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duced by a jeunesse orageuse upon a man in the maturity of forty, attracted by better things, but unable to drag himself out of the evil habits which cling to him like the limbs of Victor Hugo's devilfish-haunted by horrible imaginations, even more when alone than when in the worst company, yet all the while straining and struggling to escape from the dreadful impasse in which he finds himself, -makes a very strange and novel picture, almost too sombre and terrible for the common eye. It is perhaps fortunate that such a struggle could scarcely ever find utterance in the natural reticence of English speech, and we do not know how the translator (for the book has been translated into English) can have managed to adapt it for ordinary reading; but the history of the recovery and conversion of Durtal is very novel and remarkable, and, as coming out of the centre of Parisian life and realistic literature, the most astonishing and impossible thing, though with every sign of truth, even fact, that could be conceived. "Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" would be a more appropriate motto than the sentence from St Bonaventura which appears on the title-page; but it need scarcely be said that among the crowd of saints quoted in the book St Paul has no place, and that the methods adopted for the saving of the sinful soul are scarcely his.
It is, however, of this subject that the book is full. Durtal, the hero, a man of letters and of the world, is suddenly presented to us in the last place in which we should expect to find the type of the cultured and unmoral Parisian, in the Church of Saint Sulpice, in which, indeed, his primary object
is to listen to the music for which it is famous, yet where he has wandered in his forlorn and painful search after some influence which can save him from himself and the world. The reader will at once perceive that this personage, so much unlike the many other members of his class whom we have known, must have been introduced first in some preliminary work: but we do not advise him to search for M. Durtal's antecedents in the book entitled La-bas, which represents him as still in the midst of the usual adventures which are supposed to be the commonplace of a young Frenchman's life, although already moved by the disgust with vice which is about to throw him into the arms of the Church as the only possible way of deliverance. This disgust is in full possession of his being; but his case is not one to be reached by the ordinary means, by the sermon which he hears going on in the distance of the great scarcely lighted church while he takes his seat in the darkness behind the altar to await the music. He hears the ordinary but indistinguishable voice of the preacher, which he recognises, "à la vaseline de son débit, à la graisse de son accent," to be that of "un prêtre solidement nourri," giving forth the usual commonplaces of "ces gargotiers d'ames" to his little congregation. Our sick and sorry sinner has nothing to do with these habitual discourses. He has been more or less interested in the mysteries of occultism, and even in the mysteries deeper still of some foul travesty of religion known as "Satanism," in which an apostate priest, with a small secret number of depraved followers, carries on awful rites, to the great curiosity at least, if no more, of Durtal and his friends. Indeed, in Labas Durtal himself is
drawn into a particularly loathsome intrigue in order to penetrate the secret of this horrible sect, and succeeds in being present at a Messe Noire in honour of the
Devil, which, however, the writer has failed to invest with any intellectual horrors, so that we are left wholly unmoved, except by disgust, by the narrative with which he evidently hoped to shock and
The occult and the Satanic have, however, both failed in exercising any influence over Durtal, and he is now obliged to confess that only in the Church can he find relief. The difficulty with which a highly educated Frenchman of his class acknowledges this conclusion, half in despair, half in shame, is, however, very powerfully shown. The first point is made by the music which he loves, and we have a lengthened but brilliant description of the effect of the "De Profundis" and the "Dies Iræ" by the choir of Saint Sulpice and afterwards amid the strange mystic old-world charm of the little ancient church of Saint Severin, neglected and beautiful, where he attends the Sunday Mass, taking refuge in a dark corner, hiding himself and his strange emotions-for the fear of being taken for a fool was still strong upon him; "the idea of being seen on his knees in a church filled him with horror; the thought, if ever he communicated, of rising, meeting everybody's gaze as he went forward to the altar, was intolerable to him."
Strange adventures, however, befell him as he roamed from one church to another, always enveloped in his own thoughts. Once he found himself by hazard in the chapel of a convent buried in the depths of shabby streets, a shabby little chapel full of nuns in their long veils, of a whole
pensionnat of girls, and a dim background of other women, himself the only man visible.
