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c h a p t e r f o u r Who Were These People Supping Under the Stars on the Plains of Champagne? “Are you not astonished, Sir,” began the President, “to find a band lacking neither appetite nor gaiety at such a time and so deserted a place?1 But I assure you: good health and good cheer are never found under the gilded ceiling of the farmer general, or in the courtesan’s cabinet, or behind the merchant’s counter. Free-spirited, cordial liberty camps out sub jove:2 liberty possesses no property, forgets its clothes, spends the day shirtless, and would rather wear a beggar’s rags or the dirty petticoat of a prostitute than a chevalier’s cassock or prelate’s surplice. Liberty is what assembles us here from every corner of Europe: we are her priests, and her religion demands only that we refrain from interfering with each other. “You should now be introduced to the members of our college individually ; I begin with the gentleman you see seated at my right hand.” At these words a pale figure with a bald head and half-sad, half-gay expression , obviously familiar with both women and wine, bowed deeply to indicate his approval of the eulogy that the President was about to offer him. (Thus may a fortieth Academician, still a novice in encomiastic commerce, first sniff the bundle of fragrant blossoms emerging from the sycophantic mouth of the permanent secretary, and gather them with seeming modesty.) The President’s eulogy began: “This gentleman is the great philosopher Séché,3 head of the Economico-Naturalistlico-Monotonic sect, and famous author of The Princes’ Journal.” Who Were These People 19 Tifarès, nurtured at Chartres as he was in holy respect for philosophy, rose to his feet and opened his mouth when he heard this, but the terrible sentry gesticulated at him and his hoarse voice faded on his mulberry lips. The President then continued his discourse, after the pause always necessary for a speaker to fix his gaze on a listener who burns to interrupt and can be forced into silence only by the orator’s intimidating expression: “But perhaps you are not familiar with the Economico-Naturalistlico-Monotonics? This sect is the quintessence of the good ideas Reason crams into the heads of philosophers who spend their free time governing nations: a combination of the bread of liberty, the flour of natural law, potatoes, spergula, famine, grain markets, laws, paternity, population, and net product. All these drugs, artistically mixed together so they take turns rising to the top, then are blended secundum artem4 to produce . . . a product . . . yes, in fact we have been compiling , extracting, reading, gathering for last twenty-two years, and we already have manuscripts. . . . Manuscripts that fill one of our donkey’s baskets, and if the hour were not so late, I would show them to you; but for now, suffice it to say that we have finally discovered the three words, the magic refrain thanks to which we can establish the happiness of the human race, rule governments, and induce kings to moderate their powers of their own accord; we can make ministers render an accurate public account of their administration, and financiers give the money back; and prelates share their income fraternally with the poor; and ecclesiastics give up controversy in favor of morality; we can make judges award justice to their fellow citizens in public and free of charge; and lawyers speak only for those in the right; and turn soldiers into citizens. We make the officer modest; the bourgeois respectful and proud of the rights of man; the wife, a good housekeeper; the young girl less of a flirt. In short, these three little words alone . . .” “But how about the little rod of Jacob?”5 interrupted an ugly-looking drinker on the orator’s left, who looked as if he never laughed except in malice. For an instant the President gaped slack-jawed, like an awkward lackey who has bumped into a door. Yet he continued onward: “The gentleman who has just interrupted me is none other than the famous philosopher Lungiet, leader of the Despotico-Contradictorio-Paradoxico-Slanderists sect and the most eloquent Ciceronian to drink at our counter.6 He was expelled from the bar by fraternity brothers who envied his fame and success. After wandering from one country to another, he threw himself into our arms and we admitted him to...


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