Doisneau, The Old District of Lille, 1951
“Genius,” Baudelaire observes, “is none other than childhood formulated with precision.” I believe that the great French décadent, who was writing here about the equally decadent English essayist Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, intended the word “genius” to be understood in this context as the “daimon,” which the ancient Greeks believed is in every man: his character, indeed his essence. If Baudelaire is correct, then in a sense childhood never ends, but exists in us not merely as a memory or complex of memories, but as an essential part of what we intrinsically are. Every artist knows the truth of this since, for the artist, childhood and the childhood conception of things is a deep source of what used to be called inspiration, if for no other reason than that it was as children that we first apprehended the world as mystery. The process of growing up is, sadly, a process of turning the mysterious into the mundane. We cease to be amazed by things— the sky, the turning of the seasons, love, other people — only because we have grown accustomed to them.