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enchanting picture of how his uncle fetched him on foot,
and led him, without a word, through almond planta-
tions thronged with thrushes and over brawling water-
courses, till they reached an open little wood in sight
of the moors, where Ferdinand was allowed to feast upon
mulberries, while Uncle Fulcran touched, for the first
time, on the delicate question whether his little garrulous
nephew had or had not a call to the priesthood. Uncle
Fulcran Fabre is a type which recurs in every novel that
Ferdinand afterwards wrote. Sometimes, as in Mon
Oncle Celestin, he has practically the whole book to him-
self; more often he is a secondary character. But he
was a perpetual model to his nephew, and whenever a
naif, devoted country priest or an eccentric and holy
professor of ecclesiastical history was needed for fore-
ground or background, the memory of Uncle Fulcran
was always ready.

The " vocation " takes a great place in all the psycho-
logical struggles of Ferdinand Fabre's heroes. It
offers, indeed, the difficulty which must inevitably rise
in the breast of every generous and religious youth who
feels drawn to adopt the service of the Catholic Church.

154 French Profiles

How is he to know whether this enthusiasm which rises
in his soul, this rapture, this devotion, is the veritable
and enduring fragrance of Lebanon, the all-needful
odor suavitatis ? This doubt long harassed the breast
of Ferdinand Fabre himself. In that poor country of
the Cevennes, to have the care of a parish, to be sheltered
by a presbytere — by a parsonage or manse, as we should
say — is to have settled very comfortably the problem
of subsistence. The manse will shelter a mother, at
need a sister or an aged father ; it reconstructs a home
for such a shattered family as the Fabres were now.
Great, though unconscious, pressure was therefore put
upon the lad to make inevitable his " vocation." He
was sent to the Little Seminary at St. Pons de Thomieres,
where he was educated under M. I'Abbe Dubreuil, a man
whose ambitions were at once lettered and ecclesiastical,
and who, although Director of the famous Academie
des Jeux Floraux, eventually rose to be Archbishop of

During this time, at the urgent request of his unc^e
at Camplong, Ferdinand Fabre kept a daily journal.
It was started in the hope that cultivating the expres-
sion of pious sentiments might make their ebullition
spontaneous, but the boy soon began to jot down,
instead of pious ejaculations, all the external things he
noticed : the birds in the copses, the talk of the neigh-
bours, even at last the oddities and the disputes of the
excellent clergymen his schoolmasters. When the Abbe
Fulcran died in 1871, his papers were burned and most
of Ferdinand's journals with them; but the latest and
therefore most valuable cahier survived, and is the
source from which he extracted that absorbingly interest-
ing fragment of autobiography. Ma Vocation. This
shows us why, in spite of all the pressure of his people.

Ferdinand Fabre 155

and in spite of the entreaties of his amiable professors
at the Great Seminary of MontpelUer, the natural man
was too strong in Ferdinand Fabre to permit him to take
the final vows. In his nineteenth year, on the night of
the 23rd of June 1848, after an agony of prayer, he had
a vision in his cell. A great light filled the room ; he
saw heaven opened, and the Son of God at the right hand
of the Father. He approached in worship, but a wind
howled him out of heaven, and a sovereign voice cried,
" It is not the will of God that thou shouldst be a priest."
He rose up, calm though broken-hearted; as soon as
morning broke, without hesitation he wrote his decision
to his family, and of the " vocation " of Ferdinand Fabre
there was an end.

There could be no question of the sincerity of a life
so begun, although from the very first there may be
traced in it an element of incompatibihty, of gaucherie.
Whatever may be said of the clerical novels of Fabre,
they are at least built out of a loving experience. And,
in 1889, replying to some accuser, he employed words
which must be quoted here, for they are essential to a
comprehension of the man and his work. They were
addressed to his wife, dilectce tixori, and they take a
double pathos from this circumstance. They are the
words of the man who had laid his hand to the plough,
and had turned away because life was too sweet : —

" Je ne suis pas alle a l':^glise de propos dehbere pour
la peindre et pour la juger, encore moins pour faire d'elle
metier et marchandise; I'Eglise est venue k moi, s'est
imposee a moi par la force d'une longue frequentation,
par les emotions poignantes de ma jeunesse, par un goiit
tenace de mon esprit, ouvert de bonne heure k elle, k
elle seule, et j'ai ecrit tout de long de I'aune. naive-
ment. . . . Je demeurais confine dans mon coin etroit.

