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suitable for the exposition of his philosophic ideas. “Truths of this order,' he writes, in the Preface to Le Prêtre de Némi,' • should be neither denied nor affirmed directly. They are not the subject of demonstration. All we can do is to present them in different aspects and to exhibit their strength or their weakness, their necessity, their equivalence.' Unquestionably, this form of composition suits M. Renan admirably, and he has used it with supreme skill to exhibit himself according to his own humorous description, as 'a tissue of contradictions, one half of him engaged in demolishing the other half, like the fabulous beast of Ctesias who ate his paws without knowing it.' The clear perception of a truth,' he tells us, does not in the least hinder one from discerning the opposing truth, the next minute, with just the same clearness. The contradictions with which his writings are replete are no accident. They are a habit; nay more, they are a law of his nature. Indeed, he finds in them an evidence of veracity : Malheur à qui ne se contredit pas une fois par jour.' No doubt all this may be, to some extent, conceded.
Certain it is that the mere juxtaposition of divergent elements of thought often gives us more help towards grasping the verity underlying them, than that which would be afforded by a premature and arbitrary synthesis. But the dialogue has peculiar dangers and temptations of its own for a mobile and subtle intellect. Even Plato himself did not altogether escape them. They are dangers and temptations to which a Frenchman is especially exposed. For as Amiel says, truly enough, the Frenchman's centre of gravity is always outside himself; he is always thinking of others; always playing to the gallery.' M. Renan, throughout his brilliant volume of • Dialogues Philosophiques,' reminds us of one of Moore's nymphs.
Lesbia has a wit refined ;
But when its points are gleaming round us,
To dazzle merely, or to wound us ?' There is a marvellous coquetry in his intellect; at one moment dallying with materialism, at the next fondly embracing the ideal; now, passionate in professions of mysticism; then, cold and disdainful in negation or indifference. Yes: the dialogue is admirably suited to M. Renan's genius. And no doubt it would serve excellently well for an entertaining and instructive exhibition of him as an artist. But for the sober estimate of him as a teacher, which we are about to essay, 'the critical article, in spite of the difficulties pointed out by
M. Sainte-Beuve, M. Sainte-Beuve, has its advantages. It serves better than the dialogue to present definite conclusions.
In order to understand the influence exercised by M. Renan's writings upon the public mind, we shall do well to inquire first into the intellectual constituents of his character. And here we shall derive signal help from his intensely interesting volume, Souvenirs d'Enfance et de Jeunesse,' --a work, which, as he tells us, he wrote in order to transmit to others the theory of the universe which he carries in himself.' The book is full of charms of every kind; admirable bits of description, as the pictures of old Brittany; masterpieces of rhetoric, as the famous prayer on the Acropolis ; finished pages of irony, as the account of M. de Talleyrand's conversion. But, to our mind, its greatest charm lies in its veracity. In this species of composition it is very difficult to avoid the artistic insincerity of which, perhaps, the most conspicuous example is afforded by Rousseau's Confessions.' Throughout M. Renan's Souvenirs,' there breathes that antique candour which so mightily fascinates us in a very different book-Cardinal Newman's “Apologia. We may remark, in passing, upon the curious and instructive parallel which these two works offer, both of them of the highest value as documents for the spiritual history of the nineteenth century. We may observe, too, that all the other writings of both masters may, in a true sense, be regarded as commentaries upon, or explanations of, their autobiographies. There is not
a page of Cardinal Newman which is not a real revelation of its author. The same may be said of the works of M. Renan, who, very early in life, felt, that to write without expressing something of one's own personal thought was the vainest exercise of the intellect.' Of course M. Renan does not mean us to suppose that everything in his “Souvenirs ’ is to be taken absolutely. Like the author of “The Pilgrim's Progress,' and the Hebrew prophet whose example Bunyan imitated, he has used similitudes. •All that I have written is true,' he testifies, • but not of that kind of truth which is required for a Biographie Universelle. Many things have been introduced to provoke a smile (afin qu'on sourie); and, if only custom would have allowed, I should have written here and there, in the margin, “cum grano salis.”' Nay, as he tells us elsewhere, he indulges sometimes in little literary evasions (petits fauxfuyants littéraires) required by the view of a higher truth, or by the exigences of a well-balanced phrase.' If, after these admonitions, the reader chooses to misapprehend our author, why he must thank his own dulness for his mistakes. We 2 B 2
may, on the whole, fully credit M. Renan when he claims for himself, Dans mes écrits j'ai été d'une sincérité absolue.' Indeed, it is this very sincerity which is his greatest offence in the eyes of some of his critics. He is the candid friend,' in whoin the Anti-Jacobin poet discerned the worst of foes.
And now, in considering M. Renan a little more closely, let us, according to the fashion of the day, begin with heredity, the force of which, indeed, in the determination of moral and mental qualities, no candid investigator can deny. M. Renan is a Breton. And in him, as in Chateaubriand and Lamennais before him, the qualities of his race are strongly marked. Physically he resembles hundreds of good cures who may be seen in Lower Brittany. A friend of the present writer, indeed, not long ago was greatly astonished at finding, as he thought, in one of the parish churches there, the author of the Vie de Jésus' clad in strange ecclesiastical costume, and devoutly sustaining some humble part in the offices of religion. He rubbed his eyes, and after a few minutes discerned his error. It was an obese and orthodox beadle whom he had mistaken for the Administrator of the College of France. The characteristics of the Breton are as clearly imprinted upon M. Renan's intellectual constitution as upon his physical form. One of the chief of them is idealism; the vivid yet chastened and inexpansive imagination, the heritage of the people dwelling in that land of mysterious ocean, and melancholy plains, and grey skies, and desolate rocks, which M. Renan has himself so admirably described in his • Poésie des Races Celtiques': 'Quelque chose de voilé, de sobre, d'exquis, à égale distance de la rhétorique trop familière aux races latines, et de la naïveté réfléchie de l'Allemand.' But M. Renan has also Gascon blood in him through his mother, whom he describes as lively, candid, and inquisitive (curieuse). To her he owes, as he tells us, une certain habileté dans l'art d'amener le cliquetis des mots et des idées,' and le penchant gascon à trancher beaucoup de difficultés par un sourire, but for which,' he piously adds, my salvation would have been better assured.'
