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Confessions of a Young Man

By George Moore

Introduction by Floyd Dell


These "Confessions of a Young Man" constitute one of the most significant
documents of the passionate revolt of English literature against the
Victorian tradition. It is significant because it reveals so clearly the
sources of that revolt. It is in a sense the history of an epoch--an epoch
that is just closing. It represents one of the great discoveries of English
literature: a discovery that had been made from time to time before, and
that is now being made anew in our own generation--the discovery of human

The reason why this discovery has had to be made so often is that it shocks
people. They try to hush it up; and they do succeed in forgetting about it
for long periods of time, and pretending that it doesn't exist. They are
shocked because human nature is not at all like the pretty pictures we like
to draw of ourselves. It is not so sweet, amiable and gentlemanly or
ladylike as we wish to believe it. It is much more selfish, brutal and
lascivious than we care to admit, and as such, both too terrible and too
ridiculous to please us. The Elizabethans understood human nature, and made
glorious comedies and tragedies out of its inordinate crimes and cruelties,
and its pathetic follies and fatuities. But people didn't like it, and they
turned Puritan and closed the theaters. It is true, they repented, and
opened them again; but the theater had got a bad name from which it is only
now beginning to recover.

In the fields of poetry and fiction a more long-drawn-out contest ensued
between, those who wanted to tell the truth and those who wanted to listen
to pleasant fibs, the latter generally having the best of it. The contest
finally settled down into the Victorian compromise, which was tacitly
accepted by even the best of the imaginative writers of the period. The
understanding was that brutality, lust and selfishness were to be
represented as being qualities only of "bad" people, plainly labelled as
such. Under this compromise some magnificent works were produced. But
inasmuch as the compromise involved a suppression of a great and
all-important fact about the human soul, it could not endure forever. The
only question was, under what influences would the revolt occur?

It occurred, as George Moore's quite typical and naively illuminating
confessions reveal, under French influences. Something of the same sort had
been happening in France, and the English rebels found exemplars of revolt
ready to their need. These French rebels were of all sorts, and it was
naturally the most extreme that attracted the admiration of the English
malcontents. Chief among these were Gautier and Baudelaire.

Gautier had written in "Mademoiselle de Maupin" a lyrical exaltation of the
joys of the flesh: he had eloquently and unreservedly pronounced the
fleshly pleasures _good_. Baudelaire had gone farther: he had said
that Evil was beautiful, the most beautiful thing in the world--and proved
it, to those who were anxious to believe it, by writing beautiful poems
about every form of evil that he could think of.

They were still far, it will be observed, from the sane and truly
revolutionary conception of life which has begun to obtain acceptance in
our day--a conception of life which traverses the old conceptions if "good"
and "evil." Baudelaire and Gautier hardly did more than brilliantly
champion the unpopular side of a foolish argument. It may seem odd to us
today that such a romantic, not to say hysterical, turning-upside-down of
current British morality could so deeply impress the best minds of the
younger generation in England. Its influence, when mixed with original
genius of a high quality, produced the "Poems and Ballads" of Swinburne. It
produced also _The Yellow Book_, a more characteristic and less happy
result. It produced a whole host of freaks and follies. But it did contain
a liberating idea--the idea that human nature is a subject to be dealt
with, not to be concealed and lied about. And, among others, George Moore
was set free--set free to write some of the sincerest fiction in our

These "Confessions" reveal him in the process of revaluing the values of
life and art for himself. It was not an easy or a painless process.
Destined for the army, because he wasn't apparently clever enough to go in
for the church or the law, he managed, with a kind of instinctive
self-protection, to avoid learning enough even to be an officer. He turned
first in this direction and then in that, in his efforts to escape. The
race-track furnished one diversion for his unhappy energies, books of
poetry another. Then he met a painter who painted and loved sumptuous and
beautiful blondes, whereupon art and women became the new centers of his
life, and Paris, where both might be indulged in, his great ambition. Given
permission and an allowance, he set off to study art in Paris--only to find
after much effort and heartache that he was a failure as an artist. There
remained, however, women--and the cafes, with strange poets and
personalities to be cultivated and explored. Modelling himself after his
newest friend, in attire, manners and morals, he lived what might have been
on the whole an unprofitable and ordinary life, if he had not been able to
gild it with the glamour of philosophic immoralism. Finally, because
everybody else was writing, he too wrote--a play. Then follows a period of
discovery of the newest movement in art. So impressionable is he that his
stay of some years in Paris causes him actually to forget how to write
English prose, and when he returns to London and has to earn his living at
journalism he has to learn his native tongue over again. Nevertheless he
has acquired a point of view--on women, on art, on life. He
writes--criticism, poetry, fiction. He is obscure, ambitious, full of
self-esteem, that is beginning to be soured by failure. He tries to get
involved in a duel with a young nobleman, just to get himself before the
public. Failing in that, he lives in squalid lodgings--or so they seem to a
young man who has lived in Paris on a liberal allowance--and writes,
writes, writes, writes ... talking to his fellow lodgers, to the stupid
servant who brings him his meals, and getting the materials for future
books out of them. A candid record of these incidents, interwoven with
eloquent self-analysis, keen and valid criticism of books and pictures,
delightful reminiscences and furious dissertations upon morality, the whole
story is given a special and, for its time, a rare interest by its utter
lack of conventional reticence. He never spares himself. He has undertaken
quite honestly to tell the truth. He has learned from Paris not to be
ashamed of himself. And this, though he had not realized it, was what he
had gone to Paris to learn.

He had put himself instinctively in the way of receiving liberalizing
influences. But it was, after all, an accident that he received those
influences from France. He might conceivably have stayed at home and read
Tolstoi or Walt Whitman! So indeed might the whole English literary revolt
have taken its rise under different and perhaps happier influences. But it
happened as it happened. And accidents are important. The accident of
having to turn to France for moral support colored the whole English
literary revolt. And the accident of going to Paris colored vividly the
superficial layers of George Moore's soul. This book partly represents a
flaunting of such borrowed colors. It was the fashion of the Parisian
diabolists to gloat over cruelty, by way of showing their superiority to
Christian morality. The enjoyment of others' suffering was a splendid pagan
virtue. So George Moore kept a pet python, and cultivated paganness by
watching it devour rabbits alive.

It was the result of the same accident which caused him to conclude--and to
preach at some length in this book--that art is aristocratic. It was the
proper pagan thing to say, as he does here--"What care I that some millions
of wretched Israelites died under Pharaoh's lash? They died that I might
have the Pyramids to look on"--and other remarks even more shocking and
jejune. It was this accident which made him write ineffable silliness in
this and other early volumes about "virtue" and "vice," assume a
man-about-town's attitude toward women, and fill pages with maudlin phrases
about marble, perfumes, palm-trees, blood, lingerie, and moonlight. These
were the follies of his teachers, to be faithfully imitated. If he had
first heard the news that the body is good from Walt Whitman, or that the
human soul contains lust and cruelty from Tolstoi, what canticles we should
have had from George Moore on the subject of democracy in life and art!

Deeper down, George Moore was already wiser than his masters. He was to
write of the love-life of Evelyn Innes, and the common workaday tragedy of
Esther Waters, with a tender and profound sympathy far removed from the
sentiments he felt obliged to profess here. This book is a young man's
attempt to be sincere. It is the story of a soul struggling to be free from
British morality. It is eloquent, beautiful, and at times rather silly. It
is a picture of an epoch.

The result of the attempt to introduce diabolism to the English mind is
well known. The Island somewhat violently repudiated and denounced the
whole proceedings, as might have been expected. The French influence waned,
and has now almost died out. But meanwhile another rediscovery of human
nature (to which the work of a later Frenchman, Romain Rolland, has
contributed its due effect) is slowly re-creating English literature. Under
a Russian leadership less romantic than that of Gautier and less
"frightful" than that of Baudelaire, with scientific support from Freud and
Jung, and with some extremely able British and American lieutenants, the
cause of unashamedness appears to be winning its way in literature. The
George Moore of these Confessions stands to view as a reckless and
courageous pioneer, a bad strategist but a faithful soldier, in the
foolhardy, disastrous and gallant Campaign of the Nineties.

Floyd Dell

New York, May 26, 1917.



My soul, so far as I understand it, has very kindly taken colour and form
from the many various modes of life that self-will and an impetuous
temperament have forced me to indulge in. Therefore I may say that I am
free from original qualities, defects, tastes, etc. What I have I acquire,
or, to speak more exactly, chance bestowed, and still bestows, upon me. I
came into the world apparently with a nature like a smooth sheet of wax,
bearing no impress, but capable of receiving any; of being moulded into all
shapes. Nor am I exaggerating when I say I think that I might equally have
been a Pharaoh, an ostler, a pimp, an archbishop, and that in the
fulfilment of the duties of each a certain measure of success would have
been mine. I have felt the goad of many impulses, I have hunted many a
trail; when one scent failed another was taken up, and pursued with the
pertinacity of an instinct, rather than the fervour of a reasoned
conviction. Sometimes, it is true, there came moments of weariness, of
despondency, but they were not enduring: a word spoken, a book read, or
yielding to the attraction of environment, I was soon off in another
direction, forgetful of past failures. Intricate, indeed, was the labyrinth
of my desires; all lights were followed with the same ardour, all cries
were eagerly responded to: they came from the right, they came from the
left, from every side. But one cry was more persistent, and as the years
passed I learned to follow it with increasing vigour, and my strayings grew
fewer and the way wider.

I was eleven years old when I first heard and obeyed this cry, or, shall I
say, echo-augury?

Scene: A great family coach, drawn by two powerful country horses, lumbers
along a narrow Irish road. The ever recurrent signs--long ranges of blue
mountains, the streak of bog, the rotting cabin, the flock of plover rising
from the desolate water. Inside the coach there are two children. They are
smart, with new jackets and neckties; their faces are pale with sleep, and
the rolling of the coach makes them feel a little sick. It is seven o'clock
in the morning. Opposite the children are their parents, and they are
talking of a novel the world is reading. Did Lady Audley murder her
husband? Lady Audley! What a beautiful name; and she, who is a slender,
pale, fairy-like woman, killed her husband. Such thoughts flash through the
boy's mind; his imagination is stirred and quickened, and he begs for an
explanation. The coach lumbers along, it arrives at its destination, and
Lady Audley is forgotten in the delight of tearing down fruit trees and
killing a cat.

But when we returned home I took the first opportunity of stealing the
novel in question. I read it eagerly, passionately, vehemently. I read its
successor and its successor. I read until I came to a book called "The
Doctor's Wife"--a lady who loved Shelley and Byron. There was magic, there
was revelation in the name, and Shelley became my soul's divinity. Why did
I love Shelley? Why was I not attracted to Byron? I cannot say. Shelley!
Oh, that crystal name, and his poetry also crystalline. I must see it, I
must know him. Escaping from the schoolroom, I ransacked the library, and
at last my ardour was rewarded. The book--a small pocket edition in red
boards, no doubt long out of print--opened at the "Sensitive Plant." Was I
disappointed? I think I had expected to understand better; but I had no
difficulty in assuming that I was satisfied and delighted. And henceforth
the little volume never left my pocket, and I read the dazzling stanzas by
the shores of a pale green Irish lake, comprehending little, and loving a
great deal. Byron, too, was often with me, and these poets were the
ripening influence of years otherwise merely nervous and boisterous.

