Laurent Tailhade (French: [tajad]; 16 April 1854 – 2 November 1919) was a French satirical poet, anarchist polemicist, essayist, and translator, active in Paris in the 1890s and early 1900s. His most well-known poetry collections, Au Pays du mufle (1891) and Imbéciles et gredins (1900) have retained their insulting wit and verve, which blends the street slang of the outer faubourgs (suburbs) of Paris with the rich language of a broad-ranging culture.
Tailhade was born in Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrénées. His family, which included a number of magistrates and government officers, tried to push him into a bourgeois marriage, in the hopes that the genteel boredom of family life in the provinces would prevent him from taking up a bohemian artists' lifestyle. Upon the death of his wife, Tailhade moved away from the hinterlands and took up residence in Paris, where he began the bohemian city lifestyle he had always hoped for, consuming opium and befriending the poets Paul Verlaine, Jean Moréas and Albert Samain.
Tailhade soon developed an anarchist and anticlerical attitude in his poems and polemic essays. His polemical writings led him to be lambasted by the press and resulted in him being jailed for a year on the charge of "provoking murder". After December 1893, Tailhade became well-known (albeit notoriously so) after he proclaimed his admiration for a terrorist attack by an anarchist named Vaillant. After Vaillant attacked the Chamber of Deputies, Tailhade scandalized the Parisian bourgeoisie with his statement, "Qu'importe la victime si le geste est beau," which translates as "Who cares about the victim if the gesture [of the violent act] is beautiful."
In an ironic twist, Tailhade was himself the victim of an unrelated terrorist attack several months later, when a bomb was exploded at a restaurant Tailhade was in. Although the explosion destroyed one of Tailhade's eyes, he did not recant his support for the anarchists; indeed, he continued to state his support for anarchism with renewed vigour.
Later in life he met the young English poet Wilfred Owen, who was working for nearly two years from 1913 at Bordeaux as an English language tutor. The two men later corresponded in French, before Owen was killed on military service in 1918.
While living in Paris, Tailhade became addicted to opium. His article on morphine addiction, La Noire Idole (The Dark Idol), draws its title from Thomas de Quincey who called the laudanum opium preparation he was addicted to "La Noire Idole". Tailhade's article, which describes the effects of opium consumption and addiction, acknowledged that more Parisian poets used alcohol or absinthe (la muse verte - the green muse) than morphine, such as Édouard Dubus and Stanislas de Guaita (lovers of alcohol), and Paul Verlaine and Musset (adepts of the 'green muse' - absinthe).
Nevertheless, Tailhade stated that some French poets did use morphine and opium. In addition to Tailhade, the poet Baudelaire used substantial amounts of opium. The French poet Stanislas de Guaita, an expert on esotericism and European mysticism, published a collection of poems in 1883 entitled The Dark Muse, and penned a poem in honour of the opium poppy:
- Salut, flore équivoque !
- Dompteuses des douleurs,
- Salut, à fleurs !
- Soyez bénis, en somme,
- Sucs, qui versez à l'homme
- Au visage pâli
- Le calme oubli.
- (Greetings, two-faced flower!
- Tamer of our pains
- Greetings, to flowers!
- Be blessed, with rest,
- Nectar, which gives to men
- With withered faces
- A peaceful calm)
Tailhade’s article discusses many different detoxification methods used by physicians and sanatora, and it explains how the different methods try to help the addict deal with the pain, cold sweats and anxiety of morphine withdrawal. Tailhade pointed out that it was not only bohemian artists and poets that were under the thrall of the 'dark muse'; he lists several prominent politicians from the 1880s who used morphine, such as General Boulanger and the Prince of Bismarck.
Tailhade’s article describes the experience of opium using rich, expressive language. He states that on taking opium, users feel a warm sensation of intoxication that envelops them in an océan de délices (an ocean of intense pleasures), a lune de miel (honeymoon) of recueillement voluptueux (voluptuous meditation) in which they float above their everyday lives and forget their anxieties. Tailhade claims that morphine does not cause dreams, visions or an intellectual enhancement to the user; instead, morphine shows the user less-known parts of the user’s own imagination, memories and personality.
