Memoirs of My Dead Life
George Moore

Part 1 out of 5

Eric Eldred, Cam Venezuela, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team




















[_The_ APOLOGIA _which follows needs, perhaps, a word of
explanation, not to clear up Mr. Moore's text--that is as delightful,
as irrelevantly definite, as paradoxically clear as anything this
present wearer of the Ermine of English Literature has ever
written--but to explain why it was written and why it is published.
When the present publisher, who is hereinafter, in the words of
Schopenhauer, "flattened against the wall of the Wisdom of the East,"
first read and signified his pride in being able to publish these
"Memoirs," the passages now consigned to "the late Lord ----'s
library" were not in the manuscript. On the arrival of the final copy
they were discovered, and thereby hangs an amusing tale, consisting of
a series of letters which, in so far as they were written with a
certain caustic, humorous Irish pen, have taken their high place among
the "Curiosities of Literature." The upshot of the matter was that the
publisher, entangled in the "weeds" brought over by his_ Mayflower
_ancestors, found himself as against the author in the position of
Mr. Coote as against Shakespeare; that is, the matter was so
beautifully written that he had not the heart to decline it, and yet
in parts so--what shall we say?--so full of the "Wisdom of the East"
that he did not dare to publish it in the West. Whereupon he adopted
the policy of Mr. Henry Clay, which is, no doubt, always a mistake.
And the author, bearing in mind the make-up of that race of Man called
publishers, gave way on condition that this _APOLOGIA_ should
appear without change. Here it is, without so much as the alteration
of an Ibsen comma, and if the _Mayflower_ "weeds" mere instrumental
in calling it forth, then it is, after all, well that they grew_.--THE

Last month the post brought me two interesting letters, and the reader
will understand how interesting they were to me when I tell him that
one was from Mr. Sears, of the firm of Appleton, who not knowing me
personally had written to Messrs. Heinemann to tell them that the firm
he represented could not publish the "Memoirs" unless two stories were
omitted; "The Lovers of Orelay," and "In the Luxembourg Gardens,"
--Messrs. Heinemann had forwarded the letter to me; my interest in the
other letter was less direct, but the reader will understand that it was
not less interesting when I tell that it came from the secretary of a
certain charitable institution who had been reading the book in question,
and now wrote to consult me on many points of life and conduct. He had
been compelled to do so, for the reading of the "Memoirs" had disturbed
his mind. The reader will agree with me that disturbed is probably the
right word to use. To say that the book had undermined his convictions
or altered his outlook on life would be an exaggeration. "Outlook on life"
and "standard of conduct" are phrases from his own vocabulary, and they
depict him.

"Your outlook on life is so different from mine that I can hardly
imagine you being built of the same stuff as myself. Yet I venture to
put my difficulty before you. It is, of course, no question of mental
grasp or capacity or artistic endowment. I am, so far as these are
concerned, merely the man in the street, the averagely endowed and the
ordinarily educated. I call myself a Puritan and a Christian. I run
continually against walls of convention, of morals, of taste, which
may be all wrong, but which I should feel it wrong to climb over. You
range over fields where my make-up forbids me to wander.

"Such frankness as yours is repulsive, forbidding, demoniac! You speak
of woman as being the noblest subject of contemplation for man, but
interpreted by your book and your experiences this seems in the last
analysis to lead you right into sensuality, and what I should call
illicit connections. Look at your story of Doris! I _do_ want to
know what you feel about that story in relation to right and wrong. Do
you consider that all that Orelay adventure was put right, atoned,
explained by the fact that Doris, by her mind and body, helped you to
cultivate your artistic sense? Was Goethe right in looking upon all
women merely as subjects for experiment, as a means of training his
aesthetic sensibilities? Does it not justify the seduction of any girl
by any man? And does not that take us straight back to the dissolution
of Society? The degradation of woman (and of man) seems to be
inextricably involved. Can you regard imperturbedly a thought of your
own sister or wife passing through Doris' Orelay experience?"

* * * * *

The address of the charitable institution and his name are printed on
the notepaper, and I experience an odd feeling of surprise whenever
this printed matter catches my eye, or when I think of it; not so much
a sense of surprise as a sense of incongruity, and while trying to
think how I might fling myself into some mental attitude which he
would understand I could not help feeling that we were very far apart,
nearly as far apart as the bird in the air and the fish in the sea.
"And he seems to feel toward me as I feel toward him, for does he not
say in his letter that it is difficult for him to imagine me built of
the same stuff as himself?" On looking into his letter again I
imagined my correspondent as a young man in doubt as to which road he
shall take, the free road of his instincts up the mountainside with
nothing but the sky line in front of him or the puddled track along
which the shepherd drives the meek sheep; and I went to my writing
table asking myself if my correspondent's spiritual welfare was my
real object, for I might be writing to him in order to exercise myself
in a private debate before committing the article to paper, or if I
was writing for his views to make use of them. One asks oneself these
questions but receives no answer. He would supply me with a point of
view opposed to my own, this would be an advantage; so feeling rather
like a spy within the enemy's lines on the eve of the battle I began
my letter. "My Dear Sir: Let me assure you that we are 'built of the
same stuff.' Were it not so you would have put my book aside. I even
suspect we are of the same kin; were it otherwise you would not have
written to me and put your difficulties so plainly before me." Laying
the pen aside I meditated quite a long while if I should tell him that
I imagined him as a young man standing at the branching of the roads,
deciding eventually that it would not be wise for me to let him see
that reading between the lines I had guessed his difficulty to be a
personal one. "We must proceed cautiously," I said, "there may be a
woman in the background.... The literary compliments he pays me and
the interest that my book has excited are accidental, circumstantial.
Life comes before literature, for certain he stands at the branching
of the roads, and the best way I can serve him is by drawing his
attention to the fallacy, which till now he has accepted as a truth,
that there is one immutable standard of conduct for all men and all
women." But the difficulty of writing a sufficient letter on a subject
so large and so intricate puzzled me and I sat smiling, for an odd
thought had dropped suddenly into my mind. My correspondent was a
Bible reader, no doubt, and it would be amusing to refer him to the
chapter in Genesis where God is angry with our first parents because
they had eaten of the tree of good and evil. "This passage" I said to
myself, "has never been properly understood. Why was God angry? For no
other reason except that they had set up a moral standard and could be
happy no longer, even in Paradise. According to this chapter the moral
standard is the origin of all our woe. God himself summoned our first
parents before him, and in what plight did they appear? We know how
ridiculous the diminutive fig leaf makes a statue seem in our museums;
think of the poor man and woman attired in fig leaves just plucked
from the trees! I experienced a thrill of satisfaction that I should
have been the first to understand a text that men have been studying
for thousands of years, turning each word over and over, worrying over
it, all in vain, yet through no fault of the scribe who certainly
underlined his intention. Could he have done it better than by
exhibiting our first parents covering themselves with fig leaves, and
telling how after getting a severe talking to from the Almighty they
escaped from Paradise pursued by an angel? The story can have no other
meaning, and that I am the first to expound it is due to no
superiority of intelligence, but because my mind is free. But I must
not appear to my correspondent as an exegetist. Turning to his letter
again I read:

"I am sorely puzzled. Is your life all of a piece? Are your 'Memoirs'
a pose? I can't think the latter, for you seem sincere and frank to
the verge of brutality (or over). But what is your standard of
conduct? Is there a right and a wrong? Is everything open to any man?
Can you refer me now to any other book of yours in which you view life
steadily and view it whole from our standpoint? Forgive my intrusion.
You see I don't set myself as a judge, but you sweep away apparently
all my standards. And you take your reader so quietly and closely into
your confidence that you tempt a response. I see your many admirable
points, but your center of living is not mine, and I do want to know
as a matter of enormous human interest what your subsumptions are. I
cannot analyze or express myself with literary point as you do, but
you may see what I aim at. It is a bigger question to me than the
value or force of your book. It goes right to the core of the big
things, and I approach you as one man of limited outlook to another of
wider range."

The reader will not suspect me of vanity for indulging in these
quotations; he will see readily that my desire is to let the young man
paint his own portrait, and I hope he will catch glimpses as I seem to
do of an earnest spirit, a sort of protestant Father Gogarty,
hesitating on the brink of his lake. "There is a lake in every man's
heart"--but I must not quote my own writings. If I misinterpret him
... the reader will be able to judge, having the letter before him.
But if my view of him is right, my task is a more subtle one than
merely to point out that he will seek in vain for a moral standard
whether he seeks it in the book of Nature or in the book of God. I
should not move him by pointing out that in the Old Testament we are
told an eye for an eye is our due, and in the New the rede is to turn
the left cheek after receiving a blow on the right. Nor would he be
moved by referring him to the history of mankind, to the Boer War, for
instance, or the massacres which occur daily in Russia; everybody
knows more or less the history of mankind, and to know it at all is to
know that every virtue has at some time or other been a vice. But man
cannot live by negation alone, and to persuade my correspondent over
to our side it might be well to tell him that if there be no moral
standard he will nevertheless find a moral idea if he looks for it in
Nature. I reflected how I would tell him that he must not be
disappointed because the idea changes and adapts itself to
circumstance, and sometimes leaves us for long intervals; if he would
make progress he must learn to understand that the moral world only
becomes beautiful when we relinquish our ridiculous standards of what
is right and wrong, just as the firmament became a thousand times more
wonderful and beautiful when Galileo discovered that the earth moved.
Had Kant lived before the astronomer he would have been a great
metaphysician, but he would not have written the celebrated passage
"Two things fill the soul with undying and ever-increasing admiration,
the night with its heaven of stars above us and in our hearts the
moral law." The only fault I find with this passage is that I read the
word "law" where I expected to read the word "idea," for the word
"law" seems to imply a Standard, and Kant knew there is none. Is the
fault with the translator or with Kant, who did not pick his words
carefully? The metaphysician spent ten years thinking out the
"Critique of Pure Reason" and only six months writing it; no doubt his
text might be emendated with advantage. If there was a moral standard
the world within us would be as insignificant as the firmament was
when the earth was the center of the universe and all the stars were
little candles and Jehovah sat above them, a God who changed his mind
and repented, a whimsical, fanciful God who ordered the waters to rise
so that his creatures might be overwhelmed in the flood, all except
one family (I need not repeat here the story of Noah's Ark and the
doctrine of the Atonement) if there was one fixed standard of right
and wrong, applicable to everybody, black, white, yellow, and red men
alike, an eternal standard that circumstance could not change. Those
who believe in spite of every proof to the contrary that there is a
moral standard cannot appreciate the beautiful analogy which Kant
drew, the moral idea within the heart and the night with its heaven of
stars above us. "It is strange," I reflected, "how men can go on
worrying themselves about Rome and Canterbury four hundred years after
the discovery that the earth moved, and involuntarily a comparison
rose up in my mind of a squabble between two departments in an office
after the firm has gone bankrupt.... But how to get all these vagrant
thoughts into a sheet of paper? St. Paul himself could not proselytize
within such limitations, and apparently what I wrote was not
sufficient to lead my correspondent out of the narrow lanes of
conventions and prejudices into the open field of inquiry. Turning to
his letter, I read it again, misjudging him, perhaps ... but the
reader shall form his own estimate.

"I honestly felt and feel a big difficulty in reading and thinking
over your 'Memoirs' for you are a propagandist whether you recognize
that as a conscious mission or not. There is in your book a
challenging standard of life which will not wave placidly by the side
of the standard which is generally looked up to as his regimental
colors by the average man. One must go down. And it was because I felt
the necessity of choosing that I wrote to you.

"'Memoirs' is clearly to me a sincere book. You have built your life
on the lines there indicated. And there is a charm not merely in that
sincerity but in the freedom of the life so built. I could not, for
instance, follow my thoughts as you do. I do not call myself a coward
for these limitations. I believe it to be a bit of my build; you say
that limitation has no other sanction than convention--race
inheritance, at least so I gather. Moral is derived from mos. Be it
so. Does not that then fortify the common conviction that the moral is
the best? Men have been hunting the best all their history long by a
process of trial and error. Surely the build of things condemns the
murderer, the liar, the sensualist, and the coward! and how do you
come by 'natural goodness' if your moral is merely your customary? No,
with all respect for your immense ability and your cultured outlook, I
do not recognize the lawless variability of the right and the wrong
standard which you posit. How get you your evidence? From human
actions? But it is the most familiar of facts that men do things they
feel to be wrong. I have known a thief who stole every time in pangs
of conscience; not merely in the fear of detection. There is a higher
and a lower in morals, but the lower is recognized as a lower, and
does not appeal to a surface reading of the code of an aboriginal in
discussing morals. That, I think is only fair. Your artistic sense is
finely developed, but it is none the less firmly based, although there
are Victorian back parlors and paper roses.

"You see you are a preacher, not merely an artist. Every glimpse of
the beautiful urges the beholder to imitation and _vice versa_.
And that is why your 'Memoirs' are not merely 'an exhibition' of the
immoral; they are 'an incitement' to the immoral. Don't you think so?
And thinking so would you not honestly admit, that society (in the
wide sense, of course--civilization) would relapse, go down,
deliquesce, if all of us were George Moores as depicted in your book?"

His letter dropped from my hand, and I sat muttering, "How
superficially men think!" How little they trouble themselves to
discover the truth! While declaring that truth is all important, they
accept any prejudice and convention they happen to meet, fastening on
to it like barnacles. How disappointing is that passage about the
murderer, the sensualist, the liar, and the coward; but of what use
would it be to remind my correspondent of Judith who went into the
tent of Holofernes to lie with him, and after the love feast drove a
nail into the forehead of the sleeping man. She is in Scripture held
up to our admiration as a heroine, the saviour of our nation.
Charlotte Corday stabbed Marat in his bath, yet who regards Charlotte
Corday as anything else but a heroine? In Russia men know that the
fugitives lie hidden in the cave, yet they tell the Cossack soldiers
they have taken the path across the hill--would my correspondent
reprove them and call them liars? I am afraid he has a lot of leeway
to make up, and it is beyond my power to help him.

Picking up his letter I glanced through it for some mention of "Esther
Waters," for in answer to the question if I could recommend him to any
book of mine in which I viewed life--I cannot bring myself to
transcribe that tag from Matthew Arnold--I referred him to "Esther
Waters," saying that a critic had spoken of it as a beautiful
amplification of the beatitudes. Of the book he makes no mention in
his letter, but he writes: "There is a challenging standard of life in
your book which will not wave placidly by the side of the standard
which is generally looked up to as his regimental colors by the
average man." The idea besets him, and he refers to it again in the
last paragraph; he says: "You see, you are a preacher, not merely an
artist." And very likely he is right; there is a messianic aspect in
my writings, and I fell to thinking over "Esther Waters"; and reading
between the lines for the first time, I understood that it was that
desire to standardize morality that had caused the poor girl to be
treated so shamefully. Once Catholicism took upon itself to torture
and then to burn all those it could lay hands upon who refused to
believe with its doctrines, and now in the twentieth century
Protestantism persecutes those who act or think in opposition to its
moralities. Even the saintly Mrs. Barfield did not dare to keep
Esther; but if she sent her servant away, she spoke kindly, giving her
enough money to see her through her trouble; there are good people
among Christians. The usual Christian attitude would be to tell Esther
that she must go into a reformatory after the birth of her child, for
the idea of punishment is never long out of the Christian's thoughts.
It is not necessary to recapitulate here how Esther, escaping from the
network of snares spread for her destruction, takes refuge in a
workhouse, and lives there till her child is reared; how she works
fifteen hours a day in a lodging house, sleeping in corners of
garrets, living upon insufficient food; or how, after years of
struggle, she meets William, now separated from his wife, and consents
to live with him that her child may have a father. For this second
"transgression," so said a clergyman in a review of the book, Esther
could not be regarded as a moral woman. His moral sense, dwarfed by
doctrine, did not enable him to see that the whole evil came out of
standard morality and the whole good out of the instinct incarnate in
her; and he must have read the book without perceiving its theme, the
revelation in the life of an outcast servant girl of the instinct on
which the whole world rests.

Not until writing these lines did I ever think of "Esther Waters" as a
book of doctrine; but it is one, I see that now, and that there is a
messianic aspect in my writings. My correspondent did well to point
that out, and no blame attaches to him because he seems to fail to see
that I may be an admirable moralist while depreciating Christian
morality and advocating a return to Nature's. He belonged to the
traditions yesterday, today he is among those who are seekers, and
to-morrow I doubt not he will be among those prone to think that
perhaps Christianity is, after all, retrograde. His lips will curl
contemptuously to-morrow when he hears the cruelty of the circus
denounced by men who would, if they were allowed, relight the bon
fires of the Inquisition; ... he is a Protestant, I had forgotten.
Gladiators have begun to appear to us less cruel than monks, and
everybody who can think has begun to think that some return to pagan
morality is desirable. That is so; awaking out of the great slumber of
Christianity, we are all asking if the qualities which once we deemed
our exclusive possession have not been discovered among pagans--pride,
courage, and heroism. Our contention has become that no superiority is
claimed in any respect but one; it appears that it must be admitted
that Christians are more chaste than pagans, at all events that
chastity flourishes among Christian communities as it has never
flourished among pagan. The Christian's boast is that all sexual
indulgence outside of the marriage bed is looked upon as sinful, and
he would seem to think that if he proclaims this opinion loudly, its
proclamation makes amends for many transgressions of the ethical law.
All he understands is the law; nothing of the subtler idea that the
ethical impulse is always invading the ethical law finds a way into
his mind. Women are hurried from Regent Street to Vine Street, and his
conscience is soothed by these raids; the owners of the houses in
which these women live are fined, and he congratulates himself that
vice is not licensed in England, that, in fact, its existence is
unrecognized. Prostitution thrives, nevertheless; but numbers do not
discourage the moralist, and when he reads in the newspapers of
degraded females, "unfortunates," he breathes a sigh; and if these
reports contain descriptions of miserable circumstance and human
grief, he mutters "how very sad!"

But the assurance that the women are wretched and despised soothes his
conscience, and he remembers if he has not been able to abolish
prostitution, he has at all events divested it of all "glamour." It
would appear that practical morality consists in making the meeting of
men and women as casual as that of animals. "But what do you wish--you
would not have vice respected, would you?" "What you call vice was
once respected and honored, and the world was as beautiful then as
now, and as noble men lived in it. In many ways the world was more
moral than when your ideas began to prevail." He asks me to explain,
and I tell him that with the degradation of the courtesan the moral
standard has fallen, for as we degrade her we disgrace the act of
love. We have come to speak of it as part of our lower nature,
permissible, it is true, if certain conditions are complied with, but
always looked upon askance; and continuing the same strain of
argument, I tell him that the act of love was once deemed a sacred
rite, and that I am filled with pride when I think of the noble and
exalted world that must have existed before Christian doctrine caused
men to look upon women with suspicion and bade them to think of angels
instead. Pointing to some poor drab lurking in a shadowy corner he
asks, "See! is she not a vile thing?" On this we must part; he is too
old to change, and his mind has withered in prejudice and conventions;
"a meager mind," I mutter to myself, "one incapable of the effort
necessary to understand me if I were to tell him, for instance, that
the desire of beauty is in itself a morality." It was, perhaps, the
only morality the Greeks knew, and upon the memory of Greece we have
been living ever since. In becoming _hetairae_, Aspasia, Lais,
Phryne, and Sappho became the distributors of that desire of beauty
necessary in a state which had already begun to dream the temples of
Minerva and Zeus.

The words of Blake come into my mind, "the daring of the lion or the
submission of the ox." With these words I should have headed my letter
to the secretary of the charitable institution, and I should have told
him that many books which he would regard as licentious are looked
upon by me as sacred. "Mademoiselle de Maupin," "the golden book of
spirit and sense," Swinburne has called it, I have always looked upon
as a sacred book from the very beginning of my life. It cleansed me of
the belief that man has a lower nature, and I learned from it that the
spirit and the flesh are equal, "that earth is as beautiful as heaven,
and that perfection of form is virtue." "Mademoiselle de Maupin" was a
great purifying influence, a lustral water dashed by a sacred hand,
and the words are forever ringing in my ear, "by exaltation of the
spirit and the flesh thou shalt live." This book would be regarded by
my correspondent as he regards my "Memoirs," and its publication has
been interdicted in England. How could it be permitted to circulate in
a country in which the kingdom of heaven is (in theory) regarded as
more important than the kingdom of earth? A few pages back the idea
came up under my pen that the aim of practical morality was to render
illicit love as unattractive as possible, and I suppose, though he has
never thought the matter out, the Christian moralist would regard
Gautier as the most pernicious of writers, for his theme is always
praise of the visible world, of all that we can touch and see; and in
this book art and sex are not estranged. I have often wondered if the
estrangement of the twain so noticeable in English literature is not
the origin of this strange belief that bodily love is part of our
lower nature. Our appreciation of the mauve flush dying in the west
has been indefinitely heightened by descriptions seen in pictures and
read in poems, and I cannot but think that if the lover's exaltation
before the curve of his mistress's breast had not been forbidden, the
ugly thought that the lover's ardor is inferior to the poet's would
never have obtained credence. There is but one energy, and the vital
fluid, whether expended in love or in a poem, is the same. The poet
and the lover are creators, they participate and carry on the great
work begun billions of years ago when the great Breath breathing out
of chaos summoned the stars into being. But why do I address myself
like this to the average moralist? How little will he understand me!
In the Orelay adventure which horrified him there was an appreciation
of beauty which he has, I am afraid, rendered himself incapable of.
Myself and Doris were spiritual gainers by the Orelay adventure,
Doris's rendering of "The Moonlight Sonata," till she went to Orelay,
was merely brilliant and effective; and have not all the critics in
England agreed that the story in which I relate her contains some of
the best pages of prose I have written? But why talk of myself when
there is Wagner's experience to speak about? Did he not write to
Madame Wasendonck, "I owe you Tristan for all eternity"? She has not
left any written record of her debt to Wagner, perhaps because she
could not find words to give the reader any idea how great it was.

Histories of human civilization there are in abundance, but I do not
know of any history of the human intelligence. But when this comes to
be written--if it ever should come to be written--the writer will
hesitate, at least I can imagine him hesitating, how much of the
genius of artists he would be justified in tracing back to sexual
impulses. Goethe, as my correspondent informs me, looked upon love of
woman as a means of increasing his aesthetic sensibilities, and my
correspondent seems to think that he did them wrong thereby, whereas I
think he honored them exceedingly. Balzac held the contrary belief, so
Gautier tells us, maintaining that great spiritual elation could be
gained by restraint, and when inquiry was made into his precise
beliefs on this point he confessed that he could not allow an author
more than half an hour once a year with his beloved; he placed no
restriction, however, on correspondence, "for that helped to form a
style." When Gautier mentioned the names of certain great men whose
lives offered a striking refutation of this theory, Balzac answered
they would have written better if they had lived chastely. Gautier
seems to have left the question there, and so will we, remarking only
that Balzac was prone to formulating laws out of his single
experience. I remember having written, or having heard somebody say,
"in other writers we discover this or that thing, but everything
exists in Balzac." And in his conversation with Gautier we do not find
him praising chastity as a virtue, but extolling the results that may
be gotten from chastity as a Yogi might. It is said that English
missionaries in India sometimes drive out in their pony chaises to
visit a holy man who has left his womenfolk, plentiful food, and a
luxurious dwelling for a cave in some lonely ravine. The pony chaise
only takes the parson to the mouth of the ravine, and leaving his wife
and children in charge of his servant, the parson ascends the rocky
way on foot, meeting, perchance, a fat peasant priest from Maynooth
bent on the same mission as himself--the conversion of the Yogi. It is
amusing for a moment to imagine these two Western barbarians sitting
with the emaciated saint on the ledge in front of the cave. Thinking
to win his sympathy, they tell him that on one point they are all
agreed. The Brahman's eyes would dilate; how can this thing be? his
eyes would seem to ask, and it is easy to imagine how contemptuously
he would raise his eyes when he gathered gradually from their
discourse that his visitors believed that chastity was incumbent upon
all men. "But all men are not the same," he would answer, if he
answered his visitors; "I dwell in solitude and in silence, and am
chaste, and live upon the rice that the pious leave on the rocks for
me, but I do not regard chastity and abstinence as possessed of any
inherent merits; as virtues, they are but a means to an end. How would
you impose chastity upon all men, since every man brings a different
idea into the world with him? There are men who would die if forced to
live chaste lives, and there are men who would choose death rather
than live unchaste, and many a woman if she were forced to live with
one husband would make him very unhappy, whereas if she lived with two
men she would make them both supremely happy. But the news has reached
me even here that in the West you seek a moral standard, and this
quest always fills me with wonder. There are priests among you, I can
see that, and soldiers, and fishermen, and artists and princes and
folk who labor in the fields--now do you expect all these men, living
in different conditions of life, to live under the same rule? I am
afraid that the East and the West will never understand each other.
The sun is setting, my time for speech is over," and the wise man,
rising from the stone on which he has been sitting, enters into the
cave, leaving the priest and the parson to descend the rocks together
in the twilight, their differences hushed for the moment, to break
forth again the next day.

Schopenhauer has a fine phrase, one that has haunted my mind these
many years, that the follies of the West flatten against the sublime
wisdom of the East like bullets fired against a cliff.

How can it be otherwise? For when we were naked savages the Brahmans
were learned philosophers, and had seen as far into every mystery as
mortal eyes will ever see. We have progressed a little lately; our
universities, it is true, are a few hundred years old, but in
comparison with the East we are still savages; our culture is but
rudimentary, and my correspondent's letter is proof of it. It is
characteristic of the ideas that still flourish on the banks of the
Thames, ideas that have changed only a little since the
_Mayflower_ sailed. It would have been better if Columbus had
delayed his discovery for, let us say, a thousand years. I am afraid
the _Mayflower_ carried over a great many intellectual weeds
which have caught root and flourished exceedingly in your
States--Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Washington. A letter arrived
from Washington some two or three months ago. The writer was a lady
who used to write to me on all subjects under the sun; about fifteen
years ago we had ceased to write to each other, so she began her
letter, not unnaturally, by speaking of the surprise she guessed her
handwriting would cause me. She had broken the long silence, for she
had been reading "The Lake," and had been much interested in the book.
It would have been impolite to write to me without alluding to the
aesthetic pleasure the book had given her, but her interest was mainly
a religious one. About five years ago she had become a Roman Catholic,
she was writing a book on the subject of her conversion, and would
like to find out from me why I had made Father Gogarty's conversion
turn upon his love of woman, "for it seems to me clear, unless I have
misunderstood your book, that you intended to represent Gogarty as an
intellectual man." It is difficult to trace one's motives back, but I
remember the irritation her letter caused me, and how I felt it would
not be dignified for me to explain; my book was there for her to
interpret or misinterpret, as she pleased; added to which her
"conversion" to Rome was an annoying piece of news. Fifteen years ago
she was an intelligent woman and a beautiful woman, if photographs do
not lie, and it was disagreeable for me to think of her going on her
knees in a confessional, receiving the sacraments, wearing scapulars,
trying to persuade herself that she believed in the Pope's
indulgences. She must now be middle-aged, but the decay of physical
beauty is not so sad a spectacle as the mind's declension. "She began
to think," I said, "of another world only when she found herself
unable to enjoy this one any longer; weariness of this world produces
what the theologians call 'faith.' How often have we heard the phrase
'You will believe when you are dying'? She would have had," I said,
"Father Gogarty leave his church for doctrinal rather than natural
reasons, believing scrolls to be more intellectual than the instincts;
Father Gogarty poring over some early edition of the Scriptures in his
little house on the hilltop, reading by the light of the lamp at
midnight and deciding that he would go out of his parish because,
according to recent exegesis, a certain verset in the Gospel had been
added three hundred years after the death of Christ." I fell to
thinking how dry, common, and uninteresting the tale would be had it
been written on these doctrinal lines. Carlyle said that Cardinal
Newman had the brain of a half-grown rabbit, and he was right; Newman
never got further than a scroll, and man must think with his body, as
well as with his brain. To think well the whole man must think, and it
seems to me that Father Gogarty thought in this complete way. Rose
Leicester revealed to him the enchantment and the grace of life, and
his quest became life. Had it been Hose Leicester herself the story
would have merely been a sensual incident. The instinct to go rose up
within him, he could not tell how or whence it came, and he went as
the bird goes, finding his way toward a country where he had never
been, led as the bird is led by some nostalgic instinct. And I do not
doubt that he found life, whether in the form of political or literary
ambition or in some other woman who would remind him of the woman he
had lost; perhaps he found it in all these things, perhaps in none.
Told as I told it the story seems to me a true and human one, and one
that might easily occur in these modern days; much more easily than
the story my correspondent would have had me write. The story of a
priest abandoning his parish for theological reasons is not an
improbable one, but I think such a story would be more typical of the
sixteenth century, when men were more interested in the authenticity
of the Biblical texts than they are in the twentieth. The Bible has
been sifted again and again; its history is known, every word has been
weighed, and it is difficult to imagine the most scrupulous exegetist
throwing a search light into any unexplored corner. Even Catholic
scholarship, if Loisy can be regarded as a Catholic, has abandoned the
theory that the gospels were written by the Apostles. The earliest,
that of Mark, was written sixty years after the death of Christ, and
it is the only one for which any scholar claims the faintest
historical value. With this knowledge of history in our possession
belief has become in modern times merely a matter of temperament,
entirely dissociated from the intellect. Some painter once said that
Nature put him out. The theologian can say the same about the
intellect--it puts him out. Out of a great deal of temperament and a
minimum of intellect he gets a precipitate, if I may be permitted to
drop into the parlance of the chemist, for dregs would be an impolite
word to use, and the precipitate always delights in the fetich. There
will always be men and women, the cleric has discovered, who will
barter their souls for the sake of rosaries and scapulars and the
Pope's indulgences. The two great enemies of religion, as the clerics
know well, are the desire to live and the desire to know. We find this
in Genesis: God: i. e., the clerics, was angry because his creatures
ate of these different fruits. God's comprehension of the danger of
the tree of life is not wonderful, but his foreseeing of the danger of
the tree of knowledge was extraordinary foreseeing, for very little of
the fruit of this tree had been eaten at the time the text was
written. All through the Middle Ages the clerics strove to keep men
from it with tortures and burnings at the stake, and they were so
anxiously striving for success in protecting their flocks from this
tree that they allowed the sheep to wander, the rams to follow the
ewes, and to gambol as they pleased. But the efforts of the clerics
were vain. There were rams who renounced the ewes, and the succulent
herbage that grows about the tree of life, for the sake of the fruit
of the tree of knowledge; all the fences that the clerics had erected
were broken down one by one; and during the nineteenth century a great
feast was held under the tree. But after every feast there are always
ailing stomachs; these denouncing the feast go about in great
depression of spirit, surfeited feasters, saying the branches of the
tree have been plucked bare; others complain they have eaten bitter
fruit. This is the moment for the prowling cleric. Hell is remote, it
has been going down in the world for some time, and biology, if no
conclusions be drawn, serves the clerical purpose almost as well. "The
origins of existence are humble enough, my son, but think of the
glorious heritage," and the faint-hearted sheep is folded again....
The tree of life is more abundant; whenever a fruit is plucked another
instantly takes its place, and all the efforts of the clerics are now
directed to keep their flocks from this tree. "Back to the tree of
knowledge!" they cry. "Hu! Hu! Hu! Both trees," they mutter among
themselves, "are accursed, but this one, from which sweet fruit may
always be plucked, is the worser." And they collect together in groups
to pass censure on their predecessors. "My predecessors were
infallible fools," cries the Pope, "to have permitted praise of this
fatal tree, wasting their energies on such men as Bruno, who said the
earth was round, and Galileo, whom they forced to say he was mistaken
when he said the earth moves. A pretty set of difficulties they have
involved us in with their accursed astronomy. Boccaccio and the
Troubadours should have been burned instead, and if this had been done
all the abominable modern literature which would persuade the faithful
that this world is not all sackcloth and ashes would never have been
written. Away with him who says that the earth is as beautiful as
heaven," and Gautier's phrase, _"Moi, je trouve la terre aussi belle
que le ciel, et je pense que la correction de la forme est la
vertu,"_ has become the heresy more intolerable than any other to
the modern cleric, and to me and to all the ardent and intellectual
spirits of my generation a complete and perfect expression of
doctrine. To some it will always seem absurd to look to Gautier rather
than to a Bedouin for light. Nature produces certain attitudes of
mind, and among these is an attitude which regards archbishops as more
serious than pretty women. These will never be among my disciples. So
leaving them in full possession of the sacraments, I pass on.

My generation was in sympathy with "Mademoiselle de Maupin" and it did
more than to reveal and clarify the ideas we were seeking. It would be
vain for me, as for any other man, to attempt to follow the course of
an idea and to try to determine its action upon life. Perhaps the part
of the book which interested us the least was that very part which
would be read aloud in court if a prosecution were attempted: I am
alluding to the scene when Mademoiselle de Maupin comes into Albert's
room. This scene was, however, inevitable, and could not be omitted,
for does it not contain that vision of beauty which Albert had been
seeking and which was vouchsafed to him for a little while? Never did
he see Mademoiselle de Maupin afterwards, she was but a phantom of his
own imagination made visible by some prodigy to him. For a still
briefer space Rosette shared Albert's dream, and man and wife remained
faithful to each other. It is easy to imagine the vileness which a
prosecuting counsel could extract from these beautiful pages made
entirely of vision and ecstasy. How false and shameful is the whole
business. We are allowed to state that we prefer pagan morality to
Christian, but are interdicted from illustrating our beliefs by
incident. So long as we confine ourselves to theory we are unmolested.
But these are subtleties which do not trouble the minds of the members
of vigilance associations, the men and women who gather together in
back parlors with lead pencils to mark out passages which they
consider "un-Kur-istean" (a good strong accent on the second
syllable). Their thoughts pursue beaten tracks. Books like
"Mademoiselle de Maupin" they hold would act directly on the
temperament, and we know that they do not do this, we know that the
things of the intellect belong to the intellect and the things of the
flesh to the flesh. Were it otherwise Rose Leicester, the pretty
school mistress, might have been left out of my story entitled "The
Lake," and her place taken by a book. My lady correspondent, it will
be remembered, was in favor of some doctrinal difficulty. My second
correspondent, the secretary of the charitable institution, would have
chosen as the cause of Father Oliver's flight a sensual book. His
choice might have been Burton's "Arabian Nights"; better still
Casanova's "Memoirs," for this is a book written almost entirely with
the senses; the intellect hardly ever intrudes itself; and instead of
an emaciated priest poring over a dusty folio we should have had an
inflamed young man curled up in an armchair reading eagerly, walking
up and down the room from time to time, unable to contain himself, and
eventually throwing the book aside, he would find his way down to the

These two versions of "The Lake," as it might have been written by my
correspondents, will convince, I think, almost anyone, even them, that
the desire of life which set Father Gogarty free could have been
inspired only by a woman's personality. It was not necessary that he
should go after the woman herself--but that point has already been
explained. What concerns us now to understand is how the strange idea
could have come into men's minds that literature is a more potent
influence than life itself. The solving of this problem has beguiled
many an hour, but the solution seems as far away as ever, and I have
never got nearer than the supposition that perhaps this fear of
literature is a survival of the very legitimate fear that prevailed in
the Middle Ages against writing. In my childhood I remember hearing an
old woman say that writing was an invention of the devil, and what an
old woman believed forty years ago in outlying districts was almost
the universal opinion of the Middle Ages. Denunciations and burnings
of books were frequent, and ideas die slowly, finding a slow
extinction many generations after the reason for their existence has
ceased. In the famous trial of Gille de Rais we have it on record that
the Breton baron was asked by his ecclesiastical judges if pagan
literature had inspired the strange crimes of which he was accused, if
he had read of them in--I have forgotten the names of the Latin
authors mentioned, but I remember Gille de Rais' quite simple answer
that his own heart had inspired the crimes. Whereupon the judges not
unnaturally were shocked, for the conclusion was forced upon them that
if Gille's confession were true they were not trying a man who had
been perverted by outward influence but one who had been born
perverted. Who then was responsible for his crimes? Lunacy sometimes
in these modern days serves as a scapegoat, but the knowledge of
lunacy in the fifteenth century was not so complete as it is now and
the judges preferred to believe that Gille was lying. And about ten
years ago London found itself in the same moral quandary. Three or
four little boys were discovered to have planned the murder of one of
their comrades--sixpence, I think, was the object of the murder; not
one was over eight, yet they planned the crime skillfully and very
nearly succeeded in avoiding detection. To credit these little boys
with instinctive crime was intolerable, and just as in the Middle Ages
a scapegoat had to be found. Apuleius and his Ass were out of the
question, but the little boys admitted having read penny dreadfuls;
London breathed again, the way now was clear, these newspapers must be
prosecuted, and this recrudescence of wickedness in the heart of a
little boy would never be heard of again. A little later or maybe it
was a little earlier, I relate these things in the order in which they
come into my mind, the London Vigilance Association instituted a
prosecution against Mr. Henry Vizetelly, a man of letters and the
publisher of Zola's novels. With the exception of Mr. Robert Buchanan
and myself not a single man of letters could be found to speak in Mr.
Vizetelly's defense. Everybody urged some excuse, his wife was ill,
his children were at the seaside and he had to go down to see them, or
that he had never cared much about naturalistic literature; whereas,
if the prosecution had been directed against something romantic,
etc.--Stranger still is the fact that it was almost impossible to find
a counsel willing to defend Mr. Vizetelly. One man threw up the case,
giving as his reason that he would have to read the books, another
said that it would be impossible to adequately defend Mr. Vizetelly's
case because no one could say what one had a right to put into a book.
This remark seemed to me at the time contemptible, but there was more
in it than I thought, for will it be believed that when the case came
into court the judge ruled that the fact that standard writers had
availed themselves of a great deal of license could not be taken as a
proof that such license was permissible? Two wrongs do not make a
right he said. In these circumstances perhaps counsel was wise to tell
Mr. Vizetelly to plead guilty to having published an indecent libel;
but the advice seemed so cruel that, justly or unjustly, I suspect the
lawyer of a wish to escape the odium that would have attached to him
if he had defended a book accused of immorality. The old man was
heavily fined. On going out of court he set to work to have the books
revised, spending hundreds of pounds having the plates altered, but
the Vigilance Association attacked him again, and this time they
succeeded in killing him. Mr. Vizetelly was over seventy years of age
when he went to prison, and the shame, anxiety, and three months of
prison life killed him. Five years afterwards the Authors' Society,
who would not say a word in his favor, voted a great banquet for Zola
when he came to London. Zola received every homage that could be paid
to a man of letters. The Vigilance Association raised no protest, and
I do not blame them. None would have been heard. But while the
banquets were held and the speeches were published in the newspapers
some of the members of the Association must have meditated sadly on
the futility of their efforts and the death of Mr. Vizetelly. It
requires a heavy blow of a very heavy mallet to get anything into some
people's heads, and nothing short of the reception that was given to
Zola could have affected the minds of the Vigilance Association. The
significance of the judge's words that the fact that classical writers
had availed themselves of a certain license could not be taken as
proof that such license was permissible escaped them altogether, for
some time afterwards the question of immorality in literature arose
again--I have forgotten the circumstances of this case--but I remember
that Mr. Coote, the secretary of the Association, was asked if
Shakespeare had not written many very reprehensible passages. Mr.
Coote was obliged to admit that he had, and when asked why the
Association he represented did mot proceed against Shakespeare he
answered because Shakespeare wrote beautifully. A strangely immoral
doctrine, for if the license of expression that Shakespeare availed
himself of be harmful, Shakespeare should be prosecuted; that he wrote
beautifully is no defense whatever. Life comes before literature, and
the Vigilance Association lays itself open to a charge of neglect of
duty by not proceeding at once against Shakespeare and against all
those who have indulged in the same license of expression. The members
and their secretary have indeed set themselves a stiff job, but they
must not shrink from it if they would avoid shocking other people's
moral sense by exhibiting themselves in the light of mere busybodies
with a taste for what boys and old men speak of as "spicy bits."
Proceedings will have to be taken against all the literature that Mr.
Coote believes to be harmful (I accept him as the representative of
the ideas of his Association), and the plea must not be raised again
that because a reprehensible passage is well written it should be
acquitted. We must consider the question impartially. It is true that
a magistrate may be found presiding at Bow Street who will refuse to
issue a warrant against the publishers, let us say of Byron, Sterne,
the Restoration, and the Elizabethan dramatists. The Association will
have to risk the refusal; but I would not discourage the Association
from the adventure. It must not abandon the tope of finding a
magistrate who, anxious to prove himself no moral laggard, will do all
that is asked of him. A very pretty selection of "spicy bits" can be
picked from "Don Juan," and toward this compilation every member, male
and female, might contribute. The reading of these selections in Bow
Street in a crowded court would prove quite a literary entertainment,
and if the magistrate refused to issue a warrant he could only do so
on the pretext that the book had been published a long while, a
pretext which can hardly be held to be more valid than the pretext put
forward by Mr. Coote for not prosecuting Shakespeare. Of one thing
only would I warn the Society which I seem to be taking under my wing,
and that is, even if it should succeed in interdicting two-thirds of
English literature its task will still be only half accomplished. The
newspaper question will still have to be faced. Books are relatively
expensive, but the newspaper can be bought for a halfpenny, and it
will be admitted that no author is as indecent as the common reporter.
The reader thinks that I am going to draw his attention to some
celebrated divorce case, an account of which was reported in full in
the columns of some daily paper under a large heading "Painful
Details," the details being the account the chambermaid gave the
outraged husband of--I will spare my reader.

About fifteen years ago I was asked if I would care to go over to ----
College to see the sports. We walked across the downs, and while
watching the racing I was accosted by the head master, who asked me if
I would like to see the college. The sports were more interesting than
refectories and dormitories, but it seemed a little churlish to refuse
and we went together. No doubt we visited the kitchens and the chapel,
but what I remember was a long hall wainscoted with oak and furnished
with oak tables and chairs and benches, In this hall there were some
thirty or forty boys, of ages varying from twelve to eighteen, reading
the newspapers, reading the reports of the Oscar Wilde trial; each
daily paper contained three or four columns of it. I asked the head
master if it were right to allow the boys to read such reports and he
answered that lately the newspapers contained a great deal of
objectionable matter, "But how am I to keep the daily papers out of
the college?" Now I am not easily scandalized, but I could not help
feeling that a grave scandal was being committed in allowing these
boys to read the newspapers during the week of that trial. But if you
admit the newspapers one day how can you forbid them on another
occasion? And while appreciating the head master's difficulty I walked
out into the open air unable to take any further interest in the
sports. Nor has time obliterated anything of the shame I felt that
day. I don't want to make a fuss, I don't want to pose as a moralist,
but I cannot help thinking that while newspapers continue to be
published, the Vigilance Society need not trouble lest certain books
should fall into the hands of young people. My correspondent forgot
that thousands of newspapers are published to-day when he wrote to me
saying that my book roused sensuality. I am afraid I omitted the
passage in which these words occur, fearing to burden my article with
quotation. Here it is:

"The perusal of the episodes (Doris' Orelay experiences) does
certainly not ennoble me, it rouses sensuality, it lowers woman from a
friend and helpmeet into a convenience and a minister to pleasure. I
am less able and less willing to think 'high' after your book; poetry
is distasteful, art is narrowed, I look out for the licentious, the
suggestive, the low, and the mean; and don't you? You seem in passage
after passage to be world-weary in a sense that no sane man ought to
be, sated, disgusted, tired of life--is it not so? You see I speak
from what I am sure you will regard as a narrow platform, my ideals
are certainly not yours but I am simply and frankly curious as to the
ultimates in your book and in yourself."

Let us suppose now that the Vigilance Association after a sharp
crusade has succeeded in redeeming our literature from all
reprehensible matter, and flushed with success has attacked the
newspapers and obtained an interdiction against the publication of all
reports of sexual crimes and misdemeanors. And having extended our
imagination so far we may presume as the sequence a world of such
highly developed moral susceptibilities that Miss Austen's novels are
beginning to cause uneasiness. Miss Austen's novels are still
permitted, but in current literature nothing is said that would lead
the reader to suppose that men and women are not of the same sex. But
men and women still continue to meet and hold conversation. Only some
advanced members of the Association are in favor of that complete
separation of the sexes which obtains in Ireland in the rural
districts. In the imaginary time of which I am writing the Association
has only obtained complete control over literature. The theaters are
either closed or given over to the representation of plays on
religious subjects; but private life has not been invaded by the
Puritan missionary, and waltz tunes are still heard and figures seen
whirling past lighted windows in Grosvenor Square and Fifth Avenue.
Mr. Coote has at this time become a moderate, he is no longer among
the progressives, and is in danger of losing his post, so I have no
difficulty in imagining what he would do in such a dilemma. He would
disguise himself as a waiter and at the next meeting of the Society
tell how he had until now showed some reluctance to--the sentence
would be a difficult one to finish, perhaps Mr. Coote would break off
and say--reluctance to put restraint on the action of men and women as
long as they kept within their own doors, but after what he has seen,
he finds himself obliged to pass from the moderates to the
progressives. What has Mr. Coote seen. How would he tell his tale?

He would tell of the length and the breadth of the ball room, of the
parquet floor usually covered with an aubusson carpet but the carpet
had been lifted and the gilded furniture taken away; the windows and
the recesses had been filled with flowers, and to keep these fresh,
great blocks of ice had been placed in the niches. He would tell of
the lighting arrangements, for are not flowers and lights incentives
to immorality? But his descriptions of the roses and the lilies would
only lead up to his descriptions of the shameless animality that came
up the staircase between twelve and one. A half-naked lady, the
hostess, stood at the head of the stairs receiving her guests with
smiles and words of welcome. The dresses the women wore resembled the
dress worn by the hostess; young and old alike went about their
pleasure with necks and bosoms and arms uncovered, and he saw these
undressed creatures slip into the arms of men who whirled them round
and round; it was but a whirling of silk ankles and a shuffling of
glazed shoes; and every now and then the men and women looked into
each other's eyes, and the whole scene was reflected shamelessly in
tall mirrors. Notwithstanding the fact that most of Mr. Coote's time
was spent behind the buffet serving out ices, he nevertheless
contrived to find a spare moment for investigation. On the pretext of
seeking a lady who had dropped a handkerchief he had crossed the ball
room and was therefore in a position to give an accurate account of
the waltzes he had heard, dulcet, undulating, capricious measures, far
more provocative than Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata" which Tolstoy has
denounced. The lady that Mr. Coote sought was not in the ball room,
and so he had an opportunity of investigating all the retiring rooms,
and I need not describe the pensive and shocked faces that listened to
his descriptions of the shady nooks. Sometimes it was a screen,
sometimes it was a palm that was employed to hide the couple from
observation. Mr. Coote at last discovered the owner of the
handkerchief in one of those shady nooks, she was there with a
gentleman.... Mr. Coote, of course, would refuse to relate what he
saw, he would hesitate, but the members of his Association would
insist upon knowing everything, and he would at last confess: "Well,
the gentleman had kissed the lady on the point of her shoulder." From
this scandalous incident he would pass to tell all that he remembered
of the conversation he had heard at the table round which he had
worked till nearly four o'clock in the morning handing cutlets,
chicken patties, and other delicacies, the names of which he was not
acquainted with.

Mr. Coote's description of what he saw may be ingenuous, but is his
description untrue? And when Mr. Coote finished up his speech as I
imagine him finishing it, by stating that the dancing, the music, the
dresses, the wines, and the meats were arranged and learnedly chosen
for one purpose and one only, the stimulation of sexual passion, I
cannot imagine anyone accusing him of having spoken an untruth. Mr.
Coote added that no one went to the ball for the pleasure of the
conversation--he was convinced that old and young derived their
pleasure, consciously or unconsciously, from sex.

We will imagine the members of Mr. Coote's Society being greatly moved
by his description, and the sudden determination of everybody that
dancing must be stopped. Had not Byron declared the waltz to be "half
a whore"? Tolstoy has gone one better and asked people to say if a
woman can remain chaste if a low dress is permitted and Beethoven's
"Kreutzer Sonata" is played. Forgetful, of course, that they have
prosecuted "Don Juan," the Society accepts Byron's dictum as their war
cry, and henceforth the business of Mr. Coote is to inquire into what
is immoral in dress, in music, in wine, and in food. After a long
consultation with experts and expensive law proceedings the Vigilance
Association has (in our imagination) succeeded in reforming society as
completely as it succeeded in reforming literature; and the months go
by, October, November, December, January, February, March ... but one
night the wind changes, and coming out of our houses in the morning we
are taken with a sense of delight, a soft south wind is blowing and
the lilacs are coming into bloom. My correspondent says that my book
rouses sensuality. Perhaps it does, but not nearly so much as a spring
day, and no one has yet thought of suppressing or curtailing spring
days. Yet how infinitely more pernicious is their influence than any
book! What thoughts they put into the hearts of lads and lasses! and
perforce even the moralist has to accept the irrepressible feeling of
union and growth, the loosening of the earth about the hyacinth shoots
and the birds going about their amorous business, and the white clouds
floating up gladly through the blue air. Why, then, should he look
askance at my book, which is no more than memories of my spring days?
If the thing itself cannot be suppressed, why is it worth while to
interfere with the recollection? What strange twist in his mind leads
him to decry in art what he accepts in nature? A strange twist indeed,
one which may be described as a sort of inverted sexuality, finding
its pleasure not in the spring day, but in odd corners of ancient
literature read only for the sake of passages which he declares to be
disgusting, and in spying on modern literature, seeking out passages
and expressions which might be denounced in the newspapers or
proceeded against in the police court. The psychology of one of these
purity mongers is more interesting to the alienist than to a man of
letters. Let us take a typical case, that of the late Lord ----. Forty
or fifty years ago he was one of the most strenuous advocates of
purity in literature, and more shops were raided at his instigation
than at any other; yet when he died his library was found to contain
the finest collection of impure literature in Europe, and his
executors were left wondering whether the prosecutions were prompted
by a desire to increase the value of his collection by the destruction
of rare books, copies of which were in his possession, or whether he
had been moved by conscientious scruples; a man might bamboozle
himself in this way: "I am a man of letters and possess these books
because they are rare, a curious corner of literature, but it would be
highly inexpedient for others to possess them." His conscience might
take a still more curious turn, leading to a dizzier height: "I am a
sinner; that, alas! is so; but I can prevent others from sinning
likewise." No doubt the greater part of the literature which the noble
lord collected with so much industry was of that frankly indecent kind
which is debarred from every library, Continental as well as English
and American. There is a literature which does not come within the
scope of the present inquiry, and there is what may perhaps be called
a border literature, books which are found in public libraries in the
German, the French, and the Italian texts. It seems pertinent to ask
why a little knowledge of French and German and Italian should procure
the right to read Brantome's "Femmes Gallantes." It would be difficult
for anybody to say that this book is not frankly obscene, and yet in
the French text I suppose every library contains it. Casanova's
"Memoirs" is another book of the same kind; I am not aware of any
complete translation of Boccaccio's tales, but every library possesses
an edition in the original Italian. The only reason that can be put
forward for the suppression of a book is that it is harmful, and if
Brantome, Casanova, and Boccaccio are harmful in English, they do harm
to those who can read them in the original texts. But perhaps I have
pointed out enough inconsistencies, and the reader, growing weary, may
say: "Are you so young, then, that you don't know that the world is a
mass of contradictions? that life is no more than a tale told by an
idiot full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing?" Shakespeare did
no more than to put into eloquent language every man's belief, that we
are all mad on one subject or another. If this be so, every race is
mad on some point, for have we not often heard that what is true of
the individual is true of the race? Anglo-Saxon madness is book
morality. Madness has been defined as a lack of consequence in ideas,
and can anything be less consequent than--we need look no further back
than Ibsen? The great genius who died in May last was decried by the
English people as one of the most immoral of writers; for twenty years
at least this opinion obtained in the press, and even among men of
letters; suddenly the opinion disappeared, it went out like the flame
of a candle; the text is the same, not a comma has been changed, yet
now everybody reads it differently. But I must not allow myself to be
drawn into speaking of the moral crusades directed against other
writers; the task is tempting, and I hope it will be undertaken one of
these days. Here, at all events, my concern is with my own writings,
as indicated by the title of the article, and it is doubtful if
reference to any book would make my point clearer than the tale of
what happened in America to my own book, "Esther Waters." The proof
sheets were sent in turn to three leading firms, Scribner, Harper, and
Appleton, and all three refused the book on the ground that, while
recognizing, etc., they did not think it was exactly the kind of book,
etc. Even experts make mistakes; this is not denied; what makes my
story so remarkable is that all three firms offered to publish an
authorized edition of the book as soon as news of its success in
England had been cabled to New York. Mr. Appleton, whom I met in
Paris, expressed his regret that expert opinion regarding this book
had been at fault. "The book," he said, "was quite a proper book to
publish, a most admirable book, which would do honor to any firm." I
answered: "Very likely all you say, Mr. Appleton, is true, but three
weeks ago the experts thought differently. How is it that an immoral
book can become moral in three weeks?" My next book, "Evelyn Innes,"
disturbed the house of Appleton as much as "Esther Waters," and a
gentleman of leisure connected with the firm was deputed to mark out
not the passages to which he himself took exception, but to which,
being an expert, he felt sure that others would take exception. The
gentleman was kind enough to insist on submitting his marked copy to
me, and my wonderment increased as I turned over the pages, and it
reached a climax when I happened upon the following passage, which had
been marked to be omitted by the American printer. The passage was:
"... in her stage life Evelyn was an agent of the sensual passion, not
only with her voice, but in her arms, her neck, and hair, and in every
expression of her face; and it was the craving music that had thrown
her into Ulick's arms. If it had subjugated her how much more would it
subjugate and hold within its persuasion the listener--the listener,
who perceived in the music nothing but its sensuality?" "But for what
reason," I asked the expert, "do you suggest the elimination of this
passage? This is the Puritan point of view. I thought that your
proposal was to draw my attention to the passages to which you thought
the Puritan would object." "Ah," he said, "that is how I began, but as
I got on with the work I thought it better to mark every passage that
might give offense." "And to whom would this passage give offense?" I
said. "Certainly not to any religious body?" "No," he answered, "not
to any religious body, but it would give offense to the subscribers to
the New Opera House. If parents read that the music of 'Tristan' threw
Evelyn Innes into the arms of Ulick Dean, they would not care to bring
their daughters to hear the opera, and might possibly discontinue
their subscriptions." Everybody will agree that "expert opinion" can
hardly go further, yet the folly which this "expert" was betrayed into
did not arise from any congenital stupidity; it is the mistake that
you and I, every one of us, would make when we seek the truth in our
casual experience instead of in our hearts.

One would have thought that my pointing out the absurdity of this
expurgation of "Evelyn Innes" to the house of Appleton would have
saved it ever afterwards from similar folly, and forgetful that
experience is, as Coleridge describes it, only a lamp in a vessel's
stern which throws a light on the waters we have passed through, none
on those which lie before us, the publication of "The Lake" was issued
by Messrs. Appleton with my consent. The book, as the American public
already know, is free from all matter to which the most severe
moralist could take exception, yet the American edition did not
conform entirely with the English; a dedication written in French was
omitted, for what reason I do not know, but it was omitted. The matter
may seem a small one, and it may seem invidious to allude to it at
all, but on an occasion like the present nothing must be passed over.
The English proofs of the "Memoirs" were read, and the book was
accepted, but when it was set up in America it did not seem quite so
moral in the American type as it did in the English and difficulties
arose; these have been alluded to in the first paragraph of this
article, and perhaps wrongly I agreed that the two stories, "The
Lovers of Orelay" and "In the Luxembourg Gardens," should be left out.
On September 28th I wrote, suggesting that "In the Luxembourg Gardens"
might be retained, that it was only necessary to drop out a few
sentences to make it, as the expert would say, "acceptable to the
American public," but it never occurred to me that "The Lovers of
Orelay" could be published in any form except the form in which I
wrote it. This morning I received a letter from Mr. Sears.

October 8, 1906. DEAR MR. MOORE:

Your letter of September 28th has just arrived this morning. I hope
that by the time you receive this I shall have the open letter which
we are to print in "Memoirs of My Dead Life." The book is all ready,
waiting for it. As a matter of fact, we have not cut out either "In
the Luxembourg Gardens" or "The Lovers of Orelay." We simply have
taken out parts of each. Very truly yours, J. H. SEARS.

"Simply have taken out parts of each!" My book, then, is a sort of
unfortunate animal, whose destiny was to be thrown on the American
vivisecting table and pieces taken out of it. Well, I raise no
objection. The promise that this preface will be published without
alteration soothes me (it is the anaesthetic), and after all, is it
not an honor to be Bowdlerized? Only the best are deemed dangerous....
I am not aware that anybody ever took liberties with Miss Braddon's
texts. And the day of the Bowdlerizer is a brief one! Sooner or later
the original text is published. This is the rule, and I am confident I
shall not prove an exception to the rule.





As I sit at my window on Sunday morning, lazily watching the
sparrows--restless black dots that haunt the old tree at the corner of
King's Bench Walk--I begin to distinguish a faint green haze in the
branches of the old lime. Yes, there it is green in the branches; and
I'm moved by an impulse--the impulse of Spring is in my feet;
india-rubber seems to have come into the soles of my feet, and I would
see London. It is delightful to walk across Temple Gardens, to
stop--pigeons are sweeping down from the roofs--to call a hansom, and
to notice, as one passes, the sapling behind St. Clement's Danes. The
quality of the green is exquisite on the smoke-black wall. London can
be seen better on Sundays than on week-days; lying back in a hansom,
one is alone with London. London is beautiful in that narrow street,
celebrated for licentious literature. The blue and white sky shows
above a seventeenth-century gable, and a few moments after we are in
Drury Lane. The fine weather has enticed the population out of grim
courts and alleys; skipping-ropes are whirling everywhere. The
children hardly escape being run over. Coster girls sit wrapped in
shawls, contentedly, like rabbits at the edge of a burrow; the men
smoke their pipes in sullen groups, their eyes on the closed doors of
the public house. At the corner of the great theatre a vendor of cheap
ices is rapidly absorbing the few spare pennies of the neighbourhood.
The hansom turns out of the lane into the great thoroughfare, a bright
glow like the sunset fills the roadway, and upon it a triangular block
of masonry and St. Giles's church rise, the spire aloft in the faint
blue and delicate air. Spires are so beautiful that we would fain
believe that they will outlast creeds; religion or no religion we must
have spires, and in town and country--spires showing between trees and
rising out of the city purlieus.

The spring tide is rising; the almond trees are in bloom, that one
growing in an area spreads its Japanese decoration fan-like upon the
wall. The hedges in the time-worn streets of Fitzroy Square light
up--how the green runs along? The spring is more winsome here than in
the country. One must be in London to see the spring. One can see the
spring from afar dancing in St. John's wood, haze and sun playing
together like a lad and a lass. The sweet air, how tempting! How
exciting! It melts on the lips in fond kisses, instilling a delicate
gluttony of life. It would be pleasant in these gardens walking
through shadowy alleys, lit here and there by a ray, to see girls
walking hand in hand, catching at branches, as girls do when dreaming
of lovers. But alas! the gardens are empty; only some daffodils! But
how beautiful is the curve of the flower when seen in profile, and
still more beautiful is the starry yellow when the flower is seen full
face. That antique flower carries my mind back--not to Greek times,
for the daffodil has lost something of its ancient loveliness; it is
more reminiscent of a Wedgwood than of a Greek vase. My nonsense
thoughts amuse me; I follow my thoughts as a child follows
butterflies; and all this ecstasy in and about me, is the joy of
health--my health and the health of the world. This April day has set
brain and blood on fire. Now it would be well to ponder by this old
canal! It looks as if it had fallen into disuse, and that is charming;
an abandoned canal is a perfect symbol of--well, I do not know of
what. A river flows or rushes, even an artificial lake harbours
waterfowl, children sail their boats upon it; but a canal does

Here comes a boat! The canal has not been abandoned. Ah! that boat has
interrupted my dreams, and I feel quite wretched. I had hoped that the
last had passed twenty years ago. Here it comes with its lean horse,
the rope tightening and stretching, a great black mass with ripples at
the prow and a figure bearing against the rudder. A canal reminds me
of my childhood; every child likes a canal. A canal recalls the first
wonder. We all remember the wonder with which we watched the first
barge, the wonder which the smoke coming out of the funnel excited.
When my father asked me why I'd like to go to Dublin better by canal
than by railroad, I couldn't tell him. Nor could I tell any one to-day
why I love a canal. One never loses one's fondness for canals. The
boats glide like the days, and the toiling horse is a symbol! how he
strains, sticking his toes into the path!

There are visits to pay. Three hours pass--of course women, always
women. But at six I am free, and I resume my meditations in declining
light as the cab rolls through the old brick streets that crowd round
Golden Square; streets whose names you meet in old novels; streets
full of studios where Hayden, Fuseli, and others of the rank
historical tribe talked art with a big A, drank their despair away,
and died wondering why the world did not recognise their genius.
Children are scrambling round a neglected archway, striving to reach
to a lantern of old time. The smell of these dry faded streets is
peculiar to London; there is something of the odour of the original
marsh in the smell of these streets; it rises through the pavement and
mingles with the smoke. Fancy follows fancy, image succeeds image;
till all is but a seeming, and mystery envelops everything. That white
Arch seems to speak to me out of the twilight. I would fain believe it
has its secret to reveal. London wraps herself in mists; blue scarfs
are falling--trailing. London has a secret! Let me peer into her
veiled face and read. I have only to fix my thoughts to
decipher--what? I know not. Something ... perhaps. But I cannot
control my thoughts. I am absorbed in turn by the beauty of the Marble
Arch and the perspective of the Bayswater Road, fading like an
apparition amid the romance of great trees.

As I turn away, for the wind thrills and obliges me to walk rapidly, I
think how fortunate I am to experience these emotions in Hyde Park,
whereas my fellows have to go to Switzerland and to climb up Mont
Blanc, to feel half what I am feeling now, as I stand looking across
the level park watching the sunset, a dusky one. The last red bar of
light fades, and nothing remains but the grey park with the blue of
the suburb behind it, flowing away full of mist and people, dim and
mournful to the pallid lights of Kensington; and its crowds are like
strips of black tape scattered here and there. By the railings the
tape has been wound into a black ball, and, no doubt, the peg on which
it is wound is some preacher promising human nature deliverance from
evil if it will forego the spring time. But the spring time continues,
despite the preacher, over yonder, under branches swelling with leaf
and noisy with sparrows; the spring is there amid the boys and girls,
boys dressed in ill-fitting suits of broadcloth, daffodils in their
buttonholes; girls hardly less coarse, creatures made for work,
escaped for a while from the thraldom of the kitchen, now doing the
business of the world better than the preacher; poor servants of
sacred Spring. A woman in a close-fitting green cloth dress passes me
to meet a young man; a rich fur hangs from her shoulders; and they go
towards Park Lane, towards the wilful little houses with low balconies
and pendent flower-baskets swinging in the areas. Circumspect little
gardens! There is one, Greek as an eighteenth-century engraving, and
the woman in the close-fitting green cloth dress, rich fur hanging
from her shoulders, almost hiding the pleasant waist, enters one of
these. She is Park Lane. Park Lane supper parties and divorce are
written in her eyes and manner. The old beau, walking swiftly lest he
should catch cold, his moustache clearly dyed, his waist certainly
pinched by a belt, he, too, is Park Lane. And those two young men,
talking joyously--admirable specimens of Anglo-Saxons, slender feet,
varnished boots, health and abundant youth--they, too, are
characteristic of Park Lane.

Park Lane dips in a narrow and old-fashioned way as it enters
Piccadilly. Piccadilly has not yet grown vulgar, only a little modern,
a little out of keeping with the beauty of the Green Park, of that
beautiful dell, about whose mounds I should like to see a comedy of
the Restoration acted.

I used to stand here, at this very spot, twenty years ago, to watch
the moonlight between the trees, and the shadows of the trees floating
over that beautiful dell; I used to think of Wycherly's comedy, "Love
in St. James's Park," and I think of it still. In those days the
Argyle Rooms, Kate Hamilton's in Panton Street, and the Cafe de la
Regence were the fashion. But Paris drew me from these, towards other
pleasures, towards the Nouvelle Athenes and the Elysee Montmartre; and
when I returned to London after an absence of ten years I found a new
London, a less English London. Paris draws me still, and I shall be
there in three weeks, when the chestnuts are in bloom.



On my arrival in Paris, though the hour was that stupid hour of seven
in the morning, while I walked up the grey platform, my head was
filled with memories of the sea, for all the way across it had seemed
like a beautiful blue plain without beginning or end, a plain on which
the ship threw a little circle of light, moving always like life
itself, with darkness before and after. I remembered how we steamed
into the long winding harbour in the dusk, half an hour before we were
due--at daybreak. Against the green sky, along the cliff's edge, a
line of broken paling zigzagged; one star shone in the dawning sky,
one reflection wavered in the tranquil harbour. There was no sound
except the splashing of paddle-wheels, and not wind enough to take the
fishing boats out to sea; the boats rolled in the tide, their sails
only half-filled. From the deck of the steamer we watched the strange
crews, wild-looking men and boys, leaning over the bulwarks; and I
remembered how I had sought for the town amid the shadow, but nowhere
could I discover trace of it; yet I knew it was there, smothered in
the dusk, under the green sky, its streets leading to the cathedral,
the end of every one crossed by flying buttresses, and the round roof
disappearing amid the chimney-stacks. A curious, pathetic town, full
of nuns and pigeons and old gables and strange dormer windows, and
courtyards where French nobles once assembled--fish will be sold there
in a few hours. Once I spent a summer in Dieppe. And during the hour
we had to wait for the train, during the hour that we watched the
green sky widening between masses of shrouding cloud, I thought of ten
years ago. The town emerged very slowly, and only a few roofs were
visible when the fisher girl clanked down the quays with a clumsy
movement of the hips, and we were called upon to take our seats in the
train. We moved along the quays, into the suburbs, and then into a
quiet garden country of little fields and brooks and hillsides
breaking into cliffs. The fields and the hills were still shadowless
and grey, and even the orchards in bloom seemed sad. But what shall I
say of their beauty when the first faint lights appeared, when the
first rose clouds appeared above the hills? Orchard succeeded orchard,
and the farmhouses were all asleep. There is no such journey in the
world as the journey from Dieppe to Paris on a fine May morning. Never
shall I forget the first glimpse of Rouen Cathedral in the diamond
air, the branching river, and the tall ships anchored in the deep
current. I was dreaming of the cathedral when we had left Rouen far
behind us, and when I awoke from my dream we were in the midst of a
flat green country, the river winding about islands and through fields
in which stood solitary poplar-trees, formerly haunts of Corot and
Daubigny. I could see the spots where they had set their easels--that
slight rise with the solitary poplar for Corot, that rich river bank
and shady backwater for Daubigny. Soon after I saw the first weir, and
then the first hay-boat; and at every moment the river grew more
serene, more gracious, it passed its arms about a flat, green-wooded
island, on which there was a rookery; and sometimes we saw it ahead of
us, looping up the verdant landscape as if it were a gown, running
through it like a white silk ribbon, and over there the green gown
disappearing in fine muslin vapours, drawn about the low horizon.

I did not weary of this landscape, and was sorry when the first villa
appeared. Another and then another showed between the chestnut-trees
in bloom; and there were often blue vases on the steps and sometimes
lanterns in metalwork hung from wooden balconies. The shutters were
not yet open, those heavy French shutters that we all know so well,
and that give the French houses such a look of comfort, of ease, of
long tradition. Suddenly the aspect of a street struck me as a place I
had known, and I said, "Is it possible that we are passing through
Asnieres?" The name flitted past, and I was glad I had recognised
Asnieres, for at the end of that very long road is the restaurant
where we used to dine, and between it and the bridge is the _bal_
where we used to dance. It was there I saw the beautiful Blanche
D'Antigny surrounded by her admirers. It was there she used to sit by
the side of the composer of the musical follies which she sang--in
those days I thought she sang enchantingly. Those were the days of
L'Oeil, Creve, and Chilperic. She once passed under the chestnut-trees
of that dusty little _bal de banlieue_ with me by her side, proud
of being with her. She has gone and Julia Baron has gone; Hortense has
outlived them all. She must be very old, eighty-five at least. It
would be wonderful to hear her sing "Mon cher amant, je te jure" in
the quavering voice of eighty-five; it would be wonderful to hear her
sing it because she doesn't know how wonderful she is; the old light
of love requires an interpreter, and she has had many; many great
poets have voiced her woe and decadence.

Not five minutes from that _bal_ was the little house in which
Herve lived, and to which he used to invite us to supper; and where,
after supper, he used to play to us the last music he had composed. We
listened, but the public would listen to it no longer. Sedan had taken
all the tinkle out of it, and the poor _compositeur toque_ never
caught the public ear again. We listened to his chirpy scores,
believing that they would revive that old nervous fever which was the
Empire when Hortense used to dance, when Hortense took the Empire for
a spring-board, when Paris cried out, "Cascade ma fille, Hortense,
cascade." The great Hortense Schneider, the great goddess of folly,
used to come down there to sing the songs which were intended to
revive her triumphs. She was growing old then, her days were over, and
Herve's day was over. Vainly did he pile parody upon parody; vainly
did he seize the conductor's _baton_; the days of their glory had
gone. Now Asnieres itself is forgotten; the modern youth has chosen
another suburb to disport himself in; the ballroom has been pulled
down, and never again will an orchestra play a note of these poor
scores; even their names are unknown. A few bars of a chorus of pages
came back to me, remembered only by me, all are gone, like Hortense
and Blanche and Julia.

But after all I am in Paris. Almost the same Paris; almost the same
George Moore, my senses awake as before to all enjoyment, my soul as
enwrapped as ever in the divine sensation of life. Once my youth moved
through thy whiteness, O City, and its dreams lay down to dreams in
the freedom of thy fields! Years come and years go, but every year I
see city and plain in the happy exaltation of Spring, and departing
before the cuckoo, while the blossom is still bright on the bough, it
has come to me to think that Paris and May are one.



Feeling that he would never see Scotland again, Stevenson wrote in a
preface to "Catriona":--"I see like a vision the youth of my father,
and of his father, and the whole stream of lives flowing down there
far in the north, with the sound of laughter and tears, to cast me out
in the end, as by a sudden freshet, on these ultimate islands. And I
admire and bow my head before the romance of destiny." Does not this
sentence read as if it were written in stress of some effusive febrile
emotion, as if he wrote while still pursuing his idea? And so it
reminds us of a moth fluttering after a light. But however
vacillating, the sentence contains some pretty clauses, and it will be
remembered though not perhaps in its original form. We shall forget
the "laughter and the tears" and the "sudden freshet," and a simpler
phrase will form itself in our memories. The emotion that Stevenson
had to express transpires only in the words, "romance of destiny,
ultimate islands." Who does not feel his destiny to be a romance, and
who does not admire the ultimate island whither his destiny will cast
him? Giacomo Cenci, whom the Pope ordered to be flayed alive, no doubt
admired the romance of destiny that laid him on his ultimate island, a
raised plank, so that the executioner might conveniently roll up the
skin of his belly like an apron. And a hare that I once saw beating a
tambourine in Regent Street looked at me so wistfully that I am sure
it admired in some remote way the romance of destiny that had taken it
from the woodland and cast it upon its ultimate island--in this case a
barrow. But neither of these strange examples of the romance of
destiny seems to me more wonderful than the destiny of a wistful Irish
girl whom I saw serving drinks to students in a certain ultimate cafe
in the Latin Quarter; she, too, no doubt, admired the destiny which
had cast her out, ordaining that she should die amid tobacco smoke,
serving drinks to students, entertaining them with whatever
conversation they desired.

Gervex, Mademoiselle D'Avary, and I had gone to this cafe after the
theatre for half an hour's distraction; I had thought that the place
seemed too rough for Mademoiselle D'Avary, but Gervex had said that we
should find a quiet corner, and we had happened to choose one in
charge of a thin, delicate girl, a girl touched with languor,
weakness, and a grace which interested and moved me; her cheeks were
thin, and the deep grey eyes were wistful as a drawing of Rossetti;
her waving brown hair fell over the temples, and was looped up low
over the neck after the Rossetti fashion. I had noticed how the two
women looked at each other, one woman healthful and rich, the other
poor and ailing; I had guessed the thought that passed across their
minds. Each had doubtless asked and wondered why life had come to them
so differently. But first I must tell who was Mademoiselle D'Avary,
and how I came to know her. I had gone to Tortoni, a once-celebrated
cafe at the corner of the Rue Taitbout, the dining place of Rossini.
When Rossini had earned an income of two thousand pounds a year it is
recorded that he said: "Now I've done with music, it has served its
turn, and I'm going to dine every day at Tortoni's." Even in my time
Tortoni was the rendezvous of the world of art and letters; every one
was there at five o'clock, and to Tortoni I went the day I arrived in
Paris. To be seen there would make known the fact that I was in Paris.
Tortoni was a sort of publication. At Tortoni I had discovered a young
man, one of my oldest friends, a painter of talent--he had a picture
in the Luxembourg--and a man who was beloved by women. Gervex, for it
was he, had seized me by the hand, and with voluble eagerness had told
me that I was the person he was seeking: he had heard of my coming and
had sought me in every cafe from the Madeleine to Tortoni. He had been
seeking me because he wished to ask me to dinner to meet Mademoiselle
D'Avary; we were to fetch her in the Rue des Capucines. I write the
name of the street, not because it matters to my little story in what
street she lived, but because the name is an evocation. Those who like
Paris like to hear the names of the streets, and the long staircase
turning closely up the painted walls, the brown painted doors on the
landings, and the bell rope, are evocative of Parisian life; and
Mademoiselle D'Avary is herself an evocation, for she was an actress
of the Palais Royal. My friend, too, is an evocation, he was one of
those whose pride is not to spend money upon women, whose theory of
life is that "If she likes to come round to the studio when one's work
is done, _nous pouvons faire la fete ensemble_." But however
defensible this view of life may be, and there is much to be said for
it, I had thought that he might have refrained from saying when I
looked round the drawing-room admiring it--a drawing-room furnished
with sixteenth-century bronzes, Dresden figures, _etageres_
covered with silver ornaments, three drawings by Boucher--Boucher in
three periods, a French Boucher, a Flemish Boucher, and an Italian
Boucher--that I must not think that any of these things were presents
from him, and from saying when she came into the room that the
bracelet on her arm was not from him. It had seemed to me in slightly
bad taste that he should remind her that he made no presents, for his
remark had clouded her joyousness; I could see that she was not so
happy at the thought of going out to dine with him as she had been.

It was _chez Foyoz_ that we dined, an old-fashioned restaurant
still free from the new taste that likes walls painted white and gold,
electric lamps and fiddlers. After dinner we had gone to see a play
next door at the Odeon, a play in which shepherds spoke to each other
about singing brooks, and stabbed each other for false women, a play
diversified with vintages, processions, wains, and songs. Nevertheless
it had not interested us. And during the _entr'actes_ Gervex had
paid visits in various parts of the house, leaving Mademoiselle
D'Avary to make herself agreeable to me. I dearly love to walk by the
perambulator in which Love is wheeling a pair of lovers. After the
play he had said, "Allons boire un bock," and we had turned into a
students' cafe, a cafe furnished with tapestries and oak tables, and
old-time jugs and Medicis gowns, a cafe in which a student
occasionally caught up a tall bock in his teeth, emptied it at a gulp,
and after turning head over heels, walked out without having smiled.
Mademoiselle D'Avary's beauty and fashion had drawn the wild eyes of
all the students gathered there. She wore a flower-enwoven dress, and
from under the large hat her hair showed dark as night; and her
southern skin filled with rich tints, yellow and dark green where the
hair grew scanty on the neck; the shoulders drooped into opulent
suggestion in the lace bodice. And it was interesting to compare her
ripe beauty with the pale deciduous beauty of the waitress.
Mademoiselle D'Avary sat, her fan wide-spread across her bosom, her
lips parted, the small teeth showing between the red lips. The
waitress sat, her thin arms leaning on the table, joining very
prettily in the conversation, betraying only in one glance that she
knew that she was only a failure and Mademoiselle D'Avary a success.
It was some time before the ear caught the slight accent; an accent
that was difficult to trace to any country. Once I heard a southern
intonation, and then a northern; finally I heard an unmistakable
English intonation, and said:

"But you're English."

"I'm Irish. I'm from Dublin."

And thinking of a girl reared in its Dublin conventions, but whom the
romance of destiny had cast upon this ultimate cafe, I asked her how
she had found her way here; and she told me she had left Dublin when
she was sixteen; she had come to Paris six years ago to take a
situation as nursery governess. She used to go with the children into
the Luxembourg Gardens and talk to them in English. One day a student
had sat on the bench beside her. The rest of the story is easily
guessed. But he had no money to keep her, and she had to come to this
cafe to earn her living.

"It doesn't suit me, but what am I to do? One must live, and the
tobacco smoke makes me cough." I sat looking at her, and she must have
guessed what was passing in my mind, for she told me that one lung was
gone; and we spoke of health, of the South, and she said that the
doctor had advised her to go away south.

Seeing that Gervex and Mademoiselle D'Avary were engaged in
conversation, I leaned forward and devoted all my attention to this
wistful Irish girl, so interesting in her phthisis, in her red Medicis
gown, her thin arms showing in the long rucked sleeves. I had to offer
her drink; to do so was the custom of the place. She said that drink
harmed her, but she would get into trouble if she refused drink;
perhaps I would not mind paying for a piece of beef-steak instead. She
had been ordered raw steak! I have only to close my eyes to see her
going over to the corner of the cafe and cutting a piece and putting
it away. She said she would eat it before going to bed, and that would
be two hours hence, about three. While talking to her I thought of a
cottage in the South amid olive and orange trees, an open window full
of fragrant air, and this girl sitting by it.

"I should like to take you south and attend upon you."

"I'm afraid you would grow weary of nursing me. And I should be able
to give you very little in return for your care. The doctor says I'm
not to love any one."

We must have talked for some time, for it was like waking out of a
dream when Gervex and Mademoiselle D'Avary got up to go, and, seeing
how interested I was, he laughed, saying to Mademoiselle D'Avary that
it would be kind to leave me with my new friend. His pleasantry
jarred, and though I should like to have remained, I followed them
into the street, where the moon was shining over the Luxembourg
Gardens. And as I have said before, I dearly love to walk by a
perambulator in which Love is wheeling a pair of lovers: but it is sad
to find oneself alone on the pavement at midnight. Instead of going
back to the cafe I wandered on, thinking of the girl I had seen, and
of her certain death, for she could not live many months in that cafe.
We all want to think at midnight, under the moon, when the city looks
like a black Italian engraving, and poems come to us as we watch a
swirling river. Not only the idea of a poem came to me that night, but
on the Pont Neuf the words began to sing together, and I jotted down
the first lines before going to bed. Next morning I continued my poem,
and all day was passed in this little composition.

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

Good poetry of course not, but good verse, well turned every line
except the penultimate. The elision is not a happy one, and the mere
suppression of the "and" does not produce a satisfying line.

Death takes but little, Death I thank for giving
Me a remembrance, and a pure possession
Of unrequited love.

And mumbling the last lines of the poem, I hastened to the cafe near
the Luxembourg Gardens, wondering if I should find courage to ask the
girl to come away to the South and live, fearing that I should not,
fearing it was the idea rather than the deed that tempted me; for the
soul of a poet is not the soul of Florence Nightingale. I was sorry
for this wistful Irish girl, and was hastening to her, I knew not why;
not to show her the poem--the very thought was intolerable. Often did
I stop on the way to ask myself why I was going, and on what errand.
Without discovering an answer in my heart I hastened on, feeling, I
suppose, in some blind way that my quest was in my own heart. I would
know if it were capable of making a sacrifice; and sitting down at one
of her tables I waited, but she did not come, and I asked the student
by me if he knew the girl generally in charge of these tables. He said
he did, and told me about her case. There was no hope for her; only a
transfusion of blood could save her; she was almost bloodless. He
described how blood could be taken from the arm of a healthy man and
passed into the veins of the almost bloodless. But as he spoke things
began to get dim and his voice to grow faint; I heard some one saying,
"You're very pale," and he ordered some brandy for me. The South could
not save her; practically nothing could; and I returned home thinking
of her.

Twenty years have passed, and I am thinking of her again. Poor little
Irish girl! Cast out in the end by a sudden freshet on an ultimate
cafe. Poor little heap of bones! And I bow my head and admire the
romance of destiny which ordained that I, who only saw her once,
should be the last to remember her. Perhaps I should have forgotten
her had it not been that I wrote a poem, a poem which I now inscribe
and dedicate to her nameless memory.



Octave Barres liked his friends to come to his studio, and a few of us
who believed in his talent used to drop in during the afternoon, and
little by little I got to know every picture, every sketch; but one
never knows everything that a painter has done, and one day, coming
into the studio, I caught sight of a full-length portrait I had never
seen before on the easel.

"It was in the back room turned to the wall," he said. "I took it out,
thinking that the Russian prince who ordered the Pegasus decoration
might buy it," and he turned away, not liking to hear my praise of it;
for it neither pleases a painter to hear his early works praised nor
abused. "I painted it before I knew how to paint," and standing before
me, his palette in his hand, he expounded his new aestheticism: that
up to the beginning of the nineteenth century all painting had been
done first in monochrome and then glazed, and what we know as solid
painting had been invented by Greuze. One day in the Louvre he had
perceived something in Delacroix, something not wholly satisfactory;
this something had set him thinking. It was Rubens, however, who had
revealed the secret! It was Rubens who had taught him how to paint! He
admitted that there was danger in retracing one's steps, in beginning
one's education over again; but what help was there for it, since
painting was not taught in the schools.

I had heard all he had to say before, and could not change my belief
that every man must live in the ideas of his time, be they good or
bad. It is easy to say that we must only adopt Rubens's method and
jealously guard against any infringement on our personality; but in
art our personality is determined by the methods we employ, and
Octave's portrait interested me more than the Pegasus decoration, or
the three pink Venuses holding a basket of flowers above their heads.
The portrait was crude and violent, but so was the man that had
painted it; he had painted it when he was a disciple of Manet's, and
the methods of Manet were in agreement with my friend's temperament.
We are all impressionists to-day; we are eager to note down what we
feel and see; and the carefully prepared rhetorical manner of Rubens
was as incompatible with Octave's temperament as the manner of John
Milton is with mine. There was a thought of Goya in the background, in
the contrast between the grey and the black, and there was something
of Manet's simplifications in the face, but these echoes were faint,
nor did they matter, for they were of our time. In looking at his
model he had seen and felt something; he had noted this harshly,
crudely, but he noted it; and to do this, is after all the main thing.
His sitter had inspired him. The word "inspired" offended him; I
withdrew it; I said that he had been fortunate in his model, and he
admitted that: to see that thin, olive-complexioned girl with fine
delicate features and blue-black hair lying close about her head like
feathers--she wore her hair as a blackbird wears his wing--compelled
one to paint; and after admiring the face I admired the black silk
dress he had painted her in, a black silk dress covered with black
lace. She wore grey pearls in her ears, and pearls upon her neck.

I was interested in the quality of the painting, so different from
Octave's present painting, but I was more interested in the woman
herself. The picture revealed to me something in human nature that I
had never seen before, something that I had never thought of. The soul
in this picture was so intense that I forgot the painting, and began
to think of her. She was unlike any one I had ever met in Octave
Barres's studio; a studio beloved of women; the women one met there
seemed to be of all sorts, but in truth they were all of a sort. They
began to arrive about four o'clock in the afternoon, and they stayed
on until they were sent away. He allowed them to play the piano and
sing to him; he allowed them, as he would phrase it, to
_grouiller_ about the place, and they talked of the painters they
had sat to, of their gowns, and they showed us their shoes and their
garters. He heeded them hardly at all, walking to and fro thinking of
his painting, of his archaic painting. I often wondered if his
appearance counted for anything in his renunciation of modern methods,
and certainly his appearance was a link of association; he did not
look like a modern man, but like a sixteenth-century baron; his beard
and his broken nose and his hierarchial air contributed to the
resemblance; the jersey he wore reminded one of a cuirass, a coat of
mail. Even in his choice of a dwelling-place he seemed instinctively
to avoid the modern; he had found a studio in the street, the name of
which no one had ever heard before; it was found with difficulty; and
the studio, too, it was hidden behind great crumbling walls, in the
middle of a plot of ground in which some one was growing cabbages.
Octave was always, as he would phrase it, _dans une deche
epouvantable_, but he managed to keep a thoroughbred horse in the
stable at the end of the garden, and this horse was ordered as soon as
the light failed. He would say, "Mes amis et mes amies, je regrette,
mais mon cheval m'attend." And the women liked to see him mount, and
many thought, I am sure, that he looked like a Centaur as he rode

But who was this refined girl? this--a painting tells things that
cannot be translated into words--this olive-skinned girl who might
have sat to Raphael for a Virgin, so different from Octave's usual
women? They were of the Montmartre kin; but this woman might be a
Spanish princess. And remembering that Octave had said he had taken
out the portrait hoping that the Russian who had ordered the Pegasus
might buy it, the thought struck me that she might be the prince's
mistress. His mistress! Oh, what fabulous fortune! What might her
history be? I burned to hear it, and wearied of Octave's seemingly
endless chatter about his method of painting; I had heard all he was
saying many times before, but I listened to it all again, and to
propitiate him I regretted that the picture was not painted in his
present manner, "for there are good things in the picture," I said,
"and the model--you seem to have been lucky with your model."

"Yes, she was nice to paint from, but it was difficult to get her to
sit. A _concierge's_ daughter--you wouldn't think it, would you?"
My astonishment amused him, and he began to laugh. "You don't know
her?" he said. "That is Marie Pellegrin," and when I asked him where
he had met her he told me, at Alphonsine's; but I did not know where
Alphonsine's was.

"I'm going to dine there to-night. I'm going to meet her; she's going
back to Russia with the prince; she has been staying in the Quartier
Breda on her holiday. _Sacre nom!_ Half-past five, and I haven't
washed my brushes yet!"

In answer to my question, what he meant by going to the Quartier Breda
for a holiday, he said:

"I'll tell you all about that in the carriage."

But no sooner had we got into the carriage than he remembered that he
must leave word for a woman who had promised to sit to him, and
swearing that a message would not delay us for more than a few minutes
he directed the coachman. We were shown into a drawing-room, and the
lady ran out of her bedroom, wrapping herself as she ran in a
_peignoir_, and the sitting was discussed in the middle of a
polished _parquet_ floor. We at last returned to the carriage,
but we were hardly seated when he remembered another appointment. He
scribbled notes in the lodges of the _concierges_, and between
whiles told me all he knew of the story of Marie Pellegrin. This
delicate woman that I had felt could not be of the Montmartre kin was
the daughter of a _concierge_ on the Boulevard Exterieur. She had
run away from home at fifteen, had danced at the Elysee Montmartre.

Sa jupe avait des trous,
Elle aimait des voyous,
Ils ont des yeux si doux.

But one day a Russian prince had caught sight of her, and had built
her a palace in the Champs Elysees; but the Russian prince and his
palace bored her.

The stopping of the carriage interrupted Octave's narrative. "Here we
are," he said, seizing a bell hanging on a jangling wire, and the
green door in the crumbling wall opened, and I saw an undersized
woman--I saw Alphonsine! And her portrait, a life-sized caricature
drawn by Octave, faced me from the white-washed wall of the hen-coop.
He had drawn her two cats purring about her legs, and had written
under it, "Ils viennent apres le mou." Her garden was a gravelled
space; I think there was one tree in it. A tent had been stretched
from wall to wall; and a seedy-looking waiter laid the tables (there
were two), placing bottles of wine in front of each knife and fork,
and bread in long sticks at regular intervals. He was constantly
disturbed by the ringing of the bell, and had to run to the door to
admit the company. Here and there I recognised faces that I had
already seen in the studio; Clementine, who last year was studying the
part of Elsa and this year was singing, "La femme de feu, la cui, la
cui, la cuisiniere," in a _cafe chantant_; and Margaret Byron,
who had just retreated from Russia--a disastrous campaign hers was
said to have been. The greater number were _hors concours_, for
Alphonsine's was to the aged courtesan what Chelsea Hospital is to the
aged soldier. It was a sort of human garden full of the sound and
colour of October.

I scrutinised the crowd. How could any one of these women interest the
woman whose portrait I had seen in Barres's studio? That one, for
instance, whom I saw every morning in the Rue des Martyres, in a
greasy _peignoir_, going marketing, a basket on her arm. Search
as I would I could not find a friend for Marie among the women nor a
lover among the men--neither of those two stout middle-aged men with
large whiskers, who had probably once been stockbrokers, nor the
withered journalist whom I heard speaking to Octave about a duel he
had fought recently; nor the little sandy Scotchman whose French was
not understood by the women and whose English was nearly
unintelligible to me; nor the man who looked like a head-waiter--
Alphonsine's lover; he had been a waiter, and he told you with the air
of Napoleon describing Waterloo that he had "created" a certain
fashionable cafe on the Boulevard. I could not attribute any one of
these men to Marie; and Octave spoke of her with indifference;
she had interested him to paint, and now he hoped she would get the
Russian to buy her picture.

"But she's not here," I said.

"She'll be here presently," Octave answered, and he went on talking to
Clementine, a fair pretty woman whom one saw every night at the _Rat
Mort_. It was when the soup-plates were being taken away that I saw
a young woman dressed in black coming across the garden.

It was she, Marie Pellegrin.

She wore a dress similar to the one she wore in her portrait, a black
silk covered with lace, and her black hair was swathed about her
shapely little head. She was her portrait and something more. Her
smile was her own, a sad little smile that seemed to come out of a
depth of her being, and her voice was a little musical voice,
irresponsible as a bird's, and during dinner I noticed how she broke
into speech abruptly as a bird breaks into song, and she stopped as
abruptly. I never saw a woman so like herself, and sometimes her
beauty brought a little mist into my eyes, and I lost sight of her or
very nearly, and I went on eating mechanically. Dinner seemed to end
suddenly, and before I knew that it was over we were getting up from

As we went towards the house where coffee was being served, Marie
asked me if I played cards, but I excused myself, saying that I would
prefer to sit and look at her; and just then a thin woman with red
hair, who had arrived at the same time as Marie and who had sat next
her at dinner, was introduced to me, and I was told that she was
Marie's intimate friend, and that the two lived together whenever
Marie returned to Montmartre. She was known as _La Glue_, her
real name was Victorine, she had sat for Manet's picture of Olympe,
but that was years ago. The face was thinner, but I recognised the red
hair and the brown eyes, small eyes set closely, reminding one of
_des petits verres de cognac_. Her sketch-book was being passed
round, and as it came into my hands I noticed that she did not wear
stays and was dressed in old grey woollen. She lit cigarette after
cigarette, and leaned over Marie with her arm about her shoulder,
advising her what cards to play. The game was baccarat, and in a
little while I saw that Marie was losing a great deal of money, and a
little later I saw _La Glue_ trying to persuade her away from the

"One more deal." That deal lost her the last louis she had placed on
the table. "Some one will have to pay my cab," she said.

We were going to the Elysee Montmartre, and Alphonsine lent her a
couple of louis, _pour passer sa soiree_, and we all went away in
carriages, the little horses straining up the steep streets; the
plumes of the women's hats floating over the carriage hoods. Marie was
in one of the front carriages, and was waiting for us on the high
steps leading from the street to the _bal_.

"It's my last night," she said, "the last night I shall see the Elysee
for many a month."

"You'll soon be back again?"

"You see, I have been offered five hundred thousand francs to go to
Russia for three years. Fancy three years without seeing the Elysee,"
and she looked round as an angel might look upon Paradise out of which
she is about to be driven. "The trees are beautiful," she said,
"they're like a fairy tale," and that is exactly what they were like,
rising into the summer darkness, unnaturally green above the electric
lights. In the middle of a circle of white globes the orchestra played
upon an _estrade_, and everyone whirled his partner as if she
were a top. "I always sit over there under the trees in the angle,"
she said; and she was about to invite me to come and sit with her when
her attention was distracted from me; for the people had drawn
together into groups, and I heard everybody whispering: "That's Marie
Pellegrin." Seeing her coming, her waiter with much ostentation began
to draw aside tables and chairs, and in a few minutes she was sitting
under her tree, she and _La Glue_ together, their friends about
them, Marie distributing absinthe, brandy, and cigarettes. A little
procession suddenly formed under the trees and came towards her, and
Marie was presented with a great basket of flowers, and all her
company with bouquets; and a little cheer went up from different parts
of the _bal_, "Vive Marie Pellegrin, la reine de l'Elysee."

The music began again, the people rushed to see a quadrille where two
women, with ease, were kicking off men's hats; and while watching them
I heard that a special display of fireworks had been arranged in
Marie's honour, the news having got about that this was her last night
at the Elysee. A swishing sound was heard; the rocket rose to its
height high up in the thick sky. Then it dipped over, the star fell a
little way and burst: it melted into turquoise blue, and changed to
ruby red, beautiful as the colour of flowers, roses or tulips. The
falling fire changed again and again. And Marie stood on a chair and
watched till the last sparks vanished.

"Doesn't she look like my picture now?" said Octave.

"You seemed to have divined her soul."

He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. "I'm not a psychologist; I
am a painter. But I must get a word with her," and with a carelessness
that was almost insolence, he pushed his way into the crowd and called


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