1839-1908 Ouida.

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

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and date-seller were all once free to hear in her Agora.
But for the light that shone from Greece in the breaking
of the Renaissance, Europe would have perished in its
Gothic darkness. They call her dead : she can never
die while her life, her soul, her genius breathe fire into
the new nations, and give their youth all of greatness and
of grace that they can claim. Greece dead ! She reigns
in every poem written, in every art pursued, in every
beauty treasured, in every liberty won, in every godlike
life and godlike death, in your fresh lands, which, but for
her, would be barbarian now."

Where she stood, with her eyes turned westward to the
far-off snows of Cithasron and Mount Ida, and the shores
which the bronze spear of Pallas Athene once guarded
through the night and day, the dark light in her eyes
deepened, and the flush of a superb pride was on her
brow it seemed Aspasia who lived again, and who
remembered Pericles.

TTHE chant of the Imaum rang up from the shore,
* deep and sonorous, calling on the Faithful to
prayer, an hour before midnight. She listened dreamily
to the echoes that seemed to linger among the dark

ID ALT A. 99

u I like those national calls to prayer," she said, as she
leaned over the parapet, while the fire-flies glittered
among the mass of leaves as the diamond sprays glistened
in her hair. " The Ave Maria, the Vespers, the Imaum's
chant, the salutation of the dawn or of the night, the
hymn before sleep, or before the sun ; you have none of
those in your chill islands ? You have only weary rituals,
and stuccoed churches, where the ' Pharisees for a pre-
tence make long prayers ! ' As if that was not the best
the only temple ! "

She glanced upward at the star-studded sky, and on
her face was that graver and gentler look which had
come there when she sang.

" I have held it so many a time," he answered her,
lying awake at night among the long grass of the Andes,
or under the palms of the desert. It was a strange de-
lusion to build shrines to the honour of God while there
are still his own the forests and the mountains.

" TT was a fair heritage to lose through a feeble vanity
that beautiful Constantinople ! ;) she said musingly.
"The East and the West what an empire ! More than
Alexander ever grasped at what might not have been
done with it ? Asian faith and Oriental sublimity, with
Roman power and Gothic force ; if there had been a hand
strong enough to weld all these together, what a world
there might have been ! "

" But to have done that would have been to attain the
Impossible," he answered her. " Oil and flame, old and
new, living and dying, tradition and scepticism, iconoclast
and idolater, you cannot unite and harmonise these an-

She gave a sign of dissent.

" The prophet or the hero unites all antagonisms,


because he binds them all to his own genius. The
Byzantine empire had none such ; the nearest was
Julian, but he believed less in himself than in the gods ;
the nearest after him was Belisarius the fool of a
courtesan, and he was but a good soldier ; he was no
teacher, no liberator, no leader for the nations. John
Vatices came too late. A man must be his own convert
before he can convert others. Zoroaster, Christ, Ma-
hommed, Cromwell, Napoleon, believed intensely in
their own missions ; hence their influence on the peoples.
How can we tell what Byzantium might have become
under one mighty hand? It was torn in pieces among
courtesans, and parasites, and Christian fanatics, and
Houmousians and Houmoiousians ! I have the blood
of the Commneni in me. I think of it with shame when
I remember what they might have been."
"You come from the Roman Emperors?"
"The Roman Emperors?" she repeated. "When the
name was a travesty, an ignominy, a reproach ! When
Barbarians thronged the Forum, and the representative
of Galilee fishermen claimed power in the Capitol ?
Yes ; I descend, they say, from the Commneni ; but I
am far prouder that, on the other hand, I come from
pure Athenians. I belong to two buried worlds. But
the stone throne of the Areopagus was greater than the
gold one of Manuel."

" HTHAT animal life is to be envied perhaps," she said.
* "Their pride is centred in a silver hairpin ; their
conscience is committed to a priest ; their credulity is
contented with tradition ; their days are all the same,
from the rising of one sun to another ; they do not love,
they do not hate ; they are like the ass that they drive,
follow one patient routine, and only take care for their
food. Perhaps they are to be envied ! "


" You would not lose ' those thoughts that wander
through eternity,' to gain in exchange the peace from
ignorance of the peasant or the dullard?"

She turned her face to him, with its most beautiful
smile on her lips and in her eyes.

