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[126]

The chapel of the Hermits.

The incident upon which this poem is based is related in a note to Bernardin Henri Saint Pierre's Etudes de la Nature.

We arrived at the habitation of the Hermits a little before they sat down to their table, and while they were still at church. J. J. Rousseau proposed to me to offer up our devotions. The hermits were reciting the Litanies of Providence, which are remarkably beautiful. After we had addressed our prayers to God, and the hermits were proceeding to the refectory, Rousseau said tome, with his heart overflowing, “At this moment I experience what is said in the gospel: Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. There is here a feeling of peace and happiness which penetrates the soul.” I said, “If Fenelon had lived, you would have been a Catholic.” He exclaimed, with tears in his eyes, “Oh, if Fenelon were alive, I would struggle to get into his service, even as a lackey! ”

In my sketch of Saint Pierre, it will be seen that I have somewhat antedated the period of his old age. At that time he was not probably more than fifty. In describing him, I have by no means exaggerated his own history of his mental condition at the period of the story. In the fragmentary Sequel to his Studies of Nature, he thus speaks of himself: ‘The ingratitude of those of whom I had deserved kindness, unexpected family misfortunes, the total loss of my small patrimony through enterprises solely undertaken for the benefit of my country, the debts under which I lay oppressed, the blasting of all my hopes,—these combined calamities made dreadful inroads upon my health and reason. . . . I found it impossible to continue in a room where there was company, especially if the doors were shut. I could not even cross an alley in a public garden, if several persons had got together in it. When alone, my malady subsided. I felt myself likewise at ease in places where I saw children only. At the sight of any one walking up to the place where I was, I felt my whole frame agitated, and retired. I often said to myself, “My sole study has been to merit well of mankind; why do I fear them? ” ’

He attributes his improved health of mind and body to the counsels of his friend, J. J. Rousseau. ‘I renounced,’ says he, ‘my books. I threw my eyes upon the works of nature, which spake to all my senses a language which neither time nor nations ’

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