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Title: The Decadent - Being the Gospel of Inaction
Author: Cram, Ralph Adams, 1863-1942
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 "The Decadent - Being the Gospel of Inaction" ***

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of the Digital Library@Villanova University





  TIBI · MEO · CARO · B · G · G ·



The 3.20 train from Boston slowed up as it drew into a way station, and
Malcolm McCann, grim and sullen from his weary ride in the dirt and
cinders, the coal-smoke and the foetid air, the fretting babies and hot,
worrying men, that characterise a railway journey in August, hurried out
with a grunt of relief.

It was not a pretty station where he found himself, and he glared
ill-naturedly around with restless, aggressive eyes. The brick walls,
the cheaply grained doors bearing their tarnished legends, "Gents,"
"Ladies," "Refreshment Saloon," the rough raftered roof over the
tracks,--everything was black and grimy with years of smoke, belching
even now from the big locomotive, and gathering like an ill-conditioned
thunder-cloud over the mob of scurrying, pushing men and women, a mob
that swelled and scattered constantly in fretful confusion. A hustling
business-man with a fat, pink face and long sandy whiskers, his silk hat
cocked on one side in grotesque assumption of jauntiness, tripped over
the clay-covered pick of a surly labourer, red of face and sweaty, blue
of overalls and mud-coloured of shirt, and as he stumbled over the
annoying implement scowled coarsely, and swore, with his cigar between
his teeth.

Ragged and grimy children, hardly old enough to walk, sprawled and
scrambled on the dirty platform, and as McCann hurried by, a five-year
old cursed shrilly a still more youthful little tough, who answered in
kind. Vulgar theatre-bills in rank reds and yellows flaunted on the
cindery walls; discarded newspapers, banana-skins, cigar-butts, and
saliva were ground together vilely under foot by the scuffling mob.
Dirt, meanness, ugliness everywhere,--in the unhappy people no less than
in their surroundings.

McCann strode scornfully to the rear of the station and looked vaguely
around to see if Aurelian had sent any kind of a conveyance to take him
to his home,--of the location of which, save that it was to be reached
from this particular station, McCann knew nothing. The prospect was not
much better outside than in. The air was thick with fine white dust, and
dazzling with fierce sunlight. On one side was a wall of brick
tenements, with liquor saloons, cheap groceries, and a fish-market
below, all adding their mite to the virulence of the dead, stifling air.
Above, men in dirty shirt-sleeves lolled out of the grimy windows, where
long festoons of half-washed clothes drooped sordidly. On the other
side, gangs of workmen were hurriedly repairing the ravages of a fire
that evidently had swept clear a large space in its well-meant but
ineffectual attempts at purgation. Gaunt black chimneys wound with
writhing gas-pipes, tottering fragments of wall blistered white on one
side, piles of crumbling bricks where men worked sullenly loading blue
carts, mingled with new work, where the walls, girdled with yellow
scaffolding, were rising higher, uglier, than before; the plain factory
walls with their rows of square windows less hideous by far than those
buildings where some ignorant contractor was trying by the aid of
galvanised iron to produce an effect of tawdry, lying magnificence.
Dump-carts, market-waggons, shabby hacks, crawled or scurried along in
the hot dust. A huge dray loaded with iron bars jolted over the granite
pavement with a clanging, clattering din that was maddening. In fact,
none of the adjuncts of a thriving, progressive town were absent, so far
as one could see.

McCann turned away from this spectacle of humiliating prosperity, and
ran his eyes over the vehicles about the station, searching for some
indication of his friend. He had thought that perhaps Aurelian might
come himself; but he saw no sign of a familiar figure, no indication
even of any conveyance that might belong to Aurelian Blake. The greater
part of the carriages had gone, and now only remained an express-waggon
or two, a decrepit old hack, an old-fashioned chaise, one or two
nondescript country conveyances, and a particularly gorgeous victoria,
drawn by a pair of splendid grey horses, a liveried driver sitting on
the box in Ethiopian state. None of these vehicles could possibly belong
to the fastidious but democratic Aurelian, and McCann almost thought
his telegram must have miscarried.

A black footman in fawn-coloured livery, wearing a small cockade of
scarlet and silver, touched his hat to the sulky traveller.

"Beg yo pahdon, suh, but ah yo Mistuh McCann, Mistuh Malcolm McCann, of
Boston, suh?"

"That is my name," said McCann, shortly.

"I have the honnoh to be Mistuh Blake's footman, suh," and he touched
the cockade in his hat again. "Will yo have the kindness to follow me,

There was a touch of servile imperiousness in the voice, and McCann
followed in bewildered surprise. "Aurelian Blake's footman"--that did
not sound well. Could his pupil have become a backslider in the last two
years? "Aurelian Blake's footman"--the idea was surprising in itself;
but the fact of the big victoria with its luxurious trappings where he
soon found himself being whirled swiftly on through the screaming,
clattering city was more surprising still, and not a little disquieting.

The carriage threaded its way through the roaring crowd of vehicles,
passing the business part of the city, and entering a tract given over
to factories, hideous blocks of barren brick and shabby clapboards,
through the open windows of which came the brain-killing whir of heavy
machinery, and hot puffs of oily air. Here and there would be small
areas between the buildings where foul streams of waste from some
factory of cheap calico would mingle dirtily with pools of green,
stagnant water, the edges barred with stripes of horrible pinks and
purples where the water had dried under the fierce sun. All around lay
piles of refuse,--iron hoops, broken bottles, barrels, cans, old leather
stewing and fuming in the dead heat, and everywhere escape-pipes
vomiting steam in spurts. Over it all was the roar of industrial
civilisation. McCann cast a pitying look at the pale, dispirited figures
passing languidly to and fro in the midst of the din and the foul air,
and set his teeth closely.

