The important and complicated relation between an
artist and the age in which he lives has been the downfall
of many an excellent critic. Some, denying its importance,
have regarded works of art as if artists—and critics too—
lived exclusively in the timeless and spaceless world of the
spirit; others, denying its complexity, have assumed that
a work of art is a purely natural product, like a pebble on a
beach, totally explicable in terms of its physical causes.
(Such critics, however, are usually reluctant to apply the
same hypothesis to their own judgements.)
Since Man is neither pure spirit nor pure nature—if he
were purely either he would have no history—but exists in
and as a tension between their two opposing polarities,
both approaches lead to misunderstanding. Thus, among
literary critics, the first type is correct in maintaining that
aesthetic values are spiritual, to be recognized intuitively,
and that, for example, no comparative study of Elizabethan
and Victorian society can explain why Shakespeare’s
poetry is better than Browning’s. The second type is right
is maintaining that aesthetic character is, to a great degree,
natural, and that a study of their respective milieus is
essential if one is to understand why Shakespeare’s poetry
is different from Browning’s.
The former critic, pledged to appreciation, would, if he
were consistent, contract criticism to the making of translations
and anthologies; the latter, pledged to causal relations,
would expand it into an investigation of every word ever
printed, including menus and telephone-books.
Few of the entries in Baudelaire’s Intimate Journals are
concerned with the art of poetry; most of them are reflections
on subjects which concern all men at all times, love,
religion, politics, etc.; at the same time they are the
reflections of a poet living in Paris in the middle of
the nineteenth century.
They require, therefore—and this is a great part of their
fascination—to be read in four different ways at once: as
the observations of a human spirit irrespective of time
or place; as the observations of a poet irrespective of
time or place but as distinguished from men with other
gifts and professions; as the observations of a Frenchman
of the nineteenth century; and as the observations of a
French poet of the nineteenth century.
Random jottings though they are, most of the entries
revolve around one central preoccupation of Baudelaire’s,
namely: what makes a man a hero, i.e. an individual; or,
conversely, what makes him a churl, i.e. a mere unit in
human society without any real individual significance
of his own?
The term `individual’ has two senses, and one must be
careful in discussion to find out in which sense it is being
used. In the realm of nature, `individual’ means to be
something that others are not, to have uniqueness: in the realm
of spirit, it means to become what one wills, to have a self-determined
In the first sense, individuality is a gift of fortune, as
when this dog is white and that one black, or this man
intelligent and that man stupid; it is objectively manifest,
for an impartial observer has only to compare one with the
other to recognize it; and, since it applies to being, not
becoming, time is either irrelevant or, in so far as time is
the dimension of change, the enemy. In the second sense,
fortune is either the enemy—for to will to become something
usually implies that what one is by fortune is other
than one wills—or irrelevant, as in the exceptional case
when one wills to become by duplication what one already
is—for, in this case, the point is that one wills it, and the
fact that it is already granted one is an accident. This kind
of individuality is not manifest to an outsider since the
comparison by which it is recog
nized is not between one
object and another object but between what the subject
thinks he is and what he wills to become, and this comparison
no outsider can see; he can only take the subject’s word
for it. Further, since it applies to becoming, time is its
necessary dimension, without which it cannot come into
Since Man is both nature and spirit, he possesses both
kinds of individuality, and one of his major problems in
understanding himself is to determine what relative importance
to assign to each, and how to reconcile them.
As a European, Baudelaire inherited three main concepts
of the human individual, two of them Greek and one
Jewish. The Greek poets thought of the hero in terms of
nature, i.e. as the exceptional man, endowed by fate with
areté, recognized by the exceptional public deeds he performs,
and in the end publicly humiliated and destroyed
by fate. The spirit could only enter into their work in
disguise, as the hubris by which the hero offends the Gods—
for what is this hubris really but the will of the hero to
become the fortunate man he already is? It is not the same
as the Christian sin of pride which disobeys the commands
of God; for, if it were, one would be able to say of the tragic
hero—at such and such a point in his life he made the
wrong choice. And one can never say this. No, what his
arrogance really consists in is saying `I am exceptional by
choice, not by fate’.
The Greek philosophers, particularly Plato, took the
opposite course and thought of the hero in terms of spirit,
i.e. as the knower of the Divine Ideas who by fate was a
churl, imprisoned in the body and its temporal flux of
passions, but who, by his own will, has transcended his
fate and lifted himself into the timeless realm of the Good.
This transcendence is not manifest to others, except in so
far as they are willing to accept him as their teacher, but
is only known directly to the hero himself as a freedom
from passion and a knowledge of the Good; and once he
has attained this state he cannot lose it, for his knowledge
of the Good determines his will. This time it is nature that
enters in disguise as the heavenly eros, i.e. the desire to
know the Good before one knows it. This is really a gift of
fortune and sets one apart as an exception to the brutish
mass: that is to say, the hero and the churl are still recognizable
by comparison—only, instead of the poet’s comparison
between the strong and nobly born and the weak
and ill-bred, the contrast is now between the sage and the
The third concept of the hero, which does justice both
to human nature and to human spirit, is found in the Old
Testament, and, in a more consciously developed form,
in orthodox Christianity.
