Gun that nearly killed poet Rimbaud fetches 435,000 euros
The most famous gun in French literary history, the revolver with which Paul Verlaine tried to kill his lover and fellow poet Arthur Rimbaud, sold for 434,500 euros ($460,000) at auction in Paris on Wednesday.
The staggering price for the 7mm six-shooter — which almost changed the course of world literature — was more than seven times the estimate, auctioneers Christie’s said.
Verlaine bought the weapon in Brussels on the morning of July 10, 1873, determined to put an end to his torrid two-year affair with his teenage lover.
The 29-year-old poet had abandoned his young wife and child to be with Rimbaud, who would later become the symbol of rebellious youth, idolised by 1960s singers like Jim Morrison.
But after an opium- and absinthe-soaked stay in London, which would inspire Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell”, Verlaine wanted to go back to his wife.
He fled to the Belgian capital to get away from Rimbaud only for the younger man to follow him.
It was in a hotel room there at two in the afternoon where, after the lovers had rowed, cried and got drunk — according to Rimbaud — that the suicidal Verlaine raised the pistol.
“Here’s how I will teach you how to leave!” he shouted before firing twice at Rimbaud.
One bullet hit him in the wrist while the other struck the wall and then ricocheted into the chimney.
– Rimbaud refused to go –
But Rimbaud still wouldn’t take no for an answer. Having been bandaged up in hospital he again begged the author of “Poemes saturniens” not to leave him.
Verlaine — who was to be dogged by drink and drug addiction all his life — pulled out the revolver again and threatened him with it in the street.
He was arrested by a passing policeman and sentenced to two years in jail with hard labour where — much to Rimbaud’s fury — he embraced Catholicism.
In prison he wrote 32 poems that would later appear in some of his best-known collections, “Sagesse”, “Jadis et naguere” and “Invectives”.
Rimbaud moved back in with his domineering mother and finished “A Season in Hell”.
His hometown Charleville-Mezieres in eastern France had set up a fund to buy the gun but was outbid by an unnamed telephone bidder.
The Belgian bailiff and firearms enthusiast Jacques Ruth who put the gun up for sale had kept it in a cupboard for 20 years, unaware of its value.
He only thought to have it checked out when he saw a identical model in “Total Eclipse”, the 1995 Hollywood film about the poets’ intense relationship starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
He contacted historian Bernard Bousmanne, who curated an exhibition about the two men in the Belgian capital in 2004.
And he took it to experts at the Royal Military School in Brussels, who not only confirmed that it was the same model but it was the actual gun Verlaine used.
“I thought they were joking,” Bousmanne told Belgian media.