Lamartine was born in Mâcon, Burgundy on 21 October 1790. His family was part of the French provincial nobility, and he spent his youth at the family estate. Lamartine is famous for his partly autobiographical poem, "Le Lac" ("The Lake"), which describes in retrospect the fervent love shared by a couple from the point of view of the bereaved man. Lamartine was masterly in his use of French poetic forms. Raised a devout Catholic, Lamartine became a pantheist, writing Jocelyn and La Chute d'un ange. He wrote Histoire des Girondins in 1847 in praise of the Girondists.
He worked for the French embassy in Italy from 1825 to 1828. In 1829, he was elected a member of the Académie française. He was elected a 'député' in 1833, and was briefly in charge of the government during the turbulence of 1848. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 24 February 1848 to 11 May 1848. Due to his great age, Jacques-Charles Dupont de l'Eure, Chairman of the Provisional Government, effectively delegated many of his duties to Lamartine. He was then a member of the Executive Commission, the political body which served as France's joint Head of State.
Lamartine was instrumental in the founding of the Second Republic of France, having met with Republican Deputies and journalists in the Hôtel de Ville to agree on the make-up of its provisional government. Lamartine himself was chosen to formally declare the Republic in traditional form from the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville.
During his term as a politician in the Second Republic, he led efforts that eventually led to the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, as well as the enshrinement of the right to work and the short-lived national workshop programs. A political idealist who supported democracy and pacifism, his moderate stance on most issues caused his followers to desert him. He was an unsuccessful candidate to the presidential election of 10 December 1848, receiving fewer than 19,000 votes. He subsequently retired from politics and dedicated himself to literature.
Death and legacy
Lamartine ended his life in poverty, publishing monthly installments of the Cours familier de littérature to support himself. He died in Paris in 1869.
He is considered to be the first French romantic poet (though Charles-Julien Lioult de Chênedollé was working on similar innovations at the same time), and was acknowledged by Paul Verlaine and the Symbolists as an important influence.
On Catholic priests
Alphonse de Lamartine as quoted in "A Priest" By Robert Nash (1943) on Catholic priests:
There is a man in every parish, having no family, but belonging to a family that is worldwide; who is called in as a witness and adviser in all the important affairs of human life. No one comes into the world or goes out of it without his ministrations. He takes the child from its mother’s arms, and parts with him only at the grave. He blesses and consecrates the cradle, the bridal chamber, the bed of death, and the bier. He is one whom innocent children instinctively venerate and reverence, and to whom men of venerable age come to seek for wisdom, and call him father; at whose feet men fall down and lay bare the innermost thoughts of their souls, and weep their most sacred tears. He is one whose mission is to console the afflicted, and soften the pains of body and soul; to whose door come alike the rich and the poor. He belongs to no social class, because he belongs equally to all. He is one, in fine, who knows all, has a right to speak unreservedly, and whose speech, inspired from on high, falls on the minds and hearts of all with the authority of one who is divinely sent, and with the constraining power of one who has an unclouded faith.
- Saül (1818)
- Méditations poétiques (1820)
- Nouvelles Méditations (1823)
- Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (1830)
- Sur la politique rationnelle (1831)
- Voyage en Orient (1835)
- Jocelyn (1836)
- La chute d'un ange (1838)
- Recueillements poétiques (1839)
- Histoire des Girondins (1847)
- Histoire de la Révolution (1849)
- Histoire de la Russie (1849)
- Raphaël (1849)
- Confidences (1849)
- Geneviève, histoire d'une servante (1851)
- Graziella (1852)
- Les visions (1853)
- Histoire de la Turquie (1854)
- Cours familier de littérature (1856)