Abraham is not a hero in the poetic sense, for he has no
exceptional gifts, only the human nature that any man has.
What makes him exceptional is that he, outwardly an
average man, is called by God to an exceptional task and
obeys. Adam, on the other hand, loses his true self—not
because he is overconfident of his powers or ignorant, but
because he diobeys. While Agamemnon sacrifices his
daughter for the sake of the Greek Army, and suffers,
Abraham is ordered to sacrifice his son as a test of faith
and—because, without saying a word to anyone, he proceeds
to obey—Isaac is saved and he is blessed. Job suffers
a reversal of fortune which, to the Greeks, would have been
a sign of divine disfavour, but actually it is nothing of the
kind: the catastrophes which befall him are not the sentence
pronounced on one who is guilty, but the trial by
which he proves himself innocent.
Nor, on the other hand, are Abraham and Job philosophical
heroes: they keep on insisting that it is impossible
to know the mind of God in the way the philosopher can
know ideas, and that it is presumption to try to know it:
one can only obey or disobey his commands. In this
capacity, however, lies a spiritual freedom which is lacking
in both the tragic and the philosophic hero. The hero of
poetry necessarily becomes guilty of hubris—otherwise
there would be some who remain fortunate forever; and
there are none. The churl of poetry necessarily remains
innocent, because fortune does not give him a chance to
become anything else. The hero of philosophy necessarily
remains a hero—once he has attained his vision, to which
he can no more refuse assent than the mind can refuse
assent to the truths of arithmetic. The churl of philosophy
necessarily remains a churl because he lacks the prerequisite
endowment of eros which could start him off on
the ascent from ignorance to knowledge. But when what
distinguishes the hero from the churl is the choice of
obedience or disobedience, then it is open to anyone at
any time to become either. Thus the heroes of poetry and
philosophy have only a temporary interval of personal
history—the former during his downfall from greatness to
death, the latter during his ascent from nature to spirit.
Only the religious hero is an historical individual at every
moment of his existence.
In so far as Abraham and Job are recognizable as heroes
by being in the end rewarded by worldly success, there
are traces in the Old Testament of the poetic concept of
individuality—but these disappear in the Prophets and the
New Testament, where the religious hero is revealed to
the eye of faith as the suffering servant, the despised and
rejected of men, whose individuality is invisible to the eyes
of poetry and philosophy—by whose standards, indeed, he
seems both weak and ignorant.
Confronted with his own nature and the society of the
nineteenth century, Baudelaire devised and maintained,
until just before he went mad, his own pair of opposites.
The Dandy, or the heroic individual, on the one hand;
and, on the other, as the churlish mass, Woman, the man
of commerce, l’esprit belge.
Is a great man and a saint, for his own sake
Lives and sleeps in front of a mirror.
Is a man of leisure and general education.
Is rich and loves work.
Works in a disinterested manner.
Does nothing useful.
Is either a poet, a priest, or a soldier.
Has as many gloves as he has friends—for fear of the itch.
Is proud that he is less base than the passers-by.
Never speaks to the masses except to insult them.
Never touches a newspaper.
Are natural—when they are hungry, they want to eat.
Run away from home at twelve—not in search of heroic adventures, but to found a business.
Dream in their cradles that they sell themselves for a million.
Want, each of them, to be two people.
Believe in progress—that is, count on their neighbours to do their duties for them.
bsp;Are like Voltaire.
The Dandy, it will be seen, is like the hero of poetry, in
that he requires certain gifts of fortune, such as money and
leisure, and like the hero of philosophy, in that he must be
endowed with the will to make himself into a dandy out
of the corrupt nature into which he, like everyone else, is
born. On the other hand, the Dandy is neither a man of
action nor a seeker after wisdom; his ambition is neither to
be admired by men nor to know God, but simply to become
subjectively conscious of being uniquely himself, and unlike
anyone else. He is, in fact, the religious hero turned upside
down—that is, Lucifer, the rebel, the defiant one who
asserts his freedom by disobeying all commands, whether
given by God, society, or his own nature. The truly dandyish
act is the acte gratuile, because only an act which is quite
unnecessary, unmotivated by any given requiredness, can
be an absolutely freely self-chosen individual act.
