MEMOIRS OF MY DEAD LIFE
APOLOGIA PRO SCRIPTIS MEIS
I. SPRING IN LONDON
II. FLOWERING NORMANDY
III. A WAITRESS
IV. THE END OF MARIE PELLEGRIN
V. LA BUTTE
VI. SPENT LOVES
VII. NINON'S TABLE D'HOTE
VIII. THE LOVERS OF ORELAY
IX. IN THE LUXEMBOURG GARDENS
X. A REMEMBRANCE
XI. BRING IN THE LAMP
XII. SUNDAY EVENING IN LONDON
APOLOGIA PRO SCRIPTIS MEIS
[The APOLOGIA which follows needs, perhaps, a word of explanation, not to clear up Mr. Moore's text—that is as delightful, as irrelevantly definite, as paradoxically clear as anything this present wearer of the Ermine of English Literature has ever written—but to explain why it was written and why it is published. When the present publisher, who is hereinafter, in the words of Schopenhauer, "flattened against the wall of the Wisdom of the East," first read and signified his pride in being able to publish these "Memoirs," the passages now consigned to "the late Lord ——'s library" were not in the manuscript. On the arrival of the final copy they were discovered, and thereby hangs an amusing tale, consisting of a series of letters which, in so far as they were written with a certain caustic, humorous Irish pen, have taken their high place among the "Curiosities of Literature." The upshot of the matter was that the publisher, entangled in the "weeds" brought over by his Mayflower ancestors, found himself as against the author in the position of Mr. Coote as against Shakespeare; that is, the matter was so beautifully written that he had not the heart to decline it, and yet in parts so—what shall we say?—so full of the "Wisdom of the East" that he did not dare to publish it in the West. Whereupon he adopted the policy of Mr. Henry Clay, which is, no doubt, always a mistake. And the author, bearing in mind the make-up of that race of Man called publishers, gave way on condition that this APOLOGIA should appear without change. Here it is, without so much as the alteration of an Ibsen comma, and if the Mayflower "weeds" mere instrumental in calling it forth, then it is, after all, well that they grew.—THE PUBLISHER.]
Last month the post brought me two interesting letters, and the reader will understand how interesting they were to me when I tell him that one was from Mr. Sears, of the firm of Appleton, who not knowing me personally had written to Messrs. Heinemann to tell them that the firm he represented could not publish the "Memoirs" unless two stories were omitted; "The Lovers of Orelay," and "In the Luxembourg Gardens," —Messrs. Heinemann had forwarded the letter to me; my interest in the other letter was less direct, but the reader will understand that it was not less interesting when I tell that it came from the secretary of a certain charitable institution who had been reading the book in question, and now wrote to consult me on many points of life and conduct. He had been compelled to do so, for the reading of the "Memoirs" had disturbed his mind. The reader will agree with me that disturbed is probably the right word to use. To say that the book had undermined his convictions or altered his outlook on life would be an exaggeration. "Outlook on life" and "standard of conduct" are phrases from his own vocabulary, and they depict him.
"Your outlook on life is so different from mine that I can hardly imagine you being built of the same stuff as myself. Yet I venture to put my difficulty before you. It is, of course, no question of mental grasp or capacity or artistic endowment. I am, so far as these are concerned, merely the man in the street, the averagely endowed and the ordinarily educated. I call myself a Puritan and a Christian. I run continually against walls of convention, of morals, of taste, which may be all wrong, but which I should feel it wrong to climb over. You range over fields where my make-up forbids me to wander.
"Such frankness as yours is repulsive, forbidding, demoniac! You speak of woman as being the noblest subject of contemplation for man, but interpreted by your book and your experiences this seems in the last analysis to lead you right into sensuality, and what I should call illicit connections. Look at your story of Doris! I do want to know what you feel about that story in relation to right and wrong. Do you consider that all that Orelay adventure was put right, atoned, explained by the fact that Doris, by her mind and body, helped you to cultivate your artistic sense? Was Goethe right in looking upon all women merely as subjects for experiment, as a means of training his aesthetic sensibilities? Does it not justify the seduction of any girl by any man? And does not that take us straight back to the dissolution of Society? The degradation of woman (and of man) seems to be inextricably involved. Can you regard imperturbedly a thought of your own sister or wife passing through Doris' Orelay experience?"
* * * * *
The address of the charitable institution and his name are printed on the notepaper, and I experience an odd feeling of surprise whenever this printed matter catches my eye, or when I think of it; not so much a sense of surprise as a sense of incongruity, and while trying to think how I might fling myself into some mental attitude which he would understand I could not help feeling that we were very far apart, nearly as far apart as the bird in the air and the fish in the sea. "And he seems to feel toward me as I feel toward him, for does he not say in his letter that it is difficult for him to imagine me built of the same stuff as himself?" On looking into his letter again I imagined my correspondent as a young man in doubt as to which road he shall take, the free road of his instincts up the mountainside with nothing but the sky line in front of him or the puddled track along which the shepherd drives the meek sheep; and I went to my writing table asking myself if my correspondent's spiritual welfare was my real object, for I might be writing to him in order to exercise myself in a private debate before committing the article to paper, or if I was writing for his views to make use of them. One asks oneself these questions but receives no answer. He would supply me with a point of view opposed to my own, this would be an advantage; so feeling rather like a spy within the enemy's lines on the eve of the battle I began my letter. "My Dear Sir: Let me assure you that we are 'built of the same stuff.' Were it not so you would have put my book aside. I even suspect we are of the same kin; were it otherwise you would not have written to me and put your difficulties so plainly before me." Laying the pen aside I meditated quite a long while if I should tell him that I imagined him as a young man standing at the branching of the roads, deciding eventually that it would not be wise for me to let him see that reading between the lines I had guessed his difficulty to be a personal one. "We must proceed cautiously," I said, "there may be a woman in the background.... The literary compliments he pays me and the interest that my book has excited are accidental, circumstantial. Life comes before literature, for certain he stands at the branching of the roads, and the best way I can serve him is by drawing his attention to the fallacy, which till now he has accepted as a truth, that there is one immutable standard of conduct for all men and all women." But the difficulty of writing a sufficient letter on a subject so large and so intricate puzzled me and I sat smiling, for an odd thought had dropped suddenly into my mind. My correspondent was a Bible reader, no doubt, and it would be amusing to refer him to the chapter in Genesis where God is angry with our first parents because they had eaten of the tree of good and evil. "This passage" I said to myself, "has never been properly understood. Why was God angry? For no other reason except that they had set up a moral standard and could be happy no longer, even in Paradise. According to this chapter the moral standard is the origin of all our woe. God himself summoned our first parents before him, and in what plight did they appear? We know how ridiculous the diminutive fig leaf makes a statue seem in our museums; think of the poor man and woman attired in fig leaves just plucked from the trees! I experienced a thrill of satisfaction that I should have been the first to understand a text that men have been studying for thousands of years, turning each word over and over, worrying over it, all in vain, yet through no fault of the scribe who certainly underlined his intention. Could he have done it better than by exhibiting our first parents covering themselves with fig leaves, and telling how after getting a severe talking to from the Almighty they escaped from Paradise pursued by an angel? The story can have no other meaning, and that I am the first to expound it is due to no superiority of intelligence, but because my mind is free. But I must not appear to my correspondent as an exegetist. Turning to his letter again I read:
"I am sorely puzzled. Is your life all of a piece? Are your 'Memoirs' a pose? I can't think the latter, for you seem sincere and frank to the verge of brutality (or over). But what is your standard of conduct? Is there a right and a wrong? Is everything open to any man? Can you refer me now to any other book of yours in which you view life steadily and view it whole from our standpoint? Forgive my intrusion. You see I don't set myself as a judge, but you sweep away apparently all my standards. And you take your reader so quietly and closely into your confidence that you tempt a response. I see your many admirable points, but your center of living is not mine, and I do want to know as a matter of enormous human interest what your subsumptions are. I cannot analyze or express myself with literary point as you do, but you may see what I aim at. It is a bigger question to me than the value or force of your book. It goes right to the core of the big things, and I approach you as one man of limited outlook to another of wider range."
The reader will not suspect me of vanity for indulging in these quotations; he will see readily that my desire is to let the young man paint his own portrait, and I hope he will catch glimpses as I seem to do of an earnest spirit, a sort of protestant Father Gogarty, hesitating on the brink of his lake. "There is a lake in every man's heart"—but I must not quote my own writings. If I misinterpret him ... the reader will be able to judge, having the letter before him. But if my view of him is right, my task is a more subtle one than merely to point out that he will seek in vain for a moral standard whether he seeks it in the book of Nature or in the book of God. I should not move him by pointing out that in the Old Testament we are told an eye for an eye is our due, and in the New the rede is to turn the left cheek after receiving a blow on the right. Nor would he be moved by referring him to the history of mankind, to the Boer War, for instance, or the massacres which occur daily in Russia; everybody knows more or less the history of mankind, and to know it at all is to know that every virtue has at some time or other been a vice. But man cannot live by negation alone, and to persuade my correspondent over to our side it might be well to tell him that if there be no moral standard he will nevertheless find a moral idea if he looks for it in Nature. I reflected how I would tell him that he must not be disappointed because the idea changes and adapts itself to circumstance, and sometimes leaves us for long intervals; if he would make progress he must learn to understand that the moral world only becomes beautiful when we relinquish our ridiculous standards of what is right and wrong, just as the firmament became a thousand times more wonderful and beautiful when Galileo discovered that the earth moved. Had Kant lived before the astronomer he would have been a great metaphysician, but he would not have written the celebrated passage "Two things fill the soul with undying and ever-increasing admiration, the night with its heaven of stars above us and in our hearts the moral law." The only fault I find with this passage is that I read the word "law" where I expected to read the word "idea," for the word "law" seems to imply a Standard, and Kant knew there is none. Is the fault with the translator or with Kant, who did not pick his words carefully? The metaphysician spent ten years thinking out the "Critique of Pure Reason" and only six months writing it; no doubt his text might be emendated with advantage. If there was a moral standard the world within us would be as insignificant as the firmament was when the earth was the center of the universe and all the stars were little candles and Jehovah sat above them, a God who changed his mind and repented, a whimsical, fanciful God who ordered the waters to rise so that his creatures might be overwhelmed in the flood, all except one family (I need not repeat here the story of Noah's Ark and the doctrine of the Atonement) if there was one fixed standard of right and wrong, applicable to everybody, black, white, yellow, and red men alike, an eternal standard that circumstance could not change. Those who believe in spite of every proof to the contrary that there is a moral standard cannot appreciate the beautiful analogy which Kant drew, the moral idea within the heart and the night with its heaven of stars above us. "It is strange," I reflected, "how men can go on worrying themselves about Rome and Canterbury four hundred years after the discovery that the earth moved, and involuntarily a comparison rose up in my mind of a squabble between two departments in an office after the firm has gone bankrupt.... But how to get all these vagrant thoughts into a sheet of paper? St. Paul himself could not proselytize within such limitations, and apparently what I wrote was not sufficient to lead my correspondent out of the narrow lanes of conventions and prejudices into the open field of inquiry. Turning to his letter, I read it again, misjudging him, perhaps ... but the reader shall form his own estimate.
"I honestly felt and feel a big difficulty in reading and thinking over your 'Memoirs' for you are a propagandist whether you recognize that as a conscious mission or not. There is in your book a challenging standard of life which will not wave placidly by the side of the standard which is generally looked up to as his regimental colors by the average man. One must go down. And it was because I felt the necessity of choosing that I wrote to you.
"'Memoirs' is clearly to me a sincere book. You have built your life on the lines there indicated. And there is a charm not merely in that sincerity but in the freedom of the life so built. I could not, for instance, follow my thoughts as you do. I do not call myself a coward for these limitations. I believe it to be a bit of my build; you say that limitation has no other sanction than convention—race inheritance, at least so I gather. Moral is derived from mos. Be it so. Does not that then fortify the common conviction that the moral is the best? Men have been hunting the best all their history long by a process of trial and error. Surely the build of things condemns the murderer, the liar, the sensualist, and the coward! and how do you come by 'natural goodness' if your moral is merely your customary? No, with all respect for your immense ability and your cultured outlook, I do not recognize the lawless variability of the right and the wrong standard which you posit. How get you your evidence? From human actions? But it is the most familiar of facts that men do things they feel to be wrong. I have known a thief who stole every time in pangs of conscience; not merely in the fear of detection. There is a higher and a lower in morals, but the lower is recognized as a lower, and does not appeal to a surface reading of the code of an aboriginal in discussing morals. That, I think is only fair. Your artistic sense is finely developed, but it is none the less firmly based, although there are Victorian back parlors and paper roses.
"You see you are a preacher, not merely an artist. Every glimpse of the beautiful urges the beholder to imitation and vice versa. And that is why your 'Memoirs' are not merely 'an exhibition' of the immoral; they are 'an incitement' to the immoral. Don't you think so? And thinking so would you not honestly admit, that society (in the wide sense, of course—civilization) would relapse, go down, deliquesce, if all of us were George Moores as depicted in your book?"
His letter dropped from my hand, and I sat muttering, "How superficially men think!" How little they trouble themselves to discover the truth! While declaring that truth is all important, they accept any prejudice and convention they happen to meet, fastening on to it like barnacles. How disappointing is that passage about the murderer, the sensualist, the liar, and the coward; but of what use would it be to remind my correspondent of Judith who went into the tent of Holofernes to lie with him, and after the love feast drove a nail into the forehead of the sleeping man. She is in Scripture held up to our admiration as a heroine, the saviour of our nation. Charlotte Corday stabbed Marat in his bath, yet who regards Charlotte Corday as anything else but a heroine? In Russia men know that the fugitives lie hidden in the cave, yet they tell the Cossack soldiers they have taken the path across the hill—would my correspondent reprove them and call them liars? I am afraid he has a lot of leeway to make up, and it is beyond my power to help him.
Picking up his letter I glanced through it for some mention of "Esther Waters," for in answer to the question if I could recommend him to any book of mine in which I viewed life—I cannot bring myself to transcribe that tag from Matthew Arnold—I referred him to "Esther Waters," saying that a critic had spoken of it as a beautiful amplification of the beatitudes. Of the book he makes no mention in his letter, but he writes: "There is a challenging standard of life in your book which will not wave placidly by the side of the standard which is generally looked up to as his regimental colors by the average man." The idea besets him, and he refers to it again in the last paragraph; he says: "You see, you are a preacher, not merely an artist." And very likely he is right; there is a messianic aspect in my writings, and I fell to thinking over "Esther Waters"; and reading between the lines for the first time, I understood that it was that desire to standardize morality that had caused the poor girl to be treated so shamefully. Once Catholicism took upon itself to torture and then to burn all those it could lay hands upon who refused to believe with its doctrines, and now in the twentieth century Protestantism persecutes those who act or think in opposition to its moralities. Even the saintly Mrs. Barfield did not dare to keep Esther; but if she sent her servant away, she spoke kindly, giving her enough money to see her through her trouble; there are good people among Christians. The usual Christian attitude would be to tell Esther that she must go into a reformatory after the birth of her child, for the idea of punishment is never long out of the Christian's thoughts. It is not necessary to recapitulate here how Esther, escaping from the network of snares spread for her destruction, takes refuge in a workhouse, and lives there till her child is reared; how she works fifteen hours a day in a lodging house, sleeping in corners of garrets, living upon insufficient food; or how, after years of struggle, she meets William, now separated from his wife, and consents to live with him that her child may have a father. For this second "transgression," so said a clergyman in a review of the book, Esther could not be regarded as a moral woman. His moral sense, dwarfed by doctrine, did not enable him to see that the whole evil came out of standard morality and the whole good out of the instinct incarnate in her; and he must have read the book without perceiving its theme, the revelation in the life of an outcast servant girl of the instinct on which the whole world rests.
Not until writing these lines did I ever think of "Esther Waters" as a book of doctrine; but it is one, I see that now, and that there is a messianic aspect in my writings. My correspondent did well to point that out, and no blame attaches to him because he seems to fail to see that I may be an admirable moralist while depreciating Christian morality and advocating a return to Nature's. He belonged to the traditions yesterday, today he is among those who are seekers, and to-morrow I doubt not he will be among those prone to think that perhaps Christianity is, after all, retrograde. His lips will curl contemptuously to-morrow when he hears the cruelty of the circus denounced by men who would, if they were allowed, relight the bon fires of the Inquisition; ... he is a Protestant, I had forgotten. Gladiators have begun to appear to us less cruel than monks, and everybody who can think has begun to think that some return to pagan morality is desirable. That is so; awaking out of the great slumber of Christianity, we are all asking if the qualities which once we deemed our exclusive possession have not been discovered among pagans—pride, courage, and heroism. Our contention has become that no superiority is claimed in any respect but one; it appears that it must be admitted that Christians are more chaste than pagans, at all events that chastity flourishes among Christian communities as it has never flourished among pagan. The Christian's boast is that all sexual indulgence outside of the marriage bed is looked upon as sinful, and he would seem to think that if he proclaims this opinion loudly, its proclamation makes amends for many transgressions of the ethical law. All he understands is the law; nothing of the subtler idea that the ethical impulse is always invading the ethical law finds a way into his mind. Women are hurried from Regent Street to Vine Street, and his conscience is soothed by these raids; the owners of the houses in which these women live are fined, and he congratulates himself that vice is not licensed in England, that, in fact, its existence is unrecognized. Prostitution thrives, nevertheless; but numbers do not discourage the moralist, and when he reads in the newspapers of degraded females, "unfortunates," he breathes a sigh; and if these reports contain descriptions of miserable circumstance and human grief, he mutters "how very sad!"
But the assurance that the women are wretched and despised soothes his conscience, and he remembers if he has not been able to abolish prostitution, he has at all events divested it of all "glamour." It would appear that practical morality consists in making the meeting of men and women as casual as that of animals. "But what do you wish—you would not have vice respected, would you?" "What you call vice was once respected and honored, and the world was as beautiful then as now, and as noble men lived in it. In many ways the world was more moral than when your ideas began to prevail." He asks me to explain, and I tell him that with the degradation of the courtesan the moral standard has fallen, for as we degrade her we disgrace the act of love. We have come to speak of it as part of our lower nature, permissible, it is true, if certain conditions are complied with, but always looked upon askance; and continuing the same strain of argument, I tell him that the act of love was once deemed a sacred rite, and that I am filled with pride when I think of the noble and exalted world that must have existed before Christian doctrine caused men to look upon women with suspicion and bade them to think of angels instead. Pointing to some poor drab lurking in a shadowy corner he asks, "See! is she not a vile thing?" On this we must part; he is too old to change, and his mind has withered in prejudice and conventions; "a meager mind," I mutter to myself, "one incapable of the effort necessary to understand me if I were to tell him, for instance, that the desire of beauty is in itself a morality." It was, perhaps, the only morality the Greeks knew, and upon the memory of Greece we have been living ever since. In becoming hetairae, Aspasia, Lais, Phryne, and Sappho became the distributors of that desire of beauty necessary in a state which had already begun to dream the temples of Minerva and Zeus.
