CHAPTER XVIII. THE FORMATION OF THE THIRD REPUBLIC.
His cousin, the poet Andre Chenier, got him an appointment to one of the lycees, or high-schools, established by Napoleon; but his grandmother would not hear of his "wearing Bonaparte's livery." The two god-fathers had to threaten to apply to the absent Micawber on the subject, if the boy's mother and grandmother stood in the way of his education. They yielded at last, and accepted the appointment offered them. Adolphe passed with high marks into the institution, and it cost him no trouble to keep always at the head of his classes. But in play hours there was never a more troublesome boy. He so perplexed and annoyed his superiors that they were on the eve of expelling him, when a new master came to the lycee from Paris, and all was changed. This master had ruined his prospects by writing a pamphlet against the Empire. A warm friendship sprang up between him and his brilliant pupil. The good man was an unbending republican. When Thiers became Prime Minister of France under Louis Philippe, he wrote to his old master and offered him an important post in the Bureau of Public Instruction; but the old man refused it. He would not accept Louis Philippe as "the best of republics," and ended his letter by saying: "The best thing I can wish you is that you may soon retire from office, and that for a long time."
The influence of this new teacher roused all Thiers' faculties and stimulated his industry. From that time forward he became the most industrious man of his age. The bulletins and the victories of Napoleon excited his imagination. He would take a bulletin for his theme, and write up an account of a battle, supplementing his few facts by his own vivid imagination. His idea was that France must be the strongest of European powers, or she would prove the weakest; she could not hold a middle place in the federation of European nations.
When Thiers had finished his school course his grandmother mortgaged her house to supply funds for his entrance into the college at Aix. He could not enter the army on account of his size, and he aspired to the Bar. His family was very poor at that period. Thiers largely supported himself by painting miniatures, which it is said he did remarkably well.
At Aix he found good literary society and congenial associations. His friendship with his fellow-historian, Mignet, began in their college days. At Aix, too, where he was given full liberty to enjoy the Marquis d'Alberta's gallery of art and wonderful collection of curiosities and bronzes, he acquired his life-long taste for such things. Aix was indeed a place full of collections, - of antiquities, of cameos, of marbles, etc.
Thiers' first literary success was the winning a prize at Nimes for a monograph on Vauvenargues, a moralist of the eighteenth century, called by Voltaire the master-mind of his period. He won this prize under remarkable circumstances. The commission to award it was composed, largely of Royalists, who did not like to assign it to a competitor, who, if not a Republican, was at least a Bonapartist. Thiers had read passages from his essay to friends, and the commissioners were aware of its authorship. They therefore postponed their decision. Meantime Thiers wrote another essay on the same subject. Mignet had it copied, and forwarded to Nimes from Paris, with a new motto. This essay won the first prize; and Thiers' other essay won the second prize, greatly to his amusement and delight, and to the annoyance and discomfiture of the Committee of Decision.
With six hundred francs in his pocket ($120), he went up to Paris, making the journey on foot. Having arrived there, he made his way to his friend Mignet's garret, weary and footsore, carrying his bundle in his hand. Mignet was not at home; but in the opposite chamber, which Thiers entered to make inquiries for his friend, was a gay circle of Bohemians, who were enjoying a revel. The traveller who broke in upon their mirth is thus described: -
"He wore a coat that had been green, and was faded to yellow, tight buff trousers too short to cover his ankles, and dusty, and glossy from long use, a pair of clumsy blucher boots, and a hat worthy of a place in the cabinet of an antiquary. His face was tanned a deep brown, and a pair of brass-rimmed spectacles covered half his face."