Review of Reviews
THE BOOK OF THE MONTH:
"EN ROUTE": A FIN-DE-SIECLE "PILGRIM’S PROGRESS."
INTRODUCTORY: OF WAYS OF SALVATION.
THIS book reminds me of nothing so much as of the paintings of M. Jean Beraud, the eccentric French artist, who in recent years has created a certain sensational success by painting the scenes of the Gospel amid modern surroundings. His first, which perhaps was the most famous, represents Christ at the house of Simon the leper, when Mary Magdalene anointed His feet with ointment and wiped them with the hair of her head. Round the central figure of the story were grouped men and women dressed in the latest Parisian fashions, and wearing, some of them, unmistakable likenesses to certain eminent financiers and demi-mondaines of the day. Another picture in the same style represents Christ bearing the cross. The pallid, haggard, blood-stained figure staggered onward beneath the cross too heavy to be borne, pursued as he went by the ribald crowd of exquisites, dandies in full dress with their profligate companions hanging on to their arms, while all sorts and conditions of men and women of the present age, modern to their finger-tips, pursued the Saviour with their execrations and derisions.
M. HUYSMANS’ PILGRIM.
Huysmans’ book is a "Pilgrim’s Progress" done in the style of this artist, for it represents the flight of the convicted sinner from the City of Destruction to Mount Zion, in the very latest dialect of modernity. Durtal, M. Huysmans’ pilgrim, starts from Paris in the last half of the last decade of the nineteenth century. He is up to date, a decadent of the decadents, a man exhausted with every debauchery, familiar even with the most fantastic forms of vice and blasphemy, who, at the age of forty, finds himself constrained to flee from the wrath to come. He pursues his flight in such characteristic fashion that even in the midst of his spiritual agonies, in which his soul, wandering in the wilderness, cries aloud for the living God, or shudders in horror at its attempt to escape from the grasp of the Evil One, his body craves for the indispensable cigarette, and the struggling convert is graciously permitted to perfume with tobacco the privacies of woods which surround a Trappist monastery!
THE VALUE OF THE STORY.
Nevertheless, although there is much in the book which may seem fantastic — and there is undoubtedly a great deal which is effective to the last degree — "En Route" is a notable volume which may be specially commended to the perusal of those persons to whom it will be most antipathetic, viz., the hard-headed, more or less materialistic, commonsense, matter-of-fact, rationalised Protestant of our day and generation. Specially may it be commended to those good souls to whom the Catholic Church is an abomination, who regard Rome as the mystical Babylon, and who confound her ceremonies, her ritual, and her practices under a wholesale indiscriminate anathema. The perusal of the book may indeed be commended to such as a violent but healthy irritant. It will perhaps make them blaspheme in every chapter, but at the same time that it may confirm them in their reasoned objections to the Roman creed, it will probably in many cases for the first time enable them to understand somewhat of the attraction of the doctrines and practices against which they so strongly protest. The Orangeman who reads this may damn the Pope at the end as vigorously as before, but if he does he will at least he able to understand that he is condemning something which is no longer an emanation of the pure cussedness of human nature, but which does on many sides appeal powerfully and directly to the deepest needs of the human heart.
THE KEY OF SYMPATHY.
To the majority of men and women who are not violent anti-Papists, but to whom the raison d’être of many things in the Catholic Church is shrouded in the densest mystery, this book will be very welcome, for it explains things which to many of us have been inexplicable, and renders thinkable ways of life which are utterly, incomprehensible. It is no mean service to be rendered to any one by an author, to lend us for a time the key of sympathy whereby we can open the locked door or the understanding, so that we can enter in and realise what our brother or sister has found to be good, nay, indispensable for the soul’s welfare. It is a service, the rendering of which atones for many sins. This M. Huysmans undoubtedly has accomplished, better perhaps in this particular sphere than almost any other modern writer who can be named.
THE THREE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS.
It is a trite saying that one-half of the world does not know how the other half lives, but how little trouble we take to understand what it is that constitutes the very breath of life to millions of our fellow-creatures! Christendom may be said to be broadly divided into three parts — Roman, Greek, and Protestant. That is to say, the Christian family consists of three brothers, each one of whom is so much impressed with the differences dividing him from his brothers, that he forgets that they are all children of one father, and are all in direct filial relations with the author of their being. No doubt our Greek and Roman brethren an very perverse and horribly mistaken, and it is much to he desired that they would abandon their corruptions and heresies, and become even altogether such a one as their Protestant brother.
WHAT MAKES THEM TO LIVE?
But seeing that we have sworn at them to that effect for three hundred yearn without producing any appreciable result upon their lives, it is surely high time that we should endeavour to appreciate that which makes them to live, to understand what it is that keeps the lamp of faith burning in their hearts, and which, all imperfections notwithstanding, nevertheless does help millions of men and women to lead somewhat of a Christian life, to bear the misfortunes of life with patience, and to confront the sad certitude of death with resignation and hope. Nor need we at this period shrink from studying with sympathetic eye the working of the Divine Spirit in our brother’s soul. Too often men have shrunk from admitting the operations of divine grace outside their own Church, fearing lest such an admission might lead to an exodus much to be deplored from their own fold. But of that there need be at present but little anxiety. The old adage "One man’s meat is another man’s poison" holds good in religion as in other things, and it does not in the least follow because one way of salvation may be found to offer the way of least resistance to our friend and brother, that therefore it must be that which our feet should traverse.
HOW TO TEST "WAYS OF SALVATION!"
Ways of salvation of all kinds are indeed by no means so easy that we should be above taking a hint from those who have made a pilgrimage along other lines than those with which we are familiar. Of all such ways there is only one test. That is not the voice of the Church or the authority of Scripture, it is the one of simple common sense. "This is the way of salvation," do you say ? Then does it save? If it does, then Church or Scripture must be brought into harmony with it, for the fact of salvation is the supreme thing.
WHAT IS SALVATION?
But what is salvation? Salvation is a term that may be used of course as relating solely to the destiny of the soul when it is freed from the temporary envelope of the physical body. And this is, of course, of transcendent importance. But it is one which cannot from its nature be subjected to mundane tests. In its practical, work-a-day meaning it has to do not so much with the next life, but with that which we are living from day to day. The test, therefore, of a way of salvation is to ask whether by following it a man is saved from those sins, weaknesses, and miseries which, so far as they go, involve the loss of the true life. We constantly meet every day lost souls. They may "go to Heaven when they die," as the hymn says, but in this life they have lost all that makes life worth living. They have neither charity for their fellow-creatures, patience for bearing their own burdens, or joy for ministering to the lives of those in the midst of whom they pass their existence. They are men who are fretful, bitter, selfish, and unhappy. For those persons it is evident the way of salvation is still to be sought.
WHO ARE THE SAVED?
There are others with whom we are all familiar, who, whether by the operation of a certain divine grace, which comes from nature or heredity, or through the more orthodox channel of creed or ritual, or by some philosophy of their own, may be regarded as distinctly saved souls. They are saved from the world, the flesh, and the devil, that infernal Trinity from which we are delivered when we an saved in the first place from ourselves. They manifest the fruits of the Spirit even although they may not so much as know that there is any Spirit; they are full of the joy of peace and of helpful service to their fellow-men. They may be poor in this world’s goods, they may be sick and suffering in other ways; but they are delivered from that supreme curse of a self-centred existence, in which the gratification, the amusement, the service of self become the sole law of our being. In other words, they have found salvation.
As for the fate of these lost souls and saved souls in the next world, we can only argue from analogy or debate with the aid of the message of Revelation. But with these disputations we need not trouble ourselves so much; for us it is enough to know whether our brother’s way of salvation has saved him from being a nuisance to himself and his neighbours, and made him a source of help and health and happiness to those in the midst of whom he dwells.
