JASMIN Barber, Poet, Philanthropist
by Samuel Smiles, LL.D.
“Il rasait bien, il chantait. . . . Si la France possedait dix poetes comme Jasmin, dix poetes de cette influence, elle n’aurait pas a craindre de revolutions.”–Sainte-Beuve
CHAPTER I. Agen–Jasmins Boyhood
Description of Agen
Statue of Jasmin
Birth of Jasmin
Poverty of the Family
Jasmin’s Father and Mother
Playing at Soldiers
The Spinning Women
Old Boe carried to the Hospital
Death of Boe
CHAPTER II. Jasmin at School
Jasmin enters the Seminary
His Naughty Trick
Tumbles from a Ladder
Expelled from the Seminary
His Mother sells her Wedding-ring for Bread The Abbe Miraben
Jasmin a Helpful Boy
CHAPTER III. Barber and Hair-dresser
Reading in his Garret
His First Books
Begins to Rhyme
The Poetic Nature
Barbers and Poetry
Importance of the Barber
Jasmin first Theatrical Entertainment Under the Tiles
Talent for Recitation
Jasmin begins Business
CHAPTER IV. Jasmin and Mariette
Falls in Love
Marries Mariette Barrere
Jasmin’s Marriage Costume
Prosperity in Business
Mariette dislikes Rhyming
Visit of Charles Nodier
The Pair Reconciled
Mariette encourages her Husband
Jasmin at Home
The “rivulet of silver”
Jasmin buys his House on the Gravier Becomes Collector of Taxes
CHAPTER V. Jasmin and Gascon
Jasmin first Efforts at Verse-making
The People Conservative of old Dialects Jasmin’s study of Gascon
Langue d’Oc and Langue d’Oil
Antiquity of Languages in Western Europe The Franks
Language of Modern France
Language of the Troubadours
Gascon and Provencal
Jasmin begins to write in Gascon
Jasmin’s ‘Me cal Mouri’
Miss Costello’s translation
Jasmin publishes First Volume of ‘The Curl-papers’ (Papillotos)
CHAPTER VI. Beranger–‘Mes Souvenirs’–P. De Musset
The ‘Third of May’
Statue of Henry IV
Jasmin’s Ode in Gascon approved
A Corporal in the National Guard
Letter to Beranger
Recollections of his past Life
Lines on the Banished Poles
Saint-Beuve on Jasmin’s Poems
Second Volume of the ‘Papillotos’ published Interview with Paul de Musset
CHAPTER VII. ‘The Blind Girl of Castel-cuille’
A Poetical Legend
Translated into English by Lady Georgiana Fullerton and Longfellow
Description of Castel-cuille
The Story of Marguerite
The Bridal Procession to Saint-Amans Presence of Marguerite
The Poem first recited at Bordeaux
Popularity of the Author
Fetes and Banquets
Declines to visit Paris
Picture of Mariette
A Wise and Sensible Wife
Private recitation of his Poems
A Happy Pair
Eloquence of Jasmin
CHAPTER VIII. Jasmin as Philanthropist.
Charity a Universal Duty
Want of Poor-Law in France
Appeals for Help in Times of Distress Jasmin Recitations entirely Gratuitous
Famine in the Lot-et-Garonne
Composition of the Poem ‘Charity’
Respect for the Law
Collection at Tonneins
Jasmin assailed by Deputations
His Reception in the Neighbouring Towns Appearance at Bergerac
His Noble Missions
CHAPTER IX. Jasmin’s ‘Franconnette’
Composition of the Poem
Expostulations of M. Dumon
Jasmin’s Defence of the Gascon Dialect Jasmin and Dante
‘Franconnette’ dedicated to Toulouse Outline of the Story
Castle of Estellac
Marcel and Pascal
‘The Syren with a Heart of Ice’
Festival on Easter Morning
The Crown Piece
Storm at Notre Dame
The Villagers determine to burn Franconnette Her Deliverance and Marriage
CHAPTER X. Jasmin’s at Toulouse.
‘Franconnette’ Recited first at Toulouse Received with Acclamation
Academy of Jeux-Floraux
Jasmin Eloquent Declamation
Publication of ‘Franconnette’
M. de Lavergne
Testimonial to Jasmin
Death of Jasmin’s Mother
Readings in the Cause of Charity
CHAPTER XI. Jasmin’s visit to Paris.
Visits Paris with his Son
Wonders of Paris
Letters to Agen
Visit to Sainte-Beuve
Charles Nodier, Jules Janin
Landlord of Jasmin’s Hotel
Recitation before Augustin Thierry and Members of the Academy Career of the Historian
His Farewell to Literature
CHAPTER XII. Jasmin’s recitations in Paris.
Assembly at Augustin Thierry’s
The ‘Blind Girl’ Recited
The Girl’s Blindness
Interruptions of Thierry
Jasmin’s love of Applause
Fetes at Paris
Visit to Louis Philippe and the Duchess of Orleans Recitals before the Royal Family
Souvenirs of the Visit
Banquet of Barbers and Hair-dressers M. Chateaubriand
Return to Agen
CHAPTER XIII. Jasmin’s and his English critics.
Translation of his Poems
Miss Costello’s Visit to Jasmin
Her Description of the Poet
Her renewed Visit
A Pension from the King
Proposed Journey to England
The Westminster Review
Angus B. Reach’s Interview with Jasmin His Description of the Poet
His Charitable Collections for the Poor Was he Quixotic?
His Vivid Conversation
His Array of Gifts
The Dialect in which he Composes
CHAPTER XIV. Jasmin’s tours of philanthropy
Appeals from the Poor and Distressed
His Journeys to remote places
The Orphan Institute of Bordeaux
‘The Shepherd and the Gascon Poet’
The Orphan’s Gratitude
Helps to found an Agricultural Colony Jasmin Letter
His Numerous Engagements
Society of Arts and Literature
His Strength of Constitution
Refusal to shave a Millionaire
Jasmin Cheerful Help
Their Tour in the South of France
At Marseilles again
Gratitude of Mademoiselle Roaldes
Reboul at Nimes
Dumas and Chateaubriand
Letters from Madame Lafarge
CHAPTER XV. Jasmin’s Vineyard–‘Martha the Innocent’
Jasmin buys a little Vineyard, his ‘Papilloto’ ‘Ma Bigno’ dedicated to Madame Veill
Description of the Vineyard
The Happiness it Confers
M. Rodiere, Toulouse
Jasmin’s Slowness in Composition
A Golden Medal struck in his Honour A Pension Awarded him
Made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour Serenades in the Gravier
Honour from Pope Pius IX
‘Martha the Innocent’
Description of the Narrative
Jasmin and Martha
Another Visit to Toulouse
Dax, Gers, Condon
Challenge of Peyrottes
His further Poems
‘La Semaine d’um Fil’ described
Dedicated to Lamartine
CHAPTER XVI. The Priest without a Church.
Ruin of the Church at Vergt
Description of Vergt
Jasmin Appealed to for Help
The Abbe and Poet
Meeting at Perigueux
Fetes and Banquets
Montignac, Sarlat, Nontron, Bergerac Consecration of the Church
‘A Priest without a Church’
Assailed by Deputations
St. Vincent de paul
A Priest and his Parishioners
The Church of Vergt again
Another Tour for Offerings
Creche at Bordeaux
Revolution of 1848
Abbe and Poet recommence their Journeys Jasmin invited to become a Deputy
Declines, and pursues his Career of Charity
CHAPTER XVII. The Church of Vergt again–French Academy– Emperor and Empress
Renewed Journeys Journeys for Church of Vergt Arcachon
A Troupe of poor Comedians Helped
Towns in the South
Jasmin’s Bell-Tower erected
The French Academy
M. Villemain to Jasmin
M. de Montyon’s Prize
M. Ancelo to Jasmin
Visit Paris again
Banquet by Les Deux Mondes Reviewers Marquise de Barthelemy, described in ‘Chambers’ Journal Description of Jasmin and the Entertainment Jasmin and the French Academy
Visit to Louis Napoleon
Intercedes for return of M. Baze
Again Visits Paris
Louis Napoleon Emperor, and Empress Eugenie The Interview
M. Baze Restored to his Family at Agen The Church of Vergt Finished, with Jasmin Bells
CHAPTER XVIII. Jasmin enrolled Maitre-es-Jeux at toulouse –crowned by Agen
Jasmin invited to Toulouse
Enrolled as Maitre-es-Jeux
The Ceremony in the Salle des Illustres Jasmin acknowledgment
The Crowd in the Place de Capitol
Agen awards him a Crown of Gold
Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
Construction of the Crown
The Public Meeting
Address of M. Noubel, Deputy
Jasmin’s Poem, ‘The Crown of My Birthplace’
CHAPTER XIX. Last poems–more missions of charity
His ‘New Recollections’
Journey to Albi and Castera
Montignac, Saint Macaire
Saint Andre, Monsegur
Recitation at Arcachon
Societies of Mutual Help
‘Imitation of Christ’ Testimony from Bishop of Saint Flour Jasmin’s Self-denial
Collects about a Million and a half of Francs for the Poor Expenses of his Journey of fifty Days
His Faithful Record
Jasmin at Rodez
His last Recital at Villeneuve-sur-Lot
CHAPTER XX. Death of Jasmin–his character.
