The Flâneur

Paris > Les Foules

LES FOULES (The Crowds)

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

It is not given to everyone to be able to bathe in the multitude: enjoyment of the crowd is an art; and he alone who makes, at the expense of the human race, a revelry of vitality, is he whom a faerie has inspired in his cradle with a taste for dressing up and masque, a hatred for domesticity and a passion for travel.

Multitude, solitude: two equal and interchangeable terms for the active and creative poet. He who does not know how to populate his solitude, will not know how to be alone in the bustling crowd.

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege, of being as he likes, himself or others. Like errant souls searching for a body,

he enters, when he likes, the personage of each. For him alone, all is open; and if certain places appear to him closed, it is because in his eyes they are not worth the trouble of visiting.

The solitary and thoughtful stroller derives a singular intoxication from this universal communion. He who easily weds the crowd knows the feverish ecstasies, eternally deprived the selfish, locked like a coffer, and the lazy, incarcerated like a mollusc. He adopts as his own all professions, all joys and sorrows circumstances present to him.

What men call love is very small, very restrained and very weak, compared to this ineffable orgy, to the sacred prostitution of the soul that gives itself entirely, poetry and charity, unexpectedly, to the unknown passer-by.

It is good to teach sometimes the happy ones of the world, if only to humble them for a moment in their foolish pride, that there is greater happiness than theirs, vaster and more refined. Founders of colonies, ministers of people, missionary priests exiled to the ends of the earth, doubtless know something of these mysterious intoxications, and at the breast of the vast family that their genius has created, they must laugh sometimes at those who pity them their restless fortunes and chaste lives.

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