Part 2 out of 6
first master in poetry. It was printed at Agen in a quarto form,
and sold for a franc. Jasmin did not attach his name to the
poem, but only his initials.
Sainte-Beuve, in his notice of the poem, says, "It is a pretty,
sentimental romance, showing that Jasmin possessed the
brightness and sensibility of the Troubadours. As one may say,
he had not yet quitted the guitar for the flageolet; and Marot,
who spoke of his flageolet, had not, in the midst of his playful
spirit, those tender accents which contrasted so well with his
previous compositions. And did not Henry IV., in the midst of
his Gascon gaieties and sallies, compose his sweet song of
Charmante Gabrielle? Jasmin indeed is the poet who is nearest
the region of Henry IV." Me cal Mouri was set to music by
Fourgons, and obtained great popularity in the south. It was
known by heart, and sung everywhere; in Agen, Toulouse,
and throughout Provence. It was not until the publication of
the first volume of his poems that it was known to be the work
Miss Louisa Stuart Costello, when making her pilgrimage in the
South of France, relates that, in the course of her journey,"
A friend repeated to me two charming ballads picked up in
Languedoc, where there is a variety in the patois. I cannot
resist giving them here, that my readers may compare the
difference of dialect. I wrote them clown, however, merely by
ear, and am not aware that they have ever been printed.
The mixture of French, Spanish, and Italian is very curious."
As the words of Jasmin's romance were written down by Miss
Costello from memory, they are not quite accurate; but her
translation into English sufficiently renders the poet's
meaning. The following is the first verse of Jasmin's poem in
"Deja la ney encrumis la naturo,
Tout es tranquille et tout cargo lou dol;
Dins lou clouche la brezago murmuro,
Et lou tuquet succedo al rossignol:
Del mal, helas! bebi jusq'a la ligo,
Moun co gemis sans espouer de gari;
Plus de bounhur, ey perdut moun amigo,
Me cal mouri! me cal mouri!"
Which Miss Costello thus translates into English:
"Already sullen night comes sadly on,
And nature's form is clothed with mournful weeds;
Around the tower is heard the breeze's moan,
And to the nightingale the bat succeeds.
Oh! I have drained the cup of misery,
My fainting heart has now no hope in store.
Ah! wretched me! what have I but to die?
For I have lost my love for evermore!"
There are four verses in the poem, but the second verse may also
"Fair, tender Phoebe, hasten on thy course,
My woes revive while I behold thee shine,
For of my hope thou art no more the source,
And of my happiness no more the sign.
Oh! I have drained the cup of misery,
My fainting heart has now no bliss in store.
Ah! wretched me! what have I but to die?
Since I have lost my love for evermore!"
The whole of the poem was afterwards translated into modem
French, and, though somewhat artificial, it became as popular in
the north as in the south.
Jasmin's success in his native town, and his growing popularity,
encouraged him to proceed with the making of verses. His poems
were occasionally inserted in the local journals; but the
editors did not approve of his use of the expiring Gascon
dialect. They were of opinion that his works might be better
appreciated if they appeared in modern French. Gascon was to a
large extent a foreign language, and greatly interfered with
Jasmin's national reputation as a poet.
Nevertheless he held on his way, and continued to write his
verses in Gascon. They contained many personal lyrics, tributes,
dedications, hymns for festivals, and impromptus, scarcely
worthy of being collected and printed. Jasmin said of the last
description of verse: "One can only pay a poetical debt by means
of impromptus, and though they may be good money of the heart,
they are almost always bad money of the head."
Jasmin's next poem was The Charivari (Lou Charibari),
also written in Gascon. It was composed in 1825, when he was
twenty-seven years old; and dedicated to M. Duprount, the
Advocate, who was himself a poetaster. The dedication contained
some fine passages of genuine beauty and graceful versification.
It was in some respects an imitation of the Lutrin of Boileau.
It was very different from the doggerel in which he had taken
part with his humpbacked father so long ago. Then he had blown
the cow-horn, now he spoke with the tongue of a trumpet.
The hero of Jasmin's Charivari was one Aduber, an old widower,
who dreamt of remarrying. It reminded one of the strains of
Beranger; in other passages of the mock-heroic poem of Boileau.
Though the poem when published was read with much interest,
it was not nearly so popular as Me cal Mouri. This
last-mentioned poem, his first published work, touched the harp
of sadness; while his Charivari displayed the playfulness of joy.
Thus, at the beginning of his career, Jasmin revealed himself as
a poet in two very different styles; in one, touching the springs
of grief, and in the other exhibiting brightness and happiness.
At the end of the same year he sounded his third and deepest note
in his poem On the Death of General Foy--one of France's
truest patriots. Now his lyre was complete; it had its three
strings--of sadness, joy, and sorrow.
These three poems--Me cal Mouri, the Charivari, and the ode On
the Death of General Foy, with some other verses--were
published in 1825. What was to be the title of the volume?
As Adam, the carpenter-poet of Nevers, had entitled his volume of
poetry 'Shavings,' so Jasmin decided to name his collection
'The Curl-papers of Jasmin, Coiffeur of Agen.' The title was a
good one, and the subsequent volumes of his works were known as
La Papillotos (the Curl-papers) of Jasmin. The publication of
this first volume served to make Jasmin's name popular beyond the
town in which they had been composed and published. His friend
M. Gaze said of him, that during the year 1825 he had been
marrying his razor with the swan's quill; and that his hand of
velvet in shaving was even surpassed by his skill in
Charles Nodier, his old friend, who had entered the barber's
shop some years before to intercede between the poet and his
wife, sounded Jasmin's praises in the Paris journals.
He confessed that he had been greatly struck with the Charivari,
and boldly declared that the language of the Troubadours, which
everyone supposed to be dead, was still in full life in France;
that it not only lived, but that at that very moment a poor
barber at Agen, without any instruction beyond that given by the
fields, the woods, and the heavens, had written a serio-comic
poem which, at the risk of being thought crazy by his colleagues
of the Academy, he considered to be better composed than the
Lutrin of Boileau, and even better than one of Pope's
masterpieces, the Rape of the Lock.
The first volume of the Papillotes sold very well; and the
receipts from its sale not only increased Jasmin's income,
but also increased his national reputation. Jasmin was not,
however, elated by success. He remained simple, frugal, honest,
and hard-working. He was not carried off his feet by eclat.
Though many illustrious strangers, when passing through Agen,
called upon and interviewed the poetical coiffeur, he quietly
went back to his razors, his combs, and his periwigs,
and cheerfully pursued the business that he could always depend
upon in his time of need.
Footnotes to Chapter V.
Hallam's 'Middle Ages,' iii. 434. 12th edit. (Murray.)
 His words are these: "La conception m'en fut suggeree par
mes etudes sur la vieille langue francaise ou langue d'oil.
Je fus si frappe des liens qui unissent le francais moderne au
francais ancien, j'apercus tant de cas ou les sens et des
locutions du jour ne s'expliquent que par les sens et les
locutions d'autrefois, tant d'exemples ou la forme des mots
n'est pas intelligible sans les formes qui ont precede, qu'il me
sembla que la doctrine et meme l'usage de la langue restent mal
assis s'ils ne reposent sur leur base antique." (Preface, ii.)
 'Bearn and the Pyrenees,' i. 348.
 THIERRY--'Historical Essays,' No. XXIV.
 Les Poetes du Peuple an xix. Siecle. Par Alphonse Viollet.
 Portraits contemporains, ii. 61 (ed. 1847).
 'Pilgrimage to Auvergne,' ii. 210.
MISCELLANEOUS VERSES--BERANGER--'MES SOUVENIRS'--PAUL DE MUSSET.
During the next four years Jasmin composed no work of special
importance. He occasionally wrote poetry, but chiefly on local
subjects. In 1828 he wrote an impromptu to M. Pradel, who had
improvised a Gascon song in honour of the poet. The Gascon
painter, Champmas, had compared Jasmin to a ray of sunshine,
and in 1829 the poet sent him a charming piece of verse in return
for his compliment.
In 1830 Jasmin composed The Third of May, which was translated
into French by M. Duvigneau. It appears that the Count of Dijon
had presented to the town of Nerac, near Agen, a bronze statue
of Henry IV., executed by the sculptor Raggi--of the same
character as the statue erected to the same monarch at Pau.
But though Henry IV. was born at Pau, Nerac was perhaps more
identified with him, for there he had his strong castle,
though only its ruins now remain.
Nerac was at one time almost the centre of the Reformation in
France. Clement Marot, the poet of the Reformed faith, lived
there; and the house of Theodore de Beze, who emigrated to
Geneva, still exists. The Protestant faith extended to Agen and
the neighbouring towns. When the Roman Catholics obtained the
upper hand, persecutions began. Vindocin, the pastor, was burned
alive at Agen. J. J. Scaliger was an eye-witness of the burning,
and he records the fact that not less than 300 victims perished
for their faith.
At a later time Nerac, which had been a prosperous town,
was ruined by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes; for the
Protestant population, who had been the most diligent and
industrious in the town and neighbourhood, were all either
"converted," hanged, sent to the galleys, or forced to emigrate
to England, Holland, or Prussia. Nevertheless, the people of
Nerac continued to be proud of their old monarch.
The bronze statue of Henry IV. was unveiled in 1829. On one side
of the marble pedestal supporting the statue were the words
"Alumno, mox patri nostro, Henrico quarto," and on the reverse
side was a verse in the Gascon dialect:
A moun amou per bous aou dibes creyre;
Benes! Benes! ey plaze de bous beyre!
The words were assumed to be those of; Henry IV., and may be
thus translated into English:
You may well trust my love for you;
Come! come! I leave to you my glory!
Come near! Approach!"
It is necessary to explain how the verse in Gascon came to be
engraved on the pedestal of the statue. The Society of
Agriculture, Sciences, and Arts, of Agen, offered a prize of 300
francs for the best Ode to the memory of Henry the Great. Many
poems were accordingly sent in to the Society; and, after some
consideration, it was thought that the prize should be awarded to
M. Jude Patissie. But amongst the thirty-nine poems which had
been presented for examination, it was found that two had been
written in the Gascon dialect. The committee were at first of
opinion that they could not award the prize to the author of any
poem written in the vulgar tongue. At the same time they
reported that one of the poems written in Gascon possessed such
real merit, that the committee decided by a unanimous vote that a
prize should be awarded to the author of the best poem written in
the Gascon dialect. Many poems were accordingly sent in and
examined. Lou Tres de May was selected as the best; and on the
letter attached to the poem being opened, the president
proclaimed the author to be "Jasmin, Coiffeur." After the
decision of the Society at Agen, the people of Nerac desired to
set their seal upon their judgment, and they accordingly caused
the above words to be engraved on the reverse side of the
pedestal supporting the statue of Henry IV. Jasmin's poem was
crowned by the Academy of Agen; and though it contained many fine
verses, it had the same merits and the same defects as the
Charivari, published a few years before.
