Memoirs of My Dead Life
George Moore

Part 5 out of 5

insists even on walking part of the way with them, and they learn from
him that the restaurant has only just been opened for the season; the
season is not yet fairly begun, but no doubt they will be able to get
something to eat, an omelette and a cutlet.

Now the accomplished story-teller would look forward to this
restaurant; already his thoughts would fix themselves on a _cabinet
particulier_, and his fancy, if he were a naturalistic writer,
would rejoice in recording the fact that the mirror was scrawled over
with names of lovers, and he would select the ugliest names. But, dear
reader, if you are expecting a _cabinet particulier_ in this
story, and an amorous encounter to take place therein, turn the page
at once--you will be disappointed if you do not; this story contains
nothing that will shock your--shall I say your "prudish
susceptibilities"? When the auburn-haired poet and the corn-coloured
American lunched at Vincennes they chose a table by the window in the
great long _salle_ lined with tables, and they were attended by
an army of waiters weary of their leisure.

There was a lake at Vincennes then, I am sure, with an island upon it
and tall saplings, through which the morning sun was shining. The eyes
of the lovers admired the scene, and they admired too the pretty
reflections, and the swans moving about the island. The accomplished
story-teller cries, "But if there is to be no scene in the restaurant,
how is the story to finish?" Why should stories finish? And would a
sensual _denouement_ be a better end than, let us say, that the
lovers are caught in a shower as they leave the restaurant? Such an
accident might have happened: nothing is more likely than a shower at
the end of April or the beginning of May, and I can imagine the lovers
of Vincennes rushing into one of the _concierge's_ lodges at the
gates of the villas.

"For a few minutes," they say; "the rain will be over soon."

But they are not long there when a servant appears carrying three
umbrellas; she gives one to Marie, one to me; she keeps one for

"But who is she? You told me you knew no one at Vincennes."

"No more I do."

"But you must know the people who live here; the servant says that
Monsieur (meaning her master) knows Monsieur (meaning you)."

"I swear to you I don't know anybody here; but let's go--it will be
rather fun."

"But what shall we say in explanation? Shall we say we're cousins?"

"Nobody believes in cousins; shall we say we're husband and wife?"

The dreamer sees two figures; memory reflects them like a convex
mirror, reducing them to a tenth their original size, but he sees them
clearly, and he follows them through the rain up the steps of the
villa to the _perron_--an explicit word that the English language
lacks. The young man continues to protest that he never was at
Vincennes before, that he knows no one living there, and they are both
a little excited by the adventure. Who can be the owner of the house?
A man of ordinary tastes, it would seem, and while waiting for their
host the lovers examine the Turkey carpet, the richly upholstered
sofas and chairs.

A pretty little situation from which an accomplished story-teller
could evolve some playful imaginings. The accomplished story-teller
would see at once that _le bon bourgeois et sa dame_ and the
children are learning English, and here is an occasion of practice for
the whole family. The accomplished story-teller would see at once that
the family must take a fancy to the young couple, and in his story the
rain must continue to fall in torrents; these would prevent the lovers
from returning to Paris. Why should they not stay to dinner? After
dinner the accomplished story-teller would bring in a number of
neighbours, and set them dancing and singing. What easier to suppose
than that it was _la bourgeoise's_ evening at home? The young
couple would sit in a distant corner oblivious to all but their own
sweet selves. _Le bourgeois et sa dame_ would watch them with
kindly interest, deeming it a kindness not to tell them that there
were no trains after twelve; and when the lovers at last determined
that they must depart, _le bourgeois_ and _la bourgeoise_
would tell them that their room was quite ready, that there was no
possibility of returning to Paris that night. A pretty little
situation that might with advantage be placed on the stage--on the
French stage. A pretty, although a painful, dilemma for a young woman
to find herself in, particularly when she is passionately in love with
the young man. "Bitterly," the accomplished story-teller would say,
"did the young widow regret the sacrifice to propriety she had made in
allowing her young man to pass her off as his wife!" The accomplished
story-teller would then assure his reader that the pretty American had
acted precisely as a lady should act under the circumstances. But not
being myself an accomplished story-teller, I will not attempt to say
how a lady should act in such a situation, and it would be a fatuous
thing for me to suggest that the lady was passionately in love. The
situation that my fancy creates is ingenious; and I regret it did not
happen. Nature spins her romances differently; and I feel sure that
the lovers returned from Vincennes merely a little fluttered by their
adventure. The reader would like to know if any appointment was made
to meet again; if one was made it must have been for the next day or
the next, for have we not imagined the young widow's passage already
taken? Did she not tell that she was going back to America at the end
of the week? He had said: "In a few days the Atlantic will be between
us," and this fact had made them feel very sad, for the Atlantic is a
big thing and cannot be ignored, particularly in love affairs. It
would have been better for the poet if he had accepted the bourgeois'
invitation to dinner; friends, as I suggested, might have come in, an
impromptu dance might have been arranged, or the rain might have begun
again; something would certainly have happened to make them miss the
train; and they would have been asked to stay the night. The widow did
not speak French, the young man did; he might have arranged it all
with the _bourgeois et sa dame_, and the dear little widow might
never have known her fate--O happy fate!--until the time came for them
to go to their room. But he, foolish fellow, missed the chance the
rain gave him, and all that came of this outing was a promise to come
back next year, and to dance the Boston with him again; meanwhile he
must wear her garter upon his arm. Did the suggestion that she should
give him her garter come from her or from him? Was the garter given in
the cab when they returned from Vincennes, or was it given the next
time they met in Paris? To answer these questions would not help the
story; suffice it to say that she said that the elastic would last a
year, and when she took his arm and found it upon it she would know
that he had been faithful to her. There was the little handkerchief
which she had given him, and this he must keep in a drawer. Perhaps
some of the scent would survive this long year of separation. I am
sure that she charged him to write a letter to the steamer she had
taken her passage in, and, careless fellow! instead of doing so he
wrote verses, and the end of all this love affair, which began so
well, was an angry letter bidding him good-bye for ever, saying he was
not worthy because he had missed the post. All this happened twenty
years ago; perhaps the earth is over her charming little personality,
and it will be over me before long. Nothing endures; life is but
change. What we call death is only change. Death and life always
overlapping, mixed inextricably, and no meaning in anything, merely a
stream of change in which things happen. Sometimes the happenings are
pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, and in neither the pleasant nor the
unpleasant can we detect any purpose. Twenty long years ago, and there
is no hope, not a particle.

* * * * *

I have come to the end of my mood; an ache in my heart brings me to my
feet, and looking round I cry out: "How dark is the room! Why is there
no light? Bring in the lamp!"



Married folk always know, only the bachelor asks, "Where shall I dine?
Shall I spend two shillings in a chop-house, or five in my club, or
ten at the Cafe Royal?" For two or three more shillings one may sit on
the balcony of the Savoy, facing the spectacle of evening darkening on
the river, with lights of bridge and wharf and warehouse afloat in the
tide. Married folk know their bedfellows; bachelors, and perhaps
spinsters, are not so sure of theirs: this is a side issue which we
will not pursue; an allusion to it will suffice to bring before the
reader the radical difference between the lives of the married and the
unmarried. O married ones, from breakfast to six, only, do our lives
resemble yours! At that hour we begin to experience a sense of freedom
and, I confess it, of loneliness. Perhaps life is essentially a lonely
thing, and the married and the unmarried differ only in this, that we
are lonely when we are by ourselves, and they are lonely when they are

At half-past six the bachelor has to tidy up after the day's work, to
put his picture away if he be a painter, to put his writings away if
he be a writer, and then the very serious question arises, with whom
shall he dine? His thoughts fly through Belgravia and Mayfair, and
after whisking round Portman Square, and some other square in the
northern neighbourhood, they soar and go away northward to Regent's
Park, seeking out somebody living in one of those stately terraces who
will ask him to stay to dinner. At So-and-So's there is always a round
of beef and cold chicken-pie, whereas What-do-you-call-them's begin
with soup. But really the food is not of much consequence; it is
interesting company he seeks.