Logically, the Dandy should remain chaste: if, like
Baudelaire, he lacks the will-power to do so, he can at least
partially assert his freedom from natural desire by choosing
to be debauched, i.e. by yielding deliberately to what he
despises and making it as despicable as possible, until every
pleasure in love has been eliminated except the knowledge
that he is deliberately doing evil. Again, the Dandy should,
logically, become a hermit: if, like Baudelaire, he cannot
endure the loneliness which lack of relation to others
entails, then at least he can assert his freedom from social
relations by deliberately making them negative, i.e. by
giving offence. `When’, Baudelaire says, `I have inspired
universal horror and disgust, I shall have conquered
Even when one has allowed for the love of exaggeration
which every writer has, Baudelaire’s conclusions would
have seemed, to any earlier age, rather extreme: if they do
not seem so to us, it is because we experience for ourselves
the extreme situation which provoked them. Poe and
Baudelaire are the fathers of modern poetry in that they
were the first poets (with the possible exception of Blake)
who, born into the modern age—that is to say, after the
mutation of the closed society of tradition and inheritance
into the open society of fashion and choice—realized what
a decisive change this was. This change was not instantaneous,
and even now it is still incomplete; it does not
proceed uniformly in all fields of activity and at all levels
of experience: traditional beliefs may break down before
traditional morals, or vice versa; an artistic style, a
rhetoric, may persist when the habitual pattern of ideas
and emotions which made its interest has dissolved; poetry
may have reached modernity while music is still unreflective;
but, sooner or later, the change comes to all and,
once this happens, it is decisive and irrevocable—for,
whatever the field, once the mind becomes conscious of
alternatives, retreat into habit is cut off; either a man must
make a deliberate choice (that is to say, become a critic as
well as an actor) or become paralysed. Reliance on others
is only possible in so far as their authority can be recognized,
i.e. chosen. Reliance upon public opinion—on numbers of
people in general—is impossible, because they too are in
the same position as oneself, and the inevitable result is a
mutual destruction of individuality.
Viewed objectively, there may seem little difference
between living by tradition and living by public opinion;
in both cases the observer sees a number of people believing
the same thing or acting in the same way—without having
individually examined the evidence or made a personal
act of faith. Subjectively, however, the difference is infinite:
the believer by tradition is unconscious of any possible
alternative, and therefore cannot doubt—for, even if his
real reason for believing what he believes is that his
neighbours believe it, he cannot know this and must
imagine his reason is that the belief is true. The believer
through force of public opinion, on the other hand, is
conscious both of the fact that alternatives exist, or might
exist, and of the fact that he does not choose to consider
them—so that, even if what he believes happens to be true,
he cannot escape knowing that he does not believe it for
this reason but because his neighbours do; to whom, as he
also knows, the same applies. The danger of losing one’s
individuality is, therefore, greater in modern times than it
has ever been before.
The members of a traditional society—say, a Chinese
peasant village—are not fully developed individually, but
they have not lost their potential capacity to become so,
and one can therefore say that, as far as they have gone and
as far as one knows, they are individuals. The members of a
public—say, the evening crowds on Times Square—have
been offered the possibility of full development but have
rejected it, and by this rejection have lost the right to be
called individuals. Though neither is capable of fatherhood,
a boy who has not yet reached puberty is considered
masculine, a eunuch is not.
In a society which has become a public, a gifted man like
Baudelaire is placed in a peculiar position: his gifts enforce
a clarity of consciousness which makes it impossible for
him to join the crowd; they compel him to raise those
questions which the public by tacit consent represses. He
is bound, for example, to ask, as Baudelaire does:
Why are we here?
Do we come from some other place?
What is free-will?
Can it be reconciled with the laws of Providence?
Above all, he is bound to ask: What do I, or ought I, to
will to become? That is, how am I to become an individual?
At the same time nothing—neither his gift, nor nature,
nor God, nor society—can give an answer which compels
certainty; he must choose his answer and choice is a matter
of will, not of gifts. It is not surprising, then, if the gifted
man of our times so often is caught in the snare of reflection
in which his will prevents itself from willing anything
in particular, so that, like Baudelaire, he suffers from
`Acedia: the malady of monks’, and is desperately homesick
for a pre-conscious state—
un vrai pays de Cocagne . . . où le luxe a plaisir à se mirer
dans l’ordre . . . d’où le désordre, la turbulence et l’impré-vu
sont exclus . . . où la cuisine elle-même est poétique,
grasse et excitante à la fois.
He seeks to compel nature and society to provide his spirit
gratis with a history which it is not in their power to give,
either by making a god out of a novelty—
Plonger au fond du gouffre, Enfer ou Ciel, qu’importe?
Au fond de l’Inconnu pour trouver du nouveau—
or a devil out of the characterless public.
The unselfconscious man can rest in his natural individuality,
in the fact that he is what others are not—but,
once he becomes self-conscious, this is not enough; he must
immediately set about becoming a spiritual individual.
His danger now is that he will make the Dandy’s mistake,
and try to transform the former kind of individuality into
the latter—that is, to think of becoming a
not as becoming what one wills, but as becoming
what others are not.
Running through the Journals, however, even from the
start, is a thread of thought which is completely contrary
to the Dandy, with his pride in his uniqueness:
There is no exalted pleasure which cannot be related to
prostitution. At the play, in the ball-room, each one
enjoys possession of all. God is the most prostituted of all
beings, because he is the closest friend of every individual,
because he is the common inexhaustible reservoir of love.
Thus, in deliberately provoking paradoxical terms, Baudelaire
recognizes the Christian concept of love as agapé, in
contrast to the Platonic concept of love as eros which is held
by the Dandy. He admits that to love is not to desire,
however noble the object desired—even self-perfection—
but to give oneself; that indeed the only way in which one
can will to become oneself is by willing to give oneself in
answer to the needs of one’s neighbour.
