Montalembert, Charles Forbes Rene, Comte De
Montalembert, Charles Forbes Rene, Comte de one of the brightest lights in the history of modern France, noted for his attainments in ecclesiastical as well as secular learning, distinguished as statesman, orator, and writer, was born, of French extraction, at London, March 10, 1810. He was the descendant of one of the oldest noble families of France. One of his ancestors played an important part in the reign of Francis I. His own father served in the army of Conde, but quitted France during the Revolution, and, marrying a Scottish lady, entered the English service, and fought in Egypt and Spain against Napoleon, returning only to his native country after the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814. Charles was left in Britain in charge of his grandfather on his mother's side, an old gentleman who had evinced his interest in the child when yet only a one- year-old babe by dedicating to him a great work (Oriental Memoirs, 42 volumes, 4to), by which the name of Forbes was to live for ages to come. Mr. James Forbes watched over his young charge with the fondest affection, training and educating the boy himself, until, at the age of eight, it was thought best to place him at school in Fulham. Charles remained there, however, only one year, for, his grandfather dying in 1819, he was sent for by his parents, who were then residing in Paris, and leading a most fashionable and gay life. This was hardly a proper sphere for a boy who had been accustomed to spend much of his time in reading and study in the well-filled library of his grandpa's retreat at Hanmore, near Harrow, or in intellectual conversations with his accomplished ancestor, for whom, if we may believe Mrs. Oliphant, Montalembert's biographer, this boy, with his early and precocious intelligence, had become a "companion." The count, his father, who had but recently returned from Stuttgard, where he had represented his country as minister plenipotentiary, was too much absorbed by political movements and intrigues to give any time to Charles, and his mother was still too young and too gay to assume parental cares and duties, sure to interfere with the exciting stir and bustle of her life, to which she had hitherto been left free by Charles's stay with his grandpa; hence the boy was largely left to his instructors or to himself. That he did not waste his opportunities is apparent from his diary, which he always kept. The life of mere amusement by which he saw himself surrounded had no attraction for his early developed sense of duty, and he marks the irksome demands frequently by a record of a "day lost, like so many others." His principal instructor at this time was Prof. Gobert, of the College Henri IV. In 1824 abbe Nicolle, head of the College of Sainte-Barbe, was brought into contact with the precocious young student, and finally, in 1826, induced his parents to place him under a regular course of study. It was while in this school, engaged in close mental application, that the great thought which never after ceased to animate him, which became, in fact, the motto of all his labors — "God and freedom" first took shape. "He was seventeen," says Mrs. Oliphant, "when he wrote in his commonplace-book 'God and liberty — these are the two principal motive powers of my existence. To reconcile these two perfections shall be the aim of my life.'" "We call especial attention to this phenomenon," says a recent reviewer of Mrs. Oliphant's work, "for it is the best answer to the imputations so frequently levelled at his consistency. His probable liability to them even then dawned upon him: 'What shall I do? What will become of me? How shall I reconcile my ardent patriotism with religion?' He would neither have found nor feared any difficulty of the kind, if he had meant religion in the broad sense of the term. He was clearly speculating on the difficulty of reconciling love of country with ardent, uncompromising devotion to the Catholic Church. In August 1828, he records a fixed determination to write a great work on the politics and philosophy of Christianity, and, with a view to its completion, to waste no more time on the politics or history of his own time. Three notes of admiration in red ink are set against this entry in the original journal. He attended the debates in the Chamber of Peers, and found them d'une mediocrite effrayante. In fact, his thoughts, his plans, his subjects of interest were those of a matured intellect, of a formed man, who felt 'cabin'd, cribb'd, confined' within the walls of a lectureroom." Yet he quitted Sainte-Barbe in the following year (1829) with great regret, for he knew that before him lay much more of frivolous gayety than delightful interchange of heart and mind. Far, then, from looking forward with fervent expectations of enjoyment to his approaching introduction to society, he foresaw no gratification in mingling undistinguished in the crowd: "I can imagine Pitt or Fox coming out of the House of Commons, where they had struck their adversaries dumb by their eloquence, and enjoying a dinner-party. I can imagine Grattan amusing himself, after fifty years of glory, playing hide-and-seek with children. But for an obscure and unknown individual, lost in the crowd of other men, or at the best numbered only among the elegants who feel themselves obliged to wander every evening into three or four houses where they are half stifled under pretence of enjoying themselves, I see neither pleasure nor honor in it. I see only a culpable loss of time, and mortal weariness." In this mood he started to join his father, then French ambassador at Stockholm, via Belgium and Holland, lingering on the way to see everything worth seeing, and duly recording his impressions as they arose. Received at once into the gay circles of the Swedish capital, he was with difficulty induced to lay aside his stiffness and reserve; his manner naturally enough gave offence to the light-hearted and haply frivolous companions who were forced upon him; he was voted a prig; and it was not till some time that his really gentle and unassuming nature began to be recognized. But if Charles was formal on the surface at this time, in the consciousness of the grandeur of his youthful aims, he was yet sharply observant, as he always was, and his journal contains " an extremely lively sketch" of the Swedish court and its surroundings. He studied also carefully the institutions of Sweden, as may be seen from the article he published on the subject shortly after. He besides devoted himself to the study of philosophy, and by advice of Cousin spent much time in the reading of Kant, whom he found "terribly difficult," as he himself tells us, and not by any means a congenial study — a