"The atmosphere became extraordinary; this furnace of souls warmed the ice of the little building. These were no longer the wealthy vespers of St Sulpice; they were the vespers of the poor, the vespers of a family, in the plain-song of the fields, followed by the faithful worshippers with a prodigious fervour, in an Durtal felt himself transported into abstraction of inconceivable silence. the depths of a village, of a convent; his heart melted, his soul rocked as in a cradle by the monotonous breadth of the singing. He felt a real impulse, a dumb necessity, to pray also to the Incomprehensible: surrounded by these breathings, penetrated by the influences of the place in which he found himself, it seemed to him that his being dissolved, that he could even participate far off in the tender unity of these simple souls. He tried to remember a prayer, but recalled only that which St Paphnucius taught to Thaïs when he said to her, 'Thou art not worthy to name God, thou canst only pray thus: Qui plasmasti me, miserere mei. Thou who hast created me, have mercy upon me.' He faltered this humble phrase, praying not for love or for contrition, but in disgust of himself, in the powerlessness of getting free of himself, in regret that he could not love. Then he thought of saying the Pater, but stopped short in the idea that this prayer was the most difficult of all when the weight of its words is fully considered. Do not we declare to God in fact that we have forgiven the sins of our neighbour? among those who address these words to God, how many have pardoned their neighbours?"
From this strange mixture of sentiments Durtal is roused by seeing the priest and the beadle looking at him, and presently the latter approaches him, as he supposes with the intention of bidding him leave the church, as the only man in such an assemblage
of women. But the official's mission is of a very different kind. It is to inform Durtal that it is the custom in the procession of the Sacrament, which is about to take place, that the men present should take the lead, walking at the head of the women. Startled, not able to escape, the astonished flâneur finds himself with a candle in his hands, which he can ill manage, circling round the little chapel with all the white community behind him! not beautiful nuns of romance but working Sisters of the Poor, with homely weather-beaten faces, and hands rough and red with labour. Nothing could have been easier than to turn such a scene into ridicule.
But though we see the puzzled confusion of the fine gentleman, his fastidious disgust at those homely figures, his horror at his own position, even the difficulty of kneeling, when he is placed, still more to his horror, on the steps
of the altar while the service is brought to a conclusion-il n'avait pas l'habitude de cette posture-yet we are by this time too much interested in Durtal's difficulties to be tempted even to a smile. He reviews these difficulties, going on with a continual reverie which, however, never loses its interest through all the impossibilities as they appear to him of reconciling his new-born faith with his life. How, he asks himself, has he become once more a Catholic-how has he reached to that point?
"And Durtal replied to himself. 'I know not; all that I know is that, after having been for years an unbeliever, now I believe. Let us see, however [he added to himself], the reason of it, if in the obscurity of such a subject good sense may still hold its place.'
"My surprise arises from preconceived ideas on the subject of conversions. People talk of a sudden and
violent convulsion of the soul, a thunder-stroke, or else of the Faith making at the end an explosion in ground already carefully mined. It is very evident that conversions can be brought about either in one or the other of these ways, for God acts according to His pleasure; but there must be a third way, which is no doubt the most ordinary, that which the Saviour has employed with me. There has been no road to Damascus, no events leading to a great crisis; all that has happened is that, waking one fine morning, without knowing how or why, the thing is done."
But this conviction, which has come upon him so suddenly, is as yet of little potency to heal the troubles of his soul.
"Like all unbelievers he had said
to himself before his conversion, 'If I once believed that Jesus was God, and that eternal life was not an illusion, I should not hesitate to change all my habits, to follow as much as possible the rules of religion, to make my life at all events chaste.' wondered much that people whom he had known, under the same conditions as himself, should not hold an attitude superior to his. He who had for long been so indulgent to himself became singularly intolerant as soon as a believer was in question. of his judgments, and began to under"He perceived now the ignorance stand the abyss which lay between belief and action; and though he had no desire to discuss this question with himself, yet it returned upon him and overcame him, notwithstanding his reluctance, obliging him to confess the folly of his arguments and the contemptible nature of his resistance. He was frank enough to say to himself, 'I am no longer a child; if I believe, if I admit the Catholic faith, I cannot conceive it as lukewarm and floating, continually renewed by the fumes of a false zeal. I desire neither compromises nor truce, alternations of debauch and of holy communion, now libertine and now pious. No, all or nothing: a change from the foundation, or no change at all.'
"What shall I do? If I obey the command which becomes more and more imperious in me, I am preparing myself a life of remorse and revolts: for I know very well that I ought not to pause for ever on the threshold, but enter into the sanctuary and remain there. And if I decide-ah no, how can I?-for then I should have to bind myself to a mass of observances, submit to a succession of exercises, go to Mass on Sunday, fast on Friday, live like a bigot, look like a fool.""
These reflections are embittered by his recollections of people who follow these rules-des gens assidus dans les églises, the pécores pieuses, whom he holds in contempt; and the priests, mediocre and lukewarm, who form the common stock of the servants of the Church. "I see myself telling all this to the priests!" he cried.
"They will tell me that it is not my business to occupy myself with questions of mysticism, and in exchange they will present me with a little religion, une religionette, fit for a sick woman they will endeavour to mix themselves up in my life, to press me concerning my soul, and insinuate their tastes; they will try to convince me that Art is a danger; they will force imbecile books upon me; they will feed me with their veal broth of piety. And I know myself at the end of two interviews I will revolt, and return to my former fare."
