But who comes here? What is the meaning of these roars of laughter that greet the last mask who runs into the market-place? Why do all the women and children hurry together, calling up one another, and shouting with delight? What is this thing? Is it some new species of bird, thus covered with feathers and down? In a few minutes the little figure is surrounded by a crowd of boys and women, who begin to pluck him of his borrowed plumes, while he chatters to them like a magpie, whistles like a song-bird, croaks like a raven, or in his natural character showers a mass of funny nonsense on them, till their laughter makes their sides ache. The little wretch is literally covered with small feathers from head to foot, and even his face is not to be recognized. The women pluck him behind and before; he dances round and tries to evade their fingers. This is impossible; he breaks away, runs down the market pursued by a shouting crowd, is again surrounded, and again subjected to a plucking process. The bird must be stripped; he must be discovered. Little by little his back is bared, and little by little is seen a black jerkin, black stockings, and, wonder upon wonder! the bands of a canon. Now they have cleared his face of its plumage, and a cry of disgust and shame hails the disclosure. Yes, this curious masker is no other than a reverend abbé, a young canon of the cathedral of Mans! ‘This is too much–it is scandalous–it is disgraceful. The church must be respected, the sacred order must not descend to such frivolities.’ The people, lately laughing, are now furious at the shameless abbé and not his liveliest wit can save him; they threaten and cry shame on him, and in terror of his life, he beats his way through the crowd, and takes to his heels. The mob follows, hooting and savage. The little man is nimble; those well-shaped legs–qui ont si bien dansé–stand him in good stead. Down the streets, and out of the the town go hare and hounds. The pursuers gain on him–a bridge, a stream filled with tall reeds, and delightfully miry, are all the hope of refuge he sees before him. He leaps gallantly from the bridge in among the oziers, and has the joy of listening to the disappointed curses of the mob, when reaching the stream, their quarry is nowhere to be seen. The reeds conceal him, and there he lingers till nightfall, when he can issue from his lurking-place, and escape from the town.Such was the mad freak which deprived the Abbé Scarron of the use of his limbs for life. His health was already ruined when he indulged this caprice; the damp of the river brought on a violent attack, which closed with palsy, and the gay young abbé had to pay dearly for the pleasure of astonishing the citizens of Mans. The disguise was easily accounted for–he had smeared himself with honey, ripped open a feather-bed, and rolled himself in it.

The Wits and Beaux of Society, by Grace And Philip Wharton (1890).

We don’t have as much fun as they did in 1635, I reckon. Just on the offchance, though, do try donating a jar of honey to your local clergyperson. Let me know how they get on …

This article was filed under Quotes from Books.

Leave a Reply

Archives