The decision of the UK government to defund ‘low-value’ courses in the arts and humanities,(1) and the decision of Sheffield Hallam University to close its English Literature degree,(2) remind me of the short story by Alphonse Daudet which I present in translation below.(3) Everyone should read it. It embodies a playful, joyful yet incisive intelligence of which those currently in power are incapable, and those who are young and considering a degree in the arts will understand the ironies at work in it.
Monsieur Seguin’s Last Kid Goat
To Pierre Gringoire, lyrical poet, Paris.
Translated for Project Gutenberg by Mireille Harmelin & Keith Adams © 2009. This text is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this text or online at www.gutenberg.org.
You’ll never get anywhere, Gringoire!
I can’t believe it! A good newspaper in Paris offers you a job as a critic and you have the brass neck to turn it down. Look at yourself, old friend. Look at the holes in your doublet, your worn-out stockings, and your pinched face which betrays your hunger. Look where your passion for poetry has got you! See how much you have been valued for your ten years writing for the gods. What price pride, after all?
Take the job, you idiot, become a critic! You’ll get good money, you’ll have your reserved table in Brébant’s, you will be seen at premieres, and it will secure your reputation….
No? You don’t want to? You prefer to stay as free as the air to the end of your days. Very well then, listen to the story of Monsieur Seguin’s last kid goat. You’ll see where hankering after your freedom gets you.
Monsieur Seguin never had much luck with his goats.
He lost them all, one after another, in the same way. One fine morning they would break free from their tethers and scamper off up into the mountain, where they were gobbled up by the big bad wolf. Neither their master’s care, nor the fear of the wolf, nor anything else could hold them back. They were, or so it seemed, goats who wanted freedom and open spaces whatever the cost.
Monsieur Seguin, who didn’t understand his animals’ ways, was dismayed. He said: —It’s all over. Goats get fed up here; I haven’t managed to keep a single one of them.
But he hadn’t totally lost heart, for even after losing six goats, he still bought a seventh. This time he made sure to get it very young, so she would settle down better.
Oh! Gringoire, she was really lovely, Monsieur Seguin’s little kid goat; with her gentle eyes, her goatee beard, her black shiny hooves, her striped horns, and her long white fur, which made a fine greatcoat for her! It was nearly as delightful as Esmeralda’s kid goat. Do you remember her, Gringoire? And then again, she was affectionate and docile, holding still while she was milked, never putting her foot in the bowl. A lovely, a dear little goat….
There was a hawthorn enclosure behind Monsieur Seguin’s house where he placed his new boarder. He tied her to a stake in the finest part of the field, taking care that she had plenty of rope, and often went out to see how she was faring. The goat appeared to be very happy and was grazing heartily on the grass, which delighted Monsieur Seguin.
—At last, triumphed the poor man, this one isn’t getting bored here!
Monsieur Seguin was wrong; his goat was becoming very bored.
One day, looking over towards the mountain, she remarked:
—How great it must be up there! How lovely to gambol on the heath without this rope tether that chafes my neck. It’s alright for an ox or a donkey to graze all cooped up, but we goats should be able to roam free.
From then on, she found the grass in the enclosure bland. Boredom overcame her. She lost weight and her milk all but dried up. It was pitiful to see her pulling at her tether all day, with her head turned towards the mountain, nostrils flared, and bleating sadly.
Monsieur Seguin noticed that there was something wrong with her, but he couldn’t work out what it was. One morning, as he finished milking her, she turned towards him and said to him, in her own way:
—Listen Monsieur Seguin. I am pining away here, let me go into the mountain.
—Oh my God. Not you as well! screamed Monsieur Seguin, dropping his bowl, stupefied. Then, sitting down in the grass beside his goat he added:
—So, my Blanquette, you want to leave me!
—Yes, Monsieur Seguin.
—Are you short of grass here?
—Oh, no, Monsieur Seguin.
—Perhaps your tether is too short, shall I lengthen it?
—It-s not worth your while, Monsieur Seguin.
—Well then, what do you need, what do you want?
-I want to go up into the mountain, Monsieur Seguin.
—But, my poor dear, don’t you realise that there is a big bad wolf on the mountain? What will you do when he turns up.
—I will butt him, Monsieur Seguin.
—The big bad wolf doesn’t give a fig for your horns. He’s eaten many a kid goat with bigger horns than yours. Have you thought about poor old Renaude who was here only last year? She was really strong and wilful, she was; more like a billy-goat. She fought off the wolf all night. In the morning the wolf still ate her, though.
—Poor, poor Renaude! But that doesn’t alter anything, Monsieur Seguin, let me go into the mountain.
—Goodness!…, he said; What am I to do with these goats of mine? Yet another one for the wolf’s belly. Well, I’m not going to have it, I will save you despite yourself, you rascal, and to avoid the risk of your breaking loose, I am going to lock you in the cowshed and you will stay there.
Without further ado, Monsieur Seguin carried the goat into the pitch blackness of the cowshed and locked and bolted the door. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to shut the window, and he had hardly turned his back when she got free.
Are you laughing, Gringoire? Heavens! I’m quite sure you are on the goats’ side, and not Monsieur Seguin’s. We’ll see if you manage to keep laughing.
There was general delight when the white goat arrived on the mountain. The old fir trees had never seen anything nearly so lovely. She was received like a queen. The chestnut trees bowed down to the ground to stroke her with the tips of their leaves. The brooms opened up the way for her and brushed against her as best they could. The whole mountainside celebrated her arrival.
