A DESOBLIGEANT IN A REMISE.

I’ve been reading A Sentimental Journey (see this post) with pleasure and profit; not only is Sterne’s style a constant joy, but I’m seeing where later authors got their material (Radishchev’s anecdote about giving his platok [kerchief] to the beggar who wouldn’t accept his banknote is clearly derived from Sterne’s tale of giving his snuffbox to the mendicant monk he’d refused alms to), and I’m learning some new words and phrases. He starts off the book by deciding to go to France after being challenged by an interlocutor (“They order, said I, this matter better in France. – You have been in France? said my gentleman, turning quick upon me, with the most civil triumph in the world”) and immediately makes reference to the droit d’aubaine, which turns out to be something for which prerevolutionary France was notorious: any foreigner who died within the country had his goods seized by the French crown, and his heirs got nothing.
After he goes to Calais and stiffs the monk, he goes out into the coach-yard of the inn where he’s staying and sees “an old désobligeant in the furthest corner of the court”; the OED soon informed me that this pleasing word refers to “A chaise so called in France from its holding but one person.” (The OED marks the stress on the second syllable, implying an anglicized pronunciation /dezˈɒblɪdʒənt/, but Sterne’s spelling, with italics and an accent aigu, implies at least an attempt at a French version; a pity we don’t have a recording by the author.) He later tells his landlord he wants to buy a coach to continue his journey, and “we walk’d together towards his Remise, to take a view of his magazine of chaises.” (Note the use of magazine in its original sense, ‘a place where goods are kept in store; a warehouse or depot’; it’s from Arabic maḵzan or maḵzin ‘storehouse,’ which is also the source of Spanish almacén.) A remise (also given with anglicized pronunciation, /rᵻˈmʌɪz/ ri-MIZE) turns out to be “A building providing shelter for a carriage; a coach house (Chiefly in French contexts),” and the specific sense is somehow from French remise ‘action of replacing, (in law) pardon, reduction of a penalty, adjournment, lessening of the severity of a disease or symptom, renunciation of a debt, action of restoring, re-establishing, action of handing over to someone.’
Not of linguistic relevance, but it strikes me forcibly that Sterne’s 1765 journey took place only two years after the end of the long and brutal Seven Years’ War, in which France and England were enemies, and yet so far there’s been only one passing mention of it; I don’t know whether Sterne is simply choosing not to write about it (don’t mention the war!) or whether it really wouldn’t have come up much, but it certainly doesn’t seem to have been comparable to visiting France in, say, 1947.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    I am sorry to say that I have never read A Sentimental Journey, but I will try to do so. I did not know about the désobligeant: obligeant means ‘helpfully friendly’ if used about a person, so someone whose chaise was deliberately built so as to prevent the occupant from offering another person a ride deserved to be called désobligeant. But nowadays désobligeant is used not so much of a person’s character but of their speech, if they make nasty comments (des mots désobligeants).
    On the other hand, the word la remise brought me right back to my grandparents’ house in a village in Southern France, which had a remise built against it. This was the old-fashioned equivalent of a garage nowadays. It was a great place for children to play on rainy days. I think that in earlier times it would have housed not only some kind of horse-drawn carriage but also the horse, as there was a râtelier against one wall (the ladder-like structure where hay was placed for the horse to eat from). I mostly remember the ground, which was probably beaten earth but strewn with a mix of dust and old hay even though there had probably not been a horse there for decades.

  2. It’s interesting to see the “coach house” sense of remise. I think in Russian ремиз is used for a particular kind of carriage, at least by Leskov.

  3. Garrigus Carraig says:

    France lost colonies in Asia and America, but not much of the action in that war took place in the Hexagone. And they certainly weren’t occupied.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    Etymological note: remise is from the past participle of the verb remettre which means literally ‘to put back in its place’, said of things such as a book back on a shelf, a carriage into the carriage-house after use, etc. There is a verb remiser ‘to put back into a remise, used of carriages, etc put back in the remise when not in use.
    The verb remettre also has another, abstract meaning closer to ‘to forgive’ (at least part of a debt, a judicial sentence, etc), and there is another noun remise which has this type of meaning (including a discount on a price), but I think that the two remises are considered homophonous by the average speaker. The semantic link between their meanings is provided by the double meaning of the verb remettre, and the meanings of the nouns probably developed independently of each other, in different contexts.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    I agree with Garrigus’ comment.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    I should say that la remise is a far less grand structure than the English carriage-house, which to me suggests a separate building housing a number of carriages both horse-drawn and automobile (at least from what I gather from descriptions in Agatha Christie or similar sources). A carriage-house belongs with a country estate, a remise with an ordinary rural house.
    Another detail I remember is that my grandparents’ remise had a “Dutch door”, a split door so that a horse could look out from the open top half while being securely confined by the bottom half.

