The Companions of Jehu
The City Of Avignon
We do not know if the prologue we are going to present to our readers' eyes be
very useful, nevertheless we cannot resist the desire to make of it, not the first
chapter, but the preface of this book.
The more we advance in life, the more we advance in art, the more convinced we
become that nothing is abrupt and isolated; that nature and society progress by
evolution and not by chance, and that the event, flower joyous or sad, perfumed
or fetid, beneficent or fatal, which unfolds itself to-day before our eyes, was sown
in the past, and had its roots sometimes in days anterior to ours, even as it will
bear its fruits in the future.
Young, man accepts life as it comes, enamored of yestereen, careless of the
day, heeding little the morrow. Youth is the springtide with its dewy dawns and its
beautiful nights; if sometimes a storm clouds the sky, it gathers, mutters and
disperses, leaving the sky bluer, the atmosphere purer, and Nature more smiling
than before. What use is there in reflecting on this storm that passes swift as a
caprice, ephemeral as a fancy? Before we have discovered the secret of the
meteorological enigma, the storm will have disappeared.
But it is not thus with the terrible phenomena, which at the close of summer,
threaten our harvests; or in the midst of autumn, assail our vintages; we ask
whither they go, we query whence they come, we seek a means to prevent them.
To the thinker, the historian, the poet, there is a far deeper subject for reflection
in revolutions, these tempests of the social atmosphere which drench the earth
with blood, and crush an entire generation of men, than in those upheavals of
nature which deluge a harvest, or flay the vineyards with hail--that is to say, the
fruits of a single harvest, wreaking an injury, which can at the worst be repaired
the ensuing year; unless the Lord be in His days of wrath.
Thus, in other days, be it forgetfulness, heedlessness or ignorance perhaps--
(blessed he who is ignorant! a fool he who is wise!)--in other days in relating the
story which I am going to tell you to-day I would, without pausing at the place
where the first scene of this book occurs, have accorded it but a superficial
mention, and traversing the Midi like any other province, have named Avignon
like any other city.
But to-day it is no longer the same; I am no longer tossed by the flurries of
spring, but by the storms of summer, the tempests of autumn. To-day when I
name Avignon, I evoke a spectre; and, like Antony displaying Cæsar's toga, say:
"Look! in this place ran Cassius' dagger through;
See what a rent the envious Casca made;
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabbed--"
So, seeing the bloody shroud of the papal city, I say: "Behold the blood of the
Albigenses, and here the blood of the Cevennais; behold the blood of the
Republicans, and here the blood of the Royalists; behold the blood of Lescuyer;
behold the blood of Maréchal Brune."