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Rant #421
(published February 12, 2009)
The Evil Glass-Seller
by Charles Baudelaire
There are people whose temperaments are properly contemplative and altogether improper for action who, nevertheless, under a mysterious and unknown impulse, sometimes act with a rapidity of which they themselves would have thought themselves incapable.

So, one who, fearful of finding that a distressing message has been left with the porter, lurks like a coward around the door for an hour without daring to enter; so, one who keeps a letter for fifteen days without opening it, or who only resigns himself after six months to undertaking a measure that had been necessary for a year, sometimes suddenly feel themselves abruptly precipitated toward an action by an irresistible force, like an arrow from a bow. The moralist and the doctor, who claim to know everything, cannot explain where such a mad energy so suddenly comes from in these lazy and voluptuous souls, and how, incapable of accomplishing the simplest and most necessary things, they find at a certain moment an uncalled for courage that allows them to perform the most absurd and often even the most dangerous of acts.

One of my friends, the most inoffensive dreamer who ever existed, once set fire to a forest to see, he said, if it would catch fire as easily as is generally affirmed. Ten times in a row the experiment failed; but the eleventh time it succeeded far too well.

Another lit a cigar next to a keg of powder, to see, to understand, to tempt fate, to force himself to prove his energy, to gamble, to acquaint himself with the pleasures of anxiety, for reason at all, by caprice, out of idleness.

It is a sort of energy that springs forth from boredom and from reverie; and those in whom it manifests itself so unexpectedly are, in general, as I have said, the most indolent and the most dreamy of beings.

Another, who is so shy that he must gather together all of his feeble will simply to enter a cafe or pass in front of a theater box-office, whose ticket-collectors seem to him invested with the majesty of Minos, Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus, will suddenly throw his arms around the neck of an old man just passing by and embrace him with enthusiasm before the astonished crowd.

Why? Because . . . because the man's physiognomy appealed to him irresistibly? Perhaps—but it is more legitimate to suppose that he himself doesn't know why.

I have more than once been the victim of these crises and transports, which permit us to believe that Demons have entered into us and make us accomplish, unbeknownst to us, their most absurd whims.

One morning, I woke up sulky, sad, tired of laziness, and spurred, it seemed to me, to do something great, to perform some striking action; and I opened the window, alas!

(Observe, I beg of you, that the spirit of mystification which, in certain people, is not the product of conscious labor or of calculation, but of a fortuitous inspiration, shares much, if only by the ardor of its desire, with that humor—hysterical according to the doctors, satanic according to those who think a little better than the doctors—that pushes us without resistance toward a multitude of dangerous or unseemly actions.)

The first person I saw in the street was a glass-seller whose piercing and discordant patter rose all the way up to me through the heavy and dirty Parisian air. Now, it would be impossible for me to say why I was seized at the sight of this poor man with a hatred that was as sudden as it was despotic.

"Hey! Hey!," I called out to him to come up. In the meantime, I reflected, not without some gaiety, upon the fact that, my room being on the sixth floor and the stairway being very narrow, the man would necessarily experience some difficulty in making his ascent and would run the risk of catching the corners of his fragile merchandise in many places.

Finally he appeared. I examined all of his window-panes curiously and said to him: "What? You don't have colored glass? Pink, red, blue glass, magical windows, windows of paradise? How impudent you are! You dare to parade about the poor quarters, and you don't even have window-panes that would make the world look beautiful!" And I pushed him sharply onto the staircase, where he stumbled with a grunt.

I walked over to the balcony and grabbed a little pot of flowers, and when the man reappeared at the doorway, I let my engine of war drop perpendicularly onto the posterior edge of his hooks holding his rack of glass; the impact of this having knocked him over, he succeeded in breaking under his back all of his poor ambulatory fortune, which emitted the explosive noise of a crystal palace shattered by thunder.

And, drunk with my folly, I shouted at him furiously: "The world through rose-colored glass! The world through rose-colored glass!"

These nervous practical jokes are not without peril, and they may often cost one dearly. But what does an eternity of damnation matter to he who has found in a second an infinity of enjoyment?

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