THE BAUDELAIRE SOCIETY
is a French learned society. Spanning more than a century of existence
, it became a forum for discussion and creation that exerted an international influence
, attracting into its orbit “the century’s most eminent artists and writers”, in Simone de Beauvoir’s words
1. Consistency of reasoning
2. Action in redress
3. Shattered memories
1. Consistency of reasoning: Baudelaire’s heritage
in the methodology of the learned society’s Dictionary
In their methodology, the authors of the
Dictionary of Words, Ideas and People
, better-known as the Baudelaire Society Dictionary, devoted themselves like all lexicographers to a labour of etymology. In contrast with other dictionaries, a word, invariably bearing a relationship to Baudelaire’s struggle against the defeat of the spirit, and often, but not necessarily drawn from his writings, was represented not by a single definition, but by a sum of meditations conveying “eloquent messages about the human condition”
A definition could also portray people
whose life and works stemmed from “minds superior to their fate”
. In another major departure from conventional dictionaries, the definitions took subjective responses into account. Implicit in these definitions, therefore, were the notions of historical relativism, of individual interpretation, amounting to a polysemy that could invest the word with a meliorative, pejorative or neutral coloration. Because it was viewed as a living entity, each substantive in the nomenclature was examined in a complementary light, synchronically and diachronically. The lexicographer's work was supplemented by a labour of lexicological development, i.e. the word viewed “within” different contexts, even including those governed by “the lyrical flights of the soul”
. It was then the task of an aesthetics committee to identify those contexts using a method involving a slow, steady ascent
. In this, the word was borne off on several “voyages”
, drawn away from its origin through the intercession of symbol
and metaphor, impelling it on its journey towards a new content. This task once completed, an editorial committee
wrestled free the “word’s quintessence”
. This was presented at the very beginning of the definition, and was expressed in the alexandrine, held by Baudelaire to be poetry’s noblest form
In the mind of the Baudelaire Society Dictionary’s authors, no word was defined irreversibly. A term could be examined for more than a decade without ever reaching a conclusive stage
. Reflecting an ever-changing reality, the definition of a word could sometimes be left intentionally unfinished to allow scope for its subsequent enrichment
Action in redress: combating “the abasement of hearts”
While the Baudelaire Society never imposed any pattern of conduct on the members of its committees
, they, however, in the hour of crisis, unhesitatingly and on their own motion, harnessed together “action” and “dreams”
Such was the case in 1891, a short while before Victorian morality
vilified Oscar Wilde for having brought homosexuality to the forefront of public attention. After reading
to two Dictionary committee members
, he won their support for the play’s publication
and stage production
The same was true of those who drafted the application for the judicial review of the proceedings condemning
The Flowers of Evil
, when, in 1925, they lodged a complaint on behalf of the Baudelaire Society
, almost a quarter-century before the action brought by the Société des Gens de Lettres, and boldly addressed the controversial issue of the writer’s freedom of expression
. And it was true also of the Society members who, at the rise of Nazism
and at the emergence of the early discriminatory measures in occupied Paris
, married humanism with constancy, watchful for the safety of the downtrodden and at pains to restore them to their dignity
3. Shattered memories: a historic turning-point
Towards the end of the nineteen-sixties, the Baudelaire Society foresaw with apprehension the emergence of mass culture
. In the course of a century, Baudelaire had forged the bond uniting each human being within this learned Society. Could he still, as history took this fateful turn, maintain the relevance of this unity he had brought into being and set in motion?
For an informed opinion, it would be wise to refer to the historic context. In 1973, all the documents and records relating to the Baudelaire Society Dictionary were unlawfully spirited away from its headquarters
. The loss to the Society and to posterity amounted to 2119 calligraphied minutes of proceedings, and the stock of manuscripts and correspondence, much of it unpublished
, all of which the Society had made available for consultation at its premises. This wanton looting aroused the indignation of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir
. Henceforth, on their advice, oral testimony to the Society’s past should stand in lieu of first-hand documents which, Sartre saw, were irretrievably lost. This advice, punctiliously followed
, marked the prelude to a rebirth of the Baudelaire Society.
