Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Confessions of a Young Man
Author: Moore, George (George Augustus), 1852-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Confessions of a Young Man" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



CONFESSIONS OF A...YOUNG MAN



CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG MAN

By GEORGE MOORE. 1886.

Edited and Annotated by GEORGE MOORE, 1904,



Clifford's Inn--1904



   À JACQUES BLANCHE.

   L'âme de l'ancien Égyptien s'éveillait en moi quand mourut ma
   jeunesse, et j'étais inspiré de conserver mon passé, son esprit et sa
   forme, dans l'art.

   Alors trempant le pinceau dans ma mémoire, j'ai peint ses joues pour
   qu'elles prissent l'exacte ressemblance de la vie, et j'ai enveloppé
   le mort dans les plus fins linceuls. Rhamenès le second n'a pas reçu
   des soins plus pieux! Que ce livre soit aussi durable que sa
   pyramide!

   Votre nom, cher ami, je voudrais l'inscrire ici comme épitaphe, car
   vous êtes mon plus jeune et mon plus cher ami; et il se trouve en
   vous tout ce qui est gracieux et subtil dans ces mornes années qui
   s'égouttent dans le vase du vingtième siècle.

   G.M.



PREFACE TO A NEW EDITION OF "CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG MAN"



I


Dear little book, what shall I say about thee? Belated offspring of
mine, out of print for twenty years, what shall I say in praise of thee?
For twenty years I have only seen thee in French, and in this English
text thou comest to me like an old love, at once a surprise and a
recollection. Dear little book, I would say nothing about thee if I
could help it, but a publisher pleads, and "No" is a churlish word. So
for him I will say that I like thy prattle; that while travelling in a
railway carriage on my way to the country of "Esther Waters," I passed
my station by, and had to hire a carriage and drive across the downs.

Like a learned Abbé I delighted in the confessions of this young man, a
_naïf_ young man, a little vicious in his _naïveté_, who says that his
soul must have been dipped in Lethe so deeply that he came into the
world without remembrance of previous existence. He can find no other
explanation for the fact that the world always seems to him more new,
more wonderful than it did to anyone he ever met on his faring; every
wayside acquaintance seemed old to this amazing young man, and himself
seemed to himself the only young thing in the world. Am I imitating the
style of these early writings? A man of letters who would parody his
early style is no better than the ancient light-o'-love who wears a wig
and reddens her cheeks. I must turn to the book to see how far this is
true. The first thing I catch sight of is some French, an astonishing
dedication written in the form of an epitaph, an epitaph upon myself,
for it appears that part of me was dead even when I wrote "Confessions
of a Young Man." The youngest have a past, and this epitaph dedication,
printed in capital letters, informs me that I have embalmed my past,
that I have wrapped the dead in the finest winding-sheet. It would seem
I am a little more difficult to please to-day, for I perceived in the
railway train a certain coarseness in its tissue, and here and there a
tangled thread. I would have wished for more care, for _un peu plus de
toilette_. There is something pathetic in the loving regard of the
middle-aged man for the young man's coat (I will not say winding-sheet,
that is a morbidity from which the middle-aged shrink). I would set his
coat collar straighter, I would sweep some specks from it. But can I do
aught for this youth, does he need my supervision? He was himself, that
was his genius; and I sit at gaze. My melancholy is like her's--the
ancient light-o'-love of whom I spoke just now, when she sits by the
fire in the dusk, a miniature of her past self in her hand.



II


This edition has not been printed from old plates, no chicanery of that
kind: it has been printed from new type, and it was brought about by
Walter Pater's evocative letter. (It wasn't, but I like to think that it
was). Off and on, his letter was sought for during many years, hunted
for through all sorts of portfolios and bookcases, but never found until
it appeared miraculously, just as the proof of my Pater article was
being sent back to the printer, the precious letter transpired--shall I
say "transpired?"--through a crack in the old bookcase.


   BRASENOSE COLLEGE,

   _Mar_. 4.

   MY DEAR, AUDACIOUS MOORE,--Many thanks for the "Confessions" which I
   have read with great interest, and admiration for your
   originality--your delightful criticisms--your Aristophanic joy, or at
   least enjoyment, in life--your unfailing liveliness. Of course, there
   are many things in the book I don't agree with. But then, in the case
   of so satiric a book, I suppose one is hardly expected to agree or
   disagree. What I cannot doubt is the literary faculty displayed.
   "Thou com'st in such a questionable shape!" I feel inclined to say on
   finishing your book; "shape" morally, I mean; not in reference to
   style.

   You speak of my own work very pleasantly; but my enjoyment has been
   independent of that. And still I wonder how much you may be losing,
   both for yourself and for your writings, by what, in spite of its
   gaiety and good-nature and genuine sense of the beauty of many
   things, I must still call a cynical, and therefore exclusive, way of
   looking at the world. You call it only "realistic." Still!

   With sincere wishes for the future success of your most entertaining
   pen.--Very sincerely yours,

   WALTER PATER.

Remember, reader, that this letter was written by the last great English
writer, by the author of "Imaginary Portraits," the most beautiful of
all prose books. I should like to break off and tell of my delight in
reading "Imaginary Portraits," but I have told my delight elsewhere; go,
seek out what I have said in the pages of the _Pall Mall Magazine_ for
August 1904, for here I am obliged to tell you of myself. I give you
Pater's letter, for I wish you to read this book with reverence; never
forget that Pater's admiration has made this book a sacred book. Never
forget that.

My special pleasure in these early pages was to find that I thought
about Pater twenty years ago as I think about him now, and shall
certainly think of him till time everlasting, world without end. I have
been accused of changing my likes and dislikes--no one has changed less
than I, and this book is proof of my fidelity to my first ideas; the
ideas I have followed all my life are in this book--dear crescent moon
rising in the south-east above the trees at the end of the village
green. It was in that ugly but well-beloved village on the south coast I
discovered my love of Protestant England. It was on the downs that the
instinct of Protestantism lit up in me.

But when Zola asked me why I preferred Protestantism to Roman
Catholicism I could not answer him.

He had promised to write a preface for the French translation of the
"Mummer's Wife"; the translation had to be revised, months and months
passed away, and forgetting all about the "Mummer's Wife," I expressed
my opinion about Zola, which had been changing, a little too
fearlessly, and in view of my revolt he was obliged to break his promise
to write a Preface, and this must have been a great blow, for he was a
man of method, to whom any change of plan was disagreeable and
unnerving. He sent a letter, asking me to come to Medan, he would talk
to me about the "Confessions." Well do I remember going there with dear
Alexis in the May-time, the young corn six inches high in the fields,
and my delight in the lush luxuriance of the l'Oise. That dear morning
is remembered, and the poor master who reproved me a little
sententiously, is dead. He was sorrowful in that dreadful room of his,
fixed up with stained glass and morbid antiquities. He lay on a sofa
lecturing me till breakfast. Then I thought reproof was over, but after
a walk in the garden we went upstairs and he began again, saying he was
not angry. "It is the law of nature," he said, "for children to devour
their parents. I do not complain." I think he was aware he was playing a
part; his sofa was his stage; and he lay there theatrical as Leo XI. or
Beerbohm Tree, saying that the Roman Church was an artistic church, that
its rich externality and ceremonial were pagan. But I think he knew even
then, at the back of his mind, that I was right; that is why he pressed
me to give reasons for my preference. Zola came to hate Catholicism as
much as I, and his hatred was for the same reason as mine; we both
learnt that any religion which robs a man of the right of free-will and
private judgment degrades the soul, renders it lethargic and timid,
takes the edge off the intellect. Zola lived to write "that the Catholic
countries are dead, and the clergy are the worms in the corpses." The
observation is "quelconque"; I should prefer the more interesting
allegation that since the Reformation no born Catholic has written a
book of literary value! He would have had to concede that some converts
have written well; the convert still retains a little of his ancient
freedom, some of the intellectual virility he acquired elsewhere, but
the born Catholic is still-born. But however we may disapprove of
Catholicism, we can still admire the convert. Cardinal Manning was aware
of the advantages of a Protestant bringing up, and he often said that he
was glad he had been born a Protestant. His Eminence was, therefore, of
opinion that the Catholic faith should be reserved, and exclusively, for
converts, and in this he showed his practical sense, for it is easy to
imagine a country prosperous in which all the inhabitants should be
brought up Protestants or agnostics, and in which conversions to Rome
are only permitted after a certain age or in clearly defined
circumstances. There would be something beyond mere practical wisdom in
such law-giving, an exquisite sense of the pathos of human life and its
requirements; scapulars, indulgences and sacraments are needed by the
weak and the ageing, sacraments especially. "They make you believe but
they stupefy you;" these words are Pascal's, the great light of the
Catholic Church.



III


My Protestant sympathies go back very far, further back than these
Confessions; I find them in a French sonnet, crude and diffuse in
versification, of the kind which finds favour with the very young, a
sonnet which I should not publish did it not remind me of two things
especially dear to me, my love of France and Protestantism.

    Je t'apporte mon drame, o poète sublime,
      Ainsi qu'un écolier au maître sa leçon:
    Ce livre avec fierté porte comme écusson
      Le sceau qu'en nos esprits ta jeune gloire imprime.

    Accepte, tu verras la foi mêlée au crime,
      Se souiller dans le sang sacré de la raison,
    Quand surgit, rédempteur du vieux peuple saxon,
      Luther à Wittemberg comme Christ à Solime.

    Jamais de la cité le mal entier ne fuit,
      Hélas! et son autel y fume dans la nuit;
      Mais notre âge a ceci de pareil à l'aurore.

      Que c'est un divin cri du chanteur éternal,
      Le tien, qui pour forcer le jour tardif d'éclore
      Déchire avec splendeur le voile épars du ciel.

I find not only my Protestant sympathies in the "Confessions" but a
proud agnosticism, and an exalted individualism which in certain
passages leads the reader to the sundered rocks about the cave of
Zarathoustra. My book was written before I heard that splendid name,
before Zarathoustra was written; and the doctrine, though hardly
formulated, is in the "Confessions," as Darwin is in Wallace. Here ye
shall find me, the germs of all I have written are in the "Confessions,"
"Esther Waters" and "Modern Painting," my love of France--the country as
Pater would say of my instinctive election--and all my prophecies.
Manet, Degas, Whistler, Monet, Pissaro, all these have come into their
inheritance. Those whom I brushed aside, where are they? Stevenson, so
well described as the best-dressed young man that ever walked in the
Burlington Arcade, has slipped into nothingness despite the journalists
and Mr Sidney Colvin's batch of letters. Poor Colvin, he made a mistake,
he should have hopped on to Pater.

Were it not for a silly phrase about George Eliot, who surely was no
more than one of those dull clever people, unlit by any ray of genius, I
might say with Swinburne I have nothing to regret, nothing to withdraw.
Maybe a few flippant remarks about my private friends; but to withdraw
them would be unmanly, unintellectual, and no one may re-write his
confessions.

A moment ago I wrote I have nothing to regret except a silly phrase
about George Eliot. I was mistaken, there is this preface. If one has
succeeded in explaining oneself in a book a preface is unnecessary, and
if one has failed to explain oneself in the book, it is still more
unnecessary to explain oneself in a preface.

GEORGE MOORE.



Confessions of a Young Man



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 is mine I have
acquired, 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 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 Doctors 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 and wouldn't
were 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! 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 question 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 battle-field
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 the point of view of art merely, 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 any 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....

So my youth ran into manhood, finding its way from rock to rock like a
rivulet, gathering strength at each leap. One day my father was suddenly
called to Ireland. A few days after, a telegram came, and my mother read
that we were required at his bedside. We journeyed over land and sea,
and on a bleak country road, one winter's evening, a man approached us
and I heard him say that all was over, that my father was dead. I loved
my father; I burst into tears; and yet my soul said, "I am glad." The
thought came unbidden, undesired, and I turned aside, shocked at the
sight it afforded of my soul.

O, my father, I, who love and reverence nothing else, love and reverence
thee; thou art the one pure image in my mind, the one true affection
that life has not broken or soiled; I remember thy voice and thy kind,
happy ways. All I have of worldly goods and native wit I received from
thee--and was it I who was glad? No, it was not I; I had no concern in
the thought that then fell upon me unbidden and undesired; my individual
voice can give you but praise and loving words; and the voice that said
"I am glad" was not my voice, but that of the will to live which we
inherit from elemental dust through countless generations. Terrible and
imperative is the voice of the will to live: let him who is innocent
cast the first stone.

Terrible is the day when each sees his soul naked, stripped of all veil;
that dear soul which he cannot change or discard, and which is so
irreparably his.

My father's death freed me, and I sprang like a loosened bough up to the
light. His death gave me power to create myself, that is to say, to
create a complete and absolute self out of the partial self which was
all that the restraint of home had permitted; this future self, this
ideal George Moore, beckoned me, lured like a ghost; and as I followed
the funeral the question, Would I sacrifice this ghostly self, if by so
doing I should bring my father back? presented itself without
intermission, and I shrank horrified at the answer which I could not
crush out of mind.

