The French poet, statesman, and historian Alphonse-Marie-Louis de Prat de Lamartine is considered to be the first French writer to produce Romantic poetry, a style of poetry that focused on tapping into personal emotions in order to find artistic inspiration. He is also remembered as one of the first French writers to tie together his artistic writing with his political life.
Lamartine was born in Macon, France to a noble family, at a politically difficult time. His father, an aristocrat, was thrown in prison during the height of the French Revolution, and thus Lamartine was raised primarily by his mother during his early years. In 1805, Lamartine was sent to school in Lyons, and then Peres de la Foi at Belley until 1809. At age 21, he left home to spend a couple of purposeless years in Italy, and upon his return entered the Garde de corps, becoming a personal guard to King Charles X.
While Lamartine gravitated towards a diplomatic career, his poetry career suddenly took off when he published a collection of poetry called The Poetical Meditations (1820). Most of the poems were inspired by his passion for a woman named Julie Charles, the wife of the famous French physicist, Jacques Charles. Lamartine met and fell love with Julie Charles in 1816, but it was not meant to be - she died of respiratory illness a few months later. The popularity of the book won Lamartine a ten-year appointment to the French Embassy in Italy in 1820, where he started a family and continued to write.
His most famous poem “Le Lac” (The Lake) is in The Poetical Meditations and was inspired by a boat ride Lamartine once took with Julie Charles. Its spirit was entirely Romantic, adopting an unrestrained verse and lyricism, and tackling the theme of love and death. The poem is also remembered for its contemplation of man’s delicate relationship with nature, and how the lake still contains the memory and love of the woman he lost.
Despite his early success, Lamartine’s writing career peaked and fizzled quickly despite consistent publication of material. Between a failed bid for the Presidency in 1848 and several mildly received books, he became a less than important figure in both arenas. By the time of his death in 1869, he was living in poverty.