Confessions of a Young Man
George Moore

Part 1 out of 4

Produced by Jon Ingram, David Cavanagh and Distributed Proofreaders




Edited and Annotated by GEORGE MOORE, 1904,

Clifford's Inn--1904


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

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

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




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

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


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


_Mar_. 4.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Confessions of a Young Man


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now my life was like a garden in the emotive torpor of spring; now my
life was like a flower conscious of the light. Money was placed in my
hands, and I divined all it represented. Before me the crystal lake, the
distant mountains, the swaying woods, said but one word, and that word
was--self; not the self that was then mine, but the self on whose
creation I was enthusiastically determined. But I felt like a murderer
when I turned to leave the place which I had so suddenly, and I could
not but think unjustly, become possessed of. And now, as I probe this
poignant psychological moment, I find that, although I perfectly well
realised that all pleasures were then in my reach--women, elegant dress,
theatres, and supper-rooms, I hardly thought at all of them, and much
more of certain drawings from the plaster cast. I would be an artist.
More than ever I was determined to be an artist, and my brain was made
of this desire as I journeyed as fast as railway and steamboat could
take me to London. No further trammels, no further need of being a
soldier, of being anything but myself; eighteen, with life and France
before me! But the spirit did not move me yet to leave home. I would
feel the pulse of life at home before I felt it abroad. I would hire a
studio. A studio--tapestries, smoke, models, conversations. But here it
is difficult not to convey a false impression. I fain would show my soul
in these pages, like a face in a pool of clear water; and although my
studio was in truth no more than an amusement, and a means of
effectually throwing over all restraint, I did not view it at all in
this light. My love of Art was very genuine and deep-rooted; the
tobacconist's betting-book was now as nothing, and a certain Botticelli
in the National Gallery held me in tether. And when I look back and
consider the past, I am forced to admit that I might have grown up in
less fortunate circumstances, for even the studio, with its
dissipations--and they were many--was not unserviceable; it developed
the natural man, who educates himself, who allows his mind to grow and
ripen under the sun and wind of modern life, in contradistinction to the
University man, who is fed upon the dust of ages, and after a formula
which has been composed to suit the requirements of the average human

Nor was my reading at this time so limited as might be expected from
the foregoing. The study of Shelley's poetry had led me to read very
nearly all the English lyric poets; Shelley's atheism had led me to read
Kant, Spinoza, Godwin, Darwin, and Mill. So it will be understood that
Shelley not only gave me my first soul, but led all its first flights.
But I do not think that if Shelley had been no more than a poet,
notwithstanding my very genuine love of verse, he would have gained such
influence in my youthful sympathies; but Shelley dreamed in
metaphysics--very thin dreaming if you will; but just such thin dreaming
as I could follow. Was there or was there not a God? And for many years
I could not dismiss as parcel of the world's folly this question, and I
sought a solution, inclining towards atheism, for it was natural in me
to revere nothing, and to oppose the routine of daily thought. And I was
but sixteen when I resolved to tell my mother that I must decline to
believe any longer in a God. She was leaning against the chimney-piece
in the drawing-room. I expected to paralyse the household with the news;
but although a religious woman, my mother did not seem in the least
frightened, she only said, "I am very sorry, George, it is so." I was
deeply shocked at her indifference.

Finding music and atheism in poetry I cared little for novels. Scott
seemed to me on a par with Burke's speeches; that is to say, too
impersonal for my very personal taste. Dickens I knew by heart, and
_Bleak House_ I thought his greatest achievement. Thackeray left no deep
impression on my mind; in no way did he hold my thoughts. He was not
picturesque like Dickens, and I was at that time curiously eager for
some adequate philosophy of life, and his social satire seemed very
small beer indeed. I was really young. I hungered after great truths:
_Middlemarch, Adam Bede, The Rise and Influence of Rationalism, The
History of Civilisation_, were momentous events in my life. But I loved
life better than books, and very curiously my studies and my pleasures
kept pace, stepping together like a pair of well-trained carriage
horses. While I was waiting for my coach to take a party of _tarts_ and
_mashers_ to the Derby, I would read a chapter of Kant, and I often took
the book away with me in my pocket. And I cultivated with care the
acquaintance of a neighbour who had taken the Globe Theatre for the
purpose of producing Offenbach's operas. Bouquets, stalls, rings,
delighted me. I was not dissipated, but I loved the abnormal. I loved to
spend on scent and toilette knick-knacks as much as would keep a poor
man's family in affluence for ten months; and I smiled at the
fashionable sunlight in the Park, the dusty cavalcades; and I loved to
shock my friends by bowing to those whom I should not bow to. Above all,
the life of the theatres--that life of raw gaslight, whitewashed walls,
of light, doggerel verse, slangy polkas and waltzes--interested me
beyond legitimate measure, so curious and unreal did it seem. I lived at
home, but dined daily at a fashionable restaurant: at half-past eight I
was at the theatre. Nodding familiarly to the doorkeeper, I passed up
the long passage to the stage. Afterwards supper. Cremorne and the
Argyle Rooms were my favourite haunts. My mother suffered, and expected
ruin, for I took no trouble to conceal anything; I boasted of
dissipations. But there was no need to fear; for I was naturally endowed
with a very clear sense of self-preservation; I neither betted nor
drank, nor contracted debts, nor a secret marriage; from a worldly point
of view, I was a model young man indeed; and when I returned home about
four in the morning, I watched the pale moon setting, and repeating some
verses of Shelley, I thought how I should go to Paris when I was of age,
and study painting.


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

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

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

But life in the Beaux Arts is rough, coarse, and rowdy. The model sits
only three times a week: the other days we worked from the plaster cast;
and to be there by seven o'clock in the morning required so painful an
effort of will, that I glanced in terror down the dim and grey
perspective of early risings that awaited me; then, demoralised by the
lassitude of Sunday, I told my valet on Monday morning to leave the
room, that I would return to the Beaux Arts no more. I felt humiliated
at my own weakness, for much hope had been centred in that academy; and
I knew no other. Day after day I walked up and down the Boulevards,
studying the photographs of the _salon_ pictures, thinking of what my
next move should be. I had never forgotten my father showing me, one day
when he was shaving, three photographs from pictures. They were by an
artist called Sevres. My father liked the slenderer figure, but I liked
the corpulent--the Venus standing at the corner of a wood, pouring wine
into a goblet, while Cupid, from behind her satin-enveloped knees, drew
his bow and shot the doves that flew from glistening poplar trees. The
beauty of this woman, and what her beauty must be in the life of the
painter, had inspired many a reverie, and I had concluded--this
conclusion being of all others most sympathetic to me--that she was his
very beautiful mistress, that they lived in a picturesque pavilion in
the midst of a shady garden full of birds and tall flowers. I had often
imagined her walking there at mid-day, dressed in white muslin with wide
sleeves open to the elbow, scattering grain from a silver plate to the
proud pigeons that strutted about her slippered feet and fluttered to
her dove-like hand. I had dreamed of seeing that woman as I rode
racehorses on wild Irish plains, of being loved by her; in London I had
dreamed of becoming Sevres's pupil.

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

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

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

I returned to Engin with my taciturn valet; but he showed no enthusiasm
on the subject of Engin. I saw he was sighing after beef, beer and a
wife, and was but little disposed to settle in this French suburb. We
were both very much alone in Paris. In the evenings I allowed him to
smoke his clay in my room, and in an astounding brogue he counselled me
to return to my mother. But I would not listen, and one day on the
Boulevards I was stricken with the art of Jules Lefebvre. True it is
that I saw it was wanting in that tender grace which I am forced to
admit even now, saturated though I now am with the æsthetics of
different schools, is inherent in Cabanel's work; but at the time I am
writing of my nature was too young and mobile to resist the conventional
attractiveness of nude figures, indolent attitudes, long hair, slender
hips and hands, and I accepted Jules Lefebvre wholly and
unconditionally. He hesitated, however, when I asked to be taken as a
private pupil, but he wrote out the address of a studio where he gave
instruction every Tuesday morning. This was even more to my taste, for I
had an instinctive liking for Frenchmen, and was anxious to see as much
of them as possible.

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

In the studio there were some eighteen or twenty young men, and among
these there were some four or five from whom I could learn; there were
also some eight or nine young English girls. We sat round in a circle
and drew from the model. And this reversal of all the world's opinions
and prejudices was to me singularly delightful; I loved the sense of
unreality that the exceptional nature of our life in this studio
conveyed. Besides, the women themselves were young and interesting, and
were, therefore, one of the charms of the place, giving, as they did,
that sense of sex which is so subtle a mental pleasure, and which is, in
its outward aspect, so interesting to the eye--the gowns, the hair
lifted, showing the neck; the earrings, the sleeves open at the elbow.
Though all this was very dear to me I did not fall in love: but he who
escapes a woman's dominion generally comes under the sway of some friend
who ever exerts a strange attractiveness, and fosters a sort of
dependency that is not healthful or valid: and although I look back with
undiminished delight on the friendship I contracted about this time--a
friendship which permeated and added to my life--I am nevertheless
forced to recognise that, however suitable it may have been in my
special case, in the majority of instances it would have proved but a
shipwrecking reef, on which a young man's life would have gone to
pieces. What saved me was the intensity of my passion for Art, and a
moral revolt against any action that I thought could or would definitely
compromise me in that direction. I was willing to stray a little from my
path, but never further than a single step, which I could retrace when I
pleased. One day I raised my eyes, and saw there was a new-comer in the
studio; and, to my surprise, for he was fashionably dressed, and my
experience had not led me to believe in the marriage of genius and
well-cut clothes, he was painting very well indeed. His shoulders were
beautiful and broad; a long neck, a tiny head, a narrow, thin face, and
large eyes, full of intelligence and fascination. And although he could
not have been working more than an hour, he had already sketched in his
figure, with all the surroundings--screens, lamps, stoves, etc. I was
deeply interested. I asked the young lady next me if she knew who he
was. She could give me no information. But at four o'clock there was a
general exodus from the studio, and we adjourned to a neighbouring
_café_ to drink beer. The way led through a narrow passage, and as we
stooped under an archway, the young man (Marshall was his name) spoke to
me in English. Yes, we had met before; we had exchanged a few words in
So-and-So's studio--the great blonde man, whose Doré-like improvisations
had awakened aspiration in me.

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

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

"What waltz is that?" I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

We went to jeer a group of enthusiasts that willingly forfeit all
delights of the world in the hope of realising a new æstheticism; we
went insolent with patent leather shoes and bright kid gloves and armed
with all the jargon of the school. "_Cette jambe ne porte pas"; "la
nature ne se fait pas comme ça"; "on dessine par les masses; combien de
têtes?" "Sept et demi." "Si j'avais un morceau de craie je mettrais
celle-là dans un; bocal c'est un fœtus_"; in a word, all that the
journals of culture are pleased to term an artistic education. We
indulged in boisterous laughter, exaggerated in the hope of giving as
much pain as possible, and deep down in our souls we knew that we were
lying--at least I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the excitement of climbing up and down the social ladder did not
stave off our craving for art; and about this time there came a very
decisive event in our lives. Marshall's last and really _grande passion_
had come to a violent termination, and monetary difficulties forced him
to turn his thoughts to painting on china as a means of livelihood. And
as this young man always sought extremes he went to Belleville, donned
a blouse, ate garlic with his food, and settled down to live there as a
workman. I had been to see him, and had found him building a wall. And
with sorrow I related his state that evening to Julien in the Café
Veron. He said, after a pause:--

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

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

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

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

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

It was unpleasant to have a window opening not to the sky, but to an
unclean prospect of glass roofing; nor was it agreeable to get up at
seven in the morning; and ten hours of work daily are trying to the
resolution even of the best intentioned. But we had sworn to forego all
pleasures for the sake of art--_table d'hôtes_ in the Rue Maubeuge,
French and foreign duchesses in the Champs Elysées, thieves in the Rue
de la Gaieté.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The study of Baudelaire hurried the course of the disease.[1] No longer
is it the grand barbaric face of Gautier; now it is the clean shaven
face of the mock priest, the slow, cold eyes and the sharp, cunning
sneer of the cynical libertine who will be tempted that he may better
know the worthlessness of temptation. "Les Fleurs du Mal!" beautiful
flowers, beautiful in sublime decay. What a great record is yours, and
were Hell a reality how many souls would we find wreathed with your
poisonous blossoms. The village maiden goes to her Faust; the children
of the nineteenth century go to you, O Baudelaire, and having tasted of
your deadly delight all hope of repentance is vain. Flowers, beautiful
in your sublime decay, I press you to my lips; these northern solitudes,
far from the rank Parisian garden where I gathered you, are full of you,
even as the sea-shell of the sea, and the sun that sets on this wild
moorland evokes the magical verse:--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theodore de Banville. At first I thought him cold, infected with the
rhetorical ice of the Leconte de Lisle. He had no new creed to proclaim
nor old creed to denounce, the inherent miseries of human life did not
seem to touch him, nor did he sing the languors and ardours of animal or
spiritual passion. But there is this: a pure, clear song, an
instinctive, incurable and lark-like love of the song. He sings of the
white lily and the red rose, such knowledge of, such observation of
nature is enough for the poet, and he sings and he trills, there is
trilling magic in every song, and the song as it ascends rings, and all
the air quivers with the ever-widening circle of the echoes, sighing and
dying out of the ear until the last faintness is reached, and the glad
rhymes clash and dash forth again on their aerial way. Banville is not
the poet, he is the bard. The great questions that agitate the mind of
man have not troubled him, life, death, and love he perceives only as
stalks whereon he may weave his glittering web of living words.
Whatever his moods may be, he is lyrical. His wit flies out on
clear-cut, swallow-like wings; in speaking of Paul Alexis' book "Le
Besoin d'aimer," he said: "_Vous avez trouvé un titre assez laid pour
faire reculer les divines étoiles_." I know not what instrument to
compare with his verse. I suppose I should say a flute; but it seems to
me more like a marvellously toned piano. His hands pass over the keys
and he produces Chopin-like fluidities.

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

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

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

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

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

Se penchant vers les dahlias,
Des paons cabrent des rosaces lunaires
L'assou pissement des branches vénère
Son pâle visage aux mourants dahlias.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In English there is no sonnet so beautiful, its beauty cannot be worn
away, it is as inexhaustible as a Greek marble. The hiatus in the last
line was at first a little trying, but I have learned to love it. Not in
Baudelaire nor even in Poe is there more beautiful poetry to be found.
Poe, unread and ill-understood in America and England, here, thou art an
integral part of our artistic life.

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


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


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

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

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

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


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