Sunday, October 21, 2007


JASMIN Barber, Poet, Philanthropist by Samuel Smiles, LL.D.

JASMIN Barber, Poet, Philanthropist
by Samuel Smiles, LL.D.
"Il rasait bien, il chantait. . . . Si la France
possedait dix poetes comme Jasmin, dix poetes de
cette influence, elle n'aurait pas a craindre de
CHAPTER I. Agen--Jasmins Boyhood
Description of Agen
Statue of Jasmin
His 'Souvenirs'
Birth of Jasmin
Poverty of the Family
Grandfather Boe
The Charivari
Jasmin's Father and Mother
His Playfellows
Playing at Soldiers
Agen Fairs
The Vintage
The Spinning Women
School detested
Old Boe carried to the Hospital
Death of Boe
CHAPTER II. Jasmin at School
Sister Boe
Jasmin enters the Seminary
His Progress
His Naughty Trick
Tumbles from a Ladder
His Punishment
The Preserves
Expelled from the Seminary
His Mother sells her Wedding-ring for Bread
The Abbe Miraben
Jasmin a Helpful Boy
CHAPTER III. Barber and Hair-dresser
Jasmin Apprenticed
Reading in his Garret
His First Books
Florian's Romances
Begins to Rhyme
The Poetic Nature
Barbers and Poetry
Importance of the Barber
Jasmin first Theatrical Entertainment
Under the Tiles
Talent for Recitation
Jasmin begins Business
CHAPTER IV. Jasmin and Mariette
Falls in Love
Marries Mariette Barrere
Jasmin's Marriage Costume
Prosperity in Business
The 'Curl-Papers'
Christened "Apollo"
Mariette dislikes Rhyming
Visit of Charles Nodier
The Pair Reconciled
Mariette encourages her Husband
Jasmin at Home
The "rivulet of silver"
Jasmin buys his House on the Gravier
Becomes Collector of Taxes
CHAPTER V. Jasmin and Gascon
Jasmin first Efforts at Verse-making
The People Conservative of old Dialects
Jasmin's study of Gascon
Langue d'Oc and Langue d'Oil
Antiquity of Languages in Western Europe
The Franks
Language of Modern France
The Gauls
The "Franciman"
Language of the Troubadours
Gascon and Provencal
Jasmin begins to write in Gascon
Uneducated Poets
Jasmin's 'Me cal Mouri'
Miss Costello's translation
The 'Charivari'
Jasmin publishes First Volume of 'The Curl-papers' (Papillotos)
CHAPTER VI. Beranger--'Mes Souvenirs'--P. De Musset
The 'Third of May'
Statue of Henry IV
Jasmin's Ode in Gascon approved
A Corporal in the National Guard
Letter to Beranger
His Reply
'Mes Souvenirs'
Recollections of his past Life
Nodier's Eulogy
Lines on the Banished Poles
Saint-Beuve on Jasmin's Poems
Second Volume of the 'Papillotos' published
Interview with Paul de Musset
CHAPTER VII. 'The Blind Girl of Castel-cuille'
A Poetical Legend
Translated into English by Lady Georgiana Fullerton and
Description of Castel-cuille
The Story of Marguerite
The Bridal Procession to Saint-Amans
Presence of Marguerite
Her Death
The Poem first recited at Bordeaux
Enthusiasm excited
Popularity of the Author
Fetes and Banquets
Declines to visit Paris
Picture of Mariette
A Wise and Sensible Wife
Private recitation of his Poems
A Happy Pair
Eloquence of Jasmin
CHAPTER VIII. Jasmin as Philanthropist.
Charity a Universal Duty
Want of Poor-Law in France
Appeals for Help in Times of Distress
Jasmin Recitations entirely Gratuitous
Famine in the Lot-et-Garonne
Composition of the Poem 'Charity'
Respect for the Law
Collection at Tonneins
Jasmin assailed by Deputations
His Reception in the Neighbouring Towns
Appearance at Bergerac
At Gontaud
At Damazan
His Noble Missions
CHAPTER IX. Jasmin's 'Franconnette'
Composition of the Poem
Expostulations of M. Dumon
Jasmin's Defence of the Gascon Dialect
Jasmin and Dante
'Franconnette' dedicated to Toulouse
Outline of the Story
Marshal Montluc
Castle of Estellac
Marcel and Pascal
The Buscou
'The Syren with a Heart of Ice'
The Sorcerer
Franconnette accursed
Festival on Easter Morning
The Crown Piece
Storm at Notre Dame
The Villagers determine to burn Franconnette
Her Deliverance and Marriage
CHAPTER X. Jasmin's at Toulouse.
'Franconnette' Recited first at Toulouse
Received with Acclamation
Academy of Jeux-Floraux
Jasmin Eloquent Declamation
The Fetes
Publication of 'Franconnette'
Sainte-Beuve's Criticism
M. de Lavergne
Charles Nodier
Testimonial to Jasmin
Mademoiselle Gaze
Death of Jasmin's Mother
Jasmin's Acknowledgment
Readings in the Cause of Charity
Increasing Reputation
CHAPTER XI. Jasmin's visit to Paris.
Visits Paris with his Son
Wonders of Paris
Countries Cousins
Letters to Agen
Visit to Sainte-Beuve
Charles Nodier, Jules Janin
Landlord of Jasmin's Hotel
Recitation before Augustin Thierry and Members of the Academy
Career of the Historian
His Blindness
His Farewell to Literature
CHAPTER XII. Jasmin's recitations in Paris.
Assembly at Augustin Thierry's
The 'Blind Girl' Recited
The Girl's Blindness
Interruptions of Thierry
Ampere Observation
Jasmin's love of Applause
Interesting Conversation
Fetes at Paris
Visit to Louis Philippe and the Duchess of Orleans
Recitals before the Royal Family
Souvenirs of the Visit
Banquet of Barbers and Hair-dressers
M. Chateaubriand
Return to Agen
CHAPTER XIII. Jasmin's and his English critics.
Translation of his Poems
The Athenoeum
Miss Costello's Visit to Jasmin
Her Description of the Poet
His Recitations
Her renewed Visit
A Pension from the King
Proposed Journey to England
The Westminster Review
Angus B. Reach's Interview with Jasmin
His Description of the Poet
His Charitable Collections for the Poor
Was he Quixotic?
His Vivid Conversation
His Array of Gifts
The Dialect in which he Composes
CHAPTER XIV. Jasmin's tours of philanthropy
Appeals from the Poor and Distressed
His Journeys to remote places
The Orphan Institute of Bordeaux
'The Shepherd and the Gascon Poet'
The Orphan's Gratitude
Helps to found an Agricultural Colony
Jasmin Letter
His Numerous Engagements
Society of Arts and Literature
His Strength of Constitution
At Marseilles
At Auch
Refusal to shave a Millionaire
Mademoiselle Roaldes
Jasmin Cheerful Help
Their Tour in the South of France
At Marseilles again
Gratitude of Mademoiselle Roaldes
Reboul at Nimes
Dumas and Chateaubriand
Letters from Madame Lafarge
CHAPTER XV. Jasmin's Vineyard--'Martha the Innocent'
Jasmin buys a little Vineyard, his 'Papilloto'
'Ma Bigno' dedicated to Madame Veill
Description of the Vineyard
The Happiness it Confers
M. Rodiere, Toulouse
Jasmin's Slowness in Composition
A Golden Medal struck in his Honour
A Pension Awarded him
Made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour
Serenades in the Gravier
Honour from Pope Pius IX
'Martha the Innocent'
Description of the Narrative
Jasmin and Martha
Another Visit to Toulouse
The Banquet
Dax, Gers, Condon
Challenge of Peyrottes
Jasmin's Reply
His further Poems
'La Semaine d'um Fil' described
Dedicated to Lamartine
His Reply
CHAPTER XVI. The Priest without a Church.
Ruin of the Church at Vergt
Description of Vergt
Jasmin Appealed to for Help
The Abbe and Poet
Meeting at Perigueux
Fetes and Banquets
Montignac, Sarlat, Nontron, Bergerac
Consecration of the Church
Cardinal Gousset
Jasmin's Poem
'A Priest without a Church'
Assailed by Deputations
St. Vincent de paul
A Priest and his Parishioners
The Church of Vergt again
Another Tour for Offerings
Creche at Bordeaux
Revolution of 1848
Abbe and Poet recommence their Journeys
Jasmin invited to become a Deputy
Declines, and pursues his Career of Charity
CHAPTER XVII. The Church of Vergt again--French Academy--
Emperor and Empress
Renewed Journeys Journeys for Church of Vergt
A Troupe of poor Comedians Helped
Towns in the South
Jasmin's Bell-Tower erected
The French Academy
M. Villemain to Jasmin
M. de Montyon's Prize
M. Ancelo to Jasmin
Visit Paris again
Monseigneur Sibour
Banquet by Les Deux Mondes Reviewers
Marquise de Barthelemy, described in 'Chambers' Journal
Description of Jasmin and the Entertainment
Jasmin and the French Academy
Visit to Louis Napoleon
Intercedes for return of M. Baze
Again Visits Paris
Louis Napoleon Emperor, and Empress Eugenie
The Interview
M. Baze Restored to his Family at Agen
The Church of Vergt Finished, with Jasmin Bells
CHAPTER XVIII. Jasmin enrolled Maitre-es-Jeux at toulouse
--crowned by Agen
Jasmin invited to Toulouse
Enrolled as Maitre-es-Jeux
The Ceremony in the Salle des Illustres
Jasmin acknowledgment
The Crowd in the Place de Capitol
Agen awards him a Crown of Gold
Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
The Committee
Construction of the Crown
The Public Meeting
Address of M. Noubel, Deputy
Jasmin's Poem, 'The Crown of My Birthplace'
CHAPTER XIX. Last poems--more missions of charity
His 'New Recollections'
Journey to Albi and Castera
Montignac, Saint Macaire
Saint Andre, Monsegur
Recitation at Arcachon
Societies of Mutual Help
'Imitation of Christ' Testimony from Bishop of Saint Flour
Jasmin's Self-denial
Collects about a Million and a half of Francs for the Poor
Expenses of his Journey of fifty Days
His Faithful Record
Jasmin at Rodez
His last Recital at Villeneuve-sur-Lot
CHAPTER XX. Death of Jasmin--his character.
Jasmin's Illness from Overwork and Fatigue
Last Poem to Renan
Receives the Last Sacrament
Takes Leave of his Wife
His Death, at Sixty-five
His Public Funeral
The Ceremony
M. Noubel, Deputy; Capot and Magen
Inauguration of Bronze Statue
Character of Jasmin
His Love of Truth
His Fellow-Feeling for the Poor
His Pride in Agen
His Loyalty and Patience
Charity his Heroic Programme
His long Apostolate
Jasmin Defence of the Gascon Dialect
The Mason's Son
The Poor Man's Doctor
My Vineyard
My attention was first called to the works of the poet Jasmin by
the eulogistic articles which appeared in the Revue des Deux
Mondes, by De Mazade, Nodier, Villemain, and other well-known
I afterwards read the articles by Sainte-Beuve, perhaps the
finest critic of French literature, on the life and history of
Jasmin, in his 'Portraits Contemporains' as well as his
admirable article on the same subject, in the 'Causeries du
While Jasmin was still alive, a translation was published by the
American poet Longfellow, of 'The Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille,'
perhaps the best of Jasmin's poems. In his note to the
translation, Longfellow said that "Jasmin, the author of this
beautiful poem, is to the South of France what Burns is to the
South of Scotland, the representative of the heart of the people;
one of those happy bards who are born with their mouths
full of birds (la bouco pleno d'aouvelous). He has written his
own biography in a poetic form, and the simple narrative of his
poverty, his struggles, and his triumphs, is very touching.
He still lives at Agen, on the Garonne; and long may he live
there to delight his native land with native songs."
I had some difficulty in obtaining Jasmin's poems; but at length
I received them from his native town of Agen. They consisted of
four volumes octavo, though they were still incomplete. But a
new edition has since been published, in 1889, which was
heralded by an interesting article in the Paris Figaro.
While at Royat, in 1888, I went across the country to Agen,
the town in which Jasmin was born, lived, and died. I saw the
little room in which he was born, the banks of the Garonne which
sounded so sweetly in his ears, the heights of the Hermitage
where he played when a boy, the Petite Seminaire in which he was
partly educated, the coiffeur's shop in which he carried on his
business as a barber and hair-dresser, and finally his tomb in
the cemetery where he was buried with all the honours that his
towns-fellows could bestow upon him.
From Agen I went south to Toulouse, where I saw the large room
in the Museum in which Jasmin first recited his poem of
'Franconnette'; and the hall in the Capitol, where the poet was
hailed as The Troubadour, and enrolled member of the Academy of
Jeux Floraux--perhaps the crowning event of his life.
In the Appendix to this memoir I have endeavoured to give
translations from some of Jasmin's poems. Longfellow's
translation of 'The Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille' has not been
given, as it has already been published in his poems, which are
in nearly every library. In those which have been given, I have
in certain cases taken advantage of the translations by Miss
Costello Miss Preston (of Boston, U.S.), and the Reverend Mr.
Craig, D.D., for some time Rector of Kinsale, Ireland.
It is, however, very difficult to translate French poetry into
English. The languages, especially the Gascon, are very unlike
French as well as English. Hence Villemain remarks, that "every
translation must virtually be a new creation." But, such as they
are, I have endeavoured to translate the poems as literally as
possible. Jasmin's poetry is rather wordy, and requires
condensation, though it is admirably suited for recitation.
When other persons recited his poems, they were not successful;
but when Jasmin recited, or rather acted them, they were always
received with enthusiasm.
There was a special feature in Jasmin's life which was
altogether unique. This was the part which he played in the
South of France as a philanthropist. Where famine or hunger made
its appearance amongst the poor people--where a creche,
or orphanage, or school, or even a church, had to be helped and
supported Jasmin was usually called upon to assist with his
recitations. He travelled thousands of miles for such purposes,
during which he collected about 1,500,000 francs, and gave the
whole of this hard-earned money over to the public charities,
reserving nothing for himself except the gratitude of the poor
and needy. And after his long journeyings were over, he quietly
returned to pursue his humble occupation at Agen. Perhaps there
is nothing like this in the history of poetry or literature.
For this reason, the character of the man as a philanthropist is
even more to be esteemed than his character as a poet and
a song-writer.
The author requests the indulgence of the reader with respect to
the translations of certain poems given in the Appendix.
The memoir of Jasmin must speak for itself.
London, Nov. 1891.
Agen is an important town in the South of France, situated on
the right bank of the Garonne, about eighty miles above Bordeaux.
The country to the south of Agen contains some of the most
fertile land in France. The wide valley is covered with
vineyards, orchards, fruit gardens, and corn-fields.
The best panoramic view of Agen and the surrounding country is
to be seen from the rocky heights on the northern side of the
town. A holy hermit had once occupied a cell on the ascending
cliffs; and near it the Convent of the Hermitage has since been
erected. Far underneath are seen the red-roofed houses of the
town, and beyond them the green promenade of the Gravier.
From the summit of the cliffs the view extends to a great
distance along the wide valley of the Garonne, covered with
woods, vineyards, and greenery. The spires of village churches
peep up here and there amongst the trees; and in the far
distance, on a clear day, are seen the snow-capped peaks of the
Three bridges connect Agen with the country to the west of the
Garonne--the bridge for ordinary traffic, a light and elegant
suspension bridge, and a bridge of twenty-three arches which
carries the lateral canal to the other side of the river.
The town of Agen itself is not particularly attractive.
The old streets are narrow and tortuous, paved with pointed
stones; but a fine broad street--the Rue de la Republique--has
recently been erected through the heart of the old town, which
greatly adds to the attractions of the place. At one end of
this street an ideal statue of the Republic has been erected,
and at the other end a life-like bronze statue of the famous
poet Jasmin.
This statue to Jasmin is the only one in the town erected to an
individual. Yet many distinguished persons have belonged to Agen
and the neighbourhood who have not been commemorated in any
form. Amongst these were Bernard Palissy, the famous potter[1];
Joseph J. Scaliger, the great scholar and philologist;
and three distinguished naturalists, Boudon de Saint-Aman,
Bory de Saint-Vincent, and the Count de Lacepede.
The bronze statue of Jasmin stands in one of the finest sites in
Agen, at one end of the Rue de la Republique, and nearly
opposite the little shop in which he carried on his humble trade
of a barber and hairdresser. It represents the poet standing,
with his right arm and hand extended, as if in the act of
How the fame of Jasmin came to be commemorated by a statue
erected in his native town by public subscription, will be found
related in the following pages. He has told the story of his
early life in a bright, natural, and touching style, in one of
his best poems, entitled, "My Recollections" (Mes Souvenirs),
written in Gascon; wherein he revealed his own character with
perfect frankness, and at the same time with exquisite
Several of Jasmin's works have been translated into English,
especially his "Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille, by Longfellow and
Lady Georgina Fullerton. The elegant translation by Longfellow
is so well known that it is unnecessary to repeat it in the
appendix to this volume. But a few other translations of
Jasmin's works have been given, to enable the reader to form
some idea of his poetical powers.
Although Jasmin's recitations of his poems were invariably
received with enthusiastic applause by his quick-spirited
audiences in the South of France, the story of his life will
perhaps be found more attractive to English readers than any
rendering of his poems, however accurate, into a language
different from his own. For poetry, more than all forms of
literature, loses most by translation--especially from Gascon
into English. Villemain, one of the best of critics, says:
"Toute traduction en vers est une autre creation que l'original."
We proceed to give an account--mostly from his own Souvenirs
--of the early life and boyhood of Jasmin. The eighteenth
century, old, decrepit, and vicious, was about to come to an
end, when in the corner of a little room haunted by rats, a
child, the subject of this story, was born. It was on the
morning of Shrove Tuesday, the 6th of March, 1798,--just as
the day had flung aside its black night-cap, and the morning sun
was about to shed its rays upon the earth,--that this son of a
crippled mother and a humpbacked tailor first saw the light.
The child was born in a house situated in one of the old streets
of Agen--15 Rue Fon-de-Rache--not far from the shop on the
Gravier where Jasmin afterwards carried on the trade of a barber
and hairdresser.
"When a prince is born," said Jasmin in his Souvenirs,
"his entrance into the world is saluted with rounds of cannon,
but when I, the son of a poor tailor made my appearance, I was
not saluted even with the sound of a popgun." Yet Jasmin was
afterwards to become a king of hearts! A Charivari was, however,
going on in front of a neighbour's door, as a nuptial serenade
on the occasion of some unsuitable marriage; when the clamour of
horns and kettles, marrow-bones and cleavers, saluted the
mother's ears, accompanied by thirty burlesque verses, the
composition of the father of the child who had just been born.
Jacques Jasmin was only one child amongst many. The parents had
considerable difficulty in providing for the wants of the family,
in food as well as clothing. Besides the father's small earnings
as a tailor of the lowest standing, the mother occasionally
earned a little money as a laundress. A grandfather, Boe, formed
one of the family group. He had been a soldier, but was now too
old to serve in the ranks, though France was waging war in Italy
and Austria under her new Emperor. Boe, however, helped to earn
the family living, by begging with his wallet from door to door.
Jasmin describes the dwelling in which this poor family lived.
It was miserably furnished. The winds blew in at every corner.
There were three ragged beds; a cupboard, containing a few bits
of broken plates; a stone bottle; two jugs of cracked
earthenware; a wooden cup broken at the edges; a rusty
candlestick, used when candles were available; a small
half-black looking-glass without a frame, held against the wall
by three little nails; four broken chairs; a closet without a
key; old Boe's suspended wallet; a tailor's board, with clippings
of stuff and patched-up garments; such were the contents of the
house, the family consisting in all of nine persons.
It is well that poor children know comparatively little of their
miserable bringings-up. They have no opportunity of contrasting
their life and belongings with those of other children more
richly nurtured. The infant Jasmin slept no less soundly in his
little cot stuffed with larks' feathers than if he had been laid
on a bed of down. Then he was nourished by his mother's milk,
and he grew, though somewhat lean and angular, as fast as any
king's son. He began to toddle about, and made acquaintances
with the neighbours' children.
After a few years had passed, Jasmin, being a spirited fellow,
was allowed to accompany his father at night in the concerts of
rough music. He placed a long paper cap on his head, like a
French clown, and with a horn in his hand he made as much noise,
and played as many antics, as any fool in the crowd. Though the
tailor could not read, he usually composed the verses for the
Charivari; and the doggerel of the father, mysteriously
fructified, afterwards became the seed of poetry in the son.
The performance of the Charivari was common at that time in the
South of France. When an old man proposed to marry a maiden less
than half his age, or when an elderly widow proposed to marry a
man much younger than herself, or when anything of a
heterogeneous kind occurred in any proposed union, a terrible
row began. The populace assembled in the evening of the day on
which the banns had been first proclaimed, and saluted the happy
pair in their respective houses with a Charivari. Bells, horns,
pokers and tongs, marrow-bones and cleavers, or any thing that
would make a noise, was brought into requisition, and the noise
thus made, accompanied with howling recitations of the Charivari,
made the night positively hideous.
The riot went on for several evenings; and when the wedding-day
arrived, the Charivarists, with the same noise and violence,
entered the church with the marriage guests; and at night they
besieged the house of the happy pair, throwing into their
windows stones, brickbats, and every kind of missile.
Such was their honeymoon!
This barbarous custom has now fallen entirely into disuse.
If attempted to be renewed, it is summarily put down by the
police, though it still exists among the Basques as a Toberac.
It may also be mentioned that a similar practice once prevailed
in Devonshire described by the Rev. S. Baring Gould in his "Red
Spider." It was there known as the Hare Hunt, or
The tailor's Charivaris brought him in no money.
They did not increase his business; in fact, they made him many
enemies. His uncouth rhymes did not increase his mending of old
clothes. However sharp his needle might be, his children's teeth
were still sharper; and often they had little enough to eat.
The maintenance of the family mainly depended on the mother,
and the wallet of grandfather Boe.
The mother, poor though she was, had a heart of gold under her
serge gown. She washed and mended indefatigably. When she had
finished her washing, the children, so soon as they could walk,
accompanied her to the willows along the banks of the Garonne,
where the clothes were hung out to dry. There they had at least
the benefit of breathing fresh and pure air. Grandfather Boe was
a venerable old fellow. He amused the children at night with his
stories of military life--
"Wept o'er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done,
Shouldered his crutch, and showed how fields were won."
During the day he carried his wallet from door to door in Agen,
or amongst the farmhouses in the neighbourhood; and when he came
home at eve he emptied his wallet and divided the spoil amongst
the family. If he obtained, during his day's journey, some more
succulent morsel than another, he bestowed it upon his grandson
Jacques, whom he loved most dearly.
Like all healthy boys, young Jasmin's chief delight was in the
sunshine and the open air. He also enjoyed the pleasures of
fellowship and the happiness of living. Rich and poor, old and
young, share in this glorified gladness. Jasmin had as yet
known no sorrow. His companions were poor boys like himself.
They had never known any other condition.
Just as the noontide bells began to ring, Jasmin set out with a
hunch of bread in his hand--perhaps taken from his grandfather's
wallet--to enjoy the afternoon with his comrades. Without cap
or shoes he sped' away. The sun was often genial, and he never
bethought him of cold. On the company went, some twenty or
thirty in number, to gather willow faggots by the banks of the
"Oh, how my soul leapt!" he exclaimed in his Souvenirs,
"when we all set out together at mid-day, singing. 'The Lamb
whom Thou hast given me,' a well known carol in the south.
The very recollection of that pleasure even now enchants me.
'To the Island--to the Island!' shouted the boldest, and then we
made haste to wade to the Island, each to gather together our
little bundle of fagots."
The rest of the vagrants' time was spent in play. They ascended
the cliff towards the grotto of Saint John. They shared in many
a contest. They dared each other to do things--possible and
impossible. There were climbings of rocks, and daring leaps,
with many perils and escapades, according to the nature of boys
at play. At length, after becoming tired, there was the return
home an hour before nightfall. And now the little fellows
tripped along; thirty fagot bundles were carried on thirty heads;
and the thirty sang, as on setting out, the same carol,
with the same refrain.
Jasmin proceeds, in his Souvenirs, to describe with great zest
and a wonderful richness of local colour, the impromptu fetes in
which he bore a part; his raids upon the cherry and plum
orchards--for the neighbourhood of Agen is rich in plum-trees,
and prunes are one of the principal articles of commerce in the
district. Playing at soldiers was one of Jasmin's favourite
amusements; and he was usually elected Captain.
"I should need," he says, "a hundred trumpets to celebrate all
my victories." Then he describes the dancing round the bonfires,
and the fantastic ceremonies connected with the celebration of
St. John's Eve.
Agen is celebrated for its fairs. In the month of June, one of
the most important fairs in the South of France is held on the
extensive promenade in front of the Gravier. There Jasmin went
to pick up any spare sous by holding horses or cattle,
or running errands, or performing any trifling commission for the
farmers or graziers. When he had filled to a slight extent his
little purse, he went home at night and emptied the whole
contents into his mother's hand. His heart often sank as she
received his earnings with smiles and tears. "Poor child,"
she would say, "your help comes just in time." Thus the bitter
thought of poverty and the evidences of destitution were always
near at hand.
In the autumn Jasmin went gleaning in the cornfields, for it was
his greatest pleasure to bring home some additional help for the
family needs. In September came the vintage--the gathering in
and pressing of the grapes previous to their manufacture into
wine. The boy was able, with his handy helpfulness, to add a
little more money to the home store. Winter followed, and the
weather became colder. In the dearth of firewood, Jasmin was
fain to preserve his bodily heat, notwithstanding his ragged
clothes, by warming himself by the sun in some sheltered nook so
long as the day lasted; or he would play with his companions,
being still buoyed up with the joy and vigour of youth.
When the stern winter set in, Jasmin spent his evenings in the
company of spinning-women and children, principally for the sake
of warmth. A score or more of women, with their children,
assembled in a large room, lighted by a single antique lamp
suspended from the ceiling. The women had distaffs and heavy
spindles, by means of which they spun a kind of coarse
pack-thread, which the children wound up, sitting on stools at
their feet. All the while some old dame would relate the
old-world ogreish stories of Blue Beard, the Sorcerer, or the
Loup Garou, to fascinate the ears and trouble the dreams of the
young folks. It was here, no doubt, that Jasmin gathered much of
the traditionary lore which he afterwards wove into his poetical
Jasmin had his moments of sadness. He was now getting a big
fellow, and his mother was anxious that he should receive some
little education. He had not yet been taught to read; he had not
even learnt his A B C. The word school frightened him. He could
not bear to be shut up in a close room--he who had been
accustomed to enjoy a sort of vagabond life in the open air.
He could not give up his comrades, his playing at soldiers,
and his numerous escapades.
The mother, during the hum of her spinning-wheel, often spoke in
whispers to grandfather Boe of her desire to send the boy to
school. When Jasmin overheard their conversation, he could
scarcely conceal his tears. Old Boe determined to do what he
could. He scraped together his little savings, and handed them
over to the mother. But the money could not then be used for
educating Jasmin; it was sorely needed for buying bread.
Thus the matter lay over for a time.
The old man became unable to go out of doors to solicit alms.
Age and infirmity kept him indoors. He began to feel himself a
burden on the impoverished family. He made up his mind to rid
them of the incumbrance, and desired the parents to put him into
the family arm-chair and have him carried to the hospital.
Jasmin has touchingly told the incident of his removal.
"It happened on a Monday," he says in his Souvenirs: "I was then
ten years old. I was playing in the square with my companions,
girded about with a wooden sword, and I was king; but suddenly a
dreadful spectacle disturbed my royalty. I saw an old man in an
arm-chair borne along by several persons. The bearers approached
still nearer, when I recognised my afflicted grandfather.
'O God,' said I, 'what do I see? My old grandfather surrounded
by my family.' In my grief I saw only him. I ran up to him in
tears, threw myself on his neck and kissed him.
"In returning my embrace, he wept. 'O grandfather,' said I,
'where are you going? Why do you weep? Why are you leaving our
home?' 'My child,' said the old man, 'I am going to the
hospital,[2] where all the Jasmins die.' He again embraced me,
closed his eyes, and was carried away. We followed him for some
time under the trees. I abandoned my play, and returned home
full of sorrow."
Grandfather Boe did not survive long in the hospital. He was
utterly worn out. After five days the old man quietly breathed
his last. His wallet was hung upon its usual nail in his former
home, but it was never used again. One of the bread-winners had
departed, and the family were poorer than ever.
"On that Monday," says Jasmin, "I for the first time knew and
felt that we were very poor."
All this is told with marvellous effect in the first part of the
Souvenirs, which ends with a wail and a sob.
Footnotes to Chapter I.
[1] It is stated in the Bibliographie Generale de l'Agenais,
that Palissy was born in the district of Agen, perhaps at
La Chapelle Biron, and that, being a Huguenot, he was imprisoned
in the Bastille at Paris, and died there in 1590, shortly after
the massacre of St. Bartholomew. But Palissy seems to have been
born in another town, not far from La Chapelle Biron. The Times
of the 7th July, 1891, contained the following paragraph:--
"A statue of Bernard Palissy was unveiled yesterday at
Villeneuvesur-Lot, his native town, by M. Bourgeois, Minister of
[2] L'hopital means an infirmary or almshouse for old and
impoverished people.
One joyful day Jasmin's mother came home in an ecstasy of
delight, and cried, "To school, my child, to school!"
"To school?" said Jasmin, greatly amazed. "How is this?
Have we grown rich?" "No, my poor boy, but you will get your
schooling for nothing. Your cousin has promised to educate you;
come, come, I am so happy!" It was Sister Boe, the
schoolmistress of Agen, who had offered to teach the boy
gratuitously the elements of reading and writing.
The news of Jacques' proposed scholarship caused no small stir
at home. The mother was almost beside herself with joy.
The father too was equally moved, and shed tears of gratitude.
He believed that the boy might yet be able to help him in writing
out, under his dictation, the Charivari impromptus which,
he supposed, were his chief forte. Indeed, the whole family
regarded this great stroke of luck for Jacques in the light of a
special providence, and as the beginning of a brilliant destiny.
The mother, in order to dress him properly, rummaged the house,
and picked out the least mended suit of clothes, in which to
array the young scholar.
When properly clothed, the boy, not without fear on his own
part, was taken by his mother to school.
Behold him, then, placed under the tuition of Sister Boe!
There were some fifty other children at school, mumbling at the
letters of the alphabet, and trying to read their first easy
sentences. Jasmin had a good memory, and soon mastered the
difficulties of the A B C. "'Twixt smiles and tears," he says,
"I soon learnt to read, by the help of the pious Sister."
In six months he was able to enter the Seminary in the Rue
Montesquieu as a free scholar. He now served at Mass. Having a
good ear for music ,he became a chorister, and sang the Tantum
ergo. He was a diligent boy, and so far everything prospered
well with him. He even received a prize. True, it was only an
old cassock, dry as autumn heather. But, being trimmed up by his
father, it served to hide his ragged clothes beneath.
His mother was very proud of the cassock. "Thank God," she said,
"thou learnest well; and this is the reason why, each Tuesday,
a white loaf comes from the Seminary. It is always welcome,
for the sake of the hungry little ones." "Yes," he replied,
"I will try my best to be learned for your sake." But Jasmin
did not long wear the cassock. He was shortly after turned out
of the Seminary, in consequence of a naughty trick which he
played upon a girl of the household.
Jasmin tells the story of his expulsion with great frankness,
though evidently ashamed of the transaction. He was passing
through the inner court one day, during the Shrove Carnival,
when, looking up, he caught sight of a petticoat. He stopped and
gazed. A strange tremor crept through his nerves. What evil
spirit possessed him to approach the owner of the petticoat?
He looked up again, and recognised the sweet and rosy-cheeked
Catherine--the housemaid of the Seminary. She was perched near
the top of a slim ladder leaning against the wall, standing
upright, and feeding the feathery-footed pigeons.
A vision flashed through Jasmin's mind--"a life all velvet,"
as he expressed it,--and he approached the ladder. He climbed
up a few steps, and what did he see? Two comely ankles and two
pretty little feet. His heart burned within him, and he breathed
a loud sigh. The girl heard the sigh, looked down, and huddled
up the ladder, crying piteously. The ladder was too slim to bear
two. It snapped and fell, and they tumbled down, she above and
he below!
The loud screams of the girl brought all the household to the
spot--the Canons, the little Abbe, the cook, the scullion--
indeed all the inmates of the Seminary. Jasmin quaintly remarks,
"A girl always likes to have the sins known that she has caused
others to commit." But in this case, according to Jasmin's own
showing, the girl was not to blame. The trick which he played
might be very innocent, but to the assembled household it seemed
very wicked. He must be punished.
First, he had a terrible wigging from the master; and next,
he was sentenced to imprisonment during the rest of the Carnival.
In default of a dungeon, they locked him in a dismal little
chamber, with some bread and water. Next day, Shrove Tuesday,
while the Carnival was afoot, Jasmin felt very angry and very
hungry. "Who sleeps eats," says the proverb. "But," said
Jasmin, "the proverb lies: I did not sleep, and was consumed by
hunger." Then he filled up the measure of his iniquity by
breaking into a cupboard!
It happened that the Convent preserves were kept in the room
wherein he was confined. Their odour attracted him, and he
climbed up, by means of a table and chair, to the closet in
which they were stored. He found a splendid pot of preserves.
He opened it; and though he had no spoon, he used his fingers and
soon emptied the pot. What a delicious treat he enjoyed enough
to make him forget the pleasures of the Carnival.
Jasmin was about to replace the empty pot, when he heard the
click-clack of a door behind him. He looked round, and saw the
Superior, who had unlocked the door, and come to restore the boy
to liberty. Oh, unhappy day! When the Abbe found the prisoner
stealing his precious preserves, he became furious. "What!
plundering my sweetmeats?" he cried. "Come down, sirrah, come
down! no pardon for you now." He pulled Jasmin from his chair
and table, and the empty jar fell broken at his feet. "Get out,
get out of this house, thou imp of hell!" And taking Jasmin by
the scruff of the neck, he thrust him violently out of the door
and into the street.
But worse was yet to come. When the expelled scholar reached the
street, his face and mouth were smeared with jam. He was like a
blackamoor. Some urchins who encountered him on his homeward
route, surmised that his disguise was intended as a masque for
the Carnival. He ran, and they pursued him. The mob of boys
increased, and he ran the faster. At last he reached his
father's door, and rushed in, half dead with pain, hunger,
and thirst. The family were all there--father, mother,
and children.
They were surprised and astonished at his sudden entrance.
After kissing them all round, he proceeded to relate his
adventures at the Seminary. He could not tell them all, but he
told enough. His narrative was received with dead silence.
But he was thirsty and hungry. He saw a pot of kidney-bean
porridge hanging over the fire, and said he would like to allay
his hunger by participating in their meal. But alas!
The whole of it had been consumed. The pot was empty, and yet
the children were not satisfied with their dinner. "Now I know,"
said the mother, "why no white bread has come from the Seminary."
Jasmin was now greatly distressed. "Accursed sweetmeats,"
he thought. "Oh! what a wretch I am to have caused so much
misery and distress."
The children had eaten only a few vegetables; and now there was
another mouth to fill. The fire had almost expired for want of
fuel. The children had no bread that day, for the Seminary loaf
had not arrived. What were they now to do? The mother suffered
cruel tortures in not being able to give her children bread,
especially on the home-coming of her favourite scapegrace.
At last, after glancing at her left hand, she rose suddenly.
She exclaimed in a cheerful voice, "Wait patiently until my
return." She put her Sunday kerchief on her head, and departed.
In a short time she returned, to the delight of the children,
with a loaf of bread under her arm. They laughed and sang, and
prepared to enjoy their feast, though it was only of bread. The
mother apparently joined in their cheerfulness, though a sad pain
gnawed at her heart. Jasmin saw his mother hide her hand;
but when it was necessary for her to cut the loaf, after making
the cross according to custom, he saw that the ring on her left
hand had disappeared. "Holy Cross," he thought, "it is true that
she has sold her wedding-ring to buy bread for her children."
This was a sad beginning of life for the poor boy. He was now
another burden on the family. Old Boe had gone, and could no
longer help him with his savoury morsels. He was so oppressed
with grief, that he could no longer play with his comrades as
before. But Providence again came to his aid. The good Abbe
Miraben heard the story of his expulsion from the Seminary.
Though a boy may be tricky he cannot be perfect, and the priest
had much compassion on him. Knowing Jasmin's abilities, and the
poverty of his parents, the Abbe used his influence to obtain an
admission for him to one of the town's schools, where he was
again enabled to carry on his education.
The good Abbe was helpful to the boy in many ways. One evening,
when Jasmin was on his way to the Augustins to read and recite
to the Sisters, he was waylaid by a troop of his old playfellows.
They wished him to accompany them to the old rendezvous in the
square; but he refused, because he had a previous engagement.
The boys then began to hustle him, and proceeded to tear off
his tattered clothes. He could only bend his head before his
assailants, but never said a word.
At length his good friend Miraben came up and rescued him.
He drove away the boys, and said to Jasmin, "Little one, don't
breathe a word; your mother knows nothing. They won't torment
you long! Take up thy clothes," he said. "Come, poverty is not
a crime. Courage! Thou art even rich. Thou hast an angel on
high watching over thee. Console thyself, brave child, and
nothing more will happen to vex thee."
The encouragement of the Abbe proved prophetic. No more troubles
of this kind afflicted the boy.
The aged priest looked after the well-being of himself and
family. He sent them bread from time to time, and kept the wolf
from their door. Meanwhile Jasmin did what he could to help them
at home. During the vintage time he was well employed; and also
at fair times. He was a helpful boy, and was always willing to
oblige friends and neighbours.
But the time arrived when he must come to some determination as
to his future calling in life. He was averse to being a tailor,
seeing the sad results of his father's trade at home.
After consultation with his mother, he resolved on becoming a
barber and hairdresser. Very little capital was required for
carrying on that trade; only razors, combs, and scissors.
Long after, when Jasmin was a comparatively thriving man,
he said: "Yes, I have eaten the bread of charity; most of my
ancestors died at the hospital; my mother pledged her nuptial
ring to buy a loaf of bread. All this shows how much misery we
had to endure, the frightful picture of which I have placed in
the light of day in my Souvenirs. But I am afraid of wearying
the public, as I do not wish to be accused of aiming too much at
contrasts. For when we are happy, perfectly happy, there is
nothing further from what I am, and what I have been, as to make
me fear for any such misconstruction on the part of my hearers."
Jasmin was sixteen years old when he was apprenticed to a barber
and hairdresser at Agen. The barber's shop was near the
Prefecture--the ancient palace of the Bishop. It was situated
at the corner of Lamoureux Street and the alley of the
Prefecture. There Jasmin learnt the art of cutting, curling,
and dressing hair, and of deftly using the comb and the razor.
The master gave him instructions in the trade, and watched him
while at work. Jasmin was willing and active, and was soon able
to curl and shave with any apprentice in Agen.
After the day's work was over, the apprentice retired to his
garret under the tiles. There he spent his evenings, and there
he slept at night. Though the garret was infested by rats,
he thought nothing of them; he had known them familiarly at home.
They did him no harm, and they even learnt to know him.
His garret became his paradise, for there he renewed his love of
reading. The solitariness of his life did him good, by throwing
his mind in upon himself, and showing the mental stuff of which
he was made. All the greatest and weightiest things have been
done in solitude.
The first books he read were for the most part borrowed.
Customers who came to the shop to be shaved or have their hair
dressed, took an interest in the conversation of the bright,
cheerful, dark-eyed lad, and some of them lent him books to
read. What joy possessed him when he took refuge in his garret
with a new book! Opening the book was like opening the door of a
new world. What enchantment! What mystery! What a wonderful
universe about us!
In reading a new book Jasmin forgot his impoverished boyhood,
his grandfather Boe and his death in the hospital, his expulsion
from the Seminary, and his mother's sale of her wedding-ring to
buy bread for her children. He had now left the past behind,
and a new world lay entrancingly before him. He read, and
thought, and dreamed, until far on in the morning.
The first books he read were of comparatively little importance,
though they furnished an opening into literature.
'The Children's Magazine'[1] held him in raptures for a time.
Some of his friendly customers lent him the 'Fables of Florian,'
and afterwards Florian's pastoral romance of 'Estelle'--perhaps
his best work. The singer of the Gardon entirely bewitched
Jasmin. 'Estelle' allured him into the rosy-fingered regions of
bliss and happiness. Then Jasmin himself began to rhyme.
Florian's works encouraged him to write his first verses in the
harmonious Gascon patois, to which he afterwards gave such
wonderful brilliancy.
In his after life Jasmin was often asked how and when he first
began to feel himself a poet. Some think that the poetical gift
begins at some fixed hour, just as one becomes a barrister,
a doctor, or a professor. But Jasmin could not give an answer.
"I have often searched into my past life," he said, "but I have
never yet found the day when I began my career of rhyming."[2]
There are certain gifts which men can never acquire by will and
work, if God has not put the seed of them into their souls at
birth; and poetry is one of those gifts.
When such a seed has been planted, its divine origin is shown by
its power of growth and expansion; and in a noble soul,
apparently insurmountable difficulties and obstacles cannot
arrest its development. The life and career of Jasmin amply
illustrates this truth. Here was a young man born in the depths
of poverty. In his early life he suffered the most cruel needs
of existence. When he became a barber's apprentice, he touched
the lowest rung of the ladder of reputation; but he had at least
learned the beginnings of knowledge.
He knew how to read, and when we know the twenty-four letters of
the alphabet, we may learn almost everything that we wish to
know. From that slight beginning most men may raise themselves
to the heights of moral and intellectual worth by a persevering
will and the faithful performance of duty.
At the same time it must be confessed that it is altogether
different with poetical genius. It is not possible to tell what
unforeseen and forgotten circumstances may have given the
initial impulse to a poetic nature. It is not the result of any
fortuitous impression, and still less of any act of the will.
It is possible that Jasmin may have obtained his first insight
into poetic art during his solitary evening walks along the
banks of the Garonne, or from the nightingales singing overhead,
or from his chanting in the choir when a child. Perhaps the
'Fables of Florian' kindled the poetic fire within him; at all
events they may have acted as the first stimulus to his art of
rhyming. They opened his mind to the love of nature, to the
pleasures of country life, and the joys of social intercourse.
There is nothing in the occupation of a barber incompatible with
the cultivation of poetry. Folez, the old German poet, was a
barber, as well as the still more celebrated Burchiello,
of Florence, whose sonnets are still admired because of the
purity of their style. Our own Allan Ramsay, author of 'The
Gentle Shepherd,' spent some of his early years in the same
In southern and Oriental life the barber plays an important
part. In the Arabian tales he is generally a shrewd, meddling,
inquisitive fellow. In Spain and Italy the barber is often the
one brilliant man in his town; his shop is the place where
gossip circulates, and where many a pretty intrigue is contrived.
Men of culture are often the friends of barbers. Buffon trusted
to his barber for all the news of Montbard. Moliere spent many
long and pleasant hours with the barber of Pezenas. Figaro, the
famous barber of Seville, was one of the most perfect prototypes
of his trade. Jasmin was of the same calling as Gil Bias,
inspired with the same spirit, and full of the same talent.
He was a Frenchman of the South, of the same race as Villon and
Even in the prim and formal society of the eighteenth century,
the barber occupied no unimportant part. He and the sculptor,
of all working men, were allowed to wear the sword--that
distinctive badge of gentility. In short, the barber was
regarded as an artist. Besides, barbers were in ancient times
surgeons; they were the only persons who could scientifically
"let blood." The Barber-Surgeons of London still represent the
class. They possess a cup presented to the Guild by Charles II.,
in commemoration of his escape while taking refuge in the
oak-tree at Boscobel.[3]
But to return to the adventures of Jasmin's early life.
He describes with great zest his first visit to a theatre.
It was situated near at hand, by the ancient palace of the
Bishop. After his day's work was over--his shaving, curling,
and hairdressing--he went across the square, and pressed in with
the rest of the crowd. He took his seat.
"'Heavens!' said he, 'where am I?' The curtain rises! 'Oh, this
is lovely! It is a new world; how beautifully they sing; and how
sweetly and tenderly they speak!' I had eyes for nothing else:
I was quite beside myself with joy. 'It is Cinderella,' I cried
aloud in my excitement. 'Be quiet,' said my neighbour. 'Oh,
sir! why quiet? Where are we? What is this?' 'You gaping
idiot,' he replied, 'this is the Comedy!'
"Jasmin now remained quiet; but he saw and heard with all his
eyes and ears. 'What love! what poetry!' he thought: 'it is more
than a dream! It's magic. O Cinderella, Cinderella! thou art my
guardian angel!'
And from this time, from day to day, I thought of being an
Jasmin entered his garret late at night; and he slept so
soundly, that next morning his master went up to rouse him.
"Where were you last night? Answer, knave; you were not back
till midnight?" "I was at the Comedy," answered Jasmin sleepily;
"it was so beautiful!" "You have been there then, and lost your
head. During the day you make such an uproar, singing and
declaiming. You, who have worn the cassock, should blush.
But I give you up; you will come to no good. Change, indeed!
You will give up the comb and razor, and become an actor!
Unfortunate boy, you must be blind. Do you want to die in the
"This terrible word," says Jasmin, "fell like lead upon my
heart, and threw me into consternation. Cinderella was forthwith
dethroned in my foolish mind; and my master's threat completely
calmed me. I went on faithfully with my work. I curled, and
plaited hair in my little room. As the saying goes, S'il ne
pleut, il bruine (If it does not rain, it drizzles). When I
suffered least, time passed all the quicker. It was then that,
dreaming and happy, I found two lives within me--one in my
daily work, another in my garret. I was like a bird; I warbled
and sang. What happiness I enjoyed in my little bed under the
tiles! I listened to the warbling of birds. Lo! the angel came,
and in her sweetest voice sang to me. Then I tried to make
verses in the language of the shepherd swain. Bright thoughts
came to me; great secrets were discovered. What hours!
What lessons! What pleasures I found under the tiles!"
During the winter evenings, when night comes on quickly,
Jasmin's small savings went to the oil merchant. He trimmed his
little lamp, and went on till late, reading and rhyming.
His poetical efforts, first written in French, were to a certain
extent successful. While shaving his customers, he often recited
to them his verses. They were amazed at the boy's cleverness,
and expressed their delight. He had already a remarkable talent
for recitation; and in course of time he became eloquent. It was
some time, however, before his powers became generally known.
The ladies whose hair he dressed, sometimes complained that
their curl papers were scrawled over with writing, and, when
opened out, they were found covered with verses.
The men whom he shaved spread his praises abroad. In so small a
town a reputation for verse-making soon becomes known.
"You can see me," he said to a customer, "with a comb in my hand,
and a verse in my head. I give you always a gentle hand with my
razor of velvet. My mouth recites while my hand works."
When Jasmin desired to display his oratorical powers, he went in
the evenings to the quarter of the Augustins, where the
spinning-women assembled, surrounded by their boys and girls.
There he related to them his pleasant narratives, and recited
his numerous verses.
Indeed, he even began to be patronized. His master addressed him
as "Moussu,"--the master who had threatened him with ending
his days in the hospital!
Thus far, everything had gone well with him. What with shaving,
hairdressing, and rhyming, two years soon passed away. Jasmin
was now eighteen, and proposed to start business on his own
account. This required very little capital; and he had already
secured many acquaintances who offered to patronize him.
M. Boyer d'Agen, who has recently published the works of Jasmin,
with a short preface and a bibliography,[4] says that he first
began business as a hairdresser in the Cour Saint-Antoine,
now the Cour Voltaire. When the author of this memoir was at
Agen in the autumn of 1888, the proprietor of the Hotel du Petit
St. Jean informed him that a little apartment had been placed at
Jasmin's disposal, separated from the Hotel by the entrance to
the courtyard, and that Jasmin had for a time carried on his
business there.
But desiring to have a tenement of his own, he shortly after
took a small house alongside the Promenade du Gravier; and he
removed and carried on his trade there for about forty years. The
little shop is still in existence, with Jasmin's signboard
over the entrance door: "Jasmin, coiffeur des Jeunes Gens,"
with the barber's sud-dish hanging from a pendant in front.
The shop is very small, with a little sitting-room behind,
and several bedrooms above. When I entered the shop during my
visit to Agen, I found a customer sitting before a looking-glass,
wrapped in a sheet, the lower part of his face covered with
lather, and a young fellow shaving his beard.
Jasmin's little saloon was not merely a shaving and a curling
shop. Eventually it became known as the sanctuary of the Muses.
It was visited by some of the most distinguished people in
France, and became celebrated throughout Europe. But this part
of the work is reserved for future chapters.
Footnotes to Chapter III.
[1] Magasin des Enfants.
[2] Mes Nouveaux Souvenirs.
[3] In England, some barbers, and barber's sons,
have eventually occupied the highest positions. Arkwright,
the founder of the cotton manufacture, was originally a barber.
Tenterden, Lord Chief Justice, was a barber's son, intended for
a chorister in Canterbury Cathedral. Sugden, afterwards Lord
Chancellor, was opposed by a noble lord while engaged in a
parliamentary contest. Replying to the allegation that he was
only the son of a country barber, Sugden said: "His Lordship has
told you that I am nothing but the son of a country barber;
but he has not told you all, for I have been a barber myself,
and worked in my father's shop,--and all I wish to say about that
is, that had his Lordship been born the son of a country barber,
he would have been a barber still!"
Essai d'orthographe gasconne d'apres les langues Romane et d'Oc,
et collation de la traduction litterale. Par Boyer d'Agen.
1889. Quatre volumes.
Jasmin was now a bright, vivid, and handsome fellow, a favourite
with men, women, and children. Of course, an attractive young
man, with a pleasant, comfortable home, could not long remain
single. At length love came to beautify his existence. "It was
for her sake," he says, "that I first tried to make verses in
the sweet patois which she spoke so well; verses in which I
asked her, in rather lofty phrases, to be my guardian angel for
Mariette[1] was a pretty dark-eyed girl. She was an old
companion of Jasmin's, and as they began to know each other
better, the acquaintance gradually grew into affection,
and finally into mutual love. She was of his own class of life,
poor and hardworking. After the day's work was over, they had
many a pleasant walk together on the summer evenings, along the
banks of the Garonne, or up the ascending road toward the
Hermitage and the rocky heights above the town. There they
pledged their vows; like a poet, he promised to love her for
ever. She believed him, and loved him in return. The rest may
be left to the imagination.
