is no use your telling me that you are going to be good,"
cried Lord Henry, dipping his white fingers into a red copper
bowl filled with rose-water. "You are quite perfect. Pray,
Dorian Gray shook his head. "No,
Harry, I have done too many dreadful things in my life. I am
not going to do any more. I began my good actions yesterday."
"Where were you yesterday?"
"In the country, Harry.
I was staying at a little inn by myself."
"My dear boy," said
Lord Henry, smiling, "anybody can be good in the country.
There are no temptations there. That is the reason why people
who live out of town are so absolutely uncivilized. Civilization
is not by any means an easy thing to attain to. There are only
two ways by which man can reach it. One is by being cultured,
the other by being corrupt. Country people have no opportunity
of being either, so they stagnate."
"Culture and corruption,"
echoed Dorian. "I have known something of both. It seems
terrible to me now that they should ever be found together. For
I have a new ideal, Harry. I am going to alter. I think I have
"You have not yet told me
what your good action was. Or did you say you had done more than
one?" asked his companion as he spilled into his plate a
little crimson pyramid of seeded strawberries and, through a
perforated, shell-shaped spoon, snowed white sugar upon them.
"I can tell you, Harry.
It is not a story I could tell to any one else. I spared somebody.
It sounds vain, but you understand what I mean. She was quite
beautiful and wonderfully like Sibyl Vane. I think it was that
which first attracted me to her. You remember Sibyl, don't you?
How long ago that seems! Well, Hetty was not one of our own class,
of course. She was simply a girl in a village. But I really loved
her. I am quite sure that I loved her. All during this wonderful
May that we have been having, I used to run down and see her
two or three times a week. Yesterday she met me in a little orchard.
The apple-blossoms kept tumbling down on her hair, and she was
laughing. We were to have gone away together this morning at
dawn. Suddenly I determined to leave her as flowerlike as I had
"I should think the novelty
of the emotion must have given you a thrill of real pleasure,
Dorian," interrupted Lord Henry. "But I can finish
your idyll for you. You gave her good advice and broke her heart.
That was the beginning of your reformation."
"Harry, you are horrible!
You mustn't say these dreadful things. Hetty's heart is not broken.
Of course, she cried and all that. But there is no disgrace upon
her. She can live, like Perdita, in her garden of mint and marigold."
"And weep over a faithless
Florizel," said Lord Henry, laughing, as he leaned back
in his chair. "My dear Dorian, you have the most curiously
boyish moods. Do you think this girl will ever be really content
now with any one of her own rank? I suppose she will be married
some day to a rough carter or a grinning ploughman. Well, the
fact of having met you, and loved you, will teach her to despise
her husband, and she will be wretched. From a moral point of
view, I cannot say that I think much of your great renunciation.
Even as a beginning, it is poor. Besides, how do you know that
Hetty isn't floating at the present moment in some starlit mill-pond,
with lovely water-lilies round her, like Ophelia?"
"I can't bear this, Harry!
You mock at everything, and then suggest the most serious tragedies.
I am sorry I told you now. I don't care what you say to me. I
know I was right in acting as I did. Poor Hetty! As I rode past
the farm this morning, I saw her white face at the window, like
a spray of jasmine. Don't let us talk about it any more, and
don't try to persuade me that the first good action I have done
for years, the first little bit of self-sacrifice I have ever
known, is really a sort of sin. I want to be better. I am going
to be better. Tell me something about yourself. What is going
on in town? I have not been to the club for days."
"The people are still discussing
poor Basil's disappearance."
"I should have thought they
had got tired of that by this time," said Dorian, pouring
himself out some wine and frowning slightly.
"My dear boy, they have
only been talking about it for six weeks, and the British public
are really not equal to the mental strain of having more than
one topic every three months. They have been very fortunate lately,
however. They have had my own divorce-case and Alan Campbell's
suicide. Now they have got the mysterious disappearance of an
artist. Scotland Yard still insists that the man in the grey
ulster who left for Paris by the midnight train on the ninth
of November was poor Basil, and the French police declare that
Basil never arrived in Paris at all. I suppose in about a fortnight
we shall be told that he has been seen in San Francisco. It is
an odd thing, but every one who disappears is said to be seen
at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, and possess all
the attractions of the next world."