It was last week that I realised, and for the first time, how
different was the life of the married from the unmarried. The day was
Sunday, and I had been writing all day, and in the hush that begins
about six o'clock I remembered I had no dinner engagement that
evening. The cup of tea I generally take about half-past four had
enabled me to do another hour's work, but a little after six sentences
refused to form themselves, a little dizziness began in the brain, and
the question not only "Where shall I dine?" but "Where shall I pass
the hour before dinner?" presented itself. The first thing to do was
to dress, and while dressing I remembered that I had not wandered in
St. James's Park for some time, and that that park since boyhood had
fascinated me. St. James's Park and the Green Park have never been
divided in my admiration of their beauty. The trees that grow along
the Piccadilly railings are more beautiful in St. James's Park, or
seem so, for the dells are well designed. The art of landscape-
gardening is more akin to the art of a musician than to that of
a painter; it is a sort of architecture with colour added. The
formal landscape-gardening of Versailles reminds one of a tragedy by
Racine, but the romantic modulations of the green hills along the
Piccadilly areas are as enchanting as Haydn. There was a time when a
boy used to walk from Brompton to Piccadilly to see, not the dells,
but the women going home from the Argyle Rooms and the Alhambra, but
after a slight hesitation he often crossed from the frequented to the
silent side, to stand in admiration of the white rays of moonlight
stealing between the trunks of the trees, allowing him to perceive the
shapes of the hollows through the darkness. The trees grow so
beautifully about these mounds, and upon the mounds, that it is easy
to fill the interspaces with figures from Gainsborough's pictures,
ladies in hoops and powdered hair, elegant gentlemen wearing buckled
shoes, tail-coats, and the swords which made them gentlemen.
Gainsborough did not make his gentlemen plead--that was his fault; but
Watteau's ladies put their fans to their lips so archly, asking the
pleading lover if he believes all he says, knowing well that his vows
are only part of the gracious entertainment. But why did not the great
designer of St. James's Park build little Greek temples--those
pillared and domed temples which give such grace to English parks?
Perhaps the great artist who laid out the Green Park was a moralist
and a seer, and divining the stream of ladies that come up from
Brompton to Piccadilly he thought--well, well, his thoughts were his
own, and now the earth is over him, as Rossetti would say.

Five-and-twenty years ago the white rays slanted between the
tree-trunks, and the interspaces lengthened out, disappearing in
illusive lights and shades, and, ascending the hill, the boy used to
look over the empty plain, wondering at the lights of the Horse Guards
shining far away like a village. Perhaps to-night, about midnight, I
may find myself in Piccadilly again, for we change very little; what
interested us in our youth interests us almost to the end. St. James's
Park is perhaps more beautiful in the sunset--there is the lake, and,
led by remembrance of some sunsets I had seen on it, I turned out of
Victoria Street last Sunday, taking the eastern gate, my thoughts
occupied with beautiful Nature, seeing in imagination the shapes of
the trees designing themselves grandly against the sky, and the little
life of the ponds--the ducks going hither and thither, every duck
intent upon its own business and its own desire. I was extremely
fortunate, for the effect of light in the Green Park was more
beautiful last Sunday than anything I had ever seen; the branches of
the tall plane trees hung over the greensward, the deciduous foliage
hardly stirring in the pale sunshine, and my heart went out to the
ceremonious and cynical garden, artificial as eighteenth-century
couplets. Wild Nature repels me; and I thought how interesting it was
to consider one's self, to ponder one's sympathies. Our antipathies
are not quite so interesting to consider, but they are interesting,
too, in a way, for they belong to one's self, and self is man's main
business: all outside of self is uncertain; all comes from self, all
returns to self. The reason I desired St. James's Park last Sunday was
surely because it was part of me--not that part known to my friends;
our friends understand only those margins of themselves which they
discover in us. Never did I meet one who discovered for himself or
herself that I loved trees better than flowers, or was deeply
interested in the fact when attention was called to it....

I watch the trees and never weary of their swaying--solemnly silent
and strangely green they are in the long, rainy days, excited when a
breeze is blowing; in fine weather they gossip like frivolous girls!
In their tremulous decline they are more beautiful than ever, far more
beautiful than flowers. Now, I am telling myself, the very
subconscious soul is speaking. And with what extraordinary loveliness
did the long branches hang out of the tall, stately plane trees like
plumes; in the hush of sound and decline of light the droop of the
deciduous foliage spoke like a memory. I seemed to have known the park
for centuries; yon glade I recognised as one that Watteau had painted.
But in what picture? It is difficult to say, so easily do his pictures
flow one into the other, always the same melancholy, the melancholy of
festival, that pain in the heart, that yearning for the beyond which
all suffer whose business in life is to wear painted or embroidered
dresses, and to listen or to plead, with this for sole variation, that
they who listen to-day will plead to-morrow. Watteau divined the
sorrow of those who sit under colonnades always playing some part,
great or small, in love's comedy, listening to the murmur of the
fountain, watching a gentleman and lady advancing and bowing, bowing
and retiring, dancing a pavane on a richly coloured carpet. Pierrot,
the white, sensual animal, the eighteenth-century modification of the
satyr, of the faun, plays a guitar; the pipe of Pan has been exchanged
for a guitar.

As the twilight gathered under the plane trees my vision became more
mixed and morbid, and I hardly knew if the picture I saw was the
picture in the Dulwich Gallery or the exquisite picture in the Louvre,
"Une Assemblee dans la Parc." We all know that picture, the gallants
and the ladies by the water-side, and the blue evening showing through
the tall trees. The picture before me was like that picture, only the
placing of the trees and the slope of the greensward did not admit of
so extended a composition. A rough tree-trunk, from which a great
branch had been broken or lopped off, stood out suddenly in very
nineteenth-century naturalness, awaking the ghost of a picture which I
recognised at once as Corot. Behind the tree a tender, evanescent sky,
pure and transparent as the very heart of a flower, rose up, filling
the park with romance, and as the sunset drooped upon the water, my
soul said, "The Lake!" Ah, the pensive shadow that falls from the
hills on either side of "The Lake," leaving the middle of the picture
suffused with a long stream of light, narrowing as it approached the
low horizon. But the line of the trees on the hither side of this
London lake was heavier than the spiritual trees in the picture
entitled "By the Water-side," and there was not anywhere the beauty of
the broken birch that leans over the lake in "Le Lac de Garde." Then I
thought of "The Ravine," for the darkening island reminded me of the
hillside in the picture. But the St. James's Park sky lacked the
refined concentration of light in "The Ravine," so beautifully placed,
low down in the picture, behind some dark branches jutting from the
right. The difference between Nature and Corot is as great as the
difference between a true and a false Corot. Not that there is
anything untrue in Nature, only Nature lacks humanity--self! Therefore
not quite so interesting as a good Corot.

So did I chatter to myself as I walked toward the bridge, that dear
bridge, thrown straight as a plank across the lake, with numerous
water-fowl collected there, a black swan driving the ducks about,
snatching more than his due share of bread, and little children
staring stolidly, afraid of the swan, and constantly reproved by their
mothers for reasons which must always seem obscure to the bachelor. A
little breeze was blowing, and the ducks bobbed like corks in the
waves, keeping themselves in place with graceful side-strokes of their
webbed feet. Sometimes the ducks rose from the water and flew round
the trees by Queen Anne's Mansions, or they fled down the lake with
outstretched necks like ducks on a Japanese fan, dropping at last into
the water by the darkening island, leaving long silver lines, which
the night instantly obliterated.

An impression of passing away, of the effacement of individual life.
One sighs, remembering that it is even so, that life passes, sunrise
after sunrise, moonlight upon moonlight, evening upon evening, and we
like May-flies on the surface of a stream, no more than they for all
our poets and priests.

The clock struck seven, reminding me of the dinner-hour, reminding
me that I should have to dine alone that evening. To avoid dining
alone I should not have lingered in St. James's Park, but if I had
not lingered I should have missed an exquisite hour of meditation,
and meditations are as necessary to me as absinthe to the
absinthe-drinker. Only some little incident was wanting--a meeting
with one whom one has not seen for a long time, a man or a woman, it
would not matter which, a peg whereon to hang the description of the
dusk among the trees, but I had met no friend in the Park. But one
appeared on the threshold of St. James's Street. There I met a young
man, a painter, one whose pictures interested me sometimes, and we
went to a restaurant to talk art.

"After dinner," I said, "we will get the best cigars and walk about
the circus. Every Sunday night it is crowded; we shall see the women
hurrying to and fro on love's quest. The warm night will bring them
all out in white dresses, and a white dress in the moonlight is an
enchantment. Don't you like the feather boas reaching almost to the
ground? I do. Lights-o'-love going about their business interest me
extraordinarily, for they and the tinkers and gipsies are the last
that remain of the old world when outlawry was common. Now we are all
socialists, more or less occupied with the performance of duties which
obtain every one's approval. Methinks it is a relief to know that
somebody lives out of society. I like all this London, this midnight
London, when the round moon rises above the gracious line of Regent
Street, and flaming Jupiter soars like a hawk, following some quest of
his own. We on our little, he on his greater quest."

