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Les Miserables

Chapter 12
THE SOLITUDE OF MONSEIGNEUR WELCOME
A bishop is almost always surrounded by a full squadron of little abbes, just as a
general is by a covey of young officers. This is what that charming Saint Francois de
Sales calls somewhere "les pretres blancs-becs," callow priests. Every career has its
aspirants, who form a train for those who have attained eminence in it. There is no
power which has not its dependents. There is no fortune which has not its court. The
seekers of the future eddy around the splendid present. Every metropolis has its staff of
officials. Every bishop who possesses the least influence has about him his patrol of
cherubim from the seminary, which goes the round, and maintains good order in the
episcopal palace, and mounts guard over monseigneur's smile. To please a bishop is
equivalent to getting one's foot in the stirrup for a sub-diaconate. It is necessary to walk
one's path discreetly; the apostleship does not disdain the canonship.
Just as there are bigwigs elsewhere, there are big mitres in the Church. These are the
bishops who stand well at Court, who are rich, well endowed, skilful, accepted by the
world, who know how to pray, no doubt, but who know also how to beg, who feel little
scruple at making a whole diocese dance attendance in their person, who are
connecting links between the sacristy and diplomacy, who are abbes rather than priests,
prelates rather than bishops. Happy those who approach them! Being persons of
influence, they create a shower about them, upon the assiduous and the favored, and
upon all the young men who understand the art of pleasing, of large parishes, prebends,
archidiaconates, chaplaincies, and cathedral posts, while awaiting episcopal honors. As
they advance themselves, they cause their satellites to progress also; it is a whole solar
system on the march. Their radiance casts a gleam of purple over their suite. Their
prosperity is crumbled up behind the scenes, into nice little promotions. The larger the
diocese of the patron, the fatter the curacy for the favorite. And then, there is Rome. A
bishop who understands how to become an archbishop, an archbishop who knows how
to become a cardinal, carries you with him as conclavist; you enter a court of papal
jurisdiction, you receive the pallium, and behold! you are an auditor, then a papal
chamberlain, then monsignor, and from a Grace to an Eminence is only a step, and
between the Eminence and the Holiness there is but the smoke of a ballot. Every skull-
cap may dream of the tiara. The priest is nowadays the only man who can become a
king in a regular manner; and what a king! the supreme king. Then what a nursery of
aspirations is a seminary! How many blushing choristers, how many youthful abbes
bear on their heads Perrette's pot of milk! Who knows how easy it is for ambition to call
itself vocation? in good faith, perchance, and deceiving itself, devotee that it is.
Monseigneur Bienvenu, poor, humble, retiring, was not accounted among the big
mitres. This was plain from the complete absence of young priests about him. We have
seen that he "did not take" in Paris. Not a single future dreamed of engrafting itself on
this solitary old man. Not a single sprouting ambition committed the folly of putting forth
 
 
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