The words of Blake come into my mind, "the daring of the lion or the submission of the ox." With these words I should have headed my letter to the secretary of the charitable institution, and I should have told him that many books which he would regard as licentious are looked upon by me as sacred. "Mademoiselle de Maupin," "the golden book of spirit and sense," Swinburne has called it, I have always looked upon as a sacred book from the very beginning of my life. It cleansed me of the belief that man has a lower nature, and I learned from it that the spirit and the flesh are equal, "that earth is as beautiful as heaven, and that perfection of form is virtue." "Mademoiselle de Maupin" was a great purifying influence, a lustral water dashed by a sacred hand, and the words are forever ringing in my ear, "by exaltation of the spirit and the flesh thou shalt live." This book would be regarded by my correspondent as he regards my "Memoirs," and its publication has been interdicted in England. How could it be permitted to circulate in a country in which the kingdom of heaven is (in theory) regarded as more important than the kingdom of earth? A few pages back the idea came up under my pen that the aim of practical morality was to render illicit love as unattractive as possible, and I suppose, though he has never thought the matter out, the Christian moralist would regard Gautier as the most pernicious of writers, for his theme is always praise of the visible world, of all that we can touch and see; and in this book art and sex are not estranged. I have often wondered if the estrangement of the twain so noticeable in English literature is not the origin of this strange belief that bodily love is part of our lower nature. Our appreciation of the mauve flush dying in the west has been indefinitely heightened by descriptions seen in pictures and read in poems, and I cannot but think that if the lover's exaltation before the curve of his mistress's breast had not been forbidden, the ugly thought that the lover's ardor is inferior to the poet's would never have obtained credence. There is but one energy, and the vital fluid, whether expended in love or in a poem, is the same. The poet and the lover are creators, they participate and carry on the great work begun billions of years ago when the great Breath breathing out of chaos summoned the stars into being. But why do I address myself like this to the average moralist? How little will he understand me! In the Orelay adventure which horrified him there was an appreciation of beauty which he has, I am afraid, rendered himself incapable of. Myself and Doris were spiritual gainers by the Orelay adventure, Doris's rendering of "The Moonlight Sonata," till she went to Orelay, was merely brilliant and effective; and have not all the critics in England agreed that the story in which I relate her contains some of the best pages of prose I have written? But why talk of myself when there is Wagner's experience to speak about? Did he not write to Madame Wasendonck, "I owe you Tristan for all eternity"? She has not left any written record of her debt to Wagner, perhaps because she could not find words to give the reader any idea how great it was.
Histories of human civilization there are in abundance, but I do not know of any history of the human intelligence. But when this comes to be written—if it ever should come to be written—the writer will hesitate, at least I can imagine him hesitating, how much of the genius of artists he would be justified in tracing back to sexual impulses. Goethe, as my correspondent informs me, looked upon love of woman as a means of increasing his aesthetic sensibilities, and my correspondent seems to think that he did them wrong thereby, whereas I think he honored them exceedingly. Balzac held the contrary belief, so Gautier tells us, maintaining that great spiritual elation could be gained by restraint, and when inquiry was made into his precise beliefs on this point he confessed that he could not allow an author more than half an hour once a year with his beloved; he placed no restriction, however, on correspondence, "for that helped to form a style." When Gautier mentioned the names of certain great men whose lives offered a striking refutation of this theory, Balzac answered they would have written better if they had lived chastely. Gautier seems to have left the question there, and so will we, remarking only that Balzac was prone to formulating laws out of his single experience. I remember having written, or having heard somebody say, "in other writers we discover this or that thing, but everything exists in Balzac." And in his conversation with Gautier we do not find him praising chastity as a virtue, but extolling the results that may be gotten from chastity as a Yogi might. It is said that English missionaries in India sometimes drive out in their pony chaises to visit a holy man who has left his womenfolk, plentiful food, and a luxurious dwelling for a cave in some lonely ravine. The pony chaise only takes the parson to the mouth of the ravine, and leaving his wife and children in charge of his servant, the parson ascends the rocky way on foot, meeting, perchance, a fat peasant priest from Maynooth bent on the same mission as himself—the conversion of the Yogi. It is amusing for a moment to imagine these two Western barbarians sitting with the emaciated saint on the ledge in front of the cave. Thinking to win his sympathy, they tell him that on one point they are all agreed. The Brahman's eyes would dilate; how can this thing be? his eyes would seem to ask, and it is easy to imagine how contemptuously he would raise his eyes when he gathered gradually from their discourse that his visitors believed that chastity was incumbent upon all men. "But all men are not the same," he would answer, if he answered his visitors; "I dwell in solitude and in silence, and am chaste, and live upon the rice that the pious leave on the rocks for me, but I do not regard chastity and abstinence as possessed of any inherent merits; as virtues, they are but a means to an end. How would you impose chastity upon all men, since every man brings a different idea into the world with him? There are men who would die if forced to live chaste lives, and there are men who would choose death rather than live unchaste, and many a woman if she were forced to live with one husband would make him very unhappy, whereas if she lived with two men she would make them both supremely happy. But the news has reached me even here that in the West you seek a moral standard, and this quest always fills me with wonder. There are priests among you, I can see that, and soldiers, and fishermen, and artists and princes and folk who labor in the fields—now do you expect all these men, living in different conditions of life, to live under the same rule? I am afraid that the East and the West will never understand each other. The sun is setting, my time for speech is over," and the wise man, rising from the stone on which he has been sitting, enters into the cave, leaving the priest and the parson to descend the rocks together in the twilight, their differences hushed for the moment, to break forth again the next day.
Schopenhauer has a fine phrase, one that has haunted my mind these many years, that the follies of the West flatten against the sublime wisdom of the East like bullets fired against a cliff.
How can it be otherwise? For when we were naked savages the Brahmans were learned philosophers, and had seen as far into every mystery as mortal eyes will ever see. We have progressed a little lately; our universities, it is true, are a few hundred years old, but in comparison with the East we are still savages; our culture is but rudimentary, and my correspondent's letter is proof of it. It is characteristic of the ideas that still flourish on the banks of the Thames, ideas that have changed only a little since the Mayflower sailed. It would have been better if Columbus had delayed his discovery for, let us say, a thousand years. I am afraid the Mayflower carried over a great many intellectual weeds which have caught root and flourished exceedingly in your States—Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Washington. A letter arrived from Washington some two or three months ago. The writer was a lady who used to write to me on all subjects under the sun; about fifteen years ago we had ceased to write to each other, so she began her letter, not unnaturally, by speaking of the surprise she guessed her handwriting would cause me. She had broken the long silence, for she had been reading "The Lake," and had been much interested in the book. It would have been impolite to write to me without alluding to the aesthetic pleasure the book had given her, but her interest was mainly a religious one. About five years ago she had become a Roman Catholic, she was writing a book on the subject of her conversion, and would like to find out from me why I had made Father Gogarty's conversion turn upon his love of woman, "for it seems to me clear, unless I have misunderstood your book, that you intended to represent Gogarty as an intellectual man." It is difficult to trace one's motives back, but I remember the irritation her letter caused me, and how I felt it would not be dignified for me to explain; my book was there for her to interpret or misinterpret, as she pleased; added to which her "conversion" to Rome was an annoying piece of news. Fifteen years ago she was an intelligent woman and a beautiful woman, if photographs do not lie, and it was disagreeable for me to think of her going on her knees in a confessional, receiving the sacraments, wearing scapulars, trying to persuade herself that she believed in the Pope's indulgences. She must now be middle-aged, but the decay of physical beauty is not so sad a spectacle as the mind's declension. "She began to think," I said, "of another world only when she found herself unable to enjoy this one any longer; weariness of this world produces what the theologians call 'faith.' How often have we heard the phrase 'You will believe when you are dying'? She would have had," I said, "Father Gogarty leave his church for doctrinal rather than natural reasons, believing scrolls to be more intellectual than the instincts; Father Gogarty poring over some early edition of the Scriptures in his little house on the hilltop, reading by the light of the lamp at midnight and deciding that he would go out of his parish because, according to recent exegesis, a certain verset in the Gospel had been added three hundred years after the death of Christ." I fell to thinking how dry, common, and uninteresting the tale would be had it been written on these doctrinal lines. Carlyle said that Cardinal Newman had the brain of a half-grown rabbit, and he was right; Newman never got further than a scroll, and man must think with his body, as well as with his brain. To think well the whole man must think, and it seems to me that Father Gogarty thought in this complete way. Rose Leicester revealed to him the enchantment and the grace of life, and his quest became life. Had it been Hose Leicester herself the story would have merely been a sensual incident. The instinct to go rose up within him, he could not tell how or whence it came, and he went as the bird goes, finding his way toward a country where he had never been, led as the bird is led by some nostalgic instinct. And I do not doubt that he found life, whether in the form of political or literary ambition or in some other woman who would remind him of the woman he had lost; perhaps he found it in all these things, perhaps in none. Told as I told it the story seems to me a true and human one, and one that might easily occur in these modern days; much more easily than the story my correspondent would have had me write. The story of a priest abandoning his parish for theological reasons is not an improbable one, but I think such a story would be more typical of the sixteenth century, when men were more