Jasmin still went on dreaming and rhyming! Mariette was a lovely
subject for his rhymes. He read his verses to her; and she could
not but be pleased with his devotion, even though recited in
verse. He scribbled his rhymes upon his curl-papers; and when he
had read them to his sweetheart, he used them to curl the hair
of his fair customers. When too much soiled by being written on
both sides, he tore them up; for as yet, he had not the
slightest idea of publishing his verses.
When the minds of the young pair were finally made up, their
further courtship did not last very long. They were willing to
be united.
"Happy's the wooing that's not long a-doing."
The wedding-day at length arrived! Jasmin does not describe his
bride's dress. But he describes his own. "I might give you,"
he says in his Souvenirs, "a picture of our happy nuptial day.
I might tell you at length of my newly dyed hat, my dress coat
with blue facings, and my home-spun linen shirt with calico
front. But I forbear all details. My godfather and godmother
were at the wedding. You will see that the purse did not always
respond to the wishes of the heart."
It is true that Jasmin's wedding-garment was not very sumptuous,
nor was his bride's; but they did the best that they could,
and looked forward with hope. Jasmin took his wife home to the
pleasant house on the Gravier; and joy and happiness sat down
with them at their own fireside. There was no Charivari, because
their marriage was suitable. Both had been poor, and the wife
was ready and willing to share the lot of her young husband,
whether in joy or sorrow. Their home was small and cosy--
very different from the rat-haunted house of his lame mother and
humpbacked father.
Customers came, but not very quickly. The barber's shop was
somewhat removed from the more populous parts of the town.
But when the customers did come, Jasmin treated them playfully
and humorously. He was as lively as any Figaro; and he became
such a favourite, that when his customers were shaved or had
their hair dressed, they invariably returned, as well as
recommended others to patronize the new coiffeur.
His little shop, which was at first nearly empty, soon became
fuller and fuller of customers. People took pleasure in coming
to the hair-dresser's shop, and hearing him recite his verses.
He sang, he declaimed, while plying his razor or his scissors.
But the chins and tresses of his sitters were in no danger from
his skipping about, for he deftly used his hands as well as his
head. His razor glistened lightly over the stubbly beards,
and his scissors clipped neatly over the locks of his customers.
Except when so engaged, he went on rhyming. In a little town,
gossip flies about quickly, and even gets into the local papers.
One day Jasmin read in one of the Agen journals, "Pegasus is a
beast that often carries poets to the hospital." Were the words
intended for him? He roared with laughter. Some gossip had
bewitched the editor. Perhaps he was no poet. His rhymes would
certainly never carry him to the hospital. Jasmin's business was
becoming a little more lucrative.. It is true his house was not
yet fully furnished, but day by day he was adding to the
plenishing. At all events his humble home protected him and his
wife from wind and weather.
On one occasion M. Gontaud, an amiable young poet, in a chaffing
way, addressed Jasmin as "Apollo!" in former times regarded as
the god of poetry and music. The epistle appeared in a local
journal. Jasmin read it aloud to his family. Gontaud alleged in
his poem that Apollo had met Jasmin's mother on the banks of the
Garonne, and fell in love with her; and that Jasmin, because of
the merits of his poetry, was their son.
Up flamed the old pair! "What, Catherine?" cried the old man,"
is it true that you have been a coquette? How! have I been only
the foster-father of thy little poet?" "No! No!" replied the
enraged mother; "he is all thine own! Console thyself, poor
John; thou alone hast been my mate. And who is this 'Pollo, the
humbug who has deceived thee so? Yes, I am lame, but when I was
washing my linen, if any coxcomb had approached me, I would have
hit him on the mouth with a stroke of my mallet!" "Mother,"
exclaimed the daughter, "'Pollo is only a fool, not worth
talking about; where does he live, Jacques?" Jasmin relished the
chaff, and explained that he only lived in the old mythology,
and had no part in human affairs. And thus was Apollo,
the ancient god of poetry and music, sent about his business.
Years passed on, the married pair settled down quietly,
and their life of happiness went on pleasantly. The honeymoon
had long since passed. Jasmin had married at twenty, and
Mariette was a year younger.
When a couple live together for a time, they begin to detect
some little differences of opinion. It is well if they do not
allow those little differences to end in a quarrel. This is
always a sad beginning of a married life.
There was one thing about her husband that Mariette did not like.
That was his verse-making. It was all very well in
courtship, but was it worth while in business? She saw him
scribbling upon curl-papers instead of attending to his
periwigs. She sometimes interrupted him while he was writing;
and on one occasion, while Jasmin was absent on business,
she went so far as to burn his pens and throw his ink into the
Jasmin was a good-natured man, but he did not like this
treatment. It was not likely to end in a quiet domestic life.
He expostulated, but it was of little use. He would not give up
his hobby. He went on rhyming, and in order to write down his
verses he bought new pens and a new bottle of ink. Perhaps he
felt the germs of poetic thought moving within him. His wife
resented his conduct. Why could he not attend to the shaving and
hair-dressing, which brought in money, instead of wasting his
time in scribbling verses on his curl-papers?
M. Charles Nodier, member of the French Academy, paid a visit to
Agen in 1832. Jasmin was then thirty-four years old. He had
been married fourteen years, but his name was quite unknown, save
to the people of Agen. It was well known in the town that he had
a talent for versification, for he was accustomed to recite and
chaunt his verses to his customers.
One quiet morning M. Nodier was taking a leisurely walk along
the promenade of the Gravier, when he was attracted by a loud
altercation going on between a man and a woman in the barber's
shop. The woman was declaiming with the fury of a Xantippe,
while the man was answering her with Homeric laughter. Nodier
entered the shop, and found himself in the presence of Jasmin
and his wife. He politely bowed to the pair, and said that he
had taken the liberty of entering to see whether he could not
establish some domestic concord between them.
"Is that all you came for?" asked the wife, at the same time
somewhat calmed by the entrance of a stranger. Jasmin
"Yes, my dear--certainly; but---" "Your wife is right, sir,"
said Nodier, thinking that the quarrel was about some debts he
had incurred.
"Truly, sir," rejoined Jasmin; "if you were a lover of poetry,
you would not find it so easy to renounce it."
"Poetry?" said Nodier; "I know a little about that myself."
"What!" replied Jasmin, "so much the better. You will be able to
help me out of my difficulties."
"You must not expect any help from me, for I presume you are
oppressed with debts."
"Ha, ha!" cried Jasmin, "it isn't debts, it's verses, Sir."
"Yes, indeed," said the wife, "it's verses, always verses!
Isn't it horrible?"
"Will you let me see what you have written?" asked Nodier,
turning to Jasmin.
"By all means, sir. Here is a specimen." The verses began:
"Femme ou demon, ange ou sylphide,
Oh! par pitie, fuis, laisse-moi!
Doux miel d'amour n'est que poison perfide,
Mon coeur a trop souffert, il dort, eloigne-toi.
"Je te l'ai dit, mon coeur sommeille;
Laisse-le, de ses maux a peine il est gueri,
Et j'ai peur que ta voix si douce a mon oreille
Par un chant d'amour ne l'eveille,
Lui, que l'amour a taut meurtri!"
This was only about a fourth part of the verses which Jasmin had
composed.[2] Nodier confessed that he was greatly pleased with
them. Turning round to the wife he said, "Madame, poetry knocks
at your door; open it. That which inspires it is usually a noble
heart and a distinguished spirit, incapable of mean actions.
Let your husband make his verses; it may bring you good luck
and happiness."
Then, turning to the poet, and holding out his hand, he asked,
"What is your name, my friend?"
"Jacques Jasmin," he timidly replied. "A good name," said
Nodier. "At the same time, while you give fair play to your
genius, don't give up the manufacture of periwigs, for this is
an honest trade, while verse-making might prove only a frivolous
Nodier then took his leave, but from that time forward Jasmin
and he continued the best of friends. A few years later, when
the first volume of the Papillotos appeared, Nodier published
his account of the above interview in Le Temps. He afterwards
announced in the Quotidienne the outburst of a new poet on the
banks of the Garonne--a poet full of piquant charm, of
inspired harmony--a Lamartine, a Victor Hugo, a Gascon Beranger!
After Nodier's departure, Madame Jasmin took a more favourable
view of the versification of her husband. She no longer chided
him. The shop became more crowded with customers. Ladies came
to have their hair dressed by the poet: it was so original!
He delighted them with singing or chanting his verses. He had a
sympathetic, perhaps a mesmeric voice, which touched the souls
of his hearers, and threw them into the sweetest of dreams.
Besides attending to his shop, he was accustomed to go out in
the afternoons to dress the hair of four or five ladies.
This occupied him for about two hours, and when he found the
ladies at home, he returned with four or five francs in his
purse. But often they were not at home, and he came home
francless. Eventually he gave up this part of his trade. The
receipts at the shop were more remunerative. Madame encouraged
this economical eform; she was accustomed to call it Jasmin's
coup d'etat.
The evenings passed pleasantly. Jasmin took his guitar and sang
to his wife and children; or, in the summer evenings they would
walk under the beautiful elms in front of the Gravier, where
Jasmin was ready for business at any moment. Such prudence, such
iligence, could not but have its effect. When Jasmin's first
volume of the Papillotos was published, it was received with
"The songs, the curl-papers," said Jasmin, "brought in such a
rivulet of silver, that, in my poetic joy, I broke into morsels
and burnt in the fire that dreaded arm-chair in which my
ancestors had been carried to the hospital to die."
Madame Jasmin now became quite enthusiastic. Instead of breaking
the poet's pens and throwing his ink into the fire, she bought
the best pens and the best ink. She even supplied him with a
comfortable desk, on which he might write his verses. "Courage,
courage!" she would say. "Each verse that you write is another
tile to the roof and a rafter to the dwelling; therefore make
verses, make verses!"
The rivulet of silver increased so rapidly, that in the course
of a short time Jasmin was enabled to buy the house in which he
lived--tiles, rafters, and all. Instead of Pegasus carrying
him to the hospital, it carried him to the office of the Notary,
who enrolled him in the list of collectors of taxes. He was now
a man of substance, a man to be trusted. The notary was also
employed to convey the tenement to the prosperous Jasmin.
He ends the first part of his Souvenirs with these words:
"When Pegasus kicks with a fling of his feet,
He sends me to curl on my hobby horse fleet;
I lose all my time, true, not paper nor notes,
I write all my verse on my papillotes."[3]
Footnotes to chapter IV.
[1] In Gascon Magnounet; her pet name Marie, or in French
Mariette. Madame Jasmin called herself Marie Barrere.
[2] The remaining verses are to be found in the collected
edition of his works--the fourth volume of Las Papillotos,
new edition, pp. 247-9, entitled A une jeune Voyayeuse.
[3] Papillotes, as we have said, are curl-papers.
Jasmin's words, in Gascon, are these:
"Quand Pegazo reguiuno, et que d'un cot de pe
Memboyo friza mas marotos,
Perdi moun ten, es bray, mais noun pas moun pape,
Boti mous beis en papillotos!"
Jasmin's first efforts at verse-making were necessarily
imperfect. He tried to imitate the works of others, rather than
create poetical images of his own. His verses consisted mostly
of imitations of the French poems which he had read.
He was overshadowed by the works of Boileau, Gresset, Rousseau,
and especially by Beranger, who, like himself, was the son of a
The recollections of their poetry pervaded all his earlier
verses. His efforts in classical French were by no means
successful. It was only when he had raised himself above the
influence of authors who had preceded him, that he soared into
originality, and was proclaimed the Poet of the South.
Jasmin did not at first write in Gascon. In fact, he had not yet
mastered a perfect knowledge of this dialect. Though familiarly
used in ancient times, it did not exist in any written form.
It was the speech of the common people; and though the Gascons
spoke the idiom, it had lost much of its originality. It had
become mixed, more or less, with the ordinary French language,
and the old Gascon words were becoming gradually forgotten.
Yet the common people, after all, remain the depositories of old
idioms and old traditions, as well as of the inheritances of the
past. They are the most conservative element in society.
They love their old speech, their old dress, their old manners
and customs, and have an instinctive worship of ancient memories.
Their old idioms are long preserved. Their old dialect continues
the language of the fireside, of daily toil, of daily needs, and
of domestic joys and sorrows. It hovers in the air about them,
and has been sucked in with their mothers' milk. Yet, when a
primitive race such as the Gascons mix much with the people of
the adjoining departments, the local dialect gradually dies out,
and they learn to speak the language of their neighbours.
The Gascon was disappearing as a speech, and very few of its
written elements survived. Was it possible for Jasmin to revive
the dialect, and embody it in a written language? He knew much
of the patois, from hearing it spoken at home. But now, desiring
to know it more thoroughly, he set to work and studied it.
He was almost as assiduous as Sir Walter Scott in learning
obscure Lowland words, while writing the Waverley Novels. Jasmin
went into the market-places, where the peasants from the country
sold their produce; and there he picked up many new words and
expressions. He made excursions into the country round Agen,
where many of the old farmers and labourers spoke nothing but
Gascon. He conversed with illiterate people, and especially with
old women at their spinning-wheels, and eagerly listened to
their ancient tales and legends.
He thus gathered together many a golden relic, which he
afterwards made use of in his poetical works. He studied Gascon
like a pioneer. He made his own lexicon, and eventually formed a
written dialect, which he wove into poems, to the delight of the
people in the South of France. For the Gascon dialect--such is
its richness and beauty--expresses many shades of meaning
which are entirely lost in the modern French.
When Jasmin first read his poems in Gascon to his townspeople at
Agen, he usually introduced his readings by describing the
difficulties he had encountered in prosecuting his enquiries. is
hearers, who knew more French than Gascon, detected in his
poems many comparatively unknown words,--not indeed of his own
creation, but merely the result of his patient and
long-continued investigation of the Gascon dialect. Yet they
found the language, as written and spoken by him, full of
harmony--rich, mellifluous, and sonorous. Gascon resembles the
Spanish, to which it is strongly allied, more than the Provencal,
the language of the Troubadours, which is more allied to the
Latin or Italian.
Hallam, in his 'History of the Middle Ages,' regards the sudden
outburst of Troubadour poetry as one symptom of the rapid
impulse which the human mind received in the twelfth century,
contemporaneous with the improved studies that began at the
Universities. It was also encouraged by the prosperity of
Southern France, which was comparatively undisturbed by internal
warfare, and it continued until the tremendous storm that fell
upon Languedoc during the crusade against the Albigenses,
which shook off the flowers of Provencal literature.[1]
The language of the South-West of France, including the Gascon,
was then called Langue d'Oc; while that of the south-east of
France, including the Provencal, was called Langue d'Oil.
M. Littre, in the Preface to his Dictionary of the French
language, says that he was induced to begin the study of the
subject by his desire to know something more of the Langue
d'Oil--the old French language.[2]
In speaking of the languages of Western Europe, M. Littre says
that the German is the oldest, beginning in the fourth century;
that the French is the next, beginning in the ninth century;
and that the English is the last, beginning in the fourteenth
century. It must be remembered, however, that Plat Deutsch
preceded the German, and was spoken by the Frisians, Angles,
and Saxons, who lived by the shores of the North Sea.
The Gaelic or Celtic, and Kymriac languages, were spoken in the
middle and north-west of France; but these, except in Brittany,
have been superseded by the modem French language, which is
founded mainly on Latin, German, and Celtic, but mostly on
Latin. The English language consists mostly of Saxon, Norse,
and Norman-French with a mixture of Welsh or Ancient British.
That language is, however, no test of the genealogy of a people,
is illustrated by the history of France itself. In the fourth
and fifth centuries, the Franks, a powerful German race,
from the banks of the Rhine, invaded and conquered the people
north of the Somme, and eventually gave the name of France to the
entire country. The Burgundians and Visigoths, also a German
race, invaded France, and settled themselves in the south-east.
In the year 464, Childeric the Frank took Paris.
The whole history of the occupation of France is told by
Augustin Thierry, in his 'Narratives of the Merovingian Times.'
"There are Franks," he says in his Preface, "who remained pure
Germans in Gaul; Gallo-Romans, irritated and disgusted by the
barbarian rule; Franks more or less influenced by the manners
and customs of civilised life; and 'Romans more or less
barbarian in mind and manners.' The contrast may be followed in
all its shades through the sixth century, and into the middle of
the seventh; later, the Germanic and Gallo-Roman stamp seemed
effaced and lost in a semi-barbarism clothed in theocratic
The Franks, when they had completed the conquest of the entire
country, gave it the name of Franken-ric--the Franks' kingdom.
Eventually, Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, descended from
Childeric the Frank, was in 800 crowned Emperor of the West.
Towards the end of his reign, the Norsemen began to devastate
the northern coast of Franken-ric. Aix-la-Chapelle was
Charlemagne's capital, and there he died and was buried.
At his death, the Empire was divided among his sons. The Norse
Vikingers continued their invasions; and to purchase repose,
Charles the Simple ceded to Duke Rollo a large territory in the
northwest of France, which in deference to their origin,
was known by the name of Normandy.
There Norman-French was for a long time spoken. Though the
Franks had supplanted the Romans, the Roman language continued
to be spoken. In 996 Paris was made the capital of France;
and from that time, the language of Paris became, with various
modifications, the language of France; and not only of France,
but the Roman or Latin tongue became the foundation of the
languages of Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
Thus, Gaulish, Frankish, and Norman disappeared to give place to
the Latin-French. The Kymriac language was preserved only in
Brittany, where it still lingers. And in the south-west of
France, where the population was furthest removed from the
invasions of the Gauls, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths, the Basques
continued to preserve their language,--the Basques, who are
supposed by Canon Isaac Taylor to be the direct descendants of
the Etruscans.
The descendants of the Gauls, however, constitute the mass of
the people in Central France. The Gauls, or Galatians,
are supposed to have come from the central district of Asia
Minor. They were always a warlike people. In their wanderings
westward, they passed through the north of Italy and entered
France, where they settled in large numbers. Dr. Smith, in his
Dictionary of the Bible, says that "Galatai is the same word as
Keltici," which indicates that the Gauls were Kelts. It is
supposed that St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Galatians soon
after his visit to the country of their origin. "Its abruptness
and severity, and the sadness of its tone, are caused by their
sudden perversion from the doctrine which the Apostle had taught
them, and which at first they had received so willingly. It is
no fancy, if we see in this fickleness a specimen of that 'esprit
impretueux, ouvert a toutes les impressions,' and that 'mobilite
extreme,' which Thierry marks as characteristic of the Gaulish
race." At all events, the language of the Gauls disappeared in
Central France to make way for the language or the Capital--
the modern French, founded on the Latin. The Gaulish race,
nevertheless, preserved their characteristics--quickness,
lightness, mobility, and elasticity--qualities which enabled
them quickly to conceive new ideas, and at the same time to
quickly abandon them. The Franks had given the country the name
it now bears--that of France. But they were long regarded as
enemies by the Central and Southern Gauls. In Gascony, the
foreigner was called Low Franciman, and was regarded with
suspicion and dislike.
"This term of Franciman," says Miss Costello, who travelled
through the country and studied the subject, "evidently belongs
to a period of the English occupation of Aquitaine, when a
Frenchman was another word for an enemy."[3] But the word has
probably a more remote origin. When the Franks, of German
origin, burst into Gaul, and settled in the country north of the
Loire, and afterwards carried their conquests to the Pyrenees,
the Franks were regarded as enemies in the south of France.
"Then all the countries," says Thierry, "united by force to the
empire of the Franks, and over which in consequence of this
union, the name of France had extended itself, made unheard-of
efforts to reconquer their ancient names and places. Of all the
Gallic provinces, none but the southern ones succeeded in this
great enterprise; and after the wars of insurrection, which,
under the sons of Charlemagne, succeeded the wars of conquest,
Aquitaine and Provence became distinct states. Among the South
Eastern provinces reappeared even the ancient name of Gaul,
which had for ever perished north of the Loire. The chiefs of
the new Kingdom of Aries, which extended from the Jura to the
Alps, took the title of Gaul in opposition to the Kings of
It is probable that this was the cause of the name of
"Franciman" being regarded as an hereditary term of reproach in
the Gaulish country south of the Loire. Gascon and Provencal
were the principal dialects which remained in the South, though
Littre classes them together as the language of the Troubadours.
They were both well understood in the South; and Jasmin's
recitations were received with as much enthusiasm at Nimes,
Aries, and Marseilles, as at Toulouse, Agen, and Bordeaux.
Mezzofanti, a very Tower of Babel in dialects and languages,
said of the Provencal, that it was the only patois of the Middle
Ages, with its numerous derivations from the Greek, the Arabic,
and the Latin, which has survived the various revolutions of
language. The others have been altered and modified.
They have suffered from the caprices of victory or of fortune.
Of all the dialects of the Roman tongue, this patois alone
preserves its purity and life. It still remains the sonorous
and harmonious language of the Troubadours. The patois has the
suppleness of the Italian, the sombre majesty of the Spanish,
the energy and preciseness of the Latin, with the "Molle atque
facetum, le dolce de, l'Ionic; which still lives among the
Phoceens of Marseilles. The imagination and genius of Gascony
have preserved the copious richness of the language.
M. de Lavergne, in his notice of Jasmin's works, frankly admits
the local jealousy which existed between the Troubadours of
Gascony and Provence. There seemed, he said, to be nothing
disingenuous in the silence of the Provencals as to Jasmin's
poems. They did not allow that he borrowed from them, any more
than that they borrowed from him. These men of Southern France
are born in the land of poetry. It breathes in their native air.
It echoes round them in its varied measures. Nay, the rhymes
which are its distinguishing features, pervade their daily talk.
The seeds lie dormant in their native soil, and when trodden
under foot, they burst through the ground and evolve their odour
in the open air. Gascon and Provencal alike preserve the same
relation to the classic romance--that lovely but short-lived
eldest daughter of the Latin--the language of the Troubadours.
We have said that the Gascon dialect was gradually expiring when
Jasmin undertook its revival. His success in recovering and
restoring it, and presenting it in a written form, was the
result of laborious investigation. He did not at first realize
the perfect comprehension of the idiom, but he eventually
succeeded by patient perseverance, When we read his poems,
we are enabled to follow, step by step, his lexicological
At first, he clung to the measures most approved in French
poetry, especially to Alexandrines and Iambic tetrameters,
and to their irregular association in a sort of ballad metre,
which in England has been best handled by Robert Browning in his
fine ballad of 'Harve; Riel.'
Jasmin's first rhymes were written upon curl papers, and then
used on the heads of his lady customers. When the spirit of
original poetry within him awoke, his style changed. Genius
brought sweet music from his heart and mind. Imagination
spiritualised his nature, lifted his soul above the cares of
ordinary life, and awakened the consciousness of his affinity
with what is pure and noble. Jasmin sang as a bird sings;
at first in weak notes, then in louder, until at length his voice
filled the skies. Near the end of his life he was styled the
Saint Vincent de Paul of poetry.
Jasmin might be classed among the Uneducated Poets.
But what poet is not uneducated at the beginning of his career?
The essential education of the poet is not taught in the schools.
The lowly man, against whom the asperities of his lot have closed
the doors of worldly academies, may nevertheless have some
special vocation for the poetic life. Academies cannot shut him
out from the odour of the violet or the song of the nightingale.
He hears the lark's song filling the heavens, as the happy bird
fans the milk-white cloud with its wings. He listens to the
purling of the brook, the bleating of the lamb, the song of the
milkmaid, and the joyous cry of the reaper. Thus his mind is
daily fed with the choicest influences of nature. He cannot but
appreciate the joy, the glory, the unconscious delight of living.
"The beautiful is master of a star." This feeling of beauty is
the nurse of civilisation and true refinement. Have we not our
Burns, who
"in glory and in joy
Followed his plough along the mountain side;"
Clare, the peasant boy; Bloomfield, the farmer's lad; Tannahill,
the weaver; Allan Ramsay, the peruke-maker; Cooper, the
shoemaker; and Critchley Prince, the factory-worker; but greater
than these was Shakespeare,--though all were of humble origin.
France too has had its uneducated poets. Though the ancient
song-writers of France were noble; Henry IV., author of
Charmante Gabrielle; Thibault, Count of Champagne; Lusignan,
Count de la Marche; Raval, Blondel, and Basselin de la Vive,
whose songs were as joyous as the juice of his grapes; yet some
of the best French poets of modem times have been of humble
origin--Marmontel, Moliere, Rousseau, and Beranger. There were
also Reboul, the baker; Hibley, the working-tailor; Gonzetta,
the shoemaker; Durand, the joiner; Marchand, the lacemaker;
Voileau, the sail-maker;
Magu, the weaver; Poucy, the mason; Germiny, the cooper;[5] and
finally, Jasmin the barber and hair dresser, who was not the
least of the Uneducated Poets.
The first poem which Jasmin composed in the Gascon dialect was
written in 1822, when he was only twenty-four years old. It was
entitled La fidelitat Agenoso, which he subsequently altered to
Me cal Mouri (Il me fait mourir), or "Let me die." It is a
languishing romantic poem, after the manner of Florian, Jasmin's
first master in poetry. It was printed at Agen in a quarto form,
and sold for a franc. Jasmin did not attach his name to the
poem, but only his initials.
Sainte-Beuve, in his notice of the poem, says, "It is a pretty,
sentimental romance, showing that Jasmin possessed the
brightness and sensibility of the Troubadours. As one may say,
he had not yet quitted the guitar for the flageolet; and Marot,
who spoke of his flageolet, had not, in the midst of his playful
spirit, those tender accents which contrasted so well with his
previous compositions. And did not Henry IV., in the midst of
his Gascon gaieties and sallies, compose his sweet song of
Charmante Gabrielle? Jasmin indeed is the poet who is nearest
the region of Henry IV."[6] Me cal Mouri was set to music by
Fourgons, and obtained great popularity in the south. It was
known by heart, and sung everywhere; in Agen, Toulouse,
and throughout Provence. It was not until the publication of
the first volume of his poems that it was known to be the work
of Jasmin.
Miss Louisa Stuart Costello, when making her pilgrimage in the
South of France, relates that, in the course of her journey,"
A friend repeated to me two charming ballads picked up in
Languedoc, where there is a variety in the patois. I cannot
resist giving them here, that my readers may compare the
difference of dialect. I wrote them clown, however, merely by
ear, and am not aware that they have ever been printed.
The mixture of French, Spanish, and Italian is very curious."[7]
As the words of Jasmin's romance were written down by Miss
Costello from memory, they are not quite accurate; but her
translation into English sufficiently renders the poet's
meaning. The following is the first verse of Jasmin's poem in
"Deja la ney encrumis la naturo,
Tout es tranquille et tout cargo lou dol;
Dins lou clouche la brezago murmuro,
Et lou tuquet succedo al rossignol:
Del mal, helas! bebi jusq'a la ligo,
Moun co gemis sans espouer de gari;
Plus de bounhur, ey perdut moun amigo,
Me cal mouri! me cal mouri!"
Which Miss Costello thus translates into English:
"Already sullen night comes sadly on,
And nature's form is clothed with mournful weeds;
Around the tower is heard the breeze's moan,
And to the nightingale the bat succeeds.
Oh! I have drained the cup of misery,
My fainting heart has now no hope in store.
Ah! wretched me! what have I but to die?
For I have lost my love for evermore!"
There are four verses in the poem, but the second verse may also
be given
"Fair, tender Phoebe, hasten on thy course,
My woes revive while I behold thee shine,
For of my hope thou art no more the source,
And of my happiness no more the sign.
Oh! I have drained the cup of misery,
My fainting heart has now no bliss in store.
Ah! wretched me! what have I but to die?
Since I have lost my love for evermore!"
The whole of the poem was afterwards translated into modem
French, and, though somewhat artificial, it became as popular in
the north as in the south.
Jasmin's success in his native town, and his growing popularity,
encouraged him to proceed with the making of verses. His poems
were occasionally inserted in the local journals; but the
editors did not approve of his use of the expiring Gascon
dialect. They were of opinion that his works might be better
appreciated if they appeared in modern French. Gascon was to a
large extent a foreign language, and greatly interfered with
Jasmin's national reputation as a poet.
Nevertheless he held on his way, and continued to write his
verses in Gascon. They contained many personal lyrics, tributes,
dedications, hymns for festivals, and impromptus, scarcely
worthy of being collected and printed. Jasmin said of the last
description of verse: "One can only pay a poetical debt by means
of impromptus, and though they may be good money of the heart,
they are almost always bad money of the head."
Jasmin's next poem was The Charivari (Lou Charibari),
also written in Gascon. It was composed in 1825, when he was
twenty-seven years old; and dedicated to M. Duprount, the
Advocate, who was himself a poetaster. The dedication contained
some fine passages of genuine beauty and graceful versification.
It was in some respects an imitation of the Lutrin of Boileau.
It was very different from the doggerel in which he had taken
part with his humpbacked father so long ago. Then he had blown
the cow-horn, now he spoke with the tongue of a trumpet.
The hero of Jasmin's Charivari was one Aduber, an old widower,
who dreamt of remarrying. It reminded one of the strains of
Beranger; in other passages of the mock-heroic poem of Boileau.
Though the poem when published was read with much interest,
it was not nearly so popular as Me cal Mouri. This
last-mentioned poem, his first published work, touched the harp
of sadness; while his Charivari displayed the playfulness of joy.
Thus, at the beginning of his career, Jasmin revealed himself as
a poet in two very different styles; in one, touching the springs
of grief, and in the other exhibiting brightness and happiness.
At the end of the same year he sounded his third and deepest note
in his poem On the Death of General Foy--one of France's
truest patriots. Now his lyre was complete; it had its three
strings--of sadness, joy, and sorrow.
These three poems--Me cal Mouri, the Charivari, and the ode On
the Death of General Foy, with some other verses--were
published in 1825. What was to be the title of the volume?
As Adam, the carpenter-poet of Nevers, had entitled his volume of
poetry 'Shavings,' so Jasmin decided to name his collection
'The Curl-papers of Jasmin, Coiffeur of Agen.' The title was a
good one, and the subsequent volumes of his works were known as
La Papillotos (the Curl-papers) of Jasmin. The publication of
this first volume served to make Jasmin's name popular beyond the
town in which they had been composed and published. His friend
M. Gaze said of him, that during the year 1825 he had been
marrying his razor with the swan's quill; and that his hand of
velvet in shaving was even surpassed by his skill in
Charles Nodier, his old friend, who had entered the barber's
shop some years before to intercede between the poet and his
wife, sounded Jasmin's praises in the Paris journals.
He confessed that he had been greatly struck with the Charivari,
and boldly declared that the language of the Troubadours, which
everyone supposed to be dead, was still in full life in France;
that it not only lived, but that at that very moment a poor
barber at Agen, without any instruction beyond that given by the
fields, the woods, and the heavens, had written a serio-comic
poem which, at the risk of being thought crazy by his colleagues
of the Academy, he considered to be better composed than the
Lutrin of Boileau, and even better than one of Pope's
masterpieces, the Rape of the Lock.
The first volume of the Papillotes sold very well; and the
receipts from its sale not only increased Jasmin's income,
but also increased his national reputation. Jasmin was not,
however, elated by success. He remained simple, frugal, honest,
and hard-working. He was not carried off his feet by eclat.
Though many illustrious strangers, when passing through Agen,
called upon and interviewed the poetical coiffeur, he quietly
went back to his razors, his combs, and his periwigs,
and cheerfully pursued the business that he could always depend
upon in his time of need.
Footnotes to Chapter V.
[1]Hallam's 'Middle Ages,' iii. 434. 12th edit. (Murray.)
[2] His words are these: "La conception m'en fut suggeree par
mes etudes sur la vieille langue francaise ou langue d'oil.
Je fus si frappe des liens qui unissent le francais moderne au
francais ancien, j'apercus tant de cas ou les sens et des
locutions du jour ne s'expliquent que par les sens et les
locutions d'autrefois, tant d'exemples ou la forme des mots
n'est pas intelligible sans les formes qui ont precede, qu'il me
sembla que la doctrine et meme l'usage de la langue restent mal
assis s'ils ne reposent sur leur base antique." (Preface, ii.)
[3] 'Bearn and the Pyrenees,' i. 348.
[4] THIERRY--'Historical Essays,' No. XXIV.
[5] Les Poetes du Peuple an xix. Siecle. Par Alphonse Viollet.
Paris, 1846.
[6] Portraits contemporains, ii. 61 (ed. 1847).
[7] 'Pilgrimage to Auvergne,' ii. 210.
During the next four years Jasmin composed no work of special
importance. He occasionally wrote poetry, but chiefly on local
subjects. In 1828 he wrote an impromptu to M. Pradel, who had
improvised a Gascon song in honour of the poet. The Gascon
painter, Champmas, had compared Jasmin to a ray of sunshine,
and in 1829 the poet sent him a charming piece of verse in return
for his compliment.
In 1830 Jasmin composed The Third of May, which was translated
into French by M. Duvigneau. It appears that the Count of Dijon
had presented to the town of Nerac, near Agen, a bronze statue
of Henry IV., executed by the sculptor Raggi--of the same
character as the statue erected to the same monarch at Pau.
But though Henry IV. was born at Pau, Nerac was perhaps more
identified with him, for there he had his strong castle,
though only its ruins now remain.
Nerac was at one time almost the centre of the Reformation in
France. Clement Marot, the poet of the Reformed faith, lived
there; and the house of Theodore de Beze, who emigrated to
Geneva, still exists. The Protestant faith extended to Agen and
the neighbouring towns. When the Roman Catholics obtained the
upper hand, persecutions began. Vindocin, the pastor, was burned
alive at Agen. J. J. Scaliger was an eye-witness of the burning,
and he records the fact that not less than 300 victims perished
for their faith.
At a later time Nerac, which had been a prosperous town,
was ruined by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes; for the
Protestant population, who had been the most diligent and
industrious in the town and neighbourhood, were all either
"converted," hanged, sent to the galleys, or forced to emigrate
to England, Holland, or Prussia. Nevertheless, the people of
Nerac continued to be proud of their old monarch.
The bronze statue of Henry IV. was unveiled in 1829. On one side
of the marble pedestal supporting the statue were the words
"Alumno, mox patri nostro, Henrico quarto," and on the reverse
side was a verse in the Gascon dialect:
"Brabes Gascons!
A moun amou per bous aou dibes creyre;
Benes! Benes! ey plaze de bous beyre!
The words were assumed to be those of; Henry IV., and may be
thus translated into English:
"Brave Gascons!
You may well trust my love for you;
Come! come! I leave to you my glory!
Come near! Approach!"[1]
It is necessary to explain how the verse in Gascon came to be
engraved on the pedestal of the statue. The Society of
Agriculture, Sciences, and Arts, of Agen, offered a prize of 300
francs for the best Ode to the memory of Henry the Great. Many
poems were accordingly sent in to the Society; and, after some
consideration, it was thought that the prize should be awarded to
M. Jude Patissie. But amongst the thirty-nine poems which had
been presented for examination, it was found that two had been
written in the Gascon dialect. The committee were at first of
opinion that they could not award the prize to the author of any
poem written in the vulgar tongue. At the same time they
reported that one of the poems written in Gascon possessed such
real merit, that the committee decided by a unanimous vote that a
prize should be awarded to the author of the best poem written in
the Gascon dialect. Many poems were accordingly sent in and
examined. Lou Tres de May was selected as the best; and on the
letter attached to the poem being opened, the president
proclaimed the author to be "Jasmin, Coiffeur." After the
decision of the Society at Agen, the people of Nerac desired to
set their seal upon their judgment, and they accordingly caused
the above words to be engraved on the reverse side of the
pedestal supporting the statue of Henry IV. Jasmin's poem was
crowned by the Academy of Agen; and though it contained many fine
verses, it had the same merits and the same defects as the
Charivari, published a few years before.
M. Rodiere, Professor of Law at Toulouse, was of opinion that
during the four years during which Jasmin produced no work of
any special importance, he was carefully studying Gascon; for it
ought to be known that the language in which Godolin wrote his
fine poems is not without its literature. "The fact," says
Rodiere, "that Jasmin used some of his time in studying the
works of Godolin is, that while in Lou Charibari there are some
French words ill-disguised in a Gascon dress, on the other hand,
from the year 1830, there are none; and the language of Jasmin
is the same as the language of Godolin, except for a few
trifling differences, due to the different dialects of Agen and
Besides studying Gascon, Jasmin had some military duties to
perform. He was corporal of the third company of the National
Guard of Agen; and in 1830 he addressed his comrades in a series
of verses. One of these was a song entitled 'The Flag of
Liberty' (Lou Drapeou de la Libertat); another, 'The Good
All-merciful God!' (Lou Boun Diou liberal); and the third was Lou
Two years later, in 1832, Jasmin composed The Gascons, which he
improvised at a banquet given to the non-commissioned officers
of the 14th Chasseurs. Of course, the improvisation was
carefully prepared; and it was composed in French, as the
non-commissioned officers did not understand the Gascon dialect.
Jasmin extolled the valour of the French, and especially of the
Gascons. The last lines of his eulogy ran as follows:--
"O Liberty! mother of victory,
Thy flag always brings us success!
Though as Gascons we sing of thy glory,
We chastise our foes with the French!"
In the same year Jasmin addressed the poet Beranger in a
pleasant poetical letter written in classical French. Beranger
replied in prose; his answer was dated the 12th of July, 1832.
He thanked Jasmin for his fervent eulogy. While he thought that
the Gascon poet's praise of his works was exaggerated, he
believed in his sincerity.
"I hasten," said Beranger, "to express my thanks for the
kindness of your address. Believe in my sincerity, as I believe
in your praises. Your exaggeration of my poetical merits makes
me repeat the first words of your address, in which you assume
the title of a Gascon[2] poet. It would please me much better
if you would be a French poet, as you prove by your epistle,
which is written with taste and harmony. The sympathy of our
sentiments has inspired you to praise me in a manner which I am
far from meriting, Nevertheless, sir, I am proud of your
"You have been born and brought up in the same condition as
myself. Like me, you appear to have triumphed over the absence
of scholastic instruction, and, like me too, you love your
country. You reproach me, sir, with the silence which I have for
some time preserved. At the end of this year I intend to publish
my last volume; I will then take my leave of the public.
I am now fifty-two years old. I am tired of the world.
My little mission is fulfilled, and the public has had enough of
me. I am therefore making arrangements for retiring. Without
the desire for living longer, I have broken silence too soon.
At least you must pardon the silence of one who has never
demanded anything of his country. I care nothing about power,
and have now merely the ambition of a morsel of bread and repose.
"I ask your pardon for submitting to you these personal details.
But your epistle makes it my duty. I thank you again for the
pleasure you have given me. I do not understand the language of
Languedoc, but, if you speak this language as you write French,
I dare to prophecy a true success in the further publication of
your works.--BERANGER."[3]
Notwithstanding this advice of Beranger and other critics,
Jasmin continued to write his poems in the Gascon dialect.
He had very little time to spare for the study of classical
French; he was occupied with the trade by which he earned his
living, and his business was increasing. His customers were
always happy to hear him recite his poetry while he shaved their
beards or dressed their hair.
He was equally unfortunate with M. Minier of Bordeaux.
Jasmin addressed him in a Gascon letter full of bright poetry,
not unlike Burns's Vision, when he dreamt of becoming a
song-writer. The only consolation that Jasmin received from M.
Minier was a poetical letter, in which the poet was implored to
retain his position and not to frequent the society of
distinguished persons.
Perhaps the finest work which Jasmin composed at this period of
his life was that which he entitled Mous Soubenis, or
'My Recollections.' In none of his poems did he display more of
the characteristic qualities of his mind, his candour, his
pathos, and his humour, than in these verses. He used the rustic
dialect, from which he never afterwards departed. He showed that
the Gascon was not yet a dead language; and he lifted it to the
level of the most serious themes. His verses have all the
greater charm because of their artless gaiety, their delicate
taste, and the sweetness of their cadence.
Jasmin began to compose his 'Recollections' in 1830, but the
two first cantos were not completed until two years later.
The third canto was added in 1835, when the poem was published
in the first volume of his 'Curl-Papers' (Papillotes). These
recollections, in fact, constitute Jasmin's autobiography,
and we are indebted to them for the description we have already
given of the poet's early life.
Many years later Jasmin wrote his Mous noubels Soubenis--
'My New Recollections'; but in that work he returned to the
trials and the enjoyments of his youth, and described few of the
events of his later life. "What a pity," says M. Rodiere, "that
Jasmin did not continue to write his impressions until the end of
his life! What trouble he would have saved his biographers!
For how can one speak when Jasmin ceases to sing?"
It is unnecessary to return to the autobiography and repeat the
confessions of Jasmin's youth. His joys and sorrows are all
described there--his birth in the poverty-stricken dwelling in
the Rue Fon de Rache, his love for his parents, his sports with
his playfellows on the banks of the Garonne, his blowing the
horn in his father's Charivaris, his enjoyment of the tit-bits
which old Boe brought home from his begging-tours, the decay of
the old man, and his conveyance to the hospital, "where all the
Jasmins die;" then his education at the Academy, his toying with
the house-maid, his stealing the preserves, his expulsion from
the seminary, and the sale of his mother's wedding-ring to buy
bread for her family.
While composing the first two cantos of the Souvenirs he seemed
half ashamed of the homeliness of the tale he had undertaken to
relate. Should he soften and brighten it? Should he dress it
up with false lights and colours? For there are times when
falsehood in silk and gold are acceptable, and the naked
new-born truth is unwelcome. But he repudiated the thought,
and added:-
"Myself, nor less, nor more, I'll draw for you,
And if not bright, the likeness shall be true."
The third canto of the poem was composed at intervals. It took
him two more years to finish it. It commences with his
apprenticeship to the barber; describes his first visit to the
theatre, his reading of Florian's romances and poems, his
solitary meditations, and the birth and growth of his
imagination. Then he falls in love, and a new era opens in his
life. He writes verses and sings them. He opens a barber's shop
of his own, marries, and brings his young bride home.
"Two angels," he says, "took up their abode with me."
His newly-wedded wife was one, and the other was his rustic
Muse--the angel of homely pastoral poetry:
"Who, fluttering softly from on high,
Raised on his wing and bore me far,
Where fields of balmiest ether are;
There, in the shepherd lassie's speech
I sang a song, or shaped a rhyme;
There learned I stronger love than I can teach.
Oh, mystic lessons! Happy time!
And fond farewells I said, when at the close of day,
Silent she led my spirit back whence it was borne away!"
He then speaks of the happiness of his wedded life; he shaves
and sings most joyfully. A little rivulet of silver passes into
the barber's shop, and, in a fit of poetic ardour, he breaks
into pieces and burns the wretched arm-chair in which his
ancestors were borne to the hospital to die. His wife no longer
troubles him with her doubts as to his verses interfering with
his business. She supplies him with pen, paper, ink, and a
comfortable desk; and, in course of time, he buys the house in
which he lives, and becomes a man of importance in Agen.
He ends the third canto with a sort of hurrah--
"Thus, reader, have I told my tale in cantos three:
Though still I sing, I hazard no great risk;
For should Pegasus rear and fling me, it is clear,
However ruffled all my fancies fair,
I waste my time, 'tis true; though verses I may lose,
The paper still will serve for curling hair."[4]
Robert Nicoll, the Scotch poet, said of his works:
"I have written my heart in my poems; and rude, unfinished,
and hasty as they are, it can be read there." Jasmin might have
used the same words. "With all my faults," he said, "I desired
to write the truth, and I have described it as I saw it."
In his 'Recollections' he showed without reserve his whole heart.
Jasmin dedicated his 'Recollections,' when finished,
to M. Florimond de Saint-Amand, one of the first gentlemen who
recognised his poetical talents. This was unquestionably the
first poem in which Jasmin exhibited the true bent of his
genius. He avoided entirely the French models which he had
before endeavoured to imitate; and he now gave full flight to
the artless gaiety and humour of his Gascon muse. It is
unfortunate that the poem cannot be translated into English.
It was translated into French; but even in that kindred language
it lost much of its beauty and pathos. The more exquisite the
poetry that is contained in one language, the more difficulty
there is in translating it into another.
M. Charles Nodier said of Lou Tres de May that it contains
poetic thoughts conveyed in exquisite words; but it is
impossible to render it into any language but its own. In the
case of the Charivari he shrinks from attempting to translate it.
There is one passage containing a superb description of the
rising of the sun in winter; but two of the lines quite puzzled
him. In Gascon they are
"Quand l'Auroro, fourrado en raoubo de sati,
Desparrouillo, san brut, las portos del mati.'
Some of the words translated into French might seem vulgar,
though in Gascon they are beautiful. In English they might be
"When Aurora, enfurred in her robe of satin,
Unbars, without noise, the doors of the morning."
"Dream if you like," says Nodier, "of the Aurora of winter, and
tell me if Homer could have better robed it in words. The Aurora
of Jasmin is quite his own; 'unbars the doors of the morning';
it is done without noise, like a goddess, patient and silent,
who announces herself to mortals only by her brightness of
light. It is this finished felicity of expression which
distinguishes great writers. The vulgar cannot accomplish it."
Again Nodier says of the 'Recollections': "They are an ingenuous
marvel of gaiety, sensibility, and passion! I use," he says,
"this expression of enthusiasm; and I regret that I cannot be
more lavish in my praises. There is almost nothing in modem
literature, and scarcely anything in ancient, which has moved me
more profoundly than the Souvenirs of Jasmin.
Happy and lovely children of Guienne and Languedoc, read and
re-read the Souvenirs of Jasmin; they will give you painful
recollections of public schools, and perhaps give you hope of
better things to come. You will learn by heart what you will
never forget. You will know from this poetry all that you ought
to treasure."
Jasmin added several other poems to his collection before his
second volume appeared in 1835. Amongst these were his lines on
the Polish nation--Aux debris de la Nation Polonaise, and Les
Oiseaux Voyageurs, ou Les Polonais en France--both written in
Gascon. Saint-beuve thinks the latter one of Jasmin's best
works. "It is full of pathos," he says, "and rises to the
sublime through its very simplicity. It is indeed difficult to
exaggerate the poetic instinct and the unaffected artlessness of
this amiable bard. At the same time," he said," Jasmin still
wanted the fire of passion to reach the noblest poetic work.
Yet he had the art of style. If Agen was renowned as 'the eye of
Guienne,' Jasmin was certainly the greatest poet who had ever
written in the pure patois of Agen."
Sainte-Beuve also said of Jasmin that he was "invariably sober."
And Jasmin said of himself, "I have learned that in moments of
heat and emotion we are all eloquent and laconic, alike in
speech and action--unconscious poets in fact; and I have also
learned that it is possible for a muse to become all this
willingly, and by dint of patient toil."
Another of his supplementary poems consisted of a dialogue
between Ramoun, a soldier of the Old Guard, and Mathiou,
a peasant. It is of a political cast, and Jasmin did not shine
in politics. He was, however, always a patriot, whether under
the Empire, the Monarchy, or the Republic. He loved France above
all things, while he entertained the warmest affection for his
native province. If Jasmin had published his volume in classical
French he might have been lost amidst a crowd of rhymers; but as
he published the work in his native dialect, he became forthwith
distinguished in his neighbourhood, and was ever after known as
the Gascon poet.
Nor did he long remain unknown beyond the district in which he
lived. When his second volume appeared in 1835, with a preface
by M. Baze, an advocate of the Royal Court of Agen, it created
considerable excitement, not only at Bordeaux and Toulouse,
but also at Paris, the centre of the literature, science, and
fine arts of France. There, men of the highest distinction
welcomed the work with enthusiasm.
M. Baze, in his preface, was very eulogistic. "We have the
pleasure," he said, "of seeing united in one collection the
sweet Romanic tongue which the South of France has adopted,
like the privileged children of her lovely sky and voluptuous
climate; and her lyrical songs, whose masculine vigour and
energetic sentiments have more than once excited patriotic
transports and awakened popular enthusiasm. For Jasmin is above
all a poet of the people. He is not ashamed of his origin.
He was born in the midst of them, and though a poet, still
belongs to them. For genius is of all stations and ranks of
life. He is but a hairdresser at Agen, and more than that, he
wishes to remain so. His ambition is to unite the razor to the
poet's pen."
At Paris the work was welcomed with applause, first by his
poetic sponsor, Charles Nodier, in the Temps, where he
congratulated Jasmin on using the Gascon patois, though still
under the ban of literature. "It is a veritable Saint
Bartholomew of innocent and beautiful idioms, which can scarcely
be employed even in the hours of recreation." He pronounced
Jasmin to be a Gascon Beranger, and quoted several of his lines
from the Charivari, but apologised for their translation into
French, fearing that they might lose much of their rustic
artlessness and soft harmony.
What was a still greater honour, Jasmin was reviewed by the
first critic of France--Sainte-Beuve in the leading critical
journal, the Revue des deux Mondes. The article was afterwards
republished in his Contemporary Portraits.[5] He there gives a
general account of his poems; compares him with the English and
Scotch poets of the working class; and contrasts him with
Reboul, the baker of Nimes, who writes in classical French,
after the manner of the 'Meditations of Lamartine.' He proceeds
to give a brief account of Jasmin's life, taken from the
Souvenirs, which he regards as a beautiful work, written with
much artlessness and simplicity.
Various other reviews of Jasmin's poems appeared, in Agen,
Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Paris, by men of literary mark--by
Leonce de Lavergne, and De Mazude in the Revue des deux Mondes
--by Charles Labitte, M. Ducuing, and M. de Pontmartin.
The latter classed Jasmin with Theocritus, Horace, and La
Fontaine, and paid him the singular tribute, "that he had made
Goodness as attractive as other French writers had made Badness."
Such criticisms as these made Jasmin popular, not only in his
own district, but throughout France.
We cannot withhold the interesting statement of Paul de Musset
as to his interview with Jasmin in 1836, after the publication
of his second volume of poems. Paul de Musset was the author of
several novels, as well as of Lui et Elle, apropos of his
brother's connection with George Sand. Paul de Musset thus
describes his visit to the poet at Agen.[6]
"Let no one return northward by the direct road from Toulouse.
