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Biography of Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire

Born in Paris on April 9, 1821, Charles Pierre Baudelaire was one of the most influential French poets during the nineteenth Century. Baudelaire was the son of François Baudelaire, a senior civil servant and an amateur artist, and his second wife, Carlone Defayis.

François began his career as a priest, but left the order in 1793 to become a prosperous middle-ranked civil servant. Being a modest poet and painter, he installed the appreciation of arts in his son.

In February of 1827, François passed away leaving Charles Pierre and his mother Carlone living on the outskirts of Paris alone. But just one year later, Carlone married a soldier named Jacques Aupick, who later became a General and served as French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and Spain before becoming a senator of the Second Empire.

Baudelaire began his education at the Collège Royal in Lyons when Aupick was stationed there. He then transfered to the Lacèe Louis-le-grand when his family returned to Paris in 1836. During this time, Baudelaire began showing promise as a student and writer. Around this time he began showing intense melancholy and living solitarily.

In April of 1839, Baudelaire was expelled due to consist acts of indiscipline. Eventually though, he became a nominal student of law at École de Droit and gained his degree. After, Baudelaire decided to embark upon a literary career.

For the next two years Baudelaire led an irregular lifestyle and in June of 1841, in an attempt by Aupick to keep Baudelaire away from his company, sent him on a voyage to India. In Mauritius though, Baudelaire jumped ship and made his way back to France in February of 1842. The voyage would later be remembered with rich imagination and exotic images through his work.

After Baudelaire's return, he received a small inheritance in April 1842. With Baudelaire's lifestyle of spending freely on clothes, books, paintings, hashish and opium, his inheritance began to run low in just two years. Because of this, his family received a decree and placed his property in trust.

During this time Baudelaire met Jeanne Duval, a mulatto woman. They quickly romanced and for the next twenty years Baudelaire's life would be filled with inspiration by her love and beauty.

In 1857, Baudelaire's first and most famous volume of poetry, Les fleurs du mal, was published. The poems held a small, but appreciative, audience, however greater public attention was given to their subject matter. His themes of sex and death were looked down upon by many mainstream critics of the day. Baudelaire, his publisher, and the printer were all successfully prosecuted for offending public morals.

One of his more famous poems, Au lecteur holds a stanza which states:
... If rape or arson, poison, or the knife
Has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff
Of this drab canvas we accept as life--
It is because we are not bold enough!
Six of Baudelaire's poems were suppressed, but then later printed as Les Epaves in 1866 in Brussels.

Baudelaire had learned English in his childhood. Such novels as The Monk and works by Edgar Allan Poe became his favorite reading material and from 1847 to 1865, he began translating Poe's works, which were widely praised.

As Baudelaire's financial difficulties increased, partly due to his publisher's bankruptcy in 1861, he left Paris and headed for Belgium. While in Brussels, he began to drink excessively. Paralysis followed and for the remaining two years of his life were spent in "maisons de santé" in Brussels and Paris.

Charles Pierre Baudelaire died on August 31, 1867 and was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

Poems by Charles Baudelaire

  • To a Malabar Woman (includes original "À une Malabaraise"). About a woman he met from Malabar.
  • The Death of Lovers (includes "La Mort des Amants"). About leaving the evils of the earth.
  • The Voice (includes "La Voix"). About living life.
  • The Vampire (includes original "Le Vampire"). Written in relation to Kipling's "The Vampire".