Now my life was like a garden in the emotive torpor of spring; now my
life was like a flower conscious of the light. Money was placed in my
hands, and I divined all it represented. Before me the crystal lake, the
distant mountains, the swaying woods, said but one word, and that word
was--self; not the self that was then mine, but the self on whose
creation I was enthusiastically determined. But I felt like a murderer
when I turned to leave the place which I had so suddenly, and I could
not but think unjustly, become possessed of. And now, as I probe this
poignant psychological moment, I find that, although I perfectly well
realised that all pleasures were then in my reach--women, elegant dress,
theatres, and supper-rooms, I hardly thought at all of them, and much
more of certain drawings from the plaster cast. I would be an artist.
More than ever I was determined to be an artist, and my brain was made
of this desire as I journeyed as fast as railway and steamboat could
take me to London. 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 contradistinction 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 very
nearly all the English lyric poets; Shelley's atheism had led me to read
Kant, Spinoza, Godwin, Darwin, and Mill. So it will be understood that
Shelley not only gave me my first soul, but led all its first flights.
But I do not think that if Shelley had been no more than a poet,
notwithstanding my very genuine love of verse, he would have gained such
influence in my youthful sympathies; but Shelley dreamed in
metaphysics--very thin dreaming if you will; but just such thin dreaming
as I could follow. Was there or was there not a God? And for many years
I could not dismiss as parcel of the world's folly this question, and I
sought a solution, inclining towards atheism, for it was natural in me
to revere nothing, and to oppose the routine of daily thought. And I was
but sixteen when I resolved to tell my mother that I must decline to
believe any longer in a God. She was leaning against the chimney-piece
in the drawing-room. I expected to paralyse the household with the news;
but although a religious woman, my mother did not seem in the least
frightened, she only said, "I am very sorry, George, it is so." I was
deeply shocked at her indifference.

Finding music and atheism in poetry I cared little for novels. 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:
_Middlemarch, Adam Bede, The Rise and Influence of Rationalism, The
History of Civilisation_, were momentous events in my life. But I loved
life better than books, and very curiously my studies and my pleasures
kept pace, stepping together like a pair of well-trained carriage
horses. While I was waiting for my coach to take a party of _tarts_ and
_mashers_ to the Derby, I would read a chapter of Kant, and I often took
the book away with me in my pocket. 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 on scent and toilette knick-knacks as much 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 to fear; for I was naturally endowed
with a very clear sense 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.



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 Elysées? 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, thinking of what my
next move should be. I had never forgotten my father showing me, one day
when he was shaving, three photographs from pictures. They were by an
artist called Sevres. My father liked the slenderer figure, but I liked
the corpulent--the Venus standing at the corner of a wood, pouring wine
into a goblet, while Cupid, from behind her satin-enveloped knees, drew
his bow and shot the doves that flew from glistening poplar trees. The
beauty of this woman, and what her beauty must be in the life of the
painter, had inspired many a reverie, and I had concluded--this
conclusion being of all others most sympathetic to me--that she was his
very beautiful mistress, that they lived in a picturesque pavilion in
the midst of a shady garden full of birds and tall flowers. I had often
imagined her walking there at mid-day, dressed in white muslin with wide
sleeves open to the elbow, scattering grain from a silver plate to the
proud pigeons that strutted about her slippered feet and fluttered to
her dove-like hand. I had dreamed of seeing that woman as I rode
racehorses on wild Irish plains, of being loved by her; in London I had
dreamed of becoming Sevres's pupil.

What coming and going, what inquiries, what difficulties arose! At last
I was advised to go to the Exposition aux Champs Elysée and seek his
address in the catalogue. I did so, and while the _concierge_ copied out
the address for me, I chased his tame magpie that hopped about one of
the angles of the great building. The reader smiles. I was a childish
boy of one-and-twenty who knew nothing, and to whom the world was
astonishingly new. Doubtless before my soul was given to me it had been
plunged deep in Lethe, and so an almost virgin man I stood in front of a
virgin world.

Engin is not far from Paris, and the French country seemed to me like a
fairy-book. Tall green poplars and green river banks, and a little lake
reflecting the foliage and the stems of sapling oak and pine, just as in
the pictures. The driver pointed with his whip, and I saw a high garden
wall shadowed with young trees, and a tall loose iron gate. As I walked
up the gravel path I looked for the beautiful mistress, who, dressed in
muslin, with sleeves open at the elbow, should feed pigeons from a
silver plate of Venus and the does. M. Sevres caught me looking at it;
and hoping his mistress might appear I prolonged the conversation till a
tardy sense of the value of his time forced me to bring it to a close;
and as I passed down the green garden with him I scanned hopefully every
nook, fancying I should see her reading, and that she would raise her
eyes as I passed.

Looking back through the years it seems to me that I did catch sight of
a white dress behind a trellis. But that dress might have been his
daughter's, even his wife's. I only know that I did not discover M.
Sevres's mistress that day nor any other day. I never saw him again. Now
the earth is over him, as Rossetti would say, and all the reveries that
the photographs had inspired resulted in nothing, mere childish
sensualities.

I returned to Engin with my taciturn valet; but he showed no enthusiasm
on the subject of Engin. I saw he was sighing after beef, beer and a
wife, and was but little disposed to settle in this French suburb. We
were both very much alone in Paris. In the evenings I allowed him to
smoke his clay in my room, and in an astounding brogue he counselled me
to return to my mother. But I would not listen, and one day on the
Boulevards I was stricken with the art of Jules Lefebvre. 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 æsthetics 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 Lefebvre 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; there were
also 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 exceptional nature 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 exerts 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 clothes, 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, 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 myself, but he could
talk French like a native. It was only natural that he should, for he
was born in Brussels and had lived there 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 an 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 _Elysée Montmartre_.
The clangour of the band, the unreal greenness of the foliage, the
thronging of the dancers, and the chattering of women--we only knew
their Christian names. And then the returning in open carriages rolling
through the white dust beneath the immense heavy dome of the summer
night, when the dusky 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 summer sunset 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 si 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 without contributing 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,
egoistical, 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 by whom you did not profit? 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 at all times 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 can 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 arm and 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 employ
the word "use" in its fullest, not in its limited and twenty-shilling
sense. This parallel 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.



III


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
persistency 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 byeways 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 of which 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 chéne,_
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. A stranger she calls 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 Kauffmann, 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 asked for 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 was
the first thing. 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.



IV


Is it necessary to say that I did not find a manager to produce my play?
A printer was more obtainable, 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 demi-tasse?
oui...garçon, une demi-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.



V


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,
George Moore? 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 exhibition 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."

We went to jeer a group of enthusiasts that willingly forfeit all
delights of the world in the hope of realising a new æstheticism; 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 fœtus_"; in a word, all that the
journals of culture are pleased to term an artistic education. We
indulged in boisterous laughter, exaggerated in the hope of giving as
much pain as possible, and deep down in our souls we knew that we were
lying--at least I did.

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'œuvre._ 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'œuvre_!
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 had we any more understanding for 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 about this time there came 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 on china as a means of livelihood. And
as this young man always sought extremes he went to Belleville, donned
a blouse, ate garlic with his food, and settled down to live there as a
workman. I had been to see him, and had found him building a wall. And
with sorrow I related his state that evening to Julien in the Café
Veron. He said, after a pause:--

"Since you profess so much friendship for him, why do you not do him a
service that cannot be forgotten since the result will always continue?
why don't you save him from the life you describe? If you are not
actually rich you are at least in easy circumstances, and can afford to
give him a _pension_ of three hundred francs a month. I will give him
the use of my studio, which means, as you know, models and teaching;
Marshall has plenty of talent, all he wants is a year's education: in a
year or a year-and-a-half, certainly at the end of two years, he will
begin to make money."