Jasmin’s Illness from Overwork and Fatigue Last Poem to Renan
Receives the Last Sacrament
Takes Leave of his Wife
His Death, at Sixty-five
His Public Funeral
M. Noubel, Deputy; Capot and Magen
Inauguration of Bronze Statue
Character of Jasmin
His Love of Truth
His Fellow-Feeling for the Poor
His Pride in Agen
His Loyalty and Patience
Charity his Heroic Programme
His long Apostolate
Jasmin Defence of the Gascon Dialect
The Mason’s Son
The Poor Man’s Doctor
My attention was first called to the works of the poet Jasmin by the eulogistic articles which appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes, by De Mazade, Nodier, Villemain, and other well-known reviewers.
I afterwards read the articles by Sainte-Beuve, perhaps the finest critic of French literature, on the life and history of Jasmin, in his ‘Portraits Contemporains’ as well as his admirable article on the same subject, in the ‘Causeries du Lundi.’
While Jasmin was still alive, a translation was published by the American poet Longfellow, of ‘The Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille,’ perhaps the best of Jasmin’s poems. In his note to the translation, Longfellow said that “Jasmin, the author of this beautiful poem, is to the South of France what Burns is to the South of Scotland, the representative of the heart of the people; one of those happy bards who are born with their mouths full of birds (la bouco pleno d’aouvelous). He has written his own biography in a poetic form, and the simple narrative of his poverty, his struggles, and his triumphs, is very touching. He still lives at Agen, on the Garonne; and long may he live there to delight his native land with native songs.”
I had some difficulty in obtaining Jasmin’s poems; but at length I received them from his native town of Agen. They consisted of four volumes octavo, though they were still incomplete. But a new edition has since been published, in 1889, which was heralded by an interesting article in the Paris Figaro.
While at Royat, in 1888, I went across the country to Agen, the town in which Jasmin was born, lived, and died. I saw the little room in which he was born, the banks of the Garonne which sounded so sweetly in his ears, the heights of the Hermitage where he played when a boy, the Petite Seminaire in which he was partly educated, the coiffeur’s shop in which he carried on his business as a barber and hair-dresser, and finally his tomb in the cemetery where he was buried with all the honours that his towns-fellows could bestow upon him.
From Agen I went south to Toulouse, where I saw the large room in the Museum in which Jasmin first recited his poem of ‘Franconnette’; and the hall in the Capitol, where the poet was hailed as The Troubadour, and enrolled member of the Academy of Jeux Floraux–perhaps the crowning event of his life.
In the Appendix to this memoir I have endeavoured to give translations from some of Jasmin’s poems. Longfellow’s translation of ‘The Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille’ has not been given, as it has already been published in his poems, which are in nearly every library. In those which have been given, I have in certain cases taken advantage of the translations by Miss Costello Miss Preston (of Boston, U.S.), and the Reverend Mr. Craig, D.D., for some time Rector of Kinsale, Ireland.
It is, however, very difficult to translate French poetry into English. The languages, especially the Gascon, are very unlike French as well as English. Hence Villemain remarks, that “every translation must virtually be a new creation.” But, such as they are, I have endeavoured to translate the poems as literally as possible. Jasmin’s poetry is rather wordy, and requires condensation, though it is admirably suited for recitation. When other persons recited his poems, they were not successful; but when Jasmin recited, or rather acted them, they were always received with enthusiasm.
There was a special feature in Jasmin’s life which was altogether unique. This was the part which he played in the South of France as a philanthropist. Where famine or hunger made its appearance amongst the poor people–where a creche, or orphanage, or school, or even a church, had to be helped and supported Jasmin was usually called upon to assist with his recitations. He travelled thousands of miles for such purposes, during which he collected about 1,500,000 francs, and gave the whole of this hard-earned money over to the public charities, reserving nothing for himself except the gratitude of the poor and needy. And after his long journeyings were over, he quietly returned to pursue his humble occupation at Agen. Perhaps there is nothing like this in the history of poetry or literature. For this reason, the character of the man as a philanthropist is even more to be esteemed than his character as a poet and a song-writer.
The author requests the indulgence of the reader with respect to the translations of certain poems given in the Appendix. The memoir of Jasmin must speak for itself.
London, Nov. 1891.
Agen is an important town in the South of France, situated on the right bank of the Garonne, about eighty miles above Bordeaux. The country to the south of Agen contains some of the most fertile land in France. The wide valley is covered with vineyards, orchards, fruit gardens, and corn-fields.
The best panoramic view of Agen and the surrounding country is to be seen from the rocky heights on the northern side of the town. A holy hermit had once occupied a cell on the ascending cliffs; and near it the Convent of the Hermitage has since been erected. Far underneath are seen the red-roofed houses of the town, and beyond them the green promenade of the Gravier.
From the summit of the cliffs the view extends to a great distance along the wide valley of the Garonne, covered with woods, vineyards, and greenery. The spires of village churches peep up here and there amongst the trees; and in the far distance, on a clear day, are seen the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees.
Three bridges connect Agen with the country to the west of the Garonne–the bridge for ordinary traffic, a light and elegant suspension bridge, and a bridge of twenty-three arches which carries the lateral canal to the other side of the river.
The town of Agen itself is not particularly attractive. The old streets are narrow and tortuous, paved with pointed stones; but a fine broad street–the Rue de la Republique–has recently been erected through the heart of the old town, which greatly adds to the attractions of the place. At one end of this street an ideal statue of the Republic has been erected, and at the other end a life-like bronze statue of the famous poet Jasmin.
This statue to Jasmin is the only one in the town erected to an individual. Yet many distinguished persons have belonged to Agen and the neighbourhood who have not been commemorated in any form. Amongst these were Bernard Palissy, the famous potter; Joseph J. Scaliger, the great scholar and philologist; and three distinguished naturalists, Boudon de Saint-Aman, Bory de Saint-Vincent, and the Count de Lacepede.
The bronze statue of Jasmin stands in one of the finest sites in Agen, at one end of the Rue de la Republique, and nearly opposite the little shop in which he carried on his humble trade of a barber and hairdresser. It represents the poet standing, with his right arm and hand extended, as if in the act of recitation.
How the fame of Jasmin came to be commemorated by a statue erected in his native town by public subscription, will be found related in the following pages. He has told the story of his early life in a bright, natural, and touching style, in one of his best poems, entitled, “My Recollections” (Mes Souvenirs), written in Gascon; wherein he revealed his own character with perfect frankness, and at the same time with exquisite sensibility.
Several of Jasmin’s works have been translated into English, especially his “Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille, by Longfellow and Lady Georgina Fullerton. The elegant translation by Longfellow is so well known that it is unnecessary to repeat it in the appendix to this volume. But a few other translations of Jasmin’s works have been given, to enable the reader to form some idea of his poetical powers.
Although Jasmin’s recitations of his poems were invariably received with enthusiastic applause by his quick-spirited audiences in the South of France, the story of his life will perhaps be found more attractive to English readers than any rendering of his poems, however accurate, into a language different from his own. For poetry, more than all forms of literature, loses most by translation–especially from Gascon into English. Villemain, one of the best of critics, says: “Toute traduction en vers est une autre creation que l’original.”
We proceed to give an account–mostly from his own Souvenirs –of the early life and boyhood of Jasmin. The eighteenth century, old, decrepit, and vicious, was about to come to an end, when in the corner of a little room haunted by rats, a child, the subject of this story, was born. It was on the morning of Shrove Tuesday, the 6th of March, 1798,–just as the day had flung aside its black night-cap, and the morning sun was about to shed its rays upon the earth,–that this son of a crippled mother and a humpbacked tailor first saw the light. The child was born in a house situated in one of the old streets of Agen–15 Rue Fon-de-Rache–not far from the shop on the Gravier where Jasmin afterwards carried on the trade of a barber and hairdresser.
“When a prince is born,” said Jasmin in his Souvenirs, “his entrance into the world is saluted with rounds of cannon, but when I, the son of a poor tailor made my appearance, I was not saluted even with the sound of a popgun.” Yet Jasmin was afterwards to become a king of hearts! A Charivari was, however, going on in front of a neighbour’s door, as a nuptial serenade on the occasion of some unsuitable marriage; when the clamour of horns and kettles, marrow-bones and cleavers, saluted the mother’s ears, accompanied by thirty burlesque verses, the composition of the father of the child who had just been born.
Jacques Jasmin was only one child amongst many. The parents had considerable difficulty in providing for the wants of the family, in food as well as clothing. Besides the father’s small earnings as a tailor of the lowest standing, the mother occasionally earned a little money as a laundress. A grandfather, Boe, formed one of the family group. He had been a soldier, but was now too old to serve in the ranks, though France was waging war in Italy and Austria under her new Emperor. Boe, however, helped to earn the family living, by begging with his wallet from door to door.
Jasmin describes the dwelling in which this poor family lived. It was miserably furnished. The winds blew in at every corner. There were three ragged beds; a cupboard, containing a few bits of broken plates; a stone bottle; two jugs of cracked earthenware; a wooden cup broken at the edges; a rusty candlestick, used when candles were available; a small half-black looking-glass without a frame, held against the wall by three little nails; four broken chairs; a closet without a key; old Boe’s suspended wallet; a tailor’s board, with clippings of stuff and patched-up garments; such were the contents of the house, the family consisting in all of nine persons.
