By no means. Contrast for contrast's sake is a very coarse stimulant, and required only by very joyless natures. The real explanation of the charm of the hotel room and its sparse properties and flowers must be sought, I believe, in the fact that the charm of things depends upon our power of extracting it; and that our power in this matter, as in every other, nay, our leisure to exert it, is necessarily limited. Things, as I before remarked, do not give themselves without some wooing; and courtship is the secret of true possession. The world outside us, as philosophers tell us, is not what our eyes, ears, and touch and taste make it appear; nay, for aught we know, 'tis a mere chaos; and if, out of the endless impressions with which outer objects keep pelting us, we manage to pick up and appropriate a few, setting them in a pattern of meaning and beauty, it is thanks to the activity of our own special little self. That is the gist of Kant's philosophy; and, apart from Kant, it is the vague practical knowledge which experience teaches us. Hence the disappointment of all such persons as think that the beautiful and significant things of the world ought to give them delight without any trouble on their part: they think that it is the fault of a Swiss mountain, or a Titian Madonna, or a poem by Browning if it does not at once ravish their inert souls into a seventh heaven. Yet these are people who occasionally ride, or play at golf or whist, and who never expect the cards and the golf clubs to play the game by themselves, nor the very best horse to carry them to some destination without riding. Now, beautiful and interesting things also require a deal of riding, of playing with; let us put it more courteously—of wooing.
The hotel room I have spoken of reveals the fact that we usually have far too many pleasant things about us, to be able to extract much pleasure from any of them; while, of course, somebody else, at the other end of the world let us say, or merely in the mews to the back, has so very much too little as to have none at all, which is another way of diminishing possible enjoyment. There seems, moreover, to be a certain queer virtue in mere emptiness, in mere negation. We require a margin of nothing round everything that is to charm us; round our impressions as well as round the material objects which can supply them; for without it we lose all outline, and begin to feel vaguely choked.
Compare the pleasure of a picture tucked away in a chapel or sacristy with the plethoric weariness of a whole Louvre or National Gallery. Nay, remember the vivid delight of some fine bit of tracery round a single door or window, as in the cathedral of Dol or the house of Tristan l'Hermite at Tours; or of one of those Ionic capitals which you sometimes find built into quite an uninteresting house in Rome (there is one almost opposite St. Angelo, and another near Tor dei Specchi, Tower of the Mirrors, delightful name!).
That question of going to see the thing, instead of seeing it drearily among ten thousand other things equally lovely—O weariness unparalleled of South Kensington or Cluny!—that question of the agreeable little sense of deliberate pilgrimage (pilgrimage to a small shrine perhaps in one's memory), leads me to another explanation of what I must call the "hotel room phenomenon."
I maintain that there is a zest added to one's pleasure in beautiful things by the effort and ingenuity (unless too exhausting) expended in eliminating the impressions which might detract from them. One likes the hotel room just because some of the furniture has been sent away into the passage or wheeled into corners; one enjoys pleasant things additionally for having arranged them to advantage in one's mind. It is just the reverse with the rooms in a certain palace I sometimes have the privilege of entering, where every detail is worked—furniture, tapestries, embroideries, majolica, and flowers—into an overwhelming Wagner symphony of loveliness. There is a genuine Leonardo in one of those rooms, and truly I almost wish it were in a whitewashed lobby. And in coming out of all that perfection I sometimes feel a kind of relief on getting into the empty, uninteresting street. My thoughts, somehow, fetch a long breath....
These are not the sentiments of the superfine. But then I venture to think that the dose of fineness which is, so to speak, super or too much, just turns these folks' refinement into something its reverse. People who cannot sleep because of the roseleaf in the sheets, or the pea (like the little precious princess) under the mattress, are bad sleepers, and had better do charing or climbing, or get pummelled by a masseur till they grow healthier. And if ever I had the advising of young folk with ambition to be aesthetic, I should conjure them to cultivate their sensitiveness only to good things, and atrophy it towards the inevitable bad; or rather I should teach them to push into corners (or altogether get rid of) the irrelevant and trivial impressions which so often are bound to accompany the most delightful ones; very much as those occupants of the hotel room had done with some of its furniture. What if an electric tram starts from the foot of Giotto's tower, or if four-and-twenty Cook's tourists invade the inn and streets of Verona? If you cannot extract some satisfaction from the thought that there may be intelligent people even in a Cook's party, and that the ugly tram takes hundreds of people up Fiesole hill without martyrizing cab-horses—if you cannot do this (which still is worth doing), overlook the Cook's tourists and the tram, blot them out of your thoughts and feelings.
This question of superfineness versus refinement (which ought to mean the power of refining things through our feeling) has carried me away from the original theme of my discourse, which, under the symbol of the hotel room, was merely that we should perhaps appreciate more if we were offered less to appreciate. Apropos of this, I have long been struck by the case of a dear Italian friend of mine, whose keenness of perception and grip of judgment and unexpectedness of fancy is almost in inverse proportion to her knowledge of books or opportunity of travel. An invalid, cut off from much reading, and limited to monotonous to-and-fro between a town which is not a great town and a hillside village which is not a—not a great village; she is quite marvellously delightful by her power of assimilating the little she can read and observe, not merely of transmuting it into something personal and racy, but (what is much more surprising) of being modified harmoniously by its assimilation; her rich and unexpected mind putting forth even richer and more unexpected details. Whereas think of Tom, Dick, or Harry, their natural good parts watered down with other folks' notions, their imagination worn threadbare by the friction of experience; men who ought to be so amusing, and alas!...
And now, having fulfilled my programme, as was my duty, let me return to my pleasure, which, at this moment (and whenever the opportunity presents itself) consists in falling foul of the superfine. The superfine are those who deserve (and frequently attain) the condition of that Renaissance tyrant who lived exclusively on hard-boiled eggs (without salt) for fear of poison. The superfine are those who will not eat walnuts because of the shell, and are pained that Nature should have been so coarse as to propagate oranges through pips. The superfine are.... But no. Let us be true to our principle of not neglecting the delightful things of this world by fixing our too easily hypnotized gaze on the things which are not delightful—disagreeable things which should be examined only with a view to their removal; or if they prove obstinate fixtures in our reality, be all the more resolutely turned out of the sparsely-furnished, delectable chambers of our fancy.
IN PRAISE OF COURTSHIP
There is too little courtship in the world. I do not mean there is not enough marrying and giving in marriage, or that the preliminaries thereunto are otherwise than they should be. Quite the reverse. As long as there is love and youth, there is sure in the literal sense to be courtship. But what I ask is that there be courtship besides that literal courtship between the Perditas and Florizels; that there be "being in love" with a great many things, even stocks and stones, besides youth and maiden; which would result, on the whole, in all of us being young in feeling even when we had grown old in years.
For courtship means a wish to stand well in the other person's eyes, and, what is more, a readiness to be pleased with the other's ways; a sense on each side of having had the better of the bargain; an undercurrent of surprise and thankfulness at one's good luck.
There is not enough courtship in the world. This thought has been growing in my mind ever since the silver wedding of two dear friends: that quarter of a century has been but a prolonged courtship.
Why is it not oftener so? One sees among married folk a good deal of affection, of kindliness, even of politeness; a great deal too much mutual dependence, degenerating, of course, into habitual boredom. But none of this can be called courtship. Perhaps this was the meaning, less cynical than supposed, but quite as sad, of La Rochefoucauld when he noted down, "Il y a de bons mariages, mais point de delicieux;" since, in the delicate French sense of the word, implying some analogy of subdued yet penetrating pleasantness, as of fresh, bright weather or fine light wine, courtship is essentially delicieux.
This is, of course, initiating a question of manner. Modern psychology is discovering scientific reasons for the fact that if you wag a dog's tail he feels pleased; or, at all events, that the human being would feel pleased if it had a tail and could wag it. Confessors and nurses knew it long ago, curbing bad temper by restraining its outer manifestations; and are not dinners and plays, flags and illuminations, birthdays and jubilees—nay, art itself, devices for suggestions to mankind that it feels pleased?
