Vigny’s fleet

Alfred de Vigny, the author of The Bottle to the Sea (La bouteille à la mer) and La frégate La Sérieuse, was not a man of the sea. He served in the French army – mostly with the royal guard – for thirteen years, never seeing action. His father was a cavalry officer under Louis XV and XVI and was wounded in the Seven-Year war. In contrast to them, Alfred’s maternal grandfather, Didier Honorat de Baraudin, served in the French Navy, retiring before the Revolution with the rank of a rear admiral. Moreover, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, the famous French explorer, was related to Vigny’s maternal grandfather by marriage.

According to René Pomeau:

The Baradins were a family of Piedmontese gentry transplanted to Loches, their nobility confirmed by Francis I. On their side of the family, Bougainville was the grand old man. Vigny would never forget paying a visit – as a young man, together with his parents – to the great seafarer.

Raymond Isay wrote in 1956 (p. 631):

Vigny had met him [Louis-Antoine de Bougainville]. He had heard his stories, read The Voyage of La Boudeuse – and dreamed of its glory above all. Later, he conceived a vast design for a History of the French Navy, soon reduced to a more modest project, a History of the Two Bougainvilles (the son of the great explorer also led an expedition to explore southern seas, during the Restoration). These wishful plans were soon canceled, but the undertaking left its trace. What would The Bottle to the Sea have been – that masterpiece of maritime literature – without the companionship of the Bougainvilles? Is there not a certain affiliation between the frigate Boudeuse and the frigate Sérieuse?

Perhaps, but the Sérieuse was (also) an actual ship that got sunk or scuttled in the Battle of the Nile in 1798, as described in Vigny’s poem.

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