Full Online Books
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Village Rector - Chapter 16. Concerns One Of The Blunders Of The Nineteenth Century
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Village Rector - Chapter 16. Concerns One Of The Blunders Of The Nineteenth Century Post by :narnia Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :2178

Click below to download : The Village Rector - Chapter 16. Concerns One Of The Blunders Of The Nineteenth Century (Format : PDF)

The Village Rector - Chapter 16. Concerns One Of The Blunders Of The Nineteenth Century


The following day an express, sent from Limoges by Monsieur Grossetete to Madame Graslin, brought her the following letter:--

To Madame Graslin:

My dear Child,--It was difficult to find horses, but I hope you are satisfied with those I sent you. If you want work or draft horses, you must look elsewhere. In any case, however, I advise you to do your tilling and transportation with oxen. All the countries where agriculture is carried on with horses lose capital when the horse is past work; whereas cattle always return a profit to those who use them.

I approve in every way of your enterprise, my child; you will thus employ the passionate activity of your soul, which was turning against yourself and thus injuring you.

Your second request, namely, for a man capable of understanding and seconding your projects, requires me to find you a _rara avis such as we seldom raise in the provinces, where, if we do raise them, we never keep them. The education of that high product is too slow and too risky a speculation for country folks.

Besides, men of intellect alarm us; we call them "originals." The men belonging to the scientific category from which you will have to obtain your co-operator do not flourish here, and I was on the point of writing to you that I despaired of fulfilling your commission. You want a poet, a man of ideas,--in short, what we should here call a fool, and all our fools go to Paris. I have spoken of your plans to the young men employed in land surveying, to contractors on the canals, and makers of the embankments, and none of them see any "advantage" in what you propose.

But suddenly, as good luck would have it, chance has thrown in my way the very man you want; a young man to whom I believe I render a service in naming him to you. You will see by his letter, herewith enclosed, that deeds of beneficence ought not to be done hap-hazard. Nothing needs more reflection than a good action. We never know whether that which seems best at one moment may not prove an evil later. The exercise of beneficence, as I have lived to discover, is to usurp the role of Destiny.

As she read that sentence Madame Graslin let fall the letter and was thoughtful for several minutes.

"My God!" she said at last, "when wilt thou cease to strike me down on all sides?"

Then she took up the letter and continued reading it:

Gerard seems to me to have a cool head and an ardent heart; that's the sort of man you want. Paris is just now a hotbed of new doctrines; I should be delighted to have the lad removed from the traps which ambitious minds are setting for the generous youth of France. While I do not altogether approve of the narrow and stupefying life of the provinces, neither do I like the passionate life of Paris, with its ardor of reformation, which is driving youth into so many unknown ways. You alone know my opinions; to my mind the moral world revolves upon its own axis, like the material world. My poor protege demands (as you will see from his letter) things impossible. No power can resist ambitions so violent, so imperious, so absolute, as those of to-day. I am in favor of low levels and slowness in political change; I dislike these social overturns to which ambitious minds subject us.

To you I confide these principles of a monarchical and prejudiced old man, because you are discreet. Here I hold my tongue in the midst of worthy people, who the more they fail the more they believe in progress; but I suffer deeply at the irreparable evils already inflicted on our dear country.

I have replied to the enclosed letter, telling my young man that a worthy task awaits him. He will go to see you, and though his letter will enable you to judge of him, you had better study him still further before committing yourself,--though you women understand many things from the mere look of a man. However, all the men whom you employ, even the most insignificant, ought to be thoroughly satisfactory to you. If you don't like him don't take him; but if he suits you, my dear child, I beg you to cure him of his ill-disguised ambition. Make him take to a peaceful, happy, rural life, where true beneficence is perpetually exercised; where the capacities of great and strong souls find continual exercise, and they themselves discover daily fresh sources of admiration in the works of Nature, and in real ameliorations, real progress, an occupation worthy of any man.

