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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From the ‘Journal’ of Eugénie de Guérin
By Eugénie (1805–1848) and Maurice (1810–1839) de Guérin
CHRISTMAS is come; the beautiful festival, the one I love most, that gives me the same joy that it gave the shepherds of Bethlehem. In real truth, one’s whole soul sings with joy at this beautiful coming of God upon earth,—a coming which here is announced on all sides of us by music and by our charming nadalet. 1 Nothing at Paris can give you a notion of what Christmas is with us. You have not even the midnight mass. We all of us went to it, papa at our head, on the most perfect night possible. Never was there a finer sky than ours was that midnight; so fine that papa kept perpetually throwing back the hood of his cloak, that he might look up at the sky. The ground was white with hoar-frost, but we were not cold; besides, the air, as we met it, was warmed by the bundles of blazing torchwood which our servants carried in front of us to light us on our way. It was delightful, I do assure you; and I should like you to have seen us there on our road to church, in those lanes with the bushes along their banks as white as if they were in flower. The hoar-frost makes the most lovely flowers. We saw a long spray, so beautiful that we wanted to take it with us as a garland for the communion table, but it melted in our hands: all flowers fade so soon! I was very sorry about my garland; it was mournful to see it drip away, and get smaller and smaller every minute.  1
  OH, how pleasant it is, when the rain is dropping from the sky with a soft sound, to sit by one’s fire, holding the tongs and making sparks! That was my pastime just now; I am fond of it: the sparks are so pretty; they are the flowers of the hearth. Verily, charming things take place in the embers, and when I am not busy I am amused with the phantasmagoria of the fireplace. There are a thousand little forms in the ashes that come and go, grow bigger, change, and vanish,—sometimes angels, horned demons, children, old women, butterflies, dogs, sparrows, everything, may be seen under the logs. I remember a figure with an air of heavenly suffering, that seemed to me what a soul might be in purgatory. I was struck, and wished an artist had been near me: never was vision more perfect. Watch the embers, and you will agree that there are beautiful things there, and that unless one was blind one need never be weary by the fire. Be sure you listen to the little whistling that comes out of the embers like a voice of song. Nothing can be sweeter or purer; it is like the singing of some tiny spirit of the fire. These, my dear, are my evenings and their delights; add sleep, which is not the slightest.  2
  YOU will like to hear that I have just passed a nice quarter of an hour on the terrace steps, sitting by a poor old woman who was singing me a lamentable ballad on an incident that once happened at Cahuzac. It was apropos of a gold cross that was stolen off the Holy Virgin’s neck. The old woman recollects her grandmother’s telling her she had heard that there had been a still more sacrilegious robbery in the same church; namely, of the Host itself, one day when it was left alone in the chancel. It was a girl, who while everybody was at harvest went to the altar, and climbing upon it, put the monstrance into her apron and placed it under a wild rose in the wood. The shepherds who found it accused her, and nine priests came in procession to adore the Holy Sacrament of the rose-bush and carry it back to the wood; but the poor shepherdess was taken, tried, and condemned to be burned. Just before her death she asked to confess, and owned her theft to the priest; saying that she was not a thief, but she wanted to have the Holy Sacrament in the forest: “I thought that le bon Dieu would be as well pleased under a rose-bush as on an altar!” At these words an angel descended from heaven to announce her pardon and console the guilty saint, who nevertheless was burned on a pile of which the wild rose formed the first fagot! There is the story of the beggar, to whom I listened as to a nightingale. I thanked her heartily and offered her something as a recompense for her ditty, but she would only take flowers: “Give me a bough of that beautiful lilac.” I gave her four, as large as plumes, and the poor creature went off, her stick in one hand and her nosegay in the other, and left me her ballad.  3
  NEVER have I seen a more beautiful effect of light on the paper. But does not God make beauty for all the world? All our birds were singing this morning whilst I was praying. The accompaniment delights, though it distracts me. I stop to listen. Then I resume with the thought that the birds and I are caroling our hymns to God; and these little creatures sing, perhaps, better than I. But the charm of prayer, the charm of communion with God, they cannot taste: we must have a soul to feel that. I have this happiness above theirs.  4
  To-day, and now for a long time, I am tranquil: peace in head and heart; a state of grace for which I bless God. My window is open. How calm it is! All the little noises outside come to me. I love that of the stream. Now I hear a church clock and the little pendule which answers it. This sound of hours in the distance and in the room has in the night something mysterious. I think of the Trappists who wake to pray, of the sick who count all the hours of their suffering, of the afflicted who weep, of the dead who sleep still and frozen in their beds.  5
Note 1. Chimes. [back]

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