SUPPOSE you have heard the news, Basil?" said Lord Henry
that evening as Hallward was shown into a little private room
at the Bristol where dinner had been laid for three.
"No, Harry," answered
the artist, giving his hat and coat to the bowing waiter. "What
is it? Nothing about politics, I hope! They don't interest me.
There is hardly a single person in the House of Commons worth
painting, though many of them would be the better for a little
"Dorian Gray is engaged
to be married," said Lord Henry, watching him as he spoke.
Hallward started and then frowned.
"Dorian engaged to be married!" he cried. "Impossible!"
"It is perfectly true."
"To some little actress
"I can't believe it. Dorian
is far too sensible."
"Dorian is far too wise
not to do foolish things now and then, my dear Basil."
"Marriage is hardly a thing
that one can do now and then, Harry."
"Except in America,"
rejoined Lord Henry languidly. "But I didn't say he was
married. I said he was engaged to be married. There is a great
difference. I have a distinct remembrance of being married, but
I have no recollection at all of being engaged. I am inclined
to think that I never was engaged."
"But think of Dorian's birth,
and position, and wealth. It would be absurd for him to marry
so much beneath him."
"If you want to make him
marry this girl, tell him that, Basil. He is sure to do it, then.
Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from
the noblest motives."
"I hope the girl is good,
Harry. I don't want to see Dorian tied to some vile creature,
who might degrade his nature and ruin his intellect."
"Oh, she is better than
good she is beautiful," murmured Lord Henry,
sipping a glass of vermouth and orange-bitters. "Dorian
says she is beautiful, and he is not often wrong about things
of that kind. Your portrait of him has quickened his appreciation
of the personal appearance of other people. It has had that excellent
effect, amongst others. We are to see her to-night, if that boy
doesn't forget his appointment."
"Are you serious?"
"Quite serious, Basil. I
should be miserable if I thought I should ever be more serious
than I am at the present moment."
"But do you approve of it,
Harry?" asked the painter, walking up and down the room
and biting his lip. "You can't approve of it, possibly.
It is some silly infatuation."
"I never approve, or disapprove,
of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take towards life.
We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices. I
never take any notice of what common people say, and I never
interfere with what charming people do. If a personality fascinates
me, whatever mode of expression that personality selects is absolutely
delightful to me. Dorian Gray falls in love with a beautiful
girl who acts Juliet, and proposes to marry her. Why not? If
he wedded Messalina, he would be none the less interesting. You
know I am not a champion of marriage. The real drawback to marriage
is that it makes one unselfish. And unselfish people are colourless.
They lack individuality. Still, there are certain temperaments
that marriage makes more complex. They retain their egotism,
and add to it many other egos. They are forced to have more than
one life. They become more highly organized, and to be highly
organized is, I should fancy, the object of man's existence.
Besides, every experience is of value, and whatever one may say
against marriage, it is certainly an experience. I hope that
Dorian Gray will make this girl his wife, passionately adore
her for six months, and then suddenly become fascinated by some
one else. He would be a wonderful study."
"You don't mean a single
word of all that, Harry; you know you don't. If Dorian Gray's
life were spoiled, no one would be sorrier than yourself. You
are much better than you pretend to be."
Lord Henry laughed. "The
reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are
all afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror.
We think that we are generous because we credit our neighbour
with the possession of those virtues that are likely to be a
benefit to us. We praise the banker that we may overdraw our
account, and find good qualities in the highwayman in the hope
that he may spare our pockets. I mean everything that I have
said. I have the greatest contempt for optimism. As for a spoiled
life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested. If
you want to mar a nature, you have merely to reform it. As for
marriage, of course that would be silly, but there are other
and more interesting bonds between men and women. I will certainly
encourage them. They have the charm of being fashionable. But
here is Dorian himself. He will tell you more than I can."
"My dear Harry, my dear
Basil, you must both congratulate me!" said the lad, throwing
off his evening cape with its satin-lined wings and shaking each
of his friends by the hand in turn. "I have never been so
happy. Of course, it is sudden all really delightful
things are. And yet it seems to me to be the one thing I have
been looking for all my life." He was flushed with excitement
and pleasure, and looked extraordinarily handsome.
"I hope you will always
be very happy, Dorian," said Hallward, "but I don't
quite forgive you for not having let me know of your engagement.
You let Harry know."