Such thoughts seem to have occurred to Baudelaire only
occasionally until the crisis of January 23rd, 1862, when he
writes: `I have cultivated my hysteria with delight and
terror . . . and today I have received a singular warning. I
have felt the wind of the wing of madness pass over me.’
The last few pages in My Heart Laid Bare which follow this
entry are some of the most terrifying and pathetic passages
in literature. They present a man fighting against time to
eradicate a lifetime’s habits of thought and feeling, and set
himself in order and acquire a history.
The man who wrote:
Whenever you receive a letter from a creditor write fifty
lines upon some extra-terrestrial subject, and you will be
Jeanne 300, my mother 200, myself 300—800 francs a
month. . . . Immediate work, even when it is bad, is better
To pray to God . . . for life and strength for my mother
and myself; to divide all my earnings into four parts—
one for current expenses, one for my creditors, one for my
friends and one for my mother—to obey the strictest
principles of sobriety, the first being the abstinence from
all stimulants whatsoever.
Between the Dandy and this lies a real change of heart
which is lacking, I think, in that subsequent and more
spectacular decision by which Rimbaud the poet became
Rimbaud the trader. In the latter, it only seems as if one
kind of Dandy were exchanged for another; the same
pride, the same desire to be unique, emanates from both.
In Baudelaire’s case, what makes the note of humility
sound true is that he does not propose to make any outwardly
spectacular change in his career, to vanish from
poetry in a cloud of publicity: no—he merely prays that
he may use his talents better and acknowledges that, gifted
though he may be, he, the Dandy, is as weak as a woman,
M. Prudhomme, or the Belgians.
To the eye of nature, he was too late. As he spoke, the
bird stooped and struck. But, to the eye of the spirit, we
are entitled to believe he was in time—for, though the
spirit needs time, an instant of it is enough.
W. H. AUDEN
Even though God did not exist, Religion would be
none the less holy and divine.
God is the sole being who has no need to exist in
order to reign.
That which is created by the Mind is more living
Love is the desire to prostitute oneself. There is,
indeed, no exalted pleasure which cannot be related
At the play, in the ball-room, each one enjoys
possession of all.
What is Art? Prostitution.
The pleasure of being in crowds is a mysterious
expression of sensual joy in the multiplication of
All is Number. Number is in all. Number is in the
individual. Ecstasy is a Number.
Inclinations to wastefulness ought, when a man is
mature, to be replaced by a wish to concentrate and
Love may spring from a generous sentiment, the
desire for prostitution; but it is soon corrupted by
the desire for ownership.
Love wishes to emerge from itself, to become, like
the conqueror with the conquered, a part of its victim,
yet to preserve, at the same time, the privileges
of the conqueror.
The sensual delights of one who keeps a mistress
are at once those of an angel and a landlord. Charity
and cruelty. Indeed, they are independent of sex, of
beauty and of the animal species.
The green shadows in the moist evenings of summer.
Immense depths of thought in expressions of
common speech; holes dug by generations of ants.
The story of the Hunter, concerning the intimate
relation between cruelty and love.
Squibs. Of the feminine nature of the Church, as a
reason for her omnipotence.
Of violet (love repressed, mysterious, veiled;
The priest is a tremendous figure, because he
makes the crowd believe marvellous things.
That the Church should wish to do all things and
be all things is a law of human nature.
The People adore authority.
Priests are the servants and sectaries of the imagination.
Revolutionary maxim: the throne and the altar.
E. G. or The Seductive Adventuress.
Religious intoxication of the great cities.
Pantheism. I am all things. All things are myself.
Squibs. I believe I have already set down in my
notes that Love greatly resembles an application of
torture or a surgical operation. But this idea can be
developed, and in the most ironic manner. For even
when two lovers love passionately and are full of
mutual desire, one of the two will always be cooler
or less self-abandoned than the other. He or she is
the surgeon or executioner; the other, the patient or
victim. Do you hear these sighs—preludes to a
shameful tragedy—these groans, these screams, these
rattling gasps? Who has not uttered them, who has
not inexorably wrung them forth? What worse sights
than these could you encounter at an inquisition
conducted by adept torturers? These eyes, rolled
back like the sleepwalker’s, these limbs whose muscles
burst and stiffen as though subject to the action of a
galvanic battery—such frightful, such curious phenomena
are undoubtedly never obtained from even the
most extreme cases of intoxication, of delirium, of
opium-taking. The human face, which Ovid believed
fashioned to reflect the stars, speaks here only of an
insane ferocity, relaxing into a kind of death. For I
should consider it
indeed a sacrilege to apply the
word `ecstasy’ to this species of decomposition.
A terrible pastime, in which one of the players
must forfeit possession of himself!
It was once asked, in my hearing, what was the
greatest pleasure in Love? Someone, of course,
answered: To receive, and someone else: To give
oneself— The former said: The pleasure of pride,
and the latter: The voluptuousness of humility. All
these swine talked like The Imitation of Jesus Christ.
Finally, there was a shameless Utopian who affirmed
that the greatest pleasure in Love was to beget citizens
for the State. For my part, I say: the sole and
supreme pleasure in Love lies in the absolute knowledge
of doing evil. And man and woman know, from
birth, that in Evil is to be found all voluptuousness.
Schemes. Squibs. Projects. Comedy à la Silvestre.
Barbora and the sheep.
Chenavard has created a superhuman type.
My homage to Levaillant.
The Preface, a blend of mysteriousness and drollery.
Dreams and the theory of dreams, in the manner
The thought of Campbell (The conduct of life).
Power of the fixed idea.
Absolute frankness, the means of originality.
To relate pompously things which are comic. . . .
Squibs. Suggestions. When a man takes to his bed,
nearly all his friends have a secret desire to see him
die; some to prove that his health is inferior to their
own, others in the disinterested hope of being able to
study a death-agony.
The Arabesque is the most spiritualistic of designs.
Squibs. Suggestions. The man of letters shakes
foundations. He promotes the taste for intellectual
The Arabesque is the most ideal of all designs.
We love women in so far as they are strangers to
us. To love intelligent women is a pleasure of the
pederast. Thus it follows that bestiality excludes
The spirit of buffoonery does not necessarily
exclude Charity, but this is rare.
Enthusiasm applied to things other than abstractions
is a sign of weakness and disease.
Thinness is more naked, more indecent than
Tragic Sky. An abstract epithet applied to a
Man drinks in light with the atmosphere. Thus the
masses are right in saying that the night air is unhealthy
The masses are born fire-worshippers.
Fireworks, conflagrations, incendiaries.
If one imagined a born fire-worshipper, a born
Parsee, one could write a story . . .
Mistakes made about people’s faces are due to an
eclipse of the real image by some hallucination to
which it gives rise.
Know therefore the pleasures of an austere life and
pray, pray without ceasing. Prayer is the fountain
of strength. (Altar of the Will. Moral dynamic. The
Sorcery of the Sacraments. Hygiene of the Soul.)
Music excavates Heaven.
Jean-Jacques said that he always entered a café
with a certain emotional disturbance. For a timid
nature, the ticket-office in a theatre is rather like the
tribunal of Hell.
Life has but one true charm: the charm of gambling.
But what if we are indifferent to gain or loss?
Suggestions. Squibs. Nations—like families—only
produce great men in spite of themselves. They make
every effort not to produce them. And thus the great
man has need, if he is to exist, of a power of attack
greater than the power of resistance developed by
several millions of individuals.
Of sleep, every evening’s sinister adventure, it may
be observed that men go daily to their beds with an
audacity which would be beyond comprehension
did we not know that it is the result of their ignorance
There are some skins as hard as tortoise shell
against which scorn has no power.
Many friends, many gloves. Those who loved me
have been despised persons; worthy of being despised,
I might even say, if I were determined to
flatter the respectable.
For Girardin to speak Latin! Pecudesque locutae
It was typical of a Society without faith to send
Robert Houdin to the Arabs to convert them from
belief in miracles.
These great and beautiful ships, imperceptibly
poised (swayed) on calm waters; these stout ships,
with their out-of-work, home-sick air—are they not
saying to us in dumb show: When shall we set sail
Do not neglect the marvellous element in drama—
the magical and the romanesque.
The surroundings, the atmospheres in which the
whole narrative must be steeped. (See Usher, and
compare this with the most intense sensations of
hashish and opium.)
Are there mathematical lunacies and madmen
who believe that two and two make three? In other
words, can hallucination invade the realms of pure
reason—if the words do not cry out (at being joined
together)? If, when a man has fallen into habits of
idleness, of day-dreaming and of sloth, putting off
his most important duties continually till the morrow,
another man were to wake him up one morning
with heavy blows of a whip and were to whip him
unmercifully, until he who was unable to work for
pleasure worked now for fear—would not that man,
the chastiser, be his benefactor and truest friend?
Moreover, one may go so far as to affirm that
pleasure itself would follow, and this with much
better reason than when it is said: love comes after
Similarly, in politics, the real saint is he who
chastises and massacres the People, for the good of
Tuesday, May 13, 1856
Take some copies to Michel.
Write to Moun,
to Maria Clemm.
Send to Madame Dumay to know if Mirès . . .
That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible
appeal; from which it follows that irregularity—that
is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment,
are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.
Notes. Squibs. Théodore de Banville is not precisely
a materialist; he gives forth light.
His poetry represents happy hours.
Whenever you receive a letter from a creditor
write fifty lines upon some extra-terrestrial subject,
and you will be saved.
A great smile on the beautiful face of a giant.
Of suicide and suicidal mania considered in their bearings
tistics, medicine, and philosophy.
BRIERE DE BOISMONT
Look up the passage: To live with someone who feels
towards you nothing but aversion. . . .
The portrait of Serenus by Seneca. That of Stagirus
by St. John Chrysostom. Acedia, the malady of
Squibs. Translation and paraphrase of La Passion
rapporte tout à elle.
Spiritual and physical pleasures caused by the
storm, electricity and the thunderbolt, tocsin of dark
amorous memories, from the distant years.
