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Title: Shorter Prose Pieces
Author: Wilde, Oscar
Language: English
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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.

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Transcribed from the 1920 Methuen edition of _Art and Decoration_ by
David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.lorg

                   [Picture: Public domain book cover]



                     OSCAR WILDE—SHORTER PROSE PIECES


CONTENTS

                                                        PAGE
PHRASES AND PHILOSOPHIES FOR THE USE OF THE YOUNG          1
MRS. LANGTRY AS HESTER GRAZEBROOK                         53
SLAVES OF FASHION                                         56
WOMAN’S DRESS                                             60
MORE RADICAL IDEAS UPON DRESS REFORM                      66
COSTUME                                                   80
THE AMERICAN INVASION                                     83
SERMONS IN STONES AT BLOOMSBURY                           90
L’ENVOI                                                  119



PHRASES AND PHILOSOPHIES FOR
THE USE OF THE YOUNG


                             (December 1894)

THE first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible.  What the
second duty is no one has as yet discovered.

Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious
attractiveness of others.

If the poor only had profiles there would be no difficulty in solving the
problem of poverty.

Those who see any difference between soul and body have neither.

A really well-made buttonhole is the only link between Art and Nature.

Religions die when they are proved to be true.  Science is the record of
dead religions.

The well-bred contradict other people.  The wise contradict themselves.

Nothing that actually occurs is of the smallest importance.

Dulness is the coming of age of seriousness.

In all unimportant matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential.  In
all important matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential.

If one tells the truth one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.

Pleasure is the only thing one should live for.  Nothing ages like
happiness.

It is only by not paying one’s bills that one can hope to live in the
memory of the commercial classes.

No crime is vulgar, but all vulgarity is crime.  Vulgarity is the conduct
of others.

Only the shallow know themselves.

Time is waste of money.

One should always be a little improbable.

There is a fatality about all good resolutions.  They are invariably made
too soon.

The only way to atone for being occasionally a little overdressed is by
being always absolutely overeducated.

To be premature is to be perfect.

Any preoccupation with ideas of what is right or wrong in conduct shows
an arrested intellectual development.

Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.

A truth ceases to be true when more than one person believes in it.

In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot answer.

Greek dress was in its essence inartistic.  Nothing should reveal the
body but the body.

One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.

It is only the superficial qualities that last.  Man’s deeper nature is
soon found out.

Industry is the root of all ugliness.

The ages live in history through their anachronisms.

It is only the gods who taste of death.  Apollo has passed away, but
Hyacinth, whom men say he slew, lives on.  Nero and Narcissus are always
with us.

The old believe everything: the middle-aged suspect everything; the young
know everything.

The condition of perfection is idleness: the aim of perfection is youth.

Only the great masters of style ever succeeded in being obscure.

There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there
are in England at the present moment who start life with perfect
profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession.

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.



MRS. LANGTRY AS HESTER GRAZEBROOK


                   (_New York World_, November 7, 1882)

IT is only in the best Greek gems, on the silver coins of Syracuse, or
among the marble figures of the Parthenon frieze, that one can find the
ideal representation of the marvellous beauty of that face which laughed
through the leaves last night as Hester Grazebrook.

Pure Greek it is, with the grave low forehead, the exquisitely arched
brow; the noble chiselling of the mouth, shaped as if it were the
mouthpiece of an instrument of music; the supreme and splendid curve of
the cheek; the augustly pillared throat which bears it all: it is Greek,
because the lines which compose it are so definite and so strong, and yet
so exquisitely harmonized that the effect is one of simple loveliness
purely: Greek, because its essence and its quality, as is the quality of
music and of architecture, is that of beauty based on absolutely
mathematical laws.

But while art remains dumb and immobile in its passionless serenity, with
the beauty of this face it is different: the grey eyes lighten into blue
or deepen into violet as fancy succeeds fancy; the lips become
flower-like in laughter or, tremulous as a bird’s wing, mould themselves
at last into the strong and bitter moulds of pain or scorn.  And then
motion comes, and the statue wakes into life.  But the life is not the
ordinary life of common days; it is life with a new value given to it,
the value of art: and the charm to me of Hester Grazebrook’s acting in
the first scene of the play last night was that mingling of classic grace
with absolute reality which is the secret of all beautiful art, of the
plastic work of the Greeks and of the pictures of Jean François Millet
equally.

I do not think that the sovereignty and empire of women’s beauty has at
all passed away, though we may no longer go to war for them as the Greeks
did for the daughter of Leda.  The greatest empire still remains for
them—the empire of art.  And, indeed, this wonderful face, seen last
night for the first time in America, has filled and permeated with the
pervading image of its type the whole of our modern art in England.  Last
century it was the romantic type which dominated in art, the type loved
by Reynolds and Gainsborough, of wonderful contrasts of colour, of
exquisite and varying charm of expression, but without that definite
plastic feeling which divides classic from romantic work.  This type
degenerated into mere facile prettiness in the hands of lesser masters,
and, in protest against it, was created by the hands of the
Pre-Raphaelites a new type, with its rare combination of Greek form with
Florentine mysticism.  But this mysticism becomes over-strained and a
burden, rather than an aid to expression, and a desire for the pure
Hellenic joy and serenity came in its place; and in all our modern work,
in the paintings of such men as Albert Moore and Leighton and Whistler,
we can trace the influence of this single face giving fresh life and
inspiration in the form of a new artistic ideal.



SLAVES OF FASHION


MISS LEFFLER-ARNIM’S statement, in a lecture delivered recently at St.
Saviour’s Hospital, that “she had heard of instances where ladies were so
determined not to exceed the fashionable measurement that they had
actually held on to a cross-bar while their maids fastened the
fifteen-inch corset,” has excited a good deal of incredulity, but there
is nothing really improbable in it.  From the sixteenth century to our
own day there is hardly any form of torture that has not been inflicted
on girls, and endured by women, in obedience to the dictates of an
unreasonable and monstrous Fashion.  “In order to obtain a real Spanish
figure,” says Montaigne, “what a Gehenna of suffering will not women
endure, drawn in and compressed by great _coches_ entering the flesh;
nay, sometimes they even die thereof!”  “A few days after my arrival at
school,” Mrs. Somerville tells us in her memoirs, “although perfectly
straight and well made, I was enclosed in stiff stays, with a steel busk
in front; while above my frock, bands drew my shoulders back till the
shoulder-blades met.  Then a steel rod with a semi-circle, which went
under my chin, was clasped to the steel busk in my stays.  In this
constrained state I and most of the younger girls had to prepare our
lessons”; and in the life of Miss Edgeworth we read that, being sent to a
certain fashionable establishment, “she underwent all the usual tortures
of back-boards, iron collars and dumbs, and also (because she was a very
tiny person) the unusual one of being hung by the neck to draw out the
muscles and increase the growth,” a signal failure in her case.  Indeed,
instances of absolute mutilation and misery are so common in the past
that it is unnecessary to multiply them; but it is really sad to think
that in our own day a civilized woman can hang on to a cross-bar while
her maid laces her waist into a fifteen-inch circle.  To begin with, the
waist is not a circle at all, but an oval; nor can there be any greater
error than to imagine that an unnaturally small waist gives an air of
grace, or even of slightness, to the whole figure.  Its effect, as a
rule, is simply to exaggerate the width of the shoulders and the hips;
and those whose figures possess that stateliness which is called
stoutness by the vulgar, convert what is a quality into a defect by
yielding to the silly edicts of Fashion on the subject of tight-lacing.
The fashionable English waist, also, is not merely far too small, and
consequently quite out of proportion to the rest of the figure, but it is
worn far too low down.  I use the expression “worn” advisedly, for a
waist nowadays seems to be regarded as an article of apparel to be put on
when and where one likes.  A long waist always implies shortness of the
lower limbs, and, from the artistic point of view, has the effect of
diminishing the height; and I am glad to see that many of the most
charming women in Paris are returning to the idea of the Directoire style
of dress.  This style is not by any means perfect, but at least it has
the merit of indicating the proper position of the waist.  I feel quite
sure that all English women of culture and position will set their faces
against such stupid and dangerous practices as are related by Miss
Leffler-Arnim.  Fashion’s motto is: _Il faut souffrir pour être belle_;
but the motto of art and of common-sense is: _Il faut être bête pour
souffrir_.

