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

Eugène Labiche (1815–1888)

Scenes from ‘Grammar’

CABOUSSAT appears with a cabbage under one arm, and a beet-root under the other.

Cab.That business with Father Madou is arranged. I begged him for one of his cabbages—as an object of artistic interest. I told him that I’d put it in my parlor. But there was a neighbor of his in his beet-field who made a sour face. I couldn’t do less for one than for the other. He’s a voter too. So I asked him for a beet—also as an object of artistic interest. One must know how to deal with the masses. But these things are heavy.(Calls.)Jean!


Cab.Take these things from me. Have the cabbage put in the pot. As for the beet, have it cut in slices. It makes a very good salad.

Jean(going).Here’s the master doing his own marketing!

Cab.(alone).While carrying my cabbage about, I have been reflecting on what Machut said to me. I shall be mayor, the first magistrate of Arpajon! Then counselor-general! Then deputy! And after that? A portfolio! Who knows? But no, it isn’t possible! I am rich, well thought of, beloved—but there is one thing that counteracts all these—French grammar! I can’t, no, I can’t spell! The participles especially are beyond my strength. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don’t agree, the beastly things! When I am embarrassed I get into a mess. When I speak, it goes well enough—one can’t see what I say, and I avoid joining my consonants and vowels. In the country it’s considered high-flown and dangerous to join them. In my time one did not grow moldy in the schools. I learned to write in twenty-six lessons; to read, I don’t know how. Then I threw myself into the lumber business. I can compute the cubic feet in a tree, but I can’t produce literary compositions. Not even the speeches that I deliver, those wonderful speeches! Arpajon listens to them open-mouthed, like an idiot. People think me learned. I have a reputation, but thanks to whom? Thanks to an angel.


Cab.Here is the angel!

Blanche.I’ve been looking for you to give you the address which you are to deliver before the agricultural convention.

Cab.If I am reelected. Have you corrected it?

Blanche.Oh, yes.

Cab.Like all the others.(Kissing her.)Ah, dear little girl, what should I do without you?(Unfolding the address.)How do you like the beginning?

Blanche.Very much.

Cab.(reading).“Gentlemen and honored colleagues, agriculture is the noblest of all the professions—” Look here, you’ve put two s’s in profession!


Cab.(kissing her).Ah, you dear little girl!(Aside.)I should simply have spelled it with a t.(Reading.)“The noblest of the professions.” With two s’s.(Reading.)“I venture to declare that any one who does not love the soil, whose heart does not beat higher at the sight of a cultivated field, that such a one knows nothing of the wealth of nations—” Look here, you’ve put a t in nations.

Blanche.So one must.

Cab.Ah, you dear child!(Aside.)I should simply have spelled it with an s. These s’s and t’s—I never can remember where they belong.(Reading.)“—the wealth of nations.” With a t——

Blanche(suddenly).Papa, don’t you know that M. Poitrinas has just arrived?

Cab.What! Poitrinas from Étampes?(Aside.)Now there’s a real scholar.—Well, where is our friend?

Cab.Ah, my dear friend, what a delightful visit!

Poit.I have long wished to explore your country from an archeological point of view.

Cab.Ah, yes; do the little broken pots still amuse you?

Poit.Still! But I wanted to speak to you of another matter too; an important matter.

Blanche(aside).Now comes the great question.(Aloud.)I hope, sir, that you will spend several days with us.

Poit.I dare not promise. It will depend on my excavations. If I find anything, I’ll stay.

Blanche.Let us hope that you will find something.(Exit.)

Cab.Isn’t my little Blanche good?

Poit.Charming! And I shall have the happiness—but we’ll come to that later. My friend, I have a great piece of news for you.

Cab.For me?

Poit.On the strength of my recommendation you have just been named corresponding member of the Academy of Étampes.

Cab.(aside).Academician! He stuffs me into the Academy!

Poit.You are surprised, no doubt.

Cab.Indeed, I am. But I really don’t know whether I ought to accept. My claims to the honor are very slight.

Poit.But your speeches!

Cab.Oh, on account of my speeches.(Aside.)That dear child!

Poit.And then, I knew why I proposed you. You could be very useful to us.


Poit.You will superintend the excavations I make in this part of the country. You can then recover the Latin inscriptions, and send me reports on them.

Cab.(frightened).In Latin?

Poit.Hush! I suspect there is one of Cæsar’s camps in the neighborhood of Arpajon. Don’t mention it to any one.

Cab.You may be easy about that.

Poit.There’s none in our district. This is perhaps the only one.

Cab.That’s a big job.

Poit.I have made investigations which I will communicate to you. Gabius Lentulus must have passed here.

Cab.Really? Gabius—Lin—turlus? Are you sure of it?

Poit.Certain! Don’t mention it to any one.

Cab.You may rely on my silence.

Poit.But I have come from still another motive. My son Edmond saw Mlle. Blanche at Étampes. He has conceived an ardent but honorable love for her, and I profit by the opportunity my excavations give me of seeing you, to make an offer of marriage.

Cab.Heavens! I don’t say no; but I don’t say yes. I must consult my daughter.

Poit.That’s very proper. Edmond is a good young man, affectionate and steady. Takes no spirits except in his coffee.

Cab.No after-dinner cordial?

Poit.One hundred and thirty thousand francs dowry.

Cab.That’s about the same as I give Blanche.

Poit.But, before everything, I must be frank with you. Edmond has one fault, a fault that is almost a vice.

Cab.That’s bad. What is it?

Poit.Well, then, let me tell you—but no, I can’t, I, the president of the Academy of Étampes.(Handing him a letter.)Here, read!

Cab.A witty squib against the Academy?

Poit.A letter which he addressed to me a week ago, and which I submit to you with shame.

Cab.You frighten me. Let’s see.(Reads.)“My dear Father: I must make a confession to you on which the happiness of my whole life depends.”

Poit.(aside).Spells “depends” with a t, the wretch!

Cab.(reads).“I have been madly in love with Mlle. Blanche ever since I first saw her.”

Poit.(aside).“Been” with one e! Stupid!

Cab.(reads).“I can neither eat nor sleep.”

Poit.(aside).“Sleep”—he spells it ea!

Cab.(reads).“Her image fills my life and troubles my dreams.”

Poit.(aside).“Dreams”—d-r-e-e-m-s!(Aloud.)Isn’t it atrocious?


Poit.Well, it was my duty to tell you; now you know.

Cab.I know that he loves my daughter.

Poit.Yes, but he loves her in defiance of every rule of grammar. Think it over and decide. I’ll make an inspection of your garden. There seems to be a Roman-looking mound in it. I’ll be with you shortly.