Presently they entered that part of the city where live the poor, they
who work in the mills, when they are not on strike, or the mills are not
shut down,--as barren of trees or grass as the centre of the city, the
baked grey earth trodden hard between the crowded tenements painted
lifeless greys, as dead in colour as the clay about them. Children and
goats crawled starvedly around or huddled in the hot shadow of the sides
of the houses. This passed, and then came the circle of "suburban
residences," as crowded almost as the tottering tenements, but with
green grass around them. Frightful spectacles these,--"Queen Anne" and
colonial vagaries painted lurid colours, and frantic in their cheap
elaboration. Between two affected little cottages painted orange and
green and with round towers on their corners, stood a new six-story
apartment-house with vulgar front of brown stone, "Romanesque" in style,
but with long flat sides of cheap brick. McCann caught the name on the
big white board that announced "Suites to let," "Hotel Plantagenet," and
grinned savagely.

Then, at last, even this region of speculative horrors came to an end,
giving place to a wide country road that grew more and more beautiful as
they left the town far behind. McCann's eyebrows were knotted in a
scowl. The ghastly nonsense, like a horrible practical joke, that the
city had been to him, excited, as it always did, all the antagonism
within his rebellious nature. Slowly and grimly he said to himself, yet
half aloud, in a tone of deliberation, as though he were cursing
solemnly the town he had left: "I hope from my soul that I may live to
see the day when that damned city will be a desolate wilderness; when
those chimneys shall rise smokeless; when those streets shall be stony
valleys between grisly ridges of fallen brick; when Nature itself shall
shrink from repairing the evil that man has wrought; when the wild birds
shall sweep widely around that desolation that they may not pass above;
when only rats and small snakes shall crawl through the ruin of that
'thriving commercial and manufacturing metropolis;' when the very name
it bore in the days of its dirty glory shall have become a synonym for
horror and despair!" Having thus relieved himself he laughed softly, and
felt better.

Presently a flash of recollection passed over his face, and he eagerly
dropped his hand into a side pocket, pulling therefrom a brierwood pipe,
discovered with a sigh of satisfaction that a sweet heel of "Dills
Best" still lurked in the bottom of the bowl, and, regardless of the
amazement of the immaculate footman, lighted it, and sank back in the
cushions, well content. As he smoked, his thoughts went back to Aurelian
with some uneasiness. "I am afraid he is a backslider," he mused
seriously. "Now, when I went over to England a couple of years ago, he
was a good socialist, the best pupil I ever had. He would rail at the
world in good set terms, better than I myself. And now he runs a trap
like this, with a coon slave for a driver and a footman beside him. Now,
I _can't_ lose a man like that; he was a born leader of men, when
leaders are what we lack. Besides, he had a lot of money, and we need
money as badly as we need leaders. I must get him back some way, if gone
he is; and I very much expect bad news from the boy when I get to--Now,
what did he call his place?" he pulled a letter from his pocket, shaking
tobacco ashes out of its folds. "Oh, yes, 'Vita Nuova.' Now, why the
devil did he name his place that?"

The stubby pipe sucked and sputtered, and McCann knocked the ashes into
the road. They had driven already nearly an hour, and he was growing
impatient; "how much farther had they to go?" He asked the coachman, who
only replied, "Just a fractional bit further, suh," which was
indefinite. They left the highway and struck into a hilly road where the
hedgerows grew thick on either side, with rough pastures beyond, on the
one hand, and on the other thick and ancient pine forests, where the
low sunlight struck under the sighing branches and rested on mossy
boulders and level patches of golden ferns. Now and then a grey
farmhouse appeared in its orchard, and once they passed a dingy white
meeting-house, with pointed wooden spikes on the four corners of its
belfry, its green blinds faded a sickly yellow. Just beyond they met the
country milk-team with its cantering horses and clattering cans, the
driver nodding on his seat, with a watchful collie beside him. Then the
pastures on the right ended, and they plunged into deep forests, black,
almost lightless, where the road wound like the bed of a dry torrent in
a vast green cañon. The carriage climbed steeply up the rocky road, with
no sound around but the rattle of pebbles under the feet of the horses,
and the melancholy calling of the wood thrushes. On the crown of the
hill heavy wrought-iron gates closed their passage, gates that swung
back slowly as the footman whistled twice. They passed through, turned
sharply to the left, and in a flash were out of the forest.

Malcolm McCann had not a very keen sense of beauty, but even to him the
vision that lay before him startled him into sudden enthusiasm. They
were riding along the comb of a ridge of high hills thick with ink-black
pine forests to the left, while to the right they swept down in gracious
undulations into a basin-shaped valley, the level floor of which was, it
may be, something over a thousand acres in extent, shaped like an
elongated ellipse, with lofty hills rising on all sides.

The sun dropped down and lay on the edge of the world; from the farther
side of the valley it poured a suave, golden glory of molten light down
over the purple, serrated hills, that lay in the valley like amber wine.
Smooth fields of ripening grain and velvet meadow-land chequered the
valley irregularly, slim elms and dark, heavy oaks rising among them. In
the midst, curling like level smoke, wound a narrow river with black
poplars and golden chestnut-trees leaning above. In all the valley was
no sign of a dwelling save far away at the distant end, where from the
midst of thick foliage rose dark roofs and towers and chimneys, as of
some château on the Loire.

McCann caught his breath. "Is that the place?" he said quickly.

"Suh, that is Vita Nuova," answered the footman.


"This," said Eveleth, languidly, turning his head in the valley of
silken pillows until he could see the long figure of Aurelian drooping
in the Mexican hammock across the big room through the dim strata of
blue smoke that, in the silence, lay almost motionless, swirled now and
then into subtle curlings and windings as some drowsy smoker breathed
more white vapour into the slowly moving and rising tide,--"This is the
peace of the land of Proserpina, the faultless content of perfect
possession. Philistinism is not without honour, for behold! it has
conceived and brought forth--the Decadence."

            "_Non sentir m'e gran ventura
    Porò non mi distar: deh! parla basso!_"

said Aurelian, softly. "It is only a dream after all, even a dream of
the land of endless afternoon. There is lotos mingled with the tobacco,
but we wake easily."

A deeper voice came from a motionless figure prone on a tiger skin
before the crumbling fire. "Opium and Burgundy are not faultless
substitutes for the true lotos after all, but--they do very well--for
the time."

Murmurs of inarticulate assent rose and faded in the opium-heavy air,
and then the smoke grew still again. Now and then a bit of wood fell in
the fireplace. Aurelian's narghileh gurgled and sighed in slow cadence.
These things were only a modulation of the silence.

