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A GIRL'S RELIGION.
BY JAMES SULLY.
! PERHAPS there is no domain of childish belief grows all-commanding and prolific thought and feeling that is more remote of action. from our older experience, and conse- While, however, it is the common tenquently less easily understood by us, than dency of children to passively adopt their that of religion. Their first ideas about elders' religious beliefs, merely inventing the supernatural are indeed supplied by their own modes of giving effect to them, us, but they are not controlled by us. there is a certain amount of originality exHow oddly children twist the religious ercised in the formation of the beliefs them. ideas of their elders, materializing and selves. Stories of independent creations anthropomorphizing, is known to all who of a religious cult by children are no doubt have had anything to do with the juvenile rare ; and this for the very good reason mind.
that it needs the greatest force of self asTo most children, presumably, religious sertion to resist the pressure of the tradiinstruction comes-at first at least—with tional faith on the childish mind. The a commanding, authoritative force. The early recollections of George Sand, of story of the supernatural, of the Divine which a short account was recently given Father, of Heaven, and the rest, cannot be in this magazine, furnish what is probably scrutinized by the child_save, indeed, in the most remarkable instance of childish respect of its inner consistency-for it tells daring in fashioning a new religion, with of things unobservable by sense, and so its creed and ritual all complete. And it having no direct contact with childish ex- may be worth while to give a brief parraperience. Their natural tendency is to be tive of this strangely-natured and strangelylieve, in a submissive, childish way, not conditioned child's religious experiences. troubling about the proof of the mystery. Poor little Aurore’s religious difficulties
But even in this submissive acceptance and experiments at solution can only be there lies the germ of a subsequent trans- understood in the light of her confusing formation. If the child is to believe, it surroundings. From her mother-ardent, inust believe in its own fashion ; it must imaginative, and of simple and confidgive body and reality to the ideas of Di- ing faith"-she had caught some of the vine majesty and goodness, and of spirit- glow of a fervent piety. Then she sudual approach and worship. Hence the denly passed into the chilling air of No. way in which children are apt to startlo the bant and the grandmother, a disciple of reverent and amuse the profane by divulg. Voltaire, and equalling her master in cyni. ing their crude material fancies about things cal contempt of the revered mysteries. spiritual.
The effect, as might have been anticipated, Such materialization of spiritual concep- of this sudden change of temperature on tions is apt to bring trouble to the young the warm young heart was
a long and mind. It is all so confusing—this exalted painful shiver. Madame Dupin at once Personage, who nevertheless is quite une recognized the girl's temperament, and saw like earthly dignitaries, this all-encompass- with dismay the leaning to“ superstition, ing and never-failing Presence, which all a trait which she disliked vone the less for the time refuses to reveal itself to eye or recognizing in it a bequest from the de
How much real suffering this may spised grisette mother. So she applied entail in the case of children at once se- herself with all the energy of her strong rious and imaginative we shall never know. character to counteract the child's religious The description of the boy Waldo, in that tendencies. Now this might have proved strangely fascinating book, The Story of an neither a difficult nor lengthy process if African Farm, kneeling bareheaded in the she had consistently set her_face against blazing sun and offering his dinner on an all religious observances. But though a altar to God, may look exaggerated to some; disciple of Voltaire, she was also a lady but it is essentially true to some of the deep with a conspicuous social position, and est instincts of childhood. The child that had to make her account with the polite believes at all, believes intensely, and its world and the“ bienséances.” So Aurore
was not only allowed but encouraged to "full faith,” she resolved en revanche to attend Mass and to prepare for the First deny nothing internally. Accordingly she Communion” like other young ladies of learned her catechism
“ like a parrot, her station. Madame Dupin well knew without seeking to understand it, and the risk she was running with so inflam- without thinking of making fun of its mable a material, but she counted on her mysteries.” For the rest, she felt a speown sufficiency as a prompt extinguisher ciál repugnance toward the confessional. of any inconveniently attaching spark of She was able to recall a- few small childish devotion. In this way the young girl faults, such as telling a lie to her mother underwent the uncommon if not unique in order to screen the 'maid Rose, but experience of a regular religious instrac- feared the list would not satisfy the contion, and concurrently with this, and from fessor. Happily, however, he proved to the very hand that had imposed it, of a be more lenient than she had anticipated, severe training in rational scepticism and and dismissed his young penitent with a contempt for the faith of the vulgar.
nominal penance. Even if Aurore had not been in her in- The day that makes an epoch in the most heart something of a dévote, this par- Catholic girl's life at length arrived, and allel discipline in outward conformity and Aurore was decked out like the rest of the inward ridicule would have been hurtful candidates. The grandmother, having enough. As it was, it brought into her given a finishing touch to her instructions young life all the pain of contradiction, all by bidding Aurore, while going through the bitterness of enforced rebellion.
the act of decorum with the utmost deThe attendance on Mass could hardly cency, not to outrage Divine wisdom have seemed dangerous to Madame Dupin. and human reason to such an extent as to The old curé of Nobant was not troubled believe that she was going to eat her with an excess of reverence. When order- Creator,” accompanied her to the church. ing a procession, in deference to the man- It was a hard ordeal.
