Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 13|
by Harold Nicolson (1921).
In December of that year Rimbaud returned to Charleville, and Verlaine remained on in London. They had separated by mutual consent, and with a promise from Rimbaud that he would return shortly: his departure was nothing but a holiday; he was "going on leave." Verlaine, however, who could not be left alone for a minute, summoned his mother to London, and the poor, docile woman came immediately. With Rimbaud's departure and the arrival of his mother, Verlaine began to dream of constructing some new scheme of life for himself in England. He would give French lessons. He and his mother would take some cottage in the suburbs, where they would evolve a faint shadow of his abandoned domesticity. He writes to Lepelletier: "Je me referai une tranquillité—et qui sait ?" In the first weeks of 1873 Madame Verlaine returned to Arras, where she was then established, leaving her son, apparently calm and contented, to make preparations for their future installation. Towards the end of February, however, he suddenly fell ill with what was probably influenza. In a panic he telegraphed to his mother, to his wife and to Rimbaud, begging them all three to fly to his bedside to receive his dying benediction. His mother and Rimbaud arrived together to find him well on the road to convalescence. His wife, to Verlaine's pain and surprise, did not put in an appearance. It was decided that Paul should be taken home to recover. He refused to go to France, as he was still terrified of being denounced for participation in the Commune. Besides France would mean Paris, and Paris would entail the uncertainty, at street corners and on the café terraces, or whether he would, or would not, be cut by his acquaintances. Leconte de Lisle would certainly cut him; so might even Coppée, whose head had perhaps been turned by the continued success of Le Pasant; and Catulle Mendès? and Anatole France? No, it would be better, as yet, not to endure such an ordeal. So Verlaine was taken to his father's home in the Ardennes, which, since 1815, had conveniently been enclosed within the Belgian frontier. He was to cross by Newhaven and Dieppe. But on embarking he was so terrified by the presence on board of two persons whom he took to be French secret police, that he scrambled back on the quay at Newhaven, returned to London, and crossed next day direct to Antwerp. From there he proceeded to Jehonville, his father's village, not far from Sedan, and all too close—"nimium vicina !"—to Charleville, where Rimbaud was then living.
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For the first few weeks of his stay at Jehonville Verlaine appears to have been fired by definite hopes of a reconciliation with his wife. It is not clear whether there was any ground for this optimism. It is possible that his mother and Madame Mauté had been in correspondence, and that the former, increasingly anxious at the constant visits of Rimbaud to Jehonville, had painted a glowing picture of the probable success of her intrigue. It is possible also that Verlaine expected great things from the intervention of Victor Hugo, who had promised to go and see Mathilde. These hopes were in any case not to be realised. In the early weeks of May, Verlaine and Rimbaud joined each other at Bouillon, and left at once for Antwerp and London.
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