Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

Dum canimus sacras alterno pectine nonas ;

to us there is no profession so prosaic as a barber's, and for a poet to be found among its members is indeed a prodigy. But Jasmin is that prodigy. The little room behind his shop is full of gifts, presented to him in homage of his genius; admirers in every social and intellectual rank have sent their offerings, and kings are among the conHe writes after his name,

66

go

"bare

more especially if he be hight Jasmin, to remind | the charivaris common in the country; but none us of his own oily perfumes, and if, further, he of these effusions have come down to us-the entitle his writings, 'Curl-papers," to suggest poor tailor-satirist rests mute and inglorious. more homely ideas still. Let no Latinist punster Though a thin, weak child, yet " nourished by good quote to us the line, milk, and nestling in a warm cradle stuffed with lark's feathers," Jasmin grew, "just as if he had been the son of a king." At the age of seven he was strong enough to accompany his father to the hand, a paper cap on his head, and seemingly charivaris, whither he went with a horn in his much pride of position in his heart. But the foot and barehead" to gather sticks for his parents greatest delight of his childhood was to in the willow-islands of the Garonne, with a party tributors. 66 Member of some score of his companions. To this day it of the Academies of Agen and Bordeaux." At his button-hole he wears the ribbon of the legion struck noon, the cry would arise, à l'illo, enchants him to remember how, 66 as the clock amits!of honor-in his case, at least, bestowed upon no to the island, friends!" How they then set off, unworthy grounds. And the little table beside his counter is covered with favorable reviews by critics in that country; how, their fagots and their work singing, L'agnel que m'as dounal, a favorite song whose judgment is stamped with authority, min- finished an hour before nightfall, they spent that gled with complimentary letters from correspond-time in swinging upon the pliant branches, and how ents whose approbation is indeed high praise. All these Jasmin makes no ostentation either of ex

hibiting or of concealing; he has not been spoiled by the flattery he has received; but he is conscious of his own merits, and disdains the mock modesty it would be affectation to assume.

In appearance he is a fine, manly-looking fellow, in manners he is hearty and simple. From the first prepossessing, he gains upon you at every moment, till when he is fairly launched into the recital of one of his poems, and his rich voice does justice to the harmonious Gascon in which they nearly all are written, the animation and feeling he discovers become contagious; your admiration kindles; cold as you may generally be, you are involved in his ardor. You forget the shop in which you stand; all idea of his being a hair-dresser vanishes; you

rise with him into his superior world, and experience in a way you will never forget, the power exercised by a true poet pouring forth his living thoughts in his own verses.

Amongst Jasmin's productions is a picce entitled Mous Soubenis-My Souvenirs. It appeared in 1832. Nothing can give a better idea at once of the man and of the poet than this work; for it not only yields us a retrospect of his life, but exhibits in a peculiar degree the mixture of pathos and humor, of playfulness and passion, which distinguishes him. We shall, therefore, make the acquaintance of the modern troubadour by means of this autobiography. We translate word for

word when we quote in prose.

Aged and broken, the other century had only a couple of years more to pass upon earth, when, at the corner of an old street, in a house where dwelt more than one rat, on Thursday in Shrovetide, behind the door, at the hour when they toss pancakes, of a hunchbacked father and a lame mother, was born a baby, and that baby was I.

The hunchbacked father was a tailor; and, though he could not read, he too was a poet, of a much lower degree, however, than his son. He composed burlesque and occasional couplets for

they then returned home again, "thirty voices bundles of wood danced on thirty heads." chanting the same air and chorus, while thirty

All his amusements, however, were not so innocent. He was a sad robber of orchards; nor does he seem even yet reformed in principle, for his mouth evidently still waters at the recollection of his exploits

Over the hedge and over the wall,

What lots of cherries and plums we stole!
Peaches and grapes and nectarines,
Up the trees and along the vines !
Pears and apricots past belief-
Oh! I was such a famous thief!
Leaping like squirrels, on we came,
Scourges of gardens, and proud of the name.

early years, there was a care which cast a gloom
But, amid the gayety and carelessness of Jasmin's

over his happiest moments; and it arose from a cause which does not usually much sadden a child. The future poet had an eager thirst for education; the poverty of his parents did not admit of his receiving it. The thought of school, and of his being debarred from it, constantly haunted him ; his poor mother would whisper the word to his grandfather, and then look wistfully at her boy : but there was no help, they had not the means, and his singular desire of knowledge could not be gratified. He could only wish.