  7. m-l: This second sense of remettre also exists for English remit. Definition 2 of the OED3 says:

    a. To refrain from exacting (all or part of a payment, an obligation, etc.); to allow to remain unpaid or unperformed. Also (esp. in later use): to reduce (a payment).
    b. To refrain from inflicting (a punishment) or carrying out (a sentence); to cancel, withdraw. Also: to reduce (a punishment or sentence), commute.

    Remise is also used as an English noun meaning both ‘carriage-house’ and ‘carriage’, but also a “planted shelter for partridges and other game birds” (OED3). There are technical senses in law, card playing, and fencing, probably reflecting independent borrowings from French.

  8. Sterne’s 1765 journey took place only two years after
    And the first thirteen months of his 1762-1764 journey were during the war.
    doesn’t seem to have been comparable to visiting France in, say, 1947
    Walpole claimed that he was told in 1765 that 50,000 English people had passed through Calais during the two years since the war.

  9. A carriage-house belongs with a country estate
    But you find them in London too, often attached to one side of the (fairly) symmetrical main house (you can’t really see it in that photo, it’s further to the left). Apart from a few anally-compulsive architects like Inigo Jones and Lord Burlington, British designers tended to express local symmetries – either side of a gateway, for example – and disregarded overall symmetry. It used to drive me crazy, but now I love it.
    18-19C terraces usually have a 2-storey brick terraced mews behind them, running parallel to the main buildings, to house the horse and carriage. I’m not sure if anyone lived upstairs, but now they do.

  10. Here’s another picture of the front of that house, showing a row of carriage houses at the far left.

  11. In Denmark, on the other hand, latter-day remiser tend to be huge, if rarely grand: built to hold multiple strings of train or tram cars overnight at terminals.

  12. I learned the word “Remise” (pronounced as if it were a German word) when I moved to Berlin many years ago. The Remisen were leftovers from when most of the city was built in the late 19th century. People didn’t put there cars there (for lack of horses), but liked to live there, because it meant you have your own little house in the middle of the city, and it was quiet, too, because it stood way back in the courtyard.

  13. Sir JCass says:

    Léon Bloy wrote a collection of stories called Histoires désobligeantes (it’s namechecked in Borges’ “Kafka and His Precursors”).
    It’s a long time since I read A Sentimental Journey. I remember that one of the things Sterne was doing was mocking his fellow novelist Tobias Smollett (“the learned Smelfungus”), who wrote a rather more dyspeptic account of his travels in France and Italy. In fact, Smollett’s comments so enraged the people of Nice that they would throw rocks at him when he passed by.

  14. As mentioned above, Sterne was in France two years BEFORE the end of the war. His comment: ” I had left London with so much precipitation, that it never enter’d my mind that we were at war with France…” suggests an attitude to the war among the British that placed wars in far off places and, in any case, a pretty permanent state of affairs. Sterne grew up following his father’s military postings, as his father’s regiment subjugated Ireland on behalf of the Crown. ‘Minor disagreements’ in the colonies would not have impinged on the minds of many people in Britain unless a great victory or defeat.
    The comparison with 1947 doesn’t work because no civilian could ignore the state of total war in Europe between 1939 and 1945.

  15. The comparison with 1947 doesn’t work because no civilian could ignore the state of total war in Europe between 1939 and 1945.
    Yes, of course, it would be ludicrous to compare the Seven Years’ War with WWII; I was just pointing out that our memories of the most recent European wars make it seem bizarre that an Englishman could go swanning around the countryside of so recent an enemy without the slightest concern. And now that I learn he was there during the war (“it never enter’d my mind that we were at war with France”), my mind is even more boggled! War was a very different affair in the eighteenth century. (I knew that intellectually, of course, but it’s different to see it up close and personal.)

