13 March 1856
My dear friend, as you take delight in dreams, here’s one that I’m sure won’t fail to please you. It’s now 5 am so my dream is still perfectly warm. Note that it’s only one of the thousands of samples that assail me, and I’ve no need to tell you that their strangeness and their general tenor, which is absolutely alien to the occupations and events of my life, always encourage me in the belief that they are an almost hieroglyphic language to which I do not hold the key.
In my dream it was 2 or 3 am and I was walking alone through the streets. I meet Castille who, I believe, had several errands to perform, and I told him I’d go with him and take advantage of the carriage to do an errand of my own. So we took the carriage. I believed it to be my duty to offer the madam of a great brothel a book of mine that had just been published. When I looked at the work I held in my hand, I discovered it was an obscene book, which explained why it was essential that I present the work to that woman. Moreover, in my imagination, this need was basically a pretext, providing the chance to make love to one of the prostitutes, which implies that had it not been essential to present the book I wouldn’t have dared go into such an establishment. I didn’t say a word of this to Castille, but had the carriage stop at the door and left Castille in the carriage, promising not to keep him waiting long.
Immediately after I’d rung the bell and gone in, I realized that my prick was hanging out of my unbottoned trouser fly and I thought it indecent to present myself in such a state even in a place like that. Moreover, as I felt my feet were wet, I suddenly realized that they were bare, and that I’d stepped into a great puddle at the bottom of the staircase. “Oh well”, I thought to myself, “I’ll wash them before making love, and before going out”. I go up the stairs. From that moment on, I don’t give the book another thought.
I find myself in a series of vast, interconnecting galleries which are poorly lit and seem gloomy and faded, like old cafes or old-fashiones reading rooms, or low-grade gambling saloons. The prostitutes, scattered throughout these vast galleries, chat with men, among whom I see various schoolboys. I feel very sad and greatly intimidated. I’m afraid people will see my feet. I look at them and realize that one has a shoe. A bit later I see that both have shoes. What arouses my attention is that the walls of these vast galleries are decorated with all kinds of paintings, in frames. Not all are obscene. There are even some drawings of architecture or of Egyptian figurines. As I feel increasingly intimidated and I don’t even dare to approach a prostitute, I amuse myself by a close examination of all the sketches.
In an out-of-the-way corner of one of those galleries, I find a very unusual series. In a mass of little frames I see drawings, miniatures, photographs. They represent colored birds with very bright plumage, whose eyes are alive. Sometimes there are only halves of birds. Sometimes they represent pictures of strange, monstrous, almost amorphous creatures, like meteorites. In one corner of every drawing there is a note. Prostitute so-and-so, aged …, gave birth to this fetus in such-and-such a year. And other annotations along those lines. It occurs to me that such drawings are hardly calculated to arouse thoughts of love. Another thing that comes to mind is that there’s really only one daily paper in the world — and that’s Le Siècle — that would be stupid enough to open a house of prostitution and to put into it at the same time a kind of medical museum. Indeed, I suddenly say to myself, it’s Le Siècle that has provided the funds for this speculation and the medical museum can be explained through the paper’s mania for progress, science, and the spread of light. Then it occurred to me that modern stupidity and folly have a mysterious usefulness, and that often something made for the cause of evil turns, by a form of spiritual mechanics, toward goodness. I am filled with admiration in my dream for the correctness of my philosophical thinking.
But among all these creatures is one that has survived. He is a monster born in the brothel who stands permanently on a pedestal. Although alive, he is therefore part of the museum. He is not ugly. His face is even attractive, very swarthy and Oriental in color. There are many shades of pink and green in him. He is squatting, but in a bizarre, twisted pose. Moreover, there is something blackish that is wound several times round him and his limbs, like a great snake. I ask what this is, and he tells me it’s a monstrous appendix that comes out of his head, something elastic like rubber, and so very, very long that if he rolled it on top of his head like a plait of hair, it would be much too heavy and absolutely impossible to wear. As a result, he is forced to wind it around his limbs, which, moreover, creates a more attractive impression. I chat with this monster for some time. He tells me of his problems and sorrows. For several years now he’s been forced to stand in this room on his pedestal to satisfy public curiosity. But his principal problem comes at dinner time. Because he is a living creature, he’s forced to eat with the prostitutes of the establishment, stumbling along with his rubber appendage to the dining room, where he has to keep it wrapped around him or to put it like a pile of rope on a chair, for if he lets it drag along on the ground it pulls him over backwards. Moreover, he’s forced, he who is small and squat, to eat beside a prostitute who is tall and well built. He tells me all these details, what’s more, whithout any bitterness. I dare not touch him — but I take an interest in him.
At tis moment (this is no longer a dream) — my woman makes a noise in the room with a piece of furniture, and that wakes me up. I awaken weary, aching, my back, legs and hips stiff. I presume that I was sleeping in the twisted position of the monster.
~ Baudelaire to Asselineau