James Huneker



The Baudelaire Legend


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[240] FOR the sentimental no greater foe exists than the iconoclast who dissipates literary legends. And he is abroad nowadays. Those golden times when they gossiped of De Quincey's enormous opium consumption, of the gin absorbed by gentle Charles Lamb, of Coleridge's dark ways, Byron's escapades and Shelley's atheism – Alas! into what faded limbo have they vanished. Poe, too; Poe whom we saw in fancy reeling from Richmond to Baltimore, Baltimore to Philadelphia, to New York! These familiar fascinating anecdotes have gone the way of all such jerry-built spooks. We know Poe to have been a man suffering at the time of his death from a cerebral lesion, a man who drank at intervals and but little. Dr. Guerrier of Paris exploded a darling superstition about De Quincey's enormous opium eating. He has demonstrated that no man could have lived so long – De Quincey was nearly seventy-five at his death – could have worked so hard, if he had consumed twelve thousand drops of laudanum as often as he said he did. Furthermore, the English essayist's description of the drug's effects is pronounced inexact. He was seldom sleepy – a sure sign, asserts Dr. Guerrier, that he was not a confirmed victim to the drug habit. In old age he was sprightly, and his powers of labor were prolonged until past three-score and ten. His imagination needed no opium to produce the famous Confessions. [241] Even Gautier's revolutionary red waistcoat worn at the première of Ernani was, according to Gautier, a pink doublet. And Rousseau has been whitewashed! So they are disappearing, those literary legends, until, disheartened, we cry out: Spare us our dear, old-fashioned, disreputable men of genius!

But the legend of Charles Baudelaire is seemingly indestructible. This French poet – whose name should be unforgotten by Poe's American admirers – himself has suffered more from the friendly malignant biographer and Parisian chroniclers of the small beer of literature than did Poe. Who shall keep the curs out of the cemetery, asked Baudelaire after he had read Griswold on Poe. In a few years his own cemetery was invaded and the world was put in possession of the Baudelaire legend; that legend of the atrabilious, irritable poet, dandy, maniac, his hair dyed green, spouting blasphemies, that grim, despairing image of a Diabolic, libertine, saint, and drunkard. Maxime Du Camp was much to blame for the promulgation of these tales – witness his "Souvenirs Littéraires." But it may be confessed that some of the Baudelaire legend was created by Charles Baudelaire. In the history of literature it is difficult to parallel such a deliberate piece of selfstultification. Not Villon, who preceded him, not Verlaine who imitated him, drew for the astonishment or disedification of the world like unflattering portraits. Mystifier as he was, he must have suffered at times from acute cortical irritation. Notwithstanding his desperate effort to realize Poe's idea of "Mon cœur mis à nu," he only proved Poe correct who had said that no man can bare his heart quite naked; there will be always something held back, something false too ostentatiously thrust forward. The grimace, the attitude, the pomp of rhetoric are so many buffers between the soul of man and the sharp reality of published confessions. Baudelaire was no more exception to this rule than St. Augustine, Bunyan, Rousseau, or Huysmans; though he was franker than any of them, as we may see in the recently printed diary, "Mon cœur mis à nu" (Posthumous Works, Societé Mercure de France); and in the Journal, Fusées, Letters, and other fragments exhumed by devoted Baudelarians.

To smash many legends Eugene Crépet's biographical study, first printed in 1887, has been republished with new notes by his son, Jacques Crépet. This is an exceedingly valuable contribution to Baudelaire lore; a dispassionate life, however, has yet to be written, a noble task for some young poet who will disentangle the conflicting lies originated by Baudelaire – that tragic comedian – from the truth and thus save him from himself. The new Crépet volume is really but a series of notes; there are some letters addressed to the poet by the distinguished men of his day, supplementing the rather disappointing volume of "Lettres, 1841-1866," published in 1908. There are also documents in the legal prosecution of Baudelaire, with memories of him by Charles Asselineau, Léon Cladel, Camille Lemonnier, and others.

