1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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give our enemies, and help them. I only asked Him to
begin with His."

Bruno was silent.


A T every point where her eyes glanced there was a
^^ picture of exquisite colour, and light, and variety.

But the scene in its loveliness was so old to her, so
fnmiliar, that it was scarcely lovely, only monotonous.
With all a child's usual ignorant impatience of the joys
of the present joys so little valued at the time, so futilely
regretted in the after-years she was heedless of the
hour's pleasure, she was longing for what had not come.

/^VN the whole, the Waif fared better, having fallen to
^"*^ the hands of a vagabond philosopher, than if she
had drifted to those of a respected philanthropist. The
latter would have had her glistening hair shorn short,
as a crown with which that immortal and inconsistent
socialist Nature had no justification in crowning a
foundling, and, in his desire to make her fully expiate
the lawless crime of entering the world without purse or
passport, would have left her no choice, as she grew into
womanhood, save that between sinning and starving.
The former bade the long fair tresses float on the air,
sunny rebels against bondage, and saw no reason why
the childhood of the castaway should not have its share
of childish joyousness as well as the childhood prince-
begotten and palace-cradled ; holding that the fresh life


just budded on earth was as free from all soil, no matter
whence it came, as is the brook of pure rivulet water, no
matter whether it spring from classic lake or from dark-
some cavern.

'"FHE desire to be "great" possessed her. When that
insatiate passion enters a living soul, be it the soul
of a woman-child dreaming of a coquette's conquests, or
a crowned hero craving for a new world, it becomes
blind to all else. Moral death falls on it ; and any sin
looks sweet that takes it nearer to its goal. It is a pas-
sion that generates at once all the loftiest and all the
vilest things, which between them ennoble and corrupt
the world even as heat generates at once the harvest
and the maggot, the purpling vine and the lice that
devour it. It is a passion without which the world
would decay in darkness, as it would do without heat,
yet to. which, as to heat, all its filthiest corruption is due.

A WOMAN'S fair repute is like a blue harebell a

* touch can wither it

"\TIVA had gained the "great world;" and because
she had gained it all the old things of her lost post
grew unalterably sweet to her now that they no longer
could be called hers. The brown, kind, homely, tender
fnce of grand'mere ; the gambols of white and frolicsome
Bebe* ; the woods where, with every spring, she had filled
her arms with sheaves of delicate primroses ; the quaint
little room with its strings of melons and sweet herbs, its
glittering brass and pewter, its wood-fire with the soup-
pot simmering above the flame ; the glad free days in


the vineyard and on the river, with the winds blowing
fragrance from over the clover and flax, and the acacias
and lindens ; nay, even the old, quiet, sleepy hours within
the convent-walls, lying on the lush unshaven grass,
while the drowsy bells rang to vespers or compline, all
became suddenly precious and dear to her when once
she knew that they had drifted away from her for ever-

'""THEN he bent his head, letting her desire be his law;
A and that music, which had given its hymn for the
vintage-feast of the Loire, and which had brought back
the steps of the suicide from the river-brink in the dark-
ness of the Paris night, which sovereigns could not com-
mand and which held peasants entranced by its spell,
thrilled through the stillness of the chamber.

Human in its sadness, more than human in its eloquence,
now melancholy as the Miserere that sighs through the
gloom of a cathedral at midnight, now rich as the glory
of the afterglow in Egypt, a poem beyond words, a prayer
grand as that which seems to breathe from the hush of
mountain solitudes when the eternal snows are lighted
by the rising of the sun the melody of the violin filled
the silence of the closing day.

The melancholy, ever latent in the vivid natures of
men of genius, is betrayed and finds voice in their Art.
Goethe laughs with the riotous revellers, and rejoices
with the summer of the vines, and loves the glad abandon-
ment of woman's soft embraces, and with his last words
prays for Light. But the profound sadness of the great
and many-sided master-mind thrills through and breaks
out in the intense humanity, the passionate despair of
Faust ; the melancholy and the yearning of the soul are

With Tricotrin they were uttered in his music.


