Authors: Alphonse de Lamartine

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Méditations poétiques, 1820 (The Poetical Meditations, 1839)

La Mort de Socrate, 1823 (The Death of Socrates, 1829)

Nouvelles méditations poétiques, 1823

Chant du sacre, 1825

Le Dernier Chant du pèleringe d’Harold, 1825 (The Last Canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, 1827)

Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, 1830

Œuvres complètes, 1834

Jocelyn, 1836 (English translation, 1837)

La Chute d’un ange, 1838

Recueillements poétiques, 1839

Œuvres poétiques complètes, 1963

Long Fiction:

Graziella, 1849 (English translation, 1871)

Raphaël, 1849 (English translation, 1849)

Geneviève, 1850 (English translation, 1850)

La Tailleur de pierres de Saint-Point, 1851 (The Stonesman of Saint-Point, 1851)

Drama:

Toussaint Louverture, pr., pb. 1850

Saül, pb. 1861

Medée, pb. 1873

Zoraide, pb. 1873

Nonfiction:

Sur la politique rationelle, 1831 (The Polity of Reason, 1848)

Voyage en Orient, 1835 (Travels in the East, 1835)

Histoire des Girondins, 1847 (History of the Girondists, 1847-1848)

Histoire de la révolution de 1848, 1849 (History of the French Revolution of 1848, 1849)

Histoire de la Restauration, 1851-1852 (The History of the Restoration of Monarchy in France, 1851-1853)

Histoire de la Turquie, 1855

Histoire des constituants, 1855 (History of the Constituent Assembly, 1858)

Vie des grands hommes, 1855-1856 (Biographies and Portraits of Some Celebrated People, 1866)

Miscellaneous:

Œuvres complètes, 1860-1866 (41 volumes)

Biography

The life of Alphonse de Lamartine (lah-mahr-teen) can be schematized as a pattern that shifts among four points: political commitments, a sentimental intermixture of women and natural scenery, a personalized and heretical form of Catholicism, and a semiautobiographical approach to poetry. Each, through circumstance or through the poet’s whims, was allowed periodically to reach an ascendancy over the others and to dominate his time and energy. If one is to understand Lamartine’s heavily autobiographical poetry, one must consider his politics, his religion, and his love of women and nature.{$I[AN]9810000479}{$I[A]Lamartine, Alphonse de}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Lamartine, Alphonse de}{$I[tim]1790;Lamartine, Alphonse de}

Given his family and the events of his early years, it is no surprise that the adult Lamartine was to demonstrate an active interest in politics–although the leftward direction of that interest could hardly have been predicted. On October 21, 1790, in the opening years of the French Revolution, Lamartine was born into a noble family that was staunchly Royalist. His father was imprisoned for a long while during the Reign of Terror but was not executed. Lamartine’s mother, a deeply religious woman who combined the ideas of Rousseau with Catholicism, gave Lamartine his early religious training and had a deep influence on him. At the Jesuit college at Belley, Lamartine was further exposed to liberal Catholic attitudes as well as to a broad range of world literature. It is a tribute to Lamartine’s capacity for development that throughout his life he carried this liberalism in religion, as well as in politics, to points just short of radicalism, so much so that by old age he had evolved far beyond the paradigms of his youth.

An early and deep interest in nature and in love was to initiate Lamartine’s metamorphosis. In 1811 and 1812, he visited Italy, which, as in the case of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe several decades before, provided a great impetus to Lamartine’s development as a poet. An affair with a Neapolitan cigar maker of loose morals named Antoniella (the probable model for Graziella, the title character of his 1849 novel) had the effect of loosening those of the poet. The scenery, particularly that of the Bay of Naples, left a strong impression on several of his lyrics.

The real turning point, however, came during the autumn of 1816. While convalescing at a fashionable bath in Savoy, Lamartine met Madame Julie Charles, who had all the requisite qualities for attracting the affections of a romantic poet: She was beautiful, consumptive, and married. They carried on an affair amid splendid alpine scenery, which helped to set the tone of pantheism in Lamartine’s religious development. In spite of periodic separations, an amorous but perhaps unconsummated relationship continued until Charles finally died of tuberculosis in December, 1817. This affair left a permanent mark on Lamartine. Other affairs and even his marriage in 1820 to Marianne Birch, a wealthy Englishwoman, had no effect on his feelings for Charles and did not disperse the aura of melancholy that her death had imposed on him. Indeed, two further sorrows resulted from his marriage: the deaths of a son and a daughter.

Lamartine’s career in the Chamber of Deputies, the elective legislative body of France during the first half of the nineteenth century, and in the governments of the 1848 Revolution and the Second Republic is important historically and biographically. A consideration of this career is crucial to an understanding of Lamartine’s political poetry. Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord said of Lamartine that he had the acumen to penetrate to the heart of his country. He foresaw the dangers of military dictatorships–one of which was soon to materialize under Napoleon III. Lamartine also read an important message in the unsuccessful workers’ riots in Lyons and in Paris (1831-1832). He foresaw the necessity for the political education of the working class, who he believed would initiate all future revolutions. (The events of 1848 and 1878 proved him, in great part, correct.)

