By Honore de Balzac
Translated by Clara Bell and James Waring
In the year 1308 few houses were yet standing on the Island formed by the
alluvium and sand deposited by the Seine above the Cite, behind the Church
of Notre-Dame. The first man who was so bold as to build on this strand,
then liable to frequent floods, was a constable of the watch of the City
of Paris, who had been able to do some service to their Reverences the
Chapter of the Cathedral; and in return the Bishop leased him twenty-five
perches of land, with exemptions from all feudal dues or taxes on the
buildings he might erect.
Seven years before the beginning of this narrative, Joseph Tirechair, one
of the sternest of Paris constables, as his name (Tear Flesh) would
indicate, had, thanks to his share of the fines collected by him for
delinquencies committed within the precincts of the Cite, had been able to
build a house on the bank of the Seine just at the end of the Rue du
Port-Saint-Landry. To protect the merchandise landed on the strand, the
municipality had constructed a sort of break-water of masonry, which may
still be seen on some old plans of Paris, and which preserved the piles of
the landing-place by meeting the rush of water and ice at the upper end of
the Island. The constable had taken advantage of this for the foundation
of his house, so that there were several steps up to his door.
Like all the houses of that date, this cottage was crowned by a peaked
roof, forming a gable-end to the front, or half a diamond. To the great
regret of historians, but two or three examples of such roofs survive in
Paris. A round opening gave light to a loft, where the constable's wife
dried the linen of the Chapter, for she had the honor of washing for the
Cathedral—which was certainly not a bad customer. On the first floor
were two rooms, let to lodgers at a rent, one year with another, of forty
sous Parisis each, an exorbitant sum, that was however justified by
the luxury Tirechair had lavished on their adornment. Flanders tapestry
hung on the walls, and a large bed with a top valance of green serge, like
a peasant's bed, was amply furnished with mattresses, and covered with
good sheets of fine linen. Each room had a stove called a chauffe-doux;
the floor, carefully polished by Dame Tirechair's apprentices, shone like
the woodwork of a shrine. Instead of stools, the lodgers had deep chairs
of carved walnut, the spoils probably of some raided castle. Two chests
with pewter mouldings, and tables on twisted legs, completed the fittings,
worthy of the most fastidious knights-banneret whom business might bring
The windows of those two rooms looked out on the river. From one you could
only see the shores of the Seine, and the three barren islands, of which
two were subsequently joined together to form the Ile Saint-Louis; the
third was the Ile de Louviers. From the other could be seen, down a vista
of the Port-Saint-Landry, the buildings on the Greve, the Bridge of
Notre-Dame, with its houses, and the tall towers of the Louvre, but lately
built by Philippe-Auguste to overlook the then poor and squalid town of
Paris, which suggests so many imaginary marvels to the fancy of modern
The ground floor of Tirechair's house consisted of a large hall, where his
wife's business was carried on, through which the lodgers were obliged to
pass on their way to their own rooms up a stairway like a mill-ladder.
Behind this were a kitchen and a bedroom, with a view over the Seine. A
tiny garden, reclaimed from the waters, displayed at the foot of this
modest dwelling its beds of cabbages and onions, and a few rose-bushes,
sheltered by palings, forming a sort of hedge. A little structure of lath
and mud served as a kennel for a big dog, the indispensable guardian of so
lonely a dwelling. Beyond this kennel was a little plot, where the hens
cackled whose eggs were sold to the Canons. Here and there on this patch
of earth, muddy or dry according to the whimsical Parisian weather, a few
trees grew, constantly lashed by the wind, and teased and broken by the
passer-by—willows, reeds, and tall grasses.
The Eyot, the Seine, the landing-place, the house, were all overshadowed
on the west by the huge basilica of Notre-Dame casting its cold gloom over
the whole plot as the sun moved. Then, as now, there was not in all Paris
a more deserted spot, a more solemn or more melancholy prospect. The noise
of waters, the chanting of priests, or the piping of the wind, were the
only sounds that disturbed this wilderness, where lovers would sometimes
meet to discuss their secrets when the church-folds and clergy were safe
in church at the services.
One evening in April in the year 1308, Tirechair came home in a remarkably
bad temper. For three days past everything had been in good order on the
King's highway. Now, as an officer of the peace, nothing annoyed him so
much as to feel himself useless. He flung down his halbert in a rage,
muttered inarticulate words as he pulled off his doublet, half red and
half blue, and slipped on a shabby camlet jerkin. After helping himself
from the bread-box to a hunch of bread, and spreading it with butter, he
seated himself on a bench, looked round at his four whitewashed walls,
counted the beams of the ceiling, made a mental inventory of the household
goods hanging from the nails, scowled at the neatness which left him
nothing to complain of, and looked at his wife, who said not a word as she
ironed the albs and surplices from the sacristy.
"By my halidom," he said, to open the conversation, "I cannot think,
Jacqueline, where you go to catch your apprenticed maids. Now, here is
one," he went on, pointing to a girl who was folding an altar-cloth,
clumsily enough, it must be owned, "who looks to me more like a damsel
rather free of her person than a sturdy country wench. Her hands are as
white as a fine lady's! By the Mass! and her hair smells of essences, I
verily believe, and her hose are as find as a queen's. By the two horns of
Old Nick, matters please me but ill as I find them here."
The girl colored, and stole a look at Jacqueline, full of alarm not
unmixed with pride. The mistress answered her glance with a smile, laid
down her work, and turned to her husband.
"Come now," said she, in a sharp tone, "you need not harry me. Are you
going to accuse me next of some underhand tricks? Patrol your roads as
much as you please, but do not meddle here with anything but what concerns
your sleeping in peace, drinking your wine, and eating what I set before
you, or else, I warn you, I will have no more to do with keeping you
healthy and happy. Let any one find me a happier man in all the town," she
went on, with a scolding grimace. "He has silver in his purse, a gable
over the Seine, a stout halbert on one hand, an honest wife on the other,
a house as clean and smart as a new pin! And he growls like a pilgrim
smarting from Saint Anthony's fire!"
"Hey day!" exclaimed the sergeant of the watch, "do you fancy, Jacqueline,
that I have any wish to see my house razed down, my halbert given to
another, and my wife standing in the pillory?"
Jacqueline and the dainty journeywoman turned pale.
"Just tell me what you are driving at," said the washerwoman sharply, "and
make a clean breast of it. For some days, my man, I have observed that you
have some maggot twisting in your poor brain. Come up, then, and have it
all out. You must be a pretty coward indeed if you fear any harm when you
have only to guard the common council and live under the protection of the
Chapter! Their Reverences the Canons would lay the whole bishopric under
an interdict if Jacqueline brought a complaint of the smallest damage."
As she spoke, she went straight up to her husband and took him by the arm.
"Come with me," she added, pulling him up and out on to the steps.
When they were down by the water in their little garden, Jacqueline looked
saucily in her husband's face.
"I would have you to know, you old gaby, that when my lady fair goes out,
a piece of gold comes into our savings-box."
"Oh, ho!" said the constable, who stood silent and meditative before his
wife. But he presently said, "Any way, we are done for.—What brings
the dame to our house?"