The intellectual and artistic upsurge was uncompromising of both the culture of “conformist”
thought and political correctness. Inevitably, the Society members, ill-attuned to any accommodation of their Baudelairean conscience, became sidelined. Prospects in France were dimming, while promise for the future lay in England. There, in 1985, at the University of Oxford
, Limouse, President of the Baudelaire Society, inaugurated his foundation in tribute to the Baudelairean past of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
, at an event of “historic importance”
Two years later, at Chester
, visitors to the Limouse Flowers of Evil Museum could scan the history of the Baudelaire Society, casting back to the moments of splendour which were a true golden age for Baudelaireans
as well as to the splenetic periods that gave the Society “the image of a drunken ship struggling to emerge from tumultuous waters”
. In fourteen years of activity
, the Baudelairean museum left an impression transcending national boundaries
. Today, after journeying for a century and a half, and against all expectations, the Baudelaire Society is continuing on its path unswerving, conveying of the bard of individual liberty an image which, doubtless, lulls the artist in his dreams, but also calls on the discernment of "those who appeal to people’s conscience"
THE BAUDELAIRE SOCIETY
1872 - Catulle Mendès (1841-1909)
1903 - Louis Vauxcelles (1870-1945)
1940 - Michel Artopoulos (1890-1942)
1942 - Lucia Artopoulos (1918-2006)
1945 - Limouse (1894-1989)
1950 - Lucia Artopoulos
1953 - Limouse
Isée St.John Knowles (1952-)
1992 - Philip Willoughby-Higson (1933-2012)
2012 - Isée St.John Knowles
1893 - Comte Henri du Pont-de-Gault-Saussine (1859-1940)
1916 - Henri Barbusse (1873-1935)
1937 - Albert Lebrun, President of the Republic (1871-1950)
1960 - Lucia Artopoulos and Stanislas Fumet (1896-1983)
1985 - General Pierre Guillain de Bénouville (1914-2001)
1876 - 82 rue des Moines, 17è
1882 - 25 rue Rousselet, 7è
1890 - 11, rue de la Chaussée d'Antin, 9è
1902 - 25 rue Rousselet, 7è and 2 Bd Saint-Germain, 5è
1908 - 26 rue Monsieur-le-Prince, 6è
1931 - 20 rue Jacob, 6è and 31 rue de Seine, 6è
1974 - 4 square Desnouettes, 15è
1986 - 3 rue Notre-Dame des Champs, 6è
1992 - The Limouse Flowers of Evil Museum,
Curzon Park North, Chester, (GB)
2005 - The Baudelaire Society and Limouse Foundation Limited
Brian Paul Limited, Enfield, Middlesex, (GB)
The Baudelaire Society
Notes and references
Established in 1872 at the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Baudelaire Society was given a hierarchical structure, with a President at its head. Even so, it was ruled by a constitution radically opposed to the very notion of authority wielded by an organisation over an individual and, by the same token, refractory to any idea of a collective, let alone coercive resolution. Reflecting the writers and artists who studied its history, the Baudelaire Society therefore lies outside the classifications connoting with other types of cultural movement.
From 1884 to 1903 the Baudelaire Society became established in more than 120 towns and cities across four continents. See the map in Philip Willoughby-Higson,
Baudelaire and Limouse: their ennobling mission for art,
Limouse Museum Publications, 2006.
In a signed statement to
, October 1980. Through the influence of journals of which Society members were publishers or contributors, internationally-reputed writers, artists and academics enriched the Baudelaire Society Dictionary. With a wealth and breadth of culture at their command, these contributors belonged to widely-varied philosophical, political or religious persuasions. In 1984, for a retrospective of his work that year, the painter Limouse (1894-1989), a President of the Baudelaire Society who devoted seventy years of his creative life to interpreting the
Flowers of Evil
, selected emblematic figures to be elevated into a pantheon of the Baudelaire Society.
Inaugurating the new era for the Society Dictionary, from 1868 to the end of the 19th century, were the collected photographic portraits of Emile Blémont, Paul Bourget, Claude Debussy, Paul Fort, Anatole France, Gustave Kahn, Bernard Lazare, Pierre Louys, Stéphane Mallarmé, Octave Mirbeau, Rachilde and Edouard Schuré.
