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Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 14
by Harold Nicolson (1921).

During this, the second period of their stay in London, the two poets lived at 8 Great College Street, Camden Town. Their relations seem from the outset to have been embittered by the lack of money. On the occasion of their original escape from Paris, Verlaine had managed to extract from his mother a very large portion of the poor woman's shrinking fortune. We know that between 1871 and 1873 Verlaine and Rimbaud accounted for some £600 of Madame Verlaine's capital. On the second occasion he appears to have had more difficulty in loosening his mother's purse-strings. Although he had no taste for luxury, Verlaine was always vague and volatile about money. Rimbaud, on the other hand, had a very robust sense of its importance: he was quite prepared to lived with Verlaine so long as the latter paid for everything; but the moment that a touch of penury came upon the household, it was time that Rimbaud went elsewhere to make his fortune. So what with one thing and another those spring days in Camden Town were not without their thunderstorms. The atmosphere became daily, almost hourly, more hectic. The continuous drinking of strong spirits had reduced Verlaine's nerves to a most sensitive condition; Rimbaud, for his part, was already dreaming of new combinations and exotic climates. The saison en enfer was drawing to a close: it was to end in the squalor of a vulgar wrangle. One hot evening at the end of June, Verlaine had been out marketing for their joint supper. He appears to have marketed badly: the fish that he had purchased was high; it was so high that even the street urchins in Camden Town shouted remarks upon its passage. This annoyed Verlaine: although he could bow before abuse, and smile at criticism, he loathed comment.

In a state of seething irritation he reached the threshold of their joint living-room; Rimbaud was sitting there toying with the intricacies of Les Illuminations. Unfortunately he, in his turn, commented upon the defects of Paul's purchase. This was too much for Verlaine. In an access of fury he flung the parcel at Rimbaud, dashed out of the house, and left that evening for Antwerp. Rimbaud was abandoned in London without a penny in his pocket. From Antwerp Verlaine telegraphed to his mother and to his wife, telling them that he had left Rimbaud, and would they please both come to Brussels at once. He would meet them there at the Hôtel Liégeois, rue Pachéco. If his wife refused to come he would commit suicide. He spent the interval in purchasing a revolver with which to carry out his menace. He contemplated "je ne sais quelle mort légère et délicate." The next day he went on to Brussels: his mother was there, but of his wife there was not a word. In a passion of disappointment he passed the night in an orgy of drinking. With the dawn came black reaction and in its wake the thought of Rimbaud. Of his two anchors—his two "loves, of hope and of despair"—one had now quite definitely failed him. He turned to the other, the evil genius whom he had so impulsively abandoned. He telegraphed imploringly to Rimbaud to come and join him and his mother in Brussels. He telegraphed him money for his ticket. On the 10th of July Rimbaud arrived. He stood in the doorway of the hotel bedroom, morose and obstinate. He had come at Verlaine's bidding, but he had only come to say good-bye: to say good-bye and to obtain money. It was all over between them. Let them give him the money and allow him to go. In blank despair Verlaine sat upon the bed, looking across at the boy who had brought him to so great a misery. Instinctively he began to temporise: of course Rimbaud should have the money; of course he should go if he wished it; but at least let them part as friends; let them go out together into the streets of Brussels where, but a year ago, they had been so happy. They could discuss the whole thing better in the open air; they could sit together in a café; they could drink.


PAGE 14 OF 21.

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