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When the death of Étienne Quatremère, in 1857, left the chair of Hebrew and its cognate languages in the College of France vacant, Renan aspired to its possession. He paid the customary visits to the professors of that institution, and announced his desire to become their colleague. By their suffrages and those of the members of the Academy of Inscriptions, he was designated to the Minister of Public Instruction as the most competent among the candidates for that position. This course is prescribed by custom for the appointment of professors in the College of France. It is usual for the gift of the position to immediately succeed the nomination. In this case the minister hesitated. Another person was temporarily charged with the duties of the chair, and the appointment was held under advisement. After four years' delay, the coveted position was conferred. The opening lecture was the occasion of a tempestuous scene. Popular feeling ran so high that the authorities suspended his lectures. Renan refused to resign, collected classes at his rooms, trained them carefully, and received the salary of professor. Other places were offered him instead of the one he held. These he firmly refused. The Government attempted various conciliatory measures, but, finding them all in vain, issued a decree, after long delay, that removed him from his chair. These events first drew general attention to Renan.

The publication of “The Life of Jesus” shortly after these transactions renewed his popularity, and secured him a careful hearing wherever the great critical problems of Christianity are discussed. This work was read as no other Life of Jesus ever was read. A storm of review articles, pamphlets, and formal refutations followed. Men praised him, blamed him, mocked him, and abused him. Nearly all misconceived him. In all this tumult of empty words and misdirected declamation, Renan has maintained a noble attitude. With his trained and brilliant pen, recrimination would often have been easy, and retort natural and effective. Voltaire would never have missed such a chance for a showy though transient victory. Renan has not broken silence in reply. His moderation has not been free from a touch of disdain ; he takes pains to let the world know that those who triumph over him so easily, do so because he permits their exultation.

Ernest Renan was born, in 1823, at Tréguier, in BasseBretagne. The region of Brittany is the seat, in France, of that Celtic race whose good qualities and defects he has celebrated in more than one passage of royal splendor. We may find our advantage in comparing Renan with his kinsmen in race, and especially with Châteaubriand and Lamennais. How earnest all these men are! Whether Châteaubriand tremble on the verge of Atheism or sob before the Cross--whether Lamennais preach reform in the church or vent his skepticism in conversation whether Renan study for the priesthood or write “ The Life of Jesus”—what hauteur in them all! You light on the same self-sufficiency, loftiness, inflexibility in their bearing. Note how natural disdain is to these kinsmen in flesh and soul.

Renan was the child of a sea-faring family. He was their latest born; twelve years younger than the next preceding child, that beloved sister whom he lost at ancient Byblos. He was left mainly to the care and companionship of his mother and sister in early life. His education was conducted till his sixteenth year in a seminary, near their home, under ecclesiastical direction. The instructors were country priests of grave manners and solid learning. Such success crowned these early studies that high expectations were awakened. He was sent to Paris to reside in a little seminary under the care of Abbé (now Archbishop) Dupanloup. The Abbé belonged to the liberal wing of French Catholicism. This party seeks to combine literature, science, political freedom, and earnest piety. To it adhered, among others, Gratry, Montalembert, and Lacordaire. Its choice spirits frequently met in the drawing-room of the well-known Madame Swetchine. There conversation had free play; though the existence of a private chapel in the house, and serious efforts for the conversion of its unbelieving frequenters, imposed an unwelcome restraint even on so tolerant a visitor as Sainte-Beuve. It is easy to conceive that, in a seminary guided by priests of such tendencies, the youthful Renan found himself in a new atmosphere. He felt the change without precisely realizing its nature.

But sixteen on coming to Paris, his hour had not yet struck. In this seminary he passed three calm and studious years; thence he was transferred to Saint-Sulpice, to pursue his philosophical studies, for two years, in the establishment at Issy.


Surrounded by learned and original men, his own free, intellectual development now took its rise. At Issy he began to indulge a strong taste for natural science; hence sprang his earliest doubts on theological questions. They were too superficial to occasion him much trouble. Closing his philosophical studies, he was transferred to the seminary at Paris for his theological training. Put to the study of the old theology of Saint-Thomas," rehandled and triturated by thirty Sorbonnic generations,” his critical sense roused up and took alarm. The questions, objections, and answers coldly flung at him from the professor's chair awakened an intellectual revolt. But he continued his Hebrew studies under M. Lehir with profit, and permission was given him, as a special favor, to attend the lectures of Quatremère, the Hebraist, in the College of France. Going and coming, he heard much that was strange to himportentous echoes from the outer world. He was, meantime, studying German authors. These opened a new and astonish- . ing world to his view: especially Herder attracted and influenced him. Thus two years of theological study passed away; then arose another very practical question. Delay with the answer was not possible much longer; it haunted his studious hours, and meddled with all his plans for the future. He must find a yea or nay for the question, Will Monsieur Renan become a priest? Just before the third and last year of his theologic training, after much dubitation, he said, No! This resolution was communicated to his superiors. They sent him to live at College Stanislas, with Père Gratry: the learning and instructions of that amiable priest produced no effect on the resolute youth; every real bond between himself and the Church was now sundered. He took lodgings in the quarter of Sainte-Jacques, and set up as private tutor. His beloved sister hastened to Paris to spare him all temporal anxieties.

