1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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miasma which scarcely the healthiest lungs can with-
stand. She did not know that though many may be
indifferent to the tempting of men, few indeed are im-
penetrable to the smile and the sneer of women ; that
to live your own life in the midst of the world is a harder


thing than it was of old to withdraw to the Thebaid; that
to risk "looking strange "requires a courage perhr.ps cooler
and higher than the soldier's or the saint's ; and that to
stand away from the contact and custom of your "set"
is a harder and sterner work than it was of old to go into
the sanctuary of La Trappe or Port Royal.

TTHE world has grown apathetic and purblind. Critics
* rage and quarrel before a canvas, but the nations
do not care; quarries of marble are hewn into various
shapes, and the throngs gape before them and are in-
different ; writers are so many that their writings blend
in the public mind in a confused phantasmagoria, where
the colours run into one another, and the lines are all
waved and indistinct ; the singer alone still keeps the
old magic power, "The beauty that was Athens, once
the glory that was Rome's," still holds the divine
Cadmus, still sways the vast thronged auditorium, till
the myriads hold their breath like little children in
delight and awe. The great singer alone has the magic
sway of fame ; and if he close his lips, " The gaiety of
nations is eclipsed," and the world seems empty and
silent, like a wood in which the birds are all dead.


'"THE Due found no topic that suited her. It was the
Corso di Gala that afternoon, would she not go ?

No : her horses hated masks, and she hated noise.

The Veglione on Sunday would she not go to that?

No : those things were well enough in the days of
Philippe d'Orldans, who invented them, but they were
only now as stupid as they were vulgar ; anybody was
let in for five francs.

Did she like the new weekly journal that was electrify-
ing Paris ?

No : she could see nothing in it : there was no wit
now-a-days only personalities, which grew more gross
every year.

The Due urged that personalities were as old as Cra-
tinus and Archilochus, and that five hundred years before
Christ the satires of Hipponax drove Bupalus to hang

She answered that a bad thing was not the better for
being old.

People were talking of a clever English novel trans-
lated everywhere, called " In a Hothouse," the hothouse
being society had she seen it ?

No : what was the use of rending novels of society
by people who never had been in it ? The last English
" society " novel she had read had described a cabinet


minister in London as going to a Drawing-room in the
crowd, with everybody else, instead of by the petite
entree; they were always full of such blunders.

Had she read the new French story " Le Bal de
Mademoiselle Bibi?"

No : she had heard too much of it ; it made you almost
wish for a Censorship of the Press.

The Due agreed that literature was terribly but trulv
described as "un tas d'ordures soigneusement enveloppeV

She said that the " tas d'ordures " without the envelope
was sufficient for popularity, but that the literature of
any age was not to be blamed it was only a natural
growth, like a mushroom ; if the soil were noxious, the
fungus was bad.

The Due wondered what a censorship would let pass
if there were one.

She said that when there was one it had let pass Cre-
billon, the Chevalier Le Clos, and the "Bijoux Indiscrets;"
it had proscribed Marmontel, Helvetius, and Lanjuinais.
She did not know how one man could be expected to be
wiser than all his generation.

The Due admired some majolica she had purchased.

She said she began to think that majolica was a false
taste ; the metallic lustre was fine, but how clumsy the
forms ! one might be led astray by too great love of old

The Due praised a magnificent Sevres panel, just
painted by Riocreux and Goupil, and given to her by
Princess Olga on the New Year.

She said it was well done, but what charm was there
in it? All their modern iron and zinc colours, and
hydrate of aluminum, and oxide of chromium, and purple
of Cassius, and all the rest of it, never gave one-tenth the
charm of those old painters who had only green greys
and dull blues and tawny yellows, and never could get
any kind of red whatever ; Olga had meant to please


her, but she, for her part, would much sooner have had a
little panel of Abruzzi, with all the holes and defects in
the pottery, and a brown contadina for a Madonna ;
there was some interest in that, there was no interest
in that gorgeous landscape and those brilliant hunting

The Due bore all the contradictions with imperturbable
serenity and urbanity, smiled to himself, and bowed him-
self out in perfect good-humour.

"Tout va bien," he thought to himself; " Miladi must
be very much in love to be so cross."

