She died, while he, prostrated by the malady, was too ill to realize his loss. In the little biographical sketch, which is his most exquisite work, and one of the purest masterpieces of French prose, he has given her portrait to posterity and made us share his loss.
He brought back from Syria not only the inscriptions and archæological observations published in his Phœnician Mission, which appeared in numbers from 1863 to 1874, but also the first sketch of his Vie de Jésus, which forms the first volume of the great work of his life, L'Histoire des Origines du Christianisme, in seven octavo volumes. The religious questions had always seemed to him the vital questions of history, and the ones which most needed the application of the two essential qualities of the historian—critical acumen, and that divination of the imagination which resuscitates the men and civilizations of the past. It was upon Christianity, the greatest religious phenomenon of the world, that Renan turned the whole resources of his erudition, of his poetic insight, and artistic skill. He was afterward to complete the work by adding to it, by way of introduction, a History of Israel, of which three volumes have been already published, and the remaining two are finished and ready for the press.
The appearance of the Vie de Jésus was not only a literary event but a social and religious fact of vast import. It was the first time that the Life of Christ had been written from a purely laical point of view and apart from any supernatural conceptions, in a book destined not for doctors and theologians but for the general public. In spite of the infinite delicacy with which Renan presented his idea, the softened and reverent tone in which he speaks of Christ—or, possibly, even on account of that delicacy and reverence—the scandal of it was colossal. The Catholic clergy felt at once that this form of incredulity, expressing itself with all the gravity of science and all the unction of piety, was far more formidable than the flippancy of Voltairianism; and coming, as it did, from a pupil of the ecclesiastical schools, the sacrilege and the heresy were complicated with treason and apostacy. The Imperial Government, which in 1862 had nominated him Professor of Semitic Philology in the Collége de France, had the cowardice to revoke the nomination in 1863 in deference to the clamor set up in the clerical camp, but innocently offered him, by way of compensation, a curator's post at the Bibliothèque Nationale. "Pecunia tua tecum sit" (thy money be with thee) was Renan's reply to the minister who offered it; and freed henceforth, by the extraordinary success of his book, from material cares, the "European blasphemer," as Pius IX called him, went quietly on with his work. It was not till after the fall of the empire, in 1870, that his chair was given back to him. Not only did he occupy it thenceforward till his death, but he became in