On this day in 1802 the French novelist Victor Marie Hugo was born. His father was an officer in the French army. These were interesting times – Napoleon had been in power for two years when he was born and the Battle of Waterloo took place when he was 13.
Young Victor saw many places due to his father’s postings with the army. After he married, the family was beset by tragedy, when his daughter was drowned in a boating accident aged 20.
A devastated Victor wrote several heart rending poems – here is one, Demain, dès l’aube:
Tomorrow, at dawn, the moment daylight touches the land,
I will leave. You see, I know that you wait for me.
I will go through forest, I will go across the mountains.
I cannot rest far from you for long.
I will trudge on, my eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Without seeing outside of myself, without hearing any sound,
Alone, unknown, back bent, hands crossed,
Sad, and the day for me will be like the night.
I will not look upon the golden sunset as night falls,
Nor the sailboats from afar that descend on Harfleur,
And when I arrive, I will place on your grave
A bouquet of green holly and heather in bloom.
Victor Hugo became a national treasure during his lifetime and the Avenue d’Eylau where he lived was renamed Avenue Victor Hugo. Letters to him were thenceforth addressed: ‘To M. Victor Hugo, In his Avenue, Paris’. It would be a poor French town today that does not have a street bearing his name. When he died, two million people joined his funeral procession from the Arc de Triomphe to the Pantheon.
Today I reflect on the ability to love: to recognise the feeling and be able to show it.