Page images
PDF
EPUB

seems as if all progress were indeed at an end; two immense blocks fallen across each other completely close the horizon. . . . We approach them, however, and it opens again, the rocks forming a sort of Titanic vaulted roof overhead, and falling again in the form of three bridges, one above the other, the horses continuing to climb a road which the eye cannot take in.

And whilst one is lost in these abysses, what a perfect dream of splendor begins to break overhead! Meadows of the most exquisite green seem as if suspended far above us, silvery rocks jutting out from among their black firs, gigantic oaks grasping the heights of the precipices, their crowns of verdure glittering in the wind. . . . It is a fantastic apparition. One has visions in one's childhood of unknown regions, of enchanted forests guarded by genii, but one never thought to contemplate these marvels in reality.

Then, all at once, the mountains separate, the torrents disappear, and in the midst of a gorge rise battlements and spires. . . . It is the monastery. There it stands, guarded by these lofty sentinels, in this sombre amphitheatre, which would be desolation itself if God had not scattered there all the magical beauties of his creation.

There is not a village, not a cottage, not a wayfarer-nothing; there is La Chartreuse. No solitude can be compared to that!

On the summit of St. Bernard and of the Simplon monasteries destined for the relief of travellers present themselves to the passage of the nations. In the sandy deserts the most isolated convents find themselves in the road of the caravans; but here this road conducts to nothing-it is a silent gorge; it is the

Valley of Contemplation; it is the greatest solitude that one can imagine.

And when from those heights one has seen the gradual approach of night; seen these masses of rock and of verdure enfolded in the vast shadows; and, at the summons of the monastery bell, has seen the last of the white robes descend from the mountain, he feels that it is one of those moments in a life which will never be forgotten. Then, after having stayed awhile to contemplate this scene, I rose and came to knock at this door, which has been to so many others as the gate of the tomb. . . . A Carthusian monk brought me to my cell, went his way in silence, and since then I have been.left to my reflections.

There are, then, men who in the morning were in their homes, in the midst of their friends, in life, and stir, and the noise of the outer world. . . . They have climbed this mountain, they have sought this Desert, have knocked at this gate; it has closed upon them, . . and for ever.

They have, as I, sat down at this table; they have gazed at the walls of their cell, and have said to themselves: "Behold henceforth my horizon." Then they have heard the sound of these bells, the echo of these litanies, and they have said to themselves: "We shall henceforth hear no other voice."

You see, one reads these things in the works of poets, one sees them represented in the drama; but one must find one's self actually in a real cell, and one must sleep there, to conceive anything of the reality of a monastic life.

To awake here in the morning; to rise and eat, alone, the food which comes to you through a little wicket, like that of a prisoner;

to meet, when one traverses the cloister, other shadows who salute you in silence; to go from the church to the cell, from the cell to the church, and to say to one's self that it is always and always to be the same!

Always! . . . All through life; or rather, there is no more life, no more space, no more time. It is the beginning of eternity. One is on the threshold of the infinite, and it seems as if all this nature had only been created to give these men a beginning of eternal repose. Always alone! The thought crushes one. No more to receive any thing from without; to nourish one's self with spiritualities alone; to meditate, contemplate, and pray. To pray always: . . . to pray for those who never pray themselves; to pray for those who have shattered your life, and who, may be, have led you hither; . . . to pray for those who have despoiled your monastery and outraged your habit -even for the impious ones who come to insult you in your very hospitality! And for all this one thing alone suffices: faith.

A bell has rung; it is the hour of Matins. Some one knocks at my door. I open, and they conduct me to the little stall reserved for travellers. At first the obscurity is so great that it is difficult to distinguish anything. The church is empty, and none of the tapers are lighted. Then a door opens in the distance, and the monks enter in procession, each holding a long dark-lantern, of which the slanting gleams dimly lessen the darkness of the chapel. They repair to their stalls, and the Office begins.

It consists principally of a monotonous psalmody of an implacable rhythm, of which one scarcely perceives the first murmurs, and

which seems as if it would never end. I gaze at these tall white figures, these motionless heads. What has been the drama of life to each one? What changes, without and within, have led them there? What have they suffered? And do they suffer still? What has the rule of their order done for them? and still the psalmody goes on. At times they rise, uttering what seems to be a sort of lamentation; then they fall prostrate, with their arms stretched out before them: all the lights disappear; there is nothing but darkness and silence; it seems as if man himself were extinguished. After which the lights reappear, the psalmody recommences, and thus it continues.

When the rising sun shone upon the summits of the rocks, I rose from my pallet, exclaiming: “The light at last! Hail to the light!" I open my window and look out. . . . There is no other place like this; such as it was in the night, such is it in the day. In vain may the sun mount above the horizon to bring warmth into this gorge-the monastery remains cold and, as it were, insensible; in vain his rays dart upon the walls, glitter on the spires, and set the rocks on fire. . There are living men, but one does not see them, one does not hear them; only a wagon drawn by oxen crosses the meadow, followed by a monk, and some beggars are approaching the monastery gate.

