Confessions of a Young Man
George Moore

Part 3 out of 4

go to the tavern, and no place in England where everyone can go is
considered respectable. This is the genesis of the Club--out of the
Housewife by Respectability. Nowadays everyone is respectable--jockeys,
betting-men, actors, and even actresses. Mrs Kendal takes her children
to visit a duchess, and has naughty chorus girls to tea, and tells them
of the joy of respectability. There is only one class left that is not
respectable, and that will succumb before long; how the transformation
will be effected I can't say, but I know an editor or two who would be
glad of an article on the subject.

Respectability!--a suburban villa, a piano in the drawing-room, and
going home to dinner. Such things are no doubt very excellent, but they
do not promote intensity of feeling, fervour of mind; and as art is in
itself an outcry against the animality of human existence, it would be
well that the life of the artist should be a practical protest against
the so-called decencies of life; and he can best protest by frequenting
a tavern and cutting his club. In the past the artist has always been an
outcast; it is only latterly he has become domesticated, and judging by
results, it is clear that if Bohemianism is not a necessity it is at
least an adjuvant. For if long locks and general dissoluteness were not
an aid and a way to pure thought, why have they been so long his
characteristics? If lovers were not necessary for the development of
poet, novelist, and actress, why have they always had lovers--Sappho,
George Eliot, George Sand, Rachel, Sara? Mrs Kendal nurses children all
day and strives to play Rosalind at night. What infatuation, what
ridiculous endeavour! To realise the beautiful woodland passion and the
idea of the transformation, a woman must have sinned, for only through
sin may we learn the charm of innocence. To play Rosalind a woman must
have had more than one lover, and if she has been made to wait in the
rain and has been beaten she will have done a great deal to qualify
herself for the part. The ecstatic Sara makes no pretence to virtue,
she introduces her son to an English duchess, and throws over a nation
for the love of Richepin, she can, therefore, say as none other--

"Ce n'est plus qu'une ardeur dans mes veines cachée,
C'est Venus tout entière à sa proie attachée."

Swinburne, when he dodged about London, a lively young dog, wrote "Poems
and Ballads," and "Chastelard," since he has gone to live at Putney, he
has contributed to the _Nineteenth Century_, and published an
interesting little volume entitled, "A Century of Rondels," in which he
continues his plaint about his mother the sea.

Respectability is sweeping the picturesque out of life; national
costumes are disappearing. The kilt is going or gone in the highlands,
and the smock in the southlands, even the Japanese are becoming
christian and respectable; in another quarter of a century silk hats and
pianos will be found in every house in Yeddo. Too true that universal
uniformity is the future of the world; and when Mr Morris speaks of the
democratic art to be when the world is socialistic, I ask, whence will
the unfortunates draw their inspiration? To-day our plight is pitiable
enough--the duke, the jockey-boy, and the artist are exactly alike;
they are dressed by the same tailor, they dine at the same clubs, they
swear the same oaths, they speak equally bad English, they love the same
women. Such a state of things is dreary enough, but what unimaginable
dreariness there will be when there are neither rich nor poor, when all
have been educated, when self-education has ceased. A terrible world to
dream of, worse, far worse, in darkness and hopelessness than Dante's
lowest circle of hell. The spectre of famine, of the plague, of war,
etc., are mild and gracious symbols compared with that menacing figure,
Universal Education, with which we are threatened, which has already
eunuched the genius of the last five-and-twenty years of the nineteenth
century, and produced a limitless abortion in that of future time.
Education, I tremble before thy dreaded name. The cruelties of Nero, of
Caligula, what were they?--a few crunched limbs in the amphitheatre; but
thine, O Education, are the yearning of souls sick of life, of maddening
discontent, of all the fearsome and fathomless sufferings of the mind.
When Goethe said "More light," he said the wickedest and most infamous
words that human lips ever spoke. In old days, when a people became too
highly civilised the barbarians came down from the north and
regenerated that nation with darkness; but now there are no more
barbarians, and sooner or later I am convinced that we shall have to end
the evil by summary edicts--the obstruction no doubt will be severe, the
equivalents of Gladstone and Morley will stop at nothing to defeat the
Bill; but it will nevertheless be carried by patriotic Conservative and
Unionist majorities, and it will be written in the Statute Book that not
more than one child in a hundred shall be taught to read, and no more
than one in ten thousand shall learn the piano.

Such will be the end of Respectability, but the end is still far
distant. We are now in a period of decadence growing steadily more and
more acute. The old gods are falling about us, there is little left to
raise our hearts and minds to, and amid the wreck and ruin of things
only a snobbery is left to us, thank heaven, deeply graven in the
English heart; the snob is now the ark that floats triumphant over the
democratic wave; the faith of the old world reposes in his breast, and
he shall proclaim it when the waters have subsided.

In the meanwhile Respectability, having destroyed the Tavern, and
created the Club, continues to exercise a meretricious and enervating
influence on literature. All audacity of thought and expression has been
stamped out, and the conventionalities are rigorously respected. It has
been said a thousand times that an art is only a reflection of a certain
age; quite so, only certain ages are more interesting than others, and
consequently produce better art, just as certain seasons produce better
crops. We heard in the Nouvelle Athènes how the Democratic movement, in
other words, Respectability, in other words, Education, has extinguished
the handicrafts; it was admitted that in the more individual
arts--painting and poetry--men would be always found to sacrifice their
lives for a picture or a poem: but no man is, after all, so immeasurably
superior to the age he lives in as to be able to resist it wholly; he
must draw sustenance from some quarter, and the contemplation of the
past will not suffice. Then the pressure on him from without is as water
upon the diver; and sooner or later he grows fatigued and comes to the
surface to breathe; he is as a flying-fish pursued by sharks below and
cruel birds above; and he neither dives as deep nor flies as high as his
freer and stronger ancestry. A daring spirit in the nineteenth century
would have been but a timid nursery soul indeed in the sixteenth. We
want tumult and war to give us forgetfulness, sublime moments of peace
to enjoy a kiss in; but we are expected to be home to dinner at seven,
and to say and do nothing that might shock the neighbours.
Respectability has wound itself about society, a sort of octopus, and
nowhere are you quite free from one of its horrible suckers. The power
of the villa residence is supreme: art, science, politics, religion, it
has transformed to suit its requirements. The villa goes to the Academy,
the villa goes to the theatre, and therefore the art of to-day is mildly
realistic; not the great realism of idea, but the puny reality of
materialism; not the deep poetry of a Peter de Hogue, but the meanness
of a Frith--not the winged realism of Balzac, but the degrading
naturalism of a coloured photograph.

To my mind there is no sadder spectacle of artistic debauchery than a
London theatre; the overfed inhabitants of the villa in the stalls
hoping for gross excitement to assist them through their hesitating
digestions; an ignorant mob in the pit and gallery forgetting the
miseries of life in imbecile stories reeking of the sentimentality of
the back stairs. Were other ages as coarse and common as ours? It is
difficult to imagine Elizabethan audiences as not more intelligent than
those that applaud Mr Pettit's plays. Impossible that an audience that
could sit out Edward II. could find any pleasure in such sinks of
literary infamies as _In the Ranks_ and _Harbour Lights_. Artistic
atrophy is benumbing us, we are losing our finer feeling for beauty, the
rose is going back to the briar. I will not speak of the fine old
crusted stories, ever the same, on which every drama is based, nor yet
of the musty characters with which they are peopled--the miser in the
old castle counting his gold by night, the dishevelled woman whom he
keeps for ambiguous reasons confined in a cellar. Let all this be
waived. We must not quarrel with the ingredients. The miser and the old
castle are as true, and not one jot more true, than the million events
which go to make up the phenomena of human existence. Not at these
things considered separately do I take umbrage, but at the miserable use
that is made of them, the vulgarity of the complications evolved from
them, and the poverty of beauty in the dialogue.

Not the thing itself, but the idea of the thing evokes the idea.
Schopenhauer was right; we do not want the thing, but the idea of the
thing. The thing itself is worthless; and the moral writers who
embellish it with pious ornamentation are just as reprehensible as Zola,
who embellishes it with erotic arabesques. You want the idea drawn out
of obscuring matter, and this can best be done by the symbol. The
symbol, or the thing itself, that is the great artistic question. In
earlier ages it was the symbol; a name, a plume, sufficed to evoke the
idea; now we evoke nothing, for we give everything, the imagination of
the spectator is no longer called into play. In Shakespeare's days to
create wealth in a theatre it was only necessary to write upon a board,
"A magnificent apartment in a palace." This was no doubt primitive and
not a little barbarous, but it was better by far than by dint of anxious
archæology to construct the Doge's palace upon the stage. By one rich
pillar, by some projecting balustrade taken in conjunction with a moored
gondola, we should strive to evoke the soul of the city of Veronese: by
the magical and unequalled selection of a subtle and unexpected feature
of a thought or aspect of a landscape, and not by the up-piling of
extraneous detail, are all great poetic effects achieved.

"By the tideless dolorous inland sea,
In a land of sand, of ruin, and gold."

And, better example still,

"Dieu que le son du cor est triste au fond des bois,"

that impeccable, that only line of real poetry Alfred de Vigny ever
wrote. Being a great poet Shakespeare consciously or unconsciously
observed more faithfully than any other poet these principles of art;
and, as is characteristic of the present day, nowhere do we find these
principles so grossly violated as in the representation of his plays. I
had painful proof of this some few nights after my arrival in London. I
had never seen Shakespeare acted, and I went to the Lyceum and there I
saw that exquisite love-song--for _Romeo and Juliet_ is no more than a
love song in dialogue--tricked out in silks and carpets and illuminated
building, a vulgar bawd suited to the gross passion of an ignorant
public. I hated all that with the hatred of a passionate heart, and I
longed for a simple stage, a few simple indications, and the simple
recitation of that story of the sacrifice of the two white souls for the
reconciliation of two great families. My hatred did not reach to the age
of the man who played the boy-lover, but to the offensiveness with
which he thrust his individuality upon me, longing to realise the poet's
divine imagination: and the woman, too, I wished with my whole soul
away, subtle and strange though she was, and I yearned for her part to
be played by a youth as in old time: a youth cunningly disguised, would
be a symbol; and my mind would be free to imagine the divine Juliet of
the poet, whereas I could but dream of the bright eyes and delicate mien
and motion of the woman who had thrust herself between me and it.

But not with symbol and subtle suggestion has the villa to do, but with
such stolid, intellectual fare as corresponds to its material wants. The
villa has not time to think, the villa is the working bee. The tavern is
the drone. It has no boys to put to school, no neighbours to study, and
is therefore a little more refined, or, should I say? depraved, in its
taste. The villa in one form or other has always existed, and always
will exist so long as our present social system holds together. It is
the basis of life, and more important than the tavern. Agreed: but that
does not say that the tavern was not an excellent corrective influence
to the villa, and that its disappearance has not had a vulgarising
effect on artistic work of all kinds, and the club has been proved
impotent to replace it, the club being no more than the correlative of
the villa. Let the reader trace villa through each modern feature. I
will pass on at once to the circulating library, at once the symbol and
glory of villaism.

The subject is not unfamiliar to me; I come to it like the son to his
father, like the bird to its nest. (Singularly inappropriate comparison,
but I am in such excellent humour to-day; humour is everything. It is
said that the tiger will sometimes play with the lamb! Let us play.) We
have the villa well in our mind. The father who goes to the city in the
morning, the grown-up girls waiting to be married, the big drawing-room
where they play waltz music, and talk of dancing parties. But waltzes
will not entirely suffice, nor even tennis; the girls must read. Mother
cannot keep a censor (it is as much as she can do to keep a cook,
housemaid and page-boy), besides the expense would be enormous, even if
nothing but shilling and two-shilling novels were purchased. Out of such
circumstances the circulating library was hatched.

The villa made known its want, and art fell on its knees. Pressure was
put on the publishers, and books were published at 31s. 6d.; the dirty
outside public was got rid of, and the villa paid its yearly
subscription, and had nice large handsome books that none but the
_élite_ could obtain, and with them a sense of being put on a footing of
equality with my Lady This and Lady That, and certainty that nothing
would come into the hands of dear Kate and Mary and Maggie that they
might not read, and all for two guineas a year. English fiction became
pure, and the garlic and assafœtida with which Byron, Fielding and Ben
Jonson so liberally seasoned their works, and in spite of which, as
critics say, they were geniuses, have disappeared from our literature.
English fiction became pure, dirty stories were to be heard no more,
were no longer procurable. But at this point human nature intervened;
poor human nature! when you pinch it in one place it bulges out in
another, after the fashion of a lady's figure. Human nature has from the
earliest time shown a liking for dirty stories; dirty stories have
formed a substantial part of every literature (I employ the words "dirty
stories" in the circulating library sense); therefore a taste for dirty
stories may be said to be inherent in the human animal. Call it a
disease if you will--an incurable disease--which, if it is driven
inwards, will break out in an unexpected quarter in a new form and with
redoubled virulence. This is exactly what has happened. Actuated by the
most laudable motives, Mudie cut off our rations of dirty stories, and
for forty years we were apparently the most moral people on the face of
the earth. It was confidently asserted that an English woman of sixty
would not read what would bring the blush of shame to the cheeks of a
maiden of any other nation. But humiliation and sorrow were awaiting
Mudie. True it is that we still continued to subscribe to his library,
true it is that we still continued to go to church, true it is that we
turned our faces away when _Mdlle. de Maupin_ or the _Assommoir_ was
spoken of; to all appearance we were as good and chaste as even Mudie
might wish us; and no doubt he looked back upon his forty years of
effort with pride; no doubt he beat his manly breast and said, "I have
scorched the evil one out of the villa; the head of the serpent is
crushed for evermore;" but lo, suddenly, with all the horror of an
earthquake, the slumbrous law courts awoke, and the burning cinders of
fornication and the blinding and suffocating smoke of adultery were
poured upon and hung over the land. Through the mighty columns of our
newspapers the terrible lava rolled unceasing, and in the black stream
the villa, with all its beautiful illusions, tumbled and disappeared.

An awful and terrifying proof of the futility of human effort, that
there is neither bad work nor good work to do, nothing but to await the
coming of the Nirvana.

I have written much against the circulating library, and I have read a
feeble defence or two; but I have not seen the argument that might be
legitimately put forward in its favour. It seems to me this: the
circulating library is conservatism, art is always conservative; the
circulating library lifts the writer out of the precariousness and noise
of the wild street of popular fancy into a quiet place where passion is
more restrained and there is more reflection. The young and unknown
writer is placed at once in a place of comparative security, and he is
not forced to employ vile and degrading methods of attracting attention;
the known writer, having a certain market for his work, is enabled to
think more of it and less of the immediate acclamation of the crowd;
but all these possible advantages are destroyed and rendered _nil_ by
the veracious censorship exercised by the librarian.

* * * * *

There is one thing in England that is free, that is spontaneous, that
reminds me of the blitheness and nationalness of the Continent;--but
there is nothing French about it, it is wholly and essentially English,
and in its communal enjoyment and its spontaneity it is a survival of
Elizabethan England--I mean the music-hall; the French music-hall seems
to me silly, effete, sophisticated, and lacking, not in the popularity,
but in the vulgarity of an English hall--I will not say the Pavilion,
which is too cosmopolitan, dreary French comics are heard there--for
preference let us say the Royal. I shall not easily forget my first
evening there, when I saw for the time a living house--the dissolute
paragraphists, the elegant mashers (mark the imaginativeness of the
slang), the stolid, good-humoured costers, the cheerful lights o' love,
the extraordinary comics. What delightful unison of enjoyment, what
unanimity of soul, what communality of wit; all knew each other, all
enjoyed each other's presence; in a word, there was life. Then there
were no cascades of real water, nor London docks, nor offensively rich
furniture, with hotel lifts down which some one will certainly be
thrown, but one scene representing a street; a man comes on--not, mind
you, in a real smock-frock, but in something that suggests one--and
sings of how he came up to London, and was "cleaned out" by thieves.
Simple, you will say; yes, but better than a _fricassée_ of _Faust_,
garnished with hags, imps, and blue flame; better, far better than a
drawing-room set at the St James's, with an exhibition of passion by Mrs
and Mr Kendal; better, a million times better than the cheap popularity
of Wilson Barrett--an elderly man posturing in a low-necked dress to
some poor trull in the gallery; nor is there in the hall any affectation
of language, nor that worn-out rhetoric which reminds you of a
broken-winded barrel-organ playing _a che la morte_, bad enough in
prose, but when set up in blank verse awful and shocking in its more
than natural deformity--but bright quips and cranks fresh from the
back-yard of the slum where the linen is drying, or the "pub" where the
unfortunate wife has just received a black eye that will last her a
week. That inimitable artist, Bessie Bellwood, whose native wit is so
curiously accentuated that it is sublimated, that it is no longer
repellent vulgarity but art, choice and rare--see, here she comes with
"What cheer, Rea! Rea's on the job." The sketch is slight, but is
welcome and refreshing after the eternal drawing-room and Mrs Kendal's
cumbrous domesticity; it is curious, quaint, perverted, and are not
these the _aions_ and the attributes of art? Now see that perfect
comedian, Arthur Roberts, superior to Irving because he is working with
living material; how trim and saucy he is! and how he evokes the soul,
the brandy-and-soda soul, of the young men, delightful and elegant in
black and white, who are so vociferously cheering him, "Will you stand
me a cab-fare, ducky, I am feeling so awfully queer?" The soul, the
spirit, the entity of Piccadilly Circus is in the words, and the scene
the comedian's eyes--each look is full of suggestion; it is irritating,
it is magnetic, it is symbolic, it is art.

Not art, but a sign, a presentiment of an art, that may grow from the
present seeds, that may rise into some stately and unpremeditated
efflorescence, as the rhapsodist rose to Sophocles, as the miracle play
rose through Peele and Nash to Marlowe, hence to the wondrous summer of
Shakespeare, to die later on in the mist and yellow and brown of the
autumn of Crowes and Davenants. I have seen music-hall sketches, comic
interludes that in their unexpectedness and naïve naturalness remind me
of the comic passages in Marlowe's _Faustus_, I waited (I admit in vain)
for some beautiful phantom to appear, and to hear an enthusiastic
worshipper cry out in his agony:--

"Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul; see where it flies!
Come, Helen, come; give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena."

And then the astonishing change of key:--

"I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy shall Wurtemberg be sacked," etc.

The hall is at least a protest against the wearisome stories concerning
wills, misers in old castles, lost heirs, and the woeful solutions of
such things--she who has been kept in the castle cellar for twenty years
restored to the delights of hair-pins and a mauve dress, the _ingenue_
to the protecting arm, etc. The music-hall is a protest against Mrs
Kendal's marital tendernesses and the abortive platitudes of Messrs
Pettit and Sims; the music-hall is a protest against Sardou and the
immense drawing-room sets, rich hangings, velvet sofas, etc., so
different from the movement of the English comedy with its constant
change of scene. The music-hall is a protest against the villa, the
circulating library, the club, and for this the "'all" is inexpressibly
dear to me.

But in the interests of those illiterate institutions called theatres it
is not permissible for several characters to narrate events in which
there is a sequel, by means of dialogue, in a music-hall. If this
vexatious restriction were removed it is possible, if it is not certain,
that while some halls remained faithful to comic songs and jugglers
others would gradually learn to cater for more intellectual and subtle
audiences, and that out of obscurity and disorder new dramatic forms,
coloured and permeated by the thought and feeling of to-day, might be
definitely evolved. It is our only chance of again possessing a dramatic


It is said that young men of genius come to London with great poems and
dramas in their pockets and find every door closed against them.
Chatterton's death perpetuated this legend. But when I, George Moore,
came to London in search of literary adventure, I found a ready welcome.
Possibly I should not have been accorded any welcome had I been anything
but an ordinary person. Let this be waived. I was as covered with "fads"
as a distinguished foreigner with stars. Naturalism I wore round my
neck, Romanticism was pinned over the heart, Symbolism I carried like a
toy revolver in my waistcoat pocket, to be used on an emergency. I do
not judge whether I was charlatan or genius, I merely state that I found
all--actors, managers, editors, publishers, docile and ready to listen
to me. The world may be wicked, cruel, and stupid, but it is patient; on
this point I will not be gainsaid, it is patient; I know what I am
talking about; I maintain that the world is patient. If it were not,
what would have happened? I should have been murdered by the editors of
(I will suppress names), torn in pieces by the sub-editors, and
devoured by the office boys. There was no wild theory which I did not
assail them with, there was no strange plan for the instant
extermination of the Philistine, which I did not press upon them, and
(here I must whisper), with a fair amount of success, not complete
success I am glad to say--that would have meant for the editors a change
from their arm-chairs to the benches of the Union and the plank beds of
Holloway. The actress, when she returned home from the theatre,
suggested I had an enemy, a vindictive enemy, who dogged my steps; but
her stage experience led her astray. I had no enemy except myself; or to
put it scientifically, no enemy except the logical consequences of my
past life and education, and these caused me a great and real
inconvenience. French wit was in my brain, French sentiment was in my
heart; of the English soul I knew nothing, and I could not remember old
sympathies, it was like seeking forgotten words, and if I were writing a
short story, I had to return in thought to Montmartre or the Champs
Elysées for my characters. That I should have forgotten so much in ten
years seems incredible, and it will be deemed impossible by many, but
that is because few are aware of how little they know of the details of
life, even of their own, and are incapable of appreciating the influence
of their past upon their present. The visible world is visible only to a
few, the moral world is a closed book to nearly all. I was full of
France, and France had to be got rid of, or pushed out of sight before I
could understand England; I was like a snake striving to slough its

Handicapped as I was with dangerous ideas, and an impossible style,
defeat was inevitable. My English was rotten with French idiom; it was
like an ill-built wall overpowered by huge masses of ivy; the weak
foundations had given way beneath the weight of the parasite; and the
ideas I sought to give expression to were green, sour, and immature as
apples in August.

Therefore before long the leading journal that had printed two poems and
some seven or eight critical articles, ceased to send me books for
review, and I fell back upon obscure society papers. Fortunately it was
not incumbent on me to live by my pen; so I talked, and watched, and
waited till I grew akin to those around me, and my thoughts blended
with, and took root in my environment. I wrote a play or two, I
translated a French opera, which had a run of six nights, I dramatized
a novel, I wrote short stories, and I read a good deal of contemporary

The first book that came under my hand was "A Portrait of a Lady," by
Henry James. Each scene is developed with complete foresight and
certainty of touch. What Mr James wants to do he does. I will admit that
an artist may be great and limited; by one word he may light up an abyss
of soul; but there must be this one magical and unique word. Shakespeare
gives us the word, Balzac, sometimes, after pages of vain striving,
gives us the word, Tourgueneff gives it with miraculous certainty; but
Henry James, no; a hundred times he flutters about it; his whole book is
one long flutter near to the one magical and unique word, but the word
is not spoken; and for want of the word his characters are never
resolved out of the haze of nebulae. You are on a bowing acquaintance
with them; they pass you in the street, they stop and speak to you, you
know how they are dressed, you watch the colour of their eyes. When I
think of "A Portrait of a Lady," with its marvellous crowd of
well-dressed people, it comes back to me precisely as an accurate
memory of a fashionable soirée--the staircase with its ascending
figures, the hostess smiling, the host at a little distance with his
back turned; some one calls him. He turns; I can see his white kid
gloves, the air is sugar sweet with the odour of the gardenias, there is
brilliant light here, there is shadow in the further rooms, the women's
feet pass to and fro beneath the stiff skirts, I call for my hat and
coat, I light a cigar, I stroll up Piccadilly...a very pleasant evening,
I have seen a good many people I knew, I have observed an attitude, and
an earnestness of manner that proved that a heart was beating.

Mr James might say, "If I have done this, I have done a great deal," and
I would answer, "No doubt you are a man of great talent, great
cultivation and not at all of the common herd; I place you in the very
front rank, not only of novelists but of men of letters."

I have read nothing of Henry James's that did suggest the manner of a
scholar; but why should a scholar limit himself to empty and endless
sentimentalities? I will not taunt him with any of the old taunts--why
does he not write complicated stories? Why does he not complete his
stories? Let all this be waived. I will ask him only why he always
avoids decisive action? Why does a woman never say "I will"? Why does a
woman never leave the house with her lover? Why does a man never kill a
man? Why does a man never kill himself? Why is nothing ever
accomplished? In real life murder, adultery, and suicide are of common
occurrence; but Mr James's people live in a calm, sad, and very polite
twilight of volition. Suicide or adultery has happened before the story
begins, suicide or adultery happens some years hence, when the
characters have left the stage, but in front of the reader nothing
happens. The suppression or maintenance of story in a novel is a matter
of personal taste; some prefer character-drawing to adventures, some
adventures to character-drawing; that you cannot have both at once I
take to be a self-evident proposition; so when Mr Lang says, "I like
adventures," I say, "Oh, do you?" as I might to a man who says "I like
sherry," and no doubt when I say I like character-drawing, Mr Lang says,
"Oh, do you?" as he might to a man who says, "I like port." But Mr James
and I are agreed on essentials, we prefer character-drawing to
adventures. One, two, or even three determining actions are not
antagonistic to character-drawing, the practice of Balzac, and
Flaubert, and Thackeray prove that. Is Mr James of the same mind as the
poet Verlaine--

"La nuance, pas la couleur,
Seulement la nuance,
Tout le reste est littérature."

In connection with Henry James I had often heard the name of W.D.
Howells. I bought some three or four of his novels. I found them pretty,
very pretty, but nothing more,--a sort of Ashby Sterry done into very
neat prose. He is vulgar, as Henry James is refined; he is more
domestic; girls with white dresses and virginal looks, languid mammas,
mild witticisms, here, there, and everywhere; a couple of young men, one
a little cynical, the other a little over-shadowed by his love, a
strong, bearded man of fifty in the background; in a word, a Tom
Robertson comedy faintly spiced with American. Henry James went to
France and read Tourgueneff. W.D. Howells stayed at home and read Henry
James. Henry James's mind is of a higher cast and temper; I have no
doubt at one time of his life Henry James said, I will write the moral
history of America, as Tourgueneff wrote the moral history of Russia--he
borrowed at first hand, understanding what he was borrowing. W.D.
Howells borrowed at second hand, and without understanding what he was
borrowing. Altogether Mr James's instincts are more scholarly. Although
his reserve irritates me, and I often regret his concessions to the
prudery of the age,--no, not of the age but of librarians,--I cannot but
feel that his concessions, for I suppose I must call them concessions,
are to a certain extent self-imposed, regretfully, perhaps...somewhat in
this fashion--"True, that I live in an age not very favourable to
artistic production, but the art of an age is the spirit of that age; if
I violate the prejudices of the age I shall miss its spirit, and an art
that is not redolent of the spirit of its age is an artificial flower,
perfumeless, or perfumed with the scent of flowers that bloomed three
hundred years ago." Plausible, ingenious, quite in the spirit of Mr
James's mind; I can almost hear him reason so; nor does the argument
displease me, for it is conceived in a scholarly spirit. Now my
conception of W.D. Howells is quite different--I see him the happy
father of a numerous family; the sun is shining, the girls and boys are
playing on the lawn, they come trooping in to high tea, and there is
dancing in the evening.

My fat landlady lent me a novel by George Meredith,--"Tragic
Comedians"; I was glad to receive it, for my admiration of his poetry,
with which I was slightly acquainted, was very genuine indeed. "Love in
a Valley" is a beautiful poem, and the "Nuptials of Attila," I read it
in the _New Quarterly Review_ years ago, is very present in my mind, and
it is a pleasure to recall its chanting rhythm, and lordly and sombre
refrain--"Make the bed for Attila." I expected, therefore, one of my old
passionate delights from his novels. I was disappointed, painfully
disappointed. But before I say more concerning Mr Meredith, I will admit
at once frankly and fearlessly, that I am not a competent critic,
because emotionally I do not understand him, and all except an emotional
understanding is worthless in art. I do not make this admission because
I am intimidated by the weight and height of the critical authority with
which I am overshadowed, but from a certain sense, of which I am as
distinctly conscious, viz., that the author is, how shall I put it? the
French would say "quelqu'un," that expresses what I would say in
English. I remember, too, that although a man may be able to understand
anything, there must be some modes of thoughts and attitudes of mind
which we are so naturally antagonistic to, so entirely out of sympathy
with, that we are in no true sense critics of them. Such are the
thoughts that come to me when I read Mr George Meredith. I try to
console myself with such reflections, and then I break out and cry
passionately:--jerks, wire splintered wood. In Balzac, which I know by
heart, in Shakespeare, which I have just begun to love, I find words
deeply impregnated with the savour of life; but in George Meredith there
is nothing but crackjaw sentences, empty and unpleasant in the mouth as
sterile nuts. I could select hundreds of phrases which Mr Meredith would
probably call epigrams, and I would defy anyone to say they were wise,
graceful or witty. I do not know any book more tedious than "Tragic
Comedians," more pretentious, more blatant; it struts and screams,
stupid in all its gaud and absurdity as a cockatoo. More than fifty
pages I could not read. How, I asked myself, could the man who wrote the
"Nuptials of Attila" write this? but my soul returned no answer, and I
listened as one in a hollow mountain side. My opinion of George Meredith
never ceases to puzzle me. He is of the north, I am of the south.
Carlyle, Mr Robert Browning, and George Meredith are the three
essentially northern writers; in them there is nothing of Latin
sensuality and subtlety.

I took up "Rhoda Fleming." I found some exquisite bits of description in
it, but I heartily wished them in verse, they were motives for poems;
and there was some wit. I remember a passage very racy indeed, of
middle-class England. Antony, I think, is the man's name, describes how
he is interrupted at his tea; a paragraph of seven or ten lines with "I
am having my tea, I am at my tea," running through it for refrain. Then
a description of a lodging-house dinner: "a block of bread on a lonely
place, and potatoes that looked as if they had committed suicide in
their own steam." A little ponderous and stilted, but undoubtedly witty.
I read on until I came to a young man who fell from his horse, or had
been thrown from his horse, I never knew which, nor did I feel enough
interest in the matter to make research; the young man was put to bed by
his mother, and once in bed he began to talk!...four, five, six, ten
pages of talk, and such talk! I can offer no opinion why Mr George
Meredith committed them to paper; it is not narrative, it is not witty,
nor is it sentimental, nor is it profound. I read it once; my mind,
astonished at receiving no sensation, cried out like a child at a
milkless breast. I read the pages again...did I understand? Yes, I
understood every sentence, but they conveyed no idea, they awoke no
emotion in me; it was like sand, arid and uncomfortable. The story is
surprisingly commonplace--the people in it are as lacking in subtlety as
those of a Drury Lane melodrama.

"Diana of the Crossways" I liked better, and had I had absolutely
nothing to do I might have read it to the end. I remember a scene with a
rustic--a rustic who could eat hog a solid hour--that amused me. I
remember the sloppy road in the Weald, and the vague outlines of the
South Downs seen in starlight and mist. But to come to the great
question, the test by which Time will judge us all--the creation of a
human being, of a live thing that we have met with in life before, and
meet for the first time in print, and who abides with us ever after.
Into what shadow has not Diana floated? Where are the magical glimpses
of the soul? Do you remember in "Pères et Enfants," when Tourgueneff is
unveiling the woman's, shall I say, affection, for Bazaroff, or the
interest she feels in him? and exposing at the same time the reasons why
she will never marry him...I wish I had the book by me, I have not seen
it for ten years.

After striving through many pages to put Lucien, whom you would have
loved, whom I would have loved, that divine representation of all that
is young and desirable in man, before the reader, Balzac puts these
words in his mouth in reply to an impatient question by Vautrin, who
asks him what he wants, what he is sighing for, "_D'être célèbre et
d'être aimè_,"--these are soul-waking words, these are Shakespearean

Where in "Diana of the Crossways" do we find soul-evoking words like
these? With tiresome repetition we are told that she is beautiful,
divine; but I see her not at all, I don't know if she is dark, tall, or
fair; with tiresome reiteration we are told that she is brilliant, that
her conversation is like a display of fireworks, that the company is
dazzled and overcome; but when she speaks the utterances are grotesque,
and I say that if anyone spoke to me in real life as she does in the
novel, I should not doubt for an instant that I was in the company of a
lunatic. The epigrams are never good, they never come within measurable
distance of La Rochefoucauld, Balzac, or even Gohcourt. The admirers of
Mr Meredith constantly deplore their existence, admitting that they
destroy all illusion of life. "When we have translated half of Mr
Meredith's utterances into possible human speech, then we can enjoy
him," says the _Pall Mall Gazette_. We take our pleasures differently;
mine are spontaneous, and I know nothing about translating the rank
smell of a nettle into the fragrance of a rose, and then enjoying it.

Mr Meredith's conception of life is crooked, ill-balanced, and out of
tune. What remains?--a certain lustiness. You have seen a big man with
square shoulders and a small head, pushing about in a crowd, he shouts
and works his arms, he seems to be doing a great deal, in reality he is
doing nothing; so Mr Meredith appears to me, and yet I can only think of
him as an artist; his habit is not slatternly, like those of such
literary hodmen as Mr David Christie Murray, Mr Besant, Mr Buchanan.
There is no trace of the crowd about him. I do not question his right of
place, I am out of sympathy with him, that is all; and I regret that it
should be so, for he is one whose love of art is pure and untainted
with commercialism, and if I may praise it for nought else, I can praise
it for this.

I have noticed that if I buy a book because I am advised, or because I
think I ought, my reading is sure to prove sterile. _Il faut que cela
vienne de moi_, as a woman once said to me, speaking of her caprices; a
quotation, a chance word heard in an unexpected quarter. Mr Hardy and Mr
Blackmore I read because I had heard that they were distinguished
novelists; neither touched me, I might just as well have bought a daily
paper; neither like nor dislike, a shrug of the shoulders--that is all.
Hardy seems to me to bear about the same relation to George Eliot as
Jules Breton does to Millet--a vulgarisation never offensive, and
executed with ability. The story of an art is always the same,...a
succession of abortive but ever strengthening efforts, a moment of
supreme concentration, a succession of efforts weakening the final
extinction. George Eliot gathered up all previous attempts, and created
the English peasant; and following her peasants there came an endless
crowd from Devon, Yorkshire, and the Midland Counties, and, as they
came, they faded into the palest shadows until at last they appeared in
red stockings, high heels and were lost in the chorus of opera. Mr Hardy
was the first step down. His work is what dramatic critics would call
good, honest, straightforward work. It is unillumined by a ray of
genius, it is slow and somewhat sodden. It reminds me of an excellent
family coach--one of the old sort hung on C springs--a fat coachman on
the box and a footman whose livery was made for his predecessor. In
criticising Mr Meredith I was out of sympathy with my author, ill at
ease, angry, puzzled; but with Mr Hardy I am on quite different terms, I
am as familiar with him as with the old pair of trousers I put on when I
sit down to write; I know all about his aims, his methods; I know what
has been done in that line, and what can be done.

I have heard that Mr Hardy is country bred, but I should not have
discovered this from his writings. They read to me more like a report,
yes, a report--a conscientious, well-done report, executed by a
thoroughly efficient writer sent down by one of the daily papers.
Nowhere do I find selection, everything is reported, dialogues and
descriptions. Take for instance the long evening talk between the farm
people when Oak is seeking employment. It is not the absolute and
literal transcript from nature after the manner of Henri Monier; for
that it is a little too diluted with Mr Hardy's brains, the edges are a
little sharpened and pointed, I can see where the author has been at
work filing; on the other hand, it is not synthesized--the magical word
which reveals the past, and through which we divine the future--is not
seized and set triumphantly as it is in "Silas Marner." The descriptions
do not flow out of and form part of the narrative, but are wedged in,
and often awkwardly. We are invited to assist at a sheep-shearing scene,
or at a harvest supper, because these scenes are not to be found in the
works of George Eliot, because the reader is supposed to be interested
in such things, because Mr Hardy is anxious to show how jolly country he

Collegians, when they attempt character-drawing, create monstrosities,
but a practised writer should be able to create men and women capable of
moving through a certain series of situations without shocking in any
violent way the most generally applicable principles of common sense. I
say that a practised writer should be able to do this; that they
sometimes do not is a matter which I will not now go into, suffice it
for my purpose if I admit that Mr Hardy can do this. In Farmer Oak there
is nothing to object to; the conception is logical, the execution is
trustworthy; he has legs, arms, and a heart; but the vital spark that
should make him of our flesh and of our soul is wanting, it is dead
water that the sunlight never touches. The heroine is still more dim,
she is stuffy, she is like tow; the rich farmer is a figure out of any
melodrama, Sergeant Troy nearly quickens to life; now and then the
clouds are liquescent, but a real ray of light never falls.

The story-tellers are no doubt right when they insist on the difficulty
of telling a story. A sequence of events--it does not matter how simple
or how complicated--working up to a logical close, or, shall I say, a
close in which there is a sense of rhythm and inevitableness is always
indicative of genius. Shakespeare affords some magnificent examples,
likewise Balzac, likewise George Eliot, likewise Tourgueneff; the
"Œdipus" is, of course, the crowning and final achievement in the music
of sequence and the massy harmonies of fate. But in contemporary
English fiction I marvel, and I am repeatedly struck by the inability of
writers, even of the first-class, to make an organic whole of their
stories. Here, I say, the course is clear, the way is obvious, but no
sooner do we enter on the last chapters than the story begins to show
incipient shiftiness, and soon it doubles back and turns, growing with
every turn weaker like a hare before the hounds. From a certain
directness of construction, from the simple means by which Oak's ruin is
accomplished in the opening chapters, I did not expect that the story
would run hare-hearted in its close, but the moment Troy told his wife
that he never cared for her, I suspected something was wrong; when he
went down to bathe and was carried out by the current I knew the game
was up, and was prepared for anything, even for the final shooting by
the rich farmer, and the marriage with Oak, a conclusion which of course
does not come within the range of literary criticism.

"Lorna Doone" struck me as childishly garrulous, stupidly prolix,
swollen with comments not interesting in themselves and leading to
nothing. Mr Hardy possesses the power of being able to shape events; he
can mould them to a certain form; that he cannot breathe into them the
spirit of life I have already said, but "Lorna Doone" reminds me of a
third-rate Italian opera, _La Fille du Régiment_ or _Ernani_; it is
corrupt with all the vices of the school, and it does not contain a
single passage of real fervour or force to make us forget the inherent
defects of the art of which it is a poor specimen. Wagner made the
discovery, not a very wonderful one after all when we think, that an
opera had much better be melody from end to end. The realistic school
following on Wagner's footsteps discovered that a novel had much better
be all narrative--an uninterrupted flow of narrative. Description is
narrative, analysis of character is narrative, dialogue is narrative;
the form is ceaselessly changing, but the melody of narration is never

But the reading of "Lorna Doone" calls to my mind, and very vividly, an
original artistic principle of which English romance writers are either
strangely ignorant or neglectful, viz., that the sublimation of the
_dramatis personæ_ and the deeds in which they are involved must
correspond, and their relationship should remain unimpaired. Turner's
"Carthage" is Nature transposed and wonderfully modified. Some of the
passages of light and shade--those of the balustrade--are fugues, and
there his art is allied to Bach in sonority and beautiful combination.
Turner knew that a branch hung across the sun looked at separately was
black, but he painted it light to maintain the equipoise of atmosphere.
In the novel the characters are the voice, the deeds are the orchestra.
But the English novelist takes 'Any and 'Arriet, and without question
allows them to achieve deeds; nor does he hesitate to pass them into the
realms of the supernatural. Such violation of the first principles of
narration is never to be met with in the elder writers. Achilles stands
as tall as Troy, Merlin is as old and as wise as the world. Rhythm and
poetical expression are essential attributes of dramatic genius, but the
original sign of race and mission is an instinctive modulation of man
with the deeds he attempts or achieves. The man and the deed must be
cognate and equal, and the melodic balance and blending are what first
separate Homer and Hugo from the fabricators of singular adventures. In
Scott leather jerkins, swords, horses, mountains, and castles harmonise
completely and fully with food, fighting, words, and vision of life; the
chords are simple as Handel's but they are as perfect. Lytton's work,
although as vulgar as Verdi's is, in much the same fashion, sustained by
a natural sense of formal harmony; but all that follows is decadent,--an
admixture of romance and realism, the exaggerations of Hugo and the
homeliness of Trollope; a litter of ancient elements in a state of

The spiritual analysis of Balzac equals the triumphant imagination of
Shakespeare; and by different roads they reach the same height of tragic
awe, but when improbability, which in these days does duty for
imagination, is mixed with the familiar aspects of life, the result is
inchoate and rhythmless folly, I mean the regular and inevitable
alternation and combination of pa and ma, and dear Annie who lives at
Clapham, with the Mountains of the Moon, and the secret of eternal life;
this violation of the first principles of art--that is to say, of the
rhythm of feeling and proportion, is not possible in France. I ask the
reader to recall what was said on the subject of the Club, Tavern, and
Villa. We have a surplus population of more than two million women, the
tradition that chastity is woman's only virtue still survives, the
Tavern and its adjunct Bohemianism have been suppressed, and the Villa
is omnipotent and omnipresent; tennis-playing, church on Sundays, and
suburban hops engender a craving for excitement for the far away, for
the unknown: but the Villa with its tennis-playing, church on Sundays,
and suburban hops will not surrender its own existence, it must take a
part in the heroic deeds that happen in the Mountains of the Moon; it
will have heroism in its own pint pot. Achilles and Merlin must be
replaced by Uncle Jim and an undergraduate: and so the Villa is the only
begotten of Rider Haggard, Hugh Conway, Robert Buchanan, and the author
of "The House on the Marsh."

I read two books by Mr Christie Murray, "Joseph's Coat" and "Rainbow
Gold," and one by Messrs Besant and Rice,--"The Seamy Side." It is
difficult to criticise such work. It is as suited to the needs of the
Villa as the baker's loaves and the butcher's rounds of beef. I do not
think that any such miserable literature is found in any other country.
In France some three or four men produce works of art, the rest of the
fiction of the country is unknown to men of letters. But "Rainbow
Gold"--to take the best of the three--is not bad as a second-rate French
novel is bad; it is excellent as all that is straightforward is
excellent; and it is surprising to find that work can be so good, and at
the same time so devoid of artistic charm. That such a thing should be
is one of the miracles of the Villa.

I have heard that Mr Besant is an artist in the "Chaplain of the Fleet"
and other novels, but this is not possible. The artist shows what he is
going to do the moment he puts pen to paper, or brush to canvas; he
improves on his first attempts, that is all; and I found "The Seamy
Side" so very common, that I cannot believe for a moment that its author
or authors could write a line that would interest me.

Mr Robert Buchanan is a type of artist that every age produces
unfailingly: Catulle Mendès is his counterpart in France,--but the
pallid Portuguese Jew with his Christ-like face, and his fascinating
fervour is more interesting than the spectacled Scotchman. Both began
with volumes of excellent but characterless verse, and loud outcries
about the dignity of art, and both have--well...Mr Robert Buchanan has
collaborated with Gus Harris, and written the programme poetry for the
Vaudeville Theatre; he has written a novel, the less said about which
the better--he has attacked men whose shoe-strings he is unworthy to
tie, and having failed to injure them, he retracted all he said, and
launched forth into slimy benedictions. He took Fielding's masterpiece,
degraded it, and debased it; he wrote to the papers that Fielding was a
genius in spite of his coarseness, thereby inferring that he was a much
greater genius since he had sojourned in this Scotch house of literary
ill-fame. Clarville, the author of "Madame Angot," transformed Madame
Marneff into a virtuous woman, but he did not write to the papers to say
that Balzac owed him a debt of gratitude on that account.

The star of Miss Braddon has finally set in the obscure regions of
servantgalism; Ouida and Rhoda Broughton continue to rewrite the books
they wrote ten years ago; Mrs Lynn Linton I have not read. The "Story of
an African Farm" was pressed upon me. I found it sincere and youthful,
disjointed but well-written; descriptions of sandhills and ostriches
sandwiched with doubts concerning a future state, and convictions
regarding the moral and physical superiority of women: but of art
nothing; that is to say, art as I understand it,--rhythmical sequence of
events described with rhythmical sequence of phrase.

I read the "Story of Elizabeth" by Miss Thackeray. It came upon me with
all the fresh and fair naturalness of a garden full of lilacs and blue
sky, and I thought of Hardy, Blackmore, Murray, and Besant as of great
warehouses where everything might be had, and even if the article
required were not in stock it could be supplied in a few days at latest.
These are exquisite little descriptions, full of air, colour, lightness,
grace, the French life seen with such sweet English eyes, the sweet
little descriptions all so gently evocative. "What a tranquil little
kitchen it was, with a glimpse of the courtyard outside, and the cocks
and hens, and the poplar trees waving in the sunshine, and the old woman
sitting in her white cap busy at her homely work." Into many wearisome
pages these simple lines have since been expanded, without affecting the
beauty of the original. "Will Dampier turned his broad back and looked
out of the window. There was a moment's silence. They could hear the
tinkling of bells, the whistling of the sea, the voices of the men
calling to each other in the port, the sunshine streamed in; Elly was
standing in it, and seemed gilt with a golden background. She ought to
have held a palm in her hand, poor little martyr!" There is sweet wisdom
in this book, wisdom that is eternal, being simple; near may not come
the ugliness of positivism, nor the horror of pessimism, nor the
profound greyness of Hegelism, but merely the genial love and reverence
of a beautiful-minded woman.

Such charms as these necessitate certain defects, I should say
limitations. Vital creation of character is not possible to Miss
Thackeray, but I do not rail against beautiful water-colour indications
of balconies, vases, gardens, fields, and harvesters because they have
not the fervid glow and passionate force of Titian's Ariadne; Miss
Thackeray cannot give us a Maggie Tulliver, and all the many profound
modulations of that Beethoven-like countryside: the pine wood and the
cripple; this aunt's linen presses, and that one's economies; the boy
going forth to conquer the world, the girl remaining at home to conquer
herself; the mighty river holding the fate of all, playing and dallying
with it for a while, and bearing it on at last to final and magnificent
extinction. That sense of the inevitable which the Greek dramatists had
in perfection, which George Eliot had sufficiently, that rhythmical
progression of events, rhythm and inevitableness (two words for one and
the same thing) is not there. Elly's golden head, the background of
austere French Protestants, is sketched with a flowing water-colour
brush, I do not know if it is true, but true or false in reality, it is
true in art. But the jarring dissonance of her marriage is inadmissible;
it cannot be led up to by any chords no matter how ingenious, the
passage, the attempts from one key to the other, is impossible; the true
end is the ruin, by death or lingering life, of Elly and the remorse of
the mother.

One of the few writers of fiction who seems to me to possess an ear for
the music of events is Miss Margaret Veley. Her first novel, "For
Percival," although diffuse, although it occasionally flowed into
by-channels and lingered in stagnating pools, was informed and held
together, even at ends the most twisted and broken, by that sense of
rhythmic progression which is so dear to me, and which was afterwards so
splendidly developed in "Damocles." Pale, painted with grey and opaline
tints of morning passes the grand figure of Rachel Conway, a victim
chosen for her beauty, and crowned with flowers of sacrifice. She has
not forgotten the face of the maniac, and it comes back to her in its
awful lines and lights when she finds herself rich and loved by the man
whom she loves. The catastrophe is a double one. Now she knows she is
accursed, and that her duty is to trample out her love. Unborn
generations cry to her. The wrath and the lamentation of the chorus of
the Greek singer, the intoning voices of the next-of-kin, the pathetic
responses of voices far in the depths of ante-natal night, these the
modern novelist, playing on an inferior instrument, may suggest, but
cannot give: but here the suggestion is so perfect that we cease to
yearn for the real music, as, reading from a score, we are satisfied
with the flute and bassoons that play so faultlessly in soundless dots.

There is neither hesitation nor doubt. Rachel Conway puts her dreams
away, she will henceforth walk in a sad and shady path; her interests
are centred in the child of the man she loves, and as she looks for a
last time on the cloud of trees, glorious and waving green in the sunset
that encircles her home, her sorrow swells once again to passion, and,
we know, for the last time.

The mechanical construction of M. Scribe I had learnt from M. Duval; the
naturalistic school had taught me to scorn tricks, and to rely on the
action of the sentiments rather than on extraneous aid for the bringing
about of a _dénouement_; and I thought of all this as I read
"Disenchantment" by Miss Mabel Robinson, and it occurred to me that my
knowledge would prove valuable when my turn came to write a novel, for
the _mise en place_, the setting forth of this story, seemed to me so
loose, that much of its strength had dribbled away before it had rightly
begun. But the figure of the Irish politician I accept without reserve.
It seems to me grand and mighty in its sorrowfulness. The tall,
dark-eyed, beautiful Celt, attainted in blood and brain by generations
of famine and drink, alternating with the fervid sensuousness of the
girl, her Saxon sense of right alternating with the Celt's hereditary
sense of revenge, his dreamy patriotism, his facile platitudes, his
acceptance of literature as a sort of bread basket, his knowledge that
he is not great nor strong, and can do nothing in the world but love his
country; and as he passes his thirtieth year the waxing strong of the
disease, nervous disease complex and torturous; to him drink is at once
life and death; an article is bread, and to calm him and collect what
remains of weak, scattered thought, he must drink. The woman cannot
understand that caste and race separate them; and the damp air of spent
desire, and the grey and falling leaves of her illusions fill her life's
sky. Nor is there any hope for her until the husband unties the awful
knot by suicide.

I aver that Mr R.L. Stevenson never wrote a line that failed to delight
me; but he never wrote a book. You arrive at a strangely just estimate
of a writer's worth by the mere question: "What is he the author of?"
for every writer whose work is destined to live is the author of one
book that outshines the other, and, in popular imagination, epitomises
his talent and position. Ask the same question about Milton, Fielding,
Byron, Carlyle, Thackeray, Zola, Mr Swinburne.

I think of Mr Stevenson as a consumptive youth weaving garlands of sad
flowers with pale, weak hands, or leaning to a large plate-glass window,
and scratching thereon exquisite profiles with a diamond pencil. His
periods are fresh and bright, rhythmical in sound, and perfect
realizations of their sense; in reading you often think that never
before was such definiteness united to such poetry of expression; every
page and every sentence rings of its individuality. Mr Stevenson's style
is over-smart, well-dressed, shall I say, like a young man walking in
the Burlington Arcade? Yes, I will say so, but, I will add, the most
gentlemanly young man that ever walked in the Burlington. Mr Stevenson
is competent to understand any thought that might be presented to him,
but if he were to use it, it would instantly become neat, sharp,
ornamental, light, and graceful, and it would lose all its original
richness and harmony. It is not Mr Stevenson's brain that prevents him
from being a thinker, but his style.

Another thing that strikes me in thinking of Stevenson (I pass over his
direct indebtedness to Edgar Poe, and his constant appropriation of his
methods), is the unsuitableness of the special characteristics of his
talent to the age he lives in. He wastes in his limitations, and his
talent is vented in prettiness of style. In speaking of Mr Henry James,
I said that, although he had conceded much to the foolish, false, and
hypocritical taste of the time, the concessions he made had in little
or nothing impaired his talent. The very opposite seems to me the case
with Mr Stevenson. For if any man living in this end of the century
needed freedom of expression for the distinct development of his genius,
that man is R.L. Stevenson. He who runs may read, and he with any
knowledge of literature will, before I have written the words, have
imagined Mr Stevenson writing in the age of Elizabeth or Anne.

Turn your platitudes prettily, but write no word that could offend the
chaste mind of the young girl who has spent her morning reading the
Colin Campbell divorce case; so says the age we live in. The penny paper
that may be bought everywhere, that is allowed to lie on every table,
prints seven or eight columns of filth, for no reason except that the
public likes to read filth; the poet and novelist must emasculate and
destroy their work because.... Who shall come forward and make answer?
Oh, vile, filthy, and hypocritical century, I at least scorn you.

But this is not a course of literature but the story of the artistic
development of me, George Moore; so I will tarry no longer with mere
criticism, but go direct to the book to which I owe the last temple in
my soul--"Marius the Epicurean." Well I remember when I read the
opening lines, and how they came upon me sweetly as the flowing breath
of a bright spring. I knew that I was awakened a fourth time, that a
fourth vision of life was to be given to me. Shelley had revealed to me
the unimagined skies where the spirit sings of light and grace; Gautier
had shown me how extravagantly beautiful is the visible world and how
divine is the rage of the flesh; and with Balzac I had descended circle
by circle into the nether world of the soul, and watched its
afflictions. Then there were minor awakenings. Zola had enchanted me
with decoration and inebriated me with theory; Flaubert had astonished
with the wonderful delicacy and subtlety of his workmanship; Goncourt's
brilliant adjectival effects had captivated me for a time, but all these
impulses were crumbling into dust, these aspirations were etiolated,
sickly as faces grown old in gaslight.

I had not thought of the simple and unaffected joy of the heart of
natural things; the colour of the open air, the many forms of the
country, the birds flying,--that one making for the sea; the abandoned
boat, the dwarf roses and the wild lavender; nor had I thought of the
beauty of mildness in life, and how by a certain avoidance of the
wilfully passionate, and the surely ugly, we may secure an aspect of
temporal life which is abiding and soul-sufficing. A new dawn was in my
brain, fresh and fair, full of wide temples and studious hours, and the
lurking fragrance of incense; that such a vision of life was possible I
had no suspicion, and it came upon me almost with the same strength,
almost as intensely, as that divine song of the flesh,--Mademoiselle de

Certainly, in my mind, these books will be always intimately associated;
and when a few adventitious points of difference be forgotten, it is
interesting to note how firm is the alliance, and how cognate and
co-equal the sympathies on which it is based; the same glad worship of
the visible world, and the same incurable belief that the beauty of
material things is sufficient for all the needs of life. Mr Pater can
join hands with Gautier in saying--_je trouve la terre aussi belle que
le ciel, et je pense que la correction de la forme est la vertu_. And I
too join issue; I too love the great pagan world, its bloodshed, its
slaves, its injustice, its loathing of all that is feeble.

But "Marius the Epicurean" was more to me than a mere emotional
influence, precious and rare though that may be, for this book was the
first in English prose I had come across that procured for me any
genuine pleasure in the language itself, in the combination of words for
silver or gold chime, and unconventional cadence, and for all those
lurking half-meanings, and that evanescent suggestion, like the odour of
dead roses, that words retain to the last of other times and elder
usage. Until I read "Marius" the English language (English prose) was to
me what French must be to the majority of English readers. I read for
the sense and that was all; the language itself seemed to me coarse and
plain, and awoke in me neither æsthetic emotion nor even interest.
"Marius" was the stepping-stone that carried me across the channel into
the genius of my own tongue. The translation was not too abrupt; I found
a constant and careful invocation of meaning that was a little aside of
the common comprehension, and also a sweet depravity of ear for
unexpected falls of phrase, and of eye for the less observed depths of
colours, which although new was a sort of sequel to the education I had
chosen, and a continuance of it in a foreign, but not wholly unfamiliar
medium, and so, having saturated myself with Pater, the passage to De
Quincey was easy. He, too, was a Latin in manner and in temper of mind;
but he was truly English, and through him I passed to the study of the
Elizabethan dramatists, the real literature of my race, and washed
myself clean.



Awful Emma has undressed and put the last child away--stowed the last
child away in some mysterious and unapproachable corner that none knows
of but she; the fat landlady has ceased to loiter about my door, has
ceased to tempt me with offers of brandy and water, tea and toast, the
inducements that occur to her landlady's mind; the actress from the
Savoy has ceased to walk up and down the street with the young man who
accompanies her home from the theatre; she has ceased to linger on the
doorstep talking to him, her key has grated in the lock, she has come
upstairs, we have had our usual midnight conversation on the landing,
she has told me her latest hopes of obtaining a part, she has told me
of the husband whom she was obliged to leave; we have bidden each other
good-night; she has gone up the creaky staircase, and I have returned to
my room, littered with MS. and queer publications!...the night is hot
and heavy, but now a wind is blowing from the river, and listless and
lonely I open a book, the first book that comes to hand. It is _Le
Journal des Goncourts,_ p. 358, the end of a chapter:--

"_It is really curious that it should be the four men the most free from
all taint of handicraft and all base commercialism, the four pens the
most entirely devoted to art, that were arraigned before the public
prosecutor: Baudelaire, Flaubert, and ourselves_."

Goncourt's statement is suggestive, and I leave it uncommented on; but I
would put by its side another naked simple truth. That if in England the
public prosecutor does not seek to over-ride literature the means of
tyranny are not wanting, whether they be the tittle-tattle of the
nursery or the lady's drawing-room, or the shameless combinations
entered into by librarians.... In England as in France those who loved
literature the most purely, who were the least mercenary in their love,
were marked out for persecution, and all three were driven into exile.
Byron and Shelley, and Swinburne, he, too, who loved literature for its
own sake, was forced, amid cries of indignation and horror, to withdraw
his book from the reach of a public that was rooting then amid the
garbage of the Yelverton divorce case. I think of these facts and think
of Baudelaire's prose poem, that poem in which he tells how a dog will
run away howling if you hold to him a bottle of choice scent, but if you
offer him some putrid morsel picked out of some gutter hole, he will
sniff round it joyfully, and will seek to lick your hand for gratitude.
Baudelaire compared that dog to the public.

When I read Balzac's stories of Vautrin and Lucien de Rubempré, I often
think of Hadrian and the Antinous. I wonder if Balzac thought of
transposing the Roman Emperor and his favourite into modern life. It is
the kind of thing that Balzac would think of. No critic has ever noticed

Sometimes, at night, when all is still, and I look out on that desolate
river, I think I shall go mad with grief, with wild regret for my
beautiful _appartement_ in _Rue de la Tour des Dames_. How different
the present from the past! I hate with my whole soul this London
lodging, and all that concerns it--Emma, and eggs and bacon, the
lascivious landlady and her lascivious daughter; I am weary of the
sentimental actress who lives upstairs, I swear I will never go out to
talk to her on the landing again. Then there is failure--I can do
nothing, nothing; my novel I know is worthless; my life is a leaf, it
will flutter out of sight. I am weary of everything, and wish I were
back in Paris. I am weary of reading, there is nothing to read, Flaubert
bores me. What nonsense has been talked about him! Impersonal! He is the
most personal writer. But his odious pessimism! How weary I am of it, it
never ceases, it is lugged in _à tout propos_, and the little lyrical
phrase with which he winds up every paragraph, how boring it is.
Happily, I have "A Rebours" to read, that prodigious book, that
beautiful mosaic. Huysmans is quite right, ideas are well enough until
you are twenty, afterwards only words are bearable...a new idea, what
can be more insipid--fit for members of parliament. Shall I go to bed?
No. I wish I had a volume of Verlaine, or something of Mallarmé's to
read--Mallarmé for preference. I remember Huysmans speaks of Mallarmé in
"A Rebours." In hours like these a page of Huysmans is as a dose of
opium, a glass of something exquisite and spirituous.

"The decadence of a literature irreparably attacked in its organism,
weakened by the age of ideas, overworn by the excess of syntax, sensible
only of the curiosity which fevers sick people, but nevertheless
hastening to explain everything in its decline, desirous of repairing
all the omissions of its youth, to bequeath all the most subtle
souvenirs of its suffering on its deathbed, is incarnate in Mallarmé in
most consummate and absolute fashion....

"The poem in prose is the form, above all others, they prefer; handled
by an alchemist of genius, it should contain in a state of meat the
entire strength of the novel, the long analysis and the superfluous
description of which it suppresses...the adjective placed in such an
ingenious and definite way, that it could not be legally dispossessed of
its place, would open up such perspectives, that the reader would dream
for whole weeks together on its meaning at once precise and multiple,
affirm the present, reconstruct the past, divine the future of the
souls of the characters revealed by the light of the unique epithet. The
novel thus understood, thus condensed into one or two pages, would be a
communion of thought between a magical writer and an ideal reader, a
spiritual collaboration by consent between ten superior persons
scattered through the universe, a delectation offered to the most
refined, and accessible only to them."

Huysmans goes to my soul like a gold ornament of Byzantine workmanship:
there is in his style the yearning charm of arches, a sense of ritual,
the passion of the Gothic, of the window. Ah! in this hour of weariness
for one of Mallarmé's prose poems! Stay, I remember I have some numbers
of _La Vogue_, One of the numbers contains, I know, "Forgotten Pages;" I
will translate word for word, preserving the very rhythm, one or two of
these miniature marvels of diction:--



"Since Maria left me to go to another star--which? Orion, Altair, or
thou, green Venus?--I have always cherished solitude. What long days
I have passed alone with my cat. By alone, I mean without a material
being, and my cat is a mystical companion--a spirit. I can,
therefore, say that I have passed whole days alone with my cat, and
alone with one of the last authors of the Latin decadence; for since
that white creature is no more, strangely and singularly I have loved
all that the word _fall_ expresses. In such wise that my favourite
season of the year is the last weary days of summer, which
immediately precede autumn, and the hour I choose to walk in is when
the sun rests before disappearing, with rays of yellow copper on the
grey walls and red copper on the tiles. In the same way the
literature that my soul demands--a sad voluptuousness--is the dying
poetry of the last moments of Rome, but before it has breathed at all
the rejuvenating approach of the barbarians, or has begun to stammer
the infantile Latin of the first Christian poetry.

"I was reading, therefore, one of those dear poems (whose paint has
more charm for me than the blush of youth), had plunged one hand into
the fur of the pure animal, when a barrel-organ sang languidly and
melancholy beneath my window. It played in the great alley of
poplars, whose leaves appear to me yellow, even in the spring-tide,
since Maria passed there with the tall candles for the last time. The
instrument is the saddest, yes, truly; the piano scintillates, the
violin opens the torn soul to the light, but the barrel-organ, in the
twilight of remembrance, made me dream despairingly. Now it murmurs
an air joyously vulgar which awakens joy in the heart of the suburbs,
an air old-fashioned and commonplace. Why do its flourishes go to my
soul, and make me weep like a romantic ballad? I listen, imbibing it
slowly, and I do not throw a penny out of the window for fear of
moving from my place, and seeing that the instrument is not singing


"The old Saxony clock, which is slow, and which strikes thirteen amid
its flowers and gods, to whom did it belong? Thinkest that it came
from Saxony by the mail coaches of old time?

"(Singular shadows hang about the worn-out panes.)

"And thy Venetian mirror, deep as a cold fountain in its banks of
gilt work; what is reflected there? Ah! I am sure that more than one
woman bathed there in her beauty's sin; and, perhaps, if I looked
long enough, I should see a naked phantom.

"Wicked one, thou often sayest wicked things.

"(I see the spiders' webs above the lofty windows.)

"Our wardrobe is very old; see how the fire reddens its sad panels!
the weary curtains are as old, and the tapestry on the arm-chairs
stripped of paint, and the old engravings, and all these old things.
Does it not seem to thee that even these blue birds are discoloured
by time?

"(Dream not of the spiders' webs that tremble above the lofty

"Thou lovest all that, and that is why I live by thee. When one of my
poems appeared, didst thou not desire, my sister, whose looks are
full of yesterdays, the words, the grace of faded things? New objects
displease thee; thee also do they frighten with their loud boldness,
and thou feelest as if thou shouldst use them--a difficult thing
indeed to do, for thou hast no taste for action.

"Come, close thy old German almanack that thou readest with
attention, though it appeared more than a hundred years ago, and the
Kings it announces are all dead, and, lying on this antique carpet,
my head leaned upon thy charitable knees, on the pale robe, oh! calm
child, I will speak with thee for hours; there are no fields, and the
streets are empty, I will speak to thee of our furniture.

"Thou art abstracted?

"(The spiders' webs are shivering above the lofty windows.)"

We, the "ten superior persons scattered through the universe" think
these prose poems the concrete essence, the osmazome of literature, the
essential oil of art, others, those in the stalls, will judge them to be
the aberrations of a refined mind, distorted with hatred of the
commonplace; the pit will immediately declare them to be nonsense, and
will return with satisfaction to the last leading article in the daily

_J'ai fait mes adieux à ma mère et je viens pour vous faire les miens_
and other absurdities by Ponson du Terrail amused us many a year in
France, and in later days similar bad grammar by Georges Ohnet has not
been lost upon us, but neither Ponson du Terrail nor Georges Ohnet
sought literary suffrage, such a thing could not be in France, but in
England, Rider Haggard, whose literary atrocities are more atrocious
than his accounts of slaughter, receives the attention of leading
journals and writes about the revival of Romance. As it is as difficult
to write the worst as the best conceivable sentence, I take this one and
place it for its greater glory in my less remarkable prose:--

"_As we gazed on the beauties thus revealed by Good, a spirit of
emulation filled our breasts, and we set to work to get ourselves up
as well as we could_."

A return to romance! a return to the animal, say I.

One thing that cannot be denied to the realists: a constant and intense
desire to write well, to write artistically. When I think of what they
have done in the matter of the use of words, of the myriad verbal
effects they have discovered, of the thousand forms of composition they
have created, how they have remodelled and refashioned the language in
their untiring striving for intensity of expression for the very
osmazome of art, I am lost in ultimate wonder and admiration. What Hugo
did for French verse, Flaubert, Goncourt, Zola, and Huysmans have done
for French prose. No more literary school than the realists has ever
existed, and I do not except even the Elizabethans. And for this reason
our failures are more interesting than the vulgar successes of our
opponents; for when we fall into the sterile and distorted, it is
through our noble and incurable hatred of the commonplace of all that is

The healthy school is played out in England; all that could be said has
been said; the successors of Dickens, Thackeray, and George Eliot have
no ideal, and consequently no language; what can be more pudding than
the language of Mr Hardy, and he is typical of a dozen other writers, Mr
Besant, Mr Murray, Mr Crawford? The reason of this heaviness of thought
and expression is that the avenues are closed, no new subject matter is
introduced, the language of English fiction has therefore run stagnant.
But if the realists should catch favour in England the English tongue
may be saved from dissolution, for with the new subjects they would
introduce new forms of language would arise.

"Carmen Sylva!" How easy it is to divine the æstheticism of any one
signing, "Carmen Sylva."

In youth the genius of Shelly astonished me; but now I find the
stupidity of the ordinary person infinitely more surprising.

That I may die childless--that when my hour comes I may turn my face to
the wall saying, I have not increased the great evil of human
life--then, though I were murderer, fornicator, thief, and liar, my sins
shall melt even as a cloud. But he who dies with children about him,
though his life were in all else an excellent deed, shall be held
accursed by the truly wise, and the stain upon him shall endure for

I realize that this is truth, the one truth, and the whole truth; and
yet the vainest woman that ever looked in a glass never regretted her
youth more than I, or felt the disgrace of middle-age more keenly. She
has her portrait painted, I write these confessions; each hopes to save
something of the past, and escape somehow the ravening waves of time and
float into some haven of remembrance. St Augustine's Confessions are the
story of a God-tortured, mine of an art-tortured, soul. Which subject is
the most living? The first! for man is stupid and still loves his
conscience as a child loves a toy. Now the world plays with "Robert
Elsmere." This book seems to me like a suite of spacious, well
distributed, and well proportioned rooms. Looking round, I say, 'tis a
pity these rooms are only in plaster of Paris.

"Les Palais Nomades" is a really beautiful book, and it is free from all
the faults that make an absolute and supreme enjoyment of great poetry
an impossibility. For it is in the first place free from those pests and
parasites of artistic work--ideas. Of all literary qualities the
creation of ideas is the most fugitive. Think of the fate of an author
who puts forward a new idea to-morrow in a book, in a play, in a poem.
The new idea is seized upon, it becomes common property, it is dragged
through newspaper articles, magazine articles, through books, it is
repeated in clubs, drawing-rooms; it is bandied about the corners of
streets; in a week it is wearisome, in a month it is an abomination. Who
has not felt a sickening feeling come over him when he hears such
phrases as "To be or not to be, that is the question?" Shakespeare was
really great when he wrote "Music to hear, why hearest thou music
sadly?" not when he wrote, "The apparel oft proclaims the man." Could he
be freed from his ideas what a poet we should have! Therefore, let those
who have taken firsts at Oxford devote their intolerable leisure to
preparing an edition from which everything resembling an idea shall be
excluded. We might then shut up our Marlowes and our Beaumonts and
resume our reading of the bard, and the witless foists would confer
happiness on many, and crown themselves with truly immortal bays. See
the fellows! their fingers catch at scanty wisps of hair, the lamps are
burning, the long pens are poised, and idea after idea is hurled out of

Gustave Kahn took counsel of the past, and he has successfully avoided
everything that even a hostile critic might be tempted to term an idea;
and for this I am grateful. Nor is his volume a collection of
miscellaneous verses bound together. He has chosen a certain sequence of
emotions; the circumstances out of which these emotions have sprung are
given in a short prose note. "Les Palais Nomades" is therefore a novel
in essence; description and analysis are eliminated, and only the
moments when life grows lyrical with suffering are recorded; recorded in
many varying metres conforming only to the play of the emotion, for,
unlike many who, having once discovered a tune, apply it promiscuously
to every subject they treat, Kahn adapts his melody to the emotion he is
expressing, with the same propriety and grace as Nature distributes
perfume to her flowers. For an example of magical transition of tone I
turn to _Intermède_.

"Chère apparence, viens aux couchants illuminés.
Veux-tu mieux des matins albes et calmes?
Les soirs et les matins ont des calmes rosâtres
Les eaux ont des manteaux de cristal irisé
Et des rhythmes de calmes palmes
Et l'air évoque de calmes musiques de pâtres.

* * * * *

Viens sous des tendelets aux fleuves souriants
Aux lilas pâlis des nuits d'Orient
Aux glauques étendues à falbalas d'argent
A l'oasis des baisers urgents
Seulement vit le voile aux seuls Orients.

* * * * *

Quel que soit le spectacle et quelle que soit la rame
Et quelle que soit la voix qui s'affame et brame,
L'oubli du lointain des jours chatouille et serre,
Le lotos de l'oubli s'est fané dans mes serres,
Cependant tu m'aimais à jamais?
Adieu pour jamais."

The repetitions of Edgar Poe seem hard and mechanical after this, so
exquisite and evanescent is the rhythm, and the intonations come as
sweetly and suddenly as a gust of perfume; it is as the vibration of a
fairy orchestra, flute and violin disappearing in a silver mist; but the
clouds break, and all the enchantment of a spring garden appears in a
shaft of sudden sunlight.

"L'éphemère idole, au frisson du printemps,
Sentant des renouveaux éclorent,
Se guèpa de satins si lointains et d'antan:
Rose exilé des flores!

Le jardin rima ses branches de lilas;
Aux murs, les roses tremières;
La terre étala, pour fêter les las,
Des divans vert lumière;

Des rires ailés peuplèrent le jardin;
Souriants des caresses brèves,
Des oiseaux joyeaux, jaunes, incarnadins
Vibrèrent aux ciels de rêve."

But to the devil with literature! Who cares if Gustave Kahn writes well
or badly? I met a chappie yesterday whose views of life coincide with
mine. "A ripping good dinner," he says; "get a skinful of champagne
inside you, go to bed when it is light, and get up when you are rested."

Each century has its special ideal, the ideal of the nineteenth is the
young man. The eighteenth century is only woman--see the tapestries, the
delightful goddesses who have discarded their hoops and heels to appear
in still more delightful nakedness, the noble woods, the tall castles,
with the hunters looking round; no servile archæology chills the fancy;
and this treatment of antiquity is the highest proof of the genius of
the eighteenth century. See the Fragonards--the ladies in high-peaked
bodices, their little ankles showing amid the snow of the petticoats. Up
they go; you can hear their light false voices amid the summer of the
leaves, where Loves are garlanded even as roses. Masks and arrows are
everywhere, all the machinery of light and gracious days. In the
Watteaus the note is more pensive; there is satin and sunset, plausive
gestures and reluctance--false reluctance; the guitar is tinkling, and
exquisite are the notes in the languid evening; and there is the
Pierrot, that marvellous white animal, sensual and witty and glad, the
soul of the century--ankles and epigrams everywhere, for love was not
then sentimental, it was false and a little cruel; see the furniture and
the polished floor, and the tapestries with whose delicate tints and
decorations the high hair blends, the foot-stool and the heel and the
calf of the leg that is withdrawn, showing in the shadows of the lace;
see the satin of the bodices, the fan outspread, the wigs so adorably
false, the knee-breeches, the buckles on the shoes, how false; adorable
little comedy, adorably mendacious; and how winsome it is to feast on
these sweet lies, it is indeed delight to us, wearied with the bland
sincerity of newspapers. In the eighteenth century it was the man who
knelt at the woman's feet, it was the man who pleaded and the woman who
acceded; but in our century the place of the man is changed, it is he
who holds the fan, it is he who is besought; and if one were to dream
of continuing the tradition of Watteau and Fragonard in the nineteenth
century, he would have to take note of and meditate deeply and
profoundly on this, as he sought to formulate and synthesize the erotic
spirit of our age.

The position of a young man in the nineteenth century is the most
enviable that has ever fallen to the lot of any human creature. He is
the rare bird, and is fêted, flattered, adored. The sweetest words are
addressed to him, the most loving looks are poured upon him. The young
man can do no wrong. Every house is open to him, and the best of
everything is laid before him; girls dispute the right to serve him;
they come to him with cake and wine, they sit circlewise and listen to
him, and when one is fortunate to get him alone she will hang upon his
neck, she will propose to him, and will take his refusal kindly and
without resentment. They will not let him stoop to tie up his shoe lace,
but will rush and simultaneously claim the right to attend on him. To
represent in a novel a girl proposing marriage to a man would be deemed
unnatural, but nothing is more common; there are few young men who have
not received at least a dozen offers, nay, more; it is characteristic,
it has become instinctive for girls to choose, and they prefer men not
to make love to them; and every young man who knows his business avoids
making advances, knowing well that it will only put the girl off.

In a society so constituted, what a delightful opening there is for a
young man. He would have to waltz perfectly, play tennis fairly, the
latest novel would suffice for literary attainments; billiards,
shooting, and hunting, would not come in amiss, for he must not be
considered a useless being by men; not that women are much influenced by
the opinion of men in their choice of favourites, but the reflex action
of the heart, although not so marked as that of the stomach, exists and
must be kept in view, besides a man who would succeed with women, must
succeed with men; the real Lovelace is loved by all. Like gravitation,
love draws all things. Our young man would have to be five feet eleven,
or six feet, broad shoulders, light brown hair, deep eyes, soft and
suggestive, broad shoulders, a thin neck, long delicate hands, a high
instep. His nose should be straight, his face oval and small, he must be
clean about the hips, and his movements must be naturally caressing. He
comes into the ball-room, his shoulders well back, he stretches his hand
to the hostess, he looks at her earnestly (it is characteristic of him
to think of the hostess first, he is in her house, the house is
well-furnished, and is suggestive of excellent meats and wines). He can
read through the slim woman whose black hair, a-glitter with diamonds,
contrasts with her white satin; an old man is talking to her, she dances
with him, and she refused a young man a moment before. This is a bad
sign; our Lovelace knows it; there is a stout woman of thirty-five, who
is looking at him, red satin bodice, doubtful taste. He looks away; a
little blonde woman fixes her eyes on him, she looks as innocent as a
child; instinctively our Lovelace turns to his host. "Who is that little
blonde woman over there, the right hand corner?" he asks. "Ah, that is
Lady ----." "Will you introduce me?" "Certainly," Lovelace has made up
his mind. Then there is a young oldish girl, richly dressed; "I hear her
people have a nice house in a hunting country, I will dance with her,
and take the mother into supper, and, if I can get a moment, will have a
pleasant talk with the father in the evening."

In manner Lovelace is facile and easy; he never says no, it is always
yes, ask him what you will; but he only does what he has made up his
mind it is his advantage to do. Apparently he is an embodiment of all
that is unselfish, for he knows that after he has helped himself, it is
advisable to help some one else, and thereby make a friend who, on a
future occasion, will be useful to him. Put a violinist into a room
filled with violins, and he will try every one. Lovelace will put each
woman aside so quietly that she is often only half aware that she has
been put aside. Her life is broken; she is content that it should be
broken. The real genius for love lies not in getting into, but getting
out of love.

I have noticed that there are times when every second woman likes you.
Is love, then, a magnetism which we sometimes possess and exercise
unconsciously, and sometimes do not possess?


Now I am full of eager impulses that mourn and howl by turns, striving
for utterance like wind in turret chambers. I hate this infernal
lodging. I feel like a fowl in a coop;--that landlady, those children,
Emma.... The actress will be coming upstairs presently; shall I ask her
into my room? Better let things remain as they are.


Why intrude a new vexation on her already vexed life?


Hallo, you startled me! Well, I am surprised. We have not talked
together for a long time. Since when?


I will spare your feelings. I merely thought I would remind you that you
have passed the rubicon--your thirtieth year.


It is terrible to think of. My youth gone!


Then you are ashamed--you repent?


I am ashamed of nothing--I am a writer; 'tis my profession not to be


I had forgotten. So you are lost to shame?


Completely. I will chat with you when you please; even now, at this
hour, about all things--about any of my sins.


Since we lost sight of each other you have devoted your time to the
gratification of your senses.


Pardon me, I have devoted quite as much of my time to art.


You were glad, I remember, when your father died, because his death gave
you unlimited facilities for moulding the partial self which the
restraining influence of home had only permitted, into that complete
and ideal George Moore which you had in mind. I think I quote you


You don't; but never mind. Proceed.


Then, if you have no objection, we will examine how far you have turned
your opportunities to account.


You will not deny that I have educated myself and made many friends.


Friends! your nature is very adaptable--you interest yourself in their
pursuits, and so deceive them into a false estimate of your worth. Your
education--speak not of it; it is but flimsy stuff.


There I join issue with you. Have I not drawn the intense ego out of the
clouds of semi-consciousness, and realised it? And surely, the rescue
and the individualisation of the ego is the first step.


To what end? You have nothing to teach, nothing to reveal. I have often
thought of asking you this: since death is the only good, why do you not
embrace death? Of all the world's goods it is the cheapest, and the most
easily obtained.


We must live since nature has willed it so. My poor conscience, are you
still struggling in the fallacy of free will?

For at least a hundred thousand years man has rendered this planet
abominable and ridiculous with what he is pleased to call his
intelligence, without, however, having learned that his life is merely
the breaking of the peace of unconsciousness, the drowsy uplifting of
tired eyelids of somnolent nature. How glibly this loquacious ape
chatters of his religion and his moral sense, always failing to see that
both are but allurements and inveiglements! With religion he is induced
to bear his misery, and his sexual appetite is preserved, ignorant, and
vigorous, by means of morals. A scorpion, surrounded by a ring of fire,
will sting itself to death, and man would turn upon life and deny it,
if his reason were complete. Religion and morals are the poker and tongs
with which nature intervenes and scatters the ring of reason.

_Conscience_ (after a long pause).

I believe--forgive my ignorance, but I have seen so little of you this
long while--that your boast is that no woman influenced, changed, or
modified your views of life.


None; my mind is a blank on the subject. Stay! my mother said once, when
I was a boy, "You must not believe them; all their smiles and pretty
ways are only put on. Women like men only for what they can get out of
them." And to these simple words I attribute all the suspicion of
woman's truth which hung over my youth. For years it seemed to me
impossible that women could love men. Women seemed to me so beautiful
and desirable--men so hideous and revolting. Could they touch us without
revulsion of feeling, could they really desire us? I was absorbed in the
life of woman--the mystery of petticoats, so different from the
staidness of trousers! the rolls of hair entwined with so much art, and
suggesting so much colour and perfume, so different from the bare crop;
the unnaturalness of the waist in stays! plenitude and slenderness of
silk, so different from the stupidity of a black tail-coat; rose feet
passing under the triple ruches of rose, so different from the broad
foot of the male. My love for the life of women was a life within my
life; and oh, how strangely secluded and veiled! A world of calm colour
with phantoms moving, floating past and changing in dim light--an
averted face with abundant hair, the gleam of a perfect bust or the
poise of a neck turning slowly round, the gaze of deep translucid eyes.
I loved women too much to give myself wholly to one.


Yes, yes; but what real success have you had with women?


Damn it! you would not seek to draw me into long-winded stories about
women--how it began, how it was broken off, how it began again? I'm not
Casenova. I love women as I love champagne--I drink it and enjoy it;
but an exact account of every bottle drunk would prove flat narrative.


You have never consulted me about your champagne loves: but you have
asked me if you have ever inspired a real affection, and I told you that
we cannot inspire in others what does not exist in ourselves. You have
never known a nice woman who would have married you?


Why should I undertake to keep a woman by me for the entire space of her
life, watching her grow fat, grey, wrinkled, and foolish? Think of the
annoyance of perpetually looking after any one, especially a woman!
Besides, marriage is antagonistic to my ideal. You say that no ideal
illumines the pessimist's life, that if you ask him why he exists, he
cannot answer, and that Schopenhauer's arguments against suicide are not
even plausible causistry. True, on this point his reasoning is feeble
and ineffective. But we may easily confute our sensual opponents. We
must say that we do not commit suicide, although we admit it is a
certain anodyne to the poison of life,--an absolute erasure of the wrong
inflicted on us by our parents,--because we hope by noble example and
precept to induce others to refrain from love. We are the saviours of
souls. Other crimes are finite; love alone is infinite. We punish a man
with death for killing his fellow; but a little reflection should make
the dullest understand that the crime of bringing a being into the world
exceeds by a thousand, a millionfold that of putting one out of it.

Men are to-day as thick as flies in a confectioner's shop; in fifty
years there will be less to eat, but certainly some millions more
mouths. I laugh, I rub my hands! I shall be dead before the red time
comes. I laugh at the religionists who say that God provides for those
He brings into the world. The French Revolution will compare with the
revolution that is to come, that must come, that is inevitable, as a
puddle on the road-side compares with the sea. Men will hang like pears
on every lamp-post, in every great quarter of London, there will be an
electric guillotine that will decapitate the rich like hogs in Chicago.
Christ, who with his white feet trod out the blood of the ancient world,
and promised Universal Peace, shall go out in a cataclysm of blood. The
neck of mankind shall be opened, and blood shall cover the face of the


Your philosophy is on a par with your painting and your poetry; but,
then, I am a conscience, and a conscience is never philosophic--you go
in for "The Philosophy of the Unconscious"?


No, no, 'tis but a silly vulgarisation. But Schopenhauer, oh, my
Schopenhauer! Say, shall I go about preaching hatred of women? Were I to
call them a short-legged race that was admitted into society only a
hundred and fifty years ago?


You cannot speak the truth even to me; no, not even at half-past twelve
at night.


Surely of all hours this is the one in which it is advisable to play you


You are getting humorous.


I am getting sleepy. You are a tiresome old thing, a relic of the
ancient world--I mean the mediæval world. You know that I now affect


You wander helplessly in the road of life until you stumble against a
battery; nerved with the shock you are frantic, and rush along wildly
until the current received is exhausted, and you lapse into


If I am sensitive to and absorb the various potentialities of my age, am
I not of necessity a power?


To be the receptacle of and the medium through which unexplained forces
work, is a very petty office to fulfil. Can you think of nothing higher?
Can you feel nothing original in you, a something that is cognisant of
the end?


You are surely not going to drop into talking to me of God?


You will not deny that I at least exist? I am with you now, and
intensely, far more than the dear friend with whom you love to walk in
the quiet evening; the women you have held to your bosom in the perfumed
darkness of the chamber--


Pray don't. "The perfumed darkness of the chamber" is very common. I was
suckled on that kind of literature.


You are rotten to the root. Nothing but a very severe attack of
indigestion would bring you to your senses--or a long lingering illness.


'Pon my faith, you are growing melodramatic. Neither indigestion nor
illness long drawn out can change me. I have torn you all to pieces
long ago, and you have not now sufficient rags on your back to scare
the rooks in seed-time.


In destroying me you have destroyed yourself.


Edgar Poe, pure and simple. Don't pick holes in my originality until you
have mended those in your own.


I was Poe's inspiration; he is eternal, being of me. But your
inspiration springs from the flesh, and is therefore ephemeral even as
the flesh.


If you had read Schopenhauer you would know that the flesh is not
ephemeral, but the eternal objectification of the will to live. Siva is
represented, not only with the necklace of skulls, but with the lingam.


You have failed in all you have attempted, and the figure you have
raised on your father's tomb is merely a sensitive and sensuous
art-cultured being who lives in a dirty lodging and plays in desperate
desperation his last card. You are now writing a novel. The hero is a
wretched creature, something like yourself. Do you think there is a
public in England for that kind of thing?


Just the great Philistine that you always were! What do you mean by a


I have not a word to say on that account, your one virtue is sobriety.


A wretched pun.... The mass of mankind run much after the fashion of the
sheep of Panurge, but there are always a few that--


A few that are like the Gadarene swine.


Ah,...were I the precipice, were I the sea in which the pigs might


The same old desire of admiration, admiration in its original sense of
wonderment (miratio); you are a true child of the century; you do not
desire admiration, you would avoid it, fearing it might lessen that
sense which you only care to stimulate--wonderment. And persecuted by
the desire to astonish, you are now exhibiting yourself in the most
hideous light you can devise. The man whose biography you are writing is
no better than a pimp.


Then he is not like me; I have never been a pimp, and I don't think I
would be if I could.


The whole of your moral nature is reflected in Lewis Seymore, even to
the "And I don't think I would be if I could."


I love the abnormal, and there is certainly something strangely
grotesque in the life of a pimp. But it is nonsense to suggest that
Lewis Seymore is myself; know that my original notion was to do
the side of Lucien de Rubrempré that--


That Balzac had the genius to leave out.


Really, if you can only make disagreeable remarks, I think we had better
bring this conversation to a close.


One word more. You have failed in everything you have attempted, and you
will continue to fail until you consider those moral principles--those
rules of conduct which the race has built up, guided by an unerring
instinct of self-preservation. Humanity defends herself against those
who attempt to subvert her; and none, neither Napoleon nor the wretched
scribbler such as you are, has escaped her vengeance.


You would have me pull down the black flag and turn myself into an
honest merchantman, with children in the hold and a wife at the helm.
You would remind me that grey hairs begin to show, that health falls
into rags, that high spirits split like canvas, and that in the end the
bright buccaneer drifts, an old derelict, tossed by the waves of ill
fortune, and buffeted by the winds into those dismal bays and dangerous
offings--housekeepers, nurses, and uncomfortable chambers. Such will be
my fate; and since none may avert his fate, none can do better than to
run pluckily the course which he must pursue.


You might devise a moral ending; one that would conciliate all classes.


It is easy to see that you are a nineteenth-century conscience.


I do not hope to find a Saint Augustine in you.


An idea; one of these days I will write my confessions! Again I tell you
that nothing really matters to me but art. And, knowing this, you
chatter of the unwisdom of my not concluding my novel with some foolish
moral.... Nothing matters to me but art.


Would you seduce the wretched servant girl if by so doing you could
pluck out the mystery of her being and set it down on paper?


And now, hypocritical reader, I will answer the questions which have
been agitating you this long while, which you have asked at every stage
of this long narrative of a sinful life.[2] Shake not your head, lift
not your finger, exquisitely hypocritical reader; you can deceive me in
nothing. I know the base and unworthy soul. This is a magical
_tête-à-tête_, such a one as will never happen in your life again;
therefore I say let us put off all customary disguise, let us be frank:
you have been angrily asking, exquisitely hypocritical reader, why you
have been _forced_ to read this record of sinful life; in your exquisite
hypocrisy, you have said over and over again what good purpose can it
serve for a man to tell us of his unworthiness unless, indeed, it is to
show us how he may rise, as if on stepping stones of his dead self, to
higher things, etc. You sighed, O hypocritical friend, and you threw the
magazine on the wicker table, where such things lie, and you murmured
something about leaving the world a little better than you found it, and
you went down to dinner and lost consciousness of the world[3] in the
animal enjoyment of your stomach. I hold out my hand to you, I embrace
you, you are my brother, and I say, undeceive yourself, you will leave
the world no better than you found it. The pig that is being slaughtered
as I write this line will leave the world better than it found it, but
you will leave only a putrid carcase fit for nothing but worms. Look
back upon your life, examine it, probe it, weigh it, philosophise on it,
and then say, if you dare, that it has not been a very futile and
foolish affair. Soldier, robber, priest, Atheist, courtesan, virgin, I
care not what you are, if you have not brought children into the world
to suffer your life has been as vain and as harmless as mine has been. I
hold out my hand to you, we are brothers; but in my heart of hearts I
think myself a cut above you, because I do not believe in leaving the
world better than I found it; and you, exquisitely hypocritical reader,
think that you are a cut above me because you say you would leave the
world better than you found it. The one eternal and immutable delight of
life is to think, for one reason or another, that we are better than our
neighbours. This is why I wrote this book, and this is why it is
affording you so much pleasure, O exquisitely hypocritical reader, my
friend, my brother, because it helps you to the belief that you are not
so bad after all. Now to resume.

The knell of my thirtieth year has sounded, in three or four years my
youth will be as a faint haze on the sea, an illusive recollection; so
now while standing on the last verge of the hill, I will look back on
the valley I lingered in. Do I regret? I neither repent nor do I regret;
and a fool and a weakling I should be if I did. I know the worth and the
rarity of more than ten years of systematic enjoyment. Nature provided
me with as perfect a digestive apparatus, mental and physical, as she
ever turned out of her workshop; my stomach and brain are set in the
most perfect equipoise possible to conceive, and up and down they went
and still go with measured movement, absorbing and assimilating all that
is poured into them without friction or stoppage. This book is a record
of my mental digestions; but it would take another series of confessions
to tell of the dinners I have eaten, the champagne I have drunk! and the
suppers! seven dozen of oysters, pâté-de-foie-gras, heaps of truffles,
salad, and then a walk home in the early morning, a few philosophical
reflections suggested by the appearance of a belated street-sweeper,
then sleep, quiet and gentle sleep.


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