In one line of this poem Verhaeren has given us the real cause of his illness. His reason has died, he says, " from knowing too much. The mystic and the modern man have been struggling within him. It is this struggle which has forced so many French poets back to the Catholic Church. But Verhaeren was made of more resisting stuff.
The struggle downed 24 Six French Poets him, but did not betray him. He fell back into no open arms ; by sheer effort he pushed himself up on his feet. I should have said that for some reason or other, Verhaeren spent most of these years of illness in London. His biographers imagine that the fog and gloom, what one of them calls the " melancholy scenery of industrial cities," was in harmony with his mood. Perhaps this is true, and if so I think we are right in believing that his state of mind had more to do with his illness than the poor digestion to which it is usually attributed.
However that may be, Verhaeren got better. He came out of his illness, as is usually the case with strong people, a sane, more self-reliant man. He left the obscurity of London side streets to plunge into the stream of active life in the cities of his native Belgium.
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In 1 89 1, Verhaeren published two volumes of poems, with two different publishers. Verhaeren is feeling the zest of life again, but it is a more spiritual zest than before, if one can use the term for such a very materialistic spirituality. Verhaeren is waking up, as it were, like a man stretching his arms, not yet fully awake. Saint Georges is probably the best known poem of the volume ; it begins charmingly : r Emile Verhaeren 25 Ouverte en large eclair, parmi les brumes, Une avenue ; Et Saint Georges, fermentant d'ors, Avec des plumes et des ecumes, Au poitrail blanc de son cheval, sans mors, Descend.
L' equipage diamentaire Fait de sa chute, un triomphal chemin De la pitie du ciel, vers not re terre. But it has too few of Verhaeren's peculiar excellen- cies to be worth quoting in full. As my purpose in this book is to show and study each poet's individual characteristics, I shall only quote those poems which most evidently illustrate them. And now we have come to Verhaeren's great period ; to the books which have made him the great- est poet of Belgium, and one of the greatest poets of the world. In these three books we have all Verhaeren's excellencies in rich profusion.
Here are the towns, with their smoking factories, crowded streets, noisy theatres, and busy wharves ; here are the broad, level plains of Flanders starred with windmills, the little villages and farms, and the slow river where fishermen come. And here are painted a whole gallery of trades : cabinet-makers, blacksmiths, millers, rope-walkers. We see the 26 Six French Poets peasants selling everything they possess to follow the long, white roads to the city — white tentacles for the swallowing city. And weather! In these volumes, Verhaeren first shows that remarkable series of weather pieces to which I referred in the beginning of this essay.
Verhaeren had found him- self. At a time when France was in the midst of Symbolisme; when nature, divorced from the pa- thetic fallacy, made little general appeal ; when every-day life was considered dull, and not to be thought about if possible ; — Verhaeren wrote of nature, of daily happenings, and of modern inven- tions. He not only wrote, he not only sang ; he shrieked, and cut capers, and pounded on a drum. Writing in French, Verhaeren has never been able to restrain himself within the canons of French taste. His effervescing nature found the French clarity and precision, that happy medium so cherished by the Gallic mind, as hampering as he would have found Greek artistic ideals had he lived several centuries earlier.
He must put three rhymes one after the other if he felt like it ; he must have a couple of assonances in a line, or go on alliterating down half a page. There was nothing in his nature to make the ideas of the Symbolist es attractive to him ; he would none of them. The mysticism of which I have spoken modified itself into a great humanitarian realization.
He believed in mankind, in the future. Not precisely nothing is precise Emile Verhaeren 27 with Verhaeren , but vaguely, magnificently, with all the faith his ancestors had placed in the Church. A Frenchman would have felt constrained to put some definiteness into these hopes. To give some form to what certainly amounted to a religion. Verhaeren was troubled by no such teasing diffi- culty. He simply burned with a nebulous ardour, and was happy and fecund. This is one of the reasons why Verhaeren's poetry is so much better understood and appreciated by Englishmen and Americans — Anglo-Saxons in short — and by Ger- mans, than any other French poetry.
There is a certain Teutonic grandeur of mind in Verhaeren which is extremely sympathetic to all Anglo-Saxons and Germans. Where the French intellect seems coldly analytic and calm, Verhaeren charms by his fiery activity. One of the devices which Verhaeren employs with consummate skill, is onomatopoeia, or using words which sound like the things described.
This is at once wedded to, and apart from, the sort of sound I have mentioned above. He carries this effect through whole poems, and it is one of the reasons for the vividness of his poems on nature. Elle s'efnle ainsi, depuis hier soir, Des haillons mous qui pendent, Au ciel maussade et noir. Elle s'etire, patiente et lente, Sur les chemins, depuis hier soir, Sur les chemins et les venelles, Continuelle. Au long des lieues, Qui vont des champs, vers les banlieues, Par les routes interminablement courbees, Passent, peinant, suant, fumant, En un profil d'enterrement, Les attelages, baches bombees ; Dans les ornieres regulieres Paralleles si longuement Qu'elles semblent, la nuit, se joindre au firmament, L'eau degoutte, pendant des heures ; Et les arbres pleurent et les demeures, Mouilles qu'ils sont de longue pluie, Tenacement, indefinie.
Emile Verhaeren 29 Les rivieres, a travers leurs digues pourries, Se degonflent sur les prairies, Ou flotte au loin du foin noye ; Le vent gifle aulnes et noyers ; Sinistrement, dans l'eau jusqu'a mi-corps, De grands bceufs noirs beuglent vers les cieux tors ; Le soir approche, avec ses ombres, Dont les plaines et les taillis s'encombrent, Et c'est tou jours la pluie La longue pluie Fine et dense, comme la suie. La longue pluie, La pluie — et ses fils identiques Et ses ongles systematiques Tissent le vetement, Maille a maille, de denument, Pour les maisons et les enclos Des villages gris et vieillots : Linges et chapelets de loques Qui s'emloquent, Au long de batons droits ; Bleus colombiers colles au toit ; Carreaux, avec, sur leur vitre sinistre, Un emplatre de papier bistre ; Logis dont les gouttieres regulieres Forment des croix sur des pignons de pierre ; Moulins plantes uniformes et mornes, Sur leur butte, comme des cornes ; Clochers et chapelles voisines, 30 Six French Poets La pluie, La longue pluie, Pendant l'hiver, les assassine.
La pluie, La longue pluie, avec ses longs fils gris, Avec ses cheveux d'eau, avec ses rides, La longue pluie Des vieux pays, Eternelle et torpide! The long sweeping V s of the first stanza give the effect of the interminable lines of rain in an extraor- dinary manner, and the repetition of Even apart from the beauty and surprise of the rhymes, the movement of this poem, and its pictorial quality, make it one of Verhaeren's masterpieces. I only wish I had space to give them all.
Two other poems in this book I cannot pass by. They are pictures of village life, full of feeling and understanding, and rich in that pictorial sense which never deserts Verhaeren. The first one, Le Meunier, Entile Verhaeren 31 is made up of the beauty of terror — terror worked up, little by little, from the first line to the last.
Verhaeren is no mere descriptive poet. Neither is he a surface realist. His realism contains the psy- chologic as well as the physiologic. Spadeful by spadeful, the earth rattles down on the coffin, and with each spadeful the grave-diggers terror grows, with the silence of the night, and the gradual per- vading, haunting, of the personality of the dead miller, all about, till "the wind passes by as though it were someone," and the grave-digger throws down his spade and flees.
After that, " total silence comes. Le soleil chut sous les ombres suspectes. Au village la-bas, Personne au mort n'avait prete deux draps. Au village la-bas, Nul n'avait dit une pridre. Au village la-bas, Personne au mort n'avait sonne le glas. Au village la-bas, Aucun n'avait voulu clouer la biere. Le fossoyeur se sentit seul Devant ce defunt sans linceul Dont tous avaient garde la haine Et la crainte, dans les veines. II effrayait par le silence Dont il avait, sans bruit, Tisse son existence ; II effrayait encor Par les yeux d'or De son moulin tout a coup clairs, la nuit.
L'universelle inquietude Peuplait de cris la solitude ; En voiles noirs et bruns, Le vent passait comme quelqu'un ; Tout le vague des horizons hostiles Se precisait en frolements febriles Jusqu'au moment ou, les yeux fous, Jetant sa beche n'importe ou, Avec les bras multiples de la nuit En menaces, derriere lui, Comme un larron, il s'encourut.
Very different is Les Meules Qui Brtilent. A splendid impressionist picture, with the burning hay-ricks starting up, one after the other, out of the blackness. Elle est immense — et comme un trousseau rouge Qu'on agite de sulfureux serpents, Les feux — ils sont passants sur les arpents Et les fermes et les hameaux, ou bouge, De vitre a vitre, un caillot rouge. Et le silence apres la peur — quand, tout a coup, la-bas Formidable, dans le soir las, Un feu nouveau remplit les fonds du crepuscule?
Tandis qu'au loin, obstinement silencieux, Des fous, avec de la stupeur aux yeux — regardent. Le vent chasse des cailloux d'or, Dans un dechirement de voiles.
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Le feu devient clameur hurlee en flamme Vers les echos, vers les la-bas, Sur l'autre bord, ou brusquement les au-dela Du fleuve s'eclairent comme un songe : Toute la plaine? One strange thing about Verhaeren is his true greatness. No matter how onomatopoeic he be- comes, no matter how much he alliterates, or what- ever other devices he makes use of, he never becomes 38 Six French Poets claptrap.
Every young poet knows how dangerous the methods I am speaking of are, with what terrible ease they give a poem a meretricious turn, and immediately a certain vaudevillian flavour has crept in. No matter what Verhaeren does, his work remains great, and full of what Matthew Arnold calls " high seriousness. A great genius will disobey all rules and yet produce works of art, perforce.
Verhaeren' s message has become so much a part of our modern temper that we hardly realize how new and original it was in poetry twenty years ago. Jules Romain in La Vie Unanime has gone Ver- haeren one better, but would he have been there at all if Verhaeren had not preceded him?
Remy de Gourmont, over-subtilized French intellect that he is, thinks that Verhaeren hates the groaning towns, the lonely villages. Which only proves that even remarkable minds have their limitations. A brood- ing Northerner, Verhaeren sees the sorrow, the travail, the sordidness, going on all about him, and loves the world just the same, and wildly believes in a future in which it shall somehow grind itself back to beauty.
Les Villes Tentaculaires is full of this sordidness, a sordidness overlaid with grandeur, as iridescent colour plays over the skin of a dying fish. But it is also full of the constant, inevitable pushing on, the movement, one might call it, of change. Comme un torse de pierre et de metal debout, Avec, en son mystere immonde, Le cceur battant et haletant du monde, Le monument de Tor, dans les tenebres, bout. Autour de lui, les banques noires Dressent des lourds frontons que soutiennent, des bras ; Les Hercules d'airain dont les gros muscles las Semblent lever des coffres-forts vers la victoire.
Le carrefour, d'ou il erige sa bataille, Suce la fievre et le tumulte De chaque ardeur vers son aimant occulte ; Le carrefour et ses squares et ses murailles Et ses grappes de gaz sans nombre, Qui font bouger des paquets d 'ombre Et de lueurs, sur les trottoirs. Tant de reves, tels des feux roux, Entremelent leur flamme et leurs remous, De haut en bas, du palais fou! Le gain coupable et monstrueux 40 Six French Poets S'y resserre, comme des noeuds, Et son desir se dissemine et se prop age Partant chauffer de seuil a seuil, Dans la ville, les contigus orgueils.
Les comptoirs lourds grondent comme un orage, Les luxes gros se jalousent et ragent Et les faillites en tempetes, Soudainement, a coups brutaux, Battent et chavirent les tetes Des grands bourgeois monumentaux. L'apres-midi, a tel moment, La fievre encore augmente Et penetre le monument Et dans les murs fermente. On croit la voir se raviver aux lampes Immobiles, comme des hampes, Et se couler, de rampe en rampe, Et s'ameuter et eclater Et crepiter, sur les paliers Et les marbres des escaliers. Une fureur reenflammee Au mirage d'un pale espoir, Monte parfois de Tentonnoir De bruit et de fumee, Ou Ton se bat, a coups de vols, en bas.
Langues seches, regards aigus, gestes inverses, Et cervelles, qu'en tourbillons les millions traversent, Echangent la, leur peur et leur terreur. La hate y simule l'audace Emile Verhaeren 41 Et les audaces se depassent ; Des doigts grattent, sur des ardoises, L'affolement de leurs angoisses ; Cyniquement, tel escompte l'eclair Qui casse tin peuple au bout du monde ; Les chimeres sont volantes au clair ; Les chances fuient ou surabondent ; Marches conclus, marches rompus Luttent et s'entrebutent en disputes ; L'air brule — et les chiffres paradoxaux, En paquets pleins, en lourds trousseaux, Sont rejetes et cahotes et ballottes Et s'effarent en ces bagarres, Jusqu'a ce que leurs sommes lasses, Masses contre masses, Se cassent.
Tels jours, quand les debacles se decident, La mort les paraphe de suicides Et les chutes s'effritent en ruines Qui s'illuminent En obseques exaltatives. Mais, le soir meme, aux heures blemes, Les volontes, dans la fievre, revivent ; L'acharnement sournois Reprend, comme autrefois.
On se trahit, on se sourit et Ton se mord Et Ton travaille a d'autres morts. La haine ronfle, ainsi qu'une machine, Autour de ceux qu'elle assassine. On mele avec l'honneur l'escroquerie, Pour amorcer jusqu'aux patries Et ameuter vers Tor torride et infamant, L'universel affolement. Oh Tor! De l'or! Et, plus feroce encor que la rage de l'or, La foi au jeu mysterieux Et ses hasards hagards et tenebreux Et ses arbitraires vouloirs certains Qui restaurent le vieux destin ; Le jeu, axe terrible, ou tournera autour de l'aventure, Par seul plaisir d'anomalie, Par seul besoin de rut et de folie, La-bas, ou se croisent les lois d'efTroi Et les supremes desarrois, Eperdument, la passion future.
Emile Verhaeren 43 Comme un torse de pierre et de metal debout, Avec, en son mystere immonde, Le cceur battant et haletant du monde, Le monument de Tor dans les tenebres bout. The dramatic intensity of this poem equals that of Le Meunier. And this is Verhaeren' s third great gift : the dramatic. I have already spoken of his visualizing gift, of his power of reproducing sound in words ; the third side of his greatness is the sense of drama. In spite of the decoration in La Bourse, in spite of such lines, beautiful in themselves, as La-bas!
Verhaeren is not a didactic poet. He does not suggest a way out. He states, and hopes, and firmly believes ; that is all. And always remember, in thinking of Verhaeren's work in the light of his philosophy, that he is first of all an artist, a painter, and he must always take a painter's delight in pure painting. For those people who prefer a more clear, more classic style of poetry, Verhaeren has no charm. His colours are bright and vague like flash-lights thrown on a fog. But his force is incontestable, and he hurls along upon it in a whirlwind of extraordinary poetry. Of Verhaeren's life from now on, there is little to say.
He is a poet, and a poet's life is in creating poems. On his return to Belgium, he threw himself into active life and was immediately seduced by the Socialist doctrines then just being felt in Belgium. He seconded M. Vandevelde and others in starting a democratic movement, and went so far as to be- come a member of the "Comite de la Maison du Peuple.
Of course, I mean that was what he did before the war. That Verhaeren must have married sometime before is clear, because Les Heures Claires, published in that year, is the first of a series of love poems, of which Les Heures de V Apres-midi, published in , and Les Heures du Soir, published in 1, are the other volumes. Verhaeren's love story has evidently been tran- quil and happy. The poems are very sweet and graceful, but it must be confessed not of extreme importance.
