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

Heinrich Heine (1797–1856)

The Disrespectful Guillotine

From “Germany”

THE CARRIAGE’S jolting woke me up

From my dream, yet vainly sought I

To keep awake, so I slumbered again,

And of Barbarossa thought I.

Again we went through the echoing halls,

And talked of great and small things;

He asked me this, and he asked me that,

And wished to know about all things.

He told me that not one mortal word

From the world above had descended

For many a year—in fact, not since

The Seven Years’ War had ended.

With interest he for Karschin asked,

For Mendelssohn (Moses the glorious),

For Louis the Fifteenth’s mistress frail,

The Countess du Barry notorious.

“Oh, Emperor,” cried I, “how backward thou art!

Old Moses is dead and forgotten,

With his Rebecca; and Abraham, too,

The son, is dead and rotten.

“This Abraham, and Leah his wife, gave birth

To Felix, who proved very steady;

His fame through Christendom far has spread,

He’s an orchestra leader already.

“Old Karschin likewise has long been dead,

And Klenke, her daughter, is dead too;

Helmine Chezy, the granddaughter, though,

Still lives—at least she is said to.

“Du Barry lived merrily, keeping afloat,

For Louis the Fifteenth screened her

As long as he lived, but when she was old

They cruelly guillotined her.

“King Louis the Fifteenth died in his bed,

By the doctors attended and seen to;

But Louis the Sixteenth was guillotined,

And Antoinette, the queen, too.

“The queen the greatest courage displayed,

And died like a monarch, proudly;

But Madame du Barry, when guillotined,

Kept weeping and screaming loudly.”

The emperor suddenly came to a stand,

And stared, as if doubting my meaning,

And said, “For the sake of Heaven, explain

What is meant by that word guillotining?”

“Why, guillotining,” I briefly replied,

“Is a method newly constructed,

By means of which people of every rank

From life to death are conducted.

“For this purpose, a new machine is employed”—

I continued, while closely he listened—

“Invented by Monsieur Guillotin,

And ‘guillotine’ after him christened.

“You first are fastened to a board;

’Tis lowered; then quickly they shove you

Between two posts; meanwhile there hangs

A triangular ax just above you.

“They pull a string, and downward shoots

The ax, quite lively and merry;

And so your head falls into a bag,

And nothing remains but to bury.”

The emperor here interrupted my speech:

“Be silent! May Heaven confuse it,

That foul machine! And God forbid

That I should ever use it!

“The king and queen! What—to a board

Both fastened! What a position!

’Tis contrary to all respect,

And etiquette in addition!”