"She comes to see the well-favored young clerk who lives overhead,"
replied Jacqueline, looking up at the window that opened on to the vast
landscape of the Seine valley.
"The Devil's in it!" cried the man. "For a few base crowns you have ruined
me, Jacqueline. Is that an honest trade for a sergeant's decent wife to
ply? And, be she Countess or Baroness, the lady will not be able to get us
out of the trap in which we shall find ourselves caught sooner or later.
Shall we not have to square accounts with some puissant and offended
husband? for, by the Mass, she is fair to look upon!"
"But she is a widow, I tell you, gray gander! How dare you accuse your
wife of foul play and folly? And the lady has never spoken a word to yon
gentle clerk, she is content to look on him and think of him. Poor lad! he
would be dead of starvation by now but for her, for she is as good as a
mother to him. And he, the sweet cherub! it is as easy to cheat him as to
rock a new-born babe. He believes his pence will last for ever, and he has
eaten them through twice over in the past six months."
"Woman," said the sergeant, solemnly pointing to the Place de Greve, "do
you remember seeing, even from this spot, the fire in which they burnt the
Danish woman the other day?"
"What then?" said Jacqueline, in a fright.
"What then?" echoed Tirechair. "Why, the two men who lodge with us smell
of scorching. Neither Chapter nor Countess or Protector can serve them.
Here is Easter come round; the year is ending; we must turn our company
out of doors, and that at once. Do you think you can teach an old
constable how to know a gallows-bird? Our two lodgers were on terms with
la Porette, that heretic jade from Denmark or Norway, whose last cries you
heard from here. She was a brave witch; she never blenched at the stake,
which was proof enough of her compact with the Devil. I saw her as plain
as I see you; she preached to the throng, and declared she was in heaven
and could see God.
"And since that, I tell you, I have never slept quietly in my bed. My
lord, who lodges over us, is of a surety more of a wizard than a
Christian. On my word as an officer, I shiver when that old man passes
near me; he never sleeps of nights; if I wake, his voice is ringing like a
bourdon of bells, and I hear him muttering incantations in the language of
hell. Have you ever seen him eat an honest crust of bread or a hearth-cake
made by a good Catholic baker? His brown skin has been scorched and tanned
by hell-fires. Marry, and I tell you his eyes hold a spell like that of
serpents. Jacqueline, I will have none of those two men under my roof. I
see too much of the law not to know that it is well to have nothing to do
with it.—You must get rid of our two lodgers; the elder because I
suspect him; the youngster, because he is too pretty. They neither of them
seem to me to keep Christian company. The boy is ever staring at the moon,
the stars, and the clouds, like a wizard watching for the hour when he
shall mount his broomstick; the other old rogue certainly makes some use
of the poor boy for his black art. My house stands too close to the river
as it is, and that risk of ruin is bad enough without bringing down fire
from heaven, or the love affairs of a countess. I have spoken. Do not
In spite of her sway in the house, Jacqueline stood stupefied as she
listened to the edict fulminated against his lodgers by the sergeant of
the watch. She mechanically looked up at the window of the room inhabited
by the old man, and shivered with horror as she suddenly caught sight of
the gloomy, melancholy face, and the piercing eye that so affected her
husband, accustomed as he was to dealing with criminals.
At that period, great and small, priests and laymen, all trembled before
the idea of any supernatural power. The word "magic" was as powerful as
leprosy to root up feelings, break social ties, and freeze piety in the
most generous soul. It suddenly struck the constable's wife that she had
never, in fact, seen either of her lodgers exercising any human function.
Though the younger man's voice was as sweet and melodious as the tones of
a flute, she so rarely heard it that she was tempted to think his silence
the result of a spell. As she recalled the strange beauty of that
pink-and-white face, and saw in memory the fine hair and moist brilliancy
of those eyes, she believed that they were indeed the artifices of the
Devil. She remembered that for days at a time she had never heard the
slightest sound from either room. Where were the strangers during all
Suddenly the most singular circumstances recurred to her mind. She was
completely overmastered by fear, and could even discern witchcraft in the
rich lady's interest in the young Godefroid, a poor orphan who had come
from Flanders to study at the University of Paris. She hastily put her
hand into one of her pockets, pulled out four livres of Tournay in large
silver coinage, and looked at the pieces with an expression of avarice
mingled with terror.
"That, at any rate, is not false coin," said she, showing the silver to
her husband. "Besides," she went on, "how can I turn them out after taking
next year's rent paid in advance?"
"You had better inquire of the Dean of the Chapter," replied Tirechair.
"Is not it his business to tell us how we should deal with these
"Ay, truly extraordinary," cried Jacqueline. "To think of their cunning;
coming here under the very shadow of Notre-Dame! Still," she went on, "or
ever I ask the Dean, why not warn that fair and noble lady of the risk she
As she spoke, Jacqueline went into the house with her husband, who had not
missed a mouthful. Tirechair, as a man grown old in the tricks of his
trade, affected to believe that the strange lady was in fact a work-girl;
still, this assumed indifference could not altogether cloak the timidity
of a courtier who respects a royal incognity. At this moment six was
striking by the clock of Saint-Denis du Pas, a small church that stood
between Notre-Dame and the Port-Saint-Landry—the first church
erected in Paris, on the very spot where Saint-Denis was laid on the
gridiron, as chronicles tell. The hour flew from steeple to tower all over
the city. Then suddenly confused shouts were heard on the left bank of the
Seine, behind Notre-Dame, in the quarter where the schools of the
University harbored their swarms.
At this signal, Jacqueline's elder lodger began to move about his room.
The sergeant, his wife, and the strange lady listened while he opened and
shut his door, and the old man's heavy step was heard on the steep stair.
The constable's suspicions gave such interest to the advent of this
personage, that the lady was startled as she observed the strange
expression of the two countenances before her. Referring the terrors of
this couple to the youth she was protecting—as was natural in a
lover—the young lady awaited, with some uneasiness, the event thus
heralded by the fears of her so-called master and mistress.
The old man paused for a moment on the threshold to scrutinize the three
persons in the room, and seemed to be looking for his young companion.
This glance of inquiry, unsuspicious as it was, agitated the three.
Indeed, nobody, not even the stoutest man, could deny that Nature had
bestowed exceptional powers on this being, who seemed almost supernatural.
Though his eyes were somewhat deeply shaded by the wide sockets fringed
with long eyebrows, they were set, like a kite's eyes, in eyelids so
broad, and bordered by so dark a circle sharply defined on his cheek, that
they seemed rather prominent. These singular eyes had in them something
indescribably domineering and piercing, which took possession of the soul
by a grave and thoughtful look, a look as bright and lucid as that of a
serpent or a bird, but which held one fascinated and crushed by the swift
communication of some tremendous sorrow, or of some super-human power.