IF ROMAN CATHOLICS ARE SAVED
But taking this, which may be described as an ultra-rationalist conception of salvation, there is no doubt that these fruits of the Spirit or this deliverance from the evil that is in the world, and especially in our own hearts, has been attained through many centuries by many of the greatest and holiest of our race, through agencies which that good man, Dr. Barnardo, for instance, would regard as almost purely diabolical. From the point of view of common sense, to say nothing of Christian charity and the humility which is born of a painful consciousness of our own shortcomings, it is surely well to inquire a little into the true inwardness of the modus operandi by which these good people within other communions than our own have found peace and joy in believing. All Churches are more or less manufacturers of saved souls — factories of holy lives, the output of which is good works. Not even the greatest bigot can deny that in all ages, even in those of the greatest corruption, stainless Christian lives have been lived in every land by faithful souls who knew no more of Christ and His heaven than they learnt through the teaching of the Church of Rome. There are, indeed, few who are familiar with the wide range of the literature of religious experience, who would not go much further and say that the Roman Catholic Church has in all times produced saints whose lives, judged by any test of human excellence, will compare favourably with those which can he shown in any other religion.
HOW IS THE SALVATION EFFECTED?
It is a homely saying that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the test of any religion is the people whom it produces. Good trees do not produce evil fruit, neither do bad trees bring forth good fruit, and if we could imagine that some supreme rationalist, holding no form of creed, but contemplating all, were to muster before him all the children of men in order that he might draw up a roll of those elect souls of the human race who have displayed the greatest virtue, manifested the most marvellous love, and have attained most nearly to the highest ideal of human perfection, there would undoubtedly be in that noble galaxy of the hero-saints of the world no small contingent from those who hold the Roman faith. That even an Orangeman, excepting on the 12th of July, would be willing to admit; but for the most part the process by which this result was obtained is hidden from Protestant eyes by the very natural prejudice born of the intense reaction which took place three centuries ago against the corruptions of Rome, and a not less healthy repugnance to recognise as true pontifical pretensions which appear to reason manifestly false.
THE ANSWER OF "EN ROUTE."
In "En Route" we have an attempt made, with what success our reader will judge for himself, to portray the way by which the Roman Catholic Church saves the souls of those who are committed to its care. Durtal, Huysmans’ pilgrim, cannot be regarded as an average penitent, but the problem which is discussed in the pages of "En Route" is all the more sharply defined on that account. Durtal is a decadent of the end of the nineteenth century, who, having wallowed in the lowest depths, is brought into the way of salvation by the Roman Catholic Church. It is a veritable "Pilgrim’s Progress" that we have here described, not by the Bedford tinker, whose artless story has been the staff and the stay of millions of humble souls for the last two hundred years, but an elaborate analytical study by one of the foremost French novelists, of the successive steps taken by a soul in its pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Promised Land.
THE SUPREME INTEREST OF THE STORY.
Mr. Kegan Paul, who translates and publishes the book, hardly seems to realise its true spiritual significance, for he says:- "The true interest in the book is its defence of the Monastic orders, and the description of such a life as seen from verv near. Here is, as it appears to us, the extraordinary value of the book for English readers."
It is quite true that there is much in the book that is very interesting and instructive about monastic orders; but that is a matter of purely literary or intellectual interest. Very few of us will have an opportunity of coming into personal touch with those who lead the monastic life; but all of us have souls to be saved and lives to be redeemed from the ever-encroaching grasp of the forces of evil within and without. The monastic part of the story is interesting only as indicating one of the methods by which Durtal was able to win his battle and discomfit Apollyon; but the supreme interest in the story is the description which it gives of the way in which a soul convinced of sin is won by the paraphernalia of the Church of Rome, is helped to attain that mastery over itself, which is rightly described as salvation.
WORKING FROM WITHOUT TO WITHIN.
There is only one other observation which I shall make before summarising the story of Durtal’s pilgrimage for my readers. To most Englishmen, especially those who have been reared in the spiritual environment more or less approximating to the austere simplicity of the Society of Friends, the chief impression which the book will leave upon the mind is one of sorrow, not to say disgust, at the extent to which the soul is taught to rely upon external agencies for the attainment of internal peace. Over and over again in reading "En Route" was I reminded of a charming zealous missionary of Delsarteism whom I had the pleasure of meeting many years ago in the room of an acquaintance who has this year held with distinction one of the most important posts in what may be called the subterranean world of Imperial politics. She assured me that the regeneration of the world had been sadly impeded because people would persist in attempting to regenerate mankind from within outward, whereas the true way of achieving the desired end and bringing in the millennium was to reverse the process, and to begin on the outside. "For instance," she exclaimed with much vivacity, "I am prepared to maintain that, if the worst man in the world will but allow me to absolutely control the muscles of his face and the movements of his limbs, I will, within a certified period, convert him into a perfect saint The body reacts upon the mind, and builds up a character within that conforms to its appearance without. It is impossible for you to perpetually adjust your face so as to produce a smile, and to retain bitterness or sourness in your heart. The muscles of your countenance will irresistibly transform the feeling of the heart."
THE DELSARTEISM OF ROME.
There is a great deal of Delsarteism in the Church of Rome. Throughout the whole of Huysmans’ story there is a perpetual operation from without designed to produce a corresponding change within. Whether all this paraphernalia of ceremony and ritual is the shortest way or not to the human heart, it cannot be denied that it is by this road that millions of the saints of God have found peace and joy in believing. It is not, therefore, for us to speak lightly of the Delsartean element in the Roman Church. It has its uses, and although it is possible that it may sometimes seem to approximate very nearly to the whirling prayer-mills of the good Thibetans, let us remember also that even prayer-mills themselves may not be without some efficacy, and certainly would never have come into such extended use if they had not at some time or other, in some way hidden to us, ministered to some of the imperious needs of the human heart.
I. DURTAL’S AWAKENING.
When Christian in Bunyan’s "Pilgrim’s Progress" makes his first appearance, he is clothed in rags, standing in a certain place with his face from his own house, a book in his hand and a great burden upon his back. He opened the book and read therein, and as he read he wept and trembled, and not being able longer to restrain it, broke out with a lamentable cry, saying, " What shall I do?"
Somewhat similar to this, although different in detail, is the story which Huysmans gives of the awakening of Durtal, the pilgrim of "En Route." Durtal was indeed clothed in filthy rags, morally speaking, and although his cry, "What shall I do?" was prompted by no reading of the book which Bunyan saw in the hands of Christian, it may be said to have been due to his study of that larger Scripture that is written in the world in which he lived. But whereas Bunyan is content to describe the awakening of his pilgrim’s conscience, Huysmans proceeds to discuss and analyse the causes which led to the awakening. His analysis and his discussion do not however, we must admit, advance us much further on the road. As Mr. Kegan Paul says, "The awakening of the soul is a mystery not to be explained in precise terms":-
The exact process is as little explicable as the quickening of life in the womb. The soul awakes and says, "I believe," it has come about by the sudden irruption of Grace, and not by any statement of syllogisms any admission of premisses, any conscious drawing of conclusions.
Durtal himself is equally unable to account for his sudden awakening to the higher life. Durtal is a dissolute and decadent man of letters who has just finished his history of Gilles de Rais, the abominable profligate and black magician who fought in the train of Jeanne d’Arc. When the story opens he is alone in the world; he had only two friends and they had both died; he had never married, but had wasted his manhood in every kind of excess. In his own words, "My heart is hardened and smoke-dried by dissipation, I am good for nothing."
