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From The World’s Wit and Humor, Volume X, French — Rutebœuf to Balzac; The Review of Reviews Company; New York; 1906; pp. 139-141.


Nicolas Boileau [1636-1711]

Annoyances of Paris

HEAVENS, what makes the air resound with these mournful cries? Is it to lie awake that one goes to bed in Paris? What angry demon brings the cats from all the gutters to this spot, night after night, in all eternity? It is in vain that I jump from my bed full of worry and fright; it seems as though all hell had come with them to visit me. One mews in a growling bass like a furious tiger; another rolls its voice like a screaming child. But that is not everything. To keep me awake, the rats and mice seem to have come to an understanding with the cats. More importunate are they to me, during the dark night, than ever in full day that wonderful bore, the Abbé Pure. . . .

But if at Paris I cannot find rest in bed, it becomes a thousand times worse when I venture out of doors. Whatever place I go to, I must fight against the ceaseless, antlike swarm of importunates. One runs a plank against me until I am one large bruise — a glance shows me my hat turned inside out. Here a funeral procession advances to the church with mournful steps, and farther off quarreling lackeys make the dogs bark and the people swear. There pavers interrupt my passage; yonder I am warned away from a house that is being repaired. Workmen creeping about on the roof of a house pour down a plentiful rain of slate and tiles, while over there comes a tottering beam on a cart, threatening danger. Six horses harnessed to the heavy load can scarcely drag it over the slippery pavement. In 140 turning round the beam becomes entangled in the wheel of a carriage, overturning it in a heap of mire, when another vehicle, passing there at the same moment, is embarrassed by the same rude embrace. Soon twenty carriages arrive in single file, followed apparently by a thousand others; and, to crown these evils, a mischievous fate brings a troop of oxen to the same place. Every one tries to get through this moil; one groans, another swears, and the mule-bells swell the uproar. But at that moment a hundred horses come into the crowd, and destroy all remnants of order. Everywhere the pedestrians form brigades, and soon you have barricades in the time of peace. One hears nothing but a clamor of confused cries, and God thunders in vain to make Himself heard. And I, who should have gone to a certain place, seeing the day decline, and weary of waiting, not knowing what saint’s protection to implore — I see myself in danger of being broken on the wheel. I jump over twenty rivers of rain, I slip through, I push on, when a physician riding on horseback knocks me down; so that, daring no longer to appear anywhere in the state in which I now am, without thinking of the way, I make off as best I can.

— “The Satires.

To Perrault

HOW comes it, Perrault, I would gladly know
That authors of two thousand years ago,
Whom in their native dress all times revere,
In your translations should so flat appear?
’Tis you divest them of their own sublime,
By your vile crudities and odious rime.
141 They’re thine when suffering thy wretched phrase,
And then no wonder if they meet no praise.

On Cotin

OF all the pens which my poor rimes molest,
Cotin’s is sharpest, and succeeds the best.
Others outrageous scold and rail downright,
With hearty rancor, and true Christian spite.
But he, a readier method does design,
Writes scoundrel verses, and then says they’re mine.


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