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Archive for the ‘19th Century literature’ Category

ph_0111200535-BjornsonBjørnstjerne Bjørnson was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1903. He was the third person to receive it. Henrik Ibsen was never awarded the prize. Posterity has chosen to regard this as a proof of the unimportance of literary prizes. The contemporaries of the two writers held a different view: Ibsen and Bjørnson were twin stars in the northern hemisphere, like Castor and Pollux, and they both deserved the prize. Possibly Bjørnson deserved it more, as he came closest to fulfilling the intentions of the testator regarding works written in “an idealistic spirit.” This is particularly applicable if the word “works” is applied in its broadest sense, also embracing Bjørnson’s championship — through the international press — of persecuted individuals and oppressed nations, and of his efforts on behalf of peace and international justice. (Edvard Beyer/mnc.net)

The Father

THE MAN whose story is here to be told was the wealthiest and

most influential person in his parish; his name was Thord Overaas. He appeared in the priest’s study one day, tall and earnest.

I have gotten a son,” said he, “and I wish to present him for baptism.”  “What shall his name be?” “Finn,—after my father.”

 “And the sponsors?” They were mentioned, and proved to be the best men and women of Thord’s relations in the parish.

 “Is there anything else?” inquired the priest, and looked up. The peasant hesitated a little.

 “I should like very much to have him baptized by himself,” said he finally.“That is to say on a week day?” “Next Saturday, at twelve o’clock noon.”  “Is there anything else?” inquired the priest.

There is nothing else;” and the peasant twirled his cap, as though he were about to go.

Then the priest arose. “There is yet this, however,” said he, and walking toward Thord, he took him by the hand and looked gravely into his eyes: “God grant that the child may become a blessing to you!”

 One day sixteen years later, Thord stood once more in the priest’s study.“Really, you carry your age astonishingly well, Thord,” said the priest; for he saw no change whatever in the man.“That is because I have no troubles,” replied Thord. To this the priest said nothing, but after a while he asked: “What is the pleasure this evening?”

I have come this evening about that son of mine who is to be confirmed to-morrow.”  “He is a bright boy.”

I did not wish to pay the priest until I heard what number the boy would have when he takes his place in church to-morrow.”

He will stand number one.” “So I have heard; and here are ten dollars for the priest.”“Is there anything else I can do for you?” inquired the priest, fixing his eyes on Thord. “There is nothing else.” Thord went out.

Eight years more rolled by, and then one day a noise was heard outside of the priest’s study, for many men were approaching, and at their head was Thord, who entered first. The priest looked up and recognized him. “You come well attended this evening, Thord,” said he. “I am here to request that the banns may be published for my son; he is about to marry Karen Storliden, daughter of Gudmund, who stands here beside me.”

Why, that is the richest girl in the parish.”

So they say,” replied the peasant, stroking back his hair with one hand.The priest sat awhile as if in deep thought, then entered the names in his book, without making any comments, and the men wrote their signatures underneath. Thord laid three dollars on the table. “One is all I am to have,” said the priest.“I know that very well; but he is my only child; I want to do it handsomely.”The priest took the money.“This is now the third time, Thord, that you have come here on your son’s account.” “But now I am through with him,” said Thord, and folding up his pocket-book he said farewell and walked away. The men slowly followed him. A fortnight later, the father and son were rowing across the lake, one calm, still day, to Storliden to make arrangements for the wedding. “This thwart is not secure,” said the son, and stood up to straighten the seat on which he was sitting. At the same moment the board he was standing on slipped from under him; he threw out his arms, uttered a shriek, and fell overboard.

Take hold of the oar!” shouted the father, springing to his feet and holding out the oar. But when the son had made a couple of efforts he grew stiff. “Wait a moment!” cried the father, and began to row toward his son. Then the son rolled over on his back, gave his father one long look, and sank. Thord could scarcely believe it; he held the boat still, and stared at the spot where his son had gone down, as though he must surely come to the surface again. There rose some bubbles, then some more, and finally one large one that burst; and the lake lay there as smooth and bright as a mirror again. For three days and three nights people saw the father rowing round and round the spot, without taking either food or sleep; he was dragging the lake for the body of his son. And toward morning of the third day he found it, and carried it in his arms up over the hills to his gard.It might have been about a year from that day, when the priest, late one autumn evening, heard some one in the passage outside of the door, carefully trying to find the latch. The priest opened the door, and in walked a tall, thin man, with bowed form and white hair. The priest looked long at him before he recognized him. It was Thord.

