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Reviews, essays, and translations

Entries in Baudelaire (15)

Saturday
Jan282017

Prefaces to The Flowers of Evil

Four introductions to this magnificent collection of poems. You can read the original here

I. PREFACE

France is passing through a phase of vulgarity. Paris, center and appeal of universal stupidity. In spite of Molière and Béranger, we would never have believed France to be marching on the path of progress. Questions of art, terra incognita. Great men are fools.

My book could have done some good; I’m not grieved by this possibility. It could have been harmful; this does not fill me with joy.

The aim of poetry. This book was not made for my wives, my daughters, or my sisters.

All the crimes I have recounted have been imputed to me. The base entertainment of hate and contempt. The elegiacs are blackguards. And the word became flesh. For the poet is of no faction. Otherwise, he would be a simple mortal.

The Devil. Original sin. Good man. You may be the Tyrant’s favorite if you so wish. It is more difficult to love God than to believe in Him; on the other hand, it is more difficult for people of this century to believe in the Devil than to love him. Everyone makes use of him and no one thinks him real. The sublime subtlety of that Devil.

A soul of my choosing. The decor. Hence novelty. An epigraph. Barbey D’Aurevilly. The Renaissance. Gérard de Nerval. We are all hanged or hangable.

I had incorporated some garbage to please the journalists. They turned out to be a bunch of ingrates.

 

II. PREFACE TO THE FLOWERS

It is not for my wives, my daughters, or my sisters that this book was written; nor for the wives, daughters, or sisters of my neighbor. I will leave this analysis to those who mistake good actions for beautiful language.

I know well that the lover fascinated by a rich, beautiful style exposes his body to the hate of the masses. But no human respect, no false prudishness, no coalition, no universal suffrage will restrain me from speaking the incomparable dialect of this century, nor from confounding ink with virtue.

Since time immemorial the best poets have shared the most flowered spaces of the poetic realm. To me it seemed pleasing, and more agreeable than difficult, to extract the beauty of Evil. This book, fundamentally useless and absolutely innocent, was made with no other goal than to provide me with some light entertainment and indulge my taste for obstacles.

Some have told me that poetry can do wrong; this does not fill me with joy. Others  good souls all of them  that it may do good; and I’m not grieved by this possibility. The fear of some and the hope of others surprised me in equal measure, and did nothing but prove yet again that this century has unlearned the classical concepts of literature.

Despite the assistance provided by some celebrated oafs to man’s innate predilection for humbug, I would never have thought it possible that our country could march on the path of progress with such speed. This world of ours has acquired a thick film of vulgarity that imbues a spiritual man with all the violence of passion. But happy are the shells which the poison has not and cannot enter.

Initially I had the intention of answering several critics and explaining at the same time some very simple questions totally obscured by modernity’s glare. What is poetry? What is its aim? What is the distinction between the Beautiful and the Good? What could be the Beautiful in Evil? I could have averred that rhythm and rhyme fulfill man’s immortal need for monotony, symmetry, and surprise. I could have spoken at length on the adaptation of style to the subject, of the vanity and danger of inspiration, and so forth and so on. But I suffered from the imprudence of reading this morning several papers. Suddenly an indolence not unlike the weight of twenty atmospheres came over me, and my actions ceased in the face of the horrific inutility of explaining anything to anyone. Those who knew me were able to guess why. And for those who cannot or do not want to understand, any explanations would accumulate in vain into a heap of misconceptions.

III.

How can an artist, through a sustained series of efforts, attain originality commensurate with his talent?

How can poetry become music through prosody whose roots dig farther into the human soul than any classical theory might claim?

How does French poetry possess a little–known and mysterious system of prosody like that of Latin or English?

Why are all poets ignorant of how words rightly incorporate rhyme unable to express any ideas?

How is it that poetry (in this way akin to music and mathematics) can imitate a horizontal line, a straight line ascending, or a descending straight line? How can it rise in steep path to the sky without shortness of breath, or fall perpendicularly towards hell with the velocity of all gravity? How can it follow a spiral, trace a parabola, or the zigzag of superimposed angles?

How does poetry relate to the art of painting, of cooking, of cosmetics by expressing every sensation of sweetness or bitterness, of beatitude or horror by the coupling of a certain noun with a certain adjective, analogue, or opposite?

How is it that every man, reliant on my principles and availing himself of the knowledge which I plan to teach him in twenty lessons, can compose a tragedy no more lustily booed than any other or structure a poem of sufficient length to be as dull and tedious as all other epic poems?

Quite a task, rising up against all this divine insensitivity! More so owing to the fact that I, despite numerous laudable attempts, could not resist the desire to please my contemporaries, as shown in various places highlighted like rouge, certain base flatteries addressed to her, Democracy, and even some other twaddle excusing the despondency of my subject matter. But my dearest gentlemen of the press were ungrateful of such caresses, and I omitted in this new edition the traces of this ingratitude as much as could be possible.

To verify once more the excellence of my method, I have suggested devoting myself in the future to a celebration of the joys of the dedication and intoxication of military glory, even if they are not known to me.

Notes on my plagiary: Thomas Gray; Edgar Allan Poe (2 passages); Longfellow (2 passages); Statius; Virgil (the whole part of Andromache); Aeschylus; Victor Hugo.

IV. PROJECT ON A PREFACE FOR THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
(perhaps to be incorporated with previous notes)

If there is some glory in not being understood or in being understood just a little, I can say unboastfully that with this slender tome I have obtained and deserved such fame in one fell swoop. Offered numerous times to a series of publishers, all of whom shoved it away in horror; harassed and mutilated, in 1857, following a rather bizarre misunderstanding, slowly rejuvenated, sharpened, and strengthened in the course of many years of silence; having disappeared yet again owing to my insouciance, this discordant product of the Muse of the last days, revived again by a few new violent strokes, dares today to confront the sun a third time with its inanity.

This is not any fault of mine. The person to blame is the publisher insisting that he thought himself strong enough to brave the public’s distaste. “This book will remain forever like a blemish on your life,” one of my friends, an important poet, said to me from the very beginning. As it were, all my misadventures up to that point had affirmed the correctness of his observation. But I possess one of those happy personalities which derive a certain pleasure from hate, and which are glorified in their contempt. My taste so wickedly bent towards stupidity coerced me into finding particular pleasure in the travesties of calumny. As chaste as a sheet of white paper, as sober as water, as devoted to devotion as a communicant, as inoffensive as a victim, I do not mind passing for a debauched drunk, an impious lout, or an assassin.

