1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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through the grasses, staining red the arid turf.
And the sun had gone down upon his wrath.

TV/I ES freres ! it is well for us that we are no seers !
Were we cursed with prevision, could we know
how, when the idle trifle of the present hour shall have
been forged into a link of the past, it will stretch out and
bind captive the whole future in its bonds, we should be
paralysed, hopeless, powerless, old ere we were young !
It is well for us that we are no seers. Were we cursed
with second sight, we should see the white shroud breast-
high above the living man, the phosphor light of death
gleaming on the youthful radiant face, the feathery seed,
lightly sown, bearing in it the germ of the upas-tree ; the
idle careless word, daily uttered, carrying in its womb the
future bane of a lifetime ; we should see these things till
we sickened, and reeled, and grew blind with pain before
the ghastly face of the Future, as men in ancient days
before the loathsome visage of the Medusa !

/^CONTRETEMPS generally have some saving crumbs
^** of consolation for those who laugh at fate, and look
good-humouredly for them ; life's only evil to him who
wears it awkwardly, and philosophic resignation works
as many miracles as Harlequin ; grumble, and you go
to the dogs in a wretched style ; make mots on your own
misery, and you've no idea how pleasant a trajet even
drifting " to the bad " may become.


T^HE statue that Strathmore at once moulded and
marred was his life : the statue which we all, as we
sketch it, endow with the strength of the Milo, the glory
of the Belvedere, the winged brilliance of the Perseus !
which ever lies at its best ; when the chisel has dropped
from our hands, as they grow powerless and paralysed
with death ; like the mutilated torso ; a fragment un-
finished and broken, food for the ants and worms, buried
in the sands that will quickly suck it down from sight or
memory, with but touches of glory and of value left here
and there, only faintly serving to show what might have
been, had we had time, had we had wisdom !

VV7ITH which satirical reflection on his times and his
order drifting through his mind, Strathmore's
thoughts floated onward to a piece of statecraft then
numbered among the delicate diplomacies and intricate
embroglie of Europe, whose moves absorbed him as the
finesses of a problem absorb a skilful chess-player, and
from thence stretched onwards to his future, in which he
lived, like all men of dominant ambition, far more than
he lived in his present. It was a future brilliant, secure,
brightening in its lustre, and strengthening in its power,
with each successive year ; a future which was not to
him as to most wrapped in a chiaroscuro, with but'points
of luminance gleaming through the mist, but !in whose
cold glimmering light he seemed to see clear and distinct,
as we see each object of the far-off landscape stand out
in the air of a winter's noon, every thread that he should
gather up, every distant point to which he should pass
onward ; a future singular and characteristic, in which
state-power was the single ambition marked out, from
\\-hich the love of women was banished, in which pleasure
and wealth were as little regarded as in Lacedsemon, in


which age would be courted, not dreaded, since with it
alone would come added dominion over the minds of
men, and in which, as it stretched out before him, failure
and alteration were alike impossible. What, if he lived,
could destroy a future that would be solely dependent on,
solely ruled by, himself? By his own hand alone would
his future be fashioned ; would he hew out any shape
save the idol that pleased him ? When we hold the chisel
ourselves, are we not secure to have no error in the
work? Is it likely that our hand will slip, that the
marble we select will be dark-veined, and brittle, and
impure, that the blows of the mallet will shiver our handi-
work, and that when we plan a Milo god of strength
we shall but mould and sculpture out a Laocoon of
torture? Scarcely; and Strathmore held the chisel,
and, certain of his own skill, was as sure of what he
should make of life as Benvenuto, when he bade the
molten metal pour into the shape that he, master-crafts-
man, had fashioned, and gave to the sight of the world
the Winged Perseus. But Strathmore did not remember
what Cellini did that one flaw mitrht mar the whole !

TN the little milfefaurs-scented billet lay, unknown to
* its writer as to him, the turning-point of his life !
God help us ! what avail are experience, prescience,
prudence, wisdom, in this world, when at every chance
step the silliest trifle, the most commonplace meeting,
an invitation to dinner, a turn down the wrong street, the
dropping of a glove, the delay of a train, the introduction
to an unnoticed stranger, will fling down every precaution,
and build a fate for us of which we never dream? Of
what avail for us to erect our sand-castle when every
chance blast of air may blow it into nothing, and driit
another into form that we have no power to move?


