The Objects

7th Jun 1815

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Source: © Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

François-Joseph Kinson. "Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863), en uniforme de gendarme de la maison du roi". Huile sur toile. Paris, musée Carnavalet.

Alfred de Vigny recalls the mud of Flanders

Contributed by: Patrick O'Donovan

For Romantic poet and novelist Alfred de Vigny, the first Restoration was a personal as well as a political milestone: in July 1814, he was commissioned in one of the four corps of the royal household. Though nursing a broken leg, he hastened to Versailles on Napoleon’s return and escorted Louis XVIII into exile, with the Emperor’s lancers in hot pursuit. He was confined to Amiens for the remainder of the 100 Days: Napoleon had reportedly said of the royal guards that ‘they were good fellows who had done their duty, but [he] did not wish to see them in Paris’.

Vigny was to draw on his experience in 'Servitude et grandeur militaires'. The work barely touches on the 100 Days, beyond recalling the torrential rain that marked the King’s flight and the mud of Flanders. Vigny laments his own ‘useless passion for arms’, and proposes a history of his whole generation. Napoleon’s exploits incited those born around 1800 — obsessed, as Vigny says, by the image of an unsheathed sword — to anticipate a future of military glory. The years in which Vigny bore uniform were to be altogether unglorious, though he did receive the Napoleonic Légion d’honneur for his service to the royal household. What Vigny’s work portrays is the stirring, though now residual, grandeur of those who had witnessed and participated in the Imperial wars: the long years of the Second Restoration were to be the period when Napoleon’s fateful hold on the hearts and minds of one generation was finally expiated.


Further information

Vigny was born in 1797 and was seventeen when commissioned. He was already a well-known writer when Servitude et grandeur militaire was first published in 1835; indeed, his literary exploits did him no favours in the eyes of his superiors. A letter to Gustave Planche of June 1832 recalls Louis’s difficult passage through Flanders. Though the novel was one of the first, like Musset’s La Confession d’un enfant du siècle, to depict the legendary ‘mal du siècle’ of the post-Revolutionary generation, it was caustically received in the press of the time.

Servitude et grandeur militaires — the original edition of 1835

Vigny’s military career is documented in the most recent edition of his letters; see Alfred de Vigny, Correspondance, ed. by Madeleine Ambrière, I (Paris: Garnier, 2012), pp. 440–50, where mention is made of his service in the 100 Days. For the fragment of the letter to Planche describing his hazardous progress with the King through Flanders, see Irving Massey, ‘Two unpublished letters of Alfred de Vigny’, Studies in Romanticism, 3, No. 3 (Spring 1964), 186 –89

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