From the dawn of the 20th century up to the Second World War, the Society’s pantheon included Guillaume Apollinaire, Henri Bergson, Emmanuel Berl, Tristan Bernard, Jean-Richard Bloch, Marie Bonaparte, Colette, Gabriel Fauré, André Gide, Yvette Guilbert, Sacha Guitry, Max Jacob, Joseph Kessel, Valéry Larbaud, André Malraux, Adrienne Monnier, Anna de Noailles, Blandine Ollivier de Prévaux, Jean Paulhan, Maurice Ravel, Auguste Rodin, Romain Rolland, André Spire and André Suarès.
Portrayed for their contributions from the Second World War until the close of the 20th century were: Jean Amrouche, Louis Aragon, Antonin Artaud, Gaston Bachelard, Nadia Boulanger, Albert Camus, Coco Chanel, Marie-Jeanne Durry, Paul Eluard, Vladimir Jankélévitch, Jean-Paul Sartre and Marguerite Yourcenar.
Also portrayed were contributors from other nations: Gabriele d’Annunzio, Sergei Diaghilev, Isadora Duncan, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Peter Kropotkin, Peter Lavroff, George Bernard Shaw, Richard Wagner and Stefan Zweig.
Uncertainty remains regarding the author of the title given to that work in 1868. Some Baudelaireans, such as Emile Blémont, attributed it to Alexandre Massol (1805-1875), while others such as Catulle Mendès and Anatole France ascribed it to Louis-Xavier de Ricard (1843-1911).
In the words of Léon Cladel, (1835-1892), whose archives, covering the period from 1861 to 1866, were initially intended for the writing of his memories of Baudelaire then, when he gave up that attempt, for his definition of the poet’s “evocative wizardry”. The unfinished definition was completed by the chairman of the editorial committee, Victor-Emile Michelet (1861-1938). In deference to Cladel’s wish expressed shortly before his death, Michelet took possession of the archive stock, until then held in trust by the Baudelaire Society.
The first definition to which the main subject contributed concerned Richard Wagner. The manuscripts of Edouard Schuré’s collection date from 1869. He was the chairman of the first editorial committee charged with examining this definition. The definition was illustrated by a portrait of the composer taken from life in 1879 by Ferdinand Bac (1859-1952). Simone de Beauvoir, in her communication above-mentioned, referred to a protest voiced by Winifred Wagner (1897-1980) at the ransacking of those records in 1973.
Quoted bodily from “The immortal mind, superior to his fate”, Mark Akenside,
The Pleasures of Imagination
This expression, supplied as a reference by numerous Dictionary contributors, is excerpted from Baudelaire’s preface to
Le Spleen de Paris
Petits poèmes en prose
, 1869, dedicated to Arsène Houssaye.
In his argument defining Baudelaire’s relationship to language, Cladel saluted this proceeding as an “elevation” (
For the method used by the committee, encompassing the fields of aesthetics, see Bruno Deslot,
Festival Saint-Germain-des-Prés Baudelairien, dernier éclat d’insoumission à un siècle avili
Rencontre avec Isée St. John Knowles,
(Baudelairean Saint-Germain-des-Prés Festival, the last outburst disavowing an age of abasement. A meeting with Isée St. John Knowles). Un Fauteuil pour l’Orchestre,
, 10 January 2010.
The value of symbol in the work of Baudelaire Society poets was appraised by Gaston Bachelard in
Le Droit de rêver
(The right to dream), PUF, 1970. See also Lucia Artopoulos, “Les séances du Dictionnaire au temps de Gaston Bachelard, 1949-1954” (the Dictionary committee sessions in Gaston Bachelard’s day), in
Aujourd’hui, aurore… demain, lumière
(Dawn today… sunlight tomorrow), unpublished memoirs, 1968.
Standing fast by the 1872 constitution, the Society members adopted the approach of the first contributors to the Baudelaire Society Dictionary in 1868. See “les amis de Baudelaire (des fondements du Dictionnaire à la fin du 19è siècle)” (Baudelaire’s friends – from the beginnings of the Dictionary to the end of the 19th century), selected by Limouse for the composition of a Society pantheon (see note 3 above): Charles Asselineau, Théodore de Banville, Barbey d’Aurevilly, Léon Cladel, Eugène Crépet, Arsène Houssaye, Leconte de Lisle, Louis Ménard, Nadar, Félicien Rops, Jules Troubat and Villiers de l’Isle-Adam.
