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Charles Morice was a prolific spokesman for the Symbolist movement. He was at times a poet, playwright, shipping clerk, literary critic, professor of literature, and lecturer.
Born in St. Etienne, France, on May 15, 1860, Charles Victor Marius Morice was raised in a Catholic bourgeois family. 1 He studied first in St. Etienne, then in Lyons before studying for his baccalaureate with the Jesuits. A fellow student remembered the distinguished demeanor and the elegant silhouette of the “grand garçon” dressed in black. He did not seem interested in his studies, though, and suddenly left. 2
In 1882 Morice left Lyons, his passionate and impulsive nature drawn by the irresistible appeal of Paris. Here he collaborated on La Nouvelle Rive Gauche, the first number appearing November 9, 1882. A month later the journal published a review of Paul Verlaine entitled “Boileau-Verlaine” and written by “Karl Mohr,” a pseudonym for Morice. This was the beginning of the young writer’s friendship with and advocacy of Paul Verlaine.
La Nouvelle Rive Gauche took the title Lutèce in 1883, to gain "la rive droite,” said the editor, and thereby conquer all of Paris. 3 Charles Morice worked with Leo Trezenik and Georges Rall to establish the new weekly newspaper. The conquest was short, however; Lutèce ceased publication three years later.
This fateful year, 1886, also saw the declaration of the principles of Symbolism by Jean Moréas in an article in Figaro. The earliest collaborators of this movement, beside Moréas, were Verlaine, Morice, Maurice Rollinat, Jean Ajalbert, Laurent Tailhade, Paul Adam, Louis Dumur, Rachilde, Léon Cladel, and Willy. Francis Vielé-Griffin, Henri de Régnier, and Ernest Raynaud made their debuts as part of this movement. Most of these men are among Charles Morice’s correspondents in this collection. These illustrious correspondents and optimistic publishing ventures did not, however, bring wealth; between 1884 and 1886, Morice took a job as a shipping clerk and later as a primary school teacher.
Also in 1886, Morice published, with E. Halpérine-Kaminsky, a translation of Dostoievsky’s L’Esprit Souterrain. That year Morice gave La Revue Contemporaine a study of Lamartine, Baudelaire and Shelley. He also worked on a book-length study of Verlaine (published in 1888). In 1887, Verlaine wrote to the published Vanier that Morice needed the money promised as soon as possible. Morice deserved the funds as he was “un garçon de très grand avenir.” 4
In 1889, Morice’s
La Littérature de Tout à l’Heure appeared. This, his longest and most complete work, was in five parts:
1. De is verité et de la beauté
2. Les formules accomplies
3. Les influences nouvelles
4. Les formules nouvelles
5. Commentaires d’un livre futur
In the section on his future work, Morice tells of his “triple synthesis”--synthesis of metaphysical thought, fiction, and expression. Morice wrote of 18th century literature as well as of new influences and styles. Of some writers and critics he wrote well; of others he wrote not at all or harshly.
La Littérature de Tout à l’Heure was greeted with mixed emotions--from joy to contempt. But the identification of truth (verité) and beauty as proclaimed by Morice became the credo of the Symbolists. 5 In a diagram Morice traced the intellectual genealogy of the epoch, beginning with Chateaubriand and Goethe at the base of a triangle and moving upward through Hugo, Balzac, Baudelaire, Poe, Wagner, and Banville to Verlaine and Mallermé. The top of the triangle is not drawn; it is the ideal, the unknown.
La Plume, a Paris literary magazine, published a portrait of Morice in its place of honor in the July 15, 1889 number. During this period Morice collaborated in the founding of Mercure de France, the “organ of the purest Symbolism.” 6 He attended Stéphene Maliarmé’s “Tuesdays,” weekly social gatherings of Symbolist writers and painters.
Morice met Paul Gauguin in the period after La Littérature de Tout à l’Heure, during the painter’s third stay in Brittany (1889) and before his first departure for Tahiti (April 1891). The writer helped to organize a benefit performance for Gauguin and Verlaine held in 1891. A play Morice had been writing was planned for the benefit and had to be finished hurriedly. The play, Cherubin, was about the curse of money; it was not well received.
