Objets inanimés, avez vous donc une âme qui s’attache à notre âme et la force d’ aimer ? - Milly ou la terre natale 1826
Lamartine was the first of the romantic poets. In many ways his life and work mirrors that of Wordsworth, born 20 years later, who was the first of the English romantic poets. His work is studied by most schoolchildren in France.
He was not only a poet but he became one of the most well known politicians in Europe. He was instrumental in abolishing slavery and the death penalty, and encouraged the working class revolution by promoting the right to work. He set up and declared the 2nd Republic. However as a political idealist he was unpopular with the bourgeoisie and his support rapidly waned. Bonaparte, later Napoleon III, trounced him and replaced Lamartine as President in 1848. Lamartine retired a broken man and devoted himself to writing in a hopeless effort to pay off his debts.
Lamartine lived for most of his life in the area between Cluny and Mâcon. To understand more about him we have visited most of the places on the Lamartine Trail, namely the chateaux at St Point, Berzé and Pierreclos. And the house in Mâcon where he was born which is now the Lamartine museum.
We have gradually pieced together some notion of his work and significance. But none of these other places gave us as much insight into Lamartine’s life as the house where he spent his youth at Milly-Lamartine. We were shown round by M. Sornay who is a descendant of the family that acquired the house in 1861.
This house is the keystone to Lamartine’s life. It had been built in 1705 by his great grandfather and it was surrounded by extensive vineyards. The family moved there when Lamartine was just four years old. Lamartine’s mother was devoutly Catholic and she doted on him, an only son with five younger sisters.
Lamartine wrote “There is a woman at the beginning of all great things.”
She was a stickler for accuracy and when she read ‘La Vigne et la Maison’ she saw that Lamartine had described the house as being covered with ivy. As it wasn’t she promply planted ivy to save him from any criticism. She used to walk through the garden reading her breviary and Lamartine acquired from her his love of nature.
Lamartine led a tortured life. He struggled with religion. Although he was strongly influenced by the Catholicism of his mother and his Jesuit teachers he turned to Pantheism, the belief that God is not a personality but is manifested in Nature. “God is everything and everything is God”.
Lamartine’s story is one of obsession, despair and loss. To my mind he was overly attached to his childhood home and his mother. His mother died in an accident in 1929 and he became obsessed with keeping her memory alive.
He had several unhappy love affairs. He wrote endlessly of his obsession for Antoniella, a peasant girl, who became ‘Graziella’ in his poems. In 1816 he fell in love with Julie Charles at a sanatorium in Aix-les-Bains. He had arranged to meet her a year later by the lake but she was not there and he was devastated when he found she had died. He wrote of his yearning for her in ‘Le Lac’, probably the most famous of all his poems.
By 1820 success with his poetry enabled him to marry Mary Birch, an English woman related to the Churchill family. But life was a series of tragedies as he lost a son in infancy and in 1832 his daughter died at the age of ten during a trip abroad. He and Mary seem to have remained close despite their later poverty and Lamartine’s continuing anguish about earlier relationships which he expressed in his poems.
Lamartine inherited the house in 1830 and he felt guilty because he was the only male heir and all the family property went to him. So he spent his life supporting the five sisters, so much so that he was driven into debt and was forced to sell the house in 1860. This broke his heart and it was downhill from then. His wife died of a painful illness in 1863. Lamartine suffered some sort of attack and lay semi-conscious for more than a year before his death in 1869. He ended his life forgotten and in poverty.
There is a connection with Cormatin as Lamartine was a regular visitor to the Chateau as he used to visit the daughter of the owner. Later, when she married, he became good friends with her husband and he continued to visit them both.