Histoire de M. Vieux Bois  

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"Mr. Oldbuck, in despair, commits suicide. Fortunately the sword passes below his arm.

For eight-and-forty hours he believes himself dead.

He returns to life dying of hunger." --Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (1837) by Rodolphe Töpffer

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (1837), published in English as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, and also known as Les amours de Mr. Vieux Bois or simply Monsieur Vieuxbois, is a 19th-century publication written and illustrated by the Swiss caricaturist Rodolphe Töpffer. Published first in Europe as Histoire de M. Vieux Bois, and then in the United States as a newspaper supplement, The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, it is sometimes said to be the first comic book.

Each page of the book had one to six captioned cartoon panels, much like modern comics.



The format consists of sequential pictures with captions, rather than utilizing the staple of word-balloons, a convention that would later be developed in newspaper comic strips. In Understanding Comics, comics theorist Scott McCloud says Töpffer's work is in many ways "the father of the modern comic." McCloud emphasizes Töpffer's use of "cartooning and panel borders" along with "the first interdependent combination of words and pictures seen in Europe."

Töpffer described comics as a medium appealing particularly to children and the lower classes, and this is evident in the style of the work. It is notable that the story was never intended for publication but rather as an idle "diversion" for his close friends; however, the story achieved widespread popularity in the United States and its original France.

Töpffer used a method called autography, in which the pen draws on specially prepared paper, allowing a freer line than the engraving of the time.


Mr. Vieux Bois encounters a seemingly overweight young woman and instantly falls in love. His initial attempts at courting are ignored, followed by short periods of his desperation. He attempts suicide by falling on his own sword and then by hanging himself. Both attempts fail.

He discovers a rival suitor and challenges him to a duel. He is better with his dueling sword and his rival has to flee. Vieux Bois contacts the parents of his girlfriend, seeking her hand in marriage. He returns home and starts to celebrate loudly. His celebration ends with his arrest for disturbing the neighbours. The marriage is called off and he feels suicidal. He asks for hemlock but is given herb soup instead.

He then goes traveling but falls prey to highwaymen. Seeking refuge in a lair, he meets a hermit who persuades him to join the local cloister. After two weeks he escapes the cloister dressed in drag. He loses his right eye on his way home and starts wearing an eyepatch. At home he finds a letter from his love interest, finally returning his affection. Nightly he serenades her with a large but unspecified string instrument. They flee on his horse which struggles to support her weight. But Vieux Bois is apprehended by monks and returned to prison. He throws himself out of a window in his fourth unsuccessful suicide attempt.

Released he flees again with his fiancee. Returning to his home by way of the local river they are discovered by a "little hermit". Vieux Bois keeps the boy's head under the water until he dies from drowning. He finally can arrange for their marriage without opposition from the monks.

On his wedding day Vieux Bois leaves his home for the church but then returns to place his dog as guard outside the house. Consequently he arrives late for his own wedding. His in-laws had tired of waiting and called off the marriage again. He tries to shoot himself in the head but only wounds his face. He is mistaken for dead and buried. Crows digging at his grave finally manage to awake him. He is "called back into existence".

Dressed in a shroud, he is mistaken for a ghost and a couple of local peasants chase him with their pitchforks. His return home terrifies his inheritors. As soon as he changes his clothes, he is again arrested for assault. His bullet had entered a neighbour's leg. He defends himself in court but nevertheless ends up sentenced to imprisonment for a year. His only cellmate is his loyal dog.

They soon manage to escape by opening a hole in the roof. He jumps to the roof of the neighbouring house but his dog falls into the chimney. The house belongs to his object of affection and her parents. The later are scared by their canine visitor but their daughter recognizes it and hugs it. Mr. Vieux Bois pulls at the rope around his dog's neck and is surprised at its weight. The rope breaks and he falls from the roof and onto a street lamp. He flees the local police. Meanwhile, the resident family climbs the chimney to the rooftop in order to meet the dog's owner. They find nobody and are then trapped on the roof.

Three days later Mr. Vieux Bois returns disguised as an officer. He searches for his lady love and is informed that the whole family is still missing. He leaves to search for them. The following day, a chimney sweep discovers the whole family. Vieux Bois encounters one the monks responsible for his imprisonment. He cuts off his beard in revenge but then has to flee a legion of vengeful monks.

