« VorigeDoorgaan »
"For myself if I may be permitted, after all others, to pay the last offices at this tomb-O prince, the worthy subject of our praises and regrets, you will live for ever in my memory. Your image will not be traced there with the boldness which is the precursor of victory. No; I would see in you nothing which death can efface. You will have in that image immortal traits. I shall behold you such as you were in your last hours under the hand of God, when his glory seemed to dawn upon you. It is there that I shall see you more triumphant than at Fribourg and Rocroy; and, ravished with so beautiful a triumph, I shall lift up my thanksgiving in the words of the beloved disciple-This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' Enjoy, O prince, this victory; enjoy it eternally, through the immortal efficacy of this sacrifice.* Accept these last efforts of a voice which was once known to you. With you these discourses shall end. Instead of deploring the death of others, I would, henceforth, learn from you to render my own holy; happy, if, admonished by these gray hairs of the account which I must give of my ministry, I reserve for the flock, which I have to nourish with the word of life, the remnants of a voice which is failing, and an ardor which is fading away."
This oration was his last. "Illa tanquam cycnea fuit divini hominis vox et oratio." His career, as speaker at the tombs of beauty and power, was closed. He was now sixty years of age. Disgusted with the world, and disabused of its illusions, he welcomed the retirement he had long sought. Devoting himself to the duties of his diocese, and ambitious "only to be interred at the feet of his predecessors," he found among his simple-hearted parishioners that happiness, which he had sought, in vain, at the most brilliant court of Europe. He became the instructer and father of his people. It was an interesting spectacle to see the orator, on whose lips sovereigns and nobles had hung with rapture, preparing catechisms for children, entering the hovels of the poor and the wretched, to console their misfortunes; and collecting their little ones around him to share in their innocent diversions. Thus happily engaged, his remaining years glided away, and,
* Alluding to the sacrifice of the mass for the repose of the dead, which concluded the funeral ceremony.
on the 12th of April, 1704, he ceased to be numbered with the living.
The character of Bossuet is almost without a stain. Although he has been charged with unworthy motives in his unhappy contest with Fénélon, candor must confess, that his conduct is attributable to an excess of zeal, rather than to malice or envy. He was generous, candid and fearless; affectionate to his friends, forgiving to his enemies. Loved and revered by all ranks, he might well be styled "doctor of all the churches, and father of the seventeenth century;" and, had he lived in the early ages of the church, he would have been "the light of councils and the soul of assembled fathers."+
Next to Bossuet, and almost dividing the supremacy, stands Esprit Fléchier. He was born at Pernes, in 1632, educated under the care of the "Fathers of the Christian doctrine," made bishop of Lavaur in 1685, and transferred to the diocese of Nismes in 1687. When he was first nominated, Louis said to him, "Be not surprised that I have been so slow to recompense your merit. I was unwilling to be deprived of the pleasure of hearing you." The bishop of Nismes was distinguished for moral excellence, as well as splendid talents; simple in his habits, affable in his deportment, and attentive to his flock, he was respected and beloved by all. When he entered the diocese of Nismes, it abounded with Protestants; but his kind treatment won many to the Catholic communion. By a very common mistake, they identified the creed with its advocate, and became converts to the "good bishop," before they became converts to the faith. Fléchier was a man of genuine modesty. The son of a tallow-chandler, he had neither the folly to conceal the obscurity of his birth, nor the vanity to boast of it. Some person expressed to him his surprise, that the son of a candlemaker should ever have reached the Episcopal chair. "With that way of thinking," he replied, "if you had been the son of a tallow-chandler, you would have remained a tallowchandler all your life." To prevent extravagant expenditure upon his monument, he gave orders for it before his death; and it was executed in the simplest style. On the 10th of Feb., 1710, he breathed his last, wept by Catholics (so says
* See Butler's Life of Fénélon.
+ Euvres de Massillon I, 666.
D'Alembert, in his Eloge), and regretted by Protestants; having always been to his brethren a model of zeal and charity, of simplicity and eloquence.
The funeral orations of Fléchier are of a high order. We must content ourselves with referring to only one of them,— his chef d'œuvre,-delivered on the occasion of the death of Marshal Turenne. It consists mainly of an extended and beautiful parallel between the Marshal of France and Judas Maccabæus. The conception is not original; for Lingendes and Fromentière had used it before him. But he has expanded it into a magnificent work of art, adorned with the choicest imagery, rich in sentiment, and charming the ear with the delightful flow of its melody. We make a few extracts. Speaking of the humility of the great warrior, he observes:
"How difficult is it to be victorious and humble at the same time! Military successes leave in the soul an indescribable pleasure, which fills and occupies it entirely. We attribute to ourselves a superiority of power and strength. We form within ourselves a secret triumph. We regard as our own those laurels which we have gathered with pain, and which have been often bedewed with our blood; and, even when we give solemn thanks to God, and hang up to the consecrated vaults of temples the torn and bloody colors of the enemy, what danger is there that vanity may suppress some part of the acknowledgement; that we may mingle with the vows we make to the Lord, the applauses which we imagine due to ourselves; and reserve at least some grains of the incense which we burn upon the altar.