fact not to be wondered at, for Montalembert's mind, with all its noble and powerful impulses, had no affinity for philosophic studies. He was throughout life impatient of sifting principles to their last results, and holding them upon his mind in pure rational abstraction. "Metaphysics," says his biographer, "were never much to his taste, and he was wont to arrive at conviction by a shorter road than argument. Truths divine did not come to him sounded by the tongue of a theologian; they came by insight, by intuition, by inspiration; and they went forth from him with the lightning flash of genius, in spontaneous and irresistible bursts." His genius was poetic, rhetorical, but in no degree philosophical. Hence the speeches of the great Irish orators, Grattan and O'Connell, and the eloquence of Burke, were far more attractive than even "the great Schelling," of whom he speaks at this time "as being so ill understood in France." But yet foremost among all his thoughts came forth the great objects to which he had consecrated himself — religion and freedom. Roman Catholicism was now, and always to him, religion, and this Catholicism, in order to triumph, he saw clearly, "must have liberty as its ally and tributary." Every effort of his own, and those of his friends whom he believed fitted to take a part in this great work, he endeavored to make serviceable in this direction. In this spirit he wrote to his friend Rio, the future historian of Christian art, whom he numbered thus early among his most devoted associates: "Do not, I beseech you, abandon yourself to that political discouragement which Burke justly calls the most fatal of all maladies. Do not despair of the cause which you have adopted, or give up sound principles, because a generation without faith and without soul seem to dishonor them by pretended attachment." By a like spirit he was enthusiastically inspired for Roman Catholic Ireland, and resolved to make a journey to that country in order to fit himself properly as historian of the Gleeen Isle; this, however, was prevented by the sudden illness of a sister, who died at Besanon, October 29, 1829, in his arms but a few hours after he had reached her. He had been passionately attached to her, and this sudden removal threw him into a deep melancholic state. He was now more than ever interested in religious subjects, and was even inclined to take holy orders. But he finally forsook this plan, thought of studying law, and, under a passing impulse, even of joining the army of Algiers, a folly to which in after-life he thus pleasantly alluded: "Je suis le premier de mon sang qui n'ai guerroye qu'avec la plume." He had no real military ardor, and the pen in his hand proved a far more trenchant weapon than the sword.
In this restless state, utterly unable to make a choice for life, he wrote an article on Sweden, and presented it to the learned Protestant Guizot for publication in the Revue Frangaise, of which Guizot was editor. Though exception was taken to parts, and much erased that the young would-be litterateur thought his best, the article was printed, and at once established his fame as a good writer and careful observer. His literary friendships rapidly multiplied, and he counted among his most intimate associates Lamartine, Sainte-Beuve, and Victor Hugo, "then the poet of all sweet and virtuous things," cherishing the hope of "a universal religious restoration and rebirth of the world." He now also became a contributor to the Correspondant, a well-known Roman Catholic periodical, for which he continued to write all his life. But, restless as he was, he could not give up the plan of writing on Ireland, and at length, in the end of July, on the very eve of the Revolution, he set out for that country. The news of the re- overthrow of the Bourbons met him at London, and he went back to Paris; not to stay, however, for his father insisted upon his quitting the scene, and he resumed his journey. We cannot touch upon his Irish visit in detail, but we must at least allude to his call at Maynooth, for the scene he there beheld had no doubt a wonderful influence on his life-work. He himself describes a most striking scene of suffering and devotion which he enjoyed at a mass celebrated there, "the men kneeling in the mud, all uncovered, though the rain fell in torrents, and the mud quivered beneath them." No wonder that such a scene deepened his ardent devotion to Romanism, and confirmed in him the hitherto half-resolved purpose to give himself to the service of the Church and of Freedom! Mrs. Oliphant may well think that it was this visit to Ireland that decided the future of Montalembert. He had seen the Island of the Saints, the island in which liberty was making common cause with faith, in which the standard of patriotism was waved from the altar by the priest. In the Irish Church, then, the twin ideals of his young enthusiasm seemed to him united, sitting like "a dethroned queen" among her people, the guardian of their faith and of their rights, and all the more glorious in her rags and poverty to his dazzled vision. Here was an object worthy of all his ardor and labor. Here religion was the emblem, not of successful power, but of patient suffering. Here she was plainly on the side of the people. He returned to France, burning with eagerness to give a like noble place to the Church of his own country, that there also the Church might be the guardian of the people's faith and of their rights. Not only the peculiar condition of the country — the July Revolution had just ended favored his project, but Lamennais had long dreamed of just such a work as Montalembert proposed, and, being brought in contact with him and his pupil Lacordaire, the three men together launched a paper, L'Avenir, by which to give circulation to their opinions. SEE LACORDAIRE; SEE LAMENNAIS. And why should they not? France was in one of its fits of " Liberal" ecstasy. The charter — the free institutions it guaranteed, the self-government which it held out to the hopes of the nation — was the popular idol. But in the midst of this impetuous rush towards political freedom the Church remained in bondage." Why should this be so? Why should the Church not be free as well as the State, with right to appoint her own bishops, and educate her own children as she wished? These were questions that demanded agitating, and for it L'Avenir came into existence. The first number of the paper appeared October 15, 1830. In a little more than three months the country was ablaze because of the severe attacks made upon the government by the triumvirate of L'Avenir. January 31, 1831, two of its editors were in criminal courts answering to charges of bitterly assailing the king for exercising his constitutional right in