Le Philosophe Malgré Lui
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LE PHILOSOPHE MALGRÉ LUI.
Monsieur Proudhon the sage, in the first glow of youth,
E’er he hit on that great philosophical truth,
That the rich of all goodness and sense are bereft,
And that “property,” properly viewed, “is a theft,”
Either hoping to compass that glittering prize,
Which experience has taught him ere this to despise,
Or to rival the fame of Bopp, Rask or Von Hammer,
Prepared a short treatise on “General Grammar.”
Now when in Besançon the treatise was read, all
The savans in conclave decreed it a medal,
To the author’s great joy, for in youth, you must know,
To social distinctions he was not a foe.
But an essay on merely grammatical roots
The popular palate less frequently suits,
Than “Thoughts on the subsoil required for trees,”
Or “Brief Notes on the recent Potato disease.”
So it chanced with the treatise by Proudhon prepared,
For though in the printing no trouble was spared,
Yet when printed, no buyer at all could be found
Save a grocer, who took it at twopence per pound.
Little failures, like this, we might fairly expect
Any zeal for grammatical terms to correct,
And the critics affirm Proudhon first acquired through ‘em.
His dislike to the terms “meum,” “suum,” and “tuum.”
But years rolled away, and our Proudhon became
Very much better known both to Fortune and Fame,
For his books took so well that, in progress of time,
He grew rich by declaring that Wealth is a crime.
When lo! in a bookseller’s shop what should meet his
Rapt gaze, but his little grammatical treatise,
Which the grocer, more blest than its author, perchance,
Had managed to sell at a trifling advance.
And strange to relate, an event so romantic,
Instead of delighting drives Proudhon quite frantic.
With a logic (far other than that which he chose
The injustice of wealth to the world to expose)
He declares that the dealers may use if they please
His pages as wrappers for butter and cheese,
But that all, who dare barter those pages for pelf,
Are infringing a right that belongs to himself.
Of the matter the law takes a different view,
And although he declares he has written a new,
Much improved, much enlarged, and superior edition,
‘Gainst the old one won’t grant the desired prohibition,
And poor Proudhon exclaims in despair “Of my pages
How annoying the fat in my youth and my age is!
Oh! why did I e’er write a treatise, that won’t
Sell at all, when I wish it, and will, when I don’t?”
In poor Proudhon, my readers, I think, will agree,
The most strange combination of wonders to see:
A sage, half afraid that his juvenile page
May compete with the well-matured work of his age;
A thorough-paced Socialist, loth to impart,
Without adequate payment, the works of his art;
And an author (no other such author I know, Sir)
Who regrets that his works have escaped from the grocer.
“Le Philosophe Malgré Lui,” Punch 24 (1853): 93.