10 July 1873: Paul Verlaine shoots Arthur Rimbaud

Verlaine & Rimbaud VERLAINE &  RIMBAUD

On July 10, 1873 French poet Paul Verlaine shot young prodigious poet Arthur Rimbaud with a small gun: it was the end of a stormy relationship and the beginning of a myth.

Verlaine had bought the 7mm six-shooter on the morning of the same day from a gunsmith in Brussels, apparently determined to put an end to a torrid two-year affair with his teenage lover.

He was 29 years old, had abandoned his young wife and child to be with Rimbaud, and had fled to the Belgian capital after a violent argument with him. But he missed him, therefore on 8 July he had telegraphed Rimbaud, asking him to come to the Hotel Liège in Brussels

In the hotel room,  the two lovers quarrelled, cried and got drunk. Rimbaud decided to return to Paris, but before he could do so, Verlaine raised the pistol and shouted: “Here’s for you, since you are leaving!”. Then he shot him twice: one bullet grazed Rimbaud’s left wrist and the other missed: it was 2.30 in the afternoon

Rimbaud went to hospital, where he was bandaged up, and on their way back to the hotel the young man repeated he wanted to leave.
Verlaine turned to him and, while he was putting his hand into his pocket, the other got scared. He supposed that Verlaine was reaching for the gun, so he called out to a nearby policeman, who arrested both of them.

Verlaine was then sentenced to two years in prison: homosexuality was judged to be an aggravating factor.

In prison, he wrote 32 poems that would later appear in some of his best-known collections

Rimbaud, whose legacy inspired the 60s counter-culture movement and rock rebels such as Jim Morrison of the Doors, returned home to Charleville with his domineering mother and finished his prose work “Une Saison en Enfer” (“A Season in Hell”)—still widely regarded as a revolutionary example of modern Symbolist writing.

The gun was confiscated, returned to the shop where Verlaine had bought it and remained there until the closure of the shop in 1981 when it was bought by Belgian a collector. A few months ago, in November 2016, it was sold for €434,500 (£368,000) at an auction in Paris.

 

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