Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > French
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. X–XI: French
An Interview with Trissotin
By Molière (Jean Baptiste Poquelin) (1622–1673)
From “The Learned Women”


Phi.  Let us sit down here to listen comfortably to these verses; they should be weighed word by word.
  Arm.  I am all anxiety to hear them.  2
  Bél.  And I am dying for them.  3
  Phi.  (to TRISSOTIN).  Whatever comes from you is a delight to me.  4
  Arm.  To me it is an unparalleled pleasure  5
  Bél.  It is a delicious repast offered to my ears.  6
  Phi.  Do not let us languish under such pressing desires.  7
  Arm.  Lose no time.  8
  Bél.  Begin quickly, and hasten our pleasure.  9
  Phi.  Offer your epigram to our impatience.  10
  Tri.  Alas! it is but a new-born child, madame, but its fate ought truly to touch your heart, for it was in your court-yard that I brought it forth but a moment since.  11
  Phi.  To make it dear to me, it is sufficient for me to know its father.  12
  Tri.  Your approbation may serve it as a mother.  13
  Bél.  What wit he has!  14
  Phi.  (to HENRIETTE, who is going away).  Stop! Why do you run away?  15
  Hen.  I fear to disturb such sweet intercourse.  16
  Phi.  Come nearer, and with both ears share in the delight of hearing wonders.  17
  Hen.  I have little understanding for the beauties of authorship, and clever subtleties are not in my line.  18
  Phi.  No matter. Besides, I wish afterward to tell you of a secret which you must learn.  19
  Tri.  (to HENRIETTE).  Knowledge has nothing that can touch you, and your only care is to charm everybody.  20
  Hen.  One as little as the other, and I have no wish to——  21
  Bél.  Ah! let us think of the new-born babe, I beg of you.  22
  Phi.  (to LÉPINE).  Now, little page, bring some seats for. us to sit down.  (LÉPINE slips down.)  You senseless boy, how can you fall down after having learned the laws of equilibrium?  23
  Bél.  Do you not perceive, ignorant fellow, the causes of your fall, and that it proceeds from your having deviated from the fixed point which we call the center of gravity?  24
  Lép.  I perceived it, madame, when I was on the ground.  25
  Phi.  (to LÉPINE, who goes out).  Awkward clown!  26
  Tri.  It is fortunate for him that he is not made of glass.  27
  Arm.  Ah! wit is everything!  28
  Bél.  His never ceases.  29
  Phi.  Serve us quickly with your admirable feast.  30
  Tri.  To satisfy the great hunger which is here shown me, a dish of eight verses seems but little; and I think that I should do well to join to the epigram, or rather to the madrigal, the ragout of a sonnet which, in the eyes of a princess, was thought to have a certain delicacy in it. It is throughout seasoned with Attic salt, and I think you will find the taste of it tolerably good.  31
  Arm.  Ah! I have no doubt of it.  32
  Phi.  Let us quickly give ear.  33
  Bél.  (interrupting TRISSOTIN each time he is about to read).  I feel, beforehand, my heart beating for joy. I love poetry to distraction, particularly when the verses are gallantly turned.  34
  Phi.  If we go on talking he will never be able to read.  35
  Tri.  SONN——  36
  Bél.  (to HENRIETTE).  Be silent, niece.  37
  Arm.  Ah! let him read, I beg of you!  38
Your prudence fast in sleep’s repose
  Is plunged; if thus superbly kind,
  A lodging gorgeously you find
For the most cruel of your foes——
  Bél.  Ah! what a pretty beginning!  40
  Arm.  What a charming turn it has!  41
  Phi.  He alone possesses the talent of making fluent verses.  42
  Arm.  We must yield to prudence fast in sleep’s repose is plunged.  43
  Bél.  A lodging for the most cruel of your foes is full of charms for me.  44
  Phi.  I like superbly and gorgeously; these two adverbs coming together sound admirable.  45
  Bél.  Let us hear the rest.  46
 Your prudence fast in sleep’s repose
  Is plunged; if thus superbly kind,
  A lodging gorgeously you find
For the most cruel of your foes——
  Arm.  Prudence asleep!  48
  Bél.  Lodge one’s enemy!  49
  Phi.  Superbly and gorgeously!  50
 Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes
  From your apartment richly lined.
  Where that ingrate’s outrageous mind
At your fair life her javelin throws.
  Bél.  Ah! wait! Allow me to breathe, I beseech you!  52
  Arm.  Give us time to admire, I beg!  53
  Phi.  One feels, at hearing these verses, an indescribable something which goes through one’s inmost soul, and makes one feel quite faint.  54
 Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes
  From your apartment richly lined.
How prettily rich apartment is said here, and with what wit the metaphor is introduced!
