Michel de Montaigne (1533-1571) was a French statesman and courtier who did what he could to reduce hostilities during the French wars of religion. But he is best known for his Essays, which were often introspective, and which influenced many later writers - not least Shakespeare. Sections of Hamlet are basically paraphrases of Montaigne. SG 791 of 1943.
Moliere (1622-1673) was a leading French playwright and actor who wrote some of the greatest European comedies. His most famous plays are The Misanthrope, Tartuffe, The Miser, The Imaginary Invalid, The Bourgeois Gentleman and Don Juan. The last of these was adapted for the libretto of one of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, and ends with Don Juan's servant bemoaning the loss of his unpaid wages as his master is carried off to hell. SG 824 of 1944.
Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was one of the foremost French romantic authors. Outside France, he is best-known for novels like Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (of which there are several film versions, including the famous one of 1939 starring Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda); but he was also a major poet and a dramatist. He spent most of the period of the French Second Empire in exile, settling in Guernsey in 1855 after several years in Belgium and Jersey, after declaring Napoleon III a traitor in 1851. He returned to Paris in 1870. France SG 518 of 1933.
Miguel de Cervantes (born probably in 1547, died in 1616) is best known for Don Quixote, though he wrote a number of other works of fiction, some poetry, and some unsuccessful plays. In 1570 he enlisted in the Spanish marines, and the following year he fought in the Battle of Lepanto in which a Roman Catholic alliance decisively defeated the Ottoman Turkish navy, preventing further Turkish conquests on the North coast of the Mediterranean. This was the last major battle between galleys. Cervantes was feverish at the time of the battle but insisted on fighting and sustained three serious wounds. In 1575 the galley on which he was sailing was overcome by Algerian corsairs, and he was sold into slavery in Algiers. After five years and four attempted escapes, he was ransomed, and he returned to Spain. There he supplemented his meagre earnings as an author by working as a purchasing agent for the Spanish navy, only to be imprisoned after the bank holding his funds collapsed. After this he probably worked in banking for a period. In his last few years he received a pension from a Spanish aristocratic patron, which enabled him to become a full-time writer. He died of type 2 diabetes. Here he is on two 1958 child welfare stamps from the Spanish Sahara.
Last Edit: Jun 16, 2015 14:29:58 GMT -5 by Deleted
Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was one of the most influential novelists of the 19th century. He was well-known for his perfectionism: he said it sometimes took him a week to finish a page, and he could spend hours searching for le mot juste - the exactly right word. As a result, he wrote little compared with many of his contemporaries. His best known novel is his first, Madame Bovary, about a bored doctor's wife who spends beyond her means and engages in various love-affairs. Flaubert was unsuccessfully prosecuted for obscenity and, following his acquittal, the book became a bestseller. (Compare the 1960's UK trial over D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, which did much to boost sales of the novel.) Other major works include Salammbo, a bloodthirsty novel set in ancient Carthage; and L'Éducation Sentimentale (Sentimental education), about the love life of a young man at the time of the 1848 French Revolution, and in particular his passion for an older woman. Flaubert is shown on a 1952 French National Relief Fund stamp, SG 1151.
André Chénier (1752-1794) was one of the most important French poets of the later 18th century. The son of a successful French merchant and consul, with a mother of Greek ancestry, he was born in Constantinople, moving to France when his father returned there. As he grew up, he made up his mind to become a poet, but hardly any of his work was published in his lifetime. In 1787 he moved to London as secretary to the French ambassador to England, an aristocratic friend of his father, but disliked the English, whom he described as unprincipled and willing to sell anything to anyone with the money. In 1790 he returned to France, and became associated with supporters of the monarchy, writing satires on some of the political developments and providing some of the legal arguments used to defend the king. After Louis XVI was executed in January 1793, he retired from public life, but was arrested in March 1794, during the Terror, initially as result of being mistaken for an aristocrat. His brother, who was a revolutionary, did what he could to save him, but without success, partly because Chénier had offended hm in one of his satires. He was guillotined, after 140 days in prison, on 25 July 1794 - one of the last people to be guillotined at Robespierre's instigation, only three days before Robespierre himself fell from power. As a poet, he was heavily influenced by Greek and Roman literature, but for me his best poems by far are those he wrote in his last months in prison - a series of powerful condemnations of the regime which oversaw the Terror, though in some of them he acknowledged some of the faults of the aristocrats. The poems were smuggled out of prison by one of the jailers. When I was in my early twenties, I published a sequence of poems drawing on his last poems. The opera Andrea Chénier by Giordano is loosely based on Chénier's life. Here he is on a French National Relief Fund stamp of 1950, SG 1095.