156 French Profiles

dans mon ' diocese,' comme aurait dit Sainte-Beuve.
. . . De la une serie de livres sur les desservants, les
cures, les chanoines, les eveques."

But if the Church was to be his theme and his obses-
sion, there was something else in the blood of Ferdinand
Fabre. There was the balsam-laden atmosphere of the
great moorlands of the Cevennes. At first it seemed
as though he were to be torn away from this natural
perfume no less than from the odour of incense. He
was sent, after attempting the study of medicine at
Montpellier, to Paris, where he was articled as clerk to
a lawyer. The oppression of an office was intolerable
to him, and he broke away, trying, as so many thousands
do, to make a living by journalism, by the untrained and
unaccompHshed pen. In 1853 he pubhshed the inevit-
able volume of verses, Les Fetiilles de Lierre. It seemed
at first as if these neglected ivy-leaves would cover the
poor lad's coffin, for, under poverty and privation, his
health completely broke down. He managed to creep
back to Bedarieux, and in the air of the moors he soon
recovered. But how he occupied himself during the
next eight or ten years does not seem to have been
recorded. His life was probably a very idle one ; with
a loaf of bread and a cup of wine beneath the bough,
youth passes merrily and cheaply in that dehcious
country of the Herault.

In the sixties he reappeared in Paris, and at the age
of thirty-two, in 1862, he brought out his first novel,
Les Courbezon : Scenes de la Vie Clericale. George
Eliot's Scenes of Clerical Life had appeared a few years
earher; the new French novelist resembled her less
than he did Anthony Trollope, to whom, with consider-
able clairvoyance, M. Amedee Pichot immediately com-
pared him. In spite of the limited interests involved

Ferdinand Fabre


and the rural crudity of the scene — the book was all
about the life of country priests in the Cevennes —
Les Courbezon achieved an instant success. It was
crowned by the French Academy, it was praised by
George Sand, it was carefully reviewed by Sainte-Beuve,
who called the author " the strongest of the disciples of
Balzac." Ferdinand Fabre had begun his career, and
was from this time forth a steady and sturdy constructor
of prose fiction. About twenty volumes bear his name
on their title-pages. In 1883 he succeeded Jules Sandeau
as curator of the Mazarin Library, and in that capacity
inhabited a pleasant suite of rooms in the Institute,
where he died. There are no other mile-stones in the
placid roadway of his life except the dates of the most
important of his books: Le Chevrier, 1867; L'Abbe
Tigrane, 1873 ; Barnabe, 1875 ; Mon Oncle Celestin,
1881; Lucifer, 1884; and L'Abbe Roitelet, 1890. At
the time of his death, I understand, he was at work on
a novel called Le Bercail, of which only a fragment was
completed. Few visitors to Paris saw him; he loved
solitude and was shy. But he is described as very genial
and smiling, eager to please, with a certain prelatical
unction of manner recalling the Seminary after half a
century of separation.


The novels of Ferdinand Fabre have one signal merit :
they are entirely unhke those of any other writer; but
they have one equally signal defect — they are terribly
like one another. Those who read a book of his for the
first time are usually highly delighted, but they make a
mistake if they immediately read another. Criticism,
dealing broadly with Ferdinand Fabre, and anxious to
insist on the recognition of his great merits, is wise if

158 French Profiles

it concedes at once the fact of his monotony. Certain
things and people — most of them to be found within
five miles of his native town — interested him, and he
produced fresh combinations of these. Without ever
entirely repeating himself, he produced, especially in
his later writings, an unfortunate impression of having
told us all that before. Nor was he merely monotonous ;
he was unequal. Some of his stories were much better
constructed and even better than others. It is therefore
needless, and would be wearisome, to go through the
list of his twenty books here. I shall merely endeavour
to present to English readers, who are certainly not
duly cognisant of a very charming and sympathetic
novelist, those books of Fabre's which, I believe, will
most thoroughly reward attention.

By universal consent the best of all Fabre's novels is
L'Abbe Tigrane, Candidal a la Papaute. It is, in all the
more solid and durable qualities of composition, un-
questionably among the best European novels of the last
thirty years. It is as interesting to-day as it was when
it first appeared. I read it then with rapture, I have
just laid it down again with undiminished admiration.
It is so excellently balanced and moulded that it posi-
tively does its author an injury, for the reader cannot
resist asking why, since L'Abbe Tigrane is so brilUantly
constructed, are the other novels of Fabre, with all their
agreeable qualities, so manifestly inferior to it ? And
to this question there is no reply, except to say that on
one solitary occasion the author of very pleasant, char-
acteristic and notable books, which were not quite
masterpieces, shot up in the air and became a writer
almost of the first class. I hardly know whether it is
worth while to observe that the scene of L'Abbe Tigrane,
although analogous to that which Fabre elsewhere

Ferdinand Fabre 159

portrayed, was not identical with it, and perhaps this
shght detachment from his beloved Cevennes gave the
novelist a seeming touch of freedom.

