Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/854

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three children. But Renan had no grudge against his destiny for giving him these years of privation; he was grateful for having been brought up in the knowledge and love of poverty. All his life he loved the poor, the humble, the common people. He never turned his back on the lowly relatives he had left in Brittany. Down to the last years of his life he loved to visit them; and it is characteristic of him that he kept the little home of his childhood just as it was. His sister Henrietta, twelve years his senior—a woman as remarkable for her force of mind and character as for her passionate tenderness of heart—worked hard for her family, giving lessons first in Tréguier, then at a school in Paris, then in Poland, and all the while watching with a sort of motherly solicitude the progress of this young brother, whose gifts she had already recognized. Young Ernest was meanwhile doing his "humanities" under the good priests in the seminary at Tréguier—a gentle and studious scholar, carrying off all the first prizes as a matter of course, and seeing before him no larger future than that of a simple and learned priest among his own people, with perhaps, at last, a canonry in some cathedral. But it so happened that his sister had met in Paris a young, brilliant, and ambitious abbé, M. Dupanloup, who had just been appointed head of the seminary of Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet, and who was looking out for clever recruits. She spoke to him of her brother; and the result was that, at fifteen and a half years old, Ernest Renan found himself transplanted to Paris, where he astonished his new masters by his marvelous facility of acquisition and the early maturity of his mind, and, after passing through his course of philosophy in the seminary of Issy, was entered at Saint Sulpice for his theology. Saint Sulpice was then the only seminary in France which kept up the tradition of the severer studies, and which, in particular, taught the Oriental languages. Its teachers—especially the eminent Orientalist, Father Le Hir—recalled, by the austerity of their life and the profundity of their learning, the great scholars of the Church in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Renan rapidly became the friend, and then the rival, of his masters, who discerned in him one of the future glories of their house, and little guessed that the very lessons he received there were to separate him from it forever.

The crisis, when it came, was a purely intellectual crisis. By training him in comparative philology and criticism, and by encouraging the scrutiny of the sacred writings, the priests of Saint Sulpice had placed in the hands of their young disciple the most formidable instrument of negation. His quick intelligence, lucid, penetrating, and sincere, perceived at once the weakness of the theological structure on which rests the whole weight of Catholic doctrine. All that he had learned at Issy of natural science and