Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist

Author: Samuel Smiles

Chapter II. Jasmin at School.

One joyful day Jasmin’s mother came home in an ecstasy of delight, and cried, "To school, my child, to school!" "To school?" said Jasmin, greatly amazed. "How is this? Have we grown rich?" "No, my poor boy, but you will get your schooling for nothing. Your cousin has promised to educate you; come, come, I am so happy!" It was Sister Boe, the schoolmistress of Agen, who had offered to teach the boy gratuitously the elements of reading and writing.

The news of Jacques’ proposed scholarship caused no small stir at home. The mother was almost beside herself with joy. The father too was equally moved, and shed tears of gratitude. He believed that the boy might yet be able to help him in writing out, under his dictation, the Charivari impromptus which, he supposed, were his chief forte. Indeed, the whole family regarded this great stroke of luck for Jacques in the light of a special providence, and as the beginning of a brilliant destiny. The mother, in order to dress him properly, rummaged the house, and picked out the least mended suit of clothes, in which to array the young scholar.

When properly clothed, the boy, not without fear on his own part, was taken by his mother to school.

Behold him, then, placed under the tuition of Sister Boe! There were some fifty other children at school, mumbling at the letters of the alphabet, and trying to read their first easy sentences. Jasmin had a good memory, and soon mastered the difficulties of the A B C. "’Twixt smiles and tears," he says, "I soon learnt to read, by the help of the pious Sister."

In six months he was able to enter the Seminary in the Rue Montesquieu as a free scholar. He now served at Mass. Having a good ear for music ,he became a chorister, and sang the Tantum ergo. He was a diligent boy, and so far everything prospered well with him. He even received a prize. True, it was only an old cassock, dry as autumn heather. But, being trimmed up by his father, it served to hide his ragged clothes beneath.

His mother was very proud of the cassock. "Thank God," she said, "thou learnest well; and this is the reason why, each Tuesday, a white loaf comes from the Seminary. It is always welcome, for the sake of the hungry little ones." "Yes," he replied, "I will try my best to be learned for your sake." But Jasmin did not long wear the cassock. He was shortly after turned out of the Seminary, in consequence of a naughty trick which he played upon a girl of the household.

Jasmin tells the story of his expulsion with great frankness, though evidently ashamed of the transaction. He was passing through the inner court one day, during the Shrove Carnival, when, looking up, he caught sight of a petticoat. He stopped and gazed. A strange tremor crept through his nerves. What evil spirit possessed him to approach the owner of the petticoat? He looked up again, and recognised the sweet and rosy-cheeked Catherine—the housemaid of the Seminary. She was perched near the top of a slim ladder leaning against the wall, standing upright, and feeding the feathery-footed pigeons.

A vision flashed through Jasmin’s mind—"a life all velvet," as he expressed it,—and he approached the ladder. He climbed up a few steps, and what did he see? Two comely ankles and two pretty little feet. His heart burned within him, and he breathed a loud sigh. The girl heard the sigh, looked down, and huddled up the ladder, crying piteously. The ladder was too slim to bear two. It snapped and fell, and they tumbled down, she above and he below!

The loud screams of the girl brought all the household to the spot—the Canons, the little Abbe, the cook, the scullion— indeed all the inmates of the Seminary. Jasmin quaintly remarks, "A girl always likes to have the sins known that she has caused others to commit." But in this case, according to Jasmin’s own showing, the girl was not to blame. The trick which he played might be very innocent, but to the assembled household it seemed very wicked. He must be punished.

First, he had a terrible wigging from the master; and next, he was sentenced to imprisonment during the rest of the Carnival.

In default of a dungeon, they locked him in a dismal little chamber, with some bread and water. Next day, Shrove Tuesday, while the Carnival was afoot, Jasmin felt very angry and very hungry. "Who sleeps eats," says the proverb. "But," said Jasmin, "the proverb lies: I did not sleep, and was consumed by hunger." Then he filled up the measure of his iniquity by breaking into a cupboard!

It happened that the Convent preserves were kept in the room wherein he was confined. Their odour attracted him, and he climbed up, by means of a table and chair, to the closet in which they were stored. He found a splendid pot of preserves. He opened it; and though he had no spoon, he used his fingers and soon emptied the pot. What a delicious treat he enjoyed enough to make him forget the pleasures of the Carnival.

Jasmin was about to replace the empty pot, when he heard the click-clack of a door behind him. He looked round, and saw the Superior, who had unlocked the door, and come to restore the boy to liberty. Oh, unhappy day! When the Abbe found the prisoner stealing his precious preserves, he became furious. "What! plundering my sweetmeats?" he cried. "Come down, sirrah, come down! no pardon for you now." He pulled Jasmin from his chair and table, and the empty jar fell broken at his feet. "Get out, get out of this house, thou imp of hell!" And taking Jasmin by the scruff of the neck, he thrust him violently out of the door and into the street.