interested in the authenticity of the Biblical texts than they are in the twentieth. The Bible has been sifted again and again; its history is known, every word has been weighed, and it is difficult to imagine the most scrupulous exegetist throwing a search light into any unexplored corner. Even Catholic scholarship, if Loisy can be regarded as a Catholic, has abandoned the theory that the gospels were written by the Apostles. The earliest, that of Mark, was written sixty years after the death of Christ, and it is the only one for which any scholar claims the faintest historical value. With this knowledge of history in our possession belief has become in modern times merely a matter of temperament, entirely dissociated from the intellect. Some painter once said that Nature put him out. The theologian can say the same about the intellect—it puts him out. Out of a great deal of temperament and a minimum of intellect he gets a precipitate, if I may be permitted to drop into the parlance of the chemist, for dregs would be an impolite word to use, and the precipitate always delights in the fetich. There will always be men and women, the cleric has discovered, who will barter their souls for the sake of rosaries and scapulars and the Pope's indulgences. The two great enemies of religion, as the clerics know well, are the desire to live and the desire to know. We find this in Genesis: God: i. e., the clerics, was angry because his creatures ate of these different fruits. God's comprehension of the danger of the tree of life is not wonderful, but his foreseeing of the danger of the tree of knowledge was extraordinary foreseeing, for very little of the fruit of this tree had been eaten at the time the text was written. All through the Middle Ages the clerics strove to keep men from it with tortures and burnings at the stake, and they were so anxiously striving for success in protecting their flocks from this tree that they allowed the sheep to wander, the rams to follow the ewes, and to gambol as they pleased. But the efforts of the clerics were vain. There were rams who renounced the ewes, and the succulent herbage that grows about the tree of life, for the sake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge; all the fences that the clerics had erected were broken down one by one; and during the nineteenth century a great feast was held under the tree. But after every feast there are always ailing stomachs; these denouncing the feast go about in great depression of spirit, surfeited feasters, saying the branches of the tree have been plucked bare; others complain they have eaten bitter fruit. This is the moment for the prowling cleric. Hell is remote, it has been going down in the world for some time, and biology, if no conclusions be drawn, serves the clerical purpose almost as well. "The origins of existence are humble enough, my son, but think of the glorious heritage," and the faint-hearted sheep is folded again.... The tree of life is more abundant; whenever a fruit is plucked another instantly takes its place, and all the efforts of the clerics are now directed to keep their flocks from this tree. "Back to the tree of knowledge!" they cry. "Hu! Hu! Hu! Both trees," they mutter among themselves, "are accursed, but this one, from which sweet fruit may always be plucked, is the worser." And they collect together in groups to pass censure on their predecessors. "My predecessors were infallible fools," cries the Pope, "to have permitted praise of this fatal tree, wasting their energies on such men as Bruno, who said the earth was round, and Galileo, whom they forced to say he was mistaken when he said the earth moves. A pretty set of difficulties they have involved us in with their accursed astronomy. Boccaccio and the Troubadours should have been burned instead, and if this had been done all the abominable modern literature which would persuade the faithful that this world is not all sackcloth and ashes would never have been written. Away with him who says that the earth is as beautiful as heaven," and Gautier's phrase, "Moi, je trouve la terre aussi belle que le ciel, et je pense que la correction de la forme est la vertu," has become the heresy more intolerable than any other to the modern cleric, and to me and to all the ardent and intellectual spirits of my generation a complete and perfect expression of doctrine. To some it will always seem absurd to look to Gautier rather than to a Bedouin for light. Nature produces certain attitudes of mind, and among these is an attitude which regards archbishops as more serious than pretty women. These will never be among my disciples. So leaving them in full possession of the sacraments, I pass on.
My generation was in sympathy with "Mademoiselle de Maupin" and it did more than to reveal and clarify the ideas we were seeking. It would be vain for me, as for any other man, to attempt to follow the course of an idea and to try to determine its action upon life. Perhaps the part of the book which interested us the least was that very part which would be read aloud in court if a prosecution were attempted: I am alluding to the scene when Mademoiselle de Maupin comes into Albert's room. This scene was, however, inevitable, and could not be omitted, for does it not contain that vision of beauty which Albert had been seeking and which was vouchsafed to him for a little while? Never did he see Mademoiselle de Maupin afterwards, she was but a phantom of his own imagination made visible by some prodigy to him. For a still briefer space Rosette shared Albert's dream, and man and wife remained faithful to each other. It is easy to imagine the vileness which a prosecuting counsel could extract from these beautiful pages made entirely of vision and ecstasy. How false and shameful is the whole business. We are allowed to state that we prefer pagan morality to Christian, but are interdicted from illustrating our beliefs by incident. So long as we confine ourselves to theory we are unmolested. But these are subtleties which do not trouble the minds of the members of vigilance associations, the men and women who gather together in back parlors with lead pencils to mark out passages which they consider "un-Kur-istean" (a good strong accent on the second syllable). Their thoughts pursue beaten tracks. Books like "Mademoiselle de Maupin" they hold would act directly on the temperament, and we know that they do not do this, we know that the things of the intellect belong to the intellect and the things of the flesh to the flesh. Were it otherwise Rose Leicester, the pretty school mistress, might have been left out of my story entitled "The Lake," and her place taken by a book. My lady correspondent, it will be remembered, was in favor of some doctrinal difficulty. My second correspondent, the secretary of the charitable institution, would have chosen as the cause of Father Oliver's flight a sensual book. His choice might have been Burton's "Arabian Nights"; better still Casanova's "Memoirs," for this is a book written almost entirely with the senses; the intellect hardly ever intrudes itself; and instead of an emaciated priest poring over a dusty folio we should have had an inflamed young man curled up in an armchair reading eagerly, walking up and down the room from time to time, unable to contain himself, and eventually throwing the book aside, he would find his way down to the lake.
These two versions of "The Lake," as it might have been written by my correspondents, will convince, I think, almost anyone, even them, that the desire of life which set Father Gogarty free could have been inspired only by a woman's personality. It was not necessary that he should go after the woman herself—but that point has already been explained. What concerns us now to understand is how the strange idea could have come into men's minds that literature is a more potent influence than life itself. The solving of this problem has beguiled many an hour, but the solution seems as far away as ever, and I have never got nearer than the supposition that perhaps this fear of literature is a survival of the very legitimate fear that prevailed in the Middle Ages against writing. In my childhood I remember hearing an old woman say that writing was an invention of the devil, and what an old woman believed forty years ago in outlying districts was almost the universal opinion of the Middle Ages. Denunciations and burnings of books were frequent, and ideas die slowly, finding a slow extinction many generations after the reason for their existence has ceased. In the famous trial of Gille de Rais we have it on record that the Breton baron was asked by his ecclesiastical judges if pagan literature had inspired the strange crimes of which he was accused, if he had read of them in—I have forgotten the names of the Latin authors mentioned, but I remember Gille de Rais' quite simple answer that his own heart had inspired the crimes. Whereupon the judges not unnaturally were shocked, for the conclusion was forced upon them that if Gille's confession were true they were not trying a man who had been perverted by outward influence but one who had been born perverted. Who then was responsible for his crimes? Lunacy sometimes in these modern days serves as a scapegoat, but the knowledge of lunacy in the fifteenth century was not so complete as it is now and the judges preferred to believe that Gille was lying. And about ten years ago London found itself in the same moral quandary. Three or four little boys were discovered to have planned the murder of one of their comrades—sixpence, I think, was the object of the murder; not one was over eight, yet they planned the crime skillfully and very nearly succeeded in avoiding detection. To credit these little boys with instinctive crime was intolerable, and just as in the Middle Ages a scapegoat had to be found. Apuleius and his Ass were out of the question, but the little boys admitted having read penny dreadfuls; London breathed again, the way now was clear, these newspapers must be prosecuted, and this recrudescence of wickedness in the heart of a little boy would never be heard of again. A little later or maybe it was a little earlier, I relate these things in the order in which they come into my mind, the London Vigilance Association instituted a prosecution against Mr. Henry Vizetelly, a man of letters and the publisher of Zola's novels. With the exception of Mr. Robert Buchanan and myself not a single man of letters could be found to speak in Mr. Vizetelly's defense. Everybody urged some excuse, his wife was ill, his children were at the seaside and he had to go down to see them, or that he had never cared much about naturalistic literature; whereas, if the prosecution had been directed against something romantic, etc.