Lamartine, Alphonse

views updated


LAMARTINE, ALPHONSE (1790–1869), a major literary and political figure in France.

Alphonse Marie Louis de Lamartine was born in MÂcon, the only son of aristocratic, landowning parents, on 21 October 1790. After attending a Jesuit college at Belley in Savoy, Lamartine led a rather aimless existence, because the royalist traditions of his family prevented him from serving Napoleonic France. He did, however, make a prolonged visit to Italy (July 1811–April 1812), during which he had a love affair that later became a source of poetic inspiration.

The fall of Napoleon's empire interrupted Lamartine's idle and dissipated life. In July 1814 he was commissioned into the royal bodyguard and helped to escort Louis XVIII (r. 1814–1824) out of France in March 1815. After the second abdication (22 June 1815) of Napoleon I (r. 1804–1814/15), Lamartine resigned his army commission. Unsuccessful in his attempts to become a subprefect, he wrote poetry, had affairs with married women, and gained an entry into aristocratic and royalist Paris society. His influential friends and his reputation as a poet helped to secure his appointment in March 1820 as an attaché at the French embassy in Naples. The same month a collection of twenty-four of his poems was published anonymously, entitled Méditations Poétiques. A sensational success, the Méditations Poétiques rapidly made Lamartine one of France's most famous Romantic poets. Shortly afterward, on 6 June 1820, Lamartine married an Anglo-Dutch heiress, Marianne Birch. As a diplomat, Lamartine served in Naples and from 1825 in Florence, while continuing to write poetry and beginning to develop political interests and ambitions. He published two further collections of poems, Nouvelles méditations poétiques (September 1823) and Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (June 1830), as well as individual poems such as La Mort de Socrate (September 1823) and Le Dernier chant du pèlerinage d' Harold (May 1825). These literary achievements were officially recognized by his admission to membership of the French Academy (1 April 1830).

Meanwhile, Lamartine was moving politically from royalism toward liberalism and indicating an interest in becoming a member of the Chamber of Deputies. In October 1829 he politely refused to serve the reactionary Polignac government, though he did not participate in the July 1830 Revolution, which replaced the Restoration monarchy of Charles X (r. 1824–1830) with the initially more liberal July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe (r. 1830–1848). After the Revolution of July 1830, Lamartine resigned from the diplomatic corps but at the same time swore an oath of allegiance to Louis-Philippe. Following unsuccessful attempts to gain election to the Chamber of Deputies in three constituencies (July 1831 and June 1832), Lamartine with his wife and daughter Julia made a long journey to the Middle East (July 1832–October 1833). Julia died in Beirut on 7 December 1832, leaving the Lamartines grief-stricken and childless (a son had died in November 1822). However, on 7 January 1833 a constituency in the Nord elected Lamartine to the Chamber of Deputies; and his Middle East journey led to a new publication, the Voyage en Orient (1835).

Consistently reelected to parliament, first in the Nord and from 1837 in his home constituency of Saône-et-Loire in Burgundy, Lamartine became a prominent liberal deputy who maintained his independence from successive governments. In a parliamentary speech of 27 January 1843, he announced that he was joining the left-wing opposition to the ministry of François-Pierre-Guillaume Guizot (1787–1874). He also began writing a Histoire desGirondins (1847), controversially sympathetic toward the Revolution and even toward Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794). Lamartine's increasing reputation as a radical, and his parliamentary speech on 24 February 1848 rejecting a regency and demanding a provisional government, led to his inclusion in the republican government formed after the abdication of Louis-Philippe.

In the National Assembly elections of 23 April 1848, Lamartine was elected in ten departments with 1,283,501 votes, but he rapidly lost his popularity by insisting on the inclusion of Alexandre-Auguste Ledru-Rollin (1807–1874), a left-wing republican, in the government known as the Executive Commission formed on 10 May. The outbreak in Paris of a working-class insurrection—the June Days—on 24 June forced the resignation of Lamartine and the other members of the Executive Commission. The presidential election of 10 December 1848 demonstrated Lamartine's political marginalization—he received just 20,938 votes. Although elected a member of the National Assembly from July 1849 to Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's (1808–1873) coup d'état of 2 December 1851, Lamartine's political career was effectively over. Financial problems, however, forced him to continue writing a series of historical and literary works almost until his death (28 February 1869).

See alsoFrance; Revolutions of 1848; Romanticism.


Primary Sources

Lamartine, Alphonse de. Oeuvres poétiques completes. Edited by Marius-François Guyard. Paris, 1963.

——. Correspondance Lamartine-Virieu, 1808–1841. Edited by Marie-Renée Morin. 4 vols. Paris, 1987–1998.

Secondary Sources

Fortescue, William. Alphonse de Lamartine: A Political Biography. London, 1983.

William Fortescue

About this article

Lamartine, Alphonse

Updated About content Print Article