Thursday, May 08, 2008

Charlie And The Kindness Of Madame Panckoucke

Etienne Carjat - Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

I remember very clearly that the lady was dressed in velvet and fur. After a while, she said: 'Here's a little boy I want to give something so he'll remember me.' She took me by the hand, and we passed through several rooms. Then she opened the door of a chamber in which an extraordinary and magical sight presented itself to the eye. The walls were so covered in toys that they could not be seen. The ceiling had disappeared under a flowering of playthings which hung like miraculous stalactites. The floor scarcely offered a narrow path on which to place one's feet. It was a whole world of toys of every sort, from the most expensive to the humblest, from the simplest to the most complex.

'Here,' she said, 'is the children's treasure-trove. I have a small allowance to spend on them, and when a nice little boy comes to see me, I bring him here so that when he leaves he can take away some memory of me. Choose one.'

With that wonderful, clear-sighted spontaneity characteristic of children, in whom desire, thought and deed might be said to form part of one and the same function, by which they distinguish themselves from degenerate men, who, by contrast, find nearly all their time devoured by deliberation, I immediately took hold of the finest, dearest, brightest, newest, and most bizarre of all the toys. My Mother exclaimed at my indiscretion, and obstinately opposed my taking it away with me. She wanted me to be happy with an infinitely inferior object. But I could not agree, and, in order to settle everything, I resigned myself to a juste-milieu.

I have often conceived a desire to know all the 'nice little boys' who, having lived now through a large part of this cruel life, have long been handling other things than toys, and who once in carefree childhood drew a souvenir from Mme Panckoucke's treasure-trove.

Charles Baudelaire