* * * * *

The night was hot and breathless, like a fume, and upon a great silken
sky the circular and sonorous street circled like an amphitheatre....
I threw open my light overcoat, and, seizing the arm of my friend, I

"He reminds me of a Turk lying amid houris. The gnawing, creeping
sensualities of his phrase--his one phrase--how descriptive it is of
the form and whiteness of a shoulder, the supple fulness of the arm's
muscle, the brightness of eyes increased by kohl! Scent is burning on
silver dishes, and through the fumes appear the subdued colours of
embroidered stuffs and the inscrutable traceries of bronze lamps. Or,
maybe, the scene passes on a terrace overlooking a dark river. Behind
the domes and minarets a yellow moon dreams like an odalisque, her
hand on the circle of her breast; and through the torrid silence of
the garden, through the odour of over-ripe fruit and the falling sound
thereof, comes the melancholy warble of a fountain. Or is it the
sorrow of lilies rising through the languid air to the sky? The night
is blue and breathless; the spasms of the lightning are intermittent
among the minarets and the domes; the hot, fierce fever of the garden
waxes in the almond scent of peaches and the white odalisques
advancing, sleek oracles of mood.... He reminds me of the dark-eyed
Bohemian who comes into a tavern silently, and, standing in a corner,
plays long, wild, ravishing strains. I see him not, I hardly hear him;
my thoughts are far away; my soul slumbers, desiring nothing. I care
not to lift my head. Why should I break the spell of my meditations?
But I feel that his dark eyes are fixed upon me, and little by little,
in spite of my will, my senses awake; a strange germination is in
progress within me; thoughts and desires that I dread, of whose
existence in myself I was not aware, whose existence in myself I would
fain deny, come swiftly and come slowly, and settle and absorb and
become part of me.... Fear is upon me, but I may not pause; I am
hurried on; repudiation is impossible, supplication and the wringing
of hands are vain; God has abandoned me; my worst nature is uppermost.
I see it floating up from the depths of my being, a viscous scum. But
I can do nothing to check or control.... God has abandoned me.... I am
the prey to that dark, sensual-eyed Bohemian and his abominable
fiddle; and seizing my bank-notes, my gold and my silver, I throw him
all I have. I bid him cease, and fall back exhausted. Give me "The
Ring," give me "The Ring." Its cloud palaces, its sea-caves and
forests, and the animality therein, its giants and dwarfs and sirens,
its mankind and its godkind--surely it is nearer to life! Or go into
the meadows with Beethoven, and listen to the lark and the blackbird!
We are nearer life lying by a shady brook, hearing the quail in the
meadows and the yellow-hammer in the thicket, than we are now, under
this oppressive sky. This street is like Klinsor's garden; here, too,
are flower-maidens--patchouli, jessamine, violet. Here is the
languorous atmosphere of "Parsifal." Come, let us go; let us seek the
country, the moon-haunted dells we shall see through Piccadilly
railings. Have you ever stood in the dip of Piccadilly and watched the
moonlight among the trees, and imagined a comedy by Wycherley acted
there, a goodly company of gallants and fine ladies seated under the
trees watching it? Every one has come there in painted sedan-chairs;
the bearers are gathered together at a little distance."

"My dear friend, you're talking so much that you don't see those who
are passing us. That girl, she who has just turned to look back,
favours heliotrope; it is delicious still upon the air; she is as
pretty a girl as any that ever came in a sedan-chair to see a comedy
by Wycherley. The comedy varies very little: it is always the same
comedy, and it is always interesting. The circus in a sultry summer
night under a full moon is very like Klinsor's garden. Come, if you be
not _Parsifal_."



I was in London when my brother wrote telling me that mother was ill.
She was not in any immediate danger, he said, but if a change for the
worse were to take place, and it were necessary for me to come over,
he would send a telegram. A few hours after a telegram was handed to
me. It contained four words: "_Come at once.--Maurice._" "So
mother is dying," I muttered to myself, and I stood at gaze,
foreseeing myself taken into her room by a nurse and given a chair by
the bedside, foreseeing a hand lying outside the bed which I should
have to hold until I heard the death-rattle and saw her face become
quiet for ever.

This was my first vision, but in the midst of my packing, I remembered
that mother might linger for days. The dear friend who lies in the
church-yard under the downs lingered for weeks; every day her husband
and her children saw her dying under their eyes: why should not this
misfortune be mine? I know not to what God, but I prayed all night in
the train, and on board the boat; I got into the train at the
Broadstone praying. It is impossible, at least for me, to find words
to express adequately the agony of mind I endured on that journey.
Words can only hint at it, but I think that any one possessed of any
experience of life, or who has any gift of imagination, will be able
to guess at the terror that haunted me--terror of what?--not so much
that my mother might die, nor hope that she might live, but just that
I might arrive in time to see her die. In this confession I am afraid
I shall seem hard and selfish to some; that will be because many
people lack imagination, or the leisure to try to understand that
there are not only many degrees of sensibility, but many kinds, and it
is doubtful if any reader can say with truth any more than that my
sensibility is not his or hers. It is my privilege to be sympathetic
with ideas I do not share, and in certain moods I approach those who
take a sad pleasure in last words, good-byes, and at looking on the
dead. In my present mood it seems to me that it is not unlikely that
my mother's last good-bye and her death appeared to me more awful in
imagination than it would have ever done in reality. Indeed, there can
be hardly any doubt that this is so, for we are only half-conscious of
what is happening. Reality clouds, our actions mitigate, our
perception; we can see clearly only when we look back or forwards.
There is something very merciful about reality; if there were not, we
should not be able to live at all.

But to the journey. How shall I tell it? The third part must have been
the most painful, so clearly do I remember it: the curious agony of
mind caused by a sudden recognition of objects long forgotten--a tree
or a bit of bog-land. The familiar country, evocative of a great part
of my childhood, carried my thoughts hither and thither. My thoughts
ranged like the swallows; the birds had no doubt just arrived, and in
swift elliptical flights they hunted for gnats along the banks of the
old weedy canal. That weedy canal along which the train travelled took
my thoughts back to the very beginning of my life, when I stood at the
carriage window and plagued my father and mother with questions
regarding the life of the barges passing up and down. And it was the
sudden awakenings from these memories that were so terrible--the
sudden thrust of the thought that I was going westward to see my
mother die, and that nothing could save her from death or me from
seeing her die. Perhaps to find one's self suddenly deprived of all
will is the greatest suffering of all. How many times did I say to
myself, "Nothing can save me unless I get out at the next station,"
and I imagined myself taking a car and driving away through the
country! But if I did such a thing I should be looked upon as a
madman. "One is bound on a wheel," I muttered, and I began to think
how men under sentence of death must often wonder why they were
selected especially for such a fate, and the mystery, the riddle of it
all, must be perhaps the greatest part of their pain.

The morning was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen, and I used
to catch myself thinking out a picturesque expression to describe it.
It seemed to me that the earth might be compared to an egg, it looked
so warm under the white sky, and the sky was as soft as the breast
feathers of a dove. This sudden bow-wowing of the literary skeleton
made me feel that I wanted to kick myself. Nature has forgotten to
provide us with a third leg whereby we may revenge ourselves on
instincts that we cannot control. A moment afterward I found myself
plunged in reflections regarding the impossibility of keeping one's
thoughts fixed on any one subject for any considerable length of time.
At the end of these reflections I fell back, wondering, again asking
if I were really destined to watch by my mother's death-bed. That day
I seemed to become a sheer mentality, a sort of buzz of thought, and I
could think of myself only as of a fly climbing a glass dome. It
seemed to me that I was like a fly climbing and falling back, buzzing,
and climbing again. "Never," I said to myself, "have I been more than
a fly buzzing in a glass dome. And, good Lord, who made the glass
dome?" How often did I ask myself that question, and why it was made,
and if it were going to endure for ever!

In such sore perplexity of mind questions from anybody would be
intolerable, and I shrank back into the corner of the carriage
whenever a passer-by reminded me, however vaguely, of anybody I had
ever known; the mental strain increased mile after mile, for the names
of the stations grew more familiar. I began to try to remember how
many there were before we arrived at Claremorris, the station at which
I was going to get out. Half an hour afterward the train slackened,
the porter cried out "Ballyhaunis." The next would be Claremorris, and
I watched every field, foreseeing the long road, myself on one side of
the car, the driver on the other; a two hours' drive in silence or in
talk--in talk, for I should have to tell him my errand.... He might be
able to tell me about my mother, if the news of her illness had got as
far as Claremorris. At the public-house where I went to get a car I
made inquiries, but nothing was known. My mother must have fallen ill
suddenly--of what? I had not heard she was ailing; I did not remember
her ever to have been ill. At that moment some trees reminded me that
we were close to Ballyglass, and my thoughts wandered away to the long
road on the other side of the hill, and I saw there (for do we not
often see things in memory as plainly as if they were before us?) the
two cream-coloured ponies, Ivory and Primrose, she used to drive, and
the phaeton, and myself in it, a little child in frocks, anxious,
above all things, to see the mail-coach go by. A great sight it was to
see it go by with mail-bags and luggage, the guard blowing a horn, the
horses trotting splendidly, the lengthy reins swinging, and the
driver, his head leaned a little on one side to save his hat from
being blown away--he used to wear a grey beaver hat. The great event
of that time was the day that we went to Ballyglass, not to see the
coach go by, but to get into it, for in those days the railway stopped
at Athenry. And that was the day I saw the canal, and heard with
astonishment that there was a time long ago, no doubt in my father's
youth, when people used to go to Dublin in a barge. Those memories
were like a stupor, and awaking suddenly I saw that more than two and
a half miles lay between me and my mother. In half an hour more I
should know whether she were alive or dead, and I watched the horse
trotting, interested in his shambling gait, or not at all interested
in it--I do not know which. On occasions of great nervous tension one
observes everything.... Everything I remembered best appeared with
mechanical regularity; now it was a wood, a while afterward somebody's
farmyard, later on a line of cottages, another wood, one of my own
gate lodges. An old sawyer lived in it now--looking after it for me;
and I hoped that the wheels of the car would not bring him out, for it
would distress me to see him. The firs in the low-lying land had grown
a little within the last thirty years, but not much. We came to the
bridge; we left it behind us; the gate lodge and the drive from it;
the plantation that I knew so well, the lilac bushes, the laburnums
--good Heavens! How terrible was all this resurrection! Mists hide the
mountains from us, the present hides the past; but there are times
when the present does not exist at all, when every mist is cleared
away, and the past confronts us in naked outline, and that perhaps is
why it is so painful to me to return home. The little hill at the
beginning of the drive is but a little hill, but to me it is much
more, so intimately is it associated with all the pains and troubles
of childhood. All this park was once a fairyland to me; now it is but
a thin reality, a book which I have read, and the very thought of
which bores me, so well do I know it. There is the lilac bush! I used
to go there with my mother thirty years ago at this time of year, and
we used to come home with our hands full of bloom. Two more turnings
and we should be within sight of the house! This is how men feel when
condemned to death. I am sure of it. At the last hill the driver
allowed his horse to fall into a walk, but I begged of him to drive on
the horse, for I saw some peasants about the steps of the hall door;
they were waiting, no doubt, for news, or perhaps they had news. "We
have bad news for you," they cried in the wailing tones of the West.

"Not altogether bad news," I said to myself; "my mother is dead, but I
have been saved the useless pain, the torture of spirit, I should have
endured if I had arrived in time." China roses used to grow over the
railings; very few blooms were left. I noticed just a few as I ran up
the high steps, asking myself why I could not put the past behind me.
If ever there was a time to live in the present this was one; but
never was the present further from me and the past clearer than when I
opened the hall door and stood in the hall paved with grey stones and
painted grey and blue. Three generations had played there; in that
corner I had learned to spin my first top, and I had kept on trying,
showing a perseverance that amazed my father. He said, "If he will
show as much perseverance in other things as he does in the spinning
of a top, he will not fail." He used to catch me trying and trying to
spin that top when he came downstairs on his way to the stables to see
his beloved racehorses; that is the very chair on which he used to put
his hat and gloves. In those days tall hats were worn in the country,
and it was the business of his valet to keep them well brushed. How
the little old man used to watch me, objecting in a way to my spinning
my top in the hall, fearful lest I should overturn the chair on which
the hat stood: sometimes that did happen, and then, oh dear!

In search of some one I opened the drawing-room door. My sister was
there, and I found her on a sofa weeping for our mother, who had died
that morning. We are so constituted that we demand outward signs of
our emotions, especially of grief; we are doubtful of its genuineness
unless it is accompanied by sighs and tears; and that, I suppose, is
why my sister's tears were welcomed by me, for, truth to tell, I was a
little shocked at my own insensibility. This was stupid of me, for I
knew through experience that we do not begin to suffer immediately
after the accident; everything takes time, grief as well as pain. But
in a moment so awful as the one I am describing one does not reflect;
one falls back on the convention that grief and tears are inseparable
as fire and smoke. If I could not weep it were well that my sister
could, and I accepted her tears as a tribute paid to our mother's
goodness--a goodness which never failed, for it was instinctive. It
even seemed to me a pity that Nina had to dry her eyes so that she
might tell me the sad facts--when mother died, of her illness, and the
specialist that had not arrived in time. I learned that some one had
blundered--not that that mattered much, for mother would not have
submitted to an operation.

While listening to her, I unwittingly remembered how we used to talk
of the dear woman whose funeral I described in the pages entitled "A
Remembrance." We used to talk, her daughters and her son and her
husband and I, of her who was dying upstairs. We were greatly moved--I
at least appreciated my love of her--yet our talk would drift from her
suddenly, and we would speak of indifferent things, or maybe the
butler would arrive to tell us lunch was ready. How these incidents
jar our finer feelings! They seem to degrade life, and to such a point
that we are ashamed of living, and are tempted to regard life itself
as a disgrace.

