an enigma wrapped in a schizophrenic (karabou) wrote in everydayreader,
an enigma wrapped in a schizophrenic
karabou
everydayreader

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, part 9

Only four chapters left after this one, eep!



CHAPTER IX

[65] For years, Dorian Gray could not free himself from the memory of
this book. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he never
sought to free himself from it. He procured from Paris no less than
five large-paper copies of the first edition, and had them bound in
different colors, so that they might suit his various moods and the
changing fancies of a nature over which he seemed, at times, to have
almost entirely lost control. The hero, the wonderful young
Parisian, in whom the romantic temperament and the scientific
temperament were so strangely blended, became to him a kind of
prefiguring type of himself. And, indeed, the whole book seemed to
him to contain the story of his own life, written before he had lived
it.

In one point he was more fortunate than the book's fantastic hero.
He never knew--never, indeed, had any cause to know--that somewhat
grotesque dread of mirrors, and polished metal surfaces, and still
water, which came upon the young Parisian so early in his life, and
was occasioned by the sudden decay of a beauty that had once,
apparently, been so remarkable. It was with an almost cruel joy--and
perhaps in nearly every joy, as certainly in every pleasure, cruelty
has its place--that he used to read the latter part of the book, with
its really tragic, if somewhat over-emphasized, account of the sorrow
and despair of one who had himself lost what in others, and in the
world, he had most valued.

He, at any rate, had no cause to fear that. The boyish beauty that
had so fascinated Basil Hallward, and many others besides him, seemed
never to leave him. Even those who had heard the most evil things
against him (and from time to time strange rumors about his mode of
life crept through London and became the chatter of the clubs) could
not believe anything to his dishonor when they saw him. He had
always the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world.
Men who talked grossly became silent when Dorian Gray entered the
room. There was something in the purity of his face that rebuked
them. His mere presence seemed to recall to them the innocence that
they had tarnished. They wondered how one so charming and graceful
as he was could have escaped the stain of an age that was at once
sordid and sensuous.

He himself, on returning home from one of those mysterious and
prolonged absences that gave rise to such strange conjecture among
those who were his friends, or thought that they were so, would creep
up-stairs to the locked room, open the door with the key that never
left him, and stand, with a mirror, in front of the portrait that
Basil Hallward had painted of him, looking now at the evil and aging
face on the canvas, and now at the fair young face that laughed back
at him from the polished glass. The very sharpness of the contrast
used to quicken his sense of pleasure. He grew more and more
enamoured of his own beauty, more and more interested in the
corruption of his own soul. He would examine with minute care, and
often with a monstrous and terrible delight, the hideous lines that
seared the wrinkling forehead or crawled around the heavy sensual
mouth, [66] wondering sometimes which were the more horrible, the
signs of sin or the signs of age. He would place his white hands
beside the coarse bloated hands of the picture, and smile. He mocked
the misshapen body and the failing limbs.

There were moments, indeed, at night, when, lying sleepless in his
own delicately-scented chamber, or in the sordid room of the little
ill-famed tavern near the Docks, which, under an assumed name, and in
disguise, it was his habit to frequent, he would think of the ruin he
had brought upon his soul, with a pity that was all the more poignant
because it was purely selfish. But moments such as these were rare.
That curiosity about life that, many years before, Lord Henry had
first stirred in him, as they sat together in the garden of their
friend, seemed to increase with gratification. The more he knew, the
more he desired to know. He had mad hungers that grew more ravenous
as he fed them.

Yet he was not really reckless, at any rate in his relations to
society. Once or twice every month during the winter, and on each
Wednesday evening while the season lasted, he would throw open to the
world his beautiful house and have the most celebrated musicians of
the day to charm his guests with the wonders of their art. His
little dinners, in the settling of which Lord Henry always assisted
him, were noted as much for the careful selection and placing of
those invited, as for the exquisite taste shown in the decoration of
the table, with its subtle symphonic arrangements of exotic flowers,
and embroidered cloths, and antique plate of gold and silver.
Indeed, there were many, especially among the very young men, who
saw, or fancied that they saw, in Dorian Gray the true realization of
a type of which they had often dreamed in Eton or Oxford days, a type
that was to combine something of the real culture of the scholar with
all the grace and distinction and perfect manner of a citizen of the
world. To them he seemed to belong to those whom Dante describes as
having sought to "make themselves perfect by the worship of beauty."
Like Gautier, he was one for whom "the visible world existed."

