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Huit anecdotes de Chamfort1

Françaix (1951)

L'Évêque d'Autun

Monseigneur d'Autun était gros, gros
monstrueusement gros; il avait l'air créé et mis
au monde pour faire voir jusqu'où peut aller
la peau humaine.

Les coups de pieds

Le régent voulant aller au bal sans y être
reconnu: <J'en sais un moyen> dit l'abbé
Dubois; et, dans le bal, il lui donna des coups
de pied au... Le régent, qui les trouvait trop
forts, passant rêveusement la main sur son
derrière, <L'abbé, dit-il, tu me déguises trop>.

Le Critique

Monsieur de Xantipe entendant chanter
le rossignol et animé de la toute puissance
des sots, écrivait: <Ah! la vilaine bête!> On
le disait critique.

Le Cauchemar

La salle était tapissée de niches d'une
grandeur plus ou moins considérable. Dans un
petit compartiment se courbait un géant. Là,
sous une haute arcade se pavanait un nain.
Rarement la niche était faite pour la statue.
Des hommes grands et petits tournaient dans
la salle, guettant une niche vide pour s'y placer,
quelle quelle soit: tel est l'édifice métaphysique
de la société.

Les cinq doigts

Madame, fille du Roi, jouant avec
sa bonne, regarda sa main, en compta les
doigts, et, surprise, <Comment>, dit l'enfant,
<Vous avez cinq doigts, comme moi?>

Le magistrat suisse

<L'esprit des lois> de Montesquieu2et
<La pucelle> de Voltaire3 furent interdits en
Suisse. Un magistrat de Berne fit rechercher
ces deux ouvrages, puis écrivit au Sénat:
Nous n'avons trouvé dans le canton ni <Esprit>
ni <Pucelle>.

De quelques Français

Drôles et gambadant come des singes,
certains Français, avec la faconde des
perroquets, feraient volontiers des Ministres;
Mais en fait d'inutilité, il ne faut que
le nécessaire, et l'Académie4y pourvoit déjà...
Mais chut: l'Etranger nous écoute. Et j'aime
toujours ma Patrie.

Le chanoine Récupéro5

Le chanoine Récupéro confessait une
jeune et jolie fille qui s'accusait d'avoir estimé
un jeune homme.
<Estimé,> dit le Père
<Estimé, combien de fois?>


Chamfort

1These texts are adaptations of the original Chamfort anecdotes. They differ considerably from the originals, and sometimes combine two together.
2Montesquieu, political philosopher and
writer (1689 - 1755).
3Voltaire, major poet, historian and philosopher (1694-1788). "La pucelle" is a licentious mock-heroic poem about Joan of Arc (1755), considered to be second rate.
4The Académie is the venerated and often ridiculed institute whose job is to supervise the French language.
5Récupéro. A Sicilian mineralogist and priest who angered his superiors by claiming that the earth's age was greater than fourteen thousand years. A statement based on his work on Etna. Chamfort's anecdote does not relate to him, though he did write another about him.

Eight anecdotes by Chamfort

 

The Bishop of Autun

His Grace of Autun was fat, fat monstrously
fat; he appeared to have been created and
placed on earth to show how far the human skin
can be stretched.

The kicks

The regent, wanting to go to the ball without
being recognized there: "I know of a way" said Abbot
Dubois and, at the ball, he gave him kicks
on his... The regent, who found them too
hard, passing his hand dreamily over his behind,
said, "Your Grace you disguise me too much".

The Critic

Monsieur de Xantipe, hearing the nightingale
singing, and animated by the all embracing power
of fools, wrote: "Ah the wicked creature!" He
was termed a critic.

The Nightmare

The room was lined with nooks of
varyingly large and small sizes. In a little
compartment a giant was huddling. There,
under a high arch a dwarf was strutting. Only
occasionally was the nook suited to the statue.
Men, large and small, were roaming the hall,
searching for an empty nook in which to settle,
whatever its size: such is the metaphysical
edifice of society.

The five fingers

Madame, daughter of the King, playing with
her nurse, looked at her hand, counted its
fingers, and, surprised, the child said, "why,
you have five fingers, like me?"

The Swiss magistrate

"The spirit of the laws" by Montesquieu and
"The Virgin" by Voltaire were forbidden in
Switzerland. A magistrate from Berne sent for
these two works, then wrote to the Senate:
We have found in this county neither "Spirit"
nor "Virgin".

Of certain Frenchmen

Comical and spirited like monkeys,
certain Frenchmen, with the eloquence of
parrots, would willingly become Ministers;
but by way of uselessness, all that is required are
the essentials, and the Académie already sees to that...
But hush: other countries are listening to us. And I
still love my Homeland.

The canon Récupéro

The canon Récupéro was hearing the confession
of a young and pretty girl who accused herself of
having held a young man in esteem.
"Held in esteem", said the Father,
"Held in esteem, how many times?"

© translated by Christopher Goldsack

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