Rimbaud and Verlaine enjoyed having their shoes shined in London. Their huge walks in the city probably necessitated the little luxury.
Verlaine’s lively and highly informative cartoon depicts them on Cannon Street at 10am, with the dome of St Pauls in the background.
Clearly, they are enjoying their grooming.
Bootblacks were a feature of London life in the Victorian period. Many were unlicensed and operated illegally like ‘squeegee merchants’; but the boys in Verlaine’s drawing are uniformed and thus probably card-carrying members of one of the Boot-black Brigades. They were not subject to police interference.
The boy in the photograph below had been licensed but didn’t like the organised trade and so had resumed his work as an independent bootblack. If police spotted him they would literally kick his box from under the feet of customers.
This article describes bootblacking in 1877, five years after Rimbaud and Verlaine’s first sojourn in London: http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications/thomson-36.htm
If you look closely at the drawing you can the verses of a poem on the other side, underneath the phrase ‘Romances sans paroles’ which would later be the title of Verlaine’s finest – and most Londonist – book. Verlaine was writing to his friend Edmund Lepelletier on 8 Septemeber 1872, so this is a very early adventure. Verlaine describes the city as ‘this nest of ducks called London.’ Rimbaud has already invested in a top hat. http://www.lalibre.be/culture/livres/paul-verlaine-en-angleterre-ce-nid-de-canards-appele-london-53ad762a357059db44c66ffd
Thanks to Catherine for the link. Check out her terrific Rimbaud website: http://www.mag4.net/Rimbaud/