Pierre Jean De Beranger, a French lyric poet, born in Paris, Aug. 19, 1780, died there, July 16, 1857. His father was bookkeeper to a grocer, and married a milliner, the daughter of a tailor of the name of Champy, who kept a small shop in the rue Montorgueil. Here the future bard came into the world, which fact he commemorated in one of his most sprightly songs, Le tailleur et la fee. He sprang thus from the people, and in spite of the particle de, which, owing to his father's prejudice, remained prefixed to his patronymic, he never missed an opportunity of proclaiming his plebeian birth. Je suis vilain, et tres vilain, is the burden of one of his earliest songs. In 1789 he was sent to a school in the faubourg St. Antoine; and from the roof of the house he witnessed the taking of the Bastile by the people, which made a deep impression upon his mind, as appears from a song, Le quatorze juillet, written 40 years later. His father, unable to pay his board at school, sent him, without previous notice, to a sister, a widow without children, who kept a small inn near Pe-ronne, in Picardy. Under the guidance of this worthy woman, Pierre received lessons intended to make him a good man and a thorough republican.
His republicanism was also developed by the training to which he was submitted at a school established by M. Ballue de Bel-langlise, who had been formerly a member of the legislative assembly, and who was, according to Beranger himself, a sort of republican Fenelon, and a true philanthropist. In this school the boys were formed into a kind of democratic association, and elected officers, such as mayor, councillors, and justices of the peace. They debated political questions; on important occasions speeches were publicly delivered by the young politicians, and more than once they sent up addresses to the convention and to Robespierre. Beranger distinguished himself as a clear and cogent speaker. Patriotism, which, as he says, was the great if not the only passion of his life, was already burning in the heart of the boy, and he feelingly narrates his emotions when he heard of the victories or the reverses of the French armies. When the time came for him to learn a trade, he entered the printing office of Lainez, a bookseller, and was treated with great kindness by him. Beranger did not acquire marked proficiency as a printer, but showed an inclination to poetry, and made at that time some rough attempts at rhyme.
Toward the end of 1796 he was called back to Paris by his father, who was then engaged in stockjobbing and financiering speculations, as well as in Bourbon conspiracies, and was known as the "banker of the royalists." Young Beranger became the assistant of his father, and evinced much tact and ability in the business. But in 1798 the firm failed, and the young man found himself in very straitened circumstances. "My poverty," he says, "was not barren of pleasure. I lived in an attic on the boulevard St. Martin, and the most magnificent sight opened before my eyes. I had no money, no hope, no prospect of fortune, it is true; but I was free from all the trouble and disgust connected with the business in which I had been engaged against my taste and feelings. To live alone and make verses at my ease, I considered to be true happiness." Friendship and love contributed to embellish his life; and, as far as his slender means would allow, he heartily joined in popular amusements. Graceful remembrances of that time are to be traced in several of his pieces, such as Le grenier and Mon habit. This careless life lasted several years, during which he sketched the projects of many great works, and wrote some poems and several comedies, two of which were five-act plays.
At the end of 1803 starvation stared him in the face; his watch and other valuables had been pawned long ago; his clothing was in the poorest condition, and none of his friends were well enough off to offer him relief. In this extremity he wrote a letter to Lucien Bonaparte, brother of the first consul, sending him, as specimens of his literary attainments, two poems, Le retablissement du culte and Le deluge. It was the only instance of solicitation in a long life of independence. Lucien answered him kindly, invited him to an interview, and when he was compelled to leave France authorized the young poet to receive his pension as a member of the French institute, amounting to nearly $200. The next year, 1805, Beranger was engaged by the painter Landon to write the notices for the Annales du musee, an illustrated publication, giving outline engravings of the great paintings in the Louvre gallery. This added for two years $350 to his annual income, and enabled him to help his father and contribute to the comfort of his grandmother, who had been entirely ruined.
