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- The Queen Pedauque - 2/43 -
is all-important and all-significant. And it is curious to observe how unerringly the abbe's thoughts aspire, from no matter what remote and low-lying starting-point, to the loftiest niceties of religion and the high thin atmosphere of ethics. Sauce spilt upon the good man's collar is but a reminder of the influence of clothes upon our moral being, and of how terrifyingly is the destiny of each person's soul dependent upon such trifles; a glass of light white wine leads not, as we are nowadays taught to believe, to instant ruin, but to edifying considerations of the life and glory of St. Peter; and a pack of cards suggests, straightway, intransigent fine points of martyrology. Always this churchman's thoughts deflect to the most interesting of themes, to the relationship between God and His children, and what familiary etiquette may be necessary to preserve the relationship unstrained. These problems alone engross Coignard unfailingly, even when the philosopher has had the ill luck to fall simultaneously into drunkenness and a public fountain, and retains so notably his composure between the opposed assaults of fluidic unfriends.
What, though, is found the outcome of this philosophy, appears a question to be answered with wariness of empiricism. None can deny that Coignard says when he lies dying: "My son, reject, along with the example I gave you, the maxims which I may have proposed to you during my period of lifelong folly. Do not listen to those who, like myself, subtilise over good and evil." Yet this is just one low- spirited moment, as set against the preceding fifty-two high-hearted years. And the utterance wrung forth by this moment is, after all, merely that sentiment which seems the inevitable bedfellow of the moribund,--"Were I to have my life over again, I would live differently." The sentiment is familiar and venerable, but its truthfulness has not yet been attested.
To the considerate, therefore, it may appear expedient to dismiss Coignard's trite winding-up of a half-century of splendid talking, as just the infelicitous outcropping, in the dying man's enfeebled condition, of an hereditary foible. And when moralising would approach an admonitory forefinger to the point that Coignard's manner of living brought him to die haphazardly, among preoccupied strangers at a casual wayside inn, you do, there is no questioning it, recall that a more generally applauded manner of living has been known to result in a more competently arranged-for demise, under the best churchly and legal auspices, through the rigors of crucifixion.
So it becomes the part of wisdom to waive these mundane riddles, and to consider instead the justice of Coignard's fine epitaph, wherein we read that "living without worldly honors, he earned for himself eternal glory." The statement may (with St. Peter keeping the gate) have been challenged in paradise, but in literature at all events the unhonored life of Jérome Coignard has clothed him with glory of tolerably longeval looking texture. It is true that this might also be said of Iago and Tartuffe, but then we have Balzac's word for it that merely to be celebrated is not enough. Rather is the highest human desideratum twofold,--_D'être célèbre et d'être aimé_. And that much Coignard promises to be for a long while.
James Branch Cabell
Dumbarton Grange, July, 1921,
THE QUEEN PEDAUQUE
Why I recount the singular Occurrences of my Life
I intend to give an account of some odd occurrences in my life. Some have been exquisite, some queer Recollecting them, I am myself in doubt if I have not dreamed them. I have known a Gascon cabalist, of whom I could not say that he was wise, because he perished miserably, but he delivered sublime discourses to me, on a certain night on the Isle of Swans, speeches [Footnote: The original manuscript, written in a fine hand, of the eighteenth century, bears the sub-heading "Vie et Opinions de M. l'Abbé Jérôme Coignard" [_The Editor_].] I was happy enough to keep in my memory, and careful enough to put into writing. Those speeches referred to magic and to occult sciences, with which people were very much infatuated in my days.
Everyone speaks of naught else but Rosicrucian mysteries.[Footnote: This writing dates from the second half of the eighteenth century [_The Editor_]]. Besides I do not myself expect to gain great honour by these revelations. Some will say that everything is of my own invention, and that it is not the true doctrine, others that I only said what one had already known. I own that I am not very learned in cabalistic lore, my master having perished at the beginning of my initiation. But, little as I have learned of his craft, it makes me vehemently suspect that all of it is illusion, deception and vanity.
