These animals that marked France

Certain animals have, voluntarily or most often without knowing it, played an original and astonishing role in the history of our country. Dusting the archives, the author Pascal Assemat has gathered in his work stories little known to the general public. They take us with delight on the backs of endearing companions, extraordinary animals ... From the donkey Boronali painter despite himself, to the courageous `` little pioneers '' of French aviation, to the Masco bear touched by a young Savoyard with the counter-revolutionary parrot of the Marquis de Viefville, here are some adventures of these legendary animals.

The donkey Boronali, renowned artist

'' The Agile Rabbit '' is a cabaret like there are dozens of in the Paris of the beautiful era. In this year 1910, Frédéric Gérard, owner of the cabaret known as “Frédé”, was one of the instigators of an artistic deception which caused a stir in France. Breton cap screwed to the forehead, pipe with beak and white beard, this earthy character, a true icon of the place, attracts artists of all kinds. We meet there painters, writers and poets from Paris: Picasso, Modigliani, Utrillo, Apollinaire, Caran d'Arche, Braque ... to whom Father Fédé often gives credit (sometimes the bill is paid in paintings).

But the journalist and writer Roland Dorgelès does not appreciate Picasso's style at all, which he considers too `` avant-garde '' and too innovative for his taste, which is why, with the help of a few friends, he constructs a vast hoax .

In the courtyard of the cabaret surrounded by a crowd of regulars and a bailiff, he places Lolo the donkey of Frédé in front of a pile of hay, arranges pots of paints, places a canvas behind the animal and he attach a brush to the tail dipped in turn in different colors. According to the swings of the said tail, a picture emerges on the canvas!

The resulting crust is called “And the sun fell asleep on the Adriatic” by Joachim Raphaël Boronali, artist from Genoa. Exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants, the work was a considerable success and found a buyer for twenty gold louis. The cronies then reveal the deception in the press, a bailiff's report in support, which will make the whole of France laugh!

The small pioneers of French aviation

Many animals are sent in sounding rockets (rats, cats and monkeys) to study the adaptation of the cardiovascular system and the nervous system to weightlessness. In September 1783, the Montgolfier brothers offered at Versailles, in honor of Louis XVI, a demonstration of a very strange flying object in front of a crowd of curious people attending the event.

High as a six-story house, a blue and yellow canvas balloon called Montgolfière (named after its inventors) has a shape whose middle part is a prism, its top a pyramid and its lower part a truncated cone. The king had them explain how it worked: the straw fire which fed the stove allowed the envelope to rise into the air. The Montgolfier brothers fix a wicker basket under the balloon in which they install ... a sheep, a rooster and a duck! The machine rises to an altitude of six hundred meters to land somehow eight minutes later in the forest of Vaucresson. The spectators rush there to see that the basket has opened but the animals are safe. The king and the court are delighted.

In 1797, Joseph Montgolfier retries the experiment in Vaucluse. To a sort of giant semi-spherical parasol are attached twelve ropes connected to the basket in which a sheep is made to enter.

Four air-filled pig bladders are supposed to cushion the shock. The rest is incredible.

Dropped from the top of the Avignon towers, sheep, parachute and gondola are bundled up and thrown out of the walls. The fall is very fast then, miracle! The parachute opens! Having reached the ground, the sheep, no doubt surprised to be alive, comes out of the basket and runs away on all legs, bleating without asking for its rest. Fi of fame!

Masco and the little Savoyard

The fairytale René de Vandemont, passionate about animals, owns a property in Lorraine. In 1709, he had a pit built to collect and keep in captivity bears, in abundance in this region of the Vosges. He captured a large male which he nicknamed Masco. During the terrible winter that follows, a poor child from Savoy walks through the countryside sweeping the chimneys. Exhausted, frozen with cold, he enters the cage of the Masco bear.

Why does the supposedly ferocious animal not attack the little boy? Mystery! Far from mistreating him, he invites him to snuggle up against his thick fur. The next morning, Masco lets go the child who returns that same evening to find his rescuer.

From caresses to signs of affection, a real bond is woven between the two. Very quickly, it is every evening that the little chimney sweep comes to find his friend with whom he finds refuge and shares his meal. One evening the keeper in charge of the bear's food being late, the latter whose eyes shining in the shadows betray his discontent remains motionless so as not to disturb the child who sleeps against him. Delicate attention from such a wild animal!

This surprising love story could have lasted a long time if the bear had not died prematurely from a cause that was declared unknown. Alfred Brehm, famous German naturalist and zoologist of the 19th century, immortalized the unusual fact in a collection of drawings.

The parrot of Viefville

In a court case that takes place in Arras in 1794, the commissioner of the revolutionary government sharpens his arguments for the pleadings to come. He is interrupted by screams coming from the street. An unrepentant gossip ass muzzled with royalist slogans on the balcony of the room of the Hôtel de Béthune! It is Jacquot, the parrot of the Marquis de la Viefville who harangues passers-by with virulent "long live the king!" Long live the priests! Long live the nobles! ". But in these post-revolutionary years, it is not good to disturb public order, especially in the stronghold of Robespierre!

From his appointment in 1793, Commissioner Joseph le Bon fiercely cracked down on the supporters of royalty. The Marquis de Viefville and his daughter were arrested, plus two maids, while a search was ordered at his home and the brave Jacquot was taken on board to catch him in the act. A whole population travels to attend the extraordinary trial that ensues. The judge charges the old father, his daughter and their maids, who are accused of having educated "the infamous reactionary parrot".

The testimony against the bird being one of the centerpieces of the indictment, Jacquot is brought to the bar on his perch to question him and summon him to repeat his counter-revolutionary remarks. To each question the bird responds with a strident whistle without ceasing to sway and nod its head which greatly amuses the audience. To the chagrin of the prosecutor, he refuses to repeat the ungodly words with which he is accused!

Despite this lack of evidence, the Marquis, his daughter and one of the maids are condemned and executed that same evening. And the parrot? Was he entrusted to Madame Le Bon's care to teach her to cry "Long live the nation!" "?

It seems not. Some sources mention that he would also be mounted on a scaffold specially designed for him! ... Parrots are prohibited from politics! '

These animals which marked France, by Pascal Assemat. Editions '' Le Papillon Rouge '', 2012.

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