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Title: Confessions of a Young Man
Author: Moore, George (George Augustus), 1852-1933
Language: English
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Confessions of a Young Man


By George Moore

Introduction by Floyd Dell



INTRODUCTION


These "Confessions of a Young Man" constitute one of the most significant
documents of the passionate revolt of English literature against the
Victorian tradition. It is significant because it reveals so clearly the
sources of that revolt. It is in a sense the history of an epoch--an epoch
that is just closing. It represents one of the great discoveries of English
literature: a discovery that had been made from time to time before, and
that is now being made anew in our own generation--the discovery of human
nature.

The reason why this discovery has had to be made so often is that it shocks
people. They try to hush it up; and they do succeed in forgetting about it
for long periods of time, and pretending that it doesn't exist. They are
shocked because human nature is not at all like the pretty pictures we like
to draw of ourselves. It is not so sweet, amiable and gentlemanly or
ladylike as we wish to believe it. It is much more selfish, brutal and
lascivious than we care to admit, and as such, both too terrible and too
ridiculous to please us. The Elizabethans understood human nature, and made
glorious comedies and tragedies out of its inordinate crimes and cruelties,
and its pathetic follies and fatuities. But people didn't like it, and they
turned Puritan and closed the theaters. It is true, they repented, and
opened them again; but the theater had got a bad name from which it is only
now beginning to recover.

In the fields of poetry and fiction a more long-drawn-out contest ensued
between, those who wanted to tell the truth and those who wanted to listen
to pleasant fibs, the latter generally having the best of it. The contest
finally settled down into the Victorian compromise, which was tacitly
accepted by even the best of the imaginative writers of the period. The
understanding was that brutality, lust and selfishness were to be
represented as being qualities only of "bad" people, plainly labelled as
such. Under this compromise some magnificent works were produced. But
inasmuch as the compromise involved a suppression of a great and
all-important fact about the human soul, it could not endure forever. The
only question was, under what influences would the revolt occur?

It occurred, as George Moore's quite typical and naïvely illuminating
confessions reveal, under French influences. Something of the same sort had
been happening in France, and the English rebels found exemplars of revolt
ready to their need. These French rebels were of all sorts, and it was
naturally the most extreme that attracted the admiration of the English
malcontents. Chief among these were Gautier and Baudelaire.

Gautier had written in "Mademoiselle de Maupin" a lyrical exaltation of the
joys of the flesh: he had eloquently and unreservedly pronounced the
fleshly pleasures _good_. Baudelaire had gone farther: he had said
that Evil was beautiful, the most beautiful thing in the world--and proved
it, to those who were anxious to believe it, by writing beautiful poems
about every form of evil that he could think of.

They were still far, it will be observed, from the sane and truly
revolutionary conception of life which has begun to obtain acceptance in
our day--a conception of life which traverses the old conceptions if "good"
and "evil." Baudelaire and Gautier hardly did more than brilliantly
champion the unpopular side of a foolish argument. It may seem odd to us
today that such a romantic, not to say hysterical, turning-upside-down of
current British morality could so deeply impress the best minds of the
younger generation in England. Its influence, when mixed with original
genius of a high quality, produced the "Poems and Ballads" of Swinburne. It
produced also _The Yellow Book_, a more characteristic and less happy
result. It produced a whole host of freaks and follies. But it did contain
a liberating idea--the idea that human nature is a subject to be dealt
with, not to be concealed and lied about. And, among others, George Moore
was set free--set free to write some of the sincerest fiction in our
language.

These "Confessions" reveal him in the process of revaluing the values of
life and art for himself. It was not an easy or a painless process.
Destined for the army, because he wasn't apparently clever enough to go in
for the church or the law, he managed, with a kind of instinctive
self-protection, to avoid learning enough even to be an officer. He turned
first in this direction and then in that, in his efforts to escape. The
race-track furnished one diversion for his unhappy energies, books of
poetry another. Then he met a painter who painted and loved sumptuous and
beautiful blondes, whereupon art and women became the new centers of his
life, and Paris, where both might be indulged in, his great ambition. Given
permission and an allowance, he set off to study art in Paris--only to find
after much effort and heartache that he was a failure as an artist. There
remained, however, women--and the cafés, with strange poets and
personalities to be cultivated and explored. Modelling himself after his
newest friend, in attire, manners and morals, he lived what might have been
on the whole an unprofitable and ordinary life, if he had not been able to
gild it with the glamour of philosophic immoralism. Finally, because
everybody else was writing, he too wrote--a play. Then follows a period of
discovery of the newest movement in art. So impressionable is he that his
stay of some years in Paris causes him actually to forget how to write
English prose, and when he returns to London and has to earn his living at
journalism he has to learn his native tongue over again. Nevertheless he
has acquired a point of view--on women, on art, on life. He
writes--criticism, poetry, fiction. He is obscure, ambitious, full of
self-esteem, that is beginning to be soured by failure. He tries to get
involved in a duel with a young nobleman, just to get himself before the
public. Failing in that, he lives in squalid lodgings--or so they seem to a
young man who has lived in Paris on a liberal allowance--and writes,
writes, writes, writes ... talking to his fellow lodgers, to the stupid
servant who brings him his meals, and getting the materials for future
books out of them. A candid record of these incidents, interwoven with
eloquent self-analysis, keen and valid criticism of books and pictures,
delightful reminiscences and furious dissertations upon morality, the whole
story is given a special and, for its time, a rare interest by its utter
lack of conventional reticence. He never spares himself. He has undertaken
quite honestly to tell the truth. He has learned from Paris not to be
ashamed of himself. And this, though he had not realized it, was what he
had gone to Paris to learn.

He had put himself instinctively in the way of receiving liberalizing
influences. But it was, after all, an accident that he received those
influences from France. He might conceivably have stayed at home and read
Tolstoi or Walt Whitman! So indeed might the whole English literary revolt
have taken its rise under different and perhaps happier influences. But it
happened as it happened. And accidents are important. The accident of
having to turn to France for moral support colored the whole English
literary revolt. And the accident of going to Paris colored vividly the
superficial layers of George Moore's soul. This book partly represents a
flaunting of such borrowed colors. It was the fashion of the Parisian
diabolists to gloat over cruelty, by way of showing their superiority to
Christian morality. The enjoyment of others' suffering was a splendid pagan
virtue. So George Moore kept a pet python, and cultivated paganness by
watching it devour rabbits alive.

It was the result of the same accident which caused him to conclude--and to
preach at some length in this book--that art is aristocratic. It was the
proper pagan thing to say, as he does here--"What care I that some millions
of wretched Israelites died under Pharaoh's lash? They died that I might
have the Pyramids to look on"--and other remarks even more shocking and
jejune. It was this accident which made him write ineffable silliness in
this and other early volumes about "virtue" and "vice," assume a
man-about-town's attitude toward women, and fill pages with maudlin phrases
about marble, perfumes, palm-trees, blood, lingerie, and moonlight. These
were the follies of his teachers, to be faithfully imitated. If he had
first heard the news that the body is good from Walt Whitman, or that the
human soul contains lust and cruelty from Tolstoi, what canticles we should
have had from George Moore on the subject of democracy in life and art!

Deeper down, George Moore was already wiser than his masters. He was to
write of the love-life of Evelyn Innes, and the common workaday tragedy of
Esther Waters, with a tender and profound sympathy far removed from the
sentiments he felt obliged to profess here. This book is a young man's
attempt to be sincere. It is the story of a soul struggling to be free from
British morality. It is eloquent, beautiful, and at times rather silly. It
is a picture of an epoch.

The result of the attempt to introduce diabolism to the English mind is
well known. The Island somewhat violently repudiated and denounced the
whole proceedings, as might have been expected. The French influence waned,
and has now almost died out. But meanwhile another rediscovery of human
nature (to which the work of a later Frenchman, Romain Rolland, has
contributed its due effect) is slowly re-creating English literature. Under
a Russian leadership less romantic than that of Gautier and less
"frightful" than that of Baudelaire, with scientific support from Freud and
Jung, and with some extremely able British and American lieutenants, the
cause of unashamedness appears to be winning its way in literature. The
George Moore of these Confessions stands to view as a reckless and
courageous pioneer, a bad strategist but a faithful soldier, in the
foolhardy, disastrous and gallant Campaign of the Nineties.

Floyd Dell

New York, May 26, 1917.



CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG MAN



CHAPTER I


My soul, so far as I understand it, has very kindly taken colour and form
from the many various modes of life that self-will and an impetuous
temperament have forced me to indulge in. Therefore I may say that I am
free from original qualities, defects, tastes, etc. What I have I acquire,
or, to speak more exactly, chance bestowed, and still bestows, upon me. I
came into the world apparently with a nature like a smooth sheet of wax,
bearing no impress, but capable of receiving any; of being moulded into all
shapes. Nor am I exaggerating when I say I think that I might equally have
been a Pharaoh, an ostler, a pimp, an archbishop, and that in the
fulfilment of the duties of each a certain measure of success would have
been mine. I have felt the goad of many impulses, I have hunted many a
trail; when one scent failed another was taken up, and pursued with the
pertinacity of an instinct, rather than the fervour of a reasoned
conviction. Sometimes, it is true, there came moments of weariness, of
despondency, but they were not enduring: a word spoken, a book read, or
yielding to the attraction of environment, I was soon off in another
direction, forgetful of past failures. Intricate, indeed, was the labyrinth
of my desires; all lights were followed with the same ardour, all cries
were eagerly responded to: they came from the right, they came from the
left, from every side. But one cry was more persistent, and as the years
passed I learned to follow it with increasing vigour, and my strayings grew
fewer and the way wider.

I was eleven years old when I first heard and obeyed this cry, or, shall I
say, echo-augury?

Scene: A great family coach, drawn by two powerful country horses, lumbers
along a narrow Irish road. The ever recurrent signs--long ranges of blue
mountains, the streak of bog, the rotting cabin, the flock of plover rising
from the desolate water. Inside the coach there are two children. They are
smart, with new jackets and neckties; their faces are pale with sleep, and
the rolling of the coach makes them feel a little sick. It is seven o'clock
in the morning. Opposite the children are their parents, and they are
talking of a novel the world is reading. Did Lady Audley murder her
husband? Lady Audley! What a beautiful name; and she, who is a slender,
pale, fairy-like woman, killed her husband. Such thoughts flash through the
boy's mind; his imagination is stirred and quickened, and he begs for an
explanation. The coach lumbers along, it arrives at its destination, and
Lady Audley is forgotten in the delight of tearing down fruit trees and
killing a cat.

But when we returned home I took the first opportunity of stealing the
novel in question. I read it eagerly, passionately, vehemently. I read its
successor and its successor. I read until I came to a book called "The
Doctor's Wife"--a lady who loved Shelley and Byron. There was magic, there
was revelation in the name, and Shelley became my soul's divinity. Why did
I love Shelley? Why was I not attracted to Byron? I cannot say. Shelley!
Oh, that crystal name, and his poetry also crystalline. I must see it, I
must know him. Escaping from the schoolroom, I ransacked the library, and
at last my ardour was rewarded. The book--a small pocket edition in red
boards, no doubt long out of print--opened at the "Sensitive Plant." Was I
disappointed? I think I had expected to understand better; but I had no
difficulty in assuming that I was satisfied and delighted. And henceforth
the little volume never left my pocket, and I read the dazzling stanzas by
the shores of a pale green Irish lake, comprehending little, and loving a
great deal. Byron, too, was often with me, and these poets were the
ripening influence of years otherwise merely nervous and boisterous.

And my poets were taken to school, because it pleased me to read "Queen
Mab" and "Cain," amid the priests and ignorance of a hateful Roman Catholic
college. And there my poets saved me from intellectual savagery; for I was
incapable at that time of learning anything. What determined and
incorrigible idleness! I used to gaze fondly on a book, holding my head
between my hands, and allow my thoughts to wander far into dreams and thin
imaginings. Neither Latin, nor Greek, nor French, nor History, nor English
composition could I learn, unless, indeed, my curiosity or personal
interest was excited,--then I made rapid strides in that branch of
knowledge to which my attention was directed. A mind hitherto dark seemed
suddenly to grow clear, and it remained clear and bright enough so long as
passion was in me; but as it died, so the mind clouded, and recoiled to its
original obtuseness. Couldn't, with wouldn't, was in my case curiously
involved; nor have I in this respect ever been able to correct my natural
temperament. I have always remained powerless to do anything unless moved
by a powerful desire.

The natural end to such schooldays as mine was expulsion. I was expelled
when I was sixteen, for idleness and general worthlessness. I returned to a
wild country home, where I found my father engaged in training racehorses.
For a nature of such intense vitality as mine, an ambition, an aspiration
of some sort was necessary; and I now, as I have often done since, accepted
the first ideal to hand. In this instance it was the _stable_. I was
given a hunter, I rode to hounds every week, I rode gallops every morning,
I read the racing calendar, stud-book, latest betting, and looked forward
with enthusiasm to the day when I should be known as a successful
steeplechase rider. To ride the winner of the Liverpool seemed to me a
final achievement and glory; and had not accident intervened, it is very
possible that I might have succeeded in carrying off, if not the meditated
honour, something scarcely inferior, such as--alas, _eheu fugaces!_ I
cannot now recall the name of a race of the necessary value and importance.
About this time my father was elected Member of Parliament; our home was
broken up, and we went to London. But an ideal set up on its pedestal is
not easily displaced, and I persevered in my love, despite the poor
promises London life held out for its ultimate attainment; and
surreptitiously I continued to nourish it with small bets made in a small
tobacconist's. Well do I remember that shop, the oily-faced,
sandy-whiskered proprietor, his betting-book, the cheap cigars along the
counter, the one-eyed nondescript who leaned his evening away against the
counter, and was supposed to know some one who knew Lord ----'s footman,
and the great man often spoken of, but rarely seen--he who made "a
two-'undred pound book on the Derby"; and the constant coming and going of
the cabmen--"Half an ounce of shag, sir." I was then at a military tutor's
in the Euston Road; for, in answer to my father's demand as to what
occupation I intended to pursue, I had consented to enter the army. In my
heart I knew that when it came to the point I should refuse--the idea of
military discipline was very repugnant, and the possibility of an anonymous
death on a battlefield could not be accepted by so self-conscious a youth,
by one so full of his own personality. I said Yes to my father, because the
moral courage to say No was lacking, and I put my trust in the future, as
well I might, for a fair prospect of idleness lay before me, and the chance
of my passing any examination was, indeed, remote.

In London I made the acquaintance of a great blonde man, who talked
incessantly about beautiful women, and painted them sometimes larger than
life, in somnolent attitudes, and luxurious tints. His studio was a welcome
contrast to the spitting and betting of the tobacco shop. His
pictures--Doré-like improvisations, devoid of skill, and, indeed, of
artistic perception, save a certain sentiment for the grand and
noble--filled me with wonderment and awe. "How jolly it would be to be a
painter," I once said, quite involuntarily. "Why, would you like to be a
painter?" he asked abruptly. I laughed, not suspecting that I had the
slightest gift, as indeed was the case, but the idea remained in my mind,
and soon after I began to make sketches in the streets and theatres. My
attempts were not very successful, but they encouraged me to tell my father
that I would go to the military tutor no more, and he allowed me to enter
the Kensington Museum as an Art student. There, of course, I learned
nothing, and, from a merely Art point of view, I had much better have
continued my sketches in the streets; but the museum was a beautiful and
beneficent influence, and one that applied marvellously well to the
besetting danger of the moment; for in the galleries I met young men who
spoke of other things than betting and steeplechase riding, who, I
remember, it was clear to me then, looked to a higher ideal than mine,
breathed a purer atmosphere of thought than I. And then the sweet, white
peace of antiquity! The great, calm gaze that is not sadness nor joy, but
something that we know not of, which is lost to the world for ever.

"But if you want to be a painter you must go to France--France is the only
school of Art." I must again call attention to the phenomenon of
echo-augury, that is to say, words heard in an unlooked-for quarter, that,
without an appeal to our reason, impel belief. France! The word rang in my
ears and gleamed in my eyes. France! All my senses sprang from sleep like a
crew when the man on the look-out cries, "Land ahead!" Instantly I knew I
should, that I must, go to France, that I would live there, that I would
become as a Frenchman. I knew not when nor how, but I knew I should go to
France....

Then my father died, and I suddenly found myself heir to considerable
property--some three or four thousands a year; and then I knew that I was
free to enjoy life as I pleased; no further trammels, no further need of
being a soldier, of being anything but myself; eighteen, with life and
France before me! But the spirit did not move me yet to leave home. I would
feel the pulse of life at home before I felt it abroad. I would hire a
studio. A studio--tapestries, smoke, models, conversations. But here it is
difficult not to convey a false impression. I fain would show my soul in
these pages, like a face in a pool of clear water; and although my studio
was in truth no more than an amusement, and a means of effectually throwing
over all restraint, I did not view it at all in this light. My love of Art
was very genuine and deep-rooted; the tobacconist's betting-book was now as
nothing, and a certain Botticelli in the National Gallery held me in
tether. And when I look back and consider the past, I am forced to admit
that I might have grown up in less fortunate circumstances, for even the
studio, with its dissipations--and they were many--was not unserviceable;
it developed the natural man, who educates himself, who allows his mind to
grow and ripen under the sun and wind of modern life, in contra-distinction
to the University man, who is fed upon the dust of ages, and after a
formula which has been composed to suit the requirements of the average
human being.

Nor was my reading at this time so limited as might be expected from the
foregoing. The study of Shelley's poetry had led me to read pretty nearly
all the English lyric poets; Shelley's atheism had led me to read Kant,
Spinoza, Godwin, Darwin and Mill; and these, again, in their turn,
introduced me to many writers and various literature. I do not think that
at this time I cared much for novel reading. Scott seemed to me on a par
with Burke's speeches; that is to say, too impersonal for my very personal
taste. Dickens I knew by heart, and "Bleak House" I thought his greatest
achievement. Thackeray left no deep impression on my mind; in no way did he
hold my thoughts. He was not picturesque like Dickens, and I was at that
time curiously eager for some adequate philosophy of life, and his social
satire seemed very small beer indeed. I was really young. I hungered after
great truths: "Middle-march," "Adam Bede," "The Rise and Fall of
Rationalism," "The History of Civilisation," were momentous events in my
life. But I loved life better than books, and I cultivated with care the
acquaintance of a neighbour who had taken the Globe Theatre for the purpose
of producing Offenbach's operas. Bouquets, stalls, rings, delighted me. I
was not dissipated, but I loved the abnormal. I loved to spend as much on
scent and toilette knick-knacks as would keep a poor man's family in
affluence for ten months; and I smiled at the fashionable sunlight in the
Park, the dusty cavalcades; and I loved to shock my friends by bowing to
those whom I should not bow to; above all, the life of the theatres, that
life of raw gaslight, whitewashed walls, of light, doggerel verse, slangy
polkas and waltzes, interested me beyond legitimate measure, so curious and
unreal did it seem. I lived at home, but dined daily at a fashionable
restaurant; at half-past eight I was at the theatre. Nodding familiarly to
the doorkeeper, I passed up the long passage to the stage. Afterwards
supper. Cremorne and the Argyle Rooms were my favourite haunts. My mother
suffered, and expected ruin, for I took no trouble to conceal anything; I
boasted of dissipations. But there was no need for fear; I was naturally
endowed with a very clear sense indeed of self-preservation; I neither
betted nor drank, nor contracted debts, nor a secret marriage; from a
worldly point of view, I was a model young man indeed; and when I returned
home about four in the morning, I watched the pale moon setting, and
repeating some verses of Shelley, I thought how I should go to Paris when I
was of age, and study painting.



CHAPTER II


At last the day came, and with several trunks and boxes full of clothes,
books, and pictures, I started, accompanied by an English valet, for Paris
and Art.

We all know the great grey and melancholy Gare du Nord, at half-past six in
the morning; and the miserable carriages, and the tall, haggard city. Pale,
sloppy, yellow houses; an oppressive absence of colour; a peculiar
bleakness in the streets. The _ménagère_ hurries down the asphalte to
market; a dreadful _garçon de café_, with a napkin tied round his
throat, moves about some chairs, so decrepit and so solitary that it seems
impossible to imagine a human being sitting there. Where are the
Boulevards? where are the Champs Élysées? I asked myself; and feeling bound
to apologise for the appearance of the city, I explained to my valet that
we were passing through some by-streets, and returned to the study of a
French vocabulary. Nevertheless, when the time came to formulate a demand
for rooms, hot water, and a fire, I broke down, and the proprietress of the
hotel, who spoke English, had to be sent for.

My plans, so far as I had any, were to enter the beaux arts--Cabanel's
studio for preference; for I had then an intense and profound admiration
for that painter's work. I did not think much of the application I was told
I should have to make at the Embassy; my thoughts were fixed on the master,
and my one desire was to see him. To see him was easy, to speak to him was
another matter, and I had to wait three weeks, until I could hold a
conversation in French. How I achieved this feat I cannot say. I never
opened a book, I know, nor is it agreeable to think what my language must
have been like--like nothing ever heard under God's sky before, probably.
It was, however, sufficient to waste a good hour of the painter's time. I
told him of my artistic sympathies, what pictures I had seen of his in
London, and how much pleased I was with those then in his studio. He went
through the ordeal without flinching. He said he would be glad to have me
as a pupil....

But life in the beaux arts is rough, coarse, and rowdy. The model sits only
three times a week: the other days we worked from the plaster cast; and to
be there by seven o'clock in the morning required so painful an effort of
will, that I glanced in terror down the dim and grey perspective of early
risings that awaited me; then, demoralised by the lassitude of Sunday, I
told my valet on Monday morning to leave the room, that I would return to
the beaux arts no more. I felt humiliated at my own weakness, for much hope
had been centred in that academy; and I knew no other. Day after day I
walked up and down the Boulevards, studying the photographs of the
_salon_ pictures, and was stricken by the art of Jules Lefevre. True
it is that I saw it was wanting in that tender grace which I am forced to
admit even now, saturated though I now am with the aesthetics of different
schools, is inherent in Cabanel's work; but at the time I am writing of, my
nature was too young and mobile to resist the conventional attractiveness
of nude figures, indolent attitudes, long hair, slender hips and hands, and
I accepted Jules Lefevre wholly and unconditionally. He hesitated, however,
when I asked to be taken as a private pupil, but he wrote out the address
of a studio where he gave instruction every Tuesday morning. This was even
more to my taste, for I had an instinctive liking for Frenchmen, and was
anxious to see as much of them as possible.

The studio was perched high up in the Passage des Panoramas. There I found
M. Julien, a typical meridional--the large stomach, the dark eyes, crafty
and watchful; the seductively mendacious manner, the sensual mind. We made
friends at once--he consciously making use of me, I unconsciously making
use of him. To him my forty francs, a month's subscription, were a godsend,
nor were my invitations to dinner and to the theatre to be disdained. I was
curious, odd, quaint. To be sure, it was a little tiresome to have to put
up with a talkative person, whose knowledge of the French language had been
acquired in three months, but the dinners were good. No doubt Julien
reasoned so; I did not reason at all. I felt this crafty, clever man of the
world was necessary to me. I had never met such a man before, and all my
curiosity was awake. He spoke of art and literature, of the world and the
flesh; he told me of the books he had read, he narrated thrilling incidents
in his own life; and the moral reflections with which he sprinkled his
conversation I thought very striking. Like every young man of twenty, I was
on the look-out for something to set up that would do duty for an ideal.
The world was to me, at this time, what a toy shop had been fifteen years
before: everything was spick and span, and every illusion was set out
straight and smart in new paint and gilding. But Julien kept me at a
distance, and the rare occasions when he favoured me with his society only
served to prepare my mind for the friendship which awaited me, and which
was destined to absorb some years of my life.

In the studio there were some eighteen or twenty young men, and among these
there were some four or five from whom I could learn; and there were also
there some eight or nine young English girls. We sat round in a circle, and
drew from the model. And this reversal of all the world's opinions and
prejudices was to me singularly delightful; I loved the sense of unreality
that the exceptionalness of our life in this studio conveyed. Besides, the
women themselves were young and interesting, and were, therefore, one of
the charms of the place, giving, as they did, that sense of sex which is so
subtle a mental pleasure, and which is, in its outward aspect, so
interesting to the eye--the gowns, the hair lifted, showing the neck; the
earrings, the sleeves open at the elbow. Though all this was very dear to
me I did not fall in love: but he who escapes a woman's dominion generally
comes under the sway of some friend who ever uses a strange attractiveness,
and fosters a sort of dependency that is not healthful or valid: and
although I look back with undiminished delight on the friendship I
contracted about this time--a friendship which permeated and added to my
life--I am nevertheless forced to recognise that, however suitable it may
have been in my special case, in the majority of instances it would have
proved but a shipwrecking reef, on which a young man's life would have gone
to pieces. What saved me was the intensity of my passion for Art, and a
moral revolt against any action that I thought could or would definitely
compromise me in that direction. I was willing to stray a little from my
path, but never further than a single step, which I could retrace when I
pleased.

One day I raised my eyes, and saw there was a new-comer in the studio; and,
to my surprise, for he was fashionably dressed, and my experience had not
led me to believe in the marriage of genius and well-cut cloth, he was
painting very well indeed. His shoulders were beautiful and broad; a long
neck, a tiny head, a narrow, thin face, and large eyes, full of
intelligence and fascination. And although he could not have been working
more than an hour, he had already sketched in his figure, and with all the
surroundings--screens, lamps, stoves, etc. I was deeply interested. I asked
the young lady next me if she knew who he was. She could give me no
information. But at four o'clock there was a general exodus from the
studio, and we adjourned to a neighbouring _café_ to drink beer. The
way led through a narrow passage, and as we stooped under an archway, the
young man (Marshall was his name) spoke to me in English. Yes, we had met
before; we had exchanged a few words in So-and-So's studio--the great
blonde man, whose Doré-like improvisations had awakened aspiration in me.

The usual reflections on the chances of life were of course made, and then
followed the inevitable "Will you dine with me to-night?" Marshall thought
the following day would suit him better, but I was very pressing. He
offered to meet me at my hotel; or would I come with him to his rooms, and
he would show me some pictures--some trifles he had brought up from the
country? Nothing would please me better. We got into a cab. Then every
moment revealed new qualities, new superiorities, in my new-found friend.
Not only was he tall, strong, handsome, and beautifully dressed, infinitely
better dressed than I, but he could talk French like a native. It was only
natural that he should, for he was born and had lived in Brussels all his
life, but the accident of birth rather stimulated than calmed my erubescent
admiration. He spoke of, and he was clearly on familiar terms with, the
fashionable restaurants and actresses; he stopped at a hairdresser's to
have his hair curled. All this was very exciting, and a little bewildering.
I was on the tiptoe of expectation to see his apartments; and, not to be
utterly outdone, I alluded to my valet.

His apartments were not so grand as I expected; but when he explained that
he had just spent ten thousand pounds in two years, and was now living on
six or seven hundred francs a month, which his mother would allow him until
he had painted and had sold a certain series of pictures, which he
contemplated beginning at once, my admiration increased to wonder, and I
examined with awe the great fireplace which had been constructed at his
orders, and admired the iron pot which hung by a chain above an artificial
bivouac fire. This detail will suggest the rest of the studio--the Turkey
carpet, the brass harem lamps, the Japanese screen, the pieces of drapery,
the oak chairs covered with red Utrecht velvet, the oak wardrobe that had
been picked up somewhere,--a ridiculous bargain, and the inevitable bed
with spiral columns. There were vases filled with foreign grasses, and
palms stood in the corners of the rooms. Marshall pulled out a few
pictures; but he paid very little heed to my compliments; and, sitting down
at the piano, with a great deal of splashing and dashing about the keys, he
rattled off a waltz.

"What waltz is that?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing; something I composed the other evening. I had a fit of the
blues, and didn't go out. What do you think of it?"

"I think it beautiful; did you really compose that the other evening?"

At this moment a knock was heard at the door, and a beautiful English girl
entered. Marshall introduced me. With looks that see nothing, and words
that mean nothing, an amorous woman receives the man she finds with her
sweetheart. But it subsequently transpired that Alice had an appointment,
that she was dining out. She would, however, call in the morning, and give
him a sitting for the portrait he was painting of her.

I had hitherto worked very regularly and attentively at the studio, but now
Marshall's society was an attraction I could not resist. For the sake of
his talent, which I religiously believed in, I regretted he was so idle;
but his dissipation was winning, and his delight was thorough, and his gay,
dashing manner made me feel happy, and his experience opened to me new
avenues for enjoyment and knowledge of life. On my arrival in Paris I had
visited, in the company of my taciturn valet, the Mabille and the
Valentino, and I had dined at the Maison d'Or by myself; but now I was
taken to strange students' _cafés_, where dinners were paid for in
pictures; to a mysterious place, where a _table d'hôte_ was held under
a tent in a back garden; and afterwards we went in great crowds to
_Bullier_, the _Château Rouge_, or the _Élysée Montmartre_.
The clangour of the band, the unreal greenness of the foliage, the
thronging of the dancers, and the chattering of women, whose Christian
names we only knew. And then the returning in open carriages rolling
through the white dust beneath the immense heavy dome of the summer night,
when the dusty darkness of the street is chequered by a passing glimpse of
light skirt or flying feather, and the moon looms like a magic lantern out
of the sky.

Now we seemed to live in fiacres and restaurants, and the afternoons were
filled with febrile impressions. Marshall had a friend in this street, and
another in that. It was only necessary for him to cry "Stop" to the
coachman, and to run up two or three flights of stairs....

"_Madame--, est-elle chez elle?_"

"_Oui, Monsieur; si Monsieur veut se donner la peine d'entrer._" And
we were shown into a handsomely furnished apartment. A lady would enter
hurriedly, and an animated discussion was begun. I did not know French
sufficiently well to follow the conversation, but I remember it always
commenced _mon cher ami_, and was plentifully sprinkled with the
phrase _vous avez tort_. The ladies themselves had only just returned
from Constantinople or Japan, and they were generally involved in
mysterious lawsuits, or were busily engaged in prosecuting claims for
several millions of francs against different foreign governments.

And just as I had watched the chorus girls and mummers, three years ago, at
the Globe Theatre, now, excited by a nervous curiosity, I watched this
world of Parisian adventurers and lights o' love. And this craving for
observation of manners, this instinct for the rapid notation of gestures
and words that epitomise a state of feeling, of attitudes that mirror forth
the soul, declared itself a main passion; and it grew and strengthened, to
the detriment of the other Art still so dear to me. With the patience of a
cat before a mouse-hole, I watched and listened, picking one characteristic
phrase out of hours of vain chatter, interested and amused by an angry or
loving glance. Like the midges that fret the surface of a shadowy stream,
these men and women seemed to me; and though I laughed, danced, and made
merry with them, I was not of them. But with Marshall it was different:
they were my amusement, they were his necessary pleasure. And I knew of
this distinction that made twain our lives; and I reflected deeply upon it.
Why could I not live without an ever-present and acute consciousness of
life? Why could I not love, forgetful of the harsh ticking of the clock in
the perfumed silence of the chamber?

And so my friend became to me a study, a subject for dissection. The
general attitude of his mind and its various turns, all the apparent
contradictions, and how they could be explained, classified, and reduced to
one primary law, were to me a constant source of thought. Our confidences
knew no reserve. I say our confidences, because to obtain confidences it is
often necessary to confide. All we saw, heard, read, or felt was the
subject of mutual confidences: the transitory emotion that a flush of
colour and a bit of perspective awakens, the blue tints that the sunsetting
lends to a white dress, or the eternal verities, death and love. But,
although I tested every fibre of thought and analysed every motive, I was
very sincere in my friendship, and very loyal in my admiration. Nor did my
admiration wane when I discovered that Marshall was shallow in his
appreciations, superficial in his judgments, that his talents did not
pierce below the surface; _il avait se grand air_; there was
fascination in his very bearing, in his large, soft, colourful eyes, and a
go and dash in his dissipations that carried you away.

To any one observing us at this time it would have seemed that I was but a
hanger-on, and a feeble imitator of Marshall. I took him to my tailor's,
and he advised me on the cut of my coats; he showed me how to arrange my
rooms, and I strove to copy his manner of speech and his general bearing;
and yet I knew very well indeed that mine was a rarer and more original
nature. I was willing to learn, that was all. There was much that Marshall
could teach me, and I used him without shame, without stint. I used him as
I have used all those with whom I have been brought into close contact.
Search my memory as I will, I cannot recall a case of man or woman who ever
occupied any considerable part of my thoughts and did not contribute
largely towards my moral or physical welfare. In other words, and in very
colloquial language, I never had useless friends hanging about me. From
this crude statement of a signal fact, the thoughtless reader will at once
judge me rapacious, egotistical, false, fawning, mendacious. Well, I may be
all this and more, but not because all who have known me have rendered me
eminent services. I can say that no one ever formed relationships in life
with less design than myself. Never have I given a thought to the advantage
that might accrue from being on terms of friendship with this man and
avoiding that one. "Then how do you explain," cries the angry reader, "that
you have never had a friend whom you did not make a profit out of? You must
have had very few friends." On the contrary, I have had many friends, and
of all sorts and kinds--men and women: and, I repeat, none took part in my
life who did not contribute something towards my well-being. It must, of
course, be understood that I make no distinction between mental and
material help; and in my case the one has ever been adjuvant to the other.
"Pooh, pooh!" again exclaims the reader; "I for one will not believe that
chance has only sent across your way the people who were required to assist
you." Chance! dear reader, is there such a thing as chance? Do you believe
in chance? Do you attach any precise meaning to the word? Do you employ it
at haphazard, allowing it to mean what it may? Chance! What a field for
psychical investigation is at once opened up; how we may tear to shreds our
past lives in search of--what? Of the Chance that made us. I think, reader,
I can throw some light on the general question, by replying to your taunt:
Chance, or the conditions of life under which we live, sent, of course,
thousands of creatures across my way who were powerless to benefit me; but
then an instinct of which I knew nothing, of which I was not even
conscious, withdrew me from them, and I was attracted to others. Have you
not seen a horse suddenly leave a corner of a field to seek pasturage
further away?

Never could I interest myself in a book if it were not the exact diet my
mind required at the time, or in the very immediate future. The mind asked,
received, and digested. So much was assimilated, so much expelled; then,
after a season, similar demands were made, the same processes were repeated
out of sight, below consciousness, as is the case in a well-ordered
stomach. Shelley, who fired my youth with passion, and purified and upbore
it for so long, is now to me as nothing: not a dead or faded thing, but a
thing out of which I personally have drawn all the sustenance I may draw
from him; and, therefore, it (that part which I did not absorb) concerns me
no more. And the same with Gautier. Mdlle. de Maupin, that godhead of
flowing line, that desire not "of the moth for the star," but for such
perfection of hanging arm and leaned thigh as leaves passion breathless and
fain of tears, is now, if I take up the book and read, weary and ragged as
a spider's web, that has hung the winter through in the dusty, forgotten
corner of a forgotten room. My old rapture and my youth's delight I can
regain only when I think of that part of Gautier which is now incarnate in
me.