Nothing can be more dreary than the Lot, the Limousin, and the
interminable Dordogne; but make for Bordeaux by the plains of
Gascony, and do not forget the steamboat from Marmande. You will
then find yourself on the Garonne, in the midst of a beautiful
country, where the air is vigorous and healthy. The roads are
bordered with vines, arranged in arches, lovely to the eyes of
travellers. The poets, who delight in making the union of the
vine with the trees which support it an emblem of marriage, can
verify their comparisons only in Gascony or Italy. It is usually
pear trees that are used to support them....
"Thanks to M. Charles Nodier, who had discovered a man of modest
talent buried in this province, I knew a little of the verses of
the Gascon poet Jasmin. Early one morning, at about seven, the
diligence stopped in the middle of a Place, where I read this
inscription over a shop-door, 'Jasmin, Coiffeur des jeunes
gens.' We were at Agen. I descended, swallowed my cup of coffee
as fast as I could, and entered the shop of the most lettered of
peruke-makers. On a table was a mass of pamphlets and some of
the journals of the South.
"'Monsieur Jasmin?' said I on entering. 'Here I am, sir, at your
service,' replied a handsome brown-haired fellow, with a
cheerful expression, who seemed to me about thirty years of age.
"'Will you shave me?' I asked. 'Willingly, sir,' he replied,
I sat down and we entered into conversation. 'I have read your
verses, sir,' said I, while he was covering my chin with lather.
'Monsieur then comprehends the patois?' 'A little,' I said; 'one
of my friends has explained to me the difficult passages.
But tell me, Monsieur Jasmin, why is it that you, who appear to
know French perfectly, write in a language that is not spoken in
any chief town or capital.'
"'Ah, sir, how could a poor rhymer like me appear amongst the
great celebrities of Paris? I have sold eighteen hundred copies
of my little pieces of poetry (in pamphlet form), and certainly
all who speak Gascon know them well. Remember that there are at
least six millions of people in Languedoc.'
"My mouth was covered with soap-suds, and I could not answer him
for some time. Then I said, 'But a hundred thousand persons at
most know how to read, and twenty thousand of them can scarcely
be able to enjoy your works.'
"'Well, sir, I am content with that amount. Perhaps you have at
Paris more than one writer who possesses his twenty thousand
readers. My little reputation would soon carry me astray if I
ventured to address all Europe. The voice that appears sonorous
in a little place is not heard in the midst of a vast plain.
And then, my readers are confined within a radius of forty
leagues, and the result is of real advantage to an author.'
"'Ah! And why do you not abandon your razor?' I enquired of
this singular poet. 'What would you have?' he said. 'The Muses
are most capricious; to-day they give gold, to-morrow they refuse
bread. The razor secures me soup, and perhaps a bottle of
Bordeaux. Besides, my salon is a little literary circle, where
all the young people of the town assemble. When I come from one
of the academies of which I am a member, I find myself among the
tools which I can manage better than my pen; and most of the
members of the circle usually pass through my hands.'
"It is a fact that M. Jasmin shaves more skilfully than any
other poet. After a long conversation with this simple-minded
man, I experienced a certain confusion in depositing upon his
table the amount of fifty centimes which I owed him on this
occasion, more for his talent than for his razor; and I
remounted the diligence more than charmed with the modesty of
his character and demeanour."
Footnotes for Chapter VI.
[1] M. Duvigneau thus translated the words into French:
he begins his verses by announcing the birth of Henry IV.:-
"A son aspect, mille cris d'allegresse
Ebranlent le palais et montent jusqu'au ciel:
Le voila beau comme dans sa jeunesse,
Alors qu'il recevait le baiser maternel.
A ce peuple charme qui des yeux le devore
Le bon Roi semble dire encore:
'Braves Gascons, accourez tous;
A mon amour pour vous vous devez croire;
Je met a vous revoir mon bonheur et ma gloire,
Venez, venez, approchez-vous!'"
[2] Gascon or Gasconade is often used as implying boasting or
[3] This letter was written before Jasmin had decided to
publish the second volume of his Papillotes, which appeared in
[4] The following are the lines in Gascon:--
"Atai boudroy dan bous fini ma triplo paouzo;
Mais anfin, ey cantat, n'hazardi pas gran caouzo:
Quand Pegazo reguinno, et que d'un cot de pe
M'emboyo friza mas marotos,
Perdi moun ten, es bray, mais noun pas moun pape;
Boti mous bers en papillotos!"
[5] 'Portraits Contemporains,' ii. 50. Par C. A. Sainte-Beuve,
Membre de l'Academie Francaise. 1847.
[6] 'Perpignan, l'Ariege et le poete Jasmin' (Journal politique
et litteraire de Lot-et-Garonne).
Jasmin was now thirty-six years old. He was virtually in the
prime of life. He had been dreaming, he had been thinking,
for many years, of composing some poems of a higher order than
his Souvenirs. He desired to embody in his work some romantic
tales in verse, founded upon local legends, noble in conception,
elaborated with care, and impressive by the dignity of simple
natural passion.
In these new lyrical poems his intention was to aim high,
and he succeeded to a marvellous extent. He was enabled to show
the depth and strength of his dramatic powers, his fidelity in
the description of romantic and picturesque incidents, his
shrewdness in reading character and his skill in representing it,
all of which he did in perfect innocence of all established
canons in the composition of dramatic poetry.
The first of Jasmin's poetical legends was 'The Blind Girl of
Castel-Cuille' (L'Abuglo). It was translated into English,
a few years after its appearance, by Lady Georgiana Fullerton,
daughter of the British ambassador at Paris,[1] and afterwards
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the American poet. Longfellow
follows the rhythm of the original, and on the whole his
translation of the poem is more correct, so that his version is
to be preferred. He begins his version with these words--
"Only the Lowland tongue of Scotland might
Rehearse this little tragedy aright;
Let me attempt it with an English quill,
And take, O reader, for the deed the will."
At the end of his translation Longfellow adds:-- Jasmin, the
author of this beautiful poem, is to the South of France what
Burns is to the South of Scotland, the representative of the
heart of the people,--one of those happy bards who are born
with their mouths full of birds (la bouco pleno d'auuvelous).
He has written his own biography in a poetic form, and the simple
narrative of his poverty, his struggles, and his triumphs, is
very touching. He still lives at Agen, on the Garonne, and long
may he live there to delight his native land with native songs!"
It is unnecessary to quote the poem, which is so well-known by
the numerous readers of Longfellow's poems, but a compressed
narrative of the story may be given.
The legend is founded on a popular tradition. Castel-Cuille
stands upon a bluff rock in the pretty valley of Saint-Amans,
about a league from Agen. The castle was of considerable
importance many centuries ago, while the English occupied
Guienne; but it is now in ruins, though the village near it
still exists. In a cottage, at the foot of the rock, lived the
girl Marguerite, a soldier's daughter, with her brother Paul.
The girl had been betrothed to her lover Baptiste; but during
his absence she was attacked by virulent small-pox and lost her
eyesight. Though her beauty had disappeared, her love remained.
She waited long for her beloved Baptiste, but he never returned.
He forsook his betrothed Marguerite, and plighted his troth to
the fairer and richer Angele. It was, after all, only the old
Marguerite heard at night the song of their espousals on the eve
of the marriage. She was in despair, but suppressed her grief.
Wednesday morning arrived, the eve of St. Joseph. The bridal
procession passed along the village towards the church of
Saint-Amans, singing the bridal song. The fair and fertile
valley was bedecked with the blossoms of the apple, the plum,
and the almond, which whitened the country round. Nothing could
have seemed more propitious. Then came the chorus, which was no
invention of the poet, but a refrain always sung at rustic
weddings, in accordance with the custom of strewing the bridal
path with flowers:
"The paths with buds and blossoms strew,
A lovely bride approaches nigh;
For all should bloom and spring anew,
A lovely bride is passing by!"[2]
Under the blue sky and brilliant sunshine, the joyous young
people frisked along. The picture of youth, gaiety, and beauty,
is full of truth and nature. The bride herself takes part in the
frolic. With roguish eyes she escapes and cries: "Those who
catch me will be married this year!" And then they descend the
hill towards the church of Saint-Amans. Baptiste, the
bridegroom, is out of spirits and mute. He takes no part in the
sports of the bridal party. He remembers with grief the blind
girl he has abandoned.
In the cottage under the cliff Marguerite meditates a tragedy.
She dresses herself, and resolves to attend the wedding at
Saint-Amans with her little brother. While dressing, she slips a
knife into her bosom, and then they start for the church.
The bridal party soon arrived, and Marguerite heard their
The ceremony proceeded. Mass was said. The wedding-ring was
blessed; and as Baptiste placed it on the bride's finger,
he said the accustomed words. In a moment a voice cried: "It is
he! It is he;" and Marguerite rushed through the bridal party
towards him with a knife in her hand to stab herself;
but before she could reach the bridegroom she fell down dead--
broken-hearted! The crime which she had intended to commit
against herself was thus prevented.
In the evening, in place of a bridal song, the De Profundis was
chanted, and now each one seemed to say:--
"The roads shall mourn, and, veiled in gloom,
So fair a corpse shall leave its home!
Should mourn and weep, ah, well-away,
So fair a corpse shall pass to-day!"[3]
This poem was finished in August 1835; and on the 26th of the
same month it was publicly recited by Jasmin at Bordeaux, at the
request of the Academy of that city.
There was great beauty, tenderness, and pathos in the poem.
It was perfectly simple and natural. The poem might form the
subject of a drama or a musical cantata. The lamentations of
Marguerite on her blindness remind one of Milton's heart-rending
words on the same subject:
"For others, day and joy and light,
For me, all darkness, always night."[4]
Sainte-Beuve, in criticising Jasmin's poems, says that "It was
in 1835 that his talent raised itself to the eminence of writing
one of his purest compositions--natural, touching and
disinterested--his Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille, in which he makes
us assist in a fete, amidst the joys of the villagers; and at the
grief of a young girl, a fiancee whom a severe attack of smallpox
had deprived of her eyesight, and whom her betrothed lover had
abandoned to marry another.
"The grief of the poor abandoned girl, her changes of colour,
her attitude, her conversation, her projects--the whole
surrounded by the freshness of spring and the laughing
brightness of the season--exhibits a character of nature and
of truth which very few poets have been able to attain.
One is quite surprised, on reading this simple picture,
to be involuntarily carried back to the most expressive poems
of the ancient Greeks--to Theocritus for example--for the
Marguerite of Jasmin may be compared with the Simetha of the
Greek poet. This is true poetry, rich from the same sources,
and gilded with the same imagery. In his new compositions Jasmin
has followed his own bias; this man, who had few books,
but meditated deeply in his heart and his love of nature;
and he followed the way of true art with secret and persevering
labour in what appeared to him the most eloquent, easy, and happy
"His language," Sainte-Beuve continues, "is always the most
natural, faithful, transparent, truthful, eloquent, and sober;
never forget this last characteristic. He is never more happy
than when he finds that he can borrow from an artizan or labourer
one of those words which are worth ten of others. It is thus
that his genius has refined during the years preceding the time
in which he produced his greatest works. It is thus that he has
become the poet of the people, writing in the popular patois,
and for public solemnities, which remind one of those of the
Middle Ages and of Greece; thus he finds himself to be, in short,
more than any of our contemporaries, of the School of Horace,
of Theocritus, or of Gray, and all the brilliant geniuses who
have endeavoured by study to bring each of their works to
The Blind Girl was the most remarkable work that Jasmin had up
to this time composed. There is no country where an author is so
popular, when he is once known, as in France. When Jasmin's poem
was published he became, by universal consent, the Poet Laureate
of the South. Yet some of the local journals of Bordeaux made
light of his appearance in that city for the purpose of reciting
his as yet unknown poem. "That a barber and hairdresser of
Agen," they said, "speaking and writing in a vulgar tongue,
should attempt to amuse or enlighten the intelligent people of
Bordeaux, seemed to them beneath contempt."
But Jasmin soon showed them that genius is of no rank or
condition of life; and their views shortly underwent a sudden
change. His very appearance in the city was a triumph. Crowds
resorted to the large hall, in which he was to recite his new
poem of the Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille. The prefect, the mayor,
the members of the Academy, and the most cultivated people of
the city were present, and received him with applause.
There might have been some misgivings as to the success of the
poem, but from the moment that he appeared on the platform and
began his recitation, every doubt disappeared. He read the poem
with marvellous eloquence; while his artistic figure, his mobile
countenance, his dark-brown eyebrows, which he raised or lowered
at will, his expressive gesticulation, and his passionate
acting, added greatly to the effect of his recital, and soon won
every heart. When he came to the refrain,
"The paths with buds and blossoms strew,"
he no longer declaimed, but sang after the manner of the
peasants in their popular chaunt. His eyes became suffused with
tears, and those who listened to the patois, even though they
only imperfectly understood it, partook of the impression,
and wept also.
He was alike tender and impressive throughout the piece,
especially at the death of the blind girl; and when he had
ended, a storm of applause burst from the audience. There was a
clapping of hands and a thunderous stamping of feet that shook
the building almost to its foundations.
It was a remarkable spectacle, that a humble working man,
comparatively uneducated, should have evoked the tumultuous
applause of a brilliant assembly of intelligent ladies and
gentlemen. It was indeed something extraordinary. Some said
that he declaimed like Talma or Rachel, nor was there any note of
dissonance in his reception. The enthusiasm was general and
unanimous amongst the magistrates, clergy, scientific men,
artists, physicians, ship-owners, men of business, and working
people. They all joined in the applause when Jasmin had
concluded his recitation.
From this time forward Jasmin was one of the most popular men at
Bordeaux. He was entertained at a series of fetes. He was
invited to soirees by the prefect, by the archbishop, by the
various social circles, as well as by the workmen's associations.
They vied with each other for the honour of entertaining him.
He went from matinees to soirees, and in ten days he appeared at
thirty-four different entertainments.
At length he became thoroughly tired and exhausted by this
enormous fete-ing. He longed to be away and at home with his
wife and children. He took leave of his friends and admirers
with emotion, and, notwithstanding the praises and acclamations
he had received at Bordeaux, he quietly turned to pursue his
humble occupation at Agen.
It was one of the most remarkable things about Jasmin,
that he was never carried off his feet by the brilliant ovations
he received. Though enough to turn any poor fellow's head,
he remained simple and natural to the last. As we say in this
country, he could "carry corn" We have said that "Gascon" is
often used in connection with boasting or gasconading. But the
term was in no way applicable to Jasmin. He left the echo of
praises behind him, and returned to Agen to enjoy the comforts
of his fireside.
He was not, however, without tempters to wean him from his home
and his ordinary pursuits. In 1836, the year after his triumphal
reception at Bordeaux, some of his friends urged him to go to
Paris--the centre of light and leading--in order to "make his
But no! he had never contemplated the idea of leaving his native
town. A rich wine merchant of Toulouse was one of his tempters.
He advised Jasmin to go to the great metropolis, where genius
alone was recognised. Jasmin answered him in a charming letter,
setting forth the reasons which determined him to remain at home,
principally because his tastes were modest and his desires were
"You too," he said, "without regard to troubling my days and my
nights, have written to ask me to carry my guitar and my
dressing-comb to the great city of kings, because there, you
say, my poetical humour and my well-known verses will bring
torrents of crowns to my purse. Oh, you may well boast to me of
this shower of gold and its clinking stream. You only make me
cry: 'Honour is but smoke, glory is but glory, and money is only
money!' I ask you, in no craven spirit, is money the only thing
for a man to seek who feels in his heart the least spark of
poetry? In my town, where everyone works, leave me as I am.
Every summer, happier than a king, I lay up my small provision
for the winter, and then I sing like a goldfinch under the shade
of a poplar or an ash-tree, only too happy to grow grey in the
land which gave me birth. One hears in summer the pleasant zigo,
ziou, ziou, of the nimble grasshopper, or the young sparrow
pluming his wings to make himself ready for flight, he knows not
whither; but the wise man acts not so. I remain here in my home.
Everything suits me--earth, sky, air--all that is necessary for
my comfort. To sing of joyous poverty one must be joyful and
poor. I am satisfied with my rye-bread, and the cool water from
my fountain."
Jasmin remained faithful to these rules of conduct during his
life. Though he afterwards made a visit to Paris, it was only
for a short time; but his native town of Agen, his home on the
Gravier, his shop, his wife and his children, continued to be
his little paradise. His muse soared over him like a guardian
angel, giving him songs for his happiness and consolation for
his sorrows. He was, above all things, happy in his wife.
She cheered him, strengthened him, and consoled him.
He thus portrayed her in one of his poems:
"Her eyes like sparkling stars of heavenly blue;
Her cheeks so sweet, so round, and rosy;
Her hair so bright, and brown, and curly;
Her mouth so like a ripened cherry;
Her teeth more brilliant than the snow."
Jasmin was attached to his wife, not only by her beauty, but by
her good sense. She counselled and advised him in everything.
He gave himself up to her wise advice, and never had occasion to
regret it. It was with her modest marriage-portion that he was
enabled to establish himself as a master hairdresser.
When he opened his shop, he set over the entrance door this
sign: "L'Art embellit La Nature: Jasmin, Coiffeur des Jeunes
Gens." As his family grew, in order to increase his income,
he added the words, " Coiffeur des Dames." This proved to be a
happy addition to his business. Most of the ladies of Agen
strove for the honour of having their hair dressed by the
poetical barber. While dressing their hair he delighted them
with his songs. He had a sympathetic voice, which touched their
souls and threw them into the sweetest of dreams.
Though Jasmin was always disposed to rhyme a little, his wise
wife never allowed him to forget his regular daily work.
At the same time she understood that his delicate nature could
not be entirely absorbed by the labours of an ordinary workman.
She was no longer jealous of his solitary communions with his
muse; and after his usual hours of occupation, she left him, or
sat by him, to enable him to pursue his dear reveries in quiet.
Mariette, or Marie, as she was usually called, was a thoroughly
good partner for Jasmin. Though not by any means a highly
educated woman, she felt the elevating effects of poetry even on
herself. She influenced her husband's mind through her practical
wisdom and good sense, while he in his turn influenced hers by
elevating her soul and intellect.
Jasmin, while he was labouring over some song or verse, found it
necessary to recite it to some one near him, but mostly to his
wife. He wandered with her along the banks of the Garonne, and
while he recited, she listened with bated breath. She could even
venture to correct him; for she knew, better than he did,
the ordinary Gascon dialect. She often found for him the true
word for the picture which he desired to present to his reader.
Though Jasmin was always thankful for her help, he did not
abandon his own words without some little contention.
He had worked out the subject in his mind, and any new word,
or mode of description, might interrupt the beauty of the verses.
When he at length recognised the justice of her criticism,
he would say, "Marie, you are right; and I will again think over
the subject, and make it fit more completely into the Gascon
idiom." In certain cases passages were suppressed; in others
they were considerably altered.
When Jasmin, after much labour and correction, had finished his
poem, he would call about him his intimate friends, and recite
the poem to them. He had no objection to the most thorough
criticism, by his wife as well as by his friends. When the poem
was long and elaborate, the auditors sometimes began to yawn.
Then the wife stepped in and said: "Jasmin, you must stop; leave
the remainder of the poem for another day." Thus the recital
ceased for the time.
The people of Agen entertained a lively sympathy for their poet.
Even those who might to a certain extent depreciate his talent,
did every justice to the nobility of his character. Perhaps some
might envy the position of a man who had risen from the ranks
and secured the esteem of men of fortune and even of the leaders
of literary opinion. Jasmin, like every person envied or perhaps
detracted, had his hours of depression. But the strong soul of
his wife in these hours came to his relief, and assuaged the
spirit of the man and the poet.
Jasmin was at one time on the point of abandoning verse-making.
Yet he was encouraged to proceed by the demands which were made
for his songs and verses. Indeed, no fete was considered
complete without the recitations of Jasmin. It was no doubt very
flattering; yet fame has its drawbacks. His invitations were
usually unceremonious.
Jasmin was no doubt recognised as a poet, and an excellent
reciter; yet he was a person who handled the razor and the
curling-tongs. When he was invited to a local party, it was
merely that he might recite his verses gratuitously. He did not
belong to their social circle, and his wife was not included.
What sympathy could she have with these distinguished personages?
At length Jasmin declined to go where his wife could not be
invited. He preferred to stay at home with his family; and all
further invitations of this sort were refused.
Besides, his friend Nodier had warned him that a poet of his
stamp ought not to appear too often at the feasts of the lazy;
that his time was too precious for that; that a poet ought,
above all, not to occupy himself with politics, for, by so doing,
he ran the risk of injuring his talent.
Some of his local critics, not having comprehended the inner
life of Jasmin, compared his wife to the gardener of Boileau and
the maid-servant of Moliere. But the comparison did not at all
apply. Jasmin had no gardener nor any old servant or
housekeeper. Jasmin and Marie were quite different. They lived
the same lives, and were all in all to each other. They were
both of the people; and though she was without culture, and had
not shared in the society of the educated, she took every
interest in the sentiments and the prosperity of her admirable
One might ask, How did Jasmin acquire his eloquence of
declamation--his power of attracting and moving assemblies of
people in all ranks of life? It was the result, no doubt, partly
of the gifts with which the Creator had endowed him, and partly
also of patience and persevering study. He had a fine voice, and
he managed it with such art that it became like a perfectly tuned
instrument in the hands of a musician.
His voice was powerful and pathetic by turns, and he possessed
great sweetness of intonation,--combined with sympathetic
feeling and special felicity of emphasis. And feeling is the
vitalising principle of poetry. Jasmin occasionally varied his
readings by singing or chaunting the songs which occurred in
certain parts of his poems. This, together with his eloquence,
gave such immense vital power to the recitations of the Agenaise
And we shall find, from the next chapter, that Jasmin used his
pathetic eloquence for very noble,--one might almost say, for
divine purposes.
Footnotes for Chapter VII.
[1] The translation appeared in 'Bentley's Miscellany' for March
1840. It was published for a charitable purpose. Mrs. Craven,
in her 'Life of Lady Georgiana Fullerton,' says: "It was put in
at once, and its two hundred and seventy lines brought to the
author twelve guineas on the day on which it appeared.
Lady Fullerton was surprised and delighted. All her long years
of success, different indeed in degree, never effaced the memory
of the joy."
[2] The refrain, in the original Gascon, is as follows:
"Las carreros diouyon flouri,
Tan belo nobio bay sourti;
Diouyon flouri, diouyon graua,
Tan belo nobio bay passa!"
[3] In Gascon:
"Las carreros diouyon gemi,
Tan belo morto bay sourti!
Diouyon gemi, diouyon ploura,
Tan belo morto bay passa!"
[4] in Gascon:
"Jour per aoutres, toutjour! et per jou, malhurouzo,
Toutjour ney,toutjour ney!
Que fay negre len d'el! Oh! que moun amo es tristo!"
[5] Sainte-Beuve: 'Causeries du Lundi,' iv. 240-1 (edit. 1852);
and 'Portraits Contemporains,' ii. 61 (edit, 1847).
It is now necessary to consider Jasmin in an altogether
different character--that of a benefactor of his species.
Self-sacrifice and devotion to others, forgetting self while
spending and being spent for the good of one's fellow creatures,
exhibit man in his noblest characteristics. But who would have
expected such virtues to be illustrated by a man like Jasmin,
sprung from the humblest condition of life?
Charity may be regarded as a universal duty, which it is in
every person's power to practise. Every kind of help given to
another, on proper motives, is an act of charity; and there is
scarcely any man in such a straitened condition as that he may
not, on certain occasions, assist his neighbour. The widow that
gives her mite to the treasury, the poor man that brings to the
thirsty a cup of cold water, perform their acts of charity,
though they may be of comparatively little moment. Wordsworth,
in a poetic gem, described the virtue of charity:
"... Man is dear to man; the poorest poor
Long for some moments in a weary life
When they can know and feel that they have been,
Themselves, the fathers and the dealers out
Of some small blessings, have been kind to such
As needed kindness, for the single cause
That we have all of us one human heart."
This maxim of Wordsworth's truly describes the life and deeds of
Jasmin. It may be said that he was first incited to exert
himself on behalf of charity to his neighbours, by the absence
of any Poor Law in France such as we have in England. In the
cases of drought, when the crops did not ripen; or in the
phylloxera blights, when the grapes were ruined; or in the
occasional disastrous floods, when the whole of the agricultural
produce was swept away; the small farmers and labourers were
reduced to great distress. The French peasant is usually very
thrifty; but where accumulated savings were not available for
relief, the result, in many cases, was widespread starvation.
Jasmin felt that, while himself living in the midst of blessings,
he owed a duty, on such occasions, to the extreme necessities of
his neighbours. The afflicted could not appeal to the
administrators of local taxes; all that they could do was to
appeal to the feelings of the benevolent, and rely upon local
charity. He believed that the extremely poor should excite our
liberality, the miserable our pity, the sick our assistance,
the ignorant our instruction, and the fallen our helping hand.
It was under such circumstances that Jasmin consented to recite
his poems for the relief of the afflicted poor. His fame had
increased from year to year. His songs were sung, and his poems
were read, all over the South of France. When it was known that
he was willing to recite his poems for charitable purposes
he was immediately assailed with invitations from far and near.
When bread fell short in winter-time, and the poor were famished;
when an hospital for the needy was starving for want of funds;
when a creche or infants' asylum had to be founded; when a
school, or an orphanage, had to be built or renovated, and money
began to fail, an appeal was at once made to Jasmin's charitable
It was not then usual for men like Jasmin to recite their poems
in public. Those who possessed his works might recite them for
their own pleasure. But no one could declaim them better than he
could, and his personal presence was therefore indispensable.
It is true, that about the same time Mr. Dickens and Mr.
Thackeray were giving readings from their works in England and
America. Both readers were equally popular; but while they made
a considerable addition to their fortunes,[1] Jasmin realised
nothing for himself; all that was collected at his recitations
was given to the poor.
Of course, Jasmin was received with enthusiasm in those towns
and cities which he visited for charitable purposes. When it was
known that he was about to give one of his poetical recitals,
the artisan left his shop, the blacksmith his smithy, the servant
her household work; and the mother often shut up her
house and went with her children to listen to the marvelous poet.
Young girls spread flowers before his pathway; and lovely women
tore flowers from their dresses to crown their beloved minstrel
with their offerings.
Since his appearance at Bordeaux, in 1835, when he recited his
Blind Girl for a charitable purpose, he had been invited to many
meetings in the neighbourhood of Agen, wherever any worthy
institution had to be erected or assisted. He continued to write
occasional verses, though not of any moment, for he was still
dreaming of another masterpiece.
All further thoughts of poetical composition were, however,
dispelled, by the threatened famine in the Lot-et-Garonne.
In the winter of 1837 bread became very dear in the South of
France. The poor people were suffering greatly, and the usual
appeal was made to Jasmin to come to their help. A concert was
advertised to be given at Tonneins, a considerable town to the
north-west of Agen, when the local musicians were to give their
services, and Jasmin was to recite a poem.
For this purpose he composed his 'Charity' (La Caritat).
It was addressed to the ladies and musicians who assisted at the
entertainment. Charity is a short lyrical effusion, not so much
a finished poem as the utterings of a tender heart. Though of
some merit, it looks pale beside The Blind Girl. But his choice
of the subject proved a forecast of the noble uses which Jasmin
was afterwards enabled to make of his poetical talents.
Man, he said in his verses, is truly great, chiefly through his
charity. The compassionate man, doing his works of benevolence,
though in secret, in a measure resembles the Divine Author of
his being. The following is the introductory passage of the
"As we behold at sea great ships of voyagers
Glide o'er the waves to billows white with spray,
And to another world the hardy travellers convey;
Just as bold savants travel through the sky
To illustrate the world which they espy,
Men without ceasing cry, 'How great is man!'
But no! Great God! How infinitely little he!
Has he a genius? 'Tis nothing without goodness!
Without some grace, no grandeur do we rate.
It is the tender-hearted who show charity in kindness.
Unseen of men, he hides his gift from sight,
He does all that he owes in silent good,
Like the poor widow's mite;
Yet both are great,
Great above all--great as the Grace of God."
This is, of course, a very feeble attempt to render the words of
Jasmin. He was most pathetic when he recounted the sorrows of
the poor. While doing so, he avoided exciting their lower
instincts. He disavowed all envy of the goods of others.
He maintained respect for the law, while at the same time he
exhorted the rich to have regard for their poorer brethren.
"It is the glory of the people," he said at a meeting of workmen,
"to protect themselves from evil, and to preserve throughout
their purity of character."
This was the spirit in which Jasmin laboured. He wrote some
other poems in a similar strain--'The Rich and Poor,'
'The Poor Man's Doctor,' 'The Rich Benefactor' (Lou Boun Riche);
but Jasmin's own Charity contained the germ of them all. He put
his own soul into his poems. At Tonneins, the emotion he excited
by his reading of Charity was very great, and the subscriptions
for the afflicted poor were correspondingly large.
The municipality never forgot the occasion; and whenever they
became embarrassed by the poverty of the people, they invariably
appealed to Jasmin, and always with the same success. On one
occasion the Mayor wrote to him: "We are still under the charm of
your verses; and I address you in the name of the poor people of
Tonneins, to thank you most gratefully for the charitable act
you have done for their benefit. The evening you appeared here,
sir, will long survive in our memory. It excited everywhere the
most lively gratitude. The poor enjoyed a day of happiness,
and the rich enjoyed a day of pleasure, for nothing can be more
blessed than Charity!"
Jasmin, in replying to this letter, said: "Christ's words were,
'Ye have the poor always with you'; in pronouncing this fact,
he called the world to deeds of charity, and instituted this
admirable joint responsibility (solidarite), in virtue of which
each man should fulfil the duty of helping his poorer neighbours.
It is this responsibility which, when the cry of hunger or
suffering is heard, is most instrumental in bringing all generous
souls to the front, in order to create and multiply the resources
of the poor."
Jasmin's success at Tonneins led to numerous invitations of a
like character. "Come over and help us," was the general cry
during that winter of famine. The barber's shop was invaded by
numerous deputations; and the postman was constantly delivering
letters of invitation at his door. He was no longer master of
his time, and had considerable difficulty in attending to his
own proper business. Sometimes his leisure hours were
appropriated six months beforehand; and he was often
peremptorily called upon to proceed with his philanthropic work.
When he could find time enough to spare from his business,
he would consent to give another recitation. When the distance
was not great he walked, partly for exercise, and partly to save
money. There were few railways in those days, and hiring a
conveyance was an expensive affair. Besides, his desire always
was, to hand over, if possible, the whole of the receipts to the
charitable institutions for whose benefit he gave his
The wayfaring poet, on his approach to the town in which he was
to appear, was usually met by crowds of people. They received
him with joy and acclamation. The magistrates presented him with
a congratulatory address. Deputations from neighbouring towns
were present at the celebration. At the entrance to the town
Jasmin often passed under a triumphal arch, with "Welcome,
Jasmin! our native poet!" inscribed upon it. He was conveyed,
headed by the local band, to the hall where he was to give his
Jasmin's appearance at Bergerac was a great event. Bergerac is a
town of considerable importance, containing about fourteen
thousand inhabitants, situated on the right or north bank of the
river Dordogne. But during that terrible winter the poor people
of Bergerac were in great distress, and Jasmin was summoned to
their help. The place was at too great a distance from Agen for
him to walk thither, and accordingly he was obliged to take a
conveyance. He was as usual met by a multitude of people,
who escorted him into the town.
The magistrates could not find a place sufficiently large to
give accommodation to the large number of persons who desired to
hear him. At length they found a large building which had been
used as a barn; and there they raised a platform for the poet.
The place was at once filled, and those who could not get
admission crowded about the entrance. Some of the people raised
ladders against the walls of the building, and clambered in at
the windows. Groups of auditors were seen at every place where
they could find a footing. Unfortunately the weather was rainy,
and a crowd of women filled the surrounding meadow, sheltered by
their umbrellas.
More than five hundred persons had not been able to find
admission, and it was therefore necessary for Jasmin to give
several more readings to satisfy the general enthusiasm. All the
receipts were given over by Jasmin for the benefit of the poor,
and the poet hurried home at once to his shaving and
On another occasion, at Gontaud, the weather was more
satisfactory. The day was fine and sunny, and the ground was
covered with flowers. About the time that Jasmin was expected,
an open carriage, festooned with flowers, and drawn by four
horses, was sent to the gate of the town, escorted by the
municipal council, to wait for the poet. When he arrived on foot
for the place was at no great distance from Agen twelve young
girls, clothed in white, offered him a bouquet of flowers, and
presented him with an address. He then entered the carriage and
proceeded to the place where he was to give his recitation. All
went well and happily, and a large offering was collected and
distributed amongst the poor.
Then at Damazan, where he gave another reading for the same
purpose, after he had entered the carriage which was to convey
him to the place of entertainment, a number of girls preceded
the carriage in which the poet sat, and scattered flowers in his
way, singing a refrain of the country adapted to the occasion.
It resembled the refrain sung before the bride in The Blind Girl
of Castel-Cuille:
"The paths with flowers bestrew,
So great a poet comes this way;
For all should flower and bloom anew,
So great a poet comes to-day."[2]
These are only specimens of the way in which Jasmin was received
during his missions of philanthropy. He went from north
to south, from east to west, by river and by road, sleeping
where he could, but always happy and cheerful, doing his noble
work with a full and joyous heart. He chirruped and sang from
time to time as if his mouth was full of nightingales. And he
was never without enthusiastic multitudes to listen to his
recitals, and to share their means with the poor and afflicted.
We might fill this little story with a detailed account of his
journeyings; but a summary account is all that is at present
necessary. We shall afterwards return to the subject.
Footnotes to Chapter VIII.
[1] Mr. George Dolby, in his work 'Charles Dickens as I knew
him,' tells "the story of the famous 'reading tours,' the most
brilliantly successful enterprises that were ever undertaken."
Chappell and Co. paid him 1500 sterling for thirty readings
in London and the provinces, by which they realised 5000
sterling. Arthur Smith and Mr. Headland were his next managers,
and finally Mr. George Dolby. The latter says that Mr. Dickens
computed the money he netted under the Smith and Headland
management at about 12,000 sterling; and under Dolby's management
"he cleared nearly 33,000 sterling."
[2] In Gascon:
"Las carreros diouyon fleuri,
Tan gran poete bay sourti;
Diouyon fleuri, diouyon graua,
Tan gran poete bay passa."
Jasmin published no further poems for three or four years.
His time was taken up with his trade and his philanthropic
Besides, he did not compose with rapidity; he elaborated his
poems by degrees; he arranged the plot of his story, and then he
clothed it with poetical words and images. While he walked and
journeyed from place to place, he was dreaming and thinking of
his next dramatic poem--his Franconnette, which many of his
critics regard as his masterpiece.
Like most of his previous poems, Jasmin wrote Franconnette in
the Gascon dialect. Some of his intimate friends continued to
expostulate with him for using this almost dead and virtually
illiterate patois. Why not write in classical French? M. Dumon,
his colleague at the Academy of Agen, again urged him to employ
the national language, which all intelligent readers could
"Under the reign of our Henry IV.," said M. Dumon, "the Langue
d'Oil became, with modifications, the language of the French,
while the Langue d'Oc remained merely a patois. Do not therefore
sing in the dialect of the past, but in the language of the
present, like Beranger, Lamartine, and Victor Hugo.
"What," asked M. Dumon, "will be the fate of your original
poetry? It will live, no doubt, like the dialect in which it is
written; but is this, the Gascon patois, likely to live? Will it
be spoken by our posterity as long as it has been spoken by our
ancestors? I hope not; at least I wish it may be less spoken.
Yet I love its artless and picturesque expressions, its lively
recollections of customs and manners which have long ceased to
exist, like those old ruins which still embellish our landscape.
But the tendency which is gradually effacing the vestiges of our
old language and customs is but the tendency of civilisation
"When Rome fell under the blows of the barbarians, she was
entirely conquered; her laws were subjected at the same time as
her armies. The conquest dismembered her idiom as well as her
empire.... The last trace of national unity disappeared in
this country after the Roman occupation. It had been Gaul,
but now it became France. The force of centralisation which has
civilised Europe, covering this immense chaos, has brought to
light, after more than a hundred years, this most magnificent
creation the French monarchy and the French language. Let us
lament, if you will, that the poetical imagination and the
characteristic language of our ancestors have not left a more
profound impression. But the sentence is pronounced; even our
Henry IV. could not change it. Under his reign the Langue d'Oil
became for ever the French language, and the Langue d'Oc
remained but a patois.
"Popular poet as you are, you sing to posterity in the language
of the past. This language, which you recite so well, you have
restored and perhaps even created; yet you do not feel that it
is the national language; this powerful instrument of a new era,
which invades and besieges yours on all sides like the last
fortress of an obsolete civilisation."
Jasmin was cut to the quick by this severe letter of his friend,
and he lost not a moment in publishing a defence of the language
condemned to death by his opponent. He even displayed the force
and harmony of the language which had been denounced by M. Dumon
as a patois. He endeavoured to express himself in the most
characteristic and poetical style, as evidence of the vitality
of his native Gascon. He compared it to a widowed mother who
dies, and also to a mother who does not die, but continues
young, lovely, and alert, even to the last. Dumon had published
his protest on the 28th of August, 1837, and a few days later,
on the 2nd of September, Jasmin replied in the following poem:-
"There's not a deeper grief to man
Than when his mother, faint with years,
Decrepit, old, and weak and wan,
Beyond the leech's art appears;
When by her couch her son may stay,
And press her hand, and watch her eyes,
And feel, though she revives to-day,
Perchance his hope to-morrow dies.
It is not thus, believe me, sir,
With this enchantress--she will call
Our second mother: Frenchmen err,
Who, cent'ries since, proclaimed her fall!
Our mother-tongue--all melody--
While music lives can never die.
Yes! she still lives, her words still ring;
Her children yet her carols sing;
And thousand years may roll away
Before her magic notes decay.
The people love their ancient songs, and will
While yet a people, love and keep them still:
These lays are as their mother; they recall
Fond thoughts of mother, sister, friends, and all
The many little things that please the heart,
The dreams, the hopes, from which we cannot part.
These songs are as sweet waters, where we find
Health in the sparkling wave that nerves the mind.
In ev'ry home, at ev'ry cottage door,
By ev'ry fireside, when our toil is o'er,
These songs are round us--near our cradles sigh,
And to the grave attend us when we die.
Oh, think, cold critics! 'twill be late and long,
Ere time shall sweep away this flood of song!
There are who bid this music sound no more,
And you can hear them, nor defend--deplore!
You, who were born where its first daisies grew,
Have fed upon its honey, sipp'd its dew,
Slept in its arms, and wakened to its kiss,
Danced to its sounds, and warbled to its tone--
You can forsake it in an hour like this!
Yes, weary of its age, renounce--disown--
And blame one minstrel who is true--alone!"[1]
This is but a paraphrase of Jasmin's poem, which, as we have
already said, cannot be verbally translated into any other
language. Even the last editor of Jasmin's poems--Boyer d'Agen
--does not translate them into French poetry, but into French
prose. Much of the aroma of poetry evaporates in converting
poetical thoughts from one language into another.
Jasmin, in one part of his poem, compares the ancient patois to
one of the grand old elms in the Promenade de Gravier, which,
having in a storm had some of its branches torn away, was
ordered by the local authorities to be rooted up. The labourers
worked away, but their pick-axes became unhafted. They could not
up-root the tree; they grew tired and forsook the work. When the
summer came, glorious verdure again clothed the remaining
boughs; the birds sang sweetly in the branches, and the
neighbours rejoiced that its roots had been so numerous and the
tree had been so firmly planted.
Jasmin's description of his mother-tongue is most touching.
Seasons pass away, and, as they roll on, their echoes sound in
our ears; but the loved tongue shall not and must not die.
The mother-tongue recalls our own dear mother, sisters, friends,
and crowds of bygone associations, which press into our minds
while sitting by the evening fire. This tongue is the language
of our toils and labours; she comes to us at our birth, she
lingers at our tomb.
"No, no--I cannot desert my mother-tongue!" said Jasmin.
"It preserves the folk-lore of the district; it is the language
of the poor, of the labourer, the shepherd, the farmer and
grape-gatherers, of boys and girls, of brides and bridegrooms.
The people," he said to M. Dumon, "love to hear my songs in
their native dialect. You have enough poetry in classical
French; leave me to please my compatriots in the dialect which
they love. I cannot give up this harmonious language, our second
mother, even though it has been condemned for three hundred
years. Why! she still lives, her voice still sounds; like her,
the seasons pass, the bells ring out their peals, and though a
hundred thousand years may roll away, they will still be
sounding and ringing!"
Jasmin has been compared to Dante. But there is this immense
difference between them. Dante was virtually the creator of the
Italian language, which was in its infancy when he wrote his
'Divine Comedy' some six hundred years ago, while Jasmin was
merely reviving a gradually-expiring dialect. Drouilhet de
Sigalas has said that Dante lived at the sunrise of his
language, while Jasmin lived at its sunset. Indeed, Gascon was
not a written language, and Jasmin had to collect his lexicon,
grammar, and speech mostly from the peasants who lived in the
neighbourhood of Agen. Dante virtually created the Italian
language, while Jasmin merely resuscitated for a time the Gascon
Jasmin was not deterred by the expostulations of Dumon,
but again wrote his new epic of Franconnette in Gascon.
It took him a long time to clothe his poetical thoughts in words.
Nearly five years had elapsed since he recited The Blind Girl of
Castel-Cuille to the citizens of Bordeaux; since then he had
written a few poetical themes, but he was mainly thinking and
dreaming, and at times writing down his new epic Franconnette.
It was completed in 1840, when he dedicated the poem to the city
of Toulouse.
The story embodied in the poem was founded on an ancient
tradition. The time at which it occurred was towards the end of
the sixteenth century, when France was torn to pieces by the
civil war between the Huguenots and the Catholics. Agen was then
a centre of Protestantism. It was taken and retaken by both
parties again and again. The Huguenot captain, Truelle, occupied
the town in April 1562; but Blaize de Montluc, "a fierce
Catholic," as he is termed by M. Paul Joanne, assailed the town
with a strong force and recaptured it. On entering the place,
Montluc found that the inhabitants had fled with the garrison,
and "the terrible chief was greatly disappointed at not finding
any person in Agen to slaughter."[2] Montluc struck with a heavy
hand the Protestants of the South. In the name of the God of
Mercy he hewed the Huguenots to pieces, and, after spreading
desolation through the South, he retired to his fortress at
Estellac, knelt before the altar, took the communion, and was
welcomed by his party as one of the greatest friends of the
The civil war went on for ten years, until in August 1572 the
massacre of Saint Bartholomew took place. After that event the
word "Huguenot" was abolished, or was only mentioned with
terror. Montluc's castle of Estellac, situated near the pretty
village of Estanquet, near Roquefort--famous for its cheese--
still exists; his cabinet is preserved, and his tomb and statue
are to be seen in the adjoining garden. The principal scenes of
the following story are supposed to have occurred at Estanquet,
a few miles to the south of Agen.
Franconnette, like The Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille, is a story
of rivalry in love; but, though more full of adventure, it ends
more happily. Franconnette was a village beauty. Her brilliant
eyes, her rosy complexion, her cherry lips, her lithe and
handsome figure, brought all the young fellows of the
neighbourhood to her feet. Her father was a banished Huguenot,
but beauty of person sets differences of belief at defiance.
The village lads praised her and tried to win her affections;
but, like beauties in general, surrounded by admirers, she was a
bit of a flirt.
At length two rivals appeared--one Marcel, a soldier under
Montluc, favoured by Franconnette's grandmother, and Pascal,
the village blacksmith, favoured by the girl herself. One Sunday
afternoon a number of young men and maidens assembled at the
foot of Montluc's castle of Estellac on the votive festival of
St. Jacques at Roquefort. Franconnette was there, as well as
Marcel and Pascal, her special admirers. Dancing began to the
music of the fife; but Pascal, the handsomest of the young men,
seemed to avoid the village beauty. Franconnette was indignant
at his neglect, but was anxious to secure his attention and
devotion. She danced away, sliding, whirling, and pirouetting.
What would not the admiring youths have given to impress two
kisses on her lovely cheek![3]
In these village dances, it is the custom for the young men to
kiss their partners, if they can tire them out; but in some
cases, when the girl is strong; and an accomplished dancer,
she declines to be tired until she wishes to cease dancing.
First one youth danced with Franconnette, then another;
but she tired them all. Then came Marcel, the soldier, wearing
his sabre, with a cockade in his cap--a tall and stately fellow,
determined to win the reward. But he too, after much whirling
and dancing, was at last tired out: he was about to fall with
dizziness, and then gave in. On goes the dance; Franconnette
waits for another partner; Pascal springs to her side, and takes
her round the waist. Before they had made a dozen steps,
the girl smiles and stops, and turns her blushing cheeks to
receive her partner's willing kisses.
Marcel started up in a rage, and drawing himself to his full
height, he strode to Pascal. "Peasant!" he said, "thou hast
supplied my place too quickly," and then dealt him a thundering
blow between the eyes. Pascal was not felled; he raised his arm,
and his fist descended on Marcel's head like a bolt. The soldier
attempted to draw his sabre. When Pascal saw this, he closed
with Marcel, grasped him in his arms, and dashed him to the
ground, crushed and senseless.
Marcel was about to rise to renew the duel, when suddenly
Montluc, who happened to be passing with the Baron of Roquefort,
stepped forward and sternly ordered the combatants to separate.
This terrible encounter put an end to the fete. The girls fled
like frightened doves. The young men escorted Pascal to his home
preceded by the fifers. Marcel was not discouraged.
On recovering his speech, he stammered out, grinding his teeth:
"They shall pay clearly for this jesting; Franconnette shall
have no other husband than myself."
Many months passed. The harvest was gathered in. There were no
more out-door fetes or dances. The villagers of Estanquet
assembled round their firesides. Christmas arrived with it games
and carol-singing. Then came the Feast of Lovers, called the
Buscou,[4] on the last day of the year, where, in a large
chamber, some hundred distaffs were turning, and boys and girls,
with nimble fingers, were winding thread of the finest flax.
Franconnette was there, and appointed queen of the games.
After the winding was over, the songs and dances began to the
music of a tambourin. The queen, admired by all, sang and danced
like the rest.
Pascal was not there; his mother was poor, and she endeavoured
to persuade him to remain at home and work. After a short
struggle with himself, Pascal yielded. He turned aside to his
forge in silent dejection; and soon the anvil was ringing and
the sparks were flying, while away down in the village the
busking went merrily on. "If the prettiest were always the most
sensible," says Jasmin, "how much my Franconnette might have
accomplished;" but instead of this, she flitted from place to
place, idle and gay, jesting, singing, dancing, and, as usual,
bewitching all.
Then Thomas, Pascal's friend, asked leave to sing a few verses;
and, fixing his keen eyes upon the coquette, he began in tones
of lute-like sweetness the following song, entitled 'The Syren
with a Heart of Ice.' We have translated it, as nearly as
possible, from the Gascon dialect.
"Faribolo pastouro,
Sereno al co de glas,
Oh! digo, digo couro
Entendren tinda l'houro
Oun t'amistouzaras.
Toutjour fariboulejes,
Et quand parpailloulejes
La foulo que mestrejes,
Sur toun cami set met
Et te siet.
Mais res d'acos, maynado,
Al bounhur pot mena;
Qu'es acos d'estre aymado,
Quand on sat pas ayma?"
"Wayward shepherd maid,
Syren with heart of ice,
Oh! tell us, tell us! when
We listen for the hour
When thou shalt feel
Ever so free and gay,
And when you flutter o'er
The number you subdue,
Upon thy path they fall
At thy feet.
But nothing comes of this, young maid,
To happiness it never leads;
What is it to be loved like this
If you ne'er can love again?"
Such poetry however defies translation. The more exquisite the
mastery of a writer over his own language, the more difficult it
is to reproduce it in another. But the spirit of the song is in
Miss Costello's translation,[5] as given in Franconnette at the
close of this volume.
When reciting Franconnette, Jasmin usually sang The Syren to
music of his own composition. We accordingly annex his music.
All were transported with admiration at the beautiful song.
When Thomas had finished, loud shouts were raised for the name of
the poet. "Who had composed this beautiful lay?" "It is
Pascal," replied Thomas. "Bravo, Pascal! Long live Pascal! "was
the cry of the young people. Franconnette was unwontedly touched
by the song. "But where is Pascal?" she said. "If he loves, why
does he not appear?" "Oh," said Laurent, another of his rivals,
in a jealous and piqued tone, "he is too poor, he is obliged to
stay at home, his father is so infirm that he lives upon alms!"
"You lie," cried Thomas. "Pascal is unfortunate; he has been
six months ill from the wounds he received in defence of
Franconnette, and now his family is dependent upon him; but he
has industry and courage, and will soon recover from his
Franconnette remained quiet, concealing her emotions. Then the
games began. They played at Cache Couteau or Hunt the Slipper.
Dancing came next; Franconnette was challenged by Laurent,
and after many rounds the girl was tired, and Laurent claimed the
kisses that she had forfeited. Franconnette flew away like a
bird; Laurent ran after her, caught her, and was claiming the
customary forfeit, when, struggling to free herself, Laurent
slipped upon the floor, fell heavily, and broke his arm.
Franconnette was again unfortunate. Ill-luck seems to have
pursued the girl. The games came to an end, and the young people
were about to disperse when, at this unlucky moment, the door
was burst open and a sombre apparition appeared. It was the
Black Forest sorcerer, the supposed warlock of the neighbourhood.
"Unthinking creatures," he said, "I have come from my gloomy
rocks up yonder to open your eyes. You all adore this
Franconnette. Behold, she is accursed! While in her cradle her
father, the Huguenot, sold her to the devil. He has punished
Pascal and Laurent for the light embrace she gave them.
He warned in time and avoid her. The demon alone has a claim to
The sorcerer ended; sparks of fire surrounded him, and after
turning four times round in a circle he suddenly disappeared!
Franconnette's friends at once held aloof from her. They called
out to her," Begone!" All in a maze the girl shuddered and
sickened; she became senseless, and fell down on the floor in a
swoon. The young people fled, leaving her helpless. And thus
ended the second fete which began so gaily.
The grossest superstition then prevailed in France, as
everywhere. Witches and warlocks were thoroughly believed in,
far more so than belief in God and His Son. The news spread
abroad that the girl was accursed and sold to the Evil One, and
she was avoided by everybody. She felt herself doomed. At
length she reached her grandmother's house, but she could not
work, she could scarcely stand. The once radiant Franconnette
could neither play nor sing; she could only weep.
