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THE FRENCH BOY PRISONER. An eminent French writer of this name has lately published a book called, “Studies of Men and Manners in the Nineteenth Century,” in which he gives, in the first chapter, some remembrances of his youth. He writes with all the lightheartedness of a Frenchman; and there are some things he says which we do not altogether approve. But we give it as we find it, with only a few abridgments, supposing our young readers might be amused by reading of the early adventures of a French boy.
“I was but a child when the name of Ham (the state prison or fortress of that name) was constantly in my ears; it was the terror and the amusement of our evenings. I knew its black es, its ramparts, its winding staircases, as well as if I had built them. I knew the depth of the ditch ; I could see before me the chamber my father inhabited. He had passed many long months there: he told me stories of the Donjon keep, and how his Majesty the Directory had put him up there, without his Majesty, the people, coming to let him loose; he would tell me of the secret springs of the politics of those days, the character of the prisoners, their past life, their expectations, and the part they had taken in the revolution.
Oh, how I listened to these histories of those terrible times ! The histories of the castle of Ham remained graven on my mind; the shade of its turrets was always present, and ob. scured my youthful reveries; when a stern reality, a real
prison, interrupted my studies, snatched me from my classes, and made me understand the age in which I lived.
In the months of April and May, 1815, there had been many conspiracies in Paris, badly planned, prepared by blockheads, assisted by men whose duty it would be to punish them, chastised by those who had provoked them. I did not suspect that my name figured on the lists. My father, mutilated by wounds, and in retirement, lived with his family in profound solitude, at the extremity of Paris, in an old house which he had purchased. There, the noise of wars, of triumphs and defeats, of monarchies reformed, beaten down, raised up again, reached us as the tumult of some great city a prey to the flames, extends upon and rouses up the hermit in his cave.
For my part I was more occupied with the 'Germany of Madame de Stael' (a book which had then just appeared) than with all the conspiracies of Europe ; and my studies, which had commenced when my intellect began to expand (viz., at five years old), were finished. My father, judging rightly of the state of the civilized world, and especially that of France, saw around him nothing but tottering fortunes, uncertain positions, and menacing future clouds and thunderbolts; crowns as unsteady as the hut of the peasant of the Alps when the storm blows. I could not but believe him; he who was familiar with revolutions as a pilot of Brest harbour is with shipwrecks.
He thought that the sole resource of a man was in himself; that the most intellectual of educations would avail nothing; and that, in such an epoch of constant crisis and universal disorder, every one, however rich he might be, should
know how to gain his bread by the sweat of his brow. It was a right view of society: I thought it exaggerated, but
Ι I was wrong. My father then proposed to me to complete an education too scientific, by an apprenticeship to some handicraft trade.”
M. Chasles describes with humour the horror with which he listened to his father's proposal; the indignity which he believed it involved. Filial obedience, however, curbed his will, he says, under the terrible good sense of his father. “I believed myself, however," he writes, “to be a hero in accepting without murmuring, although sorrowfully, the best of guarantees that a man could have in reserve against the shocks and chances of life and fortune, in becoming from a scholar, a useful compositor in a printing office.”
“There was at that time, in Paris, a printing office, perfectly unique of its kind; three printing presses, out of order, found themselves in exile and solitude on the second floor of an obscure house, situate in the Rue Dauphine. There were no workmen to put in motion these creative pieces of lead, to transform them into thoughts; the master was poor, and more than poor; all the miseries of mind, body, and intelligence, overwhelmed him at one time. He was a stray revolutionary, a Jacobin! How he lived I know not. He did not print even an almanack. I believe the house was under the immediate inspection of the police; but of this my father was ignorant. He only saw in the solitude of the workshop an opportunity of preserving my youth from the contagion of bad example. Without living among workmen, I was going to become one, and to instruct myself without danger; so my father chose for my master the proprietor of the ruined printing office, and for three months I mounted regularly at eight o'clock to descend at three, the stairs which led to the deserted workshop.
There I remained alone, day dreaming. My master's lessons were rare, or rather he gave me none at all; and when the handling of the type and placing them in the form tired my fingers I sat down to read. He who has not known the disgust of an employment in which the mind has no part, can never comprehend, in its fullness, the delight of reading. You have been engaged in some workmanship on the gross elements, lead, earth, wood, blind powers, which only offer a passive resistance, when, behold, a thought sparkles before you, resplendent, active, penetrating, unconquerable, fruitful, with a life which cannot die. It does not astonish me that great men should be born (so to speak) among mechanical employments, for to those who bave been brought up exclusively in our saloons intelligence is but an amusement, a fine garment. But for those who have held the sword or the helm, guided the plough or used the file, intelligence becomes a passion, a power, a beauty, a worship, a divine love. It is from the stall, the shop, the workroom, or the notary's office (that magazine of writings without thought), that the great numbers of powerful men have sprung.
Moliere, from the shop of the upholsterer, Burns, from the farm, Shakespeare, son of a wool factor, Ro of a wheelwright; long time struggling with physical nature, all have found refuge, happy and enthusiastic, in the free domain of thought. I would have every labourer taught to read, and every rich