It is rather a shock to one who is at all concerned with his own genius
to be asked to act as foster-mother to another's. Then three hundred
francs meant a great deal, plainly it meant deprivation of those
superfluities which are so intensely necessary to the delicate and
refined. Julien watched me. This large crafty Southerner knew what was
passing in me; he knew I was realising all the manifold
inconveniences--the duty of looking after Marshall's wants for two
years, and to make the pill easier he said:--

"If three hundred francs a month are too heavy for your purse, you might
take an apartment and ask Marshall to come and live with you. You told
me the other day you were tired of hotel life. It would be an advantage
to you to live with him. You want to do something yourself; and the fact
of his being obliged to attend the studio (for I should advise you to
have a strict agreement with him regarding the work he is to do) would
be an extra inducement to you to work hard."

I always decide at once, reflection does not help me, and a moment after
I said, "Very well, Julien, I will."

And next day I went with the news to Belleville. Marshall protested he
had no real talent. I protested he had. The agreement was drawn up and
signed. He was to work in the studio eight hours a day; he was to draw
until such time as M. Lefebvre set him to paint; and in proof of his
industry he was to bring me at the end of each week a study from life
and a composition, the subject of which the master gave at the
beginning of each week, and in return I was to take an apartment near
the studio, give him an abode, food, _blanchissage_, etc. Once the
matter was decided, Marshall manifested prodigious energy, and three
days after he told me he had found an apartment in Le Passage des
Panoramas which would suit us perfectly. The plunge had to be taken. I
paid my hotel bill, and sent my taciturn valet to beef, beer and a wife.

It was unpleasant to have a window opening 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 intensely 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 pendulum in the pit, the agony is a little beyond verbal
expression. 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 school-master or make a _lifelike_ 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 obtain 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 Lefebvre 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 packed up my portmanteau and left, after having kept
my promise for only ten months. 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.



VI


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 windows there overlooked a bit of tangled garden with a
dilapidated statue. 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 arm-chairs 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 George Moore, 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
cardboard, 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 "Les Légendes des Siècles," and I always think that it is
the greatest poetry I have ever read, but after a few pages the book is
laid down and forgotten. 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 de l'éternel été
    Avait en 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 mediæval life, there is in it, as
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 entice one of them down a byway.

The first time I read of _une bouche d'ombre_ I was astonished, nor did
the second or third repetition produce 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
is 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 strain of my aspirations at that moment, 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 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 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,
    Trouve 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 hurried the course of the disease.[1] 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 a 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 vexatious. 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, it meant nothing to me, 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 certainly, 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 Cæsar 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 cœur 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
      Effroyant 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
concluding words that he thought he could by saying everything, and,
saying everything twenty times over, for ever render impossible the
rehearsal 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 éclume d'airain_" and such sententious
platitudes as this (speaking of the realists), "_Les épidémies de cette
nature passent, et le génie demeure_."

Theodore de Banville. At first I thought him cold, infected 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, nor did he sing the languors and ardours of animal or
spiritual passion. But there is this: a pure, clear song, an
instinctive, incurable and lark-like love of the song. He sings of the
white lily and the red rose, such knowledge of, such observation of
nature is enough for the poet, and he sings and he trills, there is
trilling magic in every song, and the song as it ascends rings, and all
the air quivers with the ever-widening 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 aerial 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 perceives only 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; in speaking of Paul Alexis' book "Le
Besoin d'aimer," he said: "_Vous avez trouvé 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 fluidities.

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 cæsura 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, Mendés, Léon Diex,
Verlaine, José Maria Hêrédia, Mallarmé, Richepin, 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 Hérédia, on the contrary,
filled me with enthusiasm--ruins and sand, shadow and silhouette of
palms and pillars, negroes, crimson, swords, silence, and arabesques.
Like 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, with his pale hair,
and 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 to hear him is as sweet as
drinking a smooth perfumed yellow 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 yellow 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 enjoyed his poetry frankly. 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
enigmas the author has since published a marvel of lucidity; I am sure
if I were 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 a child at play compared to a sonnet by such a determined
symbolist as Mallarmé, or better still his disciple Ghil who has added
to the infirmities 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
poisons," and other works are to follow:--the six tomes of "Légendes de
Rêves et de Sang," 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 cabrent des rosaces lunaires
    L'assou pissement des branches vénère
    Son pâle 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 ont dressé la rampe occellée
    Pour la descente de ses yeux vers le tapis
      De choses et de sens
    Qui va vers l'horizon, parure vermiculée
      De son corps alangui
      En l'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 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 Fétes 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 mediæval 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 garçon vierge que cela tente
    D'aimer des seins légers et ce gentil babil.

    Il a vaincu la femme belle aucœur 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 puéril.

    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 chantant dans la coupole.

In English there is no sonnet so beautiful, its beauty cannot be worn
away, it is as inexhaustible as a Greek marble. 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, Eleonore, were the familiar spirits of an
apartment beautiful with Manets and tapestry; 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, 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.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: Surely the phrase is ill considered, hurried "my
convalescence" would express the author's meaning better.]



VII


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'œuvre_
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 designed 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
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 latch-key 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; no Œdipus will ever come to unravel this
riddle; this sphinx will never throw herself from the rock into the
clangour of the sea-gulls 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.

The young man of refined mind is in a ball-room! He leans against the
woodwork in a distant doorway; hardly knowing what to do with himself,
he strives 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 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. Calm with possession she passes to a seat, extending
her hand here and there. She dances the eighth, twelfth, and fifteenth
waltz with him.

Will he induce her to visit his rooms? Will they be like
Marshall's--strange debauches of colour and Turkish lamps--or mine, 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 breasts of the nymphs 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 their malady,
and they call it--the woman of thirty.



VIII


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 crawling about after a two months' fast. I tie up a guinea-pig 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 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 Galantes," 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; his arms stiffened by some miracle,
and she was unable to free herself; she died of starvation, as her
bondage loosened in decay. 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, he 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,
sounded, I could not help thinking (here it becomes necessary to
whisper), 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 market-places. The subjects are to
hand, the formula alone is wanting.

The prospect dazzled me; 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 cinquième_," 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 to the
disparagement 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 this stupendous allegory--Seraphita lying 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 blonde 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," "Jesus-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 cœur_. 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 ecstasy--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 æstheticisms,
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 can understand
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 this 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
æstheticised 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 Stendhal, 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 wast thou than those who stepped to opulence and fame upon
thee fallen; 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 with them lies
the brunt of victory. 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 wast 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 musique 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 George Moore, 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 wast 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 wast, and thou wast 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 wast 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
æstheticise 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 will 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.



IX

THE SYNTHESIS OF THE NOUVELLE ATHENES


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 from 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.... 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'Œuvre," how 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 anyone 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 undressing them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fancy, a banquet was given to Julien by his pupils! He made a speech in
favour of Lefebvre, and hoped that every one there would vote for
Lefebvre. Julien was very eloquent. He spoke of _Le grand art, le nu_,
and Lefebvre'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
Lefebvre, 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 æstheticisms...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.

