I was sorry to part company with him; but there was no help for it. I had left the first seminary in the world for one in every respect inferior to it. The leg had been badly set; I had the courage to break it a second time. On the 2nd or 3rd of November, I passed from out the last threshold appertaining to the Church, and I obtained a place as “assistant master au pair”—to employ the phrase used in the Quartier Latin of those days—without salary, in a school of the St. Jacques district attached to the Lycee Henri IV. I had a small bedroom, and took my meals with the scholars, and as my time was not occupied for more than two hours a day, I was able to do a good deal of work upon my own account. This was just what I wanted.
Constituted as I am to find my own company quite sufficient, the humble dwelling in the Rue des Deux Eglises (now the Rue de l’Abbe de l’Epee) would have been a paradise for me had it not been for the terrible crisis which my conscience was passing through, and the altered direction which I was compelled to give to my existence. The fish in Lake Baikal have, it is said, taken thousands of years in their transformation from salt to fresh water fish. I had to effect my transition in a few weeks. Catholicism, like a fairy circle, casts such a powerful spell upon one’s whole life, that when one is deprived of it everything seems aimless and gloomy. I felt terribly out of my element. The whole universe seemed to me like an arid and chilly desert. With Christianity untrue, everything else appeared to me indifferent, frivolous, and undeserving of interest. The shattering of my career left me with a sense of aching void, like what may be felt by one who has had an attack of fever or a blighted affection. The struggle which had engrossed my whole soul had been so ardent that all the rest appeared to me petty and frivolous. The world discovered itself to me as mean and deficient in virtue. I seemed to have lost caste, and to have fallen upon a nest of pigmies.
My sorrow was much increased by the grief which I had been compelled to inflict upon my mother. I resorted, perhaps wrongly, to certain artifices with the view, as I hoped, of sparing her pain. Her letters went to my heart. She supposed my position to be even more painful than it was in reality, and as she had, despite our poverty, rather spoilt me, she thought that I should never be able to withstand any hardship. “When I remember how a poor little mouse kept you from sleeping, I am at a loss to know how you will get on,” she wrote to me. She passed her time singing the Marseilles hymns, of which she was so fond, especially the hymn of Joseph, beginning—
“O Joseph, o mon aimable