[BAUDELAIRE] VERLAINE, Paul (1844-1896)

Autograph letter signed « Paul Verlaine » to Léon Deschamps
Paris, 19th October 1890, 1 p. in-8

« I had accompanied, very young and all obscure as I was, the coffin of Baudelaire »

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[BAUDELAIRE] VERLAINE, Paul (1844-1896)

Autograph letter signed « Paul Verlaine » to Léon Deschamps for the journal La Plume
Paris, 19th October 1890, 1 p. in-8
Previous mounting mark on verso, fold mark, slight missing bit on upper margin affecting two letters

Famous and very moving letter published in La Plume of November 15, 1890 under the title: L’Enterrement de Baudelaire


« Mon cher Deschamps,
En lisant dans votre dernier numéro le si éloquent article de Cladel, je me suis remémoré une visite à la tombe de Baudelaire que je fis il y a cinq ans en Compagnie de Charles Morice. J’étais allé au cimetière Montparnasse pour porter une couronne à une personne qui me fut quelque chose comme Maria Clemns fut à Edgar Poe*. Ce devoir presque filial accompli, mon cher Morice et moi, nous nous enquîmes de la tombe de Baudelaire ; mais, comme je savais que le grand poète était inhumé dans la sépulture du général Aupick, nous n’eûmes pas à nous heurter à toutes les navrantes (et honteuses pour un pays) ignorances constatées par l’auteur d’Ompdrailles, et nous pûmes bientôt mélancholier et ratiociner devant la stèle mesquine sous quoi dort tant de gloire littéraire — et par surcroît, si l’on veut, militaire… et diplomatique !!
Bien des années auparavant, j’avais accompagné, moi tout jeune et tout obscur, le cercueil de Baudelaire, depuis la maison de santé jusqu’à la nécropole, en passant par la toute petite église où fut dit un tout petit service d’après-midi. L’éditeur Lemerre et moi marchions les premiers derrière le corbillard que suivaient parmi bien peu de gens, Louis Veuillot, Arsène Houssaye, Charles Asselineau et Théodore de Banville. Ces deux derniers prononcèrent quelques paroles d’adieu. Au moment où on descendait le cercueil dans le caveau, le ciel qui avait menacé toute la journée, tonna, et une pluie diluvienne s’ensuivit. On remarqua beaucoup l’absence à ces tristes obsèques, de Théophile Gautier, que le Maître avait tant aimé, et de M. Leconte de Lisle qui faisait profession d’être son ami, en dépit des relations, un peu ironiques de la part de Baudelaire, qui avaient existé entre le défunt et le barde créole.
J’ai cru de quelque intérêt de vous envoyer ces notes qui ne me rajeunissent guère, bien que, je le répète, je fusse fort jeune à l’époque dont je parle. Faites de ma communication ce que vous voudrez, et vale.
Paul Verlaine »


Verlaine, then twenty-three years old, had indeed followed Baudelaire’s funeral procession on 2 Sept. 1867. He noted his first memories on 7 September in La France artistique.
Prompted by an article by Léon Cladel published on October 15 in the same magazine, this letter was included in Verlaine’s Œuvres posthumes, published by Messein and appears in his Œuvres en prose complètes.
Verlaine was the true initiator of the first poetic generation from the author of Les Fleurs du Mal, who had with Rimbaud and Mallarmé, his greatest successors.

Verlaine’s admiration for Baudelaire:

In his collection Liturgies intimes (1892), Verlaine published the sonnet “A Charles Baudelaire”. In these verses an ambiguous relationship is woven between the two poets. If Verlaine has undoubtedly made Baudelaire a true model, he disavows the part of his work that takes christian morality on the wrong foot. Thus, although the first lines – “I did not know you, I did not love you, / I do not know you and I love you less” – of this poem may be surprising, it would be a misinterpretation to deduce a rejection of Baudelaire as a man. However, Verlaine did not develop his relationship with Baudelaire only through the prism of religion. He devoted an essay to him, published in 1913 in his Œuvres posthumes, vol.II. He then described him as “the modern physical man, as the refinements of an excessive civilization have done […] with his sharp and vibrant senses, his painfully subtle mind, his brain saturated with tobacco, his blood burned with alcohol.” We identify in this subject the Baudelaire of modernity, the decadent aesthete and the man of an extraordinary sensitivity.

The duplicity we suggested can make us think of the famous verse of the poem that opens The Flowers of Evil, “To the reader”: “Hypocritical reader, – my fellow man, – my brother!” For if Verlaine does not appreciate the immoral being, let us not forget that he has his vices, and that these have helped to forge the ethos that we know him … not very different from Baudelaire’s. From then on, the expression “cursed poet”, directly retained from the title of a work by Verlaine, became so popular that today, it is used somewhat anachronistically to describe the “prince of clouds”! Indeed, over time, the “cursed poet” has become the archetype of the inspired and misunderstood poet, who stands out for the rejection of morality and provocation.

Finally, this analysis by Edmond Richer (Verlaine, œuvres poétiques, Bordas, 1967) sheds light on how Verlaine views Baudelaire’s poetry: “Verlaine’s study of Baudelaire is far from being of the first order. At least it shows us that there was the merit of seeing as early as 1865 the greatness of Baudelaire, and to show on this occasion more insight than the too wise Sainte-Beuve. To tell the truth, he presents us with a very partial and truncated Baudelaire, the one who wanted to separate poetry from morality to give it “no other purpose than itself” and who denounced the ease of romantic inspiration. Verlaine adds with a lot of exclamations on these themes already a little worn; on the other hand, he persists in seeing Baudelaire’s “dark Satanism” only as a “harmless and picturesque artist’s whim”. In short, he retains above all from Baudelaire what goes in the direction of the Parnassians. »

References:
La Plume, 15 novembre 1890, p. 217
Œuvres en prose complètes, Pléiade, p. 732-733