The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

October 21, 2013

October 21, 1790

Alphonse de Lamartine, (October 21, 1790 to February 28, 1869) well-born and educated in a Jesuit school, came to political radicalism as an adult partly because of the influence of Rousseau, an influence on "an entire generation of French radicals," in the words of a quote found in a  Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Nineteenth Century, 1800-1914 (2001)

"Rousseau saw self-analysis and self-revelation essential,....and love [correctly seen] as a physical passion...[There is] within French romanticism and within Lamartine's writings. [in the words of another Lamartine biographer] an alienation from and disillusion with society, belief in God's presence in nature and striving for mystical union between man and God.'"

After 1831 Lamartine was writing on social causes, the problems of the urban poor, and in addition to his poetic career, participating as a member of the governmemt, particularly the Second Republic, serving as a diplomat as well as other roles. His later years though were spent in obscurity as political fashions shifted.

Here is an excerpt from Lamartine's memoirs, Twenty-five years of my life [English translation 1872]. This lengthy quote has a flimsy cat reference so if you are not interested in an evocation of a 19th century French chateau, you needn't read further.  Lamartine is describing his childhood home. 

This double door was fixed in a remarkable way between two stone buttresses, curiously carved with various historical devices, the hinges being likewise ornamented with grotesque figures. Above, protected by an iron grating, were the armorial bearings of the family—an emblem which, either because it gave them too much trouble, or for some other reason, the fury of the Jacobins had respected. On entering, you came into a long, wide, unfurnished corridor: a few sacks of flour leaning against the wall, some cages of doves, and some hanks of flax and tow and half-wound hemp, were its only decorations. At the end of the corridor was a venerable eight-day clock in a walnut-wood case, rather handsomely carved, which chimed the hours for the whole house. Turning to the left was a staircase recently built and still quite damp, which led to the apartments of my aunt, as well as of the rest of the women and children. To the left was a very large dining-room which led into a great drawing room, in the deep alcove of which was our mother's bed. On one side a large window opened on the court, full of barrels of wine, workmen's tools, utensils for the vintage, and domestic animals, nibbling here and there under the fig trees and elder bushes; whilst women sat spinning, and children playing, amidst cats and dogs, cocks and hens, and all the litter of a farmyard. On the other side, a still larger window opened into the garden. This garden consisted of a large square space of earth divided into four beds of pinks, and strawberries, and other common flowers and fruits, the care of which devolved on a vine dresser's boy who served as gardener. The grass alleys were bordered by old fruit trees as venerable as the farmhouse itself, bowed with the rain and winds. A low wall of grey and moss-grown stones, all uneven and worn by time, protected the vegetables from the feet and teeth of the cattle. Two little summerhouses, or rather sombre grottos of evergreens, rather badly clipped by the rough pruning hooks of the peasants, formed mysterious dark retreats at the angles of the wall, which we looked upon with a kind of awe not unmingled with fear. At the entrance of these little summer-houses was a carpet of the finest and greenest grass, where my father used often to sit and read, and my mother would nurse my little sisters.

From the window to the north of the drawing-room the view was wide and beautiful. It looked over the village to the slopes of the vineyards intermingled with crops of oats and beans; and then rested on the towers of an old Gothic chateau perched on a ledge of dark pointed rocks, called the Chateau de Berze\ which was looked upon as the great landmark of the country side. Its high-pitched roofs and pointed towers were grouped together like the folds of a great mushroom of wood and stone and rock; so that the eye rested upon it involuntarily and returned to it again and again. It was like a voice from the Middle Ages speaking of times long since past, and stretching on to the future, defying ruin or forgetfulness. The very sight of it had all the gravity of history.  Against the dark pine forest it seemed like a group of Ossian's—as marvellous and as indestructible. This ruinous chateau was the property of the old Count of Pierreclos, one of the oldest and noblest families in the country. It added the solemnity of the past and a kind of austere sadness to the varied and radiant aspect of the rest of the country.

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