Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Item of the Day: History of a French Louse (1779)

Full Title:

History of a French Louse
; or The Spy of a New Species, in France and England: Containing a Description of the most remarkable Personages in those Kingdoms. Giving A Key to the Chief Events of the Year 1779, and those which are to happen in 1780. Translated from the Fourth Edition of the revised and corrected Paris Copy.

Published anonymously; attributed to Delauney. Translation of: Histoire d'un pou fran├žois./ A political satire including Benjamin Franklin's mission to France. In imitation of Richard Tickell's: The Green Box of Monsieur de Sartine. Printed in London for T. Becket, Adelphi, Strand, 1779.

Chapter I: The birth of a Louse in the head of a courtezan. The happiness of his early life. He marries and has children, from whom he is obliged to fly by a general pestilence that overspreads his country.

I WAS born in a region very fertile and prolific, of which my ancestors had been more than a year in possession, and in which they had lived with all the happiness of royalty in the head of a charming girl of about eighteen. She lived with a commodious matron at Paris, Montigny by name, whose house was filled with the most spendid young people of the capital. The honour of my young mistress requires me to say, that I have known few heads so fine, or so well covered. It was an extreme and mighty forest, abundantly sufficient for all our wants, though our colony was very populous. In my childhood I made a great figure, my size visibly increased from minute to minute: my mother, who loved and adored me, would often say, when she pressed me in her arms, that she never knew a child of so much strength, and so good a constitution, for that in eight days I should be equal to my father.

When I came to the age proper for marriage, I got me a wife, chusing a female of my own age, fat and strong, for my taste is for plumpness: in four days time I was able to count ninety children, half boys and half girls; and was so pleased with my condition, that I did not suppose the world to contain a being more happy than myself; when an unexpected accident brought the first of my calamities upon me.

This region so plentiful, and so well replenished with juicy fruits, which I considered as a place of complete felicity, we found dried up almost all at once: I saw the trees of that vast forest dropped off by the roots one after another; a mineral smell, which broke out from the pores of that once happy head, was to us a destructive pestilence. I saw my relations and friends dying every minute of strong convulsions; I soon lost my father, and that valuable mother who had folndled me so much, together with three fourths of my dear children: my poor mistress herself, who had entertains us with such generous hospitality, was now in a condition to be pitied--her breath was become intolerably fetid, her teeth were no longer fast in her head, her mouth was covered with froth, her nerves were broken, and her body trembled so as she could scarce either stand or sit.

Of this terrible disaster I was determined on finding the cause; and one morning winding my way with a great deal of trouble through that vast forest, I climbed to the tip of an ear which had been once white, but which the infected air had now blackened.

From thence I saw the proceeding of a cursed operator, who stroking the delicate limbs of my mistress with his greasy fingers, filled her whole body with his dreadful contagion.

Resolving now to go back no more to this cursed and corrupted country, I called my few children that were left together, and we hid ourselves for a while in the doubles of a curtain which hung round my mistress's bed.

Here we staid two days and a half, without provision, without relief, and without knowing what course to take, when my poor mistress, languid and sinking, was taken from her bed, and conveyed to a hackney coach, as I have heard, to the royal mansion of Bissexter.

Her bed was supplied with clean linen; and I had the horror to see the cruel matron shake out of the foul clothes an innumerable body of my country-men, whom the plague had carried off; some of them were yet living, and crying out for help; but she, in all the rage of cruelty, pushed them together, and threw them headlong into a pan of burning coals, which put at once an end to their misery and existence.

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