And, certainly, to him life itself was the first, the greatest, of
the arts, and for it all the other arts seemed to be but a
preparation. Fashion, by which what is really fantastic becomes for
a moment universal, and Dandyism, which, in its own way, is an
attempt to assert the absolute modernity of beauty, had, of course,
their fascination for him. His mode of dressing, and the particular
styles that he affected from time to time, had their marked influence
on the young exquisites of the Mayfair balls and Pall Mall club
windows, who copied him in everything that he did, and tried to
reproduce the accidental charm of his graceful, though to him only
half-serious, fopperies.

For, while he was but too ready to accept the position that was
almost immediately offered to him on his coming of age, and found,
indeed, a subtle pleasure in the thought that he might really become
to the London of his own day what to imperial Neronian Rome the
author of the "Satyricon" had once been, yet in his inmost heart he
desired to be something more than a mere arbiter elegantiarum, to be
consulted on the wearing of a jewel, or the knotting of a necktie, or
[67] the conduct of a cane. He sought to elaborate some new scheme
of life that would have its reasoned philosophy and its ordered
principles and find in the spiritualizing of the senses its highest
realization.

The worship of the senses has often, and with much justice, been
decried, men feeling a natural instinct of terror about passions and
sensations that seem stronger than ourselves, and that we are
conscious of sharing with the less highly organized forms of
existence. But it appeared to Dorian Gray that the true nature of
the senses had never been understood, and that they had remained
savage and animal merely because the world had sought to starve them
into submission or to kill them by pain, instead of aiming at making
them elements of a new spirituality, of which a fine instinct for
beauty was to be the dominant characteristic. As he looked back upon
man moving through History, he was haunted by a feeling of loss. So
much had been surrendered! and to such little purpose! There had
been mad wilful rejections, monstrous forms of self-torture and self-
denial, whose origin was fear, and whose result was a degradation
infinitely more terrible than that fancied degradation from which, in
their ignorance, they had sought to escape, Nature in her wonderful
irony driving the anchorite out to herd with the wild animals of the
desert and giving to the hermit the beasts of the field as his
companions.

Yes, there was to be, as Lord Henry had prophesied, a new hedonism
that was to re-create life, and to save it from that harsh, uncomely
puritanism that is having, in our own day, its curious revival. It
was to have its service of the intellect, certainly; yet it was never
to accept any theory or system that would involve the sacrifice of
any mode of passionate experience. Its aim, indeed, was to be
experience itself, and not the fruits of experience, sweet or bitter
as they might be. Of the asceticism that deadens the senses, as of
the vulgar profligacy that dulls them, it was to know nothing. But
it was to teach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life
that is itself but a moment.

There are few of us who have not sometimes wakened before dawn,
either after one of those dreamless nights that make one almost
enamoured of death, or one of those nights of horror and misshapen
joy, when through the chambers of the brain sweep phantoms more
terrible than reality itself, and instinct with that vivid life that
lurks in all grotesques, and that lends to Gothic art its enduring
vitality, this art being, one might fancy, especially the art of
those whose minds have been troubled with the malady of revery.
Gradually white fingers creep through the curtains, and they appear
to tremble. Black fantastic shadows crawl into the corners of the
room, and crouch there. Outside, there is the stirring of birds
among the leaves, or the sound of men going forth to their work, or
the sigh and sob of the wind coming down from the hills, and
wandering round the silent house, as though it feared to wake the
sleepers. Veil after veil of thin dusky gauze is lifted, and by
degrees the forms and colors of things are restored to them, and we
watch the dawn remaking the world in its antique pattern. The wan
mirrors get back their mimic life. The flameless tapers stand where
we have left them, and beside them [68] lies the half-read book that
we had been studying, or the wired flower that we had worn at the
ball, or the letter that we had been afraid to read, or that we had
read too often. Nothing seems to us changed. Out of the unreal
shadows of the night comes back the real life that we had known. We
have to resume it where we had left off, and there steals over us a
terrible sense of the necessity for the continuance of energy in the
same wearisome round of stereotyped habits, or a wild longing, it may
be, that our eyelids might open some morning upon a world that had
been re-fashioned anew for our pleasure in the darkness, a world in
which things would have fresh shapes and colors, and be changed, or
have other secrets, a world in which the past would have little or no
place, or survive, at any rate, in no conscious form of obligation or
regret, the remembrance even of joy having its bitterness, and the
memories of pleasure their pain.

