mentioned) was not properly in the country, being surrounded by houses and other gardens, and possessing none of those attractions so desirable in a rural retreat; besides, after the death of Anet, we had given up this place from economical principles, feeling no longer a desire to rear plants, and other views making us not regret the loss of that little retreat. Improving the distaste I found she began to imbibe for the town, I proposed to abandon it entirely, and settle ourselves in an agreeable solitude, in some small house, distant enough from the city to avoid the perpetual intrusion of her hangers-on.
She followed my advice, and this plan, which her good angel and mine suggested, might fully have secured our happiness and tranquility till death had divided us--but this was not the state we were appointed to; Madam de Warrens was destined to endure all the sorrows of indigence and poverty, after having passed the former part of her life in abundance, that she might learn to quit it with the less regret; and myself, by an assemblage of misfortunes of all kinds, was to become a striking example to those who, inspired with a love of justice and the public good, and trusting too implicitly to their own innocence, shall openly dare to assert truth to mankind, unsupported by cabals, or without having previously formed parties to protect them.
An unhappy fear furnished some objections to our plan: she did not dare to quit her ill-contrived house, for fear of displeasing the proprietor.
"Your proposed retirement is charming," said she, "and much to my taste, but we are necessitated to remain here, for, on quitting this dungeon, I hazard losing the very means of life, and when these fail us in the woods, we must again return to seek them in the city. That we may have the least possible cause for being reduced to this necessity, let us not leave this house entirely, but pay a small pension to the Count of Saint-Laurent, that he may continue mine. Let us seek some little habitation, far enough from the town to be at peace, yet near enough to return when it may appear convenient."
This mode was finally adopted; and after some small search, we fixed at Charmettes, on an estate belonging to M. de Conzie, at a very small distance from Chambery; but as retired and solitary as if it had been a hundred leagues off. The spot we had concluded on was a valley between two tolerably high hills, which ran north and south; at the bottom, among the trees and pebbles, ran a rivulet, and above the declivity, on either side, were scattered a number of houses, forming altogether a beautiful retreat for those who love a peaceful romantic asylum. After having examined two or three of these houses, we chose that which we thought the most pleasing, which was the property of a gentleman of the army, called M. Noiret. This house was in good condition, before it a garden, forming a terrace; below that on the declivity an orchard, and on the ascent, behind the house, a vineyard: a little wood of chestnut trees opposite; a fountain just by, and higher up the hill, meadows for the cattle; in short, all that could be thought necessary for the country retirement we proposed to establish. To the best of my remembrance, we took possession of it toward the latter end of the summer Of 1736. I was delighted on going to sleep there--"Oh!" said I, to this dear friend, embracing her with tears of tenderness and delight, "this is the abode of happiness and innocence; if we do not find them here together it will be in vain to seek them elsewhere."
THE CONFESSIONS OF JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU (In 12 books)
Privately Printed for the Members of the Aldus Society
Hoc erat in votis: Modus agri non ila magnus Hortus ubi, et leclo vicinus aqua fons; Et paululum sylvae superhis forel.
I cannot add, 'auctius acque di melius fecere'; but no matter, the former is enough for my purpose; I had no occasion to have any property there, it was sufficient that I enjoyed it; for I have long since both said and felt, that the proprietor and possessor are two very different people, even leaving husbands and lovers out of the question.
At this moment began the short happiness of my life, those peaceful and rapid moments, which have given me a right to say, I have lived.
Precious and ever--regretted moments! Ah! recommence your delightful course; pass more slowly through my memory, if possible, than you actually did in your fugitive succession. How shall I prolong, according to my inclination, this recital at once so pleasing and simple? How shall I continue to relate the same occurrences, without wearying my readers with the repetition, any more than I was satiated with the enjoyment? Again, if all this consisted of facts, actions, or words, I could somehow or other convey an idea of it; but how shall I describe what was neither said nor done, nor even thought, but enjoyed, felt, without being able to particularize any other object of my happiness than the bare idea? I rose with the sun, and was happy; I walked, and was happy; I saw Madam de Warrens, and was happy; I quitted her, and still was happy!--Whether I rambled through the woods, over the hills, or strolled along the valley; read, was idle, worked in the garden, or gathered fruits, happiness continually accompanied me; it was fixed on no particular object, it was within me, nor could I depart from it a single moment.
