Such was the worldwide stir caused by my revelation that the Sweeney Todd story is at least a century older than previously thought that I know many of you will be impatient to read this new story of sinister stylists across the water. It’s from a French tutor, Méthode rationnelle suivant pas à pas la marche de la nature pour apprendre à lire, à entendre, à parler et à écrire l’anglais by Claude Marcel (1872):
An Englishman, coming from Dover, had no sooner landed in Calais than he went to a barber to get himself shaved. “Sir, said the islander, I am very nervous and mortally dread being cut when I am shaved. Here is a guinea for you if you do not cut me, and here is a pistol with which I will blow out your brains, if you cut me. Do you accept these conditions?” — “Yes, my lord, fear nothing.” And he shaved him without accident. The Englishman, much pleased, handed him the guinea, saying, “Has not the pistol frightened you a little?” — Not at all, answered the barber; for if, per chance, I had cut the skin, I would have finished you by cutting your throat.”
Why Calais? Did Brits go to have their hair done there, perhaps when it was still British, rather as they now go to buy booze? Did Beaumarchais base Figaro in Seville do differentiate him from his colleagues in Calais? Are notorious barbers always based in strategically important ports? (Fleet Street used to be next to the port of London.) Are there any more stories like this out there?
- The demon barber of Calais, a 17th century Sweeney Todd
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