Part 1 - The Picture of Dorian Gray Audiobook by Oscar Wilde (Chs 1-4)


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Transcript:
The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
THE PREFACE The artist is the creator of beautiful
things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is
art's aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his
impression of beautiful things. The highest as the lowest form of criticism
is a mode of autobiography.
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.
This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in
beautiful things are the cultivated.
For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things
mean only beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an
immoral book.
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.
The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face
in a glass.
The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not
seeing his own face in a glass.
The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the
morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.
No artist desires to prove anything.
Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies.
An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.
No artist is ever morbid.
The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist
instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials
for an art.
From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician.
From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and
vital.
When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.
The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless. OSCAR WILDE
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CHAPTER 1
The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind
stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy
scent of the lilac, or the more delicate
perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.
From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking,
as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the
gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured
blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the
burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of
birds in flight flitted across the long
tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a
kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-
faced painters of Tokyo who, through the
medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of
swiftness and motion.
The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or
circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling
woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive.
The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.
In the centre of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the full-length
portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty, and in front of it, some
little distance away, was sitting the
artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago caused,
at the time, such public excitement and gave rise to so many strange conjectures.
As the painter looked at the gracious and comely form he had so skilfully mirrored in
his art, a smile of pleasure passed across his face, and seemed about to linger there.
But he suddenly started up, and closing his eyes, placed his fingers upon the lids, as
though he sought to imprison within his brain some curious dream from which he
feared he might awake.
"It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done," said Lord Henry
languidly. "You must certainly send it next year to
the Grosvenor.
The Academy is too large and too vulgar.
Whenever I have gone there, there have been either so many people that I have not been
able to see the pictures, which was dreadful, or so many pictures that I have
not been able to see the people, which was worse.
The Grosvenor is really the only place."
"I don't think I shall send it anywhere," he answered, tossing his head back in that
odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him at Oxford.
"No, I won't send it anywhere."
Lord Henry elevated his eyebrows and looked at him in amazement through the thin blue
wreaths of smoke that curled up in such fanciful whorls from his heavy, opium-
tainted cigarette.
"Not send it anywhere? My dear fellow, why?
Have you any reason? What odd chaps you painters are!
You do anything in the world to gain a reputation.
As soon as you have one, you seem to want to throw it away.
It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked
about, and that is not being talked about.
A portrait like this would set you far above all the young men in England, and
make the old men quite jealous, if old men are ever capable of any emotion."
"I know you will laugh at me," he replied, "but I really can't exhibit it.
I have put too much of myself into it." Lord Henry stretched himself out on the
divan and laughed.
"Yes, I knew you would; but it is quite true, all the same."
"Too much of yourself in it!
Upon my word, Basil, I didn't know you were so vain; and I really can't see any
resemblance between you, with your rugged strong face and your coal-black hair, and
this young Adonis, who looks as if he was made out of ivory and rose-leaves.
Why, my dear Basil, he is a Narcissus, and you--well, of course you have an
intellectual expression and all that.
But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins.
Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of
any face.
The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or
something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the
learned professions.
How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church.
But then in the Church they don't think.
A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was
a boy of eighteen, and as a natural consequence he always looks absolutely
delightful.
Your mysterious young friend, whose name you have never told me, but whose picture
really fascinates me, never thinks. I feel quite sure of that.
He is some brainless beautiful creature who should be always here in winter when we
have no flowers to look at, and always here in summer when we want something to chill
our intelligence.
Don't flatter yourself, Basil: you are not in the least like him."
"You don't understand me, Harry," answered the artist.
"Of course I am not like him.
I know that perfectly well. Indeed, I should be sorry to look like him.
You shrug your shoulders? I am telling you the truth.
There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of
fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings.
It is better not to be different from one's fellows.
The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world.
They can sit at their ease and gape at the play.
If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat.
They live as we all should live-- undisturbed, indifferent, and without
disquiet. They neither bring ruin upon others, nor
ever receive it from alien hands.
Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as they are--my art, whatever it may
be worth; Dorian Gray's good looks--we shall all suffer for what the gods have
given us, suffer terribly."
"Dorian Gray? Is that his name?" asked Lord Henry,
walking across the studio towards Basil Hallward.
"Yes, that is his name.
I didn't intend to tell it to you." "But why not?"
"Oh, I can't explain. When I like people immensely, I never tell
their names to any one.
It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy.
It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvellous to us.
The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it.
When I leave town now I never tell my people where I am going.
If I did, I would lose all my pleasure.
It is a silly habit, I dare say, but somehow it seems to bring a great deal of
romance into one's life. I suppose you think me awfully foolish
about it?"
"Not at all," answered Lord Henry, "not at all, my dear Basil.
You seem to forget that I am married, and the one charm of marriage is that it makes
a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.
I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing.
When we meet--we do meet occasionally, when we dine out together, or go down to the
Duke's--we tell each other the most absurd stories with the most serious faces.
My wife is very good at it--much better, in fact, than I am.
She never gets confused over her dates, and I always do.
But when she does find me out, she makes no row at all.
I sometimes wish she would; but she merely laughs at me."
"I hate the way you talk about your married life, Harry," said Basil Hallward,
strolling towards the door that led into the garden.
"I believe that you are really a very good husband, but that you are thoroughly
ashamed of your own virtues. You are an extraordinary fellow.
You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing.
Your cynicism is simply a pose."
"Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know," cried Lord
Henry, laughing; and the two young men went out into the garden together and ensconced
themselves on a long bamboo seat that stood in the shade of a tall laurel bush.
The sunlight slipped over the polished leaves.
In the grass, white daisies were tremulous.
After a pause, Lord Henry pulled out his watch.
"I am afraid I must be going, Basil," he murmured, "and before I go, I insist on
your answering a question I put to you some time ago."
"What is that?" said the painter, keeping his eyes fixed on the ground.
"You know quite well." "I do not, Harry."
"Well, I will tell you what it is.
I want you to explain to me why you won't exhibit Dorian Gray's picture.
I want the real reason." "I told you the real reason."
"No, you did not.
You said it was because there was too much of yourself in it.
Now, that is childish."
"Harry," said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, "every portrait that
is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.
The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion.
It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on
the coloured canvas, reveals himself.
The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it
the secret of my own soul." Lord Henry laughed.
"And what is that?" he asked.
"I will tell you," said Hallward; but an expression of perplexity came over his
face. "I am all expectation, Basil," continued
his companion, glancing at him.
"Oh, there is really very little to tell, Harry," answered the painter; "and I am
afraid you will hardly understand it. Perhaps you will hardly believe it."
Lord Henry smiled, and leaning down, plucked a pink-petalled daisy from the
grass and examined it.
"I am quite sure I shall understand it," he replied, gazing intently at the little
golden, white-feathered disk, "and as for believing things, I can believe anything,
provided that it is quite incredible."
The wind shook some blossoms from the trees, and the heavy lilac-blooms, with
their clustering stars, moved to and fro in the languid air.
A grasshopper began to chirrup by the wall, and like a blue thread a long thin dragon-
fly floated past on its brown gauze wings.
Lord Henry felt as if he could hear Basil Hallward's heart beating, and wondered what
was coming. "The story is simply this," said the
painter after some time.
"Two months ago I went to a crush at Lady Brandon's.
You know we poor artists have to show ourselves in society from time to time,
just to remind the public that we are not savages.
With an evening coat and a white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stock-
broker, can gain a reputation for being civilized.
Well, after I had been in the room about ten minutes, talking to huge overdressed
dowagers and tedious academicians, I suddenly became conscious that some one was
looking at me.
I turned half-way round and saw Dorian Gray for the first time.
When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale.
A curious sensation of terror came over me.
I knew that I had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so
fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole
soul, my very art itself.
I did not want any external influence in my life.
You know yourself, Harry, how independent I am by nature.
I have always been my own master; had at least always been so, till I met Dorian
Gray. Then--but I don't know how to explain it to
you.
Something seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life.
I had a strange feeling that fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite
sorrows.
I grew afraid and turned to quit the room. It was not conscience that made me do so:
it was a sort of cowardice. I take no credit to myself for trying to
escape."
"Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Basil.
Conscience is the trade-name of the firm. That is all."
"I don't believe that, Harry, and I don't believe you do either.
However, whatever was my motive--and it may have been pride, for I used to be very
proud--I certainly struggled to the door.
There, of course, I stumbled against Lady Brandon.
'You are not going to run away so soon, Mr. Hallward?' she screamed out.
You know her curiously shrill voice?"
"Yes; she is a peacock in everything but beauty," said Lord Henry, pulling the daisy
to bits with his long nervous fingers. "I could not get rid of her.
She brought me up to royalties, and people with stars and garters, and elderly ladies
with gigantic tiaras and parrot noses. She spoke of me as her dearest friend.
I had only met her once before, but she took it into her head to lionize me.
I believe some picture of mine had made a great success at the time, at least had
been chattered about in the penny newspapers, which is the nineteenth-century
standard of immortality.
Suddenly I found myself face to face with the young man whose personality had so
strangely stirred me. We were quite close, almost touching.
Our eyes met again.
It was reckless of me, but I asked Lady Brandon to introduce me to him.
Perhaps it was not so reckless, after all. It was simply inevitable.
We would have spoken to each other without any introduction.
I am sure of that. Dorian told me so afterwards.
He, too, felt that we were destined to know each other."
"And how did Lady Brandon describe this wonderful young man?" asked his companion.
"I know she goes in for giving a rapid precis of all her guests.
I remember her bringing me up to a truculent and red-faced old gentleman
covered all over with orders and ribbons, and hissing into my ear, in a tragic
whisper which must have been perfectly
audible to everybody in the room, the most astounding details.
I simply fled. I like to find out people for myself.
But Lady Brandon treats her guests exactly as an auctioneer treats his goods.
She either explains them entirely away, or tells one everything about them except what
one wants to know."
"Poor Lady Brandon! You are hard on her, Harry!" said Hallward
listlessly.
"My dear fellow, she tried to found a salon, and only succeeded in opening a
restaurant. How could I admire her?
But tell me, what did she say about Mr. Dorian Gray?"
"Oh, something like, 'Charming boy--poor dear mother and I absolutely inseparable.
Quite forget what he does--afraid he-- doesn't do anything--oh, yes, plays the
piano--or is it the violin, dear Mr. Gray?' Neither of us could help laughing, and we
became friends at once."
"Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is far the best ending
for one," said the young lord, plucking another daisy.
Hallward shook his head.
"You don't understand what friendship is, Harry," he murmured--"or what enmity is,
for that matter. You like every one; that is to say, you are
indifferent to every one."
"How horribly unjust of you!" cried Lord Henry, tilting his hat back and looking up
at the little clouds that, like ravelled skeins of glossy white silk, were drifting
across the hollowed turquoise of the summer sky.
"Yes; horribly unjust of you. I make a great difference between people.
I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters,
and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice
of his enemies.
I have not got one who is a fool. They are all men of some intellectual
power, and consequently they all appreciate me.
Is that very vain of me?
I think it is rather vain." "I should think it was, Harry.
But according to your category I must be merely an acquaintance."
"My dear old Basil, you are much more than an acquaintance."
"And much less than a friend. A sort of brother, I suppose?"
"Oh, brothers!
I don't care for brothers. My elder brother won't die, and my younger
brothers seem never to do anything else." "Harry!" exclaimed Hallward, frowning.
"My dear fellow, I am not quite serious.
But I can't help detesting my relations. I suppose it comes from the fact that none
of us can stand other people having the same faults as ourselves.
I quite sympathize with the rage of the English democracy against what they call
the vices of the upper orders.
The masses feel that drunkenness, stupidity, and immorality should be their
own special property, and that if any one of us makes an ass of himself, he is
poaching on their preserves.
When poor Southwark got into the divorce court, their indignation was quite
magnificent. And yet I don't suppose that ten per cent
of the proletariat live correctly."
"I don't agree with a single word that you have said, and, what is more, Harry, I feel
sure you don't either."
Lord Henry stroked his pointed brown beard and tapped the toe of his patent-leather
boot with a tasselled ebony cane. "How English you are Basil!
That is the second time you have made that observation.
If one puts forward an idea to a true Englishman--always a rash thing to do--he
never dreams of considering whether the idea is right or wrong.
The only thing he considers of any importance is whether one believes it
oneself.
Now, the value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the
man who expresses it.
Indeed, the probabilities are that the more insincere the man is, the more purely
intellectual will the idea be, as in that case it will not be coloured by either his
wants, his desires, or his prejudices.
However, I don't propose to discuss politics, sociology, or metaphysics with
you.
I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better
than anything else in the world. Tell me more about Mr. Dorian Gray.
How often do you see him?"
"Every day. I couldn't be happy if I didn't see him
every day. He is absolutely necessary to me."
"How extraordinary!
I thought you would never care for anything but your art."
"He is all my art to me now," said the painter gravely.
"I sometimes think, Harry, that there are only two eras of any importance in the
world's history.
The first is the appearance of a new medium for art, and the second is the appearance
of a new personality for art also.
What the invention of oil-painting was to the Venetians, the face of Antinous was to
late Greek sculpture, and the face of Dorian Gray will some day be to me.
It is not merely that I paint from him, draw from him, sketch from him.
Of course, I have done all that. But he is much more to me than a model or a
sitter.
I won't tell you that I am dissatisfied with what I have done of him, or that his
beauty is such that art cannot express it.
There is nothing that art cannot express, and I know that the work I have done, since
I met Dorian Gray, is good work, is the best work of my life.
But in some curious way--I wonder will you understand me?--his personality has
suggested to me an entirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style.
I see things differently, I think of them differently.
I can now recreate life in a way that was hidden from me before.
'A dream of form in days of thought'--who is it who says that?
I forget; but it is what Dorian Gray has been to me.
The merely visible presence of this lad-- for he seems to me little more than a lad,
though he is really over twenty--his merely visible presence--ah!
I wonder can you realize all that that means?
Unconsciously he defines for me the lines of a fresh school, a school that is to have
in it all the passion of the romantic spirit, all the perfection of the spirit
that is Greek.
The harmony of soul and body--how much that is!
We in our madness have separated the two, and have invented a realism that is vulgar,
an ideality that is void.
Harry! if you only knew what Dorian Gray is to me!
You remember that landscape of mine, for which Agnew offered me such a huge price
but which I would not part with?
It is one of the best things I have ever done.
And why is it so? Because, while I was painting it, Dorian
Gray sat beside me.
Some subtle influence passed from him to me, and for the first time in my life I saw
in the plain woodland the wonder I had always looked for and always missed."
"Basil, this is extraordinary!
I must see Dorian Gray." Hallward got up from the seat and walked up
and down the garden. After some time he came back.
"Harry," he said, "Dorian Gray is to me simply a motive in art.
You might see nothing in him. I see everything in him.
He is never more present in my work than when no image of him is there.
He is a suggestion, as I have said, of a new manner.
I find him in the curves of certain lines, in the loveliness and subtleties of certain
colours. That is all."
"Then why won't you exhibit his portrait?" asked Lord Henry.
"Because, without intending it, I have put into it some expression of all this curious
artistic idolatry, of which, of course, I have never cared to speak to him.
He knows nothing about it.
He shall never know anything about it. But the world might guess it, and I will
not bare my soul to their shallow prying eyes.
My heart shall never be put under their microscope.
There is too much of myself in the thing, Harry--too much of myself!"
"Poets are not so scrupulous as you are.
They know how useful passion is for publication.
Nowadays a broken heart will run to many editions."
"I hate them for it," cried Hallward.
"An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into
them.
We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of
autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty.
Some day I will show the world what it is; and for that reason the world shall never
see my portrait of Dorian Gray." "I think you are wrong, Basil, but I won't
argue with you.
It is only the intellectually lost who ever argue.
Tell me, is Dorian Gray very fond of you?" The painter considered for a few moments.
"He likes me," he answered after a pause; "I know he likes me.
Of course I flatter him dreadfully.
I find a strange pleasure in saying things to him that I know I shall be sorry for
having said.
As a rule, he is charming to me, and we sit in the studio and talk of a thousand
things.
Now and then, however, he is horribly thoughtless, and seems to take a real
delight in giving me pain.
Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to some one who treats it as
if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an
ornament for a summer's day."
"Days in summer, Basil, are apt to linger," murmured Lord Henry.
"Perhaps you will tire sooner than he will.
It is a sad thing to think of, but there is no doubt that genius lasts longer than
beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take
such pains to over-educate ourselves.
In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we
fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place.
The thoroughly well-informed man--that is the modern ideal.
And the mind of the thoroughly well- informed man is a dreadful thing.
It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its
proper value. I think you will tire first, all the same.
Some day you will look at your friend, and he will seem to you to be a little out of
drawing, or you won't like his tone of colour, or something.
You will bitterly reproach him in your own heart, and seriously think that he has
behaved very badly to you. The next time he calls, you will be
perfectly cold and indifferent.
It will be a great pity, for it will alter you.
What you have told me is quite a romance, a romance of art one might call it, and the
worst of having a romance of any kind is that it leaves one so unromantic."
"Harry, don't talk like that.
As long as I live, the personality of Dorian Gray will dominate me.
You can't feel what I feel. You change too often."
"Ah, my dear Basil, that is exactly why I can feel it.
Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love: it is the faithless
who know love's tragedies."
And Lord Henry struck a light on a dainty silver case and began to smoke a cigarette
with a self-conscious and satisfied air, as if he had summed up the world in a phrase.
There was a rustle of chirruping sparrows in the green lacquer leaves of the ivy, and
the blue cloud-shadows chased themselves across the grass like swallows.
How pleasant it was in the garden!
And how delightful other people's emotions were!--much more delightful than their
ideas, it seemed to him.
One's own soul, and the passions of one's friends--those were the fascinating things
in life.
He pictured to himself with silent amusement the tedious luncheon that he had
missed by staying so long with Basil Hallward.
Had he gone to his aunt's, he would have been sure to have met Lord Goodbody there,
and the whole conversation would have been about the feeding of the poor and the
necessity for model lodging-houses.
Each class would have preached the importance of those virtues, for whose
exercise there was no necessity in their own lives.
The rich would have spoken on the value of thrift, and the idle grown eloquent over
the dignity of labour. It was charming to have escaped all that!
As he thought of his aunt, an idea seemed to strike him.
He turned to Hallward and said, "My dear fellow, I have just remembered."
"Remembered what, Harry?"
"Where I heard the name of Dorian Gray." "Where was it?" asked Hallward, with a
slight frown. "Don't look so angry, Basil.
It was at my aunt, Lady Agatha's.
She told me she had discovered a wonderful young man who was going to help her in the
East End, and that his name was Dorian Gray.
I am bound to state that she never told me he was good-looking.
Women have no appreciation of good looks; at least, good women have not.
She said that he was very earnest and had a beautiful nature.
I at once pictured to myself a creature with spectacles and lank hair, horribly
freckled, and tramping about on huge feet.
I wish I had known it was your friend." "I am very glad you didn't, Harry."
"Why?" "I don't want you to meet him."
"You don't want me to meet him?"
"No." "Mr. Dorian Gray is in the studio, sir,"
said the butler, coming into the garden. "You must introduce me now," cried Lord
Henry, laughing.
The painter turned to his servant, who stood blinking in the sunlight.
"Ask Mr. Gray to wait, Parker: I shall be in in a few moments."
The man bowed and went up the walk.
Then he looked at Lord Henry. "Dorian Gray is my dearest friend," he
said. "He has a simple and a beautiful nature.
Your aunt was quite right in what she said of him.
Don't spoil him. Don't try to influence him.
Your influence would be bad.
The world is wide, and has many marvellous people in it.
Don't take away from me the one person who gives to my art whatever charm it
possesses: my life as an artist depends on him.
Mind, Harry, I trust you."
He spoke very slowly, and the words seemed wrung out of him almost against his will.
"What nonsense you talk!" said Lord Henry, smiling, and taking Hallward by the arm, he
almost led him into the house.
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CHAPTER 2
As they entered they saw Dorian Gray. He was seated at the piano, with his back
to them, turning over the pages of a volume of Schumann's "Forest Scenes."
"You must lend me these, Basil," he cried.
"I want to learn them. They are perfectly charming."
"That entirely depends on how you sit to- day, Dorian."
"Oh, I am tired of sitting, and I don't want a life-sized portrait of myself,"
answered the lad, swinging round on the music-stool in a wilful, petulant manner.
When he caught sight of Lord Henry, a faint blush coloured his cheeks for a moment, and
he started up. "I beg your pardon, Basil, but I didn't
know you had any one with you."
"This is Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian, an old Oxford friend of mine.
I have just been telling him what a capital sitter you were, and now you have spoiled
everything."
"You have not spoiled my pleasure in meeting you, Mr. Gray," said Lord Henry,
stepping forward and extending his hand. "My aunt has often spoken to me about you.
You are one of her favourites, and, I am afraid, one of her victims also."
"I am in Lady Agatha's black books at present," answered Dorian with a funny look
of penitence.
"I promised to go to a club in Whitechapel with her last Tuesday, and I really forgot
all about it. We were to have played a duet together--
three duets, I believe.
I don't know what she will say to me. I am far too frightened to call."
"Oh, I will make your peace with my aunt. She is quite devoted to you.
And I don't think it really matters about your not being there.
The audience probably thought it was a duet.
When Aunt Agatha sits down to the piano, she makes quite enough noise for two
people." "That is very horrid to her, and not very
nice to me," answered Dorian, laughing.
Lord Henry looked at him. Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome,
with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair.
There was something in his face that made one trust him at once.
All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth's passionate purity.
One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world.
No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him. "You are too charming to go in for
philanthropy, Mr. Gray--far too charming."
And Lord Henry flung himself down on the divan and opened his cigarette-case.
The painter had been busy mixing his colours and getting his brushes ready.
He was looking worried, and when he heard Lord Henry's last remark, he glanced at
him, hesitated for a moment, and then said, "Harry, I want to finish this picture to-
day.
Would you think it awfully rude of me if I asked you to go away?"
Lord Henry smiled and looked at Dorian Gray.