clerical appointments. This time they were lucky enough to secure acquittal. But, instead of profiting by their experience, they only drew from it encouragement to continue in their course, and, not content with the limited influence of L'Avenir, attempted a fresh and original enterprise. They formed a society called Agence de la liberte religieuse, which publicly announced that, attendu que la liberte se praend et ne se donne pas, three of their members would open a school, free and gratuitous, at Paris, for Catholic education, independent as well of the university as of all other state influence, by way of testing the right. The school was opened on May 1, 1831, after due notice to the prefect of police, by three members of the society, Lacordaire, M. de Coux, and Montalembert himself, who succinctly relates what followed: "The abbe Lacordaire delivered a short and energetic inaugurative discourse. We formed each a class for twenty children. The next day a commissary came to summon us to decamp. He first addressed the children: 'In the name of the law, I summon you to depart.' Lacordaire immediately rejoined: 'In the name of your parents, whose authority I have, I order you to remain.' The children cried out unanimously, 'We will remain.' Whereupon the police turned out pupils and masters, with the exception of Lacordaire, who protested that the schoolroom hired by him was his domicile, and that he would pass the night in it unless he was dragged out by force. 'Leave me,' he said to us, seating himself on a mattress he had brought there; 'I remain here alone with the law and my right.' He did not give way till the police laid hands upon him; after which the seals were affixed, and a prosecution was forthwith commenced against the schoolmasters." Montalembert's father having died soon after the commencement of these proceedings, he was entitled, by successorship in the peerage, to trial before the Chamber of Peers; and before them he appeared on September 19, 1831, and there made the event memorable by his first speech, one of the most brilliant upon record, and a clear foreshadowing, not alone of the eloquence, but of the bold and uncompromising earnestness in the cause of his Church and of the common interests of religious liberty which constantly characterized his later career. After a touching allusion to his great bereavement, and an exposition of the reasons which induced him to claim the judgment of his peers, he said: "It is sufficiently well known that the career on which I have entered is not of a nature to satisfy an ambition which seeks political honors and places. The powers of the present age, both in government and in opposition, are, by the grace of Heaven, equally hostile to Catholics. There is another ambition, not less devouring, perhaps not less culpable, which aspires to reputation, and which is content to buy that at any price; that, too, I disavow like the other. No one can be more conscious than I am of the disadvantages with which a precocious publicity surrounds youth, and none can fear them more. But there is still in the world something which is called faith; it is not dead in all minds. It is to this that I have early given my heart and my life. My life — a man's life — is always, and especially today, a poor thing enough; but this poor thing, consecrated to a great and holy cause, may grow with it; and when a man has made to such a cause the sacrifice of his future, I believe that he ought to shrink from none of its consequences, none of its dangers. It is in the strength of this conviction that I appear today for the first time in an assembly of men. I know too well that at my age one has neither antecedents nor experience; but at my age, as at every other, one has duties and hopes. I have determined, for my part, to be faithful to both." He thus, on the most solemn occasion of his life, deliberately took his stand upon the principles to which he persistently adhered to his dying day; and the nobility of thought, the moral courage, the spirit of self-sacrifice which actuated him are beyond cavil or dispute, whatever may be thought of the prudence or wisdom of his course. It must be borne in mind all the time that, inasmuch as in the infidel reaction following the great Revolution Roman Catholic France had been allowed to sink into a withering and hopeless secularism, nipping its youthful national life at the root, and yielding a stunted harvest of many evils (the end of which is not even vet), the effort of Montalembert and his colleagues to vindicate a place for religion in the national life and government to proclaim that society without God is a soulless and corrupting mass, never far from anarchy was a manifestation of an enthusiasm such as all France could not but pronounce both noble and true, and therefore it is not surprising that the result of the trial was a simple fine of 100 francs. But then came also the question what step to take next. The circulation of L 'Avenir had not reached 3000; instead of being self-supporting, it had proved a drain on the scanty resources of the society, which, having to sustain also the expense of prosecutions and propagandism, broke down. As the little band had contrived to place themselves very much in the position of Ishmael, and the clergy, headed by the episcopacy, were among the fellest of their foes, further appeals to an enlightened public were voted nugatory, and they formed the extraordinary step of submitting the crucial questions in dispute to the pope. The great lawsuit was not to be at Paris, but at Rome. His holiness was to decide whether L'Avenir was or was not entitled to the support of the Roman Catholic world, and the journal was to be suspended till his sovereign will and pleasure should be made known. The suggestion came from Lacordaire: "We will carry our protest, if necessary, to the City of the Apostles, to the steps of the Confessional of St. Peter, and we shall see who will stop the pilgrims of the God of Liberty." No one thought of stopping them; the nore's the pity, for this expedition was a blunder of the first magnitude, conceived in utter ignorance or forgetfulness of that traditional policy of Rome which lord Macaulay deems a main cause of her durability and strength. "She thoroughly understood, what no other Church has ever understood, how to deal with enthusiasts. In some sects, particularly in infant sects, enthusiasm is suffered to be rampant; in other sects, particularly in sects long established and richly endowed, it is regarded with aversion. The Catholic Church neither submits to enthusiasm nor proscribes it, but uses it." She used Ignatius Loyola and St. Teresa; she would have used John Bunyan, John Wesley, Joanna Southcott, Selina, countess of Huntingdon, and