1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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vampire's screech for blood ! " he murmured. " They are
gay at your chateau up yonder."

P> E not a coward who leaves the near duty that is as
*-^ cruel to grasp as a nettle, and flies to gather the far-
off duty that will flaunt in men's sight like a sun-flower.

" A GREAT Character!" says Society, when it means
** " a great Scamp ! "


"CSTMERE laid the panel down as he heard.
"Whoever painted it must have genius."

"Genius!" interrupted Tricotrin. "Pooh! What is
genius ? Only the power to see a little deeper and a little
clearer than most other people. That is all."

" The power of vision ? Of course. But that renders
it none the less rare."

"Oh yes, it is rare rare like kingfishers, and sand-
pipers, and herons, and black eagles. And so men always
shoot it down, as they do the birds, and stick up the dead
body in glass cases, and label it, and stare at it, and be-
moan it as ' so singular,' having done their best to insure
its extinction ! "

Estmere looked keenly at him.

" Surely genius that secretes itself as your friend's must
do," he said, touching the panel afresh, " commits suicide,
and desires its own extinction."

" Pshaw !" said Tricotrin, impatiently, and with none of
his habitual courtesy. " You think the kingfisher and the
black eagle have no better thing to live for than to become
the decorations of a great personage's glass cabinets. You
think genius can find no higher end than to furnish frescoes
and panellings for a nobleman's halls and ante-chambers.
You mistake very much ; the mistake is a general one in
your order. But believe me, the kingfisher enjoys his
brown moorland stream, and his tufts of green rushes,
and his water-swept bough of hawthorn ; the eagle enjoys
his wild rocks, and his sweep through the air, and his
steady gaze at the sun that blinds all human eyes ; and
neither ever imagine that the great men below pity them
because they are not stuffed, and labelled, and praised by
rule in their palaces ! And genius is much of the birds'
fashion of thinking. It lives its own life ; and is not, as
your connoisseurs are given to fancy, wretched unless you
see fit in your graciousness to deem it worth the glass-case
of your criticism, and the straw-stuffing of your gold. For


it knows, as kingfisher and eagle know also, that stuffed
birds nevermore use their wings, and are evermore subject
to be bought and be sold."

A GAINST the foreign foes of your country die in your
** youth if she need it. But against her internecine
enemies live out your life in continual warfare. When I
tell you this, do you dream that I spare you ? Children !
you have yet to learn what life is ! Who could think
it hard to die in the glory of strife, drunk with the sound
of the combat, and feeling no pain in the swoon of a
triumph ? Few men whose blood was hot and young
would ask a greater ending. But to keep your souls in
patience ; to strive unceasingly with evil ; to live in self-
negation, in ceaseless sacrifices of desire ; to give strength
to the weak, and sight to the blind, and light where there
is darkness, and hope where there is bondage ; to do all
these through many years unrecognised of men, content
only that they are done with such force as lies within you,
this is harder than to seek the cannons' mouths, this is
more bitter than to rush, with drawn steel, on your tyrants.
Your women cry out against you because you leave
them to starve and to weep while you give your hearts to
revolution and your bodies to the sword. Their cry is the
cry of selfishness, of weakness, of narrowness, the cry of
the sex that sees no sun save the flame on its hearth : yet
there is truth in it a truth you forget. The truth that,
forsaking the gold-mine of duty which lies at your feet,
you grasp at the rainbow of glory ; that, neglectful of
your own secret sins, you fly at public woes and at national
crimes. Can you not see that if every man took heed of
the guilt of his own thoughts and acts, the world would
be free and at peace ? It is easier to rise with the knife
unsheathed than to keep watch and ward over your own
passions ; but do not cheat yourself into believing that it


is nobler, and higher, and harder. What reproach is cast
against.all revolutionists ? that the men who have nothing
to lose, the men who are reckless and outlawed, alone
raise the flag of revolt. It is a satire ; but in every satire
there lies the germ of a terrible fact.

You you who are children still, you whose manhood
is still a gold scarcely touched in your hands, a gold you
can spend in all great ways, or squander for all base
uses ; you can give the lie to that public reproach, if
only you will live in such wise that your hands shall be
clean, and your paths straight, and your honour unsullied
through all temptations. Wait, and live so that the right
to judge, to rebuke, to avenge, to purify, become yours
through your earning of them. Live nobly first ; and
then teach others how to live.