"What do you think has happened
to Basil?" asked Dorian, holding up his Burgundy against
the light and wondering how it was that he could discuss the
matter so calmly.
"I have not the slightest
idea. If Basil chooses to hide himself, it is no business of
mine. If he is dead, I don't want to think about him. Death is
the only thing that ever terrifies me. I hate it."
"Why?" said the younger
"Because," said Lord
Henry, passing beneath his nostrils the gilt trellis of an open
vinaigrette box, "one can survive everything nowadays except
that. Death and vulgarity are the only two facts in the nineteenth
century that one cannot explain away. Let us have our coffee
in the music-room, Dorian. You must play Chopin to me. The man
with whom my wife ran away played Chopin exquisitely. Poor Victoria!
I was very fond of her. The house is rather lonely without her.
Of course, married life is merely a habit, a bad habit. But then
one regrets the loss even of one's worst habits. Perhaps one
regrets them the most. They are such an essential part of one's
Dorian said nothing, but rose
from the table, and passing into the next room, sat down to the
piano and let his fingers stray across the white and black ivory
of the keys. After the coffee had been brought in, he stopped,
and looking over at Lord Henry, said, "Harry, did it ever
occur to you that Basil was murdered?"
Lord Henry yawned. "Basil
was very popular, and always wore a Waterbury watch. Why should
he have been murdered? He was not clever enough to have enemies.
Of course, he had a wonderful genius for painting. But a man
can paint like Velasquez and yet be as dull as possible. Basil
was really rather dull. He only interested me once, and that
was when he told me, years ago, that he had a wild adoration
for you and that you were the dominant motive of his art."
"I was very fond of Basil,"
said Dorian with a note of sadness in his voice. "But don't
people say that he was murdered?"
"Oh, some of the papers
do. It does not seem to me to be at all probable. I know there
are dreadful places in Paris, but Basil was not the sort of man
to have gone to them. He had no curiosity. It was his chief defect."
"What would you say, Harry,
if I told you that I had murdered Basil?" said the younger
man. He watched him intently after he had spoken.
"I would say, my dear fellow,
that you were posing for a character that doesn't suit you. All
crime is vulgar, just as all vulgarity is crime. It is not in
you, Dorian, to commit a murder. I am sorry if I hurt your vanity
by saying so, but I assure you it is true. Crime belongs exclusively
to the lower orders. I don't blame them in the smallest degree.
I should fancy that crime was to them what art is to us, simply
a method of procuring extraordinary sensations."
"A method of procuring sensations?
Do you think, then, that a man who has once committed a murder
could possibly do the same crime again? Don't tell me that."
"Oh! anything becomes a
pleasure if one does it too often," cried Lord Henry, laughing.
"That is one of the most important secrets of life. I should
fancy, however, that murder is always a mistake. One should never
do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner. But let
us pass from poor Basil. I wish I could believe that he had come
to such a really romantic end as you suggest, but I can't. I
dare say he fell into the Seine off an omnibus and that the conductor
hushed up the scandal. Yes: I should fancy that was his end.
I see him lying now on his back under those dull-green waters,
with the heavy barges floating over him and long weeds catching
in his hair. Do you know, I don't think he would have done much
more good work. During the last ten years his painting had gone
off very much."
Dorian heaved a sigh, and Lord
Henry strolled across the room and began to stroke the head of
a curious Java parrot, a large, grey-plumaged bird with pink
crest and tail, that was balancing itself upon a bamboo perch.
As his pointed fingers touched it, it dropped the white scurf
of crinkled lids over black, glasslike eyes and began to sway
backwards and forwards.