Every feature was in harmony with this eye of lead and of fire, at once
rigid and flashing, stern and calm. While in this eagle eye earthly
emotions seemed in some sort extinct, the lean, parched face also bore
traces of unhappy passions and great deeds done. The nose, which was
narrow and aquiline, was so long that it seemed to hang on by the
nostrils. The bones of the face were strongly marked by the long, straight
wrinkles that furrowed the hollow cheeks. Every line in the countenance
looked dark. It would suggest the bed of a torrent where the violence of
former floods was recorded in the depth of the water-courses, which
testified to some terrible, unceasing turmoil. Like the ripples left by
the oars of a boat on the waters, deep lines, starting from each side of
his nose, marked his face strongly, and gave an expression of bitter
sadness to his mouth, which was firm and straight-lipped. Above the storm
thus stamped on his countenance, his calm brow rose with what may be
called boldness, and crowned it as with a marble dome.
The stranger preserved that intrepid and dignified manner that is
frequently habitual with men inured to disaster, and fitted by nature to
stand unmoved before a furious mob and to face the greatest dangers. He
seemed to move in a sphere apart, where he poised above humanity. His
gestures, no less than his look, were full of irresistible power; his lean
hands were those of a soldier; and if your own eyes were forced to fall
before his piercing gaze, you were no less sure to tremble when by word or
action he spoke to your soul. He moved in silent majesty that made him
seem a king without his guard, a god without his rays.
His dress emphasized the ideas suggested by the peculiarities of his mien
and face. Soul, body, and garb were in harmony, and calculated to impress
the coldest imagination. He wore a sort of sleeveless gown of black cloth,
fastened in front, and falling to the calf, leaving the neck bare with no
collar. His doublet and boots were likewise black. On his head was a black
velvet cap like a priest's, sitting in a close circle above his forehead,
and not showing a single hair. It was the strictest mourning, the
gloomiest habit a man could wear. But for a long sword that hung by his
side from a leather belt which could be seen where his surcoat hung open,
a priest would have hailed him as a brother. Though of no more than middle
height, he appeared tall; and, looking him in the face he seemed a giant.
"The clock has struck, the boat is waiting; will you not come?"
At these words, spoken in bad French, but distinctly audible in the
silence, a little noise was heard in the other top room, and the young man
came down as lightly as a bird.
When Godefroid appeared, the lady's face turned crimson; she trembled,
started, and covered her face with her white hands.
Any woman might have shared her agitation at the sight of this youth of
about twenty, of a form and stature so slender that at a first glance he
might have been taken for a mere boy, or a young girl in disguise. His
black cap—like the beret worn by the Basque people—showed
a brow as white as snow, where grace and innocence shone with an
expression of divine sweetness—the light of a soul full of faith. A
poet's fancy would have seen there the star which, in some old tale, a
mother entreats the fairy godmother to set on the forehead of an infant
abandoned, like Moses, to the waves. Love lurked in the thousand fair
curls that fell over his shoulders. His throat, truly a swan's throat, was
white and exquisitely round. His blue eyes, bright and liquid, mirrored
the sky. His features and the mould of his brow were refined and delicate
enough to enchant a painter. The bloom of beauty, which in a woman's face
causes men such indescribable delight, the exquisite purity of outline,
the halo of light that bathes the features we love, were here combined
with a masculine complexion, and with strength as yet but half developed,
in the most enchanting contrast. His was one of those melodious
countenances which even when silent speak and attract us. And yet, on
marking it attentively, the incipient blight might have been detected
which comes of a great thought or a passion, the faint yellow tinge that
made him seem like a young leaf opening to the sun.
No contrast could be greater or more startling than that seen in the
companionship of these two men. It was like seeing a frail and graceful
shrub that has grown from the hollow trunk of some gnarled willow,
withered by age, blasted by lightning, standing decrepit; one of those
majestic trees that painters love; the trembling sapling takes shelter
there from storms. One was a god, the other was an angel; one the poet
that feels, the other the poet that expresses—a prophet in sorrow, a
levite in prayer.
They went out together without speaking.
"Did you mark how he called him to him?" cried the sergeant of the watch
when the footsteps of the couple were no longer audible on the strand.
"Are not they a demon and his familiar?"
"Phooh!" puffed Jacqueline. "I felt smothered! I never marked our two
lodgers so carefully. 'Tis a bad thing for us women that the Devil can
wear so fair a mien!"
"Ay, cast some holy water on him," said Tirechair, "and you will see him
turn into a toad.—I am off to tell the office all about them."
On hearing this speech, the lady roused herself from the reverie into
which she had sunk, and looked at the constable, who was donning his
"Whither are you off to?" she asked.
"To tell the justices that wizards are lodging in our house very much
against our will."
The lady smiled.
"I," said she, "am the Comtesse de Mahaut," and she rose with a dignity
that took the man's breath away. "Beware of bringing the smallest trouble
on your guests. Above all, respect the old man; I have seen him in the
company of your Lord the King, who entreated him courteously; you will be
ill advised to trouble him in any way. As to my having been here—never
breathe a word of it, as you value your life."
She said no more, but relapsed into thought.
Presently she looked up, signed to Jacqueline, and together they went up
into Godefroid's room. The fair Countess looked at the bed, the carved
chairs, the chest, the tapestry, the table, with a joy like that of the
exile who sees on his return the crowded roofs of his native town nestling
at the foot of a hill.
"If you have not deceived me," she said to Jacqueline, "I promise you a
hundred crowns in gold."
"Behold, madame," said the woman, "the poor angel is confiding—here
is all his treasure."
As she spoke, Jacqueline opened a drawer in the table and showed some
"God of mercy!" cried the Countess, snatching up a document that caught
her eye, on which she read, Gothofredus Comes Gantiacus (Godefroid,
Count of Ghent).
She dropped the parchment, and passed her hand over her brow; then,
feeling, no doubt, that she had compromised herself by showing so much
emotion, she recovered her cold demeanor.
"I am satisfied," said she.
She went downstairs and out of the house. The constable and his wife stood
in their doorway, and saw her take the path to the landing-place.
A boat was moored hard by. When the rustle of the Countess' approach was
audible, a boatman suddenly stood up, helped the fair laundress to take
her seat in it, and rowed with such strength as to make the boat fly like
a swallow down the stream.
"You are a sorry fellow," said Jacqueline, giving the officer's shoulder a
familiar slap. "We have earned a hundred gold crowns this morning."
"I like harboring lords no better than harboring wizards. And I know not,
of the two, which is the more like to bring us to the gallows," replied
Tirechair, taking up his halbert. "I will go my rounds over by
Champfleuri; God protect us, and send me to meet some pert jade out in her
bravery of gold rings to glitter in the shade like a glow-worm!"
Jacqueline, alone in the house, hastily went up to the unknown lord's room
to discover, if she could, some clue to this mysterious business. Like
some learned men who give themselves infinite pains to complicate the
clear and simple laws of nature, she had already invented a chaotic
romance to account for the meeting of these three persons under her humble
roof. She hunted through the chest, examined everything, but could find
nothing extraordinary. She saw nothing on the table but a writing-case and
some sheets of parchment; and as she could not read, this discovery told
her nothing. A woman's instinct then took her into the young man's room,
and from thence she descried her two lodgers crossing the river in the
"They stand like two statues," said she to herself. "Ah, ha! They are
landing at the Rue du Fouarre. How nimble he is, the sweet youth! He
jumped out like a bird. By him the old man looks like some stone saint in
the Cathedral.—They are going to the old School of the Four Nations.