I am not oblivious of the fact that great ideas give birth to great actions; but as those ideas are necessarily few and far between, I think it may be said that usually things are more useful than ideas. He who fertilizes a corner of the earth, who brings to perfection a fruit-tree, who makes a turf on a thankless soil, is far more useful in his generation than he who seeks new theories for humanity. How, I ask you, has Newton's science changed the condition of the country districts? Oh! my dear, I have always loved you; but to-day I, who fully understand what you are about to attempt, I adore you.

No one at Limoges forgets you; we all admire your grand resolution to benefit Montegnac. Be a little grateful to us for having soul enough to admire a noble action, and do not forget that the first of your admirers is also your first friend.

F. Grossetete.

The enclosed letter was as follows:--

To Monsieur Grossetete:

Monsieur,--You have been to me a father when you might have been only a mere protector, and therefore I venture to make you a rather sad confidence. It is to you alone, you who have made me what I am, that I can tell my troubles.

I am afflicted with a terrible malady, a cruel moral malady. In my soul are feelings and in my mind convictions which make me utterly unfit for what the State and society demand of me. This may seem to you ingratitude; it is only the statement of a condition. When I was twelve years old you, my generous god-father, saw in me, the son of a mere workman, an aptitude for the exact sciences and a precocious desire to rise in life. You favored my impulse toward better things when my natural fate was to stay a carpenter like my father, who, poor man, did not live long enough to enjoy my advancement. Indeed, monsieur, you did a good thing, and there is never a day that I do not bless you for it. It may be that I am now to blame; but whether I am right or wrong it is very certain that I suffer. In making my complaint to you I feel that I take you as my judge like God Himself. Will you listen to my story and grant me your indulgence?

Between sixteen and eighteen years of age I gave myself to the study of the exact sciences with an ardor, you remember, that made me ill. My future depended on my admission to the Ecole Polytechnique. At that time my studies overworked my brain, and I came near dying; I studied night and day; I did more than the nature of my organs permitted. I wanted to pass such satisfying examinations that my place in the Ecole would be not only secure, but sufficiently advanced to release me from the cost of my support, which I did not want you to pay any longer.

I triumphed! I tremble to-day as I think of the frightful conscription (if I may so call it) of brains delivered over yearly to the State by family ambition. By insisting on these severe studies at the moment when a youth attains his various forms of growth, the authorities produce secret evils and kill by midnight study many precious faculties which later would have developed both strength and grandeur. The laws of nature are relentless; they do not yield in any particular to the enterprises or the wishes of society. In the moral order as in the natural order all abuses must be paid for; fruits forced in a hot-house are produced at the tree's expense and often at the sacrifice of the goodness of its product. La Quintinie killed the orange-trees to give Louis XIV. a bunch of flowers every day at all seasons. So it is with intellects. The strain upon adolescent brains discounts their future.

That which is chiefly wanting to our epoch is legislative genius. Europe has had no true legislators since Jesus Christ, who, not having given to the world a political code, left his work incomplete. Before establishing great schools of specialists and regulating the method of recruiting for them, where were the great thinkers who could bear in mind the relation of such institutions to human powers, balancing advantages and injuries, and studying the past for the laws of the future? What inquiry has been made as to the condition of exceptional men, who, by some fatal chance, knew human sciences before their time? Has the rarity of such cases been reckoned--the result examined? Has any enquiry been made as to the means by which such men were enabled to endure the perpetual strain of thought? How many, like Pascal, died prematurely, worn-out by knowledge? Have statistics been gathered as to the age at which those men who lived the longest began their studies? Who has ever known, does any one know now, the interior construction of brains which have been able to sustain a premature burden of human knowledge? Who suspects that this question belongs, above all, to the physiology of man?

For my part, I now believe the true general law is to remain a long time in the vegetative condition of adolescence; and that those exceptions where strength of organs is produced during adolescence result usually in the shortening of life. Thus the man of genius who is able to bear up under the precocious exercise of his faculties is an exception to an exception.