  16. It’s interesting to see the “coach house” sense of remise. I think in Russian ремиз is used for a particular kind of carriage, at least by Leskov.
    Maybe only by Leskov! None of my dictionaries has such a meaning, not Dahl or the huge New Great Russian-English Dictionary or my century-old Russian-French Makaroff. The only meanings I can find are “(cards) fine” (the only sense given in the Oxford), “(fencing) remise” (OED: “A renewed attack made while still on the lunge, without returning to guard”), “(weaving) heald, heddle, harness,” and “(fin.) bill of exchange.” Somehow I had it in my head that Leskov’s Заячий ремиз meant “The Hare Park,” but evidently that’s not the case based on the intriguing snippets of the Sperrle book you linked to. (I’d love to get a copy, but the goddam thing is $89.95! WTF, Northwestern University Press?)

  17. “Yes, of course, it would be ludicrous to compare the Seven Years’ War with WWII; I was just pointing out that our memories of the most recent European wars make it seem bizarre that an Englishman could go swanning around the countryside of so recent an enemy without the slightest concern.”
    Europe was nearly unique in having a culture of limited war. A lot of it had to do with having a common class culture that over-rode any consideration of national allegiance, so that captured officers were treated like distant cousins rather than actual committed enemies.
    When the English started settling in Massachussetts and Virginia, they reacted with horror to the American pattern of total war – destroying settlements, killing everyone indiscriminately, mass kidnappings of women and children. Ameircans warred on the englsih settelemtnes right up into the Revolutionary war, at the behest of the British authorities. That horror informed the blind hatred of Native Americans that characterized all interactions thereafter, whatever prettier explanations may have been offered. This also probably contributed to the semantic shift in “savage” from just meaning people whio lived in the forest to, well, savage.
    This culture of limited war still informs a lot European thinking on war, as when you see comments to the effect that this or that tactic is “not quite sporting” and in the these days rather arbitrary and hazy legal distinction between “civilians” and “combatants”.

  18. Garrigus Carraig says:

    My brother, the amateur military historian, has emphasized two things to me that seem to go along with Jim’s point.
    1) The Italians of the early Renaissance tended to wage nearly bloodless wars. They tended to be abstract and chess-like. When one army outmaneuvred the other, both sides would agree they had prevailed. Then the French came with the idea that ‘war’ meant ‘kill people until they surrender’. I can’t remember when that was.
    2) When first the casualty figures of WWI started arriving at the various capitals, the generals were struck dumb with disbelief. Thousands would die in a week, and they simply could not conceive of the possibility.
    I hope I got those right.

  19. Let’s not go overboard in the other direction. From here: “During the next six and a half years the Prussians fought costly battles in Prague and Kollin, in Rossbach, in Leuthen, in Zorndorf, in Hochkirch, in Kunersdorf, Dresden and Liegnitz, Torgau, Burkersdorf and Schweidnitz. The seven year war should have been called the first world war. When one reads about these endless bloody battles, one can only wonder that even one Prussian soldier was left to fight.” In the Battle of Minden alone, “Prince Ferdinand’s army suffered 2,800 fatalities; the French lost between 10,000 and 11,000 men.” It wasn’t the Somme, but it sure wasn’t “abstract and chess-like.”

  20. “When first the casualty figures of WWI started arriving at the various capitals, the generals were struck dumb with disbelief.” But the generals weren’t in the capitals.

  21. Garrigus Carraig says:

    Yes, of course. I am responsible for the error(s), not my brother.

  22. WTF, Northwestern University Press?
    Every so often I check to see if used copies of Sperrle’s book are affordable yet, and so far they’re not. There’s always interlibrary loan.
    I unfortunately don’t have the book in front of me, but from what I remember, Sperrle’s translation of Заячий ремиз as “The Rabbit Carriage” is original (it’s also been “The Rabbit Warren” and a number of other things). I want to say that she goes through a lot of carriage-related vocabulary to defend her understanding of ремиз, but I don’t remember the coach-house meaning coming up. I’ll have to check.

  23. There’s always interlibrary loan.
    Yeah, when I get to the 1860s and Leskov, I’ll get it from the Mount Holyoke College library. If I remember.

  24. Aha, I just got to “I had left London with so much precipitation, that it never enter’d my mind that we were at war with France…” What a doofus!