As I picked up books, so I picked up my friends. I read friends and books
with the same passion, with the same avidity; and as I discarded my books
when I had assimilated as much of them as my system required, so I
discarded my friends when they ceased to be of use to me. I use the word
"use" in its fullest, not in its limited and twenty-shilling sense. This
reduction of the intellect to the blind unconsciousness of the lower organs
will strike some as a violation of man's best beliefs, and as saying very
little for the particular intellect that can be so reduced. But I am not
sure these people are right. I am inclined to think that as you ascend the
scale of thought to the great minds, these unaccountable impulses,
mysterious resolutions, sudden, but certain knowings, falling whence, or
how it is impossible to say, but falling somehow into the brain, instead of
growing rarer, become more and more frequent; indeed, I think that if the
really great man were to confess to the working of his mind, we should see
him constantly besieged by inspirations ... inspirations! Ah! how human
thought only turns in a circle, and how, when we think we are on the verge
of a new thought, we slip into the enunciation of some time-worn truth. But
I say again, let general principles be waived; it will suffice for the
interest of these pages if it be understood that brain instincts have
always been, and still are, the initial and the determining powers of my
being.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the studio, where I had been working for the last three or four months
so diligently, became wearisome to me, and for two reasons. First, because
it deprived me of many hours of Marshall's company. Secondly--and the
second reason was the graver--because I was beginning to regard the
delineation of a nymph, or youth bathing, etc., as a very narrow channel to
carry off the strong, full tide of a man's thought. For now thoughts of
love and death, and the hopelessness of life, were in active fermentation
within me and sought for utterance with a strange unintermittingness of
appeal. I yearned merely to give direct expression to my pain. Life was
then in its springtide; every thought was new to me, and it would have
seemed a pity to disguise even the simplest emotion in any garment when it
was so beautiful in its Eden-like nakedness. The creatures whom I met in
the ways and by ways of Parisian life, whose gestures and attitudes I
devoured with my eyes, and whose souls I hungered to know, awoke in me a
tense irresponsible curiosity, but that was all,--I despised, I hated them,
thought them contemptible, and to select them as subjects of artistic
treatment, could not then, might never, have occurred to me, had the
suggestion to do so not come direct to me from the outside.

At the time I am writing I lived in an old-fashioned hotel on the
Boulevard, which an enterprising Belgian had lately bought and was
endeavouring to modernise; an old-fashioned hotel, that still clung to its
ancient character in the presence of half a dozen old people, who, for
antediluvian reasons, continue to dine on certain well-specified days at
the _table d'hôte_. Fifteen years have passed away, and these old
people, no doubt, have joined their ancestors; but I can see them still
sitting in that _salle à manger_; the _buffets en vieux chêne_;
the opulent candelabra _en style d'empire_; the waiter lighting the
gas in the pale Parisian evening. That white-haired man, that tall, thin,
hatchet-faced American, has dined at this _table d'hôte_ for the last
thirty years--he is talkative, vain, foolish, and authoritative. The clean,
neatly-dressed old gentleman who sits by him, looking so much like a French
gentleman, has spent a great part of his life in Spain. With that piece of
news, and its subsequent developments, your acquaintance with him begins
and ends; the eyes, the fan, the mantilla, how it began, how it was broken
off, and how it began again. Opposite sits another French gentleman, with
beard and bristly hair. He spent twenty years of his life in India, and he
talks of his son who has been out there for the last ten, and who has just
returned home. There is the Italian comtesse of sixty summers, who dresses
like a girl of sixteen and smokes a cigar after dinner,--if there are not
too many strangers in the room. She terms a stranger any one whom she has
not seen at least once before. The little fat, neckless man, with the great
bald head, fringed below the ears with hair, is M. Duval. He is a dramatic
author--the author of a hundred and sixty plays. He does not intrude
himself on your notice, but when you speak to him on literary matters he
fixes a pair of tiny, sloe-like eyes on you, and talks affably of his
collaborateurs.

I was soon deeply interested in M. Duval, and I invited him to come to the
_café_ after dinner. I paid for his coffee and liqueurs, I offered him
a choice cigar. He did not smoke; I did. It was, of course, inevitable that
I should find out that he had not had a play produced for the last twenty
years, but then the aureole of the hundred and sixty was about his poor
bald head. I thought of the chances of life, he alluded to the war; and so
this unpleasantness was passed over, and we entered on more genial subjects
of conversation. He had written plays with everybody; his list of
collaborateurs was longer than any list of lady patronesses for an English
county ball; there was no literary kitchen in which he had not helped to
dish up. I was at once amazed and delighted. Had M. Duval written his
hundred and sixty plays in the seclusion of his own rooms, I should have
been less surprised; it was the mystery of the _séances_ of
collaboration, the rendezvous, the discussion, the illustrious company,
that overwhelmed me in a rapture of wonder and respectful admiration. Then
came the anecdotes. They were of all sorts. Here are a few specimens: He,
Duval, had written a one-act piece with Dumas _père_; it had been
refused at the Français, and then it had been about, here, there, and
everywhere; finally the _Variétés_ had asked for some alterations, and
_c'était une affaire entendue_. "I made the alterations one afternoon,
and wrote to Dumas, and what do you think,--by return of post I had a
letter from him saying he could not consent to the production of a one-act
piece, signed by him, at the _Variétés_, because his son was then
giving a five-act piece at the Gymnase." Then came a string of indecent
witticisms by Suzanne Lagier and Dejazet. They were as old as the world,
but they were new to me, and I was amused and astonished. These
_bon-mots_ were followed by an account of how Gautier wrote his Sunday
feuilleton, and how he and Balzac had once nearly come to blows. They had
agreed to collaborate. Balzac was to contribute the scenario, Gautier the
dialogue. One morning Balzac came with the scenario of the first act. "Here
it is, Gautier! I suppose you can let me have it back finished by to-morrow
afternoon?" And the old gentleman would chirp along in this fashion till
midnight. I would then accompany him to his rooms in the Quartier
Montmartre--rooms high up on the fifth floor--where, between two pictures,
supposed to be by Angelica Kaufmann, M. Duval had written unactable plays
for the last twenty years, and where he would continue to write unactable
plays until God called him to a world, perhaps, of eternal cantatas, but
where, by all accounts, _l'exposition de la pièce selon la formule de M.
Scribe_ is still unknown.

How I used to enjoy these conversations! I remember how I used to stand on
the pavement after having bid the old gentleman good-night, regretting I
had not demanded some further explanation regarding _le mouvement
Romantique_, or _la façon de M. Scribe de ménager la situation_.

Why not write a comedy? So the thought came. I had never written anything
save a few ill-spelt letters; but no matter. To find a plot, that was the
first thing to do. Take Marshall for hero and Alice for heroine, surround
them with the old gentlemen who dined at the _table d'hôte_, flavour
with the Italian countess who smoked cigars when there were not too many
strangers present. After three weeks of industrious stirring, the
ingredients did begin to simmer into something resembling a plot. Put it
upon paper. Ah! there was my difficulty. I remembered suddenly that I had
read "Cain," "Manfred," "The Cenci," as poems, without ever thinking of how
the dialogue looked upon paper; besides, they were in blank verse. I hadn't
a notion how prose dialogue would look upon paper. Shakespeare I had never
opened; no instinctive want had urged me to read him. He had remained,
therefore, unread, unlooked at. Should I buy a copy? No; the name repelled
me--as all popular names repelled me. In preference I went to the Gymnase,
and listened attentively to a comedy by M. Dumas _fils_. But strain my
imagination as I would, I could not see the spoken words in their written
form. Oh, for a look at the prompter's copy, the corner of which I could
see when I leaned forward! At last I discovered in Galignani's library a
copy of Leigh Hunt's edition of the old dramatists, and after a month's
study of Congreve Wycherley, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar, I completed a comedy
in three acts, which I entitled "Worldliness." It was, of course, very bad;
but, if my memory serves me well, I do not think it was nearly so bad as
might be imagined.

No sooner was the last scene written than I started at once for London,
confident I should find no difficulty in getting my play produced.



CHAPTER III


Is it necessary to say that I did not find a manager to produce my play? A
printer was more attainable, and the correction of proofs amused me for a
while. I wrote another play; and when the hieing after theatrical managers
began to lose its attractiveness my thoughts reverted to France, which
always haunted me; and which now possessed me as if with the sweet and
magnetic influence of home.

How important my absence from Paris seemed to me; and how Paris rushed into
my eyes!--Paris--public ball-rooms, _cafés_, the models in the studio
and the young girls painting, and Marshall, Alice, and Julien.
Marshall!--my thoughts pointed at him through the intervening streets and
the endless procession of people coming and going.

"M. Marshall, is he at home?" "M. Marshall left here some months ago." "Do
you know his address?" "I'll ask my husband." "Do you know M. Marshall's
address!" "Yes, he's gone to live in the Rue de Douai." "What number?" "I
think it is fifty-four." "Thanks." "Coachman, wake up; drive me to the Rue
de Douai."

But Marshall was not to be found at the Rue de Douai; and he had left no
address. There was nothing for it but to go to the studio; I should be able
to obtain news of him there,--perhaps find him. But when I pulled aside the
curtain, the accustomed piece of slim nakedness did not greet my eyes; only
the blue apron of an old woman enveloped in a cloud of dust. "The gentlemen
are not here to-day, the studio is closed; I am sweeping up." "Oh, and
where is M. Julien?" "I cannot say, sir: perhaps at the _café_, or
perhaps he is gone to the country." This was not very encouraging, and now,
my enthusiasm thoroughly damped, I strolled along _le Passage_,
looking at the fans, the bangles and the litter of cheap trinkets that each
window was filled with. On the left at the corner of the Boulevard was our
_café_. As I came forward the waiter moved one of the tin tables, and
then I saw the fat Provençal. But just as if he had seen me yesterday he
said, "_Tiens! c'est vous; une deme tasse? oui ... garçon, une deme
tasse._" Presently the conversation turned on Marshall; they had not
seen much of him lately. "_Il parait qu'il est plus amoureux que
jamais,_" Julien replied sardonically.

I found my friend in large furnished apartments on the ground floor in the
Rue Duphot. The walls were stretched with blue silk, there were large
mirrors and great gilt cornices. Passing into the bedroom I found the young
god wallowing in the finest of fine linen--in a great Louis XV. bed, and
there were cupids above him. "Holloa! what, you back again, Dayne? we
thought we weren't going to see you again."

"It's nearly one o'clock: get up. What's the news?"

"To-day is the opening of the exposition of the Impressionists. We'll have
a bit of breakfast round the corner, at Durant's, and we'll go on there. I
hear that Bedlam is nothing to it; there is a canvas there twenty feet
square and in three tints: pale yellow for the sunlight, brown for the
shadows, and all the rest is sky-blue. There is, I am told, a lady walking
in the foreground with a ring-tailed monkey, and the tail is said to be
three yards long."

And so we went to jeer a group of enthusiasts that willingly forfeit all
delights of the world in the hope of realising a new aestheticism; we went
insolent with patent leather shoes and bright kid gloves and armed with all
the jargon of the school. "_Cette jambe ne porte pas;_" "_la nature
ne se fait pas comme ça;_" "_on dessine par les masses; combien de
têtes?_" "_Sept et demi._" "_Si j'avais un morceau de craie je
mettrais celle-là dans un bocal, c'est un foetus,_" etc.; in a word, all
that the journals of culture are pleased to term an artistic education. And
then the boisterous laughter, exaggerated in the hope of giving as much
pain as possible.

The history of Impressionist art is simple. In the beginning of this
century the tradition of French art--the tradition of Boucher, Fragonard,
and Watteau--had been completely lost; having produced genius, their art
died. Ingres is the sublime flower of the classic art which succeeded the
art of the palace and the boudoir: further than Ingres it was impossible to
go, and his art died. Then the Turners and Constables came to France, and
they begot Troyon, and Troyon begot Millet, Courbet, Corot, and Rousseau,
and these in turn begot Degas, Pissarro, Madame Morizot, and Guillaumin.
Degas is a pupil of Ingres, but he applies the marvellous acuteness of
drawing he learned from his master to delineating the humblest aspects of
modern life. Degas draws not by the masses, but by the character;--his
subjects are shop-girls, ballet-girls, and washerwomen, but the qualities
that endow them with immortality are precisely those which eternalise the
virgins and saints of Leonardo da Vinci in the minds of men. You see the
fat, vulgar woman in the long cloak trying on a hat in front of the
pier-glass. So marvellously well are the lines of her face observed and
rendered that you can tell exactly what her position in life is; you know
what the furniture of her rooms is like; you know what she would say to you
if she were to speak. She is as typical of the nineteenth century as
Fragonard's ladies are of the Court of Louis XV. To the right you see a
picture of two shop-girls with bonnets in their hands. So accurately are
the habitual movements of the heads and the hands observed that you at once
realise the years of bonnet-showing and servile words that these women have
lived through. We have seen Degas do this before--it is a welcome
repetition of a familiar note, but it is not until we turn to the set of
nude figures that we find the great artist revealing any new phase of his
talent. The first, in an attitude which suggests the kneeling Venus, washes
her thighs in a tin bath. The second, a back view, full of the
malformations of forty years, of children, of hard work, stands gripping
her flanks with both hands. The naked woman has become impossible in modern
art; it required Degas' genius to infuse new life into the worn-out theme.
Cynicism was the great means of eloquence of the middle ages, and with
cynicism Degas has rendered the nude again an artistic possibility. What
Mr. Horsley or the British matron would say it is difficult to guess.
Perhaps the hideousness depicted by M. Degas would frighten them more than
the sensuality which they condemn in Sir Frederick Leighton. But, be this
as it may, it is certain that the great, fat, short-legged creature, who in
her humble and touching ugliness passes a chemise over her lumpy shoulders,
is a triumph of art. Ugliness is trivial, the monstrous is terrible;
Velasquez knew this when he painted his dwarfs.

Pissarro exhibited a group of girls gathering apples in a garden--sad greys
and violets beautifully harmonised. The figures seem to move as in a dream:
we are on the thither side of life, in a world of quiet colour and happy
aspiration. Those apples will never fall from the branches, those baskets
that the stooping girls are filling will never be filled: that garden is
the garden of the peace that life has not for giving, but which the painter
has set in an eternal dream of violet and grey.

Madame Morizot exhibited a series of delicate fancies. Here are two young
girls; the sweet atmosphere folds them as with a veil; they are all summer;
their dreams are limitless, their days are fading, and their ideas follow
the flight of the white butterflies through the standard roses. Take note,
too, of the stand of fans; what delicious fancies are there--willows,
balconies, gardens, and terraces.

Then, contrasting with these distant tendernesses, there was the vigorous
painting of Guillaumin. There life is rendered in violent and colourful
brutality. The ladies fishing in the park, with the violet of the skies and
the green of the trees descending upon them, is a _chef d'oeuvre_.
Nature seems to be closing about them like a tomb; and that
hillside,--sunset flooding the skies with yellow and the earth with blue
shadow,--is another piece of painting that will one day find a place in one
of the public galleries; and the same can be said of the portrait of the
woman on a background of chintz flowers.

We could but utter coarse gibes and exclaim, "What could have induced him
to paint such things? surely he must have seen that it was absurd. I wonder
if the Impressionists are in earnest or if it is only _une blague qu'on
nous fait?_" Then we stood and screamed at Monet, that most exquisite
painter of blonde light. We stood before the "Turkeys," and seriously we
wondered if "it was serious work,"--that _chef d'oeuvre!_ the high
grass that the turkeys are gobbling is flooded with sunlight so swift and
intense that for a moment the illusion is complete. "Just look at the
house! why, the turkeys couldn't walk in at the door. The perspective is
all wrong." Then followed other remarks of an educational kind; and when we
came to those piercingly personal visions of railway stations by the same
painter,--those rapid sensations of steel and vapour,--our laughter knew no
bounds. "I say, Marshall, just look at this wheel; he dipped his brush into
cadmium yellow and whisked it round, that's all." Nor did we understand any
more Renoir's rich sensualities of tone; nor did the mastery with which he
achieves an absence of shadow appeal to us. You see colour and light in his
pictures as you do in nature, and the child's criticism of a portrait--"Why
is one side of the face black?" is answered. There was a half length nude
figure of a girl. How the round fresh breasts palpitate in the light! such
a glorious glow of whiteness was attained never before. But we saw nothing
except that the eyes were out of drawing.

For art was not for us then as it is now,--a mere emotion, right or wrong
only in proportion to its intensity; we believed then in the grammar of
art, perspective, anatomy, and _la jambe qui porte_; and we found all
this in Julien's studio.

A year passed; a year of art and dissipation--one part art, two parts
dissipation. We mounted and descended at pleasure the rounds of society's
ladder. One evening we would spend at Constant's, Rue de la Gaieté, in the
company of thieves and housebreakers; on the following evening we were
dining with a duchess or a princess in the Champs Elysées. And we prided
ourselves vastly on our versatility in using with equal facility the
language of the "fence's" parlour, and that of the literary salon; on being
able to appear as much at home in one as in the other. Delighted at our
prowess, we often whispered, "The princess, I swear, would not believe her
eyes if she saw us now;" and then in terrible slang we shouted a
benediction on some "crib" that was going to be broken into that evening.
And we thought there was something very thrilling in leaving the Rue de la
Gaieté, returning home to dress, and presenting our spotless selves to the
_élite_. And we succeeded very well, as indeed all young men do who
waltz perfectly and avoid making love to the wrong woman.

But the excitement of climbing up and down the social ladder did not stave
off our craving for art; and there came about this time a very decisive
event in our lives. Marshall's last and really _grande passion_ had
come to a violent termination, and monetary difficulties forced him to turn
his thoughts to painting as a means of livelihood. This decided me. I asked
him to come and live with me, and to be as near our studio as possible, I
took an _appartement_ in the Passage des Panoramas. It was not
pleasant that your window should open, not to the sky, but to an unclean
prospect of glass roofing; nor was it agreeable to get up at seven in the
morning; and ten hours of work daily are trying to the resolution even of
the best intentioned. But we had sworn to forego all pleasures for the sake
of art--table d'hôtes in the Rue Maubeuge, French and foreign duchesses in
the Champs Elysées, thieves in the Rue de la Gaieté.

I was entering therefore on a duel with Marshall for supremacy in an art
for which, as has already been said, I possessed no qualifications. It will
readily be understood how a mind like mine, so keenly alive to all
impulses, and so unsupported by any moral convictions, would suffer in so
keen a contest waged under such unequal and cruel conditions. It was in
truth a year of great passion and great despair. Defeat is bitter when it
comes swiftly and conclusively, but when defeat falls by inches like the
fatal pendulum in the pit, the agony is a little out of reach of words to
define. It was even so. I remember the first day of my martyrdom. The
clocks were striking eight; we chose our places, got into position. After
the first hour, I compared my drawing with Marshall's. He had, it is true,
caught the movement of the figure better than I, but the character and the
quality of his work was miserable. That of mine was not. I have said I
possessed no artistic facility, but I did not say faculty, my drawing was
never common; it was individual in feeling, it was refined. I possessed all
the rarer qualities, but not that primary power without which all is
valueless;--I mean the talent of the boy who can knock off a clever
caricature of his schoolmaster or make a _life-like_ sketch of his
favourite horse on the barn door with a piece of chalk.

The following week Marshall made a great deal of progress; I thought the
model did not suit me, and hoped for better luck next time. That time never
came, and at the end of the first month I was left toiling hopelessly in
the distance. Marshall's mind, though shallow, was bright, and he
understood with strange ease all that was told him, and was able to put
into immediate practice the methods of work inculcated by the professors.
In fact, he showed himself singularly capable of education; little could be
drawn out, but a great deal could be put in (using the word in its modern,
not in its original sense). He showed himself intensely anxious to learn
and to accept all that was said: the ideas and feelings of others ran into
him like water into a bottle whose neck is suddenly stooped below the
surface of the stream. He was an ideal pupil. It was Marshall here, it was
Marshall there, and soon the studio was little but an agitation in praise
of him, and his work, and anxious speculation arose as to the medals he
would obtain. I continued the struggle for nine months. I was in the studio
at eight in the morning; I measured my drawing; I plumbed it throughout; I
sketched in, having regard to _la jambe qui porte_; I modelled _par
les masses_. During breakfast I considered how I should work during the
afternoon; at night I lay awake thinking of what I might do to attain a
better result. But my efforts availed me nothing; it was like one who,
falling, stretches his arms for help and grasps the yielding air. How
terrible are the languors and yearnings of impotence! how wearing! what an
aching void they leave in the heart! And all this I suffered until the
burden of unachieved desire grew intolerable.

I laid down my charcoal and said, "I will never draw or paint again." That
vow I have kept.

Surrender brought relief, but my life seemed at an end. I looked upon a
blank space of years desolate as a grey and sailless sea. "What shall I
do?" I asked myself, and my heart was weary and hopeless. Literature? my
heart did not answer the question at once. I was too broken and overcome by
the shock of failure; failure precise and stern, admitting of no
equivocation. I strove to read: but it was impossible to sit at home almost
within earshot of the studio, and with all the memories of defeat still
ringing their knells in my heart. Marshall's success clamoured loudly from
without; every day, almost every hour of the day, I heard of the medals
which he would carry off; of what Lefevre thought of his drawing this week,
of Boulanger's opinion of his talent. I do not wish to excuse my conduct,
but I cannot help saying that Marshall showed me neither consideration nor
pity; he did not even seem to understand that I was suffering, that my
nerves had been terribly shaken, and he flaunted his superiority
relentlessly in my face--his good looks, his talents, his popularity. I did
not know then how little these studio successes really meant.

Vanity? no, it was not his vanity that maddened me; to me vanity is rarely
displeasing, sometimes it is singularly attractive; but by a certain
insistence and aggressiveness in the details of life he allowed me to feel
that I was only a means for the moment, a serviceable thing enough, but one
that would be very soon discarded and passed over. This was intolerable. I
broke up my establishment. By so doing I involved my friend in grave and
cruel difficulties; by this action I imperilled his future prospects. It
was a dastardly action; but his presence had grown unbearable; yes,
unbearable in the fullest acceptation of the word, and in ridding myself of
him I felt as if a world of misery were being lifted from me.



CHAPTER IV


After three months spent in a sweet seaside resort, where unoccupied men
and ladies whose husbands are abroad happily congregate, I returned to
Paris refreshed.

Marshall and I were no longer on speaking terms, but I saw him daily, in a
new overcoat, of a cut admirably adapted to his figure, sweeping past the
fans and the jet ornaments of the Passage des Panoramas. The coat
interested me, and I remembered that if I had not broken with him I should
have been able to ask him some essential questions concerning it. Of such
trifles as this the sincerest friendships are made; he was as necessary to
me as I to him, and after some demur on his part a reconciliation was
effected.

Then I took an _appartement_ in one of the old houses in Rue de la
Tour des Dames, for the windows there overlooked a bit of tangled garden
with a few dilapidated statues. It was Marshall of course who undertook the
task of furnishing, and he lavished on the rooms the fancies of an
imagination that suggested the collaboration of a courtesan of high degree
and a fifth-rate artist. Nevertheless, our salon was a pretty
resort--English cretonne of a very happy design--vine leaves, dark green
and golden, broken up by many fluttering jays. The walls were stretched
with this colourful cloth, and the armchairs and the couches were to match.
The drawing-room was in cardinal red, hung from the middle of the ceiling
and looped up to give the appearance of a tent; a faun, in terra cotta,
laughed in the red gloom, and there were Turkish couches and lamps. In
another room you faced an altar, a Buddhist temple, a statue of the Apollo,
and a bust of Shelley. The bedrooms were made unconventual with cushioned
seats and rich canopies; and in picturesque corners there were censers,
great church candlesticks, and palms; then think of the smell of burning
incense and wax and you will have imagined the sentiment of our apartment
in Rue de la Tour des Dames. I bought a Persian cat, and a python that made
a monthly meal off guinea pigs; Marshall, who did not care for pets, filled
his rooms with flowers--he used to sleep beneath a tree of gardenias in
full bloom. We were so, Henry Marshall and Edwin Dayne, when we went to
live in 76, Rue de la Tour des Dames, we hoped for the rest of our lives.
He was to paint, I was to write.

Before leaving for the seaside I had bought some volumes of Hugo and De
Musset; but in pleasant, sunny Boulogne poetry went flat, and it was not
until I got into my new rooms that I began to read seriously. Books are
like individuals; you know at once if they are going to create a sense
within the sense, to fever, to madden you in blood and brain, or if they
will merely leave you indifferent, or irritable, having unpleasantly
disturbed sweet intimate musings as might a draught from an open window.
Many are the reasons for love, but I confess I only love woman or book,
when it is as a voice of conscience, never heard before, heard suddenly, a
voice I am at once endearingly intimate with. This announces feminine
depravities in my affections. I am feminine, morbid, perverse. But above
all perverse, almost everything perverse interests, fascinates me.
Wordsworth is the only simple-minded man I ever loved, if that great
austere mind, chill even as the Cumberland year, can be called simple. But
Hugo is not perverse, nor even personal. Reading him was like being in
church with a strident-voiced preacher shouting from out of a terribly
sonorous pulpit. "Les Orientales." An East of painted card-board, tin
daggers, and a military band playing the Turkish patrol in the Palais Royal
... The verse is grand, noble, tremendous; I liked it, I admired it, but it
did not--I repeat the phrase--awake a voice of conscience within me; and
even the structure of the verse was too much in the style of public
buildings to please me. Of "Les Feuilles d'Automne" and "Les Chants du
Crépuscule" I remember nothing. Ten lines, fifty lines of "La Légende des
Siècles," and I always think that it is the greatest poetry I have ever
read, but after a few pages I invariably put the book down and forget it.
Having composed more verses than any man that ever lived, Hugo can only be
taken in the smallest doses; if you repeat any passage to a friend across a
café table, you are both appalled by the splendour of the imagery, by the
thunder of the syllables.

    "Quel dieu, quel moissonneur dans l'éternel été
    Avait s'en allant négligemment jeté
    Cette faucille d'or dans les champs des étoiles."

But if I read an entire poem I never escape that sensation of the ennui
which is inherent in the gaud and the glitter of the Italian or Spanish
improvisatore. There never was anything French about Hugo's genius. Hugo
was a cross between an Italian improvisatore and a metaphysical German
student. Take another verse--

    "Le clair de lune bleu qui baigne l'horizon."

Without a "like" or an "as," by a mere statement of fact, the picture, nay
more, the impression, is produced. I confess I have a weakness for the poem
which this line concludes--"La fête chez Thérèse;" but admirable as it is
with its picture of mediaeval life, there is in it, like in all Hugo's
work, a sense of fabrication that dries up emotion in my heart. He shouts
and raves over poor humanity, while he is gathering coppers for himself; he
goes in for an all-round patronage of the Almighty in a last stanza; but of
the two immortalities he evidently considers his own the most durable; he
does not, however, become really intolerable until he gets on the subject
of little children; he sings their innocence in great bombast, but he is
watching them; the poetry over, the crowd dispersed, he will appear a
veritable Mr. Hyde.

The first time I read of _une bouche d'ombre_ I was astonished, nor
the second nor third repetition produced a change in my mood of mind; but
sooner or later it was impossible to avoid conviction, that of the two "the
rosy fingers of the dawn," although some three thousand years older was
younger, truer, and more beautiful. Homer's similes can never grow old;
_une bouche d'ombre_ was old the first time it was said. It is the
birthplace and the grave of Hugo's genius.

Of Alfred de Musset I had heard a great deal. Marshall and the Marquise
were in the habit of reading him in moments of relaxation, they had marked
their favourite passages, so he came to me highly recommended.
Nevertheless, I made but little progress in his poetry. His modernisms were
out of tune with the present strain of my aspirations, and I did not find
the unexpected word and the eccentricities of expression which were, and
are still, so dear to me. I am not a purist; an error of diction is very
pardonable if it does not err on the side of the commonplace; the
commonplace, the natural, is constitutionally abhorrent to me; and I have
never been able to read with any very thorough sense of pleasure even the
opening lines of "Rolla," that splendid lyrical outburst. What I remember
of it now are those two odious _chevilles--marchait et respirait_, and
_Astarté fille de l'onde amère_; nor does the fact that _amère_
rhymes with _mère_ condone the offence, although it proves that even
Musset felt that perhaps the richness of the rhyme might render tolerable
the intolerable. And it is to my credit that the Spanish love songs moved
me not at all; and it was not until I read that magnificently grotesque
poem "La Ballade à la Lune," that I could be induced to bend the knee and
acknowledge Musset a poet.

I still read and spoke of Shelley with a rapture of joy,--he was still my
soul. But this craft, fashioned of mother o' pearl, with starlight at the
helm and moonbeams for sails, suddenly ran on a reef and went down, not out
of sight, but out of the agitation of actual life. The reef was Gautier; I
read "Mdlle. de Maupin." The reaction was as violent as it was sudden. I
was weary of spiritual passion, and this great exaltation of the body above
the soul at once conquered and led me captive; this plain scorn of a world
as exemplified in lacerated saints and a crucified Redeemer opened up to me
illimitable prospects of fresh beliefs, and therefore new joys in things
and new revolts against all that had come to form part and parcel of the
commonalty of mankind. Till now I had not even remotely suspected that a
deification of flesh and fleshly desire was possible, Shelley's teaching
had been, while accepting the body, to dream of the soul as a star, and so
preserve our ideal; but now suddenly I saw, with delightful clearness and
with intoxicating conviction, that by looking without shame and accepting
with love the flesh, I might raise it to as high a place and within as
divine a light as even the soul had been set in. The ages were as an
aureole, and I stood as if enchanted before the noble nakedness of the
elder gods: not the infamous nudity that sex has preserved in this modern
world, but the clean pagan nude,--a love of life and beauty, the broad fair
breast of a boy, the long flanks, the head thrown back; the bold fearless
gaze of Venus is lovelier than the lowered glance of the Virgin, and I
cried with my master that the blood that flowed upon Mount Calvary "_ne
m'a jamais baigné dans ses flots._"

I will not turn to the book to find the exact words of this sublime
vindication, for ten years I have not read the Word that has become so
inexpressibly a part of me; and shall I not refrain as Mdlle. de Maupin
refrained, knowing well that the face of love may not be twice seen? Great
was my conversion. None more than I had cherished mystery and dream: my
life until now had been but a mist which revealed as each cloud wreathed
and went out, the red of some strange flower or some tall peak, blue and
snowy and fairylike in lonely moonlight; and now so great was my conversion
that the more brutal the outrage offered to my ancient ideal, the rarer and
keener was my delight. I read almost without fear: "My dreams were of naked
youths riding white horses through mountain passes, there were no clouds in
my dreams, or if there were any, they were clouds that had been cut out as
if in cardboard with a pair of scissors."

I had shaken off all belief in Christianity early in life, and had suffered
much. Shelley had replaced faith by reason, but I still suffered: but here
was a new creed which proclaimed the divinity of the body, and for a long
time the reconstruction of all my theories of life on a purely pagan basis
occupied my whole attention. The exquisite outlines of the marvellous
castle, the romantic woods, the horses moving, the lovers leaning to each
other's faces enchanted me; and then the indescribably beautiful
description of the performance of _As you like it_, and the supreme
relief and perfect assuagement it brings to Rodolph, who then sees Mdlle.
de Maupin for the first time in woman's attire. If she were dangerously
beautiful as a man, that beauty is forgotten in the rapture and praise of
her unmatchable woman's loveliness.

But if Mdlle. de Maupin was the highest peak, it was not the entire
mountain. The range was long, and each summit offered to the eye a new and
delightful prospect. There were the numerous tales,--tales as perfect as
the world has ever seen; "La Morte Amoureuse," "Jettatura," "Une Nuit de
Cléopâtre," etc., and then the very diamonds of the crown, "Les Emaux et
Camées," "La Symphonie en Blanc Majeure," in which the adjective
_blanc_ and _blanche_ is repeated with miraculous felicity in
each stanza. And then Contralto,--

    "Mais seulement il se transpose
      Et passant de la forme au son,
    Trouvant dans la métamorphose
      La jeune fille et le garçon."

_Transpose_,--a word never before used except in musical application,
and now for the first time applied to material form, and with a
beauty-giving touch that Phidias might be proud of. I know not how I quote;
such is my best memory of the stanza, and here, that is more important than
the stanza itself. And that other stanza, "The Châtelaine and the Page;"
and that other, "The Doves;" and that other, "Romeo and Juliet," and the
exquisite cadence of the line ending "_balcon_." Novelists have often
shown how a love passion brings misery, despair, death, and ruin upon a
life, but I know of no story of the good or evil influence awakened by the
chance reading of a book, the chain of consequences so far-reaching, so
intensely dramatic. Never shall I open these books again, but were I to
live for a thousand years, their power in my soul would remain unshaken. I
am what they made me. Belief in humanity, pity for the poor, hatred of
injustice, all that Shelley gave may never have been very deep or earnest;
but I did love, I did believe. Gautier destroyed these illusions. He taught
me that our boasted progress is but a pitfall into which the race is
falling, and I learned that the correction of form is the highest ideal,
and I accepted the plain, simple conscience of the pagan world as the
perfect solution of the problem that had vexed me so long; I cried, "ave"
to it all: lust, cruelty, slavery, and I would have held down my thumbs in
the Colosseum that a hundred gladiators might die and wash me free of my
Christian soul with their blood.

The study of Baudelaire aggravated the course of the disease. No longer is
it the grand barbaric face of Gautier; now it is the clean shaven face of
the mock priest, the slow, cold eyes and the sharp, cunning sneer of the
cynical libertine who will be tempted that he may better know the
worthlessness of temptation. "Les Fleurs du Mal!" beautiful flowers,
beautiful in sublime decay. What great record is yours, and were Hell a
reality how many souls would we find wreathed with your poisonous blossoms.
The village maiden goes to her Faust; the children of the nineteenth
century go to you, O Baudelaire, and having tasted of your deadly delight
all hope of repentance is vain. Flowers, beautiful in your sublime decay, I
press you to my lips; these northern solitudes, far from the rank Parisian
garden where I gathered you, are full of you, even as the sea-shell of the
sea, and the sun that sets on this wild moorland evokes the magical verse:--


    "Un soir fait de rose et de bleu mystique
    Nous échangerons un éclair unique
    Comme un long sanglot tout chargé d'adieux."

For months I fed on the mad and morbid literature that the enthusiasm of
1830 called into existence. The gloomy and sterile little pictures of
"Gaspard de la Nuit," or the elaborate criminality, "Les Contes Immoraux,"
laboriously invented lifeless things with creaky joints, pitiful lay
figures that fall to dust as soon as the book is closed, and in the dust
only the figures of the terrible ferryman and the unfortunate Dora remain.
"Madame Potiphar" cost me forty francs, and I never read more than a few
pages.

Like a pike after minnows, I pursued the works of Les Jeune France along
the quays and through every _passage_ in Paris. The money spent was
considerable, the waste of time enormous. One man's solitary work (he died
very young, but he is known to have excelled all in length of his hair and
the redness of his waistcoats) resisted my efforts to capture it. At last I
caught sight of the precious volume in a shop on the Quai Voltaire.
Trembling I asked the price. The man looked at me earnestly and answered,
"A hundred and fifty francs." No doubt it was a great deal of money, but I
paid it and rushed home to read. Many that had gone before had proved
disappointing, and I was obliged to admit had contributed little towards my
intellectual advancement; but this--this that I had heard about so
long--not a queer phrase, not an outrage of any sort of kind, not even a
new blasphemy, nothing, that is to say, nothing but a hundred and fifty
francs. Having thus rudely, and very pikelike, knocked my nose against the
bottom--this book was, most assuredly, the bottom of the literature of
1830--I came up to the surface and began to look around my contemporaries
for something to read.