He returns empty-handed to his hometown. The chimney sweep informs him of the rescue of his lady. Led to the roof, he finds his lost dog. He stays on the roof for nine days in an effort to communicate with his love ... not realizing the family has moved. On the ninth day he leaves the roof and reestablishes contact with his lady. They flee again with horse and carriage. Mr. Vieux Bois is rushing the horse and manages to cover 18 leagues in three hours ... only to find that the carriage containing his lady was lost at some point of the road.

The carriage has been loaded on a stagecoach heading for Paris. But its weight eventually overturns the stagecoach into a river. A passenger seeks refuge on the river-floating carriage. He is identified as the rival driven away at the duel months ago. He drives the carriage to the shore and attempts to release the woman from it. Before he can do so Vieux Bois arrives, posing as a highwayman. He forces his old rival to keep his face on the ground. Then he enters the locked door of the carriage, releases his lady, forces his rival to enter it and throws it to the river again.

The lady complains of exhaustion and seems to have lost weight. Her lover leads her to the mountains where she can pursuit a fattening diet. Meanwhile he adopts a pastoral lifestyle under the name of "'Tircis". Several pages are devoted to the sleeping woman changing hands between the two persistent rivals for her affection. When she awakes she finds Vieux Bois with a new donkey, taken from his opponent.

On their way home they have to cross the grounds of the local monastery where they have several enemies. The man disguises himself as a miller and the woman as a sack of flour]. The monks stop them anyway to examine the cargo. They are scared to find it squealing. The "miller" assures them it contains the Devil. The monks flee but return with reinforcements. The couple are condemned as sorcerers and sentenced to execution by burning. The execution is carelessly prepared and the prisoners take advantage of the smoke to flee towards the river. There their old carriage is found standing. Two pursuing monks are approaching. Knowing them well, Vieux Bois throws some coins around and enters the carriage with his lady. The monks believe the carriage is filled with coins. In their greed they decide to keep it for themselves and dig a pit in order to bury it. When it gets deep enough, their prey exits the carriage and buries them up to their necks. Leaving the monks, the duo has one last encounter with the rival suitor before the story ends happily with their marriage.


Töpffer described the type of work as appealing particularly to children and the lower classes. Though the story was never intended for publication, but rather as an idle diversion for his close friends, the story achieved widespread popularity in the United States and its original Switzerland. Critics, however, panned almost all of Töpffer's caricature works, decrying them as a low ambition for a greater mind.

Full English text[1]



Mr. Oldbucks first sight of his ladye-love.

Mr. Oldbuck beholds her vanishing in the distance.


Mr. Oldbuck in love.

He seeks to conquer the tender passion by study.


Mr. Oldbuck finding study ineffectual, tries music.

He discovers that all his efforts are in vain.


Looking from the window, Mr. Oldbuck espies his ladye-love.

He rushes to the street, but she has vanished.


Mr. Oldbuck resolves to write to her.

Mr. Oldbuck's dream.

He receives no reply to his letter


Mr. Oldbuck, in despair, commits suicide. Fortunately the sword passes below his arm.

For eight-and-forty hours he believes himself dead.

He returns to life dying of hunger.


Third interview-declaration-sighs-hopes.

His beloved one leaves him-unhappy wretch!


The remedy!!!


Second suicide of Mr. Oldbuck. Happily the rope is too long.

Eight-and-twenty hours afterwards, hearing the voice of his ladye-love in the street, Mr. Oldbuck forgets that he is hanged, and nearly strangles himself.

In his haste to reach his-ladye-love, he drags the beam after him.


Which rather annoys the good folks in the street.

Mr. Oldbuck almost overtakes his ladye-love.

Just as he reaches her, he is stopped by invidious fate.


Mr. Oldbuck wishes to return home, but can't.

He contrives ingeniously to overcome the difficulty.

Mr. Oldbuck sends for the doctor.


Mr. Oldbuck drinks ass's milk.

His physician recommending exercise, he purchases an Arabian courser.


Mr. Oldbuck on horseback.

Mr. Oldbuck is thrown. His steed retreats to its stable.


Raising himself, Mr. Oldbuck perceives his ladye-love. She is not alone!

Duel between Mr. Oldbuck and his rival.


Having vanquished his adversary, Mr. Oldbuck declares his passion in the presence of the parents of his beloved.

His suit being approved, Ms. Oldbuck returns home, and for three hours dances for joy.


At length their patience being exhausted the enraged neighbors rush in.

Mr. Oldbuck is imprisoned for midnight rioting.

The old folks on returning Mr. Oldbuck's visit, hear with astonishment that he is in prison.


His third suicide. The match being broken off, Mr. Oldbuck drinks hemlock. Luckily it is only vegetable soup.

For eight days Mr. Oldbuck believes himself dead,

The rats having gnawed the legs from the chair, he falls, and is restored to life.


Mr. Oldbuck turns over a new leaf.

He buys a watch-dog, and resolves to travel.

Being attacked by robbers, he hides himself and his horse behind a tree.


Stripped of every thing Mr. Oldbuck takes refuge in a cave.

He is discovered by a hermit, who condoles with him.

Mr. Oldbuck turns hermit.


Tired of seclusion, Mr. Oldbuck escapes in female disguise.

On his way he is accosted by a traveller on whom he recognises his own habiliments.

So at the next inn, he considers that to make an exchange is to commit no robbery.


Mr. Oldbuck rescues his horse from a ditch in which it has lain a fortnight.

He bewails the miserable condition of his steed.


Mr. Oldbuck finding his horse too weak to walk, treats him to a ride.


Arriving at a meadow, Mr. Oldbuck turns his horse into the rich pasture.

It soon recovers its flesh.

The rural solitude revives Mr. Oldbuck's flame.


He becomes sentimental.

And loves to roam.

His horse bursting with fat, Mr. Oldbuck is obliged to return home on foot.


On reaching home, Mr. Oldbuck finds a favorable letter from his layde-love.

He serenades his beloved object.

The elopement.


Mr. Oldbuck is recaptured by the monks and he and his beloved imprisoned in different cells.


Fourth suicide of Mr. Oldbuck.

Fortunately in his descent he is caught by the index of a sun-dial.

He turns over a new leaf.

Mr. Oldbuck loses heart and falls ill.


Profiting by his excessive thinness, Mr. Oldbuck introduces himself through the chimney which rather alarms his ladye-love.

They escape from their prison.


They continue to advance.

Their success all but certain.

But in fording the ditch, Mr. Oldbuck swallows more water that he relishes.


While his ladye-love dries herself in the sun, Mr. 0ldbuck amuses himself by drowning the porter who had pursued them.

They return home by water.


Taking their evening walk, the parents of the beloved one recognize their dear child at a distance.

Profiting by his situation. Mr. Oldbuck negotiates and obtains permission to renew his suit.

The marriage is about to take place.


As he enters the church, Mr. Oldbuck remembers that he has shut his dog at home, and goes back to let him out.

Returning to the church, he finds neither parents nor child!

Makes his will; exculpates his dog; charges the parents with his death; and requests the police to see to his funeral.


Fifth Suicide. Mr. Oldbuck throws himself into the grand canal.

Happily two thieves fish him up for the sake of his bridal dress. Being very determined, however, Mr. Oldbuck does not believe himself the less thoroughly drowned.


He is stripped and left naked on the bank.

Is found by the police, who take him away to be buried.


Is dug up by birds of prey, and returns to life.

Dressed in a winding-sheet Mr. Oldbuck returns home, but is discovered and pursued as a ghost.


Mr. Oldbuck reaches home, and almost frightens his heirs out of their wits.

He turns over a new leaf.

The heirs having complained to the police, Mr. Oldbuck is committed to prison.


Mr. Oldbuck pleads his own cause, but is sentenced to a years imprisonment.

He meditates an escape.

Having forced his way through the roof, he draws his dog up after him.


Mr. Oldbuck passes from the roof of the prison to that of a neighboring house.

Mr. Oldbuck sounds the chimney with his dog.


The chimney happens to be that of his beloved. Excessive fright of her parents. She recognizes the dog and rushes to embrace it.

Uuhappily while engaged in this tender duty, Mr. Oldbuck withdraws the cord.


Mr. Oldbuck feels a great weight at the end of the string.

Just us they reach the top, the cord breaks.

Mr. Oldbuck is saved by falling into a street-lamp.


The loved one releases her father, who could not bring his mind to relax his hold of her.

Another releasement. The whole family meet on the roof and are surprised to find no one there.

Mr. Oldbuck, pursued by the police, disguises himself as an officer.


Returning to the house of his layde-love, Mr. Oldbuck learns that the whole family has been missing for three days.

Suspecting a plot, he sets out in search of his beloved.


At a loss to know what has happened to them, the family give themselves up to profound grief. At the end of four days they are discovered by a chimney-sweep.

Passing near some rich pasture, Mr. Oldbuck dismounts to take his horse by the head.


Meeting with one of the monks who imprisoned him, Mr. Oldbuck cuts off his beard.

He is pursued by a legion of enraged monks.


Mr. Oldbuck learns from the little chimney-sweep the fate of his layde-love and her parents.

He mounts the sweep behind him to conduct him to their rescue.

He reaches the roof, comprehends the whole affair, and discovers his emaciated dog.


Mr. Oldbuck seeks to establish a correspondence with his ladye-love.

The Parents of his beloved having, in their fright, changed their apartments, Mr. Oldbuck waits in vain eight days for a reply.

On the ninth he feels a light weight; in the intoxication of delight, he flatters himself that it is the beloved one herself!


A bitter disappointment.

The new comers taking the rope of Mr. Oldbuck for a pot hook, hang their kettle upon it, and are dreadfully frightened to see it ascend the chimney.


Mr. Oldbuck's sensations on discovering his ladye-love at a window on the opposite side of the street.

Carried away by an excusable exultation, Mr. Oldbuck breaks a hole in the roof and disappears.


Falling into the room of a sleepy citizen, Mr. Oldbuck opens a communication with his ladye-love by means of the window.

Making a rope of the citizen's curtains, he descends without loosing sight of his beloved.

Midway, Mr. Oldbuck, by a well-directed leap, lands himself exactly in the chamber of his ladye-love.


Blissful moments, which amply repay all his exertions.

Even while engaged in making love, Mr. Oldbuck keeps his eyes about him.

Meanwhile the citizen, who had complained to the police, and having no intruder to deliver up, is arrested as a trickster or buffoon.


Second elopement. On this occasion Mr. Oldbuck conceals his beloved in a close carriage, with locked door to prevent every danger.

Mr. Oldbuck, espying a monk, spurs forward, unconscious of a little accident which has happened.


Mr. Oldbuck increasing his speed, advances at the rate of ten leagues an hour.


The carriage found by the diligence, is mounted on the roof.

The diligence being overset, the beloved one, favored by fate, floats resignedly on the water.


Discovering his loss, Mr. Oldbuck hastens to retrace his steps.


Excessive rage of Mr. Oldbuck, who, on reaching the banks of the river, sees his rival in possession of the carriage.

Mr. Oldbuck hesitates not to plunge into the river to swim in pursuit of his beloved.

In the mean time, the rival who had discovered and boarded the carriage, is carried by the current close to a great water-wheel.


Entangled by the water-wheel, the rival gets preciously ducked at every turn

Having reached the carriage, Mr. Oldbuck seats himself upon it, and steers with his hat.

Mr. Oldbuck seeks a flower-enamelled bank to land upon.


Meanwhile the rival continues to be soused at every turn.

Having landed on a flowery bank, Mr. Oldbuck draws the beloved one from the carriage.

Having become extremely thin, Mr. Oldbuck takes her to the mountains to drink milk.


The rival continues his evolutions.

For the sake of the health of his ladye-love, Mr. Oldbuck leads a pastoral life and takes the provisional name of Thyrsis.


The rival continues his aquatic amusement.

Mr. Oldbuck, under the assumed name of Thyrsis, milks the cow for his beloved.

Mr. Oldbuck, under the assumed name of Thyrsis, diverts his ladye-love with rustic dances.


When it begins to get cold, Mr. Oldbuck, under the assumed name of Thyrsis, quits the high ground to seek out a balmy spot in the plains.

Meanwhile the waters decreasing, the river leaves the carriage aground not far from the convent.

The great wheel ceasing to turn from the same cause, the rival returns to land

and dries himself in the sun.


The pastoral life having wonderfully fattened his ladye-love, Mr. Oldbuck begins to get tired of it.

Having constructed a rustic palanquin, Mr. Oldbuck confides to two herdsmen the task of conveying them home.


Mr. Oldbuck and his ladye-love having fallen asleep on the palanquin, are abandoned by tbe herdsmen.

Tbe rival happening to pass, mounts the beloved one fast asleep on his donkey, and carries her off during Mr. Oldbuck's nap.


Excessive surprise of Mr. Oldbuck on awaking.

Pursuaded that the herdsmen are the thieves, he pursues them at the rate of five leagues an hour.


Once at full speed, Mr. Oldbuck, unable to stop or to turn aside, darts through a hay-rich.

Arriving at the same place, the rival dismounts his sleeping load and feeds his ass. The ass bites the foot of Mr. Oldbuck, who in vain shrieks aloud in the stack.


The riyal going to sleep, the ass eats much hay, and Mr. 0ldbuck begins to make his way out. Torments of jealousy.

Getting out, Mr. Oldbuck mounts his ladye-love on the ass, and makes off in double-quick time.


On awaking, the beloved asks, " Where are the herdsmen?"

Mr. Oldbuck continues his route, dragging the ass after him.


Crossing the territories of the monks, Mr. Oldbuck disguises himself as a miller, and passes his ladye-love off as a sack of flour.

The monks having right of toll, probe the sack, which collapses, uttering a frightful cry.


On seeing the sack begin to walk, the terrified monks, much to the satisfaction of Mr. Oldbuck, run off as fast as their legs can carry them.


The sack becoming untied, the monks return to the charge, and carry off the beloved one.


Mr. Oldbuck and his ladye-love having been tried and condemned, are led to the stake.

The fire having consumed the bottom of the posts, Mr. Oldbuck and his beloved make their escape.


They throw themselves into the river, and swim to the place where the carriage is stranded.

While his ladye-love dries herself in the sun, Mr. Oldbuck raises the carriage, and is nearly upset by the myriads of frogs disturbed by his intrusion.


Perceiving that he is pursued by the monks, Mr. Oldbuck hastens to lock himself and his ladye-love in the carriage, having first scattered some crowns on the ground.


The two monks, thinking from the crowns, that the carriage contains an immense treasure, dig a hole to hide it for themselves.

When it is deep enough, Mr. Oldbuck slips gently out of the carriage, pushes the monks into the hole, and throws the earth upon them.


Having carefully buried the monks up to the neck, Mr. Oldbuck politely takes leave of them, and makes off at his utmost speed.


The prolonged flight much fatigues the beloved one.

So Mr. Oldbuck gallantly takes the first opportunity which presents itself to procure a carriage.


Grand display of Mr. Oldbuck's strength.

Mr. Oldbuck's foot slipping, the wheelbarrow passes over him, and rushes down the hill with the speed of lightning.


The monks hearing a great noise behind them, are very uneasy, and cry out for help with all their might.

The noise waking up the rival, he hears the cries for help, hastens to see what is the matter, and recaptures the beloved one.


Mr. Oldbuck having somewhat recovered, pursues at full speed-fifteen leagues in three hours!

Passing near the monks, he learns from them what has happened. In gratitude Mr. Oldbuck releases them, and sets out at his utmost speed-twenty leagues in two hours!!


Night having arrived, the rival, for greater security, snatches some winks of sleep without leaving hold of the wheelbarrow

Mr. Oldbuck having discovered them, takes advantage of his rival's sleep, to tie his hands to the wheelbarrow; and availing himself of this artifice, walks home at his ease.


On reaching home, Mr. Oldbuck turns over a new leaf.

Happy denouement of the history of Mr. Oldbuck.

[Egbert, Hovey & King, printers.]

See also

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