Thus ended two cantos of the poem. The third opens with a lovely
picture of a cottage by a leafy brookside in the hamlet of
Estanquet. The spring brought out the singing-birds to pair and
build their nests. They listened, but could no longer hear the
music which, in former years, had been almost sweeter than their
own. The nightingales, more curious than the rest, flew into the
maid's garden; they saw her straw hat on a bench, a rake and
watering-pot among the neglected jonquils, and the rose branches
running riot. Peering yet further and peeping into the cottage
door, the curious birds discovered an old woman asleep in her
arm-chair, and a pale, quiet girl beside her, dropping tears
upon her lily hands. "Yes, yes, it is. Franconnette," says the
poet. "You will have guessed that already. A poor girl, weeping
in solitude, the daughter of a Huguenot, banned by the Church
and sold to the devil! Could anything be more frightful?"
Nevertheless her grandmother said to her, "My child, it is not
true; the sorcerer's charge is false. He of good cheer, you are
more lovely than ever." One gleam of hope had come to
Franconnette; she hears that Pascal has defended her everywhere,
and boldly declared her to be the victim of a brutal plot. She
now realised how great was his goodness, and her proud spirit
was softened even to tears. The grandmother put in a good word
for Marcel, but the girl turned aside. Then the old woman said,
"To-morrow is Easter Day; go to Mass, pray as you never prayed
before, and take the blessed bread, proving that you are
numbered with His children for ever."
The girl consented, and went to the Church of Saint Peter on
Easter morning. She knelt, with her chaplet of beads, among the
rest, imploring Heaven's mercy. But she knelt alone in the midst
of a wide circle. All the communicants avoided her. The
churchwarden, Marcel's uncle, in his long-tailed coat,
with a pompous step, passed her entirely by, and refused her the
heavenly meal. Pascal was there and came to her help. He went
forward to the churchwarden and took from the silver plate the
crown piece[6] of the holy element covered with flowers,
and took and presented two pieces of the holy bread to
Franconnette--one for herself, the other for her grandmother.
From that moment she begins to live a new life, and to
understand the magic of love. She carries home the blessed bread
to the ancient dame, and retires to her chamber to give herself
up, with the utmost gratefulness, to the rapturous delight of
loving. "Ah," says Jasmin in his poem, "the sorrowing heart aye
loveth best!"
Yet still she remembers the fatal doom of the sorcerer that she
is sold for a price to the demon. All seem to believe the
hideous tale, and no one takes her part save Pascal and her
grandmother. She kneels before her little shrine and prays to
the Holy Virgin for help and succour.
At the next fete day she repaired to the church of Notre Dame de
bon Encontre,[7] where the inhabitants of half a dozen of the
neighbouring villages had assembled, with priests and crucifixes,
garlands and tapers, banners and angels. The latter, girls about
to be confirmed, walked in procession and sang the Angelus at
the appropriate hours. The report had spread abroad that
Franconnette would entreat the Blessed Virgin to save her
from the demon. The strangers were more kind to her than her
immediate neighbours, and from many a pitying heart the prayer
went up that a miracle might be wrought in favour of the
beautiful maiden. She felt their sympathy, and it gave her
confidence. The special suppliants passed up to the altar one by
one--Anxious mothers, disappointed lovers, orphans and
children. They kneel, they ask for blessings, they present their
candles for the old priest to bless, and then they retire.
Now came the turn of Franconnette. Pascal was in sight and
prayed for her success. She went forward in a happy frame of
mind, with her taper and a bouquet of flowers. She knelt before
the priest. He took the sacred image and presented it to her;
but scarcely had it touched the lips of the orphan when a
terrible peal of thunder rent the heavens, and a bolt of
lightning struck the spire of the church, extinguishing her
taper as well as the altar lights. This was a most unlucky
coincidence for the terrified girl; and, cowering like a lost
soul, she crept out of the church. The people were in
consternation. "It was all true, she was now sold to the devil!
Put her to death, that is the only way of ending our
The truth is that the storm of thunder and lightning prevailed
throughout the neighbourhood. It is a common thing in southern
climes. The storm which broke out at Notre Dame destroyed the
belfry; the church of Roquefort was demolished by a bolt of
lightning, the spire of Saint Pierre was ruined. The storm was
followed by a tempest of hail and rain. Agen was engulfed by the
waters; her bridge was destroyed,[8] and many of the
neighbouring vineyards were devastated. And all this ruin was
laid at the door of poor Franconnette!
The neighbours--her worst enemies--determined to burn the
daughter of the Huguenot out of her cottage. The grandmother
first heard the cries of the villagers: "Fire them, let them
both burn together." Franconnette rushed to the door and pleaded
for mercy. "Go back," cried the crowd, "you must both roast
together." They set fire to the rick outside and then proceeded
to fire the thatch of the cottage. "Hold, hold!" cried a stern
voice, and Pascal rushed in amongst them. "Cowards! would you
murder two defenceless women? Tigers that you are, would you
fire and burn them in their dwelling?"
Marcel too appeared; he had not yet given up the hope of winning
Franconnette's love. He now joined Pascal in defending her and
the old dame, and being a soldier of Montluc, he was a powerful
man in the neighbourhood. The girl was again asked to choose
between the two. At last, after refusing any marriage under
present circumstances, she clung to Pascal. "I would have died
alone," she said, "but since you will have it so, I resist no
longer. It is our fate; we will die together." Pascal was
willing to die with her, and turning to Marcel he said: "I have
been more fortunate than you, but you are a brave man and you
will forgive me. I have no friend, but will you act as a squire
and see me to my grave?" After struggling with his feelings,
Marcel at last said: "Since it is her wish, I will be your
A fortnight later, the marriage between the unhappy lovers took
place. Every one foreboded disaster. The wedding procession
went down the green hill towards the church of Notre Dame. There
was no singing, no dancing, no merriment, as was usual on such
occasions. The rustics shuddered at heart over the doom of
Pascal. The soldier Marcel marched at the head of the
wedding-party. At the church an old woman appeared, Pascal's
mother. She flung her arms about him and adjured him to fly from
his false bride, for his marriage would doom him to death.
She even fell at the feet of her son and said that he should pass
over her body rather than be married. Pascal turned to Marcel
and said: "Love overpowers me! If I die, will you take care of
my mother?"
Then the gallant soldier dispelled the gloom which had
overshadowed the union of the loving pair. "I can do no more,"
he said; "your mother has conquered me. Franconnette is good,
and pure, and true. I loved the maid, Pascal, and would have
shed my blood for her, but she loved you instead of me.
"Know that she is not sold to the Evil One. In my despair I
hired the sorcerer to frighten you with his mischievous tale,
and chance did the rest. When we both demanded her, she
confessed her love for you. It was more than I could bear,
and I resolved that we should both die.
"But your mother has disarmed me; she reminds me of my own.
Live, Pascal, for your wife and your mother! You need have no
more fear of me. It is better that I should die the death of a
soldier than with a crime upon my conscience."
Thus saying, he vanished from the crowd, who burst into cheers.
The happy lovers fell into each other's arms. "And now," said
Jasmin, in concluding his poem, "I must lay aside my pencil.
I had colours for sorrow; I have none for such happiness as
Footnotes to Chapter IX.
[1] The whole of Jasmin's answer to M. Dumon will be found in
the Appendix at the end of this volume.
[2]'Gascogne et Languedoc,' par Paul Joanne, p. 95 (edit. 1883).
[3] The dance still exists in the neighbourhood of Agen.
When there a few years ago, I was drawn by the sound of a fife
and a drum to the spot where a dance of this sort was going on.
It was beyond the suspension bridge over the Garonne, a little to
the south of Agen. A number of men and women of the
working-class were assembled on the grassy sward, and were
dancing, whirling, and pirouetting to their hearts' content.
Sometimes the girls bounded from the circle, were followed by
their sweethearts, and kissed. It reminded one of the dance so
vigorously depicted by Jasmin in Franconnette.
[4] Miss Harriet Preston, of Boston, U.S., published part of a
translation of Franconnette in the 'Atlantic Monthly' for
February, 1876, and adds the following note: "The buscou, or
busking, was a kind of bee, at which the young people assembled,
bringing the thread of their late spinning, which was divided
into skeins of the proper size by a broad and thin plate of
steel or whalebone called a busc. The same thing, under
precisely the same name, figured in the toilets of our
grandmothers, and hence, probably, the Scotch use of the verb to
busk, or attire."
[5] Miss Louisa Stuart Costello in 'Bearn and the Pyrenees.'
[6] A custom which then existed in certain parts of France.
It was taken by the French emigrants to Canada, where it existed
not long ago. The crown of the sacramental bread used to be
reserved for the family of the seigneur or other communicants of
[7] A church in the suburbs of Agen, celebrated for its legends
and miracles, to which numerous pilgrimages are made in the
month of May.
[8] A long time ago the inhabitants of the town of Agen
communicated with the other side of the Garonne by means of
little boats. The first wooden bridge was commenced when
Aquitaine was governed by the English, in the reign of Richard
Coeur-de-lion, at the end of the twelfth century. The bridge was
destroyed and repaired many times, and one of the piles on which
the bridge was built is still to be seen. It is attributed to
Napoleon I. that he caused the first bridge of stone to be
erected, for the purpose of facilitating the passage of his
troops to Spain. The work was, however, abandoned during his
reign, and it was not until the Restoration that the bridge was
completed. Since that time other bridges, especially the
suspension bridge, have been erected, to enable the inhabitants
of the towns on the Garonne to communicate freely with each
It had hitherto been the custom of Jasmin to dedicate his poems
to one of his friends; but in the case of Franconnette he
dedicated the poem to the city of Toulouse. His object in making
the dedication was to express his gratitude for the banquet
given to him in 1836 by the leading men of the city, at which
the President had given the toast of "Jasmin, the adopted son of
Toulouse was the most wealthy and prosperous city in the South
of France. Among its citizens were many men of literature, art,
and science. Jasmin was at first disposed to dedicate
Franconnette to the city of Bordeaux, where he had been so
graciously received and feted on the recitation of his Blind
Girl of Castel-Cuille; but he eventually decided to dedicate the
new poem to the city of Toulouse, where he had already achieved
a considerable reputation.
Jasmin was received with every honour by the city which had
adopted him. It was his intention to read the poem at Toulouse
before its publication. If there was one of the towns or cities
in which his language was understood--one which promised by
the strength and depth of its roots to defy all the chances of
the future--that city was Toulouse, the capital of the Langue
The place in which he first recited the poem was the Great Hall
of the Museum. When the present author saw it about two years
ago, the ground floor was full of antique tombs, statues, and
monuments of the past; while the hall above it was crowded with
pictures and works of art, ancient and modern.
About fifteen hundred persons assembled to listen to Jasmin in
the Great Hall. "It is impossible," said the local journal,[1]
"to describe the transport with which he was received." The vast
gallery was filled with one of the most brilliant assemblies
that had ever met in Toulouse. Jasmin occupied the centre of the
platform. At his right and left hand were seated the Mayor,
the members of the Municipal Council, the Military Chiefs,
the members of the Academy of Jeux-Floraux,[2] and many
distinguished persons in science, literature, and learning.
A large space had been reserved for the accommodation of ladies,
who appeared in their light summer dresses, coloured like the
rainbow; and behind them stood an immense number of the citizens
of Toulouse.
Jasmin had no sooner begun to recite his poem than it was clear
that he had full command of his audience. Impressed by his
eloquence and powers of declamation, they were riveted to their
seats, dazzled and moved by turns, as the crowd of beautiful
thoughts passed through their minds. The audience were so much
absorbed by the poet's recitation that not a whisper was heard.
He evoked by the tones and tremor of his voice their sighs,
their tears, their indignation. He was by turns gay, melancholy,
artless, tender, arch, courteous, and declamatory. As the drama
proceeded, the audience recognised the beauty of the plot and
the poet's knowledge of the human heart. He touched with grace
all the cords of his lyre. His poetry evidently came direct from
his heart: it was as rare as it was delicious.
The success of the recitation was complete, and when Jasmin
resumed his seat he received the most enthusiastic applause.
As the whole of the receipts were, as usual, handed over by
Jasminto the local charities, the assembly decided by acclamation
that a subscription should be raised to present to the poet, who
had been adopted by the city, some testimony of their admiration
for his talent, and for his having first recited to them and
dedicated to Toulouse his fine poem of Franconnette.
Jasmin handed over to the municipality the manuscript of his
poem in a volume beautifully bound. The Mayor, in eloquent
language, accepted the work, and acknowledged the fervent thanks
of the citizens of Toulouse.
As at Bordeaux, Jasmin was feted and entertained by the most
distinguished people of the city. At one of the numerous
banquets at which he was present, he replied to the speech of
the chairman by an impromptu in honour of those who had so
splendidly entertained him. But, as he had already said:
"Impromptus may be good money of the heart, but they are often
the worst money of the head."[3]
On the day following the entertainment, Jasmin was invited to a
"grand banquet" given by the coiffeurs of Toulouse, where they
presented him with "a crown of immortelles and jasmines,"
and to them also he recited another of his impromptus.[4]
Franconnette was shortly after published, and the poem was
received with almost as much applause by the public as it had
been by the citizens of Toulouse. Sainte-beuve, the prince of
French critics, said of the work:--
"In all his compositions Jasmin has a natural, touching idea;
it is a history, either of his invention, or taken from some
local tradition. With his facility as an improvisatore, aided
by the patois in which he writes,... when he puts his dramatis
personae into action, he endeavours to depict their thoughts,
all their simple yet lively conversation, and to clothe them in
words the most artless, simple, and transparent, and in a
language true, eloquent, and sober: never forget this latter
characteristic of Jasmin's works."[5]
M. de Lavergne says of Franconnette, that, of all Jasmin's work,
it is the one in which he aimed at being most entirely popular,
and that it is at the same time the most noble and the most
chastened. He might also have added the most chivalrous.
"There is something essentially knightly," says Miss Preston,
"in Pascal's cast of character, and it is singular that at the
supreme crisis of his fate he assumes, as if unconsciously,
the very phraseology of chivalry.
"Some squire (donzel) should follow me to death.
It is altogether natural and becoming in the high-minded smith."
M. Charles Nodier--Jasmin's old friend--was equally complimentary
in his praises of Franconnette. When a copy of the poem was sent
to him, with an accompanying letter, Nodier replied:--
"I have received with lively gratitude, my dear and illustrious
friend, your beautiful verses, and your charming and
affectionate letter. I have read them with great pleasure and
profound admiration. A Although ill in bed, I have devoured
Franconnette and the other poems. I observe, with a certain
pride, that you have followed my advice, and that you think in
that fine language which you recite so admirably, in place of
translating the patois into French, which deprives it of its
fullness and fairness. I thank you a thousand times for your
very flattering epistle. I am too happy to expostulate with you
seriously as to the gracious things you have said to me; my name
will pass to posterity in the works of my friends; the glory of
having been loved by you goes for a great deal."
The time at length arrived for the presentation of the
testimonial of Toulouse to Jasmin. It consisted of a branch of
laurel in gold. The artist who fashioned it was charged to put
his best work into the golden laurel, so that it might be a chef
d'oeuvre worthy of the city which conferred it, and of being
treasured in the museum of their adopted poet. The work was
indeed admirably executed. The stem was rough, as in nature,
though the leaves were beautifully polished. It had a ribbon
delicately ornamented, with the words "Toulouse a Jasmin."
When the work was finished and placed in its case, the Mayor
desired to send it to Jasmin by a trusty messenger. He selected
Mademoiselle Gasc, assisted by her father, advocate and member
of the municipal council, to present the tribute to Jasmin.
It ought to have been a fete day for the people of Agen, when
their illustrious townsman, though a barber, was about to receive
so cordial an appreciation of his poetical genius from the
learned city of Toulouse. It ought also to have been a fete day
for Jasmin himself.
But alas! an unhappy coincidence occurred which saddened the day
that ought to have been a day of triumph for the poet.
His mother was dying. When Mademoiselle Gasc, accompanied by
her father, the Mayor of Agen, and other friends of Jasmin,
entered the shop, they were informed that he was by the bedside
of his mother, who was at death's door. The physician, who was
consulted as to her state, said that there might only be
sufficient time for Jasmin to receive the deputation.
He accordingly came out for a few moments from his mother's
bed-side. M. Gasc explained the object of the visit, and read to
Jasmin the gracious letter of the Mayor of Toulouse, concluding
as follows:--
"I thank you, in the name of the city of Toulouse, for the fine
poem which you have dedicated to us. This branch of laurel will
remind you of the youthful and beautiful Muse which has inspired
you with such charming verses."
The Mayor of Agen here introduced Mademoiselle Gasc, who,
in her turn, said:--
"And I also, sir, am most happy and proud of the mission which
has been entrusted to me."
Then she presented him with the casket which contained the
golden laurel. Jasmin responded in the lines entitled 'Yesterday
and To-day,' from which the following words may be quoted:--
"Yesterday! Thanks, Toulouse, for our old language and for my
poetry. Your beautiful golden branch ennobles both. And you who
offer it to me, gracious messenger--queen of song and queen of
hearts--tell your city of my perfect happiness, and that I
never anticipated such an honour even in my most golden dreams.
"To-day! Fascinated by the laurel which Toulouse has sent me,
and which fills my heart with joy, I cannot forget, my dear
young lady, the sorrow which overwhelms me--the fatal illness
of my mother--which makes me fear that the most joyful day of
my life will also be the most sorrowful."
Jasmin's alarms were justified. His prayers were of no avail.
His mother died with her hand in his shortly after the
deputation had departed. Her husband had preceded her to the
tomb a few years before. He always had a firm presentiment that
he should be carried in the arm-chair to the hospital, "where all
the Jasmins die." But Jasmin did his best to save his father
from that indignity. He had already broken the arm-chair, and
the old tailor died peacefully in the arms of his son.
Some four months after the recitation of Franconnette at
Toulouse, Jasmin resumed his readings in the cause of charity.
In October 1840 he visited Oleron, and was received with the
usual enthusiasm; and on his return to Pau, he passed the
obelisk erected to Despourrins, the Burns of the Pyrenees.
At Pau he recited his Franconnette to an immense audience amidst
frenzies of applause. It was alleged that the people of the
Pyrenean country were prosaic and indifferent to art. But M.
Dugenne, in the 'Memorial des Pyrenees,' said that it only
wanted such a bewitching poet as Jasmin--with his vibrating
and magical voice--to rouse them and set their minds on fire.
Another writer, M. Alfred Danger, paid him a still more delicate
"His poetry," he said, "is not merely the poetry of illusions;
it is alive, and inspires every heart. His admirable delicacy!
His profound tact in every verse! What aristocratic poet could
better express in a higher degree the politeness of the heart,
the truest of all politeness."[6]
Jasmin did not seem to be at all elated by these eulogiums.
When he had finished his recitations, he returned to Agen,
sometimes on foot, sometimes in the diligence, and quietly
resumed his daily work. His success as a poet never induced him
to resign his more humble occupation. Although he received some
returns from the sale of his poems, he felt himself more
independent by relying upon the income derived from his own
His increasing reputation never engendered in him, as is too
often the case with self-taught geniuses who suddenly rise into
fame, a supercilious contempt for the ordinary transactions of
life. "After all," he said, "contentment is better than riches."
Footnotes to Chapter X.
[1] Journal de Toulouse, 4th July, 1840.
[2] The Society of the Jeux-Floraux derives its origin from the
ancient Troubadours. It claims to be the oldest society of the
kind in Europe. It is said to have been founded in the
fourteenth century by Clemence Isaure, a Toulousian lady,
to commemorate the "Gay Science." A meeting of the society is
held every year, when prizes are distributed to the authors of
the best compositions in prose and verse. It somewhat resembles
the annual meeting of the Eisteddfod, held for awarding prizes to
the bards and composers of Wales.
[3] The following was his impromptu to the savants of Toulouse,
4th July, 1840:--
"Oh, bon Dieu! que de gloire! Oh, bon Dieu! que d'honneurs!
Messieurs, ce jour pour ma Muse est bien doux;
Mais maintenant, d'etre quitte j'ai perdu l'esperance:
Car je viens, plus fier que jamais,
Vous payer ma reconnaissance,
Et je m'endette que plus!"
[4] This is the impromptu, given on the 5th July, 1840:
"Toulouse m'a donne un beau bouquet d'honneur;
Votre festin, amis, en est une belle fleur;
Aussi, clans les plaisirs de cette longue fete,
Quand je veux remercier de cela,
Je poursuis mon esprit pour ne pas etre en reste
Ici, l'esprit me nait et tombe de mon coeur!"
[5] 'Causeries du Lundi,' iv. 240 (edit. 1852).
[6] "La politesse du coeur," a French expression which can
scarcely be translated into English; just as "gentleman" has no
precise equivalent in French.
Jasmin had been so often advised to visit Paris and test his
powers there, that at length he determined to proceed to the
capital of France. It is true, he had been eulogized in the
criticisms of Sainte-Beuve, Leonce de Lavergne, Charles Nodier,
and Charles de Mazade; but he desired to make the personal
acquaintance of some of these illustrious persons, as well as to
see his son, who was then settled in Paris. It was therefore in
some respects a visit of paternal affection as well as literary
reputation. He set out for Paris in the month of May 1842.
Jasmin was a boy in his heart and feelings, then as always.
Indeed, he never ceased to be a boy--in his manners,
his gaiety, his artlessness, and his enjoyment of new pleasures.
What a succession of wonders to him was Paris--its streets,
its boulevards, its Tuileries, its Louvre, its Arc de Triomphe
--reminding him of the Revolution and the wars of the first
Accompanied by his son Edouard, he spent about a week in
visiting the most striking memorials of the capital.
They visited together the Place de la Concorde, the Hotel de
Ville, Notre Dame, the Madeleine, the Champs Elysees, and most of
the other sights. At the Colonne Vendome, Jasmin raised his
head, looked up, and stood erect, proud of the glories of France.
He saw all these things for the first time, but they had long
been associated with his recollections of the past.
There are "country cousins" in Paris as well as in London.
They are known by their dress, their manners, their amazement
at all they see. When Jasmin stood before the Vendome Column,
he extended his hand as if he were about to recite one of his
poems. "Oh, my son," he exclaimed, "such glories as these are
truly magnificent!" The son, who was familiar with the glories,
was rather disposed to laugh. He desired, for decorum's sake,
to repress his father's exclamations. He saw the people standing
about to hear his father's words. "Come," said the young man,
"let us go to the Madeleine, and see that famous church."
"Ah, Edouard," said Jasmin, "I can see well enough that you are
not a poet; not you indeed!"
During his visit, Jasmin wrote regularly to his wife and friends
at Agen, giving them his impressions of Paris. His letters were
full of his usual simplicity, brightness, boyishness, and
enthusiasm. "What wonderful things I have already seen," he said
in one of his letters, "and how many more have I to see to-morrow
and the following days. M. Dumon, Minister of Public Works"
(Jasmin's compatriot and associate at the Academy of Agen),
"has given me letters of admission to Versailles, Saint-Cloud,
Meudon in fact, to all the public places that I have for so long
a time been burning to see and admire."
After a week's tramping about, and seeing the most attractive
sights of the capital, Jasmin bethought him of his literary
friends and critics. The first person he called upon was
Sainte-Beuve, at the Mazarin Library, of which he was director.
"He received me like a brother," said Jasmin, "and embraced me.
He said the most flattering things about my Franconnette,
and considered it an improvement upon L'Aveugle. 'Continue,'
he said, 'my good friend' and you will take a place in the
brightest poetry of our epoch.' In showing me over the shelves
in the Library containing the works of the old poets, which are
still read and admired, he said, 'Like them, you will never
Jasmin next called upon Charles Nodier and Jules Janin.
Nodier was delighted to see his old friend, and after a long
conversation, Jasmin said that "he left him with tears in his
eyes." Janin complimented him upon his works, especially upon
his masterly use of the Gascon language. "Go on," he said,
"and write your poetry in the patois which always appears to me
so delicious. You possess the talent necessary for the purpose;
it is so genuine and rare."
The Parisian journals mentioned Jasmin's appearance in the
capital; the most distinguished critics had highly approved of
his works; and before long he became the hero of the day.
The modest hotel in which he stayed during his visit, was crowded
with visitors. Peers, ministers, deputies, journalists,
members of the French Academy, came to salute the author of the
The proprietor of the hotel began to think that he was
entertaining some prince in disguise--that he must have come
from some foreign court to negotiate secretly some lofty
questions of state. But when he was entertained at a banquet by
the barbers and hair-dressers of Paris, the opinions of
"mine host" underwent a sudden alteration. He informed Jasmin's
son that he could scarcely believe that ministers of state would
bother themselves with a country peruke-maker! The son laughed;
he told the maitre d'hotel that his bill would be paid, and that
was all he need to care for.
Jasmin was not, however, without his detractors. Even in his own
country, many who had laughed heartily and wept bitterly while
listening to his voice, feared lest they might have given vent
to their emotions against the legitimate rules of poetry.
Some of the Parisian critics were of opinion that he was
immensely overrated. They attributed the success of the Gascon
poet to the liveliness of the southerners, who were excited by
the merest trifles; and they suspected that Jasmin, instead of
being a poet, was but a clever gasconader, differing only from
the rest of his class by speaking in verse instead of prose.
Now that Jasmin was in the capital, his real friends, who knew
his poetical powers, desired him to put an end to these
prejudices by reciting before a competent tribunal some of his
most admired verses. He would have had no difficulty in
obtaining a reception at the Tuileries. He had already received
several kind favours from the Duke and Duchess of Orleans while
visiting Agen. The Duke had presented him with a ring set in
brilliants, and the Duchess had given him a gold pin in the
shape of a flower, with a fine pearl surrounded by diamonds,
in memory of their visit. It was this circumstance which induced
him to compose his poem 'La Bago et L'Esplingo' (La Bague et
L'Epingle) which he dedicated to the Duchess of Orleans.
But Jasmin aimed higher than the Royal family. His principal
desire was to attend the French Academy; but as the Academy did
not permit strangers to address their meetings, Jasmin was under
the necessity of adopting another method. The Salons were open.
M. Leonce de Lavergne said to him: "You are now classed among
our French poets; give us a recitation in Gascon." Jasmin
explained that he could not give his reading before the members
of the Academy. "That difficulty," said his friend, "can soon
be got over: I will arrange for a meeting at the salon of one of
our most distinguished members."
It was accordingly arranged that Jasmin should give a reading at
the house of M. Augustin Thierry, one of the greatest of living
historians. The elite of Parisian society were present on the
occasion, including Ampere, Nizard, Burnouf, Ballanche,
Villemain, and many distinguished personages of literary
A word as to Jasmin's distinguished entertainer, M. Augustin
Thierry. He had written the 'History of the Conquest of England
by the Normans'--an original work of great value, though since
overshadowed by the more minute 'History of the Norman
Conquest,' by Professor Freeman. Yet Thierry's work is still of
great interest, displaying gifts of the highest and rarest kind
in felicitous combination. It shows the careful plodding of the
antiquary, the keen vision of the man of the world, the
passionate fervour of the politician, the calm dignity of the
philosophic thinker, and the grandeur of the epic poet. Thierry
succeeded in exhuming the dry bones of history, clothing them
for us anew, and presenting almost visibly the "age and body of
the times" long since passed away.
Thierry had also written his 'Narratives of the Merovingian
Times,' and revived almost a lost epoch in the early history of
France. In writing out these and other works--the results of
immense labour and research--he partly lost his eyesight. He
travelled into Switzerland and the South of France in the company
of M. Fauriel. He could read no more, and towards the end of
the year the remains of his sight entirely disappeared.
He had now to read with the eyes of others, and to dictate
instead of writing. In his works he was assisted by the
friendship of M. Armand Carrel, and the affection and judgment
of his loving young wife.
He proceeded with courage, and was able to complete the
fundamental basis of the two Frankish dynasties. He was about to
follow his investigations into the history of the Goths, Huns,
and Vandals, and other races which had taken part in the
dismemberment of the empire. "However extended these labours,"
he says,[1] "my complete blindness could not have prevented my
going through them; I was resigned as much as a courageous man
can be: I had made a friendship with darkness. But other trials
came: acute sufferings and the decline of my health announced a
nervous disease of the most serious kind. I was obliged to
confess myself conquered, and to save, if it was still time,
the last remains of my health."
The last words of Thierry's Autobiographical Preface are most
touching. "If, as I delight in thinking, the interest of science
is counted in the number of great national interests, I have
given my country all that the soldier mutilated on the field of
battle gives her. Whatever may be the fate of my labours, this
example I hope will not be lost. I would wish it to serve to
combat the species of moral weakness which is the disease of the
present generation; to bring back into the straight road of life
some of those enervated souls that complain of wanting faith,
that know not what to do, and seek everywhere, without finding
it, an object of worship and admiration. Why say, with so much
bitterness, that in this world, constituted as it is, there is
no air for all lungs, no employment for all minds? Is there not
opportunity for calm and serious study? and is not that a
refuge, a hope, a field within the reach of all of us? With it,
evil days are passed over without their weight being felt; every
one can make his own destiny; every one can employ his life
nobly. This is what I have done, and would do again if I had to
recommence my career: I would choose that which has brought me
to where I am. Blind, and suffering without hope, and almost
without intermission, I may give this testimony, which from me
will not appear suspicious; there is something in this world
better than sensual enjoyments, better than fortune, better than
health itself: it is devotion to science."
Footnotes for Chapter XI.
[1] Autobiographical Preface to the 'Narratives of the
Merovingian Times.'
It was a solemn and anxious moment for Jasmin when he appeared
before this select party of the most distinguished literary men
in Paris: he was no doubt placed at a considerable disadvantage,
for his judges did not even know his language. He had frequently
recited to audiences who did not know Gascon; and on such
occasions he used, before commencing his recitation, to give in
French a short sketch of his poem, with, an explanation of some
of the more difficult Gascon words. This was all; his mimic
talent did the rest. His gestures were noble and well-marked.
His eyes were flashing, but they became languishing when he
represented tender sentiments. Then his utterance changed
entirely, often suddenly, following the expressions of grief and
joy. There were now smiles, now tears in his voice.
It was remarkable that Jasmin should first recite before the
blind historian The Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille. It may be that
he thought it his finest poem, within the compass of time
allotted to him, and that it might best please his audience.
When he began to speak in Gascon he was heard with interest.
A laugh was, indeed, raised by a portion of his youthful hearers,
but Jasmin flashed his penetrating eye upon them; and there was
no more laughter. When he reached the tenderest part he gave way
to his emotion, and wept. Tears are as contagious as smiles;
and even the academicians, who may not have wept with Rachel,
wept with Jasmin. It was the echo of sorrow to sorrow; the words
which blind despair had evoked from the blind Margaret.
All eyes were turned to Thierry as Jasmin described the girl's
blindness. The poet omitted some of the more painful lines,
which might have occasioned sorrow to his kind entertainer.
These lines, for instance, in Gascon:
"Jour per aoutres, toutjour! et per jou, malhurouzo,
Toutjour ney! toutjour ney!
Que fay negre len d'el! Oh! que moun amo es tristo!
Oh! que souffri, moun Diou! Couro ben doun, Batisto!"
or, as translated by Longfellow:
"Day for the others ever, but for me
For ever night! for ever night!
When he is gone, 'tis dark! my soul is sad!
I suffer! O my God! come, make me glad."
When Jasmin omitted this verse, Thierry, who had listened with
rapt attention, interrupted him. "Poet," he said, "you have
omitted a passage; read the poem as you have written it."
Jasmin paused, and then added the omitted passage. "Can it be?"
said the historian: "surely you, who can describe so vividly the
agony of those who cannot see, must yourself have suffered
blindness!" The words of Jasmin might have been spoken by
Thierry himself, who in his hours of sadness often said,
"I see nothing but darkness today."
At the end of his recital Jasmin was much applauded. Ampere,
who had followed him closely in the French translation of his
poem, said: "If Jasmin had never written verse, it would be worth
going a hundred leagues to listen to his prose." What charmed
his auditors most was his frankness. He would even ask them to
listen to what he thought his best verses. "This passage,"
he would say, "is very fine." Then he read it afresh, and was
applauded. He liked to be cheered. "Applaud! applaud!" he said
at the end of his reading, "the clapping of your hands will be
heard at Agen."
After the recitation an interesting conversation took place.
Jasmin was asked how it was that he first began to write poetry;
for every one likes to know the beginnings of self-culture.
He thereupon entered into a brief history of his life; how he had
been born poor; how his grandfather had died at the hospital;
and how he had been brought up by charity. He described his
limited education and his admission to the barber's shop;
his reading of Florian; his determination to do something of a
similar kind; his first efforts, his progress, and eventually
his success. He said that his object was to rely upon nature and
truth, and to invest the whole with imagination and sensibility
--that delicate touch which vibrated through all the poems he
had written. His auditors were riveted by his sparkling and
brilliant conversation.
This seance at M. Thierry's completed the triumph of Jasmin at
Paris. The doors of the most renowned salons were thrown open to
him. The most brilliant society in the capital listened to him
feted him. Madame de Remusat sent him a present of a golden pen,
with the words: "I admire your beautiful poetry; I never forget
you; accept this little gift as a token of my sincere
admiration." Lamartine described Jasmin, perhaps with some
exaggeration, as the truest and most original of modern poets.
Much of Jasmin's work was no doubt the result of intuition,
for "the poet is born, not made." He was not so much the poet of
art as of instinct. Yet M. Charles de Mazede said of him:
"Left to himself, without study, he carried art to perfection."
His defect of literary education perhaps helped him, by leaving
him to his own natural instincts. He himself said, with respect
to the perusal of books: "I constantly read Lafontaine,
Victor Hugo, Lamartine and Beranger." It is thus probable that
he may have been influenced to a considerable extent by his study
of the works of others.
Before Jasmin left Paris he had the honour of being invited to
visit the royal family at the palace of Neuilly, a favourite
residence of Louis Philippe. The invitation was made through
General de Rumigny, who came to see the poet at his hotel for
the purpose. Jasmin had already made the acquaintance of the
Duke and Duchess of Orleans, while at Agen a few years before.
His visit to Neuilly was made on the 24th of May, 1842. He was
graciously received by the royal family. The Duchess of Orleans
took her seat beside him. She read the verse in Gascon which had
been engraved on the pedestal of the statue at Nerac, erected to
the memory of Henry IV. The poet was surprised as well as
charmed by her condescension. "What, Madame," he exclaimed,
"you speak the patois?" "El jou tabe" (and I also), said Louis
Philippe, who came and joined the Princess and the poet. Never
was Jasmin more pleased than when he heard the words of the King
at such a moment.
Jasmin was placed quite at his ease by this gracious reception.
The King and the Duchess united in desiring him to recite some
of his poetry. He at once complied with their request,
and recited his Caritat and L'Abuglo ('The Blind Girl').
After this the party engaged in conversation.
Jasmin, by no means a courtier, spoke of the past, of Henry IV.,
and especially of Napoleon--" L'Ampereur," as he described him.
Jasmin had, in the first volume of his 'Papillotos,' written
some satirical pieces on the court and ministers of Louis
Philippe. His friends wished him to omit these pieces from the
new edition of his works, which was about to be published; but he
would not consent to do so. "I must give my works," he said,
"just as they were composed; their suppression would be a
negation of myself, and an act of adulation unworthy of any
true-minded man." Accordingly they remained in the 'Papillotos.'
Before he left the royal party, the Duchess of Orleans presented
Jasmin with a golden pin, ornamented with pearls and diamonds;
and the King afterwards sent him, as a souvenir of his visit to
the Court, a beautiful gold watch, ornamented with diamonds.
Notwithstanding the pleasure of this visit, Jasmin, as with a
prophetic eye, saw the marks of sorrow upon the countenance of
the King, who was already experiencing the emptiness of human
glory. Scarcely had Jasmin left the palace when he wrote to his
friend Madame de Virens, at Agen: "On that noble face I could
see, beneath the smile, the expression of sadness; so that from
to-day I can no longer say: 'Happy as a King.'"
Another entertainment, quite in contrast with his visit to the
King, was the banquet which Jasmin received from the barbers and
hair-dressers of Paris. He there recited the verses which he had
written in their honour. M. Boisjoslin[1] says that half the
barbers of Paris are Iberiens. For the last three centuries,
in all the legends and anecdotes, the barber is always a Gascon.
The actor, the singer, often came from Provence, but much oftener
from Gascony: that is the country of la parole.
During Jasmin's month at Paris he had been unable to visit many
of the leading literary men; but he was especially anxious to
see M. Chateaubriand, the father of modern French literature.
Jasmin was fortunate in finding Chateaubriand at home, at 112
Rue du Bac. He received Jasmin with cordiality. "I know you
intimately already," said the author of the 'Genius of
Christianity;' "my friends Ampere and Fauriel have often spoken
of you. They understand you, they love and admire you. They
acknowledge your great talent,' though they have long since bade
their adieu to poetry; you know poets are very wayward," he
added, with a sly smile. "You have a happy privilege, my dear
sir: when our age turns prosy, you have but to take your lyre,
in the sweet country of the south, and resuscitate the glory of
the Troubadours. They tell me, that in one of your recent
journeys you evoked enthusiastic applause, and entered many
towns carpeted with flowers. Ah, mon Dieu, we can never do that
with our prose!"
"Ah, dear sir," said Jasmin, "you have achieved much more glory
than I. Without mentioning the profound respect with which all
France regards you, posterity and the world will glorify you."
"Glory, indeed," replied Chateaubriand, with a sad smile.
"What is that but a flower that fades and dies; but speak to me
of your sweet south; it is beautiful. I think of it, as of
Italy; indeed it sometimes seems to me better than that glorious
Notwithstanding his triumphant career at Paris, Jasmin often
thought of Agen, and of his friends and relations at home.
"Oh, my wife, my children, my guitar, my workshop, my papillotos,
my pleasant Gravier, my dear good friends, with what pleasure I
shall again see you." That was his frequent remark in his
letters to Agen. He was not buoyed up by the praises he had
received. He remained, as usual, perfectly simple in his
thoughts, ways, and habits; and when the month had elapsed,
he returned joyfully to his daily work at Agen.
Jasmin afterwards described the recollections of his visit in
his 'Voyage to Paris' (Moun Bouyatage a Paris). It was a happy
piece of poetry; full of recollections of the towns and
departments through which he journeyed, and finally of his
arrival in Paris. Then the wonders of the capital, the crowds in
the streets, the soldiers, the palaces, the statues and columns,
the Tuileries where the Emperor had lived.
"I pass, and repass, not a soul I know,
Not one Agenais in this hurrying crowd;
No one salutes or shakes me by the hand."
And yet, he says, what a grand world it is! how tasteful!
how fashionable! There seem to be no poor. They are all ladies
and gentlemen. Each day is a Sabbath; and under the trees the
children play about the fountains. So different from Agen!
He then speaks of his interview with Louis Philippe and the
royal family, his recital of L'Abuglo before "great ladies,
great writers, lords, ministers, and great savants;" and he
concludes his poem with the words: "Paris makes me proud,
but Agen makes me happy."
The poem is full of the impressions of his mind at the time--
simple, clear, naive. It is not a connected narrative,
nor a description of what he saw, but it was full of admiration
of Paris, the centre of France, and, as Frenchmen think, of
civilisation. It is the simple wonder of the country cousin
who sees Paris for the first time--the city that had so long been
associated with his recollections of the past. And perhaps he
seized its more striking points more vividly than any regular
denizen of the capital.
Footnotes for Chapter XII.
[1] 'Les Peuples de la France: Ethnographie Nationale.' (Didier.)
Jasmin's visit to Paris in 1842 made his works more extensively
known, both at home and abroad. His name was frequently
mentioned in the Parisian journals, and Frenchmen north of the
Loire began to pride themselves on their Gascon poet. His Blind
Girl had been translated into English, Spanish, and Italian.
The principal English literary journal, the Athenaeum, called
attention to his works a few months after his appearance in
Paris.[1] The editor introduced the subject in the following
"On the banks of the Garonne, in the picturesque and ancient
town of Agen, there exists at this moment a man of genius of the
first order--a rustic Beranger, a Victor Hugo, a Lamartine--
a poet full of fire, originality, and feeling--an actor
superior to any now in France, excepting Rachel, whom he
resembles both in his powers of declamation and his fortunes.
He is not unknown--he is no mute inglorious Milton; for the first
poets, statesmen, and men of letters in France have been to
visit him. His parlour chimney-piece, behind his barber's shop,
is covered with offerings to his genius from royalty and rank.
His smiling, dark-eyed wife, exhibits to the curious the tokens
of her husband's acknowledged merit; and gold and jewels shine
in the eyes of the astonished stranger, who, having heard his
name, is led to stroll carelessly into the shop, attracted by a
gorgeous blue cloth hung outside, on which he may have read the
words, Jasmin, Coiffeur."
After mentioning the golden laurels, and the gifts awarded to
him by those who acknowledged his genius, the editor proceeds to
mention his poems in the Gascon dialect--his Souvenirs his
Blind Girl and his Franconnette--and then refers to his
personal appearance. "Jasmin is handsome in person, with eyes
full of intelligence, of good features, a mobility of expression
absolutely electrifying, a manly figure and an agreeable address;
but his voice is harmony itself, and its changes have an effect
seldom experienced on or off the stage. The melody attributed
to Mrs. Jordan seems to approach it nearest. Had he been an
actor instead of a poet, he would have 'won all hearts his
way'... On the whole, considering the spirit, taste, pathos, and
power of this poet, who writes in a patois hitherto confined to
the lower class of people in a remote district--considering the
effect that his verses have made among educated persons, both
French and foreign, it is impossible not to look upon him as
one of the remarkable characters of his age, and to award him,
as the city of Clemence Isaure has done, the Golden Laurel,
as the first of the revived Troubadours, destined perhaps to
rescue his country from the reproach of having buried her poetry
in the graves of Alain Chartier and Charles of Orleans,
four centuries ago."
It is probable that this article in the Athenaeum was written by
Miss Louisa Stuart Costello, who had had an interview with the
poet, in his house at Agen, some years before. While making her
tour through Auvergne and Languedoc in 1840,[2] she states that
she picked up three charming ballads, and was not aware that
they had ever been printed. She wrote them down merely by ear,
and afterwards translated Me cal Mouri into English (see page
57). The ballad was very popular, and was set to music. She did
not then know the name of the composer, but when she ascertained
that the poet was "one Jasmin of Agen," she resolved to go out
of her way and call upon him, when on her journey to the
Pyrenees about two years later.[3] She had already heard much
about him before she arrived, as he was regarded in Gascony as
"the greatest poet in modern times." She had no difficulty in
finding his shop at the entrance to the Promenade du Gravier,
with the lines in large gold letters, "Jasmin, Coiffeur"
Miss Costello entered, and was welcomed by a smiling dark-eyed
woman, who informed her that her husband was busy at that moment
dressing a customer's hair, but begged that she would walk into
his parlour at the back of the shop. Madame Jasmin took
advantage of her husband's absence to exhibit the memorials
which he had received for his gratuitous services on behalf of
the public. There was the golden laurel from the city of
Toulouse; the golden cup from the citizens of Auch, the gold
watch with chain and seals from "Le Roi" Louis Philippe, the ring
presented by the Duke of Orleans, the pearl pin from the Duchess,
the fine service of linen presented by the citizens of Pau,
with other offerings from persons of distinction.
At last Jasmin himself appeared, having dressed his customer's
hair. Miss Costello describes his manner as well-bred and
lively, and his language as free and unembarrassed. He said,
however, that he was ill, and too hoarse to read. He spoke in a
broad Gascon accent, very rapidly and even eloquently. He told
the story of his difficulties and successes; how his grandfather
had been a beggar, and all his family very poor, but that now he
was as rich as he desired to be. His son, he said, was placed in
a good position at Nantes, and he exhibited his picture with
pride. Miss Costello told him that she had seen his name
mentioned in an English Review. Jasmin said the review had been
sent to him by Lord Durham, who had paid him a visit; and then
Miss Costello spoke of Me cal Mouri, as the first poem of his
that she had seen. "Oh," said he, "that little song is not my
best composition: it was merely my first."
His heart was now touched. He immediately forgot his hoarseness,
and proceeded to read some passages from his poems. "If I were
only well," said he, "and you would give me the pleasure of your
company for some time, I would kill you with weeping: I would
make you die with distress for my poor Margarido, my pretty
Franconnette." He then took up two copies of his Las Papillotos,
handed one to Miss Costello, where the translation was given in
French, and read from the other in Gascon.
"He began," says the lady, "in a rich soft voice, and as we
advanced we found ourselves carried away by the spell of his
enthusiasm. His eyes swam in tears; he became pale and red;
he trembled; he recovered himself; his face was now joyous,
now exulting, gay, jocose; in fact, he was twenty actors in one;
he rang the changes from Rachel to Bouffe; and he finished by
relieving us of our tears, and overwhelming us with astonishment.
He would have been a treasure on the stage; for he is still,
though his youth is past, remarkably good-looking and striking;
with black, sparkling eyes of intense expression; a fine ruddy
complexion; a countenance of wondrous mobility; a good figure,
and action full of fire and grace: he has handsome hands,
which he uses with infinite effect; and on the whole he is the
best actor of the kind I ever saw. I could now quite understand
what a Troubadour or jongleur he might be; and I look upon Jasmin
as a revived specimen of that extinct race."
Miss Costello proceeded on her journey to Bearn and the Pyrenees,
and on her return northwards she again renewed her acquaintance
with Jasmin and his dark-eyed wife. "I did not expect," she
says, "that I should be recognised; but the moment I entered the
little shop I was hailed as an old friend. 'Ah' cried Jasmin,
'enfin la voila encore!' I could not but be flattered by this
recollection, but soon found that it was less on my own account
that I was thus welcomed, than because circumstances had occurred
to the poet that I might perhaps explain. He produced several
French newspapers, in which he pointed out to me an article
headed 'Jasmin a Londres,' being a translation of certain notices
of himself which had appeared in a leading English literary
journal the Athenaeum .... I enjoyed his surprise, while I
informed him that I knew who was the reviewer and translator; and
explained the reason for the verses giving pleasure in an English
dress, to the superior simplicity of the English language over
modern French, for which he had a great contempt, as unfitted for
lyrical composition.[4] He inquired of me respecting Burns,
to whom he had been likened, and begged me to tell him something
about Moore.
"He had a thousand things to tell me; in particular, that he had
only the day before received a letter from the Duchess of
Orleans, informing him that she had ordered a medal of her late
husband to be struck, the first of which should be sent to him.
He also announced the agreeable news of the King having granted
him a pension of a thousand francs. He smiled and wept by turns
as he told all this; and declared that, much as he was elated at
the possession of a sum which made him a rich man for life
(though it was only equal to 42 sterling), the kindness of the
Duchess gratified him still more.
"He then made us sit down while he read us two new poems; both
charming, and full of grace and naivete; and one very affecting,
being an address to the King, alluding, to the death of his son.
"As he read, his wife stood by, and fearing that we did not
comprehend the language, she made a remark to that effect, to
which he answered impatiently, 'Nonsense! don't you see they are
in tears?' This was unanswerable; we were allowed to hear the
poem to the end, and I certainly never listened to anything more
feelingly and energetically delivered.
"We had much conversation, for he was anxious to detain us; and
in the course of it, he told me that he had been by some accused
of vanity. 'Oh!' he exclaimed, 'what would you have? I am a
child of nature, and cannot conceal my feelings; the only
difference between me and a man of refinement is, that he knows
how to conceal his vanity and exaltation at success, while I let
everybody see my emotions.'
"His wife drew me aside, and asked my opinion as to how much
money it would cost to pay Jasmin's expenses, if he undertook a
journey to England. 'However,' she added, 'I dare say he need be
at no charge, for of course your Queen has read that article in
his favour, and knows his merit. She probably will send for him,
pay all the expenses of his journey, and give him great fetes in
London!" Miss Costello, knowing the difficulty of obtaining
Royal recognition of literary merit in England, unless it
appears in forma pauperis, advised the barber-poet to wait till
he was sent for--a very good advice, for then it would be never!
She concludes her recollections with this remark: "I left the
happy pair, promising to let them know the effect that the
translation of Jasmin's poetry produced in the Royal mind.
Indeed, their earnest simplicity was really entertaining."
A contributor to the Westminster Review[5] also gave a very
favourable notice of Jasmin and his poetry, which, he said, was
less known in England than it deserved to be; nor was it well
known in France since he wrote in a patois. Yet he had been
well received by some of the most illustrious men in the capital,
where unaided genius, to be successful, must be genius indeed;
and there the Gascon bard had acquired for himself a fame of
which any man might well be proud.
The reviewer said that the Gascon patois was peculiarly
expressive and heart-touching, and in the South it was held in
universal honour. Jasmin, he continued, is what Burns was to the
Scottish peasantry; only he received his honours in his lifetime.
The comparison with Burns, however, was not appropriate.
Burns had more pith, vigour, variety, and passion, than Jasmin
who was more of a descriptive writer. In some respects Jasmin
resembled Allan Ramsay, a barber and periwig-maker, like himself,
whose Gentle Shepherd met with as great a success as Jasmin's
Franconnette. Jasmin, however, was the greater poet of the two.
The reviewer in the Westminster, who had seen Jasmin at Agen,
goes on to speak of the honours he had received in the South and
at Paris--his recitations in the little room behind his shop
--his personal appearance, his hearty and simple manners--and
yet his disdain of the mock modesty it would be affectation to
assume. The reviewer thus concludes: "From the first
prepossessing, he gains upon you every moment; and when he is
fairly launched into the recital of one of his poems, his rich
voice does full justice to the harmonious Gascon. The animation
and feeling he displays becomes contagious. Your admiration
kindles, and you become involved in his ardour. You forget the
little room in which he recites; you altogether forget the
barber, and rise with him into a superior world, an experience
in a way you will never forget, the power exercised by a true
poet when pouring forth his living thoughts in his own verses....
"Such is Jasmin--lively in imagination, warm in temperament,
humorous, playful, easily made happy, easily softened,
enthusiastically fond of his province, of its heroes, of its
scenery, of its language, and of its manners. He is every inch a
Gascon, except that he has none of that consequential
self-importance, or of the love of boasting and exaggeration,
which, falsely or not, is said to characterise his countrymen.
