Alphonse de Lamartine

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"I spoke to you as a citizen earlier, well! Now listen to me, your Foreign Minister. If you take the tricolor flag away from me, know it, you will remove from me half the external force of France! Because Europe only knows the flag of its defeats and of our victories in the flag of the Republic and of the Empire. By seeing the red flag, they will believe that they are only seeing the flag of a party! This is the flag of France, it is the flag of our victorious armies, it is the flag of our triumphs that must be raised before Europe. France and the tricolor are one same thought, one same prestige, one same terror, if necessary, for our enemies! Imagine how much blood would be necessary for you to get another flag renamed! Citizens, for me, the red flag, I will never adopt it, and I am going to tell you why I'm against it with all the strength of my patriotism. It's that the tricolor has toured the world with the Republic and the Empire, with your freedoms and your glories, and the red flag has only toured the Champ-de-Mars, dragged in the blood of the people." [8]

During his term as a politician in the Second Republic, he led efforts that culminated in the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, as well as the enshrinement of the right to work and the short-lived national workshop programs. A political idealist who supported democracy and pacifism, his moderate stance on most issues caused many of his followers to desert him. He was an unsuccessful candidate in the presidential election of 10 December 1848, receiving fewer than 19,000 votes and losing to Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. He subsequently retired from politics and dedicated himself to literature.

Final years and legacy

Alphonse de Lamartine photographed in 1865 Lamartine photography cropped.jpg
Alphonse de Lamartine photographed in 1865

He published volumes on the most varied subjects (history, criticism, personal confidences, literary conversations) especially during the Empire, when, having retired to private life and having become the prey of his creditors, he condemned himself to what he calls "literary hard-labor to exist and pay his debts". Lamartine ended his life in poverty, publishing monthly installments of the Cours familier de littérature to support himself. He died in Paris in 1869.

Nobel prize winner Frédéric Mistral's fame was in part due to the praise of Alphonse de Lamartine in the fortieth edition of his periodical Cours familier de littérature, following the publication of Mistral's long poem Mirèio . Mistral is the most revered writer in modern Occitan literature.

Lamartine is considered to be the first French romantic poet (though Charles-Julien Lioult de Chênedollé was working on similar innovations at the same time), and was acknowledged by Paul Verlaine and the Symbolists as an important influence. Leo Tolstoy also admired Lamartine, who was the subject of some discourses in his notebooks. [9]

Other interests

Lamartine's House in Plovdiv, Bulgaria Full view of Lamartine's House - Plovdiv, Bulgaria.JPG
Lamartine's House in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Alphonse de Lamartine was also an Orientalist. He used themes and materials of the Levant and the Bible to create plotlines, heroes, and landscapes that resemble an exotic Oriental world. [10] He also had a particular interest in Lebanon and the Middle East. He travelled to Lebanon, Syria and the Holy Land in 1832–33. [11] During that trip, while he and his wife, the painter and sculptor Elisa de Lamartine, were in Beirut, on 6 December 1832, their only remaining child, Julia, died at ten years of age. [12] It was, however, considered a journey of recovery and immersion in specific Christian icons, symbols, and terrain with his view that the region could bring about the rebirth of a new Christianity and spirituality that could save Europe from destruction. [13]

During his trip to Lebanon he had met prince Bashir Shihab II and prince Simon Karam, who were enthusiasts of poetry. A valley in Lebanon is still called the Valley of Lamartine as a commemoration of that visit, and the Lebanon cedar forest still harbors the "Lamartine Cedar", which is said to be the cedar under which Lamartine had sat 200 years ago. Lamartine was so influenced by his trip that he staged his 1838 epic poem La Chute d'un ange (The Fall of an Angel) in Lebanon.

Raised by his mother to respect animal life, he found the eating of meat repugnant, saying 'One does not have one heart for Man and one for animals. One has a heart or one does not'. His writings in La chute d’un Ange (1838) and Les confidences (1849) would be taken up by supporters of vegetarianism in the twentieth century.