It is well that poor children know comparatively little of their miserable bringings-up. They have no opportunity of contrasting their life and belongings with those of other children more richly nurtured. The infant Jasmin slept no less soundly in his little cot stuffed with larks’ feathers than if he had been laid on a bed of down. Then he was nourished by his mother’s milk, and he grew, though somewhat lean and angular, as fast as any king’s son. He began to toddle about, and made acquaintances with the neighbours’ children.
After a few years had passed, Jasmin, being a spirited fellow, was allowed to accompany his father at night in the concerts of rough music. He placed a long paper cap on his head, like a French clown, and with a horn in his hand he made as much noise, and played as many antics, as any fool in the crowd. Though the tailor could not read, he usually composed the verses for the Charivari; and the doggerel of the father, mysteriously fructified, afterwards became the seed of poetry in the son.
The performance of the Charivari was common at that time in the South of France. When an old man proposed to marry a maiden less than half his age, or when an elderly widow proposed to marry a man much younger than herself, or when anything of a heterogeneous kind occurred in any proposed union, a terrible row began. The populace assembled in the evening of the day on which the banns had been first proclaimed, and saluted the happy pair in their respective houses with a Charivari. Bells, horns, pokers and tongs, marrow-bones and cleavers, or any thing that would make a noise, was brought into requisition, and the noise thus made, accompanied with howling recitations of the Charivari, made the night positively hideous.
The riot went on for several evenings; and when the wedding-day arrived, the Charivarists, with the same noise and violence, entered the church with the marriage guests; and at night they besieged the house of the happy pair, throwing into their windows stones, brickbats, and every kind of missile. Such was their honeymoon!
This barbarous custom has now fallen entirely into disuse. If attempted to be renewed, it is summarily put down by the police, though it still exists among the Basques as a Toberac. It may also be mentioned that a similar practice once prevailed in Devonshire described by the Rev. S. Baring Gould in his “Red Spider.” It was there known as the Hare Hunt, or Skimmity-riding.
The tailor’s Charivaris brought him in no money.
They did not increase his business; in fact, they made him many enemies. His uncouth rhymes did not increase his mending of old clothes. However sharp his needle might be, his children’s teeth were still sharper; and often they had little enough to eat. The maintenance of the family mainly depended on the mother, and the wallet of grandfather Boe.
The mother, poor though she was, had a heart of gold under her serge gown. She washed and mended indefatigably. When she had finished her washing, the children, so soon as they could walk, accompanied her to the willows along the banks of the Garonne, where the clothes were hung out to dry. There they had at least the benefit of breathing fresh and pure air. Grandfather Boe was a venerable old fellow. He amused the children at night with his stories of military life–
“Wept o’er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done, Shouldered his crutch, and showed how fields were won.”
During the day he carried his wallet from door to door in Agen, or amongst the farmhouses in the neighbourhood; and when he came home at eve he emptied his wallet and divided the spoil amongst the family. If he obtained, during his day’s journey, some more succulent morsel than another, he bestowed it upon his grandson Jacques, whom he loved most dearly.
Like all healthy boys, young Jasmin’s chief delight was in the sunshine and the open air. He also enjoyed the pleasures of fellowship and the happiness of living. Rich and poor, old and young, share in this glorified gladness. Jasmin had as yet known no sorrow. His companions were poor boys like himself. They had never known any other condition.
Just as the noontide bells began to ring, Jasmin set out with a hunch of bread in his hand–perhaps taken from his grandfather’s wallet–to enjoy the afternoon with his comrades. Without cap or shoes he sped’ away. The sun was often genial, and he never bethought him of cold. On the company went, some twenty or thirty in number, to gather willow faggots by the banks of the Garonne.
“Oh, how my soul leapt!” he exclaimed in his Souvenirs, “when we all set out together at mid-day, singing. ‘The Lamb whom Thou hast given me,’ a well known carol in the south. The very recollection of that pleasure even now enchants me. ‘To the Island–to the Island!’ shouted the boldest, and then we made haste to wade to the Island, each to gather together our little bundle of fagots.”
The rest of the vagrants’ time was spent in play. They ascended the cliff towards the grotto of Saint John. They shared in many a contest. They dared each other to do things–possible and impossible. There were climbings of rocks, and daring leaps, with many perils and escapades, according to the nature of boys at play. At length, after becoming tired, there was the return home an hour before nightfall. And now the little fellows tripped along; thirty fagot bundles were carried on thirty heads; and the thirty sang, as on setting out, the same carol, with the same refrain.
Jasmin proceeds, in his Souvenirs, to describe with great zest and a wonderful richness of local colour, the impromptu fetes in which he bore a part; his raids upon the cherry and plum orchards–for the neighbourhood of Agen is rich in plum-trees, and prunes are one of the principal articles of commerce in the district. Playing at soldiers was one of Jasmin’s favourite amusements; and he was usually elected Captain.
“I should need,” he says, “a hundred trumpets to celebrate all my victories.” Then he describes the dancing round the bonfires, and the fantastic ceremonies connected with the celebration of St. John’s Eve.
Agen is celebrated for its fairs. In the month of June, one of the most important fairs in the South of France is held on the extensive promenade in front of the Gravier. There Jasmin went to pick up any spare sous by holding horses or cattle, or running errands, or performing any trifling commission for the farmers or graziers. When he had filled to a slight extent his little purse, he went home at night and emptied the whole contents into his mother’s hand. His heart often sank as she received his earnings with smiles and tears. “Poor child,” she would say, “your help comes just in time.” Thus the bitter thought of poverty and the evidences of destitution were always near at hand.
In the autumn Jasmin went gleaning in the cornfields, for it was his greatest pleasure to bring home some additional help for the family needs. In September came the vintage–the gathering in and pressing of the grapes previous to their manufacture into wine. The boy was able, with his handy helpfulness, to add a little more money to the home store. Winter followed, and the weather became colder. In the dearth of firewood, Jasmin was fain to preserve his bodily heat, notwithstanding his ragged clothes, by warming himself by the sun in some sheltered nook so long as the day lasted; or he would play with his companions, being still buoyed up with the joy and vigour of youth.
When the stern winter set in, Jasmin spent his evenings in the company of spinning-women and children, principally for the sake of warmth. A score or more of women, with their children, assembled in a large room, lighted by a single antique lamp suspended from the ceiling. The women had distaffs and heavy spindles, by means of which they spun a kind of coarse pack-thread, which the children wound up, sitting on stools at their feet. All the while some old dame would relate the old-world ogreish stories of Blue Beard, the Sorcerer, or the Loup Garou, to fascinate the ears and trouble the dreams of the young folks. It was here, no doubt, that Jasmin gathered much of the traditionary lore which he afterwards wove into his poetical ballads.
Jasmin had his moments of sadness. He was now getting a big fellow, and his mother was anxious that he should receive some little education. He had not yet been taught to read; he had not even learnt his A B C. The word school frightened him. He could not bear to be shut up in a close room–he who had been accustomed to enjoy a sort of vagabond life in the open air. He could not give up his comrades, his playing at soldiers, and his numerous escapades.
The mother, during the hum of her spinning-wheel, often spoke in whispers to grandfather Boe of her desire to send the boy to school. When Jasmin overheard their conversation, he could scarcely conceal his tears. Old Boe determined to do what he could. He scraped together his little savings, and handed them over to the mother. But the money could not then be used for educating Jasmin; it was sorely needed for buying bread. Thus the matter lay over for a time.
The old man became unable to go out of doors to solicit alms. Age and infirmity kept him indoors. He began to feel himself a burden on the impoverished family. He made up his mind to rid them of the incumbrance, and desired the parents to put him into the family arm-chair and have him carried to the hospital. Jasmin has touchingly told the incident of his removal.
“It happened on a Monday,” he says in his Souvenirs: “I was then ten years old. I was playing in the square with my companions, girded about with a wooden sword, and I was king; but suddenly a dreadful spectacle disturbed my royalty. I saw an old man in an arm-chair borne along by several persons. The bearers approached still nearer, when I recognised my afflicted grandfather. ‘O God,’ said I, ‘what do I see? My old grandfather surrounded by my family.’ In my grief I saw only him. I ran up to him in tears, threw myself on his neck and kissed him.
“In returning my embrace, he wept. ‘O grandfather,’ said I, ‘where are you going? Why do you weep? Why are you leaving our home?’ ‘My child,’ said the old man, ‘I am going to the hospital, where all the Jasmins die.’ He again embraced me, closed his eyes, and was carried away. We followed him for some time under the trees. I abandoned my play, and returned home full of sorrow.”
Grandfather Boe did not survive long in the hospital. He was utterly worn out. After five days the old man quietly breathed his last. His wallet was hung upon its usual nail in his former home, but it was never used again. One of the bread-winners had departed, and the family were poorer than ever.
“On that Monday,” says Jasmin, “I for the first time knew and felt that we were very poor.”
All this is told with marvellous effect in the first part of the Souvenirs, which ends with a wail and a sob.
Footnotes to Chapter I.