—Stranger still is the fact that it was almost impossible to find a counsel willing to defend Mr. Vizetelly. One man threw up the case, giving as his reason that he would have to read the books, another said that it would be impossible to adequately defend Mr. Vizetelly's case because no one could say what one had a right to put into a book. This remark seemed to me at the time contemptible, but there was more in it than I thought, for will it be believed that when the case came into court the judge ruled that the fact that standard writers had availed themselves of a great deal of license could not be taken as a proof that such license was permissible? Two wrongs do not make a right he said. In these circumstances perhaps counsel was wise to tell Mr. Vizetelly to plead guilty to having published an indecent libel; but the advice seemed so cruel that, justly or unjustly, I suspect the lawyer of a wish to escape the odium that would have attached to him if he had defended a book accused of immorality. The old man was heavily fined. On going out of court he set to work to have the books revised, spending hundreds of pounds having the plates altered, but the Vigilance Association attacked him again, and this time they succeeded in killing him. Mr. Vizetelly was over seventy years of age when he went to prison, and the shame, anxiety, and three months of prison life killed him. Five years afterwards the Authors' Society, who would not say a word in his favor, voted a great banquet for Zola when he came to London. Zola received every homage that could be paid to a man of letters. The Vigilance Association raised no protest, and I do not blame them. None would have been heard. But while the banquets were held and the speeches were published in the newspapers some of the members of the Association must have meditated sadly on the futility of their efforts and the death of Mr. Vizetelly. It requires a heavy blow of a very heavy mallet to get anything into some people's heads, and nothing short of the reception that was given to Zola could have affected the minds of the Vigilance Association. The significance of the judge's words that the fact that classical writers had availed themselves of a certain license could not be taken as proof that such license was permissible escaped them altogether, for some time afterwards the question of immorality in literature arose again—I have forgotten the circumstances of this case—but I remember that Mr. Coote, the secretary of the Association, was asked if Shakespeare had not written many very reprehensible passages. Mr. Coote was obliged to admit that he had, and when asked why the Association he represented did mot proceed against Shakespeare he answered because Shakespeare wrote beautifully. A strangely immoral doctrine, for if the license of expression that Shakespeare availed himself of be harmful, Shakespeare should be prosecuted; that he wrote beautifully is no defense whatever. Life comes before literature, and the Vigilance Association lays itself open to a charge of neglect of duty by not proceeding at once against Shakespeare and against all those who have indulged in the same license of expression. The members and their secretary have indeed set themselves a stiff job, but they must not shrink from it if they would avoid shocking other people's moral sense by exhibiting themselves in the light of mere busybodies with a taste for what boys and old men speak of as "spicy bits." Proceedings will have to be taken against all the literature that Mr. Coote believes to be harmful (I accept him as the representative of the ideas of his Association), and the plea must not be raised again that because a reprehensible passage is well written it should be acquitted. We must consider the question impartially. It is true that a magistrate may be found presiding at Bow Street who will refuse to issue a warrant against the publishers, let us say of Byron, Sterne, the Restoration, and the Elizabethan dramatists. The Association will have to risk the refusal; but I would not discourage the Association from the adventure. It must not abandon the tope of finding a magistrate who, anxious to prove himself no moral laggard, will do all that is asked of him. A very pretty selection of "spicy bits" can be picked from "Don Juan," and toward this compilation every member, male and female, might contribute. The reading of these selections in Bow Street in a crowded court would prove quite a literary entertainment, and if the magistrate refused to issue a warrant he could only do so on the pretext that the book had been published a long while, a pretext which can hardly be held to be more valid than the pretext put forward by Mr. Coote for not prosecuting Shakespeare. Of one thing only would I warn the Society which I seem to be taking under my wing, and that is, even if it should succeed in interdicting two-thirds of English literature its task will still be only half accomplished. The newspaper question will still have to be faced. Books are relatively expensive, but the newspaper can be bought for a halfpenny, and it will be admitted that no author is as indecent as the common reporter. The reader thinks that I am going to draw his attention to some celebrated divorce case, an account of which was reported in full in the columns of some daily paper under a large heading "Painful Details," the details being the account the chambermaid gave the outraged husband of—I will spare my reader.
About fifteen years ago I was asked if I would care to go over to —— College to see the sports. We walked across the downs, and while watching the racing I was accosted by the head master, who asked me if I would like to see the college. The sports were more interesting than refectories and dormitories, but it seemed a little churlish to refuse and we went together. No doubt we visited the kitchens and the chapel, but what I remember was a long hall wainscoted with oak and furnished with oak tables and chairs and benches, In this hall there were some thirty or forty boys, of ages varying from twelve to eighteen, reading the newspapers, reading the reports of the Oscar Wilde trial; each daily paper contained three or four columns of it. I asked the head master if it were right to allow the boys to read such reports and he answered that lately the newspapers contained a great deal of objectionable matter, "But how am I to keep the daily papers out of the college?" Now I am not easily scandalized, but I could not help feeling that a grave scandal was being committed in allowing these boys to read the newspapers during the week of that trial. But if you admit the newspapers one day how can you forbid them on another occasion? And while appreciating the head master's difficulty I walked out into the open air unable to take any further interest in the sports. Nor has time obliterated anything of the shame I felt that day. I don't want to make a fuss, I don't want to pose as a moralist, but I cannot help thinking that while newspapers continue to be published, the Vigilance Society need not trouble lest certain books should fall into the hands of young people. My correspondent forgot that thousands of newspapers are published to-day when he wrote to me saying that my book roused sensuality. I am afraid I omitted the passage in which these words occur, fearing to burden my article with quotation. Here it is:
"The perusal of the episodes (Doris' Orelay experiences) does certainly not ennoble me, it rouses sensuality, it lowers woman from a friend and helpmeet into a convenience and a minister to pleasure. I am less able and less willing to think 'high' after your book; poetry is distasteful, art is narrowed, I look out for the licentious, the suggestive, the low, and the mean; and don't you? You seem in passage after passage to be world-weary in a sense that no sane man ought to be, sated, disgusted, tired of life—is it not so? You see I speak from what I am sure you will regard as a narrow platform, my ideals are certainly not yours but I am simply and frankly curious as to the ultimates in your book and in yourself."
Let us suppose now that the Vigilance Association after a sharp crusade has succeeded in redeeming our literature from all reprehensible matter, and flushed with success has attacked the newspapers and obtained an interdiction against the publication of all reports of sexual crimes and misdemeanors. And having extended our imagination so far we may presume as the sequence a world of such highly developed moral susceptibilities that Miss Austen's novels are beginning to cause uneasiness. Miss Austen's novels are still permitted, but in current literature nothing is said that would lead the reader to suppose that men and women are not of the same sex. But men and women still continue to meet and hold conversation. Only some advanced members of the Association are in favor of that complete separation of the sexes which obtains in Ireland in the rural districts. In the imaginary time of which I am writing the Association has only obtained complete control over literature. The theaters are either closed or given over to the representation of plays on religious subjects; but private life has not been invaded by the Puritan missionary, and waltz tunes are still heard and figures seen whirling past lighted windows in Grosvenor Square and Fifth Avenue. Mr. Coote has at this time become a moderate, he is no longer among the progressives, and is in danger of losing his post, so I have no difficulty in imagining what he would do in such a dilemma. He would disguise himself as a waiter and at the next meeting of the Society tell how he had until now showed some reluctance to—the sentence would be a difficult one to finish, perhaps Mr. Coote would break off and say—reluctance to put restraint on the action of men and women as long as they kept within their own doors, but after what he has seen, he finds himself obliged to pass from the moderates to the progressives. What has Mr. Coote seen. How would he tell his tale?
He would tell of the length and the breadth of the ball room, of the parquet floor usually covered with an aubusson carpet but the carpet had been lifted and the gilded furniture taken away; the windows and the recesses had been filled with flowers, and to keep these fresh, great blocks of ice had been placed in the niches. He would tell of the lighting arrangements, for are not flowers and lights incentives to immorality? But his descriptions of the roses and the lilies would only lead up to his descriptions of the shameless animality that came up the staircase between twelve and one. A half-naked lady, the hostess, stood at the head of the stairs receiving her guests with smiles and words of welcome. The dresses the women wore resembled the dress worn by the hostess; young and old alike went about their pleasure with necks and bosoms and arms uncovered, and he saw these undressed creatures slip into the arms of men who whirled them round and round; it was but a whirling of silk ankles and a shuffling of glazed shoes; and every now and then the men and women looked into each other's eyes, and the whole scene was reflected shamelessly in tall mirrors. Notwithstanding the fact that most of Mr. Coote's time was spent behind the buffet serving out ices, he nevertheless contrived to find a spare moment for investigation. On the pretext of seeking a lady who had dropped a handkerchief he had crossed the ball room and was therefore in a position to give an accurate account of the waltzes he had heard, dulcet, undulating, capricious measures, far more provocative than Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata" which Tolstoy has denounced. The lady that Mr. Coote sought was not in the ball room, and so he had an opportunity of investigating all the retiring rooms, and I need not describe the pensive and shocked faces that listened to his descriptions of the shady nooks. Sometimes it was a screen, sometimes it was a palm that was employed to hide the couple from observation. Mr. Coote at last discovered the owner of the handkerchief in one of those shady nooks, she was there with a gentleman.... Mr. Coote, of course, would refuse to relate what he saw, he would hesitate, but the members of his Association would insist upon knowing everything, and he would at last confess: "Well, the gentleman had kissed the lady on the point of her shoulder." From this scandalous incident he would pass to tell all that he remembered of the conversation he had heard at the table round which he had worked till nearly four o'clock in the morning handing cutlets, chicken patties, and other delicacies, the names of which he was not acquainted with.
Mr. Coote's description of what he saw may be ingenuous, but is his description untrue? And when Mr. Coote finished up his speech as I imagine him finishing it, by stating that the dancing, the music, the dresses, the wines, and the meats were arranged and learnedly chosen for one purpose and one only, the stimulation of sexual passion, I cannot imagine anyone accusing him of having spoken an untruth. Mr. Coote added that no one went to the ball for the pleasure of the conversation—he was convinced that old and young derived their pleasure, consciously or unconsciously, from sex.
