Forty Thousand Kilocupids

Marina Warner

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One of Baudelaire’s Petits Poèmes en prose, ‘Le Joujou du pauvre’ (‘The poor child’s plaything’), opens with the remark that very few amusements are free of guilt, but he knows of an ‘innocent entertainment’: a flâneur out for a stroll can fill his pockets with fairings – a rider on a horse with a whistle for a tail, or a clown on a string – and then, when he comes across one of those ‘unknown and poor’ street waifs of 19th-century Paris, give him a toy and watch his eyes widen. At first, Baudelaire writes, the urchin will hesitate to take it, doubting his luck, but then he’ll snatch it and run off, like a stray cat tossed a scrap which then skulks in a corner to eat it.

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