" T ET me be but amused ! Let me only laugh if I die !"
cries the world in every age. It has so much of
grief and tragedy in its own realities, it has so many
bitter tears to shed in its solitude, it has such weariness
of labour without end, it has such infinitude of woe to
regard in its prisons, in its homes, in its battlefields, in
its harlotries, in its avarices, in its famines ; it is so
heart-sick of them all, that it would fain be lulled to for-
getfulness of its own terrors ; it asks only to laugh for
awhile, even if it laugh but at shadows.

" The world is vain, frivolous, reckless of that which is
earnest ; it is a courtesan who thinks only of pleasure, of
adornment, of gewgaws, of the toys of the hour ! :) is the
reproach which its satirists in every age hoot at it.

Alas ! it is a courtesan who, having sold herself to evil,
strives to forget her vile bargain ; who, having washed
her cheeks white with saltest tears, strives to believe that
the paint calls the true colour back ; who, having been
face to face for so long with blackest guilt, keenest hunger,
dreadest woe, strives to lose their ghosts, that incessantly
follow her, in the tumult of her own thoughtless laughter.

" Let me be but amused ! " the cry is the aching cry
of a world that is overborne with pain, and with longing
for the golden years of its youth ; that cry is never louder
than when the world is most conscious of its own infamy.

In the Roman Empire, in the Byzantine Empire, in
the Second Empire of Napoleonic France, the world,
reeking with corruption, staggering under the burden of
tyrannies, and delivered over to the dominion of lust, has
shrieked loudest in its blindness of suffering, "Let me
only laugh if I die ! "

"M"OT as others ! Why, my Waif? Is your foot less

^ swift, your limb less strong, your face less fair than

theirs ? Does the sun shine less often, have the flowers


less fragrance, does sleep come less sweetly to you than
to them ? Nature has been very good, very generous to
you, Viva. Be content with her gifts. What you lack is
only a thing of man's invention a quibble, a bauble, a
Pharisee's phylactery. Look at the river-lilies that drift
yonder how white they are, how their leaves enclose
and caress them, how the water buoys them up and plays
with them ! Well, are they not better off than the poor
rare flowers that live painfully in hothouse air, and are
labelled, and matted, and given long names by men's
petty precise laws ? You are like the river-lilies. O child,
do not pine for the glass house that would ennoble you,
only to force you and kill you ?

WTRONG to be proud, you ask? No. But then the
pride must be of a right fashion. It must be the
pride which says, " Let me not envy, for that were mean-
ness. Let me not covet, for that were akin to theft. Let
me not repine, for that were weakness." It must be the
pride which says, " I can be sufficient for myself. My
life makes my nobility ; and I need no accident of rank,
because I have a stainless honour." It must be pride too
proud to let an aged woman work where youthful limbs
can help her ; too proud to trample basely on what lies
low already ; too proud to be a coward, and shrink from
following conscience in the confession of known error ;
too proud to despise the withered toil-worn hands of the
poor and old, and be vilely forgetful that those hands
succoured you in your utmost need of helpless infancy !

F)HILOSOPHY, Viva, is the pomegranate of life, ever
* cool and most fragrant, and the deeper you cut in it
the richer only will the core grow. Power is the Dead-


Sea apple, golden and fair to sight while the hand strives
to reach it, dry grey ashes between dry fevered lips when
once it is grasped and eaten !

13LEASURE is but labour to those who do not know
* also that labour in its turn is pleasure.

LJ APPY ! As a mollusc is happy so long as the sea
* sweeps prey into its jaws ; what does the mollusc
care how many lives have been shipwrecked so long as
the tide wafts it worms ? She has killed her conscience,
Viva ; there is no murder more awful. It is to slay what
touch of God we have in us !

LJAVE I been cruel, my child? Your fever of dis-
* * content needed a sharp cure. Life lies before
you, Viva, and you alone can mould it for yourself. Sin
and anguish fill nine-tenths of the world : to one soul
that basks in light, a thousand perish in darkness ; I
dare not let you go on longer in your dangerous belief
that the world is one wide paradise, and that the high-
road of its joys is the path of reckless selfishness. Can
you not think that there are lots worse than that of a
guiltless child who is well loved and well guarded, and
has all her future still before her ?

TT rests with you to live your life nobly or vilely. We

have not our choice to be rich or poor, to be happy

or unhappy, to be in health or in sickness ; but we have

our choice to be worthy or worthless. No antagonist


can kill our soul in us ; that can perish only from its
own suicide. Ever remember that.

"DUT they are hollow inside, you still urge? fie, for
shame ! What a plea that is ! Have you the face
to make it? If you have, let me bargain with you.

When all the love that is fair and false goes begging
for believers, and all the passion that is a sham fails to
find one fool to buy it ; when all the priests and politi-
cians clap in vain together the brazen cymbals of their
tongues, because their listeners will not hearken to brass
clangour, nor accept it for the music of the spheres
when all the creeds, that feast and fatten upon the cow-
ardice and selfishness of men, are driven out of hearth
and home, and mart and temple, as impostors that put
on the white beard of reverence and righteousness to pass
current a cheater's coin ; when all the kings that promise
peace while they swell their armouries and armies ; when
all the statesmen that chatter of the people's weal as they
steal up to the locked casket where coronets are kept ;
when all the men who talk of " glory," and prate of an
" idea " that they may stretch their nation's boundary,
and filch their neighbour's province when all these are no
longer in the land, and no more looked on with favour,
then I will believe your cry that you hate the toys which
are hollow.

^'AN an ignorant or an untrained brain follow the
^-^ theory of light, or the metamorphosis of plants ?
Yet it may rejoice in the rays of a summer sun, in the
scent of a nest of wild-flowers. So may it do in my
music. Shall I ask higher payment than the God of
the sun and the violets asks for Himself?


/'""'VNCE there were three handmaidens of Krishna's ;
^^ invisible, of course, to the world of men. They
begged of Krishna, one day, to test their wisdom, and
Krishna gave them three drops of dew. It was in the
season of drought, and he bade them go and bestow
them where each deemed best in the world.

Now one flew earthward, and saw a king's fountain
leaping and shining in the sun ; the people died of thirst,
and the fields and the plains were cracked with heat, but
the king's fountain was still fed and played on. So she
thought, " Surely, my dew will best fall where such glori-
ous water dances?" and she shook the drop into the

The second hovered over the sea, and saw the Indian
oysters lying under the waves, among the sea-weed and
the coral. Then she thought, "A rain-drop that falls in
an oyster's shell becomes a pearl ; it may bring riches
untold to man, and shine in the diadem of a monarch.
Surely it is best bestowed where it will change to a jewel ? "
and she shook the dew into the open mouth of a shell.

The third had scarcely hovered a moment over the
parched white lands, ere she beheld a little, helpless
brown bird dying of thirst upon the sand, its bright eyes
glazed, its life going out in torture. Then she thought,
" Surely my gift will be best given in succour to the first
and lowliest thing I see in pain ? " and she shook the
dew-drop down into the silent throat of the bird, that
fluttered, and arose, and was strengthened.

Then Krishna said that she alone had bestowed her
power wisely ; and he bade her take the tidings of rain
to the aching earth, and the earth rejoiced exceedingly.
Genius is the morning dew that keeps the world from
perishing in drought. Can you read my parable ?


"TO die when life can be lived no longer with honour is
* greatness indeed ; but to die because life galls and
wearies and is hard to pursue there is no greatness in
that ? It is the suicide's plea for his own self-pity. You
live under tyranny, corruption, dynastic lies hard to bear,
despotic enemies hard to bear, I know. But you forget
what all followers of your creed ever forget that with-
out corruption, untruth, weakness, ignorance in a nation
itself, such things could not be in its rulers. Men can
bridle the ass and can drive the sheep ; but who can drive
the eagle or bridle the lion ? A people that was strong and
pure no despot could yoke to his vices.

^ O matter ! He must have race in him. Heraldry
* ^ may lie ; but voices do not. Low people make
money, drive in state, throng to palaces, receive kings at
their tables by the force of gold ; but their antecedents
always croak out in their voices. They either screech or
purr ; they have no clear modulations ; besides, their
women always stumble over their train, and their men
bow worse than their servants.

"CRE long he drew near a street which in the late night
was still partially filled with vehicles and with foot-
passengers, hurrying through the now fast-falling snow,
and over the slippery icy pavements. In one spot a crowd
had gathered of artisans, women, soldiers, and idlers,
under the light of a gas-lamp. In the midst of the throng
some gendarmes had seized a young girl, accused by one
of the bystanders of having stolen a broad silver piece
from his pocket.

