Baudelaire
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[ 155 Baudelaire1 I Anything like a just appreciation of Baudelaire has been slow to arrive in England, and still is defective or partial even in France. There are, I think, special reasons for the difficulty in estimating his worth and finding his place. For one thing, Baudelaire was in some ways far in advance of the point of view of his own time, and yet was very much of it, very largely partook of its limited merits, faults, and fashions. For another thing, he had a great part in forming a generation of poets after him; and in England he had what is in a way the misfortune to be first and extravagantly advertised by Swinburne, and taken up by the followers of Swinburne.2 He was universal, and at the same time confined by a fashion which he himself did most to create. To dissociate the permanent from the temporary, to distinguish the man from his influence, and finally to detach him from the associations of those English poets who first admired him, is no small task. His comprehensiveness itself makes difficulty, for it tempts the partisan critic, even now, to adopt Baudelaire as the patron of his own beliefs. It is the purpose of this essay to affirm the importance of Baudelaire’s prose works, a purpose justified by this translation of one of those works whichisindispensableforanystudentofhispoetry.ThisistoseeBaudelaire as something more than the author of the Fleurs du Mal and consequently to revise somewhat our estimate of that book. Baudelaire came into vogue at a time when “Art for Art’s sake” was a dogma.3† The care which he took over his poems and the fact that, contrary to the fluency of his time, both in France and England he restricted himself to this one volume, encouraged the opinion that Baudelaire was an artist exclusively for art’s sake. The doctrine does not, of course, really apply to anybody; no one applied it less than Pater, who spent many years, not so much in illustrating it, as in expounding it as a theory of life, which is not the same thing at all.4 But it was a doctrine which did affect criticism and appreciation, and which did obstruct a proper judgment of Baudelaire. He is in fact a greater man than was imagined, though perhaps not such a perfect poet. Baudelaire has, I believe, been called a fragmentary Dante, for what that description is worth.5 It is true that many people who enjoy Dante enjoy Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1930 156 ] Baudelaire; but the differences are as important as the similarities. Baudelaire’s inferno is very different in quality and significance from that of Dante. Truer, I think, would be the description of Baudelaire as a later and more limited Goethe. As we begin to see him now, he represents his own age in somewhat6† the same way in which Goethe represents an earlier age. As a critic of the present generation, Mr. Peter Quennell has recently said in his book, Baudelaire and the Symbolists:7 He had enjoyed a sense of his own age, had recognised its pattern while the pattern was yet incomplete, and – because it is only our misapprehension of the present which prevents our looking into the immediate future, our ignorance of to-day and of its real as apart from its spurious tendencies and requirements – had anticipated many problems, both on the æsthetic and on the moral plane, in which the fate of modern poetry is still concerned. [64] Nowthemanwhohasthissenseofhisageishard8† toanalyse.Heisexposed to its follies as well as sensitive to its inventions; and in Baudelaire, as well as in Goethe, is some of the out-moded nonsense of his time. The parallel between the German poet who has always been the symbol of perfect “health” in every sense, as well as of universal curiosity, and the French poet who has been the symbol of morbidity in mind and concentrated interests in work, may seem paradoxical. But after this lapse of time the difference between “health” and “morbidity” in the two men becomes more negligible ; there is something artificial and even priggish about Goethe’s healthiness , as there is about Baudelaire’s unhealthiness; we have passed beyond both fashions, of health or malady, and they are both merely men with restless, critical, curious minds and the “sense of the age”; both men who understood and foresaw a great deal. Goethe, it is true, was interested in many subjects which Baudelaire left...