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It was in the disastrous days of the French Revolution that Chateaubriand arose, and bent the force of his lofty mind to vindicate the persecuted but imperishable faith of his fathers. In early youth, he was at first carried away by the fashionable infidelity of his times; and in his “Essais Historiques,” which was published in 1792, in London, while the principles of virtue and natural religion are unceasingly maintained, he seems to have doubted whether the Christian religion was not crumbling with the institutions of society. But misfortune, that great corrector of the vices of the world, soon changed these faulty views. In the days of exile and adversity, when, by the waters of Babylon, he sat down and wept, he reverted to the faith and belief of his fathers, and inhaled in the school of adversity those noble maxims of devotion and duty which have ever since regulated his conduct in life.
The great characteristic of the French author is the impassioned and enthusiastic turn of his mind. Master of immense information, thoroughly imbued at once with the learning of classical and catholic times ; gifted with a retentive memory, a poetical fancy, and a painter's eye, he brings to bear upon every subject the force of erudition, the images of poetry, the charms of varied scenery, and the eloquence of impassioned feeling. Hence his writings display a reach and variety of imagery, a depth of light and shadow, a vigor of thought, and an extent of illustration, to which there is nothing comparable in any other writer, ancient or modern, with whom we are acquainted. All that he has seen, or read, or heard seem present to his mind, whatever he does, or wherever he is. He illustrates the genius of Christianity by the beauties of classical learning, inhales the spirit of ancient prophecy on the shores of the Jordan, dreams on the banks of the Eurotas of the solitude and gloom of the American forests; visits the Holy Sepulchre with a mind alternately devoted to the devotion of a pilgrim, the curiosity of an antiquary, and the enthusiasm of a crusader, and combines, in his romances, with the tender feelings of chivalrous love, the heroism of Roman virtue, and the sublimity of Christian martyrdom. His writings are less a faithful portrait of any particular age or country, than an assemblage of all that is grand, and generous, and elevated in human nature. He drinks deep of inspiration at all the fountains where it has ever been poured forth to mankind, and delights us less by the accuracy of any particular picture, than the traits of genius which he has combined from every quarter where its footsteps have trod. His style seems formed on the lofty strains of Isaiah, or the beautiful images of the Book of Job, more than all the classical or modern literature with which his mind is so amply stored. He is admitted by all Frenchmen, of whatever party, to be the most perfect living master of their language, and to have gained for it beauties unknown to the age of Bossuet and Fenelon. Less polished in his periods, less sonorous in his diction, less melodious in his rhythm, than these illustrious writers, he is incomparably more varied, rapid, and energetic; his ideas flow in quicker succession, his words flow in more striking antithesis ; the past, the present, and the future rise up at once before us; and we see how strongly the stream of genius, instead of gliding down the smooth current of ordinary life, has been broken and agitated by the cataract of revolution.
ISABELLA OF CASTILE.
THE acquisition of an important kingdom in the heart of Europe, and of the New World beyond the waters, which promised to pour into her lap all the fabled treasures of the Indies, was rapidly raising Spain to the first rank of European powers. But, in the noontide of her success, she was to experience a fatal shock in the loss of that illustrious personage, who had so long and so gloriously presided over her destinies. We have had occasion to notice more than once the declining state of the queen's health for the last few years. Her constitution had been greatly impaired by incessant personal fatigue and exposure, and by the unremitting activity of her mind. It had suffered far more severely, however, from a series of heavy domestic calamities, which had fallen on her with little intermission since the death of her mother in 1496. The next year, she followed to the grave the remains of her only son, the heir and hope of the monarchy, just entering on his prime; and in the succeeding, was called on to render the same sad offices to the best beloved of her daughters, the amiable queen of Portugal.
The severe illness occasioned by this last blow terminated in a dejection of spirits, from which she never entirely recovered. Her surviving children were removed far from her into distant lands; with the occasional exception, indeed, of Joanna, who caused a still deeper pang to her mother's affectionate heart, by exhibiting infirmities, which justified the most melancholy presages for the future.
Far from abandoning herself to weak and useless repining, however, Isabella sought consolation, where it was best to be found, in the exercises of piety, and in the discharge of the duties attached to her exalted station. Accordingly, we find her attentive as ever to the minutest interest of her subjects; supporting her great minister Ximenes in his schemes of reform, quickening the zeal for discovery in the west, and, at the close of the year 1503, on the alarm of the French invasion, rousing her dying energies, to kindle a spirit of resistance in her people. These strong mental exertions, however, only accelerated the decay of her bodily strength, which was gradually sinking under that sickness of heart which admits of no cure, and scarcely of consolation.