Presto! they are out of sight.—And this is where he lives, poor
cherub!" she went on, looking about the room. "How smart and winning he
is! Ah! your fine gentry are made of other stuff than we are."
And Jacqueline went down again after smoothing down the bed-coverlet,
dusting the chest, and wondering for the hundredth time in six months:
"What in the world does he do all the blessed day? He cannot always be
staring at the blue sky and the stars that God has hung up there like
lanterns. That dear boy has known trouble. But why do he and the old man
hardly ever speak to each other?"
Then she lost herself in wonderment and in thoughts which, in her woman's
brain, were tangled like a skein of thread.
The old man and his young companion had gone into one of the schools for
which the Rue du Fouarre was at that time famous throughout Europe. At the
moment when Jacqueline's two lodgers arrived at the old School des Quatre
Nations, the celebrated Sigier, the most noted Doctor of Mystical Theology
of the University of Paris, was mounting his pulpit in a spacious low room
on a level with the street. The cold stones were strewn with clean straw,
on which several of his disciples knelt on one knee, writing on the other,
to enable them to take notes from the Master's improvised discourse, in
the shorthand abbreviations which are the despair of modern decipherers.
The hall was full, not of students only, but of the most distinguished men
belonging to the clergy, the court, and the legal faculty. There were some
learned foreigners, too—soldiers and rich citizens. The broad faces
were there, with prominent brows and venerable beards, which fill us with
a sort of pious respect for our ancestors when we see their portraits from
the Middle Ages. Lean faces, too, with burning, sunken eyes, under bald
heads yellow from the labors of futile scholasticism, contrasted with
young and eager countenances, grave faces, warlike faces, and the ruddy
cheeks of the financial class.
These lectures, dissertations, theses, sustained by the brightest geniuses
of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, roused our forefathers to
enthusiasm. They were to them their bull-fights, their Italian opera,
their tragedy, their dancers; in short, all their drama. The performance
of Mysteries was a later thing than these spiritual disputations, to
which, perhaps, we owe the French stage. Inspired eloquence, combining the
attractions of the human voice skilfully used, with daring inquisition
into the secrets of God, sufficed to satisfy every form of curiosity,
appealed to the soul, and constituted the fashionable entertainment of the
time. Not only did Theology include the other sciences, it was science
itself, as grammar was science to the Ancient Greeks; and those who
distinguished themselves in these duels, in which the orators, like Jacob,
wrestled with the Spirit of God, had a promising future before them.
Embassies, arbitrations between sovereigns, chancellorships, and
ecclesiastical dignities were the meed of men whose rhetoric had been
schooled in theological controversy. The professor's chair was the tribune
of the period.
This system lasted till the day when Rabelais gibbeted dialectics by his
merciless satire, as Cervantes demolished chivalry by a narrative comedy.
To understand this amazing period and the spirit which dictated its
voluminous, though now forgotten, masterpieces, to analyze it, even to its
barbarisms, we need only examine the Constitutions of the University of
Paris and the extraordinary scheme of instruction that then obtained.
Theology was taught under two faculties—that of Theology properly so
called, and that of Canon Law. The faculty of Theology, again, had three
sections—Scholastic, Canonical, and Mystic. It would be wearisome to
give an account of the attributes of each section of the science, since
one only, namely, Mystic, is the subject of this Etude.
Mystical Theology included the whole of Divine Revelation and the
elucidation of the Mysteries. And this branch of ancient theology has been
secretly preserved with reverence even to our own day; Jacob Boehm,
Swendenborg, Martinez Pasqualis, Saint-Martin, Molinos, Madame Guyon,
Madame Bourignon, and Madame Krudener, the extensive sect of the
Ecstatics, and that of the Illuminati, have at different periods duly
treasured the doctrines of this science, of which the aim is indeed truly
startling and portentous. In Doctor Sigier's day, as in our own, man has
striven to gain wings to fly into the sanctuary where God hides from our
This digression was necessary to give a clue to the scene at which the old
man and the youth from the island under Notre-Dame had come to be
audience; it will also protect this narrative from all blame on the score
of falsehood and hyperbole, of which certain persons of hasty judgment
might perhaps suspect me.
Doctor Sigier was a tall man in the prime of life. His face, rescued from
oblivion by the archives of the University, had singular analogies with
that of Mirabeau. It was stamped with the seal of fierce, swift, and
terrible eloquence. But the Doctor bore on his brow the expression of
religious faith that his modern double had not. His voice, too, was of
persuasive sweetness, with a clear and pleasing ring in it.
At this moment the daylight, that was stintingly diffused through the
small, heavily-leaded window-panes, tinted the assembly with capricious
tones and powerful contrasts from the chequered light and shade. Here, in
a dark corner, eyes shone brightly, their dark heads under the sunbeams
gleamed light above faces in shadow, and various bald heads, with only a
circlet of white hair, were distinguished among the crowd like battlements
silvered by moonlight. Every face was turned towards the Doctor, mute but
impatient. The drowsy voices of other lecturers in the adjoining schools
were audible in the silent street like the murmuring of the sea; and the
steps of the two strangers, as they now came in, attracted general
attention. Doctor Sigier, ready to begin, saw the stately senior standing,
looked round for a seat for him, and then finding none, as the place was
full, came down from his place, went to the newcomer, and with great
respect, led him to the platform of his professor's chair, and there gave
him his stool to sit upon. The assembly hailed this mark of deference with
a murmur of approval, recognizing the old man as the orator of a fine
thesis admirably argued not long since at the Sorbonne.
The stranger looked down from his raised position on the crowd below with
that deep glance that held a whole poem of sorrow, and those who met his
eye felt an indescribable thrill. The lad, following the old man, sat down
on one of the steps, leaning against the pulpit in a graceful and
melancholy attitude. The silence was now profound, and the doorway and
even the street were blocked by scholars who had deserted the other
Doctor Sigier was to-day to recapitulate, in the last of a series of
discourses, the views he had set forth in the former lectures on the
Resurrection, Heaven, and Hell. His strange doctrine responded to the
sympathies of the time, and gratified the immoderate love of the
marvelous, which haunts the mind of man in every age. This effort of man
to clutch the infinite, which for ever slips through his ineffectual
grasp, this last tourney of thought against thought, was a task worthy of
an assembly where the most stupendous human imagination ever known,
perhaps, at that moment shone.
The Doctor began by summing up in a mild and even tone the principal
points he had so far established:
"No intellect was the exact counterpart of another. Had man any right to
require an account of his Creator for the inequality of powers bestowed on
each? Without attempting to penetrate rashly into the designs of God,
ought we not to recognize the fact that by reason of their general
diversity intelligences could be classed in spheres? From the sphere where
the least degree of intelligence gleamed, to the most translucent souls
who could see the road by which to ascend to God, was there not an
ascending scale of spiritual gift? And did not spirits of the same sphere
understand each other like brothers in soul, in flesh, in mind, and in
From this the Doctor went on to unfold the most wonderful theories of
sympathy. He set forth in Biblical language the phenomena of love, of
instinctive repulsion, of strong affinities which transcend the laws of
space, of the sudden mingling of souls which seem to recognize each other.