The room was vast and dim, seemingly without bounds, save on that side
where the violet flames of a drift-wood fire flickered quiveringly,
making a centre, a concentration of dull light; for the rest, a
mysterious wilderness of rugs and divans, Indian chairs and hammocks,
where silent figures lay darkly, each a primal cause of one of the many
thin streams of smoke that curled heavily upward;--smoke from strange
and curious pipes from Lahore and Gualior; small sensitive pipes from
Japan; here and there the short thick stems of opium-pipes, and by the
motionless Mexican hammock a splendid and wonderful hookah with writhing
stem. As the thin flames of the dying fire flashed into some sudden
brightness, they revealed details unseen in the general gloom,--a vast
and precious missal gorgeous with scarlet and gold and purple
illumination, open, on a carved oak lectern, spoil of some Spanish
monastery; the golden gloom of a Giovanni Bellini reft from its home in
Venice, and as yet unransomed; the glint of twisted and gilded glass in
an ebony cabinet; great folios and quartos in ancient bindings of vellum
and ivory and old calf-skin, heavily tooled with gold, and with silver
and jewelled medallions and clasps, stacked in heaps in careless
indifference; the flash and sparkle of a cabinet of gems, the red
splendour of old lacquer; the green mystery of wrought jade. And
everywhere a heavy atmosphere that lay on the chest like a strange yet
desirable dream; the warm, sick odour of tobacco and opium, striving
with the perfume of sandal-wood, and of roses that drooped and fluttered
in pieces in the hot air.

Around a brazier of green bronze, on the floor, before the fire, lay the
three men who were gently breathing in the bland opium, their dark
figures radiating from the queer brazier wrought of two ugly dragons
chasing each other around a great globe of Japanese chrystal, the
firelight gleaming on the tall glasses of champagne where the little
column of gold bubbles rose steadily. The fire fell together, and a
leaping flame cast a fitful light on heavy tapestry curtains wrought
with the story of the loves of Cupid and Psyche. Its two halves parted
slowly, and a flush of red light fell through as, in the midst, appeared
a dark figure with closed eyes, swaying softly as it leaned forward,
and, while the curtains closed, fell with a long sweep gently toward the
brazier,--not as men fall, but as a snake with its head lifted high
might advance slidingly, and as it came, droop lower and lower until it
rested prone on the uncrushed flowers. So Enderby, heavy with the suave
sleep of haschish, came among the smokers and dropped motionless in the
midst of the cushions. The movement set a tall glass quivering until it
fell to one side, and the yellow wine sank slowly into the silky fur of
a leopard skin.

Aurelian lifted his hand to a gold cord that hung over the hammock.
Presently a slim girl with flesh like firelight on ivory, clad in
translucent silk of a dusky purple that made no sound as she came,
appeared in the darkness of the farther doorway. She came to the hammock
where Aurelian was lying.

"Will the honourable master be served with the august saké?" she asked
with a voice that was like the fluttering of cherry blossoms in

"No, O Shiratsuyu," said Aurelian, drawing the slim figure toward him,
kissing the scarlet mouth that drooped above as he lay full length,
looking sleepily upward. "No, O Shiratsuyu, but fill the glasses of the
honourable guests with the wine, there on the table."

The girl glided among the drowsy figures, filling the glasses. As she
knelt by the brazier to lift the overturned glass, her slim fingers
lingered; a head turned sleepily, and, as the lips fell on the little
hand, kissed it softly.

At a movement of Aurelian's eyes the girl vanished.

Eveleth half rose to look after her with delight. "Where did you find
that bauble, Aurelian?" he said.

Aurelian neither moved nor opened his eyes as he replied, "In Kioto."

"She is more precious than your Delhi topaz."

"She cost me more."

"What is she called?"

"The Honourable White Dew."

"I have never seen her before."

"Nor any other than myself."

"I think she is a dream."

"No, only part of a dream."

"How long will the dream last?"

"Until dawn."

"What is the dawn?"


The word roused ungracious thoughts in Eveleth, and he turned his face
to the wall, falling into a half dream. When next he looked toward his
host it was at the instigation of low voices. A servant was standing by
the hammock,--not the mysterious Japanese girl, but a black boy in a red
fez. Aurelian looked toward Eveleth sleepily.

"One is without and craves entrance," said he. "What shall I say to him?
He has come as my guest; shall I receive him here?"

"Is he an 'Elect'?"

"No, he is not an 'Elect.'"

"A Philistine then."

"Neither a Philistine, wholly."

"What then?"

"A product of Philistinism, an Agitator."

Eveleth looked vaguely around over the silent room,--at Wentworth,
throned in a stately chair of mahogany and brass that had belonged to
the great Napoleon, still crowned with the garland of gold bay leaves he
had placed on his head after dinner, half in defiance, half in jest, now
sleeping, his chibouk lying between his knees; at the abandoned figures
motionless about the bronze brazier; at Aurelian, clothed gloriously in
a sleeveless gaberdine of blood-red silk over a white crêpe kimono heavy
with embroidery; at his own figure half wrapped in a big mantle of
rose-coloured damask. And everywhere the stillness of Oriental sleep. As
he looked he said dubiously, "An agitator? Do you think an agitator
would do--here? Isn't there rather too much to agitate?"

"Yes, and for that reason I will let him come; as it is, this is almost
stagnation. He will amuse me, I feel,--I feel, that in a little while,
I--might be bored."

Eveleth sank back resignedly and not without curiosity. Aurelian nodded,
and the servant glided away.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Hello, Aurelian!"

The words were like a stone dashed in the midst of a pool of brown
water, still, under willows. Wentworth, looking like a Napoleonic
_revenant_, shivered into wakefulness; Eveleth sat bolt upright with a
start; even the opium-smokers, all but Enderby, turned their heavy
heads, wakened from mysterious dreams.

The new-comer stopped in the door and stared,--stared mightily. He
coughed and blinked in the smoky air. It was the clash of East and West,
of a fictitious, exotic East, of a commonplace, hard-headed, practical

"Where are you?" McCann cried loudly, making his way through the
twilight toward the sound of Aurelian's voice.