Married people, as a rule, wish not to be pleased, or at least not to show it. They may be heartbroken at each other's death, and unable to endure a temporary separation; but the outsider may wonder why, seeing how little they seem to care for being together. It is the same, after all, with other relations; and it is only because brothers and sisters, fathers and children have not taken visible steps to select one another that their bored indifference is less conspicuous. You will say it is a question of mere manner. But, as remarked, manner not merely results from feeling, but largely reacts on feeling, and makes it different. People who live together have the appearance, often, of taking each other, if not as a convenience, at all events as a fait accompli, and, so far as possible, as if not there at all. Near relations try to realize the paradox of companionable solitude; and intimacy seems to imply the right to behave as if the intimate other one were not there. Now, being by one's self is a fine thing, convenient and salutary (indeed, like courtship, there is not enough of it); but being by one's self is not to be confounded with not being in company. I have selected that expression advisedly, in order to give a shock to the reader. In company? Good heavens! is being with one's wife, one's brothers or sisters, one's children, one's bosom friends being in company? And why not? Should company necessarily mean the company of strangers? And is the presence of one's nearest and dearest to be accounted as nothing—as nothing demanding some change in ourselves, and worthy of being paid some price for?
This goes against our notion of intimacy; but then our notion is wrong, as is shown daily by the quarrels and recriminations of intimate friends. One can be natural, with a difference, which difference means a thought for the other. There is a selection possible in one's words and actions before another—nay, there is a manner of doing and feeling which almost forestalls the necessity of a selection at all. I like the expression employed by a certain sister after nursing her small brother through a difficult illness, "We were always Castilian," she said. Why, as we all try to be honest, and hard-working, and clever, and more or less illustrious, should we not sometimes try to be a little Castilian? Similarly, my friend of the silver wedding once pointed out to me that marriage, with its enforced and often excessive intimacies, was a wonderful school of consideration, of mutual respect, of fine courtesy. This had been no paradox in her case; but then, as I said, her twenty-five years of wedlock had been years of courtship.
Courtship, however, should not be confined to marriage, nor even to such relations as imply close quarters and worries in common; nay, it should exist towards all things, a constant attitude in life—at least, an attitude constantly tended towards.
The line of least resistance seems against it; our laziness, and our wish to think well of ourselves merely because we are ourselves, undoubtedly go against it, as they do against everything in the world worth having. In our own day certain ways of thinking, culminating in development of the Moi and production of the Uebermensch, and general self-engrossment and currishness, are peculiarly hostile to courtship. Whereas the old religious training, where it did not degenerate into excessive asceticism, was a school of good manners towards the universe as well as towards one's neighbours. The "Fioretti di San Francisco" is a handbook of polite friendliness to men, women, birds, wolves, and, what must have been most difficult, fellow-monks; and St. Francis' Hymn to the Sun might be given as an example of the wise man's courtship of what we stupidly call inanimates.
For courtship might be our attitude towards everything which is capable of giving pleasure; and would not many more things give us pleasure—let us say, the sun in the heavens, the water on the stones, even the fire in the grate, if, instead of thinking of them as existing merely to make our life bearable, we called them, like the saint of Assisi, My Lord the Sun, and Sister Water, and Brother Fire, and thought of them with joy and gratitude?
Certain it is that everything in the world repays courtship; and that, quite outside all marrying and giving in marriage, in all our dealings with all possible things, the cessation of courtship marks the incipient necessity for divorce.
KNOWING ONE'S MIND
The only things which afforded me any pleasure in that great collection of Ingres drawings, let alone in that very dull, frowsy, stale, and unprofitable city of Montauban, whither I had travelled on purpose to see it, were an old printed copy of "Don Juan oder der Steinerne Gast"—in a glass case alongside of M. Ingres' century-long-uncleaned fiddle—and a half-page of Mozart's autograph, given to M. Ingres when a student by a Prix de Rome musician. I mentioned this fact to my friends, in a spirit of guileless truthfulness; when, what was my surprise at the story being received with smiling incredulity. "Your paradox," they said, with the benevolent courtesy of their nation, for they were French, "is delightful and most reussi. But, of course, we know you to be exquisitely sensitive to genius in all its manifestations."
Now, I happened to know myself to be as insensible as a stone to genius as manifested in the late M. Ingres. However, I despaired of persuading them that I was speaking the truth; and, despite the knowledge of their language with which they graciously credited me, I hunted about in vain for the French equivalent of "I know my own mind." Whereupon, allowing the conversation to take another turn, I fell to musing on those untranslatable words, together with the whole episode of the Mozart manuscript and the drawings of M. Ingres, including that rainy, chilly day at Montauban; and also another day of travel, even wetter and colder, which returned to my memory.
Knowing one's own mind (in whatever way you might succeed in turning that into French) is a first step to filling one's own place instead of littering unprofitably over creation at large, and in so far also to doing one's own work. Life, I am willing to admit, is not all private garden, nor should we attempt to make it. 'Tis nine-tenths common acres, which we must till in company, and with mutual sacrifice of our whims. Nay, Life is largely public thoroughfares with a definite rule of the road and a regulated pace of traffic; streets, at all events, however narrow, where each must shovel snow, sprinkle water, and sweep his threshold. But respect for such common property cannot be genuine where there is not a corresponding fidelity and fondness on the part of each for his own little enclosure, his garden, and, by analogy, his neighbour's garden also. There is little good to be got from your vague, gregarious natures, liking or disliking merely because others like or dislike. There cannot be much loving-kindness, let alone love (whether for persons or things or ideas), in souls which always require company, and prefer any to none at all. And as to good work, why, it means tete-a-tete with what you are doing, and is incompatible with the spirit of picnics. I own to a growing suspicion of those often heroic and saintly persons who allow their neighbours—husband, father, mother, children—to saunter idly into the allotments which God has given them, trampling heedlessly the delicate seedlings, or, like holiday trippers, carving egoistic initials in growing trees not of their own planting. And one of the unnoticed, because continuous, tragedies of existence is surely such wanton or deliberate destruction of the individual qualities of the soul, such sacrifice of the necessary breathing and standing place which even the smallest requires; such grudging of the needful solitude and separateness, alas! often to those that we love the best. It seems highly probable that among all their absurd and melancholy recollections of this wasteful and slatternly earth, the denizens of the Kingdom of Heaven will look back with most astonishment and grief on the fact of having lived, before regeneration, without a room apiece.
In the Kingdom of Heaven every one will have a separate room for rest and meditation; a cell perhaps, whitewashed, with a green shutter and a white dimity curtain in the sunshine. And the cells will, of course, be very much alike in all essentials, because most people agree about having some sort of bed, table, chair, and so forth. But some glorified souls will have the flowers (which Dante saw her plucking) of Leah; and others the looking-glass of the contemplative Rachel; and there will be ever so many other little differences, making it amusing and edifying to pay a call upon one's brother or sister soul.
In such a state of spiritual community and privacy (so different from our present hugger-mugger and five-little-bears-in-a-bed mode of existence), my soul, for instance, if your soul should honour it with a visit, would be able, methinks, to talk quite freely and pleasantly about the Ingres Museum at Montauban, and the autograph of Mozart in the glass case alongside the fiddle.... The manuscript is only a half sheet full score, torn or cut through its height; and the voice part is broken off with one word only—insufficient to identify it among Mozart's Italian works, though, perhaps, most suggestive of "Don Giovanni"—the word "Guai." The manuscript is exquisitely neat, yet has none of the look of a copy, and we know that Mozart was never obliged to make any. The writing is so like the man's adorable personality, the little pattern of notes so like his music. The sight of it moved me, flooding my mind with divine things, that Concerto for Flute and Harp, for instance, which dear Mme. H—— had recently been playing for me. And during that dull, rainy day of waiting for trains at Montauban, it made me live over again another day of rainy travel, but with the "Zauberfloete" at the end of it, about which I will also tell you, since I am permitted to know my own mind and to speak it.
