Oscar Wilde.

La Sainte Courtisane online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryOscar WildeLa Sainte Courtisane → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Oscar Wilde Miscellaneous


Contents:

Preface by Robert Ross
A Florentine Tragedy - A Fragment
La Sainte Courtisane - A Fragment


PREFACE BY ROBERT ROSS


'As to my personal attitude towards criticism, I confess in brief
the following:- "If my works are good and of any importance whatever
for the further development of art, they will maintain their place
in spite of all adverse criticism and in spite of all hateful
suspicions attached to my artistic intentions. If my works are of
no account, the most gratifying success of the moment and the most
enthusiastic approval of as augurs cannot make them endure. The
waste-paper press can devour them as it has devoured many others,
and I will not shed a tear . . . and the world will move on just the
same."' - RICHARD STRAUSS.

The contents of this volume require some explanation of an
historical nature. It is scarcely realised by the present
generation that Wilde's works on their first appearance, with the
exception of De Profundis, were met with almost general condemnation
and ridicule. The plays on their first production were grudgingly
praised because their obvious success could not be ignored; but on
their subsequent publication in book form they were violently
assailed. That nearly all of them have held the stage is still a
source of irritation among certain journalists. Salome however
enjoys a singular career. As every one knows, it was prohibited by
the Censor when in rehearsal by Madame Bernhardt at the Palace
Theatre in 1892. On its publication in 1893 it was greeted with
greater abuse than any other of Wilde's works, and was consigned to
the usual irrevocable oblivion. The accuracy of the French was
freely canvassed, and of course it is obvious that the French is not
that of a Frenchman. The play was passed for press, however, by no
less a writer than Marcel Schwob whose letter to the Paris
publisher, returning the proofs and mentioning two or three slight
alterations, is still in my possession. Marcel Schwob told me some
years afterwards that he thought it would have spoiled the
spontaneity and character of Wilde's style if he had tried to
harmonise it with the diction demanded by the French Academy. It
was never composed with any idea of presentation. Madame Bernhardt
happened to say she wished Wilde would write a play for her; he
replied in jest that he had done so. She insisted on seeing the
manuscript, and decided on its immediate production, ignorant or
forgetful of the English law which prohibits the introduction of
Scriptural characters on the stage. With his keen sense of the
theatre Wilde would never have contrived the long speech of Salome
at the end in a drama intended for the stage, even in the days of
long speeches. His threat to change his nationality shortly after
the Censor's interference called forth a most delightful and good-
natured caricature of him by Mr. Bernard Partridge in Punch.

Wilde was still in prison in 1896 when Salome was produced by Lugne
Poe at the Theatre de L'OEuvre in Paris, but except for an account
in the Daily Telegraph the incident was hardly mentioned in England.
I gather that the performance was only a qualified success, though
Lugne Poe's triumph as Herod was generally acknowledged. In 1901,
within a year of the author's death, it was produced in Berlin; from
that moment it has held the European stage. It has run for a longer
consecutive period in Germany than any play by any Englishman, not
excepting Shakespeare. Its popularity has extended to all countries
where it is not prohibited. It is performed throughout Europe, Asia
and America. It is played even in Yiddish. This is remarkable in
view of the many dramas by French and German writers who treat of
the same theme. To none of them, however, is Wilde indebted.
Flaubert, Maeterlinck (some would add Ollendorff) and Scripture, are
the obvious sources on which he has freely drawn for what I do not
hesitate to call the most powerful and perfect of all his dramas.
But on such a point a trustee and executor may be prejudiced because
it is the most valuable asset in Wilde's literary estate. Aubrey
Beardsley's illustrations are too well known to need more than a
passing reference. In the world of art criticism they excited
almost as much attention as Wilde's drama has excited in the world
of intellect.

During May 1905 the play was produced in England for the first time
at a private performance by the New Stage Club. No one present will
have forgotten the extraordinary tension of the audience on that
occasion, those who disliked the play and its author being
hypnotised by the extraordinary power of Mr. Robert Farquharson's
Herod, one of the finest pieces of acting ever seen in this country.
My friends the dramatic critics (and many of them are personal
friends) fell on Salome with all the vigour of their predecessors
twelve years before. Unaware of what was taking place in Germany,
they spoke of the play as having been 'dragged from obscurity.' The
Official Receiver in Bankruptcy and myself were, however, better
informed. And much pleasure has been derived from reading those
criticisms, all carefully preserved along with the list of receipts
which were simultaneously pouring in from the German performances.
To do the critics justice they never withdrew any of their printed
opinions, which were all trotted out again when the play was
produced privately for the second time in England by the Literary
Theatre Society in 1906. In the Speaker of July 14th, 1906,
however, some of the iterated misrepresentations of fact were
corrected. No attempt was made to controvert the opinion of an
ignorant critic: his veracity only was impugned. The powers of
vaticination possessed by such judges of drama can be fairly tested
in the career of Salome on the European stage, apart from the opera.
In an introduction to the English translation published by Mr. John
Lane it is pointed out that Wilde's confusion of Herod Antipas
(Matt. xiv. 1) with Herod the Great (Matt. ii. 1) and Herod Agrippa
I. (Acts xii. 23) is intentional, and follows a mediaeval
convention. There is no attempt at historical accuracy or
archaeological exactness. Those who saw the marvellous decor of Mr.
Charles Ricketts at the second English production can form a
complete idea of what Wilde intended in that respect; although the
stage management was clumsy and amateurish. The great opera of
Richard Strauss does not fall within my province; but the fag ends
of its popularity on the Continent have been imported here oddly
enough through the agency of the Palace Theatre, where Salome was
originally to have been performed. Of a young lady's dancing, or of
that of her rivals, I am not qualified to speak. I note merely that
the critics who objected to the horror of one incident in the drama
lost all self-control on seeing that incident repeated in dumb show
and accompanied by fescennine corybantics. Except in 'name and
borrowed notoriety' the music-hall sensation has no relation
whatever to the drama which so profoundly moved the whole of Europe
and the greatest living musician. The adjectives of contumely are
easily transmuted into epithets of adulation, when a prominent
ecclesiastic succumbs, like King Herod, to the fascination of a
dancer.

It is not usually known in England that a young French naval
officer, unaware that Dr. Strauss was composing an opera on the
theme of Salome, wrote another music drama to accompany Wilde's
text. The exclusive musical rights having been already secured by
Dr. Strauss, Lieutenant Marriotte's work cannot be performed
regularly. One presentation, however, was permitted at Lyons, the
composer's native town, where I am told it made an extraordinary
impression. In order to give English readers some faint idea of the
world-wide effect of Wilde's drama, my friend Mr. Walter Ledger has
prepared a short bibliography of certain English and Continental
translations.


At the time of Wilde's trial the nearly completed MS. of La Sainte
Courtisane was entrusted to Mrs. Leverson, the well-known novelist,
who in 1897 went to Paris on purpose to restore it to the author.
Wilde immediately left the only copy in a cab. A few days later he
laughingly informed me of the loss, and added that a cab was a very
proper place for it. I have explained elsewhere that he looked on
his works with disdain in his last years, though he was always full
of schemes for writing others. All my attempts to recover the lost
work failed. The passages here reprinted are from some odd leaves
of a first draft. The play is, of course, not unlike Salome, though
it was written in English. It expanded Wilde's favourite theory
that when you convert some one to an idea, you lose your faith in
it; the same motive runs through Mr. W. H. Honorius the hermit, so
far as I recollect the story, falls in love with the courtesan who
has come to tempt him, and he reveals to her the secret of the love
of God. She immediately becomes a Christian, and is murdered by
robbers. Honorius the hermit goes back to Alexandria to pursue a
life of pleasure. Two other similar plays Wilde invented in prison,
AHAB AND ISABEL and PHARAOH; he would never write them down, though
often importuned to do so. Pharaoh was intensely dramatic and
perhaps more original than any of the group. None of these works
must be confused with the manuscripts stolen from 16 Tite Street in
1895 - namely, the enlarged version of Mr. W. H., the second draft of
A Florentine Tragedy, and The Duchess of Padua (which, existing in a
prompt copy, was of less importance than the others); nor with The
Cardinal of Arragon, the manuscript of which I never saw. I
scarcely think it ever existed, though Wilde used to recite proposed
passages for it.


Some years after Wilde's death I was looking over the papers and
letters rescued from Tite Street when I came across loose sheets of
manuscript and typewriting, which I imagined were fragments of The
Duchess of Padua; on putting them together in a coherent form I
recognised that they belonged to the lost Florentine Tragedy. I
assumed that the opening scene, though once extant, had disappeared.
One day, however, Mr. Willard wrote that he possessed a typewritten
fragment of a play which Wilde had submitted to him, and this he
kindly forwarded for my inspection. It agreed in nearly every
particular with what I had taken so much trouble to put together.
This suggests that the opening scene had never been written, as Mr.
Willard's version began where mine did. It was characteristic of
the author to finish what he never began.

