Baudelaire on Poe: Critical Papers translated and edited by Lois and Francis Hyslop Jr.
001. p13 [From a letter written by Baudelaire in 1860] And then, believe me if you will, I found poems and short stories what I had conceived, but vaguely and in a confused and disorderly way, and which Poe had been able to organise and finish perfectly. Such was the origin of my enthusiasm and of my perseverance.
002. p 17 Baudelaire’s reference to the ‘dark perfume’ which pervades those recollections of childhood reveals the French poet’s temperamental fondness of the darker aspects of things; while the phrase parfum noir suggests the special feeling for elusive associations which is more fully developed in his poem ‘Correspondances’.
003. p 17 In sketching Poe’s biography, Baudelaire introduces some of the ideas of his American contemporary. HE especially emphasizes the idea that poetry is a self-justifying activity and that direct utility should not be its aim—conceptions which were expressed by Poe in the last lecture at Richmond. In the second half of the essay Baudelaire discusses several representative works. He gives particular attention to ‘The Black Cat’ and quotes a page in which Poe philosophizes on human malice and perversity. Poe’s insistence on perversity as a primitive impulse of the human heart must indeed have struck a responsive note in Baudelaire who, like him, believed in man’s perpetual inclination to do evil.
004. p23 Only through an imagination such as he describes in this essay could Baudelaire have revealed to us the hidden meaning, the inner reality of the world which surrounds us; only through an imagination which at once links and fuses our senses could he have related so skillfully a material world to a corresponding spiritual one.
005. p24 Among Baudelaire’s many other ideas, his definitions of poetry and of the poet are of particular interest. To him, as to Poe, ‘the principle of poetry is strictly and simply human aspiration toward a superior beauty, and the manifestation of this principle is in an enthusiasm, an excitement of the soul…’ Long poems, epic poems, are by their very nature excluded from the category of pure poetry, for the excitement of the soul, fleeting and transitory through psychological necessity, cannot be prolonged through the lengthy reading of such a poem. Utilitarian poetry—that which teaches a moral lesson—is likewise excluded from the domain of pure poetry, for poetry has no other goal than itself: ‘it does not have Truth as an object; if has only Itself.’ Baudelaire does not hesitate to criticize Victor Hugo for introducing a moralizing element into his poetry.
It follows logically then that the poet is one who possesses the ‘immortal instinct for the beautiful which makes us consider the earth and its spectacles as a revelation, as in correspondence with Heaven.’ He must have the ability to imagine, as Baudelaire has already pointed out; he must be able to seek and find the unexpected element of the strange which serves ‘as the indispensable condiment…of all beauty.’ Above all, he must subject his inspiration to a strict discipline, for ‘construction, armature, so to speak, is the most important guarantee of the mysterious life of works of the mind.’
006. p25 While Baudelaire was writing this preface he complained to his mother that he was having ‘the devil’s own time’ with it, and went on to indicate why: ‘I have to discuss religion and science ; sometimes I lack knowledge, sometimes money, or quiet, which is almost the same thing.’
007. p26 The year 1857 proved to be exceptionally significant for Baudelaire, since his major literary work, Les Fleurs du Mal , was published a few months after his second volume of translations from Poe. Like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary , which appeared the same year, the book was condemned and the author was sentenced to a fine of three hundred francs and ordered to suppress six of the poems. It is interesting to note that Baudelaire and Flaubert held each other in high esteem and that the poet was soon to write an article in praise of the much discussed novel.
008. p28 Once again Baudelaire is concerned with Poe’s emphasis on calculated methods of work in the creation of poetry. Although it is hardly customary for an artist ‘to begin his composition at the end, and work on any part whenever it is convenient’ in the manner suggested by Poe, this method cannot be considered completely absurd. In fact Durer and Seurat are among those who sometimes worked in this way.
009. pp28- 29? Some critics have expressed the opinion that Baudelaire’s versions of the stories are superior to their American originals. In his essay, From Poe to Valery, published in the fall, 1949, issue of the Hudson Review , T.S. Eliot has said that Baudelaire ‘transformed what is often a slipshod… English into admirable French.’ [Does this continue?]
010. p32 Rather curiously, Valery maintains that foreigners cannot judge the work of certain French poets like Racine and La Fontaine; at the same time he suggests that the English speaking world has not rightly judges Poe. It is clear, then that Poe has met a need felt more strongly in France than elsewhere.
