Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 16|
by Harold Nicolson (1921).
The trial took place in August. (The dossier thereof is No. 148 of 1873.) From the first it went against Verlaine. Rimbaud, it is true, behaved well, and in the deposition that had been wrung out of him in hospital, he had tried to reduce the affair to the dimensions of a foolish quarrel. But the Brussels police had made inquiries in Paris. They had learnt that Verlaine had been connected with the Commune: they had taken the vindictive evidence of Monsieur Mauté. The Court at Brussels was most unfavourably impressed. Verlaine at first rather enjoyed his trial: it was sensational and dramatic. The charge against him was "assault leading to temporary incapacity of the victim." It did not seem very serious; a mere case of felony. The penalty would be light. But the Belgian judges thought differently, and when on August 8 they passed the maximum sentence of two years' solitary confinement and a 200-francs fine, Verlaine broke down in terrified astonishment. An appear was lodged to the High Court of Brabant. On August 27, however, the High Court rejected the appeal and confirmed the original sentence.
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Verlaine was taken back to the Prison de Carmes to be transferred a month later to the gaol at Mons.
From the hour of that strange and flurried scene in the sunlight of the place Rouppe, Rimbaud was, except for one significant meeting two years later, to pass for ever out of the life of Paul Verlaine. Thus in a monograph on the latter, Rimbaud should, by all tradition, be at this stage dismissed with a few valedictory phrases. I do not feel, however, that this is possible. The tragedy of Verlaine's life centred and culuminated in his connexion with Rimbaud, in the satanic attraction which that relentless character exercised upon his weak but not unamiable nature. And the full force of Rimbaud's character can only be comprehended if his life is taken as a whole. I propose, therefore, in this chapter, and while the course of Verlaine's own biography is suspended by his sojourn in the red-rose gaol of Mons, to tell the story of the life and death of Arthur Rimbaud.
So soon as the bullet had been extracted and his evidence taken, Rimbaud had been escorted to the French frontier, from where he found his way back on foot to Charleville. He at once set himself to write the Saison en enfer and to arrange for its publication in Brussels. Hardly, however, had the book been issued than he recalled it. All but a few isolated copies were supposed to have been destroyed, and it was from one of these survivals that the work was re-edited by his brother-in-law after his death. A further set of the original edition which had escaped destruction was, however, discovered quite recently in a cellar at Mons. The Saison en enfer was thus the only book that Rimbaud himself allowed to be published, and even that he caused to be destroyed so soon as it was issued. To his earlier poems reference has already been made in a previous chapter; enough has been said of the Saison en enfer to give some impression of that acid human document. There remain the Illuminations—the work which, after the Saison en enfer, is most typical of Rimbaud's unpleasing genius.
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