S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[A French dramatist and poet, called an epigrammatic machine; born at Dijon, 1689; wrote comedies, and a drama entitled La Métromanie, considered his masterpiece; chosen a member of the Academy, 1753, but rejected by the king; died 1773.]
To an author who said he would like to compose a work upon a subject no one had ever touched, or would ever, Piron said, Faites votre éloge (as we might say, Write your own obituary); the éloge being the laudatory notice of a deceased member of the French Academy, made by his successor.
Pirons own attempt to enter the circle of the Immortals is an amusing chapter of French literary history. He had spoken too slightingly of them to command their suffrages, calling them on one occasion the invalids of wit (les invalides du bel esprit); and he said of them, They are forty with the wit of four (Ils sont à quarante, qui ont de lesprit comme quatre). Pushing his way one day into a public sitting of the Academy, he exclaimed, It is harder to enter here than to be received (Il est plus difficile dentrer ici que dy être reçu); to be received being the technical expression for the formal introduction after an election.
When asked what he should say, if elected to a vacancy in 1750, he replied, Oh! this will be enough: Gentlemen, I thank you for the honor: and all will answer, It is not worth mentioning (il ny a pas de quoi). Piron was not elected. He said of his failure, I could not make thirty-nine people think as I do, and I could less think as thirty-nine do. Three years afterwards he was successful; but Louis XV., under the influence of Mme. de Pompadour, annulled the election, giving him instead a pension of a thousand louis. Shortly afterwards, Piron sent his testament to the Academy with the well-known epitaph inscribed upon it,
Ci git Piron, qui ne fut rien,
Pas même académicien.
(Here lies Piron, who was nothing, not even an Academician.)
The entire Academy was invited to his funeral, but not a member attended it; which the wits considered a compliment to Piron, even of whose ghost the Forty stood in awe. Sainte-Beuve notices that the epitaph was not strictly true, as its subject was a member of the Academy of Dijon; but Dr. Johnson could have told him that in lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.
Humanity may be allowed to stagger when divinity succumbs.
On being reproached with drinking a glass of wine on Good Friday, he replied, You are wrong: le jour où la divinité succombe, lhumanité pent bien chanceler.
When some one asked why a bridge they were crossing had no railings (garde-fous, literally fool-protectors), Piron answered, Because they did not think that we should ever cross it! (Cest quon ne savait pas que nous y passerions!)
He slyly reproved the love of notoriety of the poet Rousseau (Jean Baptiste, 16701741), who fell on his knees at the sound of the Angelus, as they were walking over a deserted plain: It is unnecessary, God alone sees us (Cela est inutile, il ny a que Dieu qui nous voit).
When a supercilious host said one day to a guest who hesitated to pass in to dinner before Piron, whom he did not know, Dont be ceremonious, marquis, this gentleman is only a poet; the poet stepped quickly in front, saying, Since our titles are recognized, I pass first! (Eh bien, puisque les qualités sont reconnues, je passe le premier!)
The Abbé Des Fontaines, whose morals were any thing but severe, and who had resigned his benefice to devote himself to literature, exclaimed one day in the Café Procope, of Pirons magnificent attire, What a coat for such a man! (Quel habit pour un tel homme!) Piron took hold of the abbés soutane, saying, What a man for such a coat! (Quel homme pour un tel habit!)
Voltaire asked Pirons opinion of his Narcisse, first produced June 16, 1749, saying, I think you would have been very glad, had Piron written it.Why?Because it was not hissed, was Voltaires reason. Can we hiss when we are yawning? (Peut-on siffler, quand on baille?) asked Piron.
The Archbishop of Paris asked Piron with the affected nonchalance of vanity, Well, Piron, have you read my charge!No, monseigneur: have you? was the cool reply.