My birth — Lameness — Imitation of my fathers prayers — Meditations upon the heavenly bodies — Sent to school — Anecdotes of boyhood — Disgusted with study — Letter to sister — Mr. De la Bussier — Admirable preceptor — College — Take degree of Master of Arts — My mother’s death — Division of property.

I have now arrived at the history of my own life, which I shall give more in detail, as being more immediately interesting to you than the annals of past generations. You will find a varied tissue of adventures, checkered with alternate extremes of prosperity and adversity, but amidst its joys and sorrows, you will not fail to discern the hand of Almighty God leading me by his good Providence, watching over me, and making all things work together for my good.

I was born at Jenouillé, on the 7th April, 1658. The first sorrow of my life proceeded from the carelessness of my nurse: she trusted me to her daughter’s care, who was a young and giddy girl, and she played and romped with me, tossing me in the air and catching me in her arms. At last she missed her hold and let me fall on the ground, by which my leg was broken a little below the knee. The nurse lived at Royan, and being desirous to conceal the disaster from my parents, she took me of her own accord to an ignorant surgeon, near at hand, who relieved her apprehension by pronouncing that no harm had been done. He was entirely mistaken, and the bone, not having been set, united of itself in process of time, with considerable enlargement at the place, and making the leg shorter and weaker than the other, thus causing lameness for life.

I inherited something of the family beauty of face, and resembled my father more than any of my brothers and sisters, and I was of a very lively and inventive turn. When I was only four years old, I was so taken with hearing my father read the Scriptures and pray with the family, that I had a fancy to imitate him, and I called together the servants and my sisters, and made them kneel down while I prayed. They gave my father such an account of my proceedings, that he and my mother became curious to hear me. I would not proceed until they also knelt down with the rest. My father was much affected by the earnestness of my manner, and he thought he could discover a germ of piety and talent, which he prayed to God to nourish and strengthen so as to produce fruit in due season.

I was seven years younger brothers and than any of my sisters, and I was consequently left much to myself, and used to reflect a great deal upon all that I saw and heard; and some of the meditations of my childhood were rather unusual, and perhaps worth relating.

You must bear in mind that all my knowledge was derived from what I could see for myself, and learn from the Holy Scriptures, which I heard my father read in the family daily. I beheld the glorious sun arise each morning, rejoicing our hearts by the light and warmth which he imparted; and when he disappeared, the vault above our heads was enamelled with thousands of stars. I watched another beautiful luminary, which appeared to change its shape day by day; now it was perfectly round, but cach night it became less and less, and then, by the same gradual change, it increased again and returned to its first glory. I was led from these observations to meditate upon the structure of the heavens. I had heard my father read from the Scriptures, that God inhabited a light which no man could approach unto, and also that St. Paul had been caught up to the third heaven. I was satisfied that the dwelling place of God was above the sun, the moon, and the stars, and all resplendent with the light that his glory diffused around him. I thought that the floor of the third heaven must be of a solid substance, in order to sustain the weight of the celestial court, which I understood consisted of an infinite number of angels and glorified saints. Brilliant as was the sun, I concluded that the light, he shed abroad, only came through a hole in the ceiling of the second or floor of the third heaven, giving us a faint gleam, of the glorious effulgence, which illuminated the abode of saints and angels. The stars were, according to my system, only so many small gimlet-holes in that part of the floor which was most distant from the throne of God. The moon, I supposed, was a large hole, nearly as large as the sun, but, like the stars, away from the immediate presence of God. I had no difficulty in accounting for her changes, because I could produce the same gradually varying shape, by sliding a lid over the top of a pot, and it was easy to imagine it the employment of some of the angels of God, to slide the round cover over the round hole of the moon, according as they were bidden. I thought thunder and lightning were produced by the discharge of guns and pistols in the heavens; the rain was poured through small holes by the angels, whom I concluded were very numerous, and always busily employed in obeying the commands of God. I had but one difficulty in my system, and that was, how it was possible for the heavens to turn round, without shaking the foundations or pillars, upon which David had said that the earth rested. But, if my reason proved unequal to the solution, my faith made up all deficiencies; for I was confident that every thing was easy to Him, who had made all things out of nothing. I spent many solitary hours ruminating upon these subjects, and when I was satisfied with the plan in my own mind, I propounded it to my sisters and the servants, and as they saw no difficulty, I was emboldened to submit my astronomical system to my father for his opinion. He saw that I had taken the Scriptures for my foundation, and as I was too young to understand the true philosophy of the heavenly bodies, he thought it best not to undeceive me.

