1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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it had fallen, doubtless, off some market stall.

Poor little robin ! All the innocent sweet woodland
singing-life of it was over, over in agony, and not a soul
in all the wide earth was the better for its pain ; not
even the huckster who had missed making his copper
coin by it. Woe is me ; the sorrow of the world is great.

I pointed to it where it lay, poor little soft huddled
heap of bright feathers ; there is no sadder sight than
a dead bird, for what lovelier life can there be than a
bird's life, free in the sun and the rain, in the blossom
and foliage ?

" Make the little cold throat sing at sunrise," I said to
him. "When you can do that, then think to undo what
you have done."

" She will forget : "

"You know she never will forget. There is your

" She will have her art "

"Will the dead bird sing?"

LJ ERE, if anywhere in the " divine city of the Vatican"
* * for in truth a city and divine it is, and well has
it been called so here, if anywhere, will wake the soul
of the artist ; here, where the very pavement bears the
story of Odysseus, and each passage-way is a Via Sacra,
and every stone is old with years whose tale is told by
hundreds or by thousands, and the wounded Adonis can
be adored beside the tempted Christ of Sistine, and the
serious beauty of the Erythean Sibyl lives beside the
laughing grace of ivy-crowned Thalia, and the Jupiter


Maximus frowns on the mortals made of earth's dust,
and the Jehovah who has called forth woman meets the
first smile of Eve. A Divine City indeed, holding in its
innumerable chambers and its courts of granite and of
porphyry all that man has ever dreamed of, in his hope
and in his terror, of the Unknown God.

'""THE days of joyous, foolish mumming came the
* carnival mumming that as a boy I had loved so
well, and that, ever since I had come and stitched under
my Apollo and Crispin, I had never been loth to meddle
and mix in, going mad with my lit taper, like the rest,
and my whistle of the Befana, and all the salt and sport
of a war of wits such as old Rome has always heard in
midwinter since the seven nights of the Saturnalia.

Dear Lord ! to think that twice a thousand years ago
and more, along these banks of Tiber, and down in the
Velabrum and up the Sacred Way, men and women and
children were leaping, and dancing, and shouting, and
electing their festal king, and exchanging their new-year
gifts of wax candles and little clay figures : and that
now-a-days we are doing just the same thing in the same
season, in the same places, only with all the real faunic
joyfulness gone out of it with the old slain Saturn, and a
great deal of empty and luxurious show come in instead !
It makes one sad, mankind looks such a fool.

Better be Heine's fool on the seashore, who asks the
winds their "wherefore" and their "whence." You re-
member Heine's poem that one in the "North Sea"
series, that speaks of the man by the shore, and asks
what is Man, and what shall become of him, and who
lives on high in the stars ? and tells how the waves keep
on murmuring and the winds rising, the clouds scudding
before the breeze, and the planets shining so cold and so


far, and how on the shore a fool waits for an answer, and
waits in vain. It is a terrible poem, and terrible because
it is true.

Every one of us stands on the brink of the endless sea
that is Time and is Death ; and all the blind, beautiful,
mute, majestic forces of creation move around us and
yet tell us nothing.

It is wonderful that, with this awful mystery always
about us, we can go on on our little lives as cheerfully
as we do ; that on the edge of that mystical shore we
yet can think so much about the crab in the lobster-
pot, the eel in the sand, the sail in the distance, the
child's face at home.

Well, no doubt it is heaven's mercy that we can do
so; it saves from madness such thinking souls as are
amongst us.

" M ^ dear, f l ve there is very little in the world.
-^ There are many things that take its likeness :
fierce unstable passions and poor egotisms of all sorts,
vanities too, and many other follies Apate and Philotes
in a thousand masquerading characters that gain great
Love discredit. The loves of men, and women too, my
dear, are hardly better very often than Minos' love for
Skylla ; you remember how he threw her down from the
stern of his vessel when he had made the use of her he
wished, and she had cut the curls of Nisias. A great
love does not of necessity imply a great intelligence, but
it must spring out of a great nature, that is certain ; and
where the heart has spent itself in much base petty com-
merce, it has no deep treasury of gold on which to draw ;
it is bankrupt from its very over-trading. A noble passion
is very rare ; believe me ; as rare as any other very noble