"Am I to go, Mr. Gray?" he asked.
"Oh, please don't, Lord Henry. I see that Basil is in one of his sulky
moods, and I can't bear him when he sulks. Besides, I want you to tell me why I should
not go in for philanthropy."
"I don't know that I shall tell you that, Mr. Gray.
It is so tedious a subject that one would have to talk seriously about it.
But I certainly shall not run away, now that you have asked me to stop.
You don't really mind, Basil, do you? You have often told me that you liked your
sitters to have some one to chat to."
Hallward bit his lip. "If Dorian wishes it, of course you must
stay. Dorian's whims are laws to everybody,
except himself."
Lord Henry took up his hat and gloves. "You are very pressing, Basil, but I am
afraid I must go. I have promised to meet a man at the
Orleans.
Good-bye, Mr. Gray. Come and see me some afternoon in Curzon
Street. I am nearly always at home at five o'clock.
Write to me when you are coming.
I should be sorry to miss you." "Basil," cried Dorian Gray, "if Lord Henry
Wotton goes, I shall go, too.
You never open your lips while you are painting, and it is horribly dull standing
on a platform and trying to look pleasant. Ask him to stay.
I insist upon it."
"Stay, Harry, to oblige Dorian, and to oblige me," said Hallward, gazing intently
at his picture.
"It is quite true, I never talk when I am working, and never listen either, and it
must be dreadfully tedious for my unfortunate sitters.
I beg you to stay."
"But what about my man at the Orleans?" The painter laughed.
"I don't think there will be any difficulty about that.
Sit down again, Harry.
And now, Dorian, get up on the platform, and don't move about too much, or pay any
attention to what Lord Henry says.
He has a very bad influence over all his friends, with the single exception of
myself."
Dorian Gray stepped up on the dais with the air of a young Greek martyr, and made a
little moue of discontent to Lord Henry, to whom he had rather taken a fancy.
He was so unlike Basil.
They made a delightful contrast. And he had such a beautiful voice.
After a few moments he said to him, "Have you really a very bad influence, Lord
Henry?
As bad as Basil says?" "There is no such thing as a good
influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral--immoral from the
scientific point of view."
"Why?" "Because to influence a person is to give
him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or
burn with his natural passions.
His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins,
are borrowed.
He becomes an echo of some one else's music, an actor of a part that has not been
written for him. The aim of life is self-development.
To realize one's nature perfectly--that is what each of us is here for.
People are afraid of themselves, nowadays.
They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one's
self. Of course, they are charitable.
They feed the hungry and clothe the beggar.
But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race.
Perhaps we never really had it.
The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the
secret of religion--these are the two things that govern us.
And yet--"
"Just turn your head a little more to the right, Dorian, like a good boy," said the
painter, deep in his work and conscious only that a look had come into the lad's
face that he had never seen there before.
"And yet," continued Lord Henry, in his low, musical voice, and with that graceful
wave of the hand that was always so characteristic of him, and that he had even
in his Eton days, "I believe that if one
man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every
feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream--I believe that the
world would gain such a fresh impulse of
joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic
ideal--to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal, it may be.
But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself.
The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our
lives.
We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle
broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its
sin, for action is a mode of purification.
Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret.
The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to
itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.
It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain.
It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place
also.
You, Mr. Gray, you yourself, with your rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood,
you have had passions that have made you afraid, thoughts that have filled you with
terror, day-dreams and sleeping dreams
whose mere memory might stain your cheek with shame--"
"Stop!" faltered Dorian Gray, "stop! you bewilder me.
I don't know what to say.
There is some answer to you, but I cannot find it.
Don't speak. Let me think.
Or, rather, let me try not to think."
For nearly ten minutes he stood there, motionless, with parted lips and eyes
strangely bright. He was dimly conscious that entirely fresh
influences were at work within him.
Yet they seemed to him to have come really from himself.
The few words that Basil's friend had said to him--words spoken by chance, no doubt,
and with wilful paradox in them--had touched some secret chord that had never
been touched before, but that he felt was
now vibrating and throbbing to curious pulses.
Music had stirred him like that. Music had troubled him many times.
But music was not articulate.
It was not a new world, but rather another chaos, that it created in us.
Words! Mere words!
How terrible they were!
How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them.
And yet what a subtle magic there was in them!
They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a
music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute.
Mere words!
Was there anything so real as words? Yes; there had been things in his boyhood
that he had not understood. He understood them now.
Life suddenly became fiery-coloured to him.
It seemed to him that he had been walking in fire.
Why had he not known it? With his subtle smile, Lord Henry watched
him.
He knew the precise psychological moment when to say nothing.
He felt intensely interested.
He was amazed at the sudden impression that his words had produced, and, remembering a
book that he had read when he was sixteen, a book which had revealed to him much that
he had not known before, he wondered
whether Dorian Gray was passing through a similar experience.
He had merely shot an arrow into the air. Had it hit the mark?
How fascinating the lad was!
Hallward painted away with that marvellous bold touch of his, that had the true
refinement and perfect delicacy that in art, at any rate comes only from strength.
He was unconscious of the silence.
"Basil, I am tired of standing," cried Dorian Gray suddenly.
"I must go out and sit in the garden. The air is stifling here."
"My dear fellow, I am so sorry.
When I am painting, I can't think of anything else.
But you never sat better. You were perfectly still.
And I have caught the effect I wanted--the half-parted lips and the bright look in the
eyes.
I don't know what Harry has been saying to you, but he has certainly made you have the
most wonderful expression. I suppose he has been paying you
compliments.
You mustn't believe a word that he says." "He has certainly not been paying me
compliments. Perhaps that is the reason that I don't
believe anything he has told me."
"You know you believe it all," said Lord Henry, looking at him with his dreamy
languorous eyes. "I will go out to the garden with you.
It is horribly hot in the studio.
Basil, let us have something iced to drink, something with strawberries in it."
"Certainly, Harry. Just touch the bell, and when Parker comes
I will tell him what you want.
I have got to work up this background, so I will join you later on.
Don't keep Dorian too long. I have never been in better form for
painting than I am to-day.
This is going to be my masterpiece. It is my masterpiece as it stands."
Lord Henry went out to the garden and found Dorian Gray burying his face in the great
cool lilac-blossoms, feverishly drinking in their perfume as if it had been wine.
He came close to him and put his hand upon his shoulder.
"You are quite right to do that," he murmured.
"Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the
soul." The lad started and drew back.
He was bareheaded, and the leaves had tossed his rebellious curls and tangled all
their gilded threads.
There was a look of fear in his eyes, such as people have when they are suddenly
awakened.
His finely chiselled nostrils quivered, and some hidden nerve shook the scarlet of his
lips and left them trembling.
"Yes," continued Lord Henry, "that is one of the great secrets of life--to cure the
soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul.
You are a wonderful creation.
You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know."
Dorian Gray frowned and turned his head away.
He could not help liking the tall, graceful young man who was standing by him.
His romantic, olive-coloured face and worn expression interested him.
There was something in his low languid voice that was absolutely fascinating.
His cool, white, flowerlike hands, even, had a curious charm.
They moved, as he spoke, like music, and seemed to have a language of their own.
But he felt afraid of him, and ashamed of being afraid.
Why had it been left for a stranger to reveal him to himself?
He had known Basil Hallward for months, but the friendship between them had never
altered him.
Suddenly there had come some one across his life who seemed to have disclosed to him
life's mystery. And, yet, what was there to be afraid of?
He was not a schoolboy or a girl.
It was absurd to be frightened. "Let us go and sit in the shade," said Lord
Henry.
"Parker has brought out the drinks, and if you stay any longer in this glare, you will
be quite spoiled, and Basil will never paint you again.
You really must not allow yourself to become sunburnt.
It would be unbecoming."
"What can it matter?" cried Dorian Gray, laughing, as he sat down on the seat at the
end of the garden. "It should matter everything to you, Mr.
Gray."
"Why?" "Because you have the most marvellous
youth, and youth is the one thing worth having."
"I don't feel that, Lord Henry."
"No, you don't feel it now.
Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead
with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel
it, you will feel it terribly.
Now, wherever you go, you charm the world. Will it always be so?...
You have a wonderfully beautiful face, Mr. Gray.
Don't frown.
You have. And beauty is a form of genius--is higher,
indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation.
It is of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or spring-time, or the reflection
in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon.
It cannot be questioned.
It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.
You smile? Ah! when you have lost it you won't
smile....
People say sometimes that beauty is only superficial.
That may be so, but at least it is not so superficial as thought is.
To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders.
It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible....
Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you.
But what the gods give they quickly take away.
You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully.
When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly
discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with
those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats.
Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful.
Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses.
You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed.
You will suffer horribly....
Ah! realize your youth while you have it.
Don't squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve
the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the
vulgar.
These are the sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age.
Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you!
Let nothing be lost upon you.
Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing....
A new Hedonism--that is what our century wants.
You might be its visible symbol.
With your personality there is nothing you could not do.
The world belongs to you for a season....
The moment I met you I saw that you were quite unconscious of what you really are,
of what you really might be.
There was so much in you that charmed me that I felt I must tell you something about
yourself. I thought how tragic it would be if you
were wasted.
For there is such a little time that your youth will last--such a little time.
The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again.
The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now.
In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green
night of its leaves will hold its purple stars.
But we never get back our youth.
The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty becomes sluggish.
Our limbs fail, our senses rot.
We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we
were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to
yield to.
Youth! Youth!
There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!"
Dorian Gray listened, open-eyed and wondering.
The spray of lilac fell from his hand upon the gravel.
A furry bee came and buzzed round it for a moment.
Then it began to scramble all over the oval stellated globe of the tiny blossoms.
He watched it with that strange interest in trivial things that we try to develop when
things of high import make us afraid, or when we are stirred by some new emotion for
which we cannot find expression, or when
some thought that terrifies us lays sudden siege to the brain and calls on us to
yield. After a time the bee flew away.
He saw it creeping into the stained trumpet of a Tyrian convolvulus.
The flower seemed to quiver, and then swayed gently to and fro.
Suddenly the painter appeared at the door of the studio and made staccato signs for
them to come in. They turned to each other and smiled.
"I am waiting," he cried.
"Do come in. The light is quite perfect, and you can
bring your drinks." They rose up and sauntered down the walk
together.
Two green-and-white butterflies fluttered past them, and in the pear-tree at the
corner of the garden a thrush began to sing.
"You are glad you have met me, Mr. Gray," said Lord Henry, looking at him.
"Yes, I am glad now. I wonder shall I always be glad?"
"Always!
That is a dreadful word. It makes me shudder when I hear it.
Women are so fond of using it. They spoil every romance by trying to make
it last for ever.
It is a meaningless word, too. The only difference between a caprice and a
lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer."
As they entered the studio, Dorian Gray put his hand upon Lord Henry's arm.
"In that case, let our friendship be a caprice," he murmured, flushing at his own
boldness, then stepped up on the platform and resumed his pose.
Lord Henry flung himself into a large wicker arm-chair and watched him.
The sweep and dash of the brush on the canvas made the only sound that broke the
stillness, except when, now and then, Hallward stepped back to look at his work
from a distance.