M. Rodiere, Professor of Law at Toulouse, was of opinion that
during the four years during which Jasmin produced no work of
any special importance, he was carefully studying Gascon; for it
ought to be known that the language in which Godolin wrote his
fine poems is not without its literature. "The fact," says
Rodiere, "that Jasmin used some of his time in studying the
works of Godolin is, that while in Lou Charibari there are some
French words ill-disguised in a Gascon dress, on the other hand,
from the year 1830, there are none; and the language of Jasmin
is the same as the language of Godolin, except for a few
trifling differences, due to the different dialects of Agen and
Besides studying Gascon, Jasmin had some military duties to
perform. He was corporal of the third company of the National
Guard of Agen; and in 1830 he addressed his comrades in a series
of verses. One of these was a song entitled 'The Flag of
Liberty' (Lou Drapeou de la Libertat); another, 'The Good
All-merciful God!' (Lou Boun Diou liberal); and the third was Lou
Two years later, in 1832, Jasmin composed The Gascons, which he
improvised at a banquet given to the non-commissioned officers
of the 14th Chasseurs. Of course, the improvisation was
carefully prepared; and it was composed in French, as the
non-commissioned officers did not understand the Gascon dialect.
Jasmin extolled the valour of the French, and especially of the
Gascons. The last lines of his eulogy ran as follows:--
"O Liberty! mother of victory,
Thy flag always brings us success!
Though as Gascons we sing of thy glory,
We chastise our foes with the French!"
In the same year Jasmin addressed the poet Beranger in a
pleasant poetical letter written in classical French. Beranger
replied in prose; his answer was dated the 12th of July, 1832.
He thanked Jasmin for his fervent eulogy. While he thought that
the Gascon poet's praise of his works was exaggerated, he
believed in his sincerity.
"I hasten," said Beranger, "to express my thanks for the
kindness of your address. Believe in my sincerity, as I believe
in your praises. Your exaggeration of my poetical merits makes
me repeat the first words of your address, in which you assume
the title of a Gascon poet. It would please me much better
if you would be a French poet, as you prove by your epistle,
which is written with taste and harmony. The sympathy of our
sentiments has inspired you to praise me in a manner which I am
far from meriting, Nevertheless, sir, I am proud of your
"You have been born and brought up in the same condition as
myself. Like me, you appear to have triumphed over the absence
of scholastic instruction, and, like me too, you love your
country. You reproach me, sir, with the silence which I have for
some time preserved. At the end of this year I intend to publish
my last volume; I will then take my leave of the public.
I am now fifty-two years old. I am tired of the world.
My little mission is fulfilled, and the public has had enough of
me. I am therefore making arrangements for retiring. Without
the desire for living longer, I have broken silence too soon.
At least you must pardon the silence of one who has never
demanded anything of his country. I care nothing about power,
and have now merely the ambition of a morsel of bread and repose.
"I ask your pardon for submitting to you these personal details.
But your epistle makes it my duty. I thank you again for the
pleasure you have given me. I do not understand the language of
Languedoc, but, if you speak this language as you write French,
I dare to prophecy a true success in the further publication of
Notwithstanding this advice of Beranger and other critics,
Jasmin continued to write his poems in the Gascon dialect.
He had very little time to spare for the study of classical
French; he was occupied with the trade by which he earned his
living, and his business was increasing. His customers were
always happy to hear him recite his poetry while he shaved their
beards or dressed their hair.
He was equally unfortunate with M. Minier of Bordeaux.
Jasmin addressed him in a Gascon letter full of bright poetry,
not unlike Burns's Vision, when he dreamt of becoming a
song-writer. The only consolation that Jasmin received from M.
Minier was a poetical letter, in which the poet was implored to
retain his position and not to frequent the society of
Perhaps the finest work which Jasmin composed at this period of
his life was that which he entitled Mous Soubenis, or
'My Recollections.' In none of his poems did he display more of
the characteristic qualities of his mind, his candour, his
pathos, and his humour, than in these verses. He used the rustic
dialect, from which he never afterwards departed. He showed that
the Gascon was not yet a dead language; and he lifted it to the
level of the most serious themes. His verses have all the
greater charm because of their artless gaiety, their delicate
taste, and the sweetness of their cadence.
Jasmin began to compose his 'Recollections' in 1830, but the
two first cantos were not completed until two years later.
The third canto was added in 1835, when the poem was published
in the first volume of his 'Curl-Papers' (Papillotes). These
recollections, in fact, constitute Jasmin's autobiography,
and we are indebted to them for the description we have already
given of the poet's early life.
Many years later Jasmin wrote his Mous noubels Soubenis--
'My New Recollections'; but in that work he returned to the
trials and the enjoyments of his youth, and described few of the
events of his later life. "What a pity," says M. Rodiere, "that
Jasmin did not continue to write his impressions until the end of
his life! What trouble he would have saved his biographers!
For how can one speak when Jasmin ceases to sing?"
It is unnecessary to return to the autobiography and repeat the
confessions of Jasmin's youth. His joys and sorrows are all
described there--his birth in the poverty-stricken dwelling in
the Rue Fon de Rache, his love for his parents, his sports with
his playfellows on the banks of the Garonne, his blowing the
horn in his father's Charivaris, his enjoyment of the tit-bits
which old Boe brought home from his begging-tours, the decay of
the old man, and his conveyance to the hospital, "where all the
Jasmins die;" then his education at the Academy, his toying with
the house-maid, his stealing the preserves, his expulsion from
the seminary, and the sale of his mother's wedding-ring to buy
bread for her family.
While composing the first two cantos of the Souvenirs he seemed
half ashamed of the homeliness of the tale he had undertaken to
relate. Should he soften and brighten it? Should he dress it
up with false lights and colours? For there are times when
falsehood in silk and gold are acceptable, and the naked
new-born truth is unwelcome. But he repudiated the thought,
"Myself, nor less, nor more, I'll draw for you,
And if not bright, the likeness shall be true."
The third canto of the poem was composed at intervals. It took
him two more years to finish it. It commences with his
apprenticeship to the barber; describes his first visit to the
theatre, his reading of Florian's romances and poems, his
solitary meditations, and the birth and growth of his
imagination. Then he falls in love, and a new era opens in his
life. He writes verses and sings them. He opens a barber's shop
of his own, marries, and brings his young bride home.
"Two angels," he says, "took up their abode with me."
His newly-wedded wife was one, and the other was his rustic
Muse--the angel of homely pastoral poetry:
"Who, fluttering softly from on high,
Raised on his wing and bore me far,
Where fields of balmiest ether are;
There, in the shepherd lassie's speech
I sang a song, or shaped a rhyme;
There learned I stronger love than I can teach.
Oh, mystic lessons! Happy time!
And fond farewells I said, when at the close of day,
Silent she led my spirit back whence it was borne away!"
He then speaks of the happiness of his wedded life; he shaves
and sings most joyfully. A little rivulet of silver passes into
the barber's shop, and, in a fit of poetic ardour, he breaks
into pieces and burns the wretched arm-chair in which his
ancestors were borne to the hospital to die. His wife no longer
troubles him with her doubts as to his verses interfering with
his business. She supplies him with pen, paper, ink, and a
comfortable desk; and, in course of time, he buys the house in
which he lives, and becomes a man of importance in Agen.
He ends the third canto with a sort of hurrah--
"Thus, reader, have I told my tale in cantos three:
Though still I sing, I hazard no great risk;
For should Pegasus rear and fling me, it is clear,
However ruffled all my fancies fair,
I waste my time, 'tis true; though verses I may lose,
The paper still will serve for curling hair."
Robert Nicoll, the Scotch poet, said of his works:
"I have written my heart in my poems; and rude, unfinished,
and hasty as they are, it can be read there." Jasmin might have
used the same words. "With all my faults," he said, "I desired
to write the truth, and I have described it as I saw it."
In his 'Recollections' he showed without reserve his whole heart.
Jasmin dedicated his 'Recollections,' when finished,
to M. Florimond de Saint-Amand, one of the first gentlemen who
recognised his poetical talents. This was unquestionably the
first poem in which Jasmin exhibited the true bent of his
genius. He avoided entirely the French models which he had
before endeavoured to imitate; and he now gave full flight to
the artless gaiety and humour of his Gascon muse. It is
unfortunate that the poem cannot be translated into English.
It was translated into French; but even in that kindred language
it lost much of its beauty and pathos. The more exquisite the
poetry that is contained in one language, the more difficulty
there is in translating it into another.
M. Charles Nodier said of Lou Tres de May that it contains
poetic thoughts conveyed in exquisite words; but it is
impossible to render it into any language but its own. In the
case of the Charivari he shrinks from attempting to translate it.
There is one passage containing a superb description of the
rising of the sun in winter; but two of the lines quite puzzled
him. In Gascon they are
"Quand l'Auroro, fourrado en raoubo de sati,
Desparrouillo, san brut, las portos del mati.'
Some of the words translated into French might seem vulgar,
though in Gascon they are beautiful. In English they might be
"When Aurora, enfurred in her robe of satin,
Unbars, without noise, the doors of the morning."
"Dream if you like," says Nodier, "of the Aurora of winter, and
tell me if Homer could have better robed it in words. The Aurora
of Jasmin is quite his own; 'unbars the doors of the morning';
it is done without noise, like a goddess, patient and silent,
who announces herself to mortals only by her brightness of
light. It is this finished felicity of expression which
distinguishes great writers. The vulgar cannot accomplish it."
Again Nodier says of the 'Recollections': "They are an ingenuous
marvel of gaiety, sensibility, and passion! I use," he says,
"this expression of enthusiasm; and I regret that I cannot be
more lavish in my praises. There is almost nothing in modem
literature, and scarcely anything in ancient, which has moved me
more profoundly than the Souvenirs of Jasmin.