While he is thus painfully engaged in discovering what he must do to reach the higher life, Durtal
who had completed in the earlier part of his history the life of a certain Maréchal des Rais, a monster of iniquity, who illustrat
ed the fifteenth century and was an adept in the black mysteries of the worshippers of the Devil-now turns to the opposite extreme, and determines to devote himself to the elucidation of the life and writings of the Blessed Lidwine, a Dutch saint and mystic of still earlier date. In searching for information on this subject he encounters in a bookseller's shop the Abbé Gévresin, with whom he has many walks and talks upon the subject of this saint and others, and finally on the whole mystic world of the cloister, and on the Reparation to which many converts dedicate themselves" that law of the substitution, that marvel of absolute Charity, that superhuman victory of Mysticism." It is to this priest that Durtal addresses himself when his troubles prove too great to be borne, and in whom he finds the most gentle and tolerant of guides. bitter moment, when the penitent is almost overwhelmed by fierce temptations, chiefly of the wellknown ancient kind which drove to frenzy the fathers in the desert, -the dancing nudités and carnal fascinations which not only the French mind, but the Catholic Church in general, reckons as the great and continually repeated ordeal through which the saints have to pass, the Abbé, when everything else fails, delivers Durtal by transmitting his case to some of the communities of the Reparation, who suffer, do penance, and pray for him, till he is for the time delivered from these terrible obsessions.
Finally, the Abbé sends his penitent to a monastery of La Trappe, whither the Parisian, with all his hesitations and revolts of intelligence, goes unwillingly and with much alarm, lest the stern régime should crush his agitated mind
and body altogether. The picture of the monastery thus placed before us from within is very curious. It is divided into a small band of fathers, in the white robes of their Cistercian order, men of culture and intelligence as well as of the most absorbed devotion, and a larger body of frères converses, who do the hard work of the farm and house hold, silent figures filling the body of the chapel in kneeling lines, half distinguishable in its dimness, through the dark hours of the night from two o'clock in the morning, when these heroic worshippers begin their day of prayer and toil. Nevertheless, though the lay brothers are without privilege or enlightenment, it is among them that the highest examples of devotion, and the most touching pity, are found by the stranger. His first night in his cell is a terrible one, defiled and tortured by the images most foreign to such a house of purity and prayer. Waking from his troubled sleep before the hour (four o'clock) which is granted to the unaccustomed penitents, he makes his way to the chapel in the middle of the wintry night:
"It was quite dark; high up in the wall a round window (oil-de-bœuf) broke through the darkness like a red moon.
"He made a step in advance, then crossed himself and drew back, for his foot had struck a human body. He looked down at his feet; he was entering upon a battlefield. Human forms lay on the floor in the attitude of combatants swept down by artillery, some lying flat, some on their knees, some with their hands on the ground as if struck in the back, others with their fingers crossed on the breast, holding their head in their hands, or stretching out their arms; but from this group of sufferers there arose no groan, no cry.
"Durtal gazed stupefied at this
massacre of monks. A ray of light now fell from a lamp which the sacristan had placed in the choir, and, traversing the building, lighted up a monk on his knees before the altar dedicated to the Virgin.
"He was an old man above eighty, immovable as a statue, his eyes fixed, leaning forward in such a rapture of adoration as eclipsed all the pictured saints of the Old Masters, who near him would have seemed cold and pale. unrefined: close shaven, without even the circle of hair round the tonsure, weatherbeaten by sun and rain, to the colour of brick: the eye veiled by the mist of age: the face wrinkled, furrowed like an old tree, half-buried in an underground of white hairs: the nose broad, completing the insignificance of the features. Yet there issued forth-not from the eyes, not from the lips, yet everywhere, and from no special part-a sort of angelic sentiment which diffused itself upon that head, which enveloped all the The soul in this case lowly form. of reforming and ennobling the phydid not even give itself the trouble siognomy, but contented itself with annihilating the outward part as with a radiance of heaven: it was as if the nimbus of the ancient saints, dwelling no longer round the head, but extending over every line, bathed his whole being in a pale, almost invisible glory."
"Yet the head was common and
This old man turns out to be the swineherd of the house, at the same time the only one among them who, when an instance of Satanic possession (not reckoned extraordinary at La Trappe) occurred, was able to cast out the demon. Durtal, coming suddenly into this atmosphere of prayer from the horrors of his troubled night, falls upon the floor amid all these rapt and noiseless worshippers, and for the first time feels himself capable of opening his heart to God.
The other lay brother who glides through this extraordinary scene, silent, not a word in his mouth,