In the slanting beams that streamed through the open doorway the dust danced and was
golden. The heavy scent of the roses seemed to
brood over everything.
After about a quarter of an hour Hallward stopped painting, looked for a long time at
Dorian Gray, and then for a long time at the picture, biting the end of one of his
huge brushes and frowning.
"It is quite finished," he cried at last, and stooping down he wrote his name in long
vermilion letters on the left-hand corner of the canvas.
Lord Henry came over and examined the picture.
It was certainly a wonderful work of art, and a wonderful likeness as well.
"My dear fellow, I congratulate you most warmly," he said.
"It is the finest portrait of modern times. Mr. Gray, come over and look at yourself."
The lad started, as if awakened from some dream.
"Is it really finished?" he murmured, stepping down from the platform.
"Quite finished," said the painter.
"And you have sat splendidly to-day. I am awfully obliged to you."
"That is entirely due to me," broke in Lord Henry.
"Isn't it, Mr. Gray?"
Dorian made no answer, but passed listlessly in front of his picture and
turned towards it. When he saw it he drew back, and his cheeks
flushed for a moment with pleasure.
A look of joy came into his eyes, as if he had recognized himself for the first time.
He stood there motionless and in wonder, dimly conscious that Hallward was speaking
to him, but not catching the meaning of his words.
The sense of his own beauty came on him like a revelation.
He had never felt it before.
Basil Hallward's compliments had seemed to him to be merely the charming exaggeration
of friendship. He had listened to them, laughed at them,
forgotten them.
They had not influenced his nature. Then had come Lord Henry Wotton with his
strange panegyric on youth, his terrible warning of its brevity.
That had stirred him at the time, and now, as he stood gazing at the shadow of his own
loveliness, the full reality of the description flashed across him.
Yes, there would be a day when his face would be wrinkled and wizen, his eyes dim
and colourless, the grace of his figure broken and deformed.
The scarlet would pass away from his lips and the gold steal from his hair.
The life that was to make his soul would mar his body.
He would become dreadful, hideous, and uncouth.
As he thought of it, a sharp pang of pain struck through him like a knife and made
each delicate fibre of his nature quiver.
His eyes deepened into amethyst, and across them came a mist of tears.
He felt as if a hand of ice had been laid upon his heart.
"Don't you like it?" cried Hallward at last, stung a little by the lad's silence,
not understanding what it meant. "Of course he likes it," said Lord Henry.
"Who wouldn't like it?
It is one of the greatest things in modern art.
I will give you anything you like to ask for it.
I must have it."
"It is not my property, Harry." "Whose property is it?"
"Dorian's, of course," answered the painter.
"He is a very lucky fellow."
"How sad it is!" murmured Dorian Gray with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait.
"How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and
dreadful.
But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular
day of June.... If it were only the other way!
If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old!
For that--for that--I would give everything!
Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give!
I would give my soul for that!"
"You would hardly care for such an arrangement, Basil," cried Lord Henry,
laughing. "It would be rather hard lines on your
work."
"I should object very strongly, Harry," said Hallward.
Dorian Gray turned and looked at him. "I believe you would, Basil.
You like your art better than your friends.
I am no more to you than a green bronze figure.
Hardly as much, I dare say." The painter stared in amazement.
It was so unlike Dorian to speak like that.
What had happened? He seemed quite angry.
His face was flushed and his cheeks burning.
"Yes," he continued, "I am less to you than your ivory Hermes or your silver Faun.
You will like them always. How long will you like me?
Till I have my first wrinkle, I suppose.
I know, now, that when one loses one's good looks, whatever they may be, one loses
everything. Your picture has taught me that.
Lord Henry Wotton is perfectly right.
Youth is the only thing worth having. When I find that I am growing old, I shall
kill myself." Hallward turned pale and caught his hand.
"Dorian!
Dorian!" he cried, "don't talk like that. I have never had such a friend as you, and
I shall never have such another. You are not jealous of material things, are
you?--you who are finer than any of them!"
"I am jealous of everything whose beauty does not die.
I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me.
Why should it keep what I must lose?
Every moment that passes takes something from me and gives something to it.
Oh, if it were only the other way! If the picture could change, and I could be
always what I am now!
Why did you paint it? It will mock me some day--mock me
horribly!"
The hot tears welled into his eyes; he tore his hand away and, flinging himself on the
divan, he buried his face in the cushions, as though he was praying.
"This is your doing, Harry," said the painter bitterly.
Lord Henry shrugged his shoulders. "It is the real Dorian Gray--that is all."
"It is not."
"If it is not, what have I to do with it?" "You should have gone away when I asked
you," he muttered. "I stayed when you asked me," was Lord
Henry's answer.
"Harry, I can't quarrel with my two best friends at once, but between you both you
have made me hate the finest piece of work I have ever done, and I will destroy it.
What is it but canvas and colour?
I will not let it come across our three lives and mar them."
Dorian Gray lifted his golden head from the pillow, and with pallid face and tear-
stained eyes, looked at him as he walked over to the deal painting-table that was
set beneath the high curtained window.
What was he doing there? His fingers were straying about among the
litter of tin tubes and dry brushes, seeking for something.
Yes, it was for the long palette-knife, with its thin blade of lithe steel.
He had found it at last. He was going to rip up the canvas.
With a stifled sob the lad leaped from the couch, and, rushing over to Hallward, tore
the knife out of his hand, and flung it to the end of the studio.
"Don't, Basil, don't!" he cried.
"It would be murder!" "I am glad you appreciate my work at last,
Dorian," said the painter coldly when he had recovered from his surprise.
"I never thought you would."
"Appreciate it? I am in love with it, Basil.
It is part of myself. I feel that."
"Well, as soon as you are dry, you shall be varnished, and framed, and sent home.
Then you can do what you like with yourself."
And he walked across the room and rang the bell for tea.
"You will have tea, of course, Dorian? And so will you, Harry?
Or do you object to such simple pleasures?"
"I adore simple pleasures," said Lord Henry.
"They are the last refuge of the complex. But I don't like scenes, except on the
stage.
What absurd fellows you are, both of you! I wonder who it was defined man as a
rational animal. It was the most premature definition ever
given.
Man is many things, but he is not rational. I am glad he is not, after all--though I
wish you chaps would not squabble over the picture.
You had much better let me have it, Basil.
This silly boy doesn't really want it, and I really do."
"If you let any one have it but me, Basil, I shall never forgive you!" cried Dorian
Gray; "and I don't allow people to call me a silly boy."
"You know the picture is yours, Dorian.
I gave it to you before it existed." "And you know you have been a little silly,
Mr. Gray, and that you don't really object to being reminded that you are extremely
young."
"I should have objected very strongly this morning, Lord Henry."
"Ah! this morning! You have lived since then."
There came a knock at the door, and the butler entered with a laden tea-tray and
set it down upon a small Japanese table. There was a rattle of cups and saucers and
the hissing of a fluted Georgian urn.
Two globe-shaped china dishes were brought in by a page.
Dorian Gray went over and poured out the tea.
The two men sauntered languidly to the table and examined what was under the
covers. "Let us go to the theatre to-night," said
Lord Henry.
"There is sure to be something on, somewhere.
I have promised to dine at White's, but it is only with an old friend, so I can send
him a wire to say that I am ill, or that I am prevented from coming in consequence of
a subsequent engagement.
I think that would be a rather nice excuse: it would have all the surprise of candour."
"It is such a bore putting on one's dress- clothes," muttered Hallward.
"And, when one has them on, they are so horrid."
"Yes," answered Lord Henry dreamily, "the costume of the nineteenth century is
detestable.
It is so sombre, so depressing. Sin is the only real colour-element left in
modern life." "You really must not say things like that
before Dorian, Harry."
"Before which Dorian? The one who is pouring out tea for us, or
the one in the picture?" "Before either."
"I should like to come to the theatre with you, Lord Henry," said the lad.
"Then you shall come; and you will come, too, Basil, won't you?"
"I can't, really.
I would sooner not. I have a lot of work to do."
"Well, then, you and I will go alone, Mr. Gray."
"I should like that awfully."
The painter bit his lip and walked over, cup in hand, to the picture.
"I shall stay with the real Dorian," he said, sadly.
"Is it the real Dorian?" cried the original of the portrait, strolling across to him.
"Am I really like that?" "Yes; you are just like that."
"How wonderful, Basil!"
"At least you are like it in appearance. But it will never alter," sighed Hallward.
"That is something." "What a fuss people make about fidelity!"
exclaimed Lord Henry.
"Why, even in love it is purely a question for physiology.
It has nothing to do with our own will.
Young men want to be faithful, and are not; old men want to be faithless, and cannot:
that is all one can say." "Don't go to the theatre to-night, Dorian,"
said Hallward.
"Stop and dine with me." "I can't, Basil."
"Why?" "Because I have promised Lord Henry Wotton
to go with him."
"He won't like you the better for keeping your promises.
He always breaks his own. I beg you not to go."
Dorian Gray laughed and shook his head.
"I entreat you." The lad hesitated, and looked over at Lord
Henry, who was watching them from the tea- table with an amused smile.
"I must go, Basil," he answered.
"Very well," said Hallward, and he went over and laid down his cup on the tray.
"It is rather late, and, as you have to dress, you had better lose no time.
Good-bye, Harry.
Good-bye, Dorian. Come and see me soon.
Come to-morrow." "Certainly."
"You won't forget?"
"No, of course not," cried Dorian. "And ...
Harry!" "Yes, Basil?"
"Remember what I asked you, when we were in the garden this morning."
"I have forgotten it." "I trust you."
"I wish I could trust myself," said Lord Henry, laughing.
"Come, Mr. Gray, my hansom is outside, and I can drop you at your own place.
Good-bye, Basil.
It has been a most interesting afternoon." As the door closed behind them, the painter
flung himself down on a sofa, and a look of pain came into his face.
>
CHAPTER 3
At half-past twelve next day Lord Henry Wotton strolled from Curzon Street over to
the Albany to call on his uncle, Lord Fermor, a genial if somewhat rough-mannered
old bachelor, whom the outside world called
selfish because it derived no particular benefit from him, but who was considered
generous by Society as he fed the people who amused him.
His father had been our ambassador at Madrid when Isabella was young and Prim
unthought of, but had retired from the diplomatic service in a capricious moment
of annoyance on not being offered the
Embassy at Paris, a post to which he considered that he was fully entitled by
reason of his birth, his indolence, the good English of his dispatches, and his
inordinate passion for pleasure.
The son, who had been his father's secretary, had resigned along with his
chief, somewhat foolishly as was thought at the time, and on succeeding some months
later to the title, had set himself to the
serious study of the great aristocratic art of doing absolutely nothing.
He had two large town houses, but preferred to live in chambers as it was less trouble,
and took most of his meals at his club.
He paid some attention to the management of his collieries in the Midland counties,
excusing himself for this taint of industry on the ground that the one advantage of
having coal was that it enabled a gentleman
to afford the decency of burning wood on his own hearth.
In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories were in office, during which period
he roundly abused them for being a pack of Radicals.