And my poets were taken to school, because it pleased me to read "Queen
Mab" and "Cain," amid the priests and ignorance of a hateful Roman Catholic
college. And there my poets saved me from intellectual savagery; for I was
incapable at that time of learning anything. What determined and
incorrigible idleness! I used to gaze fondly on a book, holding my head
between my hands, and allow my thoughts to wander far into dreams and thin
imaginings. Neither Latin, nor Greek, nor French, nor History, nor English
composition could I learn, unless, indeed, my curiosity or personal
interest was excited,--then I made rapid strides in that branch of
knowledge to which my attention was directed. A mind hitherto dark seemed
suddenly to grow clear, and it remained clear and bright enough so long as
passion was in me; but as it died, so the mind clouded, and recoiled to its
original obtuseness. Couldn't, with wouldn't, was in my case curiously
involved; nor have I in this respect ever been able to correct my natural
temperament. I have always remained powerless to do anything unless moved
by a powerful desire.

The natural end to such schooldays as mine was expulsion. I was expelled
when I was sixteen, for idleness and general worthlessness. I returned to a
wild country home, where I found my father engaged in training racehorses.
For a nature of such intense vitality as mine, an ambition, an aspiration
of some sort was necessary; and I now, as I have often done since, accepted
the first ideal to hand. In this instance it was the _stable_. I was
given a hunter, I rode to hounds every week, I rode gallops every morning,
I read the racing calendar, stud-book, latest betting, and looked forward
with enthusiasm to the day when I should be known as a successful
steeplechase rider. To ride the winner of the Liverpool seemed to me a
final achievement and glory; and had not accident intervened, it is very
possible that I might have succeeded in carrying off, if not the meditated
honour, something scarcely inferior, such as--alas, _eheu fugaces!_ I
cannot now recall the name of a race of the necessary value and importance.
About this time my father was elected Member of Parliament; our home was
broken up, and we went to London. But an ideal set up on its pedestal is
not easily displaced, and I persevered in my love, despite the poor
promises London life held out for its ultimate attainment; and
surreptitiously I continued to nourish it with small bets made in a small
tobacconist's. Well do I remember that shop, the oily-faced,
sandy-whiskered proprietor, his betting-book, the cheap cigars along the
counter, the one-eyed nondescript who leaned his evening away against the
counter, and was supposed to know some one who knew Lord ----'s footman,
and the great man often spoken of, but rarely seen--he who made "a
two-'undred pound book on the Derby"; and the constant coming and going of
the cabmen--"Half an ounce of shag, sir." I was then at a military tutor's
in the Euston Road; for, in answer to my father's demand as to what
occupation I intended to pursue, I had consented to enter the army. In my
heart I knew that when it came to the point I should refuse--the idea of
military discipline was very repugnant, and the possibility of an anonymous
death on a battlefield could not be accepted by so self-conscious a youth,
by one so full of his own personality. I said Yes to my father, because the
moral courage to say No was lacking, and I put my trust in the future, as
well I might, for a fair prospect of idleness lay before me, and the chance
of my passing any examination was, indeed, remote.

In London I made the acquaintance of a great blonde man, who talked
incessantly about beautiful women, and painted them sometimes larger than
life, in somnolent attitudes, and luxurious tints. His studio was a welcome
contrast to the spitting and betting of the tobacco shop. His
pictures--Dore-like improvisations, devoid of skill, and, indeed, of
artistic perception, save a certain sentiment for the grand and
noble--filled me with wonderment and awe. "How jolly it would be to be a
painter," I once said, quite involuntarily. "Why, would you like to be a
painter?" he asked abruptly. I laughed, not suspecting that I had the
slightest gift, as indeed was the case, but the idea remained in my mind,
and soon after I began to make sketches in the streets and theatres. My
attempts were not very successful, but they encouraged me to tell my father
that I would go to the military tutor no more, and he allowed me to enter
the Kensington Museum as an Art student. There, of course, I learned
nothing, and, from a merely Art point of view, I had much better have
continued my sketches in the streets; but the museum was a beautiful and
beneficent influence, and one that applied marvellously well to the
besetting danger of the moment; for in the galleries I met young men who
spoke of other things than betting and steeplechase riding, who, I
remember, it was clear to me then, looked to a higher ideal than mine,
breathed a purer atmosphere of thought than I. And then the sweet, white
peace of antiquity! The great, calm gaze that is not sadness nor joy, but
something that we know not of, which is lost to the world for ever.

"But if you want to be a painter you must go to France--France is the only
school of Art." I must again call attention to the phenomenon of
echo-augury, that is to say, words heard in an unlooked-for quarter, that,
without an appeal to our reason, impel belief. France! The word rang in my
ears and gleamed in my eyes. France! All my senses sprang from sleep like a
crew when the man on the look-out cries, "Land ahead!" Instantly I knew I
should, that I must, go to France, that I would live there, that I would
become as a Frenchman. I knew not when nor how, but I knew I should go to

Then my father died, and I suddenly found myself heir to considerable
property--some three or four thousands a year; and then I knew that I was
free to enjoy life as I pleased; no further trammels, no further need of
being a soldier, of being anything but myself; eighteen, with life and
France before me! But the spirit did not move me yet to leave home. I would
feel the pulse of life at home before I felt it abroad. I would hire a
studio. A studio--tapestries, smoke, models, conversations. But here it is
difficult not to convey a false impression. I fain would show my soul in
these pages, like a face in a pool of clear water; and although my studio
was in truth no more than an amusement, and a means of effectually throwing
over all restraint, I did not view it at all in this light. My love of Art
was very genuine and deep-rooted; the tobacconist's betting-book was now as
nothing, and a certain Botticelli in the National Gallery held me in
tether. And when I look back and consider the past, I am forced to admit
that I might have grown up in less fortunate circumstances, for even the
studio, with its dissipations--and they were many--was not unserviceable;
it developed the natural man, who educates himself, who allows his mind to
grow and ripen under the sun and wind of modern life, in contra-distinction
to the University man, who is fed upon the dust of ages, and after a
formula which has been composed to suit the requirements of the average
human being.

Nor was my reading at this time so limited as might be expected from the
foregoing. The study of Shelley's poetry had led me to read pretty nearly
all the English lyric poets; Shelley's atheism had led me to read Kant,
Spinoza, Godwin, Darwin and Mill; and these, again, in their turn,
introduced me to many writers and various literature. I do not think that
at this time I cared much for novel reading. Scott seemed to me on a par
with Burke's speeches; that is to say, too impersonal for my very personal
taste. Dickens I knew by heart, and "Bleak House" I thought his greatest
achievement. Thackeray left no deep impression on my mind; in no way did he
hold my thoughts. He was not picturesque like Dickens, and I was at that
time curiously eager for some adequate philosophy of life, and his social
satire seemed very small beer indeed. I was really young. I hungered after
great truths: "Middle-march," "Adam Bede," "The Rise and Fall of
Rationalism," "The History of Civilisation," were momentous events in my
life. But I loved life better than books, and I cultivated with care the
acquaintance of a neighbour who had taken the Globe Theatre for the purpose
of producing Offenbach's operas. Bouquets, stalls, rings, delighted me. I
was not dissipated, but I loved the abnormal. I loved to spend as much on
scent and toilette knick-knacks as would keep a poor man's family in
affluence for ten months; and I smiled at the fashionable sunlight in the
Park, the dusty cavalcades; and I loved to shock my friends by bowing to
those whom I should not bow to; above all, the life of the theatres, that
life of raw gaslight, whitewashed walls, of light, doggerel verse, slangy
polkas and waltzes, interested me beyond legitimate measure, so curious and
unreal did it seem. I lived at home, but dined daily at a fashionable
restaurant; at half-past eight I was at the theatre. Nodding familiarly to
the doorkeeper, I passed up the long passage to the stage. Afterwards
supper. Cremorne and the Argyle Rooms were my favourite haunts. My mother
suffered, and expected ruin, for I took no trouble to conceal anything; I
boasted of dissipations. But there was no need for fear; I was naturally
endowed with a very clear sense indeed of self-preservation; I neither
betted nor drank, nor contracted debts, nor a secret marriage; from a
worldly point of view, I was a model young man indeed; and when I returned
home about four in the morning, I watched the pale moon setting, and
repeating some verses of Shelley, I thought how I should go to Paris when I
was of age, and study painting.


At last the day came, and with several trunks and boxes full of clothes,
books, and pictures, I started, accompanied by an English valet, for Paris
and Art.

We all know the great grey and melancholy Gare du Nord, at half-past six in
the morning; and the miserable carriages, and the tall, haggard city. Pale,
sloppy, yellow houses; an oppressive absence of colour; a peculiar
bleakness in the streets. The _menagere_ hurries down the asphalte to
market; a dreadful _garcon de cafe_, with a napkin tied round his
throat, moves about some chairs, so decrepit and so solitary that it seems
impossible to imagine a human being sitting there. Where are the
Boulevards? where are the Champs Elysees? I asked myself; and feeling bound
to apologise for the appearance of the city, I explained to my valet that
we were passing through some by-streets, and returned to the study of a
French vocabulary. Nevertheless, when the time came to formulate a demand
for rooms, hot water, and a fire, I broke down, and the proprietress of the
hotel, who spoke English, had to be sent for.

My plans, so far as I had any, were to enter the beaux arts--Cabanel's
studio for preference; for I had then an intense and profound admiration
for that painter's work. I did not think much of the application I was told
I should have to make at the Embassy; my thoughts were fixed on the master,
and my one desire was to see him. To see him was easy, to speak to him was
another matter, and I had to wait three weeks, until I could hold a
conversation in French. How I achieved this feat I cannot say. I never
opened a book, I know, nor is it agreeable to think what my language must
have been like--like nothing ever heard under God's sky before, probably.
It was, however, sufficient to waste a good hour of the painter's time. I
told him of my artistic sympathies, what pictures I had seen of his in
London, and how much pleased I was with those then in his studio. He went
through the ordeal without flinching. He said he would be glad to have me
as a pupil....

But life in the beaux arts is rough, coarse, and rowdy. The model sits only
three times a week: the other days we worked from the plaster cast; and to
be there by seven o'clock in the morning required so painful an effort of
will, that I glanced in terror down the dim and grey perspective of early
risings that awaited me; then, demoralised by the lassitude of Sunday, I
told my valet on Monday morning to leave the room, that I would return to
the beaux arts no more. I felt humiliated at my own weakness, for much hope
had been centred in that academy; and I knew no other. Day after day I
walked up and down the Boulevards, studying the photographs of the
_salon_ pictures, and was stricken by the art of Jules Lefevre. True
it is that I saw it was wanting in that tender grace which I am forced to
admit even now, saturated though I now am with the aesthetics of different
schools, is inherent in Cabanel's work; but at the time I am writing of, my
nature was too young and mobile to resist the conventional attractiveness
of nude figures, indolent attitudes, long hair, slender hips and hands, and
I accepted Jules Lefevre wholly and unconditionally. He hesitated, however,
when I asked to be taken as a private pupil, but he wrote out the address
of a studio where he gave instruction every Tuesday morning. This was even
more to my taste, for I had an instinctive liking for Frenchmen, and was
anxious to see as much of them as possible.