In November, 1850, Maxime du Camp and Gustave Flaubert found themselves at the French Ambassador's, Constantinople. The two friends had taken that trip in the Orient which later bore fruit in "Salammbô." General Aupick, representative of the French Government, received the young men cordially; they were presented to his wife, Madame Aupick. She was the mother of Charles Baudelaire, and inquired of Du Camp, rather anxiously: "My son has talent, has he not?" Unhappy because her second marriage, a brilliant one, had set her son against her, the poor woman welcomed from such a source as Du Camp confirmation of her eccentric boy's gifts. Du Camp tells the much-discussed story of a quarrel between the youthful Charles and his stepfather, a quarrel that began at table. There were guests present. After some words Charles bounded at the general's throat and sought to strangle him. He was promptly boxed on the ears and succumbed to a nervous spasm. A delightful anecdote, one that fills with joy psychiatrists in search of a theory of genius and its degeneration. Charles was given some money and put on board of a ship sailing to the East Indies. He became a cattle dealer in the British army, and returned to France years afterward with a Venus noire, to whom he addressed extravagant poems! All this according to Du Camp. Here is another tale, a comical one. Baudelaire visited Du Camp in Paris, and his hair was violently green. Du Camp said nothing. Angered by this indifference, [242] Baudelaire asked: "You find nothing abnormal about me?" "No," was the answer. "But my hair – it is green!" "That is nothing singular, mon cher Baudelaire; every one has more or less green hair in Paris." Disappointed in not creating a sensation, Baudelaire went to a café, gulped down two large bottles of Burgundy, and asked the waiter to remove the water, as water was a disagreeable sight; then he went away in a rage. It is a pity to doubt this green hair legend; presumably a man of genius will not be able to enjoy an epileptic fit in peace – as does a banker or an outcast. We are told that St. Paul, Mahomet, Handel, Napoleon, Flaubert, Dostiëvsky were epileptoids; yet we do not encounter men of this rare kind among the inmates of asylums. Even Baudelaire had his sane moments.

The joke of the green hair has been disposed of by Crépet. Baudelaire's hair thinned after an illness, he had his head shaved and painted with salve of a green hue, hoping thereby to escape baldness. At the time when he had embarked for Calcutta (May, 1841), he was not seventeen, but twenty years of age. Du Camp said he was seventeen when he attacked General Aupick. The dinner could not have taken place at Lyons, because the Aupick family had left that city six years before the date given by Du Camp. Charles was provided with five thousand francs for his expenses, instead of twenty – Du Camp's version – and he was not a beef-drover in the British army for a reason beefdrover he never reached India. Instead, he disembarked at the Isle of Bourbon, and after a short stay was seized by homesickness and returned to France, being absent about ten months. But, like Flaubert, on his return home Baudelaire was seized with the nostalgia of the East; out there he had yearned for Paris. Jules Claretie recalls Baudelaire saying to him with a grimace: "I love Wagner; but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by his tail outside of a window, and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws. There is an odd grating on the glass which I find at the same time strange, irritating, and singularly harmonious." Is it necessary to add that Baudelaire, notorious in Paris for his love of cats, and dedicating poems to cats, would never have perpetrated such revolting cruelty?

Another misconception, a critical one, is the case of Poe and Baudelaire. The young Frenchman first became infatuated with Poe's writings in 1846 or 1847 – he gives these two dates, though several stories of Poe had been translated into French as early as 1841 or 1842; "L'Orang-Outang" was the first, which we know as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." Madame Meunier also translated several of the Poe stories for the reviews. Baudelaire's labors as a translator lasted over ten years. That he assimilated Poe, that he idolized Poe, is a commonplace of literary gossip. But that Poe had overwhelming influence in the formation of his poetic genius is not the truth. Yet we find such an acute critic as the late Edmund Clarence Stedman writing, "Poe's chief influence upon Baudelaire's own production relates to poetry." It is precisely the reverse. Poe's influence affected Baudelaire's prose, notably in the disjointed confessions, "Mon cœur mis à nu," which recall the American writer's "Marginalia." The bulk of the poetry in "Les Fleurs du Mal" was written before Baudelaire had read Poe, though not published in book form until 1857. But in 1855 some of the poems saw the light in the "Revue des deux Mondes," while many of them had been put forth a decade or fifteen years before as fugitive verse in various magazines. Stedman was not the first to make this mistake. In Bayard Taylor's "The Echo Club" we read on page 24 this criticism: "There was a congenital twist about Poe. . . . Baudelaire and Swinburne after him have been trying to surpass him by increasing the dose; but his muse is the natural Pythia, inheriting her convulsions, while they eat all sorts of insane roots to produce theirs." This must have been written about 1872, and after reading it one would fancy Poe and Baudelaire were rhapsodic wrigglers on the poetic tripod; whereas their poetry is too often reserved and glacial. Baudelaire, like Poe, sometimes "Built his nests with the birds of night," and that was enough to condemn the work of both men by critics of the didactic school.

