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 been provoked into the sarcasm shown by Rostand's proboscidean hero:
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"?'
Considerate: 'Take care,. . .your head bowed low
By such a weight. . .lest head o'er heels you go!'
Tender: 'Pray get a small umbrella made,
Lest its bright color in the sun should fade!'
Pedantic: 'That beast Aristophanes
Must have possessed just such a solid lump
Of flesh and bone, beneath his forehead's bump!'....
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. Without Rostand, he might have been remembered more for ears; 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, or a Musical Instrument, proceed all the distinct and different Sounds, which the Lunar Grandees make use of for expressing their Thoughts, instead of Language. . . . This Present employed me about an hour, and then hanging them to my Ears, like a pair of Pendants, I went to walking.
Panache aside, the real de Bergerac died much as Rostand's Cyrano: from injuries caused when a piece of lumber, perhaps dropped intentionally by one of his enemies, fell from a third story window and hit him on the head.