Pauvre Jacques, quand j'étais près de toi,
Je ne sentais pas ma misère;
Mais à présent que tu vis loin de moi,
Je manque de tout sur la terre.
Quand tu venais partager mes travaux,
Je trouvais ma tâche légère;
T'en souvient-il? Tous les jours étaient beaux.
Qui me rendra ce temps prospère?
Quand le soleil brille sur nos guérets,
Je ne puis souffrir sa lumière,
Et quand je suis à l'ombre des forêts,
J'accuse la nature entière.
Poor Jacques, when I was near you / I did not feel my troubles /
But now that you live far from me / I lack everything on this earth.
When you shared my work / I found my tasks easy /
Do you remember how fine the days were? / Who can give me back that happy time?
When the sun shines on our fields / I cannot stand its light.
And when I am in the shade of the forest / I blame the whole of nature.
Music on YouTube
This sentimental air was probably composed by the marquise de Travanet, former lady-in-waiting to Madame Élisabeth, on the occasion of marriage of Jacques Bosson, the Swiss dairy manager at Montreuil to his sweetheart Marie-Françoise Magnin. Madame Élisabeth learned that "poor Jacques" was miserable at having to leave his betrothed behind in La Gruyère and arranged for the girl to join him as a dairymaid on the estate. The wedding took place with great ceremony in the parish church of Saint-Symphorien in Versailles on 26 May 1789, just a few days after the opening of the Estates-General. The song was extremely popular throughout the Revolutionary years and was frequently adapted; the royalist Complainte de Louis XVI, set to the tune, is said to have run to 100,000 copies.
Here is Jacques's story as related by Mme de Bombelle:
Madame Élisabeth wanted a Swiss stockman to take care of her cows, and got Mme de Raigecour to ask Mme Diesbach to find her a suitable person in Fribourg. She wanted him to be trustworthy beyond reproach, because she guarded her milk jealously; her first priority was to distribute it among the poor children of Montreuil; the idea that these unfortunates had sufficient nourishment, made the milk that was left taste delicious to her. The good Jacques (that was the name of the Swiss stockman) understood his mistress's intentions, was touched by her kindness and carried out her orders with the upmost zeal. He would often say to me, "Ah! madame, how good the princess is! There is none so perfect in the whole of Switzerland" .
The honesty and uprightness of this fine young man, so touched Madame Élisabeth that she inquired of Mme Diesbach whether he was happy with her and not homesick. Questioned by Mme Diesbach, Jacques admitted that there was one thing which spoilt his happiness; he had left behind in Switzerland a young woman that he had been about to marry when he was summoned to France: she was miserable in his absence and feared that he would forget her. When told of these circumstances by Mme Diesbach, Madame Élisabeth charged her with writing to the girl. She was to inform her that, if she wished to come and join Jacques, madame Elisabeth would permit him to marry her and make her his milkmaid. You can imagine the joy the girl and the good Jacques felt, when they learned of Madame Élisabeth's kindness. It was on this occasion that Mme de Travannet composed the air of Pauvres Jacques, which has since become so popular.
Jacques and his wife preserved for Madame Élisabeth, up until her last moments, the most touching attachment. The wife was imprisoned as a consequence. Jacques managed to flee and return to Fribourg; but he came back to France to try to rescue his wife from death. His courage was crowned with success: he obtained her release and took her back with him to Fribourg, where they both mourned their former protectrice on a daily basis.
Notes of Mme de Bombelles, 1795
Antoine Ferrand, Éloge historique de Madame Élisabeth de France (1814),p.155-7.
The researches of Swiss local historians substantially confirm the tale. Jakob Boschung / Jacques Bosson, was born in 1757 in Bellegarde in La Gruyère and was employed as a stockman on the farm at La Buchille near the little town of Bulle, five leagues south of Fribourg. The farm was owned by the von der Weids of Fribourg and farmed by the Magnin family. When he struck up a romantic liaison with Marie-Françoise Magnin, the girl's disapproving parents forced him to enlist in the Swiss Guards and he was exiled to France. He served in the Regiment of Waldner from 1778 to 1786. On his return to La Buchille he was recommended to Madame Élisabeth by Mme Diesbach, daughter of colonel Affry, an intermediary of the von der Weid family. What Marie-Françoise's widowed mother thought of Madame Élisabeth's matchmaking is not recorded, but as farm manager at Montreuil Jacques now commanded a respectable income. Madame von der Weid is reported to have sent the bride a beautiful silk and brocade wedding dress.
