Charles Sainte-Beuve, 1804-1869

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Author: Laurent LeSage
Editor: Michelle Lee
From: Poetry Criticism(Vol. 110. )
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,718 words

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[(essay date 1978) In the following essay, LeSage discusses the novelty of Sainte-Beuve's work and its influence on subsequent French poets--Baudelaire in particular.]

Bereft of his father before he was born, Sainte-Beuve was brought up by his mother and his aunt in Boulogne-sur-Mer. There, in a widowed household, Sainte-Beuve spent a lonely, melancholy childhood given over chiefly to study and religious practice. When he was fourteen, he went to Paris for his schooling.

Sainte-Beuve's interest in poetry dates from 1820. Lamartine's Méditations were a revelation for this schoolboy of sixteen. He was fond too of Chateaubriand, whose fame was reaching its zenith about now. He himself began to write verse. At the same time, Sainte-Beuve became interested in science and, under the influence of his new studies, his Christian convictions began to pale. By the time he was ready for medical school in 1823, his agnosticism became complicated by a taste for libertinage, both tendencies being in contradiction to the religiosity and moralism of his poetic inspiration. Here is the source for those conflicts which Sainte-Beuve describes in Les Poésies de Joseph Delorme. The havoc wreaked in his views extended to politics, for after being an ardent legitimist like his mother, he became intensely democratic.

Still in medical school but bitten seriously by the literary bug, Sainte-Beuve began to contribute to the Globe, a magazine founded by one of his former professors. Eventually he left school and gave himself up entirely to literature. His work on the Globe had put him in contract with writers; their company excited and inspired him, particularly that of the young Romantics. In the movement that would triumph in 1830 Sainte-Beuve participated ardently. Lamartine describes him at the time: "C'était en 1829. J'aimais alors beaucoup un jeune homme pâle, blond, frêle, sensible jusqu'à la maladie, poète jusqu'aux larmes ... il s'appelait Sainte-Beuve. Il vivait à Paris avec une mère âgée, sereine, absorbée en lui, dans une petite maison sur un jardin retiré, dans le quartier du Luxembourg."1 This is the year of Vie, Poésies et Pensées de Joseph Delorme, a collection of poems preceded by a fictitious biography and followed by a miscellany of thoughts on literary matters. In the verses ascribed to this unhappy victim of the mal du siècle, Sainte-Beuve strikes chords in a minor key rarely heard in the works of his greater contemporaries. This is his strongest claim to fame as a poet: he introduced the humble and the familiar into French poetry, extolling tranquil pleasures, life with a tender companion, children, a cottage with green shutters. Lamartine...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420100939