When the Literary Theatre Society produced Salome in 1906 they asked
me for some other short drama by Wilde to present at the same time,
as Salome does not take very long to play. I offered them the
fragment of A Florentine Tragedy. By a fortunate coincidence the
poet and dramatist, Mr. Thomas Sturge Moore, happened to be on the
committee of this Society, and to him was entrusted the task of
writing an opening scene to make the play complete. {1} It is not
for me to criticise his work, but there is justification for saying
that Wilde himself would have envied, with an artist's envy, such
lines as -


We will sup with the moon,
Like Persian princes that in Babylon
Sup in the hanging gardens of the King.


In a stylistic sense Mr. Sturge Moore has accomplished a feat in
reconstruction, whatever opinions may be held of A Florentine
Tragedy by Wilde's admirers or detractors. The achievement is
particularly remarkable because Mr. Sturge Moore has nothing in
common with Wilde other than what is shared by all real poets and
dramatists: He is a landed proprietor on Parnassus, not a
trespasser. In England we are more familiar with the poachers.
Time and Death are of course necessary before there can come any
adequate recognition of one of our most original and gifted singers.
Among his works are The Vinedresser and other Poems (1899), Absalom,
A Chronicle Play (1903), and The Centaur's Booty (1903). Mr. Sturge
Moore is also an art critic of distinction, and his learned works on
Durer (1905) and Correggio (1906) are more widely known (I am sorry
to say) than his powerful and enthralling poems.

Once again I must express my obligations to Mr. Stuart Mason for
revising and correcting the proofs of this new edition.

ROBERT ROSS


A FLORENTINE TRAGEDY - A FRAGMENT


CHARACTERS:

GUIDO BARDI, A Florentine prince
SIMONE, a merchant
BIANNA, his wife

The action takes place at Florence in the early sixteenth century.

[The door opens, they separate guiltily, and the husband enters.]

SIMONE. My good wife, you come slowly; were it not better
To run to meet your lord? Here, take my cloak.
Take this pack first. 'Tis heavy. I have sold nothing:
Save a furred robe unto the Cardinal's son,
Who hopes to wear it when his father dies,
And hopes that will be soon.

But who is this?
Why you have here some friend. Some kinsman doubtless,
Newly returned from foreign lands and fallen
Upon a house without a host to greet him?
I crave your pardon, kinsman. For a house
Lacking a host is but an empty thing
And void of honour; a cup without its wine,
A scabbard without steel to keep it straight,
A flowerless garden widowed of the sun.
Again I crave your pardon, my sweet cousin.

BIANCA. This is no kinsman and no cousin neither.

SIMONE. No kinsman, and no cousin! You amaze me.
Who is it then who with such courtly grace
Deigns to accept our hospitalities?

GUIDO. My name is Guido Bardi.

SIMONE. What! The son
Of that great Lord of Florence whose dim towers
Like shadows silvered by the wandering moon
I see from out my casement every night!
Sir Guido Bardi, you are welcome here,
Twice welcome. For I trust my honest wife,
Most honest if uncomely to the eye,
Hath not with foolish chatterings wearied you,
As is the wont of women.

GUIDO. Your gracious lady,
Whose beauty is a lamp that pales the stars
And robs Diana's quiver of her beams
Has welcomed me with such sweet courtesies
That if it be her pleasure, and your own,
I will come often to your simple house.
And when your business bids you walk abroad
I will sit here and charm her loneliness
Lest she might sorrow for you overmuch.
What say you, good Simone?

SIMONE. My noble Lord,
You bring me such high honour that my tongue
Like a slave's tongue is tied, and cannot say
The word it would. Yet not to give you thanks
Were to be too unmannerly. So, I thank you,
From my heart's core.

It is such things as these
That knit a state together, when a Prince
So nobly born and of such fair address,
Forgetting unjust Fortune's differences,
Comes to an honest burgher's honest home
As a most honest friend.