Yet upon this hardened heart there had shone a light which convicted him of sin and male him ask, although in different phraseology from that of Bunyan’s pilgrim, "What shall I do to be saved?" Durtal finds himself, without knowing it, converted to faith — that is to say, from being a rank unbeliever he has come to recognise the importance of his relations with the Infinite. How this came about, he says frankly, he does not know. No doubt the work had been prepared beforehand, but of the process himself he was unconscious. He says:-
I know not in what this consists; it is something analogous to digestion in a stomach, which works though we do not feel it. There has been no road to Damascus, no events to bring about a crisis; nothing has happened, we awake some fine morning, and, without knowing how or why, the thing is done. No doubt I can distinguish here and there some landmarks on the road I have travelled: love of art, heredity, weariness of life; I can even recall some of the forgotten sensations of childhood, the subterranean workings of ideas excited by my visits to the churches: but I am unable to gather these threads together, and group them in a skein, I cannot understand the sudden and silent explosion of light which took place in me. When I seek to explain to myself how one evening an unbeliever, I became, without knowing it, on one night a believer, I can discover nothing, for the divine action has vanished and left no trace.
The first note of distinction between Durtal and Bunyan’s Christian is that Durtal was not in the least moved at first by any remorse for sin. His recoil from his evil doing was an after-effect of his acceptance of the truth of the Christian religion, to which he was attracted by its externals far more than by any direct spiritual appeal which its message made to his conscience. Indeed, at first, although he was, as Mr. Kegan Paul says, converted to faith, he was very far from having reformed his life. He recoiled from the thought of prayer; but, he lamented:
I am haunted by Catholicism, intoxicated by its atmosphere of incense and wax, I prowl about it, moved even to tears by its prayers, touched even to the marrow by its psalms and chants. I am thoroughly disgusted with my life, very tired of myself; but it is a far cry from that to leading a different existence!
This disgust which he felt at the life which he was leading was aggravated by his solitude and his idleness, for since he had finished the history of Gilles de Rais he had no other book on hand. In place of religion or of any moral sentiment, he had a great passion for art, especially for music and the plain chant of the Church service. "More even than his disgust for life, art had been the irresistible magnet that drew him to God." One day, partly out of curiosity and partly from a wish to kill time which lay heavy on his hands, he had entered a church after many years in which he had never darkened the sacred portals. As he heard the vespers for the dead "fall heavily, psalm after psalm, in antiphonal chant as the singers threw up as from ditches their shovels full of verse," his soul had been shaken to its depths. The work thus began was continued by the ceremonies and music or Holy Week. Day after day he visited the churches which, filled with great crowds, seemed themselves to become enormous crosses, living, not crawling, silent and sombre. He kept on day after day until at last on the Thursday at nightfall, when the "Stabat Mater" was sung, all temptations to unbelief fled. Durtal left the church worn out with long services, but he had no further doubt. The eloquent splendour of the litanies and the dim sorrow of the voices appealed to him. He had begun the new life but half conscious of the change which had taken place in him. Neither did he by any means abandon his vices, but he went frequently to the Church of St. Severin, especially to high mass, where the singing of the plain chant deepened his conviction as to the truth of the Catholic creed. "It is impossible," he would say, "that the alluvial deposits of faith which have created this mystical certainty are false."
He ended by being moved to the very marrow, choked by nervous tears, and all the bitterness of his life came up before him; full of vague fears, of confused prayers which stifled him, and found no words, he cursed the ignominy of his life and swore to master his carnal affections.
In fact, to sum up all, he might believe that St. Severin by its scent, and the delightful art of its old nave, St. Sulpice by its ceremonies and its chanting, had brought him back towards Christian art, which in its turn had directed him to God.
Ah! the true proof of Catholicism was that art which it had founded, an art which has never been surpassed; in painting and sculpture the Early Masters, mystics in poetry and in prose, in music plain chant, in architecture the Romanesque and Gothic styles.
Then when once urged on this way, he had pursued it, had left architecture and music, to wander in the mystic territories of the other arts, and his long visits to the Louvre, his researches into the breviaries, into the hooks of Ruysbröck, Angela da Foligno. Saint Teresa, Saint Catherine of Genoa, Saint Magdalen of Pezzi, had confirmed him in his belief.
With Durtal, as with most Frenchmen, there are only two alternatives: unbelief or Catholicism. Recoiling from unbelief, he it once sought refuge in the Church:-
Once I despised her, because I had a staff on which to lean when the great winds of weariness blew; I believed in my novels, I worked at my history, I had my art. I have come to recognise its absolute inadequacy, its complete incapacity to afford happiness. Then I understood that Pessimism was, at most, good to console those who had no real need of comfort; I understood that its theories, alluring when we are young, and rich, and well, become singularly weak and lamentably false, when age advances, when infirmities declare themselves, when all around is crumbling.
I went to the church, that hospital for souls. There, at least, they take you in, put you to bed and nurse you, they do not merely turn their backs on you as in the wards of Pessimism, and tell you the name of your disease.
II. — DURTAL’S EVANGELIST.
In "Pilgrim’s Progress," when Christian, after a period of much misery, was walking in the fields reading his book, looking this way and that way as if he would run, yet standing still because he perceived he could not tell which way to go, he looked up and saw a man named Evangelist coming to him, who asked him, " Wherefore dost thou cry?" The part played by the Evangelist in Huysmans’ book is taken by an excellent and admirable old priest, a true mystic, the Abbé Gévresin. But whereas Evangelist points Bunyan’s pilgrim to Christ as the wicket-gate, the abbé deals in much subtler fashion with Durtal. And herein lies the second broad distinction between the "Pilgrim’s Progress" of the seventeenth century and this "Pilgrim’s Progress" at the end of the nineteenth. Bunyan pointed the awakened sinner directly to the wicket-gate, whereas Huysmans, believing that the road lies through the sacraments of the Church, sets himself diligently to manoeuvre Durtal by a kind of sanctified strategy into the way of salvation. One of the most remarkable passages in a book which contains many notable chapters, is that in which Huysmans boldly asserts the efficacy of forms and ceremonies, even when they are performed in the most mechanical spirit. The occasion is one in which he describes a funeral service in the Madeleine over the bier of a rich man. The singing of the "Dies Irae" profoundly impresses him, although he is compelled to admit that from bottom to top the performers of the service put no heart into their task. He says:—
The tenors and basses are careful of their effects, and admire themselves in the more or less rippled water of their voices; the choir boys dream of their scampers after mass; and, moreover, not one of them at all understands a word of the Latin they sing and abridge, as for instance the "Dies Irae," of which they suppress a part of the stanzas. In its turn beadledom calculates the sum the dead man brings in, and even the priest, wearied with the prayers of which he has read so many, and needing his breakfast, prays mechanically from the lips outward, while the assistants are in a hurry that the mass to which they have not listened should come to an end, that they may shake hands with the relations, and leave the dead.
Notwithstanding all this, notwithstanding the unworthiness of the celebrants, a virtue remains indestructible in the music itself. He says:
There is absolute inattention, profound weariness: but by the external sound of the words, without the aid of contemplation, without even the help of thought, the Church acts. There it is, the miracle of her liturgy, the power of her word, the constantly renewed prodigy of phrases created by revolving time, of prayers arranged by ages which are dead All has passed, nothing exists that was raised up in those bygone times. Yet those sequences remain intact, cried aloud by indifferent voices and cast out from empty hearts, plead, groan, and implore even with efficacy, by their virtual power, their talismanic might, their inalienable beauty by the almighty confidence of their faith. The Middle Ages have left us these to help us to save, if it may be, the soul of the modern and dead fine gentleman.
This, it may be objected, is very much like the belief of the Hindus in the muttering or magical mantrams, a faith which Theosophists have done something to render thinkable to us Westerns. Huysmans’ reply would probably be that it is true, and that both in the muttering of the mantrams and in the intoning of the Liturgy there is a recognition of the same law. At any rate, it was by these means that he was convinced at the bottom rof his soul of the certitude of true faith. The more he argued against it, the more he was convinced that all the excuses he made for his unworthy life were odiously inadequate:-
How doubt the truth of dogmas, how deny the divine power of the Church, for she commands assent?
