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Christie’s Will Sell Gun That Verlaine Used to Shoot Rimbaud


The gun.


It’s not often that a press release from an auction house has you racing through a dog-eared copy of the complete works of Arthur Rimbaud before 9 a.m., but here I am, flipping to the poet’s immortal words about his tortured relationship with Paul Verlaine from A Season in Hell: “I forgot all my human duty to follow him. What a life! The true life is absent. We are not in the world. I go where he goes, I must. And often he flares up at me, mepoor soul. The Demon!—he is a demon, you know, he is not a man.”

And that’s because Christie’s announced that this November, in Paris, it’s going to be selling the gun that poet Verlaine used to shoot Rimbuad twice in the wrist at the Hotel Liege in Brussels in July 1873. This is much more exciting than most things sold at auction, even if it is a bit macabre, and it’s estimated to sell for €50,000 to €70,000 ($55,000 to $76,000). My birthday is in February.

Even the press release is a tad more poetic than your usual Christie’s shill. I feel compelled to put it all right here:

Paul Verlaine had bought the gun on the morning of 10 July 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 was married to Mathilde Mauté, but hardly enjoyed daily life. Together, they decided to flee to London where in May and June 1873, Verlaine and Rimbaud argued violently. On 3 July, Verlaine leaved London to find refuge in Brussels, where Rimbaud soon joined him. They kept fighting and Rimbaud decided to return to Paris. However, before he could do so, Verlaine shot him twice, shouting “here’s for you, since you are leaving!”.

Rimbaud called for help and the police arrested everyone. The story of this ‘Brussels Affair’ is well documented as statements and depositions taken at the time are now kept at the Royal Library in Belgium. As for the gun, seized by the police, it was given back to its original gunsmith for a ballistic report. 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.

If nothing else, not a bad excuse to go read Illuminations in a park for part of today.

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