The studio was perched high up in the Passage des Panoramas. There I found
M. Julien, a typical meridional--the large stomach, the dark eyes, crafty
and watchful; the seductively mendacious manner, the sensual mind. We made
friends at once--he consciously making use of me, I unconsciously making
use of him. To him my forty francs, a month's subscription, were a godsend,
nor were my invitations to dinner and to the theatre to be disdained. I was
curious, odd, quaint. To be sure, it was a little tiresome to have to put
up with a talkative person, whose knowledge of the French language had been
acquired in three months, but the dinners were good. No doubt Julien
reasoned so; I did not reason at all. I felt this crafty, clever man of the
world was necessary to me. I had never met such a man before, and all my
curiosity was awake. He spoke of art and literature, of the world and the
flesh; he told me of the books he had read, he narrated thrilling incidents
in his own life; and the moral reflections with which he sprinkled his
conversation I thought very striking. Like every young man of twenty, I was
on the look-out for something to set up that would do duty for an ideal.
The world was to me, at this time, what a toy shop had been fifteen years
before: everything was spick and span, and every illusion was set out
straight and smart in new paint and gilding. But Julien kept me at a
distance, and the rare occasions when he favoured me with his society only
served to prepare my mind for the friendship which awaited me, and which
was destined to absorb some years of my life.

In the studio there were some eighteen or twenty young men, and among these
there were some four or five from whom I could learn; and there were also
there some eight or nine young English girls. We sat round in a circle, and
drew from the model. And this reversal of all the world's opinions and
prejudices was to me singularly delightful; I loved the sense of unreality
that the exceptionalness of our life in this studio conveyed. Besides, the
women themselves were young and interesting, and were, therefore, one of
the charms of the place, giving, as they did, that sense of sex which is so
subtle a mental pleasure, and which is, in its outward aspect, so
interesting to the eye--the gowns, the hair lifted, showing the neck; the
earrings, the sleeves open at the elbow. Though all this was very dear to
me I did not fall in love: but he who escapes a woman's dominion generally
comes under the sway of some friend who ever uses a strange attractiveness,
and fosters a sort of dependency that is not healthful or valid: and
although I look back with undiminished delight on the friendship I
contracted about this time--a friendship which permeated and added to my
life--I am nevertheless forced to recognise that, however suitable it may
have been in my special case, in the majority of instances it would have
proved but a shipwrecking reef, on which a young man's life would have gone
to pieces. What saved me was the intensity of my passion for Art, and a
moral revolt against any action that I thought could or would definitely
compromise me in that direction. I was willing to stray a little from my
path, but never further than a single step, which I could retrace when I

One day I raised my eyes, and saw there was a new-comer in the studio; and,
to my surprise, for he was fashionably dressed, and my experience had not
led me to believe in the marriage of genius and well-cut cloth, he was
painting very well indeed. His shoulders were beautiful and broad; a long
neck, a tiny head, a narrow, thin face, and large eyes, full of
intelligence and fascination. And although he could not have been working
more than an hour, he had already sketched in his figure, and with all the
surroundings--screens, lamps, stoves, etc. I was deeply interested. I asked
the young lady next me if she knew who he was. She could give me no
information. But at four o'clock there was a general exodus from the
studio, and we adjourned to a neighbouring _cafe_ to drink beer. The
way led through a narrow passage, and as we stooped under an archway, the
young man (Marshall was his name) spoke to me in English. Yes, we had met
before; we had exchanged a few words in So-and-So's studio--the great
blonde man, whose Dore-like improvisations had awakened aspiration in me.

The usual reflections on the chances of life were of course made, and then
followed the inevitable "Will you dine with me to-night?" Marshall thought
the following day would suit him better, but I was very pressing. He
offered to meet me at my hotel; or would I come with him to his rooms, and
he would show me some pictures--some trifles he had brought up from the
country? Nothing would please me better. We got into a cab. Then every
moment revealed new qualities, new superiorities, in my new-found friend.
Not only was he tall, strong, handsome, and beautifully dressed, infinitely
better dressed than I, but he could talk French like a native. It was only
natural that he should, for he was born and had lived in Brussels all his
life, but the accident of birth rather stimulated than calmed my erubescent
admiration. He spoke of, and he was clearly on familiar terms with, the
fashionable restaurants and actresses; he stopped at a hairdresser's to
have his hair curled. All this was very exciting, and a little bewildering.
I was on the tiptoe of expectation to see his apartments; and, not to be
utterly outdone, I alluded to my valet.

His apartments were not so grand as I expected; but when he explained that
he had just spent ten thousand pounds in two years, and was now living on
six or seven hundred francs a month, which his mother would allow him until
he had painted and had sold a certain series of pictures, which he
contemplated beginning at once, my admiration increased to wonder, and I
examined with awe the great fireplace which had been constructed at his
orders, and admired the iron pot which hung by a chain above an artificial
bivouac fire. This detail will suggest the rest of the studio--the Turkey
carpet, the brass harem lamps, the Japanese screen, the pieces of drapery,
the oak chairs covered with red Utrecht velvet, the oak wardrobe that had
been picked up somewhere,--a ridiculous bargain, and the inevitable bed
with spiral columns. There were vases filled with foreign grasses, and
palms stood in the corners of the rooms. Marshall pulled out a few
pictures; but he paid very little heed to my compliments; and, sitting down
at the piano, with a great deal of splashing and dashing about the keys, he
rattled off a waltz.

"What waltz is that?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing; something I composed the other evening. I had a fit of the
blues, and didn't go out. What do you think of it?"

"I think it beautiful; did you really compose that the other evening?"

At this moment a knock was heard at the door, and a beautiful English girl
entered. Marshall introduced me. With looks that see nothing, and words
that mean nothing, an amorous woman receives the man she finds with her
sweetheart. But it subsequently transpired that Alice had an appointment,
that she was dining out. She would, however, call in the morning, and give
him a sitting for the portrait he was painting of her.

I had hitherto worked very regularly and attentively at the studio, but now
Marshall's society was an attraction I could not resist. For the sake of
his talent, which I religiously believed in, I regretted he was so idle;
but his dissipation was winning, and his delight was thorough, and his gay,
dashing manner made me feel happy, and his experience opened to me new
avenues for enjoyment and knowledge of life. On my arrival in Paris I had
visited, in the company of my taciturn valet, the Mabille and the
Valentino, and I had dined at the Maison d'Or by myself; but now I was
taken to strange students' _cafes_, where dinners were paid for in
pictures; to a mysterious place, where a _table d'hote_ was held under
a tent in a back garden; and afterwards we went in great crowds to
_Bullier_, the _Chateau Rouge_, or the _Elysee Montmartre_.
The clangour of the band, the unreal greenness of the foliage, the
thronging of the dancers, and the chattering of women, whose Christian
names we only knew. And then the returning in open carriages rolling
through the white dust beneath the immense heavy dome of the summer night,
when the dusty darkness of the street is chequered by a passing glimpse of
light skirt or flying feather, and the moon looms like a magic lantern out
of the sky.

Now we seemed to live in fiacres and restaurants, and the afternoons were
filled with febrile impressions. Marshall had a friend in this street, and
another in that. It was only necessary for him to cry "Stop" to the
coachman, and to run up two or three flights of stairs....

"_Madame--, est-elle chez elle?_"

"_Oui, Monsieur; si Monsieur veut se donner la peine d'entrer._" And
we were shown into a handsomely furnished apartment. A lady would enter
hurriedly, and an animated discussion was begun. I did not know French
sufficiently well to follow the conversation, but I remember it always
commenced _mon cher ami_, and was plentifully sprinkled with the
phrase _vous avez tort_. The ladies themselves had only just returned
from Constantinople or Japan, and they were generally involved in
mysterious lawsuits, or were busily engaged in prosecuting claims for
several millions of francs against different foreign governments.

And just as I had watched the chorus girls and mummers, three years ago, at
the Globe Theatre, now, excited by a nervous curiosity, I watched this
world of Parisian adventurers and lights o' love. And this craving for
observation of manners, this instinct for the rapid notation of gestures
and words that epitomise a state of feeling, of attitudes that mirror forth
the soul, declared itself a main passion; and it grew and strengthened, to
the detriment of the other Art still so dear to me. With the patience of a
cat before a mouse-hole, I watched and listened, picking one characteristic
phrase out of hours of vain chatter, interested and amused by an angry or
loving glance. Like the midges that fret the surface of a shadowy stream,
these men and women seemed to me; and though I laughed, danced, and made
merry with them, I was not of them. But with Marshall it was different:
they were my amusement, they were his necessary pleasure. And I knew of
this distinction that made twain our lives; and I reflected deeply upon it.
Why could I not live without an ever-present and acute consciousness of
life? Why could I not love, forgetful of the harsh ticking of the clock in
the perfumed silence of the chamber?

And so my friend became to me a study, a subject for dissection. The
general attitude of his mind and its various turns, all the apparent
contradictions, and how they could be explained, classified, and reduced to
one primary law, were to me a constant source of thought. Our confidences
knew no reserve. I say our confidences, because to obtain confidences it is
often necessary to confide. All we saw, heard, read, or felt was the
subject of mutual confidences: the transitory emotion that a flush of
colour and a bit of perspective awakens, the blue tints that the sunsetting
lends to a white dress, or the eternal verities, death and love. But,
although I tested every fibre of thought and analysed every motive, I was
very sincere in my friendship, and very loyal in my admiration. Nor did my
admiration wane when I discovered that Marshall was shallow in his
appreciations, superficial in his judgments, that his talents did not
pierce below the surface; _il avait se grand air_; there was
fascination in his very bearing, in his large, soft, colourful eyes, and a
go and dash in his dissipations that carried you away.

