Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde, by Oscar Wilde

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Title: Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde
       with a Preface by Robert Ross

Author: Oscar Wilde

Release Date: March 22, 2005  [eBook #1338]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1914 Methuen and Co. edition by David Price, email



Preface by Robert Ross
How They Struck a Contemporary
The Quality of George Meredith
Life in the Fallacious Model
Life the Disciple
Life the Plagiarist
The Indispensable East
The Influence of the Impressionists on Climate
An Exposure to Naturalism
Thomas Griffiths Wainewright
Wainewright at Hobart Town
Cardinal Newman and the Autobiographers
Robert Browning
The Two Supreme and Highest Arts
The Secrets of Immortality
The Critic and his Material
Dante the Living Guide
The Limitations of Genius
Wanted A New Background
Without Frontiers
The Poetry of Archæology
The Art of Archæology
Herod Suppliant
The Tetrarch’s Remorse
The Tetrarch’s Treasure
Salomé anticipates Dr. Strauss
The Young King
A Coronation
The King of Spain
A Bull Fight
The Throne Room
A Protected Country
The Blackmailing of the Emperor
Covent Garden
A Letter from Miss Jane Percy to her Aunt
The Triumph of American ‘Humor’
The Garden of Death
An Eton Kit-cat
Mrs. Erlynne Exercises the Prerogative of a Grandmother
Motherhood more than Marriage
The Damnable Ideal
From a Rejected Prize-essay
The Possibilities of the Useful
The Artist
The Doer of Good
The Disciple
The Master
The House of Judgment
The Teacher of Wisdom
Wilde gives directions about ‘De Profundis’
Carey Street
Sorrow wears no mask
Vita Nuova
The Grand Romantic
Clapham Junction
The Broken Resolution
Domesticity at Berneval
A visit to the Pope


This anthology is dedicated to Michael Lykiardopulos as a little token of his services to English Literature in the great Russian Empire.


With the possible exceptions of the Greek Anthology, the “Golden Treasury” and those which bear the name of E. V. Lucas, no selections of poetry or prose have ever given complete satisfaction to anyone except the compiler.  But critics derive great satisfaction from pointing out errors of omission and inclusion on the part of the anthologist, and all of us have putatively re-arranged and re-edited even the “Golden Treasury” in our leisure moments.  In an age when “Art for Art’s sake” is an exploded doctrine, anthologies, like everything else, must have a purpose.  The purpose or object of the present volume is to afford admirers of Wilde’s work the same innocent pleasure obtainable from similar compilations, namely that of reconstructing a selection of their own in their mind’s eye—for copyright considerations would interfere with the materialisation of their dream.

A stray observation in an esteemed weekly periodical determined the plan of this anthology and the choice of particular passages.  The writer, whose name has escaped me, opined that the reason the works of Pater and Wilde were no longer read was owing to both authors having treated English as a dead language.  By a singular coincidence I had purchased simultaneously with the newspaper a shilling copy of Pater’s “Renaissance,” published by Messrs. Macmillan; and a few days afterwards Messrs. Methuen issued at a shilling the twenty-eighth edition of “De Profundis.”  Obviously either Messrs. Macmillan and Messrs. Methuen or the authority on dead languages must have been suffering from hallucinations.  It occurred to me that a selection of Wilde’s prose might at least rehabilitate the notorious reputation for common sense enjoyed by all publishers, who rarely issue shilling editions of deceased authors for mere æsthetic considerations.  And I confess to a hope that this volume may reach the eye or ear of those who have not read Wilde’s books, or of those, such as Mr. Sydney Grundy, who are irritated by the revival of his plays and the praise accorded to his works throughout the Continent.

Wilde’s prose is distinguished by its extraordinary ease and clarity, and by the absence—very singular in his case—of the preciosity which he admired too much in other writers, and advocated with over-emphasis.  Perhaps that is why many of his stories and essays and plays are used as English text-books in Russian and Scandinavian and Hungarian schools.  Artifice and affectation, often assumed to be recurrent defects in his writings by those unacquainted with them, are comparatively rare.  Wilde once boasted in an interview that only Flaubert, Pater, Keats, and Maeterlinck had influenced him, and then added in a characteristic way: “But I had already gone more than half-way to meet them.”  Anyone curious as to the origin of Wilde’s style and development should consult the learned treatise {1} of Dr. Ernst Bendz, whose comprehensive treatment of the subject renders any elucidation of mine superfluous; while nothing can be added to Mr. Holbrook Jackson’s masterly criticism {2} of Wilde and his position in literature.

In making this selection, with the valuable assistance of Mr. Stuart Mason, I have endeavoured to illustrate and to justify the critical appreciations of both Dr. Bendz and Mr. Holbrook Jackson, as well as to afford the general reader a fair idea of Wilde’s variety as a prose writer.  He is more various than almost any author of the last century, though the act of writing was always a burden to him.  Some critic acutely pointed out that poetry and prose were almost side-issues for him.  The resulting faults and weakness of what he left are obvious.  Except in the plays he has no sustained scheme of thought.  Even “De Profundis” is too desultory.

For the purpose of convenient reference I have exercised the prerogative of a literary executor and editor by endowing with special titles some of the pieces quoted in these pages.  Though unlike one of Wilde’s other friends I cannot claim to have collaborated with him or to have assisted him in any of his plays, I was sometimes permitted, as Wilde acknowledges in different letters, to act in the capacity of godfather by suggesting the actual titles by which some of his books are known to the world.  I mention the circumstance only as a precedent for my present temerity.  To compensate those who disapprove of my choice, I have included two unpublished letters.  The examples of Wilde’s epistolary style, published since his death, have been generally associated with disagreeable subjects.  Those included here will, I hope, prove a pleasant contrast.



There is such a thing as robbing a story of its reality by trying to make it too true, and The Black Arrow is so inartistic as not to contain a single anachronism to boast of, while the transformation of Dr. Jekyll reads dangerously like an experiment out of the Lancet.  As for Mr. Rider Haggard, who really has, or had once, the makings of a perfectly magnificent liar, he is now so afraid of being suspected of genius that when he does tell us anything marvellous, he feels bound to invent a personal reminiscence, and to put it into a footnote as a kind of cowardly corroboration.  Nor are our other novelists much better.  Mr. Henry James writes fiction as if it were a painful duty, and wastes upon mean motives and imperceptible ‘points of view’ his neat literary style, his felicitous phrases, his swift and caustic satire.  Mr. Hall Caine, it is true, aims at the grandiose, but then he writes at the top of his voice.  He is so loud that one cannot bear what he says.  Mr. James Payn is an adept in the art of concealing what is not worth finding.  He hunts down the obvious with the enthusiasm of a short-sighted detective.  As one turns over the pages, the suspense of the author becomes almost unbearable.  The horses of Mr. William Black’s phaeton do not soar towards the sun.  They merely frighten the sky at evening into violent chromolithographic effects.  On seeing them approach, the peasants take refuge in dialect.  Mrs. Oliphant prattles pleasantly about curates, lawn-tennis parties, domesticity, and other wearisome things.  Mr. Marion Crawford has immolated himself upon the altar of local colour.  He is like the lady in the French comedy who keeps talking about “le beau ciel d’Italie.”  Besides, he has fallen into the bad habit of uttering moral platitudes.  He is always telling us that to be good is to be good, and that to be bad is to be wicked.  At times he is almost edifying.  Robert Elsmere is of course a masterpiece—a masterpiece of the “genre ennuyeux,” the one form of literature that the English people seems thoroughly to enjoy.  A thoughtful young friend of ours once told us that it reminded him of the sort of conversation that goes on at a meat tea in the house of a serious Nonconformist family, and we can quite believe it.  Indeed it is only in England that such a book could be produced.  England is the home of lost ideas.  As for that great and daily increasing school of novelists for whom the sun always rises in the East-End, the only thing that can be said about them is that they find life crude, and leave it raw.—The Decay of Lying.


Ah!  Meredith!  Who can define him?  His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning.  As a writer he has mastered everything except language: as a novelist he can do everything, except tell a story: as an artist he is everything except articulate.  Somebody in Shakespeare—Touchstone, I think—talks about a man who is always breaking his shins over his own wit, and it seems to me that this might serve as the basis for a criticism of Meredith’s method.  But whatever he is, he is not a realist.  Or rather I would say that he is a child of realism who is not on speaking terms with his father.  By deliberate choice he has made himself a romanticist.  He has refused to bow the knee to Baal, and after all, even if the man’s fine spirit did not revolt against the noisy assertions of realism, his style would be quite sufficient of itself to keep life at a respectful distance.  By its means he has planted round his garden a hedge full of thorns, and red with wonderful roses.  As for Balzac, he was a most remarkable combination of the artistic temperament with the scientific spirit.  The latter he bequeathed to his disciples.  The former was entirely his own.  The difference between such a book as M. Zola’s L’Assommoir and Balzac’s Illusions Perdues is the difference between unimaginative realism and imaginative reality.  ‘All Balzac’s characters;’ said Baudelaire, ‘are gifted with the same ardour of life that animated himself.  All his fictions are as deeply coloured as dreams.  Each mind is a weapon loaded to the muzzle with will.  The very scullions have genius.’  A steady course of Balzac reduces our living friends to shadows, and our acquaintances to the shadows of shades.  His characters have a kind of fervent fiery-coloured existence.  They dominate us, and defy scepticism.  One of the greatest tragedies of my life is the death of Lucien de Rubempré.  It is a grief from which I have never been able completely to rid myself.  It haunts me in my moments of pleasure.  I remember it when I laugh.  But Balzac is no more a realist than Holbein was.  He created life, he did not copy it.  I admit, however, that he set far too high a value on modernity of form, and that, consequently, there is no book of his that, as an artistic masterpiece, can rank with Salammbô or Esmond, or The Cloister and the Hearth, or the Vicomte de Bragelonne.—The Decay of Lying.


Art begins with abstract decoration, with purely imaginative and pleasurable work dealing with what is unreal and non-existent.  This is the first stage.  Then Life becomes fascinated with this new wonder, and asks to be admitted into the charmed circle.  Art takes life as part of her rough material, recreates it, and refashions it in fresh forms, is absolutely indifferent to fact, invents, imagines, dreams, and keeps between herself and reality the impenetrable barrier of beautiful style, of decorative or ideal treatment.  The third stage is when Life gets the upper hand, and drives Art out into the wilderness.  That is the true decadence, and it is from this that we are now suffering.

Take the case of the English drama.  At first in the hands of the monks Dramatic Art was abstract, decorative and mythological.  Then she enlisted Life in her service, and using some of life’s external forms, she created an entirely new race of beings, whose sorrows were more terrible than any sorrow man has ever felt, whose joys were keener than lover’s joys, who had the rage of the Titans and the calm of the gods, who had monstrous and marvellous sins, monstrous and marvellous virtues.  To them she gave a language different from that of actual use, a language full of resonant music and sweet rhythm, made stately by solemn cadence, or made delicate by fanciful rhyme, jewelled with wonderful words, and enriched with lofty diction.  She clothed her children in strange raiment and gave them masks, and at her bidding the antique world rose from its marble tomb.  A new Cæsar stalked through the streets of risen Rome, and with purple sail and flute-led oars another Cleopatra passed up the river to Antioch.  Old myth and legend and dream took shape and substance.  History was entirely re-written, and there was hardly one of the dramatists who did not recognise that the object of Art is not simple truth but complex beauty.  In this they were perfectly right.  Art itself is really a form of exaggeration; and selection, which is the very spirit of art, is nothing more than an intensified mode of over-emphasis.

But Life soon shattered the perfection of the form.  Even in Shakespeare we can see the beginning of the end.  It shows itself by the gradual breaking-up of the blank-verse in the later plays, by the predominance given to prose, and by the over-importance assigned to characterisation.  The passages in Shakespeare—and they are many—where the language is uncouth, vulgar, exaggerated, fantastic, obscene even, are entirely due to Life calling for an echo of her own voice, and rejecting the intervention of beautiful style, through which alone should life be suffered to find expression.  Shakespeare is not by any means a flawless artist.  He is too fond of going directly to life, and borrowing life’s natural utterance.  He forgets that when Art surrenders her imaginative medium she surrenders everything.—The Decay of Lying.


We have all seen in our own day in England how a certain curious and fascinating type of beauty, invented and emphasised by two imaginative painters, has so influenced Life that whenever one goes to a private view or to an artistic salon one sees, here the mystic eyes of Rossetti’s dream, the long ivory throat, the strange square-cut jaw, the loosened shadowy hair that he so ardently loved, there the sweet maidenhood of ‘The Golden Stair,’ the blossom-like mouth and weary loveliness of the ‘Laus Amoris,’ the passion-pale face of Andromeda, the thin hands and lithe beauty of the Vivian in ‘Merlin’s Dream.’  And it has always been so.  A great artist invents a type, and Life tries to copy it, to reproduce it in a popular form, like an enterprising publisher.  Neither Holbein nor Vandyck found in England what they have given us.  They brought their types with them, and Life with her keen imitative faculty set herself to supply the master with models.  The Greeks, with their quick artistic instinct, understood this, and set in the bride’s chamber the statue of Hermes or of Apollo, that she might bear children as lovely as the works of art that she looked at in her rapture or her pain.  They knew that Life gains from art not merely spirituality, depth of thought and feeling, soul-turmoil or soul-peace, but that she can form herself on the very lines and colours of art, and can reproduce the dignity of Pheidias as well as the grace of Praxiteles.  Hence came their objection to realism.  They disliked it on purely social grounds.  They felt that it inevitably makes people ugly, and they were perfectly right.  We try to improve the conditions of the race by means of good air, free sunlight, wholesome water, and hideous bare buildings for the better housing of the lower orders.  But these things merely produce health, they do not produce beauty.  For this, Art is required, and the true disciples of the great artist are not his studio-imitators, but those who become like his works of art, be they plastic as in Greek days, or pictorial as in modern times; in a word, Life is Art’s best, Art’s only pupil.—The Decay of Lying.


I once asked a lady, who knew Thackeray intimately, whether he had had any model for Becky Sharp.  She told me that Becky was an invention, but that the idea of the character had been partly suggested by a governess who lived in the neighbourhood of Kensington Square, and was the companion of a very selfish and rich old woman.  I inquired what became of the governess, and she replied that, oddly enough, some years after the appearance of Vanity Fair, she ran away with the nephew of the lady with whom she was living, and for a short time made a great splash in society, quite in Mrs. Rawdon Crawley’s style, and entirely by Mrs. Rawdon Crawley’s methods.  Ultimately she came to grief, disappeared to the Continent, and used to be occasionally seen at Monte Carlo and other gambling places.  The noble gentleman from whom the same great sentimentalist drew Colonel Newcome died, a few months after The Newcomer had reached a fourth edition, with the word ‘Adsum’ on his lips.  Shortly after Mr. Stevenson published his curious psychological story of transformation, a friend of mine, called Mr. Hyde, was in the north of London, and being anxious to get to a railway station, took what he thought would be a short cut, lost his way, and found himself in a network of mean, evil-looking streets.  Feeling rather nervous he began to walk extremely fast, when suddenly out of an archway ran a child right between his legs.  It fell on the pavement, he tripped over it, and trampled upon it.  Being of course very much frightened and a little hurt, it began to scream, and in a few seconds the whole street was full of rough people who came pouring out of the houses like ants.  They surrounded him, and asked him his name.  He was just about to give it when he suddenly remembered the opening incident in Mr. Stevenson’s story.  He was so filled with horror at having realised in his own person that terrible and well-written scene, and at having done accidentally, though in fact, what the Mr. Hyde of fiction had done with deliberate intent, that he ran away as hard as he could go.  He was, however, very closely followed, and finally he took refuge in a surgery, the door of which happened to be open, where he explained to a young assistant, who happened to be there, exactly what had occurred.  The humanitarian crowd were induced to go away on his giving them a small sum of money, and as soon as the coast was clear he left.  As he passed out, the name on the brass door-plate of the surgery caught his eye.  It was ‘Jekyll.’  At least it should have been.—The Decay of Lying.


What is true about the drama and the novel is no less true about those arts that we call the decorative arts.  The whole history of these arts in Europe is the record of the struggle between Orientalism, with its frank rejection of imitation, its love of artistic convention, its dislike to the actual representation of any object in Nature, and our own imitative spirit.  Wherever the former has been paramount, as in Byzantium, Sicily and Spain, by actual contact, or in the rest of Europe by the influence of the Crusades, we have had beautiful and imaginative work in which the visible things of life are transmuted into artistic conventions, and the things that Life has not are invented and fashioned for her delight.  But wherever we have returned to Life and Nature, our work has always become vulgar, common and uninteresting.  Modern tapestry, with its aërial effects, its elaborate perspective, its broad expanses of waste sky, its faithful and laborious realism, has no beauty whatsoever.  The pictorial glass of Germany is absolutely detestable.  We are beginning to weave possible carpets in England, but only because we have returned to the method and spirit of the East.  Our rugs and carpets of twenty years ago, with their solemn depressing truths, their inane worship of Nature, their sordid reproductions of visible objects, have become, even to the Philistine, a source of laughter.  A cultured Mahomedan once remarked to us, “You Christians are so occupied in misinterpreting the fourth commandment that you have never thought of making an artistic application of the second.”  He was perfectly right, and the whole truth of the matter is this: The proper school to learn art in is not Life but Art.—The Decay of Lying.


