A French Country Girl.
Sarah O. Jewett.
In one of Eugénie Guerin's Letters which are published together in a charming book which has been translated from the French, she describes walking to church in the early morning through the woods, and says that she saw some little wild flowers in bloom, and that she stopped to pick them to carry with her. But her second thought told her that she had better leave them until she was on her way home, for they would be wilted if she held them so long in her hand.
She went on to the service in the little church, and when it was over she talked with some friends whom she met, and at least went home by another path, and missed her flowers altogether, and quite forgot about them until it was too late.
So she says in the letter that it is often thus in life: the only way to make sure of our pleasures and of most good things is to take them when we first have the chance, because the first chance is too apt to be the only one.
It is true that opportunities seldom repeat themselves, and no wonder we are told to make the most of them. Mademoiselle Guerin gives one a charming example of this. She lived in a very quiet part of France, in an old chateau, [no accent] and her brother, who was her constant companion, went away to Paris to study. She made the most of her simple pleasures, and while nobody can fail to see that she lived a very lonely life indeed, she made it most interesting to herself and to thousands of people beside. She kept a journal for her brother that is one of the most lovable books in the world. One grows almost as fond as she was herself of the neighbors with whom she exchanged rare visits, and of the peasants, and the forest about Cayla, the old chateau itself, and even her little dog Trilby.
You go with her to Paris with great delight, but you like best to be with her in her own home. She says that she thinks the worst thing about hell is that one must be in bad company forever, and she quotes a saying that between friends there are no secrets but the secrets of others. Everybody loved her who knew her, but best of all her talented young brother Maurice, who died after a long, sad illness.
I wish that some friends of mine who live in lonely country places could know these two little books - they are such a lesson to us of cheerfulness and good humor and of ready friendship and true-heartedness, and of a love of pleasure that satisfied itself with the little things within reach - even while it eagerly waited and hoped for the things too far away to be grasped. She was sadder sometimes than most people ever dream of being, but she also was most happy in great possession of good cheer and fun. She did not often miss gathering the little flowers of life that grew beside even her loneliest paths.
"A French Country Girl" appeared in The Congregationalist (35:53) on Tuesday, February 15, 1883, first page of this issue. This text is available courtesy of the Newberry Library.
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Eugénie Guerin's Letters: An English translation of The Letters of Eugénie de Guérin appeared in 1866. Another edition was issued by the Catholic Publication Society in 1875, and other editions followed. Eugénie de Guérin (1804-1858) lived a solitary, retiring life in a château near Albi in south central France, near the Spanish border. (Research assistance: Carla Zecher)
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journal for her brother: The Journal of Eugénie de Guérin first appeared in French posthumously, in 1855. There was an English translation available by 1865 and other editions followed. The 1855 French publication also included writings grouped under the title Reliquiae that are notable for their spiritual, melancholy quality. During the years 1832-34, she kept her Journal intime (personal journal) for her absent brother, Maurice, the famous poet who later died tragically young of tuberculosis while under her care. (Research assistance: Carla Zecher)
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Cayla, the old chateau itself: Eugénie de Guerin was born and died at "Le Cayla," a château or manor house, probably with some land near the village of Caylus. (Research assistance: Carla Zecher)
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.