Confessions (Rousseau)/Book II
The moment in which fear had instigated my flight, did not seem more terrible than that wherein I put my design in execution appeared delightful. To leave my relations, my resources, while yet a child, in the midst of my apprenticeship, before I had learned enough of my business to obtain a subsistence; to run on inevitable misery and danger: to expose myself in that age of weakness and innocence to all the temptations of vice and despair; to set out in search of errors, misfortunes, snares, slavery, and death; to endure more intolerable evils than those I meant to shun, was the picture I should have drawn, the natural consequence of my hazardous enterprise. How different was the idea I entertained of it!--The independence I seemed to possess was the sole object of my contemplation; having obtained my liberty, I thought everything attainable: I entered with confidence on the vast theatre of the world, which my merit was to captivate: at every step I expected to find amusements, treasures, and adventures; friends ready to serve, and mistresses eager to please me; I had but to show myself, and the whole universe would be interested in my concerns; not but I could have been content with something less; a charming society, with sufficient means, might have satisfied me. My moderation was such, that the sphere in which I proposed to shine was rather circumscribed, but then it was to possess the very quintessence of enjoyment, and myself the principal object. A single castle, for instance, might have bounded my ambition; could I have been the favorite of the lord and lady, the daughter's lover, the son's friend, and protector of the neighbors, I might have been tolerably content, and sought no further.
In expectation of this modest fortune, I passed a few days in the environs of the city, with some country people of my acquaintance, who received me with more kindness than I should have met with in town; they welcomed, lodged, and fed me cheerfully; I could be said to live on charity, these favors were not conferred with a sufficient appearance of superiority to furnish out the idea.
I rambled about in this manner till I got to Confignon, in Savoy, at about two leagues distance from Geneva. The vicar was called M. de Pontverre; this name, so famous in the history of the Republic, caught my attention; I was curious to see what appearance the descendants of the gentlemen of the spoon exhibited; I went, therefore, to visit this M. de Pontverre, and was received with great civility.
He spoke of the heresy of Geneva, declaimed on the authority of holy mother church, and then invited me to dinner. I had little to object to arguments which had so desirable a conclusion, and was inclined to believe that priests, who gave such excellent dinners, might be as good as our ministers. Notwithstanding M. de Pontverre's pedigree, I certainly possessed most learning; but I rather sought to be a good companion than an expert theologian; and his Frangi wine, which I thought delicious, argued so powerfully on his side, that I should have blushed at silencing so kind a host; I, therefore, yielded him the victory, or rather declined the contest. Any one who had observed my precaution, would certainly have pronounced me a dissembler, though, in fact, I was only courteous.
Flattery, or rather condescension, is not always a vice in young people; 'tis oftener a virtue. When treated with kindness, it is natural to feel an attachment for the person who confers the obligation; we do not acquiesce because we wish to deceive, but from dread of giving uneasiness, or because we wish to avoid the ingratitude of rendering evil for good. What interest had M. de Pontverre in entertaining, treating with respect, and endeavoring to convince me? None but mine; my young heart told me this, and I was penetrated with gratitude and respect for the generous priest; I was sensible of my superiority, but scorned to repay his hospitality by taking advantage of it. I had no conception of hypocrisy in this forbearance, or thought of changing my religion, nay, so far was the idea from being familiar to me, that I looked on it with a degree of horror which seemed to exclude the possibility of such an event; I only wished to avoid giving offence to those I was sensible caressed me from that motive; I wished to cultivate their good opinion, and meantime leave them the hope of success by seeming less on my guard than I really was. My conduct in this particular resembled the coquetry of some very honest women, who, to obtain their wishes, without permitting or promising anything, sometimes encourage hopes they never mean to realize.
Reason, piety, and love of order, certainly demanded that instead of being encouraged in my folly, I should have been dissuaded from the ruin I was courting, and sent back to my family; and this conduct any one that was actuated by genuine virtue would have pursued; but it should be observed that though M. de Pontverre was a religious man, he was not a virtuous one, but a bigot, who knew no virtue except worshipping images and telling his beads, in a word, a kind of missionary, who thought the height of merit consisted in writing libels against the ministers of Geneva. Far from wishing to send me back, he endeavored to favor my escape, and put it out of my power to return even had I been so disposed. It was a thousand to one but he was sending me to perish with hunger, or become a villain; but all this was foreign to his purpose; he saw a soul snatched from heresy, and restored to the bosom of the church: whether I was an honest man or a knave was very immaterial, provided I went to mass.
This ridiculous mode of thinking is not peculiar to Catholics; it is the voice of every dogmatical persuasion where merit consists in belief, and not in virtue.
"You are called by the Almighty," said M. de Pontverre; "go to Annecy, where you will find a good and charitable lady, whom the bounty of the king enables to turn souls from those errors she has happily renounced." He spoke of a Madam de Warrens, a new convert, to whom the priests contrived to send those wretches who were disposed to sell their faith, and with these she was in a manner constrained to share a pension of two thousand francs bestowed on her by the King of Sardinia. I felt myself extremely humiliated at being supposed to want the assistance of a good and charitable lady. I had no objection to be accommodated with everything I stood in need of, but did not wish to receive it on the footing of charity and to owe this obligation to a devotee was still worse; notwithstanding my scruples the persuasions of M. de Pontverre, the dread of perishing with hunger, the pleasures I promised myself from the journey, and hope of obtaining some desirable situation, determined me; and I set out though reluctantly, for Annecy. I could easily have reached it in a day, but being in no great haste to arrive there, it took me three. My head was filled with the ideas of adventures, and I approached every country-seat I saw in my way, in expectation of having them realized. I had too much timidity to knock at the doors, or even enter if I saw them open, but I did what I dared--which was to sing under those windows that I thought had the most favorable appearance; and was very much disconcerted to find I wasted my breath to no purpose, and that neither old nor young ladies were attracted by the melody of my voice, or the wit of my poetry, though some songs my companions had taught me I thought excellent and that I sung them incomparably. At length I arrived at Annecy, and saw Madam de Warrens.
As this period of my life, in a great measure, determined my character, I could not resolve to pass it lightly over. I was in the middle of my sixteenth year, and though I could not be called handsome, was well made for my height; I had a good foot, a well turned leg, and animated countenance; a well proportioned mouth, black hair and eyebrows, and my eyes, though small and rather too far in my head, sparkling with vivacity, darted that innate fire which inflamed my blood; unfortunately for me, I knew nothing of all this, never having bestowed a single thought on my person till it was too late to be of any service to me. The timidity common to my age was heightened by a natural benevolence, which made me dread the idea of giving pain. Though my mind had received some cultivation, having seen nothing of the world, I was an absolute stranger to polite address, and my mental acquisitions, so far from supplying this defect, only served to increase my embarrassment, by making me sensible of every deficiency.
Depending little, therefore, on external appearances, I had recourse to other expedients: I wrote a most elaborate letter, where, mingling all the flowers of rhetoric which I had borrowed from books with the phrases of an apprentice, I endeavored to strike the attention, and insure the good will of Madam de Warrens. I enclosed M. de Pontverre's letter in my own and waited on the lady with a heart palpitating with fear and expectation. It was Palm Sunday, of the year 1728; I was informed she was that moment gone to church; I hasten after her, overtake, and speak to her.--The place is yet fresh in my memory--how can it be otherwise? often have I moistened it with my tears and covered it with kisses.--Why cannot I enclose with gold the happy spot, and render it the object of universal veneration? Whoever wishes to honor monuments of human salvation would only approach it on their knees.
It was a passage at the back of the house, bordered on the left hand by a little rivulet, which separated it from the garden, and, on the right, by the court yard wall; at the end was a private door which opened into the church of the Cordeliers. Madam de Warrens was just passing this door; but on hearing my voice, instantly turned about. What an effect did the sight of her produce! I expected to see a devout, forbidding old woman; M. de Pontverre's pious and worthy lady could be no other in my conception; instead of which, I see a face beaming with charms, fine blue eyes full of sweetness, a complexion whose whiteness dazzled the sight, the form of an enchanting neck, nothing escaped the eager eye of the young proselyte; for that instant I was hers!--a religion preached by such missionaries must lead to paradise!
My letter was presented with a trembling hand; she took it with a smile --opened it, glanced an eye over M. de Pontverre's and again returned to mine, which she read through and would have read again, had not the footman that instant informed her that service was beginning--"Child," said she, in a tone of voice which made every nerve vibrate, "you are wandering about at an early age--it is really a pity!"--and without waiting for an answer, added--"Go to my house, bid them give you something for breakfast, after mass, I will speak to you."
Louisa--Eleanora de Warrens was of the noble and ancient family of La Tour de Pit, of Vevay, a city in the country of the Vaudois. She was married very young to a M. de Warrens, of the house of Loys, eldest son of M. de Villardin, of Lausanne; there were no children by this marriage, which was far from being a happy one. Some domestic uneasiness made Madam de Warrens take the resolution of crossing the Lake, and throwing herself at the feet of Victor Amadeus, who was then at Evian; thus abandoning her husband, family, and country by a giddiness similar to mine, which precipitation she, too, has found sufficient time and reason to lament.
