Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE QUEEN PEDAUQUE
Translated by JOS. A. V. STRITZKO
Introduction by JAMES BRANCH CABELL
I. Why I recount the singular Occurrences of my Life
II. My Home at the Queen Pedauque Cookshop--I turn the Spit and
learn to read--Entry of Abbe Jerome Coignard
III. The Story of the Abbe's Life
IV. The Pupil of M. Jerome Coignard--I receive Lessons in Latin,
Greek and Life
V. My Nineteenth Birthday--Its Celebration and the Entrance of
VI. Arrival at the Castle of M. d'Asterac and Interview with the
VII. Dinner and Thoughts on Food
VIII. The Library and its Contents
IX. At Work on Zosimus the Panopolitan--I visit my Home and hear
Gossip about M. d'Asterac
X. I see Catherine with Friar Ange and reflect--The Liking of
Nymphs for Satyrs--An Alarm of Fire--M. d'Asterac in his Laboratory
XI. The Advent of Spring and its Effects--We visit Mosaide
XII. I take a Walk and meet Mademoiselle Catherine
XIII. Taken by M. d'Asterac to the Isle of Swans I listen to his
Discourse on Creation and Salamanders
XIV. Visit to Mademoiselle Catherine--The Row in the Street and
XV. In the Library with M. Jerome Coignard--A Conversation on
Morals--Taken to M. d'Asterac's Study-Salamanders again--
The Solar Powder--A Visit and its Consequences
XVI. Jahel comes to my Room--What the Abbe saw on the Stairs--His
Encounter with Mosaide
XVII. Outside Mademoiselle Catherine's House--We are invited in by
M. d'Anquetil--The Supper--The Visit of the Owner and the
XVIII. Our return--We smuggle M. d'Anquetil in--M. d'Asterac on
Jealousy--M. Jerome Coignard in Trouble-What happened while
I was in the Laboratory--Jahel persuaded to elope
XIX. Our last Dinner at M. d'Asterac's Table--Conversation of M.
Jerome Coignard and M. d'Asterac--A Message from Home--Catherine
in the Spittel--We are wanted for Murder-Our Flight--Jahel
causes me much Misery--Account of the Journey-The Abbe Coignard
on Towns--Jahel's Midnight Visit--We are followed--The Accident
--M. Jerome Coignard is stabbed
XX. Illness of M. Jerome Coignard
XXI. Death of M. Jerome Coignard
XXII. Funeral and Epitaph
XXIII. Farewell to Jahel--Dispersal of the Party.
XXIV. I am pardoned and return to Paris--Again at the Queen
Pedauque--I go as Assistant to M. Blaizot--Burning of the
Castle of Sablons--Death of Mosaide and of M. d'Asterac.
XXV. I become a Bookseller--I have many learned and witty
Customers but none to equal the Abbe Jerome Coignard, D.D., M. A
What one first notes about _The Queen Pedauque_ is the fact
that in this ironic and subtle book is presented a story which,
curiously enough, is remarkable for its entire innocence of subtlety
and irony. Abridge the "plot" into a synopsis, and you will find
your digest to be what is manifestly the outline of a straightforward,
plumed romance by the elder Dumas.
Indeed, Dumas would have handled the "strange surprising adventures"
of Jacques Tournebroche to a nicety, if only Dumas had ever thought
to have his collaborators write this brisk tale, wherein d'Astarac
and Tournebroche and Mosaide display, even now, a noticeable
something in common with the Balsamo and Gilbert and Althotas of the
_Memoires d'un Medecin_. One foresees, to be sure, that, with
the twin-girthed Creole for guide, M. Jerome Coignard would have
waddled into immortality not quite as we know him, but with somewhat
more of a fraternal resemblance to the Dom Gorenflot of _La Dame
de Monsoreau;_ and that the blood of the abbe's death-wound could
never have bedewed the book's final pages, in the teeth of Dumas'
economic unwillingness ever to despatch any character who was "good
for" a sequel.
And one thinks rather kindlily of _The Queen Pedauque_ as Dumas
would have equipped it... Yes, in reading here, it is the most
facile and least avoidable of mental exercises to prefigure how
excellently Dumas would have contrived this book,--somewhat as in
the reading of Mr. Joseph Conrad's novels a many of us are haunted
by the sense that the Conrad "story" is, in its essential beams and
stanchions, the sort of thing which W. Clark Russell used to put
together, in a rather different way, for our illicit perusal.
Whereby I only mean that such seafaring was illicit in those aureate
days when, Cleveland being consul for the second time, your
geography figured as the screen of fictive reading-matter during
One need not say that there is no question, in either case, of
"imitation," far less of "plagiarism"; nor need one, surely, point
out the impossibility of anybody's ever mistaking the present book
for a novel by Alexandre Dumas. Ere Homer's eyesight began not to be
what it had been, the fact was noted by the observant Chian, that
very few sane architects commence an edifice by planting and rearing
the oaks which are to compose its beams and stanchions. You take
over all such supplies ready hewn, and choose by preference time-
seasoned timber. Since Homer's prime a host of other great creative
writers have recognised this axiom when they too began to build: and
"originality" has by ordinary been, like chess and democracy, a
Mecca for little minds.
Besides, there is the vast difference that M. Anatole France has
introduced into the Dumas theatre some preeminently un-Dumas-like
stage-business: the characters, between assignations and combats,
toy amorously with ideas. That is the difference which at a stroke
dissevers them from any helter-skelter character in Dumas as utterly
as from any of our clearest thinkers in office.
It is this toying, this series of mental _amourettes_, which
incommunicably "makes the difference" in almost all the volumes of
M. France familiar to me, but our affair is with this one story. Now
in this vivid book we have our fill of color and animation and
gallant strangenesses, and a stir of characters who impress us as
living with a poignancy unmastered as yet by anybody's associates in
flesh and blood. We have, in brief, all that Dumas could ever offer,
here utilised not to make drama but background, all being woven into
a bright undulating tapestry behind an erudite and battered figure,--
a figure of odd medleys, in which the erudition is combined with
much of Autolycus, and the unkemptness with something of à Kempis.
For what one remembers of _The Queen Pédauque_ is l'Abbé Jérôme
Coignard; and what one remembers, ultimately, about Coignard is not
his crowded career, however opulent in larcenous and lectual
escapades and fisticuffs and broached wineflasks; but his religious
meditations, wherein a merry heart does, quite actually, go all the
Coignard I take to be a peculiarly rare type of man (there is no
female of this species), the type that is genuinely interested in
religion. He stands apart. He halves little with the staid majority
of us, who sociably contract our sacred tenets from our neighbors
like a sort of theological measles. He halves nothing whatever with
our more earnest-minded juniors who--perennially discovering that
all religions thus far put to the test of nominal practice have,
whatever their paradisial _entrée_, resulted in a deplorable
earthly hash--perennially run yelping into the shrill agnosticism
which believes only that one's neighbors should not be permitted to
believe in anything.
The creed of Coignard is more urbane. "Always bear in mind that a
sound intelligence rejects everything that is contrary to reason,
except in matters of faith, where it is necessary to believe
blindly." Your opinions are thus all-important, your physical
conduct is largely a matter of taste, in a philosophy which ranks
affairs of the mind immeasurably above the gross accidents of
matter. Indeed, man can win to heaven only through repentance, and
the initial step toward repentance is to do something to repent of.
There is no flaw in this logic, and in its clear lighting such
abrogations of parochial and transitory human laws as may be
suggested by reason and the consciousness that nobody is looking,
take on the aspect of divinely appointed duties.
Some dullard may here object that M. France--attestedly, indeed,
since he remains unjailed-cannot himself believe all this, and that
it is with an ironic glitter in his ink he has recorded these dicta.
To which the obvious answer would be that M. France (again like all
great creative writers) is an ephemeral and negligible person beside
his durable puppets; and that, moreover, to reason thus is, it may
be precipitately, to disparage the plumage of birds on the ground
that an egg has no feathers... Whatever M. France may believe, our
concern is here with the conviction of M. Coignard that his religion
is all-important and all-significant. And it is curious to observe
how unerringly the abbe's thoughts aspire, from no matter what
remote and low-lying starting-point, to the loftiest niceties of
religion and the high thin atmosphere of ethics. Sauce spilt upon
the good man's collar is but a reminder of the influence of clothes
upon our moral being, and of how terrifyingly is the destiny of each
person's soul dependent upon such trifles; a glass of light white
wine leads not, as we are nowadays taught to believe, to instant
ruin, but to edifying considerations of the life and glory of St.
Peter; and a pack of cards suggests, straightway, intransigent fine
points of martyrology. Always this churchman's thoughts deflect to
the most interesting of themes, to the relationship between God and
His children, and what familiary etiquette may be necessary to
preserve the relationship unstrained. These problems alone engross
Coignard unfailingly, even when the philosopher has had the ill luck
to fall simultaneously into drunkenness and a public fountain, and
retains so notably his composure between the opposed assaults of
What, though, is found the outcome of this philosophy, appears a
question to be answered with wariness of empiricism. None can deny
that Coignard says when he lies dying: "My son, reject, along with
the example I gave you, the maxims which I may have proposed to you
during my period of lifelong folly. Do not listen to those who, like
myself, subtilise over good and evil." Yet this is just one low-
spirited moment, as set against the preceding fifty-two high-hearted
years. And the utterance wrung forth by this moment is, after all,
merely that sentiment which seems the inevitable bedfellow of the
moribund,--"Were I to have my life over again, I would live
differently." The sentiment is familiar and venerable, but its
truthfulness has not yet been attested.
To the considerate, therefore, it may appear expedient to dismiss
Coignard's trite winding-up of a half-century of splendid talking,
as just the infelicitous outcropping, in the dying man's enfeebled
condition, of an hereditary foible. And when moralising would
approach an admonitory forefinger to the point that Coignard's
manner of living brought him to die haphazardly, among preoccupied
strangers at a casual wayside inn, you do, there is no questioning
it, recall that a more generally applauded manner of living has been
known to result in a more competently arranged-for demise, under the
best churchly and legal auspices, through the rigors of crucifixion.
