1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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are driven all the fair companions of his solitude.


T OVE art alone, forsaking all other loves, and she
will make you happy, with a happiness that shall
defy the seasons and the sorrows of time, the pains of the
vulgar and the changes of fortune, and be with you day
and night, a light that is never dim. But mingle with it
any human love and art will look for ever at you with
the eyes of Christ when he looked at the faithless follower
as the cock crew.

A ND, indeed, there are always the poor: the vast
** throngs born century after century, only to know
the pangs of life and of death, and nothing more. Me-
thinks that human life is, after all, but like a human
body, with a fair and smiling face, but all the limbs
ulcered and cramped and racked with pain. No surgery
of statecraft has ever known how to keep the fair head
erect, yet give the trunk and the limbs health.

FOR in a great love there is a self-sustaining strength
by which it lives, deprived of everything, as there
are plants that live upon our barren ruins burned by the
sun, and parched and shelterless, yet ever lifting green
leaves to the light.

A ND indeed after all there is nothing more cruel than
*"* the impotence of genius to hold and keep those
commonest joys and mere natural affections which
dullards and worse than dullards rejoice in at their plea-
sure ; the common human things, whose loss makes the
great possessions of its imperial powers all valueless and
vain as harps unstrung, or as lutes that are broken.


" 'T'HIS world of our own immediate day is weak and
* weary, because it is no longer young ; yet it
possesses one noble attribute it has an acute and almost
universal sympathy, which does indeed often degenerate
into a false and illogical sentiment, yet serves to redeem
an age of egotism. We have escaped both the gem-like
hardness of the Pagan, and the narrowing selfishness of
the Christian and the Israelite. We are sick for the woe
of creation, and we wonder why such woe is ours, and
why it is entailed on the innocent dumb beasts, that
perish in millions for us, unpitied, day and night. Rome
had no altar to Pity : it is the one God that we own.
When that pity in us for all things is perfected, perhaps
we shall have reached a religion of sympathy that will
be purer than any religion the world has yet seen, and
more productive. ' Save my country !' cried the Pagan
to his deities. ' Save my soul ! ' cries the Christian at
his altars. We, who are without a god, murmur to the
great unknown forces of Nature : ' Let me save others
some little portion of this pain entailed on all simple and
guileless things, that are forced to live, without any fault
of their own at their birth, or any will of their own in
their begetting.' "

LJ O W should we have great Art in our day ? We
* * have no faith. Belief of some sort is the life-
blood of Art. When Athene and Zeus ceased to excite
any veneration in the minds of men, sculpture and archi-
tecture both lost their greatness. When the Madonna
and her son lost that mystery and divinity, which for the
simple minds of the early painters they possessed, the
soul went out of canvas and of wood. When we carve a
Venus now, she is but a light woman ; when we paint a
Jesus now, it is but a little suckling, or a sorrowful
prisoner. We want a great inspiration. We ought ta


find it in the things that are really beautiful, but we are
not sure enough, perhaps, what is so. What does
dominate us is a passion for nature ; for the sea, for the
sky, for the mountain, for the forest, for the evening
storm, for the break of day. Perhaps when we are
thoroughly steeped in this we shall reach greatness once
more. But the artificiality of all modern life is against
it ; so is its cynicism. Sadness and sarcasm make a
great Lucretius as a great Juvenal, and scorn makes a
strong Aristophanes ; but they do not make a Praxiteles
and- an Apelles ; they do not even make a Raffaelle, or a

Art, if it be anything, is the perpetual uplifting of what
is beautiful in the sight of the multitudes the perpetual
adoration of that loveliness, material and moral, which
men in the haste and the greed of their lives are everlast-
ingly forgetting : unless it be that it is empty and useless
as a child's reed-pipe when the reed is snapt and the
child's breath spent. Genius is obligation.