Alfred de Musset (1810 to 1857) was a French writer today best known for his poetry, though he also wrote an autobiographical novel about his 2-to-3 year liaison with George Sand, a French female novelist and writer of memoirs today remembered largely for her affairs with various famous writers and musicians, including de Musset himself and the composer Chopin. Alfred de Musset appears on a 1951 French National Relief Fund stamp, SG 1113.
Luís de Camões (born about 1525, died in 1580, generally known in the English-speaking world as Camoens) is often regarded as Portugal's greatest poet. He is thought to have fallen in love with members of the Portuguese royal court, and to have been exiled from Lisbon in 1548 partly because of this and partly because of some allusions to the Portuguese king in a play. He then served in the militia in North Africa, losing the sight in one eye in a battle. In 1551 he returned to Lisbon but was imprisoned after wounding a royal servant. He was released but had to pay a hefty fine and serve three years in the militia in India. He stayed on to serve in Macau, where he wrote much of his masterpiece, an epic poem called Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) about the discovery by Vasco da Gama of the sea route to India round the Cape of Good Hope. Accused of malpractice, he was summoned to Goa. En route, he was shipwrecked near the mouth of the river Mekong, saving the manuscript of his epic, while his Chinese lover perished: tradition has it that he swam ashore holding the manuscript above his head. In 1570 he returned to Lisbon, and two years later The Lusiads was published. It was heavily influenced by Virgil and Homer, with many mythical elements. Camoens died on 10 June 1580, and 10 June became the Portuguese National Day.
In 1925 Portugal issued a set of 31 stamps, in 7 designs, to commemorate the quatercentenary of his birth. Three of the designs show the poet holding the manuscript of his poem aloft after his shipwreck, wearing army uniform, and on his deathbed.
Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560) was one of the most important poets of the French Renaissance. Among his poems are Les Regrets (The Regrets), 191 sonnets, many written in Rome where he went as secretary to a Cardinal who was his cousin, and showing homesickness; and Les Antiquités de Rome (The Antiquities of Rome), a series of poems meditating on the greatness and fall of Rome, and translated into English later in the century by Edmund Spenser who wrote the unfinished epic The Faerie Queene. He appears on a French Red Cross Fund stamp of 1958.
Diderot (1713-1784) was a French philosopher and writer. A friend of the philosopher Rousseau, he is best known for being chief editor of a major Encyclopaedia - the first encyclopedia with named contributors and the first to give substantial attention to practical subjects like agriculture, engineering and cooking - and for his novels, which inlude Le Neveu de Rameau (The Nephew of Rameau), a satire on critics of the French Enlightenment (the movement that favoured reason over tradition and authority), and Jacques le Fataliste et son Maître (Jacques the Fatalist and his Master), an experimental, at times bawdy, work. Neither novel was published until after Diderot's death. The Encyclopaedia was particularly controversial for its attempt to treat religion from a rational perspective, and its questioning of the historical accuracy of parts of the Bible. Diderot appears on a 1958 French Red Cross Fund stamp.
Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711), usually known just as Boileau, was a French poet best known for a mock-heroic epic, Le Lutrin; his satires; and a poem on the art of poetry, L'Art Poétique. He was an important influence on the English poet Alexander Pope. He was called to the bar in 1656 but soon gave up law, disgusted by what he regarded as the unfairness of the legal system. In 1657 his father died and his inheritance enabled him to devote himself to writing. He appears on a 1960 French Red Cross Fund stamp.
Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), usually known in English-speaking countries as Petrarch, was an Italian humanist whose rediscovery of the letters of the Roman orator and statesman Cicero did much to establish the Renaissance. He is probably best-known as a poet, in particular for his sonnets which were hugely influential and widely imitated in other languages in the 15th and 16th centuries. Many of his poems were inspired by his love for an unattainable woman called Laura - it is not clear whether she really existed or was a literary fiction. He appears on a French 1956 stamp, SG 1307.
The Swiss-French philosopher and writer Rousseau (1712-1778) did much to popularise the notion of the "noble savage" - the non-European untainted by "civilisation". His sentimental novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (Julie, or the New Heloise) anticipated romanticism in literature. His Confessions were one of the first major modern autobiographies, and are open about his feelings and about moments of weakness. Du Contract Social (The Social Contract) discusses the nature of political and social authority in a commercial age, and helped to inspire political reforms and revolution in Europe: it was a major influence on the early years of the French Revolution. He also wrote about education, and believed that teaching should be adapted to the developmental stage of the child. Partly because he advocated the equal value of all religions, his books were banned in France and Switzerland, and burned in Paris, and he fled to England in 1765, returning secretly to France two years later. In 1770 he was officially allowed to live in France, on condition that he ceased publishing anything. Despite this, he became a respected celebrity in his final years. Less known is the fact that he was also a composer, successful in his day, of operas and other works. He appears on a French stamp of 1756, SG1309.
Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) was one of the great figures of Russian literature and the country's major poet and short-story-writer of the period of romanticism. Although he was born into an aristocratic family, one of his ancestors was Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696-1781), an African who was sold as a child into slavery, ransomed in Constantinople, brought to Russia and presented to Tsar Peter the Great, becoming a favourite. Gannibal possessed considerable military abilities: after a period in exile following Peter the Great's death, he returned to the court and rose to the rank of major-general. Pushkin himself was easily provoked into duels, fighting almost 30, in the last of which (with someone suspected of being his wife's lover) he was mortally wounded. Politically he favoured social reforms, and this led to difficulties with the Tsarist government and periods of exile in the Caucasus and Crimea. He championed Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. Among Pushkin's works are the verse novel Eugene Onegin, later turned into an opera with music by Tchaikovsky; the verse drama Boris Godunov, turned into an opera with music by Mussorgsky; and the short stories The Captain's Daughter and The Queen of Spades. Fearing political demonstrations, the Russian government restricted attendance at his funeral and insisted it take place in a small venue. In 1949 Czechoslovakia issued this stamp for the 150th anniversary of Pushkin's birth.
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) is probably the best-known Russian dramatist. Among his plays are Uncle Vanya, The Seagull (a masterpiece which flopped when it was first performed), The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters. He was also a prolific writer of short stories. Although a major figure in Russian literature, he was also a medical doctor who devoted a lot of time to the poor. His father went bankrupt when Chekhov was 16, and Chekhov started writing sketches for newspapers to help support the family. He died of tuberculosis, from which he suffered for much of his life. This is one of two stamps of identical design which Czechoslovakia issued for the 50th anniversary of his death in 1954.
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) - real name Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto - was the pen name of one of the most important, and prolific, poets of the 20th century. He was a Chilean. Among his best-known works are the passionately erotic 20 Songs of Love and The Heights of Macchu Picchu. In 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Besides his writing, he was active politically - his leanings were towards communism - and was a diplomat. Towards the end of the 1940s he was forced into exile for loudly condemning the savage repression of a miners' strike, and the incarceration of many opponents of the Chilean government. In 1952, still exiled, he stayed in a villa on Capri - the subject of the beautiful film Il Postino which some of you will have seen, I think. He returned to Chile later in 1952. In 1970 he at one stage was a presidential candidate, but withdrew in favour of Allende. He died less than two weeks after Pinochet's coup of September 1973, and his funeral was the occasion for anti-Pinochet demonstrations. Almost immediately afterwards, the regime broke into his house and destroyed papers and books. There were stories that Neruda died after being poisoned by the Pinochet regime, and his body was exhumed in 2013 for investigation, but no traces of poison were found. Here is Neruda on a Czechoslovakia stamp of 1974, issued for the 70th anniversary of his birth.
Last Edit: Aug 22, 2015 10:56:57 GMT -5 by Deleted
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) on a Czechoslovakia stamp of 1981. He is nowadays best-known for his plays, which include St Joan (about Joan of Arc) and Pygmalion (on which the musical My Fair Lady was based). In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature. He originally made his name as a drama and music - he championed Wagner and disparaged Brahms (though in later life he revised his view of Brahms). He was one of the founders of the London School of Economics. Left-wing in politics, he visited the USSR in 1931, met Stalin, and became a supporter of Stalin's regime. He campaigned against smallpox vaccination and vivisection, advocated eugenics, and became a vegetarian (writing, "A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses").
Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was one of the major German poets and philosophers of his time. He features, above a house in Weimar where he lived, on an East German stamp of 1973. He was a pioneer of philology and the study of the history of languages, and an early promoter of the idea that language helps to determine how people think: in other words, that people who speak different languages to some extent see things and think differently. (A very simple illustration of this is that the colour spectrum is divided up somewhat differently in Latin from how it is in most modern languages.) He was a friend of Goethe, and, in later life, a supporter of the French Revolution.
Schiller (1759-1805) on a German stamp of 1926. A friend of Goethe, he was one of the most important poets, dramatists, historians and philosophers of his time. Rossini, Verdi, Donizetti and Tchaikovsky all wrote music for operas based on plays by him. One of his poems was the Ode to Joy of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and others were set to music as Lieder by Schubert and Brahms.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) on a West German stamp of 1961. He was the major author of the German Enlightenment period, and paved the way for Goethe and Schiller. In the English-speaking world he is best known for a play, Nathan the Wise, advocating religious tolerance (and banned under church pressure in his lifetime).
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