"Born of the people, and following a humble trade, he is proud
of both circumstances; his poems are full of allusions to his
calling; and without ever uttering a word in disparagment of
other classes, he everywhere sings the praises of his own.
He stands by his order. It is from it he draws his poetry;
it is there he finds his romance.
"And this is his great charm, as it is his chief distinction.
He invests virtue, however lowly, with the dignity that belongs
to it. He rewards merit, however obscure, with its due honour.
Whatever is true or beautiful or good, finds from him an
immediate sympathy. The true is never rejected by him because it
is commonplace; nor the beautiful because it is everyday; nor
the good because it is not also great. He calls nothing unclean
but vice and crime, He sees meanness in nothing but in the sham,
the affectation, and the spangles of outward show.
"But while it is in exalting lowly excellence that Jasmin takes
especial delight, he is not blind, as some are, to excellence in
high places. All he seeks is the sterling and the real.
He recognises the sparkle of the diamond as well as that of the
dewdrop. But he will not look upon paste.
"He is thus pre-eminently the poet of nature; not, be it
understood, of inanimate nature only, but of nature also, as it
exists in our thoughts, and words, and acts of nature as it is
to be found living and moving in humanity. But we cannot paint
him so well as he paints himself. We well remember how, in his
little shop at Agen, he described to us what he believed to be
characteristic of his poetry; and we find in a letter from him
to M. Leonce de Lavergne the substance of what he then said to
"'I believe,' he said, 'that I have portrayed a part of the
noble sentiments which men and women may experience here below.
I believe that I have emancipated myself more than anyone has
ever done from every school, and I have placed myself in more
direct communication with nature. My poetry comes from my heart.
I have taken my pictures from around me in the most humble
conditions of men; and I have done for my native language all
that I could.'"
A few years later Mr. Angus B. Reach, a well-known author,
and a contributor to Punch in its earlier days, was appointed a
commissioner by the Morning Chronicle to visit, for industrial
purposes, the districts in the South of France. His reports
appeared in the Chronicle; but in 1852, Mr. Reach published a
fuller account of his journeys in a volume entitled 'Claret and
Olives, from the Garonne to the Rhone.'[6] In passing through
the South of France, Mr. Reach stopped at Agen. "One of my
objects," he says, "was to pay a literary visit to a very
remarkable man--Jasmin, the peasant-poet of Provence and
Languedoc--the 'Last of the Troubadours,' as, with more truth
than is generally to be found in ad captandum designations, he
terms himself, and is termed by the wide circle of his admirers;
for Jasmin's songs and rural epics are written in the patois of
the people, and that patois is the still almost unaltered Langue
d'Oc--the tongue of the chivalric minstrelsy of yore.
"But Jasmin is a Troubadour in another sense than that of merely
availing himself of the tongue of the menestrels. He publishes,
certainly, conforming so far to the usages of our degenerate
modern times; but his great triumphs are his popular recitations
of his poems. Standing bravely up before an expectant assembly
of perhaps a couple of thousand persons--the hot-blooded and
quick-brained children of the South--the modern Troubadour
plunges over head and ears into his lays, evoking both himself
and his applauding audiences into fits of enthusiasm and
excitement, which, whatever may be the excellence of the poetry,
an Englishman finds it difficult to conceive or account for.
"The raptures of the New Yorkers and Bostonians with Jenny Lind
are weak and cold compared with the ovations which Jasmin has
received. At a recitation given shortly before my visit to Auch,
the ladies present actually tore the flowers and feathers out of
their bonnets, wove them into extempore garlands, and flung them
in showers upon the panting minstrel; while the editors of the
local papers next morning assured him, in floods of flattering
epigrams, that humble as he was now, future ages would
acknowledge the 'divinity' of a Jasmin!
There is a feature, however, about these recitations which is
still more extraordinary than the uncontrollable fits of popular
enthusiasm which they produce. His last entertainment before I
saw him was given in one of the Pyrenean cities, and produced
2,000 francs. Every sous of this went to the public charities;
Jasmin will not accept a stiver of money so earned. With a
species of perhaps overstrained, but certainly exalted,
chivalric feeling, he declines to appear before an audience to
exhibit for money the gifts with which nature has endowed him.
"After, perhaps, a brilliant tour through the South of France,
delighting vast audiences in every city, and flinging many
thousands of francs into every poor-box which he passes,
the poet contentedly returns to his humble occupation, and to
the little shop where he earns his daily bread by his daily toil
as a barber and hair-dresser. It will be generally admitted that
the man capable of self-denial of so truly heroic a nature as
this, is no ordinary poetaster.
"One would be puzzled to find a similar instance of perfect and
absolute disinterestedness in the roll of minstrels, from Homer
downwards; and, to tell the truth, there does seem a spice of
Quixotism mingled with and tinging the pure fervour of the
enthusiast. Certain it is, that the Troubadours of yore, upon
whose model Jasmin professes to found his poetry, were by no
means so scrupulous. 'Largesse' was a very prominent word in
their vocabulary; and it really seems difficult to assign any
satisfactory reason for a man refusing to live upon the exercise
of the finer gifts of his intellect, and throwing himself for
his bread upon the daily performance of mere mechanical drudgery.
"Jasmin, as may be imagined, is well known in Agen. I was
speedily directed to his abode, near the open Place of the town,
and within earshot of the rush of the Garonne; and in a few
moments I found myself pausing before the lintel of the modest
shop inscribed Jasmin, Perruquier, Coiffeur des jeunes Gens.
A little brass basin dangled above the threshold; and looking
through the glass I saw the master of the establishment shaving
a fat-faced neighbour. Now I had come to see and pay my
compliments to a poet, and there did appear to me to be
something strangely awkward and irresistibly ludicrous in having
to address, to some extent, in a literary and complimentary
vein, an individual actually engaged in so excessively prosaic
and unelevated a species of performance.
"I retreated, uncertain what to do, and waited outside until the
shop was clear. Three words explained the nature of my visit,
and Jasmin received me with a species of warm courtesy, which
was very peculiar and very charming; dashing at once, with the
most clattering volubility and fiery speed of tongue, into a
sort of rhapsodical discourse upon poetry in general, and the
patois of it, spoken in Languedoc, Provence, and Gascony in
"Jasmin is a well-built and strongly limbed man of about fifty,
with a large, massive head, and a broad pile of forehead,
overhanging two piercingly bright black-eyes, and features which
would be heavy, were they allowed a moment's repose from the
continual play of the facial muscles, sending a never-ending
series of varying expressions across the dark, swarthy visage.
Two sentences of his conversation were quite sufficient to stamp
his individuality.
"The first thing which struck me was the utter absence of all
the mock-modesty, and the pretended self-underrating,
conventionally assumed by persons expecting to be complimented
upon their sayings or doings. Jasmin seemed thoroughly to
despise all such flimsy hypocrisy. 'God only made four Frenchmen
poets,' he burst out with, 'and their names are, Corneille,
Lafontaine, Beranger, and Jasmin!'
"Talking with the most impassioned vehemence, and the most
redundant energy of gesture, he went on to declaim against the
influences of civilisation upon language and manners as being
fatal to all real poetry. If the true inspiration yet existed
upon earth, it burned in the hearts and brains of men far
removed from cities, salons, and the clash and din of social
influences. Your only true poets were the unlettered peasants,
who poured forth their hearts in song, not because they wished
to make poetry, but because they were joyous and true.
"Colleges, academies, schools of learning, schools of literature,
and all such institutions, Jasmin denounced as the curse and the
bane of true poetry. They had spoiled, he said, the very
French language. You could no more write poetry in French now
than you could in arithmetical figures. The language had been
licked and kneaded, and tricked out, and plumed, and dandified,
and scented, and minced, and ruled square, and chipped--
(I am trying to give an idea of the strange flood of epithets
he used)--and pranked out, and polished, and muscadined--until,
for all honest purposes of true high poetry, it was mere
unavailable and contemptible jargon.
"It might do for cheating agents de change on the Bourse--
for squabbling politicians in the Chambers--for mincing dandies
in the salons--for the sarcasm of Scribe-ish comedies, or the
coarse drolleries of Palais Royal farces, but for poetry the
French language was extinct. All modern poets who used it were
faiseurs de phrase--thinking about words and not feelings.
'No, no,' my Troubadour continued, 'to write poetry, you must get
the language of a rural people--a language talked among fields,
and trees, and by rivers and mountains--a language never
minced or disfigured by academies and dictionary-makers,
and journalists; you must have a language like that which your
own Burns, whom I read of in Chateaubriand, used; or like the
brave, old, mellow tongue--unchanged for centuries--stuffed with
the strangest, quaintest, richest, raciest idioms and odd solemn
words, full of shifting meanings and associations, at once
pathetic and familiar, homely and graceful--the language which
I write in, and which has never yet been defiled by calculating
men of science or jack-a-dandy litterateurs.' "The above
sentences may be taken as a specimen of the ideas with which
Jasmin seemed to be actually overflowing from every pore in his
body--so rapid, vehement, and loud was his enunciation of
them. Warming more and more as he went on, he began to sketch
the outlines of his favourite pieces. Every now and then
plunging into recitation, jumping from French into patois,
and from patois into French, and sometimes spluttering them out,
mixed up pell-mell together. Hardly pausing to take breath, he
rushed about the shop as he discoursed, lugging out, from old
chests and drawers, piles of old newspapers and reviews,
pointing out a passage here in which the estimate of the writer
pleased him, a passage there which showed how perfectly the
critic had mistaken the scope of his poetic philosophy, and
exclaiming, with the most perfect naivete, how mortifying it was
for men of original and profound genius to be misconceived and
misrepresented by pigmy whipper-snapper scamps of journalists.
"There was one review of his works, published in a London
'Recueil,' as he called it, to which Jasmin referred with great
pleasure. A portion of it had been translated, he said, in the
preface to a French edition of his works; and he had most of the
highly complimentary phrases by heart. The English critic,
he said, wrote in the Tintinum, and he looked dubiously at me
when I confessed that I had never heard of the organ in question.
'Pourtant,' he said, 'je vous le ferai voir,' and I soon
perceived that Jasmin's Tintinum was no other than the Athenaeum!
"In the little back drawing-room behind the shop, to which the
poet speedily introduced me, his sister [it must have been his
wife], a meek, smiling woman, whose eyes never left him,
following as he moved with a beautiful expression of love and
pride in his glory, received me with simple cordiality. The
walls were covered with testimonials, presentations, and
trophies, awarded by critics and distinguished persons, literary
and political, to the modern Troubadour. Not a few of these are
of a nature to make any man most legitimately proud. Jasmin
possesses gold and silver vases, laurel branches, snuff-boxes,
medals of honour, and a whole museum of similar gifts, inscribed
with such characteristic and laconiclegends as 'Au Poete, Les
Jeunes filles de Toulouse reconnaissantes!' &c.
"The number of garlands of immortelles, wreaths of ivy-jasmin
(punning upon the name), laurel, and so forth, utterly
astonished me. Jasmin preserved a perfect shrubbery of such
tokens; and each symbol had, of course, its pleasant associative
remembrance. One was given by the ladies of such a town; another
was the gift of the prefect's wife of such a department.
A handsome full-length portrait had been presented to the poet by
the municipal authorities of Agen; and a letter from M.
Lamartine, framed, above the chimney-piece, avowed the writer's
belief that the Troubadour of the Garonne was the Homer of the
modern world. M. Jasmin wears the ribbon of the Legion of
Honour, and has several valuable presents which were made to him
by the late ex-king and different members of the Orleans family.
"I have been somewhat minute in giving an account of my
interview with M. Jasmin, because he is really the popular poet
--the peasant poet of the South of France--the Burns of Limousin,
Provece, and Languedoc. His songs are in the mouths of all who
sing in the fields and by the cottage firesides. Their subjects
are always rural, naive, and full of rustic pathos and
rustic drollery. To use his words to me, he sings what the
hearts of the people say, and he can no more help it than can
the birds in the trees. Translations into French of his main
poems have appeared; and compositions more full of natural and
thoroughly unsophisticated pathos and humour it would be
difficult to find.
"Jasmin writes from a teeming brain and a beaming heart;
and there is a warmth and a glow, and a strong, happy, triumphant
march of song about his poems, which carry you away in the
perusal as they carried away the author in the writing. I speak,
of course, from the French translations, and I can well conceive
that they give but a comparatively faint transcript of the pith
and power of the original. The patois in which these poems are
written is the common peasant language of the South-west of
France. It varies in some slight degree in different districts,
but not more than the broad Scotch of Forfarshire differs from
that of Ayrshire. As for the dialect itself, it seems in the
main to be a species of cross between old French and Spanish--
holding, however, I am assured, rather to the latter tongue than
to the former, and constituting a bold, copious, and vigorous
speech, very rich in its colouring, full of quaint words and
expressive phrases, and especially strong in all that relates to
the language of the passions and affections.
"I hardly know how long my interview with Jasmin might have
lasted, for he seemed by no means likely to tire of talking, and
his talk was too good and too curious not to be listened to with
interest; but the sister [or wife] who had left us for a moment,
coming back with the intelligence that there was quite a
gathering of customers in the shop, I hastily took my leave,
the poet squeezing my hand like a vice, and immediately
thereafter dashing into all that appertains to curling-irons,
scissors, razors, and lather, with just as much apparent energy
and enthusiasm as he had flung into his rhapsodical discourse on
poetry and language!"
It is scarcely necessary to apologise for the length of this
extract, because no author that we know of--not even any
French author--has given so vivid a description of the man as
he lived, moved, and talked, as Mr. Reach; and we believe the
reader will thank us for quoting from an almost entirely
forgotten book, the above graphic description of the Gascon Poet.
Footnotes for Chapter XIII.
[1] The Athenaeum, 5th November, 1842. 'The Curl-papers of
Jasmin, the Barber of Agen.' ('Las Papillotos de Jasmin,
[2] 'A Pilgrimage to Auvergne, from Picardy to Velay.' 1842.
[3] 'Bearn and the Pyrenees.' 1844.
[4] "There are no poets in France now", he said to Miss Costello.
"There cannot be. The language does not admit of it.
Where is the fire, the spirit, the expression, the tenderness,
the force, of the Gascon? French is but the ladder to reach the
first floor of the Gascon; how can you get up to a height except
by means of a ladder?"
[5] Westminster Review for October, 1849.
[6] Published by David Bogue, Fleet Street. 1852. Mr. Reach
was very particular about the pronunciation of his name. Being a
native of Inverness, the last vowel was guttural. One day,
dining with Douglas Jerrold, who insisted on addressing him as
Mr. Reek or Reech, "No," said the other; "my name is neither Reek
nor Reech,but Reach," "Very well," said Jerrold, "Mr. Reach
will you have a Peach?"
The poet had no sooner returned from his visit to Paris than he
was besieged with appeals to proceed to the relief of the poor
in the South of France. Indeed, for more than thirty years he
devoted a considerable part of his time to works of charity and
benevolence. He visited successively cities and towns so far
remote from each other, as Bayonne and Marseilles, Bagneres and
Lyons. He placed his talents at the service of the public from
motives of sheer benevolence, for the large collections which
were made at his recitations were not of the slightest personal
advantage to himself.
The first place he visited on this occasion was Carcassonne,
south-east of Toulouse,--a town of considerable importance,
and containing a large number of poor people. M. Dugue, prefect
of the Aude, wrote to Jasmin: "The crying needs of this winter
have called forth a desire to help the poor; but the means are
sadly wanting. Our thoughts are necessarily directed to you.
Will you come and help us?" Jasmin at once complied. He was
entertained by the prefect.
After several successful recitations, a considerable sum of
money was collected for the relief of the poor of Carcassonne.
To perpetuate the recollection of Jasmin's noble work, and to
popularise the genius of the poet, the Prefect of the Aude
arranged that Jasmin's poems should be distributed amongst all
the schools of his department, and for this purpose a portion of
the surplus funds was placed at the disposal of the
Bordeaux next appealed to the poet. He had a strong love for
Bordeaux. It was the place where he had first recited his Blind
Girl, where he had first attracted public attention, and where
he was always admired and always feted. The Orphan Institution
of the city was in difficulties; its funds were quite exhausted;
and who should be invited to come to their help but their old
friend Jasmin? He was again enthusiastically received.
The Franklin Rooms were crowded, and money flowed quickly into
the orphans' treasury. Among the poems he recited was the
Aux Bordelais, au jour de ma grande Seance au Casino.
In a far land, I know not where,
Ere viol's sigh; or organ's swell,
Had made the sons of song aware
That music! is a potent spell:
A shepherd to a city came,
Play'd on his pipe, and rose to fame.
He sang of fields, and at each close,
Applause from ready hands arose.
The simple swain was hail'd and crown'd,
In mansions where the great reside,
And cheering smiles and praise he found,
And in his heart rose honest pride.
All seem'd with joy and rapture gleaming,
He trembled lest he was but dreaming.
But, modest still, his soul was moved;
Yet of his hamlet was his thought--
Of friends at home, and her he loved,
When back his laurel branch he brought.
And pleasure beaming in his eyes,
Enjoyed their welcome and surprise.
'Twas thus with me when Bordeaux deigned
To listen to my rustic song:
Whose music praise and honour gain'd
More than to rural strains belong.
Delighted, charm'd, I scarcely knew
Whence sprung this life so fresh and new,
And to my heart I whispered low,
When to my fields returned again,
"Is not the Gascon Poet now
As happy as the shepherd swain?"
The minstrel never can forget,
The spot where first success he met;
But he, the shepherd who, of yore,
Has charm'd so many a list'ing ear,
Came back, and was beloved no more.
He found all changed and cold and drear
A skilful hand had touch'd the flute;
His pipe and he were scorn'd--were mute.
But I, once more I dared appear,
And found old friends so true and dear.
The mem'ry of my ancient lays
Lived in their hearts, awoke their praise.
Oh! they did more. I was their guest;
Again was welcomed and caress't,
And, twined with their melodious tongue,
Again my rustic carol rung;
And my old language proudly found
Her words had list'ners pressing round.
Thus, though condemn'd the shepherd's skill,
The Gascon Poet triumph'd still.
At the end of the recital a pretty little orphan girl came
forward and presented Jasmin with a laurel adorned with a ruby,
with these words in golden letters,
To Jasmin, with the orphans' gratitude." Jasmin finally
descended from the rostrum and mixed with the audience,
who pressed round him and embraced him. The result was the
collection of more than a thousand francs for the orphans' fund.
No matter what the institution was, or where it was situated,
if it was in difficulties, and Jasmin was appealed to, provided
it commended itself to his judgment, he went far and near to give
his help. A priest at a remote place in Perigord had for some
time endeavoured to found an agricultural colony for the benefit
of the labourers, and at last wrote to Jasmin for assistance.
The work had been patronised by most of the wealthy people of
the province; but the colony did not prosper. There remained no
one to help them but the noble barber of Agen. Without appealing
any more to the rich for further aid, the priest applied to
Jasmin through a mutual friend, one of the promoters of the
undertaking, who explained to him the nature of the enterprise.
The following was Jasmin's answer:--
"MY DEAR SIR,--I have already heard of the Pious Work of the
curate of Vedey, and shall be most happy to give him my services
for one or two evenings, though I regret that I must necessarily
defer my visit until after the month of February next. In May I
have promised to go twice to the help of the Albigenses, in aid
of their hospital and the poor of Alba. I start to-morrow for
Cahors, to help in a work equally benevolent, begun long ago.
I am engaged for the month of August for Foix and Bagneres de
Luchon, in behalf of a church and an agricultural society.
All my spare time, you will observe, is occupied; and though I
may be tired out by my journeys, I will endeavour to rally my
forces and do all that I can for you. Tell the curate of Vedey,
therefore, that as his labour has been of long continuance,
my Muse will be happy to help his philanthropic work during one
or two evenings at Perigueux, in the month of March next.
"Yours faithfully,
In due time Jasmin fulfilled his promise, and a considerable sum
was collected in aid of the agricultural colony, which, to his
great joy, was eventually established and prospered. On another
and a very different occasion the Society of Arts and Literature
appealed to him. Their object was to establish a fund for the
assistance of the poorer members of their craft--something
like the Royal Literary Fund of London. The letter addressed to
him was signed by Baron Taylor, Ingres, Ambroise Thomas, Auber,
Meyerbeer, Adolphe Adam, Jules Simon, Zimmermann, Halevy, and
others. It seemed extraordinary that men of such distinction in
art and literature should appeal to a man of such humble
condition, living at so remote a place as Agen.
"We ask your help," they said, "for our work, which has only
been begun, and is waiting for assistance. We desire to have the
encouragement and powerful support of men of heart and
intelligence. Do not be surprised, sir, that we address this
demand to you. We have not yet appealed to the part of France in
which you live; but we repose our hopes in your admirable
talent, inspired as it is with Christian charity, which has
already given birth to many benefactions, for the help of
churches, schools, and charitable institutions, and has spread
amongst your compatriots the idea of relieving the poor and
necessitous." Incited by these illustrious men, Jasmin at once
took the field, and by his exertions did much towards the
foundation of the proposed institution.
The strength of his constitution seemed to be inexhaustible.
On one occasion he went as far as Marseilles. He worked, he
walked, he travelled, he recited almost without end. Though he
sometimes complained of being over-tired, he rallied, and went on
as before. At Marseilles, for instance, he got up early in the
morning, and at 8 A.M. he was present at a private council in a
school. At 11 he presided at a meeting of the Society of Saint
Francis Xavier, where he recited several of his poems before two
thousand persons. At 2 o'clock he was present at a banquet given
in his honour. In the evening he had another triumphant
reception. In the morning he spoke of country, religion, and
work to the humbler classes, and in the evening he spoke of love
and charity to a crowded audience of distinguished ladies. He
was entertained at Marseilles like a prince, rather than like a
He sometimes gave as many as three hundred recitations of this
sort in a year; visiting nearly every town from Bordeaux to
Marseilles for all kinds of charitable institutions. Of course
his travels were enlivened by many adventures, and some people
were unwilling to allow him to forget that he was a barber.
When at Auch, a town several miles to the south of Agen, he
resided with the mayor. The time for the meeting had nearly
arrived; but the mayor was still busy with his toilet. The
prefect of Gers was also waiting. Fearing the impatience of his
guests, the mayor opened the door of his chamber to apologise,
showing his face covered with lather.
"Just a moment," he said; "I am just finishing my shaving."
"Oh," said Jasmin, "why did you not perform your toilet sooner?
But now let me help you." Jasmin at once doffed his coat,
gave the finishing touch to his razor, and shaved the mayor in a
twinkling, with what he called his "hand of velvet." In a few
minutes after, Jasmin was receiving tumultuous applause for his
splendid recitations.
Thus, as time was pressing, it was a pleasure to Jasmin to make
himself useful to his friend the mayor. But on another occasion
he treated a rich snob in the way he deserved. Jasmin had been
reciting for the benefit of the poor. At the conclusion of the
meeting, the young people of the town improvised a procession of
flambeaux and triumphantly escorted him to his hotel.
Early next morning, while Jasmin was still asleep, he was
awakened by some one knocking at his chamber door. He rose,
opened it, and found himself in presence of one of the most
opulent persons of the town. There are vulgar people everywhere,
and this person had more wealth than courtesy. Like Jasmin,
he was a man of the people; but he had neither the grace nor the
politeness of the Gascon barber. He was but a parvenu, and his
riches had only produced an accumulation of snobbishness.
He pushed into the room, installed himself without invitation in
a chair, and, without further ceremony, proceeded:--
"My dear Jasmin," he said, "I am a banker--a millionaire,
as you know; I wish you to shave me with your own hand.
Please set to work at once, for I am pressed for time.
You can ask what you like for your trouble."
"Pardon me, sir," said Jasmin, with some pride, "I only shave for
pay at home."
"What do you say?"
"It is true, sir; I only shave for pay at home."
"Come, come--you are jesting! I cannot be put off. Make your
charge as much as you like--but shave me."
"Again I say, sir, it is impossible."
"How impossible? It seems to me that it is your trade!"
"It is so; but at this moment I am not disposed to exercise it."
The banker again pleaded; Jasmin was firm; and the millionaire
went away unshaved!
During one of his recitations at Toulouse, he was introduced to
Mdlle. Roaldes, a young and beautiful lady, with whose father,
a thriving stockbroker, he stayed while in that city. His house
was magnificent and splendidly furnished. Many persons of
influence were invited to meet Jasmin, and, while there, he was
entertained with much hospitality. But, as often happens with
stockbrokers, M. Roaldes star fell; he suffered many losses,
and at length became poor and almost destitute.
One day, while Jasmin was sharpening his razors in his shop in
Agen, who should appear but Mdlle. Therese Roaldes, sad and
dejected. It was the same young lady who had charmed him, not
only by her intellectual converse, but by her admirable musical
ability. She had sung brilliantly at the entertainment given at
her father's house, and now she came to lay her case before the
Agenaise barber! She told her whole story, ending with the
present destitution of her father--formerly the rich stockbroker.
"What can we do now?" asked Jasmin; "something must be done at
Mdlle. Roaldes judged rightly of the generous heart of Jasmin.
He was instantly ready and willing to help her. They might not
restore her father's fortunes, but they might rescue him from
the poverty and humiliations in which his sudden reverse of
fortune had involved him. The young lady had only her voice and
her harp, but Jasmin had his "Curl-papers." Mdlle. Roaldes was
beautiful; could her beauty have influenced Jasmin? For beauty
has a wonderful power in the world. But goodness is far better,
and it was that and her filial love which principally influenced
Jasmin in now offering her his assistance.
The two made their first appearance at Agen. They gave their
performance in the theatre, which was crowded, The name of
Mdlle. Roaldes excited the greatest sympathy, for the
misfortunes of her father were well known in the South. For this
beautiful girl to descend from her brilliant home in Toulouse to
the boards of a theatre at Agen, was a sad blow, but her courage
bore her up, and she excited the sympathetic applause of the
audience. In the midst of the general enthusiasm, Jasmin
addressed the charming lady in some lines which he had prepared
for the occasion. Holding in his hand a bouquet of flowers,
he said--
"Oh well they bloom for you! Mothers and daughters,
Throw flowers to her, though moistened with your tears.
These flowers receive them, for
They bear the incense of our hearts.
Daughter of heaven, oh, sing! your name shines bright,
The earth applauds, and God will bless you ever."
At the conclusion of his poem, Jasmin threw his wreath of
flowers to the young lady, and in an instant she was covered
with flowers by the audience. Mdlle. Roaldes was deeply moved.
She had faced a public audience for the first time; she had been
received with applause, and from that moment she felt confidence
in her performances as well as in her labour of love.
The poet, with the singer and harpist, made a tour in the
southern provinces, and the two muses, poetry and music,
went from town to town, enlivening and enlightening the way.
Every heart praised the poet for giving his services to his young
and beautiful friend. They applauded also the lovely woman who
made her harp-chords vibrate with her minstrel's music.
The pair went to Montauban, Albi, Toulouse, and Nimes;
they were welcomed at Avignon, the city of Petrarch and the
Popes. Marseilles forgot for a time her harbour and her ships,
and listened with rapture to the musician and the poet.
At Marseilles Jasmin felt himself quite at home. In the
intervals between the concerts and recitals, he made many new
friends, as well as visited many old ones. His gay and genial
humour, his lively sallies, his brilliant recitals, brought him
friends from every circle. M. Merv, in a political effusion,
welcomed the Gascon poet. He was invited to a fete of
l'Athenee-Ouvier (the Workman's Athenaeum); after several
speeches, Jasmin rose and responded:
"I am proud," he said, "of finding myself among the members of
this society, and of being welcomed by men who are doubly my
brethren--by the labour of the hands and by the labour of the
head. You have moved me and astonished me, and I have incurred
to l'Athenee-Ouvier a poetical debt which my muse can only repay
with the most tender recollections."
Many pleasant letters passed between Jasmin and Mdlle. de
Roaldes. The lady entertained the liveliest gratitude to the
poet, who had helped her so nobly in her misfortunes. On the
morning after her first successful appearance at Agen, she
addressed to him a letter full of praise and thankfulness. She
ended it thus: "Most amiable poet, I adore your heart, and I do
homage to your genius." In a future letter she confessed that
the rays of the sun were not less welcome than the rays of his
genius, and that her music would have been comparatively
worthless but for his poetry.
Towards the end of their joint entertainment she again wrote to
him: "You have become, my dear poet, my shower of gold, my
heaven-sent manna, while you continue your devotion to my
personal interests.... As a poet, I give you all the glory;
as a friend, I owe you the affection of my filial heart, the
hopes of a better time, and the consolation of my future days...
Let it be remembered that this good deed on your part is due
to your heart and will. May it protect you during your life,
and make you blest in the life which is to come!"
While at Nimes, the two poet-artisans met--Reboul the baker
and Jasmin the barber. Reboul, who attended the
music-recitation, went up to Jasmin and cordially embraced him,
amidst the enthusiastic cheers of three thousand people.
Jasmin afterwards visited Reboul at his bakery, where they had a
pleasant interview with respect to the patois of Provence and
Gascony. At the same time it must be observed that Reboul did
not write in patois, but in classical French.
Reboul had published a volume of poems which attracted the
notice and praise of Lamartine and Alexandre Dumas. Perhaps the
finest poem in the volume is entitled The Angel and Child.
Reboul had lost his wife and child; he sorrowed greatly at their
death, and this poem was the result. The idea is simple and
beautiful. An angel, noticing a lovely child in its cradle,
and deeming it too pure for earth, bears its spirit away to
Heaven. The poem has been admirably translated by Longfellow.
Dumas, in 'Pictures of Travel in the South of France,' relates
an interview with the baker-poet of Nimes.
"What made you a poet?" asked Dumas.
"It was sorrow," replied Reboul--"the loss of a beloved wife
and child. I was in great grief; I sought solitude, and, finding
no one who could understand me, poured forth my grief to the
"Yes," said Dumas, "I now comprehend your feelings. It is thus
that true poets become illustrious. How many men of talent only
want a great misfortune to become men of genius! You have told
me in a word the secret of your life; I know it now as well as
you do." And yet Jasmin, the contemporary of Reboul, had written
all his poetry without a sorrow, and amidst praise and
Chateaubriand, when in the South of France, called upon Reboul.
The baker met him at the door.
"Are you M. Reboul?" inquired the author of 'The Martyrs.'
"Which, sir--the baker or the poet?"
"The poet, of course."
"Then the poet cannot be seen until mid-day. At present the
baker is working at the oven."
Chateaubriand accordingly retired, but returned at the time
appointed, and had a long and interesting conversation with
While at Montpellier Jasmin received two letters from Madame
Lafarge, then in prison. The circumstances connected with her
case were much discussed in the journals of the time. She had
married at seventeen a M. Lafarge, and found after her marriage
that he had deceived her as to his property. Ill-feeling arose
between the unhappy pair, and eventually she was tried for
poisoning her husband. She was condemned with extenuating
circumstances, and imprisoned at Montpellier in 1839.
She declared that she was innocent of the crime imputed to her,
and Jasmin's faith in the virtue of womanhood led him to believe
Her letters to Jasmin were touching.
"Many pens," she said, "have celebrated your genius; let mine
touch your heart! Oh, yes, sir, you are good, noble, and
generous! I preserve every word of yours as a dear consolation;
I guard each of your promises as a holy hope. Voltaire has saved
Calas. Sing for me, sir, and I will bless your memory to the day
of my death. I am innocent!... For eight long years I have
suffered; and I am still suffering from the stain upon my honour.
I grieve for a sight of the sun, but I still love life. Sing for
She again wrote to Jasmin, endeavouring to excite his interest
by her appreciation of his poems.
"The spirit of your work," she said, "vibrates through me in
every form. What a pearl of eulogy is Maltro! What a great work
is L'Abuglo! In the first of these poems you reach the sublime
of love without touching a single chord of passion. What purity,
and at the same time what ease and tenderness! It is not only
the fever of the heart; it is life itself, its religion, its
virtue. This poor lnnuocento does not live to love; she loves
to live.... Her love diffuses itself like a perfume--like the
scent of a flower.... In writing Maltro your muse becomes
virgin and Christian; and to dictate L'Abuglo is a crown of
flowers, violets mingled with roses, like Tibullus, Anacreon,
and Horace."
And again: "Poet, be happy; sing in the language of your mother,
of your infancy, of your loves, your sorrows. The Gascon songs,
revived by you, can never be forgotten. Poet, be happy! The
language which you love, France will learn to admire and read,
and your brother-poets will learn to imitate you.... Spirit
speaks to spirit; genius speaks to the heart. Sing, poet, sing!
Envy jeers in vain; your Muse is French; better still, it is
Christian, and the laurel at the end of your course has two
crowns--one for the forehead of the poet and the other for the
heart of the man. Grand actions bring glory; good deeds bring
Although Jasmin wrote an interesting letter to Madame Lafarge,
he did not venture to sing or recite for her relief from prison.
She died before him, in 1852.
Footnotes for Chapter XIV.
[1] We adopt the translation of Miss Costello.
Agen, with its narrow and crooked streets, is not altogether a
pleasant town, excepting, perhaps, the beautiful promenade of
the Gravier, where Jasmin lived. Yet the neighbourhood of Agen
is exceedingly picturesque, especially the wooded crags of the
Hermitage and the pretty villas near the convent of the
Carmelites. From these lofty sites a splendid view of the
neighbouring country is to be seen along the windings of the
Garonne, and far off, towards the south, to the snowy peaks of
the Pyrenees.
Down beneath the Hermitage and the crags a road winds up the
valley towards Verona, once the home of the famous Scaligers.[1]
Near this place Jasmin bought a little vineyard, and established
his Tivoli. In this pretty spot his muse found pure air,
liberty, and privacy. He called the place--like his volume of
poems--his "Papillote," his "Curlpaper." Here, for nearly
thirty years, he spent some of his pleasantest hours, in
exercise, in reflection, and in composition. In commemoration of
his occupation of the site, he composed his Ma Bigno--'My
Vineyard'--one of the most simple and graceful of his
Jasmin dedicated Ma Bigno to Madame Louis Veill, of Paris.
He told her of his purchase of Papillote, a piece of ground which
he had long desired to have, and which he had now been able to
buy with the money gained by the sale of his poems.
He proceeds to describe the place:
"In this tiny little vineyard," he says, "my only chamber is a
grotto. Nine cherry trees: such is my wood! I have six rows of
vines, between which I walk and meditate. The peaches are mine;
the hazel nuts are mine! I have two elms, and two fountains.
I am indeed rich! You may laugh, perhaps, at my happiness.
But I wish you to know that I love the earth and the sky.
It is a living picture, sparkling in the sunshine. Come,"
he said, "and pluck my peaches from the branches; put them
between your lovely teeth, whiter than the snow. Press them:
from the skin to the almond they melt in the mouth--it is honey!"
He next describes what he sees and hears from his grotto:
the beautiful flowers, the fruit glowing in the sun,
the luscious peaches, the notes of the woodlark, the zug-zug of
the nightingale, the superb beauty of the heavens.
"They all sing love, and love is always new."
He compares Paris, with its grand ladies and its grand opera,
with his vineyard and his nightingales. "Paris," he says, "has
fine flowers and lawns, but she is too much of the grande dame.
She is unhappy, sleepy. Here, a thousand hamlets laugh by the
river's side. Our skies laugh; everything is happy; everything
lives. From the month of May, when our joyous summer arrives,
for six months the heavens resound with music. A thousand
nightingales sing all the night through.... Your grand opera
is silent, while our concert is in its fullest strain."
The poem ends with a confession on the part of the poet of
sundry pilferings committed by himself in the same place when a
boy--of apple-trees broken, hedges forced, and vine-ladders
scaled, winding up with the words:
"Madame, you see I turn towards the past without a blush;
will you? What I have robbed I return, and return with usury.
I have no door to my vineyard; only two thorns bar its threshold.
When, through a hole I see the noses of marauders, instead of
arming myself with a cane, I turn and go away, so that they may
come back. He who robbed when he was young, may in his old age
allow himself to be robbed too." A most amicable sentiment,
sure to be popular amongst the rising generation of Agen.
Ma Bigno is written in graceful and felicitous verse. We have
endeavoured to give a translation in the appendix; but the
rendering of such a work into English is extremely difficult.
The soul will be found wanting; for much of the elegance of the
poem consists in the choice of the words. M. de Mazade, editor
of the Revue des Deux Mondes, said of Ma Bigno that it was one
of Jasmin's best works, and that the style and sentiments were
equally satisfactory to the poetical mind and taste.
M. Rodiere, of Toulouse, in his brief memoir of Jasmin,[2] says
that "it might be thought that so great a work as Franconnette
would have exhausted the poet. When the aloe flowers, it rests
for nearly a hundred years before it blooms again. But Jasmin
had an inexhaustible well of poetry in his soul. Never in fact
was he more prolific than in the two years which followed the
publication of Franconnette. Poetry seemed to flow from him like
a fountain, and it came in various forms. His poems have no
rules and little rhythm, except those which the genius of the
poet chooses to give them; but there is always the most
beautiful poetry, perfectly evident by its divine light and its
inspired accents."
Jasmin, however, did not compose with the rapidity described by
his reviewer. He could not throw off a poem at one or many
sittings; though he could write an impromptu with ready
facility. When he had an elaborate work in hand, such as
The Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille, Franconnette, or Martha the
Innocent, he meditated long over it, and elaborated it with
conscientious care. He arranged the plan in his mind, and waited
for the best words and expressions in which to elaborate his
stanzas, so as most clearly to explain his true meaning.
Thus Franconnette cost him two years' labour. Although he wrote
of peasants in peasants' language, he took care to avoid
everything gross or vulgar. Not even the most classical poet
could have displayed inborn politeness--la politesse du coeur--in
a higher degree. At the same time, while he expressed passion in
many forms, it was always with delicacy, truth, and beauty.
Notwithstanding his constant philanthropic journeys, he beguiled
his time with the germs of some forthcoming poem, ready to be
elaborated on his return to Agen and his vineyard.
His second volume of poems was published in 1842, and in a few
months it reached its third edition. About 20,000 copies of his
poems had by this time been issued. The sale of these made him
comparatively easy in his circumstances; and it was mainly by
their profits that he was enabled to buy his little vineyard
near Verona.
It may also be mentioned that Jasmin received a further increase
of his means from the Government of Louis Philippe. Many of his
friends in the South of France were of opinion that his
philanthropic labours should be publicly recognised. While
Jasmin had made numerous gifts to the poor from the collections
made at his recitations; while he had helped to build schools,
orphanages, asylums, and even churches, it was thought that some
recompense should be awarded to him by the State for his
self-sacrificing labours.
In 1843 the Duchess of Orleans had a golden medal struck in his
honour; and M. Dumon, when presenting it to Jasmin, announced
that the Minister of Instruction had inscribed his name amongst
the men of letters whose works the Government was desirous of
encouraging; and that consequently a pension had been awarded to
him of 1,000 francs per annum. This welcome news was shortly
after confirmed by the Minister of Instruction himself.
"I am happy," said M. Villemain,"to bear witness to the merit
of your writings, and the originality of your poetry, as well
as to the loyalty of your sentiments."
The minister was not, however, satisfied with conferring this
favour. It was ordered that Jasmin should be made a Chevalier of
the Legion of Honour, at the same time that Balzac, Frederick
Soulie, and Alfred de Musset, were advanced to the same role of
honour. The minister, in conveying the insignia to Jasmin, said:
"Your actions are equal to your works; you build churches;
you succour indigence; you are a powerful benefactor;
and your muse is the sister of Charity."
These unexpected honours made no difference in the poet's daily
life. He shaved and curled hair as before. He lived in the same
humble shop on the Gravier. He was not in the least puffed up.
His additional income merely enabled him to defray his expenses
while on his charitable journeys on behalf of his poorer
neighbours. He had no desire to be rich; and he was now more
than comfortable in his position of life.
When the news arrived at Agen that Jasmin had been made a
Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, his salon was crowded with
sympathetic admirers. In the evening, a serenade was performed
before his door on the Gravier by the Philharmonic Society of
Agen. Indeed, the whole town was filled with joy at the
acknowledged celebrity of their poet. A few years later Pope
Pius IX. conferred upon Jasmin the honour of Chevalier of the
Order of St. Gregory the Great. The insignia of the Order was
handed to the poet by Monseigneur de Vezins, Bishop of Agen, in
Sept. 1850. Who could have thought that the barber-poet would
have been so honoured by his King, and by the Head of his Church?
Jasmin's next important poem, after the production of
Franconnette was Martha the Innocent.--[In Gascon, Maltro
l'Innoucento; French, Marthe la Folle]. It is like The Blind
Girl, a touching story of disappointment in love. Martha was an
orphan living at Laffitte, on the banks of the Lot. She was
betrothed to a young fellow, but the conscription forbade their
union. The conscript was sent to the wars of the first Napoleon,
which were then raging. The orphan sold her little cottage in
the hope of buying him off, or providing him with a substitute.
But it was all in vain. He was compelled to follow his regiment.
She was a good and pious girl, beloved by all. She was also
beautiful,--tall, fair, and handsome, with eyes of blue--
"the blue of heaven," according to Jasmin:
"With grace so fine, and air so sweet,
She was a lady amongst peasants."
The war came to an end for a time. The soldier was discharged,
and returned home.
Martha went out to meet him; but alas! like many other fickle
men, he had met and married another. It was his wife who
accompanied him homewards. Martha could not bear the terrible
calamity of her blighted love. She became crazy--almost an
She ran away from her home at Laffitte, and wandered about the
country. Jasmin, when a boy, had often seen the crazy woman
wandering about the streets of Agen with a basket on her arm,
begging for bread. Even in her rags she had the remains of
beauty. The children ran after her, and cried, "Martha, a
soldier!" then she ran off, and concealed herself.
Like other children of his age Jasmin teased her; and now, after
more than thirty years, he proposed to atone for his childish
folly by converting her sad story into a still sadder poem.
Martha the Innocent is a charming poem, full of grace, harmony,
and beauty. Jasmin often recited it, and drew tears from many
eyes. In the introduction he related his own part in her
history. "It all came back upon him," he said," and now he
recited the story of this martyr of love."[3]
After the completion of Martha, new triumphs awaited Jasmin in
the South of France. In 1846 he again went to Toulouse on a
labour of love. He recited his new poem in the Room of the
Illustrious at the Capitol. A brilliant assembly was present.
Flowers perfumed the air. The entire audience rose and applauded
the poet. The ladies smiled and wept by turns. Jasmin seemed to
possess an electric influence. His clear, harmonious, and
flexible voice, gave emphasis by its rich sympathetic tones to
the artistic elements of his story.
The man who thus evoked such rapture from his audience was not
arrayed in gorgeous costume. He was a little dark-eyed man of
the working class, clothed in a quiet suit of black.
At the close of the recitation, the assembly, ravished with his
performance, threw him a wreath of flowers and laurels--more
modest, though not less precious than the golden branch which
they had previously conferred upon him. Jasmin thanked them most
heartily for their welcome. "My Muse," he said, "with its
glorious branch of gold, little dreamt of gleaning anything more
from Toulouse; but Toulouse has again invited me to this day's
festival, and I feel more happy than a king, because my poem is
enthroned in the midst of the Capitol. Your hands have applauded
me throughout, and you have concluded by throwing this crown of
flowers at my feet."
It was then resolved to invite Jasmin to a banquet. Forty
ladies,the cream of Toulousian society, organised the
proceedings, and the banquet was given at the palace of M. de
Narbonne. At the end of the proceedings a young lady stepped
forward, and placed upon the poet's head a crown of immortelles
and violets joined together by a ribbon with golden threads,
on which was inscribed in letters of gold, "Your thoughts are
immortal!" Was not this enough to turn any poor poet's head?
The ladies clapped their hands. What could Jasmin say?
"It is enough," he said "to make angels jealous!" The dinner
ended with a toast to the author of Martha, who still wore the
crown upon his brow.
It is impossible to describe the enthusiasm with which the poet
was received all through the South. At Dax, the ladies, for want
of crowns of laurels to cover him, tore the flowers and feathers
from their bonnets, and threw them at his feet. In another town
the ladies rose and invaded the platform where Jasmin stood;
they plucked from his button-hole the ribbon of the Legion of
Honour, and divided it amongst them, as a precious relic of
their glorious poet.
He was received at Gers and Condon with equal enthusiasm.
At Condon he charmed his audience with his recitations for about
five hours. Frenzies of applause greeted him. He was invited to
a banquet, where he received the usual praises. When the banquet
was over, and Jasmin escaped, he was met in the street by crowds
of people, who wished to grasp him by the hand. He recited to
them in the open air his poem of charity. They compared Jasmin
to O'Connell; but the barber of Agen, by the power which he
exercised for the good of the people, proved himself more than
equal to the greatest of agitators.
Sainte-Beuve quotes with keen enjoyment[4] the bantering letter
which Jasmin sent to Peyrottes, a Provencal poet, who challenged
him to a poetical combat. It was while he was making one of his
charitable tours through Languedoc, that Jasmin received the
following letter (24 December, 1847):-
"SIR,--I dare, in my temerity, which may look like hardihood,
to propose to you a challenge. Will you have the goodness to
accept it? In the Middle Ages, the Troubadours did not disdain
such a challenge as that which, in my audacity, I now propose to
"I will place myself at your disposal at Montpellier on any day
and at any hour that may be most convenient to you. We shall
name four persons of literary standing to give us three subjects
with which we are to deal for twenty-four hours. We shall be
shut up together. Sentries will stand at the door. Only our
provisions shall pass through.
"A son of Herault, I will support the honour and the glory of my
country! And as in such circumstances, a good object is
indispensable, the three subjects given must be printed and sold
for the benefit of the Creche of Montpellier." Peyrotte ended
his letter with a postscript, in which he said that he would
circulate his challenge among the most eminent persons in
Jasmin answered this letter as follows:--
"SIR,--I did not receive your poetical challenge until the day
before yesterday, on the point of my departure for home; but I
must tell you that, though I have received it, I cannot accept
"Do you really propose to my muse, which aims at free air and
liberty, to shut myself up in a close room, guarded by
sentinels, who could only allow provisions to enter, and there
to treat of three given subjects in twenty-four hours! Three
subjects in twenty-four hours! You frighten me, sir, for the
peril in which you place my muse.
"I must inform you, in all humility, that I often cannot compose
more than two or three lines a day. My five poems, L'Aveugle,
Mes Souvenirs, Franconnette, Martha the Innocent, and Les Deux
Jumeaux, have cost me ten years' work, and they only contain in
all but 2,400 verses!... I cannot write poetry by command.
I cannot be a prisoner while I compose. Therefore I decline to
enter the lists with you.
"The courser who drags his chariot with difficulty, albeit he
may arrive at the goal, cannot contend with the fiery locomotive
of the iron railway. The art which produces verses one by one,
depends upon inspiration, not upon manufacture. Therefore my
muse declares itself vanquished in advance; and I authorise you
to publish my refusal of your challenge."
In a postscript, Jasmin added: "Now that you have made the
acquaintance of my Muse, I will, in a few words, introduce you
to the man. I love glory, but the success of others never
troubles my sleep at night!"
"When one finds," says Sainte-Beuve, "this theory of work pushed
to such a degree by Jasmin, with whom the spark of inspiration
seems always so prompt and natural, what a sad return we have of
the poetical wealth dissipated by the poets of our day."
Sainte-Beuve summed up his praise of the Gascon poet by insisting
that he was invariably sober in his tone.
"I have learned," said Jasmin of himself, "that in moments of
heat and emotion we may be eloquent or laconic, alike in speech
and action--unconscious poets, in fact; but I have also
learned that it is possible for a poet to become all this
voluntarily by dint of patient toil and conscientious labour!"
Jasmin was not the man to rest upon his laurels. Shortly after
his visit to Paris in 1842, he began to compose his Martha the
Innocent, which we have already briefly described. Two years
later he composed Les Deux Freres Jumeaux--a story of paternal
and motherly affection. This was followed by his Ma Bigno ('My
Vineyard'), and La Semaine d'un Fils ('The Week's Work of a
Son'), which a foot-note tells us is historical, the event having
recently occurred in the neighbourhood of Agen.
A short description may be given of this affecting story.
The poem is divided into three parts. In the first, a young boy
and his sister, Abel and Jeanne, are described as kneeling before
a cross in the moonlight, praying to the Virgin to cure their
father. "Mother of God, Virgin compassionate, send down thine
Angel and cure our sick father. Our mother will then be happy,
and we, Blessed Virgin, will love and praise thee for ever."
The Virgin hears their prayer, and the father is cured. A woman
opens the door of a neighbouring house and exclaims joyously,
"Poor little ones, death has departed. The poison of the fever
is counteracted, and your father's life is saved. Come, little
lambs, and pray to God with me." They all three kneel and pray
by the side of the good father Hilaire, formerly a brave
soldier, but now a mason's labourer. This ends the first part.
The second begins with a description of morning. The sun shines
through the glass of the casement mended with paper, yet the
morning rays are bright and glorious. Little Abel glides into
his father's room. He is told that he must go to the house of
his preceptor to-day, for he must learn to read and write.
Abel is "more pretty than strong;" he is to be an homme de
lettres, as his little arms would fail him if he were to handle
the rough stones of his father's trade. Father and son embraced
each other.
For a few days all goes well, but on the fourth, a Sunday,
a command comes from the master mason that if Hilaire does not
return to his work to-morrow, his place shall be given to
another. This news spreads dismay and consternation among them
all. Hilaire declares that he is cured, tries to rise from his
bed, but falls prostrate through weakness. It will take a week
yet to re-establish his health.
The soul of little Abel is stirred. He dries his tears and
assumes the air of a man; he feels some strength in his little
arms. He goes out, and proceeds to the house of the master
mason. When he returns, he is no longer sorrowful: honey was in
his mouth, and his eyes were smiling." He said, "My father, rest
yourself: gain strength and courage; you have the whole week
before you. Then you may labour. Some one who loves you will do
your work, and you shall still keep your place." Thus ends the
second part.
The third begins: "Behold our little Abel, who no longer toils
at the school-desk, but in the workshop. In the evenings he
becomes again a petit monsieur; and, the better to deceive his
father, speaks of books, papers, and writings, and with a wink
replies to the inquiring look of his mother (et d'un clin d'oeil
repond aux clins des yeux de sa mere). Four days pass thus.
