Letter to Alphonse de Lamartine

  • Victor Hugo

  • 24 June 1862
  • Handwritten letter, ink on blue paper
  • MVHP MS a41n°36
  • Victor Hugo’s home, Paris

Testimony to their friendship and mutual admiration, this letter from Victor Hugo to Alphonse de Lamartine –one of the five which the museum holds - evokes the deep convictions and ambitions which influenced the writing of Les Misérables.
My illustrious friend,
If being radical is the ideal, yes I am radical. Yes, from all points of view, I understand, I want and I call for more; more, although denounced by the proverb, is not less. Yes, a society which accepts poverty, yes, a religion which accepts hell, yes a humanity which accepts war, seems to me to be a society, a religion and a humanity which is inferior, and what I am seeking is a higher society, a higher humanity and a higher religion; a society without a king, a humanity without borders, a religion without a book. Yes I fight the priest who sells lies and the judge who delivers injustice Universalising property, which is the opposite of abolishing it, by eliminating parasitism, namely, for this purpose putting an end to: all owners and masters, that for me is the true social and political economy. I’ll come to the point and summarise. Yes, as long as man is permitted to wish, I wish to eradicate human adversity; I condemn slavery, I seek to drive out poverty, I inform ignorance, I treat illness, I light up the night, I hate hatred.
       That is what I am, and that is why I wrote Les Misérables.
       To my way of thinking, Les Miserables is nothing more than a book based on fraternity, with progress as its pinnacle.
       Now judge me. Literary competition between men of letters is ridiculous, but political and social debate between poets, that’s to say between philosophers, is serious and fruitful. You obviously want what I want, for the most part at least; you just perhaps wish for a gentler slope. As for me, while strongly rejecting violence and reprisals, I acknowledge that, seeing so much suffering, I would opt for the shortest route.
       Dear Lamartine, a long time ago, in 1820, my first stuttering adolescent poetry was a cry of enthusiasm in the light of your dazzling dawn rising on the world. That page is part of my works, and I love it; it is there with many others which extol your splendour and your genius. Today you think that your turn has come to talk about me; that makes me proud. We have loved each other for forty years, and we are not dead; you will not want to spoil either this past, or this future, I am sure. Make what you will of my book and me. Nothing can come out of your hands but light.
                 Your Old friend Victor Hugo