The historical conditions which give poignancy of
interest to the ecclesiastical novels of Ferdinand Fabre
are the re-assertion in France of the monastic orders
proscribed by the Revolution, and the opposition offered
to them by the parochial clergy. The battle which
rages in these stormy books is that between Roman
and Galilean ambition. The names of Lacordaire and
Lamennais are scarcely mentioned in the pages of Fabre, ^
but the study of their lives forms an excellent preparation
for the enjoyment of stories hke L'Abbe Tigrane and
Lucifer. The events which thrilled the Church of France
about the year 1840, the subjection of the prelates to
Roman authority, the hostility of the Government, the
resistance here and there of an ambitious and head-
strong Galilean — all this must in some measure be
recollected to make the intrinsic purpose of Fabre's
novels, which Taine has qualified as indispensable to
the historian of modern France, intelligible. If we
recollect Archbishop de Quelen and his protection of the
Peregrine Brethren ; if we think of Lacordaire (on the
I2th of February 1841) mounting the pulpit of Notre-
Dame in the forbidden white habit of St. Dominic ; if
we recall the turmoil which preceded the arrival of
Monseigneur Affre at Paris, we shall find ourselves pre-
pared by historic experience for the curious ambitions
and excitements which animate the clerical novels of

The devout little city of Lormieres, where the scene

1 I should except the curious anecdote of the asceticism of
Lamennais which is told by the arch-priest Rupert in the six-
teenth chapter of Lucifer.

i6o French Profiles

of L'Abbe Tigrane is laid, is a sort of clerical ante-
chamber to Paradise. It stands in a wild defile of the
Eastern Pyrenees, somewhere between Toulouse and
Perpignan ; it is not the capital of a department, but a
little stronghold of ancient religion, left untouched in its
poverty and its devotion, overlooked in the general
redistribution of dioceses. The Abbe Rufin Capdepont,
about the year 1866, finds himself Vicar-General of its
Cathedral Church of St. Irenee; he is a fierce, domineer-
ing man, some fifty years of age, devoured by ambition
and eating his heart out in this forgotten corner of
Christendom. He is by conviction, but still more by
temper, a Galilean of the Galileans, and his misery is to
see the principles of the Concordat gradually being
swept away by the tide of the Orders setting in from
Rome. The present Bishop of Lormieres, M. de Roque-
brun, is a charming and courtly person, but he is under
the thumb of the Regulars, and gives all the offices which
fall vacant to Dominicans or Lazarists. He is twenty
years older than Rufin Capdepont, who has determined
to succeed him, but whom every year of delay embitters
and disheartens.

Rufin Capdepont is built in the mould of the un-
scrupulous conquerors of life. The son of a peasant
of the Pyrenees and of a Basque-Spanish mother, he is
a creature like a tiger, all sinuosity and sleekness when
things go well, but ready in a moment to show claws and
fangs on the sHghtest opposition, and to stir with a roar
that cows the forest. His rude violence, his Gallican-
ism, the hatred he inspires, the absence of spiritual
unction — all these make his chances of promotion
rarer; on the other side are ranked his magnificent
intellect, his swift judgment, his absolutely imperial
confidence in himself, and his vigilant activity. When

Ferdinand Fabre i6i

they remind him of his mean origin, he remembers that
Pope John XXII. was humbly born hard by at Cahors,
and that Urban IV. was the son of a cobbler at Troyes!

