1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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yours, we should soon, I fear, forget that such existed.
But for such recluse's devotion to an art as yours, the
classics would have perished ; without the cloister-pen-
men, the laws of science would never have broken the
bondage of tradition."

Lulli looked up eagerly ; then his hend drooped again
with the inexpressible weariness of that vain longing
which " toils to reach the stars."

" Ah, what is the best that I reach ? the breath of the
wind which passes, and sighs, and is heard no more."

" TJ OW crabbed a scroll ! " he went on, throwing him-
self down a moment on the thyme and grass.
" The characters must baffle even you ; the years that have
yellowed the vellum have altered the fashion. Whose
is it?"

"An old Elizabethan musician's," answered Lulli, as
he looked up. " Yes ; the years take all, our youth, our
work, our life, even our graves."

Something in his Provencal cadence gave a rhythm to
his simplest speech : the words fell sadly on his listener's
ear, though on the sensuous luxuriance of his own exist-
ence no shadow ever rested, no skeleton ever crouched.

" Yes : the years take all," he said, with a certain sad-
ness on him. " How many unperfected resolves, un-
achieved careers, unaccomplished ambitions, immatured
discoveries, perish under the rapidity of time, as unripe
fruits fall before their season ! Bichat died at thirty-
one : if he had lived, his name would now have outshone

" We live too little time to do anything even for the
art we give our life to," murmured Lulli. " When we
die, our work dies with us : our better self must perish


with our bodies ; the first change of fashion will sweep it
into oblivion."

" Yet something may last of it," suggested Chandos,
while his hand wandered among the blue bells of the
curling hyacinths. " Because few save scholars read the
' Defensio Popiili ' now, the work it did for free thought
cannot die. None the less does the cathedral enrich
Cologne because the name of the man who begot its
beauty has passed unrecorded. None the less is the
world aided by the effort of every true and daring mind
because the thinker himself has been crushed down in
the rush of unthinking crowds."

" No, if it could live ! " murmured Lulli, softly, with a
musing pain in the broken words. " But look ! the scroll
was as dear to its writer as his score to Beethoven, the
child of his love, cradled in his thoughts night and day,
cherished as never mother cherished her first-born, be-
loved as wife or mistress, son or daughter, never were.
Perhaps he denied himself much to give his time more to
his labour ; and when he died, lonely and in want, be-
cause he had pursued that for which men called him a
dreamer, his latest thought was of the work which never
could speak to others as it spoke to him, which he must
die and leave, in anguish that none ever felt to sever from
a human thing. Yet what remains of his love and his toil ?
It is gone, as a laugh or a sob dies off the ear, leaving no
echo behind. His name signed here tells nothing to the
men for whom he laboured, adds nothing to the art for
which he lived. As it is with him, so will it be with me."

His voice, that had risen in sudden and untutored
eloquence, sank suddenly into the sadness and the weari-
ness of the man whose highest joy is but relief from pain ;
and in it was a keener pang still, the grief of one who
strives for what incessantly escapes him.

"Wait," said Chandos, gently. "Are we sure that
nothing lives of the music you mourn ? It may live on


the lips of the people, in those Old-World songs whose
cause we cannot trace, yet which come sweet and fresh
transmitted to every generation. How often we hear
some nameless melody echo down a country-side ! the
singers cannot tell you whence it came ; they only know
their mothers sang it by their cradles, and they will sing
it by their children's. But in the past the song had its
birth in genius."

Guido Lulli bent his head.

" True : such an immortality were all-sufficient : we
could well afford to have our names forgotten "

" T ET that fellow alone, Cos,'' laughed Chandos, to
avert the stormy element which seemed to threaten
the serenity of his breakfast-party. " Trevenna will beat
us all with his tongue, if we tempt him to try conclusions.
He should be a Chancellor of the Exchequer or a Cheap
John ; I am not quite clear which as yet."