This innovative approach to language guided by the Baudelairean dialectic was followed by four committees: the first discussed theological and metaphysical questions; a second pondered the ideas associated with morals and philosophy; the third addressed social and political questions, and the fourth explored aesthetic issues.
, Note 10.
On the “majesty of the alexandrine”, discussing the octosyllabic line, see Baudelaire,
, 1859, included in
The definition of “civilisation” was ascribed to the editorial committee chaired by Barbey d’Aurevilly from 1882 to 1889. According to the Dictionary historian Marcel Zahar, however, it was analysed by Society members as early as 1868. Despite the proceedings of various committees up to 1942, it never got as far as formal drafting.
Sartre’s enquiry into
The Flowers of Evil
, 1948-1951, conducted for the definition of ‘The Voice’ has occasionally been cited as an example of that “possible”. See in particular Ellen Wright's
Speech at the opening of the
Sartre-de Beauvoir Room of the Limouse Flowers of Evil Museum,
Chester, UK, 1993; her
Preface for the Sartre centenary celebration,
Paris, 1996. Stemming from the Sartrean critique of Baudelaire’s thinking on revolution (see
1887), the definition of “liberation”, to which the philosopher did not contribute, was addressed by a first committee in 1944, then by a second which assessed a sharply contrasting definition proposed by Louis-Ferdinand Céline. When Céline withdrew his definition in 1955, the editorial committee thereupon considered its proceedings completed on the definition of “liberation”. Almost thirty years later, after sounding some of his Baudelairean friends for their recollections, and despite a context entirely foreign to the Baudelaire Society of former years, its President, Limouse ordered the re-opening of discussions, focusing this time on a contribution by Malcolm Muggeridge.
Fusées XV 22
See above, Note 1.
The first Society member to have chanced his arm at reconciling “action” and “dream”, of which Baudelaire decried the dissociation (see ‘Saint Peter’s Denial’, 1852) was Bernard Lazare, who had been a Baudelaire Society Dictionary contributor since 1893. In 1895, he offered the definition of “action, sister to the dream” to the proceedings of an editorial committee, seeking to engage Society members in the Dreyfus affair.
Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years’ hard labour in 1895 under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885. Wilde’s judgement of Baudelaire is given in
These contributors, Pierre Louys and Paul Fort, contended that Wilde had felt remiss at failing to appreciate Baudelaire’s poetry on becoming convinced that Walter Pater had investigated
The Flowers of Evil
before reaching his conclusion in the essays gathered together in 1873 under the title
; (Pater’s essay on William Morris was published in 1868 in the Westminster Review).
Henri-Edmond Limet, known as Bailly (1850-1916), who published
, seldom promoted an author without the endorsement of the Baudelaire Society, which was housed at the Librairie de l’art indépendant from 1890 to 1902. He attended the proceedings of several editorial committees and argued forcefully for a definition of “Oscar Wilde” in the Society Dictionary. On the two Baudelaire poems viewed favourably by Wilde see the cited website, Note 20. For the reasoning whereby Wilde legitimated his choice, see the Léonard Sarluis recollections reported by Alice Espir-Tournemire (1901-1996) in Artopoulos,
Paul Fort proposed a staging of
under the aegis of the Baudelaire Society. The idea was radically opposed by Lugné-Poe (1869-1940), the theatrical director who played the part of Herod. The play was first staged at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre in February 1896 at Fort’s instigation while Oscar Wilde was in detention at Reading gaol.
A corpus of French and foreign press articles on the judicial-review application by the Baudelaire Society can be consulted, among others, at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and at the W.T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire Studies, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. See also Enid Starkie,
1933, Appendix 2 and Emmanuel Pierrat, “
Les Fleurs du Mal” réhabilité
The Flowers of Evil
rehabilitated), article in Le Monde, 7 June 1999.
