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Young Arthur Rimbaud

Did I not have once upon a time a delightful childhood, heroic, fabulous, to be written on sheets of gold - too lucky! Through what crime, through what error, have I deserved my present weakness? You who say that animals sob from grief, that the sick despair, that the dead have bad dreams, try to relate my fall and my sleep. I can explain myself no better that the vagrant with his incessant Pater and Ave Maria. I do not know how to speak!

-Arthur Rimbaud
Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud was born 20 October 1854 at Charleville, in the home of his maternal grandfather. His father, Captain of Infantry, Frederic Rimbaud left the child's life when Arthur was just six yers of age, leaving the boy to be raised by his strict (almost militant) mother Marie Catherine Felicite Vitalie Cuif.

Says Enid Starkie in her incomparable biography, ARTHUR RIMBAUD, "Vitalie Rimbaud was a hard and severe woman... in religion, she was bigoted, in morality prudish, and she was obstinate almost to the pitch of insanity" (p.29) Much has been written about Mme. Rimbaud's manner of raising her children, and its affect on her son. Though, as Rimbaud's childhood friend Delahaye has said: "I must admit that even if Arthur had had a mother as gentle as the Virgin Mary, he would nevertheless have gone off on adventures, for he was born a gypsy!"
Childhood friend,
The marriage of Vitalie and Frederic yielded several children. The first was Jean-Nicholas-Frederick, followed by Jean-Nicholas-Arthur the next year. There were three sisters as well, the eldest died in infancy, followed by Vitalie and Isabelle respectively. According to Starkie's document, Captain Rimbaud was an easy-going fellow, the complete antithesis of his wife, with her stingy, bigoted and humorless ways. This ultimately led to the demise of their partnership. Says Starkie, "It is said that she treated him (her husband) with the same severity which she meeted out to her children, that she tried to eradicate what she considered failings in him and to counteract his levity." (p.31)

After Captain Rimbaud left the household, the family moved from the Rue Napoleon to the Rue Bourbon, not far away. She kept very tight leashes on her children, allowing only specified individuals any entry into the home, and imposed strict time limitations on their outings. This, perhaps, is what led Arthur to seek experiences other than what he knew. He would allegedly sneak out when his mother's back was turned and spend time with the "poor" children of the neighborhood, envisioning their lives to be more exciting and "colorful" than his own.
Rimbaud's sister
Vitalie Rimbaud
Rimbaud's sister
Soon, however, Mme. Rimbaud learned of Arthur's fondness for spending time with "the poor", and she set aside money and moved the family, once again, to one of the more upscale parts of town, the Cours d'Orleans. It was here that Arthur, age 8, and his brother started formal schooling for the first time, having been home-schooled during their earlier years.

It was here that Arthur Rimbaud composed his very first bit of literature, a 700-word essay proved successful in the classroom and gained him praise from his mother. Soon, however, Arthur grew tired of the education his mother was laboring for. He wrote about this extensively in his teens, chastising the elders for having him force-fed the study of foreign language and history at such a young age.

Arthur spent an intense amount of time reading during these years, concentrating mainly on fairy tales and adventure novels by Cooper and Aimard. When the brothers were twelve and eleven respectively, they were sent to College de Charleville, where Arthur excelled much more than his older sibling.

He made friends, mostly with the smarter children; in particular with two boys, Delahaye and Labarriere. They dubbed themselves "the three musketeers". However, soon thereafter, Arthur Rimbaud felt the need to fly --- and did so, by leaving school and embarking on the experience that has now become legend... Arthur Rimbaud sought to change the face of modern poetry.