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"Pray, Sir," said Susan, "what place does this gloomy picture describe?'1
"It is a drawing of the monastery of La Trappe," answered Mr. Wilmot; "remarkable for the austerity of its monks, and celebrated, in ancient times, as the residence of the learned but licentious Abelard; and, in more modern, by the singular reformation and self-devotedness of Monsieur de Ranee.
"I will give you an account of it, as described by a gentleman who visited it in 1819.
"The situation of this monastery was well adapted to the founder's views, and to suggest the name it originally received of La Trappe, from the intricacy of the road which descends to it, and the difficulty of access and egress, which exists, even to this day, though the woods have been very much thinned since the French revolution. Perhaps there never was any thing in the whole universe better calculated to inspire religious awe, than the first view of this monastery: it was imposing even to breathlessness.
"The total solitude, the undisturbed and chilling silence, which seem to have ever slept over the dark and ancient woods; the still lakes, reflecting the deep solemnity of the objects around them;—all impress a peaceful image of utter seclusion and hopeless separation from living man; and appear formed at once to court and gratify the sternest austerities of devotion—to humour the wildest fancies, and promote the gloomiest schemes of penance and privation.
"In ascending the steep and intricate path, the traveller frequently loses sight of the abbey until he has actually reached the bottom; then, emerging from the wood, the following inscription is seen, carved on a wooden cross:
'C'est ici que la mort et que la verity
"A venerable grove of oaks, which formerly surrounded the monastery, was cut down in the Revolution. In the gateway of the outer court is a statue of St. Bernard, which has been mutilated by the republicans: he is holding in one hand a church, and in the other a spade, the emblems of devotion and labour. This gateway leads into a court, which opens into a second enclosure; and around that, are granaries, stables, bakehouses, and other offices necessary to the abbey, which have all been happily preserved.
"On entering the gate, a lay-brother received me on his knees, and, in a low and whispering voice, informed me they were at vespers. The stateliness and gloom of the building; (the last rays of the sun scarcely penetrated through its windows;) the deep tones of the monks, chaunting the responses, which occasionally broke the silence, filled me with reverential emotions, which I was unwilling to disturb. It was necessary, however, to present my letter of introduction; and friar Charles, the secretaire, soon after came out, and received me with great civility.
"He requested that, in going over the convent, I would neither speak nor ask him any questions, in those places where I saw him kneel, or in the presence of any of the monks. I followed him to the chapel alone. As soon as the service was over, the bell rung to summon them for supper.
"Ranged in double rows, with, their heads
enveloped in a large cowl, and bent down to the earth, they chaunted the grace, and then seated themselves. During the repast, one of them standing, read a passage of Scripture, reminding them of death and the shortness of human existence. Another went round the whole community, and, on his knees, kissed their feet in succession; throwing himself prostrate on the floor, at intervals, before the image of our Saviour. A third remained on his knees the whole time, and in that attitude took his repast. These penitents had committed some fault, or neglected their religious duties; which, according to the regulations, they had accused themselves of, and were, in consequence, doomed to the above modes of penance. The refectory was furnished with long wooden tables and benches. Each person was provided with a trencher and a jug of water; and a cup, having on it the name of the brother to whom it was appropriated: as, friar Paul, friar Francis; and which name they assume on taking the order. Their supper consisted of bread soaked in water, a little salt, and two raw carrots placed by each: water is alone their beverage.
"The dinner is varied with a little cabbage or other vegetables: they have very rarely any cheese, and never meat, fish, or eggs. The bread is of the coarsest kind possible. Their bed is a small truckle boarded, with a single covering, generally a blanket; no mattress or pillow; and, as in the former time, no fire is allowed but one in the great hall, which they never approach.
"The hardships undergone by these monks appear almost insupportable to human nature. Their mode of life and regulations exist nearly in the same state as established by the founder. In reciting them, such dreadful perversions of human nature and reason make it almost difficult to believe the existence of so severe an order, and lead us to wonder at the artificial miseries which the ingenuity of pious but mistaken enthusiasm can inflict upon itself.
"The abstinence practised at La Trappe allows not the use of fish, meat, eggs, nor butter, and a very limited allowance of bread and vegetables. They eat only twice a day: their meals consist of a slender repast about eleven in the morning, and two ounces of bread and two raw carrots in the evening; which, both together, do not at any time exceed twelve ounces.
"The same spirit of mortification is observed in their cells, which are very small, and have no other furniture than a bed of boards, a hu