MONSEIGNEUR BIENVENU MADE HIS CASSOCKS LAST TOO LONG
The private life of M. Myriel was filled with the same thoughts
as his public life. The voluntary poverty in which the Bishop
of D---- lived, would have been a solemn and charming sight
for any one who could have viewed it close at hand.
Like all old men, and like the majority of thinkers, he slept little.
This brief slumber was profound. In the morning he meditated for an hour,
then he said his mass, either at the cathedral or in his own house.
His mass said, he broke his fast on rye bread dipped in the milk
of his own cows. Then he set to work.
A Bishop is a very busy man: he must every day receive the
secretary of the bishopric, who is generally a canon, and nearly
every day his vicars-general. He has congregations to reprove,
privileges to grant, a whole ecclesiastical library to examine,--
prayer-books, diocesan catechisms, books of hours, etc.,--charges
to write, sermons to authorize, cures and mayors to reconcile,
a clerical correspondence, an administrative correspondence;
on one side the State, on the other the Holy See; and a thousand
matters of business.
What time was left to him, after these thousand details of business,
and his offices and his breviary, he bestowed first on the necessitous,
the sick, and the afflicted; the time which was left to him from
the afflicted, the sick, and the necessitous, he devoted to work.
Sometimes he dug in his garden; again, he read or wrote. He had
but one word for both these kinds of toil; he called them gardening.
"The mind is a garden," said he.
Towards mid-day, when the weather was fine, he went forth and took
a stroll in the country or in town, often entering lowly dwellings.
He was seen walking alone, buried in his own thoughts, his eyes
cast down, supporting himself on his long cane, clad in his wadded
purple garment of silk, which was very warm, wearing purple stockings
inside his coarse shoes, and surmounted by a flat hat which allowed
three golden tassels of large bullion to droop from its three points.
It was a perfect festival wherever he appeared. One would have said
that his presence had something warming and luminous about it.
The children and the old people came out to the doorsteps for the Bishop
as for the sun. He bestowed his blessing, and they blessed him.
They pointed out his house to any one who was in need of anything.
Here and there he halted, accosted the little boys and girls,
and smiled upon the mothers. He visited the poor so long as he
had any money; when he no longer had any, he visited the rich.
As he made his cassocks last a long while, and did not wish to
have it noticed, he never went out in the town without his wadded
purple cloak. This inconvenienced him somewhat in summer.
On his return, he dined. The dinner resembled his breakfast.
At half-past eight in the evening he supped with his sister,
Madame Magloire standing behind them and serving them at table.
Nothing could be more frugal than this repast. If, however, the Bishop
had one of his cures to supper, Madame Magloire took advantage
of the opportunity to serve Monseigneur with some excellent fish
from the lake, or with some fine game from the mountains. Every cure
furnished the pretext for a good meal: the Bishop did not interfere.
With that exception, his ordinary diet consisted only of vegetables
boiled in water, and oil soup. Thus it was said in the town,
when the Bishop does not indulge in the cheer of a cure, he indulges
in the cheer of a trappist.
After supper he conversed for half an hour with Mademoiselle Baptistine
and Madame Magloire; then he retired to his own room and set to writing,
sometimes on loose sheets, and again on the margin of some folio.
He was a man of letters and rather learned. He left behind him
five or six very curious manuscripts; among others, a dissertation
on this verse in Genesis, In the beginning, the spirit of God
floated upon the waters. With this verse he compares three texts:
the Arabic verse which says, The winds of God blew; Flavius Josephus
who says, A wind from above was precipitated upon the earth;
and finally, the Chaldaic paraphrase of Onkelos, which renders it,
A wind coming from God blew upon the face of the waters.
In another dissertation, he examines the theological works of Hugo,
Bishop of Ptolemais, great-grand-uncle to the writer of this book,
and establishes the fact, that to this bishop must be attributed
the divers little works published during the last century, under the
pseudonym of Barleycourt.
Sometimes, in the midst of his reading, no matter what the book
might be which he had in his hand, he would suddenly fall into
a profound meditation, whence he only emerged to write a few
lines on the pages of the volume itself. These lines have often
no connection whatever with the book which contains them. We now
have under our eyes a note written by him on the margin of a quarto
entitled Correspondence of Lord Germain with Generals Clinton,
Cornwallis, and the Admirals on the American station. Versailles,
Poincot, book-seller; and Paris, Pissot, bookseller, Quai des Augustins.
Here is the note:--
"Oh, you who are!
"Ecclesiastes calls you the All-powerful; the Maccabees call you
the Creator; the Epistle to the Ephesians calls you liberty;
Baruch calls you Immensity; the Psalms call you Wisdom and Truth;
John calls you Light; the Books of Kings call you Lord; Exodus calls
you Providence; Leviticus, Sanctity; Esdras, Justice; the creation
calls you God; man calls you Father; but Solomon calls you Compassion,
and that is the most beautiful of all your names."
Toward nine o'clock in the evening the two women retired and betook
themselves to their chambers on the first floor, leaving him alone
until morning on the ground floor.
It is necessary that we should, in this place, give an exact idea
of the dwelling of the Bishop of D----