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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Henri Murger (1822–1861)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
TAKING into account a strange and persistent conception which has been afloat for many generations, the genius of artistic passion might well be represented as a haloed vagabond, with immortal longings in his eyes, and out at the elbows.  1
  In his ‘Bohemians of the Latin Quarter,’ Henri Murger, seizing upon this conception, has prefaced his story of the gay, sad, wild, half-starved, half-surfeited life led by four followers of art in Paris, with a history of the world’s Bohemians. He christens the picturesque clan by this name, now in general use; but he does not attempt to explain why the pursuit of art in painting or literature has been so often identified, in the past at least, with worthlessness as a citizen. He merely calls the long roll of those who have lived by poetry rather than bread. He does not hesitate to include the wanderer Homer, nor Shakespeare, nor Molière, in this fellowship. The inspired rascal Villon he claims as his soul’s own brother; Gringoire,—“friend to vagrants and foe to fasting,”—Marot, Rousseau, Chatterton, are of his kin. For Murger himself was a prince of Bohemians. Born in Paris in 1822, his father, a tailor, arranged that he should study law; but Murger chose literature and starvation. His ‘Bohemians,’ which was published in 1848, and which made his fame, is the record of his own life and of the lives of some boon friends in the Latin Quarter. It is the story of those spirits in the untamed twenties, who like Omar desire only—
  “A book of verses underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou
  Beside me singing in the wilderness.”
What does it matter that the wilderness is that of the Paris roofs, and the bread at least wanting, perhaps, and the beloved a little working-girl in chintz, happy with a few sous’ worth of violets or an afternoon at Versailles? The Bohemians of Paris are linked by the chains of vagabondage, and of possible genius, to all those in every age and clime who have found stimulus for their powers in love and wine and song; and who in serving this trinity have forgotten the obligation to earn more than they spend.
  Murger himself did not long survive his translation, from that quarter of Paris where he lived in the fifth story of a cheap lodging-house because there was no sixth, to the realm of respectability. He was, however, still enough of a Bohemian to prefer a cottage in the Forest of Fontainebleau to the smug quarters of Paris, whose inhabitants know nothing of the excitement of chasing “that wild beast called a five-franc piece.” Murger died in 1861; and there were those who questioned, in reviewing his life, whether he had been really at heart a Bohemian. His book, at least, shows the subtlest penetration into that irregular form of human nature known as the artistic temperament. The reader regrets that the possessor of such insight—a man who could discern a brother Bohemian across many centuries and under the strangest disguises of mediæval rags—should not have explained why the world instinctively feels that the poet or the artist is not likely to be normal in his habits of living. Had he attempted to answer this question, he might have said that the man who sees visions and dreams dreams, knows the true value of bread and meat and gold pieces better than the Philistine; and can therefore accept their services irregularly, and with the nonchalance of the inspired. The world, before whom the bread and meat and gold pieces loom large as fate itself, translates this nonchalance into shiftless ignorance of the duties and obligations of life. As poets and artists are as a rule visionaries, this reputation is therefore fastened upon them.  3
  The world is not without its justification. Even Murger himself says, “Bohemia is a stage in the artistic life: it is the preface to the Academy, the Hôtel Dieu—or the Morgue.”  4

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