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CHAPTER V—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,"
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.
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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
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——