If I am right, if what I say accords with social facts and medical observations, then the system practised in France in her technical schools is a fatal impairment and mutilation (in the style of La Quintinie) practised upon the noblest flower of youth in each generation.

But it is better to continue my history, and add my doubts as the facts develop themselves.

When I entered the Ecole Polytechnique, I worked harder than ever and with even more ardor, in order to leave it as triumphantly as I had entered it. From nineteen to twenty-one I developed every aptitude and strengthened every faculty by constant practice. Those two years were the crown and completion of the first three, during which I had only prepared myself to do well. Therefore my pride was great when I won the right to choose the career that pleased me most,--either military or naval engineering, artillery, or staff duty, or the civil engineering of mining, and _ponts et chaussees_.(*) By your advice, I chose the latter.

(*) Department of the government including everything connected with the making and repairing of roads, bridges, canals, etc.

But where I triumphed how many others fail! Do you know that from year to year the State increases the scientific requirements of the Ecole? the studies are more severe, more exacting yearly. The preparatory studies which tried me so much were nothing to the intense work of the school itself, which has for its object to put the whole of physical science, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, and all their nomenclatures into the minds of young men of nineteen to twenty-one years of age. The State, which seems in France to wish to substitute itself in many ways for the paternal authority, has neither bowels of compassion nor fatherhood; it makes its experiments _in anima vili_. Never does it inquire into the horrible statistics of the suffering it causes. Does it know the number of brain fevers among its pupils during the last thirty-six years; or the despair and the moral destruction which decimate its youth? I am pointing out to you this painful side of the State education, for it is one of the anterior contingents of the actual result.

You know that scholars whose conceptions are slow, or who are temporarily disabled from excess of mental work, are allowed to remain at the Ecole three years instead of two; they then become the object of suspicions little favorable to their capacity. This often compels young men, who might later show superior capacity, to leave the school without being employed, simply because they could not meet the final examination with the full scientific knowledge required. They are called "dried fruits"; Napoleon made sub-lieutenants of them. To-day the "dried fruits" constitute an enormous loss of capital to families and of time to individuals.

However, as I say, I triumphed. At twenty-one years of age I knew the mathematical sciences up to the point to which so many men of genius have brought them, and I was impatient to distinguish myself by carrying them further. This desire is so natural that almost every pupil leaving the Ecole fixes his eyes on that moral sun called Fame. The first thought of all is to become another Newton, or Laplace, or Vauban. Such are the efforts that France demands of the young men who leave her celebrated school.

Now let us see the fate of these men culled with so much care from each generation. At one-and-twenty we dream of life, and expect marvels of it. I entered the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees; I was a pupil-engineer. I studied the science of construction, and how ardently! I am sure you remember that. I left the school in 1827, being then twenty-four years of age, still only a candidate as engineer, and the government paid me one hundred and fifty francs a month; the commonest book-keeper in Paris earns that by the time he is eighteen, giving little more than four hours a day to his work.

By a most unusual piece of luck, perhaps because of the distinction my devoted studies won for me, I was made, in 1828, when I was twenty-five years old, engineer-in-ordinary. I was sent, as you know, to a sub-prefecture, with a salary of twenty-five hundred francs. The question of money is nothing. Certainly my fate has been more brilliant than the son of a carpenter might expect; but where will you find a grocer's boy, who, if thrown into a shop at sixteen, will not in ten years be on the high-road to an independent property?

I learned then to what these terrible efforts of mental power, these gigantic exertions demanded by the State were to lead. The State now employed me to count and measure pavements and heaps of stones on the roadways; I had to keep in order, repair, and sometimes construct culverts, one-arched bridges, regulate drift-ways, clean and sometimes open ditches, lay out bounds, and answer questions about the planting and felling of trees. Such are the principal and sometimes the only occupations of ordinary engineers, together with a little levelling which the government obliges us to do ourselves, though any of our chain-bearers with their limited experience can do it better than we with all our science.