With regard to the different degrees of strength of which our affections
are capable, he accounted for them by the place, more or less near the
centre, occupied by beings in their respective circles.
He gave mathematical expression to God's grand idea in the co-ordination
of the various human spheres. "Through man," he said, "these spheres
constituted a world intermediate between the intelligence of the brute and
the intelligence of the angels." As he stated it, the divine Word
nourishes the spiritual Word, the spiritual Word nourishes the living
Word, the living Word nourishes the animal Word, the animal Word nourishes
the vegetable Word, and the vegetable Word is the expression of the life
of the barren Word. These successive evolutions, as of a chrysalis, which
God thus wrought in our souls, this infusorial life, so to speak,
communicated from each zone to the next, more vivid, more spiritual, more
perceptive in its ascent, represented, rather dimly no doubt, but
marvelously enough to his inexperienced hearers, the impulse given to
Nature by the Almighty. Supported by many texts from the Sacred
Scriptures, which he used as a commentary on his own statements to express
by concrete images the abstract arguments he felt to be wanting, he
flourished the Spirit of God like a torch over the deep secrets of
creation, with an eloquence peculiar to himself, and accents that urged
conviction on his audience. As he unfolded his mysterious system and all
its consequences, he gave a key to every symbol and justified the
vocation, the special gifts, the genius, the talent of each human being.
Then, instinctively becoming physiological, he remarked on the resemblance
to certain animals stamped on some human faces, accounting for them by
primordial analogies and the upward tendency of all creation. He showed
his audience the workings of Nature, and assigned a mission and a future
to minerals, plants, and animals. Bible in hand, after thus spiritualizing
Matter and materializing Spirit, after pointing to the Will of God in all
things, and enjoining respect for His smallest works, he suggested the
possibility of rising by faith from sphere to sphere.
This was the first portion of his discourse, and by adroit digressions he
applied the doctrine of his system to feudalism. The poetry—religious
and profane—and the abrupt eloquence of that period had a grand
opening in this vast theory, wherein the Doctor had amalgamated all the
philosophical systems of the ancients, and from which he brought them out
again classified, transfigured, purified. The false dogmas of two adverse
principles and of Pantheism were demolished at his word, which proclaimed
the Divine Unity, while ascribing to God and His angels the knowledge, the
ends to which the means shone resplendent to the eyes of man. Fortified by
the demonstrations that proved the existence of the world of Matter,
Doctor Sigier constructed the scheme of a spiritual world dividing us from
God by an ascending scale of spheres, just as the plant is divided from
man by an infinite number of grades. He peopled the heavens, the stars,
the planets, the sun.
Quoting Saint Paul, he invested man with a new power; he might rise, from
globe to globe, to the very Fount of eternal life. Jacob's mystical ladder
was both the religious formula and the traditional proof of the fact. He
soared through space, carrying with him the passionate souls of his
hearers on the wings of his word, making them feel the infinite, and
bathing them in the heavenly sea. Then the Doctor accounted logically for
hell by circles placed in inverse order to the shining spheres that lead
to God, in which torments and darkness take the place of the Spirit and of
light. Pain was as intelligible as rapture. The terms of comparison were
present in the conditions of human life and its various atmospheres of
suffering and of intellect. Thus the most extraordinary traditions of hell
and purgatory were quite naturally conceivable.
He gave the fundamental rationale of virtue with admirable
clearness. A pious man, toiling onward in poverty, proud of his good
conscience, at peace with himself, and steadfastly true to himself in his
heart in spite of the spectacle of exultant vice, was a fallen angel doing
penance, who remembered his origin, foresaw his guerdon, accomplished his
task, and obeyed his glorious mission. The sublime resignation of
Christians was then seen in all its glory. He depicted martyrs at the
burning stake, and almost stripped them of their merit by stripping them
of their sufferings. He showed their inner angel as dwelling in the
heavens, while the outer man was tortured by the executioner's sword. He
described angels dwelling among men, and gave tokens by which to recognize
He next strove to drag from the very depths of man's understanding the
real sense of the word fall, which occurs in every language. He appealed
to the most widely-spread traditions in evidence of this one true origin,
explaining, with much lucidity, the passion all men have for rising,
mounting—an instinctive ambition, the perennial revelations of our
He displayed the whole universe at a glance, and described the nature of
God Himself circulating in a full tide from the centre to the extremities,
and from the extremities to the centre again. Nature was one and
homogeneous. In the most seemingly trivial, as in the most stupendous
work, everything obeyed that law; each created object reproduced in little
an exact image of that nature—the sap in the plant, the blood in
man, the orbits of the planets. He piled proof on proof, always completing
his idea by a picture musical with poetry.
And he boldly anticipated every objection. He thundered forth an eloquent
challenge to the monumental works of science and human excrescences of
knowledge, such as those which societies use the elements of the earthly
globe to produce. He asked whether our wars, our disasters, our depravity
could hinder the great movement given by God to all the globes; and he
laughed human impotence to scorn by pointing to their efforts everywhere
in ruins. He cried upon the manes of Tyre, Carthage, and Babylon; he
called upon Babel and Jerusalem to appear; and sought, without finding
them, the transient furrows made by the ploughshare of civilization.
Humanity floated on the surface of the earth as a ship whose wake is lost
in the calm level of ocean.
These were the fundamental notions set forth in Doctor Sigier's address,
all wrapped in the mystical language and strange school Latin of the time.
He had made a special study of the Scriptures, and they supplied him with
the weapons with which he came before his contemporaries to hasten their
progress. He hid his boldness under his immense learning, as with a cloak,
and his philosophical bent under a saintly life. At this moment, after
bringing his hearers face to face with God, after packing the universe
into an idea, and almost unveiling the idea of the world, he gazed down on
the silent, throbbing mass, and scrutinized the stranger with a look.
Then, spurred on, no doubt, by the presence of this remarkable personage,
he added these words, from which I have eliminated the corrupt Latinity of
the Middle Ages:—
"Where, think you, may a man find these fruitful truths if not in the
heart of God Himself?—What am I?—The humble interpreter of a
single line left to us by the greatest of the Apostles—a single line
out of thousands all equally full of light. Before us, Saint Paul said, 'In
Deo vivimus movemur et sumus.' In our day, less believing and more
learned, or better instructed and more sceptical, we should ask the
Apostle, 'To what end this perpetual motion? Whither leads this life
divided into zones? Wherefore an intelligence that begins with the obscure
perfection of marble and proceeds from sphere to sphere up to man, up to
the angel, up to God? Where is the Fount, where is the ocean, if life,
attaining to God across worlds and stars, through Matter and Spirit, has
to come down again to some other goal?'
