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Search for the historical Victor Hugo

 Victor Hugo1By the Rev. Dr.  Ed Hird

With the success of the movie Les Miserables, people have been looking again at the author Victor Hugo.  What is it about Hugo that enabled him to write what Leo Tolstoy called the greatest of all novels? Who was the real historical Victor Hugo?

Every day around 3,000 words are published about Victor Hugo.  It has been said that to read the complete works of Hugo would take no less than ten years.  Every important poet, novelist and dramatist of his age was shaped by Hugo’s prolific endeavours.   Some call him the greatest of French poets.  He was the dominant figure in 19th century French literature.  By the time he left France in 1851, Hugo was seen as the most famous living writer in the world.  Upon his return to France, thousands of people in Paris chanted ‘Vive Victor Hugo’, reciting his poetry, and throwing flowers on him.  On his eightieth birthday, six hundred thousand Parisians marched past his house in his honor.  At his death, a day of national mourning was declared.

By the time Hugo died in 1883, he had become a symbol of France with all its struggles and challenges.  Hugo lived through bloody uprising after uprising.  Almost a million Frenchmen had died during this revolutionary period, half of them under the age of twenty-eight.  Les Miserables with its passionate message about the barricades reflect this deep trauma of chaos upon unending chaos.

When Hugo was born, his parents were horrified by his appearance.  His own mother could not bear to look at him. His own doctor indicated that without a miracle, Victor would not last out the month.  With an enormous head and a tiny body, his father said that Victor looked like the gargoyles of Notre Dame.  Such an insensitive comment led to his second most favorite novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Ironically after the success of his Hunchback novel, all the nouveau riche wanted their homes to be ornamented with gargoyles.

Sophie HugoVictor adored his mother Sophie but she cared little for her children.  During his childhood, Victor deeply resented his father Leopold who was always away at war.  As an adult, Victor became his father’s closest companion.  His own parents had divided loyalties between the royalists and the republicans.  Hugo’s parents met in Brittany while his Napoleonic father was stamping out a local royalist rebellion.  Both of his parents were unfaithful to their marriage vows, something that repeated itself in Victor’s own marriage.

While only fifteen, Victor applied for the French Academy’s annual poetry contest.  His poetry was so advanced that the Academy refused to accept him until his mother produced his birth certificate. Victor loved to write, commenting that ‘every thought that has ever crossed my mind sooner or later finds it onto paper. …Ideas are my sinews and substance.’

His father Leopold saw Victor’s involvement in literature as being like ‘pouring good wine down an open sewer’.  So he refused to help fund his literary education: “If you were to elect a career as a lawyer or physician, I would gladly make sacrifices to see through university.”  Victor often went without food in his early literary years, saying ‘I shall prove to my father that a poet can make sums far larger than the wages of an Imperial General.’  With great talent and a strong work ethic, Victor became one of a very small band who could earn their living with their pens.  One of Victor’s closest friends was Alexandre Dumas, the famous author of the Count of Monte Cristo and the Three Musketeers.

Adele HugoOne of Victor’s greatest sorrows was that his wife Adele was indifferent to his writings.  Even his passionate love poems for his wife, she ignored.  Adele warned Victor that ‘it is the fault of passionate men to set the women they love upon a pedestal. To be placed so high produces dizziness, and dizziness leads to a fall.’  Adele’s affair with her husband’s best friend Saint-Beauve crushed Victor, leading him into his own ongoing infidelity. There was great tragedy in Hugo’s life with his own brother Eugene having a mental breakdown at Victor’s wedding and his youngest daughter suffering the same fate after being abandoned by her lover Pinson.  One of the deepest wounds was the drowning of Victor’s daughter Leopoldine shortly after her marriage.   Out of this great sorrow came great dramatic writing, especially in his novel Les Miserables.  Andre Maurois commented that Hugo possessed and would retain all his life long, one precious gift: the power to give to the events of everyday life a dramatic intensity.

Ground-zero in Les Miserables was the gracious Bishop Bienvenue who transformed Jean Valjean by his generous act of forgiveness.  Victor Hugo’s son Charles was upset by his father’s choosing of Bishop Bienvenue.  Charles suggested instead that his father should have made Bienvenue to be a medical doctor instead of a clergyman.  Victor replied to his son: ‘Man needs religion. Man needs God. I say it out loud, I pray every night…”  Victor held that humanity is an ‘unspeakable miracle.’   Of all the French Romantics, Hugo made the most explicit usage of the Bible.

I thank God for the life and work of Victor Hugo who had such a passion for life, freedom and forgiveness, especially as seen in his novel Les Miserables.

 

(Click to watch)

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


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Samuel and Helene de Champlain: A Canadian Romance

by the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

Before Samuel & Helene de Champlain came on the scene, the very word ‘Canada’ had become a joke in France, thanks to Jacques Cartier bringing back quartz and ‘fool’s gold’ from Canada.  The term ‘diamond of Canada’ became a symbol for deception and emptiness.  During Champlain’s lifetime, France largely ignored him.  To most French citizens, Canada seemed distant and unimportant.  Even well-educated Parisians denied the value of Canada, sometimes dismissing it as another Siberia.

In the 16th century, France’s population was six times that of England, it possessed as much coastline, it was more affluent, its sailors were more skilled and were the first to consistently visit the Canadian seaboard.  But in contrast to England, there was little vision in France for the priority of sending people to the New World.  To immigrate to Canada, there was even a financial disincentive of 36 livres charged to anyone leaving France.  As a result, Champlain and his Quebec people felt disregarded, deserted and discarded.  King Louis XIII even had the thoughtlessness to cancel Champlain’s modest pension of six hundred livres granted by Henry IV; forcing Champlain to successfully implore for its reinstatement.