Life hinges upon hazard, and at every turn wisdom is
mocked by it, and energy swept aside by it, as the battled
dykes are worn away, and the granite walls beaten down
by the fickle ocean waves, which, never two hours to-
gether alike, never two instants without restless motion,
are yet as changeless as they are capricious, as omnipo-
tent as they are fickle, as cruel as they are countless !
Men and mariners may build their bulwarks, but hazard
and the sea will overthrow and wear away both alike at
their will their wild and unreined will, which no fore-
sight can foresee, no strength can bridle.

Was it not the mere choice between the saddle and
the barouche that day when Ferdinand d'Orldans flung
down on second thoughts his riding-whip upon the con-
sole at the Tuileries, and ordered his carriage instead of
his horse, that cost himself his life, his son a throne, the
Bourbon blood their royalty, and France for long years
her progress and her peace ? Had he taken up his whip
instead of laying it aside, he might be living to-day with
the sceptre in his hand, and the Bee, crushed beneath
his foot, powerless to sting to the core of the Lily ! Of
all strange things in human life, there is none stranger
than the dominance of Chance.

LJE landed and went into Silver-rest in the morning
* light. Far as the eye could reach stretched the
deep still waters of the bay ; the white sails of his yacht
and of the few fishing skiffs in the offing stood out
distinct and glancing in the sun ; over the bluffs and in
all the clefts of rock the growing grass blew and flickered
in the breeze ; and as he crossed the sands the air was
fragrant with the scent of the wild flowers that grew
down to the water's edge. But to note these things a
man must be in unison with the world ; and to love them


he must be in unison with himself. Strathmore scarce
saw them as he went onward.

TF a military man's friend dies who had the step above
him, his first thought is " Promotion ! deucedly lucky
for me ! " His next, " Poor fellow, what a pity ! " always
comes two seconds after. I understand Voltaire. If
your companion's existence at table makes you have a
dish dressed as you don't like it, you are naturally relieved
if an apoplectic fit empties his chair, and sets you free
to say, " Point de saiice blanche ! " All men are egotists,
they only persuade themselves they are not selfish by
swearing so often, that at last they believe what they say.
No motive under the sun will stand the microscope ;
human nature, like a faded beauty, must only have a
demi-lumih' j draw the blinds up, and the blotches
come out, the wrinkles show, and the paint peels off.
The beauty scolds the servants men hiss the satirists
who dare to let in daylight !

THE Frenchwoman prides herself on being thought
unfaithful to her husband ; the Englishwoman
on being thought faithful to him ; but though their
theories are different, their practice comes to much the
same thing.


"W7HEN Zeus, half in sport and half in cruelty, made
" man, young Hermes, who, as all Olympus knew,
was for ever at some piece of mischief, insisted on med-
dling with his father's work, and got leave to fashion the
human ear out of a shell that he chanced to have by
him, across which he stretched a fine cobweb that he
stole from Arachne. But he hollowed and twisted the
shell in such a fashion that it would turn back all sounds
except very loud blasts that Falsehood should blow on a
brazen horn, whilst the impenetrable web would keep out
all such whispers as Truth could send up from the depths
of her well.

Hermes chuckled as he rounded the curves of his
ear, and fastened it on to the newly-made human

"So shall these mortals always hear and believe the
thing that is not," he said to himself in glee knowing
that the box he would give to Pandora would not bear
more confused and complex woes to the hapless earth
than this gift of an ear to man.

But he forgot himself so far that, though two ears were
wanted, he only made one.

Apollo, passing that way, marked the blunder, and
resolved to avenge the theft of his milk-white herds which
had led him such a weary chase through Tempe.

Apollo took a pearl of the sea and hollowed it, and
strung across it a silver string from his own lyre, and


with it gave to man one ear by which the voice of Truth
should reach the brain.

"You have spoilt all my sport," said the boy Hermes,
angry and weeping.

" Nay," said the elder brother with a smile. " Be
comforted. The brazen trumpets will be sure to drown
the whisper from the well, and ten thousand mortals to
one, be sure, will always turn by choice your ear instead
of mine."

VW"OMEN never like one another, except now and then
an old woman and a young woman like you and
me. They are good to one another amongst the poor,
you say ! Oh, that I don't know anything about. They
may be. Barbarians always retain the savage virtues.
In Society women hate one another all the more be-
cause in Society they have to smile in each other's faces
every night of their lives. Only think what that is, my
dear ! to grudge each other's conquests, to grudge each
other's diamonds, to study each other's dress, to watch
each other's wrinkles, to outshine each other always on
every possible occasion, big or little, and yet always to
be obliged to give pet names to each other, and visit
each other with elaborate ceremonial why, women must
hate each other ! Society makes them. Your poor folks,
I daresay, in the midst of their toiling and moiling, and
scrubbing and scraping, and starving and begging, do do
each other kindly turns, and put bread in each other's
mouths now and then, because they can scratch each
other's eyes out, and call each other hussies in the streets,
any minute they like, in the most open manner. But in
Society women's entire life is a struggle for precedence,
precedence in everything beauty, money, rank, success,
dress, everything. We have to smother hate under
smiles, and envy under compliment, and while we are


dying to say " You hussy," like the women in the streets,
we are obliged, instead of boxing her ears, to kiss her on
both cheeks, and cry, " Oh, my dearest how charming
of you so kind !" Only think what all that repression
means. You laugh ? Oh, you very clever people always
do laugh at these things. But you must study Society,
or suffer from it, sooner or later. If you don't always
strive to go out before everybody, life will end in every-
body going out before you, everybody down to the shoe-
black !

" D EAD ! " echoed the old wise man with scorn. " O
child, what use is that? Read! the inland
dweller reads of the sea, and thinks he knows it, and
believes it to be as a magnified duck-pond, and no more.
Can he tell anything of the light and the shade ; of the
wave and the foam ; of the green that is near, of the blue
that is far ; of the opaline changes, now pure as a dove's
throat, now warm as a flame ; of the great purple depths
and the fierce blinding storm ; and the delight and the
fear, and the hurricane rising like a horse snorting for war,
and all that is known to man who goes down to the great
deep in ships ? Passion and the sea are like one another.
Words shall not tell them, nor colour portray them.
The kiss that burns, and the salt spray that stings let
the poet excel and the painter endeavour, yet the best
they can do shall say nothing to the woman without a
lover ; and the landsman who knows not the sea. If
you would live love. You will live in an hour a lifetime;
and you will wonder how you bore your life before. But
as an artist all will be over with you that I think."


YV7HAT is the use of railing against Society ? Society,
" after all, is only Humanity en masse, and the
opinion of it must be the opinion of the bulk of human
minds. Complaints against Society are like the lions'
against the man's picture. No doubt the lions would
have painted the combat as going just the other way, but
then, so long as it is the man who has the knife or the
gun, and the palette and the pencil, where is the use of
the lions howling about injustice? Society has the knife
and the pencil ; that's the long and the short of it ; and
if people don't behave themselves they feel 'em both, and
have to knock under. They're knifed first, and then
caricatured as the lions were.

" "EXCELLING ! it is rather a Dead Sea npple, I fear.

*** The effort is happiness, but the fruit always seems

Lady Cardiff could not patiently hear such nonsense.

"There you are again, my dear feminine Alceste,"
she said irritably, "looking at things from your solitary
standpoint on that rock of yours in the middle of the
sea. You are thinking of the excelling of genius, of the
possessor of an ideal fame, of the ' Huntress mightier
than the moon,' and / am thinking of the woman who
excels in Society who has the biggest diamonds, the
best chef, the most lovers, the most chic and chien, who
leads the fashion, and condescends when she takes tea
with an empress. But even from your point of view on
your rock, I can't quite believe it. Accomplished ambi-
tion must be agreeable. To look back and say, ' I have
achieved ! ' what leagues of sunlight sever that proud
boast from the weary sigh, ' I have failed !' Fame must

"Perhaps; but 'the world, at least, does its best that
it should not. Its "lorv discs are of thorns."


" You mean that superiority has its attendant shadow,
which is calumny? Always has had, since Apelles
painted. What does it matter if everybody looks after
you when you pass down a street, what they say when
you pass ?"

