June 11, 2008

Quote 6

My brother [the Bishop], during the supper, and during the entire evening, with the exception of a few words about Jesus, when he entered, did not say a word which could recall to this man who he himself was, nor indicate to him who my brother was. It was apparently a fine occasion to get in a little sermon, and to set up the bishop above the convict in order to make an impression upon his mind. It would, perhaps, have appeared to some to be a duty, having this unhappy man in hand, to feed the mind at the same time with the body, and to administer reproof, seasoned with morality and advice, or at least a little pity accompanied by an exhortation to conduct himself better in future.

My brother asked him neither his country nor his history; for his crime lay in his history, and my brother seemed to avoid everything which could recall it to him. At one time, as my brother was speaking of the mountaineers of Pontarlier, who have a pleasant labour near heaven, and who, he added, are happy, because they are innocent, he stopped short, fearing there might have been in this word which had escaped him something which could wound the feelings of this man.

Upon reflection, I think I understand what was passing in my brother’s mind. He thought, doubtless, that this man, who called himself Jean Valjean, had his wretchedness too constantly before his mind; that it was best not to distress him by referring to it, and to make him think, if it were only for a moment, that he was a common person like any one else, by treating him thus in the ordinary way.

Is not this really understanding charity? Is there not something truly evangelical in this delicacy, which abstains from sermonizing, moralizing, and making allusions, and is it not the wisest sympathy, when a man has a suffering point, not to touch upon it at all?

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, p. 70