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

Émile Augier (1820–1889) and Jules Sandeau (1811–1883)

Political Ambition

From “Poirier’s Son-in-Law”


Verd.It strikes me that your son-in-law is not very respectful toward you. It was easy to say that you would make yourself respected.

Poir.(over a newspaper).I do as I please. I would rather be loved than feared.

Verd.That was not always your way of thinking. But, then, you have succeeded. Your son-in-law distinguishes you by a certain familiar kindness which he does not show to the other servants.

Poir.Instead of trying to be witty, mind your own affairs.

Verd.My affairs, indeed! We belong together here like the Siamese twins, and when you creep on your belly before the marquis, I find it hard to preserve my equilibrium.

Poir.Creep before him? What will you say next? This marquis—do you imagine that his title dazzles me? Like yourself, I have always been a liberal, as you know. I am one still. I wouldn’t give a fig for the nobility. Talent and virtue are the only social distinctions which I recognize and before which I bow.

Verd.Is that so? Then your son-in-law is distinguished by unusual virtue?

Poir.You fatigue me. Do you want me to make him feel that he owes everything to me?

Verd.Oh, then it’s a matter of exquisite delicacy! This is the result of your economy. Look here, Poirier, I never approved of this marriage, as you know. I should have wished my dear goddaughter to marry a good man of our own class. But since you would not listen to me——

Poir.Oh, M. Verdelet! you are a man full of good sense and excellent feelings. You have read amusing books. You have valuable opinions on all things; but in matters of common sense, I can give you a hint or two.

Verd.In matters of common sense—you mean in matters of business. That I don’t deny. You made four millions while I hardly amassed an income of forty thousand francs.

Poir.And that was through me.

Verd.I grant you that fortune came to me by your assistance. It will return to your daughter after your son-in-law has ruined you.

Poir.When my son-in-law has ruined me?

Verd.Certainly, in a dozen years’ time.

Poir.You’re crazy.

Verd.As things are going now you need only apply your good sense to figures to see that it can’t last long.

Poir.Very well, that’s my affair. Let me read my paper.

Verd.If you were the only one concerned, I would not breathe a word.

Poir.And why would you not? Do you take no interest in me? Don’t you care whether I am ruined—I, who made your fortune?

Verd.What has come over you?

Poir.I have nothing to say to ingrates.

Verd.Upon my word! You are taking the disrespect of your son-in-law out on me. I repeat, if you were the only one concerned I would look upon this bad business patiently. I am not your godfather, but I am your daughter’s.

Poir.And a nice mess I made of it in giving you this right over her.

Verd.You could not have chosen a godfather who would have loved her more.

Poir.Yes, I know. You love her more than I do myself. That’s what you maintain. And you have persuaded her——

Verd.Are we coming back to that old story? Go on!

Poir.I am going on! Do you think it’s pleasant for me to see myself driven out of my child’s heart by a stranger?

Verd.She has all the affection for you——

Poir.That isn’t true! You have supplanted me. She has confidence only in you; tenderness only for you.

Verd.That is because I do not frighten her. How can you expect the dear girl to be effusive in her affection for a hedgehog like you? How can she pet you if you’re always bristling?

Poir.Yes, you have reduced me to playing the part of a spoil-sport, assuming for yourself that of the indulgent father. To gain the love of children by yielding to all their fancies, without consulting their true interests, is to love them for one’s own sake, not for theirs.

Verd.Not so fast, Poirier; when the true interests of your daughter were at stake, it was I alone who resisted her fancies. Poor little girl, I was stubborn enough on the point of this marriage, into which you hurried her so brutally.

Poir.She loved the marquis. Let me read my paper.

Verd.It is very well for you to say that the child’s heart was engaged, seeing that you were the cause of it. You introduced the Marquis de Presles into your house.

Poir.(putting his paper away, and rising).Another who has got there! Michaud, the owner of the forges, has been appointed a peer of France.

Verd.How does that concern me?

Poir.What! it doesn’t concern you? You look upon the progress of our class with indifference, upon the fact that the government honors industry by calling in the aid of its representatives! Are not a country and an age admirable in which work opens all doors? You yourself might aspire to the peerage, and you ask how it concerns you?

Verd.Heaven forbid that I should aspire to the peerage, and save my country from my succeeding in that aspiration.

Poir.But why? M. Michaud has reached it.

Verd.M. Michaud is not merely a representative of industry, but a man of unusual merit. Molière’s father was an upholsterer: that’s no reason why all upholsterers’ sons should think themselves poets.

Poir.But I contend that trade is the only true school of statesmanship. Who is to guide the rudder of the state if not he who has shown that he was able to sail his own bark?

Verd.A bark is not a steamship, a boatman is not a pilot, and France is not a shop. It angers me to see the mania that has entered all these silly heads! One would think, upon my word, that in this country government is the natural pastime of people who no longer have anything else to do. A simple man like you or me occupies himself for thirty years with his small affairs; he has made his little pile, closes his shop one fine day, and sets himself up as a statesman! Oh, that’s all that he wants to be! Nothing else will do. I wonder why you might not just as well say: I have measured so many yards of cloth that I ought to know how to play the fiddle.

Poir.I fail to see the connection——

Verd.Instead of trying to govern France, my good people, govern your own houses. Don’t marry your daughters to ruined noblemen who think they are honoring you by permitting you to pay their debts with your ducats——

Poir.Are you saying that for my benefit?

Verd.No, for mine!