André Chénier

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André Chénier
Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne - Portrait d'Andre Chenier - Suvee - Joconde04400001220.jpg
Portrait during his last captivity by Suvée
Born(1762-10-30)30 October 1762
Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
Died25 July 1794(1794-07-25) (aged 31)
Paris, France

André Marie Chénier (30 October 1762 25 July 1794) was a French poet of Greek and Franco-Levantine origin, associated with the events of the French Revolution of which he was a victim. His sensual, emotive poetry marks him as one of the precursors of the Romantic movement. His career was brought to an abrupt end when he was guillotined for supposed "crimes against the state", just three days before the end of the Reign of Terror. Chénier's life has been the subject of Umberto Giordano's opera Andrea Chénier and other works of art.

The Greeks or Hellenes are an ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus, southern Albania, Italy, Turkey, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, other countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world.

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Romanticism period of artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that started in 18th century Europe

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.



Bust of Andre Chenier by David d'Angers (1839). David d'Angers - Chenier.jpg
Bust of André Chénier by David d'Angers (1839).

Chénier was born in the Galata district of Constantinople. His family home, destroyed in a fire, was located on the site of the present Saint Pierre Han, in today's Karaköy neighborhood of Istanbul. His father, Louis Chénier, a native of Languedoc, after twenty years in the Levant as a cloth-merchant, was appointed to a position equivalent to that of French consul at Constantinople. His mother, Élisabeth Santi-Lomaca, whose sister was grandmother of Adolphe Thiers, was of Greek origins. [1] When André was three years old, his father returned to France, and from 1768 to 1775 served as consul-general of France in Morocco. The family, of which André was the third son, and Marie-Joseph (see below) the fourth, remained in France; and after a few years, during which André was given his youthful freedom while living with an aunt in Carcassonne; a square in Carcassonne is named to commemorate him. He distinguished himself as a verse-translator from the classics at the Collège de Navarre in Paris. [2]


Galata was a neighbourhood opposite Constantinople, located at the northern shore of the Golden Horn, the inlet which separates it from the historic peninsula of old Constantinople. The Golden Horn is crossed by several bridges, most notably the Galata Bridge. The medieval citadel of Galata was a colony of the Republic of Genoa between 1273 and 1453. The famous Galata Tower was built by the Genoese in 1348 at the northernmost and highest point of the citadel. At present, Galata is a quarter within the borough of Beyoğlu (Pera) in Istanbul, and is known as Karaköy.

Karaköy Quarter in Marmara, Turkey

Karaköy, the modern name for ancient Galata, is a commercial quarter in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, Turkey, located at the northern part of the Golden Horn mouth on the European side of Bosphorus.

Istanbul Metropolitan municipality in Marmara, Turkey

Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, is the most populous city in Turkey and the country's economic, cultural and historic center. Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia, straddling the Bosporus strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies on the European side and about a third of its population lives in suburbs on the Asian side of the Bosporus. With a total population of around 15 million residents in its metropolitan area, Istanbul is one of the world's most populous cities, ranking as the world's fourth largest city proper and the largest European city. The city is the administrative center of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Istanbul is viewed as a bridge between the East and West.

In 1783 Chénier enlisted in a French regiment at Strasbourg, but the novelty soon wore off. He returned to Paris before the end of the year, was well received by his family, and mixed in the cultivated circle which frequented his mother's salon, including Lebrun-Pindare, Antoine Lavoisier, Jean François Lesueur, Claude Joseph Dorat, and, a little later, the painter Jacques-Louis David. [2]

Strasbourg Prefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Strasbourg is the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located at the border with Germany in the historic region of Alsace, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin department.

Salon (gathering) Social gathering

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate". Salons in the tradition of the French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries were carried on until as recently as the 1940s in urban settings.

Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun French lyric poet

Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun was a French lyric poet.

Chénier had already decided to become a poet, and worked in the neoclassical style of the time. He was especially inspired by a 1784 visit to Rome, Naples, and Pompeii. For nearly three years, he studied and experimented in verse without any pressure or interruption from his family. He wrote mostly idylls and bucolics, imitated to a large extent from Theocritus, Bion of Smyrna and the Greek anthologists. Among the poems written or at least sketched during this period were L'Oaristys, L'Aveugle, La Jeune Malode, Bacchus, Euphrosine and La Jeune Tarentine. [2] He mixed classical mythology with a sense of individual emotion and spirit.[ citation needed ]

Neoclassicism Western art movements that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome

Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of classical antiquity. Neoclassicism was born largely thanks to the writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, at the time of the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but its popularity spread all over Europe as a generation of European art students finished their Grand Tour and returned from Italy to their home countries with newly rediscovered Greco-Roman ideals. The main Neoclassical movement coincided with the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, and continued into the early 19th century, laterally competing with Romanticism. In architecture, the style continued throughout the 19th, 20th and up to the 21st century.

Naples Comune in Campania, Italy

Naples is a major city in southern Italy. It is the capital of the Campania region, and the third-largest municipality in Italy after Rome and Milan. The city is called Napoli in Italian, and Napule in Neapolitan. The name comes from Ancient Greek Νεάπολις, meaning "new city", via the Latin Neapolis.