"I'm glad to see you at last," he said doubtfully, "but I'm not quite
used to this sort of thing, you know; I feel as though I had drank too
much." His eyes fell on the confused heap of drowsy humanity around the
brazier. "Aurelian," he said sternly, "is this a 'joint' I have happened

"It is my house," said Aurelian, in his gentle voice, "wherein I have
the honour to count you for the moment a guest."

"I beg pardon," grimly; "but as I said, you must remember I am not
familiar with this sort of thing. I think I had better wait until you
are less busily engaged."

"My dear fellow, I am never busily engaged, and I am never more idle
than now. You will stay, of course. Will you smoke?--I mean tobacco. I
think you smoke narghilehs; shall Murad come and light you one?"

"Thanks, by your leave I will smoke my own," and McCann pulled out his
brier bull-dog, filled it from his own pouch, and sat down
constrainedly, his eyes fixed on the four men in their motley costumes,
strewn on the floor.

At once Aurelian began to talk to him frankly and freely, as though
nothing had changed since last master and pupil had spoken together,
questioning him of his adventures in England and Germany while on his
mission among the socialist leaders. McCann noted with surprise and with
a feeling almost of reassurance that no detail of recent sociological
events had escaped Aurelian; that he listened with equal interest to all
that he told him; that he showed keen satisfaction at the outcome of two
or three recent strikes in which the strikers had been victorious. But
all the time the agitator's eyes were wandering over the dimly visible
details of the strange treasure-house where he found himself. He looked
on it all with growing resentment; it was hardly to be called
socialistic, and there seemed to be a lack of harmony between these
luxurious surroundings and the words that Aurelian was saying. There was
something awfully wrong; but he shrunk from knowing what he feared to be
the worst.

After the first convulsion which his entrance had caused, the different
men had all fallen back languidly in their places; but now Wentworth
lifted himself lazily and came down toward Aurelian and the agitator.
"Well, _citoyen_," he said, nothing abashed by his fantastic garb, which
was far enough from being the same in which he generally met McCann,
"Well, _citoyen_, you come as a visitant from another world, like the
black steamers that crawl into the balmy vision known to the children of
men as Venice,--in it, not of it. Can you bring a tale of the things
without? Is there anything worthy of note in Philistia? How fare our
friends the republics of the world, there in the outer darkness?"

"Oh," said McCann, with indifference, "there is another revolution on
down in Guatemala, and one expected daily in Brazil, and one in the
French Republic--"

"And the smoke not yet cleared away from the last revolution in Brazil,
nor yet from the last in Chile, nor yet from the last in Honduras; wars
in half the republics in South and Central America, rumours of wars in
Mexico and all the rest; the French Republic counting the days that
already are numbered by its dupes at length undeceived,--I know the
whole grotesque story, and yet people talk about popular sovereignty and
republics. And you yourselves, McCann, _bon citoyen_, you agitators and
socialists, hug to yourselves the vain phantom of popular government.
You ought to know better, for you know something of sociology if you
_are_ sweetly ignorant on politics. What was that Balzac said, Aurelian?
Tell me."

"About popular government, you mean?"


"Why, he called it the only government that is irresponsible and whose
tyranny will be unchecked because exercised under the name of law."

"Ah, this is it! Isn't that exact? '_A bas la République_,' the King
shall come to his own again!" and he sung the words gaily to a fragment
of an old Jacobite air. "Don't interrupt me, Aurelian, the spirit is on
me and I must confound this blind leader." His tone changed and he put
his hand on McCann's shoulder. "Malcolm, you know as we all know here
that the present condition of this happy world is very like the Puritan
idea of hell. You know, also, that the preserving factor, if not the
original cause of this pleasant state of affairs, is the modern theory
of economics and its resulting industrial and commercial systems. Now,
what do you propose to substitute in place of this gigantic abortion,
this debauching incubus?"

"State Socialism."

"Exactly! Out of your own mouth have you condemned yourself. Man, man!
what would your State Socialism be in the hands of such a State as we
have now? In Chile? In Mexico? In any ring-ruled mob-ruled State in this
unhealthy republic? Why, simply the biggest and most wholesale 'job,'
the most arrant corruption, the most awful and omnipotent succubus that
ever waxed fat on the blood of a dying nation. Malcolm, you and your ilk
have made a dreary mistake; you think only of industrial reforms, while
to make these of effect you must first have a political reform which
will be in itself a revolution. Destroy the present system, build up an
honourable State, and then it will be time to talk of State Socialism."

McCann had chafed furiously under this tirade, and as Wentworth threw
himself down in a low chair, lighting his Dimitrino cigarette at the
flames of the brazier, he burst out violently: "You are all wrong, you
don't know what you are talking about when you say we don't want a
political reform! We do, a radical reform."

Wentworth's eyes gleamed amusedly through the rings of white smoke as he
said quietly, "How?"

"I would destroy the whole system of party and ring rule."

Wentworth smiled disdainfully. "My dear Malcolm," he said, blowing an
ash from his cigarette, "I spare you the humiliation of trying to tell
me how. Do you not realise that party and ring rule are the necessary
results of three of your dearest idols?--idols that you would defend, I
believe, with your life. They are these: Manhood suffrage, rotation in
office, and representative government. Until you are content to destroy
these in your political revolution your attempts to abolish ring and
partisan rule will fail."

"They will not fail, for we shall abolish those abuses through making
the control of the people over their representatives more absolute and

"The exact contrary of the result you hope for would follow from the
course you suggest. I can't convince you of that now; grant the truth of
your position for a moment, what would follow? You would simply
substitute for the repulsive rule of the 'bosses' a dreary and fleeting
government of emancipated slaves. We have seen the result of that in the
South, where we made fatal error in giving the black slaves a measure of
political power. You would do the same by giving the white slaves _all_
political power. I say, emancipate them,--and govern them."

"By whom?"

"Their King and their peers."

"Where will you find them in this country?"

"Choose them."

"By whom?"

"The people."

"Aha! Then you lose your point."

"By no means, for the franchise should be a privilege, not a right, and
while the people should choose, only their leaders should govern."

"You are a monarchist!"


"Then you are a reactionist, an aristocrat; no socialist!"

"I am a monarchist and a vehement socialist."

"That is a paradox."