"You desire to see both aspects of the universe at once. You would adore
the Sovereign on condition of being suffered to sit for an instant on His
throne. Mad fools that we are! We will not admit that the most intelligent
animals are able to understand our ideas and the object of our actions; we
are merciless to the creatures of the inferior spheres, and exile them
from our own; we deny them the faculty of divining human thoughts, and yet
we ourselves would fain master the highest of all ideas—the Idea of
"Well, go then, start! Fly by faith up from globe to globe, soar through
space! Thought, love, and faith are its mystical keys. Traverse the
circles, reach the throne! God is more merciful than you are; He opens His
temple to all His creatures. Only, do not forget the pattern of Moses; put
your shoes from off your feet, cast off all filth, leave your body far
behind; otherwise you shall be consumed; for God—God is Light!"
Just as Doctor Sigier spoke these grand words, his face radiant, his hand
uplifted, a sunbeam pierced through an open window, like a magic jet from
a fount of splendor, a long triangular shaft of gold that lay like a scarf
over the whole assembly. They all clapped their hands, for the audience
accepted this effect of the sinking sun as a miracle. There was a
universal cry of:
The very sky seemed to shed approval. Godefroid, struck with reverence,
looked from the old man to Doctor Sigier; they were talking together in an
"All honor to the Master!" said the stranger.
"What is such transient honor?" replied Sigier.
"I would I could perpetuate my gratitude," said the older man.
"A line written by you is enough!" said the Doctor. "It would give me
immortality, humanly speaking."
"Can I give what I have not?" cried the elder.
Escorted by the crowd, which followed in their footsteps, like courtiers
round a king, at a respectful distance, Godefroid, with the old man and
the Doctor, made their way to the oozy shore, where as yet there were no
houses, and where the ferryman was waiting for them. The Doctor and the
stranger were talking together, not in Latin nor in any Gallic tongue, but
in an unknown language, and very gravely. They pointed with their hands
now to heaven and now to the earth. Sigier, to whom the paths by the river
were familiar, guided the venerable stranger with particular care to the
narrow planks which here and there bridged the mud; the following watched
them inquisitively; and some of the students envied the privileged boy who
might walk with these two great masters of speech. Finally, the Doctor
took leave of the stranger, and the ferry-boat pushed off.
At the moment when the boat was afloat on the wide river, communicating
its motion to the soul, the sun pierced the clouds like a conflagration
blazing up on the horizon, and poured forth a flood of light, coloring
slate roof-tops and humbler thatch with a ruddy glow and tawny
reflections, fringed Philippe Auguste's towers with fire, flooded the sky,
dyed the waters, gilded the plants, and aroused the half-sleeping insects.
The immense shaft of light set the clouds on fire. It was like the last
verse of the daily hymn. Every heart was thrilled; nature in such a moment
As he gazed at the spectacle, the stranger's eyes moistened with the
tenderest of human tears: Godefroid too was weeping; his trembling hand
touched that of the elder man, who, looking round, confessed his emotion.
But thinking his dignity as a man compromised, no doubt, to redeem it, he
said in a deep voice:
"I weep for my native land. I am an exile! Young man, in such an hour as
this I left my home. There, at this hour, the fireflies are coming out of
their fragile dwellings and clinging like diamond sparks to the leaves of
the iris. At this hour the breeze, as sweet as the sweetest poetry, rises
up from a valley bathed in light, bearing on its wings the richest
fragrance. On the horizon I could see a golden city like the Heavenly
Jerusalem—a city whose name I may not speak. There, too, a river
winds. But that city and its buildings, that river of which the lovely
vistas, and the pools of blue water, mingled, crossed, and embraced each
other, which gladdened my sight and filled me with love—where are
"At that hour the waters assumed fantastic hues under the sunset sky, and
seemed to be painted pictures; the stars dropped tender streaks of light,
the moon spread its pleasing snares; it gave another life to the trees, to
the color and form of things, and a new aspect to the sparkling water, the
silent hills, the eloquent buildings. The city spoke, it glittered, it
called to me to return!
"Columns of smoke rose up by the side of the ancient pillars, whose marble
sheen gleamed white through the night; the lines of the horizon were still
visible through the mists of evening; all was harmony and mystery. Nature
would not say farewell; she desired to keep me there. Ah! It was all in
all to me; my mother and my child, my wife and my glory! The very bells
bewailed my condemnation. Oh, land of marvels! It is as beautiful as
heaven. From that hour the wide world has been my dungeon. Beloved land,
why hast thou rejected me?
"But I shall triumph there yet!" he cried, speaking with an accent of such
intense conviction and such a ringing tone, that the boatman started as at
a trumpet call.
The stranger was standing in a prophetic attitude and gazing southwards
into the blue, pointing to his native home across the skyey regions. The
ascetic pallor of his face had given place to a glow of triumph, his eyes
flashed, he was as grand as a lion shaking his mane.
"But you, poor child," he went on, looking at Godefroid, whose cheeks were
beaded with glittering tears, "have you, like me, studied life from
blood-stained pages? What can you have to weep for, at your age?"
"Alas!" said Godefroid, "I regret a land more beautiful than any land on
earth—a land I never saw and yet remember. Oh, if I could but cleave
the air on beating wings, I would fly——"
"Whither?" asked the exile.
"Up there," replied the boy.
On hearing this answer, the stranger seemed surprised; he looked darkly at
the youth, who remained silent. They seemed to communicate by an
unspeakable effusion of the spirit, hearing each other's yearnings in the
teeming silence, and going forth side by side, like two doves sweeping the
air on equal wing, till the boat, touching the strand of the island,
roused them from their deep reverie.
Then, each lost in thought, they went together to the sergeant's house.
"And so the boy believes that he is an angel exiled from heaven!" thought
the tall stranger. "Which of us all has a right to undeceive him? Not I—I,
who am so often lifted by some magic spell so far above the earth; I who
am dedicate to God; I who am a mystery to myself. Have I not already seen
the fairest of the angels dwelling in this mire? Is this child more or
less crazed than I am? Has he taken a bolder step in the way of faith? He
believes, and his belief no doubt will lead him into some path of light
like that in which I walk. But though he is as beautiful as an angel, is
he not too feeble to stand fast in such a struggle?"
Abashed by the presence of his companion, whose voice of thunder expressed
to him his own thoughts, as lightning expresses the will of Heaven, the
boy was satisfied to gaze at the stars with a lover's eyes. Overwhelmed by
a luxury of sentiment, which weighed on his heart, he stood there timid
and weak—a midge in the sunbeams. Sigier's discourse had proved to
them the mysteries of the spiritual world; the tall, old man was to invest
them with glory; the lad felt them in himself, though he could in no way
express them. The three represented in living embodiment Science, Poetry,
On going into the house, the Exile shut himself into his room, lighted the
inspiring lamp, and gave himself over to the ruthless demon of Work,
seeking words of the silence and ideas of the night. Godefroid sat down in
his window sill, by turns gazing at the moon reflected in the water, and
studying the mysteries of the sky. Lost in one of the trances that were
frequent to him, he traveled from sphere to sphere, from vision to vision,
listening for obscure rustlings and the voices of angels, and believing
that he heard them; seeing, or fancying that he saw, a divine radiance in
which he lost himself; striving to attain the far-away goal, the source of
all light, the fount of all harmony.
Presently the vast clamor of Paris, brought down on the current, was
hushed; lights were extinguished one by one in the houses; silence spread
over all; and the huge city slept like a tired giant.
