Shorter Prose Pieces
Oscar Wilde

This etext was prepared by David Price, email



Phrases And Philosophies for the Use of The Young
Mrs. Langtry as Hester Grazebrook
Slaves of Fashion
Woman's Dress
More Radical Ideas upon Dress Reform
The American Invasion
Sermons in Stones at Bloomsbury


The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible. What
the second duty is no one has as yet discovered.

Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the
curious attractiveness of others.

If the poor only had profiles there would be no difficulty in
solving the problem of poverty.

Those who see any difference between soul and body have neither.

A really well-made buttonhole is the only link between Art and

Religions die when they are proved to be true. Science is the
record of dead religions.

The well-bred contradict other people. The wise contradict

Nothing that actually occurs is of the smallest importance.

Dulness is the coming of age of seriousness.

In all unimportant matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential.
In all important matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential.

If one tells the truth one is sure, sooner or later, to be found

Pleasure is the only thing one should live for. Nothing ages like

It is only by not paying one's bills that one can hope to live in
the memory of the commercial classes.

No crime is vulgar, but all vulgarity is crime. Vulgarity is the
conduct of others.

Only the shallow know themselves.

Time is waste of money.

One should always be a little improbable.

There is a fatality about all good resolutions. They are
invariably made too soon.

The only way to atone for being occasionally a little overdressed
is by being always absolutely overeducated.

To be premature is to be perfect.

Any preoccupation with ideas of what is right or wrong in conduct
shows an arrested intellectual development.

Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.

A truth ceases to be true when more than one person believes in it.

In examinations the foolish ask questions that the wise cannot

Greek dress was in its essence inartistic. Nothing should reveal
the body but the body.

One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.

It is only the superficial qualities that last. Man's deeper
nature is soon found out.

Industry is the root of all ugliness.

The ages live in history through their anachronisms.

It is only the gods who taste of death. Apollo has passed away,
but Hyacinth, whom men say he slew, lives on. Nero and Narcissus
are always with us.

The old believe everything: the middle-aged suspect everything;
the young know everything.

The condition of perfection is idleness: the aim of perfection is

Only the great masters of style ever succeeded in being obscure.

There is something tragic about the enormous number of young men
there are in England at the present moment who start life with
perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession.

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.


It is only in the best Greek gems, on the silver coins of Syracuse,
or among the marble figures of the Parthenon frieze, that one can
find the ideal representation of the marvellous beauty of that face
which laughed through the leaves last night as Hester Grazebrook.

Pure Greek it is, with the grave low forehead, the exquisitely
arched brow; the noble chiselling of the mouth, shaped as if it
were the mouthpiece of an instrument of music; the supreme and
splendid curve of the cheek; the augustly pillared throat which
bears it all: it is Greek, because the lines which compose it are
so definite and so strong, and yet so exquisitely harmonized that
the effect is one of simple loveliness purely: Greek, because its
essence and its quality, as is the quality of music and of
architecture, is that of beauty based on absolutely mathematical

But while art remains dumb and immobile in its passionless
serenity, with the beauty of this face it is different: the grey
eyes lighten into blue or deepen into violet as fancy succeeds
fancy; the lips become flower-like in laughter or, tremulous as a
bird's wing, mould themselves at last into the strong and bitter
moulds of pain or scorn. And then motion comes, and the statue
wakes into life. But the life is not the ordinary life of common
days; it is life with a new value given to it, the value of art:
and the charm to me of Hester Grazebrook's acting in the first
scene of the play last night was that mingling of classic grace
with absolute reality which is the secret of all beautiful art, of
the plastic work of the Greeks and of the pictures of Jean Francois
Millet equally.

I do not think that the sovereignty and empire of women's beauty
has at all passed away, though we may no longer go to war for them
as the Greeks did for the daughter of Leda. The greatest empire
still remains for them--the empire of art. And, indeed, this
wonderful face, seen last night for the first time in America, has
filled and permeated with the pervading image of its type the whole
of our modern art in England. Last century it was the romantic
type which dominated in art, the type loved by Reynolds and
Gainsborough, of wonderful contrasts of colour, of exquisite and
varying charm of expression, but without that definite plastic
feeling which divides classic from romantic work. This type
degenerated into mere facile prettiness in the hands of lesser
masters, and, in protest against it, was created by the hands of
the Pre-Raphaelites a new type, with its rare combination of Greek
form with Florentine mysticism. But this mysticism becomes over-
strained and a burden, rather than an aid to expression, and a
desire for the pure Hellenic joy and serenity came in its place;
and in all our modern work, in the paintings of such men as Albert
Moore and Leighton and Whistler, we can trace the influence of this
single face giving fresh life and inspiration in the form of a new
artistic ideal.


Miss Leffler-Arnim's statement, in a lecture delivered recently at
St. Saviour's Hospital, that "she had heard of instances where
ladies were so determined not to exceed the fashionable measurement
that they had actually held on to a cross-bar while their maids
fastened the fifteen-inch corset," has excited a good deal of
incredulity, but there is nothing really improbable in it. From
the sixteenth century to our own day there is hardly any form of
torture that has not been inflicted on girls, and endured by women,
in obedience to the dictates of an unreasonable and monstrous
Fashion. "In order to obtain a real Spanish figure," says
Montaigne, "what a Gehenna of suffering will not women endure,
drawn in and compressed by great coches entering the flesh; nay,
sometimes they even die thereof!" "A few days after my arrival at
school," Mrs. Somerville tells us in her memoirs, "although
perfectly straight and well made, I was enclosed in stiff stays,
with a steel busk in front; while above my frock, bands drew my
shoulders back till the shoulder-blades met. Then a steel rod with
a semi-circle, which went under my chin, was clasped to the steel
busk in my stays. In this constrained state I and most of the
younger girls had to prepare our lessons"; and in the life of Miss
Edgeworth we read that, being sent to a certain fashionable
establishment, "she underwent all the usual tortures of back-
boards, iron collars and dumbs, and also (because she was a very
tiny person) the unusual one of being hung by the neck to draw out
the muscles and increase the growth," a signal failure in her case.
Indeed, instances of absolute mutilation and misery are so common
in the past that it is unnecessary to multiply them; but it is
really sad to think that in our own day a civilized woman can hang
on to a cross-bar while her maid laces her waist into a fifteen-
inch circle. To begin with, the waist is not a circle at all, but
an oval; nor can there be any greater error than to imagine that an
unnaturally small waist gives an air of grace, or even of
slightness, to the whole figure. Its effect, as a rule, is simply
to exaggerate the width of the shoulders and the hips; and those
whose figures possess that stateliness which is called stoutness by
the vulgar, convert what is a quality into a defect by yielding to
the silly edicts of Fashion on the subject of tight-lacing. The
fashionable English waist, also, is not merely far too small, and
consequently quite out of proportion to the rest of the figure, but
it is worn far too low down. I use the expression "worn"
advisedly, for a waist nowadays seems to be regarded as an article
of apparel to be put on when and where one likes. A long waist
always implies shortness of the lower limbs, and, from the artistic
point of view, has the effect of diminishing the height; and I am
glad to see that many of the most charming women in Paris are
returning to the idea of the Directoire style of dress. This style
is not by any means perfect, but at least it has the merit of
indicating the proper position of the waist. I feel quite sure
that all English women of culture and position will set their faces
against such stupid and dangerous practices as are related by Miss
Leffler-Arnim. Fashion's motto is: Il faut souffrir pour etre
belle; but the motto of art and of common-sense is: Il faut etre
bete pour souffrir.