First she has her superhuman art and her mysticism, then she is meat wonderful in the persistent folly of conquered heresies. All since the world began have had the flesh as their springboard. Logically and humanly speaking they should have triumphed, for they allowed man and woman to satisfy their passions, saying to themselves there was no sin in these.
All have suffered shipwreck. The Church, unbending in this matter, has remained upright and entire. She orders the body to be silent, and the soul to suffer, and contrary to all probability, humanity listens to her, and sweeps away like a dung-heap the seductive joys proposed to her.
Again, the vitality of the Church is decision, which preserves her in spite of the unfathomable stupidity of her sons. She has resisted the disquieting folly of the clergy, and has not even been broken up by the awkwardness and lack of ability in her defenders, a very strong point.
"No, the wore I think of her," he cried, "the more I think her prodigious, unique, the more I am convinced that she alone holds the truth, that outside her are only weaknesses of mind, impostures, scandals. The Church is the divine breeding ground, the heavenly dispensary of souls; she gives them suck, nourishes them, and heals them; she bids them understand, when the hour of sorrow comes that true life begins, not at birth, but at death. The Church is indefectible, before all things admirable, she is great-
"Yes, but then we must follow her directions and practise the sacraments she orders!"
From this obedience Durtal recoiled — he had the sovereign contempt of the French freethinker for the clericals. Priests and devotees alike he regarded with supreme disdain. When his conscience told him if he recognised the authority of the Church he must do as she told him, he replied:
No indeed — for then I must bind myself to a heap of observances, bend to a series of rules, assist at mass on Sunday, abstain on Friday, live like a bigot and look like a fool.
Nothing can be more contemptuous than the way in which he speaks of "the pious geese" who thronged the churches, and the wretchedly commonplace priests who were so lukewarm, and who never could rise above what he called their middle class ideal of a God. "They will try," he said, "to convince me that art is dangerous, will sermonise me with imbecile talk, and pour over me their flowing bowls of pious veal broth. Yet," said he, "I cannot approach the altar without the aid or an interpreter, without the bulwark of a priest." He had been converted, or rather awakened, without the help of anyone; now a priest was indispensable. The more he contemplated the possibility of kneeling in church before the altar, or of communicating, the more he recoiled from it. "Even if I decide to jump the ditch, to confess and communicate, I must determine to fly the lusts of the flesh and accept perpetual abstinence. I could never attain to that." The more near he drew to the Church, the more his unclean desires became frequent and persistent. Never had he been so tormented as since his conversion. That, the inner voice said to him, was because he prowled about the precincts instead of entering the sanctuary, and he was reluctantly compelled to admit that he did not practise his religion because he yielded to his baser instincts, and yielded to those instincts because he did not practise his religion. Distressed and weary of heart, he began to ask himself whether it was not possible to find a priest with. whom he could communicate without being repelled by commonplace narrowness:-
Perhaps the secular clergy are only the leavings, for the contemplative orders and the missionary army carry away every year the pick of the spiritual basket; the mystics, priests athirst for sorrows, drunk with sacrifice, bury themselves in cloisters or exile themselves among savages whom they teach.
It was while he was in this state he bethought himself of one Abbé Gévresin whom he had once met in a bookseller’s shop, and discussed with him the life of the blessed Lidwine, a Dutch saint of the fourteenth century. Of this abbé, who plays a most important role in the book, we know nothing excepting that he was a good mystic, who, on account of his great age and infirmity, was incapacitated for the regular duties of the priesthood. To him Durtal went, and submitted the troubles of his soul.
III. — THROUGH THE SLOUGH OF REPENTANCE.
When Christian was on his way to the wicket-gate, it will be remembered he fell into the Slough of Despond, in which he wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with dirt, and in which, no doubt, he narrowly escaped sinking because of the burden upon his back. Durtal had passed, not through the Slough of Despond, but through the more of unclean thoughts which he had been diligently accumulating all through his past life:-
His shameless senses rebelled at the contact of religions ideas. He floated like wreckage between Licentiousness and the Church: they each threw him back in turn.
Continually his mind reverted to the images of the women with whom he bad sinned, especially that of one Florence, who had in the latter years acquired singular ascendency over his morbid taste. Even in church the memory ok the girl rose up before him, and the subtle fascination of the temptress overcame all his aspirations for a higher life:-
"If only the sound of my vices consents to be silent, but I feel that they rise furiously within me. Ah, that Florence,"— and he thought of a woman to whose vagaries, he was riveted — "continues to walk about in my brain. I see her behind the lowered curtain of my eyes, and when I think of her I am a terrible coward."
He endeavoured once more to put her away, but his will was overcome at the sight of tier.
He hated, despised, and even cursed her, but the madness of his illusions excited him; he left her disgusted with her and with himself; he swore he would never see her again, but did not keep his resolve.
He saw her now in vision extend her hand to him.
He recoiled, struggling to free himself; but his dream continued mingling her with the form of one of the sisters whose gentle profile lie saw.
Suddenly he started, returned to the real world, and saw that he was at St. Sulpice, in the chapel. "It is disgusting that I should come here to soil the church with my horrible dreams; I had better go."
So when he went to the Abbé Gévresin, he told him frankly how impossible he found it to shake off the mire of his vices. The abbé asked him if he prayed; he urged him to pray in his own house, in church, everywhere, as much as he could, but especially in the early morning and late in the evening, and also specially urged him to attend the Church Notre Dame des Victoires. Durtal loved the church on account, it would seem, that it alone among the churches of Paris was always filled with a crowd of worshippers in more or less ecstatic devotion. He says:-
Notre Dame des Victoires is worthless from the aesthetic point of view, and yet I go there from time to time, because alone in Paris it has the irresistible attraction of true piety, it alone preserves intact the lost soul of the Time. At whatever hour one goes there people are praying there, prostrate, in absolute silence. It is full as soon as it is open, and full at its closing. There is a constant coming and going of pilgrims from all parts of Paris, arriving from the depths of the provinces, and it seem that each one, by the prayers that he brings, adds fuel to the immense brazier of Faith, whose flames break out again under the smoky arches like the thousands of tapers which constantly burn, and are renewed from morning till evening, before Our Lady.
But when the abbé urged him to attend Benediction in that church in order that he might come out cleansed and at peace, he replied:-
"But, Monsieur l’Abbé, even were I to visit that sanctuary and follow the offices in other churches, when temptations assail me, even were I to confess and draw near, the Sacraments, how would that advantage me? I should meet as I came out the woman whose very sight inflames my senses, and it would be with me as after my leaving St. Severin all unnerved; the very feeling of tenderness which I had in the chapel would destroy me, and I should fall back into sin."
"What do you know about it?" and the priest suddenly rose, and took long strides through the room.
"You nave no right to speak thus, for the virtue of the Sacrament is formal, the man who has communicated is no longer alone. He is armed against others and defended against himself.
"I tell you again I believe in the preventive virtue, the formal power of the Sacraments. I quite understand the system of Père Milleriot, who obliged those persons to communicate whom he thought would afterwards fall again into sin. For their only penance he obliged them to communicate again and again, and he ended by purifying them with the Sacred Species, taken in large doses. It is a doctrine at once realistic and exalted."
But the abbé refrained from prescribing this heroic treatment, and contented himself with pressing him to pray and to lose no opportunity of attending churches. This plan at first seemed to succeed:-
The priest had evidently formed a plan; Durtal did not yet wholly understand it, but he was bound to admit that this discipline of temporizing, this constant call to thought always directed to God, by his daily visits to the churches, acted upon him at last, and little by little softened his soul. One fact proved it: that he who for so long a time had been unable to meditate in the morning, now prayed as soon as he awoke. Even in the afternoon be found himself on some days seized with the need of speaking humbly with God, with an irresistible desire to ask His pardon and implore His help.
