Later in life an intimacy of this kind may at times cease to be felt as a necessity. It recovers all its force whenever the globe of this world, which is ever changing, brings round some new aspect with regard to which we want to consult each other. Whichever of us dies first will leave a great void in the existence of the other. Our friendship reminds me of that of Francois de Sales and President Favre: “They pass away these years of time, my brother, their months are reduced to weeks, their weeks to days, their days to hours, and their hours to moments, which latter alone we possess, and these only as they fleet.” The conviction of the existence of an eternal object embraced in youth, gives a peculiar stability to life. All this is anything but human or natural, you may say! No doubt, but strength is only manifested by running counter to nature. The natural tree does not bear good fruit. The fruit is not good until the tree is trained; that is to say, until it has ceased to be a tree.
[Footnote 1: A collection of hymns of the sixteenth century, touching in their simplicity. I have my mother’s old copy; I may perhaps write something about them hereafter.]
The friendship of M. Berthelot, and the approbation of my sister, were my two chief consolations during this painful period, when the sentiment of an abstract duty towards truth compelled me at the age of three and twenty to alter the course of a career already fairly entered upon. The change was, in reality, only one of domicile, and of outward surroundings. At bottom I remained the same; the moral course of my life was scarcely affected by this trial; the craving for truth, which was the mainspring of my existence, knew no diminution. My habits and ways were but very little modified.
St. Sulpice, in truth, had left its impress so deeply upon me, that for years I remained a St. Sulpice man, not in regard to faith but in habit. The excellent education imparted there, which had exhibited to me the perfection of politeness in M. Gosselin, the perfection of kindness in M. Carbon, the perfection of virtue in M. Pinault, M. Le Hir and M. Gottofrey, made an indelible impression upon my docile nature. My studies, prosecuted without interruption after I had left the seminary, so completely confirmed me in my presumptions against orthodox theology, that at the end of a twelvemonth, I could scarcely understand how I had formerly been able to believe. But when faith has disappeared, morality remains; for a long time, my programme was to abandon as little as possible of Christianity, and to hold on to all that could be maintained without belief in the supernatural. I sorted, so to speak, the virtues of the St. Sulpice student, discarding those which appertain to a positive belief, and retaining those of which a philosopher can approve. Such is the force of habit. The void sometimes has the same effect as its opposite. Est pro corde locus. The fowl whose brain has been removed, will nevertheless, under the influence of certain stimulants, continue to scratch its beak.