Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 13 HTML version
The Englishman Of Etretat
A great English poet has just crossed over to France in order to greet Victor Hugo. All the
newspapers are full of his name and he is the great topic of conversation in all drawing-
rooms. Fifteen years ago I had occasion several times to meet Algernon Charles
Swinburne. I will attempt to show him just as I saw him and to give an idea of the strange
impression he made on me, which will remain with me throughout time.
I believe it was in 1867 or in 1868 that an unknown young Englishman came to Etretat
and bought a little but hidden under great trees. It was said that he lived there, always
alone, in a strange manner; and he aroused the inimical surprise of the natives, for the
inhabitants were sullen and foolishly malicious, as they always are in little towns.
They declared that this whimsical Englishman ate nothing but boiled. roasted or stewed
monkey; that he would see no one; that he talked to himself hours at a time and many
other surprising things that made people think that he was different from other men. They
were surprised that he should live alone with a monkey. Had it been a cat or a dog they
would have said nothing. But a monkey! Was that not frightful? What savage tastes the
man must have!
I knew this young man only from seeing him in the streets. He was short, plump, without
being fat, mild-looking, and he wore a little blond mustache, which was almost invisible.
Chance brought us together. This savage had amiable and pleasing manners, but he was
one of those strange Englishmen that one meets here and there throughout the world.
Endowed with remarkable intelligence, he seemed to live in a fantastic dream, as Edgar
Poe must have lived. He had translated into English a volume of strange Icelandic
legends, which I ardently desired to see translated into French. He loved the supernatural,
the dismal and grewsome, but he spoke of the most marvellous things with a calmness
that was typically English, to which his gentle and quiet voice gave a semblance of reality
that was maddening.
Full of a haughty disdain for the world, with its conventions, prejudices and code of
morality, he had nailed to his house a name that was boldly impudent. The keeper of a
lonely inn who should write on his door: "Travellers murdered here!" could not make a
more sinister jest. I never had entered his dwelling, when one day I received an invitation
to luncheon, following an accident that had occurred to one of his friends, who had been
almost drowned and whom I had attempted to rescue.
Although I was unable to reach the man until he had already been rescued, I received the
hearty thanks of the two Englishmen, and the following day I called upon them.
The friend was a man about thirty years old. He bore an enormous head on a child's
body--a body without chest or shoulders. An immense forehead, which seemed to have