Gérard de Nerval, 1808-1855; The Man Who Loved Lobster

I have a vague memory of a Robert Graves essay in which he decries people who steal jokes.  (Google is useless in finding it, suggestions welcome.)  One takes his point.

I have a stronger memory, easily googled, of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) in his very best Sebastian Flyte mode walking his pet lobster about Magdalen College Oxford.  Ah, young wit!

Witty, but not original.

Though there may be others, I’m guessing that the first of the lobster walkers was the French poet Nerval.  And he had reasons other than style.

The story goes that he was charged with rescuing a particularly toothsome homard from the boiling pot.  A theft, it seems, and one he had to pay for – or at least, that was the story he gave out to a childhood friend.   What is certain is that he paraded it around the Palais Royale on the end of a blue ribbon, attracting attention and comments.

Well, poets, what can one expect?  Why a lobster? As well ask (and he did) dog or cat or a gazelles or a lion for that matter?  The lobster (its name was Thibault was with him because he liked it. And because it did not bark and it knew the secrets of the deep.  Eh bien, ça suffit

Either that or he was in fact making an ethical argument.  Among his other works was an homage to noted leafer and ethicist Pythagorus, the one who would not eat beans because they house the souls of the unborn.  (Presumably this has something to do with the gas creating qualities of digested beans and the fact that Greek pneuma is the word for both gas and soul.)  Given the grim end that food lovers put lobsters to in those days, one can see how a sensitive poetical type might be moved to being their champion

Came a bad end in the end – nervous breakdown, poverty, eventual suicide and a spot in Père Lachaise.

But then, tagging right along, so did Oscar Wilde.

One can always count on Oscar to make the sublime ridiculous and the ridiculous his own.

(No word on where the lobsters wound up.)

« En quoi, disait-il, un homard est-il plus ridicule qu’un chien, qu’un chat, qu’une gazelle, qu’un lion ou toute autre bête dont on se fait suivre? J’ai le goût des homards, qui sont tranquilles, sérieux, savent les secrets de la mer, n’aboient pas et n’avalent pas la monade des gens comme les chiens, si antipathiques à Goethe lequel pourtant n’était pas fou. »

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