In 1862, Ernest Sazerac de Limagne published a collection of short stories called “Le Touriste au salon”. Some were fictional accounts of “getting away from it all” in France. Others were set in more exotic locations such as Switzerland, Scotland … and Brighton.
“I had taken my place on the steamship leaving Dieppe for Brighton. English and French travellers thronged the deck, waiting for the time when we would cast off and making that bewildering noise of a thousand impatient voices calling to each other from here, there and everywhere. Alone in a secluded corner sat a young man, his head bowed, face toward the cabins so that I could not see his features. On the collar of his frock coat were the blue crossed palms denoting a student of one of our best universities; he was, therefore, a compatriot, a fellow Frenchman, and a sad Frenchman, something rarely seen when travelling…”
In Brighton, the narrator finds himself in the hotel room adjoining the student’s. The young man’s joy at being in Brighton is expressed by loud exclamations of Enfin, j’y suis à Brighton. The narrator is surprised that the student does not appear in the dining room for dinner, but later, back in his own room he hears the student enjoying a hearty meal next door. A visitor then enters the student’s room and is thanked by the student for having prescribed a near-starvation diet.
To cut a rather contrived story very short, it transpires that the student is feigning stomach problems in order consult the father of his sweetheart.
“Last year, on my way back from Oxford, I came through Brighton; it was holiday time; the bathing season was drawing to a close. On the pier, I met Miss P****. I saw her. I fell in love with her; but, as I was still a student at that time, I could not ask her father for her hand there, right next to the Ocean, on a promenade built like a paddleboat on the water. One strikes up acquaintances quickly in seaside towns; I was rapidly informed of the father’s tastes. Dr P**** devoted himself exclusively to the study of stomach disease and all forms of gastritis. For him, the chalybeate springs of Brighton are the foremost in the world. So, in order to become his son-in-law, I had first to become his patient and to effect a miracle cure, one of those resounding medical achievements that no one can gainsay.”
Whether the daring young Frenchman wins the blushing young English maid is rather left up in the air. The young man is convinced that, in a year or so, he will gain his objectives (academic as well as romantic, it must be said). The narrator promises to inform the French newspapers of any successful “cure” so they can sing the praises of the doctor. Such publicity will surely remove any lingering objections that the doctor may have to his daughter’s suitor.
Ernest de Limagne wrote several works of fiction, and eight series of essays he called Moisaïques. On the whole, it might have been better had he stuck to his day job at the Ministry of War. His editorship of a rule book for health officers may well have been a best-seller in 1856.
De Limagne’s short story has two saving graces: one is that it is illustrated with a (probably pirated) print of Turner’s 1829 view of the Chain Pier; the second is that Ernest de Limagne did at least seem to know a fair amount about Brighton.
He may even have been here!
Translation by Suzanne Hinton
Original text: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k58247694?rk=21459;2