Confessions of a Young Man
George Moore

Part 2 out of 4

glass of the years.

He has sat in the stalls, opera-glass in hand; he has met women of
thirty at balls, and has sat with them beneath shadowy curtains; he
knows that the world is full of beautiful women, all waiting to be loved
and amused, the circles of his immediate years are filled with feminine
faces, they cluster like flowers on this side and that, and they fade
into garden-like spaces of colour. How many may love him? The loveliest
may one day smile upon his knee! and shall he renounce all for that
little creature who has just finished singing and is handing round cups
of tea? Every bachelor contemplating marriage says, "I shall have to
give up all for one, one."

The young girl is often pretty but her prettiness is vague and
uncertain, it inspires a sort of pitying admiration, but it suggests
nothing; the very essence of the young girl's being is that she should
have nothing to suggest, therefore the beauty of the young face fails to
touch the imagination. No past lies hidden in those translucent eyes, no
story of hate, disappointment, or sin. Nor is there in nine hundred and
ninety-nine cases in a thousand any doubt that the hand, that spends at
least a pound a day in restaurants and cabs, will succeed in gathering
the muslin flower if he so wills it, and by doing so he will delight
every one. Where, then, is the struggle? where, then, is the triumph?
Therefore, I say that if a young man's heart is not set on children, and
tiresome dinner-parties, the young girl presents to him no possible
ideal. But the woman of thirty presents from the outset all that is
necessary to ensnare the heart of a young man. I see her sitting in her
beautiful drawing-room, all designed by, and all belonging to her. Her
chair is placed beneath an evergreen plant, and the long leaves lean
out as if to touch her neck. The great white and red roses of the
Aubusson carpet are spread enigmatically about her feline feet; a grand
piano leans its melodious mouth to her; and there she sits when her
visitors have left her, playing Beethoven's sonatas in the dreamy
firelight. The spring-tide shows but a bloom of unvarying freshness;
August has languished and loved in the strength of the sun. She is
stately, she is tall. What sins, what disappointments, what aspirations
lie in those grey eyes, mysteriously still, and mysteriously revealed.
These a young man longs to know of, they are his life. He imagines
himself sitting by her, when the others have gone, holding her hand,
calling on her name; sometimes she moves away and plays the moonlight
sonata. Letting her hands droop upon the keys she talks sadly, maybe
affectionately; she speaks of the tedium of life, of its
disenchantments. He knows well what she means, he has suffered as she
has; but could he tell her, could she understand, that in his love
reality would dissolve into a dream, all limitations would open into
boundless infinity.

The husband he rarely sees. Sometimes a latch-key is heard about
half-past six. The man is thick, strong, common, his jaws are heavy,
his eyes are expressionless, there is about him the loud swagger of the
_caserne_, and he suggests the inevitable question, Why did she marry
him?--a question that every young man of refined mind asks a thousand
times by day and ten thousand times by night, asks till he is
five-and-thirty, and sees that his generation has passed into middle

Why did she marry him? Not the sea, nor the sky, nor the great
mysterious midnight, when he opens his casement and gazes into starry
space will give him answer; no Œdipus will ever come to unravel this
riddle; this sphinx will never throw herself from the rock into the
clangour of the sea-gulls and waves; she will never divulge her secret;
and if she is the woman and not a woman of thirty, she has forgotten.

The young man shakes hands with the husband; he strives not to look
embarrassed, and he talks of indifferent things--of how well he (the
husband) is looking, of his amusements, his projects; and then he (the
young man of refined mind) tastes of that keen and highly-seasoned
delight--happiness in crime. He knows not the details of her home life,
the husband is merely a dark cloud that fills one side of the picture,
sometimes obliterating the sunlight; a shadowy shape that in certain
moments solidifies and assumes the likeness of a rock-sculptured,
imminent monster, but the shadow and the shape and the threat are
magnetic, and in a sense of danger the fascination is sealed.

The young man of refined mind is in a ball-room! He leans against the
woodwork in a distant doorway; hardly knowing what to do with himself,
he strives to interest himself in the conversation of a group of men
twice his age. I will not say he is shunned; but neither the matrons nor
the young girls make any advances towards him. The young girls so
sweet--in the oneness of their fresh hair, flowers, dresses, and
glances--are being introduced, are getting up to dance, and the hostess
is looking round for partners. She sees the young man in the doorway,
but she hesitates and goes to some one else, and if you asked her why,
she could not tell you why she avoided him. Presently the woman of
thirty enters. She is in white satin and diamonds. She looks for him--a
circular glance. Calm with possession she passes to a seat, extending
her hand here and there. She dances the eighth, twelfth, and fifteenth
waltz with him.

Will he induce her to visit his rooms? Will they be like
Marshall's--strange debauches of colour and Turkish lamps--or mine, an
old cabinet, a faded pastel which embalms the memory of a pastoral
century, my taste; or will it be a library,--two leather library chairs,
a large escritoire, etc.? Be this as it may, whether the apartments be
the ruthless extravagance of artistic impulse, or the subdued taste of
the student, she, the woman of thirty, shall be there by night and day:
her statue is there, and even when she is sleeping safe in her husband's
arms, with fevered brow, he, the young man of refined mind, alone and
lonely shall kneel and adore her.

And should she _not_ visit his rooms? If the complex and various
accidents of existence should have ruled out her life virtuously; if the
many inflections of sentiment have decided against this last
consummation, then she will wax to the complete, the unfathomable
temptress--the Lilith of old--she will never set him free, and in the
end will be found about his heart "one single golden hair." She shall
haunt his wife's face and words (should he seek to rid himself of her by
marriage), a bitter sweet, a half-welcome enchantment; she shall
consume and destroy the strength and spirit of his life, leaving it
desolation, a barren landscape, burnt and faintly scented with the sea.
Fame and wealth shall slip like sand from him. She may be set aside for
the cadence of a rhyme, for the flowing line of a limb, but when the
passion of art has raged itself out, she shall return to blight the
peace of the worker.

A terrible malady is she, a malady the ancients knew of and called
nympholepsy--a beautiful name evocative and symbolic of its ideal
aspect, "the breasts of the nymphs in the brake." And the disease is not
extinct in these modern days, nor will it ever be so long as men shall
yearn for the unattainable; and the prosy bachelors who trail their
ill-fated lives from their chambers to their clubs know their malady,
and they call it--the woman of thirty.


A Japanese dressing-gown, the ideality of whose tissue delights me, some
fresh honey and milk set by this couch hung with royal fringes; and
having partaken of this odorous refreshment, I call to Jack, my great
python crawling about after a two months' fast. I tie up a guinea-pig to
the _tabouret_, pure Louis XV., the little beast struggles and squeaks,
the snake, his black, bead-like eyes are fixed, how superb are the he strikes; and with what exquisite gourmandise he
lubricates and swallows.

Marshall is at the organ in the hall, he is playing a Gregorian chant,
that beautiful hymn, the "Vexilla Regis," by Saint Fortunatus, the great
poet of the Middle Ages. And, having turned over the leaves of "Les
Fêtes Galantes," I sit down to write.

My original intention was to write some thirty or forty stories varying
from thirty to three hundred lines in length. The nature of these
stories is easy to imagine: there was the youth who wandered by night
into a witches' sabbath, and was disputed for by the witches, young and
old. There was the light o' love who went into the desert to tempt the
holy man; but he died as he yielded; his arms stiffened by some miracle,
and she was unable to free herself; she died of starvation, as her
bondage loosened in decay. I had increased my difficulties by adopting
as part of my task the introduction of all sorts of elaborate, and in
many cases extravagantly composed metres, and I had begun to feel that I
was working in sand, I could make no progress, the house I was raising
crumbled and fell away on every side. These stories had one merit: they
were all, so far as I can remember, perfectly constructed. For the art
of telling a story clearly and dramatically, _selon les procédés de M.
Scribe_, I had thoroughly learnt from old M. Duval, the author of a
hundred and sixty plays, written in collaboration with more than a
hundred of the best writers of his day, including the master himself,
Gautier. I frequently met M. Duval at breakfast at a neighbouring
_café_, and our conversation turned on _l'exposition de la pièce,
préparer la situation, nous aurons des larmes_, etc. One day, as I sat
waiting for him, I took up the _Voltaire_. It contained an article by M.
Zola. _Naturalisme, la vérité, la science,_ were repeated some
half-a-dozen times. Hardly able to believe my eyes, I read that you
should write, with as little imagination as possible, that plot in a
novel or in a play was illiterate and puerile, and that the art of M.
Scribe was an art of strings and wires, etc. I rose up from breakfast,
ordered my coffee, and stirred the sugar, a little dizzy, like one who
has received a violent blow on the head.

Echo-augury! Words heard in an unexpected quarter, but applying
marvellously well to the besetting difficulty of the moment. The reader
who has followed me so far will remember the instant effect the word
"Shelley" had upon me in childhood, and how it called into existence a
train of feeling that illuminated the vicissitudes and passions of many
years, until it was finally assimilated and became part of my being; the
reader will also remember how the mere mention, at a certain moment, of
the word "France" awoke a vital impulse, even a sense of final
ordination, and how the irrevocable message was obeyed, and how it led
to the creation of a mental existence.

And now for a third time I experienced the pain and joy of a sudden and
inward light. Naturalism, truth, the new art, above all the phrase, "the
new art," impressed me as with a sudden sense of light. I was dazzled,
and I vaguely understood that my "Roses of Midnight" were sterile
eccentricities, dead flowers that could not be galvanised into any
semblance of life, passionless in all their passion.

I had read a few chapters of the "Assommoir," as it appeared in _La
République des Lettres_; I had cried, "ridiculous, abominable," only
because it is characteristic of me to instantly form an opinion and
assume at once a violent attitude. But now I bought up the back numbers
of the _Voltaire_, and I looked forward to the weekly exposition of the
new faith with febrile eagerness. The great zeal with which the new
master continued his propaganda, and the marvellous way in which
subjects the most diverse, passing events, political, social, religious,
were caught up and turned into arguments for, or proof of the truth of
naturalism astonished me wholly. The idea of a new art based upon
science, in opposition to the art of the old world that was based on
imagination, an art that should explain all things and embrace modern
life in its entirety, in its endless ramifications, be, as it were, a
new creed in a new civilisation, filled me with wonder, and I stood dumb
before the vastness of the conception, and the towering height of the
ambition. In my fevered fancy I saw a new race of writers that would
arise, and with the aid of the novel would continue to a more glorious
and legitimate conclusion the work that the prophets had begun; and at
each development of the theory of the new art and its universal
applicability, my wonder increased and my admiration choked me. If any
one should be tempted to turn to the books themselves to seek an
explanation of this wild ecstasy, he would find nothing--as well drink
the dregs of yesterday's champagne. One is lying before me now, and as I
glance through the pages listlessly I say, "Only the simple crude
statements of a man of powerful mind, but singularly narrow vision."

Still, although eager and anxious for the fray, I did not see how I was
to participate in it. I was not a novelist, not yet a dramatic author,
and the possibility of a naturalistic poet seemed to me not a little
doubtful. I had clearly understood that the lyrical quality was to be
for ever banished; there were to be no harps and lutes in our heaven,
only drums; and the preservation of all the essentials of poetry, by the
simple enumeration of the utensils to be found in a back kitchen,
sounded, I could not help thinking (here it becomes necessary to
whisper), not unlike rigmarole. I waited for the master to speak. He had
declared that the Republic would fall if it did not become instantly
naturalistic; he would not, he could not pass over in silence so
important a branch of literature as poetry, no matter how contemptible
he might think it. If he could find nothing to praise, he must at least
condemn. At last the expected article came. It was all that could be
desired by one in my fever of mind. Hugo's claims had been previously
disproven, but now Banville and Gautier were declared to be warmed-up
dishes of the ancient world; Baudelaire was a naturalist, but he had
been spoilt by the romantic influence of his generation. _Cependant_
there were indications of the naturalistic movement even in poetry. I
trembled with excitement, I could not read fast enough. Coppée had
striven to simplify language; he had versified the street cries,
_Achetez la France, le Soir, le Rappel_; he had sought to give utterance
to humble sentiments as in "Le Petit Epicier de Montrouge," the little
grocer _qui cassait le sucre avec mélancolie_; Richepin had boldly and
frankly adopted the language of the people in all its superb crudity.
All this was, however, preparatory and tentative. We are waiting for our
poet, he who will sing to us fearlessly of the rude industry of dustmen
and the comestible glories of the market-places. The subjects are to
hand, the formula alone is wanting.

The prospect dazzled me; I tried to calm myself. Had I the stuff in me
to win and to wear these bays, this stupendous laurel crown?--bays,
laurel crown, a distinct _souvenir_ of Parnassus, but there is no modern
equivalent, I must strive to invent a new one, in the meantime let me
think. True it is that Swinburne was before me with the "Romantiques."
The hymn to Proserpine and Dolores are wonderful lyrical versions of
Mdlle. de Maupin. In form the Leper is old English, the colouring is
Baudelaire, but the rude industry of the dustmen and the comestible
glories of the market-place shall be mine. _A bas "Les Roses de

I felt the "naturalisation" of the "Roses of Midnight" would prove a
difficult task. I soon found it an impossible one, and I laid the poems
aside and commenced a volume redolent of the delights of Bougival and
Ville d'Avray. This book was to be entitled "Poems of 'Flesh and

"_Elle mit son plus beau chapeau, son chapeau bleu_" ...and then? Why,
then picking up her skirt she threads her way through the crowded
streets, reads the advertisements on the walls, hails the omnibus,
inquires at the _concierge's_ loge, murmurs as she goes upstairs, "_Que
c'est haut le cinquième_," and then? Why, the door opens, and she
cries, "_Je t'aime_"

But it was the idea of the new æstheticism--the new art corresponding to
modern, as ancient art corresponded to ancient life--that captivated me,
that led me away, and not a substantial knowledge of the work done by
the naturalists. I had read the "Assommoir," and had been much impressed
by its pyramid size, strength, height, and decorative grandeur, and also
by the immense harmonic development of the idea; and the fugal treatment
of the different scenes had seemed to me astonishingly new--the
washhouse, for example: the fight motive is indicated, then follows the
development of side issues, then comes the fight motive explained; it is
broken off short, it flutters through a web of progressive detail, the
fight motive is again taken up, and now it is worked out in all its
fulness; it is worked up to _crescendo_, another side issue is
introduced, and again the theme is given forth. And I marvelled greatly
at the lordly, river-like roll of the narrative, sometimes widening out
into lakes and shallowing meres, but never stagnating in fen or
marshlands. The language, too, which I did not then recognise as the
weak point, being little more than a boiling down of Chateaubriand and
Flaubert, spiced with Goncourt, delighted me with its novelty, its
richness, its force. Nor did I then even roughly suspect that the very
qualities which set my admiration in a blaze wilder than wildfire, being
precisely those that had won the victory for the romantic school forty
years before, were very antagonistic to those claimed for the new art; I
was deceived, as was all my generation, by a certain externality, an
outer skin, a nearness, _un approchement_; in a word, by a substitution
of Paris for the distant and exotic backgrounds so beloved of the
romantic school. I did not know then, as I do now, that art is eternal,
that it is only the artist that changes, and that the two great
divisions--the only possible divisions--are: those who have talent, and
those who have no talent. But I do not regret my errors, my follies; it
is not well to know at once of the limitations of life and things. I
should be less than nothing had it not been for my enthusiasms; they
were the saving clause in my life.

But although I am apt to love too dearly the art of my day, and to the
disparagement of that of other days, I did not fall into the fatal
mistake of placing the realistic writers of 1877 side by side with and
on the same plane of intellectual vision as the great Balzac; I felt
that that vast immemorial mind rose above them all, like a mountain
above the highest tower.

And, strange to say, it was Gautier that introduced me to Balzac; for
mention is made in the wonderful preface to "Les Fleurs du Mal" of
Seraphita: Seraphita, Seraphitus; which is it?--woman or man? Should
Wilfred or Mona be the possessor? A new Mdlle. de Maupin, with royal
lily and aureole, cloud-capped mountains, great gulfs of sea-water
flowing up and reflecting as in a mirror the steep cliff's side; the
straight white feet are set thereon, the obscuring weft of flesh is
torn, and the pure, strange soul continues its mystical exhortations.
Then the radiant vision, a white glory, the last outburst and
manifestation, the trumpets of the apocalypse, the colour of heaven, the
closing of this stupendous allegory--Seraphita lying dead in the rays of
the first sun of the nineteenth century.

I, therefore, had begun, as it were, to read Balzac backwards; instead
of beginning with the plain, simple, earthly tragedy of the Père Goriot,
I first knelt in a beautiful but distant coigne of the great world of
his genius--Seraphita. Certain _nuances_ of soul are characteristic of
certain latitudes, and what subtle instinct led him to Norway in quest
of this fervent soul? The instincts of genius are unfathomable? but he
who has known the white northern women with their pure spiritual eyes,
will aver that instinct led him aright. I have known one, one whom I
used to call Seraphita; Coppée knew her too, and that exquisite volume,
"L'Exilé," so Seraphita-like in the keen blonde passion of its verse,
was written to her, and each poem was sent to her as it was written.
Where is she now, that flower of northern snow, once seen for a season
in Paris? Has she returned to her native northern solitudes, great gulfs
of sea water, mountain rock, and pine?

Balzac's genius is in his titles as heaven is in its stars: "Melmoth
Reconcilié," "Jesus-Christ en Flandres," "Le Revers d'un Grand Homme,"
"La Cousine Bette." I read somewhere not very long ago, that Balzac was
the greatest thinker that had appeared in France since Pascal. Of
Pascal's claim to be a great thinker I confess I cannot judge. No man is
greater than the age he lives in, and, therefore, to talk to us, the
legitimate children of the nineteenth century, of logical proofs of the
existence of God strikes us in just the same light as the logical proof
of the existence of Jupiter Ammon. "Les Pensées" could appear to me only
as infinitely childish; the form is no doubt superb, but tiresome and
sterile to one of such modern and exotic taste as myself. Still, I
accept thankfully, in its sense of two hundred years, the compliment
paid to Balzac; but I would add that personally he seems to me to have
shown greater wings of mind than any artist that ever lived. I am aware
that this last statement will make many cry "fool" and hiss
"Shakespeare"! But I am not putting forward these criticisms
axiomatically, but only as the expressions of an individual taste, and
interesting so far as they reveal to the reader the different
developments and the progress of my mind. It might prove a little
tiresome, but it would no doubt "look well," in the sense that going to
church "looks well," if I were to write in here ten pages of praise of
our national bard. I must, however, resist the temptation to "look
well"; a confession is interesting in proportion to the amount of truth
it contains, and I will, therefore, state frankly I never derived any
profit whatsoever, and very little pleasure from the reading of the
great plays. The beauty of the verse! Yes; he who loved Shelley so well
as I could not fail to hear the melody of--

"Music to hear, why hearest thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy."

Is not such music as this enough? Of course, but I am a sensualist in
literature. I may see perfectly well that this or that book is a work of
genius, but if it doesn't "fetch me," it doesn't concern me, and I
forget its very existence. What leaves me cold to-day will madden me
to-morrow. With me literature is a question of sense, intellectual sense
if you will, but sense all the same, and ruled by the same
caprices--those of the flesh? Now we enter on very subtle distinctions.
No doubt that there is the brain-judgment and the sense-judgment of a
work of art. And it will be noticed that these two forces of
discrimination exist sometimes almost independently of each other, in
rare and radiant instances confounded and blended in one immense and
unique love. Who has not been, unless perhaps some dusty old pedant,
thrilled and driven to pleasure by the action of a book that penetrates
to and speaks to you of your most present and most intimate emotions.
This is of course pure sensualism; but to take a less marked stage. Why
should Marlowe enchant me? why should he delight and awake enthusiasm in
me, while Shakespeare leaves me cold? The mind that can understand one
can understand the other, but there are affinities in literature
corresponding to, and very analogous to, sexual affinities--the same
unreasoned attractions, the same pleasures, the same lassitudes. Those
we have loved most we are most indifferent to. Shelley, Gautier, Zola,
Flaubert, Goncourt! how I have loved you all; and now I could not, would
not, read you again. How womanly, how capricious; but even a capricious
woman is constant, if not faithful to her _amant de cœur_. And so with
me; of those I have loved deeply there is but one that still may thrill
me with the old passion, with the first ecstasy--it is Balzac. Upon that
rock I built my church, and his great and valid talent saved me often
from destruction, saved me from the shoaling waters of new æstheticisms,
the putrid mud of naturalism, and the faint and sickly surf of the
symbolists. Thinking of him, I could not forget that it is the spirit
and not the flesh that is eternal; that, as it was thought that in the
first instance gave man speech, so to the end it shall still be thought
that shall make speech beautiful and rememberable. The grandeur and
sublimity of Balzac's thoughts seem to me to rise to the loftiest
heights, and his range is limitless; there is no passion he has not
touched, and what is more marvellous, he has given to each in art a
place equivalent to the place it occupies in nature; his intense and
penetrating sympathy for human life and all that concerns it enabled him
to surround the humblest subjects with awe and crown them with the light
of tragedy. There are some, particularly those who can understand
neither and can read but one, who will object to any comparison being
drawn between the Dramatist and the Novelist; but I confess that I--if
the inherent superiority of verse over prose, which I admit
unhesitatingly, be waived--that I fail, utterly fail to see in what
Shakespeare is greater than Balzac. The range of the poet's thought is
of necessity not so wide, and his concessions must needs be greater than
the novelist's. On these points we will cry quits, and come at once to
the vital question--the creation. Is Lucien inferior to Hamlet? Is
Eugénie Grandet inferior to Desdemona? Is her father inferior to
Shylock? Is Macbeth inferior to Vautrin? Can it be said that the
apothecary in the "Cousine Bette," or the Baron Hulot, or the Cousine
Bette herself is inferior to anything the brain of man has ever
conceived? And it must not be forgotten that Shakespeare has had three
hundred years and the advantage of stage representation to impress his
characters on the sluggish mind of the world; and as mental impressions
are governed by the same laws of gravitation as atoms, our realisation
of Falstaff must of necessity be more vivid than any character in
contemporary literature, although it were equally great. And so far as
epigram and aphorism are concerned, and here I speak with absolute
sincerity and conviction, the work of the novelist seems to me richer
than that of the dramatist. Who shall forget those terrible words of the
poor life-weary orphan in the boarding-house? Speaking of Vautrin she
says, "His look frightens me as if he put his hand on my dress"; and
another epigram from the same book, "Woman's virtue is man's greatest
invention." Find me anything in La Rochefoucauld that goes more
incisively to the truth of things. One more; here I can give the exact
words: "_La gloire est le soleil des morts_." It would be easy to
compile a book of sayings from Balzac that would make all "Maximes" and
"Pensées," even those of La Rochefoucauld or Joubert, seem trivial and

Balzac was the great moral influence of my life, and my reading
culminated in the "Comédie Humaine." I no doubt fluttered through some
scores of other books, of prose and verse, sipping a little honey, but
he alone left any important or lasting impression upon my mind. The rest
was like walnuts and wine, an agreeable aftertaste.

But notwithstanding all this reading I can lay no claim to scholarship
of any kind; for save life I could never learn anything correctly. I am
a student only of ball rooms, bar rooms, streets, and alcoves. I have
read very little; but all I read I can turn to account, and all I read I
remember. To read freely, extensively, has always been my ambition, and
my utter inability to study has always been to me a subject of grave
inquietude,--study as contrasted with a general and haphazard gathering
of ideas taken in flight. But in me the impulse is so original to
frequent the haunts of men that it is irresistible, conversation is the
breath of my nostrils, I watch the movement of life, and my ideas spring
from it uncalled for, as buds from branches. Contact with the world is
in me the generating force; without this what invention I have is thin
and sterile, and it grows thinner rapidly, until it dies away utterly,
as it did in the composition of my unfortunate "Roses of Midnight."

Men and women, oh the strength of the living faces! conversation, oh the
magic of it! It is a fabulous river of gold where the precious metal is
washed up without stint for all to take, to take as much as he can
carry. Two old ladies discussing the peerage? Much may be learned, it is
gold; poets and wits, then it is fountains whose spray solidifies into
jewels, and every herb and plant is begemmed with the sparkle of the
diamond and the glow of the ruby.

I did not go to either Oxford or Cambridge, but I went to the "Nouvelle
Athènes." What is the "Nouvelle Athènes"? He who would know anything of
my life must know something of the academy of the fine arts. Not the
official stupidity you read of in the daily papers, but the real French
academy, the _café_. The "Nouvelle Athènes" is a _café_ on the Place
Pigale. Ah! the morning idlenesses and the long evenings when life was
but a summer illusion, the grey moonlights on the Place where we used
to stand on the pavements, the shutters clanging up behind us, loath to
separate, thinking of what we had left said, and how much better we
might have enforced our arguments. Dead and scattered are all those who
used to assemble there, and those years and our home, for it was our
home, live only in a few pictures and a few pages of prose. The same old
story, the vanquished only are victorious; and though unacknowledged,
though unknown, the influence of the "Nouvelle Athènes" is inveterate in
the artistic thought of the nineteenth century.

How magnetic, intense, and vivid are these memories of youth. With what
strange, almost unnatural clearness do I see and hear,--see the white
face of that _café_, the white nose of that block of houses, stretching
up to the Place, between two streets. I can see down the incline of
those two streets, and I know what shops are there; I can hear the glass
door of the _café_ grate on the sand as I open it. I can recall the
smell of every hour. In the morning that of eggs frizzling in butter,
the pungent cigarette, coffee and bad cognac; at five o'clock the
fragrant odour of absinthe; and soon after the steaming soup ascends
from the kitchen; and as the evening advances, the mingled smells of
cigarettes, coffee, and weak beer. A partition, rising a few feet or
more over the hats, separates the glass front from the main body of the
_café_. The usual marble tables are there, and it is there we sat and
æstheticised till two o'clock in the morning. But who is that man? he
whose prominent eyes flash with excitement. That is Villiers de
l'Isle-Adam. The last or the supposed last of the great family. He is
telling that girl a story--that fair girl with heavy eyelids, stupid and
sensual. She is, however, genuinely astonished and interested, and he is
striving to play upon her ignorance. Listen to him. "Spain--the night is
fragrant with the sea and the perfume of the orange trees, you know--a
midnight of stars and dreams. Now and then the silence is broken by the
sentries challenging--that is all. But not in Spanish but in French are
the challenges given; the town is in the hands of the French; it is
under martial law. But now an officer passes down a certain garden, a
Spaniard disguised as a French officer; from the balcony the family--one
of the most noble and oldest families Spain can boast of, a thousand
years, long before the conquest of the Moors--watches him. Well
then"--Villiers sweeps with a white feminine hand the long hair that is
falling over his face--he has half forgotten, he is a little mixed in
the opening of the story, and he is striving in English to "scamp," in
French to _escamoter_. "The family are watching, death if he is caught,
if he fails to kill the French sentry. The cry of a bird, some vague
sound attracts the sentry, he turns; all is lost. The Spaniard is
seized. Martial law, Spanish conspiracy must be put down. The French
general is a man of iron." (Villiers laughs, a short, hesitating laugh
that is characteristic of him, and continues in his abrupt, uncertain
way), "man of iron; not only he declares that the spy must be beheaded,
but also the entire family--a man of iron that, ha, ha; and then, no you
cannot, it is impossible for you to understand the enormity of the
calamity--a thousand years before the conquest by the Moors, a Spaniard
alone could--there is no one here, ha, ha, I was forgetting--the utter
extinction of a great family of the name, the oldest and noblest of all
the families in Spain, it is not easy to understand that, no, not easy
here in the 'Nouvelle Athènes'--ha, ha, one must belong to a great
family to understand, ha, ha.

"The father beseeches, he begs that one member may be spared to continue
the name--the youngest son--that is all; if he could be saved, the rest
what matter; death is nothing to a Spaniard; the family, the name, a
thousand years of name is everything. The general is, you know, a 'man
of iron.' 'Yes, one member of your family shall be respited, but on one
condition.' To the agonised family conditions are as nothing. But they
don't know the man of iron is determined to make a terrible example, and
they cry, 'Any conditions.' 'He who is respited must serve as
executioner to the others.' Great is the doom; you understand; but after
all the name must be saved. Then in the family council the father goes
to his youngest son and says, 'I have been a good father to you, my son;
I have always been a kind father, have I not? answer me; I have never
refused you anything. Now you will not fail us, you will prove yourself
worthy of the great name you bear. Remember your great ancestor who
defeated the Moors, remember.'" (Villiers strives to get in a little
local colour, but his knowledge of Spanish names and history is limited,
and he in a certain sense fails.) "Then the mother comes to her son and
says, 'My son, I have been a good mother, I have always loved you; say
you will not desert us in this hour of our great need.' Then the little
sister comes, and the whole family kneels down and appeals to the
horror-stricken boy....

"'He will not prove himself unworthy of our name,' cries the father.
'Now, my son, courage, take the axe firmly, do what I ask you, courage,
strike straight.' The father's head falls into the sawdust, the blood
all over the white beard; then comes the elder brother, and then another
brother; and then, oh, the little sister was almost more than he could
bear, and the mother had to whisper, 'Remember your promise to your
father, to your dead father.' The mother laid her head on the block, but
he could not strike. 'Be not the first coward of our name, strike;
remember your promise to us all,' and her head was struck off."

"And the son," the girl asks, "what became of him?"

"He never was seen, save at night, walking, a solitary man, beneath the
walls of his castle in Granada."

"And whom did he marry?"

"He never married."

Then after a long silence some one said,--

"Whose story is that?"


At that moment the glass door of the _café_ grated upon the sanded
floor, and Manet entered. Although by birth and by art essentially
Parisian, there was something in his appearance and manner of speaking
that often suggested an Englishman. Perhaps it was his dress--his
clean-cut clothes and figure. That figure! those square shoulders that
swaggered as he went across a room and the thin waist; and that face,
the beard and nose, satyr-like shall I say? No, for I would evoke an
idea of beauty of line united to that of intellectual expression--frank
words, frank passion in his convictions, loyal and simple phrases, clear
as well-water, sometimes a little hard, sometimes, as they flowed away,
bitter, but at the fountain head sweet and full of light. He sits next
to Degas, that round-shouldered man in suit of pepper and salt. There is
nothing very trenchantly French about him either, except the large
necktie; his eyes are small and his words are sharp, ironical, cynical.
These two men are the leaders of the impressionist school. Their
friendship has been jarred by inevitable rivalry. "Degas was painting
'Semiramis' when I was painting 'Modern Paris,'" says Manet. "Manet is
in despair because he cannot paint atrocious pictures like Durant, and
be fêted and decorated; he is an artist, not by inclination, but by
force. He is as a galley slave chained to the oar," says Degas.
Different too are their methods of work. Manet paints his whole picture
from nature, trusting his instinct to lead him aright through the
devious labyrinth of selection. Nor does his instinct ever fail him,
there is a vision in his eyes which he calls nature, and which he paints
unconsciously as he digests his food, thinking and declaring vehemently
that the artist should not seek a synthesis, but should paint merely
what he sees. This extraordinary oneness of nature and artistic vision
does not exist in Degas, and even his portraits are composed from
drawings and notes. About midnight Catulle Mendès will drop in, when he
has corrected his proofs. He will come with his fine paradoxes and his
strained eloquence. He will lean towards you, he will take you by the
arm, and his presence is a nervous pleasure. And when the _café_ is
closed, when the last bock has been drunk, we shall walk about the great
moonlight of the Place Pigale, and through the dark shadows of the
streets, talking of the last book published, he hanging on to my arm,
speaking in that high febrile voice of his, every phrase luminous,
aerial, even as the soaring moon and the fitful clouds. Duranty, an
unknown Stendhal, will come in for an hour or so; he will talk little
and go away quietly; he knows, and his whole manner shows that he knows
that he is a defeated man; and if you ask him why he does not write
another novel, he will say, "What's the good, it would not be read; no
one read the others, and I mightn't do even as well if I tried again."
Paul Alexis, Léon Diex, Pissarro, Cabaner, are also frequently seen in
the "Nouvelle Athènes."

Cabaner! the world knows not the names of those who scorn the world:
somewhere in one of the great populous churchyards of Paris there is a
forgotten grave, and there lies Cabaner. Cabaner! since the beginning
there have been, till the end of time there shall be Cabaners; and they
shall live miserably and they shall die miserable, and shall be
forgotten; and there shall never arise a novelist great enough to make
live in art that eternal spirit of devotion, disinterestedness, and
aspiration, which in each generation incarnates itself in one heroic
soul. Better wast thou than those who stepped to opulence and fame upon
thee fallen; better, loftier-minded, purer; thy destiny was to fall
that others might rise upon thee, thou wert one of the noble legion of
the conquered; let praise be given to the conquered, for with them lies
the brunt of victory. Child of the pavement, of strange sonnets and
stranger music, I remember thee; I remember the silk shirts, the four
sous of Italian cheese, the roll of bread, and the glass of milk, the
streets were thy dining-room. And the five-mile walk daily to the
suburban music hall where five francs were earned by playing the
accompaniments of comic songs. And the wonderful room on the fifth
floor, which was furnished when that celebrated heritage of two thousand
francs was paid. I remember the fountain that was bought for a wardrobe,
and the American organ with all the instruments of the orchestra, and
the plaster casts under which the homeless ones that were never denied a
refuge and a crust by thee slept. I remember all, and the buying of the
life-size "Venus de Milo." Something extraordinary would be done with
it, I knew, but the result exceeded my wildest expectation. The head
must needs be struck off, so that the rapture of thy admiration should
be secure from all jarring reminiscence of the streets.

Then the wonderful story of the tenor, the pork butcher, who was heard
giving out such a volume of sound that the sausages were set in motion
above him; he was fed, clothed, and educated on the five francs a day
earned in the music hall in the Avenue de la Motte Piquet; and when he
made his _début_ at the Théâtre Lyrique, thou wast in the last stage of
consumption and too ill to go to hear thy pupil's success. He was
immediately engaged by Mapleson and taken to America.

I remember thy face, Cabaner; I can see it now--that long sallow face
ending in a brown beard, and the hollow eyes, the meagre arms covered
with a silk shirt, contrasting strangely with the rest of the dress. In
all thy privation and poverty, thou didst never forego thy silk shirt. I
remember the paradoxes and the aphorisms, if not the exact words, the
glamour and the sentiment of a humour that was all thy own. Never didst
thou laugh; no, not even when in discussing how silence might be
rendered in music, thou didst say, with thy extraordinary Pyrenean
accent, "_Pour rendre le silence en musique il me faudrait trois
orchestres militaires."_ And when I did show thee some poor verses of
mine, French verses, for at this time I hated and had partly forgotten
my native language--

"My dear George Moore, you always write about love, the subject is

"So it is, so it is; but after all Baudelaire wrote about love and
lovers; his best poem...."

"_C'est vrai, mais il s'agissait d'une charogne et cela relève beaucoup
la chose_."

I remember, too, a few stray snatches of thy extraordinary music, "music
that might be considered by Wagner as a little too advanced, but which
Liszt would not fail to understand"; also thy settings of sonnets where
the _melody_ was continued uninterruptedly from the first line to the
last; and that still more marvellous feat, thy setting, likewise with
unbroken melody, of Villon's ballade "Les Dames du Temps Jadis"; and
that Out-Cabanering of Cabaner, the putting to music of Cros's "Hareng

And why didst thou remain ever poor and unknown? Because of something
too much, or something too little? Because of something too much! so I
think, at least; thy heart was too full of too pure an ideal, too far
removed from all possible contagion with the base crowd.

But, Cabaner, thou didst not labour in vain; thy destiny, though
obscure, was a valiant and fruitful one; and, as in life, thou didst
live for others so now in death thou dost live in others, Thou wast in
an hour of wonder and strange splendour when the last tints and
lovelinesses of romance lingered in the deepening west; when out of the
clear east rose with a mighty effulgence of colour and lawless light
Realism; when showing aloft in the dead pallor of the zenith, like a
white flag fluttering faintly, Symbolists and Decadents appeared. Never
before was there so sudden a flux and conflux of artistic desire, such
aspiration in the soul of man, such rage of passion, such fainting
fever, such cerebral erethism. The roar and dust of the daily battle of
the Realists was continued under the flush of the sunset, the arms of
the Romantics glittered, the pale spiritual Symbolists watched and
waited, none knowing yet of their presence. In such an hour of artistic
convulsion and renewal of thought thou wast, and thou wast a magnificent
rallying point for all comers; it was thou who didst theorise our
confused aspirations, and by thy holy example didst save us from all
base commercialism, from all hateful prostitution; thou wast ever our
high priest, and from thy high altar turned to us the white host, the
ideal, the true and living God of all men.

Cabaner, I see you now entering the "Nouvelle Athènes"; you are a little
tired after your long weary walk, but you lament not and you never cry
out against the public that will accept neither your music nor your
poetry. But though you are tired and footsore, you are ready to
æstheticise till the _café_ closes; for you the homeless ones are
waiting: there they are, some three or four, and you will take them to
your strange room, furnished with the American organ, the fountain, and
the decapitated Venus, and you will give them a crust each and cover
them with what clothes you have; and, when clothes are lacking, with
plaster casts, and though you will take but a glass of milk yourself,
you will find a few sous to give them _lager_ to cool their thirsty
throats. So you have ever lived--a blameless life is yours, no base
thought has ever entered there, not even a woman's love; art and
friends, that is all.

Reader, do you know of anything more angelic? If you do you are more
fortunate than I have been.



Two dominant notes in my character--an original hatred of my native
country, and a brutal loathing of the religion I was brought up in. All
the aspects of my native country are violently disagreeable to me, and I
cannot think of the place I was born in without a sensation akin to
nausea. These feelings are inherent and inveterate in me. I am
instinctively averse from my own countrymen; they are at once remote and
repulsive; but with Frenchmen I am conscious of a sense of nearness; I
am one with them in their ideas and aspirations, and when I am with
them, I am alive with a keen and penetrating sense of intimacy. Shall I
explain this by atavism? Was there a French man or woman in my family
some half-dozen generations ago? I have not inquired. The English I
love, and with a love that is foolish--mad, limitless; I love them
better than the French, but I am not so near to them. Dear, sweet
Protestant England, the red tiles of the farmhouse, the elms, the great
hedgerows, and all the rich fields adorned with spreading trees, and
the weald and the wold, the very words are passionately beautiful
southern England, not the north,--there is something Celtic in the
north--southern England, with its quiet, steadfast faces--a smock frock
is to me one of the most delightful things in the world; it is so
absolutely English. The villages clustered round the greens, the spires
of the churches pointing between the elm trees.... This is congenial to
me; and this is Protestantism. England is Protestantism, Protestantism
is England. Protestantism is strong, clean, and westernly, Catholicism
is eunuch-like, dirty, and Oriental.... There is something even Chinese
about it. What made England great was Protestantism, and when she ceases
to be Protestant she will fall.... Look at the nations that have clung
to Catholicism, starving moonlighters and starving brigands. The
Protestant flag floats on every ocean breeze, the Catholic banner hangs
limp in the incense silence of the Vatican. Let us be Protestant, and
revere Cromwell.

_Garçon, un bock_! I write to please myself, just as I order my dinner;
if my books sell I cannot help it--it is an accident.

But you live by writing.

Yes, but life is only an accident--art is eternal.

What I reproach Zola with is that he has no style; there is nothing you
won't find in Zola from Chateaubriand to the reporting in the _Figaro_.

He seeks immortality in an exact description of a linendraper's shop; if
the shop conferred immortality it should be upon the linendraper who
created the shop, and not on the novelist who described it.

And his last novel "l'Œuvre," how spun out, and for a franc a line in
the "Gil Blas." Not a single new or even exact observation. And that
terrible phrase repeated over and over again--"La Conquête de Paris."
What does it mean? I never knew anyone who thought of conquering Paris;
no one ever spoke of conquering Paris except, perhaps, two or three

You must have rules in poetry, if it is only for the pleasure of
breaking them, just as you must have women dressed, if it is only for
the pleasure of undressing them.

* * * * *

Fancy, a banquet was given to Julien by his pupils! He made a speech in
favour of Lefebvre, and hoped that every one there would vote for
Lefebvre. Julien was very eloquent. He spoke of _Le grand art, le nu_,
and Lefebvre's unswerving fidelity to _le nu_...elegance, refinement, an
echo of ancient Greece: and then,--what do you think? when he had
exhausted all the reasons why the medal of honour should be accorded to
Lefebvre, he said, "I ask you to remember, gentlemen, that he has a wife
and eight children." Is it not monstrous?

But it is you who are monstrous, you who expect to fashion the whole
world in conformity with your æstheticisms...a vain dream, and if
realised it would result in an impossible world. A wife and children are
the basis of existence, and it is folly to cry out because an appeal to
such interests as these meet with will be so till the
end of time.

And these great interests that are to continue to the end of time began
two years ago, when your pictures were not praised in the _Figaro_ as
much as you thought they should be.

Love--but not marriage. Marriage means a four-post bed and papa and
mamma between eleven and twelve. Love is aspiration: transparencies,
colour, light, a sense of the unreal. But a wife--you know all about
her--who her father was, who her mother was, what she thinks of you and
her opinion of the neighbours over the way. Where, then, is the dream,
the _au delà_? But the women one has never seen before, that one will
never see again! The choice! the enervation of burning odours, the
baptismal whiteness of women, light, ideal tissues, eyes strangely dark
with kohl, names that evoke palm trees and ruins, Spanish moonlight or
maybe Persepolis! The nightingale-harmony of an eternal yes--the whisper
of a sweet unending yes. The unknown, the unreal. This is love. There is
delusion, an _au delà_.

Good heavens! and the world still believes in education, in teaching
people the "grammar of art." Education should be confined to clerks, and
it drives even them to drink. Will the world learn that we never learn
anything that we did not know before? The artist, the poet, painter,
musician, and novelist go straight to the food they want, guided by an
unerring and ineffable instinct; to teach them is to destroy the nerve
of the artistic instinct. Art flees before the art school... "correct
drawing," "solid painting." Is it impossible to teach people, to force
it into their heads that there is no such thing as correct drawing, and
that if drawing were correct it would be wrong? Solid painting; good
heavens! Do they suppose that there is one sort of painting that is
better than all others, and that there is a receipt for making it as for
making chocolate! Art is not mathematics, it is individuality. It does
not matter how badly you paint, so long as you don't paint badly like
other people. Education destroys individuality. That great studio of
Julien's is a sphinx, and all the poor folk that go there for artistic
education are devoured. After two years they all paint and draw alike,
every one; that vile execution,--they call it execution,--_la pâte, la
peinture au premier coup_. I was over in England last year, and I saw
some portraits by a man called Richmond. They were horrible, but I liked
them because they weren't like painting. Stott and Sargent are clever
fellows enough; I like Stott the best. If they had remained at home and
hadn't been taught, they might have developed a personal art, but the
trail of the serpent is over all they do--that vile French painting,
_le morceau_, etc. Stott is getting over it by degrees. He exhibited a
nymph this year. I know what he meant; it was an interesting intention.
I liked his little landscapes better...simplified into nothing, into a
couple of primitive tints, wonderful clearness, light. But I doubt if he
will find a public to understand all that.

Democratic art! Art is the direct antithesis to democracy.... Athens! a
few thousand citizens who owned many thousand slaves, call that
democracy! No! what I am speaking of is modern democracy--the mass. The
mass can only appreciate simple and _naïve_ emotions, puerile
prettiness, above all conventionalities. See the Americans that come
over here; what do they admire? Is it Degas or Manet they admire? No,
Bouguereau and Lefebvre. What was most admired at the International
Exhibition?--The Dirty Boy. And if the medal of honour had been decided
by a _plébiscite_, the dirty boy would have had an overwhelming
majority. What is the literature of the people? The idiotic stories of
the _Petit Journal_. Don't talk of Shakespeare, Molière and the masters;
they are accepted on the authority of the centuries. If the people
could understand _Hamlet_, the people would not read the _Petit
Journal_; if the people could understand Michel Angelo, they would not
look at our Bouguereau or your Bouguereau, Sir F. Leighton. For the last
hundred years we have been going rapidly towards democracy, and what is
the result? The destruction of the handicrafts. That there are still
good pictures painted and good poems written proves nothing, there will
always be found men to sacrifice their lives for a picture or a poem.
But the decorative arts which are executed in collaboration, and depend
for support on the general taste of a large number, have ceased to
exist. Explain that if you can. I'll give you five thousand, ten
thousand francs to buy a beautiful clock that is not a copy and is not
ancient, and you can't do it. Such a thing does not exist. Look here, I
was going up the staircase of the Louvre the other day. They were
putting up a mosaic; it was horrible; every one knows it is horrible.
Well, I asked who had given the order for this mosaic, and I could not
find out; no one knew. An order is passed from bureau to bureau, and no
one is responsible; and it will be always so in a republic, and the more
republican you are the worse it will be.

The world is dying of machinery; that is the great disease, that is the
plague that will sweep away and destroy civilisation; man will have to
rise against it sooner or later.... Capital, unpaid labour, wage-slaves,
and all the rest--stuff.... Look at these plates; they were painted by
machinery; they are abominable. Look at them. In old times plates were
painted by the hand, and the supply was necessarily limited to the
demand, and a china in which there was always something more or less
pretty, was turned out; but now thousands, millions of plates are made
more than we want, and there is a commercial crisis; the thing is
inevitable. I say the great and the reasonable revolution will be when
mankind rises in revolt, and smashes the machinery and restores the

Goncourt is not an artist, notwithstanding all his affectation and
outcries; he is not an artist. _Il me fait l'effet_ of an old woman
shrieking after immortality and striving to beat down some fragment of
it with a broom. Once it was a duet, now it is a solo. They wrote
novels, history, plays, they collected _bric-à-brac_--they wrote about
their _bric-à-brac_; they painted in water-colours, they etched--they
wrote about their water-colours and etchings; they have made a will
settling that the _bric-à-brac_ is to be sold at their death, and the
proceeds applied to founding a prize for the best essay or novel, I
forget which it is. They wrote about the prize they are going to found;
they kept a diary, they wrote down everything they heard, felt, or saw,
_radotage de vieille femme_; nothing must escape, not the slightest
word; it might be that very word that might confer on them immortality;
everything they heard, or said, must be of value, of inestimable value.
A real artist does not trouble himself about immortality, about
everything he hears, feels and says; he treats ideas and sensations as
so much clay wherewith to create.

And then the famous collaboration; how it was talked about, written
about, prayed about; and when Jules died, what a subject for talk for
articles; it all went into pot. Hugo's vanity was Titanic, Goncourt's is

And Daudet?

Oh, Daudet, _c'est de la bouillabaisse_.

Whistler, of all artists, is the least impressionist; the idea people
have of his being an impressionist only proves once again the absolute
inability of the public to understand the merits or the demerits of
artistic work. Whistler's art is classical; he thinks of nature, but he
does not see nature; he is guided by his mind, and not by his eyes; and
the best of it is he says so. He knows it well enough! Any one who knows
him must have heard him say, "Painting is absolutely scientific; it is
an exact science." And his work is in accord with his theory; he risks
nothing, all is brought down, arranged, balanced, and made one; his
pictures are thought out beforehand, they are mental conceptions. I
admire his work; I am showing how he is misunderstood, even by those who
think they understand. Does he ever seek a pose that is characteristic
of the model, a pose that the model repeats oftener than any
other?--Never. He advances the foot, puts the hand on the hip, etc.,
with a view to rendering his _idea_. Take his portrait of Duret. Did he
ever see Duret in dress clothes? Probably not. Did he ever see Duret
with a lady's opera cloak?--I am sure he never did. Is Duret in the
habit of going to the theatre with ladies? No, he is a _littérateur_ who
is always in men's society, rarely in ladies'. But these facts mattered
nothing to Whistler as they matter to Degas, or to Manet. Whistler took
Duret out of his environment, dressed him up, thought out a scheme--in a
word, painted his idea without concerning himself in the least with the
model. Mark you, I deny that I am urging any fault or flaw; I am merely
contending that Whistler's art is not modern art, but classic art--yes,
and severely classical, far more classical than Titian's or
Velasquez;--from an opposite pole as classical as Ingres. No Greek
dramatist ever sought the synthesis of things more uncompromisingly than
Whistler. And he is right. Art is not nature. Art is nature digested.
Zola and Goncourt cannot, or will not understand that the artistic
stomach must be allowed to do its work in its own mysterious fashion. If
a man is really an artist he will remember what is necessary, forget
what is useless; but if he takes notes he will interrupt his artistic
digestion, and the result will be a lot of little touches, inchoate and
wanting in the elegant rhythm of the synthesis.

I am sick of synthetical art; we want observation direct and unreasoned.
What I reproach Millet with is that it is always the same thing, the
same peasant, the same _sabot_, the same sentiment. You must admit that
it is somewhat stereotyped.

What does that matter; what is more stereotyped than Japanese art? But
that does not prevent it from being always beautiful.

People talk of Manet's originality; that is just what I can't see. What
he has got, and what you can't take away from him, is a magnificent
execution. A piece of still life by Manet is the most wonderful thing in
the world; vividness of colour, breadth, simplicity, and directness of

French translation is the only translation; in England you still
continue to translate poetry into poetry, instead of into prose. We used
to do the same, but we have long ago renounced such follies. Either of
two things--if the translator is a good poet, he substitutes his verse
for that of the original;--I don't want his verse, I want the
original;--if he is a bad poet; he gives us bad verse, which is
intolerable. Where the original poet put an effect of cæsura, the
translator puts an effect of rhyme; where the original poet puts an
effect of rhyme, the translator puts an effect of cæsura. Take
Longfellow's "Dante." Does it give as good an idea of the original as
our prose translation? Is it as interesting reading? Take Bayard
Taylor's translation of "Goethe." Is it readable? Not to any one with an
ear for verse. Will any one say that Taylor's would be read if the
original did not exist? The fragment translated by Shelley is beautiful,
but then it is Shelley. Look at Swinburne's translations of Villon. They
are beautiful poems by Swinburne, that is all; he makes Villon speak of
a "splendid kissing mouth." Villon could not have done this unless he
had read Swinburne. "Heine," translated by James Thomson, is not
different from Thomson's original poems; "Heine," translated by Sir
Theodore Martin, is doggerel.

But in English blank verse you can translate quite as literally as you
could into prose?

I doubt it, but even so, the rhythm of the blank line would carry your
mind away from that of the original.

* * * * *

But if you don't know the original? The rhythm of the original can be
suggested in prose judiciously used; even if it isn't, your mind is at
least free, whereas the English rhythm must destroy the sensation of
something foreign. There is no translation except a word-for-word
translation. Baudelaire's translation of Poe, and Hugo's translation of
Shakespeare, are marvellous in this respect; a pun or joke that is
untranslatable is explained in a note.

* * * * *

But that is the way young ladies translate--word for word!

* * * * *

No; 'tis just what they don't do; they think they are translating word
for word, but they aren't. All the proper names, no matter how
unpronounceable, must be rigidly adhered to; you must never transpose
versts into kilometres, or roubles into francs;--I don't know what a
verst is or what a rouble is, but when I see the words I am in Russia.
Every proverb must be rendered literally, even if it doesn't make very
good sense: if it doesn't make sense at all, it must be explained in a
note. For example, there is a proverb in German: "_Quand le cheval est
sellé il faut le monter_;" in French there is a proverb: "_Quand le vin
est tiré il faut le boire_." Well, a translator who would translate
_quand le cheval_, etc., by _quand le vin_, etc., is an ass, and does
not know his business. In translation only a strictly classical language
should be used; no word of slang, or even word of modern origin should
be employed; the translator's aim should be never to dissipate the
illusion of an exotic. If I were translating the "Assommoir" into
English, I should strive after a strong, flexible, but colourless
language, something--what shall I say?--the style of a modern Addison.

* * * * *

What, don't you know the story about Mendès?--when _Chose_ wanted to
marry his sister? _Chose's_ mother, it appears, went to live with a
priest. The poor fellow was dreadfully cut up; he was broken-hearted;
and he went to Mendès, his heart swollen with grief, determined to make
a clean breast of it, let the worst come to the worst. After a great
deal of beating about the bush, and apologising, he got it out. You know
Mendès, you can see him smiling a little; and looking at _Chose_ with
that white cameo face of his he said,

"_Avec quel meillur homme voulez-vous que votre mère se mit? vous
n'avez donc, jeune homme, aucun sentiment religieux._"

Victor Hugo, he is a painter on porcelain; his verse is mere decoration,
long tendrils and flowers; and the same thing over and over again.

How to be happy!--not to read Baudelaire and Verlaine, not to enter the
_Nouvelle Athènes_, unless perhaps to play dominoes like the _bourgeois_
over there, not to do anything that would awake a too intense
consciousness of life,--to live in a sleepy country side, to have a
garden to work in, to have a wife and children, to chatter quietly every
evening over the details of existence. We must have the azaleas out
to-morrow and thoroughly cleansed, they are devoured by insects; the
tame rook has flown away; mother lost her prayer-book coming from
church, she thinks it was stolen. A good, honest, well-to-do peasant,
who knows nothing of politics, must be very nearly happy;--and to think
there are people who would educate, who would draw these people out of
the calm satisfaction of their instincts, and give them passions! The
philanthropist is the Nero of modern times.



"Why did you not send a letter? We have all been writing to you for the
last six months, but no answer--none. Had you written one word I would
have saved all. The poor _concierge_ was in despair; she said the
_propriétaire_ would wait if you had only said when you were coming
back, or if you only had let us know what you wished to be done. Three
quarters rent was due, and no news could be obtained of you, so an
auction had to be called. It nearly broke my heart to see those horrid
men tramping over the delicate carpets, their coarse faces set against
the sweet colour of that beautiful English cretonne.... And all the
while the pastel by Manet, the great hat set like an aureole about the
face--'the eyes deep set in crimson shadow,' 'the fan widespread across
the bosom' (you see I am quoting your own words), looking down, the
mistress of that little paradise of tapestry. She seemed to resent the
intrusion. I looked once or twice half expecting those eyes 'deep set
in crimson shadow' to fill with tears. But nothing altered her great
dignity; she seemed to see all, but as a Buddha she remained

"I was there the night before the sale. I looked through the books,
taking notes of those I intended to buy--those which we used to read
together when the snow lay high about the legs of the poor faun in
_terre cuite_, that laughed amid the frosty _boulingrins_. I found a
large packet of letters which I instantly destroyed. You should not be
so careless; I wonder how it is that men are always careless about their

"The sale was announced for one o'clock. I wore a thick veil, for I did
not wish to be recognised; the _concierge_ of course knew me, but she
can be depended upon. The poor old woman was in tears, so sorry was she
to see all your pretty things sold up. You left owing her a hundred
francs, but I have paid her; and talking of you we waited till the
auctioneer arrived. Everything had been pulled down; the tapestry from
the walls, the picture, the two vases I gave you were on the table
waiting the stroke of the hammer. And then the men, all the _marchands
de meubles_ in the _quartier_, came upstairs, spitting and talking
coarsely--their foul voices went through me. They stamped, spat, pulled
the things about, nothing escaped them. One of them held up the Japanese
dressing-gown and made some horrible jokes; and the auctioneer, who was
a humorist, answered, 'If there are any ladies' men present, we shall
have some spirited bidding.' The pastel I bought, and I shall keep it
and try to find some excuse to satisfy my husband, but I send you the
miniature, and I hope you will not let it be sold again. There were many
other things I should have liked to buy, but I did not dare--the organ
that you used to play hymns on and I waltzes on, the Turkish lamp which
we could never agree about...but when I saw the satin shoes which I gave
you to carry the night of that adorable ball, and which you would not
give back, but nailed up on the wall on either side of your bed and put
matches in, I was seized with an almost invincible desire to steal them.
I don't know why, _un caprice de femme_. No one but you would have ever
thought of converting satin shoes into match boxes. I wore them at that
delicious ball; we danced all night together, and you had an explanation
with my husband (I was a little afraid for a moment, but it came out
all right), and we went and sat on the balcony in the soft warm
moonlight; we watched the glitter of epaulets and gas, the satin of the
bodices, the whiteness of passing shoulders: we dreamed the massy
darknesses of the park, the fairy light along the lawny spaces, the
heavy perfume of the flowers, the pink of the camellias; and you quoted
something: '_les camélias du balcon ressemblent à des désirs mourants_.'
It was horrid of you: but you always had a knack of rubbing one up the
wrong way. Then do you not remember how we danced in one room, while the
servants set the other out with little tables? That supper was
fascinating! I suppose it was these pleasant remembrances which made me
wish for the shoes, but I could not summon up courage enough to buy
them, and the horrid people were comparing me with the pastel; I suppose
I did look a little mysterious with a double veil bound across my face.
The shoes went with a lot of other things--and oh, to whom?

"So now that pretty little retreat in the _Rue de la Tour des Dames_ is
ended for ever for you and me. We shall not see the faun in _terre
cuite_ again; I was thinking of going to see him the other day, but the
street is so steep; my coachman advised me to spare the horse's hind
legs. I believe it is the steepest street in Paris. And your luncheon
parties, how I did enjoy them, and how Fay did enjoy them too; and what
I risked, short-sighted as I am, picking my way from the tramcar down to
that out-of-the-way little street! Men never appreciate the risks women
run for them. But to leave my letters lying about--I cannot forgive
that. When I told Fay she said, 'What can you expect? I warned you
against flirting with boys.' I never did before--never.

"Paris is now just as it was when you used to sit on the balcony and I
read you Browning. You never liked his poetry, and I cannot understand
why. I have found a new poem which I am sure would convert you; you
should be here. There are lilacs in the room and the _Mont Valérien_ is
beautiful upon a great lemon sky, and the long avenue is merging into
violet vapour.

"We have already begun to think of where we shall go to this year. Last
year we went to P----, an enchanting place, quite rustic, but within
easy distance of a casino. I had vowed not to dance, for I had been out
every night during the season, but the temptation proved irresistible,
and I gave way. There were two young men here, one the Count of B----,
the other the Marquis of G----, one of the best families in France, a
distant cousin of my husband. He has written a book which every one says
is one of the most amusing things that has appeared for years, _c'est
surtout très Parisien_. He paid me great attentions, and made my husband
wildly jealous. I used to go out and sit with him amid the rocks, and it
was perhaps very lucky for me that he went away. We may return there
this year; if so, I wish you would come and spend a month; there is an
excellent hotel where you would be very comfortable. We have decided
nothing as yet. The Duchesse de ---- is giving a costume ball; they say
it is going to be a most wonderful affair. I don't know what money is
not going to be spent upon the cotillion. I have just got home a
fascinating toilette. I am going as a _Pierette_; you know, a short
skirt and a little cap. The Marquise gave a ball some few days ago. I
danced the cotillion with L----, who, as you know, dances divinely; _il
m'a fait la cour_, but it is of course no use, you know that.

"The other night we went to see the _Maître-de-Forges_, a fascinating
play, and I am reading the book; I don't know which I like the best. I
think the play, but the book is very good too. Now that is what I call a
novel; and I am a judge, for I have read all novels. But I must not talk
literature, or you will say something stupid. I wish you would not make
foolish remarks about men that _tout-Paris_ considers the cleverest. It
does not matter so much with me, I know you, but then people laugh at
you behind your back, and that is not nice for me. The _marquise_ was
here the other day, and she said she almost wished you would not come on
her 'days,' so extraordinary were the remarks you made. And by the way,
the _marquise_ has written a book. I have not seen it, but I hear that
it is really too _décolleté_. She is _une femme d'esprit_, but the way
she affiché's herself is too much for any one. She never goes anywhere
now without _le petit_ D----. It is a great pity.

"And now, my dear friend, write me a nice letter, and tell me when you
are coming back to Paris. I am sure you cannot amuse yourself in that
hateful London; the nicest thing about you was that you were really
_trés Parisien_. Come back and take a nice apartment on the Champs
Elysées. You might come back for the Duchesse's ball. I will get an
invitation for you, and will keep the cotillion for you. The idea of
running away as you did, and never telling any one where you were going
to. I always said you were a little cracked. And letting all your things
be sold! If you had only told me! I should like so much to have had that
Turkish lamp. Yours ----"

How like her that letter is,--egotistical, vain, foolish; no, not
foolish--narrow, limited, but not foolish; worldly, oh, how worldly! and
yet not repulsively so, for there always was in her a certain intensity
of feeling that saved her from the commonplace, and gave her an
inexpressible charm. Yes, she is a woman who can feel, and she has lived
her life and felt it very acutely, very sincerely--sincerely? a
moth caught in a gauze curtain! Well, would that preclude sincerity?
Sincerity seems to convey an idea of depth, and she was not very deep,
that is quite certain. I never could understand her;--a little brain
that span rapidly and hummed a pretty humming tune. But no, there was
something more in her than that. She often said things that I thought
clever, things that I did not forget, things that I should like to put
into books. But it was not brain power; it was only intensity of
feeling--nervous feeling. I don't know...perhaps.... She has lived her
life...yes, within certain limits she has lived her life. None of us do
more than that. True. I remember the first time I saw her. Sharp,
little, and merry--a changeable little sprite. I thought she had ugly
hands; so she has, and yet I forgot all about her hands before I had
known her a month. It is now seven years ago. How time passes! I was
very young then. What battles we have had, what quarrels! Still we had
good times together. She never lost sight of me, but no intrusion; far
too clever for that. I never got the better of her but once...once I
did, _enfin_! She soon made up for lost ground. I wonder what the charm
was. I did not think her pretty, I did not think her clever; that I
know.... I never knew if she cared for me, never. There were moments
when.... Curious, febrile, subtle little creature, oh, infinitely
subtle, subtle in everything, in her sensations subtle; I suppose that
was her charm, subtleness. I never knew if she cared for me, I never
knew if she hated her husband,--one never knew her,--I never knew how
she would receive me. The last time I saw her...that stupid American
would take her downstairs, no getting rid of him, and I was hiding
behind one of the pillars in the Rue de Rivoli, my hand on the cab door.
However, she could not blame me that time--and all the stories she used
to invent of my indiscretions; I believe she used to get them up for the
sake of the excitement. She was awfully silly in some ways, once you got
her into a certain line; that marriage, that title, and she used to
think of it night and day. I shall never forget when she went into
mourning for the Count de Chambord. And her tastes, oh, how bourgeois
they were! That salon; the flagrantly modern clock, brass work, eight
hundred francs on the Boulevard St Germain, the cabinets, brass work,
the rich brown carpet, and the furniture set all round the room
geometrically, the great gilt mirror, the ancestral portrait, the arms
and crest everywhere, and the stuffy bourgeois sense of comfort; a
little grotesque no doubt;--the mechanical admiration for all that is
about her, for the general atmosphere; the _Figaro_, that is to say
Albert Wolf, _l'homme le plus spirituel de Paris, c'est-à-dire, dans le
monde_, the success of Georges Ohnet and the talent of Gustave Doré. But
with all this vulgarity of taste certain appreciations, certain
ebullitions of sentiment, within the radius of sentiment certain
elevations and depravities,--depravities in the legitimate sense of the
word, that is to say, a revolt against the commonplace....

Ha, ha, ha! how I have been dreaming! I wish I had not been awoke from
my reverie, it was pleasant.

The letter just read indicates, if it does not clearly tell, the changes
that have taken place in my life; and it is only necessary to say that
one morning, a few months ago, when my servant brought me some summer
honey and a glass of milk to my bedside, she handed me an unpleasant
letter. My agent's handwriting, even when I knew the envelope contained
a cheque, has never quite failed to produce a sensation of repugnance in
me;--so hateful is any sort of account, that I avoid as much as possible
even knowing how I stand at my banker's. Therefore the odour of honey
and milk, so evocative of fresh flowers and fields, was spoilt that
morning for me; and it was some time before I slipped on that beautiful
Japanese dressing-gown, which I shall never see again, and read the
odious epistle.

That some wretched farmers and miners should refuse to starve, that I
may not be deprived of my _demi-tasse_ at _Tortoni's_, that I may not be
forced to leave this beautiful retreat, my cat and my python--monstrous.
And these wretched creatures will find moral support in England; they
will find pity!

Pity, that most vile of all vile virtues, has never been known to me.
The great pagan world I love knew it not. Now the world proposes to
interrupt the terrible austere laws of nature which ordain that the weak
shall be trampled upon, shall be ground into death and dust, that the
strong shall be really strong,--that the strong shall be glorious,
sublime. A little bourgeois comfort, a little bourgeois sense of right,
cry the moderns.

Hither the world has been drifting since the coming of the pale
socialist of Galilee; and this is why I hate Him, and deny His divinity.
His divinity is falling, it is evanescent in sight of the goal He
dreamed; again He is denied by His disciples. Poor fallen God! I, who
hold nought else pitiful, pity Thee, Thy bleeding face and hands and
feet, Thy hanging body; Thou at least art picturesque, and in a way
beautiful in the midst of the sombre mediocrity, towards which Thou has
drifted for two thousand years, a flag; and in which Thou shalt find
Thy doom as I mine, I, who will not adore Thee and cannot curse Thee
now. For verily Thy life and Thy fate has been greater, stranger and
more Divine than any man's has been. The chosen people, the garden, the
betrayal, the crucifixion, and the beautiful story, not of Mary, but of
Magdalen. The God descending to the harlot! Even the great pagan world
of marble and pomp and lust and cruelty, that my soul goes out to and
hails as the grandest, has not so sublime a contrast to show us as this.

Come to me, ye who are weak. The Word went forth, the terrible
disastrous Word, and before it fell the ancient gods, and the vices that
they represent, and which I revere, are outcast now in the world of men;
the Word went forth, and the world interpreted the Word, blindly,
ignorantly, savagely, for two thousand years, but nevertheless nearing
every day the end--the end that Thou in Thy divine intelligence foresaw,
that finds its voice to-day (enormous though the antithesis may be, I
will say it) in the _Pall Mall Gazette_. What fate has been like Thine?
Betrayed by Judas in the garden, denied by Peter before the cock crew,
crucified between thieves, and mourned for by a harlot, and then sent
bound and bare, nothing changed, nothing altered, in Thy ignominious
plight, forthward in the world's van the glory and symbol of a man's new
idea--Pity. Thy day is closing in, but the heavens are now wider aflame
with Thy light than ever before--Thy light, which I, a pagan, standing
on the last verge of the old world, declare to be darkness, the coming
night of pity and justice which is imminent, which is the twentieth
century. The bearers have relinquished Thy cross, they leave Thee in the
hour of Thy universal triumph, Thy crown of thorns is falling, Thy face
is buffeted with blows, and not even a reed is placed in Thy hand for
sceptre; only I and mine are by Thee, we who shall perish with Thee, in
the ruin Thou hast created.

Injustice we worship; all that lifts us out of the miseries of life is
the sublime fruit of injustice. Every immortal deed was an act of
fearful injustice; the world of grandeur, of triumph, of courage, of
lofty aspiration, was built up on injustice. Man would not be man but
for injustice. Hail, therefore, to the thrice glorious virtue injustice!
What care I that some millions of wretched Israelites died under
Pharaoh's lash or Egypt's sun? It was well that they died that I might
have the pyramids to look on, or to fill a musing hour with wonderment.
Is there one amongst us who would exchange them for the lives of the
ignominious slaves that died? What care I that the virtue of some
sixteen-year-old maiden was the price paid for Ingres' _La Source_? That
the model died of drink and disease in the hospital, is nothing when
compared with the essential that I should have _La Source_, that
exquisite dream of innocence, to think of till my soul is sick with
delight of the painter's holy vision. Nay more, the knowledge that a
wrong was done--that millions of Israelites died in torments, that a
girl, or a thousand girls, died in the hospital for that one virginal
thing, is an added pleasure which I could not afford to spare. Oh, for
the silence of marble courts, for the shadow of great pillars, for gold,
for reticulated canopies of lilies; to see the great gladiators pass, to
hear them cry the famous "Ave Caesar," to hold the thumb down, to see
the blood flow, to fill the languid hours with the agonies of poisoned
slaves! Oh, for excess, for crime! I would give many lives to save one
sonnet by Baudelaire; for the hymn, "_A la très-chère, à la très-belle,
qui remplit man cœur de clarté"_ let the first-born in every house in
Europe be slain; and in all sincerity I profess my readiness to
decapitate all the Japanese in Japan and elsewhere, to save from
destruction one drawing by Hokusai. Again I say that all we deem sublime
in the world's history are acts of injustice; and it is certain that if
mankind does not relinquish at once, and for ever, its vain, mad, and
fatal dream of justice, the world will lapse into barbarism. England was
great and glorious, because England was unjust, and England's greatest
son was the personification of injustice--Cromwell.

But the old world of heroes is over now. The skies above us are dark
with sentimentalism, the sand beneath us is shoaling fast, we are
running with streaming canvas upon ruin; all ideals have gone; nothing
remains to us for worship but the Mass, the blind, inchoate, insatiate
Mass; fog and fen land before us, we shall founder in putrefying mud,
creatures of the ooze and rushes about us--we, the great ship that has
floated up from the antique world. Oh, for the antique world, its plain
passion, its plain joys in the sea, where the Triton blew a plaintive
blast, and the forest where the whiteness of the nymph was seen
escaping! We are weary of pity, we are weary of being good; we are weary
of tears and effusion, and our refuge--the British Museum--is the wide
sea shore and the wind of the ocean. There, there is real joy in the
flesh; our statues are naked, but we are ashamed, and our nakedness is
indecency: a fair, frank soul is mirrored in those fauns and nymphs; and
how strangely enigmatic is the soul of the antique world, the bare,
barbarous soul of beauty and of might!


But neither Apollo nor Buddha could help or save me. One in his
exquisite balance of body, a skylark-like song of eternal beauty, stood
lightly advancing; the other sat in sombre contemplation, calm as a
beautiful evening. I looked for sorrow in the eyes of the pastel--the
beautiful pastel that seemed to fill with a real presence the rich
autumnal leaves where the jays darted and screamed. The twisted columns
of the bed rose, burdened with great weight of fringes and curtains,
the python devoured a guinea-pig, the last I gave him; the great white
cat came to me. I said all this must go, must henceforth be to me an
abandoned dream, a something, not more real than a summer meditation. So
be it, and, as was characteristic of me, I broke with Paris suddenly,
without warning anyone. I knew in my heart of hearts that I should never
return, but no word was spoken, and I continued a pleasant delusion with
myself; I told my _concierge_ that I would return in a month, and I left
all to be sold, brutally sold by auction, as the letter I read in the
last chapter charmingly and touchingly describes.

Not even to Marshall did I confide my foreboding that Paris would pass
out of my life, that it would henceforth be with me a beautiful memory,
but never more a practical delight. He and I were no longer living
together; we had parted a second time, but this time without bitterness
of any kind; he had learnt to feel that I wanted to live alone, and had
moved away into the Latin quarter, whither I made occasional
expeditions. I accompanied him once to the old haunts, but various terms
of penal servitude had scattered our friends, and I could not interest
myself in the new. Nor did Marshall himself interest me as he had once
done. To my eager taste, he had grown just a little trite. My affection
for him was as deep and sincere as ever; were I to meet him now I would
grasp his hand and hail him with firm, loyal friendship; but I had made
friends in the Nouvelle Athènes who interested me passionately, and my
thoughts were absorbed by and set on new ideals, which Marshall had
failed to find sympathy for, or even to understand. I had introduced him
to Degas and Manet, but he had spoken of Jules Lefèbvre and Bouguereau,
and generally shown himself incapable of any higher education; he could
not enter where I had entered, and this was alienation. We could no
longer even talk of the same people; when I spoke of a certain
_marquise_, he answered with an indifferent "Do you really think so"?
and proceeded to drag me away from my glitter of satin to the dinginess
of print dresses. It was more than alienation, it was almost separation;
but he was still my friend, he was the man, and he always will be, to
whom my youth, with all its aspirations, was most closely united. So I
turned to say good-bye to him and to my past life. Rap--rap--rap!

"Who's there?"

"I--George Moore."

"I've got a model."

"Never mind your model. Open the door. How are you? what are you

"This; what do you think of it?"

"It is prettily composed. I think it will come out all right. I am going
to England; come to say good-bye."

"Going to England! What will you do in England?"

"I have to go about money matters, very tiresome. I had really begun to
forget there was such a place."

"But you are not going to stay there?"

"Oh, no!"

"You will be just in time to see the Academy."

The conversation turned on art, and we æstheticised for an hour. At last
Marshall said, "I am really sorry, old chap, but I must send you away;
there's that model."

The girl sat waiting, her pale hair hanging down her back, a very
picture of discontent.

"Send her away."

"I asked her to come out to dinner."

"D--n her.... Well, never mind, I must spend this last evening with
you; you shall both dine with me. _Je quitte Paris demain matin,
peut-etre pour longtemps; je voudrais passer ma dernière soirèe avec mon
ami; alors si vous voulez bien me permettre, mademoiselle, je vous
invite tous les deux à diner; nous passerons la soirèe ensemble si cela
vous est agrèable_?"

"_Je veux bien, monsieur_."

Poor Marie! Marshall and I were absorbed in each other and art. It was
always so. We dined in a _gargote_, and afterwards we went to a
students' ball; and it seems like yesterday. I can see the moon sailing
through a clear sky, and on the pavement's edge Marshall's beautiful,
slim, manly figure, and Marie's exquisite gracefulness. She was
Lefèbvre's Chloe; so every one sees her now. Her end was a tragic one.
She invited her friends to dinner, and with the few pence that remained
she bought some boxes of matches, boiled them, and drank the water. No
one knew why; some said it was love.

I went to London in an exuberant necktie, a tiny hat; I wore large
trousers and a Capoul beard; looking, I believe, as unlike an Englishman
as a drawing by Grévin. In the smoking-room of Morley's Hotel I met my
agent, an immense nose, and a wisp of hair drawn over a bald skull. He
explained, after some hesitation, that I owed him a few thousands, and
that the accounts were in his portmanteau. I suggested taking them to a
solicitor to have them examined. The solicitor advised me strongly to
contest them. I did not take the advice, but raised some money instead,
and so the matter ended so far as the immediate future was concerned.
The years that are most impressionable, from twenty to thirty, when the
senses and the mind are the widest awake, I, the most impressionable of
human beings, had spent in France, not among English residents, but
among that which is the quintessence of the nation, not an indifferent
spectator, but an enthusiast, striving heart and soul to identify
himself with his environment, to shake himself free from race and
language and to recreate himself as it were in the womb of a new
nationality, assuming its ideals, its morals, and its modes of thought,
and I had succeeded strangely well, and when I returned home England was
a new country to me; I had, as it were, forgotten everything. Every
aspect of street and suburban garden was new to me; of the manner of
life of Londoners I knew nothing. This sounds incredible, but it is so;
I saw, but I could realise nothing. I went into a drawing-room, but
everything seemed far away--a dream, a presentment, nothing more; I was
in touch with nothing; of the thoughts and feelings of those I met I
could understand nothing, nor could I sympathise with them: an
Englishman was at that time as much out of my mental reach as an
Esquimaux would be now. Women were nearer to me than men, and I will
take this opportunity to note my observation, for I am not aware that
any one else has observed that the difference between the two races is
found in the men, not in the women. French and English women are
psychologically very similar; the standpoint from which they see life is
the same, the same thoughts interest and amuse them; but the attitude of
a Frenchman's mind is absolutely opposed to that of an Englishman; they
stand on either side of a vast abyss, two animals different in colour,
form, and temperament;--two ideas destined to remain irrevocably
separate and distinct.

I have heard of writing and speaking two languages equally well: this
was impossible to me, and I am convinced that if I had remained two more
years in France I should never have been able to identify my thoughts
with the language I am now writing in, and I should have written it as
an alien. As it was I only just escaped this detestable fate. And it was
in the last two years, when I began to write French verse and occasional
_chroniques_ in the papers, that the great damage was done. I remember
very well indeed one day, while arranging an act of a play I was writing
with a friend, finding suddenly to my surprise that I could think more
easily and rapidly in French that in English; but with all this I did
not learn French. I chattered, and I felt intensely at home in it; yes,
I could write a sonnet or a ballade almost without a slip, but my prose
required a good deal of alteration, for a greater command of language is
required to write in prose than in verse. I found this in French and
also in English. When I returned from Paris, my English terribly corrupt
with French ideas and forms of thought, I could write acceptable English
verse, but even ordinary newspaper prose was beyond my reach, and an
attempt I made to write a novel drifted into a miserable failure.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


As sailors watch from their prison
For the faint grey line of the coasts,
I look to the past re-arisen,
And joys come over in hosts
Like the white sea birds from their roosts.

I love not the indelicate present,
The future's unknown to our quest,
To-day is the life of the peasant,
But the past is a haven of rest--
The things of the past are the best.

The rose of the past is better
Than the rose we ravish to-day,
'Tis holier, purer, and fitter
To place on the shrine where we pray
For the secret thoughts we obey.

In the past nothing dies, nothing changes,
In the past all is lovely and still;
No grief nor fate that estranges,
Nor hope that no life can fulfil,
But ethereal shelter from ill.

The coarser delights of the hour
Tempt, and debauch, and deprave,
And we joy in a flitting flower,
Knowing that nothing can save
Our flesh from the fate of the grave.

But sooner or later returning
In grief to the well-loved nest,
Our souls filled with infinite yearning,
We cry, there is rest, there is rest
In the past, its joys are the best.


Fair were the dreamful days of old,
When in the summer's sleepy shade,
Beneath the beeches on the wold,
The shepherds lay and gently played
Music to maidens, who, afraid,
Drew all together rapturously,
Their white soft hands like white leaves laid,
In the old dear days of Arcady.

Men were not then as they are now
Haunted and terrified by creeds,
They sought not then, nor cared to know
The end that as a magnet leads,
Nor told with austere fingers beads,
Nor reasoned with their grief and glee,
But rioted in pleasant meads
In the old dear days of Arcady.

The future may be wrong or right,
The present is a hopeless wrong,
For life and love have lost delight,
And bitter even is our song;
And year by year grey doubt grows strong,
And death is all that seems to dree.
Wherefore with weary hearts we long
For the old dear days of Arcady.


Glories and triumphs ne'er shall cease,
But men may sound the heavens and sea,
One thing is lost for aye--the peace
Of the old dear days of Arcady.

And so it was that I came to settle down in a Strand lodging-house,
determined to devote myself to literature, and to accept the hardships
of a literary life. I had been playing long enough, and was now anxious
for proof, peremptory proof, of my capacity or incapacity. A book! No.
An immediate answer was required, and journalism alone could give that.
So did I reason in the Strand lodging-house. And what led me to that
house? Chance, or a friend's recommendation? I forget. It was
uncomfortable, ugly, and not very clean; but curious, as all things are
curious when examined closely. Let me tell you about my rooms. The
sitting-room was a good deal longer than it was wide; it was panelled
with deal, and the deal was painted a light brown; behind it there was a
large bedroom: the floor was covered with a ragged carpet, and a big bed
stood in the middle of the floor. But next to the sitting-room was a
small bedroom which was let for ten shillings a week; and the partition
wall was so thin that I could hear every movement the occupant made.
This proximity was intolerable, and eventually I decided on adding ten
shillings to my rent, and I became the possessor of the entire flat. In
the room above me lived a pretty young woman, an actress at the Savoy
Theatre. She had a piano, and she used to play and sing in the mornings,
and in the afternoon, friends--girls from the theatre--used to come and
see her; and Emma, the maid-of-all-work, used to take them up their tea;
and, oh! the chattering and the laughter. Poor Miss L----; she had only
two pounds a week to live on, but she was always in high spirits except
when she could not pay the hire of her piano; and I am sure that she now
looks back with pleasure and thinks of those days as very happy ones.

She was a tall girl, a thin figure, and she had large brown eyes; she
liked young men, and she hoped that Mr Gilbert would give her a line or
two in his next opera. Often have I come out on the landing to meet her;
we used to sit on those stairs talking, long after midnight, of
what?--of our landlady, of the theatre, of the most suitable ways of
enjoying ourselves in life. One night she told me she was married; it
was a solemn moment. I asked in a sympathetic voice why she was not
living with her husband. She told me, but the reason of the separation I
have forgotten in the many similar reasons for separations and partings
which have since been confided to me. The landlady resented our
intimacy, and I believe Miss L---- was charged indirectly for her
conversations with me in the bill. On the first floor there was a large
sitting-room and bedroom, solitary rooms that were nearly always unlet.
The landlady's parlour was on the ground floor, her bedroom was next to
it, and further on was the entrance to the kitchen stairs, whence
ascended Mrs S----'s brood of children, and Emma, the awful servant,
with tea things, many various smells, that of ham and eggs

Emma, I remember you--you are not to be forgotten--up at five o'clock
every morning, scouring, washing, cooking, dressing those infamous
children; seventeen hours at least out of the twenty-four at the beck
and call of landlady, lodgers, and quarrelling children; seventeen hours
at least out of the twenty-four drudging in that horrible kitchen,
running up stairs with coals and breakfasts and cans of hot water; down
on your knees before a grate, pulling out the cinders with those
hands--can I call them hands? The lodgers sometimes threw you a kind
word, but never one that recognised that you were akin to us, only the
pity that might be extended to a dog. And I used to ask you all sorts
of cruel questions, I was curious to know the depth of animalism you had
sunk to, or rather out of which you had never been raised. And generally
you answered innocently and naïvely enough. But sometimes my words were
too crude, and they struck through the thick hide into the quick, into
the human, and you winced a little; but this was rarely, for you were
very nearly, oh, very nearly an animal, your temperament and
intelligence were just those of a dog that has picked up a master, not a
real master, but a makeshift master who may turn it out at any moment.
Dickens would sentimentalise or laugh over you; I do neither. I merely
recognise you as one of the facts of civilisation. You looked--well, to
be candid,--you looked neither young nor old; hard work had obliterated
the delicate markings of the years, and left you in round numbers
something over thirty. Your hair was reddish brown, and your face wore
that plain honest look that is so essentially English. The rest of you
was a mass of stuffy clothes, and when you rushed up stairs I saw
something that did not look like legs; a horrible rush that was of
yours, a sort of cart-horselike bound. I have spoken angrily to you; I
have heard others speak angrily to you, but never did that sweet face of
yours, for it was a sweet face--that sweet, natural goodness that is so
sublime--lose its expression of perfect and unfailing kindness. Words
convey little sense of the real horrors of the reality. Life in your
case meant this: to be born in a slum, and to leave it to work seventeen
hours a day in a lodging-house; to be a Londoner, but to know only the
slum in which you were born and the few shops in the Strand at which the
landlady dealt. To know nothing of London meant in your case not to know
that it was not England; England and London! you could not distinguish
between them. Was England an island or a mountain? you had no notion. I
remember when you heard that Miss L---- was going to America, you asked
me, and the question was sublime: "Is she going to travel all night?"
You had heard people speak of travelling all night, and that was all you
knew of travel or any place that was not the Strand. I asked you if you
went to church, and you said, "No, it makes my eyes bad." I said, "But
you don't read; you can't read." "No, but I have to look at the book." I
asked you if you had heard of God--you hadn't, but when I pressed you
on the point you suspected I was laughing at you, and you would not
answer, and when I tried you again on the subject I could see that the
landlady had been telling you what to say. But you had not understood,
and your conscious ignorance, grown conscious within the last couple of
days, was even more pitiful than your unconscious ignorance when you
answered that you couldn't go to church because it made your eyes bad.
It is a strange thing to know nothing; for instance, to live in London
and to have no notion of the House of Commons, nor indeed of the Queen,
except perhaps that she is a rich lady; the police--yes, you knew what a
policeman was because you used to be sent to fetch one to make an
organ-man or a Christy minstrel move on. To know of nothing but a dark
kitchen, grates, eggs and bacon, dirty children; to work seventeen hours
a day and to get cheated out of your wages; to answer, when asked, why
you did not get your wages or leave if you weren't paid, that you
"didn't know how Mrs S---- would get on without me."

This woman owed you forty pounds, I think, so I calculated it from what
you told me; and yet you did not like to leave her because you did not
know how she would get on without you. Sublime stupidity! At this point
your intelligence stopped. I remember you once spoke of a half-holiday;
I questioned you, and I found your idea of a half-holiday was to take
the children for a walk and buy them some sweets. I told my brother of
this and he said--Emma out for a half-holiday! why, you might as well
give a mule a holiday. The phrase was brutal, but it was admirably
descriptive of you. Yes, you are a mule, there is no sense in you; you
are a beast of burden, a drudge too horrible for anything but work; and
I suppose, all things considered, that the fat landlady with a dozen
children did well to work you seventeen hours a day, and cheat you out
of your miserable wages. You had no friends; you could not have a friend
unless it were some forlorn cat or dog; but you once spoke to me of your
brother, who worked in a potato store, and I was astonished, and I
wondered if he were as awful as you. Poor Emma! I shall never forget
your kind heart and your unfailing good humour; you were born
beautifully good as a rose is born with perfect perfume; you were as
unconscious of your goodness as the rose of its perfume. And you were
taken by this fat landlady as 'Arry takes a rose and sticks it in his
tobacco-reeking coat; and you will be thrown away, shut out of doors
when health fails you, or when, overcome by base usage, you take to
drink. There is no hope for you; even if you were treated better and
paid your wages there would be no hope. Those forty pounds even, if they
were given to you, would bring you no good fortune. They would bring the
idle loafer, who scorns you now as something too low for even his
kisses, hanging about your heels and whispering in your ears. And his
whispering would drive you mad, for your kind heart longs for kind
words; and then when he had spent your money and cast you off in
despair, the gin shop and the river would do the rest. Providence is
very wise after all, and your best destiny is your present one. We
cannot add a pain, nor can we take away a pain; we may alter, but we
cannot subtract nor even alleviate. But what truisms are these; who
believes in philanthropy nowadays?

* * * * *

"Come in."

"Oh, it is you, Emma!"

"Are you going to dine at home to-day, sir?"

"What can I have?"

"Well, yer can 'ave a chop or a steak."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, yer can 'ave a steak, or a chop, or--"

"Oh, yes, I know; well then, I'll have a chop. And now tell me, Emma,
how is your young man? I hear you have got one, you went out with him
the other night."

"Who told yer that?"

"Ah, never mind; I hear everything."

"I know, from Miss L----"

"Well, tell me, how did you meet him, who introduced him?"

"I met 'im as I was a-coming from the public 'ouse with the beer for
missus' dinner."

"And what did he say?"

"He asked me if I was engaged; I said no. And he come round down the
lane that evening."

"And he took you out?"


"And where did you go?"

"We went for a walk on the Embankment."

"And when is he coming for you again?"

"He said he was coming last evening, but he didn't."

"Why didn't he?"

"I dunno; I suppose because I haven't time to go out with him. So it
was Miss L---- that told you; well, you do 'ave chats on the stairs. I
suppose you likes talking to 'er."

"I like talking to everybody, Emma; I like talking to you."

"Yes, but not as you talks to 'er; I 'ears you jes do 'ave fine times.
She said this morning that she had not seen you for this last two
nights--that you had forgotten 'er, and I was to tell yer."

"Very well, I'll come out to-night and speak to her."

"And missus is so wild about it, and she daren't say nothing 'cause she
thinks yer might go."

* * * * *

A young man in a house full of women must be almost supernaturally
unpleasant if he does not occupy a great deal of their attention.
Certain at least it is that I was the point of interest in that house;
and I found there that the practice of virtue is not so disagreeable as
many young men think it. The fat landlady hovered round my doors, and I
obtained perfectly fresh eggs by merely keeping her at her distance; the
pretty actress, with whom I used to sympathise with on the stairs at
midnight, loved me better, and our intimacy was more strange and subtle,
because it was pure, and it was not quite unpleasant to know that the
awful servant dreamed of me as she might of a star, or something equally
unattainable; but the landlady's daughter, a nasty girl of fifteen,
annoyed me with her ogling, which was a little revolting, but the rest
was, and I speak quite candidly, not wholly unpleasant. It was not
aristocratic, it is true, but, I repeat, it was not unpleasant, nor do I
believe that any young man, however refined, would have found it

But if I was offered a choice between a chop and steak in the evening,
in the morning I had to decide between eggs and bacon and bacon and
eggs. A knocking at the door, "Nine o'clock, sir; 'ot water, sir; what
will you have for breakfast?" "What can I have?" "Anything you like,
sir. You can have bacon and eggs, or--" "Anything else?"--Pause,--"Well,
sir, you can have eggs and bacon, or--" "Well, I'll have eggs and

The streets seemed to me like rat holes, dark and wandering as chance
directed, with just an occasional rift of sky, seen as if through an
occasional crevice, so different from the boulevards widening out into
bright space with fountains and clouds of green foliage. The modes of
life were so essentially opposed. I am thinking now of intellectual
rather than physical comforts. I could put up with even lodging-house
food, but I found it difficult to forego the glitter and artistic
enthusiasm of the _café_. The tavern, I had heard of the tavern.

Some seventy years ago the Club superseded the Tavern, and since then
all literary intercourse has ceased in London. Literary clubs have been
founded, and their leather arm-chairs have begotten Mr Gosse; but the
tavern gave the world Villon and Marlowe. Nor is this to be wondered at.
What is wanted is enthusiasm and devil-may-careism; and the very aspect
of a tavern is a snort of defiance at the hearth, the leather arm-chairs
are so many salaams to it. I ask, Did anyone ever see a gay club room?
Can any one imagine such a thing? You can't have a club-room without
mahogany tables, you can't have mahogany tables without
magazines--_Longman's_, with a serial by Rider Haggard, the _Nineteenth
Century_, with an article, "The Rehabilitation of the Pimp in Modern
Society," by W. E. Gladstone--a dulness that's a purge to good spirits,
an aperient to enthusiasm; in a word, a dulness that's worth a thousand
a year. You can't have a club without a waiter in red plush and silver
salver in his hand; then you can't bring a lady to a club, and you have
to get into a corner to talk about them. Therefore I say a club is dull.

As the hearth and home grew all-powerful it became impossible for the
husband to tell his wife that he was going to the tavern; everyone can


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