The family had evidently a hard battle to su8tain. Jasmin's childhood was one of hunger and privation. We find him afterwards alluding to his forced fasts, in some humorous verses addressed "To a Curé of Marmande, who at a great dinner wished to make him observe Lent." We think we hear some troubadour of Raymond's court discharging his pleasantry at the penance-pronouneing St. Dominic, or some of his monk companions. Cries our abbé, "Sinners all, Fast, and of your ways repent! If you've sinned in carnival, Now atone by keeping Lent.

Sinners, oh! to be forgiven,
Pay your heavy debt to Heaven!”

Me your words in no way touch;
You and all the curés know
In advance I've paid so much,
Nothing of the kind I owe.
Why should I be told to fast?
Heaven's my debtor for the past!

But even hunger cannot sink the buoyancy natural to childhood. Jasmin was always merry. Every season had its own pleasures, cheap and natural, but not the less enjoyed. In winter, for instance, they consisted in listening to dreadful stories told by an old woman.

that the

things he had never dreamed of before
severe looking woman, who came every morning
with an iron pot, bore in it to his grandmother,
"sick though still not old," the soup of charity;
that the old wallet was what his grandfather used
to carry from farmhouse to farmhouse, seeking the
scanty doles of his former friends; that no old
man ever died in their house, but "that as soon
as they took to crutches they were sent to the
hospital." So it had been from father to son.
"Paoure Pepy!-poor grandfather."

66

One day, however-a bright day for him-his Jacques," mother entered the house joyfully. said she, "Jacques, my son, you shall go to school! Your cousin the schoolmaster takes you for nothWhat delight and what pain I felt when she ing." Six months afterwards the boy could read recounted the " Ogre and Little Tom Thumb," when he was diligent and had a good memory-six she painted a hundred ghosts, with the noise of a more and he assisted the priest at mass-six more, hundred chains, in an old ruin, when she rehearsed and as a chorister he struck up the Tantum ergo the Sorcerer" or "Bluebeard," or described the "Loup-garou" howling in the street. Half dead-six more and he entered the seminary gratuiwith fear, I dared not breathe, and when, as mid-tously-six more and he was expelled from it with night sounded, I returned home, it seemed as if shame on his face and curses on his head. And sorcerers and loups-garoux were always at my this, too, was in the very moment of his first great heels. triumph. He had gained a prize—it was only an old cassock-but it was still a prize. His mother came and saw it; full of joy was that poor moth

66

So much for imaginary terrors. The actual things of life and their stern reality were soon forced upon him in a way that left its trace for-er, and between her kisses she said to him,

ever.

escort.

It was a Monday. At play with his companions, he was their king and they formed his In the midst of his reign he sees two porters approach, bearing an old man seated on a willow chair. They come nearer and nearer, near

Poor thing you have a good right to learn; loaf of bread, and this year times are so bad, that for, thanks to you, they send us every Tuesday a God knows it is welcome." Jasmin, very proud, promised repeatedly that he would become a grand savant, and his mother went away radiant with

enough at last for him to distinguish his grand-joy. His father, it was arranged, was to lay his father. He throws himself round his poor relative's neck, and asks him anxiously, and in wonder, professional hands on the cassock and alter it to the boy's size. But that vestment Jasmin was what ails him, why he has left home, where he is never destined to wear. He fell, both literally going. "To the workhouse, my son," replies and figuratively. "The devil, that instigator of the weeping old man. "Acòs aqui que lous Jansemins môron-it is there the Jasmins die. evil," led him, it seems, near a ladder, at the top He embraced me," continued Jasmin, "and was of which a plump servant maid was perched, oc

carried away, shutting his blue eyes-five days afterwards my grandfather was no more." Then, for the first time, the boy felt what poverty really is. This event struck deep into his mind; the recollection of it has since been constantly present to him, and on one occasion, at least, it exercised a salutary influence on his fortunes. When, at last, more prosperous days came, he found great satisfaction in making a bonfire of the old willow chair in which his forefathers," all the Jasmins,' had been carried to their almshouse death-bed. With this incident the first canto closes.