I have remarked before on the instinctiveness of my likes and dislikes, on
my susceptibility to the sound of and even to the appearance of a name upon
paper. I was repelled by Leconte de Lisle from the first, and it was only
by a very deliberate outrage to my feelings that I bought and read "Les
Poèmes Antiques," and "Les Poèmes Barbares;" I was deceived in nothing, all
I had anticipated I found--long, desolate boredom. Leconte de Lisle
produces on me the effect of a walk through the new Law Courts, with a
steady but not violent draught sweeping from end to end. Oh, the vile old
professor of rhetoric! and when I saw him the last time I was in Paris, his
head--a declaration of righteousness, a cross between a Caesar by Gerome,
and an archbishop of a provincial town, set all my natural antipathy
instantly on edge. Hugo is often pompous, shallow, empty, unreal, but he is
at least an artist, and when he thinks of the artist and forgets the
prophet, as in "Les Chansons des Rues et des Bois," his juggling with the
verse is magnificent, superb.

    "Comme un geai sur l'arbre
      Le roi se tient fier;
    Son coeur est de marbre,
      Son ventre est de chair.

    "On a pour sa nuque
      Et son front vermeil
    Fait une perruque
      Avec le soleil.

    "Il règne, il végète
      Effroyable zéro;
    Sur lui se projette
      L'ombre du bourreau.

    "Son trône est une tombe,
      Et sur le pavé
    Quelque chose en tombe
      Qu'on n'a point lavé."

But how to get the first line of the last stanza into five syllables I
cannot think. If ever I meet with the volume again I will look it out and
see how that _rude dompteur de syllables_ managed it. But stay, _son
trône est la tombe_; that makes the verse, and the generalisation would
be in the "line" of Hugo. Hugo--how impossible it is to speak of French
literature without referring to him. Let these, however, be the concluding
words: he thought that by saying everything, and saying everything twenty
times over, he would for ever render impossible the advent of another great
poet. But a work of art is valuable, and pleasurable in proportion to its
rarity; one beautiful book of verses is better than twenty books of
beautiful verses. This is an absolute and incontestable truth; a child can
burlesque this truth--one verse is better than the whole poem: a word is
better than the line; a letter is better than the word; but the truth is
not thereby affected. Hugo never had the good fortune to write a bad book,
nor even a single bad line, so not having time to read all, the future will
read none. What immortality would be gained by the destruction of one half
of his magnificent works; what oblivion is secured by the publication of
these posthumous volumes.

To return to the Leconte de Lisle. See his "Discours de Réception." Is it
possible to imagine anything more absurdly arid? Rhetoric of this sort,
"_des vers d'or sur une écume d'airain_," and such sententious
platitudes (speaking of the realists), "_Les épidémies de cette nature
passent, et le génie demeure._"

Théodore de Banville. At first I thought him cold, tinged with the
rhetorical ice of the Leconte de Lisle. He had no new creed to proclaim nor
old creed to denounce, the inherent miseries of human life did not seem to
touch him, and of the languors and ardours of animal or spiritual passion
there are none. What is there? a pure, clear song, an instinctive,
incurable and lark-like love of the song. The lily is white, and the rose
is red, such knowledge of, such observation of nature is enough for the
poet, and he sings and he trills, there is silver magic in every note, and
the song as it ascends rings, and all the air quivers with the everwidening
circle of the echoes, sighing and dying out of the ear until the last
faintness is reached, and the glad rhymes clash and dash forth again on
their aërial way. Banville is not the poet, he is the bard. The great
questions that agitate the mind of man have not troubled him, life, death,
and love he only perceives as stalks whereon he may weave his glittering
web of living words. Whatever his moods may be, he is lyrical. His wit
flies out on clear-cut, swallow-like wings as when he said, in speaking of
Paul Alexis' book "Le Besoin d'aimer," "_Vous avez trouvez un titre assez
laid pour faire reculer les divines étoiles._" I know not what
instrument to compare with his verse. I suppose I should say a flute; but
it seems to me more like a marvellously toned piano. His hands pass over
the keys, and he produces Chopin-like music.

It is now well known that French verse is not seventy years old. If it was
Hugo who invented French rhyme it was Banville who broke up the couplet.
Hugo had perhaps ventured to place the pause between the adjective and its
noun, but it was not until Banville wrote the line, "_Elle filait
pensivement la blanche laine_" that the caesura received its final
_coup de grâce_. This verse has been probably more imitated than any
other verse in the French language. _Pensivement_ was replaced by some
similar four-syllable adverb, _Elle tirait nonchalamment les bas de soie,
etc_. It was the beginning of the end.

I read the French poets of the modern school--Coppée, Mendès, Léon Diex,
Verlaine, José Maria Heredia, Mallarmé, Rechepin, Villiers de l'Isle Adam.
Coppée, as may be imagined, I only was capable of appreciating in his first
manner, when he wrote those exquisite but purely artistic sonnets "La
Tulipe" and "Le Lys." In the latter a room decorated with daggers, armour,
jewellery and china is beautifully described, and it is only in the last
line that the lily which animates and gives life to the whole is
introduced. But the exquisite poetic perceptivity Coppée showed in his
modern poems, the certainty with which he raised the commonest subject,
investing it with sufficient dignity for his purpose, escaped me wholly,
and I could not but turn with horror from such poems as "La Nourrice" and
"Le Petit Epicier." How anyone could bring himself to acknowledge the
vulgar details of our vulgar age I could not understand. The fiery glory of
José Maria de Heredia, on the contrary, filled me with enthusiasm--ruins
and sand, shadow and silhouette of palms and pillars, negroes, crimson,
swords, silence, and arabesques. As great copper pans go the clangour of
the rhymes.

    "Entre le ciel qui brûle et la mer qui moutonne,
    Au somnolent soleil d'un midi monotone,
    Tu songes, O guerrière, aux vieux conquistadors;
    Et dans l'énervement des nuits chaudes et calmes,
    Berçant ta gloire éteinte, O cité, tu t'endors
    Sous les palmiers, au long frémissement des palmes."

Catulle Mendès, a perfect realisation of his name, of his pale hair, of his
fragile face illuminated with the idealism of a depraved woman. He takes
you by the arm, by the hand, he leans towards you, his words are caresses,
his fervour is delightful, and listening to him is as sweet as drinking a
fair perfumed white wine. All he says is false--the book he has just read,
the play he is writing, the woman who loves him,... he buys a packet of
bonbons in the streets and eats them, and it is false. An exquisite artist;
physically and spiritually he is art; he is the muse herself, or rather, he
is one of the minions of the muse. Passing from flower to flower he goes,
his whole nature pulsing with butterfly voluptuousness. He has written
poems as good as Hugo, as good as Leconte de Lisle, as good as Banville, as
good as Baudelaire, as good as Gautier, as good as Coppée; he never wrote
an ugly line in his life, but he never wrote a line that some one of his
brilliant contemporaries might not have written. He has produced good work
of all kinds "et voilà tout." Every generation, every country, has its
Catulle Mendès. Robert Buchanan is ours, only in the adaptation Scotch
gruel has been substituted for perfumed white wine. No more delightful
talker than Mendès, no more accomplished _littérateur_, no more fluent
and translucid critic. I remember the great moonlights of the _Place
Pigale_, when, on leaving the café, he would take me by the arm, and
expound Hugo's or Zola's last book, thinking as he spoke of the Greek
sophists. There were for contrast Mallarmé's Tuesday evenings, a few
friends sitting round the hearth, the lamp on the table. I have met none
whose conversation was more fruitful, but with the exception of his early
verses I cannot say I ever frankly enjoyed his poetry. When I knew him he
had published the celebrated "L'Après Midi d'un Faun:" the first poem
written in accordance with the theory of symbolism. But when it was given
to me (this marvellous brochure furnished with strange illustrations and
wonderful tassels), I thought it absurdly obscure. Since then, however, it
has been rendered by force of contrast with the brain-curdling enigmas the
author has since published a marvel of lucidity; and were I to read it now
I should appreciate its many beauties. It bears the same relation to the
author's later work as _Rienzi_ to _The Walkyrie_. But what is
symbolism? Vulgarly speaking, saying the opposite to what you mean. For
example, you want to say that music which is the new art, is replacing the
old art, which is poetry. First symbol: a house in which there is a
funeral, the pall extends over the furniture. The house is poetry, poetry
is dead. Second symbol: "_notre vieux grimoire_," _grimoire_ is the
parchment, parchment is used for writing, therefore, _grimoire_ is the
symbol for literature, "_d'où s'exaltent les milliers_," thousands of
what? of letters of course. We have heard a great deal in England of
Browning obscurity. The "Red Cotton Nightcap Country" is child's play
compared to a sonnet by a determined symbolist such as Mallarmé, or better
still his disciple Ghil who has added to the difficulties of symbolism
those of poetic instrumentation. For according to M. Ghil and his organ
_Les Ecrits pour l'Art_, it would appear that the syllables of the
French language evoke in us the sensations of different colours;
consequently the timbre of the different instruments. The vowel _u_
corresponds to the colour yellow, and therefore to the sound of flutes.

Arthur Rimbaud was, it is true, first in the field with these pleasant and
genial theories; but M. Ghil informs us that Rimbaud was mistaken in many
things, particularly in coupling the sound of the vowel _u_ with the
colour green instead of with the colour yellow. M. Ghil has corrected this
very stupid blunder and many others; and his instrumentation in his last
volume, "Le Geste Ingénu," may be considered as complete and definitive.
The work is dedicated to Mallarmé, "Père et seigneur des ors, des
pierreries, et des poissons," and other works are to follow:--the six tomes
of "Légendes de Rêves et de Sangs," the innumerable tomes of "La Glose,"
and the single tome of "La Loi."

And that man Gustave Kahn, who takes the French language as a violin, and
lets the bow of his emotion run at wild will upon it producing strange
acute strains, unpremeditated harmonies comparable to nothing that I know
of but some Hungarian rhapsody; verses of seventeen syllables interwoven
with verses of eight, and even nine, masculine rhymes, seeking strange
union with feminine rhymes in the middle of the line--a music sweet,
subtil, and epicene; the half-note, the inflexion, but not the full
tone--as "_se fondre, o souvenir, des lys âcres délices._"

    Se penchant vers les dahlias,
    Des paons cabrient dès rosace lunaire
    L'assoupissement des branches vénère
    Son pale visage aux mourants dahlias.

    Elle écoute au loin les brèves musiques
    Nuit claire aux ramures d'accords,
    Et la lassitude a bercé son corps
    Au rhythme odorant des pures musiques.

    Les paons out dressé la rampe occellée
    Pour la descente de ses yeux vers le tapis
      De choses et de sens
    Qui va vers l'horizon, parure vemiculée
      De son corps alangui
      En âme se tapit
    Le flou désir molli de récits et d'encens.

I laughed at these verbal eccentricities, but they were not without their
effect, and that effect was a demoralising one; for in me they aggravated
the fever of the unknown, and whetted my appetite for the strange, abnormal
and unhealthy in art. Hence all pallidities of thought and desire were
eagerly welcomed, and Verlaine became my poet. Never shall I forget the
first enchantment of "Les Fêtes Galantes." Here all is twilight.

The royal magnificences of the sunset have passed, the solemn beatitude of
the night is at hand but not yet here; the ways are veiled with shadow, and
lit with dresses, white, that the hour has touched with blue, yellow,
green, mauve, and undecided purple; the voices? strange contraltos; the
forms? not those of men or women, but mystic, hybrid creatures, with hands
nervous and pale, and eyes charged with eager and fitful light ... "_un
soir équivoque d'automne_," ... "_les belles pendent rêveuses à nos bras_"
... and they whisper "_les mots spéciaux et tout bas_."

Gautier sang to his antique lyre praise of the flesh and contempt of the
soul; Baudelaire on a mediaeval organ chaunted his unbelief in goodness and
truth and his hatred of life. But Verlaine advances one step further: hate
is to him as commonplace as love, unfaith as vulgar as faith. The world is
merely a doll to be attired to-day in a modern ball dress, to-morrow in
aureoles and stars. The Virgin is a pretty thing, worth a poem, but it
would be quite too silly to talk about belief or unbelief; Christ in wood
or plaster we have heard too much of, but Christ in painted glass amid
crosiers and Latin terminations, is an amusing subject for poetry. And
strangely enough, a withdrawing from all commerce with virtue and vice is,
it would seem, a licentiousness more curiously subtle and penetrating than
any other; and the licentiousness of the verse is equal to that of the
emotion; every natural instinct of the language is violated, and the simple
music native in French metre is replaced by falsetto notes sharp and
intense. The charm is that of an odour of iris exhaled by some ideal
tissues, or of a missal in a gold case, a precious relic of the pomp and
ritual of an archbishop of Persepolis.

    Parsifal a vaincu les filles, leur gentil
    Babil et la luxure amusante et sa pente
    Vers la chair de ce garçon vierge que cela tente
    D'aimer des seins légers et ce gentil babil.

    Il a vaincu la femme belle au coeur subtil
    Etalant ces bras frais et sa gorge excitante;
    Il a vaincu l'enfer, il rentre dans sa tente
    Avec un lourd trophée à son bras pueril.

    Avec la lance qui perça le flanc suprême
    Il a guéri le roi, le voici roi lui-même,
    Et prêtre du très-saint trésor essentiel;

    En robe d'or il adore, gloire et symbole,
    Le vase pur où resplendit le sang réel,
    Et, o ces voix d'enfants chantent dans la coupole.

I know of no more perfect thing than this sonnet. The hiatus in the last
line was at first a little trying, but I have learned to love it; not in
Baudelaire nor even in Poe is there more beautiful poetry to be found. Poe,
unread and ill-understood in America and England, here, thou art an
integral part of our artistic life.

The Island o' Fay, Silence, Elionore, were the familiar spirits of an
apartment beautiful with tapestry and palms; Swinburne and Rossetti were
the English poets I read there; and in a golden bondage, I, a unit in the
generation they have enslaved, clanked my fetters and trailed my golden
chain. I had begun a set of stories in many various metres, to be called
"Roses of Midnight." One of the characteristics of the volume was that
daylight was banished from its pages. In the sensual lamplight of yellow
boudoirs, or the wild moonlight of centenarian forests, my fantastic loves
lived out their lives, died with the dawn which was supposed to be an
awakening to consciousness of reality.



CHAPTER V


A last hour of vivid blue and gold glare; but now the twilight sheds softly
upon the darting jays, and only the little oval frames catch the fleeting
beams. I go to the miniatures. Amid the parliamentary faces, all strictly
garrotted with many-folded handkerchiefs, there is a metal frame enchased
with rubies and a few emeralds. And this _chef d'oeuvre_ of antique
workmanship surrounds a sharp, shrewdish, modern face, withal pretty. Fair
she is and thin.

She is a woman of thirty,--no,--she is the woman of thirty. Balzac has
written some admirable pages on this subject; my memory of them is vague
and uncertain, although durable, as all memories of him must be. But that
marvellous story, or rather study, has been blunted in my knowledge of this
tiny face with the fine masses of hair drawn up from the neck and arranged
elaborately on the crown. There is no fear of plagiary; he cannot have said
all; he cannot have said what I want to say.

Looking at this face so mundane, so intellectually mundane, I see why a
young man of refined mind--a bachelor who spends at least a pound a day on
his pleasures, and in whose library are found some few volumes of modern
poetry--seeks his ideal in a woman of thirty.

It is clear that, by the very essence of her being, the young girl may
evoke no ideal but that of home; and home is in his eyes the antithesis of
freedom, desire, aspiration. He longs for mystery, deep and endless, and he
is tempted with a foolish little illusion--white dresses, water colour
drawings, and popular music. He dreams of Pleasure, and he is offered Duty;
for do not think that that sylph-like waist does not suggest to him a yard
of apron string, cries of children, and that most odious word, "Papa." A
young man of refined mind can look through the glass of the years.

He has sat in the stalls, opera-glass in hand; he has met women of thirty
at balls, and has sat with them beneath shadowy curtains; he knows that the
world is full of beautiful women, all waiting to be loved and amused, the
circles of his immediate years are filled with feminine faces, they cluster
like flowers on this side and that, and they fade into garden-like spaces
of colour. How many may love him? The loveliest may one day smile upon his
knee! and shall he renounce all for that little creature who has just
finished singing, and is handing round cups of tea? Every bachelor
contemplating marriage says, "I shall have to give up all for one, one."

The young girl is often pretty but her prettiness is vague and uncertain,
it inspires a sort of pitying admiration, but it suggests nothing; the very
essence of the young girl's being is that she should have nothing to
suggest, therefore the beauty of the young face fails to touch the
imagination. No past lies hidden in those translucent eyes, no story of
hate, disappointment, or sin. Nor is there in nine hundred and ninety-nine
cases in a thousand any doubt that the hand, that spends at least a pound a
day in restaurants and cabs, will succeed in gathering the muslin flower if
he so wills it, and by doing so he will delight every one. Where, then, is
the struggle? where, then, is the triumph? Therefore, I say that if a young
man's heart is not set on children, and tiresome dinner parties, the young
girl presents to him no possible ideal. But the woman of thirty presents
from the outset all that is necessary to ensnare the heart of a young man.
I see her sitting in her beautiful drawing-room, all composed by, and all
belonging to her. Her chair is placed beneath an evergreen plant, and the
long leaves lean out as if to touch her neck. The great white and red roses
of the _d'aubusson_ carpet are spread enigmatically about her feline
feet; a grand piano leans its melodious mouth to her; and there she sits
when her visitors have left her, playing Beethoven's sonatas in the dreamy
firelight. The spring-tide shows but a bloom of unvarying freshness; August
has languished and loved in the strength of the sun. She is stately, she is
tall. What sins, what disappointments, what aspirations lie in those grey
eyes, mysteriously still, and mysteriously revealed. These a young man
longs to know of, they are his life. He imagines himself sitting by her,
when the others have gone, holding her hand, calling on her name; sometimes
she moves away and plays the moonlight sonata. Letting her hands droop upon
the keys she talks sadly, maybe affectionately; she speaks of the tedium of
life, of its disenchantments. He knows well what she means, he has suffered
as she has; but could he tell her, could she understand, that in his love
reality would dissolve into a dream, all limitations would open into
boundless infinity.

The husband he rarely sees. Sometimes a latchkey is heard about half-past
six. The man is thick, strong, common; his jaws are heavy; his eyes are
expressionless; there is about him the loud swagger of the _caserne_;
and he suggests the inevitable question, Why did she marry him?--a question
that every young man of refined mind asks a thousand times by day and ten
thousand times by night, asks till he is five-and-thirty, and sees that his
generation has passed into middle age.

Why did she marry him? Not the sea, nor the sky, nor the great mysterious
midnight, when he opens his casement and gazes into starry space will give
him answer; riddle that no Oedipus will ever come to unravel; this sphinx
will never throw herself from the rock into the clangour of the seagulls
and waves; she will never divulge her secret; and if she is the woman and
not a woman of thirty, she has forgotten.

The young man shakes hands with the husband; he strives not to look
embarrassed, and he talks of indifferent things--of how well he (the
husband) is looking, of his amusements, his projects; and then he (the
young man of refined mind) tastes of that keen and highly-seasoned
delight--happiness in crime. He knows not the details of her home life, the
husband is merely a dark cloud that fills one side of the picture,
sometimes obliterating the sunlight; a shadowy shape that in certain
moments solidifies and assumes the likeness of a rock-sculptured, imminent
monster; but the shadow and the shape and the threat are magnetic, and in a
sense of danger the fascination is sealed....

See the young man of refined mind in a ball room! He is leaning against the
woodwork in a distant doorway, he scarcely knows what to do with himself;
and he is now striving to interest himself in the conversation of a group
of men twice his age. I will not say he is shunned; but neither the matrons
nor the young girls make any advances towards him. The young girls looking
so sweet--in the oneness of their fresh hair, flowers, dresses, and
glances--are being introduced, are getting up to dance, and the hostess is
looking round for partners. She sees the young man in the doorway; but she
hesitates and goes to some one else; and if you asked her why, she could
not tell you why she avoided him. Presently the woman of thirty enters. She
is in white satin and diamonds. She looks for him,--a circular glance,--and
calm with possession she passes to a seat. She dances the eighth, twelfth,
and fifteenth waltz with him.

Will he induce her to visit his rooms? Will they be like mine--strange
debauches of colour and Turkish lamps, Marshall's taste, an old cabinet, a
faded pastel which embalms the memory of a pastoral century, my taste; or
will it be a library,--two leather library chairs, a large escritoire,
etc.? Be this as it may, whether the apartments be the ruthless
extravagance of artistic impulse, or the subdued taste of the student, she,
the woman of thirty, shall be there by night and day: her statue is there,
and even when she is sleeping safe in her husband's arms with fevered brow,
he, the young man of refined mind, alone and lonely shall kneel and adore
her.

And should she _not_ visit his rooms? If the complex and various
accidents of existence should have ruled out her life virtuously; if the
many inflections of sentiment have decided against this last consummation,
then she will wax to the complete, the unfathomable temptress--the Lilith
of old--she will never set him free, and in the end will be found about his
heart "one single golden hair." She shall haunt his wife's face and words
(should he seek to rid himself of her by marriage), a bitter sweet, a
half-welcome enchantment; she shall consume and destroy the strength and
spirit of his life, leaving it desolation, a barren landscape, burnt and
faintly scented with the sea. Fame and wealth shall slip like sand from
him. She may be set aside for the cadence of a rhyme, for the flowing line
of a limb, but when the passion of art has raged itself out, she shall
return to blight the peace of the worker.

A terrible malady is she, a malady the ancients knew of and called
nympholepsy--a beautiful name evocative and symbolic of its ideal aspect,
"the breast of the nymph in the brake." And the disease is not extinct in
these modern days, nor will it ever be so long as men shall yearn for the
unattainable; and the prosy bachelors who trail their ill-fated lives from
their chambers to their clubs know of, and they call their malady--the
woman of thirty.



CHAPTER VI


A Japanese dressing gown, the ideality of whose tissue delights me, some
fresh honey and milk set by this couch hung with royal fringes; and having
partaken of this odorous refreshment, I call to Jack my great python that
is crawling about after a two months' fast. I tie up a guineapig to the
_tabouret_, pure Louis XV., the little beast struggles and squeaks,
the snake, his black, bead-like eyes are fixed, how superb are the
oscillations ... now he strikes, and slowly and with what exquisite
gourmandise he lubricates and swallows.

Marshall is at the organ in the hall, he is playing a Gregorian chant, that
beautiful hymn, the "Vexilla Regis," by Saint Fortunatus, the great poet of
the Middle Ages. And, having turned over the leaves of "Les Fêtes
Gallantes," I sit down to write.

My original intention was to write some thirty or forty stories varying
from thirty to three hundred lines in length. The nature of these stories
is easy to imagine: there was the youth who wandered by night into a
witches' sabbath, and was disputed for by the witches, young and old. There
was the light o' love who went into the desert to tempt the holy man; but
he died as he yielded, and the arms stiffening by some miracle to iron-like
rigidity, she was unable to free herself, and died of starvation, as her
bondage loosened in decay. And I had increased my difficulties by adopting
as part of my task the introduction of all sorts of elaborate, and in many
cases extravagantly composed metres, and I had begun to feel that I was
working in sand, I could make no progress, the house I was raising crumbled
and fell away on every side. These stories had one merit: they were all, so
far as I can remember, perfectly constructed. For the art of telling a
story clearly and dramatically, _selon les procédés de M. Scribe_, I
had thoroughly learnt from old M. Duval, the author of a hundred and sixty
plays, written in collaboration with more than a hundred of the best
writers of his day, including the master himself, Gautier. I frequently met
M. Duval at breakfast at a neighbouring _café_, and our conversation
turned on _l'exposition de la pièce, préparer la situation, nous aurons
des larmes_, etc. One day, as I sat waiting for him, I took up the
_Voltaire_. It contained an article by M. Zola. _Naturalisme, la
vérité, la science_, were repeated some half-a-dozen times. Hardly able
to believe my eyes, I read that you should write, with as little
imagination as possible, that plot in a novel or in a play was illiterate
and puerile, and that the art of M. Scribe was an art of strings and wires,
etc. I rose up from breakfast, ordered my coffee, and stirred the sugar, a
little dizzy, like one who has received a violent blow on the head.

Echo-augury! Words heard in an unexpected quarter, but applying
marvellously well to the besetting difficulty of the moment. The reader who
has followed me so far will remember the instant effect the word "Shelley"
had upon me in childhood, and how it called into existence a train of
feeling that illuminated the vicissitudes and passions of many years, until
it was finally assimilated and became part of my being; the reader will
also remember how the mere mention, at a certain moment, of the word
"France" awoke a vital impulse, even a sense of final ordination, and how
the irrevocable message was obeyed, and how it led to the creation of a
mental existence.

And now for a third time I experienced the pain and joy of a sudden and
inward light. Naturalism, truth, the new art, above all the phrase, "the
new art," impressed me as with a sudden sense of light. I was dazzled, and
I vaguely understood that my "Roses of Midnight" were sterile
eccentricities, dead flowers that could not be galvanised into any
semblance of life, passionless in all their passion.

I had read a few chapters of the "Assommoir," as it appeared in _La
République des Lettres_; I had cried, "ridiculous, abominable," only
because it is characteristic of me to instantly form an opinion and assume
at once a violent attitude. But now I bought up the back numbers of the
_Voltaire_, and I looked forward to the weekly exposition of the new
faith with febrile eagerness. The great zeal with which the new master
continued his propaganda, and the marvellous way in which subjects the most
diverse, passing events, political, social, religious, were caught up and
turned into arguments for, or proof of the truth of naturalism astonished
me wholly. The idea of a new art based upon science, in opposition to the
art of the old world that was based on imagination, an art that should
explain all things and embrace modern life in its entirety, in its endless
ramifications, be, as it were, a new creed in a new civilisation, filled me
with wonder, and I stood dumb before the vastness of the conception, and
the towering height of the ambition. In my fevered fancy I saw a new race
of writers that would arise, and with the aid of the novel would continue
to a more glorious and legitimate conclusion the work that the prophets had
begun; and at each development of the theory of the new art and its
universal applicability, my wonder increased and my admiration choked me.
If any one should be tempted to turn to the books themselves to seek an
explanation of this wild ecstasy, they would find nothing--as well drink
the dregs of yesterday's champagne. One is lying before me now, and as I
glance through the pages listlessly I say, "Only the simple crude
statements of a man of powerful mind, but singularly narrow vision."

Still, although eager and anxious for the fray, I did not see how I was to
participate in it. I was not a novelist, not yet a dramatic author, and the
possibility of a naturalistic poet seemed to me not a little doubtful. I
had clearly understood that the lyrical quality was to be for ever
banished; there were to be no harps and lutes in our heaven, only drums;
and the preservation of all the essentials of poetry, by the simple
enumeration of the utensils to be found in a back kitchen, did, I could not
help thinking (here it becomes necessary to whisper), sound not unlike
rigmarole. I waited for the master to speak. He had declared that the
Republic would fall if it did not become instantly naturalistic; he would
not, he could not pass over in silence so important a branch of literature
as poetry, no matter how contemptible he might think it. If he could find
nothing to praise, he must at least condemn. At last the expected article
came. It was all that could be desired by one in my fever of mind. Hugo's
claims had been previously disproven, but now Banville and Gautier were
declared to be warmed up dishes of the ancient world; Baudelaire was a
naturalist, but he had been spoilt by the romantic influence of his
generation. _Cependant_ there were indications of the naturalistic
movement even in poetry. I trembled with excitement, I could not read fast
enough. Coppée had striven to simplify language; he had versified the
street cries, _Achetez la France, le Soir, le Rappel_; he had sought
to give utterance to humble sentiments as in "Le Petit Epicier de
Montrouge," the little grocer _qui cassait le sucre avec mélancolie_;
Richepin had boldly and frankly adopted the language of the people in all
its superb crudity. All this was, however, preparatory and tentative. We
are waiting for our poet, he who will sing to us fearlessly of the rude
industry of dustmen and the comestible glories of the marketplaces. The
subjects are to hand, the formula alone is wanting.

The prospect was a dazzling one; I tried to calm myself. Had I the stuff in
me to win and to wear these bays, this stupendous laurel crown?--bays,
laurel crown, a distinct _souvenir_ of Parnassus, but there is no
modern equivalent, I must strive to invent a new one, in the meantime let
me think. True it is that Swinburne was before me with the "Romantiques."
The hymn to Proserpine and Dolores are wonderful lyrical versions of Mdlle.
de Maupin. In form the Leper is old English, the colouring is Baudelaire,
but the rude industry of the dustmen and the comestible glories of the
market-place shall be mine. _A bas "Les Roses de Minuit"_!

I felt the "naturalisation" of the "Roses of Midnight" would prove a
difficult task. I soon found it an impossible one, and I laid the poems
aside and commenced a volume redolent of the delights of Bougival and Ville
d'Avray. This book was to be entitled "Poems of 'Flesh and Blood.'"

"_Elle mit son plus beau chapeau, son chapeau bleu_" ... and then?
Why, then picking up her skirt she threads her way through the crowded
streets, reads the advertisements on the walls, hails the omnibus, inquires
at the _concierge's_ loge, murmurs as she goes upstairs, "_Que c'est
haut le cinqième_," and then? Why, the door opens, and she cries, "_Je
t'aime_."

But it was the idea of the new æstheticism--the new art corresponding to
modern, as ancient art corresponded to ancient life--that captivated me,
that led me away, and not a substantial knowledge of the work done by the
naturalists. I had read the "Assommoir," and had been much impressed by its
pyramid size, strength, height, and decorative grandeur, and also by the
immense harmonic development of the idea; and the fugal treatment of the
different scenes had seemed to me astonishingly new--the washhouse, for
example: the fight motive is indicated, then follows the development of
side issues, then comes the fight motive explained; it is broken off short,
it flutters through a web of progressive detail, the fight motive is again
taken up, and now it is worked out in all its fulness; it is worked up to
_crescendo_, another side issue is introduced, and again the theme is
given forth. And I marvelled greatly at the lordly, river-like roll of the
narrative, sometimes widening out into lakes and shallowing meres, but
never stagnating in fen or marshlands. The language, too, which I did not
then recognise as the weak point, being little more than a boiling down of
Chateaubriand and Flaubert, spiced with Goncourt, delighted me with its
novelty, its richness, its force. Nor did I then even roughly suspect that
the very qualities which set my admiration in a blaze wilder than wildfire,
being precisely those that had won the victory for the romantic school
forty years before, were very antagonistic to those claimed for the new
art; I was deceived, as was all my generation, by a certain externality, an
outer skin, a nearness, _un approchement_; in a word, by a
substitution of Paris for the distant and exotic backgrounds so beloved of
the romantic school. I did not know then, as I do now, that art is eternal,
that it is only the artist that changes, and that the two great
divisions--the only possible divisions---are: those who have talent, and
those who have no talent. But I do not regret my errors, my follies; it is
not well to know at once of the limitations of life and things. I should be
less than nothing had it not been for my enthusiasms; they were the saving
clause in my life.

But although I am apt to love too dearly the art of my day, and at the cost
of that of other days, I did not fall into the fatal mistake of placing the
realistic writers of 1877 side by side with and on the same plane of
intellectual vision as the great Balzac; I felt that that vast immemorial
mind rose above them all, like a mountain above the highest tower.

And, strange to say, it was Gautier that introduced me to Balzac; for
mention is made in the wonderful preface to "Les Fleurs du Mal" of
Seraphita: Seraphita, Seraphitus; which is it?--woman or man? Should
Wilfred or Mona be the possessor? A new Mdlle. de Maupin, with royal lily
and aureole, cloud-capped mountains, great gulfs of sea-water flowing up
and reflecting as in a mirror the steep cliff's side; the straight white
feet are set thereon, the obscuring weft of flesh is torn, and the pure,
strange soul continues its mystical exhortations. Then the radiant vision,
a white glory, the last outburst and manifestation, the trumpets of the
apocalypse, the colour of heaven; the closing of the stupendous allegory
when Seraphita lies dead in the rays of the first sun of the nineteenth
century.

I, therefore, had begun, as it were, to read Balzac backwards; instead of
beginning with the plain, simple, earthly tragedy of the Père Goriot, I
first knelt in a beautiful but distant coigne of the great world of his
genius--Seraphita. Certain _nuances_ of soul are characteristic of
certain latitudes, and what subtle instinct led him to Norway in quest of
this fervent soul? The instincts of genius are unfathomable; but he who has
known the white northern women with their pure spiritual eyes, will aver
that instinct led him aright. I have known one, one whom I used to call
Seraphita; Coppée knew her too, and that exquisite volume, "L'Exilé," so
Seraphita-like in the keen blond passion of its verse, was written to her,
and each poem was sent to her as it was written. Where is she now, that
flower of northern snow, once seen for a season in Paris? Has she returned
to her native northern solitudes, great gulfs of sea water, mountain rock,
and pine?

Balzac's genius is in his titles as heaven is in its stars: "Melmoth
Reconcilié," "Jésus-Christ en Flandres," "Le Revers d'un Grand Homme," "La
Cousine Bette." I read somewhere not very long ago, that Balzac was the
greatest thinker that had appeared in France since Pascal. Of Pascal's
claim to be a great thinker I confess I cannot judge. No man is greater
than the age he lives in, and, therefore, to talk to us, the legitimate
children of the nineteenth century, of logical proofs of the existence of
God strikes us in just the same light as the logical proof of the existence
of Jupiter Ammon. "Les Pensées" could appear to me only as infinitely
childish; the form is no doubt superb, but tiresome and sterile to one of
such modern and exotic taste as myself. Still, I accept thankfully, in its
sense of two hundred years, the compliment paid to Balzac; but I would add
that personally he seems to me to have shown greater wings of mind than any
artist that ever lived. I am aware that this last statement will make many
cry "fool" and hiss "Shakespeare!" But I am not putting forward these
criticisms axiomatically, but only as the expressions of an individual
taste, and interesting so far as they reveal to the reader the different
developments and the progress of my mind. It might prove a little tiresome,
but it would no doubt "look well," in the sense that going to church "looks
well," if I were to write in here ten pages of praise of our national bard.
I must, however, resist the temptation to "look well;" a confession is
interesting in proportion to the amount of truth it contains, and I will,
therefore, state frankly I never derived any profit whatsoever, and very
little pleasure from the reading of the great plays. The beauty of the
verse! Yes; he who loved Shelley so well as I could not fail to hear the
melody of--

    "Music to hear, why hearest thou music sadly
    Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy."