But I find I have incidentally raised the question de gustibus, or, as our language puts it, the accounting for tastes. And I must settle and put myself right in the matter of M. Ingres before proceeding any further. The Latin saying, then, "De gustibus non est disputandum," contains an excellent piece of advice, since disputing about tastes or anything else is but a sorry employment. But the English version is absolutely wide of the mark, since tastes can be accounted for just as much as climate, history, and bodily complexion. Indeed, we should know implicitly what people like and dislike if we knew what they were and how they had come to be so. The very diversity in taste proves its deep-down reality: preference and antipathy being consubstantial with the soul—nay, inherent in the very mechanism and chemistry of the body. And for this reason tastes are at once so universal and uniform, and so variously marked by minor differences. There are human beings all shank and thigh and wrist, with contemplative, deep-set eyes and compressed, silent lips; and others running to rounds and segments of circles, like M. Ingres' drawings, their eyes a trifle prominent for the better understanding of others, and mouth, like the typical French one, at a forward angle, as if for ready speech. But, different as these people are, they are alike in the main features of symmetry and balance; they haven't two sets of lungs and a duplicate stomach, like Centaurs, whom every one found so difficult to deal with; nor do any of them end off in a single forked tail, twisting about on which accounts for the proverbial untrustworthiness of mermaids. Being alike, all human creatures require free space and breathable air; and, being unlike, some of them hanker after the sea, and others cannot watch without longing the imitation mountains into which clouds pile themselves on dreary flat horizons. And similarly in the matter of art. We all delight in the ineffable presence of transcending power; we all require to renew our soul's strength and keenness in the union with souls stronger and keener than ours. But the power which appeals to some of us is struggling and brooding tragically, as in Michelangelo and Beethoven; while the power which straightway subdues certain others is easy, temperate, and radiant, as in Titian and Mozart. And thus it comes about that every soul—"where a soul can be discerned"—is the citizen, conscious or not, of a spiritual country, and obeys a hierarchy, bends before a sovereign genius, crowned or mitred by inscrutable right divine, never to be deposed. But there are many kingdoms and principalities, not necessarily overlapping; and the subjects of them are by no means the same.
Take M. Ingres, for instance. He is, it seems, quite a tremendous potentate. I recognize his legitimate sway, like that of Prester John, or of the Great Mogul. Only I happen not to obey it, for I am a born subject of the King of Hearts. And who should that be but Apollo-Wolfgang-Amadeus, driving with easy wrist his teams, tandem or abreast, of winged, effulgent melodies?
It was raining, as I told you, that morning which I spent in the Ingres Museum at Montauban. It was raining melted snow in hurricanes off the mountains that other day of travel, and I was on the top of a Tyrolese diligence. The roads were heavy; and we splashed slowly along the brink of roaring torrents and through the darkness of soaked and steaming fir woods. At the end of an hour's journey we had already lost four. "If you stop to dine," said successive jack-booted postilions, quickly fastening the traces at each relay, "you will never catch the Munich train at Garmisch. But the Herrschaften will please themselves in the matter of eating and drinking." So the Herrschaften did not please themselves at all, but splashed along through rain and sleet, through hospitable villages all painted over with scrollwork about beer, and coffee, and sugar-bakery, and all that "Restoration" which our poor drenched bodies and souls were lacking so woefully. For we had stalls at the Court Theatre of Munich, and it was the last, the very last, night of "The Magic Flute"! The Brocken journey on the diligence-top came to an end; the train at Garmisch was caught by just two seconds; we were safe at Munich. But I was prone on a sofa, with a despairing friend making hateful attempts to rouse me. Go to the play? Get up? Open my eyes to the light? My fingers must have fumbled some feeble "no," beyond all contradiction. "But your ticket—but 'The Magic Flute'—but you have come three days' journey on purpose!" I take it my lips achieved an inarticulate expression of abhorrence for such considerations. After that I do not exactly know what happened: my exhausted will gave way. I was combed and brushed, thrust into some manner of festive apparel, pushed into a vehicle, pulled out of it, and shoved along, by the staunch and (as it seemed) brutal arm of friendship, among crimson and gilding and blinding lights all seen at intervals through half-closed eyes. A little bell rang, and I felt it was my death knell. But through the darkness of my weltering soul (for I was presumably dead and undoubtedly damned) there marched, stood still, and curtsied majestically towards each other, the great grave opening chords of the overture. And when they had delivered, solemnly, their mysterious herald's message and subsided, off started the little nimble notes of the fugue, hastening from all sides, meeting, crossing, dispersing, returning, telling their wonderful news of improbable adventures; multitudinous, scurrying away in orderly haste to protect the hero and heroine, and be joined by other notes, all full of inexhaustible good-will; taking hands, dancing, laughing, and giving the assurance that all is for the best in the world of enchantment, in the world of bird-calls, and tinkling triangles and magic flutes, under the spells of the great Sun-priest and Sun-god Mozart. I opened my eyes and had no headache; and sat in that Court Theatre for three mortal hours, in flourishing health and absolute happiness, and would have given my soul for it to begin immediately all over again.
Now, not all the drawings of M. Ingres could have done that. And the piece of torn music-paper in the glass case at Montauban had made me, for a few faint seconds, live it through again. And I know what I don't care for, and what I do.
As towards most other things of which we have but little personal experience (foreigners, or socialists, or aristocrats, as the case may be), there is a degree of vague ill-will towards what is called Thinking. It is reputed to impede action, to make hay of instincts and of standards, to fritter reality into doubt; and the career of Hamlet is frequently pointed out as a proof of its unhappy effects. But, as I hinted, one has not very often an opportunity of verifying these drawbacks of thinking, or its advantages either. And I am tempted to believe that much of the mischief thus laid at the door of that poor unknown quantity Thinking is really due to its ubiquitous twin-brother Talking.
I call them twins on the analogy of Death and Sleep, because there is something poetical and attractive in such references to family relations; and also because, as many people cannot think without talking, and talking, at all events, is the supposed indication that thinking is within, there has arisen about these two human activities a good deal of that confusion and amiable not-caring-which-is-which so characteristic of our dealings with twins. But Talking, take my word for it, is the true villain of the couple.
Talking, however, should never be discouraged in the young. Not talking with them (largely reiteration of the word "Why?"), but talking among themselves. Its beneficial effects are of the sort which ought to make us patient with the crying of infants. Talking helps growth. M. Renan, with his saintly ironical sympathy for the young and weak, knew it when he excused the symbolists and decadents of various kinds with that indulgent sentence, "Ce sont des enfants qui s'amusent." It matters little what litter they leave behind, what mud pies they make and little daily dug-up gardens of philosophy, ethics, literature, and general scandal; they will grow out of the need to make them—and meanwhile, making this sort of mess will help them grow.
Besides, is it nothing that they should be amusing themselves once in their lives (we cannot be sure of the future)? And what amusement, what material revelry can be compared with the great carouses of words in which the young can still indulge? We were most of us young once, odd as it appears; and some of us can remember our youthful discussions, our salad-day talks, prolonged to hours, trespassing on to subjects, which added such a fine spice of the forbidden and therefore the free! The joy of asking reasons where you have hitherto answered school queries; of extemporizing replies, magnificent, irresponsible, instead of laboriously remembering mere solutions; of describing, analyzing, and generally laying bold mental eyes, irreverent intellectual hands, on personalities whose real presence would merely make you stumble over a chair or drop a tea-cup! For talking is the great equalizer of positions, turning the humble, the painfully immature, into judges with rope and torch; and in a kindlier way allowing the totally obscure to share the life of kings, and queens, and generals, and opera-singers; which is the reason that items of Court news or of "dramatic gossip" are so frequently exchanged in omnibuses and at small, decent dinner-tables.
Moreover, talking has for the young the joys of personal exuberance; it is all honeycombed, or rather, filled (like champagne) with the generous gaseousness of self-analysis, self-accusation, self-pity, self-righteousness, and autobiography. The poor mortal, in that delusive sense of sympathy and perfect understanding which comes of perfect indifference to one's neighbour's presence, has quicker pulses, higher temperature, more vigorous movements than are compatible with the sober sense of human unimportance. In conversation, clever young people—vain, kindly, selfish, ridiculous, happy young people—actually take body and weight, expand. And are you quite sure, my own dear, mature, efficient, and thoroughly productive friends and contemporaries, that it is not this expansion of youthful rubbish which makes the true movement of the centuries?... Poor stuff enough, very likely, they talked, those long-haired, loose-collared Romanticists of the Hotel Pimodan and the literary cafes recorded by Balzac, Jeunes Frances, or whatever their names; and priggery, as well as blood-and-thunder, those lads round the table d'hote at Strasburg, where Jung-Stilling noticed the entrance of a certain tall, Apolline young man answering to the name of Goethe. Rubbish, of course; but rubbish necessary, yes, every empty bubble and scum and mess thereof, for the making of a great literary period—nay, of a great man of letters. And when, nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine times, there results neither one nor the other, why, there has been the talking itself—exciting and rapturous beyond everything that literary periods and literary personalities can ever match.