011. pp32-3 Although Poe can scarcely be held responsible for the new movement in art, there can be no doubt that he inspired a number of modern artists. Gaugin, who was acquainted with Mallarme, painted a picture entitled Nevermore . The Symbolist painter Odilon Redon did a group of lithographs based on Poe. Albert Pinkham Ryder and James Ensor also drew inspiration from Poe. In our own time Paul Klee, a master of pictorial fantasy, was a reader of both Poe and Baudelaire. But perhaps the most interesting of all is the fact that Manet, who was a friend of both Baudelaire and Mallarme, did a series of lithographs to illustrate Mallarme’s translation of The Raven . In so doing Manet gave substance to Baudelaire’s conviction that the ‘arts aspire, if not to complement one another, at least to lend one another new energies.’
Poe: His Life and Works: 1852
012. p38 Will the nightmare of Darkness always swallow up these rare spirits? In vain they defend themselves, they take every precaution, they are perfect in prudence. Let us seal every opening, let us double-lock the door, let us bar the windows. But we have forgotten the keyhole; the Devil has already entered.
013. pp38-9 The various documents which I have just read have convinced me that for Poe the United States was a vast cage, a great counting-house, and that throughout his life he made grim efforts to escape the influence of that antipathetic atmosphere. In one of the biographies of Poe it is said that if he had been willing to normalize his genius and to apply his creative abilities in a manner more appropriate to the American soil, he could have been a money-making author; that after all, the times are not so difficult for a man of talent, that such a man can always make a living, provided that he is careful and economical, and moderate about material things. Elsewhere, a critic writes shamelessly that, however fine the genius of Poe may have been, it would have been better for him to have had only talent, since talent pays off more readily than genius. In a note which we shall see shortly, written by one of his friend, it is admitted that it was difficult to employ Poe for journalistic work, and that it was necessary to pay him less than others, because he wrote in a style too much above the ordinary level. All that reminds me of the odious paternal proverb: make money, my son, honestly if you can, BUT MAKE MONEY. What a commercial smell! As Joseph de Maistre said in speaking about Locke.
Preface to Mesmeric Revelation
It is certain that when specifically literary minds put themselves to it, they make strange excursions through philosophy. They cut abrupt openings and see sudden vistas on paths which are entirely theirs.
To summarize, I shall say that the three characteristics of curious writers are: 1. a personal method; 2. surprise ; 3. a philosophic mania, three characteristics, moreover, which establish their superiority as writers.
Preface to Berenice
But what will always make him worthy of praise is his preoccupation with all the truly important subjects, and those which are alone worthy of the attention of a spiritual man: probabilities, mental illnesses, scientific hypotheses, hopes and considerations about a future life, analysis of the eccentrics and pariahs of this world, directly symbolic buffooneries.
Preface to the Philosophy of Furniture
Some of [Poe’s] compatriots speak of him only with a certain bitterness, since the young colossus called America has in fact a very thin skin, and even in the smallest matters, finds it hard to tolerate jests. Fenimore Cooper felt that fact very strongly. Cruel remarks such as: The Yankees alone are preposterous; –we have been brought to merge in simple show our notions of taste itself—the cost of an article of furniture has at length come to be, with us, nearly the whole test of its merit;–
Preface to the Raven: ‘The Genesis of a Poem’
The accidental and the unintelligible were his two greatest enemies.
[Baudelaire’s] Original Dedication to Mrs. Clemm
Whatever you say, Madam, will be heard with respect and gratitude, even any slight resentment you may feel as a result of my severity toward your fellow Americans, which was doubtless the result of a need to relieve the feeling of hatred aroused in my free soul by commercial and physiocratic societies.
Goodbye, Madam; among the various salutations and complimentary formulas which may conclude a letter from one soul to another soul , I know only one that corresponds with the feelings which you inspire in me: Goodness, goddess.
Translator’s Note [by Baudelaire]
In conclusion, I may say to Edgar Poe’s unknown French friends that I am proud and happy to have introduced them to a new kind of beauty; and also, why should I not admit that what sustained my will was the pleasure of presenting to them a man who resembled me somewhat, in certain respects, that is to say a part of myself.