Once, when Baudelaire heard that an American man-of-letters (?) was in Paris, he secured an introduction and called. Eagerly inquiring after Poe he learned that he was not considered a genteel person in [243] America. Baudelaire withdrew, muttering maledictions. Enthusiastic poet. Charming literary person. But the American, whoever he was, represented public opinion at the time. To-day criticisms of Poe are vitiated by the desire to make him an angel. It is to be doubted whether without his barren environment and hard fortunes we should have had Poe at all. He had to dig down deeper into the pit of his personality to reach the central core of his music. But every ardent young soul entering "literature" begins by a vindication of Poe's character. Poe was a man, and he is now a classic. He was a half-charlatan as was Baudelaire. In both the sublime and the sickly were never far asunder. The pair loved to mystify, to play pranks on their contemporaries. Both were implacable pessimists. Both were educated in affluence, and had to face unprepared the hardships of life. The hastiest comparison of their poetic work will show that their only common ideal was the worship of an exotic beauty. Baudelaire, like Poe, had a harp-like temperament which vibrated in the presence of strange subjects. Above all he was obsessed by sex. Woman, as angel of destruction, is the keynote of his poems. Poe was almost sexless. His aerial creatures do not foot the dusty highways of the world. His lovely lines, "Helen, thy beauty is to me," could never have been written by Baudelaire; while Poe would never have pardoned the "fulgurant" grandeur, the Beethoven-like harmonies, the Dantesque horrors of that "deep wide music of lost souls" in "Femmes Damnées":

"Descendez, decendez, lamentables victimes."

Or this, which might serve as a text for one of John Martin's vast sinister mezzotints:

"J'ai vu parfois au fond d'un théâtre banal
Un être, qui n'etait que lumière, or et gaze,
Terrasser l'énorme Satan;
Mais mon cœur que jamais ne visite l'extase,

"Est un théâtre où l'on attend
Toujours, toujours en vain l'Etre aux ailes de gaze."

Professor Saintsbury thus sums up the matter of Poe and Baudelaire: "Both authors – Poe and De Quincey – fell short of Baudelaire himself as regards depth and fulness of passion, but both have a superficial likeness to him in eccentricity of temperament and affection for a certain peculiar mixture of grotesque and horror." Poe is without passion, except the passion for the macabre; what Huysmans calls "The October of the sensations"; whereas, there is a gulf of despair and terror and humanity in Baudelaire which shakes your nerves yet stimulates the imagination. That Baudelaire said, "Evil be thou my good," is doubtless true. He proved all things and found them vanity. He is the poet of original sin, a worshipper of Satan for the sake of paradox; his Litanies to Satan ring childishly to us – in his heart he was a believer. His was "an infinite reverse aspiration," and mixed up with his Byronic pose was a disgust for vice, for life itself. He was the last of the Romanticists; Sainte-Beuve called him the Kamchatka of Romanticism; its remotest hypoborean peak. Romanticism is dead to-day, as dead as Naturalism; but Baudelaire is alive, and is read. His glistening phosphorescent trail is over French poetry and he is the begetter of a school. Verlaine, Villiers de l'Isle Adam, Carducci, Arthur Rimbaud, Jules Laforgue, Verhaeren, and many of the youthful crew. He affected Swinburne, and in Huysmans, who was not a poet, his splenetic spirit lives. Baudelaire's motto might be the reverse of Browning's lines: "The Devil is in heaven. All's wrong with the world."

When Goethe said of Hugo and the Romanticists that they all came from Chateaubriand, he should have substituted the name of Rousseau – "Romanticism, it is Rousseau," exclaims Pierre Lasserre. But there is more of Byron and Petrus Borel – a forgotten mad poet – in Baudelaire, though, for a brief period, in 1848, he became a Rousseau reactionary, sported the workingman's blouse, shaved his head, shouldered a musket, went to the barricades, wrote inflammatory editorials calling the proletarian "Brother!" (Oh, Baudelaire!) and, as the Goncourts recorded in their diary, looked like a maniacal Saint-Just. How seriously we may take this swing of the pendulum is to be noted in a speech of the poet's at the time of the Revolution: "Come," he said, "let us go shoot General Aupick!" It was his step-father that he thought of, not the eternal principles of Liberty. This may be a false [244] anecdote; many such were foisted upon him. For example, his exclamations at cafés or in public places, such as: "Have you ever eaten a baby? I find it pleasing to the palate!" or, "The night I killed my father!" Naturally people stared and Baudelaire was happy – he had startled the bourgeois. The cannibalistic idea he must have borrowed from Swift's amusing pamphlet, for this French poet knew English literature.

Gautier, in the masterly preface to the definitive edition of "Les Fleurs du Mal" compares the poems to a certain tale of Hawthorne's in which there is a garden of poisoned flowers. But Hawthorne worked in his laboratory of evil wearing mask and gloves; he never descended into the mud and sin of the street. Baudelaire ruined his health, smudged his soul, yet remained withal, as Anatole France says, "A divine poet." How childish, yet how touching is his resolution – he wrote in his diary of prayer's dynamic force – when he was penniless, in debt, threatened with imprisonment, sick, nauseated with sin: "To make every morning my prayer to God, the reservoir of all force, and all justice; to my father, to Mariette and to Poe as intercessors." (Evidently, Maurice Barrès encountered here his idea of "Intercessors.") Baudelaire loved his father as much as Stendhal hated his. To his mother he became reconciled after the death of General Aupick in 1857. He felt, in 1862, that his own intellectual eclipse was approaching, for he wrote: "I have cultivated my hysteria with joy and terror. To-day imbecility's wing fanned me as it passed." The sense of the vertiginous gulf was abiding with him; read his poem entitled "Pascal avait son gouffre."

