The Learned Women

by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

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ARM. Yes, there was no hesitation in her; she made a display of her obedience, and her heart scarcely took time to hear the order. She seemed less to obey the will of her father than affect to set at defiance the will of her mother.

PHI. I will soon show her to which of us two the laws of reason subject her wishes, and who ought to govern, mother or father, mind or body, form or matter.

ARM. At least, they owed you the compliment of consulting you; and that little gentleman who resolves to become your son-in-law, in spite of yourself, behaves himself strangely.

PHI. He has not yet reached the goal of his desires. I thought him well made, and approved of your love; but his manners were always unpleasant to me. He knows that I write a little, thank heaven, and yet he has never desired me to read anything to him.

SCENE II—ARMANDE, PHILAMINTE, CLITANDRE (entering softly and listening unseen).

ARM. If I were you, I would not allow him to become Henriette's husband. It would be wrong to impute to me the least thought of speaking like an interested person in this matter, and false to think that the base trick he is playing me secretly vexes me. By the help of philosophy, my soul is fortified against such trials; by it we can rise above everything. But to see him treat you so, provokes me beyond all endurance. Honour requires you to resist his wishes, and he is not a man in whom you could find pleasure. In our talks together I never could see that he had in his heart any respect for you.

PHI. Poor idiot!

ARM. In spite of all the reports of your glory, he was always cold in praising you.

PHI. The churl!

ARM. And twenty times have I read to him some of your new productions, without his ever thinking them fine.

PHI. The impertinent fellow!

ARM. We were often at variance about it, and you could hardly believe what foolish things….

CLI (to ARMANDE). Ah! gently, pray. A little charity, or at least a little truthfulness. What harm have I done to you? and of what am I guilty that you should thus arm all your eloquence against me to destroy me, and that you should take so much trouble to render me odious to those whose assistance I need? Tell me why this great indignation? (To PHILAMINTE) I am willing to make you, Madam, an impartial judge between us.

ARM. If I felt this great wrath with which you accuse me, I could find enough to authorise it. You deserve it but too well. A first love has such sacred claims over our hearts, that it would be better to lose fortune and renounce life than to love a second time. Nothing can be compared to the crime of changing one's vows, and every faithless heart is a monster of immorality.

CLI. Do you call that infidelity, Madam, which the haughtiness of your mind has forced upon me? I have done nothing but obey the commands it imposed upon me; and if I offend you, you are the primary cause of the offence. At first your charms took entire possession of my heart. For two years I loved you with devoted love; there was no assiduous care, duty, respect, service, which I did not offer you. But all my attentions, all my cares, had no power over you. I found you opposed to my dearest wishes; and what you refused I offered to another. Consider then, if the fault is mine or yours. Does my heart run after change, or do you force me to it? Do I leave you, or do you not rather turn me away?

ARM. Do you call it being opposed to your love, Sir, if I deprive it of what there is vulgar in it, and if I wish to reduce it to the purity in which the beauty of perfect love consists? You cannot for me keep your thoughts clear and disentangled from the commerce of sense; and you do not enter into the charms of that union of two hearts in which the body is ignored. You can only love with a gross and material passion; and in order to maintain in you the love I have created, you must have marriage, and all that follows. Ah! what strange love! How far great souls are from burning with these terrestrial flames! The senses have no share in all their ardour; their noble passion unites the hearts only, and treats all else as unworthy. Theirs is a flame pure and clear like a celestial fire. With this they breathe only sinless sighs, and never yield to base desires. Nothing impure is mixed in what they propose to themselves. They love for the sake of loving, and for nothing else. It is only to the soul that all their transports are directed, and the body they altogether forget.

CLI. Unfortunately, Madam, I feel, if you will forgive my saying so, that I have a body as well as a soul; and that I am too much attached to that body for me totally to forget it. I do not understand this separation. Heaven has denied me such philosophy, and my body and soul go together. There is nothing so beautiful, as you well say, as that purified love which is directed only to the heart, those unions of the soul and those tender thoughts so free from the commerce of sense. But such love is too refined for me. I am, as you observe, a little gross and material. I love with all my being; and, in the love that is given to me, I wish to include the whole person. This is not a subject for lofty self-denial; and, without wishing to wrong your noble sentiments, I see that in the world my method has a certain vogue; that marriage is somewhat the fashion, and passes for a tie honourable and tender enough to have made me wish to become your husband, without giving you cause to be offended at such a thought.

ARM. Well, well! Sir, since without being convinced by what I say, your grosser feelings will be satisfied; since to reduce you to a faithful love, you must have carnal ties and material chains, I will, if I have my mother's permission, bring my mind to consent to all you wish.

CLI. It is too late; another has accepted before you and if I were to return to you, I should basely abuse the place of rest in which I sought refuge, and should wound the goodness of her to whom I fled when you disdained me.