Tailade died, aged 65, at Combs-la-Ville.
- Au pays du mufle 1891.
- Poèmes élégiaques Vitraux. Vanier, 1891.
- A travers les Grouins. Stock, 1899.
- Imbéciles et gredins 1900.
- L'ennemi du peuple par Henrik Ibsen Societe libre d'edition des gens de lettres, 1900.
- La touffe de sauge Editions de la plume. 1901
- La Gynécocratie, Ou La Domination De La Femme. Carrington, Charles. 1902. Preceded by an Etude sur le Masochisme dans l'histoire et les traditions. (with the coll. of Jacques Desroix)
- Lettres familières Collection rationaliste. Librairie de 'La raison', 1904.
- Poèmes Aristophanesques. Mercure de France, 1904.
- La noir idole, Etude sur la Morphinomanie. Leon Vanier, Editeur; A. Messein, Succr., 1907.
- Poèmes éligiaques. Mercure de France, 1907.
- Le troupeau d'Aristée. Sansot, 1908.
- La farce de la marmite Messein, 1909.
- La Feuille à l'envers -Revue en un Acte Messein, 1909.
- Pour la paix, Lettre aux conscrits Messein, 1909.
- Un Monde Qui Finit. La Dévotion À La Croix-Don Quichote-Appendice Messein, 1910.
- De Célimène à Diafoirus. Essai consacré à Molière et à son époque « Misanthropie et misanthropes - la pharmacopée au temps de Molière - notes ». Messein, 1911.
- Pages choisies. Vers et proses Messein, 1912.
- Quelques fantomes de jadis. (Verlaine. - Auguste Rod de Niederhausern. - Charles Cros. - Vigny) Messein, Collection « Societe des Trente, 1913.
- Les commérages de Tybalt. Petits mémoires de la vie 1903-1913. Crès, 1914.
- Les livres et les hommes (1916-1917) Vrin, 1917.
- Les saisons et les jours Crès, 1917.
- Petit bréviaire de la gourmandise, notes sur quelques grands gourmands de l'histoire Messein, 1919.
- La douleur. Le vrai mystère de la passion Messein, 1919.
- Carnet intime Editions du Sagittaire, Kra, 1920.
- Quelques fantômes de jadis Edition française illustrée, 1920.
- Les Reflets de Paris (1918-1919) P. Jean Fort, 1921.
- Petits Mémoires De La Vie. Mémoires d'écrivains et d'artistes Editions G. Crès, 1921.
- Platres Et Marbres. Editions Athéna, 1922.
- Des Tragédies d'Eschyle au pessimisme de Tolstoi. La Nouvelle revue critique, 1924.
- Epitres Des Hommes Obscurs La Connaissance, 1924.
- Le Paillasson. Mœurs De Province. Le livre, 1924.
- La médaille qui s'efface. Crès, 1924.
- Poésies posthumes Messein, 1925.
- Masques Et Visages. Essais Inédits Les éditions du monde moderne, 1925.
- Lettres à sa Mere 1874-1891. Rene van den Berg et Louis Enlart, 1926.
- La corne et l'épée. Réflexions sur la tauromachie Messein, 1941.
- Sitwell, Osbert, Noble Essences, London: Macmillan, 1950, p. 93.
- Sitwell, Osbert, Noble Essences, London: Macmillan, 1950. p. 94.
- Laurent Tailhade ou De la provocation considérée comme un art de vivre. Gilles Picq, 2001, Maisonneuve & Larose, 828 p
- Laurent Tailhade intime. Correspondance publiée et annotée par Madame Laurent-Tailhade. Mercure de France, 1924.
- Laurent Tailhade Au Pays Du Mufle. Quignon, 1927. Memoirs written by his wife.
- Les plus belles pages de Laurent Tailhade. Quignon, 1928.