Are you out walking so late?” said the priest, and stood still in front of him. “Ah, yes! it is late,” said Thord, and took a seat. The priest sat down also, as though waiting. A long, long silence followed. At last Thord said:— “I have something with me that I should like to give to the poor; I want it to be invested as a legacy in my son’s name.” He rose, laid some money on the table, and sat down again. The priest counted it. “It is a great deal of money,” said he.“It is half the price of my gard. I sold it to-day.” The priest sat long in silence. At last he asked, but gently:—“What do you propose to do now, Thord?” “Something better.”They sat there for a while, Thord with downcast eyes, the priest with his eyes fixed on Thord. Presently the priest said, slowly and softly:—

I think your son has at last brought you a true blessing.”

Yes, I think so myself,” said Thord, looking up while two big tears coursed slowly down his cheeks.

(Ack: This translation, by Professor R. B. Anderson, is printed by permission of Houghton, Mifflin & Co)

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Who can tell me when the sun is most beautiful, at rising, or at setting? Who can tell me whether of the Olive or the Almond is the most beautiful of trees? Who can tell me whether Andalusia or Valencia sends forth the bravest knight? What man can tell me who is the fairest of women? I will tell you who is the fairest of women. She is Aurora de Vargas, the Pearl of Toledo.

 

Swarthy Tuzani has called for his lance, he has called for his buckler; his lance he grasps in his strong right hand; his buckler hangs from his neck. He goes down to his stable, and considers well his forty good steeds; in due order he considers them all, and he says:

 

“Berja is the fleetest and trustiest of all. On her strong back will I carry away the Pearl of Toledo, as mine will I bear her away, or by Allah, Cordova shall see me no more.”

 

So he sets forth and he rides on his way, till at length he reaches Toledo, and he meets an old man hard by Zucatin.

 

“Old man, with the snowy beard, carry this letter to Don Guttiera, to Don Guttiera de Saldaña. If he is a man he will come and meet me in a single combat, near to the fountain of Almami. The Pearl of Toledo must belong to one of us.”

 

The old man has taken the letter, he has taken and carried it to the Count de Saldaña, as he sat playing chess with the Pearl of Toledo. The Count has read the letter, he has read the parchment, and with his closed fist does he smite the table so mightily that all the chessmen have fallen to the ground. Then he rises and calls for his lance and his good steed, and all trembling does the Pearl of Toledo arise, for she has perceived and understood that he is going forth to combat.

 

“My Lord Guttiera de Saldaña, go not hence I pray, go not hence, but play still this game with me.”

 

“No longer will I play at chess; I will play at the game of lances by the fountain of Almami.”

 

And the tears of Aurora availed not to stay him; for naught stays a knight who goes forth to combat. Then the Pearl of Toledo took her mantle, and mounting upon her mule she went her way to the fountain of Almami.

 

All about the fountain is the grass crimson, crimson too the waters of the fountain; but it is not the blood of a Christian that stains the green sward, that stains the waters of the fountain. The swarthy Tuzani lies there with his face to the sky. The lance of Don Guttiera is splintered in his breast: all his life blood spends itself drop by drop. His faithful steed, Berja, looks down upon him weeping, for she cannot heal the wound of her master.

 

The Pearl of Toledo alights from her mule. “Take heart, good sir, for you will live yet to wed some poor Moorish maiden; my hand has cunning to heal the wound made by my knight.”

 

“O Pearl so white, O Pearl so fair, draw forth from my breast the splinter of lance which rends it. The cold of the steel chills me and freezes my heart.”

 

In all confidence she approached him, but he gathered his strength, and with his sabre’s blade, gashes her beautiful face.

(Transcribed and adapted from The Works of Prosper Mérimée. Vol. 3. Trans Emily Mary Waller and Mary Helena Dey. New York: Frank S. Holby, 1906. For educational use only. )

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In the days of King Louis there was a poor juggler in France, a native of Compiegne, Barnaby by name, who went about from town to town performing feats of skill and strength. On fair days he would unfold an old worn-out carpet in the public square, and when by means of a jovial address, which he had learned of a very ancient juggler, and which he never varied in the least, he had drawn together the children and loafers, he assumed extraordinary attitudes, and balanced a tin plate on the tip of his nose. At first the crowd would feign indifference.

