The gun that the poet Paul Verlaine used to try to kill his lover, the poet Arthur Rimbaud, sold at Christie’s, Paris, on 30 November, for €434,000 with fees, more than six times its upper estimate of €70,000. The one-of-a-kind piece, arguably one of literary history’s most famous weapons, was modestly priced and sparked a lengthy bidding war before selling to an anonymous buyer over the phone.
After running away from Paris together to find refuge in London, the pair fought so much that Verlaine left for Brussels. Rimbaud, however, followed him there and the couple continued to fight. It was then that Verlaine bought the gun, on the morning of 10 July 1873. In a drunken rage, he fired two shots at Rimbaud, who had just announced he was leaving for Paris, though he only managed to graze Rimbaund’s wrist.
The Belgian police soon arrested them both. Rimbaud spent ten days in hospital, while Verlaine was sent to jail for two years, the sentence no doubt aggravated by the homosexual nature of their relationship. The original police statements and depositions are now kept at the Royal Library in Brussels.
The tempestuous and sometimes violent relationship between the older (and married) Paul Verlaine and the young enfant terrible of Symbolist literature, Arthur Rimbaud, lasted the first half of the 1870s. Not only did it help inspire some of their greatest work, but their tortured story also helped establish them as one of the most fascinating couples in literature.
It is not the only famous guns to have fetched an eye-watering price at auction. A colt revolver belonging to the famous bank robber Butch Cassidy sold for $175,000 with fees at California Auctioneers in 2012. The writer Ernest Hemingway was known for his love of guns, though he later used one to commit suicide. His double rifle sold in 2011 at James D. Julia auction house in Maine for $340,000 with fees. The former US president Theodore Roosevelt was so fond of hunting that he and his party reportedly killed more than 10,000 animals during an African expedition that began in 1909. A shotgun that was part of this questionable mission sold for $862,000 with fees in 2010, also at James D. Julia auction house.