It was the creation of such worlds as these that seemed to Dorian
Gray to be the true object, or among the true objects, of life; and
in his search for sensations that would be at once new and
delightful, and possess that element of strangeness that is so
essential to romance, he would often adopt certain modes of thought
that he knew to be really alien to his nature, abandon himself to
their subtle influences, and then, having, as it were, caught their
color and satisfied his intellectual curiosity, leave them with that
curious indifference that is not incompatible with a real ardor of
temperament, and that indeed, according to certain modern
psychologists, is often a condition of it.

It was rumored of him once that he was about to join the Roman
Catholic communion; and certainly the Roman ritual had always a great
attraction for him. The daily sacrifice, more awful really than all
the sacrifices of the antique world, stirred him as much by its
superb rejection of the evidence of the senses as by the primitive
simplicity of its elements and the eternal pathos of the human
tragedy that it sought to symbolize. He loved to kneel down on the
cold marble pavement, and with the priest, in his stiff flowered
cope, slowly and with white hands moving aside the veil of the
tabernacle, and raising aloft the jewelled lantern-shaped monstrance
with that pallid wafer that at times, one would fain think, is indeed
the "panis caelestis," the bread of angels, or, robed in the garments
of the Passion of Christ, breaking the Host into the chalice, and
smiting his breast for his sins. The fuming censers, that the grave
boys, in their lace and scarlet, tossed into the air like great gilt
flowers, had their subtle fascination for him. As he passed out, he
used to look with wonder at the black confessionals, and long to sit
in the dim shadow of one of them and listen to men and women
whispering through the tarnished grating the true story of their
lives.

But he never fell into the error of arresting his intellectual
development by any formal acceptance of creed or system, or of
mistaking, for a house in which to live, an inn that is but suitable
for the sojourn of a night, or for a few hours of a night in which
there are no stars and the moon is in travail. Mysticism, with its
marvellous power of making common things strange to us, and the
subtle antinomianism that always seems to accompany it, moved him for
a season; and for a [69] season he inclined to the materialistic
doctrines of the Darwinismus movement in Germany, and found a curious
pleasure in tracing the thoughts and passions of men to some pearly
cell in the brain, or some white nerve in the body, delighting in the
conception of the absolute dependence of the spirit on certain
physical conditions, morbid or healthy, normal or diseased. Yet, as
has been said of him before, no theory of life seemed to him to be of
any importance compared with life itself. He felt keenly conscious
of how barren all intellectual speculation is when separated from
action and experiment. He knew that the senses, no less than the
soul, have their mysteries to reveal.

And so he would now study perfumes, and the secrets of their
manufacture, distilling heavily-scented oils, and burning odorous
gums from the East. He saw that there was no mood of the mind that
had not its counterpart in the sensuous life, and set himself to
discover their true relations, wondering what there was in
frankincense that made one mystical, and in ambergris that stirred
one's passions, and in violets that woke the memory of dead romances,
and in musk that troubled the brain, and in champak that stained the
imagination; and seeking often to elaborate a real psychology of
perfumes, and to estimate the several influences of sweet-smelling
roots, and scented pollen-laden flowers, of aromatic balms, and of
dark and fragrant woods, of spikenard that sickens, of hovenia that
makes men mad, and of aloes that are said to be able to expel
melancholy from the soul.