" IVf ^ woman ) I think, ever loved you as this woman
-*- ^ does, whom you have left as I would not leave a
dog," said Maryx, and something of his old ardent elo-
quence returned to him, and his voice rose and rang
clearer as the courage in him consummated the self-sacri-
fice that he had set himself for her sake. " Have you ever
thought what you have done ? When you have killed Art
in an artist, you have done the cruellest murder that earth
can behold. Other and weaker natures than hers might
forget, but she never. Her fame will be short-lived as that
rose, for she sees but your face, and the world will tire of
that, but she will not. She can dream no more. She can
only remember. Do you know what that is to the
artist? it is to be blind and to weary the world; the


world that has no more pity than you have ! You think
her consoled because her genius has not left her : are
you a poet and yet do not know that genius is only a
power to suffer more and to remember longer ? nothing
else. You say to yourself that she will have fame, that
will beguile her as the god came to Ariadne' ; perhaps ;
but across that fame, let it become what it may, there
will settle for ever the shadow of the world's dishonour ;
it will be for ever poisoned, and cursed, and embittered
by the scorn of fools, and the reproach of women, since
by you they have been given their lashes of nettles, and
by you have been given their by-word to hoot. She
will walk in the light of triumph, you say, and therefore
you have not hurt her ; do you not see that the fiercer
that light may beat on her, the sharper will the eyes of
the world search out the brand with which you have
burned her. For when do men forgive force in the
woman ? and when do women ever forgive the woman's
greatness ? and when does every cur fail to snarl at the life
that is higher than its fellows ? It is by the very genius
in her that you have had such power to wound, such
power to blight and to destroy. By so long as her name
shall be spoken, so long will the wrong you have done
her cling round it, to make it meet for reproach. A mere
woman dies, and her woe and her shame die with her,
and the earth covers her and them ; but such shelter is
denied for ever to the woman who has genius and fame ;
long after she is dead she will lie out on common soil,
naked and unhouselled, for all the winds to blow on hei
and all the carrion birds to tear."

" l\f ^' no ' That is accursed ! To touch Art without a

^ right to touch it, merely as a means to find bread

you are too honest to think of such a thing. Unless


Art be adored for its own sake and purely, it must be left
alone. Philip of Macedon had every free man's child
taught Art ! I would have every boy and girl taught its
sacredness ; so, we might in time get back some accuracy
of taste in the public, some conscientiousness of produc-
tion in the artist. If artistic creation be not a joy, an im-
perious necessity, an instinct of all the forces of the mind,
let the boy go and plough, and the girl go and spin."

IV^AYBE you turn your back on happiness. I have
*'* heard that wise people \ften do that. They look
up so at the sun and the stars, that they set their foot on
the lark that would have sung to them and woke them
brightly in the morning and kill it.

T ANDSCAPE painting is the only original form of
*"' painting that modern times can boast. It has
not exhausted itself yet ; it is capable of infinite de-
velopment. Ruysdael, Rembrandt, and the rest, did
great scenes, it is true, but it has been left to our
painters to put soul into the sunshine of a cornfield, and
suggest a whole life of labour in a dull evening sky hang-
ing over a brown ploughed upland, with the horses going
tired homewards, and one grey figure trudging after them,
to the hut on the edge of the moor. Of course the modern
fancy of making nature answer to all human moods, like
an Eb'lian harp, is morbid and exaggerated, but it has a
beauty in it, and a certain truth. Our tenderer souls
take refuge in the country now, as they used to do in the


T THINK if people oftener saw the break of day they
A would vow oftener to keep that dawning day holy,
and would not so often let its fair hours drift away with
nothing done that were not best left undone.

YW'E are the sons of our Time : it is not for us to slay
our mother. Let us cover her dishonour if we see
it, lest we should provoke the Erinyes.

T_I OW one loves Canova the man, and how one exe-
A * crates Canova the artist ! Surely never was a great
repute achieved by so false a talent and so perfect a
character. One would think he had been born and bred
in Versailles instead of Treviso. He is called a natural-
ist ! Look at his Graces ! He is always Coysevax and
Coustou at heart. Never purely classic, never frankly
modern. Louis XIV. would have loved him better than

T F Alexander had believed himself a bubble of gas in-
stead of the son of a god, he would not have changed
the face of the world. Negation cannot be the parent of
heroism, though it will produce an indifference that coun-
terfeits it not ill, since Petronius died quite as serenely
as ever did the martvrs of the Church.

{"? ENIUS cannot escape the taint of its time more than
^^ a child the influence of its begetting. Augustus
could have Horace and Ovid ; he could never have had
Homer and Milton.



