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French Profiles: A First Sight Of Verlaine, Page 1  
by Edmund Gosse (1896). Page protected by Copyscape DO NOT COPY

IN 1893 the thoughts of a certain pilgrim were a good deal occupied by the theories and experiments which a section of the younger French poets were engaged upon. In this country, the Symbolists and Decadents of Paris had been laughed at and parodied, but, with the exception of Mr. Arthur Symons, no English critic had given their tentatives any serious attention. I became much interested — not wholly converted, certainly, but considerably impressed — as I studied, not what was said about them by their enemies, but what they wrote themselves. Among them all, there was but one, M. Mallarmé, whom I knew personally; him I had met, more than twenty years before, carrying the vast folio of his Manet-Poe through the length and breadth of London, disappointed but not discouraged. I learned that there were certain haunts where these later Decadents might be observed in large numbers, drawn together by the gregarious attraction of verse. I determined to haunt that neighbourhood with a butterfly-net, and see what delicate creatures with powdery wings I could catch. And, above all, was it not understood that that vaster lepidopter, that giant hawk-moth, Paul Verlaine, uncoiled his proboscis in the same absinthe-corollas?

Timidity, doubtless, would have brought the scheme to nought, if, unfolding it to Mr. Henry Harland, who knows his Paris like the palm of his hand, he had not, with enthusiastic kindness, offered to become my cicerone. He was far from sharing my interest in the Symbolo-decadent movement, and the ideas of the "poètes abscons comme la lune" left him a little cold, yet he entered at once into the sport of the idea. To race up and down the Boulevard St. Michel, catching live poets in shoals, what a charming game! So, with a beating heart and under this gallant guidance, I started on a beautiful April morning to try my luck as an entomologist. This is not the occasion to speak of the butterflies which we successfully captured during this and the following days and nights; the expedition was a great success. But, all the time, the hope of capturing that really substantial moth, Verlaine, was uppermost, and this is how it was realised.

As every one knows, the broad Boulevard St. Michel runs almost due south from the Palais de Justice to the Gardens of the Luxembourg. Through the greater part of its course, it is principally (so it strikes one) composed of restaurants and brasseries, rather dull in the daytime, excessively blazing and gay at night.


To the critical entomologist the eastern side of this street is known as the chief, indeed almost the only habitat of poeta symbolans, which, however, occurs here in vast numbers. Each of the leaders of a school has his particular café, where he is to be found at an hour and in a chair known to the habitués of the place. So Dryden sat at Will's and Addison at Button's, when chocolate and ratafia, I suppose, took the place of absinthe. M. Jean Moréas sits in great circumstance at the Restaurant d'Harcourt — or he did three years ago — and there I enjoyed much surprising and stimulating conversation. But Verlaine — where was he? At his café, the François-Premier, we were told that he had not been seen for four days. "There is a letter for him — he must be ill," said Madame; and we felt what the tiger-hunter feels when the tiger has gone to visit a friend in another valley. But to persist is to succeed.

The last of three days devoted to this fascinating sport had arrived. I had seen Symbolists and Decadents to my heart's content. I had learned that Victor Hugo was not a poet at all, and that M. Viélé-Griffin was a splendid bard; I had heard that neither Victor Hugo nor M. Viélé-Griffin had a spark of talent, but that M. Charles Morice was the real Simon Pure. I had heard a great many conflicting opinions stated without hesitation and with a delightful violence; I had heard a great many verses recited which I did not understand because I was a foreigner, and could not have understood if I had been a Frenchman. I had quaffed a number of highly indigestible drinks, and had enjoyed myself very much. But I had not seen Verlaine, and poor Mr. Harland was in despair. We invited some of the poets to dine with us that night (this is the etiquette of the "Bou' Mich'") at the Restaurant d'Harcourt, and a very entertaining meal we had. M. Moréas was in the chair, and a poetess with a charming name decorated us all with sprays of the narcissus poeticus. I suppose that the company was what is called "a little mixed," but I am sure it was very lyrical. I had the honour of giving my arm to a most amiable lady, the Queen of Golconda, whose precise rank among the crowned heads of Europe is, I am afraid, but vaguely determined. The dinner was simple, but distinctly good; the chairman was in magnificent form, un vrai chef d'école, and between each of the courses somebody intoned his own verses at the top of his voice. The windows were wide open on to the Boulevard, but there was no public expression of surprise.

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Gosse, E (1896). French Profiles: A First Sight Of Verlaine:Page1. Retrieved  
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MLA Style:
Gosse, Edmund. "French Profiles: A First Sight Of Verlaine:Page1."   
	La Nouvelle Décadence. 1896.  <
	/people/tl/lanouvelledecadence/verbiogos01.html >.

Turabian Style:
Gosse, Edmund. "French Profiles: A First Sight Of Verlaine:Page1."    
	La Nouvelle Décadence. Available from
	/people/tl/lanouvelledecadence/verbiogos01.html. Internet; accessed 

Chicago Style:
Gosse, Edmund. "French Profiles: A First Sight Of Verlaine:Page1." 1896. 
	(accessed ).

AUTHOR: Gosse, Edmund (1896).
TITLE OF WEBPAGE: "French Profiles: A First Sight Of Verlaine:Page1".
TITLE OF WEBSITE: La Nouvelle Décadence.
PUBLISHER: Lannie Brockstein.
LAST UPDATED: December 29th, 2009.

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