“Wickedness can never be excused, but there is merit in knowing we are wicked; the one vice beyond redemption is to do bad things out of stupidity.”
Paris Spleen had sat on my shelf for some years, and while it’s ostensibly Baudelaire writing about Paris and various aspects of all levels of French life, it’s also a look inside Baudelaire’s head. This was published posthumously in 1869 and it includes prose pieces on a wide range of topics from being drunk to an observation of two children playing.
On the first page, Baudelaire had my attention; he addressed Arsène Houssaye, arguing for the merit of the prose pieces, that “each survives on its own.”
We can break off where we choose, I my reverie, you the manuscript, the reader his reading; for I have not tied his reluctant will to the interminable thread of some pointless plot.
Some of the pieces are very short–less than a page; some are observations of human behaviour while others are centered on nature.
In The Double Room, just over two pages long, Baudelaire describes a bedroom, and the languid, sensual description begins with the bedroom as a pleasant place, but that soon changes:
And that fragrance of another world, which sent my seasoned sensibility reeling, has been displaced, alas, by the rank odour of tobacco mixed with god knows what stomach-turning damp. Now lungs breathe rancid desolation.
In this reduced world, so full of disgust, just one familiar object consoles me: the phial of laudanum, old and frightful mistress–and like all lovers, alas abundant with caresses and betrayals.
Ah indeed, Time is back, and reigns supreme now; and that hideous old personage has brought all his fiendish retinue of Memories, Regrets, Fits, Phobias. Anguish, Nightmares, Rage and Neuroses.
I could quote a lot from this book. There are times I liked Baudelaire and I agreed with him and there were times I thought it was hard being Baudelaire. Ultimately however, this is a thinker who analyses his feelings for us, his fortunate audience. Anyway, there’s a lot to chew over here; a friend who died insane, the beauty of nature, whether or not humans possess “innate goodness,” why people do horrible things, and the sadness and tortures of life. Yes, it’s Paris and Parisian life, but it’s also a glimpse into the mind of Baudelaire. This is best dipped into rather than read at one sitting. I read at night and Baudelaire gave me a lot to think about as I drifted off to sleep.
Vauvenargues says that in public gardens there are walks haunted mainly by failed ambition, ill-starred inventors, unachieved fame, broken hearts, all those wild, barricaded souls in the last throes of a storm and who retreat far from the insolent gaze of laughing wasters.
Translated by Martin Sorell