Nothing that passed during that charming epocha, nothing that I did, said, or thought, has escaped my memory. The time that preceded or followed it, I only recollect by intervals, unequally and confused; but here I remember all as distinctly as if it existed at this moment.
Imagination, which in my youth was perpetually anticipating the future, but now takes a retrograde course, makes some amends by these charming recollections for the deprivation of hope, which I have lost forever.
I no longer see anything in the future that can tempt my wishes, it is a recollection of the past alone that can flatter me, and the remembrance of the period I am now describing is so true and lively, that it sometimes makes me happy, even in spite of my misfortunes.
Of these recollections I shall relate one example, which may give some idea of their force and precision. The first day we went to sleep at Charmettes, the way being up-hill, and Madam de Warrens rather heavy, she was carried in a chair, while I followed on foot. Fearing the chairmen would be fatigued, she got out about half-way, designing to walk the rest of it. As we passed along, she saw something blue in the hedge, and said, "There's some periwinkle in flower yet!" I had never seen any before, nor did I stop to examine this: my sight is too short to distinguish plants on the ground, and I only cast a look at this as I passed: an interval of near thirty years had elapsed before I saw any more periwinkle, at least before I observed it, when being at Cressier in 1764, with my friend, M. du Peyrou, we went up a small mountain, on the summit of which there is a level spot, called, with reason, 'Belle--vue', I was then beginning to herbalize;--walking and looking among the bushes, I exclaimed with rapture, "Ah, there's some periwinkle!" Du Peyrou, who perceived my transport, was ignorant of the cause, but will some day be informed: I hope, on reading this. The reader may judge by this impression, made by so small an incident, what an effect must have been produced by every occurrence of that time.
Meantime, the air of the country did not restore my health; I was languishing and became more so; I could not endure milk, and was obliged to discontinue the use of it. Water was at this time the fashionable remedy for every complaint; accordingly I entered on a course of it, and so indiscreetly, that it almost released me, not only from my illness but also from my life. The water I drank was rather hard and difficult to pass, as water from mountains generally is; in short, I managed so well, that in the coarse of two months I totally ruined my stomach, which until that time had been very good, and no longer digesting anything properly, had no reason to expect a cure. At this time an accident happened, as singular in itself as in its subsequent consequences, which can only terminate with my existence.
One morning, being no worse than usual, while putting up the leaf of a small table, I felt a sudden and almost inconceivable revolution throughout my whole frame. I know not how to describe it better than as a kind of tempest, which suddenly rose in my blood, and spread in a moment over every part of my body. My arteries began beating so violently that I not only felt their motion, but even heard it, particularly that of the carotids, attended by a loud noise in my ears, which was of three, or rather four, distinct kinds. For instance, first a grave hollow buzzing; then a more distinct murmur, like the running of water; then an extremely sharp hissing, attended by the beating I before mentioned, and whose throbs I could easily count, without feeling my pulse, or putting a hand to any part of my body. This internal tumult was so violent that it has injured my auricular organs, and rendered me, from that time, not entirely deaf, but hard of hearing.
My surprise and fear may easily be conceived; imagining it was the stroke of death, I went to bed, and the physician being sent for, trembling with apprehension, I related my case; judging it past all cure. I believe the doctor was of the same opinion; however he performed his office, running over a long string of causes and effects beyond my comprehension, after which, in consequence of this sublime theory, he set about, 'in anima vili', the experimental part of his art, but the means he was pleased to adopt in order to effect a cure were so troublesome, disgusting, and followed by so little effect, that I soon discontinued it, and after some weeks, finding I was neither better nor worse, left my bed, and returned to my usual method of living; but the beating of my arteries and the buzzing in my ears has never quitted me a moment during the thirty years' time which has elapsed since that time.
