Paul Verlaine: His Life-His Work: Rimbaud, Page 1|
by Edmond Lepelletier (1907); translated by E.M. Lang (1909).
La Bonne Chanson was only sung for a season; epithalamiums are the poems of a day. We have already alluded to the first domestic grumblings, forerunners of violent storms, and the final cyclone which was to sweep away the conjugal happiness and family life of the poet. I am far from putting the entire blame on the wife—whom he adored and cursed in a breath—and recognise that my friend was greatly in the wrong; but as he said reproachfully in that wistful stanza of the Romances sans Paroles, she had not sufficient patience nor gentleness. Verlaine was easily led, and could without difficulty have been persuaded to accept tranquillity, regular work, and a peaceful and orderly existence. It is difficult for a woman to whom her husband only displays indifference, and frequently gives cause for jealousy, and sometimes, worse still, replaces by a permanent and acknowledged rival, to entice him back to her side and re-establish peace in the home; but Verlaine adored his wife, she could have led him where and how she would—he was wholly hers.
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The conjugal knot was soon strengthened by the anticipated birth of a child. All his life Verlaine spoke with emotion of his son Georges, whom he was never to hold in his arms. He wrote to Stéphane Mallarmé, when a professor at the Lycée Condorcet, for information about young Georges, whom he supposed had become a pupil there; and later still, he begged me to make enquiries at Orléans, where the young man was working as a clockmaker. His son and his wife were two chains from which he never entirely broke free, for he loved them, these legal shackles. Broken or cut it would have been easy to join them together again, for he desired it.
The great difficulty was to struggle against drink, to conquer the terrible disease which was the prime cause of the scenes, reproaches, and violent quarrels between the two. I have already alluded to Verlaine's fatal alcoholic progress: in early youth during visits to his indulgent relations, the Dehées of Fampoux, the Dujardins of Lécluse, and the Grandjeans of Paliseul, he had acquired a taste for beer, gin and bistouille; as a Government clerk with a little money in his pocket, the desire for heady liquids had grown upon him, and the siege of Paris, with its dearth of victuals, and abundance of liquids, its enforced inactivity and compulsory camaraderie, still further developed his fatal dipsomania. When sober, Verlaine was the sweetest, most amiable of companions, and I imagine of husbands; but intoxicated with absinthe, curaçao, gin, or American grogs, he became, even with his best friends, disagreeable, aggressive, quarrelsome, in short, insupportable; and if he were like this in the cafés one can imagine his return to the conjugal hearth, often at a very late hour, after final solitary drinks when he had quitted us.
A second cause of misunderstandings arose from life in common with his wife's parents in the little house in the Rue Nicolet. A third cause, resulting from the first one, was the cessation of his duties as clerk, the perpetual holiday, the increased facilities for stationing himself in cafés, and the livelier temptation to pile up saucers in front of him, nothing producing thirst like drink.
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