Mrs. Fry. The founders of L'Avenir were just the sort of enthusiasts she wanted, so long as they could be kept within bounds. But they had proved uncontrollable. If the pope and his advisers had been equally confident that the Church of Rome owed no more to absolute power than the primitive Church of Christ, or would rise the higher if cut free from its temporalities, they would have wished nothing better than the support of an organ like L'Avenir. But they would have been unaccountably wanting in the sagacity for which Macaulay gives them credit "had they not penetrated to the fallacy of such arguments at a glance, and drawn a widely different moral from the history. They could not shut their eyes to the fact that spiritual supremacy attained its loftiest pitch in the Dark Ages, and has everywhere declined in proportion to the spread of knowledge." The three apostles of the new era, which they hoped to inaugurate with the direct approval of an infallible guide, knocked at the gate of the Vatican, were admitted into the presence of "his holiness," but completely failed in their mission. SEE LACORDAIRBE; SEE LAMENNAIS. The very Church they wished to serve — to whose cause they had consecrated, with such touching earnestness, all their gifts — repudiated their aid. The court of Rome understood its own mission better than they did. It admitted "their good intentions," but at the same time silenced them as inspired by a zeal without discretion in the treatment of "supremely delicate questions!" Indeed, this was but the only consistent course for Rome to take. It could not suffer severely orthodox followers to profess to hold upon essential points the doctrines of advanced modern liberalism without seeing them in direct antagonism with the teaching and practice of the Church in all ages; hence the encyclical of pope Gregory XVI, declaring the conviction of the writers of L'Avenir "abominable," and fulminating anathema against the most sacred liberties, declaring that freedom of conscience is a mortal pest." This was anything but a flattering and brilliant solution, yet the triumvirate meekly submitted. Outwardly all three were equally actuated by that sense of duty which — Roman Catholics are wont to place as highest — of bowing reverentially and unqualifiedly before the wisdom of the papal incumbent, as "the voice of God in the flesh;" but in the inner camp there was a terrible struggle. To Montalembert the whole case was a matter of but little moment after all- certainly of much less moment than to the other two. True, his faith was not less sincere or ardent than theirs, but he was as yet merely a young writer; the other two were priests — Lamennais a preacher whose fame had already reached through the whole Catholic world, and had brought him back many distinctions. In vain did Lacordaire offer to submit quietly, and argue that they should act consistently, as there was only one alternative from the first — "Either we should not have come, or we should submit and hold our tongues." Montalembert and Lacordaire forever after acted on this plan, and held their peace; but Lamennais's submission was hollow and formal, and it wanted only (as was afterwards apparent) an opportunity to be disdainfully ignored. SEE LAMENNAIS. We as Protestants, unaccustomed to such "Catholic" submission, find it, of course, difficult even to conjecture by what process of reasoning these men contrived to reconcile absolute submission to the Romish Church with the defence of that which she has again and again emphatically denounced and condemned. "The conduct of Lamennais," as the Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. (October 1863, page 726) has well said, "was at least more consistent than that of his two disciples. They, proclaiming themselves the faithful and obedient followers of an infallible Church — which says to its disciples, 'I am the truth; it is in me, in me alone; to seek it elsewhere is heresy and rebellion' — accepted a part of her doctrine and rejected a part. He, finding that his attempt to reconcile the Church with the tendencies of the age, to unite Republicanism and Romanism, was condemned by Rome herself, and that he must choose between the two, broke with Rome, and proclaimed himself ready to combat and to suffer for what he deemed, however erroneously, the cause of justice and humanity. He broke with a Church which had lost the germs of life and progress, and sought elsewhere the means of regenerating mankind, while they professed implicit submission. But his schism was at least logical and consistent; their submission partial and absurd. He and the Church were thenceforward in direct antagonism; while they, its submissive sons, for the rest of their lives went on endeavoring to carry out the plan which Lamennais had traced in the columns of L'Avenir, which Rome had emphatically condemned, and which its author had abandoned as impracticable. He gave up Rome because he found her claims inconsistent with those of humanity; they attempted to save her in spite of herself — to reconcile her with the wants and aspirations of the age — to put new cloth into old garments, new wine into old bottles. Yet we cannot but believe that both master and disciples were sincere and disinterested in their conduct: the former in his schism, the latter in their submission." No one certainly can be believed to know anything of either Lacordaire or Montalembert who would suppose for a moment that these men were influenced by any mere personal considerations. No men probably ever acted under a higher sense of duty, only they never thought of duty in the case apart from the pope. When they saw what the result was likely to be, they quietly and without struggle bowed the knee. "The position," says a writer in Blackwood (November 1872, page 603), "is intelligible, but hardly great or magnanimous. Submission may be heroic in a grave practical crisis which admits of no argument, but it is hardly so in questions of truth and right, which have roused the conscience as well as the judgment to vigorous action. We confess to following Lamennais in his disdainful retirement with far more interest than we contemplate the 'Catholic submission' of his colleagues. Duty loses its higher heroism when it loses individuality, and passes into blind selfsurrender." Lamennais's publication of Paroles d'un Croyant caused Lacordaire to step forward in defence of the papacy, and this left Montalembert, who had stood by Lamennais through good and evil report, no alternative but to concur with Lacordaire in separating from him. Hereafter the three men stand apart, Lamennais the propagator of a socialist theory, Lacordaire the exponent of papal Christianity, and Montalembert the student of mediaeval institutions.
