Paul Verlaine: His Life-His Work: Rimbaud, Page 7|
by Edmond Lepelletier (1907); translated by E.M. Lang (1909).
The youthful prodigy, however, was scarcely a success in Paris. In the first place he drank and gave up making verses. His contemptuous silence and arrogant airs wearied the kindest-hearted. Two of his biographers, MM. Jean Bourguignon and Charles Houin, who published in the Revue d'Ardenne et d'Argonne, January-February 1897, a very interesting and detailed article on Rimbaud, could not conceal what a failure the great man of Charleville was in Paris:
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"In the midst of the literary and artistic world Rimbaud led the strange abnormal existence of a drunken visionary. He systematically intoxicated himself with alcohol, haschish, and tobacco; he experienced the sensations of insomnia and sleep-walking; he lived in a waking dream, possessed by fancies and inward visions. This period was not fertile in verse. . . . Except for some enthusiasts the majority of those who were frequently in his company neither understood nor comprehended him, and were completely in the dark as to his personality. His ways, his attitudes, his conversation astonished, disquieted, stupefied and frightened a number of people who saw in the poet an 'insufferable coxcomb'—and something worse. . . . In this literary and artistic world where are to be found in greater prominence than anywhere else vanity, raillery, the tone of authority, and the care of individuality, Rimbaud did not bend his spirit of perfect independence, nor modify his tenacious, self-willed yet timid character, in which a strain of cold calculation mingled with a natural and delicate sensibility. For the majority he was an enigmatic visitant who aroused contempt and jealous suspicion, and left behind him a recollection of ambiguous and contradictory stories. This seems to be the explanation of what might be called Arthur Rimbaud's moral defeat in Parisian life."
Rimbaud's unsatisfied vanity, consciousness that he had not caught the Parisian fancy, and conviction that the impression he had made was of the slightest and easily effaced, made him leave the capital abruptly, in revolt against its domination. An adventure in a wine-shop doubtless contributed to hasten his departure.
It was our custom at that time to assist at a sort of co-operative repast given by the Parnassians, and the frequenters of the Salons Ricard and Nina and Lemerre's bookshop. We met once a month to dine and talk literature. Several outsiders, less advanced than ourselves, but already more or less famous, came from time to time. Poems were recited and readings given; Richepin's Chanson des Gueux and L'Etoile were thus heard for the first time. We called ourselves Les Vilains Bonshommes, which title arouse out of an article by Victor Cochinat in which he thus contemptuously designated us, and defiantly we retained it. The dinner was held at various restaurants on the left bank, often at a wine-shop at the corner of the Rue de Seine. The ménus were illustrated. One of them which I have preserved represents the back view of a nude figure, a Venus Callipyge holding a tablet on which is inscribed "Sonnets." At the foot of the drawing is written: "Invitation to the dinner of the Vilains Bonshommes." The drawing was always by a clever artist: Regamey, Forain, and Bracquemond designed several of these dinner cards.
At one of these dinners, to which naturally Verlaine had taken Rimbaud, an altercation arose during the reading of poems which terminated the repast. Rimbaud having gone so far as to talk aloud, and laugh scornfully during the declamation of a poem, which doubtless did not correspond with his code of æsthetics, the excellent Etienne Carjat who happened to be present and showed great admiration for the poet reading his verses, Jean Aicard, imposed silence on the young disturber, and as Rimbaud answered insolently that he should talk if he pleased, Carjat said to him: "Brat, if you and not silent I shall pull your ears!" Thereupon the youth, furious, ran to a corner of the dining-room and swiftly armed himself with the sword-stick which Verlaine always carried at this period, and which more than once nearly occasioned disaster. Rimbaud then rushed towards Carjat, and we had all the trouble in the world to disarm him, Carjat even being slightly wounded in the hand. Rimbaud was handed over to a young painter, a splendid fair young artist, Michel de l'Hay, nicknamed "Pénutet," who led him away to sleep off his drunkenness in the tranquility of the painter's studio. The insult produced a bad effect. The gentle Valade, Albert Mérat, and other peaceable poets, decided that Rimbaud should not again be invited to the Vilains Bonshommes. If Verlaine like to come he would be always welcomed at the friendly gathering, but he must not bring with him the intolerable boy, who supported so ill both wine and poems which were not his.
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