Letter from M. Francis de Miollis to the newspaper L'Union1
Morlaix, 21 April 1862
Monsieur the Editor:
If you should be so good as to include the complaint which I have the honour to address to you; it interests the episcopate, justly jealous of the consideration of its members, and an honourable family, the natural guardian of the memory of a pious bishop, a memory that may suffer--in its province and in its former diocese--from the publication of a work which has, at the moment, a great effect upon the public.
In his Les Misérables, M. Victor Hugo writes of a bishop named Myriel. Despite this conventional name, the intimate details which he gives of the origin, family, habits, infinitely charitable nature, and evangelical virtues of his character leave no doubt of his identity with my uncle, Monseigneur de Miollis, former bishop of Digne.
In the first place, the first names of the bishop in the novel and the real bishop are the same; in the second, M. Hugo says that his bishop Myriel was the son of a councillor to the Parliament of Provence; that he was named curé of Brignoles in 1804 and bishop of Digne in 1806; that he was still known by the popular name of Bienvenu; that he had two brothers, one a lieutenant general, the other a prefect, a brave and dignified man, who lived retired in Paris in the rue Cassette. All of these details recall in the most exact manner my venerable uncle. This prefect which M. Hugo speaks of was my father, who indeed had an apartment in the rue Cassette, where he received visits from time to time from M. Victor Hugo.
When he has so described his bishop in a way to make recognizable, with extremely certain signals, the model from which he has drawn his character, M. Victor Hugo adds: "We do not claim that the portrait herewith presented is probable; we confine ourselves to stating that it resembles the original..."
After having so clearly indicated my uncle, M. Victor Hugo did not have the right to add details completely contrary to the truth, and which have a defamatory character. "It was said," he writes, "that his father had married him at a very early age, eighteen or twenty. In spite of this marriage, however, it was said that Charles Myriel created a great deal of talk. He was well formed, though rather short in stature, elegant, graceful, intelligent; the whole of the first portion of his life had been devoted to the world and to gallantry..."
It is my duty to protest these details, which are completely false, and to declare in the most formal manner that the principles that he lends, in some circumstances, to the bishop Myriel were never those of Mgr Miollis.
Mgr Charles Bienvenu de Miollis was never married. The entirety of his youth and his priesthood were marked with the most fervent piety and an exemplary regularity. His evangelical gentleness was often shown in circumstances where the most practised patience might have failed. I call to witness it all those who knew him in Provence until 1843. The first portion of his life was devoted neither to the world nor to gallanty, and his character did not offer the sad spectacle of those regrettable violences which M. Hugo gives to his bishop Myriel. Constantly faithful to all the duties of the episcopate, a man of charity, a man of the poor, he gave the active aid of his zeal to all classes of society; rich or poor, all his flocks were dear to him.
As to his doctrines, they were never of an equivocal nature. All his life, he was the faithful defender of the Church and the Papacy. The Revolution never found an adherent in him, for he emigrated to Italy in order to remain true to the vow which bound him to his apostolic post, and to flee the schism which so painfully tore apart the Church of France in 1791. M. Victor Hugo has offended the truth no less than he has offended propriety, in showing this worthy and holy bishop pushing religion to its knees before a free-thinker and episcopal dignity before a Conventionist.
I have the honour to be, with much consideration, Monsieur, your extremely humble servant,
Francis de Miollis
1 Legitimist newspaper