We will imagine the members of Mr. Coote's Society being greatly moved by his description, and the sudden determination of everybody that dancing must be stopped. Had not Byron declared the waltz to be "half a whore"? Tolstoy has gone one better and asked people to say if a woman can remain chaste if a low dress is permitted and Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata" is played. Forgetful, of course, that they have prosecuted "Don Juan," the Society accepts Byron's dictum as their war cry, and henceforth the business of Mr. Coote is to inquire into what is immoral in dress, in music, in wine, and in food. After a long consultation with experts and expensive law proceedings the Vigilance Association has (in our imagination) succeeded in reforming society as completely as it succeeded in reforming literature; and the months go by, October, November, December, January, February, March ... but one night the wind changes, and coming out of our houses in the morning we are taken with a sense of delight, a soft south wind is blowing and the lilacs are coming into bloom. My correspondent says that my book rouses sensuality. Perhaps it does, but not nearly so much as a spring day, and no one has yet thought of suppressing or curtailing spring days. Yet how infinitely more pernicious is their influence than any book! What thoughts they put into the hearts of lads and lasses! and perforce even the moralist has to accept the irrepressible feeling of union and growth, the loosening of the earth about the hyacinth shoots and the birds going about their amorous business, and the white clouds floating up gladly through the blue air. Why, then, should he look askance at my book, which is no more than memories of my spring days? If the thing itself cannot be suppressed, why is it worth while to interfere with the recollection? What strange twist in his mind leads him to decry in art what he accepts in nature? A strange twist indeed, one which may be described as a sort of inverted sexuality, finding its pleasure not in the spring day, but in odd corners of ancient literature read only for the sake of passages which he declares to be disgusting, and in spying on modern literature, seeking out passages and expressions which might be denounced in the newspapers or proceeded against in the police court. The psychology of one of these purity mongers is more interesting to the alienist than to a man of letters. Let us take a typical case, that of the late Lord ——. Forty or fifty years ago he was one of the most strenuous advocates of purity in literature, and more shops were raided at his instigation than at any other; yet when he died his library was found to contain the finest collection of impure literature in Europe, and his executors were left wondering whether the prosecutions were prompted by a desire to increase the value of his collection by the destruction of rare books, copies of which were in his possession, or whether he had been moved by conscientious scruples; a man might bamboozle himself in this way: "I am a man of letters and possess these books because they are rare, a curious corner of literature, but it would be highly inexpedient for others to possess them." His conscience might take a still more curious turn, leading to a dizzier height: "I am a sinner; that, alas! is so; but I can prevent others from sinning likewise." No doubt the greater part of the literature which the noble lord collected with so much industry was of that frankly indecent kind which is debarred from every library, Continental as well as English and American. There is a literature which does not come within the scope of the present inquiry, and there is what may perhaps be called a border literature, books which are found in public libraries in the German, the French, and the Italian texts. It seems pertinent to ask why a little knowledge of French and German and Italian should procure the right to read Brantome's "Femmes Gallantes." It would be difficult for anybody to say that this book is not frankly obscene, and yet in the French text I suppose every library contains it. Casanova's "Memoirs" is another book of the same kind; I am not aware of any complete translation of Boccaccio's tales, but every library possesses an edition in the original Italian. The only reason that can be put forward for the suppression of a book is that it is harmful, and if Brantome, Casanova, and Boccaccio are harmful in English, they do harm to those who can read them in the original texts. But perhaps I have pointed out enough inconsistencies, and the reader, growing weary, may say: "Are you so young, then, that you don't know that the world is a mass of contradictions? that life is no more than a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing?" Shakespeare did no more than to put into eloquent language every man's belief, that we are all mad on one subject or another. If this be so, every race is mad on some point, for have we not often heard that what is true of the individual is true of the race? Anglo-Saxon madness is book morality. Madness has been defined as a lack of consequence in ideas, and can anything be less consequent than—we need look no further back than Ibsen? The great genius who died in May last was decried by the English people as one of the most immoral of writers; for twenty years at least this opinion obtained in the press, and even among men of letters; suddenly the opinion disappeared, it went out like the flame of a candle; the text is the same, not a comma has been changed, yet now everybody reads it differently. But I must not allow myself to be drawn into speaking of the moral crusades directed against other writers; the task is tempting, and I hope it will be undertaken one of these days. Here, at all events, my concern is with my own writings, as indicated by the title of the article, and it is doubtful if reference to any book would make my point clearer than the tale of what happened in America to my own book, "Esther Waters." The proof sheets were sent in turn to three leading firms, Scribner, Harper, and Appleton, and all three refused the book on the ground that, while recognizing, etc., they did not think it was exactly the kind of book, etc. Even experts make mistakes; this is not denied; what makes my story so remarkable is that all three firms offered to publish an authorized edition of the book as soon as news of its success in England had been cabled to New York. Mr. Appleton, whom I met in Paris, expressed his regret that expert opinion regarding this book had been at fault. "The book," he said, "was quite a proper book to publish, a most admirable book, which would do honor to any firm." I answered: "Very likely all you say, Mr. Appleton, is true, but three weeks ago the experts thought differently. How is it that an immoral book can become moral in three weeks?" My next book, "Evelyn Innes," disturbed the house of Appleton as much as "Esther Waters," and a gentleman of leisure connected with the firm was deputed to mark out not the passages to which he himself took exception, but to which, being an expert, he felt sure that others would take exception. The gentleman was kind enough to insist on submitting his marked copy to me, and my wonderment increased as I turned over the pages, and it reached a climax when I happened upon the following passage, which had been marked to be omitted by the American printer. The passage was: "... in her stage life Evelyn was an agent of the sensual passion, not only with her voice, but in her arms, her neck, and hair, and in every expression of her face; and it was the craving music that had thrown her into Ulick's arms. If it had subjugated her how much more would it subjugate and hold within its persuasion the listener—the listener, who perceived in the music nothing but its sensuality?" "But for what reason," I asked the expert, "do you suggest the elimination of this passage? This is the Puritan point of view. I thought that your proposal was to draw my attention to the passages to which you thought the Puritan would object." "Ah," he said, "that is how I began, but as I got on with the work I thought it better to mark every passage that might give offense." "And to whom would this passage give offense?" I said. "Certainly not to any religious body?" "No," he answered, "not to any religious body, but it would give offense to the subscribers to the New Opera House. If parents read that the music of 'Tristan' threw Evelyn Innes into the arms of Ulick Dean, they would not care to bring their daughters to hear the opera, and might possibly discontinue their subscriptions." Everybody will agree that "expert opinion" can hardly go further, yet the folly which this "expert" was betrayed into did not arise from any congenital stupidity; it is the mistake that you and I, every one of us, would make when we seek the truth in our casual experience instead of in our hearts.
One would have thought that my pointing out the absurdity of this expurgation of "Evelyn Innes" to the house of Appleton would have saved it ever afterwards from similar folly, and forgetful that experience is, as Coleridge describes it, only a lamp in a vessel's stern which throws a light on the waters we have passed through, none on those which lie before us, the publication of "The Lake" was issued by Messrs. Appleton with my consent. The book, as the American public already know, is free from all matter to which the most severe moralist could take exception, yet the American edition did not conform entirely with the English; a dedication written in French was omitted, for what reason I do not know, but it was omitted. The matter may seem a small one, and it may seem invidious to allude to it at all, but on an occasion like the present nothing must be passed over. The English proofs of the "Memoirs" were read, and the book was accepted, but when it was set up in America it did not seem quite so moral in the American type as it did in the English and difficulties arose; these have been alluded to in the first paragraph of this article, and perhaps wrongly I agreed that the two stories, "The Lovers of Orelay" and "In the Luxembourg Gardens," should be left out. On September 28th I wrote, suggesting that "In the Luxembourg Gardens" might be retained, that it was only necessary to drop out a few sentences to make it, as the expert would say, "acceptable to the American public," but it never occurred to me that "The Lovers of Orelay" could be published in any form except the form in which I wrote it. This morning I received a letter from Mr. Sears.
October 8, 1906. DEAR MR. MOORE:
Your letter of September 28th has just arrived this morning. I hope that by the time you receive this I shall have the open letter which we are to print in "Memoirs of My Dead Life." The book is all ready, waiting for it. As a matter of fact, we have not cut out either "In the Luxembourg Gardens" or "The Lovers of Orelay." We simply have taken out parts of each. Very truly yours, J. H. SEARS.
"Simply have taken out parts of each!" My book, then, is a sort of unfortunate animal, whose destiny was to be thrown on the American vivisecting table and pieces taken out of it. Well, I raise no objection. The promise that this preface will be published without alteration soothes me (it is the anaesthetic), and after all, is it not an honor to be Bowdlerized? Only the best are deemed dangerous.... I am not aware that anybody ever took liberties with Miss Braddon's texts. And the day of the Bowdlerizer is a brief one! Sooner or later the original text is published. This is the rule, and I am confident I shall not prove an exception to the rule.