He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a terror to most of his relations,
whom he bullied in turn.
Only England could have produced him, and he always said that the country was going
to the dogs.
His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his
prejudices.
When Lord Henry entered the room, he found his uncle sitting in a rough shooting-coat,
smoking a cheroot and grumbling over The Times.
"Well, Harry," said the old gentleman, "what brings you out so early?
I thought you dandies never got up till two, and were not visible till five."
"Pure family affection, I assure you, Uncle George.
I want to get something out of you." "Money, I suppose," said Lord Fermor,
making a wry face.
"Well, sit down and tell me all about it. Young people, nowadays, imagine that money
is everything."
"Yes," murmured Lord Henry, settling his button-hole in his coat; "and when they
grow older they know it. But I don't want money.
It is only people who pay their bills who want that, Uncle George, and I never pay
mine. Credit is the capital of a younger son, and
one lives charmingly upon it.
Besides, I always deal with Dartmoor's tradesmen, and consequently they never
bother me.
What I want is information: not useful information, of course; useless
information."
"Well, I can tell you anything that is in an English Blue Book, Harry, although those
fellows nowadays write a lot of nonsense. When I was in the Diplomatic, things were
much better.
But I hear they let them in now by examination.
What can you expect? Examinations, sir, are pure humbug from
beginning to end.
If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman,
whatever he knows is bad for him."
"Mr. Dorian Gray does not belong to Blue Books, Uncle George," said Lord Henry
languidly. "Mr. Dorian Gray?
Who is he?" asked Lord Fermor, knitting his bushy white eyebrows.
"That is what I have come to learn, Uncle George.
Or rather, I know who he is.
He is the last Lord Kelso's grandson. His mother was a Devereux, Lady Margaret
Devereaux. I want you to tell me about his mother.
What was she like?
Whom did she marry? You have known nearly everybody in your
time, so you might have known her. I am very much interested in Mr. Gray at
present.
I have only just met him." "Kelso's grandson!" echoed the old
gentleman. "Kelso's grandson!...
Of course....
I knew his mother intimately. I believe I was at her christening.
She was an extraordinarily beautiful girl, Margaret Devereux, and made all the men
frantic by running away with a penniless young fellow--a mere nobody, sir, a
subaltern in a foot regiment, or something of that kind.
Certainly. I remember the whole thing as if it
happened yesterday.
The poor chap was killed in a duel at Spa a few months after the marriage.
There was an ugly story about it.
They said Kelso got some rascally adventurer, some Belgian brute, to insult
his son-in-law in public--paid him, sir, to do it, paid him--and that the fellow
spitted his man as if he had been a pigeon.
The thing was hushed up, but, egad, Kelso ate his chop alone at the club for some
time afterwards. He brought his daughter back with him, I
was told, and she never spoke to him again.
Oh, yes; it was a bad business. The girl died, too, died within a year.
So she left a son, did she? I had forgotten that.
What sort of boy is he?
If he is like his mother, he must be a good-looking chap."
"He is very good-looking," assented Lord Henry.
"I hope he will fall into proper hands," continued the old man.
"He should have a pot of money waiting for him if Kelso did the right thing by him.
His mother had money, too.
All the Selby property came to her, through her grandfather.
Her grandfather hated Kelso, thought him a mean dog.
He was, too.
Came to Madrid once when I was there. Egad, I was ashamed of him.
The Queen used to ask me about the English noble who was always quarrelling with the
cabmen about their fares.
They made quite a story of it. I didn't dare show my face at Court for a
month. I hope he treated his grandson better than
he did the jarvies."
"I don't know," answered Lord Henry. "I fancy that the boy will be well off.
He is not of age yet. He has Selby, I know.
He told me so.
And ... his mother was very beautiful?" "Margaret Devereux was one of the loveliest
creatures I ever saw, Harry. What on earth induced her to behave as she
did, I never could understand.
She could have married anybody she chose. Carlington was mad after her.
She was romantic, though. All the women of that family were.
The men were a poor lot, but, egad! the women were wonderful.
Carlington went on his knees to her. Told me so himself.
She laughed at him, and there wasn't a girl in London at the time who wasn't after him.
And by the way, Harry, talking about silly marriages, what is this humbug your father
tells me about Dartmoor wanting to marry an American?
Ain't English girls good enough for him?"
"It is rather fashionable to marry Americans just now, Uncle George."
"I'll back English women against the world, Harry," said Lord Fermor, striking the
table with his fist.
"The betting is on the Americans." "They don't last, I am told," muttered his
uncle. "A long engagement exhausts them, but they
are capital at a steeplechase.
They take things flying. I don't think Dartmoor has a chance."
"Who are her people?" grumbled the old gentleman.
"Has she got any?"
Lord Henry shook his head. "American girls are as clever at concealing
their parents, as English women are at concealing their past," he said, rising to
go.
"They are pork-packers, I suppose?" "I hope so, Uncle George, for Dartmoor's
sake.
I am told that pork-packing is the most lucrative profession in America, after
politics." "Is she pretty?"
"She behaves as if she was beautiful.
Most American women do. It is the secret of their charm."
"Why can't these American women stay in their own country?
They are always telling us that it is the paradise for women."
"It is.
That is the reason why, like Eve, they are so excessively anxious to get out of it,"
said Lord Henry. "Good-bye, Uncle George.
I shall be late for lunch, if I stop any longer.
Thanks for giving me the information I wanted.
I always like to know everything about my new friends, and nothing about my old
ones." "Where are you lunching, Harry?"
"At Aunt Agatha's.
I have asked myself and Mr. Gray. He is her latest protege."
"Humph! tell your Aunt Agatha, Harry, not to bother me any more with her charity
appeals.
I am sick of them. Why, the good woman thinks that I have
nothing to do but to write cheques for her silly fads."
"All right, Uncle George, I'll tell her, but it won't have any effect.
Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity.
It is their distinguishing characteristic."
The old gentleman growled approvingly and rang the bell for his servant.
Lord Henry passed up the low arcade into Burlington Street and turned his steps in
the direction of Berkeley Square.
So that was the story of Dorian Gray's parentage.
Crudely as it had been told to him, it had yet stirred him by its suggestion of a
strange, almost modern romance.
A beautiful woman risking everything for a mad passion.
A few wild weeks of happiness cut short by a hideous, treacherous crime.
Months of voiceless agony, and then a child born in pain.
The mother snatched away by death, the boy left to solitude and the tyranny of an old
and loveless man.
Yes; it was an interesting background. It posed the lad, made him more perfect, as
it were. Behind every exquisite thing that existed,
there was something tragic.
Worlds had to be in travail, that the meanest flower might blow....
And how charming he had been at dinner the night before, as with startled eyes and
lips parted in frightened pleasure he had sat opposite to him at the club, the red
candleshades staining to a richer rose the wakening wonder of his face.
Talking to him was like playing upon an exquisite violin.
He answered to every touch and thrill of the bow....
There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence.
No other activity was like it.
To project one's soul into some gracious form, and let it tarry there for a moment;
to hear one's own intellectual views echoed back to one with all the added music of
passion and youth; to convey one's
temperament into another as though it were a subtle fluid or a strange perfume: there
was a real joy in that--perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us in an age so
limited and vulgar as our own, an age
grossly carnal in its pleasures, and grossly common in its aims....
He was a marvellous type, too, this lad, whom by so curious a chance he had met in
Basil's studio, or could be fashioned into a marvellous type, at any rate.
Grace was his, and the white purity of boyhood, and beauty such as old Greek
marbles kept for us. There was nothing that one could not do
with him.
He could be made a Titan or a toy. What a pity it was that such beauty was
destined to fade!... And Basil?
From a psychological point of view, how interesting he was!
The new manner in art, the fresh mode of looking at life, suggested so strangely by
the merely visible presence of one who was unconscious of it all; the silent spirit
that dwelt in dim woodland, and walked
unseen in open field, suddenly showing herself, Dryadlike and not afraid, because
in his soul who sought for her there had been wakened that wonderful vision to which
alone are wonderful things revealed; the
mere shapes and patterns of things becoming, as it were, refined, and gaining
a kind of symbolical value, as though they were themselves patterns of some other and
more perfect form whose shadow they made real: how strange it all was!
He remembered something like it in history. Was it not Plato, that artist in thought,
who had first analyzed it?
Was it not Buonarotti who had carved it in the coloured marbles of a sonnet-sequence?
But in our own century it was strange....
Yes; he would try to be to Dorian Gray what, without knowing it, the lad was to
the painter who had fashioned the wonderful portrait.
He would seek to dominate him--had already, indeed, half done so.
He would make that wonderful spirit his own.
There was something fascinating in this son of love and death.
Suddenly he stopped and glanced up at the houses.
He found that he had passed his aunt's some distance, and, smiling to himself, turned
back.
When he entered the somewhat sombre hall, the butler told him that they had gone in
to lunch. He gave one of the footmen his hat and
stick and passed into the dining-room.
"Late as usual, Harry," cried his aunt, shaking her head at him.
He invented a facile excuse, and having taken the vacant seat next to her, looked
round to see who was there.
Dorian bowed to him shyly from the end of the table, a flush of pleasure stealing
into his cheek.
Opposite was the Duchess of Harley, a lady of admirable good-nature and good temper,
much liked by every one who knew her, and of those ample architectural proportions
that in women who are not duchesses are
described by contemporary historians as stoutness.
Next to her sat, on her right, Sir Thomas Burdon, a Radical member of Parliament, who
followed his leader in public life and in private life followed the best cooks,
dining with the Tories and thinking with
the Liberals, in accordance with a wise and well-known rule.
The post on her left was occupied by Mr. Erskine of Treadley, an old gentleman of
considerable charm and culture, who had fallen, however, into bad habits of
silence, having, as he explained once to
Lady Agatha, said everything that he had to say before he was thirty.
His own neighbour was Mrs. Vandeleur, one of his aunt's oldest friends, a perfect
saint amongst women, but so dreadfully dowdy that she reminded one of a badly
bound hymn-book.
Fortunately for him she had on the other side Lord Faudel, a most intelligent
middle-aged mediocrity, as bald as a ministerial statement in the House of
Commons, with whom she was conversing in
that intensely earnest manner which is the one unpardonable error, as he remarked once
himself, that all really good people fall into, and from which none of them ever
quite escape.
"We are talking about poor Dartmoor, Lord Henry," cried the duchess, nodding
pleasantly to him across the table. "Do you think he will really marry this
fascinating young person?"
"I believe she has made up her mind to propose to him, Duchess."
"How dreadful!" exclaimed Lady Agatha. "Really, some one should interfere."
"I am told, on excellent authority, that her father keeps an American dry-goods
store," said Sir Thomas Burdon, looking supercilious.
"My uncle has already suggested pork- packing, Sir Thomas."
"Dry-goods!
What are American dry-goods?" asked the duchess, raising her large hands in wonder
and accentuating the verb. "American novels," answered Lord Henry,
helping himself to some quail.
The duchess looked puzzled. "Don't mind him, my dear," whispered Lady
Agatha. "He never means anything that he says."
"When America was discovered," said the Radical member--and he began to give some
wearisome facts. Like all people who try to exhaust a
subject, he exhausted his listeners.
