Marius Barbeau A glimpse of Canadian Culture (1883-1969)
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Barbeau's Story

Classical College (2)

One Christmas holiday I was not able to visit my parents. My sister Dalila (sixteen years old) had typhoid fever (contagious?). I had to spend these ten days at the college. I was allowed to go to the great library of the tower, normally closed.

I had the chance to see many beautiful books. I was fascinated, especially by the four wonderfully illustrated large volumes: ancient characters, sketched in detail, beautiful women scantily dressed, rounded busts, seductive. It was the Montégut edition of Shakespeare - all of Shakespeare translated into beautiful French. I took these books and put them into my dormitory closet and I did not have the chance, after vacation had finished, to return these books to the great library now under lock and key. When summer arrived and it was time to leave, I had to put these large volumes in my suitcase, with my clothes. I spent the following summer, except for working with my father on the land and with the hay, reading all of Shakespeare, Hamlet, Macbeth, Midsummer Night's Dream, the Merchant of Venice especially captured my imagination. My literature studies were greatly enriched by this summer reading. The end of the summer holidays led me back to college with these books that I wanted to return to their rightful place. Same problem of access to the library. The books stayed waiting in my closet. The same neighbour snitch, Doyon, went to talk about it to the Principal, who called me in and asked for an explanation. It seemed bad. I was scared. I explained things to him with hesitation. "Have you read these books?" he asked me. "No" I said (defensive lie!) Then he seemed satisfied and sent me off. And there were no more questions.

Sometimes, during a major holiday, we would have picnics far away, at the "montagne ronde" at "montagne Thiboutot". I took advantage to run in the woods. What a delight! During the winter, we would go snowshoeing on the college's mountain, or skate on the banks of the great river, at Rivière-Ouelle, the next parish over. It was five or six miles in distance, double with the return.

I was so tired out returning that I had to walk on my ankles (not having the required training). We were so starved when we got back that we descended on the refectory to devour cretons (of the priests) and bread.

Food at the college was quite poor and monotonous. I scarcely ate and I was very thin. I grew up late, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen years of age. My health was good, nothing more. I was fragile.

The time came, at the end of my sixth year, to choose a vocation. A touching moment, full of mysticism and emotion. Just about all twenty fellow students chose the priesthood. But not me, I preferred to become a lay person, with plans to enter the notary profession. College was over and I was happy. These years were formative for me. My head was larger and my brain was well equipped with manuals and doctrines. But I had not been happy.

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