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

Alain René Lesage (1688–1747)

Dialogue Between Two Chimneys


E.Pray tell me, if you please, good neighbor F, how you can, without being tired, put up with having nobody besides your two old maids? For from morning till night no one comes near your fireside; you have always the same people, and always the same subject of conversation. Indeed, I should imagine that by this time your patience was worn out.

F.I must indeed own to you that I often wish they would change their quarters; though, perhaps, in that case, I should be hard put to it how to breathe, as, in all probability, I should not have so good a fire; for they are extremely pious, so, of consequence, take no less care of their bodies than of their souls, especially when a certain abbot, whom I could name, comes to visit them. Then they spare no cost; their kitchen then may vie with that of a lord, and the smoke I breathe upon is veritable perfume.

E.As far as I perceive, you like nothing but smoke. Well, every one to their own tastes; I like variety. New faces and new adventures are my delight. I am, as I suppose you know, the chimney of a furnished lodging.

F.And as such it is very fortunate for you that you have a taste for variety.

E.I have so great a taste that way, that I should be extremely sorry to see the same lodger for six months together; and I have reason to be thankful that it has never happened to me since the first moment of my existence.

F.Belike, then, you are not the oldest of your neighborhood.

E.No, not by a great deal; but, for all that, I believe I have the most experience.

F.Tell me some of your adventures; I beg you to do it, to oblige a neighbor.

E.With all my heart, if it will not tire you. I will begin from the time I first commenced chimney. He who first sat down by my fire was the younger son of a good family, but of a country where the portion of younger sons consists only in their sword, joined to a happy impudence of bullying every one with their being born gentlemen. This talent my gentleman possessed in an eminent degree. But he had another at the same time which was much more profitable; for he played with constant good luck, and his good luck was the effect of the most assiduous study; every day he was busy in calculating the various chances upon the cards, and at night put his theory into practise.

F.He must, at that rate, have been always well supplied with money.

E.No, you are mistaken; for he squandered it as fast as he got it, so that he never had any. Indeed, sometimes he cut a great dash, which is a disease peculiar to his nation; but then it never lasted long. His good fortune exasperated the students, who frequented the same nurseries of education, against him, and they got him into several scrapes, so that at the end of four months I lost him. He was, however, a mighty good lodger, and I regret the loss of him to this day.

F.Who came in his stead?

E.The most singular man, perhaps, that ever yet lived: a husband faithful and affectionate even beyond the grave, who could not be comforted for the loss of his dear rib—in short, a phenix of a husband. The moment he came, he ordered his room to be hung with black, shut up his windows against the rays of the sun, and had no light in his chamber but the dim glimmerings of a lamp. Enclosed in this frightful gloom, his constant employment was to sob and shed tears without ceasing. Very often, as if he had been possessed, he would speak aloud to an urn that stood upon a table covered with black cloth, and which he seemed to adore. He would converse with that precious relic, and speak to it as if it answered his passionate expostulations.

F.It is a chance but some spirit was enclosed in that same urn.

E.A spirit! What a simpleton you are! No, it was the heart of his wife; that was the object of his vows and adoration.

F.This was tenderness of grief to excess. I can scarce believe what you tell me.

E.Nor should I, if I had not seen it. I remember, some time or other, to have heard one of my lodgers reading a book which mentioned a story of the same sort of fidelity, or madness, in an English philosopher, which I do not believe to this day, notwithstanding what I have told you; for an example of this kind must stand alone.

F.But how long did your lodger continue in this fit?

E.Full three months. True it is, his eyes, the fountains of his tears, began to dry up, and refused to furnish him with fresh supplies of continued grief, and by degrees his devotions to the urn seemed to smack of form and ceremony. Happily for him, his friends found him out, and of consequence relieved him. I believe he yielded to the violence they made use of with only a seeming reluctance. However, away they took him, and I was freed of this mournful guest.

F.And, I suppose, did not much lament the loss of him.

E.Not in the least, I assure you. The room was afterward let to a woman, at which I rejoiced mightily, as I had hitherto been acquainted only with men. A kind of Quaker’s dress and the stamp of forty years marked upon her face, gave her a matronly air, which struck me at first sight; and by what I had heard of pietists, I immediately judged her to be one.

F.Now, perhaps you were mistaken.

E.I was very soon convinced of my error, for the woman was a woman of sense and good conduct. She loved pleasure, yet regarded her reputation, and came from the country, a great way off, to Madrid, that she might be sheltered from the malice of slander; and, a very short time after, the gentleman on whose account she had undertaken the journey followed her. Bless me! how surprised I was at the first visit she received from her lover! She flew with transport into his arms; her demureness was changed into a wanton sprightliness, and the glow upon her cheeks effaced the traces of her age.

F.A pretty lady for a pietist, truly!

E.As she loved her man with all the violence of passion, she made use of every method to preserve her conquest. She was very well aware that, at her age, it is permissible for women to embellish the charms of nature by art, and accordingly she used everything she could for that purpose!

F.And what arts, pray, did she use for that purpose?

E.I will tell you. Besides black and white, with which she painted her complexion to what height of color she pleased, she called in every other thing to her assistance—dress, baths, and perfumes. She was at her toilet always till her gallant came, and repaired to it again immediately when he was gone away. She was perpetually at her glass, practising the different airs, either sprightly or languishing, which she imagined might do execution. As for the artillery of endearments and caresses, that she was perfect mistress of.

F.With all that, methinks, it was hardly possible she could fail of making herself beloved.

E.But then she had other charms infinitely more powerful over the heart of a young lover. She was liberal and rich, and one must have a heart of flint not to love a generous mistress. But the appointed days of man are numbered. When these two lovers were at the height of mutual felicity, the gallant fell sick, and died a few days afterward, in spite of all the assistance that could be administered by the most able physicians.

F.The lady, no doubt, took on dreadfully?

E.Yes, she wept, resumed her former demure air, and went back to her own part of the country, to edify her neighbors by her example. My room was not long empty. It was taken by another woman, who was, by profession, a go-between, a match-maker.

F.A rare kind of occupation, truly.

E.It is an occupation that is very common. Negotiators of this sort require a deal of address, and this good lady did not want for that. She carried the proposals, procured interviews, and very often brought the matter to a final conclusion. How many of these contracts have been ratified in my apartment! She would make a younger brother, not worth a shilling, pass for a gentleman of fortune, and set off a demirep for a pattern of illustrious virtue.

F.What an admirable woman!

E.All this she could do with the greatest ease, and could take in the most cautious and wary; so that by her dexterity she had got a pretty fortune. But at last she began to have scruples, and remorse carried her so far, that she retired into a convent, there to repent of her former scandalous life. Thus a fit of religion deprived me of this experienced brokeress.

F.Well, but happily for you, the natural indifference of your temper prevented your regretting the loss of her.

E.That is true. After her I had a great many people of common character in life; men and women, for example, who were concerned in lawsuits, a very troublesome sort of lodgers; or people who came from the country to see what o’clock it was in Madrid, and returned home, for the most part, as wise as they were before. But it begins to grow late; so, neighbor, I wish you a good-night. Another time when we meet I will give you an account of some other original characters whom I have had at my fireside.

F.Adieu, good neighbor. I will not fail to put you in mind of your promise.