" P\O you call him a poet because he has the trick of a
*-^ sonorous cadence and of words that fall with the
measure of music, so that youths and maidens recite them
for the vain charm of their mere empty sound ? It is a
lie it is a blasphemy. A poet ! A poet suffers for the
meanest thing that lives ; the feeblest creature dead in
the dust is pain to him ; his joy and his sorrow alike
outweigh tenfold the joys and the sorrows of men ; he
looks on the world as Christ looked on Jerusalem, and
weeps ; he loves, and all heaven and all hell are in his
love ; he is faithful unto death, because fidelity alone
can give to love the grandeur and the promise of eter-
nity ; he is like the martyrs of the church who lay upon
the wheel with their limbs racked, yet held the roses of
Paradise in their hands and heard the angels in the air.
That is a poet ; that is what Dante was, and Shelley
and Milton and Petrarca. But this man? this singer
of the senses, whose sole lament is that the appetites
of the body are too soon exhausted ; this languid and
curious analysis! who rends the soul aside with merciless
cruelty, and puts away the quivering nerves with cold in-
difference, once he has seen their secrets ? this a poet ?
Then so was Nero harping ! Accursed be the book and
all the polished vileness that his verses ever palmed off
on men by their mere tricks of sound. This a poet ! As
soon are the swine that rout the garbage, the lions of the
Apocalypse by the throne of God ! "

"THE glad water sparkles and ripples everywhere ;
* above the broad porphyry basins butterflies of
every colour flutter, and swallows fly ; lovers and chil-
dren swing balls of flowers, made as only our Romans
know how to make them ; the wide lawns under the
deep-shadowed avenues are full of blossoms ; the air is
full of fragrance ; the palms rise against a cloudless sky;


the nights are lustrous; in the cool of the great galleries
the statues seem to smile : so spring had been to me
always ; but now the season was without joy, and the
scent of the flowers on the wind hurt me as it smote
my nostrils.

For a great darkness seemed always between me and
the sun, and I wondered that the birds could sing, and
the children run amongst the blossoms the world being
so vile.

"VW"OMEN hope that the dead love may revive; but
men know that of all dead things none are so
past recall as a dead passion.

The courtesan may scourge it with a whip of nettles
back into life ; but the innocent woman may wet it for
ever with her tears, she will find no resurrection.

A RT is an angel of God, but when Love has entered the
** soul, the angel unfolds its plumes and takes flight,
and the wind of its wings withers as it passes. He whom
it has left misses the angel at his ear, but he is alone for
ever. Sometimes it will seem to him then that it had
been no angel ever, but a fiend that lied, making him
waste his years in a barren toil, and his nights in a
joyless passion ; for there are two things beside which
all Art is but a mockery and a curse : they are a child
that is dying and a love that is lost.

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.

HPHE little garden of the Rospigliosi seems to have all
* mediaeval Rome shut in it, as you go up the winding
stairs with all their lichens and water-plants' and broken
marbles, into the garden itself, with its smooth emerald
turf and spreading magnolias, and broad fish-ponds, and
orange and citron trees, and the frescoed building at the
end where Guide's Aurora floats in unchanging youth,
and the buoyant Hours run before the sun.

Myself I own I care not very much for that Aurora ;
she is no incarnation of the morning, and though she
floats wonderfully and does truly seem to move, yet is
she in nowise ethereal nor suggestive of the dawn either
of day or life. When he painted her, he must have been
in love with some lusty taverner's buxom wife busked in
her holiday attire.

But whatever one may think of the famed Aurora, of
the loveliness of her quiet garden home, safe in the shelter
of the stately palace walls, there can be no question ; the
little place is beautiful, and sitting in its solitude with
the brown magnolia fruit falling on the grass, and the
blackbirds pecking between the primroses, all the courtly
and superb pageant of the dead ages will come trooping by
you, and you will fancy that the boy Metastasio is reciting
strophesunderyonder Spanish chestnut-tree, and cardinals,
and nobles, and gracious ladies, and pretty pages are all
listening, leaning against the stone rail of the central water.