The king, who was fond of appearing a zealous promoter of the Catholic faith, took her under his protection, and complimented her with a pension of fifteen hundred livres of Piedmont, which was a considerable appointment for a prince who never had the character of being generous; but finding his liberality made some conjecture he had an affection for the lady, he sent her to Annecy escorted by a detachment of his guards, where, under the direction of Michael Gabriel de Bernex, titular bishop of Geneva, she abjured her former religion at the Convent of the Visitation.
I came to Annecy just six years after this event; Madam de Warrens was then eight--and--twenty, being born with the century. Her beauty, consisting more in the expressive animation of the countenance, than a set of features, was in its meridian; her manner soothing and tender; an angelic smile played about her mouth, which was small and delicate; she wore her hair (which was of an ash color, and uncommonly beautiful) with an air of negligence that made her appear still more interesting; she was short, and rather thick for her height, though by no means disagreeably so; but there could not be a more lovely face, a finer neck, or hands and arms more exquisitely formed.
Her education had been derived from such a variety of sources, that it formed an extraordinary assemblage. Like me, she had lost her mother at her birth, and had received instruction as it chanced to present itself; she had learned something of her governess, something of her father, a little of her masters, but copiously from her lovers; particularly a M. de Tavel, who, possessing both taste and information, endeavored to adorn with them the mind of her he loved. These various instructions, not being properly arranged, tended to impede each other, and she did not acquire that degree of improvement her natural good sense was capable of receiving; she knew something of philosophy and physic, but not enough to eradicate the fondness she had imbibed from her father for empiricism and alchemy; she made elixirs, tinctures, balsams, pretended to secrets, and prepared magestry; while quacks and pretenders, profiting by her weakness, destroyed her property among furnaces, drugs and minerals, diminishing those charms and accomplishments which might have been the delight of the most elegant circles. But though these interested wretches took advantage of her ill-applied education to obscure her natural good sense, her excellent heart retained its purity; her amiable mildness, sensibility for the unfortunate, inexhaustible bounty, and open, cheerful frankness, knew no variation; even at the approach of old age, when attacked by various calamities, rendered more cutting by indigence, the serenity of her disposition preserved to the end of her life the pleasing gayety of her happiest days.
Her errors proceeded from an inexhaustible fund of activity, which demanded perpetual employment. She found no satisfaction in the customary intrigues of her sex, but, being formed for vast designs, sought the direction of important enterprises and discoveries. In her place Madam de Longueville would have been a mere trifler, in Madam de Longueville's situation she would have governed the state. Her talents did not accord with her fortune; what would have gained her distinction in a more elevated sphere, became her ruin. In enterprises which suited her disposition, she arranged the plan in her imagination, which was ever carried of its utmost extent, and the means she employed being proportioned rather to her ideas than abilities, she failed by the mismanagement of those upon whom she depended, and was ruined where another would scarce have been a loser. This active disposition, which involved her in so many difficulties, was at least productive of one benefit as it prevented her from passing the remainder of her life in the monastic asylum she had chosen, which she had some thought of. The simple and uniform life of a nun, and the little cabals and gossipings of their parlor, were not adapted to a mind vigorous and active, which, every day forming new systems, had occasions for liberty to attempt their completion.
The good bishop of Bernex, with less wit than Francis of Sales, resembled him in many particulars, and Madam de Warrens, whom he loved to call his daughter, and who was like Madam de Chantel in several respects, might have increased the resemblance by retiring like her from the world, had she not been disgusted with the idle trifling of a convent. It was not want of zeal prevented this amiable woman from giving those proofs of devotion which might have been expected from a new convert, under the immediate direction of a prelate. Whatever might have influenced her to change her religion, she was certainly sincere in that she had embraced; she might find sufficient occasion to repent having abjured her former faith, but no inclination to return to it. She not only died a good Catholic, but truly lived one; nay, I dare affirm (and I think I have had the opportunity to read the secrets of her heart) that it was only her aversion to singularity that prevented her acting the devotee in public; in a word, her piety was too sincere to give way to any affectation of it. But this is not the place to enlarge on her principles: I shall find other occasions to speak of them.
Let those who deny the existence of a sympathy of souls, explain, if they know how, why the first glance, the first word of Madam de Warrens inspired me, not only with a lively attachment, but with the most unbounded confidence, which has since known no abatement. Say this was love (which will at least appear doubtful to those who read the sequel of our attachment) how could this passion be attended with sentiments which scarce ever accompany its commencement, such as peace, serenity, security, and confidence. How, when making application to an amiable and polished woman, whose situation in life was so superior to mine, so far above any I had yet approached, on whom, in a great measure, depended my future fortune by the degree of interest she might take in it; how, I say with so many reasons to depress me, did I feel myself as free, as much at my ease, as if I had been perfectly secure of pleasing her! Why did I not experience a moment of embarrassment, timidity or restraint? Naturally bashful, easily confused, having seen nothing of the world, could I, the first time, the first moment I beheld her, adopt caressing language, and a familiar tone, as readily as after ten years' intimacy had rendered these freedoms natural? Is it possible to possess love, I will not say without desires, for I certainly had them, but without inquietude, without jealousy? Can we avoid feeling an anxious wish at least to know whether our affection is returned? Yet such a question never entered my imagination; I should as soon have inquired, do I love myself; nor did she ever express a greater degree of curiosity; there was, certainly, something extraordinary in my attachment to this charming woman and it will be found in the sequel, that some extravagances, which cannot be foreseen, attended it.
What could be done for me, was the present question, and in order to discuss the point with greater freedom, she made me dine with her. This was the first meal in my life where I had experienced a want of appetite, and her woman, who waited, observed it was the first time she had seen a traveller of my age and appearance deficient in that particular: this remark, which did me no injury in the opinion of her mistress, fell hard on an overgrown clown, who was my fellow guest, and devoured sufficient to have served at least six moderate feeders. For me, I was too much charmed to think of eating; my heart began to imbibe a delicious sensation, which engrossed my whole being, and left no room for other objects.
Madam de Warrens wished to hear the particulars of my little history--all the vivacity I had lost during my servitude returned and assisted the recital. In proportion to the interest this excellent woman took in my story, did she lament the fate to which I had exposed myself; compassion was painted on her features, and expressed by every action. She could not exhort me to return to Geneva, being too well aware that her words and actions were strictly scrutinized, and that such advice would be thought high treason against Catholicism, but she spoke so feelingly of the affliction I must give her(my) father, that it was easy to perceive she would have approved my returning to console him. Alas! she little thought how powerfully this pleaded against herself; the more eloquently persuasive she appeared, the less could I resolve to tear myself from her. I knew that returning to Geneva would be putting an insuperable barrier between us, unless I repeated the expedient which had brought me here, and it was certainly better to preserve than expose myself to the danger of a relapse; besides all this, my conduct was predetermined, I was resolved not to return. Madam de Warrens, seeing her endeavors would be fruitless, became less explicit, and only added, with an air of commiseration, "Poor child! thou must go where Providence directs thee, but one day thou wilt think of me."--I believe she had no conception at that time how fatally her prediction would be verified.
The difficulty still remained how I was to gain a subsistence? I have already observed that I knew too little of engraving for that to furnish my resource, and had I been more expert, Savoy was too poor a country to give much encouragement to the arts. The above-mentioned glutton, who eat for us as well as himself, being obliged to pause in order to gain some relaxation from the fatigue of it, imparted a piece of advice, which, according to him, came express from Heaven; though to judge by its effects it appeared to have been dictated from a direct contrary quarter: this was that I should go to Turin, where, in a hospital instituted for the instruction of catechumens, I should find food, both spiritual and temporal, be reconciled to the bosom of the church, and meet with some charitable Christians, who would make it a point to procure me a situation that would turn to my advantage. "In regard to the expenses of the journey," continued our advisor, "his grace, my lord bishop, will not be backward, when once madam has proposed this holy work, to offer his charitable donation, and madam, the baroness, whose charity is so well known," once more addressing himself to the continuation of his meal, "will certainly contribute."
I was by no means pleased with all these charities; I said nothing, but my heart was ready to burst with vexation. Madam de Warrens, who did not seem to think so highly of this expedient as the projector pretended to do, contented herself by saying, everyone should endeavor to promote good actions, and that she would mention it to his lordship; but the meddling devil, who had some private interest in this affair, and questioned whether she would urge it to his satisfaction, took care to acquaint the almoners with my story, and so far influenced those good priests, that when Madam de Warrens, who disliked the journey on my account, mentioned it to the bishop, she found it so far concluded on, that he immediately put into her hands the money designed for my little viaticum. She dared not advance anything against it; I was approaching an age when a woman like her could not, with any propriety, appear anxious to retain me.
My departure being thus determined by those who undertook the management of my concerns, I had only to submit; and I did it without much repugnance. Though Turin was at a greater distance from Madam de Warrens than Geneva, yet being the capital of the country I was now in, it seemed to have more connection with Annecy than a city under a different government and of a contrary religion; besides, as I undertook this journey in obedience to her, I considered myself as living under her direction, which was more flattering than barely to continue in the neighborhood; to sum up all, the idea of a long journey coincided with my insurmountable passion for rambling, which already began to demonstrate itself. To pass the mountains, to my eye appeared delightful; how charming the reflection of elevating myself above my companions by the whole height of the Alps! To see the world is an almost irresistible temptation to a Genevan, accordingly I gave my consent.
