Poets are proverbially poor and usually consigned to garrets but the French poet Jules Laforgue (1860–1887) was the exception. He was not rich, but he lived like a prince in a royal palace and there produced in his short life work that left its mark on the literature of his own country and an even greater mark on later generations of writers in England and America. Through the intervention of his friends, the writer Paul Bourget and the art collector and critic Charles Ephrussi (who may have served as one of the models for Proust’s Charles Swann), Laforgue went in 1881 to Berlin as French reader to the Empress Augusta. The Empress, a descendant of Catherine the Great of Russia, having grown up in Goethe’s Weimar, despised most things German and spoke only French. It was Laforgue’s duty to read to her twice a day from French books and newspapers. He occupied a large high-ceilinged, elaborately...


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