Jasmin's 'Franconnette'

Composition of the Poem-- Expostulations of M. Dumon-- Jasmin's Defence of the Gascon Dialect-- Jasmin and Dante-- 'Franconnette' dedicated to Toulouse-- Outline of the Story-- Marshal Montluc-- Huguenots-- Castle of Estellac-- Marcel and Pascal-- The Buscou-- 'The Syren with a Heart of Ice'-- The Sorcerer-- Franconnette accursed-- Festival on Easter Morning-- The Crown Piece-- Storm at Notre Dame-- The Villagers determine to burn Franconnette-- Her Deliverance and Marriage

Jasmin published no further poems for three or four years. His time was taken up with his trade and his philanthropic missions. Besides, he did not compose with rapidity; he elaborated his poems by degrees; he arranged the plot of his story, and then he clothed it with poetical words and images. While he walked and journeyed from place to place, he was dreaming and thinking of his next dramatic poem--his Franconnette, which many of his critics regard as his masterpiece.

Like most of his previous poems, Jasmin wrote Franconnette in the Gascon dialect. Some of his intimate friends continued to expostulate with him for using this almost dead and virtually illiterate patois. Why not write in classical French? M. Dumon, his colleague at the Academy of Agen, again urged him to employ the national language, which all intelligent readers could understand.

"Under the reign of our Henry IV.," said M. Dumon, "the Langue d'Oïl became, with modifications, the language of the French, while the Langue d'Oc remained merely a patois. Do not therefore sing in the dialect of the past, but in the language of the present, like Beranger, Lamartine, and Victor Hugo.

"What," asked M. Dumon, "will be the fate of your original poetry? It will live, no doubt, like the dialect in which it is written; but is this, the Gascon patois, likely to live? Will it be spoken by our posterity as long as it has been spoken by our ancestors? I hope not; at least I wish it may be less spoken. Yet I love its artless and picturesque expressions, its lively recollections of customs and manners which have long ceased to exist, like those old ruins which still embellish our landscape. But the tendency which is gradually effacing the vestiges of our old language and customs is but the tendency of civilisation itself.

"When Rome fell under the blows of the barbarians, she was entirely conquered; her laws were subjected at the same time as her armies. The conquest dismembered her idiom as well as her empire. . . . The last trace of national unity disappeared in this country after the Roman occupation. It had been Gaul, but now it became France. The force of centralisation which has civilised Europe, covering this immense chaos, has brought to light, after more than a hundred years, this most magnificent creation the French monarchy and the French language. Let us lament, if you will, that the poetical imagination and the characteristic language of our ancestors have not left a more profound impression. But the sentence is pronounced; even our Henry IV. could not change it. Under his reign the Langue d'Oïl became for ever the French language, and the Langue d'Oc remained but a patois.

"Popular poet as you are, you sing to posterity in the language of the past. This language, which you recite so well, you have restored and perhaps even created; yet you do not feel that it is the national language; this powerful instrument of a new era, which invades and besieges yours on all sides like the last fortress of an obsolete civilisation."

Jasmin was cut to the quick by this severe letter of his friend, and he lost not a moment in publishing a defence of the language condemned to death by his opponent. He even displayed the force and harmony of the language which had been denounced by M. Dumon as a patois. He endeavoured to express himself in the most characteristic and poetical style, as evidence of the vitality of his native Gascon. He compared it to a widowed mother who dies, and also to a mother who does not die, but continues young, lovely, and alert, even to the last. Dumon had published his protest on the 28th of August, 1837, and a few days later, on the 2nd of September, Jasmin replied in the following poem:-

"There's not a deeper grief to man
Than when his mother, faint with years,
Decrepit, old, and weak and wan,
Beyond the leech's art appears;

  By PanEris using Melati.

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