Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/855

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833
ERNEST RENAN.

philosophy served to re-enforce the doubts inspired by historical and linguistic criticism as to the infallibility of the Church and the Scriptures, and the teaching which makes the Christian revelation the central fact of history and the explanation of the universe. It was a heart-breaking process, since it was to carry disappointment and dismay, not only to the teachers he venerated but to a mother whom he tenderly loved; but he did not hesitate for a moment to take the step imposed upon him by honesty and conscience. He left the peaceful asylum which had held out to him the promise of an assured future, for the hard life of an assistant schoolmaster in the Quartier Latin, and began, at twenty-two, to prepare for the examinations necessary to his entering on the career of a professor. At this difficult juncture his sister came to his aid. Her own thoughts and her own studies had already brought her to the same negative views with regard to the Catholic religion, though she had steadily avoided unsettling her brother's mind with her doubts; and when he opened his heart to her, and told her his reasons for quitting the seminary and renouncing the priesthood, she received the news with joy, and sent him her savings—some twelve hundred francs—to help him over his first difficulties.

But he had no need to exhaust this reserve fund. With his extraordinary powers and the knowledge he had already acquired, he soon made himself an independent position, and henceforth he went on from one success to another. The record of his achievements during the five years which followed his withdrawal from Saint Sulpice (1846-1850) is simply astounding. He passed through all his university degrees, from the B. A. to the "agrégation" in philosophy, where he took a first in 1848; he took the Volney prize the same year at the Académie des Inscriptions for an important work on the general history and comparative grammar of the Semitic languages, and another prize two years later for an essay on the study of Greek in the middle ages; he made a tour of research among the Italian libraries, whence he brought back his thèse de doctorat—a book on Averrhoes and Averrhoism, which contains an admirable history of the introduction of Greek philosophy into the West by the Arabs; and at the same time he published an essay on the origin of language, and composed a considerable work on the Future of Science, which was not published till 1890.

This book, written in the space of a few months by a young man of twenty-five, already embodies all the ideas on life and the world which he elaborated in detail in his later writings; but they are here affirmed in a tone of enthusiastic conviction which became more and more modified as he went on, though the basis of his teaching remained unchanged. He hails the dawn of a new

vol. xlii.—57