The Due's personal experience amongst ladies had
made him of opinion that love did not improve the

" T N love ! " she echoed, with less languor and more of
* impetuosity than she had ever displayed, "are you
ever in love, any of you, ever ? You have senses and vanity
and an inordinate fear of not being in the fashion and
so you take your lovers as you drink your stimulants and
wear your wigs and tie your skirts back because every-
body else does it, and not to do it is to be odd, or prudish,
or something you would hate to be called. Love ! it is
an unknown thing to you all. You have a sort of miser-
able hectic passion, perhaps, that is a drug you take as
you take chlorodyne just to excite you and make your
jaded nerves a little alive again, and yet you are such
cowards that you have not even the courage of passion,
but label your drug Friendship, and beg Society to
observe that you only keep it for family uses like arnica
or like glycerine. You want notoriety ; you want to
indulge your fancies, and yet keep your place in the
world. You like to drag a young man about by a chain,
as if he were the dancing monkey that you depended
upon for subsistence. You like other women to see that


you are not too passte to be every whit as improper as if
you were twenty. You like to advertise your successes
as it were with drum and trumpet, because if you did not,
people might begin to doubt that you had any. You
like all that, and you like to feel there is nothing you do
not know and no length you have not gone, and so you
ring all the changes on all the varieties of intrigue and
sensuality, and go over the gamut of sickly sentiment and
nauseous license as an orchestra tunes its strings up
every night ! That is what all you people call love ; I
am content enough to have no knowledge of it."

" J WOULD rather have the crudest original thing than
the mere galvanism of the corpse of a dead genius.
I would give a thousand paintings by Froment, Damousse,
or any of the finest living artists of Sevres, for one piece
by old Van der Meer of Delft ; but I would prefer a
painting on Sevres done yesterday by Froment or Da-
mousse, or even any much less famous worker, provided
only it had originality in it, to the best reproduction of a
Van der Meer that modern manufacturers could produce."

" I think you are right ; but I fear our old pottery-
painters were not very original. They copied from the
pictures and engravings of Mantegna, Raffaelle, Mar-
cantonio, Marco di Ravenna, Beatricius, and a score of

"The application was original, and the sentiment they
brought to it. Those old artists put so much heart into
their work."

"Because when they painted a slemma on the glaze
they had still feudal faith in nobility, and when they
painted a Madonna or Ecce Homo they had still child-
like belief in divinity. What does the pottery-painter of
to-day care for the coat of arms or the religious subject
he may be commissioned to execute for a dinner service


or a chapel ? It may be admirable painting if you give
a very high price but it will still be only manufacture."

"Then what pleasant lives those pottery painters of
the early days must have led ! They were never long
stationary. They wandered about decorating at their
fancy, now here and now there ; now a vase for a phar-
macy, and now a stove for a king. You find German
names on Italian ware, and Italian names on Flemish
gres ; the Nuremberger would work in Venice, the
Dutchman would work in Rouen. Sometimes, however,
they were accused of sorcery ; the great potter, Hans
Kraut, you remember, was feared by his townsmen as
possessed by the devil, and was buried ignominiously
outside the gates, in his nook of the Black Forest. But
on the whole they were happy, no doubt ; men of simple
habits and of worthy lives."

"You care for art yourself, M. Delia Rocca?"

There came a gleam of interest in her handsome, lan-
guid, hazel eyes, as she turned them upon him.

"Every Italian does," he answered her. "I do not
think we are ever, or I think, if ever, very seldom con-
noisseurs in the way that your Englishman or French-
man is so. We are never very learned as to styles and
dates ; we cannot boast the huckster's eye of the northern
bric-a-brac hunter ; it is quite another thing with us ; we
love art as children their nurses' tales and cradle-songs.
It is a familiar affection with us, and affection is never
very analytical. The Robbia over the chapel-door, the
apostle-pot that the men in the stables drink out of; the
Sodoma or the Beato Angelico that hangs before our eyes
daily as we dine ; the old bronze secchia that we wash
our hands in as boys in the Loggia these are all so
homely and dear to us that we grow up with a love for
them all as natural as our love for our mothers. You
will say the children of all rich people see beautiful and
ancient things from their birth : so they do, but not as



we see them. Here they are too often degraded to the
basest household uses, and made no more account of
than the dust which gathers on them ; but that very
neglect of them makes them the more kindred to us. Art
elsewhere is the guest of the salon with us she is the
playmate of the infant and the serving-maid of the
peasant : the mules may drink from an Etruscan sarco-
phagus, and the pigeons be fed from a patina of the
twelfth century."