cupied-type of innocence-in feeding pigeons in

a dove-cot above her. He mounted the ladder one,

two, three, four steps, Kitty turned and uttered a
scream, the ladder was thrown over, and both came
continued screaming, and when the luckless wight
together to the ground, she uppermost. Kitty
got upon his legs again, he found scullions, cooks,
canons, and little abbés, all the house, in fact,
assembled around him. Kitty told the story in
her own way, with embellishments, the culprit
assures us, and his punishment was immediately
pronounced-

So wicked and so young! As Heaven is my guard,
I'll see that such conduct shall meet its due reward!
Dry bread and prison from to-day, through all the
Such was the peremptory sentence of the principal !

carnival!

The second begins with an inventory of the family furniture, in which figure, among other things, "three old beds in ruins; six old curtains, which the wind from the crannies would have caused to belly out like sails, if they had not been eaten by time and rats into the semblance of Shut up in his cell, Jasmin was far from being sieves; a sideboard frequently subjected to threat miserable. He had, it seems, visions of lovely of bailiff-it was the only thing worth seizing-women, who, and an old wallet hanging in a corner. He had not before remarked the scantiness of their possessions, but his eyes were now opened. He saw how slender were his parents' means, and he learned

Sweet consolers of disgrace,
Changing it to happiness,
Breathing smiles and beaming light,
Hovered round him all the night-

Never o'er a couch so bare Wantoned dreams so fresh and fair.

From these pleasant visions, however, Jasmin

awoke to the direful reality of hunger-a reality

which causes him emphatically to deny the truth of the proverb, “qui dron ninjo”—he who sleeps

dines. To tantalize him more, from the valiant

spits hard at work in the kitchen, ascended, coming through the keyhole, and impelled by the 66 great devil," an odor of unctuous and most delectable meats. It is the carnival, and he is in prison, alone and hungry. He becomes desperate, his eye flashes with rage, and at that moment it falls on a cupboard in the wall-high up, but secured only by a wooden pin. The means of ascent are speedily furnished by a table, some washing lines,

and four chairs; on this ladder, at the risk of his

neck, he climbs. Opening the cupboard he beholds in the interior four pots; "trembling like a king upon his throne," he draws one of them towards him; something soft and black flows out on his face and trickles to his mouth; he tastes"triumph it is quince marmalade!"

"But at this moment who is coming up stairs? -who fumbles at the door?-who opens it?who enters ?-O, terror! it is the principal himself-bearing a pardon." But what a sad and unexpected sight meets his eye! Of course it was all over with Jasmin. There had been forgiveness for his other transgression, but for this there was none-a boy who eats a canon's own particular choice quince marmalade, puts himself beyond the pale of mercy. With a cry of " Out, you devil, out!" the enraged ecclesiastic shook the frail scaffold Jasmin, followed by a pot or two, tumbled from his bad eminence, and was summarily expelled from the seminary. His face being still besmeared with the stolen sweets, the carnivalkeepers, as he ran through the streets, saluted him with jeering cries of "A mask! a mask!" but escaping from his tormentors he at last got home, sore with his fall and very hungry. Here he found the table laid, and some beans cooking-but there was no bread. "You need not wait for it," said his mother to her children, sadly but tenderly; "it will not come."

They were without bread. "O poverty! O repentance! O well-turned ankles and quince marmalade! O Kitty, and O canon!"-the ration had been stopped because of his misconduct the previous day! After a while his mother cast a glance at her hand, and then exclaiming, "Wait a little—yes, you shall have it!" she goes out. She soon returns with a loaf, and all the family regain their spirits; Jacques alone is serious and watchful-watchful of his mother-serious, for he has his fears. They finish their beanporridge she prepares to cut the loaf-he observes her closely-observes her left hand. Alas! it was true-" n' abiò plus soun anèl"—she had sold her marriage ring!

