Agen--Jasmins Boyhood

Description of Agen-- Statue of Jasmin-- His 'Souvenirs'-- Birth of Jasmin-- Poverty of the Family-- Grandfather Boe-- The Charivari-- Jasmin's Father and Mother-- His Playfellows-- Playing at Soldiers-- Agen Fairs-- The Vintage-- The Spinning Women-- School detested-- Old Boe carried to the Hospital-- Death of Boe

Agen is an important town in the South of France, situated on the right bank of the Garonne, about eighty miles above Bordeaux. The country to the south of Agen contains some of the most fertile land in France. The wide valley is covered with vineyards, orchards, fruit gardens, and corn-fields.

The best panoramic view of Agen and the surrounding country is to be seen from the rocky heights on the northern side of the town. A holy hermit had once occupied a cell on the ascending cliffs; and near it the Convent of the Hermitage has since been erected. Far underneath are seen the red-roofed houses of the town, and beyond them the green promenade of the Gravier.

From the summit of the cliffs the view extends to a great distance along the wide valley of the Garonne, covered with woods, vineyards, and greenery. The spires of village churches peep up here and there amongst the trees; and in the far distance, on a clear day, are seen the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees.

Three bridges connect Agen with the country to the west of the Garonne--the bridge for ordinary traffic, a light and elegant suspension bridge, and a bridge of twenty-three arches which carries the lateral canal to the other side of the river.

The town of Agen itself is not particularly attractive. The old streets are narrow and tortuous, paved with pointed stones; but a fine broad street--the Rue de la République--has recently been erected through the heart of the old town, which greatly adds to the attractions of the place. At one end of this street an ideal statue of the Republic has been erected, and at the other end a life-like bronze statue of the famous poet Jasmin.

This statue to Jasmin is the only one in the town erected to an individual. Yet many distinguished persons have belonged to Agen and the neighbourhood who have not been commemorated in any form. Amongst these were Bernard Palissy, the famous potter1 Joseph J. Scaliger, the great scholar and philologist; and three distinguished naturalists, Boudon de Saint-Aman, Bory de Saint-Vincent, and the Count de Lacepede.

The bronze statue of Jasmin stands in one of the finest sites in Agen, at one end of the Rue de la République, and nearly opposite the little shop in which he carried on his humble trade of a barber and hairdresser. It represents the poet standing, with his right arm and hand extended, as if in the act of recitation.

How the fame of Jasmin came to be commemorated by a statue erected in his native town by public subscription, will be found related in the following pages. He has told the story of his early life in a bright, natural, and touching style, in one of his best poems, entitled, "My Recollections" (Mes Souvenirs), written in Gascon; wherein he revealed his own character with perfect frankness, and at the same time with exquisite sensibility.

Several of Jasmin's works have been translated into English, especially his "Blind Girl of Castel-Cuillé, by Longfellow and Lady Georgina Fullerton. The elegant translation by Longfellow is so well known that it is unnecessary to repeat it in the appendix to this volume. But a few other translations of Jasmin's works have been given, to enable the reader to form some idea of his poetical powers.

Although Jasmin's recitations of his poems were invariably received with enthusiastic applause by his quick-spirited audiences in the South of France, the story of his life will perhaps be found more attractive to English readers than any rendering of his poems, however accurate, into a language different from his own. For poetry, more than all forms of literature, loses most by translation--especially from Gascon into English. Villemain, one of the best of critics, says: "Toute traduction en vers est une autre création que l'original."

  By PanEris using Melati.

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