He found himself all the better for this conduct, in that his visits to the churches, his prayers and readings occupied his objectless life, and he was no longer wearied.
"I have at least gained peaceable evenings and quiet nights," he said to himself.
But the Evil One was not to be cast out so easily:-
Suddenly, after so many hours spent in the chapels, there was a reaction: the flesh extinguished under the cinders of prayers took fire, and the conflagration, springing up from below, became terrible.
Florence seemed present, to Durtal’s imagination, at his lodgings, in the churches. in the street, everywhere, and he was constantly on the watch against her recurrent attractions.
In his solitude, foul thoughts assailed him.
It was an obsession by thought, by vision, in all ways, and the haunting was all the more terrible that it was so special, that it never turned aside, but concentrated itself always on the same point, the face and figure of Florence.
Durtal resisted, then in distraction took to flight, tried to tire himself out by long walks, and to divert his mind by excursions, but the ignoble desire followed him in his course, sat before in the café, came between his eyes and the newspaper he strove to read, becoming ever more definite. He ended after hours of struggle, by giving way and going to see this woman; he left her overwhelmed, half dead with disgust and shame; almost in tears.
Nor did he thus find any solace in his struggle, but the contrary; far from escaping it, the hateful charm took more violent and tenacious possession of him. Then Durtal thought of and accepted a strange compromise, to visit another woman knew, and in her society to break this nervous state, to put an end to this possession, this wearisome and remorse; and in doing so he strove to persuade himself that in thus acting he would be more pardonable, less sinful.
The clearest result of this attempt was to bring back the memory of Florence, and her vicious charm.
He continued therefore his intimacy with her, and then he had, during a few days, such a revolt from his slavery, that he extricated himself from the sewer, and stood on firm ground.
He succeeded in recovering and pulling himself together, and he loathed himself.
He went to the abbé and explained his trouble in veiled words with tears in his eyes. "Now," said the abbé, "are you quite certain that you have not that repentence which you assure me you have not experienced up to this time?" The priest was right; Durtal, who hitherto had hardly experienced any genuine sorrow for sin, was now crushed and humbled; he admitted he was repentant, but said he, "What is the good of it when one is so weak that in spite of all efforts one is certain to be overthrown at the first assault?"
IV.— THE DOCTRINE OF SUBSTITUTION.
We are now approaching a branch of Durtal’s experience which differs widely from anything that Christian went through. For the Abbé Gévresin said to Durtal, "Comfort yourself, go in peace and sin less. The greater part of your temptations will be remitted you; you can, if you choose, bear the remainder." There are orders like the Carmelites and the poor Clares who willingly accept the transfer to themselves of the temptations which we suffer. These convents take on their backs, so to speak, the diabolical expiations of those insolvent souls whose debts they pay to the full. The nuns chosen by Our Lord as victims of expiation, as wholesale burnt offerings, unite and coalesce in order to bear, without turning, the weight of misdeeds which try them, for in order that a soul may bear alone the assaults of Satan, which are often terrible, it must indeed be assisted by the angels and the elect of God. The good abbé was one of the directors of those nuns who make reparation in their convents, hence he assured Durtal that the saints would enter into the lists to help him. "They will take the overplus of the assaults which you cannot conquer, without even knowing your name, from their secluded province. Nunneries and Carmelites and poor Clares will pray for you on receiving a letter from me." And, in fact, from that very day the most acute attacks ceased, his temptations were less frequent, and he could bear them with impunity. This idea of convents in their compassion dragging him out of the mud in which he had stuck, and by their charity bringing him to the bank, excited him. "The contemplative Orders," said the abbé, "are the lightning conductors of society":-
"They draw on themselves the demoniacal fluid, they absorb temptations to vice, preserve by their prayers those who live, like ourselves, in sin: they appease, in fact, the wrath of the Most High that He may not place the earth under an interdict. Ah! while the sisters who devote themselves to nursing the sick and infirm are indeed admirable, their task is easy in comparison with that undertaken by the cloistered Orders, the Orders where penance never ceases, and the very nights spent in bed are broken by sobs."
Dutrtal is filled with admiration, and compares the convents aud monastic establishments in which these cloistered victims live to the forts which defend a city against the attack of the foe; they are as a cordon of spiritual forces which keep the Evil One at bay, and this not only by the fervour of their prayers, but by the severity of the regimen to which they subject themselves:-
Their existence is so, hard, that they too can atone by their prayers and good works for the crimes of the city they protect.
The abbé lays great stress upon the doctrine of substitution, although he hardly goes as far as Mr. Kegan Paul, who roundly declares in language that will cause every good Protestant to blaspheme, and make rnany good Catholics deplore the indiscretion of the phrase, that "the cloister is the divinely appointed expiation for the sins of the world." The blessed Lidwine, whose life Durtal aspired to write, was, according to the Abbé Gévresin, the verification of that plan of substitution which was and is the glorious reason for the existence of convents. The abbé said:-
In all ages, nuns have offered themselves to heaven as expiatory victims. The lives of saints, both men and women, who desired these sacrifices abound, of those who atoned for the sins of others by sufferings eagerly demanded and patiently borne. But then is a task still more arduous and more painful than was desired by these admirable souls. It is not now that of purging the faults of others, but of preventing them, hindering their commission, by taking the place of those who are too weak to bear the shock.
"Read Saint Teresa on this subject; you will see that she gained permission to take on herself, and without flinching, the temptations of a priest who could not endure them. This substitution of a strong soul freeing one who is not strong from perils and fears is one of the great rules of mysticism.
"Sometimes this exchange is purely spiritual, sometimes on the contrary it has to do only with the ills of the body. Saint Teresa was the surrogate of souls in torment, Sister Catherine Emmerich took the place of the sick, relieved, at least, those who were most suffering; thus, for instance, she was able to undergo the agony of a woman suffering from consumption and dropsy, in order to permit her to prepare for death in peace.
"Well, Lidwine took on herself all bodily ills, she lusted for physical suffering, and was greedy for wounds; she was, as it were, the reaper of punishments, and she was also the piteous vessel in which every one discharged the overflowings of his malady. If you would speak of her in other fashion than the poor hagiographies of our day, study first that law of substitution, that miracle of perfect charity, that superhuman triumph of Mysticisim; that will be the stem of your book, and naturally, without effort, all Lidwine’s acts graft themselves on it."
The reader will naturally ask himself whetlier there is anything in this theory, or whether the influence of the contemplative Orders, who are practically buried alive in their monasteries and convents, is in any real sense efficacious for the reduction of the temptations of mortals who are not cloistered from the world. Upon this subject I have only to make one passing remark, viz., that the recent investigations into the transference of pain by suggestion in the case of hypnotic subjects, and the evidence which is accumulating as to the potency of the human will exercised consciously or unconsciously by means of telepathy, renders it no longer possible for any one who has any familiarity with the phenomena Borderland to summarily dismiss this theory of convents as if it were pure moonshine. The power of intercessory prayers is recognised by all the Churches, but the possibility that unknown nuns in a remote province could be turned on, so to speak, to bear the burden of temptations which would otherwise overcome the resistance of an individual in Paris or elsewhere, is a doctrine which would be very interesting if it were scientifically verified. But at present it may be noted, whether true or untrue, it is that which occupies the most prominent place in Huysmans’ "Pilgrim’s Proggress." Huysmans evidently attaches considerable importance to the self-inflicted sufferings of the cloister. For instance, in speaking of the Benedictine nuns of the Blessed Sacrament of the Rue Mossier, he says: "It is said that they lead the most austere existence of any nuns; they scarcely taste flesh, they rise at two in the morning to sing matins, and lauds night and day, summer and winter; they take turns before the tapers of reparation and before the altar. Like all the other Orders, they are vowed to obedience, absolute and without reserve; they are in the hands of a superior like a block or the stalk of a tree which has neither life, nor movement, nor action, nor will, nor judgment." "But," asks Durtal, "are there not some moments in which the nuns despair, in which they lament that death in life which they have made for themselves: are there not days in which their senses wake and cry alond?" The abbé replied:-
"No doubt; in the cloistered life the age of twenty-nine is terrible to pass, then a passionate crisis arises; if a woman doubles that cape, and she almost always does so, she is safe.
