The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 18|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
Edgar Poe had none of the American ideas on progress, perfectibility, democratic institutions, and other subjects of declamation dear to the Philistines of the two worlds. He was not a worshipper of the god of gold; he loved poetry for itself and preferred beauty to utility—enormous heresy! Still, he had the good fortune to write well things that made the hair of fools in all countries stand on end. A grave director of a review or journal—a friend of Poe, moreover, and well-intentioned—avowed that it was difficult to employ him, and that one was obliged to pay him less than others, because he wrote above the heads of the vulgar—admirable reason!
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The biographer of the author of the "Raven" and "Eureka," said that Edgar Poe, if he had regulated his genius and applied his creative powers in a way more appropriate to America, would have become a money-making author; but he was undisciplined, worked only when he liked, and one what subjects he pleased. His roving disposition made him roll like a comet out of its orbit from Baltimore to New York, from New York to Philadelphia, from Philadelphia to Boston or Richmond, without being able to settle anywhere. In his moments of ennui, distress, or breakdown, when to excessive excitement, caused by some feverish work, succeeded that despondency known to authors, he drank brandy, a fault for which he has been bitterly reproached by Americans, who, as every one knows, are models of temperance.
He was not under any delusion as to the effects of this disastrous vice, he who has written in the "Black Cat" this prophetic phrase: "What illness is comparable to alcohol!" He drank without drunkenness, just to forget, to find himself in a happy mood in regard to his work, or even to end an intolerable life in evading the scandal of a direct suicide. Briefly, one day, seized in the street by an attack of delirium tremens, he was carried to the hospital where he died, still young and with no signs of decaying power. The deplorable habit had had no influence on his intellect or his manners, which remained always those of an accomplished gentleman; nor on his beauty, which was remarkable to the end.
We indicate but rapidly some traits of Edgar Poe, as we are not writing his life. The American author held so high a place in the intellectual esteem of Baudelaire that we must speak of him in a more or less developed way, and give, if not an account of his life, at least of his doctrines. Edgar Poe has certainly influenced Baudelaire, his life, which was, alas! so short.
"The Extraordinary Histories," "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," "The Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque," "Eureka," have been translated by Baudelaire with so exact a correspondence in style and thought, a freedom so faithful yet so supple, that the translations produce the effect of original work, and are almost perfect. "The Extraordinary Histories" are preceded by a piece of high criticism, in which the translator analyses the eccentric and novel talent of Poe, which France, with her utter heedlessness of the originalities of foreigners, ignored profoundly till Baudelaire revealed them. He brought to bear upon this work, necessary to explain a nature so beyond the vulgar idea, a metaphysical sagacity of the rarest delicacy. The pages may be counted the most remarkable he has ever written.
Great excitement was created by these histories, so mathematically fantastic, deduced in algebraical formulæ, and in which the expositions resemble some judiciary led by the most subtle and perspicacious magistrates.
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Purloined Letter," "The Gold-Bug," enigmas more difficult to divine than those of the Sphinx, and in which the interest, sustained to the very end, excites to delirium the public, surfeited with romances and adventures. One feels deeply for Auguste Dupin, with his strange, divinatory lucidity, who seems to hold between his hands the threads, drawing one to the other, of thoughts most opposed, and who arrives at his conclusions by deductions of a marvellous correctness. One admires Legrand, cleverer still at deciphering cryptograms than Claude Jacquet, employed by the Ministry, who read to Desmarets, in the history of the "13," the letter deciphered by Ferrango; and the result of this reading is the discovery of the treasures of Captain Kidd! Every one will confess that he would have had to be very clear-sighted to trace in the glimmer of the flame, in the red characters on yellow parchment, the death's-head, the kid, the lines and points, the cross, the tree and its branches, and to guess where the corsair had buried the coffer full of diamonds, jewels, watches, golden chains, ounces, doubloons, dollars, piastres, and money from all countries, the discovery of which recompensed the sagacity of Legrand. The "Pit and the Pendulum" caused terror equal to the blackest inventions of Anne Radcliffe, of Lewis, and of the Rev. Father Mathurin, while one gets giddy watching the tearing whirlpool of the Maelstrom, colossal, funnel-like walls upon which ships run like pieces of straw in a tempest.
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