But when, supporting himself on his hands face downwards, he threw into the air six copper balls, which glittered in the sunshine, and caught them again with his feet; or when, throwing himself backwards until his heels and the nape of his neck met, giving his body the form of a perfect wheel, he would juggle in this posture with a dozen knives, a murmur of admiration would escape the spectators, and pieces of money rain down upon the carpet.

Nevertheless, like the majority of those who live by their wits, Barnaby of Compiegne had a great struggle to make a living.

Earning his bread in the sweat of his brow, he bore rather more than his share of the penalties consequent upon the misdoings of our father Adam.

Again, he was unable to work as constantly as he would have been willing to do. The warmth of the sun and the broad daylight were as necessary to enable him to display his brilliant parts as to the trees if flower and fruit should be expected of them. In wintertime he was nothing more than a tree stripped of its leaves, and as it were dead. The frozen ground was hard to the juggler, and, like the grasshopper of which Marie de France tells us, the inclement season caused him to suffer both cold and hunger. But as he was simple-natured he bore his ills patiently.

He had never meditated on the origin of wealth, nor upon the inequality of human conditions. He believed firmly that if this life should prove hard, the life to come could not fail to redress the balance, and this hope upheld him. He did not resemble those thievish and miscreant Merry Andrews who sell their souls to the devil. He never blasphemed God’s name; he lived uprightly, and although he had no wife of his own, he did not covet his neighbor’s, since woman is ever the enemy of the strong man, as it appears by the history of Samson recorded in the Scriptures.

In truth, his was not a nature much disposed to carnal delights, and it was a greater deprivation to him to forsake the tankard than the Hebe who bore it. For whilst not wanting in sobriety, he was fond of a drink when the weather waxed hot. He was a worthy man who feared God, and was very devoted to the Blessed Virgin.

Never did he fail, on entering a church, to fall upon his knees before the image of the Mother of God, and offer up this prayer to her: “Blessed Lady, keep watch over my life until it shall please God that I die, and when I am dead, ensure to me the possession of the joys of paradise.”

Now, on a certain evening after a dreary wet day, as Barnaby pursued his road, sad and bent, carrying under his arm his balls and knives wrapped up in his old carpet, on the watch for some barn where, though he might not sup, he might sleep, he perceived on the road, going in the same direction as himself, a monk, whom he saluted courteously. And as they walked at the same rate they fell into conversation with one another.

“Fellow traveler,” said the monk, “how comes it about that you are clothed all in green? Is it perhaps in order to take the part of a jester in some mystery play?”

“Not at all, good father,” replied Barnaby. “Such as you see me, I am called Barnaby, and for my calling I am a juggler. There would be no pleasanter calling in the world if it would always provide one with daily bread.”

“Friend Barnaby,” returned the monk, “be careful what you say. There is no calling more pleasant than the monastic life. Those who lead it are occupied with the praises of God, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints; and, indeed, the religious life is one ceaseless hymn to the Lord.”

Barnaby replied, “Good father, I own that I spoke like an ignorant man. Your calling cannot be in any respect compared to mine, and although there may be some merit in dancing with a penny balanced on a stick on the tip of one’s nose, it is not a merit which comes within hail of your own. Gladly would I, like you, good father, sing my office day by day, and especially the office of the most Holy Virgin, to whom I have vowed a singular devotion. In order to embrace the monastic life I would willingly abandon the art by which from Soissons to Beauvais I am well known in upwards of six hundred towns and villages.”

The monk was touched by the juggler’s simplicity, and as he was not lacking in discernment, he at once recognized in Barnaby one of those men of whom it is said in the Scriptures: Peace on earth to men of good will. And for this reason he replied, “Friend Barnaby, come with me, and I will have you admitted into the monastery of which I am Prior. He who guided Saint Mary of Egypt in the desert set me upon your path to lead you into the way of salvation.”

It was in this manner, then, that Barnaby became a monk. In the monastery into which he was received the religious vied with one another in the worship of the Blessed Virgin, and in her honor each employed all the knowledge and all the skill which God had given him. 

The Prior on his part wrote books dealing according to the rules of scholarship with the virtues of the Mother of God.

Brother Maurice, with a deft hand copied out these treatises upon sheets of vellum. 



Brother Alexander adorned the leaves with delicate miniature paintings. Here were displayed the Queen of Heaven seated upon Solomon’s throne, and while four lions were on guard at her feet, around the nimbus which encircled her head hovered seven doves, which are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gifts, namely, of Fear, Piety, Knowledge, Strength, Counsel, Understanding, and Wisdom. For her companions she had six virgins with hair of gold, namely, Humility, Prudence, Seclusion, Submission, Virginity, and Obedience. 