T DO not think with you. Talent takes the mark of its
generation ; genius stamps its time with its own im-
pression. Virgil had the sentiment of an united Italy.

TTELL her that past she thinks so great was only very
* like the Serapis which men worshipped so many
ages in Theophilis, and which, when the soldiers struck
it down at last, proved itself only a hollow Colossus with
a colony of rats in its head that scampered right and left.

FALCONET struck the death-note of the plastic arts
when he said, " Our marbles have almost colour.''
That is just where we err. We are incessantly striving to
make Sculpture at once a romance-writer and a painter,
and of course she loses all dignity and does but seem the
jay in borrowed plumes of sable. Conceits are altogether
out of keeping with marble. They suit a cabinet painting
or a piece of china. Bernini was the first to show the
disease when he veiled the head of his Nile to indicate
that the source was unknown.

VV7HOSOEVER has any sort of fame has lighted a
** beacon that is always shining upon him, and can
never more return into the cool twilight of privacy even
when most he wishes. It is of these retributions some
call them compensations of which life is full.

]M EN have forgotten the virile Pyrrhic dance, and have
^ * become incapable of the grace of the Ionian ; their
only dance is a Danse Macabre, and they are always
hand in hand with a skeleton.


"D Y night Rome is still a city for the gods ; the shadows
*-' veil its wounds, the lustre silvers all its stones ; its
silence is haunted as no other silence is ; if you have
faith, there where the dark gloss of the laurel brushes
the marble as in Agrippa's time, you will see the Immor-
tals passing by chained with dead leaves and weeping.

A GREAT love is an absolute isolation and an ab-
** solute absorption. Nothing lives or moves or
breathes save one life ; for one life alone the sun rises
and sets, the seasons revolve, the clouds bear rain, and
the stars ride on high ; the multitudes around cease to
exist, or seem but ghostly shades ; of all the sounds of
earth there is but one voice audible ; all past ages have
been but the herald of one soul ; all eternity can be but
its heritage alone.

"DERHAPS she was right : for a few hours of joy one
A owes the debt of years, and should give a pardon
wide and deep as the deep sea.

This Love which she had made in his likeness, the
tyrant and compeller of the world, was to her as the
angel which brings perfect dreams and lets the tired
sleeper visit heaven.

" A ND when the ship sails away without you?" I said
4* brutally, and laughing still, because the mention
of the schooner had broken the bonds of the silence that
had held me against my will half paralysed, and I seemed
to be again upon the Tyrrhene shore, seeing the white
sail fade against the sky.

" And when that ship sails without you ? The day will
come. It always comes. You are my Ariadne ; yet you
forget Naxos ! Oh, the day will come ! you will kiss the


feet of your idol then, and they will not stay ; they will
go away, away, away, and they will not tarry for your
prayers or your tears ay, it is always so. Two love,
and one tires. And you know nothing of that ; you who
would have love immortal."

And I laughed again, for it seemed to me so horrible,
and I was half mad.

No doubt it would have been kinder had I struck my
knife down into her breast with her words unspoken.

All shade of colour forsook her face ; only the soft
azure of the veins remained, and changed to an ashen
grey. She shook with a sudden shiver from head to foot
as the name she hated, the name of Ariadne, fell upon
her ear. The icebolt had fallen in her paradise. A
scared and terrible fear dilated her eyes, that opened
wide in the amaze of some suddenly stricken creature.

" And when he leaves you ?" I said, with cruel iteration.
" Do you remember what you told me once of the woman
by the marshes by the sea, who had nothing left by which
to remember love save wounds that never healed ? That
is all his love will leave you by-and-by."

" Ah, never ! "

She spoke rather to herself than me. The terror was
fading out of her eyes, the blood returning to her face ;
she was in the sweet bewildered trance of that blind faith
which goes wherever it is led, and never asks the end nor
dreads the fate. Her love was deathless : how could she
know that his was mortal ?

" You are cruel," she said, with her mouth quivering-,
but the old, soft, grand courage in her eyes. " We are
together for ever; he has said so. But even if if I
only remembered him by wounds, what would that change
in me ? He would have loved me. If he would wish to
wound me, so he should. I am his own as the dogs are.
Think ! he looked at me, and all the world grew beauti-
ful ; he touched me, and I was happy I, who never had


been happy in my life. You look at me strangely ; you
speak harshly. Why? I used to think, surely you would
be glad "

I gripped my knife and cursed him in my soul.

How could one say to her the thing that he had made
her in man's and woman's sight ?

" I thought you would be glad," she said, wistfully,
" and I would have told you long ago myself. I do
not know why you should look so. Perhaps you are
angered because I seemed ungrateful to you and Maryx.
Perhaps I was so. I have no thought only of him.
What he wished, that I did. Even Rome itself was for
me nothing, and the gods there is only one for me ; and
he is with me always. And I think the serpents and the
apes are gone for ever from the tree, and he only hears
the nightingales now. He tells me so often. Very
often. Do you remember I used to dream of greatness
for myself ah, what does it matter! I want nothing
now. When he looks at me the gods themselves could
give me nothing more."

And the sweet tranquil radiance came back into her
eyes, and her thoughts wandered into the memories of
this perfect passion which possessed her, and she forgot
that I was there.

My throat was choking ; my eyes felt blind ; my
tongue clove to my mouth. I, who knew what that end
would be as surely as I knew the day then shining would
sink into the earth, I was dumb, like a brute beast I,
who had gone to take his life.

Before this love which knew nothing of the laws of
mankind, how poor and trite and trivial looked those
laws ! What could I dare to say to her of shame ? Ah !
if it had only been for any other's sake ! But he, per-
haps he did not lie to her ; perhaps he did only hear the
nightingales with her beside him ; but how soon their
song would pall upon his ear, how soon would he sigh


for the poisonous kiss of the serpents ! I knew ! I
knew !

I stood heart-broken in the warm light that was falling
through the casement and streaming towards her face.
What could I say to her ? Men harder and sterner and
surer in every way of their own judgment than I was of
mine no doubt would have shaken her with harsh hands
from that dream in which she had wandered to her own

No doubt a sterner moralist than I would have had no
pity, and would have hurled on her all the weight of those
bitter truths of which she was so ignorant ; would have
shown her that pit of earthly scorn upon whose brink she
stood ; would have torn down all that perfect, credulous
faith of hers, which could have no longer life nor any
more lasting root than the flowering creeper born of a
summer's sun, and gorgeous as the sunset's hues, and
clinging about a ruin - mantling decay. Oh yes, no
doubt. But I am only weak, and of little wisdom, and
never certain that the laws and ways of the world are
just, and never capable of long giving pain to any
harmless creature, least of all to her.

She seemed to rouse herself with effort to remember I
was there, and turned on me her eyes that were suffused
and dreamful with happiness, like a young child's with sleep.

" I must have seemed so thankless to you : you were
so very good to me," she said, with that serious sweetness
of her rare smile that I had used to watch for, as an old
dog watches for his young owner's an old dog that is
used to be forgotten, but does not himself forget, though
he is old. " I must have seemed so thankless ; but he
bade me be silent, and I have no law but him. After
that night when we walked in Nero's fields, and I went
home and learned he loved me ; do you not see I forgot
that there was any one in all the world except himself and
me? It must always be so at least, so I think. Oh,


how true that poem was ! Do you remember how he
read it that night after Mozart amongst the roses by the
fire ? What use was endless life and all the lore of the
spirits and seers to Sospitra ? I was like Sospitra, till he
came ; always thinking of the stars and the heavens in
the desert all alone, and always wishing for life eternal,
when it is only life together that is worth a wish or a
prayer. But why do you look at me so ? Perhaps you
do not understand. Perhaps I am selfish."

This was all that it seemed to her that I did not
understand. Could she see the tears of blood that welled
up in my eyes? Could 'she see the blank despair that
blinded my sight ? Could she see the frozen hand that I
felt clutching at my heart and benumbing it ? I did not
understand ; that was all that it seemed to her.

She was my Ariadne", born again to suffer the same
fate. I saw the future : she could not. I knew that he
would leave her as surely as the night succeeds the day.
I knew that his passion if passion, indeed, it were, and
not only the mere common vanity of subjugation and
possession would pall on him and fade out little by
little, as the stars fade out of the grey morning skies. I
knew, but I had not the courage to tell her.

Men were faithful only to the faithless. But what
could she know of this ?

" Thinking of the stars and of the heavens in the desert
all alone ! Yes ! " I cried ; and the bonds of my silence
were unloosed, and the words rushed from my lips like a
torrent from between the hills.

" Yes ; and never to see the stars any more, and to
lose for ever the peace of the desert that, you think, is
gain! Oh, my dear! what can I say to you? What
can I say ? You will not believe if I tell you. I shall
seem a liar and a prophet of false woe. I shall curse
when I would bless. What can I say to you ? Athene
watched over you. You were of those who dwell alone,


but whom the gods are with. You had the clue and the
sword, and they are nothing to you ; you lose them both
at his word, at the mere breath of his lips, and know no
god but his idle law, that shifts as the winds of the sea.
And you count that gain ? Oh, just Heaven ! Oh, my
dear, my heart is broken ; how can I tell you ? One man
loved you who was great and good, to whom you were a
sacred thing, who would have lifted you up in heaven,
and never have touched too roughly a single hair of
your head ; and you saw him no more than the very
earth that you trod ; he was less to you than the marbles
he wrought in ; and he suffers : arid what do you care ?
You have had the greatest wrong that a woman can
have, and you think it the greatest good, the sweetest
gift ! He has torn your whole life down as a cruel
hand tears a rose in the morning light, and you rejoice !
For what do you know ? He will kill your soul, and
still you will kiss his hand. Some women are so. When
he leaves you, what will you do ? For you there will
only be death. The weak are consoled, but the strong
never. What will you do ? What will you do ? You
are like a child that culls flowers at the edge of a snake's
breeding-pit. He waked you yes ! to send you in a
deeper sleep, blind and dumb to everything but his will.
Nay, nay ! that is not your fault. Love does not come
at will ; and of goodness it is not born, nor of gratitude,
nor of any right or reason on the earth. Only that you
sheuld have had no thought of us no thought at all
only of him by whom your ruin comes ; that seems hard !
Ay, it is hard. You stood just so in my dream, and you
hesitated between the flower of passion and the flower of
death. Ah, well might Love laugh. They grow on the
same bough ; Love knows that. Oh, my dear, my dear,
I come too late ! Look ! he has done worse than murder,
for that only kills the body ; but he has killed the soul in
you. He will crush out all that came to you from heaven ;


all your mind and your hopes and your dreams, and all the
mystery in you, that we poor half-dumb fools call genius,
and that made the common daylight above you full of all
beautiful shapes and visions that our duller eyes could not
see as you went. He has done worse than murder, and
I came to take his life. Ay, I would slay him now as I
would strangle the snake in my path. And even for this
I come too late. I cannot do you even this poor last
service. To strike him dead would only be to strike you
too. I come too late ! Take my knife, lest I should see
him take it. Till he leaves you I will wait."

I drew the fine, thin blade across my knee and broke
it in two pieces, and threw the two halves at her feet.

Then I turned without looking once at her, and went

I do not know how the day waned and passed ; the skies
seemed red with fire, and the canals with blood. I do
not know how I found my road over the marble floors
and out into the air. I only remember that I felt my
way feebly with my hands, as though the golden sunlight
were all darkness, and that I groped my way down the
steps and out under an angle of the masonry, staring
stupidly upon the gliding waters.

I do not know whether a minute had gone by or many
hours, when some shivering sense of sound made me look
up at the casement above, a high, vast casement fretted
with dusky gold and many colours, and all kinds of
sculptured stone. The sun was making a glory as of
jewels on its painted panes. Some of them were open ;
I could see within the chamber Hilarion's fair and deli-
cate head, and his face drooped with a soft smile. I
could see her, with all her loveliness, melting, as it were,
into his embrace, and see her mouth meet his.

If I had not broken the steel !

I rose from the stones and cursed them, and departed
from the place as the moon rose.


I_T E was silent ; the moonlight poured down between
us white and wide ; there lay a little dead bird on
the stones, I remember, a redbreast, stiff and cold. The
people traffic in such things here, in the square of Agrippa;

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 2 of 39)