So it becomes the part of wisdom to waive these mundane riddles, and
to consider instead the justice of Coignard's fine epitaph, wherein
we read that "living without worldly honors, he earned for himself
eternal glory." The statement may (with St. Peter keeping the gate)
have been challenged in paradise, but in literature at all events
the unhonored life of Jérome Coignard has clothed him with glory of
tolerably longeval looking texture. It is true that this might also
be said of Iago and Tartuffe, but then we have Balzac's word for it
that merely to be celebrated is not enough. Rather is the highest
human desideratum twofold,--_D'être célèbre et d'être aimé_.
And that much Coignard promises to be for a long while.
James Branch Cabell
THE QUEEN PEDAUQUE
Why I recount the singular Occurrences of my Life
I intend to give an account of some odd occurrences in my life. Some
have been exquisite, some queer Recollecting them, I am myself in
doubt if I have not dreamed them. I have known a Gascon cabalist, of
whom I could not say that he was wise, because he perished
miserably, but he delivered sublime discourses to me, on a certain
night on the Isle of Swans, speeches [Footnote: The original
manuscript, written in a fine hand, of the eighteenth century, bears
the sub-heading "Vie et Opinions de M. l'Abbé Jérôme Coignard"
[_The Editor_].] I was happy enough to keep in my memory, and
careful enough to put into writing. Those speeches referred to magic
and to occult sciences, with which people were very much infatuated
in my days.
Everyone speaks of naught else but Rosicrucian mysteries.[Footnote:
This writing dates from the second half of the eighteenth century
[_The Editor_]]. Besides I do not myself expect to gain great
honour by these revelations. Some will say that everything is of my
own invention, and that it is not the true doctrine, others that I
only said what one had already known. I own that I am not very
learned in cabalistic lore, my master having perished at the
beginning of my initiation. But, little as I have learned of his
craft, it makes me vehemently suspect that all of it is illusion,
deception and vanity.
I think it quite sufficient to repudiate magic with all my strength,
because it is contrary to religion. But still I believe myself to be
obliged to explain concerning one point of this false science, so
that none may judge me to be more ignorant than I really am. I know
that cabalists generally think that Sylphs, Salamanders, Elves,
Gnomes and Gnomides are born with a soul perishable like their
bodies and that they acquire immortality by intercourse with the
magicians. [Footnote: This opinion is especially supported in a
little book of the Abbé Montfaucon de Villars, "Le Comte de Gabalis
au Entretiens sur les sciences secrètes et mystérieuses suivant les
principes des anciens mages ou sages cabbalistes," of which several
editions are extant. I only mention the one published at Amsterdam
(Jacques Le Jeune, 1700, 18mo, with engravings), which contains a
second part not included in the original edition [_The Editor_]]
On the contrary my cabalist taught me that eternal life does not
fall to the lot of any creature, earthly or aerial. I follow his
sentiment without presuming myself to judge it.
He was in the habit of saying that the Elves kill those who reveal
their mysteries, and he attributes the death of M. l'Abbé Coignard,
who was murdered on the Lyons road, to the vengeance of those
spirits. But I know very well that this much lamented death had a
more natural cause. I shall speak freely of the air and fire
spirits. One has to run some risk in life and that with Elves is an
extremely small one.
I have zealously gathered the words of my good teacher M. l'Abbé
Jérôme Coignard, who perished as I have said. He was a man full of
knowledge and godliness. Could his soul have been less troubled he
would have been the equal in virtue of M. l'Abbé Rollin, whom he far
surpassed in extent of knowledge and penetration of intellect.
He had at least the advantage over M. Rollin that he had not fallen
into Jansenism during the agitation of a troubled life, because the
soundness of his mind was not to be shaken by the violence of
reckless doctrines, and before Him I can attest to the purity of his
faith. He had a wide knowledge of the world, obtained by the
frequentation of all sorts of companies. This experience would have
served him well with the Roman histories he, like M. Rollin, would
doubtless have composed should he have had time and leisure, and if
his life could have been better matched to his genius. What I shall
relate of this excellent man will be the ornament of these memoirs.
And like Aulus Gellius, who culled the most beautiful sayings of the
philosophers into his "Attic Nights," and him who put the best
fables of the Greeks into the "Metamorphoses," I will do a bee's
work and gather exquisite honey. But I do not flatter myself to be
the rival of those two great authors, because I draw all my wealth
from my own life's recollections and not from an abundance of
reading. What I furnish out of my own stock is good faith. Whenever
some curious person shall read my memoirs he will easily recognise
that a candid soul alone could express itself in language so plain
and unaffected. Where and with whomsoever I have lived I have always
been considered to be entirely artless. These writings cannot but
confirm it after my death.
My Home at the Queen Pédauque Cookshop--I turn the Spit and learn to
read--Entry of Abbe Jerome Coignard.
My name is Elme Laurent Jacques Ménétrier. My father, Léonard
Ménétrier, kept a cookshop at the sign of _Queen Pédauque,_
who, as everyone knows, wag web-footed like the geese and ducks.
His penthouse was opposite Saint Benoit le Bétourné between Mistress
Gilles the haberdasher at the _Three Virgins_ and M. Blaizot,
the bookseller at the sign of _Saint Catherine,_ not far from
the _Little Bacchus,_ the gate of which, decorated with vine
branches, was at the corner of the Rue des Cordiers. He loved me
very much, and when, after supper, I lay in my little bed, he took
my hand in his, lifted one after the other of my fingers, beginning
with the thumb, and said:
"This one has killed him, this one has plucked him, this one has
fricasseed him and that one has eaten him, and the little
_Riquiqui_ had nothing at all. Sauce, sauce, sauce," he used to
add, tickling the hollow of my hand with my own little finger.
And mightily he laughed, and I laughed too, dropping off to sleep,
and my mother used to affirm that the smile still remained on my
lips on the following morning.
My father was a good cookshop-keeper and feared God. For this he
carried on holidays the banner of the Cooks' Guild, on which a fine-
looking St Laurence was embroidered, with his grill and a golden
palm. He used to say to me:
"Jacquot, thy mother is a holy and worthy woman."
He liked to repeat this sentence frequently. True, my mother went to
church every Sunday with a prayer-book printed in big type. She
could hardly read small print, which, as she said, drew the eyes out
of her head.
My father used to pass an hour or two nightly at the tavern of the
_Little Bacchus_; there also Jeannetæ the hurdy-gurdy player
and Catherine the lacemaker were regular frequenters. And every time
he returned home somewhat later than usual he said in a soft voice,
while pulling his cotton night-cap on:
"Barbe, sleep in peace; as I have just said to the limping cutler:
'You are a holy and worthy woman.'"
I was six years old when, one day, readjusting his apron, with him
always a sign of resolution, he said to me:
"Miraut, our good dog, has turned my roasting-spit during these last
fourteen years. I have nothing to reproach him with. He is a good
servant, who has never stolen the smallest morsel of turkey or
goose. He was always satisfied to lick the roaster as his wage. But
he is getting old. His legs are getting stiff; he can't see, and is
no more good to turn the handle. Jacquot, my boy, it is your duty to
take his place. With some thought and some practice, you certainly
will succeed in doing as well as he."
Miraut listened to these words and wagged his tail as a sign of
approbation. My father continued:
"Now then, seated on this stool, you'll turn the spit. But to form
your mind you'll con your horn-book, and when, afterwards, you are
able to read type, you'll learn by heart some grammar or morality
book, or those fine maxims of the Old and New Testaments. And that
because the knowledge of God and the distinction between good and
evil are also necessary in a working position, certainly of but
trifling importance but honest as mine is, and which was my father's
and also will be yours, please God."
And from this very day on, sitting from morn till night, at the
corner of the fireplace, I turned the spit, the open horn-book on my
knees. A good Capuchin friar, who with his bag came a-begging to my
father, taught me how to spell. He did so the more willingly as my
father, who had a consideration for knowledge, paid for his lesson
with a savoury morsel of roast turkey and a large glass of wine, so
liberally that by-and-by the little friar, aware that I was able to
form syllables and words tolerably well, brought me a fine "Life of
St Margaret," wherewith he taught me to read fluently.
On a certain day, having as usual laid his wallet on the counter, he
sat down at my side, and, warming his naked feet on the hot ashes of
the fireplace, he made me recite for the hundredth time:
"Pucelle sage, nette et fine,
Aide des femmes en gésine
Ayez pitié de nous."
At this moment a man of rather burly stature and withal of noble
appearance, clad in the ecclesiastical habit, entered the shop and
shouted out with an ample voice:
"Hello! host, serve me a good portion!" With grey hair, he still
looked full of health and strength. His mouth was laughing and his
eyes were sprightly, his cheeks were somewhat heavy and his three
chins dropped majestically on a neckband which, maybe by sympathy,
had become as greasy as the throat it enveloped.
My father, courteous by profession, lifted his cap and bowing said:
"If your reverence will be so good as to warm yourself near the
fire, I'll soon serve you with what you desire."
Without any further preamble the priest took a seat near the fire by
the side of the Capuchin friar.
Hearing the good friar reading aloud:
"Pucelle sage, nette et fine,
Aide des femnies en gésine,"
he clapped his hands and said:
"Oh, the rare bird! The unique man! A Capuchin who is able to read!
Eh, little friar, what is your name?"
"Friar Ange, an unworthy Capuchin," replied my teacher.
My mother, hearing the voices from the upper room descended to the
shop, attracted by curiosity.
The priest greeted her with an already familiar politeness and said:
"That is really wonderful, mistress; Friar Ange is a Capuchin and
knows how to read."
"He is able to read all sorts of writing," replied my mother.
And going near the friar, she recognised the prayer of St Margaret
by the picture representing the maiden martyr with a holy-water
sprinkler in her hand.
"This prayer," she added, "is difficult to read because the words of
it are very small and hardly divided, but happily it is quite
sufficient, when in labour-pains, to apply it like a plaster on the
place where the most pain is felt and it operates just as well, and
rather better, than when it is recited. I had the proof of it, sir,
when my son Jacquot was born, who is here present."
"Do not doubt about it, my good dame," said Friar Ange. "The orison
of St Margaret is sovereign for what you mentioned, but under the
special condition that the Capuchins get their Maundy."
In saying so, Friar Ange emptied the goblet of wine which my mother
had filled up for him and, throwing his wallet over his shoulder,
went off in the direction of the _Little Bacchus_.
My father served a quarter of fowl to the priest, who took out of
his pocket a piece of bread, a flagon of wine and a knife, the
copper handle of which represented the late king on a column in the
costume of a Roman emperor, and began to have his supper.