In this complexity of origin he finds the source, to a great extent at all events, of his apparent contradictions. I am double,' he writes ; sometimes one part of me laughs while the other weeps. That is the explanation of my gaiety. As there are two men in me, there is always one who has reason to be satisfied.'
Ernest Renan was born in 1823, at Tréguier, a small town which had grown up under the shadow of a vast monastery founded in the last year of the fifth century, by St. Tudwal.
The monastery has disappeared, but the cathedral remains, chef d'œuvre de légèreté, fol essai pour réaliser en granit un idéal impossible. This architectural paradox, he tells us, was his first master. Under its vaulted roof he passed long hours, breathing the monastic atmosphere in this highly unmonastic age. The town and its neighbourhood presented the same ideal and religious character. It was a great school of faith and reverencc, in which his childhood was passed. His father, the master of a small coasting boat, was drowned when Ernest was three years old. And this misfortune, doubtless, served to enhance the piety of the devout household. The boy grew up with the fixed determination to be a priest. Good and devout, he accepted the faith of his fathers, as the absolute expression of truth,' 'the supernatural summary of what man ought to know.' His state of mind at twelve, nay at fifteen, was precisely celui de tant de bons esprits du xviie siècle, mettant la religion hors de doute.' His intellectual superiority over his comrades was marked from the first. Criticism and philosophical sagacity, of course, did not enter into the instruction of those excellent priests who were his first masters, he tells us. • But they taught me,' he adds, what was worth infinitely more: love of truth, respect for reason, the seriousness of life.' Everything in his early years predestined him to a modest ecclesiastical career in Brittany. I should have made a very good priest,' he thinks ; 'indulgent, paternal, charitable, blameless
life and conversation. My career would have been on this wise. At twenty-two I should have been Professor in the College at Tréguier. At fifty, Canon, and probably VicarGeneral at St. Brieuc : very conscientious, much respected, a good and safe director. No very enthusiastic admirer of the new dogmas, I should have dared to say, like many worthy ecclesiastics, after the Vatican Council, Posui custodian ori meo.” My antipathy for the Jesuits would merely have led me not to speak of them. A substratum of modified Gallicanism would, however, have lain concealed under a profound knowledge of canon law. Such was the prospect before M. Renan, when, at the age of fifteen, a slight incident completely changed his future,
That incident was that his success at the College at Tréguier, where he had carried off all the prizes of his class, attracted the notice of the Abbé Dupanloup. This eminent ecclesiasticsubsequently famous as Bishop of Orleans—had been appointed by the Archbishop of Paris, superior of the Little Seminary of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet, and was anxious to fill his house with promising recruits. He offered Ernest Renan a place
there, and the offer was accepted. At first, the change did not suit the young Breton. He fell ill. It was the Abbé Dupanloup's care of him, he thinks, which saved his life. He gradually became accustomed to the routine of seminary exist
M. Dupanloup he found 'un éveilleur incomparable,' absolutely unrivalled in the power of drawing out what was best in each of the
students. The education at St. Nicholas was literary to an extent very unusual in Catholic seminaries. M. Renan tells us that he had come to Paris ' morally formed, but as ignorant as he well could be.' He now learned that something existed besides antiquity and the Church ; that there were contemporary French authors worthy of some attention.' Despite its claim to be an asylum ‘far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,' the atmosphere of the century circulated pretty freely in St. Nicholas. It was M. Dupanloup's wise design to form priests who should be not merely theologians with Moses on the mount, but learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,' among whom their work was to lie. To St. Nicholas du Chardonnet, M. Renan owes his initiation into modern literature. But if the superficial humanism,' which he acquired there, destroyed the first naïveté of his faith—as he thinks it did—it by no means planted in his mind anything that could properly be called doubt. When, at the end of his first year in the college, a full bourse' was awarded him, and he was told that it was given with no restriction as to his future career, he replied calmly, 'I shall be a priest.' And during the whole of his course there, no question as to his vocation to the ecclesiastical state occurred to him.
When his three years at the Little Seminary were completed, M. Renan quitted it for the Grand Seminary of Saint Sulpice, where four years more of training awaited him.
The first two of these were spent at the 'succursale' of Issy, and were devoted to philosophy. The philosophy taught was scholasticism in Latin ; not the barbarous and infantine scholasticism of the thirteenth century, but what may, perhaps, be called the Cartesian Scholasticism, which was generally adopted for ecclesiastical instruction in the eighteenth century, and stereotyped, so to speak, in the work known as · La Philosophie de Lyon. I owe,' M. Renan writes, the clearness of my intellect, and in particular a certain skill in division—an art of the first importance, for it is one of the conditions of the art of writing—to the scholastic exercises, and above all to geometry, which is the application par excellence of the scholastic method.' Here M. Renan obtained some acquaintance with the philosophical writings of Cousin, and of