For this is the especial charm and sorcery of Rome,
that, sitting idly in her beautiful garden-ways, you can
turn over a score of centuries and summon all their
pomp and pain before you, as easily as little children
can turn over the pages of a coloured picture-book until
their eyes are dazzled.


TT is so easy for the preacher, when he has entered
the days of darkness, to tell us to find no flavour
in the golden fruit, no music in the song of the
charmer, no spell in eyes that look love, no delirium in
the soft dreams of the lotus so easy when these things
are dead and barren for himself, to say they are for-
bidden ! But men must be far more or far less than
mortal ere they can blind their eyes, and dull their senses,
and forswear their nature, and obey the dreariness of the
commandment ; and there is little need to force the sack-
cloth and the serge upon us. The roses wither long be-
fore the wassail is over, and there is no magic that will
make them bloom again, for there is none that renews
us youth. The Helots had their one short, joyous fes-
tival in their long year of labour ; life may leave us ours.
It will be surely to us, long before its close, a harder
tyrant and a more remorseless taskmaster than ever was
the Lacedemonian to his bond-slaves, bidding us make
bricks without straw, breaking the bowed back, and
leaving us as our sole chance of freedom the hour
when we shall turn our faces to the wall and die.

COCIETY, that smooth and sparkling sea, is exces-

sively difficult to navigate ; its surf looks no more

than champagne foam, but a thousand quicksands and


shoals lie beneath : there are breakers ahead for more
than half the dainty pleasure-boats that skim their hour
upon it ; and the foundered lie by millions, forgotten,
five fathoms deep below. The only safe ballast upon it
is gold dust ; and if stress of weather come on you, it will
swallow you without remorse. Trevenna had none of
this ballast ; he had come out to sea in as ticklish a
cockle-shell as might be ; he might go down any moment,
and he carried no commission, being a sort of nameless,
unchartered rover : yet float he did, securely.

(~^ ORALS, pink and delicate, rivet continents together;
^-^ ivy tendrils, that a child may break, hold Norman
walls with bonds of iron ; a little ring, a toy of gold, a
jeweller's bagatelle, forges chains heavier than the galley-
slave's : so a woman's look may fetter a lifetime.

LJ E had passed through life having escaped singularly
* all the shadows that lie on it for most men ; and
he had, far more than most, what may be termed the
faculty for happiness a gift, in any temperament, whose
wisdom and whose beauty the world too little recognises.

A TEMPERAMENT that is never earnest is at times
** well-nigh as wearisome as a temperament that is
never gay ; there comes a time when, if you can never
touch to any depth, the ceaseless froth and brightness of
the surface will create a certain sense of impatience, a
certain sense of want.


A STRAW misplaced will make us enemies ; a mill-
** stone of benefits hung about his neck may fail to
anchor down by us a single friend. We may lavish what
we will kindly thought, loyal service, untiring aid, and
generous deed and they are all but as oil to the burning,
as fuel to the flame, when spent upon those who are jealous
of us.

HPRUTH is a rough, honest, helter-skelter terrier, that
* none like to see brought into their drawing-rooms,
throwing over all their dainty little ornaments, upsetting
their choicest Dresden, that nobody guessed was cracked
till it fell with the mended side uppermost, and keeping
every one in incessant tremor lest the next snap should be
at their braids or their boots, of which neither the varnish
nor the luxuriance will stand rough usage.

YV7HEN will men learn to know that the power of
" genius, and the human shell in which it chances
to be harboured, are as distinct as is the diamond from
the quartz-bed in which they find it ?

TJ AD he embraced dishonour, and accepted the rescue
that a lie would have lent him, this misery in its
greatest share had never been upon him. He would have
come hither with riches about him, and the loveliness he
had worshipped would have been his own beyond the touch
of any rival's hand. Choosing to cleave to the old creeds
of his race, and passing, without a backward glance, into
the paths of honour and of justice, it was thus with him
now. Verily, virtue must be her own reward, as in the


Socratic creed ; for she will bring no other dower than
peace of conscience in her gift to whosoever weds her.
"I have loved justice, and fled from iniquity ; wherefore
here I die in exile," said Hildebrand upon his death-bed.
They will be the closing words of most lives that have
followed truth.

""THERE are liberties sweeter than love ; there are
* goals higher than happiness.

