July 28, 1655: On this day in 1655 Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac died at the age of thirty-six. He was the model for Edmond Rostand’s 1897 hit play, and a writer himself — several plays, and two science-fantasy novels about voyages to the moon and sun. De Bergerac was in the Guards for several years, and injured twice in sword fights, but his reputation as a duelist is largely legend. On the other hand, he did have a very large nose, and a belief that “A large nose is the mark of a witty, courteous, affable, generous, and liberal man.” He was also a free spirit and a satirist, the kind who might easily have parried attacks on his proboscis in the manner of Rostand’s Cyrano:
Ah no! young blade! That was a trifle short!
You might have said at least a hundred things
By varying the tone … like this, suppose …
Aggressive: ‘Sir, if I had such a nose
I’d amputate it!’ Friendly: ‘When you sup
It must annoy you, dipping in your cup;
You need a drinking-bowl of special shape!’
Descriptive: ”Tis a rock!. . .a peak! … a cape!
—A cape, forsooth! ‘Tis a peninsular!’
Curious: ‘How serves that oblong capsular?
For scissor-sheath? Or pot to hold your ink?’
Gracious: ‘You love the little birds, I think?
I see you’ve managed with a fond research
To find their tiny claws a roomy perch!’
Truculent: ‘When you smoke your pipe … suppose
That the tobacco-smoke spouts from your nose—
Do not the neighbors, as the fumes rise higher,
Cry terror-struck: “The chimney is afire”?’…
De Bergerac is regarded as one of the pioneers in science-fantasy writing, though his interest in fantastic journeys — like Swift, who read him — was really to satirize what he found ridiculous at home. One of his novels seems to predict the phonograph, if not the Walkman:
As I opened the Box, I found within somewhat of Metal almost like to our Clocks, full of I know not what little Springs and imperceptible Engines. It was a Book indeed, but a strange and wonderful Book, that had neither Leaves nor Letters. In fine, it was a Book made wholly for the Ears and not the Eyes. So that when any body has a mind to read in it, he winds up the Machine with a great many little Springs: and he turns the hand to the Chapter he desires to hear, and straight, as from the Mouth of Man…. This Present employed me about an hour, and then hanging them to my Ears, like a pair of Pendants, I went to walking.