“Belling the Cat,” or more Bells


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John Edwin Noble (Photo credit: Bridgeman Images)

This post is a continuation of recent posts featuring bells.  It also belongs to a series on Fables and other works featuring animals.

Sources and Classification

Aesop (620 and 560 BCE) was a Greek story teller who told Fables. It could be that he also wrote the fables he told, but these appear to have been transmitted orally from generation to generation. They therefore belong to an oral tradition as is the case with fairy tales. It has been claimed Aesop was a “Levantin,” i.e. from the Middle East,[1] that he was a freed slave, that he was forced to jump to his death or pushed down a cliff, but the truth is that we do not know whether or not there ever lived an Aesop.

Biographies of Aesop

  • Maximus Planudes
  • Jean de La Fontaine

Yet, we have not only fables by Aesop, but biographies. The main one is by Maximus Planudes (c. 1260 – c. 1305), a Greek monk and scholar who lived in Constantinople, the former Byzantium and current Istanbul (Turkey). Planudes was a compiler of the Greek Anthology, yet also famed for his command of Latin and polished translations of Aesop’s Fables. Planudes published the first annotated collection of Aesop’s fables.

La Fontaine also wrote a short biography of Aesop entitled La Vie d’Ésope, le Phrygien. It prefaces his first volume of fables, 6 books, published in 1668.

India and the Middle East

La Fontaine’s second volume shows the influence of fables originating in the Sanskrit Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma and versions of Abdullah Ibn Al-Muqaffa‘s Persian Kalīlah wa Dimnah, fables based on the Panchatantra. There are two renditions of Kalīlah wa Dimnah. All three are linked to one another and to the Panchatantra because the story-teller within the book is Pilpay, Bidpai, or Bidpaï.

  • Ibn Al-Muqaffa’s Kalīlah wa Dimnah. Ibn Al-Muqaffa (died c. 756-759) was a Muslim Persian scholar;
  • Kalīleh o Demneh (12th century CE; author not specified) Persian;
  • Kashefi’s Anvār-e Soheylī, or “The Lights of Canopus” (15th century) Persian.

Had Jean de La Fontaine (8 July 1621 – 13 April 1695) read Gilbert Gaulmin‘s 1644 Livre des lumières before publishing his first volume of fables, we could suggest a direct oriental influence. I am writing “direct” because India and the Middle East are the birthplace of a substantial number of fables and, in particular, Aesopic fables. Gilbert Gaulmin’s Livre des lumières is probably rooted in Kashefi‘s “The Lights of Canopus.” Lumières means “lights.”

However, La Fontaine had not read Gaulmin’s Livre des lumières when he wrote his first volume of fables (6 of 12 books). “Le Conseil tenu par les rats” (“The Mice in Council”) is included in La Fontaine’s first of three recueils (volumes) of fables, published in 1668, 1678, and shortly before 1695, the year he died.

This does not mean that a monk, sitting in his scriptorium, did not create a “Mice in Council,” but the text is missing. There have always been fabulists and not all were retelling a fable. One can still write Aesop’s fables.

Moreover, it has been said that Aesop was a “Levantin,(see Internet Archive FR)which may also be the case with Babrius (see Babrius [Babrias], Wikipedia). Besides, Aesop is not the first Greek story-teller. Luqman (c. 1100 BCE) wrote aGoose with the Golden Eggs,” entitled “Une Femme et une Poule.”

Gustave Doré
J. J. Grandville
Auguste Vimar
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Oral and a Learned Tradition

In the absence of a text, Aesop’s Fables have been considered an example of the oral tradition, texts that are transmitted orally from generation to generation. It seems Aesop’s Fables did not enter a “learned” tradition until Latin author Phaedrus, who lived in the 1st century CE, published a book of fables attributed to Aesop (Gutenberg [EB #25512]). So did Greek author Babrius (Gabrias), in the second century CE.

A third early translator of Aesop is Flavius Avianus (400 CE), the author translator of 42 Aesopic fables. However, “The Mice in Council” is not included in Avianus’ translations. Avianus is possibly Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius, the author of Saturnalia. (See Macrobius, Wikipedia.)


After considerable reflection, I looked for a copy of the Ysopet-Avionnet. I found “The Mice in Council” in the Ysopet-Avionnet, a collection of fables that was used as a school text from the Middle Ages until the early part of the 20th century. I had read the Ysopet-Avionnet as a child. It may have been one of my grand-mother’s books. The Ysopet-Avionnet is an Internet Archive publication, p. 191, near the end (please click on Internet Archive). In the Ysopet-Avionnet, “The Mice in Council” is entitled “Des Souris qui firent concile contre le chat” (“De muribus concilium facientibus contra catum”). 

However, to my dismay, neither 5th-century Avianus nor 12th-century Anglo-Norman  fabulist Walter of England, Gualterus Anglicus, wrote a “Mice in Council.” Yet, the fables published in the Ysopet-Avionnet are by Walter of England for the most part. Walter of England, who wrote in Anglo-Norman, is also known as the “anonymous Neveleti.” The Neveleti we know is Isaac Nicholas Névelet, the Swiss author of a 1610 Mythologia Aesopica, La Fontaine’s main source.[2] 

Laurentius Abstemius’ could be the first writer—i.e. the “learned” as opposed to the oral tradition—of “The Mice in Council,” had he not published his Hecatomythium in 1495, nearly three centuries after the publication of the Ysopet-Avionnet. (See French site shanaweb.net.)

An English Tradition

Laurentius Abstemius Hecatomythium (1495) is the source of Sir Roger L’Estrange‘s Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists (1692). A collection of fables by Aesop had been printed and possibly translated by famed English translator and printer William Caxton, in 1484, too early to include Abstemius’ “Mice in Council.” Caxton printed The fables of Aesop, as first printed by William Caxton, in 1484, with those of Avian, Alfonso and Poggio, now again edited and induced. A third English fabulist was Samuel Croxall (c. 1690 – 1752), the author of The Fables of Aesop; with Instructive Applications. Aesop’s Fables 100 Cuts. Croxall was an Anglican churchman. Moralizing would be his chief objective. 

Ysopets and Romulus

  • the 12th century
  • Aesop>Ysopet
  • Romulus>a Romulus
  • Marie de France

The 12th century is a turning-point and a culmination. In fact, it has been called a Renaissance. Marie de France lived at the end of the 12th century and Walter of England published his fables a smidgen earlier. In France, collections of fables by Aesop were by then called Ysopets or Isopets and became textbooks used in schools. An Ysopet could also be called a Romulus. As well, Reynard the Fox was born in 1148-1149 as Reinardus in the Ysengrimus, a beast epic not intended for children.

There may have been a fabulist named Romulus, who wrote Latin prose fables, but he is now considered a legendary figure. However a Romulus could be a collection of prose fables written in Latin and rooted in Phaedrus. (See Romulus, Wikipedia.) We have several and among these:

  • The Romulus Ordinarius (Romulus Vulgaris), 83 tales known in a 9th-century text;
  • The Romulus Roberti;
  • The Romulus of Vienna;
  • The Romulus of Nilant, 45 fables, published in 1709 by Johan Frederik Nilant (Jean-Frédéric Nilant).

