No Buddhist Lama or Mussulman Fakir, suddenly translated from Asia to the Boulevards of Paris, could have been more taken aback than I was upon being suddenly landed in a place so different from that in which moved my old Breton priests, who, with their venerable heads all wood or granite, remind one of the Osirian colossi which in after life so struck my fancy when I saw them in Egypt, grandiose in their long lines of immemorial calm. My coming to Paris marked the passage from one religion to another. There was as much difference between Christianity as I left it in Brittany and that which I found current in Paris, as there is between a piece of old cloth, as stiff as a board, and a bit of fine cambric. It was not the same religion. My old priests, with their heavy old-fashioned copes, had always seemed to me like the magi, from whose lips came the eternal truths, whereas the new religion to which I was introduced was all print and calico, a piety decked out with ribbons and scented with musk, a devotion which found expression in tapers and small flower-pots, a young lady’s theology without stay or style, as composite as the polychrome frontispiece of one of Lebel’s prayer-books.
This was the gravest crisis in my life. The young Breton does not bear transplanting. The keen moral repulsion which I felt, superadded to a complete change in my habits and mode of life, brought on a very severe attack of home-sickness. The confinement to the college was intolerable. The remembrance of the free and happy life which I had hitherto led with my mother went to my very heart. I was not the only sufferer. M. Dupanloup had not calculated all the consequences of his policy. Imperious as a military commander, he did not take into account the deaths and casualties which occurred among his young recruits. We confided our sorrows to one another. My most intimate friend, a young man from Coutances, if I remember right, who had been, transported like myself from a happy home, brooded in solitary grief over the change and died. The natives of Savoy were even less easily acclimatised. One of them, who was rather my senior, confessed to me that every evening he calculated the distance from his dormitory on the third floor to the pavement in the street below. I fell ill, and to all appearances was not likely to recover. The melancholy to which Bretons are so subject took hold of me. The memories of the last notes of the vesper bell which I had heard pealing over our dear hills, and of the last sunset upon our peaceful plains, pricked me like pointed darts.