Such was the establishment in which I spent four years at the most critical period of my life. I was quite in my element there. While the majority of my fellow-students, weakened by the somewhat insipid classical teaching of M. Dupanloup, could not fairly settle down to the divinity of the schools, I at once took a liking for its bitter flavour; I became as fond of it as a monkey is of nuts. The grave and kindly priests, with their strong convictions and good desires reminded me of my early teachers in Lower Brittany. Saint-Nicholas du Chardonnet and its superficial rhetoric I came to look upon as a mere digression of very doubtful utility. I came to realities from words, and I set seriously to study and analyse in its smallest details the Christian Faith which I more than ever regarded as the centre of all truth.
[Footnote 1: I am speaking of the years from 1842 to 1845. I believe that it is the same still.]
As I have already explained, the two years of philosophy which serve as an introduction to the study of theology are spent, not in Paris, but at the country house of Issy, situated in the village of that name outside Paris, just beyond the last houses of Vaugirard. The seminary is a very long building at one end of a large park, and the only remarkable feature about it is the central pavilion, which is so delicate and elegant in style that it will at once take the eye of a connoisseur. This pavilion was the suburban residence of Marguerite de Valois, the first wife of Henri IV., between the year 1606 and her death in 1615. This clever but not very strait-laced princess (upon whom, however, we need not be harder than was he who had the best right to be so) gathered around her the clever men of the day, and the Petit Olympe d’Issy, by Michel Bouteroue, gives a good description of this bright and witty court. The verses are as follows:
Je veux d’un excellent ouvrage,
Dedans un portrait racourcy,
Representer le paisage
Du petit Olympe d’Issy,
Pourven que la grande princesse,
La perle et fleur de l’univers,
A qui cest ouvrage s’addresse,
Veuille favoriser mes vers.
Que l’ancienne poesie
Ne vante plus en ses ecrits
Les lauriers du Daphne d’Asie
Et les beaux jardins de Cypris,
Les promenoirs et le bocage
Du Tempe frais et ombrage,
Qui parut lors qu’un marescage
En la mer se fut descharge.