Love--but not marriage. Marriage means a four-post bed and papa and
mamma between eleven and twelve. Love is aspiration: 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_? But the women one has never seen before, that one will
never see again! The choice! 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 nightingale-harmony of an eternal yes--the whisper
of a sweet unending yes. The unknown, the unreal. This is love. There is
delusion, an _au delà_.

Good heavens! and the world still believes in education, in teaching
people the "grammar of art." Education should be confined to clerks, and
it drives even them 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. Art flees before the art school... "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 pâte, 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 Lefebvre. 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 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. 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; his
pictures are thought out beforehand, they are mental conceptions. I
admire his work; I am 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.
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 cæsura, the
translator puts an effect of rhyme; where the original poet puts an
effect of rhyme, the translator puts an effect of cæsura. 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?--the style of a modern Addison.

       *       *       *       *       *

What, don't you know the story about Mendès?--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 broken-hearted;
and he went to Mendès, 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
Mendès, you can see him smiling a little; and looking at _Chose_ with
that white cameo face of his he said,

"_Avec quel meillur homme voulez-vous que votre mère se mit? 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.



X

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 books,
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 buy, 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, short-sighted 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 _Pierette_; 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-de-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
_trés 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 has
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 man cœur 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 Hokusai. 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!



XI


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 in sombre contemplation, 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 Lefèbvre 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--George Moore."

"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-etre pour longtemps; je voudrais passer ma dernière soirèe avec mon
ami; alors si vous voulez bien me permettre, mademoiselle, je vous
invite tous les deux à diner; nous passerons la soirèe ensemble si cela
vous est agrèable_?"

"_Je veux bien, monsieur_."

Poor Marie! Marshall and I were absorbed in each other and art. It was
always so. We dined in a _gargote_, and afterwards we went to a
students' ball; 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
Lefèbvre'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; looking, 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 that are 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, 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 that 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. 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.

Here is a poem that Cabaner admired; he liked it in the French prose
translation which I made for him one night in the Nouvelle Athènes:--

    We are alone! Listen, a little while,
    And hear the reason why your weary smile
    And lute-toned speaking is so very sweet,
    And how my love of you is more complete
    Than any love of any lover. They
    Have only been attracted by the gray
    Delicious softness of your eyes, your slim
    And delicate form, or some such other whim,
    The simple pretexts of all lovers;--I
    For other reason. Listen whilst I try
    To say. I joy to see the sunset slope
    Beyond the weak hours' hopeless horoscope,
    Leaving the heavens a melancholy calm
    Of quiet colour chaunted like a psalm,
    In mildly modulated phrases; thus
    Your life shall fade like a voluptuous
    Vision beyond the sight, and you shall die
    Like some soft evening's sad serenity...
    I would possess your dying hours; indeed
    My love is worthy of the gift, I plead
    For them. Although I never loved as yet,
    Methinks that I might love you; I would get
    From out the knowledge that the time was brief,
    That tenderness, whose pity grows to grief,
    And grief that sanctifies, a joy, a charm
    Beyond all other loves, for now the arm
    Of Death is stretched to you-ward, and he claims
    You as his bride. Maybe my soul misnames
    Its passion; love perhaps it is not, yet
    To see you fading like a violet,
    Or some sweet thought away, would be a strange
    And costly pleasure, far beyond the range
    Of formal man's emotion. Listen, I
    Will choose a country spot where fields of rye
    And wheat extend in rustling yellow plains,
    Broken with wooded hills and leafy lanes,
    To pass our honeymoon; a cottage where,
    The porch and windows are festooned with fair
    Green wreaths of eglantine, and look upon
    A shady garden where we'll walk alone
    In the autumn sunny evenings; each will see
    Our walks grow shorter, till to the orange tree,
    The garden's length, is far, and you will rest
    From time to time, leaning upon my breast
    Your languid lily face. Then later still
    Unto the sofa by the window-sill
    Your wasted body I shall carry, so
    That you may drink the last left lingering glow
    Of evening, when the air is filled with scent
    Of blossoms; and my spirit shall be rent
    The while with many griefs. Like some blue day
    That grows more lovely as it fades away,
    Gaining that calm serenity and height
    Of colour wanted, as the solemn night
    Steals forward you will sweetly fall asleep
    For ever and for ever; I shall weep
    A day and night large tears upon your face,
    Laying you then beneath a rose-red place
    Where I may muse and dedicate and dream
    Volumes of poesy of you; and deem
    It happiness to know that you are far
    From any base desires as that fair star
    Set in the evening magnitude of heaven.
    Death takes but little, yea, your death has given
    Me that deep peace, and that secure possession
    Which man may never find in earthly passion.

And here are two specimens of my French verse. I like to print them, for
they tell me how I have held together, and they are not worse than my
English verse, and is my English verse worse than the verse of our minor
poets?

    NUIT DE SEPTEMBRE

    La nuit est pleine de silence,
    Et dans une étrange lueur,
    Et dans une douce indolence
    La lune dort comme une fleur.

    Parmi rochers, dans le sable
    Sous les grands pins d'un calme amer
    Surgit mon amour périssable,
    Faim de tes yeux, soif de ta chair.

    Je suis ton amant, et la blonde
    Gorge tremble sous mon baiser,
    Et le feu de l'amour inonde
    Nos deux cœurs sans les apaiser.

    Rien ne peut durer, mais ta bouche
    Est telle qu'un fruit fait de sang;
    Tout passe, mais ta main me touche
    Et je me donne en frémissant,

    Tes yeux verts me regardent: j'aime
    Le clair de lune de tes yeux,
    Et je ne vois dans le ciel même
    Que ton corps rare et radieux.

    POUR UN TABLEAU DE LORD LEIGHTON

    De quoi rêvent-elles? de fleurs,
    D'ombres, d'étoiles ou de pleurs?
    De quoi rêvent ces douces femmes
    De leurs amours ou de leurs âmes?

    Parcilles aux lis abattus
    Elles dorment les rêves tus
    Dans la grande fenêtre ovale
    Ou s'ouvre la nuit estivale.

But I realised before I was thirty that minor poetry is not sufficient
occupation for a life-time--I realised that fact suddenly--I remember
the very place at the corner of Wellington Street in the Strand; and
these poems were the last efforts of my muse.

    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.

    In the past nothing dies, nothing changes,
      In the past 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 flitting 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, there is rest, there is rest
    In the past, 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 a hopeless 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 was now anxious
for proof, peremptory proof, of my capacity or incapacity. A book! No.
An immediate answer was required, and journalism alone could give that.
So did I reason in the Strand lodging-house. And what led me to that
house? Chance, or a friend's recommendation? I forget. It was
uncomfortable, ugly, 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 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 generally
you 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 were just those 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-horselike 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. Those 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 anyone 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--_Longman's_, 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 everyone 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 Richepin, 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 Yeddo. 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 deep 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 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, and 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
archæology 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. 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 realise 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 assafœtida 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 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 trull 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 cranks 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 _ingenue_
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.



