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The monkey displaying the magic lantern

A Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian fable
(1755-1794)
 

 

One of a large set of possibly fifty French matchbox labels, each label giving the title and an illustration for a fable of either Jean de La Fontaine or Florian. The trade mark of the matches is SEITA (about 1955).
Le singe qui montre la lanterne magique

Messieurs les beaux esprits dont la prose et les vers
Sont d'un style pompeux et toujours admirable,
Mais que l'on n'entend point, écoutez cette fable,
Et tâchez de devenir clairs.

Un homme qui montrait la lanterne magique
Avait un singe dont les tours
Attiraient chez lui grand concours:
Jacqueau, c'était son nom, sur la corde élastique
Dansait et voltigeait au mieux,
Puis faisait le saut périlleux,
Et puis sur un cordon, sans que rien le soutienne,
Le corps droit, fixe, d'à-plomb,
Notre Jacqueau fait tout du long
L'exercice à la prussienne.

Un jour qu'au cabaret son maître était resté
(C'était, je pense, un jour de fête),
Notre singe en liberté
Veut faire un coup de sa tête.
Il s'en va rassembler les divers animaux
Qu'il peut rencontrer dans la ville ;
Chiens, chats, poulets, dindons, pourceaux,
Arrivent bientôt à la file

Entrez, entrez, messieurs, criait notre Jacqueau;
C'est ici, c'est ici qu'un spectacle nouveau
Vous charmera gratis : oui, messieurs, à la porte
On ne prend point d'argent, je fais tout pour l'honneur.
À ces mots, chaque spectateur
Va se placer, et l'on apporte
La lanterne magique ; on ferme les volets,
Et, par un discours fait exprès,
Jacqueau prépare l'auditoire.
Ce morceau vraiment oratoire
Fit bâiller, mais on applaudit.
Content de son succès, notre singe saisit
Un verre peint qu'il met dans sa lanterne.
Il sait comment on le gouverne,
Et crie en le poussant : est-il rien de pareil?
Messieurs, vous voyez le soleil,
Ses rayons et toute sa gloire.
Voici présentement la lune ; et puis l'histoire
D'Adam, d'Ève et des animaux...
Voyez, messieurs, comme ils sont beaux!
Voyez la naissance du monde ;
Voyez... les spectateurs, dans une nuit profonde,
Écarquillaient leurs yeux et ne pouvaient rien voir;
L'appartement, le mur, tout était noir.

Ma foi, disait un chat, de toutes les merveilles
Dont il étourdit nos oreilles,
Le fait est que je ne vois rien.
Ni moi non plus, disait un chien.
Moi, disait un dindon, je vois bien quelque chose;
Mais je ne sais pour quelle cause
Je ne distingue pas très bien.

Pendant tous ces discours, le Cicéron moderne
Parlait éloquemment et ne se lassait point.
Il n'avait oublié qu'un point,
C'était d'éclairer sa lanterne.

 

Rare French silver thimble circa 1850 depicting 'Le Singe'.'
For more information see 'Between art and knick-knack'.

Two French trade cards depicting scenes from Florian's fable.

    

" Plaisir d'amour ne dure qu'un moment très court
Chagrin d'amour dure toute la vie "

Is there anyone these days who knows that the author of the chanson "Plaisir d'amour", the song that became widely known all over the world, was none other than the French fable poet Florian?


The monkey displaying the magic lantern.

 

Gentlemen writers, when your prose and poems
have a highfalutin style and are always admirable,
but are never understood by anyone ,
listen to this fable and try to make yourself clear.

A man who gave magic lantern shows possessed a monkey that always attracted a lot of spectators with his amazing tricks.

Jaco, that was his name, walked a tight rope, marched and drilled in a Prussian way and had a tumble.

The day the man left him, the monkey took it into his head to present the magic lantern show that he had watched many times to the animals he gathered around him in town, dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys and swine.

'Come in, come in' he cried. 'It's free. I don't want any money; I do it all for the honour.' At these words the animals flocked in and took a seat.

Jaco gave a long speech to prepare his audience for the things to come. He took the lantern and the shutters were closed. The monkey kept talking about all the wonderful things he was going to show his public: the sun with its beautiful beams, the moon, the origin of the world, Adam and Eve..........

The audience got uneasy. 'Heck!' said the cat, 'Of all the miracles he's blaring about, I can't see anything at all.' 'Nor can I', said a dog. The room was black, the wall was black, everything was black.

The monkey shifted a painted glass to and fro in the magic lantern and did not hear his public grumble. He talked and talked and talked as a modern Cicero....

He only forgot one thing:

To light the lamp in his lantern.

Translation Henc R.A. de Roo


  


Two illustrations from LES MEILLEURES FABLES DE FLORIAN. Edited by la Technique du Livre, ca. 1930. Illustrated by R. Perrette. Book size : 27 x 18.5 cm.

Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian was born in Sauve, the 6th of March 1755. He lived there in the Rue du vieux Pont.

His mother died when he was two years old. After that Florian was brought up by his great uncle..... Voltaire. Thanks to him Florian became well known in Paris, where he wrote his plays and fables. He was but 33 years of age when he reached the height of his fame by entering the Académie Française. Shortly after, the Revolution broke out. He concealed himself in Seaux, near Paris. Because he belonged to the nobility, he was put in prison the 15th of July 1794,  in the Conciergerie. After a few weeks he was set free, but he was taken seriously ill and died the 13th of September of that year, at the age of only 39 years.

Magic lantern lovers know de Florian particularly for his fable about the monkey and the magic lantern. Many differently-illustrated versions of this fable have been published in France over the years.



Penny print of Florian's fable, published in Pont-à-Mousson. France, late 19th C. Image size: 41 x 28 cm.


 
(<<Left) Page from the book "Fables de Florian" illustrated by Benjamin Rabier. Published by Garnier, Paris, 1936.

Another French trade card depicting our friend 'le singe'.



 



Mantel clock made of gilded bronze made in Brussell by H. Luppens and Co., ca. 1890. Heigth: 37 cm.
 
Pillow made with an Aubusson tapestry and a bronze medal with Florian on one side and the monkey with its lantern on the reverse. Designed by M. Courbier. France, ca. 1920-1930. Diameter: 6.8 cm.
 


Colour prints of the monkey and the magic lantern in a vintage book of 1949. 12.4" X 9.1". Below: First Day Cover.


 



Colourful print from the end of the 19th Century, printed by Pellerin, Épinal, France. Caption: "Le singe et la lanterne magique".

 

BOOK: Les Fables de Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian. Illustrees par A. Vimar. Henrie Laurens, Editeur. [n.d., c.1899] Avant-Propos de Andre Theuriet. 137 pages. Many b/w illustrations, and eight in colour, mostly full-page. Size: 225 x 283 mm. Featuring: Le Singe et la Lanterne Magique (The Monkey with the Magic Lantern.)

Pictures of an itinerant showman with a monkey feature in many engravings and books from the 18th century onwards. In the illustrations in this book, the monkey is carrying and using a now very collectable Lapierre lantern, in the style known as ‘Carre’.

 

Sheet music, belonging to 'Le Singe qui montre la Lanterne Magique'. Music by Lievens, dedicated to Mr. Theophile Valkenaere. Published by Daveluy Lith du Roi Brughes, Belgium.

 
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Last update: 13-07-2018.
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