So, Gringoire, imagine how happy our goat was! No more tether … no more stake … nothing to prevent her from going where she wanted and nibbling at anything she liked. Hereabouts, there was lots of grass; she was up to her horns in it, my friend. And what grass! Delicious, fine, feathery, and dense, so much better than that in the enclosure. And then there were the flowers!… Huge bluebells; purple, long-stemmed foxgloves; a whole forest full of wild blooms brimming over with heady sap.
The white goat, half-drunk, wallowed in it, and with her legs flailing in the air, rolled along the bank all over the place on the fallen leaves in amongst the chestnut trees. Then, quite suddenly, she jumped confidently onto her feet. Off she went, heedlessly going forward through the clumps of boxwood and brooms; she went everywhere; up hill, and down dale. You would have thought that there were loads of Monsieur Seguin’s goats on the mountain.
Clearly, Blanquette was not frightened of anything. In one leap, she covered some large torrential streams, which burst over her in a soaking mist. Then, dripping wet, she stretched herself out on a flat rock and dried herself in the sun. Once, approaching the edge of a drop, a laburnum flower in her mouth, she noticed Monsieur Seguin’s house and the enclosure far down on the plain. It made her laugh till the tears came.
—How small it all is! she said; how did I manage to put up with it?
Poor little thing, finding herself so high up, she believed herself to be on top of the world.
Overall, it was a jolly good day for Monsieur Seguin’s kid goat. About midday, scampering all over the place, she chanced upon a herd of chamois munching on wild vines with some relish. Our little minx in a white dress was an absolute sensation. All these gentlemanly bucks made way for her so she could have the very best of the vines…. It even seemed—and this is for your ears only Gringoire—that one of the black coated young chamois caught Blanquette’s eye. The two lovers got lost in the trees for an hour or two, and if you want to know what they said to one another, go and ask the babbling brooks who meander unseen in the moss.
Suddenly, the wind freshened; the mountain turned violet; and evening fell….
—Already!, said the little kid goat, and stopped in astonishment.
In the valley, the fields were shrouded in mist. Monsieur Seguin’s enclosure was hidden in the fog, and nothing could be seen of the house except the roof and a faint trace of smoke. She heard the bells of a flock of sheep returning home and began to feel very melancholy. A returning falcon just missed her with his wings as he passed over. She winced…. Then there was a howl on the mountain.
Now, the silly nanny thought about the big bad wolf; having not once done it all day. At the same time, a horn sounded far away in the valley. It was Monsieur Seguin making one last effort.
The wolf howled again.
—Come home! Come home! cried the horn.
Blanquette wanted to; but then, she remembered the stake, and the rope, and the hedged enclosure; and she thought that now she couldn’t possibly get used to all that lot again, and it was better to stay put.
The horn went silent….
She heard a noise in the leaves behind her. She turned round and there in the shade she saw two short, pricked-up ears and two shining eyes…. It was the big, bad wolf.
Huge and motionless, there he was, sitting on his hindquarters, looking at the little white goat and licking his chops. He knew full well that he would eventually eat her, so he was in no hurry, and as she turned away, he laughed maliciously:
—Ha! Ha! It’s Monsieur Seguin’s little kid goat! and he licked his chops once again with his red tongue.
Blanquette felt all was lost. It only took a moment’s thought about the story of old Renaude, who became the wolf’s meal after bravely fighting all night, to convince her that perhaps it would have been better to get it over with, and to let herself be eaten there and then. Afterwards, thinking better of it, she squared up to the big bad wolf, head down, horns ready, like the brave little kid goat of Monsieur Seguin that she was … not that she expected to kill him—goats don’t kill wolves—but just to see if she could last out as long as Renaude….
As the big bad wolf drew near, she with her little horns set to into the fray.
Oh! the brave little kid goat; how she went at it with such a great heart. A dozen times, I’ll swear, Gringoire, she forced the wolf back to catch his breath. During these brief respites, she grabbed a blade or two of the grass that she loved so much; then, still munching, joined the battle again…. The whole night passed like this. Occasionally, Monsieur Seguin’s kid goat looked up at the twinkling stars in the clear sky and said to herself:
—Oh dear, I hope I can last out till the morning….
One by one the stars faded away. Blanquette intensified her charges, while the wolf replied with his teeth. The pale daylight appeared gradually over the horizon. A cockerel crowed hoarsely from a farm below.
—At last! said the poor animal, who was only waiting for the morning to come so that she could die bravely, and she laid herself down on the ground, her beautiful white fur stained with blood.
It was then, at last, that the wolf fell on the little goat and devoured her.
The story you have heard is not of my making. If you ever come to Provence, our tenant farmers often tell you, of M. Seguin’s kid goat, who fought the big bad wolf all night before he ate her in the morning.
Think about it, Gringoire, the big bad wolf ate her in the morning.
- Patrick Jowett, ‘Creative degree applications rise as university arts funding halved.’ Arts Professional, 22nd July 2021.
- Sally Weale, ‘Philip Pullman leads outcry after Sheffield Hallam withdraws English lit degree.’ The Guardian, 27th June 2022.
- From Alphonse Daudet, Letters from my Windmill. Trans. by Mireille Harmelin and Keith Adams. Project Gutenberg, 2009.