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French are urged to buy poets' home

Call for Premier to intervene

THE French government is under pressure to buy Camden Town’s very own Poet’s Corner – the house where writers Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine lived, loved and fell out.
Campaigners searching for a buyer for No 8 Royal College Street have claimed silver-haired French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has been personally informed of the possibility that the house could be sold by the Royal Veterinary College.
It is feared the property could fall into the hands of a developer, which would bulldoze the building to maximise income from the land.
The house – built in 1806 – is up for sale but the college has agreed to hold off completing any deal to see if a buyer emerges who is interested in preserving the property as it is.
The sale has sparked a high-profile campaign involving a host of well-known faces from the world of literature, including poet Tom Paulin, novelist Julian Barnes, who lives in Highgate, and actor and writer Simon Callow.
The French poets became lovers and lived in the house in 1873. But it was also the scene of their fiery falling out after Verlaine famously hit Rimbaud in the face with a wet fish.
Rimbaud, perhaps best remembered for the poem Les Illuminations, was later shot by Verlaine.
Rimbaud fan Colette Levy, who lives in Aspern Grove, Belsize Park, said an intervention by M de Villepin could provide a solution.
She said: “The answer to the problem concerning this famous house is simple: Let the French government buy it and turn it into a lively museum where readings would be welcome. This should be a really big campaign for Francophiles.”
In 2004, a successful application to English Heritage for a blue plaque at the house was made by poet Philip Hobsbaum, a professor of literature at Glasgow University. But an objection by the College prevented the plaque being put up.
In an article for The Times on Saturday, Mr Callow said: “It would be wonderful to preserve the house in which they loved, wrote and fought in its present form: there is some kind of poetic rightness in the dilapidation of the façade, something true to the rickety destinies of the two writers.
“But realistically it needs to be restored. The college is keen to sell the houses – which are Grade II-listed – to someone who will restore them, particularly No 8, which might become a study centre or at the very least a place in which the lives and work of the great poètes maudits are remembered and celebrated.”
A spokesman for the Veterinary College advised prospective buyers to contact its property office.
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