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Thomas Allies
Journal in France in 1845 and 1848 with Letters from Italy in 1847


We found l'Abbé Ratisbonne at home, and had a long talk with him. I mentioned to him the objectionable words addressed to the Blessed Virgin, which I had seen at Montmartre and in the little book; he made the usual excuse that such things are not done by authority, and also that the French language was weak, and so, in expressing heavenly affections, it might so happen that they used words which, in strictness of speech, were too strong, but the conventional use of which formed their exculpation. Thus it was common to say of a very fine picture, 'quel adorable tableau,' and so the word 'infiniment;' but these applied to the Blessed Virgin in strictness of speech become objectionable. Much therefore must be allowed to the weakness and indistinctness of human language, on the one hand, and to the fervour of filial love longing to pour itself forth, on the other. 'We are children of God,' he said; 'we speak to him as children, not as wise men; we ask the indulgence given to infants.' And so again, as respects the Blessed Virgin. He said he had been converted from Judaism at twenty-three, had seen much of Protestants before that time, but their prayers and their whole style of thinking had disgusted him; he had never been at all drawn to them. He had been a priest ten years, and was now forty-two. We had much talk on the Anglo-Roman controversy. I said, we thought ourselves Catholics already, that we had been born and bred in the English Church, which was to us the portal of that great building of the Catholic Church. He approved of that metaphor, which served to give him a better notion of our position than anything else we said, though, like every other Roman Catholic, he could not admit for a moment that we were in the Church. He said, a Protestant minister, an optician, had expressed to him his belief in the efficacy of prayers for the dead, which appeared to him under this image: it was as if a number of figures were thrown into the shade, out of the sun's rays; while between them and the sun are other figures who enjoy his full light: these, like certain glasses, reflect that light upon the figures in the shade. Thus it is that the prayers of the blessed especially succour the faithful dead. He had often used this image in sermons. I pressed him with the existence of the Greek Church, on the one hand, and the acknowledged developement of Papal power, on the other; but no Roman Catholic ever hesitates to excommunicate individual or church which is not de facto united to the Roman See; unity with them is indeed a first principle – a sublime and true belief in itself, though perhaps certain facts may modify the application of it. He said he had thought continually of us since our visit, and had the greatest esteem for us, that he had prayed for us daily, as he did for England; that fair England, if she could be again, as she once was, the Island of Saints – what a means for the conversion of others! At our parting, he begged our prayers for himself. I said, if I came again to Paris, I should hope to be allowed to see him again. Our conversation was so disjointed that I can remember but little of it, but it turned on the offences which alienated us from them. He denied repeatedly the thought of adoring the Blessed Virgin. He had moved his lodgings to the Rue du Regard, 14., in order to overlook a house and garden opposite, in which were lodged a female community of converts from Judaism, over whom he watched. The Supérieure was with him when we came. He spoke of our silence as to the Blessed Virgin and all saints; that we made a wall of separation between them and us, whereas the whole Church was one, vividly affected with the joys and sorrows of its several members. M. tried to show that, in the present state of things, silence might conceal very deep and reverential feelings. He seemed not to think this satisfactory, and in truth it applies only partially.

We went to the Pantheon; its interior has the coldness and deadness which naturally belongs to the tombs of those who die without the Christian's hope. It looks exactly what it is, – the shrine of human ambition – a vast coffin holding a skeleton. If it were made a church hereafter, as surely it must be, it might be made to equal the Madeleine in magnificence. We mounted and enjoyed the fine view: there is a triple dome, – sufficiently bungling, I think.

We called in at Toulouse's, and while there he discovered that I was not a Roman Catholic; whereupon he began to persuade me, with the most affectionate solicitude, that I was in a self-evidently wrong position. He asked how I justified the schism. 'I don't understand,' he said, 'how you could be Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman one day, and wake the next and find yourselves Catholic, Apostolic, and not Roman.' I answered that we had indubitably the ancient succession; that the evil passions of men on the one hand, and the extravagant claims of the Papacy on the other, had caused the separation, which I deplored. But still I hoped, that, though in an anomalous state, we had what was strictly necessary to the essence of a Church. I mentioned, too, the position of the whole Eastern Church. I showed him the dangerous and extravagant language used towards the Blessed Virgin in the Psaltery of St. Bonaventure: he could not answer that, and reserved it to show to a priest; but he maintained that the work was St. Bonaventure's. I said, 'All that St. Gregory the Great, who sent St. Augustine into England, claimed for himself; all that St. Leo demanded, or that St. Athanasius and St. Basil granted to the Holy See, I am ready to give.' He finished with expressions of kind concern for us.

Friday, July 18. – Went to M. Bonnetty, who, with M. D'Alzon, took us to the Hôtel de Cluny: it is full of curious objects of the Middle Ages. I remarked one exquisite bit of glass – a pretty chapel – the remains of the Roman baths. There was something in the air of to-day which inspired me with such lassitude that I could hardly drag myself about, so we did very little. After dinner we looked into La Madeleine and went on to Bishop Luscombe's, where we took tea.