Till now, I had been a great sleeper, but a total privation of repose, with other alarming symptoms which have accompanied it, even to this time, persuaded me I had but a short time to live. This idea tranquillized me for a time: I became less anxious about a cure, and being persuaded I could not prolong life, determined to employ the remainder of it as usefully as possible. This was practicable by a particular indulgence of Nature, which, in this melancholy state, exempted me from sufferings which it might have been supposed I should have experienced. I was incommoded by the noise, but felt no pain, nor was it accompanied by any habitual inconvenience, except nocturnal wakefulness, and at all times a shortness of breath, which is not violent enough to be called an asthma, but was troublesome when I attempted to run, or use any degree of exertion.
This accident, which seemed to threaten the dissolution of my body, only killed my passions, and I have reason to thank Heaven for the happy effect produced by it on my soul. I can truly say, I only began to live when I considered myself as entering the grave; for, estimating at their real value those things I was quitting; I began to employ myself on nobler objects, namely by anticipating those I hoped shortly to have the contemplation of, and which I had hitherto too much neglected. I had often made light of religion, but was never totally devoid of it; consequently, it cost me less pain to employ my thoughts on that subject, which is generally thought melancholy, though highly pleasing to those who make it an object of hope and consolation; Madam de Warrens, therefore, was more useful to me on this occasion than all the theologians in the world would have been.
She, who brought everything into a system, had not failed to do as much by religion; and this system was composed of ideas that bore no affinity to each other. Some were extremely good, and others very ridiculous, being made up of sentiments proceeding from her disposition, and prejudices derived from education. Men, in general, make God like themselves; the virtuous make Him good, and the profligate make Him wicked; ill-tempered and bilious devotees see nothing but hell, because they would willingly damn all mankind; while loving and gentle souls disbelieve it altogether; and one of the astonishments I could never overcome, is to see the good Fenelon speak of it in his Telemachus as if he really gave credit to it; but I hope he lied in that particular, for however strict he might be in regard to truth, a bishop absolutely must lie sometimes. Madam de Warrens spoke truth with me, and that soul, made up without gall, who could not imagine a revengeful and ever angry God, saw only clemency and forgiveness, where devotees bestowed inflexible justice, and eternal punishment.
She frequently said there would be no justice in the Supreme Being should He be strictly just to us; because, not having bestowed what was necessary to render us essentially good, it would be requiring more than he had given. The most whimsical idea was, that not believing in hell, she was firmly persuaded of the reality of purgatory. This arose from her not knowing what to do with the wicked, being loathed to damn them utterly, nor yet caring to place them with the good till they had become so; and we must really allow, that both in this world and the next, the wicked are very troublesome company.
It is clearly seen that the doctrine of original sin and the redemption of mankind is destroyed by this system; consequently that the basis of the Christian dispensation, as generally received, is shaken, and that the Catholic faith cannot subsist with these principles; Madam de Warrens, notwithstanding, was a good Catholic, or at least pretended to be one, and certainly desired to become such, but it appeared to her that the Scriptures were too literally and harshly explained, supposing that all we read of everlasting torments were figurative threatenings, and the death of Jesus Christ an example of charity, truly divine, which should teach mankind to love God and each other; in a word, faithful to the religion she had embraced, she acquiesced in all its professions of faith, but on a discussion of each particular article, it was plain she thought diametrically opposite to that church whose doctrines she professed to believe. In these cases she exhibited simplicity of art, a frankness more eloquent than sophistry, which frequently embarrassed her confessor; for she disguised nothing from him. "I am a good Catholic," she would say, "and will ever remain so; I adopt with all the powers of my soul the decisions of our holy Mother Church; I am not mistress of my faith, but I am of my will, which I submit to you without reserve; I will endeavor to believe all,--what can you require more?"