He who suggested the journey was to set off in two days with his wife. I was recommended to their care; they were likewise made my purse --bearers, which had been augmented by Madam de Warrens, who, not contented with these kindnesses, added secretly a pecuniary reinforcement, attended with the most ample instructions, and we departed on the Wednesday before Easter.
The day following, my father arrived at Annecy, accompanied by his friend, a Mr. Rival, who was likewise a watchmaker; he was a man of sense and letters, who wrote better verses than La Motte, and spoke almost as well; what is still more to his praise, he was a man of the strictest integrity, but whose taste for literature only served to make one of his sons a comedian. Having traced me to the house of Madam de Warrens, they contented themselves with lamenting, like her, my fate, instead of overtaking me, which, (as they were on horseback and I on foot) they might have accomplished with the greatest ease.
My uncle Bernard did the same thing, he arrived at Consignon, received information that I was gone to Annecy, and immediately returned back to Geneva; thus my nearest relations seemed to have conspired with my adverse stars to consign me to misery and ruin. By a similar negligence, my brother was so entirely lost, that it was never known what was become of him.
My father was not only a man of honor but of the strictest probity, and endured with that magnanimity which frequently produces the most shining virtues: I may add, he was a good father, particularly to me whom he tenderly loved; but he likewise loved his pleasures, and since we had been separated other connections had weakened his paternal affections. He had married again at Nion, and though his second wife was too old to expect children, she had relations; my father was united to another family, surrounded by other objects, and a variety of cares prevented my returning to his remembrance. He was in the decline of life and had nothing to support the inconveniences of old age; my mother's property devolved to me and my brother, but, during our absence, the interest of it was enjoyed by my father: I do not mean to infer that this consideration had an immediate effect on his conduct, but it had an imperceptible one, and prevented him making use of that exertion to regain me which he would otherwise have employed; and this, I think, was the reason that having traced me as far as Annecy, he stopped short, without proceeding to Chambery, where he was almost certain I should be found; and likewise accounts why, on visiting him several times since my flight, he always received me with great kindness, but never made any efforts to retain me.
This conduct in a father, whose affection and virtue I was so well convinced of, has given birth to reflections on the regulation of my own conduct which have greatly contributed to preserve the integrity of my heart. It has taught me this great lesson of morality, perhaps the only one that can have any conspicuous influence on our actions, that we should ever carefully avoid putting our interests in competition with our duty, or promise ourselves felicity from the misfortunes of others; certain that in such circumstances, however sincere our love of virtue may be, sooner or later it will give way and we shall imperceptibly become unjust and wicked, in fact, however upright in our intentions.
This maxim, strongly imprinted on my mind, and reduced, though rather too late, to practice, has given my conduct an appearance of folly and whimsicality, not only in public, but still more among my acquaintances: it has been said, I affected originality, and sought to act different from other people; the truth is, I neither endeavor to conform or be singular, I desire only to act virtuously and avoid situations, which, by setting my interest in opposition to that of another person's, might inspire me with a secret, though involuntary wish to his disadvantage.
Two years ago, My Lord Marshal would have put my name in his will, which I took every method to prevent, assuring him I would not for the world know myself in the will of any one, much less in his; he gave up the idea; but insisted in return, that I should accept an annuity on his life; this I consented to. It will be said, I find my account in the alteration; perhaps I may; but oh, my benefactor! my father, I am now sensible that, should I have the misfortune to survive thee, I should have everything to lose, nothing to gain.
This, in my idea, in true philosophy, the surest bulwark of human rectitude; every day do I receive fresh conviction of its profound solidity. I have endeavored to recommend it in all my latter writings, but the multitude read too superficially to have made the remark. If I survive my present undertaking, and am able to begin another, I mean, in a continuation of Emilius, to give such a lively and marking example of this maxim as cannot fail to strike attention. But I have made reflections enough for a traveller, it is time to continue my journey.
It turned out more agreeable than I expected: my clownish conductor was not so morose as he appeared to be. He was a middle-aged man, wore his black, grizzly hair, in a queue, had a martial air, a strong voice, was tolerably cheerful, and to make up for not having been taught any trade, could turn his hand to every one. Having proposed to establish some kind of manufactory at Annecy, he had consulted Madam de Warrens, who immediately gave into the project, and he was now going to Turin to lay the plan before the minister and get his approbation, for which journey he took care to be well rewarded.
This drole had the art of ingratiating himself with the priests, whom he ever appeared eager to serve; he adopted a certain jargon which he had learned by frequenting their company, and thought himself a notable preacher; he could even repeat one passage from the Bible in Latin, and it answered his purpose as well as if he had known a thousand, for he repeated it a thousand times a day. He was seldom at a loss for money when he knew what purse contained it; yet, was rather artful than knavish, and when dealing out in an affected tone his unmeaning discourses, resembled Peter the Hermit, preaching up the crusade with a sabre at his side.
Madam Sabran, his wife, was a tolerable, good sort of woman; more peaceable by day than by night; as I slept in the same chamber I was frequently disturbed by her wakefulness, and should have been more so had I comprehended the cause of it; but I was in the chapter of dullness, which left to nature the whole care of my own instruction.
I went on gayly with my pious guide and his hopeful companion, no sinister accident impeding our journey. I was in the happiest circumstances both of mind and body that I ever recollect having experienced; young, full of health and security, placing unbounded confidence in myself and others; in that short but charming moment of human life, whose expansive energy carries, if I may so express myself, our being to the utmost extent of our sensations, embellishing all nature with an inexpressible charm, flowing from the conscious and rising enjoyment of our existence.
My pleasing inquietudes became less wandering: I had now an object on which imagination could fix. I looked on myself as the work, the pupil, the friend, almost the lover of Madam de Warrens; the obliging things she had said, the caresses she had bestowed on me; the tender interest she seemed to take in everything that concerned me; those charming looks, which seemed replete with love, because they so powerfully inspired it, every consideration flattered my ideas during this journey, and furnished the most delicious reveries, which, no doubt, no fear of my future condition arose to embitter. In sending me to Turin, I thought they engaged to find me an agreeable subsistence there; thus eased of every care I passed lightly on, while young desires, enchanting hopes, and brilliant prospects employed my mind; each object that presented itself seemed to insure my approaching felicity. I imagined that every house was filled with joyous festivity, the meadows resounded with sports and revelry, the rivers offered refreshing baths, delicious fish wantoned in these streams, and how delightful was it to ramble along the flowery banks! The trees were loaded with the choicest fruits, while their shade afforded the most charming and voluptuous retreats to happy lovers; the mountains abounded with milk and cream; peace and leisure, simplicity and joy, mingled with the charm of going I knew not whither, and everything I saw carried to my heart some new cause for rapture. The grandeur, variety, and real beauty of the scene, in some measure rendered the charm reasonable, in which vanity came in for its share; to go so young to Italy, view such an extent of country, and pursue the route of Hannibal over the Alps, appeared a glory beyond my age; add to all this our frequent and agreeable halts, with a good appetite and plenty to satisfy it; for in truth it was not worth while to be sparing; at Mr. Sabran's table what I eat could scarce be missed. In the whole course of my life I cannot recollect an interval more perfectly exempt from care, than the seven or eight days I was passing from Annecy to Turin. As we were obliged to walk Madam Sabran's pace, it rather appeared an agreeable jaunt than a fatiguing journey; there still remains the most pleasing impressions of it on my mind, and the idea of a pedestrian excursion, particularly among the mountains, has from this time seemed delightful.
It was only in my happiest days that I travelled on foot, and ever with the most unbounded satisfaction; afterwards, occupied with business and encumbered with baggage, I was forced to act the gentleman and employ a carriage, where care, embarrassment, and restraint, were sure to be my companions, and instead of being delighted with the journey, I only wished to arrive at the place of destination.
I was a long time at Paris, wishing to meet with two companions of similar dispositions, who would each agree to appropriate fifty guineas of his property and a year of his time to making the tour of Italy on foot, with no other attendance than a young fellow to carry our necessaries; I have met with many who seemed enchanted with the project, but considered it only as a visionary scheme, which served well enough to talk of, without any design of putting it in execution. One day, speaking with enthusiasm of this project to Diderot and Grimm, they gave into the proposal with such warmth that I thought the matter concluded on; but it only turned out a journey on paper, in which Grimm thought nothing so pleasing as making Diderot commit a number of impieties, and shutting me up in the Inquisition for them, instead of him.
My regret at arriving so soon at Turin was compensated by the pleasure of viewing a large city, and the hope of figuring there in a conspicuous character, for my brain already began to be intoxicated with the fumes of ambition; my present situation appeared infinitely above that of an apprentice, and I was far from foreseeing how soon I should be much below it.
Before I proceed, I ought to offer an excuse, or justification to the reader for the great number of unentertaining particulars I am necessitated to repeat. In pursuance of the resolution I have formed to enter on this public exhibition of myself, it is necessary that nothing should bear the appearance of obscurity or concealment. I should be continually under the eye of the reader, he should be enabled to follow me In all the wanderings of my heart, through every intricacy of my adventures; he must find no void or chasm in my relation, nor lose sight of me an instant, lest he should find occasion to say, what was he doing at this time; and suspect me of not having dared to reveal the whole. I give sufficient scope to malignity in what I say; it is unnecessary I should furnish still more by my science.