 It is stated in the Bibliographie Generale de l’Agenais, that Palissy was born in the district of Agen, perhaps at La Chapelle Biron, and that, being a Huguenot, he was imprisoned in the Bastille at Paris, and died there in 1590, shortly after the massacre of St. Bartholomew. But Palissy seems to have been born in another town, not far from La Chapelle Biron. The Times of the 7th July, 1891, contained the following paragraph:– “A statue of Bernard Palissy was unveiled yesterday at Villeneuvesur-Lot, his native town, by M. Bourgeois, Minister of Education.”
 L’hopital means an infirmary or almshouse for old and impoverished people.
JASMIN AT SCHOOL.
One joyful day Jasmin’s mother came home in an ecstasy of delight, and cried, “To school, my child, to school!” “To school?” said Jasmin, greatly amazed. “How is this? Have we grown rich?” “No, my poor boy, but you will get your schooling for nothing. Your cousin has promised to educate you; come, come, I am so happy!” It was Sister Boe, the schoolmistress of Agen, who had offered to teach the boy gratuitously the elements of reading and writing.
The news of Jacques’ proposed scholarship caused no small stir at home. The mother was almost beside herself with joy. The father too was equally moved, and shed tears of gratitude. He believed that the boy might yet be able to help him in writing out, under his dictation, the Charivari impromptus which, he supposed, were his chief forte. Indeed, the whole family regarded this great stroke of luck for Jacques in the light of a special providence, and as the beginning of a brilliant destiny. The mother, in order to dress him properly, rummaged the house, and picked out the least mended suit of clothes, in which to array the young scholar.
When properly clothed, the boy, not without fear on his own part, was taken by his mother to school.
Behold him, then, placed under the tuition of Sister Boe! There were some fifty other children at school, mumbling at the letters of the alphabet, and trying to read their first easy sentences. Jasmin had a good memory, and soon mastered the difficulties of the A B C. “‘Twixt smiles and tears,” he says, “I soon learnt to read, by the help of the pious Sister.”
In six months he was able to enter the Seminary in the Rue Montesquieu as a free scholar. He now served at Mass. Having a good ear for music ,he became a chorister, and sang the Tantum ergo. He was a diligent boy, and so far everything prospered well with him. He even received a prize. True, it was only an old cassock, dry as autumn heather. But, being trimmed up by his father, it served to hide his ragged clothes beneath.
His mother was very proud of the cassock. “Thank God,” she said, “thou learnest well; and this is the reason why, each Tuesday, a white loaf comes from the Seminary. It is always welcome, for the sake of the hungry little ones.” “Yes,” he replied, “I will try my best to be learned for your sake.” But Jasmin did not long wear the cassock. He was shortly after turned out of the Seminary, in consequence of a naughty trick which he played upon a girl of the household.
Jasmin tells the story of his expulsion with great frankness, though evidently ashamed of the transaction. He was passing through the inner court one day, during the Shrove Carnival, when, looking up, he caught sight of a petticoat. He stopped and gazed. A strange tremor crept through his nerves. What evil spirit possessed him to approach the owner of the petticoat? He looked up again, and recognised the sweet and rosy-cheeked Catherine–the housemaid of the Seminary. She was perched near the top of a slim ladder leaning against the wall, standing upright, and feeding the feathery-footed pigeons.
A vision flashed through Jasmin’s mind–“a life all velvet,” as he expressed it,–and he approached the ladder. He climbed up a few steps, and what did he see? Two comely ankles and two pretty little feet. His heart burned within him, and he breathed a loud sigh. The girl heard the sigh, looked down, and huddled up the ladder, crying piteously. The ladder was too slim to bear two. It snapped and fell, and they tumbled down, she above and he below!
The loud screams of the girl brought all the household to the spot–the Canons, the little Abbe, the cook, the scullion– indeed all the inmates of the Seminary. Jasmin quaintly remarks, “A girl always likes to have the sins known that she has caused others to commit.” But in this case, according to Jasmin’s own showing, the girl was not to blame. The trick which he played might be very innocent, but to the assembled household it seemed very wicked. He must be punished.
First, he had a terrible wigging from the master; and next, he was sentenced to imprisonment during the rest of the Carnival.
In default of a dungeon, they locked him in a dismal little chamber, with some bread and water. Next day, Shrove Tuesday, while the Carnival was afoot, Jasmin felt very angry and very hungry. “Who sleeps eats,” says the proverb. “But,” said Jasmin, “the proverb lies: I did not sleep, and was consumed by hunger.” Then he filled up the measure of his iniquity by breaking into a cupboard!
It happened that the Convent preserves were kept in the room wherein he was confined. Their odour attracted him, and he climbed up, by means of a table and chair, to the closet in which they were stored. He found a splendid pot of preserves. He opened it; and though he had no spoon, he used his fingers and soon emptied the pot. What a delicious treat he enjoyed enough to make him forget the pleasures of the Carnival.
Jasmin was about to replace the empty pot, when he heard the click-clack of a door behind him. He looked round, and saw the Superior, who had unlocked the door, and come to restore the boy to liberty. Oh, unhappy day! When the Abbe found the prisoner stealing his precious preserves, he became furious. “What! plundering my sweetmeats?” he cried. “Come down, sirrah, come down! no pardon for you now.” He pulled Jasmin from his chair and table, and the empty jar fell broken at his feet. “Get out, get out of this house, thou imp of hell!” And taking Jasmin by the scruff of the neck, he thrust him violently out of the door and into the street.
But worse was yet to come. When the expelled scholar reached the street, his face and mouth were smeared with jam. He was like a blackamoor. Some urchins who encountered him on his homeward route, surmised that his disguise was intended as a masque for the Carnival. He ran, and they pursued him. The mob of boys increased, and he ran the faster. At last he reached his father’s door, and rushed in, half dead with pain, hunger, and thirst. The family were all there–father, mother, and children.
They were surprised and astonished at his sudden entrance. After kissing them all round, he proceeded to relate his adventures at the Seminary. He could not tell them all, but he told enough. His narrative was received with dead silence. But he was thirsty and hungry. He saw a pot of kidney-bean porridge hanging over the fire, and said he would like to allay his hunger by participating in their meal. But alas! The whole of it had been consumed. The pot was empty, and yet the children were not satisfied with their dinner. “Now I know,” said the mother, “why no white bread has come from the Seminary.” Jasmin was now greatly distressed. “Accursed sweetmeats,” he thought. “Oh! what a wretch I am to have caused so much misery and distress.”
The children had eaten only a few vegetables; and now there was another mouth to fill. The fire had almost expired for want of fuel. The children had no bread that day, for the Seminary loaf had not arrived. What were they now to do? The mother suffered cruel tortures in not being able to give her children bread, especially on the home-coming of her favourite scapegrace.
At last, after glancing at her left hand, she rose suddenly. She exclaimed in a cheerful voice, “Wait patiently until my return.” She put her Sunday kerchief on her head, and departed. In a short time she returned, to the delight of the children, with a loaf of bread under her arm. They laughed and sang, and prepared to enjoy their feast, though it was only of bread. The mother apparently joined in their cheerfulness, though a sad pain gnawed at her heart. Jasmin saw his mother hide her hand; but when it was necessary for her to cut the loaf, after making the cross according to custom, he saw that the ring on her left hand had disappeared. “Holy Cross,” he thought, “it is true that she has sold her wedding-ring to buy bread for her children.”
This was a sad beginning of life for the poor boy. He was now another burden on the family. Old Boe had gone, and could no longer help him with his savoury morsels. He was so oppressed with grief, that he could no longer play with his comrades as before. But Providence again came to his aid. The good Abbe Miraben heard the story of his expulsion from the Seminary. Though a boy may be tricky he cannot be perfect, and the priest had much compassion on him. Knowing Jasmin’s abilities, and the poverty of his parents, the Abbe used his influence to obtain an admission for him to one of the town’s schools, where he was again enabled to carry on his education.
The good Abbe was helpful to the boy in many ways. One evening, when Jasmin was on his way to the Augustins to read and recite to the Sisters, he was waylaid by a troop of his old playfellows. They wished him to accompany them to the old rendezvous in the square; but he refused, because he had a previous engagement. The boys then began to hustle him, and proceeded to tear off his tattered clothes. He could only bend his head before his assailants, but never said a word.
At length his good friend Miraben came up and rescued him. He drove away the boys, and said to Jasmin, “Little one, don’t breathe a word; your mother knows nothing. They won’t torment you long! Take up thy clothes,” he said. “Come, poverty is not a crime. Courage! Thou art even rich. Thou hast an angel on high watching over thee. Console thyself, brave child, and nothing more will happen to vex thee.”
The encouragement of the Abbe proved prophetic. No more troubles of this kind afflicted the boy.
The aged priest looked after the well-being of himself and family. He sent them bread from time to time, and kept the wolf from their door. Meanwhile Jasmin did what he could to help them at home. During the vintage time he was well employed; and also at fair times. He was a helpful boy, and was always willing to oblige friends and neighbours.
But the time arrived when he must come to some determination as to his future calling in life. He was averse to being a tailor, seeing the sad results of his father’s trade at home. After consultation with his mother, he resolved on becoming a barber and hairdresser. Very little capital was required for carrying on that trade; only razors, combs, and scissors.
