Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve - Encyclopedia




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CHARLES AUGUSTIN SAINTE-BEUVE (1804-1869), French critic, was born at Boulogne-sur-Mer (No. 16 Rue du Pot dEtain) on the 23rd of December 1804. He was a posthumous child, his father, a native of Picardy, and controller of town-dues at Boulogne, having married in this same year, at the age Of fiftytwo. The father was a man of literary tastes, and used to read, like his son, pencil in hand; his copy of the Elzevir edition of Virgil, covered with his notes, was in his sons possession, and is mentioned by him in one of his poems. Sainte-Beuves mother was half English, her father, a mariner of Boulogne, having married an Englishwoman. The little Charles Augustin was brought up by his mother, who never remarried, and an aunt, his fathers sister, who lived with her. They were poor, but the boy, having learnt all he could at his first school at Boulogne, persuaded his mother to send him, when he was near the age of fourteen, to finish his education at Paris. He boarded with a M. Landry, and had for a fellow-boarder and intimate friend Charles Neate, afterwards fellow of Oriel College and member of parliament for the city of Oxford. From Landrys boarding-house he attended the classes, first of the College Charlemagne, and~then of the College Bourbon, winning the head prize for history at the first, and for Latin verse at the second. In 1823 he began to study medicine, attending lectures on anatomy and physiology and walking the hospitals. But meanwhile a Liberal newspaper, the Globe, was founded in 1827 by Paul Francois Dubois, one of Sainte-Beuves old teachers at the College Charlemagne. Dubois called to his aid his former pupil, who, now quitting the study of medicine, contributed historical and literary articles to the Globe, among them two, which attracted the notice of Goethe, on Victor Hugos Odes et ballades. These articles led to a friendship with Victor Hugo and to Sainte-Beuves connection with the romantic school of poets, a school never entirely suited to his nature. In the Globe appeared also his interesting articles on the French poetry of the 16th century, which in 1828 were collected and published,i and followed by a second volume containing selections from Ronsard. In 1829 he made his first venture as a poet with the Vie, poesies, et pensees de Joseph Delorme. His own name did not appear; but Joseph Delorme, that Werther in the shape of Jacobi. and medical student, as Guizot called him, was the Sainte-Beuve of those days himself. About the same time was founded the Revue de Paris, and Sainte-Beuve contributed the opening article, with Boileau for its subject. In 3830 came his second volume of poems, the Consolations, a work on which Sainte-Beuve looked back in later life with a special affection. To himself it marked and expressed, he said, that epoch of his life to which he could with most pleasure return, and at which he could like best that others should see him. But the critic in him grew to prevail more and more and pushed out the poet.1 In 1831 the Reinse des deux mondes was founded in rivalry ,with the Revue de Paris, and from the first Sainte-Beuve was one of the most active and important contributors. He brought out his novel of Volupt in 1834, his third and last volume of poetry, the Penses dao~lt, in 1837. He himself thought that the activity which he had in the meanwhile exercised as a critic, and the offence which in some quarters his criticism had given, were the cause of the less favorable reception which this volume received. lie had long meditated a book on Port-Royal. At the end of 1837 he quitted France, accepting an invitation from the academy of Lausanne, where in a series of lectures his work on Port-Royal came into its first form of being. In the summer of the next year he returned to Paris to revise and give the final shape to his work, which, however, was not completed for twenty years.3 In 1840 Victor Cousin, then minister of public instruction, appointed him one of the keepers of the Mazarin Library, an appointment which gave him rooms at the library, and, with the money earned by his pen, made him for the first time in his life easy in his circumstances, so that, as he afterwards used to say, he had to buy rare books in. order to spend his income. A mcfre important consequence of his easier circumstances was that he could study freely and largely. He returned to Greek, of which a French schoolboy brings from his lyce no great store. With a Greek teacher, M. Pantasides, he read and re-read the poets in the original, and thus acquired, not, perhaps, a philological scholars knowledge of them, but a genuine and invaluable acquaintance with them as literature. His activity in the Revue des deux mondes continued, and articles on Homer, Theocritus, Apollonius of Rhodes, and Meleager were fruits of his new Greek studies. He wrote also a very good article in 1844 on the Italian poet Leopardi; but in general his subjects were taken from the great literature which he knew best, that of his own countryits literature both in the past and in the contemporary present. Seven volumes of Portraits, contributed to the Revue de Paris and the Revue des deux mondes, xhibit his work in the years from 1832 to 1848, a work constantly increasing in range and value.4 In 1844 he was elected to the French Academy as successor to Casimir Delavigne, and was received there at the beginning of 1845 by Victor Hugo.

From this settled and prosperous condition the revolution of February 1848 dislodged him. In March of that year was published an account of secret-service money distributed in the late reign, and Sainte-Beuve was put down as having received the sum of one hundred francs. The smallness of the sum would hardly seem to suggest corruption; it appears probable that the money was given to cure a smoky chimney in his room at the Mazarin Library, and was wrongly entered as secret-service money. But Sainte-Beuve, who piqued himself on his independence and on a punctilious delicacy in money matters, was indignant at the entry, and thought the proceedings of the minister of public instruction and his officials, when he demanded to have the matter sifted, tardy and equivocal. He resigned his post at the Mazarin and accepted an offer from the Belgian government of a chair of French literature in the university of Liege. There he gave the series of lectures on Chateaubriand and his contemporaries which was afterwards (in 1860) published in two volumes.5 He liked Liege, and the Belgians would have been glad to keep him; but the attraction of Paris carried Sainte-Beuve was at this time a devoted Catholic and a little later for a very short period a disciple of Lamennais. But he gradually separated from his Catholic friends, and at the same time a coldness grew up between him and Victor Hugo. He became the lover of Madame Hugo, and a definite separation between the former friends ensued in 1834. ~ED.]

3Port-Royal (1840-1848, 5 vols.; 3rd and revised ed., 1866; 5th ed. with index, 1888-1891).

He was a friend of Madame Rcamier, at whose house he met Chateaubriand. He became an especially close friend of Louis Mathieu, Comte Mole, for whose niece, Mme dArbouville, he conceived a lasting attachment. ~ED.]

ChaI~aubriand et con urnul, litlergire .cnus 1 F~mb-ire.

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