13 November 2013

Pitt & Perigord

Wilberforce related an anecdote which had once been told to him by Mr. Pitt concerning the “gaiety of heart” amongst French people despite the horrific machinations of the French Revolution, and the terrible treatment and execution of Marie Antoinette. 
Pitt had once told Wilberforce that “shortly after the tragical death of Marie Antoinette, M. Perigord, an emigrant of some consequence who had made Mr. Pitt’s acquaintance at Versailles, took refuge in England, and on coming to London went to pay his respects in Downing Street. The conversation naturally turned upon the bloody scenes of the French Revolution; on their fatal consequences to social order; and in particular on the barbarity with which the unfortunate Queen had been treated. The Frenchman’s feelings were quite overcome, and he exclaimed amidst violent sobbing, ‘Ah! Monsieur Pitt, la pauvre Reine! la pauvre Reine!’ These words had scarcely been uttered, when he jumped up as if a new idea possessed him, and looking towards a little dog which came with him, he exclaimed, ‘Cependant, Monsieur Pitt, il faut vous faire voir mon petit chien danser.’ Then pulling a small kit out of his pocket, he began dancing about the room to the sound of his little instrument, and calling to the dog, ‘Fanchon, Fanchon, dansez, dansez,’ the little animal instantly obeyed, and they cut such capers together that the minister’s [Pitt’s] gravity was quite overcome, and he burst into a loud laugh, hardly knowing whether he was most amused or astonished” (Wilberforce, 1838: 261-2).

Reference:

Wilberforce, R.I. and Wilberforce, S. (1838) The Life of William Wilberforce by his sons, Vol. 5. London: John Murray, pp. 261-2.

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