1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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"VV7ILD bird of sea and cloud, you are a stormy petrel,
** but there may come a storm too many and I
am old. I have done my best, but that is little. If you
were a lad one would not be so uneasy. I suppose the
good God knows best if one could be sure of that I
am a hard working woman, and I have done no great sin
that I know of, but up in heaven they never take any
thought of me. When I was young, I asked them at my
marriage altar to help me, and when my boys were born,
I did the same, but they never noticed ; my man was
drowned, and my beautiful boys got the fever and sickened
one by one and died : that was all I got. Priests say it
is best ; priests are not mothers.


" 'T'HEY were greater than the men that live now,"

she said with a solemn tenderness.

" Perhaps ; Why think so ?"

" Because they were not afraid of their dead j they
built them beautiful houses, and gave them beautiful
things. Now, men are afraid or ashamed, or they have
no remembrance. Their dead are huddled away in dust
or mud as though they were hateful or sinful. That is
what I think so cowardly, so thankless. If they will not
bear the sight of death, it were better to let great ships
go slowly out, far out to sea, and give the waves their
lost ones."


\V7HEN gardeners plant and graft, they know very
^* well what will be the issue of their work ; they do
not expect the rose from a bulb of garlic, or look for the
fragrant olive from a slip of briar ; but the culturers of
human nature are less wise, and they sow poison, yet
rave in reproaches when it breeds and brings forth its
like. " The rosebud garden of girls " is a favourite theme
for poets, and the maiden in her likeness to a half-opened
blossom, is as near purity and sweetness as a human
creature can be, yet what does the world do with its
opening buds? it thrusts them in the forcing-house
amidst the ordure, and then, if they perish prematurely,
never blames itself. The streets absorb the girls of the
poor ; society absorbs the daughters of the rich ; and
not seldom one form of prostitution, like the other, keeps
its captives " bound in the dungeon of their own corrup-

THE frivolous are always frightened at any strength
or depth of nature, or any glimpse of sheer despair.
Not to be consoled !

What can seem more strange to the shallow ? What
can seem more obstinate to the weak? Not to be con-

MOTHS. 355

soled is to offend all swiftly forgetting humanity, most of
whose memories are writ on water.

TT is harder to keep true to high laws and pure instincts
in modern society than it was in days of martyrdom.
There is nothing in the whole range of life so dispiriting
and so unnerving as a monotony of indifference. Active
persecution and fierce chastisement are tonics to the
nerves ; but the mere weary conviction that no one cares,
that no one notices, that there is no humanity that
honours, and no deity that pities, is more destructive of
all higher effort than any conflict with tyranny or with

VET as he thought, so he did not realise that he would
* ever cease to be in the world who does? Life
was still young-.in him, was prodigal to hinrof good gifts ;
of enmity he only knew so much as made his triumph
finer, and of love hs had more than enough. His life
was full at times laborious but always poetical and
always victorious. He could not realise that the day of
darkness would ever come for him, when neither woman
nor man would delight him, when no roses would have
fragrance for him, and no song any spell to rouse him.
Genius gives immortality in another way than in the
vulgar one of being praised by others after death ; it
gives elasticity, unwearied sympathy, and that sense of
some essence stronger than death, of some spirit higher
than the tomb, which nothing can destroy. It is in this
sense that genius walks with the immortals.


A CRUEL story runs on wheels, and every hand oils
** the wheels as they run.

~VOU may weep your eyes blind, you may shout your
A throat dry, you may deafen the ears of your world
for half a lifetime, and you may never get a truth believed
in, never have a simple fact accredited. But the lie flies
like the swallow, multiplies itself like the caterpillar, is
accepted everywhere, like the visits of a king ; it is a
royal guest for whom the gates fly open, the red carpet is
unrolled, the trumpets sound, the crowds applaud.

C HE lived, like all women of her stamp and her epoch,
*^ in an atmosphere of sugared sophisms ; she never
reflected, she never admitted, that she did wrong ; in her
world nothing mattered much, unless, indeed, it were
found out, and got into the public mouth.

