1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mallarmé, Stéphane

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MALLARMÉ, STÉPHANE (1842–1898), French poet and theorist, was born at Paris, on the 18th of March 1842. His life was simple and without event. His small income as professor of English in a French college was sufficient for his needs, and, with his wife and daughter, he divided the year between a fourth-floor flat in Paris and a cottage on the banks of the Seine. His Tuesday evening receptions, which did so much to form the thought of the more interesting of the younger French men of letters, were almost as important a part of his career as the few carefully elaborated books which he produced at long intervals. L’Après-midi d’un faune (1876) and other fragments of his verse and prose had been known to a few people long before the publication of the Poésies complètes of 1887, in a facsimile of his clear and elegant handwriting, and of the Pages of 1891 and the Vers et prose of 1893. His remarkable translation of poems of Poe appeared in 1888, “The Raven” having been published as early as 1875, with illustrations by Manet. Divagations, his own final edition of his prose, was published in 1897, and a more or less complete edition of the Poésies, posthumously, in 1899. He died at Valvins, Fontainebleau, on the 9th of September 1898. All his life Mallarmé was in search of a new aesthetics, and his discoveries by the way were often admirable. But he was too critical ever to create freely, and too limited ever to create abundantly. His great achievement remains unfinished, and all that he left towards it is not of equal value. There are a few poems and a few pieces of imaginative prose which have the haunting quality of Gustave Moreau’s pictures, with the same jewelled magnificence, mysterious and yet definite. His later work became more and more obscure, as he seemed to himself to have abolished limit after limit which holds back speech from the expression of the absolute. Finally, he abandoned punctuation in verse, and invented a new punctuation, along with a new construction, for prose. Patience in the study of so difficult an author has its reward. No one in our time has vindicated with more pride the self-sufficiency of the artist in his struggle with the material world. To those who knew him only by his writings his conversation was startling in its clearness; it was always, like all his work, at the service of a few dignified and misunderstood ideas.

See also Paul Verlaine, Les Poètes maudits (1884); J. Lemaître, Les Contemporains (5th series, 1891); Albert Moekel, Stéphane Mallarmé, un héros (1899); E. W. Gosse, French Profiles (1905) and A. Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1900). A complete bibliography is given in the Poètes d’aujourd’hui (1880–1900, 11th ed., 1905) of MM. A. van Bever and P. Léautaud.  (A. Sy.)