" A malefactor may obtain that sort of flattery. I do
not see the charm of it."

" You are very perverse. Of course I talk of an un-
sullied fame, not of an infamous notoriety."

" Fame nowadays is little else but notoriety," said
Etoile with a certain scorn, " and it is dearly bought, per-
haps too dearly, by the sacrifice of the serenity of obscur-
ity, the loss of the peace of private life. Art is great
and precious, but the pursuit of it is sadly embittered
when we have become so the plaything of the public,
through it, that the simplest actions of our lives are
chronicled and misconstrued. You do not believe it,
perhaps, but I often envy the women sitting at their cot-
tage doors, with their little children on their knees ; no
one talks of tJiem /"

" J'ai tant de gloire, 6 roi, que j'aspire au fumier ! "

said Lady Cardiff. " You are very thankless to Fate, my
dear, but I suppose it is always so."

And Lady Cardiff took refuge in her cigar case, being
a woman of too much experience not to know that it is
quite useless to try and make converts to your opinions ;
and especially impossible to convince people dissatisfied
with their good fortune that they ought to be charmed
with it.

" It is very curious," she thought when she got into
her own carriage, "really it makes one believe in that
odd doctrine of, what is it, Compensations ; but, certainly,
people of great talent always are a little mad. If they're
not flightily mad with eccentricity and brandy, they are
morbidly mad with solitude and sentiment. Now she is


a great creature, really a great creature ; might have the
world at her feet if she liked ; and all she cares for is a
big dog, a bunch of roses, and some artist or poet dead
and gone three hundred or three thousand years ! It is
very queer. It is just like that extraordinary possession
of Victor Hugo's ; with powers that might have sufficed
to make ten men brilliant and comfortable, he must vex
and worry about politics that didn't concern him in the
least, and go and live under a skylight in the middle of
the sea. It is very odd. They are never happy ; but
when they are unhappy, and if you tell them that Addi-
son could be a great writer, and yet live comfortably
and enjoy the things of this world, they only tell you
contemptuously that Addison had no genius, he had only
a Style. I suppose he hadn't. I think if I were one of
them and had to choose, I would rather have only a
Style too."

YW"HEN passion and habit long lie in company it
is only slowly and with incredulity that habit
awakens to find its companion fled, itself alone.

A NEW acquaintance is like a new novel ; you open
*"* it with expectation, but what you find there seldom
makes you care to take it off the shelf another time.

'"THE pity which is not born from experience is always
A cold. It cannot help being so. It does not under-

'"THE house she lived in was very old, and had those

A charming conceits, those rich shadows and depth

of shade, that play of light, that variety, and that chnr-


acter which seem given to a. dwelling-place in ages when
men asked nothing better of their God than to live where
their fathers had lived, and leave the old roof-tree to their
children's children.

The thing built yesterday, is a caravanserai : I lodge
in it to-day, and you to-morrow ; in an old house only
can be made a home, where the blessings of the dead
have rested and the memories of perfect faiths and lofty
passions still abide.

""THERE is so much mystery in this world, only people
* who lead humdrum lives will not believe it.

It is a great misfortune to be born to a romantic his-
tory. The humdrum always think that you are lying.
In real truth romance is common in life, commoner, per-
haps, than the commonplace. But the commonplace
always looks more natural.

In Nature there are millions of gorgeous hues to a
scarcity of neutral tints ; yet the pictures that are painted
in sombre semi-tones and have no one positive colour in
them are always pronounced the nearest to nature. When
a painter sets his palette, he dares not approach the gold
of the sunset and dawn, or the flame of the pomegranate
and poppy.

""PHIS age of Money, of Concessions, of Capitalists, and
* of Limited Liabilities, has largely produced the
female financier, who thinks with M. de Camors, that
"Phumanitt est composde des actionnaires? Other cen-
turies have had their especial type of womanhood ; the
learned and graceful hetatra, the saintly and ascetic
recluse, the warrior of Oriflamme or Red Rose, the dame
de beaut^ all loveliness and light, like a dewdrop, the
philosophic pr'^ciense^ with sesquipedalian phrase, the

2 E


revolutionist, half nude of body and wholly nude of mind,
each in their turn have given their sign and seal to their
especial century, for better or for worse. The nineteenth
century has some touch of all, but its own novelty of
production is the female speculator.

The woman who, breathless, watches la hausse and
la baissej whose favour can only be won by some hint in
advance of the newspapers ; whose heart is locked to all
save golden keys ; who starts banks, who concocts com-
panies, who keeps a broker, as in the eighteenth century
a woman kept a monkey, and in the twelfth a knight ;
whose especial art is to buy in at the right moments,
and to sell out in the nick of time ; who is great in rail-
ways and canals, and new bathing-places, and shares in
fashionable streets ; who chooses her lovers, thinking of
concessions, and kisses her friends for sake of the secrets
they may betray from their husbands what other cen-
turies may say of her who can tell ?

The Hotel Rambouillet thought itself higher than
heaven, and the generation of Catherine of Sienna be-
lieved her deal planks the sole highway to the throne of

F)ROUD women, and sensitive women, take hints and
* resent rebuffs, and so exile themselves from the
world prematurely and haughtily. They abdicate the
moment they see that any desire their discrowning. Ab-
dication is grand, no doubt. But possession is more
profitable. "A well-bred dog does not wait to be kicked
out," says the old see-saw. But the well-bred dog thereby
turns himself into the cold, and leaves the crumbs from
under the table to some other dog with less good-breed-
ing and more worldly wisdom. The sensible thing to do
is to stay where you like best to be ; stay there with
tooth and claw ready and a stout hide on which cudgels


break. People, after all, soon get tire'd of kicking a dog
that never will go.

High-breeding was admirable in days when the world
itself was high-bred. But those days are over. The
world takes high-breeding now as only a form of in-

" nnO your poetic temper life is a vast romance, beautiful
* and terrible, like a tragedy of ^Eschylus. You
stand amidst it entranced, like a child by the beauty
and awe of a tempest. And all the while the worldly-
wise, to whom the tempest is only a matter of the
machineries of a theatre of painted clouds, electric
lights, and sheets of copper the world-wise govern the
storm as they choose and leave you in it defenceless and
lonely as old Lear. To put your heart into life is the
most fatal of errors ; it is to give a hostage to your
enemies whom you can only ransom at the price of your
ruin. But what is the use of talking ? To you, life will
be always Alastor and Epipsychidion, and to us, it will
always be a Treatise on Whist. That's all ! "

"A Treatise on Whist ! No ! It is something much
worse. It is a Book of the Bastile, with all entered as
criminal in it, who cannot be bought off by bribe or
intrigue, by a rogue's stratagem or a courtesan's vice ! "

"The world is only a big Harpagon, and you and
such as you are Maitre Jacques. ' Puisque vous favez
voulu ! ' you say, and call him frankly to his face,
'Avare, ladre, vilain, fessemathieul' and Harpagon
answers you with a big stick and cries, ' Apprenez d
parler ! ' Poor Maitre Jacques ! I never read of him
without thinking what a type he is of Genius. No offence
to you, my dear. He'd the wit to see he would never
be pardoned for telling the truth, and yet he told it ! The
perfect type of Genius."


""THE untruthfulness of women communicates itself to
* the man whose chief society they form, and the
perpetual necessities of intrigue end in corrupting the
temper whose chief pursuit is passion.

Women who environ a man's fidelity by ceaseless
suspicion and exaction, create the evil that they dread.

C OCIETY, after all, asks very little. Society only asks
*^ you to wash the outside of your cup and platter :
inside you may keep any kind of nastiness that you like :
only wash the outside. Do wash the outside, says Society ;
and it would be a churl or an ass indeed who would
refuse so small a request.

A WOMAN who is ice to his fire, is less pain to a
*"* man than the woman who is fire to his ice. There
is hope for him in the one, but only a dreary despair in
the other. The ardours that intoxicate him in the first
summer of his passion serve but to dull and chill him in
the later time.

A FROG that dwelt in a ditch spat at a worm that
^^ bore a lamp.

" Why do you do that ? " said the glow-worm.
" Why do you shine ? " said the frog.

VW"HEN a name is in the public mouth the public

nostril likes to smell a foulness in it. It likes to

think that Byron committed incest ; that Milton was a

brute ; that Raffaelle's vices killed him ; that Pascal was

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 30 of 39)