Félix Arnaudin, C.1870
Picture by Adolphe Terpereau
30 May 1844
|Died||6 December 1921
|Occupation||poet and photographer|
Simon Arnaudin, better known as Félix Arnaudin (30 May 1844 – 6 December 1921), born and deceased at Labouheyre, in the Landes département, was a French poet and photographer, and a specialist in Haute-Lande folklore. In Gascony, M. Arnaudin created his collection of tales by attending gatherings, as well as at marriages and at various agricultural festivals. He left 3,000 photos at the Musée d'Aquitaine in Bordeaux.
Félix Arnaudin was the first to observe Haute-Lande as a native people. He can be said to be at the same time linguist, folklorist, historian, ethnologist, photographer and writer. He became famous studying the folklore of the Landes of Gascony, at that time in full economical and social transition. His work is centered on recording Gascon language fairy tales and songs; on land, habitations, shepherd and peasants photography. He thus consecrated his life to save this heritage from fading into oblivion. His natal house became a photo exhibit managed by the Labouheyre commune.
His family of poor land owners settle at Labouheyre, in the Monge district, where he is to be born and die seventy-seven years later. His formation at the Mont-de-Marsan college is the foundation of an erudition precious for his works. After earning his diploma and coming back to Labouheyre, he cannot find any work related with his knowledge and desires. Living from the wages of a few métairies, he does not hold any employment for long. At the age of thirty, still single, he decides to focus on his passion: witness the shepherd culture of the Haute Lande, which is to be destroyed by economical changes. Being considered an eccentric by his fellow, he his called Lou Pèc (the madman, in gascon).
Driven by the love of his country, he gain at the same time rational and scientific manners to his research. He thus travel Haute Lande from end to end, often on bicycle, to interrogate its inhabitants, using forms. He apply the same thoroughness to the making of inquiry notes and photo directories.
He is a pioneer in describing with photos the Haute Lande and its remarkable aspects. The result is unique for its importance (several thousands of glass plates) and its diversity, on which he made himself a great artistic operator and a rigorous observer.
He focus on collecting the entirety of the cultural fund of the "real Lande", recording tales, proverbs, songs, words of the gascon language, notes on history, archaeology and ecology of this territory. He only managed to publishing a few fragments of this titan work during his lifetime in the form of three low audience publications:
- Contes Populaires (Popular Tales, 1887)
- Chants Populaires (Popular Songs, 1912)
- Choses de l’Ancienne Grande-Lande, (Things from the Ancient Grand Lande, printed a few time before his death)
However, those collections are only the result of an immense work of which several dozens of manuscripts and numerous photos are witness (Landes' shepherd on stilts, peasants in a farm, etc.)
On 30 January 1921, a few months before his own death, he wrote the following lines:
- "In my poor life of savage dreamer, however anxious of our local past, I received few encouragements; indifference and mockery, a bit on all sides, willingly took their place".
Fans and heirs begin, at the beginning of the 1960, to take interest on this legacy, of which they make new volumes, among which tales, the Gascon dictionary of the Grand Landes, two volumes of songs and proverbs, unique testimonies of this disappeared world. In 1979, all the manuscripts of Félix Arnaudin are donated by his heirs to the Parc naturel régional des Landes de Gascogne. Today, this folklorist and his work has been made available, thanks to the éditions Confluences publishing of his Œuvres Complètes (complete works), in 9 volumes Gascon/French (among them a general index and a Gascon/French dictionary) made by the scientific council of the Parc naturel régional des Landes de Gascogne.
- "On 6 December 1921 died, in his house at Monge in Labouheyre, a desperate man. Félix Arnaudin was sure to have failed his mission which justified his existence. We know now that he succeeded. He gave back its honour to a slandered country which without him would have been despoiled of its memory. He saved, of this country, much more than is ordinarily possible to steal from time. He won the majority of his impossible fight against death. Death would have only won the last victory: Félix Arnaudin won, but we cannot tell him."
Félix Arnaudin comes from what is now the Landes forest but, on his time, was a mosaic of forest (of oak trees and pine trees), fields, and bare moors; on which some 650,000 sheep grazed. This country was then living under a pastoralism system, which would be broken in the middle of the 19th century by forestry. The symbolic date of this revolution is the 19 June 1857 law, on the improvement of the Landes, which stimulate communes to sell or plant trees on the Common land, and ultimately signified the end of the old pastoral system in that area.
- Edwin Sidney Hartland. The Science of Fairy Tales. An Inquiry into Fairy Mythology. Project Gutenberg.
- "Félix Arnaudin". Fipa. Retrieved 30 may 2010.
- Félix Arnaudin natal house
- Thousands of entries, collected in his thousands of pages long nine tomes of his comprehensive works, were published from 1994 to 2007 by the parc naturel régional des Landes de Gascogne and éditions Confluences
- From François Lalanne in Félix, general index of the complete works of Félix Arnaudin. Edited by François Lalanne, Parc naturel régional des Landes de Gascogne, éditions Confluence, 2007, pp 9 to 14
- "Dans ma pauvre vie de rêveur sauvage, toutefois anxieux de notre passé local, je n'ai guère reçu d'encouragements ; l'indifférence et les railleries, un peu de tous côtés, en ont volontiers pris la place"
- "Le 6 décembre 1921 s'éteignait, dans sa maison du Monge à Labouheyre, un homme désespéré. Félix Arnaudin était sûr d'avoir échoué dans la mission qui justifiait son existence. Nous savons aujourd'hui qu'il avait réussi. Il a rendu son honneur à un pays calomnié, et qui eût sans lui été spolié de sa mémoire. Il a sauvé, de ce pays, beaucoup plus que ce qu'il est ordinairement possible d'arracher au temps. Il a gagné l'essentiel de son impossible combat contre la mort. La mort aura seulement remporté la dernière manche : Félix Arnaudin a réussi, mais nous ne pourrons pas le lui dire." Jacques Sargos, Félix Arnaudin, imagier de la Grande Lande