  Phi.  Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes! Ah! in what admirable taste that will she, nill she, is! To my mind the passage is invaluable.  56
  Arm.  My heart is also in love with will she, nill she.  57
  Bél.  I am of your opinion; will she, nill she, is a happy expression.  58
  Arm.  I wish I had written it.  59
  Bél.  It is worth a whole poem!  60
  Phi.  But do you, like me, thoroughly understand the wit of it?  61
  Arm. and Bél.  Oh! oh!  62
  Phi.  Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes! Although another should take the fever’s part, pay no attention; laugh at the gossips; will she, nill she, quick, out she goes. Will she, nill she, will she, nill she. This will she, nill she, says a great deal more than it seems. I do not know if every one is like me, but I discover a hundred meanings in it.  63
  Bél.  It is true that it says more than its size seems to imply.  64
  Phi.  (to TRISSOTIN).  But when you wrote this charming Will she, nill she, did you yourself understand all its energy? Did you realize all that it tells us, and did you then know that you were writing something so witty?  65
  Tri.  Ah! ah!  66
  Arm.  I have likewise the ingrate in my head; this ungrateful, unjust, uncivil fever that ill-treats people who entertain her.  67
  Phi.  In short, both the stanzas are admirable. Let us come quickly to the triplets, I pray.  68
  Arm.  Ah! once more, will she, nill she, I beg!  69
  Tri.  Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes!  70
  Phi., Arm., and Bél.  Will she, nill she!  71
  Tri.  From your apartment richly lined!  72
  Phi., Arm., and Bél.  Rich apartment!  73
  Tri.  Where that ingrate’s outrageous mind!  74
  Phi., Arm., and Bél.  That ungrateful fever!  75
  Tri.  At your fair life her javelin throws.  76
  Phi.  Fair life!  77
  Arm. and Bél.  Ah!  78
  Tri.  What! without heed for your high line,  79
        She saps your blood with care malign——  80
  Phi., Arm., and Bél.  Ah!  81
  Tri.  Redoubling outrage night and day!  82
          If to the bath you take her down,  83
        Without a moment’s haggling, pray,  84
          With your own hands the miscreant drown.  85
  Phi.  Ah! it is quite overpowering!  86
  Bél.  I am fainting!  87
  Arm.  I am dying from pleasure!  88
  Phi.  A thousand sweet thrills seize one!  89
  Arm.  If to the bath you take her down!  90
  Bél.  Without a moment’s haggling, pray!  91
  Phi.  With your own hands the miscreant drown! With your own hands, there, drown her there in the bath!  92
  Arm.  In your verses we meet at each step with charming beauty.  93
  Bél.  One promenades through them with rapture.  94
  Phi.  One treads on fine things only.  95
  Arm.  They are little lanes all strewn with roses.  96
  Tri.  Then the sonnet seems to you——  97
  Phi.  Admirable, new; and never did any one make anything more beautiful.  98
  Bél.  (to HENRIETTE).  What! niece, you listen to what has been read without emotion! There you play a sorry part!  99
  Hen.  We each of us play the best part we can, aunt, and to be a wit does not depend on our will.  100
  Tri.  My verses, perhaps, are tedious to you.  101
  Hen.  No, I am not listening to them.  102
  Phi.  Now let us hear the epigram.  103
  Phi.  His titles have always something rare in them.  105
  Arm.  They prepare one for a hundred flashes of wit.  106
  Tri.  Love for his bonds so dear a price demands,  107
        E’en now it costs me more than half my lands;  108
        And when this chariot meets your eyes,  109
        Where so much gold emboss’d doth rise  110
        That people all astonished stand,  111
        And Laïs rides in triumph through the land——  112
  Phi.  Ah! Laïs! What erudition!  113
  Bél.  Exquisitely pretty, and worth a million!  114
  Tri.  And when this chariot meets your eyes,  115
        Where so much gold emboss’d doth rise  116
        That people all astonished stand,  117
        And Laïs rides in triumph through the land,  118
        Say no more it is amaranth,  119
        Say rather it is oh, my rent!  120
  Arm.  Oh, oh, oh! It surpasses everything! Who would have expected that?  121
  Phi.  He is the only man who writes with such taste.  122
  Bél.  Say no more it is amaranth, say rather it is oh, my rent! It can be declined: my rent; of my rent; to my rent; from my rent.  123
  Phi.  I do not know whether I was prepossessed from the first moment I saw you, but I admire all your prose and verse whenever I see it.  124
  Tri.  (to PHILAMINTE).  If you would only show us something of your composition, we could admire in our turn.  125
  Phi.  I have done nothing in verse. But I have reason to hope that I shall, shortly, be able, as a friend, to show you eight chapters of the plan of our academy. Plato only touched on the subject when he wrote the treatise of his Republic; but I will complete the idea as I have arranged it on paper in prose. For, in short, I am truly angry at the wrong which is done us in regard to intelligence; and I will avenge the whole sex for the unworthy place which men assign us by confining our talents to trifles, and by shutting the door of sublime knowledge against us.  126