Saturday, July 19. – A little better to-day. At La Madeleine during part of a Low Mass; my admiration for this building increases greatly; it produces much the same effect as St. Peter's, deceiving the eye by its great proportions. We spent a couple of hours in the boundless galleries of the Louvre. The long gallery contains few pictures that I should much desire to possess: save in the last compartment, and the first room, and none certainly interest me more than that great picture of the battle of Eylau. Thence we went to M. L'Abbé Gaduel, 1. Rue Madame, who took us to the Maison de Campagne of S. Sulpice, at Issy. It is an old royal chateau, much dilapidated, for the good seminarists do not pretend to much comfort in their house; it would seem as if they intended their discipline to serve as a winnowing fan for all light and worldly spirits. They have, however, spacious gardens behind. We were shown a summer house in which Bossuet and Fénélon held a long conference on the subject in dispute between them, and agreed on statements together, which are put up in the room, though the interest of the latter is much gone by in the totally different state of things at present. Eighty young men study philosophy here. We saw and talked some little time with M. Faillon, the Supérieur, a man of learning. M. Galais was out, and we only met him returning on his way from Paris on foot. Coming home we went into the Maison des Carmes, now in repair. M. Gaduel took us into the passage out of which the priests, after stating to the authority the act of their death, were led forward down three steps into the garden, at the bottom of which the assassins fell upon them and murdered them. No spot in Paris touched me more than this. There is what appears to be the marks of a bloody hand in the passage still; but there is no other record of that ruthless deed. The church has nothing remarkable about it: but what devoted heroism on the one side, and what infernal madness on the other, have this house and garden witnessed! How many martyrs here won their crown. Truly it is holy ground, and the blood there shed is yielding a rich harvest of Christian grace in the Church which has sprung up out of its ashes with the strength of a young eagle. In the evening we went to the assemblée générale of S. Vincent de Paul, 2. Rue neuve Notre Dame, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Chalcedoine. The president gave in a long speech an account of their doings; but he was old, had lost his teeth, and dropped his voice, so that we lost very much of it.

"The beginning of his speech was about S. Vincent de Paul himself. The society had just come into possession of some relics of him, and especially a letter in his own handwriting, containing some counsels of charity. For some reason or other he was not able to produce the letter this evening; I should have liked to hear it, for his words are worth gathering up. He also said that he had been to see his birth-place; and that the house he was born in had been removed stone by stone, and a chapel put in its place. The village had lost its old name, and taken his; an old oak, known in his history, where he kept pigs for his father, was still alive, and came out in leaf before the other trees. The president cautioned them against any departure from their rules; against admitting members who were only 'braves hommes,' without being religious; against attempting to bring in secondary motives to induce the members of any 'conférence' to work; against reserving their money for their own districts, instead of putting it into the common fund of the conférence: against a slight and lazy way of visiting the poor, a 'visite de corridor,' as he called it, instead of a 'visite assise.' He said they ought to sit down and talk familiarly, and take the little dirty children by the hand, &c. &c. Finally, a good many of them being students, he gave them some advice about young students recommended to them from the country, especially to take care that they were sent straight to them, and not left first to get into bad company. He described how some friend in one of the provinces sends you a note by some youth whom he describes as a 'petit ange,' and who, after six weeks' residence in Paris, comes and brings you his note, his eye already tarnished, his manner bold and loose, 'un ange déchu.'" – M.

There were present full two hundred, chiefly young men, in a little amphitheatre. It was commenced and ended with prayer, which claimed the intercession of S. Vincent. This is his fête day. They mentioned four branch societies established at Manchester, Liverpool, Dublin, and Edinburgh.

Sunday, July 20. – I gave up the attempt to go to Bishop Luscombe's Chapel, as there was no communion. Heard High Mass at La Madeleine. The music very good, and the dresses splendid; not more than an hour. At two o'clock went to Vespers there: there was chanting of Psalms, an hour, and then a long sermon, more than an hour, on the virtues of S. Vincent de Paul. The preacher used a great deal of action, and gave me the idea of having very much got up his discourse, which was confirmed by seeing him in the evening at Notre Dame des Victoires, where we heard the commencement of the same sermon, but did not stop. The subject of it seems to have been a very great and good man; the sermon was a sort of abstract, I believe, of the Saint's life by the Bishop of Rodez. There was a passionate address to the Saint in the middle, with eyes uplifted to heaven. A great many people, chiefly women; many ladies, – but I do not think it was a favourite preacher. We gave up the conférence of S. Francis Xavier at S. Sulpice, having so much to do to-morrow, though much to our regret; but late hours and great exertions here have tried us both, and we shall be very glad of a change.

We walked through the Tuileries just before dark; a great multitude of citizens.

