Sainte-Beuve

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Author: Matthew Arnold
Editor: Michelle Lee
From: Poetry Criticism(Vol. 110. )
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,619 words

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[(essay date 1886) In the following essay, originally published in 1886, Arnold presents biographical information on Sainte-Beuve, praises his works of criticism, and judges his poetry flawed, but not without merit.]

Sainte-Beuve, Charles Augustin (1804-1869), the most notable critic of our time, was born at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 23rd 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 fifty-two, and died before the birth of his son. 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 son's possession, and is mentioned by him in one of his poems. Sainte-Beuve's 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 father's 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 M. Landry's boarding-house he attended the classes, first of the Collège Charlemagne, and then of the Collège Bourbon, winning the head prize for history at the first, and for Latin verse at the second. In 1823 he began to study medicine, and continued the study with diligence and interest for nearly four years, attending lectures on anatomy and physiology and walking the hospitals. But meanwhile a Liberal newspaper, the Globe, was founded in 1827 by M. Dubois, one of Sainte-Beuve's old teachers at the Collège Charlemagne. M. 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 Hugo's Odes and Ballads. These articles led to a friendship with Victor Hugo and to Sainte-Beuve's connexion 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 in a volume, and followed by a second volume containing selections from Ronsard. In 1829 he made his first venture as a poet with the Vie, Poèsies, et Pensèes de Joseph Delorme. His own name did not appear; but Joseph Delorme, that "Werther in the shape of Jacobin and medical student,"1 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 1830 came his second...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420100931