What the episcopate means to an ambitious priest
is constantly impressed on his readers by Ferdinand
Fabre. Yesterday, a private soldier in an army of one
hundred thousand men, the bishop is to-day a general,
grandee of the Holy Roman Church, received ad liniina
apostolorum as a sovereign, and by the Pope as " Vener-
able Brother." As this ineffable prize seems slipping
from the grasp of Rufin Capdepont, his violence becomes
insupportable. At school his tyranny had gained him
the nickname of Tigranes, from his hkeness to the
Armenian tyrant king of kings ; now to all the chapter
and diocese of Lormieres he is I'Abbe Tigrane, a name
to frighten children with. At last, after a wild en-
counter, his insolence brings on an attack of apoplexy
in the bishop, and the hour of success or final failure
seems approaching. But the bishop recovers, and in
a scene absolutely admirable in execution contrives to
turn a public ceremony, carefully prepared by Capde-
pont to humiliate him, into a splendid triumph. The
bishop, still illuminated with the prestige of this cotip,
departs for Rome in the company of his beloved
secretary, the Abbe Ternisien, who he designs shall
succeed him in the diocese. Capdepont is left behind,
wounded, sulky, hardly approachable, a feline monster
who has missed his spring.

But from Paris comes a telegram announcing the
sudden death of Monsieur de Roquebrun, and Capde-
pont, as Vicar-General, is in provisional command of the
diocese. The body of the bishop is brought back to
Lormieres, but Capdepont, frenzied with hatred and
passion, refuses to admit it to the cathedral. The Abbe

1 62 French Profiles

Ternisien, however, and the other friends of the last
regime, contrive to open the cathedral at dead of night,
and a furtive but magnificent ceremony is performed,
under the roar of a terrific thunderstorm, in defiance of
the wishes of Capdepont. The report spreads that not
he, but Ternisien, is to be bishop, and the clergy do not
conceal their joy. But the tale is not true; Rome
supports the strong man, the priest with the iron hand,
in spite of his scandalous ferocity and his Galilean
tendencies. In the hour of his sickening suspense,
Capdepont has acted like a brute and a maniac, but
with the dawning of success his tact returns. He
excuses his violent acts as the result of illness; he
humbles himself to the beaten party, he purrs to his
clergy, he rubs himself like a great cat against the
comfortable knees of Rome. He soon rises to be Arch-
bishop, and we leave him walking at night in the garden
of his palace and thinking of the Tiara, " Who knows ? "
with a delirious glitter in his eyes, " who knows ? "

With L'Ahhe Tigrane must be read Lucifer, w^hich is
the converse of the picture. In Rufin Capdepont we
see the culmination of personal ambition in an ecclesi-
astic who is yet devoted through the inmost fibres of
his being to the interests of the Church. In the story
of Bernard Jourfier we follow the career of a priest who
is without individual ambition, but inspired by intense
convictions which are not in their essence clerical.
Hence Jourfier, with all his virtues, fails, while Capde-
pont, with all his faults, succeeds, because the latter
possesses, while the former does not possess, the " voca-
tion." Jourfier, who resembles Capdepont in several,
perhaps in too many, traits of character, is led by his
indomitable obstinacy to oppose the full tide of the
monastic orders covering France with their swarms.

Ferdinand Fabre 163

We are made to feel the incumbrance of the Congre-
gations, their elaborate systems of espionage, and the
insult of their direct appeal to Rome over the heads of
the bishops. We realise how intolerable the bondage
of the Jesuits must have been to an independent and
somewhat savage Galilean cleric of 1845, and what
opportunities were to be found for annojang and
depressing him if he showed any resistance.

The young Abbe Bernard Jourfier is the grandson
arid the son of men who took a prominent part in the
foundation and maintenance of the First Republic.
Although he himself has gone into the Church, he
retains an extreme pride in the memory of the Spartans of
his family. To resist the pretensions of the Regulars
becomes with him a passion and a duty, and for express-
ing these views, and for repulsing the advances of
Jesuits, who see in him the making of a magnificent
preacher, Jourfier is humiliated and hurt by being
hurried from one miserable succursale in the mountains
to another, where his manse is a cottage in some rocky
comhe (hke the Devonshire " coomb "). At last his
chance comes to him ; he is given a parish in the lowest
and poorest part of the episcopal city of Mireval. Here
his splendid gifts as an orator and his zeal for the poor
soon make him prominent, though not with the other
clergy popular. His appearance — his forehead broad
like that of a young bull, his great brown flashing eyes,
his square chin, thick neck and incomparable voice —
would be eminently attractive if the temper of the man
were not so hard and repellent, so calculated to bruise
such softer natures as come in his way.

