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Wisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida online

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"COR him by whom a thirsty ear is lent to the world's
homage, the tocsin of feebleness, if not of failure, has
already sounded.

The gladness of the man is come when the crowds lisp
his name, and the gold fills his hand, and the women's
honeyed adulations buzz like golden bees about his path ;
but how often is the greatness of the artist gone, and gone
for ever !

Because when the world denies you it is easy to deny
the world ; because when the bread is bitter, it is easy
not to linger at the meal ; because when the oil is low it
is easy to rise with dawn ; because when the body is
without surfeit or temptation it is easy to rise above earth
on the wings of the spirit. Poverty is very terrible to
you, and kills your soul in you sometimes ; but it is like
the northern blast that lashes men into Vikings ; it is not
the soft, luscious south wind that lulls them into lotos-
eaters.



T HAVE grave doubts of Mrs. Siddons. She was a
goddess of the age of fret and fume, of stalk and
strut, of trilled R's and of nodding plumes. If we had
Siddons now I fear we should hiss ; I am quite sure we
should yawn. She must have been Melpomene always ;
Nature never.



/^H, how wise you are and how just ! if there be a
^^^ spectacle on earth to rejoice the angels, it is your
treatment of the animals that you say God has given
unto you !



144 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF QUID A.

It is not for me, a little dog, to touch on such awful
mysteries ; but sometimes I wonder, if ever He ask
you how you have dealt with His gift, what will you
answer then ?

If all your slaughtered millions should instead answer
for you if all the countless and unpitied dead, all the
goaded, maddened beasts from forest and desert who
were torn asunder in the holidays of Rome ; and all the
innocent, playful, gentle lives of little homebred creatures
that have been racked by the knives, and torn by the
poisons, and convulsed by the torments, of your modern
Science, should, instead, answer, with one mighty voice,
of a woe no longer inarticulate, of an accusation no more
disregarded, what then ? Well ! Then, if it be done
unto you as you have done, you will seek for mercy and
find none in all the width of the universe ; you will writhe,
and none shall release you ; you will pray, and none shall
hear.



'""THESE fine things don't make one's happiness," I

murmured pensively to Fanfreluche.
"No, my dear, they don't," the little worldling ad-
mitted. " They do to women ; they're so material, you
see. They are angels O yes, of course ! but they're
uncommonly sharp angels where money and good living
are concerned. Just watch them watch the tail of their
eye when a cheque is being written or an eprounette
being brought to table. And after all, you know, minced
chicken is a good deal nicer than dry bread. Of course
we can easily be sentimental and above this sort of thing,
when the chicken is in our mouths where we sit by the
fire ; but if we were gnawing wretched bones, out in the
cold of the streets, I doubt if we should feel in such a
sublime mood. All the praises of poverty are sung by
the minstrel who has got a golden harp to chant them



PUCK. 145

on ; and all the encomiums on renunciation come from
your bon viveur who never denied himself aught in his
life!"



"CMOTIONS are quite as detrimental to a dog's tail as
they are to a lady's complexion. Joseph Buona-
parte's American wife said to an American gentleman,
whom I heard quote her words, that she " never laughed
because it made wrinkles :" there is a good deal of wisdom
in that cachinatory abstinence. There is nothing in the
world that wears people (or dogs) so much as feeling of
any kind, tender, bitter, humoristic, or emotional.

How often you commend a fresh-coloured matron with
her daughters, and a rosy-cheeked hunting squire in his
saddle, who, with their half-century of years, yet look so
comely, so blooming, so clear-browed, and so smooth-
skinned. How often you distrust the weary delicate
creature, with the hectic flush of her rouge, in society ;
and the worn, tired, colourless face of the man of the
world who takes her down to dinner. Well, to my fancy,
you may be utterly wrong. An easy egotism, a contented
sensualism, may have carried the first comfortably and
serenely through their bank-note-lined paradise of com-
mon-place existence. How shall you know what heart-
sickness in their youth, what aching desires for joys
never found, what sorrowful power of sympathy, what
fatal keenness of vision, have blanched the faded cheek,
and lined the weary mouth, of the other twain ?