Where, if not from the Impressionists, do we get those wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas-lamps and changing the houses into monstrous shadows?  To whom, if not to them and their master, do we owe the lovely silver mists that brood over our river, and turn to faint forms of fading grace curved bridge and swaying barge?  The extraordinary change that has taken place in the climate of London during the last ten years is entirely due to a particular school of Art.  You smile.  Consider the matter from a scientific or a metaphysical point of view, and you will find that I am right.  For what is Nature?  Nature is no great mother who has borne us.  She is our creation.  It is in our brain that she quickens to life.  Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us.  To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.  One does not see anything until one sees its beauty.  Then, and then only, does it come into existence.  At present, people see fogs, not because there are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects.  There may have been fogs for centuries in London.  I dare say there were.  But no one saw them, and so we do not know anything about them.  They did not exist till Art had invented them.  Now, it must be admitted, fogs are carried to excess.  They have become the mere mannerism of a clique, and the exaggerated realism of their method gives dull people bronchitis.  Where the cultured catch an effect, the uncultured catch cold.  And so, let us be humane, and invite Art to turn her wonderful eyes elsewhere.  She has done so already, indeed.  That white quivering sunlight that one sees now in France, with its strange blotches of mauve, and its restless violet shadows, is her latest fancy, and, on the whole, Nature reproduces it quite admirably.  Where she used to give us Corots and Daubignys, she gives us now exquisite Monets and entrancing Pissaros.  Indeed there are moments, rare, it is true, but still to be observed from time to time, when Nature becomes absolutely modern.  Of course she is not always to be relied upon.  The fact is that she is in this unfortunate position.  Art creates an incomparable and unique effect, and, having done so, passes on to other things.  Nature, upon the other hand, forgetting that imitation can be made the sincerest form of insult, keeps on repeating this effect until we all become absolutely wearied of it.  Nobody of any real culture, for instance, ever talks nowadays about the beauty of a sunset.  Sunsets are quite old-fashioned.  They belong to the time when Turner was the last note in art.  To admire them is a distinct sign of provincialism of temperament.  Upon the other hand they go on.—The Decay of Lying.


After all, what the imitative arts really give us are merely the various styles of particular artists, or of certain schools of artists.  Surely you don’t imagine that the people of the Middle Ages bore any resemblance at all to the figures on mediæval stained glass, or in mediæval stone and wood carving, or on mediæval metal-work, or tapestries, or illuminated MSS.  They were probably very ordinary-looking people, with nothing grotesque, or remarkable, or fantastic in their appearance.  The Middle Ages, as we know them in art, are simply a definite form of style, and there is no reason at all why an artist with this style should not be produced in the nineteenth century.  No great artist ever sees things as they really are.  If he did, he would cease to be an artist.  Take an example from our own day.  I know that you are fond of Japanese things.  Now, do you really imagine that the Japanese people, as they are presented to us in art, have any existence?  If you do, you have never understood Japanese art at all.  The Japanese people are the deliberate self-conscious creation of certain individual artists.  If you set a picture by Hokusai, or Hokkei, or any of the great native painters, beside a real Japanese gentleman or lady, you will see that there is not the slightest resemblance between them.  The actual people who live in Japan are not unlike the general run of English people; that is to say, they are extremely commonplace, and have nothing curious or extraordinary about them.  In fact the whole of Japan is a pure invention.  There is no such country, there are no such people.  One of our most charming painters {3} went recently to the Land of the Chrysanthemum in the foolish hope of seeing the Japanese.  All he saw, all he had the chance of painting, were a few lanterns and some fans.  He was quite unable to discover the inhabitants, as his delightful exhibition at Messrs. Dowdeswell’s Gallery showed only too well.  He did not know that the Japanese people are, as I have said, simply a mode of style, an exquisite fancy of art.  And so, if you desire to see a Japanese effect, you will not behave like a tourist and go to Tokio.  On the contrary, you will stay at home and steep yourself in the work of certain Japanese artists, and then, when you have absorbed the spirit of their style, and caught their imaginative manner of vision, you will go some afternoon and sit in the Park or stroll down Piccadilly, and if you cannot see an absolutely Japanese effect there, you will not see it anywhere.  Or, to return again to the past, take as another instance the ancient Greeks.  Do you think that Greek art ever tells us what the Greek people were like?  Do you believe that the Athenian women were like the stately dignified figures of the Parthenon frieze, or like those marvellous goddesses who sat in the triangular pediments of the same building?  If you judge from the art, they certainly were so.  But read an authority, like Aristophanes, for instance.  You will find that the Athenian ladies laced tightly, wore high-heeled shoes, dyed their hair yellow, painted and rouged their faces, and were exactly like any silly fashionable or fallen creature of our own day.  The fact is that we look back on the ages entirely through the medium of art, and art, very fortunately, has never once told us the truth.—The Decay of Lying.


He was taken back to Newgate, preparatory to his removal to the colonies.  In a fanciful passage in one of his early essays he had fancied himself ‘lying in Horsemonger Gaol under sentence of death’ for having been unable to resist the temptation of stealing some Marc Antonios from the British Museum in order to complete his collection.  The sentence now passed on him was to a man of his culture a form of death.  He complained bitterly of it to his friends, and pointed out, with a good deal of reason, some people may fancy, that the money was practically his own, having come to him from his mother, and that the forgery, such as it was, had been committed thirteen years before, which, to use his own phrase, was at least a circonstance attenuante.  The permanence of personality is a very subtle metaphysical problem, and certainly the English law solves the question in an extremely rough-and-ready manner.  There is, however, something dramatic in the fact that this heavy punishment was inflicted on him for what, if we remember his fatal influence on the prose of modern journalism, was certainly not the worst of all his sins.

While he was in gaol, Dickens, Macready, and Hablot Browne came across him by chance.  They had been going over the prisons of London, searching for artistic effects, and in Newgate they suddenly caught sight of Wainewright.  He met them with a defiant stare, Forster tells us, but Macready was ‘horrified to recognise a man familiarly known to him in former years, and at whose table he had dined.’

Others had more curiosity, and his cell was for some time a kind of fashionable lounge.  Many men of letters went down to visit their old literary comrade.  But he was no longer the kind light-hearted Janus whom Charles Lamb admired.  He seems to have grown quite cynical.

To the agent of an insurance company who was visiting him one afternoon, and thought he would improve the occasion by pointing out that, after all, crime was a bad speculation, he replied: ‘Sir, you City men enter on your speculations, and take the chances of them.  Some of your speculations succeed, some fail.  Mine happen to have failed, yours happen to have succeeded.  That is the only difference, sir, between my visitor and me.  But, sir, I will tell you one thing in which I have succeeded to the last.  I have been determined through life to hold the position of a gentleman.  I have always done so.  I do so still.  It is the custom of this place that each of the inmates of a cell shall take his morning’s turn of sweeping it out.  I occupy a cell with a bricklayer and a sweep, but they never offer me the broom!’  When a friend reproached him with the murder of Helen Abercrombie he shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Yes; it was a dreadful thing to do, but she had very thick ankles.’—Pen, Pencil and Poison.


His love of art, however, never deserted him.  At Hobart Town he started a studio, and returned to sketching and portrait-painting, and his conversation and manners seem not to have lost their charm.  Nor did he give up his habit of poisoning, and there are two cases on record in which he tried to make away with people who had offended him.  But his hand seems to have lost its cunning.  Both of his attempts were complete failures, and in 1844, being thoroughly dissatisfied with Tasmanian society, he presented a memorial to the governor of the settlement, Sir John Eardley Wilmot, praying for a ticket-of-leave.  In it he speaks of himself as being ‘tormented by ideas struggling for outward form and realisation, barred up from increase of knowledge, and deprived of the exercise of profitable or even of decorous speech.’  His request, however, was refused, and the associate of Coleridge consoled himself by making those marvellous Paradis Artificiels whose secret is only known to the eaters of opium.  In 1852 he died of apoplexy, his sole living companion being a cat, for which he had evinced at extraordinary affection.

His crimes seem to have had an important effect upon his art.  They gave a strong personality to his style, a quality that his early work certainly lacked.  In a note to the Life of Dickens, Forster mentions that in 1847 Lady Blessington received from her brother, Major Power, who held a military appointment at Hobart Town, an oil portrait of a young lady from his clever brush; and it is said that ‘he had contrived to put the expression of his own wickedness into the portrait of a nice, kind-hearted girl.’  M. Zola, in one of his novels, tells us of a young man who, having committed a murder, takes to art, and paints greenish impressionist portraits of perfectly respectable people, all of which bear a curious resemblance to his victim.  The development of Mr. Wainewright’s style seems to me far more subtle and suggestive.  One can fancy an intense personality being created out of sin.—Pen, Pencil and Poison.


In literature mere egotism is delightful.  It is what fascinates us in the letters of personalities so different as Cicero and Balzac, Flaubert and Berlioz, Byron and Madame de Sévigné.  Whenever we come across it, and, strangely enough, it is rather rare, we cannot but welcome it, and do not easily forget it.  Humanity will always love Rousseau for having confessed his sins, not to a priest, but to the world, and the couchant nymphs that Cellini wrought in bronze for the castle of King Francis, the green and gold Perseus, even, that in the open Loggia at Florence shows the moon the dead terror that once turned life to stone, have not given it more pleasure than has that autobiography in which the supreme scoundrel of the Renaissance relates the story of his splendour and his shame.  The opinions, the character, the achievements of the man, matter very little.  He may be a sceptic like the gentle Sieur de Montaigne, or a saint like the bitter son of Monica, but when he tells us his own secrets he can always charm our ears to listening and our lips to silence.  The mode of thought that Cardinal Newman represented—if that can be called a mode of thought which seeks to solve intellectual problems by a denial of the supremacy of the intellect—may not, cannot, I think, survive.  But the world will never weary of watching that troubled soul in its progress from darkness to darkness.  The lonely church at Littlemore, where ‘the breath of the morning is damp, and worshippers are few,’ will always be dear to it, and whenever men see the yellow snapdragon blossoming on the wall of Trinity they will think of that gracious undergraduate who saw in the flower’s sure recurrence a prophecy that he would abide for ever with the Benign Mother of his days—a prophecy that Faith, in her wisdom or her folly, suffered not to be fulfilled.  Yes; autobiography is irresistible.—The Critic as Artist.


Taken as a whole the man was great.  He did not belong to the Olympians, and had all the incompleteness of the Titan.  He did not survey, and it was but rarely that he could sing.  His work is marred by struggle, violence and effort, and he passed not from emotion to form, but from thought to chaos.  Still, he was great.  He has been called a thinker, and was certainly a man who was always thinking, and always thinking aloud; but it was not thought that fascinated him, but rather the processes by which thought moves.  It was the machine he loved, not what the machine makes.  The method by which the fool arrives at his folly was as dear to him as the ultimate wisdom of the wise.  So much, indeed, did the subtle mechanism of mind fascinate him that he despised language, or looked upon it as an incomplete instrument of expression.  Rhyme, that exquisite echo which in the Muse’s hollow hill creates and answers its own voice; rhyme, which in the hands of the real artist becomes not merely a material element of metrical beauty, but a spiritual element of thought and passion also, waking a new mood, it may be, or stirring a fresh train of ideas, or opening by mere sweetness and suggestion of sound some golden door at which the Imagination itself had knocked in vain; rhyme, which can turn man’s utterance to the speech of gods; rhyme, the one chord we have added to the Greek lyre, became in Robert Browning’s hands a grotesque, misshapen thing, which at times made him masquerade in poetry as a low comedian, and ride Pegasus too often with his tongue in his cheek.  There are moments when he wounds us by monstrous music.  Nay, if he can only get his music by breaking the strings of his lute, he breaks them, and they snap in discord, and no Athenian tettix, making melody from tremulous wings, lights on the ivory horn to make the movement perfect, or the interval less harsh.  Yet, he was great: and though he turned language into ignoble clay, he made from it men and women that live.  He is the most Shakespearian creature since Shakespeare.  If Shakespeare could sing with myriad lips, Browning could stammer through a thousand mouths.  Even now, as I am speaking, and speaking not against him but for him, there glides through the room the pageant of his persons.  There, creeps Fra Lippo Lippi with his cheeks still burning from some girl’s hot kiss.  There, stands dread Saul with the lordly male-sapphires gleaming in his turban.  Mildred Tresham is there, and the Spanish monk, yellow with hatred, and Blougram, and Ben Ezra, and the Bishop of St. Praxed’s.  The spawn of Setebos gibbers in the corner, and Sebald, hearing Pippa pass by, looks on Ottima’s haggard face, and loathes her and his own sin, and himself.  Pale as the white satin of his doublet, the melancholy king watches with dreamy treacherous eyes too loyal Strafford pass forth to his doom, and Andrea shudders as he hears the cousins whistle in the garden, and bids his perfect wife go down.  Yes, Browning was great.  And as what will he be remembered?  As a poet?  Ah, not as a poet!  He will be remembered as a writer of fiction, as the most supreme writer of fiction, it may be, that we have ever had.  His sense of dramatic situation was unrivalled, and, if he could not answer his own problems, he could at least put problems forth, and what more should an artist do?  Considered from the point of view of a creator of character he ranks next to him who made Hamlet.  Had he been articulate, he might have sat beside him.  The only man who can touch the hem of his garment is George Meredith.  Meredith is a prose Browning, and so is Browning. He used poetry as a medium for writing in prose.—The Critic as Artist.


Life and Literature, life and the perfect expression of life.  The principles of the former, as laid down by the Greeks, we may not realise in an age so marred by false ideals as our own.  The principles of the latter, as they laid them down, are, in many cases, so subtle that we can hardly understand them.  Recognising that the most perfect art is that which most fully mirrors man in all his infinite variety, they elaborated the criticism of language, considered in the light of the mere material of that art, to a point to which we, with our accentual system of reasonable or emotional emphasis, can barely if at all attain; studying, for instance, the metrical movements of a prose as scientifically as a modern musician studies harmony and counterpoint, and, I need hardly say, with much keener æsthetic instinct.  In this they were right, as they were right in all things.  Since the introduction of printing, and the fatal development of the habit of reading amongst the middle and lower classes of this country, there has been a tendency in literature to appeal more and more to the eye, and less and less to the ear which is really the sense which, from the standpoint of pure art, it should seek to please, and by whose canons of pleasure it should abide always.  Even the work of Mr. Pater, who is, on the whole, the most perfect master of English prose now creating amongst us, is often far more like a piece of mosaic than a passage in music, and seems, here and there, to lack the true rhythmical life of words and the fine freedom and richness of effect that such rhythmical life produces.  We, in fact, have made writing a definite mode of composition, and have treated it as a form of elaborate design.  The Greeks, upon the other hand, regarded writing simply as a method of chronicling.  Their test was always the spoken word in its musical and metrical relations.  The voice was the medium, and the ear the critic.  I have sometimes thought that the story of Homer’s blindness might be really an artistic myth, created in critical days, and serving to remind us, not merely that the great poet is always a seer, seeing less with the eyes of the body than he does with the eyes of the soul, but that he is a true singer also, building his song out of music, repeating each line over and over again to himself till he has caught the secret of its melody, chaunting in darkness the words that are winged with light.  Certainly, whether this be so or not, it was to his blindness, as an occasion, if not as a cause, that England’s great poet owed much of the majestic movement and sonorous splendour of his later verse.  When Milton could no longer write he began to sing.—The Critic as Artist.


On the mouldering citadel of Troy lies the lizard like a thing of green bronze.  The owl has built her nest in the palace of Priam.  Over the empty plain wander shepherd and goatherd with their flocks, and where, on the wine-surfaced, oily sea, οινοψ ποντος, as Homer calls it, copper-prowed and streaked with vermilion, the great galleys of the Danaoi came in their gleaming crescent, the lonely tunny-fisher sits in his little boat and watches the bobbing corks of his net.  Yet, every morning the doors of the city are thrown open, and on foot, or in horse-drawn chariot, the warriors go forth to battle, and mock their enemies from behind their iron masks.  All day long the fight rages, and when night comes the torches gleam by the tents, and the cresset burns in the hall.  Those who live in marble or on painted panel, know of life but a single exquisite instant, eternal indeed in its beauty, but limited to one note of passion or one mood of calm.  Those whom the poet makes live have their myriad emotions of joy and terror, of courage and despair, of pleasure and of suffering.  The seasons come and go in glad or saddening pageant, and with winged or leaden feet the years pass by before them.  They have their youth and their manhood, they are children, and they grow old.  It is always dawn for St. Helena, as Veronese saw her at the window.  Through the still morning air the angels bring her the symbol of God’s pain.  The cool breezes of the morning lift the gilt threads from her brow.  On that little hill by the city of Florence, where the lovers of Giorgione are lying, it is always the solstice of noon, of noon made so languorous by summer suns that hardly can the slim naked girl dip into the marble tank the round bubble of clear glass, and the long fingers of the lute-player rest idly upon the chords.  It is twilight always for the dancing nymphs whom Corot set free among the silver poplars of France.  In eternal twilight they move, those frail diaphanous figures, whose tremulous white feet seem not to touch the dew-drenched grass they tread on.  But those who walk in epos, drama, or romance, see through the labouring months the young moons wax and wane, and watch the night from evening unto morning star, and from sunrise unto sunsetting can note the shifting day with all its gold and shadow.  For them, as for us, the flowers bloom and wither, and the Earth, that Green-tressed Goddess as Coleridge calls her, alters her raiment for their pleasure.  The statue is concentrated to one moment of perfection.  The image stained upon the canvas possesses no spiritual element of growth or change.  If they know nothing of death, it is because they know little of life, for the secrets of life and death belong to those, and those only, whom the sequence of time affects, and who possess not merely the present but the future, and can rise or fall from a past of glory or of shame.  Movement, that problem of the visible arts, can be truly realised by Literature alone.  It is Literature that shows us the body in its swiftness and the soul in its unrest.—The Critic as Artist.