My money was all gone, even that I had secretly received from Madam de Warrens: I had been so indiscreet as to divulge this secret, and my conductors had taken care to profit by it. Madam Sabran found means to deprive me of everything I had, even to a ribbon embroidered with silver, with which Madam de Warrens had adorned the hilt of my sword; this I regretted more than all the rest; indeed the sword itself would have gone the same way, had I been less obstinately bent on retaining it. They had, it is true, supported me during the journey, but left me nothing at the end of it, and I arrived at Turin, without money, clothes, or linen, being precisely in the situation to owe to my merit alone the whole honor of that fortune I was about to acquire.
I took care in the first place to deliver the letters I was charged with, and was presently conducted to the hospital of the catechumens, to be instructed in that religion, for which, in return, I was to receive subsistence. On entering, I passed an iron-barred gate, which was immediately double-locked on me; this beginning was by no means calculated to give me a favorable opinion of my situation. I was then conducted to a large apartment, whose furniture consisted of a wooden altar at the farther end, on which was a large crucifix, and round it several indifferent chairs, of the same materials. In this hall of audience were assembled four or five ill-looking banditti, my comrades in instruction, who would rather have been taken for trusty servants of the devil than candidates for the kingdom of heaven. Two of these fellows were Sclavonians, but gave out they were African Jews, and (as they assured me) had run through Spain and Italy, embracing the Christian faith, and being baptised wherever they thought it worth their labor.
Soon after they opened another iron gate, which divided a large balcony that overlooked a court yard, and by this avenue entered our sister catechumens, who, like me, were going to be regenerated, not by baptism but a solemn abjuration. A viler set of idle, dirty, abandoned harlots, never disgraced any persuasion; one among them, however, appeared pretty and interesting; she might be about my own age, perhaps a year or two older, and had a pair of roguish eyes, which frequently encountered mine; this was enough to inspire me with the desire of becoming acquainted with her, but she had been so strongly recommended to the care of the old governess of this respectable sisterhood, and was so narrowly watched by the pious missionary, who labored for her conversion with more zeal than diligence, that during the two months we remained together in this house (where she had already been three) I found it absolutely impossible to exchange a word with her. She must have been extremely stupid, though she had not the appearance of it, for never was a longer course of instruction; the holy man could never bring her to a state of mind fit for abjuration; meantime she became weary of her cloister, declaring that, Christian or not, she would stay there no longer; and they were obliged to take her at her word, lest she should grow refractory, and insist on departing as great a sinner as she came.
This hopeful community were assembled in honor of the new-comer; when our guides made us a short exhortation: I was conjured to be obedient to the grace that Heaven had bestowed on me; the rest were admonished to assist me with their prayers, and give me edification by their good example. Our virgins then retired to another apartment, and I was left to contemplate, at leisure, that wherein I found myself.
The next morning we were again assembled for instruction: I now began to reflect, for the first time, on the step I was about to take, and the circumstances which had led me to it.
I repeat, and shall perhaps repeat again, an assertion I have already advanced, and of whose truth I every day receive fresh conviction, which is, that if ever child received a reasonable and virtuous education, it was myself. Born in a family of unexceptionable morals, every lesson I received was replete with maxims of prudence and virtue. My father (though fond of gallantry) not only possessed distinguished probity, but much religion; in the world he appeared a man of pleasure, in his family he was a Christian, and implanted early in my mind those sentiments he felt the force of. My three aunts were women of virtue and piety; the two eldest were professed devotees, and the third, who united all the graces of wit and good sense, was, perhaps, more truly religious than either, though with less ostentation. From the bosom of this amiable family I was transplanted to M. Lambercier's, a man dedicated to the ministry, who believed the doctrine he taught, and acted up to its precepts. He and his sister matured by their instructions those principles of judicious piety I had already imbibed, and the means employed by these worthy people were so well adapted to the effect they meant to produce, that so far from being fatigued, I scarce ever listened to their admonitions without finding myself sensibly affected, and forming resolutions to live virtuously, from which, except in moments of forgetfulness, I seldom swerved. At my uncle's, religion was far more tiresome, because they made it an employment; with my master I thought no more of it, though my sentiments continued the same: I had no companions to vitiate my morals: I became idle, careless, and obstinate, but my principles were not impaired.
I possessed as much religion, therefore, as a child could be supposed capable of acquiring. Why should I now disguise my thoughts? I am persuaded I had more. In my childhood, I was not a child; I felt, I thought as a man: as I advanced in years, I mingled with the ordinary class; in my infancy I was distinguished from it. I shall doubtless incur ridicule by thus modestly holding myself up for a prodigy--I am content. Let those who find themselves disposed to it, laugh their fill; afterward, let them find a child that at six years old is delighted, interested, affected with romances, even to the shedding floods of tears; I shall then feel my ridiculous vanity, and acknowledge myself in an error.
Thus when I said we should not converse with children on religion, if we wished them ever to possess any; when I asserted they were incapable of communion with the Supreme Being, even in our confined degree, I drew my conclusions from general observation; I knew they were not applicable to particular instances: find J. J. Rousseau of six years old, converse with them on religious subjects at seven, and I will be answerable that the experiment will be attended with no danger.
It is understood, I believe, that a child, or even a man, is likely to be most sincere while persevering in that religion in whose belief he was born and educated; we frequently detract from, seldom make any additions to it: dogmatical faith is the effect of education. In addition to this general principle which attached me to the religion of my forefathers, I had that particular aversion our city entertains for Catholicism, which is represented there as the most monstrous idolatry, and whose clergy are painted in the blackest colors. This sentiment was so firmly imprinted on my mind, that I never dared to look into their churches--I could not bear to meet a priest in his surplice, and never did I hear the bells of a procession sound without shuddering with horror; these sensations soon wore off in great cities, but frequently returned in country parishes, which bore more similarity to the spot where I first experienced them; meantime this dislike was singularly contrasted by the remembrance of those caresses which priests in the neighborhood of Geneva are fond of bestowing on the children of that city. If the bells of the viaticum alarmed me, the chiming for mass or vespers called me to a breakfast, a collation, to the pleasure of regaling on fresh butter, fruits, or milk; the good cheer of M. de Pontverre had produced a considerable effect on me; my former abhorrence began to diminish, and looking on popery through the medium of amusement and good living, I easily reconciled myself to the idea of enduring, though I never entertained but a very transient and distant idea of making a solemn profession of it.
At this moment such a transaction appeared in all its horrors; I shuddered at the engagement I had entered into, and its inevitable consequences. The future neophytes with which I was surrounded were not calculated to sustain my courage by their example, and I could not help considering the holy work I was about to perform as the action of a villain. Though young, I was sufficiently convinced, that whatever religion might be the true one, I was about to sell mine; and even should I chance to chose the best, I lied to the Holy Ghost, and merited the disdain of every good man. The more I considered, the more I despised myself, and trembled at the fate which had led me into such a predicament, as if my present situation had not been of my own seeking. There were moments when these compunctions were so strong that had I found the door open but for an instant, I should certainly have made my escape; but this was impossible, nor was the resolution of any long duration, being combated by too many secret motives to stand any chance of gaining the victory.
My fixed determination not to return to Geneva, the shame that would attend it, the difficulty of repassing the mountains, at a distance from my country, without friends, and without resources, everything concurred to make me consider my remorse of conscience, as a too late repentance. I affected to reproach myself for what I had done, to seek excuses for that I intended to do, and by aggravating the errors of the past, looked on the future as an inevitable consequence. I did not say, nothing is yet done, and you may be innocent if you please; but I said, tremble at the crime thou hast committed, which hath reduced thee to the necessity of filling up the measure of thine iniquities.
It required more resolution than was natural to my age to revoke those expectations which I had given them reason to entertain, break those chains with which I was enthralled, and resolutely declare I would continue in the religion of my forefathers, whatever might be the consequence. The affair was already too far advanced, and spite of all my efforts they would have made a point of bringing it to a conclusion.
The sophism which ruined me has had a similar affect on the greater part of mankind, who lament the want of resolution when the opportunity for exercising it is over. The practice of virtue is only difficult from our own negligence; were, we always discreet, we should seldom have occasion for any painful exertion of it; we are captivated by desires we might readily surmount, give into temptations that might easily be resisted, and insensibly get into embarrassing, perilous situations, from which we cannot extricate ourselves but with the utmost difficulty; intimidated by the effort, we fall into the abyss, saying to the Almighty, why hast thou made us such weak creatures? But, notwithstanding our vain pretexts, He replies, by our consciences, I formed ye too weak to get out of the gulf, because I gave ye sufficient strength not to have fallen into it.
