...or the Art of Killing Time
(Second Edition, published in 1809)
The Sedentary Travels of Isaac Mathieu Crommelin
Preliminary remarks which must be read:
The immobility of one suffering from gout (joint pain) doesn't prevent his imagination from wandering. I happen to suffer from gout. As I sit by the fireside I feel an oppressive weight these days. So, how do I find some relief? Reading. I take an informative and educational book...then after an hour of study I yawn and place it on my table. Trying to write, I scribble a 4-page letter to a friend, then two hours have passed and the worst of the gout pains have subsided.
It seems the activity of the spirit gets active on account of the limitations of one's physical abilities. It has been noted in colleges that delicate children are those who apply themselves the most. Not able to devote themselves to the exertions of their age, they study in order to stave off boredom, but rarely do they fulfill their potential. I liken them to wines which have become spoiled because they haven't fermented long enough. Old folks have something in common with children but for different reasons. One has a worn-out body while the other's is still undeveloped or imperfect. The voice, vigor, energy, and the ability to order one's thoughts, mature along with one's beard, but then decline when it whitens. The plant kingdom goes the same way as the leaves fall when the fruit is ripe. This is an age when studying is difficult and even fruitless. The memory of an old person resembles scraps of paper that have been erased, crossed out, confused, mixed up, and on which things can no longer be written.
In one's youth, ideas engrave themselves prominently; the etching needle is new and sharp, and the plate is soft. However in ripe old age, the mind shuffles them around, time impairs their order, and then the rambling thoughts begin. In decrepitude ideas become obliterated. Only those remain that are deeply ingrained, such as those that take us back to our childhood. A multitude of situations produces a similar effect on an aging spirit. The infirm, those with heart problems, those afflicted with melancholy, bedridden folks, and convalescents aren't able to apply themselves. They can't read an entire volume on the same subject, but their mind can wander all over the place if they are stimulated by variety. I would also say that in avoiding the didactical form, and in making the encounters brief, even instruction will be well received. You can trust me on that because I am now 78 years old.
Most of my contemporaries are temperamental, demanding, and difficult because they don't have the ability to expel the boredom which consumes them. It's equally true that their moroseness comes to an end at night, the hour staked out for flight which they impatiently wait for. "How is it that you always manage to stay so gay?", they ask me incessantly. How, indeed! I dispel sad thoughts; I apply the philosophy of Democrite who imprisoned them all, and that seems better than being afflicted by them.
The arts, with which I live, provides me with delectable joys, and I find myself absolutely pleased when I compare myself to those tormented by a hunger for gold but who find pleasure in nothing. "I have one hundred thousand livres of income!" - "Well, go ahead and live, then; be human; you obviously don't know that the one who gives is happier than the one who receives." - "In ten years I will have doubled my assets by my astute investments." - "I equate your pleasures to those of a packer who spends his life doing nothing but stuffing a cashbox." - "The Fool at the port of Pyree was richer than you..." - "You imbecile! Are you sure that you will even live ten more years?" Furthermore, it is universally known that the rich, money-conscious person always has a tendency to be miserly in his affairs because he understands better the things that pertain to money than those who hold to refinements and bold undertakings.
I have taken a long enough walk to induce sleep, but if insomnia triumphs, I have next to me the Thousand and One Days, The Thousand and a Quarter Hours, The Thousand and One Nights, the Countess de Fees, Aristotle, Le Tasse, Swift, Sterne, Lafontaine, etc. When the sun rises and I leave my bed, I never say, "I passed a rotten night - I listened to fighting cats, and there was noise at the house next door." Little sleep when one is old isn't a bad thing anyway because it prolongs one's life. I don't wish for any grace. Now I don't even ask for lighter service from those who call themselves my friends because friendship can no longer be put on a pedestal. Now it's only common interests that unite souls - people who won't turn their back on you at the first setback. In that regard I have had a great deal of experience.
Through reading I go freely into the company of good people where I am at ease; never to those where a woman, before entering, takes note of who is fashionably dressed, or whether a man is plainly attired. Finally, to fill the void, I saddle my old sheafs [books] and when I come across some good grains, I extract them and compile them into a collection which I call Mes Reveries.
I would like to call them Mes Radotages, but, upon reflection, it seems more agreeable to 'ponder' than to 'ramble' because to muse in my manner is a sweet occupation while mere ramblings by a worn-out spirit tends to evoke pity. Indeed, my collection is a varied hodge-podge which recalls to my memory lost things which amuse me, and which ultimately prevents time from weighing down upon me.
Three sections, quite distinct, comprise my 'saddle bag'. The first, under the heading of Sedentary Travels includes:
- A discourse which one will find neither long nor boring. It is the outline of a grand tour with interesting explanations. It is the life of Emilie, a heroine with a character that's quite fresh.
- The travels of Emilie in a land of Fables.
- The Meanderings of this Female Tourist
- An Artist
- Isles of the Archipelago - Greece, Syria, Palestine
- She stops at the place where gods and goddesses live
- Reconciling Fables and History
- Finally passing in review the monuments which time has respected.
- Subterranean Voyage
- This is a continuation of the Travels of Emilie. It may be considered within the bounds of probability and offers a sentimental ending that will please sensitive people.
- A short poem in four stanzas, in rhyme in which the ending is the poetic origin of Syphilis. Nothing has been borrowed from Fracastor, who made a great work of this subject.
- Voyage on the Moon
The fanciful imagination of the author did not make him lose sight of a multitude of factual things such as:
- The aspect of the earth as seen from a certain elevation.
- Meteors which result in assorted gaseous formations.
- What the absence of air must produce on the sun, odours, optics, light, colors, vegetation, fire, etc.
- How the absence of heat must affect solids and liquids which, in each case, tests all the forces of attraction and cohesion.
- What would the astonishment be of an observer suspended above the Alps who, in the space of 24 hours, sees the whole world passing by below him? This perspective is precisely that of a traveller who is located at the first degree of his ascension.
- With regard to Selenographie, or the Description of the Moon, are found things which can belong to both the realms of fact as well as the imagination. One senses that this astral body (a globe absolutely frigid) cannot be inhabited by men. This is what inspired me to create beings who have no need of food, and this bizarre prospect is perhaps not the least fanciful in a trip that takes place over 85920 leagues.
- A trip into the four corners of the world, in which the goal is to examine the various Religions which have reigned there over a period of some 30 or 40 centuries on the surface of our globe. Readers will clearly see that the major part of this story has been derived from Travellers, and not from the work entitled Ceremonies Religieuses.
Such is the first part of my collection of stories. I have published it at my own expense, so no bookseller can grumble for having made a bad deal! Has it been reviewed? I would like that, but no, this honour has not been extended to the Reveries of a senior citizen, 78 years old, aimed at lonely people who want something to read after getting tired. Nevertheless, if this effort manages to fulfil my aim to dispel boredom, I offer them a second part in four months and a third in eight. Here is what they will contain.
The second part, entitled the Thermometer will include:
- Homer in his trials, or L'Iliade Travestie. This original work raises the hope that those suffering from gout, ordinarily gay, will find thoughtful. Like Melancoliques they will find amusement as most people will laugh at the grotesque masquerades of the gods and goddesses, such as those of the Greek heros and villains.
- At least 120 amusing Tales in which to laugh.
- Around 100 Fables in which to reflect.
If the Reader is curious about discovering the style and stroke of the Storyteller and the Fabulist, here are some examples taken at random.
Please Stay There!
A very poor Songstress
Who was equally as vain as she was affectatious
Who wasn't even able to achieve an air in a flat key
Said to some Musicians, "I'm going to rise to the sun!"
One of her companions replied,
"If there is a good way, and indeed, there must be one,
If in a demi-tone, you don't lower your key
Then please do us a favour, and stay there!"
The Partridge and the Ant
Dame Partridge travelling at the edge
Of a forest spied an anthill;
"My Goodness!" she said to her chicks,
(Because her family was numerous),
"Go ahead and satisfy your appetites.
This encounter is indeed fortunate!
Alas! Without the cursed Hunter
We will taste here our supreme good fortune."
An Ant from the neighbourhood,
Despite its fears and terror,
Dared to stand fast with the words:
"Well, who is more cruel, the Hunter or you?
Think about it and tell me truthfully;
He devours you at his dinner;
But what do you do for your meal?
You destroy an entire republic!"
A doctor having returned from Sweden
Bragged in a circle of colleagues about a remedy
Of which he alone had the secret;
And which nobody before needed or prepared;
But he cited a wise patient
Who recently put it to good use,
- "Undoubtedly its potency didn't fail him." -
I burned to know what it was, but the patient had left.
- "Already!" - "Yes, and in grand company;
Each going his own way.
Abandoning his bed, and without saying anything to anybody,
He went to live in seclusion."
The Gosling and The Mirror
The bird of the Capitole, one day in the mirror
Spied a plumed creature with a ponderous neck;
Strutting in a lofty air, and waddling about.
He had no idea that this was his face.
"Ah!" he says, "who is this oaf next to me
Who wants to introduce himself?
Did anyone alive ever look so silly!"
And then he burst out laughing.
The Mirror soon says to him:
"Friend, your error is extreme
A stupid pride has dazzled you
For you are only laughing at yourself!"
It is necessary to apply the lesson
Rarely does one examine oneself;
The man in general is the Gosling
And the Mirror is the stage.
The Imitator of St. Fiacre
A Capuchin, in a shrill and pitiful tone
Clinging to the logic
Of St. Fiacre the blessed,
Tried to be his imitator.
"Ah! what force, what attraction
Towards good, always practicing it;
He was true, pure, and without spot,
Chaste, simple, religious...
My brothers, his example is the way to the skies..."
Swift to greet you, and working without relaxing;
You must with a cilice be all covered;
But my heros, they are all simulation and pretense,
And if you can imitate their virtues,
Christians, you will all be hypocrites.
The Bomb and the Turtledove
A Bomb ready to depart
For next to him was
A plaintive Turtledove.
"Abandon, believe me, your solemn visit,"
Said the Bomb to the shy bird;
"Be like me in my rapid flight,
As I dash up into the skies."
"No," replied the sad one, as simple as she was wise;
"In my tranquil obscurity,
I am in the shelter from the storm.
If I change places, my wings will support me;
But you, that pushes thunder,
You die while ravaging the earth,
Your own destruction is a part of you."
This moral is an emblem
Of what one sees too much of today:
When one rises with the help of others
One falls, or perishes by the same helper.
Dressed in bright colors,
An elegant lady strolling along the Garonne
Carrying a light parasol,
Her steps were being followed by a young rascal.
Meanwhile an old man happened to be crossing the river;
By accident, he splashed her;
Then the Lady,
On tiptoe, turned, and shook herself,
She swears and says to him: "Old remains of a soldier,
If on your forehead the fates
Had not engraved the years,
I would teach you how to fight!"
"My faith," said the old Man, who came up next to her,
"If I had only ten louis in my pocket
To save me from that stranger over there,
You would not dare insult me as you just did."
"Oh dear, what now?" - "Please loan me that sum, madam,
And in an instant I will knock you senseless."
The Hummingbird and the Apple of Mancenillier
Come, my little King,
Come and rest on me,
Says to the tiny birds, in a seductive voice,
The Apple of Mansenillier.
I am red and appetizing...
Eh what! Is it necessary therefore to be cautious?
A Hummingbird stops by...
The apple is, my faith! lovely;
The fruit appears to be savory,
He tastes some and believes himself to be happy,
At the same instant that he poisons himself.
The wife of a Lawyer,
Beautiful, comely, alluring,
Was passionately seduced
By the beautiful eyes of a young Negro;
Shortly thereafter his African Servant
Tamed herself, and crept into bed with the Lawyer,
A Negro servant girl, having seen the light.
Later the husband reaches out to receive her in his arms,
And then in a fright takes three steps back;
But the skillful pregnant woman guesses the situation,
And says to him: "You deserve this bitter pill;
When you made this baby,
Weren't you also being a rather careless spouse,
To the deep dismay of your mother?"
The House Dogs and the Mastiff
An elegant and kind Greyound
And his mate, a pretty mongrel,
Were dining on some soft bread,
On macaroons and doughnuts.
The couple did not quit;
Almanzor adored Zerbine,
Both of them slept on the damask,
Two comely canines indifferent to the rules.
There arrived a Mastiff all dirty and muddied,
That, without warning, launches himself as if on a siege.
Barking at the outrage, being beseiged,
One bites the intruder cruelly.
"Eh what!" says the Mastiff, in a tone firm and severe,
"Drunk on splendor and pride,
You view me with a wrong eye,
Because, you see, I am your father!"
This picture is seen every day:
Supreme vanity! Which is therefore your mania?
When a Villager pays a visit to the royal Court,
No longer does anyone recognize the humble author of his life.
The False Louis d'Or (Gold Currency)
A Litigant charges his Servant
To pay monsieur Duret,
His Judge, a double louis.
Master Frontin, a rogue who is nothing but trouble,
Is at the door about to steal something, an unsavory character
Whom the Judge has just released.
"You knave," cries the Litigant, "I perceive your malice;
You both have a trait in common...
Yes, one appears in a man of means;
But, seeing that it is worth nothing,
I will put the two gold louis back into the hands of true Justice."
The Butterfly and the Snail
Be careful not to present
A haughty air of superiority,
So that one can reproach you later
For basing your criticisms on ignorance.
A small young Butterfly
Encounters one day a Snail:
"You unfortunate thing," he says to him, "that your life is so strange.
You can never get away from your prison
Which you drag along in the dirt.
As for me, I live only on flowers;
And a beautiful border is my domain;
Guided by soft odors, I fly from plain to plain."
- "Yes, I am a lowly crawling thing,"
Replied the carrier with his shell;
"But, believe me, you have no reason to boast,
Because I knew you when you were a caterpillar!"
The third volume entitled The Barometer will contain the following:
Curious observations on various natural phenomena.
A discourse on Egoism.
Another on Antiquities.
Diverse origins and anecdotes related to them.
Dissertation on the music of ancient cultures.
- On the Declamation.
- On the origin of the Spectacles.
- On the use of Masks
- On Pantomimes
- On Dancing
- On the Aerobatics of ancient cultures.
- On Theatres and Amphitheatres
- On the decadence of Dramatic Works
- On Choirs
- On Costumes
- On Orgies
- On Games
- On Wreaths
- On Sculpture, Painting, Architecture
- On the origin of Astronomy and Logic
- On False Memoirs
To it will be added a Tragedie which isn't known anywhere, several melodramas, comedies, pantomimes, comic operas, and several interesting new things.
I would reiterate that the publication of Thermometer and Barometer of which I have given you some small samples, will only take place if my 'sedentery travels' book will enjoy some success.
Backed up by variety, which happens to be my trademark, and the quirkiness of my conceptions, these books will provide a distraction for those suffering from gout and help attenuate their pains. It's at least amongst this Class that the Fellow Isaac Mathieu hopes to find some advocates.
[Translator's Notes: While translating this Preface to Mes Radotages, several points of interest occurred to me.
1. Isaac mentions musing over the title of this book. He wasn't sure whether to call it Mes Reveries (My Musings) or Mes Radotages (My Ramblings). Apparently he used both. The first edition, an edition which he paid for himself, was called Mes Reveries, while this second edition was called Mes Radotages. The two books are likely the same in content. Govert Deketh managed to purchase Vol. 1 of this two-volume book. A copy of Mes Reveries may be found in the Paris Library.
2. Isaac mentions having paid the cost of publishing this book himself 'so no book seller can complain about getting a bad deal'. This leads me to think that a line written in his last will and testament refers to another manuscript which he offered to a publisher, but which was returned to him when the book seller couldn't afford to pay him. This was a 4-volume Precis on Human Knowledge. Therefore, Isaac could have written another major treatise which, unfortunately, the world knows nothing about!
3. Apparently his 'sedentary travels' book, Mes Radotages, did not win enough support to warrant his publishing sequels 2 and 3 entitled Thermometer and Barometer. There is no record that these books were ever published, but at least we have a few sample tales and fables that sequel 2 would have contained.
4. The L'Iliade Travestie which Isaac intended to include in sequel 3, wasn't published in his lifetime, but his notes were gathered, sorted and augmented by a group of interested individuals and then published in 1831. Govert Deketh managed to purchase a copy of this rare document.
5. In his description of the contents of sequel 3, Barometer, a book that was never published, Isaac mentions 'Diverse origins and anecdotes related to them'. This could shed light on a handwritten 'scrapbook' of Miscelleny of History and Literature that Govert Deketh managed to obtain in 2008. This book is filled with short 'snippets' of information about the history of printing, the origin of the 'tragedie', etc. I believe this was probably his main 'source' book for the articles he envisioned for Barometer. Being handwritten, this is the only copy in existence. What a blessing to have it fall into our hands!
- Miff Crommelin, July 27, 2011]