Who cares whether Mr. Ruskin’s views on Turner are sound or not?  What does it matter?  That mighty and majestic prose of his, so fervid and so fiery-coloured in its noble eloquence, so rich in its elaborate symphonic music, so sure and certain, at its best, in subtle choice of word and epithet, is at least as great a work of art as any of those wonderful sunsets that bleach or rot on their corrupted canvases in England’s Gallery; greater indeed, one is apt to think at times, not merely because its equal beauty is more enduring, but on account of the fuller variety of its appeal, soul speaking to soul in those long-cadenced lines, not through form and colour alone, though through these, indeed, completely and without loss, but with intellectual and emotional utterance, with lofty passion and with loftier thought, with imaginative insight, and with poetic aim; greater, I always think, even as Literature is the greater art.  Who, again, cares whether Mr. Pater has put into the portrait of Monna Lisa something that Lionardo never dreamed of?  The painter may have been merely the slave of an archaic smile, as some have fancied, but whenever I pass into the cool galleries of the Palace of the Louvre, and stand before that strange figure ‘set in its marble chair in that cirque of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea,’ I murmur to myself, ‘She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her: and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants; and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as St. Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.’  And I say to my friend, ‘The presence that thus so strangely rose beside the waters is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years man had come to desire’; and he answers me, ‘Hers is the head upon which all “the ends of the world are come,” and the eyelids are a little weary.’

And so the picture becomes more wonderful to us than it really is, and reveals to us a secret of which, in truth, it knows nothing, and the music of the mystical prose is as sweet in our ears as was that flute-player’s music that lent to the lips of La Gioconda those subtle and poisonous curves.  Do you ask me what Lionardo would have said had any one told him of this picture that ‘all the thoughts and experience of the world had etched and moulded therein that which they had of power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the reverie of the Middle Age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias?’  He would probably have answered that he had contemplated none of these things, but had concerned himself simply with certain arrangements of lines and masses, and with new and curious colour-harmonies of blue and green.  And it is for this very reason that the criticism which I have quoted is criticism of the highest kind.  It treats the work of art simply as a starting-point for a new creation.  It does not confine itself—let us at least suppose so for the moment—to discovering the real intention of the artist and accepting that as final.  And in this it is right, for the meaning of any beautiful created thing is, at least, as much in the soul of him who looks at it, as it was in his soul who wrought it.  Nay, it is rather the beholder who lends to the beautiful thing its myriad meanings, and makes it marvellous for us, and sets it in some new relation to the age, so that it becomes a vital portion of our lives, and a symbol of what we pray for, or perhaps of what, having prayed for, we fear that we may receive.—The Critic as Artist.


There is no mood or passion that Art cannot give us, and those of us who have discovered her secret can settle beforehand what our experiences are going to be.  We can choose our day and select our hour.  We can say to ourselves, ‘To-morrow, at dawn, we shall walk with grave Virgil through the valley of the shadow of death,’ and lo! the dawn finds us in the obscure wood, and the Mantuan stands by our side.  We pass through the gate of the legend fatal to hope, and with pity or with joy behold the horror of another world.  The hypocrites go by, with their painted faces and their cowls of gilded lead.  Out of the ceaseless winds that drive them, the carnal look at us, and we watch the heretic rending his flesh, and the glutton lashed by the rain.  We break the withered branches from the tree in the grove of the Harpies, and each dull-hued poisonous twig bleeds with red blood before us, and cries aloud with bitter cries.  Out of a horn of fire Odysseus speaks to us, and when from his sepulchre of flame the great Ghibelline rises, the pride that triumphs over the torture of that bed becomes ours for a moment.  Through the dim purple air fly those who have stained the world with the beauty of their sin, and in the pit of loathsome disease, dropsy-stricken and swollen of body into the semblance of a monstrous lute, lies Adamo di Brescia, the coiner of false coin.  He bids us listen to his misery; we stop, and with dry and gaping lips he tells us how he dreams day and night of the brooks of clear water that in cool dewy channels gush down the green Casentine hills.  Sinon, the false Greek of Troy, mocks at him.  He smites him in the face, and they wrangle.  We are fascinated by their shame, and loiter, till Virgil chides us and leads us away to that city turreted by giants where great Nimrod blows his horn.  Terrible things are in store for us, and we go to meet them in Dante’s raiment and with Dante’s heart.  We traverse the marshes of the Styx, and Argenti swims to the boat through the slimy waves.  He calls to us, and we reject him.  When we hear the voice of his agony we are glad, and Virgil praises us for the bitterness of our scorn.  We tread upon the cold crystal of Cocytus, in which traitors stick like straws in glass.  Our foot strikes against the head of Bocca.  He will not tell us his name, and we tear the hair in handfuls from the screaming skull.  Alberigo prays us to break the ice upon his face that he may weep a little.  We pledge our word to him, and when he has uttered his dolorous tale we deny the word that we have spoken, and pass from him; such cruelty being courtesy indeed, for who more base than he who has mercy for the condemned of God?  In the jaws of Lucifer we see the man who sold Christ, and in the jaws of Lucifer the men who slew Cæsar.  We tremble, and come forth to re-behold the stars.—The Critic as Artist.


The appeal of all Art is simply to the artistic temperament.  Art does not address herself to the specialist.  Her claim is that she is universal, and that in all her manifestations she is one.  Indeed, so far from its being true that the artist is the best judge of art, a really great artist can never judge of other people’s work at all, and can hardly, in fact, judge of his own.  That very concentration of vision that makes a man an artist, limits by its sheer intensity his faculty of fine appreciation.  The energy of creation hurries him blindly on to his own goal.  The wheels of his chariot raise the dust as a cloud around him.  The gods are hidden from each other.  They can recognise their worshippers.  That is all . . . Wordsworth saw in Endymion merely a pretty piece of Paganism, and Shelley, with his dislike of actuality, was deaf to Wordsworth’s message, being repelled by its form, and Byron, that great passionate human incomplete creature, could appreciate neither the poet of the cloud nor the poet of the lake, and the wonder of Keats was hidden from him.  The realism of Euripides was hateful to Sophokles.  Those droppings of warm tears had no music for him.  Milton, with his sense of the grand style, could not understand the method of Shakespeare, any more than could Sir Joshua the method of Gainsborough.  Bad artists always admire each other’s work.  They call it being large-minded and free from prejudice.  But a truly great artist cannot conceive of life being shown, or beauty fashioned, under any conditions other than those that he has selected.  Creation employs all its critical faculty within its own sphere.  It may not use it in the sphere that belongs to others.  It is exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the proper judge of it.—The Critic as Artist.


He who would stir us now by fiction must either give us an entirely new background, or reveal to us the soul of man in its innermost workings.  The first is for the moment being done for us by Mr. Rudyard Kipling.  As one turns over the pages of his Plain Tales from the Hills, one feels as if one were seated under a palm-tree reading life by superb flashes of vulgarity.  The bright colours of the bazaars dazzle one’s eyes.  The jaded, second-rate Anglo-Indians are in exquisite incongruity with their surroundings.  The mere lack of style in the story-teller gives an odd journalistic realism to what he tells us.  From the point of view of literature Mr. Kipling is a genius who drops his aspirates.  From the point of view of life, he is a reporter who knows vulgarity better than any one has ever known it.  Dickens knew its clothes and its comedy.  Mr. Kipling knows its essence and its seriousness.  He is our first authority on the second-rate, and has seen marvellous things through keyholes, and his backgrounds are real works of art.  As for the second condition, we have had Browning, and Meredith is with us.  But there is still much to be done in the sphere of introspection.  People sometimes say that fiction is getting too morbid.  As far as psychology is concerned, it has never been morbid enough.  We have merely touched the surface of the soul, that is all.  In one single ivory cell of the brain there are stored away things more marvellous and more terrible than even they have dreamed of, who, like the author of Le Rouge et le Noir, have sought to track the soul into its most secret places, and to make life confess its dearest sins.  Still, there is a limit even to the number of untried backgrounds, and it is possible that a further development of the habit of introspection may prove fatal to that creative faculty to which it seeks to supply fresh material.  I myself am inclined to think that creation is doomed.  It springs from too primitive, too natural an impulse.  However this may be, it is certain that the subject-matter at the disposal of creation is always diminishing, while the subject-matter of criticism increases daily.  There are always new attitudes for the mind, and new points of view.  The duty of imposing form upon chaos does not grow less as the world advances.  There was never a time when Criticism was more needed than it is now.  It is only by its means that Humanity can become conscious of the point at which it has arrived.—The Critic as Artist.


Goethe—you will not misunderstand what I say—was a German of the Germans.  He loved his country—no man more so.  Its people were dear to him; and he led them.  Yet, when the iron hoof of Napoleon trampled upon vineyard and cornfield, his lips were silent.  ‘How can one write songs of hatred without hating?’ he said to Eckermann, ‘and how could I, to whom culture and barbarism are alone of importance, hate a nation which is among the most cultivated of the earth and to which I owe so great a part of my own cultivation?’  This note, sounded in the modern world by Goethe first, will become, I think, the starting point for the cosmopolitanism of the future.  Criticism will annihilate race-prejudices, by insisting upon the unity of the human mind in the variety of its forms.  If we are tempted to make war upon another nation, we shall remember that we are seeking to destroy an element of our own culture, and possibly its most important element.  As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination.  When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.  The change will of course be slow, and people will not be conscious of it.  They will not say ‘We will not war against France because her prose is perfect,’ but because the prose of France is perfect, they will not hate the land.  Intellectual criticism will bind Europe together in bonds far closer than those that can be forged by shopman or sentimentalist.  It will give us the peace that springs from understanding.—The Critic as Artist.


Infessura tells us that in 1485 some workmen digging on the Appian Way came across an old Roman sarcophagus inscribed with the name ‘Julia, daughter of Claudius.’  On opening the coffer they found within its marble womb the body of a beautiful girl of about fifteen years of age, preserved by the embalmer’s skill from corruption and the decay of time.  Her eyes were half open, her hair rippled round her in crisp curling gold, and from her lips and cheek the bloom of maidenhood had not yet departed.  Borne back to the Capitol, she became at once the centre of a new cult, and from all parts of the city crowded pilgrims to worship at the wonderful shrine, till the Pope, fearing lest those who had found the secret of beauty in a Pagan tomb might forget what secrets Judæa’s rough and rock-hewn sepulchre contained, had the body conveyed away by night, and in secret buried.  Legend though it may be, yet the story is none the less valuable as showing us the attitude of the Renaissance towards the antique world.  Archæology to them was not a mere science for the antiquarian; it was a means by which they could touch the dry dust of antiquity into the very breath and beauty of life, and fill with the new wine of romanticism forms that else had been old and outworn.  From the pulpit of Niccola Pisano down to Mantegna’s ‘Triumph of Cæsar,’ and the service Cellini designed for King Francis, the influence of this spirit can be traced; nor was it confined merely to the immobile arts—the arts of arrested movement—but its influence was to be seen also in the great Græco-Roman masques which were the constant amusement of the gay courts of the time, and in the public pomps and processions with which the citizens of big commercial towns were wont to greet the princes that chanced to visit them; pageants, by the way, which were considered so important that large prints were made of them and published—a fact which is a proof of the general interest at the time in matters of such kind.—The Truth of Masks.


Indeed archæology is only really delightful when transfused into some form of art.  I have no desire to underrate the services of laborious scholars, but I feel that the use Keats made of Lemprière’s Dictionary is of far more value to us than Professor Max Müller’s treatment of the same mythology as a disease of language.  Better Endymion than any theory, however sound, or, as in the present instance, unsound, of an epidemic among adjectives!  And who does not feel that the chief glory of Piranesi’s book on Vases is that it gave Keats the suggestion for his ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’?  Art, and art only, can make archæology beautiful; and the theatric art can use it most directly and most vividly, for it can combine in one exquisite presentation the illusion of actual life with the wonder of the unreal world.  But the sixteenth century was not merely the age of Vitruvius; it was the age of Vecellio also.  Every nation seems suddenly to have become interested in the dress of its neighbours.  Europe began to investigate its own clothes, and the amount of books published on national costumes is quite extraordinary.  At the beginning of the century the Nuremberg Chronicle, with its two thousand illustrations, reached its fifth edition, and before the century was over seventeen editions were published of Munster’s Cosmography.  Besides these two books there were also the works of Michael Colyns, of Hans Weigel, of Amman, and of Vecellio himself, all of them well illustrated, some of the drawings in Vecellio being probably from the hand of Titian.

Nor was it merely from books and treatises that they acquired their knowledge.  The development of the habit of foreign travel, the increased commercial intercourse between countries, and the frequency of diplomatic missions, gave every nation many opportunities of studying the various forms of contemporary dress.  After the departure from England, for instance, of the ambassadors from the Czar, the Sultan and the Prince of Morocco, Henry the Eighth and his friends gave several masques in the strange attire of their visitors.  Later on London saw, perhaps too often, the sombre splendour of the Spanish Court, and to Elizabeth came envoys from all lands, whose dress, Shakespeare tells us, had an important influence on English costume.—The Truth of Masks.


Non, non, vous ne voulez pas cela.  Vous me dites cela seulement pour me faire de la peine, parce que je vous ai regardée pendant toute la soirée.  Eh! bien, oui.  Je vous ai regardée pendant toute la soirée.  Votre beauté m’a troublé.  Votre beauté m’a terriblement troublé, et je vous ai trop regardée.  Mais je ne le ferai plus.  Il ne faut regarder ni les choses ni les personnes.  Il ne faut regarder que dans les miroirs.  Car les miroirs ne nous montrent que des masques . . . Oh!  Oh! du vin! j’ai soif . . . Salomé, Salomé, soyons amis.  Enfin, voyez . . . Qu’est-ce que je voulais dire?  Qu’est-ce que c’était?  Ah! je m’en souviens! . . . Salomé!  Non, venez plus près de moi.  J’ai peur que vous ne m’entendiez pas . . . Salomé, vous connaissez mes paons blancs, mes beaux paons blancs, qui se promènent dans le jardin entre les myrtes et les grands cyprès.  Leurs becs sont dorés, et les grains qu’ils mangent sont dorés aussi, et leurs pieds sont teints de pourpre.  La pluie vient quand ils crient, et quand ils se pavanent la lune se montre au ciel.  Ils vont deux à deux entre les cyprès et les myrtes noirs et chacun a son esclave pour le soigner.  Quelquefois ils volent à travers les arbres, et quelquefois ils couchent sur le gazon et autour de l’étang.  Il n’y a pas dans le monde d’oiseaux si merveilleux.  Il n’y a aucun roi du monde qui possède des oiseaux aussi merveilleux.  Je suis sûr que même César ne possède pas d’oiseaux aussi beaux.  Eh bien! je vous donnerai cinquante de mes paons.  Ils vous suivront partout, et au milieu d’eux vous serez comme la lune dans un grand nuage blanc . . . Je vous les donnerai tous.  Je n’en ai que cent, et il n’y a aucun roi du monde qui possède des paons comme les miens, mais je vous les donnerai tous.  Seulement, il faut me délier de ma parole et ne pas me demander ce que vous m’avez demandé.—Salomé.


Salomé, pensez à ce que vous faites.  Cet homme vient peut-être de Dieu.  Je suis sûr qu’il vient de Dieu.  C’est un saint homme.  Le doigt de Dieu l’a touché.  Dieu a mis dans sa bouche des mots terribles.  Dans le palais, comme dans le désert, Dieu est toujours avec lui . . . Au moins, c’est possible.  On ne sait pas, mais il est possible que Dieu soit pour lui et avec lui.  Aussi peut-être que s’il mourrait, il m’arriverait un malheur.  Enfin, il a dit que le jour où il mourrait il arriverait un malheur à quelqu’un.  Ce ne peut être qu’à moi.  Souvenez-vous, j’ai glissé dans le sang quand je suis entré ici.  Aussi j’ai entendu un battement d’ailes dans l’air, un battement d’ailes gigantesques.  Ce sont de très mauvais présages.  Et il y en avait d’autres.  Je suis sûr qu’il y en avait d’autres, quoique je ne les aie pas vus.  Eh bien!  Salomé, vous ne voulez pas qu’un malheur m’arrive?  Vous ne voulez pas cela.—Salomé.


Moi, je suis très calme.  Je suis tout à fait calme.  Écoutez.  J’ai des bijoux cachés ici que même votre mère n’a jamais vus, des bijoux tout à fait extraordinaires.  J’ai un collier de perles à quatre rangs.  On dirait des lunes enchaînées de rayons d’argent.  On dirait cinquante lunes captives dans un filet d’or.  Une reine l’a porté sur l’ivoire de ses seins.  Toi, quand tu le porteras, tu seras aussi belle qu’une reine.  J’ai des améthystes de deux espèces.  Une qui est noire comme le vin.  L’autre qui est rouge comme du vin qu’on a coloré avec de l’eau.  J’ai des topazes jaunes comme les yeux des tigres, et des topazes roses comme les yeux des pigeons, et des topazes vertes comme les yeux des chats.  J’ai des opales qui brûlent toujours avec une flamme qui est très froide, des opales qui attristent les esprits et ont peur des ténèbres.  J’ai des onyx semblables aux prunelles d’une morte.  J’ai des sélénites qui changent quand la lune change et deviennent pâles quand elles voient le soleil.  J’ai des saphirs grands comme des oeufs et bleus comme des fleurs bleues.  La mer erre dedans, et la lune ne vient jamais troubler le bleu de ses flots.  J’ai des chrysolithes et des béryls, j’ai des chrysoprases et des rubis, j’ai des sardonyx et des hyacinthes, et des calcédoines et je vous les donnerai tous, mais tous, et j’ajouterai d’autres choses.  Le roi des Indes vient justement de m’envoyer quatre éventails faits de plumes de perroquets, et le roi de Numidie une robe faite de plumes d’autruche.  J’ai un cristal qu’il n’est pas permis aux femmes de voir et que même les jeunes hommes ne doivent regarder qu’après avoir été flagellés de verges.  Dans un coffret de nacre j’ai trois turquoises merveilleuses.  Quand on les porte sur le front on peut imaginer des choses qui n’existent pas, et quand on les porte dans la main on peut rendre les femmes stériles.  Ce sont des trésors de grande valeur.  Ce sont des trésors sans prix.  Et ce n’est pas tout.  Dans un coffret d’ébène j’ai deux coupes d’ambre qui ressemblent à des pommes d’or.  Si un ennemi verse du poison dans ces coupes elles deviennent comme des pommes d’argent.  Dans un coffret incrusté d’ambre j’ai des sandales incrustées de verre.  J’ai des manteaux qui viennent du pays des Sères et des bracelets garnis d’escarboucles et de jade qui viennent de la ville d’Euphrate. . . Enfin, que veux-tu, Salomé?  Dis-moi ce que tu désires et je te le donnerai.  Je te donnerai tout ce que tu demanderas, sauf une chose.  Je te donnerai tout ce que je possède, sauf une vie.  Je te donnerai le manteau du grand prêtre.  Je te donnerai le voile du sanctuaire.—Salomé.