Long after, when Jasmin was a comparatively thriving man, he said: “Yes, I have eaten the bread of charity; most of my ancestors died at the hospital; my mother pledged her nuptial ring to buy a loaf of bread. All this shows how much misery we had to endure, the frightful picture of which I have placed in the light of day in my Souvenirs. But I am afraid of wearying the public, as I do not wish to be accused of aiming too much at contrasts. For when we are happy, perfectly happy, there is nothing further from what I am, and what I have been, as to make me fear for any such misconstruction on the part of my hearers.”
BARBER AND HAIRDRESSER.
Jasmin was sixteen years old when he was apprenticed to a barber and hairdresser at Agen. The barber’s shop was near the Prefecture–the ancient palace of the Bishop. It was situated at the corner of Lamoureux Street and the alley of the Prefecture. There Jasmin learnt the art of cutting, curling, and dressing hair, and of deftly using the comb and the razor. The master gave him instructions in the trade, and watched him while at work. Jasmin was willing and active, and was soon able to curl and shave with any apprentice in Agen.
After the day’s work was over, the apprentice retired to his garret under the tiles. There he spent his evenings, and there he slept at night. Though the garret was infested by rats, he thought nothing of them; he had known them familiarly at home.
They did him no harm, and they even learnt to know him. His garret became his paradise, for there he renewed his love of reading. The solitariness of his life did him good, by throwing his mind in upon himself, and showing the mental stuff of which he was made. All the greatest and weightiest things have been done in solitude.
The first books he read were for the most part borrowed. Customers who came to the shop to be shaved or have their hair dressed, took an interest in the conversation of the bright, cheerful, dark-eyed lad, and some of them lent him books to read. What joy possessed him when he took refuge in his garret with a new book! Opening the book was like opening the door of a new world. What enchantment! What mystery! What a wonderful universe about us!
In reading a new book Jasmin forgot his impoverished boyhood, his grandfather Boe and his death in the hospital, his expulsion from the Seminary, and his mother’s sale of her wedding-ring to buy bread for her children. He had now left the past behind, and a new world lay entrancingly before him. He read, and thought, and dreamed, until far on in the morning.
The first books he read were of comparatively little importance, though they furnished an opening into literature. ‘The Children’s Magazine' held him in raptures for a time. Some of his friendly customers lent him the ‘Fables of Florian,’ and afterwards Florian’s pastoral romance of ‘Estelle’–perhaps his best work. The singer of the Gardon entirely bewitched Jasmin. ‘Estelle’ allured him into the rosy-fingered regions of bliss and happiness. Then Jasmin himself began to rhyme. Florian’s works encouraged him to write his first verses in the harmonious Gascon patois, to which he afterwards gave such wonderful brilliancy.
In his after life Jasmin was often asked how and when he first began to feel himself a poet. Some think that the poetical gift begins at some fixed hour, just as one becomes a barrister, a doctor, or a professor. But Jasmin could not give an answer.
“I have often searched into my past life,” he said, “but I have never yet found the day when I began my career of rhyming.”
There are certain gifts which men can never acquire by will and work, if God has not put the seed of them into their souls at birth; and poetry is one of those gifts.
When such a seed has been planted, its divine origin is shown by its power of growth and expansion; and in a noble soul, apparently insurmountable difficulties and obstacles cannot arrest its development. The life and career of Jasmin amply illustrates this truth. Here was a young man born in the depths of poverty. In his early life he suffered the most cruel needs of existence. When he became a barber’s apprentice, he touched the lowest rung of the ladder of reputation; but he had at least learned the beginnings of knowledge.
He knew how to read, and when we know the twenty-four letters of the alphabet, we may learn almost everything that we wish to know. From that slight beginning most men may raise themselves to the heights of moral and intellectual worth by a persevering will and the faithful performance of duty.
At the same time it must be confessed that it is altogether different with poetical genius. It is not possible to tell what unforeseen and forgotten circumstances may have given the initial impulse to a poetic nature. It is not the result of any fortuitous impression, and still less of any act of the will.
It is possible that Jasmin may have obtained his first insight into poetic art during his solitary evening walks along the banks of the Garonne, or from the nightingales singing overhead, or from his chanting in the choir when a child. Perhaps the ‘Fables of Florian’ kindled the poetic fire within him; at all events they may have acted as the first stimulus to his art of rhyming. They opened his mind to the love of nature, to the pleasures of country life, and the joys of social intercourse.
There is nothing in the occupation of a barber incompatible with the cultivation of poetry. Folez, the old German poet, was a barber, as well as the still more celebrated Burchiello, of Florence, whose sonnets are still admired because of the purity of their style. Our own Allan Ramsay, author of ‘The Gentle Shepherd,’ spent some of his early years in the same occupation.
In southern and Oriental life the barber plays an important part. In the Arabian tales he is generally a shrewd, meddling, inquisitive fellow. In Spain and Italy the barber is often the one brilliant man in his town; his shop is the place where gossip circulates, and where many a pretty intrigue is contrived.
Men of culture are often the friends of barbers. Buffon trusted to his barber for all the news of Montbard. Moliere spent many long and pleasant hours with the barber of Pezenas. Figaro, the famous barber of Seville, was one of the most perfect prototypes of his trade. Jasmin was of the same calling as Gil Bias, inspired with the same spirit, and full of the same talent. He was a Frenchman of the South, of the same race as Villon and Marot.
Even in the prim and formal society of the eighteenth century, the barber occupied no unimportant part. He and the sculptor, of all working men, were allowed to wear the sword–that distinctive badge of gentility. In short, the barber was regarded as an artist. Besides, barbers were in ancient times surgeons; they were the only persons who could scientifically “let blood.” The Barber-Surgeons of London still represent the class. They possess a cup presented to the Guild by Charles II., in commemoration of his escape while taking refuge in the oak-tree at Boscobel.
But to return to the adventures of Jasmin’s early life. He describes with great zest his first visit to a theatre. It was situated near at hand, by the ancient palace of the Bishop. After his day’s work was over–his shaving, curling, and hairdressing–he went across the square, and pressed in with the rest of the crowd. He took his seat.
“‘Heavens!’ said he, ‘where am I?’ The curtain rises! ‘Oh, this is lovely! It is a new world; how beautifully they sing; and how sweetly and tenderly they speak!’ I had eyes for nothing else: I was quite beside myself with joy. ‘It is Cinderella,’ I cried aloud in my excitement. ‘Be quiet,’ said my neighbour. ‘Oh, sir! why quiet? Where are we? What is this?’ ‘You gaping idiot,’ he replied, ‘this is the Comedy!’
“Jasmin now remained quiet; but he saw and heard with all his eyes and ears. ‘What love! what poetry!’ he thought: ‘it is more than a dream! It’s magic. O Cinderella, Cinderella! thou art my guardian angel!’
And from this time, from day to day, I thought of being an actor!”
Jasmin entered his garret late at night; and he slept so soundly, that next morning his master went up to rouse him. “Where were you last night? Answer, knave; you were not back till midnight?” “I was at the Comedy,” answered Jasmin sleepily; “it was so beautiful!” “You have been there then, and lost your head. During the day you make such an uproar, singing and declaiming. You, who have worn the cassock, should blush. But I give you up; you will come to no good. Change, indeed! You will give up the comb and razor, and become an actor! Unfortunate boy, you must be blind. Do you want to die in the hospital?”
“This terrible word,” says Jasmin, “fell like lead upon my heart, and threw me into consternation. Cinderella was forthwith dethroned in my foolish mind; and my master’s threat completely calmed me. I went on faithfully with my work. I curled, and plaited hair in my little room. As the saying goes, S’il ne pleut, il bruine (If it does not rain, it drizzles). When I suffered least, time passed all the quicker. It was then that, dreaming and happy, I found two lives within me–one in my daily work, another in my garret. I was like a bird; I warbled and sang. What happiness I enjoyed in my little bed under the tiles! I listened to the warbling of birds. Lo! the angel came, and in her sweetest voice sang to me. Then I tried to make verses in the language of the shepherd swain. Bright thoughts came to me; great secrets were discovered. What hours! What lessons! What pleasures I found under the tiles!”
During the winter evenings, when night comes on quickly, Jasmin’s small savings went to the oil merchant. He trimmed his little lamp, and went on till late, reading and rhyming. His poetical efforts, first written in French, were to a certain extent successful. While shaving his customers, he often recited to them his verses. They were amazed at the boy’s cleverness, and expressed their delight. He had already a remarkable talent for recitation; and in course of time he became eloquent. It was some time, however, before his powers became generally known. The ladies whose hair he dressed, sometimes complained that their curl papers were scrawled over with writing, and, when opened out, they were found covered with verses.
The men whom he shaved spread his praises abroad. In so small a town a reputation for verse-making soon becomes known. “You can see me,” he said to a customer, “with a comb in my hand, and a verse in my head. I give you always a gentle hand with my razor of velvet. My mouth recites while my hand works.”
When Jasmin desired to display his oratorical powers, he went in the evenings to the quarter of the Augustins, where the spinning-women assembled, surrounded by their boys and girls. There he related to them his pleasant narratives, and recited his numerous verses.
Indeed, he even began to be patronized. His master addressed him as “Moussu,”–the master who had threatened him with ending his days in the hospital!
