The Learned Women

by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

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PHI. Ah! Let us sit down here to listen comfortably to these verses; they should be weighed word by word.

ARM. I am all anxiety to hear them.

BEL. And I am dying for them.

PHI. (to TRISSOTIN). Whatever comes from you is a delight to me.

ARM. It is to me an unparalleled pleasure.

BEL. It is a delicious repast offered to my ears.

PHI. Do not let us languish under such pressing desires.

ARM. Lose no time.

BEL. Begin quickly and hasten our pleasure.

PHI. Offer your epigram to our impatience.

TRI. (to PHILAMINTE). Alas! it is but a new-born child, Madam, but its fate ought truly to touch your heart, for it was in your court-yard that I brought it forth, but a moment since.

PHI. To make it dear to me, it is sufficient for me to know its father.

TRI. Your approbation may serve it as a mother.

BEL. What wit he has!


PHI. (to HENRIETTE, who is going away). Stop! why do you run away?

HEN. I fear to disturb such sweet intercourse.

PHI. Come nearer, and with both ears share in the delight of hearing wonders.

HEN. I have little understanding for the beauties of authorship, and witty things are not in my line.

PHI. No matter. Besides, I wish afterwards to tell you of a secret which you must learn.

TRI. (to HENRIETTE). Knowledge has nothing that can touch you, and your only care is to charm everybody.

HEN. One as little as the other, and I have no wish….

BEL. Ah! let us think of the new-born babe, I beg of you.

PHI. (to LÉPINE). Now, little page, bring some seats for us to sit down. (LÉPINE slips down.) You senseless boy, how can you fall down after having learnt the laws of equilibrium?

BEL. Do you not perceive, ignorant fellow, the causes of your fall, and that it proceeds from your having deviated from the fixed point which we call the centre of gravity?

LEP. I perceived it, Madam, when I was on the ground.

PHI. (to LÉPINE, who goes out). The awkward clown!

TRI. It is fortunate for him that he is not made of glass.

ARM. Ah! wit is everything!

BEL. It never ceases. (They sit down.)

PHI. Serve us quickly your admirable feast.

TRI. To satisfy, the great hunger which is here shown to me, a dish of eight verses seems but little; and I think that I should do well to join to the epigram, or rather to the madrigal, the ragout of a sonnet which, in the eyes of a princess, was thought to have a certain delicacy in it. It is throughout seasoned with Attic salt, and I think you will find the taste of it tolerably good.

ARM. Ah! I have no doubt of it.

PHI. Let us quickly give audience.

BEL. (interrupting TRISSOTIN each time he is about to read). I feel, beforehand, my heart beating for joy. I love poetry to distraction, particularly when the verses are gallantly turned.

PHI. If we go on speaking he will never be able to read.


BEL. (to HENRIETTE). Be silent, my niece.

ARM. Ah! let him read, I beg.

TRI. SONNET TO THE PRINCESS URANIA ON HER FEVER.[1] Your prudence fast in sleep's repose Is plunged; if thus superbly kind, A lodging gorgeously you can find For the most cruel of your foes— [1] [The sonnet is not of Molière's invention, but is to be found in Les Oeuvres galantes en prose et en vers de M. Cotin, Paris, 1663. It is called, Sonnet à Mademoiselle de Longueville, à présent Duchesse de Nemours, sur sa fièvre quarte. As, of necessity, the translation given above is not very literal, I append the original.

"Votre prudence est endormie, De traiter magnifiquement, Et de loger superbement, Votre plus cruelle ennemie; Faites-la sortir quoi qu'on die, De votre riche appartement, Où cette ingrate insolemment Attaque votre belle vie! Quoi! sans respecter votre rang, Elle se prend à votre sang, Et nuit et jour vous fait outrage! Si vous la conduisez aux bains, Sans la marchander davantage, Noyez-la de vos propres mains." The die of quoi qu'on die was the regular form in Molière's time, and had nothing archaic about it. This is sufficiently true of "Will she, nill she" (compare Shakespeare's "And, will you, nill you, I will marry you") to excuse its use here.]

BEL. Ah! what a pretty beginning!

ARM. What a charming turn it has!

PHI. He alone possesses the talent of making easy verses.

ARM. We must yield to prudence fast in sleep's repose is plunged.

BEL. A lodging for the most cruel of your foes is full of charms for me.

PHI. I like superbly and gorgeously; these two adverbs joined together sound admirably.

BEL. Let us hear the rest.

