Part 3 out of 6
"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.
 The whole of Jasmin's answer to M. Dumon will be found in
the Appendix at the end of this volume.
'Gascogne et Languedoc,' par Paul Joanne, p. 95 (edit. 1883).
 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.
 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."
 Miss Louisa Stuart Costello in 'Bearn and the Pyrenees.'
 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
 A church in the suburbs of Agen, celebrated for its legends
and miracles, to which numerous pilgrimages are made in the
month of May.
 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
JASMIN AT TOULOUSE.
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,
"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, 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
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."
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.
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."
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
"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."
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.
 Journal de Toulouse, 4th July, 1840.
 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.
 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!"
 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!"
 'Causeries du Lundi,' iv. 240 (edit. 1852).
 "La politesse du coeur," a French expression which can
scarcely be translated into English; just as "gentleman" has no
precise equivalent in French.
JASMIN'S VISIT TO PARIS.
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, "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.
 Autobiographical Preface to the 'Narratives of the
JASMIN'S RECITATIONS IN PARIS.
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
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 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.
 'Les Peuples de la France: Ethnographie Nationale.' (Didier.)
JASMIN AND HIS ENGLISH CRITICS.
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. 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, 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. 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. He inquired of me respecting Burns,
to whom he had been likened, and begged me to tell him something
"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 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.' 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
"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.
 The Athenaeum, 5th November, 1842. 'The Curl-papers of
Jasmin, the Barber of Agen.' ('Las Papillotos de Jasmin,
 'A Pilgrimage to Auvergne, from Picardy to Velay.' 1842.
 'Bearn and the Pyrenees.' 1844.
 "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?"
 Westminster Review for October, 1849.
 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?"
JASMIN'S TOURS OF PHILANTHROPY.
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
THE SHEPHERD AND THE GASCON POET.
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.
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
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,
"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 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.
 We adopt the translation of Miss Costello.
JASMIN'S VINEYARD--'MARTHA THE INNOCENT.'
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
Down beneath the Hermitage and the crags a road winds up the
valley towards Verona, once the home of the famous Scaligers.
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, 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
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
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
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."