THE EARLY YEARS OF FRANCOIS DE LAVAL
Certain great men pass through the world like meteors; their brilliance, lightning-like at their first appearance, continues to cast a dazzling gleam across the centuries: such were Alexander the Great, Mozart, Shakespeare and Napoleon. Others, on the contrary, do not instantly command the admiration of the masses; it is necessary, in order that their transcendent merit should appear, either that the veil which covered their actions should be gradually lifted, or that, some fine day, and often after their death, the results of their work should shine forth suddenly to the eyes of men and prove their genius: such were Socrates, Themistocles, Jacquard, Copernicus, and Christopher Columbus.
The illustrious ecclesiastic who has given his name to our French-Canadian university, respected as he was by his contemporaries, has been esteemed at his proper value only by posterity. The reason is easy to understand: a colony still in its infancy is subject to many fluctuations before all the wheels of government move smoothly, and Mgr. de Laval, obliged to face ever renewed conflicts of authority, had necessarily either to abandon what he considered it his duty to support, or create malcontents. If sometimes he carried persistence to the verge of obstinacy, he must be judged in relation to the period in which he lived: governors like Frontenac were only too anxious to imitate their absolute master, whose guiding maxim was, “I am the state!” Moreover, where are the men of true worth who have not found upon their path the poisoned fruits of hatred? The so-called praise that is sometimes applied to a man, when we say of him, “he has not a single enemy,” seems to us, on the contrary, a certificate of insignificance and obscurity. The figure of this great servant of God is one of those which shed the most glory on the history of Canada; the age of Louis XIV, so marvellous in the number of great men which it gave to France, lavished them also upon her daughter of the new continent—Brebeuf and Lalemant, de Maisonneuve, Dollard, Laval, Talon, de la Salle, Frontenac, d’Iberville, de Maricourt, de Sainte-Helene, and many others.
“Noble as a Montmorency” says a well-known adage. The founder of that illustrious line, Bouchard, Lord of Montmorency, figures as early as 950 A.D. among the great vassals of the kingdom of France. The heads of this house bore formerly the titles of First Christian Barons and of First Barons of France; it became allied to several royal houses, and gave to the elder daughter of the Church several cardinals, six constables, twelve marshals, four admirals, and a great number of distinguished generals and statesmen. Sprung from this family, whose origin is lost in the night of time, Francois de Laval-Montmorency was born at Montigny-sur-Avre, in the department of Eure-et-Loir, on April 30th,