Midnight struck. The least noise, the fall of a leaf, or the flight of a
jackdaw changing its perching-place among the pinnacles of Notre-Dame,
would have been enough to bring the stranger's mind to earth again, to
have made the youth drop from the celestial heights to which his soul had
soared on the wings of rapture.
And then the old man heard with dismay a groan mingling with the sound of
a heavy fall—the fall, as his experienced ear assured him, of a dead
body. He hastened into Godefroid's room, and saw him lying in a heap with
a long rope tight round his neck, the end meandering over the floor.
When he had untied it, the poor lad opened his eyes.
"Where am I?" he asked, with a hopeful gleam.
"In your own room," said the elder man, looking with surprise at
Godefroid's neck, and at the nail to which the cord had been tied, and
which was still in the knot.
"In heaven?" said the boy, in a voice of music.
"No; on earth!"
Godefroid rose and walked along the path of light traced on the floor by
the moon through the window, which stood open; he saw the rippling Seine,
the willows and plants on the island. A misty atmosphere hung over the
waters like a smokey floor.
On seeing the view, to him so heartbreaking, he folded his hands over his
bosom, and stood in an attitude of despair; the Exile came up to him with
astonishment on his face.
"You meant to kill yourself?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Godefroid, while the stranger passed his hand about his
neck again and again to feel the place where the rope had tightened on it.
But for some slight bruises, the young man had been but little hurt. His
friend supposed that the nail had given way at once under the weight of
the body, and the terrible attempt had ended in a fall without injury.
"And why, dear lad, did you try to kill yourself?"
"Alas!" said Godefroid, no longer restraining the tears that rolled down
his cheeks, "I heard the Voice from on high; it called me by name! It had
never named me before, but this time it bade me to Heaven! Oh, how sweet
is that voice!—As I could not fly to Heaven," he added artlessly, "I
took the only way we know of going to God."
"My child! oh, sublime boy!" cried the old man, throwing his arms round
Godefroid, and clasping him to his heart. "You are a poet; you can boldly
ride the whirlwind! Your poetry does not proceed from your heart; your
living, burning thoughts, your creations, move and grow in your soul.—Go,
never reveal your ideas to the vulgar! Be at once the altar, the priest,
and the victim!
"You know Heaven, do you not? You have seen those myriads of angels,
white-winged, and holding golden sistrums, all soaring with equal flight
towards the Throne, and you have often seen their pinions moving at the
breath of God as the trees of the forest bow with one consent before the
storm. Ah, how glorious is unlimited space! Tell me."
The stranger clasped Godefroid's hand convulsively, and they both gazed at
the firmament, whence the stars seemed to shed gentle poetry which they
"Oh, to see God!" murmured Godefroid.
"Child!" said the old man suddenly, in a sterner voice, "have you so soon
forgotten the holy teaching of our good master, Doctor Sigier? In order to
return, you to your heavenly home, and I to my native land on earth, must
we not obey the voice of God? We must walk on resignedly in the stony
paths where His almighty finger points the way. Do not you quail at the
thought of the danger to which you exposed yourself? Arriving there
without being bidden, and saying, 'Here I am!' before your time, would you
not have been cast back into a world beneath that where your soul now
hovers? Poor outcast cherub! Should you not rather bless God for having
suffered you to live in a sphere where you may hear none but heavenly
harmonies? Are you not as pure as a diamond, as lovely as a flower?
"Think what it is to know, like me, only the City of Sorrows!—Dwelling
there I have worn out my heart.—To search the tombs for their
horrible secrets; to wipe hands steeped in blood, counting them over night
after night, seeing them rise up before me imploring forgiveness which I
may not grant; to mark the writhing of the assassin and the last shriek of
his victim; to listen to appalling noises and fearful silence, the silence
of a father devouring his dead sons; to wonder at the laughter of the
damned; to look for some human form among the livid heaps wrung and
trampled by crime; to learn words such as living men may not hear without
dying; to call perpetually on the dead, and always to accuse and condemn!—Is
"Cease!" cried Godefroid; "I cannot see you or hear you any further! My
reason wanders, my eyes are dim. You light a fire within me which consumes
"And yet I must go on!" said the senior, waving his hand with a strange
gesture that worked on the youth like a spell.
For a moment the old man fixed Godefroid with his large, weary, lightless
eyes; then he pointed with one finger to the ground. A gulf seemed to open
at his bidding. He remained standing in the doubtful light of the moon; it
lent a glory to his brow which reflected an almost solar gleam. Though at
first a somewhat disdainful expression lurked in the wrinkles of his face,
his look presently assumed the fixity which seems to gaze on an object
invisible to the ordinary organs of sight. His eyes, no doubt, were seeing
then the remoter images which the grave has in store for us.
Never, perhaps, had this man presented so grand an aspect. A terrible
struggle was going on in his soul, and reacted on his outer frame; strong
man as he seemed to be, he bent as a reed bows under the breeze that comes
before a storm. Godefroid stood motionless, speechless, spellbound; some
inexplicable force nailed him to the floor; and, as happens when our
attention takes us out of ourselves while watching a fire or a battle, he
was wholly unconscious of his body.
"Shall I tell you the fate to which you were hastening, poor angel of
love? Listen! It has been given to me to see immeasurable space,
bottomless gulfs in which all human creations are swallowed up, the
shoreless sea whither flows the vast stream of men and of angels. As I
made my way through the realms of eternal torment, I was sheltered under
the cloak of an immortal—the robe of glory due to genius, and which
the ages hand on—I, a frail mortal! When I wandered through the
fields of light where the happy souls play, I was borne up by the love of
a woman, the wings of an angel; resting on her heart, I could taste the
ineffable pleasures whose touch is more perilous to us mortals than are
the torments of the worser world.
"As I achieved my pilgrimage through the dark regions below I had mounted
from torture to torture, from crime to crime, from punishment to
punishment, from awful silence to heartrending cries, till I reached the
uppermost circle of Hell. Already, from afar, I could see the glory of
Paradise shining at a vast distance; I was still in darkness, but on the
borders of day. I flew, upheld by my Guide, borne along by a power akin to
that which, during our dreams, wafts us to spheres invisible to the eye of
the body. The halo that crowned our heads seared away the shades as we
passed, like impalpable dust. Far above us the suns of all the worlds
shone with scarce so much light as the twinkling fireflies of my native
land. I was soaring towards the fields of air where, round about Paradise,
the bodies of light are in closer array, where the azure is easy to pass
through, where worlds innumerable spring like flowers in a meadow.
