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BOSSUET AND THE MARQUIS DE FENELON.-CHARACTER AND GENIUS OF THE ABBE DE FENELON.-DELINEATION OF PORTRAITS DANGEROUS FROM THE PULPIT.PERSONAL APPLICATION OF THE TRUTH DIFFICULT.-ARNAULD.-DUTY OF BOSSUET TO THE KING.-SUDDEN SUMMONS FROM THE KING.
ALTHOUGH the Abbé de Fénélon had not finished what he had to say, for we have already seen that he did not wish the appearance only, of improvisation, but improvisation itself,-he would not probably have ventured to speak so long, nor so earnestly in his uncle's, and more particularly in Bossuet's presence; but some moments previous, the prelate and the marquis had begun to converse together, at first on the same subject, and afterwards on others; and they had finished by gradually withdrawing themselves from the rest of the group. However the voice of Fénélon still reached them.
"My nephew does not seem at all constrained," said the marquis.
"Your nephew will distinguish himself," replied Bossuet; "but he will never make an orator."
"I have told him so twenty times."
"And what is his reply?"
"That he is glad of it; that he does not wish to be one."
"That is a pity, for he could become one."
"You think so?"
Certainly; but he disdains art too much. Because others make a bad use of it, he will not hear of it. 'He does not wish to be an orator' he has told you. That is just like him, with his romantic ideas; for there is always a little romance in his ideas, and I am afraid it may some day extend into his religion. You see, because the word orator is sometimes used to designate a preacher without piety, he rejects this title which so many great men glory in, and which the ancients set above everything else. With this exception, I am of his opinion with regard to all that he was saying just now. His ideas are in general good-but they need that a severe taste should be exercised in the application of them."
"Is it then in taste that he is wanting?"
"I did not say taste, but a severe taste. He has the taste of sentiment more developed than any one I know; but that of the reason, he has in a much smaller degree, and he appears not to wish to acquire it. He will be a theoretical man, loving extremes; obstinate in reality, but so gentle and charitable in his manner, that the public will pass over all the rest. Defeated, he will still carry off the honors of the battle."
"Well, there is his horoscope, complete."
"I know him even better than I seem to. Wait until he writes and you will see."
Although many years were yet to elapse before the famous quarrels which put Bossuet and Fénélon at swords' point, the
* Two discourses of Fénélon, the only ones, it is said, which he ever wrote and committed to memory, are worthy of Bossuet. One is a sermon on Missions; the other was preached in 1708, at the consecration of the Archbishop of Cologne. Maury relates, that struck with the beauties of the first, and perceiving that no one was acquainted with it, although it had been published for more than a century, he read it to some friends as an unedited discourse of Bossuet. Great admiration was expressed and none suspected the trick.-Criticisms and Portraits, MAURY.
latter was of too frank and impetuous a character, for the Bishop of Condom,-who during the last two or three years saw him daily, not to have had the opportunity to study him in every aspect; thus the history of Fénélon appears tolerably accordant with what the marquis had called his horoscope. It was impossible to deny that he was good, gentle and amiable; but also impossible not to admit that he was what we would at the present time, call an opposition man. What is to be understood by this? Is a man an opposition man from the mere fact that he has often been obliged to combat, to oppose? Some men have battled all their lives without any one having dreamed of applying this term to them. The opposition man, is he who has, even while attacking, the art of appearing the attacked party,—of summoning to his side an interest foreign to the real matter in question, of regaining on the ground of sympathy, what he loses in a logical point of view,—of being defeated, in fine, as Bossuet had said, yet carrying off the honors of the battle. Is not this Fénélon? Are we not still under the charm of that interest, with which he knew how to invest himself even in the eyes of those who had little or no sympathy with his ideas? Do you think for instance that the almost mystical author of the Maxims of the Saints would have been so loudly praised by Voltaire and Diderot, unless there had existed between them that sort of relationship, which the spirit of opposition often establishes between men who have absolutely nothing else in common?
"He will be a theoretical man, loving extremes," Bossuet had said. This was also the opinion of Louis XIV. One day, after a long conversation with Fénélon he said, "I have just been talking with the man, who has the finest, yet most fanciful mind in my kingdom." Without agreeing entirely with this judgment,-for among those ideas which Louis XIV. called fanciful, there were probably some which we would have found good and
beautiful,—we do not believe that the king was as far from the truth as has been sometimes asserted in relating this anecdote. In religion, politics and literature, Fénélon had made for himself, as it were, a world apart. This world he peopled in his own manner. It could not accordingly be other than an admi.ably beautiful, pure and noble world, but on that very account, always more or less different from the existing one. See his Maxims of the Saints, see his Telemachus. Soft, flowery, agreeably subtle, and strewed with antique fancies, his prose was not unlike those fine, god-like old men, of whom he often tells us, with long beards, whiter than snow, slowly moving forward through the woods, towards a temple whiter than the purest Parian marble.*
After some reflections upon this inclination to leave the existing world, and upon the evils resulting from it, Bossuet said, "It is to this, that we may attribute those sermons consisting of descriptive portraits. Perhaps this astonishes you; you are about to assert that these portraits, on the contrary, are only made to show the world as it is. This is truly the object of the preacherbut does he attain this object? Confess that he does so but rarely. Once having taken up this style the orator is scarcely master of his tongue. His imagination is excited; one idea summons another; one trait follows another; one fancy is heaped on the other; he ends by painting vices twenty times blacker than they are, and virtues twenty times more brilliant than those of the greatest saints, and the inevitable result of this unlucky display of energy is, that the hearer listens without hearing, admires without believing, hears evil spoken of without imagining that he can have committed it, and good, without having the idea enter h's mind that so dazzling a picture can be meant for realization in this world. You have often felt this, I suppose?" * Sainte Beuve.-Critiques et Portraits.
"Too often.-I will even confess to my shame, that this sort of sermon, has, until now, never displeased me as much as it should have done; if there is some mind and imagination in the deline'ations,-I allow myself to be carried away like others, by the pleasure of watching the painter."
"This delineation of portraits," resumed Bossuet, "is the best method of talking without saying anything,—of interesting without good results. This style has still another disadvantage; it leads the preacher to isolate himself from his audience. It is no longer a friend, a brother, come to edify himself as well as you,— to accuse himself, and take comfort himself together with you; but a judge, who summons you before him; a pitiless critic, seemingly more anxious to fill his discourse with your imperfections, than to fill your souls from the word of God. Separated from you himself, he separates you also, the one from the others; in addressing himself successively to all the classes in which it has pleased him to group his hearers;-he calls them all separately to be judged and condemned, and it is fortunate if there do not remain many besides, who, not finding themselves included in any class, consequently retain all through the discourse, the posture of critics which he has been so imprudent as to give hem. If you would be truly useful, truly powerful in the pulpit, then must you never allow a portion of the audience to cross their arms, remaining spectators of the combat and jeering the vanquished; each one must feel himself included in the condemnations which you pronounce; the preacher must even show him self to be included in them."
"But that is not always possible," said Monsieur de Fénélon. "Would you wish him to take his part in the most disgraceful vices?"
"In the vices?—no; but in the principle of the vices. You are preaching, for instance, on calumny, must you go to work to avow