Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve

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Saint Beuve redirects here. For the eponymous saint, see Beuve, Abbess of Saint Pierre de Reims.
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
Born (1804-12-23)23 December 1804
Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
Died 13 October 1869(1869-10-13) (aged 64)
Occupation Literary critic
Language French
Nationality French
Alma mater Collège Charlemagne
Notable work(s) Port-Royal

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (French: [sɛ̃t bœv]; 23 December 1804, in Boulogne-sur-Mer – 13 October 1869, in Paris) was a literary critic of French literature.

Personal and public life[edit]

Early years[edit]

He was born in Boulogne, educated there, and studied medicine at the Collège Charlemagne in Paris (1824–27). In 1828, he served in the St Louis Hospital. Beginning in 1824, he contributed literary articles, the Premier lundis of his collected Works, to the newspaper Globe, and in 1827 he came, by a review of Victor Hugo's Odes et Ballades, into close association with Hugo and the Cénacle, the literary circle that strove to define the ideas of the rising Romanticism and struggle against classical formalism. Sainte-Beuve became friendly with Hugo after publishing a favourable review of the author's work but later had an affair with Hugo's wife, which resulted in their estrangement. Curiously, when Sainte-Beuve was made a member of the French Academy in 1845, the ceremonial duty of giving the reception speech fell upon Hugo


Sainte-Beuve published collections of poems and the partly autobiographical novel Volupté in 1834. His articles and essays were collected the volumes Port-Royal and Portraits littéraires.

During the rebellions of 1848 in Europe, he lectured at Liège on Chateaubriand and his literary circle. He returned to Paris in 1849 and began his series of topical columns, Causeries du lundi ('Monday Chats') in the newspaper, Le Constitutionnel. When Louis Napoleon became Emperor, he made Sainte-Beuve professor of Latin poetry at the Collège de France, but anti-Imperialist students hissed him, and he resigned.


After several books of poetry and a couple of failed novels, Sainte-Beuve began to do literary research, of which the most important publication resulting is Port-Royal. He continued to contribute to La Revue contemporaine.

Port-Royal (1837–1859), probably Sainte-Beuve's masterpiece, is an exhaustive history of the Jansenist abbey of Port-Royal-des-Champs, near Paris. It not only influenced the history of religious belief, i.e., the method of such research, but also the philosophy of history and the history of esthetics.

He was made Senator in 1865, in which capacity he distinguished himself by his pleas for freedom of speech and of the press. According to Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, "Sainte-Beuve was a clever man with the temper of a turkey!" In his last years, he was an acute sufferer and lived much in retirement.

One of Sainte-Beuve's critical contentions was that, in order to understand an artist and his work, it was necessary to understand that artist's biography. Marcel Proust took issue with this notion and refuted it in a set of essays, Contre Sainte-Beuve ("Against Sainte-Beuve"). Proust developed the ideas first voiced in those essays in À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time).


  • Tableau de la poésie française au seizième siècle (1828)
  • Vie, poésies et pensées de Joseph Delorme (1829)
  • Les Consolations (1830) (poetry)
  • Volupté (1835) (novel)
  • Port-Royal (1840–1859)
  • Les Lundis (1851–1872)
  • Causeries du lundi, 15 vols. (1851–1862)
  • Nouveaux Lundis (1863–1870)
In English
  • English Portraits (NY: Holt, 1875), a selection from Causeries du lundi
  • William Sharp, ed., William Matthews and Harriet W. Preston, translators, Essays on Men and Women (London, 1890)
  • Arthur John Butler, trans., Select Essays of Sainte-Beuve (London, 1895)
  • E. J. Trechmann, trans., Causeries du lundi, 8 vols. (New York, 1909–11)


  • Harold George Nicolson, Sainte-Beuve (London: Constable, 1957)
  • Roger L. Williams, Gaslight and Shadow: The World of Napoleon III (NY: Macmillan, 1957), Ch. 5: "Sainte-Beuve, Sultan of Literature".

External links[edit]