" Identically the same things !" cried Trevenna. "The
only difference is the scale they are on ; one talks from
the bench, and the other from the benches ; one cheapens
tins, and the other cheapens taxes ; one has a salve for
an incurable disease, and the other a salve for the national
debt ; one rounds his periods to put off a watch that won't
go, and the other to cover a deficit that won't close ; but
they radically drive the same trade, and both are success-
ful if the spavined mare trots out looking sound, and the
people pay up. ' Look what I save you,' cry Cheap John
and Chancellor ; and while they shout their economics,
they pocket their shillings. Ah, if I were sure I could
bamboozle a village, I should know I was qualified to
make up a Budget."


impudent of men ! When will you learn the
first lesson of society, and decently and discreetly
apprendre a vous effacer f "

"A nf effacer? The advice Lady Harriet Vandeleur
gave Cecil. Very good for mediocre people, I dare say;
but it wouldn't suit me. There are some people, you
know, that won't iron down for the hardest rollers.
M* effacer? No! I'd rather any day be an ill-bred
originality than a well-bred nonentity."

" Then you succeed perfectly in being what you wish !
Don't you know, monsieur, that to set yourself against
conventionalities is like talking too loud ? an imper-
tinence and an under-breeding that society resents by
exclusion? "

" Yes, I know it. But a duke may bawl, and nobody
shuts out him; a prince might hop on one leg, and every-
body would begin to hop too. Now, what the ducal lungs
and the princely legs might do with impunity, I declare
I've a right to do, if I like."

" Btcasse ! no one can declare his rights till he can do
much more, and purchase them. Have a million, and
we may perhaps give you a little license to be unlike other
persons : without the million it is an ill-bred gaucherie."

" Ah, I know ! Only a nobleman may be original ; a
poor penniless wretch upon town must be humbly and
insignificantly commonplace. What a pity for the success
of the aristocratic monopolists that nature puts clever
fellows and fools just in the reverse order ! But then
nature's a shocking socialist."

"And so are you."

Trevenna laughed.

" Hush, madame. Pray don't destroy me with such a



'"TALENT wears well ; genius wears itself out ; talent
* drives a brougham in fact, genius a sun-chariot
in fancy ; talent keeps to earth and fattens there, genius
soars to the empyrean, to get picked by every kite that
flies ; talent is the part and the venison, genius the
seltzer and souffle of life. The man who has talent sails
successfully on the top of the wave ; the man with genius
beats himself to pieces, fifty to one, on the first rock he

E innocent may be wrongly suspected until he is
made the thing that the libel called him.

T\yl EN shut out happiness from their schemes for the
** world's happiness. They might as well try to
bring flowers to bloom without the sun.

'HE most dastardly sin on earth is the desertion of
the fallen.

T ET the world abandon you, but to yourself be true.

""THE bread of bitterness is the food on which men grow


to their fullest stature.

without faith is a day without sun.

T DETEST posterity every king hates his heir.

CCANDALS are like dandelion seeds ; they are arrow-
^ headed and stick when they fall, and bring forth and
multiply fourfold.

THE puff perfect is the puff personal adroitly
YV\O cl'Orl


WEAR the Bonnet Rouge discreetly weighed down
with a fine tassel of British prudence.

T T E was a master of the great art of banter. It is a
** marvellous force ; it kills sanctity, unveils sophistry,
travesties wisdom, cuts through the finest shield, and turns
the noblest impulses to hopeless ridicule.

IMMORTALITY is dull work a hideous statue that
gets black as soot in no time ; funeral sermons that
make you out a vial of revelations and discuss the pro-
babilities of your being in the realms of Satan ; a bust
that slants you off at the shoulders and sticks you up on
a bracket ; a tombstone for the canes of the curious to
poke at ; an occasional attention in the way of withered
immortelles or biographical Billingsgate, and a partial
preservation shared in common with mummies, auks'
eggs, snakes in bottles, and deformities in spirits of
wine : that's posthumous fame. I must say I don't
see much fun in it.


TT were hard not to be wrong in philosophies when the
body starves on a pinch of oatmeal. It is the law of
necessity, the balance of economy ; human fuel must be
used up that the machine of the world may spin on ; but
it is not, perhaps, marvellous that the living fuel is some-
times unreconciled to that symmetrical rule of waste and
repair, of consumer and consumed.

TT is many centuries since Caius Gracchus called the
* mercantile classes to aid the people against the
patricians, and found too late that they were deadlier
oppressors than all the optimates; but the error still
goes on, and the moneymakers churn it into gold, as
they churned it then into the Asiatic revenues and the
senatorial amulets.