'Tis with the talking of the mature and the responsible that I would pick a quarrel. Particularly if they are well read, unprejudiced, subtle of thought, and precise of language; and most particularly if they are scrupulously just and full of human charity. For when two or three persons of this sort meet together in converse, nothing escapes destruction. The character of third persons crumbles under that delicate and patient fingering: analysis, synthesis, rehabilitation, tender appreciation, enthusiastic definition, leave behind only a horrid quivering little heap of vain virtues and atrophied bad instincts. In such conversations I have heard loyal and loving friends make admissions and suggestions which would hang you in a court of justice; I can bear witness to having in all loyalty and loving-kindness done so myself a thousand times. Nor is this even the worst. For your living human being has luckily a wonderful knack of reasserting his reality; and the hero or victim of such conversational manipulation will take your breath away by suddenly entering the room or entering into your consciousness as hale and whole as old AEson stepping out of Medea's cooking-pot. But opinions, impressions, principles, standards, possess, alas! no such recuperative virtue; or, rather, they cannot interrupt the discussion of themselves by putting in an appearance.
Now, silent thought, whenever it destroys, destroys only to reconstruct the universe or the atom in the thinker's image; and new realities arise whenever a real individual creature reveals his needs and ways of feeling. But in what is called a good serious talk there is no such creating anew; nobody imposes his image, no whole human creature reveals a human organism: there is merely a jumble of superposed pictures which will not become a composite photograph; and the inherent optimism or pessimism, scepticism or dogmatism, of each interlocutor merely reiterates No to the ways of seeing and feeling of the others. Every word, perpetually defined and redefined at random, is used by each speaker in a different sense and with quite different associations. The subject under discussion is in no one's keeping: it is banged from side to side, adjusted to the right and adjusted to the left, a fine screw put on it every now and then to send it sheer into the great void and chaos! And almost the saddest part of the business is that the defacements and tramplings which the poor subject (who knows, perhaps very sacred to some one of us?) is made to suffer, come not from our opponent's brutal thrusting forward of his meaning, but rather from our own desperate methods to hold tight, to place our meaning in safety, somewhere where, even if not recognized, it will at least not be mauled.... Such are the scuffles and scrimmages of the most temperate, intellectual conversations, leaving behind them for the moment not a twig, not a blade of the decent vegetation of the human soul. Cannot we get some great beneficent mechanic to invent some spiritual cement, some asphalt and gravel of nothingness, some thoroughly pneumatic intellectual balls, whereon, and also wherewith, we privileged creatures may harmlessly expend our waste dialectic energies?
Then, would you never talk? Or would you confine talking to the weather or the contents of the public prints? Would you have our ideas get hard and sterile for want of being moved? Do you advise that, like some tactful persons we—you—yes, you—all know and detest—we systematically let every subject drop as soon as raised?
There! the talking has begun. They are at it, contradicting what they agree with, and asking definitions of what they perfectly understand. Of course not! And here I am, unable to resist, rushing into the argument, excited—who can tell?—perhaps delighted. And by the time we take up our bedroom candles, and wish each other good night (with additional definitions over the banisters) every scrap of sensible meaning I ever had will be turned to nonsense; and I shall feel, next morning, oh, how miserably humiliated and depressed!...
"Well—and to return to what we were saying last night...."
IN PRAISE OF SILENCE
One of the truths which come (if any do) with middle age, is the gradual recognition that in one's friendly intercourse the essential—the one thing needful—is not what people say, but what they think and feel.
Words are not necessarily companionable, far from it; but moods truly meet, to part in violent dissonance; or to move parallel in happy harmonic intervals; or, more poignant and more satisfying still, to pass gradually along some great succession of alien chords—common contemplation, say, of a world grievous or pleasant to both—on towards the peace, the consummation, of a great major close. Once we have sufficient indication that another person cares for the same kind of things that we do—or, as important quite, cares in the same degree or in the same way—all further explanation becomes superfluous: detail, delightful occasionally to quicken and bring home the sense of companionship, but by no means needed.
This is the secret of our intercourse with those persons of whom our friends will say (or think), What can you have in common with So-and-so? What can you find to talk about? Talk about? Why, nothing; the enigmatic person remains with us, as with all the rest of the world, silent, inarticulate; incapable, sometimes, of any inner making of formulae. But we know that our companion is seeing, feeling, the same lines of the hills and washes of their colours, the same scudding or feathering out of clouds; is living, in the completest sense, in that particular scene and hour; and knowing this, it matters nothing how long we trudge along the road or saunter across the grass without uttering. The road of life, too, or the paths and thickets of speculation.
And speaking of walks, I know no greater torment, among those minor ones which are the worst, than the intelligent conversation—full of suggestion and fine analysis, perhaps, and descriptions of other places—which reveals to us that the kindly speaker is indeed occupying the same geographical space or sitting behind the same horse as we are, but that his soul is miles and miles away. And the worst of it is that such false companionship can distract us from any real company with the moment and the place. We have to answer out of civility; then to think, to get interested, and then ... well, then it is all over. "We had such a delightful walk or drive, So-and-so and I," says our friend on returning home, "and I am so glad to find that we have such a lot of interests in common." Alas! alas!... Hazlitt was thinking of such experiences, knowing perhaps the stealthiness and duplicity which the fear of them develops in the honest but polite, when he recommended that one should take one's walks alone.
But there is something more perfect even than one's own company: the companion met once, at most twice, in a lifetime (for he is by no means necessarily your dearest and nearest, nor the person who understands you best). He or she whose words are always about the place and moment, or seem to suit it; whose remarks, like certain music, feel restful, spacious, cool, airy—like silence. And here I have got back to the praise of such persons as talk little, or (what is even better) seem to talk little.
There is a deal of truth, and, as befits the subject, rather implied than actually expressed, in Maeterlinck's essay on Silence. His fine temper, veined and shot with colour, rich in harmonics like a well-toned voice, enables him, even like the mystics whom he has edited, to guess at those diffuse and mellow states of soul which often defy words. He knows from experience how little we can really live, although we needs must speak, in definite formulae, logical frameworks of verb and noun, subject and predicate. Let alone the fact that all consummate feeling (like the moment to which Faust cried Stay) abolishes the sense of sequence—revolves, if I may say so, on its own axis, a now, forever; baffling thereby all speech. And M. Maeterlinck perceives, therefore, that real communion between fellow-creatures is interchange of temperament, of rhythm of life; not exchange of remarks, views, and opinions, of which ninety-nine in a hundred are merely current coin. To what he has said I should like to add that if we are often silent with those whom we love best, it is because we are sensitive to their whole personality, face, gesture, texture of soul and body; that we are living with them not only in the present, but enriched, modified by all they have said before, by everything remaining in our memory as theirs. To talk would never express a state of feeling so rich and living; and it can serve, at most, only to give the heightening certainty of presence, like a handclasp or asking, "Are you there?" and getting the answer, "Yes; I am here, and so are you"—facts of no high logical importance!
As regards silent people, this characteristic may, of course, be mere result of sloth and shyness, or lack of habit of the world, and they may be gabbling volubly in their hearts. Such as these are no kind of blessing, save perhaps negatively. Still less to be commended are those others, cutting a better figure (or thinking so), who measure their words from a dread of "giving themselves away"—of "making themselves cheap," or otherwise (always thinking in terms of money, lawsuits, and general overreaching) getting the worst of a bargain. Indeed, it is a sign how little we are truly civilized, that such silence or laconicism as this, can be met constantly outside the class (invariably cunning) of peasants; indeed, among men exercising what we are pleased to call liberal professions.
