The Life and Intimate Memoirs of Baudelaire, Page 24|
by Théophile Gautier (1868), translated by Guy Thorne (1915).
At other times, people seen in reality would be mixed up in his dreams, and would haunt them like obstinate spectres not to be chased away by any formula of exorcism.
PAGE 24 OF 26.
One day, in the year 1813, a Malay, of a yellow and bilious colour, with sad, home-sick eyes, coming from London and seeking some haven, knowing not one word of any European language, knocked to see if he could rest a while, at the door of the cottage. Not wishing to fall short in the eyes of his domestics and neighbours, De Quincey spoke to him in Greek; the Asiatic replied in Malay, and his honour as a linguist was saved. After having given him some money, the master of the cottage, moved by the charity which causes a smoker to offer a cigar to a poor devil whom he supposes has long been without tobacco, gave the Malay a large piece of opium, which the man swallowed in a mouthful. There was enough to kill seven or eight unaccustomed people, but the yellow-skinned man was in the habit of taking it, for he went away with signs of great satisfaction and gratitude. He was not seen again, at least in the flesh, but he became one of the most assiduous frequenters of De Quincey's visions. The Malay of the saffron face and the strangely black eyes was a kind of genus of the extreme Orient who had the keys of India, Japan, China, and other countries of repute in a chimerical and impossible distance. As one obeys a guide whom one has not called, but whom one must follow by one of those fatalities that a dream admits of, De Quincey, in the steps of the Malay, plunged into regions of fabulous antiquity and inexpressible strangeness that caused him the profoundest terror. "I know not," says he in his "Confessions," "if others share my feelings on this point; but I have often thought that, if I were compelled to forgo England, and to live in China, among Chinese manners and methods and scenery, I should go mad. . . . A young Chinese seems to me an antediluvian man renewed. . . . In China, over and above what it has in common with the rest of Southern Asia, I am terrified by the modes of life, by the manners, by the barrier of utter abhorrence placed between myself and them, by counter-sympathies deeper than I can analyse. I could sooner live with lunatics, with vermin, with crocodiles or snakes."
With malicious irony, the Malay, who seemed to understand the repugnance of the opium-eater, took care to lead him to the centre of great towns, to the ivory towers, to rivers full of junks crossed by bridges in the form of dragons, to streets encumbered with an innumerable population of baboons, lifting their heads with obliquely set eyes, and moving their tails like rats, murmuring, with forced reverence, complimentary monosyllables.
The third and last part of the dreams of an opium-eater has a lamentable title, which, however, is well justified, "Suspiria de profundis." In one of these visions appeared three unforgettable figures, mysteriously terrible like the Grecian "Moires" and the "Mothers" of the second "Faust." These are the followers of Levana, the austere goddess who takes up the new-born babe and perfects it by sorrow. As there were three Graces, three Fates, three Furies, three Muses in the primitive ages, so there were three goddesses of sorrow; they are our Notre-Dame des Tristesses. The eldest of the three sisters is called Mater lacrymarum, or Our Lady of Tears; the second Mater suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs; the third and youngest, Mater tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness, the most redoubtable of all, and of whom the strongest cannot dream without a secret terror. These mournful spectres do not speak the language of mortals; they weep, they sigh, and make terrible gestures in the shadows. Thus they express their unknown sorrows, their nameless anguish, the suggestions of solitary despair, all that there is of suffering, bitterness, and sorrow in the depths of the human soul. Man ought to take warning from these initiators: "Thus will he see things that ought not to be seen, sights which are abominable, and unspeakable secrets; thus will he read the ancient truths, the sad, great, and terrible truths."
One can imagine that Baudelaire did not spare De Quincey the reproaches he addressed to all those who sought to attain the supernatural by material means; but, in regard to the beauty of the pictures painted by the illustrious and poetical dreamer, he showed him great good will and admiration.
About this time Baudelaire left Paris and pitched his tent in Brussels. One must not presume that this journey was taken with any political idea, but merely from the desire of a more tranquil and reposeful life, far away from the distractions and excitements of Paris. This change does not appear to have been a particularly profitable one for him. He worked little at Brussels, and his papers contain only sketchy notes, summaries almost hieroglyphical, which he alone could resolve. His health, instead of improving, was impaired, more deeply than he himself was aware, as the climate did not agree with him. The first symptoms manifested themselves in a certain slowness of speech, and a more and more marked hesitation in the choice of his words; but, as Baudelaire often expressed himself in a solemn and sententious way, one did not take much notice of this embarrassment in speech, which was the preface to the terrible malady that carried him off.
• • • • •Dearest Décadent, to read the twenty-fifth page of this article,
kindly click on the link at the very bottom of this page.• • • • •