His journalistic career being cut short by papal disapproval, and himself unable to enter political life for lack of age (the peerage begins at twenty- five), Montalembert now went abroad to travel, mainly in Germany, to study the preservation of Roman Catholicism as well as monuments of its history in that country. It was during one of his frequent tours of inspection of mediaeval buildings and monuments that he was inspired with the conception of his first sustained and eminently successful effort in literature, the history of St. Elizabeth (Hist. de Ste. Elisabeth de Hongrie ; transl. into English by Mary Hackett and Mrs. J. Sadlier, N.Y. 1854). The opening sentences of the introduction to this work are so characteristic that we quote them here: "On the 19th of November, 1833, a traveller arrived at Marbourg, a town in the electorate of Hesse, situated upon the beautiful banks of the Lahn. He paused to examine the church, which was celebrated at once for its pure and perfect beauty, and because it was the first in Germany where the pointed arch prevailed over the round in the great renovation of art in the 13th century. This church bears the name of St. Elizabeth, and it was on St. Elizabeth's day that he found himself within its walls. In the church itself (which, like the country, is now devoted to the Lutheran worship) there was no trace of any special solemnity, except that in honor of the day, and, contrary to Protestant custom, it was open, and children were at play in it among the tombs. The stranger roamed through its vast, desolate, and devastated aisles, which are still young in their elegance and airy lightness. He saw placed against a pillar the statue of a young woman in the dress of a widow, with a gentle and resigned countenance, holding in one hand the model of a church, and with the other giving alms to a lame man... The lady is there depicted, fairer than in all the other representations, stretched on her bed of death amid weeping priests and nuns; and, lastly, bishops exhume a coffin, on which an emperor lays his crown. The traveller was told that these were events in the life of St. Elizabeth, queen of that country, who died on that day six hundred years ago in that very town of Marbourg, and lay buried in that very church." After his first visit to the church, Montalembert with great difficulty sought out a copy of a "Life of St. Elizabeth," of which he possessed himself as a prize; and though he found it "the cold, lifeless composition of a Protestant," the sympathetic chord was struck, and he set about the study of her career with hourly increasing eagerness, consulting traditions, visiting every place that she had hallowed by her presence, and ransacking all the books, chronicles, and manuscripts in which mention was made of her, or which threw light on her contemporaries or her age. He spent his days and his nights in the preparation of the work, and it need not surprise us, therefore, that the book established his fame as an author. What is really most valuable and most characteristic in the book is that which elucidates her age, especially the Introduction (135 pages royal 8vo), in which he seeks to prove that the 13th century, in which she flourished, has been shamefully calumniated; that it was not merely the age in which the papacy attained its culminating point of pride and power, but the age in which Christian literature and art — that is to say, what he deems the best and purest literature and art — approached nearer to perfection than they have ever approached since or are likely to approach again. This clearly manifests that though his historic insight was fine, minute, and picturesque, he yet lacked depth of historic judgment, and strength and range of sympathy. Here as everywhere fact, with its complex variety of association and breadth of human interest, was not so attractive to him as sentiment, and the curious personation with which it can invest the most obvious realities. With all its beauty and grace of outline and charm of portraiture, Montalembert's life of St. Elizabeth does not gainsay this judgment.
On his return from Germany, Montalembert married, in the celebrated Flemish family De Merode, a sister of the now greatly renowned Monsignore de Merode, and selected for his wedding-trip an excursion into Switzerland and Italy. He then settled at Paris, and having succeeded to the peerage in 1835, he now fully entered upon his distinguished political career. Though not entitled to the right of voting until thirty, Montalembert was yet entitled to a seat, and in consequence to a participation in the debates, and in these he took a lively part, distinguishing himself very rapidly as an orator of no common rank, as well as a man of principle. He broke ground as a debater in September, 1835, in behalf of the liberty of the press, followed by other speeches, all of a liberal tendency. But his great aim at this time was the successful issue of. the work which he had intended to bring about by the Avenir — viz. liberty of the Church; struggling mainly in behalf of an educational system free from the state and in alliance with the Church. In its behalf he dared to say anything which he felt to be the truth. "He could," says Sainte-Beuve, "utter with all freedom the most passionate pleadings for that liberty which was only the excess of his youth. He could develop without interruption those absolute theories which from another mouth would have made the Chamber shiver; but which pleased them from his. He could even give free course to his mordant and incisive wit, and make personal attacks with impunity upon potentates and ministers... His bitterness — and he was sometimes bitter — from him seemed almost amenity, the harshness of the meaning being disguised by the elegance of his manner and his perfect good grace." "It was a sight full of interest," says another, "to see this ardent, enthusiastic, impetuous young man rise in the midst of the Chamber of Peers, composed almost entirely of the relics of past conditions of society — men grown gray in public business, conversant with politics, and among whom experience had destroyed enthusiasm — and disturb with the accents of an impassioned voice the decent calm, the elegant reserve, and the polite conventionalities of their habitual discussions, as he vindicated the rights and interests of that religion which was said to have no partisans but old men, and no life but in the past." Montalembert did not, indeed, shine by lofty sustained imagery, like Burke and Grattan, the objects of his early admiration; nor by polished rhetoric, flights of fancy, or strokes of humor, like Canning. His strength lay in earnestness, ready command of energetic language, elevation of thought and tone, rapidity, boldness, conviction, passion, heart. His vehemence, his vis vivida, as power: when he warmed to his subject, he carried all before him with a rush. He had all, or almost all, that is comprised in the action of Demosthenes.