Shifting as the sands, shallow as the rain-pools, drifting
in all danger to a lie, incapable of loyalty, insatiably
curious, still as a friend and ill as a foe, kissing like
Judas, denying like Peter, impure of thought, even where
by physical bias or political prudence still pure in act,
the woman of modern society is too often at once the
feeblest and the foulest outcome of a false civilisation.
Useless as a butterfly, corrupt as a canker, untrue to even
lovers and friends because mentally incapable of com-
prehending what truth means, caring only for physical
comfort and mental inclination, tired of living, but afraid
of dying ; believing some in priests, and some in phy-
siologists, but none at all in virtue ; sent to sleep by
chloral, kept awake by strong waters and raw meat ;
bored at twenty, and exhausted at thirty, yet dying in
the harness of pleasure rather than drop out of the race

MOTHS. 357

and live naturally ; pricking their sated senses with the
spur of 'lust, and fancying it love ; taking their passions
as they take absinthe before dinner ; false in everything,
from the swell of their breast to the curls at their throat ;
beside them the guilty and tragic figures of old, the
Medea, the Clytemnaestra, the Phaedra, look almost pure,
seem almost noble.

When one thinks that they are the only shape of
womanhood which comes hourly before so many men,
one comprehends why the old Christianity which made
womanhood sacred dies out day by day, and why the new
Positivism, which would make her divine, can find no
lasting root.

The faith of men can only live by the purity of women,
and there is both impurity and feebleness at the core of
the dolls of Worth, as the canker of the phylloxera works
at the root of the vine.

" YV7HAT an actress was lost in your mother !" he added
with his rough laugh ; but he confused the talent
of the comedian of society with that of the comedian of
the stage, and they are very dissimilar. The latter almost
always forgets herself in her part ; the former never.

"THE scorn of genius is the most arrogant and the most
boundless of all scorn.

"THE fame of the singer can never be but a breath,

A a sound through a reed. When our lips are once

shut, there is on us for ever eternal silence. Who can


remember a summer breeze when it has passed by, or
tell in anv after-time how a laugh or a sigh sounded ?"

" YV7HEN the soldier dies at his post, unhonoured and
" unpitied, and out of sheer duty, is that unreal
because it is noble?" he said one night to his companions.
"When the sister of charity hides her youth and her sex
under a grey shroud, and gives up her whole life to woe
and solitude, to sickness and pain, is that unreal because
it is wonderful? A man paints a spluttering candle, a
greasy cloth, a mouldy cheese, a pewter can ; ' How
real !' they cry. If he paint the spirituality of dawn, the
light of the summer sea, the flame of arctic nights, of
tropic woods, they are called unreal, though they exist
no less than the candle and the cloth, the cheese and the
can. Ruy Bias is now condemned as unreal because the
lovers kill themselves ; the realists forget that there are
lovers still to whom that death would be possible, would
be preferable, to low intrigue and yet more lowering
falsehood. They can only see the mouldy cheese, they
cannot see the sunrise glory. All that is heroic, all that
is sublime, impersonal, or glorious, is derided as unreal.
It is a dreary creed. It will make a dreary world. Is
not my Venetian glass with its iridescent hues of opal as
real every whit as your pot of pewter? Yet the time is
coming when every one, morally and mentally at least,
will be allowed no other than a pewter pot to drink out
of, under pain of being ' writ down an ass ' or worse.
It is a dreary prospect."

OOD ? bad? If there were only good and bad in
this world it would not matter so much," said

MOTHS. 359

Correze a little recklessly and at random. " Life would
not be such a disheartening affair as it is. Unfortunately
the majority of people are neither one nor the other, and
have little inclination for either crime or virtue. It would
be almost as absurd to condemn them as to admire them.
They are like tracts of shifting sand, in which nothing
good or bad can take root. To me they are more des-
pairing to contemplate than the darkest depth of evil ;
out of that may come such hope as comes of redemption
and remorse, but in the vast, frivolous, featureless mass
of society there is no hope."

