The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 2|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
"In a portrait painted by Emile Deroy, one of the rarest works of art by modern painters, we see Charles Baudelaire at twenty years of age, at a time when, rich, happy, well-loved, already becoming celebrated, he wrote his first verses which were applauded by Paris, the literary leader of the whole world! O rare example of a divine face, uniting all graces, power, and most irresistible seductiveness! The eyebrow well-marked and curved like a bow, the eyelid warm and softly coloured; the eye, large, black, deep and of unequalled fire, caressing and imperious, embraces, interrogates and reflects all that surrounds it; the nose, beautifully chiselled, slightly curved, makes us dream of the celebrated phrase of the poet: 'Mon âme voltige sur les parfums, comme l'âme des autres hommes voltige sur la musique !'. The mouth is arched and refined by the mind, and at the moment is of the delicate tint that reminds one of the royal beauty of freshly plucked fruit. The chin is rounded, but nevertheless haughty and powerful as that of Balzac. The whole face is of a warm pallor, under which the rose tints of beautiful rich blood appear. A newly grown beard, like that of a young god, decorates it. The forehead, high and broad, thick hair, naturally wavy and curly like that of Paganini, which falls over a throat worthy of Achilles or Antinous."
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One must not take this portrait too literally. It is seen through the medium of painting and poetry, and embellished by a certain idealisation. Still, it is no less sincere and faithful of Baudelaire as he appeared at that time. Charles Baudelaire had his hour of supreme beauty and perfect expansion, and we relate it after this faithful witness. It is rare that a poet, an artist, is known in the spring-time of his charm.
Reputation generally comes later, when the fatigue of study, the struggles of life, and the torture of passion have taken away youthfulness, leaving only the mask, faded and altered, on which each sorrow has made her impress. It is this last picture, which also has beauty, that one remembers. With his evasive singularity was mingled a certain exotic odour like the distant perfume of a country well loved of the sun. It is said that Baudelaire travelled for some time in India, and this fact explains much.
Contrary to the somewhat loose manners of artists generally, Baudelaire prided himself upon observing the most rigid convenances; his courtesy was often excessive to the point of affectation. He measured his phrases, using only the most carefully selected terms, and pronounced certain words in a particular manner, as though he wished to underline them and give them a mysterious signification. Italics and capital letters seemed to be marked in his voice.
Exaggeration, much in honour at Pimodan's, he disdained as theatrical and coarse, though he allowed himself the use of paradox. With a very simple, natural, and perfectly detached air, as though retailed, à la Prudhomme, a newspaper paragraph on the state of the weather, he would advance monstrous axioms, or uphold with perfect sang-froid some theory of mathematical extravagance; for he had method in the development of his follies. His spirit was neither in words nor traits; he saw things from a particular point of view which changed their outlines, as objects seen in a bird's-eye view are changed from when seen at their own elevation; he perceived analogies, inappreciable to others, the fantastic logic of which was very striking.
His gestures were slow, sober, and rare; for he held southern gesticulation in horror. Neither did he like volubility of speech, and British reserve appealed to his sense of good form. One might describe him as a dandy strayed into Bohemia; but preserving there his rank, and that cult of self which characterises a man imbued with the principles of Brummel.
Such was our impression of Baudelaire at our first meeting, the memory of which is as vivid as though it had occurred yesterday.
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