But as an author also Montalembert was now greatly adding to his fame. He devoted a large share of his time to study, and as a result published a work on "Mediaeval Art" (Du Vandalisme et du Catholicisme dans les iarts ) and a "Life of St. Anselm" (Saint Anselme, fragmenet de l'introduction a l'histoie de St. Bernard ). In 1843 he began to develop an unusually great activity in the debates in the Chamber of Peers, and he delivered some masterly speeches on such general questions as the liberty of the Church, instruction and education, the theory and constitution of the monastic orders, and the affairs of Poland, in which he always took a deep interest. Towards the close of the same year, while staying at Madeira for the sake of his health, he published Du Devoir des Catholiques dans la Question de la Liberte d'Enseignement. This was followed by his celebrated Letter to the Cambridge Camden Society, designed to disprove the attempts made by that society to identify the Reformed Church of England with that of the Middle Ages and of continental Europe. In 1847 he delivered his celebrated speech on the affairs of Switzerland, in which he distinctly foretold the revolution which broke out among the continental nations in the year following; and his brilliant Discours sur les afaires de Rome, delivered shortly after the popular outbreak, was received with a triple salvo of applause by an audience which sympathized but coldly with his views. After the revolution of February 1848, the department of Doubs, in which he held property, elected him its representative to the National Assembly, from which he passed into the Legislative Assembly, where he uniformly acted true to his professions as the exponent of the views and interests of the Roman Catholic Church. He worked hard as a member of the commission which, under many difficulties and compromises, prepared the new law of education known as the "Loi Falloux" (and which he might be excused from thinking ought to have been the "Loi Montalembert"); but his influence was even at this time due in the main to his powers as an orator. Like many other men of the oratorical temperament, he was not fitted for parliamentary diplomacy and intrigue, or the many acts behind the scenes by which political power is often acquired and maintained. It is thus that the estrangement of the extreme section of the clerical party from him after the passage of the educational law is to be accounted for. He called this settlement of the question the " Concordat d'Enseignement," and believed himself a valuable servant of Rome. But the Ultramontanes designated it as a base compromise of the best interests of the Church. The very paper which he had been mainly instrumental in raising up — L' Univers — denounced him and all who had been instrumental in passing the law in most virulent language. Thus is it evermore in the Church of Rome. Her most devoted members, if happily they do the bidding of the Ultramontanes, are applauded, and they who, while seeking earnestly to serve the Church, should yet fail to accomplish all that is demanded, are condemned and ignored. SEE MAYNOOTH.
Although Montalembert lost the support of those upon whom he had reason to lean, he now found, as every honest man is sure to find, support from all classes, and he enjoyed further successes. Yet none of these elated or even satisfied him. He had dedicated himself to the interests of the Church, and failing to gain that support from the source to which he believed himself entitled, he finally in 1852 determined to close his political life. He was not superseded in the Legislature until 1857, yet his political activity may be said to have closed in 1852. And now that he was free to consider the past and the part he had played, the bitter truth broke upon him that he had been acting for Romanism against liberty, and for the remainder of his life he determined to struggle manfully to repair or atone for his mistake. That he failed utterly it will not be necessary to state here. But even in his failure there is yet apparent the striving for truth and right, as we shall see presently. At the outset of his political career under the republic he had avowed democratic sentiments, and voted against Napoleon's admission to the Assembly; but when the Bonapartists turned defenders of Rome, Montalembert's sympathy was enlisted, and he for some time favored the Imperialists. After the confiscation of the Orleans property he ignored the Bonapartists, and it was therefore no small mark of distinction which he received at this time from the Academy by election to its membership. In 1854 he was engaged in the publication of L'Avenirpolitique de l'Angleterre (transl. in 1856), which aims to show that the future prospects of England would be improved by a resumption of intercourse with Rome; and this leading idea he pursues through an infinity of digressions and speculations, interspersed with various particulars of English life as exhibited in its schools, its journalism, and its political institutions. He was bitterly assailed on both sides of the Channel, especially for what he said about the churches; and in a letter dated La Roche-en-Breny, January 3, 1856, he wrote, "This act has been, and deserves to be, looked upon as an act of foolhardiness. I have to contend both in Europe and America with the whole weight of religious prejudice against Protestant England, and of political prejudice against English freedom or English ambition." What turned out an act of still greater foolhardiness was an article in the Correspondant of October, 1858 (published separately in England), entitled Un Debat sur l'Inde au Parlement Anglais, which he made the vehicle of such exasperating allusions to the Imperial regime that it provoked a prosecution. In brilliant and enthusiastically admiring pictures he drew the social and political institutions of Britain, for the purpose mainly of covertly contrasting them with. the condition of his own native land. He was defended by Berryer, and gave his own evidence as to the exact meaning of the inculpated passages, which no English judge or jury could have held libellous, but he was found guilty, and the sentence on him was six months' imprisonment with a fine of 3000 francs: one month's imprisonment and a fine of 1000 francs on the publisher. The sentence, after being confirmed on appeal, was gladly remitted by the emperor; so that the prosecution proved a signal triumph to Montalembert in all respects, and had the singular advantage of presenting him for the last time before the world in the attitude which above all he would have probably most desired of an advocate for the freedom of the press.