There are nearly four hundred engineers-in-ordinary and pupil engineers; and as there are not more than a hundred or so of engineers-in-chief, only a limited number of the sub-engineers can hope to rise. Besides, above the grade of engineer-in-chief, there is no absorbent class; for we cannot count as a means of absorption the ten or fifteen places of inspector-generals or divisionaries,--posts that are almost as useless in our corps as colonels are in the artillery, where the battery is the essential thing. The engineer-in-ordinary, like the captain of artillery, knows the whole science. He ought not to have any one over him except an administrative head to whom no more than eighty-six engineers should report,--for one engineer, with two assistants is enough for a department.

The present hierarchy in these bodies results in the subordination of active energetic capacities to the worn-out capacities of old men, who, thinking they know best, alter or nullify the plans submitted by their subordinates,--perhaps with the sole aim of making their existence felt; for that seems to me the only influence exercised over the public works of France by the Council-general of the _Ponts et Chaussees_.

Suppose, however, that I become, between thirty and forty years of age, an engineer of the first-class and an engineer-in-chief before I am fifty. Alas! I see my future; it is written before my eyes. Here is a forecast of it:--

My present engineer-in-chief is sixty years old; he issued with honors, as I did, from the famous Ecole; he has turned gray doing in two departments what I am doing now, and he has become the most ordinary man it is possible to imagine; he has fallen from the height to which he had really risen; far worse, he is no longer on the level of scientific knowledge; science has progressed, he has stayed where he was. The man who came forth ready for life at twenty-two years of age, with every sign of superiority, has nothing left to-day but the reputation of it. In the beginning, with his mind specially turned to the exact sciences and mathematics by his education, he neglected everything that was not his specialty; and you can hardly imagine his present dulness in all other branches of human knowledge. I hardly dare confide even to you the secrets of his incapacity sheltered by the fact that he was educated at the Ecole Polytechnique. With that label attached to him and on the faith of that prestige, no one dreams of doubting his ability. To you alone do I dare reveal the fact that the dulling of all his talents has led him to spend a million on a single matter which ought not to have cost the administration more than two hundred thousand francs. I wished to protest, and was about to inform the prefect; but an engineer I know very well reminded me of one of our comrades who was hated by the administration for doing that very thing. "How would you like," he said to me, "when you get to be engineer-in-chief to have your errors dragged forth by your subordinate? Before long your engineer-in-chief will be made a divisional inspector. As soon as any one of us commits a serious blunder, as he has done, the administration (which can't allow itself to appear in the wrong) will quietly retire him from active duty by making him inspector."

That's how the reward of merit devolves on incapacity. All France knew of the disaster which happened in the heart of Paris to the first suspension bridge built by an engineer, a member of the Academy of Sciences; a melancholy collapse caused by blunders such as none of the ancient engineers--the man who cut the canal at Briare in Henri IV.'s time, or the monk who built the Pont Royal --would have made; but our administration consoled its engineer for his blunder by making him a member of the Council-general.

Are the technical schools vast manufactories of incapables? That subject requires careful investigation. If I am right they need reforming, at any rate in their method of proceeding,--for I am not, of course, doubting the utility of such schools. Only, when we look back into the past we see that France in former days never wanted for the great talents necessary to the State; but now she prefers to hatch out talent geometrically, after the theory of Monge. Did Vauban ever go to any other Ecole than that great school we call vocation? Who was Riquet's tutor? When great geniuses arise above the social mass, impelled by vocation, they are nearly always rounded into completeness; the man is then not merely a specialist, he has the gift of universality. Do you think that an engineer from the Ecole Polytechnique could ever create one of those miracles of architecture such as Leonardo da Vinci knew how to build,--mechanician, architect, painter, inventor of hydraulics, indefatigable constructor of canals that he was?

Trained from their earliest years to the baldness of axiom and formula, the youths who leave the Ecole have lost the sense of elegance and ornament; a column seems to them useless; they return to the point where art begins, and cling to the useful.

But all this is nothing in comparison to the real malady which is undermining me. I feel an awful transformation going on within me; I am conscious that my powers and my faculties, formerly unnaturally taxed, are giving way. I am letting the prosaic influence of my life get hold of me. I who, by the very nature of my efforts, looked to do some great thing, I am face to face with none but petty ones; I measure stones, I inspect roads, I have not enough to really occupy me for two hours in my day. I see my colleagues marry, and fall into a situation contrary to the spirit of modern society. I wanted to be useful to my country. Is my ambition an unreasonable one? The country asked me to put forth all my powers; it told me to become a representative of science; yet here I am with folded arms in the depths of the provinces. I am not even allowed to leave the locality in which I am penned, to exercise my faculties in planning useful enterprises. A hidden but very real disfavor is the certain reward of any one of us who yields to an inspiration and goes beyond the special service laid down for him.

No, the favor a superior man has to hope for in that case is that his talent and his presumption may not be noticed, and that his project may be buried in the archives of the administration. What think you will be the reward of Vicat, the one among us who has brought about the only real progress in the practical science of construction? The Council-general of the _Ponts et Chaussees_, composed in part of men worn-out by long and sometimes honorable service, but whose only remaining force is for negation, and who set aside everything they no longer comprehend, is the extinguisher used to snuff out the projects of audacious spirits. This Council seems to have been created to paralyze the arm of that glorious youth of France, which asks only to work and to be useful to its country.

Monstrous things are done in Paris. The future of a province depends on the mere signature of men who (through intrigues I have no time to explain to you) often stop the execution of useful and much-needed work; in fact, the best plans are often those which offer most to the cupidity of commercial companies or speculators.

Another five years and I shall no longer be myself; my ambition will be quenched, my desire to use the faculties my country ordered me to exercise gone forever; the faculties themselves are rusting out in the miserable corner of the world in which I vegetate. Taking my chances at their best, the future seems to me a poor thing. I have just taken advantage of a furlough to come to Paris; I mean to change my profession and find some other way to put my energy, my knowledge, and my activity to use. I shall send in my resignation and go to some other country, where men of my special capacity are wanted.

If I find I cannot do this, then I shall throw myself into the struggle of the new doctrines, which certainly seem calculated to produce great changes in the present social order by judiciously guiding the working-classes. What are we now but workers without work, tools on the shelves of a shop? We are trained and organized as if to move the world, and nothing is given us to do. I feel within me some great thing, which is decreasing daily, and will soon vanish; I tell you so with mathematical frankness. Before making the change I want your advice; I look upon myself as your child, and I will never take any important step without consulting you, for your experience is equal to your kindness.

I know very well that the State, after obtaining a class of trained men, cannot undertake for them alone great public works; there are not three hundred bridges needed a year in all France; the State can no more build great buildings for the fame of its engineers than it can declare war merely to win battles and bring to the front great generals; but, then, as men of genius have never failed to present themselves when the occasion called for them, springing from the crowd like Vauban, can there be any greater proof of the uselessness of the present institution? Can't they see that when they have stimulated a man of talent by all those preparations he will make a fierce struggle before he allows himself to become a nonentity? Is this good policy on the part of the State? On the contrary, is not the State lighting the fire of ardent ambitions, which must find fuel somewhere.

Among the six hundred young men whom they put forth every year there are exceptions,--men who resist what may be called their demonetization. I know some myself, and if I could tell you their struggles with men and things when armed with useful projects and conceptions which might bring life and prosperity to the half-dead provinces where the State has sent them, you would feel that a man of power, a man of talent, a man whose nature is a miracle, is a hundredfold more unfortunate and more to be pitied than the man whose lower nature lets him submit to the shrinkage of his faculties.