I was not absolutely resolved to become a Catholic, but, as it was not necessary to declare my intentions immediately, I gradually accustomed myself to the idea; hoping, meantime, that some unforeseen event would extricate me from my embarrassment. In order to gain time, I resolved to make the best defence I possibly could in favor of my own opinion; but my vanity soon rendered this resolution unnecessary, for on finding I frequently embarrassed those who had the care of my instruction, I wished to heighten my triumph by giving them a complete overthrow. I zealously pursued my plan, not without the ridiculous hope of being able to convert my convertors; for I was simple enough to believe, that could I convince them of their errors, they would become Protestants; they did not find, therefore, that facility in the work which they had expected, as I differed both in regard to will and knowledge from the opinion they had entertained of me.
Protestants, in general, are better instructed in the principles of their religion than Catholics; the reason is obvious; the doctrine of the former requires discussion, of the latter a blind submission; the Catholic must content himself with the decisions of others, the Protestant must learn to decide for himself; they were not ignorant of this, but neither my age nor appearance promised much difficulty to men so accustomed to disputation. They knew, likewise, that I had not received my first communion, nor the instructions which accompany it; but, on the other hand, they had no idea of the information I received at M. Lambercier's, or that I had learned the history of the church and empire almost by heart at my father's; and though (since that time, nearly forgot, when warmed by the dispute, very unfortunately for these gentlemen), it again returned to my memory.
A little old priest, but tolerably venerable, held the first conference; at which we were all convened. On the part of my comrades, it was rather a catechism than a controversy, and he found more pains in giving them instruction than answering their objections; but when it came to my turn, it was a different matter; I stopped him at every article, and did not spare a single remark that I thought would create a difficulty: this rendered the conference long and extremely tiresome to the assistants. My old priest talked a great deal, was very warm, frequently rambled from the subject, and extricated himself from difficulties by saying he was not sufficiently versed in the French language.
The next day, lest my indiscreet objections should injure the minds of those who were better disposed, I was led into a separate chamber and put under the care of a younger priest, a fine speaker; that is, one who was fond of long perplexed sentences, and proud of his own abilities, if ever doctor was. I did not, however, suffer myself to be intimidated by his overbearing looks: and being sensible that I could maintain my ground, I combated his assertions, exposed his mistakes, and laid about me in the best manner I was able. He thought to silence me at once with St. Augustine, St. Gregory, and the rest of the fathers, but found, to his ineffable surprise, that I could handle these almost as dexterously as himself; not that I had ever read them, or he either, perhaps, but I retained a number of passages taken from my Le Sueur, and when he bore hard on me with one citation, without standing to dispute, I parried it with another, which method embarrassed him extremely. At length, however, he got the better of me for two very potent reasons; in the first place, he was of the strongest side; young as I was, I thought it might be dangerous to drive him to extremities, for I plainly saw the old priest was neither satisfied with me nor my erudition. In the next place, he had studied, I had not; this gave a degree of method to his arguments which I could not follow; and whenever he found himself pressed by an unforeseen objection he put it off to the next conference, pretending I rambled from the question in dispute. Sometimes he even rejected all my quotations, maintaining they were false, and, offering to fetch the book, defied me to find them. He knew he ran very little risk, and that, with all my borrowed learning, I was not sufficiently accustomed to books, and too poor a Latinist to find a passage in a large volume, had I been ever so well assured it was there. I even suspected him of having been guilty of a perfidy with which he accused our ministers, and that he fabricated passages sometimes in order to evade an objection that incommoded him.
Meanwhile the hospital became every day more disagreeable to me, and seeing but one way to get out of it, I endeavored to hasten my abjuration with as much eagerness as I had hitherto sought to retard it.
The two Africans had been baptised with great ceremony, they were habited in white from head to foot to signify the purity of their regenerated souls. My turn came a month after; for all this time was thought necessary by my directors, that they might have the honor of a difficult conversion, and every dogma of their faith was recapitulated, in order to triumph the more completely over my new docility.
At length, sufficiently instructed and disposed to the will of my masters, I was led in procession to the metropolitan church of St. John, to make a solemn abjuration, and undergo a ceremony made use of on these occasions, which, though not baptism, is very similar, and serves to persuade the people that Protestants are not Christians. I was clothed in a kind of gray robe, decorated with white Brandenburgs. Two men, one behind, the other before me, carried copper basins which they kept striking with a key, and in which those who were charitably disposed put their alms, according as they found themselves influenced by religion or good will for the new convert; in a word, nothing of Catholic pageantry was omitted that could render the solemnity edifying to the populace, or humiliating to me. The white dress might have been serviceable, but as I had not the honor to be either Moor or Jew, they did not think fit to compliment me with it.
The affair did not end here, I must now go to the Inquisition to be absolved from the dreadful sin of heresy, and return to the bosom of the church with the same ceremony to which Henry the Fourth was subjected by his ambassador. The air and manner of the right reverend Father Inquisitor was by no means calculated to dissipate the secret horror that seized my spirits on entering this holy mansion. After several questions relative to my faith, situation, and family, he asked me bluntly if my mother was damned? Terror repressed the first gust of indignation; this gave me time to recollect myself, and I answered, I hope not, for God might have enlightened her last moments. The monk made no reply, but his silence was attended with a look by no means expressive of approbation.
All these ceremonies ended, the very moment I flattered myself I should be plentifully provided for, they exhorted me to continue a good Christian, and live in obedience to the grace I had received; then wishing me good fortune, with rather more than twenty francs of small money in my pocket, the produce of the above--mentioned collection, turned me out, shut the door on me, and I saw no more of them!
Thus, in a moment, all my flattering expectations were at an end; and nothing remained from my interested conversion but the remembrance of having been made both a dupe and an apostate. It is easy to imagine what a sudden revolution was produced in my ideas, when every brilliant expectation of making a fortune terminated by seeing myself plunged in the completest misery. In the morning I was deliberating what palace I should inhabit, before night I was reduced to seek my lodging in the street. It may be supposed that I gave myself up to the most violent transports of despair, rendered more bitter by a consciousness that my own folly had reduced me to these extremities; but the truth is, I experienced none of these disagreeable sensations. I had passed two months in absolute confinement; this was new to me; I was now emancipated, and the sentiment I felt most forcibly, was joy at my recovered liberty. After a slavery which had appeared tedious, I was again master of my time and actions, in a great city, abundant in resources, crowded with people of fortune, to whom my merit and talents could not fail to recommend me. I had sufficient time before me to expect this good fortune, for my twenty livres seemed an inexhaustible treasure, which I might dispose of without rendering an account of to anyone. It was the first time I had found myself so rich, and far from giving way to melancholy reflections, I only adopted other hopes, in which self-love was by no means a loser. Never did I feel so great a degree of confidence and security; I looked on my fortune as already made and was pleased to think I should have no one but myself to thank for the acquisition of it.
The first thing I did was to satisfy my curiosity by rambling all over the city, and I seemed to consider it as a confirmation of my liberty; I went to see the soldiers mount guard, and was delighted with their military accouterment; I followed processions, and was pleased with the solemn music of the priests; I next went to see the king's palace, which I approached with awe, but seeing others enter, I followed their example, and no one prevented me; perhaps I owed this favor to the small parcel I carried under my arm; be that as it may, I conceived a high opinion of my consequence from this circumstance, and already thought myself an inhabitant there. The weather was hot; I had walked about till I was both fatigued and hungry; wishing for some refreshment, I went into a milk-house; they brought me some cream-cheese curds and whey, and two slices of that excellent Piedmont bread, which I prefer to any other; and for five or six sous I had one of the most delicious meals I ever recollect to have made.
It was time to seek a lodging: as I already knew enough of the Piedmontese language to make myself understood, this was a work of no great difficulty; and I had so much prudence, that I wished to adapt it rather to the state of my purse than the bent of my inclinations. In the course of my inquiries, I was informed that a soldier's wife, in Po-street, furnished lodgings to servants out of place at only one sou a night, and finding one of her poor beds disengaged, I took possession of it. She was young and newly married, though she already had five or six children. Mother, children and lodgers, all slept in the same chamber, and it continued thus while I remained there. She was good-natured, swore like a carman, and wore neither cap nor handkerchief; but she had a gentle heart, was officious; and to me both kind and serviceable.
For several days I gave myself up to the pleasures of independence and curiosity; I continued wandering about the city and its environs, examining every object that seemed curious or new; and, indeed, most things had that appearance to a young novice. I never omitted visiting the court, and assisted regularly every morning at the king's mass. I thought it a great honor to be in the same chapel with this prince and his retinue; but my passion for music, which now began to make its appearance, was a greater incentive than the splendor of the court, which, soon seen and always the same, presently lost its attraction. The King of Sardinia had at that time the best music in Europe; Somis, Desjardins, and the Bezuzzi shone there alternately; all these were not necessary to fascinate a youth whom the sound of the most simple instrument, provided it was just, transported with joy. Magnificence only produced a stupid admiration, without any violent desire to partake of it, my thoughts were principally employed in observing whether any young princess was present that merited my homage, and whom I could make the heroine of a romance.
Meantime, I was on the point of beginning one; in a less elevated sphere, it is true, but where could I have brought it to a conclusion, I should have found pleasures a thousand times more delicious.
