1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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mad ; that Lamartine lived and died a pauper ; that
Scipio took the treasury moneys ; that Thucydides and
Phidias stole ; that Heloise and Hypatia were but loose
women after all so the gamut runs over twice a thousand
years; and Rousseau is at heart the favourite of the
world because he was such a beast, with all his talent.

When the world is driven to tears and prayers by
Schiller, it hugs itself to remember that he could not
write a line without the smell of rotten apples near, and
that when he died there was not enough money in his
desk to pay his burial. They make him smaller, closer,
less divine the apples and the pauper's coffin.

" /^ ET a great cook ; give three big balls a winter, and
^-* drive English horses ; you need never consider
Society then, it will never find fault with you, ma tres-

She did not quite understand, but she obeyed ; and
Society never did. Society says to the members of it as
the Spanish monk to the tree that he pruned, and that
cried out under his hook :

"It is not beauty that is wanted of you, nor shade, but

Moral loveliness or mental depth, charm of feeling or
nobleness of instinct, beauty, or shade, it does not ask
for, but it does ask for olives olives that shall round
off its dessert, and flavour its dishes, and tickle its sated
palate ; olives that it shall pick up without trouble, and
never be asked to pay for ; these are what it likes.

Now it is precisely in olives that the woman who
has one foot in Society and one foot out of it will be

She must please, or perish.

She must content, or how will she be countenanced ?


The very perilousness of her position renders her soli-
citous to attract and to appease.

Society follows a natural selfishness in its condonation
of her ; she is afraid of it, therefore she must bend all her
efforts to be agreeable to it ! it can reject her at any given
moment, so that her court of it must be continual and
expansive. No woman will take so much pains, give so
much entertainment, be so willing to conciliate, be so
lavish in hospitality, be so elastic in willingness, as the
woman who adores Society, and knows that any black
Saturday it may turn her out with a bundle of rods, and
a peremptory dismissal.

Between her and Society there is a tacit bond.

"Amuse me, and I will receive you."

" Receive me, and I will amuse you."

/^\F all lay figures there is none on earth so useful as
^~^ a wooden husband. You should get a wooden
husband, my dear, if you want to be left in peace. It
is like a comfortable slipper or your dressing-gown
after a ball. It is like springs to your carriage. It is
like a clever maid who never makes mistakes with
your notes or comes without coughing discreetly through
your dressing-room. It is like tea, cigarettes, postage-
stamps, foot-warmers, eiderdown counterpanes any-
thing that smooths life, in fact. Young women do not
think enough of this. An easy-going husband is the one
indispensable comfort of life. He is like a set of sables
to you. You may never want to put them on ; still, if
the north wind do blow and one can never tell how
handy they are ! You pop into them in a second, and
no cold wind can find you out, my dear. Couldn't find
you out, if your shift were in rags underneath ! Without
your husband's countenance, you have scenes. With


scenes, you have scandal. With scandal, you come to
a suit. With a suit, you most likely lose your settlements.
And without your settlements, where are you in Society ?
With a husband you are safe. You need never think
about him in any way. His mere existence suffices. He
will always be at the bottom of your table, and the head
of your visiting-cards. That is enough. He will repre-
sent Respectability for you, without your being at the
trouble to represent Respectability for yourself. Respect-
ability is a thing of which the shadow is more agreeable
than the substance. Happily for us, Society only requires
the shadow.

"\7"ERY well ; if you dislike dancing, don't dance ; though
if a woman don't, you know, they always think she
has got a short leg, or a cork leg, or something or other
that's dreadful. But why not show yourself at them ?
At least show yourself. One goes to balls as one goes
to church. It's a social muster.

HTHE art of pleasing is more based on the art of seem-
* ing pleased than people think of, and she disarmed
the prejudices of her enemies by the unaffected delight
she appeared to take in themselves. You may think very
ill of a woman, but after all you cannot speak very ill of
her if she has assured you a hundred times that you are
amongst her dearest friends.

COCIETY always had its fixed demands. It used to
^ exact birth. It used to exact manners. In a remote
and golden age there is a tradition that it was once con-
tented with mind. Nowadays it exacts money, or rather


amusement, because if you don't let other folks have the
benefit of your money, Society will take no account of it
But have money and spend it well (that is, let Society
live on it, gorge with it, walk ankle-deep in it), and you
may be anything and do anything ; you may have been
an omnibus conductor in the Strand, and you may marry
a duke's daughter ; you may have been an oyster-girl
in New York, and you may entertain royalties. It is
impossible to exaggerate an age of anomaly and hyper-
bole. There never was an age when people were so
voracious of amusement, and so tired of it, both in one.
It is a perpetual carnival and a permanent yawn. If
you can do anything to amuse us you are safe till
we get used to you and then you amuse no longer,
and must go to the wall. Every age has its price : what
Walpole said of men must be true of mankind. Anybody
can buy the present age that will bid very high and pay
with tact as well as bullion. There is nothing it will
not pardon if it see its way to getting a new sensation
out of its leniency. Perhaps no one ought to complain.
A Society with an india-rubber conscience, no memory,
and an absolute indifference to eating its own words and
making itself ridiculous, is, after all, a convenient one to
live in if you can pay for its suffrages.

T F you are only well beforehand with your falsehood all
* will go upon velvet ; nobody ever listens to a recti-
fication. "Is it possible?" everybody cries with eager
zest ; but when they have only to say " Oh, wasn't it so ?"
nobody feels any particular interest. It is the first state-
ment that has the swing and the success ; as for explana-
tion or retractation pooh ! who cares to be bored ?


""THOSE people with fine brains and with generous souls
will never learn that life is after all only a game a
game which will go to the shrewdest player and the
coolest. They never see this ; not they ; they are caught
on the edge of great passions, and swept away by them.
They cling to their affections like commanders to sink-
ing ships, and go down with them. They put their
whole heart into the hands of others, who only laugh
and wring out their lifeblood. They take all things too
vitally in earnest. Life is to them a wonderful, passionate,
pathetic, terrible thing that the gods of love and of death
shape for them. They do not see that coolness and
craft, and the tact to seize accident, and the wariness to
obtain advantage, do in reality far more in hewing out a
successful future than all the gods of Greek or Gentile.
They are very unwise. It is of no use to break their
hearts for the world ; they will not change it. La culte
de thumanitt is the one of all others which will leave
despair as its harvest. Laugh like Rabelais, smile like
Montaigne ; that is the way to take the world. It only
puts to death its Sebastians, and makes its Shelleys not
sorrowful to see the boat is filling.

COCIETY always adheres to its principles; just as a
- Moslem subscribes none the less to the Koran be-
cause he may just have been blowing the froth off his
bumper of Mumm's before he goes to his mosque.

pLEASANTNESS is the soft note of this generation,
* just as scientific assassination is the harsh note of
it. The age is compounded of the two. Half of it is
chloroform ; the other half is dynamite.


"V"OU make us think, and Society dislikes thinking.
You call things by their right names, and Society
hates that, though Queen Bess didn't mind it. You
trumpet our own littleness in our ear, and we know it so
well that we do not care to hear much about it. You
shudder at sin, and we have all agreed that there is no
such thing as sin, only mere differences of opinion, which,
provided they don't offend us, we have no business with :
adultery is a liaison, lying is gossip, debt is a momentary
embarrassment, immorality is a little slip, and so forth :
and when we have arranged this pretty little dictionary
of convenient pseudonyms, it is not agreeable to have it
sent flying by fierce, dreadful, old words, that are only
fit for some book that nobody ever reads, like Milton
or the Family Bible. We do not want to think. We
do not want to hear. We do not care about anything.
Only give us a good dinner and plenty of money, and let
us outshine our neighbours. There is the Nineteenth
Century Gospel. My dear, if Ecclesiasticus himself
came he would preach in vain. You cannot convince
people that don't want to be convinced. We call our-
selves Christians Heaven save the mark ! but we are
only the very lowest kind of pagans. We do not believe
in anything except that nothing matters. Well, perhaps
nothing does matter. Only one wonders why ever so
many of us were all created, only just to find that out.

T OVE to the looker-on may be blind, unwise, un-
. worthily bestowed, a waste, a sacrifice, a crime ; yet
none the less is love, alone, the one thing that, come
weal or woe, is worth the loss of every other thing ; the
one supreme and perfect gift of earth, in which all common
things of daily life become transfigured and divine. And
perhaps of all the many woes that priesthoods have
wrought upon humanity, none have been greater than


this false teaching, that love can ever be a sin. To the
sorrow and the harm of the world, the world's religions
have all striven to make men and women shun and deny
their one angel as a peril or a shame ; but religions can-
not strive against nature, and when the lovers see each
other's heaven in each other's eyes, they know the
supreme truth that one short day together is worth a
lifetime's glory.

f~^ ENIUS is like the nautilus, all sufficient for itself in
^* its pretty shell, quite at home in the big ocean, with
no fear from any storm. But if a wanton stone from a
boat passing by break the shell, where is the nautilus
then ? Drowned ; just like any common creature !

""THERE are times when, even on the bravest temper,
* the ironical mockery, the cruel despotism of trifling
circumstances, that 'have made themselves the masters
of our lives, the hewers of our fate, must weigh with a
sense of involuntary bondage, against which to strive is

The weird sisters were forms of awe and magnitude
proportionate to the woes they dealt out, to the destiny
they wove. But the very littleness of the daily chances
that actually shape fate is, in its discordance and its
mockery, more truly terrible and most hideously solemn
it is the little child's laugh at a frisking kitten which
brings down the avalanche, and lays waste the mountain
side, or it is the cackle of the startled geese that saves
the Capitol.

To be the prey of Atropos was something at the
least ; and the grim Dei{s mtlt perdere, uttered in the
delirium of pain, at the least made the maddened soul
feel of some slender account in the sight of the gods


and in the will of Heaven. But we, who are the children
of mere accident and the sport of idlest opportunity,
have no such consolation.

/^"\F course they will stone you, as village bumpkins run
^^ out and stone an odd stray bird that they have
never seen before ; and the more beautiful the plumage
looks, the harder rain the stones. If the bird were a
sparrow the bumpkins would let it be.

OVE that remembers aught save the one beloved may
' be affection, but it is not love.

A RIEL could not combat a leopardess ; Ithuriel's spear
** glances pointless from a rhinoceros' hide. To match
what is low and beat it, you must stoop, and soil your
hands to cut a cudgel rough and ready. She did not
see this ; and seeing it, would not have lowered herself
to do it.

TW"HICH is the truth, which is the madness ? when
** the artist, in the sunlit ice of a cold dreamland,
scorns love and adores but one art ; or when the artist,
amidst the bruised roses of a garden of passion, finds all
heaven in one human heart ?

HnHERE is a story in an old poet's forgotten writings

of a woman who was queen when the world was

young, and reigned over many lands, and loved a captive,


and set him free, and thinking to hurt him less by seem-
ing lowly, came down from her throne and laid her
sceptre in the dust, and passed amongst the common
maidens that drew water at the well, or begged at the
city gate, and seemed as one of them, giving him all and
keeping nought herself : " so will he love me more," she
thought ; but he, crowned king, thought only of the
sceptre and the throne, and having those, looked not
amongst the women at the gate, and knew her not, be-
cause what he had loved had been a queen. Thus she,
self-discrowned, lost both her lover and her kingdom. A
wise man amongst the throng said to her, " Nay, you
should have kept aloof upon your golden seat and made
him feel your power to deal life or death, and fretted him
long, and long kept him in durance and in doubt, you,
meanwhile, far above. For men are light creatures as
the moths are."

'"THEY had lived in London and Paris all their lives,
* and had, before this, heard patriotism used as a
reason for a variety of things, from a minister's keeping
in office against the will of the country, to a newspaper's
writing a country into bloodshed and bankruptcy ; they
were quite aware of the word's elasticity.

TT was the true and perfect springtide of the year, when
* Love walks amongst the flowers, and comes a step
nearer what it seeks with every dawn.

Without Love, spring is of all seasons cruel ; more
cruel than all frost and frown of winter.


T N the early days of an illicit passion concealment is
* charming ; every secret stairway of intrigue has a
sweet surprise at its close ; to be in conspiracy with one
alone against all the rest of humanity is the most seduc-
tive of seductions. Love lives best in this soft twilight,
where it only hears its own heart and one other's beat in
the solitude.

But when the reverse of the medal is turned ; when
every step on the stairs has been traversed and tired of,
when, instead of the heart's beat, there is but an upbraid-
ing voice, when it is no longer with one but from one
that concealment is needed, then the illicit passion is its
own Nemesis, then nothing were ever drearier, wearier,
more anxious, or more fatiguing than its devious paths
become, and they seem to hold the sated wanderer in a
labyrinth of which he knows, and knowing hates, every
wind, and curve, and coil, yet out of which it seems to
him he will never make his way back again into the light
of wholesome day.

1V^ Y dear, the days of Fontenoy are gone out ; every-
*** body nowadays only tries to get the first fire, by
hook or by crook. Ours is an age of cowardice and
cuirassed cannon ; chivalry is out of place in it.

YW1TH a woman, the vulgarity that lies in public adula-
** tion is apt to nauseate ; at least if she be so little
of a woman that she is not vain, and so much of one that
she cares for privacy. For the fame of our age is not
glory but notoriety ; and notoriety is to a woman like the
bull to Pasiphae whilst it caresses it crushes.


LJAD she your talent the world would have heard of
her. As it is, she only enjoys herself. Perhaps
the better part. Fame is a cone of smoke. Enjoyment
is a loaf of sugar.

HTHERE is no such coward as the woman who toadies
* Society because she has outraged Society. The
bully is never brave.

" Oignez vilain il vous poindra : poignez vilain il vous
oindra," is as true of the braggart's soul still, as it used
to be in the old days of Froissart, when the proverb was

CHE was of opinion with Sganarelle, that "cinq ou six
^ coups de baton entre gens qui s'aiment ne font que
ragaillarder 1'affection."

But, like Sganarelle also, she always premised that the
right to give the blows should be hers.

C HE was only like any other well-dressed woman after
^ all, and humanity considers that when genius comes
forth in the flesh the touch of the coal from the altar
should have left some visible stigmata on the lips it has
burned, as, of course anybody knows, it invariably leaves
some smirch upon the character.

Humanity feels that genius ought to wear a livery, as
Jews and loose women wore yellow in the old golden
days of distinction.

"They don't even paint J " said one lady, and felt her-


/""CALUMNY is the homage of our contemporaries, as
V' some South Sea Islanders spit on those they

"POPULARITY has been defined as the privilege of
* being cheered by the kind of people you would
never allow to bow to you.

Fame may be said to be the privilege of being slan-
dered at once by the people who do bow to you, as well
as by the people who do not.

"M'OBODY there knew at all. So everybody averred
** they knew for certain. Nobody's story agreed
with anybody else's, but that did not matter at all.
The world, like Joseph's father, gives the favourite coat
of many colours which the brethren rend.

" "D E honey, and the flies will eat you," says the old
saw, but, like most other proverbs, it will not
admit of universal application. There is a way of
being honey that is thoroughly successful and extremely
popular, and constitutes a kind of armour that is bomb-

THE longest absence is less perilous to love than the
terrible trials of incessant proximity.

C HE forgot that love likes to preserve its illusions, and
^ that it will bear better all the sharpest deprivations in
the world than it will the cruel tests of an unlovely and
unveiled intercourse.

She had committed the greatest error of all : she had


let him be disenchanted by familiarity. Passion will
pardon rage, will survive absence, will forgive infidelity,
will even thrive on outrage, and will often condone a
crime ; but when it dies of familiarity it is dead for ever
and aye.

COCIETY will believe anything rather than ever be-

lieve that Itself can be duped.

If you have only assurance enough to rely implicitly
on this, there is hardly anything you cannot induce it
to accept.

T_J ERE was the secret of her success. To her nothing
* * was little.

This temper is always popular with Society. To enjoy
yourself in the world, is, to the world, the prettiest of
indirect compliments.

The chief offence of the poet, as of the philosopher, is
that the world as it is fails to satisfy them.

Society, which is after all only a conglomerate of
hosts, has the host's weakness all its guests must smile.

The poet sighs, the philosopher yawns. Society feels
that they depreciate it. Society feels more at ease with-
out them.

To find every one acceptable to you is to make your-
self acceptable to every one.

Hived bees get sugar because they will give back
honey. All existence is a series of equivalents.

"C VEN the discreetest friends will, like the closest-packed
^ hold of a ship, leak occasionally. Salt water and
secrets are alike apt to ooze.

2 F


'THE simplicity of the artist is always the stumbling-
* block of the artist with the world.

A WOMAN need never dread the fiercest quarrel with
** her lover ; the tempest may bring sweeter weather
than any it broke up, and after the thunder the singing
of birds will sound lovelier than before. Anger will not
extinguish love, nor will scorn trample it dead ; jealousy
will fan its fires, and offences against it may but fasten
closer the fetters that it adores beyond all liberty. But
when love dies of a worn-out familiarity it perishes for
ever and aye.

Jaded, disenchanted, wearied, indifferent, the tired
passion expires of sheer listlessness and contemptuous

The death is slow rind unperceived, but it is sure ;
and it is a death that has no resurrection.

HTHERE is nothing that you may not get people to
* believe in if you will only tell it them loud enough
and often enough, till the welkin rings with it

HAT Raffaelle has left us must be to the glories he
imagined as the weaver's dye to the sunset's fire.

A WOMAN'S violence is a mighty power ; before it
O 1 reason recoils unnerved, justice quails appalled, and
peace perishes like a burnt-up scroll ; it is a sand-storm,
before which courage can do but little : the bravest man
can but fall on his face and let it ra?re on above him.



A VERY trustful woman believes in her lover's fidelity
** with her heart ; a very vain woman believes in it
with her head.

CROM the moment that another life has any empire on

ours, peace is gone.

Art spreads around us a profound and noble repose,
but passion enters it, and then art grows restless and
troubled as the deep sea at the call of the whirlwind. .


A MAN cast forth from his home is like a ship cut
^^ loose from its anchor and rudderless. Whatever
may have been his weakness, his offences, they cannot
absolve you from your duty to watch over your husband's
soul, to be his first and most faithful friend, to stand be-
tween him and his temptations and perils. That is the
nobler side of marriage. When the light of love is faded,
and its joys are over, its duties and its mercies remain.
Because one of the twain has failed in these the other
is not acquitted of obligation.

"^"HOOSE some career; make yourself some aim in

^^ life ; do not fold your talents in a napkin ; in a
napkin that lies on the supper-table at Bignon's. That
idle, aimless life is very attractive, I daresay, in its way,
but it must grow wearisome and unsatisfactory as years
roll on. The men of my house have never been content
with it ; they have always been soldiers, statesmen, some-
thing or other beside mere nobles."

" But they have had a great position."

" Men make their own position ; they cannot make
a name (at least, not to my thinking). You have that
good fortune ; you have a great name ; you only need,
pardon me, to make your manner of life worthy of it."

" Cannot make a name ? Surely in these days the

WANDA. 4-3

beggar rides on horseback in all the ministries and half
the nobilities ; "

"You mean that Hans, Pierre, or Richard becomes
a count, an excellency, or an earl? What does that
change ? It alters the handle ; it does not alter the
saucepan. No one can be ennobled. Blood is blood ;
nobility can only be inherited ; it cannot be conferred
by all the heralds in the world. The very meaning and
essence of nobility are descent, inherited traditions,
instincts, habits, and memories all that is meant by
noblesse oblige"

" ]VT EN are always like Horace," said the princess.
" They admire rural life, but they remain for all
that with Augustus."

T READ the other day of some actresses dining off a
truffled pheasant and a sack of bonbons. That is
the sort of dinner we make all the year round, morally
metaphorically how do you say it ? It makes us thirsty,
and perhaps I am not sure perhaps it leaves us half
starved, though we nibble the sweetmeats, and don't
know it.

" Your dinner must lack two things bread and

" Yes ; we never see either. It is all truffles and cara-
mels and vinsfrappes"

" There is your bread."

She glanced at the little children, two pretty, graceful
little maids of six and seven years old.

" Ouf! " said the Countess Branka. " They are only
little bits of puff paste, a couple of petits fours baked on
the boulevards. If they be chic, and marry well, I for
one shall ask no more of them. If ever you have chil-


Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 31 of 39)