The Memoirs of Isaac Mathieu Crommelin
(1730 - 1815)
PART 2: 1764 - 1782
(Transcribed from pages digitally photographed at the Saint Quentin Public Library,
France by Maryse Trannois and (roughly) translated by Milfred Crommelin, Canada
with the aid of computer-translating programs, May-December 2002).
01 - Stormy Beginnings in Autun
02 - Mandrin, the Marauding Bandit
03 - Decline in the Culture of Autun
04 - Contribution to Local Antiquities
05 - Incident at Bourbon-Lancy
06 - The Temple of Janus
07 - Bell Tower of Autun Cathedral
08 - A Genealogical Project
09 - Louis XV's Rising Ceremony
10 - A Cheerful Party Turns Ugly
11 - Learning Mechanical Gadgetry
12 - My Natural History Collection
13 - The Feet of Saint Nicholas
14 - My Success as a Copy Artist
15 - The Villainous Valet
16 - My Music Teacher
17 - My Attempt at Sculpture
18 - A Regional Gun Tournament
19 - My Involvement in Freemasonry
20 - A Sleepwalking Abbott
21 - Counselling a Troubled Nun
22 - A Precocious Actor
When one has many desires, one lacks many things. We are truly happy only when a thrifty God
gives us precisely what is enough. According to Horace, Od. XI, Liv III
Autun, late 1700's
Stormy Beginnings in Autun
The position which the company gave me was located in Autun in
Burgundy. It was a pleasantly
situated city with big vineyards nearby and full of antique monuments.
To spend one thousand ecus there, by leading an excellent bachelor's life, I would have had
to throw twenty-five louis out the window. A cord of wood cost only eight francs; the wine
usually sold for two sols per bottle; a nicely furnished flat was less than fifty ecus to rent;
lunches and dinners, always together, cost only thirty-six francs per month; and the admission
to plays by the best companies was only a liard per ticket. I considered myself living in the
land of plenty.
I did not propose that my wife come with me, though, because her mother, in frail health, and an
old aunt needed her care. Therefore I moved without fear of being denied. Although I've had to
make considerable sacrifices such as this in the course of my life, our friendship never wavered
and I was amply rewarded in return.
My beginning in Autun was quite unpleasant. It was my misfortune to replace an old man who
was under the threat of suspension for a long time because his office went badly. It wasn't
his fault, however. The old chap cried when I showed him my commission. - "Does anybody, sir, have outstanding
accounts with you, and can you get us
the money that's missing?" - "I believe I can." - "Very well, then act now and write down
the circumstances thereby allowing me to wait one month. Use this time productively. In the
meantime, I shall acquaint myself with the district. If you succeed, you will benefit from
my observations." The fact is, I wanted a posting nearer to my home and family.
The steps taken by the old man were fruitless. Then I asked him to do an accounting with me.
His elder son, a policeman of the guard, bothered me a lot and since I could solve nothing
with him around, I begged him not to interfere. "Sir, you are speaking to one who is
not used to receiving orders." - "Sir," I replied, "if anyone had a reason to complain, it
certainly wouldn't be you. I hope that your father is satisfied with my methods. Not wishing
him to miss the opportunity to continue in this job, I asked him to accept the courtesy of a
delay so that he could manage on my behalf." It isn't my fault if he wasn't of more help
to him. This gentleman then had the indiscretion to go and say amidst a large gathering
that he would cut off both my ears, and more indiscreetly still, a very important man to whom
I was recommended, was the one who conveyed to me this comment. I had to respond. Here was my
"Because you, sir, are such a good bearer of news, I request that you go this evening
to the same gathering and say:
1. that I have knowledge of the threat;
2. that I play all the games;
3. that I am in the habit of strolling at the marble arch of the old circus grounds
where there are very pleasant places to explain further."
My intentions having been conveyed, the policeman, a local hothead, expressed his fury.
- "You are wrong," said three cavaliers of Saint-Louis to him. "It is
the foreigner who behaved nobly with your father. You bothered him incessantly and then
provoked his response. His reply is
energetic and it has nuances which shows the mettle of the man. In whatever manner you
choose to turn, he will be applauded and you will be blamed. In general the public
opinion is just. Besides, we are your friends while we don't even know him." - "What should I do?"
- "Do nothing. If he attacks you, he will be in the wrong. But it will not happen because he
has done only what he must. You threatened him. Obviously he isn't afraid of you, but on the
other hand you are trained for this kind of fight. So why not just leave things as they are."
There was in the neighborhood an officer who was a loud-mouth. Consequently he would often
have a quarrel with the truth. He advanced something which came to my attention that was
obviously wrong. Questioned by a lawyer of my friends about the matter, I clarified the issue and
returned the thing such as it was. "Ah, you lied," said his present wife to me in a motvendeau
- "Madam," I answered, "one can lie without meaning to do so. I merely observed that his
religion was a surprise to me." Then this naive but meddlesome lady met an officer,
an old comrade of her husband, and mentioned something about he also having lied. - "Lied?!"
- "Yes, this Crommelin had said so." The husband, however, realized that his wife spoke
in a dialect that was foreign to me, and that when I said that he had 'surprised me by his
religion', she said it as though he had 'lied to me about his religion'. This had been a question of
'surprise', and not 'lie'. - "I shall confront him and fight him if I have to!" - "You shall not
intimidate him; I forbid it. Besides, I have ten deniers for you if you find that my wife has
been compromised through a falsehood."
So the officer comes to find me with his hat on a rakish angle; I took mine too and composed
it on my head. - "I am told, sir, that you hold to certain views." - "Perhaps, but I try to hold
them only out of honesty, and to put others in their rightful place." - "Madam said that you take me
for a liar." - "Oh really. Let's go over to see her, sir, and let her husband be a witness."
He believed that I was afraid. - "It will not go well for you!" - "Ah! Ah! I recall that we
spoke about such things and that you were lied to by his religion."
- "Lied! Yes if this Crommelin is as you said
was one who professed propriety." - "Now, take the matter any way you want." - "If,
however, you did not make the comment..." - "Eh! Why do you look to me for a quarrel, before
having clarified the problem? Besides, I gave you the liberty to consider whether it's true, and
I have the honor to observe to you that every man who is afraid of another is a coward."
- "Thus you did not make the comment which came back to me?!" - "Certainly not; your manner is
a proof of that." - Well then, everything is settled." - "Yes, but if you boast at my expense,
I warn you that I shall speak out." - "I shall say nothing." - "And I too shall keep silent."