My publisher continues to pretend that I, like he, would gain some benefit from explaining why and how I created this book, what my means and ends were, and from detailing my design and method. A critical work in that vein would surely amuse those minds enamored with profound rhetoric. For those dear souls I will write something later, perhaps, and have it printed in about ten copies. But, upon further scrutiny, doesn’t this all seem superfluous and wasteful since some will know or guess its essence and others will never understand it? I am too afraid of ridicule to insufflate to the masses the intelligence of a work of art. And I fear that I too greatly accommodated those Utopians who want by some immediate and magical decree to render all Frenchmen rich and virtuous.

And then, my most important reason, that most important reason of all: such acts bore and displease me. Should one then lead the rabble into the dresser’s and decorator’s studio, or the actor’s box? Should one reveal the tricks and levers of our gadgetry to the crowd so impassioned today and so indifferent tomorrow? Should one explain to them the edits and daubs and the variants improvised at rehearsals, or to what extent sincerity and instinct combine under the banner of indispensable charlatanism? Should they know of all the wrecks, makeup, pulleys, chains, regrets, and smears  in short, all the horrors that compose the sanctuary of art?

Besides, I’m not in the mood for all this today. I have no desire to demonstrate, surprise, amuse, or persuade. I have my nerves and my erratic whims. My goal is absolute rest and endless night. Bard of the mad pleasures of wine and opium, I thirst for nothing but a liqueur unknown on earth which even the celestial pharmacy could not provide me. A liqueur containing neither vitality, nor death, nor excitation, nor nothingness. To know nothing, to teach nothing, to want nothing, to sense nothing, to sleep, and then sleep more, this is today my one and only pledge. An infamous and disgusting pledge, but a sincere one.

Nevertheless, as superior taste instructs us not to be afraid of contradicting ourselves a bit, I have gathered at the end of this abominable book testimonies of sympathy on the part of certain men whom I value most. In this way, the impartial reader may see that I am not absolutely deserving of excommunication and that, having learned to make myself loved by some, my heart, although I no longer know on what printed cloth, does not perhaps have the “horrific ugliness of my face.”

Finally, by unmatched generosity, whereby my dear critics ...

As ignorance, more and more so ...

I myself denounce all imitations ...

Monday
Aug222016

Baudelaire, "Les chats"

A work ("Cats") by this French poet.  You can read the original here.

The fervent rake, the austere sage,                    
Both grow enamored, as years pass,                          
With cats' soft force in proud home's cage,                      
Like they, oft cold in sloth's morass.                       

With knowledge carnal and of book,                        
They seek the silent shadow's gloom,  
Where Erebus their thralldom took             
For messengers of coming doom.    

And when asleep, their noblesse beams          
As Sphinxes stretched in lonesome night,       
Who seem to rest in endless dreams;   

And magic sparks caress their spine,              
And mystic pupils are gilded bright                                
With obscure hints of pelage fine.

Tuesday
Dec012015

Baudelaire, "La corde"

A brief tale of horror ("The rope") by this French man of letters.  You can read the original here.

To Édouard Manet
   
"Illusions," said my friend, "are perhaps as unlimited as the connections between one person and another, or between people and things. And when the illusion disappears – that is to say, when we see its being or fact as it exists outside of us – we experience a strange feeling, a complicated mix of regret for the departed ghost and surprise in face of such novelty, in face of the real. If there is one phenomenon that is evident, trivial, always likely, and of a nature from which it would be impossible to be fooled, it is maternal love: a mother without maternal love is as difficult to imagine as a light without heat. So is it then not perfectly acceptable to attribute to maternal love all a mother's actions and words that relate to her child? This notwithstanding, listen now to a little tale in which I was singularly mystified by the most natural of illusions.  

"My profession as painter routinely obliges me to pay close attention to faces and physiognomies that appear on my routes, and you know what joy we derive from our faculty to see life in more vivid and vital colors than what others perceive. In the remote quarter where I live and where vast lawns still keep each building at a distance, I often observed a child whose ardent and mischievous physiognomy attracted me more than all the others. He posed for me more than once, and I transformed the little gypsy into both an angel and the Love of mythology. I had him carry a vagabond's violin, a Crown of Thorns, the Nails of the Passion, and the Torch of Eros. From the comic oddness of this boy I took such great pleasure that one day I beseeched his parents – rather poor folk – to let me have him, promising to dress him well, to grant him an allowance, and to give him no other task apart from cleaning my paint brushes and running my errands. Scrubbed and washed, this child became charming, and the life he led at my place seemed like a paradise in comparison to what he had been subjected in his parents' hovel. Yet I have to say that this little man would sometimes surprise me with his precocious fits of melancholy and his immoderate appetite for sweets and liqueurs. And so one day when I discovered that, despite my numerous warnings, he had committed another crime of this type, I threatened to send him back to his parents. Then I left, and business kept me from home for quite a while.  

"You can imagine my horror and astonishment when I returned home only to find the little fellow, my mischievous companion through life, hanging from the side of the armoire! His feet almost touched the floor; next to him a chair undoubtedly pushed away at the last second was toppled over; his head was leaning convulsively on one shoulder; his bloated face and his eyes, open in a frightening stare, first induced the illusion of life. Getting him down from there was not as easy as you might think: he was already quite stiff, and I was overcome by an inexplicable repugnance when I let him tumble to the floor. I had to hold him up with one arm and cut the rope with the other – but once I did this, there was still more to come. The little monster had used a cord so fine as to have wedged it deep into his flesh; and now to disengage his neck I had to look for the rope between the swelling rolls of fat with a pair of small scissors.   

"I neglected to mention that I had screamed for help, yet all my neighbors had refused to come to my aid, faithful to those habits of civilized souls who never wish – I know not why – to involve themselves in the affairs of a hanged man. At length a doctor arrived who pronounced the child dead, apparently for many hours. When we later had to undress him for the burial, the rigidity of his cadaver was such that we had to slice and cut away his clothes, so unable were we to bend his limbs.

"The commissioner to whom, needless to say, I had to give a full report of the occurrence, looked askance at me and said: 'Here's a shady business!' moved, I'm certain, by an inveterate desire to scare both the innocent and the guilty without any distinction.   

"There remained one last task to which I had to attend, and the very thought of it caused me terrific angst: I had to inform his parents. My feet refused to obey my commands. Finally I mustered the courage; but, to my great surprise, his mother was impassive – not a tear oozed from the corner of her eye. I imputed this strangeness to the horror she was experiencing, and I recalled that famous phrase: 'The most terrible pain is pain unspoken.' As for the father, he resigned himself to a certain dreamy dullness: 'It might be better this way after all; he was always going to come to a bad end!'    