MEMOIRS OF MY DEAD LIFE
SPRING IN LONDON
As I sit at my window on Sunday morning, lazily watching the sparrows—restless black dots that haunt the old tree at the corner of King's Bench Walk—I begin to distinguish a faint green haze in the branches of the old lime. Yes, there it is green in the branches; and I'm moved by an impulse—the impulse of Spring is in my feet; india-rubber seems to have come into the soles of my feet, and I would see London. It is delightful to walk across Temple Gardens, to stop—pigeons are sweeping down from the roofs—to call a hansom, and to notice, as one passes, the sapling behind St. Clement's Danes. The quality of the green is exquisite on the smoke-black wall. London can be seen better on Sundays than on week-days; lying back in a hansom, one is alone with London. London is beautiful in that narrow street, celebrated for licentious literature. The blue and white sky shows above a seventeenth-century gable, and a few moments after we are in Drury Lane. The fine weather has enticed the population out of grim courts and alleys; skipping-ropes are whirling everywhere. The children hardly escape being run over. Coster girls sit wrapped in shawls, contentedly, like rabbits at the edge of a burrow; the men smoke their pipes in sullen groups, their eyes on the closed doors of the public house. At the corner of the great theatre a vendor of cheap ices is rapidly absorbing the few spare pennies of the neighbourhood. The hansom turns out of the lane into the great thoroughfare, a bright glow like the sunset fills the roadway, and upon it a triangular block of masonry and St. Giles's church rise, the spire aloft in the faint blue and delicate air. Spires are so beautiful that we would fain believe that they will outlast creeds; religion or no religion we must have spires, and in town and country—spires showing between trees and rising out of the city purlieus.
The spring tide is rising; the almond trees are in bloom, that one growing in an area spreads its Japanese decoration fan-like upon the wall. The hedges in the time-worn streets of Fitzroy Square light up—how the green runs along? The spring is more winsome here than in the country. One must be in London to see the spring. One can see the spring from afar dancing in St. John's wood, haze and sun playing together like a lad and a lass. The sweet air, how tempting! How exciting! It melts on the lips in fond kisses, instilling a delicate gluttony of life. It would be pleasant in these gardens walking through shadowy alleys, lit here and there by a ray, to see girls walking hand in hand, catching at branches, as girls do when dreaming of lovers. But alas! the gardens are empty; only some daffodils! But how beautiful is the curve of the flower when seen in profile, and still more beautiful is the starry yellow when the flower is seen full face. That antique flower carries my mind back—not to Greek times, for the daffodil has lost something of its ancient loveliness; it is more reminiscent of a Wedgwood than of a Greek vase. My nonsense thoughts amuse me; I follow my thoughts as a child follows butterflies; and all this ecstasy in and about me, is the joy of health—my health and the health of the world. This April day has set brain and blood on fire. Now it would be well to ponder by this old canal! It looks as if it had fallen into disuse, and that is charming; an abandoned canal is a perfect symbol of—well, I do not know of what. A river flows or rushes, even an artificial lake harbours waterfowl, children sail their boats upon it; but a canal does nothing.
Here comes a boat! The canal has not been abandoned. Ah! that boat has interrupted my dreams, and I feel quite wretched. I had hoped that the last had passed twenty years ago. Here it comes with its lean horse, the rope tightening and stretching, a great black mass with ripples at the prow and a figure bearing against the rudder. A canal reminds me of my childhood; every child likes a canal. A canal recalls the first wonder. We all remember the wonder with which we watched the first barge, the wonder which the smoke coming out of the funnel excited. When my father asked me why I'd like to go to Dublin better by canal than by railroad, I couldn't tell him. Nor could I tell any one to-day why I love a canal. One never loses one's fondness for canals. The boats glide like the days, and the toiling horse is a symbol! how he strains, sticking his toes into the path!
There are visits to pay. Three hours pass—of course women, always women. But at six I am free, and I resume my meditations in declining light as the cab rolls through the old brick streets that crowd round Golden Square; streets whose names you meet in old novels; streets full of studios where Hayden, Fuseli, and others of the rank historical tribe talked art with a big A, drank their despair away, and died wondering why the world did not recognise their genius. Children are scrambling round a neglected archway, striving to reach to a lantern of old time. The smell of these dry faded streets is peculiar to London; there is something of the odour of the original marsh in the smell of these streets; it rises through the pavement and mingles with the smoke. Fancy follows fancy, image succeeds image; till all is but a seeming, and mystery envelops everything. That white Arch seems to speak to me out of the twilight. I would fain believe it has its secret to reveal. London wraps herself in mists; blue scarfs are falling—trailing. London has a secret! Let me peer into her veiled face and read. I have only to fix my thoughts to decipher—what? I know not. Something ... perhaps. But I cannot control my thoughts. I am absorbed in turn by the beauty of the Marble Arch and the perspective of the Bayswater Road, fading like an apparition amid the romance of great trees.
As I turn away, for the wind thrills and obliges me to walk rapidly, I think how fortunate I am to experience these emotions in Hyde Park, whereas my fellows have to go to Switzerland and to climb up Mont Blanc, to feel half what I am feeling now, as I stand looking across the level park watching the sunset, a dusky one. The last red bar of light fades, and nothing remains but the grey park with the blue of the suburb behind it, flowing away full of mist and people, dim and mournful to the pallid lights of Kensington; and its crowds are like strips of black tape scattered here and there. By the railings the tape has been wound into a black ball, and, no doubt, the peg on which it is wound is some preacher promising human nature deliverance from evil if it will forego the spring time. But the spring time continues, despite the preacher, over yonder, under branches swelling with leaf and noisy with sparrows; the spring is there amid the boys and girls, boys dressed in ill-fitting suits of broadcloth, daffodils in their buttonholes; girls hardly less coarse, creatures made for work, escaped for a while from the thraldom of the kitchen, now doing the business of the world better than the preacher; poor servants of sacred Spring. A woman in a close-fitting green cloth dress passes me to meet a young man; a rich fur hangs from her shoulders; and they go towards Park Lane, towards the wilful little houses with low balconies and pendent flower-baskets swinging in the areas. Circumspect little gardens! There is one, Greek as an eighteenth-century engraving, and the woman in the close-fitting green cloth dress, rich fur hanging from her shoulders, almost hiding the pleasant waist, enters one of these. She is Park Lane. Park Lane supper parties and divorce are written in her eyes and manner. The old beau, walking swiftly lest he should catch cold, his moustache clearly dyed, his waist certainly pinched by a belt, he, too, is Park Lane. And those two young men, talking joyously—admirable specimens of Anglo-Saxons, slender feet, varnished boots, health and abundant youth—they, too, are characteristic of Park Lane.
Park Lane dips in a narrow and old-fashioned way as it enters Piccadilly. Piccadilly has not yet grown vulgar, only a little modern, a little out of keeping with the beauty of the Green Park, of that beautiful dell, about whose mounds I should like to see a comedy of the Restoration acted.
I used to stand here, at this very spot, twenty years ago, to watch the moonlight between the trees, and the shadows of the trees floating over that beautiful dell; I used to think of Wycherly's comedy, "Love in St. James's Park," and I think of it still. In those days the Argyle Rooms, Kate Hamilton's in Panton Street, and the Cafe de la Regence were the fashion. But Paris drew me from these, towards other pleasures, towards the Nouvelle Athenes and the Elysee Montmartre; and when I returned to London after an absence of ten years I found a new London, a less English London. Paris draws me still, and I shall be there in three weeks, when the chestnuts are in bloom.
On my arrival in Paris, though the hour was that stupid hour of seven in the morning, while I walked up the grey platform, my head was filled with memories of the sea, for all the way across it had seemed like a beautiful blue plain without beginning or end, a plain on which the ship threw a little circle of light, moving always like life itself, with darkness before and after. I remembered how we steamed into the long winding harbour in the dusk, half an hour before we were due—at daybreak. Against the green sky, along the cliff's edge, a line of broken paling zigzagged; one star shone in the dawning sky, one reflection wavered in the tranquil harbour. There was no sound except the splashing of paddle-wheels, and not wind enough to take the fishing boats out to sea; the boats rolled in the tide, their sails only half-filled. From the deck of the steamer we watched the strange crews, wild-looking men and boys, leaning over the bulwarks; and I remembered how I had sought for the town amid the shadow, but nowhere could I discover trace of it; yet I knew it was there, smothered in the dusk, under the green sky, its streets leading to the cathedral, the end of every one crossed by flying buttresses, and the round roof disappearing amid the chimney-stacks. A curious, pathetic town, full of nuns and pigeons and old gables and strange dormer windows, and courtyards where French nobles once assembled—fish will be sold there in a few hours. Once I spent a summer in Dieppe. And during the hour we had to wait for the train, during the hour that we watched the green sky widening between masses of shrouding cloud, I thought of ten years ago. The town emerged very slowly, and only a few roofs were visible when the fisher girl clanked down the quays with a clumsy movement of the hips, and we were called upon to take our seats in the train. We moved along the quays, into the suburbs, and then into a quiet garden country of little fields and brooks and hillsides breaking into cliffs. The fields and the hills were still shadowless and grey, and even the orchards in bloom seemed sad. But what shall I say of their beauty when the first faint lights appeared, when the first rose clouds appeared above the hills? Orchard succeeded orchard, and the farmhouses were all asleep. There is no such journey in the world as the journey from Dieppe to Paris on a fine May morning. Never shall I forget the first glimpse of Rouen Cathedral in the diamond air, the branching river, and the tall ships anchored in the deep current. I was dreaming of the cathedral when we had left Rouen far behind us, and when I awoke from my dream we were in the midst of a flat green country, the river winding about islands and through fields in which stood solitary poplar-trees, formerly haunts of Corot and Daubigny. I could see the spots where they had set their easels—that slight rise with the solitary poplar for Corot, that rich river bank and shady backwater for Daubigny. Soon after I saw the first weir, and then the first hay-boat; and at every moment the river grew more serene, more gracious, it passed its arms about a flat, green-wooded island, on which there was a rookery; and sometimes we saw it ahead of us, looping up the verdant landscape as if it were a gown, running through it like a white silk ribbon, and over there the green gown disappearing in fine muslin vapours, drawn about the low horizon.
