Clothes Make the Man, or: Jolly! Whilst One Still Can

“And how spruce you are, too!” said Mr. Pinch, surveying him with great pleasure. “Really, I didn’t think you were half such a tight-made fellow, Mark!”

“Thankee, Mr. Pinch. Pretty well for that, I believe. It’s not my fault, you know. With regard to being spruce, sir, that’s where it is, you see.” And here he looked particularly gloomy.

“Where what is?” Mr. Pinch demanded.

“Where the aggravation of it is. Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he’s well dressed. There an’t much credit in that. If I was very ragged and very jolly, then I should begin to feel I had gained a point, Mr Pinch.”

“So you were singing just now, to bear up, as it were, against being well dressed, eh, Mark?” said Pinch.

Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewitt.

Jolly! As Dicken’s Mark Tapley was ever wont to say in the face of adversity. And to suggest that France is now faced with adversity, well, the word is weak, very weak.

In the world at large, as opposed to the bell-jar purportedly shielding French officialdom from the people the sartorial judgment or lack thereof, exhibited by the barnaclescurrently clinging to power’s rock has been the subject of much hilarity – or might one say, amused contempt.

As a foreigner though, far be it from Papa Mendelssohn to join the chorus, or even to suggest that so consistent a pattern might reveal something of the wearers’ inner self. Rather leave it to the reader to wonder at the extent at which the “sow is being let out.” (OOPS! ! Sorry! Wrong Nord Stream country!) in what was formerly called the French Republic.

Here, a Secretary of State (Young Global Leader) appearing in public in what would appear to be a discoloured, heavily-used nylon négligé; there, the President of the French Parliament wearing a bullet-proof vest and crumpled ill-fitting clothing, posing in October 2023 alongside the Israeli “Defence” Forces, during a visit of questionable constitutionality; another Minister of middle age arriving for official meetings in a skimpy mini-dress and stiletto heels (Young Global Leader); the former Elysée spokesman (Ministerial rank) in what was formerly referred to as “come hither” clothing; and lest we forget, the eminently forgettable sixty-year-old Prime Minister laced up in black boots and skirts well above the knee… Now, Papa Mendelssohn has made it a point of honour to refrain from gossip, failing which a remark or two on the above individuals’ « private » life might not be amiss…

As for what passes for a gentleman in this country, well here we have suit-jackets so narrowly cut as to fail to close, revealing ill-cut, tissue-like shirts gaping over a belly; and below, skimpy trousers cut with a short, tight and narrow rise. One might as well wear diapers. As for grace in walk and gesture … . Of special note is the aristo-cat parading as Prime Minister, a chubby little chappie going by the name of Gabriel Nissim Attal de Couriss (Young Global Leader ; BTW, in the WEF, the proportion of European aristo-cats to plebes is off the charts). Whose number Wolfgang von Goethe had called a couple of centuries ago:

FAUST I, Scène de la Taverne d’Auerbach

Mephistopheles (sings)

Es war einmal ein König
Der hatt’ einen großen Floh
Den liebt’ er gar nicht wenig
Als wie seinen eig’nen Sohn.
Da rief er seinen Scheider,
Der Schneider kam heran;
“Da, miß dem Junker Kleider
Und miß ihm Hosen an!”

Brander.

Vergeßt nur nicht dem Schneider einzuschärfen,
Daß er mir auf’s genauste mißt,
Und daß, so lieb sein Kopf ihm ist,
Die Hosen keine Falten werfen!

Mephistopheles (sings)

In Sammet und in Seide
War er nun angetan,
Hatte Bänder auf dem Kleide,
Hatt’ auch ein Kreuz daran,
Und war sogleich Minister,
Und hatt einen großen Stern.
Da wurden seine Geschwister
Bei Hof auch große Herrn.

Und Herrn and Frau’n am Hofe,
Die waren sehr geplagt,
Die Königin und die Zofe
Gestochen und genagt,
Und durften sie nicht knicken,
Und weg sie jucken nicht,
Wir knicken und ersticken
Doch gleich, wenn einer sticht.

English translation by Bayard Taylor (1825-1878)

MEPHISTOPHELES (sings)

There was a king once reigning,
Who had a big black flea,
And loved him past explaining,
As his own son were he.
He called his man of stitches;
The tailor came straightway:
Here, measure the lad for breeches.
And measure his coat, I say!

BRANDER

But mind, allow the tailor no caprices:
Enjoin upon him, as his head is dear,
To most exactly measure, sew and shear,
So that the breeches have no creases!

MEPHISTOPHELES (sings)

In silk and velvet gleaming
He now was wholly drest–
Had a coat with ribbons streaming,
A cross upon his breast.
He had the first of stations,
A minister’s star and name;
And also all his relations
Great lords at court became.

And the lords and ladies of honor
Were plagued, awake and in bed;
The queen she got them upon her,
The maids were bitten and bled.
And they did not dare to brush them,
Or scratch them, day or night:
We crack them and we crush them,
At once, whene’er they bite.

And to end on Jolly!

Es war einmal ein König (FAUST, Goethe/Beethoven)

Three versions:

Mikhail Golovushkin, bass

Hermann Prey, baritone

(piano accompaniment)

Peter Schreier, tenor

(piano accompaniment)


Mendelssohn Moses writes from France. 


Featured: Mephistopheles, by Paul Mathey; painted in 1888.