TRI. Your prudence fast in sleep's repose Is plunged; if thus superbly kind, A lodging gorgeously you can find For the most cruel of your foes ARM. Prudence asleep!

BEL. Lodge one's enemy!

PHI. Superbly and gorgeously!

TRI. Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes! From your apartment richly lined, Where that ingrate's outrageous mind At your fair life her javelin throws. BEL. Ah! gently. Allow me to breathe, I beseech you.

ARM. Give us time to admire, I beg.

PHI. One feels, at hearing these verses, an indescribable something which goes through one's inmost soul, and makes one feel quite faint.

ARM. Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes From your apartment richly lined. How prettily rich apartment is said here, and with what wit the metaphor is introduced!

PHI. Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes! Ah! in what admirable taste that will she, nill she, is! To my mind the passage is invaluable.

ARM. My heart is also in love with will she, nill she.

BEL. I am of your opinion; will she, nill she, is a happy expression.

ARM. I wish I had written it.

BEL. It is worth a whole poem!

PHI. But do you, like me, understand thoroughly the wit of it?

ARM. and BEL. Oh! oh

PHIL. Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes! Although another should take the fever's part, pay no attention; laugh at the gossips; will she, nill she, quick, out she goes. Will she, nill she, will she, nill she. This will she, nill she, says a great deal more than it seems. I do not know if every one is like me, but I discover in it a hundred meanings.

BEL. It is true that it says more than its size seems to imply.

PHI. (to TRISSOTIN). But when you wrote this charming Will she, nill she, did you yourself understand all its energy? Did you realise all that it tells us, and did you then think that you were writing something so witty?

TRI. Ah! ah!

ARM. I have likewise the ingrate in my head; this ungrateful, unjust, uncivil fever that ill-treats people who entertain her.

PHI. In short, both the stanzas are admirable. Let us come quickly to the triplets, I pray.

ARM. Ah! once more, will she, nill she, I beg.

TRI. Will she, nill she, quick, out she goes!

PHI., ARM. and BEL. Will she, nill she!

TRI. From your apartment richly lined.

PHI., ARM. and BEL. Rich apartment!

TRI. Where that ingrate's outrageous mind.

PHI., ARM. and BEL. That ungrateful fever!

TRI. At your fair life her javelin throws.

PHI. Fair life!

ARM. and BEL. Ah!

TRI. What! without heed for your high line, She saps your blood with care malign… PHI., ARM. and BEL. Ah!

TRI. Redoubling outrage night and day! If to the bath you take her down, Without a moment's haggling, pray, With your own hands the miscreant drown. PHI. Ah! it is quite overpowering.

BEL. I faint.

ARM. I die from pleasure.

PHI. A thousand sweet thrills seize one.

ARM. If to the bath you take her down,

BEL. Without a moment's haggling, pray,

PHI. With your own hands the miscreant drown. With your own hands, there, drown her there in the bath.

ARM. In your verses we meet at each step with charming beauty.

BEL. One promenades through them with rapture.

PHI. One treads on fine things only.

ARM. They are little lanes all strewn with roses.

TRI. Then the sonnet seems to you….

PHI. Admirable, new; and never did any one make anything more beautiful.

BEL. (to HENRIETTE). What! my niece, you listen to what has been read without emotion! You play there but a sorry part!

HEN. We each of us play the best part we can, my aunt, and to be a wit does not depend on our will.

TRI. My verses, perhaps, are tedious to you.

HEN. No. I do not listen.

PHI. Ah! let us hear the epigram.


PHI. His titles have always something rare in them.

ARM. They prepare one for a hundred flashes of wit.

TRI. Love for his bonds so dear a price demands, E'en now it costs me more than half my lands, And when this chariot meets your eyes, Where so much gold emboss'd doth rise That people all astonished stand, And Laïs rides in triumph through the land… [2] [This epigram is also by Cotin. It is called, 'Madrigal sur un carosse de couleur amarante, acheté pour une dame.'

"L'amour si chèrement m'a vendu son lien Qu'il me coûte déjà la moitié de mon bien, Et quand tu vois ce beau carrosse, Où tant d'or se relève en bosse, Qu'il étonne tout le pays, Et fait pompeusement triompher ma Laïs, Ne dis plus qu'il est amarante, Dis plutôt qu'il est de ma rente."] PHI. Ah! Laïs! what erudition!

BEL. The cover is pretty, and worth a million.

TRI. And when this chariot meets your eyes, Where so much gold emboss'd doth rise That people all astonished stand, And Laïs rides in triumph through the land, Say no more it is amaranth, Say rather it is o' my rent. ARM. Oh, oh, oh! this is beyond everything; who would have expected that?