In 1809, being introduced to Fontanes, the grand master of the imperial university, by his friend Arnault, he was appointed to an office worth about $200, which salary was gradually increased to $400. Be-ranger's life now began to take a more regular shape, and his talent to flow in its proper channel. He had occasionally written songs, mostly of a gay turn, as they were designed to enliven his joyous meetings with his friends whom he visited at Peronne; but he was not conscious that the writing of songs was his true calling, and would ultimately secure him durable fame. At this time, however, he began to pay more attention to lyrical poetry, and to feel that it might be made to take rank as one of the higher branches of literature. Some of the pieces which he wrote during the following years, being circulated in manuscript, created a sensation - Le senateur, Le petit homme gris, Les gueux, Le roi d'Yvetot, among the number. This success procured for him the acquaintance of Desaugiers, the well known song writer of the time, and a very kind-hearted man.
Desaugiers took a decided fancy for his young competitor, and prevailed upon him to become a member of the celebrated club Le caveau, which had been reestablished about 1811. The disasters of 1814 and 1815, and the two invasions of France by European armies, caused a bitter pang to the patriotic heart of Beranger, and contributed to give a new and higher direction to his poetical vein. He became the popular, or rather the truly national bard of France. His shafts were chiefly directed against the Bourbons, and he was not conspic-uous for his opposition to the Napoleonic dynasty. The first volume of Beranger'a songs was published in 1815. It contained few political pieces, but its popularity excited suspicion in the administrative department in which Beranger was employed, and a recommendation to stop such publications for the future was addressed to him by his chief. But Beranger was now fairly launched on his new course and paid no attention to this notice. He went on to produce new pieces, which, like their predecessors, were at first extensively circulated by singing. They were published in book form in 1821, Beranger having resigned his office before issuing the volume. The sale was immense, and the songs resounded all over the country.
Judicial proceedings directed against the poet only added to his popularity and promoted the diffusion of the volume. Brought before the courts, he was sentenced to three months' imprisonment and a fine of 500 francs. This gave a powerful impetus to his inspiration; new songs issued from the jail, and were repeated from one end of France to the other. Beranger had become a political power. A third volume, which appeared in 1825, though scarcely less bold than the preceding, was treated with more forbearance by the government; but the fourth, published in 1828, was severely dealt with, the author being imprisoned nine months and fined 10,000 francs. Tins w;ts the most brilliant period of his career. Beeranger had secured great influence among chiefs of the opposition party; his advice was sought for and respected; his known disinterestedness, his freedom of speech, which was always united with the utmost courtesy, his want of personal ambition, his generous disposition, and his marked sympathy for young men, endeared him to all, and peculiarly to the inferior classes.
He aided, through his songs, in bringing about the revolution of 1830, and took an active part with his friendsLafitte and Lafayette in placing Louis Philippe upon the throne, hut refused all the appointments proffered by the king and his ministers. He desired to live as a philosopher, contented with the little income secured by the sale of his songs, and preserving his personal independence. His fifth volume was published in 1833. Although he acted as if willing to be forgotten, there was no abatement in his popularity during the reign of Louis Philippe; and when the revolution of February, 1848, broke out, the name of Beranger was still among the brightest in the eyes of the people. He was returned by the votes of more than 200,000 electors to the constituent assembly, hi acknowledgment of the honor, he took his seat, and then sent in his resignation. His last years were passed in retirement, amid his intimate friends; but the admiration which he inspired drew around him numerous visitors, whom he tried to avoid by living as privately as possible in various villages or provincial towns. On the news of his last illness, the street in which he lived, at Passy, was filled by a multitude of persons anxious to show their sympathy for him.
His death threw a veil of sorrow not only over Paris, but over all France; and his funeral was attended by a host of mourners. His songs have been reprinted under every possible form, and millions of copies have been circulated among all classes of Frenchmen. They are familiar even to those who are unable to read. Besides the songs published by Beranger himself, he left 92 songs written from 1834 to 1851, and a memoir of himself, which were published a few months after his death. The autobiography is admirable, and furnishes convincing evidence that in him simplicity, honesty, and goodness of heart were united to genius. - See Beranger et son temps, by Jules Janin (Paris, 1866).