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MIREILLE and Alphonse de

… / …
It was in 1856 that Adolphe Dumas (1806-1861) came to Maillane for the first time, in February, for the feast of Saint Agatha; on the order of Minister Fortoul, he then collected the popular songs of his Provence that he had left, very young, but that he had not forgotten and that he had sung in French and even once in Provençal , under the influence, quickly dissipated elsewhere, of Roumanille himself; collecting popular songs was a simple official mission which allowed him to see his country again at the expense of the government, it was not the conviction of a Provencalist in love with old traditions.
However, as Adolphe Dumas wished to carry out his mission as well as possible, he had inquired about the sources where he could draw and in Avignon he had been indicated to a certain Mr. Mistral who took care of these things, in the village of Maillane; he therefore came to see him out of conscience.
Mistral himself told us how he sang his song of Magali to him and how he taught Dumas, astonished, that this song was to be part of a Provençal novel in twelve songs that he was writing.
You have to sing it in French, replied Adolphe Dumas, as I do myself, but let’s go, he added condescendingly, tell me a piece of your poem. ”
Mistral then read a passage from Mireille.
I take my hat off to you, ”said Adolphe Dumas, when he had finished and from that time on he became the Saint John the Baptist of that Messiah of Provençal poetry that would henceforth be Mistral.

It’s basically on his advice
that Mistral decides to leave
for Paris, as I said,
in August 1858;
it is Adolphe Dumas who,
as soon as the poem is read in its entirety,
written to the Gazette de France

the admirable letter so often reproduced, but
that I do not
not resist the pleasure
to transcribe again here:

“The Gazette du Midi has already informed the Gazette de France of the arrival in Paris of the young Mistral, the great poet of Provence. What is Mistral? We do not know anything, I am asked and I am afraid to answer words that we will not believe, so unexpected are they at this moment of imitation poetry that makes people believe in the death of poetry and poets. The Académie Française will come, in ten years, to consecrate one more glory when everyone has done so. The Institute clock often lags one hour over the centuries; but I want to be the first who will have discovered what we can call today the Virgil of Provence, the shepherd of Mantua arriving in Rome with songs worthy of Gallus and Scipio. We have often asked for our beautiful country of the South, twice Roman, Roman-Latin and Roman-Catholic, the poem of its eternal language, its holy beliefs and its pure mores. I have the poem in my hands, it has twelve songs, it is signed Frédéric Mistral, from the village of Maillane and I countersign it with my word of honor which I have never committed in false and with my responsibility which does not has the ambition to be fair. ”

That’s not all, Adolphe Dumas wanted to drive Mistral to Lamartine.
Let us listen to the story of this visit as Mistral told us in a letter to Roumanille: “Sunday, around 7:30 in the evening, we went to Lamartine’s, he wrote on September 2, 1858 … In a fairly pretty salon, lined with paintings, works by Madame de Lamartine, we waited a few moments for the arrival of the great man; he was supping: suddenly the door opened and a tall old man, with a magnificent head, with a noble walk, came to welcome us. It was him, as I had imagined from reading his writings. He immediately put me at ease, sat down next to me and told me that he was all the more charmed to know me as Dumas and Reboul, unbeknownst to each other, had given him the greatest praise. Reboul, he said, gave me three names: Roumanille, Aubanel and you, a dramatic, a lyric and an epic. So saying, he took a cigar from the fireplace and lit it. After having spoken for a few moments about Provence, Provencal, Arles, Crau and Camargue, he asked me to tell him a few stanzas from Mirèio, no, he said, to understand the meaning, but to judge of harmony. I recited the first four or five stanzas of the first song to him, he was delighted and found it much sweeter than the Italian. Then entered his niece, his sister, Dargan, the historian of Marie Stuart and another gentleman. Lamartine told them of the pleasure my verses had caused him, and they made me repeat my stanzas. An incredible effect: Lamartine’s niece, a young woman of 22 or 25! was, without boasting, hanging from my lips: how pretty, how sweet, etc …, so much so that the Comtesse de Peyronnet, daughter-in-law of the former minister, a beautiful young woman in her thirties years having entered with her two daughters, they wanted me to repeat the same stanzas to the newcomer. The Comtesse de Peyronnet is English and can you imagine that as I finished my verse, the beautiful listener turned to the other ladies and said to them: – I think that means: I am singing a young girl who, etc. .., humble schoolboy of the great Homer … because we only sing for you, O shepherds, etc … And so on, with an ease, a grace that amazed us. The rest of the evening was spent wondering about my village, my way of life, etc … “I fully expect,” Lamartine told me, “that you will send me your work and I will write to you, print on fine paper, here we care a lot. ”