They are all written in regular metre, which seems almost typical of their calm and un- original flow. Verhaeren does not belong to the r Entile Verhaeren 45 type of man to whom love is a divine adventure. He has regarded it as a beneficent haven in which to repair himself for new departures. No biographer mentions who Madame Verhaeren was, or anything about her, except to pay her the tribute of under- standing and cherishing a great man.
That she has been a helpmeet to him in every way these poems prove. We have reached the last stage of Verhaeren' s career. The stage of powers ripening, growing, solidifying. His part is taken ; he has learnt his peculiar medium, and formulated his ideas. His final volumes, many though they are, merely show him writing still remarkable poems along the lines he has chosen. There is no diminution of his genius, and his fecundity is extraordinary. Four volumes of poems entitled Toute la Flandre, appeared at intervals from 1 90 1 to And there are one or two other small volumes.
Remember, Verhaeren has written twenty- three volumes of poems, and to speak of them all in detail would require an entire volume. I only wish it were possible to give something from each of these books. But I must content myself with one more quotation from his last book, Les Bles Mouvants. It will show that Verhaeren has 46 Six French Poets lost nothing of his great vigour, and that the rage for justice which made him a socialist still burns in him.
Elle est a nous, elle est a nous, Depuis la porte aux longs verrous Jusqu'aux faites des cheminees. Emile Verhaeren 47 — Allez-vous-en, allez-vous-en, L'auberge entiere est aux passants. Allez-vous-en, allez-vous-en, Et sachez bien Que notre droit, c'est notre faim. What Verhaeren has done for poetry is this. He has made it realize the modern world. He has shown the grandeur of everyday life, and made us understand that science and art are never at variance. He has shown that civic consciousness is not neces- sarily dry and sterile, but can be as romantic as an individual.
And he has done all this without once saying it directly, by force of the greatest and most complete art. Then we were engaged with a great poet. A man of large and exuberant nature, whose work was remarkable for its originality, force, dramatic power, and fecundity. Now we are going to con- sider a minor poet of delicate and graceful talent, whose entire poetical output is contained in three volumes. It is chamber-music, as tenuous and plaintive as that played by old eighteenth century orchestras, with their viole da gamba and haut- bois d 'amour.
Albert Samain would seem to lack his century, were it not that one cannot help feeling that in no century would the shy, solitary, diffident man have been at home. Centuries are strangely alike for those living them, they only change their values when their outlines are blurred by distance. The qualities which make a man great are the same in all ages.
Samain would have been a minor poet in the ninth century as he was in the nineteenth. In the biography of the poet by Leon Bocquet, there is a preface by Francis Jammes. He says : " Albert 51 52 Six French Poets Samain's forehead wrinkled like my mother's — from the bottom up. His arm had the elegant ges- ture of a stork which moves its foot backward. His face and body were slender. At times his blue eyes, behind his glasses, became heavenly, that is to say they looked up and whitened. Albert Samain was a swan.
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I am hardly expressing myself figuratively here. He had the harmonious stiffness and the gaze of a swan. Not the sharp, furious, wounded gaze of the bird of prey, but the impassive gaze of the sacred bird which flies, in high relief, on the frieze of some temple, the gaze which only re- flects the appearance of things floating away beneath it in the water of the stream. He had the cold and sad attitude of the swan too. Swan, the friend of shade. I see him, sailing, spread out, over the lake in Le Jar din de V Infante.
He does not listen to the whispers of this splendour which he himself has created, nor to the rising sea of his fame. He only listens to the bells of a church which ring in the distance — I do not know where, in a country which is not mine, in a country where the things are which one does not see.
He only hears the chimes of this Flemish church, of this church in which an old woman is praying. But the whole description, fanciful though it is, gives a Albert Samain 53 better picture of the man than pages of biography and straightforward analysis could do. Samain is said to have looked like a Spaniard, and certainly his photographs might be those of some Spanish grandee ; there is the haughty, spare figure of the Spaniard, and the sad, proud face of slender lines. We must not forget that Flanders was for some time owned by Spain, and that Lille only became a part of France in , when Louis XIV besieged it and forced it to surrender.
His family were Flemish, and from time im- memorial had lived in the town or its suburbs, so that Samain's Spanish appearance was probably no mere accident, but the result of a remote heredity. His family belonged to the large class of the minor bourgeoisie. At the time of his birth, his father, Jean-Baptiste Samain, and his mother, Elisa-Hen- riette Mouquet, conducted a business in " wines and spirits" at 75 rue de Paris. Some distant ancestral strain seems to have had more effect upon Samain than his immediate surroundings ; certainly, the ancestor who gave him his figure and colouring seems to have given him his character also, for no trace of the influences which usually mould the small shop- keeper's son to fit his father's routine are visible in him.
This is the more surprising, as all the ease and 54 Six French Poets assurance which he might have derived from his father's owning his own business were promptly swept away by the death of his father when he was fourteen. At this time, Samain was in the third class in the Lycee at Lille. His father's death found him the eldest of three children, with a widowed mother whom he must help to support the family.
Noblesse oblige, whether another trait of his Spanish ancestor or merely derived from the fine thriftiness of the French bourgeoisie, was always strong in Samain. He left school and entered the office of a banker, where he seems to have held the position of errand-boy. From there he went into the business of sugar-broking, in what capacity is not stated, but it would seem to have been at the bottom of the ladder, as was natural at his age. That the work was very hard is evident, for Samain says : "I was very miserable there for many years, working from half-past eight in the morning until eight at night, and on Sundays until two.
