Alphonse de Lamartine

1790 (Mâcon, France) – 1869 (Paris)

A major Romanticist poet, Lamartine also helped end slavery and the death penalty in France. Arago was a political colleague. Dumas père, Musset, Vigny, Sainte-Beuve and Hugo were fellow-members of Nodier’s salon, Nodier, Sainte-Beuve and (especially) Hugo corresponding after he retreated to Mâcon. He met Chateaubriand (another grandee politician) when visiting London, while Dickens visited him in Paris. He admired Balzac, whose works had sustained him through an illness, while Mistral (gratefully) and Pélissier both dedicated works to him. Liszt stayed with him, but was embarrassed by his marital arrangements.

François-René de Chateaubriand

1768 (Saint-Malo, France) – 1848 (Paris)

Chateaubriand’s romances and poetry kick-started French literary romanticism. As a young writer he met Chenier and befriended Joubert, whose collected aphorisms he later published. He witnessed Dumas’ wedding, was friends with Rossini, and supportive of Lamartine. He dined with his neighbour Arago, disillusioned political comrades, and befriended Sainte-Beuve, who wrote about him, and attended private readings the old man gave of his memoirs. Hugo, who had revered him from youth, became a lifelong friend and correspondent, and wrote touchingly of his last years, visiting the paralysed poet on his deathbed.

Jean-Antoine Chaptal

1756 (Nojaret, France) – 1832 (Paris)

Chaptal’s development of industrial chemistry in France lies at the heart of a much broader programme of influential progressive reforms. He was a senior member of Berthollet and Laplace’s Société d’Arcueil, and succeeded Berthollet at the École Polytechnique. He appointed Vauquelin as director of the school of pharmacy, provoked Thénard’s development of cobalt blue pigment, and was among those Carnot worked with to get enlightened technical policies enacted. Berthollet, Monge and Laplace were particularly close friends, visiting him at the château he restored where he produced beet sugar and eau-de-vie.

Lazare Carnot

1753 (Nolay, France) – 1823 (Magdeburg, Germany)

Franklin was a fellow-student of engineering. He helped his friends the Montgolfiers in their ballooning experiments, and worked with Fulton on naval steam-power, trying also to get his submarine commissioned. Berthollet, Fourcroy and Chaptal helped him put technical strategies in place. Monge (who originally taught him) and he had a close and friendly professional relationship, founding the École Polytechnique together — Carnot the technocrat, Monge the great teacher; Fourier was another colleague. Hegel visited him in exile, while he helped the Humboldts revolutionise Prussian technical and scientific education.

Natalia Ginzburg

1916 (Palermo, Sicily) – 1991 (Rome)

Ginzburg’s friendships with the writers Calvino, Pavese, Soldati and Levi all originated from their connections with the publisher Einaudi, in the years following WWII: Pavese had helped found the firm, and with Ginzburg turned down Levi’s first book (later republished by them). Levi nonetheless became a long-term friend.

Joseph Addison

1672 (Milston, England) – 1719 (London)

Addison is noteworthy for his extremely influential journalistic collaborations with Steele (a classic partnership of opposites: Addison quiet and scholarly, Steele noisily confident). He first met Swift in Ireland, and addressed a poem to Dryden, who became a friend. Leibniz was met in Berlin – Addison later wrote seeking a drawing of a bison. Tonson helped preside over the camaraderie that bound a notable literary gang together. Montagu wrote a criticism of his hit play ‘Cato’ that he asked her not to publish, though he adopted most improvements she suggested. Pope, a former friend (introduced by Steele), later satirised him.

Aimé Césaire

1913 (Basse-Pointe, Martinique) – 2008 (Fort-de-France)

Senghor, met on his second day studying in Paris, took him under his wing, becoming a great friend. He said meeting Breton a few years later in Martinique was as important: Breton and he exchanged poems for their respective reviews for several years. He was Fanon’s inspirational mentor and friend, Glissant perhaps also being taught by him (accounts differ.) He founded one black literary review with Damas and Senghor, another with Alioune Diop, Niger and Tirolien, and yet another with Ménil and Maugée. Soyinka was met at a literary conference in Dakar, while Leiris was a close friend in Paris.

Aimé Césaire knew…