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Title: The Generous Gambler
Author: Charles Pierre Baudelaire
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607031.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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The Generous Gambler
Charles Pierre Baudelaire

Yesterday, across the crowd of the boulevard, I found myself touched
by a mysterious Being I had always desired to know, and whom I
recognized immediately, in spite of the fact that I had never seen
him. He had, I imagined, in himself, relatively as to me, a similar
desire, for he gave me, in passing, so significant a sign in his eyes
that I hastened to obey him. I followed him attentively, and soon I
descended behind him into a subterranean dwelling, astonishing to me
as a vision, where shone a luxury of which none of the actual houses
in Paris could give me an approximate example. It seemed to me
singular that I had passed so often that prodigious retreat without
having discovered the entrance. There reigned an exquisite, an almost
stifling atmosphere, which made one forget almost instantaneously all
the fastidious horrors of life; there I breathed a somber sensuality,
like that of opium smokers when, set on the shore of an enchanted
island over which shone an eternal afternoon, they felt born in them,
to the soothing sounds of melodious cascades, the desire of never
again seeing their households, their women, their children, and of
never again being tossed on the decks of ships by storms.

There were there strange faces of men and women, gifted with so fatal
a beauty that I seemed to have seen them years ago and in countries
which I failed to remember and which inspired in me that curious
sympathy and that equally curious sense of fear that I usually
discover in unknown aspects. If I wanted to define in some fashion or
other the singular expression of their eyes, I would say that never
had I seen such magic radiance more energetically expressing the
horror of ennui and of desire--of the immortal desire of feeling
themselves alive.

As for mine host and myself, we were already, as we sat down, as
perfect friends as if we had always known each other. We drank
immeasurably of all sorts of extraordinary wines, and--a thing not
less bizarre--it seemed to me, after several hours, that I was no more
intoxicated than he was.

However, gambling, this superhuman pleasure, had cut, at various
intervals, our copious libations, and I ought to say that I had gained
and lost my soul, as we were playing, with a heroic carelessness and
lightheartedness. The soul is so invisible a thing, often useless and
sometimes so troublesome, that I did not experience, as to this loss,
more than that kind of emotion I might have, had I lost my visiting
card in the street.

We spent hours in smoking cigars, whose incomparable savor and perfume
give to the soul the nostalgia of unknown delights and sights, and,
intoxicated by all these spiced sauces, I dared, in an access of
familiarity which did not seem to displease him, to cry, as I lifted a
glass filled to the brim with wine: "To your immortal health, old

We talked of the universe, of its creation and of its future
destruction; of the leading ideas of the century--that is to say, of
progress and perfectibility--and, in general, of all kinds of human
infatuations. On this subject His Highness was inexhaustible in his
irrefutable jests, and he expressed himself with a splendor of diction
and with a magnificence in drollery such as I have never found in any
of the most famous conversationalists of our age. He explained to me
the absurdity of different philosophies that had so far taken
possession of men's brains, and deigned even to take me in confidence
in regard to certain fundamental principles, which I am not inclined
to share with anyone.

He complained in no way of the evil reputation under which he lived,
indeed, all over the world, and he assured me that he himself was of
all living beings the most interested in the destruction of
Superstition, and he avowed to me that he had been afraid, relatively
as to his proper power, once only, and that was on the day when he had
heard a preacher, more subtle than the rest of the human herd, cry in
his pulpit: "My dear brethren, do not ever forget, when you hear the
progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is
to persuade you that he does not exist!"

The memory of this famous orator brought us naturally on the subject
of academies, and my strange host declared to me that he didn't
disdain, in many cases, to inspire the pens, the words, and the
consciences of pedagogues, and that he almost always assisted in
person, in spite of being invisible, at all the scientific meetings.

Encouraged by so much kindness, I asked him if he had any news of
God--who has not his hours of impiety?--especially as the old friend
of the Devil. He said to me, with a shade of unconcern united with a
deeper shade of sadness: "We salute each other when we meet." But, for
the rest, he spoke in Hebrew.

It is uncertain if His Highness has ever given so long an audience to
a simple mortal, and I feared to abuse it.

Finally, as the dark approached shivering, this famous personage, sung
by so many poets and served by so many philosophers who work for his
glory's sake without being aware of it, said to me: "I want you to
remember me always, and to prove to you that I--of whom one says so
much evil--am often enough bon diable, to make use of one of your
vulgar locutions. So as to make up for the irremediable loss that you
have made of your soul, I shall give you back the stake you ought to
have gained, if your fate had been fortunate--that is to say, the
possibility of solacing and of conquering, during your whole life,
this bizarre affection of ennui, which is the source of all your
maladies and of all your miseries. Never a desire shall be formed by
you that I will not aid you to realize; you will reign over your
vulgar equals; money and gold and diamonds, fairy palaces, shall come
to seek you and shall ask you to accept them without your having made
the least effort to obtain them; you can change your abode as often as
you like; you shall have in your power all sensualities without
lassitude, in lands where the climate is always hot and where the
women are as scented as the flowers." With this he rose and said good-
by to me with a charming smile.

If it had not been for the shame of humiliating myself before so
immense an assembly, I might have voluntarily fallen at the feet of
this generous gambler, to thank him for his unheard-of munificence.
But little by little, after I had left him, an incurable defiance
entered into me; I dared no longer believe in so prodigious a
happiness, and as I went to bed, making over again my nightly prayer
by means of all that remained in me in the matter of faith, I repeated
in my slumber: "My God, my Lord, my God! Do let the Devil keep his
word with me!"


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