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mardi, 20 novembre 2018

James Fenimore Cooper et les caricatures


In a country where the cholera could not escape being caricatured, you will readily imagine that the King has fared no better. The lower part of the face of Louis-Philippe is massive, while his forehead, without being mean, narrows in a way to give the outline a shape not unlike that of a pear. An editor of one of the publications of caricatures being on trial for a libel, in his defence, produced a large pear, in order to illustrate his argument, which ran as follows:—People fancied they saw a resemblance in some one feature of a caricature to a particular thing; this thing, again, might resemble another thing; that thing a third; and thus from one to another, until the face of some distinguished individual might be reached. He put it to the jury whether such forced constructions were safe. "This, gentlemen," he continued, "is a common pear, a fruit well known to all of you. By culling here, and here," using his knife as he spoke, "something like a resemblance to a human face is obtained: by clipping here, again, and shaping there, one gets a face that some may fancy they know; and should I, hereafter, publish an engraving of a pear, why everybody will call it a caricature of a man!" You will understand that, by a dexterous use of the knife, such a general resemblance to the countenance of the King was obtained, that it was instantly recognised. The man was rewarded for his cleverness by an acquittal, and, since that time, by an implied convention, a rude sketch of a pear is understood to allude to the King. The fruit abounds in a manner altogether unusual for the season, and, at this moment, I make little doubt, that some thousands of pears are drawn in chalk, coal, or other substances, on the walls of the capital. During the carnival, masquers appeared as pears, with pears for caps, and carrying pears, and all this with a boldness and point that must go far to convince the King that the extreme license he has affected hitherto to allow, cannot very well accord with his secret intentions to bring France back to a government of coercion. The discrepancies that necessarily exist in the present system will, sooner or later, destroy it.

Little can be said in favour of caricatures. They address themselves to a faculty of the mind that is the farthest removed from reason, and, by consequence, from the right; and it is a prostitution of the term to suppose that they are either cause or effect, as connected with liberty. Such things may certainly have their effect, as means, but every good cause is so much the purer for abstaining from the use of questionable agencies. Au reste, there is really a fatality of feature and expression common to the public men of this country that is a strong provocative to caricature. The revolution and empire appear to have given rise to a state of feeling that has broken out with marked sympathy, in the countenance. The French, as a nation, are far from handsome, though brilliant exceptions exist; and it strikes me that they who appear in public life are just among the ugliest of the whole people.


James Fenimore Cooper. A Residence in France (1836), Letter III.

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