At another time he devoted himself entirely to music, and in a long
latticed room, with a vermilion-and-gold ceiling and walls of olive-
green lacquer, he used to give curious concerts in which mad gypsies
tore wild music from little zithers, or grave yellow-shawled
Tunisians plucked at the strained strings of monstrous lutes, while
grinning negroes beat monotonously upon copper drums, or turbaned
Indians, crouching upon scarlet mats, blew through long pipes of reed
or brass, and charmed, or feigned to charm, great hooded snakes and
horrible horned adders. The harsh intervals and shrill discords of
barbaric music stirred him at times when Schubert's grace, and
Chopin's beautiful sorrows, and the mighty harmonies of Beethoven
himself, fell unheeded on his ear. He collected together from all
parts of the world the strangest instruments that could be found,
either in the tombs of dead nations or among the few savage tribes
that have survived contact with Western civilizations, and loved to
touch and try them. He had the mysterious juruparis of the Rio Negro
Indians, that women are not allowed to look at, and that even youths
may not see till they have been subjected to fasting and scourging,
and the earthen jars of the Peruvians that have the shrill cries of
birds, and flutes of human bones such as Alfonso de Ovalle heard in
Chili, and the sonorous green stones that are found near Cuzco and
give forth a note of singular sweetness. He had painted gourds
filled with pebbles that rattled when they were shaken; the long
clarin of the Mexicans, into which the performer does not blow, but
through which he inhales the air; the harsh turé of the Amazon
tribes, that is sounded by the sentinels who sit all day long in
trees, and that can be heard, it is said, at a distance of three
leagues; the teponaztli, that [70] has two vibrating tongues of wood,
and is beaten with sticks that are smeared with an elastic gum
obtained from the milky juice of plants; the yotl-bells of the
Aztecs, that are hung in clusters like grapes; and a huge cylindrical
drum, covered with the skins of great serpents, like the one that
Bernal Diaz saw when he went with Cortes into the Mexican temple, and
of whose doleful sound he has left us so vivid a description. The
fantastic character of these instruments fascinated him, and he felt
a curious delight in the thought that Art, like Nature, has her
monsters, things of bestial shape and with hideous voices. Yet,
after some time, he wearied of them, and would sit in his box at the
Opera, either alone or with Lord Henry, listening in rapt pleasure to
"Tannhäuser," and seeing in that great work of art a presentation of
the tragedy of his own soul.

On another occasion he took up the study of jewels, and appeared at a
costume ball as Anne de Joyeuse, Admiral of France, in a dress
covered with five hundred and sixty pearls. He would often spend a
whole day settling and resettling in their cases the various stones
that he had collected, such as the olive-green chrysoberyl that turns
red by lamplight, the cymophane with its wire-like line of silver,
the pistachio-colored peridot, rose-pink and wine-yellow topazes,
carbuncles of fiery scarlet with tremulous four-rayed stars, flame-
red cinnamon-stones, orange and violet spinels, and amethysts with
their alternate layers of ruby and sapphire. He loved the red gold
of the sunstone, and the moonstone's pearly whiteness, and the broken
rainbow of the milky opal. He procured from Amsterdam three emeralds
of extraordinary size and richness of color, and had a turquoise de
la vieille roche that was the envy of all the connoisseurs.

He discovered wonderful stories, also, about jewels. In Alphonso's
"Clericalis Disciplina" a serpent was mentioned with eyes of real
jacinth, and in the romantic history of Alexander he was said to have
found snakes in the vale of Jordan "with collars of real emeralds
growing on their backs." There was a gem in the brain of the dragon,
Philostratus told us, and "by the exhibition of golden letters and a
scarlet robe" the monster could be thrown into a magical sleep, and
slain. According to the great alchemist Pierre de Boniface, the
diamond rendered a man invisible, and the agate of India made him
eloquent. The cornelian appeased anger, and the hyacinth provoked
sleep, and the amethyst drove away the fumes of wine. The garnet
cast out demons, and the hydropicus deprived the moon of her color.
The selenite waxed and waned with the moon, and the meloceus, that
discovers thieves, could be affected only by the blood of kids.
Leonardus Camillus had seen a white stone taken from the brain of a
newly-killed toad, that was a certain antidote against poison. The
bezoar, that was found in the heart of the Arabian deer, was a charm
that could cure the plague. In the nests of Arabian birds was the
aspilates, that, according to Democritus, kept the wearer from any
danger by fire.

The King of Ceilan rode through his city with a large ruby in his
hand, as the ceremony of his coronation. The gates of the palace of
John the Priest were "made of sardius, with the horn of the horned
[71] snake inwrought, so that no man might bring poison within."
Over the gable were "two golden apples, in which were two
carbuncles," so that the gold might shine by day, and the carbuncles
by night. In Lodge's strange romance "A Margarite of America" it was
stated that in the chamber of Margarite were seen "all the chaste
ladies of the world, inchased out of silver, looking through fair
mirrours of chrysolites, carbuncles, sapphires, and greene
emeraults." Marco Polo had watched the inhabitants of Zipangu place
a rose-colored pearl in the mouth of the dead. A sea-monster had
been enamoured of the pearl that the diver brought to King Perozes,
and had slain the thief, and mourned for seven moons over his loss.
When the Huns lured the king into the great pit, he flung it away,--
Procopius tells the story,--nor was it ever found again, though the
Emperor Anastasius offered five hundred-weight of gold pieces for it.
The King of Malabar had shown a Venetian a rosary of one hundred and
four pearls, one for every god that he worshipped.