The persons in whom silence is a mark of natural fine breeding are those who, being able to taste the real essence of things, are apt, perhaps wrongly, to despise the unessential. They are disdainful of all the old things inevitably repeated in saying half a new one. They cannot do with the lumber, wastepaper, shavings, sawdust, rubbish necessary for packing and conveying objects of value; now most of talk, and much of life, is exactly of that indispensable useful uselessness. They are silent for the same reason that they are frequently inactive, recognizing that words and actions are so often mere litter and encumbrance. One feels frozen occasionally by their unspoken criticism; one's small exuberances checked by lack of sympathy and indulgence; one would like, sometimes, to pick a quarrel with them, to offer a penny for their thoughts, to force them to be as unselective and vulgar as one's self. But one desists, feeling instinctively the refreshment (as of some solitary treeless down or rocky stream) and purification of their fine abstention in this world where industry means cinder-heaps, and statesmanship, philosophy, art, philanthropy, mean "secondary products" of analogous kind.
Before concluding this over-garrulous tribute to silence, I would fain point out the contrast, ironical enough, between the pleasant sense of comradeship with some of those who "never utter," and the loneliness of spirit in which we steam and post and cab through every possible realm of fact and theory with certain other people. I am not alluding to the making hay of politics, exhibitions, theatres, current literature, etc., which is so much the least interesting form of gossip. What I mean are those ample, apparently open talks between people who have found each other out; who know the cardboard and lath and plaster of the architectural arrangements or suspect the water-supply and drainage behind; talks where one knows that the other is shirking some practical conclusion, divagating into the abstract, and has to pick his way among hidden interests and vanities, or avert his eyes from moral vistas which he knows of.... "So-and-so is such a delightful talker—so witty and so wonderfully unprejudiced; I cannot understand why you don't cultivate him or her." Cultivate him or her! Cultivate garlic; those elegant white starry flowers you wonder at my weeding out of the beds.
Compare with this the blessedness of knowing that the contents of the other person's mind are nice, pure of all worldliness, pretence, and meanness; that the creature's thoughts, if opened out to one, would diffuse the scent of sunshine and lavender even as does clean, well-folded linen.
Hence the charm of a whole lot of persons not conspicuous for conversational powers: men who have lived much out-of-doors, with gun or rod; shy country neighbours, cross old scholars, simple motherly little housewives; and, if one get at their reality, peasants and even servants. For we have within ourselves memories and fancies; and it depends on our companion, on a word, a glance, a gesture, that only the sweet and profitable ones, thoughts of kindness and dignity, should be stirred up.
THE BLAME OF PORTRAITS
Feeling a little bit ashamed of myself, yet relieved at having done with that particular hypocrisy, I unpinned the two facsimiles of drawings from off my study screen and put them in a portfolio. A slight sense of profanation ensued; not so much of infidelity towards those two dear friends, nor certainly of irreverence towards Mr. Watts or the late Sir Edward Burne-Jones, but referable to the insistence with which I had clamoured for those portraits, the delight experienced at their arrival, and the solid satisfaction anticipated from their eternal possession.
We have most of us—of the sentimental ones at least—gone through some similar small drama, and been a little harrowed by it. But though we feel as if there were some sort of naughtiness in us, we are quite blameless, and on the whole rather to be pitied. We are the dupes of a very human craving, and one which seems modest in its demands. What! a mere square of painted canvas, a few pencil scratchings, a bare mechanical photograph, something no rarer than a reflection in a mirror! That is all we ask for, to still the welling-up wistfulness, the clinging reluctance, to console for parting or the thought, almost, of death! We do not guess that this humble desire for a likeness is one of our most signal cravings after the impossible: an attempt to overcome space and baffle time; to imprison and use at pleasure the most fleeting, intangible, and uncommunicable of all mysterious essences, a human personality.
"Often enough I think I have got the turn of her head and neck; but not the face—never the face that speaks," complains the poor bereaved husband in Mary Robinson's beautiful little poem. The case may not be tragic like that one, and yet thoroughly tantalizing; we feel the absent ones opposite to us in the room, we are in that distant room ourselves; there is a sense of their position, of the space they occupy, and thus we see, as through a ghost, the familiar outline, perhaps, of a chair. Or, again, there is the well-known movement, accompanied, perhaps, by the tone of voice, concentrated almost to the longed-for look, and, as the figure advances ... nothing! Like Virgil's Orpheus, our fancy embraces a shadow. "The face—never the face that speaks!" But we will have it, people exclaimed, all those ages ago, and exclaim ever since. And thus they came by the notion of portraits.
And when they got them they grumbled. The cavilling at every newly-painted likeness is notorious. The sitter, indeed, is sometimes easy enough to please, poor human creatures enjoying, as a rule, any notice (however professional) of their existence, let alone an answer to the attractive riddle of what they look like. And there are, of course, certain superfine persons who, in the case of a famous artist, think very like the sitter, and are satisfied so long as they get an ornamental picture, or one well up to date. But the truly human grumble, and are more than justified in doing so. Their cravings have been disappointed; they had expected the impossible, and have not got it.
Since, in the very nature of things, a picture, and particularly a fine picture, is always an imperfect likeness. For the image of the sitter on the artist's retina is passed on its way to the canvas through a mind chock full of other images; and is transferred—heaven knows how changed already—by processes of line and curve, of blots of colour, and juxtaposition of light and shade, belonging not merely to the artist himself, but to the artist's whole school. Regarding merely the latter question, we all know that the old Venetians painted people ample, romantic, magnificent; and the old Tuscans painted them narrow, lucid, and commonplace; men of velvet and silk and armour on the one hand, and men of broadcloth and leather, on the other. The difference due to the individual artist is even greater; and, in truth, a portrait gives the sitter's temperament merged in the temperament of the painter.
So, as a rule, portraiture does but defeat its own end. And, stoically speaking, does it much matter? Posterity has done just as well without the transmission of the real Cardinal Hippolytus; and we know that everything always comes right if only we look at it, Spinoza-like, "under the category of the eternal." But we, meanwhile, are not eternal, nor, alas! are our friends; and that is just one of the things which gall us. We cannot believe—how could we?—that the future can have its own witty men and gracious women, its own sufficient objects of love and reverence, even as we have. We feel we must hand on our own great and beloved ones; we must preserve the evanescent personal fragrance, press the flower. And hence, again, portraits and memoirs, Boswell's "Johnson," or Renan's "Ma Soeur Henriette"; grotesque or lovely things, as the case may be, and always pathetic, which tell us that men have always admired and always loved; leaving us to explain, by substituting the image of our own idols, why in that case more specially they did so. Poor people! We do so cling to our particular self and self's preferences; we are so confidently material and literal! And one dreads to think of the cruel self-defence of posterity, when we shall try to push into its notice with phonograph and cinematograph.
Let us, in the presence of such hideous machinery, cease to be literal in matters of sentiment, even at the price of a little sadness and cynicism in recognizing the unreality of everything save our own moods and fancies. Perhaps I feel more strongly on this subject because I happen to have seen with my own eyes the reductio ad absurdum—to absurdity how lamentable and dreadful!—of this same human craving for literal preservation of that which should not, cannot, be preserved. It was in the lumber-room of an Italian palace; a life-size doll, with wig of real—perhaps personally real—hair, and dressed from head to foot in the garments of the real poor lady, dead some seventy years ago. I wrote a little tale about it; but the main facts were true, and far surpassed the power of invention. In this case the husband, who had ordered this simulacrum for his solace, taking his daily dose of sentiment in its presence, proceeded, after an interval, to woo and marry his own laundress; and I think, on the whole, this was the least harrowing possible solution. Fancy if he had not found that form of consolation, but had continued trying to be faithful to that dreadful material presence, more rigid, lifeless, meaningless, with every day and every year of familiarity!
In a small way, we all of us commit that man's mistake of thinking that the life of our dear ones is in an image, instead of in the heartbeats which the image—like a name, a place, any associated thing—can produce in ourselves. And only changing things can answer to our changing self; only living creatures live with us. Once learned by heart, the portrait, be it never so speaking, ceases to speak, or we to listen to its selfsame message. What was once company to us, because it awakened a flickering feeling of wished-for presence, becomes, after a time, mere canvas or paper; disintegrates into mere colours or mere black and white. Even the faithfullest among us are utterly faithless to the best-beloved portraits. We have them on our walls or on our writing-tables, and pack and unpack some of them for every journey. But do we look at them? or, looking, do we see them, feel them?