I think it quite sufficient to repudiate magic with all my strength, because it is contrary to religion. But still I believe myself to be obliged to explain concerning one point of this false science, so that none may judge me to be more ignorant than I really am. I know that cabalists generally think that Sylphs, Salamanders, Elves, Gnomes and Gnomides are born with a soul perishable like their bodies and that they acquire immortality by intercourse with the magicians. [Footnote: This opinion is especially supported in a little book of the Abbé Montfaucon de Villars, "Le Comte de Gabalis au Entretiens sur les sciences secrètes et mystérieuses suivant les principes des anciens mages ou sages cabbalistes," of which several editions are extant. I only mention the one published at Amsterdam (Jacques Le Jeune, 1700, 18mo, with engravings), which contains a second part not included in the original edition [_The Editor_]] On the contrary my cabalist taught me that eternal life does not fall to the lot of any creature, earthly or aerial. I follow his sentiment without presuming myself to judge it.
He was in the habit of saying that the Elves kill those who reveal their mysteries, and he attributes the death of M. l'Abbé Coignard, who was murdered on the Lyons road, to the vengeance of those spirits. But I know very well that this much lamented death had a more natural cause. I shall speak freely of the air and fire spirits. One has to run some risk in life and that with Elves is an extremely small one.
I have zealously gathered the words of my good teacher M. l'Abbé Jérôme Coignard, who perished as I have said. He was a man full of knowledge and godliness. Could his soul have been less troubled he would have been the equal in virtue of M. l'Abbé Rollin, whom he far surpassed in extent of knowledge and penetration of intellect.
He had at least the advantage over M. Rollin that he had not fallen into Jansenism during the agitation of a troubled life, because the soundness of his mind was not to be shaken by the violence of reckless doctrines, and before Him I can attest to the purity of his faith. He had a wide knowledge of the world, obtained by the frequentation of all sorts of companies. This experience would have served him well with the Roman histories he, like M. Rollin, would doubtless have composed should he have had time and leisure, and if his life could have been better matched to his genius. What I shall relate of this excellent man will be the ornament of these memoirs. And like Aulus Gellius, who culled the most beautiful sayings of the philosophers into his "Attic Nights," and him who put the best fables of the Greeks into the "Metamorphoses," I will do a bee's work and gather exquisite honey. But I do not flatter myself to be the rival of those two great authors, because I draw all my wealth from my own life's recollections and not from an abundance of reading. What I furnish out of my own stock is good faith. Whenever some curious person shall read my memoirs he will easily recognise that a candid soul alone could express itself in language so plain and unaffected. Where and with whomsoever I have lived I have always been considered to be entirely artless. These writings cannot but confirm it after my death.
My Home at the Queen Pédauque Cookshop--I turn the Spit and learn to read--Entry of Abbe Jerome Coignard.
My name is Elme Laurent Jacques Ménétrier. My father, Léonard Ménétrier, kept a cookshop at the sign of _Queen Pédauque,_ who, as everyone knows, wag web-footed like the geese and ducks.
His penthouse was opposite Saint Benoit le Bétourné between Mistress Gilles the haberdasher at the _Three Virgins_ and M. Blaizot, the bookseller at the sign of _Saint Catherine,_ not far from the _Little Bacchus,_ the gate of which, decorated with vine branches, was at the corner of the Rue des Cordiers. He loved me very much, and when, after supper, I lay in my little bed, he took my hand in his, lifted one after the other of my fingers, beginning with the thumb, and said:
"This one has killed him, this one has plucked him, this one has fricasseed him and that one has eaten him, and the little _Riquiqui_ had nothing at all. Sauce, sauce, sauce," he used to add, tickling the hollow of my hand with my own little finger.
And mightily he laughed, and I laughed too, dropping off to sleep, and my mother used to affirm that the smile still remained on my lips on the following morning.
My father was a good cookshop-keeper and feared God. For this he carried on holidays the banner of the Cooks' Guild, on which a fine- looking St Laurence was embroidered, with his grill and a golden palm. He used to say to me:
"Jacquot, thy mother is a holy and worthy woman."
He liked to repeat this sentence frequently. True, my mother went to church every Sunday with a prayer-book printed in big type. She could hardly read small print, which, as she said, drew the eyes out of her head.
My father used to pass an hour or two nightly at the tavern of the _Little Bacchus_; there also Jeannetæ the hurdy-gurdy player and Catherine the lacemaker were regular frequenters. And every time he returned home somewhat later than usual he said in a soft voice, while pulling his cotton night-cap on:
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