"And I don't forgive you
for being late for dinner," broke in Lord Henry, putting
his hand on the lad's shoulder and smiling as he spoke. "Come,
let us sit down and try what the new chef here is like, and then
you will tell us how it all came about."
"There is really not much
to tell," cried Dorian as they took their seats at the small
round table. "What happened was simply this. After I left
you yesterday evening, Harry, I dressed, had some dinner at that
little Italian restaurant in Rupert Street you introduced me
to, and went down at eight o'clock to the theatre. Sibyl was
playing Rosalind. Of course, the scenery was dreadful and the
Orlando absurd. But Sibyl! You should have seen her! When she
came on in her boy's clothes, she was perfectly wonderful. She
wore a moss-coloured velvet jerkin with cinnamon sleeves, slim,
brown, cross-gartered hose, a dainty little green cap with a
hawk's feather caught in a jewel, and a hooded cloak lined with
dull red. She had never seemed to me more exquisite. She had
all the delicate grace of that Tanagra figurine that you have
in your studio, Basil. Her hair clustered round her face like
dark leaves round a pale rose. As for her acting
well, you shall see her to-night. She is simply a born artist.
I sat in the dingy box absolutely enthralled. I forgot that I
was in London and in the nineteenth century. I was away with
my love in a forest that no man had ever seen. After the performance
was over, I went behind and spoke to her. As we were sitting
together, suddenly there came into her eyes a look that I had
never seen there before. My lips moved towards hers. We kissed
each other. I can't describe to you what I felt at that moment.
It seemed to me that all my life had been narrowed to one perfect
point of rose-coloured joy. She trembled all over and shook like
a white narcissus. Then she flung herself on her knees and kissed
my hands. I feel that I should not tell you all this, but I can't
help it. Of course, our engagement is a dead secret. She has
not even told her own mother. I don't know what my guardians
will say. Lord Radley is sure to be furious. I don't care. I
shall be of age in less than a year, and then I can do what I
like. I have been right, Basil, haven't I, to take my love out
of poetry and to find my wife in Shakespeare's plays? Lips that
Shakespeare taught to speak have whispered their secret in my
ear. I have had the arms of Rosalind around me, and kissed Juliet
on the mouth."
"Yes, Dorian, I suppose
you were right," said Hallward slowly.
"Have you seen her to-day?"
asked Lord Henry.
Dorian Gray shook his head. "I
left her in the forest of Arden; I shall find her in an orchard
Lord Henry sipped his champagne
in a meditative manner. "At what particular point did you
mention the word marriage, Dorian? And what did she say in answer?
Perhaps you forgot all about it."
"My dear Harry, I did not
treat it as a business transaction, and I did not make any formal
proposal. I told her that I loved her, and she said she was not
worthy to be my wife. Not worthy! Why, the whole world is nothing
to me compared with her."
"Women are wonderfully practical,"
murmured Lord Henry, "much more practical than we are. In
situations of that kind we often forget to say anything about
marriage, and they always remind us."
Hallward laid his hand upon his
arm. "Don't, Harry. You have annoyed Dorian. He is not like
other men. He would never bring misery upon any one. His nature
is too fine for that."
Lord Henry looked across the
table. "Dorian is never annoyed with me," be answered.
"I asked the question for the best reason possible, for
the only reason, indeed, that excuses one for asking any question
simple curiosity. I have a theory that it is always the women
who propose to us, and not we who propose to the women. Except,
of course, in middle-class life. But then the middle classes
are not modern."
Dorian Gray laughed, and tossed
his head. "You are quite incorrigible, Harry; but I don't
mind. It is impossible to be angry with you. When you see Sibyl
Vane, you will feel that the man who could wrong her would be
a beast, a beast without a heart. I cannot understand how any
one can wish to shame the thing he loves. I love Sibyl Vane.
I want to place her on a pedestal of gold and to see the world
worship the woman who is mine. What is marriage? An irrevocable
vow. You mock at it for that. Ah! don't mock. It is an irrevocable
vow that I want to take. Her trust makes me faithful, her belief
makes me good. When I am with her, I regret all that you have
taught me. I become different from what you have known me to
be. I am changed, and the mere touch of Sibyl Vane's hand makes
me forget you and all your wrong, fascinating, poisonous, delightful
"And those are... ?"
asked Lord Henry, helping himself to some salad.
"Oh, your theories about
life, your theories about love, your theories about pleasure.
All your theories, in fact, Harry."