"All this time his body lay upon my sofa, and assisted by a serving girl, I was seeing to the final preparations when his mother entered my small apartment. She said she wanted to see the body of her son. I could not really prevent her from drowning in her misery, or refuse her this last and somber consolation. Then she asked to be shown the place where the lad hanged himself. 'Oh no, Madame,' I replied, 'this would hurt you greatly.' And then, as my eyes involuntarily turned towards that morbid armoire, I noticed with disgust mixed with horror and anger that the nail had remained wedged in the door with a long piece of rope still dangling.  I threw myself upon it to rip out the last vestiges of misery, and as I was about to cast it out the open window the poor woman seized my arm and told me in an irresistible voice: 'Oh, sir!  Let me have this!  I beg you! I implore you!' Her despair seemed to me so unhinged, so mad, that she would now express tenderness for what had brought death upon her son and now wanted to keep it like some dear and horrible relic. And here she grabbed the nail and cord.  

"At last, at last!  It was over. There was nothing more for me to do than go back to work, now with more vigor than before – if but to chase away the little corpse that haunted the creases of my brain whose ghost tired me with his large staring eyes. Yet the next day I received a package of letters: some were from the tenants, others from neighboring buildings; one was from the first floor, another from the second, a third from the third, and so forth, some in a half-pleasant style, as if wanting to cloak with jest the sincerity of the demand; others were cheeky and filled with spelling mistakes; yet all of them veered towards the same goal, that is, to obtain from me a piece of the beatific and fateful rope. Among the signatories were, I must say, more women than men; but not one of them, believe me, belonged to the petty and vulgar class. I kept the letters.

"And then it suddenly dawned on me, and I understood why his mother so wanted to rip off that cord  and with what she intended on comforting herself."

Sunday
Sep202015

Baudelaire, "Conseils aux jeunes littérateurs"

An essay ("Some advice for young men of letters") by this French poet.  You can read the original here. 

The precepts we are about to read bear the fruit of experience, with experience implying a certain amount of blunders. Everyone has made all or nearly all of these mistakes, so I hope that the experience of others will serve to verify my own.

In other words, said precepts have no other aim than that of a vade mecum, no other utility than that of puerile and honest politeness. An enormously useful aim! Imagine a code of etiquette written by a good-hearted and intelligent Madame de Warens, or a mother teaching us the art of dressing practically! This is why I wish to infuse with brotherly tenderness these precepts dedicated to the young literati.   

ON GOOD AND BAD LUCK IN LITERARY DEBUTS 

Young writers who, when speaking of a young colleague with tones admixed with envy, say "This was a fine debut, he really was in luck," do not consider that every debut has always had precursors, and that this debut is the effect of twenty other debuts unknown to these same young writers.

In terms of establishing a reputation, I do not know that there has ever been a bolt from the blue. Rather, I think that any success comes, in arithmetic and geometric proportion to the writer's power, as the result of prior successes often invisible to the naked eye. There is a slow aggregation of molecular successes, but never miraculous or spontaneous generations.

Those who say "I've had bad luck" are those who simply have not had enough success yet and do not know it.   

Here I am taking into account the almost innumerable circumstances that envelop human desire, circumstances which have their own legitimate causes. They form a circumference in which our willpower is enclosed. But this circumference is moving, living, and turning; every day, every minute, every second it changes its circle and its center. In this way are all human desires therein cloistered; as these desires vary from moment to moment in their reciprocal game, there arise the elements of what constitutes freedom.
    
Freedom and destiny are two opposites; yet seen from far and near, they compose one desire.

This is why there is no such thing as bad luck. If you suffer misfortune, it is because you lack something: learn what this something is and study the interplay of neighboring desires and you may travel the circumference of this circle more easily.

One example from a thousand. Many writers whom I love and admire rage against current popular pulp – Eugène Sue, Paul Féval – logogriphs in action. But the talent of these people, however frivolous it may be, is not any less, and the anger of my friends does not exist, or rather, it exists to a lesser degree, because it is of lost time, the least precious thing in the world. The question is not whether the literature of the heart or of the form is superior to that which is currently popular; this is all too true, at least to me. Yet you would merely be half right until you demonstrate as much talent in the genre you wish to enter as Eugène Sue demonstrates in his own; until you ignite as much interest with new means; until you possess equal power and superior power in another sense; until you double, triple, and quadruple the dose up to an equal concentration, you no longer have the right to curse the bourgeois, because the bourgeois will be standing right next to you. Until then, vae victis! For nothing is real but that power which is supreme justice.      

ON COMPENSATION
    
However beautiful a house may be it is, first and foremost, even before its beauty may be demonstrated, a certain number of meters high and a certain number of meters long. Of literature, which is the most invaluable of materials, the same can be said: literature is first and foremost a filling-out of columns. And the literary architect whose name alone does not guarantee any profit should sell at all costs.
    
There are young people who quip: "Since this of so little value, why should I put myself to so much trouble?" They could have indulged in the finest of works; and in such a case they would only have been cheated by actual necessity, by the law of nature. They cheated themselves. Badly paid, they could still have found some honor in such a pursuit; but badly paid, they were dishonored.
    
Everything I could possibly write on this subject may be summarized by this supreme maxim which I offer to all philosophers, all historians, and all businessmen for their contemplation: Beautiful sentiments do not a fortune make!

Those who say, "Why should I kill myself for so little?" are the same who, much later, once they have gained honor and respect, intend to sell their books for two hundred francs per story line, and who, once rejected, return the next day to offer them at a 100-franc loss.

The reasonable man is the one who says: "I believe it is worth so much because I am a genius; but one has to make a few concessions. I will make them, so as to have the honor to be one of your geniuses."   
 
ON SYMPATHIES AND ANTIPATHIES

In love, like in literature, our sympathies are involuntary; nevertheless they must be verified, whereby reason also has a part to play.

True sympathies are excellent because they make two people into one; fake sympathies are detestable because they are only about one person, minus primitive indifference, which is better than hate, the necessary consequence of deception and disillusionment. 

This is why I admit and admire camaraderie, provided that it is founded on the essential commonalities of reason and temperament. It is one of the healthy manifestations of nature, one of the numerous applications of that sacred proverb: United we stand, divided we fall.

The same law of straightforwardness and naïveté must regulate our antipathies. Nevertheless, there are people who fabricate hates as much as admirations, that is, to the point of giddiness. This is highly imprudent; this means making an enemy for yourself without advantage or profit. A blow without meaning harms the intended rival no less, not to mention the harm that may befall a witness on the left or right side of the combat scene.