PHI. He is the only one to write in such taste.

BEL. Say no more it is amaranth, say rather it is o' my rent! It can be declined; my rent; of my rent; to my rent; from my rent.

PHI. I do not know whether I was prepossessed from the first moment I saw you, but I admire all your prose and verse whenever I see it.

TRI. (to PHILAMINTE). If you would only show us something of your composition, we could admire in our turn.

PHI. I have done nothing in verse; but I have reason to hope that I shall, shortly, be able, as a friend, to show you eight chapters of the plan of our Academy. Plato only touched on the subject when he wrote the treatise of his Republic; but I will complete the idea as I have arranged it on paper in prose. For, in short, I am truly angry at the wrong which is done us in regard to intelligence; and I will avenge the whole sex for the unworthy place which men assign us by confining our talents to trifles, and by shutting the door of sublime knowledge against us.

ARM. It is insulting our sex too grossly to limit our intelligence to the power of judging of a skirt, of the make of a garment, of the beauties of lace, or of a new brocade.

BEL. We must rise above this shameful condition, and bravely proclaim our emancipation.

TRI. Every one knows my respect for the fairer sex, and that if I render homage to the brightness of their eyes, I also honour the splendour of their intellect. PHI. And our sex does you justice in this respect: but we will show to certain minds who treat us with proud contempt that women also have knowledge; that, like men, they can hold learned meetings—regulated, too, by better rules; that they wish to unite what elsewhere is kept apart, join noble language to deep learning, reveal nature's laws by a thousand experiments; and on all questions proposed, admit every party, and ally themselves to none.

TRI. For order, I prefer peripateticism.

PHI. For abstractions I love Platonism.

ARM. Epicurus pleases me, for his tenets are solid.

BEL. I agree with the doctrine of atoms: but I find it difficult to understand a vacuum, and I much prefer subtile matter.

TRI. I quite agree with Descartes about magnetism.

ARM. I like his vortices.

PHI. And I his falling worlds. [Footnote: Notes do not seem necessary here; a good English dictionary will give better explanations than could be given except by very long notes.]

ARM. I long to see our assembly opened, and to distinguish ourselves by some great discovery.

TRI. Much is expected from your enlightened knowledge, for nature has hidden few things from you.

PHI. For my part, I have, without boasting, already made one discovery; I have plainly seen men in the moon.

BEL. I have not, I believe, as yet quite distinguished men, but I have seen steeples as plainly as I see you. [Footnote: An astronomer of the day had boasted of having done this.]

ARM. In addition to natural philosophy, we will dive into grammar, history, verse, ethics, and politics.

PHI. I find in ethics charms which delight my heart; it was formerly the admiration of great geniuses; but I give the preference to the Stoics, and I think nothing so grand as their founder.

ARM. Our regulations in respect to language will soon be known, and we mean to create a revolution. Through a just or natural antipathy, we have each of us taken a mortal hatred to certain words, both verbs and nouns, and these we mutually abandon to each other. We are preparing sentences of death against them, we shall open our learned meetings by the proscription of the diverse words of which we mean to purge both prose and verse.

PHI. But the greatest project of our assembly—a noble enterprise which transports me with joy, a glorious design which will be approved by all the lofty geniuses of posterity—is the cutting out of all those filthy syllables which, in the finest words, are a source of scandal: those eternal jests of the fools of all times; those nauseous commonplaces of wretched buffoons; those sources of infamous ambiguity, with which the purity of women is insulted.

TRI. These are indeed admirable projects.

BEL. You shall see our regulations when they are quite ready.

TRI. They cannot fail to be wise and beautiful.

ARM. We shall by our laws be the judges of all works; by our laws, prose and verse will both alike be submitted to us. No one will have wit except us or our friends. We shall try to find fault with everything, and esteem no one capable of writing but ourselves.


LEP. (to TRISSOTIN). Sir, there is a gentleman who wants to speak to you; he is dressed all in black, and speaks in a soft tone. (They all rise.)

TRI. It is that learned friend who entreated me so much to procure him the honour of your acquaintance.

PHI. You have our full leave to present him to us. (TRISSOTIN goes out to meet VADIUS.)


PHI. (to ARMANDE and BÉLISE). At least, let us do him all the honours of our knowledge. (To HENRIETTE, who is going) Stop! I told you very plainly that I wanted to speak to you.

HEN. But what about?

PHI. You will soon be enlightened on the subject.