Talking of Fashion, a critic in the _Pall Mall Gazelle_ expresses his
surprise that I should have allowed an illustration of a hat, covered
with “the bodies of dead birds,” to appear in the first number of the
_Woman’s World_; and as I have received many letters on the subject, it
is only right that I should state my exact position in the matter.
Fashion is such an essential part of the _mundus muliebris_ of our day,
that it seems to me absolutely necessary that its growth, development,
and phases should be duly chronicled; and the historical and practical
value of such a record depends entirely upon its perfect fidelity to
fact.  Besides, it is quite easy for the children of light to adapt
almost any fashionable form of dress to the requirements of utility and
the demands of good taste.  The Sarah Bernhardt tea-gown, for instance,
figured in the present issue, has many good points about it, and the
gigantic dress-improver does not appear to me to be really essential to
the mode; and though the Postillion costume of the fancy dress ball is
absolutely detestable in its silliness and vulgarity, the so-called Late
Georgian costume in the same plate is rather pleasing.  I must, however,
protest against the idea that to chronicle the development of Fashion
implies any approval of the particular forms that Fashion may adopt.



WOMAN’S DRESS


                 (_Pall Mall Gazette_, October 14, 1884)

    MR. OSCAR WILDE, who asks us to permit him ‘that most charming of all
    pleasures, the pleasure of answering one’s critics,’ sends us the
    following remarks:—

THE “Girl Graduate” must of course have precedence, not merely for her
sex but for her sanity: her letter is extremely sensible.  She makes two
points: that high heels are a necessity for any lady who wishes to keep
her dress clean from the Stygian mud of our streets, and that without a
tight corset the ordinary number of petticoats and etceteras’ cannot be
properly or conveniently held up.  Now, it is quite true that as long as
the lower garments are suspended from the hips a corset is an absolute
necessity; the mistake lies in not suspending all apparel from the
shoulders.  In the latter case a corset becomes useless, the body is left
free and unconfined for respiration and motion, there is more health, and
consequently more beauty.  Indeed all the most ungainly and uncomfortable
articles of dress that fashion has ever in her folly prescribed, not the
tight corset merely, but the farthingale, the vertugadin, the hoop, the
crinoline, and that modern monstrosity the so-called “dress improver”
also, all of them have owed their origin to the same error, the error of
not seeing that it is from the shoulders, and from the shoulders only,
that all garments should be hung.

And as regards high heels, I quite admit that some additional height to
the shoe or boot is necessary if long gowns are to be worn in the street;
but what I object to is that the height should be given to the heel only,
and not to the sole of the foot also.  The modern high-heeled boot is, in
fact, merely the clog of the time of Henry VI., with the front prop left
out, and its inevitable effect is to throw the body forward, to shorten
the steps, and consequently to produce that want of grace which always
follows want of freedom.

Why should clogs be despised?  Much art has been expended on clogs.  They
have been made of lovely woods, and delicately inlaid with ivory, and
with mother-of-pearl.  A clog might be a dream of beauty, and, if not too
high or too heavy, most comfortable also.  But if there be any who do not
like clogs, let them try some adaptation of the trouser of the Turkish
lady, which is loose round the limb and tight at the ankle.

The “Girl Graduate,” with a pathos to which I am not insensible, entreats
me not to apotheosize “that awful, befringed, beflounced, and bekilted
divided skirt.”  Well, I will acknowledge that the fringes, the flounces,
and the kilting do certainly defeat the whole object of the dress, which
is that of ease and liberty; but I regard these things as mere wicked
superfluities, tragic proofs that the divided skirt is ashamed of its own
division.  The principle of the dress is good, and, though it is not by
any means perfection, it is a step towards it.

Here I leave the “Girl Graduate,” with much regret, for Mr. Wentworth
Huyshe.  Mr. Huyshe makes the old criticism that Greek dress is unsuited
to our climate, and, to me the somewhat new assertion, that the men’s
dress of a hundred years ago was preferable to that of the second part of
the seventeenth century, which I consider to have been the exquisite
period of English costume.

Now, as regards the first of these two statements, I will say, to begin
with, that the warmth of apparel does not depend really on the number of
garments worn, but on the material of which they are made.  One of the
chief faults of modern dress is that it is composed of far too many
articles of clothing, most of which are of the wrong substance; but over
a substratum of pure wool, such as is supplied by Dr. Jaeger under the
modern German system, some modification of Greek costume is perfectly
applicable to our climate, our country and our century.  This important
fact has already been pointed out by Mr. E. W. Godwin in his excellent,
though too brief handbook on Dress, contributed to the Health Exhibition.
I call it an important fact because it makes almost any form of lovely
costume perfectly practicable in our cold climate.  Mr. Godwin, it is
true, points out that the English ladies of the thirteenth century
abandoned after some time the flowing garments of the early Renaissance
in favour of a tighter mode, such as Northern Europe seems to demand.
This I quite admit, and its significance; but what I contend, and what I
am sure Mr. Godwin would agree with me in, is that the principles, the
laws of Greek dress may be perfectly realized, even in a moderately tight
gown with sleeves: I mean the principle of suspending all apparel from
the shoulders, and of relying for beauty of effect not on the stiff
ready-made ornaments of the modern milliner—the bows where there should
be no bows, and the flounces where there should be no flounces—but on the
exquisite play of light and line that one gets from rich and rippling
folds.  I am not proposing any antiquarian revival of an ancient costume,
but trying merely to point out the right laws of dress, laws which are
dictated by art and not by archæology, by science and not by fashion; and
just as the best work of art in our days is that which combines classic
grace with absolute reality, so from a continuation of the Greek
principles of beauty with the German principles of health will come, I
feel certain, the costume of the future.

And now to the question of men’s dress, or rather to Mr. Huyshe’s claim
of the superiority, in point of costume, of the last quarter of the
eighteenth century over the second quarter of the seventeenth.  The
broad-brimmed hat of 1640 kept the rain of winter and the glare of summer
from the face; the same cannot be said of the hat of one hundred years
ago, which, with its comparatively narrow brim and high crown, was the
precursor of the modern “chimney-pot”: a wide turned-down collar is a
healthier thing than a strangling stock, and a short cloak much more
comfortable than a sleeved overcoat, even though the latter may have had
“three capes”; a cloak is easier to put on and off, lies lightly on the
shoulder in summer, and wrapped round one in winter keeps one perfectly
warm.  A doublet, again, is simpler than a coat and waistcoat; instead of
two garments one has one; by not being open also it protects the chest
better.

Short loose trousers are in every way to be preferred to the tight
knee-breeches which often impede the proper circulation of the blood; and
finally, the soft leather boots which could be worn above or below the
knee, are more supple, and give consequently more freedom, than the stiff
Hessian which Mr. Huyshe so praises.  I say nothing about the question of
grace and picturesqueness, for I suppose that no one, not even Mr.
Huyshe, would prefer a maccaroni to a cavalier, a Lawrence to a Vandyke,
or the third George to the first Charles; but for ease, warmth and
comfort this seventeenth-century dress is infinitely superior to anything
that came after it, and I do not think it is excelled by any preceding
form of costume.  I sincerely trust that we may soon see in England some
national revival of it.



MORE RADICAL IDEAS UPON DRESS REFORM


                 (_Pall Mall Gazette_, November 11, 1884)

I HAVE been much interested at reading the large amount of correspondence
that has been called forth by my recent lecture on Dress.  It shows me
that the subject of dress reform is one that is occupying many wise and
charming people, who have at heart the principles of health, freedom, and
beauty in costume, and I hope that “H. B. T.” and “Materfamilias” will
have all the real influence which their letters—excellent letters both of
them—certainly deserve.

I turn first to Mr. Huyshe’s second letter, and the drawing that
accompanies it; but before entering into any examination of the theory
contained in each, I think I should state at once that I have absolutely
no idea whether this gentleman wears his hair long or short, or his cuffs
back or forward, or indeed what he is like at all.  I hope he consults
his own comfort and wishes in everything which has to do with his dress,
and is allowed to enjoy that individualism in apparel which he so
eloquently claims for himself, and so foolishly tries to deny to others;
but I really could not take Mr. Wentworth Huyshe’s personal appearance as
any intellectual basis for an investigation of the principles which
should guide the costume of a nation.  I am not denying the force, or
even the popularity, of the ‘’Eave arf a brick’ school of criticism, but
I acknowledge it does not interest me.  The gamin in the gutter may be a
necessity, but the gamin in discussion is a nuisance.  So I will proceed
at once to the real point at issue, the value of the late
eighteenth-century costume over that worn in the second quarter of the
seventeenth: the relative merits, that is, of the principles contained in
each.  Now, as regards the eighteenth-century costume, Mr. Wentworth
Huyshe acknowledges that he has had no practical experience of it at all;
in fact he makes a pathetic appeal to his friends to corroborate him in
his assertion, which I do not question for a moment, that he has never
been “guilty of the eccentricity” of wearing himself the dress which he
proposes for general adoption by others.  There is something so naive and
so amusing about this last passage in Mr. Huyshe’s letter that I am
really in doubt whether I am not doing him a wrong in regarding him as
having any serious, or sincere, views on the question of a possible
reform in dress; still, as irrespective of any attitude of Mr. Huyshe’s
in the matter, the subject is in itself an interesting one, I think it is
worth continuing, particularly as I have myself worn this late
eighteenth-century dress many times, both in public and in private, and
so may claim to have a very positive right to speak on its comfort and
suitability.  The particular form of the dress I wore was very similar to
that given in Mr. Godwin’s handbook, from a print of Northcote’s, and had
a certain elegance and grace about it which was very charming; still, I
gave it up for these reasons:—After a further consideration of the laws
of dress I saw that a doublet is a far simpler and easier garment than a
coat and waistcoat, and, if buttoned from the shoulder, far warmer also,
and that tails have no place in costume, except on some Darwinian theory
of heredity; from absolute experience in the matter I found that the
excessive tightness of knee-breeches is not really comfortable if one
wears them constantly; and, in fact, I satisfied myself that the dress is
not one founded on any real principles.  The broad-brimmed hat and loose
cloak, which, as my object was not, of course, historical accuracy but
modern ease, I had always worn with the costume in question, I have still
retained, and find them most comfortable.

Well, although Mr. Huyshe has no real experience of the dress he
proposes, he gives us a drawing of it, which he labels, somewhat
prematurely, “An ideal dress.”  An ideal dress of course it is not;
“passably picturesque,” he says I may possibly think it; well, passably
picturesque it may be, but not beautiful, certainly, simply because it is
not founded on right principles, or, indeed, on any principles at all.
Picturesqueness one may get in a variety of ways; ugly things that are
strange, or unfamiliar to us, for instance, may be picturesque, such as a
late sixteenth-century costume, or a Georgian house.  Ruins, again, may
be picturesque, but beautiful they never can be, because their lines are
meaningless.  Beauty, in fact, is to be got only from the perfection of
principles; and in “the ideal dress” of Mr. Huyshe there are no ideas or
principles at all, much less the perfection of either.  Let us examine
it, and see its faults; they are obvious to any one who desires more than
a “Fancy-dress ball” basis for costume.  To begin with, the hat and boots
are all wrong.  Whatever one wears on the extremities, such as the feet
and head, should, for the sake of comfort, be made of a soft material,
and for the sake of freedom should take its shape from the way one
chooses to wear it, and not from any stiff, stereotyped design of hat or
boot maker.  In a hat made on right principles one should be able to turn
the brim up or down according as the day is dark or fair, dry or wet; but
the hat brim of Mr. Huyshe’s drawing is perfectly stiff, and does not
give much protection to the face, or the possibility of any at all to the
back of the head or the ears, in case of a cold east wind; whereas the
bycocket, a hat made in accordance with the right laws, can be turned
down behind and at the sides, and so give the same warmth as a hood.  The
crown, again, of Mr. Huyshe’s hat is far too high; a high crown
diminishes the stature of a small person, and in the case of any one who
is tall is a great inconvenience when one is getting in and out of
hansoms and railway carriages, or passing under a street awning: in no
case is it of any value whatsoever, and being useless it is of course
against the principles of dress.

As regards the boots, they are not quite so ugly or so uncomfortable as
the hat; still they are evidently made of stiff leather, as otherwise
they would fall down to the ankle, whereas the boot should be made of
soft leather always, and if worn high at all must be either laced up the
front or carried well over the knee: in the latter case one combines
perfect freedom for walking together with perfect protection against
rain, neither of which advantages a short stiff boot will ever give one,
and when one is resting in the house the long soft boot can be turned
down as the boot of 1640 was.  Then there is the overcoat: now, what are
the right principles of an overcoat?  To begin with, it should be capable
of being easily put on or off, and worn over any kind of dress;
consequently it should never have narrow sleeves, such as are shown in
Mr. Huyshe’s drawing.  If an opening or slit for the arm is required it
should be made quite wide, and may be protected by a flap, as in that
excellent overall the modern Inverness cape; secondly, it should not be
too tight, as otherwise all freedom of walking is impeded.  If the young
gentleman in the drawing buttons his overcoat he may succeed in being
statuesque, though that I doubt very strongly, but he will never succeed
in being swift; his _super-totus_ is made for him on no principle
whatsoever; a _super-totus_, or overall, should be capable of being worn
long or short, quite loose or moderately tight, just as the wearer
wishes; he should be able to have one arm free and one arm covered or
both arms free or both arms covered, just as he chooses for his
convenience in riding, walking, or driving; an overall again should never
be heavy, and should always be warm: lastly, it should be capable of
being easily carried if one wants to take it off; in fact, its principles
are those of freedom and comfort, and a cloak realizes them all, just as
much as an overcoat of the pattern suggested by Mr. Huyshe violates them.