There you go, it went well, Dumas was delighted. Now let’s listen to Lamartine’s story:

At sunset, I saw Adolphe Dumas enter followed by a handsome and modest young man, dressed with a sober elegance like the lover of Laure, when he brushed his black tunic and combed his smooth hair in the streets of ‘Avignon. It was Frédéric Mistral, the young village poet destined to become like Burns, the Scottish plowman, the Homer of Provence; his simple, modest and gentle physiognomy had nothing of that haughty tension of features, that evaporation of the eyes which too often characterizes these men of vanity more than of genius, who are called popular poets: what nature has given , we have it without pretension and without boasting, the young Provençal was at ease in his talent as in his clothes; nothing bothered him, because he was not trying to get bloated, or to rise higher than life. Perfect propriety, that instinct for correctness in all conditions, which gives shepherds as kings the same dignity and the same grace of attitude or emphasis, governed his whole person, he had the decorum of the truth; he pleased, he interested, he moved, we could feel in his masculine beauty the son of one of those beautiful Arlésiennes, living statues of Greece that throb in our South … The young man recited a few verses to us in that soft and nervous Provencal idiom which sometimes recalls the Latin accent, sometimes Attic grace, sometimes Tuscan harshness.

Alphonse de LAMARTINE

Such had been Lamartine’s first reception.
With the memory of this welcome, it was only natural that Mistral should send Lamartine, at the end of February 1859, one of the first copies of Mirèio, there was no lack of it. Lamartine was very sad and very weary when he received him, overwhelmed with debts and work, he does not exaggerate when he tells us with melancholy.

I am not very poetic at the moment, I am struggling, I do not have a heart for verses.

As early as 1851, was he not writing to his niece Valentine:

Get up at 5 o’clock every day, I write thirty or forty pages, to earn our bread. I have finished two volumes, Voyages et Histoires Orientales, I will begin one on December 20, following the Girondins.

Did he not yet write on November 15, 1852:

I spend my nights at work. ”

This is how he had been living for seven years when he received Mirèio, and this poem, written in a language which was nevertheless foreign to him, he understood, he, the first, among French writers, so deeply, so intimately that no one, since , could not speak of it with such authority, could not comment on it with such an admirable symphony of thought and style:

`` That night, ‘‘ he said to us, “ I didn’t sleep a minute, I read the twelve songs with a breath, like a man out of breath whose tired legs carry in spite of himself from one milestone to another, who would like to rest, but who cannot sit down … I received the volume two days ago, and the pages are as crumpled by my fingers eager to close and reopen the volume as the fair hair of a child is crumpled by the hand of a mother who does not never tires of passing and ironing his fingers through the curls, to feel the silky down and to see them gild in the rays of the sun.

He immediately wrote to Reboul and also to Dumas, asking them for information on Mistral. The latter sends them to him and asks Mistral to complete these documents.

Mistral responds:

My dear friend, if I were not a Christian and if I did not always have before my eyes the humble and stoic life of my poor father, there would be enough to become ecstatic. But fear not. The only feeling that inspires me with the incredible happiness that comes to me is a deep feeling, an infinite need for gratitude to God and to the men, the men he uses to lift up my name. The more I reflect on what you tell me about M. de Lamartine, the more my astonishment redoubles. I am overwhelmed, crushed by so much indulgence. The goodness of the great man is as wonderful as his genius. M. de Lamartine, you say, desires some biographical information on your humble servant. My life couldn’t be simpler than it is. I was born in Maillane in September 1830, on the farm my father had acquired through the labor of his hand and the sweat of his brow. And that last expression is not rhetorical. If you had known my father, my dear friend, you would be as enthusiastic about it as I still am. I painted it in my poem in two different forms, Mèste Ambrosi and Mèste Ramoun.

Extract Chapter III – The apparition of Mireille
Emile Ripert 1930


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