Is not such music as this enough? Of course but I am a sensualist in
literature. I may see perfectly well that this or that book is a work of
genius, but if it doesn't "fetch me," it doesn't concern me, and I forget
its very existence. What leaves me cold to-day will madden me to-morrow.
With me literature is a question of sense, intellectual sense if you will,
but sense all the same, and ruled by the same caprices--those of the flesh?
Now we enter on very subtle distinctions. No doubt that there is the
brain-judgment and the sense-judgment of a work of art. And it will be
noticed that these two forces of discrimination exist sometimes almost
independently of each other, in rare and radiant instances confounded and
blended in one immense and unique love. Who has not been, unless perhaps
some dusty old pedant, thrilled and driven to pleasure by the action of a
book that penetrates to and speaks to you of your most present and most
intimate emotions. This is of course pure sensualism; but to take a less
marked stage. Why should Marlowe enchant me? why should he delight and
awake enthusiasm in me, while Shakespeare leaves me cold? The mind that can
understand one can understand the other, but there are affinities in
literature corresponding to, and very analogous to, sexual affinities--the
same unreasoned attractions, the same pleasures, the same lassitudes. Those
we have loved most we are most indifferent to. Shelley, Gautier, Zola,
Flaubert, Goncourt! how I have loved you all; and now I could not, would
not, read you again. How womanly, how capricious; but even a capricious
woman is constant, if not faithful to her _amant de coeur_. And so
with me; of those I have loved deeply there is but one that still may
thrill me with the old passion, with the first ecstacy--it is Balzac. Upon
that rock I built my church, and his great and valid talent saved me often
from destruction, saved me from the shoaling waters of new aestheticisms,
the putrid mud of naturalism, and the faint and sickly surf of the
symbolists. Thinking of him, I could not forget that it is the spirit and
not the flesh that is eternal; that, as it was thought that in the first
instance gave man speech, so to the end it shall still be thought that
shall make speech beautiful and rememberable. The grandeur and sublimity of
Balzac's thoughts seem to me to rise to the loftiest heights, and his range
is limitless; there is no passion he has not touched, and what is more
marvellous, he has given to each in art a place equivalent to the place it
occupies in nature; his intense and penetrating sympathy for human life and
all that concerns it enabled him to surround the humblest subjects with awe
and crown them with the light of tragedy. There are some, particularly
those who are capable of understanding neither and can read but one, who
will object to any comparison being drawn between the Dramatist and the
Novelist; but I confess that I--if the inherent superiority of verse over
prose, which I admit unhesitatingly, be waived--that I fail, utterly fail
to see in what Shakespeare is greater than Balzac. The range of the poet's
thought is of necessity not so wide, and his concessions must needs be
greater than the novelist's. On these points we will cry quits, and come at
once to the vital question--the creation. Is Lucien inferior to Hamlet? Is
Eugénie Grandet inferior to Desdemona? Is her father inferior to Shylock?
Is Macbeth inferior to Vautrin? Can it be said that the apothecary in the
"Cousine Bette," or the Baron Hulot, or the Cousine Bette herself is
inferior to anything the brain of man has ever conceived? And it must not
be forgotten that Shakespeare has had three hundred years and the advantage
of stage representation to impress his characters on the sluggish mind of
the world; and as mental impressions are governed by the same laws of
gravitation as atoms, our realisation of Falstaff must of necessity be more
vivid than any character in contemporary literature, although it were
equally great. And so far as epigram and aphorism are concerned, and here I
speak with absolute sincerity and conviction, the work of the novelist
seems to me richer than that of the dramatist. Who shall forget those
terrible words of the poor life-weary orphan in the boarding-house?
Speaking of Vautrin she says, "His look frightens me as if he put his hand
on my dress;" and another epigram from the same book, "Woman's virtue is
man's greatest invention." Find me anything in La Rochefoucauld that goes
more incisively to the truth of things. One more; here I can give the exact
words: "_La gloire est le soleil des morts._" It would be easy to
compile a book of sayings from Balzac that would make all "Maximes" and
"Pensées," even those of La Rochefoucauld or Joubert, seem trivial and
shallow.

Balzac was the great moral influence of my life, and my reading culminated
in the "Comédie Humaine." I no doubt fluttered through some scores of other
books, of prose and verse, sipping a little honey, but he alone left any
important or lasting impression upon my mind. The rest was like walnuts and
wine, an agreeable aftertaste.

But notwithstanding all this reading I can lay no claim to scholarship of
any kind; for save life I could never learn anything correctly. I am a
student only of ball rooms, bar rooms, streets, and alcoves. I have read
very little; but all I read I can turn to account, and all I read I
remember. To read freely, extensively, has always been my ambition, and my
utter inability to study has always been to me a subject of grave
inquietude,--study as contrasted with a general and haphazard gathering of
ideas taken in flight. But in me the impulse is so original to frequent the
haunts of men that it is irresistible, conversation is the breath of my
nostrils, I watch the movement of life, and my ideas spring from it
uncalled for, as buds from branches. Contact with the world is in me the
generating force; without it what invention I have is thin and sterile, and
it grows thinner rapidly, until it dies away utterly, as it did in the
composition of my unfortunate "Roses of Midnight."

Men and women, oh the strength of the living faces! conversation, oh the
magic of it! It is a fabulous river of gold where the precious metal is
washed up without stint for all to take, to take as much as he can carry.
Two old ladies discussing the peerage? Much may be learned, it is gold;
poets and wits, then it is fountains whose spray solidifies into jewels,
and every herb and plant is begemmed with the sparkle of the diamond and
the glow of the ruby.

I did not go to either Oxford or Cambridge, but I went to the "Nouvelle
Athènes." What is the "Nouvelle Athènes"? He who would know anything of my
life must know something of the academy of the fine arts. Not the official
stupidity you read of in the daily papers, but the real French academy, the
_café_. The "Nouvelle Athènes" is a _café_ on the Place Pigale.
Ah! the morning idlenesses and the long evenings when life was but a summer
illusion, the grey moonlights on the Place where we used to stand on the
pavements, the shutters clanging up behind us, loath to separate, thinking
of what we had left said, and how much better we might have enforced our
arguments. Dead and scattered are all those who used to assemble there, and
those years and our home, for it was our home, live only in a few pictures
and a few pages of prose. The same old story, the vanquished only are
victorious; and though unacknowledged, though unknown, the influence of the
"Nouvelle Athènes" is inveterate in the artistic thought of the nineteenth
century.

How magnetic, intense, and vivid are these memories of youth. With what
strange, almost unnatural clearness do I see and hear,--see the white face
of that _café_, the white nose of that block of houses, stretching up
to the Place, between two streets. I can see down the incline of those two
streets, and I know what shops are there; I can hear the glass-door of the
_café_ grate on the sand as I open it. I can recall the smell of every
hour. In the morning that of eggs frizzling in butter, the pungent
cigarette, coffee and bad cognac; at five o'clock the fragrant odour of
absinthe; and soon after the steaming soup ascends from the kitchen; and as
the evening advances, the mingled smells of cigarettes, coffee, and weak
beer. A partition, rising a few feet or more over the hats, separates the
glass front from the main body of the _café_. The usual marble tables
are there, and it is there we sat and aestheticised till two o'clock in the
morning. But who is that man? he whose prominent eyes flash with
excitement. That is Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. The last or the supposed last
of the great family. He is telling that girl a story--that fair girl with
heavy eyelids, stupid and sensual. She is, however, genuinely astonished
and interested, and he is striving to play upon her ignorance. Listen to
him. "Spain--the night is fragrant with the sea and the perfume of the
orange trees, you know--a midnight of stars and dreams. Now and then the
silence is broken by the sentries challenging--that is all. But not in
Spanish but in French are the challenges given; the town is in the hands of
the French; it is under martial law. But now an officer passes down a
certain garden, a Spaniard disguised as a French officer; from the balcony
the family--one of the most noble and oldest families Spain can boast of, a
thousand years, long before the conquest of the Moors--watches him. Well
then"--Villiers sweeps with a white feminine hand the long hair that is
falling over his face--he has half forgotten, he is a little mixed in the
opening of the story, and he is striving in English to "scamp," in French
to _escamoter_. "The family are watching, death if he is caught, if he
fails to kill the French sentry. The cry of a bird, some vague sound
attracts the sentry, he turns; all is lost. The Spaniard is seized. Martial
law, Spanish conspiracy must be put down. The French general is a man of
iron." (Villiers laughs, a short hesitating laugh that is characteristic of
him, and continues in his abrupt, uncertain way), "man of iron; not only he
declares that the spy must be beheaded, but also the entire family--a man
of iron that, ha, ha; and then, no you cannot, it is impossible for you to
understand the enormity of the calamity--a thousand years before the
conquest by the Moors, a Spaniard alone could--there is no one here, ha,
ha, I was forgetting--the utter extinction of a great family of the name,
the oldest and noblest of all the families in Spain, it is not easy to
understand that, no, not easy here in the 'Nouvelle Athènes'--ha, ha, one
must belong to a great family to understand, ha, ha.

"The father beseeches; he begs that one member may be spared to continue
the name--the youngest son--that is all; if he could be saved, the rest
what matter; death is nothing to a Spaniard; the family, the name, a
thousand years of name is everything. The general is, you know, a 'man of
iron.' 'Yes, one member of your family shall be respited, but on one
condition.' To the agonised family conditions are as nothing. But they
don't know the man of iron is determined to make a terrible example, and
they cry, 'Any conditions.' 'He who is respited must serve as executioner
to the others.' Great is the doom; you understand; but after all the name
must be saved. Then in the family council the father goes to his youngest
son and says, 'I have been a good father to you, my son; I have always been
a kind father, have I not? answer me; I have never refused you anything.
Now you will not fail us, you will prove yourself worthy of the great name
you bear. Remember your great ancestor who defeated the Moors, remember.'"
(Villiers strives to get in a little local colour, but his knowledge of
Spanish names and history is limited, and he in a certain sense fails.)
"Then the mother comes to her son and says, 'My son, I have been a good
mother, I have always loved you; say you will not desert us in this hour of
our great need.' Then the little sister comes, and the whole family kneels
down and appeals to the horror-stricken boy....

"'He will not prove himself unworthy of our name,' cries the father. 'Now,
my son, courage, take the axe firmly, do what I ask you, courage, strike
straight.' The father's head falls into the sawdust, the blood all over the
white beard; then comes the elder brother, and then another brother; and
then, oh, the little sister was almost more than he could bear, and the
mother had to whisper, 'Remember your promise to your father, to your dead
father.' The mother laid her head on the block, but he could not strike.
'Be not the first coward of our name, strike; remember your promise to us
all,' and her head was struck off."

"And the son," the girl asks, "what became of him?"

"He never was seen, save at night, walking, a solitary man, beneath the
walls of his castle in Granada."

"And whom did he marry?"

"He never married."

Then after a long silence some one said,--

"Whose story is that?"

"Balzac's."

At that moment the glass door of the _café_ grated upon the sanded
floor, and Manet entered. Although by birth and by art essentially
Parisian, there was something in his appearance and manner of speaking that
often suggested an Englishman. Perhaps it was his dress--his clean-cut
clothes and figure. That figure! those square shoulders that swaggered as
he went across a room and the thin waist; and that face, the beard and
nose, satyr-like shall I say? No, for I would evoke an idea of beauty of
line united to that of intellectual expression--frank words, frank passion
in his convictions, loyal and simple phrases, clear as well-water,
sometimes a little hard, sometimes, as they flowed away, bitter, but at the
fountain head sweet and full of light. He sits next to Degas, that
round-shouldered man in suit of pepper and salt. There is nothing very
trenchantly French about him either, except the large necktie; his eyes are
small and his words are sharp, ironical, cynical. These two men are the
leaders of the impressionist school. Their friendship has been jarred by
inevitable rivalry. "Degas was painting 'Semiramis' when I was painting
'Modern Paris,'" says Manet. "Manet is in despair because he cannot paint
atrocious pictures like Durant, and be fêted and decorated; he is an
artist, not by inclination, but by force. He is as a galley slave chained
to the oar," says Degas. Different too are their methods of work. Manet
paints his whole picture from nature, trusting his instinct to lead him
aright through the devious labyrinth of selection. Nor does his instinct
ever fail him, there is a vision in his eyes which he calls nature, and
which he paints unconsciously as he digests his food, thinking and
declaring vehemently that the artist should not seek a synthesis, but
should paint merely what he sees. This extraordinary oneness of nature and
artistic vision does not exist in Degas, and even his portraits are
composed from drawings and notes. About midnight Catulle Mendès will drop
in, when he has corrected his proofs. He will come with his fine paradoxes
and his strained eloquence. He will lean towards you, he will take you by
the arm, and his presence is a nervous pleasure. And when the _café_
is closed, when the last bock has been drunk, we shall walk about the great
moonlight of the Place Pigale, and through the dark shadows of the streets,
talking of the last book published, he hanging on to my arm, speaking in
that high febrile voice of his, every phrase luminous, aerial, even as the
soaring moon and the fitful clouds. Duranty, an unknown Stendal, will come
in for an hour or so; he will talk little and go away quietly; he knows,
and his whole manner shows that he knows that he is a defeated man; and if
you ask him why he does not write another novel, he will say, "What's the
good, it would not be read; no one read the others, and I mightn't do even
as well if I tried again." Paul Alexis, Léon Diex, Pissarro, Cabaner, are
also frequently seen in the "Nouvelle Athènes."

Cabaner! the world knows not the names of those who scorn the world:
somewhere in one of the great populous churchyards of Paris there is a
forgotten grave, and there lies Cabaner. Cabaner! since the beginning there
have been, till the end of time there shall be Cabaners; and they shall
live miserably and they shall die miserable, and shall be forgotten; and
there shall never arise a novelist great enough to make live in art that
eternal spirit of devotion, disinterestedness, and aspiration, which in
each generation incarnates itself in one heroic soul. Better than those who
stepped to opulence and fame upon thee fallen thou wert; better,
loftier-minded, purer; thy destiny was to fall that others might rise upon
thee, thou wert one of the noble legion of the conquered; let praise be
given to the conquered, for the brunt of victory lies with the conquered.
Child of the pavement, of strange sonnets and stranger music, I remember
thee; I remember the silk shirts, the four sous of Italian cheese, the roll
of bread, and the glass of milk;--the streets were thy dining-room. And the
five-mile walk daily to the suburban music hall where five francs were
earned by playing the accompaniments of comic songs. And the wonderful room
on the fifth floor, which was furnished when that celebrated heritage of
two thousand francs was paid. I remember the fountain that was bought for a
wardrobe, and the American organ with all the instruments of the orchestra,
and the plaster casts under which the homeless ones that were never denied
a refuge and a crust by thee slept. I remember all, and the buying of the
life-size "Venus de Milo." Something extraordinary would be done with it, I
knew, but the result exceeded my wildest expectation. The head must needs
be struck off, so that the rapture of thy admiration should be secure from
all jarring reminiscence of the streets.

Then the wonderful story of the tenor, the pork butcher, who was heard
giving out such a volume of sound that the sausages were set in motion
above him; he was fed, clothed, and educated on the five francs a day
earned in the music hall in the Avenue de la Motte Piquet; and when he made
his _début_ at the Théâtre Lyrique, thou wert in the last stage of
consumption and too ill to go to hear thy pupil's success. He was
immediately engaged by Mapleson and taken to America.

I remember thy face, Cabaner; I can see it now--that long sallow face
ending in a brown beard, and the hollow eyes, the meagre arms covered with
a silk shirt, contrasting strangely with the rest of the dress. In all thy
privation and poverty, thou didst never forego thy silk shirt. I remember
the paradoxes and the aphorisms, if not the exact words, the glamour and
the sentiment of a humour that was all thy own. Never didst thou laugh; no,
not even when in discussing how silence might be rendered in music, thou
didst say, with thy extraordinary Pyrenean accent, "_Pour rendre le
silence en music il me faudrait trois orchestres militaires._" And when
I did show thee some poor verses of mine, French verses, for at this time I
hated and had partly forgotten my native language--

"My dear Dayne, you always write about love, the subject is nauseating."

"So it is, so it is; but after all Baudelaire wrote about love and lovers;
his best poem...."

"_C'est vrai, mais il s'agissait d'une charogne et cela relève beaucoup
la chose._"

I remember, too, a few stray snatches of thy extraordinary music, "music
that might be considered by Wagner as a little too advanced, but which
Liszt would not fail to understand;" also thy settings of sonnets where the
_melody_ was continued uninterruptedly from the first line to the
last; and that still more marvellous feat, thy setting, likewise with
unbroken melody, of Villon's ballade "Les Dames du Temps Jadis;" and that
Out-Cabanering of Cabaner, the putting to music of Cros's "Hareng Saur."

And why didst thou remain ever poor and unknown? Because of something too
much, or something too little? Because of something too much! so I think,
at least; thy heart was too full of too pure an ideal, too far removed from
all possible contagion with the base crowd.

But, Cabaner, thou didst not labour in vain; thy destiny, though obscure,
was a valiant and fruitful one; and, as in life, thou didst live for others
so now in death thou dost live in others. Thou wert in an hour of wonder
and strange splendour when the last tints and lovelinesses of romance
lingered in the deepening west; when out of the clear east rose with a
mighty effulgence of colour and lawless light Realism; when showing aloft
in the dead pallor of the zenith, like a white flag fluttering faintly,
Symbolists and Decadents appeared. Never before was there so sudden a flux
and conflux of artistic desire, such aspiration in the soul of man, such
rage of passion, such fainting fever, such cerebral erethism. The roar and
dust of the daily battle of the Realists was continued under the flush of
the sunset, the arms of the Romantics glittered, the pale spiritual
Symbolists watched and waited, none knowing yet of their presence. In such
an hour of artistic convulsion and renewal of thought thou wert, and thou
wert a magnificent rallying point for all comers; it was thou who didst
theorise our confused aspirations, and by thy holy example didst save us
from all base commercialism, from all hateful prostitution; thou wert ever
our high priest, and from thy high altar turned to us the white host, the
ideal, the true and living God of all men.

Cabaner, I see you now entering the "Nouvelle Athènes;" you are a little
tired after your long weary walk, but you lament not and you never cry out
against the public that will accept neither your music nor your poetry. But
though you are tired and footsore, you are ready to aestheticise till the
_café_ closes; for you the homeless ones are waiting: there they are,
some three or four, and you will take them to your strange room, furnished
with the American organ, the fountain, and the decapitated Venus, and you
give them a crust each and cover them with what clothes you have; and, when
clothes are lacking, with plaster casts, and though you will take but a
glass of milk yourself, you will find a few sous to give them _lager_
to cool their thirsty throats. So you have ever lived--a blameless life is
yours, no base thought has ever entered there, not even a woman's love; art
and friends, that is all.

Reader, do you know of anything more angelic? If you do you are more
fortunate than I have been.



CHAPTER VII


THE SYNTHESIS OF THE NOUVELLE ATHÈNES

Two dominant notes in my character--an original hatred of my native
country, and a brutal loathing of the religion I was brought up in. All the
aspects of my native country are violently disagreeable to me, and I cannot
think of the place I was born in without a sensation akin to nausea. These
feelings are inherent and inveterate in me. I am instinctively averse to my
own countrymen; they are at once remote and repulsive; but with Frenchmen I
am conscious of a sense of nearness; I am one with them in their ideas and
aspirations, and when I am with them, I am alive with a keen and
penetrating sense of intimacy. Shall I explain this by atavism? Was there a
French man or woman in my family some half dozen generations ago? I have
not inquired. The English I love, and with a love that is foolish--mad,
limitless; I love them better than the French, but I am not so near to
them. Dear, sweet Protestant England, the red tiles of the farmhouse, the
elms, the great hedgerows, and all the rich fields adorned with spreading
trees, and the weald and the wold, the very words are passionately
beautiful ... southern England, not the north--there is something Celtic in
the north,--southern England, with its quiet, steadfast faces;--a smock
frock is to me one of the most delightful things in the world; it is so
absolutely English. The villages clustered round the greens, the spires of
the churches pointing between the elm trees.... This is congenial to me;
and this is Protestantism. England is Protestantism, Protestantism is
England. Protestantism is strong, clean, and westernly, Catholicism is
eunuch-like, dirty, and Oriental.... Yes, Oriental; there is something even
Chinese about it. What made England great was Protestantism, and when she
ceases to be Protestant she will fall.... Look at the nations that have
clung to Catholicism, starving moonlighters and starving brigands. The
Protestant flag floats on every ocean breeze, the Catholic banner hangs
limp in the incense silence of the Vatican. Let us be Protestant, and
revere Cromwell.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Garçon, un bock!_ I write to please myself, just as I order my
dinner; if my books sell I cannot help it--it is an accident.

But you live by writing.

Yes, but life is only an accident--art is eternal.

       *       *       *       *       *

What I reproach Zola with is that he has no style; there is nothing you
won't find in Zola from Chateaubriand to the reporting in the
_Figaro_.

He seeks immortality in an exact description of a linendraper's shop; if
the shop conferred immortality it should be upon the linendraper who
created the shop, and not on the novelist who described it.

And his last novel "l'Oeuvre," how terribly spun out, and for a franc a
line in the "Gil Blas." Not a single new or even exact observation. And
that terrible phrase repeated over and over again--"La Conquête de Paris."
What does it mean? I never knew any one who thought of conquering
Paris;--no one ever spoke of conquering Paris except, perhaps, two or three
provincials.

       *       *       *       *       *

You must have rules in poetry, if it is only for the pleasure of breaking
them, just as you must have women dressed, if it is only for the pleasure
of imagining them as Venuses.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fancy, a banquet was given to Julien by his pupils! He made a speech in
favour of Lefevre, and hoped that every one there would vote for Lefevre.
Julien was very eloquent. He spoke of _Le grand art, le nu_, and
Lefevre's unswerving fidelity to _le nu_ ... elegance, refinement, an
echo of ancient Greece: and then,--what do you think? when he had exhausted
all the reasons why the medal of honour should be accorded to Lefevre, he
said, "I ask you to remember, gentlemen, that he has a wife and eight
children." Is it not monstrous?

       *       *       *       *       *

But it is you who are monstrous, you who expect to fashion the whole world
in conformity with your aestheticisms ... a vain dream, and if realised it
would result in an impossible world. A wife and children are the basis of
existence, and it is folly to cry out because an appeal to such interests
as these meet with response ... it will be so till the end of time.

       *       *       *       *       *

And these great interests that are to continue to the end of time began two
years ago, when your pictures were not praised in the _Figaro_ as much
as you thought they should be.

       *       *       *       *       *

Marriage--what an abomination! Love--yes, but not marriage. Love cannot
exist in marriage, because love is an ideal; that is to say, something not
quite understood--transparencies, colour, light, a sense of the unreal. But
a wife--you know all about her--who her father was, who her mother was,
what she thinks of you and her opinion of the neighbours over the way.
Where, then, is the dream, the _au delà_? There is none. I say in
marriage an _au delà_ is impossible ... the endless duet of the marble
and the water, the enervation of burning odours, the baptismal whiteness of
women, light, ideal tissues, eyes strangely dark with kohl, names that
evoke palm trees and ruins, Spanish moonlight or maybe Persepolis. The
monosyllable which epitomises the ennui and the prose of our lives is heard
not, thought not there--only the nightingale-harmony of an eternal yes.
Freedom limitless; the Mahometan stands on the verge of the abyss, and the
spaces of perfume and colour extend and invite him with the whisper of a
sweet unending yes. The unknown, the unreal.... Thus love is possible,
there is a delusion, an _au delà_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Good heavens! and the world still believes in education, in teaching people
the "grammar of art." Education is fatal to any one with a spark of
artistic feeling. Education should be confined to clerks, and even them it
drives to drink. Will the world learn that we never learn anything that we
did not know before? The artist, the poet, painter, musician, and novelist
go straight to the food they want, guided by an unerring and ineffable
instinct; to teach them is to destroy the nerve of the artistic instinct,
it is fatal. But above all in painting ... "correct drawing," "solid
painting." Is it impossible to teach people, to force it into their heads
that there is no such thing as correct drawing, and that if drawing were
correct it would be wrong? Solid painting; good heavens! Do they suppose
that there is one sort of painting that is better than all others, and that
there is a receipt for making it as for making chocolate! Art is not
mathematics, it is individuality. It does not matter how badly you paint,
so long as you don't paint badly like other people. Education destroys
individuality. That great studio of Julien's is a sphinx, and all the poor
folk that go there for artistic education are devoured. After two years
they all paint and draw alike, every one; that vile execution,--they call
it execution,--_la pâet, la peinture au premier coup_. I was over in
England last year, and I saw some portraits by a man called Richmond. They
were horrible, but I liked them because they weren't like painting. Stott
and Sargent are clever fellows enough; I like Stott the best. If they had
remained at home and hadn't been taught, they might have developed a
personal art, but the trail of the serpent is over all they do--that vile
French painting, _le morceau_, etc. Stott is getting over it by
degrees. He exhibited a nymph this year. I know what he meant; it was an
interesting intention. I liked his little landscapes better ... simplified
into nothing, into a couple of primitive tints, wonderful clearness, light.
But I doubt if he will find a public to understand all that.

       *       *       *       *       *

Democratic art! Art is the direct antithesis to democracy.... Athens! a few
thousand citizens who owned many thousand slaves, call that democracy! No!
what I am speaking of is modern democracy--the mass. The mass can only
appreciate simple and _naïve_ emotions, puerile prettiness, above all
conventionalities. See the Americans that come over here; what do they
admire? Is it Degas or Manet they admire? No, Bouguereau and Lefevre. What
was most admired at the International Exhibition?--The Dirty Boy. And if
the medal of honour had been decided by a _plébiscite_, the dirty boy
would have had an overwhelming majority. What is the literature of the
people? The idiotic stories of the _Petit Journal_. Don't talk of
Shakespeare, Molière, and the masters; they are accepted on the authority
of the centuries. If the people could understand _Hamlet_, the people
would not read the _Petit Journal_; if the people could understand
Michel Angelo, they would not look at our Bouguereau or your Bouguereau,
Sir F. Leighton. For the last hundred years we have been going rapidly
towards democracy, and what is the result? The destruction of the
handicrafts. That there are still good pictures painted and good poems
written proves nothing, there will always be found men to sacrifice their
lives for a picture or a poem. But the decorative arts which are executed
in collaboration, and depend for support on the general taste of a large
number, have ceased to exist. Explain that if you can. I'll give you five
thousand, ten thousand francs to buy a beautiful clock that is not a copy
and is not ancient, and you can't do it. Such a thing does not exist. Look
here; I was going up the staircase of the Louvre the other day. They were
putting up a mosaic; it was horrible; every one knows it is horrible. Well,
I asked who had given the order for this mosaic, and I could not find out;
no one knew. An order is passed from bureau to bureau, and no one is
responsible; and it will be always so in a republic, and the more
republican you are the worse it will be.

       *       *       *       *       *

The world is dying of machinery; that is the great disease, that is the
plague that will sweep away and destroy civilisation; man will have to rise
against it sooner or later.... Capital, unpaid labour, wage-slaves, and all
the rest--stuff.... Look at these plates; they were painted by machinery;
they are abominable. Look at them. In old times plates were painted by the
hand, and the supply was necessarily limited to the demand, and a china in
which there was always something more or less pretty, was turned out; but
now thousands, millions of plates are made more than we want, and there is
a commercial crisis; the thing is inevitable. I say the great and the
reasonable revolution will be when mankind rises in revolt, and smashes the
machinery and restores the handicrafts.

       *       *       *       *       *

Goncourt is not an artist, notwithstanding all his affectation and
outcries; he is not an artist. _Il me fait l'effet_ of an old woman
shrieking after immortality and striving to beat down some fragment of it
with a broom. Once it was a duet, now it is a solo. They wrote novels,
history, plays, they collected _bric-à-brac_--they wrote about their
_bric-à-brac_; they painted in water-colours, they etched--they wrote
about their water-colours and etchings; they have made a will settling that
the _bric-à-brac_ is to be sold at their death, and the proceeds
applied to founding a prize for the best essay or novel, I forget which it
is. They wrote about the prize they are going to found; they kept a diary,
they wrote down everything they heard, felt, or saw, _radotage de vieille
femme_; nothing must escape, not the slightest word; it might be that
very word that might confer on them immortality; everything they heard, or
said, must be of value, of inestimable value. A real artist does not
trouble himself about immortality, about everything he hears, feels, and
says; he treats ideas and sensations as so much clay wherewith to create.

And then the famous collaboration; how it was talked about, written about,
prayed about; and when Jules died, what a subject for talk for articles; it
all went into pot. Hugo's vanity was Titanic, Goncourt's is puerile.

And Daudet?

Oh, Daudet, _c'est de la bouillabaisse_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistler, of all artists, is the least impressionist; the idea people have
of his being an impressionist only proves once again the absolute inability
of the public to understand the merits or the demerits of artistic work.
Whistler's art is absolutely classical; he thinks of nature, but he does
not see nature; he is guided by his mind, and not by his eyes; and the best
of it is he says so. Oh, he knows it well enough! Any one who knows him
must have heard him say, "Painting is absolutely scientific; it is an exact
science." And his work is in accord with his theory; he risks nothing, all
is brought down, arranged, balanced, and made one,--a well-determined
mental conception, I admire his work; I am merely showing how he is
misunderstood, even by those who think they understand. Does he ever seek a
pose that is characteristic of the model, a pose that the model repeats
oftener than any other?--Never. He advances the foot, puts the hand on the
hip, etc., with a view to rendering his _idea_. Take his portrait of
Duret. Did he ever see Duret in dress clothes? Probably not. Did he ever
see Duret with a lady's opera cloak?--I am sure he never did. Is Duret in
the habit of going to the theatre with ladies? No; he is a
_littérateur_ who is always in men's society, rarely in ladies'. But
these facts mattered nothing to Whistler as they matter to Degas, or to
Manet. Whistler took Duret out of his environment, dressed him up, thought
out a scheme--in a word, painted his idea without concerning himself in the
least with the model. Mark you, I deny that I am urging any fault or flaw;
I am merely contending that Whistler's art is not modern art, but classic
art--yes, and severely classical, far more classical than Titian's or
Velasquez;--from an opposite pole as classical as Ingres. No Greek
dramatist ever sought the synthesis of things more uncompromisingly than
Whistler. And he is right. Art is not nature. Art is nature digested. Art
is a sublime excrement. Zola and Goncourt cannot, or will not understand
that the artistic stomach must be allowed to do its work in its own
mysterious fashion. If a man is really an artist he will remember what is
necessary, forget what is useless; but if he takes notes he will interrupt
his artistic digestion, and the result will be a lot of little touches,
inchoate and wanting in the elegant rhythm of the synthesis.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am sick of synthetical art; we want observation direct and unreasoned.
What I reproach Millet with is that it is always the same thing, the same
peasant, the same _sabot_, the same sentiment. You must admit that it
is somewhat stereotyped.

       *       *       *       *       *

What does that matter; what is more stereotyped than Japanese art? But that
does not prevent it from being always beautiful.

       *       *       *       *       *

People talk of Manet's originality; that is just what I can't see. What he
has got, and what you can't take away from him, is a magnificent execution.
A piece of still life by Manet is the most wonderful thing in the world;
vividness of colour, breadth, simplicity, and directness of
touch--marvellous!

       *       *       *       *       *

French translation is the only translation; in England you still continue
to translate poetry into poetry, instead of into prose. We used to do the
same, but we have long ago renounced such follies. Either of two things--if
the translator is a good poet, he substitutes his verse for that of the
original;--I don't want his verse, I want the original;--if he is a bad
poet, he gives us bad verse, which is intolerable. Where the original poet
put an effect of caesura, the translator puts an effect of rhyme; where the
original poet puts an effect of rhyme, the translator puts an effect of
caesura. Take Longfellow's "Dante." Does it give as good an idea of the
original as our prose translation? Is it as interesting reading? Take
Bayard Taylor's translation of "Goethe." Is it readable? Not to any one
with an ear for verse. Will any one say that Taylor's would be read if the
original did not exist. The fragment translated by Shelley is beautiful,
but then it is Shelley. Look at Swinburne's translations of Villon. They
are beautiful poems by Swinburne, that is all; he makes Villon speak of a
"splendid kissing mouth." Villon could not have done this unless he had
read Swinburne. "Heine," translated by James Thomson, is not different from
Thomson's original poems; "Heine," translated by Sir Theodore Martin, is
doggerel.

       *       *       *       *       *

But in English blank verse you can translate quite as literally as you
could into prose?

       *       *       *       *       *

I doubt it, but even so, the rhythm of the blank line would carry your mind
away from that of the original.

       *       *       *       *       *

But if you don't know the original?

The rhythm of the original can be suggested in prose judiciously used; even
if it isn't, your mind is at least free, whereas the English rhythm must
destroy the sensation of something foreign. There is no translation except
a word-for-word translation. Baudelaire's translation of Poe, and Hugo's
translation of Shakespeare, are marvellous in this respect; a pun or joke
that is untranslatable is explained in a note.

       *       *       *       *       *

But that is the way young ladies translate--word for word!

       *       *       *       *       *

No; 'tis just what they don't do; they think they are translating word for
word, but they aren't. All the proper names, no matter how unpronounceable,
must be rigidly adhered to; you must never transpose versts into
kilometres, or roubles into francs;--I don't know what a verst is or what a
rouble is, but when I see the words I am in Russia. Every proverb must be
rendered literally, even if it doesn't make very good sense; if it doesn't
make sense at all, it must be explained in a note. For example, there is a
proverb in German: "_Quand le cheval est sellé il faut le monter_;" in
French there is a proverb: "_Quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire._"
Well, a translator who would translate _quand le cheval_, etc., by
_quand le vin_, etc., is an ass, and does not know his business. In
translation, only a strictly classical language should be used; no word of
slang, or even word of modern origin should be employed; the translator's
aim should be never to dissipate the illusion of an exotic. If I were
translating the "Assommoir" into English, I should strive after a strong,
flexible, but colourless language, something--what shall I say?--a sort of
a modern Addison.

       *       *       *       *       *

What, don't you know the story about Mendés?--when _Chose_ wanted to
marry his sister? _Chose's_ mother, it appears, went to live with a
priest. The poor fellow was dreadfully cut up; he was brokenhearted; and he
went to Mendés, his heart swollen with grief, determined to make a clean
breast of it, let the worst come to the worst. After a great deal of
beating about the bush, and apologising, he got it out. You know Mendés,
you can see him smiling a little; and looking at _Chose_ with that
white cameo face of his he said, "_Avec quel meilleur homme voulez-vous
que votre mère se fit? vous n'avez donc, jeune homme, aucun sentiment
religieux._"

       *       *       *       *       *

Victor Hugo, he is a painter on porcelain; his verse is mere decoration,
long tendrils and flowers; and the same thing over and over again.

       *       *       *       *       *

How to be happy!--not to read Baudelaire and Verlaine, not to enter the
_Nouvelle Athènes_, unless perhaps to play dominoes like the
_bourgeois_ over there, not to do anything that would awake a too
intense consciousness of life,--to live in a sleepy country side, to have a
garden to work in, to have a wife and children, to chatter quietly every
evening over the details of existence. We must have the azaleas out
to-morrow and thoroughly cleansed, they are devoured by insects; the tame
rook has flown away; mother lost her prayer-book coming from church, she
thinks it was stolen. A good, honest, well-to-do peasant, who knows nothing
of politics, must be very nearly happy;--and to think there are people who
would educate, who would draw these people out of the calm satisfaction of
their instincts, and give them passions! The philanthropist is the Nero of
modern times.



CHAPTER VIII


EXTRACT FROM A LETTER

Why did you not send a letter? We have all been writing to you for the last
six months, but no answer--none. Had you written one word I would have
saved all. The poor concierge was in despair; she said the
_propriétaire_ would wait if you had only said when you were coming
back, or if you only had let us know what you wished to be done. Three
quarters rent was due, and no news could be obtained of you, so an auction
had to be called. It nearly broke my heart to see those horrid men tramping
over the delicate carpets, their coarse faces set against the sweet colour
of that beautiful English cretonne.... And all the while the pastel by
Manet, the great hat set like an aureole about the face--'the eyes deep set
in crimson shadow,' 'the fan widespread across the bosom' (you see I am
quoting your own words), looking down, the mistress of that little paradise
of tapestry. She seemed to resent the intrusion. I looked once or twice
half expecting those eyes 'deep set in crimson shadow' to fill with tears.
But nothing altered her great dignity; she seemed to see all, but as a
Buddha she remained impenetrable....

