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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837)

Dialogue Between Fashion and Death

From “Dialogues”

Fashion.Ho, Madam Death, Madam Death!

Death.Wait till your hour comes, and I’ll come to you without your calling me.

Fashion.But, Madam Death——

Death.Go to Beelzebub with you! I’ll come, sure enough, when you don’t want me.

Fashion.Come to me, indeed! As if I were not immortal!

Death.Immortal, quotha! No, no—as the poet says, “A thousand years and more have passed since the times of the immortals ceased.”

Fashion.Madam seems to spout her Petrarch as if she were an Italian lyric poet of the fifteenth or eighteenth century.

Death.Aye, I love the sonnets of Petrarch, for in them I find ample record of my triumphs, and they abound in mention of me. But again I say, be so good as to be off.

Fashion.Oh come! By the love you cherish for the seven cardinal sins, stop a moment and look at me!

Death.I am looking at you.

Fashion.And do you mean to say you don’t know me?

Death.You should know that my sight is bad, and that I can’t use spectacles, since the English now make none that suit me; and if they did, I have no nose to stick them on.

Fashion.Why, I am Fashion, your own sister.

Death.My sister!

Fashion.Aye; don’t you remember that we are both the children of Frailty?

Death.What have I to do with remembering—I, who am the sworn enemy of memory?

Fashion.But I remember the circumstance well; and I also know that both of us are alike employed continually in the destruction and change of all things here below, although you take one way of doing so, and I another.

Death.Unless you are talking to yourself, or with some person you have there inside you, I beg you will raise your voice a little and articulate your words better, for if you go on muttering to me between your teeth like that with that voice like a spider’s, I’ll never hear you, since, as you know, my hearing is as bad as my sight.

Fashion.Well, although it is not good manners to speak plainly, and though in France nobody speaks so as to be heard, yet, since we are sisters and need not stand on ceremony with each other, I’ll speak as you wish. I say, then, that the tendency and operation common to us both is to be continually renewing the world. But whereas you have from the beginning aimed your efforts directly against the bodily constitutions and the lives of men, I am content to limit my operations to such things as their beards, their hair, their clothing, their furniture, their dwellings, and the like. Nevertheless, it is a fact that I have not failed at times to play men certain tricks not altogether unworthy to be compared to your own work; as, for example, boring men’s ears, or lips, or noses, and lacerating them with the trinkets which I place therein; or scorching their bodies with hot irons, which I persuade them to apply to their persons by way of improving their beauty. Then again, I sometimes squeeze the heads of their children with ligatures and other appliances, rendering it obligatory that all the inhabitants of a country should have heads of the same shape, as I have ere now accomplished in America and Asia. I also cripple mankind with shoes too small for their feet, and stifle their respiration, and make their eyes nearly start out of their heads with tightly laced corsets, and many more follies of this kind. In short, I contrive to persuade the more ambitious of mortals daily to endure countless inconveniences, sometimes torture and mutilation, aye, and even death itself, for the love they bear toward me. I say nothing of the headaches, and colds, and catarrhs, and fevers of all sorts, quotidian, tertian, and quartan, which men contract through their worship of me, inasmuch as they are willing to shiver with cold or stifle with heat at my command, adopting the most preposterous kinds of clothing to please me, and perpetrating a thousand follies in my name, regardless of the consequences to themselves.

Death.By my faith, I begin to believe that you are my sister after all. Nay, it is as sure as Death, and you have no need to produce the birth certificate of the parish priest in order to prove it. But standing still exhausts me, so if you’ve no objection, I wish you would run on alongside of me; but see you don’t break down, for I run at a great pace. As we run, you can tell me what it is you want of me; and even if you would rather not keep me company, still, in consideration of your relationship to me, I promise you that when I die I’ll leave you all my effects and residuary estate, and much good may it do you.

Fashion.If we had to run a race together I don’t know which of us would win, for if you run fast, I positively gallop; and as for standing still in one place, if it exhausts you, it is bane to me. So let us be off, and as we run we’ll talk over our affairs.

Death.All right, then; and since you are my own mother’s child, I hope it will suit you to assist me in my business.

Fashion.I’ve already told you that I have heretofore done so more than you would suppose. First of all, though it is my nature forever to annul and upset all other customs and usages, I have never and nowhere done anything calculated to put an end to the custom of dying; and thus, as you see, it has prevailed universally from the beginning of time till now.

Death.A precious marvel, forsooth, that you have abstained from doing that which it was not in your power to do!

Fashion.Not in my power, quotha! It is very evident that you have no idea of the power of Fashion.

Death.Well, well, it’ll be time enough to discuss this point when the custom of dying comes to an end. But in the meantime I want you, as a good and affectionate sister, to help me to prevent such a result, and to attain its very opposite, even more effectually and more expeditiously than I have yet done.