To any one observing us at this time it would have seemed that I was but a
hanger-on, and a feeble imitator of Marshall. I took him to my tailor's,
and he advised me on the cut of my coats; he showed me how to arrange my
rooms, and I strove to copy his manner of speech and his general bearing;
and yet I knew very well indeed that mine was a rarer and more original
nature. I was willing to learn, that was all. There was much that Marshall
could teach me, and I used him without shame, without stint. I used him as
I have used all those with whom I have been brought into close contact.
Search my memory as I will, I cannot recall a case of man or woman who ever
occupied any considerable part of my thoughts and did not contribute
largely towards my moral or physical welfare. In other words, and in very
colloquial language, I never had useless friends hanging about me. From
this crude statement of a signal fact, the thoughtless reader will at once
judge me rapacious, egotistical, false, fawning, mendacious. Well, I may be
all this and more, but not because all who have known me have rendered me
eminent services. I can say that no one ever formed relationships in life
with less design than myself. Never have I given a thought to the advantage
that might accrue from being on terms of friendship with this man and
avoiding that one. "Then how do you explain," cries the angry reader, "that
you have never had a friend whom you did not make a profit out of? You must
have had very few friends." On the contrary, I have had many friends, and
of all sorts and kinds--men and women: and, I repeat, none took part in my
life who did not contribute something towards my well-being. It must, of
course, be understood that I make no distinction between mental and
material help; and in my case the one has ever been adjuvant to the other.
"Pooh, pooh!" again exclaims the reader; "I for one will not believe that
chance has only sent across your way the people who were required to assist
you." Chance! dear reader, is there such a thing as chance? Do you believe
in chance? Do you attach any precise meaning to the word? Do you employ it
at haphazard, allowing it to mean what it may? Chance! What a field for
psychical investigation is at once opened up; how we may tear to shreds our
past lives in search of--what? Of the Chance that made us. I think, reader,
I can throw some light on the general question, by replying to your taunt:
Chance, or the conditions of life under which we live, sent, of course,
thousands of creatures across my way who were powerless to benefit me; but
then an instinct of which I knew nothing, of which I was not even
conscious, withdrew me from them, and I was attracted to others. Have you
not seen a horse suddenly leave a corner of a field to seek pasturage
further away?

Never could I interest myself in a book if it were not the exact diet my
mind required at the time, or in the very immediate future. The mind asked,
received, and digested. So much was assimilated, so much expelled; then,
after a season, similar demands were made, the same processes were repeated
out of sight, below consciousness, as is the case in a well-ordered
stomach. Shelley, who fired my youth with passion, and purified and upbore
it for so long, is now to me as nothing: not a dead or faded thing, but a
thing out of which I personally have drawn all the sustenance I may draw
from him; and, therefore, it (that part which I did not absorb) concerns me
no more. And the same with Gautier. Mdlle. de Maupin, that godhead of
flowing line, that desire not "of the moth for the star," but for such
perfection of hanging arm and leaned thigh as leaves passion breathless and
fain of tears, is now, if I take up the book and read, weary and ragged as
a spider's web, that has hung the winter through in the dusty, forgotten
corner of a forgotten room. My old rapture and my youth's delight I can
regain only when I think of that part of Gautier which is now incarnate in

As I picked up books, so I picked up my friends. I read friends and books
with the same passion, with the same avidity; and as I discarded my books
when I had assimilated as much of them as my system required, so I
discarded my friends when they ceased to be of use to me. I use the word
"use" in its fullest, not in its limited and twenty-shilling sense. This
reduction of the intellect to the blind unconsciousness of the lower organs
will strike some as a violation of man's best beliefs, and as saying very
little for the particular intellect that can be so reduced. But I am not
sure these people are right. I am inclined to think that as you ascend the
scale of thought to the great minds, these unaccountable impulses,
mysterious resolutions, sudden, but certain knowings, falling whence, or
how it is impossible to say, but falling somehow into the brain, instead of
growing rarer, become more and more frequent; indeed, I think that if the
really great man were to confess to the working of his mind, we should see
him constantly besieged by inspirations ... inspirations! Ah! how human
thought only turns in a circle, and how, when we think we are on the verge
of a new thought, we slip into the enunciation of some time-worn truth. But
I say again, let general principles be waived; it will suffice for the
interest of these pages if it be understood that brain instincts have
always been, and still are, the initial and the determining powers of my

* * * * *

But the studio, where I had been working for the last three or four months
so diligently, became wearisome to me, and for two reasons. First, because
it deprived me of many hours of Marshall's company. Secondly--and the
second reason was the graver--because I was beginning to regard the
delineation of a nymph, or youth bathing, etc., as a very narrow channel to
carry off the strong, full tide of a man's thought. For now thoughts of
love and death, and the hopelessness of life, were in active fermentation
within me and sought for utterance with a strange unintermittingness of
appeal. I yearned merely to give direct expression to my pain. Life was
then in its springtide; every thought was new to me, and it would have
seemed a pity to disguise even the simplest emotion in any garment when it
was so beautiful in its Eden-like nakedness. The creatures whom I met in
the ways and by ways of Parisian life, whose gestures and attitudes I
devoured with my eyes, and whose souls I hungered to know, awoke in me a
tense irresponsible curiosity, but that was all,--I despised, I hated them,
thought them contemptible, and to select them as subjects of artistic
treatment, could not then, might never, have occurred to me, had the
suggestion to do so not come direct to me from the outside.

At the time I am writing I lived in an old-fashioned hotel on the
Boulevard, which an enterprising Belgian had lately bought and was
endeavouring to modernise; an old-fashioned hotel, that still clung to its
ancient character in the presence of half a dozen old people, who, for
antediluvian reasons, continue to dine on certain well-specified days at
the _table d'hote_. Fifteen years have passed away, and these old
people, no doubt, have joined their ancestors; but I can see them still
sitting in that _salle a manger_; the _buffets en vieux chene_;
the opulent candelabra _en style d'empire_; the waiter lighting the
gas in the pale Parisian evening. That white-haired man, that tall, thin,
hatchet-faced American, has dined at this _table d'hote_ for the last
thirty years--he is talkative, vain, foolish, and authoritative. The clean,
neatly-dressed old gentleman who sits by him, looking so much like a French
gentleman, has spent a great part of his life in Spain. With that piece of
news, and its subsequent developments, your acquaintance with him begins
and ends; the eyes, the fan, the mantilla, how it began, how it was broken
off, and how it began again. Opposite sits another French gentleman, with
beard and bristly hair. He spent twenty years of his life in India, and he
talks of his son who has been out there for the last ten, and who has just
returned home. There is the Italian comtesse of sixty summers, who dresses
like a girl of sixteen and smokes a cigar after dinner,--if there are not
too many strangers in the room. She terms a stranger any one whom she has
not seen at least once before. The little fat, neckless man, with the great
bald head, fringed below the ears with hair, is M. Duval. He is a dramatic
author--the author of a hundred and sixty plays. He does not intrude
himself on your notice, but when you speak to him on literary matters he
fixes a pair of tiny, sloe-like eyes on you, and talks affably of his

I was soon deeply interested in M. Duval, and I invited him to come to the
_cafe_ after dinner. I paid for his coffee and liqueurs, I offered him
a choice cigar. He did not smoke; I did. It was, of course, inevitable that
I should find out that he had not had a play produced for the last twenty
years, but then the aureole of the hundred and sixty was about his poor
bald head. I thought of the chances of life, he alluded to the war; and so
this unpleasantness was passed over, and we entered on more genial subjects
of conversation. He had written plays with everybody; his list of
collaborateurs was longer than any list of lady patronesses for an English
county ball; there was no literary kitchen in which he had not helped to
dish up. I was at once amazed and delighted. Had M. Duval written his
hundred and sixty plays in the seclusion of his own rooms, I should have
been less surprised; it was the mystery of the _seances_ of
collaboration, the rendezvous, the discussion, the illustrious company,
that overwhelmed me in a rapture of wonder and respectful admiration. Then
came the anecdotes. They were of all sorts. Here are a few specimens: He,
Duval, had written a one-act piece with Dumas _pere_; it had been
refused at the Francais, and then it had been about, here, there, and
everywhere; finally the _Varietes_ had asked for some alterations, and
_c'etait une affaire entendue_. "I made the alterations one afternoon,
and wrote to Dumas, and what do you think,--by return of post I had a
letter from him saying he could not consent to the production of a one-act
piece, signed by him, at the _Varietes_, because his son was then
giving a five-act piece at the Gymnase." Then came a string of indecent
witticisms by Suzanne Lagier and Dejazet. They were as old as the world,
but they were new to me, and I was amused and astonished. These
_bon-mots_ were followed by an account of how Gautier wrote his Sunday
feuilleton, and how he and Balzac had once nearly come to blows. They had
agreed to collaborate. Balzac was to contribute the scenario, Gautier the
dialogue. One morning Balzac came with the scenario of the first act. "Here
it is, Gautier! I suppose you can let me have it back finished by to-morrow
afternoon?" And the old gentleman would chirp along in this fashion till
midnight. I would then accompany him to his rooms in the Quartier
Montmartre--rooms high up on the fifth floor--where, between two pictures,
supposed to be by Angelica Kaufmann, M. Duval had written unactable plays
for the last twenty years, and where he would continue to write unactable
plays until God called him to a world, perhaps, of eternal cantatas, but
where, by all accounts, _l'exposition de la piece selon la formule de M.
Scribe_ is still unknown.

How I used to enjoy these conversations! I remember how I used to stand on
the pavement after having bid the old gentleman good-night, regretting I
had not demanded some further explanation regarding _le mouvement
Romantique_, or _la facon de M. Scribe de menager la situation_.

Why not write a comedy? So the thought came. I had never written anything
save a few ill-spelt letters; but no matter. To find a plot, that was the
first thing to do. Take Marshall for hero and Alice for heroine, surround
them with the old gentlemen who dined at the _table d'hote_, flavour
with the Italian countess who smoked cigars when there were not too many
strangers present. After three weeks of industrious stirring, the
ingredients did begin to simmer into something resembling a plot. Put it
upon paper. Ah! there was my difficulty. I remembered suddenly that I had
read "Cain," "Manfred," "The Cenci," as poems, without ever thinking of how
the dialogue looked upon paper; besides, they were in blank verse. I hadn't
a notion how prose dialogue would look upon paper. Shakespeare I had never
opened; no instinctive want had urged me to read him. He had remained,
therefore, unread, unlooked at. Should I buy a copy? No; the name repelled
me--as all popular names repelled me. In preference I went to the Gymnase,
and listened attentively to a comedy by M. Dumas _fils_. But strain my
imagination as I would, I could not see the spoken words in their written
form. Oh, for a look at the prompter's copy, the corner of which I could
see when I leaned forward! At last I discovered in Galignani's library a
copy of Leigh Hunt's edition of the old dramatists, and after a month's
study of Congreve Wycherley, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar, I completed a comedy
in three acts, which I entitled "Worldliness." It was, of course, very bad;
but, if my memory serves me well, I do not think it was nearly so bad as
might be imagined.

No sooner was the last scene written than I started at once for London,
confident I should find no difficulty in getting my play produced.


Is it necessary to say that I did not find a manager to produce my play? A
printer was more attainable, and the correction of proofs amused me for a
while. I wrote another play; and when the hieing after theatrical managers
began to lose its attractiveness my thoughts reverted to France, which
always haunted me; and which now possessed me as if with the sweet and
magnetic influence of home.

How important my absence from Paris seemed to me; and how Paris rushed into
my eyes!--Paris--public ball-rooms, _cafes_, the models in the studio
and the young girls painting, and Marshall, Alice, and Julien.
Marshall!--my thoughts pointed at him through the intervening streets and
the endless procession of people coming and going.

"M. Marshall, is he at home?" "M. Marshall left here some months ago." "Do
you know his address?" "I'll ask my husband." "Do you know M. Marshall's
address!" "Yes, he's gone to live in the Rue de Douai." "What number?" "I
think it is fifty-four." "Thanks." "Coachman, wake up; drive me to the Rue
de Douai."

But Marshall was not to be found at the Rue de Douai; and he had left no
address. There was nothing for it but to go to the studio; I should be able
to obtain news of him there,--perhaps find him. But when I pulled aside the
curtain, the accustomed piece of slim nakedness did not greet my eyes; only
the blue apron of an old woman enveloped in a cloud of dust. "The gentlemen
are not here to-day, the studio is closed; I am sweeping up." "Oh, and
where is M. Julien?" "I cannot say, sir: perhaps at the _cafe_, or
perhaps he is gone to the country." This was not very encouraging, and now,
my enthusiasm thoroughly damped, I strolled along _le Passage_,
looking at the fans, the bangles and the litter of cheap trinkets that each
window was filled with. On the left at the corner of the Boulevard was our
_cafe_. As I came forward the waiter moved one of the tin tables, and
then I saw the fat Provencal. But just as if he had seen me yesterday he
said, "_Tiens! c'est vous; une deme tasse? oui ... garcon, une deme
tasse._" Presently the conversation turned on Marshall; they had not
seen much of him lately. "_Il parait qu'il est plus amoureux que
jamais,_" Julien replied sardonically.

I found my friend in large furnished apartments on the ground floor in the
Rue Duphot. The walls were stretched with blue silk, there were large
mirrors and great gilt cornices. Passing into the bedroom I found the young
god wallowing in the finest of fine linen--in a great Louis XV. bed, and
there were cupids above him. "Holloa! what, you back again, Dayne? we
thought we weren't going to see you again."

"It's nearly one o'clock: get up. What's the news?"

"To-day is the opening of the exposition of the Impressionists. We'll have
a bit of breakfast round the corner, at Durant's, and we'll go on there. I
hear that Bedlam is nothing to it; there is a canvas there twenty feet
square and in three tints: pale yellow for the sunlight, brown for the
shadows, and all the rest is sky-blue. There is, I am told, a lady walking
in the foreground with a ring-tailed monkey, and the tail is said to be
three yards long."

And so we went to jeer a group of enthusiasts that willingly forfeit all
delights of the world in the hope of realising a new aestheticism; we went
insolent with patent leather shoes and bright kid gloves and armed with all
the jargon of the school. "_Cette jambe ne porte pas;_" "_la nature
ne se fait pas comme ca;_" "_on dessine par les masses; combien de
tetes?_" "_Sept et demi._" "_Si j'avais un morceau de craie je
mettrais celle-la dans un bocal, c'est un foetus,_" etc.; in a word, all
that the journals of culture are pleased to term an artistic education. And
then the boisterous laughter, exaggerated in the hope of giving as much
pain as possible.

The history of Impressionist art is simple. In the beginning of this
century the tradition of French art--the tradition of Boucher, Fragonard,
and Watteau--had been completely lost; having produced genius, their art
died. Ingres is the sublime flower of the classic art which succeeded the
art of the palace and the boudoir: further than Ingres it was impossible to
go, and his art died. Then the Turners and Constables came to France, and
they begot Troyon, and Troyon begot Millet, Courbet, Corot, and Rousseau,
and these in turn begot Degas, Pissarro, Madame Morizot, and Guillaumin.
Degas is a pupil of Ingres, but he applies the marvellous acuteness of
drawing he learned from his master to delineating the humblest aspects of
modern life. Degas draws not by the masses, but by the character;--his
subjects are shop-girls, ballet-girls, and washerwomen, but the qualities
that endow them with immortality are precisely those which eternalise the
virgins and saints of Leonardo da Vinci in the minds of men. You see the
fat, vulgar woman in the long cloak trying on a hat in front of the
pier-glass. So marvellously well are the lines of her face observed and
rendered that you can tell exactly what her position in life is; you know
what the furniture of her rooms is like; you know what she would say to you
if she were to speak. She is as typical of the nineteenth century as
Fragonard's ladies are of the Court of Louis XV. To the right you see a
picture of two shop-girls with bonnets in their hands. So accurately are
the habitual movements of the heads and the hands observed that you at once
realise the years of bonnet-showing and servile words that these women have
lived through. We have seen Degas do this before--it is a welcome
repetition of a familiar note, but it is not until we turn to the set of
nude figures that we find the great artist revealing any new phase of his
talent. The first, in an attitude which suggests the kneeling Venus, washes
her thighs in a tin bath. The second, a back view, full of the
malformations of forty years, of children, of hard work, stands gripping
her flanks with both hands. The naked woman has become impossible in modern
art; it required Degas' genius to infuse new life into the worn-out theme.
Cynicism was the great means of eloquence of the middle ages, and with
cynicism Degas has rendered the nude again an artistic possibility. What
Mr. Horsley or the British matron would say it is difficult to guess.
Perhaps the hideousness depicted by M. Degas would frighten them more than
the sensuality which they condemn in Sir Frederick Leighton. But, be this
as it may, it is certain that the great, fat, short-legged creature, who in
her humble and touching ugliness passes a chemise over her lumpy shoulders,
is a triumph of art. Ugliness is trivial, the monstrous is terrible;
Velasquez knew this when he painted his dwarfs.

Pissarro exhibited a group of girls gathering apples in a garden--sad greys
and violets beautifully harmonised. The figures seem to move as in a dream:
we are on the thither side of life, in a world of quiet colour and happy
aspiration. Those apples will never fall from the branches, those baskets
that the stooping girls are filling will never be filled: that garden is
the garden of the peace that life has not for giving, but which the painter
has set in an eternal dream of violet and grey.

Madame Morizot exhibited a series of delicate fancies. Here are two young
girls; the sweet atmosphere folds them as with a veil; they are all summer;
their dreams are limitless, their days are fading, and their ideas follow
the flight of the white butterflies through the standard roses. Take note,
too, of the stand of fans; what delicious fancies are there--willows,
balconies, gardens, and terraces.

Then, contrasting with these distant tendernesses, there was the vigorous
painting of Guillaumin. There life is rendered in violent and colourful
brutality. The ladies fishing in the park, with the violet of the skies and
the green of the trees descending upon them, is a _chef d'oeuvre_.
Nature seems to be closing about them like a tomb; and that
hillside,--sunset flooding the skies with yellow and the earth with blue
shadow,--is another piece of painting that will one day find a place in one
of the public galleries; and the same can be said of the portrait of the
woman on a background of chintz flowers.

We could but utter coarse gibes and exclaim, "What could have induced him
to paint such things? surely he must have seen that it was absurd. I wonder
if the Impressionists are in earnest or if it is only _une blague qu'on
nous fait?_" Then we stood and screamed at Monet, that most exquisite
painter of blonde light. We stood before the "Turkeys," and seriously we
wondered if "it was serious work,"--that _chef d'oeuvre!_ the high
grass that the turkeys are gobbling is flooded with sunlight so swift and
intense that for a moment the illusion is complete. "Just look at the
house! why, the turkeys couldn't walk in at the door. The perspective is
all wrong." Then followed other remarks of an educational kind; and when we
came to those piercingly personal visions of railway stations by the same
painter,--those rapid sensations of steel and vapour,--our laughter knew no
bounds. "I say, Marshall, just look at this wheel; he dipped his brush into
cadmium yellow and whisked it round, that's all." Nor did we understand any
more Renoir's rich sensualities of tone; nor did the mastery with which he
achieves an absence of shadow appeal to us. You see colour and light in his
pictures as you do in nature, and the child's criticism of a portrait--"Why
is one side of the face black?" is answered. There was a half length nude
figure of a girl. How the round fresh breasts palpitate in the light! such
a glorious glow of whiteness was attained never before. But we saw nothing
except that the eyes were out of drawing.

For art was not for us then as it is now,--a mere emotion, right or wrong
only in proportion to its intensity; we believed then in the grammar of
art, perspective, anatomy, and _la jambe qui porte_; and we found all
this in Julien's studio.

A year passed; a year of art and dissipation--one part art, two parts
dissipation. We mounted and descended at pleasure the rounds of society's
ladder. One evening we would spend at Constant's, Rue de la Gaiete, in the
company of thieves and housebreakers; on the following evening we were
dining with a duchess or a princess in the Champs Elysees. And we prided
ourselves vastly on our versatility in using with equal facility the
language of the "fence's" parlour, and that of the literary salon; on being
able to appear as much at home in one as in the other. Delighted at our
prowess, we often whispered, "The princess, I swear, would not believe her
eyes if she saw us now;" and then in terrible slang we shouted a
benediction on some "crib" that was going to be broken into that evening.
And we thought there was something very thrilling in leaving the Rue de la
Gaiete, returning home to dress, and presenting our spotless selves to the
_elite_. And we succeeded very well, as indeed all young men do who
waltz perfectly and avoid making love to the wrong woman.

But the excitement of climbing up and down the social ladder did not stave
off our craving for art; and there came about this time a very decisive
event in our lives. Marshall's last and really _grande passion_ had
come to a violent termination, and monetary difficulties forced him to turn
his thoughts to painting as a means of livelihood. This decided me. I asked
him to come and live with me, and to be as near our studio as possible, I
took an _appartement_ in the Passage des Panoramas. It was not
pleasant that your window should open, not to the sky, but to an unclean
prospect of glass roofing; nor was it agreeable to get up at seven in the
morning; and ten hours of work daily are trying to the resolution even of
the best intentioned. But we had sworn to forego all pleasures for the sake
of art--table d'hotes in the Rue Maubeuge, French and foreign duchesses in
the Champs Elysees, thieves in the Rue de la Gaiete.

I was entering therefore on a duel with Marshall for supremacy in an art
for which, as has already been said, I possessed no qualifications. It will
readily be understood how a mind like mine, so keenly alive to all
impulses, and so unsupported by any moral convictions, would suffer in so
keen a contest waged under such unequal and cruel conditions. It was in
truth a year of great passion and great despair. Defeat is bitter when it
comes swiftly and conclusively, but when defeat falls by inches like the
fatal pendulum in the pit, the agony is a little out of reach of words to
define. It was even so. I remember the first day of my martyrdom. The
clocks were striking eight; we chose our places, got into position. After
the first hour, I compared my drawing with Marshall's. He had, it is true,
caught the movement of the figure better than I, but the character and the
quality of his work was miserable. That of mine was not. I have said I
possessed no artistic facility, but I did not say faculty, my drawing was
never common; it was individual in feeling, it was refined. I possessed all
the rarer qualities, but not that primary power without which all is
valueless;--I mean the talent of the boy who can knock off a clever
caricature of his schoolmaster or make a _life-like_ sketch of his
favourite horse on the barn door with a piece of chalk.

The following week Marshall made a great deal of progress; I thought the
model did not suit me, and hoped for better luck next time. That time never
came, and at the end of the first month I was left toiling hopelessly in
the distance. Marshall's mind, though shallow, was bright, and he
understood with strange ease all that was told him, and was able to put
into immediate practice the methods of work inculcated by the professors.
In fact, he showed himself singularly capable of education; little could be
drawn out, but a great deal could be put in (using the word in its modern,
not in its original sense). He showed himself intensely anxious to learn
and to accept all that was said: the ideas and feelings of others ran into
him like water into a bottle whose neck is suddenly stooped below the
surface of the stream. He was an ideal pupil. It was Marshall here, it was
Marshall there, and soon the studio was little but an agitation in praise
of him, and his work, and anxious speculation arose as to the medals he
would obtain. I continued the struggle for nine months. I was in the studio
at eight in the morning; I measured my drawing; I plumbed it throughout; I
sketched in, having regard to _la jambe qui porte_; I modelled _par
les masses_. During breakfast I considered how I should work during the
afternoon; at night I lay awake thinking of what I might do to attain a
better result. But my efforts availed me nothing; it was like one who,
falling, stretches his arms for help and grasps the yielding air. How
terrible are the languors and yearnings of impotence! how wearing! what an
aching void they leave in the heart! And all this I suffered until the
burden of unachieved desire grew intolerable.

I laid down my charcoal and said, "I will never draw or paint again." That
vow I have kept.

Surrender brought relief, but my life seemed at an end. I looked upon a
blank space of years desolate as a grey and sailless sea. "What shall I
do?" I asked myself, and my heart was weary and hopeless. Literature? my
heart did not answer the question at once. I was too broken and overcome by
the shock of failure; failure precise and stern, admitting of no
equivocation. I strove to read: but it was impossible to sit at home almost
within earshot of the studio, and with all the memories of defeat still
ringing their knells in my heart. Marshall's success clamoured loudly from
without; every day, almost every hour of the day, I heard of the medals
which he would carry off; of what Lefevre thought of his drawing this week,
of Boulanger's opinion of his talent. I do not wish to excuse my conduct,
but I cannot help saying that Marshall showed me neither consideration nor
pity; he did not even seem to understand that I was suffering, that my
nerves had been terribly shaken, and he flaunted his superiority
relentlessly in my face--his good looks, his talents, his popularity. I did
not know then how little these studio successes really meant.

Vanity? no, it was not his vanity that maddened me; to me vanity is rarely
displeasing, sometimes it is singularly attractive; but by a certain
insistence and aggressiveness in the details of life he allowed me to feel
that I was only a means for the moment, a serviceable thing enough, but one
that would be very soon discarded and passed over. This was intolerable. I
broke up my establishment. By so doing I involved my friend in grave and
cruel difficulties; by this action I imperilled his future prospects. It
was a dastardly action; but his presence had grown unbearable; yes,
unbearable in the fullest acceptation of the word, and in ridding myself of
him I felt as if a world of misery were being lifted from me.


After three months spent in a sweet seaside resort, where unoccupied men
and ladies whose husbands are abroad happily congregate, I returned to
Paris refreshed.

Marshall and I were no longer on speaking terms, but I saw him daily, in a
new overcoat, of a cut admirably adapted to his figure, sweeping past the
fans and the jet ornaments of the Passage des Panoramas. The coat
interested me, and I remembered that if I had not broken with him I should
have been able to ask him some essential questions concerning it. Of such
trifles as this the sincerest friendships are made; he was as necessary to
me as I to him, and after some demur on his part a reconciliation was

Then I took an _appartement_ in one of the old houses in Rue de la
Tour des Dames, for the windows there overlooked a bit of tangled garden
with a few dilapidated statues. It was Marshall of course who undertook the
task of furnishing, and he lavished on the rooms the fancies of an
imagination that suggested the collaboration of a courtesan of high degree
and a fifth-rate artist. Nevertheless, our salon was a pretty
resort--English cretonne of a very happy design--vine leaves, dark green
and golden, broken up by many fluttering jays. The walls were stretched
with this colourful cloth, and the armchairs and the couches were to match.
The drawing-room was in cardinal red, hung from the middle of the ceiling
and looped up to give the appearance of a tent; a faun, in terra cotta,
laughed in the red gloom, and there were Turkish couches and lamps. In
another room you faced an altar, a Buddhist temple, a statue of the Apollo,
and a bust of Shelley. The bedrooms were made unconventual with cushioned
seats and rich canopies; and in picturesque corners there were censers,
great church candlesticks, and palms; then think of the smell of burning
incense and wax and you will have imagined the sentiment of our apartment
in Rue de la Tour des Dames. I bought a Persian cat, and a python that made
a monthly meal off guinea pigs; Marshall, who did not care for pets, filled
his rooms with flowers--he used to sleep beneath a tree of gardenias in
full bloom. We were so, Henry Marshall and Edwin Dayne, when we went to
live in 76, Rue de la Tour des Dames, we hoped for the rest of our lives.
He was to paint, I was to write.

Before leaving for the seaside I had bought some volumes of Hugo and De
Musset; but in pleasant, sunny Boulogne poetry went flat, and it was not
until I got into my new rooms that I began to read seriously. Books are
like individuals; you know at once if they are going to create a sense
within the sense, to fever, to madden you in blood and brain, or if they
will merely leave you indifferent, or irritable, having unpleasantly
disturbed sweet intimate musings as might a draught from an open window.
Many are the reasons for love, but I confess I only love woman or book,
when it is as a voice of conscience, never heard before, heard suddenly, a
voice I am at once endearingly intimate with. This announces feminine
depravities in my affections. I am feminine, morbid, perverse. But above
all perverse, almost everything perverse interests, fascinates me.
Wordsworth is the only simple-minded man I ever loved, if that great
austere mind, chill even as the Cumberland year, can be called simple. But
Hugo is not perverse, nor even personal. Reading him was like being in
church with a strident-voiced preacher shouting from out of a terribly
sonorous pulpit. "Les Orientales." An East of painted card-board, tin
daggers, and a military band playing the Turkish patrol in the Palais Royal
... The verse is grand, noble, tremendous; I liked it, I admired it, but it
did not--I repeat the phrase--awake a voice of conscience within me; and
even the structure of the verse was too much in the style of public
buildings to please me. Of "Les Feuilles d'Automne" and "Les Chants du
Crepuscule" I remember nothing. Ten lines, fifty lines of "La Legende des
Siecles," and I always think that it is the greatest poetry I have ever
read, but after a few pages I invariably put the book down and forget it.
Having composed more verses than any man that ever lived, Hugo can only be
taken in the smallest doses; if you repeat any passage to a friend across a
cafe table, you are both appalled by the splendour of the imagery, by the
thunder of the syllables.

"Quel dieu, quel moissonneur dans l'eternel ete
Avait s'en allant negligemment jete
Cette faucille d'or dans les champs des etoiles."

But if I read an entire poem I never escape that sensation of the ennui
which is inherent in the gaud and the glitter of the Italian or Spanish
improvisatore. There never was anything French about Hugo's genius. Hugo
was a cross between an Italian improvisatore and a metaphysical German
student. Take another verse--

"Le clair de lune bleu qui baigne l'horizon."

Without a "like" or an "as," by a mere statement of fact, the picture, nay
more, the impression, is produced. I confess I have a weakness for the poem
which this line concludes--"La fete chez Therese;" but admirable as it is
with its picture of mediaeval life, there is in it, like in all Hugo's
work, a sense of fabrication that dries up emotion in my heart. He shouts
and raves over poor humanity, while he is gathering coppers for himself; he
goes in for an all-round patronage of the Almighty in a last stanza; but of
the two immortalities he evidently considers his own the most durable; he
does not, however, become really intolerable until he gets on the subject
of little children; he sings their innocence in great bombast, but he is
watching them; the poetry over, the crowd dispersed, he will appear a
veritable Mr. Hyde.

The first time I read of _une bouche d'ombre_ I was astonished, nor
the second nor third repetition produced a change in my mood of mind; but
sooner or later it was impossible to avoid conviction, that of the two "the
rosy fingers of the dawn," although some three thousand years older was
younger, truer, and more beautiful. Homer's similes can never grow old;
_une bouche d'ombre_ was old the first time it was said. It is the
birthplace and the grave of Hugo's genius.

Of Alfred de Musset I had heard a great deal. Marshall and the Marquise
were in the habit of reading him in moments of relaxation, they had marked
their favourite passages, so he came to me highly recommended.
Nevertheless, I made but little progress in his poetry. His modernisms were
out of tune with the present strain of my aspirations, and I did not find
the unexpected word and the eccentricities of expression which were, and
are still, so dear to me. I am not a purist; an error of diction is very
pardonable if it does not err on the side of the commonplace; the
commonplace, the natural, is constitutionally abhorrent to me; and I have
never been able to read with any very thorough sense of pleasure even the
opening lines of "Rolla," that splendid lyrical outburst. What I remember
of it now are those two odious _chevilles--marchait et respirait_, and
_Astarte fille de l'onde amere_; nor does the fact that _amere_
rhymes with _mere_ condone the offence, although it proves that even
Musset felt that perhaps the richness of the rhyme might render tolerable
the intolerable. And it is to my credit that the Spanish love songs moved
me not at all; and it was not until I read that magnificently grotesque
poem "La Ballade a la Lune," that I could be induced to bend the knee and
acknowledge Musset a poet.

I still read and spoke of Shelley with a rapture of joy,--he was still my
soul. But this craft, fashioned of mother o' pearl, with starlight at the
helm and moonbeams for sails, suddenly ran on a reef and went down, not out
of sight, but out of the agitation of actual life. The reef was Gautier; I
read "Mdlle. de Maupin." The reaction was as violent as it was sudden. I
was weary of spiritual passion, and this great exaltation of the body above
the soul at once conquered and led me captive; this plain scorn of a world
as exemplified in lacerated saints and a crucified Redeemer opened up to me
illimitable prospects of fresh beliefs, and therefore new joys in things
and new revolts against all that had come to form part and parcel of the
commonalty of mankind. Till now I had not even remotely suspected that a
deification of flesh and fleshly desire was possible, Shelley's teaching
had been, while accepting the body, to dream of the soul as a star, and so
preserve our ideal; but now suddenly I saw, with delightful clearness and
with intoxicating conviction, that by looking without shame and accepting
with love the flesh, I might raise it to as high a place and within as
divine a light as even the soul had been set in. The ages were as an
aureole, and I stood as if enchanted before the noble nakedness of the
elder gods: not the infamous nudity that sex has preserved in this modern
world, but the clean pagan nude,--a love of life and beauty, the broad fair
breast of a boy, the long flanks, the head thrown back; the bold fearless
gaze of Venus is lovelier than the lowered glance of the Virgin, and I
cried with my master that the blood that flowed upon Mount Calvary "_ne
m'a jamais baigne dans ses flots._"

I will not turn to the book to find the exact words of this sublime
vindication, for ten years I have not read the Word that has become so
inexpressibly a part of me; and shall I not refrain as Mdlle. de Maupin
refrained, knowing well that the face of love may not be twice seen? Great
was my conversion. None more than I had cherished mystery and dream: my
life until now had been but a mist which revealed as each cloud wreathed
and went out, the red of some strange flower or some tall peak, blue and
snowy and fairylike in lonely moonlight; and now so great was my conversion
that the more brutal the outrage offered to my ancient ideal, the rarer and
keener was my delight. I read almost without fear: "My dreams were of naked
youths riding white horses through mountain passes, there were no clouds in
my dreams, or if there were any, they were clouds that had been cut out as
if in cardboard with a pair of scissors."

I had shaken off all belief in Christianity early in life, and had suffered
much. Shelley had replaced faith by reason, but I still suffered: but here
was a new creed which proclaimed the divinity of the body, and for a long
time the reconstruction of all my theories of life on a purely pagan basis
occupied my whole attention. The exquisite outlines of the marvellous
castle, the romantic woods, the horses moving, the lovers leaning to each
other's faces enchanted me; and then the indescribably beautiful
description of the performance of _As you like it_, and the supreme
relief and perfect assuagement it brings to Rodolph, who then sees Mdlle.
de Maupin for the first time in woman's attire. If she were dangerously
beautiful as a man, that beauty is forgotten in the rapture and praise of
her unmatchable woman's loveliness.

But if Mdlle. de Maupin was the highest peak, it was not the entire
mountain. The range was long, and each summit offered to the eye a new and
delightful prospect. There were the numerous tales,--tales as perfect as
the world has ever seen; "La Morte Amoureuse," "Jettatura," "Une Nuit de
Cleopatre," etc., and then the very diamonds of the crown, "Les Emaux et
Camees," "La Symphonie en Blanc Majeure," in which the adjective
_blanc_ and _blanche_ is repeated with miraculous felicity in
each stanza. And then Contralto,--

"Mais seulement il se transpose
Et passant de la forme au son,
Trouvant dans la metamorphose
La jeune fille et le garcon."

_Transpose_,--a word never before used except in musical application,
and now for the first time applied to material form, and with a
beauty-giving touch that Phidias might be proud of. I know not how I quote;
such is my best memory of the stanza, and here, that is more important than
the stanza itself. And that other stanza, "The Chatelaine and the Page;"
and that other, "The Doves;" and that other, "Romeo and Juliet," and the
exquisite cadence of the line ending "_balcon_." Novelists have often
shown how a love passion brings misery, despair, death, and ruin upon a
life, but I know of no story of the good or evil influence awakened by the
chance reading of a book, the chain of consequences so far-reaching, so
intensely dramatic. Never shall I open these books again, but were I to
live for a thousand years, their power in my soul would remain unshaken. I
am what they made me. Belief in humanity, pity for the poor, hatred of
injustice, all that Shelley gave may never have been very deep or earnest;
but I did love, I did believe. Gautier destroyed these illusions. He taught
me that our boasted progress is but a pitfall into which the race is
falling, and I learned that the correction of form is the highest ideal,
and I accepted the plain, simple conscience of the pagan world as the
perfect solution of the problem that had vexed me so long; I cried, "ave"
to it all: lust, cruelty, slavery, and I would have held down my thumbs in
the Colosseum that a hundred gladiators might die and wash me free of my
Christian soul with their blood.

The study of Baudelaire aggravated the course of the disease. No longer is
it the grand barbaric face of Gautier; now it is the clean shaven face of
the mock priest, the slow, cold eyes and the sharp, cunning sneer of the
cynical libertine who will be tempted that he may better know the
worthlessness of temptation. "Les Fleurs du Mal!" beautiful flowers,
beautiful in sublime decay. What great record is yours, and were Hell a
reality how many souls would we find wreathed with your poisonous blossoms.
The village maiden goes to her Faust; the children of the nineteenth
century go to you, O Baudelaire, and having tasted of your deadly delight
all hope of repentance is vain. Flowers, beautiful in your sublime decay, I
press you to my lips; these northern solitudes, far from the rank Parisian
garden where I gathered you, are full of you, even as the sea-shell of the
sea, and the sun that sets on this wild moorland evokes the magical verse:--

"Un soir fait de rose et de bleu mystique
Nous echangerons un eclair unique
Comme un long sanglot tout charge d'adieux."

For months I fed on the mad and morbid literature that the enthusiasm of
1830 called into existence. The gloomy and sterile little pictures of
"Gaspard de la Nuit," or the elaborate criminality, "Les Contes Immoraux,"
laboriously invented lifeless things with creaky joints, pitiful lay
figures that fall to dust as soon as the book is closed, and in the dust
only the figures of the terrible ferryman and the unfortunate Dora remain.
"Madame Potiphar" cost me forty francs, and I never read more than a few

Like a pike after minnows, I pursued the works of Les Jeune France along
the quays and through every _passage_ in Paris. The money spent was
considerable, the waste of time enormous. One man's solitary work (he died
very young, but he is known to have excelled all in length of his hair and
the redness of his waistcoats) resisted my efforts to capture it. At last I
caught sight of the precious volume in a shop on the Quai Voltaire.
Trembling I asked the price. The man looked at me earnestly and answered,
"A hundred and fifty francs." No doubt it was a great deal of money, but I
paid it and rushed home to read. Many that had gone before had proved
disappointing, and I was obliged to admit had contributed little towards my
intellectual advancement; but this--this that I had heard about so
long--not a queer phrase, not an outrage of any sort of kind, not even a
new blasphemy, nothing, that is to say, nothing but a hundred and fifty
francs. Having thus rudely, and very pikelike, knocked my nose against the
bottom--this book was, most assuredly, the bottom of the literature of
1830--I came up to the surface and began to look around my contemporaries
for something to read.

I have remarked before on the instinctiveness of my likes and dislikes, on
my susceptibility to the sound of and even to the appearance of a name upon
paper. I was repelled by Leconte de Lisle from the first, and it was only
by a very deliberate outrage to my feelings that I bought and read "Les
Poemes Antiques," and "Les Poemes Barbares;" I was deceived in nothing, all
I had anticipated I found--long, desolate boredom. Leconte de Lisle
produces on me the effect of a walk through the new Law Courts, with a
steady but not violent draught sweeping from end to end. Oh, the vile old
professor of rhetoric! and when I saw him the last time I was in Paris, his
head--a declaration of righteousness, a cross between a Caesar by Gerome,
and an archbishop of a provincial town, set all my natural antipathy
instantly on edge. Hugo is often pompous, shallow, empty, unreal, but he is
at least an artist, and when he thinks of the artist and forgets the
prophet, as in "Les Chansons des Rues et des Bois," his juggling with the
verse is magnificent, superb.

"Comme un geai sur l'arbre
Le roi se tient fier;
Son coeur est de marbre,
Son ventre est de chair.

"On a pour sa nuque
Et son front vermeil
Fait une perruque
Avec le soleil.

"Il regne, il vegete
Effroyable zero;
Sur lui se projette
L'ombre du bourreau.

"Son trone est une tombe,
Et sur le pave
Quelque chose en tombe
Qu'on n'a point lave."

But how to get the first line of the last stanza into five syllables I
cannot think. If ever I meet with the volume again I will look it out and
see how that _rude dompteur de syllables_ managed it. But stay, _son
trone est la tombe_; that makes the verse, and the generalisation would
be in the "line" of Hugo. Hugo--how impossible it is to speak of French
literature without referring to him. Let these, however, be the concluding
words: he thought that by saying everything, and saying everything twenty
times over, he would for ever render impossible the advent of another great
poet. But a work of art is valuable, and pleasurable in proportion to its
rarity; one beautiful book of verses is better than twenty books of
beautiful verses. This is an absolute and incontestable truth; a child can
burlesque this truth--one verse is better than the whole poem: a word is
better than the line; a letter is better than the word; but the truth is
not thereby affected. Hugo never had the good fortune to write a bad book,
nor even a single bad line, so not having time to read all, the future will
read none. What immortality would be gained by the destruction of one half
of his magnificent works; what oblivion is secured by the publication of
these posthumous volumes.

To return to the Leconte de Lisle. See his "Discours de Reception." Is it
possible to imagine anything more absurdly arid? Rhetoric of this sort,
"_des vers d'or sur une ecume d'airain_," and such sententious
platitudes (speaking of the realists), "_Les epidemies de cette nature
passent, et le genie demeure._"

Theodore de Banville. At first I thought him cold, tinged with the
rhetorical ice of the Leconte de Lisle. He had no new creed to proclaim nor
old creed to denounce, the inherent miseries of human life did not seem to
touch him, and of the languors and ardours of animal or spiritual passion
there are none. What is there? a pure, clear song, an instinctive,
incurable and lark-like love of the song. The lily is white, and the rose
is red, such knowledge of, such observation of nature is enough for the
poet, and he sings and he trills, there is silver magic in every note, and
the song as it ascends rings, and all the air quivers with the everwidening
circle of the echoes, sighing and dying out of the ear until the last
faintness is reached, and the glad rhymes clash and dash forth again on
their aerial way. Banville is not the poet, he is the bard. The great
questions that agitate the mind of man have not troubled him, life, death,
and love he only perceives as stalks whereon he may weave his glittering
web of living words. Whatever his moods may be, he is lyrical. His wit
flies out on clear-cut, swallow-like wings as when he said, in speaking of
Paul Alexis' book "Le Besoin d'aimer," "_Vous avez trouvez un titre assez
laid pour faire reculer les divines etoiles._" I know not what
instrument to compare with his verse. I suppose I should say a flute; but
it seems to me more like a marvellously toned piano. His hands pass over
the keys, and he produces Chopin-like music.

It is now well known that French verse is not seventy years old. If it was
Hugo who invented French rhyme it was Banville who broke up the couplet.
Hugo had perhaps ventured to place the pause between the adjective and its
noun, but it was not until Banville wrote the line, "_Elle filait
pensivement la blanche laine_" that the caesura received its final
_coup de grace_. This verse has been probably more imitated than any
other verse in the French language. _Pensivement_ was replaced by some
similar four-syllable adverb, _Elle tirait nonchalamment les bas de soie,
etc_. It was the beginning of the end.

I read the French poets of the modern school--Coppee, Mendes, Leon Diex,
Verlaine, Jose Maria Heredia, Mallarme, Rechepin, Villiers de l'Isle Adam.
Coppee, as may be imagined, I only was capable of appreciating in his first
manner, when he wrote those exquisite but purely artistic sonnets "La
Tulipe" and "Le Lys." In the latter a room decorated with daggers, armour,
jewellery and china is beautifully described, and it is only in the last
line that the lily which animates and gives life to the whole is
introduced. But the exquisite poetic perceptivity Coppee showed in his
modern poems, the certainty with which he raised the commonest subject,
investing it with sufficient dignity for his purpose, escaped me wholly,
and I could not but turn with horror from such poems as "La Nourrice" and
"Le Petit Epicier." How anyone could bring himself to acknowledge the
vulgar details of our vulgar age I could not understand. The fiery glory of
Jose Maria de Heredia, on the contrary, filled me with enthusiasm--ruins
and sand, shadow and silhouette of palms and pillars, negroes, crimson,
swords, silence, and arabesques. As great copper pans go the clangour of
the rhymes.

"Entre le ciel qui brule et la mer qui moutonne,
Au somnolent soleil d'un midi monotone,
Tu songes, O guerriere, aux vieux conquistadors;
Et dans l'enervement des nuits chaudes et calmes,
Bercant ta gloire eteinte, O cite, tu t'endors
Sous les palmiers, au long fremissement des palmes."

Catulle Mendes, a perfect realisation of his name, of his pale hair, of his
fragile face illuminated with the idealism of a depraved woman. He takes
you by the arm, by the hand, he leans towards you, his words are caresses,
his fervour is delightful, and listening to him is as sweet as drinking a
fair perfumed white wine. All he says is false--the book he has just read,
the play he is writing, the woman who loves him,... he buys a packet of
bonbons in the streets and eats them, and it is false. An exquisite artist;
physically and spiritually he is art; he is the muse herself, or rather, he
is one of the minions of the muse. Passing from flower to flower he goes,
his whole nature pulsing with butterfly voluptuousness. He has written
poems as good as Hugo, as good as Leconte de Lisle, as good as Banville, as
good as Baudelaire, as good as Gautier, as good as Coppee; he never wrote
an ugly line in his life, but he never wrote a line that some one of his
brilliant contemporaries might not have written. He has produced good work
of all kinds "et voila tout." Every generation, every country, has its
Catulle Mendes. Robert Buchanan is ours, only in the adaptation Scotch
gruel has been substituted for perfumed white wine. No more delightful
talker than Mendes, no more accomplished _litterateur_, no more fluent
and translucid critic. I remember the great moonlights of the _Place
Pigale_, when, on leaving the cafe, he would take me by the arm, and
expound Hugo's or Zola's last book, thinking as he spoke of the Greek
sophists. There were for contrast Mallarme's Tuesday evenings, a few
friends sitting round the hearth, the lamp on the table. I have met none
whose conversation was more fruitful, but with the exception of his early
verses I cannot say I ever frankly enjoyed his poetry. When I knew him he
had published the celebrated "L'Apres Midi d'un Faun:" the first poem
written in accordance with the theory of symbolism. But when it was given
to me (this marvellous brochure furnished with strange illustrations and
wonderful tassels), I thought it absurdly obscure. Since then, however, it
has been rendered by force of contrast with the brain-curdling enigmas the
author has since published a marvel of lucidity; and were I to read it now
I should appreciate its many beauties. It bears the same relation to the
author's later work as _Rienzi_ to _The Walkyrie_. But what is
symbolism? Vulgarly speaking, saying the opposite to what you mean. For
example, you want to say that music which is the new art, is replacing the
old art, which is poetry. First symbol: a house in which there is a
funeral, the pall extends over the furniture. The house is poetry, poetry
is dead. Second symbol: "_notre vieux grimoire_," _grimoire_ is the
parchment, parchment is used for writing, therefore, _grimoire_ is the
symbol for literature, "_d'ou s'exaltent les milliers_," thousands of
what? of letters of course. We have heard a great deal in England of
Browning obscurity. The "Red Cotton Nightcap Country" is child's play
compared to a sonnet by a determined symbolist such as Mallarme, or better
still his disciple Ghil who has added to the difficulties of symbolism
those of poetic instrumentation. For according to M. Ghil and his organ
_Les Ecrits pour l'Art_, it would appear that the syllables of the
French language evoke in us the sensations of different colours;
consequently the timbre of the different instruments. The vowel _u_
corresponds to the colour yellow, and therefore to the sound of flutes.

Arthur Rimbaud was, it is true, first in the field with these pleasant and
genial theories; but M. Ghil informs us that Rimbaud was mistaken in many
things, particularly in coupling the sound of the vowel _u_ with the
colour green instead of with the colour yellow. M. Ghil has corrected this
very stupid blunder and many others; and his instrumentation in his last
volume, "Le Geste Ingenu," may be considered as complete and definitive.
The work is dedicated to Mallarme, "Pere et seigneur des ors, des
pierreries, et des poissons," and other works are to follow:--the six tomes
of "Legendes de Reves et de Sangs," the innumerable tomes of "La Glose,"
and the single tome of "La Loi."

And that man Gustave Kahn, who takes the French language as a violin, and
lets the bow of his emotion run at wild will upon it producing strange
acute strains, unpremeditated harmonies comparable to nothing that I know
of but some Hungarian rhapsody; verses of seventeen syllables interwoven
with verses of eight, and even nine, masculine rhymes, seeking strange
union with feminine rhymes in the middle of the line--a music sweet,
subtil, and epicene; the half-note, the inflexion, but not the full
tone--as "_se fondre, o souvenir, des lys acres delices._"

Se penchant vers les dahlias,
Des paons cabrient des rosace lunaire
L'assoupissement des branches venere
Son pale visage aux mourants dahlias.

Elle ecoute au loin les breves musiques
Nuit claire aux ramures d'accords,
Et la lassitude a berce son corps
Au rhythme odorant des pures musiques.

Les paons out dresse la rampe occellee
Pour la descente de ses yeux vers le tapis
De choses et de sens
Qui va vers l'horizon, parure vemiculee
De son corps alangui
En ame se tapit
Le flou desir molli de recits et d'encens.

I laughed at these verbal eccentricities, but they were not without their
effect, and that effect was a demoralising one; for in me they aggravated
the fever of the unknown, and whetted my appetite for the strange, abnormal
and unhealthy in art. Hence all pallidities of thought and desire were
eagerly welcomed, and Verlaine became my poet. Never shall I forget the
first enchantment of "Les Fetes Galantes." Here all is twilight.

The royal magnificences of the sunset have passed, the solemn beatitude of
the night is at hand but not yet here; the ways are veiled with shadow, and
lit with dresses, white, that the hour has touched with blue, yellow,
green, mauve, and undecided purple; the voices? strange contraltos; the
forms? not those of men or women, but mystic, hybrid creatures, with hands
nervous and pale, and eyes charged with eager and fitful light ... "_un
soir equivoque d'automne_," ... "_les belles pendent reveuses a nos bras_"
... and they whisper "_les mots speciaux et tout bas_."

Gautier sang to his antique lyre praise of the flesh and contempt of the
soul; Baudelaire on a mediaeval organ chaunted his unbelief in goodness and
truth and his hatred of life. But Verlaine advances one step further: hate
is to him as commonplace as love, unfaith as vulgar as faith. The world is
merely a doll to be attired to-day in a modern ball dress, to-morrow in
aureoles and stars. The Virgin is a pretty thing, worth a poem, but it
would be quite too silly to talk about belief or unbelief; Christ in wood
or plaster we have heard too much of, but Christ in painted glass amid
crosiers and Latin terminations, is an amusing subject for poetry. And
strangely enough, a withdrawing from all commerce with virtue and vice is,
it would seem, a licentiousness more curiously subtle and penetrating than
any other; and the licentiousness of the verse is equal to that of the
emotion; every natural instinct of the language is violated, and the simple
music native in French metre is replaced by falsetto notes sharp and
intense. The charm is that of an odour of iris exhaled by some ideal
tissues, or of a missal in a gold case, a precious relic of the pomp and
ritual of an archbishop of Persepolis.

Parsifal a vaincu les filles, leur gentil
Babil et la luxure amusante et sa pente
Vers la chair de ce garcon vierge que cela tente
D'aimer des seins legers et ce gentil babil.

Il a vaincu la femme belle au coeur subtil
Etalant ces bras frais et sa gorge excitante;
Il a vaincu l'enfer, il rentre dans sa tente
Avec un lourd trophee a son bras pueril.

Avec la lance qui perca le flanc supreme
Il a gueri le roi, le voici roi lui-meme,
Et pretre du tres-saint tresor essentiel;

En robe d'or il adore, gloire et symbole,
Le vase pur ou resplendit le sang reel,
Et, o ces voix d'enfants chantent dans la coupole.

I know of no more perfect thing than this sonnet. The hiatus in the last
line was at first a little trying, but I have learned to love it; not in
Baudelaire nor even in Poe is there more beautiful poetry to be found. Poe,
unread and ill-understood in America and England, here, thou art an
integral part of our artistic life.

The Island o' Fay, Silence, Elionore, were the familiar spirits of an
apartment beautiful with tapestry and palms; Swinburne and Rossetti were
the English poets I read there; and in a golden bondage, I, a unit in the
generation they have enslaved, clanked my fetters and trailed my golden
chain. I had begun a set of stories in many various metres, to be called
"Roses of Midnight." One of the characteristics of the volume was that
daylight was banished from its pages. In the sensual lamplight of yellow
boudoirs, or the wild moonlight of centenarian forests, my fantastic loves
lived out their lives, died with the dawn which was supposed to be an
awakening to consciousness of reality.


A last hour of vivid blue and gold glare; but now the twilight sheds softly
upon the darting jays, and only the little oval frames catch the fleeting
beams. I go to the miniatures. Amid the parliamentary faces, all strictly
garrotted with many-folded handkerchiefs, there is a metal frame enchased
with rubies and a few emeralds. And this _chef d'oeuvre_ of antique
workmanship surrounds a sharp, shrewdish, modern face, withal pretty. Fair
she is and thin.

She is a woman of thirty,--no,--she is the woman of thirty. Balzac has
written some admirable pages on this subject; my memory of them is vague
and uncertain, although durable, as all memories of him must be. But that
marvellous story, or rather study, has been blunted in my knowledge of this
tiny face with the fine masses of hair drawn up from the neck and arranged
elaborately on the crown. There is no fear of plagiary; he cannot have said
all; he cannot have said what I want to say.

Looking at this face so mundane, so intellectually mundane, I see why a
young man of refined mind--a bachelor who spends at least a pound a day on
his pleasures, and in whose library are found some few volumes of modern
poetry--seeks his ideal in a woman of thirty.

It is clear that, by the very essence of her being, the young girl may
evoke no ideal but that of home; and home is in his eyes the antithesis of
freedom, desire, aspiration. He longs for mystery, deep and endless, and he
is tempted with a foolish little illusion--white dresses, water colour
drawings, and popular music. He dreams of Pleasure, and he is offered Duty;
for do not think that that sylph-like waist does not suggest to him a yard
of apron string, cries of children, and that most odious word, "Papa." A
young man of refined mind can look through the glass of the years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"_Elle mit son plus beau chapeau, son chapeau bleu_" ... and then?
Why, then picking up her skirt she threads her way through the crowded
streets, reads the advertisements on the walls, hails the omnibus, inquires
at the _concierge's_ loge, murmurs as she goes upstairs, "_Que c'est
haut le cinqieme_," and then? Why, the door opens, and she cries, "_Je

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

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

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

I, therefore, had begun, as it were, to read Balzac backwards; instead of
beginning with the plain, simple, earthly tragedy of the Pere Goriot, I
first knelt in a beautiful but distant coigne of the great world of his
genius--Seraphita. Certain _nuances_ of soul are characteristic of

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