Centenary of Léoville L’Homme

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By D. Napal

Lovers of poetry especially that produced in our island will no doubt hail with joy Sunday next, 7th April for on that date, hundred years ago was born in Port Louis, Léoville L’Homme, librarian, teacher, but above all poet of no mean reputation.

At the age of fifteen he entered as apprentice of typography in the printing establishment of Dupuy. His father had been a printer himself in the year of the birth of his illustrious son, had followed the writer’s craft and published in 1880, “La femme: ses droits et ses devoirs”.

It is said that the ambition of being a poet suddenly dawned on Léoville while he was in the workshop composing a romance in verse. Since then he did never ceased to adore the Muse whom he invoked as great poets often do.

“Pour jamais sois ma force,
et ma joie, et mon âme,
Parle moi dans mes nuits.”

Once he had given up typography for journalism, he contributed articles in the Sentinelle, the paper founded by Remy Ollier and which had the honour of unifying the Coloured people. He then wrote for the Argus with Ange Galdemar and Charles Newton who was to be the Editor of the Journal de Maurice for which L’Homme was to write.

In 1883 he became the Editor of the Sentinelle, upon the death of Charles Leal who occupied that office. Three years later he came into clash with Virgil Naz, the proprietor of the Sentinelle and gave up the editorship of that paper. He founded successively Le Droit, La Presse Nouvelle, worked in the Planters Gazette, then founded the Defense. When the Radical was launched in 1898, he contributed articles for that paper. All this time, though taken up with political and journalistic articles he could still find leisure for public talks. In 1908 he founded a literary and historical review, The Mauritiana, whose main characteristic was the prominence given to local history. The Mauritiana, during its three years’ existence did a great deal of good in the field of history. These activities would have been sufficient to tax the time and energies of an ordinary mortal. But Léoville L’Homme always bubbled with energies and had a wonderful capacity for work. He still found time for lecturing on French Literature and working as teacher.

In 1902 he assumed the office of Librarian of the Municipality and consequently abandoned politics and militant journalism.

His manifold activities did not prevent him from devoting himself to poetry. Till the very end his worship of the Muse continued unabated. In 1882 his first collection of verses, Pages en Vers, was published. He sent a copy of his collection to Leconte de Lisle, the famous poet of Reunion who appreciated the efforts of the young poet and discovered in him the germs of future greatness. These verses, as the poet himself was to say later, were meant for private circulation and contained only some 20 pages. A perusal shows that the young poet, aged 26, had experienced the bitterness of deception in love for he says with regret but also without complaint

Comme le flot de sang fige sur la blessure,
La pourpre de soleil brunit à l’occident,
Je marche solitaire, et ma route plus s
ûre,
L’amour ayant pour moi fermé son oeil ardent,
L’illusion se fane et l’amour diminue,
Dans mon coeur est resté le cruel souvenir.

But in these early verses we can discern also the austerity of a Presbyterian who was later to produce the ” Poèmes païens et bibliques” in which occur the song of Buddha, reminiscent of ancient Vedic philosophy.

… la source de l’être.
D’où monte jusqu’au ciel, qui jadis la vit naître.
Pale comme la mort, belle comme une fleur.
La grande illusion, mère de la douleur.

Léoville L’Homme also produced a one-act drame Le Dernier Tribut which unfortunately was not a success as the poet allowed himself to give too free a vent to his lyrical flights. Le Dernier Tribut deals with the Combat de Grand Port, and contains some passages depicting noble patriotic sentiments.

In Soir Rustique which is reminiscent of Gray’s Elegy in a country churchyard, he depicts the humble life of the labourers as the following few lines show:

Les Indiens tardifs, la pioche sur l’épaule,
Chargés de rameaux secs, d’herbe, ou de quelque gaule,
Emergent du Vallon plus ombreux qu’un ravin.
Nus, baignés d’or, jouant autour de leurs cahutes
De beaux enfants rieurs en syllabes de flûtes,
Fait de l’humaine voix l’écho d’un chant divin.”

We can here unfortunately give but a brief account of L’Homme’s poetry. Suffice it to say that he was a great admirer of classical French poetry and devoted his lifetime to its pursuit.

In his death in 1908 Mauritius lost a poet, a journalist and a politician who had honoured his native soil.

4th Year – No 139
Friday 5th April 1957


* Published in print edition on 28 February 2020

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