"Pleasure is the only thing
worth having a theory about," he answered in his slow melodious
voice. "But I am afraid I cannot claim my theory as my own.
It belongs to Nature, not to me. Pleasure is Nature's test, her
sign of approval. When we are happy, we are always good, but
when we are good, we are not always happy."
"Ah! but what do you mean
by good?" cried Basil Hallward.
"Yes," echoed Dorian,
leaning back in his chair and looking at Lord Henry over the
heavy clusters of purple-lipped irises that stood in the centre
of the table, "what do you mean by good, Harry?"
"To be good is to be in
harmony with one's self," he replied, touching the thin
stem of his glass with his pale, fine-pointed fingers. "Discord
is to be forced to be in harmony with others. One's own life
that is the important thing. As for the lives of one's neighbours,
if one wishes to be a prig or a Puritan, one can flaunt one's
moral views about them, but they are not one's concern. Besides,
individualism has really the higher aim. Modern morality consists
in accepting the standard of one's age. I consider that for any
man of culture to accept the standard of his age is a form of
the grossest immorality."
"But, surely, if one lives
merely for one's self, Harry, one pays a terrible price for doing
so?" suggested the painter.
"Yes, we are overcharged
for everything nowadays. I should fancy that the real tragedy
of the poor is that they can afford nothing but self-denial.
Beautiful sins, like beautiful things, are the privilege of the
"One has to pay in other
ways but money."
"What sort of ways, Basil?"
"Oh! I should fancy in remorse,
in suffering, in... well, in the consciousness of degradation."
Lord Henry shrugged his shoulders.
"My dear fellow, mediaeval art is charming, but mediaeval
emotions are out of date. One can use them in fiction, of course.
But then the only things that one can use in fiction are the
things that one has ceased to use in fact. Believe me, no civilized
man ever regrets a pleasure, and no uncivilized man ever knows
what a pleasure is."
"I know what pleasure is,"
cried Dorian Gray. "It is to adore some one."
"That is certainly better
than being adored," he answered, toying with some fruits.
"Being adored is a nuisance. Women treat us just as humanity
treats its gods. They worship us, and are always bothering us
to do something for them."
"I should have said that
whatever they ask for they had first given to us," murmured
the lad gravely. "They create love in our natures. They
have a right to demand it back."
"That is quite true, Dorian,"
"Nothing is ever quite true,"
said Lord Henry.
"This is," interrupted
Dorian. "You must admit, Harry, that women give to men the
very gold of their lives."
"Possibly," he sighed,
"but they invariably want it back in such very small change.
That is the worry. Women, as some witty Frenchman once put it,
inspire us with the desire to do masterpieces and always prevent
us from carrying them out."
"Harry, you are dreadful!
I don't know why I like you so much."
"You will always like me,
Dorian," he replied. "Will you have some coffee, you
fellows? Waiter, bring coffee, and fine-champagne, and some cigarettes.
No, don't mind the cigarettes I have some. Basil,
I can't allow you to smoke cigars. You must have a cigarette.
A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is
exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?
Yes, Dorian, you will always be fond of me. I represent to you
all the sins you have never had the courage to commit."
"What nonsense you talk,
Harry!" cried the lad, taking a light from a fire-breathing
silver dragon that the waiter had placed on the table. "Let
us go down to the theatre. When Sibyl comes on the stage you
will have a new ideal of life. She will represent something to
you that you have never known."
"I have known everything,"
said Lord Henry, with a tired look in his eyes, "but I am
always ready for a new emotion. I am afraid, however, that, for
me at any rate, there is no such thing. Still, your wonderful
girl may thrill me. I love acting. It is so much more real than
life. Let us go. Dorian, you will come with me. I am so sorry,
Basil, but there is only room for two in the brougham. You must
follow us in a hansom."
They got up and put on their
coats, sipping their coffee standing. The painter was silent
and preoccupied. There was a gloom over him. He could not bear
this marriage, and yet it seemed to him to be better than many
other things that might have happened. After a few minutes, they
all passed downstairs. He drove off by himself, as had been arranged,
and watched the flashing lights of the little brougham in front
of him. A strange sense of loss came over him. He felt that Dorian
Gray would never again be to him all that he had been in the
past. Life had come between them.... His eyes darkened, and the
crowded flaring streets became blurred to his eyes. When the
cab drew up at the theatre, it seemed to him that he had grown
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