"Yes," he continued,
turning round and taking his handkerchief out of his pocket;
"his painting had quite gone off. It seemed to me to have
lost something. It had lost an ideal. When you and he ceased
to be great friends, he ceased to be a great artist. What was
it separated you? I suppose he bored you. If so, he never forgave
you. It's a habit bores have. By the way, what has become of
that wonderful portrait he did of you? I don't think I have ever
seen it since he finished it. Oh! I remember your telling me
years ago that you had sent it down to Selby, and that it had
got mislaid or stolen on the way. You never got it back? What
a pity! it was really a masterpiece. I remember I wanted to buy
it. I wish I had now. It belonged to Basil's best period. Since
then, his work was that curious mixture of bad painting and good
intentions that always entitles a man to be called a representative
British artist. Did you advertise for it? You should."
"I forget," said Dorian.
"I suppose I did. But I never really liked it. I am sorry
I sat for it. The memory of the thing is hateful to me. Why do
you talk of it? It used to remind me of those curious lines in
some play Hamlet, I think how
do they run?
the painting of a sorrow,Yes: that is what it was like."
A face without a heart."
Lord Henry laughed. "If
a man treats life artistically, his brain is his heart,"
he answered, sinking into an arm-chair.
Dorian Gray shook his head and
struck some soft chords on the piano. "'Like the painting
of a sorrow,'" he repeated, "'a face without a heart.'"
The elder man lay back and looked
at him with half-closed eyes. "By the way, Dorian,"
he said after a pause, "'what does it profit a man if he
gain the whole world and lose how does the quotation
run? his own soul'?"
The music jarred, and Dorian
Gray started and stared at his friend. "Why do you ask me
"My dear fellow," said
Lord Henry, elevating his eyebrows in surprise, "I asked
you because I thought you might be able to give me an answer.
That is all. I was going through the park last Sunday, and close
by the Marble Arch there stood a little crowd of shabby-looking
people listening to some vulgar street-preacher. As I passed
by, I heard the man yelling out that question to his audience.
It struck me as being rather dramatic. London is very rich in
curious effects of that kind. A wet Sunday, an uncouth Christian
in a mackintosh, a ring of sickly white faces under a broken
roof of dripping umbrellas, and a wonderful phrase flung into
the air by shrill hysterical lips it was really
very good in its way, quite a suggestion. I thought of telling
the prophet that art had a soul, but that man had not. I am afraid,
however, he would not have understood me."
"Don't, Harry. The soul
is a terrible reality. It can be bought, and sold, and bartered
away. It can be poisoned, or made perfect. There is a soul in
each one of us. I know it."
"Do you feel quite sure
of that, Dorian?"
"Ah! then it must be an
illusion. The things one feels absolutely certain about are never
true. That is the fatality of faith, and the lesson of romance.
How grave you are! Don't be so serious. What have you or I to
do with the superstitions of our age? No: we have given up our
belief in the soul. Play me something. Play me a nocturne, Dorian,
and, as you play, tell me, in a low voice, how you have kept
your youth. You must have some secret. I am only ten years older
than you are, and I am wrinkled, and worn, and yellow. You are
really wonderful, Dorian. You have never looked more charming
than you do to-night. You remind me of the day I saw you first.
You were rather cheeky, very shy, and absolutely extraordinary.
You have changed, of course, but not in appearance. I wish you
would tell me your secret. To get back my youth I would do anything
in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.
Youth! There is nothing like it. It's absurd to talk of the ignorance
of youth. The only people to whose opinions I listen now with
any respect are people much younger than myself. They seem in
front of me. Life has revealed to them her latest wonder. As
for the aged, I always contradict the aged. I do it on principle.
If you ask them their opinion on something that happened yesterday,
they solemnly give you the opinions current in 1820, when people
wore high stocks, believed in everything, and knew absolutely
nothing. How lovely that thing you are playing is! I wonder,
did Chopin write it at Majorca, with the sea weeping round the
villa and the salt spray dashing against the panes? It is marvellously
romantic. What a blessing it is that there is one art left to
us that is not imitative! Don't stop. I want music to-night.