"It was on these occasions, that Turenne, divesting himself of all pretensions, ascribed all the glory to him to whom it rightfully belongs. If he marches, he acknowledges that it is God who conducts and guides him. If he defends fortresses, he is sensible that his defence is vain, unless God protects him. If he forms entrenchments, he thinks that God makes a rampart to secure him from attack. If he fights, he knows whence he derives all his strength; and if he triumphs, he thinks he sees an invisible hand, crowning him from heaven."
Again, adverting to the death of Turenne :
"O, terrible God! but just in thy designs towards the children of men; thou disposest of victors and victories. To accomplish thy will and make thy judgments feared, thy power overthrows those, whom thy power had raised. Thou sacrificest great victims to thy sovereign greatness; and thou strikest, when it pleases thee, those illustrious heads which thou hast so often crowned.
"Do not expect, Sirs, that I am going to open to you a tragic scene; to represent this great man, laid out upon his own trophies; to uncover the pale and bloody corpse, near which still smokes the thunder which has stricken it; to make his blood cry out, like Abel's; and expose to your view the sad images of your weeping religion and country. In ordinary losses, we may, by these means, surprise an audience into
pity; and, by studied movements, wring from their eyes some useless tears. But we describe without art a death that we sincerely deplore. Each finds in his own bosom a fountain of grief; and it is not necessary to address the imagination, in order to affect the heart."*
Up to this point, the audience followed him with breathless attention and swelling hearts, and restrained their feelings for fear of interrupting the speaker. But when he proceeded to say,-"I can scarcely avoid interrupting my discourse. I am troubled. Turenne is dying," &c.,-their feelings became uncontrollable, and burst forth, in sobs and groans; so that a cry was raised, as if the thunderbolt, which had stricken Turenne, had fallen in the midst of the temple. The funeral orations of Fléchier are those which suffer least by a comparison with Bossuet's. There is less elegance and purity of language in those of the latter; but they are distinguished by a more nervous and manly eloquence. The style of Fléchier is more flowing, finished and uniform; that of Bossuet, although less sustained, possesses more of those elevated and impassioned traits which characterize genius. He is excelled by his great rival, in description; but he is superior to him in grandeur of thought, and bold and vivid imagery. Fléchier is more happy in the choice and arrangement of words; but his fondness for antithesis spreads a sort of monotony over his style. He is more indebted to art than to nature; while Bossuet is more indebted to nature than to art. Fléchier used to say, "We should speak to the senses, and write for the understanding." Bossuet speaks to both; and he possesses, beyond all his contemporaries, the rare merit of uniting reason with imagination, and being, at the same time, brilliant and profound. Fléchier has more of the rhetorician about him; Bossuet, more of the genuine orator. The former has been compared to Isocrates; the latter to Demosthenes. Bossuet moves: Fléchier pleases. The course of the one is the mountain torrent; that of the other, the graceful meandering of a summer stream. Fléchier leads you through scenes of enchanting loveliness, along a road strewed with flowers. The sunlight of his genius, falling on every object, gilds the most distant scenery; and only a shadow, here and there, marks the resting-place of the dead. But Bossuet always marches to a solemn dirge. His path is,
* Our copy of Fléchier is so indistinct here, that we may have mistaken the sense.
indeed, like Fléchier's, decked with flowers; but it is overhung with frowning cliffs, which cast their funereal gloom over the pomp and pageantry of human pride. His sentences follow each other like mourners in a procession for the dead; and fallen greatness is hearsed to its sepulchre, with all that solemn awe which is wont to be associated with the king of terrors. Fléchier often enlivens his melancholy theme with gleams of cheering light. But Bossuet covers it with an immense pall. The one wreaths garlands for the tomb, and adorns it with festoons; the other admits no decorations but the emblems of mortality,-"le magnifique témoignage de notre néant." The skull and the cross-bones are the only symbols which he sees on the escutcheon of proud, perishable man. With him, man,-the world,-time,-are nothing; God and eternity are every thing. The present scene is only a passing illusion; and there is nothing stable, but the plans and purposes of divine providence. But, perhaps the most striking difference consists in their ability to reach the sublime. Fléchier is confined to a moderate elevation; but the "eagle of Meaux" soars with an unbounded flight, and seems to hover around
The living throne, the sapphire blaze,
Or, to change the figure to one of his own, he is like "a lofty mountain, whose summit, towering above clouds and tempests, finds serenity in its elevation, and loses not a ray of the light which surrounds it."
We should be glad to introduce to our readers, if indeed they have had the patience to go along with us thus far,Mascaron and Massillon. But we must stop; although we feel, like Scheherazade in the eastern tales, that our story is but half told.