Talking of Fashion, a critic in the Pall Mall Gazelle expresses his
surprise that I should have allowed an illustration of a hat,
covered with "the bodies of dead birds," to appear in the first
number of the Woman's World; and as I have received many letters on
the subject, it is only right that I should state my exact position
in the matter. Fashion is such an essential part of the mundus
muliebris of our day, that it seems to me absolutely necessary that
its growth, development, and phases should be duly chronicled; and
the historical and practical value of such a record depends
entirely upon its perfect fidelity to fact. Besides, it is quite
easy for the children of light to adapt almost any fashionable form
of dress to the requirements of utility and the demands of good
taste. The Sarah Bernhardt tea-gown, for instance, figured in the
present issue, has many good points about it, and the gigantic
dress-improver does not appear to me to be really essential to the
mode; and though the Postillion costume of the fancy dress ball is
absolutely detestable in its silliness and vulgarity, the so-called
Late Georgian costume in the same plate is rather pleasing. I
must, however, protest against the idea that to chronicle the
development of Fashion implies any approval of the particular forms
that Fashion may adopt.


The "Girl Graduate" must of course have precedence, not merely for
her sex but for her sanity: her letter is extremely sensible. She
makes two points: that high heels are a necessity for any lady who
wishes to keep her dress clean from the Stygian mud of our streets,
and that without a tight corset the ordinary number of petticoats
and etceteras' cannot be properly or conveniently held up. Now, it
is quite true that as long as the lower garments are suspended from
the hips a corset is an absolute necessity; the mistake lies in not
suspending all apparel from the shoulders. In the latter case a
corset becomes useless, the body is left free and unconfined for
respiration and motion, there is more health, and consequently more
beauty. Indeed all the most ungainly and uncomfortable articles of
dress that fashion has ever in her folly prescribed, not the tight
corset merely, but the farthingale, the vertugadin, the hoop, the
crinoline, and that modern monstrosity the so-called "dress
improver" also, all of them have owed their origin to the same
error, the error of not seeing that it is from the shoulders, and
from the shoulders only, that all garments should be hung.

And as regards high heels, I quite admit that some additional
height to the shoe or boot is necessary if long gowns are to be
worn in the street; but what I object to is that the height should
be given to the heel only, and not to the sole of the foot also.
The modern high-heeled boot is, in fact, merely the clog of the
time of Henry VI., with the front prop left out, and its inevitable
effect is to throw the body forward, to shorten the steps, and
consequently to produce that want of grace which always follows
want of freedom.

Why should clogs be despised? Much art has been expended on clogs.
They have been made of lovely woods, and delicately inlaid with
ivory, and with mother-of-pearl. A clog might be a dream of
beauty, and, if not too high or too heavy, most comfortable also.
But if there be any who do not like clogs, let them try some
adaptation of the trouser of the Turkish lady, which is loose round
the limb and tight at the ankle.

The "Girl Graduate," with a pathos to which I am not insensible,
entreats me not to apotheosize "that awful, befringed, beflounced,
and bekilted divided skirt." Well, I will acknowledge that the
fringes, the flounces, and the kilting do certainly defeat the
whole object of the dress, which is that of ease and liberty; but I
regard these things as mere wicked superfluities, tragic proofs
that the divided skirt is ashamed of its own division. The
principle of the dress is good, and, though it is not by any means
perfection, it is a step towards it.

Here I leave the "Girl Graduate," with much regret, for Mr.
Wentworth Huyshe. Mr. Huyshe makes the old criticism that Greek
dress is unsuited to our climate, and, to me the somewhat new
assertion, that the men's dress of a hundred years ago was
preferable to that of the second part of the seventeenth century,
which I consider to have been the exquisite period of English

Now, as regards the first of these two statements, I will say, to
begin with, that the warmth of apparel does not depend really on
the number of garments worn, but on the material of which they are
made. One of the chief faults of modern dress is that it is
composed of far too many articles of clothing, most of which are of
the wrong substance; but over a substratum of pure wool, such as is
supplied by Dr. Jaeger under the modern German system, some
modification of Greek costume is perfectly applicable to our
climate, our country and our century. This important fact has
already been pointed out by Mr. E. W. Godwin in his excellent,
though too brief handbook on Dress, contributed to the Health
Exhibition. I call it an important fact because it makes almost
any form of lovely costume perfectly practicable in our cold
climate. Mr. Godwin, it is true, points out that the English
ladies of the thirteenth century abandoned after some time the
flowing garments of the early Renaissance in favour of a tighter
mode, such as Northern Europe seems to demand. This I quite admit,
and its significance; but what I contend, and what I am sure Mr.
Godwin would agree with me in, is that the principles, the laws of
Greek dress may be perfectly realized, even in a moderately tight
gown with sleeves: I mean the principle of suspending all apparel
from the shoulders, and of relying for beauty of effect not on the
stiff ready-made ornaments of the modern milliner--the bows where
there should be no bows, and the flounces where there should be no
flounces--but on the exquisite play of light and line that one gets
from rich and rippling folds. I am not proposing any antiquarian
revival of an ancient costume, but trying merely to point out the
right laws of dress, laws which are dictated by art and not by
archaeology, by science and not by fashion; and just as the best
work of art in our days is that which combines classic grace with
absolute reality, so from a continuation of the Greek principles of
beauty with the German principles of health will come, I feel
certain, the costume of the future.

And now to the question of men's dress, or rather to Mr. Huyshe's
claim of the superiority, in point of costume, of the last quarter
of the eighteenth century over the second quarter of the
seventeenth. The broad-brimmed hat of 1640 kept the rain of winter
and the glare of summer from the face; the same cannot be said of
the hat of one hundred years ago, which, with its comparatively
narrow brim and high crown, was the precursor of the modern
"chimney-pot": a wide turned-down collar is a healthier thing than
a strangling stock, and a short cloak much more comfortable than a
sleeved overcoat, even though the latter may have had "three
capes"; a cloak is easier to put on and off, lies lightly on the
shoulder in summer, and wrapped round one in winter keeps one
perfectly warm. A doublet, again, is simpler than a coat and
waistcoat; instead of two garments one has one; by not being open
also it protects the chest better.