TRI. (introducing VADIUS). [Footnote: It is probably Ménage who is here laughed at.] Here is the gentleman who is dying to see you. In presenting him I am not afraid, Madam, of being accused of introducing a profane person to you; he can hold his place among the wits.

PHI. The hand which introduces him sufficiently proves his value.

TRI. He has a perfect knowledge of the ancient authors, and knows Greek, Madam, as well as any man in France. PHI. (to BÉLISE). Greek! O heaven! Greek! He understands Greek, sister!

BEL. (to ARMANDE). Ah, niece! Greek!

ARM. Greek! ah! how delightful!

PHI. What, Sir, you understand Greek? Allow me, I beg, for the love of Greek, to embrace you. (VADIUS embraces also BÉLISE and ARMANDE.) HEN. (to VADIUS, who comes forward to embrace her) Excuse me, Sir, I do not understand Greek. (They sit down.) PHI. I have a wonderful respect for Greek books.

VAD. I fear that the anxiety which calls me to render my homage to you to-day, Madam, may render me importunate. I may have disturbed some learned discourse.

PHI. Sir, with Greek in possession, you can spoil nothing.

TRI. Moreover, he does wonders in prose as well as in verse, and he could, if he chose, show you something.

VAD. The fault of authors is to burden conversation with their productions; to be at the Palais, in the walks, in the drawing-rooms, or at table, the indefatigable readers of their tedious verses. As for me, I think nothing more ridiculous than an author who goes about begging for praise, who, preying on the ears of the first comers, often makes them the martyrs of his night watches. I have never been guilty of such foolish conceit, and I am in that respect of the opinion of a Greek, who by an express law forbade all his wise men any unbecoming anxiety to read their works.—Here are some little verses for young lovers upon which I should like to have your opinion.

TRI. Your verses have beauties unequalled by any others.

VAD. Venus and the Graces reign in all yours.

TRI. You have an easy style, and a fine choice of words.

VAD. In all your writings one finds ithos and pathos.

TRI. We have seen some eclogues of your composition which surpass in sweetness those of Theocritus and Virgil.

VAD. Your odes have a noble, gallant, and tender manner, which leaves Horace far behind. TRI. Is there anything more lovely than your canzonets?

VAD. Is there anything equal to the sonnets you write?

TRI. Is there anything more charming than your little rondeaus?

VAD. Anything so full of wit as your madrigals?

TRI. You are particularly admirable in the ballad.

VAD. And in bouts-rimés I think you adorable.

TRI. If France could appreciate your value—

VAD. If the age could render justice to a lofty genius—

TRI. You would ride in the streets in a gilt coach.

VAD. We should see the public erect statues to you. Hem…(to TRISSOTIN). It is a ballad; and I wish you frankly to…. TRI. (to VADIUS). Have you heard a certain little sonnet upon the Princess Urania's fever?

VAD. Yes; I heard it read yesterday.

TRI. Do you know the author of it?

VAD. No, I do not; but I know very well that, to tell him the truth, his sonnet is good for nothing.

TRI. Yet a great many people think it admirable.

VAD. It does not prevent it from being wretched; and if you had read it, you would think like me.

TRI. I know that I should differ from you altogether, and that few people are able to write such a sonnet.

VAD. Heaven forbid that I should ever write one so bad!

TRI. I maintain that a better one cannot be made, and my reason is that I am the author of it.

VAD. You?

TRI. Myself.

VAD. I cannot understand how the thing can have happened.

TRI. It is unfortunate that I had not the power of pleasing you.

VAD. My mind must have wandered during the reading, or else the reader spoilt the sonnet; but let us leave that subject, and come to my ballad.

TRI. The ballad is, to my mind, but an insipid thing; it is no longer the fashion, and savours of ancient times.

VAD. Yet a ballad has charms for many people.

TRI. It does not prevent me from thinking it unpleasant.

VAD. That does not make it worse.

TRI. It has wonderful attractions for pedants.

VAD. Yet we see that it does not please you.

TRI. You stupidly give your qualities to others.

(They all rise.)

VAD. You very impertinently cast yours upon me.

TRI. Go, you little dunce! you pitiful quill-driver!

VAD. Go, you penny-a-liner! you disgrace to the profession!

TRI. Go, you book-maker, you impudent plagiarist!

VAD. Go, you pedantic snob!

PHI. Ah! gentlemen, what are you about?

TRI. (to VADIUS). Go, go, and make restitution to the Greeks and Romans for all your shameful thefts.

VAD. Go and do penance on Parnassus for having murdered Horace in your verses.

