by Marie Rennard
(Swans - July 13, 2009) Let me report you the story -- and please don't ask where I read it, I can't remember -- of Captain Moreau who during the 18th century went to the New World for a troop inspection and was charmed to see that the natives had organized a reception to honour him. When the local choral started singing a song which refrain began with Tomorrow, tomorrow, our captain, who hardly could speak a few words of English, thought they were singing To Moreau, To Moreau, and he started bowing ass open each time the singers came to the refrain. The public, of course, could not imagine the reasons for these gesticulations, till a French soldier who had understood the mistake of his hierarchic superior explained it to his nearest American neighbour. One can guess how fast the audience was filled with laughter. Fortunately, ridicule does not kill its man.
Of course, we all know how suspect anecdotes are, and how cautiously they have to be taken. Voltaire himself, in his Philosophical Dictionary, dedicates them a chapter and explains that the authors who enjoy writing in the evening the rumours they've heard all day should also write, like Saint Augustine, an annual book of revocation. Our great philosopher, however, was not completely insensitive to the pleasure of gossip, as shows the article of this same Dictionary entitled "Lazy Bellies" in which he reports that French Queen Anne d'Autriche would call her enemy the Cardinal de Richelieu "rotten ass" because he suffered from internal hemorrhoids, which explained his ferocious nature.
Fortunately, thanks to Bachaumont (Mémoires Secrets), the memory has been kept of the epigram Richelieu is said to have written as an answer to the one who had dared giving him this nickname the Queen had adopted:
Call rotten ass the Cardinal's
An ass celebrated like the ass of a God
And the most handsome ass of asses ever seen!
When have you, young rascal, ever smelled my breeches?
Well, as a punishment, you will perish, gadzooks!
In an ass-deep dungeon.
Note: The proper English translation for the French cul de basse fosse should be a mere "deep dungeon," but it would be a pity to lose, for purist reasons, this so spiritual a punch line. The original French text reads:
Appeler cul pourri le cul de Richelieu,
Le cul qui fut jadis honoré comme un dieu,
Le cul, le plus beau cul qui fut en aucun lieu !
As-tu flairé, gredin, mon haut de chausse?
Eh bien! pour te punir, tu périras, morbleu !
Dedans un cul de basse-fosse.
(Source: Anecdotes Piquantes, de Bachaumont, Mairobert, etc. Gay et Doucé, Éditeurs, 1881)
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