Thus far, everything had gone well with him. What with shaving, hairdressing, and rhyming, two years soon passed away. Jasmin was now eighteen, and proposed to start business on his own account. This required very little capital; and he had already secured many acquaintances who offered to patronize him. M. Boyer d’Agen, who has recently published the works of Jasmin, with a short preface and a bibliography, says that he first began business as a hairdresser in the Cour Saint-Antoine, now the Cour Voltaire. When the author of this memoir was at Agen in the autumn of 1888, the proprietor of the Hotel du Petit St. Jean informed him that a little apartment had been placed at Jasmin’s disposal, separated from the Hotel by the entrance to the courtyard, and that Jasmin had for a time carried on his business there.
But desiring to have a tenement of his own, he shortly after took a small house alongside the Promenade du Gravier; and he removed and carried on his trade there for about forty years. The little shop is still in existence, with Jasmin’s signboard over the entrance door: “Jasmin, coiffeur des Jeunes Gens,” with the barber’s sud-dish hanging from a pendant in front. The shop is very small, with a little sitting-room behind, and several bedrooms above. When I entered the shop during my visit to Agen, I found a customer sitting before a looking-glass, wrapped in a sheet, the lower part of his face covered with lather, and a young fellow shaving his beard.
Jasmin’s little saloon was not merely a shaving and a curling shop. Eventually it became known as the sanctuary of the Muses. It was visited by some of the most distinguished people in France, and became celebrated throughout Europe. But this part of the work is reserved for future chapters.
Footnotes to Chapter III.
 Magasin des Enfants.
 Mes Nouveaux Souvenirs.
 In England, some barbers, and barber’s sons, have eventually occupied the highest positions. Arkwright, the founder of the cotton manufacture, was originally a barber. Tenterden, Lord Chief Justice, was a barber’s son, intended for a chorister in Canterbury Cathedral. Sugden, afterwards Lord Chancellor, was opposed by a noble lord while engaged in a parliamentary contest. Replying to the allegation that he was only the son of a country barber, Sugden said: “His Lordship has told you that I am nothing but the son of a country barber; but he has not told you all, for I have been a barber myself, and worked in my father’s shop,–and all I wish to say about that
is, that had his Lordship been born the son of a country barber, he would have been a barber still!”
 OEUVRES COMPLETES DE JACQUES JASMIN: Preface de l’Edition,, Essai d’orthographe gasconne d’apres les langues Romane et d’Oc, et collation de la traduction litterale. Par Boyer d’Agen. 1889. Quatre volumes.
JASMIN AND MARIETTE.
Jasmin was now a bright, vivid, and handsome fellow, a favourite with men, women, and children. Of course, an attractive young man, with a pleasant, comfortable home, could not long remain single. At length love came to beautify his existence. “It was for her sake,” he says, “that I first tried to make verses in the sweet patois which she spoke so well; verses in which I asked her, in rather lofty phrases, to be my guardian angel for life.”
Mariette was a pretty dark-eyed girl. She was an old companion of Jasmin’s, and as they began to know each other better, the acquaintance gradually grew into affection, and finally into mutual love. She was of his own class of life, poor and hardworking. After the day’s work was over, they had many a pleasant walk together on the summer evenings, along the banks of the Garonne, or up the ascending road toward the Hermitage and the rocky heights above the town. There they pledged their vows; like a poet, he promised to love her for ever. She believed him, and loved him in return. The rest may be left to the imagination.
Jasmin still went on dreaming and rhyming! Mariette was a lovely subject for his rhymes. He read his verses to her; and she could not but be pleased with his devotion, even though recited in verse. He scribbled his rhymes upon his curl-papers; and when he had read them to his sweetheart, he used them to curl the hair of his fair customers. When too much soiled by being written on both sides, he tore them up; for as yet, he had not the slightest idea of publishing his verses.
When the minds of the young pair were finally made up, their further courtship did not last very long. They were willing to be united.
“Happy’s the wooing that’s not long a-doing.”
The wedding-day at length arrived! Jasmin does not describe his bride’s dress. But he describes his own. “I might give you,” he says in his Souvenirs, “a picture of our happy nuptial day. I might tell you at length of my newly dyed hat, my dress coat with blue facings, and my home-spun linen shirt with calico front. But I forbear all details. My godfather and godmother were at the wedding. You will see that the purse did not always respond to the wishes of the heart.”
It is true that Jasmin’s wedding-garment was not very sumptuous, nor was his bride’s; but they did the best that they could, and looked forward with hope. Jasmin took his wife home to the pleasant house on the Gravier; and joy and happiness sat down with them at their own fireside. There was no Charivari, because their marriage was suitable. Both had been poor, and the wife was ready and willing to share the lot of her young husband, whether in joy or sorrow. Their home was small and cosy– very different from the rat-haunted house of his lame mother and humpbacked father.
Customers came, but not very quickly. The barber’s shop was somewhat removed from the more populous parts of the town. But when the customers did come, Jasmin treated them playfully and humorously. He was as lively as any Figaro; and he became such a favourite, that when his customers were shaved or had their hair dressed, they invariably returned, as well as recommended others to patronize the new coiffeur.
His little shop, which was at first nearly empty, soon became fuller and fuller of customers. People took pleasure in coming to the hair-dresser’s shop, and hearing him recite his verses. He sang, he declaimed, while plying his razor or his scissors. But the chins and tresses of his sitters were in no danger from his skipping about, for he deftly used his hands as well as his head. His razor glistened lightly over the stubbly beards, and his scissors clipped neatly over the locks of his customers.
Except when so engaged, he went on rhyming. In a little town, gossip flies about quickly, and even gets into the local papers.
One day Jasmin read in one of the Agen journals, “Pegasus is a beast that often carries poets to the hospital.” Were the words intended for him? He roared with laughter. Some gossip had bewitched the editor. Perhaps he was no poet. His rhymes would certainly never carry him to the hospital. Jasmin’s business was becoming a little more lucrative.. It is true his house was not yet fully furnished, but day by day he was adding to the plenishing. At all events his humble home protected him and his wife from wind and weather.
On one occasion M. Gontaud, an amiable young poet, in a chaffing way, addressed Jasmin as “Apollo!” in former times regarded as the god of poetry and music. The epistle appeared in a local journal. Jasmin read it aloud to his family. Gontaud alleged in his poem that Apollo had met Jasmin’s mother on the banks of the Garonne, and fell in love with her; and that Jasmin, because of the merits of his poetry, was their son.
Up flamed the old pair! “What, Catherine?” cried the old man,” is it true that you have been a coquette? How! have I been only the foster-father of thy little poet?” “No! No!” replied the enraged mother; “he is all thine own! Console thyself, poor John; thou alone hast been my mate. And who is this ‘Pollo, the humbug who has deceived thee so? Yes, I am lame, but when I was washing my linen, if any coxcomb had approached me, I would have hit him on the mouth with a stroke of my mallet!” “Mother,” exclaimed the daughter, “‘Pollo is only a fool, not worth talking about; where does he live, Jacques?” Jasmin relished the chaff, and explained that he only lived in the old mythology, and had no part in human affairs. And thus was Apollo, the ancient god of poetry and music, sent about his business.
Years passed on, the married pair settled down quietly, and their life of happiness went on pleasantly. The honeymoon had long since passed. Jasmin had married at twenty, and Mariette was a year younger.
When a couple live together for a time, they begin to detect some little differences of opinion. It is well if they do not allow those little differences to end in a quarrel. This is always a sad beginning of a married life.
There was one thing about her husband that Mariette did not like. That was his verse-making. It was all very well in courtship, but was it worth while in business? She saw him scribbling upon curl-papers instead of attending to his periwigs. She sometimes interrupted him while he was writing; and on one occasion, while Jasmin was absent on business, she went so far as to burn his pens and throw his ink into the fire!
Jasmin was a good-natured man, but he did not like this treatment. It was not likely to end in a quiet domestic life. He expostulated, but it was of little use. He would not give up his hobby. He went on rhyming, and in order to write down his verses he bought new pens and a new bottle of ink. Perhaps he felt the germs of poetic thought moving within him. His wife resented his conduct. Why could he not attend to the shaving and hair-dressing, which brought in money, instead of wasting his time in scribbling verses on his curl-papers?
M. Charles Nodier, member of the French Academy, paid a visit to Agen in 1832. Jasmin was then thirty-four years old. He had been married fourteen years, but his name was quite unknown, save to the people of Agen. It was well known in the town that he had a talent for versification, for he was accustomed to recite and chaunt his verses to his customers.
One quiet morning M. Nodier was taking a leisurely walk along the promenade of the Gravier, when he was attracted by a loud altercation going on between a man and a woman in the barber’s shop. The woman was declaiming with the fury of a Xantippe, while the man was answering her with Homeric laughter. Nodier entered the shop, and found himself in the presence of Jasmin and his wife. He politely bowed to the pair, and said that he had taken the liberty of entering to see whether he could not establish some domestic concord between them.
“Is that all you came for?” asked the wife, at the same time somewhat calmed by the entrance of a stranger. Jasmin interposed–
“Yes, my dear–certainly; but—” “Your wife is right, sir,” said Nodier, thinking that the quarrel was about some debts he had incurred.
“Truly, sir,” rejoined Jasmin; “if you were a lover of poetry, you would not find it so easy to renounce it.”
“Poetry?” said Nodier; “I know a little about that myself.”
“What!” replied Jasmin, “so much the better. You will be able to help me out of my difficulties.”
