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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Alexis Piron (1689–1773)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
“BORN a hundred years later, he would have been an ideal journalist,” says Saintsbury of Piron. The brilliant ill-natured satirist, who sneered at everything and everybody, was out of sympathy with his age. He was always on the alert for flaws in existing conditions. He was a revolutionist, despising classical platitudes, yet with no new creed to advance. Voltaire and his brother philosophers, as well as dead poets, were butts for his ridicule.  1
  Alexis Piron, born at Dijon in 1689, was the son of the gentle Burgundian poet Aimé Piron, popular for his Noëls, or Christmas songs. From him Piron inherited a love of verse; and at an early age he deserted the profession of law for that of poetry. A licentious ode, written when he was twenty, started him with an unfortunate reputation; and many years later incurred the heavy retribution of exclusion from the French Academy. Although immoral, the poem was witty. “If Piron wrote the famous ode,” said Fontenelle, “he should be scolded but admitted. If he did not write it, he should be excluded.” Others thought the reverse; and although he softened the disappointment with a pension, the King refused to sanction Piron’s election.  2
  In 1819 Piron left Dijon for Paris, where he spent years as a hardworking playwright, sometimes in collaboration with Lesage. An attempt was made to suppress the theatre, by forbidding dramatists to introduce more than one character on the stage at a time. His fellows despaired; but Piron’s ingenuity was equal to the emergency, and he produced ‘Arlequin Deukalion,’ a lively monologue in three acts, which charmed all Paris. He also wrote many pot-boiling dramas, forgotten now; and he produced one masterpiece,—a five-act comedy, ‘La Métromanie.’ The self-delusions of a vain would-be poet, who is struggling for fame and also for academic prizes, is not an emotional theme. Yet the skillful intrigue and graceful malice of the verse give it permanent charm. ‘La Métromanie’ is still revived occasionally on the French stage, as a model of eighteenth-century wit.  3
  But Piron’s name stands above all for epigram; for sharp retort and satiric witticism at the expense of the Academy, of Voltaire,—the man he envied and disliked,—and of nearly every one who fell in his way. Samples of these lighter, more spontaneous compositions are included in every collection of French bons mots. Crisp and subtle, most of them are too essentially French to be caught in English without a knowledge of the occasion which prompted them.  4
  An acquaintance who had written a poem full of plagiarisms insisted upon reading it to him. From time to time Piron took off his hat, until at last the poet demanded the reason. “It is my habit to greet acquaintances,” said Piron.  5
  The Archbishop of Paris said graciously to him: “Have you read my last mandate, Monsieur Piron?” “Have you?” retorted Piron.  6
  One day the Abbé Desfontaines, seeing Piron richly dressed, exclaimed: “What a costume for such a man!” “What a man for the costume!” quickly answered the poet.  7
  This irrepressible wit constantly embroiled him with others. It was swift and direct, going straight to its target with a malicious twang. So in spite of lovable qualities, which came out best in his home life, this wittiest of Frenchmen made few friends, and lived in constant dissension with his fellow-writers. There is caustic bitterness in the epitaph he himself composed:—
  “Here lies Piron, who was nothing,—
    Not even Academician!”
  8
 
 
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