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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Of “Mental Mirage,” as Distinguished from Lying
By Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897)
 
From ‘Tartarin of Tarascon’

UNDER one conjunction of circumstances, Tartarin did however once almost start out upon a great voyage.  1
  The three brothers Garcio-Camus, natives of Tarascon, established in business at Shanghai, offered him the managership of one of their branches there. This undoubtedly presented the kind of life he hankered after. Plenty of active business, a whole army of understrappers to order about, and connections with Russia, Persia, Turkey in Asia—in short, to be a merchant prince.  2
  In Tartarin’s mouth, the title of Merchant Prince thundered out as something stunning!  3
  The house of Garcio-Camus had the further advantage of sometimes being favored with a call from the Tartars. Then the doors would be slammed shut, all the clerks flew to arms, up ran the consular flag, and zizz! phit! bang! out of the windows upon the Tartars.  4
  I need not tell you with what enthusiasm Quixote-Tartarin clutched this proposition; sad to say, Sancho-Tartarin did not see it in the same light, and as he was the stronger party, it never came to anything. But in the town there was much talk about it. Would he go or would he not? “I’ll lay he will”—and “I’ll wager he won’t!” It was the event of the week. In the upshot, Tartarin did not depart, but the matter redounded to his credit none the less. Going or not going to Shanghai was all one to Tarascon. Tartarin’s journey was so much talked about that people got to believe he had done it and returned, and at the club in the evening members would actually ask for information on life at Shanghai, the manners and customs and climate, about opium, and commerce.  5
  Deeply read up, Tartarin would graciously furnish the particulars desired, and in the end the good fellow was not quite sure himself about not having gone to Shanghai; so that after relating for the hundredth time how the Tartars came down on the trading post, it would most naturally happen him to add:—  6
  “Then I made my men take up arms and hoist the consular flag, and zizz! phit! bang! out of the windows upon the Tartars.”  7
  On hearing this, the whole club would quiver.  8
  “But according to that, this Tartarin of yours is an awful liar.”  9
  “No, no, a thousand times over, no! Tartarin is no liar.”  10
  “But the man ought to know that he has never been to Shanghai—”  11
  “Why, of course, he knows that; but still—”  12
  “But still,” you see—mark that! It is high time for the law to be laid down once for all on the reputation as drawers of the long bow which Northerners fling at Southerners. There are no Baron Munchausens in the South of France, neither at Nîmes nor Marseilles, Toulouse nor Tarascon. The Southerner does not deceive, but is self-deceived. He does not always tell the cold-drawn truth, but he believes he does. His falsehood is not falsehood, but a kind of mental mirage.  13
  Yes, purely mirage! The better to follow me, you should actually follow me into the South, and you will see I am right. You have only to look at that Lucifer’s own country, where the sun transmogrifies everything, and magnifies it beyond life-size. The little hills of Provence are no bigger than the Butte Montmartre, but they will loom up like the Rocky Mountains; the Square House at Nîmes—a mere model to put on your sideboard—will seem grander than St. Peter’s. You will see—in brief, the only exaggerator in the South is Old Sol, for he does enlarge everything he touches. What was Sparta in its days of splendor? a pitiful hamlet. What was Athens? at the most, a second-class town; and yet in history both appear to us as enormous cities. This is a sample of what the sun can do.  14
  Are you going to be astonished, after this, that the same sun falling upon Tarascon should have made of an ex-captain in the Army Clothing Factory, like Bravida, the “brave commandant”; of a sprout, an Indian fig-tree; and of a man who had missed going to Shanghai one who had been there?  15
 
 
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