The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 6|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
In his verses he was frequently led from the mists and mud of Paris to the countries of light, azure, and perfume. Between the lines of the most sombre of his poems, a window is opened through which can be seen, instead of the black chimneys and smokey roofs, the blue Indian seas, or a beach of golden sand on which the slender figure of a Malabaraise, half naked, carrying an amphora on the head, is running. Without penetrating too deeply into the private life of the poet, one can imagine that it was during this voyage that Baudelaire fell in love with the "Venus noire," of whom he was a worshipper all his life.
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When he returned from his distant travels he had just attained his majority; there was no longer any reason—not even financial, for he was rich for some time at least—to oppose Baudelaire's choice of a vocation; it was only strengthened by meeting with obstacles, and nothing would deter him.
Lodged in a little apartment under the roof of the same Hôtel Pimodan where later we met him, as has been related earlier in this introduction, he commenced that life of work, interrupted and resumed, of varied studies, of fruitful idleness, which is that of each man of letters seeking his particular field of labour. Baudelaire soon found his. He conceived something beyond romanticism—a land unexplored, a sort of rough and wild Kamschatka; and it was at the extreme verge that he built for himself, as Sainte-Beuve, who thoroughly appreciated him, said, a kiosque of bizarre architecture.
Several of the poems which are to be found amongst the "Flowers of Evil" were already composed. Baudelaire, like all born poets, from the start possessed a form and style of which he was master; it was more accentuated and polished later, but still the same. Baudelaire has often been accused of studied bizarrerie, of affected and laboured originality, and especially of mannerisms. This is a point at which it is necessary to pause before going further. There are people who have naturally an affected manner. In them simplicity would be pure affectation, a sort of inverted mannerism. Long practice is necessary to be naturally simple. The circumvolutions of the brain twist themselves in such a manner that the ideas get entangled and confused and go up in spirals instead of following straight lines. The most complicated, subtle, and intense thoughts are those which present themselves first. They see things from a peculiar angle which alters the aspect and perspective. All fancies, the most odd, unusual, and fantastically distant from the subject treated of strike them chiefly, and they know how to draw them into their woof by mysterious treads.
Baudelaire had a brain like this, and where the critic has tried to see labour, effort, excess, there is only the free and easy manifestation of individuality. These poems, of a savour so exquisitely strange, cost him no more than any badly rhymed commonplace.
Baudelaire, always possessed of great admiration for the old masters, never felt it incumbent upon him to take them for models; they had had the good fortune to arrive in the early days of the world, at the dawn, so to speak, of humanity, when nothing had been expressed yet, and each form, each image, each sentiment, had the charm of virginal novelty. The great commonplaces which form the foundation of human thought were then in all their glory and sufficed for simple geniuses, speaking to simple people.
But, from force of repetition, these general subjects of verse were used up like money which, from continual circulation, has lost its imprint; and, besides, Life had become more complex, fuller of originality, and could no longer be represented in the artificial spirit of another age.
As true innocence charms, so the trickery of pretended innocence disgusts and displeases. The quality of the nineteenth century is not precisely naïveté, and it needs, to render its thoughts and dreams explicit, idiom a little more composite than that employed in the classics. Literature is like a day; it has its morning, noon, evening, and night. Without vain expatiation as to whether one should prefer dawn or twilight, one ought to paint the hour which is at hand, and with a palette of all the colours necessary to give it its full effect. Has not sunset its beauty as well as dawn? The copper-reds, the bronze-golds, the turquoise melting to saffire, all the tints which blend and pass away in the great final conflagration, the light-pierced clouds which seem to take the form of a falling aerial Babel—have they not as much to offer to the poet as the rosey-fingered Dawn? But the time when the Hours preceded the Chariot of Day is long since fled.
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