Short loose trousers are in every way to be preferred to the tight
knee-breeches which often impede the proper circulation of the
blood; and finally, the soft leather boots which could be worn
above or below the knee, are more supple, and give consequently
more freedom, than the stiff Hessian which Mr. Huyshe so praises.
I say nothing about the question of grace and picturesqueness, for
I suppose that no one, not even Mr. Huyshe, would prefer a
maccaroni to a cavalier, a Lawrence to a Vandyke, or the third
George to the first Charles; but for ease, warmth and comfort this
seventeenth-century dress is infinitely superior to anything that
came after it, and I do not think it is excelled by any preceding
form of costume. I sincerely trust that we may soon see in England
some national revival of it.


I have been much interested at reading the large amount of
correspondence that has been called forth by my recent lecture on
Dress. It shows me that the subject of dress reform is one that is
occupying many wise and charming people, who have at heart the
principles of health, freedom, and beauty in costume, and I hope
that "H. B. T." and "Materfamilias" will have all the real
influence which their letters--excellent letters both of them--
certainly deserve.

I turn first to Mr. Huyshe's second letter, and the drawing that
accompanies it; but before entering into any examination of the
theory contained in each, I think I should state at once that I
have absolutely no idea whether this gentleman wears his hair long
or short, or his cuffs back or forward, or indeed what he is like
at all. I hope he consults his own comfort and wishes in
everything which has to do with his dress, and is allowed to enjoy
that individualism in apparel which he so eloquently claims for
himself, and so foolishly tries to deny to others; but I really
could not take Mr. Wentworth Huyshe's personal appearance as any
intellectual basis for an investigation of the principles which
should guide the costume of a nation. I am not denying the force,
or even the popularity, of the "'Eave arf a brick" school of
criticism, but I acknowledge it does not interest me. The gamin in
the gutter may be a necessity, but the gamin in discussion is a
nuisance. So I will proceed at once to the real point at issue,
the value of the late eighteenth-century costume over that worn in
the second quarter of the seventeenth: the relative merits, that
is, of the principles contained in each. Now, as regards the
eighteenth-century costume, Mr. Wentworth Huyshe acknowledges that
he has had no practical experience of it at all; in fact he makes a
pathetic appeal to his friends to corroborate him in his assertion,
which I do not question for a moment, that he has never been
"guilty of the eccentricity" of wearing himself the dress which he
proposes for general adoption by others. There is something so
naive and so amusing about this last passage in Mr. Huyshe's letter
that I am really in doubt whether I am not doing him a wrong in
regarding him as having any serious, or sincere, views on the
question of a possible reform in dress; still, as irrespective of
any attitude of Mr. Huyshe's in the matter, the subject is in
itself an interesting one, I think it is worth continuing,
particularly as I have myself worn this late eighteenth-century
dress many times, both in public and in private, and so may claim
to have a very positive right to speak on its comfort and
suitability. The particular form of the dress I wore was very
similar to that given in Mr. Godwin's handbook, from a print of
Northcote's, and had a certain elegance and grace about it which
was very charming; still, I gave it up for these reasons:- After a
further consideration of the laws of dress I saw that a doublet is
a far simpler and easier garment than a coat and waistcoat, and, if
buttoned from the shoulder, far warmer also, and that tails have no
place in costume, except on some Darwinian theory of heredity; from
absolute experience in the matter I found that the excessive
tightness of knee-breeches is not really comfortable if one wears
them constantly; and, in fact, I satisfied myself that the dress is
not one founded on any real principles. The broad-brimmed hat and
loose cloak, which, as my object was not, of course, historical
accuracy but modern ease, I had always worn with the costume in
question, I have still retained, and find them most comfortable.

Well, although Mr. Huyshe has no real experience of the dress he
proposes, he gives us a drawing of it, which he labels, somewhat
prematurely, "An ideal dress." An ideal dress of course it is not;
"passably picturesque," he says I may possibly think it; well,
passably picturesque it may be, but not beautiful, certainly,
simply because it is not founded on right principles, or, indeed,
on any principles at all. Picturesqueness one may get in a variety
of ways; ugly things that are strange, or unfamiliar to us, for
instance, may be picturesque, such as a late sixteenth-century
costume, or a Georgian house. Ruins, again, may be picturesque,
but beautiful they never can be, because their lines are
meaningless. Beauty, in fact, is to be got only from the
perfection of principles; and in "the ideal dress" of Mr. Huyshe
there are no ideas or principles at all, much less the perfection
of either. Let us examine it, and see its faults; they are obvious
to any one who desires more than a "Fancy-dress ball" basis for
costume. To begin with, the hat and boots are all wrong. Whatever
one wears on the extremities, such as the feet and head, should,
for the sake of comfort, be made of a soft material, and for the
sake of freedom should take its shape from the way one chooses to
wear it, and not from any stiff, stereotyped design of hat or boot
maker. In a hat made on right principles one should be able to
turn the brim up or down according as the day is dark or fair, dry
or wet; but the hat brim of Mr. Huyshe's drawing is perfectly
stiff, and does not give much protection to the face, or the
possibility of any at all to the back of the head or the ears, in
case of a cold east wind; whereas the bycocket, a hat made in
accordance with the right laws, can be turned down behind and at
the sides, and so give the same warmth as a hood. The crown,
again, of Mr. Huyshe's hat is far too high; a high crown diminishes
the stature of a small person, and in the case of any one who is
tall is a great inconvenience when one is getting in and out of
hansoms and railway carriages, or passing under a street awning:
in no case is it of any value whatsoever, and being useless it is
of course against the principles of dress.

As regards the boots, they are not quite so ugly or so
uncomfortable as the hat; still they are evidently made of stiff
leather, as otherwise they would fall down to the ankle, whereas
the boot should be made of soft leather always, and if worn high at
all must be either laced up the front or carried well over the
knee: in the latter case one combines perfect freedom for walking
together with perfect protection against rain, neither of which
advantages a short stiff boot will ever give one, and when one is
resting in the house the long soft boot can be turned down as the
boot of 1640 was. Then there is the overcoat: now, what are the
right principles of an overcoat? To begin with, it should be
capable of being easily put on or off, and worn over any kind of
dress; consequently it should never have narrow sleeves, such as
are shown in Mr. Huyshe's drawing. If an opening or slit for the
arm is required it should be made quite wide, and may be protected
by a flap, as in that excellent overall the modern Inverness cape;
secondly, it should not be too tight, as otherwise all freedom of
walking is impeded. If the young gentleman in the drawing buttons
his overcoat he may succeed in being statuesque, though that I
doubt very strongly, but he will never succeed in being swift; his
super-totus is made for him on no principle whatsoever; a super-
totus, or overall, should be capable of being worn long or short,
quite loose or moderately tight, just as the wearer wishes; he
should be able to have one arm free and one arm covered or both
arms free or both arms covered, just as he chooses for his
convenience in riding, walking, or driving; an overall again should
never be heavy, and should always be warm: lastly, it should be
capable of being easily carried if one wants to take it off; in
fact, its principles are those of freedom and comfort, and a cloak
realizes them all, just as much as an overcoat of the pattern
suggested by Mr. Huyshe violates them.

The knee-breeches are of course far too tight; any one who has worn
them for any length of time--any one, in fact, whose views on the
subject are not purely theoretical--will agree with me there; like
everything else in the dress, they are a great mistake. The
substitution of the jacket for the coat and waistcoat of the period
is a step in the right direction, which I am glad to see; it is,
however, far too tight over the hips for any possible comfort.
Whenever a jacket or doublet comes below the waist it should be
slit at each side. In the seventeenth century the skirt of the
jacket was sometimes laced on by points and tags, so that it could
be removed at will, sometimes it was merely left open at the sides:
in each case it exemplified what are always the true principles of
dress, I mean freedom and adaptability to circumstances.

Finally, as regards drawings of this kind, I would point out that
there is absolutely no limit at all to the amount of "passably
picturesque" costumes which can be either revived or invented for
us; but that unless a costume is founded on principles and
exemplified laws, it never can be of any real value to us in the
reform of dress. This particular drawing of Mr. Huyshe's, for
instance, proves absolutely nothing, except that our grandfathers
did not understand the proper laws of dress. There is not a single
rule of right costume which is not violated in it, for it gives us
stiffness, tightness and discomfort instead of comfort, freedom and

Now here, on the other hand, is a dress which, being founded on
principles, can serve us as an excellent guide and model; it has
been drawn for me, most kindly, by Mr. Godwin from the Duke of
Newcastle's delightful book on horsemanship, a book which is one of
our best authorities on our best era of costume. I do not of
course propose it necessarily for absolute imitation; that is not
the way in which one should regard it; it is not, I mean, a revival
of a dead costume, but a realization of living laws. I give it as
an example of a particular application of principles which are
universally right. This rationally dressed young man can turn his
hat brim down if it rains, and his loose trousers and boots down if
he is tired--that is, he can adapt his costume to circumstances;
then he enjoys perfect freedom, the arms and legs are not made
awkward or uncomfortable by the excessive tightness of narrow
sleeves and knee-breeches, and the hips are left quite
untrammelled, always an important point; and as regards comfort,
his jacket is not too loose for warmth, nor too close for
respiration; his neck is well protected without being strangled,
and even his ostrich feathers, if any Philistine should object to
them, are not merely dandyism, but fan him very pleasantly, I am
sure, in summer, and when the weather is bad they are no doubt left
at home, and his cloak taken out. THE VALUE OF THE DRESS IS SIMPLY
consequently apparelled with ideas, while Mr. Huyshe's young man is
stiffened with facts; the latter teaches one nothing; from the
former one learns everything. I need hardly say that this dress is
good, not because it is seventeenth century, but because it is
constructed on the true principles of costume, just as a square
lintel or pointed arch is good, not because one may be Greek and
the other Gothic, but because each of them is the best method of
spanning a certain-sized opening, or resisting a certain weight.
The fact, however, that this dress was generally worn in England
two centuries and a half ago shows at least this, that the right
laws of dress have been understood and realized in our country, and
so in our country may be realized and understood again. As regards
the absolute beauty of this dress and its meaning, I should like to
say a few words more. Mr. Wentworth Huyshe solemnly announces that
"he and those who think with him" cannot permit this question of
beauty to be imported into the question of dress; that he and those
who think with him take "practical views on the subject," and so
on. Well, I will not enter here into a discussion as to how far
any one who does not take beauty and the value of beauty into
account can claim to be practical at all. The word practical is
nearly always the last refuge of the uncivilized. Of all misused
words it is the most evilly treated. But what I want to point out
is that beauty is essentially organic; that is, it comes, not from
without, but from within, not from any added prettiness, but from
the perfection of its own being; and that consequently, as the body
is beautiful, so all apparel that rightly clothes it must be
beautiful also in its construction and in its lines.

I have no more desire to define ugliness than I have daring to
define beauty; but still I would like to remind those who mock at
beauty as being an unpractical thing of this fact, that an ugly
thing is merely a thing that is badly made, or a thing that does
not serve it purpose; that ugliness is want of fitness; that
ugliness is failure; that ugliness is uselessness, such as ornament
in the wrong place, while beauty, as some one finely said, is the
purgation of all superfluities. There is a divine economy about
beauty; it gives us just what is needful and no more, whereas
ugliness is always extravagant; ugliness is a spendthrift and
wastes its material; in fine, ugliness--and I would commend this
remark to Mr. Wentworth Huyshe--ugliness, as much in costume as in
anything else, is always the sign that somebody has been
unpractical. So the costume of the future in England, if it is
founded on the true laws of freedom, comfort, and adaptability to
circumstances, cannot fail to be most beautiful also, because
beauty is the sign always of the rightness of principles, the
mystical seal that is set upon what is perfect, and upon what is
perfect only.

As for your other correspondent, the first principle of dress that
all garments should be hung from the shoulders and not from the
waist seems to me to be generally approved of, although an "Old
Sailor" declares that no sailors or athletes ever suspend their
clothes from the shoulders, but always from the hips. My own
recollection of the river and running ground at Oxford--those two
homes of Hellenism in our little Gothic town--is that the best
runners and rowers (and my own college turned out many) wore always
a tight jersey, with short drawers attached to it, the whole
costume being woven in one piece. As for sailors, it is true, I
admit, and the bad custom seems to involve that constant "hitching
up" of the lower garments which, however popular in transpontine
dramas, cannot, I think, but be considered an extremely awkward
habit; and as all awkwardness comes from discomfort of some kind, I
trust that this point in our sailor's dress will be looked to in
the coming reform of our navy, for, in spite of all protests, I
hope we are about to reform everything, from torpedoes to top-hats,
and from crinolettes to cruises.

Then as regards clogs, my suggestion of them seems to have aroused
a great deal of terror. Fashion in her high-heeled boots has
screamed, and the dreadful word "anachronism" has been used. Now,
whatever is useful cannot be an anachronism. Such a word is
applicable only to the revival of some folly; and, besides, in the
England of our own day clogs are still worn in many of our
manufacturing towns, such as Oldham. I fear that in Oldham they
may not be dreams of beauty; in Oldham the art of inlaying them
with ivory and with pearl may possibly be unknown; yet in Oldham
they serve their purpose. Nor is it so long since they were worn
by the upper classes of this country generally. Only a few days
ago I had the pleasure of talking to a lady who remembered with
affectionate regret the clogs of her girlhood; they were, according
to her, not too high nor too heavy, and were provided, besides,
with some kind of spring in the sole so as to make them the more
supple for the foot in walking. Personally, I object to all
additional height being given to a boot or shoe; it is really
against the proper principles of dress, although, if any such
height is to be given it should be by means of two props; not one;
but what I should prefer to see is some adaptation of the divided
skirt or long and moderately loose knickerbockers. If, however,
the divided skirt is to be of any positive value, it must give up
all idea of "being identical in appearance with an ordinary skirt";
it must diminish the moderate width of each of its divisions, and
sacrifice its foolish frills and flounces; the moment it imitates a
dress it is lost; but let it visibly announce itself as what it
actually is, and it will go far towards solving a real difficulty.
I feel sure that there will be found many graceful and charming
girls ready to adopt a costume founded on these principles, in
spite of Mr. Wentworth Huyshe's terrible threat that he will not
propose to them as long as they wear it, for all charges of a want
of womanly character in these forms of dress are really
meaningless; every right article of apparel belongs equally to both
sexes, and there is absolutely no such thing as a definitely
feminine garment. One word of warning I should like to be allowed
to give: The over-tunic should be made full and moderately loose;
it may, if desired, be shaped more or less to the figure, but in no
case should it be confined at the waist by any straight band or
belt; on the contrary, it should fall from the shoulder to the
knee, or below it, in fine curves and vertical lines, giving more
freedom and consequently more grace. Few garments are so
absolutely unbecoming as a belted tunic that reaches to the knees,
a fact which I wish some of our Rosalinds would consider when they
don doublet and hose; indeed, to the disregard of this artistic
principle is due the ugliness, the want of proportion, in the
Bloomer costume, a costume which in other respects is sensible.


