1790-03-18

On this date the French writer, playwright, poet and traveler ASTOLPHE-LOUIS-LÉONOR, MARQUIS DE CUSTINE was born (d. 1858). Born in the castle of Niderviller in Lorraine as Astolphe Louis Léonor de Custine, he was a French aristocrat and writer best known for his travel writing, in particular his account of his visit to Russia in 1839 Empire of the Czar: A Journey Through Eternal Russia. This work documents not only Custine’s travels through the Russian empire, but also the social fabric, economy, and way of life during the reign of Nicholas I.

Custine was raised by his strong-willed mother and saw a lot of the writer Chateaubriand, who was his mother’s lover.  Custine was given an excellent education and seemed to be headed towards a life in society. He spent time in the diplomatic service, attending the Congress of Vienna, and even accepted a military commission.

In the early 1820s, Custine went along with a marriage arranged by his mother. The Marquis, later to admit his homosexuality and to live openly with a male lover, was genuinely fond of his wife and had a son with her, but she died after only a few years of marriage. Still, during the marriage he met and established a romantic relationship with an Englishman, Edward Saint-Barbe, who remained his life companion.