'"TASTE, mon cher Delia Rocca, is the only sure
guarantee in these matters. Women, believe me,
never have any principle. Principle is a backbone, and
no woman except bodily ever possesses any backbone.
Their priests and their teachers and their mothers fill
them with doctrines and conventionalities all things of
mere word and wind. No woman has any settled prin-
ciples ; if she have any vague ones, it is the uttermost
she ever reaches, and those can always be overturned by
any man who has any influence over her. But Taste is
another matter altogether. A woman whose taste is
excellent is preserved from all eccentricities and most
follies. You never see a woman of good sense afficher
her improprieties or advertise her liaisons as women of
vulgarity do. Nay, if her taste be perfect, though she
have weaknesses, I doubt if she will ever have vices.
Vice will seem to her like a gaudy colour, or too much
gold braid, or very large plaits, or buttons as big as
saucers, or anything else such as vulgar women like.
Fastidiousness, at any rate, is very good pastiche for
modesty : it is always decent, it can never be coarse.
Good taste, inherent and ingrained, natural and cultivated,
cannot alter. Principles ouf ! they go on and off like
a slipper ; but good taste is indestructible ; it is a com-
pass that never errs. If your wife have it well,


possible she may be false to you ; she is human, she is
feminine ; but she will never make you ridiculous, she
will never compromise you, and she will not romp in a
cotillon till the morning sun shows the paint on her face
washed away in the rain of her perspiration. Virtue is,
after all, as Mme. de Montespan said, "une chose tout
purement gdographique." It varies with the hemisphere
like the human skin and the human hair ; what is vile in
one latitude is harmless in another. No philosophic
person can put any trust in a thing which merely depends
upon climate j but, Good Taste

f~^ OSSIP is like the poor devil in the legend of Fugger's
^-* Teufelspalast at Trent ; it toils till cock-crow picking
up the widely-scattered grains of corn by millions till the
bushel measure is piled high ; and lo ! the five grains
that are the grains always escape its sight and roll away
and hide themselves. The poor devil, being a primitive
creature, shrieked and flew away in despair at his failure.
Gossip hugs its false measure and says loftily that the five
real grains are of no consequence whatever.

'"THE Lady Hilda sighed. This dreadful age, which
^ has produced communists, pdtroleuses, and liberal
thinkers, had communicated its vague restlessness even
to her ; although she belonged to that higher region
where nobody ever thinks at all, and everybody is more
or less devout in seeming at any rate, because disbelief
is vulgar, and religion is an "affaire des mceurs," like
decency, still the subtle philosophies and sad negations
which have always been afloat in the air since Voltaire
set them flying, had affected her slightly.


She was a true believer, just as she was a well-dressed
woman, and had her creeds just as she had her bath in
the morning, as a matter of course.

Still, when she did come to think of it, she was not so
very sure. There was another world, and saints and
angels and eternity ; yes, of course but how on earth
would all those baccarat people ever fit into it ? Who
could, by any stretch of imagination, conceive Madame
Mila and Maurice des Gommeux in a spiritual existence
around the throne of Deity ?

And as for punishment and torment and all that other
side of futurity, who could even think of the mildest pur-
gatory as suitable to those poor flipperty-gibbet inanities
who broke the seventh commandment as gaily as a child
breaks his indiarubber ball, and were as incapable Ot
passion and crime as they were incapable of heroism and
virtue ?

There might be paradise for virtue and hell for crime,
but what in the name of the universe was to be done with
creatures that were only all Folly? Perhaps they would
be always flying about like the souls Virgil speaks of,
"suspensse ad ventos," to purify themselves ; as the sails
of a ship spread out to dry. The Huron Indians pray to
the souls of the fish they catch ; well, why should they
not ? a fish has a soul if Modern Society has one ; one
could conceive a fish going softly through shining waters
for ever and for ever in the ecstasy of motion ; but who
could conceive Modern Society in the spheres ?

"/"^VNE grows tired of everything," she answered with

^-^ a little sigh.

"Everything that is artificial, you mean. People think
Horace's love of the rural life an affectation. I believe it
to be most sincere. After the strain of the conventionality


and the adulation of the Augustan court, the natural
existence of the country must have been welcome to him.
I know it is the fashion to say that a love of Nature
belongs only to the Moderns, but I do not think so.
Into Pindar, Theocritus, Meleager, the passion for Nature
must have entered very strongly ; what is modern is the
more subjective, the more fanciful feeling which makes
Nature a sounding-board to echo all the cries of man."
"But that is always a northern feeling?"
"Inevitably. With us Nature is too riante for us to
grow morbid about it. The sunshine that laughs around
us nine months of every year, the fruits that grow almost
without culture, the flowers that we throw to the oxen to
eat, the very stones that are sweet with myrtle, the very
sea sand that is musical with bees in the rosemary, every-
thing we grow up amongst from infancy, makes our love
of Nature only a kind of unconscious joy in it ; but here
even the peasant has that, and the songs of the men that
cannot read or write are full of it. If a field labourer
sing to his love he will sing of the narcissus and the
crocus, as Meleager sang to Heliodora twenty centuries

HPHAT is an Italian amorous fancy. Romeo and
* Othello are the typical Italian lovers. I never can
tell how a northerner like Shakespeare could draw either.
You are often very unfaithful ; but while you are faithful
you are ardent, and you are absorbed in the woman.
That is one of the reasons why an Italian succeeds in
love as no other man does. u L'art de bruler silencieuse
ment le cceur d'un femme" is a supreme art with you.
Compared with you, all other men are children. You
have been the supreme masters of the great passion since
the days of Ovid.


"DOREDOM is the ill-natured pebble that always will
L ' get in the golden slipper of the pilgrim of pleasure.

" """THEY say," the great assassin who slays as many
* thousands as ever did plague or cholera, drink
or warfare ; " they say," the thief of reputation, who
steals, with stealthy step and coward's mask, to filch
good names away in the dead dark of irresponsible
calumny " they say," a giant murderer, iron-gloved to
slay you, a fleet, elusive, vaporous will-o'-the-wisp, when
you would seize and choke it ; " they say," mighty
Thug though it be which strangles from behind the
purest victim, had not been ever known to touch the
Lady Hilda.

A LL her old philosophies seemed falling about her
*r like shed leaves, and her old self seemed to her
but a purposeless frivolous chilly creature. The real
reason she would not face, and indeed as yet was not
conscious of; the reason that love had entered into her,
and that love, if it be worth the name, has always two
handmaidens : swift sympathy, and sad humility, keep-
ing step together.

"""THE Femme Galante has passed through many
various changes, in many countries. The dames
of the Decamerone were unlike the fair athlete-seekers
of the days of Horace ; and the powdered coquettes of
the years of Moliere, were sisters only by the kinship of
a common vice to the frivolous and fragile faggot of
impulses, that is called Frou-frou.

The Femme Galante has always been a feature in
every age ; poets, from Juvenal to Musset, have railed


at her ; artists, from Titian to Winterhalter, have painted
her ; dramatists, from Aristophanes to Congreve and
Dumas Fils, have pointed their arrows at her ; satirists,
from Archilochus and Simonides to Hogarth and Ga-
varni, have poured out their aqua-fortis for her. But
the real Femme Galante of to-day has been missed

Frou-frou, who stands for her, is not in the least the
true type. Frou-frou is a creature that can love, can
suffer, can repent, can die. She is false in sentiment
and in art, but she is tender after all; poor, feverish,
wistful, changeful morsel of humanity. A slender, help-
less, breathless, and frail thing who, under one sad,
short sin, sinks down to death.

But Frou-frou is in no sense the true Femme Galante
of her day. Frou-frou is much more a fancy than a
fact. It is not Frou-frou that Moliere would have
handed down to other generations in enduring ridicule,
had he been living now. To her he would have doffed
his hat with dim eyes what he would have fastened for
all time in his pillory would have been a very different,
and far more conspicuous offender.