At her feet were two little naked figures, perfectly white, in an attitude of supplication. These were souls imploring her all-powerful intercession for their soul’s health, and we may be sure not imploring in vain. 



Upon another page facing this, Brother Alexander represented Eve, so that the Fall and the Redemption could be perceived at one and the same time — Eve the Wife abased, and Mary the Virgin exalted. 



Furthermore, to the marvel of the beholder, this book contained presentments of the Well of Living Waters, the Fountain, the Lily, the Moon, the Sun, and the Garden Enclosed of which the Song of Songs tells us, the Gate of Heaven and the City of God, and all these things were symbols of the Blessed Virgin. 



Brother Marbode was likewise one of the most loving children of Mary.

He spent all his days carving images in stone, so that his beard, his eyebrows, and his hair were white with dust, and his eyes continually swollen and weeping; but his strength and cheerfulness were not diminished, although he was now well gone in years, and it was clear that the Queen of Paradise still cherished her servant in his old age. Marbode represented her seated upon a throne, her brow encircled with an orb-shaped nimbus set with pearls. And he took care that the folds of her dress should cover the feet of her, concerning whom the prophet declared: My beloved is as a garden enclosed. 

Sometimes, too, he depicted her in the semblance of a child full of grace, and appearing to say, “Thou art my God, even from my mother’s womb.” 

In the priory, moreover, were poets who composed hymns in Latin, both in prose and verse, in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and amongst the company was even a brother from Picardy who sang the miracles of Our Lady in rhymed verse and in the vulgar tongue. 

Being a witness of this emulation in praise and the glorious harvest of their labors, Barnaby mourned his own ignorance and simplicity. 

”Alas!” he sighed, as he took his solitary walk in the little shelterless garden of the monastery, “wretched wight that I am, to be unable, like my brothers, worthily to praise the Holy Mother of God, to whom I have vowed my whole heart’s affection. Alas! alas! I am but a rough man and unskilled in the arts, and I can render you in service, Blessed Lady, neither edifying sermons, nor ingenious paintings, nor statues truthfully sculptured, nor verses whose march is measured to the beat of feet. No gift have I, alas!” 



After this fashion he groaned and gave himself up to sorrow. But one evening, when the monks were spending their hour of liberty in conversation, he heard one of them tell the tale of a religious man who could repeat nothing other than the Ave Maria. This poor man was despised for his ignorance; but after his death there issued forth from his mouth five roses in honor of the five letters of the name Mary (Marie), and thus his sanctity was made manifest. 



Whilst he listened to this narrative Barnaby marveled yet once again at the loving kindness of the Virgin; but the lesson of that blessed death did not avail to console him, for his heart overflowed with zeal, and he longed to advance the glory of his Lady, who is in heaven. 

How to compass this he sought, but could find no way, and day by day he became the more cast down, when one morning he awakened filled with joy, hastened to the chapel, and remained there alone for more than an hour. After dinner he returned to the chapel once more. 

And, starting from that moment, he repaired daily to the chapel at such hours as it was deserted, and spent within it a good part of the time which the other monks devoted to the liberal and mechanical arts. His sadness vanished, nor did he any longer groan.

A demeanor so strange awakened the curiosity of the monks. 



These began to ask one another for what purpose Brother Barnaby could be indulging so persistently in retreat. 



The prior, whose duty it is to let nothing escape him in the behavior of his children in religion, resolved to keep a watch over Barnaby during his withdrawals to the chapel. One day, then, when he was shut up there after his custom, the prior, accompanied by two of the older monks, went to discover through the chinks in the door what was going on within the chapel. 



They saw Barnaby before the altar of the Blessed Virgin, head downwards, with his feet in the air, and he was juggling with six balls of copper and a dozen knives. In honor of the Holy Mother of God he was performing those feats, which aforetime had won him most renown. Not recognizing that the simple fellow was thus placing at the service of the Blessed Virgin his knowledge and skill, the two old monks exclaimed against the sacrilege. 

The prior was aware how stainless was Barnaby’s soul, but he concluded that he had been seized with madness. They were all three preparing to lead him swiftly from the chapel, when they saw the Blessed Virgin descend the steps of the altar and advance to wipe away with a fold of her azure robe the sweat which was dropping from her juggler’s forehead. 