"I was there the night before the sale. I looked through the hooks, taking
notes of those I intended to buy--those which we used to read together when
the snow lay high about the legs of the poor faun in _terre cuite_,
that laughed amid the frosty _boulingrins_. I found a large packet of
letters which I instantly destroyed. You should not be so careless; I
wonder how it is that men are always careless about their letters.

"The sale was announced for one o'clock. I wore a thick veil, for I did not
wish to be recognised; the concierge of course knew me, but she can be
depended upon. The poor old woman was in tears, so sorry was she to see all
your pretty things sold up. You left owing her a hundred francs, but I have
paid her; and talking of you we waited till the auctioneer arrived.
Everything had been pulled down; the tapestry from the walls, the picture,
the two vases I gave you were on the table waiting the stroke of the
hammer. And then the men, all the _marchands de meubles_ in the
_quartier_, came upstairs, spitting and talking coarsely--their foul
voices went through me. They stamped, spat, pulled the things about,
nothing escaped them. One of them held up the Japanese dressing-gown and
made some horrible jokes; and the auctioneer, who was a humorist, answered,
"If there are any ladies' men present, we shall have some spirited
bidding." The pastel I bought, and I shall keep it and try to find some
excuse to satisfy my husband, but I send you the miniature, and I hope you
will not let it be sold again. There were many other things I should have
liked to have bought but I did not dare--the organ that you used to play
hymns on and I waltzes on, the Turkish lamp which we could never agree
about ... but when I saw the satin shoes which I gave you to carry the
night of that adorable ball, and which you would not give back, but nailed
up on the wall on either side of your bed and put matches in, I was seized
with an almost invincible desire to steal them. I don't know why, _un
caprice de femme_. No one but you would have ever thought of converting
satin shoes into match boxes. I wore them at that delicious ball; we danced
all night together, and you had an explanation with my husband (I was a
little afraid for a moment, but it came out all right), and we went and sat
on the balcony in the soft warm moonlight; we watched the glitter of
epaulets and gas, the satin of the bodices, the whiteness of passing
shoulders; we dreamed the massy darknesses of the park, the fairy light
along the lawny spaces, the heavy perfume of the flowers, the pink of the
camellias; and you quoted something: '_les camélias du balcon ressemblent
à des désirs mourants._' It was horrid of you: but you always had a
knack of rubbing one up the wrong way. Then do you not remember how we
danced in one room, while the servants set the other out with little
tables? That supper was fascinating! I suppose it was these pleasant
remembrances which made me wish for the shoes, but I could not summon up
courage enough to buy them, and the horrid people were comparing me with
the pastel; I suppose I did look a little mysterious with a double veil
bound across my face. The shoes went with a lot of other things--and oh, to
whom?

"So now that pretty little retreat in the _Rue de la Tour des Dames_
is ended for ever for you and me. We shall not see the faun in _terre
cuite_ again; I was thinking of going to see him the other day, but the
street is so steep; my coachman advised me to spare the horse's hind legs.
I believe it is the steepest street in Paris. And your luncheon parties,
how I did enjoy them, and how Fay did enjoy them too; and what I risked,
shortsighted as I am, picking my way from the tramcar down to that
out-of-the-way little street! Men never appreciate the risks women run for
them. But to leave my letters lying about--I cannot forgive that. When I
told Fay she said, 'What can you expect? I warned you against flirting with
boys.' I never did before--never.

"Paris is now just as it was when you used to sit on the balcony and I read
you Browning. You never liked his poetry, and I cannot understand why. I
have found a new poem which I am sure would convert you; you should be
here. There are lilacs in the room and the _Mont Valérien_ is
beautiful upon a great lemon sky, and the long avenue is merging into
violet vapour.

"We have already begun to think of where we shall go to this year. Last
year we went to P----, an enchanting place, quite rustic, but within easy
distance of a casino. I had vowed not to dance, for I had been out every
night during the season, but the temptation proved irresistible, and I gave
way. There were two young men here, one the Count of B----, the other the
Marquis of G----, one of the best families in France, a distant cousin of
my husband. He has written a book which every one says is one of the most
amusing things that has appeared for years, _c'est surtout très
Parisien_. He paid me great attentions, and made my husband wildly
jealous. I used to go out and sit with him amid the rocks, and it was
perhaps very lucky for me that he went away. We may return there this year;
if so, I wish you would come and spend a month; there is an excellent hotel
where you would be very comfortable. We have decided nothing as yet. The
Duchesse de ---- is giving a costume ball; they say it is going to be a most
wonderful affair. I don't know what money is not going to be spent upon the
cotillion. I have just got home a fascinating toilette. I am going as a
_Pierrotte_; you know, a short skirt and a little cap. The Marquise
gave a ball some few days ago. I danced the cotillion with L----, who, as
you know, dances divinely; _il m'a fait la cour_, but it is of course
no use, you know that.

"The other night we went to see the _Maître-Forges_, a fascinating
play, and I am reading the book; I don't know which I like the best. I
think the play, but the book is very good too. Now that is what I call a
novel; and I am a judge, for I have read all novels. But I must not talk
literature, or you will say something stupid. I wish you would not make
foolish remarks about men that _tout-Paris_ considers the cleverest.
It does not matter so much with me, I know you, but then people laugh at
you behind your back, and that is not nice for me. The _marquise_ was
here the other day, and she said she almost wished you would not come on
her 'days,' so extraordinary were the remarks you made. And by the way, the
_marquise_ has written a book. I have not seen it, but I hear that it
is really too _décolleté_. She is _une femme d'esprit_, but the
way she affiché's herself is too much for any one. She never goes anywhere
now without _le petit_ D----. It is a great pity.

"And now, my dear friend, write me a nice letter, and tell me when you are
coming back to Paris. I am sure you cannot amuse yourself in that hateful
London; the nicest thing about you was that you were really _très_
Parisien. Come back and take a nice apartment on the Champs Elysées. You
might come back for the Duchesse's ball. I will get an invitation for you,
and will keep the cotillion for you. The idea of running away as you did,
and never telling any one where you were going to. I always said you were a
little cracked. And letting all your things be sold! If you had only told
me! I should like so much to have had that Turkish lamp. Yours--"


How like her that letter is;--egotistical, vain, foolish; no, not
foolish--narrow, limited, but not foolish; worldly, oh, how worldly! and
yet not repulsively so, for there always was in her a certain intensity of
feeling that saved her from the commonplace, and gave her an inexpressible
charm. Yes, she is a woman who can feel, and she has lived her life and
felt it very acutely, very sincerely--sincerely?... like a moth caught in a
gauze curtain! Well, would that preclude sincerity? Sincerity seems to
convey an idea of depth, and she was not very deep, that is quite certain.
I never could understand her;--a little brain that span rapidly and hummed
a pretty humming tune. But no, there was something more in her than that.
She often said things that I thought clever, things that I did not forget,
things, that I should like to put into books. But it was not brain power;
it was only intensity of feeling--nervous feeling. I don't know ...
perhaps.... She has lived her life ... yes, within certain limits she has
lived her life. None of us do more than that. True. I remember the first
time I saw her. Sharp, little, and merry--a changeable little sprite. I
thought she had ugly hands; so she has, and yet I forgot all about her
hands before I had known her a month. It is now seven years ago. How time
passes! I was very young then. What battles we have had, what quarrels!
Still we had good times together. She never lost sight of me, but no
intrusion; far too clever for that. I never got the better of her but once
... once I did, _enfin_! She soon made up for lost ground. I wonder
what the charm was. I did not think her pretty, I did not think her clever;
that I know.... I never knew if she cared for me, never. There were moments
when.... Curious, febrile, subtle little creature, oh, infinitely subtle,
subtle in everything, in her sensations subtle; I suppose that was her
charm, subtleness. I never knew if she cared for me, I never knew if she
hated her husband,--one never knew her,--I never knew how she would receive
me. The last time I saw her ... that stupid American would take her
downstairs, no getting rid of him, and I was hiding behind one of the
pillars in the Rue de Rivoli, my hand on the cab door. However, she could
not blame me that time--and all the stories she used to invent of my
indiscretions; I believe she used to get them up for the sake of the
excitement. She was awfully silly in some ways, once you got her into a
certain line; that marriage, that title, and she used to think of it night
and day. I shall never forget when she went into mourning for the Count de
Chambord. And her tastes, oh, how bourgeois they were! That salon; the
flagrantly modern clock, brass work, eight hundred francs on the Boulevard
St. Germain, the cabinets, brass work, the rich brown carpet, and the
furniture set all round the room geometrically, the great gilt mirror, the
ancestral portrait, the arms and crest everywhere, and the stuffy bourgeois
sense of comfort; a little grotesque no doubt;--the mechanical admiration
for all that is about her, for the general atmosphere, the _Figaro_,
that is to say Albert Wolf, _l'homme le plus spirituel de Paris,
c'est-à-dire, dans le monde_, the success of Georges Ohnet and the
talent of Gustave Doré. But with all this vulgarity of taste certain
appreciations, certain ebullitions of sentiment, within the radius of
sentiment certain elevations and depravities,--depravities in the
legitimate sense of the word, that is to say, a revolt against the
commonplace....


Ha, ha, ha! how I have been dreaming. I wish I had not been awoke from my
reverie, it was pleasant.

The letter just read indicates, if it does not clearly tell, the changes
that have taken place in my life; and it is only necessary to say that one
morning, a few months ago, when my servant brought me some summer honey and
a glass of milk to my bedside, she handed me an unpleasant letter. My
agent's handwriting, even when I knew the envelope contained a cheque, has
never quite failed to produce a sensation of repugnance in me;--so hateful
is any sort of account, that I avoid as much as possible even knowing how I
stand at my banker's. Therefore the odour of honey and milk, so evocative
of fresh flowers and fields, was spoilt that morning for me; and it was
some time before I slipped on that beautiful Japanese dressing-gown, which
I shall never see again, and read the odious epistle.

That some wretched farmers and miners should refuse to starve, that I may
not be deprived of my _demi-tasse_ at _Tortoni's_; that I may not
be forced to leave this beautiful retreat, my cat and my python--monstrous.
And these wretched creatures will find moral support in England; they will
find pity!

Pity, that most vile of all vile virtues, has never been known to me. The
great pagan world I love knew it not. Now the world proposes to interrupt
the terrible austere laws of nature which ordain that the weak shall be
trampled upon, shall be ground into death and dust, that the strong shall
be really strong,--that the strong shall be glorious, sublime. A little
bourgeois comfort, a little bourgeois sense of right, cry the moderns.

Hither the world has been drifting since the coming of the pale socialist
of Galilee; and this is why I hate Him, and deny His divinity. His divinity
is falling, it is evanescent in sight of the goal He dreamed; again He is
denied by His disciples. Poor fallen God! I, who hold nought else pitiful,
pity Thee, Thy bleeding face and hands and feet, Thy hanging body; Thou at
least art picturesque, and in a way beautiful in the midst of the sombre
mediocrity, towards which Thou hast drifted for two thousand years, a flag;
and in which Thou shalt find Thy doom as I mine, I, who will not adore Thee
and cannot curse Thee now. For verily Thy life and Thy fate has been
greater, stranger and more Divine than any man's has been. The chosen
people, the garden, the betrayal, the crucifixion, and the beautiful story,
not of Mary, but of Magdalen. The God descending to the harlot! Even the
great pagan world of marble and pomp and lust and cruelty, that my soul
goes out to and hails as the grandest, has not so sublime a contrast to
show us as this.

Come to me, ye who are weak. The Word went forth, the terrible disastrous
Word, and before it fell the ancient gods, and the vices that they
represent, and which I revere, are outcast now in the world of men; the
Word went forth, and the world interpreted the Word, blindly, ignorantly,
savagely, for two thousand years, but nevertheless nearing every day the
end--the end that Thou in Thy divine intelligence foresaw, that finds its
voice to-day (enormous though the antithesis may be, I will say it) in the
_Pall Mall Gazette_. What fate has been like Thine? Betrayed by Judas
in the garden, denied by Peter before the cock crew, crucified between
thieves, and mourned for by a harlot, and then sent bound and bare, nothing
changed, nothing altered, in Thy ignominious plight, forthward in the
world's van the glory and symbol of a man's new idea--Pity. Thy day is
closing in, but the heavens are now wider aflame with Thy light than ever
before--Thy light, which I, a pagan, standing on the last verge of the old
world, declare to be darkness, the coming night of pity and justice which
is imminent, which is the twentieth century. The bearers have relinquished
Thy cross, they leave Thee in the hour of Thy universal triumph, Thy crown
of thorns is falling, Thy face is buffeted with blows, and not even a reed
is placed in Thy hand for sceptre; only I and mine are by Thee, we who
shall perish with Thee, in the ruin Thou hast created.

Injustice we worship; all that lifts us out of the miseries of life is the
sublime fruit of injustice. Every immortal deed was an act of fearful
injustice; the world of grandeur, of triumph, of courage, of lofty
aspiration, was built up on injustice. Man would not be man but for
injustice. Hail, therefore, to the thrice glorious virtue injustice! What
care I that some millions of wretched Israelites died under Pharaoh's lash
or Egypt's sun? It was well that they died that I might have the pyramids
to look on, or to fill a musing hour with wonderment. Is there one amongst
us who would exchange them for the lives of the ignominious slaves that
died? What care I that the virtue of some sixteen-year-old maiden was the
price paid for Ingres' _La Source_? That the model died of drink and
disease in the hospital, is nothing when compared with the essential that I
should have _La Source_, that exquisite dream of innocence, to think
of till my soul is sick with delight of the painter's holy vision. Nay
more, the knowledge that a wrong was done--that millions of Israelites died
in torments, that a girl, or a thousand girls, died in the hospital for
that one virginal thing, is an added pleasure which I could not afford to
spare. Oh, for the silence of marble courts, for the shadow of great
pillars, for gold, for reticulated canopies of lilies; to see the great
gladiators pass, to hear them cry the famous "Ave Caesar," to hold the
thumb down, to see the blood flow, to fill the languid hours with the
agonies of poisoned slaves! Oh, for excess, for crime! I would give many
lives to save one sonnet by Baudelaire; for the hymn, "_A la très-chère,
à la très-belle, qui remplit mon coeur de clarté_," let the first-born
in every house in Europe be slain; and in all sincerity I profess my
readiness to decapitate all the Japanese in Japan and elsewhere, to save
from destruction one drawing by Hokee. Again I say that all we deem sublime
in the world's history are acts, of injustice; and it is certain that if
mankind does not relinquish at once, and for ever, its vain, mad, and fatal
dream of justice, the world will lapse into barbarism. England was great
and glorious, because England was unjust, and England's greatest son was
the personification of injustice--Cromwell.

But the old world of heroes is over now. The skies above us are dark with
sentimentalism, the sand beneath us is shoaling fast, we are running with
streaming canvas upon ruin; all ideals have gone; nothing remains to us for
worship but the Mass, the blind, inchoate, insatiate Mass; fog and fen land
before us, we shall founder in putrefying mud, creatures of the ooze and
rushes about us--we, the great ship that has floated up from the antique
world. Oh, for the antique world, its plain passion, its plain joys in the
sea, where the Triton blew a plaintive blast, and the forest where the
whiteness of the nymph was seen escaping! We are weary of pity, we are
weary of being good; we are weary of tears and effusion, and our
refuge--the British Museum--is the wide sea shore and the wind of the
ocean. There, there is real joy in the flesh; our statues are naked, but we
are ashamed, and our nakedness is indecency: a fair, frank soul is mirrored
in those fauns and nymphs; and how strangely enigmatic is the soul of the
antique world, the bare, barbarous soul of beauty and of might!



CHAPTER IX


But neither Apollo nor Buddha could help or save me. One in his exquisite
balance of body, a skylark-like song of eternal beauty, stood lightly
advancing; the other sat sombrously contemplating, calm as a beautiful
evening. I looked for sorrow in the eyes of the pastel--the beautiful
pastel that seemed to fill with a real presence the rich autumnal leaves
where the jays darted and screamed. The twisted columns of the bed rose,
burdened with great weight of fringes and curtains, the python devoured a
guinea pig, the last I gave him; the great white cat came to me. I said all
this must go, must henceforth be to me an abandoned dream, a something, not
more real than a summer meditation. So be it, and, as was characteristic of
me, I broke with Paris suddenly, without warning anyone. I knew in my heart
of hearts that I should never return, but no word was spoken, and I
continued a pleasant delusion with myself; I told my _concierge_ that
I would return in a month, and I left all to be sold, brutally sold by
auction, as the letter I read in the last chapter charmingly and touchingly
describes.

Not even to Marshall did I confide my foreboding that Paris would pass out
of my life, that it would henceforth be with me a beautiful memory, but
never more a practical delight. He and I were no longer living together; we
had parted a second time, but this time without bitterness of any kind; he
had learnt to feel that I wanted to live alone, and had moved away into the
Latin quarter, whither I made occasional expeditions. I accompanied him
once to the old haunts, but various terms of penal servitude had scattered
our friends, and I could not interest myself in the new. Nor did Marshall
himself interest me as he had once done. To my eager taste, he had grown
just a little trite. My affection for him was as deep and sincere as ever;
were I to meet him now I would grasp his hand and hail him with firm, loyal
friendship; but I had made friends in the Nouvelle Athènes who interested
me passionately, and my thoughts were absorbed by and set on new ideals,
which Marshall had failed to find sympathy for, or even to understand. I
had introduced him to Degas and Manet, but he had spoken of Jules Lefèvre
and Bouguereau, and generally shown himself incapable of any higher
education; he could not enter where I had entered, and this was alienation.
We could no longer even talk of the same people; when I spoke of a certain
_marquise_, he answered with an indifferent "Do you really think so?"
and proceeded to drag me away from my glitter of satin to the dinginess of
print dresses. It was more than alienation, it was almost separation; but
he was still my friend, he was the man, and he always will be, to whom my
youth, with all its aspirations, was most closely united. So I turned to
say good-bye to him and to my past life. Rap--rap--rap!

"Who's there?"

"I--Dayne."

"I've got a model."

"Never mind your model. Open the door. How are you? what are you painting?"

"This; what do you think of it?"

"It is prettily composed. I think it will come out all right. I am going to
England; come to say good-bye."

"Going to England! What will you do in England?"

"I have to go about money matters; very tiresome. I had really begun to
forget there was such a place."

"But you are not going to stay there?"

"Oh, no!"

"You will be just in time to see the Academy."

The conversation turned on art, and we æstheticised for an hour. At last
Marshall said, "I am really sorry, old chap, but I must send you away;
there's that model."

The girl sat waiting, her pale hair hanging down her back, a very picture
of discontent.

"Send her away."

"I asked her to come out to dinner."

"D----n her ... Well, never mind, I must spend this last evening with you;
you shall both dine with me. _Je quitte Paris demain matin, peut-être
pour longtemps; je voudrais passer ma dernière soirée avec mon ami; alors
si vous voulez bien me permettre, mademoiselle, je vous invite tous les
deux à diner; nous passerons la soirée ensemble si cela vous est
agréable?_"

"_Je veux bien, monsieur._"

Poor Marie! Marshall and I were absorbed in each other and art. It was
always so. We dined in a gargotte, and afterwards we went to a students'
hall; and it seems like yesterday. I can see the moon sailing through a
clear sky, and on the pavement's edge Marshall's beautiful, slim, manly
figure, and Marie's exquisite gracefulness. She was Lefèvre's Chloe; so
every one sees her now. Her end was a tragic one. She invited her friends
to dinner, and with the few pence that remained she bought some boxes of
matches, boiled them, and drank the water. No one knew why; some said it
was love.

I went to London in an exuberant necktie, a tiny hat; I wore large trousers
and a Capoul beard; and I looked, I believe, as unlike an Englishman as a
drawing by Grévin. In the smoking-room of Morley's Hotel I met my agent, an
immense nose, and a wisp of hair drawn over a bald skull. He explained,
after some hesitation, that I owed him a few thousands, and that the
accounts were in his portmanteau. I suggested taking them to a solicitor to
have them examined. The solicitor advised me strongly to contest them. I
did not take the advice, but raised some money instead, and so the matter
ended so far as the immediate future was concerned. The years the most
impressionable, from twenty to thirty, when the senses and the mind are the
widest awake, I, the most impressionable of human beings, had spent in
France, not among English residents, but among that which is the
quintessence of the nation; I, not an indifferent spectator, but an
enthusiast, striving heart and soul to identify himself with his
environment, to shake himself free from race and language and to recreate
himself as it were in the womb of a new nationality, assuming its ideals,
its morals, and its modes of thought, and I had succeeded strangely well,
and when I returned home England was a new country to me; I had, as it
were, forgotten everything. Every aspect of street and suburban garden was
new to me; of the manner of life of Londoners I knew nothing. This sounds
incredible, but it is so; I saw, but I could realise nothing. I went into a
drawing-room, but everything seemed far away--a dream, a presentment,
nothing more; I was in touch with nothing; of the thoughts and feelings of
those I met I could understand nothing, nor could I sympathise with them:
an Englishman was at that time as much out of my mental reach as an
Esquimaux would be now. Women were nearer to me than men, and I will take
this opportunity to note my observation, for I am not aware that any one
else has observed that the difference between the two races is found in the
men, not in the women. French and English women are psychologically very
similar; the standpoint from which they, see life is the same, the same
thoughts interest and amuse them; but the attitude of a Frenchman's mind is
absolutely opposed to that of an Englishman; they stand on either side of a
vast abyss, two animals different in colour, form, and temperament;--two
ideas destined to remain irrevocably separate and distinct. I have heard of
writing and speaking two languages equally well: this was impossible to me,
and I am convinced that if I had remained two more years in France I should
never have been able to identify my thoughts with the language I am now
writing in, and I should have written it as an alien. As it was I only just
escaped this detestable fate. And it was in the last two years, when I
began to write French verse and occasional _chroniques_ in the papers,
that the great damage was done. I remember very well indeed one day, while
arranging an act of a play I was writing with a friend, finding suddenly to
my surprise that I could think more easily and rapidly in French than in
English; but with all this I did not learn French. I chattered, and I felt
intensely at home in it; yes, I could write a sonnet or a ballade almost
without a slip, but my prose required a good deal of alteration, for a
greater command of language is required to write in prose than in verse. I
found this in French and also in English. For when I returned from Paris,
my English terribly corrupt with French ideas and forms of thought, I could
write acceptable English verse, but even ordinary newspaper prose was
beyond my reach, and an attempt I made to write a novel drifted into a
miserable failure; but the following poems opened to me the doors of a
first-class London newspaper, and I was at once entrusted with some
important critical work:



    THE SWEETNESS OF THE PAST


    As sailors watch from their prison
      For the faint grey line of the coasts,
    I look to the past re-arisen,
      And joys come over in hosts
    Like the white sea birds from their roosts.

    I love not the indelicate present,
      The future's unknown to our quest,
    To-day is the life of the peasant,
      But the past is a haven of rest--
    The things of the past are the best.

    The rose of the past is better
      Than the rose we ravish to-day,
    'Tis holier, purer, and fitter
      To place on the shrine where we pray
    For the secret thoughts we obey.

    There are there no deceptions or changes,
      And there all is lovely and still;
    No grief nor fate that estranges,
      Nor hope that no life can fulfil,
    But ethereal shelter from ill.

    The coarser delights of the hour
      Tempt, and debauch, and deprave,
    And we joy in a poisonous flower,
      Knowing that nothing can save
    Our flesh from the fate of the grave.

    But sooner or later returning
      In grief to the well-loved nest,
    Our souls filled with infinite yearning,
      We cry, in the past there is rest,
    There is peace, its joys are the best.



    NOSTALGIA


    Fair were the dreamful days of old,
      When in the summer's sleepy shade,
    Beneath the beeches on the wold,
      The shepherds lay and gently played
    Music to maidens, who, afraid,
      Drew all together rapturously,
    Their white soft hands like white leaves laid,
      In the old dear days of Arcady.

    Men were not then as they are now
      Haunted and terrified by creeds,
    They sought not then, nor cared to know
      The end that as a magnet leads,
    Nor told with austere fingers beads,
      Nor reasoned with their grief and glee,
    But rioted in pleasant meads
      In the old dear days of Arcady.

    The future may be wrong or right,
      The present is distinctly wrong,
    For life and love have lost delight,
      And bitter even is our song;
    And year by year grey doubt grows strong,
      And death is all that seems to dree.
    Wherefore with weary hearts we long
      For the old dear days of Arcady.

    ENVOI

    Glories and triumphs ne'er shall cease,
      But men may sound the heavens and sea,
    One thing is lost for aye--the peace
      Of the old dear days of Arcady.


And so it was that I came to settle down in a Strand lodging-house,
determined to devote myself to literature, and to accept the hardships of a
literary life. I had been playing long enough, and now I was resolved to
see what I could do in the world of work. I was anxious for proof,
peremptory proof, of my capacity or incapacity. A book! No. I required an
immediate answer, and journalism alone could give me that. So I reasoned in
the Strand lodging-house. And what led me to that house? Chance, or a
friend's recommendation? I forget. It was uncomfortable, hideous, and not
very clean: but curious, as all things are curious when examined closely.
Let me tell you about my rooms. The sitting-room was a good deal longer
than it was wide; it was panelled with deal, and the deal was painted a
light brown; behind it there was a large bedroom: the floor was covered
with a ragged carpet, and a big bed stood in the middle of the floor. But
next to the sitting-room was a small bedroom which was let for ten
shillings a week; and the partition wall was so thin that I could hear
every movement the occupant made. This proximity was intolerable, and
eventually I decided on adding ten shillings to my rent, and I became the
possessor of the entire flat. In the room above me lived a pretty young
woman, an actress at the Savoy Theatre. She had a piano, and she used to
play and sing in the mornings, and in the afternoon, friends--girls from
the theatre--used to come and see her; and Emma, the maid-of-all-work, used
to take them up their tea; and, oh! the chattering and the laughter. Poor
Miss L----; she had only two pounds a week to live on, but she was always
in high spirits except when she could not pay the hire of her piano; and I
am sure that she now looks back with pleasure and thinks of those days as
very happy ones.

She was a tall girl, a thin figure, and she had large brown eyes; she liked
young men, and she hoped that Mr. Gilbert would give her a line or two in
his next opera. Often have I come out on the landing to meet her; we used
to sit on those stairs talking, long after midnight, of what?--of our
landlady, of the theatre, of the most suitable ways of enjoying ourselves
in life. One night she told me she was married; it was a solemn moment. I
asked in a sympathetic voice why she was not living with her husband. She
told me, but the reason of the separation I have forgotten in the many
similar reasons for separations and partings which have since been confided
to me. The landlady bitterly resented our intimacy, and I believe Miss
L---- was charged indirectly for her conversations with me in the bill. On
the first floor there was a large sitting-room and bedroom, solitary rooms
that were nearly always unlet. The landlady's parlour was on the ground
floor, her bedroom was next to it, and further on was the entrance to the
kitchen stairs, whence ascended Mrs. S----'s brood of children, and Emma,
the awful servant, with tea things, many various smells, that of ham and
eggs predominating.

Emma, I remember you--you are not to be forgotten--up at five o'clock every
morning, scouring, washing, cooking, dressing those infamous children;
seventeen hours at least out of the twenty-four at the beck and call of
landlady, lodgers, and quarrelling children; seventeen hours at least out
of the twenty-four drudging in that horrible kitchen, running up stairs
with coals and breakfasts and cans of hot water; down on your knees before
a grate, pulling out the cinders with those hands--can I call them hands?
The lodgers sometimes threw you a kind word, but never one that recognised
that you were akin to us, only the pity that might be extended to a dog.
And I used to ask you all sorts of cruel questions, I was curious to know
the depth of animalism you had sunk to, or rather out of which you had
never been raised. And you generally answered innocently and naïvely
enough. But sometimes my words were too crude, and they struck through the
thick hide into the quick, into the human, and you winced a little; but
this was rarely, for you were very nearly, oh, very nearly an animal: your
temperament and intelligence was just that of a dog that has picked up a
master, not a real master, but a makeshift master who may turn it out at
any moment. Dickens would sentimentalise or laugh over you; I do neither. I
merely recognise you as one of the facts of civilisation. You looked--well,
to be candid,--you looked neither young nor old; hard work had obliterated
the delicate markings of the years, and left you in round numbers something
over thirty. Your hair was reddish brown, and your face wore that plain
honest look that is so essentially English. The rest of you was a mass of
stuffy clothes, and when you rushed up stairs I saw something that did not
look like legs; a horrible rush that was of yours, a sort of cart-horse
like bound. I have spoken angrily to you; I have heard others speak angrily
to you, but never did that sweet face of yours, for it was a sweet
face--that sweet, natural goodness that is so sublime--lose its expression
of perfect and unfailing kindness. Words convey little sense of the real
horrors of the reality. Life in your case meant this: to be born in a slum,
and to leave it to work seventeen hours a day in a lodging-house; to be a
Londoner, but to know only the slum in which you were born and the few
shops in the Strand at which the landlady dealt. To know nothing of London
meant in your case not to know that it was not England; England and London!
you could not distinguish between them. Was England an island or a
mountain? you had no notion. I remember when you heard that Miss L---- was
going to America, you asked me, and the question was sublime: "Is she going
to travel all night?" You had heard people speak of travelling all night,
and that was all you knew of travel or any place that was not the Strand. I
asked you if you went to church, and you said "No, it makes my eyes bad." I
said, "But you don't read; you can't read." "No, but I have to look at the
book." I asked you if you had heard of God; you hadn't; but when I pressed
you on the point you suspected I was laughing at you, and you would not
answer, and when I tried you again on the subject I could see that the
landlady had been telling you what to say. But you had not understood, and
your conscious ignorance, grown conscious within the last couple of days,
was even more pitiful than your unconscious ignorance when you answered
that you couldn't go to church because it made your eyes bad. It is a
strange thing to know nothing; for instance, to live in London and to have
no notion of the House of Commons, nor indeed of the Queen, except perhaps
that she is a rich lady; the police--yes, you knew what a policeman was
because you used to be sent to fetch one to make an organ-man or a Christy
minstrel move on. To know of nothing but a dark kitchen, grates, eggs and
bacon, dirty children; to work seventeen hours a day and to get cheated out
of your wages; to answer, when asked, why you did not get your wages or
leave if you weren't paid, that you "didn't know how Mrs. S---- would get
on without me."

This woman owed you forty pounds, I think, so I calculated it from what you
told me; and yet you did not like to leave her because you did not know how
she would get on without you. Sublime stupidity! At this point your
intelligence stopped. I remember you once spoke of a half-holiday; I
questioned you, and I found your idea of a half-holiday was to take the
children for a walk and buy them some sweets. I told my brother of this and
he said--Emma out for a half-holiday! why, you might as well give a mule a
holiday. The phrase was brutal, but it was admirably descriptive of you.
Yes, you are a mule, there is no sense in you; you are a beast of burden, a
drudge too horrible for anything but work; and I suppose, all things
considered, that the fat landlady with a dozen children did well to work
you seventeen hours a day, and cheat you out of your miserable wages. You
had no friends; you could not have a friend unless it were some forlorn cat
or dog; but you once spoke to me of your brother, who worked in a potato
store, and I was astonished, and I wondered if he were as awful as you.
Poor Emma! I shall never forget your kind heart and your unfailing good
humour; you were born beautifully good as a rose is born with perfect
perfume; you were as unconscious of your goodness as the rose of its
perfume. And you were taken by this fat landlady as 'Arry takes a rose and
sticks it in his tobacco-reeking coat; and you will be thrown away, shut
out of doors when health fails you, or when, overcome by base usage, you
take to drink. There is no hope for you; even if you were treated better
and paid your wages there would be no hope. That forty pounds even, if they
were given to you, would bring you no good fortune. They would bring the
idle loafer, who scorns you now as something too low for even his kisses,
hanging about your heels and whispering in your ears. And his whispering
would drive you mad, for your kind heart longs for kind words; and then
when he had spent your money and cast you off in despair, the gin shop and
the river would do the rest. Providence is very wise after all, and your
best destiny is your present one. We cannot add a pain, nor can we take
away a pain; we may alter, but we cannot subtract nor even alleviate. But
what truisms are these; who believes in philanthropy nowadays?

       *       *       *       *       *

"Come in."

"Oh, it is you, Emma!"

"Are you going to dine at home to-day, sir?"

"What can I have?"

"Well, yer can 'ave a chop or a steak."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, yer can 'ave a steak, or a chop, or--"

"Oh yes, I know; well then, I'll have a chop. And now tell me, Emma, how is
your young man? I hear you have got one, you went out with him the other
night."

"Who told yer that?"

"Ah, never mind; I hear everything."

"I know, from Miss L----."

"Well, tell me, how did you meet him, who introduced him?"

"I met 'im as I was a-coming from the public 'ouse with the beer for
missus' dinner."

"And what did he say?"

"He asked me if I was engaged; I said no. And he come round down the lane
that evening."

"And he took you out?"

"Yes."

"And where did you go?"

"We went for a walk on the Embankment."

"And when is he coming for you again?"

"He said he was coming last evening, but he didn't."

"Why didn't he?"

"I dunno; I suppose because I haven't time to go out with him. So it was
Miss L---- that told you; well, you do 'ave chats on the stairs. I suppose
you likes talking to 'er."

"I like talking to everybody, Emma; I like talking to you."

"Yes, but not as you talks to 'er; I 'ears you jes do 'ave fine times. She
said this morning that she had not seen you for this last two nights--that
you had forgotten 'er, and I was to tell yer."

"Very well, I'll come out to-night and speak to her."

"And missus is so wild about it, and she daren't say nothing 'cause she
thinks yer might go."

       *       *       *       *       *

A young man in a house full of women must be almost supernaturally
unpleasant if he does not occupy a great deal of their attention. Certain
at least it is that I was the point of interest in that house; and I found
there that the practice of virtue is not so disagreeable as many young men
think it. The fat landlady hovered round my doors, and I obtained perfectly
fresh eggs by merely keeping her at her distance; the pretty actress, with
whom I used to sympathise with on the stairs at midnight, loved me better,
and our intimacy was more strange and subtle, because it was pure, and it
was not quite unpleasant to know that the awful servant dreamed of me as
she might of a star, or something equally unattainable; but the landlady's
daughter, a nasty girl of fifteen, annoyed me with her ogling, which was a
little revolting, but the rest was, and I speak quite candidly, not wholly
unpleasant. It was not aristocratic, it is true, but, I repeat, it was not
unpleasant, nor do I believe that any young man, however refined, would
have found it unpleasant.

But if I was offered a choice between a chop and steak in the evening, in
the morning I had to decide between eggs and bacon and bacon and eggs. A
knocking at the door, "Nine o'clock, sir; 'ot water sir; what will you have
for breakfast?" "What can I have?" "Anything you like, sir. You can have
bacon and eggs, or--" "Anything else?"--Pause.--"Well, sir, you can have
eggs and bacon, or--" "Well, I'll have eggs and bacon."

