W.E. – Great Thinkers Gallery: Robien du Lacard

Robien du Lacard (1829-1891) was born into a large bourgeois family, one of eight children. See him sit in the middle of a crowd, appearing withdrawn as if all that went on in the family was being repelled.
He was always very selective about everything: Give him the wrong kind of food or even clothes that didn’t suit him, he’d start crying (as a baby) or complaining loudly (as a child). As an adult, which started on his 21st birthday, he’d plainly shy away from all of the things that he did not appreciate, and these were many.
No wonder he earned the nickname (French), spoiled brat of the bourgeois, which also brought him quite a few fistfights in school. There he held up remarkably well. Although of slight build, he was fast on his feet, quick-fisted, and mean like a mad terrier once attacked. Having discovered his self-defense abilities, a team of five boys ganged up on him, attacking him from out of nowhere and without provocation on the way home from school. It gave him bruises, a split upper lip, and a broken jaw. Given his young age, it all healed rather fast and well, but his jaw never fully returned to its former shape. For the rest of his life, he looked somewhat strained when grinning. Little did it matter for this man, who was serious in the extreme.
He did, however, persuade the family’s doctor to call each of the five boys in for a physical examination, from which they emerged teary-eyed and bald-headed. Ever since the episode, Lacard carried a knife for self-defense, and he was never physically attacked or verbally abused again.

As his parents had been predicting, he entered the distinguished college of fine science, from which he emerged with a Masters Degree in Chemistry. He had been spending a significant portion in his room reading books about the topic, and even more in the basement underneath their house experimenting with powders, microscopes, liquids, and tubes. More than once, the household had been awoken by loud explosions – hence, his parents were keen to see him off to a place where he could develop inside a more controlled environment.
His master’s thesis entitled (French) The Big Bang Was Smaller Than the Next Explosion raised a few eyebrows among the academic elite. It postulated, in no uncertain terms, that the anarchist underground movement was acquiring sufficient chemicals, know-how and facilities to bomb the nation back to the Stone Age. His demonstration of these weapons, many of them rudimentary, was compelling but highly controversial, as some speculated that it could well fall into the wrong hands and inspire anarchists to new acts of terrorism. As a result, the Master’s Thesis defense was held in an undisclosed location, and once approved his thesis was never formally published. Today, it is available for inspection inside a thick glass showcase at the Parisian Cultural Center.

Upon having graduated, he changed course, abandoned the field of chemistry, and essentially turned his back on science except in its most abstract forms. What made him even more famous than his forbidden thesis was his first and only published book, Life is but One Moment. This beautifully bound volume, which ran 560 pages with classic typesetting, presented the idea that the meaning of life is a single moment, a single element, or a single event. Hence, all things are preparations for this.
His big moment came very late in life. On December 3rd, 1891, he went up to a beggar on the street and told her that he had decided to donate his entire fortune to her and her starving children, should she have any. “What fortune, Monsieur?” she asked bewildered. “Please don’t humiliate me, can’t you see I’m already on my knees.”
“I never made a cent, Madmoiselle,” he replied, “but my parents were well-to-do. I have been living modestly my whole life, some of the investments paid off, and today my portion of the inheritance amounts to 4.3 million Francs.”
The woman started crying, which brought spectators to assemble around them. They were curious: Was the man harassing the poor woman, or what was his point? The moments of his childhood reappeared in his mind, never again would be allow himself to be a surrounded and then attacked by a mob.
“Here is my card, and my lawyer’s name and address is handwritten on the back. Go see him tomorrow, and he will take care of the rest. Your name and the age of your first-born child, please whisper them into my ear, so that I may pass that on to my lawyer for verification.”
She whispered into his ear that her name was Michelle, and her first-born was three years old. Then he abruptly went away. Having fulfilled his mission in life, he turned a sharp corner, crossed a small park, and wiped tears of joy from his face as he marched along.
Lacard du Robien died within one month from unknown causes. He must have ingested something, a mixture of unknown chemicals perhaps. Michelle and her children moved into his house; eventually, she became an educated woman, who would see to it that her children went to the best of schools and accomplished what so few fatherless children ever accomplished in those days: They were happily married, settled down, and became respectable men and women. Thus, the “spoiled bourgeois brat’s” legacy had been secured.

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