Une histoire des «Origines du Christianisme» devrait embrasser toute la période obscure, et, si j'ose le dire, souterraine, qui s'étend depuis les premiers commencements de cette religion jusqu'au moment où son existence devient un fait public, notoire, évident aux yeux de tous. Une telle histoire se composerait de quatre livres. Le premier, que je présente aujourd'hui au public, traite du fait même qui a servi de point de départ au culte nouveau; il est rempli tout entier par la personne sublime du fondateur. Le second traiterait des apôtres et de leurs disciples immédiats, ou, pour mieux dire, des révolutions que subit la pensée religieuse dans les deux premières générations chrétiennes. Je l'arrêterais vers l'an 100, au moment où les derniers amis de Jésus sont morts, et où tous les livres du Nouveau Testament sont à peu près fixés dans la forme où nous les lisons. Le troisième exposerait l'état du christianisme sous les Antonins. On l'y verrait se développer lentement et soutenir une guerre presque permanente contre l'empire, lequel, arrivé à ce moment au plus haut degré de la perfection administrative et gouverné par des philosophes, combat dans la secte naissante une société secrète et théocratique, qui le nie obstinément et le mine sans cesse. Ce livre contiendrait toute l'étendue du IIe siècle. Le quatrième livre, enfin, montrerait les progrès décisifs que fait le christianisme à partir des empereurs syriens. On y verrait la savante construction des Antonins crouler, la décadence de la civilisation antique devenir irrévocable, le christianisme profiter de sa ruine, la Syrie conquérir tout l'Occident, et Jésus, en compagnie des dieux et des sages divinisés de l'Asie, prendre possession d'une société à laquelle la philosophie et l'État purement civil ne suffisent plus.
One of the most popular legends in Brittany is that relating to an imaginary town called Is, which is supposed to have been swallowed up by the sea at some unknown time. There are several places along the coast which are pointed out as the site of this imaginary city, and the fishermen have many strange tales to tell of it. According to them, the tips of the spires of the churches may be seen in the hollow of the waves when the sea is rough, while during a calm the music of their bells, ringing out the hymn appropriate to the day, rises above the waters. I often fancy that I have at the bottom of my heart a city of Is with its bells calling to prayer a recalcitrant congregation. At times I halt to listen to these gentle vibrations which seem as if they came from immeasurable depths, like voices from another world. Since old age began to steal over me, I have loved more especially during the repose which summer brings with it, to gather up these distant echoes of a vanished Atlantis.
This it is which has given birth to the six chapters which make up the present volume. The recollections of my childhood do not pretend to form a complete and continuous narrative. They are merely the images which arose before me and the reflections which suggested themselves to me while I was calling up a past fifty years old, written down in the order in which they came. Goethe selected as the title for his memoirs "Truth and Poetry," thereby signifying that a man cannot write his own biography in the same way that he would that of any one else. What one says of oneself is always poetical. To fancy that the small details of one's own life are worth recording is to be guilty of very petty vanity. A man writes such things in order to transmit to others the theory of the universe which he carries within himself. The form of the present work seemed to me a convenient one for expressing certain shades of thought which my previous writings did not convey. I had no desire to furnish information about myself for the future use of those who might wish to write essays or articles about me.
What in history is a recommendation would here have been a drawback; the whole of this small volume is true, but not true in the sense required-for a "Biographical Dictionary." I have said several things with the intent to raise a smile, and, if such a thing had been compatible with custom, I might have used the expression cum grano salis as a marginal note in many cases. I have been obliged to be very careful in what I wrote. Many of the persons to whom I refer may be still alive; and those who are not accustomed to find themselves in print have a sort of horror of publicity. I have, therefore, altered several proper names. In other cases, by means of a slight transposition of date and place, I have rendered identification impossible. The story of "the Flax-crusher" is absolutely true, with the exception that the name of the manor-house is a fictitious one. With regard to "Good Master Système," I have been furnished by M. Duportal du Godasmeur with further details which do not confirm certain ideas entertained by my mother as to the mystery in which this aged recluse enveloped his existence. I have, however, made no change in the body of the work, thinking that it would be better to leave M. Duportal to publish the true story, known only to himself, of this enigmatic character.
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