In preferring the Baudelaire translations of Poe to the original – and they give the impression of being original works – Stedman seemed to agree with Asselineau that the French is more concise than the English. The prose of Poe and Baudelaire is clear, sober, rhythmic; Baudelaire's is more supple, finer in contour, richer colored, though without the "honey and tiger's blood" of Barbey d'Aurevilly's prose. Baudelaire's soul was patiently built up as a fabulous bird might build its nest – bits of straw, the sobbing of women, clay, cascades of black stars, rags, leaves, rotten wood, corroding dreams, a spray of roses, a sparkle of pebble, a gleam of blue sky, despairing hearts, and music and the abomination of desolation for ground-tones. But this soul-nest is also a cemetery of the seven sorrows. He loved the clouds. . . . les nuages . . . là bas. . . . It was là bas with him even in the tortures of his wretched love-life. Corruption and death were ever floating in his consciousness. He was like Flaubert, who saw everywhere the skeleton concealed in us. Félicien Rops has best interpreted Baudelaire: The etcher and poet were closely-knit spirits. Rodin, too, is a Baudelarian. If there could be such an anomaly as a native wood-note evil, it would be the lyric voice of this poet. His sensibility was morbid, though he could be frigid in the face of the most disconcerting misfortunes. He was a man for whom the visible word existed; Gautier was pagan, Baudelaire a strayed spirit from mediæval days. The spirit ruled, and, as Paul Bourget said, "he saw God." A Manichean in his worship of evil, he nevertheless abased his soul. "Oh! Lord God! Give me the force and courage to contemplate my heart and my body without disgust," he prays. But as some one said to Rochefoucauld: "Where you end, Christianity begins."

Baudelaire built his ivory tower on the borders of a poetic Maremma, which every miasma of the spirit pervaded, every marsh light and glowworm inhabited. Like Wagner, he painted in his sultry music the profundities of abysms, the vastness of space. He painted, too, the great nocturnal silences of the soul.

Pacem summum tenent! Yet he never attained the heights. Let us admit that souls of his kind are encased in sick frames; their steel is too shrewd for the scabbard; yet the enigma is none the less unfathomable. To affiliate him with Poe, De Quincey, Hoffmann, James Thomson, Coleridge, and the rest of the sombre choir does not explain him; he is, perhaps, nearer Donne and Villon than any of the others – strains of the metaphysical and sinister and supersubtle are to be discovered in him. The disharmony of brain and body, the spiritual bi-location are only too easy to diagnose; but the remedy? Hypocrite lecteur – mon sembable – mon frere! – so Baudelaire salutes his readers in the [245] preface to "Flowers of Evil." When the subtlety, force, grandeur of his poetic productions are considered, together with their disquieting, nervous, vibrating qualities, it is not surprising that Victor Hugo wrote to the poet: "You invest the heaven of art with we know not what deadly rays; you create a new shudder." Hugo could have said that he turned Art into an Inferno. Baudelaire is the evil archangel of poetry. In his heaven of fire, glass, and ebony he is the blazing Lucifer. "A glorious devil, large in heart and brain, that did love beauty only . . ." sang Tennyson.