This is the end of the second canto, or 'pause." Jasmin here passes over a year of his

life, and at the opening of the third canto the schoolboy has become apprentice to a hair-dresser, and is now, as he says, almost a man. Engaged the greater part of each day in adorning out

wardly the heads of others, he devoted all his

spare

Every night the ray of a lamp, shining from a and in his bed, waking the night through, he garret window, lit up the neighboring elm-tree; lulled asleep his griefs by reading, forgetting for the time the ring, the wallet, and the workhouse. So he lived, "unhappy and contented." He also now began to write verses, addressed in the first

hours to storing the interior of his own.

place, strangely enough, to the heroine of a novel, to pray her to be his guardian angel. She was, he says, ever in his thoughts; and when, during his occupations of the day, the terrible thought of the workhouse presented itself—as it seems constantly to have done he had for solace only vented his minding his proper business, and he this sweet unsubstantiality. This of course pre

confesses it.

[blocks in formation]

66

clear!

But all to see and all to hear

My ears and eyes too much are mazed. "Tis Cinderella!" loud I cried-" 't is she, I say."

"Silence!" my neighbor muttered; Why so, sir? What is this, where are we, pray?" I stuttered:

"You fool! you 're at the play!"

This gave a new direction to his thoughts; that night Cinderella supplanted poor Estella in his affections. He talked in his sleep, made long speeches, and disturbed his master's house. The ire of the old barber was of course kindled, and in the morning he ascends to his apprentice's garret to scold him. The scene which follows is inimitable. The dreamy, imaginative, easily impressioned boy, lying on the floor of the room, and just awakened from silvery visions of fairyland and the beautiful Cinderella; the practical, sober, methodical, but withal good-natured master, standing with authority over him, and questioning him-the professional pride of the worthy man as he tells the lad that he is unfit to be a barber, and had better turn player-his horror at finding

66

himself unexpectedly taken at his word his scene in which they, as well as his sisters, are broken remonstrances, half indignation, half pity, introduced in a comfortable family picture, the and the unlooked for effect of his chance expres-only drawback on the happiness of the party sion, "Infatuated boy! do you wish to die in the being their indignation at some complimentary workhouse?"—which, by the terrible reminis- verses which termed the poet a son of Apollo," cences it calls up, restores the stage-struck ap- and thereby, as they thought, cast doubts on the prentice to his proper senses-are all sketched fair character of his mother. with so masterly a hand, in a few vigorous lines, that the incident, than which nothing could in itself be more commonplace, becomes eminently interesting and dramatic. But it is the peculiar merit of Jasmin, as, indeed, it is his professed aim, to depict the natural, to adhere closely to the true, to represent every-day occurrences, and simply putting them in their proper light, or by directing on them the illumination of his poetry, to give to even the most ordinary personages and events the effect and attraction which are usually considered as being confined to the romantic, the exciting, and the improbable.

Two years went by after the memorable visit to the theatre; Jasmin was now nearly eighteen years of age, the future began to brighten, and at last an important day in his history arrived-his own little "saloun" (saloon) for hair-dressing was opened. It was not much frequented at first; customers were few and fortune niggardly, "mais se non plèou, rouzino"-if it did not rain, it drizzled. And soon he became completely happy. "He found in the world," he says, a spirit that pleased him," he fell in love, that is to say. His wooing was successful; his marriage day came; "in a renovated hat, in a blue coat-new for the second time, and with a shirt of coarse stuff, having a calico front," he carried away his bride, the pleasing, good-natured little woman whom we have seen at Agen.