"So are most final truths, since a paradox is only a concise statement
of the colour on each side of the shield; you remember the fable?"

"Then you mean to say that socialism and monarchism do not negative each

"No more than the silver of one side of the shield negatives the gold of
the other."

"You are a vain theorist!"

"It is you who are a vain theorist; my position is based on history. I
know the record of the attempts to put the visionary theory of popular
government into practice."

"We have never had a true popular government yet."

"I agree with you; but we have had true princes."


For answer Wentworth turned his head a little and raised his eyes toward
a great picture hanging in the shadow. McCann followed his glance, and
found himself looking at the sad face with the mournful eyes of
Vandyke's portrait of King Charles I. of England. Curtains of old
purple velvet wrought with Bourbon lilies of tarnished gold hung on
either side, and from their midst the King seemed looking on them as in
a vision. The picture annoyed McCann; it was the presentment of a King,
a tyrant; he scowled at it ill-naturedly.

"You keep that there because it is a good picture, I suppose," he said,
turning to Aurelian, who had been listening silently.

"Because it is a copy of a good picture of a glorious King," replied

"A good _King_!"

"A glorious King and most noble man."

"You talk like a Jacobite."

"I _am_ a Jacobite."

McCann took his pipe out of his mouth. "What do you talk like that for?
You used to be a socialist."

"I am still a socialist."

"Are you bedevilled with Wentworth's theory that a man can be both a
socialist and a royalist?"


"How do you justify such nonsense?"

"By regarding both sides of the shield."

"I deny that socialism is one side of a shield, the other side of which
is monarchism."

"Then you should study history more carefully," interrupted Wentworth.

"Will history prove to me that monarchism is not and has not been from
the first the bitter enemy of the people?" cried the agitator,
derisively, flashing his eyes savagely on the languid Wentworth.

"That is exactly what it will prove," returned his tormentor, sweetly.

"Well, I have studied history for twenty years, and it has taught me
exactly the reverse."

"_Histories_, you mean; but you must remember that there is very little
history in histories."

McCann gasped in impotent rage, but Aurelian interposed with his low
voice. "You will reach nothing by such argument, my children. You are
both visionaries,--you, Malcolm, who dream of ideal, impossible
republics surrounded by the tottering ruins of your fantastic fabrics,
builded on the shifting sand of popular fancies; you, Strafford
Wentworth, dear dupe of futile hopes, vainly watching for the King to
come to his own again. Dreamers both of you! I alone am the practical
man; I wait for that which the gods may give. In the mean time I stand
with the 'divine Plato,' aside, under the wall, while the storm of dust
goes by. Forsake your forlorn hope, Malcolm; stand to one side with me,
and wait. And in the mean time"--he lifted a strange Japanese viol--"in
the mean time, sing, and forget the imminent night. Malcolm, there is
beauty still left, and a little art; it will last us through the

"Art will not quiet my conscience, nor blind my eyes to the sight of
rotting slaves and foul fat drivers."

"You take things too seriously!" cried Wentworth, biting the heavy
leaves one by one from a drooping rose. "It is like putting new wine
into old bottles to try to pour seriousness into this decrepit and
degenerate age."

McCann laughed aloud. "I accept the omen; for the bottles, if I remember
aright, were burst!"

"And you will spill your wine."

"The type of blood; and the blood of martyrs is the seed of the new

"But why not take new bottles and save your precious wine?"

"We have none, and the old are at hand."

"They are rotting fast."

"The world cannot wait,--mothers and children starve every day."

"If you die for them it is only a life for a life, and the guilty

"Some will go down with us to hades!"

Aurelian laughed softly, and rambled vaguely on over the strings of his
samosen, making strange music. "Now we will quarrel no more, for we are
where we began. Malcolm, if you must go to your death, _Vale_, I will
offer a kid and honey on the altar of Mnemosyne. Go your ways, and leave
me to mine; I am aweary of this servile and perishing world, rheumy and
gibbering. Here I have my books of the Elect, my fading pictures, my
treasures of dead civilisation. This is my monastery, like those of the
old Faith that, during the night that came down on the world after the
ruin of Rome, treasured as in an ark the seeds of the new life. Here I
can gather my Children of Light and bar my doors against the Philistines
without, among whom, dear Malcolm, force me not yet to number you. Be
lenient with me, accept my hospitality; it will strengthen you for your
fight with the windmill that forces the wind of God to grind men and
women like grain. In the mean time, it is still the youth of the night,
so I will give you more wine--or your favourite beer if you like; I have
some good Bavarian. Those four decadents and the poor agnostic there on
the floor are happy. I never take the black smoke myself, nor any of
you: wise, all of you, but God forbid that I should refuse any guest of
mine aught! They, sleeping in opium-dreams, have chosen their way. We
will choose another for ourselves."


The night had grown old unnoticed, and now in the first dim twilight of
coming dawn Aurelian and McCann were sitting on the wide terrace that
stretched along the south side of the great house, smoking lazily and
drinking the fine rare wines that Aurelian treasured as he treasured his
precious books. Not far away the nightingales were singing in the thick
wood; other sound there was none save the sweet rustle and stir of the
awakening trees under the first thin wind of morning.

At first McCann had raged inwardly at everything,--at the crowded
treasures of art that filled the castle-like house, at the dominant
luxury, at the opium, the wine, at all the unfamiliar splendour that
surrounded Aurelian. He sat now listening unappreciatively to Aurelian's
quiet voice discoursing lovingly of the Romanée Conti, which he himself
could not have told from Mâcon. "There are not two dozen of this vintage
in America outside of my own cellars," Aurelian had said, and the poor
agitator heard him miserably. He did remember, indeed, when a slim glass
of amber Madeira was placed on the Indian table by his side and its name
given him, that some one had once told him that Constitution Madeira was
last quoted in New York at seventy dollars a bottle, and so he drank his
glass with a kind of distant wonder, but without pleasure; he thought it
musty, he would have chosen Bass. Yet, even as he lay in the long Indian
chair, the subtle influence of Aurelian's Lattakhia and of his ancient
wine worked slowly in his system, and already he began to think with
something approaching tolerance of his pupil's apostasy. He lay full
length looking out over the carved balustrade through the silvery
jasmine flowers amid their black leaves, to where the sky of blazing
stars, already paling before the advancing day, ceased at the edge of
the dark hills; and as he lay thus dreamily, he even wondered if he had
realised all that there was in life, in his career of feverish action.