They are not, however, useless; very far from it. You might as well complain of the uselessness of the fire which is burned out, or the extinguished lamp. They have, though for a brief time, pleased, perhaps even consoled, us—warmed our heart with the sense of a loving nearness, shed a light on the visions in our mind. Hence we should cherish them as useful delusions, or rather realities, so long as they awaken a reality of feeling. And 'tis a decent instinct of gratitude, not mere inertness, which causes us to keep them, honoured pensioners of our affections, in honourable places.
Only one thing we should guard against, and act firmly about, despite all sentimental scruples. During the period of activity of a portrait—I mean while we still, more or less, look at it—we must beware lest it take, in our memory, the place of the original. Those unchanging features have the insistence of their definiteness and permanence, and may insidiously extrude, exclude, the fleeting, vacillating outlines of the remembered reality. And those alone concern our heart, and have a right to occupy our fancy. One feels aghast sometimes, on meeting some dear friend after an interval of absence, to find that those real features, that real expression, are not the familiar ones. It is the portrait, the envious counterfeit presentment, which (knowing its poor brief reign) has played us and our friend that mean trick. When this happens we must be merciless, like the fairy-story prince when the wicked creatures in the wood spoke to him in the voice of his mother; piety towards the original arms us with ruthlessness towards the portrait. It was for this same reason that, as I have said, I unpinned from my screen those two facsimiles of drawings, feeling rather a brute while I was doing so.
SERE AND YELLOW
"Alors que je me croyais aux derniers jours de l'automne, dans un jardin depouille." The words are Madame de Hauterive's, one of the most charming among eighteenth-century letter-writers; but one of whom, for all the indiscretion of that age, we know little or nothing: a delicate, austere outline merely, a reserved and sensitive ghost shrinking into the dimness. She wrote those words when already an old woman, and long after death had taken her father and her daughter and most of her nearest and dearest, to the young Abbe de Carlades, who proved himself (one hopes) not utterly unworthy of that "unexpected late flowering of the soul." The phrase is eighteenth century, and it may be the feeling itself is of as bygone a fashion. Or does this seem the case because such delicate souls can become known to us only when they and their loves and friendships have ceased to be more than a handful of faded paper, fingered very piously, for heaven's sake?
However this may be, that phrase of Madame de Hauterive's contains a truth which is undying, and which, though unobtrusive, can be observed by those who have a discreet eye for the soul's affairs. Nay, one might say that the knowledge of how many times life can begin afresh, the knowledge of the new modes of happiness which may succeed each other, even when the leaves float down yellow in the still air, and the dews on the renovated grass are white like frost, is one of the blessed secrets into which the passing seasons initiate those who have honourably cultivated the garden of life, and life's wide common acres.
Indeed, such faith in the heart's renewed fruitfulness is itself among the autumn blossomings, the hidden compensations. Young folk, and those who never outgrow youth's headlong and blind self-seeking, cannot conceive such truths. For youth has no experience of change; and what it calls the Future is but the present longing or present dread projected forward. Hence youth lacks the resignation which comes of knowing that our aims, our loves, ourselves, will alter; and that we shall not eternally regret what we could not eternally covet. Hence, also, the fine despair and frequent suicide of youthful heroes and heroines. Poor young Werther, in his sky-blue Frack and striped yellow waistcoat, cannot believe that the time will come when he will tune the spinet of some other Charlotte—nay, follow in the footsteps of the enlightened minister, his patron; bury himself in protocols and look forward to a diplomatic game of whist rather than to a country dance with meeting hands and eyes. And it is mere waste of breath to sermon him on the subject: lend him the pistols, and hope that (as in the humaner version of the opera) he will not use them. As to certain other forestallings of experience, they would be positively indecent and barbarous! You would die of shame if the young widow happened to overhear you saying (what is heaven's truth, and a most consoling one) that her baby, which now represents only so much time and love she might have given, all, all, to him alone, is the only good thing which that worthless dead husband could ever have furnished her. And as to hinting in her presence that she will some day be much, much happier with dear Quixotic Dobbin than with that coxcomb of an Osborne, why the bare thought of such indecorum makes us feel like sinking into the ground! We must be sympathizing, and a little short of truthful, with poor distressed young people; above all, never seek to lighten their disappointments with visions of brisk octogenarians, one foot in the grave, enjoying a rubber!
And this, no doubt, is a providential arrangement—I mean this youthful incapacity of grasping the consolations brought by Time. For, after all, life, being there, has to be lived; and maybe life would be lived in a half-hearted fashion did we suspect its many compensations, including what may, methinks, be the last, most solemn one. Should we jump hastily out of bed and bestir ourselves with the zest of the new day, if we thoroughly realized what is, however, matter of common experience, to wit: that at the day's close, sleep, rest without dreams or thought of awaking, may be as welcome as all this pleasant bustle of the morning? The knowledge of these mysteries, initiation into which comes late and silently, is, as I hinted, perhaps the final compensation; allowing us to face the order of things without superfine cavillings. But there are earlier, less awful and secret compensations, and these it is as well to know about, and to prepare our soul serenely to enjoy when the moment comes.
Of this kind are, of course, those autumn flowerings of sentiment alluded to in Madame de Hauterive's letter. They are blossomings sometimes sweeter than those of summer, thanks to the very scorching of summer's suns; or else touched with an austere vividness by the first frosts, like the late china roses, which are streaked, where they open, with a vermillion unparalleled in their earlier sisters. Compare with this all that is implied in Swinburne's line, "the month of the long decline of roses." Think of those roses (I have before my eyes a Florentine terrace at the end of May) crowding each other out, blowing, withering, and dropping; roses white, red, pale lemon, and, alas! also brown and black with mildew, living and dying in such riotous excess that you have neither time nor inclination to pluck one of them, and keep it, piously in water, before you on your table.
Mind, I do not say that such profusion is not all right and necessary in its season. The economy of Nature is often wasteful. There might be no roses at all next year if we depended for seed and slips upon those frost-bitten flowers with their fine austerity. And in the same way that, despite the pathetic tenderness of long-deferred father or motherhood, it is better for the race that infants be brought into the world plentiful, helter-skelter, and that only the toughest stay there; so, methinks, it may be needful that youth be full of false starts, mistaken vocations, lapsed engagements, fanciful friendships broken off in quarrel, glowing passions ending in ashes; nay, that this period, fertile in good and evil, be crowned by marriages such as are said to be made in heaven, no doubt because the great match-making spirit of life pursues ends unguessed by human wisdom, which would often remain in single blessedness, and found homes for sickly infants. Wedlock, in other words, and, for the matter of that, father and motherhood, and most of the serious business of the universe, should not be looked upon as a compensation or consolation, but rather as something for which poor human creatures require to be consoled and compensated.
Having admitted which, and even suggested that marriages are fittest at the age of Daphnis and Chloe, or even of Amelia and George Osborne, let us, I pray you, glance with reverent eyes, and a smile not mocking but tender, at certain other weddings which furtively cross our path. Weddings between elderly persons, hitherto unable to make up their mind, or having, perchance, made it up all wrong on a first occasion; inveterate old maids and bachelors, or widowers who thought to mourn for ever; people who have found their heart perhaps a little late in the day; but, who knows? shrivelled as it is, perhaps, but the mellower, and of more enduring, more essential sweetness.
Alongside of such tardy nuptials there is a corresponding class of marriages of true minds. Genuine ones are exceedingly rare during youth; and the impediments, despite the opinion of Shakespeare, are of the nature of nullity, ending most often in unseemly divorce between Hermia and Helena, or the Kings of Sicilia and Bohemia, one of whom, if you remember, tried to poison the other on very small provocation. The last-named is an instructive example of the hollowness of nursery or playground friendship, or rather of what passes for such. Genuine friendship is an addition to our real self, a revelation of new possibilities; and young people, busily absorbing the traditions of the past and the fashions of the day, have very rarely got a real self to reveal or to bestow. So that the feeling we experience in later life towards our playmates is, in fact, rather a wistful pleasure in the thought of our own past than any real satisfaction in their present selves.