'"THE love of a people is the most sublime crown that
can rest on the brow of any man, but the love of a
mob is a mongrel that fawns and slavers one moment, to
rend and tear the next.


TN this old-world district, amidst the pastures and
corn-lands of Normandy, superstition had taken a
hold which the passage of centuries and the advent of
revolution had done very little to lessen. Few of the
people could read, and fewer still could write. They
knew nothing but what their priests and politicians told
them to believe. They went to their beds with the
poultry, and rose as the cock crew : they went to mass,
as their ducks to the osier and weed ponds ; and to the
conscription as their lambs to the slaughter. They
understood that there was a world beyond them, but
they remembered it only as the best market for their
fruit, their fowls, their lace, their skins. Their brains
were as dim as were their oil-lit streets at night ; though
their lives were content and mirthful, and for the most
part pious. They went out into the summer meadows
chanting aves, in seasons of drought to pray for rain
on their parching orchards, in the same credulity with
which they groped through the winter-fog bearing torches,
and chanting dirges to gain a blessing at seed-time on
their bleak, black fallows.

The beauty and the faith of the old mediaeval life were
with them still ; and with its beauty and its faith were its
bigotry and cruelty likewise.

They led simple and contented lives ; for the most


part honest, and amongst themselves cheerful and
kindly : preserving much grace of colour, of costume, of
idiosyncrasy, because apart from the hueless communism
and characterless monotony of modern cities.

But they believed in sorcery and in devilry : they were
brutal to their beasts, and could be as brutal to their
foes : they were steeped in legend and tradition from
their cradles ; and all the darkest superstitions of dead
ages still found home and treasury in their hearts and at
their hearths.

They had always been a religious people in this birth
country of the Flamma race : the strong poetic reverence
of their forefathers, which had symbolised itself in the
carving of every lintel, corbel or buttress in their streets,
and the fashion of every spire on which a weather-
vane could gleam against the sun, was still in their
blood ; the poetry had departed, but the bigotry re-

"HTHE earth and the air are good," she thought, as
she lay there watching the dark leaves sway in
the foam and the wind, and the bright-bosomed birds
float from blossom to blossom. For there was latent in
her, all untaught, that old pantheistic instinct of the
divine age, when the world was young, to behold a
sentient consciousness in every leaf unfolded to the light ;
to see a soul in every created thing the day shines on ;
to feel the presence of an eternal life in every breeze that
moves, in every grass that grows ; in every flame that
lifts itself to heaven ; in every bell that vibrates on the
air ; in every moth that soars to reach the stars.

Pantheism is the religion of the poet ; and nature had
made her a poet, though man as yet had but made of her
an outcast, a slave, and a beast of burden.

" The earth and the air are good," she thought, watching



the sun-rays pierce the purple hearts of a passion-flower,
the shadows move across the deep brown water, the
radiant butterfly alight upon a lily, the scarlet-throated
birds dart in and out through the yellow feathery blossoms
of the limes.

"VV7HEN a man clings to life for life's sake, because it is
" fair and sweet, and good in the sight and the senses,
there may be weakness in his shudder at its threatening
loss. But when a man is loth to lose life although it be
hard, and joyless, and barren of all delights, because this
life gives him power to accomplish things greater than
he, which yet without him must perish, there is the
strength in him, as there is the agony of Prometheus.

With him it must die also : that deep dim greatness
within him, which moves him, despite himself; that
nameless unspeakable force which compels him to create
and to achieve ; that vision by which he beholds worlds
beyond him not seen by his fellows.

Weary of life he may be ; of life material, and full of
subtlety ; of passion, of pleasure, of pain ; of the kisses
that burn, of the laugh that rings hollow, of the honey
that so soon turns to gall, of the sickly fatigues, and the
tired, cloyed hunger, that are the portion of men upon
earth. Weary of these he may be ; but still if the gods
have breathed on him, and made him mad with the
madness that men have called genius, there will be that
in him greater than himself, which he knows, and can-
not know without some fierce wrench and pang, will
be numbed and made impotent, and drift away, lost for
evermore, into that eternal night, which is all that men
behold of death.


T^HE grass of the Holy River gathers perfume from
^ the marvellous suns, and the moonless nights,
and the gorgeous bloom of the east, from the aromatic
breath of the leopard, and the perfume of the fallen pome-
granate, and the sacred oil that floats in the lamps, and
the caress of the girl-bather's feet, and the myrrh-dropping
unguents that glide from the maiden's bare limbs in the
moonlight, the grass holds and feeds on them all. But
not till the grass has been torn from the roots, and been
crushed, and been bruised and destroyed, can the full
odours exhale of all it has tasted and treasured.

Even thus the imagination of man may be great, but
it can never be at its greatest until one serpent, with
merciless fangs, has bitten it through and through, and
impregnated it with passion and with poison, that one
deathless serpent which is memory.

AND, indeed, to those who are alive to the nameless,
** universal, Eternal Soul which breathes in all the
grasses of the fields, and beams in the eyes of all creatures
of earth and air, and throbs in the living light of palpitat-
ing stars, and thrills through the young sap of forest trees,
and stirs in the strange loves of wind-borne plants, and
hums in every song of the bee, and burns in every quiver
of the flame, and peoples with sentient myriads every drop
of dew that gathers on a hare-bell, every bead of water
that ripples in a brook to them the mortal life of man
can seem but little, save at once the fiercest and the
teeblest thing that does exist ; at once the most cruel and
the most impotent ; tyrants of direst destruction, and
bondsmen of lowest captivity.


'T'HE earth has always most charm, and least pain, to
* the poet or the artist when men are hidden away
under their roofs. Then they do not break its calm with
either their mirth or their brutality ; then the vile and re-
volting coarseness of their works, that blot it with so much
deformity, is softened and obscured in the purple breaths
of shadow, and the dim tender gleam of stars.

TW"HEN the world was in its youth, it had leisure to
" treasure its recollections ; even to pause and look
back ; to see what flower of a fair thought, what fruit of a
noble art, it might have overlooked or left down-trodden.
But now it is so old, and is so tired ; it is purblind, and
heavy of foot ; it does not notice what it destroys ; it de-
sires rest and can find none ; nothing can matter greatly
to it ; its dead are so many that it cannot count them ;
and being thus worn and dulled with age, and suffocated
under the weight of its innumerable memories, it is very
slow to be moved, and swift terribly swift to forget.

Why should it not be ?

It has known the best, it has known the worst that ever
can befall it.

And the prayer that to the heart of man seems so freshly
born from his own desire, what is it on the weary ear of
the world, save the same old, old cry which it has heard
through all the ages, empty as the sound of the wind, and
for ever for ever unanswered?

"COR there is nothing so cruel in life as a Faith ; thft
* Faith, whatever its name may be, that draws a man
on all his years through on one narrow path, by one tremu-
lous light, and then at the last, with a laugh drowns


T THINK I see! the great God walked by the edge
* of the river, and he mused on a gift to give man,
on a joy that should be a joy on the earth for ever ; and
he passed by the lily white as snow, by the thyme that
fed the bees, by the gold heart in the arurn flower, by
the orange flame of the tall sandrush, by all the great
water-blossoms which the sun kissed and the swallows
loved, and he came to the one little reed pierced with the
snake's-tongues, and all alone amidst millions. Then he
took it up, and cut it to the root, and killed it ; killed it
as a reed but breathed into it a song audible and beauti-
ful to all the ears of men. Was that death to the reed ?
or life ? Would a thousand summers of life by the
waterside have been worth that one thrill of song when
a god first spoke through it ?

TT is odd that you should live in a palace, and he

should want for bread ; but then he can create

things, and you can only buy them. So it is even,


A WORD that needs compelling is broken by the
*"* heart before the lips give it. It is to plant a tree
without a root to put faith in a man that needs a bond.

"YOU are glad since you sing!" said the old man

* to her as she passed him again on her homeward
way and paused again beside him.

"The birds in cages sing," she answered him, "but
think you they are glad ?"

"Are they not?"

She sat down a moment beside him, on the bank which
was soft with moss, and odorous with wild flowers curling


up the stems of the poplars and straying over into the
corn beyond.

" Are they ? Look. Yesterday I passed a cottage, it
is on the Great South Road ; far away from here. The
house was empty ; the people no doubt were gone to
labour in the fields ; there was a wicker cage hanging to
the wall, and in the cage there was a blackbird. The
sun beat on his head ; his square of sod was a dry clod
of bare earth ; the heat had dried every drop of water in
his pan ; and yet the bird was singing. Singing how ?
In torment, beating his breast against the bars till the
blood started, crying to the skies to have mercy on him
and to let the rain fall. His song was shrill ; it had a
scream in it ; still he sang. Do you say the merle was

" What did you do ?" asked the old man, still breaking
his stones with a monotonous rise and fall of his hammer.

" I took the cage down and opened the door."

" And he ? "

" He shot up in the air first, then dropped down amidst
the grasses, where a little brook which the drought had
not dried was still running ; and he bathed and drank,
and bathed again, seeming mad with the joy of the water.
When I lost him from sight he was swaying among the
leaves on a bough over the river ; but then he was silent."

" And what do you mean by that ? "

Her eyes clouded ; she was mute. She vaguely knew
the meaning it bore to herself, but it was beyond her to
express it. All things of nature had voices and parables
for her, because her fancy was vivid, and her mind was
still too dark, and too profoundly ignorant, for her to be
able to shape her thoughts into metaphor or deduction.
The bird had spoken to her ; by his silence as by his
song ; but what he had uttered she could not well utter
again. Save indeed that song was not gladness, and
neither was silence pain.


'""THE future?" she said at last, "that means some-
* thing that one has not, and that is to come is it
so?" "Something that one never has, and that never
comes," muttered the old man, wearily cracking the flints
in two; "something that one possesses in one's sleep,
and that is farther off each time that one awakes ; and
yet a thing that one sees always, sees even when one
lies a dying they say for men are fools."

TN one of the most fertile and most fair districts of
northern France there was a little Norman town,
very, very old, and beautiful exceedingly by reason of its
ancient streets, its high peaked roofs, its marvellous
galleries and carvings, its exquisite greys and browns, its
silence and its colour, and its rich still life.

Its centre was a great cathedral, noble as York or
Chartres ; a cathedral, whose spire shot to the clouds,
and whose innumerable towers and pinnacles were all
pierced to the day, so that the blue sky shone and the
birds of the air flew all through them. A slow brown
river, broad enough for market boats and for corn barges,
stole through the place to the sea, lapping as it went the
wooden piles of the houses, and reflecting the quaint
shapes of the carvings, the hues of the signs and the
draperies, the dark spaces of the dormer windows, the
bright heads of some casement-cluster of carnations, the
laughing face of a girl leaning out to smile on her lover.

All around it lay the deep grass unshaven, the leagues
on leagues of fruitful orchards, the low blue hills tenderly
interlacing one another, the fields of colza, where the
white head-dress of the women-workers flashed in the
sun like a silvery pigeon's wing. To the west there were
the deep green woods, and the wide plains golden with
gorse of Arthur's and of Merlin's lands ; and beyond, to


the northward, was the dim stretch of the ocean breaking
on a yellow shore, whither the river ran, and whither led
straight shady roads, hidden with linden and with poplar
trees, and marked ever and anon by a wayside wooden
Christ, or by a little murmuring well crowned with a

A beautiful, old, shadowy, ancient place : picturesque
everywhere ; often silent, with a sweet sad silence that
was chiefly broken by the sound of bells or the chaunting
of choristers. A place of the Middle Ages still. With
lanterns swinging on cords from house to house as the
only light ; with wondrous scroll-works and quaint signs
at the doors of all its traders ; with monks' cowls and
golden croziers and white-robed acolytes in its streets ;
with the subtle smoke of incense coming out from the
cathedral door to mingle with the odours of the fruits and
flowers in the market-place ; with great flat-bottomed
boats drifting down the river under the leaning eaves of
its dwellings ; and with the galleries of its opposing
houses touching so nearly that a girl leaning in one could
stretch a Provence rose or toss an Easter egg across to
her neighbour in the other.

Doubtless there were often squalor, poverty, dust, filth,
and uncomeliness within these old and beautiful homes.
Doubtless often the dwellers therein were housed like

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 4 of 39)