Aurelian tossed the glowing end of his cigarette out through the jasmine
leaves, watching it fall like a scarlet star. "Do you not see how it
is?" he said; "I know to the full the grotesque hideousness of life as
it is, and I long for revolution. But I have seen every man who is fired
with desire to bring the change yield to the baleful influence of that
which he would destroy until he has come to see no ideals save those of
materialism. His ideal of life is a socialistic ideal of a dead, gross,
physical ease and level uniformity; his ideal of government a democracy;
his ideal of industry State factories with gigantic steam-engines,--his
whole system but the present system with all its false ideals, deprived
of its individualism. I have lived beyond this, I can see the futility
of all these things. I believe only in art as the object of
production,--art which shall glorify that which we eat, that wherewith
we clothe ourselves, those things whereby we are sheltered; art which
shall be this and more,--the ultimate expression of all that is
spiritual, religious, and divine in the soul of man. I hate material
prosperity, I refuse to justify machinery, I cannot pardon public
opinion. I desire only absolute individuality and the triumph of
idealism. I detest the republic, and long for the monarchy again."

"Aurelian," said McCann, "will you tell me straight what you mean when
you say that, yet claim to be a socialist? I asked you once before that
empty-headed Rip Van Winkle called Strafford Wentworth in the other
room, and you made an evasive answer. Now, tell me, how do you reconcile
the two?"

"Because I believe that political socialism will destroy society and
clear the ground for a new life; because it will annihilate the
Republic, and make monarchial government possible."

"It will destroy neither, but reform them both."

"It cannot reform either, for the principles of each are false."

"What do you fancy those principles to be?"

"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."

"Do you dare to call those principles false?"

"Liberty and equality false, fraternity impossible so long as the first
two pretend to exist."

McCann sat bolt upright. "Look here, Aurelian," he said seriously, "I
can't talk in this way, I am not that kind of man. What has come over
you? I left you a socialist, and I come back and find you an unreasoning
royalist, incapable of talking sense, putting your defenceless fancies
into the armour of paradox. What in the name of common-sense do you mean
by it?"

Aurelian turned his handsome head and looked at the red-bearded
agitator. "Malcolm," he said gently, "as you would say, we had best have
it out. I have changed, but not exactly in the way you think. As I say,
I am a socialist but also a royalist, as well as many other things you
would think equally bad. I have done a good deal of reading of late, a
good deal of thinking; so I have grown,--more than you, for you have
only acted. And just that, if you don't mind my saying so, is precisely
the trouble with most socialists. Look, this is the situation,"--he sat
up with almost animation in his face. "The world is in a bad way, never
worse; you taught me that, and the more I study life the more convinced
I am of its eternal truth. Reform must come if we are to save this
decrepit world from a vain repetition of history; that of course follows
from the other assumption. Thus far we walk together; but then arises
the question of means, and here we part, for you say reform may be won
by agitation, I say man is helpless at the present juncture and can only

"Men have not waited before; they have acted and have won."

"Yes, for it was dawn and not the eleventh hour."

"What do you make of the French Revolution?"

"A reform undertaken at the eleventh hour, and therefore merging within
three years into hideous deformity,--a reform that failed."

"You dare to say that it failed when it destroyed feudalism and the
rotten monarchial system?"

"Yes, for in their places it made possible capitalism and the French
Republic. Should your agitation succeed it would result in the French
Revolution over again, together with all its corollaries,--anarchy,
kakistocracy, a glorious tyranny on a false foundation, kakistocracy
again, and chaos: a counter revolution, again a kakistocracy, and
finally impotence, false and evil as the destroyed feudalism."

"You are the worst pessimist I ever saw!"

"Of course, for I am an optimist; and one can't be an optimist touching
the future without being a pessimist touching the present."

"But how can you be an optimist with regard to the future when you
condemn not only the present but every effort toward rebellion and

"Because you are trying to turn back a tide that is almost at its full.
Have patience, and the ebb will come."

A great Persian greyhound, with white silky hair, paced solemnly down
the terrace and dropped its head on its master's knees, gazing at him
with soft eyes. Aurelian stroked its nose gently.

"Malcolm," he said, "if you persist you will fail, either broken by the
power you attack or through creating a condition more evil, more
intolerable still. There is a depth of fall below the point the
nineteenth century has now reached, and until that destiny is
accomplished, you are helpless."

"You break my heart, Aurelian," said McCann, sadly. "When I went away
you promised to fight with me in the battle for reform. I thought you
understood me, followed me. And now--you lapse into awful luxury and
vice,--opium and things. This is pretty bad, you force me to call you a
recreant; here on the very eve of battle you forsake the cause, you go
over to the enemy; and worse, you are a traitor, for you debauch my
men,--you have North now in there drugged with opium. Last of all, you
try to tempt me, you urge me to give up the fight; but I am not a

"Malcolm, dear boy, I don't deserve quite all of that," said Aurelian,
gently. "Yes, I have deserted as you say, for I see more clearly than
you; the battle is already lost even before it is fought. I thought once
when you filled me with ardour of war that we could win. I see further
now. Dear Malcolm, you are waging war against the gods; you have
mistaken the light that is on the horizon; you have waked from sleep,
but the flush of light that is in your eyes is not the dawn,--it is
sunset. You taught me that we lived in another Renaissance; I know it
now to be another decadence, inevitable, implacable."

"You are wrong; the decadents have bedevilled you; they are but the
froth of the wave that has broken on the shore: the wave of the New Life
follows behind to sweep them into nothingness. Leave the simile: grant
for the moment that you are right: are you a coward to forsake a good
cause that may fail? Have you forgotten John Ball?"

"No, I have not forgotten John Ball, but I am not made of the stuff of
martyrs. Malcolm, I love life and love, and the beautiful things still
saved from the wreck of worlds. You would make me--an artist--forsake
it all, and go shoulder a rifle, or carry a red flag. I have a life
given me, let me live. I am not a fighter, let me be; let me live here
in this happy oasis in the desert of men. I can't help you, I can only
lay down my life on a barricade."

"That is brute selfishness!"

"No, it is reason. I know myself: I am of no use to you; I thought I
might be once, and I tried. Everything sickens me,--every detail of the
life that is now, the stock exchange and newspapers, alleged art and
trade, and the whole false principle that is under it all. I can't fight
them, the contest sickens me. It is all wrong, the principle of your
reform; you are wrong yourself. I can't have hope, and if I can't have
hope I can't fight. How can I fight for a reform that, if it were
carried, would only take the power out of the hands of a sordid gang of
capitalists and throw it into the hands of a sordid gang of emancipated
slaves? Life would be as hideous under their _régime_ as now. You would
change the ownership of cities, but you would not destroy them. You
would change the control of machinery, but you would not destroy it. You
would, in a word, glorify the machine, magnify the details, ignore the
soul of it all,--and the result? Stagnation. I have read your
Utopias,--they are hopelessly Philistine; their remedies are stimulants
that leave the disease untouched. Malcolm, you will fail, for you do not
see far enough. 'Ill would change be at whiles, were it not for the
change beyond the change.' They are the words of your own prophet; you
will, if you succeed, bring in the change, and it will be ill indeed. I
wait for 'the change beyond the change.'"

"I deny that the change that we shall bring will be ill; it will be the
next step beyond where we are now. There is no turning back: the law of
evolution drives us onward always; each new position won is nobler than
the last."

"Ah, that 'law of evolution'--I knew you would quote it to me sooner or
later. You hug the pleasant and cheerful theory to your hearts, and
twist history to fit its fancied laws. You cannot see that the law of
evolution works by a system of waves advancing and retreating; yet as
you say the tide goes forward always. Civilisations have risen and
fallen in the past as ours has risen and is falling now. Does not
history repeat itself? Can you not see that this is one of the periods
of decadence that alternate inevitably with the periods of advance? The

    'W_as once too at the full, and round earth's shore_
    L_ay like the folds of a bright girdle furled;_
    B_ut now I only hear_
    I_ts melancholy, long-withdrawing roar_
    R_etreating to the breath_
    O_f the night-wind, down the vast edges drear_
    A_nd naked shingles of the world._'

"Yes, it is the decadence, the Roman decadence over again. Were Lucian
to come among us now he would be quite at ease--no, not that, for in one
thing we are utterly changed; so sordid is our decadence, so gross, so
contemptibly material, that we are denied the consolations of art
vouchsafed to his own land. Even in the days of her death Rome could
boast the splendour of a luxuriant literature, the glory of beauty of
environment, the supremacy of an art-appreciation that blinded men's
eyes to the shadow of the end. But for us, in the meanness of our fall,
we have no rags of art wherewith to cover our nakedness. Wagner is dead,
and Turner and Rossetti; Burne-Jones and Watts will go soon, and Pater
will follow Newman and Arnold. The night is at hand."

He lifted a small hammer and struck a velvet-voiced bell that stood on
the Arabian table of cedar inlaid with nacre and ivory. Murad came out
of the darkness, and at a gesture from Aurelian filled the great hookah
of jade and amber with the tobacco mingled with honey and opium and
cinnamon, placed a bright coal in the cup, and gave the curling stem
wound with gold thread to his master.

Malcolm watched it all as in a midsummer dream; for once he was
succumbing to the subtle influences that were seducing his yielding
senses. He could not reply to Aurelian, he lacked now even the desire.
The slow and musical voice, so delicately cadenced, had grown infinitely
pleasing to his unfamiliar ears, strangely fascinating in its mellow
charm. Wondering, he found himself yielding to it,--at first defiantly,
then sulkily, then with careless enjoyment, forgetful of everything
save his new delight in his strange surroundings.

The rose-water gurgled and sobbed in the jade hookah; thin lines of
odorous smoke rose sinuously to the silken awning that hung above the
terrace, dead in the hot August night. For a time neither spoke; then at
length Aurelian said, with a more sorrowful gravity than before,--

"Yes, the night is at hand, and the darkness at last will cover our
shame. It is better so. I thought once that through art we might work
revolution, and so win the world to clearness of sight again; that was
because I did not know the nature of art. Art is a result, not an
accident,--a result of conditions that no longer exist. We might as well
work for the restoration of chivalry, of the House of Stuart, of the
spirit of the Cinque-Cento, or any other equally desirable yet hopeless
thing. What we are, that our art is also. Every school of art, every
lecture on æsthetics, every art museum, is a waste and a vanity, their
influence is nothing. Art can never happen again; we who love it and
know it for what it is, the flowering of life, may only dream in the
past, building for ourselves a stately pleasure-house in Xanadu on the
banks of that river measureless to man that runs to a sunless sea.

"Individualism begot materialism, and materialism begot realism; and
realism is the antithesis of art.

"What else could have been? Art is a result,--and a cause; at once the
flower of life and the seed of the age to come. That age which through
its meanness and poverty is barren of blooms leaves no seed for its own
propagation. Good-night then to art; for the time its day is done.
Intelligence and erudition may create a creditable archæology, and a
blind generation may--nay, has--mistaken this for art. Well, its folly
is fond and pitiful.

"Do you not see, then, how the discovery of this thing must fill me with
that despair which kills all effort? You will say, 'Rise then, gird
thyself with the sword of scorn and invective, and strike with
exaltation at the false civilisation which is the death of art and of
all that is worthy in life.' Dear boy, our fathers in their fond,
visionary idealism made for all time such warfare of no avail. By
cunning schemes and crafty mechanism they, impelled by most honourable
motives, have woven a System which is now not alone the System of these
United States but of that Europe which we have dragged to our level; a
System which is now being accepted by that pure and happy civilisation,
the last to yield to our importunity, Japan, and being accepted to its
own damnation. And that System has made impossible forever any
successful result; for so dominant is it, so subtle in its influence, so
almighty in its power, that human strength is helpless before it.
Moreover, it will, through its infinite craft, seem to yield now and
then, yet only in form; for it will so debauch the reformers that they
will think now and again their cause is won, yet will it have lost
every element of desirability. Nevertheless 'the People' will shout with
acclamation, 'Victory! glorious victory! won through the strength of our
immortal and matchless institutions.' And all the while they are
shouting for the shadow of revolution, for the dead body from which the
soul has fled.

