“He only did what he could do supremely well,” writes Arthur Symons. “He was in poverty all his life, not because he would not work, but because he would work only at certain things, the things which he could hope to do to his own satisfaction. Of the men of letters of our age he was the most scrupulous. He spent his whole life in writing one book of verse (out of which all French poetry has come since his time), one book of prose in which prose becomes a fine art, some criticism which is the sanest, subtlest, and surest which his generation produced, and a translation which is better than a marvelous original.”
The most important event in his life may have been the publication in 1855 of eighteen poems, the first manifestation of "Les Fleurs du mal," in the respected Revue des deux mondes. But in 1856, the Ministry of Justice, having just prosecuted Flaubert and his publisher for the novel Madame Bovary, confiscated all sheets of the expanded "Les Fleurs du mal," which went to trial.
He continued to struggle to publish successive editions of "Les Fleurs," living a solitary and secretive life—an ascetic of passion, a hermit of the brothel. “Baudelaire is decadence,” writes F. P. Sturm, “his art is not a mere literary affectation, a mask of sorrow to be thrown aside when the curtain falls, but the voice of an imagination plunged into the contemplation of all the perverse and fallen loveliness of the world.”
As he aged, Baudelaire acquired an unutterable weariness, not of life, but of living, of continuing to labor and suffer. He took his revenge by glorifying all the sorrowful things we continually desire to forget. His poems speak sweetly of decay and death, shadows of his own demise in 1867. He died disconsolate and impoverished, still seeking perfection, deaf to the praise from younger writers who were hailing him as the greatest of French poets.
And where would French or English literature be without Charles Baudelaire? His highly original style of prose-poetry would influence a whole generation of writers including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé, among many others, and his translation of Poe are credited as providing the initial impetus for the Symbolist movement. The most significant French writers to follow him owed him much; he was, as Arthur Rimbaud described, “the king of poets, a true God”.