The First Assault upon the Sorbonne

Notes on the text

(edited by John McGivering)


Tour Eiffel The Eiffel Tower – a wrought iron lattice structure in the Champ de Mars, the tallest building in Paris, designed by Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923). It was built as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair.

T.S.F. Telephonie Sans Fil, literally ‘wireless’; now better known as Radio.

Beaux Arts Fine Arts; the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris:


Cluny Museum Musée de Cluny, officially Musée National du Moyen Âge (National Museum of the Middle Ages), near the Sorbonne on the site of ancient Roman baths, and housing a rich and varied collection.

Sorbonne The University of Paris, founded in the 12th century, c. 1170, often referred to as ‘La Sorbonne’ after the Collège de Sorbonne, founded about 1257 by Robert de Sorbon. It was reorganized in 1970 as 13 universities, See Max Rives’ notes on Souvenirs of France.

consommations ‘drinks’, he had drunk a good deal.

Arimaspians a legendary people of northern Scythia whose struggles with the gold-guarding griffins in the Hyperborean lands near the cave of Boreas, the North Wind (Geskleithron), were recounted by Herodotus, the Greek historian of the 5th Century B. C.

Nephelibates their great fight with the Arimaspians is told by Rabelais in the fourth book of Pantagruel.

gendarme ‘policeman’ – strictly a soldier employed on police duties.

a song of that epoch Probably the duet “Les Deux Gendarmes” from the operetta “Genevive de Brabant”, music by Jacques Offenbach, words by Louis-Adolphe Jaime and Etienne Tréfeu, first produced at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens in 1859. The first verse runs:

We’re public guardians bold but wary,
And of ourselves we take good care
To risk our precious lives we’re chary
When danger threatens we’re not there
But when we see a helpless woman
Or little boys who do no harm
We run them in, we run them in
To show them we’re the beaux gendarmes…

See also Max Rives’ notes on Souvenirs of France.

fifty francs A modest fine, though serious for indigent students. The French franc was replaced by the euro on January 1 1999.

the Englishman perceived that he had become the father of himself This is Kipling realising, in the third person, that he had suddenly become 56 !

We will make you a Doctor Kipling was made a ‘Doctor Honoris Causa’ by the University of Paris at the Sorbonne on 18 November, 1921. His speech is collected in A Book of Words at page 195, in which he explains his obligation to France and French literature.

Jamet Brayer used by Rabelais in Pantagruel for Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) the great French navigator and explorer.

Qu’est-ce que tu me chantes là ? a colloquialism which might translate as “What on earth are you talking about ?”

Negatur (Latin) to deny, refuse. Thus, formally ‘denied’.

secret of the confessional A secret never to be revealed. The priest must not disclose anything told him in a confession.

[J. H. McG.]

©John McGivering 2009 All rights reserved