As long ago as 1869 and in our "barbarous gas-lit country," as Baudelaire named the land of Poe, an unsigned review appeared in which this poet was described as "unique and as interesting as Hamlet. He is that rare and unknown being, a genuine poet – a poet in the midst of things that have disordered his spirit – a poet excessively developed in his taste for and by beauty . . . very responsive to the ideal, very greedy of sensation." A better description of Baudelaire does not exist. The Hamlet-motive, particularly, is one that sounded throughout the disordered symphony of the poet's life. He was born at Paris April 9, 1821 (Flaubert's birth year), and not April 21st, as Gautier has it. His father was Joseph Francis Baudelaire, or Beaudelaire, who occupied a government position. A cultivated art lover, his taste was apparent in the home he made for his second wife, Caroline Archimbaut-Dufays, an orphan and the daughter of a military officer. There was a considerable difference in the years of this couple; the mother was twenty-seven, the father sixty-two at the birth of their only child. By his first marriage the elder. Baudelaire had one son, Claude, who, like his half-brother Charles, died of paralysis, though a steady man of business. That great neurosis, called Commerce, has also its mental shipwrecks, but no one pays any attention; only when the poet falls by the wayside is the chase on and the neurologists and other soul-hunters are abroad seeking for victims. After the death of Baudelaire's father the widow within a year married the handsome, ambitious Aupick, then Chef de bataillon, Lieutenant-Colonel, decorated with the Legion of Honor, and later general and ambassador to Madrid, Constantinople, and London. Charles was a nervous, frail youth, but unlike most children of genius, he was a scholar and won brilliant honors at school. His stepfather was proud of him. From the Royal College of Lyons, Charles went to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris, but was expelled in 1839. Troubles soon began for him. He was irascible, vain, very precocious, and given to premature irregularities. He did quarrel with General Aupick and he did disdain his mother. But she was to blame, she has confessed; she had quite forgotten the boy in the flush of her second love. This he could not forget, nor forgive what he called her infidelity to the memory of his father. Hamlet-like, he was inconsolable. The good bishop of Montpelier, who knew the family, said that Charles was a little crazy, and he was not altogether to blame – second marriages usually bring woes in their train. "When a mother has such a son, she doesn't remarry," said the young poet proudly. Charles signed himself Baudelaire-Dufays, or sometimes, Dufais. He wrote in his journal: "My ancestors, idiots or maniacs . . . all victims of terrible passions"; which is one of his exaggerations. His grandfather on the paternal side was a Champenois peasant, his mother's family was presumably Norman, but not much is known of her forbears. Charles believed himself lost from the time his half-brother was struck down. He also believed that his instability of temperament – and he studied his "case" as would a surgeon – was the result of his parents' disparity in years.

After his return from the East, where he did not learn English, as has been said – his mother taught him as a boy to speak and write the language – he came into his little inheritance, about fifteen thousand dollars. Two years later he was so heavily in debt that his family asked for a guardian on the ground of incompetency. He had been swindled, being young and green. How had he squandered his money? Not exactly on opera-glasses, like Gerard de Nerval, but on clothes, pictures, furniture, books. The remnant was set aside to pay his debts. Charles would be both poet and dandy. He dressed expensively but soberly, [246] in the English fashion, his linen dazzling, the prevailing hue of his habiliments, black. In height he was medium, his eyes brown, searching, luminous, the eye of a nyctalops, "eyes like ravens'," said some one; nostrils palpitating, cleft chin, mouth expressive, sensual, the jaw strong and square. His hair was black, curly, and glossy, his forehead high, square, white. In the Deroy portrait he wears a beard; he is there, what Camille Mendès called him: His Excellence, Monseignieur Brummel! Later he was the elegiac Satan, the author of L'Imitation de N. S. le Diable; or the Baudelaire of George Moore: "the clean-shaven face of the mock priest, the slow cold eyes and the sharp cunning sneer of the cynical libertine who will be tempted that he may better know the worthlessness of temptation." In the heyday of his blood he was perverse and deliberate. Let us credit him with annihilating the Byronic pose that ennui could be best cured by dissipation; in sin he found the saddest of all tasks. Mendès laughs at the legend of Baudelaire's violence, of his being given to explosive phrases. Despite Gautier's stories about the Hotel Pimadon and its Club of Hasheesh eaters, M. Mendès denies that Baudelaire was a victim of the hemp. What the majority of mankind does not know concerning the habits of literary workers is this prime fact: men who work hard, writing verse – and there is no mental toil comparable to it – cannot drink or indulge in opium without the inevitable collapse. The old-fashioned notion of "inspiration," of spontaneity, of easy improvisation, the sudden bolt from heaven, are delusions still hugged by the world. To be told that Chopin filed at his music for years, that Beethoven in his smithy forged his thunder bolts, that Manet toiled like a laborer on the dock, that Baudelaire was a mechanic in his devotion to poetic work, that Gautier was a hard-working journalist, is a disillusion for the sentimental. Minerva springing full-fledged from Jupiter's skull to the desk of the poet is a pretty fancy; but Balzac and Flaubert did not encourage this fancy. Work literally killed Poe as it killed Jules de Goncourt, Flaubert, and Daudet. Maupassant went insane because he would work and he would play the same day. Baudelaire worked and worried and drank. His debts haunted him his life long. His constitution was flawed from the start – Sainte-Beuve told him that he had worn out his nerves – he was détraqué; but that his entire life was one huge debauch is the silly nightmare of the moral police in some white cotton night-cap country.