Ah! tu n’as pas voulu me laisser baiser ta bouche, Iokanaan.  Eh bien! je la baiserai maintenant.  Je la mordrai avec mes dents comme on mord un fruit mûr.  Oui, je baiserai ta bouche, Iokanaan.  Je te l’ai dit, n’est-ce pas? je te l’ai dit.  Eh bien! je la baiserai maintenant . . . Mais pourquoi ne me regardes-tu pas, Iokanaan?  Tes yeux qui étaient si terribles, qui étaient si pleins de colère et de mépris, ils sont fermés maintenant.  Pourquoi sont-ils fermés?  Ouvre tes yeux!  Soulève tes paupières, Iokanaan.  Pourquoi ne me regardes-tu pas?  As-tu peur de moi, Iokanaan, que tu ne veux pas me regarder? . . . Et ta langue qui était comme un serpent rouge dardant des poisons, elle ne remue plus, elle ne dit rien maintenant, Iokanaan, cette vipère rouge qui a vomi son venin sur moi.  C’est étrange, n’est-ce pas?  Comment se fait-il que la vipère rouge ne remue plus? . . . Tu n’as pas voulu de moi, Iokanaan.  Tu m’as rejetée.  Tu m’as dit des choses infâmes.  Tu m’as traitée comme une courtisane, comme une prostituée, moi, Salomé, fille d’Hérodias, Princesse de Judée!  Eh bien, Iokanaan, moi je vis encore, mais toi tu es mort et ta tête m’appartient.  Je puis en faire ce que je veux.  Je puis la jeter aux chiens et aux oiseaux de l’air.  Ce que laisseront les chiens, les oiseaux de l’air le mangeront . . . Ah! Iokanaan, Iokanaan, tu as été le seul homme que j’ai aimé.  Tous les autres hommes m’inspirent du dégoût.  Mais, toi, tu étais beau.  Ton corps était une colonne d’ivoire sur un socle d’argent.  C’était un jardin plein de colombes et de lis d’argent.  C’était une tour d’argent ornée de boucliers d’ivoire.  Il n’y avait rien au monde d’aussi blanc que ton corps.  Il n’y avait rien au monde d’aussi noir que tes cheveux.  Dans le monde tout entier il n’y avait rien d’aussi rouge que ta bouche.  Ta voix était un encensoir qui répandait d’étranges parfums, et quand je te regardais j’entendais une musique étrange!  Ah! pourquoi ne m’as-tu pas regardée, Iokanaan?  Derrière tes mains et tes blasphèmes tu as caché ton visage.  Tu as mis sur tes yeux le bandeau de celui qui veut voir son Dieu.  Eh bien, tu l’as vu, ton Dieu, Iokanaan, mais moi, moi . . . tu ne m’as jamais vue.  Si tu m’avais vue, tu m’aurais aimée.  Moi, je t’ai vu, Iokanaan, et je t’ai aimé.  Oh! comme je t’ai aimé.  Je t’aime encore, Iokanaan.  Je n’aime que toi . . . J’ai soif de ta beauté.  J’ai faim de ton corps.  Et ni le vin, ni les fruits ne peuvent apaiser mon désir.  Que ferai-je, Iokanaan, maintenant?  Ni les fleuves ni les grandes eaux, ne pourraient éteindre ma passion.  J’étais une Princesse, tu m’as dédaignée.  J’étais une vierge, tu m’as déflorée.  J’étais chaste, tu as rempli mes veines de feu . . . Ah!  Ah! pourquoi ne m’as-tu pas regardée, Iokanaan?  Si tu m’avais regardée tu m’aurais aimée.  Je sais bien que tu m’aurais aimée, et le mystère de l’amour est plus grand que le mystére de la mort.  Il ne faut regarder que l’amour.—Salomé.


All rare and costly materials had certainly a great fascination for him, and in his eagerness to procure them he had sent away many merchants, some to traffic for amber with the rough fisher-folk of the north seas, some to Egypt to look for that curious green turquoise which is found only in the tombs of kings, and is said to possess magical properties, some to Persia for silken carpets and painted pottery, and others to India to buy gauze and stained ivory, moonstones and bracelets of jade, sandal-wood and blue enamel and shawls of fine wool.

But what had occupied him most was the robe he was to wear at his coronation, the robe of tissued gold, and the ruby-studded crown, and the sceptre with its rows and rings of pearls.  Indeed, it was of this that he was thinking to-night, as he lay back on his luxurious couch, watching the great pinewood log that was burning itself out on the open hearth.  The designs, which were from the hands of the most famous artists of the time, had been submitted to him many months before, and he had given orders that the artificers were to toil night and day to carry them out, and that the whole world was to be searched for jewels that would be worthy of their work.  He saw himself in fancy standing at the high altar of the cathedral in the fair raiment of a King, and a smile played and lingered about his boyish lips, and lit up with a bright lustre his dark woodland eyes.

After some time he rose from his seat, and leaning against the carved penthouse of the chimney, looked round at the dimly-lit room.  The walls were hung with rich tapestries representing the Triumph of Beauty.  A large press, inlaid with agate and lapis-lazuli, filled one corner, and facing the window stood a curiously wrought cabinet with lacquer panels of powdered and mosaiced gold, on which were placed some delicate goblets of Venetian glass, and a cup of dark-veined onyx.  Pale poppies were broidered on the silk coverlet of the bed, as though they had fallen from the tired hands of sleep, and tall reeds of fluted ivory bare up the velvet canopy, from which great tufts of ostrich plumes sprang, like white foam, to the pallid silver of the fretted ceiling.  A laughing Narcissus in green bronze held a polished mirror above its head.  On the table stood a flat bowl of amethyst.

Outside he could see the huge dome of the cathedral, looming like a bubble over the shadowy houses, and the weary sentinels pacing up and down on the misty terrace by the river.  Far away, in an orchard, a nightingale was singing.  A faint perfume of jasmine came through the open window.  He brushed his brown curls back from his forehead, and taking up a lute, let his fingers stray across the cords.  His heavy eyelids drooped, and a strange languor came over him.  Never before had he felt so keenly, or with such exquisite joy, the magic and the mystery of beautiful things.

When midnight sounded from the clock-tower he touched a bell, and his pages entered and disrobed him with much ceremony, pouring rose-water over his hands, and strewing flowers on his pillow.  A few moments after that they had left the room, he fell asleep.—The Young King.


And when the Bishop had heard them he knit his brows, and said, ‘My son, I am an old man, and in the winter of my days, and I know that many evil things are done in the wide world.  The fierce robbers come down from the mountains, and carry off the little children, and sell them to the Moors.  The lions lie in wait for the caravans, and leap upon the camels.  The wild boar roots up the corn in the valley, and the foxes gnaw the vines upon the hill.  The pirates lay waste the sea-coast and burn the ships of the fishermen, and take their nets from them.  In the salt-marshes live the lepers; they have houses of wattled reeds, and none may come nigh them.  The beggars wander through the cities, and eat their food with the dogs.  Canst thou make these things not to be?  Wilt thou take the leper for thy bedfellow, and set the beggar at thy board?  Shall the lion do thy bidding, and the wild boar obey thee?  Is not He who made misery wiser than thou art?  Wherefore I praise thee not for this that thou hast done, but I bid thee ride back to the Palace and make thy face glad, and put on the raiment that beseemeth a king, and with the crown of gold I will crown thee, and the sceptre of pearl will I place in thy hand.  And as for thy dreams, think no more of them.  The burden of this world is too great for one man to bear, and the world’s sorrow too heavy for one heart to suffer.’

‘Sayest thou that in this house?’ said the young King, and he strode past the Bishop, and climbed up the steps of the altar, and stood before the image of Christ.

He stood before the image of Christ, and on his right hand and on his left were the marvellous vessels of gold, the chalice with the yellow wine, and the vial with the holy oil.  He knelt before the image of Christ, and the great candles burned brightly by the jewelled shrine, and the smoke of the incense curled in thin blue wreaths through the dome.  He bowed his head in prayer, and the priests in their stiff copes crept away from the altar.

And suddenly a wild tumult came from the street outside, and in entered the nobles with drawn swords and nodding plumes, and shields of polished steel.  ‘Where is this dreamer of dreams?’ they cried.  ‘Where is this King who is apparelled like a beggar—this boy who brings shame upon our state?  Surely we will slay him, for he is unworthy to rule over us.’

And the young King bowed his head again, and prayed, and when he had finished his prayer he rose up, and turning round he looked at them sadly.

And lo! through the painted windows came the sunlight streaming upon him, and the sun-beams wove round him a tissued robe that was fairer than the robe that had been fashioned for his pleasure.  The dead staff blossomed, and bare lilies that were whiter than pearls.  The dry thorn blossomed, and bare roses that were redder than rubies.  Whiter than fine pearls were the lilies, and their stems were of bright silver.  Redder than male rubies were the roses, and their leaves were of beaten gold.

He stood there in the raiment of a king, and the gates of the jewelled shrine flew open, and from the crystal of the many-rayed monstrance shone a marvellous and mystical light.  He stood there in a king’s raiment, and the Glory of God filled the place, and the saints in their carven niches seemed to move.  In the fair raiment of a king he stood before them, and the organ pealed out its music, and the trumpeters blew upon their trumpets, and the singing boys sang.

And the people fell upon their knees in awe, and the nobles sheathed their swords and did homage, and the Bishop’s face grew pale, and his hands trembled.  ‘A greater than I hath crowned thee,’ he cried, and he knelt before him.

And the young King came down from the high altar, and passed home through the midst of the people.  But no man dared look upon his face, for it was like the face of an angel.—The Young King.


From a window in the palace the sad melancholy King watched them.  Behind him stood his brother, Don Pedro of Aragon, whom he hated, and his confessor, the Grand Inquisitor of Granada, sat by his side.  Sadder even than usual was the King, for as he looked at the Infanta bowing with childish gravity to the assembling counters, or laughing behind her fan at the grim Duchess of Albuquerque who always accompanied her, he thought of the young Queen, her mother, who but a short time before—so it seemed to him—had come from the gay country of France, and had withered away in the sombre splendour of the Spanish court, dying just six months after the birth of her child, and before she had seen the almonds blossom twice in the orchard, or plucked the second year’s fruit from the old gnarled fig-tree that stood in the centre of the now grass-grown courtyard.  So great had been his love for her that he had not suffered even the grave to hide her from him.  She had been embalmed by a Moorish physician, who in return for this service had been granted his life, which for heresy and suspicion of magical practices had been already forfeited, men said, to the Holy Office, and her body was still lying on its tapestried bier in the black marble chapel of the Palace, just as the monks had borne her in on that windy March day nearly twelve years before.  Once every month the King, wrapped in a dark cloak and with a muffled lantern in his hand, went in and knelt by her side calling out, ‘Mi reinaMi reina!’ and sometimes breaking through the formal etiquette that in Spain governs every separate action of life, and sets limits even to the sorrow of a King, he would clutch at the pale jewelled hands in a wild agony of grief, and try to wake by his mad kisses the cold painted face.

To-day he seemed to see her again, as he had seen her first at the Castle of Fontainebleau, when he was but fifteen years of age, and she still younger.  They had been formally betrothed on that occasion by the Papal Nuncio in the presence of the French King and all the Court, and he had returned to the Escurial bearing with him a little ringlet of yellow hair, and the memory of two childish lips bending down to kiss his hand as he stepped into his carriage.  Later on had followed the marriage, hastily performed at Burgos, a small town on the frontier between the two countries, and the grand public entry into Madrid with the customary celebration of high mass at the Church of La Atocha, and a more than usually solemn auto-da-fé, in which nearly three hundred heretics, amongst whom were many Englishmen, had been delivered over to the secular arm to be burned.

Certainly he had loved her madly, and to the ruin, many thought, of his country, then at war with England for the possession of the empire of the New World.  He had hardly ever permitted her to be out of his sight; for her, he had forgotten, or seemed to have forgotten, all grave affairs of State; and, with that terrible blindness that passion brings upon its servants, he had failed to notice that the elaborate ceremonies by which he sought to please her did but aggravate the strange malady from which she suffered.  When she died he was, for a time, like one bereft of reason.  Indeed, there is no doubt but that he would have formally abdicated and retired to the great Trappist monastery at Granada, of which he was already titular Prior, had he not been afraid to leave the little Infanta at the mercy of his brother, whose cruelty, even in Spain, was notorious, and who was suspected by many of having caused the Queen’s death by means of a pair of poisoned gloves that he had presented to her on the occasion of her visiting his castle in Aragon.  Even after the expiration of the three years of public mourning that he had ordained throughout his whole dominions by royal edict, he would never suffer his ministers to speak about any new alliance, and when the Emperor himself sent to him, and offered him the hand of the lovely Archduchess of Bohemia, his niece, in marriage, he bade the ambassadors tell their master that the King of Spain was already wedded to Sorrow, and that though she was but a barren bride he loved her better than Beauty; an answer that cost his crown the rich provinces of the Netherlands, which soon after, at the Emperor’s instigation, revolted against him under the leadership of some fanatics of the Reformed Church.—The Birthday of the Infranta.


A procession of noble boys, fantastically dressed as toreadors, came out to meet her, and the young Count of Tierra-Nueva, a wonderfully handsome lad of about fourteen years of age, uncovering his head with all the grace of a born hidalgo and grandee of Spain, led her solemnly in to a little gilt and ivory chair that was placed on a raised dais above the arena.  The children grouped themselves all round, fluttering their big fans and whispering to each other, and Don Pedro and the Grand Inquisitor stood laughing at the entrance.  Even the Duchess—the Camerera-Mayor as she was called—a thin, hard-featured woman with a yellow ruff, did not look quite so bad-tempered as usual, and something like a chill smile flitted across her wrinkled face and twitched her thin bloodless lips.

It certainly was a marvellous bull-fight, and much nicer, the Infanta thought, than the real bull-fight that she had been brought to see at Seville, on the occasion of the visit of the Duke of Parma to her father.  Some of the boys pranced about on richly-caparisoned hobby-horses brandishing long javelins with gay streamers of bright ribands attached to them; others went on foot waving their scarlet cloaks before the bull, and vaulting lightly over the barrier when he charged them; and as for the bull himself, he was just like a live bull, though he was only made of wicker-work and stretched hide, and sometimes insisted on running round the arena on his hind legs, which no live bull ever dreams of doing.  He made a splendid fight of it too, and the children got so excited that they stood up upon the benches, and waved their lace handkerchiefs and cried out: Bravo toroBravo toro! just as sensibly as if they had been grown-up people.  At last, however, after a prolonged combat, during which several of the hobby-horses were gored through and through, and, their riders dismounted, the young Count of Tierra-Nueva brought the bull to his knees, and having obtained permission from the Infanta to give the coup de grâce, he plunged his wooden sword into the neck of the animal with such violence that the head came right off, and disclosed the laughing face of little Monsieur de Lorraine, the son of the French Ambassador at Madrid.

The arena was then cleared amidst much applause, and the dead hobby-horses dragged solemnly away by two Moorish pages in yellow and black liveries, and after a short interlude, during which a French posture-master performed upon the tightrope, some Italian puppets appeared in the semi-classical tragedy of Sophonisba on the stage of a small theatre that had been built up for the purpose.  They acted so well, and their gestures were so extremely natural, that at the close of the play the eyes of the Infanta were quite dim with tears.  Indeed some of the children really cried, and had to be comforted with sweetmeats, and the Grand Inquisitor himself was so affected that he could not help saying to Don Pedro that it seemed to him intolerable that things made simply out of wood and coloured wax, and worked mechanically by wires, should be so unhappy and meet with such terrible misfortunes.—The Birthday of the Infanta.


It was a throne-room, used for the reception of foreign ambassadors, when the King, which of late had not been often, consented to give them a personal audience; the same room in which, many years before, envoys had appeared from England to make arrangements for the marriage of their Queen, then one of the Catholic sovereigns of Europe, with the Emperor’s eldest son.  The hangings were of gilt Cordovan leather, and a heavy gilt chandelier with branches for three hundred wax lights hung down from the black and white ceiling.  Underneath a great canopy of gold cloth, on which the lions and towers of Castile were broidered in seed pearls, stood the throne itself, covered with a rich pall of black velvet studded with silver tulips and elaborately fringed with silver and pearls.  On the second step of the throne was placed the kneeling-stool of the Infanta, with its cushion of cloth of silver tissue, and below that again, and beyond the limit of the canopy, stood the chair for the Papal Nuncio, who alone had the right to be seated in the King’s presence on the occasion of any public ceremonial, and whose Cardinal’s hat, with its tangled scarlet tassels, lay on a purple tabouret in front.  On the wall, facing the throne, hung a life-sized portrait of Charles V. in hunting dress, with a great mastiff by his side, and a picture of Philip II. receiving the homage of the Netherlands occupied the centre of the other wall.  Between the windows stood a black ebony cabinet, inlaid with plates of ivory, on which the figures from Holbein’s Dance of Death had been graved—by the hand, some said, of that famous master himself.

But the little Dwarf cared nothing for all this magnificence.  He would not have given his rose for all the pearls on the canopy, nor one white petal of his rose for the throne itself.  What he wanted was to see the Infanta before she went down to the pavilion, and to ask her to come away with him when he had finished his dance.  Here, in the Palace, the air was close and heavy, but in the forest the wind blew free, and the sunlight with wandering hands of gold moved the tremulous leaves aside.  There were flowers, too, in the forest, not so splendid, perhaps, as the flowers in the garden, but more sweetly scented for all that; hyacinths in early spring that flooded with waving purple the cool glens, and grassy knolls; yellow primroses that nestled in little clumps round the gnarled roots of the oak-trees; bright celandine, and blue speedwell, and irises lilac and gold.  There were grey catkins on the hazels, and the foxgloves drooped with the weight of their dappled bee-haunted cells.  The chestnut had its spires of white stars, and the hawthorn its pallid moons of beauty.  Yes: surely she would come if he could only find her!  She would come with him to the fair forest, and all day long he would dance for her delight.  A smile lit up his eyes at the thought, and he passed into the next room.

Of all the rooms this was the brightest and the most beautiful.  The walls were covered with a pink-flowered Lucca damask, patterned with birds and dotted with dainty blossoms of silver; the furniture was of massive silver, festooned with florid wreaths, and swinging Cupids; in front of the two large fire-places stood great screens broidered with parrots and peacocks, and the floor, which was of sea-green onyx, seemed to stretch far away into the distance.  Nor was he alone.  Standing under the shadow of the doorway, at the extreme end of the room, he saw a little figure watching him.  His heart trembled, a cry of joy broke from his lips, and he moved out into the sunlight.  As he did so, the figure moved out also, and he saw it plainly.—The Birthday of the Infanta.


‘The kings of each city levied tolls on us, but would not suffer us to enter their gates.  They threw us bread over the walls, little maize-cakes baked in honey and cakes of fine flour filled with dates.  For every hundred baskets we gave them a bead of amber.

‘When the dwellers in the villages saw us coming, they poisoned the wells and fled to the hill-summits.  We fought with the Magadae who are born old, and grow younger and younger every year, and die when they are little children; and with the Laktroi who say that they are the sons of tigers, and paint themselves yellow and black; and with the Aurantes who bury their dead on the tops of trees, and themselves live in dark caverns lest the Sun, who is their god, should slay them; and with the Krimnians who worship a crocodile, and give it earrings of green glass, and feed it with butter and fresh fowls; and with the Agazonbae, who are dog-faced; and with the Sibans, who have horses’ feet, and run more swiftly than horses.  A third of our company died in battle, and a third died of want.  The rest murmured against me, and said that I had brought them an evil fortune.  I took a horned adder from beneath a stone and let it sting me.  When they saw that I did not sicken they grew afraid.

‘In the fourth month we reached the city of Illel.  It was night-time when we came to the grove that is outside the walls, and the air was sultry, for the Moon was travelling in Scorpion.  We took the ripe pomegranates from the trees, and brake them, and drank their sweet juices.  Then we lay down on our carpets, and waited for the dawn.

‘And at dawn we rose and knocked at the gate of the city.  It was wrought out of red bronze, and carved with sea-dragons and dragons that have wings.  The guards looked down from the battlements and asked us our business.  The interpreter of the caravan answered that we had come from the island of Syria with much merchandise.  They took hostages, and told us that they would open the gate to us at noon, and bade us tarry till then.

‘When it was noon they opened the gate, and as we entered in the people came crowding out of the houses to look at us, and a crier went round the city crying through a shell.  We stood in the market-place, and the negroes uncorded the bales of figured cloths and opened the carved chests of sycamore.  And when they had ended their task, the merchants set forth their strange wares, the waxed linen from Egypt and the painted linen from the country of the Ethiops, the purple sponges from Tyre and the blue hangings from Sidon, the cups of cold amber and the fine vessels of glass and the curious vessels of burnt clay.  From the roof of a house a company of women watched us.  One of them wore a mask of gilded leather.

‘And on the first day the priests came and bartered with us, and on the second day came the nobles, and on the third day came the craftsmen and the slaves.  And this is their custom with all merchants as long as they tarry in the city.

‘And we tarried for a moon, and when the moon was waning, I wearied and wandered away through the streets of the city and came to the garden of its god.  The priests in their yellow robes moved silently through the green trees, and on a pavement of black marble stood the rose-red house in which the god had his dwelling.  Its doors were of powdered lacquer, and bulls and peacocks were wrought on them in raised and polished gold.  The tilted roof was of sea-green porcelain, and the jutting eaves were festooned with little bells.  When the white doves flew past, they struck the bells with their wings and made them tinkle.

‘In front of the temple was a pool of clear water paved with veined onyx.  I lay down beside it, and with my pale fingers I touched the broad leaves.  One of the priests came towards me and stood behind me.  He had sandals on his feet, one of soft serpent-skin and the other of birds’ plumage.  On his head was a mitre of black felt decorated with silver crescents.  Seven yellows were woven into his robe, and his frizzed hair was stained with antimony.

‘After a little while he spake to me, and asked me my desire.

‘I told him that my desire was to see the god.’—The Fisherman and His Soul.


‘As soon as the man was dead the Emperor turned to me, and when he had wiped away the bright sweat from his brow with a little napkin of purfled and purple silk, he said to me, “Art thou a prophet, that I may not harm thee, or the son of a prophet, that I can do thee no hurt?  I pray thee leave my city to-night, for while thou art in it I am no longer its lord.”

‘And I answered him, “I will go for half of thy treasure.  Give me half of thy treasure, and I will go away.”

‘He took me by the hand, and led me out into the garden.  When the captain of the guard saw me, he wondered.  When the eunuchs saw me, their knees shook and they fell upon the ground in fear.

‘There is a chamber in the palace that has eight walls of red porphyry, and a brass-sealed ceiling hung with lamps.  The Emperor touched one of the walls and it opened, and we passed down a corridor that was lit with many torches.  In niches upon each side stood great wine-jars filled to the brim with silver pieces.  When we reached the centre of the corridor the Emperor spake the word that may not be spoken, and a granite door swung back on a secret spring, and he put his hands before his face lest his eyes should be dazzled.

‘Thou couldst not believe how marvellous a place it was.  There were huge tortoise-shells full of pearls, and hollowed moonstones of great size piled up with red rubies.  The gold was stored in coffers of elephant-hide, and the gold-dust in leather bottles.  There were opals and sapphires, the former in cups of crystal, and the latter in cups of jade.  Round green emeralds were ranged in order upon thin plates of ivory, and in one corner were silk bags filled, some with turquoise-stones, and others with beryls.  The ivory horns were heaped with purple amethysts, and the horns of brass with chalcedonies and sards.  The pillars, which were of cedar, were hung with strings of yellow lynx-stones.  In the flat oval shields there were carbuncles, both wine-coloured and coloured like grass.  And yet I have told thee but a tithe of what was there.

‘And when the Emperor had taken away his hands from before his face he said to me: “This is my house of treasure, and half that is in it is thine, even as I promised to thee.  And I will give thee camels and camel drivers, and they shall do thy bidding and take thy share of the treasure to whatever part of the world thou desirest to go.  And the thing shall be done to-night, for I would not that the Sun, who is my father, should see that there is in my city a man whom I cannot slay.”

‘But I answered him, “The gold that is here is thine, and the silver also is thine, and thine are the precious jewels and the things of price.  As for me, I have no need of these.  Nor shall I take aught from thee but that little ring that thou wearest on the finger of thy hand.”

‘And the Emperor frowned.  “It is but a ring of lead,” he cried, “nor has it any value.  Therefore take thy half of the treasure and go from my city.”

‘“Nay,” I answered, “but I will take nought but that leaden ring, for I know what is written within it, and for what purpose.”

‘And the Emperor trembled, and besought me and said, “Take all the treasure and go from my city.  The half that is mine shall be thine also.”

‘And I did a strange thing, but what I did matters not, for in a cave that is but a day’s journey from this place have, I hidden the Ring of Riches.  It is but a day’s journey from this place, and it waits for thy coming.  He who has this Ring is richer than all the kings of the world.  Come therefore and take it, and the world’s riches shall be thine.’—The Fisherman and His Soul.


Where he went he hardly knew.  He had a dim memory of wandering through a labyrinth of sordid houses, of being lost in a giant web of sombre streets, and it was bright dawn when he found himself at last in Piccadilly Circus.  As he strolled home towards Belgrave Square, he met the great waggons on their way to Covent Garden.  The white-smocked carters, with their pleasant sunburnt faces and coarse curly hair, strode sturdily on, cracking their whips, and calling out now and then to each other; on the back of a huge grey horse, the leader of a jangling team, sat a chubby boy, with a bunch of primroses in his battered hat, keeping tight hold of the mane with his little hands, and laughing; and the great piles of vegetables looked like masses of jade against the morning sky, like masses of green jade against the pink petals of some marvellous rose.  Lord Arthur felt curiously affected, he could not tell why.  There was something in the dawn’s delicate loveliness that seemed to him inexpressibly pathetic, and he thought of all the days that break in beauty, and that set in storm.  These rustics, too, with their rough, good-humoured voices, and their nonchalant ways, what a strange London they saw!  A London free from the sin of night and the smoke of day, a pallid, ghost-like city, a desolate town of tombs!  He wondered what they thought of it, and whether they knew anything of its splendour and its shame, of its fierce, fiery-coloured joys, and its horrible hunger, of all it makes and mars from morn to eve.  Probably it was to them merely a mart where they brought their fruits to sell, and where they tarried for a few hours at most, leaving the streets still silent, the houses still asleep.  It gave him pleasure to watch them as they went by.  Rude as they were, with their heavy, hob-nailed shoes, and their awkward gait, they brought a little of a ready with them.  He felt that they had lived with Nature, and that she had taught them peace.  He envied them all that they did not know.

By the time he had reached Belgrave Square the sky was a faint blue, and the birds were beginning to twitter in the gardens.—Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime.



27th May.

My Dearest Aunt,

Thank you so much for the flannel for the Dorcas Society, and also for the gingham.  I quite agree with you that it is nonsense their wanting to wear pretty things, but everybody is so Radical and irreligious nowadays, that it is difficult to make them see that they should not try and dress like the upper classes.  I am sure I don’t know what we are coming to.  As papa has often said in his sermons, we live in an age of unbelief.

We have had great fun over a clock that an unknown admirer sent papa last Thursday.  It arrived in a wooden box from London, carriage paid, and papa feels it must have been sent by some one who had read his remarkable sermon, ‘Is Licence Liberty?’ for on the top of the clock was a figure of a woman, with what papa said was the cap of Liberty on her head.  I didn’t think it very becoming myself, but papa said it was historical, so I suppose it is all right.  Parker unpacked it, and papa put it on the mantelpiece in the library, and we were all sitting there on Friday morning, when just as the clock struck twelve, we heard a whirring noise, a little puff of smoke came from the pedestal of the figure, and the goddess of Liberty fell off, and broke her nose on the fender!  Maria was quite alarmed, but it looked so ridiculous, that James and I went off into fits of laughter, and even papa was amused.  When we examined it, we found it was a sort of alarum clock, and that, if you set it to a particular hour, and put some gunpowder and a cap under a little hammer, it went off whenever you wanted.  Papa said it must not remain in the library, as it made a noise, so Reggie carried it away to the schoolroom, and does nothing but have small explosions all day long.  Do you think Arthur would like one for a wedding present?  I suppose they are quite fashionable in London.  Papa says they should do a great deal of good, as they show that Liberty can’t last, but must fall down.  Papa says Liberty was invented at the time of the French Revolution.  How awful it seems!

I have now to go to the Dorcas, where I will read them your most instructive letter.  How true, dear aunt, your idea is, that in their rank of life they should wear what is unbecoming.  I must say it is absurd, their anxiety about dress, when there are so many more important things in this world, and in the next.  I am so glad your flowered poplin turned out so well, and that your lace was not torn.  I am wearing my yellow satin, that you so kindly gave me, at the Bishop’s on Wednesday, and think it will look all right.  Would you have bows or not?  Jennings says that every one wears bows now, and that the underskirt should be frilled.  Reggie has just had another explosion, and papa has ordered the clock to be sent to the stables.  I don’t think papa likes it so much as he did at first, though he is very flattered at being sent such a pretty and ingenious toy.  It shows that people read his sermons, and profit by them.

Papa sends his love, in which James, and Reggie, and Maria all unite, and, hoping that Uncle Cecil’s gout is better, believe me, dear aunt, ever your affectionate niece,


PS.—Do tell me about the bows.  Jennings insists they are the fashion.—Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime.


At half-past ten he heard the family going to bed.  For some time he was disturbed by wild shrieks of laughter from the twins, who, with the light-hearted gaiety of schoolboys, were evidently amusing themselves before they retired to rest, but at a quarter past eleven all was still, and, as midnight sounded, he sallied forth.  The owl beat against the window panes, the raven croaked from the old yew-tree, and the wind wandered moaning round the house like a lost soul; but the Otis family slept unconscious of their doom, and high above the rain and storm he could hear the steady snoring of the Minister for the United States.  He stepped stealthily out of the wainscoting, with an evil smile on his cruel, wrinkled mouth, and the moon hid her face in a cloud as he stole past the great oriel window, where his own arms and those of his murdered wife were blazoned in azure and gold.  On and on he glided, like an evil shadow, the very darkness seeming to loathe him as he passed.  Once he thought he heard something call, and stopped; but it was only the baying of a dog from the Red Farm, and he went on, muttering strange sixteenth-century curses, and ever and anon brandishing the rusty dagger in the midnight air.  Finally he reached the corner of the passage that led to luckless Washington’s room.  For a moment he paused there, the wind blowing his long grey locks about his head, and twisting into grotesque and fantastic folds the nameless horror of the dead man’s shroud.  Then the clock struck the quarter, and he felt the time was come.  He chuckled to himself, and turned the corner; but no sooner had he done so, than, with a piteous wail of terror, he fell back, and hid his blanched face in his long, bony hands.  Right in front of him was standing a horrible spectre, motionless as a carven image, and monstrous as a madman’s dream!  Its head was bald and burnished; its face round, and fat, and white; and hideous laughter seemed to have writhed its features into an eternal grin.  From the eyes streamed rays of scarlet light, the mouth was a wide well of fire, and a hideous garment, like to his own, swathed with its silent snows the Titan form.  On its breast was a placard with strange writing in antique characters, some scroll of shame it seemed, some record of wild sins, some awful calendar of crime, and, with its right hand, it bore aloft a falchion of gleaming steel.

Never having seen a ghost before, he naturally was terribly frightened, and, after a second hasty glance at the awful phantom, he fled back to his room, tripping up in his long winding-sheet as he sped down the corridor, and finally dropping the rusty dagger into the Minister’s jack-boots, where it was found in the morning by the butler.  Once in the privacy of his own apartment, he flung himself down on a small pallet-bed, and hid his face under the clothes.  After a time, however, the brave old Canterville spirit asserted itself, and he determined to go and speak to the other ghost as soon as it was daylight.  Accordingly, just as the dawn was touching the hills with silver, he returned towards the spot where he had first laid eyes on the grisly phantom, feeling that, after all, two ghosts were better than one, and that, by the aid of his new friend, he might safely grapple with the twins.  On reaching the spot, however, a terrible sight met his gaze.  Something had evidently happened to the spectre, for the light had entirely faded from its hollow eyes, the gleaming falchion had fallen from its hand, and it was leaning up against the wall in a strained and uncomfortable attitude.  He rushed forward and seized it in his arms, when, to his horror, the head slipped off and rolled on the floor, the body assumed a recumbent posture, and he found himself clasping a white dimity bed-curtain, with a sweeping-brush, a kitchen cleaver, and a hollow turnip lying at his feet!—The Canterville Ghost.


‘Far away beyond the pine-woods,’ he answered, in a low dreamy voice, ‘there is a little garden.  There the grass grows long and deep, there are the great white stars of the hemlock flower, there the nightingale sings all night long.  All night long he sings, and the cold, crystal moon looks down, and the yew-tree spreads out its giant arms over the sleepers.’

Virginia’s eyes grew dim with tears, and she hid her face in her hands.

‘You mean the Garden of Death,’ she whispered.

‘Yes, Death.  Death must be so beautiful.  To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence.  To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow.  To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.  You can help me.  You can open for me the portals of Death’s house, for Love is always with you, and Love is stronger than Death is.’

Virginia trembled, a cold shudder ran through her, and for a few moments there was silence.  She felt as if she was in a terrible dream.

Then the Ghost spoke again, and his voice sounded like the sighing of the wind.

‘Have you ever read the old prophecy on the library window?’

‘Oh, often,’ cried the little girl, looking up; ‘I know it quite well.  It is painted in curious black letters, and it is difficult to read.  There are only six lines:

When a golden girl can win
Prayer from out the lips of sin,
When the barren almond bears,
And a little child gives away its tears,
Then shall all the house be still
And peace come to Canterville.

But I don’t know what they mean.’

‘They mean,’ he said sadly, ‘that you must weep for me for my sins, because I have no tears, and pray with me for my soul, because I have no faith, and then, if you have always been sweet, and good, and gentle, the Angel of Death will have mercy on me.  You will see fearful shapes in darkness, and wicked voices will whisper in your ear, but they will not harm you, for against the purity of a little child the powers of Hell cannot prevail.’

Virginia made no answer, and the Ghost wrung his hands in wild despair as he looked down at her bowed golden head.  Suddenly she stood up, very pale, and with a strange light in her eyes.  ‘I am not afraid,’ she said firmly, ‘and I will ask the Angel to have mercy on you.’

He rose from his seat with a faint cry of joy, and taking her hand bent over it with old-fashioned grace and kissed it.  His fingers were as cold as ice, and his lips burned like fire, but Virginia did not falter, as he led her across the dusky room.  On the faded green tapestry were broidered little huntsmen.  They blew their tasselled horns and with their tiny hands waved to her to go back.  ‘Go back! little Virginia,’ they cried, ‘go back!’ but the Ghost clutched her hand more tightly, and she shut her eyes against them.  Horrible animals with lizard tails, and goggle eyes, blinked at her from the carven chimney-piece, and murmured ‘Beware! little Virginia, beware! we may never see you again,’ but the Ghost glided on more swiftly, and Virginia did not listen.  When they reached the end of the room he stopped, and muttered some words she could not understand.  She opened her eyes, and saw the wall slowly fading away like a mist, and a great black cavern in front of her.  A bitter cold wind swept round them, and she felt something pulling at her dress.  ‘Quick, quick,’ cried the Ghost, ‘or it will be too late,’ and, in a moment, the wainscoting had closed behind them, and the Tapestry Chamber was empty.—The Canterville Ghost.


“Well,” said Erskine, lighting a cigarette, “I must begin by telling you about Cyril Graham himself.  He and I were at the same house at Eton.  I was a year or two older than he was, but we were immense friends, and did all our work and all our play together.  There was, of course, a good deal more play than work, but I cannot say that I am sorry for that.  It is always an advantage not to have received a sound commercial education, and what I learned in the playing fields at Eton has been quite as useful to me as anything I was taught at Cambridge.  I should tell you that Cyril’s father and mother were both dead.  They had been drowned in a horrible yachting accident off the Isle of Wight.  His father had been in the diplomatic service, and had married a daughter, the only daughter, in fact, of old Lord Crediton, who became Cyril’s guardian after the death of his parents.  I don’t think that Lord Crediton cared very much for Cyril.  He had never really forgiven his daughter for marrying a man who had not a title.  He was an extraordinary old aristocrat, who swore like a costermonger, and had the manners of a farmer.  I remember seeing him once on Speech-day.  He growled at me, gave me a sovereign, and told me not to grow up ‘a damned Radical’ like my father.  Cyril had very little affection for him, and was only too glad to spend most of his holidays with us in Scotland.  They never really got on together at all.  Cyril thought him a bear, and he thought Cyril effeminate.  He was effeminate, I suppose, in some things, though he was a very good rider and a capital fencer.  In fact he got the foils before he left Eton.  But he was very languid in his manner, and not a little vain of his good looks, and had a strong objection to football.  The two things that really gave him pleasure were poetry and acting.  At Eton he was always dressing up and reciting Shakespeare, and when he went up to Trinity he became a member of the A.D.C. his first term.  I remember I was always very jealous of his acting.  I was absurdly devoted to him; I suppose because we were so different in some things.  I was a rather awkward, weakly lad, with huge feet, and horribly freckled.  Freckles run in Scotch families just as gout does in English families.  Cyril used to say that of the two he preferred the gout; but he always set an absurdly high value on personal appearance, and once read a paper before our debating society to prove that it was better to be good-looking than to be good.  He certainly was wonderfully handsome.  People who did not like him, Philistines and college tutors, and young men reading for the Church, used to say that he was merely pretty; but there was a great deal more in his face than mere prettiness.  I think he was the most splendid creature I ever saw, and nothing could exceed the grace of his movements, the charm of his manner.  He fascinated everybody who was worth fascinating, and a great many people who were not.  He was often wilful and petulant, and I used to think him dreadfully insincere.  It was due, I think, chiefly to his inordinate desire to please.  Poor Cyril!  I told him once that he was contented with very cheap triumphs, but he only laughed.  He was horribly spoiled.  All charming people, I fancy, are spoiled.  It is the secret of their attraction.

“However, I must tell you about Cyril’s acting.  You know that no actresses are allowed to play at the A.D.C.  At least they were not in my time.  I don’t know how it is now.  Well, of course, Cyril was always cast for the girls’ parts, and when As You Like It was produced he played Rosalind.  It was a marvellous performance.  In fact, Cyril Graham was the only perfect Rosalind I have ever seen.  It would be impossible to describe to you the beauty, the delicacy, the refinement of the whole thing.  It made an immense sensation, and the horrid little theatre, as it was then, was crowded every night.  Even when I read the play now I can’t help thinking of Cyril.  It might have been written for him.  The next term he took his degree, and came to London to read for the diplomatic.  But he never did any work.  He spent his days in reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and his evenings at the theatre.  He was, of course, wild to go on the stage.  It was all that I and Lord Crediton could do to prevent him.  Perhaps if he had gone on the stage he would be alive now.  It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is absolutely fatal.  I hope you will never fall into that error.  If you do, you will be sorry for it.”—The Portrait of Mr. W. H.


Lady Windermere, before Heaven your husband is guiltless of all offence towards you!  And I—I tell you that had it ever occurred to me that such a monstrous suspicion would have entered your mind, I would have died rather than have crossed your life or his—oh! died, gladly died!  Believe what you choose about me.  I am not worth a moment’s sorrow.  But don’t spoil your beautiful young life on my account!  You don’t know what may be in store for you, unless you leave this house at once.  You don’t know what it is to fall into the pit, to be despised, mocked, abandoned, sneered at—to be an outcast! to find the door shut against one, to have to creep in by hideous byways, afraid every moment lest the mask should be stripped from one’s face, and all the while to hear the laughter, the horrible laughter of the world, a thing more tragic than all the tears the world has ever shed.  You don’t know what it is.  One pays for one’s sin, and then one pays again, and all one’s life one pays.  You must never know that.—As for me, if suffering be an expiation, then at this moment I have expiated all my faults, whatever they have been; for to-night you have made a heart in one who had it not, made it and broken it.—But let that pass.  I may have wrecked my own life, but I will not let you wreck yours.  You—why, you are a mere girl, you would be lost.  You haven’t got the kind of brains that enables a woman to get back.  You have neither the wit nor the courage.  You couldn’t stand dishonour!  No!  Go back, Lady Windermere, to the husband who loves you, whom you love.  You have a child, Lady Windermere.  Go back to that child who even now, in pain or in joy, may be calling to you.  God gave you that child.  He will require from you that you make his life fine, that you watch over him.  What answer will you make to God if his life is ruined through you?  Back to your house, Lady Windermere—your husband loves you!  He has never swerved for a moment from the love he bears you.  But even if he had a thousand loves, you must stay with your child.  If he was harsh to you, you must stay with your child.  If he ill-treated you, you must stay with your child.  If he abandoned you, your place is with your child.—Lady Windermere’s Fan.


Men don’t understand what mothers are.  I am no different from other women except in the wrong done me and the wrong I did, and my very heavy punishments and great disgrace.  And yet, to bear you I had to look on death.  To nurture you I had to wrestle with it.  Death fought with me for you.  All women have to fight with death to keep their children.  Death, being childless, wants our children from us.  Gerald, when you were naked I clothed you, when you were hungry I gave you food.  Night and day all that long winter I tended you.  No office is too mean, no care too lowly for the thing we women love—and oh! how I loved you.  Not Hannah, Samuel more.  And you needed love, for you were weakly, and only love could have kept you alive.  Only love can keep any one alive.  And boys are careless often and without thinking give pain, and we always fancy that when they come to man’s estate and know us better they will repay us.  But it is not so.  The world draws them from our side, and they make friends with whom they are happier than they are with us, and have amusements from which we are barred, and interests that are not ours: and they are unjust to us often, for when they find life bitter they blame us for it, and when they find it sweet we do not taste its sweetness with them . . . You made many friends and went into their houses and were glad with them, and I, knowing my secret, did not dare to follow, but stayed at home and closed the door, shut out the sun and sat in darkness.  What should I have done in honest households?  My past was ever with me. . . . And you thought I didn’t care for the pleasant things of life.  I tell you I longed for them, but did not dare to touch them, feeling I had no right.  You thought I was happier working amongst the poor.  That was my mission, you imagined.  It was not, but where else was I to go?  The sick do not ask if the hand that smooths their pillow is pure, nor the dying care if the lips that touch their brow have known the kiss of sin.  It was you I thought of all the time; I gave to them the love you did not need: lavished on them a love that was not theirs . . . And you thought I spent too much of my time in going to Church, and in Church duties.  But where else could I turn?  God’s house is the only house where sinners are made welcome, and you were always in my heart, Gerald, too much in my heart.  For, though day after day, at morn or evensong, I have knelt in God’s house, I have never repented of my sin.  How could I repent of my sin when you, my love, were its fruit!  Even now that you are bitter to me I cannot repent.  I do not.  You are more to me than innocence.  I would rather be your mother—oh! much rather!—than have been always pure . . . Oh, don’t you see? don’t you understand?  It is my dishonour that has made you so dear to me.  It is my disgrace that has bound you so closely to me.  It is the price I paid for you—the price of soul and body—that makes me love you as I do.  Oh, don’t ask me to do this horrible thing.  Child of my shame, be still the child of my shame!—A Woman of No Importance.


Why can’t you women love us, faults and all?  Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals?  We have all feet of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, love them all the more, it may be, for that reason.  It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love.  It is when we are wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure us—else what use is love at all?  All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive.  All lives, save loveless lives, true Love should pardon.  A man’s love is like that.  It is wider, larger, more human than a woman’s.  Women think that they are making ideals of men.  What they are making of us are false idols merely.  You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to come down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses.  I was afraid that I might lose your love, as I have lost it now.  And so, last night you ruined my life for me—yes, ruined it!  What this woman asked of me was nothing compared to what she offered to me.  She offered security, peace, stability.  The sin of my youth, that I had thought was buried, rose up in front of me, hideous, horrible, with its hands at my throat.  I could have killed it for ever, sent it back into its tomb, destroyed its record, burned the one witness against me.  You prevented me.  No one but you, you know it.  And now what is there before me but public disgrace, ruin, terrible shame, the mockery of the world, a lonely dishonoured life, a lonely dishonoured death, it may be, some day?  Let women make no more ideals of men! let them not put them on alters and bow before them, or they may ruin other lives as completely as you—you whom I have so wildly loved—have ruined mine!—An Ideal Husband.


Nations may not have missions but they certainly have functions.  And the function of ancient Italy was not merely to give us what is statical in our institutions and rational in our law, but to blend into one elemental creed the spiritual aspirations of Aryan and of Semite.  Italy was not a pioneer in intellectual progress, nor a motive power in the evolution of thought.  The owl of the goddess of Wisdom traversed over the whole land and found nowhere a resting-place.  The dove, which is the bird of Christ, flew straight to the city of Rome and the new reign began.  It was the fashion of early Italian painters to represent in mediæval costume the soldiers who watched over the tomb of Christ, and this, which was the result of the frank anachronism of all true art, may serve to us as an allegory.  For it was in vain that the Middle Ages strove to guard the buried spirit of progress.  When the dawn of the Greek spirit arose, the sepulchre was empty, the grave-clothes laid aside.  Humanity had risen from the dead.

The study of Greek, it has been well said, implies the birth of criticism, comparison and research.  At the opening of that education of modern by ancient thought which we call the Renaissance, it was the words of Aristotle which sent Columbus sailing to the New World, while a fragment of Pythagorean astronomy set Copernicus thinking on that train of reasoning which has revolutionised the whole position of our planet in the universe.  Then it was seen that the only meaning of progress is a return to Greek modes of thought.  The monkish hymns which obscured the pages of Greek manuscripts were blotted out, the splendours of a new method were unfolded to the world, and out of the melancholy sea of mediævalism rose the free spirit of man in all that splendour of glad adolescence, when the bodily powers seem quickened by a new vitality, when the eye sees more clearly than its wont and the mind apprehends what was beforetime hidden from it.  To herald the opening of the sixteenth century, from the little Venetian printing press came forth all the great authors of antiquity, each bearing on the title-page the words Αλδος ο Μανουτιος Ρωμαιος και Φιλελλην; words which may serve to remind us with what wondrous prescience Polybius saw the world’s fate when he foretold the material sovereignty of Roman institutions and exemplified in himself the intellectual empire of Greece.

The course of the study of the spirit of historical criticism has not been a profitless investigation into modes and forms of thought now antiquated and of no account.  The only spirit which is entirely removed from us is the mediæval; the Greek spirit is essentially modern.  The introduction of the comparative method of research which has forced history to disclose its secrets belongs in a measure to us.  Ours, too, is a more scientific knowledge of philology and the method of survival.  Nor did the ancients know anything of the doctrine of averages or of crucial instances, both of which methods have proved of such importance in modern criticism, the one adding a most important proof of the statical elements of history, and exemplifying the influences of all physical surroundings on the life of man; the other, as in the single instance of the Moulin Quignon skull, serving to create a whole new science of prehistoric archæology and to bring us back to a time when man was coeval with the stone age, the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros.  But, except these, we have added no new canon or method to the science of historical criticism.  Across the drear waste of a thousand years the Greek and the modern spirit join hands.

In the torch race which the Greek boys ran from the Cerameician field of death to the home of the goddess of Wisdom, not merely he who first reached the goal but he also who first started with the torch aflame received a prize.  In the Lampadephoria of civilisation and free thought let us not forget to render due meed of honour to those who first lit that sacred flame, the increasing splendour of which lights our footsteps to the far-off divine event of the attainment of perfect truth.—The Rise of Historical Criticism.


There are two kinds of men in the world, two great creeds, two different forms of natures: men to whom the end of life is action, and men to whom the end of life is thought.  As regards the latter, who seek for experience itself and not for the fruits of experience, who must burn always with one of the passions of this fiery-coloured world, who find life interesting not for its secret but for its situations, for its pulsations and not for its purpose; the passion for beauty engendered by the decorative arts will be to them more satisfying than any political or religious enthusiasm, any enthusiasm for humanity, any ecstasy or sorrow for love.  For art comes to one professing primarily to give nothing but the highest quality to one’s moments, and for those moments’ sake.  So far for those to whom the end of life is thought.  As regards the others, who hold that life is inseparable from labour, to them should this movement be specially dear: for, if our days are barren without industry, industry without art is barbarism.

Hewers of wood and drawers of water there must be always indeed among us.  Our modern machinery has not much lightened the labour of man after all: but at least let the pitcher that stands by the well be beautiful and surely the labour of the day will be lightened: let the wood be made receptive of some lovely form, some gracious design, and there will come no longer discontent but joy to the toiler.  For what is decoration but the worker’s expression of joy in his work?  And not joy merely—that is a great thing yet not enough—but that opportunity of expressing his own individuality which, as it is the essence of all life, is the source of all art.  ‘I have tried,’ I remember William Morris saying to me once, ‘I have tried to make each of my workers an artist, and when I say an artist I mean a man.’  For the worker then, handicraftsman of whatever kind he is, art is no longer to be a purple robe woven by a slave and thrown over the whitened body of a leprous king to hide and to adorn the sin of his luxury, but rather the beautiful and noble expression of a life that has in it something beautiful and noble.—The English Renaissance of Art.


ONE evening there came into his soul the desire to fashion an image of The Pleasure that abideth for a Moment.  And he went forth into the world to look for bronze.  For he could think only in bronze.

But all the bronze of the whole world had disappeared, nor anywhere in the whole world was there any bronze to be found, save only the bronze of the image of The Sorrow that endureth for Ever.

Now this image he had himself, and with his own hands, fashioned, and had set it on the tomb of the one thing he had loved in life.  On the tomb of the dead thing he had most loved had he set this image of his own fashioning, that it might serve as a sign of the love of man that dieth not, and a symbol of the sorrow of man that endureth for ever.  And in the whole world there was no other bronze save the bronze of this image.

And he took the image he had fashioned, and set it in a great furnace, and gave it to the fire.

And out of the bronze of the image of The Sorrow that endureth for Ever he fashioned an image of The Pleasure that abideth for a Moment.—Poems in Prose.


It was night-time and He was alone.

And He saw afar-off the walls of a round city and went towards the city.

And when He came near He heard within the city the tread of the feet of joy, and the laughter of the mouth of gladness and the loud noise of many lutes.  And He knocked at the gate and certain of the gate-keepers opened to Him.

And He beheld a house that was of marble and had fair pillars of marble before it.  The pillars were hung with garlands, and within and without there were torches of cedar.  And He entered the house.

And when He had passed through the hall of chalcedony and the hall of jasper, and reached the long hall of feasting, He saw lying on a couch of sea-purple one whose hair was crowned with red roses and whose lips were red with wine.

And He went behind him and touched him on the shoulder and said to him, ‘Why do you live like this?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him, and made answer and said, ‘But I was a leper once, and you healed me.  How else should I live?’

And He passed out of the house and went again into the street.

And after a little while He saw one whose face and raiment were painted and whose feet were shod with pearls.  And behind her came, slowly as a hunter, a young man who wore a cloak of two colours.  Now the face of the woman was as the fair face of an idol, and the eyes of the young man were bright with lust.

And He followed swiftly and touched the hand of the young man and said to him, ‘Why do you look at this woman and in such wise?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him and said, ‘But I was blind once, and you gave me sight.  At what else should I look?’

And He ran forward and touched the painted raiment of the woman and said to her, ‘Is there no other way in which to walk save the way of sin?’

And the woman turned round and recognised Him, and laughed and said, ‘But you forgave me my sins, and the way is a pleasant way.’

And He passed out of the city.

And when He had passed out of the city He saw seated by the roadside a young man who was weeping.

And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and said to him, ‘Why are you weeping?’

And the young man looked up and recognised Him and made answer, ‘But I was dead once, and you raised me from the dead.  What else should I do but weep?’—Poems in Prose.


When Narcissus died the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping through the woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it comfort.

And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of their hair and cried to the pool and said, ‘We do not wonder that you should mourn in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was he.’

‘But was Narcissus beautiful?’ said the pool.

‘Who should know that better than you?’ answered the Oreads.  ‘Us did he ever pass by, but you he sought for, and would lie on your banks and look down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he would mirror his own beauty.’

And the pool answered, ‘But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored.’—Poems in Prose.


Now when the darkness came over the earth Joseph of Arimathea, having lighted a torch of pinewood, passed down from the hill into the valley.  For he had business in his own home.

And kneeling on the flint stones of the Valley of Desolation he saw a young man who was naked and weeping.  His hair was the colour of honey, and his body was as a white flower, but he had wounded his body with thorns and on his hair had he set ashes as a crown.

And he who had great possessions said to the young man who was naked and weeping, ‘I do not wonder that your sorrow is so great, for surely He was a just man.’

And the young man answered, ‘It is not for Him that I am weeping, but for myself.  I too have changed water into wine, and I have healed the leper and given sight to the blind.  I have walked upon the waters, and from the dwellers in the tombs I have cast out devils.  I have fed the hungry in the desert where there was no food, and I have raised the dead from their narrow houses, and at my bidding, and before a great multitude, of people, a barren fig-tree withered away.  All things that this man has done I have done also.  And yet they have not crucified me.’—Poems in Prose.


And there was silence in the House of Judgment, and the Man came naked before God.

And God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

And God said to the Man, ‘Thy life hath been evil, and thou hast shown cruelty to those who were in need of succour, and to those who lacked help thou hast been bitter and hard of heart.  The poor called to thee and thou didst not hearken, and thine ears were closed to the cry of My afflicted.  The inheritance of the fatherless thou didst take unto thyself, and thou didst send the foxes into the vineyard of thy neighbour’s field.  Thou didst take the bread of the children and give it to the dogs to eat, and My lepers who lived in the marshes, and were at peace and praised Me, thou didst drive forth on to the highways, and on Mine earth out of which I made thee thou didst spill innocent blood.’

And the Man made answer and said, ‘Even so did I.’

And again God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

And God said to the Man, ‘Thy life hath been evil, and the Beauty I have shown thou hast sought for, and the Good I have hidden thou didst pass by.  The walls of thy chamber were painted with images, and from the bed of thine abominations thou didst rise up to the sound of flutes.  Thou didst build seven altars to the sins I have suffered, and didst eat of the thing that may not be eaten, and the purple of thy raiment was broidered with the three signs of shame.  Thine idols were neither of gold nor of silver that endure, but of flesh that dieth.  Thou didst stain their hair with perfumes and put pomegranates in their hands.  Thou didst stain their feet with saffron and spread carpets before them.  With antimony thou didst stain their eyelids and their bodies thou didst smear with myrrh.  Thou didst bow thyself to the ground before them, and the thrones of thine idols were set in the sun.  Thou didst show to the sun thy shame and to the moon thy madness.’

And the Man made answer and said, ‘Even so did I.’

And a third time God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

And God said to the Man, ‘Evil hath been thy life, and with evil didst thou requite good, and with wrongdoing kindness.  The hands that fed thee thou didst wound, and the breasts that gave thee suck thou didst despise.  He who came to thee with water went away thirsting, and the outlawed men who hid thee in their tents at night thou didst betray before dawn.  Thine enemy who spared thee thou didst snare in an ambush, and the friend who walked with thee thou didst sell for a price, and to those who brought thee Love thou didst ever give Lust in thy turn.’

And the Man made answer and said, ‘Even so did I.’

And God closed the Book of the Life of the Man, and said, ‘Surely I will send thee into Hell.  Even into Hell will I send thee.’

And the Man cried out, ‘Thou canst not.’

And God said to the Man, ‘Wherefore can I not send thee to Hell, and for what reason?’

‘Because in Hell have I always lived,’ answered the Man.

And there was silence in the House of Judgment.

And after a space God spake, and said to the Man, ‘Seeing that I may not send thee into Hell, surely I will send thee unto Heaven.  Even unto Heaven will I send thee.’

And the Man cried out, ‘Thou canst not.’

And God said to the Man, ‘Wherefore can I not send thee unto Heaven, and for what reason?’

‘Because never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it,’ answered the Man.

And there was silence in the House of Judgment.—Poems in Prose.


From his childhood he had been as one filled with the perfect knowledge of God, and even while he was yet but a lad many of the saints, as well as certain holy women who dwelt in the free city of his birth, had been stirred to much wonder by the grave wisdom of his answers.

And when his parents had given him the robe and the ring of manhood he kissed them, and left them and went out into the world, that he might speak to the world about God.  For there were at that time many in the world who either knew not God at all, or had but an incomplete knowledge of Him, or worshipped the false gods who dwell in groves and have no care of their worshippers.

And he set his face to the sun and journeyed, walking without sandals, as he had seen the saints walk, and carrying at his girdle a leathern wallet and a little water-bottle of burnt clay.

And as he walked along the highway he was full of the joy that comes from the perfect knowledge of God, and he sang praises unto God without ceasing; and after a time he reached a strange land in which there were many cities.

And he passed through eleven cities.  And some of these cities were in valleys, and others were by the banks of great rivers, and others were set on hills.  And in each city he found a disciple who loved him and followed him, and a great multitude also of people followed him from each city, and the knowledge of God spread in the whole land, and many of the rulers were converted, and the priests of the temples in which there were idols found that half of their gain was gone, and when they beat upon their drums at noon none, or but a few, came with peacocks and with offerings of flesh as had been the custom of the land before his coming.

Yet the more the people followed him, and the greater the number of his disciples, the greater became his sorrow.  And he knew not why his sorrow was so great.  For he spake ever about God, and out of the fulness of that perfect knowledge of God which God had Himself given to him.

And one evening he passed out of the eleventh city, which was a city of Armenia, and his disciples and a great crowd of people followed after him; and he went up on to a mountain and sat down on a rock that was on the mountain, and his disciples stood round him, and the multitude knelt in the valley.

And he bowed his head on his hands and wept, and said to his Soul, ‘Why is it that I am full of sorrow and fear, and that each of my disciples is an enemy that walks in the noonday?’  And his Soul answered him and said, ‘God filled thee with the perfect knowledge of Himself, and thou hast given this knowledge away to others.  The pearl of great price thou hast divided, and the vesture without seam thou hast parted asunder.  He who giveth away wisdom robbeth himself.  He is as one who giveth his treasure to a robber.  Is not God wiser than thou art?  Who art thou to give away the secret that God hath told thee?  I was rich once, and thou hast made me poor.  Once I saw God, and now thou hast hidden Him from me.’

And he wept again, for he knew that his Soul spake truth to him, and that he had given to others the perfect knowledge of God, and that he was as one clinging to the skirts of God, and that his faith was leaving him by reason of the number of those who believed in him.

And he said to himself, ‘I will talk no more about God.  He who giveth away wisdom robbeth himself.’

And after the space of some hours his disciples came near him and bowed themselves to the ground and said, ‘Master, talk to us about God, for thou hast the perfect knowledge of God, and no man save thee hath this knowledge.’

And he answered them and said, ‘I will talk to you about all other things that are in heaven and on earth, but about God I will not talk to you.  Neither now, nor at any time, will I talk to you about God.’

And they were wroth with him and said to him, ‘Thou hast led us into the desert that we might hearken to thee.  Wilt thou send us away hungry, and the great multitude that thou hast made to follow thee?’

And he answered them and said, ‘I will not talk to you about God.’

And the multitude murmured against him and said to him, ‘Thou hast led us into the desert, and hast given us no food to eat.  Talk to us about God and it will suffice us.’

But he answered them not a word.  For he knew that if he spake to them about God he would give away his treasure.

And his disciples went away sadly, and the multitude of people returned to their own homes.  And many died on the way.

And when he was alone he rose up and set his face to the moon, and journeyed for seven moons, speaking to no man nor making any answer.  And when the seventh moon had waned he reached that desert which is the desert of the Great River.  And having found a cavern in which a Centaur had once dwelt, he took it for his place of dwelling, and made himself a mat of reeds on which to lie, and became a hermit.  And every hour the Hermit praised God that He had suffered him to keep some knowledge of Him and of His wonderful greatness.

Now, one evening, as the Hermit was seated before the cavern in which he had made his place of dwelling, he beheld a young man of evil and beautiful face who passed by in mean apparel and with empty hands.  Every evening with empty hands the young man passed by, and every morning he returned with his hands full of purple and pearls.  For he was a Robber and robbed the caravans of the merchants.

And the Hermit looked at him and pitied him.  But he spake not a word.  For he knew that he who speaks a word loses his faith.

And one morning, as the young man returned with his hands full of purple and pearls, he stopped and frowned and stamped his foot upon the sand, and said to the Hermit: ‘Why do you look at me ever in this manner as I pass by?  What is it that I see in your eyes?  For no man has looked at me before in this manner.  And the thing is a thorn and a trouble to me.’

And the Hermit answered him and said, ‘What you see in my eyes is pity.  Pity is what looks out at you from my eyes.’

And the young man laughed with scorn, and cried to the Hermit in a bitter voice, and said to him, ‘I have purple and pearls in my hands, and you have but a mat of reeds on which to lie.  What pity should you have for me?  And for what reason have you this pity?’

‘I have pity for you,’ said the Hermit, ‘because you have no knowledge of God.’

‘Is this knowledge of God a precious thing?’ asked the young man, and he came close to the mouth of the cavern.

‘It is more precious than all the purple and the pearls of the world,’ answered the Hermit.

‘And have you got it?’ said the young Robber, and he came closer still.

‘Once, indeed,’ answered the Hermit, ‘I possessed the perfect knowledge of God.  But in my foolishness I parted with it, and divided it amongst others.  Yet even now is such knowledge as remains to me more precious than purple or pearls.’

And when the young Robber heard this he threw away the purple and the pearls that he was bearing in his hands, and drawing a sharp sword of curved steel he said to the Hermit, ‘Give me, forthwith this knowledge of God that you possess, or I will surely slay you.  Wherefore should I not slay him who has a treasure greater than my treasure?’

And the Hermit spread out his arms and said, ‘Were it not better for me to go unto the uttermost courts of God and praise Him, than to live in the world and have no knowledge of Him?  Slay me if that be your desire.  But I will not give away my knowledge of God.’

And the young Robber knelt down and besought him, but the Hermit would not talk to him about God, nor give him his Treasure, and the young Robber rose up and said to the Hermit, ‘Be it as you will.  As for myself, I will go to the City of the Seven Sins, that is but three days’ journey from this place, and for my purple they will give me pleasure, and for my pearls they will sell me joy.’  And he took up the purple and the pearls and went swiftly away.

And the Hermit cried out and followed him and besought him.  For the space of three days he followed the young Robber on the road and entreated him to return, nor to enter into the City of the Seven Sins.

And ever and anon the young Robber looked back at the Hermit and called to him, and said, ‘Will you give me this knowledge of God which is more precious than purple and pearls?  If you will give me that, I will not enter the city.’

And ever did the Hermit answer, ‘All things that I have I will give thee, save that one thing only.  For that thing it is not lawful for me to give away.’

And in the twilight of the third day they came nigh to the great scarlet gates of the City of the Seven Sins.  And from the city there came the sound of much laughter.

And the young Robber laughed in answer, and sought to knock at the gate.  And as he did so the Hermit ran forward and caught him by the skirts of his raiment, and said to him: ‘Stretch forth your hands, and set your arms around my neck, and put your ear close to my lips, and I will give you what remains to me of the knowledge of God.’  And the young Robber stopped.

And when the Hermit had given away his knowledge of God, he fell upon the ground and wept, and a great darkness hid from him the city and the young Robber, so that he saw them no more.

And as he lay there weeping he was ware of One who was standing beside him; and He who was standing beside him had feet of brass and hair like fine wool.  And He raised the Hermit up, and said to him: ‘Before this time thou hadst the perfect knowledge of God.  Now thou shalt have the perfect love of God.  Wherefore art thou weeping?’  And he kissed him.—Poems in Prose.



April 1st, 1897.

My Dear Robbie,—I send you a MS. separate from this, which I hope will arrive safely.  As soon as you have read it, I want you to have it carefully copied for me.  There are many causes why I wish this to be done.  One will suffice.  I want you to be my literary executor in case of my death, and to have complete control of my plays, books, and papers.  As soon as I find I have a legal right to make a will, I will do so.  My wife does not understand my art, nor could be expected to have any interest in it, and Cyril is only a child.  So I turn naturally to you, as indeed I do for everything, and would like you to have all my works.  The deficit that their sale will produce may be lodged to the credit of Cyril and Vivian.  Well, if you are my literary executor, you must be in possession of the only document that gives any explanation of my extraordinary behaviour . . . When you have read the letter, you will see the psychological explanation of a course of conduct that from the outside seems a combination of absolute idiotcy with vulgar bravado.  Some day the truth will have to be known—not necessarily in my lifetime . . . but I am not prepared to sit in the grotesque pillory they put me into, for all time; for the simple reason that I inherited from my father and mother a name of high distinction in literature and art, and I cannot for eternity allow that name to be degraded.  I don’t defend my conduct.  I explain it.  Also there are in my letter certain passages which deal with my mental development in prison, and the inevitable evolution of my character and intellectual attitude towards life that has taken place: and I want you and others who still stand by me and have affection for me to know exactly in what mood and manner I hope to face the world.  Of course from one point of view I know that on the day of my release I shall be merely passing from one prison into another, and there are times when the whole world seems to me no larger than my cell and as full of terror for me.  Still I believe that at the beginning God made a world for each separate man, and in that world which is within us we should seek to live.  At any rate you will read those parts of my letter with less pain than the others.  Of course I need not remind you how fluid a thing thought is with me—with us all—and of what an evanescent substance are our emotions made.  Still I do see a sort of possible goal towards which, through art, I may progress.  It is not unlikely that you may help me.

As regards the mode of copying: of course it is too long for any amanuensis to attempt: and your own handwriting, dear Robbie, in your last letter seems specially designed to remind me that the task is not to be yours.  I think that the only thing to do is to be thoroughly modern and to have it typewritten.  Of course the MS. should not pass out of your control, but could you not get Mrs. Marshall to send down one of her type-writing girls—women are the most reliable as they have no memory for the important—to Hornton Street or Phillimore Gardens, to do it under your supervision?  I assure you that the typewriting machine, when played with expression, is not more annoying than the piano when played by a sister or near relation.  Indeed many among those most devoted to domesticity prefer it.  I wish the copy to be done not on tissue paper but on good paper such as is used for plays, and a wide rubricated margin should be left for corrections . . . If the copy is done at Hornton Street the lady typewriter might be fed through a lattice in the door, like the Cardinals when they elect a Pope; till she comes out on the balcony and can say to the world: “Habet Mundus Epistolam”; for indeed it is an Encyclical letter, and as the Bulls of the Holy Father are named from their opening words, it may be spoken of as the “Epistola: in Carcere et Vinculis.” . . . In point of fact, Robbie, prison life makes one see people and things as they really are.  That is why it turns one to stone.  It is the people outside who are deceived by the illusions of a life in constant motion.  They revolve with life and contribute to its unreality.  We who are immobile both see and know.  Whether or not the letter does good to narrow natures and hectic brains, to me it has done good.  I have “cleansed my bosom of much perilous stuff”; to borrow a phrase from the poet whom you and I once thought of rescuing from the Philistines.  I need not remind you that mere expression is to an artist the supreme and only mode of life.  It is by utterance that we live.  Of the many, many things for which I have to thank the Governor there is none for which I am more grateful than for his permission to write fully and at as great a length as I desire.  For nearly two years I had within a growing burden of bitterness, of much of which I have now got rid.  On the other side of the prison wall there are some poor black soot-besmirched trees that are just breaking out into buds of an almost shrill green.  I know quite well what they are going through.  They are finding expression.

Ever yours,


Letter from Reading Prison to Robert Ross.


Where there is sorrow there in holy ground.  Some day people will realise what that means.  They will know nothing of life till they do,—and natures like his can realise it.  When I was brought down from my prison to the Court of Bankruptcy, between two policemen,—waited in the long dreary corridor that, before the whole crowd, whom an action so sweet and simple hushed into silence, he might gravely raise his hat to me, as, handcuffed and with bowed head, I passed him by.  Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than that.  It was in this spirit, and with this mode of love, that the saints knelt down to wash the feet of the poor, or stooped to kiss the leper on the cheek.  I have never said one single word to him about what he did.  I do not know to the present moment whether he is aware that I was even conscious of his action.  It is not a thing for which one can render formal thanks in formal words.  I store it in the treasure-house of my heart.  I keep it there as a secret debt that I am glad to think I can never possibly repay.  It is embalmed and kept sweet by the myrrh and cassia of many tears.  When wisdom has been profitless to me, philosophy barren, and the proverbs and phrases of those who have sought to give me consolation as dust and ashes in my mouth, the memory of that little, lovely, silent act of love has unsealed for me all the wells of pity: made the desert blossom like a rose, and brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the world.  When people are able to understand, not merely how beautiful ---’s action was, but why it meant so much to me, and always will mean so much, then, perhaps, they will realise how and in what spirit they should approach me. . . .

The poor are wise, more charitable, more kind, more sensitive than we are.  In their eyes prison is a tragedy in a man’s life, a misfortune, a casuality, something that calls for sympathy in others.  They speak of one who is in prison as of one who is ‘in trouble’ simply.  It is the phrase they always use, and the expression has the perfect wisdom of love in it.  With people of our own rank it is different.  With us, prison makes a man a pariah.  I, and such as I am, have hardly any right to air and sun.  Our presence taints the pleasures of others.  We are unwelcome when we reappear.  To revisit the glimpses of the moon is not for us.  Our very children are taken away.  Those lovely links with humanity are broken.  We are doomed to be solitary, while our sons still live.  We are denied the one thing that might heal us and keep us, that might bring balm to the bruised heart, and peace to the soul in pain.—De Profundis.


Sorrow, being the supreme emotion of which man is capable, is at once the type and test of all great art.  What the artist is always looking for is the mode of existence in which soul and body are one and indivisible: in which the outward is expressive of the inward: in which form reveals.  Of such modes of existence there are not a few: youth and the arts preoccupied with youth may serve as a model for us at one moment: at another we may like to think that, in its subtlety and sensitiveness of impression, its suggestion of a spirit dwelling in external things and making its raiment of earth and air, of mist and city alike, and in its morbid sympathy of its moods, and tones, and colours, modern landscape art is realising for us pictorially what was realised in such plastic perfection by the Greeks.  Music, in which all subject is absorbed in expression and cannot be separated from it, is a complex example, and a flower or a child a simple example, of what I mean; but sorrow is the ultimate type both in life and art.

Behind joy and laughter there may be a temperament, coarse, hard and callous.  But behind sorrow there is always sorrow.  Pain, unlike pleasure, wears no mask.  Truth in art is not any correspondence between the essential idea and the accidental existence; it is not the resemblance of shape to shadow, or of the form mirrored in the crystal to the form itself; it is no echo coming from a hollow hill, any more than it is a silver well of water in the valley that shows the moon to the moon and Narcissus to Narcissus.  Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expressive of the inward: the soul made incarnate: the body instinct with spirit.  For this reason there is no truth comparable to sorrow.  There are times when sorrow seems to me to be the only truth.  Other things may be illusions of the eye or the appetite, made to blind the one and cloy the other, but out of sorrow have the worlds been built, and at the birth of a child or a star there is pain.

More than this, there is about sorrow an intense, an extraordinary reality.  I have said of myself that I was one who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age.  There is not a single wretched man in this wretched place along with me who does not stand in symbolic relation to the very secret of life.  For the secret of life is suffering.  It is what is hidden behind everything.  When we begin to live, what is sweet is so sweet to us, and what is bitter so bitter, that we inevitably direct all our desires towards pleasures, and seek not merely for a ‘month or twain to feed on honeycomb,’ but for all our years to taste no other food, ignorant all the while that we may really be starving the soul.—De Profundis.


Far off, like a perfect pearl, one can see the city of God.  It is so wonderful that it seems as if a child could reach it in a summer’s day.  And so a child could.  But with me and such as me it is different.  One can realise a thing in a single moment, but one loses it in the long hours that follow with leaden feet.  It is so difficult to keep ‘heights that the soul is competent to gain.’  We think in eternity, but we move slowly through time; and how slowly time goes with us who lie in prison I need not tell again, nor of the weariness and despair that creep back into one’s cell, and into the cell of one’s heart, with such strange insistence that one has, as it were, to garnish and sweep one’s house for their coming, as for an unwelcome guest, or a bitter master, or a slave whose slave it is one’s chance or choice to be.

And, though at present my friends may find it a hard thing to believe, it is true none the less, that for them living in freedom and idleness and comfort it is more easy to learn the lessons of humility than it is for me, who begin the day by going down on my knees and washing the floor of my cell.  For prison life with its endless privations and restrictions makes one rebellious.  The most terrible thing about it is not that it breaks one’s heart—hearts are made to be broken—but that it turns one’s heart to stone.  One sometimes feels that it is only with a front of brass and a lip of scorn that one can get through the day at all.  And he who is in a state of rebellion cannot receive grace, to use the phrase of which the Church is so fond—so rightly fond, I dare say—for in life as in art the mood of rebellion closes up the channels of the soul, and shuts out the airs of heaven.  Yet I must learn these lessons here, if I am to learn them anywhere, and must be filled with joy if my feet are on the right road and my face set towards ‘the gate which is called beautiful,’ though I may fall many times in the mire and often in the mist go astray.

This New Life, as through my love of Dante I like sometimes to call it, is of course no new life at all, but simply the continuance, by means of development, and evolution, of my former life.  I remember when I was at Oxford saying to one of my friends as we were strolling round Magdalen’s narrow bird-haunted walks one morning in the year before I took my degree, that I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden of the world, and that I was going out into the world with that passion in my soul.  And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived.  My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.  Failure, disgrace, poverty, sorrow, despair, suffering, tears even, the broken words that come from lips in pain, remorse that makes one walk on thorns, conscience that condemns, self-abasement that punishes, the misery that puts ashes on its head, the anguish that chooses sack-cloth for its raiment and into its own drink puts gall:—all these were things of which I was afraid.  And as I had determined to know nothing of them, I was forced to taste each of them in turn, to feed on them, to have for a season, indeed, no other food at all.

I don’t regret for a single moment having lived for pleasure.  I did it to the full, as one should do everything that one does.  There was no pleasure I did not experience.  I threw the pearl of my soul into a cup of wine.  I went down the primrose path to the sound of flutes.  I lived on honeycomb.  But to have continued the same life would have been wrong because it would have been limiting.  I had to pass on.  The other half of the garden had its secrets for me also.—De Profundis.


It is when he deals with a sinner that Christ is most romantic, in the sense of most real.  The world had always loved the saint as being the nearest possible approach to the perfection of God.  Christ, through some divine instinct in him, seems to have always loved the sinner as being the nearest possible approach to the perfection of man.  His primary desire was not to reform people, any more than his primary desire was to a relieve suffering.  To turn an interesting thief into a tedious honest man was not his aim.  He would have thought little of the Prisoners’ Aid Society and other modern movements of the kind.  The conversion of a publican into a Pharisee would not have seemed to him a great achievement.  But in a manner not yet understood of the world he regarded sin and suffering as being in themselves beautiful holy things and modes of perfection.

It seems a very dangerous idea.  It is—all great ideas are dangerous.  That it was Christ’s creed admits of no doubt.  That it is the true creed I don’t doubt myself.

Of course the sinner must repent.  But why?  Simply because otherwise he would be unable to realise what he had done.  The moment of repentance is the moment of initiation.  More than that: it is the means by which one alters one’s past.  The Greeks thought that impossible.  They often say in their Gnomic aphorisms, ‘Even the Gods cannot alter the past.’  Christ showed that the commonest sinner could do it, that it was the one thing he could do.  Christ, had he been asked, would have said—I feel quite certain about it—that the moment the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept, he made his having wasted his substance with harlots, his swine-herding and hungering for the husks they ate, beautiful and holy moments in his life.  It is difficult for most people to grasp the idea.  I dare say one has to go to prison to understand it.  If so, it may be worth while going to prison.

There is something so unique about Christ.  Of course just as there are false dawns before the dawn itself, and winter days so full of sudden sunlight that they will cheat the wise crocus into squandering its gold before its time, and make some foolish bird call to its mate to build on barren boughs, so there were Christians before Christ.  For that we should be grateful.  The unfortunate thing is that there have been none since.  I make one exception, St. Francis of Assisi.  But then God had given him at his birth the soul of a poet, as he himself when quite young had in mystical marriage taken poverty as his bride: and with the soul of a poet and the body of a beggar he found the way to perfection not difficult.  He understood Christ, and so he became like him.  We do not require the Liber Conformitatum to teach us that the life of St. Francis was the true Imitatio Christi, a poem compared to which the book of that name is merely prose.

Indeed, that is the charm about Christ, when all is said: he is just like a work of art.  He does not really teach one anything, but by being brought into his presence one becomes something.  And everybody is predestined to his presence.  Once at least in his life each man walks with Christ to Emmaus.—De Profundis.


My lot has been one of public infamy, of long imprisonment, of misery, of ruin, of disgrace, but I am not worthy of it—not yet, at any rate.  I remember that I used to say that I thought I could bear a real tragedy if it came to me with purple pall and a mask of noble sorrow, but that the dreadful thing about modernity was that it put tragedy into the raiment of comedy, so that the great realities seemed commonplace or grotesque or lacking in style.  It is quite true about modernity.  It has probably always been true about actual life.  It is said that all martyrdoms seemed mean to the looker on.  The nineteenth century is no exception to the rule.

Everything about my tragedy has been hideous, mean, repellent, lacking in style; our very dress makes us grotesque.  We are the zanies of sorrow.  We are clowns whose hearts are broken.  We are specially designed to appeal to the sense of humour.  On November 13th, 1895, I was brought down here from London.  From two o’clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world to look at.  I had been taken out of the hospital ward without a moment’s notice being given to me.  Of all possible objects I was the most grotesque.  When people saw me they laughed.  Each train as it came up swelled the audience.  Nothing could exceed their amusement.  That was, of course, before they knew who I was.  As soon as they had been informed they laughed still more.  For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.—De Profundis.


We call ours a utilitarian age, and we do not know the uses of any single thing.  We have forgotten that water can cleanse, and fire purify, and that the Earth is mother to us all.  As a consequence our art is of the moon and plays with shadows, while Greek art is of the sun and deals directly with things.  I feel sure that in elemental forces there is purification, and I want to go back to them and live in their presence.

Of course to one so modern as I am, ‘Enfant de mon siècle,’ merely to look at the world will be always lovely.  I tremble with pleasure when I think that on the very day of my leaving prison both the laburnum and the lilac will be blooming in the gardens, and that I shall see the wind stir into restless beauty the swaying gold of the one, and make the other toss the pale purple of its plumes, so that all the air shall be Arabia for me.  Linnæus fell on his knees and wept for joy when he saw for the first time the long heath of some English upland made yellow with the tawny aromatic brooms of the common furze; and I know that for me, to whom flowers are part of desire, there are tears waiting in the petals of some rose.  It has always been so with me from my boyhood.  There is not a single colour hidden away in the chalice of a flower, or the curve of a shell, to which, by some subtle sympathy with the very soul of things, my nature does not answer.  Like Gautier, I have always been one of those ‘pour qui le monde visible existe.’

Still, I am conscious now that behind all this beauty, satisfying though it may be, there is some spirit hidden of which the painted forms and shapes are but modes of manifestation, and it is with this spirit that I desire to become in harmony.  I have grown tired of the articulate utterances of men and things.  The Mystical in Art, the Mystical in Life, the Mystical in Nature this is what I am looking for.  It is absolutely necessary for me to find it somewhere.

All trials are trials for one’s life, just as all sentences are sentences of death; and three times have I been tried.  The first time I left the box to be arrested, the second time to be led back to the house of detention, the third time to pass into a prison for two years.  Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed.  She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.—De Profundis.



June 1st, 1897.

My Dear Robbie,—I propose to live at Berneval.  I will not live in Paris, nor in Algiers, nor in Southern Italy.  Surely a house for a year, if I choose to continue there, at £32 is absurdly cheap.  I could not live cheaper at a hotel.  You are penny foolish, and pound foolish—a dreadful state for my financier to be in.  I told M. Bonnet that my bankers were MM. Ross et Cie, banquiers célèbres de Londres—and now you suddenly show me that you have no place among the great financial people, and are afraid of any investment over £31, 10s.  It is merely the extra ten shillings that baffles you.  As regards people living on me, and the extra bedrooms: dear boy, there is no one who would stay with me but you, and you will pay your own bill at the hotel for meals; and as for your room, the charge will be nominally 2 francs 50 centimes a night, but there will be lots of extras such as bougie, bain and hot water, and all cigarettes smoked in the bedrooms are charged extra.  And if any one does not take the extras, of course he is charged more:—

Bain, 25 C.

Pas de bain, 50 C.

Cigarette dans la chambre à coucher, 10 C. pour chaque cigarette.

Pas de cigarette dans la chambre à coucher, 20 C. pour chaque cigarette.

This is the system at all good hotels.  If Reggie comes, of course he will pay a little more: I cannot forget that he gave me a dressing-case.  Sphinxes pay a hundred per cent more than any one else—they always did in Ancient Egypt.

But seriously, Robbie, if people stayed with me, of course they would pay their pension at the hotel.  They would have to: except architects.  A modern architect, like modern architecture, doesn’t pay.  But then I know only one architect and you are hiding him somewhere from me.  I believe that he is as extinct as the dado, of which now only fossil remains are found, chiefly in the vicinity of Brompton, where they are sometimes discovered by workmen excavating.  They are usually embedded in the old Lincrusta Walton strata, and are rare consequently.

I visited M. le Curé {4} to-day.  He has a charming house and a jardin potager.  He showed me over the church.  To-morrow I sit in the choir by his special invitation.  He showed me all his vestments.  To-morrow he really will be charming in red.  He knows I am a heretic, and believes Pusey is still alive.  He says that God will convert England on account of England’s kindness to les prêtres exilés at the time of the Revolution.  It is to be the reward of that sea-lashed island.

Stained glass windows are wanted in the church; he has only six; fourteen more are needed.  He gets them at 300 francs—£12—a window in Paris.  I was nearly offering half a dozen, but remembered you, and so only gave him something pour les pauvres.  You had a narrow escape, Robbie.  You should be thankful.

I hope the £40 is on its way, and that the £60 will follow.  I am going to hire a boat.  It will save walking and so be an economy in the end.  Dear Robbie, I must start well.  If the life of St. Francis of Assissi awaits me I shall not be angry.  Worse things might happen.



Letter to Robert Ross.



April 16th, 1900.

My dear Robbie,—I simply cannot write.  It is too horrid, not of me, but to me.  It is a mode of paralysis—a cacoëthes tacendi—the one form that malady takes in me.

Well, all passed over very successfully.  Palermo, where we stayed eight days, was lovely.  The most beautifully situated town in the world—it dreams away its life in the concha d’oro, the exquisite valley that lies between two seas.  The lemon groves and the orange gardens were so entirely perfect that I became quite a Pre-Raphaelite, and loathed the ordinary impressionists whose muddly souls and blurred intelligences would have rendered, but by mud and blur, those “golden lamps hung in a green night” that filled me with such joy.  The elaborate and exquisite detail of the true Pre-Raphaelite is the compensation they offer us for the absence of motion; literature and motion being the only arts that are not immobile.

Then nowhere, not even at Ravenna, have I seen such mosaics as in the Capella Palatine, which from pavement to domed ceiling is all gold: one really feels as if one was sitting in the heart of a great honey-comb looking at angels singing: and looking at angels, or indeed at people, singing, is much nicer than listening to them, for this reason: the great artists always give to their angels lutes without strings, pipes without vent-holes, and reeds through which no wind can wander or make whistlings.

Monreale you have heard of—with its cloisters and cathedral: we often drove there.

I also made great friends with a young seminarist, who lived in the cathedral of Palermo—he and eleven others, in little rooms beneath the roof, like birds.

Every day he showed me all over the cathedral, I knelt before the huge porphyry sarcophagus in which Frederick the Second lies: it is a sublime bare monstrous thing—blood-coloured, and held up by lions who have caught some of the rage of the great Emperor’s restless soul.  At first my young friend, Giuseppe Loverdi, gave me information; but on the third day I gave information to him, and re-wrote history as usual, and told him all about the supreme King and his Court of Poets, and the terrible book that he never wrote.  His reason for entering the church was singularly mediæval.  I asked him why he thought of becoming a clerico, and how.  He answered: “My father is a cook and most poor; and we are many at home, so it seemed to me a good thing that there should be in so small a house as ours, one mouth less to feed; for though I am slim, I eat much, too much, alas! I fear.”

I told him to be comforted, because God used poverty often as a means of bringing people to Him, and used riches never, or rarely; so Giuseppe was comforted, and I gave him a little book of devotion, very pretty, and with far more pictures than prayers in it—so of great service to Giuseppe whose eyes are beautiful.  I also gave him many lire, and prophesied for him a Cardinal’s hat, if he remained very good and never forgot me.

At Naples we stopped three days: most of my friends are, as you know, in prison, but I met some of nice memory.

We came to Rome on Holy Thursday.  H--- left on Saturday for Gland—and yesterday, to the terror of Grissell {5} and all the Papal Court, I appeared in the front rank of the pilgrims in the Vatican, and got the blessing of the Holy Father—a blessing they would have denied me.

He was wonderful as he was carried past me on his throne—not of flesh and blood, but a white soul robed in white and an artist as well as a saint—the only instance in history, if the newspapers are to be believed.  I have seen nothing like the extraordinary grace of his gestures as he rose, from moment to moment, to bless—possibly the pilgrims, but certainly me.

Tree should see him.  It is his only chance.

I was deeply impressed, and my walking-stick showed signs of budding, would have budded, indeed, only at the door of the Chapel it was taken from me by the Knave of Spades.  This strange prohibition is, of course, in honour of Tannhäuser.

How did I get the ticket?  By a miracle, of course.  I thought it was hopeless and made no effort of any kind.  On Saturday afternoon at five o’clock H--- and I went to have tea at the Hôtel de l’Europe.  Suddenly, as I was eating buttered toast, a man—or what seemed to be one—dressed like a hotel porter entered and asked me would I like to see the Pope on Easter Day.  I bowed my head humbly and said “Non sum dignus,” or words to that effect.  He at once produced a ticket!

When I tell you that his countenance was of supernatural ugliness, and that the price of the ticket was thirty pieces of silver, I need say no more.

An equally curious thing is that whenever I pass the hotel, which I do constantly, I see the same man.  Scientists call that phenomenon an obsession of the visual nerve.  You and I know better.

On the afternoon of Easter Day I heard Vespers at the Lateran: music quite lovely.  At the close, a Bishop in red, and with red gloves—such as Pater talks of in Gaston de Latour—came out on the balcony and showed us the Relics.  He was swarthy, and wore a yellow mitre.  A sinister mediæval man, but superbly Gothic, just like the bishops carved on stalls or on portals: and when one thinks that once people mocked at stained-glass attitudes! they are the only attitudes for the clothes.  The sight of the Bishop, whom I watched with fascination, filled me with the great sense of the realism of Gothic art.  Neither in Greek art nor in Gothic art is there any pose.  Posing was invented by bad portrait-painters; and the first person who posed was a stock-broker, and he has gone on posing ever since.

I send you a photograph I took on Palm Sunday at Palermo.  Do send me some of yours, and love me always, and try to read this letter.

Kindest regards to your dear mother.



Letter to Robert Ross.


{1}  “The Influence of Pater and Matthew Arnold in the Prose-Writings of Oscar Wilde,” by Ernst Bendz.  London: H. Grevel & Co., 1914.

{2}  “The Eighteen Nineties: A Review of Art and Idea at the Close of the Nineteenth Century,” by Holbrook Jackson.  London: Grant Richards Ltd., 1913.

{3} Mortimer Menpes.

{4}  M. Constant Trop-Hardy, died at Berneval, March 2, 1898.

{5}  Hartwell de la Garde Grissell, a Papal Chamberlain.


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