" No, I would not : you are right. Better to know the
secrets of the gods, even though with pain, than to lead
the dull, brute life, though painless. It is only in our
dark hours that we would sell our souls for a dreamless

"Dark hours! You should not know them. Ah, if
you would but trust me with some confidence ! if there
were but some way in which I could serve you ! "

Her eyes met his with gratitude, even while she gave
him a gesture of silence. She thought how little could
the bold, straight stroke of this man's frank chivalry cut
through the innumerable and intricate chains that
entangled her own life. The knightly Excalibur could
do nothing to sever the filmy but insoluble meshes of
secret intrigues.

" It is a saint's-day : I had forgotten it," she said to
turn his words from herself, while the bell of the cam-
panile still swung through the air. "I am a pagan, you
see : I do not fancy that you care much for creeds your-

" Creeds ? I wish there were no such word. It has
only been a rallying-cry for war, an excuse for the bigot
to burn his neighbour."

" No. Long ago, under the Andes, Nezahualcoytl held
the same faith that Socrates had vainly taught in the
Agora ; and Zengis Khan knew the truth of theism like
Plato ; yet the world has never generally learnt it. It
is the religion of nature of reason. But the faith is too
simple and too sublime for the multitude. The mass of
minds needs a religion of mythics, legend, symbolism, and
fear. What is impalpable escapes it ; and it must give


an outward and visible shape to its belief, as it gives in
its art a human form to its deity. Come, since we agree
in our creed, I will take you to my temple a temple not
made by hands."

" T NEVER had a fair field ! " it may be sometimes
* a coward's apology ; but it is many a time the
epitome of a great, cramped, tortured, wasted life, which
strove like a caged eagle to get free, and never could
beat down the bars of the den that circumstances and
prejudice had forged. The world sees the few who do
reach freedom, and, watching their bold upright flight,
says rashly, " will can work all things." But they who
perish by the thousand, the fettered eagles who never see
the sun ; who pant in darkness, and wear their breasts
bare beating on the iron that will never yield ; who know
their strength, yet cannot break their prison ; who feel
their wings, yet never can soar up to meet the sweet
wild western winds of liberty ; who lie at last beaten,
and hopeless, and blind, with only strength enough to
long for death to come and quench all sense and thought
in its annihilation, who thinks of them who counts
them ?

HP HE earliest dawn had broken eastward, where the
* mountains stretched the dawn of a southern sum-
mer, that almost touches the sunset of the past night
but under the dense shadows of the old woods that had
sheltered the mystic rites of Gnostics and echoed with
the Latin hymns to Pan, no light wandered. There was
only a dim silvery haze that seemed to float over the
whiteness of the tall-stemmed arum lilies and the foam-
bells of the water that here and there glimmered under
the rank vegetation, where it had broken from its hidden

ID ALIA. 103

channels up to air and space. Not a sound disturbed
the intense stillness ; that the night waned and the world
wakened, brought no change to the solitudes that men
had forgotten, and only memories of dead-deserted gods
still haunted in the places of their lost temples, whose
columns were now the sea-pines' stems, and on whose
fallen altars and whose shattered sculptures the lizard
made her shelter and the wind-sown grasses seeded and
took root. Of the once graceful marble beauty and the
incense-steeped stones of sacrifice nothing remained but
moss-grown shapeless fragments, buried beneath a pall
of leaves by twice a thousand autumns. Yet the ancient
sanctity still rested on the nameless, pathless woods ;
the breath of an earlier time, of a younger season of the
earth, seemed to lie yet upon the untroubled forest ways ;
the whisper of the unseen waters had a dream-like, unreal
cadence ; in the deep shade, in the warm fragrance and
the heavy gloom, there was a voluptuous yet mournful
charm the world seemed so far, the stars shone so
near ; there were the sweetness of rest and the oblivion
of passion.

"P\EATH is not ours to deal. And were it ours, should
**J we give him the nameless mystic mercy which
all men live to crave give it as the chastisement of
crime ? Death ! It is rest to the aged, it is oblivion to
the atheist, it is immortality to the poet ! It is a vast,
dim, exhaustless pity to all the world. And would you
summon it as your hardest cruelty to sin ?

They were silent ; she stirred their souls she had
not bound their passions.
v " A traitor merits death," they muttered.

