Paul Verlaine: His Life-His Work: Rimbaud, Page 3|
by Edmond Lepelletier (1907); translated by E.M. Lang (1909).
Arthur Rimbaud played too important a part in Verlaine's life for us to pass him over without giving some details of his career. He was an Ardennais, and consequently a compatriot of Verlaine's. He was born at Charleville, where his mother lived with her father Nicolas Knief, on the 20th October 1854. His family had originally come from the south, and his father, like Verlaine's, had been a captain, but in the infantry. Young Rimbaud attended the local grammar school, and was quite a satisfactory pupil, particularly in Latin; he won several prizes, notably that for Latin verse. His was a precocious, inventive intelligence, which his masters termed fertile. For this he obtained praise which stimulated his already active vanity. He soon took to literature, and composed while still at school several bizarre poems which were afterwards published and admired: Les Premières Communions, Le Bal des Pendus, etc. While still very young he manifested revolutionary and atheistic sentiments, for his were the talents of a satiric poet, and the disordered aspirations of an anarchist.
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During the German war, on the day after Sedan, impelled by the vagrant spirit which was later to drive him to Harrar and Ethiopia, he sold the books he had received as prizes, and thus furnished with money, set his face towards Paris, but with a naïve and clumsy cunning, desirous of economising his slender resources, and supposing that he would be able to slip out of the train unperceived on arrival, he only took a ticket for the first station after Charleville, accomplishing the rest of the journey without one.
At the Gare de l'Est he was stopped as a traveller without a ticket, and was found to be without references or papers; having indeed all the appearance of a boy escaped from a reformatory. Accordingly he was taken to the Depôt, but, sullen and contemptuous, he refused to answer any questions as to his origin, means, or the motives which had impelled him to take the train and escape from some place or authority he did not wish to reveal. His secrecy and stealthy glances right and left caused the police to regard him with suspicion; he was retained and sent to Mazas with open instructions. After a few days of detention, however, he made up his mind to give the name of one of his old professors, M. Georges Izambard of Douai. This gentleman, informed by the authorities, sent the money demanded for the railway ticket, and Rimbaud set at liberty was taken back to the station and despatched to Douai, for it was impossible for him to return to Charleville, the communications having been cut off by the Prussians.
This was Rimbaud's first contact with Paris. Once again he escaped from his parents, and went to Charleroi with the idea of joining the staff of a newspaper in that town; but he was not accepted. It must be said that his appearance, that of a vicious and sickly boy, was hardly prepossessing, and the editor of the journal could not believe that such a troublesome vagabond was likely to prove of any service. Rimbaud therefore returned home, where he remained quietly until the end of October 1870. During this period he composed several poems, among others Les Effarés, and Le Cabaret Vert. He had some correspondence with a friend, M. Delahaye, who knew Verlaine. Soon the desire to go to Paris reawakened in him, but he knew that the Germans surrounded the capital with an iron ring, and the fear of not being able to break through it, kept him for some time longer in his native town. He inveighed against the war and against the Parisians for the resistance which upset his plans. He avidly demanded news, keeping himself informed every day at the Hôtel-de-Ville, or in the cafés, of the progress of the invasion. He declaimed against the length of the siege, and considered the defence absurd and useless. He said that in the besieged city all thought was for food, and no notice was taken of poetry. "Paris is nothing but a stomach!" he asserted.
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