  Arm.  It is insulting our sex too grossly to limit our intelligence to the power of judging of a skirt, of the make of a garment, of the beauties of lace, or of a new brocade.  127
  Bél.  We must rise above this shameful condition, and bravely proclaim our emancipation.  128
  Tri.  Every one knows my respect for the fair sex, and that if I render homage to the brightness of their eyes, I also honor the splendor of their intellect.  129
  Phi.  And our sex does you justice in this respect. But we will show to certain minds who treat us with proud contempt that women also have knowledge; that, like men, they can hold learned meetings—regulated, too, by better rules; that they wish to unite what elsewhere is kept apart, join noble language to deep learning, reveal Nature’s laws by a thousand experiments; and on all questions proposed, admit every party, and ally themselves to none.  130
  Tri.  For order, I prefer peripateticism.  131
  Phi.  For abstractions, give me Platonism.  132
  Arm.  Epicurus pleases me, for his tenets are solid.  133
  Bél.  I agree with the doctrine of atoms; but I find it difficult to understand a vacuum, and I much prefer subtile matter.  134
  Tri.  I quite agree with Descartes about magnetism.  135
  Arm.  I like his vortices.  136
  Phi.  And I his falling worlds.  137
  Arm.  I long to see our assembly opened, and to distinguish ourselves by some great discovery.  138
  Tri.  Much is expected from your enlightened knowledge, for Nature has hidden few things from you.  139
  Phi.  For my part, I have, without boasting, already made one discovery: I have plainly seen men in the moon.  140
  Bél.  I have not, I believe, as yet quite distinguished men, but I have seen steeples as plainly as I see you.  141
  Arm.  In addition to natural philosophy, we will plunge into grammar, history, poetry, ethics, and politics.  142
  Phi.  I find in ethics charms which delight my heart; it was formerly the admiration of great geniuses; but I give the preference to the Stoics, and I think nobody so grand as their founder.  143
  Arm.  Our regulations in respect to language will soon be known, and we mean to create a revolution. Through a just or natural antipathy, we have each of us taken a mortal hatred to certain words, both verbs and nouns, and these we mutually abandon to each other. We are preparing sentences of death against them, and we shall open our learned meetings by the proscription of the sundry words of which we mean to purge both prose and verse.  144
  Phi.  But the greatest project of our assembly—a noble enterprise which transports me with joy, a glorious design which will be approved by all the lofty geniuses of posterity—is the cutting out of all those filthy syllables which, in the finest words, are a source of scandal: those eternal jests of the fools of all times; those nauseous commonplaces of wretched buffoons; those sources of infamous ambiguity, with which the purity of women is insulted.  145
  Tri.  These are indeed admirable projects.  146
  Bél.  You shall see our regulations when they are quite ready.  147
  Tri.  They cannot fail to be wise and beautiful.  148
  Arm.  We shall by our laws be the judges of all works; by our laws, prose and verse will both alike be submitted to us. No one will have wit except us or our friends. We shall try to find fault with everything, and esteem no one capable of writing but ourselves.  Enter LÉPINE.  149
  Lép.  (to TRISSOTIN).  Sir, there is a gentleman who wants to speak to you; he is dressed all in black, and talks in a soft tone.  150
  Tri.  It is that learned friend who entreated me so much to procure him the honor of your acquaintance.  151
  Phi.  You have our full leave to present him to us.  (LÉPINE ushers in VADIUS.)  152
  Tri.  (introducing VADIUS).  Here is the gentleman who is dying to see you. In presenting him I am not afraid, madame, of being accused of introducing a profane person to you; he can hold his place among the wits.  153
  Phi.  The hand which introduces him sufficiently proves his value.  154
  Tri.  He has a perfect knowledge of the ancient authors, and knows Greek, madame, as well as any man in France.  155
  Phi.  (to BÉLISE).  Greek! Oh, heaven! Greek! He understands Greek, sister!  156
  Bél.  (to ARMANDE).  Ah, niece! Greek!  157
  Arm.  Greek! Ah! how delightful!  158
  Phi.  What, sir, you understand Greek? Allow me, I beg, for the love of Greek, to embrace you.  (VADIUS embraces also BÉLISE and ARMANDE.)  159
  Hen.  (to VADIUS, who comes forward to embrace her).  Excuse me, sir, I do not understand Greek.  160
  Phi.  I have a wonderful respect for Greek books.  161
  Vad.  I fear that the anxiety which calls me to render my homage to you to-day, madame, may render me importunate. I may have disturbed some learned discourse.  162
  Phi.  Sir, with Greek in possession, you can spoil nothing.  163
