A Voyage to the Moon, Cyrano de Bergerac
A Voyage to the Moon
Cyrano de Bergerac
4:29 h Novels Lvl 8.19 90.1 mb
The Other World: Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (French: L’Autre monde ou les états et empires de la Lune) was the first of three satirical novels written by Cyrano de Bergerac. It was published posthumously in 1657 and, along with its companion work The States and Empires of the Sun, is considered one of the earliest published science fiction stories. Arthur C. Clarke credited the book with the first description of rocket-powered space flight, and with the invention of the ramjet.

A Voyage to the Moon

Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac.La terre me fut importuneLe pris mon essort vers les Cieux.l’y vis le soleil, et la lune.Et maintenant J’y vois les Dieux

(“All weary with the earth too soon,
I took my flight into the skies,
Beholding there the sun and moon
Where now the Gods confront my eyes.”)

From a 17th Century Engraving of the original portrait
by Zacharie Heince.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Savinien Hercule de Cyrano Bergerac, swashbuckler, hero, poet, and philosopher, came of an old and noble family, richer in titles than in estates. His grandfather still kept most of the titles, and was called Savinien de Cyrano Mauvières Bergerac Saint-Laurent. He was secretary to the King in 1571, and held other important offices. Since there was no absolute right of primo-geniture in those matters, the names, as well as what was left of the properties they had represented, were distributed among his descendants. Our hero seems to have received a fair share of the titles; but of the property, nothing.

He was the fifth among seven children, and was born on the 6th of March, 1619; not in 1620, as has been usually stated. He was born, moreover, at Paris, not in Gascony; we must, alas, admit that he was not a Gascon. He ought to have been one, he certainly deserved to be one. But Fortune, who seems to have taken pleasure in always making him just miss his destiny, began by doing him this first and greatest wrong of not letting him be born a Gascon. The family was not even of distant Gascon origin, but was Périgourdin; Bergerac itself is a small town near Périgueux. Cyrano, however, did his best to repair this as well as the other wrongs of Destiny; he acquired the Gascon accent, and often made himself pass for a Gascon.

The fortune of his early education made him fall into the hands of a country curate, who was an insufferable pedant (the species seems to have been common at that time), and who had no real scholarship (the two things are by no means contradictory). Cyrano dubbed his master an “Aristotelic Ass,” and wrote to his father that he preferred Paris.

This period of exile had one very important result, however: the formation of his first and most lasting friendship, that with Lebret, who shared in the instruction of the country curate, but with a more docile acceptance of his teachings. Here again Fortune seems to have played tricks with Cyrano, in giving him by accident for lifelong friend one who just missed being what a real friend should be; who was true and loyal, but who was always seeking to reform Cyrano or to push him forward in the world; who admired him, who loved him, but who was of such opposite nature that he understood him not at all.

Back at Paris, Cyrano was sent to the Collège de Beauvais afterward Racine’s college where he completed the course, under the principalship of another pedant named Grangier, who was a little more scholarly, but no less ridiculous than the first, and who figures in the leading rôle of Cyrano’s comedy Le Pédant joué. He lived the Paris student’s life, burning honest tradesmen’s signs and “doing other crazy things,” as his contemporary Tallemant des Réaux tells us. On leaving college he started upon a downward track, according to Lebret; “on which,” says the same good Lebret, “I dare to boast that I stopped him … by compelling him to enter the company of the Guards with me.” It may be doubted whether a temporary suspension of the paternal allowance had nothing to do with the matter; and whether, after all, Cyrano felt so much repugnance to entering this company of the Guards.

For this company was the famous regiment of the “garde-nobles,” commanded by Carbon de Castel-Jaloux, a “triple Gascon” and a “triple brave.” And his men were hardly a step behind him, all of them nobles that was an essential condition of entrance and almost all of them Gascons. Cyrano, at first in the position rather of the Christian than of the Cyrano of M. Rostand’s play, by his gallantry and wit compelled them to accept him, and even won among these “braves” the title of “démon de la bravoure.” Unable to be the most Gascon of the Gascons, he made it up by being more Gascon than the Gascons.