The knee-breeches are of course far too tight; any one who has worn them
for any length of time—any one, in fact, whose views on the subject are
not purely theoretical—will agree with me there; like everything else in
the dress, they are a great mistake.  The substitution of the jacket for
the coat and waistcoat of the period is a step in the right direction,
which I am glad to see; it is, however, far too tight over the hips for
any possible comfort.  Whenever a jacket or doublet comes below the waist
it should be slit at each side.  In the seventeenth century the skirt of
the jacket was sometimes laced on by points and tags, so that it could be
removed at will, sometimes it was merely left open at the sides: in each
case it exemplified what are always the true principles of dress, I mean
freedom and adaptability to circumstances.

Finally, as regards drawings of this kind, I would point out that there
is absolutely no limit at all to the amount of “passably picturesque”
costumes which can be either revived or invented for us; but that unless
a costume is founded on principles and exemplified laws, it never can be
of any real value to us in the reform of dress.  This particular drawing
of Mr. Huyshe’s, for instance, proves absolutely nothing, except that our
grandfathers did not understand the proper laws of dress.  There is not a
single rule of right costume which is not violated in it, for it gives us
stiffness, tightness and discomfort instead of comfort, freedom and ease.

Now here, on the other hand, is a dress which, being founded on
principles, can serve us as an excellent guide and model; it has been
drawn for me, most kindly, by Mr. Godwin from the Duke of Newcastle’s
delightful book on horsemanship, a book which is one of our best
authorities on our best era of costume.  I do not of course propose it
necessarily for absolute imitation; that is not the way in which one
should regard it; it is not, I mean, a revival of a dead costume, but a
realization of living laws.  I give it as an example of a particular
application of principles which are universally right.  This rationally
dressed young man can turn his hat brim down if it rains, and his loose
trousers and boots down if he is tired—that is, he can adapt his costume
to circumstances; then he enjoys perfect freedom, the arms and legs are
not made awkward or uncomfortable by the excessive tightness of narrow
sleeves and knee-breeches, and the hips are left quite untrammelled,
always an important point; and as regards comfort, his jacket is not too
loose for warmth, nor too close for respiration; his neck is well
protected without being strangled, and even his ostrich feathers, if any
Philistine should object to them, are not merely dandyism, but fan him
very pleasantly, I am sure, in summer, and when the weather is bad they
are no doubt left at home, and his cloak taken out.  _The value of the
dress is simply that every separate article of it expresses a law_.  My
young man is consequently apparelled with ideas, while Mr. Huyshe’s young
man is stiffened with facts; the latter teaches one nothing; from the
former one learns everything.  I need hardly say that this dress is good,
not because it is seventeenth century, but because it is constructed on
the true principles of costume, just as a square lintel or pointed arch
is good, not because one may be Greek and the other Gothic, but because
each of them is the best method of spanning a certain-sized opening, or
resisting a certain weight.  The fact, however, that this dress was
generally worn in England two centuries and a half ago shows at least
this, that the right laws of dress have been understood and realized in
our country, and so in our country may be realized and understood again.
As regards the absolute beauty of this dress and its meaning, I should
like to say a few words more.  Mr. Wentworth Huyshe solemnly announces
that “he and those who think with him” cannot permit this question of
beauty to be imported into the question of dress; that he and those who
think with him take “practical views on the subject,” and so on.  Well, I
will not enter here into a discussion as to how far any one who does not
take beauty and the value of beauty into account can claim to be
practical at all.  The word practical is nearly always the last refuge of
the uncivilized.  Of all misused words it is the most evilly treated.
But what I want to point out is that beauty is essentially organic; that
is, it comes, not from without, but from within, not from any added
prettiness, but from the perfection of its own being; and that
consequently, as the body is beautiful, so all apparel that rightly
clothes it must be beautiful also in its construction and in its lines.

I have no more desire to define ugliness than I have daring to define
beauty; but still I would like to remind those who mock at beauty as
being an unpractical thing of this fact, that an ugly thing is merely a
thing that is badly made, or a thing that does not serve it purpose; that
ugliness is want of fitness; that ugliness is failure; that ugliness is
uselessness, such as ornament in the wrong place, while beauty, as some
one finely said, is the purgation of all superfluities.  There is a
divine economy about beauty; it gives us just what is needful and no
more, whereas ugliness is always extravagant; ugliness is a spendthrift
and wastes its material; in fine, ugliness—and I would commend this
remark to Mr. Wentworth Huyshe—ugliness, as much in costume as in
anything else, is always the sign that somebody has been unpractical.  So
the costume of the future in England, if it is founded on the true laws
of freedom, comfort, and adaptability to circumstances, cannot fail to be
most beautiful also, because beauty is the sign always of the rightness
of principles, the mystical seal that is set upon what is perfect, and
upon what is perfect only.

As for your other correspondent, the first principle of dress that all
garments should be hung from the shoulders and not from the waist seems
to me to be generally approved of, although an “Old Sailor” declares that
no sailors or athletes ever suspend their clothes from the shoulders, but
always from the hips.  My own recollection of the river and running
ground at Oxford—those two homes of Hellenism in our little Gothic
town—is that the best runners and rowers (and my own college turned out
many) wore always a tight jersey, with short drawers attached to it, the
whole costume being woven in one piece.  As for sailors, it is true, I
admit, and the bad custom seems to involve that constant “hitching up” of
the lower garments which, however popular in transpontine dramas, cannot,
I think, but be considered an extremely awkward habit; and as all
awkwardness comes from discomfort of some kind, I trust that this point
in our sailor’s dress will be looked to in the coming reform of our navy,
for, in spite of all protests, I hope we are about to reform everything,
from torpedoes to top-hats, and from crinolettes to cruises.