" CO you have brought Fame to Le'lis, my English

^ lord?" said Tricotrin, without ceremony. "That
was a good work of yours. She is a comet that has a
strange fancy only to come forth like a corpse-candle, and
dance over men's graves. It is her way. When men will
have her out in the noon'of their youth, she kills them ;
and the painter's bier is set under his Transfiguration,
and the soldier's body is chained to the St. Helena rock,
and the poet's grave is made at Missolonghi. It is always

Estmere bowed his head in assent ; he was endeavour-
ing to remember where he had once met this stranger
who thus addressed him where he had once heard these
mellow, ringing, harmonious accents.

"Was it because you were afraid of dying in your
prime that you would never woo Fame then yourself? ''
asked Le'lis, with a smile.

"Oh-he!" answered Tricotrin, seating himself on a


deal box that served as a table, and whereat he and the
artist had eaten many a meal of roast chestnuts and black
coffee ; " I never wanted her ; she is a weather vane, never
still two moments ; she is a spaniel that quits the Plan-
tagenet the moment the battle goes against him, and
fawns on Bolingbroke ; she is an alchemist's crucible,
that has every fair and rich thing thrown into it, but
will only yield in return the calcined stones of chagrin
and disappointment ; she is a harlot, whose kisses are to
be bought, and who runs after those who brawl the loudest
and swagger the finest in the world's market-places. No !
I want nothing of her. My lord here condemned her as
I came in ; he said she was the offspring of echoing
parrots, of imitative sheep, of fawning hounds. Who
can want the creature of such progenitors ?"

"""THERE are many kinds of appreciation. The man
* of science appreciates when he marvels before the
exquisite structure of the sea-shell, the perfect organism
of the flower ; but the young girl appreciates, too, when
she holds the shell to her ear for its music, when she
kisses the flower for its fragrance. Appreciation ! It is
an affair of the reason, indeed ; but it is an affair of the
emotions also."

" And you prefer what is born of the latter? "
" Not ahvays ; but for my music I do. It speaks in
an unknown tongue. Science may have its alphabet,
but it is feeling that translates its poems. Delaroche,
who leaves off his work to listen ; Descamps, in whose
eyes I see tears ; Ingres, who dreams idyls while I play ;
a young poet whose face reflects my thoughts, an old
man whose youth I bring back, an hour of pain that I


soothe, an hour of laughter that I give ; these are my
recompense. Think you I would exchange them for the
gold showers and the diamond boxes of a Farinelli ? "

" Surely not. All I meant was that you might gain a
world-wide celebrity did you choose "

" Gain a honey-coating that every fly may eat me and
every gnat may sting? I thank you. I have a taste to
be at peace, and not to become food to sate the public
famine for a thing to tear."

Estmere smiled ; he did not understand the man who
thus addressed him, but he was attracted despite all his
strongest prejudices.

" You are right ! Under the coat of honey is a shirt
of turpentine. Still to see so great a gift as yours
wasted "

"Wasted? Because the multitudes have it, such as it
is, instead of the units ? Droll arithmetic ! I am with
you in thinking that minorities should have a good share
of power, for all that is wisest and purest is ever in a
minority, as we know ; but I do not see, as you see, that
minorities should command a monopoly of sweet sounds
or of anything else."

" I speak to the musician, not to the politician," said
Estmere, with the calm, chill contempt of his colder
manner : the cold side of his character was touched, and
his sympathies were alienated at once.

Tricotrin, indifferent to the hint as to the rebuff, looked
at him amusedly.

" Oh, I know you well, Lord Estmere ; I told you so not
long ago, to your great disgust. You and your Order think
no man should ever presume to touch politics unless his
coat be velvet and his rent-roll large, like yours. But,
you see, we of the ecole buissonniere generally do as we
like ; and we get pecking at public questions for the
same reason as our brother birds peck at the hips and
the haws because we have no granaries as you have.


You do not like Socialism ? Ah ! and yet affect to follow

" I ! " Estmere looked at this wayside wit, this wine-
house philosopher, with a regard that asked plainly,." Are
you fool or knave ?"

