Paul Verlaine: His Absinthe Tinted Song, Page 6
by Bergen Applegate (1916).
Paul Marie Verlaine was born at Metz, Lorraine, France, March 30, 1844. His father, Nicolas Auguste Verlaine, was born in Belgium and was forty-six years old at the poet's birth.
The poet's mother was born in Fampoux, (Pas De Calais) France. Her maiden name was Josèphe Stephanie Dehée. She was thirty-two years old when her son was born. Verlaine's father was Captain Adjutant-Major, Second Regiment of Engineers, in the French Army. He was Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur and of the order of Saint Ferdinand d'Espagne.
In 1851 the Verlaines moved to Paris and bought property in the suburb, Les Batignolles, on the old rue Saint Louis.
In religion Mme. Verlaine was a devout Catholic, but her husband was indifferent to such matters. Paul was an only child and at an early age was sent to private school, rue Helene, and later to the Institute Landry, boarding school on the rue Chaptal, where he remained several years. At this Institute pupils were prepared by classes at the Lycée Bonaparte. In a class of fifty pupils, the future poet ranked neither first nor last. He was especially deficient in mathematics but notably good in rhetoric, literature, Latin and Greek. He took his Bachelor of Letters degree, and in an application for government position was highly recommended by his teacher.
Verlaine's parents intended him for the law, and after his school days he began the study of this profession, at the same time endeavoring to secure a position with the Government. Finding law distasteful, the future poet took (after some months training in a business college) a subordinate position in an insurance office. Through influence of His father's friends, he was appointed, some months later, as clerk in the municipal offices of the ninth arrondissement, and later was promoted to a clerkship in the Bureau of Budgets and Accounts. This was in 1864, and the poet was then twenty years old.
At this age he was already dissipated. In fact, his irregular habits dated almost from his entrance into the Lycee Bonaparte. He describes with singular sangfroid, in his Confessions, how, at the age when most children are still in knickerbockers, he lost his innocence in a vile bagnio on a side street in Paris.
• • • • •Dearest Décadent, to read the seventh page of this article,
Verlaine as a clerk in the Hotel-de-Ville was indolent, spending most of his time in a neighboring café in company with other municipal employes, a number of whom had literary aspirations. According to Lepelletier, few of these municipal clerks bothered their heads about work. Verlaine had written verses from his early school days, and profiting by the light duties of clerkship, he brought out at this time his first book, Poèmes Saturniens. This work, a thin volume of 163 pages, bore the imprint "Alphonse Lemerre, publisher, Paris; 47 Passage Choiseul, 1866."
Captain Verlaine having died in December, 1865, his widow continued to live at Les Batignolles with her son, upon whom she lavished every tenderness. Indeed, she spoiled him shamefully, indulged him in everything, and forgave all his youthful follies. The young clerk sowed a tremendous crop of wild oats — coming home drunk at all hours of the night. This lack of restraint in his youth, coupled with a weak will and neurotic temperament, was the cause of his downfall.
In 1869, Verlaine, still at the Hotel-de-Ville, brought out, through the publisher Lemerre, a second volume of poems, the Fêtes Galantes.
These were the happiest days of the unfortunate man's life. He was twenty-live. The author of two
volumes of poems which gave brilliant promise, secure and light employment, promising better things, he was one of a group of young writers who had already made a noise in the world of letters and who, under the name of Parnassiens, have left an indelible impression upon French literature.
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