Then as regards clogs, my suggestion of them seems to have aroused a
great deal of terror.  Fashion in her high-heeled boots has screamed, and
the dreadful word “anachronism” has been used.  Now, whatever is useful
cannot be an anachronism.  Such a word is applicable only to the revival
of some folly; and, besides, in the England of our own day clogs are
still worn in many of our manufacturing towns, such as Oldham.  I fear
that in Oldham they may not be dreams of beauty; in Oldham the art of
inlaying them with ivory and with pearl may possibly be unknown; yet in
Oldham they serve their purpose.  Nor is it so long since they were worn
by the upper classes of this country generally.  Only a few days ago I
had the pleasure of talking to a lady who remembered with affectionate
regret the clogs of her girlhood; they were, according to her, not too
high nor too heavy, and were provided, besides, with some kind of spring
in the sole so as to make them the more supple for the foot in walking.
Personally, I object to all additional height being given to a boot or
shoe; it is really against the proper principles of dress, although, if
any such height is to be given it should be by means of two props; not
one; but what I should prefer to see is some adaptation of the divided
skirt or long and moderately loose knickerbockers.  If, however, the
divided skirt is to be of any positive value, it must give up all idea of
“being identical in appearance with an ordinary skirt”; it must diminish
the moderate width of each of its divisions, and sacrifice its foolish
frills and flounces; the moment it imitates a dress it is lost; but let
it visibly announce itself as what it actually is, and it will go far
towards solving a real difficulty.  I feel sure that there will be found
many graceful and charming girls ready to adopt a costume founded on
these principles, in spite of Mr. Wentworth Huyshe’s terrible threat that
he will not propose to them as long as they wear it, for all charges of a
want of womanly character in these forms of dress are really meaningless;
every right article of apparel belongs equally to both sexes, and there
is absolutely no such thing as a definitely feminine garment.  One word
of warning I should like to be allowed to give: The over-tunic should be
made full and moderately loose; it may, if desired, be shaped more or
less to the figure, but in no case should it be confined at the waist by
any straight band or belt; on the contrary, it should fall from the
shoulder to the knee, or below it, in fine curves and vertical lines,
giving more freedom and consequently more grace.  Few garments are so
absolutely unbecoming as a belted tunic that reaches to the knees, a fact
which I wish some of our Rosalinds would consider when they don doublet
and hose; indeed, to the disregard of this artistic principle is due the
ugliness, the want of proportion, in the Bloomer costume, a costume which
in other respects is sensible.



COSTUME


ARE we not all weary of him, that venerable impostor fresh from the steps
of the Piazza di Spagna, who, in the leisure moments that he can spare
from his customary organ, makes the round of the studios and is waited
for in Holland Park?  Do we not all recognize him, when, with the gay
_insouciance_ of his nation, he reappears on the walls of our summer
exhibitions as everything that he is not, and as nothing that he is,
glaring at us here as a patriarch of Canaan, here beaming as a brigand
from the Abruzzi?  Popular is he, this poor peripatetic professor of
posing, with those whose joy it is to paint the posthumous portrait of
the last philanthropist who in his lifetime had neglected to be
photographed,—yet he is the sign of the decadence, the symbol of decay.

For all costumes are caricatures.  The basis of Art is not the Fancy
Ball.  Where there is loveliness of dress, there is no dressing up.  And
so, were our national attire delightful in colour, and in construction
simple and sincere; were dress the expression of the loveliness that it
shields and of the swiftness and motion that it does not impede; did its
lines break from the shoulder instead of bulging from the waist; did the
inverted wineglass cease to be the ideal of form; were these things
brought about, as brought about they will be, then would painting be no
longer an artificial reaction against the ugliness of life, but become,
as it should be, the natural expression of life’s beauty.  Nor would
painting merely, but all the other arts also, be the gainers by a change
such as that which I propose; the gainers, I mean, through the increased
atmosphere of Beauty by which the artists would be surrounded and in
which they would grow up.  For Art is not to be taught in Academies.  It
is what one looks at, not what one listens to, that makes the artist.
The real schools should be the streets.  There is not, for instance, a
single delicate line, or delightful proportion, in the dress of the
Greeks, which is not echoed exquisitely in their architecture.  A nation
arrayed in stove-pipe hats and dress-improvers might have built the
Pantechnichon possibly, but the Parthenon never.  And finally, there is
this to be said: Art, it is true, can never have any other claim but her
own perfection, and it may be that the artist, desiring merely to
contemplate and to create, is wise in not busying himself about change in
others: yet wisdom is not always the best; there are times when she sinks
to the level of common-sense; and from the passionate folly of those—and
there are many—who desire that Beauty shall be confined no longer to the
_bric-à-brac_ of the collector and the dust of the museum, but shall be,
as it should be, the natural and national inheritance of all,—from this
noble unwisdom, I say, who knows what new loveliness shall be given to
life, and, under these more exquisite conditions, what perfect artist
born?  _Le milieu se renouvelant_, _l’art se renouvelle_.



THE AMERICAN INVASION


                               (March 1887)

A TERRIBLE danger is hanging over the Americans in London.  Their future
and their reputation this season depend entirely on the success of
Buffalo Bill and Mrs. Brown-Potter.  The former is certain to draw; for
English people are far more interested in American barbarism than they
are in American civilization.  When they sight Sandy Hook they look to
their rifles and ammunition; and, after dining once at Delmonico’s, start
off for Colorado or California, for Montana or the Yellow Stone Park.
Rocky Mountains charm them more than riotous millionaires; they have been
known to prefer buffaloes to Boston.  Why should they not?  The cities of
America are inexpressibly tedious.  The Bostonians take their learning
too sadly; culture with them is an accomplishment rather than an
atmosphere; their “Hub,” as they call it, is the paradise of prigs.
Chicago is a sort of monster-shop, full of bustle and bores.  Political
life at Washington is like political life in a suburban vestry.
Baltimore is amusing for a week, but Philadelphia is dreadfully
provincial; and though one can dine in New York one could not dwell
there.  Better the Far West with its grizzly bears and its untamed
cowboys, its free open-air life and its free open-air manners, its
boundless prairie and its boundless mendacity!  This is what Buffalo Bill
is going to bring to London; and we have no doubt that London will fully
appreciate his show.

With regard to Mrs. Brown-Potter, as acting is no longer considered
absolutely essential for success on the English stage, there is really no
reason why the pretty bright-eyed lady who charmed us all last June by
her merry laugh and her nonchalant ways, should not—to borrow an
expression from her native language—make a big boom and paint the town
red.  We sincerely hope she will; for, on the whole, the American
invasion has done English society a great deal of good.  American women
are bright, clever, and wonderfully cosmopolitan.  Their patriotic
feelings are limited to an admiration for Niagara and a regret for the
Elevated Railway; and, unlike the men, they never bore us with Bunkers
Hill.  They take their dresses from Paris and their manners from
Piccadilly, and wear both charmingly.  They have a quaint pertness, a
delightful conceit, a native self-assertion.  They insist on being paid
compliments and have almost succeeded in making Englishmen eloquent.  For
our aristocracy they have an ardent admiration; they adore titles and are
a permanent blow to Republican principles.  In the art of amusing men
they are adepts, both by nature and education, and can actually tell a
story without forgetting the point—an accomplishment that is extremely
rare among the women of other countries.  It is true that they lack
repose and that their voices are somewhat harsh and strident when they
land first at Liverpool; but after a time one gets to love those pretty
whirlwinds in petticoats that sweep so recklessly through society and are
so agitating to all duchesses who have daughters.  There is something
fascinating in their funny, exaggerated gestures and their petulant way
of tossing the head.  Their eyes have no magic nor mystery in them, but
they challenge us for combat; and when we engage we are always worsted.
Their lips seem made for laughter and yet they never grimace.  As for
their voices they soon get them into tune.  Some of them have been known
to acquire a fashionable drawl in two seasons; and after they have been
presented to Royalty they all roll their R’s as vigorously as a young
equerry or an old lady-in-waiting.  Still, they never really lose their
accent; it keeps peeping out here and there, and when they chatter
together they are like a bevy of peacocks.  Nothing is more amusing than
to watch two American girls greeting each other in a drawing-room or in
the Row.  They are like children with their shrill staccato cries of
wonder, their odd little exclamations.  Their conversation sounds like a
series of exploding crackers; they are exquisitely incoherent and use a
sort of primitive, emotional language.  After five minutes they are left
beautifully breathless and look at each other half in amusement and half
in affection.  If a stolid young Englishman is fortunate enough to be
introduced to them he is amazed at their extraordinary vivacity, their
electric quickness of repartee, their inexhaustible store of curious
catchwords.  He never really understands them, for their thoughts flutter
about with the sweet irresponsibility of butterflies; but he is pleased
and amused and feels as if he were in an aviary.  On the whole, American
girls have a wonderful charm and, perhaps, the chief secret of their
charm is that they never talk seriously except about amusements.  They
have, however, one grave fault—their mothers.  Dreary as were those old
Pilgrim Fathers who left our shores more than two centuries ago to found
a New England beyond the seas, the Pilgrim Mothers who have returned to
us in the nineteenth century are drearier still.