" ^ O ! " he said with some warmth : " I refuse to re-
* ^ cognise the divinity of noise ; I utterly deny the
majesty of monster choruses ; clamour and clangour are
the death-knell of music as drapery and so-called realism
(which means, if it mean aught, that the dress is more
real than the form underneath it !) are the destruction of
sculpture. It is very strange. Every day art in every
other way becomes more natural and music more artificial.
Every day I wake up expecting to hear myself d/ntgrd
and denounced as old-fashioned, because I sing as my
nature as well as my training teaches me to do. It is
very odd ; there is such a cry for naturalism in other
arts we have Millet instead of Claude ; we have Zola
instead of Georges Sand ; we have Dumas fils instead of
Corneille ; we have Mercie* instead of Canova ; but in
music we have precisely the reverse, and we have the
elephantine creations, the elaborate and pompous com-
binations of Baireuth, and the Tone school, instead of
the old sweet strains of melody that went straight and
clear to the ear and the heart of man. Sometimes my
enemies write in their journals that I sing as if I were a
Tuscan peasant strolling through his corn how proud


they make me ! But they do not mean to do so. I will
not twist and emphasise. I trust to melody. I was
taught music in its own country, and I will not sin against
the canons of the Italians. They are right. Rhetoric
is one thing, and song is another. Why confuse the two ?
Simplicity is the soul of great music ; as it is the mark
of great passion. Ornament is out of place in melody
which represents single emotions at their height, be they
joy, or fear, or hate, or love, or shame, or vengeance, or
whatsoever they will. Music is not a science any more
than poetry is. It is a sublime instinct, like genius of
all kinds. I sing as naturally as other men speak ; let
me remain natural "

CHILDHOOD goes with us like an echo always, a
V* refrain to the ballad of our life. One always wants
one's cradle-air.

't'T'HE poor you have always with you," she said to
* a bevy of great ladies once. " Christ said so.
You profess to follow Christ. How have you the poor
with you ? The back of their garret, the roof of their
hovel, touches the wall of your palace, and the wall is
thick. You have dissipations, spectacles, diversions that
you call charities ; you have a tombola for a famine, you
have a dramatic performance for a flood, you have a con-
cert for a fire, you have a fancy fair for a leprosy. Do
you never think how horrible it is, that mockery of woe?
Do you ever wonder at revolutions ? Why do you not
say honestly that you care nothing ? You do care nothing.
The poor might forgive the avowal of indifference ; they
will never forgive the insult of affected pity."

MOTHS. 361

VV7HY do you go to such a place?" he asked her as
" she stood on the staircase.

" There are poor there, and great misery," she answered
him reluctantly ; she did not care to speak of these things
at any time.

"And what good will you do? You will be cheated
and robbed, and even if you are not, you should know
that political science has found that private charity is the
hotbed of all idleness."

" When political science has advanced enough to pre-
vent poverty, it may have the right to prevent charity too,"
she answered him, with a contempt that showed thought
on the theme was not new to her. " Perhaps charity I
dislike the word may do no good ; but friendship from
the rich to the poor must do good ; it must lessen class

" Are you a socialist ? " said Zouroff with a little laugh,
and drew back and let her pass onward.

" 1\4 ^ ^ ear ' * never sav ruc * e things ; but, if you wish
*** me to be sincere, I confess I think everybody is
a little vulgar now, except old women like me, who ad-
hered to the Faubourg while you all were dancing and
changing your dresses seven times a day at St. Cloud.
There is a sort of vulgarity in the air ; it is difficult to
escape imbibing it ; there is too little reticence, there is
too much tearing about ; men are not well-mannered,
and women are too solicitous to please, and too indifferent
how far they stoop in pleasing. It may be the fault of
steam ; it may be the fault of smoking ; it may come
from that flood of new people of whom ' L'Etrangere ' is
the scarcely exaggerated sample ; but, whatever it comes
from, there it is a vulgarity that taints everything, courts


and cabinets as well as society. Your daughter somehow
or other has escaped it, and so you find her odd, and the
world thinks her stiff. She is neither; but no dignified
long-descended point-lace, you know, will ever let itself
be twisted and twirled into a cascade and a fouillis like
your Brdtonne lace that is just the fashion of the hour,
and worth nothing. I admire your Vera very greatly ;
she always makes me think of those dear old stately hotels
with their grand gardens in which I saw, in my girlhood,
the women who, in theirs, had known France before '30.
These hotels and their gardens are gone, most of them,
and there are stucco and gilt paint in their places. And
here are people who think that a gain. I am not one of


""THE old viscount, haughtiest of haughty nobles, would
never abate one jot of his magnificence; and his
sons had but imbibed the teaching of all that surrounded
them they did but do in manhood what they had been
unconsciously moulded to do in boyhood, when they
were sent to Eton at ten with gold dressing-boxes to
grace their dame's tables, embryo dukes for their co-fags,
and tastes that already knew to a nicety the worth of
the champagnes at Christopher's. The old, old story
how it repeats itself ! Boys grow up amidst profuse
prodigality, and are launched into a world where they
can no more arrest themselves, than the feather-weight
can pull in the lightning-stride of the two-year-old, who
defies all check, and takes the flat as he chooses. They
are brought up like young dauphins, and tossed into the
costly whirl to float as best they can on nothing. Then
on the lives and deaths that follow ; on the graves where
a dishonoured alien lies forgotten by the dark Austrian
lake-side, or under the monastic shadow of some crumb-
ling Spanish crypt ; where a red cross chills the lonely
traveller in the virgin solitudes of Amazonian forest aisles,
or the wild scarlet creepers of Australia trail over a
nameless mound above the trackless stretch of sun-
warmed waters then, at them the world

" Shoots out its lips with scorn."
Not on them lies the blame.


TTIS influence had done more to humanise the men he
was associated with than any preachers or teachers
could have done.

Almost insensibly they grew ashamed to be beaten by
him, and strove to do like him as far as they could.
They never knew him drunk, they never heard him
swear, they never found him unjust, even to a poverty-
stricken indigene, or brutal, even to a fille de joie. In-
sensibly his presence humanised them. Of a surety, the
last part Bertie dreamed of playing was that of a teacher
to any mortal thing. Yet here in Africa it might
reasonably be questioned if a second Augustine or Fran-
c,ois Xavier would ever have done half the good among
the devil-may-care Roumis that was wrought by the
dauntless, listless, reckless soldier, who followed] instinc-
tively the one religion which has no cant in its brave,
simple creed, and binds man to man in links that are as
true as steel the religion of a gallant gentleman's loyalty
and honour.

""THE child had been flung upward, a little straw float-
* ing in the gutter of Paris iniquities ; a little foam-
bell, bubbling on the sewer waters of barrack vice ; the
stick had been her teacher, the baggage-waggon her
cradle, the camp-dogs her playfellows, the caserne oaths
her lullaby, the guidons her sole guiding-stars, the razzia
her sole fete-day : it was little marvel that the bright,
bold, insolent little friend of the flag had nothing left of
her sex save a kitten's mischief and coquette's archness.
It said much rather for the straight, fair, sunlit instincts
of the untaught nature, that Cigarette had gleaned, even
out of such a life, two virtues that she would have held
by to the death, if tried a truthfulness that would have


scorned a lie as only fit for cowards, and a loyalty that
cleaved to France as a religion.

HTIRED as over-worked cattle, and crouched or stretched
* like worn-out homeless dogs, they had never
wakened as he had noiselessly harnessed himself, and
he looked at them with that interest in other lives which
had come to him through adversity ; for if misfortune
had given him strength, it had also given him sympathy.

A ND he did her that injustice which the best amongst
*"* us are apt to do to those whom we do not feel
interest enough in to study with that closeness which
can alone give comprehension of the intricate and com-
plex rebus, so faintly sketched, so marvellously involved,
of human nature.

'"PHE gleam of the dawn spread in one golden glow of
^ the morning, and the day rose radiant over the
world ; they stayed not for its beauty or its peace ; the car-
nage went on hour upon hour ; men began to grow drunk
with slaughter as with raki. It was sublimely grand ; it
was hideously hateful this wild-beast struggle, that heav-
ing tumult of striving lives that ever and anon stirred the
vast war-cloud of smoke and broke from it as the light-
ning from the night. The sun laughed in its warmth over
a thousand hills and streams, over the blue seas lying
northward, and over the yellow sands of the south ; but
the touch of its heat only made the flame in their blood
burn fiercer ; and the fulness of its light only served to
show them clearer where to strike, and how to slay.


CHE might be a careless young coquette, a lawless little
^ brigand, a child of sunny caprices, an elf of daunt-
less mischief; but she was more than these. The divine
fire of genius had touched her, and Cigarette would have
perished for her country not less surely than Jeanne
d'Arc. The holiness of an impersonal love, the glow of
an imperishable patriotism, the melancholy of a passionate
pity for the concrete and unnumbered sufferings of the
people, were in her instinctive and inborn, as fragrance in
the heart of flowers. And all these together moved her
now, and made her young face beautiful as she looked
down upon the crowding soldiery.

A FTER all, Diderot was in the right when he told
f* Rousseau which side of the question to take. On
my life, civilisation develops comfort, but I do believe
it kills nobility. Individuality dies in it, and egotism
grows strong and specious. Why is it that in a polished
life a man, whilst becoming incapable of sinking to crime,
almost always becomes also incapable of rising to great-
ness? Why is it that misery, tumult, privation, blood-
shed, famine, beget, in such a life as this, such countless
things of heroism, of endurance, of self-sacrifice things
mostly of demigods in men who quarrel with the wolves
for a wild-boar's carcase, for a sheep's offal ?

A S for death when it comes it comes. Every soldiet
*^ carries it in his wallet, and it may jump out on him
any minute. I would rather die young than old. Pardi !
age is nothing else but death that is conscious.


TT is misery that is glory the misery that toils with
* bleeding feet under burning suns without complaint ;
that lies half dead through the long night with but one
care, to keep the torn flag free from the conqueror's touch ;
that bears the rain of blows in punishment rather than
break silence and buy release by betrayal of a comrade's
trust ; that is beaten like the mule, and galled like the
horse, and starved like the camel, and housed like the
dog, and yet does the thing which is right, and the thing
which is brave, despite all ; that suffers, and endures, and
pours out his blood like water to the thirsty sands whose
thirst is never stilled, and goes up in the morning sun to
the combat as though death were the Paradise of the
Arbico's dream, knowing the while that no Paradise waits
save the crash of the hoof through the throbbing brain, or
the roll of the gun-carriage over the writhing limb. That
is glory. The misery that is heroism because France
needs it, because a soldier's honour wills it. That is
glory. It is to-day in the hospital as it never is in the
Gourdes Princes where the glittering host of the marshals
gather !

CPARE me the old world-worn, thread-bare formulas.
Because the flax and the colza blossom for 'use,
and the garden flowers grow trained and pruned,
must there be no bud that opens for mere love of the
sun, and swings free in the wind in its fearless fair
fashion? Believe me, it is the lives which follow no
previous rule that do the most good, and give the most

""THE first thing I saw of Cigarette was this: She was

* seven years old ; she had been beaten black and

blue ; she had had two of her tiny teeth knocked out. The


men were furious, she was a pet with them ; and she
would not say who had done it, though she knew twenty
swords would have beaten him flat as a fritter if she had
given his name. I got her to sit to me some days after.
I pleased her with her own picture. I asked her to tell
me why she would not say who had ill-treated her. She
put her head on one side like a robin, and told me, in a
whisper: ' It was one of my comrades because I would
not steal for him. I would not have the army know it
would demoralise them. If a French soldier ever does a
cowardly thing, another French soldier must not betray
it.' That was Cigarette at seven years. The esprit du
corps was stronger than her own wrongs."

A BETTER day's sport even the Quorn had never
if* had in all its brilliant annals, and faster things the
Melton men themselves had never wanted : both those
who love the "quickest thing you ever knew thirty
minutes without a check such a pace!" and care little
whether the finale be "killed" or " broke away," and those
of older fashion, who prefer "long day, you know, steady
r,s old time, the beauties stuck like wax through fourteen
parishes as I live ; six hours if it were a minute ; horses
dead beat ; positively walked, you know, no end of a
day!" but must have the fatal "who-whoop" as conclu-
sion both of these, the " new style and the old," could
not but be content with the doings of the "Demoiselles"
from start to finish.

Was it likely that Cecil remembered the caustic lash of
his father's ironies while he was lifting Mother of Pearl
over the posts and rails, and sweeping on, with the halloo
ringing down the wintry wind as the grasslands flew be-
neath him ? Was it likely that he recollected the diffi-
culties that hung above him while he was dashing down


the Gorse happy as a king, with the wild hail driving in
his face, and a break of stormy sunshine just welcoming
the gallant few who were landed at the death, as twilight
fell? Was it likely that he could unlearn all the lessons

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 25 of 39)