Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 19|
by Harold Nicolson (1921).
By the spring of 1875 Rimbaud had mastered the German language. It was time to endure other adventures. It was time to seek the Orient. He left on foot, and on foot he crossed the St. Gotthard and dropped into Italy. He arrived hungry, weather-beaten and exhausted. At Milan his blue eyes attracted the pity and attention of a fortuitous female acquaintance. For a month he lived with her, eating her food and as voraciously acquiring her Italian. From there he set off, again on foot, for Brindisi and the East, but on the road between Leghorn and Siena he had a sunstroke and was taken to the Leghorn Hospital. On recovery he was repatriated by the French Consul to Marseilles. And there at the gateway to the Orient he lingered, unwilling to return homewards. But it was not easy to live on nothing: it was not easy to secure employment. All that summer he laboured as a porter in the docks, freighting the great steamers which swung out so easily and so often for the distant horizons of his desire. With the winder came the thought of home. A chance meeting with a Carlist recruiting agent offered an opportunity which could not be missed. He enlisted in the Carlist forces, and having obtained an advance of pay, he at once deserted and bought a ticket for Paris. By the winter of 1875 he was again at Charleville. He had shaved his head: he was learning the piano: he was waiting for the spring.
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Early in 1876 he again set out for the Orient. He told his mother that he had obtained employment at Vienna, and thereby induced her to give him some money. On arrival in Vienna, however, he was robbed of all this money by a cabman, and saw himself obliged to beg for a living in the streets. The Austrian police thereupon arrested him as a mendicant, and he was conducted to the German frontier. The German police in their turn expelled him into France, and from the frontier he walked back to Charleville. From there he wrote to a missionary society asking to be sent to the East to preach the gospel. His references appear, however, to have given the Society some doubts as to the depths of his vocation, since in a few weeks we find him again a pagan upon the road. On this occasion he tramped through Belgium and on into Holland, where at last his dreams were to be realised. He fell in with a Dutch recruiting sergeant and at once enlisted for service in the East Indies. The Dutch Government were to give him 1200 francs as an advance of pay and a free passage to Java. At last the wheel of fortune was turning in his favour. On arrival in Java he at once deserted and took to the jungle, where he subsisted for weeks on fruit and tree-roots, hiding in order to escape being shot as a deserter. Eventually he succeeded, hungry but immune, in reaching Batavia, and there, to complete the undiluted Conrad of the whole episode, was a British ship in immediate need of an interpreter. He had always possessed a rare and penetrating gift for languages. In a few hours he was free of Java and steaming via the Cape for Liverpool and safety. On leaving the Cape the ship passed close to St. Helena, so close that Rimbaud conceived a desire to visit, and at once, the scene of Napoleon's internment. He insisted that the ship should be stopped immediately. The captain refused, and Rimbaud thereupon jumped into the sea. A boat was lowered and he was pulled on board again and kept under observation until he reached Liverpool and eventually Dieppe. From there he arrived home in the autumn of 1877.
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