"But carnal emotions are not, to speak correctly, the most troublesome assault they have to undergo. The real punishment they endure in those hours of sorrow is the ardent, wild regret for that maternity of which they are ignorant; the desolate womb of woman revolts, and full of God though she be, her heart is breaking. The child Jesus whom they have loved so well then appears so far off and so inaccessible, and His very sight would hardly satisfy them, for they have dreamed of holding Him in their arms, of swathing and rocking Him, of giving Him suck, in one word, of being mothers.
"Other nuns undergo no precise attack, no assault to which a name can be given, but without any definite reason they languish and die suddenly, like a taper, blown out. The torpor of the cloister kills them."
Huysmans again makes the enemy to blaspheme by quoting with approval the uncomprornising declaration of St. Teresa to the effect that any nun who is guilty of insubordination should be imprisoned for life in her cell:-
Saint Teresa was goodness itself, but when she speaks in her "Way of Perfection" of nuns who band themselves together to discuss the will of their mother, she shows herself inexorable, for she declares that perpetual imprisonment should be inflicted on them as soon as possible and without flinching, and in fact she is right, for every disorderly sister infects the flock, and gives the rot to souls.
This passage will not be forgotten in this countryor in America when the next agitation is got up in favour of the inspection of convents.
V.— PROGRESS TO THE WICKET-GATE.
Aided by the intercessory prayers or substitutional sacrifice of the nuns, Durtal began to make progress. He had long before begun to pray. It was in a little church in the Rue de la Glacière on Christmas Day, where the singing of the chants filled him with quivering emotion:-
He had a real impulse, a dim need of praying to the Unknowable; penetrated to the very marrow by this environment of aspiration, it seemed to him that he thawed a little, and took a far-off part in the united tenderness of these bright spirits. He sought for a prayer, and recalled what St. Paphnutius taught Thais, when he cried, "Thou art not worthy to name the name of God, thou wilt pray only thus: ’Qui plasmasti me miserere mei’; Thou who hast formed me have mercy on me." He stammered out the humble phrase, prayed not out of love or of contrition, but out of disgust with himself, unable to let himself go, regretting that he could not love.
Before he had left the church he was filled with a desire to appeal to some one, he knew not whom, to complain of he knew not what. So he fell on his knees, crying out to the Virgin:-
Have pity on me, and hear me: I would rather anything than continue this shaken existence, these idle stages, without an aim. Pardon me, Holy Virgin, unclean as I am, for I have no courage for the battle. Ah, wouldest thou grant my prayer! I know well that I am over bold in daring to ask, since I am not oven resolved to turn out my soul, to empty it like a bucket of filth, to strike it on the bottom, that the lees may trickle out and the scales fall off, but...but...thou knowest I am so weak, so little sure of myself, that in truth I shrink."
The abbe urged him to read the. books of the mystics, for in mysticism is the art, the science, and the very soul of the Church. Then he turned his attention to the monastic orders and interested him in the converts, took him to see a nun take the veil; but although his temptations were appeased, Durtal felt rising in him ever more and more an increasing desire to have done with these strifes and fears; but he grew pale when he thought of reversing his life once for all:-
Indeed, every time he tried to examine his soul, a curtain of mist arose, and hid from him the unseen and silent approach of he knew not what. The only impression which he carried with him as he rose, was that it was less that he advanced towards the unknown, than that this unknown invaded him, penetrated him, and little by little took possession of him.
When he spoke to the abbé of this state, at once cowardly and resigned, imploring and fearful, the priest only smiled.
"Busy yourself in prayer, and bow down your back," he said one day.
"But I am tired of bending my back, and of trampling always on the same spot," cried Durtal. "I have had enough of feeling myself taken by the shoulders and led I know not where. It is really time that in one way or another this situation came to an end."
"Plainly." And standing up, and looking him in the face, the abbé said, impressively-
"This advance towards God which you find so obscure and so slow is on the contrary, so luminous and so rapid that it astonishes me; only as you yourself do not move, you do not take account of the swiftness with which you are borne along."
The only question the abbé added was as to the receptacle in which this ripe fruit was to be placed. The abbé was not long in making up his mind as to the receptacle. After some little time the abbé announced that it was to a small Trappist monastery of Notre Dame de l`Atre, a few leagues from Paris, that he must go for his conversion. Durtal was at first astonished, but after a little hesitation was eager to take the plunge.
VI.— IN THE MONASTERY.
To the Trappist monastery, therefore, Durtal was sent. He shuddered at the thought even of the modified austerity to which he was to be subjected. He was told he need not get up at two o’clock every morning, but at three or even four, according to the day; as for food, he was allowed an egg for dinner in addition to vegetables, which were cooked in milk or water or in oil. The arguments which the priest uses to Durtal to make his way to La Trappe are on the same lines as those which led the Methodist to insist upon the penitent making his way to the penitent form. For instance, the abbé said to Durtal:-
"You declare that you are sustained by the crowds of Notre Dame des Victoires and the emanatious of St. Severin. What will it be then, in the humble chapel, when you will be on the ground huddled together with the saints? I guarantee you in the name of the Lord an assistance such as you have never had; you will be free, you can if you choose leave the monastery just as you entered it, without having confessed or approached the Sacraments, your will will be respected there, and no monk will attempt to sound it without your authority. To you only it will appertain to decide whether you will be converted or no."
The final appeal of the abbé is practically identical with that which every revivalist makes to his penitents:-
"My son, believe me that the day you go yourself to the house of God, the day you knock at its door, it will open wide, and the angels will draw aside to let you pass. The Gospel cannot lie, and it declares that there is more joy over one sinner that repents than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance."
Before Durtal could rouse himself to decide to go to La Trappe he weighed the pros and cons, arguing it within himself. He shuddered at the thought of having to face confession and Holy Communion; he thought that he might stand the food, especially if he could find means of smoking a cigarette by stealth in the woods. Even if he could stand confession, he shrunk from taking the Sacrament, expressing himself in terms which are almost a paraphrase of a familiar Protestant hymn, "If you tarry ’till you’re better, you will never go at all":-
Communicate! But let us consider, it is certain that I shall be base in proposing to Christ that He should descend like a scavenger into my ditch; but if I wait till it is empty, I shall never be in a state to receive Him, for my bulkheads are not closed, and sins would filter through the fissures.
He went to the abbé and explained to him his difficulties. The description of the dealing of the abbé with his penitent is done extremely well, and will remind even the most bitter Protestant of the practical identity of the doctrines of the Roman and Protestant Churches. The following passage, for instance, embodies a statement the substance of which is made in every inquiry meeting held in England or America. Durtal had been objecting that he was in a wretched state to go to the monastery, that he did not love God, and that he was sure he would fall a prey to the temptations of the flesh if he were to meet his old mistress. The abbé replied:
"You declare that if you meet a certain person whose attraction is a trouble to you, you will succumb. How do you know that? Why should you take care about seductions which God does not yet inflict upon you, and which He will perhaps spare you? Why doubt His mercy? Why not believe, on the contrary, that if He judge the temptation useful, He will aid you enough to prevent your sinking under it ?
"Finally, you say you do not love God; again I answer, what do you know about it? You have this love by the very token that you desire to have it, and that you regret you have it not: you love our Lord by the very fact that you desire to love Him."
The influence of the abbé was too strong for him. The touch of the master was soft and caressing, but it would not be gainsaid; the other self even insisted, and he gave way. He took down with him several books, none of which he ever read, for at the monastery he found ample occupation without the perusal of the printed page.