During the Revolution, "Pauvre Jacques" amply repaid his debt of gratitude. He remained at Montreuil, where he joined the National Guard, and regularly brought milk to Madame Élisabeth at theTuileries:
[On 8th December 1789 Madame Élisabeth reported to the marquise de Bombelle, that she still received news from Montreuil:
Jacques comes daily to bring my cream. Fleury, Coupry, Marie and Mme du Coudray come to see me from time to time. They all seem to love me still...Jacques is in his new lodging. Mme Jacques is pregnant; so are all my cows; a calf has just been born. The hens I will not say much about, because I have rather neglected to inquire for them...
The life and letters of Madame Élisabeth de France (1901), trans. by Katherine Prescott Wormeley,p.43-44
In 1793 Jacques was accused of "attachment to the august family of the Bourbons", his wife imprisoned, but he himself managed to flee with his daughter to Switzerland. After fall of Robespierre, the couple were reunited, and spent the second half of their lives at the farm of La Léchère in Bulle. In 1819 Jacques was decorated by Louis XVIII and awarded a modest pension in recognition of his loyalty to the French crown. Husband and wife died in 1835 and 1836 respectively. Their only daughter Marguerite Françoise married the local baker, Pierre Glasson: one of her eight children was the notable local lawyer and poet Nicolas Glasson (1817-1864), who erected a memorial plaque (presently temporarily removed) in the wall of the local Catholic church of Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens to his grandparents, "Le Pauvre Jacques de Madame Élisabeth de France" and his wife
A farm still stood on the site at La Léchère until March 2017, when sadly it was bulldozed to make way for blocks of flats.
The presence of a Swiss stockman at Montreuil was not in itself unusual; with the vogue for pleasure dairies, went an admiration – part practical, part sentimental - for fine Swiss cattle and the health-giving properties of their milk. Swiss herds from the La Guyère region, which was famed for its black-and-white Fribourgeoise cows, might be driven all the way to France. In 1773 a "laiterie des vaches suisses" was established by [? Johann] Herrenschwand in the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Sadly, despite demand, the venture was not a success: according to Mercier, Parisians had high hopes for the restorative powers of the milk, but, since it proved impossible to transport the lush pastures of the Swiss mountains, the cows grew thin, gave ordinary milk and finished by being sent to the butchers (Mercier, Tableau de Paris, vol. 6, p.289)
Aristocratic and royal estates had more success. The existence of Swiss regiments in France provided the necessary contacts to procure cattle and experienced dairymen. In 1766 the duc de Choiseul, used a recruitment agent, M. d'Erlach of Berne, to arrange for cows to be brought to Paris: an evocative account survives of their departure from Fribourg:
He left on a Friday afternoon via the porte de Romont with his twelve cows and two bulls; the ribbons on the bells were of red leather patterned with flowers.
He had with him a cart loaded with equipment for making cheese.
Roulin and his two companions wore flowers in their hats. The cowman was dressed in traditional costume, with striped trousers and a red waistcoat with lace....
Each cow cost seven louis d'or...It was a M. d'Erlach of Berne who had praised Fribourgeoise cattle to M. de Choiseul.
[Passage from the Cahiers d'annotations of dom (?)Nicolas Gobet]
In 1785 Antoine Buchs, a farmer from Marsens, was asked to supply twenty cows and two bulls as breeding stock for the royal estate at Rambouillet. The intermediary on this occasion was the comtesse of Diesbach. Buch's son Joseph drove the cattle to the Île-de-France, accompanied by a second man and his wife who stayed in France to take care of the animals.
This engraving of 1811 by E.W. Witte shows a magnificent bull which belonged to Antoine Buchs. The artist described Buchs as "a man without pretention, from the simple peasant class, who owns a distinguished herd". He also confirmed that he had sent his cows "as far as Paris and Turin".
Engraving acquired by the Musée gruérien in Bulle, in 2011.
By the late 1780s the Encyclopédie méthodique could report that the Fribourgeoise breed was successfully established at Rambouillet and had spread to several French provinces. In all probability the cows at Montreuil were descended from this stock.
Serge Rossier, "Pauvre Jacques", une histoire d’hier et d’aujourd’hui" article in La Gruyère, 06.04.2017.
On the vogue for Swiss cows:
Pierre-Olivier Fanica, Le lait, la vache et le citadin: du XVIIe au XXe siècle (2008), p.188-9.