Some Remarks on Baudelaire's Influence|
upon Modern Poetry and Thought, Page 2
by Guy Thorne (1915).
To take a single instance, Ruskin's works, in the "Everyman" library, are supplied at a shilling a volume. The demand has been enormous.
PAGE 2 OF 13.
Again, a paper like "T.P.'s Weekly," costing a penny and dealing with the best things of literature, has an enormous circulation and a personal influence over hardworking middle-class men and women with little leisure for self-culture, that it is impossible to overrate.
Moreover, the issue of Oscar Wilde's finest work at a trifling price has been attended with a success that has startled no one more greatly than the adventurous publishers themselves.
Now these things are signs of the times. If they show anything at all, they show that the work of writers which has been hitherto thought to be far above the head of the ordinary reader is really not so in the least. And because I am persuaded that opportunity alone has been wanting, I have ventured upon this book.
Gautier's immortal essay takes the first place. We have here a piece of criticism and explanation which, while never digressing from its subject—the personality and life of Charles Baudelaire—nevertheless takes it as the motif of a work of art in a way no less perfect than those of which it deals. Let me endeavour to resume the theme so that we may see the difference that more than forty years have made.
Writers and readers of to-day must necessarily look at Baudelaire with very different eyes from those of Gautier. How, why, and in what degree?
In 1857 Baudelaire published his greatest work, the volume of poems called "Les Fleurs du Mal." The book stirred literary France to its depths, and shook bourgeoisie France with horror. To many people it seemed that a veritable apostle of Satan had risen up in their midst.
In 1866 Charles Algernon Swinburne published "Poems and Ballads" and shocked literary England in precisely the same fashion, the middle classes remaining quite undisturbed and never hearing of this young man's succès de scandale.
The great and enduring beauty of the "Poems and Ballads," the perfection of form, incomparable music, colour-of-dreams, and of dreams alone—all these were natural products of the greatest master of metrical music since Shelley. But the ideas behind expression, attitude, and outlook—haunted visions of sin, swayings towards the Satanic—all these were simply drawn from Baudelaire; as Baudelaire in his fashion had distilled them from Edgar Allan Poe.
And this brings me to the point I wish to make. It is, to point out the immense influence of Baudelaire upon literature, thought, and life of England at this very moment.
This opium-taker, the eater of hashish; the rhapsodist of emotional life divorced from any moral or unmoral impulse; the man of good birth and fine social chances who died a general paralytic; the apologist of cosmetics, the lover of panther-women and the ultimate corruption of the grave, has made a definite change in English life.
All great events happen within the mind. "Waterloo," it used to be said, was "won upon the playing-fields of Eton"—just as Spion Kop was undoubtedly lost there.
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