XII


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, George Moore,
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 sugar sweet 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 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, as Henry James is refined; 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 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, 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 out and cry
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
place, 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 aimè_,"--these are soul-waking words, these are Shakespearean
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 anyone 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 Gohcourt. 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
vienne 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
"Œdipus" 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 personæ_ 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--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 'Any 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 only
begotten 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. It is as suited to the needs of the
Villa as the baker's loaves and the butcher's rounds of beef. I do not
think that any such miserable 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"--to 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 shoe-strings he is unworthy 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 sandhills 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.
These are 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; 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 the Greek dramatists had
in perfection, which George Eliot had 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 background 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 any 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 aver 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. Ask the same question about Milton, Fielding,
Byron, Carlyle, Thackeray, Zola, Mr Swinburne.

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. 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 prettiness 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, George Moore; 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 æsthetic 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 a foreign, but not wholly unfamiliar
medium, and so, 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.



XIII

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 tempt 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
accompanies 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, she has told me
of the husband whom she was obliged to leave; we have bidden each other
good-night; she has gone up the creaky staircase, and 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, and 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_."

Goncourt's statement is suggestive, and I leave it uncommented on; but I
would put by its side another naked simple truth. That if in England the
public prosecutor does not seek to over-ride 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 and Shelley, 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.

When I read Balzac's stories of Vautrin and Lucien de Rubempré, I often
think of Hadrian and the Antinous. I wonder if Balzac thought 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
the present from the past! I hate with my whole soul this London
lodging, and all that concerns it--Emma, and eggs and bacon, the
lascivious landlady and her lascivious daughter; I am weary 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 leaf, it
will flutter out of sight. I am weary of everything, and wish I were
back in Paris. I am weary of reading, there is nothing to read, Flaubert
bores me. What nonsense has been talked about him! Impersonal! He is the
most personal writer. But his odious pessimism! How weary I am of it, it
never ceases, it is lugged in _à tout propos_, 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 something exquisite and spirituous.

"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 Gothic, 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:--



   I

   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 shouldst 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.)"

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 reason
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.

"Carmen Sylva!" How easy it is to divine the æstheticism of any one
signing, "Carmen Sylva."

In youth the genius of Shelly astonished me; but now I find the
stupidity of the ordinary person infinitely more surprising.

That I may die childless--that when my hour comes I may turn my face to
the wall saying, I have not increased the great evil of human
life--then, though I were murderer, fornicator, thief, and liar, my sins
shall melt even as a cloud. But he who dies with children about him,
though his life were in all else an excellent deed, shall be held
accursed by the truly wise, and the stain upon him shall endure for
ever.

I realize that this is truth, the one truth, and the whole truth; and
yet the vainest woman that ever looked in a glass never regretted her
youth more than I, or felt the disgrace of middle-age more keenly. She
has her portrait painted, I write these confessions; each hopes to save
something of the past, and escape somehow the ravening waves of time and
float into some haven of remembrance. St Augustine's Confessions are the
story of a God-tortured, mine of an art-tortured, soul. Which subject is
the most living? The first! for man is stupid and still loves his
conscience as a child loves a toy. Now the world plays with "Robert
Elsmere." This book seems to me like a suite of spacious, well
distributed, and well proportioned rooms. Looking round, I say, 'tis a
pity these rooms are only in plaster of Paris.

"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
excluded. We might then shut up our Marlowes and our Beaumonts and
resume our reading of the bard, and the witless foists 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;
and for this I am grateful. 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
expressing, 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 rhythmes de calmes palmes
    Et l'air évoque de calmes musiques 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'oubli 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'éphemère idole, au frisson du printemps,
      Sentant des renouveaux éclorent,
    Se guèpa de satins si lointains et d'antan:
      Rose exilé 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 joyeaux, jaunes, incarnadins
      Vibrèrent aux ciels de rêve."

But to the devil with literature! Who cares if Gustave Kahn writes well
or badly? I met a chappie yesterday 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."

Each century has its special ideal, the ideal of the nineteenth is the
young man. The eighteenth 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 archæology chills the fancy;
and this treatment of antiquity is the highest proof of the genius of
the eighteenth 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 hear their light false voices amid the summer of the
leaves, where Loves are garlanded even as 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 foot-stool and the heel and the
calf of the leg that is withdrawn, showing in the shadows of the lace;
see 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 winsome it is to feast on
these sweet lies, it is indeed delight to us, wearied with the bland
sincerity of newspapers. In the eighteenth century 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 circlewise and listen to
him, and when one is fortunate to get him alone she will hang upon 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?



XIV


Now I am full of eager impulses that mourn and howl by turns, striving
for utterance like wind in turret chambers. I hate this infernal
lodging. I feel like a fowl in a coop;--that landlady, those children,
Emma.... The actress will be coming upstairs presently; shall I ask her
into my room? Better let things remain as they are.

_Conscience_.

Why intrude a new vexation on her already vexed life?

_I_.

Hallo, you startled me! Well, I am surprised. We have not talked
together for a long time. Since when?

_Conscience_.

I will spare your feelings. I merely thought I would remind you that you
have passed the rubicon--your thirtieth year.

_I_.

It is terrible to think of. My youth gone!

_Conscience_.

Then you are ashamed--you repent?

_I_.

I am ashamed of nothing--I am a writer; 'tis my profession not to be
ashamed.

_Conscience_.

I had forgotten. So you are lost to shame?

_I_.

Completely. I will chat with you when you please; even now, at this
hour, about all things--about any of my sins.

_Conscience_.

Since we lost sight of each other you have devoted your time to the
gratification of your senses.

_I_.

Pardon me, I have devoted quite as much of my time to art.

_Conscience_.

You were glad, I remember, when your father died, because his death gave
you unlimited facilities for moulding the partial self which the
restraining influence of home had only permitted, into that complete
and ideal George Moore which you had in mind. I think I quote you
correctly.

_I_.

You don't; but never mind. Proceed.

_Conscience_.

Then, if you have no objection, we will examine how far you have turned
your opportunities to account.

_I_.

You will not deny that I have educated myself and made many friends.

_Conscience_.

Friends! your nature is very adaptable--you interest yourself in their
pursuits, and so deceive them into a false estimate of your worth. Your
education--speak not of it; it is but flimsy stuff.

_I_.

There I join issue with you. Have I not drawn the intense ego out of the
clouds of semi-consciousness, and realised it? And surely, the rescue
and the individualisation of the ego is the first step.

_Conscience_,

To what end? You have nothing to teach, nothing to reveal. I have often
thought of asking you this: since death is the only good, why do you not
embrace death? Of all the world's goods it is the cheapest, and the most
easily obtained.

_I_.

We must live since nature has willed it so. My poor conscience, are you
still struggling in the fallacy of free will?

For at least a hundred thousand years man has rendered this planet
abominable and ridiculous with what he is pleased to call his
intelligence, without, however, having learned that his life is merely
the breaking of the peace of unconsciousness, the drowsy uplifting of
tired eyelids of somnolent nature. How glibly this loquacious ape
chatters of his religion and his moral sense, always failing to see that
both are but allurements and inveiglements! With religion he is induced
to bear his misery, and his sexual appetite is preserved, ignorant, and
vigorous, by means of morals. A scorpion, surrounded by a ring of fire,
will sting itself to death, and man would turn upon life and deny it,
if his reason were complete. Religion and morals are the poker and tongs
with which nature intervenes and scatters the ring of reason.

