BLTC Press Titles

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The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Les Misérables Volume 1

by Victor Hugo







In 1815 M. Charles Francis Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of D―― . He was a man of about seventy-five years of age, and had held the see of D―― since 1806. Although the following details in no way affect our narrative, it may not be useless to quote the rumors that were current about him at the moment when he came to the diocese, for what is said of men, whether it be true or false, often occupies as much space in their life, and especially in their destiny, as what they do. M. Myriel was the son of a councillor of the Aix Parliament. It was said that his father, who intended that he should be his successor, married him at the age of eighteen or twenty, according to a not uncommon custom in parliamentary families. Charles Myriel, in spite of this marriage (so people said), had been the cause of much tattle. He was well built, though of short stature, elegant, graceful, and witty; and the earlier part of his life was devoted to the world' and to gallantry. The Revolution came, events hurried on, and the parliamentary families, decimated and hunted down, became dispersed. M. Charles Myriel emigrated to Italy in the early part of the Revolution, and his wife, who had been long suffering from a chest complaint, died there, leaving no children. What next took place in M. Myriel's destiny? Did the overthrow of the old French society, the fall of his own family, and the tragic spectacles of '93, more frightful perhaps to the emigrés who saw them from a distance with the magnifying power of terror, cause ideas of renunciation and solitude to germinate in him? Was he, in the midst of one of the distractions and affections which occupied his life, suddenly assailed by one of those mysterious and terrible blows which often prostrate, by striking at his heart, a man whom public catastrophes could not overthrow by attacking him in his existence and his fortune? No one could have answered these questions; all that was known was that when he returned from Italy he was a priest.

In 1804 M. Myriel was Curé of B―― (Brignolles). He was already aged, and lived in great retirement. Towards the period of the coronation a small matter connected with his curacy, no one remembers what, took him to Paris. Among other powerful persons he applied to Cardinal Fesch on behalf of his parishioners. One day, when the Emperor was paying a visit to his uncle, the worthy curé, who was waiting in the ante-room, saw his Majesty pass. Napoleon, noticing this old man regard him with some degree of curiosity, turned and asked sharply, —

"Who is this good man who is staring at me?"

"Sire," M. Myriel said, "you are looking at a good man and I at a great man. We may both profit by it."

The Emperor, on the same evening, asked the Cardinal the curb's name, and some time after M. Myriel, to his great surprise, learned that he was nominated Bishop of D―― . What truth, by the way, was there in the stories about M. Myriel's early life? No one knew, for few persons had been acquainted with his family before the Revolution. M. Myriel was fated to undergo the lot of every new comer to a little town, where there are many mouths that speak, and but few heads that think. He was obliged to undergo it, though he was bishop, and because he was bishop. But, after all, the stories in which his name was mingled were only' stories, rumors, words, remarks, less than words, mere palabres, to use a term borrowed from the energetic language of the South. Whatever they might be, after ten years of episcopacy and residence at D―― , all this gossip, which at the outset affords matter of conversation for little towns and little people, had fallen into deep oblivion. No one would have dared to speak of it, no one have dared to remember it.

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