The incongruous date of his Archbishop, he would seize the appearance of the deistic grandmamma in occasion for expressing his contempt for the place sufficed in itself to throw the such mummeries. In his congregation girl's thoughts into disorder. She felt the there was a queer old lady, who used to hollowness of the whole thing, and asked utter her disapproval of the ceremony with herself whether she and her grandmother a frankness that would have seemed brutal were not committing an act of hypocrisy. even in a theatre, by exclaiming, “Quelle More than once her repugnance reached diable de Messe !". And the object of this such a pitch that she thought of getting up criticism, on turning to the congregation and saying to her grandmother, “Enough to wind up with the familiar Dominus vo- of this : let us go away.” But relief came biscum, would reply in an under-tone, yet in another shape. Going over the scene loudly enough for Aurore's ear, " Allez of the "Last Supper” in her thoughts, au diable !"
That the child attached lit- she all at once recognized that the words tle solemnity to the ritual is evident from of Jesus, “This is my body and my her account to the grandmother of her first blood,", were nothing but a metaphor. visit to the Mass : “I saw the curé, who He was too holy and too great to have took his breakfast standing up before a wished to deceive his disciples. This disbig table, and who turned round on us covery of the symbolism of the rite calmnow and then to call us names.
ed her by removing all feeling of its groThe preparation for the "First Com- tesqueness. She left the Communion table munion" was a more serious matter. The quite at peace.
Her contentment gave a girl had now to study the life of Christ, new expression to her face, which did not and her heart was touched by the story. escape the anxious eyes of Madame Du“The Gospel” (she writes)" and the divine pin : " Softened and terrified, divided bedrama of the life and death of Jesus drew tween the fcar of having made me devout from me in secret torrents of tears. ller and that of having caused me to lie to mygrandmother, by making now and again self, she pressed me gently to her heart and
a short, dry appeal to her reason, suc- dropped some tears on my veil.” ceeded in getting her to reject the notion It was out of this conflicting and agitatof miracles and of the divinity of Jesus. ing experience, the full sense of the beauty But though she was thus unable to reach of the Christian faith and the equally full
comprehension of the sceptic's destructive ways appears, like Jesus—and one may logic, that there was born in Aurore's add, like Buddha—as the beneficent one, imagination the idea of a new private re- spending himself, and suffering perseculigion with which nobody else should med- tions and martyrdom, in the cause of bu. dle. She gives, us the origin of this manity. strange conception clearly enough :
This occupation of the imagination deSince all religion is a fiction (I thought), let veloped “ a kind of gentle hallucination.” us make a story which may be a religion, or
Aurore soon learned to betake herself to a religion which may be a story. I don't be- her hero-divinity for comfort and delight. lieve in my stories, but they give me just as Even when her peasant companions chatmuch happiness as though I did.* Besides,
tered around her she was able to lose hershould I chance to believe in them from time to time, nobody will know it, nobody will dis.
self in her world of religious romance. pel my illusion by proving to me that I am The idea of sacred books was followed dreaming.
by that of a temple and a ritual. For this The form and the name of her new di- purpose she chose a little wood in her vinity came to her in a dream. He was to grandmother's garden, a perfect thicket be called “Corambé.” His attributes of young trees and undergrowth, where must be given in her own words :
nobody ever penetrated, and which, dur.
ing the season of leaves, was proof against He was pure and charitable as Jesus, radiant and beautiful as Gabriel; but it was need any spying eye. Here, in a tiny, natural ful to add a little of the grace of the nymphs chamber of green, carpeted with a magand of the poetry of Orpheus. Accordingly nificent moss, she proceeded to erect an he had a less austere form than the God of the altar against a tree stem, decking it with Christian, and a more spiritual feeling than
shells and other ornaments and crowning those of Homer. And then I was obliged to complete him by investing him on occasion it with a wreath of flowers suspended from with the guise of a woman, for that which I a branch above. The little priestess bavhad up to this time loved the best, and under. ing made her temple, sat down on the stood the best, was a woman-my mother.
moss to consider the question of sacrifices : And so it was often under the semblance of a woman that he appeared to me. In short, he To kill animals, or even insects, in order to had no sex, and assumed all sorts of aspects. please him, appeared to me barbarous and
Coram bé should have all the attributes unworthy of his ideal kindliness. I persuaded of physical and moral beauty, the gift of elo- myself to do just the opposite, that is, to requence, the omnipoteut charm of the arts
store life and liberty on his altar to all the above all, the magic of musical improvisation. creatures that I could procure. I wished to love him as a friend, as a sister, while revering him as a God. I would not be Her offering included butterflies, lizards, afraid of him, and to this end I desired, that little green frogs, and birds. These she he should have some of our errors and weak.
would put into a box, lay it on the altar, I sought that one which could be
and then open it, reconciled with his perfection, and I found it
after having invoked in an excess of indulgence and kindness. the good genius of liberty and protection.”