Religious belief

On the spirit of the times

Portrait of Madame de Lamartine by Jean-Leon Gerome (1849) Jean-Leon Gerome-portrait of a Lady-1849.jpg
Portrait of Madame de Lamartine by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1849)

Thanks to the increase of general reason, to the light of philosophy, to the inspiration of Christianity, to the progress of the idea of justice, of charity, and of fraternity, in laws, manners, and religion, society in America, in Europe, and in France, especially since the Revolution, has broken down all these barriers, all these denominations of caste, all these injurious distinctions among men. Society is composed only of various conditions, professions, functions, and ways of life, among those who form what we call a Nation; of proprietors of the soil, and proprietors of houses; of investments, of handicrafts, of merchants, of manufacturers, of formers; of day-laborers becoming farmers, manufacturers, merchants, or possessors of houses or capital, in their turn; of the rich, of those in easy circumstances, of the poor, of workmen with their hands, workmen with their minds; of day-laborers, of those in need, of a small number of men enjoying considerable acquired or inherited wealth, of others of a smaller fortune painfully increased and improved, of others with property only sufficient for their needs; there are some, finally, without any personal possession but their hands, and gleaning for themselves and for their families, in the workshop, or the field, and at the threshold of the homes of others on the earth, the asylum, the wages, the bread, the instruction, the tools, the daily pay, all those means of existence which they have neither inherited, saved, nor acquired. These last are what have been improperly called the People.

Atheism Among the People, by Alphonse de Lamartine (1850), pp. 19–20 [14]

On Catholic priests

Alphonse de Lamartine as quoted in "A Priest" by Robert Nash (1943) on Catholic priests:

"There is a man in every parish, having no family, but belonging to a family is worldwide; who is called in as a witness and adviser in all the important affairs of human life. No one comes into the world or goes out of it without his ministrations. He takes the child from its mother’s arms, and parts with him only at the grave. He blesses and consecrates the cradle, the bridal chamber, the bed of death, and the bier. He is one whom innocent children instinctively venerate and reverence, and to whom men of venerable age come to seek for wisdom, and call him father; at whose feet men fall down and lay bare the innermost thoughts of their souls, and weep their most sacred tears. He is one whose mission is to console the afflicted, and soften the pains of body and soul; to whose door come alike the rich and the poor. He belongs to no social class, because he belongs equally to all. He is one, in fine, who knows all, has a right to speak unreservedly, and whose speech, inspired from on high, falls on the minds and hearts of all with the authority of one who is divinely sent, and with the constraining power of one who has an unclouded faith." [15]

On Muhammad

In his book Histoire de la Turquie (1854), Alphonse de Lamartine writes:

If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers, which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislation, empires, peoples and dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then-inhabited world; and more than that he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and souls.... [16] :154 His forbearance in victory, his ambition which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire, his endless prayers, his mystic conversations with God, his death and his triumph after death – all these attest not to an imposture, but to a firm conviction, which gave him the power to restore a dogma. This dogma was two-fold: the unity of God and the immateriality of God; the former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not; the one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other starting an idea with the words. Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational beliefs, of a cult without images; the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he. [16] :155


  • Saül (1818)
  • Méditations poétiques (1820)
  • Nouvelles Méditations (1823)
  • Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (1830)
  • Sur la politique rationnelle (1831)
  • Voyage en Orient (1835)
  • Jocelyn (1836)
  • La chute d'un ange (1838)
  • Recueillements poétiques (1839)
  • Histoire des Girondins (1847)
  • Histoire de la Révolution (1849)
  • Histoire de la Russie (1849)
  • Raphaël (1849)
  • Confidences (1849)
  • Toussaint Louverture (1850)
  • Geneviève, histoire d'une servante (1851)
  • Graziella (1852)
  • Les visions (1853)
  • Histoire de la Turquie (1854)
  • Cours familier de littérature (1856)

See also

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Further reading


Alphonse de Lamartine
Lamartine par Ary Scheffer.png
Portrait by Ary Scheffer, 1848
Member of the National Assembly
for Saône-et-Loire
In office
8 July 1849 2 December 1851
Political offices
Preceded by
Jacques-Charles Dupont de l'Eure
Chairman of the Provisional Government of the French Republic
Head of State of France
6 May – 28 June 1848
Member of the Executive Commission along with:
François Arago
Louis-Antoine Garnier-Pagès
Alexandre Ledru-Rollin
Pierre Marie (de Saint-Georges)
Succeeded by
Louis-Eugène Cavaignac
President of the Council of Ministers