One day, during a fencing lesson, a creditor came to harass me; I chased him back to the staircase with my foil. Upon my return, the master-at-arms, a peaceful giant who could have thrown me to the ground just by blowing on me, said: "How you pour out your antipathy! You, a poet! You, a philosopher! Ugh!" I had wasted time when I could have made two attacks; I was winded, ashamed, and, what is more, despised by a man – the creditor – to whom I had done nothing too horrible.

Indeed, hate is a precious liquid, a dearer and more costly poison than that of Borgia, because it is made with our own blood, our health, our sleep, and two thirds of our love! With it one should be stingy!

ON INVECTIVE  

Invective should be employed only against the henchmen of error. If you are strong, attacking a strong man means losing yourself; if you are merely in disagreement on a few points, he will always be on your side on certain occasions. 
    
There are two methods of invective: a curved line, or a straight line, which is the shorter route.
    
You will find a sufficient number of examples of the curved line in the sagas of Janin. The curved line plays to the gallery, doubtless, but does not teach it anything.   
    
The straight line is now being successfully employed by several English journalists; in Paris, it has fallen into disuse. Even Granier de Cassagnac himself seems to have forgotten it. It involves saying, "Mr. X. is a dishonest man and, what is more, an imbecile; this is what I shall set out to prove" and, of course, proving it! Primo, secundo, tertio, and so forth. I recommend this method to all those who have faith in reason and hard knuckles.    
    
A failed invective is a deplorable event; it is an arrow that returns, or at least skins your hand as it departs, a bullet whose ricochet may kill you.
    
ON METHODS OF COMPOSITION
    
Nowadays one is obliged to produce a lot. We have to go fast; we have to hurry slowly; we have to make sure that all our blows land, and that not a single stroke is wasted.
    
To write quickly, one needs to have pondered the matter a great deal, lugged around a subject in one's head while out for a walk, in the bath, in a restaurant, almost even at one's mistress's place.
    
Delacroix said to me once: "Art is a thing so ideal and so fleeting that the tools are never clean enough and the means never sufficiently expedient." The same can be said of literature; I am thus no proponent of erasing or crossing out: such an action troubles the mirror of our thoughts.
    
Some of us, those most distinguished and most conscientious – Édouard Ourliac, for example – begin by taking and filling up a lot of paper; they call this covering a canvas. The goal of this confused operation is to ensure that nothing is lost. Then, each time that they recopy their work, they prune and de-branch it. The result, even if excellent, is a waste of their time and talent. Covering a canvas does not mean loading it with colors, but sketching with charcoal, or having light and transparent masses at one's disposal. The canvas must be covered in the author's mind the moment that he takes up his pen to write the title.
    
They say that Balzac filled his manuscripts and proofs in a fantastic and disorganized manner. Consequently a novel passes through a series of geneses, in which not only the unity of the sentence is dispersed but also the unity of the work. It is undoubtedly this bad method which often imbues an author's style with an element of diffusion, of being jolted or hurried, of being still a draft, all of which composes the great chronicler's single flaw.
    
ON DAILY WORK AND INSPIRATION
    
Debauchery is hardly the sister of inspiration; we have finally smashed this corruptive kinship. Rapid enervation and the weakness of certain beautiful natures bear sufficient witness against this odious prejudice.

Very substantial but regular fare is the only thing needed by prolific writers. Inspiration is decidedly the sister of daily work. These two opposites do not exclude one another any more than all the opposites in nature. Inspiration obeys, like hunger, like digestion, like sleep. In the mind there doubtless exists some kind of celestial mechanism of which one should not be ashamed; instead it is from here that we should extract the most glorious part, like doctors remove things from the mechanism of the human body. If we wish to live in opinionated contemplation of the work of tomorrow, daily work will serve as an inspiration, like a legible piece of writing serves to elucidate our thoughts, and like calm and powerful thoughts allow us to write legibly. Because the period of bad writings is long gone. 

ON POETRY   
    
As for those who successfully give themselves over or are given over to poetry, I advise them never to abandon it. Poetry is one of the arts that yield the most; but it is the type of investment whose dividends one receives very late on; that said, the dividends are very large.
    
I challenge the envious among you to quote me some verse which an editor may have destroyed.   

Morally speaking, poetry establishes a demarcation between first-rate and second-rate minds, so that even the most bourgeois readers are not spared this despotic influence. I know people who only read Gautier's serials – often the most mediocre ones – because he wrote La Comédie de la Mort. Surely they cannot perceive all the nuances of this work; but they know that he is a poet.
    
Besides, what could be surprising seeing that every man in good health could go two days without eating, but never without poetry?

Art which satisfies the most imperious of needs will always be the most honored.
    
ON CREDITORS   
    

You will no doubt recall a comedy entitled "Disorder and Genius"! If disorder has sometimes accompanied genius, all this proves is that genius is magnificently strong; unfortunately, for many young people this title expressed not an accident but a necessity.

I highly doubt that Goethe had any creditors; Hoffmann, disorganized Hoffmann, beset by the most frequent of necessities, endlessly aspired to get himself out of such a situation; he died, as it were, at the moment when longer life permitted his genius to soar with even greater brilliance.

Never have any creditors; pretend to have some if you'd like, this is all that I can pass along to you.  
    
ON MISTRESSES

If I wish to observe the law of contrasts which governs the moral order and the physical order of things, I am obliged to place in this class those women dangerous to all men of letters: the honest woman, the bluestocking, and the actress. The honest woman, because she necessarily belongs to two men, which makes her a mediocre pasture for a poet's despotic soul; the bluestocking, because she is a grown-up tomboy; and the actress, because she has been brushed by literature and speaks in jargon, in short, because she is not a woman in the full sense of the word: her public is more important to her than love.   

Can you imagine a poet in love with his wife and obliged to see her play a role in travesty? I think he would do well to set fire to the theater.

Can you imagine that writer forced to write a part for his wife who has no talent?

Yet another sweating as she tries in epigrams to convey to the audience in the foreground all the sufferings which this same audience has caused her in this most precious existence, this existence which the Easterners would place under three locks before they would come study law in Paris? Because all true men of letters detest literature from time to time, I permit you – free and proud souls, exhausted minds who always need to rest on the seventh day – only two types of women: young women or silly women; love or beef stew. Brothers, must I explain these reasons to you? 

Tuesday
Apr142015

Baudelaire, "Semper eadem"

A work ("Ever the same") by this French poet.  You can read the original here. 

