Le P’tit Quinquin
Rue Nationale, Lille, France
A mother sings her baby to sleep. Sleep, my little one, she hums, my little chick. And high above her, at the top of his white, decorated column, Alexandre Desrousseaux nods appreciatively. For it is his song this mother is singing, his lullaby that is helping her baby off to sleep. Alexandre was born in Lille in 1820. And he died in Lille in 1892. He worked as a clerk in the town hall. A quiet, humble and ordinary life. And perhaps, a life that would now, in the hundred years since it ended, have been forgotten. Were it not for his gift for music. For when Alexandre wasn’t hard at work in the town hall, he was at home writing and composing songs. His most famous song was a lullaby. The very one this mother is singing to her child and the very one that inspired this 1902 statue by Eugène Déplechin. Le P’tit Quinquin. The lullaby’s lyrics are simple. The singer caresses the sleepless child, calls the child a little chick, and reminds the child how long a day tomorrow will be if no sleep is had tonight. But none of this happens in French. The lullaby was written in the local Lille dialect, Chti. A p’tit quinquin would be in French a petit enfant, and in English, a little child. And perhaps because not many songs were, or are, written in Chti, the lullaby came to be a symbol of Lille and of its people. By the time of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the lullaby had been refashioned into a rallying cry for soldiers from the region. Now, Chti is not often heard in Lille or in the towns and villages that surround it. Except, perhaps, from the mouths of parents with sleepless children.