66

His later history he passes lightly over. You know the rest, (he says, addressing himself to M. Florimond de St. Amant, to whom the "Soubenis" are dedicated.) Fifteen years have passed; the "Curl-papers" and other songs have attracted to my shop a little stream of so silvery a nature, that in my poetic ardor I broke to pieces the terrible chair. My fears are gone; so much so, that reading the other day that Pegasus is a horse which carries poets to the almshouse, I filled the whole house with my laughter. I, for my part, have been carried by that steed, not to the almshouse, but to a certain notary's office; and now, in the full pride of my greatness, I rejoice to see myself figuring on the list of the tax-gatherer, being the first of my family who has had that honor. It is true, the honor costs something; but no matter, our house shelters us against wind and rain, though behind it is certainly but imperfectly roofed in. But my wife says to me, "Courage! every verse you make is a tile, and it is rafters you are squaring when you write;" and she who at first, when my verses were not so argentiferous, used to lock up my paper and split my pen, now offers me, with a courteous air, the finest pen and the smoothest paper.

It is pleasing to find that both the parents of Jasmin lived to see and to profit by their son's success; for the "Soubenis" conclude with a

In the same little shop Jasmin still remains. But his fame soon went forth. In 1835 we find him reciting his verses amid the applause of the critical Academy of Bordeaux; and in 1840, raising to extraordinary enthusiasm an immense mixed multitude at Toulouse. Passing over, however, his other triumphs, we come to his reception at Paris, an account of which he gives in a piece entitled "My Journey." The scene is the saloon of M. Augustin Thierry, the learned and accomplished author of the "History of the Norman Conquest." The illustrious writer, whose eyes a "thick drop serene" has obscured forever, is seated as usual in his arm-chair, a melancholy calm upon his fine features, his devoted wife is beside him, around him are assembled the most distinguished people of Parispoets, critics, orators—the learned, the witty, the imaginative. The eyes of all are turned upon a man who, with the embarrassment of modesty, but with the just confidence of conscious power, prepares to read a poem of his own. He announces it as "The Blind Girl of Castèl-Cuillè." There is a movement of curiosity, not a few looks of incredulity, one or two of the party manifest something approaching to a sneer-for the pretended poet is a hair-dresser, and writes in patois.

The effect is chilling for the poor man; his southern ardor feels the frost of the atmosphere. He has an awful reverence for the great men round him, and he is crushed by their superiority. Their conventional politeness, so different from Gascon warmth, is painfully scrupulous; he is a stranger too, and so alone.

How shall he move such an audience? How shall his simple "Abuglo" touch their hearts? He sees that they are resolved not to be influenced in his favor by the mere curiosity of the thing-by the phenomenon of a barber making tolerable verses, and venturing so boldly to recite them on such ground; he sees he must stand or fall by his real merits. Let him describe his own emotions.

A crowd of learned men and women waited coldly till I should open my lips, to measure my mind and my words. And it is not in Paris as on the banks of the Garonne. At home all are my friends, here all are judges; and he who comes to establish his name, if he does not gain a throne, finds nothing but a tomb. Doubtless they had an amicable air towards me-they even called me a poet; but I saw, by the expression of their eyes, how difficult my proof would be; and then, none of them understood our sweet, smooth language. I was dumb-I was afraid. I changed from hot to cold, and from cold to hot. In vain the magnificent countenance of the blind man grew bright with kindness towards me-in vain his guardian

angel, his gentle companion, touched me with her golden wing. I trembled-I wished to go away.

But at last he took courage. He began his "Abuglo," and from the first his success was complete. He was frequently interrupted by the applause of his hearers. That evening was decisive. Twenty-six times, he tells us, within fifteen days, he repeated his recitation, the last of them being before the then royal family at Neuilly. Covered with applause and honor, he returned to his beloved Agen; and the year after he received a substantial proof of the estimation in which his poetry was held, an annual pension of a thousand francs being allotted to him by the Minister of

Public Instruction.

He loves, when all things verdant beam,
In manhood to go forth and dream
Upon the turf where as a child he played.

I rest then here; not rich, but free;

With water from my spring, with bread of rye :
In gay saloons there 's many a sigh,
And I for my part laugh at anything.
There's many a laugh beneath the tree ;-

I wept too long 't is time to laugh and sing;
For, wiser now than in my youth, I hold
That in this tinsel world below,

In which our days so soon will have been told,
And where all things are empty show—
Content is better far than gold.