Among his exploits the most famous is that of the fight with the hundred ruffians; for this appears to be not a dramatic creation or a legend, but history. One of his poet-friends, Linière (the name is sometimes spelt Lignière) a writer of epigram and contributor to the “Recueils” or “Keep-sakes” of the epoch, had wounded the susceptibilities of a certain “grand seigneur,” who planned to avenge himself by the same method which another noble lord, in the eighteenth century, actually used against Voltaire. He posted his hundred men at the Porte de Nesle, to waylay Linière. Linière, hearing of it, came to take refuge with Cyrano for the night. But Cyrano would not receive him. “No, you shall sleep at home,” said he. “Here, take this lantern” (this is M. Brun’s version), “walk behind me and hold the light, and I’ll make bed-quilts of them for you!” And the next morning there were found scattered about the Porte de Nesle two dead men, seven wounded, and many hats, sticks, and pikes.

According to Lebret’s account, the battle took place in broad daylight, and had several witnesses. For the rest, his story coincides with that above. And all versions agree in saying that M. de Cuigy and M. de Brissailles both men of the time fairly well known: one the son of an Advocate of the Parliament of Paris, the other Mestre de Camp of the Prince de Conti’s regiment bore witness to the facts; and that the story became generally known, and was never denied. Perhaps it will not be well to guarantee the exactness of the number one hundred; but the story must be for the most part true.

Another exploit, less magnificent, but perhaps as characteristic of the wild temper of Cyrano, is his battle with Fagotin. A mountebank named Brioché had a theatre of marionnettes, near the Pont-Neuf, and used an ape called Fagotin, fantastically dressed, to attract spectators. Some enemy of Cyrano, perhaps Dassoucy, one day persuaded Brioché to dress his ape up in imitation of Cyrano, with long sword and nose as long. Cyrano, arriving and seeing this parody of himself exalted on a platform, unsheathes in blind rage, drives the crowd of lackeys and loafers right and left with the flat of his sword, and impales the poor ape who was holding out his sword in a posture of self-defence. According to the contemporary pamphlet, partly in prose and partly in verse, which was made upon this marvellous adventure, Brioché brought suit for damages against Bergerac. But even in these ridiculous circumstances Cyrano managed to get the laughers on his side; and claiming that in the country of art there was no such thing as gold and silver, and that he had a right to pay in the money of the country, he promised to eternize the dead ape in Apollinic verse; and so was acquitted.

The story of Montfleury, the fat actor whom Cyrano detested, is hardly less fantastic; and in connection with it we have the witness of Cyrano’s own letter “Against Montfleury the Fat, bad Actor and bad Author,” the tenth of the Satiric Letters. According to all the books of theatrical anecdotes, Cyrano one evening ordered him off the stage, and forbade him to reappear for a month; and when two days later he did reappear, Cyrano once more drove him in disgrace to the wings. The audience protesting, Cyrano challenged them each and all to meet him in duel, and carried his point. Whether he offered to take down their names in order or not, does not appear.

In the meantime, more serious work turned up. The regiment of the cadets was sent against the Germans, entered Mouzon, was besieged there. In a sortie, Cyrano was seriously wounded, a musket-ball passing through his body. Hardly recovered from his wound, he rejoined the army at the siege of Arras, in 1640; unfortunately for the story, he was probably no longer with the cadets there, but in the regiment of the Prince de Conti. Again he was wounded, this time even more seriously, with a sword-cut in the throat. And compelled to abandon the military career, he returned to Paris and took up his studies and his writing.

For he had always been a student and a poet. It is probable that the Pédant joué was in part composed during his college days. Lebret pictures him to us as studying between two duels, and working at an Elegy in all the noise of the regimental barracks, “as undistractedly as if he had been in a quiet study.” He now joined a group of independents in thought and life, naturalists in ethics and empiricists in philosophy, and forced his way into a private class of the philosopher Gassendi, where he had for fellow-students Hesnaut, Chapelle, Bernier, and almost certainly a young Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, who was very soon to take the name of Molière, found the “Illustre Théâtre,” and after its failure start on a fifteen years’ tour of the provinces.

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