PHI. But, Sir, when you thus look forward, do you believe in my consent to this other marriage? In the midst of your dreams, let it enter your mind that I have another husband ready for her.

CLI. Ah! Madam, reconsider your choice, I beseech you; and do not expose me to such a disgrace. Do not doom me to the unworthy destiny of seeing myself the rival of Mr. Trissotin. The love of beaux esprits [Footnote: No single word has given me so much trouble to translate as this word esprit. This time I acknowledge myself beaten.], which goes against me in your mind, could not have opposed to me a less noble adversary. There are people whom the bad taste of the age has reckoned among men of genius; but Mr. Trissotin deceives nobody, and everyone does justice to the writings he gives us. Everywhere but here he is esteemed at his just value; and what has made me wonder above all things is to see you exalt to the sky, stupid verses which you would have disowned had you yourself written them.

PHI. If you judge of him differently from us, it is that we see him with other eyes than you do.


TRI. (to PHILAMINTE). I come to announce you great news. We have had a narrow escape while we slept. A world passed all along us, and fell right across our vortex. [Footnote: Tourbillon. Compare act iii scene ii. Another reference to Cotin.] If in its way it had met with our earth, it would have dashed us to pieces like so much glass.

PHI. Let us put off this subject till another season. This gentleman would understand nothing of it; he professes to cherish ignorance, and above all to hate intellect and knowledge.

CLI. This is not altogether the fact; allow me, Madam, to explain myself. I only hate that kind of intellect and learning which spoils people. These are good and beautiful in themselves; but I had rather be numbered among the ignorant than to see myself learned like certain people.

TRI. For my part I do not believe, whatever opinion may be held to the contrary, that knowledge can ever spoil anything.

CLI. And I hold that knowledge can make great fools both in words and in deeds.

TRI. The paradox is rather strong.

CLI. It would be easy to find proofs; and I believe without being very clever, that if reasons should fail, notable examples would not be wanting.

TRI. You might cite some without proving your point.

CLI. I should not have far to go to find what I want.

TRI. As far as I am concerned, I fail to see those notable examples.

CLI. I see them so well that they almost blind me.

TRI. I believed hitherto that it was ignorance which made fools, and not knowledge.

CLI. You made a great mistake; and I assure you that a learned fool is more of a fool than an ignorant one.

TRI. Common sense is against your maxims, since an ignorant man and a fool are synonymous.

CLI. If you cling to the strict uses of words, there is a greater connection between pedant and fool.

TRI. Folly in the one shows itself openly.

CLI. And study adds to nature in the other.

TRI. Knowledge has always its intrinsic value.

CLI. Knowledge in a pedant becomes impertinence.

TRI. Ignorance must have great charms for you, since you so eagerly take up arms in its defence.

CLI. If ignorance has such charms for me, it is since I have met with learned people of a certain kind.

TRI. These learned people of a certain kind may, when we know them well, be as good as other people of a certain other kind.

CLI. Yes, if we believe certain learned men; but that remains a question with certain people.

PHI. (to CLITANDRE.) It seems to me, Sir….

CLI. Ah! Madam, I beg of you; this gentleman is surely strong enough without assistance. I have enough to do already with so strong an adversary, and as I fight I retreat.

ARM. But the offensive eagerness with which your answers….

CLI. Another ally! I quit the field.

PHI. Such combats are allowed in conversation, provided you attack no one in particular.

CLI. Ah! Madam, there is nothing in all this to offend him. He can bear raillery as well as any man in France; and he has supported many other blows without finding his glory tarnished by it.

TRI. I am not surprised to see this gentleman take such a part in this contest. He belongs to the court; that is saying everything. The court, as every one well knows, does not care for learning; it has a certain interest in supporting ignorance. And it is as a courtier he takes up its defence.

CLI. Your are very angry with this poor court. The misfortune is great indeed to see you men of learning day after day declaiming against it; making it responsible for all your troubles; calling it to account for its bad taste, and seeing in it the scapegoat of your ill-success. Allow me, Mr. Trissotin, to tell you, with all the respect with which your name inspires me, that you would do well, your brethren and you, to speak of the court in a more moderate tone; that, after all, it is not so very stupid as all you gentlemen make it out to be; that it has good sense enough to appreciate everything; that some good taste can be acquired there; and that the common sense found there is, without flattery, well worth all the learning of pedantry.

TRI. We See some effects of its good taste, Sir.

CLI. Where do you see, Sir, that its taste is so bad?

TRI. Where, Sir! Do not Rasius and Balbus by their learning do honour to France? and yet their merit, so very patent to all, attracts no notice from the court.