Gauguin returned two years later and the first exhibit of his Tahitian paintings was held in November-December 1893 at the Durand-Ruel gallery. During the winter of 1893 Gauguin wrote the text of a book on his Tahitian sojourn. He left his draft with Morice who was to collaborate on the book with the painter. Gauguin left Paris for Pont Aven, Brittany, in April 1894, apparently believing the manuscript to be nearly complete except for “the few unwritten verses” Morice would add. 7 Morice added a preface, a chapter entitled “Songeries,” as well as the poems. Portions of Noa Noa (“pleasing fragrance”) appeared for the first time in La Revue Blanch, between October 15 and November 1, 1897.
Gauguin had been writing his friends William Mollard end Daniel de Monfreid, asking about the fate of his manuscript and illustrations. 8 The first book length edition of Noa Noa appeared in 1901, without illustrations. This La Plume edition was largely the same text which had appeared in La Revue Blanche. Danielson calls the 1901 edition the one coming “closest to Gauguin’s original conception of the book.” 9 In 1910, extracts of this version were published in the magazine Les Marges. In 1929 the definitive text appeared, prepared by Daniel de Monfreid and published by G. Cres and company, without the poems of Morice or his preface and first chapter.
During this collaboration on Noa Noa Morice married Elisabeth Fourmier de Saint-Maure, widow of Comte Joseph Vien. In 1896 he, his wife Héll and her daughter Gabrielle (known to intimates as Gaby or By) left Paris for Brussels, “chasse par la faim.” 10 In 1897 their son Albert was born. Between 1899 and 1901 Morice taught at the Universite Nouvelle de Bruxelles; among his courses were the history of Flemish painting and a comparative history of the parallel development of the arts. He also gave lectures and published L’Esprit belge and Les Artistes belges. During this period he exchanged his ivory tower for an observation post, becoming active in social concerns such as the lepers in Iceland. Morice published a curious pamphlet, L’Alliance Franco-Russe (1897) which contained several prophetic pages about the 1917 Russian revolution. 11
In 1901, Morice returned to Paris; Le Matin assigned him the regular coverage of the judicial courts. Perhaps one assignment was on the death penalty; in early 1902 Morice received a series of letters discussing capital punishment. Emile Durkheim, professor of sociology at the University of Bordeaux, wrote him as did Charles Richet, professor of medicine at the University of Paris and a future Nobel Prize winner. Morice received a legal opinion from Maxime Kovalevesky, professor of law at the University of Moscow. Eugene Brieux, a dramatist interested in social reform, wrote to protest the death penalty.
In 1905 Mercure de France published a series on “Les Directions actuelles de la Pensée plastique.” Contemporary artists were asked questions on the influences and tendencies on and in the “art of figures.” The questions, replies, and Morice’s introduction appeared in three issues of Mercure, from August 1 to September 1, 1905.
For a short time in 1908 Morice was secretary to Auguste Rodin. He had published a discerning analysis of the sculptor’s work in 1900 but their artistic temperaments did not blend well and Morice stayed with Rodin for only three months. They collaborated again but this time from a distance. A series of letters between Morice and Max Leclerc of the Librairie Armand Cohn, from July 16, 1910 to September 5, 1911, concerned the former’s progress on the introduction to Rodin’s Les Cathedrals des France (1914). Morice’s lengthy introduction is a scholarly history of church architecture in France.
Morice continued to review the works of other writers, publishing many articles between 1908 and 1911. The collection of his papers includes three notebooks filled with Morice’s clippings of articles and book reviews during these years. His book on Eugene Carriers appeared, in 1906.
In 1911 Morice published a novel, Il est Russuscité, the story of the return of Jesus to Paris during the early 20th century. Although Morice had distanced himself from the Catholic faith of his childhood he had retained a mystic belief in the Absolute. The search for truth and beauty became his ideology. A series of lectures given in Geneva were published in 1893 as Du Sens Religieux de la Poésie. Morice’s searching continued; he wrote three series of letters to friends which expressed his religious beliefs. The first “Le Retour ou Mes Raisons,” was addressed to Louis Le Cardonnel and was published by Messein in 1913. The second, “L’Amour et la Mort,” was addressed to Maurice Barrès and was published by Messei in the same year as the first. The third “L’Examen de la Conscience,” addressed to Louis Lefebvre, was interrupted by Morice’s death in 1919. 12
The beginning of the first world war changed Morice’s life as his son, Albert (also called Mé), was mobilized and his wife left Paris to accompany their son to Breton for his training. Morice stayed in Paris and gave lectures on the history of French poetry, the relationships between “l’art plastique” (figures) and music, and on Paul Vertaine, Morice suggested that his fellow writers and artists form a Ligue de Défense et d’Initiative artistiques, to exert control over patriotic celebrations to insure that these would be in good taste. 13 “Le Grand Atelier,” an elite artistic and literary group, was announced in the Mercure; they would be the vendor of the productions, working with the artists as well as the amateurs.
Morice continued to organize expositions, conferences and celebrations. He spoke to students as well as the general public. Morice wrote and had several unfinished manuscripts when he died on March 18, 1919.
1. Morice was not born in 1861 as is sometimes reported. See Paul Delsemme, Charles Morice: Un theoricien du Symbolisme (Paris: Librairie Nizet, 1958), p.25.
2. Delsemme, p.26.
3. Delsemme, p.29.
4. Delsemme, p.43.
5. Delsemme, p.189.
6. Joanna Richardson, Verlaine (New York: The Viking Press, 1971), p.284.
7. Nicholas Wadley, ed., Noa Noa: Gauguin’s Tahiti (Oxford: Phaedon, 1985), p.88.
8. Delsemme, pp.74-76.
9. Bengt Danieleaon, Gauguin in the South Seas (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1966), p.244.
10. Georges Zayed, ed. Lettres inédites a Charles Morice (Geneve: Droz, 1964), p. xliii.
11. Delsemme, p.68.
12. Louis Lefebvre, Charles Morice: Une Grande Figure du Symbolisme (Paris: Perrin et Cie., 1926), pp.196-197.
Books by Charles Morice
Paul Verlaine. par Charles Morice. Paris: Leon Vanier, 1888.
Du Sens Religieux de la Poésie.. Sur le mot Poésie. Le principe social de la Beauté. Paris: Vanier, 1893, Pages uncut.
Paris Almanach 1897. Texte de Charles Morice. Illustrations de A. Lepère. Paris: Librairie Ed. Sagot, 1897. No. 54.
Il est Ressuscité. Paris: Albert Messein, 1911. Boxed, signed.
Paul Gauguin. Manuscript, 198 pages. Pages 85-91, 102-115 are printed. Boxed, undated.
Paul Gauguin. Paris: H. Floury, Editeur, 1919. Illustrated, 231p. (iv, iv). Boxed. #656801.
Paul Gauguin. Paris: H. Floury, Editeur, 1920. Illustrated, 252p. (iv). Boxed. Chapters are the same as in the 1919 edition but the illustrations are different.
Les Cathédrales de France, by Auguste Rodin, Introduction by Charles Morice. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1914. One bound copy and one in wrappers (pages uncut).
Noa Noa, by Paul Gauguin and Charles Morice. Paris: Editions de la Plume, 1901. 239p. (ii). Danielson, Gauguin in the South Seas, says the 1902 edition “in fact comes closest to Gauguin’s original conception of the book” (page 244).
Paul Gauguin, Noa Noa. Edition Définitive, Bois dessinés et Gravés d’après Paul Gauguin par Daniel de Monfreid. Paris: Les Editions G. Crès et Cie., 1929. l54 pages (ii).This edition, in the editors’ Note, “est de Gauguin, sauf les Pages Liminaires: La Mémoire at l’Imagination, le Chapetre Ier: Songeries, et les Poèmes qui sont de Charles Morice.”
Paul Gauguin et Charles Morice, Noa Noa manuscript in Morice’s hand, dated 1897. With poems found in 1901 edition and a preface by Morice (p.1) not found there. 208 pages (212 leaves), boxed. xi chapters.
Noa Noa manuscript with colored illustrations. 204 pages, xii chapters, undated.
Noa Noa facsimile edition by Daniel Jacomet. No. 255 of 1,000 produced. Paris: Sagot-Le Garrec. [36 pages] with 5 leaves tipped in. Letter, in facsimile, from Charles Morice to Edmund Sagot, Vanvers, undated (October 1908), laid in with envelope, on Gauguin’s manuscript, 1954.
Books to which Morice Contributed
Théodore de Banville, Choix de Poésies. Paris: Bibliothèque-Charpentier. “Preface” by Charles Morice, pages v-xxvii, 1912.
La Cinquantenaire de Charles Baudelaire. Ernest Raynaud, editor. Paris: Maison du Livre, 1917. Morice’s contribution is on pages 91-94.
Other Printed Materials
Ecrits pour l’Art. A monthly publication sponsored by “Le Groupe Symbolique et Instrumentiste,” Stéphane Mallarmé, Maitre.” Nos. 1-6 (1887 January 7-June 7). Portraits laid in: René Ghil (no. 1), Stuart Merrill (no. 2), Henri de Régnier (no. 5), Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (no. 6).
