The Worlds Famous Orations. Continental Europe (3801906). 1906.
On the Death of the Great Condé
Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (16271704)
Born in 1627, died in 1704; became Preceptor to the Dauphin in 1670, and Bishop of Meaux in 1681; besides sermons he wrote historical and theological works.
SUCH1 as he had been in all combatsserene, self-possessed, and occupied without anxiety, only with what was necessary to sustain themsuch also he was in that last conflict. Death appeared to him no more frightful, pale, and languishing, than amid the fires of battle and in the prospect of victory. While sobbings were heard all around him, he continued, as if another than himself were their object, to give his orders; and if he forbade them weeping, it was not because it was a distress to him, but simply a hindrance. At that time he extended his cares to the least of his domestics. With a liberality worthy of his birth and of their services, he loaded them with gifts, and honored them still more with mementos of his regard.
What was then taking place in that soul? What new light dawned upon him? What sudden ray pierced the cloud, and instantly dissipated, not only all the darkness of sense, but the very shadows, and, if I dare to say it, the sacred obscurities of faith? What then became of those splendid titles by which our pride is flattered? On the very verge of glory, and in the dawning of a light so beautiful, how rapidly vanish the phantoms of the world! How dim appears the splendor of the most glorious victory! How profoundly we despise the glory of the world, and how deeply regret that our eyes were ever dazzled by its radiance! Come, ye people, come nowor, rather, ye princes and lords, ye judges of the earth, and ye who open to man the portals of heaven; and more than all others, ye princes and princesses, nobles descended from a long line of kings, lights of France, but to-day in gloom, and covered with your grief as with a cloudcome and see how little remains of a birth so august, a grandeur so high, a glory so dazzling! Look around on all sides, and see all that magnificence and devotion can do to honor so great a hero: titles and inscriptions, vain signs of that which is no more; shadows which weep around a tomb, fragile images of a grief which time sweeps away with everything else; columns which appear as if they would bear to heaven the magnificent evidence of our emptinessnothing, indeed, is wanting in all these honors but he to whom they are rendered! Weep, then, over these feeble remains of human life; weep over that mournful immortality we give to heroes.
But draw near, especially ye who run, with such ardor, the career of gloryintrepid and warrior spirits! Who was more worthy to command you, and in whom did ye find command more honorable? Mourn, then, that great captain, and weeping, say: Here is a man that led us through all hazards, under whom were formed so many renowned captains, raised by his example, to the highest honors of war; his shadow might yet gain battles; and lo! in his silence his very name animates us, and at the same time warns us, that to find, at death, some rest from our toils, and not arrive unprepared at our eternal dwelling, we must, with an earthly king, yet serve the King of Heaven. Serve, then, that immortal and ever-merciful King, who will value a sigh, or a cup of cold water, given in His name, more than all others will value the shedding of your blood. And begin to reckon the time of your useful services from the day on which you gave yourselves to so beneficent a Master. Will not ye, too, comeye whom he honored by making you his friends? To whatever extent you enjoyed this confidence, come all of you, and surround this tomb. Mingle your prayers with your tears; and while admiring, in so great a prince, a friendship so excellent, an intercourse so sweet, preserve the remembrance of a hero whose goodness equaled his courage. Thus may he ever prove your cherished instructor; thus may you profit by his virtues and may his death, which you deplore, serve you at once for consolation and example.
Note 1. Bossuets works, in the best French edition (that of Lachat), comprise thirty-one volumes. His Funeral Orations are now perhaps the most celebrated of his writings. In this branch of oratory he is usually acknowledged to have been the first great master, as also its creator. Besides the one on the great Condé, from which passages are here given, two others are famousthose on Henrietta of England and her daughter, the Duchess of Orleans. Bossuet, says H. Morse Stephens, in the simple grandeur of his language, stands alone among the orators of the golden age of French pulpit eloquence. [back]