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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

Bishop Bienvenu is Hugo's hero as saint


Bishop

Bienvenu is Hugo's hero as saint; and we can not deny him beauty such as those "enskied and sainted" wear. This is the romancist's tribute to a minister of God; and sweet the tribute is. With not a few, the bishop is chief hero, next to Jean Valjean. He is redemptive, like the purchase money of a slave. He is quixotic; he is not balanced always, nor always wise; but he falls on the side of Christianity and tenderness and goodness and love--a good way to fall, if one is to fall at all. We love the bishop, and can not help it. He was good to the poor, tender to the unerring, illuminative to those who were in the moral dark, and came over people like a sunrise; crept into their hearts for good, as a child creeps up into its father's arms, and nestles there like a bird. Surely we love the bishop. He is a hero saint. To be near him was to be neighborly with heaven. He was ever minding people of God. Is there any such office in earth or heaven? To look at this bishop always puts our heart in the mood of prayer, and what helps us to prayer is a celestial benefit. The pertinent fact in him is, that he is not greatness, but goodness. We do not think of greatness when we see him or hear him, but we think with our hearts when he is before our eyes. Goodness is more marketable than greatness, and more necessary. Goodness, greatness! Brilliancy is a cheap commodity when put on the counter beside goodness; and Bishop Bienvenu is a romancer's apotheosis of goodness, and we bless
him for this deification.

The bishop was merchantman, freighting ships. His wharves are wide, his fleet is great, his cargoes are many. Only he is freighting ships for heaven. No bales of merchandise nor ingots of iron, but souls for whom Christ died,--these are his cargoes; and had you asked him, "What work to-day?" a smile had flooded sunlight along his face while he, said, "Freighting souls with God to-day, and lading cargoes for the skies." This is royal merchandise. The Doge of Venice annually flung a ring into the sea as sign of Venice's nuptials with the Adriatic; but Bishop Bienvenu each day wedded himself and the world to heaven, and he comes

"O'er my ear like the sweet south, That breathes upon a bank of violets, Stealing and giving odor."

Hugo paints with sunset tints and with lightning's lurid light; his contrasts are fierce, his backgrounds are often as black as a rain-cloud. He paints with the mad rush of a Turner. He is fierce in hates and loves. He does nothing by moderation. Calmness does not belong to him. He is tempestuous always; but tempests are magnificent and purifying to the air. Hugo is painting, and painting heroes, and his hero of heroes is Valjean. Jean Valjean is conscience. In Macbeth, conscience is warring and retributive. In Richard III, conscience, stifled in waking, speaks in dreams, and is menace, like a sword swung by a maniac's hands. In Arthur Dimmesdale, conscience is lacerative. In Jean Valjean, conscience is regulative, creative, constructive. Jean Valjean is conscience, and conscience is king. What the classic heroes lacked, Jean Valjean possesses.

The setting of this character is


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