In spite of his twelve hours of work there were off times — the twelve other hours, only some of which could be spent in sleep ; and the Sunday afternoons. A provincial town offers very little in the way of amusement to an intelligent young man. Samain was hardly the sort of fellow to enjoy cock-fights, or find pleasure in lounging in Albert Samain 55 cafes ogling the passers-by. There was the Museum, but museums do not last forever as an inspiring relaxation, and for a young fellow of eighteen or thereabouts wandering round a museum is usually a lonely joy.
The boys with whom he had gone to school had passed on to the University; and besides, what could they have to do with an under- clerk in a business house! Samain was too proud to push against cold shoulders. He simply with- drew more and more into himself, and laid the foundation for that sadness from which he could never afterwards entirely free himself. If circumstances separated him from his old schoolfellows, his tastes and also his taste re- moved him from his fellow clerks.
A single friend he made, however — a M. Victor Lemoigne. This man not only was his friend, he believed in him, a precious necessity to a young writer. For Samain at last confided to him that he wrote verses. It must have been the greatest comfort to tell some- body, for Samain had been writing in silence and solitude for some time.
But he had not only been writing, he had been training himself for a writer, and in that best of all methods, studying foreign tongues. If there were no amusements in Lille, there was at least a library. And in the absence of any other distractions Samain spent long hours there. Per- haps it was lucky that nothing else exerted a strong 56 Six French Poets enough pull to make his going there in the least difficult. He studied, and endeavoured to complete his arrested education. Of course, he read rather vaguely, as people do without a teacher, but he succeeded in perfecting himself in Greek and Eng- lish so that he could read them both fluently.
He delighted in English, and afterwards liked to give his poems English titles, and put English words into the middle of them. Edgar Allan Poe was one of his greatest admirations and inspirations. Years after he wrote: "I have been reading Poe this week. Decidedly, he must be classed among the greatest. The power of his conceptions, the mag- nificence of his hypotheses, the marvellous force of his imagination, always contained and held in check by an extraordinary will, make him an almost unique figure in art.
If the word perfection can ever be used, it is in such a case. He liked the poems which Samain showed him, and at once de- cided that the young man was sure of a glorious future. There is no doubt that these over-confident and admiring friends do a young writer as much good as harm.
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Adverse or carping criticism often dis- courages to the point of sterilization, while even ill-judged praise gives confidence and the strength to go on. In a man of Samain's diffident tempera- Albert S amain 57 ment, such full-blooded encouragement must have been of the greatest value. But, as the desire to learn, to talk, to mix in an intellectual life, grew upon him, more and more did Samain find the life of a little clerk in the provinces insupportable.
It is truer of France than of any other country that its capital is the centre of its entire intellectual life. Samain had paid a flying visit to Paris in , to see the Exposition. Even more than at ordinary times, the Paris of an Exposition year dazzles, and snaps, and glows. After his return to the wearisome dulness of Lille, Samain thought of it as the Mecca of all his dreams. It lured like the Pot of Gold at the end of the Rainbow. As luck would have it, in July, , his firm decided to send him to its Paris house. He was to be only a transient addition, but he intended to stay if he could, and on express- ing this wish to his superiors it was acceded to, and his salary raised to francs a year.
It might seem now as though things were at last coming Samain's way. Here he was, transplanted to Paris, and with the exciting possibility of having some famous literary celebrity living just round the corner. But in cities like Paris, " round the corner" might just as well be across the Channel. Albert Samain was living in Paris, which, as a thought, must have given him considerable satisfaction ; but the satisfaction began and ended in the realms of the idea.
Now, he was at his office from nine in the morning until after midnight. Only once or twice a week did he even have some hours of freedom in the evening. And then there was no energy left to do any good work. So Samain lived in Paris more solitarily than he had done in Lille, for there was no M. Lemoigne there. And he could not work so well because he had less time.
They were not cheerful letters which he sent back to M. They were bitter, discouraged letters. He must change his business, there was no other way ; but to what? The faithful Lemoigne was instant in suggestion.
His friend must try journalism ; and, succeeding in that, have leisure for greater literary effort. It must have been a constant strain for Lemoigne to push his friend along, and his patience and effort were remarkable. Samain always held back, and was discouraged before he began. But Lemoigne firmly insisted. Poor Samain hastily wrote a paper on Offenbach and took it to the Figaro.
It was not liked. Then he wrote to the editors of Gil Bias, and the Beaumarchais. His letters were not an- swered. So that seemed to be an end to journalism in Paris. Samain was willing to give it up. Lemoigne was not. If Paris would not see his friend's genius, Lille should. Really Lemoigne's unswerving faith Albert Samain 59 is very beautiful, and it is a satisfaction to realize how abundantly it was justified. There was at this time in Lille a weekly called Le Bonhomme Flamand. It amounted to very little, as, of course, Lemoigne knew, but Samain must be printed. And two little stories of Samain's did appear in it signed Gry-Pearl, for Samain was afraid of the amusement of his friends if he signed his own name.