These were versified by Walter of England (see Gualterus Anglicus), Alexander Neckam (Novus Aesopus), Adémar de Chabannes (c. 989 – 1034; 67 fables), and other translators or fabulists.

French author Marie de France used a Romulus as a source for her collection of 102 fables written in Anglo-Norman. (My copy has 103 fables.) Marie de France is a major author who will be discussed in a later post.

The texts

La Fontaine’s “Le Conseil tenu par les rats” (full text)
La Fontaine’s “The Council held by the rats” (full text)

Milo Winter
(Photo credit: The Gutenberg Project [EBook #19994])

Belling the Cat

The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.

Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said:

“I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful. All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”

All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said:

“I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”

It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.


Prudence or foresight is the moral of nearly all Aesopic fables. One has to think. Prudence makes it unrealistic for a mouse to try to hang a bell down a cat’s neck. In La Fontaine’s fable, the solution to the rats’ main peril, being devoured by the cat, would cause a rat to be devoured, certain death and, therefore, the greater peril. No rat can bell a cat.

In An Argosy of Fables,[3] the translator, Thomas James, has the mice applaud when it occurs to them that they need simply bell the cat. A mouse then gets up and asks the relevant question. Who will bell the cat?

In La Fontaine, we have what he calls a comedy: “[u]ne ample Comédie à cent [one hundred] actes divers.” (“Le bûcheron [the lumberjack] et Mercure” [V.1].) The cat is named after François Rabelais‘ Rodilardus (the Latin form of Rodilard [round and fat]). There is, moreover, a reference to the French court, which is to be expected from Jean de La Fontaine, whose patron had been Nicolas Fouquet. Courtiers waste time. They are mindless.

In English, the “who will Bell the Cat” is idiomatic. It has entered the English language and is now proverbial. Fables are the illustration of a proverb, but in our fable the illustration has returned to a proverb, which probably means that the illustration, or exemplum is very powerful.


The “Mice in Council” may be difficult to trace and is sometimes confused with the “The Cat and the Mice.” However, it was included in the widely-read Ysopet-Avionnet, as well as Laurentius Abstemius’ Hecatomythium (1495). So it appears to date back to the 12th century and the 15th century, except that we do not know who wrote the 12th century “Mice in Council.”

“Belling the Cat” is Jean de La Fontaine’s Le Conseil tenu par les rats, Walter Crane left an image and it is incorporated in the Aesop for Children, exquisitely illustrated by Milo Winter [EBook #19994]. It is also featured in the An Argosy of Fables, 1921, a Wikisource publication where it is attributed to Abstemius. Laura Gibbs has classified it as Aesopic, which makes perfect sense since it is featured in the Aesop for Children, 1919. (See MythFolklore.net.)

It seems to me that Wikipedia’s view of the provenance of “Belling the Cat” is also very sensible.

“In the classificatory system established for the fables by B. E. Perry, it is numbered 613, which is reserved for Mediaeval attributions outside the Aesopic canon.”

The Mice in Council

The Mice in Council by Nora Fry

An Argosy of Fables

An Argosy of Fables, 1921 (Wikisource)


I am listing related articles on a page. I apologize for the delay.

Warm greetings to all of you. ♥ 

Sources and Resources

Nora Fry YouTube
The Aesop for Children, Project Gutenberg [EBook #19994] EN
Laura Gibbs, Latina Bestiaria EN
The Fables of Pilpay, Internet Archive EN
Les Fables de Pilpay, philosophe indien; ou la Conduite des rois (Google Books) FR
The Fables of Phaedrus, Project Gutenberg [EBook #25512] EN
Robinson Ellis, The Fables of Phaedrus, Internet Archive EN
Ysopet-Avionnet, Internet Archive, p. 191 Latin FR
Aesop’s Fables by William Caxton, Internet Archive EN
Fables de Loqman le Sage, J. Derembourg, 1850 Internet Archive FR

[1] Stated in Les Fables de Pilpay, philosophe indien; ou la Conduite des rois FR

[2] La Fontaine’s main source was Swiss fabulist Neveleti’s who used Avianus. Névelet did not write a “Belling the Cat”

[3] Frederic Taber Cooper (ed) and Paul Bransom (illust), An Argosy of Fables, a Representative Selection from the Fable Literature of every Age and Land (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers, 1921).

Aaron Copland plays “The Cat & the Mouse”

Robinson Ellis, a fabulist

Latin Literature, Spy in Vanity Fair, 1894

© Micheline Walker
29 July 2015

A Progress Report


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Great Gate of Kiev by Hartmann

Great Gate of Kiev by Viktor Hartmann (architect)

A Progress Report

I am or was in the process of selling my apartment or, to be more precise, my one-ninth of a small apartment building. The first person who visited made an offer I considered acceptable.

However, the co-owners of this building will not allow anyone to take a mortgage to pay for his or her ninth of the building. It has to be paid in full. My portion was bought by proxy. What a mistake!

At any rate, I have not been able to write since learning that I am unlikely to find a buyer for my property.

Bells in Russian Music

However, we have more bells in Russian music. Modest Mussorgsky was one the “Five” composers, the “mighty handful,” who wanted to give an identity to the music of Russia.

I have used Hartmann’s design in an earlier post, but in a different context and in relatively finer days for the Ukraine.


I send all of you my kindest regards.

Modest Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition
Douglas Gamley, arranger & conductor

Ilya_Repin_-_Портрет_композитора_М_П_Мусоргского_-_Google_Art_Project© Micheline Walker
23 July 2015

Modest Mussorgsky
by Ilya Repin
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember Srebenica…


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Guernica by Picasso (Photo credit: abcgallery.com)

Guernica by Picasso (Photo credit: abcgallery.com)

“Did you do this?” asked a Nazi officer. Picasso replied: “No, you did.”


I’ve just come away from reading Ina Vukic’s latest posts.


Some people claim Auschwitz never happened. It did, and so did the Srebrenica massacre. The cameras were there. 

No one would defend Hitler at Auschwitz, so what was Aleksandar Vucic doing at Srebrenica this past Saturday? The massacre took place a mere twenty (20) years ago, in July 1995.

People forgive and live a “normal” life, but they remember.

I remember Srebenica…


Choir of Clare College Cambridge singing Henry Purcell‘s “Hear my prayer”

Peace, Picasso
A Dove, Picasso

© Micheline Walker
16 July 2015

Les Trois Cloches: Edith Piaf & les Compagnons de la chanson


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Edith Piaf

Édith Piaf as featured in a weblog named Love happens blog, by Koket (Photo credit: Love happens blog, by Koket)

Let us first return to Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem “Marie,” set to music by Léo Ferré in order to introduce Édith Piaf’s Les trois cloches.