Monday, July 21. – We were occupied all the morning in packing up and calling on MM. D'Alzon, Bonnetty, and Noirlieu – the latter out. We left Paris a quarter past six, on a very fine pleasant evening. Having the two first places in the malle poste, we enjoyed the drive very much as long as it was light – we reached Reims in eleven hours, a quarter after five, without much fatigue. I slept at intervals, and when I awoke admired the brilliant moonlight, Venus, and Jupiter, through one or two forests, or at least woods, which we passed. The road generally very flat, with these exceptions. Our companion was a gentlemanly Frenchman, with whom I had much conversation. He seemed to be much attached to the present Royal Family, whom he spoke of as acquainted with them, and maintained that the King was a religious man – that he heard Mass daily; the Queen was a model of piety. He thought their dynasty would stand; and not the least, because they would never submit to be exiles; they would either keep the throne, or die for it. The great mistake of Charles X. was quitting France; if you go away everyone is against you; if you stay, a party is sure to rally round you. He seemed to think the issue might have been different had Charles X. remained. But there was no chance of a restoration now; the great mass of the country was satisfied. He spoke well of the Duc de Nemours, still more highly of the Duc d'Orléans, and said the Comte de Paris was a very promising boy. He regretted the want of an hereditary peerage in France, and the little independence that body possessed in consequence. I remarked the smallness of fortunes: that 60,000 francs a year were thought a good fortune for a peer. He said not fifty peers of France possessed that; many could not keep their carriage. Spoke of the clergy as not high enough in point of acquirements – he did not say their discipline or piety was defective, but that they were not a match in information, ability, and powers of mind, for those opposed to them. Wished the higher classes would send their sons into orders, – a Royal Prince, for instance, would be a good example. The tax on land in France is nearly one-fifth of the produce; very heavy; 200l. a year in land a deputy's qualification. Soon after getting to our inn, which was right opposite the west front of the Cathedral, we attended a Low Mass, and at eight o'clock a chanted Mass: it was a Mass for the dead. The outside of Reims is all that can be conceived of beauty, grandeur, unity of conception, delicacy and boldness of execution; and this, though the one great design of the architect has not been completed, for the four towers of the transepts have had no spires since the great fire of 1491; and the western towers are also without theirs, and so end incompletely, the eye positively requiring them. The design of these towers is very singular; and the skill with which a strength sufficient to support spires 400 feet high is veiled, so as to make the towers appear quite pierced and open, seems to me one of the greatest marvels of architecture. The prototype exists in the four towers of Laon, which have the same design in embryo; but this is so enriched, expanded, and beautified by the architect of Reims, as to become his own work in point of originality, and certainly in grace and boldness not to be surpassed. The superiority of the western front, even over that of Amiens, is very marked – indeed, I think it perfect; and the whole of the rest of the outside of the church reaches nearly the same degree. No words can convey any notion of it. The north-west tower was half covered with scaffolding; for here, as every where, great reparations are going on. To the interior I do not give quite so much praise, though it is still of exceeding grandeur, simplicity, and beauty: perhaps, were all its windows like those of the clerestory, the effect might equal or surpass that of Chartres. The west end is, I think, the finest which I know, bearing in mind Amiens and St. Ouen; in addition to a rose window of exceeding brilliancy, and colouring inexpressible, which, forty feet in diameter, crowns the top, there is a smaller one over the doorway, answering to the deep recess of that matchless portal outside. This is a feature of great beauty, though the glass is far from equalling that of the upper rose. There is happily no organ here, but at the end of the north transept, where it has not quite so much to spoil. The transept is inferior to the rest of the church in style. It was restored after the great fire in 1491; and this part of the church, with the whole of the choir and arrangements of the eastern chapels, struck me as decidedly inferior to Amiens. There is not, indeed, generally the same impression of vastness and wondrous height produced on the mind. The pillars are cylinders with four columns at the corners, like Amiens, very simple and severe; but the strength is not quite enough veiled. We went all round the galleries inside and outside, up the centre belfry, which rises ninety-two steps over the top of the vaulting, with an interval of about ten feet besides. It is a forest of wood, and had once a spire of wood, which since the fire has not been restored; this and the six towers have been covered 'provisoirement en ardoises,' as the guide told us, 'mais ce provisoirement a duré long temps;' indeed, from 1491 to our time, without much chance of being improved. We went up the great towers, and could hardly admire enough the delicacy and boldness of the four corner turrets in open work. The present towers are 240 or 250 feet high; they would, I think, equal or surpass Strasburg and Antwerp, had they spires. The immense quantity of sculpture all over this exterior cannot be conceived, nor the ingenuity with which it is made to serve for decoration. A day is far too short a time to carry off the impression of it. The mind is fatigued and exhausted during many a visit, and is not at ease till it has sufficiently mastered the whole, in order to fix itself for admiration and contemplation on some particular part. It would be a week's good work to see it, and it should be visited once a year by all those who talk of the darkness of the Middle Ages, and the greatness of the nineteenth century, which is sorely taxed to keep in repair what they constructed, and has not sufficient piety to restore a part where the architect's design has been left incomplete. Such parts remain, like the window of Aladdin's palace, to show that a materialising philosophy, with all its improved physical powers, remains at immeasurable distance behind the efforts of faith and piety. M. Cousin should be sent to study truth on his knees in Notre Dame of Amiens, or of Reims.


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