The Languedoc Page - Languedoc articles and blogs

An American in the French Languedoc

Poor Charles Cros


The patron saint of Fabrezan is neither deity, nor remotely religiously affiliated. His sole association with the village was his unexpectant birth, reportedly due to inclimate weather in 1842. He was raised in nearby LaGrasse, a village of greater renown due to its restored 12th century abbey. 

Nevertheless, Fabrezan has embraced and adopted Charles Cros as their own, bestowing him adulation in the form of a wine label, Public Square with statue, fraternal organization and various annual cultural festivities. Numerous streets and avenues are titled in his honor throughout the Corbières region. A scarcely visited museum nestled on the second floor of the local city hall documents and exhibits artifacts and achievements from his abbreviated life. Admission is free, but make certain you return the entry key to the Mayor’s secretary at the conclusion of your self-guided pilgrimage. 

Charles Cros is scarcely known within American cultural circles. He is revered within France for his intellect, vision and poetry, little of which remains read outside of the Corbières region. The Charles Cros Academy was created in 1947 by a group of music critics and experts. It includes some 50 peer-elected experts, active on the French music, media and sound recording scenes. This organization is today considered the equivalent of the French recording industry. 

Cros developed various improved methods of photography including an early color photo process. Cros' documentation of proof, which had been lodged in a safety deposit box, had predated Ducos de Hauron's by nearly a year (although both had been working on the subject for longer than that) but the latter had produced actual samples using this method. Ducos de Hauron is now considered to be the inventor of color photography. Cros’ contribution is generally forgotten. 

He is credited with inventing improvements in telegraph technology, but his principle renown is credited towards the invention, he nearly created…but didn’t, the phonograph. 

No one before Cros had thought of reproducing sound by making an apparatus capable of registering and reproducing sounds, which had been engraved with a diagraphm. The inventor gave the name of Paleophone (voix du passé) to his invention. On April 30, 1877 he submitted a sealed envelope containing a letter to the Academy of Sciences in Paris explaining his proposed method. The letter was read in public on the 3rd December following. 

Like many preceding and subsequent visionaries and dreamers, Cros endured the bitter humiliation of poverty throughout his life. His undeveloped theories were stifled due to a persistent lack of funds. His sole outlet for tasteful luxury and refined pleasures was clothed through the richness of his poetic and lyrical verse. 

Before Cros had a chance to follow up on this idea or attempt to construct a working model, American Thomas Edison introduced his first working phonograph. Edison used a cylinder covered in tinfoil for his first phonograph, patenting this method for reproducing sound on January 15, 1878. Edison and Cros apparently did not know of each other's work in advance. 

One area where Cros is vaguely remembered is with regard to his proposal for interplanetary communication. He presented to a conference in 1869, a "Study on the means of communication with the Planets" in which he proposed a method of communication with the inhabitants of Mars and Venus. His idea revolved around using an extremely bright light concentrated by an array of parabolic reflectors…today’s radio waves. 

Cros’ financial misfortune, absinthe drinking and bohemian lifestyle contributed to his early demise at only 45. He has been described as a mid-19th century figure of transition between the reign of poetry and the patent. He cultivated a diverse social circle of Paris’ brightest intellectual and artistic talents including Manet, Verlaine, Bréal and Rimbaud. His pauper’s death did not diminish his genius but prevented him from his due recognition and posterity. 

This irony is unimportant to the 200 scattered members of Fabrezan’s Charles Cros Society. They meet sporadically in dwindling numbers, but they are loyal as the village remains towards their adopted patron. The patron saint of near misses.


This article is protected by all international copyright agreements, and reproduction is prohibited without permission of the author.

The Languedoc Page newsletterURL site map The Languedoc Page advertise hereAbout us

The Languedoc Page has been providing Languedoc information to discerning visitors since 2002 with 8+m pages read

Peter Hornby Management Consultancy