"Whence," did you ask, "derives this sadness strange,
In tides sea-like upon the bare black rock?"
Yet once our heart has reaped its harvest plain,
To live is woe. All guard this secret's lock:

A simple, not mysterious pain has come,
And, like your joy, all dazzles in release.
So quit your search, O comely, curious one!
And though of softest voice, so hold your peace!

O foolish one! O ever-happy soul!
Your mouth of childish laughs!  Than Life even more,
'Tis Death which binds us by the subtlest beams.

Leave my heart drunk upon a masquerade,
In your eyes plung'd, as in the finest dream,
Adoze for long beneath your brows' dim shade!

Tuesday
Jun102014

Baudelaire, "Le parfum"

A poem ("Perfume") by this French master.  You can read the original here.

O reader have you ever breathed,                 
With drunkenness and greed's caress,         
The incense from a church recess,              
Or chronic musk in sachets sheathed?

O deepest magic charm's sweet thrall,                
In present or in past restored!     
As lovers place on their adored
Mnemonic petals of their fall.

From such elastic, heavy hair,          
Alive by alcove censer bright,           
A wild and savage scent emerged;

In vestments, muslin, velvet wear,  
Embalmed of purest youth's delight,   
A fur's perfume was once submerged.

Friday
Dec132013

Baudelaire, "Le joueur généreux"

A prose poem ("The generous gambler") by this French poet, and source of a very famous quotation.  You can read the original here.

Yesterday amidst the boardwalk crowd I felt myself grazed by a mysterious Being whom I recognized immediately and had always desired to meet, although I had never once laid eyes on him.  He was doubtless of like desire, for in passing he gave me a suggestive wink which I hastened to obey.  I followed him closely; and soon I descended behind him into a dazzling underground abode of a luxury none of Paris's finest houses could ever hope to approach.  It was remarkable that I could have passed by this imposing lair so often without detecting its entrance.  There reigned a carefully constructed, if intoxicating atmosphere which almost instantly erased all the tedious horrors of life; one's lungs filled with a somber beatitude akin to that which must afflict the lotus eater when, disembarking upon an enchanted isle beneath the rays of eternal afternoon, he feels born within them and, amidst the soporific sounds of melodious waterfalls, is then overcome by the desire never again to see his native shores, his wife, or his children, nor anew to scale the frothy crests of the sea. 

There were unknown men's and women's faces of fatal beauty which I believed to have seen before in epochs or countries now impossible to recall with any exactness; faces which inspired within me not the fear ordinarily generated by a stranger's countenance, but rather a certain fraternal sympathy.  Were I to attempt a description of the singular look in their eyes,  I would insist on never having beheld gazes so energetically aglow with the horror, boredom, and immortal desire of feeling alive.      

By the time we sat down my host and I had already become old and perfect friends.  We ate; we drank immoderately of all sorts of extraordinary wines; and, no less extraordinarily, after several such hours I seemed no more drunk than he.  Nevertheless, our wagers, that superhuman pleasure, had at various intervals interrupted our frequent libations; and I must admit that I gambled away my soul, owing in no small part to heroic insouciance and frivolity.  Yet the soul being such an impalpable thing, so often useless and sometimes so annoying, I experienced in this loss only slightly less emotion than if I had misplaced, while out on a stroll, my business card.     

For a long while we smoked several cigars whose incomparable flavor and aroma imbued my soul with a yearning for unknown shores and joys; inebriated on all these delights, and seizing a cup filled to the brim in a moment of excessive familiarity that did not seem to displeasure my host, I dared pronounce: "To your immortal health, Old Goat!"

We also spoke about the universe, about its creation and its future destruction; about the century's greatest idea, that is to say, about progress and perfectibility; and, in general about all the repositories of human infatuation.  On this subject His Highness did not lack for light-hearted and irrefutable humor, expressing himself with a smoothness of diction and calmness of wit which I had never observed among all the world's most celebrated speakers.  He explained to me the absurdity of various philosophies which had occupied human thought to the present day, and even deigned to entrust me with several fundamental principles whose benefits and propriety I was not to share with anyone.  He never once bemoaned the poor reputation he enjoyed in every corner of the world; he assured me that he himself was the most interested of all in seeing superstition's demise, and that he had been fearful with regard to his own power on only one occasion.  This was the day he had overheard a preacher, one more subtle than his colleagues, screaming from a pulpit: "When you hear praise, my brothers, of the progress brought by the Enlightenment, never forget that the Devil's greatest trick is convincing you that he doesn't exist!" 

The recollection of that celebrated orator naturally led us to the subject of the academies, and my strange companion affirmed that it was hardly beneath him in many instances to breath life into a pedagogue's quill or speech, or even his conscience, and that he was almost always in attendance, if invisible, at all academy sessions.  

Encouraged by such unstinting revelation, I asked him about God and whether he had recently seen Him.  With an insouciance tinged with a certain sadness, he responded: "We greet one another whenever we meet, but in the fashion of two old gentlemen in whom innate politeness could never fully extinguish the memory of ancient grudges." 

It was doubtful that His Highness had ever given such a lengthy audience to a mere mortal, and I was afraid to abuse my privileges.  Finally, just as quivering dawn was whitening the panes, this celebrated character, sung by so many poets and served by so many philosophers unknowingly laboring towards his glory, said to me: "I want you to remember me fondly; and, as someone to whom people impute so much ill, I also wish to prove to you that I am at times – if I may borrow a vernacular expression – a good devil.  In order to compensate the irreparable loss you have made of your soul, I will give you anyway what you would have won if your lot had been favorable, that is to say, the possibility of alleviating and defeating, for as long as you live, this bizarre feeling of boredom which is the source of all of humanity's maladies and miserable progress.  There will be no desire formed in your heart that I won't help you attain; you will reign over your peers; you will be covered in praise and even in adoration; money, gold, diamonds, and enchanting palaces will seek you out and implore you to accept them, without your having made the slightest effort towards their obtainment.  You will shift country and region as often as your imagination bids you to do so; you will be drunk indefatigably on sensual pleasures in charming locales where it is always warm and women smell as fragrant as flowers, and so forth and so on," he added as he rose and, with a pleasant smile, dispatched me thence.

Had I not been afraid of humiliating myself before such a large gathering, I would have willingly grovelled at the feet of this generous gambler in gratitude for his unprecedented munificence.  After having taken my leave, however, incurable defiance little by little returned to my heart; I could scarcely believe in such prodigious fortune.  And so, as I went to bed, praying out of imbecile habit, I repeated, half-asleep: "My God!  O Lord! Have the Devil keep his word to me!"   

