Satirical song cycle for 1815: "Le terme d’un règne, ou Le règne d’un terme ; relation véridique écrite en forme de pot-pourri, sous la dictée de Cadet buteux, par Désaugiers, son secrétaire intime"
The popular composer Marc Antoine Désaugiers (1772-1827) was a Parisian celebrity during the First Empire, and his popular tunes were on everyone's lips. He wrote and put to music the very first song of the Tableau de Paris à cinq heures du matin, long before Jacques Lanzmann and Jacques Dutronc sang of it their 1960s hit the Dauphin de la Place Dauphine.
Désaugiers was also a renowned vaudeville author and his plays attracted (and kept) spectators because of the stock and recurring characters he created, such as the the despotic landlord, Monsieur Vautour (Mr Vulture), a new element of the grim reality of Parisian tenants.
The lyrics of satirical song cycle here, Terme d'un règne (the punning title means 'the end of a reign and the reign of term', in other words, a short period of time), were (as the title pretends) supposedly dictated by Cadet Buteux, another of Désaugiers' stock characters and one which had become well-known by the public: “Cadet Budeux is the personification of everyman, a good person, though ready to rebel, good humoured and rough yet sensible. He is shrewd, mocking, satirical without being venomous, natural and garrulous and always ready to kiss a pretty girl and to drink to the health of his friends”. 1
Désaugiers' life and political convictions followed the vicissitudes of his era. He emigrated during the Revolution, but returned to France in 1797 and was swept along on the tide of history. In 1811 at the birth of Napoleon II, he took part, along with other songwriters, in the Hommage [imperial] du caveau moderne au roi de Rome. In May 1814, just under a month after the allies entered Paris, he directed a performance of Retour des Lys (“Return of the Lily” – the lily being the symbol of the Bourbon monarchy), thus assuring himself a prominent place in the Dictionnaire des girouettes (Dictionary of Turncoats, Paris, Eymery, 1815), with no fewer than 5 pages.
1815, A Turbulent Year
Napoleon had returned to France, Elba being unable to hold him. Désaugiers portrayed, in doggerel verse, a population afraid of history repeating itself and fearful above all of a new conscription. The songwriter put the following serious words to the otherwise pleasant tune of the song A boire, à boire, à boire,
“Aux armes ! aux armes ! aux armes !
En France, le sang et les larmes
Depuis dix mois ne coulent plus :
Réparons les moments perdus”.
(To arms! To Arms! To Arms!
In France for the past ten months
there's been no blood or tears;
Let's make up for lost time.)
Désaugiers portrays Napoleon as a liberal, relying on the masses who lived in the artisan and workers' quarters of Paris. But the refrain encapsulates a strong sense of anger and derision:
“Vive, vive Napoléon !
R'prend la barque,
Vive, vive Napoléon !
Gare à la conscription !
Vlà qu'déjà l'Europe est armée
En France la guerre est allumée,
On s'bat, on s'tue // Ah ! quel plaisir !
Quel bonheur ! c'est pour en mourir
Vive, vive Napoléon !
(Long live Napoleon!
Is back at the helm
Long live Napoleon!
Watch out for the conscription!
See, Europe is armed once again.
In France, war is afoot.
We fight, we kill each other // oh, what fun!
What joy! I could die.
Long live Napoleon!)
Désaugiers resumé of the campaigns in France (1814) and Belgium (1815) was as follows:
“Puisque vous n'avez plus personne
Qui veuill'mourir pour la nation ;
Je r'nonce à la gloire, et j'vous donne
Ma seconde abdication”.
(Since you no longer have anyone
Willing to die for the nation;
I renounce glory and give you
My second abdication.)
The cycle ends on the island of Aix:
“Où s'en va, lui dit Bertrand,
Vot'majesté suprême ?
– Tâchons d'trouver en courant,
Un pays où l'on m'aime.
– Si c'n'est qu'dans c'pays qu'il faut
Fixer notre retraite,
J'crains qu'nous arrêtions pas d'sitot …
A moins qu'on n'nous arrête.”
('Where are we off to, Bertrand said to him,
Your supreme majesty?'
‘A country where they love me'
‘If we aren't stopping in this country, I fear
we'll be travelling a while.
At least unless they arrest us.')
Nowadays, this sort of ‘song of the moment' for 1815 would be a text either performed or read by a political satirist.
A short history of the song cycle pamphlet
The song cycle pamphlet was sold for one franc and 25 centimes (about one day's pay for a labourer) in the epicentre of Parisian popular, political and pleasure seeking life: the Palais Royal. Numerous bookshops displayed their wares in the colonnades there: Monsieur Rosa, the publisher of the pamphlet, kept a boutique in the 'Glass Gallery' (which disappeared in 1830); in fact, the latter was a wooden structure adjacent to the Comédie Française at the entrance to the Palais, and it owed its name to the glass plaques which surmounted the rows of shops.
The pamphlet could be read, for a small fee, in one of the many reading rooms/'cabins' which had flourished in the capital since the the Revolution and which were to have their heyday during the Restoration. They were libraries open to the public, run by private patrons (bookshop owners, ex-soldiers, widows etc.) who rented newspapers and books for consultation. Just like today, forms of subscription were available: either monthly or yearly. In order to open a reading room it was necessary to obtain an permit from the Direction de la Librarie, a department of the Interior Ministry, which would grant permission after an investigation into the behaviour and political opinions of the proprietor. Whether the business was well patronised depended on the level of financial investment of the owner. Sometimes the shop was merely a single, large umbrella.
The courtyard of the Palais Royal was the ideal location for these reading cabinets, which were open to the elements: hundreds of passers by came to meander through that courtyard inaccessible as it was to carriages and protected from the heat and rain by trees. It was a place where conversation came to life, where minds were both entertained and easily impassioned.
A Musical Potpourri
The lyrics found in this pamphlet were sung at gatherings of family or friends, and were set to tunes that everyone knew well. Everyone, above all Parisians, knew a vast repertoire of songs, and they had keen memories for lyrics as well as tunes. In this case, there are no less than forty different tunes which make up the collection (the performer of such an anthology would have to be quite an expert).
Amongst the tune indications there is one which has since (as happened frequently) become a nursery rhyme in France, namely Il pleut, il pleut bergère by Fabre d'Eglantine, which originally served to disseminate unsavoury rumours about Marie Antoinette during the Revolution. Another such one is the lively tune, Bon Voyage Monsieur Dumolet, which comes from a play that drew a full house, penned by Désaugiers himself (le départ pour Saint Malo, performed for the first time on 25 July, 1809 (p.14), though this nursery rhyme is less well known today.
The tune la Carmagnole needs no introduction (“Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira, les aristocrates à la lanterne, ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira, les aristocrates on les aura …”). Désaugiers used it as the tune for the passage in which he enumerates the jobs of the people of Paris who took an active part in the days of the Revolution and who who were given the name “Sans Coulottes”.
Military music is also present. On va percer le flanc, to the rhythm of the drum, was well suited to a text which depended on the rhyme “an” for scansion. But here the flanc (flank) has become blanc (white) to match the members of the Imperial family, Bonaparte, Lucien, Joseph, Jérôme, on the edge of the abyss.
The refrain is sung to the tune Mesd'moisell, voulez vous danser?, a country polka also known in a much racier version entitled V'la la bastringue.