Pompeii Ancient Roman city near modern Naples, Italy

Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern Naples in the Campania region of Italy, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was buried under 4 to 6 m of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Volcanic ash typically buried inhabitants who did not escape the lethal effects of the earthquake and eruption.

Apart from his idylls and his elegies, Chénier also experimented with didactic and philosophic verse, and when he commenced his Hermès in 1783 his ambition was to condense the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot into a long poem somewhat after the manner of Lucretius. Now extant only in fragments, this poem was to treat of man's place in the universe, first in an isolated state, and then in society. Another fragment called "L'Invention" sums up Chénier's thoughts on poetry: "De nouvelles pensées, faisons des vers antiques" ("From new thoughts, let us make antique verses"). [2]

<i>Encyclopédie</i> general encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772

Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, better known as Encyclopédie, was a general encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772, with later supplements, revised editions, and translations. It had many writers, known as the Encyclopédistes. It was edited by Denis Diderot and, until 1759, co-edited by Jean le Rond d'Alembert.

Denis Diderot French Enlightenment philosopher and encyclopædist

Denis Diderot was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer, best known for serving as co-founder, chief editor, and contributor to the Encyclopédie along with Jean le Rond d'Alembert. He was a prominent figure during the Enlightenment.

Lucretius Roman poet and philosopher

Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is the philosophical poem De rerum natura, a didactic work about the tenets and philosophy of Epicureanism, and which is usually translated into English as On the Nature of Things. Lucretius has been credited with originating the concept of the three-age system which was formalised from 1834 by C. J. Thomsen.

Chénier remained unpublished. In November 1787 an opportunity for a fresh career presented itself. The Chevalier de la Luzerne, a friend of the Chénier family, had been appointed ambassador to Britain. When he offered to take André with him as his secretary, André knew the offer was too good to refuse, but was unhappy in England. He bitterly ridiculed "... ces Anglais. Nation toute à vendre à qui peut la payer. De contrée en contrée allant au monde entier, Offrir sa joie ignoble et son faste grossier." [2] Translation: "... these English. A nation for sale to whoever can pay for it. Going from country to country and out to the whole world, offering its ignoble joy and its coarse splendor." Although John Milton and James Thomson seem to have interested him, and a few of his verses show slight inspiration from Shakespeare and Thomas Gray, it would be an exaggeration to say Chénier studied English literature.[ citation needed ]

Anne-César, Chevalier de la Luzerne French diplomat

Anne-César de La Luzerne (1741–1791) was an 18th-century French soldier and diplomat. Descended from an illustrious Normandy family, as a Knight of Malta and the Order of Saint Louis he was styled Chevalier before King Louis XVI created him a Marquis in 1785.

John Milton 17th-century English poet and civil servant

John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, man of letters, and civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under its Council of State and later under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), written in blank verse.

William Shakespeare English playwright and poet

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

The events of 1789 and the startling success of his younger brother, Marie-Joseph, as political playwright and pamphleteer, concentrated all his thoughts upon France. In April 1790 he could stand London no longer, and once more joined his parents at Paris in the rue de Cléry. France was on the verge of anarchy. A monarchien believing in a constitutional monarchy for France, Chénier believed that the Revolution was already complete and that all that remained to be done was the inauguration of the reign of law. Though his political viewpoint was moderate, his tactics were dangerously aggressive: he abandoned his gentle idyls to write poetical satires. His prose "Avis au peuple français" (24 August 1790) was followed by the rhetorical "Jeu de paume", a somewhat declamatory moral ode occasioned by the Tennis court oath [3] addressed to the radical painter Jacques-Louis David. [2]

In the meantime Chénier orated at the Feuillants Club, and contributed frequently to the Journal de Paris from November 1791 to July 1792, when he wrote his scorching iambs to Jean Marie Collot d'Herbois, Sur les Suisses révoltés du regiment de Châteauvieux. The insurrection of 10 August 1792 uprooted his party, his paper and his friends, and he only escaped the September Massacres by staying with relatives in Normandy. In the month following these events his brother, Marie-Joseph, had entered the anti-monarchical National Convention. André raged against all these events, in such poems as Ode à Charlotte Corday congratulating France that "un scélérat de moins rampe dans cette fange", "one scoundrel less creeps in this mire". [2] At the request of Malesherbes, the defense counsel to King Louis XVI, Chénier provided some arguments for the king's defense.[ citation needed ]

Appeal of the last victims of terror in the prison of St. Lazarus.7, 9 Thermidor 1794 by Charles Louis Muller, (Musee de la Revolution francaise). Charles-Louis Muller-Victimes de la terreur.jpg
Appeal of the last victims of terror in the prison of St. Lazarus.7, 9 Thermidor 1794 by Charles Louis Müller, (Musée de la Révolution française).