1. Vous y dansiez petite fille (This is where you dance as a little girl)/ 2. Y danserez-vous mère-grand (Will you dance there as a grandmother or Is this where you’ll dance as a grandmother)/ 3. C’est la maclotte qui sautille (maclotte is a old dance) (This is maclotte [an old dance] hopping about)/ 4. Toutes les cloches sonneront (All the bells will ring)/ 5. Quand donc reviendrez-vous Marie  (So when will you come back Marie or When will you be back Marie)

Marie: the bells

As indicated in Marie, the Words to a Love Song, Guillaume Apollinaire‘s imagery is extremely rich. It evokes the masques, as in a masquerade or the commedia dell’arte. There are also references to other poems, such as François Villon‘s Ballade des dames du temps jadis (neige d’antan or snows of yesteryear) and Pierre de Ronsard‘s famous Sonnet pour Hélène (carpe diem or seize the day). Marie is a fine example of intertextualité, texts referring to other texts. Love is compared to a disease and life, to a rose, etc.

However, we are now emphasizing the fourth line of the first stanza of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “All the bells will ring” (octosyllabic [8]) poem: Toutes les cloches sonneront (Tou-tes-les-clo-ches-son-ne-ront): All the bells will ring.

I have singled out this particular line because of the role bells play in the life of many human beings, Christians in particular. Traditionally, in the Western and Eastern Church, bells rang on three of the most important events in life: birth (baptism), marriage and death. Marriage is a legitimate substitute to life, both brief and eternal, because human beings can have children. This allusion is confirmed by the words “petite fille (little girl) and “mère-grand” (grandmother) (lines 1 & 2). As a child, Marie could dance, but will she dance as a grandmother?

The Three Bells

Édith Piaf and les Compagnons de la chanson sang “Les trois cloches,” a Swiss song written in French by Jean Villard Gilles. Piaf and les Compagnons de la chanson performed The Three Bells, at the beginning of their American tour, 1945-1946.


In Les trois cloches, a child is born in a village deep within the valley, on a starry night (nuit étoilée). He has chubby cheeks (joufflu) and is tender and pink. He will be baptized the following day (demain: tomorrow) and will be named Jean-François Nicot.

Bells are ringing and, from echo to echo, they announce the birth of Jean-François and welcome this new soul. He is a flower yet to bloom under the light (day). He is like a flame freshly lit, fragile. He will require protection, care and love.

When he marries la douce Élise, before God in the old church, Jean-François Nicot is only 19 years old. Élise, whom he is marrying, is as white as the blossoming flowers of an apple tree.

Bells are ringing. It is Jean-François’ wedding day. “One heart, one soul, and forever,” says the priest. “Be a pure flame rising and proclaiming the greatness of your love.”

In a village, deep within the valley, many days and many nights have passed. Time has fled. On a starry night, a heart falls asleep, François has died… For all flesh is like the grass. It is like a wildflower, corn, ripe fruit, bouquets and wreaths. Alas, everything dries up…

A bell is tolling. Jean-François’ allotted days on earth are over. His life is our life. We are born, we have a family and we return to eternal life.

The following link takes you to the French poem and its English translation.  This performance is difficult to access.


Les Trois Cloches

Village au fond de la vallée
Comme égaré, presqu’ignoré (lost)
Voici qu’en la nuit étoilée (the starry night)
Un nouveau-né nous est donné (A newborn)
Jean-François Nicot il se nomme (he is named)
Il est joufflu, tendre et rosé (chubby cheeks)
À l’église, beau petit homme, (At church, little man [pronounced pe-ti-thom])
Demain tu seras baptisé…

Une cloche sonne, sonne (A bell rings)
Sa voix d’écho en écho (Its voice)
Dit au monde qui s’étonne: (people are astonished)
C’est pour Jean-François Nicot” (It’s)
C’est pour accueillir une âme (to welcome a soul)
Une fleur qui s’ouvre au jour (opens)
A peine, à peine une flamme (Barely)
Encore faible qui réclame (weak, asks for)
Protection, tendresse, amour…

Village au fond de la vallée
Loin des chemins, loin des humains (Far from roads)
Voici qu’après dix-neuf années (after nineteen years)
Coeur en émoi, le Jean-François (His heart fluttering)
Prend pour femme la douce Élise (Marries Élise)
Blanche comme fleur de pommier (apple tree)
Devant Dieu, dans la vieille église (Before God, in the old church)
Ce jour ils se sont mariés… (On that day they married)

Toutes les cloches sonnent, sonnent
Leurs voix d’écho en écho (Their voices)
Merveilleusement couronnent (Marvelously crown)
La noce à François Nicot (François’ wedding)
“Un seul coeur, une seule âme”, (Only one heart, only one soul)
Dit le prêtre, “et pour toujours (Says the priest, forever)
Soyez une pure flamme (Be a pure flame)
Qui s’élève et qui proclame (That rises)
La grandeur de votre amour.”

Village au fond de la vallée
Des jours, des nuits, le temps a fui (time has fled)
Voici qu’en la nuit étoilée
Un cœur s’endort, François est mort… (A heart falls asleep, François has died)
Car toute chair est comme l’herbe (For all flesh is like the grass)
Elle est comme la fleur des champs (the wildflower)
Épis, fruits mûrs, bouquets et gerbes, (Corn, ripe fruit, bouquets, wreaths)
Hélas tout va se desséchant…  (all dries up)

Une cloche sonne, sonne (A bell tolls)
Elle chante dans le vent (Sa voix d’écho en écho)
Obsédante et monotone (Dit au monde qui s’étonne)
Elle redit aux vivants(It tells the living again) (La mort de…) (The death of…)
“Ne tremblez pas coeurs fidèles
Dieu vous fera signe un jour! (God will call you one day) 
Vous trouverez sous son aile (You will find under His wing)
Avec la vie éternelle
L’éternité de l’amour…” (Eternal love)

I send all of you my kindest regards.

Marie Laurencin, 1924

Marie Laurencin, 1924

© Micheline Walker
14 July 2015

All the bells will ring …


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Belfry Ivan the Great by Vasily Surikov, 1876 (Photo credit: WikiArt.org)

Toutes les cloches sonneront

Vous y dansiez petite fille
Y danserez-vous mère-grand
C’est la maclotte qui sautille
Toutes les cloches sonneront
Quand donc reviendrez-vous Marie

(See Marie: the Words to a Love Song)

This post is a continuation of a discussion of “Marie,” a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire  set to music by Léo Ferré. “Marie” is a love poem. Apollinaire was romantically involved with Marie Laurencin, a well-known French artist who was a frequent guest in many salons. In the first stanza, Apollinaire writes: “Toutes les cloches sonneront,” if Marie as a grandmother can dance as she did as a young girl. 

Bells are a powerful symbol. For instance, the line “[t]outes les cloches sonneront” brings to mind Les trois cloches,” (The Three Bells), a Swiss song written in French by Jean Villard Gilles that won Édith Piaf and les Compagnons de la chanson a great deal of praise. It is the subject-matter of my nearly complete next post. In “Les trois cloches,” bells ring when Jean-François Nicot is baptized. They ring on his wedding day. And they ring at his funeral. These are the key events of his life, our life, and bells ring.

Bells, however, church bells, are particularly important in Russia and are one of the distinguishing elements of Russian music.

Bells in Russian Music

  • liturgical use
  • other uses (secular)
  • an institution
  • the carillon

It is not uncommon for Russian composers to imitate the sound of bells in their music or include bells among musical instruments. In Russia, bells, church bells, were/are used for both liturgical and secular purposes This is also the case in the Western Church, but to a much lesser extent.