On the fifth, Friday, Hilaire, now cured, leaves his house at
mid-day. "But fatal Friday, God has made thee for sorrow!"
The father goes to the place where the masons are at work.
Though the hour for luncheon has not arrived, yet no one is seen
on the platforms above; and O bon Dieu! what a crowd of people
is seen at the foot of the building! Master, workmen, neighbours
--all are there, in haste and tumult. A workman has fallen from
the scaffold. It is poor little Abel. Hilaire pressed forward
to see his beloved boy lie bleeding on the ground! Abel is
dying, but before he expires, he whispers, "Master, I have not
been able to finish the work, but for my poor mother's sake do
not dismiss my father because there is one day short!" The boy
died, and was carried home by his sorrowful parent. The place
was preserved for Hilaire, and his wages were even doubled. But
it was too late. One morning death closed his eyelids; and the
good father went to take another place in the tomb by the side of
his son.
Jasmin dedicated this poem to Lamartine, who answered his
dedication as follows:--
"Paris, 28th April, 1849.
"My dear brother,--I am proud to read my name in the language
which you have made classic; more proud still of the beautiful
verses in which you embalm the recollection of our three months
of struggle with the demagogues against our true republic. Poets
entertain living presentiments of posterity. I accept your omen.
Your poem has made us weep. You are the only epic writer of our
time, the sensible and pathetic Homer of the people
Others sing, but you feel. I have seen your son, who has
three times sheltered me with his bayonet--in March and April.
He appears to me worthy of your name.--LAMARTINE."
Besides the above poems, Jasmin composed Le Pretre sans Eglise
(The Priest without a Church), which forms the subject of the
next chapter. These poems, with other songs and impromptus,
were published in 1851, forming the third volume of his
After Jasmin had completed his masterpieces, he again devoted
himself to the cause of charity. Before, he had merely walked;
now he soared aloft. What he accomplished will be ascertained in
the following pages.
Footnotes for Chapter XV.
[1] The elder Scaliger had been banished from Verona, settled
near Agen, and gave the villa its name. The tomb of the Scaliger
family in Verona is one of the finest mausoleums ever erected.
[2] Journal de Toulouse, 4th July, 1840.
[3] In the preface to the poem, which was published in 1845,
the editor observes:-- "This little drama begins in 1798,
at Laffitte, a pretty market-town on the banks of the Lot,
near Clairac, and ends in 1802. When Martha became an idiot,
she ran away from the town to which she belonged, and went to
Agen. When seen in the streets of that town she became an object
of commiseration to many, but the children pursued her, calling
out, 'Martha, a soldier!' Sometimes she disappeared for two
weeks at a time, and the people would then observe, 'Martha has
hidden herself; she must now be very hungry!' More than once
Jasmin, in his childhood, pursued Martha with the usual cry of
'A soldier.' He little thought that at a future time he should
make some compensation for his sarcasms, by writing the touching
poem of Martha the Innocent; but this merely revealed the
goodness of his heart and his exquisite sensibility.
Martha died at Agen in 1834."
[4] 'Causeries du Lundi,' iv. 241, edit. 1852.
The Abbe Masson, priest of Vergt in Perigord, found the church
in which he officiated so decayed and crumbling, that he was
obliged to close it. It had long been in a ruinous condition.
The walls were cracked, and pieces of plaster and even brick fell
down upon the heads of the congregation; and for their sake as
well as for his own, the Abbe Masson was obliged to discontinue
the services. At length he resolved to pull down the ruined
building, and erect another church in its place.
Vergt is not a town of any considerable importance. It contains
the ruins of a fortress built by the English while this part of
France was in their possession. At a later period a bloody
battle was fought in the neighbourhood between the Catholics and
the Huguenots. Indeed, the whole of the South of France was for
a long period disturbed by the civil war which raged between
these sections of Christians. Though both Roman Catholics and
Protestants still exist at Vergt, they now live together in
peace and harmony.
Vergt is the chief town of the Canton, and contains about 1800
inhabitants. It is a small but picturesque town, the buildings
being half concealed by foliage and chestnut trees. Not far off,
by the river Candou, the scenery reminds one of the wooded
valley at Bolton Priory in Yorkshire.
Though the Abbe Masson was a man of power and vigour, he found
it very difficult to obtain funds from the inhabitants of the
town for the purpose of rebuilding his church. There were no
Ecclesiastical Commissioners to whom he could appeal, and the
people of the neighbourhood were too limited in their
circumstances to help him to any large extent.
However, he said to himself, "Heaven helps those who help
themselves;" or rather, according to the Southern proverb,
Qui trabaillo, Thion li baillo--"Who is diligent, God helps."
The priest began his work with much zeal. He collected what he
could in Vergt and the neighbourhood, and set the builders to
work. He hoped that Providence would help him in collecting the
rest of the building fund.
But the rebuilding of a church is a formidable affair; and
perhaps the priest, not being a man of business, did not count
the cost of the undertaking. He may have "counted his chickens
before they were hatched." Before long the priest's funds again
ran short. He had begun the rebuilding in 1840; the work went on
for about a year; but in 1841 the builders had to stop their
operations, as the Abbe Masson's funds were entirely exhausted.
What was he to do now? He suddenly remembered the barber of
Agen, who was always willing to give his friendly help. He had
established Mdlle. Roaldes as a musician a few years before;
he had helped to build schools, orphanages, asylums, and such
like. But he had never helped to build a church. Would he now
help him to rebuild the church of Vergt?
The Abbe did not know Jasmin personally, but he went over to
Agen, and through a relative, made his acquaintance. Thus the
Abbe and the poet came together. After the priest had made an
explanation of his position, and of his difficulties in obtaining
money for the rebuilding of the church of Vergt, Jasmin at once
complied with the request that he would come over and help him.
They arranged for a circuit of visits throughout the district--
the priest with his address, and Jasmin with his poems.
Jasmin set out for Vergt in January 1843. He was received at the
border of the Canton by a numerous and brilliant escort of
cavalry, which accompanied him to the presbytery. He remained
there for two days, conferring with the Abbe. Then the two set
out together for Perigueux, the chief city of the province,
accompanied on their departure by the members of the Municipal
Council and the leading men of the town.
The first meeting was held in the theatre of Perigueux, which
was crowded from floor to ceiling, and many remained outside who
could not obtain admission. The Mayor and Municipal Councillors
were present to welcome and introduce the poet. On this
occasion, Jasmin recited for the first time, "The Ruined Church"
(in Gascon: La Gleyzo Descapelado) composed in one of his
happiest moments. Jasmin compared himself to Amphion, the sweet
singer of Greece, who by his musical powers, enabled a city to
be built; and now the poet invoked the citizens of Perigueux to
enable the Abbe Masson to rebuild his church. His poem was
received with enthusiasm, and almost with tears of joy at the
pleading of Jasmin. There was a shower of silver and gold.
The priest was overjoyed at the popularity of his colleague,
and also at his purse, which was filled with offerings.
While at Perigueux the poet and the priest enjoyed the
hospitality of M. August Dupont, to whom Jasmin, in thanks,
dedicated a piece of poetry. Other entertainments followed--
matinees and soirees. Jasmin recited some of his poems before
the professors and students at the college, and at other places
of public instruction. Then came banquets--aristocratic and
popular--and, as usual, a banquet of the hair-dressers.
There was quite an ovation in the city while he remained there.
But other calls awaited Jasmin. He received deputations from
many of the towns in the department soliciting his appearance,
and the recitation of his poems. He had to portion out his time
with care, and to arrange the programme of his visits. When the
two pilgrims started on their journey, they were frequently
interrupted by crowds of people, who would not allow Jasmin to
pass without reciting some of his poetry. Jasmin and Masson
travelled by the post-office car--the cheapest of all
conveyances--but at Montignac they were stopped by a crowd of
people, and Jasmin had to undergo the same process. Free and
hearty, he was always willing to comply with their requests.
That day the postman arrived at his destination three hours
after his appointed time.
It was in the month of February, when darkness comes on so
quickly, that Jasmin informed the magistrates of Sarlat, whither
he was bound, that he would be there by five o'clock. But they
waited, and waited for him and the priest at the entrance to the
town, attended by the clergy, the sub-prefect, the town
councillors, and a crowd of people. It was a cold and dreary
night. Still no Jasmin! They waited for three long hours. At
last Jasmin appeared on the post-office car. "There he comes at
last!" was the general cry. His arrival was greeted with
enthusiastic cheers. It was now quite dark. The poet and the
priest entered Sarlat in triumph, amidst the glare of torches and
the joyful shouts of the multitude. Then came the priest's
address, Jasmin's recitations, and the final collection of
It is unnecessary to repeat the scenes, however impressive,
which occurred during the journey of the poet and the priest.
There was the same amount of enthusiasm at Nontron, Bergerac,
and the other towns which they visited. At Nontron,
M. A. de Calvimont, the sub-prefect, welcomed Jasmin with the
following lines:
"To Jasmin, our grand poet,
The painter of humanity;
For him, elect of heaven, life is a fete
Ending in immortality."
Jasmin replied to this with some impromptu lines, 'To Poetry,'
dedicated to the sub-prefect. At Bergerac he wrote his Adieu to
Perigord, in which he conveyed his thanks to the inhabitants of
the department for the kindness with which they had received him
and his companion. This, their first journey through Perigord,
was brought to a close at the end of February, 1843.
The result of this brilliant journey was very successful.
The purse of the Abbe was now sufficiently well filled to enable
him to proceed with the rebuilding of the church of Vergt; and
the work was so well advanced, that by the 23rd of the following
month of July it was ready for consecration. A solemn ceremony
then took place. Six bishops, including an archbishop, and three
hundred priests were present, with more than fifteen thousand
people of all ranks and conditions of life. Never had such a
ceremony been seen before--at least in so small a town.
The Cardinal Gousset, Archbishop of Rheims, after consecrating
the church, turned to Jasmin, and said: "Poet, we cannot avoid
the recognition of your self-sacrificing labours in the
rebuilding of this church; and we shall be happy if you will
consent to say a few words before we part."
"Monseigneur," replied Jasmin, "can you believe that my muse has
laboured for fifteen days and fifteen nights, that I should
interrupt this day of the fete? Vergt keeps fete to-day for
religion, but not for poetry, though it welcomes and loves it.
The church has six pontiffs; the poet is only a subdeacon;
but if I must sing my hymn officially, it must be elsewhere."
The Archbishop--a man of intelligence who understood the
feelings of poets--promised, at the collation which followed
the consecration, to give Jasmin the opportunity of reciting the
verses which he had composed for the occasion. The poem was
entitled 'A Priest without a Church' (in Gascon: Lou Preste sans
Glegzo) dedicated to M. Masson, the Cure of Vergt. In his verses
the poet described the influence of a noble church upon the
imagination as well as the religion of the people. But he said
nothing of his own labours in collecting the necessary funds for
the rebuilding of the church. The recitation of the poem was
received with enthusiasm.
Monseigneur Bertaud, who preached in the afternoon on the
"Infinity of God," touchingly referred to the poems of Jasmin,
and developed the subject so happily referred to by the poet.
"Such examples as his," he said, "such delicate and generous
sentiments mingled together, elevate poetry and show its noble
origin, so that we cannot listen to him without the gravest
It was a great day for Vergt, and also a great day for the poet.
The consecration of the church amidst so large an assemblage of
clergy and people occasioned great excitement in the South.
It was noised abroad in the public journals, and even in the
foreign press. Jasmin's fame became greater than ever; and his
barber's shop at Agen became, as it were, a shrine, where
passing through the district, stopped to visit him and praise his
almost divine efforts to help the cause of religion and
The local enthusiasm was not, however, without its drawbacks.
The success of the curate of Vergt occasioned a good deal of
jealousy. Why should he be patronised by Jasmin, and have his
purse filled by his recitations, when there were so many other
churches to be built and repaired, so many hospitals and schools
to found and maintain, so many orphanages to assist, so many
poor to relieve, so many good works to be done? Why should not
Jasmin, who could coin money with words which cost him nothing,
come to the help of the needy and afflicted in the various
districts throughout the South?
Thus Jasmin was constantly assailed by deputations. He must
leave his razors and his curling-tongs, and go here, there,
and everywhere to raise money by his recitations.
The members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul were,
as usual, full of many charitable designs. There had been a
fire, a flood, an epidemic, a severe winter, a failure of crops,
which had thrown hundreds of families into poverty and misery;
and Jasmin must come immediately to their succour. "Come,
Jasmin! Come quick, quick!" He was always willing to give his
assistance; but it was a terrible strain upon his mental as well
as his physical powers.
In all seasons, at all hours, in cold, in heat, in wind, in rain,
he hastened to give his recitations--sometimes of more than
two hours' duration, and often twice or thrice in the same day.
He hastened, for fear lest the poor should receive their food
and firing too late.
What a picture! Had Jasmin lived in the time of St. Vincent de
Paul, the saint would have embraced him a thousand times, and
rejoiced to see himself in one way surpassed; for in pleading for
the poor, he also helped the rich by celebrating the great deeds
of their ancestors, as he did at Beziers, Riquet, Albi,
Lafeyrouse, and other places. The spectacle which he presented
was so extraordinary, that all France was struck with admiration
at the qualities of this noble barber of Agen.
On one occasion Jasmin was requested by a curate to come to his
help and reconcile him with his parishioners. Jasmin succeeded
in performing the miracle. It happened that in 1846 the curate
of Saint-Leger, near Penne, in the Tarn, had caused a ball-room
to be closed. This gave great offence to the young people, who
desired the ball-room to be opened, that they might have their
fill of dancing. They left his church, and declared that they
would have nothing further to do with him. To reconcile the
malcontents, the curate promised to let them hear Jasmin.
accordingly, one Sunday afternoon the inhabitants of four
parishes assembled in a beautiful wood to listen to Jasmin. He
recited his Charity and some other of his serious poems. When he
had finished, the young people of Saint-Leger embraced first the
poet, and then the curate. The reconciliation was complete.
To return to the church at Vergt. Jasmin was a poet, not an
architect. The Abbe Masson knew nothing about stone or mortar.
He was merely anxious to have his church rebuilt and consecrated
as soon as possible. That had been done in 1843. But in the
course of a few years it was found that the church had been very
badly built. The lime was bad, and the carpentry was bad.
The consequence was, that the main walls of the church bulged
out, and the shoddy building had to be supported by outside
abutments. In course of time it became clear that the work, for
the most part, had to be done over again.
In 1847 the Abbe again appealed to Jasmin. This new task was
more difficult than the first, for it was necessary to appeal to
a larger circle of contributors; not confining themselves to
Perigord only, but taking a wider range throughout the South of
France. The priest made the necessary arrangements for the joint
tour. They would first take the northern districts--Angouleme,
Limoges, Tulle, and Brives--and then proceed towards the south.
The pair started at the beginning of May, and began their usual
recitations and addresses, such as had been given during the
first journey in Perigord. They were received with the usual
enthusiasm. Prefects, bishops, and municipal bodies, vied with
each other in receiving and entertaining them. At Angouleme,
the queen of southern cities, Jasmin was presented with a crown
of immortelles and a snuff-box, on which was engraved:
"Esteem--Love--Admiration! To Jasmin, the most sublime of poets!
From the youth of Angouleme, who have had the happiness of seeing
and hearing him!"
The poet and priest travelled by night as well as by day in
order to economise time. After their tour in the northern towns
and cities, they returned to Vergt for rest. They entered the
town under a triumphal arch, and were escorted by a numerous
cavalcade. Before they retired to the priest's house, the
leading men of the commune, in the name of the citizens,
complimented Jasmin for his cordial help towards the rebuilding
of the church.
After two days of needful rest Jasmin set out for Bordeaux,
the city whose inhabitants had first encouraged him by their
applause, and for which he continued to entertain a cordial
feeling to the last days of his life. His mission on this
occasion was to assist in the inauguration of a creche, founded
and supported by the charitable contributions of the friends of
poor children. It is not necessary to mention the enthusiasm
with which he was received.
The further progress of the poet and the priest, in search of
contributions for rebuilding the church, was rudely interrupted
by the Revolution which broke out at Paris in 1848. His Majesty
Louis Philippe abdicated the throne of France on the 24th of
February, rather than come into armed collision with his
subjects; and, two days after, the Republic was officially
proclaimed at the Hotel de Ville. Louis Philippe and his family
took refuge in England--the usual retreat of persecuted
Frenchmen; and nine months later, Louis Napoleon Buonaparte,
who had also been a refugee in England, returned to France,
and on the 20th of December was proclaimed President of the
French Republic.
Jasmin and Masson accordingly suspended their tour. No one would
listen to poetical recitations in the midst of political
revolutions. Freedom and tranquillity were necessary for the
contemplation of ideas very different from local and national
squabbles. The poet and priest accordingly bade adieu to each
other; and it was not until two years later that they were able
to recommence their united journeys through the South of France.
The proclamation of the Republic, and the forth coming elections,
brought many new men to the front. Even poets made their
appearance. Lamartine, who had been a deputy, was a leader in
the Revolution, and for a time was minister for foreign affairs.
Victor Hugo, a still greater poet, took a special interest in
the politics of the time, though he was fined and imprisoned
for condemning capital punishment. Even Reboul, the poet-baker
of Nimes, deserted his muse and his kneading trough to solicit
the suffrages of his fellow-citizens. Jasmin was wiser.
He was more popular in his neighbourhood than Reboul,
though he cared little about politics. He would neither be a
deputy, nor a municipal councillor, nor an agent for elections.
He preferred to influence his country by spreading the seeds of
domestic and social virtues; and he was satisfied with his
position in Agen as poet and hair-dresser.
Nevertheless a deputation of his townsmen waited upon Jasmin to
request him to allow his name to appear as a candidate for their
suffrages. The delegates did not find him at his shop.
He was at his vineyard; and there the deputation found him
tranquilly seated under a cherry-tree shelling peas! He listened
to them with his usual courtesy, and when one of the committee
pressed him for an answer, and wished to know if he was not a
good Republican, he said, "Really, I care nothing for the
Republic. I am one of those who would have saved the
constitutional monarchy by enabling it to carry out further
reforms.... But," he continued, "look to the past; was it not a
loss to destroy the constitutional monarchy? But now we must
march forward, that we may all be united again under the same
flag. The welfare of France should reign in all our thoughts and
evoke our most ardent sympathy. Choose among our citizens a
strong and wise man... If the Republic is to live in France, it
must be great, strong, and good for all classes of the people.
Maintaining the predominance of the law will be its security; and
in preserving law it will strengthen our liberties.'"
In conclusion, Jasmin cordially thanked his fellow-citizens for
the honour they proposed to confer upon him, although he could
not accept it. The affairs of the State, he said, were in a very
confused condition, and he could not pretend to unravel them.
He then took leave of the deputation, and quietly proceeded to
complete his task--the shelling of his peas!
Footnotes for Chapter XVI.
[1] The whole of the interview between the Archbishop of Rheims
and Jasmin is given by Sainte-Beuve in 'Causeries du Lundi,' iv.
When the political turmoils in France had for a time subsided,
Jasmin and the Abbe Masson recommenced their journeys in the
South for the collection of funds for the church at Vergt.
They had already made two pilgrimages--the first through
Perigord, the second to Angouleme, Limoges, Tulle, and Brives.
The third was begun early in 1850, and included the department of
the Landes, the higher and lower Pyrenees, and other districts in
the South of France.
At Bagneres de Bigorre and at Bagneres de Luchon the receipts
were divided between the church at Vergt and that at Luchon.
The public hospitals and the benevolent societies frequently
shared in the receipts. There seemed to be no limits to the
poet's zeal in labouring for those who were in want of funds.
Independent of his recitations for the benefit of the church at
Vergt, he often turned aside to one place or another where the
poor were in the greatest need of assistance.
On one occasion he went to Arcachon. He started early in the
morning by the steamer from Agen to Bordeaux, intending to
proceed by railway (a five hours' journey) from Bordeaux to
Arcachon. But the steamers on the Garonne were then very
irregular, and Jasmin did not reach Bordeaux until six hours
later than the appointed time. In the meanwhile a large assembly
had met in the largest room in Arcachon. They waited and waited;
but no Jasmin! The Abbe Masson became embarrassed; but at length
he gave his address, and the receipts were 800 francs. The
meeting dispersed very much disappointed, because no Jasmin
had appeared, and they missed his recitations. At midnight the
cure returned to Bordeaux and there he found Jasmin, just arrived
from Agen by the boat, which had been six hours late. He was in
great dismay; but he afterwards made up for the disappointment
by reciting to the people of Arcachon.
The same thing happened at Biarritz. A large assembly had met,
and everything was ready for Jasmin. But there was no Jasmin!
The omnibus from Bayonne did not bring him. It turned out,
that at the moment of setting out he was seized with a sudden
loss of voice. As in the case of Arcachon, the cure had to do
without him. The result of his address was a collection of 700
The Abbe Masson was a liberal-minded man. When Jasmin urged him
to help others more needy than himself, he was always ready to
comply with his request. When at Narbonne, in the department of
Aude, a poor troupe of comedians found themselves in
difficulties. It was winter-time, and the weather was very cold.
The public could not bear their canvas-covered shed, and deserted
the entertainment. Meanwhile the artistes were famished.
Knowing the generosity of Jasmin, they asked him to recite at one
of their representations. He complied with their request; the
place was crowded; and Jasmin's recitations were received with
the usual enthusiasm. It had been arranged that half the
proceeds should go to the church at Vergt, and the other half to
the comedians. But when the entire troupe presented themselves
to the Abbe and offered him the full half, he said: "No! no! keep
it all. You want it more than I do. Besides, I can always fall
back upon my dear poet!"
A fourth pilgrimage of the priest and poet was afterwards made
to the towns of Rodez, Villefranche-d'aveyron, Cahors, Figeac,
Gourdon, and Sarlat; and the proceeds of these excursions, added
to a subvention of 5,000 francs from the Government, enabled the
church of Vergt to be completed. In 1852 the steeple was built,
and appropriately named "Jasmin's Bell-tower" (Clocher Jasmin).
But it was still without bells, for which a subsequent pilgrimage
was made by Jasmin and Masson.
To return to the honours paid to Jasmin for his works of
benevolence and charity. What was worth more to him than the
numerous golden laurels which had been bestowed upon him, was
his recognition by the highest and noblest of institutions,
the Academy of France. Although one of the objects of its
members was to preserve the French language in its highest purity
they were found ready to crown a poet who wrote his poems in
the patois of the South.
There were, however, several adverse criticisms on the proposed
decision of the Academy; though poetry may be written in every
tongue, and is quite independent of the language or patois in
which it is conveyed. Indeed; several members of the Academy--
such as MM. Thiers, De Remusat, Viennet, and Flourens--came
from the meridional districts of France, and thoroughly
understood the language of Jasmin. They saw in him two men--
the poet, and the benefactor of humanity.
This consideration completely overruled the criticisms of the
minority. Jasmin had once before appeared at M. Thierry's before
the best men of the Academy; and now the whole of the Academy,
notwithstanding his patois, approached and honoured the man of
good deeds.
Jasmin owed to M. Villemain one of the most brilliant panegyrics
which he had ever received. The Academy desired to award a
special prize in accordance with the testamentary bequest of
M. de Montyon[1]--his last debt to art and morality; a talent
that employs itself in doing good under a form the most
brilliant and popular. This talent, he continued, is that of
the true poet; and Jasmin, during his pure and modest life,
has employed his art for the benefit of morality with a noble,
helpful influence, while nothing detracted from the dignity of
his name.
Like the Scottish poet Burns, Jasmin had by his dialect and his
poetical talents enriched the literature of his country. Jasmin,
the hair-dresser of Agen, the poet of the South, who drew crowds
to hear the sound of his voice--who even embellished the
festivals of the rich, but who still more assisted in the
pleasures of the poor--who spent his time in endowing
charitable establishments-- who helped to build churches,
schools, and orphanages--Jasmin, the glory of his Commune as
well as of the South of France, deserved to be adopted by all
France and publicly acknowledged by the Academy.
Tacitus has said that renown is not always deserved, it chooses
its due time--Non semper errat fama, aliquando eligit
("Fame is not always mistaken; she sometimes chooses the right").
We have proof of it to-day. The enthusiastic approbation of the
great provinces of France for a popular poet cannot be a
surprise. They single out the last, and I may add, the greatest
poet of the Troubadours!
M. Villemain proceeded to comment upon the poetical works of
Jasmin--especially his Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille;, his
Franconnette, and the noble works he had done for the poor and
the suffering; his self-sacrificing labours for the building of
schools, orphanages, and churches. "Everywhere," he said,
"his elevated and generous soul has laboured for the benefit of
the world about him; and now he would, by the aid of the Academy,
embellish his coronet with a privileged donation to the poet and
philanthropist." He concluded by saying that the especial prize
for literary morality and virtuous actions would be awarded to
him, and that a gold medal would be struck in his honour with
the inscription: "Au Jasmin, Poete moral et populaire!"
M. Ancelo communicated to Jasmin the decision of the Academy.
"I have great pleasure," he said, "in transmitting to you the
genuine sympathy, the sincere admiration, and the unanimous
esteem, which your name and your works have evoked at this
meeting of the Academy. The legitimate applause which you
everywhere receive in your beautiful country finds its echo on
this side of the Loire; and if the spontaneous adoption of you
by the French Academy adds nothing to your glory, it will at
least serve to enhance our own."
The prize unanimously awarded to Jasmin on the 19th of August,
1852, was 3000 francs, which was made up to 5000 by the number
of copies of the "Papillotos" purchased by the Academy for
distribution amongst the members. Jasmin devoted part of the
money to repairing his little house on the Gravier: and the rest
was ready for his future charitable missions.
On receiving the intimation of the prizes awarded to him, he
made another journey to Paris to pay his respects to his devoted
friends of the Academy. He was received with welcome by the most
eminent persons in the metropolis. He was feted as usual.
At the salon of the Marquis de Barthelemy he met the Duc de
Levis, the Duc des Cars, MM. Berryer, de Salvandy, de Vatismenil,
Hyde de Neuville, and other distinguished noblemen and gentlemen.
Monsigneur Sibour, Archbishop of Paris, was desirous of seeing
and hearing this remarkable poet of the South. The Archbishop
invited him to his palace for the purpose of hearing a
recitation of his poems; and there he met the Pope's Nuncio,
several bishops, and the principal members of the Parisian
clergy. After the recitation, the Archbishop presented Jasmin
with a golden branch with this device: "To Jasmin! the greatest
of the Troubadours, past, present, or to come."
The chief authors of Paris, the journalists, and the artists,
had a special meeting in honour of Jasmin. A banquet was
organised by the journalists of the Deux Mondes, at the instance
of Meissonier, Lireux, Lalandelle, C. Reynaud, L. Pichat,
and others. M. Jules Janin presided, and complimented Jasmin in
the name of the Parisian press. The people of Agen, resident in
Paris, also gave him a banquet, at which Jasmin recited a poem
composed for the occasion.
One of his evenings was spent at the house of Madame la Marquise
de Barthelemy. An interesting account of the soiree is given by
a correspondent of Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, who was present
on the occasion.[2] The salons of Madame la Marquise were filled
to overflowing. Many of the old nobility of France were present.
"It was a St. Germain's night," as she herself expressed it.
High-sounding names were there--much intellect and beauty; all
were assembled to do honour to the coiffeur from the banks of
the Garonne. France honours intellect, no matter to what class
of society it belongs: it is an affectionate kind of social
democracy. Indeed, among many virtues in French society, none is
so delightful, none so cheering, none so mutually improving,
and none more Christian, than the kindly intercourse, almost the
equality, of all ranks of society, and the comparatively small
importance attached to wealth or condition, wherever there is
intellect and power.
At half-past nine. Jasmin made his appearance--a short, stout,
dark-haired man, with large bright eyes, and a mobile animated
face, his button-hole decorated with the red ribbon of the
Legion of Honour. He made his way through the richly attired
ladies sparkling with jewels, to a small table at the upper end
of the salon, whereon were books, his own "Curl-papers,"
two candles, a carafe of fresh water, and a vase of flowers.
The ladies arranged themselves in a series of brilliant
semicircles before him. The men blocked up the doorway, peering
over each other's shoulders. Jasmin waved his hand like the
leader of an orchestra, and a general silence sealed all the
fresh noisy lips. One haughty little brunette, not long
emancipated from her convent, giggled audibly; but Jasmin's eye
transfixed her, and the poor child sat thereafter rebuked and
dumb. The hero of the evening again waved his hands, tossed back
his hair, struck an attitude, and began his poem. The first he
recited was "The Priest without a Church" (Le Preste sans
gleyzo). He pleaded for the church as if it were about to be
built. He clasped his hands, looked up to heaven, and tears were
in his eyes. Some sought for the silver and gold in their
purses; but no collection was made, as the church had already
been built, and was free of debt.
After an interval, he recited La Semaine d'un Fils; and he
recited it very beautifully. There were some men who wept;
and many women who exclaimed, "Charmant! Tout-a-fait charmant!"
but who did not weep. Jasmin next recited Ma Bigno, which has
been already described. The contributor to Chambers's Journal
proceeds: "It was all very amusing to a proud, stiff, reserved
Britisher like myself, to see how grey-headed men with stars and
ribbons could cry at Jasmin's reading; and how Jasmin, himself a
man, could sob and wipe his eyes, and weep so violently,
and display such excessive emotion. This surpassed my
understanding--probably clouded by the chill atmosphere of the
fogs, in which every Frenchman believes we live.... After the
recitations had concluded, Jasmin's social ovation began. Ladies
surrounded him, and men admired him. A ring was presented, and a
pretty speech spoken by a pretty mouth, accompanied the
presentation; and the man of the people was flattered out of all
proportion by the brave, haughty old noblesse.
"To do Jasmin justice, although naturally enough spoiled by the
absurd amount of adulation he has met with, he has not been made
cold-hearted or worldly. He is vain, but true and loyal to his
class. He does not seek to disguise or belie his profession.
In fact, he always dwells upon his past more or less, and never
misses an opportunity of reminding his audience that he is but a
plebeian, after all.
"He wears a white apron, and shaves and frizzes hair to this
day, when at Agen; and though a Chevalier of the Legion of
Honour, member of Academies and Institutes without number, feted,
praised, flattered beyond anything we can imagine in England,
crowned by the king and the then heir to the throne with gilt
and silver crowns, decked with flowers and oak-leaves, and all
conceivable species of coronets, he does not ape the gentleman,
but clips, curls, and chatters as simply as heretofore, and as
professionally. There is no little merit in this steady
attachment to his native place, and no little good sense in this
adherence to his old profession... It is far manlier and nobler
than that weak form of vanity shown in a slavish imitation of the
great, and a cowardly shame of one's native condition.
"Without going so far as his eulogistic admirers in the press,
yet we honour in him a true poet, and a true man, brave,
affectionate, mobile, loving, whose very faults are all amiable,
and whose vanity takes the form of nature. And if we of the cold
North can scarcely comprehend the childish passionateness and
emotional unreserve of the more sensitive South, at least we can
profoundly respect the good common to us all the good which lies
underneath that many-coloured robe of manners which changes with
every hamlet; the good which speaks from heart to heart,
and quickens the pulses of the blood; the good which binds us
all as brothers, and makes but one family of universal man;
and this good we lovingly recognise in Jasmin; and while rallying
him for his foibles, respectfully love him for his virtues,
and tender him a hand of sympathy and admiration as a fine;
poet, a good citizen, and a true-hearted man."
Before leaving Paris it was necessary for Jasmin to acknowledge
his gratitude to the French Academy. The members had done him
much honour by the gold medal and the handsome donation they had
awarded him. On the 24th of August, 1852, he addressed the Forty
of the Academy in a poem which he entitled 'Langue Francaise,
Langue Gasconne,' or, as he styled it in Gascon, 'Lengo Gascouno,
Lengo Francezo.' In this poem, which was decorated with the most
fragrant flowers of poetry with which he could clothe his words,
Jasmin endeavoured to disclose the characteristics of the two
languages. At the beginning, he said:
"O my birth-place, what a concert delights my ear! Nightingales,
sing aloud; bees, hum together; Garonne, make music on your pure
and laughing stream; the elms of Gravier, tower above me; not
for glory, but for gladness."[3]
After the recitation of the poem, M. Laurentie said that it
abounded in patriotic sentiments and fine appreciation, to say
nothing of the charming style of the falling strophes, at
intervals, in their sonorous and lyrical refrain. M. Villemain
added his acclamation. "In truth, said he, "once more our
Academy is indebted to Jasmin!" The poet, though delighted by
these ovations, declared that it was he who was indebted to the
members of the Academy, not they to him. M. de Salvandy
reassured him: "Do not trouble yourself, Jasmin; you have
accomplished everything we could have wished; you have given us
ten for one, and still we are your debtors."
After Jasmin had paid his compliments to the French Academy,
he was about to set out for Agen--being fatigued and almost
broken down by his numerous entertainments in Paris--when he
was invited by General Fleury to visit the President of the
French Republic at Saint-Cloud. This interview did not please
him so much as the gracious reception which he had received in
the same palace some years before from Louis Philippe and the
Duchess of Orleans; yet Jasmin was a man who respected the law,
and as France had elected Louis Napoleon as President, he was
not unwilling to render him his homage.
Jasmin had already seen the President when passing through Agen
a few years before, on his visit to Bordeaux, Toulouse, and
Toulon; but they had no personal interview. M. Edmond Texier,
however, visited Jasmin, and asked him whether he had not
composed a hymn for the fete of the day. No! he had composed
nothing; yet he had voted for Louis Napoleon, believing him to
be the saviour of France. "But," said M. Texier, "if the Prince
appeals to you, you will eulogise him in a poem?" "Certainly,"
replied Jasmin, "and this is what I would say: 'Sir, in the
name of our country, restore to us our noble friend M. Baze.
He was your adversary, but he is now conquered, disarmed, and
most unhappy. Restore him to his mother, now eighty years old;
to his weeping family; and to all his household, who deplore his
absence; restore him also to our townsmen, who love and honour
him, and bear no hostility towards the President, His recall will
be an admirable political act, and will give our country more
happiness that the highest act of benevolence.'"
This conversation between Jasmin and Texier immediately appeared
in the columns of the Siecle, accompanied with a stirring
sympathetic article by the editor. It may be mentioned that
M. Baze was one of Jasmin's best friends. He had introduced the
poet to the public, and written the charming preface to the
first volume of the 'Papillotos,' issued in 1835. M. Baze was an
advocate of the Royal Court of Agen--a man of fine character,
and a true patriot. He was Mayor of Agen, commander of the
National Guard, and afterwards member of the Legislative Assembly
and the Senate. But he was opposed to Prince Louis Napoleon,
and was one of the authors of the motion entitled de Questeurs.
He was arrested on the night of the 2nd December, 1851,
imprisoned for a month in the Mazas, and then expelled from the
territory of France. During his exile he practised at Liege as
an advocate.
Jasmin again went to Paris in May 1853, and this time on his
mission of mercy. The editor of the Siecle announced his
arrival. He was again feted, and the salons rejoiced in his
recitations. After a few days he was invited to Saint-Cloud.
Louis Napoleon was now Emperor of France, and the Empress
Eugenie sat by his side. The appearance of Jasmin was welcomed,
and he was soon made thoroughly at ease by the Emperor's
interesting conversation. A company had been assembled,
and Jasmin was requested to recite some of his poems. As usual,
he evoked smiles and tears by turns. When the audience were in
one of their fits of weeping, and Jasmin had finished his
declamation, the Emperor exclaimed, "Why; poet, this is a genuine
display of handkerchiefs"--(Mais, poete, c'est un veritable scene
de mouchoirs).
Jasmin seized this moment for revealing to the Emperor the
desire which he had long entertained, for recalling from exile
his dear friend M. Baze. He had prepared a charming piece of
verse addressed to the Empress Eugenie, requesting his return to
France through the grand door of honour. "Restore him to us,"
he said; "Agen cries aloud. The young Empress, as good as
beautiful, beloved of Heaven, will pray with her sympathetic
soul, and save two children and an unhappy mother--she, who
will be soon blessed as a happy mother herself."[4] Jasmin
concluded his poem with the following words in Gascon: Esperi!
Lou angels nou se troumpon jamay.'
The result of this appeal to the Empress was that Jasmin's
prayer was immediately granted by the Emperor. M. Baze returned
to France at once, without any conditions whatever. The parents
of the quondam exile wrote to Jasmin thanking him most cordially
for his exertions in their favour. Four days after the soiree at
Saint-Cloud, the Prefect of the Indre-et-Loire, head of the Baze
family, wrote to Jasmin, saying: "Your muse is accustomed to
triumphs; but this one ought to rejoice your heart, and should
yield you more honour than all the others. For my part, I feel
myself under the necessity of thanking you cordially for your
beautiful and noble action; and in saying so, I interpret the
sentiments of the whole family." Madame Baze addressed the
Emperor in a letter of grateful thanks, which she wrote at the
dictation of Jasmin. The Siecle also gave an account of Jasmin's
interview with the Emperor and Empress at Saint-Cloud, and the
whole proceeding redounded to the honour of the Gascon poet.
Jasmin had been made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour at the
same time as Balzac, Frederick Soulie, and Alfred de Musset.
The minister bore witness to the worth of Jasmin, notwithstanding
the rusticity of his idiom; and he was classed amongst the men
who did honour to French literature. He was considered great,
not only in his poems, but in his benevolent works: "You build
churches; you help indigence; you possess the talent of a
powerful benefactor; and your muse is the sister of charity."
When the news of the honours conferred upon Jasmin reached Agen,
the people were most sympathetic in their demonstrations.
The shop of the barber-poet was crowded with visitors, and when
he himself reached the town he was received with the greatest
enthusiasm. The Philharmonic Society again treated him to a
serenade, and the whole town was full of joy at the honour done
to their beloved poet.
To return to the church of Vergt, which was not yet entirely
finished. A bell-tower had been erected, but what was a
bell-tower without bells? There was a little tinkling affair
which could scarcely be heard in the church, still less in the
neighbourhood. With his constant trust in Providence, the Abbe
did not hesitate to buy a clock and order two large bells.
The expense of both amounted to 7000 francs. How was this to
be paid? His funds were entirely exhausted. The priest first
applied to the inhabitants of Vergt, but they could not raise
half the necessary funds. There was Jasmin! He was the only
person that could enable the Abbe to defray his debt.
Accordingly, another appeal was made to the public outside of
Vergt. The poet and the priest set out on their fifth and last
pilgrimage; and this time they went as far as Lyons--a city
which Jasmin had never seen before. There he found himself face
to face with an immense audience, who knew next to nothing of
his Gascon patois. He was afraid of his success; but unwilling
to retreat, he resolved, he said, "to create a squadron in
reserve"; that is, after reciting some of the old inspirations
of his youth, to give them his Helene or 'Love and Poetry,'
in modern classical French. The result, we need scarcely say,
was eminently successful, and the Abbe; was doubly grateful in
having added so many more thousand francs to his purse.
During this journey another priest, the Abbe Cabanel, united his
forces with those of Jasmin and Masson. This Abbe was curate of
Port de Sainte-Foi-la-Grande. He had endeavoured to erect in his
parish a public school under the charge of religious teachers.
He now proposed to partake of the profits of the recitations for
the purpose of helping on his project; and Jasmin and Masson
willingly complied with his request. They accordingly appeared
at the town of Sainte-Foi, and the result was another excellent
After visiting other towns, sufficient subscriptions were
collected to enable the Abbe to pay off his debts. The clock and
bells were christened by Monseigneur de Sangalerie, who had
himself been a curate of the parish of Vergt; and the bells were
inscribed with the name of JASMIN, the chief founder and
rebuilder of the church. The bells were the last addition to
Jasmin's bell-tower, but the final result was reached long after
the beginning of the rebuilding of the church.
Footnotes for Chapter XVII.
[1] The Baron de Montyon bequeathed a large sum to the
Academie Francaise, the Academie des Sciences, and the Faculte
de Medecine, for the purpose of being awarded in prizes to men
of invention and discovery, or for any literary work likely to be
useful to society, and to rewarding acts of virtue among the
Jasmin was certainly entitled to a share in this benevolent fund.
[2] Chambers' Edinburgh Journal, July, 1853
[3] The following are the Gascon words of this part of the poem:
"O moun bres, d'un councer festejo moun aoureillo!
Rouseignol, canto fort! brounzino fort, Abeillo!
Garono, fay souna toun flot rizen et pur;
Des ourmes del Grabe floureji la cabeillo,
Non de glorio... mais de bounhur!"
[4] The editor of Vol. IV. of Jasmins Poems (1863) gives this
"In this circumstance, Jasmin has realised the foresight which
the ancients afforded to their poets, of predicting, two years in
advance, the birth of the Prince Imperial."
Shortly after the return of Jasmin from Paris, where he had the
honour of an interview with the Emperor and Empress, as well as
with the members of the French Academy, he was invited to
Toulouse for the purpose of being enrolled as Maitre-es-jeux in
the Academy of Jeux Floreaux.
Toulouse is known as the city of Literary Fetes, and the
reception of Jasmin as Maitre-es-Jeux will long exist as a
permanent record in her annals. The Academy of Jeux Floreaux had
no prize of 5000 frs. to bestow, nor any crowns, nor any golden
laurels. She hides her poverty under her flowers, and although
she would willingly have given all her flowers to Jasmin,
yet her rules prevented her. She called Jasmin to her bosom,
and gave him the heartiest of welcomes. But the honour was
there--the honour of being invited to join a brotherhood of
illustrious men.
The title of Maitre-es-jeux is a rare distinction, awarded only
to the highest celebrities. The ceremony of installing Jasmin
took place on the 6th of February, 1854. The great Salle des
Illustres was crowded long before he made his appearance,
while the Place de Capitol was filled with a vast number of his
admirers. The archbishop, the prefect, the mayor, the
magistrates, and the principal citizens of Toulouse were present,
with the most beautiful women in the city. Many of the southern
bishops were present, having desired to enjoy the pleasure of
assisting at the ceremony.
After an address of congratulation, Jasmin was enrolled amongst
the members, and presented with his diploma of Maitre-es-jeux.
Though it was only a piece of parchment, he considered it the
rarest of distinctions. It connected the poet, through five
centuries, with the last of the Troubadours, whose language he
had so splendidly revived. Jasmin valued his bit of parchment
more highly than all the other gifts he had received. In answer
to his enrolment, he said:
"I have now enough! I want no more! All things smile upon me.
My muse went proudly from the forty of Toulouse to the forty of
Paris. She is more than proud to-day, she is completely happy;
for she sees my name, which Isaure blessed, come from the forty
of Paris to the forty of Toulouse,"
After his enrolment, the poet-barber left the salon. A large
crowd had assembled in the court, under the peristyle, in the
Place of the Capitol. Every head was uncovered as he passed
through their ranks, and those who accompanied him to his
lodging, called out, "Vive Jasmin! Vive Jasmin!" Never had such
a scene been witnessed before.
Although Jasmin had declared to the Academy of Jeux Floreaux
that he wanted nothing more than the diploma they had given him,
yet another triumph was waiting him. The citizens of Agen capped
all the previous honours of the poet. They awarded him a crown
of gold, which must have been the greatest recompense of all.
They had known him during almost his entire life--the son of a
humpbacked tailor and a crippled mother, of poor but honest
people, whose means had been helped by the grandfather, Boe, who
begged from door to door, the old man who closed his eyes in the
hospital, "where all the Jasmins die!"
They had known him by his boyish tricks, his expulsion from the
Academy, his setting up as a barber, his happy marriage, and his
laborious progress, until the "shower of silver" came running
into his shop. "Pau de labouro, pau de salouro," No work,
no bread. Though born in the lowest condition of life, he had,
by the help of his wife, and by his own energy and perseverance,
raised himself to the highest position as a man of character.
Before he reached the age of thirty [1] he began to show
evidences of his genius as a poet.
But still more important were his works of charity, which
endeared him to the people through the South of France. It was
right and reasonable that his fellow-citizens should desire to
take part in the honours conferred upon their beloved poet. He
had already experienced their profound sympathy during his
self-sacrificing work, but they now wished to testify their
public admiration, and to proclaim the fact by some offering of
intrinsic value.
The Society of Saint-Vincent de Paul--whom he had so often helped
in their charitable labours--first started the idea. They knew
what Jasmin had done to found schools, orphanages, and creches.
Indeed, this was their own mission, and no one had laboured so
willingly as he had done to help them in their noble work.
The idea, thus started by the society, immediately attracted
public attention, and was received with universal approval.
A committee was formed, consisting of De Bouy, mayor; H. Noubel,
deputy; Aunac, banker; Canon Deyche, arch-priest of the
cathedral; Dufort, imperial councillor; Guizot, receiver-general;
Labat, advocate-general; Maysonnade, president of the conference
of Saint-Vincent de Paul; Couturier, the engineer, and other
gentlemen. A subscription was at once opened and more than
four thousand persons answered the appeal.
When the subscriptions were collected, they were found so great
in amount, that the committee resolved to present Jasmin with a
crown of gold. Five hundred years before, Petrarch had been
crowned at Rome in the name of Italy, and now Jasmin was to be
crowned at Agen, in the name of Meridional France. To crown a
man, who, during his lifetime had been engaged in the trade of
barber and hair-dresser, seemed something extraordinary and
unique. To the cold-blooded people of the North there might
appear something theatrical in such a demonstration, but it was
quite in keeping with the warm-hearted children of the South.
The construction of the crown was entrusted to MM. Fannieres of
Paris, the best workers of gold in France. They put their best
art and skill into the crown. It consisted of two branches of
laurel in dead gold, large and knotted behind, like the crowns
of the Caesars and the poets, with a ruby, artistically
arranged, containing the simple device: La Ville d'Agen,
a Jasmin! The pendants of the laurel, in dead silver, were mixed
with the foliage. The style of the work was severe and pure,
and the effect of the chef d'oeuvre was admirable.
The public meeting, at which the golden crown was presented to
Jasmin, was held on the 27th of November, 1856, in the large
hall of the Great Seminary. Gilt banners were hung round the
walls, containing the titles of Jasmin's principal poems, while
the platform was splendidly decorated with emblems and festoons
of flowers. Although the great hall was of large dimensions,
it could not contain half the number of people who desired to be
present on this grand occasion.
An immense crowd assembled in the streets adjoining the seminary.
Jasmin, on his arrival, was received with a triple salvo of
applause from the crowd without, and next from the assembly
within. On the platform were the members of the subscription
committee, the prefect, the Bishop of Agen, the chiefs of the
local government, the general in command of the district, and a
large number of officers and ecclesiastics.
Jasmin, when taking his place on the platform saluted the
audience with one of his brilliant impromptus, and proceeded to
recite some of his favourite poems: Charity; The Doctor of the
Poor; Town and Country; and, The Week's Work of a Son. Then M.
Noubel, in his double capacity of deputy for the department, and
member of the subscription committee, addressed Jasmin in the
following words:
"Poet, I appear here in the name of the people of Agen, to offer
you the testimony of their admiration and profound sympathy.
I ask you to accept this crown! It is given you by a loving and
hearty friend, in the name of your native town of Agen, which
your poetry has charmed, which rejoices in your present success,
and is proud of the glory of your genius. Agen welcomed the
first germs of your talent; she has seen it growing, and
increasing your fame; she has entered with you into the palaces
of kings; she has associated herself with your triumphs
throughout; now the hour of recognising your merits has arrived,
and she honours herself in crowning you.
"But it is not merely the Poet whom we recognise to-day; you
have a much greater claim to our homage. In an age in which
egoism and the eager thirst for riches prevails, you have,
in the noble work which you have performed, displayed the virtues
of benevolence and self-sacrifice. You yourself have put them
into practice. Ardent in the work of charity, you have gone
wherever misery and poverty had to be relieved, and all that you
yourself have received was merely the blessings of the
unfortunate. Each of your days has been celebrated for its good
works, and your whole life has been a hymn to benevolence and
"Accept, then, Jasmin, this crown! Great poet, good citizen,
you have nobly earned it! Give it an honoured place in that
glorious museum of yours, which the towns and cities of the South
have enriched by their gifts. May it remain there in testimony
of your poetical triumphs, and attest the welcome recognition of
your merits by your fellow-citizens.
"For myself, I cannot but be proud of the mission which has been
entrusted to me. I only owe it, I know, to the position of
deputy in which you have placed me by popular election. I am
proud, nevertheless, of having the honour of crowning you, and I
shall ever regard this event as the most glorious recollection of
my life."
After this address, during which M. Noubel was greatly moved,
he took the crown of gold and placed it on the head of the poet.
It is impossible to describe the enthusiasm of the meeting at
this supreme moment. The people were almost beside themselves.
Their exclamations of sympathy and applause were almost frantic.
Jasmin wept with happiness. After the emotion hard subsided,
with his eyes full of tears, he recited his piece of poetry
entitled: The Crown of my Birthplace.[2]
In this poem, Jasmin took occasion to recite the state of
poverty in which he was born, yet with the star of poetry in his
breast; his dear mother, and her anxieties about his education
and up-bringing; his growth; his first efforts in poetical
composition, and his final triumph; and at last his crown of
gold conferred upon him by the people of Agen--the crown of
his birthplace.
"I feel that if my birthplace crowns me,
In place of singing . . . I should weep!"
After Jasmin had recited his touching poem, he affectionately
took leave of his friends, and the assembly dispersed.
Footnotes to Chapter XVIII.
[1] There is a Gascon proverb which says:
"Qu'a vingt ans nouns po,
Qu'a trent ans noun sa,
Qu'a cranto noun er,
Qu'a cincanto se paouso pa,
Sabe pa que pot esper."
"Who at twenty does nothing;
Who at thirty knows nothing;
Who at forty has nothing;
Who at fifty changes nothing:
For him there is no hope."
[2] Perhaps this might be better rendered "The Crown of my
Infancy;" in Gascon, "La Courouno del Bres."
This was the last occasion on which Jasmin publicly appeared
before his fellow-townsmen; and it could not perhaps have been
more fitting and appropriate. He still went on composing poetry;
amongst other pieces, La Vierge, dedicated to the Bishop of
Algiers, who acknowledged it in a complimentary letter. In his
sixty-second year, when his hair had become white, he composed
some New Recollections (Mous Noubels Soubenis), in which he
again recalled the memories of his youth. In his new Souvenirs
he only gives a few fresh stories relating to the period of his
infancy and youth. Indeed they scarcely go beyond the period
covered by his original Souvenirs.
