He could still feel her tears and kisses on his cheek, and the tender clasp of her hand as she pressed into his the slender purse of money which she had saved to release him from the drudgery of an occupation he loathed, and to enable him to become a great lawyer in Paris. How well he remembered her delight in listening to him declaim the speeches of Thiers and Guizot from the pages of the National, which she had taught him to read when but a mere baby, and from which he imbibed his first lessons in republicanism,—lessons that he never afterward forgot.
Such deep root had they taken that he could not be induced to change his views by the fathers of the preparatory school at Monfaucon, whither he had been sent to be trained for the priesthood. Finally despairing of bringing the young radical to their way of thinking, the Monfaucon fathers sent him home to his parents. “You will never make a priest of him,” they wrote; “he has a character that cannot be disciplined.”
His father, an honest but narrow-minded Italian, whose ideas did not soar beyond his little bazaar and grocery store, was displeased with the boy, who was then only ten years old. He could not understand how one so young dared to think his own thoughts and hold his own opinions. The neighbors held up their hands in dismay, and prophesied, “He will end his days in the Bastile.” His mother wept and blamed herself and the National as the cause of all the trouble.
How little the fond mother, the disappointed father, or the gloomily foreboding neighbors dreamt to what heights those early lessons they now so bitterly deplored were to lead!
When at sixteen Leon Gambetta returned from the Lyceum to which he had been sent on his return from the Monfaucon seminary, his wide reading and deep study had but intensified and broadened the radicalism of his childhood. He longed to go to Paris to study law, but his father insisted that he must now confine his thoughts to selling groceries and yards of ribbon and lace, as he expected his son to succeed him in the business.
Poor, foolish Joseph Gambetta! he would confine the young eagle in a barnyard. But the eagle pined and drooped in his cage, and then the loving mother—ah, those loving mothers, will their boys ever realize how much they owe them!—threw open the doors and gave him freedom, an opportunity to win fame and fortune in the great city of Paris.
And now what mattered it that his clothes were poor, that his food was scant, and that it was often bitterly cold in his little garret. If not for his own sake, he must for hers “come home a somebody.”
The doors which led to a wider future were already opening. The professors at the Sorbonne appreciated his great intellect and originality. “You have a true vocation,” said one. “Follow it. But go to the bar, where your voice, which is one in a thousand, will carry you on, study and intelligence aiding. The lecture room is a narrow theater. If you like, I will write to your father to tell him what my opinion of you is.” And he wrote, “The best investment you ever made would be to spend what money you can divert from your business in helping your son to become an advocate.”