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).



23 - Nuns Who Enjoyed a Party
24 - How I Met Voltaire
25 - Reviving a Sick Passenger
26 - My Visit With Choiseul
27 - The Astonishing Art of Nini
28 - A Goodly Canon
29 - Choiseul Cools Off a Hothead
30 - Restoring Vergennes' Paintings
31 - Vergennes' Mother-in-law
32 - Madam de Vergennes
33 - Vergennes' Job Offer in Boston

34 - My Holy Stage Craft
35 - My Refusal Saves Lives
36 - I Thrash an Insolent Passenger
37 - Bléton, Amazing Water-Diviner
38 - A Shocking Experience
39 - A Tornado in Autun
40 - 'Doctor' Crommelin's Diagnosis
41 - An Archaelogical Discovery
42 - Reflections Upon Leaving Autun
43 - My Contentious Billboard
44 - A Damsel in Distress

Nuns Who Enjoyed a Party

I had come there with a group of friends who were musicians carrying their instruments. I was asked to propose that a concert be given for the Ladies of Charity, all young, pleasant people belonging to the best families of the country. The mother superior consented provided that the concert would be held in a room separate from the hospital.

The concert took place and a beautiful meal was offered to us afterward. Returning to the room we went on to play contre-danses which got the nuns and novices moving to the rhythms and they couldn't have asked for better music. Our music did sweet violence to the superior who also was still a young person. And although everything had taken place with the most decent gaiety, the bishop of Châlons, a good man but a hypocrite, forbade all future visitors from entering the hospital, thus spreading consternation there. Not long ago I happened to meet one of those nuns (who is now the superior) and we joked briefly about this event. Ah, yes, the past sometimes makes us old folks laugh!


How I Met Voltaire

Now I am going to relate some of the most pleasant circumstances of my life.

In 1777, young Buffon, 13-year-old son of the renowned naturalist, was to leave Monbard for Ferney and help me cement an acquaintance with two men of great stature. He was at Châlons-sur-Saône at the home of Mr. Ythier, my director. The schoolteacher of the young man had fallen ill and since the symptoms of the disease were grave, it would be inconvenient for the young Buffon to remain there. Opinions were given and a journey to Voltaire at Ferney via Lyon was contemplated.

Map Showing Location of Ferney

Finding myself at Châlons on business, Mr. Ythier said to me, "Crommelin, here is a great opportunity for you to get acquainted with Monsieur de Voltaire and also do something for which Buffon would be most grateful. Please accompany his son to Ferney."

I consented to the idea, "But we are at the end of the month." - "I have thought of that. Your month-end accounts can be settled later. I shall sort things out so you will not be compromised in any way." - "But I don't have any money with me." - "Here is some." - "Then, sir," I explained, "I would rather not travel merely as a trusted servant. If I go on this journey I would like to go on my own merit." - "I understand, and I approve of your sensitivity. Since you are of the academy of Dijon, letters will be written supporting you in that distinction."

So we departed. One could not help but notice that the great Buffon had not produced his equal in this young man. Being gentle, pleasant and sensitive, he lacked the forceful character associated with his illustrious name. The son of monsieur de Buffon, whose demeanor was both noble and spiritual, simply wasn't in the same class as his father considering his vast output of work. However, he did have some of knowledge of mathematics, and while passing near Lake de Nantua, I asked him how much water it might contain. He then showed me very clearly


how I might find a solution to my question. So, Buffon had calculated the volume of the sea and his son was able to calculate the volume in a lake. Certainly the proportion was still there.

Voltaire's chateau at Ferney-Voltaire

We arrived at Ferney Voltaire where Madam Denis (Voltaire's niece) received the young man as one of her own sons. I was embarrassed by the prince of poets, partly because I was the guardian of young Buffon and also because I carried the name of a relative in Geneva who was his friend.

[Note: Pierre Crommelin (1683-1733) was a Protestant minister at Geneva (1718) then a professor of letters at Geneva (1719-1733). His son Jean-Pierre Crommelin, was a professor of history (1739) and for several years a charge d'affaires of the Republic in the court of Versailles. - Berlemont, page 172]

Voltaire wore a red vest without pockets, a long jacket of carmine velvet covered with a wide braid, and a hat of gold-embroidered black velvet. Madam Denis did not strike me as very imposing. She had a homely appearance, a big stomach, tasteless apparel and shoes of rope. She certainly did not match the expectation I had of a woman with a captivating charm who had inspired entire passages of verse which may be found in the writings of her uncle.

[E. M. Forster visited Ferney in 1939; he published the following reflections in Two Cheers for Democracy (1951).
CULTIVATED MONKEYS, Charles and I clung to the iron palings of the park. Froggy as well as monkey, he appreciated better than I did what we saw, but even to me the sight was an exciting one. For this was Ferney. So this was Ferney! This was the house that Voltaire built, those were the trees he planted, here his niece, Madame Denis , and others whom I read about afterwards in La Vie Intime de Voltaire, by Perey and Maugras, a very entertaining book--here Madame Denis, anyhow lived, as shapeless as my sentence, but generally liked. With a heart like a warming pan and a figure like a dumpling, Madame Denis queened it here and reigned it, acted it and reacted it, danced it, reasoned it, unreasoned it, she drove in from Geneva to take possession covered with diamonds, she flounced away to Paris in a pet, she sneaked back. Voltaire was pleased when she arrived, thankful when she left, delighted when she returned. However, that is enough about Madame Denis for the moment. She is all in the book. ]

I had a chance to examine the eyes of this man who was so justifiably famous - they were full of fire. Someone had mentioned to him that I knew English fairly well so he talked to me in that language and I noticed that he also spoke English to other Frenchmen.

One should not see men of great renown close up. I would compare them to mountains which seem to diminish in stature as we approach them. Voltaire took pleasure in explaining a picture painted by an admirer. Frérus, Nomoir, Lebaumelle, the archer etc. were represented with the ears of an ass, claws, and other attributes of animals. While I was there the picture of an ass was brought out painted by Saeyder, the Despot of Germany. When Voltaire saw it he called us over and said, "Come, see the portrait of Frérus. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Isn't he the Monsieur Aliboron there?! It was good to see these antics by men of this sort. Little moments like this remind us that they still belong to the human race.


Here are some anecdotes about Voltaire which stayed in my memory.

I had been walking in the streets of Ferney with young Buffon. "Where have you been, my friends?" inquired Voltaire. - "We've just been to see the new play by Salente." The poet replied, "When Idomesie (inspiration) struck Salente, he didn't do so very lavishly."

I had been examining a portrait of Frédéric II. - "It is well done," said Voltaire. - "Yes, so well in fact that I can picture him standing outside the frame." - "Now I'm going to tell you something that will add to that realism. You see where his complexion is reddish, well, that's because the furrows in his skin are filled with tobacco from Spain. You see, that man is the most unclean man who ever existed. He never washed himself, neither his mouth nor his hands. Sometimes he had to have his nails cut, but nobody ever knew how to cut claws!"

One day while young Buffon was sitting in his armchair, Madam Denis said that monsieur de Voltaire would be arriving shortly. Indeed he entered at that very moment. - "Leave him be," he said. "He will take the seat of every man, but not every man will take his."

The table of this poet was very good, but he went to it only for dessert, almost always with some new item of interest in hand which he was reading and giving some dissertation upon.


I entered his library which was extensive and rose to a great height. But there was a sort of pulpit on pulleys which enabled him to get the books and to read and write. I took down many books in which notes had been written in his hand. These alone rendered this library very precious.

It isn't possible to conceive of a thinner man than monsieur de Voltaire. He had a yellowish colour, an enormous mouth, and eyes that sparkled. In a group he easily made conversation, told anecdotes, addressed strangers


and forgot nobody such that he possessed perfectly the art of a host or toastmaster. It is said that he ranted very badly, and undoubtedly he knew it. When an actor played poorly, he would say to him, "You must have had me in mind," and thus he made just the right comment to be effective. When I finally left Ferney, having said my farewells, young Buffon drove me up to the carriage and there I asked him to hand monsieur de Voltaire, at the time of his lunch, a card on which I had written the following verses:
"I saw him with my own eyes,
Yes, I saw Voltaire,
You who think old this great sage
Come, pay homage to him at his lair;
And guess his age
By the whiteness of his hair."
[In 1777 Voltaire would have been 83. He died a year later.]

Reviving a Sick Passenger

Here is a rather peculiar incident which occurred to me when I was returning from Ferney. I happened to be on water somewhere between Lyon and Macon, and by all appearances in excellent company. The conversation had turned to medicine and one chap who had declared himself opposed to doctors unwound an unending stream of jokes and sarcasms with a great deal of spirit and merriment. Suddenly the man turned pale, feeling decidedly ill, stumbled, and appeared to suffer great agitation. Finally he threw up (having a pain in his stomach and internal organs).

Everybody fled while I stayed to do what I could in such a case aboard a boat. When we arrived at Macon, I carried the patient (who was neither big nor heavy) across the gangplank and took him to the inn. Believing him to be dead, I was refused entrance so I drew my sword and made like Don Quixote. Entering, I placed my burden on a bed and sent someone to find a doctor who managed to revive my man back to life and thus vindicate doctors in a dramatic way.

The next day, this monsieur, after a multitude of thanks expressed so sincerely compelled me to give him my address.


A while later I received a box containing excellent things by way of dried fruits and a cask of superior oil weighing thirty pounds. A letter of thanks and shipping instructions postmarked Marseille told me that this man's name was Destienne. I know that the doctor of Macon had received a similar gift, but I doubt that the innkeeper who wanted to leave him in the street received any token of gratitude.

Monsieur de Florian, uncle of the author, whom I saw in Burgundy, said to me that my impromptu visit had been a welcome one, and that monsieur de Voltaire would have written me if he had known my address.

My Visit With Choiseul

I made a journey to the home of monsieur de Choiseul, former ambassador to Turin. His chateau was situated on a promontory overlooking a beautiful landscape in the neighborhood of Nevers. As I was bearing important information, this Lord wished that I lodge with him. He was a very forthright young man - cold, as all diplomats are - but endowed with a most just spirit. One cannot conceive of a more pleasant woman than madam, his wife. This was a time when riddles and puns were in vogue and in the evening we would amuse ourselves with these. Madam had a pet sparrow ('moineau') which followed her everywhere, so she asked me for a pun about her sparrow. I took a pencil and a card on which I drew a monk sitting on a commode. "Here we have, madam," I said to her, "a monk sitting in the outhouse ('moine aux prives')." We laughed at the drawing and enjoyed ourselves with the pun.

Cheverny/Chaumont where Jean-Baptiste Nini resided
and had his workshops in the latter part of his life.
[See also Chaumont and Chateau]

The Astonishing Art of Nini

During the week when I stayed there, monsieur de Choiseul wanted to introduce me to three very remarkable persons in different ways. The first one was a monsieur de Tinseau, a mild philosophical bishop, pleasant and hospitable. He liked to wear torn vestments and had no other kind. The second was madam, his sister. She was dressed in a nun's habit and always carried around with her a bunch of keys which must have weighed about four pounds.


The third was a dwarf named Nini [Jean-Baptiste Nini (1717 - 1786)], no more than four feet high. The length of his arm from his shoulder to the tips of his fingers was only fourteen thumbs. And the size of his head made one take him for a Samoyéde. But there never existed, and perhaps never will exist, a man so unusually skillful.

(Click to enlarge.)

[Download a file about Nini in French and terracotta medallions carved by Jean-Baptiste Nini, who resided at Chaumont in his latter years. He made more than 300 busts of important personnages of his era.]

As we entered his workshop he paid no attention to us. Having examined a multitude of portraits in terra-cotta of the greatest perfection and meticulous detail, monsieur de Choiseul said to him, "Nini, you must show us your portfolio." - "That would be time lost and I wouldn't know where I left off." - "I've brought you a big connoisseur of art." - "Oh yeah, just like so many others!" Nini showed us a number of very inferior works which certainly were not made by him and I paid no attention to them. Then he showed us a single sketch that was full of fire! - "Ah! Now that's something worth looking at! Here there is brilliance, imagination and skill." Then, taking another portfolio, he spread before us his true treasures. I beheld the most magnificent engravings which anyone will ever have the privilege to see. These were done with a quill pen which delineated the most subtle gradations and nuances thus creating a sharpness of features that was most pleasing to behold. - "Ah, that is magnificent!" I exclaimed. - "Yes, I know," replied the dwarf. "There are no two Ninis alike in the world. Look at this goblet and tell me if you have not seen anything more exquisite without exception, not even from Michelangelo's collection."

This man had carved into the crystal goblet four magnifying lenses each facing a landscape with almost imperceptible figures. But when seen through the magnifying glass, these appeared to have a magnification of five or six times. Callot did not draw better than this man: figures, perspective, trees, terraces, attitudes of animals, everything was completed to perfection. I know how magnifying glasses can be made by friction, but I cannot conceive


how they can be cut so precisely into the thickness of a crystal goblet. Carving in stone is almost a lost art because we are indeed far from the perfection of the ancients. Probably they employed techniques which this man had rediscovered.

This Nini had fingernails of an excessive length so I asked him if they were something that he required in another one of his surprising productions. - "Are you a musician?" - "Yes." Then from a shabby cupboard he drew a respectable psaltérion which he commenced to play in a most pleasant way using his long nails. I asked monsieur de Choiseul if I could offer him some money. - "Beware of doing that. Indeed, he would take us - you in one hand and me in another - and put us both out the door!"

A Goodly Canon

We thanked this extraordinary being and went on to have dinner at the home of monsieur de Tinseau. The house of this prelate was open to strangers; its library was open to everyone, and his purse was open to the poor. His sister, equally simple in her customs, managed the household like a good housekeeper, carrying out her duties in an exacting manner.

The history of this commendable bishop deserves to be known. It will prove to be an axiom of morality the benefit of which will never be lost.

Monsieur de Tinscan, canon (I can't remember in which diocese), was travelling in a carriage with young servicemen and a Carmelite. They were the butt of a multitude of sarcasms and indecent remarks. Monsieur de Tinscan bade them keep silent, but as the young folks always replied with snyde epigrams of Grécourt and others about virtue and the reputation of Carmelites, the monsieur de Tinscan spoke to the manager of the carriages at dinnertime. "We are two clerics who do not appreciate these gentlemen. They bother us incessantly with their insults. Therefore I ask that you give us a cabriolet


for two." - "I am happy to oblige, but but there will be additional expense. I am going to take action on your complaint, but as these men have suitcases they will not be able to retrieve them without your signature. "Then the young people asked for pardon and promised to behave themselves. - "In respect of their remorse," said monsieur de Tinscan, "I withdraw my demand. These gentlemen seem well bred and they deserve a second chance." The rest of the journey was pleasant.

Upon arrival at Paris, the Carmelite begged the Canon to accompany him for a very important matter. - "Yes, of course." - "Let us leave our luggage and please follow me. You will not regret it." They took a cab to the home of monsieur de Mirepoix. The Carmelite got out, passed by the doorkeeper who saluted him, mounted the stairs, traversed the anterooms full of servants, opened a door and dashed into the arms of the dispenser of ecclesiastical graces. "My brother," he says to him, "here is a deserving priest; a man with a good head and full of merit who I recommend to you. He has my highest esteem and greatest confidence." Monsieur de Mirepoix questioned the Canon and found him to be lively, teachable and logical. What was required was a worker in the vineyard of the Seignieur (feudal lord) and he was given the bishop's cart to take him there at Nevers.

I mentioned that the chateau of Choiseul was in a magnificent location and he wished to have a picture of the view. Pressed for time I made a quick sketch and was bidden to come again sometime to finish it. Unfortunately circumstances did not allow me to do so. I have met this interesting lord since and he remembered perfectly my unfinished drawing, the pet sparrow and the piece of verse which I had composed when I left. Madam, his wife, had become pregnant so I cast the horoscope of a small Choiseul. She gave birth to a girl.


Choiseul Cools Off a Hothead

I have always been unfortunate with regard to misinterpretations about my intention, and here is one which happened to me at the home of this lord, Choiseul.

Policemen came to propose to the ladies a pleasant outing, the success of which depended on absolute silence. These gentlemen had built a 'blind' to attract birds. It was well covered with branches and foliage which had been glued on. One policeman imitated the owl to attract small birds, another imitated a blackbird in distress, and as it was the season of the passage of thrushes, they came in abundance and a surprising number were taken. I complimented (as did everybody) the imitator, and I said to him that it was likely impossible to be a better imitator of the blackbird. Then I noted some snickering and whispering going on between some of the policemen but little suspected that I had anything to do with it.

Much to my surprise, the next day I saw the policeman come into my room at a rather good hour. - "I didn't make fun of anybody. Besides, I didn't have the honour of knowing you except for the talent of imitating the blackbird which you displayed so admirably and for which everyone complimented you." - "I understand you mocked me for my talent and consequently you insulted me." - "Well, if that's what this is all about, I declare to you, sir, that I will justify myself only in the presence of messieurs de Choiseul and Trucy, and your officers who were present at the time." - "You will be having lunch here, and since I have the honor to be the commissionaire of the household I must go now. You have offended me, so let us settle our differences later."

So the policemen and guests arrived and attended a lunch in the salon where the ladies were. I begged monsieur de Choiseul to allow me to ask a few questions. - "Certainly, what are they?" - "Monsieur, would you consider a 'thing' and the imitation of a 'thing' to be


one and the same?" At this messieurs de Choiseul and Trucy looked amused and replied simultaneously, "Certainly not!" - "Well, if I said to a good actor that he imitated perfectly a beggar or a villain, would that not be a compliment rather than an insult?" - "Yes, of course." - "And if I said to an osler that he imitated, as well as can be, a quail, a lark and a blackbird, would he thus be wrong to get angry?" Mister de Choiseul then looked over at my policeman and said very discreetly, "I'm sure that gentleman can venture an opinion in the event that he happens to be irritated when these ladies, you, and I said to him that he had imitated the blackbird perfectly, and that we appreciated him for making a very pleasant hunting expedition!"

So the matter was conveniently and gently resolved. In any case, both captains of the police force had gotten wind of the grievance and would have brought the matter up if my approach hadn't already calmed the excitement. The policemen were generally anxious to see what would happen next since the recently-arrived imitator of the blackbird had been challenged to bring the unpleasant affair to a head. Both leaders found that I had handled the matter delicately by avoiding any further explanation, and a sticky situation ended thanks to the sensitivity, kindness and wisdom of Choiseul.

Restoring Vergennes' Paintings

Charles de Vergennes
Charles Gravier, Comte De Vergennes
Photo Source

Monsieur de Vergennes [later to become the Foreign Minister of France] arrived from Constantinople [on 22 April, 1768 where he languished unemployed in Burgundy until March 1771]. He had been exiled to Autun because he had gotten married in his embassy without the consent of his sovereign. He also had two children with him who carried his name, borne to him by his mistress, Madam Testa. Madam, now his wife, was of Arabic origin and the widow of a French doctor. Of a slim size, one could see that she had been beautiful.

This Ambassador had been painted by a skillful artist (a knight of Malta) in all the brilliant trappings of his embassy. The first picture showed him in his first


audience with the great Turkish leader. The costumes and resemblances were accurate and well done.

The second painting depicted his first visit to the grand vizier.

The third, his conversation with Muphti with the interpreter standing next to him, ornaments of the region and finally the ceremony. Everything was faithfully reproduced. Other paintings depicted different sights of Constantinople and the punishments imposed on the salesmen of bad faith. Regrettably these pictures had been packed without being perfectly dry. That spoiled a battle of Burgundy and a Roman market scene by Peter de Corsone. Monsieur de Vergennes was in despair. Then somebody in his company mentioned my name to him.

"We have here a helpful man who involves himself in a little bit of everything. Consult him." The ambassador honoured me by coming to my home and told me about his misfortune. - "Your excellency can stop worrying. Within four days everything wlll be repaired and the paintings will be as good as new." - "How will you accomplish this?" - "Here I have a very thin lead pencil wrapped with some tea. Using this pencil I shall trace the outlines of spots and I shall erase them. Having thus fixed the lead, I will be sure not to affect the old colours. Then I shall make a cleaning solution of alkali using ashes, the first washing being warm and strong. I shall use two towelings, one for the alkali and the other one for the rinse. By this method I shall remove the new colour and will stop at the old which is infinitely more difficult to dissolve." - "Yes, this procedure seems wise. I have confidence in it. Please take charge of the restoration which I ask that you undertake in your spare time." - "I always give priority to whatever creates the most happiness. Tomorrow I shall work for your excellency provided that the operation will not cost me anything and that the activity will be worth my while." He understood what I meant.

Some days later I had the satisfaction of receiving his thanks which I believe was deserving


because I delivered to him both pictures, not only spotless but also perfectly cleaned.

Vergennes' Mother-in-law

Then a rather unusual situation made me the friend of this esteemed household. Monsieur de Vergennes had taken in his mother-in-law who did not speak a word of French. She was a plump and short woman whose breast was covered only by a net and thus moved like a pendulum when she bowed in greeting. Likely this garb was that of the old women in Constantinople. She spoke to a slave who followed her in a sort of gibberish which sounded much like Italian. Therefore I was able to understand her quite well. Madam de Vergennes then said to me that her mother knew a little English so I addressed her in this language. The old Turkish lady almost danced saying, "How marvelous! Now there is somebody in this country with whom I can converse!" We chatted meaningfully but the ideas of Turkish women are not widely considered. Monsieur de Vergennes asked me to visit his mother-in-law as often as I was able and I was there the next day.

I found her in the nook of a table surrounded by tapestries and with a warming fire on the floor without a book, and with absolutely nothing to do but appear in a state of total vegetation. But I learned later that this kind of repose is considered the most delicious kind of enjoyment by Turkish women.

Madam de Vergennes

Madam de Vergennes had preserved his uniform very well which is very noble, but the absolute rigidity of her repose was not exactly divine. She usually sat on a sofa in the manner of tailors, when one goes to see one. She stood up with a flourish and remained standing until one had been seated.

The guard of the Capuchin friars and I, were the only two persons for whom there was no formality. Our two place settings were always set, and we would take our place at table whenever it pleased us. We were always well received and of us it was


never said, it has been a long time since we saw you last.

Both children were under the care of abbot Baudez, a rather common man, but one who had a talent for making spectacles. He gave me lessons in this art. I armed myself with all the necessary tools and skills and soon made the best glasses that I ever had in my life because I put in the necessary time.

Vergennes' Job Offer in Boston

It is monsieur de Vergennes who caused the revolution in Sweden and who later was to become Prime Minister of France. When I went to see him one day he received me with kindness saying, "My intention is to do something for you. You know some languages, especially English. Would you like to go to Boston? I shall give you the secretariat of the embassy there." I accepted his offer appreciatively and announced my good fortune to my wife who consulted the Ladies de Vermenoux and Thélusson. I was then 50 years of age. They found me "too old!" Never did I experience greater opposition.

However Monsieur Necker's [the popular French Finance Minister] star was also rising and I had aspirations to be in his administration. Therefore it was not considered advantageous for me to cross the ocean in pursuit of my fortune. So I remained in Autun for another nine months consoled by the most grandiose expectations.

[Thirteen years later, in 1793, another Frenchman, Edmond Genet, was sent to America as the French Ambassador, causing a great disturbance in early America. His questionable activity later culminated in the establishment of the Democratic Party in the U.S.A.]

My Holy Stage Craft

About this time Ste-Chantal was to be canonized who, I believe, had been an abbess in this city. The nuns asked me to make something extraordinary for the closing processions and ceremony. The idea came to me to have the Holy Spirit descend on the altar at the time of the benediction. I looked for a white pigeon and attached to it a sort of cross. Having spread out its wings, I fixed on its back two small hooks and by means of a thread of imperceptible thickness, made it fly from the organ to the altar where it came to rest just as Monseigneur gave his benediction (holy blessing).


The stir which this scene caused was immense.

However, I was obliged to make my Spirit return otherwise it would have been lost from view. But since the eternal Father was on the altar, with a long beard, we felt that the third person of the Holy Trinity should not lose sight of him. By leaving it there, the effect actually heightened the drama of this mechanical stunt. I thus had some extra spirit without even planning it, and this occurred to me later more than once. The enchanted nuns plied me with the water of quince which they made exceptionally well and also bonbons. Meanwhile my poor pigeon had suffered a great deal. So I caressed it, gave it lots to eat, and then gave it the key of freedom in the fields.

My Refusal Saves Lives

The militia of the king was to pass through Autun. Monsieur de Verdun, an uncle and Farmer-General, an excellent man and possessor of a cool head, instructed me to undertake a search to meet their needs. I had the honor to reply that he should look after the management of this operation himself because I had no brigade under my command. A policeman, sergeant, son of one of my friends, present at the opening of monsieur de Verdun's letter, said to me, "I advise you strongly not to execute this order. Enroute the entourage is very undisciplined and there is no corps of superior officers to maintain order. Also since there is no state chief warrant officer in the city, every guard who appears will be mistreated and cut down. You can be sure of that."

Early on the day of the arrival the director sends several brigades and a captain who comes to ask me for my assistance. - "My post, gentlemen, is my office. Therefore I shall not go out of it. But for the sake of humanity, as well as my duty, I declare my opposition to the visit which you have come here to make. I thus reject your proposal because of the risks it poses to my well-being." - "In that case, sir," says the captain to me, "I am going to put your verbal refusal in writing which you will undoubtedly sign." - "Yes, provided you leave enough white space for


me to list my reasons." I then explained in my deposition "that the city had neither a commander nor a state chief warrant officer; that the militia do not arrive in a cohesive body but in small groups without officers; that the local guards would be cut down; that if, unfortunately, they did kill or hurt a militiaman, there would be a terrible slaughter which would create an everlasting hatred; that the officers of the militia force were big Lords and that monsieur de Castrie had the ear of the king; that there would be complaints; that, moreover, I had particular opinions and local knowledge, details of which I would give at the right time and place; and, as a consequence, I refused responsibility for any charges made by the local police in the place where I live, subjecting me to any later repercussions."

The next day, I received a threatening letter from the inspector. He is going to inform the company of my disobedience, and he will not be responsible for the consequences that will undoubtedly ensue.

So then I made two memorandums - one for monsieur Ythier, the director; the other one for the company. To reassure me, the head manager of the firm wrote me saying that my reasons were approved, and that the director had considered me a man of reason.

Consequently the militia force moved on to a neighbouring city where they insisted on being accommodated. Six guards and three militiamen were killed; monsieur de Castrie raised a complaint to the king; the company was compromised; the director was inconvenienced, and the chief comptroller of their office was dispatched to pick a quarrel with me, accusing me of having justified myself at his expense. "Here are my memorandums. Here is my correspondence. I challenge you to read them and find your name mentioned anywhere." - "Ah, you probably wrote other secret letters which aren't among these." - "That isn't true." - "You take me for an idiot." - "Yes, when you lie. I repeat that your allegations are false. And if you were more honest with the same frankness


I would express myself differently. But who are you now? I don't even know you anymore!"

Monsieur the comptroller-general having thus decided to rail at me, I said to him, "Be careful, sir. My head is frazzled and you have irked me deeply." - "Yeah? And what would you make of it?" he replied with a threatening gesture. - "Sir, I wouldn't hesitate to throw you through that window and give you a lesson on how it was made. Besides, if you are not as cowardly as you are shameless, then you will follow me." He followed me and the correction which I gave him lasted a fortnight. Since he was deprived of his title, the affair was regarded simply as a personal grudge.

I received a complimentary letter on my conduct, and for having disobeyed the order, I received at my departure an extraordinary bonus.

I Thrash an Insolent Passenger

Here is a rather unusual incident which occurred to me between Paris and Saulieu. I was on my way to present myself at Lyon at none other place than the imperial residence. I was in enough of a foul mood when a traveler said to me, "If you would like to pay me the difference between our two seats I will take yours." - "Gladly." I thought this proposal was innocent enough and agreed to pay him the six francs which would allow me to sit inside. Unfortunately a terrible downpour arose and when I wanted to settle the account at a dining stop, the man wanted to regain his former seat. Since I contested the matter, the coachman came with his manifest and said, "Gentlemen, this document is the final arbiter of your dispute." So I gave up, and up to now everything seemed fairly normal. But the man seeing me arrive soaking wet then had the temerity to make fun of my condition. I whispered in his ear, "You shall pay for this."

