1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Verlaine, Paul

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VERLAINE, PAUL (1844–1896), French lyric poet, was born at Metz on the 30th of March 1844. He was the son of one of Napoleon's soldiers, who had become a captain of engineers. Paul Verlaine was educated in Paris, and became clerk in an insurance company. He was a member of the Parnassian circle, with Catulle Mendès, Sully Prudhomme, François Coppée and the rest. His first volume of poems, the Poèmes saturniens (1866), was written under Parnassian influences, from which the Fêtes gal antes (1869), as of a Watteau of poetry, began a delicate escape; and in La Bonne Chanson (1870) the defection was still more marked. He married in 1870 Mile. Mautet. During the Commune he was involved with the authorities for having sheltered his friends, and was obliged to leave France. In 1871 the strange young poet Jean Arthur Rimbaud came somewhat troublingly into his life, into which drink had already brought a lasting disturbance. With Rimbaud he wandered over France, Belgium, England, until a pistol-shot, fortunately ill-aimed, against his companion brought upon him two years of imprisonment at Mons. Solitude, confinement and thought converted a pagan into a Catholic, without, however, rooting out what was most human in the pagan; and after many years' silence he published Sagesse (1881), a collection of religious poems, which, for humble and passionate conviction, as well as originality of poetic beauty, must be ranked with the finest religious poems ever written. Romances sans paroles, composed during the intervals of wandering, appeared in 1874, and shows us Verlaine at his most perfect moment of artistic self-possession, before he has quite found what is deepest in himself. He returned to France in 1875. His wife had obtained a divorce from him, and Verlaine made another short stay in England, acting as a

teacher of French. After about two years' absence Verlaine was again in France. He acted as teacher in more than one school and even tried farming. The death of his mother, to whom he was tenderly attached, dissolved the ties that bound him to "respectable" society. During the rest of his life he lived in poverty, often in hospital, but always with the heedless and unconquerable cheerfulness of a child. After a long obscurity, famous only in the Latin Quarter, among the cafes where he spent so much of his days and nights, he enjoyed at last a European celebrity. In 1894 he paid another visit to England, this time as a distinguished poet, and lectured at London and Oxford. He died in Paris on the 8th of January 1896. His eighteen volumes of verse (among which may be further mentioned Jadis et naguère, 1884; Amour, 1888; Parallelèment, 1889; Bonheur, 1891) vary greatly in quality as in substance; they are all the sincere expression, almost the instantaneous notation, of himself, of his varying moods, sensual passion, the passion of the mystic, the delight of the sensitive artist in the fine shades of sensation. He brought into French verse a note of lyrical song, a delicacy in the evocation of sound and colour, which has seemed almost to create poetry over again, as it provides a language out of which rhetoric has been cleansed and a rhythm into which a new music has come with a new simplicity. (A. Sy.)

His Œuvres complètes (3 vols.) were published in 1899, &c.; Œuvres posthumes (1903). See also Paul Verlaine, sa vie, son œuvre, by E. Lepelletier (1907); monographs by M. Dullaert (Ghent, 1896), C. Morice (1888); also Anatole France, La Vie littéraire (3rd series, 1891); J. Lemaitre, Nos contemporains (1889), vol. iv.; E. Delille, "The Poet Verlaine," in the Fortnightly Review (March 1891); A. Symons, in the National Review (June 1892); V. Thompson, French Portraits (Boston, U.S.A., 1900); and the poet's own Confessions (1895) and his Poètes maudits (1888). A bibliography of Verlaine with an account of the existing portraits of him is included in the Poètes d'Aujourd'hui (11th ed., 1905) of MM. A. van Bever and P. Léautaud. The Vie by Lepelletier has been translated into English by E. M. Lang (1909).