Are we not all weary of him, that venerable impostor fresh from the
steps of the Piazza di Spagna, who, in the leisure moments that he
can spare from his customary organ, makes the round of the studios
and is waited for in Holland Park? Do we not all recognize him,
when, with the gay insouciance of his nation, he reappears on the
walls of our summer exhibitions as everything that he is not, and
as nothing that he is, glaring at us here as a patriarch of Canaan,
here beaming as a brigand from the Abruzzi? Popular is he, this
poor peripatetic professor of posing, with those whose joy it is to
paint the posthumous portrait of the last philanthropist who in his
lifetime had neglected to be photographed,--yet he is the sign of
the decadence, the symbol of decay.

For all costumes are caricatures. The basis of Art is not the
Fancy Ball. Where there is loveliness of dress, there is no
dressing up. And so, were our national attire delightful in
colour, and in construction simple and sincere; were dress the
expression of the loveliness that it shields and of the swiftness
and motion that it does not impede; did its lines break from the
shoulder instead of bulging from the waist; did the inverted
wineglass cease to be the ideal of form; were these things brought
about, as brought about they will be, then would painting be no
longer an artificial reaction against the ugliness of life, but
become, as it should be, the natural expression of life's beauty.
Nor would painting merely, but all the other arts also, be the
gainers by a change such as that which I propose; the gainers, I
mean, through the increased atmosphere of Beauty by which the
artists would be surrounded and in which they would grow up. For
Art is not to be taught in Academies. It is what one looks at, not
what one listens to, that makes the artist. The real schools
should be the streets. There is not, for instance, a single
delicate line, or delightful proportion, in the dress of the
Greeks, which is not echoed exquisitely in their architecture. A
nation arrayed in stove-pipe hats and dress-improvers might have
built the Pantechnichon possibly, but the Parthenon never. And
finally, there is this to be said: Art, it is true, can never have
any other claim but her own perfection, and it may be that the
artist, desiring merely to contemplate and to create, is wise in
not busying himself about change in others: yet wisdom is not
always the best; there are times when she sinks to the level of
common-sense; and from the passionate folly of those--and there are
many--who desire that Beauty shall be confined no longer to the
bric-a-brac of the collector and the dust of the museum, but shall
be, as it should be, the natural and national inheritance of all,--
from this noble unwisdom, I say, who knows what new loveliness
shall be given to life, and, under these more exquisite conditions,
what perfect artist born? Le milieu se renouvelant, l'art se


A terrible danger is hanging over the Americans in London. Their
future and their reputation this season depend entirely on the
success of Buffalo Bill and Mrs. Brown-Potter. The former is
certain to draw; for English people are far more interested in
American barbarism than they are in American civilization. When
they sight Sandy Hook they look to their rifles and ammunition;
and, after dining once at Delmonico's, start off for Colorado or
California, for Montana or the Yellow Stone Park. Rocky Mountains
charm them more than riotous millionaires; they have been known to
prefer buffaloes to Boston. Why should they not? The cities of
America are inexpressibly tedious. The Bostonians take their
learning too sadly; culture with them is an accomplishment rather
than an atmosphere; their "Hub," as they call it, is the paradise
of prigs. Chicago is a sort of monster-shop, full of bustle and
bores. Political life at Washington is like political life in a
suburban vestry. Baltimore is amusing for a week, but Philadelphia
is dreadfully provincial; and though one can dine in New York one
could not dwell there. Better the Far West with its grizzly bears
and its untamed cowboys, its free open-air life and its free open-
air manners, its boundless prairie and its boundless mendacity!
This is what Buffalo Bill is going to bring to London; and we have
no doubt that London will fully appreciate his show.

With regard to Mrs. Brown-Potter, as acting is no longer considered
absolutely essential for success on the English stage, there is
really no reason why the pretty bright-eyed lady who charmed us all
last June by her merry laugh and her nonchalant ways, should not--
to borrow an expression from her native language--make a big boom
and paint the town red. We sincerely hope she will; for, on the
whole, the American invasion has done English society a great deal
of good. American women are bright, clever, and wonderfully
cosmopolitan. Their patriotic feelings are limited to an
admiration for Niagara and a regret for the Elevated Railway; and,
unlike the men, they never bore us with Bunkers Hill. They take
their dresses from Paris and their manners from Piccadilly, and
wear both charmingly. They have a quaint pertness, a delightful
conceit, a native self-assertion. They insist on being paid
compliments and have almost succeeded in making Englishmen
eloquent. For our aristocracy they have an ardent admiration; they
adore titles and are a permanent blow to Republican principles. In
the art of amusing men they are adepts, both by nature and
education, and can actually tell a story without forgetting the
point--an accomplishment that is extremely rare among the women of
other countries. It is true that they lack repose and that their
voices are somewhat harsh and strident when they land first at
Liverpool; but after a time one gets to love those pretty
whirlwinds in petticoats that sweep so recklessly through society
and are so agitating to all duchesses who have daughters. There is
something fascinating in their funny, exaggerated gestures and
their petulant way of tossing the head. Their eyes have no magic
nor mystery in them, but they challenge us for combat; and when we
engage we are always worsted. Their lips seem made for laughter
and yet they never grimace. As for their voices they soon get them
into tune. Some of them have been known to acquire a fashionable
drawl in two seasons; and after they have been presented to Royalty
they all roll their R's as vigorously as a young equerry or an old
lady-in-waiting. Still, they never really lose their accent; it
keeps peeping out here and there, and when they chatter together
they are like a bevy of peacocks. Nothing is more amusing than to
watch two American girls greeting each other in a drawing-room or
in the Row. They are like children with their shrill staccato
cries of wonder, their odd little exclamations. Their conversation
sounds like a series of exploding crackers; they are exquisitely
incoherent and use a sort of primitive, emotional language. After
five minutes they are left beautifully breathless and look at each
other half in amusement and half in affection. If a stolid young
Englishman is fortunate enough to be introduced to them he is
amazed at their extraordinary vivacity, their electric quickness of
repartee, their inexhaustible store of curious catchwords. He
never really understands them, for their thoughts flutter about
with the sweet irresponsibility of butterflies; but he is pleased
and amused and feels as if he were in an aviary. On the whole,
American girls have a wonderful charm and, perhaps, the chief
secret of their charm is that they never talk seriously except
about amusements. They have, however, one grave fault--their
mothers. Dreary as were those old Pilgrim Fathers who left our
shores more than two centuries ago to found a New England beyond
the seas, the Pilgrim Mothers who have returned to us in the
nineteenth century are drearier still.

Here and there, of course, there are exceptions, but as a class
they are either dull, dowdy or dyspeptic. It is only fair to the
rising generation of America to state that they are not to blame
for this. Indeed, they spare no pains at all to bring up their
parents properly and to give them a suitable, if somewhat late,
education. From its earliest years every American child spends
most of its time in correcting the faults of its father and mother;
and no one who has had the opportunity of watching an American
family on the deck of an Atlantic steamer, or in the refined
seclusion of a New York boarding-house, can fail to have been
struck by this characteristic of their civilization. In America
the young are always ready to give to those who are older than
themselves the full benefits of their inexperience. A boy of only
eleven or twelve years of age will firmly but kindly point out to
his father his defects of manner or temper; will never weary of
warning him against extravagance, idleness, late hours,
unpunctuality, and the other temptations to which the aged are so
particularly exposed; and sometimes, should he fancy that he is
monopolizing too much of the conversation at dinner, will remind
him, across the table, of the new child's adage, "Parents should be
seen, not heard." Nor does any mistaken idea of kindness prevent
the little American girl from censuring her mother whenever it is
necessary. Often, indeed, feeling that a rebuke conveyed in the
presence of others is more truly efficacious than one merely
whispered in the quiet of the nursery, she will call the attention
of perfect strangers to her mother's general untidiness, her want
of intellectual Boston conversation, immoderate love of iced water
and green corn, stinginess in the matter of candy, ignorance of the
usages of the best Baltimore Society, bodily ailments, and the
like. In fact, it may be truly said that no American child is ever
blind to the deficiencies of its parents, no matter how much it may
love them.

Yet, somehow, this educational system has not been so successful as
it deserved. In many cases, no doubt, the material with which the
children had to deal was crude and incapable of real development;
but the fact remains that the American mother is a tedious person.
The American father is better, for he is never seen in London. He
passes his life entirely in Wall Street and communicates with his
family once a month by means of a telegram in cipher. The mother,
however, is always with us, and, lacking the quick imitative
faculty of the younger generation, remains uninteresting and
provincial to the last. In spite of her, however, the American
girl is always welcome. She brightens our dull dinner parties for
us and makes life go pleasantly by for a season. In the race for
coronets she often carries off the prize; but, once she has gained
the victory, she is generous and forgives her English rivals
everything, even their beauty.

Warned by the example of her mother that American women do not grow
old gracefully, she tries not to grow old at all and often
succeeds. She has exquisite feet and hands, is always bien
chaussee et bien gantee and can talk brilliantly upon any subject,
provided that she knows nothing about it.

Her sense of humour keeps her from the tragedy of a grande passion,
and, as there is neither romance nor humility in her love, she
makes an excellent wife. What her ultimate influence on English
life will be it is difficult to estimate at present; but there can
be no doubt that, of all the factors that have contributed to the
social revolution of London, there are few more important, and none
more delightful, than the American Invasion.


Through the exertions of Sir Charles Newton, to whom every student
of classic art should be grateful, some of the wonderful treasures
so long immured in the grimy vaults of the British Museum have at
last been brought to light, and the new Sculpture Room now opened
to the public will amply repay the trouble of a visit, even from
those to whom art is a stumbling-block and a rock of offence. For
setting aside the mere beauty of form, outline and mass, the grace
and loveliness of design and the delicacy of technical treatment,
here we have shown to us what the Greeks and Romans thought about
death; and the philosopher, the preacher, the practical man of the
world, and even the Philistine himself, cannot fail to be touched
by these "sermons in stones," with their deep significance, their
fertile suggestion, their plain humanity. Common tombstones they
are, most of them, the work not of famous artists but of simple
handicraftsmen, only they were wrought in days when every
handicraft was an art. The finest specimens, from the purely
artistic point of view, are undoubtedly the two stelai found at
Athens. They are both the tombstones of young Greek athletes. In
one the athlete is represented handing his strigil to his slave, in
the other the athlete stands alone, strigil in hand. They do not
belong to the greatest period of Greek art, they have not the grand
style of the Phidian age, but they are beautiful for all that, and
it is impossible not to be fascinated by their exquisite grace and
by the treatment which is so simple in its means, so subtle in its
effect. All the tombstones, however, are full of interest. Here
is one of two ladies of Smyrna who were so remarkable in their day
that the city voted them honorary crowns; here is a Greek doctor
examining a little boy who is suffering from indigestion; here is
the memorial of Xanthippus who, probably, was a martyr to gout, as
he is holding in his hand the model of a foot, intended, no doubt,
as a votive offering to some god. A lovely stele from Rhodes gives
us a family group. The husband is on horseback and is bidding
farewell to his wife, who seems as if she would follow him but is
being held back by a little child. The pathos of parting from
those we love is the central motive of Greek funeral art. It is
repeated in every possible form, and each mute marble stone seems
to murmur [Greek text]. Roman art is different. It introduces
vigorous and realistic portraiture and deals with pure family life
far more frequently than Greek art does. They are very ugly, those
stern-looking Roman men and women whose portraits are exhibited on
their tombs, but they seem to have been loved and respected by
their children and their servants. Here is the monument of
Aphrodisius and Atilia, a Roman gentleman and his wife, who died in
Britain many centuries ago, and whose tombstone was found in the
Thames; and close by it stands a stele from Rome with the busts of
an old married couple who are certainly marvellously ill-favoured.
The contrast between the abstract Greek treatment of the idea of
death and the Roman concrete realization of the individuals who
have died is extremely curious.

Besides the tombstones, the new Sculpture Room contains some most
fascinating examples of Roman decorative art under the Emperors.
The most wonderful of all, and this alone is worth a trip to
Bloomsbury, is a bas-relief representing a marriage scene, Juno
Pronuba is joining the hands of a handsome young noble and a very
stately lady. There is all the grace of Perugino in this marble,
all the grace of Raphael even. The date of it is uncertain, but
the particular cut of the bridegroom's beard seems to point to the
time of the Emperor Hadrian. It is clearly the work of Greek
artists and is one of the most beautiful bas-reliefs in the whole
Museum. There is something in it which reminds one of the music
and the sweetness of Propertian verse. Then we have delightful
friezes of children. One representing children playing on musical
instruments might have suggested much of the plastic art of
Florence. Indeed, as we view these marbles it is not difficult to
see whence the Renaissance sprang and to what we owe the various
forms of Renaissance art. The frieze of the Muses, each of whom
wears in her hair a feather plucked from the wings of the
vanquished sirens, is extremely fine; there is a lovely little bas-
relief of two cupids racing in chariots; and the frieze of
recumbent Amazons has some splendid qualities of design. A frieze
of children playing with the armour of the god Mars should also be
mentioned. It is full of fancy and delicate humour.

We hope that some more of the hidden treasures will shortly be
catalogued and shown. In the vaults at present there is a very
remarkable bas-relief of the marriage of Cupid and Psyche, and
another representing the professional mourners weeping over the
body of the dead. The fine cast of the Lion of Chaeronea should
also be brought up, and so should the stele with the marvellous
portrait of the Roman slave. Economy is an excellent public
virtue, but the parsimony that allows valuable works of art to
remain in the grim and gloom of a damp cellar is little short of a
detestable public vice.


Amongst the many young men in England who are seeking along with me
to continue and to perfect the English Renaissance--jeunes
guerriers du drapeau romantique, as Gautier would have called us--
there is none whose love of art is more flawless and fervent, whose
artistic sense of beauty is more subtle and more delicate--none,
indeed, who is dearer to myself--than the young poet whose verses I
have brought with me to America; verses full of sweet sadness, and
yet full of joy; for the most joyous poet is not he who sows the
desolate highways of this world with the barren seed of laughter,
but he who makes his sorrow most musical, this indeed being the
meaning of joy in art--that incommunicable element of artistic
delight which, in poetry, for instance, comes from what Keats
called "sensuous life of verse," the element of song in the
singing, made so pleasurable to us by that wonder of motion which
often has its origin in mere musical impulse, and in painting is to
be sought for, from the subject never, but from the pictorial charm
only--the scheme and symphony of the colour, the satisfying beauty
of the design: so that the ultimate expression of our artistic
movement in painting has been, not in the spiritual vision of the
Pre-Raphaelites, for all their marvel of Greek legend and their
mystery of Italian song, but in the work of such men as Whistler
and Albert Moore, who have raised design and colour to the ideal
level of poetry and music. For the quality of their exquisite
painting comes from the mere inventive and creative handling of
line and colour, from a certain form and choice of beautiful
workmanship, which, rejecting all literary reminiscence and all
metaphysical idea, is in itself entirely satisfying to the
aesthetic sense--is, as the Greeks would say, an end in itself; the
effect of their work being like the effect given to us by music;
for music is the art in which form and matter are always one--the
art whose subject cannot be separated from the method of its
expression; the art which most completely realizes for us the
artistic ideal, and is the condition to which all the other arts
are constantly aspiring.

Now, this increased sense of the absolutely satisfying value of
beautiful workmanship, this recognition of the primary importance
of the sensuous element in art, this love of art for art's sake, is
the point in which we of the younger school have made a departure
from the teaching of Mr. Ruskin,--a departure definite and
different and decisive.

Master indeed of the knowledge of all noble living and of the
wisdom of all spiritual things will he be to us ever, seeing that
it was he who by the magic of his presence and the music of his
lips taught us at Oxford that enthusiasm for beauty which is the
secret of Hellenism, and that desire for creation which is the
secret of life, and filled some of us, at least, with the lofty and
passionate ambition to go forth into far and fair lands with some
message for the nations and some mission for the world, and yet in
his art criticism, his estimate of the joyous element of art, his
whole method of approaching art, we are no longer with him; for the
keystone to his aesthetic system is ethical always. He would judge
of a picture by the amount of noble moral ideas it expresses; but
to us the channels by which all noble work in painting can touch,
and does touch, the soul are not those of truths of life or
metaphysical truths. To him perfection of workmanship seems but
the symbol of pride, and incompleteness of technical resource the
image of an imagination too limitless to find within the limits of
form its complete expression, or of love too simple not to stammer
in its tale. But to us the rule of art is not the rule of morals.
In an ethical system, indeed, of any gentle mercy good intentions
will, one is fain to fancy, have their recognition; but of those
that would enter the serene House of Beauty the question that we
ask is not what they had ever meant to do, but what they have done.
Their pathetic intentions are of no value to us, but their realized
creations only. Pour moi je prefere les poetes qui font des vers,
les medecins qui sachent guerir, les peintres qui sanchent peindre.

Nor, in looking at a work of art, should we be dreaming of what it
symbolises, but rather loving it for what it is. Indeed, the
transcendental spirit is alien to the spirit of art. The
metaphysical mind of Asia may create for itself the monstrous and
many-breasted idol, but to the Greek, pure artist, that work is
most instinct with spiritual life which conforms most closely to
the perfect facts of physical life also. Nor, in its primary
aspect, has a painting, for instance, any more spiritual message or
meaning for us than a blue tile from the wall of Damascus, or a
Hitzen vase. It is a beautifully coloured surface, nothing more,
and affects us by no suggestion stolen from philosophy, no pathos
pilfered from literature, no feeling filched from a poet, but by
its own incommunicable artistic essence--by that selection of truth
which we call style, and that relation of values which is the
draughtsmanship of painting, by the whole quality of the
workmanship, the arabesque of the design, the splendour of the
colour, for these things are enough to stir the most divine and
remote of the chords which make music in our soul, and colour,
indeed, is of itself a mystical presence on things, and tone a kind
of sentiment . . . all these poems aim, as I said, at producing a
purely artistic effect, and have the rare and exquisite quality
that belongs to work of that kind; and I feel that the entire
subordination in our aesthetic movement of all merely emotional and
intellectual motives to the vital informing poetic principle is the
surest sign of our strength.

But it is not enough that a work of art should conform to the
aesthetic demands of the age: there should be also about it, if it
is to give us any permanent delight, the impress of a distinct
individuality. Whatever work we have in the nineteenth century
must rest on the two poles of personality and perfection. And so
in this little volume, by separating the earlier and more simple
work from the work that is later and stronger and possesses
increased technical power and more artistic vision, one might weave
these disconnected poems, these stray and scattered threads, into
one fiery-coloured strand of life, noting first a boy's mere
gladness of being young, with all its simple joy in field and
flower, in sunlight and in song, and then the bitterness of sudden
sorrow at the ending by Death of one of the brief and beautiful
friendships of one's youth, with all those unanswered lodgings and
questionings unsatisfied by which we vex, so uselessly, the marble
face of death; the artistic contrast between the discontented
incompleteness of the spirit and the complete perfection of the
style that expresses it forming the chief element of the aesthetic
charm of these particular poems;--and then the birth of Love, and
all the wonder and the fear and the perilous delight of one on
whose boyish brows the little wings of love have beaten for the
first time; and the love-songs, so dainty and delicate, little
swallow-flights of music, and full of such fragrance and freedom
that they might all be sung in the open air and across moving
water; and then autumn, coming with its choirless woods and odorous
decay and ruined loveliness, Love lying dead; and the sense of the
mere pity of it.

One might stop there, for from a young poet one should ask for no
deeper chords of life than those that love and friendship make
eternal for us; and the best poems in the volume belong clearly to
a later time, a time when these real experiences become absorbed
and gathered up into a form which seems from such real experiences
to be the most alien and the most remote; when the simple
expression of joy or sorrow suffices no longer, and lives rather in
the stateliness of the cadenced metre, in the music and colour of
the linked words, than in any direct utterance; lives, one might
say, in the perfection of the form more than in the pathos of the
feeling. And yet, after the broken music of love and the burial of
love in the autumn woods, we can trace that wandering among strange
people, and in lands unknown to us, by which we try so pathetically
to heal the hurts of the life we know, and that pure and passionate
devotion to Art which one gets when the harsh reality of life has
too suddenly wounded one, and is with discontent or sorrow marring
one's youth, just as often, I think, as one gets it from any
natural joy of living; and that curious intensity of vision by
which, in moments of overmastering sadness and despair
ungovernable, artistic things will live in one's memory with a
vivid realism caught from the life which they help one to forget--
an old grey tomb in Flanders with a strange legend on it, making
one think how, perhaps, passion does live on after death; a
necklace of blue and amber beads and a broken mirror found in a
girl's grave at Rome, a marble image of a boy habited like Eros,
and with the pathetic tradition of a great king's sorrow lingering
about it like a purple shadow,--over all these the tired spirit
broods with that calm and certain joy that one gets when one has
found something that the ages never dull and the world cannot harm;
and with it comes that desire of Greek things which is often an
artistic method of expressing one's desire for perfection; and that
longing for the old dead days which is so modern, so incomplete, so
touching, being, in a way, the inverted torch of Hope, which burns
the hand it should guide; and for many things a little sadness, and
for all things a great love; and lastly, in the pinewood by the
sea, once more the quick and vital pulse of joyous youth leaping
and laughing in every line, the frank and fearless freedom of wave
and wind waking into fire life's burnt-out ashes and into song the
silent lips of pain,--how clearly one seems to see it all, the long
colonnade of pines with sea and sky peeping in here and there like
a flitting of silver; the open place in the green, deep heart of
the wood with the little moss-grown altar to the old Italian god in
it; and the flowers all about, cyclamen in the shadowy places, and
the stars of the white narcissus lying like snow-flakes over the
grass, where the quick, bright-eyed lizard starts by the stone, and
the snake lies coiled lazily in the sun on the hot sand, and
overhead the gossamer floats from the branches like thin, tremulous
threads of gold,--the scene is so perfect for its motive, for
surely here, if anywhere, the real gladness of life might be
revealed to one's youth--the gladness that comes, not from the
rejection, but from the absorption, of all passion, and is like
that serene calm that dwells in the faces of the Greek statues, and
which despair and sorrow cannot touch, but intensify only.

In some such way as this we could gather up these strewn and
scattered petals of song into one perfect rose of life, and yet,
perhaps, in so doing, we might be missing the true quality of the
poems; one's real life is so often the life that one does not lead;
and beautiful poems, like threads of beautiful silks, may be woven
into many patterns and to suit many designs, all wonderful and all
different: and romantic poetry, too, is essentially the poetry of
impressions, being like that latest school of painting, the school
of Whistler and Albert Moore, in its choice of situation as opposed
to subject; in its dealing with the exceptions rather than with the
types of life; in its brief intensity; in what one might call its
fiery-coloured momentariness, it being indeed the momentary
situations of life, the momentary aspects of nature, which poetry
and painting new seek to render for us. Sincerity and constancy
will the artist, indeed, have always; but sincerity in art is
merely that plastic perfection of execution without which a poem or
a painting, however noble its sentiment or human its origin, is but
wasted and unreal work, and the constancy of the artist cannot be
to any definite rule or system of living, but to that principle of
beauty only through which the inconstant shadows of his life are in
their most fleeting moment arrested and made permanent. He will
not, for instance, in intellectual matters acquiesce in that facile
orthodoxy of our day which is so reasonable and so artistically
uninteresting, nor yet will he desire that fiery faith of the
antique time which, while it intensified, yet limited the vision;
still less will he allow the calm of his culture to be marred by
the discordant despair of doubt or the sadness of a sterile
scepticism; for the Valley Perilous, where ignorant armies clash by
night, is no resting-place meet for her to whom the gods have
assigned the clear upland, the serene height, and the sunlit air,--
rather will he be always curiously testing new forms of belief,
tinging his nature with the sentiment that still lingers about some
beautiful creeds, and searching for experience itself, and not for
the fruits of experience; when he has got its secret, he will leave
without regret much that was once very precious to him. "I am
always insincere," says Emerson somewhere, "as knowing that there
are other moods": "Les emotions," wrote Theophile Gautier once in
a review of Arsene Houssaye, "Les emotions, ne se ressemblent pas,
mais etre emu--voila l'important."

Now, this is the secret of the art of the modern romantic school,
and gives one the right keynote for its apprehension; but the real
quality of all work which, like Mr. Rodd's, aims, as I said, at a
purely artistic effect, cannot be described in terms of
intellectual criticism; it is too intangible for that. One can
perhaps convey it best in terms of the other arts, and by reference
to them; and, indeed, some of these poems are as iridescent and as
exquisite as a lovely fragment of Venetian glass; others as
delicate in perfect workmanship and as single in natural motive as
an etching by Whistler is, or one of those beautiful little Greek
figures which in the olive woods round Tanagra men can still find,
with the faint gilding and the fading crimson not yet fled from
hair and lips and raiment; and many of them seem like one of
Corot's twilights just passing into music; for not merely in
visible colour, but in sentiment also--which is the colour of
poetry--may there be a kind of tone.

But I think that the best likeness to the quality of this young
poet's work I ever saw was in the landscape by the Loire. We were
staying once, he and I, at Amboise, that little village with its
grey slate roofs and steep streets and gaunt, grim gateway, where
the quiet cottages nestle like white pigeons into the sombre clefts
of the great bastioned rock, and the stately Renaissance houses
stand silent and apart--very desolate now, but with some memory of
the old days still lingering about the delicately-twisted pillars,
and the carved doorways, with their grotesque animals, and laughing
masks, and quaint heraldic devices, all reminding one of a people
who could not think life real till they had made it fantastic. And
above the village, and beyond the bend of the river, we used to go
in the afternoon, and sketch from one of the big barges that bring
the wine in autumn and the wood in winter down to the sea, or lie
in the long grass and make plans pour la gloire, et pour ennuyer
les Philistins, or wander along the low, sedgy banks, "matching our
reeds in sportive rivalry," as comrades used in the old Sicilian
days; and the land was an ordinary land enough, and bare, too, when
one thought of Italy, and how the oleanders were robing the
hillsides by Genoa in scarlet, and the cyclamen filling with its
purple every valley from Florence to Rome; for there was not much
real beauty, perhaps, in it, only long, white dusty roads and
straight rows of formal poplars; but, now and then, some little
breaking gleam of broken light would lend to the grey field and the
silent barn a secret and a mystery that were hardly their own,
would transfigure for one exquisite moment the peasants passing
down through the vineyard, or the shepherd watching on the hill,
would tip the willows with silver and touch the river into gold;
and the wonder of the effect, with the strange simplicity of the
material, always seemed to me to be a little like the quality of
these the verses of my friend.


Back to Full Books