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Post Lot Text
The revolver with which Verlaine shot Rimbaud
A BELGIAN 7mm (PINFIRE) SIX-SHOT POCKET REVOLVER OF LEFAUCHEUX TYPE
SERIAL NO. 14096, CIRCA 1870. With scroll engraved frame and cylinder and folding-trigger, Liége proof
The revolver, of a widely available model, produced in Liège in the 1870s (the stamp ELG was in use between 1846 and 1893), is the witness to one of the most dramatic scenes in literary history. It was acquired by Paul Verlaine on the morning of 10 July 1873 at a gunsmiths in the Galeries Saint-Huber in Brussels. That afternoon, Verlaine shot his lover, Arthur Rimbaud – missing his aim, and injuring only his wrist. Rimbaud was to spend ten days in hospital as a result – Verlaine, two years in prison.
Verlaine (1844-1896) and Rimbaud (1854-1891) first met in September 1871, when the young genius recited his Bateau ivre in Paris. Two years earlier, Verlaine had married Mathilde Mauté, who gave birth to a son in October 1871. From their first meeting, the two poets became inseparable, leaving Verlaine more and more estranged from family life. In March 1872, during a reconciliation between Verlaine and his wife, he ‘exiled’ Rimbaud to his native Charleville, where he was to compose some of his most beautiful poems. Rimbaud then returned to Paris, and the two friends ran away together, first to Belgium, where Mathilde tried without success to ‘recover’ her husband, then, in September 1872, to London. They were to spend seven months in the city in a feverish existence, dogged by financial worries, and rejected by the French political exiles who had initially welcomed them. Verlaine worked during this period on his Romances sans paroles.
A last stay in London in May to June 1873 ended with a vicious argument, whereupon Verlaine left the city on 3 July, abandoning Rimbaud, and heading for Brussels, where his lover eventually joined him. On 10 July, after a further series of quarrels, Rimbaud announced his decision to leave for Paris. It was then that Verlaine fired two shots at him, with the cry ‘Voilà pour toi puisque tu pars’ [This will teach you to leave me]. Having been bandaged up at the hospital, Rimbaud resumed his intention of leaving for Paris. When Verlaine again threatened him with the pistol, Rimbaud called a policeman to his aid, who promptly arrested both poets. Thus began the ‘affaire de Bruxelles’, well known from the statements, depositions and correspondence between the two poets which are preserved in the Brussels Bibliothèque royale, together with the manuscript of Rimbaud’s complex, ambiguous poem, Le bon disciple.
In view of his relationship with Rimbaud, his conduct towards his wife and a supposed involvement with the Paris Commune, Verlaine stood little chance of clemency: on 8 August 1873 he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, which he was to serve in the prison at Mons where he wrote the poems later published as Cellulairement. In October 1873 Rimbaud’s legendary Une saison en enfer was printed by Jacques Pont in Brussels. Verlaine and Rimbaud were to see each other one last time in Stuttgart in February 1875, after Verlaine’s release, when Rimbaud gave his friend the manuscript of Les Illuminations.
As for the revolver, it was confiscated by the police, and returned to the Montigny gunsmiths where Verlaine had bought it for a ballistics report. Its serial number 14096 corresponds with the entry against Verlaine’s name in the firm’s register, which was deposited with the Brussels police after the company finally closed in 1981.
B. Bousmanne, Reviens, reviens, cher ami : Rimbaud-Verlaine. L'Affaire de Bruxelles, Paris, 2006. B. Bousmanne, Verlaine en Belgique. Cellule 252. Turbulences poétiques, Bruxelles, 2015.