The Femme Galante, who has neither the scruples
nor the follies of poor Frou-frou, who neither forfeits
her place nor leaves her lord ; who has studied adultery
as one of the fine arts and made it one of the domestic
virtues ; who takes her wearied lover to her friends'
houses as she takes her muff or her dog, and teaches
her sons and daughters to call him by familiar names ;
who writes to the victim of her passions with the same
pen that calls her boy home from school ; and who
smooths her child's curls with the same fingers that
stray over her lover's lips ; who challenges the world to
find a flaw in her, and who smiles serene at her hus-
band's table on a society she is careful to conciliate ;
who has woven the most sacred ties and most unholy


pleasures into so deft a braid, that none can say where
one commences or the other ends ; who uses the sanc-
tity of her maternity to cover the lawlessness of her
license ; and who, incapable alike of the self-abandon-
ment of love or of the self-sacrifice of duty, has not even
such poor, cheap honour as, in the creatures of the
streets, may make guilt loyal to its dupe and partner.

This is the Femme Galante of the passing century,
who, with her hand on her husband's arm, babbles of
her virtue in complacent boast ; and ignoring such a
vulgar word as Sin, talks with a smile of Friendship.
Beside her Frou-frou were innocence itself, Marion de
1'Orme were honesty, Manon Lescaut were purity, Cleo-
patra were chaste, and Faustine were faithful.

She is the female Tartuffe of seduction, the Prdcieuse
Ridicule of passion, the parody of Love, the standing
gibe of Womanhood.

CHE was always in debt, though she admitted that
her husband allowed her liberally. She had eighty
thousand francs a year by her settlements to spend on
herself, and he gave her another fifty thousand to do
as she pleased with : on the whole about one half what
he allowed to Blanche Souris, of the Chateau Gaillard

She had had six children, three were living and three
were dead ; she thought herself a good mother, because
she gave her wet-nurses ever so many silk gowns, and
when she wanted the children for a fancy ball or a drive,
always saw that they were faultlessly dressed, and be-
sides she always took them to Trouville.

She had never had any grief in her life, except the
loss of the Second Empire, and even that she got over
when she found that flying the Red Cross flag had saved
her hotel, without so much as a teacup being broken in


it, that MM. Worth and Offenbach were safe from all
bullets, and that society, under the Septennate, pro-
mised to be every bit as leste as under the Empire.

In a word, Madame Mila was a type of the women
of her time.

The women who go semi-nude in an age which has
begun to discover that the nude in sculpture is very
immoral; who discuss "Tue-la" in a generation which
decrees Moliere to be coarse, and Beaumont and Fletcher
indecent ; who have the Journal pour Rire on their
tables in a day when no one who respects himself would
name the Harlot's Progress ; who read Beaudelaire and
patronise Te"re*sa and Schneider in an era which finds
" Don Juan " gross, and Shakespeare far too plain; who
strain all their energies to rival Miles. Rose The' and
La Petite Boulotte in everything ; who go shrimping or
oyster-hunting on fashionable sea-shores, with their legs
bare to the knee ; who go to the mountains with con-
fections, high heels, and gold-tipped canes, shriek over
their gambling as the dawn reddens over the Alps, and
know no more of the glories of earth and sky, of sun-
rise and sunset, than do the porcelain pots that hold
their paint, or the silver dressing-box that carries their
hair- dye.

Women who are in convulsions one day, and on the
top of a drag the next who are in hysterics for their
lovers at noon, and in ecstasies over baccarat at mid-
night ; who laugh in little nooks together over each
other's immoralities, and have a moral code so elastic
that it will pardon anything except innocence ; who
gossip over each other's dresses, and each other's pas-
sions, in the self-same, self-satisfied chirp of content-
ment, and who never resent anything on earth, except
any eccentric suggestion that life could be anything
except a perpetual fete a la Watteau in a perpetual blaze
of lime-light.


Pain? Are there not chloral and a flattering doctor?
Sorrow ? Are there not a course at the Baths, play at
Monte Carlo, and new cases from Worth ? Shame ?
Is it not a famine fever which never comes near a
\vell-laden table ? Old Age ? Is there not white and
red paint, and heads of dead hair, and even false
bosoms ? Death ? Well, no doubt there is death, but
they do not realise it ; they hardly believe in it, they
think about it so little.

There is something unknown somewhere to fall on

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 14 of 39)