When I was six years old, my father took me to Rochelle, and placed me under the care of Mr. John Arnauld, who kept a school there. He was married to a daughter of my father’s sister, my aunt Bouquet, and he lived under her roof. I learned to read, write, and cipher during two years that I was his pupil.

Perhaps, as the traits of boyhood prefigure the future character of the man, it may not be amiss to relate two anecdotes of these early school-days, which indicated resolution. Mr. Arnauld followed literally the precept of Solomon, not spoiling his pupils by sparing the rod. He always administered the chastisement in private, from motives of delicacy, because he had girls as well as boys in the school. We boys were talking together one day of the severity of our master, and speculating upon the number of stripes he gave at each whipping, and wishing that someone would count them. No one else offering to do it, I volunteered to make the attempt on the next occasion. It was not long before my delinquencies drew upon me the usual punishment.

I cried and screamed as vociferously as ever during the preparation for chastisement, but became suddenly silent when he gave the first stroke, for I found it impossible to cry and count at the same time. Mr. Arnauld was astonished, and looked me in the face to see what was the matter; he saw nothing wrong, so he gave a second blow with more force, I still kept silence, counting to myself, for I was intent upon keeping count, and at the same time concealing from him that I was counting. His astonishment increased, and he struck again with his full strength, which did not make me lose count, but forced me to break silence, and cry out involuntarily, with a tone so much the louder for having been long suppressed:” THREE.” “Ah! you rogue! you are counting, are you? There, count, count, count;” and he struck me so rapidly, that I must acknowledge I lost the count—but something was gained by the trouble I had taken, for I am sure I received an extra number of stripes as a reward for my hardihood.

The other incident was similar. Mr. De la Laude, who now lives at Port Arlington, in Ireland, was at Rochelle, in Mr.Arnauld’s school, at the same time that I was there. We became the greatest friends, and we desired some mode of showing it to each other. We decided, at last, that when either of us should be taken to the room for chastisement, the other should follow and call Mr. Arnauld names for his cruelty, which would, of course, irritate him, and then we should both be punished together. De la Laude was first in fault, and no sooner had the master ordered him out, than I ran after them, and asked Mr. Arnauld why he was going to whip my friend? What had he done? &c. The object was fully accomplished; and after we had both been well whipped, we fell on each other’s neck and embraced, being too full of joy at having proved the sincerity of our friendship, to mind the bodily pain. The time appeared long until the occasion came round when I could know that my friend would do for me as I had done for him, but it came at last, and I had the inexpressible satisfaction of finding that he was sincere, for he too drew upon himself the anger of our master, by reproving him for punishing me.

Mr. Arnauld tried to discover what had prompted such conduct, but we would not have disclosed it for the world. Some of our school fellows, however, let out the secret. He tried various expedients to conquer our resolution, but in vain. At one time he punished the innocent and allowed the guilty to go free. This pleased us mightily, for we were able to testify our affection by sparing each other from the rod. At last, his mother-in-law, my aunt Bouquet, persuaded him to adopt the following plan. His habit was to keep a record of the faults of each pupil, and to administer the rod when a certain number had been committed. So when one of us two had reached the limit, his punishment was delayed until the other had filled up his measure, and then both were whipped at the same time. This plan worked well, and made us circumspect, to spare each other.

My mother sent for me from Rochelle, soon after the death of my father, when I was eight years old. My dear young friend De la Laude accompanied me. We went by sea to La Tremblade, and spent the night there at the house of an old woman who had been a servant in my father’s family many years. She made us very welcome, regaled us with the best she had, and carried her mistaken kindness so far as to give each of us a goblet of wine. This made us too merry for sleep, and we danced and sang through the night.

