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The beginning of Chapter V in Part Two of Maupassant's novel Bel-Ami tells us about political discussions regarding the French colonisation of North Africa. One of the members of Parliament (the Third Republic had a bicameral system and the novel does not clarify whether this is person is a member of the Senate or the Chamber of Deputies) holds a remarkable speech:

Personne, au fond, ne croyait à une expédition vers Tanger, bien que, le jour de la séparation du Parlement, un député de la droite, le comte de Lambert-Sarrazin, dans un discours plein d'esprit, applaudit même par les centres, eût offert de parier et de donner en gage sa moustache, comme avait fait jadis un célèbre vice-roi des Indes, contres les favoris du chef du Conseil que le nouveau cabinet ne se pourrait tenir d'imiter l'ancien et d'envoyer une armée à Tanger, en pendant à celle de Tunis, par amour de la symétrie, comme on met deux vases sur une cheminée.
(...)
Ce discours, demeuré célèbre, avait servi de thème à Du Roy pour dix articles sur la colonie algérienne, (...)

Translation from The Works of Guy de Maupassant on Archive.org:

Although it was only the beginning of October, the Chambers were about to resume their sittings, for matters as regarded Morocco were becoming threatening. No one at the bottom believed in an expedition against Tangiers, although on the day of the prorogation of the Chamber, a deputy of the Right, Count de Lambert-Sarrazin, in a witty speech, applauded even by the Center had offered to stake his moustache, after the example of a celebrated Viceroy of the Indies, against the whiskers of the President of the Council, that the new Cabinet could not help imitating the old one, and sending an army to Tangiers, as a pendant to that of Tunis, out of love of symmetry, as one puts two vases on a fireplace.
(...)
This speech, which became famous, served as a peg for Du Roy for half a score of articles upon the Algerian colony (...).

There is some historical background to Maupassant's novel: the Scramble for Africa, including the French occupation of Tunisia in 1881. In the novel, "Marocco" is substituted for "Tunisia" and the country's debt also play a role (for historical background, see for example 1881 | La dette : l’arme qui a permis à la France de s’approprier la Tunisie).

Apparently, some characters in the novel are based on historical figures, some of them fairly directly. With this in mind, I would like to know whether the speech mentioned above is also an allusion to a real speech.

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  • Likely a coincidence, but "When Garfield was before the country, an elector in Ogdensburg, New York, bet his moustache against another man's whiskers that James A. would not be elected, but he was, and off came the moustache." -- The Auckland Star, 13 June 1908. Totally different setting, but I was just struck by the similarity even in wording. – Rand al'Thor Jun 10 '20 at 7:28

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