His period of mental production was not brief or barren. He wrote art and literary criticisms; his "Salon of 1845" was much admired; he fought for such men as Delacroix, Daumier, Corot, Manet, Flaubert, Meryon the etcher, and Richard Wagner. This is not the place to dilate upon the excellences of his criticisms. He was a critic both bom and made. He was a student. Du Camp's charge that he was an ignorant man is disproved by the variety and quality of his published work. His range of sympathies was large. His mistake, in the eyes of his colleagues, was to write so well of the seven arts. Versatility is never given its real name – which is protracted labor. Baudelaire was one of the elect, an aristocrat, who dealt in the quintessence of art. With his delicate air of a bishop, his exquisite manners, his modulated voice, he aroused unusual interest and admiration. He was a humanist of distinction; he left a hymn to Saint Francis which is in the Latin of the decadence. How sane he was in criticism may be seen in his article on "The Pagan School." There he is able to escape his own passion for the school of art-for-art and view with a critical aloofness both sides of the question: "Literature must go far to rehabilitate its powers in a better atmosphere. The time is not far distant when it will be understood that all literature which refuses to advance fraternally between science and philosophy is a homicidal and a suicidal literature!" The critic speaks! But, luckily for his magnificent poetry he did not attempt to put into practice such a theory, one worthy of the didactic school at its dreariest.

Baudelaire, like Chopin, made more poignant the phrase, raised to a higher intensity the expressiveness of art. Woman played the commanding rôle in his life. She always does with any poet worthy of the name, though few have been so frank in acknowledging this as Baudelaire. Yet he was in love more with the idea of Woman than the individual. The legend of the beautiful creature he brought from the [247] East resolves itself into the dismal affair with Jeanne Duval. He met her in Paris after he had been in the East. She sang at a café-concert in Paris. She was more brown than black. She was not handsome, not intelligent, not good; yet he idealized her, for she was the source of half his inspiration. To her were addressed those marvellous evocations of the Orient, of perfume, tresses, delicious mornings on strange far-away seas and "superb Byzant" domes that devils built. Baudelaire is the poet of perfumes. He is also the patron saint of ennui. No one has so chanted the praise of odors. His soul swims on perfume as do other souls on music, he has said. As he grew older he seemed to hunt for more acrid odors; he often presents an elaborately chased vase the carving of which transports us, but from which the head is quickly averted. Jeanne, whom he never loved, no matter what may be said in her favor, was a sorceress. But she was impossible; she robbed, betrayed him; he left her a dozen times only to return. What the charm! He was a capital draughtsman with a strong nervous line and made many pen-and-ink drawings of her. She was not prepossessing. In her rapid decline she was not allowed to want; Madame Baudelaire paid her expenses in the hospital. A sordid history. She was a veritable flower of evil for Baudelaire. Yet poetry, like music, would be colorless, scentless, if it sounded no dissonances. Fancy art reduced to the beatific and banal chord of C major.

He fell in love with the celebrated Madame Sabatier, a reigning beauty, at whose salon artistic Paris assembled. She had been christened by Gautier Madame la Presidente, and her sumptuous beauty was portrayed by Ricard in his "La Femme au Chien"; she posed for Clesinger – George Sand's son-in-law – for his "Woman and Serpent." She returned Baudelaire's love. They soon parted. Again a riddle that the published letters hardly solve. One letter, however, does show that Baudelaire tried to love and failed. He could not extort from his exhausted soul the sentiment; but he put its music on paper. His most seductive lyrics were addressed to Madame Sabatier: "À la très-chère, à la très-belle," a hymn saturated with love. Music, spleen, perfumes –" color, sound, perfumes call to each other as deep to deep; perfumes like the flesh of children, soft as hautboys, green like the meadows" – criminals, outcasts, the charm of childhood, the horrors of love, pride, and rebellion. Eastern landscapes, cats, soothing and false; cats, the true companions of lonely poets; haunted clocks, shivering dusks, and gloomier dawns – these and many other themes this strange-souled poet, this "Dante, pacer of the shore," of Paris has celebrated in finely wrought verse and profound phrases. In a single line he contrives atmosphere; the very shape of his sentence, the ring of the syllables, arouse deepest emotion. The master of harmonic undertones is Baudelaire. His successors have excelled him in making their music more fluid, more singing, more vaporous – for all young French poets pass through their Baudelairian green sickness – but he alone knows the secrets of moulding those metallic, free sonnets, which have the resistance of bronze, and of the despairing music that flames from the mouths of lost souls trembling on the wharves of hell. He is the supreme master of irony and troubled voluptuousness.

Baudelaire is a masculine poet. His verse is even muscular. He carved rather than sang; the plastic arts spoke to his soul. A lover and maker of images. Like Poe, his emotions transformed themselves into ideas. Bourget classified him as mystic, libertine, and analyzer. He was born with a wound in his soul. [Curiously enough, he actually contemplated, in 1861, becoming a candidate for Lacordaire's vacant seat in the French Academy. Sainte-Beuve dissuaded him from this folly.] Recall another of the poet's prayers: "Thou, O Lord, my God, grant me the grace to produce some fine lines which will prove to myself that I am not the last of men, that I am not inferior to those I contemn." Individualist, egoist, anarchist, his only thought was of letters. Jules Laforgue thus described Baudelaire: "Cat, Hindoo, Yankee, Episcopal, Alchemist." Yes, he was an alchemist who suffocated in the fumes he created. He was of Gothic imagination, and could have said with "Rolla," Je suis venu trop tard dans un monde trop vieux. He had an unassuaged thirst for the absolute. The human soul was his stage, he its interpreting orchestra.

