He went to Paris in 1840 intending to become a painter but took up writing instead. He wrote verse and plays before turning to writing libretti. His libretto for Mirette was never performed in France but was later performed in English adaptation in London. He wrote the text for Charles Gounod's Mireille (1864) on his own, and collaborated with Eugène Cormon on Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles. However, the majority of his libretti were completed in tandem with Jules Barbier, with whom he wrote the libretti for numerous operas, including Camille Saint-Saëns's Le timbre d'argent (libretto written in 1864, first performed in 1877), Gounod's Faust (1859), Roméo et Juliette (1867), and Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann (1881). As with the other libretti by Barbier and himself, these were adaptations of existing literary masterworks.