Though I lived with the strictest economy, my purse insensibly grew lighter. This economy was, however, less the effect of prudence than that love of simplicity, which, even to this day, the use of the most expensive tables has not been able to vitiate. Nothing in my idea, either at that time or since, could exceed a rustic repast; give me milk, vegetables, eggs, and brown bread, with tolerable wine and I shall always think myself sumptuously regaled; a good appetite will furnish out the rest, if the maitre d' hotel, with a number of unnecessary footmen, do not satiate me with their important attentions. Five or six sous would then procure me a more agreeable meal than as many livres would have done since; I was abstemious, therefore, for want of a temptation to be otherwise: though I do not know but I am wrong to call this abstinence, for with my pears, new cheese, bread and some glasses of Montferrat wine, which you might have cut with a knife, I was the greatest of epicures. Notwithstanding my expenses were very moderate, it was possible to see the end of twenty livres; I was every day more convinced of this, and, spite of the giddiness of youth, my apprehensions for the future amounted almost to terror. All my castles in the air were vanished, and I became sensible of the necessity of seeking some occupation that would procure me a subsistence.
Even this was a work of difficulty; I thought of my engraving, but knew too little of it to be employed as a journeyman, nor do masters abound in Turin; I resolved, therefore, till something better presented itself, to go from shop to shop, offering to engrave ciphers, or coats of arms, on pieces of plate, etc., and hoped to get employment by working at a low price; or taking what they chose to give me. Even this expedient did not answer my expectations; almost all my applications were ineffectual, the little I procured being hardly sufficient to produce a few scanty meals.
Walking one morning pretty early in the 'Contra nova', I saw a young tradeswoman behind a counter, whose looks were so charmingly attractive, that, notwithstanding my timidity with the ladies, I entered the shop without hesitation, offered my services as usual: and had the happiness to have it accepted. She made me sit down and recite my little history, pitied my forlorn situation; bade me be cheerful, and endeavored to make me so by an assurance that every good Christian would give me assistance; then (while she had occasion for) she went up stairs and fetched me something for breakfast. This seemed a promising beginning, nor was what followed less flattering: she was satisfied with my work, and, when I had a little recovered myself, still more with my discourse. She was rather elegantly dressed and notwithstanding her gentle looks this appearance of gayety had disconcerted me; but her good-nature, the compassionate tone of her voice, with her gentle and caressing manner, soon set me at ease with myself; I saw my endeavors to please were crowned with success, and this assurance made me succeed the more. Though an Italian, and too pretty to be entirely devoid of coquetry, she had so much modesty, and I so great a share of timidity, that our adventure was not likely to be brought to a very speedy conclusion, nor did they give us time to make any good of it. I cannot recall the few short moments I passed with this lovely woman without being sensible of an inexpressible charm, and can yet say, it was there I tasted in their utmost perfection the most delightful, as well as the purest pleasures of love.
She was a lively pleasing brunette, and the good nature that was painted on her lovely face rendered her vivacity more interesting. She was called Madam Basile: her husband, who was considerably older than herself, consigned her, during his absence, to the care of a clerk, too disagreeable to be thought dangerous; but who, notwithstanding, had pretensions that he seldom showed any signs of, except of ill--humors, a good share of which he bestowed on me; though I was pleased to hear him play the flute, on which he was a tolerable musician. This second Egistus was sure to grumble whenever he saw me go into his mistress' apartment, treating me with a degree of disdain which she took care to repay him with interest; seeming pleased to caress me in his presence, on purpose to torment him. This kind of revenge, though perfectly to my taste, would have been still more charming in a 'tete a tete', but she did not proceed so far; at least, there was a difference in the expression of her kindness. Whether she thought me too young, that it was my place to make advances, or that she was seriously resolved to be virtuous, she had at such times a kind of reserve, which, though not absolutely discouraging, kept my passion within bounds.
I did not feel the same real and tender respect for her as I did for Madam de Warrens: I was embarrassed, agitated, feared to look, and hardly dared to breathe in her presence, yet to have left her would have been worse than death: How fondly did my eyes devour whatever they could gaze on without being perceived! the flowers on her gown, the point of her pretty foot, the interval of a round white arm that appeared between her glove and ruffle, the least part of her neck, each object increased the force of all the rest, and added to the infatuation. Gazing thus on what was to be seen, and even more than was to be seen, my sight became confused, my chest seemed contracted, respiration was every moment more painful. I had the utmost difficulty to hide my agitation, to prevent my sighs from being heard, and this difficulty was increased by the silence in which we were frequently plunged. Happily, Madam Basile, busy at her work, saw nothing of all this, or seemed not to see it: yet I sometimes observed a kind of sympathy, especially at the frequent rising of her handkerchief, and this dangerous sight almost mastered every effort, but when on the point of giving way to my transports, she spoke a few words to me with an air of tranquility, and in an instant the agitation subsided.
I saw her several times in this manner without a word, a gesture, or even a look, too expressive, making the least intelligence between us. The situation was both my torment and delight, for hardly in the simplicity of my heart, could I imagine the cause of my uneasiness. I should suppose these 'tete a tete' could not be displeasing to her, at least, she sought frequent occasions to renew them; this was a very disinterested labor, certainly, as appeared by the use she made, or ever suffered me to make of them.
Being, one day, wearied with the clerk's discourse, she had retired to her chamber; I made haste to finish what I had to do in the back shop, and followed her; the door was half open, and I entered without being perceived. She was embroidering near a window on the opposite side of the room; she could not see me; and the carts in the streets made too much noise for me to be heard. She was always well dressed, but this day her attire bordered on coquetry. Her attitude was graceful, her head leaning gently forward, discovered a small circle of her neck; her hair, elegantly dressed was ornamented with flowers; her figure was universally charming, and I had an uninterrupted opportunity to admire it. I was absolutely in a state of ecstasy, and, involuntary, sinking on my knees, I passionately extended my arms towards her, certain she could not hear, and having no conception that she could see me; but there was a chimney glass at the end of the room that betrayed all my proceedings. I am ignorant what effect this transport produced on her; she did not speak; she did not look on me; but, partly turning her head, with the movement of her finger only, she pointed to the mat that was at her feet--To start up, with an articulate cry of joy, and occupy the place she had indicated, was the work of a moment; but it will hardly be believed I dared attempt no more, not even to speak, raise my eyes to hers, or rest an instant on her knees, though in an attitude which seemed to render such a support necessary. I was dumb, immovable, but far enough from a state of tranquility; agitation, joy, gratitude, ardent indefinite wishes, restrained by the fear of giving displeasure, which my unpractised heart too much dreaded, were sufficiently discernible. She neither appeared more tranquil, nor less intimidated than myself--uneasy at my present situation; confounded at having brought me there, beginning to tremble for the effects of a sign which she had made without reflecting on the consequences, neither giving encouragement, nor expressing disapprobation, with her eyes fixed on her work, she endeavored to appear unconscious of everything that passed; but all my stupidity could not hinder me from concluding that she partook of my embarrassment, perhaps, my transports, and was only hindered by a bashfulness like mine, without even that supposition giving me power to surmount it. Five or six years older than myself, every advance, according to my idea, should have been made by her, and, since she did nothing to encourage mine, I concluded they would offend her. Even at this time, I am inclined to believe I thought right; she certainly had wit enough to perceive that a novice like me had occasion, not only for encouragement but instruction.
I am ignorant how this animated, though dumb scene would have ended, or how long I should have continued immovable in this ridiculous, though delicious, situation, had we not been interrupted--in the height of my agitation, I heard the kitchen door open, which joined Madam Basile's chamber; who, being alarmed, said, with a quick voice and action, "Get up! Here's Rosina!" Rising hastily I seized one of her hands, which she held out to me, and gave it two eager kisses; at the second I felt this charming hand press gently on my lips. Never in my life did I enjoy so sweet a moment; but the occasion I had lost returned no more, this being the conclusion of our amours.
This may be the reason why her image yet remains imprinted on my heart in such charming colors, which have even acquired fresh lustre since I became acquainted with the world and women. Had she been mistress of the least degree of experience, she would have taken other measures to animate so youthful a lover; but if her heart was weak, it was virtuous; and only suffered itself to be borne away by a powerful though involuntary inclination. This was, apparently, her first infidelity, and I should, perhaps, have found more difficulty in vanquishing her scruples than my own; but, without proceeding so far, I experienced in her company the most inexpressible delights. Never did I taste with any other woman pleasures equal to those two minutes which I passed at the feet of Madam Basile without even daring to touch her gown. I am convinced no satisfaction can be compared to that we feel with a virtuous woman we esteem; all is transport!--A sign with the finger, a hand lightly pressed against my lips, were the only favors I ever received from Madam Basile, yet the bare remembrance of these trifling condescensions continues to transport me.
It was in vain I watched the two following days for another tete a tete; it was impossible to find an opportunity; nor could I perceive on her part any desire to forward it; her behavior was not colder, but more distant than usual, and I believe she avoided my looks for fear of not being able sufficiently to govern her own. The cursed clerk was more vexatious than ever; he even became a wit, telling me, with a satirical sneer, that I should unquestionably make my way among the ladies. I trembled lest I should have been guilty of some indiscretion, and looking at myself as already engaged in an intrigue, endeavored to cover with an air of mystery an inclination which hitherto certainly had no great need of it; this made me more circumspect in my choice of opportunities, and by resolving only to seize such as should be absolutely free from the danger of a surprise, I met none.
