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Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 20
by Harold Nicolson (1921).

After a few months' rest he once more set out upon his journeys. Although his desertion at Java had exposed him to just retribution on the part of the Dutch Government, he proceeded straight to Holland. He then found his way to the German frontier, where by glittering promises he induced a number of young Germans to enlist in the Dutch Colonial forces. Returning with this booty to Holland, he handed them over to the Dutch Recruiting Office. With the commission he obtained for this service Rimbaud left for Hamburg, hoping at that port again to obtain a passage to Eastern waters. The drinking dens of Hamburg were, however, too much for him: his money had gone before he had obtained employment. For a time, therefore, he was forced to enter an itinerant circus, and with this he travelled through Denmark and Sweden, his now haggard face and scanty beard looming strangely from behind the guichet where he gave out the tickets. The occupation was uncongenial: unlike Verlaine, Rimbaud detested the placidity of Northern Europe: it was obnoxious to him to sit all day receiving the pennies of the docile Scandinavians. On reaching Stockholm, therefore, he went to the French Consul to whom he told some elaborate but convincing story of distress and indigence: his haggard appearance, his youth, and his obvious culture gained him sympathy: the Consul agreed to repatriate him to France.

Rimbaud's return on this occasion appears to have been prompted solely by the desire to extort more money from his hard, but by no means indigent, mother. He told her that he had obtained a lucrative post with a firm in Hamburg, and she gave him enough money to proceed to that port. On arriving there he did actually succeed in getting employment which entailed his being sent to Alexandria. On reaching Egypt, however, he at once escaped to Cyprus, where he became a foreman in some sun-scarred quarries in a remote part of the island. While thus employed he was struck down by fever, and again returned to Charleville.

In the seven years which had passed since the scene at Brussels, Rimbaud had thus been in turn a schoolmaster, a dockyard hand, a Carlist deserter, a street beggar, a Dutch soldier, a ship's interpreter, a press-gang agent, an accountant in a travelling circus, and a quarryman. He had visited England, Germany, Italy, Austria, Holland, the East Indies, Scandinavia, Egypt and Cyprus. And each time he had returned home to Charleville, only to leave again with the coming of the spring.

The early days of March 1880 were, however, to witness his final abandonment of what he has called the "ancient parapets of Europe." His family were not to see him again for fully eleven years, and were then to welcome only the shattered remnants of a broken man with the shadow of death already upon him. He was but twenty-five, therefore, when he left home for ever, walking as before over the St. Gotthard and thus to Egypt. We see him for a month or two again in Cyprus, employed this time as overseer during the construction of the summer villa then being built for the British High Commissioner on the summit of Mount Troodos. He appears later in the Red Sea: at Jeddah for a while, at Suakim, at Massowah, at Hodeidah, and finally settle din the Hôtel de l'Univers upon the bare and burning rock of Aden. Here he obtained work with the French firm of Mazeran, Viannay & Bardey, by whom he was eventually sent to the interior of Abyssinia.


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