But having hardly taken the first morsel in his mouth he turned
round on my father and asked for some salt, rather surprised that no
salt cellar had been presented to him offhand.
"So did the ancients use it," he said, "they offered salt as a sign
of hospitality. They also placed salt cellars in the temples on the
tablecloths of the gods."
My father presented him with some bay salt out of the wooden shoe
which was hung on the mantelpiece. The priest took what he wanted of
it and said:
"The ancients considered salt to be a necessary seasoning of all
repasts, and held it in so high esteem that they metaphorically
called salt the wit which gives flavour to conversation."
"Ah!" said my father, "high as the ancients may have valued it, the
excise of our days puts it still higher."
My mother, listening the while she knitted a woollen stocking, was
glad to say a word:
"It must be believed that salt is a good thing, because the priests
put a grain of it on the tongues of the babies held over the
christening font. When my Jacques felt the salt on his tongue he
made a grimace; as tiny as he was he already had some sense. I
speak, Sir Priest, of my son Jacques here present."
The priest looked on me and said:
"Now he is already a grown-up boy. Modesty is painted on his
features and he reads the 'Life of St Margaret' with attention."
"Oh!" exclaimed my mother, "he also reads the prayer for chilblains
and that of 'St Hubert,' which Friar Ange has given him, and the
history of that fellow who has been devoured, in the Saint Marcel
suburb, by several devils for having blasphemed the holy name of our
My father looked admiringly on me, and then he murmured into the
priest's ear that I learned anything I wanted to know with a native
and natural facility.
"Wherefore," replied the priest, "you must form him to become a man
of letters, which to be, is one of the honours of mankind, the
consolation of human life and a remedy against all evils, actually
against those of love, as it is affirmed by the poet Theocritus."
"Simple cook as I am," was my father's reply, "I hold knowledge in
high esteem, and am quite willing to believe that it also is, as
your reverence says, a remedy for love. But I do not think that it
is a remedy against hunger."
"Well, perhaps it is not a sovereign ointment," replied the priest;
"but it gives some solace, like a sweet balm, although somewhat
As he spoke Catherine the lacemaker appeared on the threshold, with
her bonnet sideways over her ear and her neckerchief very much
creased. Seeing her, my mother frowned and let slip three meshes of
"Monsieur Ménétrier," said Catherine to my father, "come and say a
word to the sergeants of the watch. If you do not, they doubtless
will lock up Friar Ange. The good friar came to the _Little
Bacchus_, where he drank two or three pots without paying for
them, so as not to go contrary to the rules of St Francis, he said.
But the worst of it is, that he, seeing me in company under the
arbour, came near me to teach me a new prayer. I told him it was not
the right moment to do so, and he insisting on it, the limping
cutler, who was sitting by me, tore his beard rather roughly. Friar
Ange threw himself on the cutler, who fell to the ground, and by his
fall upset the table and pitchers.
"The taverner, running up, seeing the table knocked over, the wine
spilt, and Friar Ange with one foot on the cutler's head, swinging a
stool with which he struck anyone approaching him, this vile
taverner swore like a real devil and called for the watch. Monsieur
Ménétrier, do come at once and take the little friar out of the
watch's clutches. He is a holy man, and quite excusable in this
My father was inclined to oblige Catherine, but for this once the
lacemaker's words had not the effect she expected. He said plainly
that he could not find any excuse for the Capuchin, and that he
wished him to get a good punishment by bread and water in the
darkest corner of the cellars of the convent, of which he was the
shame and disgrace.
He warmed up in talking:
"A drunkard and a dissipated fellow, to whom I give daily good wine
and good morsels and who goes to the tavern to play the deuce with
some ill-famed creatures, depraved enough to prefer the company of a
hawking cutler and a Capuchin friar to that of honest sworn
tradesmen of the quarter. Fie! fie!"
Therewith he suddenly stopped his scoldings and looked sideways on
my mother, who, standing up at the entry to the staircase, pushed
her knitting needles with sharp little strokes.
Catherine, surprised by this unfriendly reception, said drily:
"Then you don't want to say a good word to the taverner and the
"If you wish it, I'll tell them to take the cutler and the friar."
"But," she replied, and laughed, "the cutler is your friend."
"Less mine than yours," said my father sharply. "A ragamuffin and a
humbug, who hops about----"
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "that's true, really true, that he hops. He
hops, hops, hops!"
And she left the shop, shaking with laughter.
My father turned round to the priest, who was picking a bone:
"It is as I had the honour to say to your reverence! For each
reading and writing lesson that Capuchin friar gives to my child, I
pay him with a goblet of wine and a fine piece of meat, hare,
rabbit, goose, or a tender poulet or a capon. He is a drunkard and
"Don't doubt about that," said the priest.
"But if ever he dares to come over my threshold again, I'll drive
him out with a broomstick."
"And you'll do well by it," said the priest; "that Capuchin is an
ass, and he taught your son rather to bray than to talk. You'll act
wisely by throwing into the fire that 'Life of St Catherine,' that
prayer for the cure of chilblains and that history of the bugbear,
with which that monk poisoned your son's mind. For the same price
you paid for Friar Ange's lessons, I'll give him my own; I'll teach
him Latin and Greek, and French also, that language which Voiture
and Balzac have brought to perfection. And in such way, by a luck
doubly singular and favourable, this Jacquot Tournebroche will
become learned and I shall eat every day,"
"Agreed!" said my father. "Barbara, bring two goblets. No business
is concluded without the contracting parties having a drink together
as a token of agreement. We will drink here. I'll never in my life
put my legs into the _Little Bacchus_ again, so repugnant have
that cutler and that monk become to me."
The priest rose and, putting his hands on the back of his chair,
said in a slow and serious manner:
"Before all, I thank God, the Creator and Conserver of all things,
for having guided me into this hospitable house. It is He alone who
governs us and we are compelled to recognise His providence in all
matters human, notwithstanding that it is foolhardy and sometimes
incongruous to follow Him too closely. Because being universal He is
to be found in all sorts of encounters, sublime by the conduct which
He keeps, but obscene or ridiculous for the part man takes in it and
which is the only part where they appear to us. And therefore one
must not shout, in the manner of Capuchin monks and goody-goody
women, that God is to be seen in every trifle. Let us praise the
Lord; pray to Him to enlighten me in the teachings I'll give to that
child, and for the rest let us rely on His holy will, without
searching to understand it in all its details."
And raising his goblet, he drank deeply.
"This wine," he said, "infilters into the economy of the human body
a sweet and salutary warmth. It is a liquor worthy to be sung at
Teos and at the Temple by the princes of bacchic poets, Anacreon and
Chaulieu. I will anoint with it the lips of my young disciple."
He held the goblet under my chin and exclaimed:
"Bees of the Academy, come, come and place yourselves in harmonious
swarms on the mouth of Jacobus Tournebroche, henceforth consecrated
to the Muses."
"Oh! Sir Priest," said my mother, "it is a truth that wine attracts
the bees, particularly sweet wine. But it is not to be wished that
those nefarious flies should place themselves on the mouth of my
Jacquot, as their sting is cruel. One day in biting into a peach a
bee stung me on the tongue, and I had to suffer fiendish pains. They
would be calmed only by a little earth, mixed up with spittle, which
Friar Ange put into my mouth in reciting the prayer of St Comis."
The priest gave her to understand that he spoke of bees in an
allegorical sense only. And my father said reproachfully: "Barbe,
you're a holy and worthy woman, but many a time I have noticed that
you have a peevish liking to throw yourself thoughtlessly into
serious conversation like a dog into a game of skittles."
"Maybe," replied my mother. "But had you followed my counsels
better, Léonard, you would have done better. I may not know all the
sorts of bees, but I know how to manage a home and understand the
good manners a man of a certain age ought to practise, who is the
father of a family and standard-bearer of his guild."
My father scratched his ear, and poured some wine for the priest,
who said with a sigh:
"Certainly, in our days, knowledge is not as much honoured in our
kingdom of France, as it had been by the Romans, although
degenerated at the time when rhetoric brought Eugenius to the
Emperor's throne. It is not a rarity in our century to find a clever
man in a garret without fire or candle. _Exemplum ut talpa_--I
am an example."
Thereafter he gave us a narration of his life, which I'll report
just as it came out of his own mouth--that is, as near it as the
weakness of my age allowed me to hear distinctly and hereafter keep
in my memory. I believe I have been able to restore it after the
confidences he gave me at a later time, when he honoured me with his
The Story of the Abbé's Life
"As you see me," he said, "or rather as you do not see me, young,
slender, with ardent eyes and black hair, I was a teacher of liberal
arts at the College of Beauvais under Messrs Dugué, Guérin, Coffin
and Baffier. I had been ordained, and expected to make a big name in
letters. But a woman upset my hopes. Her name was Nicole Pigoreau
and she kept a bookseller's shop at the _Golden Bible_ on the
square near the college. I went there frequently to thumb the books
she received from Holland and also those bipontic editions
illustrated with notes, comments and commentaries of great
erudition. I was amiable and Mistress Pigoreau became aware of it,
which was my misfortune.
"She had been pretty, and still knew how to be pleasing. Her eyes
spoke. One day the Cicero, Livy, Plato and the Aristotle,
Thucydides, Polybius and Varro, the Epictetus, Seneca, Boethius and
Cassiodorus, the Homer, Æschylus. Sophocles, Euripides, Plautus and
Terence, the Diodorus of Sicily and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, St
John Chrysostom and St Basil, St Jerome and St Augustine, Erasmus,
Saumaise, Turnebe and Scaliger, St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure,
Bossuet dragging Ferri with him, Lenain, Godefroy, Mézeray,
Maimbourg, Fabricius, Father Lelong and Father Pitou, all the poets,
all the historians, all the fathers, all the doctors, all the
theologians, all the humanists, all the compilers, assembled high
and low on the walls, became witnesses to our kisses.
"'I could not resist you,' she said to me; 'don't conceive a bad
opinion of me.'