Here and there, of course, there are exceptions, but as a class they are
either dull, dowdy or dyspeptic.  It is only fair to the rising
generation of America to state that they are not to blame for this.
Indeed, they spare no pains at all to bring up their parents properly and
to give them a suitable, if somewhat late, education.  From its earliest
years every American child spends most of its time in correcting the
faults of its father and mother; and no one who has had the opportunity
of watching an American family on the deck of an Atlantic steamer, or in
the refined seclusion of a New York boarding-house, can fail to have been
struck by this characteristic of their civilization.  In America the
young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the
full benefits of their inexperience.  A boy of only eleven or twelve
years of age will firmly but kindly point out to his father his defects
of manner or temper; will never weary of warning him against
extravagance, idleness, late hours, unpunctuality, and the other
temptations to which the aged are so particularly exposed; and sometimes,
should he fancy that he is monopolizing too much of the conversation at
dinner, will remind him, across the table, of the new child’s adage,
“Parents should be seen, not heard.”  Nor does any mistaken idea of
kindness prevent the little American girl from censuring her mother
whenever it is necessary.  Often, indeed, feeling that a rebuke conveyed
in the presence of others is more truly efficacious than one merely
whispered in the quiet of the nursery, she will call the attention of
perfect strangers to her mother’s general untidiness, her want of
intellectual Boston conversation, immoderate love of iced water and green
corn, stinginess in the matter of candy, ignorance of the usages of the
best Baltimore Society, bodily ailments, and the like.  In fact, it may
be truly said that no American child is ever blind to the deficiencies of
its parents, no matter how much it may love them.

Yet, somehow, this educational system has not been so successful as it
deserved.  In many cases, no doubt, the material with which the children
had to deal was crude and incapable of real development; but the fact
remains that the American mother is a tedious person.  The American
father is better, for he is never seen in London.  He passes his life
entirely in Wall Street and communicates with his family once a month by
means of a telegram in cipher.  The mother, however, is always with us,
and, lacking the quick imitative faculty of the younger generation,
remains uninteresting and provincial to the last.  In spite of her,
however, the American girl is always welcome.  She brightens our dull
dinner parties for us and makes life go pleasantly by for a season.  In
the race for coronets she often carries off the prize; but, once she has
gained the victory, she is generous and forgives her English rivals
everything, even their beauty.

Warned by the example of her mother that American women do not grow old
gracefully, she tries not to grow old at all and often succeeds.  She has
exquisite feet and hands, is always _bien chaussée et bien gantée_ and
can talk brilliantly upon any subject, provided that she knows nothing
about it.

Her sense of humour keeps her from the tragedy of a _grande passion_,
and, as there is neither romance nor humility in her love, she makes an
excellent wife.  What her ultimate influence on English life will be it
is difficult to estimate at present; but there can be no doubt that, of
all the factors that have contributed to the social revolution of London,
there are few more important, and none more delightful, than the American
Invasion.



SERMONS IN STONES AT BLOOMSBURY


               THE NEW SCULPTURE ROOM AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM

                              (October 1887)

THROUGH the exertions of Sir Charles Newton, to whom every student of
classic art should be grateful, some of the wonderful treasures so long
immured in the grimy vaults of the British Museum have at last been
brought to light, and the new Sculpture Room now opened to the public
will amply repay the trouble of a visit, even from those to whom art is a
stumbling-block and a rock of offence.  For setting aside the mere beauty
of form, outline and mass, the grace and loveliness of design and the
delicacy of technical treatment, here we have shown to us what the Greeks
and Romans thought about death; and the philosopher, the preacher, the
practical man of the world, and even the Philistine himself, cannot fail
to be touched by these “sermons in stones,” with their deep significance,
their fertile suggestion, their plain humanity.  Common tombstones they
are, most of them, the work not of famous artists but of simple
handicraftsmen, only they were wrought in days when every handicraft was
an art.  The finest specimens, from the purely artistic point of view,
are undoubtedly the two _stelai_ found at Athens.  They are both the
tombstones of young Greek athletes.  In one the athlete is represented
handing his _strigil_ to his slave, in the other the athlete stands
alone, _strigil_ in hand.  They do not belong to the greatest period of
Greek art, they have not the grand style of the Phidian age, but they are
beautiful for all that, and it is impossible not to be fascinated by
their exquisite grace and by the treatment which is so simple in its
means, so subtle in its effect.  All the tombstones, however, are full of
interest.  Here is one of two ladies of Smyrna who were so remarkable in
their day that the city voted them honorary crowns; here is a Greek
doctor examining a little boy who is suffering from indigestion; here is
the memorial of Xanthippus who, probably, was a martyr to gout, as he is
holding in his hand the model of a foot, intended, no doubt, as a votive
offering to some god.  A lovely _stele_ from Rhodes gives us a family
group.  The husband is on horseback and is bidding farewell to his wife,
who seems as if she would follow him but is being held back by a little
child.  The pathos of parting from those we love is the central motive of
Greek funeral art.  It is repeated in every possible form, and each mute
marble stone seems to murmur _χαîρε_.  Roman art is different.  It
introduces vigorous and realistic portraiture and deals with pure family
life far more frequently than Greek art does.  They are very ugly, those
stern-looking Roman men and women whose portraits are exhibited on their
tombs, but they seem to have been loved and respected by their children
and their servants.  Here is the monument of Aphrodisius and Atilia, a
Roman gentleman and his wife, who died in Britain many centuries ago, and
whose tombstone was found in the Thames; and close by it stands a _stele_
from Rome with the busts of an old married couple who are certainly
marvellously ill-favoured.  The contrast between the abstract Greek
treatment of the idea of death and the Roman concrete realization of the
individuals who have died is extremely curious.

Besides the tombstones, the new Sculpture Room contains some most
fascinating examples of Roman decorative art under the Emperors.  The
most wonderful of all, and this alone is worth a trip to Bloomsbury, is a
bas-relief representing a marriage scene, Juno Pronuba is joining the
hands of a handsome young noble and a very stately lady.  There is all
the grace of Perugino in this marble, all the grace of Raphael even.  The
date of it is uncertain, but the particular cut of the bridegroom’s beard
seems to point to the time of the Emperor Hadrian.  It is clearly the
work of Greek artists and is one of the most beautiful bas-reliefs in the
whole Museum.  There is something in it which reminds one of the music
and the sweetness of Propertian verse.  Then we have delightful friezes
of children.  One representing children playing on musical instruments
might have suggested much of the plastic art of Florence.  Indeed, as we
view these marbles it is not difficult to see whence the Renaissance
sprang and to what we owe the various forms of Renaissance art.  The
frieze of the Muses, each of whom wears in her hair a feather plucked
from the wings of the vanquished sirens, is extremely fine; there is a
lovely little bas-relief of two cupids racing in chariots; and the frieze
of recumbent Amazons has some splendid qualities of design.  A frieze of
children playing with the armour of the god Mars should also be
mentioned.  It is full of fancy and delicate humour.