TRI. Remember your book, and the little noise it made.

VAD. And you, remember your bookseller, reduced to the workhouse.

TRI. My glory is established; in vain would you endeavour to shake it.

VAD. Yes, yes; I send you to the author of the 'Satires.' [Footnote: Boileau.] TRI. I, too, send you to him.

VAD. I have the satisfaction of having been honourably treated by him; he gives me a passing thrust, and includes me among several authors well known at the Palais; but he never leaves you in peace, and in all his verses you are exposed to his attacks.

TRI: By that we see the honourable rank I hold. He leaves you in the crowd, and esteems one blow enough to crush you. He has never done you the honour of repeating his attacks, whereas he assails me separately, as a noble adversary against whom all his efforts are necessary; and his blows, repeated against me on all occasions, show that he never thinks himself victorious.

VAD. My pen will teach you what sort of man I am.

TRI. And mine will make you know your master.

VAD. I defy you in verse, prose, Greek and Latin.

TRI. Very well, we shall meet each other alone at Barbin's. [Footnote: Barbin, a famous bookseller. The arms chosen for the duel would no doubt be books. See "The Lutrin," by Boileau.]


TRI. Do not blame my anger. It is your judgment I defend, Madam, in the sonnet he dares to attack.

PHI. I will do all I can to reconcile you. But let us speak of something else. Come here, Henriette. I have for some time now been tormented at finding in you a want of intellectuality, but I have thought of a means of remedying this defect.

HEN. You take unnecessary trouble for my sake. I have no love for learned discourses. I like to take life easy, and it is too much trouble to be intellectual. Such ambition does not trouble my head, and I am perfectly satisfied, mother, with being stupid. I prefer to have only a common way of talking, and not to torment myself to produce fine words.

PHI. That may be; but this stupidity wounds me, and it is not my intention to suffer such a stain on my family. The beauty of the face is a fragile ornament, a passing flower, a moment's brightness which only belongs to the epidermis; whereas that of the mind is lasting and solid. I have therefore been feeling about for the means of giving you the beauty which time cannot remove—of creating in you the love of knowledge, of insinuating solid learning into you; and the way I have at last determined upon is to unite you to a man full of genius; (showing TRISSOTIN) to this gentleman, in fact. It is he whom I intend you to marry.

HEN. Me, mother!

PHI. Yes, you! just play the fool a little.

BEL. (to TRISSOTIN). I understand you; your eyes ask me for leave to engage elsewhere a heart I possess. Be at peace, I consent. I yield you up to this union; it is a marriage which will establish you in society.

TRI. (to HENRIETTE). In my delight, I hardly know what to tell you, Madam, and this marriage with which I am honoured puts me….

HEN. Gently, Sir; it is not concluded yet; do not be in such a hurry.

PHI. What a way of answering! Do you know that if … but enough. You understand me. (To TRISSOTIN) She will obey. Let us leave her alone for the present.


ARM. You see how our mother's anxiety for your welfare shines forth; she could not have chosen a more illustrious husband….

HEN. If the choice is so good, why do you not take him for yourself?

ARM. It is upon you, and not upon me, that his hand is bestowed.

HEN. I yield him up entirely to you as my elder Sister.

ARM. If marriage seemed so pleasant to me as it seems to be to you, I would accept your offer with delight.

HEN. If I loved pedants as you do, I should think the match an excellent one.

ARM. Although our tastes differ so in this case, you will still have to obey our parents, sister. A mother has full power over us, and in vain do you think by resistance to….


CHRY. (to HENRIETTE, as he presents CLITANDRE). Now, my daughter, you must show your approval of what I do. Take off your glove, shake hands with this gentleman, and from henceforth in your heart consider him as the man I want you to marry.

ARM. Your inclinations on this side are strong enough, sister.

HEN. We must obey our parents, sister; a father has full power over us.

ARM. A mother should have a share of obedience.

CHRY. What is the meaning of this?

ARM. I say that I greatly fear you and my mother are not likely to agree on this point, and this other husband….

CHRY. Be silent, you saucy baggage: philosophise as much as you please with her, and do not meddle with what I do. Tell her what I have done, and warn her that she is not to come and make me angry. Go at once!


ARI. That's right; you are doing wonders!

CLI. What transport! what joy! Ah! how kind fortune is to me!

CHRY. (to CLITANDRE). Come, take her hand and pass before us; take her to her room. Ah! what sweet caresses. (to ARISTE) How moved my heart is before this tenderness; it cheers up one's old age, and I can still remember my youthful loving days.


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