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Provence and the British Imagination

 | 
Claire Davison
, 
Béatrice Laurent
, 
Caroline Patey
, 
et al.

Victorian variations

The Irish Troubadour of the Provençal Félibrige: William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse

Béatrice Laurent

Texte intégral

1To a tormented fiery soul, born in the mists of Ireland and forever longing for the sunshine of the South, Provence, “a once independent kingdom occupying the southeast corner of France, where for centuries Troubadours sang of love” (Vitaglione 2001, ix), Provence became a locus of adoration which William Bonaparte-Wyse celebrated in verse and from whose muse he begged a sign of recognition and motherly affection:

  • 1 The following abbreviations will be used throughout this paper: WBW for Charles Bonaparte-Wyse, FM (...)

Ô belle, ô belle! Tu n’es pour moi qu’une marâtre, et naturellement tu ne peux m’aimer; mais je te poursuivrai sans relâche où que tu ailles. Peut-être, pauvre maladroit! Mes pieds fouleraientils et déchireraient-ils ta robe éclatante, et peut-être me regarderais-tu avec dédain, avec colère; mais pourtant, à la fin, en voyant mon amour et mes yeux pleins de langueur, tu me prendras dans tes bras, ô Reine! Et tu me montreras avec fierté à la nation Provençale comme à un de tes fils. (Thouron 1868, n. p.)1

2The yearning for reciprocated love drove the poet to study, cherish, respect and celebrate Provence with a passion perhaps superior to that of her native children.

3William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse’s first acquaintance with the Provençal idiom in 1855 was recorded by his life-long friend Frédéric Mistral (1830-1914) in the foreword he wrote for Wyse’s first volume of Provençal verse, Li Parpaioun blu (1868, fig. 13). The author of Mireio depicts his fellow Félibre in the guise of a well-travelled dashing young poet of independent means:

Un beau jeune homme, de blonde et noble mine, s’arrêta par hasard à Avignon. Il avait beaucoup lu, beaucoup hanté et beaucoup vu: mais la longue lecture des choses d’autrefois n’avait point satisfait son appétit de vie; la hantise fastidieuse de la haute société l’avait rendu convoiteur et affamé de la nature; et dans tous ses voyages, en Angleterre, en Allemagne, en France ou en Espagne, et même en Italie, il n’avait trouvé lieu qui l’eut séduit assez pour y planter son bourdon. (Thouron 1868, n. p.)

4Prematurely blasé with travelling, the Irishman landed in Avignon where his curiosity was triggered by an ancient tongue which, he soon learned, was being rehabilitated by contemporary young poets:

En passant dans la rue Saint-Agricol, il remarqua à la vitrine d’un libraire, du libraire et poète Roumanille, des livres écrits dans une langue qui lui était inconnue. Fort curieusement il entra et les acheta. C’était des livres provençaux. L’étonnement de rencontrer en France un idiome littéraire autre que celui de Paris, et d’avoir découvert une littérature s’inspirant, non des Grecs, ni des Romains, ni des Français, ni des Anglais, ni des Germains, ni même de l’Orient, et ni même des Indes, mais naturellement et seulement du cru, l’étonnement, vous dis-je et l’étourdissement et le transport […] le saisirent. (Thouron 1868, n. p.)

5Immediately he wanted to know more about the language and the poets who had assembled the previous year in a group known as the Félibrige. He met them all and solemnly declared that he was one of theirs, that their cause would be his cause, and that they could rely on him. He kept his word and twenty-eight years later, the marquess de Villeneuve-Esclapon-Vence wrote: “Presque chez aucun je n’ai trouvé, autant que chez vous, une compréhension large de l’idée Félibresque, un amour désintéressé de la cause, une ardeur toujours égale” (1882, vii).

6The period was one of revolutions or at least rebellions against all signs of oppression, be they political, intellectual, artistic or linguistic. In the spirits of ardent young people throughout Europe, the resistance against tyranny had fostered several backward-looking associations. The usual form of expression of their wish to dissociate themselves from contemporary mainstream policies was to re-establish long lost, or at least partly forgotten connexions with a remote and nobler past, often located between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Such associations had been formed in Paris for example around Maurice Quay and the ‘Barbus’, a group of artists who sought to renew the austere style of religious mural painters, or in England with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood whose seven original members also shared an admiration for early Christian art. These two predecessors were already well developed when the seven founding members of the Félibrige, who coined the name after the Provençal version of the biblical episode of Jesus among the doctors, ‘li sèt felibre de la lèi’, swore among themselves in 1854 to dedicate their efforts to the renaissance of Provençal poetry in the tradition of the Troubadours. Their association was barely a year old when W. C. Bonaparte-Wyse walked into Roumanille’s bookshop. He was an earnest, energetic, well-read young man, probably infused with chivalric ideals and in need of a noble crusade: the project of the Félibres, the ‘Parnasse Provençal’ (Thouron 1868, n. p.) as he called it, presented itself as the perfect outlet for his bold and righteous creativity. In later life, he remembered vividly the avenging impulse that he had felt as a young foreigner witnessing the agonising song of the ancestral language:

A ma première venue en Provence, quand, doublement enivré de la cigale, je buvais avec délice le vin nouveau de Mireille, le Félibrige m’apparut [comme] l’attitude magnifique d’une langue moribonde en face du français, le conquérant dédaigneux; il était pour moi le chant du cygne du Midi, vraiment mélodieux, au milieu de l’arrogant mélange des autres langues. (Flandreysy 1953, n. p.)

7This is the popular version of the Félibresque crusade; yet, as Villeneuve-Esclapon-Vence (1882, xii) noted, the resuscitation of Provençal literature in 1855 is a poetic exaggeration, for the language was in no way moribund, nor were its poets totally extinct. Still, even if the bravery of the poetic seven was slightly less than the official account would make out, Bonaparte-Wyse’s commitment to the cause is indisputable. He learned the language, translated Mistral, wrote his first poems in Provençal, started proselytising throughout the areas where the langue d’Oc was or had been spoken and kept a voluminous correspondence with his new friends when he was away from his Avignon home. When he was there, he entertained them liberally, and organised the social rituals that became emblematic of the Félibrige: sumptuous banquets ending with the semi-pagan Eucharistic ‘Song of the Cup’. Indeed, the import of symbolically charged mottoes, emblems, chants and rituals to federate the new assembly is due to Bonaparte-Wyse’s sense of ceremony:

Son influence […] s’exerça sur l’esprit même des réunions félibréennes, sur leur sens, sur le symbolisme hautement significatif qui y fut adopté […] Le poète d’Irlande apporta l’usage traditionnel anglais des toasts aux banquets, éleva la coupe et fit briller sur le Félibrige les mystiques et triomphants rayons de Sainte-Estelle. (Flandreysy 1953, n. p.)

8So, what most Provençaux even today consider as a typically regional custom was in fact introduced by an Irishman:

Il inaugura la cérémonie de la coupe circulant autour de la table comme un vase mystique dans lequel chacun vient tour à tour puiser le courage et l’enthousiasme. Il fit ensuite adopter comme emblème la pervenche, ‘la prouvençalo’, fleur de l’espérance et de la fidélité; il assigna au Félibrige comme patronne poétique la ‘Sainte-Étoile’, qui peut être l’étoile des Mages, ou bien l’étoile des Baux […] Enfin, le premier, il se leva à la fin d’un banquet pour dire son amour de la Provence. (Villeneuve 1882, xix)

9Reciprocally, the Félibres welcomed him, encouraged his efforts to master the Provençal language and contributed all they could to make Bonaparte-Wyse known and respected as a Provençal poet in his own right, one whose name would be cherished by future generations alongside those of Mistral, Aubanel and Roumanille. Thus in a letter dated 21 October 1865, Mistral urged him to produce more Provençal verse:

  • 2 FM to WBW, 21 October 1865, Letter 57. Letters from FM to WBW are kept at the Palais Roure in Avign (...)

Faites-nous des pièces Provençales, vous devenez forcément – chose étrange et inouïe – une des étoiles de la Renaissance felibrenco. Vous n’êtes plus un amateur, vous êtes un maître en gai-savoir, et les historiens de notre joli mouvement littéraire cueilleront votre nom et votre poésie comme les chroniqueurs des Troubadours ont recueilli les vers et le renom de Richard Cœur-de-Lion.2

  • 3 Ibidem
  • 4 A. Pichot, letter to WBW, 17 May 1868, manuscript at the Palais du Roure, no ref.