The duchess sighed and exercised her privilege of interruption.
"I wish to goodness it never had been discovered at all!" she exclaimed.
"Really, our girls have no chance nowadays.
It is most unfair." "Perhaps, after all, America never has been
discovered," said Mr. Erskine; "I myself would say that it had merely been
detected."
"Oh! but I have seen specimens of the inhabitants," answered the duchess vaguely.
"I must confess that most of them are extremely pretty.
And they dress well, too.
They get all their dresses in Paris. I wish I could afford to do the same."
"They say that when good Americans die they go to Paris," chuckled Sir Thomas, who had
a large wardrobe of Humour's cast-off clothes.
"Really!
And where do bad Americans go to when they die?" inquired the duchess.
"They go to America," murmured Lord Henry. Sir Thomas frowned.
"I am afraid that your nephew is prejudiced against that great country," he said to
Lady Agatha.
"I have travelled all over it in cars provided by the directors, who, in such
matters, are extremely civil. I assure you that it is an education to
visit it."
"But must we really see Chicago in order to be educated?" asked Mr. Erskine
plaintively. "I don't feel up to the journey."
Sir Thomas waved his hand.
"Mr. Erskine of Treadley has the world on his shelves.
We practical men like to see things, not to read about them.
The Americans are an extremely interesting people.
They are absolutely reasonable. I think that is their distinguishing
characteristic.
Yes, Mr. Erskine, an absolutely reasonable people.
I assure you there is no nonsense about the Americans."
"How dreadful!" cried Lord Henry.
"I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable.
There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect."
"I do not understand you," said Sir Thomas, growing rather red.
"I do, Lord Henry," murmured Mr. Erskine, with a smile.
"Paradoxes are all very well in their way...." rejoined the baronet.
"Was that a paradox?" asked Mr. Erskine. "I did not think so.
Perhaps it was.
Well, the way of paradoxes is the way of truth.
To test reality we must see it on the tight rope.
When the verities become acrobats, we can judge them."
"Dear me!" said Lady Agatha, "how you men argue!
I am sure I never can make out what you are talking about.
Oh! Harry, I am quite vexed with you.
Why do you try to persuade our nice Mr. Dorian Gray to give up the East End?
I assure you he would be quite invaluable. They would love his playing."
"I want him to play to me," cried Lord Henry, smiling, and he looked down the
table and caught a bright answering glance. "But they are so unhappy in Whitechapel,"
continued Lady Agatha.
"I can sympathize with everything except suffering," said Lord Henry, shrugging his
shoulders. "I cannot sympathize with that.
It is too ugly, too horrible, too distressing.
There is something terribly morbid in the modern sympathy with pain.
One should sympathize with the colour, the beauty, the joy of life.
The less said about life's sores, the better."
"Still, the East End is a very important problem," remarked Sir Thomas with a grave
shake of the head. "Quite so," answered the young lord.
"It is the problem of slavery, and we try to solve it by amusing the slaves."
The politician looked at him keenly. "What change do you propose, then?" he
asked.
Lord Henry laughed. "I don't desire to change anything in
England except the weather," he answered. "I am quite content with philosophic
contemplation.
But, as the nineteenth century has gone bankrupt through an over-expenditure of
sympathy, I would suggest that we should appeal to science to put us straight.
The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray, and the advantage of
science is that it is not emotional." "But we have such grave responsibilities,"
ventured Mrs. Vandeleur timidly.
"Terribly grave," echoed Lady Agatha. Lord Henry looked over at Mr. Erskine.
"Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world's original sin.
If the caveman had known how to laugh, history would have been different."
"You are really very comforting," warbled the duchess.
"I have always felt rather guilty when I came to see your dear aunt, for I take no
interest at all in the East End. For the future I shall be able to look her
in the face without a blush."
"A blush is very becoming, Duchess," remarked Lord Henry.
"Only when one is young," she answered. "When an old woman like myself blushes, it
is a very bad sign.
Ah! Lord Henry, I wish you would tell me how to
become young again." He thought for a moment.
"Can you remember any great error that you committed in your early days, Duchess?" he
asked, looking at her across the table. "A great many, I fear," she cried.
"Then commit them over again," he said gravely.
"To get back one's youth, one has merely to repeat one's follies."
"A delightful theory!" she exclaimed.
"I must put it into practice." "A dangerous theory!" came from Sir
Thomas's tight lips. Lady Agatha shook her head, but could not
help being amused.
Mr. Erskine listened. "Yes," he continued, "that is one of the
great secrets of life.
Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it
is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes."
A laugh ran round the table.
He played with the idea and grew wilful; tossed it into the air and transformed it;
let it escape and recaptured it; made it iridescent with fancy and winged it with
paradox.
The praise of folly, as he went on, soared into a philosophy, and philosophy herself
became young, and catching the mad music of pleasure, wearing, one might fancy, her
wine-stained robe and wreath of ivy, danced
like a Bacchante over the hills of life, and mocked the slow Silenus for being
sober. Facts fled before her like frightened
forest things.
Her white feet trod the huge press at which wise Omar sits, till the seething grape-
juice rose round her bare limbs in waves of purple bubbles, or crawled in red foam over
the vat's black, dripping, sloping sides.
It was an extraordinary improvisation.
He felt that the eyes of Dorian Gray were fixed on him, and the consciousness that
amongst his audience there was one whose temperament he wished to fascinate seemed
to give his wit keenness and to lend colour to his imagination.
He was brilliant, fantastic, irresponsible. He charmed his listeners out of themselves,
and they followed his pipe, laughing.
Dorian Gray never took his gaze off him, but sat like one under a spell, smiles
chasing each other over his lips and wonder growing grave in his darkening eyes.
At last, liveried in the costume of the age, reality entered the room in the shape
of a servant to tell the duchess that her carriage was waiting.
She wrung her hands in mock despair.
"How annoying!" she cried. "I must go.
I have to call for my husband at the club, to take him to some absurd meeting at
Willis's Rooms, where he is going to be in the chair.
If I am late he is sure to be furious, and I couldn't have a scene in this bonnet.
It is far too fragile. A harsh word would ruin it.
No, I must go, dear Agatha.
Good-bye, Lord Henry, you are quite delightful and dreadfully demoralizing.
I am sure I don't know what to say about your views.
You must come and dine with us some night.
Tuesday? Are you disengaged Tuesday?"
"For you I would throw over anybody, Duchess," said Lord Henry with a bow.
"Ah! that is very nice, and very wrong of you," she cried; "so mind you come"; and
she swept out of the room, followed by Lady Agatha and the other ladies.
When Lord Henry had sat down again, Mr. Erskine moved round, and taking a chair
close to him, placed his hand upon his arm. "You talk books away," he said; "why don't
you write one?"
"I am too fond of reading books to care to write them, Mr. Erskine.
I should like to write a novel certainly, a novel that would be as lovely as a
Persian carpet and as unreal.
But there is no literary public in England for anything except newspapers, primers,
and encyclopaedias.
Of all people in the world the English have the least sense of the beauty of
literature." "I fear you are right," answered Mr.
Erskine.
"I myself used to have literary ambitions, but I gave them up long ago.
And now, my dear young friend, if you will allow me to call you so, may I ask if you
really meant all that you said to us at lunch?"
"I quite forget what I said," smiled Lord Henry.
"Was it all very bad?" "Very bad indeed.
In fact I consider you extremely dangerous, and if anything happens to our good
duchess, we shall all look on you as being primarily responsible.
But I should like to talk to you about life.
The generation into which I was born was tedious.
Some day, when you are tired of London, come down to Treadley and expound to me
your philosophy of pleasure over some admirable Burgundy I am fortunate enough to
possess."
"I shall be charmed. A visit to Treadley would be a great
privilege. It has a perfect host, and a perfect
library."
"You will complete it," answered the old gentleman with a courteous bow.
"And now I must bid good-bye to your excellent aunt.
I am due at the Athenaeum.
It is the hour when we sleep there." "All of you, Mr. Erskine?"
"Forty of us, in forty arm-chairs. We are practising for an English Academy of
Letters."
Lord Henry laughed and rose. "I am going to the park," he cried.
As he was passing out of the door, Dorian Gray touched him on the arm.
"Let me come with you," he murmured.
"But I thought you had promised Basil Hallward to go and see him," answered Lord
Henry. "I would sooner come with you; yes, I feel
I must come with you.
Do let me. And you will promise to talk to me all the
time? No one talks so wonderfully as you do."
"Ah!
I have talked quite enough for to-day," said Lord Henry, smiling.
"All I want now is to look at life. You may come and look at it with me, if you
care to."
>
CHAPTER 4
One afternoon, a month later, Dorian Gray was reclining in a luxurious arm-chair, in
the little library of Lord Henry's house in Mayfair.
It was, in its way, a very charming room, with its high panelled wainscoting of
olive-stained oak, its cream-coloured frieze and ceiling of raised plasterwork,
and its brickdust felt carpet strewn with silk, long-fringed Persian rugs.
On a tiny satinwood table stood a statuette by Clodion, and beside it lay a copy of Les
Cent Nouvelles, bound for Margaret of Valois by Clovis Eve and powdered with the
gilt daisies that Queen had selected for her device.
Some large blue china jars and parrot- tulips were ranged on the mantelshelf, and
through the small leaded panes of the window streamed the apricot-coloured light
of a summer day in London.
Lord Henry had not yet come in. He was always late on principle, his
principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.
So the lad was looking rather sulky, as with listless fingers he turned over the
pages of an elaborately illustrated edition of Manon Lescaut that he had found in one
of the book-cases.
The formal monotonous ticking of the Louis Quatorze clock annoyed him.
Once or twice he thought of going away. At last he heard a step outside, and the
door opened.
"How late you are, Harry!" he murmured. "I am afraid it is not Harry, Mr. Gray,"
answered a shrill voice. He glanced quickly round and rose to his
feet.
"I beg your pardon. I thought--"
"You thought it was my husband. It is only his wife.
You must let me introduce myself.
I know you quite well by your photographs. I think my husband has got seventeen of
them." "Not seventeen, Lady Henry?"
"Well, eighteen, then.
And I saw you with him the other night at the opera."
She laughed nervously as she spoke, and watched him with her vague forget-me-not
eyes.
She was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked as if they had been designed
in a rage and put on in a tempest.
She was usually in love with somebody, and, as her passion was never returned, she had
kept all her illusions. She tried to look picturesque, but only
succeeded in being untidy.
Her name was Victoria, and she had a perfect mania for going to church.
"That was at Lohengrin, Lady Henry, I think?"
"Yes; it was at dear Lohengrin.
I like Wagner's music better than anybody's.
It is so loud that one can talk the whole time without other people hearing what one
says.
That is a great advantage, don't you think so, Mr. Gray?"
The same nervous staccato laugh broke from her thin lips, and her fingers began to
play with a long tortoise-shell paper- knife.
Dorian smiled and shook his head: "I am afraid I don't think so, Lady Henry.
I never talk during music--at least, during good music.
If one hears bad music, it is one's duty to drown it in conversation."
"Ah! that is one of Harry's views, isn't it, Mr. Gray?
I always hear Harry's views from his friends.
It is the only way I get to know of them. But you must not think I don't like good
music.
I adore it, but I am afraid of it. It makes me too romantic.
I have simply worshipped pianists--two at a time, sometimes, Harry tells me.
I don't know what it is about them.
Perhaps it is that they are foreigners. They all are, ain't they?
Even those that are born in England become foreigners after a time, don't they?
It is so clever of them, and such a compliment to art.
Makes it quite cosmopolitan, doesn't it? You have never been to any of my parties,
have you, Mr. Gray?
You must come. I can't afford orchids, but I share no
expense in foreigners. They make one's rooms look so picturesque.
But here is Harry!
Harry, I came in to look for you, to ask you something--I forget what it was--and I
found Mr. Gray here. We have had such a pleasant chat about
music.
We have quite the same ideas. No; I think our ideas are quite different.
But he has been most pleasant. I am so glad I've seen him."
"I am charmed, my love, quite charmed," said Lord Henry, elevating his dark,
crescent-shaped eyebrows and looking at them both with an amused smile.
"So sorry I am late, Dorian.
I went to look after a piece of old brocade in Wardour Street and had to bargain for
hours for it. Nowadays people know the price of
everything and the value of nothing."
"I am afraid I must be going," exclaimed Lady Henry, breaking an awkward silence
with her silly sudden laugh. "I have promised to drive with the duchess.
Good-bye, Mr. Gray.
Good-bye, Harry. You are dining out, I suppose?
So am I. Perhaps I shall see you at Lady
Thornbury's."
"I dare say, my dear," said Lord Henry, shutting the door behind her as, looking
like a bird of paradise that had been out all night in the rain, she flitted out of
the room, leaving a faint odour of frangipanni.
Then he lit a cigarette and flung himself down on the sofa.
"Never marry a woman with straw-coloured hair, Dorian," he said after a few puffs.
"Why, Harry?" "Because they are so sentimental."
"But I like sentimental people."
"Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired; women,
because they are curious: both are disappointed."
"I don't think I am likely to marry, Harry.
I am too much in love. That is one of your aphorisms.
I am putting it into practice, as I do everything that you say."
"Who are you in love with?" asked Lord Henry after a pause.
"With an actress," said Dorian Gray, blushing.
Lord Henry shrugged his shoulders.
"That is a rather commonplace debut." "You would not say so if you saw her,
Harry." "Who is she?"
"Her name is Sibyl Vane."
"Never heard of her." "No one has.
People will some day, however. She is a genius."
"My dear boy, no woman is a genius.
Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they
say it charmingly.
Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of
mind over morals." "Harry, how can you?"
"My dear Dorian, it is quite true.
I am analysing women at present, so I ought to know.
The subject is not so abstruse as I thought it was.
I find that, ultimately, there are only two kinds of women, the plain and the coloured.
The plain women are very useful.
If you want to gain a reputation for respectability, you have merely to take
them down to supper. The other women are very charming.
They commit one mistake, however.
They paint in order to try and look young. Our grandmothers painted in order to try
and talk brilliantly. Rouge and esprit used to go together.
That is all over now.
As long as a woman can look ten years younger than her own daughter, she is
perfectly satisfied.
As for conversation, there are only five women in London worth talking to, and two
of these can't be admitted into decent society.
However, tell me about your genius.
How long have you known her?" "Ah!
Harry, your views terrify me." "Never mind that.
How long have you known her?"
"About three weeks." "And where did you come across her?"
"I will tell you, Harry, but you mustn't be unsympathetic about it.
After all, it never would have happened if I had not met you.
You filled me with a wild desire to know everything about life.
For days after I met you, something seemed to throb in my veins.
As I lounged in the park, or strolled down Piccadilly, I used to look at every one who
passed me and wonder, with a mad curiosity, what sort of lives they led.
Some of them fascinated me.
Others filled me with terror. There was an exquisite poison in the air.
I had a passion for sensations....
Well, one evening about seven o'clock, I determined to go out in search of some
adventure.
I felt that this grey monstrous London of ours, with its myriads of people, its
sordid sinners, and its splendid sins, as you once phrased it, must have something in
store for me.
I fancied a thousand things. The mere danger gave me a sense of delight.
I remembered what you had said to me on that wonderful evening when we first dined
together, about the search for beauty being the real secret of life.
I don't know what I expected, but I went out and wandered eastward, soon losing my
way in a labyrinth of grimy streets and black grassless squares.
About half-past eight I passed by an absurd little theatre, with great flaring gas-jets
and gaudy play-bills.
A hideous Jew, in the most amazing waistcoat I ever beheld in my life, was
standing at the entrance, smoking a vile cigar.
He had greasy ringlets, and an enormous diamond blazed in the centre of a soiled
shirt.
'Have a box, my Lord?' he said, when he saw me, and he took off his hat with an air of
gorgeous servility. There was something about him, Harry, that
amused me.
He was such a monster. You will laugh at me, I know, but I really
went in and paid a whole guinea for the stage-box.
To the present day I can't make out why I did so; and yet if I hadn't--my dear Harry,
if I hadn't--I should have missed the greatest romance of my life.
I see you are laughing.
It is horrid of you!" "I am not laughing, Dorian; at least I am
not laughing at you. But you should not say the greatest romance
of your life.
You should say the first romance of your life.
You will always be loved, and you will always be in love with love.
A grande passion is the privilege of people who have nothing to do.
That is the one use of the idle classes of a country.
Don't be afraid.
There are exquisite things in store for you.
This is merely the beginning." "Do you think my nature so shallow?" cried
Dorian Gray angrily.
"No; I think your nature so deep." "How do you mean?"
"My dear boy, the people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow
people.
What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of
custom or their lack of imagination.
Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the
intellect--simply a confession of failure. Faithfulness!
I must analyse it some day.
The passion for property is in it. There are many things that we would throw
away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.
But I don't want to interrupt you.
Go on with your story." "Well, I found myself seated in a horrid
little private box, with a vulgar drop- scene staring me in the face.
I looked out from behind the curtain and surveyed the house.
It was a tawdry affair, all Cupids and cornucopias, like a third-rate wedding-
cake.
The gallery and pit were fairly full, but the two rows of dingy stalls were quite
empty, and there was hardly a person in what I suppose they called the dress-
circle.
Women went about with oranges and ginger- beer, and there was a terrible consumption
of nuts going on." "It must have been just like the palmy days
of the British drama."
"Just like, I should fancy, and very depressing.
I began to wonder what on earth I should do when I caught sight of the play-bill.
What do you think the play was, Harry?"
"I should think 'The Idiot Boy', or 'Dumb but Innocent'.
Our fathers used to like that sort of piece, I believe.
The longer I live, Dorian, the more keenly I feel that whatever was good enough for
our fathers is not good enough for us. In art, as in politics, les grandperes ont
toujours tort."
"This play was good enough for us, Harry. It was Romeo and Juliet.
I must admit that I was rather annoyed at the idea of seeing Shakespeare done in such
a wretched hole of a place.
Still, I felt interested, in a sort of way. At any rate, I determined to wait for the
first act.
There was a dreadful orchestra, presided over by a young Hebrew who sat at a cracked
piano, that nearly drove me away, but at last the drop-scene was drawn up and the
play began.
Romeo was a stout elderly gentleman, with corked eyebrows, a husky tragedy voice, and
a figure like a beer-barrel. Mercutio was almost as bad.
He was played by the low-comedian, who had introduced gags of his own and was on most
friendly terms with the pit.
They were both as grotesque as the scenery, and that looked as if it had come out of a
country-booth. But Juliet!
Harry, imagine a girl, hardly seventeen years of age, with a little, flowerlike
face, a small Greek head with plaited coils of dark-brown hair, eyes that were violet
wells of passion, lips that were like the petals of a rose.
She was the loveliest thing I had ever seen in my life.
You said to me once that pathos left you unmoved, but that beauty, mere beauty,
could fill your eyes with tears.
I tell you, Harry, I could hardly see this girl for the mist of tears that came across
me. And her voice--I never heard such a voice.
It was very low at first, with deep mellow notes that seemed to fall singly upon one's
ear. Then it became a little louder, and sounded
like a flute or a distant hautboy.
In the garden-scene it had all the tremulous ecstasy that one hears just
before dawn when nightingales are singing. There were moments, later on, when it had
the wild passion of violins.
You know how a voice can stir one. Your voice and the voice of Sibyl Vane are
two things that I shall never forget. When I close my eyes, I hear them, and each
of them says something different.
I don't know which to follow. Why should I not love her?
Harry, I do love her. She is everything to me in life.
Night after night I go to see her play.
One evening she is Rosalind, and the next evening she is Imogen.
I have seen her die in the gloom of an Italian tomb, sucking the poison from her
lover's lips.
I have watched her wandering through the forest of Arden, disguised as a pretty boy
in hose and doublet and dainty cap.
She has been mad, and has come into the presence of a guilty king, and given him
rue to wear and bitter herbs to taste of.
She has been innocent, and the black hands of jealousy have crushed her reedlike
throat. I have seen her in every age and in every
costume.
Ordinary women never appeal to one's imagination.
They are limited to their century. No glamour ever transfigures them.
One knows their minds as easily as one knows their bonnets.
One can always find them. There is no mystery in any of them.
They ride in the park in the morning and chatter at tea-parties in the afternoon.
They have their stereotyped smile and their fashionable manner.
They are quite obvious.
But an actress! How different an actress is!
Harry! why didn't you tell me that the only thing worth loving is an actress?"
"Because I have loved so many of them, Dorian."
"Oh, yes, horrid people with dyed hair and painted faces."
"Don't run down dyed hair and painted faces.
There is an extraordinary charm in them, sometimes," said Lord Henry.
"I wish now I had not told you about Sibyl Vane."
"You could not have helped telling me, Dorian.
All through your life you will tell me everything you do."
"Yes, Harry, I believe that is true. I cannot help telling you things.
You have a curious influence over me.
If I ever did a crime, I would come and confess it to you.
You would understand me." "People like you--the wilful sunbeams of
life--don't commit crimes, Dorian.
But I am much obliged for the compliment, all the same.
And now tell me--reach me the matches, like a good boy--thanks--what are your actual
relations with Sibyl Vane?"
Dorian Gray leaped to his feet, with flushed cheeks and burning eyes.
"Harry! Sibyl Vane is sacred!"
"It is only the sacred things that are worth touching, Dorian," said Lord Henry,
with a strange touch of pathos in his voice.
"But why should you be annoyed?
I suppose she will belong to you some day. When one is in love, one always begins by
deceiving one's self, and one always ends by deceiving others.
That is what the world calls a romance.
You know her, at any rate, I suppose?" "Of course I know her.
On the first night I was at the theatre, the horrid old Jew came round to the box
after the performance was over and offered to take me behind the scenes and introduce
me to her.
I was furious with him, and told him that Juliet had been dead for hundreds of years
and that her body was lying in a marble tomb in Verona.
I think, from his blank look of amazement, that he was under the impression that I had
taken too much champagne, or something." "I am not surprised."
"Then he asked me if I wrote for any of the newspapers.
I told him I never even read them.
He seemed terribly disappointed at that, and confided to me that all the dramatic
critics were in a conspiracy against him, and that they were every one of them to be
bought."
"I should not wonder if he was quite right there.
But, on the other hand, judging from their appearance, most of them cannot be at all
expensive."
"Well, he seemed to think they were beyond his means," laughed Dorian.
"By this time, however, the lights were being put out in the theatre, and I had to
go.
He wanted me to try some cigars that he strongly recommended.
I declined. The next night, of course, I arrived at the
place again.
When he saw me, he made me a low bow and assured me that I was a munificent patron
of art.
He was a most offensive brute, though he had an extraordinary passion for
Shakespeare.
He told me once, with an air of pride, that his five bankruptcies were entirely due to
'The Bard,' as he insisted on calling him. He seemed to think it a distinction."
"It was a distinction, my dear Dorian--a great distinction.
Most people become bankrupt through having invested too heavily in the prose of life.
To have ruined one's self over poetry is an honour.
But when did you first speak to Miss Sibyl Vane?"
"The third night.
She had been playing Rosalind. I could not help going round.
I had thrown her some flowers, and she had looked at me--at least I fancied that she
had.
The old Jew was persistent. He seemed determined to take me behind, so
I consented. It was curious my not wanting to know her,
wasn't it?"
"No; I don't think so." "My dear Harry, why?"
"I will tell you some other time. Now I want to know about the girl."
"Sibyl?
Oh, she was so shy and so gentle. There is something of a child about her.
Her eyes opened wide in exquisite wonder when I told her what I thought of her
performance, and she seemed quite unconscious of her power.
I think we were both rather nervous.
The old Jew stood grinning at the doorway of the dusty greenroom, making elaborate
speeches about us both, while we stood looking at each other like children.
He would insist on calling me 'My Lord,' so I had to assure Sibyl that I was not
anything of the kind. She said quite simply to me, 'You look more
like a prince.
I must call you Prince Charming.'" "Upon my word, Dorian, Miss Sibyl knows how
to pay compliments." "You don't understand her, Harry.
She regarded me merely as a person in a play.
She knows nothing of life.
She lives with her mother, a faded tired woman who played Lady Capulet in a sort of
magenta dressing-wrapper on the first night, and looks as if she had seen better
days."
"I know that look. It depresses me," murmured Lord Henry,
examining his rings. "The Jew wanted to tell me her history, but
I said it did not interest me."
"You were quite right. There is always something infinitely mean
about other people's tragedies." "Sibyl is the only thing I care about.
What is it to me where she came from?
From her little head to her little feet, she is absolutely and entirely divine.
Every night of my life I go to see her act, and every night she is more marvellous."
"That is the reason, I suppose, that you never dine with me now.
I thought you must have some curious romance on hand.
You have; but it is not quite what I expected."
"My dear Harry, we either lunch or sup together every day, and I have been to the
opera with you several times," said Dorian, opening his blue eyes in wonder.
"You always come dreadfully late."
"Well, I can't help going to see Sibyl play," he cried, "even if it is only for a
single act.
I get hungry for her presence; and when I think of the wonderful soul that is hidden
away in that little ivory body, I am filled with awe."
"You can dine with me to-night, Dorian, can't you?"
He shook his head. "To-night she is Imogen," he answered, "and
to-morrow night she will be Juliet."
"When is she Sibyl Vane?" "Never."
"I congratulate you." "How horrid you are!
She is all the great heroines of the world in one.
She is more than an individual. You laugh, but I tell you she has genius.
I love her, and I must make her love me.
You, who know all the secrets of life, tell me how to charm Sibyl Vane to love me!
I want to make Romeo jealous. I want the dead lovers of the world to hear
our laughter and grow sad.
I want a breath of our passion to stir their dust into consciousness, to wake
their ashes into pain. My God, Harry, how I worship her!"
He was walking up and down the room as he spoke.
Hectic spots of red burned on his cheeks. He was terribly excited.
Lord Henry watched him with a subtle sense of pleasure.
How different he was now from the shy frightened boy he had met in Basil
Hallward's studio!
His nature had developed like a flower, had borne blossoms of scarlet flame.
Out of its secret hiding-place had crept his soul, and desire had come to meet it on
the way.
"And what do you propose to do?" said Lord Henry at last.
"I want you and Basil to come with me some night and see her act.
I have not the slightest fear of the result.
You are certain to acknowledge her genius. Then we must get her out of the Jew's
hands.
She is bound to him for three years--at least for two years and eight months--from
the present time. I shall have to pay him something, of
course.
When all that is settled, I shall take a West End theatre and bring her out
properly. She will make the world as mad as she has
made me."
"That would be impossible, my dear boy." "Yes, she will.
She has not merely art, consummate art- instinct, in her, but she has personality
also; and you have often told me that it is personalities, not principles, that move
the age."
"Well, what night shall we go?" "Let me see.
To-day is Tuesday. Let us fix to-morrow.
She plays Juliet to-morrow."
"All right. The Bristol at eight o'clock; and I will
get Basil." "Not eight, Harry, please.
Half-past six.
We must be there before the curtain rises. You must see her in the first act, where
she meets Romeo." "Half-past six!
What an hour!
It will be like having a meat-tea, or reading an English novel.
It must be seven. No gentleman dines before seven.
Shall you see Basil between this and then?
Or shall I write to him?" "Dear Basil!
I have not laid eyes on him for a week.
It is rather horrid of me, as he has sent me my portrait in the most wonderful frame,
specially designed by himself, and, though I am a little jealous of the picture for
being a whole month younger than I am, I must admit that I delight in it.
Perhaps you had better write to him. I don't want to see him alone.
He says things that annoy me.
He gives me good advice." Lord Henry smiled.
"People are very fond of giving away what they need most themselves.
It is what I call the depth of generosity."
"Oh, Basil is the best of fellows, but he seems to me to be just a bit of a
Philistine. Since I have known you, Harry, I have
discovered that."
"Basil, my dear boy, puts everything that is charming in him into his work.
The consequence is that he has nothing left for life but his prejudices, his
principles, and his common sense.
The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists.
Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly
uninteresting in what they are.
A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures.
But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating.
The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look.
The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite
irresistible.
He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare
not realize."
"I wonder is that really so, Harry?" said Dorian Gray, putting some perfume on his
handkerchief out of a large, gold-topped bottle that stood on the table.
"It must be, if you say it.
And now I am off. Imogen is waiting for me.
Don't forget about to-morrow. Good-bye."
As he left the room, Lord Henry's heavy eyelids drooped, and he began to think.
Certainly few people had ever interested him so much as Dorian Gray, and yet the
lad's mad adoration of some one else caused him not the slightest pang of annoyance or
jealousy.
He was pleased by it. It made him a more interesting study.
He had been always enthralled by the methods of natural science, but the
ordinary subject-matter of that science had seemed to him trivial and of no import.
And so he had begun by vivisecting himself, as he had ended by vivisecting others.
Human life--that appeared to him the one thing worth investigating.
Compared to it there was nothing else of any value.
It was true that as one watched life in its curious crucible of pain and pleasure, one
could not wear over one's face a mask of glass, nor keep the sulphurous fumes from
troubling the brain and making the
imagination turbid with monstrous fancies and misshapen dreams.
There were poisons so subtle that to know their properties one had to sicken of them.
There were maladies so strange that one had to pass through them if one sought to
understand their nature. And, yet, what a great reward one received!
How wonderful the whole world became to one!
To note the curious hard logic of passion, and the emotional coloured life of the
intellect--to observe where they met, and where they separated, at what point they
were in unison, and at what point they were at discord--there was a delight in that!
What matter what the cost was? One could never pay too high a price for
any sensation.
He was conscious--and the thought brought a gleam of pleasure into his brown agate
eyes--that it was through certain words of his, musical words said with musical
utterance, that Dorian Gray's soul had
turned to this white girl and bowed in worship before her.
To a large extent the lad was his own creation.
He had made him premature.
That was something. Ordinary people waited till life disclosed
to them its secrets, but to the few, to the elect, the mysteries of life were revealed
before the veil was drawn away.
Sometimes this was the effect of art, and chiefly of the art of literature, which
dealt immediately with the passions and the intellect.
But now and then a complex personality took the place and assumed the office of art,
was indeed, in its way, a real work of art, life having its elaborate masterpieces,
just as poetry has, or sculpture, or painting.
Yes, the lad was premature. He was gathering his harvest while it was
yet spring.
The pulse and passion of youth were in him, but he was becoming self-conscious.
It was delightful to watch him. With his beautiful face, and his beautiful
soul, he was a thing to wonder at.
It was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end.
He was like one of those gracious figures in a pageant or a play, whose joys seem to
be remote from one, but whose sorrows stir one's sense of beauty, and whose wounds are
like red roses.
Soul and body, body and soul--how mysterious they were!
There was animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality.
The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade.
Who could say where the fleshly impulse ceased, or the psychical impulse began?
How shallow were the arbitrary definitions of ordinary psychologists!
And yet how difficult to decide between the claims of the various schools!
Was the soul a shadow seated in the house of sin?
Or was the body really in the soul, as Giordano Bruno thought?
The separation of spirit from matter was a mystery, and the union of spirit with
matter was a mystery also.
He began to wonder whether we could ever make psychology so absolute a science that
each little spring of life would be revealed to us.
As it was, we always misunderstood ourselves and rarely understood others.
Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name men gave to their
mistakes.
Moralists had, as a rule, regarded it as a mode of warning, had claimed for it a
certain ethical efficacy in the formation of character, had praised it as something
that taught us what to follow and showed us what to avoid.
But there was no motive power in experience.
It was as little of an active cause as conscience itself.
All that it really demonstrated was that our future would be the same as our past,
and that the sin we had done once, and with loathing, we would do many times, and with
joy.
It was clear to him that the experimental method was the only method by which one
could arrive at any scientific analysis of the passions; and certainly Dorian Gray was
a subject made to his hand, and seemed to promise rich and fruitful results.
His sudden mad love for Sibyl Vane was a psychological phenomenon of no small
interest.
There was no doubt that curiosity had much to do with it, curiosity and the desire for
new experiences, yet it was not a simple, but rather a very complex passion.
What there was in it of the purely sensuous instinct of boyhood had been transformed by
the workings of the imagination, changed into something that seemed to the lad
himself to be remote from sense, and was
for that very reason all the more dangerous.
It was the passions about whose origin we deceived ourselves that tyrannized most
strongly over us.
Our weakest motives were those of whose nature we were conscious.
It often happened that when we thought we were experimenting on others we were really
experimenting on ourselves.
While Lord Henry sat dreaming on these things, a knock came to the door, and his
valet entered and reminded him it was time to dress for dinner.
He got up and looked out into the street.
The sunset had smitten into scarlet gold the upper windows of the houses opposite.
The panes glowed like plates of heated metal.
The sky above was like a faded rose.
He thought of his friend's young fiery- coloured life and wondered how it was all
going to end.
When he arrived home, about half-past twelve o'clock, he saw a telegram lying on
the hall table. He opened it and found it was from Dorian
Gray.
It was to tell him that he was engaged to be married to Sibyl Vane.
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