This French expression comes from the courtiers at Versailles who would leave an audience with the omnipotent King or Queen and then think of what they might have said to advance their cause or at least to amuse their sovereign with some bon mot as they descended the long staircases in the palace.
Unfortunately, it is something that many of us experience today. So many of us are haunted by these after-thoughts, by remorse, regret, and recrimination. Why had we not done or said such and such? How different might our lives have been?
We wake in the night and turn on ourselves savagely, blaming our fate on a mistake, something stupid said or done.
I still have memories of a game called Botticelli played as a young wife with my ex husband and his friends. We were all in someone’s house for dinner in New Haven and the men were all Yalees. This was fifty years ago, when only men could attend the university. In the game you had to think of someone, and then answer questions( no, I’m not so and so) until the participants guessed who you really were from the initial you gave. The person I thought of was the French mathematician and Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal, though I knew little about him. “ I am P, ” I said smiling proudly. I can still see the group of arrogant Yalees, with their long slim legs and broad shoulders, sprawled around me in a laughing ring peppering me with questions. They asked things like ”Did you write Doctor Zhivago? ( Pasternak) Did you make an important scientific discovery? ( Pasteur) Did you write “The Rape of the Lock.” (Pope) which in my anxiety and terror, turning from one to the other, red in the face, I was unable to answer. I became horribly confused and stammered and stuttered and would not have been able to tell you my own name. It is a moment I have never forgotten which was probably a recall of some earlier and even more humiliating experience as a child. I continue today! to think of all the answers which I knew but was unable to produce, as though this forgotten event ( by everyone else but me) would have made any difference in my life.