André Victor Amédée de Ripert-Monclar (1807–71)
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 3, 321–322.
An intense friendship developed between this French count and RB—the younger of the two by about five years—when Monclar appeared on the Browning family scene in 1834. The intimate association seems to have been highly influential on RB, even though it did not last many years. Monclar was a nephew of the Marquis de Fortia d’Urban, a prolific historical writer, who was a Paris neighbour and friend of RB’s half-uncle William Shergold Browning, through whom Monclar made contact with the London Brownings. Firmly committed to the French Royalist camp, Monclar had held public office from 1828 to 1830 under King Charles X, but resigned when Charles X abdicated in 1830, although he retained the courtesy title of Ancien Magistrat, which appears in the addresses of RB’s letters to him. He was briefly imprisoned for participation in an abortive 1832 insurrection against the then-existing régime. His first visit to England—in 1834—may actually have been a Royalist mission, but outwardly he was just an observant traveller and a student of economics. He first met RB on 1 August 1834. His ample fund of knowledge, along with his background of political intrigue and adventure, appealed to RB, and the two saw each other frequently during the remaining month and a half of Monclar’s stay in London. It is believed that RB’s French was better than Monclar’s English, and that French was therefore the main language of their conversations. Monclar spent several evenings with the Brownings, described them in his journal (SD773) as a family that “me plaît extrêmement” (pleases me extremely), and took special interest in RB’s sister, Sarianna (q.v.). He received a copy of Pauline (Reconstruction, B22), and is credited with prompting RB’s next printed volume, Paracelsus (1835). No doubt RB knew of the early Swiss physician from material in his father’s library, but, according to Sarianna in later years, it was Monclar who suggested Paracelsus’ life as the subject of a major poem. RB dedicated the work to Monclar and, in July 1835, sent him an advance copy (see letter 509 and Reconstruction, C437; also see Appendix IV for Monclar’s comments on the poem, and RB’s response thereto). Another likely result of Monclar’s visit was a heightening of RB’s fondness for Southern Europe. Certainly they shared an interest in that area, as indicated by letter 492. After Monclar’s return to Paris in mid-September 1834, the friendship continued through letters, some of which are published for the first time in this volume. As readers can see, these writings range over many subjects—family, politics, literature, etc. In letter 579, dated 9 August 1837, RB discusses his own development as a poet, with specific mention of Pauline, Paracelsus, Strafford, and the forthcoming Sordello. There are references to an undefined “endeavour” or “project” (letters 492 and 515) that the pair seemingly had in mind. Letters 492, 509, 515, and 521 mention RB’s membership, through Monclar, of the newly-founded Institut Historique (see Reconstruction, H548). It was also through Monclar that RB was able to join another French group, the Société Française de Statistique Universelle (see Orr, p. 68, n. 1, and Reconstruction, H547). RB’s communications with Monclar are, for him, unusually long, and are sprinkled with elaborate expressions of affection. Monclar made at least two more visits to England, in 1837 and 1840. While he is not believed to have seen the Brownings during the later of these, there were numerous contacts with RB and other family members during the first one. On 1 July 1837 RB wrote to Euphrasia Fanny Haworth (q.v.): “I don’t know that I shall leave Town for a month: my friend Monclar grows piteous when I talk of such an event– I can’t bear to leave him; he is to take my portrait to-day (a famous one he has taken!)—and very like he engages it shall be.” (The two sketches are shown facing pp. 256 and 257.) In 1838, Monclar married an Englishwoman, Mary Clementina Jerningham (1810–64), a niece of Lord Stafford. In 1839, Monclar’s father, the Marquis Joseph Auguste de Ripert-Monclar, died, and his son became Marquis. Long involved in matters of finance and economics, Monclar wrote noteworthy pamphlets on those subjects. His relationship with RB seems to have dwindled into the background after the 1837 visit, though RB is known to have given him the first three parts of Bells and Pomegranates (Reconstruction, C241)—the third one being Dramatic Lyrics, which appeared in November 1842. The two did meet again in Rome in 1854. RB wrote to John Forster on 2 April: “I was talking on the Pincian to an acquaintance, when a stranger touched my arm and said in French, ‘Is that you, Robert?’ It was my old friend Monclar, who, after an absence of seventeen years, had recognized my voice (my back being turned).” Before leaving Rome, RB sent Monclar a note (May 1854) mentioning EBB’s delight “in having seen face to face one of whom she had heard so often” and his own “in again seeing the dear affectionate friend of my youth.” Monclar was suffering from a weakened heart at the time of the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), but, with a strong feeling of responsibility, he sent his family to a place of relative safety, then stayed in besieged Paris to stand watch regularly as a member of the civilian guard. He suffered a seizure on the very day of the city’s surrender and died on 3 February 1871. As their association had long ago ceased, it is doubtful that RB was ever aware of Monclar’s death. Monclar’s son, Joseph Anne Amédée François, lived until 1921, leaving a widow who lived until 1936. Monclar was also survived by a daughter, Marie Thérèse Gabrielle Victoire.