My mother only kept me at home two weeks, and ten sent me to Mr. Forestier, who had recently married my sister Mary. He was minister of the Church of St. Mesmein in Auguomois. I commenced Latin under his tuition, but whether I was wilful, or he negligent, I am unable to say. It is certain, however, that I made very little progress during five years that he was my preceptor.

While I was with him, two sons of the Marquis de Siré were sent to the school, who infected us with a shocking eruptive disease. The drugs and the science of the apothecary were alike exhausted, in vain attempts to cure us. My sister was in despair about it, when a journeyman tailor, at work in the house by the day, told her he could cure the disease. She allowed him to try his skill upon me first. He bought three or four pennyworth of quicksilver, rubbed it smoothly and perfectly into hog’s lard, and with this preparation I was anointed from head to foot, before a good fire. The application was thrice repeated, and my skin became as clear and pure as ever. The apothecary had much to say upon the danger of this remedy, and so frightened my sister, that she did not venture to use it for the other boys. Not long afterwards, I was taken very ill with a violent fever, which lasted several weeks, and finally turned to inflammation of the brain. The Doctor attributed the illness entirely to the effect produced by the ointment, that had driven in the eruption. My life was despaired of, and my sister sent an express to inform my mother of my condition. She came off immediately, and so hopelessly had my case been represented to her, that she brought everything necessary for my burial. God mercifully inclined his ear to her prayers for my life, and raised me from my sick bed, but I had returns of fever from time to time for many months.

I am particular in relating the foregoing, in order to act as a warning to you, in the careful use of remedies for the diseases of your children, and by no means to trust to the prescriptions of presumptuous quacks.

The Church at St. Mesme did not pay Mr. Forestier’s salary with punctuality; consequently, the Synod punished them by removing him to Arvêrt. In less than a year the arrears were collected, and the Synod restored Mr. Forestier to them.

I returned home at fourteen years of age, and,after six years of study under Mr. Forestier, I scarcely knew the regular declensions of nouns.

I was thought entirely too wild to be trusted with any but my relations for preceptors, so my mother now tried another brother-in-law for me, Mr. Sautreau, minister at Saujon in Saintonge, the husband of my sister Elizabeth, who was my godmother.

Mr. Sautreau had very few pupils, he was extremely severe, he required all lessons to be repeated with the strictest verbal accuracy, but took no pains to explain the meaning of any thing. He inflicted corporal punishment for very slight errors. I was weary of being beaten like a slave, ashamed of my ignorance, and disgusted with study, when I formed an intimacy with a youth who was apprenticed to a druggist, and whose comparatively happy situation I envied. He used to give me a few sweet meats, and made me long for the abundant supply of such things that he possessed. I thought I would write to my mother and ask her to change my destination, for I saw plainly that I was wasting my youth and exhausting her purse with out any advantage. But low could I venture to broach such a subject? I had been devoted to the holy ministry from my birth. My father had been a minister, my three brothers, two brothers-in-law, two maternal uncles, were all ministers of the Gospel. My mother had placed me for tuition with ministers, whom she hoped would lead me in the way she desired. After all this, to tell her that I wanted to be a shop-boy, I dare not do it, I should be afraid of breaking her heart. After much deliberation I determined to write to my sister Anne, and make her my confidante. I first pointed out to her my own miserable deficiencies; I had studied so many years and made so little progress, that I had lost all hope of doing better in future. I told her I had the greatest possible reverence for the ministerial office, I looked up to it as the most honorable of all employments; but then, if it was an undertaking beyond my strength, if I had not the requisite gifts, I ought not to enter upon it; and therefore it would certainly be the best to waste no more time and money in preparing for it. After having, as I thought, made my incapacity appear very plain, I proceeded to open my mind to her then upon the plan I had formed for my future career. I begged her to keep my letter a profound secret, but on some favorable occasion to tell my mother, as it were, of her own accord, how poorly qualified I appeared to be for the important and noble vocation of a minister of the Gospel; and to suggest the expediency of letting me leave off study, and try whether I should not do better at some more common employment. After all this preparation, I disclosed my wish to be placed as an apprentice in a druggist’s shop.