The remainder of this noble man's life was entirely devoted to literary labors. He had for twenty years earnestly inquired into the mediaeval institutions and characters, and in 1860 brought out the first two volumes of Les Moines d'Occident depuis Saint Benoit jusquz a Saint Bernard (transl. into English by Mrs. Oliphant, Edinb. 1861 and sq.). The whole Western world, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic, was attracted, and everybody who claimed a place for culture read what were a decade's studies — the mature conclusions of this brilliant Frenchman. Especially in England, where Montalembert had always been well known and much admired, the work was universally spoken of and freely commented upon by the press. (See Blackwood's Magazine, June 1861.) The British and Foreign Evangelical Review, in July 1868, reviewing the first five volumes, observes, " However mistaken we may think this gifted son and servant of the Church of Rome as to the importance of the object to which he has consecrated so large a portion of his life, it is impossible to withhold our admiration, either from the earnestness of spirit which prompted him to make the sacrifice, or from the fine conception and vigorous execution displayed in his attempt to teach the world what it owes to the monks, what it has gained by their existence, what it has lost by their overthrow... He would disclaim — indeed, he does expressly disclaim — the work of the panegyrist; he even admits and deplores the errors and follies and abuses which the system has developed in the course of ages" (pages 450, 454, 476; compare British Quarterly Review, July 1868, pages 202, 203). SEE MONASTICISM. Montalembert lived to bring out three more volumes of this work, making five in all, but did not complete it. Though, as we have seen, Protestants cannot in every particular endorse it, they have yet gladly assigned it a most important place in ecclesiastical literature. Of course Roman Catholics regard it as a chef-d'ceuvre in all respects, and greatly lament that the author did not live to complete it. " This great monument of history, this great work interrupted by death," says M. Coclin, "is gigantic as an uncompleted cathedral." It is certainly a vast conception, a durable, if unfinished, monument of energy, zeal, literary skill, research, learning, eloquence, and (we must add) credulity. The most remarkable result of Montalembert's labors in this direction he reaped in his own household. "One day," says Mr. Coclin, "his charming and beloved child entered that library which all his friends know so well, and said to him, 'I am fond of everything around me. I love pleasure, wit, society and its amusements; I love my family, my studies, my companions, my youth, my country, but I love God better than all, and I desire to give myself to him.' And when he said to her, ' My child, is there something that grieves you?' she went to the bookshelves and sought out one of the volumes in which he had narrated the history of the monks of the West. 'It is you,' she answered, ' who have taught me that withered hearts and weary souls are not the things which we ought to offer to God.'" After describing the agony inflicted on both mother and father by this event, Montalembert. exclaims, "How many others have undergone this agony, and gazed with a look of distraction on the last worldly appearance of a dearly beloved daughter or sister." Yet it never once occurred to this warm-hearted, noble-minded man that a system which inflicts such agony on so many innocent sufferers, which condemns to the chill gloom of a cloister what is meant for love and light — which runs counter to the whole course of nature — may be wrong.
In 1862 Montalembert published a sketch of the life of Lacordaire (q.v.), which abounds, like all his other productions, in loyal expressions to the Church of his birth as well as of his choice. His motto was still, 'Tout pour l'eglise et par l'eglise" (comp. Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. October 1863, page 722 sq.). In the same year he gave yet more emphatic expression to his devotion to Romanism in his oration before the Roman Catholic Congress held at Mechlin, and afterwards published in a separate form under the title of L'Eglise Libre dans l'Etat Libre (Paris, 1863, 8vo). As in the Chamber of Peers and in the Assembly, so also at this time count Montalembert's orations proved highly interesting, both on account of the eloquence of style and nobleness of sentiment, as well as because they contain so strong an advocacy of the principles of religious toleration. Yet it was not inappropriately said by a Protestant journal in 1864 that in these discourses he appeared not as the exponent of the doctrines of the Church of Rome, but rather as an opponent and impugner of her teaching and authority. No doubt this was not his intention; quite the contrary. Yet in these speeches we Protestants can only see that "he praises what she condemns. He affirms what she denies. He claims as a right for every man what she refuses to accord to any. He, a devout Roman Catholic, defends doctrines which the head of the Church denounces as 'fatal,' and as 'works of Satan;' and, so far at least as these doctrines are concerned, distinctly and unequivocally despises and denies the authority Of the Church. In short, in these speeches count Montalembert has shown himself a good Protestant" (Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. April 1864, page 337).
The foolhardy move of 1869 to establish the infallibility dogma was the first occasion on which Montalembert rose in direct antagonism to the papacy. He clearly saw that the Jesuits were scheming the plot, and he boldly descended into the lists, and dealt vigorous sword-thrusts all around. Perhaps in his whole long and illustrious career Montalembert never committed a more courageous act, nor ever clothed lofty and noble thoughts in nobler and loftier language, than he did in his letter of February 28, 1870, addressed to a friend in England, and published in the London Times, March 7, 1870, in which he declared himself against the. absolute tendency in the Church; yes, he even boldly and uncompromisingly declared that he "gloried" in counting as his colleagues in the Academie Francaise two such great and good champions of truth as the bishop of Orleans and father Gratry, and he denounced the Jesuit intrigues at Rome as "idolatrous," quoting in support of the word "idol," as applied to the pope, a most remarkable letter written to him seventeen years ago by the (then) archbishop of Paris, Mgr. Sibour. "Nothing," said a correspondent of the N.Y. Nation, under date from Paris, March 11, 1870, "so strong, so decided, or so eloquent has yet appeared on this terrible Roman question as this letter of count Montalembert. It will be read wherever the French tongue is spoken, and it will support and console all right-thinking, high- minded Catholics but the obloquy that will be cast upon M. de Montalembert by the Ultramontanes