The quasi-English flavour of the pseudonym is interesting. Shortly afterwards, Le Bonhomme Flamand died a natural death. The editor of an- other Lille paper annoyed Samain by chopping up one of the latter's articles to suit himself, so Samain refused to send any more, and forced M. Lemoigne to approve. Here ended Samain's attempt to push open the doors of journalism, if we except two articles in an unknown gazette, and a little piece in U Illustration. Samain slipped back to his old solitary life, writing for himself alone. In July, 1 88 1, Mme. Samain joined her son in Paris.
And from this time on they were never separated. Even among Frenchmen, whose affec- tion for their mothers has become a proverb, Samain's love for, and care of, his is extraordinary. For her sake he never married ; his salary was not enough to support two women. Later, his youngest brother Paul joined them; Alice, his sister, remaining behind in Lille where she had married.
It was a quiet, family life they 60 Six French Poets lived in the little apartment, rue des Petits-Champs. It was a safe, excellent life for a rising young clerk, sure of stepping up in his business from position to higher position, and finally attaining to a business of his own. But for a poet, how petty, how exacting! How painful to weary the brain all day with figures so that at night it cannot find words!
Weak in many ways though Samain was, he never wavered in his firm resolution to write. If he could only gain enough to keep his mother he would be satisfied ; for himself he only demanded a less fatiguing work, with more leisure. He watched, and watched, until he found something. And what he found was a small clerkship in the third bureau of the Depart- ment of Instruction, with a salary of francs a year. In spite of suggestions and offers from his firm, he took it without a moment's hesitation.
And it speaks excellently for Mme. Samain that she apparently bore him no ill-will for so materially cutting down their income. The change was undoubtedly a good thing for Samain. He was only obliged to be at his desk for seven hours a day, his colleagues were men of better education than those in the sugar house, and finding a copy of Boileau open upon the table of his chief gave him the feeling of being in a sympathetic atmosphere. But still, taking everything by and large, Samain could not feel very successful. He had left Lille, true ; he had got rid of the detested Albert Samain 61 sugar-broking ; he was definitely settled in Paris.
And there was an end to his achievements. In a letter written much later, he says : " At twenty-five years old, without the slightest exaggeration, I had not a single literary friend or acquaintance. My only relations were with young men belonging to the business world. The momentary, hazarding exploits of a very young man.
From his boyhood he had fed upon the Romantics ; Lamartine, Hugo, and Musset had been his gods. Two of these giants being un- happily dead and the third a very old man, he wor- shipped their belated shadows : Theodore de Banville and Jean Richepin. He sent a letter with an en- thusiastic ode to Banville, but the visit which Banville invited him to make in return was unfortunate in the extreme. Banville carped and criticised, and Samain took flight never to go back again. Twice more, Samain was so ill-judged as to tempt Fate in this way.
He sent letters to both Jean Richepin and Octave Feuillet. Both asked him to call, possibly the visits were repeated more than once, but they had no result. Samain was tasting the bitter lesson, that fecund intimacies fall from the lap of the gods, and are never the result of painstaking endeavour. Samain gave up seeking access to celebrities and went back to his writing, still worshipping the dead authors who had not snubbed him, and writing dans 62 Six French Poets le gout oV avant-hier.
But, though Samain, alone in the quiet lamplit evenings, still bowed before the old shrines, other young men were more adventurous. Various hot bloods got up a society, or rather they organized a group, and called it Nous Autres. They met at a cabaret in Montmartre, and drank bocks, and disputed theories of art and letters, and undoubtedly damned every one who was not themselves, after the manner of young artists.
By and by, they changed cabarets, going to Le Chat Noir, and made it famous by their presence. A kind of vaudeville show was given there, and a series of silhouette plays, in a little puppet theatre, by Henri Riviere had a great vogue. On occasions, at the end of an evening, the young writers read their poems aloud and had their angles rubbed off by one another's criticism. A friend took Samain to one of these gatherings, and he soon became an habitue.
He read a part of his poem, Les Monts, there. Le Chat Noir had a little paper, and in the copy of it for December, , Tsilla appeared on the front page. Tsilla was apparently liked and praised by the frequenters of Le Chat Noir, and Samain wrote a satisfied and happy letter to M. Lemoigne on the strength of it. Rather pathetically he tells how he has been praised for the healthy quality of his verses, and hopes that he will be able to avoid the maladive contagion of the period.
Albert Samain 63 To my mind, Tsilla is one of the dullest poems that ever was written, and gives no hint of the charm of some of his later work. It is the story of a young girl of antiquity that charming and con- venient antiquity so beloved of poets, which never existed anywhere, at any time , who loves an Angel.
In a crisis of adventurousness, she urges the Angel to fly up in the sky, taking her with him, which he does, and they go so near to the rising sun that her black hair is turned to gold. Owing to which acci- dent, she is the first woman in the world who ever had blond hair. The verses are no more interesting nor original than the story. If praise of such an insignificant poem had been all that Samain got out of his cenacle of young poets, his frequenting it would have been a mere waste of time.
But it was not all. He got a com- plete upheaval of ideas. He learnt that Lamartine and Victor Hugo were vieux jeu, that Francois Coppee was not the last word in poetry to these young iconoclasts. He learnt that Verlaine and Mallarme were the proper objects of worship for an up-to-date poet. Any one who has listened to a set of young writers tearing down the generation which has preceded them, showing up all the faults it never knew it had, and sneering at the good points it undoubtedly has, can reproduce these evenings perfectly.
