Birth of a Poet (1828-1829)

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Author: A. G. Lehmann
Editor: Michelle Lee
From: Poetry Criticism(Vol. 110. )
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,379 words

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[(essay date 1962) In the following essay, Lehmann gives a detailed analysis of Sainte-Beuve's first book of poetry, Vie, Poésies et Pensées de Joseph Delorme, focusing on the work's strengths and weaknesses and on its reception by, and influence on, other French writers.]

'Poète, vous avez pu dans le demi-jour découvrir un sentier qui est le vôtre et créer une élégie qui est vous-même.'(Hugo, Discours Académique, 1845)

England: Joseph Delorme

Since their return to England, Charles and Arthur Neate, at Oxford and Cambridge respectively, had kept open an invitation to their French medical student friend to pay them a visit in the summer. If Sainte-Beuve did not go before 1828 it was because he hesitated to leave his mother or because he was too busy at Hugo's side or because he had not the money. From the Tableau historique he had several hundred francs; financial objections removed, the others faded too. David d'Angers and Victor Pavie had been in London in May of this year, trying to introduce themselves to Walter Scott, whom David hoped to model. England was in the air: sentimentally for the Cénacle, politically for the Globe. Moreover, Sainte-Beuve still had hopes of developing the vein of 'intimate' poetry which he had glimpsed earlier in Coleridge, Wordsworth, Cowper, Crabbe--something that chimed in with his own distaste for the pretentious and the ornate.1

He set off on 16 August; his holiday began at the Neates's home, Tubney Lodge, a few miles from Oxford, where Charles's father was rector, and it ended there in the last week of September: in the middle there was a short tour of the south, followed by ten days alone in London sight-seeing.

Proust noted once, as damning evidence against the romantics with their admiration for the Gothic, that Théophile Gautier when he passed through Chartres did not stop to look at the cathedral.2 This inconsequential detractor of Sainte-Beuve could hardly have switched the same charge to his bête noire. Hugo's conducted tours of the Louvre and Notre-Dame bore fruit in Sainte-Beuve's letters back. Halting at Rouen, he dutifully visited its cathedral and Saint-Ouen and Saint-Maclou--all in two hours--and came out rapturous, though he felt unable to do justice to the portal of Saint-Maclou--'an Epic [...]. Why do I know so little of the language of Ogives, spires and pendentives, so as to describe to you what I now hold in memory's eye!'3 At Southampton the Customs mislaid his trunk; he spent a day going by boat to visit the ruins of Netley Abbey. Staying so near Oxford it was easy to tour the colleges: he admired Christ Church, a little vaguely for Victor's purposes, perhaps; in New College he deplored the eighteenth-century glass. On other occasions, Winchester and Salisbury cathedrals were enthusiastically described. Westminster Abbey, apart from its tombs, was spoilt by an 'over-simple modern Gothic'. He looked at pictures in the Bodleian, went to Blenheim, saw the Earl of Harcourt's collection at Nuneham Courtenay. Hugo expressed himself...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420100936