In these mimic rites, hardly removed The religious idea took an historical form, and Aurore proceeded to develop agitated girl found repose "I had then
froin genuine childish play, the doubtthe several phases of Corambé's mundane delicious reveries, and while seeking the existence in a series of sacred books or
marvellous, which had for me so great an songs. She supposed that she must have composed not less than a thousand of such and the pure feeling of a religion according
attraction, I began to find the vague idea songs without ever being tempted to write down a line of them. In each of these
But the sweet sanctuary did not long rethe deity Corambé, who had become hu
main inviolate. man on touching the earth, was brought mate came to look for her, and tracked
One day her boy playinto a fresh group of persons. These her to her secret grove.
He was awewere all good people ; for although there existed wicked ones, one did not see them,
struck at the sight, and exclaimed : “Ah, but only knew of them by the effects of miss, the pretty little altar of the Fête their malice and madness. Corainbé al- further, but she felt the charm was de
Dieu !" He was for embellishing it still
stroyed. * She here refers to the stories she had long been accustomed to compose for her own pri- From the instant that other feet than mine vate delectation,
had trodden his sanctuary, Corambé ceased to person
to my heart.”
dwell in it. The dryads and the cherubim Nature's work as a whole, and its Divine deserted it, and it seemed to me as if my cere.
Aurore Dupin, on monies and my sacrifices were from this time purpose and control. only childishness, that I had not in truth
the other hand, approaches religion on the been in earnest. I destroyed the temple with huinan and emotional side, the side which as much care as I had built it; I dug a hole seems more appropriate to her sex. She at the foot of the tree, where I buried the gar- thinks of her deity as intently occupied lands, the shells, and all the rustic ornaments, under the ruins of the altar.
with humanity and its humble kinsfolk in
the sentient world ; and she endows him This story of Aurore's religious experi- above all other qualities with generosity ment cannot fail to remind the reader of and pitifulness, even to excess. Goethe biography of the child Goetbe's well-known seems to represent the speculative, Aurore essays in the same direction. The boy's the humanitarian, impulse in religion. mind, it will be remembered, had been But we must return from our digression greatly exercised with the religious prob- and follow Aurore through her later religlem, first of all under the impression of ious experiences. borror caused by the earthquake at Lisbon, Madame Dupin was dissatisfied with the and later from having to listen to accounts girl's progress, and said to her, of the new sects—Separatists, Moravians, n'avez point de tenue, point de grâce, and the rest-who sought a closer com- point d'à-propos."
point d'à-propos." She resolved to send munion with the Deity than was possible her to a convent, and selected for this par. through the somewhat cold ritual of the pose the “ Couvent des Anglaises," which established religiou. Stirred by their ex- had been founded by English Catholic ref. ample, he tried also to realize a closer ap- ugees during the Protectorate, and where proach to the Divine Being. He con- she bad been imprisoned during the Rev. ceived Him, he tells us, as standing in olution. immediate connection with Nature. So Aurore had but little regret in leaving he invented a form of worship in which the open world and varied interests of natural products were to represent the Nohant. She was weary of being an apworld, and a flame burning over these to ple of discord between her mother and her symbolize the aspirations of man's heart. grandmother, both of whom she loved, and A handsome pyramid-shaped music-stand felt an “imperious need” of repose. was chosen for altar, and on the shelves of Three years were passed behind the gratthis the successive stages in the evolution ing--years of almost complete isolation of Nature were to be indicated. The rite from the outer world. In the first of was to be carried out at sunrise, the altar- these she was a rebel, enfant terrible
in flame to be secured by means of fumigat- the second she passed suddenly to an ing pastils and a burning-glass. The first dent and agitated devotion;" in the third perforinance was a success, but in trying she quieted down to a calm and enjoyable to repeat it the boy-priest omitted to put piety. the pastils into a cup, so the lacquered We must not dwell on the first year, stand, with its beautiful gold flowers, was with its succession of wild girlish advendisastrously burnt, and the spirit for new tures, strange and exciting though they are, offerings departed.