"She expressed her love for me in singular raptures. Once she made
me try on neck and wrist bands of fine lace, and finding them suit
me well she insisted on my accepting them. I did not want to. But on
her becoming irritated by my refusal, which she considered an
offence against love, I finally consented to accept them, afraid to
"My good fortune lasted till I was to be replaced by an officer. I
became spiteful over it, and in the ardour of avenging myself I
informed the College Regents that I did not go any longer to the
_Golden Bible_, for fear of seeing there expositions rather
offensive to the modesty of a young clerical. To say the truth, I
had not to congratulate myself on this contrivance. Madame Pigoreau,
becoming aware of my sayings, publicly accused me of having robbed
her of a set of lace neck and wrist bands. Her false complaint
reached the ears of the College Regents, who had my boxes searched;
therein was found the garment, a matter of considerable value. I was
expelled from college and had, like Hippolyte and Bellerophon, to
put up with the wiles and wickedness of woman.
"Finding myself in the streets with my few rags and my copybooks, I
ran great risk of starving, when, dressed in my clerical suit, I
recommended myself to a Huguenot gentleman, who employed me as
secretary and dictated to me libels on our religion."
"Ah!" exclaimed my father, "that was wrong of your reverence. An
honest man ought not to lend his hand to such abominations. And as
far as I am concerned, although ignorant, and of a working
condition, I cannot bear the smell of Colas' cow."
"You're quite right, my host," continued the priest. "It is the
worst point in my life. The very one I am most sorry for. But my man
was a Calvinist. He employed me to write against Lutherans and
Socinians only; these he could not stand at all, and, I assure you,
he compelled me to treat them worse than ever it was done at the
"Amen," said my father. "Lambs graze together while wolves devour
one the other."
The priest continued his narrative:
"Besides, I did not remain for long with that gentleman, who made
more fuss about the letters of Ulric von Hutten than of the
harangues of Demosthenes, and in whose house water was the only
drink. Afterwards I followed various callings, but all without
success. I became a pedlar, a strolling player, a monk, a valet, and
at last, by resuming my clerical garb, I became secretary to the
Bishop of Séez and edited the catalogue of the precious MSS.
contained in his library. This catalogue consists of two volumes in
folio, which were placed in his gallery, bound in red morocco, with
his crest on and the edges gilded. I venture to say it was a good
"It would have depended on myself alone to get old and grey in
studies and peace with the right reverend prelate, but I became
enamoured of the waiting-maid of the bailiff's lady. Do not blame me
severely. Dark she was, buxom, vivacious, fresh. St Pacomus himself
would have loved her. One day she took a seat in the stage coach to
travel to Paris in quest of luck. I followed her. But I did not
succeed as well as she did. On her recommendation I entered the
service of Mistress de Saint Ernest, an opera dancer, who, aware of
my talents, ordered me to write after her dictation a lampoon on
Mademoiselle Davilliers, against whom she had some grievance. I was
a pretty good secretary, and well deserved the fifty crowns she had
promised me. The book was printed at Amsterdam by Marc-Michel Key,
with an allegoric frontispiece, and Mademoiselle Davilliers received
the first copy of it just when she went on the stage to sing the
great aria of Armida.
"Anger made her voice hoarse and shaky. She sang false and was
hooted. Her song ended, she ran as she was, in powder and hoop
petticoats, to the Intendant of the Privy Purse, who could not
refuse her anything. She fell on her knees before him, shed abundant
tears and shouted for vengeance. And soon it became known that the
blow was struck by Mistress de Saint Ernest.
"Questioned, hard pressed, sharply threatened, she denounced me as
the author, and I was put into the Bastille, where I remained four
years. There I found some consolation in reading Boethius and
"Since then I have kept a public scrivener's stall at the Cemetery
of the Saints Innocent, and lend to servant girls in love a pen,
which should rather have described the illustrious men of Rome and
commented on the writings of the holy fathers. I earn two farthings
for every love letter, and it is a trade by which I rather die than
live. But I do not forget that Epictetus was a slave and Pyrrho a
"Just now, unexpectedly, I have been paid a whole crown for an
anonymous letter. I have not had anything to eat for two days.
Therefore I at once looked out for a cook-shop. From outside in the
street I perceived your illuminated sign and the fire of your
chimney throwing joyful flaming lights on the windows. On your
threshold I smelt delicious odours. I came in, and now, my dear
host, you have the history of my life."
"I have become aware that it is the life of a good man," said my
father, "and with the exception of Colas' cow there is hardly
anything to complain of. Give me your hand! We are friends, what's
"Jérôme Coignard, doctor of divinity, master of arts."
The Pupil of M. Jérôme Coignard--I receive Lessons in Latin Greek
The marvellous in the affairs of mankind is the concatenation of
effects and causes. M. Jérôme Coignard was quite right in saying:
"To consider that strange following of bounds and rebounds wherein
our destinies clash, one is obliged to recognise that God in His
perfection is in want neither of mind nor of imagination nor comic
force; on the contrary He excels in imbroglio as in everything else,
and if after having inspired Moses, David and the Prophets He had
thought it worth while to inspire M. le Sage or the interluders of a
fair, He would dictate to them the most entertaining harlequinade."
And in a similar way it occurred that I became a Latinist because
Friar Ange was taken by the watch and put into ecclesiastical
penance for having knocked down a cutler under the arbour of the
_Little Bacchus_. M. Jérôme Coignard kept his promise. He gave
me lessons and, finding me tractable and intelligent, he took
pleasure in instructing me in the ancient languages.
In but a few years he made me a tolerably good Latinist.
In memory of him I have conceived a gratitude which will not come to
an end but with my life. The obligation I am under to him is easily
to be conceived when I say that he neglected nothing to shape my
heart and soul, together with my intellect. He recited to me the
"Maxims of Epictetus," the "Homilies of St Basil" and the
"Consolations of Boethius." By beautiful extracts he opened to me
the philosophy of the Stoics, but he did not make it appear in its
sublimity without showing its inferiority to Christian philosophy.
He was a subtle theologian and a good Catholic. His faith remained
whole on the ruins of his most beloved illusions, of his most
cherished hopes. His weaknesses, his errors, his faults, none of
which he ever tried to dissemble or to colour, have never shaken his
confidence in the Divine goodness. And to know him well, it must be
known that he took care of his eternal salvation on occasions when,
to all appearance, he cared the least about it. He imbued me with
the principles of an enlightened piety. He also endeavoured to
attach me to virtue as such, and to render it to me, so to say,
homely and familiar by examples drawn from the life of Zeno.
To make me acquainted with the dangers of vice, he went for
arguments to the nearest fountain-head, confessing to me that by
having loved wine and women too much, he had lost the honour of
taking the professor's chair of a college in long gown and square
To these rare merits he joined constancy and assiduity, and he gave
his lessons with an exactitude hardly to be expected of a man given
as he was to the freaks of a strolling life, and always carried away
by a luck less doctoral than picaresque. This zeal was the effect of
his kindness and also of his liking of that good St James's Street,
where he found occasion to satisfy equally the appetites of his body
and intellect. After having given me, during a succulent repast,
some profitable lesson, he indulged in a stroll to the _Little
Bacchus_ and the _Image of St Catherine_, finding in that
narrow piece of ground that which was his paradise--fresh wine and
He became a constant visitor of M. Blaizot the bookseller, who
received him well, notwithstanding that he only used to thumb the
books without ever making the smallest purchase. And it was quite
marvellous to see my good teacher in the most remote part of the
shop, his nose closely buried in some little book recently arrived
from Holland, suddenly raising his head to discourse, as it might
happen, with the same abundant and laughing knowledge, on the plans
of an universal monarchy attributed to the late king, or, it may be,
to the _aventures galantes_ of a financier with a ballet girl.
M. Blaizot was never tired of listening to him. This M. Blaizot was
a little old man, dry and neat, in flea-coloured coat and breeches
and grey woollen stockings. I admired him very much, and could not
think of anything more glorious than, like him, to sell books at the
_Image of St Catherine_.
One recollection of mine gave to M. Blaizot's shop quite a
mysterious charm. It was there, I was still very young, I saw for
the first time the nude figure of a female. I can see her now. It
was an Eve in an illustrated Bible. Her stomach was rather big, her
legs were rather short, and she held converse with a serpent in a
Dutch landscape. The proprietor of this engraving inspired me with a
consideration which grew afterwards when I took, thanks to M.
Coignard, a great liking for books.
At the age of sixteen I knew Latin pretty well, and also a little
Greek. My good teacher said to my father:
"Do you not think, my dear host, that it is rather an indecency to
let a young Ciceronian go about dressed as a scullion?"
"I never thought of it," replied my father.
"It is true," said mother, "that it would be suitable to give our
son a dimity vest. He is of an agreeable appearance, has good
manners and is well taught. He will do honour to his dress."
For a moment my father remained thoughtful and then he asked if it
would be quite suitable for a cook to wear a dimity vest. But M.
Coignard reminded him that, being suckled by the Muses, I would
never become a cook, and that the time was not far off when I should
wear a clerical neckband.
My father sighed, thinking that never would I be the banner-bearer
of the Guild of Parisian Cooks, and my mother became quite
glittering with pleasure and pride at the idea of her son belonging
to the Church.
The first effect my dimity vest produced was to give me a certain
confidence in myself, and to encourage me to get a more complete
idea of women than the one I had from the Eve of M. Blaizot. I
reasonably thought first on Jeannette the hurdy-gurdy player, and on
Catherine the lacemaker, both of whom I saw pass our shop twenty
times a day, showing when it rained, a fine ankle and a tiny foot,
the toes of which turned from one stone to the other. Jeannette was
not so pretty as Catherine. She was somewhat older and less well
dressed. She came from Savoy and did her hair _en marmotte_,
with a checked kerchief covering her head. But her merit was, not to
stick to ceremony and to understand what was wanted of her without
being spoken to. This character agreed well with my timidity. One
evening under the porch of St Benoît le Bétourné, where there are
stone seats all round, she taught me what till then I had not known,
but which she had known for a long time.
But I was not so grateful to her as it should have been my duty to
be, and thought of nothing else but to bring the science she had
taught me to others, prettier ones. As an excuse for my ingratitude
I ought to say that Jeannette the hurdy-gurdy player did not value
her lessons any higher than I did myself, and that she willingly
gave them to every ragamuffin of the district.
Catherine was of more reserved manners. I stood in awe of her and
did not dare to tell her how pretty I considered her to be. She made
me doubly uncomfortable by making game of me and not losing a single
occasion of jeering at me. She teased me by reproaching my chin for
being hairless. I blushed over it and wished to be swallowed by the
earth. On seeing her I affected a sullen mien and chagrin. I
pretended to scorn her. But she was really too pretty for my scorn
to be true.
My Nineteenth Birthday--Its Celebration and the Entrance of M.
