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

François Coppée (1842–1908)

The Villain

From “A Dramatic Funeral”

FOR a quarter of a century had he played the part of the heavy villain at the theater. With his harsh voice, his eagle’s beak of a nose, and eyes of savage glitter, he was well fitted for that part. So for a quarter of a century had he, in the cloak and fawn-colored leather belt, retreated before D’Artagnan’s sword with the slippery slide of a wounded scorpion; draped in Rodin’s dirty Jewish gown, he had rubbed his dry hands together, and murmured his terrible “Patience, patience!” and, huddled on the chair of the Duke of Este, he had said to Lucrezia Borgia, with a glance sufficiently infernal, “Take care not to make a mistake. The flagon of gold, madame!” When, preceded by fiddling, he made his entrance, the gallery quaked; and a sigh of relief broke the tension when the moment came for the first walking gentleman to say to him at last, “Now, then, we must settle—you and I!” and sacrificed him for the greater glory of virtue.

But a dramatic career has little of the seductive if murmurs of horror alone mark its success; and furthermore, the old actor had hidden in some corner of his heart an ideal of bucolic happiness which most artists cherish. He sighed for an old age of leisure, for the dignified comfort of a retired shopkeeper; for a house in the country, where he could sit with his family under an arbor and raise his own melons; with cakes and wines on winter evenings; his daughter at school in a convent, his son in the uniform of the Polytechnic, and for himself the cross of the Legion of Honor.

When the theater which had engaged him for so many years failed, some capitalists thought of putting the enterprise on its feet again, with him at its head. His systematic habits and good sense, his thorough working knowledge of the stage, and his fairly intelligent literary instinct made him a good manager. He now owned stocks, and a villa at Montmorency; his son was a student at Sainte Barbe, and his daughter had just come out of Les Oiseaux; and if the spite of the small newspapers had retarded his nomination to the Legion of Honor, by recalling annually on the first of January his old ranting of the villains’ parts, he could yet hope that ere long the red ribbon would flourish in his buttonhole. Some of the habits of the strolling player had not yet passed from him. He was still familiar with everybody, and still dyed his mustaches; but he was essentially good, honest, and obliging, and gained the esteem and friendship of all who knew him.