The intentional ambiguity of the ruling of 31 May 1949 formally rehabilitating Baudelaire while sidestepping the crucial issue in the judgement of 20 August 1857, namely the creator’s freedom of expression, was decisive in persuading Jean-Paul Sartre to conduct an enquiry into
The Flowers of Evil
, which caused a lasting rift among Society members. See Raymond Duncan,
(Note to the reader) to the – unauthorised – edition of
The Flowers of Evil
, arranged by Jean-Paul Sartre, Editions Akademia Raymond Duncan, Paris, 1955.
The foreboding of an imminent danger to civilisation dates from 1923 when the Society’s President, Louis Vauxcelles (1870-1943) instructed Eugène Merle (1884-1946) to arrange for an interview with Kurt Ludecke, who financed the Nazi party. Ten years later, weight was added to this premonition by the prefatory remarks to the definition of ‘The Taste for Nothingness’, proposed by Blandine Ollivier (1894-1981), Liszt’s great-grand-daughter. On returning from Germany after an interview with the new Chancellor, she reported:
I have just returned horrified by the eternal Germany whose sole pleasure is paroxysm and whose sole love is for death… Twilight is falling on the liberal Germany, the Republic is collapsing, cut down like a Walkyrie whose lance is shivered”. See MS. Blandine Ollivier de Prévaux, April 1933.
Despite dissent among Jewish Society members on whether to breach the census Order of 27 September 1940, as recommended by the new President, Michel Artopoulos (1890-1942), those who took Artopoulos’s line outnumbered those who complied.
In January 1977, Maximilien Gauthier planned the publication of a collective work retracing the history of the Baudelaire Society under the Occupation. This work would have borne the testimonies of Jews and non-Jews who eluded scrutiny by the watchful partisans of collaboration and succeeded in safely stowing the files and iconographic documentation for the definition of “Jewish art” enunciated in 1903 by Vauxcelles and Gustave Kahn (1859-1936). Gauthier’s project was baulked by the indignant participants themselves, who could not accept that the archives they had hazarded their lives to save could have been ransacked and spirited away with impunity in peace time (see Note 31 below). As testaments to the history of Baudelaireans under the Occupation, see Benn, Presentation of “
Premonitions and Reality”,
Wiener Library, London, 1986; St. John Knowles,
, the play first performed at the Théâtre Mouffetard, Paris 2010 – see
Un festival sur le Saint-Germain-des-Prés “baudelairien”
(a festival commemorating the Baudelairean Saint-Germain-des-Prés), Culturebox France Télévisions, 14 January 2010,
Limouse posits the dumbing-down of the masses in
Mémoires sous tutelle
(Memoirs under guardianship), unfinished, 1985.
The suit for theft entered by the Baudelaire Society was dropped by the authorities in March 1981.
For letters published since the theft of the archives and derived from publications prior to its occurrence, see in particular Robert Orledge,
Debussy and the theatre,
Cambridge University Press, 1982; Claude Debussy,
, Editions Gallimard, 2005.
Sartre, De Beauvoir and the Baudelaire Society Executive Committee were of one mind in holding that the theft was not perpetrated for pecuniary motives. Their views diverged radically, however, on the identity of its instigators. Sartre and De Beauvoir pinned the blame on a former member of the Society’s Honorary Committee, close to André Malraux and Catholic Baudelaire historians. In substantiation of their guilt, Sartre pointed to their unrelenting disapproval of his enquiry into
The Flowers of Evil
, of which the unpublished manuscript had been placed in the Society’s hands. On the other hand, Limouse, the President of the Baudelaire Society, took a differing view to the philosopher, accusing the protectors of wartime anti-Semites who wished to do away with evidence that could incriminate them.
In 1985, De Beauvoir advised Ellen Wright to beseech the ninety-year-old Limouse, confined to hospital, to cast back in his mind for his recollections of the Baudelairean enquiry conducted by Sartre.
The 1985 exhibition of Limouse’s pictorial interpretations of
The Flowers of Evil
, followed by a banquet in his honour at Magdalen College, Oxford, gathered historians, philosophers and survivors of the Nazi death camps.
Acting on the advice of Lady Clark (1924-1989), The Limouse Foundation, a British educational charity, was formed by Lord Goodman. Its patrons were Lord Menuhin and General de Bénouville.