" CHEEP and men are very much alike," said Trust,
^ who thought both very poor creatures. "Very
much alike indeed. They go in flocks, and can't give
a reason why. They leave their fleece on any bramble
that is strong enough to insist on fleecing them. They

K



146 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF OUIDA.

bleat loud at imagined evils, while they tumble straight
into real dangers. And for going off the line, there's
nothing like them. There may be pits, thorns, quag-
mires, spring-guns, what not, the other side of the hedge,
but go off the straight track they will and no dog can
stop them. It's just the sheer love of straying. You
may bark at them right and left ; go they will, though
they break their legs down a limekiln. Oh, men and
sheep are wonderfully similar ; take them all in all."



A H ! you people never guess the infinite woe we dogs
7*" suffer in new homes, under strange tyrannies ; you
never heed how we shrink from unfamiliar hands, and
shudder at unfamiliar voices, how lonely we feel in un-
known places, how acutely we dread harshness, novelty,
and scornful treatment. Dogs die oftentimes of sever-
ance from their masters ; there is Greyfriars' Bobby
now in Edinboro' town who never has been persuaded
to leave his dead owner's grave all these many years
through. You see such things, but you are indifferent
to them. " It is only a dog," you say ; "what matter if
the brute fret to death ? "

You don't understand it of course ; you who so soon
forget all your own dead the mother that bore you, the
mistress that loved you, the friend that fought with you
shoulder to shoulder ; and of course, also, you care
nothing for the measureless blind pains, the mute help-
less sorrows, the vague lonely terrors, that ache in our
little dumb hearts.



T UCRETIUS has said how charming it is to stand
*-* under a shelter in a storm, and see another hurry-
ing through its rain and wind; but a woman would



PUCK. 147

refine that sort of cruelty, and would not be quite con-
tent unless she had an umbrella beside her that she
refused to lend.



, pooh, my dear !" cried Fanfreluche. " He has
robbed his host at cards, and abused his host
behind his back ; to fulfil the whole duty of a nineteenth
century guest it only remains for him to betray his host
in love !"

" You think very ill of men ? " I muttered ; I was, in-
deed, slightly weary of her sceptical supercilious treat-
ment of all things ; your pseudo-philosopher, who will
always think he has plumbed the ocean with his silver-
topped cane, is a great bore sometimes.

" I think very well of men," returned Fanfreluche.
"You are mistaken, my dear. There are only two things
that they never are honest about and that is their sport
and their women. When they get talking of their rock-
eters, or their runs, their pigeon-score, or their bonnes
fortimes, they always lie quite unconsciously. And if
they miss their bird or their woman, isn't it always be-
cause the sun was in their eyes as they fired, or because
she wasn't half good-looking enough to try after ? bless
your heart, I know them ! "

" If you do, you are not complimentary to them," I
grumbled.

"Can't help that, my dear," returned Fanfreluche.
" Gracious ! whatever is there that stands the test of
knowing it well ? I have heard Beltran say, that you find
out what an awful humbug the Staubbach is when you
go up to the top and see you can straddle across it. Well,
the Staubbach is just like everything in this life. Keep
your distance, and how well the creature looks ! all
veiled in its spray, and all bright with its prismatic
colours, so deep, and so vast, and so very impressive.



148 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF QUID A.

But just go up to the top, scale the crags of its character,
and measure the height of its aspirations, and fathom the
torrent of its passions, and sift how much is the foam of
speech, and how little is the well-spring of thought. Well,
my dear, it is a very uncommon creature if it don't turn
out just like the Staubbach."



T THINK if you knew what you did, even the most
thoughtless amongst you would not sanction with
your praise, and encournge with your coin, the brutality
that trains dancing-dogs.

Have human mimes if you will; it is natural to human-
ity to caper and grimace and act a part : but for pity's
sake do not countenance the torture with which Avarice
mercilessly trains us "dumb beasts'"' for the trade of
tricks.

"The Clown-dog draws throngs to laugh and applaud,"
says some advertisement : yes, and I knew a very clever
clown-dog once. His feet were blistered with the hot
irons on which he had been taught to dance ; his teeth
had been drawn lest he should use his natural weapons
ngainst his cowardly tyrants ; his skin beneath his short
white hair was black with bruises ; though originally of
magnificent courage, his spirit had been so broken by
torture that he trembled if a leaf blew against him ; and
his eyes well, if the crowds that applauded him had
once looked at those patient, wistful, quiet eyes, with
their unutterable despair, those crowds would have
laughed no more, unless they had indeed been devils.

Who has delivered us unto you to be thus tortured,
and martyred ? Who ? Oh, that awful eternal mystery
that ye yourselves cannot explain !