  Tri.  Moreover, he does wonders in prose as well as in verse, and he could, if he chose, show you something.  164
  Vad.  The fault of authors is to burden conversation with their productions; to be, at court, in the public walks, in the drawing-rooms, or at table, the indefatigable readers of their tedious verses. As for me, I think nothing more ridiculous than an author who goes about begging for praise; who, preying on the ears of the first comers, often makes them the martyrs of his night-watches. I have never been guilty of such foolish conceit, and I am in that respect of the opinion of a Greek, who by an express law forbade all wise men any unbecoming anxiety to read his works. Here are some little verses for young lovers upon which I should like to have your opinion.  165
  Tri.  Your verses have beauties unequaled by any others.  166
  Vad.  Venus and the graces reign in all yours.  167
  Tri.  You have an easy style, and a fine choice of words.  168
  Vad.  In all your writings one finds ithos and pathos.  169
  Tri.  We have seen some eclogues of your composition which surpass in sweetness those of Theocritus and Vergil.  170
  Vad.  Your odes have a noble, gallant, and tender manner, which leaves Horace far behind.  171
  Tri.  Is there anything more lovely than your canzonets?  172
  Vad.  Is there anything equal to the sonnets you write?  173
  Tri.  Is there anything more charming than your little rondeaus?  174
  Vad.  Anything so full of wit as your madrigals?  175
  Tri.  If France could appreciate your value——  176
  Vad.  If the age could render justice to a lofty genius——  177
  Tri.  You would ride in the streets in a gilt coach.  178
  Vad.  We should see the public erect statues to you. Hem— It is a ballad; and I wish you frankly to——  179
  Tri.  Have you heard a certain little sonnet upon the Princess Urania’s fever?  180
  Vad.  Yes; I heard it read yesterday.  181
  Tri.  Do you know the author of it?  182
  Vad.  No, I do not; but I know very well that, to tell him the truth, his sonnet is good for nothing.  183
  Tri.  Yet a great many people think it admirable.  184
  Vad.  It does not prevent it from being wretched; and if you had read it you would think like me.  185
  Tri.  I know that I should differ from you altogether, and that few people are able to write such a sonnet.  186
  Vad.  Heaven forbid that I should ever write one so bad!  187
  Tri.  I maintain that a better one cannot be made, and my reason is that I am the author of it.  188
  Vad.  You?  189
  Tri.  Myself.  190
  Vad.  I cannot understand how the thing could have happened.  191
  Tri.  It is unfortunate that I had not the power of pleasing you.  192
  Vad.  My mind must have wandered during the reading, or else the reader spoiled the sonnet; but let us leave that subject, and come to my ballad.  193
  Tri.  The ballad is, to my mind, an insipid thing; it is no longer the fashion, and savors of ancient times.  194
  Vad.  Yet a ballad has charms for many people.  195
  Tri.  It does not prevent me from thinking it unpleasant.  196
  Vad.  That does not make it worse.  197
  Tri.  It has wonderful attractions for pedants.  198
  Vad.  Yet we see that it does not please you.  199
  Tri.  You stupidly impose your qualities on others.  200
  Vad.  You very impertinently cast yours upon me.  201
  Tri.  Go, you little dunce, you pitiful quill-driver!  202
  Vad.  Go, you penny-a-liner, you disgrace to the profession!  203
  Tri.  Go, you book-manufacturer, you impudent plagiarist!  204
  Vad.  Go, you pedantic snob!  205
  Phi.  Ah! gentlemen, what are you about?  206
  Tri.  (to VADIUS).  Go, go, and make restitution to the Greeks and Romans for all your shameful thefts!  207
  Vad.  Go, and do penance on Parnassus for having murdered Horace in your verses!  208
  Tri.  Remember your book, and the little stir it made.  209
  Vad.  And you, remember your bookseller, reduced to the workhouse.  210
  Tri.  My fame is established; in vain would you endeavor to shake it.  211
  Vad.  Yes, yes; I’ll send you to the author of the Satires.  212
  Tri.  I, too, will send you to him.  213
  Vad.  I have the satisfaction of having been honorably treated by him; he gives me a passing thrust, and includes me among several authors well known at court. But you he never leaves in peace; in all his verses he attacks you.  214
  Tri.  By that we see the honorable rank I hold. He leaves you in the crowd, and esteems one blow enough to crush you. He has never done you the honor of repeating his attacks, whereas he assails me separately, as a noble adversary against whom all his efforts are necessary. His blows, repeated against me on all occasions, show that he never thinks himself victorious.  215
  Vad.  My pen will teach you what sort of man I am!  216
  Tri.  And mine will make you know your master!  217
  Vad.  I defy you in verse, prose, Greek, and Latin!  218
  Tri.  Very well, we shall meet again at the bookseller’s!  219

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