She offered no resistance : she stood like a stricken


thing, speechless and motionless, as the men roughly
laid hands on her.

Tricotrin crossed over the road, and with difficulty
made his way into the throng of blouses and looked at
her. Degraded she was, but scarcely above a child's
years ; and her features had a look as if innocence were
in some sort still there, and sin still loathed in her soul.
As he drew near he heard her mutter,

" Mother, mother ! She will die of hunger ! it was for
her, only for her ! "

He stooped in the snow, and letting fall, unperceived,
a five-franc piece, picked it up again.

" Here is some silver," he said, turning to the infuriated
owner, a lemonade-seller, who could ill afford to lose it now
that it was winter, and people were too cold for lemonade,
and who seized it with rapturous delight.

" That is it, monsieur, that is it. Holy Jesus ! how can
I thank you ? Ah, if I had convicted the poor creature
and all in error ! I should never have forgiven myself !
Messieurs les gendarmes, let her go ! It was my mistake.
My silver piece was in the snow ! "

The gendarmes reluctantly let quit their prey : they
muttered, they hesitated, they gripped her arms tighter,
and murmured of the prison-cell.

" Let her go," said Tricotrin quietly : and in a little
while they did so, the girl stood bareheaded and motion-
less in the snow like a frost-bound creature.

Soon the crowd dispersed : nothing can be still long in
Paris, and since there had been no theft there was no
interest ! they were soon left almost alone, none were
within hearing.

Then he stooped to her : she had never taken off him
the wild, senseless, incredulous gaze of her great eyes.

" Were you guilty ? " he asked her.

She caught his hands, she tried to bless him and to
thank him, and broke down in hysterical sobs.



"I took it yes ! What would you have? I took it
for my mother. She is old, and blind, and without food.
It is for her that I came on the streets ; but she does not
know it, it would kill her to know ; she thinks my money
honest ; and she is so proud and glad with it ! That was
the first thing I stole ! O God ! are you an angel ? If they
had put me in prison my mother would have starved !"

He looked on her gently, and with a pity that fell upon
her heart like balm.

" I saw it was your first theft. Hardened robbers do
not wear your stricken face," he said softly, as he slipped
two coins into her hand. " Ah, child ! let your mother
die rather than allow her to eat the bread of your dis-
honour : which choice between the twain do you not think
a mother would make ? And know your trade she must,
soon or late. Sin no more, were it only for that love you
bear her."

TTHEIR lives had drifted asunder, as two boats drift
* north and south on a river, the distance betwixt
them growing longer and longer with each beat of the oars
and each sigh of the tide. And for the lives that part
thus, there is no reunion. One floats out to the open
and sunlit sea ; and one passes away to the grave of the
stream. Meet again on the river they cannot.

'""THEY shudder when they read of the Huns and the
* Ostrogoths pouring down into Rome/' he mused,
ns he passed toward the pandemonium. "They keep a
horde as savage, imprisoned in their midst, buried in the
very core of their capitals, side by side with their churches
and palaces, and never remember the earthquake that
would whelm them if once the pent volcano burst, if once
the black mass covered below took flame and broke to


the surface ! Statesmen multiply their prisons, and
strengthen their laws against the crime that is done
and they never take the canker out of the bud, they never
save the young child from pollution. Their political
economy never studies prevention ; it never cleanses the
sewers, it only curses the fever-stricken ! "

HAT avail ? " he thought. " What avail to strive
to bring men nearer to the right? They love
their darkness best why not leave them to it ? Age after
age the few cast away their lives striving to raise and to
ransom the many. What use? Juvenal scourged Rome,
and the same vices that his stripes lashed then, laugh
triumphant in Paris to-day ! The satirist, and the poet,
and the prophet strain their voices in vain as the crowds
rush on ; they are drowned in the chorus of mad sins and
sweet falsehoods ! O God ! the waste of hope, the waste
of travail, the waste of pure desire, the waste of high
ambitions ! nothing endures but the wellspring of lies
that ever rises afresh, and the bay-tree of sin that is green,
and stately, and deathless ! "

LJ E himself went onward through the valley, through
* the deep belt of the woods, through the avenues of
the park. The whole front of the antique building was
lighted, and the painted oriels gleamed ruby, and amber,
and soft brown, in the dusky evening, through the green
screen of foliage.

The fragrance of the orange alleys, and of the acres of
flowers, was heavy on the air ; there was the sound of
music borne down the low southerly wind ; here and there
through the boughs was the dainty glisten of gliding


silks : it was such a scene as once belonged to the
terraces and gardens of Versailles.

From, beyond the myrtle fence and gilded railings which
severed the park from the pleasaunce, enough could be
seen, enough heard, of the brilliant revelry within to tell
of its extravagance, and its elegance, in the radiance that
streamed from all the illumined avenues.

He stood and looked long ; hearing the faint echo of
the music, seeing the effulgence of the light through the
dark myrtle barrier.

A very old crippled peasant, searching in the grass for
truffles, with a little dog, stole timidly up and looked too.

"How can it feel, to live like that?" he asked, in a
wistful, tremulous voice.

Tricotrin did not hear : his hand was grasped on one of
the gilded rails with a nervous force as from bodily pain.

The old truffle-gatherer, with his little white dog panting
at his feet, crossed himself as he peered through the
myrtle screen.

" God ! ;) he muttered ; " how strange it seems that
people are there who never once knew what it was to
want bread, and to find it nowhere, though the lands all
teemed with harvest ! They never feel hungry, or cold,
or hot, or tired, or thirsty : they never feel their bones
ache, and their throat parch, and their entrails gnaw !
These people ought not to get to heaven they have it on

Tricotrin heard at last : he turned his head and looked
down on the old man's careworn, hollow face.

" ' Verily they have their reward,' you mean ? Nay,
that is a cruel religion, which would excruciate hereafter
those who enjoy now. Judge them not ; in their laurel
crowns there is full often twisted a serpent. The hunger
of the body is bad indeed, but the hunger of the mind is
worse perhaps ; and from that they suffer, because from
every fulfilled desire springs the pain of a fresh satiety.''


The truffle-hunter, wise in his peasant-fashion, gazed
wistfully up at the face above him, half comprehending
the answer.

" It may be so," he murmured ; " but then they have
enjoyed ! Ah, Christ ! that is what I envy them. Now
we we die, starved amidst abundance ; we see the years
go, and the sun never shines once in them ; and all we
have is a hope a hope that may be cheated at last ; for
none have come back from the grave to tell us whether
that fools us as well."

" T INCLINE to think you live twenty centuries too late,

or twenty centuries too early."

Viva turned on him a swift and eager glance.

" Of course ! " she said, with a certain emotion, whose
meaning he could not analyse. " Was there ever yet a
man of genius who was not either the relic of some great
dead age, or the precursor of some noble future one, in
which he alone has faith?"

" Chut ! " said Tricotrin, rapidly ; he could not trust
himself to hear her speak in his own defence. " Fine
genius mine ! To fiddle to a few villagers, and dash
colour on an alehouse shutter ! I have the genius of in-
dolence, if you like. As to my belonging to a bygone age,
well ! I am not sure that I have not got the soul in me
of some barefooted friar of Moyen Age, who went about
where he listed, praying here, laughing there, painting a
missal with a Pagan love-god, and saying a verse of
Horace instead of a chant of the Church. Or, maybe, I
am more like some Greek gossiper, who loitered away his
days in the sun, and ate his dates in the market-place,
and listened here and there to a philosopher, and just
by taking no thought hit on a truer philosophy than


ever came out of Porch or Garden. Ah, my Lord of
Estmere ! you have two hundred servants over there at
Villiers, I have been told ; do you not think I am better
served here by one little, brown-eyed, brown-cheeked
maiden, who sings her Beranger like a lark, while she
brings me her dish of wild strawberries ? There is fame
too for you his the King of the Chansons ! When a
girl washes her linen in the brook when a herdsman
drives his flock through the lanes when a boy throws
his line in a fishing-stream when a grisette sits and
works at her attic lattice when a student dreams under
the linden leaves he is on their lips, in their hearts, in
their fancies and joys. What a power ! What a domi-
nion ! Wider than any that emperors boast ! "

"And," added Estmere, with a smile, "if you were not
Tricotrin you would be Bdranger ? "

" A YE ! Hymns forbad at noonday are ever so sung
** at night ; and oftentimes, what at noon would
have been a lark's chant of liberty, grows at night to a

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 19 of 39)