After spending long hours turning over a collection of bawdy prints, you fall into a great spell of melancholy  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"After spending long hours turning over a collection of bawdy prints, you fall into a great spell of melancholy" is a dictum by Charles Baudelaire published in "Des sujets amoureux et de M. Tassaert" [1], a section in Salon de 1846. It treats of the work of Octave Tassaert and of bawdy prints.

"Vous est-il arrivé, comme à moi, de tomber dans de grandes mélancolies, après avoir passé de longues heures à feuilleter des estampes libertines ? Vous êtes-vous demandé la raison du charme qu’on trouve parfois à fouiller ces annales de la luxure, enfouies dans les bibliothèques ou perdues dans les cartons des marchands, et parfois aussi de la mauvaise humeur qu’elles vous donnent ? Plaisir et douleur mêlés, amertume dont la lèvre a toujours soif ! — Le plaisir est de voir représenté sous toutes ses formes le sentiment le plus important de la nature, — et la colère, de le trouver souvent si mal imité ou si sottement calomnié. Soit dans les interminables soirées d’hiver au coin du feu, soit dans les lourds loisirs de la canicule, au coin des boutiques de vitrier, la vue de ces dessins m’a mis sur des pentes de rêverie immenses, à peu près comme un livre obscène nous précipite vers les océans mystiques du bleu. Bien des fois je me suis pris à désirer, devant ces innombrables échantillons du sentiment de chacun, que le poëte, le curieux, le philosophe, pussent se donner la jouissance d’un musée de l’amour, où tout aurait sa place, depuis la tendresse inappliquée de sainte Thérèse jusqu’aux débauches sérieuses des siècles ennuyés. Sans doute la distance est immense qui sépare le Départ pour l’île de Cythère des misérables coloriages suspendus dans les chambres des filles, au-dessus d’un pot fêlé et d’une console branlante ; mais dans un sujet aussi important rien n’est à négliger. Et puis le génie sanctifie toutes choses, et si ces sujets étaient traités avec le soin et le recueillement nécessaires, ils ne seraient point souillés par cette obscénité révoltante, qui est plutôt une fanfaronnade qu’une vérité."

English translation

The following translations are nearly identical, except for the translation of luxure as lewdness and lubricity.

In The Mirror of Art: Critical Studies by Baudelaire

"Has it ever been your experience, as it has mine, that after spending long hours turning over a collection of bawdy prints, you fall into a great spell of melancholy? And have you ever asked yourself the reason for the charm sometimes to be found in rummaging among these annals of lewdness, which are buried in libraries or lost in dealers' portfoKos and sometimes also for the ill-humour which they cause you? It is a mixture of pleasure and pain, a vinegar for which the Hps are always athirstl The pleasure lies in your seeing represented in all its forms that most important of natural feelings— and the anger in often finding it so badly copied or so stupidly slandered. Whether it has been by the fireside during the endless winter evenings, or in a corner of a glazier's shop, in the dog-days when the hours hang heavy, the sight of such drawings has often put my mind into enormous drifts of reverie, in much the same way as an obscene book sweeps us towards the mystical oceans of the deep. Many times, when faced with these countless samples of the universal feeling, I have found myself wishing that the poet, the connoisseur and the philosopher could grant themselves the enjoyment of a Museum of Love, where there would be a place for everything, from St. Teresa's undirected aflFections down to the serious debaucheries of the ages of ennui. No doubt an immense distance separates Le Depart pour Tile de CytMre^ By Watteau. "

In Erotic Art of the West:

"Has it ever been your experience, as it has mine, that after spending long hours turning over a collection of bawdy prints, you fall into a great spell of melancholy ? And have you ever asked yourself the reason for the charm sometimes to be found in rummaging among those annals of lubricity, which are buried in libraries or lost in dealers’ portfolios - and sometimes for the id-humour which they cause you? It is a mixture of pleasure and pain, a vinegar for which the lips are always athirst ! The pleasure Lies in your seeing represented m ad its forms that most important of natural feelings - and the anger in findin g it so badly copied or so stupidly slandered. Whether it has been the fireside during the endless winter evenings, or in a comer of a dealer’s shop, in the dog-days when the hours hang heavy, the sight of such drawings has often put my mind into enormous drifts of reverie, in much the same way as an obscene book sweeps us towards the mystical oceans of the deep. Many times when faced with these countiess samples of the universal feeling, I have found myself wishing that the poet, the connoisseur and the philosopher could grant themselves the enjoyment of a Museum of Love, where there would be a place for everything, from St Theresa’s undirected affections down to the serious debaucheries of the ages of ennui. No doubt an immense distance separates Le Depart pour Pile de Cjthere from the miserable daubs which hang above a cracked pot and a rickety side-table in a harlot’s room; but with a subject of such importance, nothing should be neglected. "





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