Then, without guide or direction, I plunge into the forest in search of the Chapel of S. Bruno. This forest is of incomparable beauty; neither Switzerland nor the Pyrenees contain anything like it. Prodigious trees rise to an immense height, wrapping their gigantic roots about the rocks. In the midst

of the waters which murmur on every side unknown vegetations luxuriate, sheltering at their feet a world of ferns, tall grass, and mosses, every dewy feather and spray being hung, as it were, with precious stones, upon which the sun darts here and there rays of gold and touches of fire. There is here a wild enchantment which neither pen nor pencil ever can depict; and in the midst of these marvels rises, from a rock, the Chapel of S. Bruno. There it was that the visions appeared to him, and there he caused a spring of water to flow forth; but to me the most wonderful of all the miracles of his legend was that of his getting there at all-the fact of his reaching the foot of this desert, hatchet in hand, cutting down the trees which barred his entrance, wrestling with wild animals, the masters of this forest, and having no other pathway than the torrent's bed; ever mounting upwards, in spite of the streams, in spite of the rocks, in spite of everything; never finding himself lost enough, but ever struggling higher and higher still. The miracle is, too, that of his having fixed himself at last upon that spot, and to have called companions around him, who constructed each his little hermitage about his own; that of having, in God's name, taken possession of these inaccessible mountains, all of which are surmounted by a cross, and to have founded an order which spread itself over the whole Christian world, and which is still existing.

But the hour of departure has arrived. At the moment of quitting this solitude we again reflect. France and Italy lie spread out beneath our feet; . . . that is to say, passions, hatred, strife. . . . Why should we descend again?

Why resume the burden of ambitions, rivalries, the harness of social conventionalities? To what purpose is it, since the end at last must come alike to all?

We look around, we reflect, and then, after having well meditated, we all descend.

At the foot of the desert we find again huts, then cottages, by and by a village. With movement and life we find our speech again, and with speech discussion. Overwhelmed until then by the wild beauty of all around us and by the majesty of its silence, the sceptics only now recommence the criticisms which were cut short the evening before: "What services do these monks render to mankind? To what purpose do they bury themselves upon those heights, when there is so much to be done below?"

I answer nothing. These are difficult questions. Later we shall know which has chosen the better part, those who act or those who pray; only I remember that whilst thirty thousand Israelites were fighting in the plain, Moses, alone on the mountain, with his arms stretched out towards heaven, implored the God of armies. When his arms fell through weariness, the Amalekites prevailed; and when he raised them, Israel was victorious; and seeing this, he caused his arms to be supported, until the enemies. of Israel were overcome.

While we are debating we cross Saint Laurent, Les Echelles, and the Valley du Guiers. Here is Chambéry en fête, with its flags, its concourse of francs-tireurs, and bands of music; but although we have returned to outer life, we have brought away with us something of the solitude we have left, where it seems as if the earth ended.

Believe me, reader, and do not forget my words when you visit these lands. The sight of La Grande Chartreuse is one of the most powerful emotions here below. To whatever religion you may belong, if your soul can be moved by the

thought of the life to come, you will preserve an imperishable remembrance of a night spent in thi monastery, and will feel that you are not altogether the same man that you were when you entered its walls.

NEW PUBLICATIONS.

LES ETATS-UNIS CONTEMPORAINS, OU LES MOURS, LES INSTITUTIONS ET LES IDEES DEPUIS LA GUERRE DE LA SECESSION. Par Claudio Jannet. Ouvrage précédé d'une Lettre de M. Le Play. Paris: E. Plon. 1876.

The author of this volume has read carefully and seriously a large number of works, by different American, French, and English writers, devoted to an explanation of the institutions of the United States, and to the history and social condition of the country. He shows also a remarkable acquaintance with the magazines and newspapers of the United States, so far as they bear on the subjects of which he treats. His book, indeed, must have cost him years of assiduous labor.

M. Jannet gives a just and impartial exposition of the laws and political principles of our country, as also of its present social condition. Rarely, if ever, has a foreigner displayed so conscientious a study of all that goes to make up Ameri can civilization. He professes to have entered upon his study and his werk without any preconceived theory—a profession not unusual with authors, and for the most part, probably, honestly made. It is one thing, however, to profess, another thing to adhere to the profession. Were it possible for authors to adhere strictly to the profession made by M. Jannet, literature and all of which it treats would certainly not suffer therefrom. But he who imagines he has attained to so just and fair a position is the least free from illusion. The position is simply unattainable, and M. Jannet is scarcely to be blamed if he has not quite reached his ideal.

