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Art. 1.-1. Histoire de Saint François d'Assise, (1182-1226.)
Par Emile CHAVIN de Malan. Paris : 1845. 2. St François d'Assise. Par E. J. DelecLUSE. Paris : 1844.
I" t was a noble design which died with Robert Southey. His
History of the Monastic Orders would not perhaps have poured a large tribute of philosophy, divine or human, into the ocean of knowledge; but how graceful would have been the flow of that transparent narrative, and how would it have reflected and enhanced the beauty of every rich champaign and of every towering promontory along which it would have swept! Peremptory and dogmatical as he was, he addressed himself to the task of instructing his own and future generations, with a just sense of the dignity and of the responsibilities of that high office. He was too brave a man, and too sound a Protestant, to shrink from any aspect of truth; nor would he ever have supposed that he could promote a legitimate object of ecclesiastical history by impairing the well-earned fame of any of the worthies of the Church, because they had been entangled in the sophistries or the superstitious of the ages in which they flourished.
M. Chavin de Malan has adopted the project of our fellowcountryman, and is publishing his Monastic History in a series of fragments, among which is this volume on the founder and the progress of the Franciscan Order. Though among the most passionate and uncompromising devotees of the Church of Rome, M. Chavin de Malan also is in one sense a Protestant. He protests against any exercise of human reason in examining any dogma which
VOL. LXXXVI. NO, CLXXIII.
that church inculcates, or any fact which she alleges. The most merciless of her cruelties affect him with no indignation, the silliest of her prodigies with no shame, the basest of her superstitions with no contempt. Her veriest dotage is venerable in his eyes. Even the atrocities of Innocent the Third seem to this all extolling eulogist but to augment the triumph and the glories of his reign. If the soul of the confessor of Simon de Montfort, retaining all the passions and all the prejudices of that æra, should transmigrate into a Doctor of the Sorbonne, conversant with the arts and literature of our own times, the result might be the production of such an Ecclesiastical History as that of which we have here a specimen—elaborate in research, glowing in style, vivid in portraiture, utterly reckless and indiscriminate in belief, extravagant, up to the very verge of idolatry, in applause, and familiar, far beyond the verge of indecorum, with the most awful topics and objects of the Christian faith.
The episode of which M. Chavin de Malan disposes in this book, is among the most curious and important in the annals of the Church, and the materials for the Life of Francis of Assisi are more than usually copious and authentic. First in order are his own extant writings, consisting chiefly of letters, colloquies, poems, and predictions. His earliest biographer, Thomas of Celano, was his follower and his personal friend. Three of the intimate associates of the Saint (one of them his confessor) compiled a joint narrative of his miracles and his labours. Bonaventura, himself a General of the Franciscan order, wrote a celebrated life of the Founder, whom in his infancy he had seen. And lastly, there is a chronicle called Fioretti di San Francisco, which, though not written till half a century after his death, has always been held in much esteem by the hagiographers. Within the last thirty years a new edition of it has been published at Verona. On these five authorities all the more recent narratives are founded. Yet the works of Thomas de Celano and of the • Tres Socii,' with the writings of Francis himself, are the only sources of contemporary intelligence strictly so called; although Bonaventura and the chronicler of the Fioretti had large opportunities of ascertaining the reality of the facts they have related. How far they availed themselves of that advantage, may be partly inferred from the following brief epitome of those occurrences.
The city of Assisi, in Umbria, was a mart of some importance in the latter half of the 12th century. At that period it could boast no merchant more adventurous or successful than Pietro Bernadone di Mericoni. Happy in a thriving trade, and happier still in an affectionate wife, he was above all happy in the prospect of the future eminence of his son Francisco. The foremost
in every feat of arms, and the gayest in every festival, the youth was at the same time assiduous in the counting-house; and though his expenditure was profuse, it still flowed in such channels as to attest the princely munificence of his spirit. The brightest eyes in Assisi, dazzled by so many graces, and the most reverend brows there, acknowledging such early wisdom, were alike bent with complacency towards him; and all conspired to sustain his father's belief, that, in his person, the name of Bernadone would rival the proudest of those whom neither transalpine conquerors, nor the Majesty of the Tiara, disdained to propitiate in the guilds of Venice or of Pisa.
Uniform, alas ! is the dirge of all the generations of mankind, over hopes blossoming but to die. In a combat with the citizens of Perugia, Francis was taken prisoner; and after a captivity of twelve months, was released only to encounter a disease, which, at the dawn of manhood, brought him within view of the gates of death. Long, earnest, and inquisitive was his gaze into the inscrutable abyss on which they open; and when at length he returned to the duties of life, it was in the awe-stricken spirit of one to whom those dread realities had been unveiled. The world one complicated imposture, all sensible delights so many polluting vanities, human praise and censure but the tinkling of the cymbals,—what remained but to spurn these empty shadows, that so he might grasp the one imperishable object of man's sublunary existence ?' His alms became lavish. His days and nights were
? consumed in devout exercises. Prostrate in the crowded church, or in the recesses of the forest, his agitated frame attested the conflict of his mind. He exchanged dresses with a tattered mendicant, and pressed to his bosom a wretch rendered loathsome by leprosy. But as he gradually gathered strength from these self-conquests, or as returning health restored the tone and vigour of his nerves, his thoughts, reverting to the lower world, wandered in search of victories of another order.
