Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve


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Thought and skill have their limits. Only God and a few rare geniuses can have careers that keep stretching out before them as they advance. Bouret 97 may be one such genius: some of the things he does seem to me — yes, even me — to be sublime strokes of genius. Remember Bouret was adored by his dog; remember that the bizarre clothes the minister wore terrified the little animal; remember that Bouret only had a week to overcome these obstacles.

You need to understand all the background to really appreciate how ingenious the solution was. So come on then! I must confess that even the slightest thing of this kind is too much for me.

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He has a mask made that looks just like the Keeper of the Seals; he borrows the voluminous robe 99 from a valet. He covers his face with the mask. He puts on the robe. He calls his dog, he strokes him. He gives him a little biscuit. In under two or three days of doing this morning to night, the dog knows to run away from Bouret the Tax Farmer and run towards Bouret the Keeper of the Seals. Even the cobblestones know about them, so go and ask them; you should take advantage of happening to find yourself in my company to discover things that nobody knows apart from me.

Having a mask made to look like him! But role models like these are depressing. You feel sorry for yourself, and you get discouraged. The mask! I believe it may well have been in use before me; but who ever realized how well-suited it would be for having a secret laugh while bowing down before some upstart? I have ten different ways of forcing people to snatch them from me, and among those ways, I flatter myself that some of them are novel. I have a particular talent for encouraging shy young men; guided by me, even men as thick as two short planks and as ugly as sin have been successful.

If it were ever written down, I believe people would acknowledge I had some genius.

Livre No. 3, 15e Ordre: No. 1, La Regente ou la Minerve

It would be a pity if it were lost. Geniuses read little, do a lot, and are their own creators. Who ever gave Bouret any lessons?

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No one. Do you think the dog and the mask is written down anywhere? That idiotic audience claps until it hurts and does not realize what a mass of charms we are; it is true that the mass is increasing a bit, but what does that matter?


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Are you being ironic or are you telling the truth? But let me tell you because I know, I really do, that she has lots of feeling. I am a decent man; kindly have the decency to be more straightforward with me, and leave out the clever stuff. Ingenii largitor venter [That teacher of art, that donor of talent — the belly]. But, however egregious such things seem to you, believe you me, the people to whom they are addressed are far more used to hearing them than we are to venturing them.

And besides, we look so convinced, so sincere! Not at all. I take every opportunity to speak my mind. Never in my life have I reflected, before, during or after speaking. So I never give offence.

It was bad luck, a bad moment — they happen in life. We have, as you know, more friends than anyone else and ours are the best. We are a school for humanity, we revive the hospitality of the Ancients. All those failed poets, we give them a home. They hardly take up any space! We appear cheerful; but deep down, we are resentful and voracious. Wolves are not as hungry, nor tigers as cruel. We are as ravenous as wolves after the long winter snows; we rip to pieces anyone or anything that is at all successful.

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None shall have wit unless he be as foolish as thee and me. We insult everybody and upset nobody. If things get too riotous, he yawns, stretches his arms, rubs his eyes and says: Well, now!

Between you and me, that sort of poetry is nothing but a hullabaloo, a whole load of noises jumbled up, like the barbaric squawking coming from the Tower of Babel. And this fellow is always on the receiving end. You lose your innocence but the compensation is that you also lose your prejudices. I am myself and I remain myself, but I act and I speak according to the rules. Vice itself only occasionally causes harm, but a character displaying obvious signs of it causes permanent offence.

Perhaps it would be better to be contemptuous than to have a contemptuous physiognomy; the contemptuous character is only insulting from time to time, whereas the contemptuous physiognomy is continuously insulting.

Couperin: Complete Works for Harpsichord,VII.15e-17e Ordres

The only merit I can claim for myself is that I have a system, based on clear thinking and rational, true observation, for doing what most people do instinctively. Besides, remember that when it comes to a subject as variable as morals, there are no absolute, essential or general rights or wrongs except the law of self-interest, according to which we must always be what it wants us to be, good or bad, wise or foolish, decent or ridiculous, honest or wicked.

If virtue had happened to offer a route to fortune, I would have been virtuous or pretended to be, like everyone else. He appeared over our horizon yesterday for the first time; he arrived at the moment when we all come out of our dens: dinnertime. One of our number made fun of another for having arrived in the morning all spattered in mud and completely wet through, but when he went home in the evening, exactly the same thing happened to him. They had set up a running account; the creditor wanted the debtor to settle up, and the latter was not in funds.

I come in, I see him.

Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve

So we ate dinner; I ate up every last bit. I had given my word in front of so many people that I had no choice but to keep it. Was I any different from how I normally am? Even a puppet made of steel would get worn out if its strings got pulled all day and all night. Sure, there are plenty of basic fools. But stupidity is more demanding than talent or virtue. I am uncommon in my species, yes, very uncommon.

I am an endless source of rude remarks. I was always ready with a quip that would make them weep with laughter, I was their own personal little Bedlam. Do you know her, by any chance? What I used to do was make a few snide remarks to stop them ridiculing my solitary applause, which they then interpreted as the opposite.

Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve
Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve
Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve
Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve
Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve Harpsichord Pieces, Book 3, Suite 15, No. 1: La Regente ou la Minerve

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