CLI. I see whence your sorrow comes, and that, through modesty, you forbear, Sir, to rank yourself with these. Not to drag you in, tell me what your able heroes do for their country? What service do their writings render it that they should accuse the court of horrible injustice, and complain everywhere that it fails to pour down favours on their learned names? Their knowledge is of great moment to France! and the court stands in great need of the books they write! These wretched scribblers get it into their little heads that to be printed and bound in calf makes them at once important personages in the state; that with their pens they regulate the destiny of crowns; that at the least mention of their productions, pensions ought to be poured down upon them; that the eyes of the whole universe are fixed upon them, and the glory of their name spread everywhere! They think themselves prodigies of learning because they know what others have said before them; because for thirty years they have had eyes and ears, and have employed nine or ten thousand nights or so in cramming themselves with Greek and Latin, and in filling their heads with the indiscriminate plunder of all the old rubbish which lies scattered in books. They always seem intoxicated with their own knowledge, and for all merit are rich in importunate babble. Unskilful in everything, void of common sense, and full of absurdity and impertinence, they decry everywhere true learning and knowledge.

PHI. You speak very warmly on the subject, and this transport shows the working of ill-nature in you. It is the name of rival which excites in your breast….


JUL. The learned gentleman who paid you a visit just now, Madam, and whose humble servant I have the honour to be, exhorts you to read this letter.

PHI. However important this letter may be, learn, friend, that it is a piece of rudeness to come and interrupt a conversation, and that a servant who knows his place should apply first to the people of the household to be introduced.

JUL. I will note that down, Madam, in my book.

PHI. (reads). "Trissotin boasts, Madam, that he is to marry your daughter. I give you notice that his philosophy aims only at your wealth, and that you would do well not to conclude this marriage before you have seen the poem which I am composing against him. While you are waiting for this portrait, in which I intend to paint him in all his colours, I send you Horace, Virgil, Terence, and Catullus, where you will find marked in the margin all the passages he has pilfered."

We see there merit attacked by many enemies because of the marriage I have decided upon. But this general ill-feeling only prompts me to an action which will confound envy, and make it feel that whatever it does only hastens the end. (To JULIAN) Tell all this to your master; tell him also that in order to let him know how much value I set on his disinterested advice, and how worthy of being followed I esteem it, this very evening I shall marry my daughter to this gentleman (showing TRISSOTIN).


PHI. (to CLITANDRE). You, Sir, as a friend of the family, may assist at the signing of the contract, for I am willing to invite you to it. Armande, be sure you send for the notary, and tell your sister of my decision.

ARM. There is no need of saying anything to my sister; this gentleman will be pretty sure to take the news to her, and try and dispose her heart to rebellion.

PHI. We shall see who has most power over her, and whether I can bring her to a sense of her duty.


ARM. I am very sorry to see, Sir, that things are not going quite according to your views.

CLI. I shall go and do all I can not to leave this serious anxiety upon your mind.

ARM. I am afraid that your efforts will not be very successful.

CLI. You may perhaps see that your fears are without foundation.

ARM. I hope it may be so.

CLI. I am persuaded that I shall have all your help.

ARM. Yes, I will second you with all my power.

CLI. And I shall be sure to be most grateful.


CLI. I should be most unfortunate without your assistance, Sir, for your wife has rejected my offer, and, her mind being prepossessed in favour of Trissotin, she insists upon having him for a son-in-law.

CHRY. But what fancy is this that she has got into her head? Why in the world will she have this Mr. Trissotin?

ARI. It is because he has the honour of rhyming with Latin that he is carrying it off over the head of his rival.

CLI. She wants to conclude this marriage to-night.

CHRY. To-night?

CLI. Yes, to-night.

CHRY. Well! and this very night I will, in order to thwart her, have you both married.

CLI. She has sent for the notary to draw up the contract.

CHRY. And I will go and fetch him for the one he must draw up.

CLI. And Henriette is to be told by her sister of the marriage to which she must look forward.

CHRY. And I command her with full authority to prepare herself for this other alliance. Ah! I will show them if there is any other master but myself to give orders in the house. (To HENRIETTE) We will return soon. Now, come along with me, brother; and you also, my son-in-law.

HEN. (to ARISTE). Alas! try to keep him in this disposition.

ARI. I will do everything to serve your love.


CLI. However great may be the help that is promised to my love, my greatest hope is in your constancy.

HEN. You know that you may be sure of my love.

CLI. I see nothing to fear as long as I have that.

HEN. You see to what a union they mean to force me.

CLI. As long as your heart belongs entirely to me, I see nothing to fear.

HEN. I will try everything for the furtherance of our dearest wishes, and if after all I cannot be yours, there is a sure retreat I have resolved upon, which will save me from belonging to any one else.

CLI. May Heaven spare me from ever receiving from you that proof of your love.


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