The reputation of Jourfier grows so steadily, that the
Chapter is unable to refuse him a canon's stall in the
Cathedral of St. Optat. But he is haunted by his

164 French Profiles

mundane devil, the voice which whispers that, with all
his austerity, chastity, and elevation of heart, he is not
truly called of God to the priesthood. So he flings
himself into ecclesiastical history, and publishes in
successive volumes a great chronicle of the Church,
interpenetrated by Galilean ideas, and breathing from
every page a spirit of sturdy independence which, though
orthodox, is far from gratifying Rome. This history is
rapidly accepted as a masterpiece throughout France,
and makes him universally known. Still he wraps him-
self in his isolation, when the fall of the Empire suddenly
calls him from his study, and he has to prevent the
citizens of Mireval from wrecking their cathedral and
insulting their craven bishop. Gambetta, who knew his
father, and values Jourfier himself, procures that he shall
be appointed Bishop of Sylvanes. The mitre, so passion-
ately desired by Capdepont, is only a matter of terror
and distraction to Jourfier. He is on the point of refus-
ing it, when it is pointed out to him that his episcopal
authority will enable him to make a successful stand
against the Orders.

This decides him, and he goes to Sylvanes to be
consecrated. But he has not yet been preconised by
the Pope, and he makes the fatal mistake of lingering
in his diocese, harassing the Congregations, who all
denounce him to the Pope. At length, in deep melan-
choly and failing health, he sets out for Rome, and is
subjected to all the delays, inconveniences, and petty
humiliations which Rome knows how to inflict on those
who annoy her. The Pope sees him, but without
geniality; he has to endure an interview with the
Prefect of the Congregations, Cardinal Finella, in which
the pride of Lucifer is crushed like a pebble under a
hammer. He is preconised, but in the most scornful

Ferdinand Fabre 165

way, on sufferance, because Rome does not find it con-
venient to embroil herself with the French Republic,
and he returns, a broken man, to Syl vanes. Even his
dearest friends, the amiable and charming trio of Galilean
canons, who have followed him from Mireval, and to
find offices for whom he has roughly displaced Jesuit
fathers, find the bishop's temper intolerable. His
palace is built, hke a fortress, on a rocky eminence over
the city, and one wild Christmas night the body of the
tormented bishop is discovered, crushed, at the foot of
the chff, whether in suicide cast over, or flung by a false
dehrious step as he wandered in the rain. This endless
combat with the Church of which he was a member, had
ended, as it was bound to end, in madness and despair.
As a psychological study Lucifer is more interesting,
perhaps, than L'Abbe Tigrane, because more complex,
but it is far from being so admirably executed. As the
story proceeds, Jourfier's state of soul somewhat evades
the reader. His want of tact in dealing with his diocese
and with the Pope is so excessive that it deprives him
of our sympathy, and internal evidence is not wanting
to show that Fabre, having brought his Galilean professor
of history to the prelacy, did not quite know what to do
with him then. To make him mad and tumble him over
a parapet seems inadequate to the patient reader, who
has been absorbed in the intellectual and spiritual
problems presented. But the early portions of the book
are excellent indeed. Some of the episodes which soften
and humanise the severity of the central interest are
charming; the career of Jourfier's beloved nephew, the
Abbe Jean Montagnol, who is irresistibly drawn towards
the Jesuits, and at last is positively kidnapped by them
from the clutches of his terrible uncle; the gentle old
archpriest Rupert, always in a flutter of timidity, yet

1 66 French Profiles

with the loyalty of steel; the Canon Coulazou, who
watches Jourfier with the devotion of a dog through his
long misanthropic trances; these turn Lucifer into an
enchanting gallery of serious clerical portraits.


But there are other faces in the priestly portrait-
gallery which Ferdinand Fabre has painted, and some
of them more lovable than those of Tigrane and Lucifer.
To any one who desires an easy introduction to the
novelist, no book can be more warmly recommended
than that which bears the title of L'Abbe Roitelet, or, as
we might put it, " The Rev. Mr. Wren " (1890). Here
we find ourselves in a variety of those poverty-stricken
mountain parishes, starving under the granite peaks of
the Ccvennes, which Fabre was the first writer of the
imagination to explore ; groups of squalid huts, sprinkled
and tumbled about rocky slopes, hanging perilously
over ravines split by tumultuous rivulets that race in
uproar down to the valleys of the Orb or the Tarn.
Here we discover, assiduously but wearily devoted to
the service of these parched communities, the Abbe
Cyprien Coupiac, called Roitelet, or the Wren, because
he is the smallest priest in any diocese of France. This
tiny little man, a peasant in his simplicity and his shy-
ness, has one ungovernable passion, which got him into
trouble in his student-days at Montpellier, and does
his reputation wrong even among the rocks of the black

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