Happy and lovely children of Guienne and Languedoc, read and
re-read the Souvenirs of Jasmin; they will give you painful
recollections of public schools, and perhaps give you hope of
better things to come. You will learn by heart what you will
never forget. You will know from this poetry all that you ought
Jasmin added several other poems to his collection before his
second volume appeared in 1835. Amongst these were his lines on
the Polish nation--Aux debris de la Nation Polonaise, and Les
Oiseaux Voyageurs, ou Les Polonais en France--both written in
Gascon. Saint-beuve thinks the latter one of Jasmin's best
works. "It is full of pathos," he says, "and rises to the
sublime through its very simplicity. It is indeed difficult to
exaggerate the poetic instinct and the unaffected artlessness of
this amiable bard. At the same time," he said," Jasmin still
wanted the fire of passion to reach the noblest poetic work.
Yet he had the art of style. If Agen was renowned as 'the eye of
Guienne,' Jasmin was certainly the greatest poet who had ever
written in the pure patois of Agen."
Sainte-Beuve also said of Jasmin that he was "invariably sober."
And Jasmin said of himself, "I have learned that in moments of
heat and emotion we are all eloquent and laconic, alike in
speech and action--unconscious poets in fact; and I have also
learned that it is possible for a muse to become all this
willingly, and by dint of patient toil."
Another of his supplementary poems consisted of a dialogue
between Ramoun, a soldier of the Old Guard, and Mathiou,
a peasant. It is of a political cast, and Jasmin did not shine
in politics. He was, however, always a patriot, whether under
the Empire, the Monarchy, or the Republic. He loved France above
all things, while he entertained the warmest affection for his
native province. If Jasmin had published his volume in classical
French he might have been lost amidst a crowd of rhymers; but as
he published the work in his native dialect, he became forthwith
distinguished in his neighbourhood, and was ever after known as
the Gascon poet.
Nor did he long remain unknown beyond the district in which he
lived. When his second volume appeared in 1835, with a preface
by M. Baze, an advocate of the Royal Court of Agen, it created
considerable excitement, not only at Bordeaux and Toulouse,
but also at Paris, the centre of the literature, science, and
fine arts of France. There, men of the highest distinction
welcomed the work with enthusiasm.
M. Baze, in his preface, was very eulogistic. "We have the
pleasure," he said, "of seeing united in one collection the
sweet Romanic tongue which the South of France has adopted,
like the privileged children of her lovely sky and voluptuous
climate; and her lyrical songs, whose masculine vigour and
energetic sentiments have more than once excited patriotic
transports and awakened popular enthusiasm. For Jasmin is above
all a poet of the people. He is not ashamed of his origin.
He was born in the midst of them, and though a poet, still
belongs to them. For genius is of all stations and ranks of
life. He is but a hairdresser at Agen, and more than that, he
wishes to remain so. His ambition is to unite the razor to the
At Paris the work was welcomed with applause, first by his
poetic sponsor, Charles Nodier, in the Temps, where he
congratulated Jasmin on using the Gascon patois, though still
under the ban of literature. "It is a veritable Saint
Bartholomew of innocent and beautiful idioms, which can scarcely
be employed even in the hours of recreation." He pronounced
Jasmin to be a Gascon Beranger, and quoted several of his lines
from the Charivari, but apologised for their translation into
French, fearing that they might lose much of their rustic
artlessness and soft harmony.
What was a still greater honour, Jasmin was reviewed by the
first critic of France--Sainte-Beuve in the leading critical
journal, the Revue des deux Mondes. The article was afterwards
republished in his Contemporary Portraits. He there gives a
general account of his poems; compares him with the English and
Scotch poets of the working class; and contrasts him with
Reboul, the baker of Nimes, who writes in classical French,
after the manner of the 'Meditations of Lamartine.' He proceeds
to give a brief account of Jasmin's life, taken from the
Souvenirs, which he regards as a beautiful work, written with
much artlessness and simplicity.
Various other reviews of Jasmin's poems appeared, in Agen,
Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Paris, by men of literary mark--by
Leonce de Lavergne, and De Mazude in the Revue des deux Mondes
--by Charles Labitte, M. Ducuing, and M. de Pontmartin.
The latter classed Jasmin with Theocritus, Horace, and La
Fontaine, and paid him the singular tribute, "that he had made
Goodness as attractive as other French writers had made Badness."
Such criticisms as these made Jasmin popular, not only in his
own district, but throughout France.
We cannot withhold the interesting statement of Paul de Musset
as to his interview with Jasmin in 1836, after the publication
of his second volume of poems. Paul de Musset was the author of
several novels, as well as of Lui et Elle, apropos of his
brother's connection with George Sand. Paul de Musset thus
describes his visit to the poet at Agen.
"Let no one return northward by the direct road from Toulouse.
Nothing can be more dreary than the Lot, the Limousin, and the
interminable Dordogne; but make for Bordeaux by the plains of
Gascony, and do not forget the steamboat from Marmande. You will
then find yourself on the Garonne, in the midst of a beautiful
country, where the air is vigorous and healthy. The roads are
bordered with vines, arranged in arches, lovely to the eyes of
travellers. The poets, who delight in making the union of the
vine with the trees which support it an emblem of marriage, can
verify their comparisons only in Gascony or Italy. It is usually
pear trees that are used to support them....
"Thanks to M. Charles Nodier, who had discovered a man of modest
talent buried in this province, I knew a little of the verses of
the Gascon poet Jasmin. Early one morning, at about seven, the
diligence stopped in the middle of a Place, where I read this
inscription over a shop-door, 'Jasmin, Coiffeur des jeunes
gens.' We were at Agen. I descended, swallowed my cup of coffee
as fast as I could, and entered the shop of the most lettered of
peruke-makers. On a table was a mass of pamphlets and some of
the journals of the South.
"'Monsieur Jasmin?' said I on entering. 'Here I am, sir, at your
service,' replied a handsome brown-haired fellow, with a
cheerful expression, who seemed to me about thirty years of age.
"'Will you shave me?' I asked. 'Willingly, sir,' he replied,
I sat down and we entered into conversation. 'I have read your
verses, sir,' said I, while he was covering my chin with lather.
'Monsieur then comprehends the patois?' 'A little,' I said; 'one
of my friends has explained to me the difficult passages.
But tell me, Monsieur Jasmin, why is it that you, who appear to
know French perfectly, write in a language that is not spoken in
any chief town or capital.'
"'Ah, sir, how could a poor rhymer like me appear amongst the
great celebrities of Paris? I have sold eighteen hundred copies
of my little pieces of poetry (in pamphlet form), and certainly
all who speak Gascon know them well. Remember that there are at
least six millions of people in Languedoc.'
"My mouth was covered with soap-suds, and I could not answer him
for some time. Then I said, 'But a hundred thousand persons at
most know how to read, and twenty thousand of them can scarcely
be able to enjoy your works.'
"'Well, sir, I am content with that amount. Perhaps you have at
Paris more than one writer who possesses his twenty thousand
readers. My little reputation would soon carry me astray if I
ventured to address all Europe. The voice that appears sonorous
in a little place is not heard in the midst of a vast plain.
And then, my readers are confined within a radius of forty
leagues, and the result is of real advantage to an author.'
"'Ah! And why do you not abandon your razor?' I enquired of
this singular poet. 'What would you have?' he said. 'The Muses
are most capricious; to-day they give gold, to-morrow they refuse
bread. The razor secures me soup, and perhaps a bottle of
Bordeaux. Besides, my salon is a little literary circle, where
all the young people of the town assemble. When I come from one
of the academies of which I am a member, I find myself among the
tools which I can manage better than my pen; and most of the
members of the circle usually pass through my hands.'
"It is a fact that M. Jasmin shaves more skilfully than any
other poet. After a long conversation with this simple-minded
man, I experienced a certain confusion in depositing upon his
table the amount of fifty centimes which I owed him on this
occasion, more for his talent than for his razor; and I
remounted the diligence more than charmed with the modesty of
his character and demeanour."
Footnotes for Chapter VI.
 M. Duvigneau thus translated the words into French:
he begins his verses by announcing the birth of Henry IV.:-
"A son aspect, mille cris d'allegresse
Ebranlent le palais et montent jusqu'au ciel:
Le voila beau comme dans sa jeunesse,
Alors qu'il recevait le baiser maternel.
A ce peuple charme qui des yeux le devore
Le bon Roi semble dire encore:
'Braves Gascons, accourez tous;
A mon amour pour vous vous devez croire;
Je met a vous revoir mon bonheur et ma gloire,
Venez, venez, approchez-vous!'"
 Gascon or Gasconade is often used as implying boasting or
 This letter was written before Jasmin had decided to
publish the second volume of his Papillotes, which appeared in
 The following are the lines in Gascon:--
"Atai boudroy dan bous fini ma triplo paouzo;
Mais anfin, ey cantat, n'hazardi pas gran caouzo:
Quand Pegazo reguinno, et que d'un cot de pe
M'emboyo friza mas marotos,
Perdi moun ten, es bray, mais noun pas moun pape;
Boti mous bers en papillotos!"
 'Portraits Contemporains,' ii. 50. Par C. A. Sainte-Beuve,
Membre de l'Academie Francaise. 1847.
 'Perpignan, l'Ariege et le poete Jasmin' (Journal politique
et litteraire de Lot-et-Garonne).
'THE BLIND GIRL OF CASTEL-CUILLE.'
Jasmin was now thirty-six years old. He was virtually in the
prime of life. He had been dreaming, he had been thinking,
for many years, of composing some poems of a higher order than
his Souvenirs. He desired to embody in his work some romantic
tales in verse, founded upon local legends, noble in conception,
elaborated with care, and impressive by the dignity of simple
In these new lyrical poems his intention was to aim high,
and he succeeded to a marvellous extent. He was enabled to show
the depth and strength of his dramatic powers, his fidelity in
the description of romantic and picturesque incidents, his
shrewdness in reading character and his skill in representing it,
all of which he did in perfect innocence of all established
canons in the composition of dramatic poetry.
The first of Jasmin's poetical legends was 'The Blind Girl of
Castel-Cuille' (L'Abuglo). It was translated into English,
a few years after its appearance, by Lady Georgiana Fullerton,
daughter of the British ambassador at Paris, and afterwards
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the American poet. Longfellow
follows the rhythm of the original, and on the whole his
translation of the poem is more correct, so that his version is
to be preferred. He begins his version with these words--
"Only the Lowland tongue of Scotland might
Rehearse this little tragedy aright;
Let me attempt it with an English quill,
And take, O reader, for the deed the will."