Squibs. I have found a definition of the Beautiful,
of my own conception of the Beautiful. It is something
intense and sad, something a little vague,
leaving scope for conjecture. I am ready, if you will,
to apply my ideas to a sentient object, to that object,
for example, which Society finds the most interesting
of all, a woman’s face. A beautiful and seductive
head, a woman’s head, I mean, makes one dream,
but in a confused fashion, at once of pleasure and of
sadness; conveys an idea of melancholy, of lassitude,
even of satiety—a contradictory impression, of an
ardour, that is to say, and a desire for life together
with a bitterness which flows back upon them as
if from a sense of deprivation and hopelessness.
Mystery and regret are also characteristics of the
A beautiful male head has no need to convey, to
the eyes of man, at any rate—though perhaps to
those of a woman—this impression of voluptuousness
which, in a woman’s face, is a provocation all the
more attractive the more the face is generally melancholy.
But this head also will suggest ardours and
passions—spiritual longings—ambitions darkly repressed—powers
turned to bitterness through lack
of employment—traces, sometimes, of a revengeful
colnss (for the archetype of the dandy must not be
forgten here), sometimes, also—and this is one of
the most interesting characteristics of Beauty—of
mystery, and last of all (let me admit the exact point
to which I am a modern in my aesthetics) of Unhappiness.
I do not pretend that Joy cannot associate
with Beauty, but I will maintain that Joy is one of
her most vulgar adornments, while Melancholy may
be called her illustrious spouse—so much so that I
can scarcely conceive (is my brain become a witch’s
mirror?) a type of Beauty which has nothing to do
with Sorrow. In pursuit of—others might say obsessed
by—these ideas, it may be supposed that I
have difficulty in not concluding from them that the
most perfect type of manly beauty is Satan—as
Milton saw him.
Squibs. Auto-Idolatry. Poetic harmony of charactter.
Eurhythrnic of the character and the faculties.
To preserve all the faculties. To augment all the
A cult (Magianism, evocatory magic).
The sacrifice and the act of dedication are the
supreme formulae and symbols of barter.
Two fundamental literary qualities, supernaturalism
and irony. The individual ocular impression, the
aspect in which things present themselves to the
writer—then the turn of satanic wit. The supernatural
comprises the general colour and accent—
that is to say, the intensity, sonority, limpidity,
vibrancy, depth and reverberation in Space and
There are moments of existence at which Time
and Duration are more profound, and the Sense of
Being is enormously quickened.
Of magic as applied to the evocation of the great
dead, to the restoration and perfection of health.
Inspiration comes always when man wills it, but it
does not always depart when he wishes.
Of language and writing, considered as magical
operations, evocatory magic.
Of airs in Woman.
The charming airs, those in which beauty consists,
The feline—a blend of childishness, nonchalance and malice.
In certain semi-supernatural conditions of the
spirit, the whole depths of life are revealed within
the scene—no matter how commonplace—which
one has before one’s eyes. This becomes its symbol.
As I was crossing the boulevard, hurrying a little
to avoid the carriages, my halo was dislodged and
fell into the filth of the macadam. Fortunately, I had
time to recover it, but a moment later the unhappy
thought slipped into my brain that this was an ill
omen; and from that instant the idea would not let
me alone; it has given me no peace all day.
Of the cult of oneself as a lover—from the point
of view of health, hygiene, the toilet, spiritual
Self-purification and anti-humanity
There is, in the act of love, a great resemblance to
torture or to a surgical operation.
There is, in prayer, a magical operation. Prayer
is one of the great forces of intellectual dynamism.
There is, as it were, an electric current.
The rosary is a medium, a vehicle. It is Prayer
brought within the reach of all.
Work—a progressive and accumulative force,
yielding interest like capital, in the faculties just as
much as by its fruits.
Gambling, even when it is conducted scientifically,
is an intermittent force and will be overcome, however
fruitful it may be, by continuous work, however
If a poet demanded from the State the right to
have a few bourgeois in his stable, people would be
very much astonished, but if a bourgeois asked for
some roast poet, people would think it quite natural.
That would not scandalize our wives, our daughters
or our sisters.
Presently he asked permission to kiss her leg, and,
profiting by the occasion, he kissed that beautiful
limb in such a position that her figure was sharply
outlined against the setting sun!
`Pussy, kitty, catkin, my cat, my wolf, my little
monkey, big monkey, great big serpent, my little
Such caprices of language, too often repeated,
such excessive use of animal nicknames, testify to a
satanic aspect in love. Have not demons the forms of
beasts? The camel of Cazotte—camel, devil and
A man goes pistol-shooting, accompanied by his
wife. He sets up a doll and says to his wife: `I shall
imagine that this is you’. He closes his eyes and
shatters the doll. Then he says, as he kisses his companion’s
hand, `Dear angel, let me thank you for
When I have inspired universal horror and disgust,
I shall hav
e conquered solitude.
This book is not for our wives, our daughters and
our sisters. I have little to do with such things.
There are some tortoise-like carapaces against
which contempt ceases to be a pleasure.
