Dom Casmurro Chapter 54


In the seminary … Oh no, I am not going to tell the story of my life at the seminary. A single chapter would not suffice. No, my dear friend, one day perhaps I shall compose a brief account of what I saw and did there, the people I knew, the routines and all the rest. This itch to write, when you get it at fifty, never leaves you. In youth it is possible for a man to cure himself of it. I will say this. In the seminary I had a friend who composed verses in the manner of Junqueira Freire, the poet and monk, whose book had just come out. He took orders, and some years later I ran across him in the choir of São Pedro and asked him to show me his recent poetry.

‘What poetry?’ he asked, somewhat startled.

‘Yours. Don’t you remember, at the seminary …’

‘Ah!’ he smiled. He continued smiling and continued looking in a book open in front of him for the hour at which he had to say mass the following day. He confessed he had not written any verse since he had been ordained. It had been an itch of youth; he scratched it, the itch disappeared, and he was fine. He spoke of an infinite number of events of the day: the high cost of living, a sermon of Father X’s … a vicarship in Minas …

The opposite of this was a seminarist who had not entered the Church. His name was … But it is not necessary to give his name. He had composed a Panegyric of St Monica, which was praised in some quarters and read among the seminarists. He obtained permission to print it and dedicated it to St Augustine. All this is ancient history. But more recently, in 1882, while attending a matter at the Navy Department I bumped into this classmate of mine . . He had left the seminary, abandoned is letters, married and forgotten everything except the Panegyric of St Monica, some twenty-nine pages, which he had carried on distributing over the years. I needed some information, so I went up to him and asked him for it. It would be impossible to find greater courtesy and efficiency: he gave me everything I required clearly, precisely and copiously. Naturally we talked of the past, personal recollections, tales of the classroom, trivial incidents, books, sayings, odd words – it all came out, and we laughed and sighed congenially. We spent a while reliving some of our memories of the old seminary. And the recollections, either because they were of the seminary or because we were young at the time, were all happy ones; if there had been any darkening shadow it did not manifest itself now. My old friend confessed that he had lost contact with all our classmates.

‘I, too, almost all. Once they were ordained, no doubt they returned to the provinces and of those from around here I imagine most went to parishes elsewhere.’

‘Happy days!’ he sighed. After some reflection he peered into my face with faded insistent eyes and asked, ‘Did you keep my Panegyric?’

I could not think of what to say. I tried to move my lips, but no words came. Finally I asked, ‘Panegyric? What panegyric?’

‘My Panegyric of St Monica.’

I did not remember, but the clarification had to suffice. After a few moments of mental trawling I answered that I had kept it for a long time but what with moving home, travelling …

‘I’ll bring you a copy.’

Before twenty-four hours had passed he was at my house with the little book, an old book, twenty-six years old, soiled, mottled with age but with nothing missing and a respectful handwritten dedication.

‘It is the second to last copy,’ he told me. ‘Now I have just one left, and that I cannot give to anyone.’ And, as he watched me leaf through the opusculum, he added, ‘See if you recall any passages.’

An interval of twenty-six years can put an end to closer and more constant friendships, but it was a matter of courtesy, charity even, to recall some page or other. I read one of them aloud, stressing certain phrases to give the impression that they had found an echo in my memory.

He agreed they were beautiful but preferred others and pointed these out to me. ‘Don’t you remember these?’

‘Yes of course. Panegyric of St Monica! How it takes me back to my youth! I have never forgotten my days at the seminary. The years pass, one thing happens after another, you experience new things, and of course new friendships develop that go the way of all flesh: such is life … Well, dear classmate, nothing has dimmed the memory of those days we spent together, the priests, the lessons, our games … do you remember our games? Father Lopes. Oh! Father Lopes …’

With his eyes staring into space, he seemed to be listening – and probably he was – though he made only one remark after a considerable silence; he refocused and sighed, ‘It was a success, this Panegyric of mine.’