Them is no necessity to enter into the details of his life at La Trappe; suffice it to say that his day was ordered for him from four o’clock in the morning, when he had to rise, until a quarter to eight o’clock at night, when he retired to rest. After attending service in the evening on his arrival, being overwhelmed with the music, which convinced him that no one but the Holy Ghost itself had ever cast into the brain of man the seed of plain chant, he entered his cell full of discouragement and weighed down with a sense of his own sinfulness. He prayed long and passionately before he went to bed; but alas! there was no immediate answer to his prayer — on the contrary, he passed a most miserable night. His experience was so special, so awful, that he did not remember in the whole of his existence to have endured such anguish. It was an uninterrupted succession of sudden wakings, of nightmares overpassing the limits of abomination that the most dangerous madness dreams of. Twice it happened, and twice he woke up, to experience again the impression of a shadow evaporating before he could seize it. He sprang out of bed, dressed, and went out to smoke a cigarette, and then made his way to the chapel. The following scene is one of the most notable descriptions in the book. On entering the chapel from the darkened vestibule at four o’clock in the morning, Durtal came upon the monks at prayer:-
He made a step, crossed himself, and fell back, for he had stumbled over a body; and he looked down at his feet.
He had come upon a battle-field.
On the ground human forms were lying, in the attitudes of combatants mowed down by grape-shot, some flat on their faces, others on their knees, some leaning their hands on the ground as if stricken from behind, others extended with their fingers clenched on their breast, others again holding their heads or stretching out their arms.
And from this group in their agony rose no groan, no complaint.
Durtal was stupefied as he looked at this massacre of monks, and suddenly stopped with open mouth. A shaft of light fell from a lamp which the Father Sacristan had just placed in the apse, and crossing the porch, it showed a monk on his knees before the altar dedicated to the Virgin.
He was an old man of more than four-score years; motionless as a statue, his eyes fixed, leaning forward in such an access of adoration, that the faces in ecstasy in the early masters seemed, compared with his, forced and cold.
Yet his features were vulgar, his shaven skull, without a crown, tanned by many suns and rains, was. Brick-coloured, his eye was dim, covered with a film by age, his face was wrinkled, shrivelled, stained like an old log, hidden in a thicket of white hair, while his somewhat snub nose made the general effect of the face singularly common.
But there went out, not from his eyes, nor his mouth, but from everywhere and nowhere, a kind of angelic look which was diffused over his head, and enveloped all his poor body, bowed in its heap of rags.
In this old man the soul did not even give herself the trouble to reform and ennoble his features — she contented herself in annihilating them with her rays; it was, as it were, the nimbus of the old saints, not now remaining round the head, but extending over all the features, pale and almost invisible, bathing his whole being.
He saw nothing and heard nothing: monks dragged themselves on their knees, came to warm themselves and to take shelter near him, and he never moved, dumb and deaf, so rigid that you might have believed him dead, had not his lower lip stirred now and then, lifting in this movement his long beard.
The dawn whitened the windows, and as the darkness was gradually dissipated, the other brethren were visible in turn to Durtal; all these men. wounded by divine love, prayed ardently, flashed out beyond themselves noiselessly before the altar. Some were quite young, on their knees, with their bodies upright; others, their eyeballs in ecstasy, were leasing hick, and seated on their heels; others again were making the way of the cross, and were often placed each opposite another face to face, and they looked without seeing, as with the eyes of the blind.
And among these lay brethren, some fathers buried in their great white cowls lay prostrate and kissed the ground.
"Oh to pray, pray like these monks!" cried Durtal within himself.
He felt his unhappy soul grow slack within him; in this atmosphere of sanctity he unbent himself, and sank down on the pavement, humbly asking pardon from Christ, for having soiled by his presence the purity of this place.
He prayed long, unsealing himself for the first time, recognising his unworthiness and vileness so that he could not imagine how, in spite of His mercy, the Lord could tolerate him in the little circle of His elect.
VII. — AT CONFESSION.
As he prayed a great joy entered into his heart, but at breakfast he was suddenly confronted by the awful approach of the hour of confession. He had never confessed for years, and he shuddered at the thought of telling the confessor of all his hateful past. Without any need of probing it, his life sprang out round him in jets of filth; he had traversed all the district of sin which the Prayer Book patiently enumerated; he grew pale at the thought of detailing to another man those secret sins which he had not dared even to repeat to himself; and when the hour for confession came he could only sob out, "I have not confessed since my childhood; since then I have led a shameful life; I have committed every kind of debauch; I have done everything — everything." Then he choked, and the tears he had repressed flowed, his body was shaken, his face hidden in his hands. The confessor bending over him did not move. "I cannot!" he cried, "I cannot!" Then the confessor dismissed him, bidding him say for his penance the penitential psalms and the Litany of the Saints, and to come again on the morrow. The confessor, who was the prior of the monastery, was kind and sympathetic. "Come," he said, "do not be disturbed, you are about to speak to our Saviour alone; He knows all your faults." Durtal began, and the confessor mercifully excused him from entering into detail of his sins, merely asking, "Am I to understand that in your relations with women you have committed every possible excess?" Durtal made an affirmative sign, and then, as the monk remained silent, he told him about Madame Chantelouve and the black mass at which he had assisted:-
The confessor was silent for some minutes, and then in a pensive voice he murmured-
"I am struck, even more than yesterday, by the astonishing miracle which Heaven has worked in you.
"You were sick, so sick. that what Martha said of the body Lazarus might truly have been said of your soul, ’Iam foetet!’ And Christ has, in some manner, raised you. Only do not deceive yourself, the conversion of a sinner is not his cure, but only his convalescence; and this convalescence, sometimes lasts for several years and is often long.
"It is expedient that you should determine from this moment to fortify yourself against any falling back, and to do all in your power for recovery. The preventive treatment consists of prayer, the sacrament of penance, and holy communion.
"Prayer? — You know it, for without much prayer you could not have decided to come here after the troubled life you had led."
"Ah! but I prayed so badly!"
"It does not matter, as your wish was to pray well! Confession ? — It was painful to you; it will be less so now that you no longer have to avow the accumulated sins of years. The communion troubles me more; for it is to be feared that when you have triumphed over the flesh the Demon should await you there, and endeavour to draw you away, for he knows well that, without this divine government, no healing is possible. You will therefore have to give this matter all your attention."
The monk reflected a minute, and then went on-
"The holy Eucharist...you will have more need of it than others, for you will he more unhappy than less cultured and simpler beings. You will be tortured by the imagination. It has made you sin much; and, by a just recompense, it will make you suffer much: it will be the badly closed door of your soul by which the Demon will enter and spread himself in you. Watch over this, and pray fervently that the Saviour may help you."
The monk then bade him recite for a penance ten rosaries every day for a mouth; then rising, the monk said, "I will say nothing of your past, as your repentance and your firm resolve to sin no more efface it; tomorrow you will receive the pledge of reconciliation — you will communicate. After so many years the Lord will set out on the way to your soul and will rest here":-
"Prepare yourself from this moment, by prayer, for this mysterious meeting of hearts which His goodness desires. Now say your act of contrition, and I will give you holy absolution."
The monk raised his arms, and the sleeves of his white cowl rose above him like two wings. With uplifted eyes he uttered the imperious formula which breaks the bonds, and the three words "Ego te absolvo," spoken more distinctly and slowly, fell upon Durtal, who trembled from head to foot. He almost sank to the ground, incapable of collecting himself or understanding himself, only feeling, in the clearest manner, that Christ Himself was present, near him in that place, and finding no word of thanks, he wept, ravished and bowed down under the great sign of the cross with which the monk enveloped him-
He seemed to be waking from a dream as the prior said to him-
"Rejoice, your life is dead; it is buried in a cloister, and in a cloister it will be born again; it is a good omen; have confidence in our Lord and go in peace."
