Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Toujours Perdrix

Francis Lieber, letter to G.S. Hillard (December 29, 1849):
But what I have never been able to understand is the patience with which these German sumpters stick to one and the same thing through life. To study Hebrew, Latin, Greek, the Fathers of the Church, for ever and ever, without getting tired of the toujours perdrix is what baffles me. I find at times that lecturing on subjects which are wholly my own, on which I know that I am thorough and deep and comprehensive, becomes tasteless because I have been animated, spirited, gushing, on the same thing some ten times before. Perhaps it is in part because, after all, scholarship in my case is but a morganatic marriage,—that I was made for a different sphere, for action through masses; still, everything in this blessed world becomes tiresome, even a tune of Mozart; and how can those old fellows stick to their subjects, and often to the smallest details, through a whole life? Does it not, after all, presuppose a certain dulness? I fear it does.
The earliest example I can find of the expression "toujours perdrix" is in L'Espion du Grand-Seigneur et ses Relations Secretes, Envoyées au Divan de Constantinople...Traduites de l'Arabe en Italien par le Sieur Jean-Paul Marana, et de l'Italien en François, Vol. II (Paris: Claude Barbin, 1686), pp. 268-269 (Lettre L, on Henri IV):
Ce Prince fit une fois un assez plaisant tour à son Confesseur, qui le pressoit souvent de quitter toutes ses Maistresses, & de se contenter des caresses de la Reine sa femme, il ordonna à un Cuisinier qui avoit accoûtumé d'accommoder le manger de ce Docteur, de ne lui donner à tous les repas que des perdrix, ce qui le lassa si fort qu'il ne pût s'empêcher de se plaindre au Roy mesme, que ce Cuisinier s'étoit si opiniastré à ne lui servir que des perdrix, que non seulement il en estoit devenu dégoûté, mais qu'il en estoit malade, & le Prince ne lui répondit autre chose que ses mots, toûjours des perdrix, toûjours la Reine.
My translation:
This prince once upon a time played a rather clever trick on his confessor, who often urged him to abandon all his mistresses and to satisfy himself with the caresses of the queen his wife. He ordered a cook, whose job it was to provide this doctor's nourishment, not to give him anything except partridges for every meal. This made him so fat that he couldn't help complaining to the king himself—this cook was so narrow-minded that he didn't serve him anything but partridges, and not only had he become disgusted with them, but even ill from them. The prince made no other answer to him except these words—always partridges, always the queen.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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