beyond most narratives of boyish school In comparing these two instances of pranks. Suffice it to say that Aurore at .childish worship, one is struck perhaps once joined and took the lead of “les more by their contrast than by their siini- diables,” that is, the rebels who refused larity. Each of the twoincidents illustrates, to be among the devout ones (“ les no doubt, a true childish aspiration toward sages"). She headed their exciting and the great Unseen, and also an impulse to dangerous excursions through the labyinvent a form of worship which shall har- rinthine subterranean passages, and even monize with and express the little worship- over the roof of the convent, in search of per's own individual thoughts. But here the “ victim," the fabulous
whom the resemblance ceases. The boy-priest the tradition of the rebels declared was feels, apparently, nothing of the human hidden away in some remote cell. This side of religion : he is the true precursor romantic excitement was, she tells us, nec. of Goethe, the large-eyed man of science essary to her to enable her to bear up under and the poet of pantheism, and finds his the severe régime of the convent. It is delight in symbolizing the orderliness of not improbable, too, that this indulgence
in lawless turbulence came as a welcome definable emotion, even in the days of her reaction after the enforced duplicities and diablerie.
diablerie. Another painting in the chapel, the heart-rendings of Nohant. However depicting St. Augustine under the fig tree, this be, the experience was an integral bearing the words “ Tolle, lege !" acted factor in the evolution of the girl's relig- at this time on her imagination, and sent ious consciousness. The young are for. her to re-peruse the Gospels with greater the most part only half-hearted rebels, and seem often to gratify their wildness The evening of the same day in which only to enjoy more intensely the delights she had reopened the New Testament sle of submission. So it was in this case. found herself at nightfall pacing the cloisAmong the nuns with whom the girl was ters alone, weary of the frivolities of her brought into close contact, and of whoin comrades. She saw a few straggling worshe has left us masterly sketches, were wom. shippers, pupils and others, enter the en who tempered religious austerity with church. Permission was required for more lovable qualities. One of these, Ma. joining in this evening devotion, but dame Alicia, seems to have had a special Aurore, always ready for an act of diso. attraction for Aurore. She writes of her : bedience, heeded not the restriction and She scolded sometimes, but with few words ;
entered with the rest. Her impulse was and these words were so just, a reproof so
half a malicious one, for she wanted to see well grounded, reproaches so direct, so clear, what a poor hunchback would do there, and nevertheless accompanied by a hope so
and report to the “ diables,” and half a encouraging, that one felt one's self curbed, reduced, convinced before her, without being prompting of the nascent religious feeling. wounded, humiliated, or chagrined. One
Once in the church, the hunchback was loved her all the more, the less worthy one soon forgotten. The scene was an innfelt of the friendship she preserved for you, pressive one : but one retained the hope of deserving it.
The church was lit only by the small silver The complete withdrawal froin the world lamp, whose white flame repeated itself in the and the sceptical atmosphere of the châ- polished marble of the pavement as a star in a teau, the daily contact with sincere devo
motionless water. Its reflection gave off pale tion in women of worthy and even noble sparks on the corners of the gilded frames, on
the carven candlesticks of the altar, and on character, could not fail to act upon the the gold plates of the tabernacle. The door heart of the young rebel, which, like that placed at the end of the hinder choir was open of Marian Evans and other gifted children,
on account of the heat, as well as one of the was preternaturally sensitive to human in- great windows which looked on to the ceme
tery. The perfumes of the honeysuckle and fluence. A year of revolt was enough : jasmine ran on the wings of a fresh breeze, she was now fifteen years old, and began A star lost in the immensity was as if framed to weary of its idleness and its barren ex. in by the window, and seemed to look on me citements. She felt that her violent love attentively. The birds sang : it was a quiet, for her mother had fatigued and bruised
a charm, a meditation, a mystery, of which I
had never had an idea. her. She had a quiet veneration for Madame Alicia, but she needed an ardent
She remained some time in a state of passion" to take her completely out of pure contemplation, “thinking of nothherself. So she found herself half-invol. ing.” Little by little the few worshippers untarily taking a step in the direction of retired. A single nun remained kneeling the devout, and occupying her spare hours at the back of the choir. Having comwith the Lives of the Saints.
Sbe ridipleted her devotion, she arose and stepped culed the miracles, but was touched and forward, lighting a small candle at the stirred by the faith, courage, and stoicism lainp of the sanctuary in order to read. of the confessors.
The mysterious form, wrapt in a long In the convent chapel at the end of the cloak, resembled "a phantom ready to choir was a picture by Titian, representing pierce the sepulchral slabs and re-enter her Jesus in the Garden of Olives falling faint marble couch. She too departed, and ing into the arms of an angel.
the girl was left alone : a particular moment of the day during the The hour grew late, the prayer-bell rang, winter months when the declining sun
somebody came and shut the church. I had threw a ray on the red drapery of the forgotten everything. I know not what passed
within me. I breathed an atmosphere of an angel and on the white arm of Christ. At
ineffable sweetness, and I breathed it with this moment she always experienced an in- my mind yet more than with my senses. Sud.
NEW SERIES. – VOL. LI., No. 6.