Story of the Duchess of Cicogne and of Monsieur de Boulingrin
(who slept for a hundred years in company with the Sleeping
by Anatole France
translated by D. B. Stewart (1920)
THE story of the Sleeping Beauty is
well known; we have excellent accounts of it, both in prose and in verse.
I shall not undertake to relate it again; but, having become acquainted
with several memoirs of the time which have remained unpublished, I discovered
some anecdotes relating to King Cloche and Queen Satine, whose daughter
it was that slept a hundred years, and also to several members of the
Court who shared the Princess's sleep. I propose to communicate to the
public such portions of these revelations as have seemed to me most interesting.
After several years of marriage, Queen Satine gave the
King, her husband, a daughter who received the names of Paule-Marie-Aurore.
The baptismal festivities were planned by the Duc des Hoisons, grand master
of the ceremonies, in accordance with a formulary dating from the Emperor
Honorius, which was so mildewed and so nibbled by rats that it was impossible
to decipher any of it.
There were still fairies in those days, and those who
had titles used to go to Court. Seven of them were invited to be god-mothers,
Queen Titania, Queen Mab, the wise Vivien, trained by Merlin in the arts
of enchantment, Melusina, whose history was written by Jean d'Arras, and
who became a serpent every Saturday (but the baptism was on a Sunday),
Urgèle, White Anna of Brittany, and Mourgue who led Ogier the Dane
into the country of Avalon.
They appeared at the castle in robes of the colour of
time, of the sun, of the moon, and of the nymphs, all glittering with
diamonds and pearls. As all were taking their places at table an old fairy
called Alcuine, who had not been invited, was seen to enter.
"Pray do not be annoyed, madame," said the King,
"that you were not of those invited to this festivity; it was believed
that you were either dead or enchanted."
Since the fairies grew old, there is no doubt that they
used to die. They all died in time, and every body knows that Melusina
became a kitchen wench in Hell. By means of enchantment they could be
imprisoned in a magic circle, a tree, a bush, or a stone, or changed into
a statue, a hind, a dove, a footstool, a ring, or a slipper. But as a
fact it was not because they thought her dead or enchanted that they had
not invited the fairy Alcuine; it was because her presence at the banquet
had been regarded as contrary to etiquette. Madame de Maintenon was able
to state without the least exaggeration that "there are no austerities
in the convents like those to which Court etiquette subjects the great."
In accordance with his sovereign's royal wish the Duc des Hoisons had
not invited the fairy Alcuine, because she had one quartering of nobility
too few to be admitted to Court. When the Ministers of State represented
that it was of the utmost importance to humour this powerful and vindictive
fairy, of whom they would make a dangerous enemy if they excluded her
from the festivities, the King replied in peremptory tones that she could
not be invited, as she was not qualified by birth.
This unhappy monarch, even more than his predecessors,
was a slave to etiquette. His obstinacy in subordinating the greatest
interests and most urgent duties to the smallest exigencies of an obsolete
ceremonial, had more than once caused serious loss to the monarchy, and
had involved the realm in formidable perils. Of all these perils and losses,
those to which Cloche had exposed his house by refusing to stretch a point
of etiquette in favour of a fairy, without birth, yet formidable and illustrious,
were by no means the hardest to foresee, nor was it least urgent to avert
The aged Alcuine, enraged by the contempt to which she
had been subjected, bestowed upon the Princess Aurore a disastrous gift.
At fifteen years of age, beautiful as the day, this royal child was to
die of a fatal wound, caused by a spindle, an innocent weapon in the hands
of mortal women, but a terrible one when the three spinstress Sisters
twist and coil thereon the thread of our destinies and the strings of
The seven godmothers could modify, but could not annul
Alcuine's decree, and thus the fate of the Princess was determined. "Aurore
will prick her hand with a spindle; she will not die of it, but will fall
into a sleep of a hundred years, from which the son of a king will come
to arouse her."
ANXIOUSLY the King and Queen consulted, in respect
of the decree pronounced upon the Princess in her cradle, all persons
of learning and judgment, notably Monsieur Gerberoy, perpetual secretary
of the Academy of Sciences, and Dr. Gastinel, the Queen's accoucheur.
"Monsieur Gerberoy," Satine inquired, "can
one really sleep a hundred years?"
