Part 1 out of 6
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
Birth of Jasmin
Poverty of the Family
Jasmin's Father and Mother
Playing at Soldiers
The Spinning Women
Old Boe carried to the Hospital
Death of Boe
CHAPTER II. Jasmin at School
Jasmin enters the Seminary
His Naughty Trick
Tumbles from a Ladder
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
Reading in his Garret
His First Books
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
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
Language of Modern France
Language of the Troubadours
Gascon and Provencal
Jasmin begins to write in Gascon
Jasmin's 'Me cal Mouri'
Miss Costello's translation
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
Recollections of his past Life
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
The Poem first recited at Bordeaux
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
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
Castle of Estellac
Marcel and Pascal
'The Syren with a Heart of Ice'
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
Publication of 'Franconnette'
M. de Lavergne
Testimonial to Jasmin
Death of Jasmin's Mother
Readings in the Cause of Charity
CHAPTER XI. Jasmin's visit to Paris.
Visits Paris with his Son
Wonders of Paris
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 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
Jasmin's love of Applause
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
Return to Agen
CHAPTER XIII. Jasmin's and his English critics.
Translation of his Poems
Miss Costello's Visit to Jasmin
Her Description of the Poet
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
His Numerous Engagements
Society of Arts and Literature
His Strength of Constitution
Refusal to shave a Millionaire
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
Dax, Gers, Condon
Challenge of Peyrottes
His further Poems
'La Semaine d'um Fil' described
Dedicated to Lamartine
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
'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
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
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
The Crowd in the Place de Capitol
Agen awards him a Crown of Gold
Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
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
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
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 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
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
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;
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
"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, 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.
 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
 L'hopital means an infirmary or almshouse for old and
JASMIN AT SCHOOL.
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
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,
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."
BARBER AND HAIRDRESSER.
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' 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
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."
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.
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
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, 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
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.
 Magasin des Enfants.
 Mes Nouveaux Souvenirs.
 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!"
 OEUVRES COMPLETES DE JACQUES JASMIN: Preface de l'Edition,,
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 AND MARIETTE.
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 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
"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
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
"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. 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
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
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."
Footnotes to chapter IV.
 In Gascon Magnounet; her pet name Marie, or in French
Mariette. Madame Jasmin called herself Marie Barrere.
 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.
 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 AND GASCON.--FIRST VOLUME OF "PAPILLOTES."
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.
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.
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 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." 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
"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; 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