The infamous gun that Paul Verlaine used to shoot Arthur Rimbaud with during a final and bitter quarrel will be up for auction at Christie’s in Paris on November 30. For a mere $55,000 to $76,000, this gun could be yours. The 7mm six-shooter, purchased on the morning of July 10, 1873, in Brussels, looks suitably antique now and could be considered a living piece of the French Symbolism movement that Rimbaud and Verlaine helped to define.
In the beginning of the press release that Christie’s sent out announcing their sale of Verlaine’s revolver, they managed to invoke a poetic air when describing what led up to the feud that left Rimbaud injured, but not seriously harmed.
“Paul Verlaine had bought the gun on the morning of July 10, 1873 from a gunsmith in Brussels. In the afternoon he attempted to murder Arthur Rimbaud, but only managed to reach his wrist. Rimbaud then spent ten days in the hospital and Verlaine was sent to jail for two years. The poets had known each other since 1871 and were inseparable.”
Verlaine and Rimbaud were living together in London before the shooting, but Verlaine left for Brussels on July 3, 1873, determined to escape from Rimbaud and find some peace. Predictably, Rimbaud followed him to Brussels. Characteristic of their later meetings, they fought constantly and after Rimbaud threatened to leave and go back to London, Verlaine took matters into his own hands, exclaiming “Here’s how I will teach you to leave!” Verlaine then fired twice.
After the police arrived and arrested everyone involved, Verlaine was filled with bitter remorse and Rimbaud forgave him and tried to stop his partner from being incarcerated. Nevertheless, Verlaine was jailed for 555 days at the Mons city jail (cell number 252) and the depositions and statements that were taken on the case became known as the Brussels Affair. The 7mm six-shooter was given back to the gunsmith so that a ballistic report could be conducted on it and ended up in the hands of a private owner after that. The registry book confirms that the gun going up for auction in November belonged to Verlaine.
“It is marked with serial n°14096, which matched Verlaine’s name in the gunsmith’s registry book, later handed to the police station when it closed in 1981.”
Paul Verlaine became acquainted with Arthur Rimbaud in 1871, after the young Rimbaud sent Verlaine one of his poems, entitled Le Bateau Ivre, or The Drunken Boat. Despite the fact that Paul was 10 years his senior, he saw something special in Arthur and invited him to come and stay with him and his wife Mathilde.
Even though Verlaine aspired to a world of dreams and would have been all too familiar with absinthe already, meeting Rimbaud would be the start of his emotional and physical destruction in many ways. Rimbaud believed in the derangement of the senses and sought out every possible way he could to create disorder in his mind. In this, he would have been taking inspiration from Plato’s Phaedrus.
“If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman. Madness, provided it comes as the gift of heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings.”
Arthur Rimbaud took this quite seriously, and for the next three years after meeting Paul Verlaine the two traveled between London, Paris, and Brussels and sought oblivion through poetry, absinthe, and each other. After Verlaine was jailed he continued to write in the absence of Rimbaud, and novelist J.K. Huysmans spoke of the “vague and delicious confidences” of his words.
The last time Paul and Arthur would see each other would be in 1875 in Stuttgart. Rimbaud had shrugged off his previous poetic lifestyle and was now interested in a different line of work. He became a soldier in the Dutch Coloniel Army, although he escaped in Indonesia and disappeared in the jungle. Afterwards, he traveled to Cyprus, Yemen and Ethiopia doing general labor and died in 1891 at the age of 37.
Verlaine continued to suffer further personal losses with the deaths of those close to him and drank heavily. He died in 1896 and published his last poem just days before his death.
[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]