The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 10|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
"The poetic principle, which makes the rules of poetry, is formulated, it is said, and modelled after the poems. Here is a poet who pretends that his poems have been composed according to technique or principle. He had certainly great genius and more inspiration than is general, if by inspiration one understands energy, intellectual enthusiasm, and the power of keeping all his faculties on the alert. He loved work more than anything else; he liked to repeat, he, the finished original, that originality is something needing apprenticeship, which does not necessarily mean to say that it is a thing to be transmitted by instruction. Chance and incomprehensibility were his two great enemies. He has willingly diminished that faculty which was in him to take the most beautiful part? I should be inclined to think so; however, one must not forget that his genius, so ardent and agile, was passionately fond of analysis, combination, and calculation. One of his favourite axioms was the following: 'Everything in a poem as in a novel, everything in a sonnet as in a novelette, ought to contribute to the dénouement. A good writer has the last line already in his mind when he writes the first.'
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"Owing to this admirable method the writer was able to begin even at the end, and work, when it pleased him, at whatever part he liked. Amateurs will perhaps sneer at these cynical maxims, but each can learn from them what he wishes. It would be useless to show them what Art has gained from deliberation, and to make clear to the world what exacting labour this object of luxury known as poetry really is. After all, a little charlatanry is permitted to genius. It is like the paint on the cheeks of a naturally beautiful woman, a new condition of the mind."
This last phrase is characteristic and betrays the individual taste of the poet for artificiality. He, moreover, does not hide this predilection. He takes pleasure in this kind of composite beauty, and now and then a little artificiality that elaborates advanced and unsound civilisations. Let us say, to take a concrete example, that he would prefer to a simple young girl who used no other cosmetic than water, a more mature woman employing all the resources of the accomplished coquette, in front of a dressing-table covered with bottles of essences, de lait virginal, ivory brushes, and curling-tongs. The sweet perfume of skin macerated in aromatics, like that of Esther, who was steeped in oil of palms for six months and six months in cinnamon, before presentation to King Ahasuerus, had on him a powerful effect. A light touch of rose or hortensia on a fresh cheek, beauty-spots carefully and provocatively placed at the corner of the mouth or of the eye, eye-lashes burnished with kohl, hair tinted with russet-brown and powdered with gold-dust, neck and shoulders whitened with rice-powder, lips and the tips of the fingers brightened with carmine, did not in any way revolt him.
He liked these touches of Art upon Nature, the high lights, the strong lights placed by a clever hand to augment grace, charm and the character of the face. It is not he who would write virtuous tirades against painting, rouging, and the crinoline. All that removed a man, and especially a woman, from the natural state found favour in his eyes. These tastes explain themselves and ought to be understandable in a poet of the decadence, and the author of the "Flowers of Evil."
We shall astonish no one if we did not add that he preferred, to the simple perfume of the rose or violet, that of benzoin, amber, and even musk, so little appreciated in our days, and also the penetrating aroma of certain exotic flowers the perfume of which is too strong for our moderate climate. Baudelaire had, in the matter of perfumes, a strangely subtle sensuality which is rarely to be met with except amongst Orientals. He sought it always, and the phrase cited by Banville and at the commencement of this article may very justly be said of him: "Mon âme voltige sur les parfums comme l'âme des autres hommes voltige sur la musique."
He loved also toilets and of a bizarre elegance, a capricious richness, striking fantasy, in which something of the comedian and courtesan was mingled, although he himself was severely conventional in dress; but this taste, excessive, singular, anti-natural, nearly always opposed to classical beauty, was for him the sign of the human will correcting, to its taste, the forms and colours furnished by matter.
Where the philosopher could only find a text for declamation he found a proof of grandeur. Depravity—that is to say, a step aside from the normal type—is impossible to the stupid. It is for the same reason that inspired poets, not having the control and direction of their works, caused him a sort of aversion, and why he wished to introduce art and technique even into originality.
So much for the metaphysical; but Baudelaire was of a subtle, complicated, reasoning, and paradoxical nature, and had more philosophy than is general amongst poets. The æsthetics of his art occupied him much; he abounded in systems which he tried to realise, and all that he did was first planned out. According to him, literature ought to be intentional, and the accidental restrained as much as possible. This, however, did not prevent him, in true poetical fashion, from profiting by the happy chances of executing those beauties which burst forth suddenly without premeditation, like the little flowers accidentally mixed with the grain chosen by the sower. Every artist is somewhat like Lope de Vega, who, at the moment of the composition of his comedies, locked up his precepts under six keys—con seis claves. In the ardour of his work, voluntarily or not, he forgot systems and paradoxes.
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