10He integrated his adoptive land and language so well that he became more popular in Provence than in London or even in Ireland and the author of Mireio declared: “[i]l est bien entendu que vous n’êtes plus irlandais, mais Provençal de coeur et de génie.”3 In a letter of 1868 to thank the poet for his complimentary copy of Li Parpaioun Blu, Amédée Pichot, the editor of the Revue Britannique, wrote: “Je ne m’étonne pas de la popularité que vous avez acquise dans notre midi et auprès de tous y compris les ouvriers d’imprimerie”; and lamented the local dimension of Bonaparte-Wyse’s fame: “Je voudrais avoir toutes les trompettes de la presse pour les emboucher en votre honneur,” for it seemed to him that “il y a dans votre volume, indépendamment de l’originalité d’un poète irlando-Provençal, des sentiments qui parlent à tous les cœurs, des pensées qui parlent à tous les esprits”.4 Even before he came to know Bonaparte-Wyse, Pichot, a native of Arles, had marvelled about the fame that the Provençal renaissance was enjoying on the other side of the Channel: “En Angleterre, le feu sacré de la poésie romane a aussi ses gardiens et, bien mieux, nous y avons un Félibre, un membre de la famille Bonaparte, – oui, un Bonaparte troubadour, M. W. C. Bonaparte-Wyse, qui chaque année enrichit l’armana d’une pièce nouvelle” (Pichot 1867, 541, fig. 14).

11The aristocratic origins of the new member undoubtedly contributed to the fascination of the Félibres, and to their readiness to count him in their circle. All the biographical notices published on Bonaparte-Wyse stress his noble ascent: he was the son of Sir Thomas Wyse of Waterford, Queen Victoria’s ambassador in Greece, and Princess Letizia Bonaparte, the daughter of Prince Lucien. Amédée Pichot (1867, 272-73) also pointed to the fact that Bonaparte-Wyse’s ancestor had already played a significant role in Provence in saving the woods of Sainte-Baume from destruction by the revolutionaries. The legend was being written, and the smallest fact that could justify Bonaparte-Wyse’s unexpected inclusion in the Parnasse Provençal and that could prove in his family history precedents of heroic deeds for the southern community was carefully exhumed, revamped and communicated. Occasionally carried away by their enthusiasm, admiring biographers, including Mistral and Pichot, drew Bonaparte-Wyse’s literary filiation all the way back to Richard the Lionheart: “[d] epuis Richard Cœur-de-Lion, M. Bonaparte-Wyse est le premier poète né anglais qui ait rimé dans la langue dont se servit le royal captif de l’Autriche pour invoquer poétiquement la pitié de ses barons anglais, normands, poitevins et gascons” (Pichot 1868, 288). This remark subtly insisted on the poet’s aristocratic lineage, as well as it suggested a linguistic and political heredity. Just like his medieval forefather, it insinuated, Bonaparte-Wyse used the only ancestral idiom fit to voice opposition against the tyranny of usurpers. Even the somewhat unfamiliar Provençal expressions used by the modern troubadour were lauded as further testimonies of his literary merit:

M. Bonaparte-Wyse a retrouvé dans les anciens troubadours mainte expression qui a disparu de la langue populaire et qui mériterait d’y revivre. Ainsi en use l’auteur de Mireille lui-même, qui loue son frère anglo-Provençal de ce retour à l’archaïsme (Pichot 1868, 288).

12Far from being philological curiosities, Bonaparte-Wyse’s quaint verses in Provençal secured the link between the glorious age of the Troubadours and the nineteenth-century renaissance, with Raimbaut d’Orange, Folquet de Marseille, Guillaume des Baux, the Princesse de Die, and dozens of anonymous bards who contributed to the gay knowledge or gai saber, their ethics of love. As true descendants of the ancient troubadours, the Félibres were also concerned with the art of courting and love. This preoccupation was also shared at the same time in England by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and his circle.