Some memory of them stirred in him there, with the
noiseless flow of the lingering water at his feet, and above
the quiet of the stars ; the thoughts of his youth came
back to him, and his heart ached with their longing.

Out of the salt depths of their calamity men had
gathered the heroisms of their future ; out of the desert
of their exile they had learned the power to return as
conquerors. The greater things within him awakened
from their lethargy ; the innate strength so long untried,
so long lulled to dreamy indolence and rest, uncoiled from
its prostration ; the force that would resist and, it might
be, survive, slowly came upon him, with the taunts of his
foe. It was possible that there was that still in him which
might be grander and truer to the ambitions of his ima-
ginative childhood under adversity, than in the voluptuous
sweetness of his rich and careless life. It was possible, if
if he could once meet the fate he shuddered from, once
look at the bitterness of the life that waited for him, and
enter on its desolate and arid waste without going back
to the closed gates of his forfeited paradise to stretch his
limbs within their shadow once more ere he died.

There is more courage needed oftentimes to accept the
onward flow of existence, bitter as the waters of Marah,
black and narrow as the channel of Jordan, than there is
ever needed to bow down the neck to the sweep of the
death-angel's sword.


1_J E accepted the desolation of his life, for the sake of
A all beyond life, greater than life, which looked
down on him from the silence of the night.

TT was sunset in Venice, that supreme moment when
the magical flush of light transfigures all, and wan-
derers whose eyes have long ached with the greyness and
the glare of northward cities gaze and think themselves in
heaven. The still waters of the lagunes, the marbles and
the porphyry and the jasper of the mighty palaces, the soft
grey of the ruins all covered with clinging green and the
glowing blossoms of creepers, the hidden antique nooks
where some woman's head leaned out of an arched case-
ment, like a dream of the Dandolo time when the Adriatic
swarmed with the returning galleys laden with Byzantine
spoil, the dim, mystic, majestic walls that towered above
the gliding surface of the eternal water, once alive with
flowers, and music, and the gleam of golden tresses, and
the laughter of careless revellers in the Venice of Goldoni,
in the Venice of the Past ; everywhere the sunset glowed
with the marvel of its colour, with the wonder of its warmth.
Then a moment, and it was gone. Night fell with the
hushed shadowy stillness that belongs to Venice alone ;
and in the place of the riot and luxuriance of colour there
was the tremulous darkness of the young night, with the
beat of an oar on the water, the scent of unclosing carna-
tion-buds, the white gleam of moonlight, and the odour of
lilies-of-the-valley blossoming in the dark archway of some
mosaic-lined window.

T^HE ruin that had stripped him of all else taught him to
fathom the depths of his own attainments. He had
in him the gifts of a Goethe ; but it was only under adver-
sity that these reached their stature and bore their fruit.


'T'HE words were true. The bread of bitterness is the
* food on which men grow to their fullest stature ; the
waters of bitterness are the debatable ford through which
they reach the shores of wisdom ; the ashes boldly grasped
and eaten without faltering are the price that must be paid
for the golden fruit of knowledge. The swimmer cannot
tell his strength till he has gone through the wild force of
opposing waves ; the great man cannot tell the might of his
hand and the power of his resistance till he has wrestled
with the angel of adversity, and held it close till it has
blessed him.

'T'HE artist was true to his genius; he knew it a greater
A gift than happiness ; and as his hands wandered by
instinct over the familiar notes, the power of his king-
dom came to him, the passion of his mistress was on him,
and the grandeur of the melody swelled out to mingle
with the night, divine as consolation, supreme as victory.

"THE man who puts chains on another's limbs is only
one shade worse than he who puts fetters on another's
free thoughts and on another's free conscience.

/^\NE fetter of tradition loosened, one web of super-
^^ stition broken, one ray of light let in on dark-
ness, one principle of liberty secured, are worth the
living for, he mused. Fame ! it is the flower of a day,
that dies when the next sun rises. But to do some-
thing, however little, to free men from their chains, to
aid something, however faintly, the rights of reason and
of truth, to be unvanquished through all and against all,
these may bring one nearer the pure ambitions of youth.


Happiness dies as age comes to us ; it sets for ever, with
the suns of early years : yet perhaps we may keep a
higher thing beside which it holds but a brief loyalty, if
to ourselves we can rest true, if for the liberty of the
world we can do anything.

T^\O not believe that happiness makes us selfish;
"^ it is a treason to the sweetest gift of life. It is
when it has deserted us that it grows hard to keep all
the better things in us from dying in the blight.

"/COLERIDGE cried, 'O God, how glorious it is to
^ live !' Renan asks, ' O God, when will it be worth
while to live?' In nature we echo the poet ; in the world
we echo the thinker."

"^yET you are greater than you were then," he said,
slowly. " I know it, I who am but a wine-cup
rioter and love nothing but my summer-day fooling.
You are greater ; but the harvest you sow will only be
reaped over your grave."

" I should be content could I believe it would be
reaped then." ,

"Be content then. You may be so."

" God knows ! Do you not think Marsy and Delisle
de Sales and Linguet believed, as they suffered in their
dungeons for mere truth of speech, that the remembrance
of future generations would solace them ? Bichat gave
himself to premature death for science' sake ; does the


world once in a year speak his name ? Yet how near
those men are to us, to be forgotten ! A century, and
history will scarce chronicle them."

"Then why give the wealth of your intellect to

"Are there not higher things than present reward and
the mere talk of tongues? The monstrari digito were
scarce a lofty goal. We may love Truth and strive to
serve her, disregarding what she brings us. Those who
need a bribe from her are not her true believers."

Philippe d'Orvale tossed his silvery hair from his eyes,
eyes of such sunny lustre still.

" Ay ! And those who held that sublime code of yours,
that cleaving to truth for truth's sake, where are they ?
How have they fared in every climate and in every age ?
Stoned, crucified, burned, fettered, broken on the vast
black granite mass of the blind multitude's brutality, of
the priesthood's curse and craft ! "

"True ! Yet if through us, ever so slightly, the bon-
dage of the creeds' traditions be loosened from the lives
they stifle, and those multitudes so weary, so feverish,
so much more to be pitied than condemned become
less blind, less brute, the sacrifice is not in vain."

" In your sense, no. But the world reels back again
in:o darkness as soon as a hand has lifted it for a while
into light. Men hold themselves purified, civilised ; a
year of war, and lust and bloodthirst rage untamed in
all their barbarism ; a taste of slaughter, and they are
wolves again ! There was truth in the old feudal saying,
'Oignez vilain, il vous poindra; poignez vilain, il vous
cindra.' Beat the multitudes you talk of with a despot's
sword, and they will lick your feet ; touch them with a
Christ-like pity, and they will nail you to the cross."

There was terrible truth in the words : this man of
princely blood, who disdained all sceptres and wanted
nothing of the world, could look through and through


it with his bold sunlit eyes, and see its rottenness to the

Chandos sighed as he heard.

" You are right, only too right. Yet even while they
crouch to the tyrant's sabre, how bitterly they need
release ! even while they crucify their teachers and their
saviours, how little they know what they do ! They may
forsake themselves ; but they should not be forsaken."

Philippe d'Orvale looked on him with a light soft as
woman's tears in his eyes, and dashed his hand down on
the alabaster.

"Chandos, you live twenty centuries too late. You
would have been crowned in Athens, and throned in
Asia. But here, as a saving grace, they will call you
' mad ! ' "

" Well, if they do ? The title has its honours. It was
hooted against Solon and Socrates."

" T WOULD do all in the world to please you, man-
A seigneur," he answered, sadly ; " but I cannot
change my nature. The little aziola loves the shade,
and shrinks from noise and glare and all the ways of
men ; I am like it. You cannot make the aziola a bird
for sunlight ; you cannot make me as others are."

Chandos looked down on him with an almost tender
compassion. To him, whose years were so rich in every
pleasure and every delight that men can enjoy, the lone-
liness and pain of Lulli's life, divorced from all the living
world, made it a marvel profoundly melancholy, pro-
foundly formed to claim the utmost gentleness and

" I would not have you as others are, Lulli," he said,
softly. " If in all the selfishness and pleasures of our
world there were not some here and there to give their


lives to high thoughts and to unselfish things, as you give

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 3 of 39)