In other words, bells in Russia are little short of an institution.

The language of bells

Not all bells produce an identical sound. For instance they differ in size. A large bell is a louder bell. When mixed and depending on the rhythmic pattern, bells may therefore be used to convey a rather wide spectrum of messages, liturgical and secular. Some bells can be heard from afar and transmit a message that other bells can retransmit: D’écho en écho (Les trois cloches).

The Carillon

There is an instrument made of bells: the carillon. It may use a large number of bells. Ottawa’s Peace Tower has a carillon of 52 bells (see carillon, Wikipedia), played by Dr Andrea McGrady, the Dominion carillonneur. The carillon is an instrument that reminds me of a church organ. There are carillons all over the world and in places such as university campuses and parliaments. In Germany, a carillon is called a Glockenspiel. Elsewhere a Glockenspiel resembles a zylophone.

Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris

In Victor Hugo‘s Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), published in 1831, the cathedral’s bells are central to the novel. Quasimodo, the hunchback, is brought up to be the bell-ringer and swings from a rope to save Esméralda from the gallows.

The Canonical Hours 

Bells are also linked to the eight Canonical Hours or Liturgy of the Hours and the more secular, but devotional, Book of Hours. In “Frère Jacques,” a 17th-century song, the eponymous Frère Jacques rings the canonical hour called matins:

Frère Jacques, frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous ? Dormez-vous ?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.


But let us return to Russia.

Although church bells are used in many cultures, for both liturgical and secular purposes, in Russia, they play a more central role than they do in the Western Church. However, the phenomenon I wish to emphasize is, first, their being imitated in music and, second, their being used as a musical instrument.

Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky composed music which, unlike the compositions of the Group of Five, did not attempt to be a national idiom, which does not mean that their music is not Russian. It features bells.

Sergei Rachmaninov

A discussion of bells could lead to a very long post. For the time being, let us note that Russian composers use musical instruments to reproduce the sound of bells ringing and that they may used bells as instruments. As we have seen above, there is an instrument made of bells: the carillon. However, we will listen to two works for the piano composed by Sergei Rachmaninov and imitating the sound of bells. We will also listen to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture: bells and cannons.

The very end of Sergei Rachmaninov‘s Prelude in C-sharp minor (Op. 3/2) reproduces the sound of bells. One may not hear the bells immediately, but we are definitely listening to a reproduction of the sound of bells in a piece for the piano. I am including a performance by Russian-born pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Prelude in C-sharp minor (Op. 3/2)

Piano Concerto Op. 18/2

One can also hear bells at the very beginning of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto Op 18/2. I am embedding Hélène Grimaud‘s performance of this concerto. According to Wikipedia:

“[t]he opening movement begins with a series of bell-like tollings on the piano that build tension, eventually climaxing in the introduction of the main theme.”
(See Piano Concerto Op 18/2, Wikipedia.)

Tchaikovsky: chimes and cannons

The 1812 Overture, with chimes and cannons, is a celebration of the defeat of Napoléon‘s Grande Armée in Russia. An excerpt of the 1812 Overture closes this post.


Sources and Resources

With kindest regards to all of you.

Edward V. Williams, The Bells of Russia: History and Technology (Princeton University Press, 2014 [1986])

belfry-ivan-the-great-1876© Micheline Walker
12 July 2015

The Creative Blogger Award


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Thank you Aquileana




It is a privilege to me nominated for an award by a knowledgeable and very generous person. Aquileana’s contribution to the internet is Greek mythology, the story of a civilization accompanied by images, visual representations that portray the human experience.

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Micheline's Blog

Micheline’s Blog


Nominate Ten Bloggers

My nominees are:

http://brightshinyobjects.net/ Todd Lohenry
http://theobamacrat.com/ Mr. Militant Negro
http://kstreet607.com/about-kstreet607/ The Fifth Column
https://blackbutterfly7.wordpress.com/author/blackbutterfly768/ Xena
http://messymandella.com/ Messy Mandella
https://atdoru.wordpress.com/ Vultureşti
https://hopedog.wordpress.com/ Hands on Bowie
https://thelittleclaycart.wordpress.com/author/astroshiva/ Shiva Acharya
https://rantzz.wordpress.com/tag/oneanna65/ Oneanna.65
http://danaiana.com/about/ De-ale copilariᾰi

Rules for these this award

  1. Thank the person who nominated you for the award. This is not necessary.
  2. Add the logo to your post.
  3. Nominate ten (10) bloggers of your choice and
  4. Tell them about the nomination
If you haven’t the time to follow the rules or have an award-free weblog, please accept this nomination for the fine work each one of you is doing.


Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings

Vase de fleurs, Marie Laurencin, 1950
Vase de fleurs, Marie Laurencin, 1950

© Micheline Walker
9 July 2015

La Saint-Jean-Baptiste & Canada Day


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William Lyon Mackenzie’s house on Bond Street in downtown Toronto.

Canada’s National Holiday

On Wednesday, July 1st, Canadians celebrated their National Holiday. As for the citizens of Quebec, they celebrated their National Holiday on 24 June which is Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, the former Saint-Jean. The date on which Saint-Jean-Baptiste is celebrated is on or near the summer solstice or Midsummer Day, the longest day of the year. This year, the summer solstice occurred on the 22 June.

Midsummer Dance by Anders Zorn, 1897 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Midsummer Dance by Anders Zorn, 1897 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for Canada Day, it is celebrated on the anniversary of Confederation, the day Canada became a Dominion of Great Britain: 1st July 1867. I have written posts telling the story of Confederation and have listed them at the foot of this post.

Although the people of Quebec do not celebrate Canada day, the province of Quebec was one of the four initial signatories of the British North America Act. Quebec’s Premier was George-Étienne Cartier, named after George III, hence the English spelling of George, i.e. no final ‘s’. The other three provinces to join Confederation on 1st July 1867 were Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

The Discrepancy: Quebec and Ottawa

As you know, a large number of Québécois are nationalists and many advocate the separation, to a lesser or greater extent, of the Province of Quebec from the remainder of Canada. This explains why Quebec, one of the first four signatories of the British North America Act, does not observe Canada Day.

It could be argued that the province of Quebec was Lower Canada risen from its ashes, land apportioned by Britain itself, under the terms of the Constitutional Act of 1791, to the descendants of the citizens of New France defeated by British forces on 13 September 1759 at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.* The battle had claimed the life of both its commanding officers: Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, aged 47, and  General James Wolfe, aged 32, but it had lasted a mere fifteen minutes. 

*The Battle of the Plains of Abraham is thus called, i.e. Abraham, because it was fought on land belonging to Abraham Martin.  

The Greater Loss to Quebecers 

  • 1759, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham
  • 1840, the union of Upper and Lower Canada

Of the two, first, the loss of Lower Canada’s motherland, ceded to Britain in 1763, and, second, the Act of Union of 1841 which followed the Rebellions of 1837-1838, the greater loss may well be the loss of Lower Canada. One cannot know the fate awaiting Nouvelle-France had France won the Seven Years’ War (1856-1763), called the French and Indian War in North America. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, France chose to keep its sugar-rich Caribbean colonies, as well as the islands of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, off the coast of Newfoundland. 