Had there been no Christian morality established, I am persuaded she would have lived as if regulated by its principles, so perfectly did they seem to accord with her disposition. She did everything that was required; and she would have done the same had there been no such requisition: but all this morality was subordinate to the principles of M. Tavel, or rather she pretended to see nothing in religion that contradicted them; thus she would have favored twenty lovers in a day, without any idea of a crime, her conscience being no more moved in that particular than her passions. I know that a number of devotees are not more scrupulous, but the difference is, they are seduced by constitution, she was blinded by her sophisms. In the midst of conversations the most affecting, I might say the most edifying, she would touch on this subject, without any change of air or manner, and without being sensible of any contradiction in her opinions; so much was she persuaded that our restrictions on that head are merely political, and that any person of sense might interpret, apply, or make exceptions to them, without any danger of offending the Almighty.
Though I was far enough from being of the same opinion in this particular, I confess I dared not combat hers; indeed, as I was situated, it would have been putting myself in rather awkward circumstances, since I could only have sought to establish my opinion for others, myself being an exception. Besides, I entertained but little hopes of making her alter hers, which never had any great influence on her conduct, and at the time I am speaking of none; but I have promised faithfully to describe her principles, and I will perform my engagement--I now return to myself.
Finding in her all those ideas I had occasion for to secure me from the fears of death and its future consequences, I drew confidence and security from this source; my attachment became warmer than ever, and I would willingly have transmitted to her my whole existence, which seemed ready to abandon me. From this redoubled attachment, a persuasion that I had but a short time to live, and profound security on my future state, arose an habitual and even pleasing serenity, which, calming every passion that extends our hopes and fears, made me enjoy without inquietude or concern the few days which I imagined remained for me.
What contributed to render them still snore agreeable was an endeavor to encourage her rising taste for the country, by every amusement I could possibly devise, wishing to attach her to her garden, poultry, pigeons, and cows: I amused myself with them and these little occupations, which employed my time without injuring my tranquillity, were more serviceable than a milk diet, or all the remedies bestowed on my poor shattered machine, even to effecting the utmost possible reestablishment of it.
The vintage and gathering in our fruit employed the remainder of the year; we became more and more attached to a rustic life, and the society of our honest neighbors. We saw the approach of winter with regret, and returned to the city as if going into exile. To me this return was particularly gloomy, who never expected to see the return of spring, and thought I took an everlasting leave of Charmettes. I did not quit it without kissing the very earth and trees, casting back many a wishful look as I went towards Chambery.
Having left my scholars for so long a time, and lost my relish for the amusements of the town, I seldom went out, conversing only with Madam de Warrens and a Monsieur Salomon, who had lately become our physician. He was an honest man, of good understanding, a great Cartesian, spoke tolerably well on the system of the world, and his agreeable and instructive conversations were more serviceable than his prescriptions.
I could never bear that foolish trivial mode of conversation which is so generally adopted; but useful instructive discourse has always given me great pleasure, nor was I ever backward to join in it. I was much pleased with that of M. Salomon; it appeared to me, that when in his company, I anticipated the acquisition of that sublime knowledge which my soul would enjoy when freed from its mortal fetters. The inclination I had for him extended to the subjects which he treated on, and I began to look after books which might better enable me to understand his discourse. Those which mingled devotion with science were most agreeable to me, particularly Port Royal's Oratory, and I began to read or rather to devour them. One fell into my hands written by Father Lami, called 'Entretiens sur les Sciences', which was a kind of introduction to the knowledge of those books it treated of. I read it over a hundred times, and resolved to make this my guide; in short, I found (notwithstanding my ill state of health) that I was irresistibly drawn towards study, and though looking on each day as the last of my life, read with as much avidity as if certain I was to live forever.
I was assured that reading would injure me; but on the contrary, I am rather inclined to think it was serviceable, not only to my soul, but also to my body; for this application, which soon became delightful, diverted my thoughts from my disorders, and I soon found myself much less affected by them. It is certain, however, that nothing gave me absolute ease, but having no longer any acute pain, I became accustomed to languishment and wakefulness; to thinking instead of acting; in short, I looked on the gradual and slow decay of my body as inevitably progressive and only to be terminated by death.
This opinion not only detached me from all the vain cares of life, but delivered me from the impo