I have made up my mind, therefore, that I would rather direct some commercial or industrial enterprise, and live on small means while trying to solve some of the great problems still unknown to industry and to society, than remain at my present post.

You will tell me, perhaps, that nothing hinders me from employing the leisure that I certainly have in using my intellectual powers and seeking in the stillness of this commonplace life the solution of some problem useful to humanity. Ah! monsieur, don't you know the influence of the provinces,--the relaxing effect of a life just busy enough to waste time on futile labor, and not enough to use the rich resources our education has given us? Don't think me, my dear protector, eaten up by the desire to make a fortune, nor even by an insensate desire for fame. I am too much of a calculator not to know the nothingness of glory. Neither do I want to marry; seeing the fate now before me, I think my existence a melancholy gift to offer any woman. As for money, though I regard it as one of the most powerful means given to social man to act with, it is, after all, but a means.

I place my whole desire and happiness on the hope of being useful to my country. My greatest pleasure would be to work in some situation suited to my faculties. If in your region, or in the circle of your acquaintances, you should hear of any enterprise that needed the capacities you know me to possess, think of me; I will wait six months for your answer before taking any step.

What I have written here, dear sir and friend, others think. I have seen many of my classmates or older graduates caught like me in the toils of some specialty,--geographical engineers, captain-professors, captains of engineers, who will remain captains all their lives, and now bitterly regret they did not enter active service with the army. Reflecting on these miserable results, I ask myself the following questions, and I would like your opinion on them, assuring you that they are the fruit of long meditation, clarified in the fires of suffering:--

What is the real object of the State? Does it truly seek to obtain fine capacities? The system now pursued directly defeats that end; it has crated the most thorough mediocrities that any government hostile to superiority could desire. Does it wish to give a career to its choice minds? As a matter of fact, it affords them the meanest opportunities; there is not a man who has issued from the Ecoles who does not bitterly regret, when he gets to be fifty or sixty years of age, that he ever fell into the trap set for him by the promises of the State. Does it seek to obtain men of genius? What man of genius, what great talent have the schools produced since 1790? If it had not been for Napoleon would Cachin, the man of genius to whom France owes Cherbourg, have existed? Imperial despotism brought him forward; the constitutional regime would have smothered him. How many men from the Ecoles are to be found in the Academy of Sciences? Possibly two or three. The man of genius develops always outside of the technical schools. In the sciences which those schools teach genius obeys only its own laws; it will not develop except under conditions which man cannot control; neither the State nor the science of mankind, anthropology, understands them. Riquet, Perronet, Leonardo da Vinci, Cachin, Palladio, Brunelleschi, Michel-Angelo, Bramante, Vauban, Vicat, derive their genius from causes unobserved and preparatory, which we call chance,--the pet word of fools. Never, with or without schools, are mighty workmen such as these wanting to their epoch.

Now comes the question, Does the State gain through these institutions the better doing of its works of public utility, or the cheaper doing of them? As for that, I answer that private enterprises of a like kind get on very well without the help of our engineers; and next, the government works are the most extravagant in the world, and the additional cost of the vast administrative staff of the _Ponts et Chaussees is immense. In all other countries, in Germany, England, Italy, where institutions like ours do not exist, works of this character are better done and far less costly than in France. Those three nations are remarkable for new and useful inventions in this line. I know it is the fashion to say, in speaking of our Ecoles, that all Europe envies them; but for the last fifteen years Europe, which closely observes us, has not established others like them. England, that clever calculator, has better schools among her working population, from which come practical men who show their genius the moment they rise from practice to theory. Stephenson and MacAdam did not come from schools like ours.

But what is the good of talking? When a few young and able engineers, full of ardor, solve, at the outset of their career, the problem of maintaining the roads of France, which need some hundred millions spent upon them every quarter of a century (and which are now in a pitiable state), they gain nothing by making known in reports and memoranda their intelligent knowledge; it is immediately engulfed in the archives of the general Direction,-- that Parisian centre where everything enters and nothing issues; where old men are jealous of young ones, and all the posts of management are used to shelve old officers or men who have blundered.