On that night, the night of Epiphany and the nineteenth anniversary
of my birth, the sky poured down with the melting snow a cold ill-
humour, penetrating to the bone, while an icy wind made the
signboard of the _Queen Pédauque_ grate, a clear fire, perfumed
by goose grease, sparkled in the shop and the soup steamed in the
tureen on the table; round which M. Jérôme Coignard, my father and
myself were seated. My mother, as was her habit, stood behind her
husband's chair, ready to serve him. He had already filled the
priest's dish when, through the suddenly open door, we saw Friar
Ange, very pale, the nose red, the beard soaked. In his surprise my
father elevated the soup ladle up to the smoked beams of the
My father's surprise was easily explained. Friar Ange, after his
fight with the cutler, had at first disappeared for a lapse of six
months, and now two whole years had passed without his giving any
sign of life. On a certain day in spring he went off with a donkey
laden with relics, and, worse still, he had taken with him Catherine
dressed as a nun. Nobody knew what had become of them, but there was
a rumour at the _Little Bacchus_ that the little friar and the
little sister had had some sort of difference with the authorities
between Tours and Orleans. Without forgetting that one of the vicars
of St Benoît shouted everywhere, and like one possessed, that that
rascal of a Capuchin had stolen his donkey.
"What," exclaimed my father, "this rogue does not lie in a dungeon?
There is then no more justice in this kingdom."
But Friar Ange recited the _Benedicite_ and made the sign of
the cross over the soup-tureen.
"Hola!" continued my father. "Peace to all cant, my beautiful monk!
Confess that you have passed in an ecclesiastical prison at least
one of the two years that your Beelzebub-face has not been seen in
our parish. James Street has been more honest for your absence and
the whole quarter of the town more respectable. Look on that fine
Olibrius, who goes into the fields with the donkey of someone and
the girl of everyone."
"Maybe," replied Friar Ange, eyes on the ground and hands in his
sleeves. "Maybe, Master Léonard, you have Catherine in mind. I have
had the happiness to convert her to a better life, so much and so
well that she ardently wished to follow me, and the relics I was
carrying, and to go with me on some nice pilgrimage, especially to
the Black Virgin of Chartres! I consented under the condition that
she clad herself in ecclesiastical dress, which she did without a
"Hold your tongue!" replied my father, "you are a dissipated fellow.
You have no respect for your cloth. Return to where you came from
and look, if you please, in the street, if Queen Pédauque is
suffering from chilblains."
But my mother made the friar a sign to sit down under the chimney-
mantel, which he softly did.
"One has to forgive much to Capuchins," said the abbé, "because they
sin without malice."
My father begged of M. Coignard not to speak any more of the breed,
the name alone of which burnt his ears.
"Master Léonard," said the priest, "philosophy conducts the soul to
clemency. As far as I am concerned I willingly give absolution to
knaves, rogues and rascals and all the wretched. And more, I owe no
grudge to good people, though in their case there is much insolence.
And if, Master Léonard, like myself, you should have been familiar
with respectable people, you would know that they are not a rap
better than the others, and are often of a less agreeable
companionship. I have been seated at the third table of the Bishop
of Séez and two attendants, both clad in black, were at my sides:
constraint and weariness."
"It must be acknowledged," said my mother, "that the servants of his
Grace had some queer names. Why did he not call them Champagne,
Olive or Frontin as is usual?"
The priest continued:
"It's true, certain persons get easily accustomed to the
inconveniences to be borne by living with the great. There was at
the second table of the bishop a very polite canon who kept on
ceremony till his last moment. When the news of his bodily decline
reached the bishop he went to his room and found him dying. 'Alas,'
said the canon, 'I beg your Grace's pardon to be obliged to die
before your eyes.' 'Do, do! Don't mind me,' said the bishop with the
At this moment my mother brought the roast and put it on the table
with a movement of homely gravity which caused my father some
emotion; with his mouth full he shouted:
"Barbe, you're a holy and worthy woman."
"Mistress," said my dear teacher, "is as a fact to be compared to
the strong women of the scripture. She is a godly wife."
"Thank God!" said my mother, "I have never been a traitor to the
faithfulness I owe unto Léonard Ménétrier, my husband, and I reckon
well, now that the most difficult part is passed, not to fail him
till my last hour is come. I wish he would keep his faith to me as I
keep mine to him."
"Madam, when first I looked on you I could see you to be an honest
woman," replied the priest, "because I have experienced near you a
quietude more connected with heaven than with this world."
My mother, who was simple-minded, but not stupid, understood very
well what he wanted to say, and replied that if he had known her
twenty years ago, he would have found her to be quite another than
she had become in this cookshop, where her good looks had vanished
with the fire of the spit and the fumes of the dishes. And as she
was touched she mentioned that the baker at Auneau had found her to
be so much to his liking that he had offered her cakes every time
she passed his shop. "Besides," she added angrily, "there is neither
girl nor woman ugly enough to be incapable of doing wrong if she had
a fancy to do it."
"This good woman is right," said my father. "I remember when I was a
prentice at the cookshop of the _Royal Goose_ near the Gate of
St Denis, my master, who was then the banner-bearer of the guild, as
I myself am to-day, said to me: 'I'll never be a cuckold, my wife is
too ugly.' This saying gave me the idea to attempt what he thought
to be impossible. I succeeded at my first attempt, one morning when
he went to La Vallée. He spoke the truth, his wife was very ugly,
but high spirited and grateful."
At this anecdote my mother broke out and said that such things ought
not to be told by a father to his wife and son, if he wanted to have
M. Jérôme Coignard, seeing her become red with anger, changed the
conversation with kindly meant ability. He addressed himself
abruptly to Friar Ange, who, hands in his sleeves, sat humbly at the
corner of the fireside:
"Little friar, what kind of relics did you carry on the second
vicar's donkey's back in company with Sister Catherine? Was it your
small clothes you gave the devotees to kiss, in the manner of some
grey friars, of whom Henry Estienne has narrated the adventures?"
"Ah! your reverence," meekly said Friar Ange with the expression of
a martyr suffering for truth, "it was not my small clothes, it was a
foot of St Eustache."
"I should have taken my oath on it, if it would not be a sin to do
so," exclaimed the priest, brandishing the drumstick of a fowl.
"Those Capuchins turn out saints utterly ignored by good authors,
who work on ecclesiastical history. Neither Tillemont nor Fleury
speak of that St Eustache to whom a church is consecrated, very
wrongly, at Paris, when so many saints recognised by writers well
deserving to be believed, are still waiting for a similar honour.
The 'Life of St Eustache' is a tissue of ridiculous fables; the same
is the case of that of St Catherine, who has never existed except in
the imagination of some wicked Byzantine monk. But I do not want to
attack her too hardly, as he is the patroness of men of letters, and
serves as a signboard to the bookshop of that good M. Blaizot, which
is the most delectable abode in this world."
"I also had," continued quickly the little friar, "a rib of St Mary
"Ah! Ah!'" shouted the priest, throwing the chicken bone across the
room, "concerning this one, I do consider her to be very, very holy,
as during her lifetime she gave a fine example of humility."
"You know, madam," he said and took mother's sleeve, "that St Mary
the Egyptian, going on pilgrimage to the sepulchre of our Lord, was
stopped by a deep flowing river, and not possessing a single
farthing to pay for the passage on the ferry-boat she offered to the
boatmen her own body as a payment. What do you say to that, my good
First of all my mother asked if the story was quite true. After she
had been assured that the matter had been printed in a book and
painted on a stained window in the Church of La Jussienne she
"I think," she said, "that one has to be as holy as she was to do
the like without committing a sin. I must say that I should not like
to do it."
"As far as I am concerned," said the priest, "I approve of the
conduct of that saint, quite in accord with the most subtle doctors.
It is a lesson for honest women stubborn in too much pride of their
haughty virtue. Thinking well over it there is some sensuality in
prizing too highly the flesh and guarding excessively what one ought
to despise. There are some matrons to be met with who believe they
have a treasure and who visibly exaggerate the interest God and the
angels may have in them. They believe themselves to be a kind of
natural Holy Sacrament. St Mary the Egyptian was a better judge.
Pretty and divinely shaped as she was, she considered that it would
be all too proud of her flesh to stop in the course of a holy
pilgrimage for a paltry indifferent reason which is no more than a
piece of mortification and far from being a precious jewel. She
humbled herself, madam, and entered by using so admirable a humility
the road of penitence, where she accomplished marvellous works."
"Your reverence," said my mother, "I do not understand you. You are
too learned for me."
"That grand saint." said Friar Ange, "is painted in a state of
nature in the chapel of my convent, and by the grace of God all her
body is covered with long and thick hair. Reproductions of this
picture have been printed, and I'll bring you a fully blessed one,
my dear madam."
Tenderly touched, my mother passed the soup-tureen to him, behind
the back of my teacher. And the holy friar, seated on the cinder
board, silently soaked his bread in the savoury liquid.
"Now is the moment," said my father, "to uncork one of those bottles
which I keep in reserve for the great feasts, which are Christmas,
Twelfth Night, and St Laurence's Day. Nothing is more agreeable than
to drink a good wine quietly at home secure of unwelcome intruders."
Hardly had these words been uttered when the door was opened and a
tall man in black entered the shop in a squall of snow and wind
"A Salamander! A Salamander!"
And without taking notice of anyone he bent over the grate,
rummaging in the cinders with the end of his walking stick, very
much to the detriment of Friar Ange, who coughed fit to give up the
ghost, swallowing the ashes and coal-dust thrown into his soup
plate. And the man in black still continued to rummage in the fire,
shouting, "A Salamander! I see a Salamander!" while the stirred-up
flames made the shadow of his bodily form tremble on the ceiling
like a large bird of prey.
My father was surprised and rather annoyed by the manners of the
visitor. But he knew how to restrain himself. And so he rose, his
napkin under his arm, and went to the fireplace, bending to the
hearth, both his fists on his thighs.
When he had sufficiently considered the disordered fireplace, and
Friar Ange covered with ashes, he said:
"Your lordship will excuse me. I cannot see anything but this paltry
monk, and no Salamander.
"Besides," my father went on, "I have but little regret over it. I
have it from hearsay that it is an ugly beast, hairy and horned,
with big claws."
"What an error!" replied the man in black. "Salamanders resemble
women, or, to speak precisely, nymphs, and they are perfectly
beautiful! But I feel myself rather a simpleton to ask you if you're
able to see this one. One has to be a philosopher to see a
Salamander, and I do not think philosophers could be found in this
"You may be mistaken, sir," said the Abbé Coignard. "I am a Doctor
of Divinity and Master of Arts. I have also studied the Greek and
Latin moralists, whose maxims have strengthened my soul in the
vicissitudes of my life, and I have particularly applied Boethius as
an antidote for the evils of existence. And here near me is Jacobus
Tournebroche, my disciple, who knows the sentences of Publius Syrus
The stranger turned his yellow eyes on the priest, eyes strangely
marked over a nose like the beak of an eagle, and excused himself
with more courtesy than his fierce mien led one to expect, for not
having at once recognised a person of merit, and further he said:
"It is very likely that this Salamander has come for you or your
pupil. I saw it very distinctly in passing along the street before
this cookshop. She would appear better if the fire were fiercer; for
this reason it is necessary to stir the fire vigorously when you
believe A Salamander to be in it."
At the first movement the stranger made to rummage again in the
fire, Friar Ange anxiously covered the soup-tureen with a flap of
his frock and shut his eyes.
"Sir," said the Salamander-man, "allow your young pupil to approach
the fireplace to say if he does not see something resembling a woman
hovering over the flames."
At this very moment the smoke rising under the slab of the chimney
bent itself with a peculiar gracefulness, and formed rotundities
quite likely to be taken for well-arched loins by a rather strangely
strained imagination. Therefore I did not tell an absolute lie by
saying that, maybe, I saw something.
No sooner had I given this reply than the stranger, raising his huge
arm, gave me a straight hander on the shoulder so powerful that I
thought my collar-bone was broken. But at once he said to me, with a
very sweet voice and a benevolent look:
"My child, I have been obliged to give you so strong an impression
that you may never forget that you have seen a Salamander, which is
a sign that your destiny is to become a learned man, perhaps a
magician. Your face also made me surmise favourably of your
"Sir," said my mother, "he learns anything he wants to know and
he'll be a priest if it pleases our Lord."
M. Jérôme Coignard added that I had profited in a certain way by his
lessons, and my father asked the stranger if his lordship would not
be disposed to eat a morsel.
"I am not in want of anything," said the stranger, "and it's easy
for me to go without any food for a year or longer because of a
certain elixir the composition of which is known only to the
philosophical. This faculty is not confined to myself alone, it is
the common property of all wise men, and it is known that the
illustrious Cardan went without food during several years without
being incommoded by it. On the contrary his mind became singularly
vivacious. But still I'll eat what it pleases you to offer me,
simply to please you."
And he took a seat at our little table without any ceremony. At once
Friar Ange also noiselessly pushed his stool between mine and that
of my teacher and sat on it to receive his portion of the partridge
pie my mother was dishing up.
The philosopher having thrown his cape over the back of his seat, we
could see that he wore diamond buttons on his coat. He remained
thoughtful. The shadow of his nose fell on his mouth and his hollow
cheeks went deep into his jaws. His gloomy humour took possession of
the whole company. No other noise was audible but the one made by
the little friar munching his pie.
Suddenly the philosopher said:
"The more I think it over, the more I am convinced that yonder
Salamander came for this lad." And he pointed his knife at me.
"Sir," I replied, "if the Salamanders are really as you say, this
one honours me very much, and I am truly obliged to her. But, to say
the truth, I have rather guessed than seen her, and this first
encounter has only awakened my curiosity without giving me full
Unable to speak at his ease, my good teacher was suffocating.
Suddenly, breaking out very loud, he said to the philosopher:
"Sir, I am fifty-one years old, a master of arts and a doctor of
divinity. I have read all the Greek and Latin authors, who have not
been annihilated either by time's injury or by man's malice, and I
have never seen a Salamander, wherefrom I conclude that no such
"Excuse me," said Friar Ange, half suffocated by partridge pie and
half by dismay; "excuse me! Unhappily some Salamanders do exist and
a learned Jesuit father, whose name I have forgotten, has discoursed
on their apparition. I myself have seen, at a place called St
Claude, at a cottager's, a Salamander in a fireplace close to a
kettle. She had a cat's head, a toad's body and the tail of a fish.
I threw a handful of holy water on the beast, and it at once
disappeared in the air, with a frightful noise like sudden frying
and I was enveloped in acrid fumes, which very nearly burnt my eyes
out. And what I say is so true that for at least a whole week my
beard smelt of burning, which proves better than anything else the
maliciousness of the beast."
"You want to make game of us, little friar," said the abbé. "Your
toad with a cat's head is no more real than the Nymph of that
gentleman, and it is quite a disgusting invention."
The philosopher began to laugh, and said Friar Ange had not seen the
wise man's Salamander. When the Nymphs of the fire meet with a
Capuchin they turn their back on him.
"Oh! Oh!" said my father, bursting out laughing, "the back of a
Nymph is still too good for a Capuchin."
And being in a good humour, he sent a mighty slice of the pie to the
My mother placed the roast in the middle of the table, and took
advantage of it to ask if the Salamanders are good Christians, of
which she had her doubts, as she had never heard that the
inhabitants of fire praised the Lord.
"Madam," replied my teacher, "several theologians of the Society of
Jesus have recognised the existence of a people of incubus and
succubus who are not properly demons, because they do not let
themselves be routed by an aspersion of holy water and who do not
belong to the Church Triumphant; glorified spirits would never have
attempted, as has been the case at Perouse, to seduce the wife of a
baker. But if you wish for my opinion, they are rather the dirty
imaginations of a sneak than the views of a doctor.
"You must hate and bewail that sons of the Church, born in light,
could conceive of the world and of God a less sublime idea than that
formed by a Plato or a Cicero in the night of ignorance and of
paganism. God is less absent, I dare say, from the Dream of Scipio
than from those black tractates of demonology the authors of which
call themselves Christians and Catholics."
"Sir," replied the priest, "I found a very old MS. of Cicero spoke
with effluence and facility, but he was but a commonplace intellect,
and not very learned in holy sciences. Have you ever heard of Hermes
Trismegistus and of the Emerald Table?"
"Sir," replied the priest, "I found a very old MS. of the Emerald
Table in the library of the Bishop of Séez, and I should have
marvelled over it one day or another, but for the chamber-maid of
the bailiff's lady who went to Paris to make her fortune and who
made me ride in the coach with her. There was no witchcraft used,
Sir Philospher, and I only succumbed to natural charms:
'Non facit hoc verbis; facie tenerisque lacertis
Devovet et flavis nostra puella comis.'"
"That's a new proof," said the philosopher, "women are great enemies
of science, and the wise man ought to keep himself aloof from them."
"In legitimate marriage also?" inquired my father.
"Especially in legitimate marriage," replied the philosopher.
"Alas!" my father continued to question, "what remains to your poor
wise men when they feel disposed for a little fun?"
The philosopher replied:
"There remains for them the Salamanders."
At these words Friar Ange raised a frightened nose over his plate
"Don't speak like that, my good sir; in the name of all the saints
of my order, do not speak like that! And do not forget that the
Salamander is naught but the devil, who assumes, as everyone knows,
the most divergent forms, pleasant now and then when he succeeds in
disguising his natural ugliness, hideous sometimes when he shows his
"Take care on your part, Friar Ange," replied the philosopher, "and
as you're afraid of the devil, don't offend him too much and do not
excite him against you by inconsiderate tittle-tattle. You know that
this old Adversary, this powerful Contradictor, has kept, in the
spiritual world, such a power, that God Almighty Himself reckons
with him. I'll say more, God, who was in fear of him, made him His
business man. Be on your guard, little friar, the two understand one
In listening to this speech, the poor Capuchin thought he heard and
saw the devil himself, whom the stranger resembled, pretty near, by
his fiery eyes, his hooked nose, his black complexion and his long
and thin body. His soul, already astonished, became engulfed in a
kind of holy terror, feeling on him the claws of the Malignant, he
began to tremble in all his limbs, hastily put in his wide pockets
all the decent eatables he could get hold of, rose gently and
reached the door by backward steps, muttering exorcisms all the
The philosopher did not take any notice of this. He took from his
pocket a little book covered with horny parchment, which he opened
and presented to my dear teacher and myself. It contained an old
Greek text, full of abbreviations and ligatures which at first gave
me the effect of an illegible scrawl. But M. Coignard, having put on
his barnacles and placed the book at the necessary distance, began
to read the characters easily; they looked more like balls of thread
that had been unrolled by a kitten than the simple and quiet letters
of my St John Chrysostom, out of which I studied the language of
Plato and the New Testament. Having come to the end of his reading
"Sir, this passage is to be translated as: _Those of the Egyptians
who are well informed study first the writings called epistolographia,
then the hieratic, of which the hierogrammatists make use, and
finally the hieroglyphics._"
And then taking off his barnacles and shaking them triumphantly he
"Ah! Ah! Master Philosopher, I am not to be taken as a greenhorn.
This is an extract of the fifth book of the _Stromata_, the
author of which, Clement of Alexandria, is not mentioned in the
martyrology, for different reasons, which His Holiness Benedict XI.
has indicated, the principal of which is, that this Father was often
erroneous in matters of faith. It may be supposed that this
exclusion was not sensibly felt by him, if one takes into
consideration what philosophical estrangement had during his
lifetime inspired this martyr. He gave preference to _exile_
and took care to save his persecutors a crime, because he was a very
honest man. His style of writing was not elegant; his genius was
lively, his morals were pure, even austere. He had a very pronounced
liking for allegories and for lettuces."
The philosopher extended his arm, which seemed to me to be
remarkably elongated as it reached right over the whole of the
table, to take back the little book from the hands of my learned
"It is sufficient," he said, pushing the _Stromata_ back into
his pocket. "I see, reverend sir, that you understand Greek, You
have well translated this passage, at least in a vulgar and literal
sense. I intend to make your and your pupil's fortune; I'll employ
both of you to translate at my house the Greek texts I have received
And turning towards my father, he continued:
"I think, Master Cook, you will consent to let me have your son to
make him a learned man and a great one. Should it be too much for
your fatherly love to give him entirely to me, I would pay out of my
own pocket for a scullion as his substitute in your cookshop."
"As your lordship understands it like that," replied my father, "I
shall not prevent you doing good to my son."
"Always under the condition," said my mother, "that it is not to be
at the expense of his soul. You'll have to affirm on your oath to me
that you are a good Christian."
"Barbe," said my father, "you are a holy and worthy woman, but you
oblige me to make my excuses to this gentleman for your want of
politeness, which is caused less, to say the truth, by the natural
disposition, which is a good one, than by your neglected education."
"Let the good woman have her say," remarked the philosopher, "and
let her be reassured; I am a very religious man."
"That's right!" exclaimed my mother. "One has to worship the holy
name of God."
"I worship all His names, my good lady. He has more than one. He is
called Adonai, Tetragrammaton, Jehovah, Otheres, Athanatos and
Schyros. And there are many more names."
"I did not know," said my mother. "But what you say, sir, does not
surprise me; I have remarked that people of condition have always
more names than the lower people. I am a native of Auneau, near the
town of Chartres, and I was but a child when the lord of our village
left this world for another. I remember very well when the herald
proclaimed the demise of the late lord, he gave him nearly as many
names as you find in the All Saints litany. I willingly believe that
God has more names than the Lord of Auneau had, as His condition is
a much higher one. Learned people are very happy to know them all.
and if you will advance my son Jacques in this knowledge I shall, my
dear sir, be very much obliged to you."
"Well, the matter is understood," said the philosopher, "and you,
reverend sir, I trust it will please you to translate from the
Greek, for salary, let it be understood."
My good tutor, who was collecting all this while the few thoughts in
his brain which were not already desperately mixed up with the fumes
of wine, refilled his goblet, rose and said:
"Sir Philosopher, I heartily accept your generous offer. You are one
of the splendid mortals; it is an honour, sir, for me to be yours.
If there are two kinds of furniture I hold in high esteem, they are
the bed and the table. The table, filled up by turns with erudite
books and succulent dishes, serves as support to the nourishment
both of body and spirit; the bed propitious for sweet repose as well
as for cruel love. He certainly was a divine fellow who gave to the
sons of Deucalion bed and table. If I find with you, sir, those two
precious pieces of furniture, I'll follow your name, as that of my
benefactor, with immortal praise, and I'll celebrate you in Greek
and Latin verses of all sorts of metres."
So he said, and drank deeply.
"That's well," replied the philosopher. "I'll expect both of you to-
morrow morning at my house. You will follow the road to St Germain
till you come to the Cross of the Sablons, from that cross you'll
count one hundred paces, going westward, and you'll find a small
green door in a garden wall. You'll use the knocker which represents
a veiled figure having a finger in her mouth. An old follower will
open the door to you; you'll ask to see M. d'Asterac."
"My son," said my good tutor, pulling my coat sleeve, "put all that
in your memory, put cross, knocker, and the rest, so that we'll be
able to find, to-morrow, the enchanted door. And you, Sir Mæcenas----"
But the philosopher was gone. No one had seen him leaving.
Arrival at the Castle of M. d'Asterac and Interview with the
On the following day at an early hour we walked, my tutor and I, on
the St Germain road. The snow which covered the earth under the
russet light of the sky, rendered the atmosphere dull and heavy. The
road was deserted. We walked in wide furrows between the walls of
orchards, tottering fences and low houses, the windows of which
looked suspiciously on us. And, after having left behind two or
three tumbledown huts built of clay and straw, we saw in the middle
of a disconsolate heath the Cross of the Sablons. At fifty paces
farther commenced a very large park, closed in by a ruined wall,
wherein was the little door, and on it the knocker representing a
horrible-looking figure with a finger in her mouth. We recognised it
easily as the one the philosopher had described, and used the
After some rather considerable time, an old servant opened it and
made us a sign to follow him across the untidy park. Statues of
nymphs, who must have seen the boyhood of the late king, secreted
under tree ivy their gloominess and mutilations. At the end of an
alley, the sloughs of which were covered with snow, stood a castle
of stone and brick, as morose as the one of Madrid, which, oddly
covered by a high slate roof, looked like the castle of the Sleeping
Beauty in the wood.
Following the silent valet, M. Coignard whispered to me:
"I confess, my son, that this lodging has no smiling appearance. It
shows the ruggedness wherein the customs of Frenchmen were still
immured in the time of King Henry IV., and it drives the soul to
gloom and nearly to melancholy by the state of forlornness in which
unhappily it has been left. How much sweeter it would be to climb
the enchanted hillocks of Tusculum with the hope of hearing Cicero
discourse of virtue, under the firs and pines of his villa so dear
to the philosopher! And have you not observed, my boy, that all
along yonder road neither taverns nor hostels are to be met with,
and that it would be necessary to cross the bridge and go up the
hill to the Bergères to get a drink of fresh wine? There is
thereabout a hostel of the _Red Horse_, where, if I remember
well, Madame de St Ernest took me once to dinner in the company of
her monkey and her lover. You can't imagine, Tournebroche, how
excellent the victuals are there. The _Red Horse_ is as well
known for its morning dinners as for the abundance of horses and
carriages which it has on hire. I convinced myself of it when I
followed to the stables a certain wench who seemed to be rather
pretty. But she was not; it would be a truer saying to call her
ugly. But I illuminated her with the colours of my longings. Such is
the condition of men when left to themselves; they err wretchedly.
We are all abused by empty images; we go in chase of dreams and
embrace shadows. In God alone is truth and stability."
Meanwhile we ascended, behind the old servant, the disjointed flight
"Alas!" said my tutor, "I begin to regret your father's cookshop,
where we ate such good morsels while explaining Quintilian."
After having scaled the first flight of large stone stairs, we were
introduced into a saloon, where M. d'Asterac was occupied with
writing near a big fire, in the midst of Egyptian coffins of human
form raised against the walls, their lids painted with sacred
figures and golden faces with long glossy eyes.
Politely M. d'Asterac invited us to be seated and said:
"Gentlemen, I expected you. And as you have both kindly consented to
do me the favour of staying with me, I beg of you to consider this
house as your own. You'll be occupied in translating Greek texts I
have brought back with me from Egypt. I have no doubt you will do
your best to accomplish this task when you know that it is connected
with the work I have undertaken, to discover the lost science by
which man will be re-established in his original power over the
elements. I have no intention of raising the veil of nature and
showing you Isis in her dazzling nudity; but I will entrust you with
the object of my studies without fear that you'll betray the
mystery, because I have confidence in your integrity and also in the
power I have to guess and to forestall all that may be attempted
against me and to dispose for my vengeance of secret and terrible
forces. From the defaults of a fidelity, of which I do not doubt; my
power, gentlemen, assures me of your silence.
"Know then that man came out of Jehovah's hands with that perfect
knowledge he has since lost. He was very powerful and very wise when
he was created, that's to be seen in the books of Moses. But it's
necessary to understand them. Before all it is clear that Jehovah is
not God, but a grand Demon, because he has created this world. The
idea of a God both perfect and creative is but a reverie of a
barbarity worthy of a Welshman or a Saxon. As little polished as
one's mind may be one cannot admit that a perfect being tags
anything to his own perfection, be it a hazelnut. That's common
sense; God has no understanding, as he is endless how could he
understand? He does not create, because he ignores time and space,
which are conditions indispensable to all constructions. Moses was
too good a philosopher to teach that the world was created by God.
He took Jehovah for what he really is--for a powerful Demon, or if
he is to be called anything, for the Demiurgos.
"It follows that Jehovah, creating man, gave him knowledge of the
visible and the invisible world. The fall of Adam and Eve, which
I'll explain to you another day, had not fully destroyed that
knowledge of the first man and the first woman, who passed their
teachings on to their children. Those teachings, on which the
domination of nature relies, have been consigned to the book of
Enoch. The Egyptian priests have kept the tradition which they fixed
with mysterious signs on the walls of the temples and the coffins of
the dead. Moses, brought up in the sanctuary of Memphis, was one of
the initiated. His books, numbering five, perhaps six, contain like
very precious archives the treasures of divine knowledge. You'll
discover there the most beautiful secrets if you have cleared them
of the interpolations which dishonour them; one scorns the literal
and coarse sense, to attach oneself to the most subtle. I have
penetrated to the largest part, as it will appear to you also later
on. Meanwhile, the truth, kept like virgins in the temples of Egypt,
passed to the wizards of Alexandria, who enriched them still more
and crowned them with all the pure gold bequeathed to Greece by
Pythagoras and his disciples, with whom the forces of the air
conversed familiarly. Wherefore, gentlemen, it is convenient to
explore the books of the Hebrews, the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians
and those treatises of the Greeks which are called Gnostic precisely
because they possessed knowledge. I reserve for myself, as is quite
equitable, the most arduous part of this extensive work. I apply
myself to decipher those hieroglyphics which the Egyptians used to
inscribe in the temples of their gods and on the graves of their
priests. Having brought over from Egypt a great number of those
inscriptions, I fathom their sense by means of a key I was able to
discover with Clement of Alexandria.
"The Rabbi Mosaïde, who lives in retirement with me, works on the
re-establishment of the true sense of the Pentateuch. He is an old
man very well versed in magic, who has lived seventeen years shut up
in the crypt of the Great Pyramid, where he read the books of Toth.
Concerning yourselves, gentlemen, I intend to employ your knowledge,
in reading the Alexandrian MSS. which I have collected myself in
great numbers. There you'll find, no doubt, some marvellous secrets,
and I do not doubt that with the help of these three sources of
light-the Egyptian, the Hebrew and the Greek--I'll soon acquire the
means I still want, to command absolutely nature, visible as well as
invisible. Believe me I shall know how to reward your services by
making you in some way participators of my power.
"I do not speak to you of a more vulgar means to recognise them. At
the point I have reached in my philosophical labours, money is for
me but a trifle."
Arrived at this part of M. d'Asterac's discourse my good tutor
interrupted by saying:
"Sir, I'll not conceal from you that this very money, which seems to
be a trifle to you, is for myself a smarting anxiety, because I have
experienced that it is not easy to earn some and remain an honest
man or even otherwise. Therefore I should be thankful for the
assurance you would kindly give on that subject."
M. d'Asterac, with a movement which seemed to remove an invisible
object, gave M. Jerome Coignard the wished-for assurance; for
myself, curious as I was of all I saw, I did not wish for anything
better than to enter into a new life.
At his master's call, the old servant who had opened the door to us
appeared in the study.