Be this as it may, there is among the compensations of life, a kind of friendship which, by its very nature, requires that one of the friends have passed the middle of the way. I am not referring to the joys of grandfather and grandmotherhood, and all that "art d'etre grandpere" which have been written and sung until one turns a trifle sceptical about them. What I allude to has, on the contrary, escaped (almost entirely, I think) the desecrating pen of the analytical or moralizing novelist, and remains one of the half-veiled mysteries of human good fortune, before which the observer passes quickly in shy admiration. The case is this: one of the parents has been unwilling, or disappointed; marriage has meant emptiness, or worse; and a nursery full of children has been, very likely, a mere occasion for ill-will and painful struggle. The poor soul has been, perhaps for years, fretted and wearied; or else woefully lonely, cabined, confined, and cramped almost to numbness. When, behold! by the marvellous miracle of man or womanhood—a dull, tiresome child is suddenly transformed, takes on shapeliness and stature, opens the bolted doors of life, leads the father or mother into valleys of ease and on to hopeful hilltops; slays dragons, chains ogres, and smiles with the eyes and lips which have been vaguely dreamed of, longed for, who knows how long!
So children do occasionally constitute compensations and blessings not merely in disguise. And this particularly where they have not been looked upon as investments for future happiness or arrangements for paying off parental debts to society, to glory, or the Supreme Being. For surely, if children are ever to renovate the flagging life of parents, it can only be by their leaving off their childhood and coming back as equals, brothers, sisters, sometimes as tenderest and most admiring of chivalrous lovers.
'Tis, in fact, unexpected new life adding itself to ours which constitutes the supreme compensation in middle age; and our heart puts forth fresh blossoms of happiness (of genius sometimes, as in the case of Goethe) because younger shoots are rejoicing in the seasonable sunshine or dews. The interests and beliefs of the younger generation prevent our own from dying; nay, the friendships and loves of our children, whether according to the flesh or the spirit, may become our own. Daughters-in-law are not invariably made to dine off the poisoned half of a partridge, as in works of history. Some stepfathers and stepmothers feel towards those alien youths and maidens only as that dear Valentine Visconti did towards the little Dunois, whom she took in her arms, say the chronicles, and, with many kisses on eyes and cheeks, exclaimed, "Surely thou wast stolen from me!" And, in another relationship which is spoken ill of by those unworthy of it, we can sometimes watch a thing which is among reality's best poetry: where a mother, wisely and dutifully stepping aside from her married daughter's path, has been snatched back, borne in triumph, not by one loving pair of arms, but two; and where the happy young wife has smiled at recognizing that in her husband's love for her there was mixed up a head-over-ears devotion for her mother.
Some folks have no sons or daughters, or husbands or wives, and hence no stepchildren or children-in-law. Yet even for them autumn may blossom. There are the children of friends, recalling their youth or compensating for their youth's failure; and for some there are the younger workers in the same field, giving us interest in books or pictures, or journeys or campaigns, when our own days for work and struggle are over; even as we, perhaps, have kept open the vistas of life, given Pisgah-sights to those beloved and venerated ones whose sympathy we value and understand better perhaps now than all those many, many years ago. Yes! even in our youthful egoism we gave them something, those dear long dead friends; and this knowledge is itself a tiny autumn bud in our soul.
There are humbler compensations also. And among these the kind which, years after writing the immortal idyll of "Dr. Antonio," my dear venerated friend Ruffini set forth in a tiny story, perhaps partly his own, about the modest but very real happiness which the mere relationship of master and servant can bring into a solitary life; the story taking its name, by a coincidence by no means indifferent to me, from a faithful and pleasant person called Carlino.
But an end to digressions, for it is time to cease writing, particularly of such intangible and shy matters. So, to return to Madame de Hauterive's sentence, which was our starting-point in this inventory of compensations and consolations. Paradoxical though it seem, the understanding and union brought by a glance, by words said in a given way, by any of the trifles bearing mysterious, unreasoned significance for the experienced soul—or, briefly, "friendship at first sight"—is as natural in the sere and yellow, as love at first sight in the salad, days. Only, to be sure, less manifest to indifferent bystanders, since one of the consoling habits which life brings with it is a respect for life's thoroughfares, a reluctance to stop the way, collect a crowd with our private interests, and a pious reserve about such good fortune as is good precisely because it suits us, not other people.
Reserve of this sort, as I began with saying, is one of the charms of dear Madame de Hauterive; and the more so that eighteenth-century folk, particularly French, were not much given to it! And thus it happens that we know little or nothing about that friendship which consoled her later life; and must look round us in our own, if we would understand what were those new flowerings which had arisen, when, as she says, she had thought herself already in the last days of autumn and in a leafless garden.
A STAGE JEWEL
"It doesn't seem to be precisely what is meant by old paste," she answered, repeating the expression I had just made use of, while she handed me the diamond hoop across the table. "It's too like real stones, you know. I think it must be a stage jewel."
As I fastened the brooch again in my dress, I was aware of a sudden little change in my feelings. I was no longer pleased. Not that I had hoped my diamonds might prove real; you cannot buy real diamonds, even in imagination, for four francs, which was the precise sum I had expended on these, and there were seven of them, all uncommonly large. Nor can I say that the words "old paste" had possessed, on my lips, any plain or positive meaning. But stage jewel, somehow ... My moral temperature had altered: I was dreadfully conscious that I was no longer pleased. Now, I had been, and to an absurd degree.
Perhaps because it was Christmas Eve, when I suddenly found myself inside that curiosity shop, pricing the diamonds, and not without an emotion of guilty extravagance, and of the difficulty of not buying if the price proved too high.... As is always the case with me at that season, my soul was irradiated with a vague sense of festivity, perhaps with the lights of rows of long-extinguished Christmas trees in the fog of many years, like the lights of the shops caught up and diffused in the moist twilight. I had felt an inner call for a Christmas present; and, so far, nobody had given me one. So I had paid the money and driven back into the dark, soughing country with the diamond hoop loose in my pocket. I had felt so very pleased.... And now those two cursed words "stage jewel" had come and spoilt it all.
For the first time I felt it was very, very hard that my box should have been broken open last autumn and all my valuables, my Real (the word became colossal), not stage, jewels stolen. It was brought home to me for the first time that the man who did it must have been very, very wicked; and that codes of law, police and even prisons could afford satisfaction to my feelings. Since, oddly enough, I had really not minded much at the time, nor let my pleasure in that wonderful old castle, where I had just arrived with the violated trunk, be in the least diminished by the circumstance. Indeed, such is the subtle, sophistic power of self-conceit, that the pleasure of finding, or thinking I found, that I did not mind the loss of those things had really, I believe, prevented me minding it. Though, of course, every now and then I had wished I might see again the little old-fashioned fleur-de-lysed star which had been my mother's (my heart smote me for not feeling sufficiently how much she would have suffered at my losing it). And I remembered how much I had liked to play with those opals of the Queen of Hearts, which seemed the essence of pale-blue winter days with a little red flame of sunset in the midst; or, rather, like tiny lunar worlds, mysterious shining lakes and burning volcanoes in their heart. Of course, I had not been indifferent: that would have taken away all charm from the serenity with which I had enjoyed my loss. But I had been serene, delightfully serene. And now!...
There was something vaguely vulgar, odious, unpardonable about false stones. I had always maintained there was not, but the stage jewel made me feel it. Mankind has sound instincts, rooting in untold depths of fitness; and superfine persons, setting themselves against them, reveal their superficiality, their lack of normal intuition and sound judgment, while fancying themselves superior. And mankind (save among barbarous Byzantine and Lombard kings, who encrusted their iron crowns impartially with balas rubies, antique cameos, and bottle glass)—mankind has always shown an instinct against sham jewels and their wearers. It is an unreasoned manifestation of the belief in truth as the supreme necessity for individuals and races, without which, as we know, there would be an end of commerce, the administration of justice, government, even family life (for birds, who have no such sense, are proverbially ignorant of their father), and everything which we call civilization. Real precious stones were perhaps created by Nature, and sham stones allowed to be created by man, as one of those moral symbols in which the universe abounds: a mysterious object-lesson of the difference between truth and falsehood.