Many friends, many gloves—for fear of the itch.
Those who have loved me were despised people, I
might even say worthy of being despised, if I were
determined to flatter the respectable.
God is a scandal—a scandal which pays.
Squibs. Despise the sensibility of nobody. Each
man’s sensibility is his genius.
There are only two places where one pays for the
right to spend: women and public latrines.
From a passionate concubinage one may guess at
the joys of a young married couple.
The precocious taste for women. I used to confuse
the smell of women with the smell of furs. I remember
. . . Indeed, I loved my mother for her elegance.
I was a precocious dandy.
My ancestors, idiots or maniacs, in their solemn
houses, all victims of terrible passions.
The protestant countries lack two elements indispensable
to the happiness of a well-bred man;
gallantry and devotion.
The mixture of the grotesque and the tragic is
agreeable to the spirit, as are discords to the jaded ear.
What is exhilarating in bad taste is the aristocratic
pleasure of giving offence.
Germany expresses her dreams by means of line,
England by means of perspective.
There is, in the creation of all sublime thought, a
nervous concussion which can be felt in the cerebellum.
Spain brings to religion the natural ferocity of
Style. The eternal touch, eternal and cosmo-polite.
Chateaubriand, Alph. Rabbe, Edgar Poe.
Squibs. Suggestions. It is easy to guess why the rabble
dislike cats. A cat is beautiful; it suggests ideas of
luxury, cleanliness, voluptuous pleasures . . . etc.
Squibs. A small amount of work, repeated three
hundred and sixty-five times, gives three hundred
and sixty-five times a small sum of money—that is to
say, an enormous sum. At the same time, glory is
achieved. [In the margin] Similarly, a crowd of small
pleasures compose happiness.
To write a pot-boiler, that is genius. I ought to
write a pot-boiler.
A really clever remark is a masterpiece.
The tone of Alphonse Rabbe.
The tone of a kept woman (My beautifullest! Oh,
you fickle sex!)
The eternal tone.
The colouring crude, the design profoundly simplified.
The prima donna and the butcher boy.
My mother is fantastic; one must fear and propitiate
Hildebrand the arrogant.
Caesarism of Napoleon III (Letter to Edgar Ney),
Pope and Emperor.
Squibs. Suggestions. To give oneself to Satan. What
does this mean?
What can be more absurd than Progress, since
man, as the event of each day proves, is for ever the
double and equal of man—is for ever, that is to say,
in the state of primitive nature! What perils have the
forest and the prairie to compare with the daily
shocks and conflicts of civilization? Whether man
ensnares his dupe upon the boulevard or pierces his
victim within the trackless forests, is he not everlasting
man, the most perfect of the beasts of prey?
People tell me that I am thirty, but if I have lived
three minutes in one . . . am I not ninety years old?
Is not work the salt which preserves mummified
At the beginning of a story attack the subject, no
matter where, and open with some very beautiful
phrases which will arouse the desire to complete it.
I believe that the infinite and mysterious charm
which lies in the contemplation of a ship, especially
of a ship in motion, depends firstly upon its order
and symmetry—primal needs of the human spirit as
great as those of intricacy and harmony—and,
secondly, upon the successive multiplication and
generation of all the curves and imaginary figures
described in space by the real elements of the object.
The poetic idea which emerges from this operation
of line in motion is an hypothesis of an immeasurably
vast, complex, yet perfectly harmonized entity, of an
animal being possessed of a spirit, suffering all
human ambition and sighing all the sighs of men.
You civilized peoples, who are for ever speaking
foolishly about Savages and Barbarians—soon, as
d’Aurevilly says, you will have become too worthless
even to be idolaters.
Stoicism, a religion which has but one sacrament:
To conceive a sketch for a lyrical or fairy extravagance
for a pantomime and to translate it into a
serious romance. To plunge the whole into a supernatural,
dreamlike atmosphere—the atmosphere of
the great days. That there should be something lulling,
even screne, in passion. Regions of pure poetry.
Moved by contact with those pleasures which were
themselves like memories, softened by the thought
of a past ill spent, of so many faults, so many quarrels,
of so many things which each must hide from
the other, he began to weep; and his tears fell warm,
in the darkness, upon the bare shoulder of his beloved
and still charming mistress. She trembled. She, also,
felt moved and softened. The darkness shielded her
vanity, her elegant affectation of coldness. These
two fallen creatures, who could still suffer, since a
vestige of nobility remained with them, embraced
impulsively, mingling, in the rain of their tears and
kisses, regrets for the past with hopes, all too uncertain,
for the future. Never, perhaps, for them, as
upon that night of melancholy and forgiveness, had
pleasure been so sweet—a pleasure steeped in sorrow
Through the night’s blackness, he had looked
behind him into the depths of the years, then he had
thrown himself into the arms of his guilty lover, to
recover there the pardon he was granting her.
Hugo often thinks of Prometheus. He applies an
imaginary vulture to his breast, which is scared only
by the moxas of vanity. Then, as the hallucination
becomes more complex and varied, following always,
however, the progressive stages which medical men
describe, he believes that a fiat of Providence has
substituted Jersey for St. Helena.