_Conscience_ (after a long pause).

I believe--forgive my ignorance, but I have seen so little of you this
long while--that your boast is that no woman influenced, changed, or
modified your views of life.

_I_.

None; my mind is a blank on the subject. Stay! my mother said once, when
I was a boy, "You must not believe them; all their smiles and pretty
ways are only put on. Women like men only for what they can get out of
them." And to these simple words I attribute all the suspicion of
woman's truth which hung over my youth. For years it seemed to me
impossible that women could love men. Women seemed to me so beautiful
and desirable--men so hideous and revolting. Could they touch us without
revulsion of feeling, could they really desire us? I was absorbed in the
life of woman--the mystery of petticoats, so different from the
staidness of trousers! the rolls of hair entwined with so much art, and
suggesting so much colour and perfume, so different from the bare crop;
the unnaturalness of the waist in stays! plenitude and slenderness of
silk, so different from the stupidity of a black tail-coat; rose feet
passing under the triple ruches of rose, so different from the broad
foot of the male. My love for the life of women was a life within my
life; and oh, how strangely secluded and veiled! A world of calm colour
with phantoms moving, floating past and changing in dim light--an
averted face with abundant hair, the gleam of a perfect bust or the
poise of a neck turning slowly round, the gaze of deep translucid eyes.
I loved women too much to give myself wholly to one.

_Conscience_.

Yes, yes; but what real success have you had with women?

_I_.

Damn it! you would not seek to draw me into long-winded stories about
women--how it began, how it was broken off, how it began again? I'm not
Casenova. I love women as I love champagne--I drink it and enjoy it;
but an exact account of every bottle drunk would prove flat narrative.

_Conscience_.

You have never consulted me about your champagne loves: but you have
asked me if you have ever inspired a real affection, and I told you that
we cannot inspire in others what does not exist in ourselves. You have
never known a nice woman who would have married you?

_I_.

Why should I undertake to keep a woman by me for the entire space of her
life, watching her grow fat, grey, wrinkled, and foolish? Think of the
annoyance of perpetually looking after any one, especially a woman!
Besides, marriage is antagonistic to my ideal. You say that no ideal
illumines the pessimist's life, that if you ask him why he exists, he
cannot answer, and that Schopenhauer's arguments against suicide are not
even plausible causistry. True, on this point his reasoning is feeble
and ineffective. But we may easily confute our sensual opponents. We
must say that we do not commit suicide, although we admit it is a
certain anodyne to the poison of life,--an absolute erasure of the wrong
inflicted on us by our parents,--because we hope by noble example and
precept to induce others to refrain from love. We are the saviours of
souls. Other crimes are finite; love alone is infinite. We punish a man
with death for killing his fellow; but a little reflection should make
the dullest understand that the crime of bringing a being into the world
exceeds by a thousand, a millionfold that of putting one out of it.

Men are to-day as thick as flies in a confectioner's shop; in fifty
years there will be less to eat, but certainly some millions more
mouths. I laugh, I rub my hands! I shall be dead before the red time
comes. I laugh at the religionists who say that God provides for those
He brings into the world. The French Revolution will compare with the
revolution that is to come, that must come, that is inevitable, as a
puddle on the road-side compares with the sea. Men will hang like pears
on every lamp-post, in every great quarter of London, there will be an
electric guillotine that will decapitate the rich like hogs in Chicago.
Christ, who with his white feet trod out the blood of the ancient world,
and promised Universal Peace, shall go out in a cataclysm of blood. The
neck of mankind shall be opened, and blood shall cover the face of the
earth.

_Conscience_.

Your philosophy is on a par with your painting and your poetry; but,
then, I am a conscience, and a conscience is never philosophic--you go
in for "The Philosophy of the Unconscious"?

_I_.

No, no, 'tis but a silly vulgarisation. But Schopenhauer, oh, my
Schopenhauer! Say, shall I go about preaching hatred of women? Were I to
call them a short-legged race that was admitted into society only a
hundred and fifty years ago?

_Conscience_.

You cannot speak the truth even to me; no, not even at half-past twelve
at night.

_I_.

Surely of all hours this is the one in which it is advisable to play you
false?

_Conscience._

You are getting humorous.

_I_.

I am getting sleepy. You are a tiresome old thing, a relic of the
ancient world--I mean the mediæval world. You know that I now affect
antiquity?

_Conscience_.

You wander helplessly in the road of life until you stumble against a
battery; nerved with the shock you are frantic, and rush along wildly
until the current received is exhausted, and you lapse into
disorganisation.

_I_.

If I am sensitive to and absorb the various potentialities of my age, am
I not of necessity a power?

_Conscience_.

To be the receptacle of and the medium through which unexplained forces
work, is a very petty office to fulfil. Can you think of nothing higher?
Can you feel nothing original in you, a something that is cognisant of
the end?

_I_.

You are surely not going to drop into talking to me of God?

_Conscience_.

You will not deny that I at least exist? I am with you now, and
intensely, far more than the dear friend with whom you love to walk in
the quiet evening; the women you have held to your bosom in the perfumed
darkness of the chamber--

_I_.

Pray don't. "The perfumed darkness of the chamber" is very common. I was
suckled on that kind of literature.

_Conscience_.

You are rotten to the root. Nothing but a very severe attack of
indigestion would bring you to your senses--or a long lingering illness.

_I_.

'Pon my faith, you are growing melodramatic. Neither indigestion nor
illness long drawn out can change me. I have torn you all to pieces
long ago, and you have not now sufficient rags on your back to scare
the rooks in seed-time.

_Conscience_.

In destroying me you have destroyed yourself.

_I_.

Edgar Poe, pure and simple. Don't pick holes in my originality until you
have mended those in your own.

_Conscience_.

I was Poe's inspiration; he is eternal, being of me. But your
inspiration springs from the flesh, and is therefore ephemeral even as
the flesh.

_I_.

If you had read Schopenhauer you would know that the flesh is not
ephemeral, but the eternal objectification of the will to live. Siva is
represented, not only with the necklace of skulls, but with the lingam.

_Conscience_.

You have failed in all you have attempted, and the figure you have
raised on your father's tomb is merely a sensitive and sensuous
art-cultured being who lives in a dirty lodging and plays in desperate
desperation his last card. You are now writing a novel. The hero is a
wretched creature, something like yourself. Do you think there is a
public in England for that kind of thing?

_I_.

Just the great Philistine that you always were! What do you mean by a
"public"?

_Conscience_.

I have not a word to say on that account, your one virtue is sobriety.

_I_.

A wretched pun.... The mass of mankind run much after the fashion of the
sheep of Panurge, but there are always a few that--

_Conscience_.

A few that are like the Gadarene swine.

_I_.

Ah,...were I the precipice, were I the sea in which the pigs might
drown!

_Conscience_.

