Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > French
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. X–XI: French
 
The Barber’s Soliloquy on His Career
By Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732–1799)
 
From “The Marriage of Figaro”

FIGARO (alone, walking to and fro, and speaking in a very mournful tone).

OH, woman, woman, woman, weak and deceitful creature! No created thing can fail to betray its instinct, and is it yours to deceive? After having obstinately refused me when I urged her before her mistress; at the very moment when she gave me her word, in the very midst of the ceremony— He laughed while reading, the perfidious wretch, and I stood there like a booby! No, Sir Count, you shall not have her, you shall not! Because you are a great lord, you consider yourself a great genius. Noble birth, a great fortune, high rank and offices—all that tends to make one proud. What have you done to deserve these good things? You have condescended to be born, that’s all. You are a commonplace fellow enough in all else; while I, upon my faith, lost in a crowd of obscurities, must use more wisdom and forethought for a bare living than it has taken to govern all Spain for a century. And you would oppose me— Some one is coming. It’s she. It’s nobody. The night is black as the devil, and here am I, practising the foolish trade of a husband, although I am but half a one! Could anything be more grotesque than my fate! The son of I know not whom, stolen by bandits, brought up in their ways, I become disgusted with all this, and wish to pursue an honest life, but am rebuffed at every hand! I study chemistry, pharmacy, surgery, and all the needs of a great lord hardly serves to put into my hand the lancet of a horse-doctor! Weary of grieving the poor beasts, and in order to engage upon an entirely different career, I throw myself with might and main on the drama. If I had only tied a stone about my neck! I put together a comedy on the manners of the seraglio. A Spanish author, I think, may jeer at Mohammed without scruple. At the same moment an ambassador, from Heaven knows where, complains that in my verses I offend the Sublime Porte, Persia, half of the Indian peninsula, the whole of Egypt, and the kingdoms of Barca, Tripoli and Tunis, Algeria and Morocco; so there’s my comedy knocked on the head to please these Mohammedan princes, not one of whom, I wager, can read. My cheeks become hollow, my rent falls due; I see a brutal bailiff coming from afar, a pen sticking in his wig. A question arises as to the nature of wealth, and, as it is not necessary to have a thing in order to reason about it, I, having not a farthing, write about the value of money and on its net produce; no sooner done than I see lowered for me the bridge of a strong castle, at whose gate I leave hope and liberty behind. Weary of feeding an obscure lodger, they put me into the street one day; and, as one must needs dine, though out of prison, I sharpen my pen again, and go about asking what is the question of the day. I am told that during my economic retreat there has been established at Madrid a reign of liberty for the sale of all productions, even those of the press; and that, provided only that I speak in my writings neither of the law nor of religion, nor politics, nor morals, nor those in authority, nor the opera or other public spectacles, nor of anybody connected with anything, I may print freely under the inspection of two or three censors. To profit by this charming liberty, I announce a periodical, and, in the belief that I am not following any one’s footsteps, I name it The Useless Newspaper. A thousand poor fools rise up against me. I am suppressed, and there I am, again without employment! I am near despair when I am given the hope of a place, but, unfortunately, I am fit for it. An accountant is needed; they take a dancer. What is left but to steal? I become a faro-banker. Then, my dear people, I sup in town, and the fashionable folk courteously open their houses to me, and keep three-quarters of the profit for themselves. I might have risen in the world. I begin even to see that in order to gain riches knowingness is better than knowledge. But as every one about me, though stealing all he can, requires me to be honest, I am on the point of starving again. I want to leave the world at once. I want to put twenty fathoms of water between us, but a kindly deity recalls me to my first vocation. I take my razor-case and my English strop, and, leaving conceit to the fools who feed on it, and shame in the middle of the road, a burden too heavy for one who travels afoot, I go from town to town shaving folk, and live free from care at last. A great lord passes through Seville; he recognizes me, I put him in the way of getting married, and as a reward for my having secured him a wife, he wants to get mine from me! An intrigue arises, a very storm. About to fall into an abyss, at the moment of marrying my mother, my kindred come upon me in confusion. They all debate: it’s you, it’s he, it’s I, it’s we; no, it’s none of us; well, but who, then, who? Oh, what an absurd muddle! How has it all happened to me? And why this and not something else?
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