And yet, my Lord,
I fear I am too bold. Some other night
We trust that you will come here as a friend;
To-night you come to buy my merchandise.
Is it not so? Silks, velvets, what you will,
I doubt not but I have some dainty wares
Will woo your fancy. True, the hour is late,
But we poor merchants toil both night and day
To make our scanty gains. The tolls are high,
And every city levies its own toll,
And prentices are unskilful, and wives even
Lack sense and cunning, though Bianca here
Has brought me a rich customer to-night.
Is it not so, Bianca? But I waste time.
Where is my pack? Where is my pack, I say?
Open it, my good wife. Unloose the cords.
Kneel down upon the floor. You are better so.
Nay not that one, the other. Despatch, despatch!
Buyers will grow impatient oftentimes.
We dare not keep them waiting. Ay! 'tis that,
Give it to me; with care. It is most costly.
Touch it with care. And now, my noble Lord -
Nay, pardon, I have here a Lucca damask,
The very web of silver and the roses
So cunningly wrought that they lack perfume merely
To cheat the wanton sense. Touch it, my Lord.
Is it not soft as water, strong as steel?
And then the roses! Are they not finely woven?
I think the hillsides that best love the rose,
At Bellosguardo or at Fiesole,
Throw no such blossoms on the lap of spring,
Or if they do their blossoms droop and die.
Such is the fate of all the dainty things
That dance in wind and water. Nature herself
Makes war on her own loveliness and slays
Her children like Medea. Nay but, my Lord,
Look closer still. Why in this damask here
It is summer always, and no winter's tooth
Will ever blight these blossoms. For every ell
I paid a piece of gold. Red gold, and good,
The fruit of careful thrift.

GUIDO. Honest Simone,
Enough, I pray you. I am well content;
To-morrow I will send my servant to you,
Who will pay twice your price.

SIMONE. My generous Prince!
I kiss your hands. And now I do remember
Another treasure hidden in my house
Which you must see. It is a robe of state:
Woven by a Venetian: the stuff, cut-velvet:
The pattern, pomegranates: each separate seed
Wrought of a pearl: the collar all of pearls,
As thick as moths in summer streets at night,
And whiter than the moons that madmen see
Through prison bars at morning. A male ruby
Burns like a lighted coal within the clasp
The Holy Father has not such a stone,
Nor could the Indies show a brother to it.
The brooch itself is of most curious art,
Cellini never made a fairer thing
To please the great Lorenzo. You must wear it.
There is none worthier in our city here,
And it will suit you well. Upon one side
A slim and horned satyr leaps in gold
To catch some nymph of silver. Upon the other
Stands Silence with a crystal in her hand,
No bigger than the smallest ear of corn,
That wavers at the passing of a bird,
And yet so cunningly wrought that one would say,
It breathed, or held its breath.

Worthy Bianca,
Would not this noble and most costly robe
Suit young Lord Guido well?

Nay, but entreat him;
He will refuse you nothing, though the price
Be as a prince's ransom. And your profit
Shall not be less than mine.

BIANCA. Am I your prentice?
Why should I chaffer for your velvet robe?

GUIDO. Nay, fair Bianca, I will buy the robe,
And all things that the honest merchant has
I will buy also. Princes must be ransomed,
And fortunate are all high lords who fall
Into the white hands of so fair a foe.

SIMONE. I stand rebuked. But you will buy my wares?
Will you not buy them? Fifty thousand crowns
Would scarce repay me. But you, my Lord, shall have them
For forty thousand. Is that price too high?
Name your own price. I have a curious fancy
To see you in this wonder of the loom
Amidst the noble ladies of the court,
A flower among flowers.

They say, my lord,
These highborn dames do so affect your Grace
That where you go they throng like flies around you,
Each seeking for your favour.

I have heard also
Of husbands that wear horns, and wear them bravely,
A fashion most fantastical.

GUIDO. Simone,
Your reckless tongue needs curbing; and besides,
You do forget this gracious lady here
Whose delicate ears are surely not attuned
To such coarse music.

SIMONE. True: I had forgotten,
Nor will offend again. Yet, my sweet Lord,
You'll buy the robe of state. Will you not buy it?
But forty thousand crowns - 'tis but a trifle,
To one who is Giovanni Bardi's heir.

GUIDO. Settle this thing to-morrow with my steward,
Antonio Costa. He will come to you.
And you shall have a hundred thousand crowns
If that will serve your purpose.

SIMONE. A hundred thousand!
Said you a hundred thousand? Oh! be sure
That will for all time and in everything
Make me your debtor. Ay! from this time forth
My house, with everything my house contains
Is yours, and only yours.

A hundred thousand!
My brain is dazed. I shall be richer far
Than all the other merchants. I will buy
Vineyards and lands and gardens. Every loom
From Milan down to Sicily shall be mine,
And mine the pearls that the Arabian seas
Store in their silent caverns.

Generous Prince,
This night shall prove the herald of my love,
Which is so great that whatsoe'er you ask
It will not be denied you.

GUIDO. What if I asked
For white Bianca here?

SIMONE. You jest, my Lord;
She is not worthy of so great a Prince.
She is but made to keep the house and spin.
Is it not so, good wife? It is so. Look!
Your distaff waits for you. Sit down and spin.
Women should not be idle in their homes,
For idle fingers make a thoughtless heart.
Sit down, I say.

BIANCA. What shall I spin?

SIMONE. Oh! spin
Some robe which, dyed in purple, sorrow might wear
For her own comforting: or some long-fringed cloth
In which a new-born and unwelcome babe
Might wail unheeded; or a dainty sheet
Which, delicately perfumed with sweet herbs,
Might serve to wrap a dead man. Spin what you will;
I care not, I.

BIANCA. The brittle thread is broken,
The dull wheel wearies of its ceaseless round,
The duller distaff sickens of its load;
I will not spin to-night.

SIMONE. It matters not.
To-morrow you shall spin, and every day
Shall find you at your distaff. So Lucretia
Was found by Tarquin. So, perchance, Lucretia
Waited for Tarquin. Who knows? I have heard
Strange things about men's wives. And now, my lord,
What news abroad? I heard to-day at Pisa
That certain of the English merchants there
Would sell their woollens at a lower rate
Than the just laws allow, and have entreated
The Signory to hear them.

Is this well?
Should merchant be to merchant as a wolf?
And should the stranger living in our land
Seek by enforced privilege or craft
To rob us of our profits?

GUIDO. What should I do
With merchants or their profits? Shall I go
And wrangle with the Signory on your count?
And wear the gown in which you buy from fools,
Or sell to sillier bidders? Honest Simone,
Wool-selling or wool-gathering is for you.
My wits have other quarries.

BIANCA. Noble Lord,
I pray you pardon my good husband here,
His soul stands ever in the market-place,
And his heart beats but at the price of wool.
Yet he is honest in his common way.
[To Simone]
And you, have you no shame? A gracious Prince
Comes to our house, and you must weary him
With most misplaced assurance. Ask his pardon.

SIMONE. I ask it humbly. We will talk to-night
Of other things. I hear the Holy Father
Has sent a letter to the King of France
Bidding him cross that shield of snow, the Alps,
And make a peace in Italy, which will be
Worse than a war of brothers, and more bloody
Than civil rapine or intestine feuds.

GUIDO. Oh! we are weary of that King of France,
Who never comes, but ever talks of coming.
What are these things to me? There are other things
Closer, and of more import, good Simone.

BIANCA [To Simone]. I think you tire our most gracious guest.
What is the King of France to us? As much
As are your English merchants with their wool.

* * * * *

SIMONE. Is it so then? Is all this mighty world
Narrowed into the confines of this room
With but three souls for poor inhabitants?
Ay! there are times when the great universe,
Like cloth in some unskilful dyer's vat,
Shrivels into a handbreadth, and perchance
That time is now! Well! let that time be now.
Let this mean room be as that mighty stage
Whereon kings die, and our ignoble lives
Become the stakes God plays for.

I do not know
Why I speak thus. My ride has wearied me.
And my horse stumbled thrice, which is an omen
That bodes not good to any.

Alas! my lord,
How poor a bargain is this life of man,
And in how mean a market are we sold!
When we are born our mothers weep, but when
We die there is none weeps for us. No, not one.
[Passes to back of stage.]

BIANCA. How like a common chapman does he speak!
I hate him, soul and body. Cowardice
Has set her pale seal on his brow. His hands
Whiter than poplar leaves in windy springs,
Shake with some palsy; and his stammering mouth
Blurts out a foolish froth of empty words
Like water from a conduit.

GUIDO. Sweet Bianca,
He is not worthy of your thought or mine.
The man is but a very honest knave
Full of fine phrases for life's merchandise,
Selling most dear what he must hold most cheap,
A windy brawler in a world of words.
I never met so eloquent a fool.

BIANCA. Oh, would that Death might take him where he stands!

SIMONE [turning round]. Who spake of Death? Let no one speak of
Death.
What should Death do in such a merry house,
With but a wife, a husband, and a friend
To give it greeting? Let Death go to houses
Where there are vile, adulterous things, chaste wives
Who growing weary of their noble lords
Draw back the curtains of their marriage beds,


1

Online LibraryOscar WildeLa Sainte Courtisane → online text (page 1 of 2)