"There, on the last level of the circles where those phantoms dwell that I
had left behind me, like sorrows one would fain forget, I saw a vast
shade. Standing in an attitude of aspiration, that soul looked eagerly
into space; his feet were riveted by the will of God to the topmost point
of the margin, and he remained for ever in the painful strain by which we
project our purpose when we long to soar, as birds about to take wing. I
saw the man; he neither looked at us nor heard us; every muscle quivered
and throbbed; at each separate instant he seemed to feel, though he did
not move, all the fatigue of traversing the infinite that divided him from
Paradise where, as he gazed steadfastly, he believed he had glimpses of a
beloved image. At this last gate of Hell, as at the first, I saw the stamp
of despair even in hope. The hapless creature was so fearfully held by
some unseen force, that his anguish entered into my bones and froze my
blood. I shrank closer to my Guide, whose protection restored me to peace
"Suddenly the Shade gave a cry of joy—a cry as shrill as that of the
mother bird that sees a hawk in the air, or suspects its presence. We
looked where he was looking, and saw, as it were, a sapphire, floating
high up in the abysses of light. The glowing star fell with the swiftness
of a sunbeam when it flashes over the horizon in the morning and its first
rays shoot across the world. The Splendor became clearer and grew larger;
presently I beheld the cloud of glory in which the angels move—a
shining vapor that emanates from their divine substance, and that glitters
here and there like tongues of flame. A noble face, whose glory none may
endure that have not won the mantle, the laurel, and the palm—the
attribute of the Powers—rose above this cloud as white and pure as
snow. It was Light within light. His wings as they waved shed dazzling
ripples in the spheres through which he descended, as the glance of God
pierces through the universe. At last I saw the archangel in all his
glory. The flower of eternal beauty that belongs to the angels of the
Spirit shone in him. In one hand he held a green palm branch, in the other
a sword of flame: the palm to bestow on the pardoned soul, the sword to
drive back all the hosts of Hell with one sweep. As he approached, the
perfumes of Heaven fell upon us as dew. In the region where the archangel
paused, the air took the hues of opal, and moved in eddies of which he was
the centre. He paused, looked at the Shade, and said:
"Then he turned heavenwards once more, spread his wings, and clove through
space as a vessel cuts through the waves, hardly showing her white sails
to the exiles left on some deserted shore.
"The Shade uttered appalling cries, to which the damned responded from the
lowest circle, the deepest in the immensity of suffering, to the more
peaceful zone near the surface on which we were standing. This worst
torment of all had appealed to all the rest. The turmoil was swelled by
the roar of a sea of fire which formed a bass to the terrific harmony of
endless millions of suffering souls.
"Then suddenly the Shade took flight through the doleful city, and down to
its place at the very bottom of Hell; but as suddenly it came up again,
turned, soared through the endless circles in every direction, as a
vulture, confined for the first time in a cage, exhausts itself in vain
efforts. The Shade was free to do this; he could wander through the zones
of Hell icy, fetid, or scorching without enduring their pangs; he glided
into that vastness as a sunbeam makes its way into the deepest dark.
"'God has not condemned him to any torment,' said the Master; 'but not one
of the souls you have seen suffering their various punishments would
exchange his anguish for the hope that is consuming this soul.'
"And just then the Shade came back to us, brought thither by an
irresistible force which condemned him to perch on the verge of Hell. My
divine Guide, guessing my curiosity, touched the unhappy Shade with his
palm-branch. He, who was perhaps trying to measure the age of sorrow that
divided him from that ever-vanishing 'To-morrow,' started and gave a look
full of all the tears he had already shed.
"'You would know my woe?' said he sadly. 'Oh, I love to tell it. I am
here, Teresa is above; that is all. On earth we were happy, we were always
together. When I saw my loved Teresa Donati for the first time, she was
ten years old. We loved each other even then, not knowing what love meant.
Our lives were one; I turned pale if she were pale, I was happy in her
joy; we gave ourselves up to the pleasure of thinking and feeling
together; and we learned what love was, each through the other. We were
wedded at Cremona; we never saw each other's lips but decked with pearls
of a smile; our eyes always shone; our hair, like our desires, flowed
together; our heads were always bent over one book when we read, our feet
walked in equal step. Life was one long kiss, our home was a nest.
"'One day, for the first time, Teresa turned pale and said, "I am in
pain!"—And I was not in pain!
"'She never rose again. I saw her sweet face change, her golden hair fade—and
I did not die! She smiled to hide her sufferings, but I could read them in
her blue eyes, of which I could interpret the slightest trembling.
"Honorino, I love you!" said she, at the very moment when her lips turned
white, and she was clasping my hand still in hers when death chilled them.
So I killed myself that she might not lie alone in her sepulchral bed,
under her marble sheet. Teresa is above and I am here. I could not bear to
leave her, but God has divided us. Why, then, did He unite us on earth? He
is jealous! Paradise was no doubt so much the fairer on the day when
Teresa entered in.
"'Do you see her? She is sad in her bliss; she is parted from me! Paradise
must be a desert to her.'
"'Master,' said I with tears, for I thought of my love, 'when this one
shall desire Paradise for God's sake alone, shall he not be delivered?'
And the Father of Poets mildly bowed his head in sign of assent.
"We departed, cleaving the air, and making no more noise than the birds
that pass overhead sometimes when we lie in the shade of a tree. It would
have been vain to try to check the hapless shade in his blasphemy. It is
one of the griefs of the angels of darkness that they can never see the
light even when they are surrounded by it. He would not have understood
At this moment the swift approach of many horses rang through the
stillness, the dog barked, the constable's deep growl replied; the
horsemen dismounted, knocked at the door; the noise was so unexpected that
it seemed like some sudden explosion.
The two exiles, the two poets, fell to earth through all the space that
divides us from the skies. The painful shock of this fall rushed through
their veins like strange blood, hissing as it seemed, and full of
scorching sparks. Their pain was like an electric discharge. The loud,
heavy step of a man-at-arms sounded on the stairs with the iron clank of
his sword, his cuirass, and spurs; a soldier presently stood before the
"We can return to Florence," said the man, whose bass voice sounded soft
as he spoke in Italian.
"What is that you say?" asked the old man.
"The Bianchi are triumphant."
"Are you not mistaken?" asked the poet.
"No, dear Dante!" replied the soldier, whose warlike tones rang with the
thrill of battle and the exultation of victory.
"To Florence! To Florence! Ah, my Florence!" cried Dante Alighieri,
drawing himself up, and gazing into the distance. In fancy he saw Italy;
he was gigantic.
"But I—when shall I be in Heaven?" said Godefroid, kneeling on one
knee before the immortal poet, like an angel before the sanctuary.
"Come to Florence," said Dante in compassionate tones. "Come! when you see
its lovely landscape from the heights of Fiesole you will fancy yourself
The soldier smiled. For the first time, perhaps for the only time in his
life, Dante's gloomy and solemn features wore a look of joy; his eyes and
brows expressed the happiness he has depicted so lavishly in his vision of
Paradise. He thought perhaps that he heard the voice of Beatrice.
A light step, and the rustle of a woman's gown, were audible in the
silence. Dawn was now showing its first streaks of light. The fair
Comtesse de Mahaut came in and flew to Godefroid.
"Come, my child, my son! I may at last acknowledge you. Your birth is
recognized, your rights are under the protection of the King of France,
and you will find Paradise in your mother's heart."
"I hear, I know, the voice of Heaven!" cried the youth in rapture.
The exclamation roused Dante, who saw the young man folded in the
Countess' arms. He took leave of them with a look, and left his young
companion on his mother's bosom.
"Come away!" he cried in a voice of thunder. "Death to the Guelphs!"
PARIS, October 1831.