"'What is this System,' do you say? I will tell you; it is the system of
the nineteenth century, by which it will be known in the histories of
times to come, should time continue,--the great three-fold system of
Equality, The Freedom of the Press, and Public Opinion. You yourself do
them honour, for that you yourself have yielded to their evil influence;
until you have risen once for all superior to their plausible sophistry,
every thought you have, every act you are guilty of, will be tainted by
them and made of no avail. The whole world kneels before them now,
confessing their dominion. So long as this is so, so long will reform be

"Democracy, Public Opinion, Freedom of the Press,--the idolatrous
tritheism of a corrupt generation. Through the Institution of Democracy
you have bound yourself with invincible chains to a political system
which is the government of the best, by the worst, for the few,--in
other words, the suppression of the intelligent few by the mob for the
bosses. By the Institution of Public Opinion you have made Democracy
permanent, preventing forever the rule of the 'saving remnant.' You
have founded your unholy inquisition for the suppression of the martyrs
to wisdom, and by your Institution of the Freedom of the Press you have
raised a tyranny, an irresponsible hierarchy of godless demagogues, an
impeccable final authority which will suppress, as it suppresses now,
all honourable freedom of thought. You have broken and destroyed the
power of the Church, and you are proud thereof; but beware! for in its
place you have builded a Power, more widespread, more overwhelming, more
irresistible. Though you crushed Democracy and discredited Public
Opinion, yet so long as the Freedom of the Press remained in existence,
Journalism would by its bull of deposition, its anathema of
excommunication, extinguish your labour in a breath.

"Here is your triple-headed Cerberus that bars your exit from this hades
you have made. Until he is slain you may never escape. Slain? You cannot
slay him; he is sheathed in an impenetrable hide, proof against all
assaults. Listen, only in one way may you pass by him. Wait! In a little
time his three horrid heads will growl with rising fury each to each,
over the enormous spoils of decaying life. Wait! and the growls will
grow fierce and more furious; and at last in mortal and horrible combat
the beast will strive with _itself_, spreading chaos and death around.
So will it disable itself; and when at last its triple head has
collapsed in ghastly exhaustion, then will the time have come: pile
upon it the hoary boulders of experience left by immemorial glaciers of
time; raise them into a mountain, and though, like imprisoned Titan, the
horrid beast bellows and thunders below, you may go forth fearlessly,
and on the dread ruin he has wrought build a new civilisation, a new

Aurelian's ardent eyes gazed on the man before him through the writhing
smoke in the pallid dawn; his voice was like the voice of a velvet bell.

"Yes, it is the end of years; the era of action is over, night follows,
blotting from sight the shame of a wasted world; but through the mute,
unutterable night rises and brightens the splendour of the new day, the
new life. Action has striven and failed, and wreck and ruin are the
ending thereof; but across the desert of failure and despair bursts the
flame of the Dawn; the far-forgotten spirit of the world rises toward
dominion again,--the spirit of visions and dreams, the mighty Mother of
worlds and men, the Soul of the Eternal East."

Aurelian had risen and stood facing McCann, his white face lighted by a
flame of sudden vigour and inspiration; but even as he finished speaking
it changed. His eyes grew soft, and he smiled gently. "Malcolm," he
said, coming to the speechless agitator, and laying an arm lightly over
his broad shoulders, "Malcolm, I shall hardly forgive you this. You have
made me almost enthusiastic again; for a moment I could have believed
once more there was virtue in action; that has passed, and I am myself
again. And now, look!"

The sun rose, and its level river of light swept through the valley. A
mist like vaporous opals rose slowly from the winding river below them,
curling in the amber air and brushing itself in thin plumes over the
pale sky. Down from the terrace stretched the great garden, where
multitudinous lilies flashed in the first light with iridescent dew. A
splendid peacock swept flauntingly through the mazy walks and among the
white statues until it reached the central fountain, where it spread
itself in the sun. At the foot of the last terrace, where the marble
steps turned to serpentine in the still water, a small white boat with
prow of gilded fretwork lay motionless among the opening water-lilies
and the great blooms of the lotos. The breath of honeysuckle and jasmine
and day-lilies and tuberoses drifted slowly up in the first stirring
wind. The river-mist lifted, showing the golden meadows with the slim
elms here and there and the lofty hills fringed with dark forests

"Malcolm," said Aurelian, "beyond those fortress hills lies
the world,--the nineteenth century, seething with impotent
tumult,--festering towns of shoe factories and cotton-mills, lying
tradesmen and legalised piracy; pork-packing, stock-brokers, quarrelling
and snarling sectaries, and railroads; politicians, mammonism, realism,
and newspapers. Within my walls, which are the century-living pines, is
the world of the past and of the future, of the fifteenth century and
of the twentieth century. Here have I gathered all my treasures of art
and letters; here may those I love find rest and refreshment when worn
out with hopeless lighting. Suffer me to live here and forget, or live
in a living dream of dreamless life. Against my hilly ramparts life may
beat in vain,--it cannot enter. Here I am a King; humour my fancy, and
give over your striving to make a poet into a warrior. There is other
work before me. Even as in the monasteries of the sixth century the wise
monks treasured the priceless records of a dead life until the night had
passed and the white day of mediævalism dawned on the world, so suffer
me to dream in my cloister through evil days; for the night has come
when man may no longer work."

       *       *       *       *       *

Here ends the Gospel of Inaction called the Decadent, which is privately
issued for the Author by Copeland and Day, of Cornhill, Boston, in an
edition limited to one hundred and ten copies on this yellow French
handmade paper, and fifteen copies on thick Lalanne paper, which have
been printed during October and November, MDCCCXCIII by John Wilson and
Son, Cambridge, at the University Press. The Frontispiece and Initial
letters are designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue and cut upon wood by
John Sample, Jr.


Transcriber's Notes:

Page 1, changed "agressive" to "aggressive" and changed oe ligature to
"oe" in "foetid." (Ligature is retained in HTML edition).

Page 17, changed "Guatamala" to "Guatemala".

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