PROVINCIAL TOURS The enterprise of the Illustre Theatre had ended in disaster, and Jean Poquelin might reasonably have hoped that his son would now return to the business of his fathers. What followed might be regarded as a proof of genius or infatuation. Moliere, having failed in Paris, decided to go into the provinces. We do not know exactly how he, or more probably the Bejarts, contrived to arrange the matter, but in Jan. 1645, within six months of its bankruptcy in Paris, we find all that remained of the company in the service of the Duc d'Epernon, governor of Guienne, at or near Narbonne. The second stage in the theatrical progress of Moliere had begun, and for the next 13 years he was to wander from place to place in the southern provinces of France. This is the most legendary period of a legendary life. Every town within reach of his activities has since been anxious to claim a piece of him or contribute to his Odyssey, and the real facts are difficult to establish. His itinerary has been painfully reconstructed from the marriage and baptismal certificates of friends or members of the company, from applications for licences to perform, from re ceipts given on account of taxes levied for the poor, from evi dence of his association with noble protectors or local authorities. The evidence is always intricate and sometimes contradictory, and it is impossible to do more than indicate the general results. The following is a list of the towns which were certainly visited by Moliere in the years indicated : Narbonne, 1645; Toulouse, Albi and Carcassonne, 1647; Nantes, 1648; Toulouse and Nar bonne, 1649; Narbonne and Agen, 165o; Grenoble and Lyon, 1652 ; Lyon and Montpellier, 1653 ; Montpellier and Lyon, 1654; Montpellier, Lyon, Avignon and Pezenas, 1655; Pezenas, Nar bonne, Bordeaux and Beziers, 1656; Beziers, Lyon, Dijon and Avignon, 1657; Lyon, Grenoble and Rouen, 1658. The above list includes only the towns for which documentary proof can be quoted, and no doubtful or merely probable cases are included.
The Duc d'Epernon, with whom we find Moliere at the begin ning of his provincial career, was the first person of distinction effectively to recognize and encourage the genius of Moliere. The actor, Dufresne, was titular head of the new company, and Made leine was its tragic star. In 1653 Moliere found a more cele brated protector in his old schoolfellow, the Prince de Conti. By that time Moliere was undoubtedly the leader of the company. He acts as its representative, and with Madeleine is, in effect, its responsible manager. It had recently been strengthened by the acquisition of two new members, Mademoiselle de Brie and Mademoiselle du Parc, and it would seem that the patronage of the Prince de Conti, and the pension granted as a result of it, was at the outset due less to the genius of Moliere than to the charms of Mademoiselle du Parc, of whom the prince's secretary became opportunely enamoured. The prince was at this time at the height
of his brilliant career. Moliere spent a good deal of time in his society, and they read and discussed plays together. The sequel to the friendship was unfortunate. The Prince de Conti became suddenly regenerate, and, from being the gayest of his peers, was shortly to come before the world as the ascetic author of a satire upon the stage in which Moliere, as in the later libels of his clerical enemies, was to figure as a corrupter of morals and the enemy of grace.
The traditional picture of the life of Moliere during his pro vincial wanderings requires substantial correction in many re spects. The vivid picture given of the life of a strolling player in the Roman comique of Scarron has seriously misled the biogra phers. Moliere was certainly not the vagabond of popular legend. His status was more that of a civil servant than a gipsy. His en gagements to perform while the Estates were in session were in the nature of public contracts, and on these occasions he re ceived substantial grants which more than covered his expenses. Thus in Feb. 1656 he received at Pezenas from the treasury of the Estates the sum of 6,000 livres, roughly equivalent in value to 50,000 gold francs to-day, and representing for most articles a purchasing power considerably greater at that time than at any period since the War. When the company was not subsidized by the local authorities, or fulfilling its duties as a pensioner of the Duc d'Epernay or the Prince de Conti, it was free to go on tour in the ordinary way. The box office receipts on such occasions might be considerable. It is true that by a law of 1609 no place in the theatre might, without a special authorization, be sold for more than ten sous. But the law of 1609 was practically a dead letter. Thus, in 1652 at the Hotel de Bourgogne a place in the Pit cost 15 sous, and a place in the galleries cost no sous— equivalent in value to the price of a stall at Covent Garden to day. These receipts, of course, were supplementary to the pen sion paid by the protector of the company, and to the special indemnities given for extraordinary performances during a fes tival. The company of Moliere is estimated to have received such indemnities to the tune of i i,000 livres (over 8o,000 gold francs) within two years while in the service of the Prince de Conti. The only authentic glimpse we have of the standard of living of the company during its provincial wanderings is the account given by d'Assoucy who, in 1655, was its guest for sev eral months. D'Assoucy is loud in his praises of the good fare of the actors and their generous habit of life.