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The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 15
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).

It is well to note particularly the sentiment towards the artificial betrayed by the poet. By the world artificial one must understand a creation owing its existence entirely to Art, and from which Nature is entirely absent. In an article written during the life-time of Baudelaire, we pointed out this odd tendency of which the poem entitled "Rêve parisian" is a striking example. Here are the lines which endeavored to render this splendid and sombre nightmare, worthy of the engravings of Martynn: "Imagine a supernatural landscape, or rather a perspective in metal, marble, and water, from which all vegetation is banished. All is rigid, polished, mirrored under a sky without sun, without moon, without stars. In the midst of the silence of eternity rise up, artificially lit, palaces colonnades, towers, staircases, fountains from which fall heavy cascades like curtains of crystal. The blue waters are encircled, like the steel of antique mirrors, in quays, basins of burnished gold, or run silently under bridges of precious stones. The crystallised ray enshrines the liquid, and the porphyry flagstones of the terraces reflect the surrounding objects like ice. The Queen of Sheba, walking there, would lift up her robe, fearing to wet her feet, so glistening is the surface. The style of this poem is brilliant, like black, polished marble."

Is it not a strange fantasy, this composition made from rigid elements, in which nothing lives, throbs, breathes, and where not a blade of grass, not a leaf, not a flower comes to derange the implacable symmetry of forms invented by Art? Does it not make one believe in the unblemished Palmyra or the Palenqué remaining standing on a dead planet bereft of its atmosphere?

There are, undoubtedly, strange imaginings, anti-natural, neighbours of hallucination and expressions of a secret desire of unattainable novelty; but, for our part, we prefer them to the insipid simplicity of the pretended poets who, on the threadbare canvas of the commonplace, embroider, with old wools faded in colour, designs of bourgeois triviality or of foolish sentimentality: crowns of roses, green leaves of cabbages, and doves pecking one another. Sometimes we do not fear to attain the rare at the expense of the shocking, the fantastic, and the exaggerated. Barbarity of language appeals to us more than platitude. Baudelaire has this advantage: he can be bad, but he is never common. His faults, like his good qualities, are original, and, even when he has displeased, he has, after long reasoning, willed it so.

Let us bring this analysis, already rather too long, however much we abridge it, to a close by a few words on that poem which so astonished Victor Hugo—"Petites Vieilles." The poet, walking in the streets of Paris, sees some little old women with humble and sad gait pass by. He follows them as one would pretty women, recognising from the threadbare cashmere, worn out, mended a hundred times, from the end of lace frayed and yellow, the ring—sorrowful souvenir, disputed by the pawn-broker and ready to leave the slender finger of the pale hand—a past of happier fortune and elegance: a life of love and devotion, perhaps; the remains of beauty under ruin and misery and the devastations of age. He reanimates all these trembling spectres, reclothes them, puts the flesh of youth on these emaciated skeletons, revives in these poor wounded hearts illusions of other days. Nothing could be more ridiculous, nothing more touching, than these Venuses of Père-Lachaise and these Ninons of Petits-Ménages who file off lamentably under the evocation of the master, like a procession of ghosts surprised by the day.

The question of versification and scansion, disdained by all those who have no appreciation of form—and they are numerous to-day—has been rightly judged by Baudelaire as one of the utmost importance. Nothing is more common now than to mistake technique in art for poetry itself. These are things which have no relation.

Fénelon, J. J. Rousseau, Bernardin de Saint Pierre, Chateaubriand, George Sand are poetic in principle, but not poets—that is to say, they are incapable of writing in verse, even mediocre verse, a special faculty often possessed by people of inferior merit to that of the great masters. To wish to separate technique from poetry is a modern folly which will lead to nothing but the annihilation of Art itself. We encountered, in an excellent article of Sainte-Beuve on Taine, à propos of Pope and Boileau, lightly treated by the author of "The History of English Literature," this clear and judicial paragraph, where things are brought to light by the great critic who was from the beginning, and is always, a great poet.


PAGE 15 OF 26.

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AUTHOR: Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
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