In the midst of his various honours at Paris, Toulouse, and Agen,
he did not forget his true mission, the help and relief of the
afflicted. He went to Albi, and gave a recitation which produced
2000 francs. The whole of this sum went to the poor. There was
nothing for himself but applause, and showers of flowers thrown
at his feet by the ladies present.
It was considered quite unprecedented that so large a sum should
have been collected in so poor a district. The mayor however was
prepared for the event. After a touching address to the poet,
he presented him with a ring of honour, with the arms of the
town, and the inscribed words: "Albi a Jasmin."
He went for the same purpose, to Castera in the Gers, a decayed
town, to recite his poems, in the words of the cure, for
"our poor church." He was received as usual with great
enthusiasm; and a present of silver was given to him with the
inscribed words: A Jasmin, l'Eglise du Castera reconnaissante!"
Jasmin answered, by reciting an impromptu he had composed for the
At Bordeaux, one of his favourite cities, he was received with
more than the usual enthusiasm. There he made a collection in
aid of the Conference of Saint-vincent de Paul. In the midst of
the seance, he appeared almost inspired, and recited "La Charite
dans Bordeaux"--the grand piece of the evening. The assembly
rose en masse, and cheered the poet with frantic applause.
The ladies threw an avalanche of bouquets at the hero of the
After quiet had been restored, the Society of Saint-vincent de
Paul cordially thanked Jasmin through the mouth of their
President; and presented him with a magnificent golden circlet,
with this inscription: "La Caritat dins Bourdeau!"
Among his other recitations towards the close of his life,
for the purpose of collecting money for the relief of the poor,
were those at Montignac in Perigord; at Saint-Macaire;
at Saint-Andre de Cubzac, and at Monsegur. Most of these were
remote villages far apart from each other. He had disappointed
his friends at Arcachon several years before, when he failed to
make his appearance with the Abbe Masson, during their tour on
behalf of the church of Vergt, owing to the unpunctuality of the
steamboat; but he promised to visit them at some future period.
He now redeemed his promise. The poor were in need, and he went
to their help. A large audience had assembled to listen to his
recitations, and a considerable sum of money was collected.
The audience overwhelmed him with praises and the Mayor of Teste
the head department of the district--after thanking Jasmin for
his admirable assistance, presented him with a gold medal, on
which was inscribed: "Fete de Charite d'Arcachon: A Jasmin."
These laurels and medals had become so numerous, that Jasmin
had almost become tired of such tributes to his benevolence.
He went to Bareges again, where Monseigneur the Bishop of Tarbes
had appealed to him for help in the erection of an hospital.
From that town he proceeded to Saint-Emilion and Castel-Naudary,
to aid the Society of Mutual Help in these two towns. In fact,
he was never weary of well-doing. "This calamitous winter,"
he wrote in January, 1854, "requires all my devotion. I will
obey my conscience and give myself to the help of the famished
and suffering, even to the extinction of my personal health."
And so it was to the end. When his friends offered him public
entertainments, he would say, "No, no! give the money to the
poor!" What gave Jasmin as much pleasure as any of the laurels
and crowns conferred upon him, was a beautifully bound copy of
the 'Imitation of Christ,' with the following inscription:
"A testimony from the Bishop of Saint-Flour, in acknowledgment
of the services which the great poet has rendered to the poor of
his diocese."
No poet had so many opportunities of making money, and of
enriching himself by the contributions of the rich as well as
the poor. But such an idea never entered his mind. He would
have regarded it as a sacrilege to evoke the enthusiasm of the
people, and make money; for his own benefit, or to speculate
upon the triumphs of his muse. Gold earned in this way, he said,
would have burnt his fingers. He worked solely for the benefit
of those who could not help themselves. His poetry was to him
like a sweet rose that delighted the soul and produced the
fruits of charity.
His conduct has been called Quixotic. Would that there were more
Quixotes in the world! After his readings, which sometimes
produced from two to three thousand francs, the whole of the
proceeds were handed over to those for whose benefit they had
been given, after deducting, of course, the expenses of
travelling, of which he kept a most accurate account.
It is estimated that the amount of money collected by Jasmin
during his recitations for philanthropic objects amounted to at
least 1,500,000 francs (equal to 62,500 sterling). Besides,
there were the labour of his journeys, and the amount of his
correspondence, which were almost heroic. M. Rabain[1] states
that from 1825 to 1860, the number of letters received by Jasmin
was more than twelve thousand.
Mr. Dickens, in giving the readings from his works in Great
Britain, netted over 35,000 sterling, besides what he received
for his readings in America. This, of course, led quite
reasonably to the enhancing of his fortune. But all that Jasmin
received from his readings was given away--some say "thrown
away"--to the poor and the needy. It is not necessary to comment
on such facts; one can only mention and admire them.
The editor of Le Pays says: "The journeys of Jasmin in the South
were like a triumphal march. No prince ever received more
brilliant ovations. Flowers were strewn in his way; the bells
rang out on his appearance; the houses were illuminated;
the Mayors addressed him in words of praise; the magistrates,
the clergy followed him in procession. Bestowed upon a man,
and a poet, such honours might seem exaggerated; but Jasmin,
under the circumstances, represented more than poetry:
he represented Charity. Each of his verses transformed him
into an alms-giver; and from the harvest of gold which he reaped
from the people, he preserved for himself only the flowers.
His epics were for the unfortunate. This was very noble;
and the people of Agen should be proud of their poet."[2]
The account which Jasmin records of his expenses during a journey
of fifty days, in which he collected more than 20,000 francs,
is very remarkable. It is given in the fourth volume of
'Les Papillotes,' published in 1863, the year before his death,
and is entitled, "Note of my expenses of the journey, which I
have deducted from the receipts during my circuit of fifty days."
On certain occasions nothing whatever was charged, but a
carriage was probably placed at his disposal, or the ticket for
a railway or a diligence may have been paid for by his friends.
On many occasions he walked the distance between the several
places, and thus saved the cost of his conveyance. But every
item of expense was set forth in his "Note" with the most
scrupulous exactness.
Here is the translation of Jasmin's record for his journeys
during these fifty days:-- "... At Foix, from M. de Groussou,
President of the Communion of Bienfaisance, 33 fr., 50 c.
At Pamiers, nil. At Saint-Girons, from the President of the
Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 16 fr. At Lavaur, from M. the
Mayor, 22 fr. At Saint-Sulpice, nil. At Toulouse, where I gave
five special seances, of which the two first, to Saint-Vincent de
Paul and the Prefecture, produced more than 1600 fr., nil. My
muse was sufficiently accounted for; it was during my reception
as Maitre-es-jeux. At Rodez, from the President of the
Conference of Saint-Vincent de Paul, 29 fr. 50c. At
Saint-Geniez, nil. At Saint-Flour, from M. Simon, vicar-general,
22 fr. 50 c. At Murat, nil. At Mauriac, nil. At Aurillac, from
M. Geneste, mayor, for my return to Agen, 24 fr. Total, 147 fr.
50 centimes."
Thus, more than 20,000 francs were collected for the poor,
Jasmin having deducted 147 fr. 50 c. for the cost of his
journeys from place to place. It must also be remembered that he
travelled mostly in winter, when the ground was covered with
snow. In February, 1854, M. Migneret, Prefect of Haute-garonne,
addressed a letter to Jasmin, which is worthy of preservation.
"It is pleasant," he said, 'after having enjoyed at night the
charms of your poetry, to begin the next day by taking account
of the misfortunes they relieve. I owe you this double honour,
and I thank you with the greatest gratitude.... As to our
admiration of your talent, it yields to our esteem for your
noble heart; the poet cannot be jealous of the good citizen."[3]
Notwithstanding the rigour of the season, and the snow and wind,
the like of which had not been known for more than twenty years,
Jasmin was welcomed by an immense audience at Rodez. The
recitation was given in the large hall of the Palais de Justice,
and never had so large a collection been made. The young people
of the town wished to give Jasmin a banquet, but he declined,
as he had to hurry on to another place for a similar purpose.
He left them, however, one of his poems prepared for the
He arrived at Saint-Flour exhausted by fatigue. His voice began
to fail, partly through the rigours of the climate, yet he
continued to persevere. The bishop entertained him in his
palace, and introduced him personally to the audience before
which he was to give his recitations. Over the entrance-door was
written the inscription, "A Jasmin, le Poete des Pauvres,
Saint-fleur reconnaissante!" Before Jasmin began to recite he
was serenaded by the audience. The collection was greater than
had ever been known. It was here that the bishop presented
Jasmin with that famous manual, 'The Imitation of Christ,'
already referred to.
It was the same at Murat, Mauriac, and Aurillac. The recitation
at Aurillac was given in the theatre, and the receipts were 1200
francs. Here also he was serenaded. He departed from Aurillac
covered with the poor people's blessings and gratitude.
At Toulouse he gave another entertainment, at the instance of
the Conference of Saint-Francois Xavier. There were about 3000
persons present, mostly of the working classes. The seance was
prolonged almost to midnight. The audience, most of whom had to
rise early in the morning, forgot their sleep, and wished the
poet to prolong his recitations!
Although the poor machine of Jasmin's body was often in need of
rest, he still went about doing good. He never ceased
ministering to the poor until he was altogether unable to go to
their help. Even in the distressing cold, rain, and wind of
winter--and it was in winter more than in summer that he
travelled, for it was then that the poor were most distressed--
he entirely disregarded his own comfort, and sometimes travelled
at much peril; yet he went north and south, by highways and
byways, by rivers and railways, in any and every direction,
provided his services could be of use.
He sacrificed himself always, and was perfectly regardless of
self. He was overwhelmed with honours and praises. He became
weary of triumphs--of laurels, flowers, and medals--he sometimes
became weary of his life; yet he never could refuse any pressing
solicitation made to him for a new recital of his poems.
His trials, especially in winter time, were often most
distressing. He would recite before a crowded audience, in a
heated room, and afterwards face the icy air without, often
without any covering for his throat and neck. Hence his repeated
bronchial attacks, the loss of his voice, and other serious
affections of his lungs.
The last meeting which Jasmin attended on behalf of the poor was
at the end of January 1864, only three months before his death.
It was at Villeneuve-sur-Lot, a town several miles north of Agen.
He did not desire to put the people to the expense of a
conveyance, and therefore he decided to walk. He was already
prematurely old and stooping.
The disease which ended his life had already made considerable
progress. He should have been in bed; nevertheless, as the poor
needed his help, the brave old man determined to proceed to
Villeneuve. He was helped along the road by some of his friends;
and at last, wearied and panting, he arrived at his destination.
The meeting was held in the theatre, which was crowded to
No sooner had Jasmin reached the platform, amidst the usual
triumphant cheering, than, after taking a short rest, he sprang
to his feet and began the recitation of his poems. Never had his
voice seemed more spirited and entrancing. He delighted his
audience, while he pleaded most eloquently for the relief of the
"I see him now," wrote one of his friends, "from behind the
side-scenes of the theatre, perspiring profusely, wet to the
skin, with a carafe of water to allay the ardent thirst
occasioned by three hours of splendid declamation."
In his then critical state, the three hours' declamation was
enough to kill him. At all events, it was his last recitation.
It was the song of the dying swan. In the midst of his triumphs,
he laid down his life for the poor; like the soldier who dies
with the sound of victory in his ears.
Footnotes to Chapter XIX.
[1] 'Jasmin, sa Vie et ses OEuvres.' Paris, 1867.
[2] Le Pays, 14th February, 1854.
[3] 'Las Papillotos de Jasmin,' iv. 56.
After his final recitation at Villeneuve, Jasmin, sick, ill,
and utterly exhausted, reached Agen with difficulty. He could
scarcely stand. It was not often that travelling had so affected
him; but nature now cried out and rebelled. His wife was,
of course, greatly alarmed. He was at once carefully put to bed,
and there he lay for fifteen days.
When he was at length able to rise, he was placed in his easy
chair, but he was still weak, wearied, and exhausted. Mariette
believed that he would yet recover his strength; but the disease
under which he laboured had taken a strong hold of him, and
Jasmin felt that be was gradually approaching the close of his
About this time Renan's 'Life of Jesus' was published. Jasmin
was inexpressibly shocked by the appearance of the book, for it
seemed to him to strike at the foundations of Christianity,
and to be entirely opposed to the teachings of the Church.
He immediately began to compose a poem, entitled The Poet of the
People to M. Renan,[1] in which he vindicated the Catholic faith,
and denounced the poisonous mischief contained in the new attack
upon Christianity. The poem was full of poetic feeling, with
many pathetic touches illustrative of the life and trials of man
while here below.
The composition of this poem occupied him for some time.
Although broken by grief and pain, he made every haste to
correct the proofs, feeling that it would probably be the last
work that he should give to the world. And it was his last.
It was finished and printed on the 24th of August, 1864. He sent
several copies to his more intimate friends with a dedication;
and then he took finally to his bed, never to rise again.
"I am happy," he said, "to have terminated my career by an act
of faith, and to have consecrated my last work to the name of
Jesus Christ." He felt that it was his passport to eternity.
Jasmin's life was fast drawing to a close. He knew that he must
soon die; yet never a word of fear escaped his lips; nor was his
serenity of mind disturbed. He made his preparations for
departure with as much tranquillity and happiness, as on the days
when he was about to start on one of his philanthropic missions.
He desired that M. Saint-Hilaire, the vicar of the parish,
should be sent for. The priest was at once by the bedside of his
dying friend. Jasmin made his replies to him in a clear and calm
voice. His wife, his son, his grand-children, were present when
he received the Viaticum--the last sacrament of the church.
After the ceremony he turned to his wife and family, and said:
"In my last communion I have prayed to God that He may keep you
all in the most affectionate peace and union, and that He may
ever reign in the hearts of those whom I love so much and am
about to leave behind me." Then speaking to his wife, he said,
"Now Mariette,--now I can die peacefully."
He continued to live until the following morning. He conversed
occasionally with his wife, his son, and a few attached friends.
He talked, though with difficulty, of the future of the family,
for whom he had made provision. At last, lifting himself up by
the aid of his son, he looked towards his wife. The brightness
of love glowed in his eyes; but in a moment he fell back
senseless upon the pillow, and his spirit quietly passed away.
Jasmin departed this life on the 5th of October, 1864, at the
age of sixty-five. He was not an old man; but the brightest
jewels soonest wear their setting. When laid in his coffin,
the poem to Renan, his last act of faith, was placed on his
breast, with his hands crossed over it.
The grief felt at his death was wide and universal. In the South
of France he was lamented as a personal friend; and he was
followed to the grave by an immense number of his townspeople.
The municipal administration took charge of the funeral.
At ten o'clock in the morning of the 8th October the procession
started from Jasmin's house on the Promenade du Gravier.
On the coffin were placed the Crown of Gold presented to him by
his fellow-townsmen, the cross of Chevalier of the Legion of
Honour, and that of Saint-Gregory the Great. A company of five
men, and a detachment of troops commanded by an officer, formed
the line.
The following gentlemen held the cords of the funeral pall:--
M. Feart, Prefect of the Lot-et-Garonne; M. Henri Noubel, Deputy
and Mayor of Agen; General Ressayre, Commander of the Military
Division; M. Bouet, President of the Imperial Court; M. de
Laffore, engineer; and M. Magen, Secretary of the Society of
Agriculture, Sciences, and Arts. A second funeral pall was held
by six coiffeurs of the corporation to which Jasmin had belonged.
Behind the hearse were the Brothers of the Christian Doctrine,
the Sisters of Saint-Vincent de Paul, and the Little Sisters of
the Poor.
The mourners were headed by the poet's son and the other members
of his family. The cortege was very numerous, including the
elite of the population. Among them were the Procureur-General,
the Procureur-imperial, the Engineer-in-chief of the Department,
the Director of Taxes, many Councillors-General, all the members
of the Society of Agriculture, many officers of the army, many
ecclesiastics as well as ministers of the reformed worship.
Indeed, representatives of nearly the whole population were
The procession first entered the church of Saint Hilaire, where
the clergy of the four parishes had assembled. High mass was
performed by the full choir. The Miserere of Beethoven was
given, and some exquisite pieces from Mozart. Deep emotion was
produced by the introduction, in the midst of this beautiful
music, of some popular airs from the romance of Franconnette and
Me Cal Mouri, Jasmin's first work. The entire ceremony was
touching, and moved many to tears.
After the service had been finished, the procession moved off to
the cemetery--passing through the principal streets of the
town, which were lined by crowds of mournful spectators. Large
numbers of people had also assembled at the cemetery. After the
final prayer, M. Noubel, Deputy and Mayor of Agen, took the
opportunity of pronouncing a eulogium over the grave of the
deceased. His speech was most sympathetic and touching.
We can only give a few extracts from his address:
"Dear and great poet," he said, "at the moment when we commit to
the earth thy mortal remains, I wish, in the name of this town
of Agen, where thou wert born and which thou hast truly loved,
to address to thee a last, a supreme adieu. Alas! What would'st
thou have said to me some years ago, when I placed upon thy
forehead the crown--decreed by the love and admiration of thy
compatriots--that I should so soon have been called upon to
fulfil a duty that now rends my heart. The bright genius of thy
countenance, the brilliant vigour in thine eyes, which time,
it seemed, would never tarnish, indicated the fertile source of
thy beautiful verses and noble aspirations!
"And yet thy days had been numbered, and you yourself seemed to
have cherished this presentiment; but, faithful to thy double
mission of poet and apostle of benevolence, thou redoubled thy
efforts to enrich with new epics thy sheaf of poetry, and by thy
bountiful gifts and charity to allay the sorrows of the poor.
Indefatigable worker! Thou hast dispensed most unselfishly thy
genius and thy powers! Death alone has been able to compel thee
to repose!
"But now our friend is departed for ever! That poetical fire,
that brilliant and vivid intelligence, that ardent heart, have
now ceased to strive for the good of all; for this great and
generous soul has ascended to Him who gave it birth. It has
returned to the Giver of Good, accompanied by our sorrows and
our tears. It has ascended to heaven with the benedictions of
all the distressed and unfortunate whom he has succoured. It is
our hope and consolation that he may find the recompense assured
for those who have usefully and boldly fulfilled their duty here
"This duty, O poet, thou hast well fulfilled. Those faculties,
which God had so largely bestowed upon thee, have never been
employed save for the service of just and holy causes. Child of
the people, thou hast shown us how mind and heart enlarge with
work; that the sufferings and privations of thy youth enabled
thee to retain thy love of the poor and thy pity for the
distressed. Thy muse, sincerely Christian, was never used to
inflame the passions, but always to instruct, to soothe, and to
console. Thy last song, the Song of the Swan, was an eloquent
and impassioned protest of the Christian, attacked in his
fervent belief and his faith.
"God has doubtless marked the term of thy mission; and thy death
was not a matter of surprise. Thou hast come and gone, without
fear; and religion, thy supreme consoler, has calmed the
sufferings of thy later hours, as it had cradled thee in thy
earlier years.
"Thy body will disappear, but thy spirit, Jasmin, will never be
far from us. Inspire us with thy innocent gaiety and brotherly
love. The town of Agen is never ungrateful; she counts thee
amongst the most pure and illustrious of her citizens. She will
consecrate thy memory in the way most dignified to thee and to
"The inhabitants of towns without number, where thou hast
exercised thy apostolate of charity, will associate themselves
with this work of affection and remembrance. But the most
imperishable monument is that which thou hast thyself founded
with thine own head and hands, and which will live in our hearts
--the creations of thy genius and the memory of thy
After the Mayor of Agen had taken leave of the mortal remains of
the poet, M. Capot, President of the Society of Agriculture,
Sciences, and Arts, gave another eloquent address. He was
followed by M. Magen, Secretary to the same society. The troops
fired a salute over the grave, and took leave of the poet's
remains with military honours. The immense crowd of mourners
then slowly departed from the cemetery.
Another public meeting took place on the 12th of May, 1870, on
the inauguration of the bronze statue of Jasmin in the Place
Saint Antoine, now called the Place Jasmin. The statue was
erected by public subscription, and executed by the celebrated
M. Vital Dubray. It stands nearly opposite the house where
Jasmin lived and carried on his trade. Many of his old friends
came from a considerable distance to be present at the
inauguration of the statue. The Abbe Masson of Vergt was there,
whose church Jasmin had helped to re-build. M. l'Abbe Donis,
curate of Saint-Louis at Bordeaux, whom he had often helped with
his recitations; the able philologist Azais; the young and
illustrious Provencal poet Mistral; and many representatives of
the Parisian and Southern press, were present on the occasion.
The widow and son of the poet, surrounded by their family,
were on the platform. When the statue was unveiled, a salvo of
artillery was fired; then the choir of the Brothers of the
Communal Christian School saluted the "glorious resurrection of
Jasmin" with their magnificent music, which was followed by
enthusiastic cheers.
M. Henri Noubel, Deputy and Mayor of Agen, made an eloquent
speech on the unveiling of the statue. He had already pronounced
his eulogium of Jasmin at the burial of the poet, but he was
still full of the subject, and brought to mind many charming
recollections of the sweetness of disposition and energetic
labours of Jasmin on behalf of the poor and afflicted. He again
expressed his heartfelt regret for the departure of the poet.
M. Noubel was followed by M. l'Abbe Donis, of Bordeaux, who
achieved a great success by his eulogy of the life of Jasmin,
whom he entitled "The Saint-vincent de Paul of poetry."
He was followed by the Abbe Capot, in the name of the clergy,
and by M. Magen, in the name of the Society of Agriculture,
Sciences, and Arts. They were followed by MM. Azais and Pozzi,
who recited some choice pieces of poetry in the Gascon patois.
M. Mistral came last--the celebrated singer of "Mireio"--
who, with his faltering voice, recited a beautiful piece of
poetry composed for the occasion, which was enthusiastically
The day was wound up with a banquet in honour of M. Dubray,
the artist who had executed the bronze statue. The Place Jasmin
was brilliantly illuminated during the evening, where an immense
crowd assembled to view the statue of the poet, whose face and
attitude appeared in splendid relief amidst a blaze of light.
It is unnecessary further to describe the character of Jasmin.
It is sufficiently shown by his life and labours--his genius and
philanthropy. In the recollections of his infancy and boyhood,
he truthfully describes the pleasures and sorrows of his youth--
his love for his mother, his affection for his grandfather,
who died in the hospital, "where all the Jasmins die." He did
not even conceal the little tricks played by him in the Academy,
from which he was expelled, nor the various troubles of his
This was one of the virtues of Jasmin--his love of truth.
He never pretended to be other than what he was. He was even
proud of being a barber, with his "hand of velvet." He was
pleased to be entertained by the coiffeurs of Agen, Paris,
Bordeaux, and Toulouse. He was a man of the people, and believed
in the dignity of labour. At the same time, but for his
perseverance and force of character, he never could have raised
himself to the honour and power of the true poet.
He was born poor, and the feeling of inherited poverty adhered
to him through life, and inspired him with profound love for the
poor and the afflicted of his class. He was always ready to
help them, whether they lived near to him or far from him.
He was, in truth, "The Saint-Vincent de Paul of poetry."
His statue, said M. Noubel, pointing up to it, represented the
glorification of genius and virtue, the conquest of ignorance
and misery.
M. Deydou said at Bordeaux, when delivering an address upon the
genius of Jasmin--his Eminence Cardinal Donnet presiding--that
poetry, when devoted to the cause of charity, according to
the poet himself, was "the glory of the earth and the perfume of
Jasmin loved his dear town of Agen, and was proud of it. After
his visit to the metropolis, he said, "If Paris makes me proud,
Agen makes me happy." "This town," he said, on another occasion,"
has been my birthplace; soon it shall be my grave."
He loved his country too, and above all he loved his native
language. It was his mother-tongue; and though he was often
expostulated with for using it, he never forsook the Gascon.
It was the language of the home, of the fireside, of the fields,
of the workshop, of the people amongst whom he lived, and he
resolved ever to cherish and elevate the Gascon dialect.
"Popular and purely natural poetry," said Montaigne in the 16th
century, "has a simplicity and gracefulness which surpass the
beauty of poetry according to art." Jasmin united the naive
artlessness of poetry with the perfection of art. He retained
the simplicity of youth throughout his career, and his domestic
life was the sanctuary of all the virtues.
In his poems he vividly described filial love, conjugal
tenderness, and paternal affection, because no one felt these
graces of life more fervently than himself. He was like the
Italian painter,
who never went beyond his home for a beautiful model.
Victor Hugo says that a great man is like the sun--most beautiful
when he touches the earth, at his rising and at his setting.
Jasmin's rising was in the depths of honest poverty,
but his setting was glorious. God crowned his fine life by a
special act of favour; for the last song of the poet was his
"act of faith"--his address to Renan.
Jasmin was loyal, single-minded, self-reliant, patient,
temperate, and utterly unselfish. He made all manner of
sacrifices during his efforts in the cause of charity. Nothing
was allowed to stand in the way of his missions on behalf of the
poor. In his journey of fifty days in 1854, he went from Orthez
--the country of Gaston Phoebus--to the mountains of Auvergne,
in spite of the rigours of the weather. During that journey he
collected 20,000 francs. In all, as we have said, he collected,
during his life-time, more than a million and a half of francs,
all of which he devoted to the cause of philanthropy.
Two words were engraved on the pedestal of his statue, Poetry
and Charity! Charity was the object and purpose of his heroic
programme. Yet, in his poetry he always exhibited his
tender-hearted gaiety. Even when he weeps, you see the ray of
sunlight in his tears. Though simple as a child in ordinary
life, he displayed in his writings the pathos and satire of the
ancient Troubadours, with no small part of the shrewdness and
wit attributed to persons of his calling.
Although esteemed and praised by all ranks and classes of people
--by king, emperor, princes, and princesses; by cardinals and
bishops; by generals, magistrates, literary men, and politicians
--though the working people almost worshipped him, and village
girls strewed flowers along his pathway--though the artisan
quitted his workshop, and the working woman her washing-tub, to
listen to his marvellous recitations, yet Jasmin never lost his
head or was carried away by the enthusiastic cheers which
accompanied his efforts, but remained simple and unaffected to
the last.
Another characteristic of him was, that he never forsook his
friends, however poor. His happiest moments were those in which
he encountered a companion of his early youth. Many still
survived who had accompanied him while making up his bundle of
fagots on the islands of the Garonne. He was delighted to shake
hands with them, and to help, when necessary, these playmates of
his boyhood.
He would also meet with pleasure the working women of his
acquaintance, those who had related to him the stories of Loup
Garou and the traditions of the neighbourhood, and encouraged
the boy from his earliest youth. Then, at a later period of his
life, nothing could have been more worthy of him than his
affection for his old benefactor, M. Baze, and his pleading with
Napoleon III., through the Empress, for his return to France
"through the great gate of honour!"
Had Jasmin a fault? Yes, he had many, for no one exists within
the limits of perfection. But he had one in especial, which he
himself confessed. He was vain and loved applause, nor did he
conceal his love.
When at Toulouse, he said to some of his friends, "I love to be
applauded: it is my whim; and I think it would be difficult for
a poet to free himself from the excitement of applause." When at
Paris, he said, "Applaud! applaud! The cheers you raise will be
heard at Agen." Who would not overlook a fault, if fault it be,
which is confessed in so naive a manner?
When complimented about reviving the traditions of the
Troubadours, Jasmin replied, "The Troubadours, indeed! Why, I am
a better poet than any of the Troubadours! Not one of them could
have composed a long poem of sustained interest, like my
Any fault or weakness which Jasmin exhibited was effaced by the
good wishes and prayers of thousands of the poor and afflicted
whom he had relieved by his charity and benevolence. The reality
of his life almost touches the ideal. Indeed, it was a long
Cardinal Donnet, Archbishop of Bordeaux, said of him, that "he
was gifted with a rich nature, a loyal and unreserved character,
and a genius as fertile as the soil of his native country. The
lyre of Jasmin," he said, "had three chords, which summed up the
harmonies of heaven and earth--the true, the useful, and the
Did not the members of the French Academy--the highest literary
institution in the world--strike a gold medal in his honour,
with the inscription, "La medaille du poete moral et populaire"?
M. Sainte-Beuve, the most distinguished of French critics,
used a much stronger expression. He said, "If France had ten
poets like Jasmin--ten poets of the same power and influence--
she need no longer have any fear of revolutions."
Genius is as nothing in the sight of God; but "whosoever shall
give a cup of water to drink in the name of Christ, because they
belong to Christ, shall not lose his reward." M. Tron, Deputy
and Mayor of Bagnere-du-luchon, enlarged upon this text in his
eulogy of Jasmin.
"He was a man," he said, "as rich in his heart as in his genius.
He carried out that life of 'going about doing good' which
Christ rehearsed for our instruction. He fed the hungry, clothed
the naked, succoured the distressed, and consoled and
sympathised with the afflicted. Few men have accomplished more
than he has done. His existence was unique, not only in the
history of poets, but of philanthropists."
A life so full of good could only end with a Christian death.
He departed with a lively faith and serene piety, crowning by a
peaceful death one of the strangest and most diversified careers
in the nineteenth century. "Poetry and Charity," inscribed on
the pedestal of his statue in Agen, fairly sums up his noble
life and character.
Footnotes for Chapter XX.
[1] 'Lou Poeto del Puple a Moussu Renan.'
To M. SYLVAIN DUMON, Deputy-Minister, who has condemned
to death our native language.
There's not a deeper grief to man
Than when our mother, faint with years,
Decrepit, old, and weak, and wan,
Beyond the leech's art appears;
When by her couch her son may stay,
And press her hand, and watch her eyes,
And feel, though she survives to-day,
Perchance his hope to-morrow dies.
It is not thus, believe me, Sir,
With this enchantress, we will call
Our second mother. Frenchmen err,
Who cent'ries since proclaimed her fall!
Our mother tongue, all melody,
While music lives, shall never die.
Yes! still she lives, her words still ring,
Her children yet her carols sing;
And thousand years may roll away
Before her magic notes decay.
The people love their ancient songs, and will
While yet a people, love and keep them still.
These lays are like their mother--they recall
Fond thoughts of brother, sister, friends, and all
The many little things that please the heart--
Those dreams and hopes, from which we cannot part;
These songs are as sweet waters, where we find
Health in the sparkling wave that nerves the mind.
In every home, at every cottage door,
By every fireside, when our toil is o'er,
These songs are round us, near our cradles sigh,
And to the grave attend us when we die.
Oh! think, cold critic! 'twill be late and long
Ere time shall sweep away this flood of song!
There are who bid this music sound no more,
And you can hear them, nor defend--deplore!
You, who were born where the first daisies grew,
Have 'fed upon its honey, sipp'd its dew,
Slept in its arms, and wakened to its kiss,
Danced to its sounds, and warbled to its tone--
You can forsake it in an hour like this!
Weary of age, you may renounce, disown,
And blame one minstrel who is true--alone!
For me, truth to my eyes made all things plain;
At Paris, the great fount, I did not find
The waters pure, and to my stream again
I come, with saddened and with sobered mind;
And now the spell is broken, and I rate
The little country far above the great.
For you, who seem her sorrows to deplore,
You, seated high in power, the first among,
Beware! nor make her cause of grief the more;
Believe her mis'ry, nor condemn her tongue.
Methinks you injure where you seek to heal,
If you deprive her of that only weal.
We love, alas! to sing in our distress;
For so the bitterness of woe seems less;
But if we may not in our language mourn,
What will the polish'd give us in return?
Fine sentences, but all for us unmeet--
Words full of grace, even such as courtiers greet:
A deck'd out miss, too delicate and nice
To walk in fields; too tender and precise
To sing the chorus of the poor, or come
When Labour lays him down fatigued at home.
To cover rags with gilded robes were vain--
The rents of poverty would show too plain.
How would this dainty dame, with haughty brow,
Shrink at a load, and shudder at a plough!
Sulky, and piqued, and silent would she stand
As the tired peasant urged his team along:
No word of kind encouragement at hand,
For flocks no welcome, and for herds no song!
Yet we will learn, and you shall teach--
Our people shall have double speech:
One to be homely, one polite,
As you have robes for different wear;
But this is all:-- 'tis just and right,
And more our children will not bear,
Lest flocks of buzzards flit along,
Where nightingales once poured their song.
There may be some who, vain and proud,
May ape the manners of the crowd,
Lisp French, and maim it at each word,
And jest and gibe to all afford;
But we, as in long ages past,
Will still be poets to the last![1]
Hark! and list the bridal song,
As they lead the bride along:
"Hear, gentle bride! your mother's sighs,
And you would hence away!
Weep, weep, for tears become those eyes."
--- "I cannot weep--to-day."
Hark! the farmer in the mead
Bids the shepherd swain take heed:
"Come, your lambs together fold,
Haste, my sons! your toil is o'er:
For the setting sun has told
That the ox should work no more."
Hark! the cooper in the shade
Sings to the sound his hammer made:
"Strike, comrades, strike! prepare the cask.
'Tis lusty May that fills the flask:
Strike, comrades! summer suns that shine
Fill the cellars full of wine."
Verse is, with us, a charm divine,
Our people, loving verse, will still,
Unknowing of their art, entwine
Garlands of poesy at will.
Their simple language suits them best:
Then let them keep it and be blest.
Let the wise critics build a wall
Between the nurse's cherished voice,
And the fond ear her words enthral,
And say their idol is her choice.
Yes!--let our fingers feel the rule,
The angry chiding of the school;
True to our nurse, in good or ill,
We are not French, but Gascon still.
'Tis said that age new feeling brings,
Our youth returns as we grow old;
And that we love again the things
Which in our memory had grown cold.
If this be true, the time will come
When to our ancient tongue, once more,
You will return, as to a home,
And thank us that we kept the store.
Remember thou the tale they tell
Of Lacuee and Lacepede,[2]
When age crept on, who loved to dwell
On words that once their music made;
And, in the midst of grandeur, hung,
Delighted, on their parent tongue.
This will you do: and it may be,
When weary of the world's deceit,
Some summer-day we yet may see
Your coming in our meadows sweet;
Where, midst the flowers, the finch's lay
Shall welcome you with music gay;
While you shall bid our antique tongue
Some word devise, or air supply,
Like those that charm'd your youth so long,
And lent a spell to memory.
Bethink you how we stray'd alone
Beneath those elms in Agen grown,
That each an arch above us throws,
Like giants, hand-in-hand, in rows.
A storm once struck a fav'rite tree,
It trembled, shook, and bent its boughs,--
The vista is no longer free:
Our governor no pause allows;
"Bring hither hatchet, axe, and spade,
The tree must straight be prostrate laid!"
But vainly strength and art were tried,
The stately tree all force defied;
Well might the elm resist and foil their might,
For though his branches were decay'd to sight,
As many as his leaves the roots spread round,
And in the firm set earth they slept profound.
Since then, more full, more green, more gay,
The crests amid the breezes play:
And birds of every note and hue
Come trooping to his shade in Spring;
Each summer they their lays renew,
And while the years endure they sing.
And thus it is, believe me, sir,
With this enchantress--she we call
Our second mother; Frenchmen err
Who, cent'ries since, proclaimed her fall.
No! she still lives, her words still ring,
Her children yet her carols sing;
And thousand years may roll away
Before her magic notes decay.
September 2nd, 1837.
[1] Jasmin here quotes several patois songs,
well known in the country.
[2] Both Gascons.
Riches, n'oubliez pas un seul petit moment
Que des pauvres la grande couvee
Se reveille toujours le sourire a la bouche
Quand elle s'endort sans avoir faire!
(Riche et Pauvre.)
The swallows fly about, although the air is cold,
Our once fair sun has shed his brightest gold.
The fields decay
On All-saints day.
Ground's hard afoot,
The birds are mute;
The tree-tops shed their chill'd and yellow leaves,
They dying fall, and whirl about in sheaves.
One night, when leaving late a neighb'ring town,
Although the heavens were clear,
Two children paced along, with many a moan--
Brother and sister dear;
And when they reached the wayside cross
Upon their knees they fell, quite close.
Abel and Jane, by the moon's light,
Were long time silent quite;
As they before the altar bend,
With one accord their voices sweet ascend.
"Mother of God, Virgin compassionate!
Oh! send thy angel to abate
The sickness of our father dear,
That mother may no longer fear--
And for us both! Oh! Blessed Mother,
We love thee, more and more, we two together!"
The Virgin doubtless heard their prayer,
For, when they reached the cottage near,
The door before them opened wide,
And the dear mother, ere she turned aside,
Cried out: "My children brave,
The fever's gone--your father's life is safe!
Now come, my little lambs, and thank God for His grace."
In their small cot, forthwith the three,
To God in prayer did bend the knee,
Mother and children in their gladness weeping,
While on a sorry bed a man lay sleeping--
It was the father, good Hilaire!
Not long ago, a soldier brave,
But now--a working mason's slave.
The dawn next day was clear and bright,
The glint of morning sunlight
Gleamed through the windows taper,
Although they only were patched up with paper.
When Abel noiseless entered, with his foot-fall slight,
He slipped along to the bedside;
He oped the little curtain, without stirring of the rings;
His father woke and smiled, with joy that pleasure brings.
"Abel," he said, "I longed for thee; now listen thou to me:
We're very poor indeed--I've nothing save my weekly fee;
But Heaven has helped our lives to save--by curing me.
Dear boy, already thou art fifteen years--
You know to read, to write--then have no fears;
Thou art alone, thou'rt sad, but dream no more,
Thou ought'st to work, for now thou hast the power!
I know thy pain and sorrow, and thy deep alarms;
More good than strong--how could thy little arms
Ply hard the hammer on the stony blocks?
But our hard master, though he likes good looks,
May find thee quite a youth;
He says that thou hast spirit; and he means for thy behoof.
Then do what gives thee pleasure,
Without vain-glory, Abel; and spend thy precious leisure
In writing or in working--each is a labour worthy,
Either with pen or hammer--they are the tools most lofty;
Labour in mind or body, they do fatigue us ever--
But then, Abel my son, I hope that never
One blush upon you e'er will gather
To shame the honour of your father."
Abel's blue eyes were bright with bliss and joy--
Father rejoiced--four times embraced the boy;
Mother and daughter mixed their tears and kisses,
Then Abel saw the master, to his happiness,
And afterwards four days did pass,
All full of joyfulness.
But pleasure with the poor is always unenduring.
A brutal order had been given on Sunday morning
That if, next day, the father did not show his face,
Another workman, in that case,
Would be employed to take his place!
A shot of cannon filled with grape
Could not have caused such grief,
As this most cruel order gives
To these four poor unfortunates.
"I'm cured!" Hilaire cried; "let me rise and dress;"
He tried--fell back; and then he must confess
He could not labour for another week!
Oh, wretched plight--
For him, his work was life!
Should he keep sick, 'twas death!
All four sat mute; sudden a my of hope
Beamed in the soul of Abel.
He brushed the tear-drops from his een,
Assumed a manly mien,
Strength rushed into his little arms,
On his bright face the blushes came;
He rose at once, and went to reason
With that cruel master mason.
Abel returned, with spirits bright,
No longer trembling with affright;
At once he gaily cries,
With laughing mouth and laughing eyes:--
"My father! take your rest; have faith and courage;
Take all the week, then thou shalt work apace;
Some one, who loves thee well, will take thy place,
Then thou may'st go again and show thy face."
Saved by a friend, indeed! He yet had friends in store!
Oh! how I wish that in this life so lonely. . . .
But, all will be explained at work on Monday;
There are good friends as yet--perhaps there's many more.
It was indeed our Abel took his father's place.
At office first he showed his face;
Then to the work-yard: thus his father he beguiled.
Spite of his slender mien, he worked and always smiled.
He was as deft as workmen twain; he dressed
The stones, and in the mortar then he pressed
The heavy blocks; the workmen found him cheerful.
Mounting the ladder like a bird:
He skipped across the rafters fearful.
He smiled as he ascended, smiled as he descended--
The very masons trembled at his hardiness:
But he was working for his father--in his gladness,
His life was full of happiness;
His brave companions loved the boy
Who filled their little life with joy.
They saw the sweat run down his brow,
And clapped their hands, though weary he was now.
What bliss of Abel, when the day's work's o'er,
And the bright stars were shining:
Unto the office he must go,
And don his better clothing--
Thus his poor father to deceive, who thought he went a-clerking.
He took his paper home and wrote, 'midst talk with Jane so shyly,
And with a twinkling eye he answered mother's looks so slyly.
Three days thus passed, and the sick man arose,
Life now appeared to him a sweet repose.
On Thursday, tempting was the road;
At midday, Friday, he must walk abroad.
But, fatal Friday--God has made for sorrow.
The father, warmed up by the sun's bright ray,
Hied to the work-yard, smiling by the way;
He wished to thank the friend who worked for him,
But saw him not--his eyes were dim--
Yet he was near; and looking up, he saw no people working,
No dinner-bell had struck, no workmen sure were lurking.
Oh, God! what's happened at the building yard?
A crowd collected--master, mason--as on guard.
"What's this?" the old man cried. "Alas! some man has fallen!"
Perhaps it was his friend! His soul with grief was burning.
He ran. Before him thronged the press of men,
They tried to thrust him back again;
But no; Hilaire pressed through the crowd of working men.
Oh, wretched father--man unfortunate;
The friend who saved thee was thy child--sad fate!
Now he has fallen from the ladder's head,
And lies a bleeding mass, now nearly dead!
Now Hilaire uttered a most fearful cry;
The child had given his life, now he might die.
Alas! the bleeding youth
Was in his death-throes, he could scarcely breathe;
"Master," he said, "I've not fulfilled my task,
But, in the name of my poor mother dear,
For the day lost, take father on at last."
The father heard, o'erwhelmed he was with fear,
Abel now saw him, felt that he was near,
Inclined his head upon his breast, and praying -
Hand held in hand, he smiled on him while dying.
For Hilary, his place was well preserved,
His wages might perhaps be doubled.
Too late! too late! one saddened morn
The sorrow of his life was gone;
And the good father, with his pallid face,
Went now to take another place
Within the tomb, beside his much loved son.
Footnotes to THE MASON'S SON.
[1] Jasmin says, "the subject of this poem is historical, and
recently took place in our neighbourhood."
Dedicated to M. CANY, Physician of Toulouse.
With the permission of the Rev. Dr. J. Duncan Craig,
of Glenagary, Kingston, Dublin, I adopt, with some alterations,
his free translation of Jasmin's poem.
Sweet comes this April morning, its faint perfumes exhaling;
Brilliant shines the sun, so crisp, so bright, so freshening;
Pearl-like gleam and sparkle the dew-drops on the rose,
While grey and gnarled olives droop like giants in repose.
Soundeth low, solemnly, the mid-day bell in th' air,
Glideth on sadly a maiden sick with care;
Her head is bent, and sobbing words she sheds with many a tear,
But 'tween the chapel and the windmill another doth appear.
She laughs and plucks the lovely flowers with many a joyous
The other, pale and spiritless, looks upward from the ground;
"Where goest thou, sweet Marianne, this lovely April day?"
"Beneath the elms of Agen--there lies my destined way.
"I go to seek this very day the Doctor of the Poor.[1]
Did'st thou not hear how skilfully he did my mother cure?
Behold this silver in my hand, these violets so sweet,
The guerdon of his loving care--I'll lay them at his feet.
"Now, dost thou not remember, my darling Marianne,
How in our lonely hut the typhus fever ran?
And we were poor, without a friend, or e'en our daily bread,
And sadly then, and sorrowful, dear mother bowed her head.
"One day, the sun was shining low in lurid western sky,
All ,all, our little wealth was gone, and mother yearned to die,
When sudden, at the open door, a shadow crossed the way,
And cheerfully a manly voice did words of comfort say:
"'Take courage, friends, your ills I know, your life I hope to
'Too late!' dear mother cried; 'too late! My home is in the
Our things are pledged, our med'cine gone, e'en bread we cannot
The doctor shudder'd, then grew pale, but sadly still drew nigh.
"No curtains had we on our bed: I marked his pallid face;
Five silver crowns now forth he drew with melancholy grace--
'Poor woman, take these worthless coins, suppress your bitter
Don't blush; repay them when you can--these drops will give
"He left the hut, and went away; soon sleep's refreshing calm
Relieved the patient he had helped--a wonder-working balm;
The world now seemed to smile again, like springtide flowers so
While mother, brothers, and myself, incessant worked away.
"Thus, like the swallows which return with spring unto our shore,
The doctor brought rejoicing back unto our vine-wreathed door;
And we are happy, Isabel, and money too we've made;
But why dost weep, when I can laugh?" the gentle maiden said.
"Alas! alas! dear Marianne, I weep and mourn to-day,
From your house to our cottage-home the fever made its way;
My father lies with ghastly face, and many a raving cry--
Oh, would that Durand too might come, before the sick man die!"
"Dear Isabel, haste on, haste on--we'll seek his house this hour!
Come, let us run, and hasten on with all our utmost power.
He'll leave the richest palace for the poor man's humble roof--
He's far from rich, except in love, of that we've had full
The good God bless the noble heart that careth for the poor;
Then forth the panting children speed to seek the sick man's
And as beneath our giant elms they pass with rapid tread,
They scarcely dare to look around, or lift their weary head.
The town at last is reached, by the Pont-Long they enter,
Close by the Hue des Jacobins, near Durand's house they venture.
Around the portals of the door there throngs a mournful crowd;
They see the Cross, they hear the priests the Requiem chaunt
The girls were troubled in their souls, their minds were rent
with grief;
One above all, young Marianne, was trembling like a leaf:
Another death--oh, cruel thought! then of her father dying,
She quickly ran to Durand's door, and asked a neighbour, crying:
"Where's the good doctor, sir, I pray? I seek him for my
He soft replied, "The gracious God into His fold doth gather
The best of poor folks' doctors now, to his eternal rest;
They bear the body forth, 'tis true: his spirit's with the
Bright on his corpse the candles shine around his narrow bier,
Escorted by the crowds of poor with many a bitter tear;
No more, alas! can he the sad and anguished-laden cure--
Oh, wail! For Durand is no more--the Doctor of the Poor!
[1] In the last edition of Jasmin's poems (4 vols. 8vo, edited by
Buyer d'Agen) it is stated (p. 40, 1st vol.) that "M. Durand,
physician, was one of those rare men whom Providence seems to
have provided to assuage the lot of the poorest classes. His
was full of noble acts of devotion towards the sick whom he was
called upon to cure. He died at the early age of thirty-five, of
stroke of apoplexy. His remains were accompanied to the grave
by nearly all the poor of Agen and the neighbourhood.
Dear lady, it is true, that last month I have signed
A little scrap of parchment; now myself I find
The master of a piece of ground
Within the smallest bound--
Not, as you heard, a spacious English garden
Covered with flowers and trees, to shrine your bard in--
But of a tiny little vineyard,
Which I have christened "Papilhoto"!
Where, for a chamber, I have but a grotto.
The vine-stocks hang about their boughs,
At other end a screen of hedgerows,
So small they do not half unroll;
A hundred would not make a mile,
Six sheets would cover the whole pile.
Well! as it is, of this I've dreamt for twenty years--
You laugh, Madame, at my great happiness,
Perhaps you'll laugh still more, when it appears,
That when I bought the place, I must confess
There were no fruits,
Though rich in roots;
Nine cherry trees--behold my wood!
Ten rows of vines--my promenade!
A few peach trees; the hazels too;
Of elms and fountains there are two.
How rich I am! My muse is grateful very;
Oh! might I paint? while I the pencil try,
Our country loves the Heavens so bright and cheery.
Here, verdure starts up as we scratch the ground,
Who owns it, strips it into pieces round;
Beneath our sun there's nought but gayest sound.
You tell me, true, that in your Paris hot-house,
You ripen two months sooner 'neath your glass, of course.
What is your fruit? Mostly of water clear,
The heat may redden what your tendrils bear.
But, lady dear, you cannot live on fruits alone while here!
Now slip away your glossy glove
And pluck that ripened peach above,
Then place it in your pearly mouth
And suck it--how it 'lays your drouth--
Melts in your lips like honey of the South!
Dear Madame, in the North you have great sights--
Of churches, castles, theatres of greatest heights;
Your works of art are greater far than here.
But come and see, quite near
The banks of the Garonne, on a sweet summer's day,
All works of God! and then you'll say
No place more beautiful and gay!
You see the rocks in all their velvet greenery;
The plains are always gold; and mossy very,
The valleys, where we breathe the healthy air,
And where we walk on beds of flowers most fair!
The country round your Paris has its flowers and greensward,
But 'tis too grand a dame for me, it is too dull and sad.
Here, thousand houses smile along the river's stream;
Our sky is bright, it laughs aloud from morn to e'en.
Since month of May, when brightest weather bounds
For six months, music through the air resounds--
A thousand nightingales the shepherd's ears delight:
All sing of Love--Love which is new and bright.
Your Opera, surprised, would silent hearken,
When day for night has drawn aside its curtain,
Under our heavens, which very soon comes glowing.
Listen, good God! our concert is beginning!
What notes! what raptures? Listen, shepherd-swains,
One chaunt is for the hill-side, the other's for the plains.
"Those lofty mountains
Far up above,
I cannot see
All that I love;
Move lower, mountains,
Plains, up-move,
That I may see
All that I love."[2]
And thousand voices sound through Heaven's alcove,
Coming across the skies so blue,
Making the angels smile above--
The earth embalms the songsters true;
The nightingales, from tree to flower,
Sing louder, fuller, stronger.
'Tis all so sweet, though no one beats the measure,
To hear it all while concerts last--such pleasure!
Indeed my vineyard's but a seat of honour,
For, from my hillock, shadowed by my bower,
I look upon the fields of Agen, the valley of Verone.[3]
How happy am I 'mongst my vines! Such pleasures there are none.
For here I am the poet-dresser, working for the wines.
I only think of propping up my arbours and my vines;
Upon the road I pick the little stones--
And take them to my vineyard to set them up in cones,
And thus I make a little house with but a sheltered door--
As each friend, in his turn, now helps to make the store.
And then there comes the vintage--the ground is firm and fast,
With all my friends, with wallets or with baskets cast,
We then proceed to gather up the fertile grapes at last.
Oh! my young vine,
The sun's bright shine
Hath ripened thee
All--all for me!
No drizzling showers
Have spoilt the hours.
My muse can't borrow;
My friends, to-morrow
Cannot me lend;
But thee, young friend,
Grapes nicely drest,
With figs the finest
And raisins gather
Bind them together!