Saturday
Aug102013

Baudelaire, "Les veuves"

A prose poem ("The widows") by this French man of letters.  You can read the original here.

Vauvenargues has said that in public gardens there are paths haunted principally by disappointed ambition, by unhappy inventors, by aborted glories, by broken hearts, by all those tumultuous and secluded souls who still moan in a storm's final sighs and retreat far from the insolent view of the happy and the idle.  These shady nooks are the meeting places for life's cripples. 

It is mostly towards these places that the poet and the philosopher like to direct their avid conjecture.  One finds there a certain pasture.  For if there were a realm they would, as I just insinuated, disdain to visit, it would be that of the joy of the rich.  Such turbulence in a void has nothing that might attract them.  On the contrary, they feel irresistibly drawn to all that is weak, ruined, contrite, and orphaned. 

An experienced eye is never wrong.  In some rigid, crestfallen traits, in some dark, cavernous eyes occasionally brilliant with the final sparks of combat, in some profound and extensive wrinkles, in these gaits so slow or so twitch-ridden, such an eye immediately deciphers the countless legends of unrequited love, of unacknowledged devotion, of uncompensated efforts, of hunger and cold humbly and silently endured.  Have you sometimes espied the widows on those solitary benches, the widows of the poor?  Whether or not they are in mourning, it is easy to recognize them.  Moreover, in the mourning of the poor there is always something missing, an absence of harmony that renders them even more dreadful.  They are obliged to be frugal with their sadness.  The rich bear theirs out in full force.

Which widow is the more saddened – she who holds the hand of the child whose reveries she cannot share, or she who is utterly alone?  I do not know.  One time I happened to follow for many hours an old woman so afflicted; stiff, upright, beneath a small, second-hand shawl, she exuded with all her being a certain stoic pride.  It was clear that she was damned – by absolute solitude, by the habits of the old spinster – and the masculine character of her mores added a mysterious originality to their austerity.  I cannot know how and in what miserable café she ate breakfast.  I followed her to a reading room, and for a long time looked on as she searched through the newspapers with piercing eyes, formerly burned with tears, for news of powerful and personal interest.  At length, in the afternoon, beneath a charming autumn sky, one of those skies from which regrets and memories descend in hordes, she was sitting apart in a public garden to hear, far off from the crowd, one of those concerts whose regiments’ music gratified the Parisians.  It was doubtless here that the little abundance of this innocent (or purified) old woman, the well-earned consolation of one of those long days without friends, without conversation, without joy, without confidants, which God had allowed to befall her, had gone on for perhaps many years now, three hundred sixty-five times a year!  

Another one: I can never prevent myself from taking a if not universally sympathetic, then at least curious look at the crowd of pariahs who squeeze around the outer wall of a public concert.  Across the night sky the orchestra launches songs of celebration, triumph, and voluptuousness.  The trailing dresses that sparkle; the looks exchanged; the slothful, tired from having done nothing, prancing about, feigning an indolent taste for the music.  Here there is nothing but the rich and happy; nothing that does not breathe or inspire insouciance or the pleasure of living life; nothing, apart from the aspect of the rabble pressed up against the outer barrier, absorbing for free, at the whims of the wind, a shred of music, as they gaze upon the blaze of the inner furnace.  

This reflection of the rich's joy in the eye of the poor is always an interesting thing.  But that day, amid the people garbed in floral blouses, I caught sight of a being whose nobility provided a striking contrast to the surrounding triviality.  She was a tall, majestic woman, so noble in her demeanor that I could not remember having seen anyone like her among the collections of aristocratic beauties of the past.  A perfume of haughty virtue emanated from her entire person.  Her face, sad and emaciated, was in perfect agreement with the great bereavement she bore.  Like the plebeians among whom she now mixed and who did not see her, she gazed profoundly at the luminous world, and listened while softly nodding her head.  A singular vision!  "Without fail," I told myself, "this type of poverty – if there is poverty there – cannot allow for sordid economizing.  A face so noble says as much.  Why then does she willingly remain in a milieu where she leaves such a glaring mark?"    

But in passing near her out of curiosity, I came to divine the reason.  The great widow held by the hand a child dressed like she in black; so modest was the price of admission, that this price perhaps sufficed to pay for one of the needs of this little being; better yet, for a superfluity, for a toy.  And she must have returned on foot, meditating and dreaming, alone, always alone; because a child is turbulent, selfish, bereft of softness or patience; and it cannot even act, like a true animal, like a dog or cat, as a confidant for solitary sorrows. 

Saturday
Feb092013

Baudelaire, "Au lecteur"

A famous work ("To the reader") by this French poet.  You can read the original here.

Errata, avarice, sin, and fool's bets  
Will occupy our minds and bodies whole: 
Regrets are nourished by our grateful souls,  
Just like the beggars feed their vermin pets.  

Our sins are stubborn, our repentance faint;
And our confessions rob us more than free:
As we return in joy through muddy street,
Believing such vile tears could cleanse our taints.

On evil's pillow sits Trismegistus,
That Satan so long lulling our rapt minds; 
And the rich metal of our will unbinds,   
All vaporized in that wise chemist's ruse.  

The Devil draws us to emotions' depths!  
In horrid objects will we find strange charms;  
Each day descending slowly to Hell's arms, 
Through reeking shadows, fearless, by one step. 

As might a poor debauch'd fool taste and kiss  
The martyred bosom of some ancient whore,  
So do we glide to secret pleasures' shores, 
Which, like a rotting orange, press our lips.

In serried swarm a million helminthes feast,  
A demon folk in riot in our brains;
And when we breathe, into our lungs Death strains,
Just like a river, with muffl'd moans, unseen. 

If violence, poison, daggers, or fire's blaze
Have not portrayed us yet in their doom's draft, 
That woeful canvas of our sad fate's path,
Alas, to this our souls remain unbrazed.

Amidst the jackals, panthers, and she-dogs,
The monkeys, scorpions, vultures, and base snakes,
That, barking, screaming, crawling, grunting, make
Our infamous menagerie of flaws, 

He is the ugliest and wickedest! 
Although bereft of noiseful gestes or shrieks, 
He would reduce the earth to mere debris, 
And in a gaping yawn our world ingest! 

He is Ennui!  Wet eyes unwill'd despair, 
His houkah's smoke dreams but of gallows' crease.
O reader, you know this exquisite beast!
My reader-hypocrite, my peer, my frere!

Sunday
Jul292012

Baudelaire, "L'homme et la mer"

A work ("Man and the sea") by this French poet.  You can read the original here.

