Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/853

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831
ERNEST RENAN.

ERNEST RENAN.

SKETCH OF HIS LIFE AND WORK.

By GABRIEL MONOD.[1]

NOTHING could be simpler, or more of a piece, than the life of Ernest Renan. Study, teaching, and the joys of family life are its whole fabric, and fill it from end to end. For diversions, a little travel and the pleasures of conversation—friendly dinners, and a few frequented salons. Twice, indeed—urged by the thought that a man of his standing owed something of his time and strength to the public service—he solicited the popular vote: once in 1869, as deputy for the Seine and Marne; and again in 1876, as senator for the Bouches du Rhône. But he carried into these electoral contests no trace of the fever of ambition, and when he saw that he was not likely to command a spontaneous majority he retired from the field without vexation and without regret.

He was a native of Tréguier (Côtes du Nord), one of those ancient episcopal cities of Brittany which have retained their ecclesiastical character even down to our own time. The humble house is still to be seen, close under the great cathedral founded by St. Yves, where Renan was born on the 27th of February, 1823, and the little garden, planted with fruit trees, where he played when quite a child, letting his eyes wander over the still and sad horizon of the hills which skirt the river bank. His father—a captain in the merchant navy, who also carried on a small trade—was of ancient Breton descent, the name of Renan being that of one of the oldest of the Armorican saints. He transmitted to his son the dreamy imaginative nature and the disinterested simplicity of his race. His mother was of Lannion, a little commercial town which has nothing of the monastic look of Tréguier. Pious as she was, she had an elasticity and joyousness of nature which her son inherited from her, and which he attributed to her Gascon origin. Renan has too often insisted on the co-existence of the two natures in himself—the Breton seriousness and the Gascon vivacity—for us to venture to contradict him on this point; but the serious side of him was first and last and strongest in all he wrote, or did, or thought.

For the rest, life began for him austerely, and more than austerely; it was hard and painful. While he was yet a child, his father was lost at sea; and it was only by the most self-denying economy that his mother could provide for the education of her


  1. From his article in the Contemporary Review.