In 1857 "The Flowers of Evil" was [248] published by the devoted Poulet-Malassis, who afterward went into bankruptcy – a warning to publishers with a taste for fine literature! The original titles were "Limbes," or "Lesbiennes." Hippolyte Babou suggested the one we know. These poems were suppressed on account of six, and poet and publisher summoned. As the municipal government had made a particular ass of itself in the prosecution of Gustave Flaubert and his "Madame Bovary," the Baudelaire matter was disposed of in haste. He was condemned to a fine of three hundred francs, which fine was never paid, as the six objectionable poems were removed. They were printed in the Belgian edition, and may be read in the new volume of "Œuvres Posthumes."

Baudelaire was infuriated over the judgment, for he knew that his book was dramatic. He had expected, like Flaubert, to emerge from the trial with flying colors; to be classed as one who wrote objectionable literature was a shock. "Flaubert had the Empress back of him," he complained; which was true; the Empress Eugénie and the Princess Mathilde. But he worked as ever and put forth those polished intaglios called "Poems in Prose," the form of which he had taken the hint from Aloys Bertrand's "Gaspard de la Nuit." He filled this form with a new content; not alone pictures but moods, and moods many-sided are to be found in these miniatures. Pity is their keynote, a tenderness for the abject and lowly, a revelation of sensibility that surprised those critics who had discerned in Baudelaire only a sculptor of evil. In one of his poems he described a landscape of metal, of marble and water; a babel of staircases and arcades, a palace of infinity, surrounded by the silence of eternity. This depressing yet magical dream was utilized by Huysmans in his "A rebours" – the hero of which is a perfect Baudelaire, a Baudelaire raised to the Nth degree. But in the tiny landscapes of the Prose Poems there is nothing rigid or artificial. Indeed, the poet's deliberate attitude of artificiality is dropped. The deep fundamental note of humanity is never quite absent in his poems; the eternal diapason is there even when least heard. Baudelaire is more human than Poe, his range of sympathy wider. In this he transcends him as a poet, though his subject-matter often issues from very dregs of life. Brother to pitiable wanderers, there is, nevertheless, no trace of cant, no "Russian pity" à la Dostoiëvsky, no humanitarian or socialistic rhapsodies in his work. Baudelaire is an egoist. He hated the sentimental sapping of altruism.

His best critical work is the "Richard Wagner and Tannhàuser," a more significant essay than Nietzsche's "Richard Wagner and Bayreuth"; Baudelaire's polemic appeared at a more critical period in Wagner's career. And what a brave man wrote this pamphlet with all Paris, Berlioz included, against the German composer. This Wagner letter is included in the volume of Crepet. Wagner sent a brief hearty letter of thanks to the critic and made his acquaintance. To Wagner Baudelaire introduced a young Wagnerian, Villiers de l'Isle Adam. There are no letters published from Baudelaire to Franz Liszt, though they were friends. In Weimar I saw at the Liszt house several from Baudelaire which should have been included in the "Lettres." The poet understood Liszt and his ideals as he understood Wagner's. The German composer admired the French poet, and his Kundry, of the sultry second act of "Parsifal," has a Baudelairian hue, especially in the perverse temptation scene.

The end was at hand. Baudelaire had been steadily, rather, unsteadily, going down hill; a desperate figure, a dandy in shabby attire. He went out only after dark, he haunted the exterior boulevards, associated with birds of nocturnal plumage. He drank without thirst, ate without hunger. A woeful decadence for an aristocrat of life and letters. Most sorrowful of sinners, this morose delectation scourged his nerves and extorted the darkest music from his lyre. He fled to Brussels, there to rehabilitate his dwindling fortunes. He gave a few conferences, and met Rops, Lemonnier, drank to forget, and forgot to work. He abused Brussels, Belgium, its people. A country where the trees are black, the flowers without odor, and where there is no conversation. He, the brilliant causeur, the chief blaguer of a circle in which young James McNeill Whistler was reduced to the rôle of a listener – this most spirituel among artists found himself a failure in the Belgian capital. It may not be amiss here to remind ourselves that Baudelaire was the [249] creator of most of the paradoxes attributed, not only to Whistler, but to an entire school – if one may employ such a phrase. The frozen imperturbability of the poet, his cutting enunciation, his power of blasphemy, his affected hatred of nature, his love of the artificial, have been copied by the æsthetic blades of our day. He it was who first taunted nature with being an imitator of art, with being always the same. Oh, the monotonous sunsets! Oh, the quotidian eating and drinking! he cried. And as pessimist, too, he led the mode. Baudelaire, like Flaubert, grasped the murky torch of pessimism once held by Chateaubriand, Benjamin Constant, and Senancour and his morbid Obermann. Perhaps all this stemmed from Byronism. To-day it is as stale as Byronism.

Baudelaire's health failed rapidly, and he didn't have money enough to pay for doctor's prescriptions. He owed for the room in his hotel. At Namur, where he was visiting the father-in-law of Félicien Rops – March, 1866 – he suffered from an attack of paralysis. He was removed to Brussels. His mother, who lived at Honfleur, in mourning for her husband, came to his aid. Taken to France he was placed in a sanatorium. Aphasia set in. He could only ejaculate a mild oath, and when he caught sight of himself in the mirror he would bow pleasantly as if to a stranger. His friends rallied, and they were among the most distinguished people in Paris, the élite of souls. Ladies visited him, one or two playing Wagner on the piano – which must have added a fresh nuance to death – and they brought him flowers. He expressed his love for flowers and music to the last. He could not bear the sight of his mother; she revived in him some painful memories, but that passed, and he clamored for her when she was absent. If any one mentioned the names of Wagner or Manet he smiled. Madame Sabatier came: so did the Manets. And with a fixed stare, as if peering through some invisible window opening upon eternity, he died, August 31, 1867, aged forty-six.

Barbey d'Aurevilly, himself a Satanist and dandy (ah, those comical old attitudes of literature!) prophesied that the author of "Fleurs du Mal" would either blow out his brains or prostrate himself at the foot of the cross. Baudelaire had the latter course forced upon him by fate after he had attempted spiritual suicide for how many years! (He once tried actual suicide, but the slight cut in his throat looked so ugly that he went no farther.) His soul had been a battle-field for the powers of good and evil. That at the end he brought the wreck of both soul and body to his God is not here a subject for comment. He was an extraordinary poet with a bad conscience, who lived miserably and was buried with honors. Then it was that his work was discovered (funeral orations over a genius are a species of public staircase wit) . His reputation waxes with the years. He is an exotic gem in the crown of French poetry. Of him the supreme singer of England has chanted "Ave Atque Vale":

"Shall I strew on thee rose or rue or laurel,
Brother, on this that was the veil of thee?"





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

Scribner's Magazine.
Bd. 45, 1909, Nr. 2, Februar, S. 240-249.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

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Literatur: Huneker

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Brix, Michel: Baudelaire, "disciple" d'Edgar Poe? In: Romantisme 122 (2003), S. 55-70.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/roman.2003.1221

Clements, Patricia: Baudelaire and the English Tradition. Princeton, N.J. 1985.

Desmarais, Jane / Weir, David (Hrsg.): The Oxford Handbook of Decadence. Oxford 2022.

Jauß, Hans R.: Ursprünge der Naturfeindschaft in der Ästhetik der Moderne. In: Romantik: Aufbruch zur Moderne. Hrsg. von Karl Maurer u.a. München 1991 (= Romanistisches Kolloquium, 5), S. 357-382.

Murray, Alex: Landscapes of Decadence. Literature and Place at the Fin de Siècle. Cambridge 2016.

Rabaté, Jean-Michel: The Pathos of Distance: Affects of the Moderns. London 2016.

Schwab, Arnold T.: James Gibbons Huneker's Critiques of Oscar Wilde. In: The Wildean. A Journal of Oscar Wilde Studies 24 (2004, Jan.), S. 2-24.

Vouilloux, Bernard: Le tournant "artiste" de la littérature française. Écrire avec la peinture au XIXe siècle. Paris 2011 (= Collection "Savoir lettres").

Weir, David: Decadent Culture in the United States. Art and Literature Against the American Grain, 1890 - 1926. Albany, NY 2008.



Literatur: Scribner's Magazine

Hellman, Caroline C.: Modernism Delayed, Not Denied: Wharton, Hemingway, and Scribner"s Magazine. In: Wharton, Hemingway, and the Advent of Modernism. Hrsg. von Lisa Tyler. Baton Rouge, LA 2019, S. 209-231.

Igl, Natalia / Menzel, Julia (Hrsg.): Illustrierte Zeitschriften um 1900. Mediale Eigenlogik, Multimodalität und Metaisierung. Bielefeld 2016.

Lanzendörfer, Tim (Hrsg.): The Routledge Companion to the British and North American Literary Magazine. London u. New York 2022.

Satterthwaite, Tim / Thacker, Andrew (Hrsg.): Magazines and Modern Identities. Global Cultures of the Illustrated Press, 1880-1945. London 2023.

Scholnick, Robert J.: Scribner's Monthly" and the "Pictorial Representation of Life and Truth" in Post-Civil War America. In: American Periodicals 1.1 (1991), S. 46-69.
URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20770997



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer