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Jasmin, the author of this beautiful poem, is to the Sonth of France what Burns is to the South of Scotland, ---the representative of the heart of the people, -one of those happy bards who are born with their mouths full of birds (la bouco pleno d'aouzelons). He has written his own biography in a poetic form, and the simple narrative of his poverty, his struggles, and his triumphs, is very touching. He still lives at Agen, on the Garonne; and long may he live there to delight his native land with native songs !
The following description of his person and way of life is taken from the graphic pages of “ Béarn and the Pyrenees," by Louisa Stuart Costello, whose charming pen has done so much to illustrate the French provinces and their literature.
" At the entrance of the promenade, Du Gravier, is a row of small houses, --some cafés, others shops, the indication of which is a painted cloth placed across the way, with the owner's name in bright gold letters, in the manner of the arcades in the streets, and their announcements. One of the most glaring of these was, we observed, a bright blue flag, bordered with gold; on which, in large gold letters, appeared the name of “Jasmin, Coiffeur. We entered, and were welcomed by a smiling, dark-eyed woman, who informed us that her husband was busy at that moment dressing a customer's hair, but he was desirous to receive us, and begged we would walk into his parlour at the back of the shop.
“She exliibited to us a laurel crown of gold, of delicate workmanship, sent from the city of Clemence Isaure, Toulouse, to the poet; who will probably one day take his place in the capitoul. Next came a golden cup, with au inscription in his honor, given by the citizens of Auch ; a gold watch, chain, and seals, sent by the king, Louis Philippe ; an emerald ring wom and presented by the lamented Duke of Orleans; a pearl pin, by the graceful Duchess, who, on the poet's visit to Paris, accompanied by his son, received him in the words he puts into the mouth of Henri Quatre:
Brabes Gascous !
A fine service of linen, the offering of the town of Pau, after its citizens had given fêtes in his honor, and loaded him with caresses and praises ; and nicknacks and jewels of all descriptions offered to him by lady-ambassadresses, and great lords ; English 'misses' and * miladis'; and French, and foreigners of all nations who did or did not understand Gascon.
“ All this, though startling, was not convincing; Jasmin, the barber, might only be a fashion, a furore, a caprice, after all; and it was evident that he knew how to get up a scene well. When we had become nearly tired of looking over these tributes to his genius, the door opened, and the poet himself appeared. His manner was free and unembarrassed, well-bred, and lively; he received our compliments naturally, and like one accustomed to homage ; said he was ill, and unfortunately too hoarse to read any thing to us, or should have been delighted to do so. He spoke with a broad Gascon accent, and very rapidly and eloquently; ran over the story of his successes; told us that his grandfather had been a beggar, and all
his family very poor; that he was now as rich as he wished to be ; his son placed in a good position at Nantes; then showed us his son's picture, and spoke of his disposition, to which his brisk little wife added, that, though no fool, he had not his father's genius, to which truth Jasmin assented as a matter of course. I told him of having seen mention made of him in an English review; which he said had been sent him by Lord Durham, who had paid him a visit; and I then spoke of Me cal mouri' as known to me. This was enough to make him forget his hoarseness and every other evil: it would never do for me to imagine that that little song was his best composition; it was merely his first; he must try to read to me a little of * L'Abuglo,'—a few verses of Françoaneto';—You will be charmed,' said he ; 'but if I were well, and you would give me the pleasure of your company for some time, if you were not merely running through Agen, I would kill you with weeping,-I would make you die with distress for my poor Margarido,-my pretty Françouneto!!
“He caught up two copies of his book, from a pile lying on the table, and making us sit close to him, he pointed out the French translation on one side, which he told us to follow while he read in Gascon. He began in a rich, soft voice, and as he advanced, the surprise of Hamlet on hearing the player-king recite the disasters of Hecuba was but a type of ours, to find ourselves carried away by the spell of his enthusiasm. His eyes swam in tears ; he became pale and red; he trembled; he recovered himself; his face was now joyous, now exulting, gay, jocose; in fact, he was twenty actors in one; he rang the changes from Rachel to Bouffé ; and he finished by delighting us, besides beguiling us of our tears, and overwhelming us with astonishment.
“He would have been a treasure on the stage; for he is still, though his first yonth is past, remarkably good-looking and striking; with black, sparkling eyes, of intense expression; a fine, ruddy complexion ; a countenance of wondrous mobility; a good figure; and action full of fire and grace; he has handsome hands, which he nses with infinite effect; and, on the whole, he is the best actor of the kind I ever saw. I could now quite understand what a troubadour or jongleur might be, and I look upon Jasmin as a revived specimen of that extinct race. Such as he is might have been Gaucelm Faidit, of Avignon, the friend of Cour de Lion, who lamented the death of the hero in such moving strains; such might have been Bernard de Ventadour, who sang the praises of Queen Elinore's beauty; such Geoffrey Rudel, of Blaye, on his own Garonne; such the wild Vidal: certain it is, that none of these troubadours of old could more move, by their singing or reciting, than Jasmin, in whom all their long-smothered fire and traditional magic seems reillumined.
“We found we had stayed hours instead of minutes with the poet; but he would not hear of any apology,-only regretted that his voice was so out of tune, in consequence of a violent cold, under which he was really laboring, and hoped to see us again. He told us our countrywomen of Pau had laden him with kindness and attention, and spoke with such enthusiasm of the beauty of certain 'misses,' that I feared his little wife would feel somewhat piqued ; but, on the contrary, she stood by, smiling and happy, and enjoying the stories of his triumphis. I remarked that he had restored the poetry of the troubadours ; asked him if he knew their songs; and said he was worthy to stand at their head. 'I am, indeed, a troubadour,' said he, with energy; but I am far beyond them all, they were but beginners; they never composed a poem like my Françouneto! there are no poets in France now,—there cannot be; the language does not admit of it; where is the fire, the spirit, the expression, the tenderness, the force of the Gascon French is but the ladder to reach to the first floor of Gascon,--how can you get up to a height except by a ladder!'
“I returned by Agen, after an absence in the Pyrenees of some months, and renewed my acquaintance with Jasmin and his dark-eyed wife. I did not expect that I should be recognised; but the moment I entered the little shop I was hailed as an old friend. “Ah!'cried Jasmin,
enfin la voilà encore !' I could not but be flattered by this recollection, but soon found it was less on my own account that I was thus welcomed, than because a circumstance had occurred to the poet which he thought I could perhaps explain. He produced several French newspapers, in which he pointed out to me an article headed “Jasmin à Londres’; being a translation of certain notices of himself, which had appeared in a leading English literary journal. He had, he said, been informed of the honor done liim by numerous friends, and assured me his fame had been much spread by this means; and he was so delighted on the occasion, that he had resolved to learn English, in order that he might judge of the translations from his works, which, he had been told, were well done. I enjoyed his surprise, while I informed him that I knew who was the reviewer and translator; and explained the reason for the verses giving pleasure in an English dress to be the superior simplicity of the
lyrical composition. He inquired of me respecting Burns, to whom he had been likened; and begged me to tell him something of Moore. The delight of himself and his wife was amusing, at having discovered a secret which had puzzled them so long.
“ He had a thousand things to tell me; in particular, that he had only the day before received a letter from the Duchess of Orleans, informing him that she had ordered a medal of her late husband to be struck, the first of which would be sent to him: she also announced to him the agreeable news of the king having granted him a pension of a thousand francs. He smiled and wept by turns, as he told all this; and declared, much as he was elated at the possession of a sum which made him a rich man for life, the kindness of the Duchess gratified him even more.
“He then made us sit down while he read us two new poems; both charming, and full of grace and naïreté; and one very affecting, being an address to the king, alluding to the death of his son. As he read, his wife stood by, and fearing we did not quite comprehend his language, she made a remark to that effect: to which he answered impatiently, 'Nonsense, don't you see they are in tears.' This was unanswerable; and we were allowed to hear the poem to the end ; and I certainly never listened to any thing more feelingly and energetically delivered.
“We had much conversation, for he was anxious to detain us, and, in the course of it, he told me that he had been by some accused of vanity. O, he rejoined, what would you have ! I am a child of nature, and cannot conceal my feelings; the only difference between me and a man of refinement is, that he knows how to conceal his vanity and exultation at success, which I let every body see.'”–Béarn and the Pyrenees, I. 369, et seq.
I HEAR along our street
Hark! they play so sweet,
Let us by the fire
In December ring
Loud the gleemen sing
Let us by the fire
Shepherds at the grange,
Sang, with many a change,
Let us by the fire
These good people sang
While the rafters rang,
Let us by the fire
Nuns in frigid cells
For want of something else, Christmas songs at times have tried.
Let us by the fire
Sing by rivers cold,