However, Quebec had been granted a period of grace after the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763. The citizens of the former New France knew they had become a colony of Britain, but they had yet to feel the full impact of their condition as British but ‘conquered’ subjects.

A Reprieve

  • the Treaty of Paris
  • the Quebec Act of 1774
  • the Constitutional Act of 1791
  • betrayal

There had been a reprieve. First, France negotiated the cession of Nouvelle-France. Britain would not deprive its new subjects of their language, their religion, their property and their seigneuries. It didn’t. Second, by virtue of the Quebec Act of 1774, the citizens of the former New France had become full-fledged citizens of a British Canada. Third, less than two decades after the Quebec Act of 1774, 17 years to be precise, the Constitutional Act of 1791 had divided the vast province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada.

Whatever its purpose, the Constitutional Act of 1791 created Lower Canada and, in the eyes of Canadiens, Lower Canada was their country, or terroir, which they were now losing. Therefore, if one takes into account the loss of Lower Canada and the determination to assimilate Canadiens, the Act of Union of 1841 was betrayal on the part of Britain, not Upper Canada.

(Courtesy The Canadian Encyclopedia)
(Charles William Jefferys)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia [2])

Twin Rebellions

  • similar motivation
  • Mackenzie and Papineau as allies
  • patriots and  patriotes

The Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 occurred in both Canadas: Upper and Lower Canada. These could be perceived as twin rebellions orchestrated by Louis-Joseph Papineau (7 Oct 1786 – 25 Sept 1871), in Lower Canada, and William Lyon Mackenzie (12 March 1795 [Scotland]-28 August 1864 [Toronto]), in Upper Canada.

However, Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie were not fighting against one another. Both Papineau and Mackenzie were “patriots” and allies. Their common  motivation was to be granted a responsible government and, consequently, greater democracy.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the citizens of Upper Canada were English-speaking Canadians living on British soil. As for the citizens of Lower Canada, they were a conquered people, former French subjects, living on British soil and realizing that they had been conquered. Not all of Lower Canada’s rebels were Canadiens. One was Dr Wolfred Nelson (10 July 1791 – 17 June 1863), a patriote and a future Mayor of Montreal.[1]

The majority however were descendants of the citizens of a defeated Nouvelle-France. In short, the rebels of Upper Canada differed from the rebels of Lower Canada. The patriots and the patriotes were not on an equal footing, so it is somewhat difficult to speak of the rebellions as twin rebellions. They weren’t, at least not entirely and not according to a reality of the mind.

The Rebellions in Lower Canada

  • different intensity
  • repressive measures, harsher

There were two rebellions in Lower Canada. The first took place in 1837 and the second, in 1838. The rebellions in Lower Canada were more intensive than their equivalent in Upper Canada.[2] Six battles had been waged in Lower Canada. Repressive measures were therefore much harsher:

“[b]etween the two uprisings [in Lower Canada], 99 captured militants were condemned to death but only 12 went to the gallows, while 58 were transported to the penal colony of Australia. In total the six battles of both campaigns left 325 dead, 27 of them soldiers and the rest rebels. Thirteen men were executed (one by the rebels), one was murdered, one committed suicide, and two prisoners were shot.” (Peter Buckner, “Rebellion in Lower Canada,” The Canadian Encyclopedia.)

Most importantly, as we will see below, Lord Durham had recommended the assimilation of Canadiens, which was devastating to the people of Lower Canada. In Upper Canada, three men were hanged and William Lyon Mackenzie fled to the United States. He lived in New York until he was pardoned in 1849. Louis-Joseph Papineau also fled to the United States and then sailed to France. As for Dr Wolfred Nelson, he was unable to flee and was exiled to Bermuda. It was a brief period of exile.


  • Act of Union of 1840-1841
  • Lower Canada, the homeland of French-speaking subjects

Clearly, for the former citizens of Lower Canada, the Act of Union of 1840-1841 was dispossession. During the years that preceded the Rebellions, it had occurred to Louis-Joseph Papineau, the leader of the Parti canadien, that Lower Canada should seek independence from Britain. Although Nouvelle-France had been ceded to Britain, by virtue of the Constitutional Act of 1791, Lower Canada belonged to Britain’s French-speaking subjects. Britain could not help itself to the vaults of both Upper and Lower Canada, its North American colony.

Lord Durham

Lord Durham (Courtesy The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Lord Durham’s Report

  • an ethnic conflict
  • a United Province of Canada
  • the assimilation of French-speaking Canadians
  • a responsible government
  • Tocqueville: a nation

It should be pointed out that  in the Report John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham  submitted after he investigated the rebellions in the two Canadas, he concluded that the Rebellions were an ethnic conflict, which is not altogether true nor altogether false. The rebellions were a quest for responsible government which Lord Durham himself proposed in his Report. The motivation was the same in  both Canadas: responsible government.

However, in his Report, Lord Durham proposed not only the Union of both Canadas, but also recommended the assimilation of French-speaking Canadians whom he viewed as a people possessing “neither a  history nor a literature.” Never were French-speaking Canadians so offended! The Act of Union of 1841 created a United Province of Canada.

Moreover, when  the United Province of Canada was created, the land apportioned English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians made French-speaking Canadians a minority. It should also be noted that the United Province of Canada  was not granted a responsible government, which had been the reason why the two Canadas rebelled and one of Lord Durham’s recommendations.

The time had come for both Canadas, now united, to be mostly self-governed. During a trip to Lower Canada, Alexis de Tocqueville noticed and noted that the French in Lower Canada had become what I would call a nation, but a conquered nation that had yet to enter the Industrial Age and whose people had not acquired the skills they required to leave their farms, or thirty acres, trente arpents, the acreage provided to the settlers of Nouvelle-France.

Alexis de Tocqueville in Lower Canada

  • a nation, but a nation conquered

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville (29 July 1805 – 16 April 1859) and Gustave de Beaumont (16 February 1802 – 30 March 1866) took a little time off from their duties in the United States, to visit the inhabitants of France’s former colony, believing they had become British, or  assimilated, which was not the case. Their language, religion, land and seigneuries had not been taken away from French-speaking Canadians. They were  a nation, albeit a conquered nation.

Canadiens wanted news of “la vieille France,” old France, but there was no “vieille France,” not after the French Revolution. What was left of vieille France, Tocqueville and Beaumont found in Lower Canada. According to Tocqueville, the villain in the loss of New France was Louis XV of France. Louis XV had abandoned France’s colony in North America.

It is astonishing that, in 1831, a few years before the Rebellions and during a brief visit to Lower Canada, Tocqueville should express the opinion that the “greatest and most irreversible misfortune that can befall a people is to be conquered:”

Je n’ai jamais été plus convaincu qu’en sortant [de ce tribunal] que le plus grand et le plus irrémédiable malheur pour un peuple c’est d’être conquis.


The above is significant. In the wake of the Acte d’Union, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie wrote his plaintive “Un Canadien errant,” dated 1842. Moreover, as mentioned above, French-speaking Canadians had begun creating a “literary homeland,” (la Patrie littéraire) the name given to the  period of French-Canadian literature during which French-speaking Canadians set about proving Lord Durham wrong, which they did successfully.