At the end of his translation Longfellow adds:-- Jasmin, the
author of this beautiful poem, is to the South of France what
Burns is to the South of Scotland, the representative of the
heart of the people,--one of those happy bards who are born
with their mouths full of birds (la bouco pleno d'auuvelous).
He has written his own biography in a poetic form, and the simple
narrative of his poverty, his struggles, and his triumphs, is
very touching. He still lives at Agen, on the Garonne, and long
may he live there to delight his native land with native songs!"
It is unnecessary to quote the poem, which is so well-known by
the numerous readers of Longfellow's poems, but a compressed
narrative of the story may be given.
The legend is founded on a popular tradition. Castel-Cuille
stands upon a bluff rock in the pretty valley of Saint-Amans,
about a league from Agen. The castle was of considerable
importance many centuries ago, while the English occupied
Guienne; but it is now in ruins, though the village near it
still exists. In a cottage, at the foot of the rock, lived the
girl Marguerite, a soldier's daughter, with her brother Paul.
The girl had been betrothed to her lover Baptiste; but during
his absence she was attacked by virulent small-pox and lost her
eyesight. Though her beauty had disappeared, her love remained.
She waited long for her beloved Baptiste, but he never returned.
He forsook his betrothed Marguerite, and plighted his troth to
the fairer and richer Angele. It was, after all, only the old
Marguerite heard at night the song of their espousals on the eve
of the marriage. She was in despair, but suppressed her grief.
Wednesday morning arrived, the eve of St. Joseph. The bridal
procession passed along the village towards the church of
Saint-Amans, singing the bridal song. The fair and fertile
valley was bedecked with the blossoms of the apple, the plum,
and the almond, which whitened the country round. Nothing could
have seemed more propitious. Then came the chorus, which was no
invention of the poet, but a refrain always sung at rustic
weddings, in accordance with the custom of strewing the bridal
path with flowers:
"The paths with buds and blossoms strew,
A lovely bride approaches nigh;
For all should bloom and spring anew,
A lovely bride is passing by!"
Under the blue sky and brilliant sunshine, the joyous young
people frisked along. The picture of youth, gaiety, and beauty,
is full of truth and nature. The bride herself takes part in the
frolic. With roguish eyes she escapes and cries: "Those who
catch me will be married this year!" And then they descend the
hill towards the church of Saint-Amans. Baptiste, the
bridegroom, is out of spirits and mute. He takes no part in the
sports of the bridal party. He remembers with grief the blind
girl he has abandoned.
In the cottage under the cliff Marguerite meditates a tragedy.
She dresses herself, and resolves to attend the wedding at
Saint-Amans with her little brother. While dressing, she slips a
knife into her bosom, and then they start for the church.
The bridal party soon arrived, and Marguerite heard their
The ceremony proceeded. Mass was said. The wedding-ring was
blessed; and as Baptiste placed it on the bride's finger,
he said the accustomed words. In a moment a voice cried: "It is
he! It is he;" and Marguerite rushed through the bridal party
towards him with a knife in her hand to stab herself;
but before she could reach the bridegroom she fell down dead--
broken-hearted! The crime which she had intended to commit
against herself was thus prevented.
In the evening, in place of a bridal song, the De Profundis was
chanted, and now each one seemed to say:--
"The roads shall mourn, and, veiled in gloom,
So fair a corpse shall leave its home!
Should mourn and weep, ah, well-away,
So fair a corpse shall pass to-day!"
This poem was finished in August 1835; and on the 26th of the
same month it was publicly recited by Jasmin at Bordeaux, at the
request of the Academy of that city.
There was great beauty, tenderness, and pathos in the poem.
It was perfectly simple and natural. The poem might form the
subject of a drama or a musical cantata. The lamentations of
Marguerite on her blindness remind one of Milton's heart-rending
words on the same subject:
"For others, day and joy and light,
For me, all darkness, always night."
Sainte-Beuve, in criticising Jasmin's poems, says that "It was
in 1835 that his talent raised itself to the eminence of writing
one of his purest compositions--natural, touching and
disinterested--his Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille, in which he makes
us assist in a fete, amidst the joys of the villagers; and at the
grief of a young girl, a fiancee whom a severe attack of smallpox
had deprived of her eyesight, and whom her betrothed lover had
abandoned to marry another.
"The grief of the poor abandoned girl, her changes of colour,
her attitude, her conversation, her projects--the whole
surrounded by the freshness of spring and the laughing
brightness of the season--exhibits a character of nature and
of truth which very few poets have been able to attain.
One is quite surprised, on reading this simple picture,
to be involuntarily carried back to the most expressive poems
of the ancient Greeks--to Theocritus for example--for the
Marguerite of Jasmin may be compared with the Simetha of the
Greek poet. This is true poetry, rich from the same sources,
and gilded with the same imagery. In his new compositions Jasmin
has followed his own bias; this man, who had few books,
but meditated deeply in his heart and his love of nature;
and he followed the way of true art with secret and persevering
labour in what appeared to him the most eloquent, easy, and happy
"His language," Sainte-Beuve continues, "is always the most
natural, faithful, transparent, truthful, eloquent, and sober;
never forget this last characteristic. He is never more happy
than when he finds that he can borrow from an artizan or labourer
one of those words which are worth ten of others. It is thus
that his genius has refined during the years preceding the time
in which he produced his greatest works. It is thus that he has
become the poet of the people, writing in the popular patois,
and for public solemnities, which remind one of those of the
Middle Ages and of Greece; thus he finds himself to be, in short,
more than any of our contemporaries, of the School of Horace,
of Theocritus, or of Gray, and all the brilliant geniuses who
have endeavoured by study to bring each of their works to
The Blind Girl was the most remarkable work that Jasmin had up
to this time composed. There is no country where an author is so
popular, when he is once known, as in France. When Jasmin's poem
was published he became, by universal consent, the Poet Laureate
of the South. Yet some of the local journals of Bordeaux made
light of his appearance in that city for the purpose of reciting
his as yet unknown poem. "That a barber and hairdresser of
Agen," they said, "speaking and writing in a vulgar tongue,
should attempt to amuse or enlighten the intelligent people of
Bordeaux, seemed to them beneath contempt."
But Jasmin soon showed them that genius is of no rank or
condition of life; and their views shortly underwent a sudden
change. His very appearance in the city was a triumph. Crowds
resorted to the large hall, in which he was to recite his new
poem of the Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille. The prefect, the mayor,
the members of the Academy, and the most cultivated people of
the city were present, and received him with applause.
There might have been some misgivings as to the success of the
poem, but from the moment that he appeared on the platform and
began his recitation, every doubt disappeared. He read the poem
with marvellous eloquence; while his artistic figure, his mobile
countenance, his dark-brown eyebrows, which he raised or lowered
at will, his expressive gesticulation, and his passionate
acting, added greatly to the effect of his recital, and soon won
every heart. When he came to the refrain,
"The paths with buds and blossoms strew,"
he no longer declaimed, but sang after the manner of the
peasants in their popular chaunt. His eyes became suffused with
tears, and those who listened to the patois, even though they
only imperfectly understood it, partook of the impression,
and wept also.
He was alike tender and impressive throughout the piece,
especially at the death of the blind girl; and when he had
ended, a storm of applause burst from the audience. There was a
clapping of hands and a thunderous stamping of feet that shook
the building almost to its foundations.
It was a remarkable spectacle, that a humble working man,
comparatively uneducated, should have evoked the tumultuous
applause of a brilliant assembly of intelligent ladies and
gentlemen. It was indeed something extraordinary. Some said
that he declaimed like Talma or Rachel, nor was there any note of
dissonance in his reception. The enthusiasm was general and
unanimous amongst the magistrates, clergy, scientific men,
artists, physicians, ship-owners, men of business, and working
people. They all joined in the applause when Jasmin had
concluded his recitation.
From this time forward Jasmin was one of the most popular men at
Bordeaux. He was entertained at a series of fetes. He was
invited to soirees by the prefect, by the archbishop, by the
various social circles, as well as by the workmen's associations.
They vied with each other for the honour of entertaining him.
He went from matinees to soirees, and in ten days he appeared at
thirty-four different entertainments.
At length he became thoroughly tired and exhausted by this
enormous fete-ing. He longed to be away and at home with his
wife and children. He took leave of his friends and admirers
with emotion, and, notwithstanding the praises and acclamations
he had received at Bordeaux, he quietly turned to pursue his
humble occupation at Agen.
It was one of the most remarkable things about Jasmin,
that he was never carried off his feet by the brilliant ovations
he received. Though enough to turn any poor fellow's head,
he remained simple and natural to the last. As we say in this
country, he could "carry corn" We have said that "Gascon" is
often used in connection with boasting or gasconading. But the
term was in no way applicable to Jasmin. He left the echo of
praises behind him, and returned to Agen to enjoy the comforts
of his fireside.
He was not, however, without tempters to wean him from his home
and his ordinary pursuits. In 1836, the year after his triumphal
reception at Bordeaux, some of his friends urged him to go to
Paris--the centre of light and leading--in order to "make his
But no! he had never contemplated the idea of leaving his native
town. A rich wine merchant of Toulouse was one of his tempters.
He advised Jasmin to go to the great metropolis, where genius
alone was recognised. Jasmin answered him in a charming letter,
setting forth the reasons which determined him to remain at home,
principally because his tastes were modest and his desires were
"You too," he said, "without regard to troubling my days and my
nights, have written to ask me to carry my guitar and my
dressing-comb to the great city of kings, because there, you
say, my poetical humour and my well-known verses will bring
torrents of crowns to my purse. Oh, you may well boast to me of
this shower of gold and its clinking stream. You only make me
cry: 'Honour is but smoke, glory is but glory, and money is only
money!' I ask you, in no craven spirit, is money the only thing
for a man to seek who feels in his heart the least spark of
poetry? In my town, where everyone works, leave me as I am.
Every summer, happier than a king, I lay up my small provision
for the winter, and then I sing like a goldfinch under the shade
of a poplar or an ash-tree, only too happy to grow grey in the
land which gave me birth. One hears in summer the pleasant zigo,
ziou, ziou, of the nimble grasshopper, or the young sparrow
pluming his wings to make himself ready for flight, he knows not
whither; but the wise man acts not so. I remain here in my home.