Another romantic folly, which I could never overcome, and which, joined to my natural timidity, tended directly to contradict the clerk's predictions, is, I always loved too sincerely, too perfectly, I may say, to find happiness easily attainable. Never were passions at the same time more lively and pure than mine; never was love more tender, more true, or more disinterested; freely would I have sacrificed my own happiness to that of the object of my affection; her reputation was dearer than my life, and I could promise myself no happiness for which I would have exposed her peace of mind for a moment. This disposition has ever made me employ so much care, use so many precautions, such secrecy in my adventures, that all of them have failed; in a word, my want of success with the women has ever proceeded from having loved them too well.
To return to our Egistus, the fluter; it was remarkable that in becoming more insupportable, the traitor put on the appearance of complaisance. From the first day Madam Basile had taken me under her protection, she had endeavored to make me serviceable in the warehouse; and finding I understood arithmetic tolerably well, she proposed his teaching me to keep the books; a proposition that was but indifferently received by this humorist, who might, perhaps, be fearful of being supplanted. As this failed, my whole employ, besides what engraving I had to do, was to transcribe some bills and accounts, to write several books over fair, and translate commercial letters from Italian into French. All at once he thought fit to accept the before rejected proposal, saying, he would teach me bookkeeping, by double--entry, and put me in a situation to offer my services to M. Basile on his return; but there was something so false, malicious, and ironical, in his air and manner, that it was by no means calculated to inspire me with confidence. Madam Basile, replied archly, that I was much obliged to him for his kind offer, but she hoped fortune would be more favorable to my merits, for it would be a great misfortune, with so much sense, that I should only be a pitiful clerk.
She often said, she would procure me some acquaintance that might be useful; she doubtless felt the necessity of parting with me, and had prudently resolved on it. Our mute declaration had been made on Thursday, the Sunday following she gave a dinner. A Jacobin of good appearance was among the guests, to whom she did me the honor to present me. The monk treated me very affectionately, congratulated me on my late conversion, mentioned several particulars of my story, which plainly showed he had been made acquainted with it, then, tapping me familiarly on the cheek, bade me be good, to keep up my spirits, and come to see him at his convent, where he should have more opportunity to talk with me. I judged him to be a person of some consequence by the deference that was paid him; and by the paternal tone he assumed with Madam Basile, to be her confessor. I likewise remember that his decent familiarity was attended with an appearance of esteem, and even respect for his fair penitent, which then made less impression on me than at present. Had I possessed more experience how should I have congratulated myself on having touched the heart of a young woman respected by her confessor!
The table not being large enough to accommodate all the company, a small one was prepared, where I had the satisfaction of dining with our agreeable clerk; but I lost nothing with regard to attention and good cheer, for several plates were sent to the side-table which were certainly not intended for him.
Thus far all went well; the ladies were in good spirits, and the gentlemen very gallant, while Madam Basile did the honors of the table with peculiar grace. In the midst of the dinner we heard a chaise stop at the door, and presently some one coming up stairs--it was M. Basile. Methinks I now see him entering, in his scarlet coat with gold buttons --from that day I have held the color in abhorrence. M. Basile was a tall handsome man, of good address: he entered with a consequential look and an air of taking his family unawares, though none but friends were present. His wife ran to meet him, threw her arms about his neck, and gave him a thousand caresses, which he received with the utmost indifference; and without making any return saluted the company and took his place at table. They were just beginning to speak of his journey, when casting his eye on the small table he asked in a sharp tone, what lad that was? Madam Basile answered ingenuously. He then inquired whether I lodged in the house; and was answered in the negative. "Why not?" replied he, rudely, "since he stays here all day, he might as well remain all night too." The monk now interfered, with a serious and true eulogium on Madam Basile: in a few words he made mine also, adding, that so far from blaming, he ought to further the pious charity of his wife, since it was evident she had not passed the bounds of discretion. The husband answered with an air of petulance, which (restrained by the presence of the monk) he endeavored to stifle; it was, however, sufficient to let me understand he had already received information of me, and that our worthy clerk had rendered me an ill office.
We had hardly risen from table, when the latter came in triumph from his employer, to inform me, I must leave the house that instant, and never more during my life dare to set foot there. He took care to aggravate this commission by everything that could render it cruel and insulting. I departed without a word, my heart overwhelmed with sorrow, less for being obliged to quit this amiable woman, than at the thought of leaving her to the brutality of such a husband. He was certainly right to wish her faithful; but though prudent and wellborn, she was an Italian, that is to say, tender and vindictive; which made me think, he was extremely imprudent in using means the most likely in the world to draw on himself the very evil he so much dreaded.
Such was the success of my first adventure. I walked several times up and down the street, wishing to get a sight of what my heart incessantly regretted; but I could only discover her husband, or the vigilant clerk, who, perceiving me, made a sign with the ell they used in the shop, which was more expressive than alluring: finding, therefore, that I was so completely watched, my courage failed, and I went no more. I wished, at least, to find out the patron she had provided me, but, unfortunately, I did not know his name. I ranged several times round the convent, endeavoring in vain to meet with him. At length, other events banished the delightful remembrance of Madam Basile; and in a short time I so far forgot her, that I remained as simple, as much a novice as ever, nor did my penchant for pretty women even receive any sensible augmentation.
Her liberality had, however, increased my little wardrobe, though she had done this with precaution and prudence, regarding neatness more than decoration, and to make me comfortable rather than brilliant. The coat I had brought from Geneva was yet wearable, she only added a hat and some linen. I had no ruffles, nor would she give me any, not but I felt a great inclination for them. She was satisfied with having put it in my power to keep myself clean, though a charge to do this was unnecessary while I was to appear before her.
A few days after this catastrophe; my hostess, who, as I have already observed, was very friendly, with great satisfaction informed me she had heard of a situation, and that a lady of rank desired to see me. I immediately thought myself in the road to great adventures; that being the point to which all my ideas tended: this, however, did not prove so brilliant as I had conceived it. I waited on the lady with the servant; who had mentioned me: she asked a number of questions, and my answers not displeasing her, I immediately entered into her service not, indeed, in the quality of favorite, but as a footman. I was clothed like the rest of her people, the only difference being, they wore a shoulder--knot, which I had not, and, as there was no lace on her livery, it appeared merely a tradesman's suit. This was the unforeseen conclusion of all my great expectancies!
The Countess of Vercellis, with whom I now lived, was a widow without children; her husband was a Piedmontese, but I always believed her to be a Savoyard, as I could have no conception that a native of Piedmont could speak such good French, and with so pure an accent. She was a middle-aged woman, of a noble appearance and cultivated understanding, being fond of French literature, in which she was well versed. Her letters had the expression, and almost the elegance of Madam de Savigne's; some of them might have been taken for hers. My principal employ, which was by no means displeasing to me, was to write from her dictating; a cancer in the breast, from which she suffered extremely, not permitting her to write herself.
Madam de Vercellis not only possessed a good understanding, but a strong and elevated soul. I was with her during her last illness, and saw her suffer and die, without showing an instant of weakness, or the least effort of constraint; still retaining her feminine manners, without entertaining an idea that such fortitude gave her any claim to philosophy; a word which was not yet in fashion, nor comprehended by her in the sense it is held at present. This strength of disposition sometimes extended almost to apathy, ever appearing to feel as little for others as herself; and when she relieved the unfortunate, it was rather for the sake of acting right, than from a principle of real commiseration. I have frequently experienced this insensibility, in some measure, during the three months I remained with her. It would have been natural to have had an esteem for a young man of some abilities, who was incessantly under her observation, and that she should think, as she felt her dissolution approaching, that after her death he would have occasion for assistance and support: but whether she judged me unworthy of particular attention, or that those who narrowly watched all her motions, gave her no opportunity to think of any but themselves, she did nothing for me.
I very well recollect that she showed some curiosity to know my story, frequently questioning me, and appearing pleased when I showed her the letters I wrote to Madam de Warrens, or explained my sentiments; but as she never discovered her own, she certainly did not take the right means to come at them. My heart, naturally communicative, loved to display its feelings, whenever I encountered a similar disposition; but dry, cold interrogatories, without any sign of blame or approbation on my answers, gave me no confidence. Not being able to determine whether my discourse was agreeable or displeasing, I was ever in fear, and thought less of expressing my ideas, than of being careful not to say anything that might seem to my disadvantage. I have since remarked that this dry method of questioning themselves into people's characters is a common trick among women who pride themselves on superior understanding. These imagine, that by concealing their own sentiments, they shall the more easily penetrate into those of others; being ignorant that this method destroys the confidence so necessary to make us reveal them. A man, on being questioned, is immediately on his guard: and if once he supposes that, without any interest in his concerns, you only wish to set him a-talking, either he entertains you with lies, is silent, or, examining every word before he utters it, rather chooses to pass for a fool, than to be the dupe of your curiosity. In short, it is ever a bad method to attempt to read the hearts of others by endeavoring to conceal our own.