The streets seemed to me like rat holes, dark and wandering as chance
directed, with just an occasional rift of sky, seen as if through an
occasional crevice, so different from the boulevards widening out into
bright space with fountains and clouds of green foliage. The modes of life
were so essentially opposed. I am thinking now of intellectual rather than
physical comforts. I could put up with even lodging-house food, but I found
it difficult to forego the glitter and artistic enthusiasm of the café. The
tavern, I had heard of the tavern.

Some seventy years ago the Club superseded the Tavern, and since then all
literary intercourse has ceased in London. Literary clubs have been
founded, and their leather arm-chairs have begotten Mr. Gosse; but the
tavern gave the world Villon and Marlowe. Nor is this to be wondered at.
What is wanted is enthusiasm and devil-may-careism; and the very aspect of
a tavern is a snort of defiance at the hearth, the leather arm-chairs are
so many salaams to it. I ask, Did any one ever see a gay club room? Can any
one imagine such a thing? You can't have a club room without mahogany
tables, you can't have mahogany tables without magazines--_Longmans_,
with a serial by Rider Haggard, the _Nineteenth Century_, with an
article, "The Rehabilitation of the Pimp in Modern Society," by W.E.
Gladstone--a dulness that's a purge to good spirits, an aperient to
enthusiasm; in a word, a dulness that's worth a thousand a year. You can't
have a club without a waiter in red plush and silver salver in his hand;
then you can't bring a lady to a club, and you have to get into a corner to
talk about them. Therefore I say a club is dull.

As the hearth and home grew all-powerful it became impossible for the
husband to tell his wife that he was going to the tavern; everyone can go
to the tavern, and no place in England where everyone can go is considered
respectable. This is the genesis of the Club--out of the Housewife by
Respectability. Nowadays every one is respectable--jockeys, betting-men,
actors, and even actresses. Mrs. Kendal takes her children to visit a
duchess, and has naughty chorus girls to tea, and tells them of the joy of
respectability. There is only one class left that is not respectable, and
that will succumb before long; how the transformation will be effected I
can't say, but I know an editor or two who would be glad of an article on
the subject.

Respectability!--a suburban villa, a piano in the drawing-room, and going
home to dinner. Such things are no doubt very excellent, but they do not
promote intensity of feeling, fervour of mind; and as art is in itself an
outcry against the animality of human existence, it would be well that the
life of the artist should be a practical protest against the so-called
decencies of life; and he can best protest by frequenting a tavern and
cutting his club. In the past the artist has always been an outcast; it is
only latterly he has become domesticated, and judging by results, it is
clear that if Bohemianism is not a necessity it is at least an adjuvant.
For if long locks and general dissoluteness were not an aid and a way to
pure thought, why have they been so long his characteristics? If lovers
were not necessary for the development of poet, novelist, and actress, why
have they always had lovers--Sappho, George Eliot, George Sand, Rachel,
Sara? Mrs. Kendal nurses children all day and strives to play Rosalind at
night. What infatuation, what ridiculous endeavour! To realise the
beautiful woodland passion and the idea of the transformation, a woman must
have sinned, for only through sin may we learn the charm of innocence. To
play Rosalind a woman must have had more than one lover, and if she has
been made to wait in the rain and has been beaten she will have done a
great deal to qualify herself for the part. The ecstatic Sara makes no
pretence to virtue, she introduces her son to an English duchess, and
throws over a nation for the love of Richepein, she can, therefore, say as
none other--

    "Ce n'est plus qu'une ardeur dans mes veines cachée,
    C'est Venus tout entière à sa proie attachée."

Swinburne, when he dodged about London, a lively young dog, wrote "Poems
and Ballads," and "Chastelard," since he has gone to live at Putney, he has
contributed to the _Nineteenth Century_, and published an interesting
little volume entitled, "A Century of Rondels," in which he continues his
plaint about his mother the sea.

Respectability is sweeping the picturesque out of life; national costumes
are disappearing. The kilt is going or gone in the highlands, and the smock
in the southlands, even the Japanese are becoming Christian and
respectable; in another quarter of a century silk hats and pianos will be
found in every house in Jeddo. Too true that universal uniformity is the
future of the world; and when Mr. Morris speaks of the democratic art to be
when the world is socialistic, I ask, whence will the unfortunates draw
their inspiration? To-day our plight is pitiable enough--the duke, the
jockey-boy, and the artist are exactly alike; they are dressed by the same
tailor, they dine at the same clubs, they swear the same oaths, they speak
equally bad English, they love the same women. Such a state of things is
dreary enough, but what unimaginable dreariness there will be when there
are neither rich nor poor, when all have been educated, when self-education
has ceased. A terrible world to dream of, worse, far worse, in darkness and
hopelessness than Dante's lowest circle of hell. The spectre of famine, of
the plague, of war, etc., are mild and gracious symbols compared with that
menacing figure, Universal Education, with which we are threatened, which
has already eunuched the genius of the last five-and-twenty years of the
nineteenth century, and produced a limitless abortion in that of future
time. Education, I tremble before thy dreaded name. The cruelties of Nero,
of Caligula, what were they?--a few crunched limbs in the amphitheatre; but
thine, O Education, are the yearning of souls sick of life, of maddening
discontent, of all the fearsome and fathomless sufferings of the mind. When
Goethe said "More light," he said the wickedest and most infamous words
that human lips ever spoke. In old days, when a people became too highly
civilised the barbarians came down from the north and regenerated that
nation with darkness; but now there are no more barbarians, and sooner or
later I am convinced that we shall have to end the evil by summary
edicts--the obstruction no doubt will be severe, the equivalents of
Gladstone and Morley will stop at nothing to defeat the Bill; but it will
nevertheless be carried by patriotic Conservative and Unionist majorities,
and it will be written in the Statute Book that not more than one child in
a hundred shall be taught to read, and no more than one in ten thousand
shall learn the piano.

Such will be the end of Respectability, but the end is still far distant.
We are now in a period of decadence growing steadily more and more acute.
The old gods are falling about us, there is little left to raise our hearts
and minds to, and amid the wreck and ruin of things only a snobbery is left
to us, thank heaven, deeply graven in the English heart; the snob is now
the ark that floats triumphant over the democratic wave; the faith of the
old world reposes in his breast, and he shall proclaim it when the waters
have subsided.

In the meanwhile Respectability, having destroyed the Tavern, and created
the Club, continues to exercise a meretricious and enervating influence on
literature. All audacity of thought and expression has been stamped out,
and the conventionalities are rigorously respected. It has been said a
thousand times that an art is only a reflection of a certain age; quite so,
only certain ages are more interesting than others, and consequently
produce better art, just as certain seasons produce better crops. We heard
in the Nouvelle Athènes how the Democratic movement, in other words,
Respectability, in other words, Education, has extinguished the
handicrafts; it was admitted that in the more individual arts--painting and
poetry--men would be always found to sacrifice their lives for a picture or
a poem: but no man is, after all, so immeasurably superior to the age he
lives in as to be able to resist it wholly; he must draw sustenance from
some quarter, and the contemplation of the past will not suffice. Then the
pressure on him from without is as water upon the diver; and sooner or
later he grows fatigued and comes to the surface to breathe; he is as a
flying-fish pursued by sharks below and cruel birds above; and he neither
dives as deeply nor flies as high as his freer and stronger ancestry. A
daring spirit in the nineteenth century would have been but a timid nursery
soul indeed in the sixteenth. We want tumult and war to give us
forgetfulness, sublime moments of peace to enjoy a kiss in; but we are
expected to be home to dinner at seven, and to say and do nothing that
might shock the neighbours. Respectability has wound itself about society,
a sort of octopus, and nowhere are you quite free from one of its horrible
suckers. The power of the villa residence is supreme: art, science,
politics, religion, it has transformed to suit its requirements. The villa
goes to the Academy, the villa goes to the theatre, and therefore the art
of to-day is mildly realistic; not the great realism of idea, but the puny
reality of materialism; not the deep poetry of a Peter de Hogue, but the
meanness of a Frith--not the winged realism of Balzac, but the degrading
naturalism of a coloured photograph. To my mind there is no sadder
spectacle of artistic debauchery than a London theatre; the overfed
inhabitants of the villa in the stalls hoping for gross excitement to
assist them through their hesitating digestions; an ignorant mob in the pit
and gallery forgetting the miseries of life in imbecile stories reeking of
the sentimentality of the back stairs. Were other ages as coarse and as
common as ours? It is difficult to imagine Elizabethan audiences as not
more intelligent than those that applaud Mr. Pettit's plays. Impossible
that an audience that could sit out Edward II. could find any pleasure in
such sinks of literary infamies as _In the Ranks_ and _Harbour
Lights_. Artistic atrophy is benumbing us, we are losing our finer
feeling for beauty, the rose is going back to the briar. I will not speak
of the fine old crusted stories, ever the same, on which every drama is
based, nor yet of the musty characters with which they are peopled--the
miser in the old castle counting his gold by night, the dishevelled woman
whom he keeps for ambiguous reasons confined in a cellar. Let all this be
waived. We must not quarrel with the ingredients. The miser and the old
castle are as true, and not one jot more true, than the million events
which go to make up the phenomena of human existence. Not at these things
considered separately do I take umbrage, but at the miserable use that is
made of them, the vulgarity of the complications evolved from them, and the
poverty of beauty in the dialogue.

Not the thing itself, but the idea of the thing evokes the idea.
Schopenhauer was right; we do not want the thing, but the idea of the
thing. The thing itself is worthless; and the moral writers who embellish
it with pious ornamentation are just as reprehensible as Zola, who
embellishes it with erotic arabesques. You want the idea drawn out of
obscuring matter, this can best be done by the symbol. The symbol, or the
thing itself, that is the great artistic question. In earlier ages it was
the symbol; a name, a plume, sufficed to evoke the idea; now we evoke
nothing, for we give everything; the imagination of the spectator is no
longer called into play. In Shakespeare's days to create wealth in a
theatre it was only necessary to write upon a board, "A magnificent
apartment in a palace." This was no doubt primitive and not a little
barbarous, but it was better by far than by dint of anxious archaeology to
construct the Doge's palace upon the stage. By one rich pillar, by some
projecting balustrade taken in conjunction with a moored gondola, we should
strive to evoke the soul of the city of Veronese: by the magical and
unequalled selection of a subtle and unexpected feature of a thought or
aspect of a landscape, and not by the up-piling of extraneous detail, are
all great poetic effects achieved.

    "By the tideless dolorous inland sea,
    In a land of sand, of ruin, and gold."

And, better example still,

    "Dieu que le son du cor est triste au fond des bois,"

that impeccable, that only line of real poetry Alfred de Vigny ever wrote;
and being a great poet Shakespeare consciously or unconsciously observed
more faithfully than any other poet these principles of art; and, as is
characteristic of the present day, nowhere do we find these principles so
grossly violated as in the representation of his plays. I had painful proof
of this some few nights after my arrival in London. I had never seen
Shakespeare acted, and I went to the Lyceum and there I saw that exquisite
love song--for _Romeo and Juliet_ is no more than a love song in
dialogue--tricked out in silks and carpets and illuminated building, a
vulgar bawd suited to the gross passion of an ignorant public. I hated all
that with the hatred of a passionate heart, and I longed for a simple
stage, a few simple indications, and the simple recitation of that story of
the sacrifice of the two white souls for the reconciliation of two great
families. My hatred did not reach to the age of the man who played the
boy-lover, but to the offensiveness with which he thrust his individuality
upon me, longing to realize the poet's divine imagination: and the woman,
too, I wished with my whole soul away, subtle and strange though she was,
and I yearned for her part to be played by a youth as in old time: a youth
cunningly disguised, would be a symbol; and my mind would be free to
imagine the divine Juliet of the poet, whereas I could but dream of the
bright eyes and delicate mien and motion of the woman who had thrust
herself between me and it.

But not with symbol and subtle suggestion has the villa to do, but with
such stolid, intellectual fare as corresponds to its material wants. The
villa has not time to think, the villa is the working bee. The tavern is
the drone. It has no boys to put to school, no neighbours to study, and is
therefore a little more refined, or, should I say? depraved, in its taste.
The villa in one form or other has always existed, and always will exist so
long as our present social system holds together. It is the basis of life,
and more important than the tavern. Agreed: but that does not say that the
tavern was not an excellent corrective influence to the villa, and that its
disappearance has not had a vulgarising effect on artistic work of all
kinds, and the club has been proved impotent to replace it, the club being
no more than the correlative of the villa. Let the reader trace villa
through each modern feature. I will pass on at once to the circulating
library, at once the symbol and glory of villaism.

The subject is not unfamiliar to me; I come to it like the son to his
father, like the bird to its nest. (Singularly inappropriate comparison,
but I am in such excellent humour to-day; humour is everything. It is said
that the tiger will sometimes play with the lamb! Let us play.) We have the
villa well in our mind. The father who goes to the city in the morning, the
grown-up girls waiting to be married, the big drawing-room where they play
waltz music, and talk of dancing parties. But waltzes will not entirely
suffice, nor even tennis; the girls must read. Mother cannot keep a censor
(it is as much as she can do to keep a cook, housemaid, and page-boy),
besides the expense would be enormous, even if nothing but shilling and
two-shilling novels were purchased. Out of such circumstances the
circulating library was hatched.

The villa made known its want, and art fell on its knees. Pressure was put
on the publishers, and books were published at 31s. 6d.; the dirty, outside
public was got rid of, and the villa paid its yearly subscription, and had
nice large handsome books that none but the _élite_ could obtain, and
with them a sense of being put on a footing of equality with my Lady This
and Lady That, and certainty that nothing would come into the hands of dear
Kate and Mary and Maggie that they might not read, and all for two guineas
a year. English fiction became pure, and the garlic and assafoetida with
which Byron, Fielding, and Ben Jonson so liberally seasoned their works,
and in spite of which, as critics say, they were geniuses, have disappeared
from our literature. English fiction became pure, dirty stories were to be
heard no more, were no longer procurable. But at this point human nature
intervened; poor human nature! when you pinch it in in one place it bulges
out in another, after the fashion of a lady's figure. Human nature has from
the earliest time shown a liking for dirty stories; dirty stories have
formed a substantial part of every literature (I employ the words "dirty
stories" in the circulating library sense); therefore a taste for dirty
stories may be said to be inherent in the human animal. Call it a disease
if you will--an incurable disease--which, if it is driven inwards, will
break out in an unexpected quarter in a new form and with redoubled
virulence. This is exactly what has happened. Actuated by the most laudable
motives, Mudie cut off our rations of dirty stories, and for forty years we
were apparently the most moral people on the face of the earth. It was
confidently asserted that an English woman of sixty would not read what
would bring the blush of shame to the cheeks of a maiden of any other
nation. But humiliation and sorrow were awaiting Mudie. True it is that we
still continued to subscribe to his library, true it is that we still
continued to go to church, true it is that we turned our faces away when
_Mdlle. de Maupin_ or the _Assommoir_ was spoken of; to all
appearance we were as good and chaste as even Mudie might wish us; and no
doubt he looked back upon his forty years of effort with pride; no doubt he
beat his manly breast and said, "I have scorched the evil one out of the
villa; the head of the serpent is crushed for evermore;" but lo, suddenly,
with all the horror of an earthquake, the slumbrous law courts awoke, and
the burning cinders of fornication and the blinding and suffocating smoke
of adultery were poured upon and hung over the land. Through the mighty
columns of our newspapers the terrible lava rolled unceasing, and in the
black stream the villa, with all its beautiful illusions, tumbled and
disappeared.

An awful and terrifying proof of the futility of human effort, that there
is neither bad work nor good work to do, nothing but to await the coming of
the Nirvana.

I have written much against the circulating library, and I have read a
feeble defence or two; but I have not seen the argument that might be
legitimately put forward in its favour. It seems to me this: the
circulating library is conservatism, art is always conservative; the
circulating library lifts the writer out of the precariousness and noise of
the wild street of popular fancy into a quiet place where passion is more
restrained and there is more reflection. The young and unknown writer is
placed at once in a place of comparative security, and he is not forced to
employ vile and degrading methods of attracting attention; the known
writer, having a certain market for his work, is enabled to think more of
it and less of the immediate acclamation of the crowd; but all these
possible advantages are destroyed and rendered _nil_ by the veracious
censorship exercised by the librarian.

       *        *        *        *        *

There is one thing in England that is free, that is spontaneous, that
reminds me of the blitheness and nationalness of the Continent;--but there
is nothing French about it, it is wholly and essentially English, and in
its communal enjoyment and its spontaneity it is a survival of Elizabethan
England--I mean the music-hall; the French music-hall seems to me silly,
effete, sophisticated, and lacking, not in the popularity, but in the
vulgarity of an English hall--I will not say the Pavilion, which is too
cosmopolitan, dreary French comics are heard there--for preference let us
say the Royal. I shall not easily forget my first evening there, when I saw
for the time a living house--the dissolute paragraphists, the elegant
mashers (mark the imaginativeness of the slang), the stolid, good-humoured
costers, the cheerful lights o' love, the extraordinary comics. What
delightful unison of enjoyment, what unanimity of soul, what communality of
wit; all knew each other, all enjoyed each other's presence; in a word,
there was life. Then there were no cascades of real water, nor London
docks, nor offensively rich furniture, with hotel lifts down which some one
will certainly be thrown, but one scene representing a street; a man comes
on--not, mind you, in a real smock-frock, but in something that suggests
one--and sings of how he came up to London, and was "cleaned out" by
thieves. Simple, you will say; yes, but better than a _fricassée_ of
_Faust_, garnished with hags, imps, and blue flame; better, far better
than a drawing-room set at the St. James's, with an exhibition of passion
by Mrs. and Mr. Kendal; better, a million times better than the cheap
popularity of Wilson Barrett--an elderly man posturing in a low-necked
dress to some poor slut in the gallery; nor is there in the hall any
affectation of language, nor that worn-out rhetoric which reminds you of a
broken-winded barrel-organ playing _a, che la morte_, bad enough in
prose, but when set up in blank verse awful and shocking in its more than
natural deformity--but bright quips and cracks fresh from the back-yard of
the slum where the linen is drying, or the "pub" where the unfortunate wife
has just received a black eye that will last her a week. That inimitable
artist, Bessie Bellwood, whose native wit is so curiously accentuated that
it is sublimated, that it is no longer repellent vulgarity but art, choice
and rare--see, here she comes with "What cheer, Rea; Rea's on the job." The
sketch is slight, but is welcome and refreshing after the eternal
drawing-room and Mrs. Kendal's cumbrous domesticity; it is curious, quaint,
perverted, and are not these the _aions_ and the attributes of art?
Now see that perfect comedian, Arthur Roberts, superior to Irving because
he is working with living material; how trim and saucy he is! and how he
evokes the soul, the brandy-and-soda soul, of the young men, delightful and
elegant in black and white, who are so vociferously cheering him, "Will you
stand me a cab-fare, ducky, I am feeling so awfully queer?" The soul, the
spirit, the entity of Piccadilly Circus is in the words, and the scene the
comedian's eyes--each look is full of suggestion; it is irritating, it is
magnetic, it is symbolic, it is art.

Not art, but a sign, a presentiment of an art, that may grow from the
present seeds, that may rise into some stately and unpremeditated
efflorescence, as the rhapsodist rose to Sophocles, as the miracle play
rose through Peele and Nash to Marlowe, hence to the wondrous summer of
Shakespeare, to die later on in the mist and yellow and brown of the autumn
of Crowes and Davenants. I have seen music-hall sketches, comic interludes
that in their unexpectedness and naïve naturalness remind me of the comic
passages in Marlowe's _Faustus_, I waited (I admit in vain) for some
beautiful phantom to appear, and to hear an enthusiastic worshipper cry out
in his agony:--

    "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
    And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
    Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
    Her lips suck forth my soul; see where it flies!
    Come, Helen, come; give me my soul again.
    Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
    And all is dross that is not Helena."

And then the astonishing change of key:--

    "I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
    Instead of Troy shall Wurtemberg be sacked," etc.

The hall is at least a protest against the wearisome stories concerning
wills, misers in old castles, lost heirs, and the woeful solutions of such
things--she who has been kept in the castle cellar for twenty years
restored to the delights of hair-pins and a mauve dress, the _ingénue_
to the protecting arm, etc. The music-hall is a protest against Mrs.
Kendal's marital tendernesses and the abortive platitudes of Messrs. Pettit
and Sims; the music-hall is a protest against Sardou and the immense
drawing-room sets, rich hangings, velvet sofas, etc., so different from the
movement of the English comedy with its constant change of scene. The
music-hall is a protest against the villa, the circulating library, the
club, and for this the "'all" is inexpressibly dear to me.

But in the interests of those illiterate institutions called theatres it is
not permissible for several characters to narrate events in which there is
a sequel, by means of dialogue, in a music-hall. If this vexatious
restriction were removed it is possible, if it is not certain, that while
some halls remained faithful to comic songs and jugglers others would
gradually learn to cater for more intellectual and subtle audiences, and
that out of obscurity and disorder new dramatic forms, coloured and
permeated by the thought and feeling of to-day, might be definitely
evolved. It is our only chance of again possessing a dramatic literature.



CHAPTER X


It is said that young men of genius come to London with great poems and
dramas in their pockets and find every door closed against them.
Chatterton's death perpetuated this legend. But when I, Edward Dayne, came
to London in search of literary adventure, I found a ready welcome.
Possibly I should not have been accorded any welcome had I been anything
but an ordinary person. Let this be waived. I was as covered with "fads" as
a distinguished foreigner with stars. Naturalism I wore round my neck,
Romanticism was pinned over the heart, Symbolism I carried like a toy
revolver in my waistcoat pocket, to be used on an emergency. I do not judge
whether I was charlatan or genius, I merely state that I found all--actors,
managers, editors, publishers, docile and ready to listen to me. The world
may be wicked, cruel, and stupid, but it is patient; on this point I will
not be gainsaid, it is patient; I know what I am talking about; I maintain
that the world is patient. If it were not, what would have happened? I
should have been murdered by the editors of (I will suppress names), torn
in pieces by the sub-editors, and devoured by the office boys. There was no
wild theory which I did not assail them with, there was no strange plan for
the instant extermination of the Philistine, which I did not press upon
them, and (here I must whisper), with a fair amount of success, not
complete success I am glad to say--that would have meant for the editors a
change from their arm-chairs to the benches of the Union and the plank beds
of Holloway. The actress when she returned home from the theatre, suggested
I had an enemy, a vindictive enemy, who dogged my steps; but her stage
experience led her astray. I had no enemy except myself; or to put it
scientifically, no enemy except the logical consequences of my past life
and education, and these caused me a great and real inconvenience. French
wit was in my brain, French sentiment was in my heart; of the English soul
I knew nothing, and I could not remember old sympathies, it was like
seeking forgotten words, and if I were writing a short story, I had to
return in thought to Montmartre or the Champs Elysées for my characters.
That I should have forgotten so much in ten years seems incredible, and it
will be deemed impossible by many, but that is because few are aware of how
little they know of the details of life, even of their own, and are
incapable of appreciating the influence of their past upon their present.
The visible world is visible only to a few, the moral world is a closed
book to nearly all. I was full of France, and France had to be got rid of,
or pushed out of sight before I could understand England; I was like a
snake striving to slough its skin.

Handicapped as I was with dangerous ideas, and an impossible style, defeat
was inevitable. My English was rotten with French idiom; it was like an
ill-built wall overpowered by huge masses of ivy; the weak foundations had
given way beneath the weight of the parasite; and the ideas I sought to
give expression to were green, sour, and immature as apples in August.

Therefore before long the leading journal that had printed two poems and
some seven or eight critical articles, ceased to send me books for review,
and I fell back upon obscure society papers. Fortunately it was not
incumbent on me to live by my pen; so I talked, and watched, and waited
till I grew akin to those around me, and my thoughts blended with, and took
root in my environment. I wrote a play or two, I translated a French opera,
which had a run of six nights, I dramatized a novel, I wrote short stories,
and I read a good deal of contemporary fiction.

The first book that came under my hand was "A Portrait of a Lady," by Henry
James. Each scene is developed with complete foresight and certainty of
touch. What Mr. James wants to do he does. I will admit that an artist may
be great and limited; by one word he may light up an abyss of soul; but
there must be this one magical and unique word. Shakespeare gives us the
word, Balzac, sometimes, after pages of vain striving, gives us the word,
Tourgueneff gives it with miraculous certainty; but Henry James, no; a
hundred times he flutters about it; his whole book is one long flutter near
to the one magical and unique word, but the word is not spoken; and for
want of the word his characters are never resolved out of the haze of
nebulae. You are on a bowing acquaintance with them; they pass you in the
street, they stop and speak to you, you know how they are dressed, you
watch the colour of their eyes. When I think of "A Portrait of a Lady,"
with its marvellous crowd of well-dressed people, it comes back to me
precisely as an accurate memory of a fashionable soirée--the staircase with
its ascending figures, the hostess smiling, the host at a little distance
with his back turned; some one calls him. He turns; I can see his white kid
gloves; the air is as sugar with the odour of the gardenias; there is
brilliant light here; there is shadow in the further rooms; the women's
feet pass to and fro beneath the stiff skirts; I call for my hat and coat;
I light a cigar; I stroll up Piccadilly ... a very pleasant evening; I have
seen a good many people I knew; I have observed an attitude, and an
earnestness of manner that proved that a heart was beating.

Mr. James might say, "If I have done this, I have done a great deal," and I
would answer, "No doubt you are a man of great talent, great cultivation
and not at all of the common herd; I place you in the very front rank, not
only of novelists but of men of letters."

I have read nothing of Henry James's that did suggest the manner of a
scholar; but why should a scholar limit himself to empty and endless
sentimentalities? I will not taunt him with any of the old taunts--why does
he not write complicated stories? Why does he not complete his stories? Let
all this be waived. I will ask him only why he always avoids decisive
action? Why does a woman never say "I will"? Why does a woman never leave
the house with her lover? Why does a man never kill a man? Why does a man
never kill himself? Why is nothing ever accomplished? In real life murder,
adultery, and suicide are of common occurrence; but Mr. James's people live
in a calm, sad, and very polite twilight of volition. Suicide or adultery
has happened before the story begins, suicide or adultery happens some
years hence, when the characters have left the stage, but bang in front of
the reader nothing happens. The suppression or maintenance of story in a
novel is a matter of personal taste; some prefer character-drawing to
adventures, some adventures to character-drawing; that you cannot have both
at once I take to be a self-evident proposition; so when Mr. Lang says, "I
like adventures," I say, "Oh, do you?" as I might to a man who says "I like
sherry," and no doubt when I say I like character-drawing, Mr. Lang says,
"Oh, do you?" as he might to a man who says, "I like port." But Mr. James
and I are agreed on essentials, we prefer character-drawing to adventures.
One, two, or even three determining actions are not antagonistic to
character-drawing, the practice of Balzac, and Flaubert, and Thackeray
prove that. Is Mr. James of the same mind as the poet Verlaine--

    "La nuance, pas la couleur,
    Seulement la nuance,
      .    .    .    .
    Tout le reste est littérature."

In connection with Henry James I had often heard the name of W.D. Howells.
I bought some three or four of his novels. I found them pretty, very
pretty, but nothing more,--a sort of Ashby Sterry done into very neat
prose. He is vulgar, is refined as Henry James; he is more domestic; girls
with white dresses and virginal looks, languid mammas, mild witticisms,
here, there, and everywhere; a couple of young men, one a little cynical,
the other a little over-shadowed by his love, a strong, bearded man of
fifty in the background; in a word, a Tom Robertson comedy faintly spiced
with American. Henry James went to France and read Tourgueneff. W.D.
Howells stayed at home and read Henry James. Henry James's mind is of a
higher cast and temper; I have no doubt at one time of his life Henry James
said, I will write the moral history of America, as Tourgueneff wrote the
moral history of Russia--he borrowed at first hand, understanding what he
was borrowing. W.D. Howells borrowed at second hand, and without
understanding what he was borrowing. Altogether Mr. James's instincts are
more scholarly. Although his reserve irritates me, and I often regret his
concessions to the prudery of the age,--no, not of the age but of
librarians,--I cannot but feel that his concessions, for I suppose I must
call them concessions, are to a certain extent self-imposed, regretfully,
perhaps ... somewhat in this fashion--"True, that I live in an age not very
favourable to artistic production, but the art of an age is the spirit of
that age; if I violate the prejudices of the age I shall miss its spirit,
and an art that is not redolent of the spirit of its age is an artificial
flower, perfumeless, or perfumed with the scent of flowers that bloomed
three hundred years ago." Plausible, ingenious, quite in the spirit of Mr.
James's mind; I can almost hear him reason so; nor does the argument
displease me, for it is conceived in a scholarly spirit. Now my conception
of W.D. Howells is quite different--I see him the happy father of a
numerous family; the sun is shining, the girls and boys are playing on the
lawn, they come trooping in to a high tea, and there is dancing in the
evening.

My fat landlady lent me a novel by George Meredith,--"Tragic Comedians"; I
was glad to receive it, for my admiration of his poetry, with which I was
slightly acquainted, was very genuine indeed. "Love in a Valley" is a
beautiful poem, and the "Nuptials of Attila," I read it in the _New
Quarterly Review_ years ago, is very present in my mind, and it is a
pleasure to recall its chanting rhythm, and lordly and sombre
refrain--"Make the bed for Attila." I expected, therefore, one of my old
passionate delights from his novels. I was disappointed, painfully
disappointed. But before I say more concerning Mr. Meredith, I will admit
at once frankly and fearlessly, that I am not a competent critic, because
emotionally I do not understand him, and all except an emotional
understanding is worthless in art. I do not make this admission because I
am intimidated by the weight and height of the critical authority with
which I am overshadowed, but from a certain sense, of which I am as
distinctly conscious, viz., that the author is, how shall I put it? the
French would say "quelqu'un," that expresses what I would say in English. I
remember, too, that although a man may be able to understand anything, that
there must be some modes of thoughts and attitudes of mind which we are so
naturally antagonistic to, so entirely out of sympathy with, that we are in
no true sense critics of them. Such are the thoughts that come to me when I
read Mr. George Meredith. I try to console myself with such reflections,
and then I break forth, and crying passionately:--jerks, wire splintered
wood. In Balzac, which I know by heart, in Shakespeare, which I have just
begun to love, I find words deeply impregnated with the savour of life; but
in George Meredith there is nothing but crackjaw sentences, empty and
unpleasant in the mouth as sterile nuts. I could select hundreds of phrases
which Mr. Meredith would probably call epigrams, and I would defy anyone to
say they were wise, graceful or witty. I do not know any book more tedious
than "Tragic Comedians," more pretentious, more blatant; it struts and
screams, stupid in all its gaud and absurdity as a cockatoo. More than
fifty pages I could not read.

How, I asked myself, could the man who wrote the "Nuptials of Attila" write
this? but my soul returned no answer, and I listened as one in a hollow
mountain side. My opinion of George Meredith never ceases to puzzle me. He
is of the north, I am of the south. Carlyle, Mr. Robert Browning, and
George Meredith are the three essentially northern writers; in them there
is nothing of Latin sensuality and subtlety.

I took up "Rhoda Fleming." I found some exquisite bits of description in
it, but I heartily wished them in verse, they were motives for poems; and
there was some wit. I remember a passage very racy indeed, of middle-class
England. Antony, I think is the man's name, describes how he is interrupted
at his tea; a paragraph of seven or ten lines with "I am having my tea, I
am at my tea," running through it for refrain. Then a description of a
lodging-house dinner: "a block of bread on a lonely plate, and potatoes
that looked as if they had committed suicide in their own steam." A little
ponderous and stilted, but undoubtedly witty. I read on until I came to a
young man who fell from his horse, or had been thrown from his horse, I
never knew which, nor did I feel enough interest in the matter to make
research; the young man was put to bed by his mother, and once in bed he
began to talk!... four, five, six, ten pages of talk, and such talk! I can
offer no opinion why Mr. George Meredith committed them to paper; it is not
narrative, it is not witty, nor is it sentimental, nor is it profound. I
read it once; my mind astonished at receiving no sensation cried out like a
child at a milkless breast. I read the pages again ... did I understand?
Yes, I understood every sentence, but they conveyed no idea, they awoke no
emotion in me; it was like sand, arid and uncomfortable. The story is
surprisingly commonplace--the people in it are as lacking in subtlety as
those of a Drury Lane melodrama.

"Diana of the Crossways" I liked better, and had I had absolutely nothing
to do I might have read it to the end. I remember a scene with a rustic--a
rustic who could eat hog a solid hour--that amused me. I remember the
sloppy road in the Weald, and the vague outlines of the South Downs seen in
starlight and mist. But to come to the great question, the test by which
Time will judge us all--the creation of a human being, of a live thing that
we have met with in life before, and meet for the first time in print, and
who abides with us ever after. Into what shadow has not Diana floated?
Where are the magical glimpses of the soul? Do you remember in "Pères et
Enfants," when Tourgueneff is unveiling the woman's, shall I say,
affection, for Bazaroff, or the interest she feels in him? and exposing at
the same time the reasons why she will never marry him.... I wish I had the
book by me, I have not seen it for ten years.

After striving through many pages to put Lucien, whom you would have loved,
whom I would have loved, that divine representation of all that is young
and desirable in man, before the reader, Balzac puts these words in his
mouth in reply to an impatient question by Vautrin, who asks him what he
wants, what he is sighing for, "_D'être célèbre et d'être
aimé_,"--these are soul-waking words, these are Shakespeare words.

Where in "Diana of the Crossways" do we find soul-evoking words like these?
With tiresome repetition we are told that she is beautiful, divine; but I
see her not at all, I don't know if she is dark, tall, or fair; with
tiresome reiteration we are told that she is brilliant, that her
conversation is like a display of fireworks, that the company is dazzled
and overcome; but when she speaks the utterances are grotesque, and I say
that if any one spoke to me in real life as she does in the novel, I should
not doubt for an instant that I was in the company of a lunatic. The
epigrams are never good, they never come within measurable distance of La
Rochefoucauld, Balzac, or even Goncourt. The admirers of Mr. Meredith
constantly deplore their existence, admitting that they destroy all
illusion of life. "When we have translated half of Mr. Meredith's
utterances into possible human speech, then we can enjoy him," says the
_Pall Mall Gazette_. We take our pleasures differently; mine are
spontaneous, and I know nothing about translating the rank smell of a
nettle into the fragrance of a rose, and then enjoying it.

Mr. Meredith's conception of life is crooked, ill-balanced, and out of
tune. What remains?--a certain lustiness. You have seen a big man with
square shoulders and a small head, pushing about in a crowd, he shouts and
works his arms, he seems to be doing a great deal, in reality he is doing
nothing; so Mr. Meredith appears to me, and yet I can only think of him as
an artist; his habit is not slatternly, like those of such literary hodmen
as Mr. David Christie Murray, Mr. Besant, Mr. Buchanan. There is no trace
of the crowd about him. I do not question his right of place, I am out of
sympathy with him, that is all; and I regret that it should be so, for he
is one whose love of art is pure and untainted with commercialism, and if I
may praise it for nought else, I can praise it for this.