Baldwin and Lafontaine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Robert Baldwyn and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine

  • Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine
  • ‘Assimilation’ cancelled (1842)
  • Responsible government achieved (1846)

Matters would also be redressed ‘politically,’ so to speak. In 1842, shortly after the Act of Union was passed (1840-1841) Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine (4 October 1807 – 26 February 1864) was elected Joint Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada, a position he shared with Robert Baldwin whose jurisdiction was the western portion of the United Province of Canada. Lord Durham’s proposed assimilation of Britain’s French-speaking subjects  was never implemented.  Finally, although it would not happen immediately, the Baldwin-LaFontaine team would achieve the objective pursued by the rebels of 1837 and 1838, responsible government, which meant greater democracy.

LaFontaine resigned one year after his appointment as Prime Minister because Britain was not delivering on responsible government. However, in 1848, James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin, who had been named governor general of the United Province of Canada in 1846, asked Lafontaine (also spelled LaFontaine) to form a responsible government.

“LaFontaine thus became the first prime minister of Canada in the modern sense of the term. During this second administration, he demonstrated the achievement of responsible government by the passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill, despite fierce opposition and violent demonstrations. His ministry also passed an Amnesty Act to forgive the 1837-38 rebels, secularized King’s College into the University of Toronto, incorporated many French Canadian colleges, established Université Laval, adopted important railway legislation and reformed municipal and judicial institutions.” (Jacques Monet, S. J., “Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine,” The Canadian Encyclopedia.)


So a mere twenty-six (26) years after passage of the Act of Union, Quebec, under the leadership of George-Étienne Cartier, entered Confederation. Sir George-Étienne Cartier asked that Quebec retain its recently-acquired Code civil and that primary education remain compulsory. These requests were granted.

Confederation had the immense benefit of returning to Canadiens their former Lower Canada. They regained a territory or patrimoine (a homeland), however mythical. And they have bestowed on their patrimoine its National Day, la Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

At the last meeting of the Liberal Party of Quebec, Premier Dr Philippe Couillard, stated that Quebec was a patrimoine to Québécois and Canada, their country.

My kindest regards to all you and apologies for being away from my computer and late in every way. Yesterday was Independence Day. Belated wishes to my American readers. Next, I will write about an award.



[1] See Lower Canada Rebellion, Wikipedia.
[2] Ibid.

Canada’s National Anthems


© Micheline Walker
5 July 2015
(revised 6 July 2015)

Marie: the Words to a Love Song


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Dancer with Rose by Marie Laurencin (Photo credit: www.scene4.com)

I have translated “Marie,” mostly literally, a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire (26 August 1880 – 9 November 1918) set to music by singer-songwriter Léo Ferré. Marie is Marie Laurencin (31 October 1883 – 8 June 1956), an “avant-garde” artist and advocate of Cubism, but not a follower of the movement. However, she was a moderniste. Marie’s paintings are relatively easy to identify. Her style is quite unique.

Marie Laurencin was acquainted with a large number of artists, literary figures, and persons associated with Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes, one of whom was a young Pablo Picasso. She also attended the salons of wealthy United States expatriates who made Paris their base and helped propel to fame and sometimes to wealth artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque.

Wealthy American Gertrude Stein and her companion, Alice B. Toklas, had a salon at 27, rue de Fleurus. Other American expatriates and salonnières were Claribel and Etta Cone. Marie Laurencin knew famed lesbian writer Natalie Clifford Barney, who had a salon, 20, rue Jacob, and died in Paris. Many American mécènes (patrons) left their Paris quarters when World War II broke out, dooming Jews, homosexuals and those who were “different.”

Celebrated artist Marie Laurencin was very different. Marie was married to German Baron Otto von Waëtjen from 1814 until 1820, but she was romantically involved with revered and now legendary poet Guillaume Apollinaire, born Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki. Apollinaire was wounded during World War I and died two years later. He was a victim of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, a flu akin to the Swine flu of 1976, but as merciless as the plague.



1) Vous y dansiez petite fille
Y danserez-vous mère-grand
C’est la maclotte qui sautille (maclotte is a old dance)
Toutes les cloches sonneront
Quand donc reviendrez-vous Marie

This is where you danced as a little girl/ Will you dance there as a grandmother/
This is maclotte (an old dance) hopping about/ All the bells will ring/
So when will you come back Marie

2) Les masques sont silencieux
Et la musique est si lointaine
Qu’elle semble venir des cieux
Oui je veux vous aimer mais vous aimer à peine
Et mon mal est délicieux

The masks are silent/ And the music so distant/
That it seems descended from heaven/ Yes I want to love you, but love you barely/
And my disease is delicious

3) Les brebis s’en vont dans la neige (s’en aller = to go away) 
Flocons de laine et ceux d’argent
Des soldats passent et que n’ai-je
Un cœur à moi ce cœur changeant
Changeant et puis encor que sais-je

Sheep wade away in the snow/ Wool flakes and those of silver/
Soldiers pass by and would that I hadA heart of my own, this changing heart/
Changing and then also what do I know

4) Sais-je où s’en iront tes cheveux
Crépus comme mer qui moutonne (from mouton: lamb)
Sais-je où s’en iront tes cheveux
Et tes mains feuilles de l’automne
Que jonchent aussi nos aveux

Do I know where your hair will go/ Frizzy like the foaming sea/
Do I know where your hair will go/ And your hands the leaves of autumn/
Also strewn with our avowals

5) Je passais au bord de la Seine
Un livre ancien sous le bras
Le fleuve est pareil à ma peine
Il s’écoule et ne tarit pas
Quand donc finira la semaine (return to [1])

I was walking along the Seine/ An old book under my arm/
The river is like my pain/ It flows and does not end/
So when will the week be done
(return to [1])

Short comments and Notes

  • In the fourth stanza, I used the word “foaming” to translate moutonner (from sheep, un mouton). (4)
  • In the third stanza, I made the sheep “wade away” in the snow. In the French song, they are simply going away: s’en aller). (3)
  • The imagery used by Apollinaire includes the sheep’s fur and hair: animal, human.
  • The imagery also includes the masques (2), as in a masquerade ball and the commedia dell’arte.   
  • In fact, Marie Laurencin’s “Dancer,” shown above, is dressed like Harlequin, a masque and a stock character in the commedia dell’arte.
  • The word snow (neige) takes us to François Villon‘s “neige d’antan” (Ballade du temps jadis) (3) and to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”
  • However, the first character Apollinaire introduces is a little girl, petite fille, who will be mère-grand (as mère-grand in The Little Red Riding Hood). (Time passes.) 
  • In Marie Laurencin’s painting, the dancer carries a rose. Roses die, so let us seize the day. The poem therefore contains a carpe diem (Pierre de Ronsard‘s Hélène): “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” (petite fille/mère grand)
  • We have colours, that of the sheep and of the snow: white, but also silver or grey (grey hair).
  • We hear bells. (1)
  • There is an allusion to soldiers. Apollinaire had been a soldier.
  • In the fifth stanza, the poet introduces himself: “Je”. He is walking by the Seine which flows unendingly. (5)
  • Marie is an anagram of aimer: to love.