Notwithstanding all my precaution, my sister Anne did not keep my secret, she thought it was her duty to make known the communication I had made. Great was the consternation produced by it, and a family council was summoned to deliberate. Peter the elder, and Peter the younger, were both sent for by my mother, and she told them she thought my brother-in-law, Mr. Sautreau, was tired of me, and had dictated this letter in order to get rid of me. The two Peters were of a different opinion, they discovered a fire and vivacity in the style altogether foreign to that of my brother-in-law; they therefore decided that the letter was mine, and mine alone, and it was the unanimous opinion that my mother ought to keep me at study. I had defeated my object by the pains I had taken to accomplish it, for they said that the ingenuity of my arguments to prove incapacity established incontestably the fact that inclination alone, not talent, was wanting.

My mother was so deeply grieved that she fell sick upon it. She sent my brothers with her answer to me, which was to the effect, that if I gave up studying for the ministry, she would give up me. I should experience a change for the worse in every way, they told me; my handsome clothing should be changed for coarse garments, and I should be sent to a school kept by one Perrinet, who was notorious for his mode of imparting instruction by free administration of stripes and frequent fasts; and if I still refused to study I should be sent to sea, and she would see me no more.

I decided to remain at my studies, but I tried hard to gain a change of masters at the least, through the intercession of my brothers. But the answer was, “Stay where you are, or go to Perrinet.”

A short time after this in effectual struggle for liberty, Mr. Sautreau beat me unmercifully, and I felt so dreadfully outraged by it, that I quitted his house next morning, at break of day, and lame as I was, I ran home, a distance of fully six miles. I hoped to soften my mother, but she was immovable; she would not suffer me even to kiss her, but told me to go straight back; she offered me only the old alternative, of going to Perrinet, if I refused. She said she would not allow me to sleep in her house. I had set off from Saujon without having breakfasted, and the only refreshment furnished by my mother was dry bread.

You may imagine, better than I can describe, the feelings with which I commenced my walk back again; but my mother must be obeyed, and I can truly say, that the mortification I experienced from her cold reception, was much more painful than the blows or the taunts of Mr. Sautreau.

When I had completed three years at Saujon, my mother heard so much of the great skill of a Mr. De la Bussiere, at Marennes, in imparting learning, that she, most happily for me, determined upon trying what he could do with me, whether he could draw forth the talent, which the family council had decide, that I possessed.

Mr. De la Bussiere was a very eccentric man, a Protestant layman. He was an excellent Greek and Latin scholar; he wrote pretty poetry, and he was withal a good physician. He was as obstinate as a mule; he drank to excess, but did not commence his potations until the labors of the day were ended. He had ten or twelve pupils, but no boarders, for he and his wife had only one small room, which served as kitchen, bedchamber and study; and a little closet or store-room, which contained only a few plates and dishes. His dress was a threadbare cloak, once black, now of a reddish brown, and always covered with dust. He never used a razor, but when his beard became inconveniently long, he cut it off with a pair of scissors. Their slovenly apartment did not contain such a thing as a looking-glass. In short, he was, what is called in England, “a mere scholar;” he had learning, and nothing else.

I had hitherto learned from the Port Royal Grammar, which Mr. De la Bussiere held in perfect abhorrence. He esteemed the masters who taught with it, and the pupils who learned from it, asign or amuses alike. The result of my nine years’ labor was, that I knew the whole of this grammar by heart. I began then at the age of seventeen “omne viro soli,” a fine prospect. His plan was altogether different from my former teachers; he explained every rule thoroughly to me, and required me to find twenty examples in some author. His explanations and exercises soon brought into play the stores that memory had laid up; I was astonished to find that I had accumulated such a mass of materials with out being able to make use of them until now.

