Who now knows the word Comprachicos, and who knows its meaning?
The Comprachicos or Comprapequeños were a hideous and nondescript association of wanderers, famous in the 17th century, forgotten in the 18th, unheard of in the 19th. The Comprachicos are like the ‘succession powder,’ an ancient social characteristic detail. They are part of old human ugliness. To the great eye of history, which sees everything collectively, the Comprachicos belong to the colossal fact of slavery. Joseph sold by his brethren is a chapter in their story. The Comprachicos have left their traces in the penal laws of Spain and England. You find here and there in the dark confusion of English laws the impress of this horrible truth, like the footprint of a savage in a forest.
Comprachicos, the same as Comprapequeños, is a compound Spanish word signifying Child-buyers.
The Comprachicos traded in children. They bought and sold them. They did not steal them. The kidnapping of children is another branch of industry. And what did they make of these children?
To laugh at.
The populace must needs laugh; and kings too. The mountebank is wanted in the streets; the jester at the Louvre. The one is called a Clown, the other a Fool.
The efforts of man to procure himself pleasure are at times worthy of attention of the philosopher.
What are we sketching in these few preliminary pages? A chapter in the most terrible of books; a book which might be entitled – The farming of the unhappy by the happy.
An Excerpt from The Man Who Laughs
Victor Hugo, 1869