PUCK. 149

ID ELIEVE me, it is the light or the darkness of our
*~* own fate that either gives " greenness to the grass
and glory to the flower," or leaves both sickly, wan, and
colourless. A little breadth of sunny lawn, the spreading
shadow of a single beech, the gentle click of a little
garden-gate, the scent of some simple summer roses
how fair these are in your memory because of a voice
which then was on your ear, because of eyes that then
gazed in your own. And the grandeur of Nile, and the
lustre of the after-glow, and the solemn desolation of
Carnac, and the wondrous beauty of the flushed sea of
tossing reeds, are all cold, and dead, and valueless, be-
cause in those eyes no love now lies for you ; because
that voice, for you, is now for ever silent.



COR, write as you will of the glory of poverty, and of
* the ennui of pleasure, there is no life like this life,
wherein to the sight and the sense all things minister ;
wherefrom harsh discord and all unloveliness are ban-
ished : where the rare beauty of high-born women is
common ; where the passions at their wildest still sheathe
themselves in courtesy's silver scabbard ; where the daily
habits of existence are made graceful and artistic ; where
grief, and woe, and feud, and futile longing for lost loves,
can easiest be forgot in delicate laughter and in endless
change. Artificial? Ah, well, it may be so ! But since
nevermore will you return to the life of the savage, to the
wigwam of the squaw, it is best, methinks, that the Art
of Living the great Savoir Vivre should be brought,
as you seek to bring all other arts, up to uttermost per-
fection.



150 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF QUID A.

1VT EN are very much in society as women will them
* to be. Let a woman's society be composed of men
gently born and bred, and if she find them either coarse
or stupid, make answer to her "You must have been
coarse or stupid yourself."

And if she demur to the tu quoque as to a base and
illogical form of argument, which we will grant that it
usually is, remind her that the cream of a pasturage may
be pure and rich, but if it pass into the hands of a clumsy
farm serving-maid, then shall the cheese made thereof
be neither Roquefort nor Stilton, but rough and flavour-
less and uneatable, "like a Banbury cheese, nothing but
paring." Now, the influence of a woman's intelligence on
the male intellects about her is as the churn to the cream :
it can either enrich and utilise it, or impoverish and
waste it. It is not too much to say that it almost invari-
ably, in the present decadence of the salon and parrot-
jabbering of the suffrage, has the latter effect alone.



TJUMILIATION is a guest that only comes to those
* * who have made ready his resting-place, and will
give him a fair welcome. My father used to say to me,
" Child, when you grow to womanhood, whether you be
rich or poor, gentle or simple, as the balance of your life
may turn for or against you, remember always this one
thing that no one can disgrace you save yourself. Dis-
honour is like the Aaron's Beard in the hedgerows, it
can only poison if it be plucked." They call the bella-
donna Aaron's Beard in the country, you know ; and it is
true that the cattle, simple as they are, are never harmed
by it ; just because, though it is always in their path, they
never stop and taste it. I think it may just be so with
us ; with any sort of evil.



PUCK. 151

" U"VRY pleasure has its penalty. If a woman be
**' celebrated, the world always thinks she must be
wicked. If she's wise, she laughs. It is the bitter that you
must take with the sweet, as you get the sorrel flavour
with the softness of the cream, in your soup a la Bonne
Femme. But the cream would clog without it, and the
combination is piquant."

" Only to jaded palates," I retorted ; for I have often
tasted the Bonne Femme, and detest it.

By the way, what exquisite irony lies in some of your
kitchen nomenclature !



f~\ ^\ CE at a great house in the west I saw a gathering
^^ on the young lord's coming of age. There were
half the highest people in England there ; and a little
while before the tenantry went to their banquet in the
marquees, the boy-peer and his guests were all out on
the terraces and the lawns. With him was a very noble
deer-hound, whom he had owned for four years.

Suddenly the hound, Red Comyn, left his titled master,
and plunged head-foremost through the patrician crowd,
and threw himself in wild raptures on to a poor, miser-
able, tattered, travelling cobbler, who had dared to creep
in through the open gates and the happy crowds, hoping
for a broken crust Red Comyn pounced on him, and
caressed him, and laid massive paws upon his shoulders,
and gave him maddest welcome this poor hungry man,
in the midst of that aristocratic festival.

The cobbler could scarcely speak awhile ; but when he
got his breath, his arms were round the hound, and bis
eyes were wet with tears.

" Please pardon him, my lord,'" 7 he said, all in a quiver
and a tremble. "He was mine once from the time he
was pupped for a whole two year ; and he loved me, poor



152 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF QUID A.

soul, and he ha'n't forgot. He don't know no better, my
lord he's only a dog."