Th' abundant season
Will still us bring
A glorious harvesting;
Close up thy hands with bravery
Upon the luscious grapery!
Now all push forth their tendrils; though not past remedy,
At th' hour when I am here, my faithful memory
Comes crowding back; my oldest friends
Now make me young again--for pleasure binds
Me to their hearts and minds.
But now the curtained night comes on again.
I see, the meadows sweet around,
My little island, midst the varying ground,
Where I have often laughed, and sometimes I have groaned.
I see far off the leafy woodland,
Or near the fountain, where I've; often dreamed;
Long time ago there was a famous man[4]
Who gave its fame to Agen.
I who but write these verses slight
Midst thoughts of memory bright.
But I will tell you all--in front, to left, to right,
More than a hedgerow thick that I have brought the light,
More than an apple-tree that I have trimmed,
More than an old vine-stalk that I have thinned
To ripen lovely Muscat.
Madame, you see that I look back upon my past,
Without a blush at last;
What would you? That I gave my vineyard back--
And that with usury? Alack!
And yet unto my garden I've no door--
Two thorns are all my fence--no more!
When the marauders come, and through a hole I see their nose,
Instead of taking up a stick to give them blows,
I turn aside; perhaps they never may return, the horde!
He who young robs, when older lets himself be robbed!
Footnotes to MY VINEYARD.
[1] Jasmin purchased a little piece of ground, which he dedicated
to his "Curl-papers" (Papilhoto), on the road to Scaliger's
and addressed the above lines to his lady-admirer in Paris,
Madame Louis veill.
[2] From a popular song by Gaston Phebus.
[3] Referring to Verona, the villa of Scaliger, the great
[4] Scaliger.
Blaise de Montluc--Festival at Roquefort--The Prettiest
Maiden--The Soldier and the Shepherds--Kissing and Panting--
Courage of Pascal--Fury of Marcel--Terrible Contest.
'Twas at the time when Blaise the murderous
Struck heavy blows by force of arms.
He hewed the Protestants to pieces,
And, in the name of God the Merciful,
Flooded the earth with sorrow, blood, and tears.
Alas! 'twas pitiful--far worse beyond the hills,
Where flashing gun and culverin were heard;
There the unhappy bore their heavy cross,
And suffered, more than elsewhere, agonising pain,
Were killed and strangled, tumbled into wells;
'Tween Penne and Fumel the saddened earth was gorged.
Men, women, children, murdered everywhere,
The hangman even stopped for breath;
While Blaise, with heart of steel, dismounted at the gate
Of his strong castle wall,
With triple bridge and triple fosse;
Then kneeling, made his pious prayers,
Taking the Holy Sacrament,
His hands yet dripping with fraternal blood![1]
Now every shepherd, every shepherd lass,
At the word Huguenot shuddered with affright,
Even 'midst their laughing courtship.
And yet it came to pass
That in a hamlet, 'neath a castled height,
One Sunday, when a troop of sweethearts danced
Upon the day of Roquefort fete,
And to a fife the praises sang
Of Saint James and the August weather--
That bounteous month which year by year,
Through dew-fall of the evening bright,
And heat of Autumn noons doth bring
Both grapes and figs to ripening.
It was the finest fete that eyes had ever seen
Under the shadow of the leafy parasol,
Where aye the country-folk convene.
O'erflowing were the spaces all,
From cliff, from dale, from every home
Of Montagnac and Sainte-Colombe,
Still they do come,
Too many far to number;
More, ever more, while flames the sunshine o'er,
There's room for all, their coming will not cumber,
The fields shall be their chamber, and the little hillocks green
The couches of their slumber.
What pleasure! what delight! the sun now fills the air;
The sweetest thing in life
Is the music of the fife
And the dancing of the fair.
You see their baskets emptying
Of waffles all home-made.
They quaff the nectar sparkling
Of freshest lemonade.
What crowds at Punchinello,
While the showman beats his cymbal!
Crowds everywhere!
But who is this appears below?
Ah! 'tis the beauteous village queen!.
Yes, 'tis she; 'tis Franconnette!
A fairer girl was never seen.
In the town as in the prairie,
You must know that every country
Has its chosen pearl of love.
Ah, well! This was the one--
They named her in the Canton,
The prettiest, sweetest dove.
But now, you must not fancy, gentlemen,
That she was sad and sighing,
Her features pale as any lily,
That she had dying eyes, half-shut and blue,
And slender figure clothed with languishing,
Like to a weeping willow by a limpid lake.
Not so, my masters. Franconnette
Had two keen flashing eyes, like two live stars;
Her laughing cheeks were round, where on a lover might
Gather in handfuls roses bright;
Brown locks and curly decked her head;
Her lips were as the cherry red,
Whiter than snow her teeth; her feet
How softly moulded, small and fleet;
How light her limbs! Ah, well-a-day!
And of the whole at once I say,
She was the very beau-ideal
Of beauty in a woman's form, most fair and real.
Such loveliness, in every race,
May sudden start to light.
She fired the youths with ready love,
Each maiden with despair.
Poor youths, indeed! Oh! how they wished
To fall beneath her feet!
They all admired her, and adored,
Just as the priest adores the cross--
'Twas as if there shone a star of light
The young girl's brow across!
Yet, something vexing in her soul began to hover;
The finest flower had failed her in this day of honour.
Pascal, whom all the world esteemed,
Pascal, the handsomest, whose voice with music beamed,
He shunned the maid, cast ne'er a loving glance;
Despised! She felt hate growing in her heart,
And in her pretty vengeance
She seized the moment for a brilliant dart
Of her bright eyes to chain him.
What would you have? A girl so greatly envied,
She might become a flirt conceited;
Already had she seemed all this,
Self-glorious she was, I fear,
Coquetting rarely comes amiss,
Though she might never love, with many lovers near!
Grandmother often said to her, "Child, child!" with gentle frown,
"A meadow's not a parlour, and the country's not a town,
And thou knowest well that we have promised thee lang syne
To the soldier-lad, Marcel, who is lover true of thine.
So curb thy flights, thou giddy one,
The maid who covets all, in the end mayhap hath none."
"Nay, nay," replied the tricksy fay,
With swift caress, and laughter gay,
"There is another saw well-known,
Time enough, my grannie dear, to love some later day!
'She who hath only me, hath 'none.'"
Now, such a flighty course, you may divine,
Made hosts of melancholy swains,
Who sighed and suffered jealous pains,
Yet never sang reproachful strains,
Like learned lovers when they pine,
Who, as they go to die, their woes write carefully
On willow or on poplar tree.
Good lack! thou could'st not shape a letter,
And the silly souls, though love-sick, to death did not incline,
Thinking to live and suffer on were better!
But tools were handled clumsily,
And vine-sprays blew abroad at will,
And trees were pruned exceeding ill,
And many a furrow drawn awry.
Methinks you know her now, this fair and foolish girl;
Watch while she treads one measure, then see her dip and twirl!
Young Etienne holds her hand by chance,
'Tis the first rigadoon they dance;
With parted lips, right thirstily
Each rustic tracks them as they fly,
And the damsel sly
Feels every eye,
And lighter moves for each adoring glance.
Holy cross! what a sight! when the madcap rears aright
Her shining lizard's head! her Spanish foot falls light,
Her wasp-like figure sways
And swims and whirls and springs again.
The wind with corner of her 'kerchief plays.
Those lovely cheeks where on the youths now gaze,
They hunger to salute with kisses twain!
And someone shall; for here the custom is,
Who tires his partner out, salutes her with a kiss;
The girls grow weary everywhere,
Wherefore already Jean and Paul,
Louis, Guillaume, and strong Pierre,
Have breathless yielded up their place
Without the coveted embrace.
Another takes his place, Marcel the wight,
The soldier of Montluc, prodigious in his height,
Arrayed in uniform, bearing his sword,
A cockade in his cap, the emblem of his lord,
Straight as an I, though bold yet not well-bred,
His heart was soft, but thickish was his head.
He blustered much and boasted more and more,
Frolicked and vapoured as he took the floor
Indeed he was a very horrid bore.
Marcel, most mad for Franconnette, tortured the other girls,
Made her most jealous, yet she had no chance,
The swelled-out coxcomb called on her to dance.
But Franconnette was loth, and she must let him see it;
He felt most madly jealous, yet was maladroit,
He boasted that he was beloved; perhaps he did believe it quite--
The other day, in such a place,
She shrank from his embrace!
The crowd now watched the dancing pair,
And marked the tricksy witching fair;
They rush, they whirl! But what's amiss?
The bouncing soldier lad, I wis,
Can never snatch disputed kiss!
The dancing maid at first smiles at her self-styled lover,
"Makes eyes" at him, but ne'er a word does utter;
She only leaped the faster!
Marcel, piqued to the quick, longed to subdue this creature,
He wished to show before the crowd what love he bore her;
One open kiss were sweeter far
Than twenty in a corner!
But, no! his legs began to fail, his head was in a trance,
He reeled, he almost fell, he could no longer dance;
Now he would give cockade, sabre, and silver lace,
Would it were gold indeed, for her embrace!
Yet while the pair were still afoot, the girl looked very gay--
Resolved never to give way!
While headstrong Marcel, breathless, spent, and hot in face,
He reeled and all but fell; then to the next gave place!
Forth darted Pascal in the soldier's stead,
They make two steps, then change, and Franconnette,
Weary at last, with laughing grace,
Her foot stayed and upraised her face!
Tarried Pascal that kiss to set?
Not he, be sure! and all the crowd
His vict'ry hailed with plaudits loud.
The clapping of their palms like battle-dores resounded,
While Pascal stood among them quite confounded!
Oh, what a picture for the soldier who so loved his queen!
Him the kiss maddened! Measuring Pascal with his een,
He thundered, "Peasant, you have filled my place most sly;
Not so fast, churl!"--and brutally let fly
With aim unerring one fierce blow,
Straight in the other's eyes, doubling the insult so.
Good God![2] how stings the madd'ning pain,
His dearest happiness that blow must stain,
Kissing and boxing--glory, shame!
Light, darkness! Fire, ice! Life, death! Heaven, hell!
All this was to our Pascal's soul the knell
Of hope! But to be thus tormented
By flagrant insult, as the soldier meant it;
Now without fear he must resent it!
It does not need to be a soldier nor a "Monsieur,"
An outrage placidly to bear.
Now fiery Pascal let fly at his foe,
Before he could turn round, a stunning blow;
'Twas like a thunder peal,
And made the soldier reel;
Trying to draw his sabre,
But Pascal, seeming bigger,
Gripped Marcel by the waist, and sturdily
Lifted him up, and threw his surly
Foe on the ground, breathless, and stunned severely.
"Now then!" while Pascal looked on the hound thrown by him,
"The peasant grants thee chance of living!"
"Despatch him!" cried the surging crowd.
"Thou art all cover'd o'er with blood!"
But Pascal, in his angry fit of passion,
Had hurt his wrist and fist in a most serious fashion.
"No matter! All the same I pardon him!
You must have pity on the beaten hound!"
"No, finish him! Into morsels cut him!"
The surging, violent crowd now cried around.
"Back, peasants, back! Do him no harm!"
Sudden exclaimed a Monsieur, speaking with alarm;
The peasants moved aside, and then gave place
To Montluc, glittering with golden lace;
It was the Baron of Roquefort!
The frightened girls, like hunted hares,
At once dispers'd, flew here and there.
The shepherds, but a moment after,
With thrilling fife and beaming laughter,
The brave and good Pascal attended on his way,
Unto his humble home, as 'twere his nuptial day.
But Marcel, furious, mad with rage, exclaimed,
"Oh! could I stab and kill them! But I'm maimed!"
Only a gesture of his lord
Restrained him, hand upon his sword.
Then did he grind his teeth, as he lay battered,
And in a low and broken voice he muttered:
"They love each other, and despise my kindness,
She favours him, and she admires his fondness;
Ah, well! by Marcel's patron, I'll not tarry
To make them smart, and Franconnette
No other husband than myself shall marry!"
The Enamoured Blacksmith--His Fretful Mother--The Busking
Soiree--Pascal's Song--The Sorcerer of the Black Forest--
The Girl Sold to the Demon.
Since Roquefort fete, one, two, three months have fled;
The dancing frolic, with the harvest ended;
The out-door sports are banished--
For winter comes; the air is sad and cold, it sighs
Under the vaulted skies.
At fall of night, none risks to walk across the fields,
For each one, sad and cheerless, beelds
Before the great fires blazing,
Or talks of wolfish fiends[3] amazing;
And sorcerers--to make one shudder with affright--
That walk around the cots so wight,
Or 'neath the gloomy elms, and by farmyards at night.
But now at last has Christmas come,
And little Jack, who beats the drum,
Cries round the hamlet, with his beaming face:
"Come brisken up, you maidens fair,
A merry busking[4] shall take place
On Friday, first night of the year!"
Ah! now the happy youths and maidens fair
Proclaimed the drummer's words, so bright and rare.
The news were carried far and near
Light as a bird most fleet
With wings to carry thoughts so sweet.
The sun, with beaming rays, had scarcely shone
Ere everywhere the joyous news had flown;
At every fireside they were known,
By every hearth, in converse keen,
The busking was the theme.
But when the Friday came, a frozen dew was raining,
And by a fireless forge a mother sat complaining;
And to her son, who sat thereby,
She spoke at last entreatingly:
"Hast thou forgot the summer day, my boy, when thou didst come
All bleeding from the furious fray, to the sound of music home?
How I have suffered for your sorrow,
And all that you have had to go through.
Long have I troubled for your arm! For mercy's sake
Oh! go not forth to-night! I dreamt of flowers again,
And what means that, Pascal, but so much tears and pain!"
"Now art thou craven, mother! and see'st that life's all black,
But wherefore tremble, since Marcel has gone, and comes not
"Oh yet, my son, do you take heed, I pray!
For the wizard of the Black Wood is roaming round this way;
The same who wrought such havoc, 'twas but a year agone,
They tell me one was seen to come from 's cave at dawn
But two days past--it was a soldier; now
What if this were Marcel? Oh, my child, do take care!
Each mother gives her charms unto her sons; do thou
Take mine; but I beseech, go not forth anywhere!"
"Just for one little hour, mine eyes to set
On my friend Thomas, whom I'm bound to meet!"
"Thy friend, indeed! Nay, nay! Thou meanest Franconnette,
Whom thou loves dearly! I wish thou'd love some other maid!
Oh, yes! I read it in thine eyes!
Though thou sing'st, art gay, thy secret bravely keeping,
That I may not be sad, yet all alone thou'rt weeping--
My head aches for thy misery;
Yet leave her, for thine own good, my dear Pascal;
She would so greatly scorn a working smith like thee,
With mother old in penury;
For poor we are--thou knowest truly.
"How we have sold and sold fill scarce a scythe remains.
Oh, dark the days this house hath seen
Since, Pascal, thou so ill hast been;
Now thou art well, arouse! do something for our gains
Or rest thee, if thou wilt; with suffering we can fight;
But, for God's love, oh! go not forth to-night!"
And the poor mother, quite undone,
Cried, while thus pleading with her son,
Who, leaning on his blacksmith's forge
The stifling sobs quelled in his gorge.
"'Tis very true," he said, "that we are poor,
But had I that forgot?... I go to work, my mother, now, be sure!"
No sooner said than done; for in a blink
Was heard the anvil's clink,
The sparks flew from the blacksmith's fire
Higher and still higher!
The forgeman struck the molten iron dead,
Hammer in hand, as if he had a hundred in his head!
But now, the Busking was apace,
And soon, from every corner place
The girls came with the skein of their own making
To wind up at this sweethearts' merry meeting.
In the large chamber, where they sat and winded
The threads, all doubly garnished,
The girls, the lads, plied hard their finger,
And swiftly wound together
The clews of lint so fair,
As fine as any hair.
The winding now was done; and the white wine, and rhymsters,
Came forth with rippling glass and porringers,
And brought their vivid vapours
To brighten up their capers--
Ah! if the prettiest were the best, with pride
I would my Franconnette describe.
Though queen of games, she was the last, not worst,
It is not that she reigned at present, yet was first.
"Hold! Hold!" she cried, the brown-haired maid,
Now she directed them from side to side--
Three women merged in one, they said--
She dances, speaks, sings, all bewitching,
By maiden's wiles she was so rich in;
She sings with soul of turtle-dove,
She speaks with grace angelic;
She dances on the wings of love--
Sings, speaks, and dances, in a guise
More than enough to turn the head most wise!
Her triumph is complete; all eyes are fixed upon her,
Though her adorers are but peasants;
Her eyes are beaming,
Blazing and sparkling,
And quite bewitching;
No wonder that the sweetheart lads are ravished with her!
Then Thomas rose and, on the coquette fixing
His ardent eyes, though blushing,
In language full of neatness,
And tones of lute-like sweetness,
This song began to sing:
"Oh, tell us, charming Syren,
With heart of ice unmoved,
When shall we hear the sound
Of bells that ring around,
To say that you have loved?
Always so free and gay,
Those wings of dazzling ray,
Are spread to every air--
And all your favour share;
Attracted by their light
All follow in your flight.
But ah! believe me, 'tis not bliss,
Such triumphs do but purchase pain;
What is it to be loved like this,
To her who cannot love again?
"You've seen how full of joy
We've marked the sun arise;
Even so each Sunday morn
When you, before our eyes,
Bring us such sweet surprise.
With us new life is born:
We love your angel face,
Your step so debonnaire,
Your mien of maiden grace,
Your voice, your lips, your hair,
Your eyes of gentle fire,
All these we now admire!
But ah! believe me, 'tis not bliss,
Such triumphs do but purchase pain;
What is it to be loved like this,
To her who cannot love again?
"Alas! our groves are dull
When widowed of thy sight,
And neither hedge nor field
Their perfume seem to yield;
The blue sky is not bright
When you return once more,
All that was sad is gone,
All nature you restore,
We breathe in you alone;
We could your rosy fingers cover
With kisses of delight all over!
But ah! believe me, 'tis not bliss,
Such triumphs do but purchase pain;
What is it to be loved like this,
To her who cannot love again?
"The dove you lost of late,
Might warn you by her flight,
She sought in woods her mate,
And has forgot you quite;
She has become more fair
Since love has been her care.
'Tis love makes all things gay,
Oh follow where she leads--
When beauteous looks decay,
What dreary life succeeds!
And ah! believe me, perfect bliss,
A joy, where peace and triumph reign,
Is when a maiden, loved like this,
Has learnt 'tis sweet to love again!"
The songster finished, and the ardent crowd
Of listeners clapped their hands in praises loud.
"Oh! what a lovely song!" they cried. "Who is the poet?"
"'Tis Pascal," answered Thomas, "that has made it!"
"Bravo! Long live Pascal!" exclaimed the fervent crowd.
Nothing said Franconnette; but she rejoiced--was proud--
At having so much love evoked,
And in a song so touching,
Before this crowd admiring.
Then she became more serious as she thought of Pascal;
"How brave he is! 'Tis all for him; he has not got his equal!
How he paints love! All praise him without doubt;
And his sweet song--so touching!" for now by heart she knows it.
"But if he loves at last, why does he hide away?"
Then turning suddenly, she says--
"Thomas, he is not here, away he stays;
I would him compliment; can he not come?"
"Oh! now he cannot; but remains at home."
Then spoke the jealous Lawrence: "Pascal knows
He cannot any other songs compose;
Poor fellow! almost ruined quite he is;
His father's most infirm--stretched out, and cannot rise;
The baker will not give him bread, he is constrained to debts."
Then Franconnette grew pale, and said, "And he so very good!
Poor lad! how much he suffers; and now he wants his food!"
"My faith!" said Lawrence, a heart of goodness aping,
"They say that now he goes a-begging!"
"You lie!" cried Thomas, "hold thy serpent's tongue!
Pascal, 'tis true, is working, yet with harm,
Since, for this maiden, he has suffered in his arm;
But he is cured; heed not this spiteful knave!
He works now all alone, for he is strong and brave."
If someone on the girl his eyes had set,
He would have seen tears on the cheeks of Franconnette.
"Let's 'Hunt the Slipper!"' cried the maids;
Round a wide ring they sat, the jades.
Slipper was bid by Franconnette,
But in a twinkle, Marionette--
"Lawrence, hast thou my slipper?" "No, demoiselle!"
"Rise then, and seek it now, ah, well!"
Lawrence, exulting in his features,
Said, "Franconnette, hast thou my slipper?"
"No, sir!" "'Tis false!" It was beneath her seat!
"Thou hast it! Rise! Now kiss me as the forfeit!"
A finch, just taken in a net,
First tries some gap to fly at;
So Franconnette, just like a bird, escaped
With Lawrence, whom she hated;
Incensed he turned to kiss her;
He swiftly ran, but in his pursuit warm,
The moment she was caught he stumbled,
Slipped, fell, and sudden broke his arm.
Misfortunes ne'er come single, it is said.
The gloomy night was now far spent;
But in that fright of frights, quite in a breath,
The house-door creaked and ope'd! Was it a wraith?
No! but an old man bearded to the waist,
And now there stood before the throng the Black Wood Ghaist!
"Imprudent youths!? he cried; "I come from gloomy rocks up
Your eyes to ope: I'm filled with wrath and wonder!
You all admire this Franconnette;
Learn who she is, infatuate!
From very cradle she's all evil;
Her wretched father, miserable,
Passed to the Hugnenots and sold her to the Devil;
Her mother died of shame--
And thus the demon plays his game.
Now he has bought this woman base,
He tracks her in her hiding-place.
You see how he has punished Pascal and Lawrence
Because they gave her light embrace!
Be warned! For who so dares this maid to wed,
Amid the brief delight of their first nuptial night,
Will sudden hear a thunder-peal o'er head!
The demon cometh in his might
To snatch the bride away in fright,
And leave the ill-starred bridegroom dead!"
The Wizard said no more; but angry, fiery rays,
From scars his visage bore, seemed suddenly to blaze.
Four times he turned his heel upon,
Then bade the door stand wide, or ere his foot he stayed;
With one long creak the door obeyed,
And lo! the bearded ghaist was gone!
He left great horror in his wake! None stirred in all the
They looked nor left nor right, when he away had gone,
They seemed all changed to stone--
Only the stricken maid herself stood brave against her wrong;
And in the hope forlorn that all might pass for jest,
With tremulous smile, half bright, half pleading,
She swept them with her eyes, and two steps forward pressed;
But when she saw them all receding,
And heard them cry "Avaunt!" then did she know her fate;
Then did her saddened eyes dilate
With speechless terror more and more,
The while her heart beat fast and loud,
Till with a cry her head she bowed
And sank in swoon upon the floor.
Such was the close of Busking night,
Though it began so gay and bright;
The morrow was the New Year's day,
It should have been a time most gay;
But now there went abroad a fearful rumour--
It was remembered long time after
In every house and cottage home throughout the land--
Though 'twas a fiction and a superstition,--
It was, "The De'il's abroad! He's now a-roaming;
How dreadful! He is now for lost souls seeking!"
The folks were roused and each one called to mind
That some, in times of yore, had heard the sound
Of Devil's chains that clanked;
How soon the father vanished,
The mother, bent in agony,
A maniac she died!
That then all smiled; they felt nor hurt nor harm,
They lived quite happy on their cottage farm,
And when the fields were spoilt with hail or rain,
Their ground was covered o'er with plums and grain.
It was enough; the girls believed it all,
Grandmothers, mothers--thoughts did them appal--
Even infants trembled at the demon's name;
And when the maiden hung her head in pain,.
And went abroad, they scarce would give her passage;
They called to her, "Away! Avaunt! thou imp of evil,
Behold the crime of dealing with the Devil!"
The Maid at Estanquet--A Bad Dream--The Grandmother's Advice--
Blessed Bread--Satisfaction and Affection--First Thought of Love
--Sorrowfulness--The Virgin.
Beside a cot at Estanquet,
Down by a leafy brooklet,
The limpid stream
Enshadowed sheen,
Lapped o'er the pebbles murmuring.
Last summer sat a maid, with gathered flowers,
She was engaged in setting,
Within her grassy bowers;
She sang in joy her notes so thrilling,
As made the birds, their sweet songs trilling,
Most jealous.
Why does she sing no more? midst fields and hedgerows verdant;
'The nightingales that came within her garden,
With their loud "jug! jug!" warbling,
And their sweet quavers singing;
Can she have left her cottage home?
No! There's her pretty hat of straw
Laid on the bench; but then they saw
There was no ribbon round it;
The garden all neglected;
The rake and wat'ring-pot were down
Amongst the jonquils overthrown;
The broken-branched roses running riot;
The dandelion, groundsell, all about;
And the nice walks, laid out with so much taste,
Now cover'd with neglected weeds and wanton waste.
Oh! what has happened here? Where is the lively maid?
The little birds now whispering said;
Her home is sparkling there beyond,
With tufted branch of hazel round;
Let's just peep in, the door is open,
We make no noise, but let us listen.
Ah! there's grandmother, on her arm-chair, fast asleep!
And here, beside the casement deep,
The maid of Estanquet, in saddened pain and grief,
The tears down-falling on her pretty hand;
To whom no joy nor hope can ever give relief!
Ah! yes,'twas dark enough! for it is Franconnette,
Already you've divined it is our pet!
And see her now, poor maiden,
Bending beneath the falsest blow, o'erladen;
She sobs and weeps alternately--
Her heart is rent and empty,
Oft, to console herself, she rises, walks, and walks again;
Alas! her trouble is so full of pain--
Awake or sleeping--
she's only soothed by weeping.
Daughter of Huguenot accursed,
And banished from the Church!
Sold to the demon; she's for ever cursed!
Grandmother, waking, said, "Child, 'tis not true;
It matters not; 'tis but thy father fled,
No one can contradict that raving crew;
They know not where he is, and could they see him,
They would so frightened be, they'd not believe their een!"
"How changed things are," said Franconnette, "before I was so
Then I was village queen, all followed love in harmony;
And all the lads, to please me,
Would come barefooted, e'en through serpents' nests, to bless me!
But now, to be despised and curst,
I, who was once the very first!
And Pascal, too, whom once I thought the best,
In all my misery shuns me like a pest!
Now that he knows my very sad mishaps,
He ne'er consoles with me at all--perhaps----"
She did deceive herself. Her grief to-day was softened
By hearing that Pascal 'gainst slanders her defended;
Such magic help, it was a balm
Her aching soul to calm;
And then, to sweeten all her ill,
She thought always of Pascal--did this softened girl.
What is that sound? A sudden shriek!
Grandmother dreamt--she was now wide awake;
The girl sprang to her; she said, "Isn't the house aflame?
Ah! twas a dream! Thank God!" her murmur came.
"Dear heart," the girl said softly; "what was this dream of
"Oh, love! 'twas night, and loud ferocious men, methought
Came lighting fires all round our little cot,
And thou did'st cry unto them, daughter mine,
To save me, but did'st vainly strive,
For here we too must burn alive!
The torment that I bore! How shall I cure my fright
Come hither, darling, let me hold thee tight!"
Then the white-headed dame, in withered arms of love,
With yearning tenderness folded the brown-haired girl, who
By many a smile, and mute caress,
To hearten her, until at length
The aged one cried out, her love gave vital strength,
"Sold to the Demon, thou? It is a hideous lie!
Therefore, dear child, weep not so piteously;
Take courage! Be thou brave in heart once more,
Thou art more lovely than before--
Take grannie's word for that! Arise!
Go forth; who hides from envious eyes
Makes wicked people spiteful; I've heard this, my pet;
I know full well there's one who loves thee yet--
Marcel would guard thee with his love;
Thou lik'st not him? Ah! could he move
Thy feelings, he would shield thee, dear,
And claim thee for his own.
But I am all too feeble grown;
Yet stay, my darling, stay! To-morrow's Easter Day,
Go thou to Mass, and pray as ne'er before!
Then take the blessed bread, if so the good God may
The precious favour of his former smile restore,
And on thy sweet face, clear as day,
Own thou art numbered with his children evermore!"
Then such a gleam of hope lit the old face again,
Furrowed so deep with years and pain,
That, falling on her neck, the maiden promised well,
And once more on the white cot silence fell.
When, therefore, on the morrow, came the country-side,
To hear the Hallelujas in the church of Saint Pierre;
Great was the wonderment of those that spied
The maiden, Franconnette, silently kneeling there,
Telling her beads with downcast eyes of prayer.
She needs, poor thing, Heaven's mercy to implore,
For ne'er a woman's will she win!
But then, beholding her sweet mien,
Were Marvel and Pascal, eyeing her fondly o'er;
She saw them with her glances, dark as night,
Then shrinking back, they left her all alone,
Midway of a great circle, as they might
Some poor condemned one
Bearing some stigma on her brow in sight.
This was not all, poor child! It was well known--
The warden, uncle to Marcel,
Carried the Blessed Bread;
And like a councillor, did swell
In long-tailed coat, with pompous tread:
But when the trembling maid, making a cross, essayed
To take a double portion, as her dear old grandame bade,
Right in the view of every eye,
The sacred basket he withdrew, and passed her wholly
And so, denied her portion of the bread whereby we live,
She, on glad Easter, doth receive
Dismissal from God's house for aye.
The maid, trembling with fear, thought all was lost indeed!
But no! she hath a friend at need;
'Twas Pascal, who had seen her all the while--
Pacal, whose young foot walked along the aisle,
He made the quest, and nothing loth,
In view of uncle and of nephew both,
Doth quietly to her present,
Upon a silver plate, with flowers fair blossoming,
The crown-piece[5] of the Holy Sacrament--
And all the world beholds the pious offering.
Oh! moment full of joy; her blood sprang into fleetness;
Warmth was in all her frame, her senses thrilled with sweetness;
She saw the bread of God arisen
Out of its earthly prison,
Thus life unto her own was given:
But wherefore did her brow quite blushing grow?
Because the angel bright of love, I trow,
Did with her glowing breath impart
Life to the flame long smouldering in her heart.
It did become a something strange, and passing all desire
As honey sweet, and quick as fire
Did her sad soul illuminate
With a new being; and, though late,
She knew the word for her delight,
The fair enigma she could guess.
People and priest all vanish'd from her sight,
She saw in all the church only one man aright--
He whom she loved at last, with utmost gratefulness.
Then from Saint Peter's church the throng widely dispersed,
And of the scandal they had seen, now eagerly conversed;
But lost not sight of her at all
Who bore the Bread of Honour to the ancient dame, ere this,
She sitteth now alone, shut in her chamber small,
While Franconnette beams brightly with her new-found bliss.
On the parched earth, where falls the earliest dew,
As shines the sun's first rays, the winter flown--
So love's first spark awakes to life anew,
And fills the startled mind with joy unknown.
The maiden yielded every thought to this--
The trembling certainty of real bliss;
The lightning of a joy before improved,
Flash'd in her heart, and told her that she loved.
She fled from envy, and from curious eyes,
And dreamed, as all have done, their waking dreams,
Bidding in thought bright fairy fabrics rise
To shrine the loved one in their golden gleams.
Alas! the sage is right, 'tis the distrest
Who dream the fondest, and who love the best.
But when the saddened heart controls us quite,
It quickly turns to gall the sweets of our delight.
Then she remembered all! The opening heaven turned grey,
Dread thought now smites her heavily.
Dreams she of love? Why, what is she?
Sweet love is not for her! The dreaded sorcerer
Hath said she's fore-sold for a price--a murderer!
With heart of dev'lish wrath, which whoso dares to brave
To lie with her one night, therein shall find his grave.
She, to see Pascal perish at her side!
"Oh God! have pity on me now!" she cried.
So, rent with cruel agonies,
And weeping very sore,
Fell the poor child upon her knees,
Her little shrine before.
"Oh, Holy Virgin!"--sighing--"on thee alone relying,
I come; I'm all astray! Father and mother too
Are dead lang syne, and I accursed! All tongues are crying
This hideous tale! Yet save me if't be true;
If they have falsely sworn, be it on their souls borne
When I shall bring my taper on the fete-day morn[6]
Oh! blessed Mother, let me see
That I am not denied of thee!"
Brief prayer,
Though 'tis sincere,
To Heaven mounts quickly,
Sure to have won a gracious ear;
The maid her purpose holds, and ponders momently,
And oftentimes grows sick, and cannot speak for fear,
But sometimes taketh heart, and sudden hope and strong
Shines in her soul, as brightest meteor gleams the sky along.
The Fete at Notre Dame--Offering to the Virgin--Thunderstroke
and Taper Extinguished--The Storm at Roquefort--
Fire at Estanquet--Triumph of Pascal--Fury of Marcel--
Power of a Mother--Bad Head and Good Heart--Conclusion.
At last, behold the day she longed for, yet so fearfully,
But lo! the sun rose cheerfully;
And long, long lines of white-robed village girls
From all the country round, walked tow'rds the tinkling bells,
And soon, proud Notre Dame appeared in sight,
As 'midst a cloud of perfume!
'Twas if the thirty hamlets in their might
Were piled together into one.
What priests! What candles! Crucifixes! Garlands!
What Angels,[7] and what banners!
You see there Artigues, Puymiral, Astafort,
Saint-Cirq, Cardonnet, Lusignan, Brax, Roquefort,
But this year, Roquefort first, o'erleapeth all.
What crowds there are of curious people,
To watch the girl sold to the Devil!
The news has travelled everywhere;
They know that she, in silent prayer,
Implores the Virgin to protect her there!
Her neighbours scoff, and her menace,
But saddened friends grieve at her sore disgrace,
Love, through their heart, in fervour rills,
Each one respects this plaintivest of girls;
And many a pitying soul a prayer said,
That some great miracle might yet be made
In favour of this poor and suppliant maid.
She saw, rejoiced, more hope with her abode;
Though voice of people is the voice of God!
Oh! how her heart beat as the church she neared,
'Twas for the Virgin's indulgence she cared.
Mothers with heartaches; young unfortunates;
The orphan girls; the women without mates;
All knelt before, with tapers waxen,
The image of the Virgin;
And there the aged priest, in surplice dressed,
Placed the crosses at their lips, and afterwards them blessed.
No sign of sorrow did on any suppliant fall,
But with their happy hearts, their ways went one and all,
So Franconnette grew happy too,
And most because Pascal prayed fervent in her view;
She dared t'raise her eyes to the holy father's face,
It seemed to her that love, hymns, lights, and the incense
United, cried out, "Grace!"
"Grace, grace divine," she sighed, "and love! Let them be mine!"
Then stretching out her taper lit, and followed to the shrine,
Bearing a garland in her hand; and all about her strove
To give a place to her, and bade her forward move.
They fixed their eyes upon the sacred priest and her,
And scarce a breath was drawn, and not a soul did stir;
But when the priest, holding the image of redeeming love,
Had laid it on the orphan's lips; before her kiss was given,
Burst a terrific thunderpeal, as if 'twould rend the heaven,
Blowing her taper out, and all the altar lights above.
Oh, what is this? The crashing thunder!
Her prayer denied, the lights put out!
Good God! she's sold indeed! All, all is true, no doubt,
So a long murmur rose of horror and of wonder;
For while the maiden breathlessly
Cowering like some lost soul, their shuddering glances under,
Sudden crept forth, all shrunk away, and let her pass them by.
Howbeit, that great peal was the opening blow
Of a wild storm and terrible,
That straightway upon Roquefort fell,
The spire of Saint Pierre[8] lay in ruins low,
And, smitten by the sharp scourge of the hail,
In all the region round, men could but weep and wail.
The angel bands who walked that day
In fair procession, hymns to sing,
Turned sorrowing, all save one, away,
Ora pro nobis chaunting.
Yet, in those early times, though not as now,
The angry waves to clear;
To other jealous towns could Agen show
Great bridges three, as she a royal city were;
Then she had only barges two, by poles propelled slow,
That waited for the minstrels, to bear them to Roquefort,
Whose villagers heard rumours of the widespread woe;
Ere landing, they were ranged for singing on the shore.
At first the tale but half they heed,
But soon they see in very deed,
Vineyards and happy fields with hopeless ruin smit;
Then each let fall his banner fair,
And lamentations infinite
Bent on all sides the evening air,
Till o'er the swelling throng rose deadly clear the cry,
"And still we spare this Franconnette!" Then suddenly,
As match to powder laid, the words
"Set her on fire! That daughter of the Huguenot,
Let's burn her up, and let her ashes rot."
Then violent cries were heard.
Howls of "Ay! Ay! the wretch! Now let her meet her fate!
She is the cause of all, 'tis plain!
Once she has made us desolate,
But she shall never curse again!"
And now the crowd grew angrier, wilder too.
"Hunt her off face of earth!" one shouts anew;
"Hunt her to death! 'Tis meet," a thousand tongues repeat,
The tempest in the skies cannot with this compete.
Oh, then, to see them as they came,
With clenched fists and eyes aflame,
Hell did indeed its demons all unchain.
And while the storm recedes, the night is growing clear,
But poison shoots through every vein
Of the possess'd madmen there.
Thus goaded they themselves to crime; but where was she,
Unhappy Franconnette? To her own cottage driven--
Worshipping her one relic, sad and dreamily,
And whispered to the withered flowers Pascal had loving given:
"Dear nosegay, when I saw thee first,
Methought thy sweetness was divine,
And I did drink it, heart athirst;
But now thou art not sweet as erst,
Because those wicked thoughts of mine
Have blighted all thy beauty rare;
I'm sold to powers of ill, for Heav'n hath spurned my prayer;
My love is deadly love! No hope on earth have I!
So, treasure of my heart, flowers of the meadow fair,
Because I bless the hand that gathered thee, good-bye!
Pascal must not love such as I!
He must th' accursed maid forswear,
Who yet to God for him doth cry!
In wanton merriment last year,
Even at love laughed Franconnette;
Now is my condemnation clear,
Now whom I love, I must forget;
Sold to the demon at my birth!
My God, how can it be? Have I not faith in Thee?
Oh! blessed blossoms of the earth;
Let me drive with my cross the evil one from me!
And thou, my mother, in the star-lit skies above,
And thou, my guardian, oh! mother of our God,
Pity me: For I bless Pascal, but part from him I love!
Pity the maid accursed, by the rod
Sore smitten, to the earth down-trod,
Help me, thy Heart Divine to move!"
"Franconnette, little one, what means thy plaintive moan?"
So spake the hoary dame. "Didst thou not smiling say
Our Lady did receive thy offering to-day?
But sure, no happy heart should make so sad a groan.
Thou hast deceived me? Some new ill," she said,
Hath fall'n upon us!" "Nay, not so; be comforted.
I--I'm quite happy!" "So my sweetest deary,
God grant that some good respite we may have,
For your sad sorrow diggeth up my grave;
And this hath been a lonesome, fearsome day, and weary;
That cruel dream of fire I had some time ago,
Howe'er I strove, did always haunt me so!
And then, thou know'st the storm; oh, I was terrified,
So that, to-night, my dear, I shudder in my fright!"
What sudden noise is this outside?
"Fire! Fire! Let's burn them in their cot!"
Flames shine through all the shutters wide,
Then Franconnette springs to the doorway tremblingly,
And, gracious Heaven! what doth she see?
By light of burning reek,
An angry people huddled thick;
She hears them shout, "Now, to your fate!
Spare ne'er the young one, nor the old,
Both work us ruin manifold.
Sold to the demon, we must burn you straight!"
The girl fell on her knees, before the face
Of that most furious populace.
She cried, "Grandmother will you kill? Oh, pity, grace!"
"Twas of no use, the wretches, blind with fury,
In viewing her bareheaded, in their hurry,
Saw but a cursed leman,
Sold bodily to the demon.
The fiercest cried "Avaunt!"
While the more savage forward spring,
And on the door their feet they plant,
With fiery brand in their hand brandishing.
"Hold! I implore you! "cried a voice, before unheard;
And sudden leapt before the crowd like lightning with the word,
A man of stately strength and tall,
It was the noble, brave Pascal!
"Cowards!" he cried. "What? Will you murder women then,
And burn their cot? Children of God! Are you the same?
Tigers you are, and cannot then be men;
And after all that they have suffered! Shame!
Fall back! Fall back! I say; the walls are growing hot!"
"Then let her leave us quite, this wretched Huguenot,
For she was long since by the devil bought,
God smites us 'cause we did not drive her forth before."
"Quick! quick!" cried Pascal, "living they will burn!
Ye dogs, who moved ye to this awful crime?"
"'Twas Marcel," they replied. "See, now he comes in time!"
"You lie!" the soldier thundered in his turn;
"I love her, boaster, more than thou!"
Said Pascal, "How wilt prove thy love, thou of the tender heart?"
"I come," the other said, "to save her. I come to take her part.
I come, if so she will, to wed her, even now."
"And so am I," replied Pascal, and steadfastly
Before his rival's eyes, as bound by some great spell.
Then to the orphan girl turned he,
With worship all unspeakable.
"Answer me, Franconnette, and speak the truth alone;
Thou'st followed by the wicked with spite and scorn, my own;
But we two love thee well, and ready are to brave
Death! Yes, or hell, thy precious life to save.
Choose which of us thou wilt!" "Nay," she lamented sore,
"Dearest, mine is a love that slays!
Be happy, then, without me! Forget me! Go thy ways!"
"Happy without thee, dear! That can I never more:
Nay, were it true, as lying rumour says,
An evil spirit ruled you o'er,
I'd rather die with you, than live bereaved days!"
When life is at its bitterest,
The voice of love aye rules us best;
Instantly rose the girl above her mortal dread,
And on the crowd advancing straight,
"Because I love Pascal, alone I'd meet my fate!
Howbeit his will is law," she said,
"Wherefore together let our souls be sped."
Then was Pascal in heav'n, and Marcel in the dust laid low;
Then Pascal sought his gallant rival, saying,
"I am more blest than thou! Forgive! thou'rt brave, I know,
Some squire[9] should follow me to death; then wilt thou not
Serve me? I have no other friend!" Marcel seemed dreaming;
And now he scowled with wrath, and now his eyes were kindling;
Terrible was the battle in his mind;
Till his eye fell on Franconnette, serene and beaming,
But with no word for him; then pale, but smilingly,
"Because it is her will," he said, "I follow thee."
Two weeks had passed away, and a strange nuptial train,
Adown the verdant hill went slowly to the plain;
First came the comely pair we know, in all their bloom,
While gathered far and wide, three deep on either side,
The ever-curious rustics hied,
Shudd'ring at heart o'er Pascal's doom.
Marcel conducts their march, but pleasures kindly true,
Glows not upon th' unmoving face he lifts to view.
And something glances from his eye,
That makes men shudder as they pass him by;
Yet verily his mien triumphant is, at least
Sole master is he of this feast,
And gives his rival, for bouquet,
A supper and a ball to-day.
But at the dance and at the board
Alike, scarce one essayed a word;
None sung a song, none raised a jest,
For dark forebodings everyone oppressed.
And the betrothed, by love's deep rapture fascinated,
Silent and sweet, though near the fate she sad awaited,
No sound their dream dispelled, yet hand in hand did press,
Their eyes looked ever in a visioned happiness;
And so, at last, the evening fell.
But one affrighted woman straightway broke the spell;
She fell on Pascal's neck and "Fly, my son!" she cried.
"I from the Sorcerer come! Fly, fly from thy false bride
The fatal sieve[10] hath turned; thy death decree is spoken!
There's sulphur fume in bridal room, and by the same dread token,
Enter it not; for if thou liv'st thou'rt lost," she sadly said;
"And what were life to me, my son, if thou wert dead?"
Then Pascal felt his eyes were wet,
And turned away, striving to hide his face, where on
The mother shrieked, "Ingrate! but I will save thee yet.
Thou wilt not dare!"--falling before her stricken son.
"Thou shalt now o'er my body pass, even as thou goest forth!
A wife, it seems, is all; and mother nothing worth!
Unhappy that I am! "The crowd alas! their heavy tears ran down!
"Marcel," the bridegroom said, "her grief is my despair;
But love, thou knowest, 's stronger yet; indeed 'tis time to go!
Only, should I perish, let my mother be thy care."
"I can no more," cried Marcel, "thy mother's conquered here."
And then the valiant soldier from his eyelids brushed a tear.
"Take courage, Pascal, friend of mine
Thy Franconnette is good and pure.
That hideous tale was told, of dark design;
But give thy mother thanks; but for her coming, sure
This night might yet have seen my death and thine."
"What say'st thou?" "Hush! now I will tell thee all;
Thou knowest that I lov'd this maid, Pascal.
For her, like thee, I would have shed my blood;
I dreamt that I was loved again; she held me in her thrall.
Albeit my prayer was aye withstood;
Her elders promised her to me;
And so, when other suitors barr'd my way, In spite,
Saying, in love or war, one may use strategy,
I gave the wizard gold, my rival to affright,
Therefore, my chance did everything, insomuch that I said,
My treasure is already won and made.
But when, in the same breath, we two our suit made known,
And when I saw her, without turn of head,
Choose thee, to my despair, it was not to be borne.
And then I vow'd her death and thine, before the morrow morn!
I thought to lead you forth to the bridal bower ere long,
And then, the bed beside which I had mined with care,
That they might say no prince or power of th' air
Is here. That I might burn you for my wrong;
Ay, cross yourselves, thought I, for you shall surely die!
But thy mother, with her tears, has made my vengeance fly
I thought of my own, Pascal, who died so long ago.
Care thou for thine! And now fear nought from me, I trow,
Eden is coming down to earth for thee, no doubt,
But I, whom henceforth men can only hate and flout,
Will to the wars away! For in me something saith
I may recover from my rout,
Better than by a crime! Ay! by a soldier's death!"
Thus saying, Marcel vanished, loudly cheered on every side;
And then with deepening blushes the twain each other eyed,
For now the morning stars in the dark heavens shone
But now I lift my pencil suddenly.
Colours for strife and pain have I,
But for such perfect rapture--none!
And so the morning came, with softly-dawning light,
No sound, no stir as yet within the cottage white,
At Estanquet the people of the hamlets gathered were,
To wait the waking of the happy married pair.
Marcel had frankly told th' unhappy truth; Nathless,
The devil had an awful power,
And ignorance was still his dower.
Some feared for bride and bridegroom yet; and guess
At strange mischance. "In the night cries were heard,"
Others had seen some shadows on the wall, in wondrous ways.
Lives Pascal yet? None dares to dress
The spicy broth,[11] to leave beside the nuptial door;
And so another hour goes o'er.
Then floats a lovely strain of music overhead,
A sweet refrain oft heard before,
'Tis the aoubado[12] offered to the newly-wed.
So the door opes at last, and the young pair was seen,
She blushed before the folk, but friendly hand and mien,
The fragments of her garter gives,
And every woman two receives;
Then winks and words of ruth from eye and lip are passed,
And luck of proud Pascal makes envious all at last,
For the poor lads, whose hearts are healed but slightly,
Of their first fervent pain,
When they see Franconnette, blossoming rose-light brightly,
All dewy fresh, so sweet and sightly,
They cry aloud, "We'll ne'er believe a Sorcerer again!"
Footnotes to FRANCONNETTE.
[1] Blaise de Montluc, Marshal of France, was one of the
bitterest persecutors of the Hugueuots. Towards the end of the
sixteenth century, Agen was a centre of Protestantism. The town
was taken again and again by the contending religious factions.
When Montluc retook the place, in 1562, from Truelle, the
Huguenot captain, he found that the inhabitants had fled, and
there was no one to butcher (Gascogne et Languedoc, par Paul
Joanne, p. 95). Montluc made up for his disappointment by laying
waste the country between Fumel and Penne, towns to the north of
Agen, and slaying all the Huguenots--men, women, and children--on
whom he could lay his hands. He then returned to his castle of
Estillac, devoted himself to religious exercises, and "took the
sacrament," says Jasmin, "while his hands were dripping with
fraternal blood." Montluc died in 1577, and was buried in the
garden of Estillac, where a monument, the ruins of which still
exist', was erected over his remains.
[2] Jour de Dieu!
[3] Wehr-wolves, wizard wolves--loup-garou. Superstitions
respecting them are known in Brittany and the South of France.
[4] Miss Harriett W. Preston, in her article on Jasmin's
Franconnette in the Atlantic Monthly for February, 1876, says:
"The buscou, or busking, was a kind of bee, at which the young
people assembled, bringing the thread of their late spinning,
which was divided into skeins of the proper size by a broad thin
plate of steel or whalebone called a busc. The same thing, under
precisely the same name, figured in the toilets of our
grandmothers, and hence, probably, the Scotch use of the verb to
busk, or attire." Jamieson (Scottish Dictionary) says: "The term
busk is employed in a beautiful proverb which is very commonly
used in Scotland, 'A bonny bride is soon busked.'"
[5] Miss Preston says this was a custom which prevailed in
certain parts of France. It was carried by the French emigrants
to Canada, where it flourished in recent times. The Sacramental
Bread was crowned by one or more frosted or otherwise ornamented
cakes, which were reserved for the family of the Seigneur,
or other communicants of distinction.
[6] At Notre Dame de Bon Encontre, a church in the suburbs of
Agen, celebrated for its legends, its miracles, and the numerous
pilgrimages which are usually made to it in the month of May.
[7] The Angels walked in procession, and sang the Angelos at the
appropriate hours.
[8] The ancient parish church of Roquefort, whose ruins only now
remain. See text for the effects of the storm.
[9] Dounzel is the word used by Jasmin. Miss H. W. Preston says
of this passage: "There is something essentially knightly in
Pascal's cast of character, and it is singular that, at the
supreme crisis of his fate, he assumes, as if unconsciously, the
very phraseology of chivalry. 'Some squire (dounzel) should
follow me to death,' &c., and we find it altogether natural and
burning in the high-hearted smith. There are many places where
Jasmin addresses his hearers directly as 'Messieurs,' where the
context also makes it evident that the word is emphatic, that he
is distinctly conscious of addressing those who are above him in
rank, and that the proper translation is 'gentles,' or even
'masters'; yet no poet ever lived who was less of a sycophant."
[10] Low sedas (the sieve) is made of raw silk, and is used for
sifting flour. It has also a singular use in necromancy.
When one desires to know the name of the doer of an act--a theft
for instance--the sieve is made to revolve, but woe to him whose
name is spoken just as the sieve stops!
[11] An ancient practice. Lou Tourrin noubial, a highly-spiced
onion soup, was carried by the wedding guests to the bridegroom
at a late hour of the night.
[12] The aoubado--a song of early morning, corresponding to the
serenade or evening song.

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