Two classes of authors have written

about the United States. The one sees almost everything in couleur de roc, the other in a sombre hue. M. Jannet longs to the latter class. Throughout his volume he fastens upon every sym tom that threatens the existence or the welfare of the republic. As an enmeration of these symptoms it is ex and its perusal would do no harm to our spread-cagle orators.

Jannet has evidently aimed t counterbalancing the influence of writers, French writers particularly, wh have exaggerated the good side of American political society. He seems fearful lest their tone of thought should have too great a preponderance in France and influence its present transitionstate too powerfully in the direction of the United States. Whether or not this was called for is not a question for us to consider. The book, regarded as an im partial exposition of the present condition of the United States, resembles the picture of an artist, the background of which is painted with a Preraphaelite exactness, while the foreground is leh unfinished, and the whole work, consequently, incomplete. Had the obvious purpose of the book been proclaimed t the beginning, we should have read it with a more favorable eye.

In his last chapter, however, M. Jannet holds out some hope for the future of the American Republic. In our present commercial depression, in the recent success of the Democratic party, a the number of families who have pre served the primitive virtues and customs of our forefathers, and in the progress of Catholicity he sees a ground for this hope, and concludes his work by saying: "Men are everywhere prosperous or un

fortunate, according as they observe or despise the divine law. All their free will consists in choosing between these two terms of the problem of life, and all the efforts of the spirit of innovation only break against, without ever being able to destroy, the eternal bounds set by God to the ambitious feebleness of the creature. Therein lies the lesson that the young republic of the New World sends frem beyond the ocean and across the mirage of its rapid prosperity to the old nations of Europe, too inclined to believe in the sophisms of the great modern error, and to mistrust their own traditions."

M. Jannet's work is worthy of a more extended notice, which will be given it at a later date. The book may be ordered directly from the publisher in France.

THE PUBLIC LIFE OF OUR LORD. II. Preaching of the Beatitudes. By H. J. Coleridge, S.J. London: Burns & Oates. 1375. (New York: Sold by The Catholic Publication Society.)

This is a new volume in the series which is intended, when complete, to include the entire life of Jesus Christ. We have already commended the preceding volume, and can only, at present, renew the expression of our concurrence in the unanimous verdict of competent judges, which awards a very high meed of praise to Father Coleridge's work, so far as it is as yet given to the public.

It is likely to become extensive when fully completed, since the present volume is filled up with the author's introductory remarks on the missionary life of Our Lord, and the exposition of one portion of the Sermon on the Mount-to wit, the Beatitudes. It is a work which is, strictly speaking, sui generis in our language, and indeed in all modern literature, and one hard to describe in such a way as to give an accurate notion of its quality and scope to a person who has not red some portion of its contents. The author has drawn from the most various and from the purest sources, pad has himself meditated in a very attative and minute manner upon the rich materials furnished him by the sacred lore of his studies. He proceeds leisurely, quictly, carefully, like the paticht illuminator of a manuscript text, filling his pages with large and small figures, all claborately finished. The present volu.ne gives us a sketch of

Galilee, the scene of the preaching and miracles of our divine Redeemer during his first year of public ministry, which makes at once the idea of that ministry, of its extraordinary laboriousness, its extent, and the multitude of wonderful works comprehended within its brief period, ten times more vivid than it can be made by a mere perusal of the Gospel narrative. In this respect it is especially interesting and instructive for those who are themselves engaged in missionary labors. We have a picture placed before our minds of the real nature of Our Lord's public life and ministry, and grouped around it are other pictures, as illustrations, from the lives of the great missionary saints. When the author ap proaches to his principal theme in this volume-the Sermon on the Mount-he makes the whole scene and all its circumstances appear before us like a fine dioramic view. He is not, however, of that meretricious school to which Renan and Beecher have given a false and momentary & lat, as unworthy of the divine subject as the homage of another class of witnesses on whom Our Lord frequently imposed silence. The poetic, literary, and picturesque charms of Father Coleridge's style are subservient to his theological, doctrinal, and moral exposition of sacred truths. It is the pure doctrine of the Scriptures, and of the fathers, doctors, and saints of the church, which we are invited and allured to drink from the ornamented chalice.

THE HOLY WAYS OF THE CROSS; OR, A SHORT TREATISE ON THE VARIOUS TRIALS AND AFFLICTIONS, INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR, TO WHICH THL SPIRITUAL LIFE IS SUBJECT, AND THE MEANS OF MAKING A GOOD USE THEREOF. Trans. lated from the French of Henri-Maric Boudon, Archdeacon of Evreux. By Edward Healy Thompson, M..A. London: Burns, Oates & Co. 1975. (New York: Sold by The Catholic Publication Society.)

Whoever, after reading the title of this book, thinks that a treatise of this kind would be useful and helpful, and wishes to find such a book as may really do the service promised by the title, will probably be satisfied with the book itself. It is standard and approved, and has been well translated by Mr. Thompson, whose preface contains some excellent and timely remarks of his own.

« PreviousContinue »