This is a rich poem one wishes to explore further, but…

I thank you for your kind words. They’ve helped. My university and the insurance company played with my life and it has been extremely painful. So I am pleased I have my WordPress colleagues and send all of you my love.

With my kindest regards.  

Léo Ferré sings “Marie,” by Guillaume Apollinaire,

Fille au chapeau bleu et noir, vers 1950

Fille au chapeau bleu et noir, vers 1950

© Micheline Walker
28 June 2015


She is back…


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Marie Laurencin, August 1923

Marie Laurencin, August 1923 (Photo credit: Etsy.com)

She is posting again…

the house
the vilain
the expert

Various circumstances, illness and a dysfunctional computer mostly, but also memories of the days, better days, when I lived in a blue house, have kept me away for a few days. My blue house is on the market and on my mind and in my hearth.

I cannot afford it at its current price but will try to buy it back. I lost it because an insurance company employee did not tell me that my application for permanent disability benefits had not been approved. Selling the house was conditional upon my application for permanent disability benefits being approved. One does not relocate if granted a temporary leave.

The Independent Medical Examiner to whom she referred me, asked her, in writing, to tell me not to relocate as he believed I would be able to resume my career after an indefinite leave of absence. He wrote that I should not make any important decision for six months. Adjustments would have to be made to my programme-load. But, on the basis of past accomplishments, he was certain I would be able to return to work. He was right.

Photo credit: Page Marie Laurencin

The Scenario

no sabbatical leave
new courses

When requested to prepare two new courses, I had to abandon a sabbatical leave I was devoting to my long-awaited book on Molière in order to prepare two new courses, one of which was Animals in Literature. I could not refuse assignments because the Chair of my department was prone to anger. I once fainted in his office and landed on the back of my head. No, I would not have survived Chernobyl!

What is very strange is that I still like him, but he will no longer serve as Chair of a department, which is a blessing for everyone. There is no advantage to being Chair, financial or otherwise, at least not where I worked.

I was also the person who had to create a multi-media lab component for a language course. It was not upgraded during my sabbatical and I was not told. I upgraded it when I returned to work, which is why I fell ill. Every lecture of my course on Animals in Literature was prepared, but it had been a huge effort. I had no energy left for extra work. I should have asked for that component of the course to be cancelled until the following academic year and assigned to someone else.

The Illness

the illness
the ‘arrangement’

At any rate, when suddenly I lost the ability to look after myself properly, the biggest challenge is brushing one’s teeth, my doctors requested I leave the classroom immediately. I phoned the Dean, who was at a complete loss, and I presented a doctor’s note to the effect that I was sick. My doctor’s note was not taken seriously. As a result, my students no longer had a teacher. The secretary of the Department remarked that I could still walk and that I should “negotiate an arrangement” with the Chair.

I therefore “negotiated an arrangement” with the Chair. For two weeks I would continue to teach Animals in Literature. During that time, he would teach my two other courses, provided I graded the students’ last quiz and all their assignments. He also asked me to return to work in time to prepare the students for their final examination, which I would also have to grade, etc.

Under the circumstances, I did not have to “negotiate an arrangement.” However, my Chair is not entirely to blame because the Dean would not let him hire a replacement.

Fille au chapeau bleu et noir, vers 1950

Fille au chapeau bleu et noir, vers 1950

The Punishment

When my case manager learned I had finished my teaching assignment for the year, she rushed to judgment. I had been on a sabbatical, which she probably viewed as a holiday, and could not prepare a new course! My application was fraudulent. She didn’t know that I was granted a sabbatical to write my book, at long last. Sabbaticals are seldom granted for the preparation of new courses.

To punish me, she did not relay the doctor’s message to me. As I wrote above, the IME had specified that I was too sick to make serious decisions for at least six months. The sale of the house was conditional upon my application for permanent disability benefits being approved. When it sold, my blue house was not for sale.

I am unlikely ever to recover fully from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. My fatigue is due to a cerebral blood flow problem triggered by a flu I caught in 1976. But I have worked despite this problem. It meant reorganizing my life and eliminating outings in the evening.

At any rate, I lost my house and now, several years later, my share, one ninth of the small building I live in, is for sale. My co-owners will not create a reserve fund for the upkeep of the building, which is a major problem and a deterrent for persons who would otherwise be interested in buying. One never knows when the next bill will land at one’s door. Others may enjoy this form of gambling, but I would not have survived Chernobyl.

I chose the apartment, but my family bought it on my behalf. The notary they hired did not tell me there was no reserve fund. Moreover, I had requested, in writing, that the apartment and building be examined by a certified inspector. I am not blaming anyone. It would not help.

The rest I will not tell. The above, however, happens in several teaching institutions. One simply works a person out of his or her position. In fact, I told this story in an earlier post, but differently.


I do not think I will be returning to blue house, but I will have tried. If I can’t purchase my blue house back, it may be easier to forget.

There is more to say about Gabriel Franchère. When the Astorians travelled away from Fort Astoria, they named Mount St Helens. It was then an active volcano, but no one ever suspected the tragic events of 18 May 1980. At 8 hours 32, it exploded and then “imploded,” sort of. The mountain folded in.

I apologize for my tardiness and send my kindest regards.


I will try to find the words to “Marie.”

Léo Ferré sings “Marie,” a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire (26 August 1880 – 9 November 1918)

Vase de fleurs, 1950

© Micheline Walker
26 June 2015

Vase de fleurs, Marie Laurencin,
vers 1950
Page Marie Laurencin

Gabriel Franchère, a Hero to Americans


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Fort George (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

On Gabriel Franchère

In 1846, Gabriel Franchère (1786 – 1863), a humble and probably “submissive” Canadien from Montreal was praised by American Senator Thomas H. Benton and spoken of as a “gentleman of Montreal,” with whom Senator Benton had “the pleasure to be personally acquainted.”

“In 1846, when the boundary question (that of the Oregon Territory in particular) was at its height, the Hon. THOMAS H. BENTON delivered in the United States Senate a decisive speech, of which the following is an extract:

‘Now for the proof of all I have said. I happen to have in my possession the book of all others, which gives the fullest and most authentic details on all the points I have mentioned—a book written at a time, and under circumstances, when the author, himself a British subject and familiar on the Columbia) had no more idea that the British would lay claim to that river, than Mr. Harmon, the American writer whom I quoted, ever thought of our claiming New Caledonia [British Columbia]. It is the work of Mr. FRANCHERE, a gentleman of Montreal, with whom I have the pleasure to be personally acquainted, and one of those employed by Mr. ASTOR in founding his colony. He was at the founding of ASTORIA, at its sale to the Northwest Company, saw the place seized as a British conquest, and continued there after its seizure. He wrote in French: his work has not been done into English, though it well deserves it; and I read from the French text. He gives a brief and true account of the discovery of the Columbia.’” [EBook #15911][1]

∗ I have underlined certain portions of my quotations. The authors I am quoting did not. They, however, used capital letters.