No ; he didn't know any better than to remember, and
be faithful, and to recognise a friend, no matter in what
woe or want. Ah, indeed, dogs are far behind you !

For the credit of "the order," it may be added that
Red Comyn and the cobbler have parted no more, but
dwell together still upon that young lord's lands.



A PPEARANCES are so and so, hence facts must be so
^ and so likewise, is Society's formula. This sounds
mathematical and accurate ; but as facts, nine times out
of ten, belie appearances, the logic is very false. There
is something, indeed, comically stupid in your satisfied
belief in the surface of any parliamentary or public facts
that may be presented to you, varnished out of all like-
ness to the truth by the suave periods of writer or speaker.
But there is something tragically stupid about your dogged
acceptation of any social construction of a private life,
damned out of all possibility of redemption by the flip-
pant deductions of chatter-box or of slanderer.

Now and then you poor humanities, who are always so
dimly conscious that you are all lies to one another, get a
glimpse of various truths from some cynical dead man's
diary, or some statesman's secret papers. But you never
are warned : you placidly continue greedily to gobble up,
unexamined, the falsehoods of public men ; and impu-
dently to adjudicate on the unrevealed secrets of private
lives.



VOU are given, very continually, to denouncing or

* lamenting the gradual encroachment of mob-rule.

But, alas ! whose fault, pray, is it that bill-discounters

dwell as lords in ancient castles ; that money-lenders



PUCK. iy

reign over old, time-honoured lands ; that low-born hire-
lings dare to address their master with a grin and sneer,
strong in the knowledge of his shameful secrets ; and
that the vile daughters of the populace are throned in
public places, made gorgeous with the jewels which, from
the heirlooms of a great patriciate, have fallen to be the
gew-gaws of a fashionable infamy?

Ah, believe me, an aristocracy is a feudal fortress which,
though it has merciless beleaguers in the Jacquerie of
plebeian Envy, has yet no foe so deadly as its own in-
ternal traitor of Lost Dignity !



" f^UT ye dunna get good wage ?" said the miner, with

*~^ practical wisdom.

"We doan't," confessed the East Anglian, "we doan't.
And that theer botherin' machinery as do the threshin',
and the reapin', and the sawin', and the mowin', hev a
ruined us. See ! in old time, when ground was frost-bit
or water-soaked, the min threshed in-doors, in barns, and
kep in work so. But now the machine, he dew all theer
is to dew, and dew it up so quick. Theer's a many more
min than theer be things to dew. In winter-time measter
he doan't want half o' us ; and we're just out o' labour ;
and we fall sick, cos o' naethin' to eat ; and goes tew
parish able-bodied min strong as steers."

" Machine's o' use i' mill-work," suggested one of the
northerners.

" O' use ! ay, o' coorse 'tis o' use tew tha measters,"
growled the East Anglian. " But if ye warn't needed at
yer mill cos the iron beast was a weavin' and a reelin'
and a dewin' of it all, how'd yer feel ? Wi' six children,
mebbe, biggest ony seven or eight, a crazin' ye for bread.
And ye mayn't send 'em out, cos o' labour-laws, to pick
up a halfpenny for theerselves ; and tha passon be al]



154 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF OUIDA.

agin yer, cos ye warn't thrifty and didn't gev a penny for
the forrin blacks out o' the six shillin' a week ? Would
yer think iron beast vvor o' use thin ? or would yer damn
him hard?"



'"THE poetic faculty as you call the insight and the
A sympathy which feels a divinity in all created things
and a joy unutterable in the natural beauty of the earth
is lacking in the generality of women, notwithstanding
their claims to the monopoly of emotion. If it be not,
how comes it that women have given you no great poet
since the days of Sappho ?

It is women's deficiency in intellect, you will observe.
Not a whit : it is women's deficiency in sympathy.

The greatness of a poet lies in the universality of his
sympathies. And women are not sympathetic, because
they are intensely self-centred.



A LL living things seemed to draw closer together in
*^ the perils and privations of the winter, as you men
do in the frost of your frights or your sorrows. In summer
as in prosperity every one is for himself, and is heed-
less of others because he needs nothing of them.



