"Cette année je veux piocher ferme": Charles Baudelaire as a schoolboy

Baudelaire, Charles, French poet (1821-1867). Autograph letter signed "Carlos".

[Lyon], 23. XI. 1833.

4to. 3 pp. on bifolium. With autograph address. In French.


Beautiful juvenile letter to his half-brother Alphonse, thanking him for a "beautiful edition of Juvenal" and promising to study so as to achieve good grades. Baudelaire, then a 12-year-old schoolboy at the Collège Royal de Lyon, had received gifts and awards for his good performance, although he must "shamefully admit" that he "obtained these advantages without much effort". Therefore, he promises to improve: "this year I want to cram heavily so that if I do not succeed, I shall have nothing for which to blame myself". He describes the excitement of receiving the awards and gifts that motivated him: "It is really nice to hear your name proclaimed for an award, to which you add this sentence 7 times nominated! Nominated in all subjects! And then it's your mother or father who crowns you! [...] With these prizes, one accumulates book after book, and then the gifts of the parents and then those of the brother too. Because they are beautiful". Finally, he explains with the help of three sketches the gift of a phenakistiscope that he had received from his stepfather Jacques Aupick: "This word is as strange as the invention. [...] It is a cardboard box in which there is a small mirror that is placed on a table between two candles. There is also a handle to which a cardboard circle with small holes all around is adapted. On top of it we add another cardboard drawing, the drawing turned towards the mirror. Then one makes turn, and one looks by the small holes in the mirror where one sees very pretty drawings". The phenakistiscope was the first widespread animation device that created a fluent illusion of motion. It was invented in 1832, only one year before the young Charles Baudelaire received this novelty from his stepfather.

A fascinating letter that provides a valuable insight into Baudelaire's childhood. Good grades without much effort is a fitting summary of his school career. While his high intelligence and intellectual precociousness were obvious, he was also erratic in his studies and was often scolded for idleness.

Traces of folds. With a tear from breaking the seal and minor tears to the folds but no text loss. Some browning and somewhat creased overall.


Published in: Correspondance (Pléiade), vol. I, p. 21; Exposition Baudelaire, Petit Palais 1968 (no. 37).

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