13Frédéric Mistral, who was given the name of ‘Provençal Homer’ especially after he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1904, was influential in modernizing the tradition of the Troubadours. His poetry spoke of passionate love and of unions made impossible by family feuds or social conventions: a popular theme in the nineteenth century which had caused the modern version of Boccaccio’s tale of Lorenzo and Isabella to be written by Keats and illustrated by the Pre-Raphaelites. Mistral’s long epic Mireio similarly evoked the tragic idyll between the rich eponymous heroin and Vincent, the son of a poor basket-maker. The plot, however, was not set in distant lands or times: it was a contemporary romance taking place in Camargue. In the same way as the English Pre-Raphaelites had decided to tackle modern subjects such as fallen women in William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience (1853) or D. G. Rossetti’s Found (c. 1855-1882), the Provençal Félibres felt the urge to sing of love in the present tense. When Théodore Aubanel (1829-1886) published his volume entitled Li fiho d’Avignoun in 1885, the clergy’s opprobrium equalled the wrath wedged against Rossetti by the author of the “Fleshy school of poetry” article published in The Contemporary Review fourteen years earlier (Maitland 1871). Aubanel gained the rank of poète maudit, according to one of his biographers (Liprandi 1955, n. p.), but in celebrating female beauty of flesh and blood rather than by means of metaphors and mythological figures, he renewed the real spirit of troubadour poetry.

Aubanel, poussé sans nul doute par une propension innée à la passion amoureuse, par son enthousiasme pour la culture de sa région et par le modèle exaltant des troubadours, s’est mis à écrire des poèmes brûlant de sensualité qui vantent les délices extatiques de la beauté féminine. Quand Paul Valéry a qualifié Aubanel de “seul vrai poète Provençal” […] il ne songeait pas seulement à ses talents littéraires, mais plus précisément à l’élan lyrique de ses poèmes d’amour en parfaite harmonie avec la tradition des troubadours du Moyen Age, considérés jadis comme des jouisseurs impénitents, à qui l’on prête souvent aujourd’hui de nobles pensées et même des aspirations spirituelles dissimulées sous des allégories complexes. (Lavin 2009, 35)

  • 5 Rossetti produced at least three versions of this painting, dated 1874, 1877 and 1880, and a sonnet (...)

14Aubanel’s volume of poetry of 1860, La miougrano entro-duberto (The Split Pomegranate), inspired by his adulterous (and apparently unconsumed) passion for the beautiful and pious Zani (Jeanne-Marie Manivet, aka Jenny), brings to the mind Rossetti’s numerous depictions of his muse Jane Morris as Proserpine,5 holding the split pomegranate which suggested many various symbolical interpretations charged with mythological, religious and sexual connotations.

  • 6 WBW, Letter 178.

15The artistic proximity between the English and the Provençal poets probably comes from their shared medieval source where both absorbed what the Marquess of Villeneuve-Esclapon-Vence describes as “ce mélange de mysticisme et de sensualisme qui est la caractéristique du troubadour” (1882, xv). This heritage was a literary one and both the Pre-Raphaelites and the Félibres admired early Italian poets for their beautiful universal love stories: “[l]’aspiration à l’idéal est en ce monde un supplice pareil à celui de Francesca de Rimini et de son amant dans l’enfer de Dante. C’est un tourment sublime et délicieux, une mêlée de rêves et de désespoir” wrote Mistral to Bonaparte-Wyse in 1874.6 This heritage also legitimized the young masculine vigour which bourgeois society and the church condemned on both sides of the Channel. In their study of the Troubadours, Mistral, Bonaparte-Wyse and Rossetti equally exulted at the existence of a time when love was a religion and religion a form of art. A letter from Mistral to Bonaparte-Wyse, dated 7 March 1860 gives us a glimpse of their preoccupation:

  • 7 FM, Letter 12.

Mon cher Cœur-de-Lion,
Je suis ravi d’apprendre que le brave roi Richard est au nombre des saints. Mais ce n’est pas le seul troubadour qui ait reçu cet honneur. Guillaume IX, duc d’Aquitaine et comte de Poitiers chantait avant lui en Provençal et avant lui était canonisé.7

16He then translated into French the biographical notice of the blessed gallant knight and concluded with mock prayer:

  • 8 Ibidem.

Heureux temps! Les troubadours étaient princes, les princes étaient saints, les saints trompaient les dames, et tous allaient gaiement au Paradis... Saint Guillaume de Poitiers priez pour nous.8

17As a faithful descendant of the troubadours, Mistral, who was then unmarried, was a formidable bon vivant, a trait he shared with Bonaparte-Wyse, and in 1861 he lamented Aubanel’s recent marriage:

  • 9 FM, Letter 28.

Aubanel […] peut-être ressuscitera-t-il? Est-ce que l’Apollon, c’està-dire le Soleil, ce Dieu de premier ordre et d’éternelle jeunesse, ne devrait-il pas terrasser en trois jours ce petit demi-Dieu orléaniste qui s’appelle Hymen ou hyménée, si tôt fané, usé et décrépit! Comprenez-vous, mylord, Homère, Virgile ou Dante enchaînés pour la vie, comme le malheureux Socrate, à une épouse légitime? […] A un poète il faut entière liberté d’esprit, entière indépendance, entier détachement. En résumé, au diable les chastes épouses qui châtrent l’imagination de leurs maris poètes. Vive les belles maîtresses qui font de leurs amants des poètes comme vous!9

  • 10 FM, Letters 54, 62, 168.

18Mistral could have ended the sentence “comme vous et moi,” for some of his letters allude to his mistresses: the one with whom he holidayed in August 1865, “mon Astarté, ma Callipyge […] une femme de chair, oui, mais quelles ondulations divines, quel rêve de Polyclète, de Phidias et de Pradier!”; or his English sweetheart of 1866 who made him declare to his friend: “Franchement vos filles du Nord sont plus passionnées que les nôtres. J’en suis presque amoureux”; or again the young lady for whose sake he broke his engagement in 1871.10 On January 1, 1874, Bonaparte-Wyse sent him a letter using the same arguments Mistral had used thirteen years earlier when he was commenting upon Aubanel’s wedding:

  • 11 WBW, Letter 19.

Je ne suis pas trop sûr que pour une nature artiste comme la vôtre un mariage... serait une chose de bonne (sic) augure. Artiste et poète ne devrait jamais s’entortiller avec ces liens, j’en suis depuis longtemps terriblement convaincu. Le mariage est le tombeau de l’imagination et de la belle fantaisie aussi bien que de l’amour. Hymen est ennemi des muses.11

  • 12 FM, Letter 209.

19These are remarks to which D.G. Rossetti would have subscribed. By 1876, Mistral was married “avec une fillette […] jolie, gracieuse, douce, bonne, intelligente, et aimant tout ce que j’aime... et pourtant je suis un peu déconcerté.”12 This is yet another statement Rossetti may have made after his long-delayed wedding to Elizabeth Siddal in 1860.

20I have not yet been able to ascertain whether the Pre-Raphaelites and the Félibres knew of each other’s existence but it is difficult to imagine that they did not. Mistral read English sufficiently to enjoy the Athenaeum, which regularly reported on Pre-Raphaelite art, and the Provençal poets were studied abroad thanks to J. Duncan Craig’s Handbook to the Modern Provençal Language published in 1858. The interest of the British for the Provençal language and literature further shows for instance in a letter from George Meredith to Bonaparte-Wyse dated 16 June 1861:

Tell M. Mistral that Lady Gordon, an excellent critic, and one whose opinion I value more highly than that of most men, is astonished and delighted at the vigour and freshness of his poem. She has taught herself to read it in Provençal, and has now a fair appreciation of the beauty of the instrument M. Mistral touches so wonderfully. When known in England, Mireio is certain to be highly appreciated. (Meredith 1970, 104)

  • 13 FM, Letter 40.
  • 14 FM, Letter 175.

21In a letter of January 1864, Mistral grants Bonaparte-Wyse the permission to translate his verses into English.13 By 1872, Mireio had been translated three times, and the fame of the Félibrige had crossed the Atlantic thanks to Mistral’s third translator, Harriet Preston.14 In 1877, Frédéric Mistral mentioned Craig’s work to Bonaparte-Wyse:

  • 15 FM, Letter 219.