“You must not expect any help from me, for I presume you are oppressed with debts.”
“Ha, ha!” cried Jasmin, “it isn’t debts, it’s verses, Sir.”
“Yes, indeed,” said the wife, “it’s verses, always verses! Isn’t it horrible?”
“Will you let me see what you have written?” asked Nodier, turning to Jasmin.
“By all means, sir. Here is a specimen.” The verses began:
“Femme ou demon, ange ou sylphide,
Oh! par pitie, fuis, laisse-moi!
Doux miel d’amour n’est que poison perfide, Mon coeur a trop souffert, il dort, eloigne-toi.
“Je te l’ai dit, mon coeur sommeille; Laisse-le, de ses maux a peine il est gueri, Et j’ai peur que ta voix si douce a mon oreille Par un chant d’amour ne l’eveille,
Lui, que l’amour a taut meurtri!”
This was only about a fourth part of the verses which Jasmin had composed. Nodier confessed that he was greatly pleased with them. Turning round to the wife he said, “Madame, poetry knocks at your door; open it. That which inspires it is usually a noble heart and a distinguished spirit, incapable of mean actions. Let your husband make his verses; it may bring you good luck and happiness.”
Then, turning to the poet, and holding out his hand, he asked, “What is your name, my friend?”
“Jacques Jasmin,” he timidly replied. “A good name,” said Nodier. “At the same time, while you give fair play to your genius, don’t give up the manufacture of periwigs, for this is an honest trade, while verse-making might prove only a frivolous distraction.”
Nodier then took his leave, but from that time forward Jasmin and he continued the best of friends. A few years later, when the first volume of the Papillotos appeared, Nodier published his account of the above interview in Le Temps. He afterwards announced in the Quotidienne the outburst of a new poet on the banks of the Garonne–a poet full of piquant charm, of inspired harmony–a Lamartine, a Victor Hugo, a Gascon Beranger!
After Nodier’s departure, Madame Jasmin took a more favourable view of the versification of her husband. She no longer chided him. The shop became more crowded with customers. Ladies came to have their hair dressed by the poet: it was so original! He delighted them with singing or chanting his verses. He had a sympathetic, perhaps a mesmeric voice, which touched the souls of his hearers, and threw them into the sweetest of dreams.
Besides attending to his shop, he was accustomed to go out in the afternoons to dress the hair of four or five ladies. This occupied him for about two hours, and when he found the ladies at home, he returned with four or five francs in his purse. But often they were not at home, and he came home francless. Eventually he gave up this part of his trade. The receipts at the shop were more remunerative. Madame encouraged this economical eform; she was accustomed to call it Jasmin’s coup d’etat.
The evenings passed pleasantly. Jasmin took his guitar and sang to his wife and children; or, in the summer evenings they would walk under the beautiful elms in front of the Gravier, where Jasmin was ready for business at any moment. Such prudence, such iligence, could not but have its effect. When Jasmin’s first volume of the Papillotos was published, it was received with enthusiasm.
“The songs, the curl-papers,” said Jasmin, “brought in such a rivulet of silver, that, in my poetic joy, I broke into morsels and burnt in the fire that dreaded arm-chair in which my ancestors had been carried to the hospital to die.”
Madame Jasmin now became quite enthusiastic. Instead of breaking the poet’s pens and throwing his ink into the fire, she bought the best pens and the best ink. She even supplied him with a comfortable desk, on which he might write his verses. “Courage, courage!” she would say. “Each verse that you write is another tile to the roof and a rafter to the dwelling; therefore make verses, make verses!”
The rivulet of silver increased so rapidly, that in the course of a short time Jasmin was enabled to buy the house in which he lived–tiles, rafters, and all. Instead of Pegasus carrying him to the hospital, it carried him to the office of the Notary, who enrolled him in the list of collectors of taxes. He was now a man of substance, a man to be trusted. The notary was also employed to convey the tenement to the prosperous Jasmin. He ends the first part of his Souvenirs with these words:
“When Pegasus kicks with a fling of his feet, He sends me to curl on my hobby horse fleet; I lose all my time, true, not paper nor notes, I write all my verse on my papillotes.”
Footnotes to chapter IV.
 In Gascon Magnounet; her pet name Marie, or in French Mariette. Madame Jasmin called herself Marie Barrere.
 The remaining verses are to be found in the collected edition of his works–the fourth volume of Las Papillotos, new edition, pp. 247-9, entitled A une jeune Voyayeuse.
 Papillotes, as we have said, are curl-papers. Jasmin’s words, in Gascon, are these:
“Quand Pegazo reguiuno, et que d’un cot de pe Memboyo friza mas marotos,
Perdi moun ten, es bray, mais noun pas moun pape, Boti mous beis en papillotos!”
JASMIN AND GASCON.–FIRST VOLUME OF “PAPILLOTES.”
Jasmin’s first efforts at verse-making were necessarily imperfect. He tried to imitate the works of others, rather than create poetical images of his own. His verses consisted mostly of imitations of the French poems which he had read. He was overshadowed by the works of Boileau, Gresset, Rousseau, and especially by Beranger, who, like himself, was the son of a tailor.
The recollections of their poetry pervaded all his earlier verses. His efforts in classical French were by no means successful. It was only when he had raised himself above the influence of authors who had preceded him, that he soared into originality, and was proclaimed the Poet of the South.
Jasmin did not at first write in Gascon. In fact, he had not yet mastered a perfect knowledge of this dialect. Though familiarly used in ancient times, it did not exist in any written form. It was the speech of the common people; and though the Gascons spoke the idiom, it had lost much of its originality. It had become mixed, more or less, with the ordinary French language, and the old Gascon words were becoming gradually forgotten.
Yet the common people, after all, remain the depositories of old idioms and old traditions, as well as of the inheritances of the past. They are the most conservative element in society. They love their old speech, their old dress, their old manners and customs, and have an instinctive worship of ancient memories.
Their old idioms are long preserved. Their old dialect continues the language of the fireside, of daily toil, of daily needs, and of domestic joys and sorrows. It hovers in the air about them, and has been sucked in with their mothers’ milk. Yet, when a primitive race such as the Gascons mix much with the people of the adjoining departments, the local dialect gradually dies out, and they learn to speak the language of their neighbours.
The Gascon was disappearing as a speech, and very few of its written elements survived. Was it possible for Jasmin to revive the dialect, and embody it in a written language? He knew much of the patois, from hearing it spoken at home. But now, desiring to know it more thoroughly, he set to work and studied it. He was almost as assiduous as Sir Walter Scott in learning obscure Lowland words, while writing the Waverley Novels. Jasmin went into the market-places, where the peasants from the country sold their produce; and there he picked up many new words and expressions. He made excursions into the country round Agen, where many of the old farmers and labourers spoke nothing but Gascon. He conversed with illiterate people, and especially with old women at their spinning-wheels, and eagerly listened to their ancient tales and legends.
He thus gathered together many a golden relic, which he afterwards made use of in his poetical works. He studied Gascon like a pioneer. He made his own lexicon, and eventually formed a written dialect, which he wove into poems, to the delight of the people in the South of France. For the Gascon dialect–such is its richness and beauty–expresses many shades of meaning which are entirely lost in the modern French.
When Jasmin first read his poems in Gascon to his townspeople at Agen, he usually introduced his readings by describing the difficulties he had encountered in prosecuting his enquiries. is hearers, who knew more French than Gascon, detected in his poems many comparatively unknown words,–not indeed of his own creation, but merely the result of his patient and long-continued investigation of the Gascon dialect. Yet they found the language, as written and spoken by him, full of harmony–rich, mellifluous, and sonorous. Gascon resembles the Spanish, to which it is strongly allied, more than the Provencal, the language of the Troubadours, which is more allied to the Latin or Italian.
Hallam, in his ‘History of the Middle Ages,’ regards the sudden outburst of Troubadour poetry as one symptom of the rapid impulse which the human mind received in the twelfth century, contemporaneous with the improved studies that began at the Universities. It was also encouraged by the prosperity of Southern France, which was comparatively undisturbed by internal warfare, and it continued until the tremendous storm that fell upon Languedoc during the crusade against the Albigenses, which shook off the flowers of Provencal literature.
The language of the South-West of France, including the Gascon, was then called Langue d’Oc; while that of the south-east of France, including the Provencal, was called Langue d’Oil. M. Littre, in the Preface to his Dictionary of the French language, says that he was induced to begin the study of the subject by his desire to know something more of the Langue d’Oil–the old French language.
In speaking of the languages of Western Europe, M. Littre says that the German is the oldest, beginning in the fourth century; that the French is the next, beginning in the ninth century; and that the English is the last, beginning in the fourteenth century. It must be remembered, however, that Plat Deutsch preceded the German, and was spoken by the Frisians, Angles, and Saxons, who lived by the shores of the North Sea.
The Gaelic or Celtic, and Kymriac languages, were spoken in the middle and north-west of France; but these, except in Brittany, have been superseded by the modem French language, which is founded mainly on Latin, German, and Celtic, but mostly on Latin. The English language consists mostly of Saxon, Norse, and Norman-French with a mixture of Welsh or Ancient British. That language is, however, no test of the genealogy of a people, is illustrated by the history of France itself. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Franks, a powerful German race, from the banks of the Rhine, invaded and conquered the people north of the Somme, and eventually gave the name of France to the entire country. The Burgundians and Visigoths, also a German race, invaded France, and settled themselves in the south-east. In the year 464, Childeric the Frank took Paris.