Sainte-Beuve, from whom we derive these details, and who drew them directly from Renan, dwells with pleasure on this event: The character of this intellectual emancipation, he says, deserves

, , to be well understood and defined. In one sense, there was no struggle, tempest, or laceration : for him there was no solemn day, hour, or moment when the vail of the temple was rent before his eyes : it was no counterpart of Saint Paul, who was cast down, overturned on the way to Damascus, and at the same stroke con

verted. Philosophy did not appear to him some fine morning or evening like an armed Minerva; she did not announce herself with a burst of thunder as came to pass, we fancy, with Lamennais, and perhaps with Jouffroy. He underwent no battle-sweat, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, nor any solitary watch of agony. There was nothing like that. If there was laceration it was of another kind—in personal relations. Doubtless it was painful and sorrowful to him to separate from respectable men with whom he was connected by affectionate and grateful feelings; he suffered from having to announce an irrevocable, and, to them, afflictive resolution. He was timid, shy in manner. The man whom we hear to-day expressing himself with such firmness, vigor, and neatness, never hesitating in the shade of his expressions, then had much hesitation in form, much modesty to surmount. And then, his Breton heart was tender, and could not remain entirely insensible to this slowly-produced but decisive and returnless divorce from the vanishing creed of his cradle and youth. It cost him much to separate from things as well as from men. But, this once over, he had nothing more to do in his intellectual life but grow and ripen; he had passed through, not a revolution, but an evolution. The modern scientific spirit had gradually seized and gained him, like light that rises along the horizon and without delay fills

up the void.

It is almost worth conversion, or emancipation, to have it painted by a hand like that! What serenity of mind in this change that sets in calm and fatal as sunrise in its apparition ! What exquisite delicacy of feeling in Renan toward the respectable men from whom he breaks, nay, turns slowly, lingeringly away! The sweet and solemn majesty of Truth alone beckons him on in his inevitable career. A thousand pities that SainteBeuve--he who has so skillfully turned the soul of Châteaubriand inside out for our inspection—did not think best to give us more details on this interesting theme! There are certain terms which Sainte-Benve employs in this description which we should gladly see, not explained, for we understand them well enough, but shown to be just in their application. The divorce from Christian faith was “fatal, returnless, ar evolution.” The expression is not accidental. In sever places Renan speaks of his present views as the fatal result his intellectual progress. He tells us that those who hay grown up to these views will adopt them, and that really i others can.

1 If any body comes to our principles, it will be because he hi the turn of mind and the education needful for reaching then


our best efforts will not give this education and turn of mind to those who do not possess them.

In his very just appreciation of Lamennais he says : He seems to have abandoned Catholicism rather on the ground of personal grievances than through the fatal progress of his mind; study then revealed to him scientific reasons for the step he had taken under the impulse of passion.

In another passage, still speaking of Lamennais, these words occur :

If, instead of forsaking Christianity for reasons in which the share of policy and passion was greater than that of cold reason, he had forsaken it by the royal path of history and criticism, perhaps he would have preserved his peace.

It cannot be doubted that Renan, as he penned these lines, mentally opposed his own abandonment of Christianity, as a model in that kind, to the faulty and not completely sincere proceeding of Lamennais. Sainte-Beuve confirms this conclusion when he writes :

In a word, Renan, passing from dogma to science, presents the most notable contrast with Lamennais: he is a young, gradual, seasonably enlightened Lamennais, without tempest or hurricane ; a progressive and not a volcanic Lamennais. His gravity, his dignity, and, I may say, his intellectual movement, experienced no disturbance or derangement from a sincere, natural change, appearing in its due season, according to the course of things, by virtue of a generous and necessary crisis.

We come at every turn upon the same assertion, under different forms, of the absolute necessity of this change in Renan's opinions. No objection need be made to the correctness and sincerity of such statements. The only complaint to be offered turns on another matter. In an article on Châteaubriand's Life of Rancé, the celebrated founder of La Trappe, SainteBeuve recounts that once, in his dissipated youth, Rancé barely escaped death from an assassin's bullet. Then he comments on Rancé's exclamation, “What would have become of me had God this moment called me away!” in the following terms:

Thus in those days, happier in that respect than ours, there was faith even in dissipated souls, in the depth of their wantonness; whatever the surface and the heaving waves might be, deep below there was faith. . . To-day, almost every-where, even where there

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