Memoirs of a Breton Peasant – Bonjour From Brittany

In 1844, his mother agreed that he would be able to contribute more to the family’s upkeep by devoting his attentions to begging full-time. After a six week apprenticeship with an old female beggar, he felt able to go solo but often returned home empty handed, having been robbed by other, more indolent, beggars. The potato blight of 1845 reduced the family’s circumstances still further; most poor people relied heavily on the humble potato for their meal, sometimes it constituted the only meals of the day. With the crop rotten, many went hungry; in 1846 over four per cent of the town’s population died, effectively of starvation. Thankfully, such deprivations were mitigated by a bumper buckwheat harvest that year.

In 1879, a beggar burnt down the farm in an attempt to conceal a theft, his drunken wife and the local priest loudly proclaimed that the fire was Heaven sent; punishment for his blasphemies and lack of faith. The arsonist, apparently a friend of the local priest, was not charged; an inaction that affirmed Déguignet’s belief in the corrupt power of the clergy. However, he was taken aback by the kindness of his neighbours who donated linen and kitchen goods to replace those lost to the flames: “Even the seigneurs at the chateau, my mortal enemies, gave us many things; most importantly, they gave us the essentials of shelter and beds”. Having lost none of his herd or any farm equipment, Déguignet resolved to continue farming.

the last words to Déguignet and his final journal entry, dated 6 January 1905: “I end by wishing mankind the power, or rather the will, to become true and good human beings capable of understanding one another and getting on together in a society that is noble and happy”.

Memoirs of a Breton Peasant – Bonjour From Brittany