Then the prior, falling upon his face upon the pavement, uttered these words, “Blessed are the simple-hearted, for they shall see God.” 



“Amen!” responded the old brethren, and kissed the ground.

The End

ack: text-accuracyproject.org/ photo-wikipedia)

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Les Misérables Quotes

He never went out without a book under his arm, and he often came back with two.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Not being heard is no reason for silence.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Laughter is sunshine, it chases winter from the human face.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Those who do not weep, do not see.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Promise to give me a kiss on my brow when I am dead. –I shall feel it.”

She dropped her head again on Marius’ knees, and her eyelids closed. He thought the poor soul had departed. Eponine remained motionless. All at once, at the very moment when Marius fancied her asleep forever, she slowly opened her eyes in which appeared the sombre profundity of death, and said to him in a tone whose sweetness seemed already to proceed from another world:–

“And by the way, Monsieur Marius, I believe that I was a little bit in love with you.”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

If I speak, I am condemned.

If I stay silent, I am damned!”

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (ack: Goodreads-quotes/image-lisa abramson-pinterest))

benny

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I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,

And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.

He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;

And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

ii

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—

Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;

For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,

And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

iii

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,

And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.

He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;

I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

iv

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,

I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;

But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,

Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

Source: The Golden Book of Poetry (1947)

photocredit-wikipedia/pinterest/lisa abramson-writers

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It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

… ….

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink

Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d

Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when

Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known; cities of men

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

… ….

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Form:This poem is written as a dramatic monologue: the entire poem is spoken by a single character, whose identity is revealed by his own words. The lines are in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter, which serves to impart a fluid and natural quality to Ulysses’s speech. Many of the lines are enjambed, which means that a thought does not end with the line-break; the sentences often end in the middle, rather than the end, of the lines. The use of enjambment is appropriate in a poem about pushing forward “beyond the utmost bound of human thought.” Finally, the poem is divided into four paragraph-like sections, each of which comprises a distinct thematic unit of the poem. (1833-42)

The poem’s final line, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” came to serve as a motto for the poet’s Victorian contemporaries: the poem’s hero longs to flee the tedium of daily life “among these barren crags” (line 2) and to enter a mythical dimension “beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars” (lines 60–61); as such, he was a model of individual self-assertion and the Romantic rebellion against bourgeois conformity. Thus for Tennyson’s immediate audience, the figure of Ulysses held not only mythological meaning, but stood as an important contemporary cultural icon as well.

Ulysses,” like many of Tennyson’s other poems, deals with the desire to reach beyond the limits of one’s field of vision and the mundane details of everyday life. Ulysses is the antithesis of the mariners in “The Lotos-Eaters,” who proclaim “we will no longer roam” and desire only to relax amidst the Lotos fields. (ack:sparknotes)

Trivia:The last line was found in the note left by Captain Scott in his ill-fated expedition.

Also read my Pen Portraits-Alfred Tennyson

Photo: Tennyson/lisa abramson-writers-Pinterest)

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494bde34ec1fe455c26f213a0753c78d photo of Daudet/lisa abramson/writers-pinterest)

That morning, Franz was taking his way very slowly to school. He had a great dread of being scolded, particularly as the school-master had said that the lesson for the day would be on participles about which Franz did not know a word. Suddenly an idea came to him. He would go through the fields.

It was so warm, so clear. He heard the blackbirds whistling on the borders of the wood, and in the meadow, behind the saw-mill, the Prussians were drilling. Then, as he passed on by the residence of the mayor, Franz saw them putting a notice on the gate. There, for two years, had been given out all the bad news; lost battles for Alsace, calls to arms, the orders of the command. The blacksmith and his apprentice were putting up the notice, and Franz called,

“What has happened, that they are posting a bulletin again?” But the blacksmith spoke gruffly,

“Why do you loiter, little one? It is not safe. Run along quickly to school.”

So Franz made haste at last, although he was sure that the blacksmith was not in earnest, and he arrived all breathless, at his class.

School seemed, somehow, very different to Franz that morning. There was ordinarily a good deal of noise as the children came in from the street, desks were opened, and lessons were repeated out loud and all in unison, and the school-master pounded with his ruler on his table.

Now, however, there was silence.

Although Franz was late, the school-master looked at him without the least anger, and spoke softly as he said, “Go quickly to your place, my little Franz. We have already begun without you.”

Franz seated himself at his desk. Only then, his fear gone, he noticed that the master had on his best green frock coat, his finely plaited shirt and the black silk cap that he never wore except on a day when there were prizes given out in school. All the children were extraordinarily quiet. But what surprised Franz the most was to see at the back of the room, seated on the benches which were ordinarily empty, the people of the village. There was an old soldier with his tri-colored flag, the old mayor of the town, the postman, and many others. Everyone seemed sad. And the old soldier had a spelling book, ragged on the edges, that he held open on his knees, as he followed the pages through his great spectacles.

As little Franz watched all this, astonished, the school-master rose from his chair, and in the same grave, soft voice in which he had spoken to the boy, he said,

“My children, this is the last time that I shall teach your class. The order has come from Berlin that no language but German shall be taught in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. Your new master arrives to-morrow. To-day, you will have your last lesson in French. I pray that you will be very attentive.”

Franz’s last lesson in French! And he could not write it without mistakes! He remembered all the time that he had wasted, the lessons he had missed in hunting for birds’ nests, or skating on the river. He thought of his books that would remind him always now, of his laziness–his grammar, his history, a present from his friend, the school-master, from whom he must part now with so much pain. In the midst of these thoughts, Franz heard his name called. It was his turn to recite.

He would have given a great deal to be able to recite the famous order of the participles, without a mistake, to give them clearly, and without a fault. But he confused them at the first word, and remained standing beside his desk, his heart trembling, not daring to raise his head. He heard the school-master speaking to him,

“I am not going to rebuke you, little Franz. You are already punished. Every day you have said to yourself, ‘Bah, I have plenty of time; to-morrow I will study.'”

“Ah, that has been the great fault in our Alsace, that of always putting off learning until another day. In the meantime, all the world has been quite right in saying of us, ‘How is it that you pretend to be French, and yet are not able to read and write your own language!’ Of all who are here, my poor little Franz, you are not the only one at fault. We all must reproach ourselves.”

Then the school-master told them of his longing to still teach the children the French language. He said that it would always be the most beautiful language of the world. He said that he wanted it treasured in Alsace and never forgotten, because, when a people fall into slavery it is almost like holding the key to their prison if they can speak to each other in the same tongue. Afterward he took a grammar and went over the lesson with the children. All that he read seemed suddenly quite easy to Franz; he had never attended so well, and never before had he understood how patient the school-master was in his explanations.

When the lesson was finished, writing was begun. For this last day, the master had prepared fresh copies.

_France, Alsace. France, Alsace_.

The copies were like little flags, floating all over the schoolroom from the tops of the desks. Nothing broke the great silence but the scratching of the pens upon the paper. Suddenly some May bugs flew in through the window, but no one noticed them. On the roof of the school some pigeons began to coo, and Franz thought to himself, “Will it be commanded that the birds, too, speak to us in a foreign language?”

From time to time, as Franz lifted his eyes from his paper, he saw the school-master sitting quietly in his chair, and looking all about him, as if he wanted to remember always every child and every bit of furniture in his little schoolroom. Only think, for forty years, he had been there in his place, with the playground facing him, and his class always as full! Only the benches and the desks which had once been polished were worn from usage now; the walnut trees in the yard had grown very large, and the hop vine that he, himself, had planted twined now above the window and as far as the roof. It was breaking the heart of the school-master to leave all these things.

But he had the courage to carry on the class to the very end. After the writing lesson, he began the lesson in history. Afterward, the little ones sang their A. B. C.’s all together and at the end of the room the old soldier took off his spectacles and, holding his spelling book in his two hands, he read off the letters with them.

Suddenly the clock in the tower of the village church sounded the hour of noon. Instantly, the trumpet call of the Prussians, returning from their drilling, burst through the windows. The school-master rose, quite pale, in his place. Never had he seemed so great to the children.

“My friends,” he said, “my little friends, I–”

But he could say no more; he was not able to speak the words. He turned to the blackboard and, taking a piece of chalk, he wrote upon it,

“_Vive la France!_”

Afterward, he remained there, his head resting against the wall, and, without speaking, he made a sign with his hand.

“It is finished. You are dismissed.”

[The end]
Alphonse Daudet’s short story: The Last Class

There is also a YouTube version put up by Mr. Robert Steiner.

In the backdrop of the recent outrage in the Charlie Hebdo office,Paris on Jan 8. 2015  by cultural bankrupts this story should be read as closely as a wake-up call. Any dent on the French Spirit sooner or later shall affect the rest of Europe. So Resist!

benny

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