Everything suits me--earth, sky, air--all that is necessary for
my comfort. To sing of joyous poverty one must be joyful and
poor. I am satisfied with my rye-bread, and the cool water from
Jasmin remained faithful to these rules of conduct during his
life. Though he afterwards made a visit to Paris, it was only
for a short time; but his native town of Agen, his home on the
Gravier, his shop, his wife and his children, continued to be
his little paradise. His muse soared over him like a guardian
angel, giving him songs for his happiness and consolation for
his sorrows. He was, above all things, happy in his wife.
She cheered him, strengthened him, and consoled him.
He thus portrayed her in one of his poems:
"Her eyes like sparkling stars of heavenly blue;
Her cheeks so sweet, so round, and rosy;
Her hair so bright, and brown, and curly;
Her mouth so like a ripened cherry;
Her teeth more brilliant than the snow."
Jasmin was attached to his wife, not only by her beauty, but by
her good sense. She counselled and advised him in everything.
He gave himself up to her wise advice, and never had occasion to
regret it. It was with her modest marriage-portion that he was
enabled to establish himself as a master hairdresser.
When he opened his shop, he set over the entrance door this
sign: "L'Art embellit La Nature: Jasmin, Coiffeur des Jeunes
Gens." As his family grew, in order to increase his income,
he added the words, " Coiffeur des Dames." This proved to be a
happy addition to his business. Most of the ladies of Agen
strove for the honour of having their hair dressed by the
poetical barber. While dressing their hair he delighted them
with his songs. He had a sympathetic voice, which touched their
souls and threw them into the sweetest of dreams.
Though Jasmin was always disposed to rhyme a little, his wise
wife never allowed him to forget his regular daily work.
At the same time she understood that his delicate nature could
not be entirely absorbed by the labours of an ordinary workman.
She was no longer jealous of his solitary communions with his
muse; and after his usual hours of occupation, she left him, or
sat by him, to enable him to pursue his dear reveries in quiet.
Mariette, or Marie, as she was usually called, was a thoroughly
good partner for Jasmin. Though not by any means a highly
educated woman, she felt the elevating effects of poetry even on
herself. She influenced her husband's mind through her practical
wisdom and good sense, while he in his turn influenced hers by
elevating her soul and intellect.
Jasmin, while he was labouring over some song or verse, found it
necessary to recite it to some one near him, but mostly to his
wife. He wandered with her along the banks of the Garonne, and
while he recited, she listened with bated breath. She could even
venture to correct him; for she knew, better than he did,
the ordinary Gascon dialect. She often found for him the true
word for the picture which he desired to present to his reader.
Though Jasmin was always thankful for her help, he did not
abandon his own words without some little contention.
He had worked out the subject in his mind, and any new word,
or mode of description, might interrupt the beauty of the verses.
When he at length recognised the justice of her criticism,
he would say, "Marie, you are right; and I will again think over
the subject, and make it fit more completely into the Gascon
idiom." In certain cases passages were suppressed; in others
they were considerably altered.
When Jasmin, after much labour and correction, had finished his
poem, he would call about him his intimate friends, and recite
the poem to them. He had no objection to the most thorough
criticism, by his wife as well as by his friends. When the poem
was long and elaborate, the auditors sometimes began to yawn.
Then the wife stepped in and said: "Jasmin, you must stop; leave
the remainder of the poem for another day." Thus the recital
ceased for the time.
The people of Agen entertained a lively sympathy for their poet.
Even those who might to a certain extent depreciate his talent,
did every justice to the nobility of his character. Perhaps some
might envy the position of a man who had risen from the ranks
and secured the esteem of men of fortune and even of the leaders
of literary opinion. Jasmin, like every person envied or perhaps
detracted, had his hours of depression. But the strong soul of
his wife in these hours came to his relief, and assuaged the
spirit of the man and the poet.
Jasmin was at one time on the point of abandoning verse-making.
Yet he was encouraged to proceed by the demands which were made
for his songs and verses. Indeed, no fete was considered
complete without the recitations of Jasmin. It was no doubt very
flattering; yet fame has its drawbacks. His invitations were
Jasmin was no doubt recognised as a poet, and an excellent
reciter; yet he was a person who handled the razor and the
curling-tongs. When he was invited to a local party, it was
merely that he might recite his verses gratuitously. He did not
belong to their social circle, and his wife was not included.
What sympathy could she have with these distinguished personages?
At length Jasmin declined to go where his wife could not be
invited. He preferred to stay at home with his family; and all
further invitations of this sort were refused.
Besides, his friend Nodier had warned him that a poet of his
stamp ought not to appear too often at the feasts of the lazy;
that his time was too precious for that; that a poet ought,
above all, not to occupy himself with politics, for, by so doing,
he ran the risk of injuring his talent.
Some of his local critics, not having comprehended the inner
life of Jasmin, compared his wife to the gardener of Boileau and
the maid-servant of Moliere. But the comparison did not at all
apply. Jasmin had no gardener nor any old servant or
housekeeper. Jasmin and Marie were quite different. They lived
the same lives, and were all in all to each other. They were
both of the people; and though she was without culture, and had
not shared in the society of the educated, she took every
interest in the sentiments and the prosperity of her admirable
One might ask, How did Jasmin acquire his eloquence of
declamation--his power of attracting and moving assemblies of
people in all ranks of life? It was the result, no doubt, partly
of the gifts with which the Creator had endowed him, and partly
also of patience and persevering study. He had a fine voice, and
he managed it with such art that it became like a perfectly tuned
instrument in the hands of a musician.
His voice was powerful and pathetic by turns, and he possessed
great sweetness of intonation,--combined with sympathetic
feeling and special felicity of emphasis. And feeling is the
vitalising principle of poetry. Jasmin occasionally varied his
readings by singing or chaunting the songs which occurred in
certain parts of his poems. This, together with his eloquence,
gave such immense vital power to the recitations of the Agenaise
And we shall find, from the next chapter, that Jasmin used his
pathetic eloquence for very noble,--one might almost say, for
Footnotes for Chapter VII.
 The translation appeared in 'Bentley's Miscellany' for March
1840. It was published for a charitable purpose. Mrs. Craven,
in her 'Life of Lady Georgiana Fullerton,' says: "It was put in
at once, and its two hundred and seventy lines brought to the
author twelve guineas on the day on which it appeared.
Lady Fullerton was surprised and delighted. All her long years
of success, different indeed in degree, never effaced the memory
of the joy."
 The refrain, in the original Gascon, is as follows:
"Las carreros diouyon flouri,
Tan belo nobio bay sourti;
Diouyon flouri, diouyon graua,
Tan belo nobio bay passa!"
 In Gascon:
"Las carreros diouyon gemi,
Tan belo morto bay sourti!
Diouyon gemi, diouyon ploura,
Tan belo morto bay passa!"
 in Gascon:
"Jour per aoutres, toutjour! et per jou, malhurouzo,
Toutjour ney,toutjour ney!
Que fay negre len d'el! Oh! que moun amo es tristo!"
 Sainte-Beuve: 'Causeries du Lundi,' iv. 240-1 (edit. 1852);
and 'Portraits Contemporains,' ii. 61 (edit, 1847).
JASMIN AS PHILANTHROPIST.
It is now necessary to consider Jasmin in an altogether
different character--that of a benefactor of his species.
Self-sacrifice and devotion to others, forgetting self while
spending and being spent for the good of one's fellow creatures,
exhibit man in his noblest characteristics. But who would have
expected such virtues to be illustrated by a man like Jasmin,
sprung from the humblest condition of life?
Charity may be regarded as a universal duty, which it is in
every person's power to practise. Every kind of help given to
another, on proper motives, is an act of charity; and there is
scarcely any man in such a straitened condition as that he may
not, on certain occasions, assist his neighbour. The widow that
gives her mite to the treasury, the poor man that brings to the
thirsty a cup of cold water, perform their acts of charity,
though they may be of comparatively little moment. Wordsworth,
in a poetic gem, described the virtue of charity:
"... Man is dear to man; the poorest poor
Long for some moments in a weary life
When they can know and feel that they have been,
Themselves, the fathers and the dealers out
Of some small blessings, have been kind to such
As needed kindness, for the single cause
That we have all of us one human heart."
This maxim of Wordsworth's truly describes the life and deeds of
Jasmin. It may be said that he was first incited to exert
himself on behalf of charity to his neighbours, by the absence
of any Poor Law in France such as we have in England. In the
cases of drought, when the crops did not ripen; or in the
phylloxera blights, when the grapes were ruined; or in the
occasional disastrous floods, when the whole of the agricultural
produce was swept away; the small farmers and labourers were
reduced to great distress. The French peasant is usually very
thrifty; but where accumulated savings were not available for
relief, the result, in many cases, was widespread starvation.
Jasmin felt that, while himself living in the midst of blessings,
he owed a duty, on such occasions, to the extreme necessities of
his neighbours. The afflicted could not appeal to the
administrators of local taxes; all that they could do was to
appeal to the feelings of the benevolent, and rely upon local
charity. He believed that the extremely poor should excite our
liberality, the miserable our pity, the sick our assistance,
the ignorant our instruction, and the fallen our helping hand.
It was under such circumstances that Jasmin consented to recite
his poems for the relief of the afflicted poor. His fame had
increased from year to year. His songs were sung, and his poems
were read, all over the South of France. When it was known that
he was willing to recite his poems for charitable purposes
he was immediately assailed with invitations from far and near.
When bread fell short in winter-time, and the poor were famished;
when an hospital for the needy was starving for want of funds;
when a creche or infants' asylum had to be founded; when a
school, or an orphanage, had to be built or renovated, and money
began to fail, an appeal was at once made to Jasmin's charitable
It was not then usual for men like Jasmin to recite their poems
in public. Those who possessed his works might recite them for
their own pleasure. But no one could declaim them better than he
could, and his personal presence was therefore indispensable.
It is true, that about the same time Mr. Dickens and Mr.
Thackeray were giving readings from their works in England and
America. Both readers were equally popular; but while they made
a considerable addition to their fortunes, Jasmin realised
nothing for himself; all that was collected at his recitations
was given to the poor.
Of course, Jasmin was received with enthusiasm in those towns
and cities which he visited for charitable purposes. When it was
known that he was about to give one of his poetical recitals,
the artisan left his shop, the blacksmith his smithy, the servant
her household work; and the mother often shut up her
house and went with her children to listen to the marvelous poet.
