Marie Henri Beyle - Encyclopedia

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MARIE HENRI BEYLE (1783-1842), better known by his nom de plume of Stendhal, French author, was born at Grenoble on the 23rd of January 1783. With his father, who was an avocat in the parlement of Grenoble, he was never on good terms, but his intractable disposition sufficiently explains his unhappy childhood and youth. Until he was twelve years old he was educated by a priest, who succeeded in inspiring him with a lasting hatred of clericalism. He was then sent to the newly established Ecole Centrale at Grenoble, and in 1799 to Paris with a letter of introduction to the Daru family, with which the Beyles were connected. Pierre Daru offered him a place in the ministry for war, and with the brothers Daru he followed Napoleon to Italy. Most of his time in Italy was spent at Milan, a city for which he conceived a lasting attachment. Much of his Chartreuse de Parme seems to be autobiographical of this part of his life.

He was a spectator of the battle of Marengo, and afterwards enlisted in a dragoon regiment. With rapid promotion he became adjutant to General Michaud; but after the peace of Amiens in 1802 he returned to study in Paris. There he met an actress, Melanie Guilbert, whom he followed to Marseilles. His father cut off his supplies on hearing of this escapade, and Beyle was reduced to serving as clerk to a grocer. Melanie Guilbert, however, soon abandoned him to marry a Russian, and Beyle returned to Paris. Through the influence of Daru he obtained a place in the commissariat, which he filled with some distinction from 1806 to 1814. Charged with raising a levy in Brunswick of five million francs, he extracted seven; and during the retreat from Moscow he discharged his duties with efficiency. On the fall of Napoleon he refused to accept a place under the new regime, and retired to Milan, where he met Silvio Pellico, Manzoni, Lord Byron and other men of note. At Milan he contracted a liaison with a certain Angelina P., whom he had admired fiuitlessly during his earlier residence in that city. In 1814 he published, under the pseudonym of Alexandre Cesar Bombet, his Lettres ecrites de Vienne en Autriche sur le celebre cornpositeur, Joseph Haydn, suivies d'une vie de Mozart, et de considerations sur Metastase et l'etat present de la musique en Italie. His letters on Haydn were borrowed from the Haydini (1812) of Joseph Carpani, and the section on Mozart had no greater claim to originality. The book was reprinted (1817) as Vies de Haydn, Mozart et Metastase. His Histoire de la peinture en Italie (2 vols., 1817) was originally dedicated to Napoleon.

His friendship with some Italian patriots brought him in 1821 under the notice of the Austrian authorities, and he was exiled from Milan. In Paris he felt himself a stranger, as he had never recognized French contemporary art in literature, music or painting. He frequented, however, many literary salons in Paris, and found some friends in the "ideologues" who gathered round Destutt de Tracy. He was the most closely allied with Prosper Merimee, a dilettante and an ironist like himself. He published at this time his Essai sur l'amour (1822), of which only seventeen copies were sold in eleven years, though it afterwards became famous, Racine et Shakespeare (1823-1825), Vie de Rossini (1824), D'un nouveau complot contre les industriels (1825), Promenades dans Rome (1829), and his first novel, Armance, ou quelques scenes de Paris 1827 (1827). After the Revolution of 1830 he was appointed consul at Trieste, but the Austrian government refused to accept him, and he was sent to Civita Vecchia instead. XIX e siecle (2 vols., 1830) appeared in Paris after his departure, but attracted small notice. He had published in 1838 Memoires d'un touriste, and in 1839 La Chartreuse de Parme (2 vols.), which was the last of his publications, and the first to secure any popular success, though his earlier writings had been regarded as significant by a limited public. It was enthusiastically reviewed by Balzac in his Revue Parisienne (1840). Beyle remained at Civita Vecchia, discharging his duties as consul perfunctorily and with frequent intervals of absence until his death, which took place in Paris on the 23rd of March 1842. He wrote his own epitaph,' describing himself as a Milanese.

His posthumous works include a fragmentary Vie de Napoleon (1875); Mélanges d'art et de litterature (1867); Chroniques italiennes (1885), including "L'Abbesse de Castro," "Les Cenci," "Vittoria Accoramboni," "Vanina Vanini," "La Duchesse de Palliano," some of which has appeared separately; Romans et nouvelles and Nouvelles inedites (1855); Correspondance (2 vols., 1855); Lamiel (ed. C. Stryienski, 1889); his Journal1801-1814 (ed. Stryienski and F. de Nion, 1888), of which the section dealing with the Russian and German campaigns is unfortunately lost; Vie de Henri Brulard (1890), a disguised autobiography, chiefly the history of his numerous love affairs; Lettres intimes (1892); Lucien Leuwen (ed. J. de Mitty, 1894); Souvenirs d'egotisme (ed. C. Stryienski, 1892), autobiography and unpublished letters.

Stendhal's reputation practically rests on the two novels Le Rouge et le noir and La Chartreuse de Parme. In the former of these he borrowed his plot from events which had actually happened some years previously. Julien Sorel in the novel is tutor in a noble family and seduces his pupil's mother. He eventually kills her to avenge a letter accusing him to the family of his betrothed, Mlle de la Mole. Julien is a picture of Beyle as he imagined himself to be. The Chartreuse de Parme has less unity of purpose than Le Rouge et le noir. For its setting the author drew largely on his own experiences. Fabrice's experiences at Waterloo are his own in the Italian campaign, and the countess Pietranera is his Milanese Angelina. But of the two novels it is more picturesque and has been more popular. Stendhal's real vogue dates from the early sixties, but his importance is essentially literary. In spite of his egotism and the limitations of his ideas, his acute analysis of the motives of his personages has appealed to successive generations of writers, and a great part of the development of the French novel must be traced to him. Brunetiere has pointed out (Manual of French Lit., Eng. trans., 1898) that Stendhal supplied the Romanticists with the notion of the interchange of the methods and effects of poetry, painting and music, and that in his worship of Napoleon he agreed with their glorification of individual energy. Stendhal, however, thoroughly disliked the Romanticists, though SainteBeuve acknowledged (Causeries du lundi, vol. ix.) that his books gave ideas. Taine (Essais de critique et d'histoire, 1857) found in him a great psychologist; Zola (Romanciers naturalistes, 1881) actually claimed him as the father of the naturalist school; and Paul Bourget (Essais de psychologie contemporaine, 1883) cited Le Rouge et le noir as one of the classic novels of analysis.

The 1846 edition of La Chartreuse de Parme contains a prefatory notice by R. Colomb, and a reprint of Balzac's article. In addition to the authorities already mentioned see the essay on Beyle (1850) by Prosper Merimee; A. A. Paton, Henry Beyle, a Critical and Biographical Study (1874); Adolphe Paupe, Histoire des oeuvres de Stendhal (1903); A. Chuquet, Stendhal-Beyle (1902); a review by R. Doumic (Revue des deux mondes, February 1902), deprecating the excessive attention paid to Beyle's writings; and Edouard Rod, Stendhal (1892) in the "Grands ecrivains frangais" series. See also Correspondance de Stendhal, 1800-1842, with preface by M. Barres (Paris, 1908).

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