It’s the birthday of French poet Charles Baudelaire (books by this author) (1821), who once said, “A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counterparts.” Baudelaire is most famous for his collection of prose poems, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil, 1857), in which he wrote about sex, death, profane love, and the city of Paris. Gustave Flaubert, who wrote Madame Bovary, was so enthralled by Baudelaire that he told him, “You are as unyielding as marble, and as penetrating as an English mist.”
When Les Fleurs du Mal was published, it made Baudelaire famous. There were 126 poems, six of which were about lesbianism. They were promptly deemed so obscene that Baudelaire, his printer, and his publisher were hauled into court for a one-day trial. In the end, the six poems were banned from future printings of the book and banned in France. Baudelaire was disgusted by the verdict. About the puritanical tastes of readers, he said, “Give them only carefully selected garbage.” Almost a hundred years later, in 1949, the judgment of obscenity was finally reversed and the poems restored.
Baudelaire scratched out a living writing art reviews and articles, and translating American writer Edgar Allan Poe’s works into French. He became addicted to laudanum, then opium. He became so ill that he moved in with his mother.
The last two years of Charles Baudelaire’s life were spent in semi-paralysis, in an aphasic state. He died in 1867 at the age of 46. Most of his poetry was published after his death, and sold well, and his mother was able to clear his debts. She said, “I see that my son, for all his faults, has his place in literature.”