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'Ceci, mon cher papa, l'est pas une lettre...' Letters to his father from Auguste Breal [1868-1941] artist and critic
'Ceci, mon cher papa, l'est pas une lettre...' A French undergraduate, Auguste Breal at Christ's College, Cambridge in 1893 writes home to his father about his life there in a lively -and legible! - correspondence of c. 50 + letters. Later Breal became first, a painter and then a prominent writer on art. His father, Michel was a leading philologist, author of 'Semantics', a groundbreaking work in the field of language studies. Auguste begins in January 1893 [when he is twenty four] promising to write down every day what he has done, seen or thought and from that beginning Auguste's correspondence continues, sometimes signing off only to be taken up again as some new event or thought strikes him. From the start he writes that his letters will be 'beaucoup plus intime que... nos conversations a la maison' and he expects that some of the things he writes about will displease his father. The first letter recounts his journey [penible] across the Channel to England on a freezing, snowy winter's day and his eventual arrival in pleasant lodgings in Cambridge very close to Christ's College where he will be studying. He meets with 'Peile[ i.e. John Peile, philologist] whom he finds 'aimable'. He writes about going about in 'cap and gown'. He sends his love to all his friends back home including 'Schwob' i.e Marcel Schwob, the writer and 'Clo', his sister who had recently married Romain Rolland, the dramatist. Auguste writes about this new world of Cambridge, finding the food good and abundant, the other students, examples of their slang, admitting to feelings of homesickness, asking for things to be sent to him [including gym shoes]. Cambridge is the coldest place he has ever known. From the beginning he seems uneasy about his studies. We have the feeling that he is in Cambridge studying Hindustani to please his father, the prominent linguist. He often tells his father what he has been reading as if to demonstrate his commitment to the subject but eventually his discontent will lead him to give up the course and turn to the life of art. He often ends a letter only to make a lengthy addition as something else occurs to him. He writes about 'Browne' [Edward Granville Browne, 1862-1926] a linguist and professor at the age of only 30 whom Auguste calls an 'extraordinary' man. In conversation with Auguste he says, 'I cannot like my countrymen, they have too much common sense'. The remark Auguste renders in English. He mentions 'Neil', too [Robert Alexander Neil, classical scholar 1862-1901] with whom he is also impressed. He discovers that several professors have read Zola's 'La Debacle' [novel concerning the Franco Prussian War] with an atlas to hand so that they can follow the events of the book. At one point he writes that his father may be surprised that Auguste has not yet quarrelled with anyone [suggestive of a quick temper?] then goes on to relate a story of a confrontation with another student in a boat house [which ended in making a new friend]. Auguste's lack of enthusiasm for his studies continues. He complains to his father that it is not his fault if he is 'bohemian, nomadic..' He outlines his timetable of study but it is clear that the academic life is not for him. He writes of making the acquaintance of a pretty, young blonde – a Canadian. Clearly, his relationship with his father is easy enough to discuss women. He learns to play 'fives'. During a visit to London he has an attack of the 'spleen' and ends up crying in the street. He visits the National Gallery [which seems to do very little for his mood]. He hates England and the English. Soon it will be his birthday and he recalls his eighteenth which he spent in Oxford with his friend George Guieysse [George killed himself in 1889, a brilliant scholar in the field of philology – like Auguste's father - and a bright academic future cut tragically short]. He is delighted with photographs of Raphael paintings which he receives through the post. Later, he writes that he meets, by chance a woman who reminds him of a Burne Jones painting and the woman reveals that she was the model for the painting. More and more he seems opporessed by his studies in ancient languages. He writes that his natural instinct is 'vagobondage'. Throughout the correspondence one feels this strong current of restlessness. In one letter he has done a little sketch of a man he met out at dinner and who struck him as a fascinating character. Towards the end of the correspondence he announces his intention to become a painter. He realises that his father will take the news badly but Auguste's mind is made up and he goes into a long explanation of his feelings and new found ambition. The happiness he feels at his liberation is palpable from his studies of ancient languages, an undertaking he has tried to make a success of for his father's sake. In one letter he mentions being introduced to and dining with 'Middleton' [John Henry Middleton [1846-1896, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum]. This lively sequence of letters illustrate not only the intellectual development of the young Auguste Breal but also at the same time paint a lively picture of Cambridge undergraduate life in the 1890's.
Author Christ's, Cambridge in 1893
Binding no binding
Condition Very good
Pages 200 plus