"Madame," answered the Academician, "we
have examples of sleep, more or less prolonged, some of which I can relate
to Your Majesty. Epimenides of Cnossos was born of the loves of a mortal
and a nymph. While yet a child he was sent by Dosiades, his father, to
watch the flocks in the mountains. When the warmth of midday enveloped
the earth, he laid himself down in a cool, dark cave, arid there he fell
into a slumber which lasted for fifty-seven years. He studied the virtues
of the plants, and died, according to some, at the age of a hundred and
fifty-four years; according to others at the age of two hundred and ninety-eight.
"The story of the seven sleepers of Ephesus is related
by Theodore and Rufinus, in a manuscript sealed with two silver seals.
Briefly expounded, these are the principal facts. In the year 25 of our
Lord, seven of the officers of the Emperor Decius, who had embraced the
Christian religion, distributed their goods to the poor, retired to Mount
Celion, and there all seven fell asleep in a cave. During the reign of
Theodore the Bishop of Ephesus found them there, blooming like roses.
They had slept for one hundred and forty-four years.
"Frederick Barbarossa is still asleep. In the crypt
beneath a ruined castle, in the midst of a dense forest, he is seated
before a table round which his beard has twisted seven times. He will
awake to drive away the crows which croak around the mountain.
"These, madame, are the greatest sleepers of whom
History has kept a record."
"They are all exceptions," answered the Queen.
"You, Monsieur Gastinel, who practise medicine, have you ever seen
people sleep a hundred years? "
"No, madame," replied the accoucheur, "I
have not exactly seen any such, nor do I ever expect to do so; but I have
seen some curious cases of lethargy, which, if you desire, I will bring
to Your Majesty's notice.
"Ten years ago a demoiselle Jeanne Caillou, being
admitted to the Hôtel-Dieu, there slept for six consecutive years.
I myself observed the girl Léonide Montauciel, who fell asleep
on Easter Day in the year '6i, and did not awake until Easter Day of the
"Monsieur Gastinel," demanded the King, "can
the point of a spindle cause a wound which will send one to sleep for
a hundred years?"
"Sire, it is not probable," answered Monsieur
Gastinel, "but in the domain of pathology, we can never say with
certainty, 'This will or will not happen.'"
"One might mention Brunhild," said Monsieur
Gerberoy," who was pricked by a thorn, fell asleep, and was awakened
"There was also Guenillon," said the Duchess
of Cicogne, first lady-in-waiting to the Queen. And she hummed:
She was sent to the wood
To gather some nuts,
The bush was too high,
The maid was too small.
The bush was too high,
The maid was too small,
She pricked her poor hand
With a very sharp thorn.
She pricked her poor hand
With a very sharp thorn,
From the pain in her finger
The maid fell asleep.
"What are you thinking of, Cicogne?" said the
Queen. "You are singing."
"Your Majesty will forgive me," replied the
Duchess. "It was to ward off the bad luck."
The King issued an edict, whereby all persons were forbidden
under pain of death to spin with spindles, or even to have spindles in
their possession. All obeyed. They still used to say in the country districts:
"The spindles must follow the mattock," but it was only by force
of habit. The spindles had disappeared.
MONSIEUR DE LA ROCHECOUPEE, the Prime Minister
who, under the feeble King Cloche, governed the kingdom, respected popular
beliefs, as all great statesmen respect them. C was Pontifex Maximus,
and Napoleon had himself crowned by the Pope. Monsieur de La Rochecoupée
admitted the power of the fairies. He was by no means sceptical, by no
means in credulous. He did not suggest that the prediction of the seven
godmothers was false. But, being helpless, he did not allow it to disturb
him. His temperament was such that he did not worry about evils which
he was impotent to remedy. In any case, so far as could be judged, the
occurrence foretold was not imminent. Monsieur de La Rochecoupée
viewed events as a statesman, and statesmen never look beyond the present
moment. I am speaking of the shrewdest and most far sighted. After all,
supposing one day the King's daughter did fall asleep for a hundred years,
it was, in his eyes, purely a family matter, seeing that women were excluded
from the throne by the Salic Law.
He had, as he said, plenty of other fish to fry. Bankruptcy,
hideous bankruptcy was ever present, threatening to consume the wealth
and the honour of the nation. Famine was raging in the kingdom, and millions
of unfortunate wretches were eating plaster instead of bread. That year
the opera ball was more brilliant and the masques finer than ever.
