Jasmin and Gascon--First volume of Papillôtes

Jasmin first Efforts at Verse-making-- The People Conservative of old Dialects-- Jasmin's study of Gascon-- Langue d'Oc and Langue d'Oil-- Antiquity of Languages in Western Europe-- The Franks-- Language of Modern France-- The Gauls-- The "Franciman"-- Language of the Troubadours-- Gascon and Provencal-- Jasmin begins to write in Gascon-- Uneducated Poets-- Jasmin's 'Me cal Mouri'-- Miss Costello's translationc-- The 'Charivari'-- Jasmin publishes First Volume of 'The Curl-papers' (Papillotos)

Jasmin's first efforts at verse-making were necessarily imperfect. He tried to imitate the works of others,. rather than create poetical images of his own. His verses consisted mostly of imitations of the French poems which he had read. He was overshadowed by the works of Boileau, Gresset, Rousseau, and especially by Béranger, who, like himself, was the son of a tailor.

The recollections of their poetry pervaded all his earlier verses. His efforts in classical French were by no means successful. It was only when he had raised himself above the influence of authors who had preceded him, that he soared into originality, and was proclaimed the Poet of the South.

Jasmin did not at first write in Gascon. In fact, he had not yet mastered a perfect knowledge of this dialect. Though familiarly used in ancient times, it did not exist in any written form. It was the speech of the common people; and though the Gascons spoke the idiom, it had lost much of its originality. It had become mixed, more or less, with the ordinary French language, and the old Gascon words were becoming gradually forgotten.

Yet the common people, after all, remain the depositories of old idioms and old traditions, as well as of the inheritances of the past. They are the most conservative element in society. They love their old speech, their old dress, their old manners and customs, and have an instinctive worship of ancient memories. Their old idioms are long preserved. Their old dialect continues the language of the fireside, of daily toil, of daily needs, and of domestic joys and sorrows. It hovers in the air about them, and has been sucked in with their mothers' milk. Yet, when a primitive race such as the Gascons mix much with the people of the adjoining departments, the local dialect gradually dies out, and they learn to speak the language of their neighbours.

The Gascon was disappearing as a speech, and very few of its written elements survived. Was it possible for Jasmin to revive the dialect, and embody it in a written language? He knew much of the patois, from hearing it spoken at home. But now, desiring to know it more thoroughly, he set to work and studied it. He was almost as assiduous as Sir Walter Scott in learning obscure Lowland words, while writing the Waverley Novels. Jasmin went into the market-places, where the peasants from the country sold their produce; and there he picked up many new words and expressions. He made excursions into the country round Agen, where many of the old farmers and labourers spoke nothing but Gascon. He conversed with illiterate people, and especially with old women at their spinning-wheels, and eagerly listened to their ancient tales and legends.

He thus gathered together many a golden relic, which he afterwards made use of in his poetical works. He studied Gascon like a pioneer. He made his own lexicon, and eventually formed a written dialect, which he wove into poems, to the delight of the people in the South of France. For the Gascon dialect-- such is its richness and beauty--expresses many shades of meaning which are entirely lost in the modern French.

When Jasmin first read his poems in Gascon to his townspeople at Agen, he usually introduced his readings by describing the difficulties he had encountered in prosecuting his enquiries. His hearers, who knew more French than Gascon, detected in his poems many comparatively unknown words,-- not indeed of his own creation, but merely the result of his patient and long-continued investigation of the Gascon dialect. Yet they found the language, as written and spoken by him, full of harmony--rich, mellifluous, and sonorous. Gascon resembles the Spanish, to which it is strongly allied, more than the Provençal, the language of the Troubadours, which is more allied to the Latin or Italian.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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