But the enthusiasms will run away with my story. Resolutely, revenons.
While Quinet, the positive pole of our expedition, was ever edging our march towards his Bastille Column and his cut-throat Quartier Montmartre, I, the negative; drew it a little into more polished circles where wit and talent sparkled. The Vicomte D’Haberville, a French d’Argentenaye, took us to a reception—not too proud of us I daresay, for the gloss of his shoes and the magnificence of his cravat outshone us as the sleek skin of a race-horse does a country filly. Especially did he eye Quinet a little coldly, so that I could scarcely persuade the proud fellow to come.
To the astonishment of the Vicomte, however, Quinet was the attraction of the evening. Taine and Thiers were there, and fired by a remark from one of these his famous men, the young Radical had ventured a clever saying.
Thiers looked at him a sharp glance as he heard the accent:
“Vous etes des Provinces, monsieur?”
“No, sir—from New France.”
“We had once,—in America—a colony of the name,” replied the statesman, reflecting.
“France has it still. It is a colony of hearts!”
Quinet awakened interest; was inquired into and drawn out, and we were invited to a dozen of the most interesting salons of the capital.
O but those Parisians are clever! Why is it they are so much more brilliant than we? Perhaps because there intellect is honored.
Quickly, through these surroundings, our knowledges and tastes advanced—Quinet’s verging to the path of social science—mine to an artistic sense which suddenly unfolded into life and became my chief delight. The enthusiasm for Paris gradually led me to another offer by Life of a Highest Thing. To say it shortly—the salons led to a pleasure in the artistic, the society of artists to a growing appreciation of fine works of skill, and these, to Italy and Rome.
Do you desire to rest eyes upon the noblest products of the hand of man? Go into the Land of Romance as we did, and wander among its castled hill-tops, its ruins of Empire, its cathedrals in the skill of whose exhaustless grandeurs Divinity breathes through genius. Meditate in reverence before the famous masterpieces of antiquity—the Venus of Milo—the silent agony of the Laocoon, the Hyperion Belvedere. Learn from Canova’s pure marble, and Raphael’s Chambers, and from Titian, and Tintoret, and the astonishing galaxies of intellect that shine in their constellations in the sky of the true Renaissance.
Then you may say as I did, “At length, I am finding something great and best. The beautiful is the whole that mankind can directly apprehend, and as for other things hoped for, symbolism is the true outlet for his soul. Art is the union of this beauty and symbolism. No aspiration exists but can be expressed in pleasing forms.”
Does man desire God, he paints—O how raptly!—a saint; does he feel after immortality, he sculptures an ever-young Apollo. Looking to them, he has faith, as of an oracle, in their emblematic truth, and through them instructs the world.