Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Tao Te King to Telegraphy >> Tartarin

Tartarin

lion, quixote, daudet, tame, sancho, french, midi, tarascon and scene

TARTARIN. (Tartarin de (1872), 'Tartan!) sur les Alpes' (1886) and (Port-Tarascon) (1890) present Daudet's best remembered characterization, a typical French man of the Midi, such as he has himself described in speaking of his other notable son of the South, Numa Roumestan: ((pompous, theatrical, loving parade, costume, the plat form, banners, flags, trumpets, clannish, tradi tional, caressing, feline, with an eloquence bril liant, excited yet colorless, quick to anger and yet giving anger a sham expression even when it is sincere. ° Looking back on his creation after many years, Daudet wrote: °It seems to me that has qualities of youth, vitality, truth,— a truth from over the Loire, that may swell and exaggerate facts, but never really lies.° This presentation of °truth from its humorous side,° in the phrase of Daudet's fel low Provencal, Zola, developed out of observa tion of a traveling companion on a journey to Algeria, Corsica and Sardinia, in 1865. The writing was begun in 1868, but this "cinemato graph of the Midi" first showed its subtle caricature of Gascon temperament in 1872. The time, just after the disastrous war with Ger many, was unpropitious, and the serial publica tion in the Petit Moniteur met so cold a wel come that it was abandoned. The hero's name was then Chapatin. With its change to Tar tarin, but with none in the temper and spirit of the work, the playful satire, under other aus pices, was sustained through three volumes and 18 years; and, though the jest was carried further than any other French author has cared to venture in like case, Frenchmen are generally agreed in recognizing in the three volumes together a classic of "admirable fool ing!' says Daudet, had two quite dis tinct characters, the soul of Don Quixote, the body of Sancho Panza. He planned for travels and adventures so vividly that he half believed he had experienced them, his favorite reading supplying the local color for the self-deception that made "of a man who had missed going to Shanghai one who had been there.° "The Southerner's falsehood," explains Daudet, "is not a lie but a kind of mental mirage." This Tartarin, who dreamed of daring deeds in exotic lands, till he was 45 had never slept out of his home town. The Quixote in him was always exclaiming: "I go"; the Sancho: °I stay." "Tartarin cover yourself with glory," said Quixote. "Cover yourself with flannel, Tartarin," said Sancho. "Give me a toma hawk," cries Quixote. my chocolate," says Sancho. A lion seen at a circus fires his fancy. At last he feels he must go to Africa to maintain his self-esteem and reputation at home. Elaborate preparations keep his fantasy at fever heat till he sets out for Algeria. Illusion and disillusion follow, in amusing suc cession, his landing in exotic equipment among the very Europeanized denizens of Algiers. Mistaking a plantation of artichokes for a desert, he shoots a donkey for a lion, where rabbits are the customary game, beguiles him self and is beguiled with Oriental pleasures, is recalled to his Quixotic self by a paragraph in a home journal, turns his face resolutely south ward, encounters a tame and blind lion, imagines he has fired at another, is robbed by his com panion, an alleged prince, shoots the tame lion and returns with a melancholy camel, whom he sought to abandon in Algiers but who re fused to stay lost, much poorer in purse but having earned the privilege of dazzling his fel low-townsmen with tales that he, confirmed by the skin of the tame lion. himself half believes

to be true.

So ends this delightful bit of Provencal persiflage. Often, as obvious, it grazes the burlesque, but is always saved with unfailing tact from mere buffoonery. In on the Alps' the spirit and method are the same, the satiric art a little mellower and more mature. It is also more readily appreciated, as the scene is more generally familiar. The pub lic and the critics join in pronouncing it the masterpiece of French humor in the 19th cen tury. The opening scene where Tartarin, equipped as for the Himalayas with ice-axe, climbing irons, snow-glasses and the rest, makes his entry into the palatial hotel on the Rigi, with its 600 very prosaic tourists, is unforget able; so, too, is the tale of Tartarin's hunt of the tame chamois, trained to attract strangers and fed in the hotel kitchen. The Swiss Ex ploitation Trust, creation of the exuberant fancy of Tartarin's fellow Tarasconian Born pard, is itself most genially exploited; and nothing in any of the Tartarin books surpasses the scene of mild mountain climbing where each of these comrades supposes he has sacri ficed the life of the other to his own safety by cutting the cord that bound them, while both are safe and sound. In the afterpiece to this episode Tartarin enters the Tarascon Alpine Club as Bompard is narrating how the partner of his daring perished.

Port-Tarascon, many of whose extrav agances were suggested and rivalled by the facts of an actual colonizing enterprise some years before at Port-Breton, depends for its full appreciation on fuller knowledge of French political conditions and aspirations than most foreigners possess. Daudet himself prob ably felt that the once rich vein had been worked a little thin, for here he brings Tartarin to a not unworthy death, after carrying him through strange adventures as head of colonist fellow-townsmen in Polynesia and then, after his enforced return, through a trial whose hilarious humor involves a masterly discrimina tion between the calculating falsehood of the Nord and the effervescent Imagination of the "fecund improvisators" of the Midi, °intoxi cated with sap and light, carried away by their own inventions." For translations of de Tarascon' and sur les con sult cEveryman's Library.' Port Tarascon' has been well rendered by Henry James.