era in history has its own counter-culture movement, and these
movements tend to come in waves. The Bohemian "movement"
of 19th Century Paris had two generations before it died off
with the onset of World War I. Bohemia,
like any other counter-culture movement, is an important ingredient
for historical change over time.
Generation Bohemia: Bohemia first began with
Henry Murger and the Water Drinkers,
in the cafe he discovered, the Cafe
Momus (pictured at right). For many of these bohemians,
the lifestyle was merely a stepping stone and not a full-blown
profession. Murger himself always insisted that living in
the world of bohemia without the ambition to leave it would
destroy a person.
Generation Bohemia: As with most counter-culture
movements throughout history, as the 1st Generation of the
bohemian movement came to be known by the wider public, many
members of that public found it mysterious and intriguing,
and willingly descended into its ranks. Many second generation
bohemians did not see bohemia as a means to an end, however,
and so the movement began to degrade.
his survey Le Boheme, in 1868, Gabriel Guillemot had
pointed out that the word 'Bohemian' had dated. Bohemian,
as he explained, was a word in the current vocabulary of 1840:
it had meant the artist or student, gay and carefree, idle
and boisterous, the characters whom Murger had painted in
bright, attractive colours. But that Bohemia, wrote Guillemot,
'which one might call the Bohemia of legend, is well and truly
dead'" (from bohemiabooks.com,
whose info was taken from Joanna Richardson's The Bohemians).
a harsh reading of 2nd Generation bohemia, but much he argued was
true, such as "few men of talent, let alone men of genius,
remained Bohemian throughout their lives. The vast majority of those
who did were men who lacked the talent to make a lasting reputation,
and men who lacked the moral fibre, the sense of responsibility,
to lead a satisfactory adult life" (also bohemiabooks.com).
of 2nd generation bohemia was Paul Verlaine, pictured left,
(1844-1896), a poet who embraced the bohemian lifestyle all
too heartily, and it caused many tragedies in his life. Heavily
addicted to absinthe, Verlaine spent much time in the hospital
or the tavern.
married, Verlaine had a long, torrid affair with another well-known
poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud was ten years younger, and he
encouraged Verlaine's drinking and violent temper to such
an extent that Verlaine's other bohemian friends refused to
spend time with him when he was with Rimbaud. Their relationship
ended tragically when Verlaine shot and killed Rimbaud and
was imprisoned. Even after his imprisonment, Verlaine's life
was full of alcohol, poverty, and indiscretions. (info from
his poetry has become a respected part of the literary canon,
Verlaine is an example of how bohemia began to degrade in
later years, and lost some of the purity of purpose that Murger
had always tried to emphasize.
about bohemia began to degrade, of course. In general there
was a change from a world of Murger,
Romanticism, and the Cafe Momus to artists like Courbet,
Realism, and the Brasserie Andler (which was "conveniently
situated on the ground floor of Courbet's house in the Rue
Hautefeuille") (Easton 137).
The group which had made up the original Water Drinkers was
breaking up, many members were either dead or "like Murger
and Champfleury themselves, had forced their way into the
larger world of journalism and the theatre" (Easton
as a whole in Paris ended in 1914, with the onset of World
War I. Such a carefree lifestyle was intolerable with France
being thrown into a flurry of war campaigns. It was time to
get serious, fight for one's country, and leave art and music
behind, at least for a while.