This is why, with a body of scientific men spread all over the face of France and constituting a part of the administration,--a body which ought to enlighten every region on the subject of its resources,--this is why we are still discussing the practicability of railroads while other countries are making theirs. If ever France was to show the excellence of her institution of technical schools, it should have been in this magnificent phase of public works, which is destined to change the face of States and nations, to double human life, and modify the laws of space and time. Belgium, the United States of America, England, none of whom have an Ecole Polytechnique, will be honeycombed with railroads when French engineers are still surveying ours, and selfish interests, hidden behind all projects, are hindering their execution.

Thus I say that as for the State, it derives no benefit from its technical schools; as for the individual pupil of those schools, his earnings are poor, his ambition crushed, and his life a cruel deception. Most assuredly the powers he has displayed between sixteen and twenty-six years of age would, if he had been cast upon his own resources, have brought him more fame and more wealth than the government in whom he trusted will ever give him. As a commercial man, a learned man, a military man, this choice intellect would have worked in a vast centre where his precious faculties and his ardent ambition would not be idiotically and prematurely repressed.

Where, then, is progress? Man and State are both kept backward by this system. Does not the experience of a whole generation demand a reform in the practical working of these institutions? The duty of culling from all France during each generation the choice minds destined to become the learned and the scientific of the nation is a sacred office, the priests of which, the arbiters of so many fates, should be trained by special study. Mathematical knowledge is perhaps less necessary to them than physiological knowledge. And do you not think that they need a little of that second-sight which is the witchcraft of great men? As it is, the examiners are former professors, honorable men grown old in harness, who limit their work to selecting the best themes. They are unable to do what is really demanded of them; and yet their functions are the noblest in the State and demand extraordinary men.

Do not think, dear sir and friend, that I blame only the Ecole itself; no, I blame the system by which it is recruited. This system is the _concours_, competition,--a modern invention, essentially bad; bad not only in science, but wherever it is employed, in arts, in all selections of men, of projects, of things. If it is a reproach to our great Ecoles that they have not produced men superior to other educational establishments, it is still more shameful that the _grand prix of the Institute has not as yet furnished a single great painter, great musician, great architect, great sculptor; just as the suffrage for the last twenty years has not elected out of its tide of mediocrities a single great statesman. My observation makes me detect, as I think, an error which vitiates in France both education and politics. It is a cruel error, and it rests on the following principle, which organizers have misconceived:--

_Nothing, either in experience or in the nature of things, can give a certainty that the intellectual qualities of the adult youth will be those of the mature man.

At this moment I am intimate with a number of distinguished men who concern themselves with all the moral maladies which are now afflicting France. They see, as I do, that our highest education is manufacturing temporary capacities,--temporary because they are without exercise and without future; that such education is without profit to the State because it is devoid of the vigor of belief and feeling. Our whole system of public education needs overhauling, and the work should be presided over by some man of great knowledge, powerful will, and gifted with that legislative genius which has never been met with among moderns, except perhaps in Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Possibly our superfluous numbers might be employed in giving elementary instruction so much needed by the people. The deplorable amount of crime and misdemeanors shows a social disease directly arising from the half-education given the masses, which tends to the destruction of social ties by making the people reflect just enough to desert the religious beliefs which are favorable to social order, and not enough to lift them to the theory of obedience and duty, which is the highest reach of the new transcendental philosophy. But as it is impossible to make a whole nation study Kant, therefore I say fixed beliefs and habits are safer for the masses than shallow studies and reasoning.

If I had my life to begin over again, perhaps I would enter a seminary and become a simple village priest, or the teacher of a country district. But I am too far advanced in my profession now to be a mere primary instructor; I can, if I leave my present post, act in a wider range than that of a school or a country parish. The Saint-Simonians, to whom I have been tempted to ally myself, want now to take a course in which I cannot follow them. Nevertheless, in spite of their mistakes, they have touched on many of the sore spots which are the fruits of our present legislation, and which the State will only doctor by insufficient palliatives,--merely delaying in France the moral and political crisis that must come.