The peasantry, artisans, and shopkeepers, and the girls
of the theatre, vied with one another in grieving over the fatal curse
inflicted by Alcuine upon the innocent Princess. The lords of the Court,
on the contrary, and the princes of the blood royal, appeared very indifferent
to it. And there were on all hands men of business and students of science
who did not believe in the award of the fairies, for the very good reason
that they did not believe in fairies.
Such a one was Monsieur Boulingrin, Secretary of State
for the Treasury. Those who ask how it was possible that he should not
believe in them since he had seen them are unaware of the lengths to which
scepticism can go in an argumentative mind. Nourished on Lucretius, imbued
with the doctrines of Epicurus and Gassendi, he often provoked Monsieur
de La Rochecoupée by the display of a cold disbelief in fairies.
The Prime Minister would say to him: "If not for
your own sake, be a believer for that of the public. Seriously, my dear
Boulingrin, that there are moments when I wonder which of us two is the
more credulous in respect of fairies. I never think of them, and you are
always talking of them."
Monsieur de Boulingrin dearly loved the Duchess of Cicogne,
wife of the ambassador to Vienna, first lady-in-waiting to the Queen,
who belonged to the highest aristocracy of the realm; a witty woman, somewhat
lean, and a trifle close, who was losing her income, her estates, and
her very chemise at faro. She showed much kindness to Monsieur de Boulingrin,
lending herself to an intercourse for which she had no temperamental inclination,
but which she thought suitable to her rank, and useful to her interests.
Their intrigue was conducted with an art which revealed their good taste,
and the elegance of the prevailing morality ; the connection was openly
avowed, and thereby stripped of all base hypocrisy; but it was at the
same time so reserved in appearance that even the severest critics saw
no cause for censure in it.
During the time which the Duchess yearly spent on her
estate, Monsieur de Boulingrin used to stay in an old pigeon-house, separated
from his friend's chateau by a sunken road, which skirted a marsh, where
by night the frogs among the reeds tuned their diligent voices.
Now, one evening when the last rays of the setting sun
were dying the stagnant water with the hue of blood, the Secretary of
State for the Treasury saw at the cross-roads three young fairies who
were dancing in a circle and singing:
They enclosed him within their circle, and their light
and airy forms sped swiftly about him. Their faces, in the twilight, were
dim and transparent; their tresses shone like the will-o'-the-wisp.
"Trois lilies dedane un pré!"
until, dazed and ready to fall, he begged for mercy.
Then said the most beautiful, opening the circle:
"Sisters, give leave to Monsieur de Boulingrin to
pass, that he may go to the castle, and kiss his lady- love."
He went on without having recognized the fairies, the
mistresses of men's destinies, and a little farther on he met three old
beggar women, who were walking bowed low over their sticks; their faces
were like three apples roasted in the cinders. From their rags protruded
bones which had more dirt than flesh upon them. Their naked feet ended
in fleshless toes of immoderate length, like the bones of an ox-tail.
As soon as they saw him approaching they smiled upon him
and threw him kisses; they stopped him on his way, calling him their darling,
their love, their pet, and covered him with caresses which he was powerless
to evade, for the moment he made a movement to escape, they dug into his
flesh the sharp claws at the tips of their fingers.
"Isn't he handsome? Isn't he lovely? " they
For some time they raved on, begging him to love them.
Then, seeing they could not rouse his senses, which were frozen with horror,
they covered him with abuse, hammered him with their staves, threw him
on the ground and trod him underfoot. Then, when he was crushed, broken,
aching, and crippled in every limb, the youngest, who was at least eighty
years of age, squatted upon him and treated him in a manner too infamous
to describe. He was almost suffocated; immediately afterwards the other
two, taking the place of the first, treated the unfortunate gentleman
in the same way. Finally all three made off, saluting him with: "Good
night, Endymion!" "To our next meeting, Adonis! " "Good-bye,
beautiful Narcissus!" and left him swooning.
When he came back to his senses, a toad near him was whistling
deliciously like a flute, and a cloud of mosquitoes were dancing before
the moon. He rose with great difficulty and limpingly pursued his journey.
Once again Monsieur de Boulingrin had failed to recognize
the fairies, mistresses of the destinies of men.
The Duchess of Cicogne awaited him impatiently.
"You come very late, my friend," she said.
He answered, as he kissed her fingers, that it was very
kind of her to reproach him. His excuse was that he had been somewhat
"Boulingrin," she said, "sit down there."
