Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 9|
by Harold Nicolson (1921).
So much for the imaginative effect on Verlaine's temperament. But that timid casuistry which he called his reason also persuaded him that escape was after all a very possible solution. His life was becoming extremely complicated at the rue Nicolet: he liked scenes in principle, but their constant repetition was apt to weary; the deepening contrast between what he had dreamed of and what he had realised was more than irksome; it was humiliating; it was grotesque. It would be an effort to resume marital relations; it would be an effort to re-establish himself with his friends; escape would at least be easy. It would at least be definite. One would avoid explanations; one would avoid arguments; and then one would get away to London, and oh ! the brilliance, the unanswerable poignancy of the letters which could then be composed! As for the future, something would turn up: things always settled themselves in the end if one only gave them time. And then Mathilde? Ah yes, there was Mathilde. But she didn't really love him. She would get over it; she would come back to him afterwards; she would be happier alone with her parents. When all was over he would return in an orgy of self-humiliation; he would kneel at her feet and she would forgive him even as a mother forgives her child.
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And then after all, why on earth shouldn't he go to London with a friend if he wished to?
The die was cast, and all his after life Verlaine was to regret it.
The adventure which was to end in tragedy opened in farce. The two friends took the night train for Arras, where they arrived so early that all but the station buffet was closed to them. In the exhilaration of their freedom they behaved like schoolboys. Leaning over the bar they talked in loud whispers together of some imaginary murder they had committed; of how to dispose of the corpse; of what to do with the booty. As was intended, this conversation electrified the few travellers who at that early hour were sipping their coffee at the station. In particular, one gentleman, at whom Rimbaud had pointed with silent laughter, felt it his duty as a citizen to warn the police. They were arrested and conducted to the Mairie, where they were obliged to undergo the magistrate's examination. Rimbaud, who was the first to be examined, created some effect by skilfully feigning tears. Verlaine, when his turn came, found the magistrate in a mood of forgiveness bordering on apology. The occasion was too good to be missed. Verlaine launched out into a diatribe against an administration which exposed its peaceful citizens to such high-handed treatment: he would return to Paris; he would see his friend M. Victor Hugo; he would use his great influence with the Press of Paris to expose the scandalous abuses to which the provincial satraps of the Republic were addicted; nay, more, as a native of Metz he would exercise his right of option—he would choose to become a German rather than to remain French under such a corrupt and autocratic system; and Paris, nay, the whole world, should learn the reason why. The magistrate was not impressed by this outburst of eloquence: he was annoyed. In a few curt words he ordered the strange pair to be conducted to the station, and placed under escort in the next train for Paris. On arrival at the Gare du Nord the two at once changed into another train which was to carry them direct to the Belgian frontier.
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