" Merits it ! Not so. The martyr, the liberator, the
seeker of truth, may deserve its peace ; how has the
traitor won them? You deem yourselves just; your


justice errs. If you would give him justice, make him
live. Live to know fear lest every wind among the
leaves may whisper of his secret ; live to feel the look
of a young child's eyes a shame to him ; live to envy
every peasant whose bread has not been bought with
tainted coin ; live to hear ever in his path the stealing
step of haunting retribution ; live to see his brethren
pass by him as a thing accurst ; live to listen in his age
to white-haired men, who once had been his comrades,
tell to the youth about them the unforgotten story of his
shame. Make him live thus if you would have justice."

They answered nothing ; a shudder ran through them
as they heard.

" And if you have as I a deliverance that forbids
you even so much harshness, still let him live, and bury
his transgression in your hearts. Say to him as I say,
' Your sin was great, go forth and sin no more.' "

'E is not an assassin !"
" Since when have you discovered that ? "

The flush grew darker on Count Conrad's forehead ;
he moved restlessly under the irony, and drank down a
draught of red fiery Roussillon without tasting it more
than if it had been water. Then he laughed ; the same
careless musical laughter with which he had made the
requiem over a violet a laugh which belonged at once to
the most careless and the most evil side of his character.

" Since sophism came in, which was with Monsieur
Cain, when he asked, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' It
was ingenious that reply ; creditable to a beginner, with-
out social advantages. ' An assassin ! ' Take the word
boldly by the beard, and look at it. What is there
objectionable ? "

" Nothing except to the assassinated."

ID ALIA. 105

" It has had an apotheosis ever since the world began,"
pursued Phaulcon, unheeding, in his bright vivacity.
"Who are celebrated in Scripture? Judith, Samuel,
David, Moses, Joab. Who is a patriot? Brutus. Who
is an immortal? Harmodius and Aristogiton. Who is
a philosopher? Cicero, while he murmurs ' Vixerunt 1*
after slaying Lentulus. Who is a hero? Marius, who
nails the senators' heads to the rostra?. Who is a martyr ?
Charles, who murders Strafford. What is religion ?
Christianity, that has burnt and slain millions. Who is
a priest? Calvin, who destroys Servetus ; or Pole, who
kills Latimer, which you like. Who is a saint ? George
of Cappadocia, who slaughters right and left. Who is a
ruler? Sulla, who slays Ofella. Who is a queen?
Christina, who stabs Monaldeschi ; Catherine, who
strangles Peter ; Isabella, who slays Moors and Jews by
the thousand. Murderers all ! Assassination has always
been deified ; and before it is objected to, the world must
change its creeds, its celebrities, and its chronicles.
' Monsieur, you are an assassin,' says an impolite world.
'Messieurs,' says the polite logician, ' I found my warrant
in your Bible, and my precedent in your Brutus. What
you deify in Aristogiton and Jael you mustn't damn in
Ankarstrom and me.' Voila ! What could the world
say? :)

" That you would outwit Belial with words, and beguile
Beelzebub out of his kingdom with sophistry."


JDOWER is sweet, and when you are a little clerk you
love its sweetness quite as much as if you were an
emperor, and maybe you love it a good deal more.

TIE saw no reason why he should not become a
deputy, and even a minister before he died, and
indeed there was no reason whatever. He was only a
clerk at fifty pounds a year ; but he had a soul above all
scruples, and a heart as hard as a millstone.

t_I E was only a clerk indeed, at a slender salary, and
* * ate his friends' tomatoes publicly in the little back
room of the caffe ; but he had the soul of a statesman.
When a donkey kicks, beat it ; when it dies, skin it ; so
only will it profit you ; that was his opinion, and the
public was the donkey of Messer Nellemane.


"DIPPO and Viola feared everything, yet knew not what
* they feared ; it is a ghostly burden of dread, that
which the honest poor carry with them all through their
toiling hungry days, the vague oppressive dread of this
law which is always acting the spy on them, always
dogging their steps, always emptying their pockets. The
poor can understand criminal law, and its justice and its
necessity easily enough, and respect its severities ; but
they cannot understand the petty tyrannies of civil law ;
and it wears their lives out, and breaks their spirits.
When it does not break their spirits it curdles their
blood and they become socialists, nihilists, international-
ists, anything that will promise them riddance of their
spectre and give them vengeance. We in Italy are all of
us afraid of socialism, we who have anything to lose ; and
yet we let the syndics, and their secretaries, conciliators,
and chancellors sow it broadcast in dragon's teeth of
petty injustices and petty cruelties, that soon or late will
spring up armed men, hydra-headed and torch in hand !

HTHE law should be a majesty, solemn, awful, unerring :
* just, as man hopes that God is just ; and from its
throne it should stretch out a mighty hand to seize and
grasp the guilty, and the guilty only. But when the law
is only a petty, meddlesome, cruel, greedy spy, mingling
in every household act and peering in at every window
pane, then the poor who are guiltless would be justified
if they spat in its face, and called it by its right name, a
foul extortion.

HTHE Italian tongue chatters like a magpie's ; if they
did not let the steam off thus they would be less
easily ruled than they are ; but no great talker ever did
any great thing yet, in this world.


A RETENTIVE memory is of great use to a man, no
r^T doubt ; but the talent of oblivion is on the whole
more useful.

CARTA ROSALIA is in a lovely pastoral country;
^ the country that seems to thrill with Theocritus'
singing, as it throbs with the little tamborine of the
cicala ; a country running over with beautiful greenery,
and with climbing creepers hanging everywhere, from
the vine on the maples to the china-rose hedges, and
with the deep-blue shadows, and the sun-flushed white-
ness of the distant mountains lending to it in the golden
distance that solemnity and ethereal charm which, with-
out mountains somewhere within sight, no country ever
has. But since the advent of "freedom" it is scarred
and wounded ; great scar-patches stretch here and there
where woods have been felled by the avarice illumined
in the souls of landowners ; hundreds and thousands of
bare poles stand stark and stiff against the river light
which have been glorious pyramids of leaf shedding
welcome shadows on the river path ; and many a bold
round hill like the ballons of the Vosges, once rich of
grass as they, now shorn of wood, and even of under-
growth, lift a bare stony front to the lovely sunlight, and
never more will root of tree, or seed of flower or of fern,
find bed there.
Such is Progress.

"COR the first time his liberi pensieri were distasteful
to him and unsatisfactory ; for atheism makes a
curse a mere rattle of dry peas in a fool's bladder, as it
makes a blessing a mere flutter of a breath. Messer
Nellemane for the first time felt that the old religion has


its advantages over agnosticism ; it gave you a hell for
your rivals and your enemies !

t_J E had never heard of Virgil and of Theocritus but
** it hurt him to have these sylvan pictures spoiled ;
these pictures which are the same as those they saw and
sang ; the threshing barns with the piles of golden grain,
and the flails flying to merry voices ; the young horses
trampling the wheat loose from its husk with bounding
limbs and tossing manes ; the great arched doorways,
with the maidens sitting in a circle breaking the maize
from its withered leaves, and telling old-world stories,
and singing sweet fiorellini all the while ; the hanging
fields broken up in hill and vale with the dun-coloured
oxen pushing their patient way through labyrinths of vine
boughs, and clouds of silvery olive leaf: the bright
laborious day, with the sun-rays turning the sickle to a
semi-circlet of silver, as the mice ran, and the crickets
shouted, and the larks soared on high : the merry supper
when the day was done, with the thrill and thrum of the
mandolini, and the glisten of the unhoused fire-flies,
whose sanctuary had been broken when the bearded
barley and the amber corn fell prone : all these things
rose to his memory : they had made his youth and man-
hood glad and full of colour : they were here still for his
sons a little while, but when his sons should be all grown
men, then those things would have ceased to be, and even
their very memory would have perished, most likely, while
the smoke of the accursed engines would have sullied the
pure blue sky, and the stench of their foul vapours would
have poisoned the golden air.

He roused himself and said wearily to Pippo,
"There is a tale I have heard somewhere of a man
who sold his birthright for gold, and when the gold was


in his hands, then it changed to withered leaves and
brown moss : I was thinking, eh ? that the world is much
like that man ! "

VV7HEN all your politics and policies are summed up

in the one intention to do well for yourself, great

simplicity is given to your theories, if not to your


""THE ministerialists . . . made florid and beautiful
* speeches full of sesquipedalian phrases in which
they spoke about the place of Italy among the great
powers, the dangers of jealousy and invasion from other
nations, the magnificence of the future, the blessings of
education, the delights of liberty, the wickedness of the
opposition, the sovereign rights of the people ; and said
it all so magnificently and so bewilderingly that the
people .never remembered till it was too late that they
had said nothing about opposing the cow-tax or indeed
any taxes at all, but listened and gaped, and shouted, and
clapped ; and being told that they could sit at a Euro-
pean Congress to decide the fate of Epirus, were for the
moment oblivious that they had bad bread, dear wine,
scant meat, an army of conscripts, and a bureaucracy
that devoured them as maggots a cheese. What is
political eloquence for, if not to make the people forget
such things as these ?

nrO sell your grapes to foreigners and have none at
all at home is a spirited commerce, and fine free
trade ; that the poor souls around are all poisoned with
cheap chemicals in the absence of wine, is only an evi-
dence of all that science can do.


T is the noblest natures that tyranny drives to frenzy.

""THE bureaucratic mind, all the world over, believes
the squeak of the official penny whistle to be as
the trump of archangels and the voice of Sinai. That
all the people do not fall down prostrate at the squeak is,
to this order of mind, the one unmentionable sin.

TT is not true that no Italian ever tells the truth, as
commentators on the country say, but it is sadly
true that when one does he suffers for it.

A DAY in prison to a free-born son of the soil, used
to work with the broad bright sky alone above his
head, is more agony than a year of it is to a cramped
city-worker used only to the twilight of a machine-room
or a workshop, only to an air full of smuts and smoke, and
the stench of acids, and the dust of filed steel or sifted
coal. The sufferings of the two cannot be compared,
and one among many of the injustices the law, all over
the world, commits, is that it never takes into considera-
tion what a man's past has been. There are those to
whom a prison is as hell ; there are those to whom it is
something better than the life they led.

CHE was an old woman, and had been bred up in the
^ old faiths ; faiths that were not clear indeed to her
nor ever reasoned on, but yet gave her consolation, and
a great, if a vague hope. Now that we tell the poor there


is no such hope, that when they have worked and starved
long enough, then they will perish altogether, like bits
of candle that have burnt themselves out, that they are
mere machines made of carbon and hydrogen, which,
when they have had due friction, will then crumble back
into the dust ; now that we tell them all this, and call
this the spread of education, will they be as patient ?

TTAKE hope from the heart of man, and you make
* him a beast of prey.

/^\NE of the cruellest sins of any state, in giving petty
^r and tyrannous authority into petty and tyrannous
hands, is that it thus brings into hatred and disgust the
true and high authority of moral law.

TN these modern times of cowardice, when great
ministers dare not say the thing they think, and
high magistrates stoop to execute decrees they abhor, it
is scarcely to be hoped for that moral courage will be a
plant of very sturdy growth in the souls of carpenters,
and coopers, and bakers, and plumbers, and day-labourers,
who toil for scarce a shilling a day.

TIE had been wronged, and a great wrong is to the
nature as a cancer is to the body ; there is no


A. JUST chastisement may benefit a man, though it
seldom does, but an unjust one changes all his
blood to gall.

T N these days, Christian Europe decides that not only
* the poor man lying by the wayside, but also the
Samaritan who helps him, are sinners against political
economy, and its law forbids what its religion orders :
people must settle the contradiction as they deem best ;
they generally are content to settle it by buttoning up
their pockets, and passing by, on the other side.

TN this lovely land that brims over with flowers like a
* cup over-filled, where"the sun is as a magician for
ever changing with a wand of gold all common things to
paradise ; where every wind shakes out the fragrance of
a world of fruit and flower commingled ; where, for so
little, the lute sounds and the song arises ; here, misery
looks more sad than it does in sadder climes, where it is
like a home-born thing, and not an alien tyrant as it is

"VOU cannot cage a field bird when it is old ; it dies for
* want of flight, of air, of change, of freedom. No use
will be the stored grain of your cages ; better for the bird
a berry here and there, and peace of gentle death at last
amidst the golden gorse or blush of hawthorn buds.

HAT is England?"

" It is a place where the poor souls have no wine
of their own, I think ; and they make cannons and cheese.



Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 8 of 39)