VI. QUISSAC AND SAUVE
The Frenchman's ideal of material comfort begins and ends with solvency, the sense of absolute security from want in old age. Small comforts he sets little store by; provided that he gets a good dinner, lesser considerations go. I do not hesitate to say that the comforts enjoyed by our own farm-servants half a century ago were far in excess of those thought more than sufficient by French labourers and their employers. On the following day my hosts took me round the farmery, fowl-run, piggeries, neat-houses and stalls being inspected one by one. When we came to the last named, I noticed at the door of the long building and on a level with the feeding troughs for oxen, a bed-shaped wooden box piled up with fresh clean straw.
"That is where our stockman sleeps," explained the lady.
Here, then, quite contentedly slept the herdsman of a large estate in nineteenth-century France, whilst his English compeers two generations before, and in much humbler employ, had their tidy bedroom and comfortable bed under the farmer's roof. What would my own Suffolk ploughmen have said to the notion of spending the night in an ox-stall? But autres pays, autres moeurs. In Deroulede's fine little poem, "Bon gite", a famished, foot-sore soldier returning home is generously entreated by a poor housewife. When she sets about preparing a bed for him, he remonstrates -
"Good dame, what means that new-made bed,
Those sheets so finely spun?
On heaped-up straw in cattle-shed,
I'd snore till rise of sun."
The compensations for apparent hardship in the case of French peasants are many and great. In Henry James's great series of dissolving views called The American Scene, he describes the heterogeneous masses as having "a promoted look". The French proletariat have not a promoted look, rather one of inherited, traditional stability and self-respect. One and all, moreover, are promoting themselves, rising by a slow evolutionary process from the condition of wage-earner to that of metayer, tenant, lastly freeholder.
Although the immediate environs of Quissac and Sauve are not remarkable, magnificent prospects are obtained a little farther afield - our drives and walks abounded in interest - and associations! Strange but true it is that we can hardly halt anywhere in France without coming upon historic, literary or artistic memorials. Every town and village is redolent of tradition, hardly a spot but is glorified by genius!
Thus, half-an-hour's drive from our village still stands the chateau and birthplace of Florian, the Pollux of fabulists, La Fontaine being the Castor, no other stars of similar magnitude shining in their especial arc.
Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian was born here in 1755, just sixty years after the great fabulist's death. Nephew of a marquis, himself nephew-in-law of Voltaire, endowed with native wit and gaiety, the young man was a welcome guest at Fernay, and no wonder! His enchanting fables did not see the light till after Voltaire's death, but we will hope that some of them had delighted his host in recitation. Many of us who loved French in early years have a warm corner in our hearts for "Numa Pompilius", but Florian will live as the second fabulist of France, to my own thinking twin of his forerunner.
How full of wisdom, wit and sparkle are these apologues! Take, for instance, the following, which to the best of my ability I have rendered into our mother tongue -
VANITY (LE PETIT CHIEN).
Once on a time and far away,
The elephant stood first in might,
He had by many a forest fray
At last usurped the lion's right.
On peace and reign unquestioned bent,
The ruler in his pride of place,
Forthwith to life-long banishment
Doomed members of the lion race.