« De Paris à Tokyo … »

“From Paris to Tokyo…”
Preface to the catalog of the Literary House of Victor Hugo

André Malraux confided to me one day – it was, as I remember, during the war, under the occupation and we were both in the uniform of the Resistance – « Civilizations always develop around maritime basins. Civilization is first of all that of the Mediterranean, of the Middle East, of Greece, of Rome – today it is that of the Atlantic, from Europe to America – tomorrow it will be that of the Pacific and Paris will connect to Tokyo. »

From Paris to Tokyo… Today the Soka Gakkai Internationale has acquired the Château des Roches, in Bièvres, the property which Louis-François Bertin, the famous Director of the Journal des Débats (his portrait by Ingres is famous), made a center of letters and arts: she created a museum there, the Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo, who was its most illustrious regular guest.

It was in 1804 that, approaching his forties, Bertin the eldest acquired this castle: four years earlier he had bought the famous Journal des Débats which he edited until his death in 1841, despite the interruptions imposed by Napoleon I who suspended it from 1807 to 1814. It was the most important daily newspaper of the 19th century. Bertin wanted to make his castle a center of reception for the most eminent intellectuals of his time: the first was Chateaubriand who shared Bertin’s hostility to Napoleon; the most assiduous was then Victor Hugo between 1831 and 1845; from the first year he wrote there Les Feuilles d’automne, then between 1834 and 1837 Les Chants du Crépuscule, which he composed on the island of the pond, then Les Voix intérieures, la « Tristesse d’Olympio », etc.

We know his familiar route: he took the coach from the Place Royale to Sceaux, where a correspondence allowed him to reach Bièvres; he brought his wife and children (Didine and Charlot) there and spent the “sweet days” and the “sweet evenings” that he mentioned; there he enjoyed the company of Bertin’s daughter, Louise, a poet-musician, who composed an opera based on a libretto written by the poet: La Esmeralda, whose failure was notorious. On the death of her father she inherited Les Roches which she kept until his death in 1877.

What a temptation to extend Hugo’s presence there today! The Soka Gakkai couldn’t resist. Through the care of its President, Mr. Daisaku Ikeda, it acquired the property in 1989 to create a museum there in memory of Hugo; this museum will answer, in the countryside, to the city one, of the Place des Vosges. Victor Hugo’s presence there will be extended by a selection of rare first editions, manuscripts and autograph letters, and even his account book, or messages sent to him on his 83rd birthday…

What more moving testimony to Hugo’s worldwide glory than this permanent tribute paid by an organization where the spiritual life of Japan is concentrated! Mr. Ikeda was able to declare: « This house will be the bridge between two civilizations, French and Japanese, and I would like it to become a point of reference for literature from all over the world. »


of the French Academy