When the Duke de Valentinois, son of Alexander VI., visited Louis
XII. of France, his horse was loaded with gold leaves, according to
Brantôme, and his cap had double rows of rubies that threw out a
great light. Charles of England had ridden in stirrups hung with
three hundred and twenty-one diamonds. Richard II. had a coat,
valued at thirty thousand marks, which was covered with balas rubies.
Hall described Henry VIII., on his way to the Tower previous to his
coronation, as wearing "a jacket of raised gold, the placard
embroidered with diamonds and other rich stones, and a great
bauderike about his neck of large balasses." The favorites of James
I. wore ear-rings of emeralds set in gold filigrane. Edward II. gave
to Piers Gaveston a suit of red-gold armor studded with jacinths, and
a collar of gold roses set with turquoise-stones, and a skull-cap
parsemé with pearls. Henry II. wore jewelled gloves reaching to the
elbow, and had a hawk-glove set with twelve rubies and fifty-two
great pearls. The ducal hat of Charles the Rash, the last Duke of
Burgundy of his race, was studded with sapphires and hung with pear-
shaped pearls.

How exquisite life had once been! How gorgeous in its pomp and
decoration! Even to read of the luxury of the dead was wonderful.

Then he turned his attention to embroideries, and to the tapestries
that performed the office of frescos in the chill rooms of the
Northern nations of Europe. As he investigated the subject,--and he
always had an extraordinary faculty of becoming absolutely absorbed
for the moment in whatever he took up,--he was almost saddened by the
reflection of the ruin that time brought on beautiful and wonderful
things. He, at any rate, had escaped that. Summer followed summer,
and the yellow jonquils bloomed and died many times, and nights of
horror repeated the story of their shame, but he was unchanged. No
winter marred his face or stained his flower-like bloom. How
different it was with material things! Where had they gone to?
Where was the great crocus-colored robe, on which the gods fought
against the giants, that had been worked for Athena? Where the huge
velarium that Nero had stretched across the Colosseum at Rome, on
which were represented the starry sky, and Apollo driving a chariot
drawn by [72] white gilt-reined steeds? He longed to see the curious
table-napkins wrought for Elagabalus, on which were displayed all the
dainties and viands that could be wanted for a feast; the mortuary
cloth of King Chilperic, with its three hundred golden bees; the
fantastic robes that excited the indignation of the Bishop of Pontus,
and were figured with "lions, panthers, bears, dogs, forests, rocks,
hunters,--all, in fact, that a painter can copy from nature;" and the
coat that Charles of Orleans once wore, on the sleeves of which were
embroidered the verses of a song beginning "Madame, je suis tout
joyeux," the musical accompaniment of the words being wrought in gold
thread, and each note, a square shape in those days, formed with four
pearls. He read of the room that was prepared at the palace at
Rheims for the use of Queen Joan of Burgundy, and was decorated with
"thirteen hundred and twenty-one parrots, made in broidery, and
blazoned with the king's arms, and five hundred and sixty-one
butterflies, whose wings were similarly ornamented with the arms of
the queen, the whole worked in gold." Catherine de Médicis had a
mourning-bed made for her of black velvet powdered with crescents and
suns. Its curtains were of damask, with leafy wreaths and garlands,
figured upon a gold and silver ground, and fringed along the edges
with broideries of pearls, and it stood in a room hung with rows of
the queen's devices in cut black velvet upon cloth of silver. Louis
XIV. had gold-embroidered caryatides fifteen feet high in his
apartment. The state bed of Sobieski, King of Poland, was made of
Smyrna gold brocade embroidered in turquoises with verses from the
Koran. Its supports were of silver gilt, beautifully chased, and
profusely set with enamelled and jewelled medallions. It had been
taken from the Turkish camp before Vienna, and the standard of
Mohammed had stood under it.

And so, for a whole year, he sought to accumulate the most exquisite
specimens that he could find of textile and embroidered work, getting
the dainty Delhi muslins, finely wrought, with gold-threat palmates,
and stitched over with iridescent beetles' wings; the Dacca gauzes,
that from their transparency are known in the East as "woven air,"
and "running water," and "evening dew;" strange figured cloths from
Java; elaborate yellow Chinese hangings; books bound in tawny satins
or fair blue silks and wrought with fleurs de lys, birds, and images;
veils of lacis worked in Hungary point; Sicilian brocades, and stiff
Spanish velvets; Georgian work with its gilt coins, and Japanese
Foukousas with their green-toned golds and their marvellously-
plumaged birds.

He had a special passion, also, for ecclesiastical vestments, as
indeed he had for everything connected with the service of the
Church. In the long cedar chests that lined the west gallery of his
house he had stored away many rare and beautiful specimens of what is
really the raiment of the Bride of Christ, who must wear purple and
jewels and fine linen that she may hide the pallid macerated body
that is worn by the suffering that she seeks for, and wounded by
self-inflicted pain. He had a gorgeous cope of crimson silk and
gold-thread damask, figured with a repeating pattern of golden
pomegranates set in six-petalled formal blossoms, beyond which on
either side was the pine- [73] apple device wrought in seed-pearls.
The orphreys were divided into panels representing scenes from the
life of the Virgin, and the coronation of the Virgin was figured in
colored silks upon the hood. This was Italian work of the fifteenth
century. Another cope was of green velvet, embroidered with heart-
shaped groups of acanthus-leaves, from which spread long-stemmed
white blossoms, the details of which were picked out with silver
thread and colored crystals. The morse bore a seraph's head in gold-
thread raised work. The orphreys were woven in a diaper of red and
gold silk, and were starred with medallions of many saints and
martyrs, among whom was St. Sebastian. He had chasubles, also, of
amber-colored silk, and blue silk and gold brocade, and yellow silk
damask and cloth of gold, figured with representations of the Passion
and Crucifixion of Christ, and embroidered with lions and peacocks
and other emblems; dalmatics of white satin and pink silk damask,
decorated with tulips and dolphins and fleurs de lys; altar frontals
of crimson velvet and blue linen; and many corporals, chalice-veils,
and sudaria. In the mystic offices to which these things were put
there was something that quickened his imagination.

For these things, and everything that he collected in his lovely
house, were to be to him means of forgetfulness, modes by which he
could escape, for a season, from the fear that seemed to him at times
to be almost too great to be borne. Upon the walls of the lonely
locked room where he had spent so much of his boyhood, he had hung
with his own hands the terrible portrait whose changing features
showed him the real degradation of his life, and had draped the
purple-and-gold pall in front of it as a curtain. For weeks he would
not go there, would forget the hideous painted thing, and get back
his light heart, his wonderful joyousness, his passionate pleasure in
mere existence. Then, suddenly, some night he would creep out of the
house, go down to dreadful places near Blue Gate Fields, and stay
there, day after day, until he was driven away. On his return he
would sit in front of the picture, sometimes loathing it and himself,
but filled, at other times, with that pride of rebellion that is half
the fascination of sin, and smiling, with secret pleasure, at the
misshapen shadow that had to bear the burden that should have been
his own.

After a few years he could not endure to be long out of England, and
gave up the villa that he had shared at Trouville with Lord Henry, as
well as the little white walled-in house at Algiers where he had more
than once spent his winter. He hated to be separated from the
picture that was such a part of his life, and he was also afraid that
during his absence some one might gain access to the room, in spite
of the elaborate bolts and bars that he had caused to be placed upon
the door.

He was quite conscious that this would tell them nothing. It was
true that the portrait still preserved, under all the foulness and
ugliness of the face, its marked likeness to himself; but what could
they learn from that? He would laugh at any one who tried to taunt
him. He had not painted it. What was it to him how vile and full of
shame it looked? Even if he told them, would they believe it?

Yet he was afraid. Sometimes when he was down at his great [74]
house in Nottinghamshire, entertaining the fashionable young men of
his own rank who were his chief companions, and astounding the county
by the wanton luxury and gorgeous splendor of his mode of life, he
would suddenly leave his guests and rush back to town to see that the
door had not been tampered with and that the picture was still there.
What if it should be stolen? The mere thought made him cold with
horror. Surely the world would know his secret then. Perhaps the
world already suspected it.

For, while he fascinated many, there were not a few who distrusted
him. He was blackballed at a West End club of which his birth and
social position fully entitled him to become a member, and on one
occasion, when he was brought by a friend into the smoking-room of
the Carlton, the Duke of Berwick and another gentleman got up in a
marked manner and went out. Curious stories became current about him
after he had passed his twenty-fifth year. It was said that he had
been seen brawling with foreign sailors in a low den in the distant
parts of Whitechapel, and that he consorted with thieves and coiners
and knew the mysteries of their trade. His extraordinary absences
became notorious, and, when he used to reappear again in society, men
would whisper to each other in corners, or pass him with a sneer, or
look at him with cold searching eyes, as if they were determined to
discover his secret.

Of such insolences and attempted slights he, of course, took no
notice, and in the opinion of most people his frank debonair manner,
his charming boyish smile, and the infinite grace of that wonderful
youth that seemed never to leave him, were in themselves a sufficient
answer to the calumnies (for so they called them) that were
circulated about him. It was remarked, however, that those who had
been most intimate with him appeared, after a time, to shun him. Of
all his friends, or so-called friends, Lord Henry Wotton was the only
one who remained loyal to him. Women who had wildly adored him, and
for his sake had braved all social censure and set convention at
defiance, were seen to grow pallid with shame or horror if Dorian
Gray entered the room.

Yet these whispered scandals only lent him, in the eyes of many, his
strange and dangerous charm. His great wealth was a certain element
of security. Society, civilized society at least, is never very
ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich
and charming. It feels instinctively that manners are of more
importance than morals, and the highest respectability is of less
value in its opinion than the possession of a good chef. And, after
all, it is a very poor consolation to be told that the man who has
given one a bad dinner, or poor wine, is irreproachable in his
private life. Even the cardinal virtues cannot atone for cold
entrées, as Lord Henry remarked once, in a discussion on the subject;
and there is possibly a good deal to be said for his view. For the
canons of good society are, or should be, the same as the canons of
art. Form is absolutely essential to it. It should have the dignity
of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the
insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that
make such plays charming. Is insincerity such a [75] terrible thing?
I think not. It is merely a method by which we can multiply our
personalities.

Such, at any rate, was Dorian Gray's opinion. He used to wonder at
the shallow psychology of those who conceive the Ego in man as a
thing simple, permanent, reliable, and of one essence. To him, man
was a being with myriad lives and myriad sensations, a complex
multiform creature that bore within itself strange legacies of
thought and passion, and whose very flesh was tainted with the
monstrous maladies of the dead. He loved to stroll through the gaunt
cold picture-gallery of his country-house and look at the various
portraits of those whose blood flowed in his veins. Here was Philip
Herbert, described by Francis Osborne, in his "Memoires on the Reigns
of Queen Elizabeth and King James," as one who was "caressed by the
court for his handsome face, which kept him not long company." Was
it young Herbert's life that he sometimes led? Had some strange
poisonous germ crept from body to body till it had reached his own?
Was it some dim sense of that ruined grace that had made him so
suddenly, and almost without cause, give utterance, in Basil
Hallward's studio, to that mad prayer that had so changed his life?
Here, in gold-embroidered red doublet, jewelled surcoat, and gilt-
edged ruff and wrist-bands, stood Sir Anthony Sherard, with his
silver-and-black armor piled at his feet. What had this man's legacy
been? Had the lover of Giovanna of Naples bequeathed him some
inheritance of sin and shame? Were his own actions merely the dreams
that the dead man had not dared to realize? Here, from the fading
canvas, smiled Lady Elizabeth Devereux, in her gauze hood, pearl
stomacher, and pink slashed sleeves. A flower was in her right hand,
and her left clasped an enamelled collar of white and damask roses.
On a table by her side lay a mandolin and an apple. There were large
green rosettes upon her little pointed shoes. He knew her life, and
the strange stories that were told about her lovers. Had he
something of her temperament in him? Those oval heavy-lidded eyes
seemed to look curiously at him. What of George Willoughby, with his
powdered hair and fantastic patches? How evil he looked! The face
was saturnine and swarthy, and the sensual lips seemed to be twisted
with disdain. Delicate lace ruffles fell over the lean yellow hands
that were so overladen with rings. He had been a macaroni of the
eighteenth century, and the friend, in his youth, of Lord Ferrars.
What of the second Lord Sherard, the companion of the Prince Regent
in his wildest days, and one of the witnesses at the secret marriage
with Mrs. Fitzherbert? How proud and handsome he was, with his
chestnut curls and insolent pose! What passions had he bequeathed?
The world had looked upon him as infamous. He had led the orgies at
Carlton House. The star of the Garter glittered upon his breast.
Beside him hung the portrait of his wife, a pallid, thin-lipped woman
in black. Her blood, also, stirred within him. How curious it all
seemed!

Yet one had ancestors in literature, as well as in one's own race,
nearer perhaps in type and temperament, many of them, and certainly
with an influence of which one was more absolutely conscious. There
[76] were times when it seemed to Dorian Gray that the whole of
history was merely the record of his own life, not as he had lived it
in act and circumstance, but as his imagination had created it for
him, as it had been in his brain and in his passions. He felt that
he had known them all, those strange terrible figures that had passed
across the stage of the world and made sin so marvellous and evil so
full of wonder. It seemed to him that in some mysterious way their
lives had been his own.

The hero of the dangerous novel that had so influenced his life had
himself had this curious fancy. In a chapter of the book he tells
how, crowned with laurel, lest lightning might strike him, he had
sat, as Tiberius, in a garden at Capri, reading the shameful books of
Elephantis, while dwarfs and peacocks strutted round him and the
flute-player mocked the swinger of the censer; and, as Caligula, had
caroused with the green-shirted jockeys in their stables, and supped
in an ivory manger with a jewel-frontleted horse; and, as Domitian,
had wandered through a corridor lined with marble mirrors, looking
round with haggard eyes for the reflection of the dagger that was to
end his days, and sick with that ennui, that taedium vitae, that
comes on those to whom life denies nothing; and had peered through a
clear emerald at the red shambles of the Circus, and then, in a
litter of pearl and purple drawn by silver-shod mules, been carried
through the Street of Pomegranates to a House of Gold, and heard men
cry on Nero Caesar as he passed by; and, as Elagabalus, had painted
his face with colors, and plied the distaff among the women, and
brought the Moon from Carthage, and given her in mystic marriage to
the Sun.

Over and over again Dorian used to read this fantastic chapter, and
the chapter immediately following, in which the hero describes the
curious tapestries that he had had woven for him from Gustave
Moreau's designs, and on which were pictured the awful and beautiful
forms of those whom Vice and Blood and Weariness had made monstrous
or mad: Filippo, Duke of Milan, who slew his wife, and painted her
lips with a scarlet poison; Pietro Barbi, the Venetian, known as Paul
the Second, who sought in his vanity to assume the title of Formosus,
and whose tiara, valued at two hundred thousand florins, was bought
at the price of a terrible sin; Gian Maria Visconti, who used hounds
to chase living men, and whose murdered body was covered with roses
by a harlot who had loved him; the Borgia on his white horse, with
Fratricide riding beside him, and his mantle stained with the blood
of Perotto; Pietro Riario, the young Cardinal Archbishop of Florence,
child and minion of Sixtus IV., whose beauty was equalled only by his
debauchery, and who received Leonora of Aragon in a pavilion of white
and crimson silk, filled with nymphs and centaurs, and gilded a boy
that he might serve her at the feast as Ganymede or Hylas; Ezzelin,
whose melancholy could be cured only by the spectacle of death, and
who had a passion for red blood, as other men have for red wine,--the
son of the Fiend, as was reported, and one who had cheated his father
at dice when gambling with him for his own soul; Giambattista Cibo,
who in mockery took the name of Innocent, and into whose torpid veins
the blood of three lads was infused by a [77] Jewish doctor;
Sigismondo Malatesta, the lover of Isotta, and the lord of Rimini,
whose effigy was burned at Rome as the enemy of God and man, who
strangled Polyssena with a napkin, and gave poison to Ginevra d'Este
in a cup of emerald, and in honor of a shameful passion built a pagan
church for Christian worship; Charles VI., who had so wildly adored
his brother's wife that a leper had warned him of the insanity that
was coming on him, and who could only be soothed by Saracen cards
painted with the images of Love and Death and Madness; and, in his
trimmed jerkin and jewelled cap and acanthus-like curls, Grifonetto
Baglioni, who slew Astorre with his bride, and Simonetto with his
page, and whose comeliness was such that, as he lay dying in the
yellow piazza of Perugia, those who had hated him could not choose
but weep, and Atalanta, who had cursed him, blessed him.

There was a horrible fascination in them all. He saw them at night,
and they troubled his imagination in the day. The Renaissance knew
of strange manners of poisoning,--poisoning by a helmet and a lighted
torch, by an embroidered glove and a jewelled fan, by a gilded
pomander and by an amber chain. Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a
book. There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode
through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful.
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