Champlain was born in 1567 in the town of Brouage, then a bustling seaport on the southwestern coast of France, some 70 miles (112 km) north of Bordeaux. His father was a sea captain and as a boy he became skilled at seamanship and navigation.  Champlain later commented: “…(Navigation) is the art…which led me to explore the coast of America, especially New France, where I have always desired to see the fleur-de-lys flourish.”  Ironically Champlain never learned to swim, even after crossing the rugged Atlantic Ocean twenty-nine times, as he thought swimming was too risky.

For a while Champlain served in the army of King Henry IV, fighting alongside Martin Frobisher in a joint undertaking by the British and French against the Spanish.  In 1599 Champlain captained a ship which returned Spanish prisoners-of-war, allowing him to explore the Spanish-controlled West Indies and Mexico.  As a result of his travels, Champlain prophetically suggested the idea of making a canal across Central America to shorten the trip to the southern Pacific Ocean.  King Henry IV was so impressed by Champlain’s map-making work that he granted him a lifetime income.  Henri IV also gave Champlain the title ‘de’, which marked him as a man of noble rank.

Four hundred and seven years ago, in 1603, Samuel de Champlain traveled up the St. Lawrence River to the site of present day Montreal, the First Nations village of Hochelaga.  In Champlain’s 1604 Journal, he wrote: “So many voyages and discoveries without result, and attended with so much hardship and expense, have caused us French in late years to attempt a permanent settlement in those lands which we call New France.”  After two Acadian colonizing attempts at St. Croix and Port Annapolis in the Maritimes, Champlain turned his eyes to the future Quebec City, a name that he translated from an aboriginal word: ‘where the river narrows.’  Quebec City, the Iroquois village of Stadacona, became the earliest enduring city north of Mexico City and Florida settled by Europeans.

Life was not easy for Champlain at Quebec City.  While building a miniature Bastille-like ‘habitation’, Champlain had to stamp out an attempted murder plot against himself.  When spring finally broke up the ice in April 1609, only eight of Champlain’s 24 men who wintered at Quebec were still alive.

Champlain cared deeply about the First Nations people, building lasting friendships with many groups.  Pere Lalemant in 1640 wrote: ‘Would God that all the French, who were the first to come into these regions, had been like him!’ Champlain spoke prophetically to a gathering of the Montagnais, Algonkin, and French: “Our sons shall wed your daughters and henceforth we shall be one people”

When Samuel de Champlain married Hélène Boullé on December 30, 1610 in Paris, she was only 12 years old while he was approximately forty!  She was so young that her father insisted that she live at home for at least another two years.  At age 21, she moved to Quebec City.  The First Nations were intrigued by Helene who loved them dearly in return.  A titled lady with elegant outfits and etiquette, Helene was the center of attention at Quebec.  But for her the settlement held little joy.  Unlike Paris, Quebec had no shops, lively crowds or interesting chitchat.  As a high-spirited twenty-five-year-old, she pined for the exhilaration of Paris.  Champlain, fifty-six, favored the companionship of his hardy French and aboriginal voyageurs and the untainted grandeur of the Canadian outback.  And so, after four years, Champlain and Helene tragically parted ways.  Out of love, Champlain named the ‘Montreal Expo 67’ Island after her: Isle Saint Helene.  When Helene learned of her husband’s death in 1635, she entered a convent, choosing to become a nun rather than to marry again.

More than half of the fur-trading merchants working with Champlain were Huguenot (French Protestants) from La Rochelle; France.  The 1598 Edict of Nantes, which gave them religious freedom in Quebec and France, was first restricted in 1625 and finally revoked in 1685.  Although the Huguenot were therefore forbidden to worship in Canada by royal decree, the crews of Huguenot ships could not be restrained from holding services on board when in harbour.  The Huguenot loved to sing the psalms in French, a practice first encouraged and then outlawed by the French Royal Court.  Both Champlain and his wife Helene had been raised in Huguenot homes.  So thanks to Champlain, it was agreed that the Huguenot could hold prayer meetings on the ships, but sing psalms only at sea where no one else could hear.

After the English under British Commander David Kirke blockaded the French relief supply ships, Champlain and his men nearly starved, surviving mostly on eels purchased from the Indians and on roots & wood-bark. Champlain was forced to surrender in 1628 to David Kirke’s brothers and was sent for four years to England.  The Treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye was signed in 1632 which brought Champlain back to Quebec City, much of which had been burnt to the ground by the British.  After having devoted the last 32 years of his life to Canada, Champlain died of a stroke in 1635 at age 68.

Champlain was the most versatile of Canadian pioneers, at once sailor and soldier, writer and entrepreneur, artist and voyageur, visionary and pragmatist.  He wrote four important books relating Canada’s early history.  He produced the best North American maps and its earliest harbour charts.  Repeatedly Champlain put his life in jeopardy in order to discover routes to Canada’s western wilderness. He nurtured struggling Quebec to steadfast life.  “No other European colony in America, “commented the eminent historian Samuel Eliot Morison, “is so much the lengthened shadow of one man as Canada is of the valiant, wise, and virtuous Samuel de Champlain.” I thank God for this courageous man Samuel Champlain who showed perseverance and dedication against impossible odds.  My prayer for those reading this article is that we too may show that same perseverance in facing our God-given daily tasks.

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca