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CHAPTER VII—THE WISDOM OF THOLOMYES
In the meantime, while some sang, the rest talked together tumultuously
all at once; it was no longer anything but noise. Tholomyes intervened.
"Let us not talk at random nor too fast," he exclaimed. "Let us reflect,
if we wish to be brilliant. Too much improvisation empties the mind in a
stupid way. Running beer gathers no froth. No haste, gentlemen. Let us
mingle majesty with the feast. Let us eat with meditation; let us make
haste slowly. Let us not hurry. Consider the springtime; if it makes
haste, it is done for; that is to say, it gets frozen. Excess of zeal
ruins peach-trees and apricot-trees. Excess of zeal kills the grace and
the mirth of good dinners. No zeal, gentlemen! Grimod de la Reyni�re
agrees with Talleyrand."
A hollow sound of rebellion rumbled through the group.
"Leave us in peace, Tholomyes," said Blachevelle.
"Down with the tyrant!" said Fameuil.
"Bombarda, Bombance, and Bambochel!" cried Listolier.
"Sunday exists," resumed Fameuil.
"We are sober," added Listolier.
"Tholomyes," remarked Blachevelle, "contemplate my calmness [mon calme]."
"You are the Marquis of that," retorted Tholomyes.
This mediocre play upon words produced the effect of a stone in a pool.
The Marquis de Montcalm was at that time a celebrated royalist. All the
frogs held their peace.
"Friends," cried Tholomyes, with the accent of a man who had recovered his
empire, "Come to yourselves. This pun which has fallen from the skies must
not be received with too much stupor. Everything which falls in that way
is not necessarily worthy of enthusiasm and respect. The pun is the dung
of the mind which soars. The jest falls, no matter where; and the mind
after producing a piece of stupidity plunges into the azure depths. A
whitish speck flattened against the rock does not prevent the condor from
soaring aloft. Far be it from me to insult the pun! I honor it in
proportion to its merits; nothing more. All the most august, the most
sublime, the most charming of humanity, and perhaps outside of humanity,
have made puns. Jesus Christ made a pun on St. Peter, Moses on Isaac,
AEschylus on Polynices, Cleopatra on Octavius. And observe that
Cleopatra's pun preceded the battle of Actium, and that had it not been
for it, no one would have remembered the city of Toryne, a Greek name
which signifies a ladle. That once conceded, I return to my exhortation. I
repeat, brothers, I repeat, no zeal, no hubbub, no excess; even in
witticisms, gayety, jollities, or plays on words. Listen to me. I have the
prudence of Amphiaraus and the baldness of Caesar. There must be a limit,
even to rebuses. Est modus in rebus.
"There must be a limit, even to dinners. You are fond of apple turnovers,
ladies; do not indulge in them to excess. Even in the matter of turnovers,
good sense and art are requisite. Gluttony chastises the glutton, Gula
punit Gulax. Indigestion is charged by the good God with preaching
morality to stomachs. And remember this: each one of our passions, even
love, has a stomach which must not be filled too full. In all things the
word finis must be written in good season; self-control must be exercised
when the matter becomes urgent; the bolt must be drawn on appetite; one
must set one's own fantasy to the violin, and carry one's self to the
post. The sage is the man who knows how, at a given moment, to effect his
own arrest. Have some confidence in me, for I have succeeded to some
extent in my study of the law, according to the verdict of my
examinations, for I know the difference between the question put and the
question pending, for I have sustained a thesis in Latin upon the manner
in which torture was administered at Rome at the epoch when Munatius
Demens was quaestor of the Parricide; because I am going to be a doctor,
apparently it does not follow that it is absolutely necessary that I
should be an imbecile. I recommend you to moderation in your desires. It
is true that my name is Felix Tholomyes; I speak well. Happy is he who,
when the hour strikes, takes a heroic resolve, and abdicates like Sylla or
Favourite listened with profound attention.
"Felix," said she, "what a pretty word! I love that name. It is Latin; it
Tholomyes went on:—
"Quirites, gentlemen, caballeros, my friends. Do you wish never to feel
the prick, to do without the nuptial bed, and to brave love? Nothing more
simple. Here is the receipt: lemonade, excessive exercise, hard labor;
work yourself to death, drag blocks, sleep not, hold vigil, gorge yourself
with nitrous beverages, and potions of nymphaeas; drink emulsions of
poppies and agnus castus; season this with a strict diet, starve yourself,
and add thereto cold baths, girdles of herbs, the application of a plate
of lead, lotions made with the subacetate of lead, and fomentations of
"I prefer a woman," said Listolier.
"Woman," resumed Tholomyes; "distrust her. Woe to him who yields himself
to the unstable heart of woman! Woman is perfidious and disingenuous. She
detests the serpent from professional jealousy. The serpent is the shop
over the way."
"Tholomyes!" cried Blachevelle, "you are drunk!"
"Pardieu," said Tholomyes.
"Then be gay," resumed Blachevelle.
"I agree to that," responded Tholomyes.
And, refilling his glass, he rose.
"Glory to wine! Nunc te, Bacche, canam! Pardon me ladies; that is Spanish.
And the proof of it, senoras, is this: like people, like cask. The arrobe
of Castile contains sixteen litres; the cantaro of Alicante, twelve; the
almude of the Canaries, twenty-five; the cuartin of the Balearic Isles,
twenty-six; the boot of Tzar Peter, thirty. Long live that Tzar who was
great, and long live his boot, which was still greater! Ladies, take the
advice of a friend; make a mistake in your neighbor if you see fit. The
property of love is to err. A love affair is not made to crouch down and
brutalize itself like an English serving-maid who has callouses on her
knees from scrubbing. It is not made for that; it errs gayly, our gentle
love. It has been said, error is human; I say, error is love. Ladies, I
idolize you all. O Zephine, O Josephine, face more than irregular, you
would be charming were you not all askew. You have the air of a pretty
face upon which some one has sat down by mistake. As for Favourite, O
nymphs and muses! one day when Blachevelle was crossing the gutter in the
Rue Guerin-Boisseau, he espied a beautiful girl with white stockings well
drawn up, which displayed her legs. This prologue pleased him, and
Blachevelle fell in love. The one he loved was Favourite. O Favourite,
thou hast Ionian lips. There was a Greek painter named Euphorion, who was
surnamed the painter of the lips. That Greek alone would have been worthy
to paint thy mouth. Listen! before thee, there was never a creature worthy
of the name. Thou wert made to receive the apple like Venus, or to eat it
like Eve; beauty begins with thee. I have just referred to Eve; it is thou
who hast created her. Thou deservest the letters-patent of the beautiful
woman. O Favourite, I cease to address you as 'thou,' because I pass from
poetry to prose. You were speaking of my name a little while ago. That
touched me; but let us, whoever we may be, distrust names. They may delude
us. I am called Felix, and I am not happy. Words are liars. Let us not
blindly accept the indications which they afford us. It would be a mistake
to write to Liege <SPAN href="#linknote-2" name="linknoteref-2" id="noteref-2">2</SPAN>
for corks, and to Pau for gloves. Miss Dahlia, were I in your place, I
would call myself Rosa. A flower should smell sweet, and woman should have
wit. I say nothing of Fantine; she is a dreamer, a musing, thoughtful,
pensive person; she is a phantom possessed of the form of a nymph and the
modesty of a nun, who has strayed into the life of a grisette, but who
takes refuge in illusions, and who sings and prays and gazes into the
azure without very well knowing what she sees or what she is doing, and
who, with her eyes fixed on heaven, wanders in a garden where there are
more birds than are in existence. O Fantine, know this: I, Tholomyes, I am
all illusion; but she does not even hear me, that blond maid of Chimeras!
as for the rest, everything about her is freshness, suavity, youth, sweet
morning light. O Fantine, maid worthy of being called Marguerite or Pearl,
you are a woman from the beauteous Orient. Ladies, a second piece of
advice: do not marry; marriage is a graft; it takes well or ill; avoid
that risk. But bah! what am I saying? I am wasting my words. Girls are
incurable on the subject of marriage, and all that we wise men can say
will not prevent the waistcoat-makers and the shoe-stitchers from dreaming
of husbands studded with diamonds. Well, so be it; but, my beauties,
remember this, you eat too much sugar. You have but one fault, O woman,
and that is nibbling sugar. O nibbling sex, your pretty little white teeth
adore sugar. Now, heed me well, sugar is a salt. All salts are withering.
Sugar is the most desiccating of all salts; it sucks the liquids of the
blood through the veins; hence the coagulation, and then the
solidification of the blood; hence tubercles in the lungs, hence death.
That is why diabetes borders on consumption. Then, do not crunch sugar,
and you will live. I turn to the men: gentlemen, make conquest, rob each
other of your well-beloved without remorse. Chassez across. In love there
are no friends. Everywhere where there is a pretty woman hostility is
open. No quarter, war to the death! a pretty woman is a casus belli; a
pretty woman is flagrant misdemeanor. All the invasions of history have
been determined by petticoats. Woman is man's right. Romulus carried off
the Sabines; William carried off the Saxon women; Caesar carried off the
Roman women. The man who is not loved soars like a vulture over the
mistresses of other men; and for my own part, to all those unfortunate men
who are widowers, I throw the sublime proclamation of Bonaparte to the
army of Italy: "Soldiers, you are in need of everything; the enemy has
"Take breath, Tholomyes," said Blachevelle.
At the same moment Blachevelle, supported by Listolier and Fameuil, struck
up to a plaintive air, one of those studio songs composed of the first
words which come to hand, rhymed richly and not at all, as destitute of
sense as the gesture of the tree and the sound of the wind, which have
their birth in the vapor of pipes, and are dissipated and take their
flight with them. This is the couplet by which the group replied to
"The father turkey-cocks so grave
Some money to an agent gave,
That master good Clermont-Tonnerre
Might be made pope on Saint Johns' day fair.
But this good Clermont could not be
Made pope, because no priest was he;
And then their agent, whose wrath burned,
With all their money back returned."
This was not calculated to calm Tholomyes' improvisation; he emptied his
glass, filled, refilled it, and began again:—
"Down with wisdom! Forget all that I have said. Let us be neither prudes
nor prudent men nor prudhommes. I propose a toast to mirth; be merry. Let
us complete our course of law by folly and eating! Indigestion and the
digest. Let Justinian be the male, and Feasting, the female! Joy in the
depths! Live, O creation! The world is a great diamond. I am happy. The
birds are astonishing. What a festival everywhere! The nightingale is a
gratuitous Elleviou. Summer, I salute thee! O Luxembourg! O Georgics of
the Rue Madame, and of the Allee de l'Observatoire! O pensive infantry
soldiers! O all those charming nurses who, while they guard the children,
amuse themselves! The pampas of America would please me if I had not the
arcades of the Odeon. My soul flits away into the virgin forests and to
the savannas. All is beautiful. The flies buzz in the sun. The sun has
sneezed out the humming bird. Embrace me, Fantine!"
He made a mistake and embraced Favourite.