The Hector Berlioz Website

An autograph letter of Berlioz


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    This page presents the image of an autograph letter of Berlioz which was acquired by us in December 2011; appended below is also an English translation of the French text. This letter, hitherto unpublished, bears the date 12 May 1865 and is addressed to an official at the Egyptian Institute. In it Berlioz acknowledges receipt of a diploma recording his nomination as corresponding member of the Egyptian Institute. The fact of this nomination is alluded to in two letters of Berlioz to Humbert Ferrand around this time. In the first letter Berlioz writes (CG no. 3001, 26 April 1865):

[…] I have carried out your request for de Carné, and brought myself the diploma which was meant for him. Now let me know whether I must thank someone, and who, for this nomination to the Egyptian Institute; I know nothing. […]

    The allusion in the second letter is even briefer (CG no. 3005, 8 May 1865):

[…] I will write rather casually to the secretary of the Egyptian Institute, whose name is as usual illegible. […]

    The letter published here is clearly the letter Berlioz said he would be writing, and it helps to clarify the allusions in the two letters to Ferrand. The background is as follows. The establishment of the Egyptian Institute dated back to 1798 when it was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in Cairo, during the French Expedition, under the title of Institut d’Égypte, on the model of the Institut de France in Paris. In 1801, after the departure of the French, the activities of the Institut d’Égypte ceased, but were resumed in 1836 by French, German and English scholars under the name of The Egyptian Society. In 1859, the Institut Égyptien, a Western-style learned society, was founded in Alexandria by European residents, under the patronage of the Khedive of Egypt. A few years later, it approached Berlioz, and no doubt other eminent cultural figures in Europe, to serve as corresponding member. In 1880, it revised its statutes and moved to Cairo.

    An 1885 copy of the constitution of the institute is available in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. According to this document, the Institute would have 50 resident members, up to 100 honorary members, and an unlimited number of corresponding members. The 1866 issue of the Institute’s Bulletin lists the name of Berlioz among its corresponding members and describes him as ‘Membre de l’Institut Impérial de France’ (p. 11). It is not known whether Berlioz maintained any further correspondence with the Institute after his appointment.

    Also listed on the same page is the name ‘CARNÉ (le Vicomte Louis de), Membre de l’Académie Française’. Viscount de Carné (1804-1876) is mentioned once by Berlioz in his Memoirs (chapter 21) in connection with the beginnings of his career as music critic: Humbert Ferrand introduced Berlioz to de Carné, the founder together with Ferrand and Cazalès of a journal called the Revue Européenne, and persuaded him to become a contributor to the journal. De Carné had in fact founded another paper as well, the Correspondant, and Berlioz’s dealings with de Carné are attested by a number of letters in the years 1825 to 1832 (CG nos. 48, 114, 124, 126, 249, 257, 261). After this date Berlioz seems to have lost contact with him. De Carné pursued a diplomatic career and was also a prolific writer; in 1863 he was elected to the Institut de France, of which Berlioz had been a member since 1856. Another letter of Berlioz to Humbert Ferrand dated 8 March 1866 mentions de Carné (CG no. 3110): ‘I spoke about you the other day to de Carné at the Institut; I had not seen him for 33 years’ (this implies that when Berlioz handed over the diploma for de Carné [CG no. 3001] he did not see him in person). Humbert Ferrand’s close relations with de Carné, which dated back to the 1820s, and the references in the two letters of 1865 cited above (CG nos. 3001, 3005), suggest that Ferrand was somehow involved in the approach of the Egyptian Institute to both Berlioz and de Carné, though it is not clear how.

    The autograph of the letter published here was donated by us to the Berlioz Museum at La Côte Saint-André in August 2012; three other autograph letters of Berlioz, of 16 June 1832, May 1853, and 17 May 1854, have also been donated by us to the Museum.

    We would like to thank M. Antoine Troncy of the Berlioz Museum who directed us to the letters to Ferrand cited above.

    The letter has since been published in Nouvelles lettres de Berlioz (2016) as no. 3009bis (p. 623), but the date of publication on this site, December 2011, is incorrectly given as June 2015.

Berlioz’s autograph letter (Museum inventory no. 2014-01-01)

Letter 12 May 1865

English translation:


I have received the diploma of corresponding member of the Egyptian Institute, which you did the honour of sending me. Please convey to the Institute my deep gratitude and the assurance that I am anxious to demonstrate it.

I am, sir, your devoted

Hector Berlioz

Member of the Institut de France

Bulletin de l’Institut égyptien, Number 9

The following images are courtesy of “Google Books”.

Bulletin’s title page

Bulletin title page

Page 11 of the Bulletin

Bulletin p. 11

The Hector Berlioz Website was created on 18 June 1997 by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin; this page created on 20 December 2011, and revised on 7 September 2012.

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights reserved.

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