T T was covered, from the lowest of its stones to the top

of its peaked roof, with a gigantic rose-thorn.
"Sure the noblest shrub as ever God have made,"
would Ben say, looking at its massive, cactus-like branches,
with their red, waxen, tender-coloured berries. The
cottage was very old, and the rose-thorn was the growth
of centuries. Men's hands had never touched it. It had
stretched where it would, ungoverned, unhampered, un-



PUCK. 155

arrested. It had a beautiful dusky glow about it always,
from its peculiar thickness and its blended hues ; and in
the chilly weather the little robin red-breasts would come
and flutter into it, and screen themselves in its shelter
from the cold, and make it rosier yet with the brightness
of their little ruddy throats.

"Tha Christ-birds do allus seem safest like i' tha
Christ-bush," Ben would say softly, breaking off the larger
half of his portion of oaten cake, to crumble for the robins
\vith the dawn. I never knew what he meant, though I
saw he had some soft, grave, old-world story in his
thoughts, that made the rose-thorn and the red-breasts
both sacred to him.



" A H, my dear, you little dream the ecstatic delight that
^ exists in Waste, for the vulgarity of a mind that
has never enjoyed Possession, till it comes to riot at one
blow in Spoliation ! "

"I do wish you would answer me plainly," I said,
sulkily, " without without "

" Epigrams ! " she added, sharply ; " I daresay you do,
my dear. Epigrams are the salts of life ; but they wither
up the grasses of foolishness, and naturally the grasses
hate to be sprinkled therewith."



YW"E are ill appreciated, we cynics ; on my honour if
cynicism be not the highest homage to Virtue
there is, I should like to know what Virtue wants. We
sigh over her absence, and we glorify her perfections.
But Virtue is always a trifle stuck-up, you know, and she
is very difficult to please.

She is always looking uneasily out of the " tail of her
eye" at her opposition-leader Sin, and wondering why
Sin dresses so well, and drinks such very good wine. We



156 WISDOM, WIT, AND PATHOS OF QUID A.

"cynics" tell her that under Sin's fine clothes there is a
breast cancer-eaten, and at the bottom of the wine there
is a bitter dreg called satiety ; but Virtue does not much
heed that ; like the woman she is, she only notes that
Sin drives a pair of ponies in the sunshine, while she her-
self is often left to plod wearily through the everlasting
falling rain. So she dubs us "cynics" and leaves us
who can wonder if we won't follow her through the rain?
Sin smiles so merrily if she makes us pay toll at the end ;
whereas Virtue ah me, Virtue will find such virtue in
frowning !



"VV7OMEN always put me in mind of that bird of yours,

" the cuckoo.

Your poetry and your platitudes have all combined to
attach a most sentimental value to cuckoos and women.
All sorts of pretty phantasies surround them both ; the
spring-tide of the year, the breath of early flowers, the
verse of old dead poets, the scent of sweet summer rains,
the light of bright dewy dawns all these things you have
mingled with the thought of the cuckoo, till its first call
through the woods in April brings all these memories with
it. Just so in like manner have you entangled your poetic
ideals, your dreams of peace and purity, all divinities of
patience and of pity, all sweet saintly sacrifice and sorrow,
with your ideas of women.

Well cuckoos and women, believe me, are very much
like each other, and not at all like your phantasy : to
get a well-feathered nest without the trouble of making
it, and to keep easily in it themselves, no matter who may
turn out in the cold, is both cuckoo and woman all over ;
and, while you quote Herrick and Wordsworth about
them as you walk in the dewy greenwood, they are busy
slaying the poor lonely fledglings, that their own young
may lie snug and warm.



PUCK. 157

" HTHEN everybody is a hypocrite?"

* " Not a bit, child. We always like what we haven't
got ; and people are quite honest very often in their pro-
fessions, though they give the lie direct to them in their
practice. People can talk themselves into believing that
they believe anything. When the preacher discourses on
the excellence of holiness, he may have been a thorough-
going scamp all his life ; but it don't follow he's dishonest,
because he's so accustomed to talk goody-goody talk that
it runs off his lips as the thread off a reel "

" But he must know he's a scamp ? "

"Good gracious me, why should he? I have met a
thousand scamps ; but I never met one who considered
himself so. Self-knowledge isn't so common. Bless you,
my dear, a man no more sees himself, as others see him,
in a moral looking-glass, than he does in a mirror out of
his dressing-box. I know a man who has forged bills,
run off with his neighbour's wife, and left sixty thousand
pounds odd in debts behind him ; but he only thinks
himself 'a victim of circumstances' honestly thinks it
too. A man never is so honest as when he speaks well



Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 11 of 39)