We hope that some more of the hidden treasures will shortly be catalogued
and shown.  In the vaults at present there is a very remarkable
bas-relief of the marriage of Cupid and Psyche, and another representing
the professional mourners weeping over the body of the dead.  The fine
cast of the Lion of Chæronea should also be brought up, and so should the
_stele_ with the marvellous portrait of the Roman slave.  Economy is an
excellent public virtue, but the parsimony that allows valuable works of
art to remain in the grim and gloom of a damp cellar is little short of a
detestable public vice.



L’ENVOI


An introduction to _Rose Leaf and Apple Leaf_ by Rennell Rodd, published
by J. M. Stoddart and Co., Philadelphia, 1882.

AMONGST the many young men in England who are seeking along with me to
continue and to perfect the English Renaissance—_jeunes guerriers du
drapeau romantique_, as Gautier would have called us—there is none whose
love of art is more flawless and fervent, whose artistic sense of beauty
is more subtle and more delicate—none, indeed, who is dearer to
myself—than the young poet whose verses I have brought with me to
America; verses full of sweet sadness, and yet full of joy; for the most
joyous poet is not he who sows the desolate highways of this world with
the barren seed of laughter, but he who makes his sorrow most musical,
this indeed being the meaning of joy in art—that incommunicable element
of artistic delight which, in poetry, for instance, comes from what Keats
called “sensuous life of verse,” the element of song in the singing, made
so pleasurable to us by that wonder of motion which often has its origin
in mere musical impulse, and in painting is to be sought for, from the
subject never, but from the pictorial charm only—the scheme and symphony
of the colour, the satisfying beauty of the design: so that the ultimate
expression of our artistic movement in painting has been, not in the
spiritual vision of the Pre-Raphaelites, for all their marvel of Greek
legend and their mystery of Italian song, but in the work of such men as
Whistler and Albert Moore, who have raised design and colour to the ideal
level of poetry and music.  For the quality of their exquisite painting
comes from the mere inventive and creative handling of line and colour,
from a certain form and choice of beautiful workmanship, which, rejecting
all literary reminiscence and all metaphysical idea, is in itself
entirely satisfying to the æsthetic sense—is, as the Greeks would say, an
end in itself; the effect of their work being like the effect given to us
by music; for music is the art in which form and matter are always
one—the art whose subject cannot be separated from the method of its
expression; the art which most completely realizes for us the artistic
ideal, and is the condition to which all the other arts are constantly
aspiring.

Now, this increased sense of the absolutely satisfying value of beautiful
workmanship, this recognition of the primary importance of the sensuous
element in art, this love of art for art’s sake, is the point in which we
of the younger school have made a departure from the teaching of Mr.
Ruskin,—a departure definite and different and decisive.

Master indeed of the knowledge of all noble living and of the wisdom of
all spiritual things will he be to us ever, seeing that it was he who by
the magic of his presence and the music of his lips taught us at Oxford
that enthusiasm for beauty which is the secret of Hellenism, and that
desire for creation which is the secret of life, and filled some of us,
at least, with the lofty and passionate ambition to go forth into far and
fair lands with some message for the nations and some mission for the
world, and yet in his art criticism, his estimate of the joyous element
of art, his whole method of approaching art, we are no longer with him;
for the keystone to his æsthetic system is ethical always.  He would
judge of a picture by the amount of noble moral ideas it expresses; but
to us the channels by which all noble work in painting can touch, and
does touch, the soul are not those of truths of life or metaphysical
truths.  To him perfection of workmanship seems but the symbol of pride,
and incompleteness of technical resource the image of an imagination too
limitless to find within the limits of form its complete expression, or
of love too simple not to stammer in its tale.  But to us the rule of art
is not the rule of morals.  In an ethical system, indeed, of any gentle
mercy good intentions will, one is fain to fancy, have their recognition;
but of those that would enter the serene House of Beauty the question
that we ask is not what they had ever meant to do, but what they have
done.  Their pathetic intentions are of no value to us, but their
realized creations only.  _Pour moi je préfère les poètes qui font des
vers_, _les médecins qui sachent guérir_, _les peintres qui sanchent
peindre_.

Nor, in looking at a work of art, should we be dreaming of what it
symbolises, but rather loving it for what it is.  Indeed, the
transcendental spirit is alien to the spirit of art.  The metaphysical
mind of Asia may create for itself the monstrous and many-breasted idol,
but to the Greek, pure artist, that work is most instinct with spiritual
life which conforms most closely to the perfect facts of physical life
also.  Nor, in its primary aspect, has a painting, for instance, any more
spiritual message or meaning for us than a blue tile from the wall of
Damascus, or a Hitzen vase.  It is a beautifully coloured surface,
nothing more, and affects us by no suggestion stolen from philosophy, no
pathos pilfered from literature, no feeling filched from a poet, but by
its own incommunicable artistic essence—by that selection of truth which
we call style, and that relation of values which is the draughtsmanship
of painting, by the whole quality of the workmanship, the arabesque of
the design, the splendour of the colour, for these things are enough to
stir the most divine and remote of the chords which make music in our
soul, and colour, indeed, is of itself a mystical presence on things, and
tone a kind of sentiment . . . all these poems aim, as I said, at
producing a purely artistic effect, and have the rare and exquisite
quality that belongs to work of that kind; and I feel that the entire
subordination in our æsthetic movement of all merely emotional and
intellectual motives to the vital informing poetic principle is the
surest sign of our strength.

But it is not enough that a work of art should conform to the æsthetic
demands of the age: there should be also about it, if it is to give us
any permanent delight, the impress of a distinct individuality.  Whatever
work we have in the nineteenth century must rest on the two poles of
personality and perfection.  And so in this little volume, by separating
the earlier and more simple work from the work that is later and stronger
and possesses increased technical power and more artistic vision, one
might weave these disconnected poems, these stray and scattered threads,
into one fiery-coloured strand of life, noting first a boy’s mere
gladness of being young, with all its simple joy in field and flower, in
sunlight and in song, and then the bitterness of sudden sorrow at the
ending by Death of one of the brief and beautiful friendships of one’s
youth, with all those unanswered lodgings and questionings unsatisfied by
which we vex, so uselessly, the marble face of death; the artistic
contrast between the discontented incompleteness of the spirit and the
complete perfection of the style that expresses it forming the chief
element of the æsthetic charm of these particular poems;—and then the
birth of Love, and all the wonder and the fear and the perilous delight
of one on whose boyish brows the little wings of love have beaten for the
first time; and the love-songs, so dainty and delicate, little
swallow-flights of music, and full of such fragrance and freedom that
they might all be sung in the open air and across moving water; and then
autumn, coming with its choirless woods and odorous decay and ruined
loveliness, Love lying dead; and the sense of the mere pity of it.