"Gentlemen," said our host, "I give you your liberty till dinner at
noon. Meanwhile I should be very much obliged to you for ascending
to the rooms I have had prepared for you, and let me know that there
is nothing wanting for your comfort. Criton will conduct you."
Having assured himself that we were following him, silent Criton
went out and began to ascend the stairs. He went up to the roof
timbers, then, having taken some steps down a long passage, he
indicated to us two very clean rooms where fires sparkled. I could
never have believed that a castle as shattered on the outside, the
front of which showed nothing but cracked walls and dark windows,
was as habitable in some of its inner parts. My first care was to
know where I was. Our rooms looked on the fields, the view from them
embraced the marshy slopes of the Seine, extending up to the Calvary
of Mont Valérien. Eyeing our furniture, I could see, laid out on my
bed, a grey coat, breeches to match and a sword. On the carpet were
buckle shoes neatly coupled, the heels joined and the points
separated just as if they had of themselves the sentiment of a fine
I augured favourably of the liberality of our master, To do him
honour, I dressed very carefully and spread abundantly on my hair
the powder a box full of which I found on a small table. And very
welcome were the laced shirt and white stockings I discovered in one
of the drawers of the chest.
Having put on shirt, stockings, breeches, vest and coat, I walked up
and down my room with hat under the arm, hand on the guard of my
sword, thinking all the time on the looking-glass, and regretting
that Catherine, the lace-maker, could not see me in such finery.
In this way I was occupied for a little while, when M. Jerome
Coignard came into my room with a new neckband and very respectable
"Tournebroche," he exclaimed, "is it you, my boy? Never forget that
you owe these fine clothes to the knowledge I have given you. They
fit a humanist like yourself, as who says humanities says also
elegance. But look on me and say if I have a good mien. In this
dress I consider myself to be a very honest man. This M. d'Asterac
seems to be tolerably magnificent. It's a pity he's mad. Wise he is
in one way, as he calls his valet Criton, which means judge. And
it's very true that our valets are the witnesses of all our actions.
When Lord Verulam, Chancellor of England, whose philosophy I esteem
but little, entered the great hall to be tried, his lackeys, who
were clad with an opulence by which the copiousness of the
Chancellor's household could be judged, rose to render him due
honour. Lord Verulam said to them: 'Sit down, your rising is my
falling.' As a fact, those knaves, by their extravagance, had pushed
him to ruin and compelled him to do things for which he was indicted
as a peculator. Tournebroche, my boy, always remember this
misfortune of Lord Verulam, Chancellor of England and author of the
'Novum Organum.' But to return to that Sire d'Asterac, in whose
service we are; it is a great pity that he is a sorcerer and given
to cursed science. You know, my boy, I pride myself on my delicacy
in matters of faith I find it hard to serve a cabalist who turns our
Holy Scriptures upside down under the pretext to understand them
better that way. However, if he is, as his name and speech indicate,
a Gascon nobleman, we have nothing to be afraid of. A Gascon may
make a contract with the devil and you may be sure that the devil
will be done."
The dinner bell interrupted our conversation.
But while descending the stairs, my kind tutor said: "Tournebroche,
my boy, remember, during the whole meal, to follow all my movements,
to enable you to imitate them. Having dined at the third table of
the Bishop of Seez, I know how to do it. It's a difficult art. It's
harder to dine than to speak like a gentleman."
Dinner and Thoughts on Food
We found in the dining-room a table laid for three, where M.
d'Asterac made us take our places.
Criton, who acted as butler, served us with jellies, and thick soup
strained a dozen times. But we could not see any joints. As well as
we could, my kind tutor and myself tried to hide our surprise. M.
d'Asterac guessed it and said:
"Gentlemen, this is only an attempt, and may seem to you an
unfortunate one. I shall not persist in it. I'll have some more
customary dishes served for you and I shall not disdain to partake
of them. If the dishes I offer you to-day are badly prepared, it is
less the fault of my cook than that of chemistry, which is still in
its infancy. But they will at all events give you an idea of what
will be in the future. At present men eat without philosophy. They
do not nourish themselves like reasonable beings. They do not think
of such. But of what are they thinking? Most of them live in
stupidity and actually those who are capable of reflection occupy
their minds with silly things like controversies and poetry.
Consider mankind, gentlemen, at their meals since the far-away times
when they ceased their intercourse with Sylphs and Salamanders.
Abandoned by the genii of the air they grew heavy and dull in
ignorance and barbarity Without policy and without art they lived,
nude and miserable, in caverns, on the border of torrents or in the
trees of the forest. The chase was their only industry. After having
surprised or captured by quickness a timid animal, they devoured
that prey still palpitating.
"They also fed on the flesh of their companions and infirm
relatives; the first sepulchres of human beings were living graves,
famished and insensible intestines. After long fierce centuries a
divine man made his appearance: the Greeks call him Prometheus. It
cannot be doubted that this sage had intercourse in the homes of the
Nymphs with the Salamander folks. He learnt of them and showed to
the unhappy mortals the art of producing and conserving fire. Of all
the innumerable advantages that men have drawn from this celestial
present, one of the happiest was the possibility of cooking food,
and by this treatment, to render it lighter and more subtle. And
it's in a large part due to the effect of a nourishment submitted to
the action of the flame that slowly and by degrees mankind became
intelligent, industrious, meditative and apt to cultivate the arts
and sciences. But that was only a first step, and it is grievous to
think that so many millions of years had to pass before a second
step was made. From the time when our ancestors toasted beasts'
quarters on fires of brambles in the shelter of a rock, we have not
made any true progress in cooking, for sure, gentlemen, you cannot
put a higher value on the inventions of Lucullus and that gross pie
to which Vitellius gave the name of Shield of Minerva than on our
roasts, patties, stews, our stuffed meats and all the fricassees
which still suffer from the ancient barbarity.
"At Fontainebleau, the king's table, where a whole stag is dished up
in his skin and his antlers, presents to the eye of the philosopher
a spectacle as rude as that of the troglodytes, cowering round the
smoking cinders, gnawing horse bones. The brilliant paintings of the
hall, the guards, the richly clad officers, the musicians playing
the melodies of Lambert and Lulli in the gallery, the golden
goblets, the silver plate, the silken tablecloth, the Venetian
glass, the chased epergnes full of rare flowers, the heavy
candlesticks--they cannot change, cannot lend a dissimulating charm
to the true nature of this unclean charnel-house, where men and
women assemble over animal bodies, broken bones and torn meats to
gloat greedily over them. Oh, what unphilosophical nourishment! We
swallow with stupid gluttony muscle, fat and intestines of beasts
without discerning in those substances such parts as are truly
adapted to our nourishment and those much more abundant which we
ought to reject; and we fill our stomach indiscriminately with good
and bad, useful and injurious. That's the very point, where a
separation is to be made, and, if the whole medical faculty could
boast of a chemist and philosopher, we should no more be compelled
to partake of such disgusting feasts.
"They would prepare for us, gentlemen, distilled meats, containing
nothing but what is in sympathy and affinity with our body. Nothing
would be used but the quintessence of oxen and pigs, the elixir of
partridges and capons, and all that is swallowed could be digested.
I do not give up all hope, gentlemen, of obtaining such results by
thinking somewhat deeper over chemistry and medicine than I have had
leisure to do up till now."
At these words of our host, M. Jérôme Coignard, raising his eyes
over the thin black broth in his plate, looked uneasily at M.
d'Asterac, who continued to say:
"But that would still be quite insufficient progress. No honest man
can eat animal flesh without disgust, and people cannot call
themselves refined as long as they keep slaughter-houses and
butchers' shops in their towns. But the day will come when we shall
know exactly the nourishing elements contained in animal carcasses,
and it will become possible to extract those very same elements from
bodies without life, and which will furnish an abundance of them.
Those bodies without life contain, as a fact, all that is to be
found in living beings, because the animal has been built up by the
vegetable, which has itself drawn the substance out of the inert
"Then people will feed on extracts of metal and mineral conveniently
treated by physicians. I have no doubt but that the taste of them
will be exquisite and the absorption salutary. Cookery will be done
in retorts and stills and alchemists will be our cooks. Are you not
impatient, gentlemen, to see such marvels? I promise them to you at
a very near time. But you are not able at present to unravel the
excellent effects that they will produce."
"In truth, sir, I do not unravel them," said my kind tutor, and had
a long draught of wine.
"If such is the case," said M. d'Asterac, "listen to me for a
moment. No more burdened with slow digestions, mankind will become
marvellously active, their sight will become singularly piercing,
and they will see the ships gliding on the seas of the moon. Their
understanding will be clearer, their ways softer. They will greatly
advance in their knowledge of God and nature.
"But it also seems necessary to look forward on all the changes
which cannot fail to occur. Even the structure of the human body
will be modified. It is an uncontradictable fact that without
exercise all organs flatten and end by disappearing altogether. It
has been observed that fishes deprived of light become blind. I
myself have seen in Valais that shepherds who fed on curdled milk
lost their teeth very early; some of them never had any at all, When
men feed on the balms I have spoken of, their intestines will be
shortened by ells and the volume of the stomach will shrink
"For once, sir," said my tutor, "you go too quickly and risk making
a mess of it. I never considered it to be disagreeable when women
get a little corporation, especially if all the remainder of her
body is well proportioned. It's a kind of beauty I'm rather partial
to. Do not transform it inconsiderately."
"No matter, we'll leave woman's body and flanks formed after the
canons of the Greek sculptors. That will be to give you pleasure,
reverend sir, and also in due consideration of the labours of
maternity. It is true, I intend in that case also, to make several
changes of which I'll speak to you on a future day. But to return to
our subject. I have to acknowledge that all I have till now
predicted is nothing but a preparatory measure for the real
nourishment, which is that of the Sylphs and all aerial spirits.
They drink light, which is sufficient to give to their bodies
marvellous strength and subtility. It is their only potion, one day
it will be ours also. Nothing more is to be done than to render the
rays of the sun drinkable. I confess that I do not see with
sufficient clearness the means to arrive at it, and I do foresee
many encumbrances and great obstacles on the road. But whensoever
some sage shall be able to do it, mankind will be the equal of
Sylphs and Salamanders in intelligence and beauty."
My good tutor listened to these words, folded in himself, his head
sadly lowered. He seemed to contemplate the changes to himself from
the kind of food imagined by our host.
"Sir," he said after a while, "did you not speak at yonder cookshop
of an elixir which dispenses with all kinds of food?"