And she confided to him that she would be very happy to
accept from the royal treasury a present of two thousand crowns, as a
fitting compensation for the unkindness of fate, faro having for the last
ix months been terribly against her.
Informed that the matter was urgent, Boulingrin wrote
immediately to Monsieur de La Rochecoupée to ask for the necessary
sum of money.
"La Rochecoupée will be delighted to obtain
it for you," he said. "He is a helpful person and takes pleasure
in serving his friends. I may add that in him one perceives greater talents
than are commonly seen in the favourites of Princes. He has taste, and
a head for business; but he is lacking in philosophy. He believes in fairies,
relying on his senses-"
"Boulingrin," said the Duchess, "you stink
like a tom-cat."
SEVENTEEN years, day by day, had elapsed since
the fairies' decree. The Princess was as beautiful as a star. The King,
Queen, and Court were in residence at the rural palace of Eaux-Perdues.
Need I relate what happened then? It is well known how the Princess Aurore,
wandering one day through the castle, came to the top of a keep, where,
in a garret, she found a dear old woman, all alone, plying her distaff.
She had never heard of the King's regulations, forbidding the use of spindles.
"What are you doing, my good woman?" asked the
"I am spinning, my dear child," replied the
old woman, who did not recognize her.
"Ah, how pretty it looks," replied the Princess.
"How do you do it? Give it to me, that I may see if I can do it as
No sooner had she picked up the spindle, than she pricked
her hand with it, and fell swooning.
King Cloche, when he heard that the fairies' decree had
been accomplished, ordered that the sleeping Princess should be placed
in the Blue Chamber, on a bed of azure embroidered with silver.
Shocked, and full of consternation, the courtiers made
ready to weep, practised sighing, and assumed an expression of deep affliction.
Intrigues were formed in every direction; it was reported that the King
had discharged his Ministers. The blackest calumnies were hatched. It
was said that the Duc de La Rochecoupée had concocted a draught
to send the Princess to sleep, and that Monsieur de Boulingrin was his
The Duchess of Cicogne climbed the secret staircase to
the chambers of her old friend, whom she found in his night-cap, smiling,
for he was reading La Fiancée du roi de Garbe.
Cicogne told him the news, and how the Princess was lying
on a blue bed in a state of lethargy.
The Secretary of State listened attentively.
"You do not believe, I hope, my dear friend, that
the fairies have anything to do with it?" he said.
For he did not believe in fairies, although three of them,
ancient and venerable, had overpowered him with their love and their staves,
and had drenched him to the skin in a disgusting liquid, in order to prove
their existence to him. The defect of the experimental method pursued
by these ladies is that the experiment was addressed to the senses, whose
testimony one can always challenge.
"The fairies have had everything to do with it!"cried
the Duchess. "The Princess's accident may have the most unfortunate
results for you and for me. People will not fail to attribute it to the
incapacity of the Ministers, and possibly to their malevolence. Can one
tell how far calumny may reach? You are already accused of niggardliness.
According to what is being said, you refused, on my advice, to pay for
warders for the young and unfortunate Princess. Worse than that, there
are rumours of black magic, of casting spells. The storm has got to be
faced. Show yourself, or you are lost! "
"Calumny," said Boulingrin, "is the curse
of this world. It has killed the greatest of men. Whoever honestly serves
his King must make up his mind to pay tribute to that crawling, flying
"Boulingrin," said Cicogne, "get dressed."
And she snatched off his night-cap, and threw it down by the bed-side.
A few minutes later they were in the antechamber of the
apartment in which Aurore was sleeping, and seating themselves on a bench
they waited to be introduced.
Now at the news that the decree of the Fates had been
accomplished, the fairy Vivien, one of the Princess's godmothers, repaired
in great haste to Eaux-Perdues, and in order that when she awoke her god-daughter
should have a Court she touched every one in the castle with her ring.
"Governesses, maids of honour, women of the bedchamber, noblemen,
officers, grooms of the chamber, cooks, scullions, messengers, guards,
beadles, pages, and footmen ; she also touched the horses in the stables,
the grooms, the great mastiff s in the yard, and little Pouffe, the Princess's
lap-dog, which lay near her upon her bed. The very spits in front of the
fire, loaded with pheasants and partridges, went to sleep."
Meanwhile, Cicogne and Boulingrin waited side by side
upon their bench.
