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Some Remarks on Baudelaire's Influence
upon Modern Poetry and Thought, Page 3

by Guy Thorne (1915).

An English critic of Baudelaire has said:

"The writing of a great book is the casting of a pebble into the pool of human thought; it gives rise to ever-widening circles that will reach we know not whither, and begins a chain of circumstances that may end in the destruction of kingdoms and religions and the awakening of new gods. The change wrought, directly or indirectly, by 'The Flowers of Evil' alone is almost too great to be properly understood. There is perhaps not a man in Europe to-day whose outlook on life would not have been different had 'The Flowers of Evil' never been written.

"The first thing that happens after the publication of such a book is the theft of its ideas and the imitation of its style by the lesser writers who labour for the multitude, and so its teaching goes from book to book, from the greater to the lesser, as the divine hierarchies emanate from Divinity, until ideas that were once paradoxical, or even blasphemous and unholy, have become mere newspaper commonplaces adopted by the numberless thousands who do not think for themselves, and the world's thought is changed completely, though by infinitely slow degrees.

"The immediate result of Baudelaire's work was the Decadent School in French literature. Then the influence spread across the Channel, and the English Æsthetes arose to preach the gospel of imagination to the unimaginative."

These passages are illuminating. They do not enunciate a new truth, but they insist upon one which is not sufficiently recognised. Gautier has pointed out how immensely Baudelaire was influenced by Thomas de Quincey, and, especially, by Edgar Allan Poe. To continue that line of thought is my purpose.

It is impossible to mention all those French writers who are literal creations of Baudelaire, who would never have written a line had he not shown the way. Their name is Legion, and many of them do not merit the slightest attention. One great writer, however, who would never have been what he was save for Charles Baudelaire, is Verlaine.

In England, although the imitators of Baudelaire and those who have drawn inspiration from him, are far fewer in number, their influence upon English thought can hardly be over-estimated. I do not propose to do more than outline the influence. It will be sufficient for my purpose if I take but four names; those of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, and the minor poet Ernest Dowson—who produced only one small volume of verses, but who, nevertheless, belongs directly to the school of Baudelaire, and whose work is tinging the attitude towards life of the present generation in a way very little suspected by most people.

Baudelaire, when he wrote of love, invariably did so with the despair of satiety. It was always a vanished emotion that he recaptured and made beautiful in melodious verse; always the bitter taste left upon the lips of those who have kissed overmuch and overlong. The attitude is always that of the man who scourges himself, uses the rod of passion, the whip of lust, or the knout of unfulfilled desire to make some almost perfect madrigal.

It must be remembered that we are dealing with a strange and esoteric personality. I have made it my method here to be concerned with facts alone, and those who would understand the poet must be content to draw their own deductions from these facts. It is no province of mine to pass any judgment other than the pure æsthetic. Music has come from the experiments and agonies of genius. I analyse, that is all.

The best and simplest way to make it clear how much Swinburne owed to Baudelaire is by means of parallel quotation.


PAGE 3 OF 13.

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