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Charles Baudelaire
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Some French Writers: Baudelaire; The Man, Page 1
by Edward Delille (1893).

"Nous traînions tristement nos ennuis, accroupis
Et voûtés sous le ciel carré des solitudes
Où l'enfant boit, dix ans, l'âpre lait des études."

Titus sang Baudelaire in his earliest piece. His college days, evidently, were no "happy seed-time" for the author of the Fleurs du Mal.

Next came those six months which Baudelaire spent in the East, and which coloured so profoundly and for all the rest of his life his thought, feeling, and consequently verse. None of Baudelaire's later associates could ever learn the exact truth concerning this mysterious voyage; for Baudelaire was one of those who "embroider." Other people, of the kind who couldn't embroider if they would, are eager to denounce them as liars. Liars they are not — but, it may be, persons who dislike the bare simplicity of the letter.

According to one critic, a profound instability was the chief moral characteristic of Charles Baudelaire. It should, however, be remembered that none found Baudelaire more "unstable" than did Baudelaire himself to his undoing. Why must a man be hated, despised, and denounced because — doing nobody else any harm — he is what people denominate "his own enemy"? Isn't it enough to err and to suffer, without being also pharisaically damned? Baudelaire's charlatan fondness for singularity in dress, speech, and manner is also one of the battle-horses of the anti-Baudelaireans. No doubt a dash of charlatanism was a necessary ingredient of Baudelaire's temperament, without which we should not now have his art.

Untrustworthy he may have been, but likewise charming, seductive, interesting in an extraordinary degree. And never more so than on his first coming to Paris, as a returned Oriental traveller, a critic, a poet, a dandy, and a capitalist, just turned twenty-one. He was of a good height and had a lithe feline figure. His high white brow, searching luminous brown eyes, nose of noticeable size and shape (nez de priseur, he called it, with the open palpitating nostril, sure mark of pride if not of power), lip at once sensual and sensitive, chin short, somewhat rounded, and stamped with the central cleft denoting amiability akin to weakness, and jaw — a feline jaw — strong, square, and large: all these were features composing a countenance more than handsome, singular.

Brummel's principles of attire were Baudelaire's, for just so long as Baudelaire could afford fine raiment. In garments of sober hue and anxious rectitude of cut, with snow-white linen and glittering lacquered boots, he was often to be seen in the old brooding torpid streets within sound of the bells of Notre-Dame half-a-century ago. In his hotel-rooms in the Latin Quarter (he had always, by the way, a strange fancy for living as high up towards the tops of houses as he could get) at first he caused the lower panes of his windows to be ground, so that he might be relieved from the view of adjacent roofs and upper storeys. Soon, however, no aspect of the life of towns was unwelcome to the spirit of the author of the Fleurs du Mal. He came in an age when all is artificial, amid a state of society which from top to bottom is artifice, recalling nothing so much as those agglomerations of tables and chairs maintained in equilibrium by Japanese jugglers upon the extreme tip of their nose. He himself wrote: "Le monde ne march que par le malentendu. . . . C'est par le malentendu universel que tout le monde s'accorde." So that he, too, should be artificial, was but natural. Through the force of exterior circumstances, a sentence was passed on him of artificiality for life. He could not have helped being artificial, had he ever so much desired. And thus it is that we find him falling under the apparently puerile spell of dandyism; thus, that we see him experimenting upon some of the most recondite varieties of sensation; thus, that we perceive him seeking and finding the deep poetic interest which underlies existence in great towns, as distinguished from the "idyllism" of fields and hills; and thus, finally, that we find him elaborating some of the most bizarrely beautiful and most singularly, strangely significant verse and poetic prose.

Baudelaire, personally as well as poetically, had the peculiar seductiveness of the complex — of that which some might call the false. The account in Gautier's famous sketch of Baudelaire's careful, measured diction, in conversation scarcely less chastened than in writing, with the secret suggestive emphasis laid upon particular syllables and words, is interesting as characteristic of the man. The subtle magic enclosed in words, viewed apart from their sense and merely as collocations of letters, must early have been disclosed to a sense of such acuteness and a taste of such delicacy as were his. Then the peculiar mode of enunciation, whereby each piece becomes in a manner assimilated to a musical composition: that would have been invented by him had he not found it in the atmosphere of his time, and on the lips of men like Gautier and Hugo. Baudelaire's own verse is not melodious, — it is harmonic; as much finer and rarer than mere verbal music, as harmony is more powerful and profound than melody. How intense, for example, is the harmony here: —

"O douleur! ô douleur! le Temps mange la vie,
Et l'obscur Ennemi qui nous ronge le cœur
Du sang que nous perdons croít et se fortifie!"

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