But worse was yet to come. When the expelled scholar reached the street, his face and mouth were smeared with jam. He was like a blackamoor. Some urchins who encountered him on his homeward route, surmised that his disguise was intended as a masque for the Carnival. He ran, and they pursued him. The mob of boys increased, and he ran the faster. At last he reached his father’s door, and rushed in, half dead with pain, hunger, and thirst. The family were all there—father, mother, and children.

They were surprised and astonished at his sudden entrance. After kissing them all round, he proceeded to relate his adventures at the Seminary. He could not tell them all, but he told enough. His narrative was received with dead silence. But he was thirsty and hungry. He saw a pot of kidney-bean porridge hanging over the fire, and said he would like to allay his hunger by participating in their meal. But alas! The whole of it had been consumed. The pot was empty, and yet the children were not satisfied with their dinner. "Now I know," said the mother, "why no white bread has come from the Seminary." Jasmin was now greatly distressed. "Accursed sweetmeats," he thought. "Oh! what a wretch I am to have caused so much misery and distress."

The children had eaten only a few vegetables; and now there was another mouth to fill. The fire had almost expired for want of fuel. The children had no bread that day, for the Seminary loaf had not arrived. What were they now to do? The mother suffered cruel tortures in not being able to give her children bread, especially on the home-coming of her favourite scapegrace.

At last, after glancing at her left hand, she rose suddenly. She exclaimed in a cheerful voice, "Wait patiently until my return." She put her Sunday kerchief on her head, and departed. In a short time she returned, to the delight of the children, with a loaf of bread under her arm. They laughed and sang, and prepared to enjoy their feast, though it was only of bread. The mother apparently joined in their cheerfulness, though a sad pain gnawed at her heart. Jasmin saw his mother hide her hand; but when it was necessary for her to cut the loaf, after making the cross according to custom, he saw that the ring on her left hand had disappeared. "Holy Cross," he thought, "it is true that she has sold her wedding-ring to buy bread for her children."

This was a sad beginning of life for the poor boy. He was now another burden on the family. Old Boe had gone, and could no longer help him with his savoury morsels. He was so oppressed with grief, that he could no longer play with his comrades as before. But Providence again came to his aid. The good Abbe Miraben heard the story of his expulsion from the Seminary. Though a boy may be tricky he cannot be perfect, and the priest had much compassion on him. Knowing Jasmin’s abilities, and the poverty of his parents, the Abbe used his influence to obtain an admission for him to one of the town’s schools, where he was again enabled to carry on his education.

The good Abbe was helpful to the boy in many ways. One evening, when Jasmin was on his way to the Augustins to read and recite to the Sisters, he was waylaid by a troop of his old playfellows. They wished him to accompany them to the old rendezvous in the square; but he refused, because he had a previous engagement. The boys then began to hustle him, and proceeded to tear off his tattered clothes. He could only bend his head before his assailants, but never said a word.

At length his good friend Miraben came up and rescued him. He drove away the boys, and said to Jasmin, "Little one, don’t breathe a word; your mother knows nothing. They won’t torment you long! Take up thy clothes," he said. "Come, poverty is not a crime. Courage! Thou art even rich. Thou hast an angel on high watching over thee. Console thyself, brave child, and nothing more will happen to vex thee."

The encouragement of the Abbe proved prophetic. No more troubles of this kind afflicted the boy.

The aged priest looked after the well-being of himself and family. He sent them bread from time to time, and kept the wolf from their door. Meanwhile Jasmin did what he could to help them at home. During the vintage time he was well employed; and also at fair times. He was a helpful boy, and was always willing to oblige friends and neighbours.

But the time arrived when he must come to some determination as to his future calling in life. He was averse to being a tailor, seeing the sad results of his father’s trade at home. After consultation with his mother, he resolved on becoming a barber and hairdresser. Very little capital was required for carrying on that trade; only razors, combs, and scissors.

Long after, when Jasmin was a comparatively thriving man, he said: "Yes, I have eaten the bread of charity; most of my ancestors died at the hospital; my mother pledged her nuptial ring to buy a loaf of bread. All this shows how much misery we had to endure, the frightful picture of which I have placed in the light of day in my Souvenirs. But I am afraid of wearying the public, as I do not wish to be accused of aiming too much at contrasts. For when we are happy, perfectly happy, there is nothing further from what I am, and what I have been, as to make me fear for any such misconstruction on the part of my hearers."


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Samuel Smiles, "Chapter II. Jasmin at School.," Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Stewart, Aubrey in Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist Original Sources, accessed March 25, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3WDR2W19X5L1DEE.

MLA: Smiles, Samuel. "Chapter II. Jasmin at School." Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Stewart, Aubrey, in Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist, Original Sources. 25 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3WDR2W19X5L1DEE.

Harvard: Smiles, S, 'Chapter II. Jasmin at School.' in Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist, ed. and trans. . cited in , Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist. Original Sources, retrieved 25 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3WDR2W19X5L1DEE.