The words of Sir Patrick Nairne, Master of St. Catherine’s, Oxford, writing to Dr. Keith B. Griffin, President of Magdalen College, 1985.
At the opening of the Museum (in November 1987) by the Duke of Westminster in the presence of Limouse, the Académie française was represented by Jacques Soustelle.
Society members differ as to what constituted the Baudelaire Society's golden age. Sartre, in 1973, associated it with Kropotkin’s Dictionary contribution to which he referred in his definition for ‘The Voice’. The philosopher also identified it in the valiant struggles of the Society – presided at the time by Limouse – at loggerheads with a bourgeoisie he condemned in 1951 as “Pharisaic” for concocting a specious line of argument seeking to cloak Baudelaire with respectability. For De Beauvoir, when questioned in 1973, the Society’s golden age was bound up with the unswerving determination of its President, Lucia Artopoulos, displayed under the Occupation both by the uninterrupted proceedings for the Dictionary, and by the continual holding of recitals and exhibitions paying tribute to Baudelaireans whom Vichy held to be unworthy of esteem. This vision of the ideal defying tyranny was endorsed by Pierre Seghers, Paul Eluard and Louis Aragon. See Artopoulos, “Les Résistants-Poètes de La Chartreuse” (The resisting poets of La Chartreuse),
Baudelaire’s art of delivery was saved for posterity thanks to copious notes taken by his closest friends, who handed them on to the Society. Jean-Louis Barrault, in 1985, asserted that it was this vocal art which imprinted the golden age rendered imperishable by such actors as Marguerite Moreno or Edouard de Max. See Artopoulos, “Une lecture lyrique de Baudelaire” (A lyrical reading of Baudelaire),
The golden age that Michel Georges-Michel (1883-1985) strove to perpetuate was that of the patter-song
Yvette Guilbert who, tapping the ironic vein of the Baudelaire who penned
, gave Baudelaireans food for thought in the satirical song. This potent weapon was next used by Marie Dubas then, at Georges-Michel’s instigation, by Pamina. On the evocations of the Society’s past by Pamina, appearing with Yvette Guilbert’s accompanist, Irène Aïtoff and François Bellair, the son of Marie Dubas, see in particular Laurence Moréchand, Femmes Artistes - Trimestriel International No. 33, 2000 and 39, 2001; Martin Pénet, Mémoire de la chanson (A retrospective of the popular song), Omnibus, Paris, 2001 and
Notes sur le programme
(Programme notes), Musée d’Orsay, March 2006.
To Kenneth Clark, interviewed in 1977 and to René Huyghe, in 1984, this period was strongly imprinted by the staged evolution in the definition of “Dandyism”. From the initial statements by Barbey d’Aurevilly, Paul Bourget and François Coppée, it culminated in Coco Chanel’s creation and design of the Westminster Room at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in 1957 – dedicated to exhibiting the pictorial interpretations of
Flowers of Evil
by Limouse. See Philip Willoughby-Higson,
; see also the cited website, Note 20.
The words of Laurence Moréchand.
The Limouse Flowers of Evil Museum closed down in 2001, following the death of General de Bénouville, the doyen of the Baudelaire Society and the Museum’s Honorary President.
The Baudelairean museum acquired standing locally, leaving a lasting impression with the 2006 Chester Baudelaire Festival. It also made its mark internationally with the agreement negotiated by the Museum and concluded by the permanent delegation to UNESCO of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in May 1990 for the institution of an international art biennale hosted in Great Britain. Arising from Baudelairean themes, this project was acclaimed among others by Vladimir Jankélévitch in May 1983. However, its financing proved beyond the Museum’s means, and thus it was shelved without hope of recall.
The words of Laurence Moréchand.
The Baudelaire Society’s blazon was created in 1933 by Léonard Sarluis (1874-1949).
From 1868 to 1992, fourteen Parisian addresses were used by the Baudelaire Society. There can be no certainty, however, whether from 1870 to 1872 — in which year it first set up in Saint-Germain-des-Prés at 42 rue Jacob, 6è — the Society's sole venue was at 4 Cité Trévise, 9è.
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