It seems to me that you are the young Apollo and that I am Marsyas
listening to you. I have sorrows, Dorian, of my own, that even
you know nothing of. The tragedy of old age is not that one is
old, but that one is young. I am amazed sometimes at my own sincerity.
Ah, Dorian, how happy you are! What an exquisite life you have
had! You have drunk deeply of everything. You have crushed the
grapes against your palate. Nothing has been hidden from you.
And it has all been to you no more than the sound of music. It
has not marred you. You are still the same."
"I am not the same, Harry."
"Yes, you are the same.
I wonder what the rest of your life will be. Don't spoil it by
renunciations. At present you are a perfect type. Don't make
yourself incomplete. You are quite flawless now. You need not
shake your head: you know you are. Besides, Dorian, don't deceive
yourself. Life is not governed by will or intention. Life is
a question of nerves, and fibres, and slowly built-up cells in
which thought hides itself and passion has its dreams. You may
fancy yourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance tone
of colour in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that
you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it, a
line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again, a
cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play
I tell you, Dorian, that it is on things like these that our
lives depend. Browning writes about that somewhere; but our own
senses will imagine them for us. There are moments when the odour
of lilas blanc passes suddenly across me, and I have to
live the strangest month of my life over again. I wish I could
change places with you, Dorian. The world has cried out against
us both, but it has always worshipped you. It always will worship
you. You are the type of what the age is searching for, and what
it is afraid it has found. I am so glad that you have never done
anything, never carved a statue, or painted a picture, or produced
anything outside of yourself! Life has been your art. You have
set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets."
Dorian rose up from the piano
and passed his hand through his hair. "Yes, life has been
exquisite," he murmured, "but I am not going to have
the same life, Harry. And you must not say these extravagant
things to me. You don't know everything about me. I think that
if you did, even you would turn from me. You laugh. Don't laugh."
"Why have you stopped playing,
Dorian? Go back and give me the nocturne over again. Look at
that great, honey-coloured moon that hangs in the dusky air.
She is waiting for you to charm her, and if you play she will
come closer to the earth. You won't? Let us go to the club, then.
It has been a charming evening, and we must end it charmingly.
There is some one at White's who wants immensely to know you
young Lord Poole, Bournemouth's eldest son. He has already copied
your neckties, and has begged me to introduce him to you. He
is quite delightful and rather reminds me of you."
"I hope not," said
Dorian with a sad look in his eyes. "But I am tired to-night,
Harry. I shan't go to the club. It is nearly eleven, and I want
to go to bed early."
"Do stay. You have never
played so well as to-night. There was something in your touch
that was wonderful. It had more expression than I had ever heard
from it before."
"It is because I am going
to be good," he answered, smiling. "I am a little changed
"You cannot change to me,
Dorian," said Lord Henry. "You and I will always be
"Yet you poisoned me with
a book once. I should not forgive that. Harry, promise me that
you will never lend that book to any one. It does harm."
"My dear boy, you are really
beginning to moralize. You will soon be going about like the
converted, and the revivalist, warning people against all the
sins of which you have grown tired. You are much too delightful
to do that. Besides, it is no use. You and I are what we are,
and will be what we will be. As for being poisoned by a book,
there is no such thing as that. Art has no influence upon action.
It annihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The
books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world
its own shame. That is all. But we won't discuss literature.
Come round to-morrow. I am going to ride at eleven. We might
go together, and I will take you to lunch afterwards with Lady
Branksome. She is a charming woman, and wants to consult you
about some tapestries she is thinking of buying. Mind you come.
Or shall we lunch with our little duchess? She says she never
sees you now. Perhaps you are tired of Gladys? I thought you
would be. Her clever tongue gets on one's nerves. Well, in any
case, be here at eleven."
"Must I really come, Harry?"
"Certainly. The park is
quite lovely now. I don't think there have been such lilacs since
the year I met you."
"Very well. I shall be here
at eleven," said Dorian. "Good night, Harry."
As he reached the door, he hesitated for a moment, as if he had
something more to say. Then he sighed and went out.
Return to The
Oscar Wilde Collection