This man is so little of a poet, so little spiritual,
that he would disgust even a solicitor.
Hugo, like a priest, always has his head bowed—
bowed so low that he can see nothing except his own
What is not a priesthood nowadays? Youth itself
is a priesthood—according to the young.
And what is not a prayer? To sh—is a prayer—
according to the rabble, when they sh—
M. de Pontmartin—a man who has always the air
of having just arrived from the provinces.
Man—all mankind, that is to say—is so naturally
depraved that he suffers less from universal degradation
from the establishment of a reasonable
The world is about to end. Its sole reason for continuance
is that it exists. And how feeble is this
reason, compared with those which announce the
contrary, particularly the following: What, under
Heaven, has this world henceforth to do? Even
supposing that it continued materially to exist,
would this existence be worthy of the name or the
Historical Dictionary? I do not say that the world
will be reduced to the clownish shifts and disorders
of a South American republic, or even that we shall
perhaps return to a state of nature and roam the
grassy ruins of our civilization, gun in hand, seeking
our food. No; for these adventures would require a
certain remnant of vital energy, echo of earlier ages.
As a new example, as fresh victims of the inexorable
moral laws, we shall perish by that which we have
believed to be our means of existence. So far will
machinery have Americanized us, so far will Progress
have atrophied in us all that is spiritual, that no
dream of the Utopians, however bloody, sacrilegious
or unnatural, will be comparable to the result. I
appeal to every thinking man to show me what remains
of Life. As for religion, I believe it useless to
speak of it or to search for its relics, since to give
oneself the trouble of denying God is the sole disgrace
in these matters. Ownership virtually disappeared
with the suppression of the rights of the eldest son;
but the time will come when humanity, like an
avenging ogre, will tear their last morsel from those
who believe themselves to be the legitimate heirs of
revolution. And even that will not be the worst.
Human imagination can conceive, without undue
difficulty, of republics or other communal states
worthy of a certain glory, if they are directed by
holy men, by certain aristocrats. It is not, however,
specifically in political institutions that the universal
ruin, or the universal progress—for the name matters
little—will be manifested. That will appear in the
degradation of the human heart. Need I describe
how the last vestiges of statesmanship will struggle
painfully in the clutches of universal bestiality, how
the governors will be forced—in maintaining themselves
and erecting a phantom of order—to resort to
measures which would make our men of today shudder,
hardened as they are? Then the son will run
away from the family not at eighteen but at twelve,
emancipated by his gluttonous precocity; he will fly
not to seek heroic adventures, not to deliver a beautiful
prisoner from a tower, not to immortalize a
garret with sublime thoughts, but to found a business,
to enrich himself and to compete with his
infamous papa, to be founder and shareholder of a
journal which will spread enlightenment and cause
Le Siècle of that time to be considered as an instrument
of superstition. Then the erring, the déclassées,
those women who have had several lovers and who
are sometimes called Angels, by virtue of and in gratitude
for the empty-headed frivolity which illumines,
with its fortuitous light, their existences logical as
evil—then these women, I say, will be nothing but
a pitiless wisdom, a wisdom which condemns everything
except money, everything, even the crimes of the
senses. Then, any shadow of virtue, everything indeed
which is not worship of Plutus, will be brought into
utter ridicule. Justice, if, at that fortunate epoch,
Justice can still exist, will deprive of their civil rights
those citizens who are unable to make a fortune. Thy
spouse, O bourgeois! Thy chaste better half, whose
legitimacy seems to thee poetic—making legality to
be henceforth a baseness beneath reproach—vigilant
and loving guardian of thy strong-box, will be no
more than the absolute type of the kept woman. Thy
daughter, with an infantile wantonness, will dream
in her cradle that she sells herself for a million—and
thou, thyself, O bourgeois—less of a poet even than
thou art today—thou wilt find no fault in that, thou
wilt regret nothing. For there are some qualities in
a man which grow strong and prosper only as others
diminish and grow less; thanks to the progress of that
age, of thy bowels of compassion nothing will remain
but the guts!—That age is perhaps very near; who
knows if it is not already come and if the coarseness
of our perceptions is not the sole obstacle which prevents
us from appreciating the nature of the atmosphere
in which we breathe?
For myself, who feel within me sometimes the
absurdity of a prophet, I know that I shall never
achieve the charity of a physician. Lost in this vile
world, elbowed by the crowd, I am like a worn-out
man, whose eyes see, in the depths of the years behind
him, only disillusionment and bitterness, ahead
only a tumult in which there is nothing new, whether
of enlightenment or of suffering. In the evening
when this man has filched from his destiny a few
hours of pleasure, when he is lulled by the process
of digestion, forgetful—as far as possible—of the past,
content with the present and resigned to the future,
exhilarated by his own nonchalance and dandyism,
proud that he is less base than the passers-by, he says
to himself, as he contemplates the smoke of his cigar:
What does it matter to me what becomes of these
I believe I have wandered into what those of the
trade call a hors-d’œuvre. Nevertheless, I will let
these pages stand—since I wish to record my days