Vous devez savoir que M. Duncan Craig vient de publier un gros volume intitulé Miejour or the Land of the Félibres […] il y est question de la plupart des Félibres et par conséquent de vous. M. Craig prépare des ouvrages destinés à apprendre le Provençal aux voyageurs anglais. Mettez vous en rapport avec lui, et revoyez, au besoin, ses épreuves, pour éviter les fautes de Provençal qu’il pourrait faire.15

22In that book, Craig enthused about “the remarkable literary phenomena which the Provençal languages at the present day afford – in the great number of poems, some of exquisite beauty, which have been written in them by the Félibres of the South” (1877, v), and he devoted chapter LVIII to ‘The Troubadours of our day’.

  • 16 E. des Essart to WBW, 17 March 1868.
  • 17 FM to WBW, 3 July 1870 “Vous êtes tout à fait à même de goûter Gautier, et vous devriez le lui écri (...)
  • 18 FM to WBW, 18 February 1878. L. 226.

23The Pre-Raphaelites and the Félibres had some common friends: a letter from the poet Emmanuel des Essart to Bonaparte-Wyse mentions Swinburne and Mallarmé,16 one from Mistral encourages Bonaparte-Wyse to get in touch with Théophile Gautier,17 another thanks him for introducing him to a Mr Marzial from the British Museum who had joined Mistral’s subscription to support the publication of his dictionary.18

24Their likeliest connexion, as far as I have been able to trace, could have come through the poet George Meredith, who was very close to Rossetti – he even lived at Rossetti’s Tudor house, 16 Cheyne Walk in London, at the same time as Swinburne, after Rossetti’s wife died and the poet took the lease for that ‘mansion’ where he indulged in a somewhat Bohemian lifestyle with his close friends. The editor of Meredith’s correspondence ignores “when or how the two men first met” (Meredith 1970, II, 69), but he had come to know the Pre-Raphaelites as early as 1851. In his Collected Letters, the first addressed to a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is a note from May 1851 to J. E. Millais, whom the poet wished to congratulate for his paintings Mariana and The Woodman’s Daughter, which he found “exquisite” (Meredith 1970, II, 15). George Meredith also happened to be a very close friend of Bonaparte-Wyse’s and the two men exchanged information about the Provençal Félibrige. A letter from Meredith to Bonaparte-Wyse dated 31 May 1861 gives us a glimpse into their shared enthusiasm which later led Meredith to review Mireio in the Pall Mall Gazette:

I send you the book of M. Aubanel’s lyrics. They are intensely Southern, arid, monotonous, impressive. When you see M. Mistral, pray tell him that it is my earnest wish to be introduced to him. Mireio, the more I look at it, strikes me as a consummate work in an age of very small singing […]. I read your translation of the portion describing the mares of the Camargue to Maxse, who was delighted. He spoke of the poem to the Duc d’Aumale […] He seemed astonished to learn that France held a living poet unknown to him and admired in England.

25The same letter continues only three lines further down with news of Rossetti:

Yesterday I met in Fleet Street Dante Rossetti, the artist. I went with him to his studio, and there he gave me a translation he has been at work on many years, viz. Poems from the Italian poets up to Dante. Some are perfectly exquisite: as for the translation, it is so good that he will rank as poet as well as artist from the hour of the publication. (Meredith 1970, II, 85)

26As far as Bonaparte-Wyse’s own verses were concerned, Meredith made sure they were read and reviewed: “The Reverend [Jessopp] received his copy of the Parpaioun Blu and sends you enclosed acknowledgment. I shall give the other copy to Swinburne, I think”. (Meredith 1970 II, 417). The two Brotherhoods shared the same respect for the Renaissance, and the same horror of nineteenth-century industrial capitalism, the same yearning for freedom and the federation of like-minded spirits to resist the forces of oppression. That was the definition Mistral gave Bonaparte-Wyse in August 1865 of what Félibrige meant to him:

  • 19 FM to WBW, Letter 50.

Félibrige c’est culte de tout ce qui est beau, grand et saint; Félibrige c’est respect du passé, et aspiration ardente vers l’avenir, c’est-à-dire conciliation et jeunesse; Félibrige c’est horreur des usines, fabriques, manufactures, bourses, etc. c’est-à-dire contemplation, élévation, isolement d’un monde impur, apostolat et sacerdoce... Félibrige c’est liberté pour tous, pour la Provence comme pour l’Angleterre.19

  • 20 FM to WBW, Letter 103.