"Boulingrin," whispered the Duchess in her old
friend's ear, " does it not seem to you that there is something suspicious
in this business? Don't you suspect an intrigue on the part of the King's
brothers to get the poor man to abdicate? He is well known as a good father.
They may well have wished to throw him into despair."
"It is possible," answered the Secretary of
State. "In any case the fairies have nothing whatever to do with
the matter. Only old countrywomen can still believe these cock-and-bull
"Be quiet, Boulingrin," said the Duchess. "There
is nothing so hateful as a sceptic. He is an impertinent person who laughs
at our simplicity. I detest strong-minded people; I believe what I ought
to believe; but in this particular case, I suspect a dark intrigue."
At the moment when Cicogne spoke these words, the fairy
Vivien touched them both with her ring, and sent them to sleep like the
"IN a quarter of an hour there grew all round
about the park such an immense quantity of trees, large and small, with
thorns and briars interlaced, that neither man nor beast could pass; so
that only the tops of the castle towers could be seen, and these only
from a long way off."
Once, twice, thrice, fifty, sixty, eighty, ninety, and
a hundred times did Urania close the circle of Time: the Sleeping Beauty
and her Court, with Boulingrin beside the Duchess on the bench in the
antechamber, still slept on.
Whether one regard Time as a mode of the unique substance,
whether it be defined as one of the forms of the conscious ego, or an
abstract phase of the immediate externality, or whether one regard it
purely as a law, a relation resulting from the progression of Reality,
we can affirm that one hundred years is a certain space of time.
EVERY one knows the end of the enchantment, and
how, after a hundred terrestrial cycles, a prince favoured by the fairies
penetrated the enchanted wood, and reached the bed where slept the Princess.
He was a little German princeling, with a pretty moustache, and rounded
hips. As soon as she woke up, she fell, or rather rose so much in love,
that she followed him to his little principality in such a hurry that
she never said a word to the people of her household, who had slept with
her for a hundred years.
Her first lady-in-waiting was quite touched thereby, and
exclaimed with admiration:
"I recognize the blood of my kings."
Boulingrin woke up beside the Duchess de Cicogne at the
same time as the Princess and all her household.
As he rubbed his eyes, his mistress said:
"Boulingrin, you have been asleep."
"Not at all, dear lady, not at all."
He spoke in good faith. Having slept without dreaming
for a hundred years, he did not know that he had been asleep.
"I have been so little asleep," he said, "that
I can repeat what you said a minute ago."
"Well, what did I say?"
"You said, 'I suspect a dark intrigue.' "
As soon as it awoke, the whole of the little Court was
discharged; every one had to fend for himself as best he could.
Boulingrin and Cicogne hired from the castle steward an
old seventeenth-century trap drawn by an animal which was already very
aged before it went to sleep for a hundred years, and drove to the station
of Eaux-Perdues, where they caught a train which, in two hours, deposited
them in the capital of the country. Great was their surprise at all that
they saw and heard. But by the end of a quarter of an hour they had exhausted
their astonishment, and nothing surprised them any more. As for themselves,
nobody took the slightest interest in them. Their story was perfectly
incomprehensible, and awakened no curiosity, for our minds are not interested
in anything that is too obvious, or too difficult to follow.
As one may well believe, Boulingrin had not the remotest
idea what had happened to him. But when the Duchess said that it was not
natural, he answered:
"Dear lady, allow me to observe that you have been
badly trained in physics. Nothing exists which is not according to Nature."
There remained to them neither friends, relations, nor
property. They could not identify the position of their house. With the
little money they had they bought a guitar, and sang in the streets. By
this means they gained sufficient to support them selves. At night Cicogne
staked at manille, in the inns, the coppers that had been thrown her during
the day, while Boulingrin, with a bowl of warm wine in front of him, explained
to the company that it was ridiculous to believe in fairies.
France, Anatole. "The Story of the
Duchess of Cicogne and of Monsieur de Boulingrin (who slept for a hundred
years in company with the Sleeping Beauty)." The Seven Wives of
Bluebeard and Other Marvellous Tales. D. B. Stewart, translator. James
Lewis May and Bernard Miall, editors. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head,
1920. (New York: John Lane Company, 1920).
Anatole France won the Nobel Prize for literature
in 1921. A highly respected author, he was a leading figure in the French
literary scene during his life.