At the Sign of the Reine Pédauque, by Anatole France

Chapter 25

I become a Bookseller — I have many learned and witty Customers but none to equal the Abbe Jerome Coignard, D. D., M. A.

There is no love will stand separation. The memory of Jahel, smarting at first, was smoothed down little by little, and nothing remained but a vague irritation, of which she was no longer the only object.

M. Blaizot aged quickly. He retired to Montrouge, to his cottage in the fields, and sold me his shop against a life annuity. Having become in his place the sworn bookseller of the Image of Saint Catherine, I took with me my father and mother, whose cookshop flourished no more. I liked my humble shop and took care to trim it up. I nailed on the doors some old Venetian maps and some theses ornamented with allegorical engravings, which made a decoration old and odd no doubt, but pleasant to friends of good learning. My knowledge, taking care to hide it cleverly, was not detrimental to my trade. It would have been worse had I been a publisher like Marc–Michel Rey, and obliged like him to gain my living at the expense of the stupidity of the public.

I keep in stock, as they say, the classical authors, and that is a merchandise in demand in that learned Rue Saint Jacques of which it would please me one day to write an account of its antiquities and celebrities. The first Parisian printer established his venerable presses there. The Cramoisys, whom Guy Patin calls the kings of the Rue Saint Jacques, published there the works of our historians. Before the erection of the College of France, the king’s readers, Pierre Danes, Francois Votable, Ramus, gave their lectures there in a shed which echoed with the quarrels between the street porters and the washerwomen. And how can we forget Jean de Meung, who composed in one of the little houses of this street the Roman de la Rose? [Footnote: Jacques Tournebroche did not know that Francois Villon also dwelt in the Rue Saint Jacques, at the Cloister Saint Benoit, in a house called the Porte Verte. The pupil of M. Jerome Coignard would no doubt have had great pleasure in recalling the memory of that ancient poet, who, like himself, had known various sorts of people.]

I have the whole house at my disposal: it is very old, and dates at least from the time of the Goths, as may be seen by the wooden joists crossed on the narrow front and by the mossy tiles. It has but one window on each floor. The one on the first floor is all the year round garnished with flowers, strings are attached, and all sorts of climbers run up them in springtime. My good old mother takes care of this.

It is the window of her room. She can be seen from the street, reading her prayers in a book printed in big letters over the image of Saint Catherine. Age, devotion and maternal pride have given her a grand air, and to see her wax-coloured face under her high white cap one could take his oath on her being a wealthy citizen’s wife.

My father, in getting old, also acquired some dignity. As he likes exercise and fresh air I employ him to carry books about town. First I employed Friar Ange, but he begged of my customers, made them kiss relics, stole their wine, caressed their servant girls, and left one-half of my books in the gutters. I soon gave him the sack. But my good mother, whom he makes believe that he is possessed of secrets for gaining heaven, gives him soup and wine. He is not a bad man, and in the end I became somewhat attached to him.

Several learned men and some wits frequent my shop And it is a great advantage to my trade to be in daily contact with men of merit. Among those who often come to look at new books and converse familiarly among themselves there are historians as learned as Tillemont, sacred orators the equals of Bossuet and Bourdaloue in eloquence, comic and tragic poets, theologians who unite purity of morals with solidity of doctrine, the esteemed authors of “Spanish” novels, geometers and philosophers capable, like M. Descartes, of measuring and weighing the universe. I admire them, I enjoy the least of their words. But not one, to my thinking, is equal in genius to my dear master, whom I had the misfortune to lose on the road to Lyons; not one reminds me of that incomparable elegance of thought, that sweet sublimity, that astonishing wealth of a soul always expanding and flowering, like the urns of rivers represented in marble in gardens; not one gives me that never-failing spring of science and of morals, wherein I had the happiness to quench the thirst of my youth, none give me more than a shadow of that grace, that wisdom, that strength of thought which shone in M. Jérôme Coignard. I hold him to be the most amiable spirit who has ever flourished on the earth.

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54