27The leaders of both movements further shared a passion for the study of ancient symbols, hidden meanings and cryptography. In a most interesting letter dated 20 March 1868, Mistral invited Bonaparte-Wyse to join him in his campaign of research and elucidation of mythological and religious symbols, which were relevant to their movement: “[l]e gai-sabé, qui est la science du Félibrige,” the cross, the Holy Mary, “c’est-à-dire le culte de la femme, pratiqué avec ferveur par les créateurs du Gai-Savoir,” Christmas, Easter, S. Gent, S. Roch etc. He then suggested a sort of secret ceremony restricted to the initiates as a way of consolidating the solidarity between the members: “On pourrait formuler une sorte de catéchisme Félibren qui ne serait révélé qu’aux adeptes et qui serait un lien pour notre gaie compagnie”;20 and begged his friend to keep their findings absolutely secret. In the same way, the young Pre-Raphaelites had secretly devised their monogram. Both movements were the spontaneous effusions of very young men, and both dissolved when some of the members settled into adult responsibilities. Mistral’s letter of 10 March 1869 announced the end of the first age of the Félibrige, and the beginning of a wider movement for the encouragement of regional studies.

  • 21 FM to WBW, Letter 132.

Que vous dirai-je sur le Félibrige? Ce que vous avez déjà pressenti vous-même, c’est que la première période, la période de l’enthousiasme, de la vive amitié, de l’effusion poétique, est close... Les Félibréjades n’auront plus guère lieu, à cause des petites zizanies intérieures, etc... En revanche le mouvement semble changer de place. Il vient de se constituer à Montpellier une société de jeunes savants pour l’avancement des études romanes […] J’en suis (comme auteur de mon dictionnaire). Tout cela est bon. Tout cela généralise l’idée. Les concours de poésie Provençale ne cessent pas.21

28The following year, he reassured his friend about the continuing progress of the cause:

  • 22 FM to WBW, Letter 150.

Si certains enthousiasmes sont éteints, certains enthousiasmes reviennent, et à preuve le développement continue, quoique latent, de l’œuvre sainte à laquelle nous vouâmes notre jeunesse. Les 7000 exemplaires de l’Armana sont vendus. La production littéraire est incessante et régulière. Nous avons enfin une Revue spéciale qui a eu beaucoup de souscripteurs, la Revue des Langues Romanes de Montpellier.22

  • 23 FM to WBW, 1st January 1876, Letter 200.

29By 1876, the original seven members’association had dissolved and turned into a much wider, better organised international academy: “Cette année nous allons nous organiser en académie sérieuse, composée de 50 membres, 29 provençaux et 21 catalans. Une assemblée générale aura lieu dans ce but le 21 mai à Avignon”.23 Accordingly, a large-scale ceremony was held on May 21, 1876, during which an improbable insect, la cigale d’Irlande (the Irish cicada), was first seen to shine its silver wings in the proud hands of William Bonaparte-Wyse. More than a hundred and thirty years later, the Félibrige still exists as an association for the propagation of Provençal language and literature, their meetings still regularly take place every May 21, the extraordinary exotic decoration has respectfully been transmitted to new worthy members, yet the name of the Irish troubadour of Provence has somewhat sunk into oblivion among the larger public.

Fig. 13 - Title page of Li Parpaioun Blu (1868), with a foreword by Frédéric Mistral, published in Avignon, Barcelona and Paris, and Wyse’s coat of arms. Palais du Roure, Avignon

Fig. 13 - Title page of Li Parpaioun Blu (1868), with a foreword by Frédéric Mistral, published in Avignon, Barcelona and Paris, and Wyse’s coat of arms. Palais du Roure, Avignon

Fig. 14 - Photograph of William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse c. 1870 with his signature and inscription in Provencal language: “A Frédéri Mistrau. Qu’ieu ame coumo un fraire” (to Frédéric Mistral, whom I love like a brother). Palais du Roure, Avignon

Fig. 14 - Photograph of William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse c. 1870 with his signature and inscription in Provencal language: “A Frédéri Mistrau. Qu’ieu ame coumo un fraire” (to Frédéric Mistral, whom I love like a brother). Palais du Roure, Avignon

Bibliographie

Craig, John D. 1877. Miejour or the Land of the Felibre. London: Nisbet.

