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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Clovis I.

  • [King of the Franks, born about 466 A.D.; succeeded Childeric, 481; converted to Christianity, 496; defeated and killed Alaric near Poitiers, 507; died 511.]
  • Had I been present at the head of my valiant Franks, I would have avenged his injuries.

  • On hearing for the first time after his conversion the story of Christ’s passion and death. Thus Crillon, called by Henry IV. “the bravest of the brave” (le brave des braves),—a title afterwards given by Napoleon to Marshal Ney,—when excited at Avignon by a preacher’s eloquent description of Christ’s sufferings, put his hand to his sword, crying aloud, “Where wert thou, Crillon?” (Où étais-tu, Crillon?)
  • The conversion of Clovis, after his marriage to a Christian princess, was the result of a vow made when at the point of defeat in the battle of Tolbiac. The fortune of the day having changed, Clovis gained a complete victory over his German foes. He then himself demanded to be baptized, and was accordingly led by St. Remi, the venerable archbishop, on Easter Eve, 496, through the streets of Rheims, which were decorated for the occasion. Astonished by the splendor of a scene so new to him, which was presented by the lights and banners, by the smoke of incense, the chanting of the priests, and the shouts of the multitude, Clovis asked the prelate, who was holding him by the hand, “Is not this the kingdom of God, which you promised me?”—“Not the kingdom, but the way to it,” was the reply of St. Remi, who, as he led him to the font, uttered the historic words, “Bend thy neck, meek Sicambrian: adore what thou hast burned, burn what thou hast adored” (in the original Latin of Gregory of Tours, “Ecclesiastical History of the Franks,” II. chap. 31, “Mitis depone colla, Sicamber;” in French, “Fléchis le cou, Sicambre adouci: adore ce que tu brûlais, brûle ce que tu adorais.”—Bordier’s Translation).
  • No historic mot has suffered more than this in its descent through the centuries. If the change it gradually underwent may be reasoned upon, it may have been thought that the word “meek” could only be applied to a heathen warrior because he had acquired humility by conversion to Christianity; before that change he must naturally have been proud, the Sicambri being themselves the proudest tribe of Franks: substituting the previous characteristic for the acquired virtue, we have the form in which the saying has become proverbial in France, but in which it presents the exact opposite of the original, “Bend thy neck, proud Sicambrian” (Fléchis le cou, fier Sicambre!)
  • Ménage, one of the lights of the Hôtel Rambouillet, said to his friend Chapelain at the conclusion of the first representation of Molière’s “Précieuses Ridicules,” which threw contempt upon the literary society of the hôtels, and revolutionized the drama, “Henceforth we must adore what we have burned, and burn what we have adored!”