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My kind of guy

27/09/2012

I have had this quotation tucked away for years, supposedly true but unattributed and unverifiable. Over the weekend, however, and quite by chance, I finally nailed it.

The urbane and intellectual journalist Paul de Cassagnac (1843-1904) was an impassioned Royalist, but I would even be prepared to forgive him that character flaw for the following wonderful riposte to a challenge. He was also a skilled and enthusiastic duellist, which was just as well for nineteenth-century French political discourse could swiftly turn physical and quite ‘lively’.

Victor Noir (1848-1870) was also a journalist but was otherwise the polar opposite of de Cassagnac, being an ill-educated yet equally passionate Republican from an unprivileged background deep in the Vosges, in Alsace-Lorraine. If you look at his Wikipedia entry, you will read not only of his bizarre and violent death, a direct consequence of that fiery republicanism, and also the (um) peculiar form of immortality he has achieved through his monument in the Père Lachaise cemetery.

As he soon was. I gave their respective dates because you will see that Noir died aged just 21*, by which time he had already established a reputation as a “Republican bully”. At the time of his death, in 1870, de Cassagnac was only 26 and had already been editing a Royalist magazine for 4 years. Such reckless spirit. Such confidence. It makes Cameron, Clegg and <Scratches head for a moment. Ah, yes> Miliband look like a trio of lacklustre and uninspiring old codgers.

Furthermore, if you can be bothered to compare their Wikipedia entries, you will see that de Cassagnac had a much more impressive moustache.

TRIVIA NOTE: The newspaper extract must date to 1884/5 as it refers to the Battle of Tamsui, fought off the north coast of Taiwan (Formosa then) as part of the short-lived Sino-French War. I take no satisfaction in reporting that the French came second.

* Yes, twenty-one. Born July 1848. Died January 1870.

EDIT: My good friend Yves has countered, claiming the honour of the put-down for Léon-Paul Fargue: “Monsieur, je suis l’offensé, j’ai le choix des armes, je choisis l’orthographe. Donc, vous êtes mort.” [En réponse à une lettre d’insultes comportant beaucoup de fautes d’orthographe.]

The complicating factor is that Fargue was born in 1876. Although he was yet another irritatingly precocious French littéreur, and was a published (Symbolist) poet at the age of 19, I feel that he was unlikely to have prompted a politico-literary duel of such notoriety in time for publication in 1884, when he would have been 8. For that reason, and for the time being, I am sticking with M. de Cassagnac.

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