I did not weary of this landscape, and was sorry when the first villa appeared. Another and then another showed between the chestnut-trees in bloom; and there were often blue vases on the steps and sometimes lanterns in metalwork hung from wooden balconies. The shutters were not yet open, those heavy French shutters that we all know so well, and that give the French houses such a look of comfort, of ease, of long tradition. Suddenly the aspect of a street struck me as a place I had known, and I said, "Is it possible that we are passing through Asnieres?" The name flitted past, and I was glad I had recognised Asnieres, for at the end of that very long road is the restaurant where we used to dine, and between it and the bridge is the bal where we used to dance. It was there I saw the beautiful Blanche D'Antigny surrounded by her admirers. It was there she used to sit by the side of the composer of the musical follies which she sang—in those days I thought she sang enchantingly. Those were the days of L'Oeil, Creve, and Chilperic. She once passed under the chestnut-trees of that dusty little bal de banlieue with me by her side, proud of being with her. She has gone and Julia Baron has gone; Hortense has outlived them all. She must be very old, eighty-five at least. It would be wonderful to hear her sing "Mon cher amant, je te jure" in the quavering voice of eighty-five; it would be wonderful to hear her sing it because she doesn't know how wonderful she is; the old light of love requires an interpreter, and she has had many; many great poets have voiced her woe and decadence.
Not five minutes from that bal was the little house in which Herve lived, and to which he used to invite us to supper; and where, after supper, he used to play to us the last music he had composed. We listened, but the public would listen to it no longer. Sedan had taken all the tinkle out of it, and the poor compositeur toque never caught the public ear again. We listened to his chirpy scores, believing that they would revive that old nervous fever which was the Empire when Hortense used to dance, when Hortense took the Empire for a spring-board, when Paris cried out, "Cascade ma fille, Hortense, cascade." The great Hortense Schneider, the great goddess of folly, used to come down there to sing the songs which were intended to revive her triumphs. She was growing old then, her days were over, and Herve's day was over. Vainly did he pile parody upon parody; vainly did he seize the conductor's baton; the days of their glory had gone. Now Asnieres itself is forgotten; the modern youth has chosen another suburb to disport himself in; the ballroom has been pulled down, and never again will an orchestra play a note of these poor scores; even their names are unknown. A few bars of a chorus of pages came back to me, remembered only by me, all are gone, like Hortense and Blanche and Julia.
But after all I am in Paris. Almost the same Paris; almost the same George Moore, my senses awake as before to all enjoyment, my soul as enwrapped as ever in the divine sensation of life. Once my youth moved through thy whiteness, O City, and its dreams lay down to dreams in the freedom of thy fields! Years come and years go, but every year I see city and plain in the happy exaltation of Spring, and departing before the cuckoo, while the blossom is still bright on the bough, it has come to me to think that Paris and May are one.
Feeling that he would never see Scotland again, Stevenson wrote in a preface to "Catriona":—"I see like a vision the youth of my father, and of his father, and the whole stream of lives flowing down there far in the north, with the sound of laughter and tears, to cast me out in the end, as by a sudden freshet, on these ultimate islands. And I admire and bow my head before the romance of destiny." Does not this sentence read as if it were written in stress of some effusive febrile emotion, as if he wrote while still pursuing his idea? And so it reminds us of a moth fluttering after a light. But however vacillating, the sentence contains some pretty clauses, and it will be remembered though not perhaps in its original form. We shall forget the "laughter and the tears" and the "sudden freshet," and a simpler phrase will form itself in our memories. The emotion that Stevenson had to express transpires only in the words, "romance of destiny, ultimate islands." Who does not feel his destiny to be a romance, and who does not admire the ultimate island whither his destiny will cast him? Giacomo Cenci, whom the Pope ordered to be flayed alive, no doubt admired the romance of destiny that laid him on his ultimate island, a raised plank, so that the executioner might conveniently roll up the skin of his belly like an apron. And a hare that I once saw beating a tambourine in Regent Street looked at me so wistfully that I am sure it admired in some remote way the romance of destiny that had taken it from the woodland and cast it upon its ultimate island—in this case a barrow. But neither of these strange examples of the romance of destiny seems to me more wonderful than the destiny of a wistful Irish girl whom I saw serving drinks to students in a certain ultimate cafe in the Latin Quarter; she, too, no doubt, admired the destiny which had cast her out, ordaining that she should die amid tobacco smoke, serving drinks to students, entertaining them with whatever conversation they desired.
Gervex, Mademoiselle D'Avary, and I had gone to this cafe after the theatre for half an hour's distraction; I had thought that the place seemed too rough for Mademoiselle D'Avary, but Gervex had said that we should find a quiet corner, and we had happened to choose one in charge of a thin, delicate girl, a girl touched with languor, weakness, and a grace which interested and moved me; her cheeks were thin, and the deep grey eyes were wistful as a drawing of Rossetti; her waving brown hair fell over the temples, and was looped up low over the neck after the Rossetti fashion. I had noticed how the two women looked at each other, one woman healthful and rich, the other poor and ailing; I had guessed the thought that passed across their minds. Each had doubtless asked and wondered why life had come to them so differently. But first I must tell who was Mademoiselle D'Avary, and how I came to know her. I had gone to Tortoni, a once-celebrated cafe at the corner of the Rue Taitbout, the dining place of Rossini. When Rossini had earned an income of two thousand pounds a year it is recorded that he said: "Now I've done with music, it has served its turn, and I'm going to dine every day at Tortoni's." Even in my time Tortoni was the rendezvous of the world of art and letters; every one was there at five o'clock, and to Tortoni I went the day I arrived in Paris. To be seen there would make known the fact that I was in Paris. Tortoni was a sort of publication. At Tortoni I had discovered a young man, one of my oldest friends, a painter of talent—he had a picture in the Luxembourg—and a man who was beloved by women. Gervex, for it was he, had seized me by the hand, and with voluble eagerness had told me that I was the person he was seeking: he had heard of my coming and had sought me in every cafe from the Madeleine to Tortoni. He had been seeking me because he wished to ask me to dinner to meet Mademoiselle D'Avary; we were to fetch her in the Rue des Capucines. I write the name of the street, not because it matters to my little story in what street she lived, but because the name is an evocation. Those who like Paris like to hear the names of the streets, and the long staircase turning closely up the painted walls, the brown painted doors on the landings, and the bell rope, are evocative of Parisian life; and Mademoiselle D'Avary is herself an evocation, for she was an actress of the Palais Royal. My friend, too, is an evocation, he was one of those whose pride is not to spend money upon women, whose theory of life is that "If she likes to come round to the studio when one's work is done, nous pouvons faire la fete ensemble." But however defensible this view of life may be, and there is much to be said for it, I had thought that he might have refrained from saying when I looked round the drawing-room admiring it—a drawing-room furnished with sixteenth-century bronzes, Dresden figures, etageres covered with silver ornaments, three drawings by Boucher—Boucher in three periods, a French Boucher, a Flemish Boucher, and an Italian Boucher—that I must not think that any of these things were presents from him, and from saying when she came into the room that the bracelet on her arm was not from him. It had seemed to me in slightly bad taste that he should remind her that he made no presents, for his remark had clouded her joyousness; I could see that she was not so happy at the thought of going out to dine with him as she had been.
It was chez Foyoz that we dined, an old-fashioned restaurant still free from the new taste that likes walls painted white and gold, electric lamps and fiddlers. After dinner we had gone to see a play next door at the Odeon, a play in which shepherds spoke to each other about singing brooks, and stabbed each other for false women, a play diversified with vintages, processions, wains, and songs. Nevertheless it had not interested us. And during the entr'actes Gervex had paid visits in various parts of the house, leaving Mademoiselle D'Avary to make herself agreeable to me. I dearly love to walk by the perambulator in which Love is wheeling a pair of lovers. After the play he had said, "Allons boire un bock," and we had turned into a students' cafe, a cafe furnished with tapestries and oak tables, and old-time jugs and Medicis gowns, a cafe in which a student occasionally caught up a tall bock in his teeth, emptied it at a gulp, and after turning head over heels, walked out without having smiled. Mademoiselle D'Avary's beauty and fashion had drawn the wild eyes of all the students gathered there. She wore a flower-enwoven dress, and from under the large hat her hair showed dark as night; and her southern skin filled with rich tints, yellow and dark green where the hair grew scanty on the neck; the shoulders drooped into opulent suggestion in the lace bodice. And it was interesting to compare her ripe beauty with the pale deciduous beauty of the waitress. Mademoiselle D'Avary sat, her fan wide-spread across her bosom, her lips parted, the small teeth showing between the red lips. The waitress sat, her thin arms leaning on the table, joining very prettily in the conversation, betraying only in one glance that she knew that she was only a failure and Mademoiselle D'Avary a success. It was some time before the ear caught the slight accent; an accent that was difficult to trace to any country. Once I heard a southern intonation, and then a northern; finally I heard an unmistakable English intonation, and said: