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It is intended, in publishing this edition of Saintine's Picciola as one of the Pitt Press Series of School texts, to deal in the notes with points of grammar and etymology more fully than has been done in the editions hitherto in circulation for the use of Schools.
A few liberties have been taken with Saintine's original text to adapt it for School purposes; the alterations are chiefly verbal, but in a few cases a short passage has been altogether omitted.
The sketch of Saintine's life, which is given in the Introduction, is compiled principally from Saintine's Biography by Michel Masson, his friend and brother
Xavier Boniface Saintine was born in 1795 and died in 1865. His father, a professor at the Collége de la Marche, belonged to a respectable but not wealthy family, and had no private means of his own, nothing beyond his meagre salary which barely sufficed to support a family of seven persons; nevertheless, at the death of his brother, he admitted permanently into his own family this brother's two orphan children. Thanks to a happy inspiration of the Professor's wife means were obtained to feed his houseful of children. The courageous woman, who grudged neither toil nor trouble on their behalf, opened a small linen-draper's shop in the Carrefour Bucy, with the sign over the door “À la mère de famille," a truly appropriate motto.
Xavier's eldest brother had taken to his father's profession and was teaching at Yverdun; another brother had perished in the Russian campaign ; Xavier himself, in the worst days of 1814, set out, as a conscript, to join the army which was attempting to delay the advance of the enemies of France ; the roads were however so completely in their power and the country so scoured by them that he had to return home.
Xavier now made up his mind to take his diploma as doctor. All the while, however, that he attended, with this object in view, the lectures at the Hôtel-Dieu, he spent much of his time in the society of young men, who, later, became famous in the literary world. Ancelot, Casimir Delavigne, Eugène Scribe and several others were his constant companions, and the taste for literature that he acquired in his intercourse with them gradually weaned him from the medical profession. A surgical operation, which he one day witnessed, so shook his nervous system that he determined to give up the lancet for the pen. Nevertheless the time he had devoted to medical studies had not been thrown away. He had acquired the habit of patient observation and a taste for science which allowed his inquiring mind to penetrate into the mysteries of Nature. Always meditating on that inexhaustible source of discoveries and inspirations which was to supply him with the materials for his Picciola, he studied Botany to the very last day of his life.
While attending lectures and walking the hospitals Saintine had found leisure to write some poetry and even a few plays for the stage. Already, at that early period of his life, he had good grounds for entertaining a hope that he would some day live by his pen. But the literary profession was not yet likely to afford him a sufficient source of income, he consequently accepted the post which was offered him of private Secretary to one of the members of the French Academy, le comte de Ségur, a noble old man, who had preserved, in his advancing years, all the grace and vivacity of mind that had, in former years, fascinated the two ancient courts of France and Russia.
Count de Ségur scarcely ever wrote himself; he generally dictated. The work of dictating being over, he used to rise and go, and his young secretary then made a fair copy of what he had hurriedly scribbled while attempting to keep pace with a dictation which was often too rapid. Saintine usually hastened to finish his task, and then was a free man. One day, however, he was extremely slow in writing his fair copy, and when it was finished, he began a fresh one, writing slower still than before. A great hope was then agitating him; he was in a state of feverish expectation, and not knowing how to occupy himself so as to allay his mental torture, he kept copying by way of killing time.
Count de Ségur, on his return from the sitting of the