Now, I happened to know the innkeeper of Saulieu quite well and, upon arriving, I asked him not to say who I was. I was on the lookout for my man, then caught sight of him going into the stable. I followed him in and, with a whip in hand from the staging post and no witnesses around, I said to him, "Here is the payment for your mockeries." He cried out and people came running. I quickly tossed my whip into the loft


and said in a calm voice, "One must have a bad spirit in order to be involved in such a striking ordeal." The people suspected what had taken place, but I was vindicated. This man was an innkeeper of Macon. By coincidence one of my friends happened to be one of his boarders, and this story was told at table by the innkeeper himself. My friend then admitted that he knew who his attacker had been. - "My goodness! Well, I was indeed in the wrong. Please extend to him my apologies and add that there is a bottle of good wine here waiting for him." I did subsequently pass through Macon, but I did not follow up on his courteous offer.

The Amazing Water-Diviner, Bléton

In Morvand there is a quantity of iron mines and a company which wanted to set up a forge there but lacked water - this at a time when Bléton, a villager, enjoyed a great reputation.

A friend came to beg me to visit this man at the site and to follow him in his operations so that I might know, at least, where confidence in this man, Bléton, could lead. Besides, he offered to reimburse me for my expenses. Although it was very cold, curiosity teamed up with my desire to oblige so I accepted his proposition. So I left, arrived at Lyon and went to Romans where I made notes on what Bléton had done. - "He is a god," said my host to me. "Here is a public fountain thanks to his knowledge, and here is a well of which he found the source thus increasing by half the value of my house. Before this benefactor came along, it was necessary for us to fetch water from the Rhone."

I engaged in conversation with a cleric who gave me a letter for the Prior of the Carthusian monks of Lyon, and another one for the mayor of St-Jean in Royant, the homeland of Bléton. I left the next day; it was necessary to climb a very high mountain covered with snow.

The wind was biting, the air was frigid and the cold gripped me. My hands turned white, my strength diminished and a pain arose in my side. This sweating, I thought, was from a chill and


the precursor of an inflammatory illness. So I got off my horse, opened my bags and put on four shirts one after the other one, three jackets, my costume, a frock coat and my overcoat. Then I walked holding my horse by the reins. One could have heard me panting at a 100 paces like a breathless ox. At the foot of the mountain I arrived at a small inn where bread was being removed from the oven and behind this was a country museum. "Please," I said, "kindly set up a camp cot for me here and a bathtub. Give me some hot wine fortified with sugar. I will pay generously for the laundering of sheets which you will supply me." I moistened four pairs, changed my shirts six times, and left the next day happy as a clam. Diderot told me that he managed to ward off a case of pneumonia exactly the same way when he was threatened by it while on a journey.

So I made it to St-Jean in Royant where I carried my letter to the mayor and asked him who Bléton was. Having seen to my immediate needs, he said to me, "Come and judge for yourself the man of whom you inquire." The weather was fine so off we went for a stroll. "We are now," he says to me, "the richest domain of the canton and only ten years ago this was nothing but a dry desert where nothing grew. Now look at the sources of water and brooks. They are all the works of Bléton. I am a witness to it." Then we went further. "This is the place where the man's abilities were discovered."

There was a child and his father, a Prior of the Carthusian monks, passing through the countryside. They saw a child who had fainted on a stone ("It really exists, there it is!") and tried to get this small unfortunate soul to recover. Elixirs were unsuccessful so the lad was taken down from the stone. He revived, and once again mounted the same stone where he once again collapsed. Then as soon as he was placed on the grass again his faint subsided. The Prior, a man of insight, had the stone moved and then it had no further effect on the child. But when he placed him back on the spot where the stone had been, immediately the child turned pale. Then the Carthusian monk employed workers to dig a hole and discovered the source of water which drives the mill of this paper factory. Everybody at Saint


Jean - Royant will repeat what I have just told you; it is a well-known fact.

On our way back from the mayor's residence, we passed by a very long tree-lined path. - "Do you see," he says me, "that man over there who is about to enter the path?" - "Yes, but barely." - "Well, that man is Bléton! This is a good opportunity to show you what he can do. Do you have any money on you?" - "Yes, I have eight six-franc ecus." - "Give me four of them. I am going to hide them under the dust and you do the same with the other four. Make a straight line so that they can be found more easily." Then Bléton arrived. - "My friend," the mayor says to him, "We are searching for some money which this gentleman has hidden. You have to locate it. It has been buried along two lines; here is one and this gentleman will indicate to you the start of the other." So Bléton traverses the first line by putting one foot behind the other one. Then he stopped. "You have a piece of money under your right foot; that's where it it." Then he began again. - "And there's another piece." - "Under what foot?" - "Under the same one!" So I picked it up too. Two other coins were also found. I had my doubts, but when he managed to find my four ecus without making a single mistake despite the precautions I had taken - and found even the ones laid down by my companion - my incredulity disappeared.

I had supper with Bléton at the home of the mayor of St-Jean-in Royant, and I mentioned to him the prior Marin. - "I know him well. He is a nice man. He is in the same business as me [water divination] and we always agree." - "I plan to go and see him tomorrow." - I knew that his priory is on a fairly high mountain which is called Autun. - "If you permit me, I would be honoured to accompany you." - "I would like that provided you do not appear until one hour after I do." - "Fine, that way I can get a little rest enroute."

So we set off at daybreak on foot. Then I perceived a water mill at a rather great distance. - "You will tell me, I hope, Mr. Bléton,


where the water is coming from which always makes this mill turn." - "Yes, I'll attempt to locate it and then have you try to guess where it is too." Bléton stopped. "Feel my pulse." He had a fever. Then he picked up a small twig, bent it into a bow and put it on two fingers. The twig began to rotate quickly as he followed the flow in the underground passage. He had a fever while the twig turned, but when he deviated from the course of the underground flow, both effects stopped. - "Now," said Bléton to me, "Where do you think this water is coming from?" - "Undoubtedly it is coming from the mountain in front of us. That was very good, but now allow me to hold your two wrists while the twig is turning." I felt no artificial movement. "Now, put the twig on my fingers." It did not turn! - "I am going to make it turn." He held on to two of my fingers, one on each hand, and then it turned. I believed that he was standing over the water source while I was outside of it. Unfortunately it did not occur to me to have both of us standing over the current to see if he could transmit to me the fever which he experienced. Oh well, there's always something we overlook. Often the most obvious things in life are those which we neglect to try.

So there I was at the home of the prior Morin. He was a tall and robust man of good appearance - very hospitable and with a kind heart that radiated through his countenance. When I mentioned Bléton to him, he beamed and said that he also had the gift to sense the presence of subterranean waters. - "I just about cured him, not of charlatanism, but of an error in physics which sometimes trips him up. When he declares the presence of water, invariably it's there. But he also claims to know the depth and he succeeds rather often. Surely that's wrong because there is no measuring rod for this kind of estimation. Bléton ignores the fact that our sensations are subject to the inverse square of the distance; therefore a water source which is one-sixteenth as plentiful as another one which is four times deeper will produce the same effect. Therefore it is said that he must use trickery to find water, but I repeat that he cannot. Sometimes, the emanations cross


the ground obliquely, it follows that the water is not always underfoot in a perpendicular line. However, my observation is that these cases are rare. If you want, sir, to go for a little walk, I can make you feel the subterranean sources. Just feel my pulse. When it begins to deteriorate I will shiver and you will see me turning pale. That's when I shall be over a water source or a current. Furthermore, you will note that by pushing me aside the effect stops." I verified these facts six times and was forced to believe in this hydroscopy even while looking for every possible way to strengthen my doubts.

I asked him why Bléton didn't suffer when he was on the water in a boat. He replied that the simple aqueous emanations are not the same as when they are joined to the ground gas and that a well, for example, does not produce the same effect as a subterranean source at the same depth.

This prior admitted that he was discouraged to be put in the class of 'hydroscopes', because the monks of the country believed it to be sorcery, and it led to many disagreements with his bishop.

So then Bléton arrived about dinnertime. - "Ah, there you are, my friend! I have something to share with you. Here is a stone which I found this morning and there is also a piece of metal. I'd like you to tell me where it is." Bléton removed his shoe, rolled the stone under his foot and stopped. - "It is under my toe." - "Remove your foot. Monsieur, I ask you to raise the stone without changing its position. Bléton, where is the metal?" - "In the middle of the stone." - "You will find, sir, on this spot a cross made with a pen which should convince you that we are in agreement." The truth is, this cross was under the toe of Bléton. It is possible to believe that both hydroscopes had some kind of communication but I had no reason to suspect that since the prior Morin had about as much guile as a farmer. When the two had gotten acquainted, the prior took out a manuscript


and handed it to Bléton. "Take this, sir, you will make better use of it than me. My handwriting is not elegant, but in it you will find some ideas, and you will sense that nature has peculiar anomalies. Unless I'm mistaken, what we are senstitive to, Bléton and I, is only the vegetative force which develops plants. We are riddles for her, as metals are for the electric fluid. Perhaps you knew people who were impervious to electricity. There are those, but their sort is equally as rare as ours. Besides, our faculty appears to like the ground of this country, because all hydroscopes were, or are, Dauphiné (ie. from the region of Dauphin)."

I left the prior Morin and returned to Lyon where I presented myself to the Chartreuse to continue my research on Bléton. "Follow me," the prior said to me. "We shall dine later if you would like to accept a Carthusian monk's dinner." I accepted and we went out for a walk. - "Here is a water well found by Bléton whose peculiarities are surprising. When the man had marked its source, I placed a picket on the spot. Then I observed that under this point, there was a vault." - "Go on." - "I led him down into the cellar which he traversed, then he stopped and said, 'The water source is between the ceiling of the vault and the picket.' Sure enough, employing geometry I found the intersection of both points marked by Bléton." This Prior confirmed to me that the big Chartreuse near Grenoble lacked water, and that this man had located in all the household (the area of which is immense) conveniences as useful as they were unexpected.

I took note of all these facts and I named the persons involved because I have no desire to distort the truth.

Some time later Bléton was called to Chagny (a village belonging to Monsieur Clermont de Montoison, homeland of the wine of Morachet). There he had to deal with many unbelieving people who formed the company at that chateau. Bléton indicated that some water would be found for one


well at a specific depth. We dug two feet deeper than that finding no water source but a layer of chalk instead. We didn't want to go any deeper when Bléton said, "If I'm wrong, I will pay the expenses." So we dug a little deeper and the water sprung out of the ground flooding the workers. Within an hour there was ten to twelve feet of water. And this water was used to irrigate several fields in this canton which became very productive.

Here are the tests which we applied to this hydroscope at Chagny. I had told the story of my eight six-franc ecus. Monsieur de Mandelot, a former page of the king and son-in-law of Monsieur de Clermont, and man of merit, placed under the stone floor of a room twelve or fifteen six-franc ecus. Then we told Bléton to find them. As he uncovered one, we marked the stone floor. He raised them all and didn't make a single mistake. Then we led him into a vast garden where there were ponds, pipes, and a pump. We blindfolded him and then had him look for the conduits which hadn't been encountered since the pond had been drained.

Here is a rather amusing thing which happened to me at Chagny. Two big Lords went hunting and had the kindness to have me accompany them. Stopping on the crest of a small hill they found it difficult to judge which direction the wind was coming from. - "I shall tell you." Whereupon I put a finger in my mouth and raised it in the air. "I assure you that the wind is from the south." Both lords then made the test to feel which the side of the finger felt coolest. One says, "He is right!", while the other one makes a terrible fart and swears that the wind is from the northwest.

At first the joke was a bit unsettling. An inquiry, a response, humor, then too strong an expression... Then we got to work with our hunting knives. I relaxed, became cheerful, and talked so amiably about the fart, the wind, the heat, the sound and the smell that both of them roared with laughter. There was no formality between us,


and we spoke in familiar terms. These two lords were always kind to me.

Bléton was called to Santenay near Chagny where I had a very close friend. I was dining at the home of Monsieur de Santenay when the arrival of this hydroscope was announced. - "Let us go in front of him, ladies. He knows me well and he'll do whatever you want." The sun was low on the horizon when we saw Bléton coming and we amused him until it became dark. Madam de Santenay wanted to know where any water sources were. Without hesitation he walked and stopped. - "Feel my pulse, madam. There are no sources here, but there is one over there. We shall follow it." We came up to the rock wall of a garden and told him to stay there while we marked the spot on the other side of the wall. Then we led Bléton along the inside wall and he stopped exactly where the mark had been placed. Then he continued to follow the groundwater and would have stumbled into the fountain of the chateau if we had not restrained him.

I can attest to all these things because I was a witness. Clearly, the divining rod is not a myth as is generally believed. In fact, it is not even necessary for a hydroscope to use one, but it is a device which can be used by one who is not a hydroscope. The famous Aymer, about whom much has been spoken, was a man with the same talent as Bléton but he grew rich. He became a cheat because he used his talent to track down murderers and even locate stolen articles. Meanwhile Bléton was, or is, (perhaps he's still alive) a frank, simple and artless individual who had too little education to play the role of a quack. Moreover, I followed him closely and I'm not easy to deceive.

Quod vidi and audius, testor.

I know that we tried to confuse him by unreasonable tests; we scoffed at him, we led him blindfolded in bell towers; we intimidated him; we frightened him; and all this was necessary


to do since fear is a kind of internal shudder. And who knows if this kind of shudder wouldn't impair the effect of the aqueous emanations? For instance, a lively shock to a magnet is all that is necessary to destroy its magnetic properties. One can find in the religious publication 'Ceremonies', in the folio of the last edition on spells, in the fourth volume, a letter which I wrote on this peculiar man. I shall omit how my article reached the writers and editors of this publication.

A Shocking Experience

I shall now relate the story of an unusual thunderstorm which I witnessed at Autun. A violent thunderstorm had arisen and it was customary to sound the bells of the cathedral whenever there was the prospect of danger. Lightning and a thunder clap struck the bell tower and its first effect was to enter the shirt of a young eighteen-year-old bell-ringer. It burned his body, passed through the belt of his breeches and appeared to pause there, fusing it to his flesh along the width of the band. Then it ravaged his body making a prodigious wound in front and behind down to his knees. It seemed to pause again around the ankles where its path was marked by a serious burn. Loose-knit wool that he wore was scorched on the inside, but not at all on the outside. His pant legs were so fused to his legs that we were unable to remove them without removing the skin also. The belt of his breeches had marks of fire and the soles of his shoes were scorched as if by a red hot iron.

It seems incredible that a fluid which passes immediately through a cube of metal should encounter resistance in traversing feeble articles of clothing. Perhaps his sweat was more plentiful there, and there is abundant evidence that sweat covered the body of the bell-ringer which conducted the fluid away and saved his life in the same way that a wet rat can survive an electric shock which otherwise would kill a dry rat.


At this time there was neither a doctor nor a surgeon at Autun. I was consulted and without the benefit of advice, I made the observation that "When miners are burned in subterranean explosions, they are coated with olive oil, the base of all ointments". This treatment was thus applied and people of the medical arts later judged that this remedy should be continued. It was a success. The young man grew new skin but pustules appeared on it which absolutely resembled smallpox. Was it this disease? We believed it to be so. The inactive virus which had been dormant in the mass of his blood had apparently become active when the electric fluid had passed through his body. This is what we concluded. However, after five or six weeks the bell-ringer was completely cured. He looked marvelous and I saw him later on as a soldier (grenadier).

The second effect occurred when the lightning attached itself to the rope of the archal which the verger used to alert the bell-ringer. The thunder traversed the choir, went down and made a big notch in a pillar which held the archal rope. Then it went back up (doubtless because the stone was impervious to the electric fluid, refusing it passage), and displayed itself in a shower of stars resembling those of fireworks. Several canons felt a violent headache. The Swiss guard (covered with braids of silver) glittered, and the point of his sword had a halo. This man clearly had no evil about him. Meanwhile I was behind a pillar and admit that I mistook this thunderclap for the report of a rifle which had been allowed in the church to destroy the swallows which had been desecrating the altar.

A Tornado in Autun

Here is a description of another thunderstorm which happened at Autun - one whose aftermath I observed. It was a whirlwind (tornado), the extent of its height must have been some 300 toises. This tornado left nothing untouched.


Up went mills, farms, trees, forest, etc. Everywhere its passage was marked by monuments to its destruction. A hay wagon on which a farmer sat was carried away in the whirlwind. The man and the bales of straw swirled in the air like feathers and were carried a great distance. I spoke with the victim who was still suffering from his fall. - "What was it like to be in the air?" - "Like a bird who was turning like a cartwheel."

Four oxen on the road to Arnay-le-Duc were hauling a wood wagon. They were knocked down and the driver suffered a broken leg. Monsieur de Ganay, nephew of Monsieur de Vergennes, having gone away to dine with a friend, did not recognize the neighborhood of his chateau. An ornamental lake had been rearranged since a hillock now sat in its place.

I saw oaks of at least forty five thumbs in circumference twisted and bent like bundles of sticks. Bells of fifteen to eighteen lignes in diameter now bristled with sharp points like horse chestnuts in their prickly shell.

'Doctor' Crommelin's Diagnosis

Towards the latter part of my stay at Autun, fate had me do a very interesting medical cure about which nothing had been written. I had cast a feather to the wind, to determine on which side I should walk when I met doctor François, a well-respected practitioner. - "Where are you going?" he asks me. - "My faith! No place in particular." - "Why not come with me on a house-call? Monsieur de Fénélon is gravely ill. He has been in decline for a long time and I believe that he is nearing the end. Your visit will please him. I have never had another patient of such an extraordinary nature; the most potent medicines not only have no beneficial effect but they also have no harmful effect.


Now I am on my third attempt. I shall see him for a moment and then we shall have a good discussion." We arrived at the home of Monsieur de Fénelon. He displayed a yellow olive colour, could digest nothing and generally looked like a corpse. We stayed at his house for half an hour during which the patient spat more than thirty times. While the doctor was busy writing, I said to the patient, "But sir, do you always spit like this?" - "Yes, day and night." - "How can you possibly digest anything? You are removing from your stomach all its resources!"

The doctor dropped his pen, became reflective for a moment and said, "It is very surprising that this observation had escaped me. Crommelin is right, and I can do no better than instruct you not to spit any more." - "But my saliva has a bad taste." - "It will go away when you start digesting properly. I recommend that you swallow it and to be strict on this point."

Monsieur de Fénelon rebounded from that moment on. He was able to digest his food, lost his jaundice and his health recovered. Doctor François had no shortage of colleagues. He called upon specialists, those who gave counsel in health matters on this and that, and he believed that a remedy which succeeded in one case had to succeed in all. But a brilliant idea, no matter from whom it came, struck him as profound and he approved it openly. I was given credit for Monsieur Fénelon's cure. "It is, by God, not me who cured him," he declared, "it is Crommelin".

We then went to see another patient, a twenty-year-old young man. - "Fine! Have you purged recently?" - "No." - "How do you feel?" - "Better." - "Have you had trenches?" - "None, but when urinating I feel miserable." - "Let us see your urine." It was thick like the strong glue found in a pot used by carpenters. - "Here we have," says the doctor, "a symptom which is new to me. My friend, take these medications and digest them like any other food,


but I assure you they will purge you very well." From there we strolled to the former circus grounds and discussed our observations regarding the frailties of human beings.

An Archaelogical Discovery

I had the reputation at Autun to be knowledgeable about the antique monuments with which this city is filled. Also I was the guide to almost all the foreigners of a certain importance. A young architect named Le Noir came to ask me to walk with him. I believe that he is the same Le Noir who has since become famous for his works. Together we saw the gate of Aroux and he confirmed to me that the architecture there was Greek and not Roman. I had made the same observation as him by the proportion of the Corinthian columns which were not that of Vitruve... "But where did the Greeks come from to get to Autun?" - "Via Marseille. It was Phoencians who emigrated and established it."

Monsieur Le Noir wished to see the ancient circus so splendidly described by Maufaucon. Now it was only a place where the plough passed over it. A sculptured stone caught our attention, something which I had seen perhaps twenty times before without paying any attention to it. He picked it up and I saw him become somewhat ecstatic. "What do you see on this stone?" - "I see a surprising thing. It is the Rosette of the Corinthian capital (top) which gives an idea of the proportion of the missing column." He carried it away like a precious monument. Cabinets are filled with such seemingly mundane things from which spring forth very big ideas.

Reflections Upon Leaving Autun

Finally the time came when I had to leave Autun (after eighteen years of residence in this place) to move closer to my home. I left friends behind there, and I dare believe that my memory also will not soon be erased from those who remain there.

I made only three small indiscretions in this city. The first one was against a prude - a stupid, ridiculous and


contemptible individual who was full of pretensions. Here is a verse for her:

"Vanity has turned the duck into a swan;
Every day she gives herself airs,
Her looks are not what I'm attracted to
Though everybody might say that it is."

The second took place against an adventurer who, at a ball, dared to put into the hand of a young naive, rich and beautiful person, a note in verse by which he proposed to make her his Héloïse. The uncle of the young lady, furious, wanted to give him a beating. - "Let me respond to this note," I said to him. - "Respond! How? But let us see your idea..." … An hour later I carried my reply in the form of a rhyme:

Your verses have so much spirit and art
That I am quite in love;
Yes, you will be my Abélard
And I shall be your Héloïse
As for my uncle, this is what he said to me
To achieve that end...
You must do...

This verse made many people laugh. The aunt found it too ribald, but the uncle judged it to be just the right thing for this situation. He took the verse and distributed twenty copies. The adventurer soon disappeared from sight without a sound.

The third was of a little more consequence. It can be found in the chapter on the ridiculous in my book, "The Female Don Quixote." After being away on a trip for some time, upon my return I was taken to be a cad amongst the women. It was necessary to extricate myself from this tight spot and boldness appeared to be the best approach. I turned to an epigram by an old author named Longue which can be found


in any old anthology. No justification was really necessary and in the end nobody was upset that I had used this approach in dealing with a situation that was considered impolite.

In the chapters on the ridiculous I translated his epigram into English and having reproduced it with great care, I placed it in my new play. Having employed this tactic, I found it extraordinary that beautiful ladies recognized themselves in this sordid old English narrative. Not having seen anything but perfection in them personally, it was impossible that I could have been capable of making even the slightest aspersions.

The head of the great theatre society came to find me the next day, and asked me if I could prove that what I had translated was a faithful rendition. I handed him the English book with the translation word for word and phrase by phrase. I was so completely vindicated by him that I was swamped with politeness thereafter.

My Contentious Billboard

I had the misfortune of hanging once more in disgrace, but this time it was only momentary. We laughed a lot about it, and when we laugh the anger usually vanishes.

Noble ladies wanting to play in a comedy were unable to do so without making reference to class distinction. The casting and superiority of talent (which is not strong amongst nobles) gave place to grave division. Envy on one side and self-esteem or vanity perhaps on the other ceaselessly placed obstacles in the way of harmony.

We needed an innkeeper's signboard and I was asked to make it. I proposed a signboard depicting union or harmony believing that I would paint two hands, one inside the other. A less simple idea then emerged. I painted a dog, a rabbit, a cat, a rat and a bird eating out of the same bowl. When we raised the cloth banner, roars of laughter rose from all sides. We looked for the cause of the commotion and discovered that my signboard was considered a sarcasm. I was obliged to flee.


I admit, to be honest, there was a bit of malice in my efforts but I observe at the same time that the naughty in society are obliged to hide only life's imperfect enjoyments. Few people know how to risk an unpleasant situation for the sake of imparting a bit of wisdom.

A Damsel in Distress

Here is an opportune place to put an anecdote which I consider to be the most interesting of my life. In the neighborhood of Châlons I knew an honest old woman about 45 years of age whom unforeseen misfortune, and especially the loss of a lawsuit, had sunk into the horrors of desparate need. Her son enjoying an honourable situation and moreover, well thought of, gave her sufficient help but her daughter - tall, well-proportioned and beautiful - was the continual object of her anxieties. To get her a situation which would enable her to subsist, she placed her with a Paris fashion merchant whose place of residence I do not disclose for reasons which the reader will understand. I went to see her several times. She was in good hands for that kind of trade, and always her teacher spoke well about her behaviour, her obedience, and about her aptitude.

In the year 1778 I went to this woman's residence and found her in a very bad disposition. Taking her aside I asked what was bothering her. - "My faith, sir! For ten months I have not received a cent from her mother and my situation now is such that I must receive what is due me." - "Stop worrying madam. I know the cause of the delay; you will lose nothing." - "Well, sir, I will wait another two months to complete the year, but I declare to you and ask, should I in your opinion keep her much longer than that?"

So I wrote to the mother and left. Two months later I returned to Paris. As I passed by near the royal palace in the evening, I saw wrapped in a coat a tall and beautiful girl with a shy air who invited me to enter her abode. Then I recognized my young person. Up to now I hadn't said anything and, finding myself head to head with her, I


said to her in a serious tone... "Mademoiselle. What the devil are you doing here?" My voice startled her for it was then that she recognized me and fainted. When she revived a torrent of tears relieved her. Then she said to me: "You will not believe me, sir, I sense it, but I am going to tell you the truth. There is no dissoluteness in the activity which you just witnessed." I laughed at that and then I saw her indignant expression. "Yesterday evening I was chased away from the home of my mistress. After a very lively scene I roamed for several hours and spent the night on the new bridge because there were guardsmen there on duty. This morning I inquired if there was a small flat available for rent so I wouldn't have to remain in the street. Dying of hunger I approached several mature persons to tell them about my difficulties and..." - "Mademoiselle, I did not know you had the gift of creating novels. 'Wish that I had so that I might add some truth to your story, but you have here a Madam .... whose humanity I know about..." - "It was necessary. She left three days ago; she even left everything behind in her flat." - "But you have a relative who has some wealth. Did he too refuse to receive you in so cruel a moment?" - "No. But he was buried last week and it is his death which provoked the bad humor of madam... Because he had promised to pay six months of my pension." - "Then it would have been better that you sought accommodation at an inn or in a cafe..." - "But I don't have a penny in my pocket." - "Mademoiselle, stop worrying and wait for me with confidence."

I then went to the fashion merchant and asked to see madam. She informed me that she was indeed chased away the day before; that she had been warned that this would happen, and that it was not a happy situation. I then treated her appropriately. When she raised her voice I threatened to report her to the police because of her inhumanity to such an unfortunate soul about whom she had nothing to complain,


for even her talents were exploited to her profit while not paying any wages or other remunerations. Neither was there any deadline, especially when there was only a delay in payments and not a denial of what was due her. Perceiving that this woman was now afraid, I demanded that she assemble immediately all the things which belonged to her pupil. Then, leading me to a small cabinet, she made a rather large package, a receipt for which I gave to her. Then I took a hackney cabriolet and returned to the lodging of my protégé. - "Mademoiselle," I said to her, "here are your personal effects. See if there's anything missing." - "It doesn't really matter." - "Now listen to me. Do you want to return to the home of your mother?" - "Yes, sir, but for that to be possible an angel would have to come to my help." - "He will come. Wrap your package of belongings again and take out only those things you will need for a three days journey. Then summon your host." He was a short rickety chap. - "Since when has mademoiselle been staying at your lodgings?" - "Since this morning." - "Has she not slept here longer?" - "No." - "How much do you charge?" - "One louis per week." - "Then here are six francs." - "I will need the whole amount." - "In that case, sir, come with me to the police commissioner. I warn you, however, that you will only get thirty sols. You took in an unfortunate girl, not a prostitute." The man took the six francs. - "Now compose yourself and enter the hackney cab which I have at the door." I led her to the cab and paid our fare up to the place where we would be stopping. Then I took her to a vintner's shop where travelers obtained food and lodging. There I called for some poultry, bread and some wine. - "While waiting for supper, mademoiselle, let's finish our accounting."

"You will need thirty-six sols for the coachman, twenty-four sols for the fare, your dinners and suppers are paid, and here are six francs for tips to the chambermaids of the inns."

When the supper arrived I urged her to curb her appetite and to finish the poultry


over a period of four hours in the morning. Then, departing from "Le Petit Scipion", I withdrew very contented having paid for my own lodging.

This good deed did not cost me more than 110 francs. Alas, if only I had been rich; but this unfortunate person was in dire straits. I know enough about egoism and the hardness of people to believe that my course of action would not have occurred to most. This young lady did not write me because I did not give her my address, but I learned later with satisfaction that she had married; that she had always behaved well; that her mother was now living with her; that an interesting succession of events had pulled her out of the arms of misery; and that the fashion merchant had eventually been paid in full.

End of Part 2