Young girls spread flowers before his pathway; and lovely women
tore flowers from their dresses to crown their beloved minstrel
with their offerings.
Since his appearance at Bordeaux, in 1835, when he recited his
Blind Girl for a charitable purpose, he had been invited to many
meetings in the neighbourhood of Agen, wherever any worthy
institution had to be erected or assisted. He continued to write
occasional verses, though not of any moment, for he was still
dreaming of another masterpiece.
All further thoughts of poetical composition were, however,
dispelled, by the threatened famine in the Lot-et-Garonne.
In the winter of 1837 bread became very dear in the South of
France. The poor people were suffering greatly, and the usual
appeal was made to Jasmin to come to their help. A concert was
advertised to be given at Tonneins, a considerable town to the
north-west of Agen, when the local musicians were to give their
services, and Jasmin was to recite a poem.
For this purpose he composed his 'Charity' (La Caritat).
It was addressed to the ladies and musicians who assisted at the
entertainment. Charity is a short lyrical effusion, not so much
a finished poem as the utterings of a tender heart. Though of
some merit, it looks pale beside The Blind Girl. But his choice
of the subject proved a forecast of the noble uses which Jasmin
was afterwards enabled to make of his poetical talents.
Man, he said in his verses, is truly great, chiefly through his
charity. The compassionate man, doing his works of benevolence,
though in secret, in a measure resembles the Divine Author of
his being. The following is the introductory passage of the
"As we behold at sea great ships of voyagers
Glide o'er the waves to billows white with spray,
And to another world the hardy travellers convey;
Just as bold savants travel through the sky
To illustrate the world which they espy,
Men without ceasing cry, 'How great is man!'
But no! Great God! How infinitely little he!
Has he a genius? 'Tis nothing without goodness!
Without some grace, no grandeur do we rate.
It is the tender-hearted who show charity in kindness.
Unseen of men, he hides his gift from sight,
He does all that he owes in silent good,
Like the poor widow's mite;
Yet both are great,
Great above all--great as the Grace of God."
This is, of course, a very feeble attempt to render the words of
Jasmin. He was most pathetic when he recounted the sorrows of
the poor. While doing so, he avoided exciting their lower
instincts. He disavowed all envy of the goods of others.
He maintained respect for the law, while at the same time he
exhorted the rich to have regard for their poorer brethren.
"It is the glory of the people," he said at a meeting of workmen,
"to protect themselves from evil, and to preserve throughout
their purity of character."
This was the spirit in which Jasmin laboured. He wrote some
other poems in a similar strain--'The Rich and Poor,'
'The Poor Man's Doctor,' 'The Rich Benefactor' (Lou Boun Riche);
but Jasmin's own Charity contained the germ of them all. He put
his own soul into his poems. At Tonneins, the emotion he excited
by his reading of Charity was very great, and the subscriptions
for the afflicted poor were correspondingly large.
The municipality never forgot the occasion; and whenever they
became embarrassed by the poverty of the people, they invariably
appealed to Jasmin, and always with the same success. On one
occasion the Mayor wrote to him: "We are still under the charm of
your verses; and I address you in the name of the poor people of
Tonneins, to thank you most gratefully for the charitable act
you have done for their benefit. The evening you appeared here,
sir, will long survive in our memory. It excited everywhere the
most lively gratitude. The poor enjoyed a day of happiness,
and the rich enjoyed a day of pleasure, for nothing can be more
blessed than Charity!"
Jasmin, in replying to this letter, said: "Christ's words were,
'Ye have the poor always with you'; in pronouncing this fact,
he called the world to deeds of charity, and instituted this
admirable joint responsibility (solidarite), in virtue of which
each man should fulfil the duty of helping his poorer neighbours.
It is this responsibility which, when the cry of hunger or
suffering is heard, is most instrumental in bringing all generous
souls to the front, in order to create and multiply the resources
of the poor."
Jasmin's success at Tonneins led to numerous invitations of a
like character. "Come over and help us," was the general cry
during that winter of famine. The barber's shop was invaded by
numerous deputations; and the postman was constantly delivering
letters of invitation at his door. He was no longer master of
his time, and had considerable difficulty in attending to his
own proper business. Sometimes his leisure hours were
appropriated six months beforehand; and he was often
peremptorily called upon to proceed with his philanthropic work.
When he could find time enough to spare from his business,
he would consent to give another recitation. When the distance
was not great he walked, partly for exercise, and partly to save
money. There were few railways in those days, and hiring a
conveyance was an expensive affair. Besides, his desire always
was, to hand over, if possible, the whole of the receipts to the
charitable institutions for whose benefit he gave his
The wayfaring poet, on his approach to the town in which he was
to appear, was usually met by crowds of people. They received
him with joy and acclamation. The magistrates presented him with
a congratulatory address. Deputations from neighbouring towns
were present at the celebration. At the entrance to the town
Jasmin often passed under a triumphal arch, with "Welcome,
Jasmin! our native poet!" inscribed upon it. He was conveyed,
headed by the local band, to the hall where he was to give his
Jasmin's appearance at Bergerac was a great event. Bergerac is a
town of considerable importance, containing about fourteen
thousand inhabitants, situated on the right or north bank of the
river Dordogne. But during that terrible winter the poor people
of Bergerac were in great distress, and Jasmin was summoned to
their help. The place was at too great a distance from Agen for
him to walk thither, and accordingly he was obliged to take a
conveyance. He was as usual met by a multitude of people,
who escorted him into the town.
The magistrates could not find a place sufficiently large to
give accommodation to the large number of persons who desired to
hear him. At length they found a large building which had been
used as a barn; and there they raised a platform for the poet.
The place was at once filled, and those who could not get
admission crowded about the entrance. Some of the people raised
ladders against the walls of the building, and clambered in at
the windows. Groups of auditors were seen at every place where
they could find a footing. Unfortunately the weather was rainy,
and a crowd of women filled the surrounding meadow, sheltered by
More than five hundred persons had not been able to find
admission, and it was therefore necessary for Jasmin to give
several more readings to satisfy the general enthusiasm. All the
receipts were given over by Jasmin for the benefit of the poor,
and the poet hurried home at once to his shaving and
On another occasion, at Gontaud, the weather was more
satisfactory. The day was fine and sunny, and the ground was
covered with flowers. About the time that Jasmin was expected,
an open carriage, festooned with flowers, and drawn by four
horses, was sent to the gate of the town, escorted by the
municipal council, to wait for the poet. When he arrived on foot
for the place was at no great distance from Agen twelve young
girls, clothed in white, offered him a bouquet of flowers, and
presented him with an address. He then entered the carriage and
proceeded to the place where he was to give his recitation. All
went well and happily, and a large offering was collected and
distributed amongst the poor.
Then at Damazan, where he gave another reading for the same
purpose, after he had entered the carriage which was to convey
him to the place of entertainment, a number of girls preceded
the carriage in which the poet sat, and scattered flowers in his
way, singing a refrain of the country adapted to the occasion.
It resembled the refrain sung before the bride in The Blind Girl
"The paths with flowers bestrew,
So great a poet comes this way;
For all should flower and bloom anew,
So great a poet comes to-day."
These are only specimens of the way in which Jasmin was received
during his missions of philanthropy. He went from north
to south, from east to west, by river and by road, sleeping
where he could, but always happy and cheerful, doing his noble
work with a full and joyous heart. He chirruped and sang from
time to time as if his mouth was full of nightingales. And he
was never without enthusiastic multitudes to listen to his
recitals, and to share their means with the poor and afflicted.
We might fill this little story with a detailed account of his
journeyings; but a summary account is all that is at present
necessary. We shall afterwards return to the subject.
Footnotes to Chapter VIII.
 Mr. George Dolby, in his work 'Charles Dickens as I knew
him,' tells "the story of the famous 'reading tours,' the most
brilliantly successful enterprises that were ever undertaken."
Chappell and Co. paid him 1500 sterling for thirty readings
in London and the provinces, by which they realised 5000
sterling. Arthur Smith and Mr. Headland were his next managers,
and finally Mr. George Dolby. The latter says that Mr. Dickens
computed the money he netted under the Smith and Headland
management at about 12,000 sterling; and under Dolby's management
"he cleared nearly 33,000 sterling."
 In Gascon:
"Las carreros diouyon fleuri,
Tan gran poete bay sourti;
Diouyon fleuri, diouyon graua,
Tan gran poete bay passa."
Jasmin published no further poems for three or four years.
His time was taken up with his trade and his philanthropic
Besides, he did not compose with rapidity; he elaborated his
poems by degrees; he arranged the plot of his story, and then he
clothed it with poetical words and images. While he walked and
journeyed from place to place, he was dreaming and thinking of
his next dramatic poem--his Franconnette, which many of his
critics regard as his masterpiece.
Like most of his previous poems, Jasmin wrote Franconnette in
the Gascon dialect. Some of his intimate friends continued to
expostulate with him for using this almost dead and virtually
illiterate patois. Why not write in classical French? M. Dumon,
his colleague at the Academy of Agen, again urged him to employ
the national language, which all intelligent readers could
"Under the reign of our Henry IV.," said M. Dumon, "the Langue
d'Oil became, with modifications, the language of the French,
while the Langue d'Oc remained merely a patois. Do not therefore
sing in the dialect of the past, but in the language of the
present, like Beranger, Lamartine, and Victor Hugo.
"What," asked M. Dumon, "will be the fate of your original
poetry? It will live, no doubt, like the dialect in which it is
written; but is this, the Gascon patois, likely to live? Will it
be spoken by our posterity as long as it has been spoken by our
ancestors? I hope not; at least I wish it may be less spoken.
Yet I love its artless and picturesque expressions, its lively
recollections of customs and manners which have long ceased to
exist, like those old ruins which still embellish our landscape.
But the tendency which is gradually effacing the vestiges of our
old language and customs is but the tendency of civilisation
"When Rome fell under the blows of the barbarians, she was
entirely conquered; her laws were subjected at the same time as
her armies. The conquest dismembered her idiom as well as her
empire.... The last trace of national unity disappeared in
this country after the Roman occupation. It had been Gaul,
but now it became France. The force of centralisation which has
civilised Europe, covering this immense chaos, has brought to
light, after more than a hundred years, this most magnificent
creation the French monarchy and the French language. Let us
lament, if you will, that the poetical imagination and the
characteristic language of our ancestors have not left a more
profound impression. But the sentence is pronounced; even our
Henry IV. could not change it. Under his reign the Langue d'Oil
became for ever the French language, and the Langue d'Oc
remained but a patois.