In the course of eighteen years, I had only a single duel, details of which I shall give in
Mandrin, the Marauding Bandit
On my arrival to Autun, this canton was in a continual quandry because Mandrin and his
lieutenant 'Iron Arms' was riding roughshod through the countryside. This bandit came into
this city and here is a sample of the tactics he used.
On the road of Châlons he met about thirty seminarians who were on their way to take their
orders. Having stopped them, he placed one seminarian between two of his comrades, brought
them to a women's convent called St-Andoche, and gave the order in public to shoot them at the
Next he went down to the administrator's office of the man who collected salt taxes demanding
his money. This administrator proved by his books that he had just made a general receipt.
Then he ordered the administrator to accompany him between two of his soldiers. I shall not
mention why this man did not think of taking me also. Somebody then said to Iron Arms that the
Jesuits had a lot of money so he went over to their college. Father Colignon (who was the first
one to have the idea of fixing measures to a fraction of the longitude meridian) took the horse
of the bandit by the reins and said to him: "You will not enter as long as I am alive. Go ahead
and kill me. I am 50 years old and you will only be removing from me a few
days. I shall die gladly, a martyr of my calling!" Iron Arms smiled, admiring the resoluteness
of the old man, and he respected him. However, I believe that having examined the premises with
its iron gate, he was afraid of being taken in a sort of fort at the college of the Jesuits.
This bandit then went to the main hotel where a large number of ladies talked very familiarly
with him. He opened a very wide snuffbox and offered the ladies some tobacco. All took it
or made the appearance of doing so.
A cavalier of St-Louis named a monsieur Lacolonge looked at Iron Arms with a sardonic smile
and said to him: "This is a farce which you are giving here." - "No, monsieur, it is a tragedy,
and you are going to be playing the lead role in it for being cheeky." Another cavalier of
Saint Louis named monsieur d'Orienne then took Iron Arms aside and presented him before the
armed riflemen and in a cheeky way said to him, "Will you kill a gallant man because of a
word he uttered which means nothing?" - "No, but I will not be insulted. Put down your weapons!"
This leader of thieves then asked for some wine for his troops. A wine casket was brought
up and emptied into fire buckets. I was in the crowd, to see what would become of all this.
Somebody suggested poisoning the troop and I was approached for my opinion on this strategy.
I had around me a circle of honest people. I replied that the idea seemed preposterous to me
from all points of view. "First of all, one hundred and fifty decent citizens could not stop and destroy
this band of outlaws. Furthermore, all manner of self defence is permissible, but poison is never allowed
in the rules of warfare (witness Fabricius and Pyrrus). Besides, there are thirty seminarians
at St-Andoche who would inevitably die and put the city in mourning." My opinion was approved
and the one who proposed poisoning the band of brigands was held in contempt.
Iron Arms did not capture anyone in Autun but he traversed Beaune proclaiming that he wished
to harm nobody. However, he killed out of hand a drunk man who had shouted to him, "Thief!"
He came across a monsieur Gagnerot who was out hunting and asked him if there were any Lamorlières
(troopers sent to track down Mandrin) in the area. The answer was negative. One minute later
monsieur Gagnerot blew a whistle to call his dog and Iron Arms, believing this to be a
whistle to alert the possee, sent seven or eight men to shoot the whistler. He dashed madly
into the yard of a brick factory and there received several gunshot wounds. I saw the balls pulled
out of monsieur Gagnerot's body and I attended the extraction of the last one which had flattened
itself against a bone. The wounded individual recovered and was not crippled by the ordeal.
Decline in the Culture of Autun
To give an idea of the gentleness which reigned then in Autun, here is a sample of the tone
of good company. In one of my first visits I found three or four housewives with five or six
young ladies, their daughters, from fifteen to twenty years old. I was asked whether I would
like to be part of a beach party down by the river of Aroux. I accepted and we left: father,
mother, aunts, brothers, sisters, etc. So we went to the banks of the river and I waited
impatiently for what was to come. We joked and laughed, and the ladies removed some hairpins
and began preparing their hair for swimming. Finally one mother says: "Gentlemen, go now to your
area." The separation was a mound of earth, and there was a small lagoon into which the men could
plunge without being seen. When the ladies wrapped in bathrobes called, we approached at
a discreet distance to talk, laugh and sing. And when they wanted to withdraw, the men were
sent away again to their area. Never was there any indecency. A young man who would have dared
to contravene the prescribed boundaries would have been expelled from any such gatherings.
I knew the lawyer, who, in this canton was the first to wear a jacket of velvet and silk
There was a general outcry against this extravagant kind of luxury. Formerly the housewives
spun in the evening their red or black wool; servants worked with the hemp, and every year
a roomful of material was created which served for dressing the father, the mother, and the
children of both sexes. In the evenings young people danced, flirted and played innocent games
while the mothers plucked their turkey or goose and stuffed the feathers in a linen bag, all of
which we now view as ridiculous. In the beautiful days of summer, several neighbours would
gather together for a supper in the street and call passers-by over to have a drink with them.
But one year was sufficient to put an end to those days of good times and pleasant living.
Here is what led to this cultural revolution. The prince de Conde was dissatisfied with the
city of Dijon as a venue for holding the Etats of Burgundy, and since Autun was found to be the
most suitable city, they were held there at a church of the Jesuits.
Accommodations were splendidly furnished with lavish conveniences and magnificent meals. When
the Etats were over, the Lords (seignieurs) returned to their castles but the taste for luxury
remained. The women of the rich caused the greatest change. Little-by-little they were imitated
by the general population in the use of braids, embroidery and lace which succeeded the former
simplicity. Now people wanted plate; incomes became insufficient and people sold their capital.
Then, a multitude of citizens who lived uninhibitedly began to embrace mediocrity. I note this
fact to illustrate how a single event can change the tone of a society. Indeed, foodstuffs
became more expensive, the rich assumed an air of dignity and noble persons, already proud,
increased their haughtiness. The gentleness of the times simply disappeared.
View of the Place du Campo Mars, Autun, late 1700's
My Contribution to Local Antiquities
The antiquities of Autun occupied me a great deal. I dare say that my research was not useless
to the historians of Burgundy. The Academy of Dijon asked me to verify some graves
and I proved that they were Gallic (ie. from Gaul). The characteristic mark on the graves of
this nation is an instrument named the 'ascia' which was engraved in one of the two ends.
This instrument looks much like a roofer's hammer. The Gauls, as did the Chinese, dug graves for
themselves or presided over their fabrication. In the heart of the stone was a square hole, and
around it nine lines made by the family, with the ascia. Next was engraved the hammer and below
the ascia some more writing. The graves of the men were under roofs while those of the women
were in vaults. Gallic divinities were found and I saw some of them, but the owner of the
property did not want to open the graves for just anybody. I offered some money to the workers
if they would open one that I pointed out to them. "No, not this one," they said to me, "but
that one is O.K." I concluded from it that the gods, seen on medallions and lead figures,
were in the form of people. In the grave that we opened I found the well-preserved skeleton of
a woman, and in the heart of the grave there was a red earth which resembled crushed brick.
This I removed and found it to generate effervescence when acids were applied. I sent this
matter to monsieur Buffon who is certain that this earth had gone into the composition of the
woman. I also recall that Pline of France had said with authority as a great observer, that
calcium stones are the residues of animals. Autun was formerly Bibracte, in spite of the claims
of the city of Laon. Auguste gave it the name of Augustodinum. The walls of ancient Bibracte
are not those of Autun today. The latter, obviously being more modern, are filled with Gallic
debris. There is also the appearance that the current city was a suburb. There is still
the famous field of March where Vergobret, the Gallic magistrate, crossed for a review every
year. This is the origin of the military holiday which takes place each year where the Vierg,
(mayor abbreviated from Ver-gobret)
presides. As the druids had a college at Bibracte, and as they exercised considerable authority,
these chapters were brought into this holiday. The Canons in their big coats form a cavalcade and
over a period of three days they exercise the right of justice. Usually this moment is awaited
to end any frivolous lawsuits. This holiday is called St-Ladre, (St-Lazare). There is a big
animal fair, and games of chance are allowed in cafes. For several days this fair attracts
many visitors and the last holiday of this sort which I saw in Autun was under the auspices of madam
the princess de Chimay, daughter of madam d'Aligre, to whose castle I often went in Monjeu.
This excellent lady forgot nothing of what was said. When she wanted to retain something,
she would ring a bell on her table to call for her secretary to take a memo. Ring. Ring. Ring. "Write," she said to him, "what
monsieur has just said." Even in vague conversation this sort of thing took place
five or six times. I spoke accidentally about a painting by Rubens in the
billiard room which was in bad company. Ring. Ring. "Write that monsieur Crommelin says
that my 'St. Sebastien' by Rubens and the 'monsieur de St Pargeau' (his son-in-law) should be
placed more advantageously."
Incident at Bourbon-Lancy
An unusual event occurred to me at the door of a gaming house at the time of
St. Ladre. This anecdote requires some explanation after which I shall return to where I have
A sword scratch on my left arm caused me to go to Bourbon-Lancy for the baths and
a treatment using leeches to cleanse the wound. My pleasure consisted in reading the
life of the Saints to my hostesses,
excellent people, and I captivated them by the unction I put into this instructive
reading. I had a room with two beds which was very convenient. A marchioness (marquise) arrived
with her daughter whose thighs were paralyzed.
I offered her my apartment and there we got to know each other. It was necessary to have
the leeches applied to my shoulder. The marquise came to find me and says to me: "You are a man.
You will suffer with courage. I ask that you allow my daughter to see the operation. She does
not want to hear about it, but I believe that your strength will be a means
of helping her endure the treatment." - "I agree, madam, and you will be satisfied with me." I sang
a duet with the young lady while my wound was prepared to receive eight leeches. The young lady
also took her medicine but she did not sing, and named me the 'wooden man'.
no resources for travelers, so when I had to leave there wasn't a single horse there. However
I learned there was one to be had at the Capuchin friars (Capuchins). I was to find the guardian
father, hand him a louis, say masses on behalf of the souls in purgatory, and then tell him
my embarrassing story. At the proper moment the guardian father offered me his horse and a
Capuchin friar to conduct me in the cart of the monastery.
Between Bourbon-Lancy and Luzy there is a distance of some nine leagues. I took this road and
was assumed to be a criminal who was being taken out to be hung. A tired traveler on foot also got into
the cart and he had the advantage of looking like the executioner. So here I was back in Autun
at the door of the gaming house. Having gotten acquainted with the priest at Bourbon-Lancy, I
saw a man who looked much like him coming down from the terrace. So I shouted to him, "Ah, hello
monsieur priest!" and I approached him in a most cheerful manner. Well, it turned out that he was not the
priest I knew, but a well-to-do Lord in mourning who had just lost all his money in the gaming
house, and since the
word 'priest' in Autun is a derogatory term, my cheerful expression shocked him to the core. He
believed I was making fun of his misfortune and charged at me so angrily I was obliged to defend
myself. Bystanders ran over and a notary served us by putting himself between the two of us. - "What's the problem here?"
- "I mistook this gentleman for the priest of Bourbon-Lancy. Here is everything..."
Then one chap testifies that I had just made fun of the man by calling him a 'priest'.
The crowd burst out laughing when they learned my mistake. - "How," says the notary,
"could Crommelin have joked about your loss? He wasn't even in the gaming house!" - "I was wrong,
I apologize and am at your mercy." - "There's no point in taking this any further since I find
it sufficient that you have recognized your error!" Then I crossed the road and went on my way.
Roman Ruins and the Temple of Janus
The walls of ancient Bibracte have a remarkable peculiarity; they are not made of bricks but
of absolutely similar masonry which suggests they were made in moulds. Probably the Gauls knew
about cement, the stuff that binds sand to form masonry. These walls, from the time of Caesar,
were "caries vesustatis invalides", and that is the state in which they are now.
There exists in Autun the fragments of a great pyramid that is believed to be the grave of
Brennus. I proved that it was at the crossroads of four big roads used by Gauls and taken by
Agrippa, son-in-law of Auguste. The bottom of these roads still exists. Some of the stones are
granite which is no longer found in the country.
In the vicinity of the city are two mountains. the one Mont Dru (Mons Druidarum) the other,
Mount Jeu (Mons Jovis) where one finds faceted stones. The cirque drawn by Mount Faucon is
remarkable for its extent and elegance. Near the river are two sides of Janus's temple
which formerly was square.
Temple of Janus
There were four doors which led to Janus, a god with four faces.
This temple was very dark inside because daylight would have entered only through cellar
windows. There is no information on the antiquity of this monument, but I estimate it to
pre-date the foundation of Rome. However, I found in its walls a piece of perfectly preserved
I sent to the Academy of Dijon drawings of
two porticoes and plans of all the ancient monuments, things I considered valuable in an
academician's patent. I had an exact copy of it and some other rather precious medallions
collected on my walks.
An Englishman named Spencer, curious about antiquities, asked me to entrust to him my
whole collection. Well, the next day he left and forgot about returning it. I could
have pursued him for this neglect, but I did not take the opportunity. Some days after
the departure of this Englishman, I received a pâté consisting of two turkey hens in truffles
at my address. "Great!" I said, "The Englishman didn't forget me after all." Not at all. The
pâté was sent to Arnay-le-Duc without an address so a friend of mine gave my address and had
it put on the pâté. Then the Benedictines came around to retrieve it. I told them that it
was already eaten, but could I repay them with port? I knew the prior very well and he found
the incident quite amusing.
Cathedral of Autun
The Bell Tower of Autun Cathedral
The cathedral of Autun is very old and I made there an observation which baffled all the
architects. The bell tower, without a framework, has at most four thumbs of thickness. Inside,
the surface looks like a mirror. I asked, "How was it possible to pile up the stones used in
construction at an oblique angle?" Oblique scaffolds cannot be built without running great risks.
They can only be made perpendicular. The hand of the worker would not have been able to reach
the work. It seems that the Goths, so light in their construction (I dare say through stupidity),
had a means of construction which we do not possess any more. Here is my theory regarding the
simplicity of the Goths in their architecture.
Originally they built everything with wood. Their openings were made with branches. That's
why their doors, their crossings and their arches form angles with respect to the vertical.
When they emigrated to countries where there were only stones to build with, for lack of
imagination they followed their former routine
and made with stones what they formerly made with interlaced branches. From that construction
technique comes these beautiful wheels (in their churches) in stone, which required
extraordinary means and patience.
A Genealogical Project
At Autun I enjoyed a good reputaton and proved that one could be practical
even if one didn't have any particular aptitude in fiscal matters. Through fines I had
the sentinels punished who spat tobacco from the tops of the walls and swore. [At present
the superintendent who does the same thing would be badly regarded. This Fermier-General (tax
collecor) likes to treat all people with equality.]
I was believed to have considerable talent in the art of deciphering ancient writings, but
all I had was the necessary strategy to find a way. Mont Faucon has the key to the writings of
many centuries. One should only compare alphabets which match in some way. The truth is that
my reputation as an antiquarian, which I didn't deserve, got me some very nice rewards. Here is
an example where the science attributed to me proved most beneficial.
Messieur C..., Bishop of..., was engaged in a frivolous lawsuit with a councillor of the
court ('parlement'). Having the same name, the councillor wanted to use arms on his family
crest that had been given to the family by Pope Calix II. The councillor, obviously standing to
gain by this distinction, proved that he was of a legitimate branch of the family, and not
an illegitimate one. He won his lawsuit and wanted, in turn, that the monseigneur give up the
keys on his coat-of-arms. The loss of this lawsuit had consequences in that the sisters of
C... were refused entry into the chapter of Metz, a desireable position.
In order to clarify his ancestry, monseigneur had asked me to draw all the graves of his ancestors,
several ceilings of chapels, and even four pieces of tapestry bearing his family crest which
had been given to his family by Emperor Maximilien. I made the required drawings with exactness.
the genealogist, perused my work which was now of considerable value. Monseigneur offered
me some money, and then I showed him my travel expenses which itself had risen to three louis.
Then a lawyer who worked for monsieur Chérin at the archives of monasteries came to ask me
which piece of silverware would please me. He also spoke about the necessities of hygiene,
a shaving basin, and all these related accessories. Well, I didn't like any of these
presents and replied that if monseigneur had no more need of my work, I would take it back.
Monseigneur of Marbeul, bishop of Amiens, settled this affair by urging me to accept a complete
set of Buffon's works on natural history. This I accepted and gave to a library in Saint Quentin.
Observing Louis XV's Rising Ceremony
My acquaintance with the Bishop of ..., priest to the king, gave rise to a rather amusing
incident at Compiègne [a vacation retreat of the king near Saint Quentin.] where King Louis XV was visiting.
In a room at Compiègne I met one of my relatives, a handsome boy, brash, fearless, self-assured,
and offering his protection to everybody. - "What are you doing here?" - "I am waiting for the
moment when I shall attend the king's morning rising ceremony ['lever du roi'] Follow
me; do as I do, and don't be shy. I shall admit you too."
So I followed him, walking a little behind, and he knocks on the door. An officer opens the door, sees
me - an unknown figure, pushes him away rather vigorously, and closes the door. - "Fortunately,"
I said to him, "I did not do as you just did. He reacted that way because he did not recognize
me." So he knocks a second time and this time the officer glares at him saying, "Beware if you
try knocking a third time - one does not knock here!" And then he closed the door in his face.
At that moment, monsieur Bishop of ..., who was being of service inside, came out and noticed
me standing there. "Ah! There you are, my dear Crommelin! Could I have the pleasure of doing
something for you here?" - "Yes, return with us to attend the rising of the king." - "Nothing
could be simpler." He knocks on the door, "Monseigneur," he says to the flustered officer. "I
ask that you admit two of my best friends." Then, finding my young companion entering and
brazenly going in first, I stopped him
and said to my advantage, "Do only as I do, and don't be shy..."
A Cheerful Party Turns Ugly
My reputation as a genealogist, acquired so easily, spread to castles where I was called to
rather often, and I was happy when I could be of some service. Nobody is more candid than a
seignieur (Lord) when he is alone with you, but if a marquess or count should enter the room, then
all conversation suddenly turns to the districts of nobility and one is forced to change the
subject or go away.
I lived grandly in Autun with a charming young man who had variously been a Fermier-General,
a treasurer of France, and a brigadier in the guards. He was at most thirty-six years old.
Every day one of us would invite two guests for dinner and the supplement to pay for such
entertainment was a mere pittance per month. As good friends we were inseparable, and
undoubtedly some envious people tried to divide us.
We entertained mostly at home, and sometimes at a local inn because our abode was somewhat
isolated. Nobody attended our dinner parties without an invitation, and one day we invited a
vicar general to dinner. He accepted our invitation but expressed great displeasure at our
situation, calling my friend a hypocritical dean of the chapter. From that moment on, events
conspired which eventually led to us parting company.
One of my friends from Châlons-sur-le Saône, came to spend a few days with me. I arranged
a small party for him at Montjeu, the castle which belonged to madam d'Aligre, the grandmother
of the Pelletiers of St-Fargran whose children I saw and whose horoscope I had cast. The role
which they played in the French revolution is well known.
I return to my story. Our host was an excellent cook and one would have taken him, at one's
peril, to be a candid and decent chap. But when the vapor of coal entered the man's head, one
could not predict the extreme irritableness which overcame him. A quarrel quickly arose over
the loading of a saddle that would be used the next day for our return journey. This man
became enraged and went out of control. We told him to calm down and then tore from his hands
a knife which he meant to use on us. Then to prevent him from grabbing another knife, we restrained
him without actually striking him. We also tried to reason with him. This fanatic then
consulted a Dean and Canon who is known as 'the Captain who kills everything'. His advice was
to press criminal charges against us for having endangered his life. It seems ludicrous, but
he actually found witnesses to support his case. First there was the cook who accused us of
stealing his silver watch. We laughed at him saying that nobody could write such a monstrous
testimony. Then he brought out a cotton hat with a gash on the top of it, but his head showed
no wound, not even a single bruise. Then another witness testified that I had thrown him eight
feet onto a high oven. He claimed that the officer of the guards had pulled out his hunting knife
with intent to kill him, and that the treasurer of France had held him while the brigadier of the
guards punched him!
Our judge happened to be the famous Serpillion, and it was only a fortnight before that I
had designed the frontispiece of the criminal code at an engraver's shop. I looked him up
and we spoke amiably about the affair. "From the bottom of my heart," he says to me, "I am
convinced that your adversary is a madman stimulated by bad counsel, and that his witnesses are
paid scoundrels, but as judge I shall listen to their testimonies." I pulled a handkerchief of
batiste out of my pocket. There was a glass tumbler sitting on the fireplace and I made a
saw of my knife by striking it against the fine cloth stretched over the mouth of the glass.
The cloth did not split. "You can at least see the impossibility of slashing a hat perched on
the head of a man. - "It may be true in physics, but not in criminal justice," he says to me.
"And I advise you, as a friend, to settle this messy affair." It was settled, but
a countess having cast envious eyes on my position with the company, wrote a nasty letter about
me to the firm. The resulting indignation was such that the municipality,
the bailliage, the chancellery, the nobility, the lawyers and the notables all gave me
a fine character reference in which my customs, behaviour, and the consideration which I enjoyed
were drawn up in a most elaborate way. I regret not having kept a copy of this testimonial
from a whole city. As a result, madam countess was scoffed by her society; rebuffed by the
company; and I begged her to say to a certain businessman that I wished to see him so as
to convey a few choice words to him. She got the message. After this debacle our dinner company
divided, and each lived separately thereafter.
Learning Mechanical Gadgetry
The life which I led at Autun over a period of 18 years developed all my tastes, and
particular circumstances gave birth to a new interest, namely mechanics. Here is what introduced
me to this science.
Madam marchioness of Ménessaire had a small moving tableaux (animated pictures), which her
son, a chamberlain of King Stanislas, had sent her from Lunéville. It was one of the first
such works of art that used sand as the motive power. I asked her to allow me to see the inside
of it. - "No. You occupy yourself with what you do best, and I will enjoy my own kind of work."
This refusal stimulated my curiosity and resolve even more. - "Well! Madam, within a fortnight
you will see one of my own design and construction." I kept my word. I had seen a hopper in
operation, and the idea of a rigid wheel naturally came to mind with round risers or cams on
an axle which activated control levers, and these levers moved the arms, legs and heads of
little mannikins. Having been born skillful, I made moving figures which were quite pleasing.
There were two sawyers cutting wood, a blacksmith at his forge and a work horse that refused to
be shoed. These formed the scene which I executed. So I carried my masterpiece to madam
marchioness and, in spite of the spirit of propriety, she conceded that she liked mine better
because there was a perspective in the figures and buildings which hers did not have.
Later I went to Lunéville after the unfortunate death
of king Stanislas - this prince who liked the moving tableaux so much that he had a garden
set up with these automated figures, some of which were life size. So there I was alone when
curiosity got the better of me and I crossed under a barrier. The king was no longer there,
so everything seemed quiet and abandoned. Looking for the mechanism that drove this large
tableaux, I discovered a water wheel and examined the control levers, their interactions, and
I drew some in pencil. Satisfied with my observations, I was about to withdraw through a sort
of breach in the wall when, to my surprise, two grenadiers marching in tandem made me tremble.
I crouched down, crept along the ground, and slipped noiselessly under the barrier. After a
dash of about 100 paces I encountered a man who was walking along carrying a book in his hand.
- "Sir!" I said to him, "Tell me why there are sentinels guarding an abandoned playground
while there isn't a single serviceman on the palace grounds!" - "Oh, the sentinels you saw, sir,
are just mechanical figures which march, cross themselves and turn around when the machine
is in operation. All visitors are deceived just as you were!"
It is from Lunéville that I got the idea to make moving tableux using weights, and I
believe that I made a fair imitation of the gardens of Lunéville in a room of mechanical figures
which I offered to madam Thélusson. I made a second one, a little more complicated, which was
on display at Guise, Saint Quentin, and in St. Germain. It was no small difficulty for a
student of mechanics to place on a flight of steps, drawn in bas relief, a poor urchin ringing
a bell; having a door open to bring out an old woman who makes a sign with her hand that she
has nothing; and to open a window to show a drunkard drinking straight from a crock. Well, I
made it using an indented wheel! I always believed that with enough patience and tenancity,
ideas can be brought to perfection. With good taste and imagination we can make whatever we want
come true. A thousand people born with
genius ability may produce nothing because they are not enterprising or persistent.
"Begin!" I say to young people, "Having determination and a willingness to experiment
will give you the means to do things which you didn't think yourself capable of."
My Natural History Collection
An old painter who had been a pupil of Oudry was a close friend of mine in Autun. I liked
art very much and even made some successful attempts at painting, but it was my friend Charton
who established my interest in this area. Under his guidance I copied four of his best paintings,
two of which were good enough to adorn the dining room of monsieur Necker, France's popular
Minister of Finance. Two others were of value to my brother since they were turned into many
pounds worth of pension which he enjoyed for 5 years. Here are the circumstances of this
One of my friends had several boxes filled with artifacts to build an exhibit of natural
history. "Give me," he says to me, "the two pictures you painted, and I will give you my entire
collection. You have the time to arrange it into an exhibit, but I don't." I took him up on his
offer and the exchange was made in the field.
I knew the prior of the Carthusian monks of Beaune very well, a man who had a magnificent
collection of natural history. He had good relations with all the Carthusian monks who
mentioned to him about my good fortune. So he said to me, "I shall give you many artifacts
and even some very beautiful ones, if you will undertake to build me a moving tableaux. I am
often alone and at least this kind of company is permitted!" Immediately I had the idea
to build him a church scene. "You will command the exercise of vespers with your hand; I shall
imitate the genuflections; a Carthusian monk will sound bells..." - "Why not!" - "May I
include women?" - "Yes, farming folk." - "Great! I promise you a water mill, a miller's house,
washerwomen, a cow being milked, and a small threshing machine behind the door of the miller."
- "Excellentissime!" A while later I brought him my miniature mechanical creation.
- "Now it's my turn," he says. "Do you have an inventory of your natural history artifacts?"
here it is." - "That's fine! You will not get anything that's worthless." Then with
inventory in hand he carefully began filling a barrel with madrepores, stalactites, fongites,
corals, shells, ores, animal skeletons, exotic plants, etc. - "You can now boast that you have
a very fine collection!" I made a present of this collection to my brother who, in turn, sold
it to an abbey at Prémontrés for 400 pounds of pension which would be paid to him regularly
with a deduction of one third going to the government. I saw my friend Charton every day
and we eventually took lodgings together, but his untimely death ended that arrangement.
The Feet of Saint Nicholas
Here is an incident I witnessed that occurred to him involving the kind of stupidity which
was unique to his trade. A farmer from Morvand came to Charton to order a picture of a saint
for his parish. - "Do you want the saint with feet or only half?" - "What is
the difference?" - "With feet, the painting will cost you double; half, the head will be
larger." - "In that case, monsieur, paint half." So he made the half picture using only
half as much paint. The farmer then returned at the appointed time, sees the painting, seems
satisfied, and then says, "When will it be finished? The saint has no feet. I asked you to
put feet on him." - "It's ready the way it is, my friend. Take it with you." - "But it's not
finished. There are no feet. I asked you to put feet on the saint." - "Nonsense. The figure
is only half because that's what you ordered!" - "Monsieur, Saint Nicholas had feet, and it's
entirely up to you to make sure that he has them!" Then I knocked down a table and put myself
behind it. - "My friend, I too have feet but they are hidden behind this table." - "But those
of Saint Nicholas are next to a wall!" - "O.K., monsieur, kindly make some feet for the gentleman
and I will pay for the alterations." Charton then took his palette and rapidly made some
adjustments. When he was finished the saint was wearing bishop's slippers. - "Here are your
feet, my friend." - "Ah, I knew that you could do it, monsieur."
The farmer paid generously and left happy because St. Nicholas now had feet.
"Well!" Charton says to me, "What do you think of a painter's life? This kind of thing
happens to me every day. Yesterday a beautiful woman wanted me to paint her all in white,
in a pink colour with no shadows... You laugh... You are right, but how can I laugh when my
livelihood depends on satisfying such ignorance??"
My Success as a Copy Artist
My successes in painting gave me a certain reputation. Finding myself in Dijon on a Good
Friday, Monsieur Devorges, professor of the academy of painting, invited me to arrange a model
who would pose as Christ. This model was a former soldier whose body and members were in perfect
proportion. - "Do you want him dead or alive?" - "Dead." Then I had him stretch out his arms
and drop his head. My arrangement, thought to be good and well considered, was copied by the
pupils. I had brought along a "Léda and the Swan", made for Monsieur Maret, secretary of the academy.
Professor Devosges thought it was very good. I know that it still exists and I dare say
it occupies a distinguished place.
I copied paintings with a precision that wage-earning copyists could not have done without
the risk of starving to death. Whereas theirs was only a facsimile, I wanted to create a
likeness so much like the original that it would deceive at least the greater number of
connoisseurs because their true aptitude is rare. Here is an example which illustrates the
exactness of my copies.
A man named Duplessis, formerly an art dealer, arrived at Autun claiming to be a painter.
I invited him to have dinner with my friend Charton, who handed him a beautiful golden snuffbox
with a picture of a church engraved on it. He suggested that he use it as a model to make a painting.
This he did, making a signboard for beer of the most pathetic sort. The truth is, not
knowing how to either draw or paint, he was a critic who understood the style more than the
touch of the great masters, and in that he was good.
Maurice Quentin de Latour
The head of the court (parlement) of Dijon, monsieur J … had been painted by the famous
Maurice Quentin de Latour.
One of his married daughters in Autun wished to have a copy of this portrait. I was asked
to make the copy and I lent myself to the task with as much zeal as pleasure - a portrait of Latour
in pastel! Having access to the original was a treasure for me. At first, I broke all the
rules by tracing the outlines, but this precaution was done out of respect because it enabled
me to get everything in its proper place. My copy surpassed my expectations; indeed I did not
stop working on an area without having compared it ten times with the original from far,
close and half distances.
The lady for whom I worked had a brother who was an officer of the guards. He came to ask
me if I would be willing to make a second copy. - "I am," he says to me, "in the
neighborhood of Chambertin." - "That neighbourhood, sir, could damage one's desire; I suggest
that you get away from there." He understood me.
So as not to put the original portrait by Latour out in the open, I worked from my copy and
returned to the original only in the last session to add the final touches of expression and effects.
I was near my window when I saw coming at a distance my 'painter' with the young friend from
whom I had received my natural history collection. The idea came to me to place the original
portrait by Quentin Latour on my easel, and my copy in the frame. When they arrived,
I pretended to be working on the wig and velvet costume without, however, actually touching it.
- "Greetings, master artist!" says the painter. "Here is the Latour! I find that you copy
it very well, but not knowing the grounds that Latour used, you will have difficulty in
painting the same tones...it is the magic of his painting." - "Sir, I'm not boasting (showing
him 'my work'), but I believe I can do it as well as he did." - "Ha! Ha! Ha! In that case, sir,
your fortune is assured. Why not leave now and paint the potentates of Europe?" - "Sir,
a good copyist
is not a man of genius. Copying from nature and copying a picture is not the same thing.
Here the effects have already been worked out, and I don't have to imagine anything. But on the
other hand, you happen to be a bad judge. The picture on which I pretended to be working is
in fact the work of Latour while the one you thought was my model is mine." The painter
suddenly got furious and railed at me. I ushered him out the door and he went on to Beaune
and Dijon where he spread the word that I was the bane of all artists. My notoriety did not
prevent my little test from being published there, however, and many were the gleeful people
who sided with me.
(Note: A contemporary of de la Tour was the excellent Swiss pastel artist,
Jean-Etienne Liotard, whose son (also named Jean-Etienne) happened to marry the grand-daughter of Wigbold Crommelin, Governor-General of Surinam.)
The Villainous Valet
About this time messrs de Lagacherie and Charrette de Lacolmière, members of the court of
Rennes, were exiled to Autun. I saw them very often. Monsieur de Lagacherie was an educated
and kind individual. When the weather was nice he would come looking for me to go, he said,
'and inhale the air of the Phoenicians who left Marseille, the Gauls, and the Romans',
and he always took notes.
One day a masked ball took place. I dressed as a gentleman of good adventure and paid
my due respect to the ladies. Here is a verse I crafted about monsieur de Lagacherie who came to mind
when I had to think of a serious affair:
There was an enlightened magistrate, and an unfortunate citizen
One who had the interest of the people at heart, and an innocent victim,
By an abuse of justice the man was found guilty of a crime.
Now to clear up the anguish in your soul,
Your dead man deserves pity;
Benefactor of your homeland,
Justice is rendered by your virtue
And one finds in you the soul of law.
Fortunately, I was masked and the criminal lieutenant wasn't able to discover who wrote it.
As the same caterer served both of us, monsieur de Lagacherie and me, his valet named
St-Martin often brought me my dinner. In doing so, he eventually came to know that I had the
management of a considerable amount of money. This man got a chambermaid pregnant, got married,
and decided not to follow his boss to Rennes when his exile had been lifted.
Now this man definitely wanted to serve me instead. He had become very friendly, and his dress
and mannerisms were proper. A fortunate coincidence then occurred which required that I obtain
leave to go and spend some months with my wife in Saint Quentin. - "St-Martin," I said to him, "now is not a good
time to take you into my service, but I intend to find a place for you." Indeed, with my
recommendation he entered the household of monsieur d'Alinvilliers, brother-in-law of
monsieur de Marbeuf, bishop of Autun.
This monsieur d'Alinvilliers (if I'm not mistaken) lived in St-Germain, and this city
was thrown into an uproar when St-Martin murdered the cook of the house for a mere thirty
francs. The execution of this murder was diabolical. The monster had attached a razor to his
comb to secure it. Then, having put it in one sleeve, he slashed the throat of the cook with
a swipe of his arm while his victim was having a drink. Originally the man's intention
was to enter into my service and murder me in my sleep. He would then rob me and flee to the
mountains of Switzerland by way of Franche-Comte. This incident and ten others like it
discouraged me from ever taking in servants during those dangerous days when they were
definitely not our best friends. Of twenty victims in the French revolution, nineteen had
been informed upon by their domestic help.
My Music Teacher, Rameau's Brother
The music master of the cathedral, a very skillful composer, had a charming wife who was
full of kindness, but everything she did was amusing. One day he came to offer me
lessons in music composition if I in turn would give his wife some lessons in natural history
and philosophy since she had a great interest in philosophers. I thought this was a splendid idea,
but seeing that she was already much stronger and more advanced than I was in natural history,
I gave up my title as a private tutor and became simply the pupil of her husband.
Eventually I played the violin, the bass, guitar, clarinet, and I sang well, but I was not
a musician, because
music is a science based on calculations quite as exacting as those of mathematics,
something which artists and performers generally ignore.
The organist at Autun was the brother of the famous Rameau. Nature had endowed the younger
Rameau richly but also had not completely neglected his elder brother. He had a lot
of talent and understood the theory of harmony very well. The melodies are his, but the
brilliant emphases by the bass below the melody line are those of his brother.
This Rameau taught me first that sound is a simple thing. It consists of harmonics
in which their uniqueness are not in the quinte and tierce, but in the twelfth and
seventeenth diminutive. On the organ he showed me the subtle differences in sound
caused by the middle, the seventeenth, ground, and twelfth and he also had me distinguish
these same harmonics on a contra-bassoon.
I have seen people who didn't give it any consideration. I have also known people for
whom harmony is nothing but noise, but my observation is that these people generally have
very big ears.
This theory of sound led me to those who wrote on the subject and I began to understand
it clearly. When Rameau died, my new instructor in composition was sent back by his chapter
and I lost sight of this genre. I did, however, compose a contata and several other pieces
which I am not ashamed of because the faults were corrected.
My Attempt at Sculpture
Having been born active and industrious, I needed another outlet for my creativity and fate
presented it to me when I was prompted by my friends to create a miniature bust of myself. On
the appointed day, the instructor made a mass representing the shoulders, breast, and a cut-out
for the neck. Above this he placed a ball on which he marked the places of the forehead,
the eyes, nose, mouth and chin. All put together this became an imperfect preliminary sketch.
One could see what it was to become, but no detail had been added. The next day the
modeller fell ill and when he recovered I happened to be absent. In short, he left and I was
left with a mass of clay which even broke at times because I lacked a white binder.
One day while looking at myself in a mirror, it occurred to me that I could indeed model my
own head, so why not give it a try. The clay was dry so I made it moldable with wet strokes.
I then set to work in a place where nobody could surprise me. The modeller had left me his
tools which were only pieces of flat, sharp, and rounded-off wood. When I dug too deeply I would
simply replace some of the clay, and when I missed the parallel lines, I retraced my steps.
After a week of experimentation, I succeeded in making the forehead and hair of the bust.
I used a compass to ensure that my proportions were accurate. Twenty times I spoiled the eyes
and twenty times I began them again, always placing them a shade lower than the time before.
Each time I noticed the error only when they were finished. I was about to give up on my
enterprise when the idea came to me to take a plaster model of my face and to copy my eyes
by using a compass to correct my facial proportions.
And so I finished my forehead and my eyes. As for the nose I made myself into a duck and
snub-nosed, etc. From tucked-up, I passed to acquiline, and from acquiline to a sharp
nose depending on how much or how little clay I applied. I laughed like a fool at my results
and only laughter can be of help in times of despair. Finally I was satisfied with my nose
and the rest was done with the same kind of patience. I succeeded in connecting the flat
areas and muscles with a wet paintbrush. This work lasted more than six months, but I was
totally engrossed in the project and I admit that my audacity amazes me every day. - "You are
a sculptor, then?" one says to me. - "No. An artist does not grope or hesitate as I do. He has
developed a means of execution which enables him to achieve the desired result by the shortest
route possible." - "Oh, you are multi-talented!" - "Not at all. Before starting on this
project I knew absolutely nothing about it." - "But this
is your work..." - "It is simply a labour of patience. Here is my portrait; it is a good
likeness and I recognize it, but I had to redo it a hundred times. If I were an artist,
I would be able to get at the truth right off and not have to agonize over how to fix it."
The fact is, there is a middle ground of knowledge which exists somewhere between knowing too
much about something and knowing nothing at all about it.
I rather believe that if fate had placed me on a big theater, or if I had amassed a large
fortune, some influential people would have curbed my roaming imagination or caused me to
focus on one particular talent. That would be a mistake, but perhaps if I had become more
specialized I would not have remained in a mediocre class. Some say I had the right attitude.
Still, criticism is cheap, and the one who accuses me of mediocrity perhaps has ten times more
talent without ever having produced anything.
A Regional Gun Tournament
At Autun I was a major in a company of well-respected arquebusiers. One could not be
admitted without exhibiting an honest and free manner. The one who brought down (shot) the bird,
enjoyed the privileges of nobility during the year, and anyone who had shot the bird in three
successive years held these same privileges for life, and his widow after him. This
individual was also called an 'emperor'. We had three such 'emperors' in our company.
Most of the cities of Burgundy had the same kind of establishments and it was
always an august ceremony when these companies competed for a general prize put up
alternately by different cities. For a long time only Beaunne was in charge of this spectacle
which profited nicely by this annual event. Here is an idea of what took place there.
After a mandatory convocation, the day for the meeting was decided upon. The men of Beaunne
then erected huge tents along the roads. These tents were stuffed with cold meats, fruits and
refreshments in great profusion. Every company had its own stopping place and the hospitality
there was exercised with utmost kindness and friendship.
Two guides conducted new-comers to
their designated places according to their number, and immediately two baskets
each containing one hundred bottles of the best wine were presented by the municipality
and their colleagues along with an appeal to come back for re-stocking should there
not be enough. The day following the arrival was dedicated to rest.
The next day an assembly took place in the room of Arquebuse where there was deliberation
on the rank of the thirty or forty companies present there. Then the assembly left for mass
at St. Esprit. The streets were jammed and each corps had the music of a regiment at its head.
(We had that of the dragoons of Beaufremont, and it was excellent.) The weather was beautiful,
all the intersections were filled with beautiful ladies, and we held the point of our swords
low to salute them. After the mass we mutually invited one another to have dinner. One barracks
was set aside for the main officials who presided and handed out the honors.
The first shot, named 'the shot of honor', was fired by the young prince of
Montbarré whose father was a Minister of War. Although the ball had not struck the
target, the scorekeeper marked him down as having hit on the black, which was only right,
because the prince was a generous man.
The prizes consisted of pieces of money. Macon won the first one by a bull's eye which was
considered a lucky shot. My company won the second and several others. The next day the prizes
were handed out and it was another holiday.
My Involvement in Freemasonry
The Freemasons of Beaune wanted to
welcome their arquebusier brothers, and on this day the investiture of the young prince
of Montbarry into the masonic order was also held. I shall omit why I was asked to make the speeches and
similarly an explanation of the masonic symbols. I always regarded masonry as a sublime thing
but not something for one of limited vision.
[Isaac's participation in Freemasonry]
While most people see only three lines in a triangle, I see a general lesson there. All
is divisible by three. Space has only three dimensions; time has three
connections; in morality there are three kinds of love. All the arts are subordinated to
this number: music has only three agreements; in painting there are three primary colours
and three things to be observed, etc. etc. Consider the triangle of Platon to which he relates
all things. Even in making a speech one needs an introduction, a body of information and
a closing summary. Meanwhile the ideas of an architect working on the plan of a building is
guided by its usage, its construction, and its ornamentation. If you want to arrange an
exhibit of natural history, there are only three kingdoms [animal, mineral, vegetable].
I shall not give further examples, but one could make a career in reflecting about this sort of
thing. These examples strike me personally and I mention them only to say that hieroglyphs
can speak to the heart as clearly as sentences. This gathering was of value to me in the making
of pleasant new acquaintances.
The assembly was majestic. Everyone was allowed to see us at table and the throng of
spectators was great. I admit that our apparel and ornaments, some of which were very
ornate, gave us a very impressive air.
[Note: On the internet some useful critiques of freemasonry
may be found at:
Probe Ministries and C.R.I.]
The expense made by the city of Beaune was recovered by the grantings of circumstance;
by the money which the visitors left behind, and by a considerable number of commissions.
This little city was made popular by Colbert's famous tournaments of Louis XIV.
A Sleepwalking Abbott
I was then delegated to go to Lyon for things of interest to my company. Here is a very peculiar
incident which occurred to me on this journey in which diligence played an important part.
A young, kind-hearted abbot was to return to Lyon, and to make the journey more pleasant we
decided to travel together. Upon arriving at Macon he suggested that we take a double room.
I agreed to that, but around midnight I heard a shout in the room crying "Murder! Thief!".
I sprang from my bed, seized my sword, and was immediately choked by a man wearing
pyjamas. I called for help and people came from everywhere carrying lamps. They beheld
two men (one with a sword in hand) being throttled by another. Suddenly my companion woke up,
hesitates, and says, "What's going on? Where am I? ... Oh my God! I dreamt that I was
being attacked by thieves!" - "My goodness," I said to him, "Monsieur, you are very lucky. I
came so close to drilling you with my sword when you grabbed me by the throat!" - "It is
you, sir," said two officers to me, "who had the greater escape because at first glance your sword
gave us the impression that you were the culprit!" Then they spoke gravely to the young abbott
saying that if he was in the habit of sleepwalking, he'd better take a single room in the future!
Counselling a Troubled Nun
A little while later another extraordinary event happened to me. I happened to meet two very
pleasant nuns whose convent was some distance away. One day I received a secretive letter from them
which started me on a journey to meet with them. I arrived at the designated location at the
appointed hour (which was around midnight) for some very important business. I had to organize
my time carefully because I had to travel more than ten leagues to make this rendezvous.
So I arrive, a door opens, and I see three nun's habits. - "So what is the problem, ladies?" -
There was a long pause which caused me to get angry. Then when I turned around as though I was
about to return home again, one spoke. "Well!" says a nun whom I recognized. "Here we have
our friend who has been thinking only of committing suicide all week. We spoke to her about you
and we are counting on the advice of an educated and sensitive man. Please talk to her."
From her I learned that she had obtained permission to go home to her family where, in a moment
of weakness, a military cousin took her and got her pregnant. - "Well! I can put her in the
care of a midwife or..." - "That's not the problem. It is worse!" - "I think I understand. The
monster had you perform an atrocity (abortion)!" - "Yes." - "Be calm, madam. Write down your
situation in a letter without omitting anything and seal it. I shall be the intermediary of a
correspondence which you shall have with
a saintly man, while remaining incognito." The matter took place and took less than a month
to resolve. I count this deed as one of my most heartwarming actions.
A Precocious Actor
I made a journey to Châlons-sur-Saône at the time of a horse fair which attracted a lot of
people. I was admitted on behalf of a comedy company. A kind man had a charming and precocious
nine-year-old son. The ladies there having tired of his questions finally asked the boy
to perform a little comedy sketch for them. So the child marches to the back of the theatre and comes out
dressed like a devil. Walking to the front of the stage, he turns around, blows a fart and walks off
again. Horrified, the father obliges him to go out and apologize to the ladies. - "Ladies,
is the devil an actor?" - "Yes." - "Is the devil allowed to fart once in a while?" - "Yes, yes."
- "Didn't I play the devil just now?" - "Yes." - "Then please tell my father that I played
my role very well."