is indescribable. He perceives the bare truth when he says that the Litany of Abuse will be lavished upon him. It will be so unlimitedly, and it will require all the genuineness of his faith and all the chivalry of his nature to bear what will be his inevitable fate." Of course such an act was enough to eclipse all the services of a lifetime. He had dared to act in harmony with the avowed opinions of his youth; he had supported the demands of the German Catholics, and he was to bear forever the sorrow of such a self-willed act, and it is most painful to reflect that not even his spirit was suffered to pass away in peace; that his dying hours were troubled by an imperative call to choose his side in a wantonly provoked schism. He died March 15, 1870, just sixteen days after writing his memorable letter on papal infallibility. In reply to a visitor who ventured to catechise him on his death-bed, he is reported to have given in his unconditional adhesion to what confessedly he did not understand. "And God does not ask me to understand. He asks me to submit my will and intelligence, and I will do so." This concession even failed to satisfy Rome. The atonement was not sufficient for the crime he had committed; and the highest tribute of ecclesiastical respect which the Church accords to a faithful son was denied to his memory; to the memory of him who had devoted his whole life to her cause, who had dared impossibilities for her sake, who had given up to her what was meant for mankind, and thereby abdicated that place among practical statesmen and legislators which, apart from her blighting influence, his birth, his personal gifts, his high and rare quality of intellect, his eloquence, his elevation of purpose, his nobility of mind and character, must have won for him (comp. Italian correspondence of the N.Y. Tribune, under date of March 25, 1870). No wonder that we are told by the Tribune correspondent that ' the feelings awakened in society were very strong both among the clergy and the laity, one of the former, a bishop, saying, 'I would have gone to Paris to attend a service,' and another, speaking of prohibition, observed, 'Ce n'est pas un crime, mais c'est une faute.'" And well might the Tribune editorial add that "count de Montalembert filled too large a space in the esteem and admiration of his co-religionists, and of the political and literary world, not to be accorded a special chapter of remembrance." Montalembert was a man whom title, gifts, accomplishments, fortune, united to make illustrious. The opposite in many respects of his great contemporary, Sainte-Beuve, who preceded him but a little while to the tomb, he laid down his life, with all its brilliancy and all its latter suffering, upon the altar of his faith. "We are dying of the same disease," Sainte- Beuve is said to have remarked; "only I trace it to nature while Montalembert will ascribe it to Providence." The man was not shallow who saw in life religion and in death Providence; and it will not be difficult to say which of the two great men has left the most earnest example. Well has it been said that "a braver or more chivalrous spirit never passed from earth. He was a veritable 'miles Christi' — Chevalier de l'Eglise as he liked to describe his monastic heroes. He was much besides — a picturesque historian, an eloquent orator, a keen and in many respects enlightened politician; but his religious chivalry was the essence of his nature. No monk of old ever consecrated himself with a more cordial devotion to the service of God and the Church. No knight ever fought more gallantly for the cause dear to his heart. Shall we say, in the view especially of his last words on the doctrine of infallibility — which he struggled against to the last, and yet was prepared to accept when once proclaimed — no hero of the cloister ever offered as the sacrifice and service of his faith higher powers or a more entire — only too entire! — self-submission?" (Blackwood's, November 1872, page 609). On one thing the whole world, irrespective of religious difference of opinion, can unite in praise of Montalembert. "He was the very personification of candor. He had not a shadow of bigotry; he hated intolerance; he shuddered at persecution; he had none of the arrogance or unbending hardness of the dogmatist; he was singularly indulgent to what he deemed error; the utmost he would accept from the temporal power, from the state, was a fair field and no favor; the Church, he uniformly maintained, far from having any natural affinity with despotism, could only blossom and bear fruit in an atmosphere of freedom; while liberty, rational liberty, was never safer than under the protecting shadow of her branches 'Nusquam Libertas gratior exstat Quam sub rege pio.' If he waved the consecrated banner of St. Peter with the one hand, he carried La Charte, the emblem and guarantee of constitutional government, in the other; and his life and character would be well worth studying if no higher or more useful moral could be drawn from them than that it is possible to reconcile a dogmatic, damnatory, exclusive system of belief with generosity, liberality, Christian charity, patriotism and philanthropy" (Lond. Qu. Rev. April 1873, pages 219, 220).
Among publications of his not yet mentioned deserve to be alluded to his Des Interets catholiques au dix-neuvieme siecle (Paris, 1852, 8vo), which gives a rapid and brilliant, though one-sided, review of Catholicism throughout the whole of Europe in that day as compared with what it was some fifty years previous, maintaining that upon the whole the progress made is deep, sound, and likely to be lasting: in the same work he expresses himself strongly on the political changes that had taken place in France, and on the language of the French press in their regard, and thus this publication largely resembles the Political Future of England spoken of above. It was translated and published in English in 1855. He also republished two articles from the Correspondant — Pie IX et Lord Palmerston and La Paix et la Pairie, and a review of the memoirs of the duke de St. Simon. He was a frequent contributor to the Revue des deux Mondes and the Encyclopedie Catholique.
See Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, volume 1; Nettement, Histoire de la litterature Franqaise; De Lomenie, M. de Montalembert, par un Homme de Rien (Paris, 1841); Mrs. Oliphant, Memoir of Count de Montalembert, etc. (Edinb. and Lond. 1872, 2 volumes, 8vo); Duke d'Aumale's Eloge sur Montalembert, read in the Academy on April 4, 1873, and the periodicals quoted and referred to; Lond. Qu. Rev. April 1856, July 1861; Edinb. Rev. October 1861; North Brit. Rev. August 1861; Blackwood's Magazine, April 1870; also Le Temps (Paris), March 15, 1870; Le Journal des Debats, March 15, 1870. The catalogue raisonne of Montalembert's published writings, including his pamphlets and contributions to reviews, in the Revue Bibliographique Universelle, fills five closely printed pages of small type.