In the preceding translation we have endeavored Since then he has remained perfectly contented to preserve something of the rhythm of the origiin his native town, making occasional tours, and nal, which, in almost all Jasmin's productions' is reciting his works to admiring crowds in the very arbitrary. He mingles short lines with long different places of the south, but refusing all lines at pleasure; one of fifteen syllables shall, solicitation to leave his present position. One of for instance, precede one of two; to a series of the most pleasing of his many pleasing poetical stately hexameters shall succeed a flight of epistles is on this subject, and contains his rea- trochaics, in many of which the verse is composed sons for not following the advice of a "rich agri- of a single word. Such license, though common culturist near Toulouse, who incessantly wrote to enough among French writers in the composition him to go and establish himself in Paris, where of fables and the like, has never been considered he would make his fortune." It is too long to by them admissible in the more elevated style; quote entire, but we select from it some passages, but Jasmin's innovation is as successful as it was of which even the author of the ode, "Rectius daring. But if his rhythm is irregular, his rhymes vives," would have had no cause to be ashamed.

Why do you always repeat to me, (he says,) that money is money, and that fame is only fame? My eye is fixed on a laurel; a little sprig of it will, I hope, one day be mine; and compared with that sprig, all the riches of the world are to me as nothing. Besides, 1 do not know how to use wealth-wealth would spoil me. I cannot employ it usefully as you do; you, who while you enrich yourself, enrich a hundred others.

No! I should do as upstarts always do,
Become, perhaps, stiff, haughty, proud,
And ape high lords as best I could,
And in a handsome carriage go.
Deny, whilst to the great I bend,
My kindred, and each former friend.
And act so, that from nought refraining,
Full soon my coffers would be drained.
When, now no more rich, proud, disdaining,
I should be wretched, poor, disdained.

In Agen, then, content and poor,
Leave me as now to work and sing.
Each summer, happier than a king,
I glean my little winter store.
And then I carol out the day

Beneath the shade of ash or thorn,
Too happy if my head grow gray

In the same place where I was born.

When once is come the summer sky,
And grasshoppers are heard to ply

Their chirp of zigo, ziou, ziou,

The wandering sparrows quit their homes, and fly
The nests where first they felt their feathers grow;
The wise man is of other stuff,
He ever loves the ancient roof
That sheltered first his youthful b^ad.

are still more so. It is not by such rudders that
his courses are steered. His rhyming lines follow
each other in every possible order; they are of
most unequal and disproportioned lengths; the

same assonance often unites three, four, or even
five, and these are sometimes consecutive, some-
times widely separated; in short, the movement
of his verses is an intricate and fantastic dance,
where the partners are perpetually meeting and
leaving each other, where dissyllabic pigmies are
coupled with monstrous Alexandrines, where the
eye can discover neither method nor design, but
where, nevertheless, there exists an evident har-
mony, which pleases though it may perplex.
following quotation will exemplify this.
opening of the third canto of Françouneto.
Al tour del mayne d'Estanquet,
Sus bors d'aquel riou tan fresquet,
Doun la fino aygueto,
Tout l'an à l'ombreto,
Sul caillaou caqueto,

Uno poulido fillo, en amassan de flous,
L'estiou passat, sul la pelouzo,

Al brut de soun himou jouyouzo,
De sa bouès et de sas cansous
Randiò lous aouzelous

Jalous.

The It is the

Perquè nou canto plus? Prats et sègos berdejon,
Lous roussignols que cansounejon

Bènon l'agarreja jusquo dins soun cazal ;
Es qu' aouyò quitat soun oustal.
Nou; soun capel de paillo fino
Es akki, labas, sur soun ban;
Mais n'és plus floucat d'un riban ;

Soun cazalet tapaou n'a plus tan bouno mino;
Soun rastèl, soun arrouzadou,

Soun pel las jounquillos boulcâdos;

« VorigeDoorgaan »