Above all, Lamartine demonstrated an ability to adapt to a changing political climate so much so that he was often a bit ahead of his time. Lamartine discovered, to his sorrow, that flexibility, no matter how logical, can be a fatal flaw in politics. What through twentieth century hindsight seems a sincere, if gradual, move from bourgeois liberalism to a moderately leftist stance seemed to his contemporaries to be inconsistency.

Lamartine’s sorrow was to have been a statesman in a time of political conservatives and opportunists, the worst and most formidable among whom was Napoleon III. Lamartine could easily have set himself up as a dictator, thereby gaining the support of the Right, but he decided instead to share his power as the head of the 1848 Provisional Government with the leader of the Left, A. A. Ledru-Rollin; this decision lost him the support of the wealthy ruling class.

Lamartine’s political career was of secondary importance to his literary work. His first published poetry was immensely popular, and he was elected to the prestigious French Academy in 1830. He wrote little poetry during the decade in which he was engaged in political activity, but financial demands forced him to publish constantly during the last twenty years of his life.

Lamartine ran unsuccessfully for public office in 1848. Much of the remainder of his life was spent writing popular histories, biographies, and similar works to produce needed income. His wife died in 1863. In 1867 the government of Napoleon III, acknowledging the relative poverty of the former statesman, granted Lamartine a substantial sum. Lamartine died in Paris on February 28, 1869.

Lamartine has been called the first of the French Romantics. He was one of the earliest poets in France to write intensely personal and heavily emotional work without regard to the rigid rules of classicism. He was also among the first to create from a bubbling overflowing of poetic energy. Although he brought new spirit and new rhythmical patterns into French verse, he remained bound by the tired and cliché-ridden vocabulary of classicism. His poetry is fresh in its sincere reaction to natural forces and in its ethereal vagueness in an age of pedestrian clarity. His contribution was, however, a new tone and rhythm rather than a new direction for poetic art.

BibliographyAraujo, Norman. In Search of Eden: Lamartine’s Symbols of Despair and Deliverance. Brookline, Mass.: Classical Folia Editions, 1976. A critical interpretation of Lamartine’s work with bibliographic references.Barbin, Judith. “Liszt and Lamartine: Poetic and Religious Harmonies.” The Comparatist Journal of the Southern Comparative Literature Association 16 (1992): 115-122. A thoughtful essay that compares religious elements and musicality in Lamartine’s poems in his 1829 book with selected works by the great Polish Romantic composer Franz Liszt.Birkett, Mary Ellen. Lamartine and the Poetics of Landscape. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1982. An excellent study that explores relationships between the representation of natural beauty in Romantic landscape painting and Lamartine’s poetry. Like Barbin’s study, this book examines the intimate connections between literature and the other arts that were so important during the Romantic period in France.Bishop, Lloyd. “‘Le Lac’ as Exemplar of the Greater Romantic Lyric.” Romance Quarterly 34, no. 4 (November, 1987): 403-413. This close reading of Lamartine’s most famous poem explains how the poet’s solitary meditation on the beauty of a lake reminds him of his deceased lover, with whom he often walked around the same lake. Argues that nature and death are important themes in Romantic lyric poetry.Domvile, Lady Margaret. Life of Lamartine. London: K. Paul, Treneh, 1888. Written twenty years after his death this in-depth biography offers a nearly contemporaneous view of his life.Fortescue, William. Alphonse de Lamartine: A Political Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983. Despite its title, this biography does not simply treat Lamartine’s unsuccessful run for the French presidency and his opposition to the overthrow of the French Republic by Emperor Napoleon III in 1851. It also examines Lamartine’s gradual evolution from a conservative Royalist to a fervent defender of democratic freedoms.Lombard, Charles. Lamartine. New York: Twayne, 1973. Remains a clear introduction in English to Lamartine’s lyric and epic poetry. Contains an annotated bibliography of important critical studies on the poetry.Porter, Laurence M. The Renaissance of the Lyric in French Romanticism: Elegy, “Poëme,” and Ode. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1978. A critical and historical study of nineteenth century French poetry, including works by Lamartine. Includes index and bibliography.Whitehouse, Henry R. The Life of Lamartine. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969. A reprint of a thorough biography originally published in 1918.Unger, Gérard. Lamartine: Poète et homme d’état. Paris: Flammarion, 1998. An in-depth biography of Lamartine’s life as a politician and as a poet. Published in French.Whitehouse, Henry R. The Life of Lamartine. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969. A reprint of a thorough biography originally published in 1918.
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