"Popular poet as you are, you sing to posterity in the language
of the past. This language, which you recite so well, you have
restored and perhaps even created; yet you do not feel that it
is the national language; this powerful instrument of a new era,
which invades and besieges yours on all sides like the last
fortress of an obsolete civilisation."
Jasmin was cut to the quick by this severe letter of his friend,
and he lost not a moment in publishing a defence of the language
condemned to death by his opponent. He even displayed the force
and harmony of the language which had been denounced by M. Dumon
as a patois. He endeavoured to express himself in the most
characteristic and poetical style, as evidence of the vitality
of his native Gascon. He compared it to a widowed mother who
dies, and also to a mother who does not die, but continues
young, lovely, and alert, even to the last. Dumon had published
his protest on the 28th of August, 1837, and a few days later,
on the 2nd of September, Jasmin replied in the following poem:-
"There's not a deeper grief to man
Than when his mother, faint with years,
Decrepit, old, and weak and wan,
Beyond the leech's art appears;
When by her couch her son may stay,
And press her hand, and watch her eyes,
And feel, though she revives to-day,
Perchance his hope to-morrow dies.
It is not thus, believe me, sir,
With this enchantress--she will call
Our second mother: Frenchmen err,
Who, cent'ries since, proclaimed her fall!
Our mother-tongue--all melody--
While music lives can never die.
Yes! she still lives, her words still ring;
Her children yet her carols sing;
And thousand years may roll away
Before her magic notes decay.
The people love their ancient songs, and will
While yet a people, love and keep them still:
These lays are as their mother; they recall
Fond thoughts of mother, sister, friends, and all
The many little things that please the heart,
The dreams, the hopes, from which we cannot part.
These songs are as sweet waters, where we find
Health in the sparkling wave that nerves the mind.
In ev'ry home, at ev'ry cottage door,
By ev'ry fireside, when our toil is o'er,
These songs are round us--near our cradles sigh,
And to the grave attend us when we die.
Oh, think, cold critics! 'twill be late and long,
Ere time shall sweep away this flood of song!
There are who bid this music sound no more,
And you can hear them, nor defend--deplore!
You, who were born where its first daisies grew,
Have fed upon its honey, sipp'd its dew,
Slept in its arms, and wakened to its kiss,
Danced to its sounds, and warbled to its tone--
You can forsake it in an hour like this!
Yes, weary of its age, renounce--disown--
And blame one minstrel who is true--alone!"
This is but a paraphrase of Jasmin's poem, which, as we have
already said, cannot be verbally translated into any other
language. Even the last editor of Jasmin's poems--Boyer d'Agen
--does not translate them into French poetry, but into French
prose. Much of the aroma of poetry evaporates in converting
poetical thoughts from one language into another.
Jasmin, in one part of his poem, compares the ancient patois to
one of the grand old elms in the Promenade de Gravier, which,
having in a storm had some of its branches torn away, was
ordered by the local authorities to be rooted up. The labourers
worked away, but their pick-axes became unhafted. They could not
up-root the tree; they grew tired and forsook the work. When the
summer came, glorious verdure again clothed the remaining
boughs; the birds sang sweetly in the branches, and the
neighbours rejoiced that its roots had been so numerous and the
tree had been so firmly planted.
Jasmin's description of his mother-tongue is most touching.
Seasons pass away, and, as they roll on, their echoes sound in
our ears; but the loved tongue shall not and must not die.
The mother-tongue recalls our own dear mother, sisters, friends,
and crowds of bygone associations, which press into our minds
while sitting by the evening fire. This tongue is the language
of our toils and labours; she comes to us at our birth, she
lingers at our tomb.
"No, no--I cannot desert my mother-tongue!" said Jasmin.
"It preserves the folk-lore of the district; it is the language
of the poor, of the labourer, the shepherd, the farmer and
grape-gatherers, of boys and girls, of brides and bridegrooms.
The people," he said to M. Dumon, "love to hear my songs in
their native dialect. You have enough poetry in classical
French; leave me to please my compatriots in the dialect which
they love. I cannot give up this harmonious language, our second
mother, even though it has been condemned for three hundred
years. Why! she still lives, her voice still sounds; like her,
the seasons pass, the bells ring out their peals, and though a
hundred thousand years may roll away, they will still be
sounding and ringing!"
Jasmin has been compared to Dante. But there is this immense
difference between them. Dante was virtually the creator of the
Italian language, which was in its infancy when he wrote his
'Divine Comedy' some six hundred years ago, while Jasmin was
merely reviving a gradually-expiring dialect. Drouilhet de
Sigalas has said that Dante lived at the sunrise of his
language, while Jasmin lived at its sunset. Indeed, Gascon was
not a written language, and Jasmin had to collect his lexicon,
grammar, and speech mostly from the peasants who lived in the
neighbourhood of Agen. Dante virtually created the Italian
language, while Jasmin merely resuscitated for a time the Gascon
Jasmin was not deterred by the expostulations of Dumon,
but again wrote his new epic of Franconnette in Gascon.
It took him a long time to clothe his poetical thoughts in words.
Nearly five years had elapsed since he recited The Blind Girl of
Castel-Cuille to the citizens of Bordeaux; since then he had
written a few poetical themes, but he was mainly thinking and
dreaming, and at times writing down his new epic Franconnette.
It was completed in 1840, when he dedicated the poem to the city
The story embodied in the poem was founded on an ancient
tradition. The time at which it occurred was towards the end of
the sixteenth century, when France was torn to pieces by the
civil war between the Huguenots and the Catholics. Agen was then
a centre of Protestantism. It was taken and retaken by both
parties again and again. The Huguenot captain, Truelle, occupied
the town in April 1562; but Blaize de Montluc, "a fierce
Catholic," as he is termed by M. Paul Joanne, assailed the town
with a strong force and recaptured it. On entering the place,
Montluc found that the inhabitants had fled with the garrison,
and "the terrible chief was greatly disappointed at not finding
any person in Agen to slaughter." Montluc struck with a heavy
hand the Protestants of the South. In the name of the God of
Mercy he hewed the Huguenots to pieces, and, after spreading
desolation through the South, he retired to his fortress at
Estellac, knelt before the altar, took the communion, and was
welcomed by his party as one of the greatest friends of the
The civil war went on for ten years, until in August 1572 the
massacre of Saint Bartholomew took place. After that event the
word "Huguenot" was abolished, or was only mentioned with
terror. Montluc's castle of Estellac, situated near the pretty
village of Estanquet, near Roquefort--famous for its cheese--
still exists; his cabinet is preserved, and his tomb and statue
are to be seen in the adjoining garden. The principal scenes of
the following story are supposed to have occurred at Estanquet,
a few miles to the south of Agen.
Franconnette, like The Blind Girl of Castel-Cuille, is a story
of rivalry in love; but, though more full of adventure, it ends
more happily. Franconnette was a village beauty. Her brilliant
eyes, her rosy complexion, her cherry lips, her lithe and
handsome figure, brought all the young fellows of the
neighbourhood to her feet. Her father was a banished Huguenot,
but beauty of person sets differences of belief at defiance.
The village lads praised her and tried to win her affections;
but, like beauties in general, surrounded by admirers, she was a
bit of a flirt.
At length two rivals appeared--one Marcel, a soldier under
Montluc, favoured by Franconnette's grandmother, and Pascal,
the village blacksmith, favoured by the girl herself. One Sunday
afternoon a number of young men and maidens assembled at the
foot of Montluc's castle of Estellac on the votive festival of
St. Jacques at Roquefort. Franconnette was there, as well as
Marcel and Pascal, her special admirers. Dancing began to the
music of the fife; but Pascal, the handsomest of the young men,
seemed to avoid the village beauty. Franconnette was indignant
at his neglect, but was anxious to secure his attention and
devotion. She danced away, sliding, whirling, and pirouetting.
What would not the admiring youths have given to impress two
kisses on her lovely cheek!
In these village dances, it is the custom for the young men to
kiss their partners, if they can tire them out; but in some
cases, when the girl is strong; and an accomplished dancer,
she declines to be tired until she wishes to cease dancing.
First one youth danced with Franconnette, then another;
but she tired them all. Then came Marcel, the soldier, wearing
his sabre, with a cockade in his cap--a tall and stately fellow,
determined to win the reward. But he too, after much whirling
and dancing, was at last tired out: he was about to fall with
dizziness, and then gave in. On goes the dance; Franconnette
waits for another partner; Pascal springs to her side, and takes
her round the waist. Before they had made a dozen steps,
the girl smiles and stops, and turns her blushing cheeks to
receive her partner's willing kisses.
Marcel started up in a rage, and drawing himself to his full
height, he strode to Pascal. "Peasant!" he said, "thou hast
supplied my place too quickly," and then dealt him a thundering
blow between the eyes. Pascal was not felled; he raised his arm,
and his fist descended on Marcel's head like a bolt. The soldier
attempted to draw his sabre. When Pascal saw this, he closed
with Marcel, grasped him in his arms, and dashed him to the
ground, crushed and senseless.
Marcel was about to rise to renew the duel, when suddenly
Montluc, who happened to be passing with the Baron of Roquefort,
stepped forward and sternly ordered the combatants to separate.
This terrible encounter put an end to the fete. The girls fled
like frightened doves. The young men escorted Pascal to his home
preceded by the fifers. Marcel was not discouraged.
On recovering his speech, he stammered out, grinding his teeth:
"They shall pay clearly for this jesting; Franconnette shall
have no other husband than myself."
Many months passed. The harvest was gathered in. There were no
more out-door fetes or dances. The villagers of Estanquet
assembled round their firesides. Christmas arrived with it games
and carol-singing. Then came the Feast of Lovers, called the
Buscou, on the last day of the year, where, in a large
chamber, some hundred distaffs were turning, and boys and girls,
with nimble fingers, were winding thread of the finest flax.
Franconnette was there, and appointed queen of the games.
After the winding was over, the songs and dances began to the
music of a tambourin. The queen, admired by all, sang and danced
like the rest.