The same old desire of admiration, admiration in its original sense of
wonderment (miratio); you are a true child of the century; you do not
desire admiration, you would avoid it, fearing it might lessen that
sense which you only care to stimulate--wonderment. And persecuted by
the desire to astonish, you are now exhibiting yourself in the most
hideous light you can devise. The man whose biography you are writing is
no better than a pimp.

_I_.

Then he is not like me; I have never been a pimp, and I don't think I
would be if I could.

_Conscience_.

The whole of your moral nature is reflected in Lewis Seymore, even to
the "And I don't think I would be if I could."

_I_.

I love the abnormal, and there is certainly something strangely
grotesque in the life of a pimp. But it is nonsense to suggest that
Lewis Seymore is myself;...you know that my original notion was to do
the side of Lucien de Rubrempré that--

_Conscience_.

That Balzac had the genius to leave out.

_I_.

Really, if you can only make disagreeable remarks, I think we had better
bring this conversation to a close.

_Conscience_.

One word more. You have failed in everything you have attempted, and you
will continue to fail until you consider those moral principles--those
rules of conduct which the race has built up, guided by an unerring
instinct of self-preservation. Humanity defends herself against those
who attempt to subvert her; and none, neither Napoleon nor the wretched
scribbler such as you are, has escaped her vengeance.

_I_.

You would have me pull down the black flag and turn myself into an
honest merchantman, with children in the hold and a wife at the helm.
You would remind me that grey hairs begin to show, that health falls
into rags, that high spirits split like canvas, and that in the end the
bright buccaneer drifts, an old derelict, tossed by the waves of ill
fortune, and buffeted by the winds into those dismal bays and dangerous
offings--housekeepers, nurses, and uncomfortable chambers. Such will be
my fate; and since none may avert his fate, none can do better than to
run pluckily the course which he must pursue.

_Conscience_.

You might devise a moral ending; one that would conciliate all classes.

_I_.

It is easy to see that you are a nineteenth-century conscience.

_Conscience_.

I do not hope to find a Saint Augustine in you.

_I_.

An idea; one of these days I will write my confessions! Again I tell you
that nothing really matters to me but art. And, knowing this, you
chatter of the unwisdom of my not concluding my novel with some foolish
moral.... Nothing matters to me but art.

_Conscience_.

Would you seduce the wretched servant girl if by so doing you could
pluck out the mystery of her being and set it down on paper?



XV


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.[2] Shake not your head, lift
not your finger, exquisitely hypocritical reader; you can deceive me in
nothing. I know the base and unworthy soul. 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[3] 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 worms. 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 be if I did. I know the worth and the
rarity of more than ten 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, the finest friends. 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.[4] 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,[5] 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
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.

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. Some were printed in weekly newspapers, some were returned to me.

There was a publisher in the neighbourhood of the Strand, who used to
frequent a certain bar, and 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 was duped generally. 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 and entertained
the visitors. I did not trouble Messrs Macmillan and Messrs Longman with
polite requests to look at my MS., I straddled, played with the cat,
joked with the Irishman, drank with 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 "know" 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 in; 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 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. One 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. "What an odd-looking fish he is--like a
pike!" said O'Flanagan; "I wonder what his MS. is like." "Very like a
pike," we cried. But O'Flanagan took the MS. home to read, and returned
next morning convinced he had discovered an embryo Dickens. The young
man was asked to call, his book was accepted, and we adjourned to the
bar.

This young man took rooms in the house next to me on the ground floor.
He had been to Oxford, and to Heidelberg, he drank beer and smoked long
pipes, he talked of nothing but tobacco. Soon, very soon, I began to see
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," and in the office which I had marked down
as my own I saw him installed as a genius. He brought a little man about
five feet three to live with him, and when the two, the long and the
short, went out together, it was like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
setting forth in quest of adventures in the land of Strand. The short
man indulged in none of the loud, rasping affectation of humour that was
so maddening in the long; he 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 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."

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 2: The use of the word sinful here seems liable to
misinterpretation. The phrase should run: "Of a virtuous life, for
remember that my virtues are your vices."]

[Footnote 3: This should run: "Forgot your hypocrisy."]

[Footnote 4: Vices, surely? See Footnote 2 above.]

[Footnote 5: Virtue?]



XVI


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 racehorses. 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 from 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 hard-upishness 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. Then 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,
brutal and glaring.

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 "dreadful 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.

"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?" We all want notoriety, our desire for notoriety is ugly,
but it is less hideous when it is proclaimed from a brazen tongue than
when it lisps the cant of humanitarianism. 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 the innermost
stench of the humanitarianism, and Mr Swinburne holds his nose with one
hand while he waves the censer with the other. Men of inferior genius,
Victor Hugo and Mr Gladstone, take refuge in humanitarianism.
Humanitarianism 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; 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 youth who seemed inclined to empty the
mustard-pot down my neck; him I could keep in order, but the beautiful
lord 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. The ladies
retired about then, and the festivities continued. We had passed through
various stages of jubilation, no one was drunk, but 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 wroth, 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 would be nuts and
apples for the journalists.

I did not go to bed at once, but sat in the armchair thinking,
calculating my chances. 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.

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.

The first one said, "it was about one or two in the morning?"

"Later than that, it was about seven."

"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 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." English people, I said, will have nothing to do with serious
duelling. I must telegraph to Marshall. "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; as soon as he is
underground will come." Was there ever such ill-luck?... He won't be
here before the end of the week. These things demand the utmost
promptitude. Three or four days afterwards Emma told me a gentleman was
upstairs taking a bath. "Hollo, Marshall, how are you? Had a good
crossing? 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'ècole_"...

"_Tu crois ça...on fait l'ècole après vingt ans de travail_."

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

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

No sooner had I begun to tell the story than it dawned upon me that it
was impossible to tell it seriously, for it was fundamentally an absurd
story; and I lacked courage to tell Marshall that I only wished to go
through with the duel in order to become notorious. No one will admit
such a thing as that to his friend, and if I had admitted it Marshall
would not have consented. I suddenly began to get interested in other
things. There was Marshall's painting to talk about. After the theatre
we went home and æstheticised till three in the morning. The duel became
the least important event and Marshall's new picture the greatest. At
breakfast next day the duel seemed more tiresome than ever, but the
gentlemen were coming to meet Marshall. He showed his usual tact in
arranging my affair of honour; a letter was drawn up in which my friend
withdrew the blow of his hand, I withdrew the blow of the bottle,
etc.--really now I lack energy to explain it any further.



XVII


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, and my novel seemed an impossible task--defeat
glared at me from every corner of the 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 trudged home to eat a chop. I studied the 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 saw poor Miss L. nightly, on the stairs, and I never wearied of
talking to her of her hopes and ambitions, of the young man she admired,
and she used to ask me about my novel.

When my troubles lay too heavily upon me, I let her go up to her garret
without a word, and remained at the window wondering if I should ever
escape from Cecil Street, if I should ever be a light in that London,
long, low, misshapen, that dark monumented stream flowing through the
lean bridges. What if I were a light in this umber-coloured mass?
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?...



XVIII


"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





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Confessions of a Young Man" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home