O freest man, you'll always love the sea! 
The mirror where your soul seems to appear 
On its thin spline, unwinding endlessly,
Your mind still an abyss no less severe.   

Into this image will you then have dived, 
Embracing it with eyes and arms; your heart 
At times distracted from its throbbing chart,
By windy savage moans of life deprived.

You both remain discreet and shadow-swept:
O man, your deepest chasms gape unprobed;
O sea, your inmost riches still not unrobed;
In greatest zeal your every secret kept!

For countless centuries in glee you've fought
Bereft of mildest pity or remorse,
Eternal foes in death and carnage caught,
Desist, O brothers, in your luckless course!

Saturday
Sep102011

Baudelaire, "Confession"

A work ("Confession") by this French poet.  You can read the original here.

One time a nice, sweet solitary lass
Her bright arm by my own did rest
(This memory has hardly waned in mass
Within my soul's most darksome depths).

'Twas late; just like a coin in newest sheen  
The moon so full and thick was borne;
And like a river, night's solemnity
Streamed o'er a sleeping Paris morn. 

Along some houses and coach entryways,
So furtively the cats did glide;
Their ears alert, or like our dearest shades,
So slowly keeping with our strides. 

When suddenly amidst our freest throes,
Revealed by your wan clarity, 
Rich and sonorous instrument, where flows
But radiance and gaiety;

O spectacle so joyful to behold, 
Beneath the twinkling morning's fire,
You let a strange and plaintive note unfold,
While all this time you wobbled, tired,

Like some weak, bestial, somber, wicked girl,
Whose family would blush, dismay'd,
And would not wait to hide her from the world,
Within some secret, distant cave.

Poor angel! So in piercing shrills she ached:
"No thing down here can be believed:
Regardless of the pains one may so take, 
The human ego e'er deceives." 

"How hard a task to be but beauty's spawn!
How dull the work of such a child!
A cold, mad swooning dancer girl gets on
With insincere and metal smiles."

"'Tis a fool's plan to build on heartfelt whims;
For love and beauty too shall flee
Upon that day they're sacked by Oblivion,
And gifted to Eternity!"

This wild enchanted moon I've oft evoked;
This silence, this lethargic chart; 
A horrid confidence in whispers' choke, 
A sad confession of the heart. 

Monday
Jan312011

L'artiste moderne

An essay ("The modern artist") by this French poet.  You can read the original here.

My dear M****, when you did me the honor of asking for an analysis of Salon, you said: "Be brief, do not compile a catalogue.  Give me a general impression, something like a narrative of a spirited philosophical stroll through a gallery."  Well then, you will be served heartily, and not because your program agrees (and, as it were, it does agree) with the manner in which these deadly articles in Salon are actually conceived; or because this method may be easier than any other – brevity always takes more effort than prolixity; but because, very simply and most of all in the present case, no other program is possible. 

Certainly, my burden would have been greater still if I had been lost amidst a forest of originalities; if the modern French temperament, suddenly modified, purified, and rejuvenated, had yielded flowers so vigorous and of a scent so varied that they would have created irrepressible astonishment, provoked an abundance of praise and chatty admiration, and required the formation of new categories in the critical lexicon.  But thankfully (for me) none of this occurred.  No explosion; no unknown geniuses.  The thoughts suggested by the aspect of this Salon are of an order so simple, so old, so classic, that it would undoubtedly take but a few pages to develop them.  So do not be surprised that the banality of the painter engendered the commonplace in the writer.  Besides, you would lose nothing in such a belief, for could there be anything more charming (it pleases me to think that we share an opinion on this matter), more fertile, and of a nature more positively exciting than the commonplace?     

Before I begin, allow me to vent one regret that is, I believe, only seldom expressed.  We had been informed that we would be receiving guests, and not exactly unknown guests, as the Avenue Montaigne exhibition already made the Parisian public aware of some of these charming artists who had wallowed in anonymity for far too long.  For that reason I held a party to renew my acquaintance with Leslie, that rich, naïve, and noble humourist, one of the most accentuated expressions of the British mentality; with the two Hunts, the first an opinionated naturalist, and the second the ardent and witting creator of pre-Raphaelism; with Maclise, the audacious composer, as enthusiastic as he is sure of himself; with Millais, that meticulous poet; with J. Chalon, that mixture of Claude and Watteau, historian of beautiful afternoon events in the great Italian parks; with Grant, that natural heir to Reynolds; with Hook, who knows how to flood his Venetian Dreams with a magic light; with the strange Paton, whose mind veers towards Fuseli and then wanders with the patience of another epoch, that of the graceful chaos of the pantheists; with Cattermole, the watercolor painter of history; with that other fellow, so surprising that the name escapes me now, that visionary architect who on paper can construct cities whose bridges have elephants as columns and let pass between their colossal limbs all the sails of the world, the gigantic three-masted ships!  Lodgings for these imaginary friends were even prepared and of a singular color for these favorites of the bizarre muse.  But, alas!  For reasons which I do not know and whose explanation, I think, cannot be articulated on the pages of your journal, my expectations were disappointed.  In this way, tragic ardors, gesticulations in the manner of Kean or Macready, intimate kindnesses of home, Oriental splendors reflected in the poetic mirror of the English mind, Scottish greenery, enchanting freshnesses, and fleeting depths of watercolors like that decor, however small, we will not be able to consider in this "philosophical stroll," at least not this time around.  Enthusiastic representatives of the imagination and of the soul's most precious faculties, were you then so poorly received the first time that you might judge us unworthy of understanding you?

In this way, my dear M***, will we be obliged to adhere to France.  And please believe that I would experience immense joy in assuming a lyrical tone to speak about the artists of my country.  But unfortunately in a critical mind exerted so rarely, patriotism only plays an absolutely tyrannical role, and we have to make some humiliating confessions.  The first time I set foot in Salon, I made, on the stairs themselves, the acquaintance of one of our most respected and subtle critics, and to my first question, to that most natural question which I simply had to ask, he responded: "Flat, mediocre; I have rarely seen Salon as bleak."  He was at once both wrong and right.  An exhibition which possesses a number of works by Delacroix, by Penguilly, and by Fromentin cannot be bleak.  But generally speaking I see that his assertion was correct.   That mediocrity has dominated every age is indubitable; but that it reigns now more than ever, that it has become absolutely triumphant and cumbersome, this is as true as it is distressing. 