Pascal was not there; his mother was poor, and she endeavoured
to persuade him to remain at home and work. After a short
struggle with himself, Pascal yielded. He turned aside to his
forge in silent dejection; and soon the anvil was ringing and
the sparks were flying, while away down in the village the
busking went merrily on. "If the prettiest were always the most
sensible," says Jasmin, "how much my Franconnette might have
accomplished;" but instead of this, she flitted from place to
place, idle and gay, jesting, singing, dancing, and, as usual,
Then Thomas, Pascal's friend, asked leave to sing a few verses;
and, fixing his keen eyes upon the coquette, he began in tones
of lute-like sweetness the following song, entitled 'The Syren
with a Heart of Ice.' We have translated it, as nearly as
possible, from the Gascon dialect.
Sereno al co de glas,
Oh! digo, digo couro
Entendren tinda l'houro
Et quand parpailloulejes
La foulo que mestrejes,
Sur toun cami set met
Et te siet.
Mais res d'acos, maynado,
Al bounhur pot mena;
Qu'es acos d'estre aymado,
Quand on sat pas ayma?"
"Wayward shepherd maid,
Syren with heart of ice,
Oh! tell us, tell us! when
We listen for the hour
When thou shalt feel
Ever so free and gay,
And when you flutter o'er
The number you subdue,
Upon thy path they fall
At thy feet.
But nothing comes of this, young maid,
To happiness it never leads;
What is it to be loved like this
If you ne'er can love again?"
Such poetry however defies translation. The more exquisite the
mastery of a writer over his own language, the more difficult it
is to reproduce it in another. But the spirit of the song is in
Miss Costello's translation, as given in Franconnette at the
close of this volume.
When reciting Franconnette, Jasmin usually sang The Syren to
music of his own composition. We accordingly annex his music.
All were transported with admiration at the beautiful song.
When Thomas had finished, loud shouts were raised for the name of
the poet. "Who had composed this beautiful lay?" "It is
Pascal," replied Thomas. "Bravo, Pascal! Long live Pascal! "was
the cry of the young people. Franconnette was unwontedly touched
by the song. "But where is Pascal?" she said. "If he loves, why
does he not appear?" "Oh," said Laurent, another of his rivals,
in a jealous and piqued tone, "he is too poor, he is obliged to
stay at home, his father is so infirm that he lives upon alms!"
"You lie," cried Thomas. "Pascal is unfortunate; he has been
six months ill from the wounds he received in defence of
Franconnette, and now his family is dependent upon him; but he
has industry and courage, and will soon recover from his
Franconnette remained quiet, concealing her emotions. Then the
games began. They played at Cache Couteau or Hunt the Slipper.
Dancing came next; Franconnette was challenged by Laurent,
and after many rounds the girl was tired, and Laurent claimed the
kisses that she had forfeited. Franconnette flew away like a
bird; Laurent ran after her, caught her, and was claiming the
customary forfeit, when, struggling to free herself, Laurent
slipped upon the floor, fell heavily, and broke his arm.
Franconnette was again unfortunate. Ill-luck seems to have
pursued the girl. The games came to an end, and the young people
were about to disperse when, at this unlucky moment, the door
was burst open and a sombre apparition appeared. It was the
Black Forest sorcerer, the supposed warlock of the neighbourhood.
"Unthinking creatures," he said, "I have come from my gloomy
rocks up yonder to open your eyes. You all adore this
Franconnette. Behold, she is accursed! While in her cradle her
father, the Huguenot, sold her to the devil. He has punished
Pascal and Laurent for the light embrace she gave them.
He warned in time and avoid her. The demon alone has a claim to
The sorcerer ended; sparks of fire surrounded him, and after
turning four times round in a circle he suddenly disappeared!
Franconnette's friends at once held aloof from her. They called
out to her," Begone!" All in a maze the girl shuddered and
sickened; she became senseless, and fell down on the floor in a
swoon. The young people fled, leaving her helpless. And thus
ended the second fete which began so gaily.
The grossest superstition then prevailed in France, as
everywhere. Witches and warlocks were thoroughly believed in,
far more so than belief in God and His Son. The news spread
abroad that the girl was accursed and sold to the Evil One, and
she was avoided by everybody. She felt herself doomed. At
length she reached her grandmother's house, but she could not
work, she could scarcely stand. The once radiant Franconnette
could neither play nor sing; she could only weep.
Thus ended two cantos of the poem. The third opens with a lovely
picture of a cottage by a leafy brookside in the hamlet of
Estanquet. The spring brought out the singing-birds to pair and
build their nests. They listened, but could no longer hear the
music which, in former years, had been almost sweeter than their
own. The nightingales, more curious than the rest, flew into the
maid's garden; they saw her straw hat on a bench, a rake and
watering-pot among the neglected jonquils, and the rose branches
running riot. Peering yet further and peeping into the cottage
door, the curious birds discovered an old woman asleep in her
arm-chair, and a pale, quiet girl beside her, dropping tears
upon her lily hands. "Yes, yes, it is. Franconnette," says the
poet. "You will have guessed that already. A poor girl, weeping
in solitude, the daughter of a Huguenot, banned by the Church
and sold to the devil! Could anything be more frightful?"
Nevertheless her grandmother said to her, "My child, it is not
true; the sorcerer's charge is false. He of good cheer, you are
more lovely than ever." One gleam of hope had come to
Franconnette; she hears that Pascal has defended her everywhere,
and boldly declared her to be the victim of a brutal plot. She
now realised how great was his goodness, and her proud spirit
was softened even to tears. The grandmother put in a good word
for Marcel, but the girl turned aside. Then the old woman said,
"To-morrow is Easter Day; go to Mass, pray as you never prayed
before, and take the blessed bread, proving that you are
numbered with His children for ever."
The girl consented, and went to the Church of Saint Peter on
Easter morning. She knelt, with her chaplet of beads, among the
rest, imploring Heaven's mercy. But she knelt alone in the midst
of a wide circle. All the communicants avoided her. The
churchwarden, Marcel's uncle, in his long-tailed coat,
with a pompous step, passed her entirely by, and refused her the
heavenly meal. Pascal was there and came to her help. He went
forward to the churchwarden and took from the silver plate the
crown piece of the holy element covered with flowers,
and took and presented two pieces of the holy bread to
Franconnette--one for herself, the other for her grandmother.
From that moment she begins to live a new life, and to
understand the magic of love. She carries home the blessed bread
to the ancient dame, and retires to her chamber to give herself
up, with the utmost gratefulness, to the rapturous delight of
loving. "Ah," says Jasmin in his poem, "the sorrowing heart aye
Yet still she remembers the fatal doom of the sorcerer that she
is sold for a price to the demon. All seem to believe the
hideous tale, and no one takes her part save Pascal and her
grandmother. She kneels before her little shrine and prays to
the Holy Virgin for help and succour.
At the next fete day she repaired to the church of Notre Dame de
bon Encontre, where the inhabitants of half a dozen of the
neighbouring villages had assembled, with priests and crucifixes,
garlands and tapers, banners and angels. The latter, girls about
to be confirmed, walked in procession and sang the Angelus at
the appropriate hours. The report had spread abroad that
Franconnette would entreat the Blessed Virgin to save her
from the demon. The strangers were more kind to her than her
immediate neighbours, and from many a pitying heart the prayer
went up that a miracle might be wrought in favour of the
beautiful maiden. She felt their sympathy, and it gave her
confidence. The special suppliants passed up to the altar one by
one--Anxious mothers, disappointed lovers, orphans and
children. They kneel, they ask for blessings, they present their
candles for the old priest to bless, and then they retire.
Now came the turn of Franconnette. Pascal was in sight and
prayed for her success. She went forward in a happy frame of
mind, with her taper and a bouquet of flowers. She knelt before
the priest. He took the sacred image and presented it to her;
but scarcely had it touched the lips of the orphan when a
terrible peal of thunder rent the heavens, and a bolt of
lightning struck the spire of the church, extinguishing her
taper as well as the altar lights. This was a most unlucky
coincidence for the terrified girl; and, cowering like a lost
soul, she crept out of the church. The people were in
consternation. "It was all true, she was now sold to the devil!
Put her to death, that is the only way of ending our
The truth is that the storm of thunder and lightning prevailed
throughout the neighbourhood. It is a common thing in southern
climes. The storm which broke out at Notre Dame destroyed the
belfry; the church of Roquefort was demolished by a bolt of
lightning, the spire of Saint Pierre was ruined. The storm was
followed by a tempest of hail and rain. Agen was engulfed by the
waters; her bridge was destroyed, and many of the
neighbouring vineyards were devastated. And all this ruin was
laid at the door of poor Franconnette!
The neighbours--her worst enemies--determined to burn the
daughter of the Huguenot out of her cottage. The grandmother
first heard the cries of the villagers: "Fire them, let them
both burn together." Franconnette rushed to the door and pleaded
for mercy. "Go back," cried the crowd, "you must both roast
together." They set fire to the rick outside and then proceeded
to fire the thatch of the cottage. "Hold, hold!" cried a stern
voice, and Pascal rushed in amongst them. "Cowards! would you
murder two defenceless women? Tigers that you are, would you
fire and burn them in their dwelling?"
Marcel too appeared; he had not yet given up the hope of winning
Franconnette's love. He now joined Pascal in defending her and
the old dame, and being a soldier of Montluc, he was a powerful
man in the neighbourhood. The girl was again asked to choose
between the two. At last, after refusing any marriage under
present circumstances, she clung to Pascal. "I would have died
alone," she said, "but since you will have it so, I resist no
longer. It is our fate; we will die together." Pascal was
willing to die with her, and turning to Marcel he said: "I have
been more fortunate than you, but you are a brave man and you
will forgive me. I have no friend, but will you act as a squire
and see me to my grave?" After struggling with his feelings,
Marcel at last said: "Since it is her wish, I will be your
A fortnight later, the marriage between the unhappy lovers took
place. Every one foreboded disaster. The wedding procession
went down the green hill towards the church of Notre Dame. There
was no singing, no dancing, no merriment, as was usual on such
occasions. The rustics shuddered at heart over the doom of
Pascal. The soldier Marcel marched at the head of the
wedding-party. At the church an old woman appeared, Pascal's
mother. She flung her arms about him and adjured him to fly from
his false bride, for his marriage would doom him to death.
She even fell at the feet of her son and said that he should pass
over her body rather than be married. Pascal turned to Marcel
and said: "Love overpowers me! If I die, will you take care of
Then the gallant soldier dispelled the gloom which had
overshadowed the union of the loving pair. "I can do no more,"
he said; "your mother has conquered me. Franconnette is good,
and pure, and true. I loved the maid, Pascal, and would have
shed my blood for her, but she loved you instead of me.