Some French Writers: Baudelaire; The Man, Page 3|
by Edward Delille (1893).
So much has been said and written concerning Baudelaire's bad traits — supposed or real — that something ought in fairness to be said concerning his undoubtedly good qualities. He was an ardent admirer and a most devoted friend. From the first he was .a worshipper of Hugo, Gautier, Balzac, Banville, Flaubert, Stendhal and Leconte de Lisle. To Delacroix: —
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"Delacroix, lac de sang hanté des mauvais anges . . ."
he was loyal throughout the painter's life and after his death . Wagner he fairly discovered; speaking with regard to Paris, where at that time the German Titan was being laughed and whistled off the stage. Then Sainte-Beuve. Baudelaire placed him upon a pedestal, whereas Sainte-Beuve, the smaller of the two both in powers and in feeling, viewed Baudelaire always rather doubtfully, according to his tendency in most things and regarding most people. Gautier could truly write of Baudelaire: "Ce poète avait l'amour et l'admiration au plus haut degré."
In behalf of how many writers, poets, painters, draughtsmen of his day, did Baudelaire manifest the vivacity of his sympathies and the unerringness of his appreciation? Pétrus Borel, Paul Dupont, Barbier, Mürger, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Daumier, Corot, Manet, and a score of others (to say nothing of Edgar Poe, whom Baudelaire, according to his early promise, succeeded in rendering "un grand homme pour la France"): all these he brought into light and notice through the medium of perhaps the most admirable literary criticism yet known.
It should be noted, moreover, that Baudelaire was not attracted only towards what is distinguished, fine and grand. That which is too delicate, too rare, too slight and tender to stand much chance of winning the material prizes of success, appealed with no less force to his spirit. "Le poète se sent irrésistiblement entraîné vers tout ce qui est faible, ruiné, contristé, orphelin.'' Only the contentedly mediocre, the complacently vulgar, did Baudelaire violently detest and denounce. In this doubtless he was wrong. For even mediocrity, even vulgarity, even Philistinism are human.
That, possessing his critical powers, Baudelaire should not have secured for himself the profits and prestige of the authoritative critic — that he should not, for instance, have rivalled and surpassed herein his lukewarm friend Sainte-Beuve — appears at first sight unaccountable. Baudelaire's Art Romantique, that collection of the most searching and suggestive, most brilliant yet solid studies in the very best literature of his day; his Salons and other articles on painting (as far superior to Diderot's Salons as diamonds to cut glass) place beyond doubt, though they form hardly the matter of a volume, the fact that Baudelaire was the keenest esthéticien of the century in France. But the explanation of Baudelaire's comparative inefficacy in professional spheres of criticism must be sought for in his devotion to the pure poetic principle. Baudelaire's verse was exacting, in proportion to its perfection. He early felt and believed that the highest, nay the sole condition of all lasting art is intensity; whence all other necessary conditions must naturally and of themselves proceed. But how difficult, how trying, how exhaustive and all-absorbing, the effort to clothe the intensity of one's feeling with corresponding intensity of expression! Disregarding all considerations of expediency, popularity, profit and personal ease, and in the midst of pecuniary circumstances growing yearly more distressing, Baudelaire still adhered to the single-minded, steadfast artistic purpose, which alone could render possible such artistic effects as his. His art to him, as to every true artist, was more than all the rest of the world. The result, who runs may read. The Fleurs du Mal, one small volume, comprises the sum total of Baudelaire's verse. But those few hundreds of lines represent perhaps more sheer force of poetry than Musset and Lamartine rolled into one. Consequently the few hundreds of lines shall live, when many scores of thousands of others shall have passed for ever from the memory of men. Where other poets were content, with so much less trouble and toil, to pour forth a mere dilution, Baudelaire by dint of ceaseless effort and endeavour produced a powerful quintessence, one drop of which will still pervade the mind, whilst a river of the other species of verse may refresh, indeed, and flatter the sense as it flows, but will flow, and leave no trace behind. What other latter-day poet, English or French, has such a number of haunting lines? Nothing is more curious to observe than the power of expansion in work of the type of Les Fleurs du Mal. With the years, it grows, it quickens instead of fading. "Les Fleurs du Mal, livre oublié! Ceci est trop bête. . . On les demande toujours. On commencera peut-être à les comprendre dans quelques années." So wrote Baudelaire, most justly, in response to the remark of some "friend" who had informed him that Les Fleurs du Mal were beginning to be forgotten.
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