VIII. — AT THE COMMUNION.
When Durtal left the room, his eyes shone with ecstasy, which, however, was soon dashed by the news that the Sacrament next day would be administered by a jovial curate who was at the monastery on a visit. So Durtal complained to God, "telling Him all the joy he might have felt in being purified and clean at last, was now gone by this disappointment." Then sick and sore at heart, he went out and began to say his rosary. He had been told to recite ten every day, and he had forgotten whether it was ten beads or ten rosaries. He came to the conclusion it was ten rosaries, which amounted to something like five hundred prayers a day on end; therefore, thinking it a penance, he set to work to grind off the prayers until he very nearly went to sleep or went off his head with attempting to achieve the impossible. M. Bruno, who was staying in the monastery, assured him it was the invention of the devil, who wished to make the rosaries odious by suggesting the performance of an impossible task. The prior therefore consoled him, and ordered him to take the Sacrament next day, assuring him that he would take all the responsibility himself.
In reply to a question as to the nights he had had, the prior replied, "We have long known these manifestations; they are without imminent danger, do not, therefore, let them trouble you." Durtal, however, still determined to have his first communion from the hands of a monk and not from a priest, and implored God to give him a sign of his acceptance. "Let the impossible take place, so that tomorrow it might be a monk and not this priest." Such was the presumptuous prayer of Durtal, and to his own amazement, and that of every one else, the abbot himself came forward and administered the Sacrament. He was naturally immensely impressed:-
And the abbot of La Trappe gave them the communion.
They returned to their places. Durtal was in a state of absolute torpor; the sacrament had, in a manner, anaesthetised his mind; he fell on his knees at his bench, incapable even of unravelling what might he moving within him, unable to rally and pull himself together.
All around him seemed to disappear, and he cried, stammering, to Christ: "Lord, go not far from me. Let Thy pity curb Thy justice; be unjust, forgive me; receive Thy poor bedesman for communion, the poor in spirit!"
M. Bruno touched his arm, and with a glance invited him to accompany him.
After the Communion he felt he was suffocating, and when his soul regained consciousness, he felt only an infinite melancholy, a vast sadness:-
He was astonished that he had not felt an unknown transport of joy; then he dwelt on a troublesome recollection, on the all too human aide of the deglutition of a God; the Host had stuck against his palate, and he had had to seek it with his tongue and roll it about like a pancake in order to swallow it.
Ah! it was still too material! he only wanted a fluid, a perfume, a fire, a breath!
It was not as he had dreamed it would be, and he marvelled much at the strange way in which he was being led by the Lord.
IX. — IN THE VALLEY OF SHADOW.
Passing over rapidly one or two chapters, wherein are described the virtues of a certain saintly swineherd, he then passes through the valley of the dark shadow in which he was tormented by endless abominations. He longed to insult the Virgin and to overwhelm her statue with the abuse of a bargee. So strong was the impulse that to keep silence he was obliged to bite his lips till they bled. Doubts as to transubstantiation poured in upon him; he seemed to hear a voice suggesting all manner of doubts, questioning the very foundations of faith, confronting him with a spectacle of the misery of the world, recalling that terrible phrase of Schopenhauer’s, "If God made the world, I would not be that God, for the misery of the world would break my heart." From the church he fled to the field; then to the woods, and back to his chamber, and when he fell on his knees at the bedside, memories of Florence recurred to him. He thought of the possibility of being confronted with her again, and it overwhelmed him: he became angry at the thought of having communicated while one was no more certain of future than this; but even when he dragged himself to the church and held himself down, assailed by fearful temptations, disgusted with himself, feeling his will yielding, wounded in every part, he cried out in agony. There was complete darkness within him. When he sought his soul by groping for it, he found it inert, without consciousness, almost icy; he felt himself incapable of all good works, and at the same time had the conviction that God had rejected him, that God would aid him no more. Then fiercer temptations beset him and ignoble visions assailed him, burning gasps excited him, stifled him, and seemed to parch his mouth. His body was still and remained calm, but he had the impression of a real demonic presence. His whole soul trembled, and desired to fly like a terrified bird that clings to the window panes. This horror of great darkness lasted for nine hours, nor did it pass until the choir began to sing "Salve Regina," when the elevated cordial of the chant restored him. When he told his sufferings to the father, he was congratulated. "Be happy," he told him, "for it is a great grace which Jesus does to you, and proves that your conversion is good." But," said Durtal, "I thought there was peace in the cloister." But the Trappist replied:-
"No, we are here on this earth to strive, and it is just in the cloister that the Lowest works; there, souls escape him, and he will at all price conquer them. No place on earth is more haunted by him than a cell — no one is more harassed than a monk."
But there is only one remedy for all those things, which is the Sacrament. He communicated his trials to the prior, who told him that the weapon of contempt was the best for conquering the assault of scruples, and if that failed, to have immediate recourse to a confessor. "Steep yourself," said the monk, "in this truth, that besides prayer there exists but one efficacious remedy against this evil — to despise it. Satan is pride; despise him, and at once his audacity gives way. He speaks. Shrug your shoulders, and he is silent. You must not discuss with him. Do not reply. Refuse the strife. But the only arm which can save you is prayer." Receiving absolution the second time, the good prior said:
"Have confidence, do not attempt to present yourself before, God all neat and trim; go to Him simply, naturally, in undress, even, just as you are; do not forget that if you are a servant you are also a son; have good courage, our Lord will dispel all these nightmares."
The second time when he communicated he experienced a sensation of stifling, as if his heart were too large when he returned in his place. When that ended he escaped to the park:-
Then gently, without sensible effects, the Sacrament worked; Christ opened, little by little, his closed house and gave it air, light entered into Durtal in a flood. From the windows of his senses which had looked till then into he knew not what cesspool, into what inclosure, dank, and steeped in shadow, he now looked suddenly, through a burst of light, on a vista which lost itself in Heaven.
His vision of nature was modified; the surroundings were transformed; the fog of sadness which visited them vanished; the sudden clearness of his soul was repeated in its surroundings.
He walked about, lifted from earth by a confused joy. He grew vaporised in a sort of intoxication, in a vague etherisation, in which arose, without his even thinking of formulating words, acts of thanksgiving; it was an effort of thanks of his soul, of his body, of his whole being, to that God whom he felt living in him, and diffused in that kneeling landscape which also seemed to expand in mute hymns of gratitude.
And there we may leave him, although the story continues for some little space until he completes his retreat and returns to Paris. Durtal does not reach any point beyond this. Indeed, the rest of the book is, to a certain extent, an anti-climax, for after having led Durtal up to this point of ecstasy, he sends him back to Paris in a state of mind that does not augur very much for his usefulness when he returns to daily life. For we are told:-
He groaned, knowing that he should never more succeed in interesting himself in all that makes the joy of men. The uselessness of caring about any other thing than Mysticism and the liturgy, of thinking about aught else save God, implanted itself in him so firmly that he asked himself what would become of him at Paris with such ideas.
That is exactly the question which most of us who read the book will ask. Possibly Huysmans may give us a sequel to the volume in which we shall see Durtal carrying into practical effect in his daily life the lessons which he has learnt at La Trappe; but as it is, the reader closes the book with misgivings, forebodings, and doubts as to whether the convert who has made such remarkable progress from the Black Mass to the Communion at La Trappe will on his return to the world find in his new faith a stay in every time of need.
That, indeed, is the weakest part of the book. For Durtal is by no means soundly saved. He is not saved enough in his own sense to go into the cloister, and he is not saved enough in one sense to care to do his duty in the place where he naturally belonged. Indeed, it may be said that Durtal, instead of finding salvation at La Trappe, had only added another element to those which made up the distraction of his lost life. Of course, there may be a sequel. But if there is not, Huysmans has not succeeded in bringing his pilgrim out into the light and gladness of perfect day.