Alphonse de Lamartine - the Frenchman who loved the Bulgarians
The famous French poet Alphonse de Lamartine passed through the Bulgarian lands on his return from a trip to the Orient. On August 2, 1833, the Frenchman entered Philippopolis (old name of Plovdiv) with an escort of five chariots, each with four horses. He is accompanied by several mule guides, as well as six other horses loaded with luggage, a kitchen and boxes of books.
The rumor that a high-ranking diplomat would be staying under the hills quickly spread around the city. Plovdiv residents crowd the streets and windows to see the famous guest. At that time, the French poet, who gained wide fame mostly with his collection of poems "Poetic Reflections", was unknown in Bulgaria. Maybe that's why he introduces himself in our country as Mr. Knight de la Martin. In Plovdiv he was greeted by the local leader Mavridis, who invited the Frenchman to stay at his home. Lamartine is fascinated by the house, which is furnished in European style. He is even more impressed by the garden, which offers "one of the best views in the world". Here the poet spends 4 days in which he receives and returns visits.
On August 6, he left for the north. Shortly afterwards, however, in the village of Vetren in Pazardzhik, he falls ill with dangerous fever and gets blood poisoning. For twenty days he lived between life and death in a rural hut without windows. The people from Vetren show great concern for the foreigner and collect 60 leeches from the nearby swamps, which they place on his chest and temples. The news of Lamartine's illness reached Plovdiv and Mavridis left immediately with a bag of medicines for Vetren, accompanied by a doctor. Later in his writings, the French poet fondly remembers this act of friendship and concern on the part of the Plovdiv rich man of Greek origin.
And maybe his illness is a reason to notice the characteristic features of the Bulgarians. He writes that they are hardworking, humble, full of respect for priests and religion. He says that the men are dressed like the peasants in Germany, and the women's costumes are similar to the Swiss ones. He is impressed by the fact that Bulgarian women do not walk veiled like Turks, see men freely and are distinguished by beauty and grace. The Frenchman also notes that Bulgarians hate Turks who collect taxes in the villages. He came to the realization that the Bulgarians were "fully ripe for their independence", and when he left Bulgaria he said: "I am leaving Yenikoy (Vetren) and his friendly and good peasants with sadness: it was a charming summer stay. The whole village accompanied us to the mountain and filled us with wishes and blessings."
Later, when he returned to France, as a politician he gave speeches in favor of the Bulgarian cause. Despite his sympathy for Turkey, he criticized her government for believing that their policy was "a complete denial of any opportunity for communion, barbarism in all its crude sincerity, the constant and organized assassination of the human race." In his eyes, the Turks are lazy and discouraged people, concentrated mainly in the cities. They make a living by robbing the working-class Christian population.
For many years Lamartine was directly involved in politics, was repeatedly elected deputy, but in 1848 his dream of a republic finally collapsed and he retired to his native lands in the Burgundy region. There he was forced to take up another craft, as he could not make a living just by writing. He became a viticulturist, developed his lands, and began trading in wine. However, his new venture does not bring him profit. One of the reasons for this is his lack of experience as a taster. His passion for the exotic took him back to the Orient after Turkish authorities gave him a valley there.
He left for Turkey with the intention of not returning to his homeland, but after a short stay he left for France again. Although he barely survives, mired in debt, Lamartine stubbornly refuses to sell his possessions to secure a decent annuity. He owned three castles until 1861, when he lost one of them. In 1855 is forced to part with his apartment in Paris. He is left with two castles and a stable with two blind and rheumatic mares. The great poet died in 1869, poor and forgotten by all.
All data about Lamartine's stay in Bulgaria are known thanks to Gaston Sergerar, who conscientiously collected every detail of the poet's visit. Few people know that behind his name is actually one of the best teachers at the French College, Alain. He is the author of many books that glorify Bulgaria and the Bulgarians - "Simeon the Great", "Bulgarian Kings of the Middle Ages", "Bulgarians from the Volga and the Slavs from the Danube". Per Alain dedicated three volumes of writings to French travelers writing about Bulgaria.
In 1923, in Plovdiv, Alliance Française took the initiative to place a memorial plaque on the house where Lamartine visited last century. Representatives of the French government, Bulgarian high schools and the French College in the city led a procession in memory of the poet. The Mauridis House officially became a museum of Lamartine in 1960. In the room where he spent the night, his works, their translations and facsimiles from his book "Journey to the Orient" are exhibited. Portraits with his face hang on the walls. Two years later, Pari Match magazine dedicated a whole page to Lamartine's house in Plovdiv. It is noted that many travelers and writers have visited the museum and that even the doorman of the house has learned a few words in French and three poems by Lamartine to greet guests properly.