Flandreysy, Jeanne de. 1953. “Sous l’égide de Mistral; Un seigneur du Chêne Vert: William Bonaparte-Wyse”. In Reflets de Provence et de la Méditerranée. Avignon: Imprimerie Rullière, n.p.

Lavin, Irving. 2009. Les Filles d’Avignon de Théodore Aubanel et la somme de destructions de Picasso. Avignon: Édition Universitaire d’Avignon.

Liprandi, Claude. 1955. Théodore Aubanel, poète maudit. Avignon: Aubanel.

Maitland, Thomas (Robert Buchanan). 1871. “The Fleshly School of Poetry.” Contemporary Review 18 (2): 334-50.

Meredith, George. 1970. Collected Letters, ed. Clarence L. Cline. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Mistral, Frédéric. 1867. An English Version (the Original Crowned by the French Academy) of Frédéric Mistral’s Mirèio from the Original Provençal, transl. C. H. Grant. Avignon: J. Roumanille.

—. 1868. Mireille: A Pastoral Epic of Provence, transl. Hugh Crichton. London: Macmillan.

Pichot, Amédée. 1867. Untitled articles, Revue Britannique 2 and 9.

—. 1868, Untitled article, Revue Britannique 3.

Thouron, Victor Quintius. 1868. Bibliographie, Le Toulonnais., n.p.

Villeneuve-Esclapon-Vence (Marquis de). 1882. ‘Left out in the Cold’ ou, la préface à Li Piado de la Princesso de W. Bonaparte-Wyse. Plymouth: Isaiah Keys, s.p.

Vitaglione, Daniel. 2001. A Literary Guide to Provence. Athens, OH: Swallow Press and Ohio University Press.

Notes

1 The following abbreviations will be used throughout this paper: WBW for Charles Bonaparte-Wyse, FM for Frédéric Mistral, GM for George Meredith.

2 FM to WBW, 21 October 1865, Letter 57. Letters from FM to WBW are kept at the Palais Roure in Avignon. A typed and referenced catalogue of them is accessible. I thank the curator and staff of the Palais’s library who have assisted me in my research.

3 Ibidem

4 A. Pichot, letter to WBW, 17 May 1868, manuscript at the Palais du Roure, no ref.

5 Rossetti produced at least three versions of this painting, dated 1874, 1877 and 1880, and a sonnet related to it in English and Italian versions.

6 WBW, Letter 178.

7 FM, Letter 12.

8 Ibidem.

9 FM, Letter 28.

10 FM, Letters 54, 62, 168.

11 WBW, Letter 19.

12 FM, Letter 209.

13 FM, Letter 40.

14 FM, Letter 175.

15 FM, Letter 219.

16 E. des Essart to WBW, 17 March 1868.

17 FM to WBW, 3 July 1870 “Vous êtes tout à fait à même de goûter Gautier, et vous devriez le lui écrire.”

18 FM to WBW, 18 February 1878. L. 226.

19 FM to WBW, Letter 50.

20 FM to WBW, Letter 103.

21 FM to WBW, Letter 132.

22 FM to WBW, Letter 150.

23 FM to WBW, 1st January 1876, Letter 200.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 13 - Title page of Li Parpaioun Blu (1868), with a foreword by Frédéric Mistral, published in Avignon, Barcelona and Paris, and Wyse’s coat of arms. Palais du Roure, Avignon
URL http://books.openedition.org/ledizioni/docannexe/image/809/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 60k
Titre Fig. 14 - Photograph of William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse c. 1870 with his signature and inscription in Provencal language: “A Frédéri Mistrau. Qu’ieu ame coumo un fraire” (to Frédéric Mistral, whom I love like a brother). Palais du Roure, Avignon
URL http://books.openedition.org/ledizioni/docannexe/image/809/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 65k

Auteur

She is Maître de Conférence in English at the Université des Antilles et de la Guyane in Martinique. She has contributed to several issues of the Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, to the Journal of William Morris Studies (Summer 2009), edited a volume of critical essays on Morris’s News from Nowhere (2004) and authored La Peinture anglaise (2006). Her broader field of research is Victorian culture.

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