Madam de Vercellis never addressed a word to me which seemed to express affection, pity, or benevolence. She interrogated me coldly, and my answers were uttered with so much timidity, that she doubtless entertained but a mean opinion of my intellects, for latterly she never asked me any questions, nor said anything but what was absolutely necessary for her service. She drew her judgment less from what I really was, than from what she had made me, and by considering me as a footman prevented my appearing otherwise.
I am inclined to think I suffered at that time by the same interested game of concealed manoeuvre, which has counteracted me throughout my life, and given me a very natural aversion for everything that has the least appearance of it. Madam de Vercellis having no children, her nephew, the Count de la Roque, was her heir, and paid his court assiduously, as did her principal domestics, who, seeing her end approaching, endeavored to take care of themselves; in short, so many were busy about her, that she could hardly have found time to think of me. At the head of her household was a M. Lorenzy, an artful genius, with a still more artful wife; who had so far insinuated herself into the good graces of her mistress, that she was rather on the footing of a friend than a servant. She had introduced a niece of hers as lady's maid: her name was Mademoiselle Pontal; a cunning gypsy, that gave herself all the airs of a waiting-woman, and assisted her aunt so well in besetting the countess, that she only saw with their eyes, and acted through their hands. I had not the happiness to please this worthy triumvirate; I obeyed, but did not wait on them, not conceiving that my duty to our general mistress required me to be a servant to her servants. Besides this, I was a person that gave them some inquietude; they saw I was not in my proper situation, and feared the countess would discover it likewise, and by placing me in it, decrease their portions; for such sort of people, too greedy to be just, look on every legacy given to others as a diminution of their own wealth; they endeavored, therefore, to keep me as much out of her sight as possible. She loved to write letters, in her situation, but they contrived to give her a distaste to it; persuading her, by the aid of the doctor, that it was too fatiguing; and, under pretence that I did not understand how to wait on her, they employed two great lubberly chairmen for that purpose; in a word, they managed the affair so well, that for eight days before she made her will, I had not been permitted to enter the chamber. Afterwards I went in as usual, and was even more assiduous than any one, being afflicted at the sufferings of the unhappy lady, whom I truly respected and beloved for the calmness and fortitude with which she bore her illness, and often did I shed tears of real sorrow without being perceived by any one.
At length we lost her--I saw her expire. She had lived like a woman of sense and virtue, her death was that of a philosopher. I can truly say, she rendered the Catholic religion amiable to me by the serenity with which she fulfilled its dictates, without any mixture of negligence or affectation. She was naturally serious, but towards the end of her illness she possessed a kind of gayety, too regular to be assumed, which served as a counterpoise to the melancholy of her situation. She only kept her bed two days, continuing to discourse cheerfully with those about her to the very last.
She had bequeathed a year's wages to all the under servants, but, not being on the household list, I had nothing: the Count de la Roque, however, ordered me thirty livres, and the new coat I had on, which M. Lorenzy would certainly have taken from me. He even promised to procure me a place; giving me permission to wait on him as often as I pleased. Accordingly, I went two or three times, without being able to speak to him, and as I was easily repulsed, returned no more; whether I did wrong will be seen hereafter.
Would I had finished what I have to say of my living at Madam de Vercellis's. Though my situation apparently remained the same, I did not leave her house as I had entered it: I carried with me the long and painful remembrance of a crime; an insupportable weight of remorse which yet hangs on my conscience, and whose bitter recollection, far from weakening, during a period of forty years, seems to gather strength as I grow old. Who would believe, that a childish fault should be productive of such melancholy consequences? But it is for the more than probable effects that my heart cannot be consoled. I have, perhaps, caused an amiable, honest, estimable girl, who surely merited a better fate than myself, to perish with shame and misery.
Though it is very difficult to break up housekeeping without confusion, and the loss of some property; yet such was the fidelity of the domestics, and the vigilance of M. and Madam Lorenzy, that no article of the inventory was found wanting; in short, nothing was missing but a pink and silver ribbon, which had been worn, and belonged to Mademoiselle Pontal. Though several things of more value were in my reach, this ribbon alone tempted me, and accordingly I stole it. As I took no great pains to conceal the bauble, it was soon discovered; they immediately insisted on knowing from whence I had taken it; this perplexed me--I hesitated, and at length said, with confusion, that Marion gave it me.
Marion was a young Mauriennese, and had been cook to Madam de Vercellis ever since she left off giving entertainments, for being sensible she had more need of good broths than fine ragouts, she had discharged her former one. Marion was not only pretty, but had that freshness of color only to be found among the mountains, and, above all, an air of modesty and sweetness, which made it impossible to see her without affection; she was besides a good girl, virtuous, and of such strict fidelity, that everyone was surprised at hearing her named. They had not less confidence in me, and judged it necessary to certify which of us was the thief. Marion was sent for; a great number of people were present, among whom was the Count de la Roque: she arrives; they show her the ribbon; I accuse her boldly: she remains confused and speechless, casting a look on me that would have disarmed a demon, but which my barbarous heart resisted. At length, she denied it with firmness, but without anger, exhorting me to return to myself, and not injure an innocent girl who had never wronged me. With infernal impudence, I confirmed my accusation, and to her face maintained she had given me the ribbon: on which, the poor girl, bursting into tears, said these words--"Ah, Rousseau! I thought you a good disposition--you render me very unhappy, but I would not be in your situation." She continued to defend herself with as much innocence as firmness, but without uttering the least invective against me. Her moderation, compared to my positive tone, did her an injury; as it did not appear natural to suppose, on one side such diabolical assurance; on the other, such angelic mildness. The affair could not be absolutely decided, but the presumption was in my favor; and the Count de la Roque, in sending us both away, contented himself with saying, "The conscience of the guilty would revenge the innocent." His prediction was true, and is being daily verified.
I am ignorant what became of the victim of my calumny, but there is little probability of her having been able to place herself agreeably after this, as she labored under an imputation cruel to her character in every respect. The theft was a trifle, yet it was a theft, and, what was worse, employed to seduce a boy; while the lie and obstinacy left nothing to hope from a person in whom so many vices were united. I do not even look on the misery and disgrace in which I plunged her as the greatest evil: who knows, at her age, whither contempt and disregarded innocence might have led her?--Alas! if remorse for having made her unhappy is insupportable, what must I have suffered at the thought of rendering her even worse than myself. The cruel remembrance of this transaction, sometimes so troubles and disorders me, that, in my disturbed slumbers, I imagine I see this poor girl enter and reproach me with my crime, as though I had committed it but yesterday. While in easy tranquil circumstances, I was less miserable on this account, but, during a troubled agitated life, it has robbed me of the sweet consolation of persecuted innocence, and made me wofully experience, what, I think, I have remarked in some of my works, that remorse sleeps in the calm sunshine of prosperity, but wakes amid the storms of adversity. I could never take on me to discharge my heart of this weight in the bosom of a friend; nor could the closest intimacy ever encourage me to it, even with Madam de Warrens: all I could do, was to own I had to accuse myself of an atrocious crime, but never said in what it consisted. The weight, therefore, has remained heavy on my conscience to this day; and I can truly own the desire of relieving myself, in some measure, from it, contributed greatly to the resolution of writing my Confessions.
I have proceeded truly in that I have just made, and it will certainly be thought I have not sought to palliate the turpitude of my offence; but I should not fulfill the purpose of this undertaking, did I not, at the same time, divulge my interior disposition, and excuse myself as far as is conformable with truth.
Never was wickedness further from my thoughts, than in that cruel moment; and when I accused the unhappy girl, it is strange, but strictly true, that my friendship for her was the immediate cause of it. She was present to my thoughts; I formed my excuse from the first object that presented itself: I accused her with doing what I meant to have done, and as I designed to have given her the ribbon, asserted she had given it to me. When she appeared, my heart was agonized, but the presence of so many people was more powerful than my compunction. I did not fear punishment, but I dreaded shame: I dreaded it more than death, more than the crime, more than all the world. I would have buried, hid myself in the centre of the earth: invincible shame bore down every other sentiment; shame alone caused all my impudence, and in proportion as I became criminal, the fear of discovery rendered me intrepid. I felt no dread but that of being detected, of being publicly, and to my face, declared a thief, liar, and calumniator; an unconquerable fear of this overcame every other sensation. Had I been left to myself, I should infallibly have declared the truth. Or if M. de la Rogue had taken me aside, and said--"Do not injure this poor girl; if you are guilty own it,"--I am convinced I should instantly have thrown myself at his feet; but they intimidated, instead of encouraging me. I was hardly out of my childhood, or rather, was yet in it. It is also just to make some allowance for my age. In youth, dark, premeditated villainy is more criminal than in a riper age, but weaknesses are much less so; my fault was truly nothing more; and I am less afflicted at the deed itself than for its consequences. It had one good effect, however, in preserving me through the rest of my life from any criminal action, from the terrible impression that has remained from the only one I ever committed; and I think my aversion for lying proceeds in a great measure from regret at having been guilty of so black a one. If it is a crime that can be expiated, as I dare believe, forty years of uprightness and honor on various difficult occasions, with the many misfortunes that have overwhelmed my latter years, may have completed it. Poor Marion has found so many avengers in this world, that however great my offence towards her, I do not fear to bear the guilt with me. Thus have I disclosed what I had to say on this painful subject; may I be permitted never to mention it again.