I have noticed that if I buy a book because I am advised, or because I
think I ought, my reading is sure to prove sterile. _Il faut que cela,
vient de moi_, as a woman once said to me, speaking of her caprices; a
quotation, a chance word heard in an unexpected quarter. Mr. Hardy and Mr.
Blackmore I read because I had heard that they were distinguished
novelists; neither touched me, I might just as well have bought a daily
paper; neither like nor dislike, a shrug of the shoulders--that is all.
Hardy seems to me to bear about the same relation to George Eliot as Jules
Breton does to Millet--a vulgarisation never offensive, and executed with
ability. The story of an art is always the same,... a succession of
abortive but ever strengthening efforts, a moment of supreme concentration,
a succession of efforts weakening the final extinction. George Eliot
gathered up all previous attempts, and created the English peasant; and
following her peasants there came an endless crowd from Devon, Yorkshire,
and the Midland Counties, and, as they came, they faded into the palest
shadows until at last they appeared in red stockings, high heels and were
lost in the chorus of opera. Mr. Hardy was the first step down. His work is
what dramatic critics would call good, honest, straightforward work. It is
unillumined by a ray of genius, it is slow and somewhat sodden. It reminds
me of an excellent family coach--one of the old sort hung on C springs--a
fat coachman on the box and a footman whose livery was made for his
predecessor. In criticising Mr. Meredith I was out of sympathy with my
author, ill at ease, angry, puzzled; but with Mr. Hardy I am on quite
different terms, I am as familiar with him as with the old pair of trousers
I put on when I sit down to write; I know all about his aims, his methods;
I know what has been done in that line, and what can be done.

I have heard that Mr. Hardy is country bred, but I should not have
discovered this from his writings. They read to me more like a report, yes,
a report,--a conscientious, well-done report, executed by a thoroughly
efficient writer sent down by one of the daily papers. Nowhere do I find
selection, everything is reported, dialogues and descriptions. Take for
instance the long evening talk between the farm people when Oak is seeking
employment. It is not the absolute and literal transcript from nature after
the manner of Henri Monier; for that it is a little too diluted with Mr.
Hardy's brains, the edges are a little sharpened and pointed, I can see
where the author has been at work filing; on the other hand, it is not
synthesized--the magical word which reveals the past, and through which we
divine the future--is not seized and set triumphantly as it is in "Silas
Marner." The descriptions do not flow out of and form part of the
narrative, but are wedged in, and often awkwardly. We are invited to assist
at a sheep-shearing scene, or at a harvest supper, because these scenes are
not to be found in the works of George Eliot, because the reader is
supposed to be interested in such things, because Mr. Hardy is anxious to
show how jolly country he is.

Collegians, when they attempt character-drawing, create monstrosities, but
a practised writer should be able to create men and women capable of moving
through a certain series of situations without shocking in any violent way
the most generally applicable principles of common sense. I say that a
practised writer should be able to do this; that they sometimes do not is a
matter which I will not now go into, suffice it for my purpose if I admit
that Mr. Hardy can do this. In farmer Oak there is nothing to object to;
the conception is logical, the execution is trustworthy; he has legs, arms,
and a heart; but the vital spark that should make him of our flesh and of
our soul is wanting, it is dead water that the sunlight never touches. The
heroine is still more dim, she is stuffy, she is like tow; the rich farmer
is a figure out of any melodrama, Sergeant Troy nearly quickens to life;
now and then the clouds are liquescent, but a real ray of light never
falls.

The story-tellers are no doubt right when they insist on the difficulty of
telling a story. A sequence of events--it does not matter how simple or how
complicated--working up to a logical close, or, shall I say, a close in
which there is a sense of rhythm and inevitableness is always indicative of
genius. Shakespeare affords some magnificent examples, likewise Balzac,
likewise George Eliot, likewise Tourgueneff; the "Oedipus" is, of course,
the crowning and final achievement in the music of sequence and the massy
harmonies of fate. But in contemporary English fiction I marvel, and I am
repeatedly struck by the inability of writers, even of the first-class, to
make an organic whole of their stories. Here, I say, the course is clear,
the way is obvious, but no sooner do we enter on the last chapters than the
story begins to show incipient shiftiness, and soon it doubles back and
turns, growing with every turn weaker like a hare before the hounds. From a
certain directness of construction, from the simple means by which Oak's
ruin is accomplished in the opening chapters, I did not expect that the
story would run hare-hearted in its close, but the moment Troy told his
wife that he never cared for her, I suspected something was wrong; when he
went down to bathe and was carried out by the current I knew the game was
up, and was prepared for anything, even for the final shooting by the rich
farmer, and the marriage with Oak, a conclusion which of course does not
come within the range of literary criticism.

"Lorna Doone" struck me as childishly garrulous, stupidly prolix, swollen
with comments not interesting in themselves and leading to nothing. Mr.
Hardy possesses the power of being able to shape events; he can mould them
to a certain form; that he cannot breathe into them the spirit of life I
have already said, but "Lorna Doone" reminds me of a third-rate Italian
opera, _La Fille du Régiment_, or _Ernani_; it is corrupt with
all the vices of the school, and it does not contain a single passage of
real fervour or force to make us forget the inherent defects of the art of
which it is a poor specimen. Wagner made the discovery, not a very
wonderful one after all when we think, that an opera had much better be
melody from end to end. The realistic school following on Wagner's
footsteps discovered that a novel had much better be all narrative--an
uninterrupted flow of narrative. Description is narrative, analysis of
character is narrative, dialogue is narrative; the form is ceaselessly
changing, but the melody of narration is never interrupted.

But the reading of "Lorna Doone" calls to my mind, and very vividly, an
original artistic principle of which English romance writers are either
strangely ignorant or neglectful, viz., that the sublimation of the
_dramatis personae_ and the deeds in which they are involved must
correspond, and their relationship should remain unimpaired. Turner's
"Carthage" is nature transposed and wonderfully modified. Some of the
passages of light and shade there--those of the balustrade--are fugues, and
there his art is allied to Bach in sonority and beautiful combination.
Turner knew that a branch hung across the sun looked at separately was
black, but he painted it light to maintain the equipoise of atmosphere. In
the novel the characters are the voice, the deeds are the orchestra. But
the English novelist takes 'Arry and 'Arriet, and without question allows
them to achieve deeds; nor does he hesitate to pass them into the realms of
the supernatural. Such violation of the first principles of narration is
never to be met with in the elder writers. Achilles stands as tall as Troy,
Merlin is as old and as wise as the world. Rhythm and poetical expression
are essential attributes of dramatic genius, but the original sign of race
and mission is an instinctive modulation of man with the deeds he attempts
or achieves. The man and the deed must be cognate and equal, and the
melodic balance and blending are what first separate Homer and Hugo from
the fabricators of singular adventures. In Scott leather jerkins, swords,
horses, mountains, and castles harmonise completely and fully with food,
fighting, words, and vision of life; the chords are simple as Handel's, but
they are as perfect. Lytton's work, although as vulgar as Verdi's is, in
much the same fashion, sustained by a natural sense of formal harmony; but
all that follows is decadent,--an admixture of romance and realism, the
exaggerations of Hugo and the homeliness of Trollope; a litter of ancient
elements in a state of decomposition.

The spiritual analysis of Balzac equals the triumphant imagination of
Shakespeare, and by different roads they reach the same height of tragic
awe, but when improbability, which in these days does duty for imagination,
is mixed with the familiar aspects of life, the result is inchoate and
rhythmless folly, I mean the regular and inevitable alternation and
combination of pa and ma, and dear Annie who lives at Clapham, with the
Mountains of the Moon, and the secret of eternal life; this violation of
the first principles of art--that is to say, of the rhythm of feeling and
proportion, is not possible in France. I ask the reader to recall what was
said on the subject of the Club, Tavern, and Villa. We have a surplus
population of more than two million women, the tradition that chastity is
woman's only virtue still survives, the Tavern and its adjunct Bohemianism
have been suppressed, and the Villa is omnipotent and omnipresent;
tennis-playing, church on Sundays, and suburban hops engender a craving for
excitement for the far away, for the unknown; but the Villa with its
tennis-playing, church on Sundays, and suburban hops will not surrender its
own existence, it must take a part in the heroic deeds that happen in the
Mountains of the Moon; it will have heroism in its own pint pot. Achilles
and Merlin must be replaced by Uncle Jim and an undergraduate; and so the
Villa is the author of "Rider Haggard," "Hugh Conway," "Robert Buchanan,"
and the author of "The House on the Marsh."

I read two books by Mr. Christie Murray, "Joseph's Coat" and "Rainbow
Gold," and one by Messrs. Besant and Rice,--"The Seamy Side." It is
difficult to criticise such work, there is absolutely nothing to say but
that it is as suited to the mental needs of the Villa as the baker's loaves
and the butcher's rounds of beef are to the physical. I do not think that
any such literature is found in any other country. In France some three or
four men produce works of art, the rest of the fiction of the country is
unknown to men of letters. But "Rainbow Gold," I take the best of the
three, is not bad as a second-rate French novel is bad; it is excellent as
all that is straightforward is excellent; and it is surprising to find that
work can be so good, and at the same time so devoid of artistic charm. That
such a thing should be is one of the miracles of the Villa.

I have heard that Mr. Besant is an artist in the "Chaplain of the Fleet"
and other novels, but this is not possible. The artist shows what he is
going to do the moment he puts pen to paper, or brush to canvas; he
improves on his first attempts, that is all; and I found "The Seamy Side"
so very common, that I cannot believe for a moment that its author or
authors could write a line that would interest me.

Mr. Robert Buchanan is a type of artist that every age produces
unfailingly: Catulle Mendès is his counterpart in France,--but the pallid
Portuguese Jew with his Christ-like face, and his fascinating fervour is
more interesting than the spectacled Scotchman. Both began with volumes of
excellent but characterless verse, and loud outcries about the dignity of
art, and both have--well ... Mr. Robert Buchanan has collaborated with Gus
Harris, and written the programme poetry for the Vaudeville Theatre; he has
written a novel, the less said about which the better--he has attacked men
whose shoestrings he is not fit to tie, and having failed to injure them,
he retracted all he said, and launched forth into slimy benedictions. He
took Fielding's masterpiece, degraded it, and debased it; he wrote to the
papers that Fielding was a genius in spite of his coarseness, thereby
inferring that he was a much greater genius since he had sojourned in this
Scotch house of literary ill-fame. Clarville, the author of "Madame Angot,"
transformed Madame Marneff into a virtuous woman; but he did not write to
the papers to say that Balzac owed him a debt of gratitude on that account.

The star of Miss Braddon has finally set in the obscure regions of
servantgalism; Ouida and Rhoda Broughton continue to rewrite the books they
wrote ten years ago; Mrs. Lynn Linton I have not read. The "Story of an
African Farm" was pressed upon me. I found it sincere and youthful,
disjointed but well-written; descriptions of sand-hills and ostriches
sandwiched with doubts concerning a future state, and convictions regarding
the moral and physical superiority of women: but of art nothing; that is to
say, art as I understand it,--rhythmical sequence of events described with
rhythmical sequence of phrase.

I read the "Story of Elizabeth" by Miss Thackeray. It came upon me with all
the fresh and fair naturalness of a garden full of lilacs and blue sky, and
I thought of Hardy, Blackmore, Murray, and Besant as of great warehouses
where everything might be had, and even if the article required were not in
stock it could be supplied in a few days at latest. The exquisite little
descriptions, full of air, colour, lightness, grace; the French life seen
with such sweet English eyes; the sweet little descriptions all so gently
evocative. "What a tranquil little kitchen it was, with a glimpse of the
courtyard outside, and the cocks and hens, and the poplar trees waving in
the sunshine, and the old woman sitting in her white cap busy at her homely
work." Into many wearisome pages these simple lines have since been
expanded, without affecting the beauty of the original. "Will Dampier
turned his broad back and looked out of the window. There was a moment's
silence. They could hear the tinkling of bells, the whistling of the sea,
the voices of the men calling to each other in the port, the sunshine
streamed in; Elly was standing in it, and seemed gilt with a golden
background. She ought to have held a palm in her hand, poor little martyr!"
There is sweet wisdom in this book, wisdom that is eternal, being simple;
and near may not come the ugliness of positivism, nor the horror of
pessimism, nor the profound greyness of Hegelism, but merely the genial
love and reverence of a beautiful-minded woman.

Such charms as these necessitate certain defects, I should say limitations.
Vital creation of character is not possible to Miss Thackeray, but I do not
rail against beautiful water-colour indications of balconies, vases,
gardens, fields, and harvesters because they have not the fervid glow and
passionate force of Titian's Ariadne; Miss Thackeray cannot give us a
Maggie Tulliver, and all the many profound modulations of that
Beethoven-like countryside: the pine wood and the cripple; this aunt's
linen presses, and that one's economies; the boy going forth to conquer the
world, the girl remaining at home to conquer herself; the mighty river
holding the fate of all, playing and dallying with it for a while, and
bearing it on at last to final and magnificent extinction. That sense of
the inevitable which had the Greek dramatists wholly, which had George
Eliot sufficiently, that rhythmical progression of events, rhythm and
inevitableness (two words for one and the same thing) is not there. Elly's
golden head, the back-ground of austere French Protestants, is sketched
with a flowing water-colour brush, I do not know if it is true, but true or
false in reality, it is true in art. But the jarring dissonance of her
marriage is inadmissible; it cannot be led up to by chords no matter how
ingenious, the passage, the attempts from one key to the other, is
impossible; the true end is the ruin, by death or lingering life, of Elly
and the remorse of the mother.

One of the few writers of fiction who seems to me to possess an ear for the
music of events is Miss Margaret Veley. Her first novel, "For Percival,"
although diffuse, although it occasionally flowed into by-channels and
lingered in stagnating pools, was informed and held together, even at ends
the most twisted and broken, by that sense of rhythmic progression which is
so dear to me, and which was afterwards so splendidly developed in
"Damocles." Pale, painted with grey and opaline tints of morning passes the
grand figure of Rachel Conway, a victim chosen for her beauty, and crowned
with flowers of sacrifice. She has not forgotten the face of the maniac,
and it comes back to her in its awful lines and lights when she finds
herself rich and loved by the man whom she loves. The catastrophe is a
double one. Now she knows she is accursed, and that her duty is to trample
out her love. Unborn generations cry to her. The wrath and the lamentation
of the chorus of the Greek singer, the intoning voices of the next-of-kin,
the pathetic responses of voices far in the depths of ante-natal night,
these the modern novelist, playing on an inferior instrument, may suggest,
but cannot give: but here the suggestion is so perfect that we cease to
yearn for the real music, as, reading from a score, we are satisfied with
the flute and bassoons that play so faultlessly in soundless dots.

There is neither hesitation nor doubt. Rachel Conway puts her dreams away,
she will henceforth walk in a sad and shady path; her interests are centred
in the child of the man she loves, and as she looks for a last time on the
cloud of trees, glorious and waving green in the sunset that encircles her
home, her sorrow swells once again to passion, and, we know, for the last
time.

The mechanical construction of M. Scribe I had learnt from M. Duval; the
naturalistic school had taught me to scorn tricks, and to rely on the
action of the sentiments rather than on extraneous aid for the bringing
about of a _dénouement_; and I thought of all this as I read
"Disenchantment" by Miss Mabel Robinson, and it occurred to me that my
knowledge would prove valuable when my turn came to write a novel, for the
_mise en place_, the setting forth of this story, seemed to me so
loose, that much of its strength had dribbled away before it had rightly
begun. But the figure of the Irish politician I accept without reserve. It
seems to me grand and mighty in its sorrowfulness. The tall, dark-eyed,
beautiful Celt, attainted in blood and brain by generations of famine and
drink, alternating with the fervid sensuousness of the girl, her Saxon
sense of right alternating with the Celt's hereditary sense of revenge, his
dreamy patriotism, his facile platitudes, his acceptance of literature as a
sort of bread basket, his knowledge that he is not great nor strong, and
can do nothing in the world but love his country; and as he passes his
thirtieth year the waxing strong of the disease, nervous disease complex
and torturous; to him drink is at once life and death; an article is bread,
and to calm him and collect what remains of weak, scattered thought, he
must drink. The woman cannot understand that caste and race separate them;
and the damp air of spent desire, and the grey and falling leaves of her
illusions fill her life's sky. Nor is there any hope for her until the
husband unties the awful knot by suicide.

I will state frankly that Mr. R.L. Stevenson never wrote a line that failed
to delight me; but he never wrote a book. You arrive at a strangely just
estimate of a writer's worth by the mere question: "What is he the author
of?" for every writer whose work is destined to live is the author of one
book that outshines the other, and, in popular imagination, epitomises his
talent and position. What is Shakespeare the author of? What is Milton the
author of? What is Fielding the author of? What is Byron the author of?
What is Carlyle the author of? What is Thackeray the author of? What is
Zola the author of? What is Mr. Swinburne the author of? Mr. Stevenson is
the author of shall I say, "Treasure Island," or what?

I think of Mr. Stevenson as a consumptive youth weaving garlands of sad
flowers with pale, weak hands, or leaning to a large plate-glass window,
and scratching thereon exquisite profiles with a diamond pencil.

I do not care to speak of great ideas, for I am unable to see how an idea
can exist, at all events can be great out of language; an allusion to Mr.
Stevenson's verbal expression will perhaps make my meaning clear. His
periods are fresh and bright, rhythmical in sound, and perfect realizations
of their sense; in reading you often think that never before was such
definiteness united to such poetry of expression; every page and every
sentence rings of its individuality. Mr. Stevenson's style is over smart,
well-dressed, shall I say, like a young man walking in the Burlington
Arcade? Yes, I will say so, but, I will add, the most gentlemanly young man
that ever walked in the Burlington. Mr. Stevenson is competent to
understand any thought that might be presented to him, but if he were to
use it, it would instantly become neat, sharp, ornamental, light, and
graceful; and it would lose all its original richness and harmony. It is
not Mr. Stevenson's brain that prevents him from being a thinker, but his
style.

Another thing that strikes me in thinking of Stevenson (I pass over his
direct indebtedness to Edgar Poe, and his constant appropriation of his
methods), is the unsuitableness of the special characteristics of his
talent to the age he lives in. He wastes in his limitations, and his talent
is vented in prettinesses of style. In speaking of Mr. Henry James, I said
that, although he had conceded much to the foolish, false, and hypocritical
taste of the time, the concessions he made had in little or nothing
impaired his talent. The very opposite seems to me the case with Mr.
Stevenson. For if any man living in this end of the century needed freedom
of expression for the distinct development of his genius, that man is R.L.
Stevenson. He who runs may read, and he with any knowledge of literature
will, before I have written the words, have imagined Mr. Stevenson writing
in the age of Elizabeth or Anne.

Turn your platitudes prettily, but write no word that could offend the
chaste mind of the young girl who has spent her morning reading the Colin
Campbell divorce case; so says the age we live in. The penny paper that may
be bought everywhere, that is allowed to lie on every table, prints seven
or eight columns of filth, for no reason except that the public likes to
read filth; the poet and novelist must emasculate and destroy their work
because.... Who shall come forward and make answer? Oh, vile, filthy, and
hypocritical century, I at least scorn you.

But this is not a course of literature but the story of the artistic
development of me, Edward Dayne; so I will tarry no longer with mere
criticism, but go direct to the book to which I owe the last temple in my
soul--"Marius the Epicurean." Well I remember when I read the opening
lines, and how they came upon me sweetly as the flowing breath of a bright
spring. I knew that I was awakened a fourth time, that a fourth vision of
life was to be given to me. Shelley had revealed to me the unimagined skies
where the spirit sings of light and grace; Gautier had shown me how
extravagantly beautiful is the visible world and how divine is the rage of
the flesh; and with Balzac I had descended circle by circle into the nether
world of the soul, and watched its afflictions. Then there were minor
awakenings. Zola had enchanted me with decoration and inebriated me with
theory; Flaubert had astonished with the wonderful delicacy and subtlety of
his workmanship; Goncourt's brilliant adjectival effects had captivated me
for a time, but all these impulses were crumbling into dust, these
aspirations were etiolated, sickly as faces grown old in gaslight.

I had not thought of the simple and unaffected joy of the heart of natural
things; the colour of the open air, the many forms of the country, the
birds flying,--that one making for the sea; the abandoned boat, the dwarf
roses and the wild lavender; nor had I thought of the beauty of mildness in
life, and how by a certain avoidance of the wilfully passionate, and the
surely ugly, we may secure an aspect of temporal life which is abiding and
soul-sufficing. A new dawn was in my brain, fresh and fair, full of wide
temples and studious hours, and the lurking fragrance of incense; that such
a vision of life was possible I had no suspicion, and it came upon me
almost with the same strength, almost as intensely, as that divine song of
the flesh,--Mademoiselle de Maupin.

Certainly, in my mind, these books will be always intimately associated;
and when a few adventitious points of difference be forgotten, it is
interesting to note how firm is the alliance, and how cognate and co-equal
the sympathies on which it is based; the same glad worship of the visible
world, and the same incurable belief that the beauty of material things is
sufficient for all the needs of life. Mr. Pater can join hands with Gautier
in saying--_je trouve la terre aussi belle que le ciel, et je pense que
la correction de la forme est la vertu_. And I too join issue; I too
love the great pagan world, its bloodshed, its slaves, its injustice, its
loathing of all that is feeble.

But "Marius the Epicurean" was more to me than a mere emotional influence,
precious and rare though that may be, for this book was the first in
English prose I had come across that procured for me any genuine pleasure
in the language itself, in the combination of words for silver or gold
chime, and unconventional cadence, and for all those lurking half-meanings,
and that evanescent suggestion, like the odour of dead roses, that words
retain to the last of other times and elder usage. Until I read "Marius"
the English language (English prose) was to me what French must be to the
majority of English readers. I read for the sense and that was all; the
language itself seemed to me coarse and plain, and awoke in me neither
aesthetic emotion nor even interest. "Marius" was the stepping-stone that
carried me across the channel into the genius of my own tongue. The
translation was not too abrupt; I found a constant and careful invocation
of meaning that was a little aside of the common comprehension, and also a
sweet depravity of ear for unexpected falls of phrase, and of eye for the
less observed depths of colours, which although new was a sort of sequel to
the education I had chosen, and a continuance of it in foreign, but not
wholly unfamiliar medium, and having saturated myself with Pater, the
passage to De Quincey was easy. He, too, was a Latin in manner and in
temper of mind; but he was truly English, and through him I passed to the
study of the Elizabethan dramatists, the real literature of my race, and
washed myself clean.



CHAPTER XI


THOUGHTS IN A STRAND LODGING

Awful Emma has undressed and put the last child away--stowed the last child
away in some mysterious and unapproachable corner that none knows of but
she; the fat landlady has ceased to loiter about my door, has ceased to
pester me with offers of brandy and water, tea and toast, the inducements
that occur to her landlady's mind; the actress from the Savoy has ceased to
walk up and down the street with the young man who accompanied her home
from the theatre; she has ceased to linger on the doorstep talking to him,
her key has grated in the lock, she has come upstairs, we have had our
usual midnight conversation on the landing, she has told me her latest
hopes of obtaining a part, and of the husband whom she was obliged to
leave; we have bid each other good-night, she has gone up the creaky
staircase. I have returned to my room, littered with MS. and queer
publications; the night is hot and heavy, but now a wind is blowing from
the river. I am listless and lonely.... I open a book, the first book that
comes to hand ... it is _Le Journal des Goncourts_, p. 358, the end of
a chapter:--

"_It is really curious that it should be the four men the most free from
all taint of handicraft and all base commercialism, the four pens the most
entirely devoted to art, that were arraigned before the public prosecutor:
Baudelaire, Flaubert, and ourselves._"

Yes it is indeed curious, and I will not spoil the piquancy of the moral by
a comment. No comment would help those to see who have eyes to see, no
comment would give sight to the hopelessly blind. Goncourt's statement is
eloquent and suggestive enough; I leave it a naked simple truth; but I
would put by its side another naked simple truth. This: If in England the
public prosecutor does not seek to override literature, the means of
tyranny are not wanting, whether they be the tittle-tattle of the nursery
or the lady's drawing-room, or the shameless combinations entered into by
librarians.... In England as in France those who loved literature the most
purely, who were the least mercenary in their love, were marked out for
persecution, and all three were driven into exile. Byron, Shelley, and
George Moore; and Swinburne, he, too, who loved literature for its own
sake, was forced, amid cries of indignation and horror, to withdraw his
book from the reach of a public that was rooting then amid the garbage of
the Yelverton divorce case. I think of these facts and think of
Baudelaire's prose poem, that poem in which he tells how a dog will run
away howling if you hold to him a bottle of choice scent, but if you offer
him some putrid morsel picked out of some gutter hole, he will sniff round
it joyfully, and will seek to lick your hand for gratitude. Baudelaire
compared that dog to the public. Baudelaire was wrong: that dog was a ----.

       *       *       *       *       *

When I read Balzac's stories of Vautrin and Lucien de Rubempré, I often
think of Hadrian and the Antinous. I wonder if Balzac did dream of
transposing the Roman Emperor and his favourite into modern life. It is the
kind of thing that Balzac would think of. No critic has ever noticed this.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sometimes, at night, when all is still, and I look out on that desolate
river, I think I shall go mad with grief, with wild regret for my beautiful
_appartement_ in _Rue de la Tour des Dames_. How different is the
present to the past! I hate with my whole soul this London lodging, and all
that concerns it--Emma, and eggs and bacon, the fat lascivious landlady and
her lascivious daughter; I am sick of the sentimental actress who lives
upstairs, I swear I will never go out to talk to her on the landing again.
Then there is failure--I can do nothing, nothing; my novel I know is
worthless; my life is a weak leaf, it will flutter out of sight presently.
I am sick of everything; I wish I were back in Paris; I am sick of reading;
I have nothing to read. Flaubert bores me. What nonsense has been talked
about him! Impersonal! Nonsense, he is the most personal writer I know.
That odious pessimism! How sick I am of it, it never ceases, it is lugged
in _à tout dropos_, and the little lyrical phrase with which he winds
up every paragraph, how boring it is. Happily, I have "A Rebours" to read,
that prodigious book, that beautiful mosaic. Huysmans is quite right, ideas
are well enough until you are twenty, afterwards only words are bearable
... a new idea, what can be more insipid--fit for members of parliament....
Shall I go to bed? No.... I wish I had a volume of Verlaine, or something
of Mallarmé's to read--Mallarmé for preference. I remember Huysmans speaks
of Mallarmé in "A Rebours." In hours like these a page of Huysmans is as a
dose of opium, a glass of some exquisite and powerful liqueur.

"The decadence of a literature irreparably attacked in its organism,
weakened by the age of ideas, overworn by the excess of syntax, sensible
only of the curiosity which fevers sick people, but nevertheless hastening
to explain everything in its decline, desirous of repairing all the
omissions of its youth, to bequeath all the most subtle souvenirs of its
suffering on its deathbed, is incarnate in Mallarmé in most consummate and
absolute fashion....

"The poem in prose is the form, above all others, they prefer; handled by
an alchemist of genius, it should contain in a state of meat the entire
strength of the novel, the long analysis and the superfluous description of
which it suppresses ... the adjective placed in such an ingenious and
definite way, that it could not be legally dispossessed of its place, would
open up such perspectives, that the reader would dream for whole weeks
together on its meaning at once precise and multiple, affirm the present,
reconstruct the past, divine the future of the souls of the characters
revealed by the light of the unique epithet. The novel thus understood,
thus condensed into one or two pages, would be a communion of thought
between a magical writer and an ideal reader, a spiritual collaboration by
consent between ten superior persons scattered through the universe, a
delectation offered to the most refined, and accessible only to them."

Huysmans goes to my soul like a gold ornament of Byzantine workmanship;
there is in his style the yearning charm of arches, a sense of ritual, the
passion of the mural, of the window. Ah! in this hour of weariness for one
of Mallarmé's prose poems! Stay, I remember I have some numbers of _La
Vogue_. One of the numbers contains, I know, "Forgotten Pages;" I will
translate word for word, preserving the very rhythm, one or two of these
miniature marvels of diction:--


FORGOTTEN PAGES

"Since Maria left me to go to another star--which? Orion, Altair, or thou,
green Venus? I have always cherished solitude. What long days I have passed
alone with my cat. By alone, I mean without a material being, and my cat is
a mystical companion--a spirit. I can, therefore, say that I have passed
whole days alone with my cat, and, alone with one of the last authors of
the Latin decadence; for since that white creature is no more, strangely
and singularly I have loved all that the word _fall_ expresses. In
such wise that my favourite season of the year is the last weary days of
summer, which immediately precede autumn, and the hour I choose to walk in
is when the sun rests before disappearing, with rays of yellow copper on
the grey walls and red copper on the tiles. In the same way the literature
that my soul demands--a sad voluptuousness--is the dying poetry of the last
moments of Rome, but before it has breathed at all the rejuvenating
approach of the barbarians, or has begun to stammer the infantile Latin of
the first Christian poetry.

"I was reading, therefore, one of those dear poems (whose paint has more
charm for me than the blush of youth), had plunged one hand into the fur of
the pure animal, when a barrel organ sang languidly and melancholy beneath
my window. It played in the great alley of poplars, whose leaves appear to
me yellow, even in the spring-tide, since Maria passed there with the tall
candles for the last time. The instrument is the saddest, yes, truly; the
piano scintillates, the violin opens the torn soul to the light, but the
barrel-organ, in the twilight of remembrance, made me dream despairingly.
Now it murmurs an air joyously vulgar which awakens joy in the heart of the
suburbs, an air old-fashioned and commonplace. Why do its flourishes go to
my soul, and make me weep like a romantic ballad? I listen, imbibing it
slowly, and I do not throw a penny out of the window for fear of moving
from my place, and seeing that the instrument is not singing itself.


II


"The old Saxony clock, which is slow, and which strikes thirteen amid its
flowers and gods, to whom did it belong? Thinkest that it came from Saxony
by the mail coaches of old time?

"(Singular shadows hang about the worn-out panes.)

"And thy Venetian mirror, deep as a cold fountain in its banks of gilt
work; what is reflected there? Ah! I am sure that more than one woman
bathed there in her beauty's sin; and, perhaps, if I looked long enough, I
should see a naked phantom.

"Wicked one, thou often sayest wicked things.

"(I see the spiders' webs above the lofty windows.)

"Our wardrobe is very old; see how the fire reddens its sad panels! the
weary curtains are as old, and the tapestry on the arm-chairs stripped of
paint, and the old engravings, and all these old things. Does it not seem
to thee that even these blue birds are discoloured by time?

"(Dream not of the spiders' webs that tremble above the lofty windows.)

"Thou lovest all that, and that is why I live by thee. When one of my poems
appeared, didst thou not desire, my sister, whose looks are full of
yesterdays, the words, the grace of faded things? New objects displease
thee; thee also do they frighten with their loud boldness, and thou feelest
as if thou shouldest use them--a difficult thing indeed to do, for thou
hast no taste for action.

"Come, close thy old German almanack that thou readest with attention,
though it appeared more than a hundred years ago, and the Kings it
announces are all dead, and, lying on this antique carpet, my head leaned
upon thy charitable knees, on the pale robe, oh! calm child, I will speak
with thee for hours; there are no fields, and the streets are empty, I will
speak to thee of our furniture.

"Thou art abstracted?

"(The spiders' webs are shivering above the lofty windows.)"


To argue about these forgotten pages would be futile. We, the "ten superior
persons scattered through the universe" think these prose poems the
concrete essence, the osmazome of literature, the essential oil of art,
others, those in the stalls, will judge them to be the aberrations of a
refined mind, distorted with hatred of the commonplace; the pit will
immediately declare them to be nonsense, and will return with satisfaction
to the last leading article in the daily paper.

       *       *       *       *       *

"_J'ai fait mes adieux à ma mère et je viens pour vous faire les
miens_ and other absurdities by Ponson du Terrail amused us many a year
in France, and in later days similar bad grammar by Georges Ohnet has not
been lost upon us, but neither Ponson du Terrail nor Georges Ohnet sought
literary suffrage, such a thing could not be in France, but in England,
Rider Haggard, whose literary atrocities are more atrocious than his
accounts of slaughter, receives the attention of leading journals and
writes about the revival of Romance. As it is as difficult to write the
worst as the best conceivable sentence, I take this one and place it for
its greater glory in my less remarkable prose:--

"_As we gazed on the beauties thus revealed by Good, a spirit of
emulation filled our breasts, and we set to work to get ourselves up as
well as we could._"

A return to romance! a return to the animal, say I.

       *       *       *       *       *

One thing that cannot be denied to the realists: a constant and intense
desire to write well, to write artistically. When I think of what they have
done in the matter of the use of words, of the myriad verbal effects they
have discovered, of the thousand forms of composition they have created,
how they have remodelled and refashioned the language in their untiring
striving for intensity of expression for the very osmazome of art, I am
lost in ultimate wonder and admiration. What Hugo did for French verse,
Flaubert, Goncourt, Zola, and Huysmans have done for French prose. No more
literary school than the realists has ever existed, and I do not except
even the Elizabethans. And for this our failures are more interesting than
the vulgar successes of our opponents; for when we fall into the sterile
and distorted, it is through our noble and incurable hatred of the
commonplace of all that is popular.

The healthy school is played out in England; all that could be said has
been said; the successors of Dickens, Thackeray, and George Eliot have no
ideal, and consequently no language; what can be more pudding than the
language of Mr. Hardy, and he is typical of a dozen other writers, Mr.
Besant, Mr. Murray, Mr. Crawford? The reason of this heaviness of thought
and expression is that the avenues are closed, no new subject matter is
introduced, the language of English fiction has therefore run stagnant. But
if the realists should catch favour in England the English tongue may be
saved from dissolution, for with the new subjects they would introduce, new
forms of language would arise.

       *       *       *       *       *

I wonder why murder is considered less immoral than fornication in
literature?

       *       *       *       *       *

I feel that it is almost impossible for the same ear to seize music so
widely differing as Milton's blank verse and Hugo's alexandrines, and it
seems to me especially strange that critics varying in degree from Matthew
Arnold to the obscure paragraphist, never seem even remotely to suspect,
when they passionately declare that English blank verse is a more perfect
and complete poetic instrument than French alexandrines, that the
imperfections which they aver are inherent in the latter exist only in
their British ears, impervious to a thousand subtleties. Mr. Matthew Arnold
does not hesitate to say that the regular rhyming of the lines is
monotonous. To my ear every line is different; there is as much variation
in Charles V.'s soliloquy as in Hamlet's; but be this as it may, it is not
unworthy of the inmates of Hanwell for critics to inveigh against _la,
rime pleine_, that which is instinctive in the language as accent in
ours, that which is the very genius of the language.

But the principle has been exaggerated, deformed, caricatured until some of
the most modern verse is little more than a series of puns--in art as in
life the charm lies in the unexpected, and it is annoying to know that the
only thought of _every_ poet is to couple _les murs_ with _des
fruits trop mûrs_, and that no break in the absolute richness of sound
is to be hoped for. Gustave Kahn whose beautiful volume "Les Palais
Nomades" I have read with the keenest delight, was the first to recognise
that an unfailing use of _la rime pleine_ might become cloying and
satiating, and that, by avoiding it sometimes and markedly and maliciously
choosing in preference a simple assonance, new and subtle music might be
produced.