After my eyes had wafted for some time over these platitudes put to good use, all this silliness painstakingly polished, all these stupidities or falsehoods so expertly constructed, I of course was led in the course of my reflections to consider the artist in the past and to place him beside the artist of the present.  And then the terrible, eternal question arose, as it inevitably did at the end of these discouraging reflections.  It seemed like pettiness, puerility, a lack of curiosity, the flat calm of fatuousness have succeeded ardor, nobility, and turbulent ambition, both in the fine arts as well as in literature, and that nothing, for the moment, can furnish us with any hope of the spiritual blossomings as abundant as those of the Restoration.  And I am not the only one oppressed by these bitter reflections, believe me, and I will prove it to you at once.  So I used to say to myself: back then, what was the artist (Lebrun or David, for example)?  Lebrun was erudition, imagination, a knowledge of the past, a love for the great and the magnificent.  David, that colossus injured by myrmidons, wasn't he also the love of the past, the love of the great and magnificent united with erudition?  And now, what is an artist, that old brother of the poet?        

To respond properly to this question, my dear M***, one should not be afraid of being too hard.  Scandalous favoritism sometimes provokes an equivalent reaction.  The artist today and for a number of years has been, despite his absence of merit, a simple enfant gâté, a spoiled child.  What amount of honors, what amount of money have been handed over to these men without souls or learning!  Surely I am not averse to the introduction into an art of means that are alien to it; nevertheless, to give one example, I cannot but feel sympathy for an artist like Chenavard, always pleasant, as pleasant as books, and graceful to the point of slowness.  At least with him (he may be the target of the plunderer's jokes, what do I care?) I am sure that he speaks of Vergil or of Plato.  Préault has a charming gift, an instinctive taste that throws itself upon the beautiful like a predator upon its natural prey.  Daumier is gifted with luminous good sense which colors all his conversation.  Despite the bewildering leaps of his discourse, Ricard lets us see at every moment that he knows a lot and has taken into consideration a wide number of different sources.  It is useless, I think, to speak of the conversation of Eugène Delacroix, which is an admirable mix of philosophical solidity, spiritual lightness, and burning enthusiasm.  In addition, I cannot recall anyone else who would be worthy of conversing with a philosopher or poet.  Besides, you would hardly find anything more than the enfant gâté.  I beseech and beg you, tell me in what salon, in what cabaret, in what earthly or intimate meeting you have ever heard a spiritual word uttered by an enfant gâté a profound, brilliant, and concentrated word that might make us think or dream, a suggestive word, nothing more!  If such a word is uttered, it can only come from a politician or philosopher, or even from someone of unusual vocation a hunter, a sailor, a taxidermist.  But from an artist, an enfant gâté, never.

The enfant gâté has inherited the privilege of his precursors, a legitimate privilege at that time.  The enthusiasm that welcomed David, Guérin, Girodet, Gros, Delacroix, and Bonington still illuminates his scrawny person in a charitable light.  And while good poets and vigorous historians labor to make a living, the imbecile sponsor pays magnificently for the indecent little stupidities of the enfant gâté.  Note that I would not complain if such good fortune befell deserving men.  I am not one of those who envy a singer or a dancer who has reached the zenith of her art, a fortune acquired by hard work and daily peril.  I fear I may fall into the vice of the late Girardin, of sophisticated memory, which would one day reproach Théophile Gautier for having his imagination cost more than the services of a sub-prefect.  This was, if you will remember, during those black days when the public was appalled at hearing you speak Latin: pecudesque locutae!  No, I am not unfair to such a degree.  And yet it is good to raise a hue and cry over modern stupidity, when in the same period in which a gorgeous painting by Delacroix would have difficulty finding a buyer at a thousand francs, Meissonier's imperceptible figures have gotten ten or twenty times that price.  But these lovely days are over: we have slipped even lower, and Mr. Meissonier, who despite all his merits, had the misfortune to introduce and popularize petit bourgeois taste, is a veritable giant compared to our contemporary bauble-makers. 

Discredit of the imagination, contempt of the great and magnificent, love no, this word is too beautiful exclusive practice of a profession: when it comes to an artist, I believe that these are the principal reasons of his debasement.  The more imagination he possesses, the better then must he master his profession so as to accompany his imagination on its adventures and surmount the difficulties which it so avidly seeks.  And the better he masters his profession, the less will he boast of it and showcase it, so that his imagination will shine in all its brilliance.  This is what wisdom says.  And wisdom also says that he who only possesses ability is a beast; and the imagination which he wishes to forsake means he is a madman.  Yet however simple things may be, they are above or beneath the modern artist.  A concierge's daughter says to herself: "I will go to the Conservatory, I will appear in the Comédie-Française, and I will recite the verse of Corneille until I obtain the rights of those who have recited such verse for a very long time."  And she proceeds to do exactly what she said she would.  She is very classically monotone and very classically annoying and ignorant; but she has succeeded in that which was very easy, that is, to obtain by patience the privileges of the member. 

And the enfant gâté, the modern painter, says to himself: "What is imagination?  A danger and a burden.  What is the reading and contemplation of the past?  Time lost.  I will be classic, not like Bertin (since the classic changes place and name), but like ... Troyon, for example."  And he proceeds to do exactly what he said he would.  He paints, he paints, and he clogs his soul, and he paints some more, until at length he resembles the artist of the moment, and by his stupidity and ability he gains approval and the money of the public.  The imitator of the imitator finds his imitators and each of them in this way pursues his dream of grandeur, clogging his soul ever the more tightly, and most of all, not reading anything, not even The Perfect Cook, which nevertheless could have opened up to him a less lucrative but more glorious career.  Once he masters the art of sauces, icing, glazing, smearing, juices, and stews (I am talking painting), the enfant gâté assumes proud attitudes and repeats to himself with more conviction than ever that all the rest is useless.

There was a German farmer who came to find a painter and told him: "Mr. Painter, I want you to paint my portrait.  You will picture me seated at the main entrance to my farm, in the large armchair bequeathed by my father.  At my side you will paint my wife with her bedpost; behind us, coming and going, my daughters who are preparing our family supper.  On the large street which runs to the left, some of my sons coming back from the fields after having rounded up the cows into the stable; others, with my grandchildren, are bringing back the carts full of hay.  While I am contemplating these sights, do not forget, I beg you, the smoke puffs from my pipe that emerge shaded by the setting sun.  I also want the sounds of the Angelus ringing in the neighboring church bells to be heard.  It is there that we all got married, parents and children.  It is important that you paint the air of satisfaction which I am enjoying at this moment of the day as I contemplate at once my family and my riches augmented by a hard day's work!"     

Long live this farmer!  Without suspecting it he has understood painting.  The love of his profession has elevated his imagination.  Which one of our fashionable artists would be worthy of carrying out this portrait, and whose imagination could attain this level?