I foresaw that the same interruptions, the same devagations, would
happen among ourselves in the square Georgian house standing on a
hill-top overlooking a long winding lake, as had happened among my
friends in the Italian house under the downs amid bunches of evergreen
oaks. Nor had I to wait long for one of these unhappy devagations. My
sister had to tell me who was staying in the house: an aunt was there,
my mother's sister, and an uncle, my mother's brother, was coming over
next day. It is easy to guess how the very mention of these names
beguiled us from what should be the subject of our thought. And the
room itself supplied plenty of distractions: all the old furniture,
the colour of the walls, the very atmosphere of the room took my
thought back to my childhood. The sofa on which my sister was sitting
had been broken years ago, and I unwittingly remembered how it had
been broken. It had been taken away to a lumber-room; somebody had had
it mended. I began to wonder who had done this--mother, most likely;
she looked after every thing. I have said that I had just arrived
after a long journey. I had eaten nothing since the night before. My
sister spoke of lunch and we went into the dining-room, and in the
middle of the meal my brother came in looking so very solemn that I
began to wonder if he had assumed the expression he thought
appropriate to the occasion--I mean if he had involuntarily
exaggerated the expression of grief he would naturally wear. We are so
constituted that the true and the false overlap each other, and so
subtly that no analysis can determine where one ends and the other
begins. I remembered how the relatives and the friends on the day of
the funeral in Sussex arrived, each one with a very grave face,
perchance interrupting us in the middle of some trivial conversation;
if so, we instantly became grave and talked of the dead woman
sympathetically for a few minutes; then on the first opportunity, and
with a feeling of relief, we began to talk of indifferent things; and
with every fresh arrival the comedy was re-acted. Returning from the
past to the present, I listened to my brother, who was speaking of the
blunder that had been made: how a wrong doctor had come down owing
to--the fault was laid upon somebody, no matter upon whom; the subject
was a painful one and might well have been dropped, but he did not
dare to talk of anything but our mother, and we all strove to carry on
the conversation as long as possible. But my brother and I had not
seen each other for years; he had come back from India after a long
absence. Nor, I think, had I seen my sister since she was married, and
that was a long while ago; she had had children; I had not seen her
before in middle age. We were anxious to ask each other questions, to
hear each other's news, and we were anxious to see the landscape that
we had not seen, at least not together, for many years; and I remember
how we were tempted out of the house by the soft sunlight floating on
the lawn. The same gentle day full of mist and sunlight that I had
watched since early morning had been prolonged, and the evening
differed hardly from the morning; the exaltation in the air was a
little more intense. My mother died certainly on the most beautiful
day I had ever seen, the most winsome, the most white, the most
wanton, as full of love as a girl in a lane who stops to gather a
spray of hawthorn. How many times, like many another, did I wonder why
death should have come to any one on such a bridal-like day. That we
should expect Nature to prepare a decoration in accordance with our
moods is part of the old savagery. Through reason we know that Nature
cares for us not at all, that our sufferings concern her not in the
least, but our instincts conform to the time when the sun stood still
and angels were about. It was impossible for us not to wonder why the
black shadow of death should have fallen across the white radiant day.
I say "us," for my brother no doubt pondered the coincidence, though
he did not speak his thoughts to me. No one dares to speak such
thoughts; they are the foolish substance of ourselves which we try to
conceal from others, forgetting that we are all alike. The day moved
slowly from afternoon to evening, like a bride hidden within a white
veil, her hands and her veil filled with white blossom; but a black
bird, tiny like a humming-bird, had perched upon a bunch of blossom,
and I seemed to lose sight of the day in the sinister black speck that
had intruded itself upon it. No doubt I could think of something
better were I to set my mind upon doing so, but that is how I thought
the day I walked on the lawn with my brother, ashamed and yet
compelled to talk of what our lives had been during the years that
separated us. How could one be overpowered with grief amid so many
distracting circumstances? Everything I saw was at once new and old. I
had come among my brother and sister suddenly, not having seen them,
as I have said, for many years; this was our first meeting since
childhood, and we were assembled in the house where we had all been
born. The ivy grown all over one side of the house, the disappearance
of the laburnum, the gap in the woods--these things were new; but the
lake that I had not seen since a little child I did not need to look
at, so well did I know how every shore was bent, and the place of
every island. My first adventures began on that long yellow strand; I
did not need to turn my head to see it, for I knew that trees
intervened and I knew the twisting path through the wood. That yellow
strand speckled with tufts of rushes was my first playground. But when
my brother proposed that we should walk there, I found some excuse;
why go? The reality would destroy the dream. What reality could equal
my memory of the firs where the rabbits burrowed, of the drain where
we fished for minnows, of the long strand with the lake far away in
summertime? How well I remember that yellow sand, hard and level in
some places as the floor of a ball-room. The water there is so shallow
that our governess used to allow us to wander at will, to run on ahead
in pursuit of a sandpiper. The bird used to fly round with little
cries; and we often used to think it was wounded; perhaps it pretended
to be wounded in order to lead us away from its nest. We did not think
it possible to see the lake in any new aspect, yet there it lay as we
had never seen it before, so still, so soft, so grey, like a white
muslin scarf flowing out, winding past island and headland. The
silence was so intense that one thought of the fairy-books of long
ago, of sleeping woods and haunted castles; there were the castles on
islands lying in misted water, faint as dreams. Now and then a bird
uttered a piercing little chatter from the branches of the tall
larches, and ducks talked in the reeds, but their talk was only a soft
murmur, hardly louder than the rustle of the reeds now in full leaf.
Everything was spellbound that day; the shadows of reed and island
seemed fixed for ever as in a magic mirror--a mirror that somebody had
breathed upon, and, listening to the little gurgle of the water about
the limestone shingle, one seemed to hear eternity murmuring its sad

The lake curves inland, forming a pleasant bay among the woods; there
is a sandy spit where some pines have found roothold, and they live on
somehow despite the harsh sallies of the wind in winter. Along the
shore dead reeds lie in rows three feet deep among the rushes; had
they been placed there by hand they could not have been placed with
more regularity; and there is an old cart-track, with hawthorns
growing out of a tumbled wall. The hillside is planted--beautiful
beeches and hollies at one end, and at the other some lawny
interspaces with tall larches swaying tasselled branches shedding
faint shadows. These were the wonder of my childhood. A path leads
through the wood, and under the rugged pine somebody has placed a
seat, a roughly hewn stone supported by two upright stones. For some
reason unknown to me this seat always suggested, even when I was a
child, a pilgrim's seat. I suppose the suggestion came from the
knowledge that my grandmother used to go every day to the tomb at the
end of the wood where her husband and sons lay, and whither she was
taken herself long ago when I was in frocks; and twenty years after my
father was taken there.

What a ceaseless recurrence of the same things! A hearse will appear
again in a few days, perhaps the same hearse, the horses covered up
with black made to look ridiculous with voluminous weed, the coachman
no better than a zany, the ominous superior mute directing the others
with a wand; there will be a procession of relatives and friends, all
wearing crepe and black gloves, and most of them thinking how soon
they can get back to their business: that masquerade which we call a

Fearing premature burial (a very common fear), my mother had asked
that her burial should be postponed until a natural change in the
elements of her body should leave no doubt that life no longer
lingered there. And the interval between her death and her burial I
spent along the lake's shore. The same weather continued day after
day, and it is almost impossible to find words to express the beauty
of the grey reflection of the islands and the reeds, and the faint
evanescent shores floating away, disappearing in the sun-haze, and the
silence about the shores, a kind of enchanted silence, interrupted, as
I have said, only by the low gurgle of the water about the limestone
shingle. Now and then the song of a bird would break out, and all was
silence again.... "A silence that seems to come out of the very heart
of things!" I said, and I stopped to listen, like one at the world's
end; I walked on, wondering, through the rushes and tussocked grass
and juniper bushes which grew along the wilding shore, along the edge
of the wood. Coming from the town, I could not but admire the
emptiness of the country; hardly ever did I hear the sound of a human
voice or a footstep; only once did I meet some wood-gatherers, poor
women carrying bundles of faggots, bent under their loads. And
thinking that perchance I knew them--they were evidently from the
village; if so, I must have known them when I was a boy--I was
suddenly seized by an unaccountable dread or a shyness, occasioned no
doubt by the sense of the immense difference that time had effected in
us: they were the same, but I was different. The books I had pondered
and the pictures I had seen had estranged me from them, simple souls
that they were; and the consciousness of the injustice of the human
lot made it a pain to me to look into their eyes. So I was glad to be
able to pass behind some bushes, and to escape into the wood without
their perceiving me.

And coming upon pleasant interspaces, pleasanter even than those that
lingered in my memory, I lay down, for, though the days were the first
days of May, the grass was long and warm and ready for the scythe, the
tasselled branches of the tall larches swung faintly in a delicious
breeze, and the words of the old Irish poet came into my mind, "The
wood was like a harp in the hands of a harper." To see the boughs, to
listen to them, seemed a sufficient delight, and I began to admire the
low sky full of cotton-like clouds, and the white flower that was
beginning to light up the little leaves of the hedgerow, and I suppose
it was the May-flower that drew down upon me a sudden thought of the
beloved girl lost to me for ever. My mother's death had closed that
wound a little, but in a moment all my grief reappeared, the wound
gaped again, and it was impossible to stanch the bleeding.

A man cannot lament two women at the same time, and only a month ago
the most beautiful thing that had ever appeared in my life, an idea
which I knew from the first I was destined to follow, had appeared to
me, had stayed with me for a while, and had passed from me. All the
partial loves of my youth seemed to find expression at last in a
passion that would know no change. Who shall explain the mystery of
love that time cannot change? Fate is the only word that conveys any
idea of it, for of what use to say that her hair was blond and thick,
that her eyes were grey and blue? I had known many women before her,
and many had hair and eyes as fine and as deep as hers. But never one
but she had had the indispensable quality of making me feel I was more
intensely alive when she was by me than I was when she was away. It
is that tingle of life that we are always seeking, and that perhaps we
must lose in order to retain. On such a day, under the swaying
branches of the larches, the whiteness of the lake curving so
beautifully amid low shores could not fail to remind me of her body,
and its mystery reminded me of her mystery; but the melancholy line of
mountains rippling down the southern sky was not like her at all. One
forgets what is unlike, caring only to dwell upon what is like....
Thinking of her my senses grow dizzy, a sort of madness creeps up
behind the eyes. What an exquisite despair is this--that one shall
never possess that beautiful personality again, sweet-scented as the
May-time, that I shall never hold that dainty oval face in my hands
again, shall look into those beautiful eyes no more, that all the
intimacy of her person is now but a memory never to be renewed by
actual presence--in these moments of passionate memory one experiences
real grief, a pang that never has found expression perchance except in
Niobe; even that concentration of features is more an expression of
despair than grief. And it was the grief that this girl inspired that
prevented me from mourning my mother as I should like to have mourned
her, as she was worthy of being mourned, for she was a good woman, her
virtues shone with more admirable light year after year; and had I
lived with her, had I been with her during the last years of her life,
her death would have come upon me with a sense of personal loss; I
should have mourned her the day she died as I mourn her now,
intimately; when I am alone in the evening, when the fire is sinking,
the sweetness of her presence steals by me, and I realise what I lost
in losing her.

We do not grieve for the dead because they have been deprived of the
pleasures of this life (if this life be a pleasure), but because of
our own loss. But who would impugn such selfishness? It is the best
thing we have, it is our very selves. Think of a mistress's shame if
her lover were to tell her that he loved her because she wished to be
beloved, because he thought it would give her pleasure to be
loved--she would hate him for such altruism, and deem him unworthy of
her. She would certainly think like this, and turn her face from him
for a while until some desire of possession would send her back to
him. We are always thinking of ourselves directly or indirectly. I was
thinking of myself when shame prevented me from going to meet the poor
wood-gatherers; they would not have thought at all of the injustice of
having been left to the labour of the fields while I had gone forth to
enjoy the world; they would have been interested to see me again, and
a few kind words would have made their load seem easier on their
backs. Called back by a sudden association of ideas, I began to
consider that shameful injustice is undoubtedly a part of our human
lot, for we may only grieve passionately for the casual, or what seems
the merely casual; perhaps because the ultimate law is hidden from us;
I am thinking now of her who comes suddenly into our lives tempting us
with colour, fugitive as that of a flower, luring us with light as
rapid as the light shed from the wings of a dove. Why, I asked myself,
as I lay under the larches, are we to mourn transitory delight so
intensely, why should it possess us more entirely than the sorrow that
we experience for her who endured the labour of child-bearing, who
nourished us perchance at her breast, whose devotion to us was
unceasing, and who grew kindlier and more divorced from every thought
of self as the years went by? From injustice there can be no escape,
not a particle. At best we can, indeed we must, acquiesce in the fact
that the only sorrow to be found in our hearts for aged persons is a
sort of gentle sorrow, such as the year itself administers to our
senses in autumn, when we come home with our hands full of the
beautiful single dahlias that the Dutchmen loved and painted, bound up
with sprays of reddening creepers; we come home along the sunny roads
over which the yellow beeches lean so pathetically, and we are sad for
the year, but we do not grieve passionately; our hearts do not break.

Then again we cannot grieve as the conventions would have us
grieve--in strange dress; the very fact of wearing crepe and black
gloves alienates us from our real selves; we are no longer ourselves,
we are mummers engaged in the performance of a masque. I could have
mourned my mother better without crepe. "There never has been invented
anything so horrible as the modern funeral," I cried out. A picture of
the hearse and the mutes rose up in my mind, and it was at that very
moment that the song of the bird broke out again, and just above my
head in the larches an ugly, shrilling song of about a dozen notes
with an accent on the two last, a stupid, tiresome stave that never
varied. "What bird can it be," I cried out, "that comes to interrupt
my meditations?" and getting up I tried to discover it amid the
branches of the tree under which I had been lying. It broke out again
in another tree a little farther away, and again in another. I
followed it, and it led me round the wood towards the hilltop to the
foot of the steps, two short flights; the second flight, or part of it
at least, has to be removed when the vault is opened. It consists, no
doubt, of a single chamber with shelves along either side; curiosity
leads few into vaults not more than a hundred years old; above the
vault is the monument, a very simple one, a sort of table built in,
and when my father was buried, a priest scrambled up or was lifted up
by the crowd, and he delivered a funeral oration from the top of it.

That day the box edgings were trampled under foot, and all the flowers
in the beds. My mother, perhaps, cared little for flowers, or she did
not live here sufficiently long to see that this garden was carefully
tended; for years there were no children to come here for a walk, and
it was thought sufficient to keep in repair the boundary wall so that
cattle should not get in. No trees were cut here when the Woods were
thinned, and the pines and the yews have grown so thickly that the
place is overshadowed; and the sepulchral dark is never lifted even at
midday. At the back of the tomb, in the wood behind it, the headstones
of old graves show above the ground, though the earth has nearly
claimed them; only a few inches show above the dead leaves; all this
hillside must have been a graveyard once, hundreds of years ago, and
this ancient graveyard has never been forgotten by me, principally on
account of something that happened long ago when I was a little child.
The mystery of the wood used to appeal to my curiosity, but I never
dared to scramble over the low wall until one day, leaving my
governess, who was praying by the tomb, I discovered a gap through
which I could climb. My wanderings were suddenly brought to an end by
the appearance, or the fancied appearance, of somebody in a brown
dress--a woman I thought it must be; she seemed to float along the
ground, and I hurried back, falling and hurting myself severely in my
hurry to escape through the gap. So great was my fear that I spoke not
of my hurt to my governess, but of the being I had seen, beseeching of
her to come back; but she would not come back, and this fact impressed
me greatly. I said to myself, "If she didn't believe somebody was
there she'd come back." The fear endured for long afterwards; and I
used to beg of her not to cross the open space between the last shift
of the wood and the tomb itself. We can re-live in imagination an
emotion already experienced. Everything I had felt when I was a child
about the mysterious hollows in the beech wood behind the tomb and the
old stone there, and the being I had seen clothed in a brown cloak, I
could re-live again, but the wood enkindled no new emotion in me.
Everything seemed very trivial. The steps leading to the tomb, the
tomb itself, the boundary wall, and the enchanted wood was now no more
than a mere ordinary plantation. There were a few old stones showing
through the leaves, that is all. Marvels never cease; in youth one
finds the exterior world marvellous, later on one finds one's inner
life extraordinary, and what seemed marvellous to me now was that I
should have changed so much. The seeing of the ghost might be put down
to my fancy, but how explain the change in the wood--was its mystery
also a dream, an imagination? Which is the truth--that experience robs
the earth of its mystery, or that we have changed so that the
evanescent emanations which we used suddenly to grow aware of, and
which sometimes used to take shape, are still there, only our eyes are
no longer capable of perceiving them? May not this be so?--for as one
sense develops, another declines. The mystic who lives on the hillside
in the edge of a cave, pondering eternal rather than ephemeral things,
obtains glimpses, just as the child does, of a life outside this life
of ours. Or do we think these things because man will not consent to
die like a plant? Wondering if a glimpse of another life had once been
vouchsafed to me when my senses were more finely wrought, I descended
the hillside; the bird, probably a chaffinch, repeated its cry without
any variation. I went down the hillside and lay in the shadow of the
tasselled larches, trying to convince myself that I had not hoped to
see the brown lady, if it were a lady I had seen, bending over the
stones of the old burial-ground.

One day the silence of the woods was broken by the sound of a mason's
hammer, and on making inquiry from a passing workman--his hodman
probably--I learned that on opening the vault it had been discovered
that there was not room for another coffin. But no enlargement of the
vault was necessary; a couple of more shelves was all that would be
wanted for many a year to come. His meaning was not to be
mistaken--when two more shelves had been added there would be room for
my brothers, myself, and my sister, but the next generation would have
to order that a further excavation be made in the hill or look out for
a new burial-ground. He stood looking at me, and I watched for a
moment a fine young man whose eyes were pale as the landscape, and I
wondered if he expected me to say that I was glad that things had
turned out very well.... The sound of the mason's hammer got upon my
nerves, and feeling the wood to be no longer a place for meditation, I
wandered round the shore as far as the old boat-house, wondering how
it was that the words of a simple peasant could have succeeded in
producing such a strange revulsion of feeling in me. No doubt it was
the intensity with which I realised the fact that we are never far
from death, none of us, that made it seem as if I were thinking on
this subject for the first time. As soon as we reach the age of
reflection the thought of death is never long out of our minds. It is
a subject on which we are always thinking. We go to bed thinking that
another day has gone, that we are another day nearer our graves. Any
incident suffices to remind us of death. That very morning I had seen
two old blue-bottles huddled together in the corner of a pane, and at
once remembered that a term of life is set out for all things--a few
months for the blue-bottle, a few years for me. One forgets how one
thought twenty years ago, but I am prone to think that even the young
meditate very often upon death; it must be so, for all their books
contain verses on the mutability of things, and as we advance in years
it would seem that we think more and more on this one subject, for
what is all modern literature but a reek of regret that we are but
bubbles on a stream? I thought that nothing that could be said on this
old subject could move me, but that boy from Derryanny had brought
home to me the thought that follows us from youth to age better than
literature could have done; he had exceeded all the poets, not by any
single phrase--it was more his attitude of mind towards death (towards
my death) that had startled me--and as I walked along the shore I
tried to remember his words. They were simple enough, no doubt, so
simple that I could not remember them, only that he had reminded me
that Michael Malia, that was the mason's name, had known me since I
was a little boy; I do not know how he got it out; I should not have
been able to express the idea myself, but without choosing his words,
without being aware of them, speaking unconsciously, just as he
breathed, he had told me that if my heart were set on any particular
place I had only to tell Michael Malia and he would keep it for me;
there would be a convenient place for me just above my grandfather
when they had got the new shelf up; he had heard we were both writers.

That country boy took it out of me as perhaps no poet had ever done! I
shall never forget him as I saw him going away stolidly through the
green wood, his bag of lime on his back.

And sitting down in front of the tranquil lake I said, "In twenty or
thirty years I shall certainly join the others in that horrible vault;
nothing can save me," and again the present slipped away from me and
my mind became again clear as glass; the present is only subconscious;
were it not so we could not live. I have said all this before; again I
seemed to myself like a fly crawling up a pane of glass, falling back,
buzzing, and crawling again. Every expedient that I explored proved
illusory, every one led to the same conclusion that the dead are
powerless. "The living do with us what they like," I muttered, and I
thought of all my Catholic relations, every one of whom believes in
the intervention of priests and holy water, the Immaculate Conception,
the Pope's Indulgences, and a host of other things which I could not
remember, so great was my anguish of mind at the thought that my poor
pagan body should be delivered helpless into their pious hands. I
remembered their faces, I could hear their voices--that of my dear
brother, whom I shall always think of as a strayed cardinal rather
than as a colonel; I could see his pale eyes moist with faith in the
intercession of the Virgin--one can always tell a Catholic at sight,
just as one can tell a consumptive. The curving lake, the pale
mountains, the low shores, the sunlight, and the haze contributed not
a little to frighten me; the country looked intensely Catholic at that
moment. My thoughts swerved, and I began to wonder if the face of a
country takes its character from the ideas of those living in it. "How
shall I escape from that vault?" I cried out suddenly. Michael Malia's
hodman had said that they might place me just above my grandfather,
and my grandfather was a man of letters, a historian whose histories I
had not read; and in the midst of the horror my probable burial
inspired in me, I found some amusement in the admission that I should
like the old gentleman whose portrait hung in the dining-room to have
read my novels. This being so, it was not improbable that he would
like me to read his histories, and I began to speculate on what the
author of a history of the French Revolution[1] would think of "Esther
Waters." The colour of the chocolate coat he wears in his picture
fixed itself in my mind's eye, and I began to compare it with the
colour of the brown garment worn by the ghost I had seen in the wood.
Good Heavens, if it were his ghost I had seen!

[Footnote 1: Still unpublished.]

And listening to the lapping of the lake water I imagined a horrible
colloquy in that vault. It all came into my mind, his dialogue and my
dialogue. "Great God," I cried out, "something must be done to
escape!" and my eyes were strained out on the lake, upon the island on
which a Welshman had built a castle. I saw all the woods reaching down
to the water's edge, and the woods I did not see I remembered; all the
larch trees that grew on the hillsides came into my mind suddenly, and
I thought what a splendid pyre might be built out of them. No trees
had been cut for the last thirty years; I might live for another
thirty. What splendid timber there would then be to build a pyre for
me!--a pyre fifty feet high, saturated with scented oils, and me lying
on the top of it with all my books (they would make a nice pillow for
my head). The ancient heroes used to be laid with their arms beside
them; their horses were slaughtered so that their spirits might be
free to serve them in the aerial kingdoms they had gone to inhabit. My
pyre should be built on the island facing me; its flames would be seen
for miles and miles; the lake would be lighted up by it, and my body
would become a sort of beacon-fire--the beacon of the pagan future
awaiting old Ireland! Nor would the price of such a funeral be
anything too excessive--a few hundred pounds perhaps, the price of a
thousand larches and a few barrels of scented oil and the great feast:
for while I was roasting, my mourners should eat roast meat and drink
wine and wear gay dresses--the men as well as the women; and the
gayest music would be played. The "Marriage of Figaro" and some
Offenbach would be pleasing to my spirit, the ride of the Valkyrie
would be an appropriate piece; but I am improvising a selection, and
that is a thing that requires careful consideration. It would be a
fine thing indeed if such a funeral--I hate the word--such a burning
as this could be undertaken, and there is no reason why it should not
be, unless the law interdicts public burnings of human bodies. And
then my face clouded, and my soul too; I grew melancholy as the lake,
as the southern mountains that rippled down the sky plaintive as an
Irish melody, for the burning I had dreamed of so splendidly might
never take place. I might have to fall back on the Public Crematorium
in England--in Ireland there is no Crematorium; Ireland lingers in the
belief in the resurrection of the body. "Before I decide," I said to
myself, "what my own funeral shall be, I must find out what funeral
liberties the modern law and Christian morality permit the citizen,"
and this I should not be able to discover until I returned to Dublin.

It was by the side of dulcet Lough Cara that I began to imagine my
interview with the old family solicitor, prejudiced and white-headed
as the king in a certain kind of romantic play, a devout Catholic who
would certainly understand very little of my paganism; but I should
catch him on two well-sharpened horns--whether he should be guilty of
so unbusiness-like an act as to refuse to make a will for theological
reasons, or to do a violence to his conscience by assisting a
fellow-creature to dispose of his body in a way that would give the
Almighty much trouble to bring about the resurrection of the body in
the valley of Jehoshaphat. The embarrassment of the family solicitor
would be amusing, and if he declined to draw up my will for me there
would be plenty of other solicitors who would not hesitate to draw up
whatever will I was minded to make. In order to secure the burial of
my body, my notion was to leave all my property, lands, money,
pictures, and furniture to my brother, Colonel Maurice Moore on the
condition that I should be burnt and the ashes disposed of without the
humiliation of Christian rites; that if the conditions that the
inheritance carried with it were so disagreeable to Colonel Maurice
Moore that he could not bring himself to see that the disposal of my
remains was carried out according to my wishes, my property, lands,
money, pictures, and furniture, should go to my brother Augustus
Moore; that in the event of his declining to carry out my wishes
regarding the disposal of my remains, all my property should go to my
brother Julian Moore; that if he should refuse to carry out my wishes
regarding the disposal of my remains, all the said property should go
to my friend Sir William Eden, who would, I felt sure, take a sad
pleasure in giving effect to the wishes of his old friend. A will
drawn up on these lines would secure me against all chance of being
buried with my ancestors in Kiltoon, and during the next two days I
pondered my own burning. My brother might think that he was put to a
good deal of expense, but he would not fail me. He had taken off my
hands the disagreeable task of seeing the undertakers and making
arrangements for the saying of Masses, etc., arrangements which would
be intensely disagreeable to me to make so. I had plenty of time to
think out the details of my burning; and I grew happy in the thought
that I had escaped from the disgrace of Christian burial--a disgrace
which was never, until the last two days, wholly realised by me, but
which was nevertheless always suspected. No doubt it was the dread of
Kiltoon that had inspired that thought of death from which in late
years I had never seemed able to escape. I am of the romantic
temperament, and it would be a pity to forgo the burning I had
imagined. I delighted in the vision that had come upon me of the
felling of the larch trees on the hillside and the building of the
pyre about the old castle. It would reach much higher; I imagined it
at least fifty feet high. I saw it flaming in imagination, and when
half of it was burnt, the mourners would have to take to the boats, so
intense would be the heat. What a splendid spectacle! Never did any
man imagine a more splendid funeral! It would be a pity if the law
obliged me to forgo it. But there was no use hoping that the law would
not; there was a law against the burning of human remains, and I might
have to fall back on the Public Crematorium: it only remained for me
to decide what I would wish to be done with the ashes. In a moment of
happy inspiration I conceived the idea of a Greek vase as the only
suitable repository for my ashes, and I began to remember all the
Greek vases I had seen: all are beautiful, even the Roman Greek; these
are sometimes clumsy and heavy, but the sculpture is finely designed
and executed. Any Greek vase I decided would satisfy me, provided, of
course, that the relief represented Bacchanals dancing, and nearly
every Greek vase is decorated in this way. The purchase of the vase
would be an additional expense; no doubt I was running my brother in
for a good deal of money; it is becoming more and more difficult to
buy original Greek sculpture! and in a moment of posthumous parsimony
my thoughts turned to a copy of a Greek vase in granite, granite being
more durable than marble, and I wanted the vase to last for a long
time. It was delightful to take a sheet of paper and a pencil and to
draw all that I remembered of the different vases I had seen,
different riots of lusty men carrying horns of wine, intermingled with
graceful girls dancing gracefully, youths playing on pipes, and amidst
them fauns, the lovely animality of the woods, of the landscape ages,
when men first began to milk their goats, and when one man out of the
tribe, more pensive, more meditative than the others, went down to the
river's bank and cut a reed and found music within it. The vase I
remembered best has upright handles springing from the necks of swans.
It stands about two feet high, perhaps a little more, and its cavity
should be capable of containing all that remains of me after my
burning. None would have thought, from the happy smile upon my lips,
that I was thinking of a Grecian urn and a little pile of white ashes.
"O death, where is thy sting?" I murmured, and the pencil dropped from
my hand, for my memory was more beautiful than anything I could
realise upon paper. I could only remember one side of a youth, that
side of him next to an impulsive maiden; her delight gives her wings;
his left arm is about her shoulder. She is more impulsive than he, and
I wondered at his wistfulness--whether he was thinking of another love
or a volume of poems that he loved better. Little by little many of
the figures in the dance were remembered, for the sculpture was so
well done that the years had only clouded my memory. The clouds
dispersed, and I saw this time one whole figure, that of a
dancing-girl; her right arm is extended, her left arm is bent, she
holds a scarf as she dances, and the muscles of the arms are placed so
well, and the breasts too, that one thinks that the girl must have
been before the sculptor as he worked. Ingres and Antiquity alone knew
how to simplify. There is little, but that little is so correct that
detail is unnecessary, and I exulted in remembrance of the dainty
design of the belly, half hidden, half revealed by little liquid
folds. "How exquisite," I said, "is that thigh! how well it advances!
And we poor moderns have lived upon that beauty now well-nigh two
thousand years? But how vainly we have attempted to imitate that
drapery flowing about the ankles, like foam breaking on the crest of a
wave." A slender youth stands next; his shoulders are raised, for the
pipes are to his lips, his feet are drawn close together, and by him a
satyr dances wildly, clashing cymbals as he dances. He is followed, I
think--it is difficult to say whether this be a recollection of
another vase or whether the figure is included in the same group--by a
faun tempting the teeth and claws of a panther with a bunch of grapes.
And it was this winsome faun that decided me to select this vase as
the repository of my ashes. And I determined to stipulate in my will
that this vase be chosen. But my will must not be too complicated,
otherwise it might be contested. All that is not common can easily be
argued to be madness by a loquacious lawyer before a stupid jury. Who
except a madman, asks the lawyer, would trouble to this extent as to
what shall be done with his remains? Everybody in the court agrees
with him, for every one in court is anxious to prove to his neighbour
that he is a good Christian. Everything is convention, and lead
coffins and oak coffins cannot be held as proof of insanity, because
men believe still in the resurrection of the body. Were the Pharaohs
insane? Was the building of the Great Pyramid an act of madness? The
common assurance is that it matters nothing at all what becomes of our
remains, yet the world has always been engaged in setting up tombs. It
is only those pretty satyrs who do not think of tombs. Satyrs wander
away into some hidden place when they feel death upon them. But poor
humanity desires to be remembered. The desire to be remembered for at
least some little while after death is as deep an instinct as any that
might be readily named, and our lives are applied to securing some
little immortality for ourselves. What more natural than that every
one should desire his death and burial to be, as it were, typical of
the ideas which he agreed to accept during life: what other purpose is
served by the consecration of plots of ground and the erection of
crosses? In this at least I am not different from other people; if I
am anxious about my burning, it is because I would to the last
manifest and express my ideas, and neither in my prose nor verse have
I ever traced out my thoughts as completely or as perfectly as I have
done in this order for my tomb. One trouble, however, still remained
upon my mind. Where should the vase be placed? Not in Westminster
Abbey. Fie upon all places of Christian burial! A museum inspires
lofty thoughts in a few; Gouncourt speaks of the icy admiration of
crowds. The vase might stand in the stone wall, and in the very corner
where I learned to spin my top? But sooner or later a housemaid would
break it. The house itself will become the property of another family,
and the stranger will look upon the vase with idle curiosity, or
perhaps think it depressing to have me in the hall. An order for my
removal to a garret might be made out.

The disposal of the vase caused me a great deal of anxiety, and I
foresaw that unless I hit upon some idea whereby I could safeguard it
from injury for ever, my project would be deprived of half its value.
As I sat thinking I heard a noise of feet suddenly on the staircase.
"They are bringing down my mother's coffin," I said, and at that
moment the door was opened and I was told that the funeral procession
was waiting for me. My brother, and various relatives and friends,
were waiting in the hall; black gloves were on every hand, crepe
streamed from every hat, "All the paraphernalia of grief," I muttered;
"nothing is wanting." My soul revolted against this mockery. "But why
should I pity my mother? She wished to lie beside her husband. And far
be it from me to criticise such a desire!"

The coffin was lifted upon the hearse. A gardener of old time came up
to ask me if I wished there to be any crying. I did not at first
understand what he meant; he began to explain, and I began to
understand that he meant the cries with which the Western peasant
follows his dead to the grave. Horrible savagery! and I ordered that
there was to be no keening; but three or four women, unable to contain
themselves, rushed forward and began a keen. It was difficult to try
to stop them. I fancy that every one looked round to see if there were
any clouds in the sky, for it was about a mile and a half to the
chapel; we would have to walk three miles at least, and if it rained,
we should probably catch heavy colds. We thought of the damp of the
wood, and the drip from the melancholy boughs of yew and fir growing
about that sepulchre on the hillside. But there was no danger of rain;
Castle Island lay in the misted water, faint and grey, reminding me of
what a splendid burial I might have if the law did not intervene to
prevent me. And as we followed the straggling grey Irish road, with
scant meagre fields on either side--fields that seemed to be on the
point of drifting into marsh land--past the houses of the poor people,
I tried to devise a scheme for the safeguarding of the vase. But
Rameses the Second had not succeeded in securing his body against
violation; it had been unswathed; I had seen his photograph in the
Strand, and where he failed, how should I succeed?

Twenty priests had been engaged to sing a Mass, and whilst they
chanted, my mind continued to roam, seeking the unattainable, seeking
that which Rameses had been unable to find. Unexpectedly, at the very
moment when the priest began to intone the Pater Noster, I thought of
the deep sea as the only clean and holy receptacle for the vase
containing my ashes. If it were dropped where the sea is deepest it
would not reach the bottom, but would hang suspended in dark, moveless
depths where only a few fishes range, in a cool, deep grave "made
without hands, in a world without stain," surrounded by a lovely revel
of Bacchanals, youths and maidens, and wild creatures from the woods,
man in his primitive animality. But nothing lasts for ever. In some
millions of years the sea will begin to wither, and the vase
containing me will sink (my hope is that it will sink down to some
secure foundation of rocks to stand in the airless and waterless
desert that the earth will then be).

Rameses failed, but I shall succeed. Surrounded by dancing youths and
maidens, my tomb shall stand on a high rock in the solitude of the
extinct sea of an extinct planet. Millions of years will pass away,
and the earth, after having lain dead for a long winter, as it does
now for a few weeks under frost and snow, will, with all other
revolving planets, become absorbed in the sun, and the sun itself will
become absorbed in greater suns, Sirius and his like. In the matters
of grave moment, millions of years are but seconds; billions convey
very little to our minds. At the end of, let us say, some billion
years the ultimate moment towards which everything from the beginning
has been moving will be reached; and from that moment the tide will
begin to flow out again, the eternal dispersal of things will begin
again; suns will be scattered abroad, and in tremendous sun-quakes
planets will be thrown off; in loud earth-quakes these planets will
throw off moons. Millions of years will pass away, the earth will
become cool, and out of the primal mud life will begin again in the
shape of plants, and then of fish, and then of animals. It is like
madness, but is it madder than Christian doctrine? and I believe that
billions of years hence, billions and billions of years hence, I shall
be sitting in the same room as I sit now, writing the same lines as I
am now writing: I believe that again, a few years later, my ashes will
swing in the moveless and silent depths of the Pacific Ocean, and that
the same figures, the same nymphs, and the same fauns will dance
around me again.


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