Adieu, dear Monsieur Grossetete; accept the assurance of my respectful attachment, which, notwithstanding all these observations, can only increase.

Gregoire Gerard.

According to his old habit as a banker, Grossetete had jotted down his reply on the back of the letter itself, heading it with the sacramental word, _Answered_.

It is useless, my dear Gerard, to discuss the observations made in your letter, because by a trick of chance (I use the term which is, as you say, the pet word of fools) I have a proposal to make to you which may result in withdrawing you from the situation you find so bad. Madame Graslin, the owner of the forests of Montegnac and of a barren plateau extending from the base of a chain of mountains on which are the forests, wishes to improve this vast domain, to clear her timber properly, and cultivate the stony plain.

To put this project into execution she needs a man of your scientific knowledge and ardor, and one who has also your disinterested devotion and your ideas of practical utility. It will be little money and much work! a great result from small means! a whole region to be changed fundamentally! barren places to be made to gush with plenty! Isn't that precisely what you want,--you who are dreaming of constructing a poem? From the tone of sincerity which pervades your letter, I do not hesitate to bid you come and see me at Limoges. But, my good friend, don't send in your resignation yet; get leave of absence only, and tell your administration that you are going to study questions connected with your profession outside of the government works. In this way, you will not lose your rights, and you will have time to judge for yourself whether the project conceived by the rector of Montegnac and approved by Madame Graslin is feasible.

I will explain to you by word of mouth the advantages you will find in case this great scheme can be carried out. Rely on the friendship of

Yours, etc, T. Grossetete.

Madame Graslin replied to Grossetete in few words: "Thank you, my friend; I shall expect your _protege_." She showed the letter to the rector, saying,--

"One more wounded man for the hospital."

The rector read the letter, reread it, made two or three turns on the terrace silently; then he gave it back to Madame Graslin, saying,--

"A fine soul, and a superior man. He says the schools invented by the genius of the Revolution manufacture incapacities. For my part, I say they manufacture unbelievers; for if Monsieur Gerard is not an atheist, he is a protestant."

"We will ask him," she said, struck by an answer.

If you like this book please share to your friends :

The Village Rector - Chapter 17. The Revolution Of July Judged At Montegnac The Village Rector - Chapter 17. The Revolution Of July Judged At Montegnac

The Village Rector - Chapter 17. The Revolution Of July Judged At Montegnac
CHAPTER XVII. THE REVOLUTION OF JULY JUDGED AT MONTEGNACA fortnight later, in December, and in spite of the cold, Monsieur Grossetete came to the chateau de Montegnac, to "present his protege," whom Veronique and Monsieur Bonnet were impatiently awaiting. "I must love you very much, my dear child," said the old man, taking Veronique's two hands in his, and kissing them with that gallantry of old men which never displeases women, "yes, I must love you well, to come from Limoges in such weather. But I wanted to present to you myself the gift of Monsieur Gregoire Gerard here present. You'll

The Village Rector - Chapter 12. The Soul Of Forests The Village Rector - Chapter 12. The Soul Of Forests

The Village Rector - Chapter 12. The Soul Of Forests
CHAPTER XII. THE SOUL OF FORESTSVeronique wrote to Monsieur Grossetete on the morrow. A few days later she received from Limoges three saddle-horses sent by her old friend. Monsieur Bonnet found at Veronique's request, a young man, son of the postmaster, who was delighted to serve Veronique and earn good wages. This young fellow, small but active, with a round face, black eyes and hair, and named Maurice Champion, pleased Veronique very much and was immediately inducted into his office, which was that of taking care of the horses and accompanying his mistress on her excursions. The head-forester of Montegnac was