Real diamonds and rubies, I believe, require quite a different degree of heat to melt them than mere glass or paste; and you can amuse yourself, if you like, by throwing them in the fire. In the Middle Ages rubies, but only real ones, were sovereign remedies for various diseases, among others the one which carried off Lorenzo the Magnificent; and in the seventeenth century it was currently reported that the minions of the Duke of Orleans had required pounded diamonds to poison poor Madame Henriette in that glass of chicory water. And as to pearls, real ones go yellow if unworn for a few months, and have to be sunk fathoms deep in the sea, in safes with chains and anchors, and detectives sitting day and night upon the beach, and sentries in sentry-boxes; none of which occurs with imitations. Likewise you stamp on a real pearl, while you must be quite careful not to crush a sham one. All these are obvious differences revealing the nobility of the real thing, though not necessarily adding to its charm. But, then, there is the undoubted greater beauty, the wonderful je ne sais quoi, the depth of colour, purity of substance, effulgence of fire, of real gems, which we all recognize, although it is usual to have them tested by an expert before buying. And, when all is said and done, there is the difference in intrinsic value. And you need not imagine that value is a figment. Political economy affords us two different standards of value, the Marxian and the Orthodox. So you cannot escape from believing in it. A thing is valuable either (a) according to the amount of labour it embodies, or (b) according to the amount of goods or money you can obtain in exchange for it. Now, only let your mind dwell upon the value (a) embodied in a pearl or diamond. The pearl fisher, who doubtless frequently gets drowned; let alone the oyster, which has to have a horrid mortal illness, neither of which happens to the mean-spirited artificer of Roman pearls; or the diamond seeker, seeking through deserts for months; the fine diamond merchant, dying in caravans, of the past; and, finally, the diamond-cutter, grinding that adamant for weeks far, far more indefatigably than to make the optic lenses which reveal hidden planets and galaxies. All that labour, danger, that weary, weary time embodied in a thing so tiny that, like Queen Mab, it can sit on an alderman's forefinger! What could be more deeply satisfactory to think upon? And as to value (b) (the value in Exchange of Mill, Fawcett, Marshall, Say, Bastiat, Gide), just think what you could buy by selling a largish diamond, supposing you had one! And what unlikely prices (fabulous, even monstrous) are said to have been given, before and after dubious Madame de la Motte priced that great typical one, for diamond necklaces by queens and heroines of every degree!
Precious stones, therefore, are heaven-ordained symbols of what mankind values most highly—power over other folks' labour, time, life, happiness, and honour. And that, no doubt, is the reason that when the irreproachable turn-out and perfect manners of pickpockets allow them to mix freely in our select little gatherings, it is legitimate for a lady to deck herself with artificial pearls and diamonds only to the exact extent that she has real ones safely deposited at the bank. Let her look younger and sound honester than perhaps answers to the precise reality; there is no deception in all that. But think of the dishonourableness of misleading other folk about one's income....
My soul was chastened by the seriousness of these reflections and by the recognition of the moral difference between real stones and sham ones, and I was in a very bad humour. Suddenly there came faint sounds of guitars and a mandolin, and I remembered that the servants were giving a ball at the other end of the house, and that it was Christmas Eve. I rose from my table and opened the window, letting in the music with the pure icy air. The night had become quite clear; and in its wintry blue the big stars sparkled in a cluster between the branches of my pine tree. They made me think of the circlet which Tintoret's Venus swoops down with over the head of the ruddy Bacchus and rose-white Ariadne. Those, also, I said to myself ill-humouredly, were probably stage jewels.... I cannot account for the sudden train of associations this word evoked: sweeping, magnificent gestures, star-like eyes, and a goddess' brows shining through innumerable years; a bar or two of melodious ritornello; an ineffable sense of poetry and grandeur, and—but I am not sure—a note or two of a distant, distant voice. Could it be Malibran—or Catalani ... and was my stage jewel bewitched, a kind of Solomon's ring, conjuring up great spirits? All I can say is that I have rarely spent a Christmas Eve like that one, while the servants' ball was going on at the other end of the house, furbishing my imitation diamonds with a silk handkerchief, alone, or perhaps not alone, in my study.
MY BICYCLE AND I
We two were sitting together on the wintry Campagna grass; the rest of the party, with their proud, tiresome horses, had disappeared beyond the pale green undulations; their carriage had stayed at that castellated bridge of the Anio. The great moist Roman sky, with its song of invisible larks, arched all round; above the rejuvenated turf rustled last year's silvery hemlocks. The world seemed very large, significant, and delightful; and we had it all to ourselves, as we sat there side by side, my bicycle and I.
'Tis conceited, perhaps, to imagine myself an item in the musings of my silent companion, though I would fain be a pleasant one. But this much is certain, that, among general praising of life and of things, my own thoughts fell to framing the praises of bicycles. They were deeply felt, and as such not without appearance of paradox. What an excellent thing, I reflected, it is that a bicycle is satisfied to be quiet, and is not in the way when one is off it! Now, my friends out there, on their great horses, as Herbert of Cherbury calls them, are undoubtedly enjoying many and various pleasures; but they miss this pleasure of resting quietly on the grass with their steeds sitting calmly beside them. They are busy riding, moreover, and have to watch, to curb or humour the fancies of their beasts, instead of indulging their own fancy; let alone the necessity of keeping up a certain prestige. They are, in reality, domineered over by these horses, and these horses' standard of living, as fortunate people are dominated by their servants, their clothes, and their family connections; much as Merovingian kings, we were taught in our "Cours de Dictees," were dominated by the mayors of the palace. Instead of which, bar accidents (and the malignity of bottle-glass and shoe-nails), I am free, and am helped to ever greater freedom by my bicycle.
These thoughts came to me while sitting there on the grass slopes, rather than while speeding along the solitary road which snakes across them to the mountains, because the great gift of the bicycle consists to my mind in something apart from mere rapid locomotion; so much so, indeed, that those persons forego it, who scorch along for mere exercise, or to get from place to place, or to read the record of miles on their cyclometer. There is an unlucky tendency—like the tendency to litter on the part of inanimates and to dulness on that of our fellow-creatures—to allow every new invention to add to life's complications, and every new power to increase life's hustling; so that, unless we can dominate the mischief, we are really the worse off instead of the better. It is so much easier, apparently, to repeat the spell (once the magician has spoken it) which causes the broomstick to fetch water from the well, as in Goethe's ballad, than to remember, or know, the potent word which will put a stop to his floodings; that, indeed, seems reserved to the master wizard; while the tiros of life's magic, puffed up with half-science, do not drink, but drown. In this way bicycling has added, methinks, an item to the hurry and breathlessness of existence, and to the difficulty of enjoying the passing hour—nay, the passing landscape. I have only once travelled on a bicycle, and, despite pleasant incidents and excellent company, I think it was a mistake; there was an inn to reach, a train to catch, a meal to secure, darkness to race against. And an order was issued, "Always make as much pace as you can at the beginning, because there may be some loss of time later on," which was insult and ingratitude to those mountain sides and valleys of Subiaco and Tivoli, and to the ghosts of St. Benedict, of Nero, and of the delightful beribboned Sibyl, who beckoned us to rest in their company.
How different from this when one fares forth, companioned by one of the same mind; or, better still, with one's own honourable self, exploring the unknown, revisiting the already loved, with some sort of resting-place to return to, and the knowledge of time pleasantly effaced! One speeds along the straight road, flying into the beckoning horizon, conscious only of mountain lines or stacked cloud masses; living, for the instant, in air, space become fluid and breathable, earth a mere detail; and then, at the turn, slackening earth's power asserting itself with the road's windings. Curiosity keenly on edge, or memory awakened; and the past also casting its spells, with the isolated farms or the paved French villages by the river-bank, or the church spire, the towers, in the distance.... A wrong turn is no hardship; it merely gives additional knowledge of the country, a further detail of the characteristic lie of the land, a different view of some hill or some group of buildings. Indeed, I often deliberately deflect, try road and lane merely to return again, and have bicycled sometimes half an hour round a church to watch its transepts and choir fold and unfold, its towers change place, and its outline of high roof and gargoyles alter on the landscape. Then the joy, spiced with the sense of reluctance, of returning on one's steps, sometimes on the same day, or on successive days, to see the same house, to linger under the same poplars by the river. Those poplars I am thinking of are alongside a stately old French mill, built, towered, and gabled, of fine grey stone; and the image of them brings up in my mind, with the draught and foam of the weir and the glassiness of the backwater, and the whirr of the horse-ferry's ropes, that some of the most delightful moments which one's bicycle can give, are those when the bicycle is resting against a boat's side (once also in Exmouth harbour); or chained to an old lych-gate; or, as I remarked about my Campagna ride, taking its rest also and indulging its musings.