Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

Baudelaire and Auguste Lacaussade: A New Look

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

Baudelaire and Auguste Lacaussade: A New Look

Article excerpt

Having long consulted and admired Pierre Larousse's Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIXe siecle, several years ago I began seeking evidence of Baudelaire's presence in that great encyclopedia, published in volume form in the years 1866-1890 and recently republished in DVD form, accompanied by an index. Thanks to this precious new tool and its index, I gradually discovered a number of pieces of the evidence which I sought. First of all, there is a general article, a "vie et oeuvres," about a hundred lines long (II, 384 [1867]). Then there are articles on the major works in volume-form which Baudelaire published during his lifetime; about two hundred lines on Les Fleurs du mal including the complete text of "Une charogne" (VIII, 474 [1872]); about one hundred fifty lines on Les Paradis artificiels (XII, 179-80 [1874]); finally, a little surprisingly, there are about a hundred lines on the Petits poemes en prose (XXI, 1228-20), which, as is well-known, had not appeared in volume-form before Baudelaire's death, but which had appeared in the Levy edition of the OEuvres completes before the twelfth volume of the Grand Dictionnaire. (1) Moreover, in the second supplement, a brief article appears dealing with the writer's last years and providing some bibliography (XVI, 307-08).

Recently, it occurred to me that, since individual major works of Baudelaire had been the subject of articles in Larousse, there might be one on Les Epaves despite the failure of the electronic index to point to one. Not so--this volume is apparently never mentioned in the GDU. This non-discovery, however, led to a real one: there is an article on another volume of poems bearing the same title, by the little-known but not entirely forgotten Auguste Lacaussade (VII, 680 [1870]). At once, of course, I had to wonder if there is any connection between Lacaussade's Les Epaves, first published in September, 1861, and Baudelaire's, which appeared in Brussels at the end of February, 1866. Did Lacaussade's volume exert any influence on Baudelaire's? Was Baudelaire's choice of title influenced by the earlier publication?

As I should have suspected, the omniscient Claude Pichois had already pondered these questions, as the notes to the Pleiade edition of Baudelaire's OEuvres completes (1,1121) reveal. (2) Pichois summarized the relationship between the two volumes and their titles as follows: "Lacaussade avait donne a Epaves ce sens: 'Des reves, des espoirs et des chants naufrages,' sens apparemment different de celui que Baudelaire confere a son propre recueil. Mais, tous comptes faits, celui-ci ne se voyait-il pas aussi en naufrage, bientot submerge par le neant?"

My "discovery" of the earlier collection of Les Epaves led me to explore the possibility of some relationship between it and the later one, even though, given Lacaussade's relative obscurity, the greater poet was unlikely to have been influenced by the lesser poet. Still, an examination of Lacaussade's Epaves seemed to be called for. After all, Baudelaire had undergone influences exerted by lesser, though interesting figures, e. g., by Aloysius Bertrand. The results of my comparative study recorded here, were rather surprising. (3)

My reading of Lacaussade's volume by the light of Baudelaire suggested that, whatever role Lacaussade may have played in Baudelaire's choice of the title Les Epaves, Lacaussade may well have been influenced by Les Fleurs du mal. If so, Baudelaire would acquire a new disciple. To juxtapose Lacaussade's name with those of Mallarme, Verlaine, Rimbaud, et alii, recalls the tardy tribute paid Moliere by the Academie francaise: "Nous ne manquions pas a sa gloire. Il manquait a la notre." Baudelaire gains little from having Lacaussade added to the list of his disciples, but it is of historic interest to see Baudelaire's influence being exerted as early as 1861, perhaps even earlier.

A little searching reveals that the two poets lived in the same literary world or, in any case, overlapping worlds, and that there were many points of contact between them, some merely potential but some quite real. …

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