Jean-François Casimir Delavigne
(4 April 1793 – 11 December 1843) was a French poet and dramatist.
Delavigne was born at Le Havre
Le Havre is a city in the Seine-Maritime department of the Haute-Normandie region in France. It is situated in north-western France, on the right bank of the mouth of the river Seine on the English Channel. Le Havre is the most populous commune in the Haute-Normandie region, although the total...
, but was sent to Paris to be educated at the Lycée Napoleon. He read extensively. When, on 20 March 1811 the empress Marie Louise gave birth to a son
Napoléon II , after 1818 known as Franz, Duke of Reichstadt, was the son of Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, and his second wife, Marie Louise of Austria...
, named in his cradle as king of Rome, the event was celebrated by Delavigne in a Dithyrambe sur la naissance du roi de Rome
, which obtained him a sinecure
A sinecure means an office that requires or involves little or no responsibility, labour, or active service...
in the revenue office.
About this time he competed twice for an academy prize, but without success. Inspired by the Battle of Waterloo
The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday 18 June 1815 near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands...
in 1815, he wrote two impassioned poems, the first entitled Waterloo
, the second, Devastation du muse
, both written in the heat of patriotic enthusiasm, and teeming with popular political allusions. A third, less successful poem, Sur le besoin de s'unir après le départ des étrangers
, was afterwards added. These stirring pieces, termed by him Messéniennes
, found an echo in the hearts of the French people.
Twenty-five thousand copies were sold; Delavigne was famous. He was appointed to an honorary librarianship, with no duties to discharge. In 1819 his play Les Vêpres Siciliennes
was performed at the Odéon
The Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe is one of France's six national theatres.It is located at 2 rue Corneille in the 6th arrondissement of Paris on the left bank of the Seine, next to the Luxembourg Garden...
, then just rebuilt; it had previously been refused for the Théâtre Français. On the night of the first representation, which was warmly received, Picard, the manager, is said to have exclaimed, "You have saved us! You are the founder of the second French Theatre."
This success was followed up by the production of the Comédiens
(1820), an inferior play, with little plot, and the Paria
(1821), which contained some well-written choruses. The latter piece obtained a longer lease of life than its intrinsic literary merits warranted, on account of the popularity of the political opinions freely expressed in it: so freely expressed, indeed, that the displeasure of the king was incurred, and Delavigne lost his post. But Louis-Philippe of France
Louis Philippe I was King of the French from 1830 to 1848 in what was known as the July Monarchy. His father was a duke who supported the French Revolution but was nevertheless guillotined. Louis Philippe fled France as a young man and spent 21 years in exile, including considerable time in the...
, willing to gain the people's good wishes by complimenting their favourite, wrote to him as follows:
"The thunder has descended on your house; I offer you an apartment in mine."
Accordingly Delavigne became librarian
A librarian is an information professional trained in library and information science, which is the organization and management of information services or materials for those with information needs...
at the Palais Royal, a position he retained for the rest of his life. It was here that he wrote the École des vieillards
(1823), his best comedy, which gained his election to the Académie Française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...
in 1825. To this period also belong La Princesse Aurilie
(1828), and Marino Faliero
(1829), a drama in the romantic style.
For his success as a writer Delavigne was largely indebted to the nature of the times in which he lived. The Messéniennes
had their origin in the excitement resulting from the occupation of France by the allies in 1815. Another crisis in his life and in the history of his country, the revolution of 1830
The Revolution of 1830 can be:* The July Revolution in France leading to a constitutional monarchy lasting until the revolutions of 1848* The Belgian Revolution in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands leading to the creation of Belgium...
, stimulated him to the production of a second masterpiece, La Parisienne
. This song, set to music by Daniel Auber, was on the lips of every Frenchman, and rivalled in popularity the Marseillaise
. A companion piece, La Varsovienne
, was written for the Poles
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...
, by whom it was sung on the march to battle. Other works of Delavigne followed each other in rapid succession:
- Louis XI (1832)
- Les Enfants d'Édouard (1833)
- Don Juan d'Autriche (1835)
- Une Famille au temps du Luther (1836)
- La Popularité (1838)
- La Fille du Cid (1839)
- Le Conseiller rapporteur (1840)
- Charles VI
Charles VI is an 1843 French grand opera in five acts with music composed by Fromental Halevy and a libretto by Casimir Delavigne and his brother Germain Delavigne.-Performance history:...
(1843), an opera partly written by his brother Germain, music by Fromental Halévy
Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy, usually known as Fromental Halévy , was a French composer. He is known today largely for his opera La Juive.-Early career:...
In 1843 he left Paris to seek in Italy the health his labors had cost him. At Lyons his strength altogether gave way, and he died on 11 December.
By many of his own time Delavigne was looked upon as unsurpassed and unsurpassable. Every one bought and read his works. But the applause of the moment was gained at the sacrifice of lasting fame. As a writer he had many excellences. He expressed himself in a terse and vigorous style. The poet of reason rather than of imagination, he recognized his own province, and was rarely tempted to flights of fancy beyond his powers. He wrote always as he would have spoken, from sincere conviction.
and his Théâtre
were published in 1863. His Œuvres completes
(new edition, 1855) contains a biographical notice by his brother, Germain Delavigne, who is best known as a librettist in opera. See also Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve was a literary critic and one of the major figures of French literary history.-Early years:...
, Portraits littéraires
, vol. v.; A Favrot, Étude sur Casimir Delavigne
(1894); and F Vuacheux, Casimir Delavigne