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

Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897)

The Art of Song

From “Tartarin of Tarascon”

TO their passion for hunting, the strong Tarasconian race join another passion—for songs. The consumption of songs in this little region is beyond belief. All the sentimental balderdash grown yellow in the oldest sheets is found again at Tarascon in the bloom of youth, in full splendor. Each family has its own piece, as the town is aware. They know, for instance, that the apothecary’s, Bézuquet, is:
  • “Thou, white star that I adore.”
  • The gunsmith’s, Costecalde:
  • “Wilt thou come to the country of cabins?”
  • The registrar’s:
  • “Were I invisible, nobody should see me.”
  • And so on for all Tarascon.

    Two or three times a week they meet at each other’s houses and sing these songs. The remarkable part of it is that they are always the same, and that, long as these worthy Tarasconians have been singing them, they never care to change them. They are handed down from father to son, and nobody changes them; they are something sacred. They are never even borrowed. It would never enter Costecalde’s head to sing Bézuquet’s, nor Bézuquet’s to sing Costecalde’s. You might imagine they would be tired of them after the forty years they have been singing them. Not at all; each keeps to his own, and everybody is pleased.

    In songs, as in caps, Tartarin was supreme. His advantage over his fellow citizens consisted in this: he had none of his own, and he had them all. Yes, all!

    The difficulty was to make him sing them. Returning early from the successes of the drawing-room, the Tarasconian hero much preferred delving in his hunting books, or spending the evening at the club, to playing the lady’s man at a piano between two candles. These musical parades he seemed to think beneath him. Sometimes, however, when there was music at Bézuquet’s pharmacy, he would enter as if by chance, and, after allowing himself to be much entreated, would consent to give the grand duet from Robert the Devil, with Mother Bézuquet. Who has not heard it has not heard anything. For my part, were I to live a hundred years, I shall all my life see the great Tartarin approaching the piano with a solemn step, leaning on his elbow, making a grimace, and, under the green reflection of the show-cases in the front windows, trying to give his fat, good-natured face the fierce, satanic expression of Robert the Devil. Hardly had he taken his position, when the company would begin to tremble. They would feel that something grand was coming. Then, after a pause, Mother Bézuquet would begin with the accompaniment to:

  • “Robert, thou whom I love,
  • To whom my faith I plighted,
  • Thou seest I am affrighted!
  • Mercy for thyself,
  • Mercy for me!”
  • In a low voice she would add, “Your turn, Tartarin”; and Tartarin of Tarascon, with outstretched arm, clenched fist, and dilated nostrils, would repeat three times in a formidable voice, which rolled like a thunderclap in the bowels of the piano, “No, no, no!” which in good Southern dialect he pronounced, “Naw, naw, naw!” Whereupon Mother Bézuquet would repeat once more:

  • “Mercy for thyself,
  • Mercy for me!”
  • “Naw, naw, naw!” would Tartarin roar louder than ever—and there it ended. It was not long, as you see; but it was so finely delivered, so well imitated, so diabolical, that a fear and trembling would run through the pharmacy, and they would make him repeat his “Naw, naw, naw!” four or five times in succession. Thereupon Tartarin would wipe his brow, smile on the ladies, wink at the men, and, retiring on his triumph, go off to the club to tell them there, “I have just been singing the duet from Robert the Devil at the Bézuquets’.”

    And the most incredible thing of all was that he believed he really had.