Literary Daybook, Feb. 27

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published February 27, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 27, 1800, Hetty gives birth to Arthur's child.
-- "Adam Bede" (1859)
by George Eliot

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1848 the French Romantic poet turned politician, Alphonse de Lamartine, was named acting head of the three-day old Second Republic of France. Though he had become increasingly involved in revolutionary politics in middle age, Lamartine's first book of poetry, "Les Meditations Poetiques," was itself seen as revolutionary when it came out in 1820. Brushing aside centuries of classical and neoclassical restraint, Lamartine's simple, emotional lyrics were written, he said, "as man breathes, as the bird moans, as the wind sighs, as water murmurs as it flows along." One of his most famous poems, "The Lake," takes its inspiration from a stay on Lake Bourget with a lover doomed by tuberculosis:

"Let us love! Let us love! in this fugitive hour,
Let us hasten, enjoy!
Man has no port, time has no shore
It flows, and we pass! ... "

The Alpine retreat where Lamartine wrote the poem was not many miles or years away from the English Romantics -- Shelley's "Mont Blanc," or the "Frankenstein" evenings of the Shelleys and Lord Byron at Lake Geneva. Byron was an inspirational figure in French literary and political life -- Lamartine wrote a fifth canto for Byron's "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" -- and his death in the Greek independence struggles provided a model of Romantic idealism married to political commitment. In the end, Lamartine's politics proved to be all too idealistic: Though only appointed to the provisional government in February, and though confirmed by election in April, his proletarian leanings had him ousted by June. When he ran for the presidency of the Second Republic against Louis-Napoleon he came last in a field of five; when Louis-Napoleon moved up to emperor, Lamartine retreated to his family estates, and his writing.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

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