  25. The Thirty Years’ War was very bloody too, but not so much because of battles: the two main sources of casualties were sacks following sieges, and the tendency of underutilized armies to roam the countryside doing the “rape, loot, pillage, burn, and kill” thing.

  26. I wasn’t aware of the derivation of aubaine, which in current French, I believe, means a windfall, piece of good luck, or sometimes a sale or bargain. The last meaning is the one I first encountered; it is used a lot in Canada (or used to be) where EF would use solde or bon marché.

  27. Later in “A Sentimental Journey” (at the end of THE CAPTIVE. PARIS) remise is used to mean some kind of carriage.

  28. There’s also the colonial adventurist/scoundrel/scalawag; the remittance man and his poem from Robert Service.
    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Rhyme_of_the_Remittance_Man

  29. Here’s an interesting remark from the English Wikipedia: “The Swiss, Savoyards, Scots, and Portuguese were also exempted from aubaine, as they were considered naturalized.” I wonder how far that naturalization extended.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    une aubaine: I did not know the old legal sense. In current French it is indeed a windfall, a piece of luck such as encountering something for sale at such a low price that the buyer feels they have nothing to lose in taking advantage of the unexpected occasion.
    In Canada the meaning has been extended to cover English terms such as those referring to the “sales” or “markdowns” regularly offered on a variety of items in department stores, on a rotating basis. In France les soldes (fem) (from English “sold”) refer to the infrequent “clearance sales” held when leftover merchandise unlikely to sell at the end of a season is marked down considerably.
    Un bon marché used to mean ‘a good bargain’ or ‘a good deal’ (in the context of bargaining between buyer and seller, where the buyer is satisfied with the deal). Bon marché without the article is used as an adverb or even adjective meaning ‘cheap(ly), inexpensive(ly)’.

  31. m-l,
    Thanks for clarifying. I wasn’t sure aubaine was still used that way in Canada. I first saw it in stores in Montreal years ago. Shortly after that I was living in France and noticed signs advertising soldes but never aubaine.
    Oddly, the relation of soldes to English “sold” never occurred to me.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Well, it looks like I wrote too fast.
    I had heard about a connection to English “sold” long ago and never disputed it, but I thought I would double-check. According to the TLFI, the word is an old French one, and what I find most shocking is that it is actually (at least among the TLFI compilers) of masculine grammatical gender.
    As I well knew, there are two words solde, which differ in gender:
    - la solde is an old-fashioned word for the pay of a soldier (Fr soldat, from italian soldato, the one “paid” a regular sum), something which is not relevant here;
    - le solde means ‘leftover sum’, for instance the sum still due until a loan is repaid in full, so les soldes is actually (or started as) the plural of the masculine word, originally meaning ‘the leftovers’, and later ‘the sales of leftover merchandise’.
    In practical terms, the leftover merchandise in question is more often than not things like clothes and household items, which are most often bought by women. In my family where women were in the majority, les soldes were an important topic of conversation. I never had any reason to think of the word as other than grammatically feminine, or to associate it with le solde which has different connotations, restricted to financial matters. Perhaps it is one of these words which is used with a different gender in the singular and the plural, at least in popular speech. The fact that it ends in consonant sounds ([ld]) is also consistent with the majority of words of feminine gender.

  33. According to my Picoche Dictionnaire étymologique, masculine solde is from Italian saldo.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    LH, the TLFI also gives an older form salde and a relation to Italian saldo. Le/La Salde was later influenced by (perhaps ‘confused with’) la solde ‘soldier’s pay’, and the gender was not fixed until later, le solde ‘sum remaining to pay’ ending up as the standard to differentiate it from la solde.
    The TLFI does give several examples of les soldes but none from which the gender of the plural could be firmly established (eg no adjectives, which are rarely if ever used with les soldes, hence the gender confusion).

  35. “In France les soldes (fem) (from English “sold”) refer to the infrequent “clearance sales” held when leftover merchandise unlikely to sell at the end of a season is marked down considerably.”
    Why “infrequent”? They happen, exactly as you are saying, at the end of each fashion season (summer and winter), so that means twice a year.

  36. That certainly would strike any American as infrequent.

  37. re: gender of les soldes, is it possible that the word was at some point used adjectivally, with some feminine noun being understood?

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