Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867), French poet, was born in Paris on the 9th of April 1821. His father, who was a civil servant in good position and an amateur artist, died in 1827, and in the following year his mother married a lieutenant-colonel named Aupick, who was afterwards ambassador of France at various courts. Baudelaire was educated at Lyons and at the Collège Louis-le Grand in Paris. On taking his degree in 1839 he determined to enter on a literary career, and during the next two years pursued a very irregular way of life, which led his guardians, in 1841, to send him on a voyage to India. When he returned to Paris, after less than a year’s absence, he was of age; but in a year or two his extravagance threatened to exhaust his small patrimony, and his family obtained a decree to place his property in trust. His salons of 1845 and 1846 attracted immediate attention by the boldness with which he propounded many views then novel, but since generally accepted. He took part with the revolutionaries in 1848, and for some years interested himself in republican politics but his permanent convictions were aristocratic and Catholic. Charles Baudelaire was a slow and fastidious worker, and it was not until 1857 that he produced his first and famous volume of poems, Fleurs du mal. Some of these had already appeared in the Revue des deux mondes when they were published by Baudelaire’s friend Auguste Poulet Malassis, who had inherited a printing business at Alençon. The consummate art displayed in these verses was appreciated by a limited public, but general attention was caught by the perverse selection of morbid subjects, and the book became a by-word for unwholesomeness among conventional critics. Victor Hugo, writing to the poet, said, “Vous dotez le ciel de l’art d’un rayon macabre, vous créez un frisson nouveau.” Baudelaire, the publisher, and the printer were successfully prosecuted for offending against public morals. The obnoxious pieces were suppressed, but printed later as Les Épaves (Brussels, 1866). Another edition of the Fleurs du mal, without these poems, but with considerable additions, appeared in 1861.
Baudelaire had learnt English in his childhood, and had found some of his favourite reading in the English “Satanic” romances, such as Lewis’sMonk. In 1846-1847 he became acquainted with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, in which he discovered romances and poems which had, he said, long existed in his own brain, but had never taken shape. From this time till 1865 he was largely occupied with his version of Poe’s works, producing masterpieces of the art of translation in Histoires extraordinaires (1852), Nouvelles Histoires extraordinaires (1857), Adventures d’Arthur Gordon Pym, Eureka, and Histoires grotesques et sérieuses (1865). Two essays on Poe are to be found in his Œuvres complètes (vols. v. and vi.). Meanwhile his financial difficulties grew upon him. He was involved in the failure of Poulet Malassis in 1861, and in 1864 he left Paris for Belgium, partly in the vain hope of disposing of his copyrights. He had for many years a liaison with a coloured woman, whom he helped to the end of his life in spite of her gross conduct. He had recourse to opium, and in Brussels he began to drink to excess. Paralysis followed, and the last two years of his life were spent in maisons de santé in Brussels and in Paris, where he died on the 31st of August 1867.
His other works include:—Petits Poèmes en prose; a series of art criticisms published in the Pays, Exposition universelle; studies on Gustave Flaubert (in L’artiste, 18th of October 1857); on Théophile Gautier (Revue contemporaine, September 1858); valuable notices contributed to Eugène Crépet’s Poètes français; Les Paradis artificiels opium et haschisch (1860); Richard Wagner et Tannhäuser à Paris (1861); Un Dernier Chapitre de l’histoire des œuvres de Balzac (1880), originally an article entitled “Comment on paye ses dettes quand on a du génie,” in which his criticism is turned against his friends H. de Balzac, Théophile Gautier, and Gérard de Nerval.
Bibliography.—An edition of his Lettres (1841-1866) was issued by the Soc. du Mercure de France in 1906. His Œuvres complètes were edited (1868-1870) by his friend Charles Asselineau, with a preface by Théophile Gautier. Asselineau also undertook a vindication of his character from the attacks made upon it in his Charles Baudelaire, sa vie, son œuvre (1869). He left some material of more private interest in a MS. entitledBaudelaire. See Charles Baudelaire, souvenirs, correspondance, bibliographie (1872), by Charles Cousin and Spoelberch de Lovenjoul; Charles Baudelaire, œuvres posthumes et correspondances inédites (1887), containing a journal entitled Mon cœur mis à nu, and a biographical study by Eugène Crépet; also Le Tombeau de Charles Baudelaire (1896), a collection of pieces unpublished or prohibited during the author’s lifetime, edited by S. Mallarmé and others, with a study of the text of the Fleurs du mal by Prince A. Ourousof; Féli Gautier, Charles Baudelaire (Brussels, 1904), with facsimiles of drawings by Baudelaire himself; A. de la Fitzelière and C. Decaux, Charles Baudelaire (1868) in the series of Essais de bibliographie contemporaine; essays by Paul Bourget, Essais de psychologie conlemporaine (1883), and Maurice Spronck, Les Artistes littéraires(1889). Among English translations from Baudelaire are Poems in Prose, by A. Symons (1905), and a selection for the Canterbury Poets (1904), by F.P. Sturm.