La Plume; littéraire, artistique, philosophique. Léon Deschamps, editor, 1889-1899; Karl Boès, 1901-1904. Volumes 1-18, 1889 April 15-1912 December 15.
Programmes 1 & 2. Theatre d’Art. Saison 1891-1892. Programme de la Première Représentation... de la Deuxième Representation", 1891-1892.
Théâtre d’Art. Fêtes par Paul Verlaine. Représentation au bénéfice de Paul Verlaine et Paul Gauguin. Sous le patronage de Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, Jean Moréas, Charles Morice, Henri de Régnier. Directeur: Paul Fort. With “Cherubin: La Chanson de Don Juan,” poésie de Charles Morice, 1891 May.
Catalogue d’une vente de 30 Tableaux de Paul Gauguin. Preface per Octave Mirbeau. (Paris: Grande Imprimerie, 1891), 1891.
Exposition d’Oeuvres de Paul Gauguin. Paris, Galerie A. Vollard, after 1902.
Exposition Paul Gauguin. Paris, Galerie Ambroise Vollard, undated.
Mercure de France. Paris, Modern series, 1891-1965.
La Revue Blanche. Paris, 1891-1903.
The collection of Morice’s papers comprises nine boxes and sixteen volumes and is organized into printed material, his journals and notebooks which were called Petite Journaux, correspondence, and his manuscripts. The printed material largely consists of copies of books on which he collaborated. Twenty-one Petits Journaux cover Morice’s activities from November 18, 1896 to March 17, 1919. These volumes are diaries, but include an occasional note of expenses and income. Pages have been cut in many of these books with either portions or entire pages missing. In the notebooks, however, pages have been pasted in. These cahiers contains poetry, ballads, newspaper clippings and random phrases or sentences. The correspondence is divided alphabetically by writer with the exception of letters Madame Morice received and of the series of letters concerning the death penalty. The manuscripts are divided by title or topic; the poems are divided by title or first line. Over 500 leaves of “fragments” that await a scholar knowledgeable in Morice’s career to identify the portions; many pages are readily indentified as belonging together. i.e., they are of the same size and are numbered, but appear incomplete.
A microfilmed copy of Mercure de France (1891-1965) and La Revue Blanche (1891-1903) complement the original materials.
These Charles Morice papers were purchased by Temple from the Morice family in 1967 with legal rights which remained to the manuscript materials. Instrumental to the sale was Professor Doctor Marie-Georgette Steisel of Temple University. The acquisition was the first major purchase with the Library’s Samuel Paley Endowment Fund.
The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
- Carrière, Eugène, 1849-1906
- Gauguin, Paul, 1848-1903
- Leclerc, Max, b. 1864
- Morice, Charles, 1861-1919
- Rodin , Auguste, 1840-1917
- Temple University Libraries Special Collections Research Center
- The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project. Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
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This series contains general correspondence to and from Charles Morice. Box 3 folder 43 contains all of the correspondence sent to Morice while conducting a “distinguished” opinion poll concerning the death penalty in France. In 1901 Morice returned to Paris; Le Matin assigned him the regular coverage of the judicial court. This series of letters may have been the basis of an article on the topic; at least one letter asks for a copy of the issue containing their opinions. France did not abolish the death penalty, however, until 1981. Box 3 folder 45 contains correspondence to Madame Morice.
Morice had conducted a "distinguished" opinion poll concerning the death penalty in France. In 1901, Morice returned to Paris; Le Matin assigned him the regualar coverage of the judicial court. This series of letters may have been the basis of an article on the topic; at least one letter asks for a copy of the issue containing their opinions. France did not abolish the death penalty, however, until 1981.
Unless noted, the items are in Morice's handwriting. Box 9 contains numerous manuscript fragments. Some fragments have titles, but when there is no title present, the title is taken from a major theme or the first line.
Box 9 folder 19 contains many miscellaneous poems that are variously paginated and dated, 1897-1918. Includes “Bouquets funersires,” Bruxelles, 1899, “En memoire de Cecil Standish,” “Larmes dens l’aurore,” “Quarante Ans,” and verses dedicated to Augusta Rodin.
Box 9 folder 20 contains many miscellaneous poems, variously paginated and dated, 1890-1903. Verses dedicated to Edmond Rostend, on page about Charles Morice, on a military theme, one short verse signed which includes “San oublions Morice Charles.”