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The Immortal Major Fraser August 4, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

OK here is an atmospheric little passage from a nineteenth-century description of the fifth most beautiful city in the world.

Major Fraser, though he never dined there, spent  an hour or two daily in the Estaminet du Divan [in Paris] to read the  papers. He was a great favorite with every one, though none  of us knew anything about his antecedents. In spite of his  English name, he was decidedly not English, though he spoke  the language. He was one of the best-dressed men of the  period, … He generally wore a tight-fitting, short-skirted blue    frock-coat, gray trousers, of a shape which since then we have  defined as ‘pegtops’, but the fashion of which was borrowed  from the Cossacks. They are still worn by some French  officers in cavalry regiments, notably crack cavalry regiments…. He was  a bachelor. He never alluded to his parentage. He lived by  himself, in an entresol at the corner of the Rue Lafitte and the  Boulevard des Italiens. He was always flush of money, though  the sources of his income were a mystery to every one. He  certainly did not live by gambling, as has been suggested since;  for those who knew him best did not remember having seen  him touch a card….   I only remember his getting out of temper once, namely, when Leon Gozlan, in a comedy of his, introduced a major who had three crosses. The first had been  given to him because he had not one, the second because he  had already one, and the third because all good things consist  of three. Then Major Fraser sent his seconds to the playwright; the former effected a reconciliation, the more that  Gozlan pledged his word that an allusion to the major was  farthest from his thoughts… Major Fraser’s kindness and gentleness extended to all men —  except to professional politicians, and those, from the highest  to the lowest, he detested and despised. He rarely spoke on  the subject of politics, but when he did every one sat listening  with the raptest attention; for he was a perfect mine of facts,  which he marshalled with consummate ability in order to show  that government by party was of all idiotic institutions the most idiotic.

So far so normal, but what the hell is this about?

…his knowledge of political history was as nothing  to his familiarity with the social institutions of every civilized  country and of every period. Curiously enough, the whole of  his library in his own apartment did not exceed two or three  scores of volumes. His memory was something prodigious,  and even men like Dumas and Balzac confessed themselves his  inferiors in that respect. The mere mention of the most trifling  subject sufficed to set it in motion and listeners were treated  to a ‘magazine article worth fifty centimes ‘la ligne au moins’, as Dumas put it. But the major could never be induced to  write one. Strange to say, he often used to hint that his was  no mere book-knowledge.  ‘Of course, it is perfectly ridiculous’, he remarked with a strange smile, ‘but every now and  again I feel as if all this did not come to me through reading, but from personal experience. At times I become almost convinced that I lived with Nero, that I knew Dante personally,  and so forth.’

So we have an immortal Count St Germain – perhaps it was he!?! – who lived in 19 cent Paris. However, there is a problem with this theory, enjoyable as it is.

When Major Fraser died, not a single letter was found in his  apartment giving a clue to his antecedents. Merely a file of  receipts, and a scrap of paper attached to one the receipt of  the funeral company for his grave, and expenses of his burial.

Damn it! The author, however, has a theory about major Fraser’s background.

I have always had an idea, though I can give no reason for  it, that Major Fraser was the illegitimate son of some exalted  personage, and that the solution of the mystery surrounding  him might be found in the records of the scandals and intrigues  at the courts of Charles IV and Ferdinand VII of Spain. The  foreign ‘soldiers of fortune’ who rose to high posts, though not to the highest like Richards and O’Reilly, were not all of  Irish origin.

Any other ideas? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com