After the king's execution Chénier sought a secluded retreat on the Plateau de Satory at Versailles and only went out after nightfall. There he wrote the poems inspired by Fanny (Mme Laurent Lecoulteux), including the exquisite Ode à Versailles. His solitary life at Versailles lasted nearly a year. On 7 March 1794 he was arrested at the house of Mme Piscatory at Passy. Two obscure agents of the Committee of Public Safety (one of them named Nicolas Guénot) were in search of a marquise who had fled, but an unknown stranger was found in the house and arrested on suspicion of being the aristocrat they were searching for. This was Chénier, who had come on a visit of sympathy. [2]

Chénier was taken to the Luxembourg Palace and afterwards to the Prison Saint-Lazare. During the 140 days of his imprisonment he wrote a series of iambs (in alternate lines of 12 and 8 syllables) denouncing the Convention, which "hiss and stab like poisoned bullets", [4] and which were smuggled to his family by a jailer. In prison he also composed his most famous poem, "Jeune captive", a poem at once of enchantment and of despair, [2] inspired by the misfortunes of his fellow captive the duchesse de Fleury, née Aimée de Coigny. [5] Ten days before Chénier's death, the painter Joseph-Benoît Suvée completed the well-known portrait of him, shown in the box above.[ citation needed ]

Chénier might have been overlooked but for the well-meant, indignant officiousness of his father. Marie-Joseph did his best to prevent his brother's execution, but he could do nothing more. [2] Maximilien Robespierre, who was himself in dangerous straits, remembered Chénier as the author of the venomous verses in the Journal de Paris and had him hauled before the Revolutionary Tribunal, which sentenced him to death. Chénier was one of the last people executed by Robespierre. [6]

At sundown, Chénier was taken by tumbrel to the guillotine at what is now the Place de la Nation. He was executed along with Françoise-Thérèse de Choiseul-Stainville, Princesse Joseph de Monaco, on a charge of conspiracy. Robespierre was seized and executed only three days later. Chénier, aged 31 at his execution, was buried in the Cimetière de Picpus.[ citation needed ]


During Chénier's lifetime only his Jeu de paume (1791) and Hymne sur les Suisses (1792) had been published. For the most part, then, his reputation rests on his posthumously published work, retrieved from oblivion page by page. [2]

The Jeune Captive appeared in the Décade philosophique, on 9 January 1795; La Jeune Tarentine in the Mercure de France of 22 March 1801. François-René de Chateaubriand quoted three or four passages in his Génie du Christianisme . Fayolle [7] and Jules Lefèvre-Deumier also gave a few fragments; but it was not until 1819 that an attempt was made by Henri de Latouche to collect the poems in a substantive volume, [2] from manuscripts retained by Marie-Joseph Chénier. Many more poems and fragments were discovered after Latouche's publication, and were collected in later editions. Latouche also wrote an account of Chénier's last moments.[ citation needed ]

Critical opinions of Chénier have varied wildly. He experimented with classical precedents rendered in French verse to a much greater extent than other 18th-century poets; on the other hand, the ennui and melancholy of his poetry recalls Romanticism. In 1828, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve praised Chénier as a heroic forerunner of the Romantic movement and a precursor of Victor Hugo. Chénier, he said, had "inspired and determined" Romanticism. [2] Many other critics also wrote about Chénier as modern and proto-Romantic. However, Anatole France contests Sainte-Beuve's theory: he claims that Chénier's poetry is one of the last expressions of 18th-century classicism. His work should not be compared to Hugo and the Parnassien poets, but to philosophes like André Morellet. Paul Morillot has argued that judged by the usual test of 1820s Romanticism (love for strange literature of the North, medievalism, novelties and experiments), Chénier would have been excluded from Romantic circles.[ citation needed ]

The poet José María de Heredia held Chénier in great esteem, saying "I do not know in the French language a more exquisite fragment than the three hundred verses of the Bucoliques" and agreeing with Sainte-Beuve's judgment that Chénier was a poet ahead of his time. Chénier has been very popular in Russia, where Alexandr Pushkin wrote a poem about his last hours based on Latouche and Ivan Kozlov translated La Jeune Captive, La Jeune Tarentine and other famous pieces. [2] Chénier has also found favor with English-speaking critics; for instance, his love of nature and of political freedom has been compared to Shelley, and his attraction to Greek art and myth recalls Keats.[ citation needed ]

Chénier's fate has become the subject of many plays, pictures and poems, notably in the opera Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano, the epilogue by Sully-Prudhomme, the Stello by Alfred de Vigny, the delicate statue by Denys Puech in the Luxembourg, and the well-known portrait in the centre of Muller's Last Days of the Terror. [2]

See also


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  1. "Andre Marie de Chenier - Poetry & Biography of the Famous poet". All Poetry. Retrieved 2018-07-18.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Seccombe, Thomas (1911). "Chénier, André de"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 78–79.
  3. The indoor tennis court at Versailles was the jeu du paume.
  4. Seccombe 1911.
  5. Jules Derocquigny, ed., Poésies choisies de Andre Chenier, (1907) "Introduction".
  6. Robespierre himself would be guillotined 3 days later, on 28 July 1794.
  7. Mélanges littéraires, composés de morceaux inédits de Diderot, Caylus, Thomas, Rivarol,André Chénier... (Paris 1816), noted by Derocquigny 1907.
  8. Aix Google Map