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The French poet, translator, and literary and art critic Charles Baudelaire was born in 1821 in Paris. He was irst educated at the Collège Royal in Lyons, and his writing abilities began to appear when he transferred to the prestigious Lycèe Louis-le-grand. His masters, however, disapproved of his poetry, viewing it as depraved. During this time the solitary Baudelaire fell into moods of intense melancholy, and was expelled from school in 1839 because of his lack of discipline.
Later becoming a student of law (in name only) at the École de Droit, he actually lived the "free life" in the Latin Quarter, where he met various Bohemian writers and thinkers. (During this period he also contracted syphilis – most likely from a prostitute). In June of 1841, Baudelaire’s stepfather sent him on a voyage to India in a vain attempt to separate him from the company he was keeping; the writer jumped ship and returned to France. However, these adventures did succeed in bringing a new perspective as well as many exotic images to his writing.
Having received his inheritance in 1842, Baudelaire spent profligately on clothes, books, art, alcohol, hashish, and opium. In the late 1840s he met the mulatto actress Jeanne Duval who would be his mistress for the next 20 years and inspire some of his most sensual love poems. Overspending and falling victim to cheats, however, caused him to lose half of his birthright in only two years. To correct this problem, in 1844 his family took legal measures to limit his access to the money, providing him with only a small allowance – an amount that was certainly too small to pay off his debts.
This milieu of despair and dependence led in part to the dark and introspective nature of his poetry. His masterpiece, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) was published in 1857, but it was not well received by the public which disapproved of its Satanic and lesbian themes. Baudelaire and his publisher were both prosecuted for obscenity and fined. Les Paradis artificiels, published in 1860, was comprised of two essays largely condemning the use of drugs; it was here that he asserted the presence of "evil spirits" that cause men to commit sudden acts, a theme that would appear continually in his later work. This book was followed by the highly innovative and experimental Petits poèmes en prose (Little Prose Poems) in 1868. Baudelaire also translated several works of Edgar Allan Poe, whose influence certainly appears in his work. In his highly symbolic writings he often revealed himself as an irreligious seeker of God, trying to find true meaning in every aspect of life - in vice and in virtue.
In 1862 he began complaining of headaches and nightmares, feeling on the verge of madness. His health continued to worsen and he suffered from stroke, aphasia, and partial paralysis. Baudelaire died in 1867.