One might stop there, for from a young poet one should ask for no deeper
chords of life than those that love and friendship make eternal for us;
and the best poems in the volume belong clearly to a later time, a time
when these real experiences become absorbed and gathered up into a form
which seems from such real experiences to be the most alien and the most
remote; when the simple expression of joy or sorrow suffices no longer,
and lives rather in the stateliness of the cadenced metre, in the music
and colour of the linked words, than in any direct utterance; lives, one
might say, in the perfection of the form more than in the pathos of the
feeling.  And yet, after the broken music of love and the burial of love
in the autumn woods, we can trace that wandering among strange people,
and in lands unknown to us, by which we try so pathetically to heal the
hurts of the life we know, and that pure and passionate devotion to Art
which one gets when the harsh reality of life has too suddenly wounded
one, and is with discontent or sorrow marring one’s youth, just as often,
I think, as one gets it from any natural joy of living; and that curious
intensity of vision by which, in moments of overmastering sadness and
despair ungovernable, artistic things will live in one’s memory with a
vivid realism caught from the life which they help one to forget—an old
grey tomb in Flanders with a strange legend on it, making one think how,
perhaps, passion does live on after death; a necklace of blue and amber
beads and a broken mirror found in a girl’s grave at Rome, a marble image
of a boy habited like Erôs, and with the pathetic tradition of a great
king’s sorrow lingering about it like a purple shadow,—over all these the
tired spirit broods with that calm and certain joy that one gets when one
has found something that the ages never dull and the world cannot harm;
and with it comes that desire of Greek things which is often an artistic
method of expressing one’s desire for perfection; and that longing for
the old dead days which is so modern, so incomplete, so touching, being,
in a way, the inverted torch of Hope, which burns the hand it should
guide; and for many things a little sadness, and for all things a great
love; and lastly, in the pinewood by the sea, once more the quick and
vital pulse of joyous youth leaping and laughing in every line, the frank
and fearless freedom of wave and wind waking into fire life’s burnt-out
ashes and into song the silent lips of pain,—how clearly one seems to see
it all, the long colonnade of pines with sea and sky peeping in here and
there like a flitting of silver; the open place in the green, deep heart
of the wood with the little moss-grown altar to the old Italian god in
it; and the flowers all about, cyclamen in the shadowy places, and the
stars of the white narcissus lying like snow-flakes over the grass, where
the quick, bright-eyed lizard starts by the stone, and the snake lies
coiled lazily in the sun on the hot sand, and overhead the gossamer
floats from the branches like thin, tremulous threads of gold,—the scene
is so perfect for its motive, for surely here, if anywhere, the real
gladness of life might be revealed to one’s youth—the gladness that
comes, not from the rejection, but from the absorption, of all passion,
and is like that serene calm that dwells in the faces of the Greek
statues, and which despair and sorrow cannot touch, but intensify only.

In some such way as this we could gather up these strewn and scattered
petals of song into one perfect rose of life, and yet, perhaps, in so
doing, we might be missing the true quality of the poems; one’s real life
is so often the life that one does not lead; and beautiful poems, like
threads of beautiful silks, may be woven into many patterns and to suit
many designs, all wonderful and all different: and romantic poetry, too,
is essentially the poetry of impressions, being like that latest school
of painting, the school of Whistler and Albert Moore, in its choice of
situation as opposed to subject; in its dealing with the exceptions
rather than with the types of life; in its brief intensity; in what one
might call its fiery-coloured momentariness, it being indeed the
momentary situations of life, the momentary aspects of nature, which
poetry and painting new seek to render for us.  Sincerity and constancy
will the artist, indeed, have always; but sincerity in art is merely that
plastic perfection of execution without which a poem or a painting,
however noble its sentiment or human its origin, is but wasted and unreal
work, and the constancy of the artist cannot be to any definite rule or
system of living, but to that principle of beauty only through which the
inconstant shadows of his life are in their most fleeting moment arrested
and made permanent.  He will not, for instance, in intellectual matters
acquiesce in that facile orthodoxy of our day which is so reasonable and
so artistically uninteresting, nor yet will he desire that fiery faith of
the antique time which, while it intensified, yet limited the vision;
still less will he allow the calm of his culture to be marred by the
discordant despair of doubt or the sadness of a sterile scepticism; for
the Valley Perilous, where ignorant armies clash by night, is no
resting-place meet for her to whom the gods have assigned the clear
upland, the serene height, and the sunlit air,—rather will he be always
curiously testing new forms of belief, tinging his nature with the
sentiment that still lingers about some beautiful creeds, and searching
for experience itself, and not for the fruits of experience; when he has
got its secret, he will leave without regret much that was once very
precious to him.  “I am always insincere,” says Emerson somewhere, “as
knowing that there are other moods”: “_Les émotions_,” wrote Théophile
Gautier once in a review of Arsène Houssaye, “_Les émotions_, _ne se
ressemblent pas_, _mais être ému_—_voilà l’important_.”

Now, this is the secret of the art of the modern romantic school, and
gives one the right keynote for its apprehension; but the real quality of
all work which, like Mr. Rodd’s, aims, as I said, at a purely artistic
effect, cannot be described in terms of intellectual criticism; it is too
intangible for that.  One can perhaps convey it best in terms of the
other arts, and by reference to them; and, indeed, some of these poems
are as iridescent and as exquisite as a lovely fragment of Venetian
glass; others as delicate in perfect workmanship and as single in natural
motive as an etching by Whistler is, or one of those beautiful little
Greek figures which in the olive woods round Tanagra men can still find,
with the faint gilding and the fading crimson not yet fled from hair and
lips and raiment; and many of them seem like one of Corot’s twilights
just passing into music; for not merely in visible colour, but in
sentiment also—which is the colour of poetry—may there be a kind of tone.

But I think that the best likeness to the quality of this young poet’s
work I ever saw was in the landscape by the Loire.  We were staying once,
he and I, at Amboise, that little village with its grey slate roofs and
steep streets and gaunt, grim gateway, where the quiet cottages nestle
like white pigeons into the sombre clefts of the great bastioned rock,
and the stately Renaissance houses stand silent and apart—very desolate
now, but with some memory of the old days still lingering about the
delicately-twisted pillars, and the carved doorways, with their grotesque
animals, and laughing masks, and quaint heraldic devices, all reminding
one of a people who could not think life real till they had made it
fantastic.  And above the village, and beyond the bend of the river, we
used to go in the afternoon, and sketch from one of the big barges that
bring the wine in autumn and the wood in winter down to the sea, or lie
in the long grass and make plans _pour la gloire_, _et pour ennuyer les
Philistins_, or wander along the low, sedgy banks, “matching our reeds in
sportive rivalry,” as comrades used in the old Sicilian days; and the
land was an ordinary land enough, and bare, too, when one thought of
Italy, and how the oleanders were robing the hillsides by Genoa in
scarlet, and the cyclamen filling with its purple every valley from
Florence to Rome; for there was not much real beauty, perhaps, in it,
only long, white dusty roads and straight rows of formal poplars; but,
now and then, some little breaking gleam of broken light would lend to
the grey field and the silent barn a secret and a mystery that were
hardly their own, would transfigure for one exquisite moment the peasants
passing down through the vineyard, or the shepherd watching on the hill,
would tip the willows with silver and touch the river into gold; and the
wonder of the effect, with the strange simplicity of the material, always
seemed to me to be a little like the quality of these the verses of my
friend.





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