Walter of Brienne was in arms in the Neapolitan States against the Emperor; the weak opposed to the powerful; the Italian to the German: the Guelph to the Ghibelline; and Francis laid him down to sleep, resolved that, with the return of day, he would join the Gentle Count,' as he was usually called, in resisting the oppressor to the death. In his slumbers a vast armoury seemed to open to his view; and a voice commanded him to select from the burnished weapons with which it was hung, such as he could most effectually wield against the impious enemy of the Church. The dreamer awoke; and in prompt submission to the celestial mandate, laid aside the serge gown and modest bonnet of his craft, and exhibited himself to his admiring fellow-citizens
armed cap-a-pie, and urging on his war-horse towards the encampment of his destined leader. At Spoleto fatigue arrested his course. Again he slept, and again the voice was heard. It an. nounced to him that the martial implements of his former vision were not, as he had supposed, such as are borne beneath a knightly banner against a carnal adversary, but arms of spiritual temper, to be directed, in his native city, against the invisible powers of darkness. He listened and obeyed; and Assisi reopened her gates to her returning warrior, resolute to break a lance with a more fearful foe than was ever sent by the Emperor into the field.
To superficial judges it probably appeared as if that dread antagonist had won an easy triumph over his young assailant. For Francis was seen once more the graceful leader of the civic revels, bearing in his hand the sceptre of the king of frolic, and followed by a joyous band, who made the old streets echo with their songs. As that strain arose, however, a dark shadow gathered over the countenance of the leader, and amid the general chorus his voice was unheard. “Why so grave, Francis ? art thou going to be mar
ried?'exclaimed one of the carollers. I am,'answered Francis, ' and to a lady of such rank, wealth, and beauty, that the world cannot produce her like. He burst from the jocund throng in
' search of her, and was erelong in her embrace. He vowed to take her 'for his wedded wife, for better for worse, to love and to
cherish till death should them part. The lady was Poverty. The greatest poet of Italy and the greatest orator of France have celebrated their nuptials. But neither Dante nor Bossuet was the inventor of the parable. It was ever on the lips of Francis himself, that Poverty was his bride, that he was her devoted husband, and the whole Franciscan order their offspring.
His fidelity to his betrothed lady was inviolate, but not unassailed by temptation. Pleasure, wealth, ambition, were the syrens who, with witching looks and songs, attempted to divert him from bis Penelope ; and when he could no longer combat, he at least could fly the fascination. Wandering in the Umbrian hills, he wept and fasted, and communed with the works of God; till, raised to communion with their Maker, he knelt in a rustic church which the piety of ancient times had consecrated there to the memory of St Damiano.
The voice which directed his path in life was heard again. • Seest thou not, it cried, that my temple is falling into ruins ? • Restore it.' Again the spirit of interpretation failed him. Instead of addressing himself to renovate the spiritual, he undertook the repairs of the material fabric—an ardnous task for the future spouse of Poverty! But obedience was indispensable. Rising
from his knees, he hastened to his father's warehouse, laded a stout palfrey with silks and embroideries, sold both horse and goods at the neighbouring town of Foligno, and laid down the money at the feet of the officiating priest of St Damiano. The more cautious churchman rejected the gold. Francis indignantly cast it into the mire; and vowed that the building so solemnly committed to his care should become his dwelling-place and his home, till the Divine behest had been fulfilled.
During all this time hallucinations of his own, though of a far different kind, had haunted the brain of the respectable Pietro Bernadone. Grouping into forms ever new and brilliant, like spangles shaken in a kaleidoscope, the ideas of bales and bills of lading, of sea risks and of supercargoes, had combined with those of loans to reckless Crusaders and of the supply of hostile camps, to form one gorgeous Eldorado, when intelligence of the loss of his draperies, his pack-horse, and his son, restored him to the waking world and to himself. The goods and the quadruped were gone irrevocably. But as the exasperated father paced the streets of Assisi, a figure emaciated with fasts and vigils, squalid with dirt, and assailed by the filthy missiles of a hooting rabble, approached him, and as it moved onwards with a measured tread, an uplifted eye, and a serene aspect, it revealed to the old merchant, in this very sorry spectacle of dignified suffering, the long-cherished object of his ambitious hopes. What biographer even now can tell the sequel without a blush! Francis was hurried away from his persecutors and his admirers, in the grasp of the elder Bernadone, and, from his vigorous arm, received that kind of chastisement under which heroism itself ceases to be sublime. The incensed judge then passed a chain round the body of the youth, and left him in a kind of domestic prison, there to satiate his love for penances, until his own return from a journey to which the inexorable demands of his commerce had summoned him.
Wiser far and more gentle was the custody to which Francis was transferred, and a voice was heard in his penitentiary full of a more genuine inspiration than any of those by which his
steps bad been hitherto guided. It was the voice of his mother, soothing her half-distracted child in accents as calm and as holy as those which first broke the silence of Eden. It spoke to him of maternal love, of reconciliation, and of peace. But it addressed bim in vain. He was bound to leave father and mother, and to cleave to his betrothed wife, and to the duties of that indissoluble alliance. Convinced at length of the vanity, perhaps trembling at the impiety, of any further resistance, his mother threw open bis prison doors, and permitted him to escape to his sanctuary at St Damiano,