But Samain was a young provincial. All this talk disturbed him. This familiar scoffing 64 Six French Poets at names he considered the greatest in the world unsettled him. What should he do? Whom should he follow? For Samain must follow, he was as incapable of leadership as a man could well be. It is easy to be an iconoclast in French poetry.
The classic metres are so exceedingly prescribed and confined that the least little change lands one in nonconformity. But for us, living more than thirty years after the period I am speaking of, for us who are accustomed to the innovations of the vers libristes, Samain's tentative efforts at modernity of form have become almost invisible. We can find them if we hunt, but to the naked perception they are lost in the general effect of conformity to metrical rules.
Yet, to Samain, his not always putting the caesura in the middle of the line, or failing to alternate mas- culine and feminine endings, or occasionally rhyming plurals with singulars all unalterable rules of French classic metre , must have seemed violent innovations indeed. The meetings at Le Chat Noir did not only affect Samain's technical habit, they affected his ideas about everything, even, and most, his religion.
Brought up a Catholic, he had hitherto never doubted his faith ; now it tumbled off him like a shrivelled leaf. Scepticism, a state of mind pecul- Albert Samain 65 iarly unsuited to his temperament, swept over him. The realization that he had lost the support of religion, that its consolations could no longer com- fort him, was agony. The idea, the resultant void, preoccupied him.
He could no longer write, he could only worry and mourn. This was particularly unfortunate as he was at the moment composing the poems which afterwards made up Au Jardin de V Infante, his first volume, which was not published until six years later. The sapping of his vitality by doubt naturally lasted longer with a man of Samain's gentle and resigned disposition than it does with people of bolder characters.
In his state of mind, the hilarious and not over- refined pleasures of the literary cabarets were most distasteful. He was too straightforward and simple himself not to see through the poses and childish debauches of his coterie. He withdrew from it, and retired once more within himself. But he was lonely, bitterly lonely. His brother Paul had been called to his military service, and once more he and his mother lived alone.
His modest income of francs was not sufficient to enable him to think of marriage while he still had his mother to support. Whether Samain ever had a definite love story is not known. It seems hardly possible for him to have escaped such a usual happening ; but, at any rate, whether it was a particular woman whom he gave up, or whether he merely resigned himself to bachelorhood in the ab- 66 Six French Poets stract, certain it is that Samain felt his life bor- dered and arranged, and that he looked forward to no bright happening to change it.
Samain adored him and was proud of him, but from his reticence about his work at home, she does not appear to have been fitted, either by edu- cation or natural ability, to be much of a help to him in it. Only seven hours a day at the Hotel de Ville, and the rest of the time his own! That ' ' rest of the time," which was to have been filled with the work he could not do. It hung heavy on his hands, and to distract himself he took to taking long walks about Paris.
He would stroll along the Seine, turn- ing over the leaves of the books in the bouquiniste 1 s boxes on the parapets of the quais, amusing himself with the old engravings in the ten centimes boxes, breathing in the sharp scent of the river and the perfume of old, passed centuries ; he would wander in the once fashionable quarters of the town, now fallen from grace, and imagine the days when they were full of sedan chairs and elegant ladies.
His love for the faded, the graceful, vanished past, grew and solaced him. How many of his poems seem to be merely efforts to reproduce it, and so dwell in it for a few minutes! Side by side with these imaginative pleasures were others. He began to see nature, real nature, as it is even to-day. His walks in the suburbs gave him Albert Samain 67 many a picture which he turned to account later in Aux Flancs du Vase.
The splendid, differing sun- sets gave him infinite pleasure ; sometimes he would get into one of the bateaux mouches which go up and down the river, and watch the yellows and reds of the sunset repeat themselves in the water. He had none of that modern spirit which enables one to see beauties in tram-cars and smoking chimneys, so he eliminated them from his thought. In love with beauty as he conceived it, he took the changing colours which all sorts of weather threw over Paris, and, eternal as they are, lit his pictures of other centuries with them.
He speaks of "la suavite supreme de Paris d'Automne;" the frail gold of Autumn always pleased him. He describes dark gardens where the fountains "font un bruit maigre, frileux et comme desole dans l'abandon du crepus- cule. Flowers were the only luxury he permitted 68 Six French Poets himself. Except and this is the great "except" his imagination. His room was as bare as a cell in a monastery, neither painting nor engraving hung on the walls.
But listen to the room he would have had if — evoking it to amuse himself on an Autumn even- ing : "My room. Hung with velvet of steel- coloured grey, with blue lights in it. The rose- tinted ceiling fades off into mauve and has a large decorative design — Renaissance — in old silver, embossed at the corners. Hangings hide the door. No windows ; the room only being used by artificial light. Near the floor, forming a base-board, a band of old silver openwork appliqued on the same velvet as the hangings, a flower design, with knots of pink pearl tassels at intervals.
A carpet with a silver nap ; against one side of the wall, a divan of steel-grey velvet. No movable furniture. In one corner, directly under the bosses of the ceiling, an ebony table with silver lion's claws for feet ; the table is covered with a cloth of steel-grey velvet, with a great silver tulip with rose-coloured leaves embroidered in the corner.
An Etruscan armchair, made entirely of ebony, with silver nails. Negli- gently thrown over the armchair to soften the sharpness of the angles and the hardness of the wood, a grey bear skin. A lamp of old silver, mas- sive and slender, with a long neck of a clear shape, and without ornament. Shade of faded moss-rose Albert Samain 69 colour. Blotting pad of steel-grey morocco, with a heraldic device ; a penholder of old gold. Books : Corbiere, Mallarme, Fleurs du Mai, in small folios, bound in white pigskin and tied with cords of rose- colour and silver, edges of old gold, titles printed in Roman letters, crude red on the top and on the left side.
A fireplace with a historical plaque over it — Renaissance, and andirons of wrought steel termi- nating in couched chimeras. Three sides of the room are empty. In the corner opposite the table, on the wall, two metres from the ground, a console covered with steel-grey velvet supported by a Renais- sance chimera in iron. Upon the console, a great horn of crystal, very tapering, in which are two roses, one rose a sulphur yellow, one wine- coloured.
In an alcove hidden by a curtain is a deep niche, bathed in the half-light of a gold altar lamp hanging by a little chain. The globe of the lamp is made of pieces of many-coloured glass cut in facets so that they shine like great stones : ruby, sapphire, emerald. In the niche, which is hung with crimson velvet, on a column with a Doric capital, stands the Young Faun of Praxiteles. Yet Samain never complained of the ugliness and meagreness of actual life.
He only played his games on windy nights in his bare room. It would be unjust to Samain to represent him as passing all his evenings wrapped in sugary 70 Six French Poets dreams. He studied science, history, philosophy. It is a curious fact, that he was one of the first men in France to recognize the genius of Nietzsche. In compensation for the many bitternesses of his life, beginning in came the happiness of two friendships. Samain made the acquaintance, and quickly became the intimate friend, of Paul Morisse and Raymond Bonheur.
Paul Morisse was a con- stant traveller, and with him Samain made his first considerable journey. The two friends went to Germany. They saw the Rhine, Bingen, Mayence, etc. Samain was charmed with all he saw. He possessed the gift of wonder ; an inestimable pos- session, by the way. Unfortunately it was hard to find money for these excursions. Samain called the lack of money "the defective side" of his life.
When the French Academy crowned his first book, he gave himself the present of a month at Lake Annecy. So at last we reach his first book, privately printed in , when the poet had passed his thirty-fifth birthday. At this time the Mercure de France had just come into existence, and Samain was one of its founders. It was in the pages of the Mercure that most of- his poems appeared. Samain never seems to have seriously considered collecting them into a book. Over-diffident and self -critical, he worked at them, Albert Samain 71 changed them, polished them.
At rare intervals one was printed. Samain was in love with perfection, and very little that he did ever seemed to him worthy to leave his hands. This excessive scrupulousness works both ways. A poem so treated gains in beauty, but frequently loses in vitality. There is great danger of its becoming a thing of mummied splendour. That Samain's poems absolutely lost vigour by this polishing, I cannot fairly say.
The poems I have seen in several states do seem to have gained technically in their final one, and to have parted with practically none of their original elan. Elan is too strong a word. Samain's poems are never dashing with life. Let us say rather, not that his poems lost by his treatment of them, but that the kind of man who could so treat them was of a slightly depressed, unvital temper. How consider- able a course of discipline he put them through can be imagined when I mention that, in the four ver- sions extant of a poem of twenty-eight lines, only four which were in the first version appear in the last.
But to return to that first volume. At the in- stance of M. Bonheur, Samain consented to print it. Not publish it, observe. It was issued in a charm- ing, privately printed edition. This was in October, And in the Journal for the 15th of March, , appeared a review of it by no less a person than Francois Coppee. How the volume came into 72 Six French Poets Coppee's hands I do not know, but he instantly recognized its value and said so frankly.
Five months of reviewing and praise in the young reviews had not been able to do for Samain what the hun- dred lines from Francois Coppee did at once. It was celebrity, almost fame. The little, privately printed edition was quickly exhausted. Another was called for, and at last the book, Au Jar din de l' Infante, was published. Still Samain was diffident, and when a third edition was needed, he hesitated again ; but the third edition came out three years after the first.
The edition I have is marked "twenty- fifth," so it appears that Samain was un- necessarily timid. The book was given a prize by the French Academy, and Samain was one of the poets of the hour. There was nothing very new in Au Jar din de l' 'Infante, it is true. The metre was the classic alexandrine, for the most part, varied by lighter, gayer rhythms equally well sanctioned. But the book was full of the shy, delicate personality of the poet. Here were his sumptuous imaginings, and the haunting sadness which never quite left him.
Here was his tenderness for lovely, fragile things ; his preoccupation with the past. Finally here was his love for English — the volume bore this motto from Edgar Allan Poe : Was it not Fate, that, on this July midnight — Was it not Fate whose name is also Sorrow Albert Samain 73 That bade me pause before that garden-gate To breathe the incense of those slumbering roses? The following poem is printed in italics as a sort of dedication to the book : Mon ame est une infante en robe de parade, Dont l'exil se reflete, eternel et royal, Aux grands miroirs deserts d'un vieil Escurial, Ainsi qu'une galere oubliee en la rade.
Aux pieds de son fauteuil, allonges noblement, Deux levriers d'Ecosse aux yeux melancoliques Chassent, quand il lui plait, les betes symboliques Dans la foret du Reve et de 1'Enchantement. Le pare alentour d'elle etend ses frondaisons, Ses marbres, ses bassins, ses rampes a balustres ; Et, grave, elle s'enivre a ces songes illustres Que recelent pour nous les nobles horizons. Add to Basket. Compare all 8 new copies.
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