"Les Palais Nomades" is a really beautiful book, and it is free from all
the faults that make an absolute and supreme enjoyment of great poetry an
impossibility. For it is in the first place free from those pests and
parasites of artistic work--ideas. Of all literary qualities the creation
of ideas is the most fugitive. Think of the fate of an author who puts
forward a new idea to-morrow in a book, in a play, in a poem. The new idea
is seized upon, it becomes common property, it is dragged through newspaper
articles, magazine articles, through books, it is repeated in clubs,
drawing-rooms; it is bandied about the corners of streets; in a week it is
wearisome, in a month it is an abomination. Who has not felt a sickening
feeling come over him when he hears such phrases as "To be or not to be,
that is the question"? Shakespeare was really great when he wrote "Music to
hear, why hearest thou music sadly?" not when he wrote, "The apparel oft
proclaims the man." Could he be freed from his ideas what a poet we should
have! Therefore, let those who have taken firsts at Oxford devote their
intolerable leisure to preparing an edition from which everything
resembling an idea shall be firmly excluded. We might then shut up our
Marlowes and our Beaumonts and resume our reading of the bard, and these
witless beings would confer happiness on many, and crown themselves with
truly immortal bays. See the fellows! their fingers catch at scanty wisps
of hair, the lamps are burning, the long pens are poised, and idea after
idea is hurled out of existence.

Gustave Kahn took counsel of the past, and he has successfully avoided
everything that even a hostile critic might be tempted to term an idea; for
this I am grateful to him. Nor is his volume a collection of miscellaneous
verses bound together. He has chosen a certain sequence of emotions; the
circumstances out of which these emotions have sprung are given in a short
prose note. "Les Palais Nomades" is therefore a novel in essence;
description and analysis are eliminated, and only the moments when life
grows lyrical with suffering are recorded; recorded in many varying metres
conforming only to the play of the emotion, for, unlike many who, having
once discovered a tune, apply it promiscuously to every subject they treat,
Kahn adapts his melody to the emotion he is giving expression to, with the
same propriety and grace as Nature distributes perfume to her flowers. For
an example of magical transition of tone I turn to _Intermède_.

    "Chère apparence viens aux couchants illuminés
      Veux-tu mieux des matins albes et calmes
    Les soirs et les matins ont des calmes rosâtres
    Les eaux ont des manteaux de cristal irisé
      Et des rythmes de calmes palmes
    Et l'air évoque de calmes musique de pâtres.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Viens sous des tendelets aux fleuves souriants
      Aux lilas pâlis des nuits d'Orient
    Aux glauques étendues à falbalas d'argent
      A l'oasis des baisers urgents
    Seulement vit le voile aux seuls Orients.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Quel que soit le spectacle et quelle que soit la rame
    Et quelle que soit la voix qui s'affame et brame,
    L'oublié du lointain des jours chatouille et serre,
    Le lotos de l'oubli s'est fané dans mes serres,

    Cependant tu m'aimais à jamais?
      Adieu pour jamais."

The repetitions of Edgar Poe seem hard and mechanical after this, so
exquisite and evanescent is the rhythm, and the intonations come as sweetly
and suddenly as a gust of perfume; it is as the vibration of a fairy
orchestra, flute and violin disappearing in a silver mist; but the clouds
break, and all the enchantment of a spring garden appears in a shaft of
sudden sunlight.

    "L'éphémère idole, au frisson du printemps,
      Sentant des renouveaux éclore,
    Le guèpa de satins si lointains et d'antan
      Rose exilés des flores!

    "Le jardin rima ses branches de lilas;
      Aux murs, les roses tremières;
    La terre étala, pour fêter les las,
      Des divans vert lumière;

    "Des rires ailés peuplèrent le jardin;
      Souriants des caresses brèves,
    Des oiseaux joyeux, jaunes, incarnadins
      Vibrèrent aux ciels de rêve."

But to the devil with literature, I am sick of it; who the deuce cares if
Gustave Kahn writes well or badly. Yesterday I met a chappie whose views of
life coincide with mine. "A ripping good dinner," he says; "get a skinful
of champagne inside you, go to bed when it is light, and get up when you
are rested." This seems to me as concise as it is admirable; indeed there
is little to add to it ... a note or two concerning women might come in,
but I don't know, "a skinful of champagne" implies everything.

Each century has its special ideal, the ideal of the nineteenth is a young
man. The seventeenth century is only woman--see the tapestries, the
delightful goddesses who have discarded their hoops and heels to appear in
still more delightful nakedness, the noble woods, the tall castles, with
the hunters looking round; no servile archaeology chills the fancy, it is
but a delightful whim; and this treatment of antiquity is the highest proof
of the genius of the seventeenth century. See the Fragonards--the ladies in
high-peaked bodices, their little ankles showing amid the snow of the
petticoats. Up they go; you can almost hear their light false voices into
the summer of the leaves, where Loves are garlanded even as of roses. Masks
and arrows are everywhere, all the machinery of light and gracious days. In
the Watteaus the note is more pensive; there is satin and sunset, plausive
gestures and reluctance--false reluctance; the guitar is tinkling, and
exquisite are the notes in the languid evening; and there is the Pierrot,
that marvellous white animal, sensual and witty and glad, the soul of the
century--ankles and epigrams everywhere, for love was not then sentimental,
it was false and a little cruel; see the furniture and the polished floor,
and the tapestries with whose delicate tints and decorations the high hair
blends, the footstool and the heel and the calf of the leg that is
withdrawn, showing in the shadows of the lace; look at the satin of the
bodices, the fan outspread, the wigs so adorably false, the knee-breeches,
the buckles on the shoes, how false; adorable little comedy, adorably
mendacious; and how sweet it is to feast on these sweet lies, it is a
divine delight to us, wearied with the hideous sincerity of newspapers.
Then it was the man who knelt at the woman's feet, it was the man who
pleaded and the woman who acceded; but in our century the place of the man
is changed, it is he who holds the fan, it is he who is besought; and if
one were to dream of continuing the tradition of Watteau and Fragonard in
the nineteenth century, he would have to take note of and meditate deeply
and profoundly on this, as he sought to formulate and synthesize the erotic
spirit of our age.

The position of a young man in the nineteenth century is the most enviable
that has ever fallen to the lot of any human creature. He is the rare bird,
and is fêted, flattered, adored. The sweetest words are addressed to him,
the most loving looks are poured upon him. The young man can do no wrong.
Every house is open to him, and the best of everything is laid before him;
girls dispute the right to serve him; they come to him with cake and wine,
they sit circle-wise and listen to him, and when one is fortunate to get
him alone she will hang round his neck, she will propose to him, and will
take his refusal kindly and without resentment. They will not let him stoop
to tie up his shoe lace, but will rush and simultaneously claim the right
to attend on him. To represent in a novel a girl proposing marriage to a
man would be deemed unnatural, but nothing is more common; there are few
young men who have not received at least a dozen offers, nay, more; it is
characteristic, it has become instinctive for girls to choose, and they
prefer men not to make love to them; and every young man who knows his
business avoids making advances, knowing well that it will only put the
girl off.

In a society so constituted, what a delightful opening there is for a young
man. He would have to waltz perfectly, play tennis fairly, the latest novel
would suffice for literary attainments; billiards, shooting, and hunting,
would not come in amiss, for he must not be considered a useless being by
men; not that women are much influenced by the opinion of men in their
choice of favourites, but the reflex action of the heart, although not so
marked as that of the stomach, exists and must be kept in view, besides a
man who would succeed with women, must succeed with men; the real Lovelace
is loved by all. Like gravitation, love draws all things. Our young man
would have to be five feet eleven, or six feet, broad shoulders, light
brown hair, deep eyes, soft and suggestive, broad shoulders, a thin neck,
long delicate hands, a high instep. His nose should be straight, his face
oval and small, he must be clean about the hips, and his movements must be
naturally caressing. He comes into the ball-room, his shoulders well back,
he stretches his hand to the hostess, he looks at her earnestly (it is
characteristic of him to think of the hostess first, he is in her house,
the house is well-furnished, and is suggestive of excellent meats and
wines). He can read through the slim woman whose black hair, a-glitter with
diamonds, contrasts with her white satin; an old man is talking to her, she
dances with him, and she refused a young man a moment before. This is a bad
sign; our Lovelace knows it; there is a stout woman of thirty-five, who is
looking at him, red satin bodice, doubtful taste. He looks away; a little
blonde woman fixes her eyes on him, she looks as innocent as a child;
instinctively our Lovelace turns to his host. "Who is that little blonde
woman over there, the right hand corner?" he asks. "Ah, that is Lady ----."
"Will you introduce me?" "Certainly." Lovelace has made up his mind. Then
there is a young oldish girl, richly dressed; "I hear her people have a
nice house in a hunting country, I will dance with her, and take the mother
into supper, and, if I can get a moment, will have a pleasant talk with the
father in the evening."

In manner Lovelace is facile and easy; he never says no, it is always yes,
ask him what you will; but he only does what he has made up his mind it is
his advantage to do. Apparently he is an embodiment of all that is
unselfish, for he knows that after he has helped himself, it is advisable
to help some one else, and thereby make a friend who, on a future occasion,
will be useful to him. Put a violinist into a room filled with violins, and
he will try every one. Lovelace will put each woman aside so quietly that
she is often only half aware that she has been put aside. Her life is
broken; she is content that it should be broken. The real genius for love
lies not in getting into, but getting out of love.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have noticed that there are times when every second woman likes you. Is
love, then, a magnetism which we sometimes possess and exercise
unconsciously, and sometimes do not possess?



CHAPTER XII


And now, hypocritical reader, I will answer the questions which have been
agitating you this long while, which you have asked at every stage of this
long narrative of a sinful life. Shake not your head, lift not your finger,
exquisitely hypocritical reader; you can deceive me in nothing. I know the
baseness and unworthiness of your soul as I know the baseness and
unworthiness of my own. This is a magical _tête-à-tête_, such a one as
will never happen in your life again; therefore I say let us put off all
customary disguise, let us be frank: you have been angrily asking,
exquisitely hypocritical reader, why you have been _forced_ to read
this record of sinful life; in your exquisite hypocrisy, you have said over
and over again what good purpose can it serve for a man to tell us of his
unworthiness unless, indeed, it is to show us how he may rise, as if on
stepping stones of his dead self, to higher things, etc. You sighed, O
hypocritical friend, and you threw the magazine on the wicker table, where
such things lie, and you murmured something about leaving the world a
little better than you found it, and you went down to dinner and lost
consciousness of the world in the animal enjoyment of your stomach. I hold
out my hand to you, I embrace you, you are my brother, and I say, undeceive
yourself, you will leave the world no better than you found it. The pig
that is being slaughtered as I write this line will leave the world better
than it found it, but you will leave only a putrid carcase fit for nothing
but the grave. Look back upon your life, examine it, probe it, weigh it,
philosophise on it, and then say, if you dare, that it has not been a very
futile and foolish affair. Soldier, robber, priest, Atheist, courtesan,
virgin, I care not what you are, if you have not brought children into the
world to suffer your life has been as vain and as harmless as mine has
been. I hold out my hand to you, we are brothers; but in my heart of hearts
I think myself a cut above you, because I do not believe in leaving the
world better than I found it; and you, exquisitely hypocritical reader,
think that you are a cut above me because you say you would leave the world
better than you found it. The one eternal and immutable delight of life is
to think, for one reason or another, that we are better than our
neighbours. This is why I wrote this book, and this is why it is affording
you so much pleasure, O exquisitely hypocritical reader, my friend, my
brother, because it helps you to the belief that you are not so bad after
all. Now to resume.

The knell of my thirtieth year has sounded, in three or four years my youth
will be as a faint haze on the sea, an illusive recollection; so now while
standing on the last verge of the hill, I will look back on the valley I
lingered in. Do I regret? I neither repent nor do I regret; and a fool and
a weakling I should he if I did. I know the worth and the rarity of more
than fifteen years of systematic enjoyment. Nature provided me with as
perfect a digestive apparatus, mental and physical, as she ever turned out
of her workshop; my stomach and brain are set in the most perfect equipoise
possible to conceive, and up and down they went and still go with measured
movement, absorbing and assimilating all that is poured into them without
friction or stoppage. This book is a record of my mental digestions; but it
would take another series of confessions to tell of the dinners I have
eaten, the champagne I have drunk! and the suppers! seven dozen of oysters,
pâté-de-foie-gras, heaps of truffles, salad, and then a walk home in the
early morning, a few philosophical reflections suggested by the appearance
of a belated street-sweeper, then sleep, quiet and gentle sleep.

I have had the rarest and most delightful friends. Ah, how I have loved my
friends; the rarest wits of my generation were my boon companions;
everything conspired to enable me to gratify my body and my brain; and do
you think this would have been so if I had been a good man? If you do you
are a fool, good intentions and bald greed go to the wall, but subtle
selfishness with a dash of unscrupulousness pulls more plums out of life's
pie than the seven deadly virtues. If you are a good man you want a bad one
to convert; if you are a bad man you want a bad one to go out on the spree
with. And you, my dear, my exquisite reader, place your hand upon your
heart, tell the truth, remember this is a magical _tête-à-tête_ which
will happen never again in your life, admit that you feel just a little
interested in my wickedness, admit that if you ever thought you would like
to know me that it is because I know a good deal that you probably don't;
admit that your mouth waters when you think of rich and various pleasures
that fell to my share in happy, delightful Paris; admit that if this book
had been an account of the pious books I had read, the churches I had been
to, and the good works I had done, that you would not have bought it or
borrowed it. Hypocritical reader, think, had you had courage, health, and
money to lead a fast life, would you not have done so? You don't know, no
more do I; I have done so, and I regret nothing except that some infernal
farmers and miners will not pay me what they owe me and enable me to
continue the life that was once mine, and of which I was so bright an
ornament. How I hate this atrocious Strand lodging-house, how I long for my
apartment in _Rue de la Tour des Dames_, with all its charming
adjuncts, palms and pastels, my cat, my python, my friends, blond hair and
dark.

It was not long before I wearied of journalism; the daily article soon
grows monotonous, even when you know it will be printed, and this I did not
know; my prose was very faulty, and my ideas were unsettled, I could not go
to the tap and draw them off, the liquor was still fermenting; and partly
because my articles were not very easily disposed of, and partly because I
was weary of writing on different subjects, I turned my attention to short
stories. I wrote a dozen with a view to preparing myself for a long novel.
Some were printed in weekly newspapers, others were returned to me from the
magazines. But there was a publisher in the neighbourhood of the Strand,
who used to frequent a certain bar. I saw the chance, and I seized it. This
worthy man conducted his business as he dressed himself, sloppily; a dear
kind soul, quite witless and quite _h_-less. From long habit he would
make a feeble attempt to drive a bargain, but he generally let himself in:
he was, in a word, a literary stepping-stone. Hundreds had made use of him.
If a fashionable author asked two hundred pounds for a book out of which he
would be certain to make three, it was ten to one that he would allow the
chance to drift away from him; but after having refused a dozen times the
work of a Strand loafer whom he was in the habit of "treating," he would
say, "Send it in, my boy, send it in, I'll see what can be done with it."
There was a long counter, and the way to be published by Mr. B. was to
straddle on the counter and play with a black cat. There was an Irishman
behind this counter who, for three pounds a week, edited the magazine, read
the MS., looked after the printer and binder, kept the accounts when he had
a spare moment, and entertained the visitors. I did not trouble Messrs.
Macmillan and Messrs. Longman with polite requests to look at my MS., but
straddled on the counter, played with the cat, joked with the Irishman, was
treated by Mr. B., and in the natural order of things my stories went into
the magazine, and were paid for. Strange were the ways of this office;
Shakespeare might have sent in prose and poetry, but he would have gone
into the wastepaper basket had he not previously straddled. For those who
were in the swim this was a matter of congratulation; straddling, we would
cry, "We want no blooming outsiders coming along interfering with our
magazine. And you, Smith, you devil, you had a twenty-page story in last
month and cut me out. O'Flanagan, do you mind if I send you in a couple of
poems as well as my regular stuff, that will make it all square?" "I'll try
to manage it; here's the governor." And looking exactly like the
unfortunate Mr. Sedley, Mr. B. used to slouch along, and he would fall into
his leather armchair, the one in which he wrote the cheques. The last time
I saw that chair it was standing in the street, alas! in the hands of the
brokers.

But conservative though we were in matters concerning "copy," though all
means were taken to protect ourselves against interlopers, one who had not
passed the preliminary stage of straddling would occasionally slip through
our defences. I remember one especially. It was a hot summer's day, we were
all on the counter, our legs swinging, when an enormous young man entered.
He must have been six feet three in height. He was shown into Mr. B.'s
room, he asked him to read a MS., and he fled, looking very frightened.
"Wastepaper basket, wastepaper basket," we shouted when Mr. B. handed us
the roll of paper. "What an odd-looking fish he is!" said O'Flanagan; "I
wonder what his MS. is like." We remonstrated in vain, O'Flanagan took the
MS. home to read, and returned next morning convinced that he had
discovered an embryo Dickens. The young man was asked to call, his book was
accepted, and we adjourned to the bar.

A few weeks afterwards this young man took rooms in the house next to me on
the ground floor. He was terribly inflated with his success, and was
clearly determined to take London by storm. He had been to Oxford, and to
Heidelberg, he drank beer and smoked long pipes, he talked of nothing else.
Soon, very soon, I grew conscious that he thought me a simpleton; he
pooh-poohed my belief in Naturalism and declined to discuss the symbolist
question. He curled his long legs upon the rickety sofa and spoke of the
British public as the "B.P.," and of the magazine as the "mag." There were
generally tea-things and jam-pots on the table. In a little while he
brought a little creature about five feet three to live with him, and when
the little creature and the long creature went out together, it was like
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza setting forth in quest of adventures in the
land of Strand. The little creature indulged in none of the loud, rasping
affectation of humour that was so maddening in the long creature; the
little creature was dry, hard, and sterile, and when he did join in the
conversation it was like an empty nut between the teeth--dusty and bitter.
He was supposed to be going in for the law, but the part of him to which he
drew our attention was his knowledge of the Elizabethan dramatists. He kept
a pocket-book, in which he held an account of his reading. Holding the
pocket-book between finger and thumb, he would say, "Last year I read ten
plays by Nash, twelve by Peele, six by Greene, fifteen by Beaumont and
Fletcher, and eleven anonymous plays,--fifty-four in all." He neither
praised nor blamed, he neither extolled nor criticised; he told you what he
had read, and left you to draw your own conclusions.

What the little creature thought of the long creature I never discovered,
but with every new hour I became freshly sensible that they held me in
still decreasing estimation. This, I remember, was wildly irritating to me.
I knew myself infinitely superior to them; I knew the long creature's novel
was worthless; I knew that I had fifty books in me immeasurably better than
it, and savagely and sullenly I desired to trample upon them, to rub their
noses in their feebleness; but oh, it was I who was feeble! and full of
visions of a wider world I raged up and down the cold walls of impassable
mental limitations. Above me there was a barred window, and, but for my
manacles, I would have sprung at it and torn it with my teeth. Then passion
was so strong in me that I could scarce refrain from jumping off the
counter, stamping my feet, and slapping my friends in the face, so tepid
were their enthusiasms, so thin did their understanding appear to me. The
Straddlers seemed inclined for a moment to take the long creature very
seriously, and in the office which I had marked down for my own I saw him
installed as a genius.

Fortunately for my life and my sanity, my interests were, about this time,
attracted into other ways--ways that led into London life, and were
suitable for me to tread. In a restaurant where low-necked dresses and
evening clothes crushed with loud exclamations, where there was ever an
odour of cigarette and brandy and soda, I was introduced to a Jew of whom I
had heard much, a man who had newspapers and race horses. The bright witty
glances of his brown eyes at once prejudiced me in his favour, and it was
not long before I knew that I had found another friend. His house was what
was wanted, for it was so trenchant in character, so different to all I
knew of, that I was forced to accept it, without likening it to any French
memory and thereby weakening the impression. It was a house of champagne,
late hours, and evening clothes, of literature and art, of passionate
discussions. So this house was not so alien to me as all else I had seen in
London; and perhaps the cosmopolitanism of this charming Jew, his
Hellenism, in fact, was a sort of plank whereon I might pass and enter
again into English life. I found in Curzon Street another "Nouvelle
Athènes," a Bohemianism of titles that went back to the Conquest, a
Bohemianism of the ten sovereigns always jingling in the trousers pocket,
of scrupulous cleanliness, of hansom cabs, of ladies' pet names; of
triumphant champagne, of debts, gaslight, supper-parties, morning light,
coaching; a fabulous Bohemianism; a Bohemianism of eternal hardupishness
and eternal squandering of money,---money that rose at no discoverable
well-head and flowed into a sea of boudoirs and restaurants, a sort of
whirlpool of sovereigns in which we were caught, and sent eddying through
music halls, bright shoulders, tresses of hair, and slang; and I joined in
the adorable game of Bohemianism that was played round and about Piccadilly
Circus, with Curzon Street for a magnificent rallying point.

After dinner a general "clear" was made in the direction of halls and
theatres, a few friends would drop in about twelve, and continue their
drinking till three or four; but Saturday night was gala night--at
half-past eleven the lords drove up in their hansoms, then a genius or two
would arrive, and supper and singing went merrily until the chimney sweeps
began to go by, and we took chairs and bottles into the street and entered
into discussion with the policeman. Twelve hours later we struggled out of
our beds, and to the sound of church bells we commenced writing. The paper
appeared on Tuesday. Our host sat in a small room off the dining-room from
which he occasionally emerged to stimulate our lagging pens.

But I could not learn to see life paragraphically. I longed to give a
personal shape to something, and personal shape could not be achieved in a
paragraph nor in an article. True it is that I longed for art, but I longed
also for fame, or was it notoriety? Both. I longed for fame, fame, brutal
and glaring, fame that leans to notoriety. Out with you, liars that you
are, tell the truth, say you would sell the souls you don't believe in, or
do believe in, for notoriety. I have known you attend funerals for the sake
of seeing your miserable names in the paper. You, hypocritical reader, who
are now turning up your eyes and murmuring "horrid young man"--examine your
weakly heart, and see what divides us; I am not ashamed of my appetites, I
proclaim them, what is more I gratify them; you're silent, you refrain, and
you dress up natural sins in hideous garments of shame, you would sell your
wretched soul for what I would not give the parings of my finger-nails
for--paragraphs in a society paper. I am ashamed of nothing I have done,
especially my sins, and I boldly confess that I then desired notoriety. I
walked along the streets mad; I turned upon myself like a tiger. "Am I
going to fail again as I have failed before?" I asked myself. "Will my
novel prove as abortive as my paintings, my poetry, my journalism?" I
looked back upon my life,--mediocrity was branded about my life. "Would it
be the same to the end?" I asked myself a thousand times by day, and a
thousand times by night. We all want notoriety, our desire for notoriety is
hideous if you will, but it is less hideous when it is proclaimed from a
brazen tongue than when it hides its head in the cant of human
humanitarianism. Humanity be hanged! Self, and after self a friend; the
rest may go to the devil; and be sure that when any man is more stupidly
vain and outrageously egotistic than his fellows, he will hide his
hideousness in humanitarianism. Victor Hugo was hideous with self, and the
innermost stench of the humanitarianism he vented about him is unbearable
to any stomach, not excepting even Mr. Swinburne's, who occasionally holds
his nose with one hand while he waves the censer with the other. Humanity
be hanged! Men of inferior genius, Victor Hugo and Mr. Gladstone, take
refuge in it. Humanity is a pigsty, where liars, hypocrites, and the
obscene in spirit congregate; it has been so since the great Jew conceived
it, and it will be so till the end. Far better the blithe modern pagan in
his white tie and evening clothes, and his facile philosophy. He says, "I
don't care how the poor live; my only regret is that they live at all;" and
he gives the beggar a shilling.

We all want notoriety; our desires on this point, as upon others, are not
noble, but the human is very despicable vermin and only tolerable when it
tends to the brute, and away from the evangelical. I will tell you an
anecdote which is in itself an admirable illustration of my craving for
notoriety; and my anecdote will serve a double purpose,--it will bring me
some of the notoriety of which I am so desirous, for you, dear, exquisitely
hypocritical reader, will at once cry, "Shame! Could a man be so wicked as
to attempt to force on a duel, so that he might make himself known through
the medium of a legal murder?" You will tell your friends of this horribly
unprincipled young man, and they will, of course, instantly want to know
more about him.

It was a gala night in Curzon Street, the lords were driving up in hansoms;
shouts and oaths; some seated on the roofs with their legs swinging inside;
the comics had arrived from the halls; there were ladies, many ladies;
choruses were going merrily in the drawing-room; one man was attempting to
kick the chandelier, another stood on his head on the sofa. There was a
beautiful young lord there, that sort of figure that no woman can resist.
There was a delightful chappie who seemed inclined to empty the mustard-pot
down my neck; him I could keep in order, but the beautiful lord I saw was
attempting to make a butt of me. With his impertinences I did not for a
moment intend to put up; I did not know him, he was not then, as he is now,
if he will allow me to say so, a friend. About three or half-past the
ladies retired, and the festivities continued with unabated vigour. We had
passed through various stages, not of intoxication, no one was drunk, but
of jubilation; we had been jocose and rowdy, we had told stories of all
kinds. The young lord and I did not "pull well together," but nothing
decidedly unpleasant occurred until someone proposed to drink to the
downfall of Gladstone. The beautiful lord got on his legs and began a
speech. Politically it was sound enough, but much of it was plainly
intended to turn me into ridicule. I answered sharply, working gradually up
crescendo, until at last, to bring matters to a head, I said,

"I don't agree with you; the Land Act of '81 was a necessity."

"Anyone who thinks so must be a fool."

"Very possibly, but I don't allow people to address such language to me,
and you must be aware that to call anyone a fool, sitting with you at table
in the house of a friend, is the act of a cad."

There was a lull, then a moment after he said,

"I only meant politically."

"And I only meant socially."

He advanced a step or two and struck me across the face with his finger
tips; I took up a champagne bottle, and struck him across the head and
shoulders. Different parties of revellers kept us apart, and we walked up
and down on either side of the table swearing at each other. Although I was
very wrath, I had had a certain consciousness from the first that if I
played my cards well I might come very well out of the quarrel; and as I
walked down the street I determined to make every effort to force on a
meeting. If the quarrel had been with one of the music hall singers I
should have backed out of it, but I had everything to gain by pressing it.
I grasped the situation at once. All the Liberal press would be on my side,
the Conservative press would have nothing to say against me, no woman in it
and a duel with a lord in it would be carrion for the society papers. But
the danger? To the fear of death I do not think I was ever susceptible. I
should have been afraid of a row with a music hall singer, because I should
have had much to lose by rowing with him, but as matters stood I had too
much to gain to consider the possibilities of danger. Besides there was no
need to consider. I knew very well there was no reality in it. I had broken
sixteen plates consecutively at the order to fire dozens of times; and yet
it was three to one against my shooting a man at twenty paces; so it was
ten thousand to one against a man, who had probably only fired off a
revolver half-a-dozen times in a back yard, hitting me. In the gallery you
are firing at white on black, on the ground you are firing at black upon a
neutral tint, a very different matter. In the gallery there is nothing to
disturb you; there is not a man opposite you with a pistol in his hand. In
the gallery you are calm and collected, you have risen at your ordinary
hour, you are returning from a stroll through the sunlight; on the ground
your nerves are altered by unusual rising, by cold air, by long
expectation. It was three to one against my killing him, it was a hundred
to one against his killing me. So I calculated the chances, so much as I
took the trouble to calculate the chances, but in truth I thought very
little of them; when I want to do anything I do not fear anything, and I
sincerely wanted to shoot this young man. I did not go to bed at once, but
sat in the armchair thinking. Presently a cab came rattling up to the door,
and one of the revellers came upstairs. He told me that everything had been
arranged; I told him that I was not in the habit of allowing others to
arrange my affairs for me, and went to bed. One thing, and only one thing
puzzled me, who was I to ask to be my second? My old friends were
scattered, they had disappeared; and among my new acquaintances I could not
think of one that would do. None of the Straddlers would do, that was
certain; I wanted some one that could be depended upon, and whose social
position was above question. Among my old friends I could think of some
half-dozen that would suit me perfectly, but where were they? Ten years'
absence scatters friends as October scatters swallows. At last my thoughts
fixed themselves on one man. I took a hansom and drove to his house. I
found him packing up, preparing to go abroad. This was not fortunate. I
took a seat on the edge of the dining-room table, and told him I wanted him
to act for me in an affair of honour. I told him the story in outline. "I
suppose," he said, "it was about one or two in the morning?"

"Later than that," I said; "it was about seven."

"My dear fellow, he struck you, and not very hard, I should imagine; you
hit him with a champagne bottle, and now you want to have him out. I don't
mind acting as intermediary, and settling the affair for you; he will no
doubt regret he struck you, and you will regret you struck him; but really
I cannot act for you, that is to say, if you are determined to force on a
meeting. Just think; supposing you were to shoot him, a man who has really
done you no wrong."

"My dear ----, I did not come here to listen to moral reflections; if you
don't like to act for me, say so."

I telegraphed to Warwickshire to an old friend:--"Can I count on you to act
for me in an affair of honour?" Two or three hours after the reply came.
"Come down here and stay with me for a few days, we'll talk it over." I
ground my teeth; what was to be done? I must wire to Marshall and ask him
to come over; English people evidently will have nothing to do with serious
duelling. "Of all importance. Come over at once and act for me in an affair
of honour. Bring the count with you; leave him at Boulogne; he knows the
colonel of the ----." The next day I received the following: "Am burying my
father; so soon as he is underground will come." Was there ever such
luck?... He won't be here before the end of the week. These things demand
the utmost promptitude. Three or four days afterwards dreadful Emma told me
a gentleman was upstairs taking a bath. "Holloa, Marshall, how are you? Had
a good crossing? Awful good of you to come.... The poor old gentleman went
off quite suddenly, I suppose?"

"Yes; found dead in his bed. He must have known he was dying, for he lay
quite straight as the dead lie, his hands by his side ... wonderful
presence of mind."

"He left no money?"

"Not a penny; but I could manage it all right. Since my success at the
Salon, I have been able to sell my things. I am only beginning to find out
now what a success that picture was. _Je t'assure, je fais
l'école._"...

"_Tu crois ça ... on fait l'école après vingt ans de travail._"

"_Mon ami, je t'assure, j'ai un public qui me suit._"

"_Mon ami, veux-tu que je te dis ce que tu a fait; tu a fait encore une
vulgarization, une jolie vulgarization, je veux bien, de la note inventée
par Millet; tu a ajouté la note claire inventée par Manet, enfin tu suis
avec talent le mouvement moderne, voilà tout._"

"_Parlons d'autre chose: sur la question d'art on ne s'entend jamais._"

When we were excited Marshall and I always dropped into French.

"And now tell me," he said, "about this duel."

I could not bring myself to admit, even to Marshall, that I was willing to
shoot a man for the sake of the notoriety it would bring me, not because I
feared in him any revolt of conscience, but because I dreaded his sneers;
he was known to all Paris, I was an obscure something, living in an obscure
lodging in London. Had Marshall suspected the truth he would have said
pityingly, "My dear Dayne, how can you be so foolish? why will you not be
contented to live?" etc.... Such homilies would have been maddening; he was
successful, I was not; I knew there was not much in him, _un feu de
paille_, no more, but what would I not have done and given for that
_feu de paille_? So I was obliged to conceal my real motives for
desiring a duel, and I spoke strenuously of the gravity of the insult and
the necessity of retribution. But Marshall was obdurate. "Insult?" he said.
"He hit you with his hand, you hit him with the champagne bottle; you can't
have him out after that, there is nothing to avenge, you wiped out the
insult yourself; if you had not struck him with the champagne bottle the
case would be different."

We went out to dine, we went to the theatre, and after the theatre we went
home and aestheticised till three in the morning. I spoke no more of the
duel, I was sick of it; luck, I saw, was against me, and I let Marshall
have his way. He showed his usual tact, a letter was drawn up in which my
friend withdrew the blow of his hand, I withdrew the blow of the bottle,
and the letter was signed by Marshall and two other gentlemen.

Hypocritical reader, you draw your purity garments round you, you say, "How
very base;" but I say unto you remember how often you have longed, if you
are a soldier in her Majesty's army, for war,--war that would bring every
form of sorrow to a million fellow-creatures, and you longed for all this
to happen, because it might bring your name into the _Gazette_.
Hypocritical reader, think not too hardly of me; hypocritical reader, think
what you like of me, your hypocrisy will alter nothing; in telling you of
my vices I am only telling you of your own; hypocritical reader, in showing
you my soul I am showing you your own; hypocritical reader, exquisitely
hypocritical reader, you are my brother, I salute you.

Day passed over day: I lived in that horrible lodging; I continued to
labour at my novel; it seemed an impossible task--defeat glared at me from
every corner of that frouzy room. My English was so bad, so thin,--stupid
colloquialisms out of joint with French idiom. I learnt unusual words and
stuck them up here and there; they did not mend the style. Self-reliance
had been lost in past failures; I was weighed down on every side, but I
struggled to bring the book somehow to a close. Nothing mattered to me, but
this one thing. To put an end to the landlady's cheating, and to bind
myself to remain at home, I entered into an arrangement with her that she
was to supply me with board and lodgings for three pounds a week, and
henceforth resisting all Curzon Street temptations, I trudge home through
November fogs, to eat a chop in a frouzy lodging-house. I studied the
horrible servant as one might an insect under a microscope. "What an
admirable book she would make, but what will the end be? if I only knew the
end!" I had more and more difficulty in keeping the fat landlady at arm's
length, and the nasty child was well beaten one day for lingering about my
door. I saw poor Miss L. nightly, on the stairs of this infamous house, and
I never wearied of talking to her of her hopes and ambitions, of the young
man she admired. She used to ask me about my novel.

Poor Miss L.! Where is she? I do not know, but I shall not forget the time
when I used to listen for her footstep on the midnight stairs. Often I was
too despondent, when my troubles lay too heavily and darkly upon me, I let
her go up to her garret without a word. Despondent days and nights when I
cried, Shall I never pass from this lodging? shall I never be a light in
that London, long, low, misshapen, that dark monumental stream flowing
through the lean bridges; and what if I were a light in this umber-coloured
mass,--shadows falling, barges moored midway in a monumental stream?
Happiness abides only in the natural affections--in a home and a sweet
wife. Would she whom I saw to-night marry me? How sweet she was in her
simple naturalness, the joys she has known have been slight and pure, not
violent and complex as mine. Ah, she is not for me, I am not fit for her, I
am too sullied for her lips.... Were I to win her could I be dutiful,
true?...

"Young men, young men whom I love, dear ones who have rejoiced with me, not
the least of our pleasures is the virtuous woman; after excesses there is
reaction, all things are good in nature, and they are foolish young men who
think that sin alone should be sought for. The feast is over for me, I have
eaten and drunk; I yield my place, do you eat and drink as I have; do you
be young as I was. I have written it! The word is not worth erasure, if it
is not true to-day it will be in two years hence; farewell! I yield my
place, do you be young as I was, do you love youth as I did; remember you
are the most interesting beings under heaven, for you all sacrifices will
be made, you will be fêted and adored upon the condition of remaining young
men. The feast is over for me, I yield my place, but I will not make this
leavetaking more sorrowful than it is already by afflicting you with advice
and instruction how to obtain what I have obtained. I have spoken bitterly
against education, I will not strive to educate you, you will educate
yourselves. Dear ones, dear ones, the world is your pleasure, you can use
it at your will. Dear ones, I see you all about me still, I yield my place;
but one more glass I will drink with you; and while drinking I would say my
last word--were it possible I would be remembered by you as a young man:
but I know too well that the young never realise that the old were not born
old. Farewell."

I shivered; the cold air of morning blew in my face, I closed the window,
and sitting at the table, haggard and overworn, I continued my novel.

THE END.





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