Moreover, J. V. Huntington, the translator and editor of Franchère’s account of his sea voyage from New York to the short-lived Fort Astoria, preferred Franchère’s Relation, published in French in 1820, to Washington Irving’s Astoria, based on Franchère’s French-language Relation. Astoria was published in 1836 and it is a Project Gutenberg publication [EBook #1371]. J. V. Huntington writes that:

“[w]ithout disparagement to Mr. IRVING’S literary, fame, I may venture to say that I found in his work inaccuracies, misstatements (unintentional of course), and a want of chronological order, which struck forcibly one so familiar with the events themselves. I thought I could show—or rather that my simple narration, of itself, plainly discovered—that some of the young men embarked in that expedition (which founded our Pacific empire), did not merit the ridicule and contempt which Captain THORN attempted to throw upon them, and which perhaps, through the genius of Mr. IRVING, might otherwise remain as a lasting stigma on their characters.”[EBook #15911][2]

Franchère’s Claim to Fame: his Book

Had Franchère not written an accurate narrative of the Tonquin‘s journey to the northwest coast of the current United States, and of events related to this sea expedition, such as the incident at the Falkland Islands and the demise of the Tonquin, I doubt that future generations would remember Gabriel Franchère. He was a simple clerk but a witness and his book, the proof. He told Astoria.[3]

In many footnotes, the editor of a reprint of Ross’s Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810-1813 (London, 1849) refers his readers to Gabriel Franchère’s 1820 Relation.

Moreover, although Franchère seems to have emerged from the annals of history recently, he is a familiar figure to readers of Grace Lee Nute’s The Voyageur, published in 1931.

The Many Stories

War of 1812
American Expansionism
Fur trade

Given its many links: the War of 1812American Expansionism, ethnography, Gabriel Franchère’s Relation d’un voyage à la côte du Nord-Ouest de l’Amérique septentrionale dans les années 1810, 11, 12, 13 et 14 is a book that is difficult to overlook. It is moreover a fine narrative and could be considered both a récit de voyage (a traveler’s tale) and, to a certain extent, a coming-of-age story.[4] Gabriel Franchère was not in his teens, but he was young, 24, and he had never left home or met so evil a man as Captain Jonathan Thorn.

Franchère’s récit is linked to many events, but let us situate his narrative in its immediate context: the fur trade and, specifically, John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company. Franchère (Internet Archives) wrote about:

  1. the Tonquin sailing from New York to the Columbia River (Chapters I to VI);
  2. the incident at the Falkland Islands (pp. 47-49);
  3. the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) (beginning p. 54);
  4. the Sandwich Islanders taken aboard (p. 84);
  5. the deadly Columbia Bar (beginning p. 88)
  6. the naming of Mount St. Helens (p. 109);
  7. the arrival of David Thomson (p. 120);
  8. rumours of the demise of the Tonquin (p. 124);
  9. the arrival of the overland Astorians (p. 144);
  10. the account of Captain Black claiming Fort Astoria for Britain (beginning p. 166); (12 December 1813)
  11. the departure from Fort George (p. 263); (4 April 1814)
  12. an account of the Astorians’ trip north.
Gabriel Franchère

Gabriel Franchère (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Main Story

Yet the main story could be the story of Gabriel Franchère himself who, in the eyes of Senator Thomas H. Benton, was a “gentleman of Montreal” and a hero to Americans.

On 12 December 1813, the Canadien clerk (un commis) did see Captain Black of the Racoon (or Raccoon) claim Fort Astoria for Britain and rename it Fort George, in honour of George III, the reigning British monarch. Yet, Gabriel Franchère is an unlikely hero to Americans and, truth be told, an unlikely hero. He was a clerk, not a partner and, as a Canadien, he was a British subject. However, he was a witness to history and told the tale.

In a post about voyageurs, I quoted Ramsay Crooks, John Jacob Astor’s successor. In his opinion, Congress “had to make an exception in the case of voyageurs when passing a law excluding all foreigners from the American fur trade,” which is how, i.e. almost accidentally, Gabriel Franchère became an American. According to Ramsay Crooks:

“tis only in the Canadian we find that temper of mind, to render him patient docile and preserving. in [sic] short they are a people harmless in themselves whose habits of submission fit them peculiarly for our business and if guided as it is my wish they should be, will never give just cause of alarm to the Government of the Union[.][5]

Be that as it may, J. V. Huntington, Gabriel Franchère’s translator and editor, tried “[t]o preserve in the translation the Defoe-like [Robinson Crusoe] simplicity of the original narrative of the young French Canadian.”

Gabriel Franchère’s Relation was published in his life time, in 1820, but it was not republished in Quebec until 2002. Gabriel Franchère may have been an unlikely American, but he retired in Minnesota, USA, because of the Treaty of 1818, or accidentally (again).

It so happens that under the terms of the Treaty of 1818, the 49th parallel would be the boundary between Canada and the United States, which meant that territory that was American became Canadian, and territory that was Canadian ended up “south of the border.” (See Treaty of Ghent and Treaty of 1818, Wikipedia.)

The map below can be enlarged by clicking on the image.


Treaty of 1818: the Boundary between Canada and the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grace Lee Nute writes that:

“[t]he Astorians have been famous in American history for over a century. Ramsay Crooks, W. P. Hunt, Robert McLellan, Gabriel Franchere, and the two Stuarts, Robert and David—who does not know of their heroic adventures in crossing the great West and navigating around the Horn to found near the mouth of the Columbia an American trading post named in honor of the master spirit of the enterprise, John Jacob Astor?”[6]


Sources and Ressources

  • Gabriel Franchère and J. V. Huntington, Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the Years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814; or, the First American Settlement on the Pacific, Project Gutenberg [EBook #15911] EN
  • Gabriel Franchère and J. V. Huntington, Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the Years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814; or, the First American  Settlement on the Pacific (Internet Archives) EN
  • Gabriel Franchère, Relation d’un voyage à la côte du Nord-Ouest de l’Amérique septentrionale dans les années 1810, 11, 12, 13 et 14 (Montréal : C. B. Pasteur, 1820) (Internet Archives) FR
  • Washington Irving’s Astoria, Project Gutenberg [EBook #1371] EN
  • Ross’s Adventures of the First Setters on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810-1813 (London, 1849) (Internet Archives) EN

With my kindest regards.

[1] Gabriel Franchère and J. V. Huntington, translator and editor, Preface to the second edition of a Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the Years 1810, 1811, 1813 and 1814, or the First American Settlement on the Pacific (New York, 1854).

[2] Ibid.

[3] See They had Witnesses To Prove It (tkmorin.com)

[4] This may also be the case with Alexander Ross‘ narrative. Ross’s Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, 1810-1813 (London, 1849). (Reprint, Carlisle, Massachusetts: Applewood Books).

[5] See John Jacob Astor & the Voyager as Settler and Explorer (michelinewalker.com)

[6] Grace Lee Nute, The Voyageur (St. Paul: Reprint Edition Minnesota Historical Society, 1955), p. 173. 

Gabriel Franchère (en français)



Eyewitness to Astoria by Rex Ziak

David Thomson

David Thomson

© Micheline Walker
20 June 2015


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