Recollections of My Youth/First Steps Outside St. Sulpice/Part I

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First Steps Outside St. Sulpice/Part I[edit]

The name of this hotel I do not remember; it was always spoken of as "Mademoiselle Celeste's," this being the name of the worthy person who managed or owned it.

There was certainly no other hotel like it in Paris, for it was a kind of annex to the seminary, the rules of which were to a great extent in force there. Lodgers were not admitted without a letter of introduction from one of the directors of the seminary or some other notability in the religious world. It was here that students who wished for a few days to themselves before entering or leaving the seminary used to stay, while priests and superiors of convents whom business brought to Paris found it comfortable and inexpensive. The transition from the priestly to the ordinary dress is like the change which occurs in a chrysalis; it needs a little shade. Assuredly, if any one could narrate all the silent and unobtrusive romances associated with this ancient hotel, now pulled down, we should hear some very interesting stories. I must not, however, let my meaning be mistaken, for, like many ecclesiastics still alive, I can testify to the blameless course of life in Mlle. Celeste's hotel.

While I was awaiting here the completion of my metamorphosis, M. Carbon's good offices were being busily employed upon my behalf. He had written to Abbe Gratry, at that time director of the College Stanislas, and the latter offered me a place as usher in the upper division. M. Dupanloup advised me to accept it, remarking: "You may rest assured that M. Gratry is a priest of the highest distinction." I accepted, and was very kindly treated by every one, but I did not retain the place more than a fortnight. I found that my new situation involved my making the outward profession of clericalism, the avoidance of which was my reason for leaving the seminary. Thus my relations with M. Gratry were but fleeting. He was a kindhearted man, and a rather clever writer, but there was nothing in him. His indecision of mind did not suit me at all, M. Carbon and M. Dupanloup had told him why I had left St. Sulpice. We had two or three conversations, in the course of which I explained to him my doubts, based upon an examination of the texts. He did not in the least understand me, and with his transcendentalism he must have looked upon my rigid attention to details as very commonplace. He knew nothing of ecclesiastical science, whether exegesis or theology; his capabilities not extending beyond hollow phrases, trifling applications of mathematics, and the region of "matter of fact." I was not slow to perceive how immensely superior the theology of St. Sulpice was to these hollow combinations which would fain pass muster as scientific. St. Sulpice has a knowledge at first hand of what Christianity is; the Polytechnic School has not. But I repeat, there could be no two opinions as to the uprightness of M. Gratry, who was a very taking and highminded man.

I was sorry to part company with him; but there was no help for it. I had left the first seminary in the world for one in every respect inferior to it. The leg had been badly set; I had the courage to break it a second time. On the 2nd or 3rd of November, I passed from out the last threshold appertaining to the Church, and I obtained a place as "assistant master au pair"--to employ the phrase used in the Quartier Latin of those days--without salary, in a school of the St. Jacques district attached to the Lycee Henri IV. I had a small bedroom, and took my meals with the scholars, and as my time was not occupied for more than two hours a day, I was able to do a good deal of work upon my own account. This was just what I wanted.