We had no holiday but Sunday. Every Monday morning, Mr. De la Bussiere expected to receive from his pupils a full account of the sermon they had heard on the preceding day. I made rapid progress. In the second year I translated Du Moulin’s French Logic into Latin, and thus became familiar with the terms in Latin. At the end of three years we parted, and I was well satisfied with what I had acquired. Mr. De la Bussiere knew human nature well, and he had the faculty of inciting his pupils to the utmost exertion, and guiding them as he pleased. A single word of reproof, from him, affected me more than the severe punishments of my former preceptors.

My next step was to the college of Guienne, which was supported by the king, and much resorted to by Protestants.

A great mortification awaited me there; Latin was the only language made use of, and though I was familiar with the best Latin authors, I could not speak it, and found myself unable to follow the lecturers. I did not allow this to discourage me; I was still given to building castles in the air, as in my childhood; in order to make Latin more familiar I resolved to meditate in that language; I forbade my thoughts to clothe themselves in my mother tongue, and thus I succeeded well, and was soon able to reflect upon what I read in Latin, and I could express myself with ease. I also hired a private tutor to assist me in the hours of relaxation, and by these means I could keep pace with the professor. I may say, with truth, that during the two years I remained at college, I spent sixteen hours out of every twenty-four in study.

Fourteen students took the degree of Master of Arts at the same time; I was the second on the list. At the age of twenty-two, I found that five years of hard study had compensated, in some degree, for the previous nine years of negligence.

I am under great obligations to Mr. De la Bussiere for making me what I am, and therefore I feel it is his due to perpetuate the remembrance of his talents amongst my descendants, which I can perhaps do in the best manner by relating something that occurred while I was at college.

His wife died, and he removed to Bourdeaux during my second year there. He was unchanged in his appearance; he was slovenly as ever, and was clad in the same threadbare cloak, and the same little collar.

During the professor’s lecture, it was customary for strangers to occupy a bench, appropriated for their use; and for one half hour, from half-past eleven to twelve o’clock, they might argue, if they pleased, upon any subject connected with the thesis of the day. One of the students was always expected to speak in reply to the stranger. A day seldom passed without some priest, monk, or Jesuit, taking a seat on the bench.

One morning an Abbé took his seat, who was dressed with the utmost elegance; Mr. De la Bussiere followed close after him. The students began to exchange glances and crack jokes upon the slovenly appearance of the latter, and they continued to do so, even after the professor had made them a signal to stop their ill-timed mirth.

I spoke in a whisper to those near me. “Restrain your laughter,” said I, “until you have heard him.”

Mr. L’Abbé had prepared himself with three or four arguments in opposition to one of our theses. He gave them out, and he was answered, in the usual way, by a student. He then bowed most politely to the professor, and with much courtesy complimented both him and the students on their skilful solutions, and he resumed his seat.

Mr. De la Bussiere’s turn had now come. He began in Latin, with a complimentary address to the professor; he then turned round and said, “Mr. L’Abbé, you have expressed yourself satisfied with the answers you have received; I am of opinion that you yielded too soon, for your argument admits of being carried much further.” He then took up the subject where the Abbé had left it, and handled it in so masterly a style, that the students were unable to say a word in reply, and the professor was obliged to rise in support of his own thesis. He also actually became cornered, and knew not how to defend his own position, when to his infinite relief the clock struck twelve, which put an end to the discussion.

My mother’s death, at the age of sixty-three, took place about the time that I had completed my college course and taken my degree. After she became a widow, she devoted herself with the greatest assiduity to her children, doing all that lay in her power both for their temporal and eternal welfare. She was tender and affectionate to them, but at the same time rigid in requiring from them a strict fulfilment of their duties.

You must know, that in France, a man is considered a minor until he is twenty-five years old. I was therefore, according to law, still in my minority, but my brothers did not want to be troubled with looking after my property; they therefore made me of age, or free, soon after the death of my mother. My brothers and sisters were all married, and they had long ago received the principal part of their portions, so it did not require very long to come to an amicable arrangement in the division of what was left. I paid to them severally the small sums to which they were entitled, and then I remained sole proprietor of the estates of Jenouillé and Jaffé, by which I possessed, not only a good comfortable dwelling-house for my residence, but an annual income of about 1000 francs.


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