The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 1|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
The first time that we met Baudelaire was towards the middle of the year 1849, at the Hôtel Pimodan, where we occupied, near Fermand Boissard, a strange apartment which communicated with his by a private staircase hidden in the thickness of the wall, and which was haunted by the spirits of beautiful women loved long since by Lauzun. The superb Maryx was to be found there who, in her youth, had posed for "La Mignon" of Scheffer, and later, for "La Gloire distribuant des couronnes" of Paul Delaroche; and that other beauty, then in all her splendour, from whom Clesinger modelled "La Femme au serpent," that statue where grief resembles a paroxysm of pleasure, and which throbs with an intensity of life that the chisel has never before attained and which can never be surpassed.
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Charles Baudelaire was then an almost unknown genius, preparing himself in the shadow for the light to come, with that tenacity of purpose which, in him, doubled inspiration; but his name was already becoming known amongst poets and artists, who heard it with a quivering of expectation, the younger generation almost venerating him. In the mysterious upper chamber where the reputations of the future are in the making he passed as the strongest. We had often heard him spoken of, but none of his works were known to us.
His appearance was striking: he had closely shaved hair of a rich black, which fell over a forehead of extraordinary whiteness, giving his head the appearance of a Saracen helmet. His eyes, coloured like tobacco of Spain, had great depth and spirituality about them, and a certain penetration which was, perhaps, a little too insistent. As to the mouth, in which the teeth were white and perfect, it was seen under a slight and silky moustache which screened its contours. The mobile curves, voluptuous and ironical as the lips in a face painted by Leonardo da Vinci, the nose, fine and delicate, somewhat curved, with quivering nostrils, seemed ever to be scenting vague perfumes. A large dimple accentuated the chin, like the finishing touch of a sculptor's chisel on a statue; the cheeks, carefully shaved, with vermilion tints on the cheekbones; the neck, of almost feminine elegance and whiteness, showed plainly, as the collar of his shirt was turned down with a Madras cravat.
His clothing consisted of a paletot of shining black cloth, nut-coloured trousers, white stockings, and patent leather shoes; the whole fastidiously correct, with a stamp of almost English simplicity, intentionally adopted to distinguish himself from the artistic folk with the soft felt hats, the velvet waistcoats, red jackets, and strong, dishevelled beards. Nothing was too new or elaborate about him. Charles Baudelaire indulged in a certain dandyism, but he would do anything to take from his things the "Sunday clothes" appearance so dear and important to the Philistine, but so disagreeable to the true gentleman.
Later, he shaved off his moustache, finding that it was the remains of an old picturesqueness which it was both childish and bourgeois to retain. Thus, relieved of all superfluous down, his head recalled that of Lawrence Sterne; a resemblance that was augmented by Baudelaire's habit of leaning his temple against his first finger, which is, as every one knows, the attitude of the English humorist in the portrait placed at the beginning of his books.
Such was the physical impression made on us after our first meeting with the future author of "The Flowers of Evil."
We find in the "Nouveaux Camées parisiens" of Théodore de Banville, one of the poet's best and most constant friends whose loss we deplore, a portrait of Baudelaire in his youth. We are permitted to transcribe the lines here, prose equal in perfection to the most beautiful verse. It portrays Baudelaire as he is very little known, and as he was only at that particular time.
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