Alphonse Lamartine

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Alphonse Lamartine

Alphonse Marie Louis Prat of Lamartine (Mâcon, October 21, 1790-Paris, February 28, 1869) was a French writer, poet and politician of the Romantic period.

Alphonse de Lamartine by Théodore Chassériau

Alphonse Lamartine’s Biography

Alphonse de Lamartine, circa 1865.

His father, Pierre de Lamartine (1752-1840) was a knight of Pratz, captain in the Dauphin cavalry regiment, and his mother, Alix des Roys, was the daughter of the quartermaster general of the Duke of Orleans. The first ten years of his life he spent in the countryside, in Milly, in southern Burgundy, surrounded by nature, his sisters, his mother and, above all, by Father Dumont, pastor of Bussières who instilled in him a great religious faith, reinforced by the years he spent in the school of Belley, during which he read Chateaubriand, Virgil and Horace.

From the military family of the French provincial nobility, he traveled a lot during his youth. In 1816, victim of certain depression, he moved to take the waters in Aix-les-Bains (Savoy). There the poet met Julie Charles, born with the name of Hérettes Bouchaud, married to the physicist and aeronaut Jacques Charles and six years older than him, who suffers from “consumption”, as it was known then galloping tuberculosis. The two young men began a romantic relationship that lasted until Julie’s death in December 1817 at the age of 33. The poet was deeply affected by this tragic loss that inspired him, in part, his poetic Meditations (1820). In that same year, perhaps to get rid of that sadness, he married the English Mary Ann Elisa Birch. And as his defense of the Bourbon restoration in 1814 earned him entry into the diplomatic career, he occupied his first official position under the government of Louis XVIII in the secretary of the French Embassy of Naples from 1825 to 1828.

In 1829 he was elected a member of the French Academy. He was elected deputy in 1833 and 1839, and briefly held the office of governor during the 1848 revolution in France. After the fall of Luis Felipe de Orleans, he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, position that enabled him to preside over an interim government in the recently proclaimed Republic, from February 24, 1848 to May 11 of the same year.

During his time as a politician in the Second French Republic, he made efforts that ultimately led to the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, as well as fostering freedom of the press and assembly, the right to work and programs. short work training. He was a political idealist who supported democracy and pacifism, and his moderate stance on most issues caused his followers to abandon him. After failing in the presidential election of December 10, 1848, he retired from politics and devoted himself to literature.

Apart from his administrative skills, Lamartine excelled in the literary scene for the delicacy of his verses and his exceptional representations of nature. Of his poetic production it is worth mentioning poetic Meditations (1820); New poetic meditations (1823), poetic and religious Harmonies (1830), Jocelyn (1836), The Fall of an Angel (1838) and The Recollections (1839). As a historian, he wrote History of the Girondins and as narrator Raphaël (1848) and Graziella (1852), which reflect his personal experiences. His work had a special influence among the members of the Literary Salon of 1837. Around him a group of writers linked to romanticism was formed, among which was Esteban Echeverría.

He is famous for his partly autobiographical poem Le Lac (The Lake), which describes in retrospect the fervent love shared by a couple from the point of view of the disconsolate man. Lamartine was a master in the use of the poetic forms of French. He was one of the very few French literati to combine his writing with his political career.

I am the first to have descended the poetry of Parnassus and given to what was called the Muse, instead of a seven-string string of convention, the very fibers of the human heart, touched and muted by the innumerable frictions of the soul and nature […] This was not an art, it was a relief from my own heart that shook its own sobs (“Preface” of First Meditations)
I ask for grace for the imperfections of style that will often hurt the delicate. What you feel strongly is written fast (Preface to Harmonies)

The themes of his purely lyrical poetry are four: love, melancholy, nature and faith. Love, a love of languid ecstasy, “amorous silences” and blended eyes, rises when she sings to Julie Charles; the melancholy (Flaubert spoke of the “consumptive lyricism” of Lamartine), the nature that restrains all his grief and the faith, sometimes desperate, but not as much as in Alfred de Vigny. Lamartine comes to God through the contemplation of nature, in the spectacle of the heavens, on earth.

As for his epic and philosophical poetry, it is a little more impostada than merely lyrical poetry. In Jocelyn narrative poem set in the revolutionary era, reflects in nine epochs the epic of redemption by sacrifice and had a great popular success; Maybe it’s inspired by a real character he met in his adolescence, the Abbe Dumont. The chut d’un ange, “The fall of an angel”, is a mere fiction. It is a metaphysical epic in which the angel Cédar is reduced to slavery by the beautiful Daïda. The argument is too complicated and did not have the success of the previous one. As a social poet he sings a “Marseillaise of peace” and contemplates all the possible goods of humanity through “social fraternity”: the extinction of the death penalty and war and a society based on freedom in which all the goods are distributed with equality among men.

He ended his life in poverty, like so many other literati, on February 28, 1869, in Paris. He is considered the first French romantic, and is recognized by Verlaine and the symbolists as an important influence.

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