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The Bouzingo was the name given to a group of minor Romantic poets, novelists, and artists active in France during the 1830s. They were associated with the Petit cénacle and the Jeune-France and were given an tremendous amount of attention in the contemporary press, which was at that time in the early stages of becoming a mass medium. Its members were Petrus Borel, Gérard de Nerval, Théophile Gautier, Philothée O'Neddy, Xavier Forneret and Aloysius Bertrand.

Their history is told in great detail in the doctoral thesis Pétrus Borel: Background, Reception and Interpretation (1999) by Erik S. Bovee:

"Petrus Borel was a minor, French Romantic author who was involved with a small group of artists, the 'Petit cénacle', writing and working in early 1830s Paris. They styled themselves on the more famous 'Cénacle', but were more than imitators of the great names of the Romantic movemement. Members of the 'Petit cénacle', which included the young Gautier and Nerval, took their cues from the major figures of the movement, but often pushed the enthusiasm for aesthetic reform, the colorful exoticism and the rebelliousness of Romanticism far beyond what the major figures were willing to attempt. The 'Petit cénacle' became associated in the mind of the public with a small number of groups of political and artistic militants, whose period of greatest activity coincided with the upheaval in the few years following the July Revolution, and with the Romantic battles in the theatre. Borel's group was often confused with the bousingos, a species of young political conspirator, and was at times synonymous with the jeunes-France, young men whose Romantic and medievalist literary pretensions were often nuanced with Utopian socialism or republicanism."


Etymology and origins

"The bousingo was the subject of twelve articles running in the Le Figaro, beginning in February 1832, and ending in February of 1833." (Pétrus Borel: Background, Reception and Interpretation, Erik S. Bovee).

An early English language description of the movement can be found in Vie de Bohème, A Patch of Romantic Paris:

The origin of the term Bousingot has been a matter of dispute among French writers. Philibert Audebrand in his memoir of Léon Gozlan says it was invented by that brilliant journalist to satirize the young republican enthusiasts of 1832 in the Figaro. Charles Asselineau in his "Bibliographie Romantique" says that after some hilarious souls had been arrested for singing too loudly in the streets "Nous avons fait du bousingo"—bousingo being the slang for "noise"—it became a popular designation for the more furious Romantics. The matter seems to be settled more or less in Asselineau's manner by a passage in the letter written by Philothée O'Neddy to Asselineau after the publication of the "Bibliographie Romantique" to give a more correct account of the second cénacle.

Baudelaire also mentions the bouzingo in passing. Baudelaire, in L'Art romantique, says of him::

"Without Pétrus Borel, there would have been a lacuna in Romanticism. In the first phase of our literary revolution the poet's imagination turned especially to the past.... Later on its melancholy took a more decided, more savage, and more earthy tone. A misanthropical republicanism allied itself with the new school, and Pétrus Borel was the most extravagant and paradoxical expression of the spirit of the Bousingots.... This spirit, both literary and republican, as opposed to the democratic and bourgeois passion which subsequently oppressed us so cruelly, was moved both by an aristocratic hate, without limit, without restriction, without pity, for kings and the bourgeoisie, and by a general sympathy for all that in art represented excess in colour and form, for all that was at once intense, pessimistic, and Byronic; it was dilettantism of a singular nature, only to be explained by the hateful circumstances in which our bored and turbulent youth was enclosed. If the Restoration had regularly developed in glory, Romanticism would have never separated from the throne; and this new sect, which professed an equal disdain for the moderate party of the political opposition, for the painting of Delaroche or the poetry of Delavigne, and for the king who presided over the development of le juste-milieu, would have had no reason for existing." --tr. via Vie de Bohème, A Patch of Romantic Paris

Battle of Hernani

Especially well documented is The Battle of Hernani, the battle that surrounded the premiere of Victor Hugo's play Hernani. Both Borel and Gautier played major roles in the organisation of the claque for the premiere of Hernani. (Bovee, 1999)


19th century

Victor Hugo wrote of the bousingots in Les Misérables (1862, "I am not Jacobin, sir, I am not a bousingot") and George Sand in her novel Horace ("On les appelait alors les bousingots, à cause du chapeau marin de cuir verni qu'ils avaient adopté pour signe de ralliement") based the main character of these political youth.

20th century

André Breton mentioned the influence of Nerval (and his mention of supernaturalism in the dedication to Les Filles du feu) in the first Surrealist Manifesto. He also included Petrus Borel and Xavier Forneret in his influential "Anthology of Black Humor".

Italo Calvino included La Main de gloire by Gérard de Nerval in his anthology of "Fantastic Tales".

Marcel Proust, Joseph Cornell, René Daumal, and T.S. Eliot have all cited Gérard de Nerval as a major influence. T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" borrowed one of its most enigmatic lines from Nerval's "El Desdichado".

Oscar Wilde, Joris-Karl Huysmans, and Lautréamont have all mentioned the works of Gautier as influential. His thoughts on the philosophy of "art for art's sake" have continued to be the source of debate.

Gautier with Nerval and Baudelaire began the infamous Club des Hashischins dedicated to exploring experiences with drugs.

Truth or myth?

These are a few of the most famous exaggerations invented by the Bouzingo or their detractors:

  • They hosted parties where clothes were banned and wine was drunk from human skulls.
  • They played instruments that they did not know how to play on street corners.
  • Nerval was said to have walked a pet lobster on a leash because “it does not bark and knows the secrets of the sea”.

Further reading

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bouzingo" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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