" To be sure," answered Tricotrin. " You have chapel
and chaplain yonder at your chateau, I believe ? The
Book of the Christians is the very manual of Socialism :
' You read the Gospel, Marat ? ' they cried. ' To be sure,'
said Marat. ' It is the most republican book in the
world, and sends all the rich people to hell.' If you do
not like my politics, beau sire, do not listen to the Revo-
lutionist of Galilee."

1VT OT rare on this earth is the love that cleaves to the
* * thing it has cherished through guilt, and through
wrong, and through misery. But rare, indeed, is the love
that still lives while its portion is oblivion, and the thing
which it has followed passes away out to a joy that it can-
not share, to a light that it cannot behold.

For this is as the love of a god, which forsakes not,
though its creatures revile, and blaspheme, and deride

TVER and anon the old, dark, eager, noble face was
lifted from its pillow, and the withered lips mur-
mured three words :

" Is she come?"

For Tricotrin had bent over her bed, and had mur-
mured, " I go to seek her, she is near ; " and grand'mere
had believed and been comforted, for she knew that no
lie passed his lips. And she was very still ; and only the


nervous working of the hard, brown, aged hand showed
the longing of her soul.

Life was going out rapidly, as the flame sinks fast in a
lamp whose oil is spent. The strong and vigorous frame,
the keen and cheery will, had warded off death so long
and bravely ; and now they bent under, all suddenly, as
those hardy trees will bend after a century of wind and
storm bend but once, and only to break for ever.

The red sun in the west was in its evening glory ; and
through the open lattice there were seen in the deep blue
of the sky, the bough of a snow-blossomed pear-tree, the
network of the ivy, and the bees humming among the
jasmine flowers. From the distance there came faintly
the musical cries of the boatmen down the river, the
voices of the vine-tenders in the fields, the singing of a
throstle on a wild-grape tendril.

Only, in the little darkened chamber the old peasant
lay quite still listening, through all the sweet and busy
sounds of summer, for a step that never came.

And little by little all those sounds grew fainter on
her ear : the dulness of death was stealing over all her
senses ; and all she heard was the song of the thrush
where the bird swayed on the vine, half in, half out, of
the lattice.

But the lips moved still, though no voice came, with
the same words : " Is she come ? " and when the lips no
more could move, the dark and straining wistfulness of
the eyes asked the question more earnestly, more terribly,
more ceaselessly.

The thrush sang on, and on, and on ; but to the prayer
of the dying eyes no answer came.

The red sun sank into the purple mists of cloud ; the
song of the bird was ended ; the voice of the watching
girl murmured, " They will come too late ! "

For, as the sun faded off from the vine in the lattice,
and the singing of the bird grew silent, grand'mere raised


herself with her arms outstretched, and the strength of
her youth returned in the hour of dissolution.

" They never come back ! " she cried. " They never
coine back! nor will she ! One dead in Africa and one
crushed beneath the stone and one shot on the barri-
cade. The three went forth together ; but not one re-
turned. We breed them, we nurse them, we foster them;
and the world slays them body and soul, and eats the
limbs that lay in our bosoms, and burns up the souls that
we knew so pure. And she went where they went : she
is dead like them."

Her head fell back ; her mouth was grey and parched,
her eyes had no longer sight ; a shiver ran through the
hardy frame that winter storms and summer droughts
had bruised and scorched so long ; and a passionless and
immeasurable grief came on the brown, weary, age-worn

" All dead ! " she murmured in the stillness of the
chamber, where the song of the bird had ceased, and the
darkness of night had come.

Then through her lips the last breath quivered in a
deep-drawn sigh, and the brave, patient, unrewarded life
passed out for ever.

" "V"OU surely find no debtor such an ingrate, no master

* such a tyrant, as the People ? "

" Perhaps. But, rather I find it a dog that bullies
and tears where it is feared, but may be made faithful
by genuine courage and strict justice shown to it."

" The experience of the musician, then, must be much
more fortunate than the experience of the statesman."

" Why, yes. It is ungrateful to great men, I grant ;
but it has the irritation of its own vague sense that it is
but their tool, their ladder, their grappling-iron, to excuse



it. Still I know well what you mean ; the man who
works for mankind works for a taskmaster who makes
bitter every hour of his life only to forget him with the
instant of his death ; he is ever rolling the stone of human
nature upward toward purer heights, to see it recoil and
rush down into darkness and bloodshed. I know "


BLOWERS are like your poets : they give ungrudg-
ingly, and, like all lavish givers, are seldom recom-
pensed in kind.

We cast all our world of blossom, all our treasure or
frngrance, at the feet of the one we love ; and then,
having spent ourselves in that too abundant sacrifice, you
cry, " A yellow, faded thing ! to the dust-hole with it ! "
and root us up violently, and fling us to rot with the refuse
and offal ; not remembering the days when our burden
of beauty made sunlight in your darkest places, and
brought the odours of a lost paradise to breathe over
your bed of fever.

Well, there is one consolation. Just so likewise do you
deal with your human wonder-flower of genius.

T SIGHED at my square open pane in the hot, sul-
phurous mists of the street, and tried to see the stars
and could not. For, between me and the one small
breadth of sky which alone the innumerable roofs left
visible, a vintner had hung out a huge gilded imperial
crown as a sign on his roof-tree ; and the crown, with its
sham gold turning black in the shadow, hung between
me and the planets.

I knew that there must be many human souls in a like


p'ight with myself, with the light of heaven blocked from
them by a gilded tyranny, and yet I sighed, and sighed,
and sighed, thinking of the white pure stars of Provence
throbbing in the violet skies.

A rose is hardly wiser than a poet, you see : neither
rose nor poet will be comforted, and be content to dwell
in darkness because a crown of tinsel swings on high.

AH! In the lives of you who have wealth and leisure
** we, the flowers, are but one thing among many : we
have a thousand rivals in your porcelains, your jewels,
your luxuries, your intaglios, your mosaics, all your trea-
sures of art, all your baubles of fancy. But in the lives
of the poor we are alone : we are all the art, all the trea-
sure, all the grace, all the beauty of outline, all the purity
of hue that they possess : often we are all their innocence
and all their religion too.

Why do you not set yourselves to make us more abun-
dant in those joyless homes, in those sunless windows ?

"COR the life of a painter is beautiful when he is still
young, and loves truly, and has a genius in him
stronger than calamity, and hears a voice in which he
believes say always in his ear, " Fear nothing. Men
must believe as I do in thee, one day. And meanwhile
we can wait ! "

And a painter in Paris, even though he starve on a few
sous a day, can have so much that is lovely and full of
picturesque charm in his daily pursuits : the long, won-
drous galleries full of the arts he adores ; the rcalite de
Videal around him in that perfect world ; the slow, sweet,
studious hours in the calm wherein all that is great in



humanity alone survives; the trance half adoration,
half aspiration, at once desire and despair before the
face of the Mona Lisa ; then, without, the streets so glad
and so gay in the sweet, living sunshine ; the quiver of
green leaves among gilded balconies ; the groups at every
turn about the doors ; the glow of colour in market-place
and peopled square ; the quaint grey piles in old historic
ways ; the stones, from every one of which some voice
from the imperishable Past cries out ; the green and silent
woods, the little leafy villages, the winding waters garden-
girt ; the forest heights, with the city gleaming and golden
in the plain ; all these are his.

With these and youth who shall dare say the painter
is not rich ay, though his board be empty, and his cup
be dry ?

I had not loved Paris I, a little imprisoned rose,
caged in a clay pot, and seeing nothing but the sky-line
of the roofs. But I grew to love it, hearing from Rene"
and from Lili of all the poetry and gladness that Paris
made possible in their young and burdened lives, and
which could have been thus possible in no other city of
the earth.

City of Pleasure you have called her, and with truth ;
but why not also City of the Poor? For what city, like
herself, has remembered the poor in her pleasure, and
given to them, no less than to the richest, the treasure of
her laughing sunlight, of her melodious music, of her gra-
cious hues, of her million flowers, of her shady leaves, of
her divine ideals ?


T T was a strange, gaunt wilderness of stone, this old villa
of the Marchioni. It would have held hundreds of
gerving-men. It had as many chambers as one of the
palaces down in Rome ; but life is homely and frugal
here, and has few graces. The ways of everyday Italian
life in these grand old places are like nettles and
thistles set in an old majolica vase that has had knights
and angels painted on it. You know what I mean, you
who know Italy. Do you remember those pictures of
Vittario Carpacio and of Gentile ? They say that is the
life our Italy saw once in her cities and her villas ; that
is the life she wants. Sometimes when you are all alone
in these vast deserted places the ghosts of all that
pageantry pass by you, and they seem fitter than the
living people for these courts and halls.

T HAD been no saint. I had always been ready for
* jest or dance or intrigue with a pretty woman, a,nd
sometimes women far above me had cast their eyes down
on the arena as in Spain ladies do in the bull-ring to pick
a lover out thence for his strength: but I had never cared.
I had loved, laughed, and wandered away with the strol-
ler's happy liberty ; but I had never cared. Now all at
once the whole world seemed dead ; dead, heaven and


earth ; and only one woman's two eyes left living in the
universe ; living, and looking into my soul and burning it
to ashes. Do you know what I mean ? No ? ay, then
you know not love.

COMETIMES I think love is the darkest mystery of
^ life : mere desire will not explain it, nor will the
passions or the affections. You pass years amidst crowds,
and know naught of it ; then all at once you meet a
stranger's eyes, and never are you free. That is love.
Who shall say whence it comes ? It is a bolt from the
gods that descends from heaven and strikes us down into
hell. We can do nothing.

TN Italy one wants so little ; the air and the light, nnd
* a little red wine, and the warmth of the wind, and a
handful of maize or of grapes, and an old guitar, and a
niche to sleep in near a fountain that murmurs and sings
to the mosses and marbles these are enough in Italy.

TDETTY laws breed great crimes,
big, remember that.

Few rulers, little or

T 'ESPRIT du docker is derided nowadays. But it
~" may well be doubted whether the age which derides
it will give the world anything one-half as tender and
true in its stead. It is peace because it is content ; and it
is a peace which has in it the germ of heroism : menaced, it
produces patriotism the patriotism whose symbol is Tell.


""THE tyrannies of petty law hurt the authority of the
* State more with the populace than all the severity
of a Draconian code against great offences. Petty laws
may annoy but can never harm the rich, for they can
always evade them or purchase immunity; but petty laws
for the poor are as the horse-fly on the neck and on the
eyelids of the horse.

TT was in the month of April ; outside the walls and on
* the banks of Tiber, still swollen by the floods of
winter, one could see the gold of a million daffodils and
the bright crimson and yellow of tulips in the green corn.
The scent of flowers and herbs came into the town and
filled its dusky and narrow ways ; the boatmen had green
branches fastened to their masts ; in the stillness of
evening one heard the song of crickets, and even a mos-
quito would come and blow his shrill little trumpet, and
one was willing to say to him " Welcome ! " because on
his little horn he blew the glad news, " Summer is here ! "


" A YOUNG man married is a man that's marred."
*" That's a golden rule, Arthur ; take it to heart.
Anne Hathaway, I have not a doubt, suggested it ; expe-
rience is the sole asbestos, only unluckily one seldom gets
it before one's hands are burnt irrevocably. Shakespeare
took to wife the ignorant, rosy-cheeked Warwickshire
peasant girl at eighteen ! Poor fellow ! I picture him,
with all his untried powers, struggling like new-born
Hercules for strength and utterance, and the great germ
of poetry within him, tingeing all the common realities of
life with its rose hue ; genius giving him power to see
with god-like vision the "fairies nestling in the cowslip
chalices," and the golden gleam of Cleopatra's sails ; to
feel the "spiced Indian air" by night, and the wild working
of kings' ambitious lust ; to know by intuition, alike the
voices of nature unheard by common ears, and the fierce
schemes and passions of a world from which social posi-
tion shut him out ! I picture him in his hot, imaginative
youth, finding his first love in the yeoman's daughter at
Shottery, strolling with her by the Avon, making her an
" odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds," and dressing
her up in the fond array of a boy's poetic imaginings !
Then when he had married her, he, with the passionate
ideals of Juliets and Violas, Ophelias and Hermiones in


his brain and heart, must have awakened to find that the
voices so sweet to him were dumb to her. The " cinque
spotted cowslip bells " brought only thoughts of wine to
her. When he was watching "certain stars shoot madly
from their spheres," she most likely was grumbling at him
for mooning there after curfew bell. When he was learn-
ing Nature's lore in " the fresh cup of the crimson rose,"
she was dinning in his ear that Hammet and Judith

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 20 of 39)