The whole history of the occupation of France is told by Augustin Thierry, in his ‘Narratives of the Merovingian Times.’ “There are Franks,” he says in his Preface, “who remained pure Germans in Gaul; Gallo-Romans, irritated and disgusted by the barbarian rule; Franks more or less influenced by the manners and customs of civilised life; and ‘Romans more or less barbarian in mind and manners.’ The contrast may be followed in all its shades through the sixth century, and into the middle of the seventh; later, the Germanic and Gallo-Roman stamp seemed effaced and lost in a semi-barbarism clothed in theocratic forms.”
The Franks, when they had completed the conquest of the entire country, gave it the name of Franken-ric–the Franks’ kingdom. Eventually, Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, descended from Childeric the Frank, was in 800 crowned Emperor of the West. Towards the end of his reign, the Norsemen began to devastate the northern coast of Franken-ric. Aix-la-Chapelle was Charlemagne’s capital, and there he died and was buried. At his death, the Empire was divided among his sons. The Norse Vikingers continued their invasions; and to purchase repose, Charles the Simple ceded to Duke Rollo a large territory in the northwest of France, which in deference to their origin, was known by the name of Normandy.
There Norman-French was for a long time spoken. Though the Franks had supplanted the Romans, the Roman language continued to be spoken. In 996 Paris was made the capital of France; and from that time, the language of Paris became, with various modifications, the language of France; and not only of France, but the Roman or Latin tongue became the foundation of the languages of Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
Thus, Gaulish, Frankish, and Norman disappeared to give place to the Latin-French. The Kymriac language was preserved only in Brittany, where it still lingers. And in the south-west of France, where the population was furthest removed from the invasions of the Gauls, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths, the Basques continued to preserve their language,–the Basques, who are supposed by Canon Isaac Taylor to be the direct descendants of the Etruscans.
The descendants of the Gauls, however, constitute the mass of the people in Central France. The Gauls, or Galatians, are supposed to have come from the central district of Asia Minor. They were always a warlike people. In their wanderings westward, they passed through the north of Italy and entered France, where they settled in large numbers. Dr. Smith, in his Dictionary of the Bible, says that “Galatai is the same word as Keltici,” which indicates that the Gauls were Kelts. It is supposed that St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Galatians soon after his visit to the country of their origin. “Its abruptness and severity, and the sadness of its tone, are caused by their sudden perversion from the doctrine which the Apostle had taught them, and which at first they had received so willingly. It is no fancy, if we see in this fickleness a specimen of that ‘esprit impretueux, ouvert a toutes les impressions,’ and that ‘mobilite extreme,’ which Thierry marks as characteristic of the Gaulish race.” At all events, the language of the Gauls disappeared in Central France to make way for the language or the Capital– the modern French, founded on the Latin. The Gaulish race, nevertheless, preserved their characteristics–quickness, lightness, mobility, and elasticity–qualities which enabled them quickly to conceive new ideas, and at the same time to quickly abandon them. The Franks had given the country the name it now bears–that of France. But they were long regarded as enemies by the Central and Southern Gauls. In Gascony, the foreigner was called Low Franciman, and was regarded with suspicion and dislike.
“This term of Franciman,” says Miss Costello, who travelled through the country and studied the subject, “evidently belongs to a period of the English occupation of Aquitaine, when a Frenchman was another word for an enemy.” But the word has probably a more remote origin. When the Franks, of German origin, burst into Gaul, and settled in the country north of the Loire, and afterwards carried their conquests to the Pyrenees, the Franks were regarded as enemies in the south of France.
“Then all the countries,” says Thierry, “united by force to the empire of the Franks, and over which in consequence of this union, the name of France had extended itself, made unheard-of efforts to reconquer their ancient names and places. Of all the Gallic provinces, none but the southern ones succeeded in this great enterprise; and after the wars of insurrection, which, under the sons of Charlemagne, succeeded the wars of conquest, Aquitaine and Provence became distinct states. Among the South Eastern provinces reappeared even the ancient name of Gaul, which had for ever perished north of the Loire. The chiefs of the new Kingdom of Aries, which extended from the Jura to the Alps, took the title of Gaul in opposition to the Kings of France.”
It is probable that this was the cause of the name of “Franciman” being regarded as an hereditary term of reproach in the Gaulish country south of the Loire. Gascon and Provencal were the principal dialects which remained in the South, though Littre classes them together as the language of the Troubadours.
They were both well understood in the South; and Jasmin’s recitations were received with as much enthusiasm at Nimes, Aries, and Marseilles, as at Toulouse, Agen, and Bordeaux.
Mezzofanti, a very Tower of Babel in dialects and languages, said of the Provencal, that it was the only patois of the Middle Ages, with its numerous derivations from the Greek, the Arabic, and the Latin, which has survived the various revolutions of language. The others have been altered and modified. They have suffered from the caprices of victory or of fortune. Of all the dialects of the Roman tongue, this patois alone preserves its purity and life. It still remains the sonorous and harmonious language of the Troubadours. The patois has the suppleness of the Italian, the sombre majesty of the Spanish, the energy and preciseness of the Latin, with the “Molle atque facetum, le dolce de, l’Ionic; which still lives among the Phoceens of Marseilles. The imagination and genius of Gascony have preserved the copious richness of the language.
M. de Lavergne, in his notice of Jasmin’s works, frankly admits the local jealousy which existed between the Troubadours of Gascony and Provence. There seemed, he said, to be nothing disingenuous in the silence of the Provencals as to Jasmin’s poems. They did not allow that he borrowed from them, any more than that they borrowed from him. These men of Southern France are born in the land of poetry. It breathes in their native air. It echoes round them in its varied measures. Nay, the rhymes which are its distinguishing features, pervade their daily talk.
The seeds lie dormant in their native soil, and when trodden under foot, they burst through the ground and evolve their odour in the open air. Gascon and Provencal alike preserve the same relation to the classic romance–that lovely but short-lived eldest daughter of the Latin–the language of the Troubadours.
We have said that the Gascon dialect was gradually expiring when Jasmin undertook its revival. His success in recovering and restoring it, and presenting it in a written form, was the result of laborious investigation. He did not at first realize the perfect comprehension of the idiom, but he eventually succeeded by patient perseverance, When we read his poems, we are enabled to follow, step by step, his lexicological progress.
At first, he clung to the measures most approved in French poetry, especially to Alexandrines and Iambic tetrameters, and to their irregular association in a sort of ballad metre, which in England has been best handled by Robert Browning in his fine ballad of ‘Harve; Riel.’
Jasmin’s first rhymes were written upon curl papers, and then used on the heads of his lady customers. When the spirit of original poetry within him awoke, his style changed. Genius brought sweet music from his heart and mind. Imagination spiritualised his nature, lifted his soul above the cares of ordinary life, and awakened the consciousness of his affinity with what is pure and noble. Jasmin sang as a bird sings; at first in weak notes, then in louder, until at length his voice filled the skies. Near the end of his life he was styled the Saint Vincent de Paul of poetry.
Jasmin might be classed among the Uneducated Poets. But what poet is not uneducated at the beginning of his career? The essential education of the poet is not taught in the schools.
The lowly man, against whom the asperities of his lot have closed the doors of worldly academies, may nevertheless have some special vocation for the poetic life. Academies cannot shut him out from the odour of the violet or the song of the nightingale. He hears the lark’s song filling the heavens, as the happy bird fans the milk-white cloud with its wings. He listens to the purling of the brook, the bleating of the lamb, the song of the milkmaid, and the joyous cry of the reaper. Thus his mind is daily fed with the choicest influences of nature. He cannot but appreciate the joy, the glory, the unconscious delight of living. “The beautiful is master of a star.” This feeling of beauty is the nurse of civilisation and true refinement. Have we not our Burns, who
“in glory and in joy
Followed his plough along the mountain side;”
Clare, the peasant boy; Bloomfield, the farmer’s lad; Tannahill, the weaver; Allan Ramsay, the peruke-maker; Cooper, the shoemaker; and Critchley Prince, the factory-worker; but greater than these was Shakespeare,–though all were of humble origin.
France too has had its uneducated poets. Though the ancient song-writers of France were noble; Henry IV., author of Charmante Gabrielle; Thibault, Count of Champagne; Lusignan, Count de la Marche; Raval, Blondel, and Basselin de la Vive, whose songs were as joyous as the juice of his grapes; yet some of the best French poets of modem times have been of humble origin–Marmontel, Moliere, Rousseau, and Beranger. There were also Reboul, the baker; Hibley, the working-tailor; Gonzetta, the shoemaker; Durand, the joiner; Marchand, the lacemaker; Voileau, the sail-maker;
Magu, the weaver; Poucy, the mason; Germiny, the cooper; and finally, Jasmin the barber and hair dresser, who was not the least of the Uneducated Poets.
The first poem which Jasmin composed in the Gascon dialect was written in 1822, when he was only twenty-four years old. It was entitled La fidelitat Agenoso, which he subsequently altered to Me cal Mouri (Il me fait mourir), or “Let me die.” It is a languishing romantic poem, after the manner of Florian, Jasmin’s